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“I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE Awistair’s new pet!” my little brother, Iggy, shouted.
Iggy was super-excited because Alistair had just called to say that he had caught some kind of “amazing creature,” and that we should come over to see it right away. As we walked to Alistair’s house next door, Iggy kept running back and forth across the sidewalk and nearly crashing into me each time he passed.
“Alistair doesn’t have a new pet, Iggy,” I said. “It’s probably a creature he’s studying—one of his science projects.”
Alistair is always catching all kinds of insects and bugs and observing them in his home laboratory, so I figured this new creature he wanted to show us was also one of his “specimens.” Whatever it was, Alistair was very excited about it. “You’ve never seen anything like this before!” he had practically shouted over the phone.
“Maybe Awistair get a monkey!” Iggy said.
“I doubt it, Iggy,” I said, although I secretly thought that if there was anyone in my neighborhood who could get a pet monkey, it would probably be Alistair.
“I HOPE AWISTAIR GET A MONKEY!” Iggy jumped up and hung from a tree branch, then swung from it with his feet dangling over the sidewalk.
“Cut it out, Iggy!” When Iggy gets too excited, it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong.
“Or maybe Awistair get a toowantoowa!” Iggy hoisted his feet up and over the tree branch like an acrobat.
“You mean tarantula,” I said, watching Iggy walk along the tree branch as if it were a balance beam.
Uh-oh, I thought, holding my breath. What dumb move was Iggy going to make next?!
Iggy paused and then scampered farther up the trunk of the tree like a large squirrel. (By now, you’ve probably noticed that my little brother isn’t the average preschooler.)
“IGGY!” I shouted up into the tree branches. “GET BACK DOWN HERE, AND I MEAN IT!”
Leaves rustled. I heard giggling, but I couldn’t see Iggy.
I glanced around to see if any of our neighbors had noticed Iggy up in the tree. (Alistair and I are the only kids who know the truth about Iggy, and it isn’t easy to keep everyone, including my parents, from finding out our secret.)
“IGGY!” I shouted again. “IF YOU DON’T GET DOWN FROM THERE RIGHT NOW, I’M GOING TO ALISTAIR’S HOUSE WITHOUT YOU, AND YOU WON’T GET TO SEE ALISTAIR’S NEW ANIMAL THAT’S PROBABLY A MONKEY!!”
That got Iggy’s attention.
“WAIT FOR ME, DANO!!” Iggy burst out from the tree branches and into the sky, like a giant bird. He had sprouted giant dragonfly wings!
I tried not to panic as I watched Iggy soar through the air. I had seen him do this before, and I always worried that he might fall.
As it turned out, Iggy seemed to know exactly how to use his dragonfly wings. I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched my little brother glide gently down to the sidewalk.
HERE’S THE THING about my little brother, Iggy: Whenever he gets either super-angry or way too excited about something, weird changes happen. Basically, his body starts growing insect parts, like wings, antennae, stingers, and even little bug fangs or claws.
The worst part is that there’s no way to predict which insect traits will pop out each time he changes.
Sometimes Iggy becomes part ladybug or butterfly. . . .
Sometimes Iggy is part wasp, yellow jacket, or honeybee.
Sometimes Iggy is part mosquito, ant, flea, or housefly.
And sometimes—like now—he becomes part dragonfly.
And whenever Iggy’s bug traits pop out, I have to give him his “Human Normalizer” to turn him back to a regular human kid before anyone notices.
What, you ask, is the Human Normalizer?
It looks like an ordinary pacifier, but it does something amazing: It turns Iggy back into a regular kid after he starts changing into a bug boy.
“Here, Iggy,” I said, sticking the Human Normalizer into his mouth as I glanced around once more to make sure nobody had seen his dragonfly wings. “Get calm before someone sees those wings of yours.”
With the Human Normalizer in his mouth, Iggy sat at the foot of the tree and closed his eyes. I watched his dragonfly wings grow smaller until they disappeared.
“Come on, Iggy,” I said, after Iggy had rested for a few minutes. “Time to go to Alistair’s house.”
Iggy rubbed his eyes and nodded. “Awistair get a monkey!” he said as he marched up the steps to Alistair’s front door.
BEFORE WE COULD even knock, Alistair appeared in the doorway. “I thought you’d never get here!” he said, even though we had just talked on the phone about fifteen minutes ago. Alistair is usually pretty calm and quiet, but today he seemed way more excited than usual.
“Hurry!” Alistair said, leading Iggy and me down the hallway toward his room. “She can’t wait to meet you!”
“Who can’t wait to meet us?” I asked.
Alistair didn’t answer; he just led to his room, which looks more like a weird science lab than a regular kid’s bedroom.
He has tanks and containers of all sizes filled with things like beetles, slugs, ladybugs, centipedes, hermit crabs, frogs, and snails.
“YOU SO LUCKY-DUCK, AWISTAIR!” Iggy shouted as he ran around Alistair’s room, looking at all the creatures. “YOU GOTS SO MANY PETS!”
Lately, Iggy and his twin sister, Dottie, have been begging our parents for a pet, but Mom and Dad just say, “If it poops or needs to be fed, the answer is no!”
“I WISH-TED I CAN KEEP ALL DESE ANIMOS!” Iggy shouted, still running around Alistair’s room.
“Iggy, if you like those life-forms,” said Alistair, “wait until you see this one!” Alistair pulled away a sheet that covered a large glass aquarium. “Ta-da! Meet Shirley!”
A snake-like creature twisted itself in coils at the sandy bottom of the tank.
“That’s Shirley?!” I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess the name “Shirley” made me picture something a little cuter.
“WOW!” Iggy ran to the tank and pressed his face against the glass. “What dat snake doing?”
“It isn’t a snake,” Alistair said. “Shirley is a hagfish.”
I squinted into the aquarium. “She doesn’t look like any fish I’ve seen before.”
“Exactly!” said Alistair. “If you could combine a fish and a worm into one creature, you might get something like Shirley.”
“You mean, you created her?” I pictured Alistair using his lab equipment to combine a fish and a worm into one completely new animal. From what I knew about Alistair’s science experiments, it was the sort of thing he might actually be able to do.
“Daniel, I don’t go around making new life-forms! You know that’s against the rules.”
Are you sure about that, Alistair? I thought, glancing at Iggy.
“Hagfishes live at the bottom of the ocean,” Alistair continued. “Last weekend, my parents took me to the beach, and I decided to do some scuba diving. That’s where I found Shirley.”
I’m used to hearing about the amazing things Alistair can do, so I wasn’t even too surprised about his “undersea expedition.”
“So you caught this thing,” I said, pointing at the hagfish, “and then you decided to name it Shirley?!” For some reason, I just couldn’t get past that name.
Alistair smiled into the tank and waved at Shirley. “I thought she looked like a Shirley. Isn’t she cute?”
Shirley wiggled the tentacle-whiskers around her funnel-shaped mouth. If you ask me, she was the opposite of cute. But maybe she looks cute to Alistair, I thought.
After all, I reminded myself, Alistair isn’t human.
I’M GOING TO LET YOU IN on a huge secret, okay?
Alistair and his parents are actually aliens from a distant planet called Blaron. All three members of his family look completely human on the outside, but it’s just a disguise. Their true form looks more like something related to a squid or maybe an octopus, only way bigger and a whole lot weirder. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight. In fact, when you consider what the average Blaronite looks like, I guess it makes sense that Alistair thinks Shirley is “cute.”
I’m the only human who knows the whole truth about Alistair’s alien identity. I mean, Iggy and Dottie know that Alistair can travel to a place called “Planet Blaron”—in fact, Iggy’s even been there himself—but grown-ups never really believe the weird stuff pre-schoolers say.
“But if anyone else discovers that aliens have been living right here in their own neighborhood,” Alistair once told me, “my family could either end up dead or locked in some government laboratory.”