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The door opened without a sound. I hesitated for just a moment, then stepped in.
I was standing in a hallway. To my left I saw an empty living room -- and I do mean empty. Except for curtains, there wasn't one bit of furniture or decoration in the room. The walls and floor were totally bare.
I flinched as another burst of horrible squawking and growling sounded above me.
Taking a deep breath, I began to tiptoe up the stairs. I was glad I was wearing sneakers.
About halfway up I stopped and thought, What am I doing? I should get out of here while I can!
You may not believe this, but the only reason I didn't turn back was that I thought Mr. Smith might really be in trouble. Even though I didn't like the man, I didn't want anything horrible to happen to him.
So I swallowed and took another step.
The noise stopped. Was everything over? Would Mr. Smith start down the stairs and find me standing here? I was just about to turn and run when another round of squawking and shrieking made it clear that whatever was happening was still going on.
I still wanted to run, but I was afraid to -- afraid that if I did, I might read in the paper the next day that something terrible had happened to Mr. Smith. Something I could have prevented. Of course, I was afraid to keep going, but I decided I didn't have any choice. I took another step and then another. I held on to the railing as if it was a life line. The knot in my stomach got tighter with every step I took.
When I got near the top, I lay down on my stomach. I had read somewhere that when you're peering around a corner, you're less likely to be seen if your head is low. So I kept my head as low as possible. If I could have pulled out one eye and just stuck it around the corner to take a peek, that would have been fine with me.
The hall was as empty as the living room: no pictures on the walls, no rug on the floor. Through an open door at the end of the hall I could see a small blue bathroom.
Closer to me, on the right, was another open door. The horrible sound seemed to be coming from there.
I decided low was the way to go. Still on my belly, I slithered down one side of the hall until I had reached the doorway.
I shivered. That noise was like a tiger running its claws down a blackboard; it felt like aluminum foil against my teeth. What could be making it?
When I finally got up the nerve to sneak a look around the bottom edge of the door, I saw Mr. Smith sitting at a little makeup table, looking in a mirror. Stacy was right. The man really was handsome. He had a long, lean face with a square jaw, a straight nose, and cheekbones to die for.
Only it was a fake. As I watched, Mr. Smith pressed his fingers against the bottom of his eyes. Suddenly he ran his fingertips to the sides of his head, grabbed his ears, and started peeling off his face!
I gasped. Fortunately, the horrible noises coming from the room drowned it out. I wanted to get up and run, but I was too terrified to move.
I started to shake instead. Whatever Mr. Smith was, I was pretty sure the face he was slowly uncovering wasn't anything that had been born on earth! As he stripped away the mask I could see that he had skin the color of limes. His enormous orange eyes slanted up and away from his nose like a pair of butterfly wings. A series of muscular looking ridges stretched from his eyes down to his lipless mouth.
Soon the handsome face of "Mr. Smith" was lying on the dressing table. The creature that had been hidden underneath it began to massage his face -- his real face. "Ahhh," he said. "What a relief!" He smiled at himself in the mirror, showing two rows of rounded purplish teeth.
I had noticed that the horrible noise was coming from a pair of flat pieces of plastic hanging on the wall. But it wasn't until Mr. Smith started "singing" along with the sound that I realized the plastic sheets were speakers. That hideous sound was music! Or at least what passed for music wherever my alien teacher had come from.
I was still trying to find the courage to start backing up when the alien turned down the music and flipped a switch on the table. The mirror began to shimmer. Suddenly the image of "Mr. Smith" was replaced by another alien face, this one just as horrible. Beyond the face I could see a big room, with other aliens bustling around. From the look of things, I figured this must be a spaceship.
The face in the mirror said something that sounded like "Ian rrzznyx iggn gnrr." The words were low and growly.
"Broxholm reporting," said Mr. Smith.
The face in the mirror made some growly noises.
"It is good to hear our mother tongue," said Mr. Smith -- or Broxholm -- or whatever his name was. "I cannot wait to return to the ship and have this language implant removed, so I can speak the true tongue, and not this barbaric garble."
Hey! I thought. Whose language are you calling barbaric?
But before I could get too angry, I heard something else -- something that sent a cold chill down my spine.
"The testing process is proceeding on schedule," said Broxholm. "Before long I will have selected the students I wish to bring back for study."
Bring back for study.
I couldn't believe my ears. My teacher was an alien! Even worse, he had come to earth to kidnap kids and take them into space!
Copyright © 1989 by Bruce Coville