A new short story collection from the brilliantly bizarre Bruce Coville
A delicious collection of nine funny, frightening, and thoughtful short stories. Coville has a true gift for creating characters and setting, such as the creepy pond at her Auntie Alma's that Margaret is mysteriously drawn to, or the haunted mansion where young ghost communicators Nine and Chris find themselves stranded on a stormy evening. There is something for most readers-a bit of fantasy, a smattering of humorous reality, a dose of science fiction, and a dash of mystery. An author's note explains the origins of the stories. Teens are sure to find the author's insights entertaining and will certainly gobble up these eerie tales.-Shari Fesko, Southfield Public Library, MI
Read an Excerpt
In Our Own Hands
I am so totally freaked out.
Of course, that is probably true for everyone on the planet.
How could we not be, after what happened this morning?
I was sitting at the kitchen table, sparring with my mother over how much sugar I could put on my breakfast cerealwhich is kind of silly for a guy home from collegewhen it started. The telescreen on the wall made an odd sound. I looked upand forgot all about the sugar.
The meat puppet who usually reads the morning news had been replaced by a woman who had scaly blue skin and close-cropped green hair. Her ears were much too small for her head, her eyes much too big. Despite all that, she was beautiful, in a weird kind of way.
My first reaction was to laugh, because it was kind of cool. I figured some idiot at the station was playing a joke.
"Someone’s going to be in big trouble for this," predicted Mom. "I bet whoever did it gets fired."
We stared at the screen, waiting for the news to come back on. When nothing happened I picked up the remote. But before I could change the channel the woman said, "Greetings, people of Earth."
I burst out laughing. Mom shook her head in disgust. "What a stupid joke. Change the channel, Johnny."
The woman was still there.
I changed it again, and again, and again.
No matter what channel I turned toand we get 208 of themthe blue woman was still there. Mom’s eyes got wider, and she slid her chair closer to mine. "Johnny! What’s going on?"
I shook my head. I had no idea. But a strange feelingsome combination of fear and excitementwas starting to blossom in my stomach.
Finally the blue woman spoke again. "I assume most of you have now realized that this broadcast is on all channels. That is because the message I bring is for all people, and it is important that as many of you as possible hear it. However, what I have come to tell you will not make sense unless you know two things."
As far as I was concerned, nothing made sense right now.
"First, we are not here to threaten you."
It was such an odd thing to say that I almost laughed again. But part of me was too scared for that. I wished that Dad was here. But he was gone, a victim of the air-quality crisis that had killed so many people the year I was thirteen.
The blue woman spoke again. "Second, you must know that we can do what we say. I will now prove that to you. Please do not be frightened. This demonstration is just to help you accept the truth of what I have to tell you."
Mom reached for her coffee. I noticed that her hand was shaking, which made me feel better about my own trembling fingers. Before she could pick up her cup, the light went out. Not the lights. The light. Darkness was everywhere, as if the sun itself had disappeared.
"Johnny!" cried my mother.
"Do not be afraid," said the voice from the TVwhich was also dark, of course. "We will return the light soon."
I wondered how the TV could work with the power out, until I understood that this was not a power loss. It was a light loss.
Suddenly the light did, indeed, return. I rubbed my eyes and blinked. Glancing across the table, I saw that my mother was white with fear. The television was on again, the blue woman back in place. "If you can go outside, please do so," she said.
I don’t like to go outside; the air is too dirty, and it hurts my lungs. Also, it reminds me of how my father died. But Mom and I went anyway, as did most of the people in our development. We had taken only a few steps outside the door when Mom looked up and gasped. I looked up, too. The gray sky was nearly blotted out by a fleet of enormous red ships. They hovered above us, not moving, as if suspended by invisible cables.
"This is the Lyran Starfleet," boomed the voice, which now seemed to come directly from the sky. "It comes in peace."
If you come in peace, why are there so many of you? I wondered.
Some people were crying, some screaming. The man next to me crossed himself, and the man next to him fainted. I felt Mom’s hand tighten on my shoulder.
"Please do not panic," said the voice, its tone warm and soothing. "Now that you know our numbers, go back to your homes. We have wonders to show you."
Slowly people drifted inside. My mother leaned against me as we walked back to our door. The way she was trembling made me angry at the aliens.
When we were back in the kitchen I saw that the television was showing pictures of the Lyran Starfleet. A news announcer came on, looking terrified. "The reports we are seeing indicate that the spaceships which have suddenly appeared in our skies are so numerous they can be seen from every spot on the planet. The president has said"
The screen blinked and the announcer disappeared. The blue-skinned woman took his place. "Please forgive us if we have frightened you," she said with a smile. "But you must understand our power before you can understand our offer."
"What does she mean?" whispered my mother.
Before I could answerI really didn’t have any idea what to say, anywaythe picture changed.
A beautiful world appeared on the screen.
"This is our home," said the alien woman. "We love it very much."
The screen showed image after image of clean cities, happy people, pristine forests. No one looked hungry. No one seemed sick.
"Now," said the woman, "let me tell you why we are here. You have many troubles. War . . . poverty . . . hunger . . . terrorism."
As she spoke, more images flowed across the screen, ugly ones: men and women, some of them much younger than me, dying in battle; children lying on dusty streets, their bellies swollen with hunger; bombs exploding among rushing crowds; a forest, yellow and dying; a dead river, thick with sludge; the remains of Chicago.
I had seen all this before, of course. But now I felt my cheeks grow hot with shame. I didn’t like having visitors from another world know about these things. And I was embarrassed because I knew we should have done more to fix them.
"Do not feel bad," said the Lyran woman, as if she were reading my mind. "Once we had these problems, too. But we have solved them. That is why we have come here: to offer you our solutions."
Her face appeared on the screen again, smiling and gentle. "Think of it," she said softly. "With our help you can end war, hunger, and disease. We have cures for the mind and the body that can take you to a golden age."
"But what do they want in return?" whispered my mother. She was looking right at me, as if I would have the answer.
I shook my head. I didn’t know.
"If you wish," continued the Lyran, "we will leave and let you deal with these problems on your own, as we did. But you must understand that you may not survive the process. Your world has reached a danger point, and you may destroy the planet before you heal yourselves. Or, if the majority of you prefer, we will stay and teach you what we know. But you must also understand that the knowledge we have to offer carries its own dangers. We will be providing you with tools and technology far greater than any you now possess. If we simply handed them over to you, we have little doubt that you would destroy yourselves within ten years.
"So here is what we propose: In return for our gifts, we ask you to put yourselves in our hands and let us care for your world until you are ready to do the job properly. You will have to give up making your own laws, of course. We will do that for you. We will run your schools. We will decide what your factories make. We will distribute the products.
"If you agree, we will give you amazing new tools. We will clean your water and take the poison from your air. We will feed your hungry, clothe your poor, heal your sick."
She smiled. "Of course, you could do these things yourselves, if you wanted to badly enough. But then, you already know that, don’t you?"
The Lyran stopped smiling. "The choice you face is too important to be made by your politicians. It must be made by the peopleall the people." She paused, then added, "This, too, we can make possible.
"Soon, you will fall into a deep sleep. After you do, we will prepare you for the vote. Once that is done, we will leave, so that you can think about our offer. In eight days, we will return. Then it will be time for you to vote. If you reject our offer, we will leave in peace. If you choose to accept, we will begin work immediately."
Her voice was kind. Even so, I began to shake as I felt myself grow sleepy. My mother reached out and grabbed my hand.
A moment later we were both sound asleep.
Copyright © 2008 by Bruce Coville
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