Read an Excerpt
Visitors, Book Two
By Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
All rights reserved.
There are things under the earth that want to eat our brains. Slimy things with tentacles. Things that glow in the dark invading your nightmares. Invading your bedroom. Invading your brain.
This was what I was thinking as I stood in the night looking up at the dark skies over Harley Hill.
Our lives had changed forever the night the aliens blasted out of space, landing in the barren Harley Hills just outside of town and burrowing down into the biggest hill. There had been a tremendous thunder-storm that night, with glowing rain and clouds that boiled with light.
We—me and my twin sister, Jessie—thought it was kind of cool. Until we discovered the aliens had turned our parents into sleepwalking zombies. They kept saying, "Everything-is-perfectly-normal," in their flat robot voices when everything was horribly weird and scary.
The worst of it was, we had no one to turn to for help. All the adults in Harleyville had become zombie servants of the alien mothership buried under Harley Hill.
It was just us—me and Jessie and our best bud Frasier Wellington. Three twelve-year-old kids against alien invaders trying to take over our town and then—the world!
I shuddered, picturing for an instant all we'd been through—the slithering thing in our parents' alien eyes, the winding melted rock walls of the alien tunnels beckoning us on to the pool of goo, the slimy tentacles snapping as they chased us—
A hand grasped my shoulder and I jumped.
"Nick, are you okay?" asked Jessie. Being twins, sometimes she can almost read my mind.
"Let's get out of here," I said. "Before they come back."
Jess didn't have to ask me who I was talking about. She knew. Them. The things.
"Come on, Frasier, we're out of here."
Our best friend Frasier was sitting on the rockslide covering the alien cave opening.
The three of us had made that rockslide happen. It was a huge avalanche burying everything, even the glow of light the aliens had sent out over our town. That rockslide was all that kept the aliens from swallowing up the Harleyville adults who'd been marching right toward it, their minds wiped away.
Part of me wanted to think we were safe now, that the things under the earth would no longer be mind-melting our parents.
But in my heart I knew the space creatures couldn't be stopped by an avalanche. Not for long. The tentacled monsters would burrow out from under the rock-slide. The strange, glowing light from Harley Hills would turn the adults into sleepwalking zombies again.
The visitors were here, and we couldn't stop them.
"Frasier?" Jessie squinted up the hill, looking doubtfully at our friend.
Usually Frasier talks a mile a minute, telling us his scientific theories, or coming up with some crazy scheme. But he was just sitting. His face was a funny granitelike color and he was as still as stone.
"Anything wrong?" Jessie asked him.
"Wrong? Nothing-is-wrong," he said in a flat robotic voice. "Everything-is-perfectly-normal."
He sounded just like our parents after the alien mind-melt!
"You're kidding, right?" I said. "This is one of your stupid jokes."
Instead of laughing or smiling, he just looked at me. And that's when I saw the slithering thing behind Frasier's eyes.
My best friend had just been taken over by the aliens!
"Frasier, snap out of it!" Jessie pleaded.
His head turned in her direction. He stood up and moved his lips into a gross, rubbery-looking smile. He started walking, stiff-legged, toward Jess.
"Come-with-me," he said to her. "Nothing-to-worry-you. Everything-is-normal. Perfectly-normal. You-will-be-safe-with-me."
Jessie's dark eyes widened. She shuddered so hard her brown hair swung over her shoulders. "Unfunny, Frasier," she said. "Hilarious—not!"
Frasier kept moving toward her, one robotic plodding step at a time, that weird smile pasted on his round face. He didn't seem to notice that his glasses were totally crooked.
"Come-with-me," he chanted. "Urgent."
Jessie's eyes switched to me as she backed away. "Tell me he's kidding, Nick," she said nervously. "This is Frasier's sick idea of a joke, right?"
I shook my head. "I don't think so."
Frasier started marching faster toward Jessie. She backed up into a cliff wall. Her head swung right and left in a panic but there was no place for her to go. Frasier stretched his arms toward her, fingers twitching.
"Frasier!" she cried. "Wake up!"
No reaction. Stomach churning, I picked up a small rock. I was too far away to reach him any other way. "Frasier, here!" I called and tossed it at him underhand, like a softball.
Startled, he whipped around, putting his hands up to protect his face. Jessie ran. Frasier's foot skidded on the pebbly ground. He wheeled his arms to keep from falling but his foot went out from under him.
His body hit the ground heavily and Frasier began to roll down the hill, faster and faster every second.
Then his head struck a rock and his scream cut off instantly. His body rolled and came to a stop. He lay there limp, arms flung out, still as death.CHAPTER 2
Jessie and I ran toward Frasier's unmoving body. Our feet slipped and skidded over the rough, steep surface. My blood zinged with fear for Frasier and fear that Jessie and I were both going to take a header right down the hill.
Tentacles would come creeping over all three of us and we wouldn't even know it.
Jessie reached Frasier first. She dropped down by his side and reached out to touch him. "Frasier!" she called urgently, her voice near tears.
My heart leaped into my throat. "NO, Jessie!" I shouted. "Stay back!" What if the alien inside our friend was faking, just waiting for us to come close enough to—
I skidded to a stop beside Jessie, chest heaving. Frasier's face was pasty in the moonlight. His mouth was slack and his glasses twisted over one ear. No way was he faking. But at least he was breathing.
I picked up his head gently and Jessie parted his hair. There was a nasty lump but it wasn't bleeding. He stirred and groaned. "Owwwww."
Frasier opened his eyes and I stiffened, searching his eyes for the slithering thing I'd seen in my parents' eyes. But it wasn't there.
Pushing himself up, Frasier rubbed his head. "Ow," he said. "I guess these aliens don't have a very good sense of Earth balance. Maybe the gravity on their planet is different."
Jessie let out her breath in relief. "It's really you, now, isn't it, Frasier?"
He nodded and winced. "Weird experience," he said.
"You must have been terrified," I said, leaning against a rock. "What did it feel like?"
"I wasn't scared," said Frasier, trying to straighten his glasses. "It was kind of cool. It was like I was there watching while this weird voice came out of my mouth. It never really had a hold of me. I felt like I could push it out with a flick of my fingers, mentally speaking. But I was interested."
"Interested!?" Jessie cried. "Those slimy things have fifty-foot-long tentacles. They took over the whole town, turned all the adults into zombies, including our own parents in case you didn't notice. After what we did, walling them in with that avalanche, you should have been terrified they'd turn your brain to mush!"
Frasier grinned. "I'm telling you, the thing couldn't really get a handle on me. But you guys! You guys looked scared!"
Jessie made a face at him. "Know what, Frasier? You were from another planet even before the alien ate your brain."
Frasier stuck out his tongue and rolled his eyes. Jessie punched his shoulder lightly.
But I was thinking. "Maybe we could learn something from this," I said. "Those things are still there, under Harley Hill. We blocked their tunnel, sure, but it won't stay that way for long. We have to be ready for them. They'll find a way out. And when they do—"
Suddenly Frasier stiffened. "Earth-will-submit," he said in that flat, robotic voice.
Jessie and I sprang back. Shivery chills raced up my spine.
"Everything-will-be-normal," Frasier stated, baring his teeth. "Perfectly-normal."CHAPTER 3
"AAAAH!" cried Jessie, backing away.
I couldn't make a sound. My brain felt frozen.
Frasier boomed out laughing. "Ha, ha, ha, ha." He slapped his knee, and his glasses slid down his nose. "You should see your faces," he said between bursts of laughter. "You guys are so easy!"
Jessie looked murderous, which was about how I felt. She turned and stalked off down the hill, which was hard to do since it was so steep. "I'm going home," she yelled back.
Frasier scrambled to his feet. "It was just a joke," he called out. He looked at me and shrugged. "I thought we could all do with a laugh."
Maybe I was crazy, too, but suddenly it did seem funny. I laughed so hard I almost fell on the ground.
But when I stopped laughing the hills suddenly seemed too quiet. "We'd better catch up to Jessie," I said.
Frasier nodded. But as we started down he looked around, a puzzled look on his face. "Hey, Nick, where did everybody go?" he asked. "Weren't there like a million people here just a little while ago?"
My heart skipped. He was right. How could I forget all the adults? We'd followed them up here, unable to shake them out of the zombie trance that was pulling them to the aliens' cave.
After the rockslide the aliens had lost their hold on them. The adults had awakened and come back to themselves.
But they'd been horribly confused. They all started wandering aimlessly, uncertain about where they were and where they wanted to go.
Now the hills were empty, except for us.
We hurried down the hill. Jessie was waiting for us where we'd left our bikes. "It's awfully quiet," she whispered, her brown eyes big and anxious in the moonlight. "Does it seem too quiet to you?"
The back of my neck prickled. "It's night," I answered. "It's always quiet at night."
"We'll probably catch up to the adults on the way to town," said Frasier. "They can't be that far ahead of us."
We got on our bikes and rode in silence. The rocky hills cast huge spooky shadows and I couldn't shake the feeling that something was waiting for us in each pool of darkness.
But nothing moved.
"Look!" cried Jessie, pointing to the sky.
My stomach lurched but it was only a flock of birds and they were far away—no danger to us.
"Since when do starlings fly at night?" muttered Frasier.
"They're too far away to tell what they are," I said sharply. "They could be any kind of bird."
"No. I can tell by how they fly," Frasier said quietly. "Starlings."
"They're going so fast," said Jessie, her voice sounding fearful in the dark. "They look like they're fleeing the town as fast as they can."
I shivered uneasily. "Let's not get spooked," I said.
We left the dusty, treeless hills. The road to town led through a wooded area. Hardly any moonlight filtered through the trees. It was so dark we had to slow to a crawl.
Still no people. And no more birds or any other animals either.
But finally the trees began to thin and we saw a few houses, then a few more. All were dark. Nothing stirred on the streets. Harleyville was like a ghost town.
"What's that noise?" asked Frasier, stopping his bike.
There was a rumble in the air and a snuffling noise, too. It sounded like an elephant with a very bad cold.
"It sounds alive," breathed Jessie. "And big."
"It's coming from that house," I said, pointing to the one on my right.
"No," said Frasier. "That one." He pointed to the one across the street.
"It's all of them! All the houses," cried Jessie. She dropped her bike in the road and dashed for the nearest house. "I'm going to find out!" she called as she ran.
"No, don't!" I yelled, but she was already up the porch stairs. She yanked open the front door without even knocking and darted inside.
"Jessie!" I shouted.
All around us the noise seemed to get louder. Hungrier.CHAPTER 4
Frasier and I leaped off our bikes and chased after Jessie. Had the aliens made her do this? Were they waiting inside for us, too?
As we pounded up the porch steps, I saw a dark figure lurking beyond the front door. My breath caught in my throat. Did they already have Jessie?
"Watch out!" I warned Frasier. "I saw something inside."
I grabbed the knob of the screen door and it was instantly jerked out of my hand. The door flew open and something came at me out of the dark house.
"YAH!" I blurted and stumbled backward into Frasier.
"Hey, it's only me," whispered Jessie. "Quiet. Everybody's asleep. Listen."
The snuffling, rumbling noise was really loud. It seemed to shake the house. "Snoring," said Jessie. "They're snoring."
We got back on our bikes and rode slowly toward home. The noise of snoring was unbelievable.
It should have been funny. We should have been rolling in the street, hysterical. But Jessie and Frasier looked as weirded out as I felt.
"How can everybody be sleeping when an hour ago they were all marching to Harley Hill in an alien trance?" wondered Frasier.
"How can everybody be snoring like that?" asked Jessie. "I never heard anything like it. Lots of people never snore."
"And they all sound exactly the same," I said. "That's not normal."
When we reached our house, Frasier came with us to the front door. It was the same here. Loud snores filled the house. My dad snored once in a while but I had never heard Mom snore.
"They sound like train engines going up a real steep hill," said Frasier. "Well, I guess I'll go see if my folks are at it, too."
Jessie and I went inside.
The noise of snoring seemed to shake the walls. "Maybe it's the stress of being taken over by aliens," Jessie suggested.
"Maybe," I said. I was thinking it might be the aliens' way of getting back their strength so they could break out of their new underground prison.
"What should we do now?" Jessie asked.
"What we usually do, I guess." Suddenly I felt exhausted. "Go to our rooms. Get some sleep."
Jessie's eyes locked on mine.
Sleep. It suddenly sounded dangerous.CHAPTER 5
The noise grew louder as we climbed the stairs.
Mom and Dad were snoring in unison. It was almost like a chant. As if they were summoning something out of the deep. Jessie clutched my arm. "It's like a spell," she said. "Maybe we should try to wake them. Maybe waking them will break the spell."
We crept down the dark hallway to our parents' room. I pushed open the door and we went in together.
Mom and Dad were lying on their backs. Their bodies were lined up perfectly straight, legs together and arms by their sides outside the covers. Moonlight fell on their faces, making their skin waxy.
"They're like Egyptian mummies," breathed Jessie.
The only thing that showed they were alive was their mouths, making that awful snoring.
Their bodies were as rigid as boards. "If you picked them up with a giant spatula," I said, "I bet they'd stay stiff."
Jessie shivered. Abruptly she leaned over and shook Mom's shoulder. "Mom," she urged. "Wake up. Wake up!"
I moved to the other side of the bed and shook Dad, begging him to wake. But they might have been stone for all the effect we had.
"WAKE UP!" we shouted together, pushing them as hard as we could. "WAKE UP!"
Finally, defeated, my heart cold as ice, I looked up and met Jessie's eyes. I could tell she felt the same. Without a word we turned and left the room.
"We need to sleep," I said, my eyes and limbs suddenly so heavy I could hardly move. "Tomorrow we'll try and figure out what to do."
Jessie yawned. "Right. We need our strength," she said.
We dragged ourselves off to bed, exhausted. But as soon as I lay down, my mind was flooded with horrible images.
A thick, purple tentacle oozing its way through the rockslide, pushing boulders from its path like pebbles. Soon it would reach freedom and its blunt slimy snout would probe the night air for the three kids who had tried to trap it.
More tentacles bubbling out of that strange syrupy pool we'd seen deep inside the aliens' cave. Wiggling and twisting over one another, like a huge pile of worms, all of them looking for us.
Excerpted from Things by Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett. Copyright © 1997 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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