About the Author
Martin Leicht decided at the age of three that he wanted to spend his life spinning stories, and he went on to receive his MA from the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU. He lives in New York City, though his heart will always be in Philadelphia. Martin Leicht and Isla Neal are the authors of The Ever Expanding Universe trilogy, which includes Mothership, A Stranger Thing, and The World Forgot.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Stranger Thing Chapter One
In Which Our Heroine Is Licked by a Bear
“Everything’s okay, Elvs. Seriously, like, no worries.”
Easy enough for Cole to say—he didn’t just push a person the size of a watermelon out of his private parts. Nor does he currently find himself under the piercing gaze of several suddenly constipated-looking Alien McHotHotts.
Now, I know I was preoccupied and everything, but I am certain that there were only five people in the room as I grunted, strained, and (let’s be perfectly frank here) farted the Goober out of my womb and into the world. Besides me, there was Cole (my baby daddy), Dad (my dad), Ducky (world’s best bestie), and one smokin’ Almiri doctor. And baby makes six. Or so I thought. Now I realize that several others were either waiting in the wings the entire time, or standing elsewhere out of sight. And now that my little bundle of joy is lying in my arms, they have all stepped forward, each one looking grimmer than the last.
“It’s female?” one of the dudes asks the doc gravely.
The doctor nods, stunned. And everybody in the room—even my own father—is staring at me and my newborn like we just snuck a jumbo-size combo meal past the ticket guy into the movie theater.
“I’m confused,” Ducky says, scratching his head. “I thought Almiri were always male.”
“I was under a similar impression, Donald,” my father says beside him. “Fascinating.”
Maybe “fascinating” isn’t the word I would use, but yeah, I’m a little perplexed myself. From everything Cole’s told me about his race (or species, or whatever you want to call an extraterrestrial group that traveled to Earth thousands of years ago to use human women as hosts for their offspring), I took it as fact that the Almiri only have one gender—a gender that requires a dongle. And yet . . . looking down at the gooey infant in my arms, it’s hard to argue that she most definitely has a full array of girl parts.
“Take it,” one of the Almiri snaps. “And secure the host and the father for questioning.”
No sooner are the words out of his mouth than all of the Almiri burst into a flurry of panicky action. One of the fellows standing in my peripheral vision rushes forward and snatches the Baby-Formerly-Known-as-Goober away from me before I can even react.
“Hey!” I shout, reaching clumsily to grab my baby back, but the thief is already moving toward the exit. Another Almiri falls into step behind him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I hear Cole demand.
“Ibrida,” the baby-napper says . . . to which Cole (who, I should mention, can barely speak English most days, let alone whatever language that was) responds with a completely blank stare. “It’s a mule,” the guy says—as though that clarifies anything. His voice is even but strained. “Did you know about this?”
“Know about what?” Cole asks. “What are you talking about?”
“What’s going—ahhh!” I turn at the sudden sharp pain and see the doctor remove the syringe from my arm. “No, please, I . . . ,” I begin, but words are failing me. They have my baby. They took my baby.
I turn my head—which, holy crap, just got forty pounds heavier on my neck—to see if I can catch another glimpse of my daughter. Instead, I see only the second Almiri, who turns to Cole with a disgusted look on his face. “You just can’t help finding shit to step in, can you, Archer?”
“I don’t even . . . Hey, come back here with my kid!”
That’s when whatever night-night cocktail the doc has fed me begins to set in, so the Almiri at the door blocking Cole’s path and clasping him by the arms, trying to immobilize him, goes kinda fuzzy. Little swirlies dance in my field of vision, mixing in with the sight of Cole head-butting his restrainer—but that can’t be right, I think. The guy was his friend just moments ago, when they arrested the Jin’Kai heavies who chased us here in the first place. I’m pretty sure the head-buttee crashes to the floor, but there’s three more of him who take his place. And then I know the happy mommy juice is really starting to get to me, because I see two more Almiri move in beside Dad and Ducky, and calmly but forcibly escort them out of the room. And that shit just doesn’t make any sense.
“It’s all right, Elvie!” I hear Cole call, his voice growing fainter. “Don’t worry about anything! I’m here!”
The rest is all purple unicorns and gold stars singing show tunes, until everything goes black.
· · ·
The first thing I wonder, as I come to, is whether or not the handcuffs shackling me to the hospital bed will be covered by my health insurance. My second thought, obviously, is what the flip am I doing handcuffed to a hospital bed? And where in the hell am I? This certainly doesn’t look like a recovery room at Lankenau Medical Center.
The haze quickly lifts, and I shuffle through a few blurry memories, mostly overheard snippets of conversation.
“. . . did we have any indication . . . ?”
“. . . Archer doesn’t seem to have a clue . . .”
“. . . never met a bigger numbskull . . .”
“. . . wreck was not salvageable . . .”
“. . . decrypted full records from the ship . . .”
“. . . last time this happened . . .”
“. . . what Byron has to say when we get there . . .”
“. . . have you seen my lip balm . . . ?”
None of which is helping me solve Elvie Nara and the Case of the Mystery Room. There are no monitors, nursebots, or any other medical gear keeping track of vitals or anything like that. As far as I can tell, the room consists of four white walls, a door, and a bed.
And me, of course.
“Hello?” I call out. There is no response for, like, a while, and I start to worry that I’m in some sort of soundproof room, or that maybe I’m just hallucinating the whole weird scene. Creepy dead silence, that’s all I get. But right when I’m really about to panic, the door slides open and in walks the same doctor from the delivery room, carrying a slender lap-pad and a scowl.
“Hey, are you my OB/GYN?” He scrolls through something on his lap-pad and does not respond. “What’s with the cuffs?” I try again. “You guys afraid that I’ll Hulk out on you?” I’m trying to play it light, hoping my gay spirits will take the edge off the fact that they’re treating me like a Jin’Kai POW, instead of, you know, their old pal Elvie. But the doc doesn’t seem to want to play along. “How long have I been here?” By the way my stomach’s growling I’m guessing it’s been at least a day, if not longer.
At last the doc looks up. “You’re feeling normal? No discomfort or odd sensations?”
“I’m hungry.” Understatement of the millennium. “Where is every—”
“I’ll see about getting you some food. In the meantime, Alan here is going to take you upstairs for a little while.”
Before I can ask if Alan is the doc’s imaginary six-foot white rabbit, the dude comes walking through the door.
Most of the Almiri are young-looking, but this guy’s stiff demeanor makes him look even younger, like he’s fresh out of the Almiri Acadamy for Impregnating Unsuspecting Earth Girls. He’s bland as toast, too. Standard-issue haircut, no scars or wacky tattoos to help place him in a lineup. As Ducky might put it, if Alan were on Star Trek, he’d be wearing a red shirt and an expiration date.
Alan glances at me. “Uh, what am I supposed to do, wheel her?” he asks.
“She can walk,” the doc replies. “We can undo the cuffs for now, I think.”
The doc strolls over and jabs a code into the handcuffs, quickly ridding me of my shackles. I rub my wrists like they’re terribly sore, but it’s mainly just an effort to garner a smidgen of sympathy.
My captors do not seem to notice.
“Hey, guys?” I say as they help me to my feet. “Two questions for you. First, where’s my baby? And second, could I get something to wear besides this gown? My butt’s, like, flapping in the wind.”
“There’s a robe in the closet,” the doc replies. And with that, he walks out the door, leaving me alone with Alan.
“He didn’t answer my first question,” I say. “That was kind of the important one.”
“Come on,” Alan says, clearly anxious to be rid of me. “Byron’s waiting.”
· · ·
I sit quietly in the middle of the room where Alan has deposited me, tugging nervously at the trim of my not-quite-long-enough terrycloth robe. It solves the butt-on-display-to-the-world problem I was having, but I’m still flaunting enough leg to make a burlesque dancer blush. If I was feeling particularly whimsical, I might enjoy conjuring the image of the Almiri prancing around in these robes that, at best, are going to cover them to mid-thigh.
I can hear several voices coming through the adjoining side door keep rising and falling—some sort of group powwow. The volume occasionally reaches a decibel that indicates that nobody inside is feeling very polite.
Alan didn’t leave anyone to guard me while I wait. Well, I should say, he didn’t leave any person. I am currently surrounded by a literal menagerie of assorted animals. And we’re not just talking goldfish and kittens and parakeets, your typical household pets. Oh no. There are two large flamingos crowding me on the faux leather chair that’s busy sticking to my thighs. Seated across from me on the ornate stone desk are the three smallest monkeys I’ve ever seen, fighting over a banana that’s bigger than they are. Behind me, two foxes and a badger are wrestling with one another, and a peacock fans its feathers in a defensive stance as it tries to convince the meerkat to look elsewhere for a playmate.
And then, of course, there’s the bear.
It’s probably not a real big one, by bear standards, but honestly, when you’re sitting three feet away from a bear—any bear—it seems like the most gigundous thing in the entire universe. This particular Ursus whateverus has been blocking the main doorway, licking its own cinnamon fur, for the past ten minutes, oblivious to anything else in the room.
I look away (because everyone knows it’s rude to stare at animals that can eat you) and find myself studying an oddly familiar oil painting hanging over the mantel of the fireplace. I know I’ve seen the thing before somewhere, but I can’t place it. Old-school mustachioed dude with a chin dimple, sporting a seriously ugly orange-and-green headscarf.
Lots of terrible thoughts are running through my mind at the moment, and only a few of them are bear-related. Obviously, my Almiri hosts are not quite as benevolent as they once appeared. The fact that my baby turned out to be a girl must either have them confused, scared, or both. They’ve done something with the baby, something with Cole, something with my dad and Ducky. And they’re clearly planning something for me. A sane person would sit quietly and pray to come out of this whole situation in one piece.
I have never been accused of being a particularly sane person.
I rise to my feet with thoughts of bursting into the side room, all bravado and bluster, and shouting that I’m tired of being shoved around by different factions of extraterrestrials who think they’re entitled to mess with my reproductive organs, and that I’m sick of waiting in this zoo, and if they’re going to interrogate me or torture me or whatever, could they please just get it over with already? But I don’t get that far, because that’s when Cinnamon finally realizes I’m in the room. He flops forward onto all fours with a harrumph and plods toward me.
“Okay, okay!” I shout. My mind is racing. Which are the sorts of bears you’re supposed to try to scare off, and which are the ones you’re supposed to play dead with? Shit. “I’m sitting,” I tell it, more gently. And I plop back down on the chair. “See how well I’m sitting? Like nobody’s business. So heel. Or mush. Or . . . go away.”
Cinnamon does not go away. He shuffles over to me, and I realize with a great amount of uneasiness that even on all fours he’s looking down on me. He starts nuzzling my shoulder, and his head is so huge that he practically pushes me off the chair into a pile of something one of the birds has left behind. His fur is rough and scratchy, prickling my neck. Less “teddy bear” and more “roadhouse creeper.” I want to grab the thing’s jumbo noggin and shove him away, but I have this overwhelming desire to keep all my limbs attached to my body, so I just grip the edge of the seat until my fingers turn white, and try to look nonchalant. Like I get nuzzled by bears all the time.
“I’m just sitting,” I mutter. Cinnamon continues to get his nuzzle on. The giant furball is now licking my neck and the side of my face, long leathery slurps that leave trails of sticky bear saliva on my skin. “Not going to let a big-ass bear licking half my face off get in the way of a good sit,” I squeak out in between slurps. “Why don’t you try sitting too?”
The door to the side room opens up, and the muffled voices from within are suddenly clear.
“You cannot expect us to go along with this,” comes a strident voice. It’s angry. Pissed, even. “It goes against every protocol!”
Then I hear another voice, calmer and steadier than the rest.
“I’ve made my decision, gentlemen.” I look past the furball assaulting my personal space to see a tall, slender figure in a red jacket standing with his back to me in the doorway. “I do not make it lightly, nor should you take it as a point of debate.”
That’s when another angry voice chimes in. “The Council will never stand for such a blatant disregard for procedure!”
The figure in the doorway shifts casually. “The Council will have their say, of course. But so long as I’m the commander of this station, I will make the call.”
“Thank you, gentlemen, that will be all for now,” the man in the doorway interrupts. “Alan, please see that the arrangements are being made. There’s a good lad.” And with that, he turns and steps inside to join me, closing the door behind him. And the moment he enters the room, he owns it.
That’s what the Almiri call him. Their leader. I’ve seen him before, of course—on the communication view screen back on the Echidna, when we were trying to avoid being blown to smithereens. But I’ve seen him elsewhere, too. East of Eden. Giant. Rebel Without a Cause. No matter what the leader of this group of parasitic alien life-forms chooses to call himself, I will always think of him as James Dean, my mother’s favorite 1950s flat-pic dreamboat.
“Drusilla!” he booms to the gargantuan mound of fluff that’s currently using my face as a tasting menu. “Get down off of Elvie, please. That’s a good girl.” And just like that, the licking stops. Drusilla backs away from me, giving me one last sneeze as a parting gift before retreating to her master.
I’ve got to say the guy looks pretty good for a dude who’s supposedly been dead for 120 years. He pets Drusilla o...
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