I’ve been in a sci-fi hit lately, so I pulled this out of my old writing folders.
But, I, uh, don’t know how the story ended because an old classmate of mine from college asked me to write the beginning of a story for her as a writing prompt, like…uh…some years ago? It was after I graduated so I at least knew how to write like an adult and not like a high schooler foaming over the remains of my middle-school fantasies. She wanted something high-brow but pulpy enough to stretch her literary writing muscles, so I remember cracking my knuckles and going “You want literary-pulp finery? I’ll give you literary-pulp finery, buwahahaha.” Don’t look down on us pulp writers!….am I a pulp writer? Do I need to have an identity crisis?
I remember editing the story when she finished it. So why can’t I remember the story itself? Usually, my memory for anything I read is excellent. Maybe aliens stole it. Or she made it to contemporary literature-esque.
Tay and Liz
Of course, Goh knew what they meant when they said his father was dead. He was nine, not an idiot.
And yet he didn’t cry as he sat in his grassless front yard, scratching out dinosaur bones from the dirt, just as he’d done the day before. Dad hadn’t been here either then. He’d been at work, as he always was.
Every now and then, a fire ant would scuttle across some part of his excavation site. He didn’t squish it. Squishing it would summon the others, and fire ants were mean suckers. Not unlike the little black ones.
“What you doing, Shitty? Playing in the dirt like a baby.”
The first twinge of dread spiked through his numb chest, where he kept their words: Dead. I’m so sorry. He twisted up his face into a scowl.
Standing on the sidewalk, shoulders back and ugly sharp face baring every tooth in his mouth, was Joshua, a twelve-year-old who seemed to think his nearing puberty warranted a ticket to becoming god of the world.
“Buzz off, buttface,” snapped Goh.
“Oo, buttface, what a big word. My mom told me your dad’s dead, is that true? Did he really get killed by the aliens?”
“I said go away.” Goh jabbed his stick harder than he intended to in the side of what was going to be the skull, and the dirt siding crumbled away. The dinosaur head now had a hole in the top. A bullet wound.
Joshua snorted. “Your daddy ain’t dead. Otherwise, you’d be crying.”
“You’re going to be crying if you don’t leave me alone.”
“Why? You going to go tell on your mommy? Don’t you think you’re a little old for that?”
Goh started chinking away at the hole in his dinosaur skull. His brain had meant to start digging away from the hole and not make it worse, but a hot, buzzing clicking in his head had pounded out the thoughts. His hand had started to sweat and he couldn’t seem to stop it from jamming over and over.
“Come on, Shitty. Tell me your dad ain’t dead.”
“Oh, so he is?”
“You must’ve hated him–wait.” Joshua’s angular face bent into a look of mock horror. “You like the aliens, don’t you? Man, you wanted them to kill your daddy? Sick.”
The numbness in his chest had split open into a gush of fire that sent every cell in his body shrieking. A plume of red-tan desert dust rose into the air as Goh found himself on his feet, excavating twig held up like a dagger.
“What kind of idiot goes around making fun of kids because their dad died?” Goh snarled.
“I’m a man!” Joshua snarled back, amusement gone and something sharp and hard as a tack taking its place. “And men don’t go wiping baby eyes. And you’re the one who ain’t normal, aren’t you sad or anything? If anyone is rotten it’s you, not shedding a single tear over your old man.”
That rankled him. Dinosaur forgotten, Goh flew at him, vision fuzzed red with dust.
Joshua caught the arm bringing the twig down to his face, but his foot slipped on the edge of the sidewalk and he stumbled back. Goh just went down with him, swinging his knobby fist into whatever part of Joshua he could reach, gut aflame. His knees hit the pavement hard when they landed, and yet somehow Joshua managed to noodle out from beneath him like the snake he was.
Goh couldn’t comprehend someone like Joshua existing in the world. This is how it always started between the two of them. Joshua would come by, acting like he was just on a walk and stopped to say hi, but instead, he’d start spouting cruel nonsense that could have come out of a crappy cartoon.
If anyone should have been killed by the aliens, it should have been him.
The thought sparked renewed energy in Goh’s flailing limbs and he sent a knee to the kid’s groin.
Unfortunately, Joshua was a good foot taller than Goh, and all hard, thin muscle and bone to boot. Goh’s kick grazed off his thigh. The bigger boy still had a grip on Goh’s twig-armed hand, and he twisted about the younger boy’s head. Goh’s shoulder gave a painful pop, but the pain just made him roar louder. He started spitting out all the curse words his mother would wash his mouth out for and which Joshua used with frequency, but it just made the boy laugh.
“You a big boy now!” he said.
“SHUT UP!” Ignoring the pain, Goh yanked hard, his sweaty hand slipping free of Joshua’s grip. His arm swung back with painful relief and Goh was upon him, digging his knuckles into his bumpy, scrawny ribs.
The pain must have turned something in the bigger boy because the fist that came crashing into Goh’s cheek came much harder than he had before. The force of it pushed Goh back, vision clouded with stars. Since when had Joshua been that strong? He really was a monster!
The fists twisted up in Goh’s shirt vanished. Goh dropped graciously to the asphalt and heard the patter of sneakers as Joshua booked it. He lay there until he felt his mother’s presence next to him, but he didn’t feel saved or relieved. He wasn’t even satisfied that he’d managed to get a good punch in at Joshua for once, or even having a better reason to do so than the usual harassment.
The numbness in his chest didn’t return, but stayed open and cracked, bleeding ick like an infected wound.
“What did he do this time?” Her voice still sounded thick.
He curled in on himself, scraping his cheek against the rough street.
She sighed. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s get you cleaned up. I swear that child was spawned by something nasty, why doesn’t she send him to an institution or something?”
A part of Goh wondered if they had places like that for perpetual bullies; like prisons, except for He bad children. A place where you went to have the jerk beat out of you.
For some reason, he wondered if he should be in there.
She didn’t rush him, and he eventually got up from the street when a few passing cars unnerved him enough. He didn’t much like the idea of his head being run over. He followed her inside their small, two-room house, one of the cookie-cutter ones built in the fifties when the factories in the area had boomed and whole neighborhoods had been built for the workers. She and he had painted it mint green to contrast with the tan and oranges of the surrounding desert crags, and also because they had both been rather fond of it.
He tried not to see how puffy and blotchy her face was as she waited for the water from the facet to get hot. Hopping onto the counter didn’t help, as it put him at the same level as her face.
“Really, why today of all days,” she muttered, finally putting the rag under and wringing it out. “What did he do to provoke you this time?”
“You don’t want to know,” he said, though it was rather that he didn’t want to say it. The icky in his chest made his tongue curl back at the thought, because what if it was true?
“You’re probably right.” She appeared in front of him, thin fingers peeling away the torn fabric of his jeans from his knees. A strand of long, curling dark hair had escaped her messy bun and brushed against his arm. He turned his head, his throat tightening. He didn’t want to look at her wet eyelashes.
“What are they going to do about the aliens?”
She scooped the escaped curl of hair behind her ear. “What aliens, sweet?”
“All of them.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific, do you mean the ones that got him?”
“All of them.”
His mother paused in picking out the tiny dirt clods and wiping away the dirt from his scrapes to give him a frown. It brought out more wrinkles in her face than he cared to notice. He knew how young his mother was compared to other people’s mothers, and it seemed unreal that she should ever show age.
“Goh, just because some of them were bad doesn’t mean all of them are. That’s a dangerous way of thinking.”
“But it isn’t just the ones that got Dad,” his chest clenched, not at the effect the word ‘dad’ had brought on him, but the lack of. “There’s lots others. Crazy terrorists, like that Bin Laden guy. My teacher said people want to go to war against them or just stuff them all into the same area and keep them away from us.”
She moved to wipe his cheeks and the rag pulled away with red dust.
“I don’t approve of your teacher talking politics,” she said, and the anger tingeing her voice was real.
“So what are they going to do with them?” he pressed. “They’re not going to keep letting them come, right? I mean…they’re aliens. Jim says they’re planning on taking over the planet—“
“Their ambassador made it plenty clear that they only intend to stay until the war on their planet is over. Besides,” she dropped the rag into the sink and went to the cupboard above the fridge to pull out the first aid kid. She could never reach it on her own. She always had to pull out a stool. Dad could have reached it easily. “There are as many of them as there are of us. Neither side wants conflict, because that would mean a lot of people dying. Besides, there have already been some people marrying the aliens. They’re not too different from us.”
“Then why is dad dead?”
The instant she flinched, his stomach cramped with guilt. He had let his frustration get the better of him. Why couldn’t she just understand and give the answer he needed? The one that would get the numbness in him to go back up? Or, at least, the answer he could use to get her to stop crying, or get him to cry.
She didn’t answer right away, just looked at him, the stool she had meant to pull over to the fridge hanging from her fingertips. Then, ducking her chin down, she set the stool and climbed up to get to the old cookie tin filled with band-aids and such.
“Yes,” she said softly. “There’s a small number of them that do want to take the planet for themselves, but they’re mixed in with the others, the ones that want nothing more than to live with us in peace. Seem to think their god has given Earth to them and other such nonsense. But they are very small. Dad was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Then kick them all out,” said Goh vehemently.
She sighed again, more heavily. “You haven’t heard a word I said.”
But he thought it the other way around. The solution was so simple he couldn’t help but clench his fists and heat up. Did she like how sad she was?
Before she could unstuck the band-aid from its wrapper, he slid from the counter. He didn’t need her to stick them on for him. He wasn’t a baby. He didn’t even really need band-aids, it wasn’t like it hurt all that bad. It just stung.
She made a noise of protest but didn’t stop him from stomping out of the tiny kitchen to his bedroom. He was overreacting. Even he knew that. And yet knowing that didn’t help stop it.
A minute later, from his curled vantage point on top of his dinosaur sheets, his mother slipped in a few large band-aids under his door and quietly walked away.