“Why you—“ Zach clenched his fist. The bus started to drive away. He unclenched and waved his arms out, desperately trying to reach the eyes of the bus driver. No dice. It drove away.
“Crap!” Zach scratched his head and sighed
“Aww, our little baby freshman missed his baby bus! What ever will he do now?”
“Not today,” Zach said. “I don’t have time for this!” He darted out of the school parking lot.
Once free of the school grounds, Zach pumped his legs as fast as he could. He channeled his swift comic book heroes and immersed himself in the worlds he read about every day after school.
After about fifteen heart-pumping minutes, Zach made it home. The driveway was barren. Perfect. He scurried up the porch stairs, nearly tripping over his feet. He struggled with his jiggling keys for a moment.
“Come on! Only a few more minutes!”
Zach made it through the front door without a moment to breathe. He darted up the stairs and finally into the master closet.
A shoebox fell from the top shelf above hangers adorning Sunday dresses and dress shirts and onto the worn-out cream colored carpet.
Zach dove to the floor and lifted open the shoebox.
“Zach! I’m here!” A voice came from outside of the master bedroom.
Zach raced out of the closet, leaving the box aside. “Charlotte?” He poked his head out of his parents’ bedroom.
“Who else would it be?” Charlotte stood at the foyer of the house, chewing bubblegum like it was her job. She rolled her eyes and waved her keys in front of her. “We need to go to my school.”
Charlotte brushed her honey bangs out of her face. “I have a study date. Exam tomorrow. Stay in my dorm for the night.”
“Why can’t I just stay here? I’m in high school now!”
“Your parents are paying me, remember?”
“Yeah, but they’re not coming back until Jan—“
“Fine.” Zach sighed.
“Bring your lizard friend if you want.”
“N-no! It’s fine!” Zach found the wooden bannister in front of him much more interesting than he had ever perceived it before. The finish was stunning, and it really added a nice central touch to the foyer.
“I thought you two were inseparable. Is he dead?”
“No. Won’t you get in trouble with the RA?” He stopped admiring the bannister and looked back at Charlotte, whose face really wanted to be elsewhere. Probably her study date.
“Just bring him! Come on.” Charlotte walked out of the front door. Her obnoxious heels clanked down the steps in sync with Zach’s heartbeat.
Zach went back to the closet.
“I’m sorry Rex. We have to go visit Charlotte and her dumb college friends. I’ll make sure no one else sees you. I can’t risk it after your little accident last week! We’ll just do some reading like we always do.” Zach adjusted the fallen box and brought it over to his own room. He grabbed a pile of comic books and ran out after Charlotte.
Zach hated country music. In the passenger seat, he gazed at the green, glowing clock on the main console. Only five minutes of guitar twanging went by. Five minutes too long.
“Can we switch to something else? I have a headache.”
“Fine, whatever.” Charlotte flipped the seek button.
“Officer Randy Wilkins joined us earlier today to discuss a problem in Johnsburg. For the folks who didn’t tune in, we may have a potential alien threat on our hands—“
“You know what, I think it might be a migraine, actually.”
“I want to hear this!”
“Many members of the community have been reporting cases of poisonous gas being emitted from somewhere in the area. We are currently undergoing an investigation.”
“We’re trying to get as many details as possible, folks. The analyzed gas has properties of—“
“You don’t believe this garbage, right?” Zach put a hand on the shoebox in his lap.
“I mean, I haven’t heard anything about the gas, but I don’t know.”
“If anyone has any information regarding the source, please alert us immediately.”
The car came to a halt. Zach sighed in relief and lifted his hand from the box. His fingers left behind sweat marks.
“Looks like we’re here!” Zach graced the radio dial with his sweaty finger.
Once inside Charlotte’s dorm room, Zach plopped onto the main couch. He held the shoebox in one hand and his comics in the other.
“I have to go get ready,” said Charlotte. “Just keep quiet with your nerdy stuff.” She left, presumably to cake on that clown makeup of hers.
Zach lifted the lid of his box. “Hey, buddy! We can finally hang out now.”
Rex looked up at Zach with his black, beady eyes. His lime green skin rippled with dark speckles. The corners of his mouth pulled up as if he were smiling.
“So, which book do you want to read tonight? I got a few more the other day!”
Rex climbed out of the box and crawled over to Zach’s books. Zach smiled. Comic books were their favorite pastime. Superhero worlds were far more interesting than mundane society. A loud knock interrupted their conversation.
“Zach,” Charlotte called from the other room. “Can you get that?”
Zach opened the door to reveal a tall blond male in a varsity jacket. He looked oddly like Braden.
“Sup,” said the varsity man.
“Not much. Charlotte’s getting ready. You can come in and wait for her if you’d like. I’m Zach, by the way.” Zach stepped aside and let the man in.
“I’m Brody. Brody James.”
Zach sighed. They had to be related. The two made their way over to the couch and to the comic books.
“Do you read any of these?” Zach held up one of the books. He shook his head and looked at the ground wondering why he would ask anyone related to Braden if they read comic books.
“I-is…Is that a lizard?” Brody pointed to Rex dangling and holding onto the spine of the book for dear life.
“Yeah. Just my pet Rex. Just your ordinary lizard. Nothing special here.”
Brody screamed and darted away from Rex. His body shivered as he threw his arms in front of his face. “I HATE reptiles!” Brody grew smaller as he curled in on himself.
“But he’s friendly!”
“Zach! Take your little lizard friend and go outside!” Charlotte entered the room with three pounds of makeup on her face. “Sorry Brody! I didn’t know. I’ll keep you safe in here with me.” She put a hand on Brody’s jacket-padded shoulder and winked. Zach nearly gagged.
“Fine. I’ll go for a walk.” Zach slipped Rex into his pocket, leaving the escape of the comic books behind, and headed out of the residence hall.
Zach walked into the cold October night. He strolled along the main campus path and took in the sights of sparkling buildings, colorful falling leaves, and quad landscapes. Students were grouped and clustered together and they seemed to be having the time of their lives. A group of university cheerleaders squealed after completing a stunt with a flip in it. They jumped into a group hug full of giggles. He was used to seeing this in high school. A couple strolled along the path hand in hand. The man looked over to the girl about a head shorter than him and nuzzled his nose into her hair. Disgusting. Zach rolled his eyes and looked towards another group. A pack of men wearing Greek letters on their backs bragged about a party they had all went to the other night and how it was their greatest memory thus far. No one was being bullied by anyone, and no one had the unwanted company of empty space. No one looked lonely.
Zach’s pocket felt like it was going to burst. The bottom two corners of the pocket were pushed out. He looked down to see Rex stirring his tiny green body around. Zach smiled. He didn’t need any school friends. He had Rex, and he was forever grateful for his presence. He thought back to their first meeting.
He heard a thunderous crash near the playground. He jolted and looked up from his Comic Books for Fourth Grade book. The groups of children on the playground seemed unfazed in their happy little worlds. Nothing must have happened. Tears grew in Zach’s eyes as he looked down at the empty space around him. He heard another, this time quieter, crash and turned his head around. A puff of smoke rose from the tops of the trees in the forest behind his school. Zach stood up and ran to the site of the noise and smoke.
He ran through the forest to find a pile of rubble in the leaves. At the center, he found a tiny creature that looked like a lizard. The lizard was unconscious and laying on its back.
“Hey, little guy!” He picked up the lizard and held it to his chest. Zach’s racing heart startled the tiny lizard into shivering incessantly. “You’re alive, then,” said Zach. He put the tiny body into the grass and laid it on its stomach. Zach took a finger and rubbed it over its scaly green back. The lizard snuggled up to Zach’s finger and opened its eyes.
“You’re going to be okay, friend!” Zach picked up the lizard and examined its body. “I don’t know where you came from, but I’m so happy that you’re here with me now!” Zach went back to his reading tree, lizard in tow, near the playground. He opened up his comic book collection and spent the remainder of recess reading with his new companion.
Zach inhaled a large cloud of cigarette smoke and coughed his way back into reality. Rex jumped around in his pocket. After a split second, he leapt out of Zach’s pocket and flew into the air. He shuddered, almost like a sneeze, and blue gas came out of his back.
“Oh no,” Zach muttered. He tore his jacket off of his shoulders and covered Rex with it. The gas still seeped through. The group of cigarette-smoking students crowded around the scene.
“Whoa, what’s that?” A girl pulled her phone out to take a video. She looked at Zach with puzzling eyes. Zach felt his heart go into overdrive as the blue smoke grew thicker.
“Nothing, I swear!” Zach stood in front of Rex. Rex ran around under Zach’s jacket. Zach’s hands grew wet as he gripped the jacket tighter.
“What are you hiding under there?” The girl narrowed her eyes at the jacket on the ground. She lunged towards the jacket and stumbled a bit. She turned to one of her friends. “I feel…weird. Don, what kind of cigs did you buy?” The girl dropped her phone and fell to the floor. Her eyes were closed as she was sprawled out.
“What the hell, man?” One of the other students dropped to her side. He put a hand to her wrist. He looked right through Zach’s eyes and masked his panic. “Call 911 or you’re dead,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
Zach looked at his phone but all he could see was the color white.
“Zach? Zach Turner?”
Zach opened his eyes to see an elderly woman standing over him. She looked kind, but her blue eyes had an aura of danger. Her eyelids were narrowed and she seemed grave.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, sweetie. You’ve been out for a little while now, but we need you to talk to someone for me. Can you do that?”
Zach blinked a few times. “Sure. Who?”
“Me, Mr. Turner.”
Zach turned his head to see a uniformed police officer with a stern gaze. Zach noticed his own lack of jeans or pockets. Or Rex.
“What is going on,” asked Zach.
“Hello, Zachary. My name is Randy Wilkins. I would like to have a talk about what happened last night.” He walked over to Zach’s bed side. Zach noticed Charlotte sitting across the bed. She was on her phone as if she could not care less.
“Where is Rex?!”
“The alien creature is currently under investigation at the laboratory. We have a lot of hard questions for you.”
“Don’t you dare kill him!” Zach sat up in bed. “He is my only friend! I need him!”
“I need you to answer my questions, Zachary.” The officer tapped his foot against the floor.
“I would rather die than be alone on this planet. Please don’t kill—“
“--Excuse me.” The officer sighed. “Thank you.”
“Of course you won’t listen to me! No one ever does. Not even my parents. They won’t even notice me. They’re on business trips all the freaking time. They don’t care about me. I haven’t seen them in years. They just have a stupid babysitter watch me every day.”
Charlotte coughed from her visitor’s seat. “Thanks.”
“You need to take me to the laboratory if you want me to live. Now.” Zach noticed the IV’s attached to his arm. He gripped one of them.
The nurse detached Zach from his tubes.
Two hours later, Zach stepped out of the police car and gazed up at the laboratory. This would be the final resting place of his only friend.
“I think you’re wrong about your parents, son.” Randy led Zach into the lobby of building.
A couple in lab coats and safety goggles approached them. They extended their arms.
“Mom? Dad? I thought you were on a business trip!”
Zach’s mother sighed. “Well…if you want to be technical about it.” She continued to hold out her arms, but Zach didn’t return the favor.
“Where were you? I needed you!” Zach frowned and turned to Randy. “Take me to Rex,” he demanded.
“We have to ask you some questions. First of all, did you know that your pal Rex was an alien?”
“I still don’t understand what is going on! Why should I be the one giving you useless exposition while my parents are here when they’ve been ‘away’ all this time?”
“Zachary!” Randy barked. “It’s not useless. Our lives are at stake. Even yours. Did you or did you not know Rex was an alien?”
“N-no” said Zach. “I mean, not right away. There was a crash when I met him, but I didn’t really know what it was or why it happened.”
“Right,” said Zach’s father. “There was meteor activity in 2003. We investigated it in this lab. We wanted to know if any substance came from it.” He adjusted his glasses. “We didn’t know it was by your school.”
“That’s because you never paid any attention to me!” Zach barked. He pierced blades through his parents. Zach’s father turned around and walked into the hallway.
“Relax,” said Randy. “So I’m assuming you took him in because he was harmed by the crash?”
“Yeah. He was my pet.”
“And then what?” Randy wrote notes onto a pad.
“And then we became best friends.” Zach closed his eyes and smiled. An image of Rex and Zach sitting on the bedroom floor huddled in comic books danced in Zach’s mind.
“Look, Rex! This one is known for super strength, this one can turn invisible, and this one is super fast!”
Rex crawled on top of the colorful page.
“Looks like you want to be super fast, huh?” Zach laughed. “You’re the best, Rex!”
Zach looked out his front window. Gray, empty air. No cars in the driveway.
“Rex, do you think my mom and dad will come home soon?”
Rex stayed put.
Zach sighed and grabbed a box from his closet. He opened it to reveal letters from his father.
“Zachary.” Randy’s voice halted the memory. “When did you find out Rex was an alien?”
“Not until last year. I started bringing him around Johnsburg a little more and I realized that he had been acting weird. Especially around cigarette smoke.”
Zach’s mother’s pager beeped. “Excuse me.” She left the room as Randy examined his notes.
“Do you smoke,” asked Randy.
“No, but a lot of people do. Rex would have some sort of reaction, like a sneeze, and he’d emit some blue—“
“Gas. That gas is extremely harmful. It is a threat to our community. We have had over twenty cases of blackouts throughout the past year, including yourself.” Randy wrote more on his notepad. “The gas’s properties cause a lack of oxygen to the brain. If those affected were delayed in medical treatment, they would be dead.”
Zach’s parents walked back into the room with matching smiles on their faces.
“What are you guys smiling about?” He turned to Randy. “I need to see Rex. Now. I am done with your stupid questioning.”
“Yes, sir.” Randy nodded. “We have him under locks in the examination room. From there, we will safely execute him and save our—”
“Killing my only friend? You’re sick!”
Zach’s father whispered something in Randy’s ear.
“Sweetie,” his mother reasoned, “We’ve been protecting you from toxic dangers. That is what your father and I study. When we discovered the gas, we thought it was a threat to us all.”
“We were going to have to sacrifice your friend to save our country,” his father added. “But once we started to examine him, we realized his kind is very, very, intelligent.”
“We may be able to find a way to control his behavior and treat the gas,” said Zach’s mother. “If we can keep him in the laboratory, you can still see him.”
“Why do you have to keep him?”
“We need to see if we can find his home planet and learn more about it. You can still visit him, I promise. And you can visit us too, okay?”
“Can I go see him now?”
Zach’s parents led him into the examination room. Rex sat in a large glass tank. Zach placed his hands up to the glass. Rex turned his head and looked right up at Zach.
“Hey Zach. How’s it going, best friend?”