The New Kid Is Not an Alien
by Bert Lowe
The new kid was skinny with big round eyes and a head like a melon. Worse, thought Sam, the kid has a goofy smile like he doesn’t even care he looks like a walking lollipop.
“Class,” said Mrs. Vogt, “This is Zack.”
“Zaxx,” corrected the boy. “I’m not an alien,” he added.
The class laughed and Mrs. Vogt smiled. “Class, this is Zaxx’s first day. I would like for someone to show him around the school.”
No way, thought Sam, just before a shove forced him out of the line he’d been standing in.
Behind him, Kelli gave him that, I didn’t do it, because I’m such an angel look.
“Thank you, Sam,” said Mrs. Vogt.
“Happy to help,” he said. Sam scowled at Kelli who stuck out her tongue.
“Now, class, please follow me to Art. Hands at your sides,” said Mrs. Vogt. “Sam, could you show Zaxx where he can put his things?”
Sam’s classmates followed Mrs. Vogt out of the room in a single file line.
“Just stick your bag under the coat pegs,” said Sam, pointing to a row of coats. “You won’t need it in art class.”
Zaxx clutched a purple backpack with silver stripes close to his chest and shook his head.
“Or you can take it with you,” said Sam, rolling his eyes. “Come on, Zacks.” Sam started to leave the room.”
“Zaxx,” corrected the other boy again. “I’m not an—.”
“Not an alien,” interrupted Sam. “Yeah, I got that part.”
“Will you be my friend?” asked Zaxx.
Zaxx took a device about the size of a phone out of his pack and pushed a button. The device chimed. “One,” said Zaxx, smiling. The boy studied the display on the machine. His smile changed to a frown. “Benzaxx has ten friends already? Luzaxx has twenty?” The boy slapped himself in the head.
“Problems?” said Sam.
“Human friend,” said Zaxx. “Tell me how to collect more friends. I need many.”
Sam gave Zaxx a strange look. “You don’t collect friends, you make them.”
Zaxx nodded and started rummaging in his bag.
“I haven’t made many myself,” continued Sam. “Not since Jimmy and Kelli anyway.”
Zaxx pulled two pieces of a robot’s leg from his pack and snapped them together.
Sam’s eyes went wide. “You don’t make them like that. You tell jokes or something. Come on, we’re going to be late to Art.”
Zaxx shoved the robot leg back into his bag.
Sam guided Zaxx through the school’s halls to Art class. By the time they got there, Mrs. Vogt had left and some kids were already flinging paint onto large sheets of paper. Sam and Zaxx settled in front of their own canvases. The art teacher was inside a storage closet getting more paint.
“Knock, knock,” said Zaxx in a voice loud enough for everyone in the class to hear.
Sam sighed. Well, I told the kid to tell jokes. When no one answered, Sam asked, “Who’s there?”
“Interrupting cow,” said Zaxx.
Before Sam could ask “who?” Zaxx opened his pack and a cow poked its head out.
“MOOOOO!!!” mooed the cow.
Kids in the class screamed.
“How many would like to be my friends now?” asked Zaxx. “Please raise your hands.”
No one raised their hands.
“What’s going on?” demanded the art teacher, storming from the storage closet.
“Check his bag!” said Kelli, pointing to Zaxx.
The art teacher asked Zaxx to open his bag, but when she looked inside, she said, “Empty. Please stop disrupting the class, Kelli.”
Sam stuck his tongue out at the girl.
“You don’t like that girl?” asked Zaxx quietly.
“No, she’s okay,” said Sam. “Look, it’s complicated. I don’t want to talk about.”
By the time Art class ended, Zaxx told a dozen more knock knock jokes and had asked every student if their refrigerator was running. No one wanted to be the boy’s friend.
“Benzaxx already has fifty new friends,” said Zaxx glumly as he stood in the cafeteria lunch line with Sam. “Luzaxx has even more.”
Sam put his arm around Zaxx. “You’ve still got me, buddy,” he said. “And I actually like you now. That trick bag of yours is cool.”
Zaxx gave Sam a small smile and looked around the lunchroom. “New friend Sam,” said Zaxx. “Who is the boy whose face appears on all the lunch containers?”
Sam wrinkled his nose. “Dustin Beaver. He sings. Tons of people like him.”
A strange grin came over Zaxx’s face. He opened up his backpack.
“It’s cheese enchiladas day,” said Sam, looking ahead at what the cafeteria workers were serving. “If you mix the beans, cornbread, and some salsa into the enchiladas, then stir it all into a paste, it’s not half bad.”
A voice sang out, “Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.”
Looking around, Sam saw Zaxx standing on a lunchroom table. The boy held a microphone to his mouth.
“And on his farm he had some cows, E-I-E-I-O,” sang Zaxx.
Cows again? thought Sam.
“Now everybody sing with me!” shouted Zaxx.
“With a moo, moo, here…” mumbled Sam.
Zaxx held out the microphone so other kids could sing along, but no one did.
A hand came to rest on Sam’s shoulder. Mrs. Vogt said, “Sam, do you think you can guide Zaxx to the principal’s office?”
“Yes, Mrs. Vogt.”
On the way to the principal’s office, Zaxx hummed Yankee Doodle. The microphone had disappeared back into his bag. When they arrived at the office, Sam and Zaxx sat down on the hard plastic chairs and waited for the principal.
“Zaxx,” said Sam. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re an alien, right?”
“Yes,” said Zaxx. He slapped his head. “I mean, no.” The boy sighed and opened his backpack, rooting inside.
“Are you looking for some kind of memory wiper to zap me with?” asked Sam.
“Yes,” said Zaxx. He slapped his head again. “No.”
“It’s okay,” said Sam. “You’re my friend. I won’t tell anyone. Hey, can I see what’s inside your bag?”
At that moment, the principal stepped out of her office and motioned with her finger for Zaxx to come inside.
Zaxx sighed again and handed Sam his backpack. “It’s a portable, multi-dimensional storage system with pencil sharpener,” he said. “Turn the dial to see the different compartments.”
While Zaxx met with the principal, Sam kept turning the dial on the backpack and looking inside. Each time he turned the dial, the bag shifted to views of different rooms filled with robot parts, gadgets, and other amazing things.
When Zaxx came out again, Sam said, “This thing is huge on the inside! There’s even a swimming pool with a water slide.” He stopped talking when he saw Zaxx’s expression.
“The principal called my parents,” said Zaxx. “My mom was really mad. She said she was thinking of sending an invasion fleet to conquer this planet, just to teach me a lesson.”
“Wow, that’s rough,” said Sam.
“Why can’t I be more like my clones, Luzaxx and Benzaxx?” said Zaxx. “They make friends so easily.”
“It just harder for some kids,” said Sam. “Last year, this kid named Jimmy and I were best friends. He was kind of quiet, but we got along great. Me, Jimmy, and his cousin Kelli played kickball together every day.”
“What happened?” asked Zaxx.
“Jimmy’s mom is in the Army,” said Sam. “She got reassigned, so they had to move away. I’ve never really made another friend like Jimmy.”
“I’m sorry,” said Zaxx.
“That’s okay,” said Sam. “I’ve got you now. Come on. It’s time for recess.”
Sam guided Zaxx outside to the playground. Kids swung on swings, played on jungle gyms, or ran around playing tag and other games.
A crowd gathered around a dirt and grass field with four bases at its corners. Kelli stood at the center of the field and rolled a red ball toward a kid standing at home plate.
“What’s that game?” asked Zaxx.
“Kickball,” replied Sam. “It can get pretty intense.”
Sam pointed as the kid at home plate kicked the ball high into the air over the infield. “If the other team catches the ball while it’s in the air, you’re out. If they tag the base before you get to it, you’re out. But nobody really plays that way. Watch.”
A tall girl playing on the field with Kelli positioned herself to catch the kickball as it arced back to the ground. The ball hit the girl’s hands, but the girl appeared to juggle the ball. It hit the dirt in front of her. The girl grinned.
“She failed to catch the ball on purpose,” said Zaxx.
“Yep,” said Sam. “That’s Leaves a Mark Lizzie. She’s a fifth-grader.”
Sam and Zaxx watched as the boy who kicked the ball raced around the bases. When he’d passed second base, Lizzie scooped the ball from the ground and hurled it toward the boy, the ball blurring in the air. The kickball hit the boy in the back with a loud whang! Yelping, the boy crumpled to the ground.
“After three outs,” said Sam, “the teams change sides.”
Sam and Zaxx could hear the boy whimpering as his teammates dragged him from the field. Kelli’s team lined up for their turn to kick.
The ball was rolled to a small boy on Kelli’s team. He kicked a rocket shot toward the outfield, but a towering hulk of a boy on the opposite team held out his gorilla arm and snagged the ball from the air. He then let the kickball slip from his fingers to fall at his feet.
“That’s Meathook,” said Sam. “He keeps getting held back a grade. I think he’s growing a mustache.”
Meathook laughed like a maniac as he grabbed the ball and lumbered toward the smaller boy rounding the bases. The smaller boy screamed and ran into the outfield with Meathook chasing after him. Meathook’s arm rose high in the air, then his arm came down and the ball looked like a fiery red streak. The smaller boy was blasted from his feet and fell face first into the outfield grass. While the gathered crowd cheered, the boy’s feet twitched, then went still. Kelli’s teammates carried the fallen boy from the field.
“Like I said,” said Sam, “It gets pretty intense.”
There was some kind of commotion on the field and Kelli came walking over to Sam and Zaxx.
“I need another player,” said Kelli. “One of my people says he has a tummy ache.”
“From the enchiladas?” asked Sam.
“From being terrified of Meathook, more likely,” said Kelli. “How about it, new kid?”
“I’d love to play,” said Zaxx. The boy pulled a pair of golden shoes from his backpack and laced them onto his feet.
“Great,” said Kelli. “But we’re only down by one run, so don’t be a hero. Just get on base.”
Sam followed Zaxx and Kelli toward the field. “You sure about this, Zaxx?” he asked quietly. “I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“These are Heisenberg uncertainty shoes,” said Zaxx, winking. “The harder they try to hit me with the ball, they more they’ll miss.”
Approaching the field, Kelli told Meathook, “The new kid’s going to play on my team.”
“You need two players, now,” said Meathook, motioning towards another of Kelli’s teammates.
The girl sat in the dirt, holding her knee. “I think it’s my spleen, Kelli,” groaned the girl. “I need to see the nurse.” The girl got up and ran off.
“Fantastic,” said Kelli, sarcastically. She turned to Sam. “How about it?” she asked. “You going to tell me no again?”
“I’ll play,” said Sam.
Kelli looked surprised.
Sam walked over to home plate and gave a thumbs up to Zaxx. “I’ll get on base, you knock the both of us home,” he said.
Meathook smiled and pointed at Sam from the field. The huge boy smacked his fist into his other hand and twisted it back and forth, like he was grinding a bug flat.
Sam concentrated as the other team’s pitcher rolled the ball his way. Stepping forward, he kicked the ball firmly, bouncing it on the ground between two players. He trotted to first base and stopped.
Kids from the outfield threw the ball in to Meathook who then stomped over to Sam. Meathook dropped the ball on the ground. “Oops,” said the other boy. “Aren’t you going to run?”
Sam shook his head. “I’m good right here, thanks. Next kicker.”
“Wuss,” said Meathook.
Zaxx grinned as he waited at home plate for the other team’s pitcher to roll the ball. While the pitcher readied herself, the boy backed away like he was preparing for a mighty kick. His golden shoes gleamed in the sun. The other team took a few steps backwards.
The pitcher rolled the ball. With a blood curdling cry, Zaxx charged forward, planted his leg… and completely missed the ball with his foot. He fell to the ground and the ball bounced off his other foot and wobbled a few feet onto the field.
“Run!” screamed Kelli.
Sam charged off first base, pumping his arms as hard as he could toward second. Rounding second base, Sam ducked as the kickball flashed past him. Keeping his head down, he zoomed around third base and sprinted towards home. His was heart thudding in his chest, then he gasped. Zaxx was still standing only a few feet from home base.
“You’ve got to run around the bases, dude!” Sam shouted, crossing the plate.
Zaxx let out a whoop and started flapping his arms and legs towards first base. It wasn’t fair to call what Zaxx was doing running. It looked more like the new boy was trying to escape a swarm of bees. Zaxx flailed his arms and jogged forward, stopping his progress at seemingly random intervals to run in spirals, first one direction, then the other.
Meathook came thundering up to Zaxx with the ball. The crowd cheered the impending carnage. The hulking boy flung the kickball, aiming his shot squarely at Zaxx’s chest, but somehow the ball missed entirely and bounced away. Screaming in frustration, Meathook ran to retrieve the ball for another throw. Continuing his same chicken flapping gait, Zaxx slowly made his way past first base and continued on his way to second.
Kelli came over to stand beside Sam at home plate. “This has to be the most godawful, embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.
“Yep,” said Sam.
Meathook wound up for another throw and missed Zaxx’s head by inches. Zaxx kept flapping along. By the time Meathook got back from the outfield with the ball, the huge boy’s face was bright red. Sweat poured from his face.
He took a third shot at Zaxx as the boy rounded third base, but missed again.
“You didn’t have to stop playing with me after Jimmy moved away, you know,” Kelli said to Sam.
Sam sighed. “I know. I’m sorry I’ve been such a butthead.”
“I’m sorry you’ve been such a butthead, too,” said Kelli.
Zaxx finally crossed home plate to win the game for Kelli’s team. Meathook collapsed on the field, exhausted, the kickball still clutched to his chest.
Kids gathered around Zaxx, pounding him on the back and congratulating him on his game winning homerun.
Zaxx made his way out of the crowd and rushed over to Sam. “That was wonderful,” said Zaxx.
“It was certainly something,” said Kelli. “Zaxx, I know you said you weren’t, but you are some kind alien, right?”
“Yes,” said Zaxx. “I mean, no.” He slapped himself in the head. Zaxx sat on the ground, taking off his golden shoes and returning them to his pack. He then started looking around inside. “Where did I put that memory wiper?” he muttered.
“Did you make any more friends?” asked Sam.
Zaxx slapped himself in the head a second time. “I forgot to ask. My brother and sister are sure to have more friends than me, now.”
Sam kneeled and put his hand on Zaxx’s shoulder. “That’s okay. Having a lot of friends can be great, but having one really good friend can be even better.”
“So can having two really good friends,” said Kelli. She held out her hand to Zaxx.
Zaxx stopped rummaging through his bag. Smiling, he took Kelli’s hand and let her help him from the ground.
Together, Sam, Zaxx, and Kelli walked back inside the school.
About the Author
Bert Lowe (aka Robert Lowell Russell) lives with his family in Ohio.
He is a nurse in a cardiovascular unit and a former librarian. Bert likes to write about all sorts of things and frequently includes action and humor in his work. He’s currently working on a series of middle grade novels incorporating his love of mad scientists and not-so-super-heroes.
About the Narrator
J.S. Arquin is a writer, voice actor, audiobook producer and narrator, podcaster, entertainer, and adventurer. He has lived in beautiful, inspiring, and disturbing places all over the world, and currently makes his home in Portland, OR, where he dodges raindrops on his bicycle and sometimes writes about himself in the third person. His fiction has appeared in Plasma Frequency, The Best Vegan SFF of 2016, and Digital SF, among others. He has produced over a dozen independent audiobooks, and his narrations have been featured on Escape Pod, Cast of Wonders, and Starship Sofa. You can catch his ramblings and some breathtaking speculative fiction on his podcast, The Overcast. www.theovercast.libsyn.com. You can also find him on Twitter @JS_Arquin.