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Not Quite E-T

New Fiction, By Darcy Moline

      MY MOTHER has sort of adopted this short, out-of-work foreigner who's about half her age. He sleeps on our broken-down couch in the living room — which proves that either he's as destitute as I'm afraid he is, or else that he likes us so much he can't bear to part with us, even to find a better place to sleep. Worst case: it's both.

     I've no idea who he is or where he came from. I don't even know his whole name, just that my Mother calls him Georgie. He just sort of appeared at our back door about five months ago, right at supper time, and he looked so skinny and pathetic that Mom offered him something to eat.

     Well! He never said a word, just came in and Mom fed him.

     He ate like he was starving, and afterwards, he got up and did all the dishes — not cringing and creepy, but sort of dignified, like he was a nice person and grateful and wanted to help. So she let him.

     And now he lives here. Cleans the house during the day, sits down and eats dinner with us, and then does the dishes. Afterwards, he sort of hangs out with Mom and me and watches TV. And when I go to bed, he curls up on the couch and goes to sleep. He never talks. Not a word. But . . . he's just really really nice to have around. He even helps me pick up my stuff when Mom gets after me.

     And Mom likes him.

     A lot.

     And I like him too. So no prob — right? He looks at Mom like he really cares about her. Kind of pats her when he goes by her. And she likes that. She's always worked really hard, and she's never had anybody but us kids. And that used to show in her face, and the way she acted. And now she looks younger and happier than— I don't know — than I can ever remember.

     Of course, Veronica, my beautiful-but-stupid big sister, can't stand Georgie. She says you can't keep a human being like a pet, and his living with us is probably immoral and dangerously bad for our family's image. She's very conscious of image right now, because she's going out with this extremely handsome, important, richguy. Victor.

     Victor and Veronica are made for each other. They're both first-class jerks!

     Although I have to say that it's just possible that Victor is truly interested in my sister, because he asked her (and — imagine that — me also!) to this big, wonderful, gorgeous party that the rich important company he works for gave a few days ago. And we went.

      There were a whole bunch of bigshotty congressional aides there and maybe even some Representatives, for all I know. And I also saw somebody that was on TV one time. Where? Don't know. "Meet thePress" maybe? Anyway, what I remember most is that the other guys who were on it made dog-meat out of him, asking him questions.

     At the party, I went and listened to that dog-meat guy talking to somebody, and he was even stupider in real life than on TV. Typical guest for a party Victor was invited to.

     Of course Veronica loved every minute of it.

     But anyway, what I was going to tell you about is how that party ruined my life.

     The way it started was that Victor came over to my sister and said, "He's here!" And about that time, the biggest of the bigshots that were giving the party came out and said something like, "Ladies and Gentlemen, our guest of honor has arrived." And everybody got extremely quiet and a couple of the really superannuated old biddies wearing slinky beaded dresses got really excited, and one in a purple lame' dress, looked like she was going to cry or something.

     So in walked a bunch of secret service types with phones in their ears, walking in a kind of box-formation with their backs to somebody. Or maybe I should say to Something. Yes, Something. That's a better word. Okay. Along with them was Something that was really, really . . . um what can I say? Remarkable. I guess that'll do.

      He (it?) looked like a . . . well, like a Wogglebug! Yes, like that book character, H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. He was a big, nasty ,magnified bug!

     Of course, he's not a bug, really. He is a big, bug-like alien with a buggish head, and compound eyes, and mandibles that go sideways instead of up and down. (Reeeeealy creepy, trust me!) And you probably never even heard of him because he is a truly tippytop secret of the Gov. Unless of course you're grossly rich and important, in which case you get to have him come to your parties!

      I also forgot to say he has six legs (or maybe four arms and two legs?) with little forked pincer-thingies on the ends of them. And he's all-over some kind of shiny armor-like stuff, especially on his back. So just to sum it up in a word, he's a bug and he's ghastly!

     And when they saw him, the grannie that had looked like she was going to cry started looking like she might throw up!

     Meanwhile Veronica and her creepo boy-friend were whispering like mad. She was asking questions, and he was telling her (and I was listening) that the Ambassador (that's what the bug is supposed to be, ferpetesake, an Ambassador. Only from Where, I ask you!). Anyway, Victor says he can't make speech sounds or write, or even see the way we see. (Like who would be surprised — with those eyes!) But he is able to communicate some by "symbolic language."

      I said "What's that," and Veronica said, "Don't interrupt," and the creepo said, "Look behind you."

     We all turned around, and sure enough, the Bug was performing. Sort of.

     The Host-guy had handed him a book with a bunch of pictures in it, and the Bug began whisking through the pages very fast— I mean VERY fast, like he was some kind of bug-computer— and stopping for a nanosecond here and there to clip something out with his little pincer-hands, and stuffing it in his mouth (ugh, disgusting mouth!) and sticking the pieces of paper on the wall with bug-spit!

     Everybody stood there watching, not making a sound, just absolutely horrified and fascinated both at the same time.

     When the Bug was all done, he kind of bowed, and everybody clapped and the Secret Service types whipped out cameras and took bunches of photos of the stuff the Bug had stuck to the wall and then went off again, probably to download it. And Victor-the-Jerk was just then telling Veronica that the Bug always did this, every time they let him out. And they took pictures so they could give them to some Linguistic Scientists they have on the payroll, so they can analyze their symbolism & try to figure out his language. Pretty interesting.

     Meanwhile, the secret service bodyguards (or maybe they were just guards how do I know?) moved out a little bit and the whole crew began easing over to the refreshments table. Ididn't notice if the Ambassador ate anything. Probably not. No fly-canapes that night.

     After the Government photographer had finished, several guests pulled out their own cameras and took their own pictures of the wall, but mostly the crowd just followed the Bug. (They all kept at a safe distance, I noticed, maybe thinking that since there were no flies available for him to snack on, he might be willing to have a try at a couple of human arms and legs! Or at least that's what I would have been thinking, if I'd been them.)

     But I stayed put, because I was wild to get a look at those pictures, and as soon as Victor and Veronica began looking deep into each other's eyes, I sneaked over here.

      Well, it was disgusting! The whole wall was just gleaming and dripping with slimy dangerous-looking bug-spit, and something in the goo was already dissolving the bits of paper and the wall right along with it. But I got a good look as it dissolved. So here's the skinny: For one thing, it was huge. Took up the whole wall. And for another thing, as could be predicted, it was weird!

     First there was what looked like a picture of a black flag with some dissolved white symbols on it. Then there was one ofthose really great NASA photos of the earth from space, which was still holding up pretty well. Then there was something that could have been almost anything, because it had already dissolved so much. And then came the main part. Dozens of little bitsy bits of paper arranged in a three-character pattern. At least it looked to me like a pattern, although it crossed my mind that it could have been almost anything else,because all the separate bits were so slobbered that youcouldn't see any pictures on them at all.

     The first design was like a big polka-dot with a hole in it.

     The second item was sort of like two upright parallel lines joined at the top and in the middle.

     The third one was a meandering almost-circle, open at the right middle.

      I looked at it some and said, "It looks like a rebus."

     Victor came up, very quick and intent, and said, "What's that!What's that!"

     And then, as an afterthought, "Don't touch that wall. The substance hardens into a rather handsome plastic, but while it's fresh, it's highly corrosive."

     Touch it? As if, stupid Victor! But I was polite. "A rebus is one of those code-messages they have in little kids' magazines, where you have words and pictures mixed up together, and you're supposed to figure out what it means. A simple one would be a picture of an eye and the letter C and the letter U, which would mean 'I see you.' Only these pictures on the wall are all dissolving, and the word-part is something like O-H-C, so who knows what itsays." I tried to pronounce it: "Oh-huck?"

     Well, I must have been talking louder than I thought, because all of a sudden, there was the Wogglebug itself, towering over me! Whoa! Was I petrified!

     It grabbed me with two of its creepy pincer hands and dragged me closer to the wall, and with a third pincer it pointed hard at the big letters (if that's what they were) on the wall,while it waved the fourth pincer around like a windmill! Horrible sight, believe me.

     When that all started, the secret service guys began getting all excited, although I don't know whether they were trying to protect me from the bug, or protect the bug from me. Maybe they didn't know themselves, but it was a panic! One pulled his gun, and one got on a cell phone, and one ran and used the host's phone, and the rest just loomed around and looked dangerous.

      But what came of it was, I never got to go home. And all of a sudden, now, I'm a ward of the Government (no school, that's a plus!). The downside is that I have to sit around with the Bug all day every day watching him do his whizzing-through-magazines-and-chewing-up-paper routine, so I can tell everybody what I think the message means.

     Yes, it's a message. As soon as I got a look at the photo they took of the first one, I knew I was right; It's definitely a rebus. Before that first one dissolved, it read Pirate-flag, earth, O-R-G.

      He makes me a new mural every day, and so far we've had:

     Poison-bottle, buildings, R-R-J, and

     Radiation-symbol, earth, I-O-R, and

     Knives-and-scissors, map-of-the-United-States, R-J-EE All extremely huge and all made of paper-dissolving, wall-dissolving bug-spit.

     They're about to run out of walls for him to glue stuff on.

     Of course, everybody had already figured out that those first two pictures are supposed to mean "Danger! Earthlings!" But nobody gets that last part, and it's driving them all crazy, not knowing what's so dangerous!

     Except me. I do get it. And I don't want it.

     So I sit here like a lump and try to look like I don't get it either.

     But once you're onto it, it's a no-brainer. Read the words: Org, Rrj, Ior, Rjee. Make the "G" in that first one into a "J" sound.Make that "I" in "Ior" into something like a "Y" sound. Now pretend you're a bug that doesn't hear human sounds very well, and imagine that you keep trying to come up with the same human name over and over again! Figure it out. Say the words. Run a bunch of them together. What does that sound like to you? Now does it cast a light?

     Does for me. And I don't like what it lights on. He's trying to say, "You earth guys had better watch out for somebody named Yor-jee!"

     Yor-jee. — Georgie!

     And that's driving me crazy! Because — Whoa! I know somebody named Georgie. Somebody who lives in my house. And my Mom really likes him and she would not want anything to happen to him.

     Okay, so now. You're with me? What if the Wogglebug means our nice buddy Georgie. Creepy, but it fits, doesn't it: Doesn't talk? No job? Doesn't know anybody else and stays in a lot? Could it be he doesn't feel entirely at home here? Here on earth?

     So it's all very upsetting to me. Because . . . what IF?

      But when you think it over . . . No. Just can't be. Our Georgie doesn't contribute a lot to our household, but he's extremely sweet, and does all the housework, and just having him around makes my Mom really happy. He's good for her.

     So now what do I do? Because this Bug-Ambassador is really only . . .a bug, you know? And that spit-stuff is simply disgusting.

     While Georgie a real human being.

     At least he looks like one.

      Still . . . destroy the world? That's heavy. And you have to wonder . . .

     Okay, I have to give you the fact that he doesn't talk — but that could even be an advantage, you know?

     So anyway I made up my mind that The Bug is the bad guy.

     And our Georgie is not the bad guy.

     And the whole time, I keep sitting here, telling myself I'm right.

     And it's probably not my Georgie anyway.

     So I really am right.

     I really . . . hope I'm right.

     Yes, I AM right. I really am. And I'm going to keep my mouth shut.

     But . . . am I right?

      Of course, I'm right!

     And the Bug chose me strictly by accident.

      Of course.

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