I saw them first but they saw me, too.
They were orange and wore masks with tubes that twisted out of their mouths and noses. I couldn’t tell what they were but I was sure they were aliens, just like the ones my older brother Matt would tell me were hiding in my bedroom closet and under my bed.
“As soon as you fall asleep,” he’d say, “they’ll jump out and get you.
Aliens love little girls!”
I ran to him since he was an expert on these kinds of things. He was on our back porch playing cards with Grandma and Mom, Buster the beagle at his feet, while he joked about how bad they were getting thrashed by a ten-year-old. Not just any ten-year-old, though, a genius ten-year-old.
At least that’s what Matt always told me.
I reached his side just as he was throwing up his arms in a triumphant gesture.
Grandma threw down her cards.
Mom high-fived him. “Another win. I can’t believe it.” She smiled when she saw me. “Where have you been, Steph?”
She winked. “I think it’s about time for some of Grandma’s birthday cake. What do you say?”
“Sweet!” Matt replied.
I nodded. As soon as Grandma and Mom went inside to light the candles, I pulled on Matt’s arm. “Come here.”
“There’s something out front. Come look.”
“Wait. I want some cake first.”
I pulled on his arm again. “Now.”
“Geesh, Steph. You can wait at least five minutes.”
I had to hold back the tears as we sang Happy Birthday. My mouth was dry, my throat stuffed with cotton. What if the aliens came to get me while we were dilly-dallying with birthday songs and celebrations?
Grandma closed her eyes to make a wish; she took a deep breath, and blew out the candles.
“What did you wish for, Grandma?” Matt asked.
“If I tell you, then it won’t come true.”
“Come on. That’s an old wives’ tale.”
She sighed. “Alright. I wished for another happy and cancer-free year. I’m already pushing it, you know. There hasn’t been another person to live to sixty in at least ten years.” Her eyes shifted. “I’m the oldest person in the world.”
They ate cake silently. I didn’t want any. My stomach was all cartwheels and somersaults.
As soon as Matt swallowed his last bite, and with chocolate icing smeared on his lips, I grabbed his arm. “Come on!”
This time he followed me. Our ten acres in rural Ohio were spotted with fruit and maple trees. Mom had a garden where she planted beans, onions, tomatoes, and flowers, but the rest of our yard was a field that Matt had to mow every week because the grass grew quick and thick and tickled our legs when it was high.
“What’s so important?”
I pointed to the tree that an alien had been hiding behind. “It’s there.”
His neck strained. He squinted. “I don’t see anything.”
“It was right there. It’s probably hiding somewhere else now.” My voice softened to a whisper. “I think it saw me.”
He put an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry, Steph, we’ll find it. I won’t let it hurt you.”
There was a large stick in the bushes lining the house. He pulled it out and held it in front of him like a sword. “Aliens hate sticks,” he said.
I shadowed him, my sweaty hands gripping the back of his shirt, as we darted from one tree to another until we were eyeing the alien’s hideout from an arm’s length away. My heart was racing.
We crept closer.
The screams were raw and piercing. Matt took off towards the shouting at the back of the house but my strides were no match for his longer ones. When I got there the orange aliens had invaded the porch. Two of them were holding Mom down while three others were dragging Grandma away. Buster was running in circles, nipping at their heels. Spittle rocketed from his mouth when he barked and lunged at one of them. The alien kicked him away.
Matt raced towards them and jabbed at an alien with his stick before sidestepping and jabbing at another.
Two syringes were pulled out. Both Mom and Grandma were injected.
I hid behind a tree, hot tears spilling from my eyes.
Grandma was taken. Mom lay on the ground, unmoving. They left Matt and I.
The stick didn’t keep the aliens at bay.
Matt found me sometime later. It felt like it’d been hours but he said it’d only been minutes. I was curled in a fetal position, my hands over my ears, my eyes shut tight.
“They’re gone,” he said. “It’s okay now. I have to call the police.”
I hugged Buster who was sitting up, alert. Matt dialed from his cell phone and relayed our address. “An ambulance, too,” he said. “Mom’s not moving.”
He appeared to listen. “No, she’s breathing. But they injected her with something.”
After the call ended, he stood ready, eyes alert, his stick raised high.
I learned two things that day: One, you should always keep your birthday wishes to yourself. And two, aliens might wait and watch in the dark shades of night but they bite during the clear light of day.