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Authors: Bruce Coville

Oddest of All

BOOK: Oddest of All
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Dedication

In Our Own Hands

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

The Ghost Let Go

In the Frog King's Court

The Thing in Auntie Alma's Pond

The Hardest, Kindest Gift

The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado

Herbert Hutchison in the Underworld

The Boy with Silver Eyes

A Note from the Author

About the Author

Copyright © 2008 by Bruce Coville

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

 

www.hmhco.com

 

“In Our Own Hands” copyright © 1999 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
Bruce Coville's Alien Visitors
, published by Avon/HarperCollins.

 

“What's the Worst That Could Happen?” copyright © 2003 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
13
, edited by James Howe, published by Atheneum.

 

“The Ghost Let Go” copyright © 1994 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
Bruce Coville‘s Book of Ghosts
, published by Apple/Scholastic.

 

“In the Frog King's Court” copyright © 2000 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
Ribbiting Tales
, edited by Nancy Springer, published by Philomel Books.

 

“The Thing in Auntie Alma's Pond” copyright © 1996 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
Bruce Coville's Book of Spine Tinglers
, published by Apple/Scholastic.

 

“The Hardest, Kindest Gift” copyright © 2001 by Bruce Coville, originally published in
Half-Human
, published by Scholastic.

 

 

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Coville, Bruce.

Oddest of all/stories by Bruce Coville.

v. cm.

Summary: A collection of nine short stories featuring ghosts, half-humans, unicorns, and other unusual creatures.

Contents: In our own hands—What's the worst that could happen?— The ghost let go—In the frog king's court—The thing in Auntie Alma's pond—The hardest, kindest gift—The mask of Eamonn Tiyado—Herbert Hutchison in the underworld—The boy with silver eyes—A note from the author.

1. Horror tales, American. 2. Children's stories, American, [1. Horror stories. 2. Short stories.] I. Title.

PZ7.C8344Ocp 2008

[Fic]—dc22 2007050298

ISBN 978-0-15-205808-1

 

eISBN 978-0-547-54295-9
v1.0315

 

 

 

 

For Joan and Edward Ormondroyd

In Our Own Hands

JULY 22

I am so totally freaked out.

Of course, that is probably true for everyone on the planet.

How could we not be, after what happened this morning?

I was sitting at the kitchen table, sparring with my mother over how much sugar I could put on my breakfast cereal—which is kind of silly for a guy home from college—when it started. The telescreen on the wall made an odd sound. I looked up—and forgot all about the sugar.

The meat puppet who usually reads the morning news had been replaced by a woman who had scaly blue skin and close-cropped green hair. Her ears were much too small for her head, her eyes much too big. Despite all that, she was beautiful, in a weird kind of way.

My first reaction was to laugh, because it was kind of cool. I figured some idiot at the station was playing a joke.

“Someone's going to be in big trouble for this,” predicted Mom. “I bet whoever did it gets fired.”

We stared at the screen, waiting for the news to come back on. When nothing happened I picked up the remote. But before I could change the channel the woman said, “Greetings, people of Earth.”

I burst out laughing. Mom shook her head in disgust. “What a stupid joke. Change the channel, Johnny.”

I did.

The woman was still there.

I changed it again, and again, and again.

No matter what channel I turned to—and we get 208 of them—the blue woman was still there. Mom's eyes got wider, and she slid her chair closer to mine. “Johnny! What's going on?”

I shook my head. I had no idea. But a strange feeling—some combination of fear and excitement—was starting to blossom in my stomach.

Finally the blue woman spoke again. “I assume most of you have now realized that this broadcast is on all channels. That is because the message I bring is for all people, and it is important that as many of you as possible hear it. However, what I have come to tell you will not make sense unless you know two things.”

As far as I was concerned, nothing made sense right now.

“First, we are not here to threaten you.”

It was such an odd thing to say that I almost laughed again. But part of me was too scared for that. I wished that Dad was here. But he was gone, a victim of the air-quality crisis that had killed so many people the year I was thirteen.

The blue woman spoke again. “Second, you must know that we
can
do what we say. I will now prove that to you. Please do not be frightened. This demonstration is just to help you accept the truth of what I have to tell you.”

Mom reached for her coffee. I noticed that her hand was shaking, which made me feel better about my own trembling fingers. Before she could pick up her cup, the light went out. Not the lights. The
light
. Darkness was everywhere, as if the sun itself had disappeared.

“Johnny!” cried my mother.

“Do not be afraid,” said the voice from the TV—which was also dark, of course. “We will return the light soon.”

I wondered how the TV could work with the power out, until I understood that this was not a power loss. It was a light loss.

Suddenly the light did, indeed, return. I rubbed my eyes and blinked. Glancing across the table, I saw that my mother was white with fear. The television was on again, the blue woman back in place. “If you can go outside, please do so,” she said.

I don't like to go outside; the air is too dirty, and it hurts my lungs. Also, it reminds me of how my father died. But Mom and I went anyway, as did most of the people in our development. We had taken only a few steps outside the door when Mom looked up and gasped. I looked up, too. The gray sky was nearly blotted out by a fleet of enormous red ships. They hovered above us, not moving, as if suspended by invisible cables.

“This is the Lyran Starfleet,” boomed the voice, which now seemed to come directly from the sky. “It comes in peace.”

If you come in peace, why are there so many of you?
I wondered.

Some people were crying, some screaming. The man next to me crossed himself, and the man next to him fainted. I felt Mom's hand tighten on my shoulder.

“Please do not panic,” said the voice, its tone warm and soothing. “Now that you know our numbers, go back to your homes. We have wonders to show you.”

Slowly people drifted inside. My mother leaned against me as we walked back to our door. The way she was trembling made me angry at the aliens.

When we were back in the kitchen I saw that the television was showing pictures of the Lyran Starfleet. A news announcer came on, looking terrified. “The reports we are seeing indicate that the spaceships which have suddenly appeared in our skies are so numerous they can be seen from every spot on the planet. The president has said—”

The screen blinked and the announcer disappeared. The blue-skinned woman took his place. “Please forgive us if we have frightened you,” she said with a smile. “But you must understand our power before you can understand our offer.”

“What does she mean?” whispered my mother.

Before I could answer—I really didn't have any idea what to say, anyway—the picture changed.

A beautiful world appeared on the screen.

“This is our home,” said the alien woman. “We love it very much.”

The screen showed image after image of clean cities, happy people, pristine forests. No one looked hungry. No one seemed sick.

“Now,” said the woman, “let me tell you why we are here. You have many troubles. War . . . poverty . . . hunger . . . terrorism.”

As she spoke, more images flowed across the screen, ugly ones: men and women, some of them much younger than me, dying in battle; children lying on dusty streets, their bellies swollen with hunger; bombs exploding among rushing crowds; a forest, yellow and dying; a dead river, thick with sludge; the remains of Chicago.

I had seen all this before, of course. But now I felt my cheeks grow hot with shame. I didn't like having visitors from another world know about these things. And I was embarrassed because I knew we should have done more to fix them.

“Do not feel bad,” said the Lyran woman, as if she were reading my mind. “Once we had these problems, too. But we have solved them. That is why we have come here: to offer you our solutions.”

Her face appeared on the screen again, smiling and gentle. “Think of it,” she said softly. “With our help you can end war, hunger, and disease. We have cures for the mind and the body that can take you to a golden age.”

“But what do they want in return?” whispered my mother. She was looking right at me, as if I would have the answer.

I shook my head. I didn't know.

“If you wish,” continued the Lyran, “we will leave and let you deal with these problems on your own, as we did. But you must understand that you may not survive the process. Your world has reached a danger point, and you may destroy the planet before you heal yourselves. Or, if the majority of you prefer, we will stay and teach you what we know. But you must also understand that the knowledge we have to offer carries its own dangers. We will be providing you with tools and technology far greater than any you now possess. If we simply handed them over to you, we have little doubt that you would destroy yourselves within ten years.

“So here is what we propose: In return for our gifts, we ask you to put yourselves in our hands and let
us
care for your world until you are ready to do the job properly. You will have to give up making your own laws, of course. We will do that for you. We will run your schools. We will decide what your factories make. We will distribute the products.

“If you agree, we will give you amazing new tools. We will clean your water and take the poison from your air. We will feed your hungry, clothe your poor, heal your sick.”

She smiled. “Of course, you could do these things yourselves, if you wanted to badly enough. But then, you already know that, don't you?”

The Lyran stopped smiling. “The choice you face is too important to be made by your politicians. It must be made by the people—all the people.” She paused, then added, “This, too, we can make possible.

“Soon, you will fall into a deep sleep. After you do, we will prepare you for the vote. Once that is done, we will leave, so that you can think about our offer. In eight days, we will return. Then it will be time for you to vote. If you reject our offer, we will leave in peace. If you choose to accept, we will begin work immediately.”

Her voice was kind. Even so, I began to shake as I felt myself grow sleepy. My mother reached out and grabbed my hand.

A moment later we were both sound asleep.

 

When I woke, my palm was itching. Without thinking, I began to scratch it. I felt something strange. Opening my hand to look, I cried out in shock. A strip of blue material stretched across the center of my palm. I ran my finger over it. Though the material was slightly raised, I could find no edge of any kind. It felt like part of my skin, almost as if it had grown there. I raised my hand to look at it more closely. The blue strip was about half an inch wide and an inch long. At each end was a black circle about the size of my fingertip.

Inside one circle was the word YES.

Inside the other it said NO.

Mom woke a few seconds later. She totally freaked when she saw the strip in her hand, of course.

When I finally got her calmed down we walked outside.

The sky was empty.

The Lyrans had gone.

“Do you believe them, Johnny?”

“I don't know, Mom. I don't know what to believe.”

Other people were coming out of their homes. Everyone was talking. Fights broke out—first with words, then with fists. For some weird reason I was glad the Lyrans had gone. It was embarrassing to think of them seeing this.

BOOK: Oddest of All
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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