Joey Ixbee lay on his stomach, his head propped in his hands, on the carpet in Steve Garabon’s TV room. At the moment, it was late on a Saturday afternoon and the two best friends were engrossed in the latest Creature Feature offering: Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Although both boys agreed that with stop motion effects by the great Ray Harryhausen the film was a science fiction classic, Joey thought the plot was on the unrealistic side.
Suddenly, the soundtrack swelled and over the smoking ruins of a downed alien flying saucer, the words "The End" appeared on the screen. Instantly, Steve was on his feet and snapped off the television set before Feep, the show’s host, could come on and utter a few concluding inanities in his high pitched voice.
"Great movie!" exclaimed Joey as the picture tube went dark save for a tiny dot of light at the center.
"I’ll say!" agreed Steve. "The story was a little too much like War of the Worlds, but those force fields and flying saucers crashing into the Capital Building and the Washington Monument were fantastic!"
"The effects were definitely cool, but some of the other stuff was a little too much," said Joey.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, if the aliens were so smart, smart enough to build spaceships and travel all the way to Earth from another world, why didn’t they just open diplomatic channels to the UN or something? I mean, that’s got to be easier for them than trashing the planet. How’s that supposed to help ’em?"
Steve shrugged. "Never thought about that before. I guess it would be easier to just make friends than to start a war."
"Right. And those saucers…"
"What about ’em?"
"In real life, they just wouldn’t fly…at least in Earth’s atmosphere," insisted Joey. "They’re not aerodynamic enough. In space, their shape wouldn’t make a difference, but once in Earth’s atmosphere, they’d drop like a rock!"
"You think so?"
"Sure, I think so."
"What if they had anti-gravity?"
"I guess that would work," conceded Joey. "But how likely is that? After all, the laws of physics are the same no matter where you go in the universe. Shucks, Steve, I don’t think you’ve been keeping up with your science fiction reading!"
"Ah, gimme a break!"
"All right, boys," interrupted Steve’s mother from where she stood at the entrance to the TV room. "You’ve been indoors for the last two hours and it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. Time for some fresh air before supper."
The boys needed no coaxing from Mrs. Garabon to move on.
Outside, the sun was indeed shining and temperatures must have been hovering in the upper 80s. Across the street, they could hear the splash of water and girlish voices crying out in glee behind the Surois’ house and overhead, a plane droned somewhere in the deep blue of the sky.
Retreating to the front porch of Steve’s house, the two boys began what had become a ritual after viewing an SF film and reenacted to the best of their recollection the scenes they had just finished viewing on television. Notwithstanding the questionable authenticity of Earth vs the Flying Saucers, the balance of the afternoon was spent in imaginary war as Joey and Steve saved the world from the evil intentions of space invaders only they could see.
All too soon, however, Joey heard his mother’s call from down the street signaling the time for supper.
"Five o’clock already?" exclaimed Steve, finishing off an alien saucer.
"Must be, my stomach’s grumbling," said Joey, tossing a Mattel issue replica of a German Luger to his friend. "See you after supper?"
"Over at Gil’s for kick the can," returned Steve, heading for the house.
Quickly, Joey ran from behind the Garabon’s house to the front yard and hurdled the hedges ringing the property in a single bound. Landing in the street, he barely missed a step heading down tree-lined Maple Road to his own home at the far end of the neighborhood.
Flying through the front gate, Joey ran around the house to the back porch letting the screen door slam shut behind him in way of announcing his arrival. In the yard outside, nothing had changed since his parents bought the property when Joey was still an infant: the previous owner having been a carpentry contractor, the yard was littered with the debris of his trade from huge stacks of petrified planking to sheds and other outbuildings overrun in weeds and crawling vines. Alongside the house, a two stall garage stood, still crammed with the rusting hulks of heavy automated saws and planers. Everywhere inside the garage were mounds of old sawdust left uncollected for years.
Inside the porch, the air was filled with the aroma of fresh baked muffins, so Joey simply followed his nose into the kitchen. There, the table was already set and Sally, his younger sister, sat at her usual place next to the high chair that baby Cynthia would soon occupy.
"Don’t forget to wash up before supper, Joey," said his mother, tossing the words over her shoulder as she mashed the potatoes.
"I know," replied Joey, heading for the bathroom.
"Can we hold off on supper for a few minutes?" asked his father stepping into the kitchen, the late edition newspaper in his hand. "I’d like to hold a quick family meeting first."
Mrs. Ixbee blew at a stray lock that had fallen across her face. "It can wait for a few minutes."
"Fine. Let’s all step into the family room, shall we?"
A minute later, Joey had joined the others and thrown himself onto one end of the overstuffed couch that also held Sally at the opposite end and his mother holding baby Cynthia in the center. His father sat in the easy chair across the room from them.
"What’s this about, dad?" asked Joey.
"Well, your mother and I have an announcement to make," began his father. "We’re expecting company tomorrow and we want you and Sally to be on your best behavior."
"Oh, boy!" exclaimed Sally, clapping her hands. "Company! We never have guests."
"Well, hardly never," said Mrs. Ixbee. "But this one is different."
"How different?" asked Joey, suddenly interested.
"It’s my brother," said Mrs. Ixbee. "He’s coming over all the way from Xorbid."
"Wow!" said Joey, impressed. "The homeworld!"
Mrs. Ixbee turned to her husband then and said something not in English but clearly inflected as a question. Joey’s father nodded and replied in the same language.
"What are you saying?" asked Sally, confused.
"Shh," said Joey, listening closely. "They’re talking about Uncle Xuxtex."
"Sorry, kids," said Mr. Ixbee. "Sometimes your mother and I forget ourselves."
"Were you talking in French?" asked Sally wide-eyed.
"No dear," laughed Mrs. Ixbee. "That was the language of our home planet, Xorbid."
"That’s the place we moved from, isn’t it?"
"That’s right," replied Mrs. Ixbee. "We first moved to Earth from Xorbid many years ago when Joey was only four years old…by Earth standards."
"That’s why I still understand some of the language," said Joey proudly.
"Do you remember anything else, Joey?" asked Sally, impressed with her older brother.
"Not much," admitted Joey. "I remember we used to live in a glass house, made like a bunch of soap bubbles jumbled together, and we had a car that could fly."
"Gosh!"
"And I had a pet of some kind; about as big as a dog with red scales…"
"That was called an ozkor," said his father. "A very common creature in the desert regions of Xorbid."
"And didn’t we have something like a TV set except you put something on your head and it would be like you were part of the movie?"
His father nodded. "Not like a television at all. Whole different principle. But it was for entertainment sure enough."
"It all sounds so interesting!" said Sally. "Why did we move?"
There was a brief silence then until Mr. Ixbee replied. "Even though we had a lot of nice things on Xorbid, our lives there were not entirely happy so we decided to leave and come to Earth. You were very young at the time so you don’t remember. But we’ve told you how we gave ourselves Earth names and settled here in the United States and how it’s really important that you never tell anyone about where we came from."
"I remember that!"
"And you’ve done a good job keeping our little secret," complimented Mrs. Ixbee.
"Dad, why’s Uncle Xuxtex coming to visit now?" asked Joey suddenly suspicious. "Does it have anything to do with us leaving Xorbid and coming to Earth?"
"As a matter of fact it does," said his father truthfully. "Our family back on Xorbid never approved our decision to move to Earth. Although Xuxtex is no doubt coming here to convince us to go back, your mother and I hope that after coming to know Terrans first hand and seeing the way we live here, he’ll come to understand our reasons for choosing Earth over the homeworld."
"And why is that exactly?" persisted Joey.
"We’ve explained our reasons to you before, although I admit mostly in general terms," said Mr. Ixbee. "But when it comes right down to it, our lives on Xorbid, though wanting nothing, were yet unfulfilling. In short, we weren’t happy there and what we knew of the way Terrans lived on Earth convinced us to come and live among these admirable people."
"No regrets?"
"None. And what about you? Have you been happy here?"
Joey thought about his life on Earth, his friends in the neighborhood and at school.
"Well, yeah, but I could do without having to go to Sunday school," he finally answered. "Why can’t I go to regular services with you and mom?"
"You have to learn to crawl before you can walk," said his father wisely.
Everyone laughed then and presently Mrs. Ixbee rose saying that supper was going to get cold if the meeting went on any longer. Together, the family retreated into the kitchen and took their places around the dinner table.
Slipping into his place across from Sally, Joey waited as his mother put baby Cynthia into her high chair and removed the roast from the oven. Shortly, all was ready and his father led the family in a brief prayer of thanks.
"So how was your day, Joey?" asked Mr. Ixbee as he began to cut the roast into handy slices.
"Same as usual, dad," Joey replied, suddenly realizing how hungry he was.
"Watching TV? Riding your bike?"
"Sure. There was an accident down on Sladen Street. A car went off the road and ran down Mrs. Fellows’ hedges as neat as you please!"
"Saw the remains when I came up the street. Anyone hurt?"
"Nah."
"You sound disappointed."
"Well, it wasn’t that exciting."
"It was another gorgeous day to be alive and blessed with such a wonderful world," chimed in his mother. "Never let your days get so routine that you take that for granted."
"Amen," agreed his father. "I count our blessings every day we’re here, even during the dullest moments at work."
"That may be easier for you guys," said Joey around a mouthful of asparagus. "At least you have a point of reference. Try that when you’re sitting in Miss Faragut’s math class!"
"What’s so bad about Miss Faragut’s class?" Sally wanted to know.
"Only that it’s the most boring ever."
"I like her class the best."
"That’s ’cause you’re not doing fractions yet."
"Fractions come in mighty handy for things like space travel," observed Mr. Ixbee.
"You use ’em a lot at the observatory, don’t you, Dad?"
"Mm, hm. Contrary to what most people believe, an astronomer doesn’t just look at pictures of stars. With today’s modern radio telescopes, there’s a lot of mathematical calculating that’s needed. Even with computers to help you."
"Well, I’m finished," declared Joey with a scrape of his chair. "We’ll be over at Gil Steiner’s house."
"You come right home when I call," warned his mother.
"Okay, mom. Sally, you and Polly comin’ over later for kick the can?"
"Of course. And Brianna’s coming too."
"Great! The more kids, the more fun it is. See you."
"Don’t forget what we discussed, kids," reminded his father.
"Don’t worry," said Joey as the screen door slammed to behind him.
The pink in the western sky had long since faded away as Joey threw himself on the grassy slope that dominated Gil’s back yard. He and his friends had been running and hiding for the last hour or so ever since the sun went down and the streetlight in front of Steve’s house came on, signaling that it was time to begin playing kick the can. More fun in the dark than in the daylight, the action focused on Gil’s back yard due to a pair of spotlights located at the extreme ends of his house. The lights threw just enough glare to pinpoint the coffee can in the center of the lawn while allowing enough darkness for everyone to scatter out of sight. Steve and Joey had their own plan for remaining safe until they were good and ready to run in, one involving a circuitous route through neighboring yards and then popping out of the darkness when least expected to kick the can. That effort often left them exhausted and it was after the latest execution of the plan that Joey joined Steve on the lawn.
Soon, with Polly having finally been caught and the last round finished, the gang was complete and as they sat in a group, small talk ensued.
"Hey, anyone watch that show last night, Towards the Year 2000?" Gil wanted to know.
"The one where every week they show something different about how cool things are going to be in the future?" asked Steve.
"Yeah. Last night they were talking about how we won’t need cars in the future because there’ll be high speed monorails and frictionless trains to get people where they want to go."
"What about flying cars?" asked Joey.
"Nothing about them."
"Rats!"
"You’d probably be disappointed with the show about robots too," said Gil. "That one said we’d have whole factories run by robots but they didn’t look anything like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. They just looked like regular machines."
"Double rats!" said Joey.
"I have to admit the show’s probably showing things the way they really will turn out," mused Steve. "The robots and monorails they have on the show actually exist right now, they just haven’t been mass produced yet. I have a feeling that the future isn’t going to be as exciting as we thought it was."
The others had to admit that though they would be disappointed if the future held few of the wonders as seen in various science fiction movies, the future as presented on Towards the Year 2000 certainly looked exciting enough anyway!
"When I grow up, I’m gonna be an engineer so that I can be on the ground floor when those robots start going to work!" declared Gil.
"Not me," said Joey. "I’m gonna work for NASA and build rockets."
"I loved that chemistry set I got last Christmas," said Steve. "Think I’ll go into chemistry."
"You have to know German to be a chemist," reminded Gil.
"No foolin’?"
Gil nodded sagely. "We’re German; I know."
From there, conversation came around to guessing each other’s nationality. It was pointed out that Greeks, French, Germans, and English were represented until it occurred to Gil that no one was able to figure out what nationality Ixbee was.
"What about it, Joey," asked Brianna. "What nationality is it?"
Joey was not disturbed by the question, his parents having long since anticipated it.
"Not sure," said Joey shrugging. "I think my parents said it was Eastern European or something. Hungarian or Polish or something."
"Maybe you’re a mongrel!" joked Steve.
"Probably."
Just then, Polly’s mother called from the darkness that it was time for Polly to come in. As if in signal, Brianna also rose and left with her. Then the porch lights came on behind Gil’s house, notifying him that it was time to go in. On cue, Joey heard his own mother calling from down the street.
"Must be 9 o’clock already," said Steve getting up.
"Guess we’ll see you guys tomorrow morning," said Joey, pulling Sally up.
"Right. Hey, Joey, want to go to the movies tomorrow? The Strand is having a double feature including Billy the Kid Meets Frankenstein!"
"I’ll have to check my piggy bank," replied Joey as he and Sally cut through Polly’s yard to Maple Road.
Walking along the darkened street heading for home after a day packed with distractions, Joey thought he liked this time best of all. Breathing deeply of the clean night air, he paused a moment to look up at the star-filled sky.
"Which one do you think we come from?" whispered Sally.
Joey considered a moment and pointed.
"See the Big Dipper there? If you follow it to the end of the handle and look to the left…wow!"
He was interrupted by a streak of light across the sky and as it arced down toward the ground, he heard Sally gasp beside him.
"A falling star!" she exclaimed, pointing.
"And it’s lasting a long time too," noted Joey, as the object disappeared behind a distant tree line. "Usually meteors only last a few seconds coming down. That must have been a big one."
The next morning when Joey came down for breakfast, he was caught by surprise.
Sitting at the table with his father was a stranger. The two were drinking coffee while his mother loaded up the dishwasher. Judging by the awkward manner in which the stranger handled his drink, Joey guessed he was unfamiliar with ordinary cups.
"Good morning, Joey," said his father. "Say hello to your Uncle Xuxtex."
*
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