(Content note: Probably scarier than recent installments. Especially if you don’t care for the Evil Kids thing.)
The first time the Fletcher sisters approached him was just after he’d gotten off the bus as it arrived beside the school doors. Kyleb never really thought much about them, other than thinking they were somewhat pretty, very quiet and mostly kept to themselves. Victoria was the oldest, one grade ahead of him, so he only saw her on the bus, but Mia and Marion were twins and in his fifth grade class with Mrs. Barstow. All three had brunette hair and seemed to like the color white, because white clothes were almost all they ever wore to school.
“Hi, Kyleb,” said Victoria, moving to walk beside him with an odd smile on her face. “We want to ask you something.” He could feel Mia and Marion behind him talking to each other in whispers. The whole thing was getting pretty weird.
“Okay,” he said, looking about desperately for a friend he could get to come rescue him.
“We were, um, wondering why your parents named you Kyleb,” said Mia, from behind him.
Now annoyed, (it had been at least two years since anyone had mocked him for his name) he turned around to look the other sisters in the eye.
“I guess they just liked it. Why do you care, anyway?”
Apparently taking offense at his response, Victoria stood right in front of him and stopped moving. When he tried to get around her, she put an arm out to stop him.
“We care because we’re curious. We’ve never met another person named Kyleb before.”
“You know,” he said, now actually upset, “it’s none of your business. Now move, if we don’t get inside in the next three minutes, they’re going to lock us out.” Their school’s policy toward tardiness was strict, mostly for security reasons. Anyone who didn’t get inside by 7:45 missed an entire day of class.
Victoria just stood there, squarely in the middle of his path.
“I want to know,” she repeated. “They could have named you Fred, or Bartholomew, or Ethelbert, but instead they went with Kyleb.”
Ethelbert? Kyleb thought to himself, baffled and annoyed. He had, like, one minute to get through the door and up a flight of stairs to his classroom before he was considered officially late. The girls seemed unfazed by the idea of getting locked out.
“Ky makes a cool nickname, according to my mom,” he finally said, and Victoria finally moved out of his way. When he reached his classroom a few seconds before Mrs. Barstow locked the door, panting and out of breath, he was shocked to see Mia and Marion calmly in their desks, one right in front of the other, looking relaxed and happy. He couldn’t see how they could possibly have reached them so quickly and with so much poise when they had been behind him at the outer doors. He hadn’t even heard their footsteps on the stairs behind him. The worst part was that as class began, he noticed the two of them staring at him with the same odd smile worn by their sister.
The next time the Fletcher sisters wanted to talk to him was two weeks later on the bus headed home. Mia and Marion were sitting behind him and Victoria, one of the last to get on that day, flashed that strange smile of hers again and plunked down on a seat in front of Ky. A few minutes after the bus pulled away Victoria asked him, “Do you ever dream at night, Kyleb?”
“Why do you ask?” He was trying to sound calm, which was the last thing he felt.
“Just curious,” Victoria said evenly. “I mean, dream you’re someplace else?”
“Like a place with black sand and purple lakes,” said Mia.
“And a red sky,” said Marion.
For the first time in his life, Ky wanted the bus driver to intervene. This second encounter was even more bizarre than the first.
“No,” he said, thoroughly creeped out. “I’ve never dreamed about any of that stuff. I usually don’t remember my dreams.”
“He doesn’t remember his dreams!” Mia whispered to Marion and they both cackled with glee.
“Settle down,” said their bus driver. The twins stopped giggling.
They waited an eternity for the bus to get to the Fletcher’s stop, and once it did, Ky found himself filled with relief. That is, until Victoria turned and said,
“Maybe you’ll get to see a place like that someday,” before exiting the bus’s hissing doors.
Yeah, right, thought Kyleb. Purple lakes and red sky. These girls were weird. Maybe the weirdest people he’d ever met, and his uncle had once taken him to a circus where a man could swallow swords and a woman could bend her head so far back it looked like it had been cut off.
When the bus pulled out of sight of the Fletchers, Ky had never been more grateful in his life.
After the school bus incident, Ky started watching the Fletchers more closely. It was hard to do that with Victoria because she wasn’t in his class, but he got to see the Fletcher twins every day. If there was one thing he noticed about the girls it was that they seemed to get perfect grades and were really, really good at math. Ky was an A student, too, with an occasional B grade, always in math. But the Fletcher girls burned through their in class assignments like lightening, never making mistakes, answered all Mrs. Barstow’s questions perfectly, even when their class started doing tackling long division. Every once in a while, Ky thought he saw Mrs. Barstow giving the twins an irritated look or two. Maybe she was as disturbed by them as he was.
One day, about a month after they’d first started pestering him, the Fletcher twins found him on the playground at recess. He had been trying to impress his friend Jake on the monkey bars by getting across their ten foot length in ten seconds. Jake kept timing him and saying Ky couldn’t do it in under twenty seconds, or even fifteen.
Suddenly, Mia and Marion were next to the boys. Kyleb hadn’t heard them approach.
“We can do it in eight seconds,” Mia said.
“Maybe even five,” said Marion.
Obligingly, Ky moved out of their way as Mia grabbed the first bar and Jake raised his wrist watch to time her. Much to their shock, she sped across the monkey bars in a blur. Jake raised his eyebrows and then Marion whizzed over the bars, too.
“Uh, wow,” Jake sputtered, amazed. “They did it in seven seconds. Both of them–seven seconds.” Jake looked over at Ky, amused. “Your best time was seventeen.”
“I skipped breakfast this morning,” Kyleb muttered, then looked over at the Fletcher twins, who stood at the other end of the monkey bars, blank stares on their faces. He’d been expecting a victory dance, or at least to see one girl stick her tongue out. But if they wanted to gloat, they resisted the urge, not just on the playground but back up in the classroom. If anything, their silence was worse than Jake’s teasing.
The last time he spoke to the Fletchers was during a P.E. session. They were supposed to practice tossing basketballs to a partner and one of the clumsier students had tossed one out the gymnasium door their teacher had left open to give them some air. She asked Kyleb to go to the storage locker and get another one.
Looking inside the locker for a spare basketball, he felt their eyes on them. At first he was sure it was just a case of the willies, the storage locker was old and dark, but when he turned, slowly, all three Fletcher girls stood between him and the door, which promptly slammed shut. Then he was alone with them.
“Do you know what we are, Ky?” asked Victoria, whose voice had changed from its normal pitch to a much higher one, almost as if she were the strings of a violin speaking.
Unable to speak, Kyleb backed up away, until he hit a shelf full of football helmets behind him.
“We’re the ones who will occupy your planet soon.”
“Most of you will die when that happens,” Mia added, in that same, high pitched tone as Victoria, only higher.
“Some of you will survive,” said Marion. “You might be one of them.”
“Me?” was all he could choke out.
“Here,” Victoria reached for his hand and brought it up to her arm. Slowly, she made him rub his hand from her elbow to her wrist. Her skin didn’t feel like a normal person’s skin, like the skin of his mother or sister. It was scaly, but in a very smooth way, almost like a snake.
“When our ships land, they will produce enough heat and radiation to kill off many. Our skin is resistant to these factors. Humans with very tough skin, or who don’t live near a ship’s landing site, will fare best. Our scientists tell us this will only be about 1% of your total population.”
Mia gave him a creepy smile.
Kyleb, wondering why their gym teacher hadn’t come to his rescue, tried to bolt from the storage locker. Marion stopped him with a hand to his chest.
“She won’t come in here,” she said, as if she had read his mind. “We froze them all so we could talk to you.”
“It’s like stopping time, only not really,” said Victoria. “When we unfreeze them, it will be as if a half-second had passed.”
“Why are you telling me this?” his voice sounded like a frog’s.
“Well, at first we thought you were of us,” Victoria told him. “But you’re not nearly smart enough for that. Then we thought, maybe one of the other kinds had established itself here as well.”
“There are other kinds of aliens here?”
“We’ve heard that, yes. We,” she pointed to Mia and Marion, “have yet to encounter them personally.”
“We also feel you will be one of the survivors, but that would mean no ship is going to land at this location and we are still told it will come,” Marion said.
“Which leaves one possible explanation,” Mia chimed in. “You’re…different. Genetically. You’ll be able to take the heat.”
“Which is bad news in a way because we haven’t decided what to do with the survivors.”
At this admission, Victoria smiled a smile that was even creepier than Mia’s. Then she handed Ky a hard, orange basket ball, moving so fast he didn’t really notice until he was holding it, and the next thing he knew he was back in the gymnasium playing dodge ball. He didn’t realize it until a ball hit him hard on his right arm.
He looked around until he found Mia and Marion in the crowd of other fifth graders. Sticking him right in the middle of things must have been a joke on their part. Marion looked back at him and smiled.