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Intergalactic Catfish

By kayley ulmer

  1. Jellyfish
    Jellyfish
    By Emily Nguyen
   
    
He had first shown up on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. A gentle autumn breeze rustled the leaves on the forest floor and the remaining ones on the branches swayed with the wind. Mason liked the various oranges and yellows and reds that the green leaves had turned into before they fell.

Mason Hall used to come here every day after school and drift off into whatever book he’d found that day. The tranquility of nature provided him with a refuge from the complications of the world outside those woods.

It began as an ordinary Tuesday afternoon; Mason sat at the base of the tallest oak tree, already nose-deep in his newest pick. The overcast skies suggested that it was about to rain, but Mason didn’t head for home just yet. He wanted to at least finish up this chapter in the book before he left his safe place.

If he weren’t already so absorbed in reading, Mason might have heard the crunch of leaves under a heavy boot. The squirrels that had been previously sniffing around for some extra food scattered off at the sudden noise.

“A Tale of Two Cities, huh? That’s a pretty advanced book for a boy of your age,” Mason looked up when the silence was broken by the sound of a voice he’d never heard before.

He almost jumped out of his skin of fright, his book dropping on a pile of leaves in his state of startle. “Oh,” Mason uttered, allowing himself to now look at whoever had spoken to him.

It was a man. Mason would have assumed he was just a boy, but he was too tall and had a sophisticated aura about him. He looked kind and well put-together, perhaps it was due to his neatly combed blonde hair or the red bowtie.

“Not much of a conversationalist? Guess you won’t mind if I set this down, then,” the bow-tie man chuckled as he bent to rest a simple black toolbox on the ground.
Before Mason could get a single, confused thought in, the man continued:

“My name is Aiden and, before you ask that too, I’ll have you know that I’m not here to hurt you,” the man shot Mason a friendly grin and plopped down on the ground in a similar fashion to the other boy.

When Mason did nothing but give him a blank stare, Aiden sighed and spoke once more,

“You humans are so jumpy.”

Mason opened his mouth to ask what on earth Aiden meant by you humans but was beat to it by Aiden himself.

“Er,” he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Maybe I should’ve gone with the boy skeleton design“

“Skele- what?” Mason almost felt like some boys from the upper level school down the road from his school were trying to play some sort of trick on him.

Aiden seemed rather amused by Mason’s confusion and clapped his hands together while chuckling a bit.

“This is fun,” Aiden remarked as he glanced around at the wildlife and prodded at a leaf with his fingertips.

Mason thought Aiden was weird.

“Okay,” it came out as more of a question than Mason had meant for it to.
“Look, kid, I’ve got something really important and I want your help. What do ya say?”

“Uh,” he blinked. “I don’t really think I’m well-equipped to do whatever it is you think you need my help with”

Aiden laughed more at this, tilting his head back slightly like an excited toddler.
“My trainers were right. Humans are strange,” Aiden sighed and regained his composure before continuing. “So will you help me or are you happier just staring at me like you don’t know what I’m saying?”

Mason meant to say that he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere with strangers, but he ended up saying something else entirely.

“Why should I trust you?”

“Fair point. Alright, I’ll show you,”

 Aiden stood up and walked over to the toolbox he’d set down when he arrived. Aiden lifted the toolbox and carried it where it could be easily seen by the both of them. The blond knelt down beside it and tapped the side a few times. Mason was starting to believe the whole joke idea more and more by the second. Aiden, however, seemed overjoyed about something.

It wasn’t much longer after Aiden tapped the toolbox that its lid sprung open. The first thing Mason knew was that it wasn’t a normal toolbox. For one thing, it had no sort of hammer or nail or hardware appliances. Instead, it was like a projector.
Mason watched silently, intrigued, as Aiden smiled and reached his hand straight into the blue light the projector emitted. Except, it wasn’t light and there probably wasn’t a normal project inside the box. When Aiden’s hands retracted from the box, he was holding a small, spherical object. He was still smiling as if he’d just gotten a king-sized candy bar.

“This,” he held the sphere where Mason could see it. “Is a Skeleton Designer. It changes what you look like.”

Aiden looked deep in thought for a moment before he twisted the sphere like some sort of Rubik’s cube. The little ball, or Skeleton Designer, dropped from Aiden’s hands and onto the leaves at his feet.

Just like an identification scanner from a sci-fi movie, the sphere emitted more blue light that covered Aiden’s body.

Aiden’s body faded to a solid black blob for a split second before he reappeared as a boy about Mason’s height with flaming red hair.

“Still don’t believe me?” Aiden smirked.

“How’d you do that?” Mason was now leaning forward with awe.
“I’m from the future, duh.”

Mason opened his mouth and was about to speak when Aiden burst into an obnoxious fit of laughter.

“That’s a joke, Mason. Time travel is so impractical, even where I’m from. Speaking of which, I’m from a planet that even your most intelligent scientists haven’t identified yet”

Mason blinked, still confused as to whether this was real or not. Aiden sighed. “We don’t have our own forms where I’m from. Well, I suppose we do, but they’re randomly assigned to us when we’re created and only trained professionals know how to redesign their Skeletons.”

“Trained professionals, huh?” Mason gave Aiden a playful smirk before he laughed for the first time since the strange boy had appeared.

“Yep. I work with a group specialized in international- or, in this case, interplanetary- affairs. We don’t usually like to interact with the inhabitants of other plants. Most of them are either pretty freaked out or just somehow offended that we showed up,” Aiden shrugged a little at the end.

Mason nodded, not being able to relate, but interested nonetheless.

“So what is it you want me to help you with?”

“Woah, slow down there a bit.” Aiden grinned, his new face forming deep dimples in the process. “I just need to know if you are willing to help. Well, right now, at least.”

Mason sighed a little, obviously disappointed.

“Cheer up, Mason. Just meet me here tomorrow at the same time you usually come and I’ll tell you then, okay?”

Mason nodded so furiously he was surprised he didn’t get a headache.

***

Aiden was already waiting when Mason arrived from school. He’d been leaning against a tree, watching the clouds pass by.

“They’re pretty. We don’t get much daytime where I’m from. Our planet turns much slower and our sun is much smaller than Earth’s; comes maybe once every Earth month,” Aiden sighed.

“Clouds? Yeah, I guess.”

Mason dropped his book bag near the largest oak tree and smiled at Aiden.
Aiden gave Mason a mischievous smirk and lifted his toolbox up from the floor.
“C’mere, I’ll show you what- or rather who we’re dealing with.”

***

Aiden and Mason had been working on catching the escaped criminal for a little over four days now.

After showing Mason the types of tools he kept in his toolbox, Aiden had explained that the most wanted criminal from his planet had escaped to Earth. It was Aiden’s job to find someone who could peacefully capture him before he got too far.

(Mason thought Aiden’s choice of the words “too far” were a bit ironic considering where he was from.)

According to Aiden, they were looking for the “worst kind of villain,” whatever that meant.

In a matter of days, Mason had learned to use the Skeleton Designer to turn himself into an exact replica of his math teacher and could identify the difference between an assigned form (called a natural appearance for humans) and a disguise.

“Hey, Aiden?” Mason had asked his new friend one day, after another skill lesson.
“How long as this criminal been escaped from your home for?”

“In human years? Approximately ten. That’s only a year of so for us back home, though. It does take a while to travel between planets, you know,” Aiden teased Mason slightly, playfully pushing the boy’s arm.

“I never got a chance to ask you, Mason. What ever happened to your mother?” Aiden realized immediately that it’d been a sensitive topic, but it was too late to take it back now.

He hadn’t meant to be so blunt about it; Mason always talked about his Dad but never once mentioned his Mom or anyone along those lines.

“Oh,” Mason flicked the loose label of his plastic water bottle with his fingers a little.

Aiden frowned and uttered dejectedly, “Sorry, didn’t mean to upset.”
Mason shrugged. “No one’s ever really asked. I just don’t talk about it, I guess. But to answer your question, I don’t know,” Mason sighed. “Actually, I don’t know anything about either of my biological parents. They died when I was three. I’ve just sorta called my adopted father Dad ever since I can remember,” Mason flicked the label some more.

“How old are you, again?” Aiden asked, cocking one of his eyebrows.
“Thirteen,” Mason said.

Aiden took one last swig of his water and sat up from the tree he’d been leaning against.

“Have you got any pictures of your adopted father with you?”

“Uh, I mean, on my phone… Why?”

Aiden shrugged. “You just talked about him like he was your favorite person in the world.”

Mason thought about it for a bit, then responded with a simple shrug: “I guess so.”

***

When Mason returned home that night, he was too tired to notice that half of the lights had been turned out, meaning Dad probably wasn’t home yet.

All Mason wanted to do was flop down on his bed and sleep, but his plans were cut short when he noticed that his bed wasn’t empty.

Mason, being a pubescent boy, never made his bed when he woke up; he was surprised to find that his duvet cover tucked in and his pillows rearranged.

Curious, Mason turned the lights on and approached it. He smiled faintly at the familiar sight of a black toolbox. Mason went to open it, wishing that Aiden had decided to give him his own box of tools. He stopped when he noticed the piece of paper lying on top of the toolbox.

In messy writing, someone had left Mason a last-minute note. He noticed that it looked to be torn from a larger sheet of paper:

Mason,
You already know by now that the toolbox doesn’t contain any ordinary tools. Your mission succeeded, in a way. I’m going back to my planet now. Stay safe, kiddo.
Love,
Dad.

Mason almost thought that a prank from the upper school boy might’ve hurt less.
With shaking hands, Mason tapped the side of his new toolbox.

When it was up and running, Mason gave a surprised gasp. There wasn’t a Skeleton Designer in here. It seemed to have been replaced by some sort of transportation device.

As he pulled that out instead, Mason crinkled his eyebrows together.
Another, much smaller and shorter, note was taped to it.

If you need a home.
-A

Suddenly, Mason began to rethink one of his favorite quotes. Perhaps curiosity could kill a cat, but it would still have eight more lives, and Mason was more than willing to risk one of his to join his friend on his best adventure yet.
  
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