It was after midnight in 1990, and a group of NASA technicians are playing chess in the lounge. They never notice the soft clicking noises as radiation detectors kick in and a strange code begins taking over a computer monitor. As a glowing saucer zips past the Voyager, locks itself into orbit around Neptune, rolls over, and then disappears from view, the technicians loudly argue over the rules of the gameunaware that aliens are headed toward Earth.
Unfortunately, the amphibian-like creatureswho reproduce in alarming numbershave made a serious mistake. They have chosen a small town in Iowa as the place to launch their invasion, mistakenly thinking they can attack under a cloak of invisibility. But this rural setting is protected by the Pirates, an elite team of adventurers and foilers of evil plots comprised of the most dangerous creatures on planet Earthyoung boys. As the alien invaders kidnap one of the pirates and begin to examine him for weaknesses, they have no idea that they have in their possession the girl-hating, chaos-creating nuisance that is the bane of all fourth-grade math teachers in town.
It may be the last mistake theyll ever make.
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About the Author
Michael Beyer is a high school English as a second language teacher and author of the novel Aeroquest. He and his wife, Narela, have three children and live in Carrollton, Texas.
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CATCH A FALLING STAR
By Michael Beyer
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Michael Beyer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCanto 1: A Small Town in Iowa
Grace plopped breakfast dishes on top of the unwashed supper dishes from the night before. Glass and plastic clanked. Silverware rattled and slid to the bottom of the ceramic kitchen sink. Her kitchen was awash in all sorts of uncleanness. The garbage pail was so full the plastic lid wouldn't completely shut. The linoleum tiles were blotched with black and brown patches of stickiness, their white color grayed by too many weeks without the kiss of Mr. Clean. The stove had grease spatters and gobbets of burned food on its top, unclean pans stacked within its wide oven mouth. There were untended bits of paper, mostly junk mail, piled atop the refrigerator.
"Gracie," called the man on the couch in the other room. "Come on in and watch the Today show. Willard's gonna say something funny any second."
Grace looked at the backs of her two hands. They were worn with years of housework. They were also too fat. The doctor said she needed to exercise and lose weight, or the next one would kill her. She used to exercise constantly, but now ... what was the point?
She walked into what used to be the dining room but was now the sit-and-watch-TV-as-you-eat room. Newspapers were scattered all over the floor, some from today, most from the previous week.
Her grandmother's table was pushed back into a corner. It was solid oak, with four carved lion's feet to hold it up. It could be opened in the middle to add a table board or two for company. No company had come in years.
Alden sat on the sofa, unshaven and wearing his tank-top undershirt. He had an oily seed-corn cap on the top of his large, balding head. He looked up at her and patted the seat beside him, indicating that she should sit.
"Gracie, honey, cheer up. It's a new day—a new week. Things are bound to get better."
Grace flounced down on the sofa. The man knew how to wreck a good pout.
"I'm only thirty-eight, Alden," she announced. "It's not fair that I feel so old. I hate my life."
"Now, Gracie, you remember your blood pressure. You've got to do more healthy things. You can't stay in the house and fuss all the time. The more you worry, the worse it is for you. The doctor said so."
She didn't answer. She watched Bryant Gumbel telling about something that happened in Washington, something about the country of Iraq. She didn't pay much attention to what he was saying. She was thinking that this handsome broadcaster was actually older than she was. Yet that child on the street two weeks ago had called her grandma. She hadn't even had a child of her own yet, and she was being mistaken for somebody's grandmother.
"Let's go up to Mason City today," suggested Alden. "The drive and the fresh air will do you good. We can look around in the department store. You like JCPenney's."
"Oh, Alden, I just don't feel well. Maybe this weekend. Besides, you need to get out and find a job. The money we got from selling the farm will not last forever."
"You're right. I need something to do. I'm getting fat living a fancy life in town. I miss the old Farmall. I just wish there were more jobs around."
"I'm sorry I never gave you a son, Alden," she said with an air of confession. "Maybe with a boy to help, we wouldn't have lost your father's farm."
"Now, don't start on that. We lost that farm because we defaulted on loans and were forced to sell. You had nothing to do with it."
The conversation was over. Alden knew better than to let her talk about the child she couldn't have. It was the subject that seemed to be killing her. She was incapable of going through a pregnancy and coming out alive. As a couple, they had been unable to adopt. They were both family-type people from many generations back. They were simply doomed never to live the same sort of life their parents had. Being childless was a demon that neither one of them could truly face alone.
"Let's go to Mason City. The Ford has plenty of gas. I'll look for work up there."
The subject was changed. Grace was distracted for the moment. The Morrells were safe from their demons for a few more hours.
Canto 2: The Bicycle-Wheel Laboratory
Tim Kellogg was a towheaded boy, the son of an English teacher, and the leader of the infamous Norwall Pirates. He had grown up spending a lot of time around adults, so his parents didn't worry too much when he made friends with the smartest man in Norwall, Orben Wallace, otherwise known as the Bicycle-Wheel Genius.
He was a strange type, this Professor Wallace. He was a doctor of engineering who had sworn off electronics in favor of gear power. It wasn't the most complete swearing-off you ever heard of. It meant no TV or electric razors, but lights were okay, and so were electric heaters ... and he had a thing about computers. They were like family.
Now, most parents would be leery of a single adult male whose friends were young boys, but the eccentric Mr. Wallace was not a source of worry. The Kelloggs had learned from independent sources that he had been a solid family man with a wife and young son, both of whom were killed in a terrible, mysterious lab accident. The man liked Tim because he so strongly resembled the blond son in his many cherished photos. Mr. Wallace had proved already, on a couple of occasions, that he would sooner die than let anything bad happen to Tim.
So it was that Tim crept into the yard of the laboratory that day with the intent to satisfy some curiosity.
It was a wondrous place if you looked below the surface. What seemed like a row of broken-down dishwashers in the yard was, in fact, a series of homemade aquariums containing a number of sealed ecosystems. Plants, animals, air, dirt, and water were all sealed inside, in combinations that varied slightly from tank to tank and were all carefully monitored by computer systems. The large, rusted recycling bin that stood up against the side of the house was really a concealed entrance to the basement lab. There were two fireman's poles inside, one labeled Batman and the other Robin.
Tim pushed the proper access code into the pocket calculator that lay on the ground beside the recycling bin. The pop and whoosh of hermetic seals was followed directly by the secret door popping open to allow access to the poles. Tim grabbed Robin and slid down into the dingy darkness.
Inside the lab was a whole other world. Colored lights blinked on and off everywhere, as if one was standing inside a Christmas tree. The entire room was cocooned in various Rube Goldberg devices made of gears, pulleys, ratchet arms, and of course, bicycle wheels.
Orben himself was working on what looked on the surface to be an old-fashioned Coke machine, which it actually once had been. His little blond twin-forked goatee twitched as he tightened gears and twisted flywheels.
"So, Professor Einstein, is that your new time machine?" Tim greeted him with a sardonic grin.
"One should not be so flippant with important names in the history of science, young Tim. And the answer to your ludicrous question would have to be yes, though it's much more complex than that little misnomer would suggest."
Tim raised an eyebrow at the cryptic response. He was used to big words, because they were a part of both his upbringing and his father's profession, but the ideas that Orben used them to give shape to were often overwhelming.
"Would you care to explain?" Tim hazarded.
"No. You are unaware of most of the technical aspects involved. It is enough to say that it is intended to speed up and slow down the timing mechanisms in a human body." He chuckled lightly to himself. "It's a sort of human clock-winder."
"Have you tested it yet?"
"No. The theory is sound, but I have not yet fully rendered all the practical components operative."
"Did you understand that? Or were you just expressing orally the extent of your youthful IQ?"
"Definitely my IQ," laughed Tim. He looked carefully at the wired-up bionic Coke machine. He knew there was a fifty-fifty chance that it would be an astonishing invention or an expensive junk sculpture when finished. That was Orben's way.
"So, what is the reason you have honored me with your company today?" Orben asked. "Did you just come to sneer at my inventions?"
"Oh, I was bored. Sneering at your inventions is just a side benefit of coming here." They smiled at each other. Wallace's round wire-rimmed spectacles magnified his eyes in such a way as to give him an owlish twinkle in the eyes.
"I imagined you would come snooping around about now, since I managed to locate that volume of family history we talked about last time."
"Really! The outer-space adventure?"
"It's not some mere adventure fiction, my boy. It's a historical document recounting secret experiments my great-grandfather Wallace actually conducted. I can't help that he was somewhat imaginative in the actual documentation of it."
"Where is it?"
"On the bookcase next to my Oxford Dictionary. I put it there myself so I wouldn't lose the dang thing all over again."
Tim rocketed to the old oaken bookcase in a dark corner and found there an old book bound in red leather with brass fittings. The title of the book was embossed in gold letters on the cover:
Explorations of the Red Planet by Theofrastus Wallace, 1889
"A hundred and one years ago! Way cool!" Tim immediately settled down in the yellow light of Orben's weather-control monitor, an invention that was still around because it gave off good reading light, and began to pour over the yellowed pages.
Canto 3: Duffy's North Forty
From Explorations of the Red Planet, 1889
* * *
After a lengthy journey from the laboratories of Menlo Park, the three of us were reassembled in a cornfield somewhere in north central Iowa. Sir John Calidore, an English-born American industrialist once knighted by Queen Victoria herself, was the leader of the expedition. He was the one who had paid our way to the site. Dr. Thornapple Seabreez was a young professor of engineering I had worked with back at the Edison labs.
And I, of course, Theofrastus Wallace, was there as scientific expert, though how they figured anybody was a qualified expert in this, I'll never know.
"You have to agree," said Sir John, "it is a unique artifact and worthy of careful attention. I'm lucky I was able to beat old P. T. Barnum to the discovery of it, or it'd be on display already in that ghastly museum of his."
I was watching the way Calidore's moustache twitched as he talked. It was like a wide whisk broom under his nose, and it made me wonder if anyone had ever thought of writing a history of facial hair in the United States. If they ever had, his nose-broom would certainly have to be pictured in it.
"Do you have any idea what this is?" asked Dr. Seabreez, a look of utter horror on his handsome young face.
"Professor Wallace," suggested Calidore subtly, "I believe we need a thought or two from deep left field."
"Well ..." I was never one to be too hasty with words, though I had been known to shock people with my humble bluntness. "I'd say it's a spacecraft. It resembles one of those aboriginal Australian devices called a boomerang, or a flattened banana. The way it's bent and twisted suggests it crashed here out of the air. The gouge it has left in this field suggests an impact of such a nature that it should not have survived as a whole piece. Therefore, I must conclude that it is made of some metal that is at present unknown to science—our science, that is."
Dr. Seabreez's practical young face was ashen, as if I had just declared the thing a moon-chariot operated by Queen Mab and all her little poltergeists. "I'd have to concur with Professor Wallace's assessment. This thing must have come here from some other world."
"Who else knows about this thing?" I felt prompted to ask.
"The farmer who found it," said Calidore, "an old man by the name of Timothy Duffy. He buried all the bodies we found. I made him a very wealthy man to keep quiet about it and give it to me. There was also a carnival dwarf who actually saw it crash. He had been working for some kind of traveling medicine show that recently went up in smoke ... literally, I mean. You know, fire and all that. He was hired by me to guide me to this spot, and he has proved a very useful little fellow."
I added for him, "Literally, I suppose."
"His name," said Calidore, frowning, "is Big Bob Bullbones. I found his name to be bigger than he is." Calidore laughed at his joke alone.
"What," asked the shaken engineer, "are you proposing that we do with it?"
"You and Wallace will make it work once again. Repair it."
"You're kidding!" Dr. Seabreez gasped.
"I most certainly am not kidding!" Calidore said, with a big grin hidden beneath the hedgehog under his nose.
* * *
Canto 4: The Dobbses' House, on the Edge of Norwall
Michael Dobbs was home for the noon meal. His wife, Sybil, was an excellent cook, and he rarely ate his lunch at the bank. The town was small enough that he could close the bank, go home for an hour, and never be missed. There was one drawback to small-town life, though: his three little boys were home from school for the summer, and there was no place in town for them to be except right there at home.
As Dobbs sat at the table, his three blond curly-headed monkeychildren came roaring down the staircase with plastic AK-47s blazing death, making horrible war noises through puckered lips. As Jehovah's Witnesses, they should not have had access to war toys. Jehovah's people were supposed to be Bible-trained and nonviolent. Somehow, though, these boys always seemed to have guns. They slammed into the table and fell mortally wounded into their chairs, finding it necessary to expire dramatically from imaginary wounds before they could think of partaking of Momma's macaroni-and-cheese casserole.
"Boys," said Michael with a look of resignation, "you know that, as Jehovah's Witnesses, we don't approve of violence and war. Why play games about something that Jehovah himself disapproves of and Jesus teaches us to avoid?"
No answer came from the trio of thoroughly rigor-mortised corpses. Their feet were defiantly in the air.
Dorin, the eldest at ten years old, was easily the handsomest. Michael had to remind himself constantly that this unruly, undisciplined thing was actually his first, best son. The boy's puckish smile was always wheedling for more allowance or a new toy. The intelligent blue eyes spotted everything that the family tried to keep hidden from him—like the TV remote control— and was equally adept at finding things to complain about. His two hands flitted everywhere like a pair of angry dragonflies, breaking and rearranging everything that was supposed to be off limits to them. Dorin was, at the moment, slumped in his chair, stiff and dead from the imaginary bullet between his eyes.
Conrad, the middle child, had a mouth too wide for his face. That was, perhaps, why everyone in town mercilessly called the boy Frog Dobbs. He used that mouth to great effect, rattling windows with his squeals and screeches, and making all the local cats' hair stand on end. He was a long-legged rascal, both turkey drumsticks now raised in the air above him as he lay dead of numerous imaginary machine-gun wounds.
Michael Jr., at seven, was the most unpredictable. He was blond like his brothers, but since he had an imaginary head wound, and the ketchup was too near at hand ... well, you couldn't really tell anymore.
"Junior!" roared Mr. Dobbs. "Why did you put ketchup on your head?"
"It's blood, Daddy. I'm hit!"
"You got that right," said Dobbs as he brought a hand around to the child's rump with a smack.
Junior began to cry like his heart was breaking.
"Oh, come on! I didn't hit you that hard!" The contrite parent began mopping up ketchup with a napkin. "You're gonna have to wash your hair now. Otherwise bugs will get in it and begin eating your head."
Junior stopped crying long enough to look at his father, indicating in no uncertain terms how hopelessly stupid adults could be, and then launched into a new and louder verse of the crying song.
"Good heavens!" said his mother as she brought the casserole to the table. "Why is Junior crying and bleeding from a bullet wound to the head?"
The boy stopped crying and smiled. She had known the right words, even though the poor father was stumped. She put the casserole on the table to distract Thing One and Thing Two. Then she took Junior by the hand and towed him to the bathroom for a quick cleanup.
Excerpted from CATCH A FALLING STAR by Michael Beyer Copyright © 2012 by Michael Beyer. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story is funny, sweet, and sad all rolled into one. I liked the aliens who learned to speak English by watching I Love Lucy reruns. I liked the crazy inventor guy who hates electronics. And I especially liked the boy who gets kidnapped by aliens since he's a lot like my own son.