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The Great Corndog Abduction
a small-town sci-fi adventure
SAMPLE


CHAPTER 1


BRI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-ING!

Bodies burst out the school's main doors like Nerf-balls from a blaster. Straight into grey skies and spitting rain. I don't bother zipping up my hoodie or throwing up the hood. Getting wet is like breathing air when you live in a rainforest, and this is nothing compared to the dumping we get in winter.

"Hey, doofus," says Kayte, bouncing down the steps to catch me up, her wild curly hair bobbing along for the ride. She pops open her Darth Vader umbrella with a cheesy grin, like she's about to break into song.

I get an eyeful of hair (man, do I need a trim) as she skips past me. Swipe my forehead and attempt a comeback. "Hey...half-baked?"

Kayte pulls a "whah?" face as she ducks under the schoolyard's ancient cherry tree. A thick, gnarled giant with twisted limbs. Not so nightmarish now it's sprouting pink blossoms.

For a blissful moment, the sweet smell carries me away to a happy and hopeful place. A place where anything can happen. Anything is possible.

Until we hit the main street with all the gutted, empty buildings, boarded-up and left to rot. And I remember: nothing changes here anymore. Spring is nothing but a trick. A lie. Like these Old West store fronts pretending to be all tall and fancy from the street, hiding one-storey box rooms inside. The ones that are still in business, that is. A handful of owners, bravely hanging on amid the graffiti and decay. A party store. A bookstore. A hunting and fishing store. A store that sells smelly old house stuff. And a sun-faded storefront with a flying saucer sign, packed with alien memorabilia. An out-of-place relic from the boom town we once were, after a UFO sighting in the 1950s.

Half the town reported seeing it. Every story the same. A giant sphere, a flash of green, a feeling of static electricity in the air, and silence. No engine sound or chirping birds. No nothing. And not a single photo to prove it. But that didn't stop folk rocking up from far and wide — tourists and campers, armed with telescopes, schemers and dreamers and fanatics — once the story made it into the papers. Made even more enticing by the mystery of two dead parents, and a missing newborn baby, discovered at the time of the sighting. Murdered by aliens who abducted the baby. Or so the rumours went. You can read all about it in the railway station museum.

The forest industry is all we have left, and that's not what it used to be, either. Not since the sawmills started shutting down. There's no future in this dying town. The second I get my high school diploma, I'm out of this dump.

Kayte is rambling on at me about her afternoon, about some girl in her class who was rude to another girl. With me chiming in, "Ahuh...oh yeah...woah," whenever it seems appropriate. Kayte can talk for hours when she gets going, and I'm not really listening. I'm too busy clunking through puddles in my heavy boots, splattering water, trying to erase the day.

"So then I sprouted hair all over my body, grew a wicked set of gnashers, and basically shredded her head."

"That's nice," I say, sidestepping to strike at a monster puddle where the sidewalk is cracked and sunken.

"Are you even listening to me?" demands Kayte like some overzealous teacher, following me home. She whacks my head (most unteacherly) with her umbrella, clipping my ear with one of the metal tips.

"Ow!" That got my attention. I rub the top of my burning ear and grumble, "Watch it."

Before we can continue our brolly bashing debate, stupidly loud, obnoxious boy banter sweeps up behind us. Not them again. Leo and Seb. AKA: Chucky and Sidekick.

Everywhere I go, there they are, cropping up like the indestructible weeds that grow around here. Chucky, a prickly thistle you do not want to run into off the beaten path. Sidekick, more of a pesky dandelion that just keeps coming back no matter how many times you pop his little head off.

The dude-bros from grade eight (the year above us) swarm after them, like a band of Muppets with their side-blown hair and surfer-gone-wrong uniforms. You know the type. Can't loiter without puffing out their chests. Can't talk without shouting. Their greetings take forever and go something like this:

"Dude."

"Bro."

"Dude."

"Bro."

"Dude."

But at least they aren't bullies like Chucky and wannabe Sidekick — if Sidekick could only grow about two feet taller.

I lower my head and break into a brisk walk, legs itching to run. Someone's foot jabs into the back of my ankle and I stumble forward. My face heats up to match my ear.

"Whoops, sooorry," says Chucky with a nasty glint in his eyes, wedging himself between me and Kayte. "Didn't mean to interrupt your lover's tiff."

He puckers up his pasty, freckled face into the ugliest kissy lips you ever saw, aiming them at us in turn. Grotesque smoochy sounds morph into a sinister cackle (there's a reason we nicknamed him Chucky, after that possessed, foul-mouthed doll with red hair).

The rest of the guys join in, honking like a gaggle of geese.

I cringe. Kayte grinds her teeth. This is the worst part of having a girl friend: the constant and relentless teasing. Who knew it would come to this when Kayte heckled me into using the monkey bars all those years ago? It's a ridiculous rule anyway. Why can't girls and guys be friends? Besides, who else would I hang with now that Andrew's moved away?

"Very funny," I say, deadpanning. It's best not to react, it only encourages them.

Except, Kayte's not so good at not reacting. She goes red in the face and stomps her camo wellie. "For the last time, WE ARE JUST FRIENDS!"

"Totally in denial," says Sidekick, smirking like a shaggy blond-haired Chihuahua in a baseball cap.

"Take a flying jump in the river," says Kayte through gritted teeth, "headfirst, you bunch of butt holes!"

A single high-pitched laugh erupts from the dude-bros. An involuntary snort-laugh escapes from me. Chucky flashes his demon blue eyes at me, and I gulp, straight-faced again.

"Just 'cause you're having boyfriend trouble," says Chucky, turning back to Kayte, "don't mean you gotta take it out on us."

"Burn!" says Sidekick, as the dude-bros snicker into their hands like little kids.

"I'll take it out on you, alright," says Kayte, hand fisting around her umbrella handle.

"Ohhh!" go the dude-bros.

There's a long, uncomfortable silence. I'm stuck to the sidewalk like a gob of chewed-up gum.

Then Chucky takes off, muttering, "Just too easy." Knowing full-well his minions will follow.

I breathe a sigh of relief as they push past us and waggle over the crosswalk. Eyeballing some grandma, stuck waiting for them in her Smart Car. She tracks them with her lemon-sucking face — wedged behind the wheel like an ironing board with a saggy cover — until they're out of her way and waggling onto the bridge.

"Why d'you let him get to you so much?" I ask Kayte, as we're clunking along. Why make life harder than it already is?

"One: I'm not afraid of that meathead. Two: It's not my fault boys are so annoying. Three: Maybe it's you" — she pokes her umbrella at me — "that should be standing up to them for a change. Instead of just standing there like a wet noodle."

"One," I mock copy her, "I wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Two: I kinda like my face the way it is." It's all right for her, Chucky's never going to punch a girl in the nose. "Three: You can probably close your umbrella now. It's not raining anymore."

"I was just about to," says Kayte, and pops it shut.

Grandma turns onto the main street and rolls past the guys in her comically tiny car, in a sort of revenge drive-by eyeballing. Several hands go up in a show of defiant waves, and she revs away, as if to get the last word. She burns through the roundabout, causing a truck to slam on its brakes.

Ah, the charms of small-town living.

Drifting dark clouds reflect in the river below as we cross the bridge, peering over the railing at the docks and cottages along the riverbank. We're almost at the park when we see Chucky and everyone crowding round an unusually tall man in a pastel pink bowler hat and suit, attaching a poster to a utility pole. Even from here I can tell they're fired up, all jittery and open-mouthed. Whatever's on that poster must be GOOD.

They get distracted as a blurry red sphere, smaller than any of their heads, swoops down from the trees along the riverbank, and hovers over them.

"What is that?" asks Kayte, pointing.

"Someone must be flying a drone," I say. Not that it has any wings or propellers. How is that physically possible?

Kayte looks confused, and that makes two of us.

Sidekick springs into the air and takes a swipe at the drone with his baseball cap, unleashing his shaggy hair. The drone darts out of the way, flashes red as if in warning, then zooms at Sidekick's shocked face. An inch away from his nose, the drone pulls up like a fighter pilot. Breaks abruptly and hangs higher in the sky, out of reach.

Pink Man's finished with the poster and clearly not impressed. He bends down to Sidekick's low-down level and waggles a finger at him, as the rest of guys grin like goons. Sidekick responds by repositioning his cap and crossing his arms.

Pink Man moves on with a few lingering glares, with the drone flying after him like a well-trained bird. Buzzing in and out of view behind his head, as he bounces up the grassy slope, a stash of posters tucked under his arm. Out of the park and onto the sidewalk then over the bridge.

He comes at us on bendy, bowed legs, accentuated by his too-tight pants. His skin is so white it practically glows on his long, hairless face. He has the strangest beady eyes, almost entirely black, and barely any eyebrows. He tips his hat at us as he bounds by. His head is shiny and bald.

I smile and lean in to get a peek at the posters...laminated, printed side hidden. Darn it.

Kayte's charging ahead of me, swinging her closed umbrella like a cane, when I spot a circular shadow by my feet. I look up to find the drone hovering over my head, a web of red light embedded in dark metal, blinking down at me with a glowing red eye. Following me instead of Pink Man.

I turn and scan the street for Pink Man, but he's already gone. How did he disappear so fast? Then the drone takes off too, click-clacking as it whizzes off into town. That was weird.

"Come on," says Kayte, tugging on my sleeve and pulling me into the park.

Every atom in my body wants to run in the opposite direction, away from Chucky, but I let her pull me along anyway. Groaning the whole way. Curse you, curiosity!

We try to infiltrate the stubborn mini mob from behind. Bobbing and stretching like a pair of ostriches, bumping into the back of them all.

"Excuse me!" says Kayte.

"Wait your turn," says Chucky, turning his head, but only half-heartedly. Lucky for us he's more interested in the poster.

"This is gonna be awesome," says Sidekick, jumping around.

What is it?! What can possibly be so awesome in this town? All I can make out is a yellow wiener-shape at the top of the poster.

The dude-bros start quibbling over the wiener...

"Corndogs? Who even eats those anymore?"

"Isn't that a Pogo?"

"A Pogo is a corndog...I think. Isn't it?"

"I think so."

"I love corndogs."

"I'm so gonna win that prize," says Chucky.

The dude-bros all give him a look, like, not if I win it first, though no one dares say this out loud. They've seen what Chucky does to stationery and chairs when he doesn't get his way. They've seen what he does to other kids just for fun!

Finally, finally, they get the hell out of our way, but not before one last jab from Chucky. "See ya, face suckers."

Kayte releases a low growl (not dissimilar to my old mutt Ralph when I stray too close to his kibble), loud enough to be heard over their hee-hawing honks. And then Chucky finishes his act with that same disgusting kissy-lip face, hugging himself with his chunky bare arms, like he's making out with someone else.

Somebody pass me the barf bucket, please.

Our eyes dart to the colour-clashing poster as the mob disperses around us, disappearing who-knows-where. We're too engrossed to care. Eyes glued to the HOT AIR BALLOON shaped like a bouquet of corndogs! The yellow wiener is in fact a grinning corndog in dark shades, with a speech bubble that says...


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