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Closing the door behind him, Neal immediately shielded his eyes from the bright, incandescent lights directly overhead and waited for his glasses to transition to a darker tint. The intensity of such light was almost deleterious to his eyesight and the entire room seemed unnaturally sterile. Despite a rather extensive collection of artificial ficus trees and fake palm ferns, the white walls and tiled floor posed no comfort to their visitors. He wondered why the waiting area of a school guidance office should appear so unwelcoming. The secretary at the front desk was adjusting the leaves of a mock bromeliad plant on the counter. He checked his watch. Two forty-five. He hoped the meeting that he had scheduled would go quickly, so he could leave the peculiarities of the guidance office behind. Feeling like a specimen in some mad scientist’s lab, Neal timidly approached the guidance secretary and asked if his counselor, Mr. Miller, was in.
“Yes, he should be,” replied the secretary after quickly glancing at her computer screen. “Go right on back and knock on the door.”
“Thanks,” Neal abruptly responded as he hurriedly turned towards Mr. Miller’s office. For the past several weeks, he had had one thing on his mind, and he wanted Mr. Miller to allay this fear promptly so that he could return to English class tomorrow without having to worry anymore. His footsteps echoed down the corridor with eerie reverberations, and a flickering light at the end of the hallway completely unnerved him. As he reached out to knock on his counselor’s door, it opened suddenly, and Mr. Miller cheerfully beckoned him into his office.
“Neal, what’s up?” Mr. Miller asked, motioning for Neal to take a seat. Mr. Miller was young and amiable and had an incredible affinity for telling bad jokes. Neal usually didn’t have the heart to inform Mr. Miller of the poor quality of his humor, and today was no different. Indeed, more significant matters occupied Neal’s thoughts.
“Well, this will probably sound unbelievable to you …” Neal paused, reconsidering whether or not he should confide his current fear with his counselor.
“I’ve heard a lot of unbelievable things in my day, Neal,” Mr. Miller reassured him, as Neal shifted his mechanically apprehensive gaze towards the floor. “Go ahead. What’s troubling you?”
Neal swallowed with some difficulty and then cleared his throat. “Mr. Miller, I believe there are aliens in my English class.”
Mr. Miller stared blankly for a moment, as if Neal had just delivered his question in Latin, and then spoke hesitantly. “You said you think there are aliens in your English class? Is that right?”
Neal nodded his head, which thoroughly bewildered Mr. Miller. How on Earth did Neal come to this conclusion, he thought. In his short career, he had already encountered plenty of students who were obviously in need of guidance, yet none had ever approached him with concerns of an alien invasion. Neal was renowned throughout the school for his honest, studious qualities, and Neal’s deviation from his regular behavior caused Mr. Miller even greater confusion.
As Mr. Miller began to ask another question, Neal suddenly cried out, “I knew you wouldn’t believe me! You must think I’m crazy!”
“Calm down, Neal!” Mr. Miller’s response was calm and authoritative. “I haven’t accused you of being anything yet.” Sighing with subtle irritation, he temporarily resigned himself to exploring the possibility that Neal was, in fact, serious about his claims of extraterrestrial life in his English class. “Why don’t you explain to me how you came to this conclusion, and we’ll go from there.”
Fidgeting, Neal nodded again. “There are three people in my class who I’m pretty sure aren’t from around here. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re aliens. I’ve been watching them and the things they do, and they just don’t strike me as normal. I get a weird feeling when I’m around them too …” He trailed off, seemingly lost in thought.
“Do you mind if I ask you who they are?” Mr. Miller interjected suspiciously.
Neal began to reply, but, before answering, nervously examined his surroundings as if to verify that no one else was listening. Observing the room closely for the first time since Mr. Miller had ushered him in, Neal realized that the office was sparsely furnished. Just a computer table with a wooden chair on either side filled the office. A lone shelf occupied the wall to Neal’s right. Several small arrangements of manmade ivy plants and synthetic Christmas cacti served to decorate both the table and the shelf. In the corners of the room were more fake trees. Bright lights hung from the ceiling, suspended by simple light fixtures. The lights seemed to illuminate everything in the room, for no shadows lurked in the corners. Pleased with an apparent lack of intruders, Neal then named the alleged aliens. “They go by the names of Mark, Raheela, and Ruben, and I’m almost positive that they aren’t human.”
Not usually accustomed to dealing with such bizarre assertions, Mr. Miller decided to proceed cautiously. Generally, Neal was a reliable, diligent student in whom Mr. Miller had expressed a lot of trust and confidence, yet Neal certainly insisted on the true identities of these aliens. Baffled by Neal’s persistence, Mr. Miller chose to continue his conversation with Neal so as to determine whether or not Neal was being serious. If Neal truly believed in the existence of these aliens, then Mr. Miller would have to act accordingly in order to best address the situation. “You do realize that you’re charging very prominent students in this school with the outrageous claim of, well, alienhood, don’t you?” Mr. Miller inquired.
“Mr. Miller, I wouldn’t lie to you about this,” Neal responded wholeheartedly. “They really are aliens.”
“Very well then,” Mr. Miller replied incredulously, as he plucked off the needle of a cactus. “Give me a few examples.”
Neal took a deep breath. “The first one, Mark, constantly makes peculiar noises every opportunity he gets. I swear that he not only shrieks like a pterodactyl during class, but he tries to speak to me in languages that don’t sound like they come from this world. He also gave me this.” Neal extracted a folded note from his front pocket and looked over it briefly. The note contained a message in unrecognizable writing. Taking the note from Neal, Mr. Miller scrutinized the written message and appeared startled by the outwardly authentic nature of the note itself, as if he was familiar with its meaning. The way it was written gave the impression of something beyond this world, for the written characters seemed to glow and radiate with a reddish sheen. The evidence that Neal was presenting to him was certainly becoming troublesome. Nevertheless, he did not betray these thoughts to Neal, lest he should arouse more suspicions of alien activity in the student.
“This is certainly very compelling evidence,” Mr. Miller stated wryly, as he manipulated the leaves on one of his ivy plants. “But what about the other two students you named, Raheela and Ruben. You haven’t convinced me that they’re aliens too.”
“Oh, yes, those two,” Neal uttered with growing confidence. “I’ll describe Raheela. I have very good reason to believe that she is an android from another solar system.”
Mr. Miller’s expression suggested astonishment. “And what makes you believe that?”
“Well, whenever I talk to her she never displays any emotion. She doesn’t blink and she makes clicking noises when she moves, like her insides are made of machinery. Her eyes aren’t normal either, because they’re very bright and blinding. She also eats AAA batteries for lunch, as if she needs them for energy.”
“And you’re being completely serious about all of this?”
“Yes, like I said, I wouldn’t make this stuff up. I’m really concerned that my English class, and maybe even the whole school, is being invaded by alien life forms.”
Mr. Miller tried to suppress an irritated look that he hoped Neal wouldn’t see. “Okay, so Mark is half-human, half-monster, and Raheela is an android. Where does that leave Ruben?”
Satisfied that Mr. Miller had not yet ended the discussion, Neal’s eyes began to glow with excitement. “Ruben is just an anomaly when you compare him to the rest of the class, and probably the rest of the world. He doesn’t seem to understand social conventions, and he often gives strange or even irrelevant answers when people ask him questions.”
“Like what?” interrupted Mr. Miller, brushing a stray leaf from the table. “Give me an example.”
“Well, the other day in English class,” Neal continued, “he came into the room with a leafy laurel he had made on his head. I asked him why he was wearing it, and he replied ‘Jabberwocky’! I mean, it made absolutely no sense to me, and then after that, he proceeded to run around the room, waving his arms as if he were a bird and crying out that there were too many shrubs in the room.”
Turning in his seat to admire a cactus on his shelf, Mr. Miller hid from Neal an expression of indecision. “That does sound strange, but I don’t know if that necessarily proves Ruben is an alien. A lot of the staff around here has discussed Ruben’s … um … unique character. Neal, I’m starting to feel that you’re fabricating lies about your classmates in order to gain some sort of advantage over them.”
“No, no!” Neal asserted. “I can prove it to you. I overheard the three of them talking a couple of days ago about some sort of meeting Ruben was organizing.” Neal glanced at his watch. “Mr. Miller, believe me, I can prove it to you! They’re supposed to start their meeting in five minutes!”
Mr. Miller looked doubtful. The fact that Neal had not only collected convincing evidence of these alien allegations but also demonstrated a firm belief in their existence truly disturbed Mr. Miller. Anxiously, he decided that he would continue to entertain Neal’s argument, in desperate hopes that perhaps the student would come to his senses. “Alright Neal, let me put these plants back on the shelf and you can show me the way to the meeting. I’m warning you though, if this turns out to be a hoax, I’ll have to call your parents and refer you to professional therapy.”
“Trust me, I’m telling you the truth.” Neal jumped from his chair, almost knocking over an imitation Chinese evergreen in the process. Practically leaping out of the room, Neal rapidly rushed down the bare hallway, through the vacant waiting area, and towards the closed door. He paused momentarily, as if considering whether or not to wait for Mr. Miller to catch up to him, and then impatiently began to push at the door. It refused to move. In his excitement, he decided, he had failed to realize that the door had to be pulled. Switching his grip, he pulled on the handle, but the door still did not budge. Turning to ask Mr. Miller why the door was locked, he realized that Mr. Miller was still at the other end of the hallway, near his office and the flickering light. Nervously, Neal slowly edged back towards the hallway and tentatively asked his counselor what was wrong.
“Nothing, Neal,” Mr. Miller exclaimed rather unenthusiastically as he withdrew a slender, metallic object from his pocket, raised it to his mouth, and leveled it at Neal. “You simply know too much.” He inhaled deeply.
A sharp sound, similar to a loud exhalation, came from the far end of the hallway.
“What are you- -” Neal garbled, as a thin dart struck his neck. Slumping to the ground, dozens of images of fake plants ran through his head as whiteness enshrouded his vision. He felt the blood in his veins run cold and sensed that his skin was growing drier and harder. A further sensation of shrinking enveloped his entire body as he almost completely lost his sense of sight. Now he could only experience the presence or absence of light. He tried to yell in fear as he felt the contours of his face and body melt together, but he emitted no sound at all. As his sense of hopelessness increased, he heard distant voices surrounding his transformed body.
“Bah! Another spider plant.” Mr. Miller’s remote voice barely registered in Neal’s mind. “I’m not very fond of these. Ruben, carry it into the back with the others.”
Neal had the final sensation of being lifted and carried for several minutes, until he was gently set down. The bright lights of the guidance office had vanished, and Neal the spider plant felt inconsequential compared to the vast darkness that now encompassed him.