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Aliens in Chicagoland

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Bob was in the tree in the backyard. He had gotten high up enough that he could just barely see over the really tall fence between his yard and the alley. The tree stood in the middle of the yard, though, making it impossible to see down into the alley. But it was the best sentry post available, so he made do.

He had his swords in the tree with him. They were actually sawed off broomsticks his dad had painted, and they were too short, like Raphael's knives instead of Leonardo's swords. Bob was getting real swords like Leonardo's for his Halloween costume next fall, as long as he got through the whole summer without hitting anybody with the pretend swords. The pretend swords were okay until then. He was practicing blocking and slashing moves as well as he could while boxed in by tree branches.

He had to practice, because Shredder's ninjas were gathering in the alley, waiting for him to look away for just a second so they could jump over the fence and attack the --

There was a clatter and the sound of something scrabbling on wood, and then something came over the fence. Bob's hands tightened on the handles of his swords and he froze and stared.

For a second he thought it really was a ninja, all dressed in black, and butterflies filled his stomach from being partly scared and partly excited. As he watched the thing running along the fence, though, he realized that it was little, not much bigger than him, and it wasn't wearing black, it was black.

And furry.

It looked like a big teddy bear, actually.

It waddled a little, but moved fast as it skirted the fence. On the back porch, Bob's Golden Retriever puppy Sandy started to bark. Sandy scrambled down the steps and dashed toward the teddy bear. For a second the bear froze. Sandy skidded to a stop a couple feet away and hopped from side to side, barking. But as the bear stared at her, her barks trailed off and she slowly stopped hopping and wiggling. A low grumble started, liked a growl but gurgly, coming from the bear. Sandy's tail and ears drooped and she shuffled back a step, whimpering.

With a slobbery snarl, the teddy bear darted toward Sandy.

A yell caught in Bob's throat. The teddy bear had claws. It hadn't before, but it did now. Huge claws. The claws flashed in the sunlight as it reached out and swiped at Sandy.

Sandy spun and took off across the yard. The swipe from the bear's claws caught her rump and she stumbled. Scrambling back upright she switched directions and ran right into the step stool Bob had stood on top of a drum on his wagon to climb up into the tree. The wagon slid, and the step stool and drum toppled off. They barely missed Sandy, but the collision slowed her down enough to let the bear catch up to her.

She yelped and flailed as the bear wrestled with her, trying to push her down on the ground. Bob could hear it making weird noises -- it went 'um num num' and made slurpy lip-smacking sounds and --

And Bob realized it sounded hungry.

Bob twisted in his perch to look at the house, but no one had heard the noise and come out, and he couldn't see anyone moving around in the kitchen. He didn't hear any of his neighbors in their yards and anyway the gate through to the alley was latched so they wouldn't be able to get in.

"No," Bob whispered. "No no no." He couldn't let the bear eat Sandy. He shifted to get into position to climb out of the tree, and then remembered that the stool and drum had fallen over.

Looking down, Bob saw the bear had Sandy pinned to the ground. He caught a glimpse of big teeth, and he didn't think. He pulled himself over the branch beside him, and dropped out of the tree onto the bear.

He didn't see where he landed on it, but he felt his feet hit it and slip, and then his knees hit it. The bear grunted and collapsed; the motion threw Bob sideways into the grass. He landed hard. He still had his swords clutched in his hands, and one hand punched the ground knuckles first.

A bright jab of pain flared up his arm, and his hand went numb. For a moment he lay on the ground, stunned and curling up around his hurt hand. Then he remembered about the teddy bear and its claws and teeth, and even though tears sprung to his eyes and he hadn't caught his breath, he scrambled to his feet.

The bear was trying to stand up too, making wavering 'oooooh' and 'ergh' noises and clutching its head. Sandy scooted backwards and got herself backed up against the tree. She was too scared to go any further, too scared to bite or bark again.

Bob had dropped the sword from his numb hand, but he still had the other sword. He yelled and ran forward, and whacked the teddy bear on the head. It staggered but didn't fall. He had to whack it a few more times before it fell down on the ground and didn't get up.

He knew it wasn't dead by how it lay there groaning. Its claws and teeth were hidden again, but now that Bob could see it up close he saw that it didn't look much like a teddy bear even without them. It didn't have round fuzzy ears, or any ears at all, and its face was a wrinkled, leathery ball. Its mouth went almost all the way across its face in a lipless line, and it had four eyes and no nose.

It was weird and kind of cool and made the scared and excited butterflies flutter up in Bob's stomach again.

Then something crashed against the gate on the alley side of the fence.

Bob jumped, startled and almost dropped his other sword. The gate rattled and something on the other side grumbled under its breath.

There were more of the monsters and this time they were coming in through the gate. All of Bob's excitement drained away and left just the scared butterflies.

Bob ran around the moaning monster to Sandy. He had to put his sword down to pick Sandy up. He shoved her under his hurt arm and clutched her to his chest, even though the pain almost made him cry. Then he grabbed up his sword and ran to the gate.

He could hear the other monsters still outside the fence, shaking the gate. Those ones made noises that sounded like words, but Bob didn't listen very closely at first as he huddled against the fence beside the gate. His heart pounded in his chest, and Sandy wiggled and whimpered.

"Shh, Sandy," Bob whispered frantically.

He heard a high-pitched whirring sound and "come oooooon, Doctor" and "it's getting away oh my god what is taking so long" and "perhaps the two of you could shut up now -- ah, got it --"

The gate swung open. Bob sucked in a breath, squeezed his eyes shut, and swung his sword at the monster that ran through the gate.

The impact almost made him lose his grip on his sword but he managed to keep hold of it. There was a yelp and a thud. Bob opened his eyes to see a monster -- no, not a monster, a man, a man with shaggy hair sprawled on the ground clutching his knee.

Two more people had followed the man in and were in the process of trying not to fall on him. A girl tripped over the man's leg and wind-milled her arms trying to catch her balance. The man behind her skipped out of the way. He might not have fallen, but he grabbed the woman by the back of the jacket to save her from falling and then tripped and fell over himself.

Bob pressed himself back against the fence, holding his sword up to shield himself. After the first shock of realizing it was people coming through his gate wore off, he would have run, but by then the woman (who was the only one still standing) spun around and caught sight of him. And then the man Bob had hit launched himself up off the ground and stared at him too.

The second man just sat on the ground for a bit twisting and trying to look at his back, going "what is that smell -- oh, that's dog poo, isn't it, I landed in dog poo, of course I did because that is my life..." Bob tried to keep an eye on him too, but it was hard with the other man and the woman staring at him.

The woman's eyes were big and warm, and made her look a moment away from smiling; that wasn't so bad.

Bob felt like he was pinned in place by the man's eyes, though. He wondered for a moment if the man might turn out to be scarier than the monster had been.

Then the man made a face and looked accusingly at the woman.

"Are all human children as troublesome as you were, and I just never noticed for all these years?" He lifted his knee almost up to his chest and stood on one foot. Pulling his pant leg up, he examined the mark on his shin. "Ow."

The woman smiled at him and patted his arm, then grabbed him when he started to topple sideways. "No, but I'm beginning to think you attract our sort, Doctor." She brushed a bit of grass off his coat. "Karma, I'd imagine."

The other man got to his feet. He was still trying to look at his back. He had a brown smudge on one shoulder, but Bob decided maybe it would be better for now not to tell him so.

"Um, guys," the man said, still making 'yuck' faces. "Aren't we supposed to be chasing an escaped iggliweck?"

The scary Doctor dropped his foot and looked momentarily surprised.

"Oh! Right, thank you Rory, yes we are." He straightened his bow tie and glanced from side to side. Then he stepped suddenly forward and bent at the waist to peer at Bob. "Hello there, small nearly-ginger menace. Have you seen a short-ish black creature that looks like a great huge teddy bear with a wrinkly bowling ball for a head?"

Bob stared at him. The Doctor didn't look scary anymore, and Bob wondered why he'd thought the Doctor had looked scary at all. A couple of startled blinks took in the Doctor's bow tie and jacket and the pants that were a little too short. He looked like Grandpa Oscar, who used to be a teacher before he got old and started forgetting things and acting weird.

"Ahhhhm," the Doctor said, scrutinizing Bob curiously. "So...do you speak, or do you only hit innocent strangers with sticks?"

Bob felt his face go red and thought about hitting the Doctor again. He didn't want to get into trouble, though, so he just pointed with his sword at the monster lying by the tree.

"It jumped over my fence," he said.

The Doctor stood, and all three grown-ups looked toward the tree.

"It's...just lying there," the woman said. "Is it playing dead?"

"They don't usually do that," the Doctor said. "They're more the 'run at danger whilst slobbering and waving sharp claws around' type, as opposed to the 'pretend to be dead until danger goes away' type.

"I hit it," Bob said.

The adults looked at him again.

"You hit -- you hit it." The Doctor looked down at him. He looked cranky. "Let me guess -- with that wretched stick?"

"After I jumped out of the tree on it." Bob said that distractedly, because Sandy had realized that the three new intruders were just people, and had remembered that people were for barking at and jumping on. She was wiggling like crazy, and Bob was having a hard time holding onto both her and his sword.

"You jumped out of the tree?" Rory said. "Onto it?"

"Some people apparently teach their children about violence at a very young age," the Doctor said disapprovingly.

The woman waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, you know. Americans."

The Doctor looked like he might start lecturing Bob about hitting. Or maybe tell on Bob to his parents and then Bob wouldn't get real swords for Halloween. Bob said, "But it was going to eat my dog --"

He broke off with a yelp as he accidentally tried to squeeze Sandy with his hurt hand. She dropped from his grip and headed straight for the Doctor. He said, "Don't even think about it, fuzzball," so she changed directions and flung herself at Rory.

"Eat your dog?" the Doctor said. "Are you sure?"

Bob nodded. He had to take a couple of breaths because his arm hurt really bad and it was hard not to cry. He also really, finally, thought about how the monster had such big claws and teeth. It could have eaten Sandy. It could have eaten him. His own teeth chattered, and he started to shake. "It made num num num noises and held her down to bite her."

"Amy, Doctor," Rory said. "Look at this."

He had picked up Sandy, cradling her and craning his head away from her as she licked at his face. He didn't get mad about the slobber; he just looked a little exasperated.

The way he held her, it was easy to see the scratches across her back, just over her tail. They looked ugly, and there was blood in the fur around them.

"Sandy," Bob gasped. He ran over, crowding the Doctor and Amy out of the way when they got close to look.

Bob was really crying now. He couldn't help it. The scratches looked bad, and his hand hurt, and the monster could have eaten both of them. Tears ran down his face and his breath came in gulps and gasps. He could barely talk, but he managed, "Is -- she -- going to -- be o -- kay?"

"Hey, hey." Rory lowered himself into a crouch and shifted Sandy to face Bob. Sandy immediately switched to licking the tears from Bob's face. "Of course she is. They're just scratches. See? She's hardly bothered by them at all."

He put Sandy down. Bob sat down and stroked her head, keeping his hurt hand against his chest. Sandy climbed into his lap, panting at him and wagging her tail furiously.

"And she even knows you saved her, doesn't she," Amy said. She knelt too and ruffled Sandy's ears. "Don't you, you good girl, yes you do." Amy smiled at Bob. "You should be very proud of yourself. You were a very brave little boy today."

Her smile was the kind Bob couldn't help smile back at. Even if it was a watery smile because he couldn't stop crying.

Her smile turned briefly into a scowl as she glanced up at the Doctor, though. She elbowed him in the leg.

"Ow, that's my sore shin, Pond." He scowled back at her, but when she jerked her head at Bob and then went back to smiling encouragingly at Bob, the Doctor said, "Oh. Right." He cleared his throat and looked solemnly at Bob. "Well, I would like to point out, firstly, that sticks are not for hitting with and violence is never the answer --" He twitched his leg out of the way as Amy's elbow took a swing at it again. "Except, of course, when an iggliweck is about to eat your dog." He smiled then, and gently tousled Bob's hair. "Well done, little man."

Bob swallowed back a few tears and wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve. "Are you going to tell my mom that I hit you?"

The Doctor waved it off. "No, no, no real harm done, so I think we can all just forget about that. Well, maybe you can forget about it, I'm going to be limping for a week. Quite a swing you've got. But no, it was for a good cause, in defense of hearth and home and all that." He paused, examining Bob. "But is your mum around? Inside the house?"

Bob nodded uncertainly.

"Then you'd best go in and have her take a look at that arm. Looks a bit sore."

Bob looked down at his arm. His wrist looked huge and puffy; the sight made his stomach flip. "Okay," he said.

"Right then." The Doctor clapped his hands and rubbed them together, turning to look at the iggliweck under the tree. "We've got an iggliweck to return to its intergalactic zoo exhibit. Come along, Ponds."

He strode off toward the tree. Amy leaned forward and used her thumb to wipe the last tears off Bob's cheeks. When he made a face at her and made a half-hearted effort to turn away, because he wasn't a baby and didn't need people wiping his tears even if he kind of wanted them to, her smile broadened. "You are just the most adorable wee thing." When he scowled at her harder, she laughed. Then she stood, brushing off her knees. "All right, you're not adorable. You're a tough little iggliweck-hunter. Take care of your pup, tough guy."

Bob rolled his eyes and pulled his shirt up to wipe his nose, watching her jog after the Doctor.

Rory stood too, and hesitated. "Um, yeah, what she said." He caught sight of Bob's sword on the ground. "Oh, here's your stick. Don't want to lose that." He smiled jovially. "Might need it to defend Sandy against more iggliwecks, right?"

Bob sucked in a breath and stared at Rory. There were more iggliwecks?

A startled look crossed Rory's face. "Oh -- oh no, no, I didn't mean there are more around here -- or, or anywhere, actually, they're apparently nearly extinct and the zoo is -- it was just a joke -- but no, I'm sorry, there won't be any more, really. I swear. Um."

He looked sheepishly over to the tree, but the Doctor and Amy weren't paying attention to him and Bob. They were trying to pick up the iggliweck and arguing.

"How is this little thing this heavy?"

"Oh, you know, they're like ripe grapefruits, heavier than they look -- watch it, don't bang its head on the ground!"

"Hey, I'm doing my best here."

"Yes, well, how about next time we go to the Librani Intergalactic Zoological Conservatory, you try not to steal one of the rare carnivores?"

"I didn't steal it, it followed me home --"

Then the Doctor shouted, "In your own time, Rory, not as though we need to get this thing back where it belongs as soon as possible before it wakes up and tries to eat someone else's dog. Or us."

"Right," Rory said. He sounded relieved. "Got to go. Bye." He started to move off, came back to shove the sword into Bob's hand, and gave Bob an awkward little wave before running over to grab one of the iggliweck's feet.

Bob watched the three of them wrestle the iggliweck out through the back gate. Sandy tried to follow, but Bob kept a tight grip on her collar. He held his breath as their voices faded, until the yard and the alley were quiet.

As soon as he was sure they were gone, Bob shoved to his feet and ran to the back door, Sandy at his heels. There was a brief struggle with the door -- he only had one hand that he could use to open it but he didn't want to drop his sword in case Rory was wrong and there were more iggliwecks coming. Finally flinging the door open he ran into the house, yelling, "Mom! An iggliweck tried to eat Sandy and my arm hurts really really bad but I didn't hit anybody except the iggliweck, I promise!"

*

Bob was patrolling the back yard again. Not very diligently; it had been a long time since the iggliweck attack -- a whole week -- and no others had come so Bob figured he probably didn't have anything to worry about. He thought he should patrol just in case, though. For a little while longer.

Sandy mostly followed him around the yard, running off now and then to chase a leaf or bark at a bird before coming back to walk at his side. Sometimes she tried to play tug-of-war with Bob's sword; sometimes he was bored enough that he let her.

Just as Bob turned the corner against the alley-side fence, Sandy took off running to the gate. She bounced and yapped excitedly at it, and then it opened.

A head poked cautiously in, looking around until it saw Bob. It was the Doctor. He grinned.

"There you are. I was hoping you'd be outside today -- and not lying in wait to attack, even, thank goodness."

Bob shoved his sword behind him and dropped it where he hoped the Doctor wouldn't see.

As Bob got close, the Doctor opened the gate the rest of the way and crouched down to Bob's level.

"My mom and dad didn't believe me about the iggliweck," Bob said. He was still a little upset about that, and he knew the Doctor would be on his side. "They thought Sandy got out into the alley and fought with another dog and I made up the story so I wouldn't get in trouble for opening the gate."

The Doctor nodded sympathetically. "That's not much of a surprise. People don't generally want to believe things they've never seen or heard of before. Did you? Get in trouble, that is."

"No." Bob held up his arm to show the Doctor the green cast. "My arm was broke and they said that was enough punishment for the gate and also for climbing the tree."

"Ah. Seems fair. And that's a very nice cast. Very...green. And...scribbly."

"My friends drew pictures on it." Bob pointed to one drawing he'd done himself. "I did this one. It's a Ninja Turtle."

The Doctor blinked at him. "A ninja turtle? You lot have turtles that are ninjas but your parents won't believe in iggliwecks?" He looked at Bob dubiously. "Are you sure it wasn't them that fell out of the tree? On their heads, perhaps?"

Bob tried not to, but he couldn't help giggling.

That got the Doctor grinning again. He ruffled Bob's hair. "Good to see you smiling. Listen, I have a question." He paused. "No, make that two questions. Firstly, it occurs to me that I never got your name. I can't keep calling you the small nearly-ginger menace. Bit of a mouthful."

Bob snorted another laugh, because the Doctor was funny even if Bob had no idea what he was talking about. Nearly-ginger? Was that like ginger ale? Bob liked ginger ale; it made his stomach feel better when he was sick. He didn't know if being almost like ginger ale was a good thing or not, though.

Another thought sobered Bob up. He wasn't supposed to tell strangers his name. He'd learned that in preschool. But the Doctor wasn't exactly a stranger. He was strange, and Bob didn't know him; but he'd taken the iggliweck away and hadn't told Bob's parents that Bob had hit him.

"I'm Bob," he said finally.

"Bob. Excellent name for people who are not weeping angels. I'm the Doctor, Bob, pleased to meet you."

The Doctor held out his hand and Bob shook it, saying, "I already know that. I heard you called it when you were here last time." He'd wondered what the Doctor was a doctor of, but now it sounded like Doctor was just his name.

"Ah, right, my apologies. Now, Bob, my second question --" The Doctor leaned in, like he was going to tell a secret. "Do you know where iggliwecks come from?"

Bob thought about it, and then guessed, "The alley?"

"No. Well, that one was in the alley before it came into your back garden, but I mean --" the Doctor waved his hand vaguely. "Originally. Where they come from before ending up in peoples' alleys."

Bob shook his head again. The Doctor looked up at the sky, and pointed to it.

"The sky?" Bob said. The iggliweck hadn't had wings that Bob saw, but on the other hand it had come over his very high fence. Maybe it had invisible wings.

But no. The Doctor said, "A little further away than that. They come from space." When Bob just stared at him, the Doctor said, "Do you believe in aliens?"

Narrowing his eyes, Bob tried to see if the Doctor was making fun of him. "I don't know."

"Well, I do, because I've seen lots of aliens. The iggliweck is a wild alien, that lives in a zoo in space. It's far away from here, and can't get here again, so you don't have to worry about it coming back."

Relief must have showed on Bob's face, because the Doctor's smile softened. "Yes, I thought you might be worried about that. But look."

He reached to the side and picked up a box sitting just outside the fence. A cloth covered it.

"I wanted to show you that not all strange, alien things have big teeth and claws and want to eat your dog."

Setting the box down in front of Bob, he drew off the cloth. The box was a cage. Sandy darted forward, sniffing it excitedly while Bob crouched down to peer inside.

The little creature inside had fluffy lavender feathers all over it. At first it looked like a puffball; then a big blue eye opened and looked at Bob. He sucked in a breath, and watched as the puffball uncurled. It hopped a single leg out in front of it, sticking its rear in the air and stretching like a cat. Two dark purple wings untucked from its sides and stretched too, fluttering delicately. When it yawned, it didn't have teeth, but it had a long white tongue that unrolled and lolled for a moment before getting sucked back into the mouth.

"This is a nif," the Doctor said. "They have no teeth or claws, and fly around eating tiny insect-things when they're not snoozing on warm rocks in the sun. I borrowed it from the zoo the iggliweck came from." He paused. "Well, technically stole it, but I intend to take it back a split second after I stole it so they'll never know the difference."

He opened a door in the top of the cage, reached in a picked up the nif. He said to Sandy, "Sit, dog. And stay."

Sandy never listened to commands from Bob or his mom or dad, but under the Doctor's stern gaze she sat. And stayed.

The nif drooped lazily in the Doctor's hand, peering around curiously, unafraid.

"Would you like to hold it?" The Doctor said. "They're very cuddly."

Bob plopped to the ground and held out his arms.

The nif puddled in his lap like a warm, breathing cloud. It was the softest thing Bob had ever touched. A long tail Bob hadn't noticed uncoiled and wrapped around his cast; that helped it balance when it stood on its single hind leg and propped its front leg against Bob's chest to peer up at him. Its big eye was blue as the sky, blinking at him as it stuck its tongue out and touched his neck and cheek with it.

It tickled, and Bob pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. He didn't want to scare it. After a little bit of curious tasting, it turned itself around and around in Bob's arms until finally flopping down. It sighed contentedly and closed its eye.

"I think it loves me," Bob said softly. "Can I keep it?"

The Doctor smiled. "Afraid not. It's got to go back to the zoo. It's got friends and family back there who would miss it if it didn't come home."

"Oh." Bob gazed at the nif, wishing he could go to the Doctor's zoo and get all the nifs and bring them to his house. He suspected the Doctor's zoo was too far for him to get to, though. He looked up then, noticing that the people who were with the Doctor before weren't with him now. "Where are your friends?"

"Oh, they decided to pop home and visit family. Been ages since they've seen them, and Amy's still getting used to always having had parents for as long as she can remember."

"Didn't you want to see your family too?" Bob said.

The Doctor's smile faded a little and his eyes got sad. He reached out and stroked the nif's head; that brought the smile back, but the sadness didn't go away. "Well, I thought I'd come and see you instead. I'm glad you like the nif."

Sandy lay down on the grass and inched herself forward until she could stretch out her neck and sniff the nif. It opened its eye a crack and stuck out its tongue, poking her nose with it. She jerked back, ears going up in surprise, then scooted forward to lay against Bob's leg and snuffled at the nif some more.

"I do," Bob said. He added, "I'm glad you came," because it was polite, and also true.

For a moment they watched the nif and Sandy examine each other. Then the Doctor pushed the cage out of the way and sat back against the fence, stretching his legs out.

"So, nearly-ginger Bob. Would you like to hear more about space and aliens?"

Bob looked at him like he was crazy for thinking he had to even ask. "Yes! Please."

"Excellent." The Doctor clapped his hands together, his eyes lighting up. "Let's see, where to start. I could tell you about the water planet Anura where the people who live there all live underwater, or there's Melissa Majoria which is the home planet of the honeybees you have here on Earth. Sticky place, a bit noisy, but a riot of color. So many flowers! And there's the planet Midnight which has sapphire waterfalls and...no, actually, let's not talk about that one. I'm not fond of talking about planets where I almost died. Oh, I could tell you about the Ood! I love the Ood. You'd probably think they look scary, but they're an incredibly gentle people so long as you treat them right. They sing all the time..."

*

End