By John Philipp
The Jones house was one of a hundred two-story homes built in the 60s in the “Glenview Estates” subdivision. There were three architectural variations, the Jones’ home identical to thirty-three others, except for the two flowering dogwoods Mr. Jones had planted when they bought the house. The trees were now five feet high and, when spring rolled around, and they presented a splash of pink and white for several weeks, the house radiated an out-of-synch vibe to the neighborhood.
On this particular day, whispered voices emanated from the second-floor bedroom occupied by James Downer Jones, the twelve-year-old family scion.
“I don’t know,” said Jimmy. “It smells an awful lot like blackmail or extortion.”
An unidentified voice answered. “Am unfamiliar with words you use. Any case, response is ‘So?’”
The hesitation and nervousness the boy felt came through in his halting speech. After a few more exchanges, Jimmy gave up. “OK, I’ll do it, but how can I count on you to back me up?”
“Try me,” said the unidentified voice, followed by a guttural flurry that might have been an attempt at laughter.
From the kitchen, Bonnie-Jean Jones, Jimmy’s mother, could hear the conversation upstairs but not make out the words. She called from the downstairs hallway.
“Jimmy, who are you talking with?” He was a good boy, but like all boys his age, needed to be monitored.
“It’s my alien, Mom.” His cracking voice caught in a seemingly never-ending process of changing pitch.
“James Alcott Jones!”(Highlighting an ongoing twelve-year feud between mother and father over what their son’s middle name should be.) “How many times have we told you not to bring the neighbor’s hired hands inside?” Every day more people were utilizing the cheap labor available each morning on certain street corners along main downtown thoroughfares. Bonnie-Jean was not at all comfortable with the trend.
“No, it’s a real alien, Mom.”
Bonnie-Jean’s right foot beat out a tap on the wooden floor. “Don’t make me come up there.”
“He’s not here, he’s out there. We’re talking over the radio.”
The statement from her son carried no meaning for her. Her foot tapping accelerated. “You’re tittering on the edge, young man.”
Hearing no response to her not-so-subtle threat, or even a tween’s giggle at the word “tittering,” Bonnie made an exasperated exhale, grabbed hold of the real oak banister, and hauled her one-hundred-thirty pounds up fifteen steps. She rested halfway. “Not happy about climbing these stairs,” she called and continued to puff her way to the top.
Mother Jones halted outside a door with the poster of an atomic bomb explosion and the words, “PRIVATE: DANGEROUS NUCLEAR FISSION EXPERIMENTS: DO NOT ENTER.”
She shook her head, uttered a “tsk,” and opened the door. Sports hero and rock band posters covered the bedroom’s walls. Her son, lean and wiry with an impossible-to-control mop of red hair, stared at a computer screen with a nervous frequency wave jittering left to right.
Hands went to hips. “Where is he?”
“I told you,” her son said without turning around. “He’s on the radio, calling from another world.”
“Why is an alien calling you?”
Jimmy whirled his chair around and faced her, his expression a cross between anxiety and exasperation. “Remember? We signed up to help SETI process space signals.”
“The name is new to me. Do I know Seti’s mother?”
“Geez, Mom.” His eyes rolled upward. “SETI’s an organization.”
“What are you doing belonging to an organization?”
“I belong to the Boy Scouts.”
Hands made a return trip to hips. “Don’t act smart with me, young man.”
“I don’t belong. They use my computer at night.”
Her index finger pointed straight at him. “You let strangers in our house at night?”
The finger wagged. “Wait ‘til your father gets home.”
“Not in the house, Mom. On my computer. SETI uses it from five to six every morning.” He fiddled with moving his mouse around the desk. “Remember how the computer lights up at five every morning?”
“Well, get it fixed.”
“There’s nothing wrong. Just SETI logging on to our computer.”
“Do they pay us?”
Jimmy’s right leg began to bounce. “No, we donate the time.”
“Seems they ought to pay.”
The bouncing picked up speed.
“Good day, Mrs. Ferguson,” came a scratchy, almost tinny, voice. The frequency wave animated on the screen.
She scanned the room, eyes squinting. “Who said that?”
“Whortle,” said Jimmy. “My alien.”
“Omigod, aliens in my house. What’s this town coming to?”
Jimmy, having no idea how to respond to the question, remained silent.
His mother, having no idea what more to say, used a faithful standby phrase. “You, and I, and your father are going to discuss this when he gets home.” A final wag and she holstered the finger.
Her unwillingness to believe him caused Jimmy to relent and execute Whortle’s plan.
A range of expressions trotted across Jimmy’s face starting with struggle and ending with resignation. “We wouldn’t want to have to forward your texting history to Dad.”
“What text history?”
“The ones with your old high school, what did you call him?” He hit a key, and the monitor displayed scattered yellow cards. “Oh, yeah. ‘Heartthrob.’ Pretty spicy.”
Bonnie froze. Her face turned the color of the horny baboon in the local zoo.
Before she could say anything, he continued. “Of course, if you approved a computer upgrade for my birthday next month, I’d be too busy to bother with copying texts. I might even trash them for more storage room.”
Her face had the fallen look of the defeated. She had come around.
After Bonnie closed the door and headed downstairs, Whortle said, “OK, my turn. How can you help me with my mothers?”