The New Arrival
Now in the breakfast line, he scoops scrambled eggs onto his tray. He hopes there aren’t any shells in them like last time. He skips the sausage and takes one pancake. Taking a half-pint carton of orange juice, he finds his way to an empty table and sits down. Two seconds later, another man sits down next to him. “Morning, Nate,” the man says.
“Hey,” Nate responds, slightly nervous. He does not know who this man is.
“I’m Derek, by the way. We do this every day. You never remember me,” the man says, shoving a forkful of pancake in his mouth. He has three times as much food on his plate as Nate does. Nate is surprised that the staff let him get away with it. The nurses at least are always fussing about Nate’s nutrition.
“All right. How long have you lived here?” Nate asks.
“Me? About six months now,” Derek replies.
“And I’ve been here about ten?” Nate asks.
“From what I hear,” Derek answers.
“Oh,” Nate says. He drinks his orange juice.
“Man, these sausages are amazing; you’re missing out,” Derek says.
“Mmm,” Nate says.
“I don’t know what Pierre puts in these things, but that man is a culinary genius!” Derek says, “I tell you, I really missed him when he went back to Guiana for his brother’s wedding.”
“Yeah,” Nate responds. He does not remember a Pierre.
Derek stuffs a large forkful of pancake into his mouth – so big he can barely close it. Talking with his mouth full, he says, “I wish they had real Vermont maple syrup. Instead, we get the fake stuff. Pierre says it’s not in the budget. Greedy bastards.”
“Why are you in here – at the facility?” Nate asks.
“Well, let me ask you something, Nate. Do you believe in aliens?” Derek asks.
“I used to,” Nate says, “I’m not sure anymore.”
Derek cracks up laughing. “I ask you that every day. You always give the same answer.” He laughs some more. Finally, he says, “Anyways, aliens killed my whole family – my wife, my kids, my in-laws – and they tell me I’m not managing the loss well.” Derek laughs again. “Oh, also they tell me that there are no aliens and that I actually killed them all myself with a hot frying pan.” He stops laughing long enough to stuff his mouth with pancake.
“I see,” Nate responds, not sure how much to believe and well-aware that all residents with violent histories are confined to the fourth floor. “And why am I in here?”
Derek points his fork at Nate and continues to chew quickly. “The reason you are in here, my friend: You’re crazy,” he says, chuckling.
“Uh huh,” Nate acknowledges.
Suddenly, Derek curses under his breath, looking up. “Mister O’Reilly,” one of the nurses scolds, approaching quickly, “How did you sneak the extra breakfast this time?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Derek says, “Pierre just keeps hooking me up. I tell him not to, but his English is…you know…”
“Mm-hmm,” the nurse says sarcastically. “Well, I happen to know that Doctor Nguyen has you on a strict diet, so we’re going to take this plate back to Pierre and see about getting you a meal more appropriate.”
“Oh, come on!” Derek protests as the nurse takes the plate. Derek and the nurse walk away, arguing.
“It’s against the rules to eat too much!” the nurse barks.
After breakfast, Nate takes a stroll around the facility. He greets a nurse and the morning security personnel like he does every day. “Hey, Sam!” he says. Why is it he easily remembers them, but not Derek or the woman who interviews him? Hey! He still remembers Derek and the woman! Will it last?
He stops to smell the gardenias in the hallways. Pairs of ivory-colored flower pots protrude from the walls at every major door and intersection. They have a strange, bumpy design on the outside, reminding Nate of faces. He is glad the director finally convinced the insurance company they were safe to install. After all, the facility does confine all its violent residents to the fourth floor. The flowers just added something to the ambience one couldn’t get from peeling wallpaper.
Flowers! Wait a second! Did Nate see flowered wallpaper in his room when he woke up today? He thought he had always had striped wallpaper! He runs up to his room to check. Sure enough, the wallpaper is covered by printed flowers – stripes of flowers. That’s odd. He doesn’t remember the flowers being arranged in stripes this morning. He runs his fingers around the worn parts. The same familiar missing patches and curled edges are where they always are, and still in the same shape. Still, the pattern looks wrong. Nate could have sworn it was striped, but now he wasn’t so sure.
Nate hears a voice behind him. “Good morning, Nate,” the woman greets. He turns to look at her. It is the woman from yesterday, but her hair is now blonde.
“Hey, I remember you today – but you dyed your hair blonde,” Nate says.
“Oh, yes, but I’ve done that for years,” the woman says.
“Oh, I remember you as a brunette yesterday,” Nate says.
“No, but I’m glad you remember me,” the woman says.
“Yeah,” Nate says, grinning briefly.
Nate sits down on his chair. The woman enters the room and sits on another chair, removing the stack of newspapers and placing them on the still-unmade bed. “It’s good that you remember me now. Your doctor tells me you’ve made big improvements lately, remembering some people but not others,” she says.
“Yeah, he told me that last night,” Nate says.
“Mm-hmm,” the woman acknowledges, opening her red notebook, “So, do you remember why I’m here?”
Nate pauses. “You’re asking about my past, sifting through my memories for clues about something. I told you about my birth and childhood yesterday,” Nate answers.
The woman smiles. “That’s right, and I would like to pick up where we left off. Do you remember where that was?”
Nate thinks for a moment. “I told you about my visit to planet Hoosh, right?” he asks.
“Yes, and then you told me about the robots disguised as fire hydrants, raiding that village for metal,” the woman says.
Nate furrows his brow and thinks for another moment. “I don’t remember that.”
“You don’t remember the hydrant bots?” the woman asks.
“No, I remember the hydrant bots; I just don’t remember telling you about them,” Nate clarifies.
“Well, I found out somehow, so you must have told me,” the woman says.
“Wow, I must be terribly forgetful,” Nate comments, looking down.
“Don’t worry about it; your doctor says you’re getting better,” the woman says.
“Yeah,” Nate says. He looks up into the corner of the ceiling. The cobweb is gone. The cleaning crew must have removed it while he was at breakfast – but the window sill and wardrobe are still dusty. Was the cobweb there this morning? He couldn’t be sure. “I really miss the past. I mean, I know it’s not real, but I still miss it. This world – this life – just feels wrong.”
“Understandable,” the woman says, “So, let’s pick up where we left off. What happened after you left Hoosh?”
“Well, for a while, not much. I started to become bored…” Nate starts.
Thirty weeks pass since Nathaniel’s first visit to Hoosh. In all that time, The Mama-And-Daddy has not visited anywhere new. It lands on the same spots of the same worlds over and over. Nathaniel never knows how long it will stay or when it will leave, but he knows it won’t go anywhere it hasn’t already been. He never does see a highly volcanic planet again, those being very rare occurrences. He and Haticat are so bored.
As he and Haticat learn ever more and gain experience, they begin to see the world as a set of patterns rather than as a series of disparate events. They see each object and event as merely subtle variations on the same theme, rather than as brand-new, independent phenomena. Gulls, sand pipers, and ibises are all just “birds” – more of the same. Their world is no longer new; it has lost its shine.
They keep learning by reading books from the library. They learn about biology, physics, and chemistry. They learn about dancing and singing. They learn of so many subtly different ways to clap that they all just become “clapping.” They can’t remember all the specific names and in many cases, the distinctions between forms are specific to individual sets of hands, depending on anatomy. No analogues can be made. For a while, it is interesting to read about cooperative clapping (such as high-fiving) and about aliens that clap with up to ten hands at a time, but eventually this becomes boring as well.
One week, The Mama-And-Daddy does buy Nathaniel and Haticat a set of toy blocks to play with, but little else. It is these that they now play with in the middle of a random empty room inside The Mama-And-Daddy (It is against the rules to play with blocks in the hallways). The Mama-And-Daddy’s eyes still blaze yellow sometimes, and its walls still have glowing yellow spots that move around erratically, but at least they seem to have reached an understanding with it. On the balance, life is good. Then, they hear a loud clicking noise approaching rapidly and a pink creature runs past the open doorway.
“What was that?” Haticat asks.
“It must have stowed away when we were on Lectipas. Come on,” Nathaniel says, getting up and leaving the blocks behind. Finally, here is a real adventure. They run down the hallway in the direction it went, looking in all directions. They don’t see it.
“This way!” Haticat yells, catching a glimpse of its pink tail disappearing out a doorway at the opposite end of an empty room. Nathaniel and Haticat run through the room into a different hallway. They look in all directions. They hear the clicking of its footsteps, but the echoes make it difficult to locate. Finally choosing a direction, Nathaniel leads the way. They run by an open room with pink, fuzzy walls. Nathaniel backs up to look again. Haticat stops.
“What is this?” Nathaniel asks, appalled. It looks exactly like his room, complete with rounded, fuzzy walls and a large pile of pillows at the center. The only differences are the intricate designs on the pillows and the different color scheme. This room is dominated by pink, red, orange, white, yellow, and purple. “What is this?” Nathaniel asks again.
“This door used to be closed; it was always locked before,” Haticat says.
“The creature is already remaking the ship! Wake The Mama-And-Daddy and tell them what’s going on while I chase down the creature,” Nathaniel orders.
“Yes,” Haticat answers. He desperately taps the nearest polyp-heads to get their attention.
Nathaniel meanwhile runs through the hallway and down zigzagging ramps. He is determined to catch the creature and stop it from messing up the ship. It’s very fast, but he gains on it. Suddenly, the creature is behind him and running down a side hall. It had doubled-back! Now Nathaniel had it for sure. That hall is a dead end. He races after it at top speed.
Finally, he corners it and it turns around. It is a dromaeosaur! It looks exactly like Nathaniel in every detail except that its feathers are bright pink whereas his are bright green. The dromaeosaur growls and lunges at him.
“Stop fighting! Be kind to your sister!” Daddy suddenly bellows from his nearest face.
The two dromaeosaurs back down, still taking defensive stances. “I caught a dinosaur messing up the ship. It opened one of your locked doors,” Nathaniel briefs.
“Don’t catch her! This is your sister. We made her,” Daddy says.
“My what?” Nathaniel asks.
“We made another dinosaur,” Mama and Daddy speak together, “Her name is Allison.”
Nathaniel relaxes, but still backs away from the other. “Why wasn’t I consulted?” he asks. Haticat finally joins the group, running down the hallway.
“You are not the boss,” Mama says.
“Nathaniel, introduce yourself and use your manners,” Daddy orders.
Nathaniel grumbles a moment. He just heard her name and she heard his. Why did he have to introduce himself? “Hello, my name is Nathaniel. What is your name?” he delivers flatly.
“Allison,” the pink dromaeosaur answers curtly, before briskly walking away, snout raised high.
Nathaniel and Haticat follow far behind as Mama and Daddy lead Allison to the kitchen, teach her how to feed herself, to use the toilet, and present her with a frilly, pink-and-white dress to wear. It only has two pockets. “This is great,” Nathaniel says, “Now we don’t have to lose friends every time we move. We’ll have one to play with us all the time!” Nathaniel concludes excitedly.
“I don’t know if that will work; girls are different,” Haticat says.
“Girls? Oh, you mean those kids that like red. That’s okay. If her colors bother me too much, I’ll just look away,” Nathaniel says.
“No, it’s more than colors. Girls are hard to play with. Girls and boys have different kinds of play-energy. I can only feed on boy-play. Other Gruezhlings can only feed on girl-play. There are no Gruezhlings that can feed on both,” Haticat explains.
“Oh, so that’s why girls always avoid us,” Nathaniel says.
“Yup,” Haticat says.
“Why would the Mama-And-Daddy make a girl, then? The Mama-And-Daddy doesn’t play at all. It should have made a boy so we could play with it,” Nathaniel states.
“I don’t think adults understand play-types. We should tell The Mama-And-Daddy to make a boy next time it wants to make a kid,” Haticat suggests.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel responds.
Two hours later, they land on the planet Candy. They land at the spaceport they always land at and take the same tour through the same chocolate pyramids. Allison does not seem to act as interested in the surrounding scenery or spacecraft or the inner workings of the factories as Nathaniel remembers he was at first. Instead, she immediately starts chewing on the cocoa sidewalk. The Mama-And-Daddy finally coaxes her to move on.
“Hello, my name is Wizard Brett and I’ll be your guide today. Would you like to take the tour?” Wizard Brett asks.
“Yes, please,” Daddy answers.
“Thank you,” Mama says.
“You’re welcome,” Wizard Brett says.
Allison hides behind the couch-unit. She acts as if she is afraid of Wizard Brett seeing her. “Come out and look at all the candy machines,” Daddy says. Allison says nothing.
“Come out now,” Mama orders. Allison covers her face in her claws. “Don’t hide behind us!” Mama orders again. She still won’t budge.
“Say hello to Wizard Brett,” Daddy says.
This goes on for quite a while. Nathaniel and Haticat are amazed that Allison receives no punishment. She stays behind the couch-unit for the whole tour. Wizard Brett gives away samples and Nathaniel is directed to deliver Allison’s share to her. She gobbles it up and immediately demands more. “Remember to say please,” Mama gently reminds her. Allison says nothing and scowls.
“Say please or you’ll be punished!” Nathaniel warns her, concerned for her safety and also believing it his duty to enforce the rules. Allison just scowls.
“Nathaniel, mind your own business or you’ll be punished!!” Mama and Daddy yell at him together.
“Here, give her this chocolate to taste,” Mama says. Nathaniel is flabbergasted. Allison is being far more stubborn than he ever was, but she gets no punishment at all, while he gets punished simply for enforcing the rules! The Mama-And-Daddy never gets punished for enforcing the rules! Nathaniel hands her the chocolate and she gobbles it up.
Wizard Brett also gives away some new crunchy candy with flavor crystals. Nathaniel takes the purple candy. It breaks into dust on the first bite. It is too weak. He takes the orange piece. His jaws can’t break it at all. His teeth don’t even make a dent. It is too strong. He tries the blue piece. Perfectly crunchy! It is just right. He eats them all. Allison just scowls.
After the tour, the couch-unit brings Nathaniel, Allison, and Haticat to a church. It settles into place at the back. The floor is covered with hard candy tiles of banana and strawberry. The seats are giant marshmallows. The walls are layered chocolate cake bricks with vanilla frosting mortar. There is a brilliant chandelier of peppermint and cinnamon. This is the fourth time Nathaniel and Haticat have visited this particular church now and every presentation at every church is exactly the same. They are bored already. Others, mostly Candy Wizards, file into the church and sit down. In a minute, the video begins.
“Four thousand, four hundred, thirteen years ago nothing existed,” the narrator’s voice drones, “There was no matter, no energy, no space, and no time. There was only Y, the smartest and most powerful being ever to exist. Using its creation power…”
Allison does not interrupt or act out, but neither does she seem at all interested in the video. When it is all over, and the others start to leave, Daddy asks Allison if she understood the story of Y. “I want candy,” is all she says.
“Okay,” Daddy says.
“Can we go to…” Nathaniel starts to ask before being interrupted.
“I want candy!” Allison interrupts loudly.
“We’ll go soon,” Daddy says.
“Can we also go to the ice cream store where we eat outside?” Nathaniel asks, still annoyed at being cut off earlier.
“Okay, we can go there first,” Mama and Daddy say together.
“No! I want candy!” Allison screeches.
“Ice cream is like candy,” Mama and Daddy explain.
“I don’t want ice cream; I want…” Allison yells.
“You don’t even know what ice cream is like, yet,” Nathaniel interrupts.
“Don’t interrupt your sister! Interrupting is against the rules!” Daddy yells.
“That was very rude, Nathaniel,” Mama adds.
“Hey! You let her interrupt me!” Nathaniel protests.
“Don’t question us!” Mama scolds.
“Ugh!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“Don’t say ugh!” Daddy yells.
“Saying ugh is against the rules,” Mama says sternly.
“Ugh!” Nathaniel responds, merely reacting without thinking. Mama’s and Daddy’s eyes blaze yellow. Nathaniel is hit with three lightning bolts. As he lies on the ground, holding himself, he hears Allison laughing.
“Let’s go get some candy,” Daddy says. The couch-unit brings them all in the direction of the candy shop. At the last possible moment, it veers off in the direction of the ice cream place.
“Eeeeeeee! I want candy! I want candy!” Allison yells angrily.
“Be quiet!” Mama and Daddy order.
Allison eventually calms down, and after she sees Nathaniel, Mama, and Daddy eating ice cream, she finally relents and tries some herself. “I like this. This is a good cold-candy,” she says.
“It’s called ice cream,” Mama corrects.
“I like ice cream,” Allison says. Soon, she finishes. “I want more!”
Mama looks in Allison’s bowl. “You didn’t eat the strawberries,” Mama declares. Sure enough, when Nathaniel glances over, he sees that Allison has picked the frozen flecks of strawberry out of her strawberry ice cream. He has never seen anyone do that. How strange! “Eat your strawberries and you can have more ice cream.”
Allison says nothing. She looks down at her bowl and scowls.
Nathaniel finishes his cup of French vanilla ice cream and orders a waffle cone filled with caramel-cinnamon chip ice cream covered in cheesecake sprinkles. He can’t remember if he has had this exact combination before. It doesn’t matter; he knows he has had each ingredient before. On the top are assorted gummy candies with thin, hard shells. He tries the green one. It is too chewy. He tries the red one. It is too runny. Then he tries the yellow one. Perfect! It is just right. He eats it all up. Allison just watches Nathaniel eat the whole time. Only when he is almost done does Allison finally and hurriedly eat her berries and order another bowl.
“Here, try chocolate ice cream,” Daddy says.
Allison takes one look at the inside of her bowl and starts screaming, “It’s touching the side!” Nathaniel and Haticat are forced cover their ears from the noise. How is it that The Mama-And-Daddy doesn’t punish her?
“What’s wrong with the ice cream touching the side of the bowl? The side is no different from the bottom,” Mama and Daddy say together.
“It isn’t symmetrical! I don’t like it that way!” Allison screams. Whimpering, she finally starts to eat, carefully cutting away the bulk of the ice cream from the part touching the side. Neither Nathaniel nor Haticat had ever heard of someone so stubborn or picky.
Finally, they visit the novelty shop. Nathaniel walks around, perusing the selection. Meanwhile, Allison eats constantly, hardly stopping for breath or to savor the taste. “It’s better if you eat slower,” Haticat says. Allison scowls and eats faster.
“Leave your sister alone!” Daddy yells at Nathaniel, the couch-unit moving closer.
Surprised, Nathaniel stammers, “I didn’t do anything; Haticat said it.”
“Nathaniel, you’re old enough to know better,” Mama scolds. Why didn’t she believe him?
“Really, I said it – but I didn’t say anything wrong,” Haticat pleads. Mama seems not to hear him.
“Come on, let’s leave them alone,” Nathaniel suggests.
He and Haticat walk to the fudge wall and try some new alien flavors. Nathaniel tries murderyit root fudge. It is too bitter. He gags. Then he tries feexil petal fudge, but it is too sweet. Wow! Sensory overstimulation! He waves his tongue in the air and pants, trying to get the flavor to dissipate. Earnestly hoping for something better, he picks up a piece of fudge labeled “Lashmint Stem” and places it in his mouth. It is amazing. “Wow, this candy is just right,” he comments.
“Mine!” Allison yells, grabbing all the remaining samples and running off.
“Hey!” Nathaniel yells, running after her. He captures her, turns her around, and tries to pry the fudge out of her claws. “Give them back!” he yells. Allison just screams.
“Stay away from your sister!” Mama and Daddy command simultaneously. Their eyes blaze yellow. Nathaniel is hit with a single lightning bolt, but it is a glancing blow and barely hurts.
“She took my candy!” Nathaniel protests.
“That’s no excuse!” Mama and Daddy yell.
“We’re punishing you by letting her keep your candy,” Mama says.
“That’s not fair!” If I didn’t take it back, she’d still have it anyways,” Nathaniel protests.
“Well, life isn’t fair,” Mama and Daddy say.
“Ugh!” Nathaniel interjects, giving up. He knows better than to argue further.
“Don’t say ugh! What did I tell you about that word?” Mama and Daddy say, “You’d better start being happy when we punish you!” Nathaniel knows better than to argue with such a ridiculous command. He just walks away so he won’t get angry and impulsively attack The Mama-And-Daddy again.
“Don’t walk away while we’re talking to you!” Daddy yells. Nathaniel turns around to face him. “Now go stand in the corner!” Nathaniel just stops. Did Daddy want him to walk away or not? He gets even angrier.
“It’s against the rules to not do what we tell you right away. Stand in the corner!” Mama yells. Nathaniel is teleported into the corner, Haticat beside him.
“The Mama-And-Daddy seems grumpy today,” Haticat comments.
“I think maybe Allison is making them tired,” Nathaniel says.
“You’d think they would have remembered that you made them tired, and not made another kid,” Haticat muses.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel says, “I think they have bad memory-powers; their brains are broken.” The two of them sulk in the corner for a while.
From the corner, they hear Allison giving her opinion on all the fudge she tries. She demands sweeter and sweeter samples. Even feexil petals aren’t sweet enough. “I want sweeter! Give me sweeeeter!!” she screams.
“Okay, try our Southern feexil-fudge. It’s made with less milk, twice as many petals, and the petals are ground finer,” the Candy Wizard storekeeper says.
Allison gobbles it down. She really likes it. “More!” she demands. She gobbles up all the samples in the store. “Do you have anything sweeter?” she asks.
“Well, we have Dolarian fudge. It’s the sweetest candy on the entire planet,” the Candy Wizard says.
“Give me!!!!” Allison screams. The Candy Wizard digs around for it and hands her a piece. She attacks it vigorously, laughing.
“Give us another piece, please, so we can get some to Nathaniel,” Mama says. Receiving it, the couch-unit delivers the piece to Nathaniel and he tastes it. The sweetness is so stunning it hurts his mouth.
“I don’t like it,” Nathaniel gasps, trying to hand the piece back to Mama.
“We got this for you; now you’re going to finish it,” Daddy insists.
“It’s too sweet,” Nathaniel explains.
“Eat it!” Mama and Daddy command. Nathaniel tastes it again. He manages to get it all swallowed somehow. At least it is better than peas. As soon as he finishes, his parent brings him another.
“I don’t want any more,” Nathaniel tries to explain.
“Allison is having more, so you’re going to have more too; it’s only fair!” Mama yells. So now The Mama-And-Daddy wants to be fair? What happened to life not being fair? Nathaniel finishes it all.
Allison and Nathaniel stuff their pockets and their mouths. Very soon, The Mama-And-Daddy announces that it is time to go. Allison collapses into a heap on the floor and screams so loud that Nathaniel and Haticat are forced to cover their ears again. The Mama-And-Daddy does not zap her. It does not freeze her and make her stop screaming. It does not send her to her room. All it does is yell at her and teleport her onto the couch-unit, carrying her out of the store.
Nathaniel and Haticat follow. They had never seen anyone act that way before. If Allison is angry about leaving, she would have jumped up and down and scratched things. What kind of emotion made one put up no resistance, yet not cooperate either while screaming that way? Do girls have different emotions? They soon leave the planet.
That night in their room, Nathaniel and Haticat sort their candies. When they turn around, Allison runs by and snatches a piece. “Grrrr!” Nathaniel roars. The two dromaeosaurs lunge at each other simultaneously, biting and scratching. Haticat gangs up on Allison, pulling at her tail.
“Stop fighting!” Mama and Daddy say. A lightning bolt throws Nathaniel off. Scared, Haticat lets go of Allison’s tail by choice and retreats. “Don’t attack your sister!”
“She attacked me too! And she started it!” Nathaniel gasps, still stinging and tingling.
“It doesn’t,” Mama starts.
“Matter. You should use your words instead of your claws. If she hurts you, tell her you are hurt and ask her to stop,” Mama and Daddy finish.
“That doesn’t stop her from hurting me, and what if she covers my mouth?” Nathaniel protests.
“Don’t talk back to me!” Daddy yells.
“You’re older. You should be an example to your sister,” Mama says.
Collapsing into his pillow pile, Nathaniel says, “Ugh!” Mama’s and Daddy’s eyes blaze yellow. Meanwhile, Allison giggles to herself and sneaks off with several more candies.