By Ned Rust
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Copyright © 2009 by James Patterson
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: July 2009
Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The James Patterson Pageturners
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The Angel Experiment
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
The Final Warning
The Daniel X Novels
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X (with Michael Ledwidge)
Daniel X: Watch the Skies (with Ned Rust)
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When the Wind Blows
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For Jack, who completes me
For Ruth, for being proud of me
NIGHT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR SIDE OF THE PLANET IS POINTED AT OUTER SPACE
IT WAS A pretty regular early-summer night at 72 Little Lane. The crickets and katydids were making that soothing racket they do on warm, still, small-town evenings. The back porch light was on, but otherwise the tidy brown house was happily, sleepily dark.
At least it was until about eleven thirty, when the dark night in Holliswood became a whole lot darker.
It's hard to exactly translate the command that triggered it—it couldn't be heard by human ears, and the language of insects isn't one that can easily be put into words anyhow—but every six-legged creature in the area instantly hid under rocks, wedged into tree bark, or dug down into the dirt… and became very, very quiet.
And then, inside the small brown house, it became very, very loud.
Every speaker—on the computers, on the cell phones, on the iPods, on the radios, on the telephones, on the brand-new Sony flat screen with THX surround sound and every other TV set in the house, even on the "intelligent" microwave—began to blast a dance song from a popular old movie.
A song that just happened to be the favorite of a very powerful alien.
THE BOY FUMBLED for his clock radio. It was blaring some superlame old seventies song by one of those awful disco bands his mom sometimes played in the car. His sister must have changed the station and turned the volume up full blast as a prank. He'd get her back—later, in the morning, when he'd had some sleep.
He punched the snooze button, but it didn't shut off. He flicked the switch on the side, but it didn't shut off. He picked up the clock from his bedside table and saw that it was just past eleven thirty. She was going to pay for this.
He reached down and pulled the cord out of the socket… but it still didn't shut off.
"What the—?!" he said, and rubbed his eyes with his free hand.
The clock's glowing display now read, "DANCE."
And then the disco song started over, and a voice loud and screechy enough to cut through all the noise said: "DO THE DANCE!"
"Now that's freaky," said the boy, and just as he started to get really scared, a blue spark leaped out of the alarm clock and up his arm—and he bolted out of his room.
He knew what he had to do.
In the hallway he collided with his father but didn't say a word. And now his mom and sister were pushing at him from behind, and the entire family tumbled down the front stairs to the living room.
It was weird, thought the boy, because he was pretty sure he hated dancing.
But now he couldn't stop himself. He strode to the center of the living room and somehow knew exactly what moves to make, and—except for the look of terror in his eyes—he boogied his heart out like a pimply, pajama-wearing John Travolta.
His mom, dad, and sister didn't look like they were having too much fun, either.
In fact, the only fun in the house was being had by the five grotesque alien beings filming the family from behind the eerie lights, high-tech microphones, and multilens video cameras set up in the adjoining dining room.
They were laughing their slimy heads off. Not literally, but if one of these horrific creatures had actually knocked its own block off, picked it up from the floor, and eaten it, the boy wouldn't have been surprised.
"By Antares, they're good," one of the monsters said, slapping one of its six scaly knees. "It's just like Saturday Night Fever!"
And then the fat one in charge—cradling the bullhorn in his left tentacle, nearly crushing the cheap folding canvas chair with his weight—replied with a sigh.
"Yes, it's almost a shame we have to terminate them."
THE FIVE ALIENS were still hungry even after their fresh kill. They scuttled and hovered out of the news van they'd swiped from the local TV station and pressed their ugly wet noses against the windows of the Holliswood Diner. A young waitress with wavy black hair was reading a Sherman Alexie paperback at the counter.
"Business is about to pick up a lot," said the boss alien, who had a thousand-pound intergalactic champion sumo wrestler's body and the head of a catfish. No ears, no neck, no legs—and no manners.
He reached out to his personal assistant—a big-nosed space ape—grabbed its cell phone, and punched in a number. The three other henchbeasts twitched with anticipation. This was looking to turn into a pretty exciting Saturday night.
When the girl leaned across the counter to pick up the diner's phone, a little spark leaped out of the receiver, arcing straight into her ear. Her eyes turned glassy as she put down the phone and went to open the door for them.
"What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot-dog vendor?" asked the lead alien as the waitress showed them to their booths, already chuckling to himself at the coming punch line.
"Make me one with everything" said the girl, robotically.
The creatures burst into laughter.
"Actually, on second thought, sweetie," he added, "Why don't you go and make us everything with everything. Chop-chop!"
"Good one, boss!" said his assistant, stealthily snatching his cell phone back from where his employer had rested it on the table. He carefully wiped it down with a napkin before putting it back in his purple fanny pack.
The waitress, in the meantime, had flown into motion as if somebody had hit the ×2 button on her remote control. She prepared and delivered to the aliens heaping stacks of eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, coffee, Cokes, bagels, burgers, turkey platters, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, onion rings, cheesesteaks, cheesecakes, clam chowder, gravy fries, banana cream pies, root-beer floats, and chicken-fried steaks. And several mugs of fryer oil.
"Careful or you'll burn her out, boss," advised one of the henchbeasts.
"Like I care," said the boss. "We got about six billion of them to get rid of. And, come to think of it," he said with a laugh that sounded like somebody blowing bubbles in turkey gravy, "there are plenty more where you came from too."
And, with that, he grabbed the henchbeast and pummeled it against the linoleum floor. The sound that filled the diner was like a roach getting crushed by a hard-soled shoe—only much louder.
"THERE'S YOUR DESSERT." The lead alien, who happened to be number five on The List of Alien Outlaws on Terra Firma, gestured at the henchbeast's remains.
The other aliens shared an uncomfortable silence as they slowly converged on the carcass. Number 5 rolled his gooey eyes and continued shoveling fried food into his extrawide mouth.
"Looks like we got company," said the personal assistant, nodding at the flashing red and blue lights in the parking lot. A moment later the front door to the diner flew open, and a sheriff and deputy burst in with their guns drawn.
"Hands u—" the sheriff started to shout, but Number 5 fired a wide-angle ray gun that instantly turned both officers into puddles of something resembling swamp mud.
"Clean that up. I'm eating here," said Number 5.
The two henchbeasts eagerly turned away from the carcass of their fallen comrade and with long, rubbery tongues devoured the human sludge.
"Speaking of annoying law-enforcement types," said Number 5, smacking his lips and sipping a scalding mug of fryer oil, "my spider senses tell me somebody even more pesky is on his way here."
"Not him?" asked his assistant.
"The same," said Number 5.
A collective, defensive growl rose up from the alien crew.
"That pipsqueak is almost enough to turn me off my Caesar salad," the personal assistant complained, downing an entire bowl of lettuce.
"Let's just remember what's most important here," Number 5 said. "First, keep to the schedule. This is our biggest production yet, and we can't miss a beat.
"And second—ugly as he is—little Danny could very well be our lead man. So let's not kill him… right away."
ACTUALLY, ALIENS SHOULD FEAR THE REAPER
YOU KNOW THE second-coolest of all my superpowers? It's the one that lets me hear any song I've ever heard as loud as I want, as often as I want, and anytime I want. It's like I have an iPod implanted in my head. Only it holds, like, terabytes more songs, and the sound quality's better. And it never needs to be docked or recharged.
The song I was playing over and over again right then, as I motorcycled down I-80, was "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult. I know it kinda puts the K in Klassic Rock, but it's a good one. And it was going along real well with my thoughts and plans—wherein I am the Grim Reaper… of very, very bad aliens.
I leave the good ones alone, of course. But, honestly—not to bum you out—I've only bumped into a couple other "good" aliens here on your Big Blue Marble.
So what's the coolest of my superpowers, you ask? The way I can smell alien sweat from ten miles away even while speeding along a highway with my helmet on? The way I've recently learned to make high-performance, hybrid-engine racing bikes that can travel three thousand miles at seventy-five miles per hour on a tank of gas? The way I can pop a wheelie… on my front tire?
Well, that's almost untopable, but, no, the coolest of my superpowers is the one with which I can create my best friends—Willy, Joe, Emma, and Dana—out of my imagination.
It takes some concentration, and I have to be rested and not taking any allergy medicine, but, really, being able to shoot fireballs or outrace locomotives is nothing next to being able to make friends out of thin air.
And they're not bottom-of-the-barrel specimens, either. Joe is great with video games and computers, and otherwise is basically a life-support device for the world's fastest-moving mouth. He's either chewing his way through some mountain of food that weighs twice as much as his skinny butt, or he's talking a blue—and totally hilarious—streak.
Emma is our moral compass. The part that gets her worked up about Alien Outlaws is that they're on Terra Firma and doing harm not just to people but to Nature. Mother Earth has no better advocate than her Birkenstock-wearing self.
Emma's older brother is Willy. He's the ultimate wing man, built like a brick and slightly harder to scare than one too. He's our go-to guy when it comes to weapons and engines and stuff like that. Plus, he's more loyal than, like, Batman's butler Alfred, Sam in The Lord of the Rings, Wesley in The Princess Bride, and King Arthur's horse combined.
Finally, Dana is, well… I guess you could say she's my dream girl. She manages to be both the most attractive and the most grounded person I've ever encountered. In the universe. Remember, I haven't exactly been operating out of a Montana shack all these years.
Oh, and all four of them happen to be outstanding at don't-try-this-at-home motorcycle stunts. Which we were thoroughly enjoying on this particular night, chasing after an eighteen-wheeler. Keep in mind that aliens don't necessarily abide by the same rules humans do when it comes to minimum driving age.
"Slalom!" Willy, who was in the lead, called out. One of our favorite tricks.
We leaned the bikes almost on their sides and—get this—zipped under the trailer… behind wheels seven, eight, nine, and ten, and in front of wheels eleven through eighteen… and came out safely on the other side.
Finally we pulled up to a small-town diner.
"Sorry about this," I said to my friends, climbing off my bike. I was about to face off with the most powerful alien I'd ever engaged in mortal combat.
"Sorry for what?" asked Joe.
"Number 5," I told them, furrowing my brow. "You smell that?"
There was a terrible smell in the air, like somebody had left a herring-salad sandwich in a hot car… for a week.
"Ugh!" Emma wrinkled her nose. "I'm catching it too. Seriously bad news."
"Yeah, Daniel," Willy echoed. "This guy must be more evil than the stink in your sneakers. We better get ready to rumble."
"My sneakers don't smell, Willy," I said. "And I can't put you guys at risk. This is between me… and Number 5."
"You're such a boy," said Dana, hand on her hip, a look of concerned disapproval on her face. "Are you sure you're ready to go that high up The List? No offense, Daniel, but you got pretty lucky with Number 6."
"Always with the pep talks, Dana. Thanks a lot."
Then I clapped my hands, and she and the rest of them flickered out of existence. (I actually don't need to clap, but it looks cool.)
And then I cleared my head for battle.
HIS STENCH WAS bad outside, but that was nothing compared to how it was in the diner. This guy made low tide smell like Obsession for Men.
I must have missed him by just a matter of minutes—the scraps of moist membrane rotting in the booth where he'd been sitting hadn't even skinned over—but he and his henchbeasts had gotten away while the getting was still good.
Unfortunately, with these higher-up-The-List baddies, I was discovering a trend: they often seemed to know I was coming. I guess I should be flattered that they didn't want to run into me, but it was more than a little frustrating to keep bringing my A-game only to find nobody to play with.
Well, almost nobody. They'd left behind a waitress.
She was in no shape to play, though. The poor girl was collapsed like a rag doll on the floor next to the counter. Her burnt-out face reminded me of a kid's toy you might have tried to run on a car battery rather than AAAs.
The name stitched on the pocket of her calico uniform was Judy Blue Eyes, and, you guessed it, her eyes were the kind of clear blue a guy could look into and see the promise of the whole world.
A human guy, I mean. For me, the promise of the whole world was usually a great deal darker.
"Hey, Judy. You okay?"
"Nnnn," she said, consciousness slowly percolating back.
I helped her into a booth and gave her a glass of water.
"Wh-wh'appen?" she stuttered.
"Food fight," I said, only it was far worse than that. Smashed china plates, syrup and salt caked on the walls, soda dripping from the tabletops, empty jelly packets stuck to the seats, ketchup and mayo on the jukeboxes, Promise spread splattered on the ceiling, slicks of alien slime pooled everywhere like a sticky mix of spilled honey and coffee.
"Oh gosh," she said, struggling to sit up and take it all in. "I'm so-o fired."
"Nah," I said. "I can give you a hand." And then, like somebody had pressed the ×8 button on my remote, I zipped around with a broom, a mop, a couple bottles of Windex, and a dozen dishrags and had the place spick-and-span in no time, literally.
"Man, I'm really out of it," said Judy as I returned to her now-gleaming booth. "I mean, did you just clean all that up in, like, ten seconds?"
Man, was she cute. I was trying to think of something clever to say back, but I had this weird—though not totally unpleasant—tightness in my chest, and all I could manage was this really lame giggle.
Must be an alien thing.
I DON'T KNOW what got into me because it's totally against policy to give the straight scoop to civilians, but Judy insisted on making me a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of chili—the aliens hadn't quite eaten every scrap of food in the place—and before I knew it I'd told her just about the whole story.
How I was an Alien Hunter and my parents, Graff and Atrelda (bless their weird-named souls), had been Alien Hunters and how their mission was to protect nice folks from the thousands of aliens who wanted to take advantage of, plunder, pillage, and sometimes plain-out destroy places like this.
"Places like this?" Judy smiled wryly, not taking me seriously. "You can hardly blame them for wanting to plain-out destroy Holliswood. I mean, this place is nothing but a prefab smear of parking lots, giant superstores, drive-through banks, twenty-garage automotive franchises, and chain restaurants. And mean girls, dumb jocks, and people who get their news from those scrolly things running across the bottom of their favorite stupid TV show—while running on the treadmill at the gym."
I couldn't help but admire her astute observational skills. Not to mention her honesty, directness… and, okay, cuteness.
"Well, people can't be all that bad here. You're a girl… and you're not mean."
Good one, Daniel. Wish I had Joe's gift of gab. In lieu of that, I kept rambling.
I told her how one of the alien baddies, the worst of the worst, had killed my parents when I was just three, and how I'd barely escaped with my life and—almost as important—The List.
Judy stopped smiling. "Don't joke about your parents being murdered," she said.
"I wouldn't joke about that," I said, wondering if I'd gone too far.
Her eyes were penetrating mine. "And… The List is… ?"
There was no stopping the power of Judy's blue eyes, so I spilled all the rest: how The List was, in full, called The List of Alien Outlaws on Terra Firma, and how it was an interactive, constantly self-updating summary of all the ill-intended Outer Ones now residing on the planet, ranked from number one to somewhere in the hundreds of thousands, from most dangerous to those that are barely stronger than a human.
And how my parents' evil murderer—known as The Prayer—was number one on that list… and that it was my life's goal to hunt him down and kill him.
Sorry, I get a little hung up on that sometimes.
When I finished, Judy was looking at me like I was C-RA-Z-Y nuts, so I slapped on my best damage-control smile and said, "Psych! Just messing with you! I love making up stories."
"Oh, sure," she said, blinking her gorgeous peepers and looking more than a little confused—and creeped out.
Sometimes I'm more extrastupid than extraterrestrial.
"Okay, gotta go!" I said, flashing damage-control smile variation number two.
"Sure…" Judy said. "Come back and see us real soon, um—what did you say your name was again?"
"Daniel," I said, and flew out the door before she asked me my last name.
That part of getting to know someone is always a little awkward… when you don't have a last name.
YOU KNOW HOW dogs go wild over mailmen? Well, you haven't seen a dog go postal till you've seen one detect the scent of the bad sort of alien. It's hilarious.
Right now, I was the one about to go postal because I couldn't detect anything at all. My alien-tracking nose could rival a bloodhound's, but unfortunately, I wasn't getting any directional indications on Number 5. I sensed he was still in town someplace, but he must have started taking some new kind of precautions against me.
- On Sale
- Jun 15, 2010
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- JIMMY Patterson Books