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The Dangerous Days of Daniel X
Other Michael Ledwidge
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Daniel X is closing in on his parents' killer. But in this thrilling adventure, danger—and the world's deadliest aliens—lurk in the shadows.
Daniel X has the greatest power of all: the ability to create. His secret abilities—like being able to manipulate objects and animals with his mind or to recreate himself in any shape he chooses—have helped him survive. But Daniel doesn't have a normal life. He is the protector of the earth, the Alien Hunter, with a mission beyond what anyone's imagining.
From the day that his parents were brutally murdered before of his very eyes, Daniel has used his unique gifts to hunt down their assassin. Finally, with the help of The List, bequeathed to him in his parents' dying breath, he is closing in on the killer.
Now, on his own, he vows to take on his father's mission—and to take vengeance in the process.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Treasure Hunters
A Sneak Peek of I Funny
A Sneak Peek of Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life
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IF THIS WERE A MOVIE instead of real life, this would be the part where in a strange, ominous voice I'd say, "Take me to your leader!"
But since you are far more important in making a difference in this world than the earth's leaders, and last time I checked on the Internet those leaders seem to have more than enough on their plates, and for the most part I'm not a total dork, I'll just go with a simple "Hi."
My name is Daniel, and this is the first volume of my life story, which, hopefully, will be a very long and distinguished one.
Why should you read it? Very good question.
Maybe because this is your planet, and you have a right to know what's actually happening on it.
And more important, off it.
Trust me, there are legions of strange and disturbing creatures out there you probably don't want to know about.
Like the fast-breeding creeps with burnt-looking metallic faces and deer horns bristling above hornet noses and stingers, who populate the American Midwest and parts of Europe. Or some very nasty sluglike thingies with jowls like water balloons about to burst all over much of Japan and China, as well as New York City and Vancouver. Plus a host of human-skeletonish freaks with tentacle hair and green multifaceted fly eyes; some white chocolate–colored cretins that look like giant human babies, only with glowing television fuzz for their eyes and mouths; and a praying mantis–looking race with shrunken heads, long red dreadlocks, and a pathetic need to destroy, operating in the general area of Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Maybe I should stop talking, though, before I get too far ahead of myself.
To those of you who feel that you've heard enough, let me say I'm sorry I had to give you a glimpse of what's really out there, and would you please close the cover of this book down tightly on your way out.
Now, the rest of you, I need you to do three important things.
- Take a deep, deep breath.
- Disregard everything anyone has ever told you about life on Earth.
- Turn the page.
I WISH THAT I didn't sometimes, but I remember everything about that cursed, unspeakably unhappy night more than a decade ago, when I was just three years old.
I was taking an ordinary can of Play-Doh down from the playroom shelf when my mom called from the top of the basement stairs.
"Daniel? Dinner will be ready in five minutes. Time to start wrapping things up, honey."
Finish? Already? I made a face. But my latest masterpiece isn't done yet!
"Yes, Mom," I called. "One minute. I'm making Play-Doh history down here."
"Of course you are, dear. I would expect nothing less. Love you. Always."
"Love you back, Mom. Always."
In case you've already noticed that I didn't speak like a typical three-year-old, well, you should have seen what I was building.
I stared at the museum-quality replica of the Lighthouse of Alexandria I was trying to finish.
Behind it, all the way to the edge of my worktable, stood matchless reproductions I'd made of the remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Mausoleum of Mausolus
The Colossus of Rhodes
I would have liked to do the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Chrysler Building as well, but I was only allowed one hour of playtime a day.
I squinted suddenly as I spotted what looked like a tiny, flat black seed climbing up the side of my miniature lighthouse, and really moving too.
Whoa there, little guy! Where do you think you're motoring to?
It was an Arthropoda Arachnida Acari Metastigmata, I thought, recalling the phylum, class, order, and suborder of the tiny creature at a glance. A tick. A young male dog tick, to be exact.
"Hey, little fella," I whispered to the tick. "You on a sightseeing tour?"
Two things happened next, almost simultaneously. Two very odd and unforgettable things.
There was a strange shimmering at the back of my bright, turquoise-blue eyes.
And the tick slowly rose onto its hind legs and said, "Hey, Daniel, my brother, you do real nice work. Cool lighthouse!"
I LAUGHED HYSTERICALLY as the lickety-split-quick tick crawled higher and higher on the lighthouse. Well, technically I was the one making it crawl, and tell jokes.
With my mind!
Yes, you heard that correctly. I was causing the tick to do tricks and also talk. It's a talent I have. Long story. Good story, but not for right now. Something earth-shattering was about to happen at our house.
Anyway, I had the little fellow give a wave before it flipped forward and did a one-clawed handstand on the top of the lighthouse.
And at that exact, unforgettable instant, I suddenly flew back off the bench as a wall-shaking explosion detonated in the room above my head.
Something enormous had just crashed into the kitchen! Was it a freight train? A plane?
A sick feeling ripped through my stomach. Where was my mom?
"The List!" I now heard a deep, strangled voice roar from the kitchen above. "You think you can hide it from me! I know you have The List. And I want it! NOW!"
I climbed to my feet, my mouth open, my eyes wide and locked onto the ceiling.
"What List?" my mother sobbed. "Who are you?"
"Wait, wait. Hold on," I heard my father say. "Lower your weapon, my friend. I'll get The List for you. I have it nearby."
"The List is here?" The deep voice loomed once again. "Right here? In this pathetic little hovel in Kansas, of all places?"
"Yes. Now if you'll just lower the—"
I fell to the floor again as a string of deafening explosions drowned out my father's voice. Shooting, I thought, my eyes clenched shut, my hands flying to my ears.
Then I heard my father call out, "We love you, Daniel. Always."
The clanging echo of the shots hung in the silence.
"Stay right there. Don't get up, either of you. As if you could," the stranger said with a nasty laugh. "I'll go find The List myself."
Mom? I thought, tears flooding down my cheeks.
Then another terrible thought entered my mind, and it was bright and urgent as a neon sign.
"The aliens are here," I whispered, and reached up and clicked off the basement light. I prepared to be eaten, or maybe worse.
I WAS TREMBLING and pressing my small, vulnerable body up against an old water heater, petrified, when a beam of violet-tinged light shone down the stairs into the basement.
And then I saw it—a six-and-a-half-foot-tall praying mantis. At least it had taken that terrible form tonight.
From behind the water heater, I stared in horror at the creature's long, grossly bulging, plum-colored body, its small, almost shrunken head, its large, liquid-black eyes. What a foul beast! It had long, stringy red dreadlocks hanging down between its antennae, and a dull black metal assault rifle cradled in its sharply jointed arms.
"I know you're down here, boy," the XXL-sized insect said with a slow, horrifying roll of its stalklike neck. "I am called The Prayer, and there is very little that The Prayer does not know. If you come to me now, I may go easy on you. May. But I do hereby promise, cross my heart and hope to live forever, if you continue to make me play this silly game of hide-and-seek, you are going to learn the meaning of the word punishment."
This abomination, this beast that dared call itself The Prayer, proceeded to tear the basement apart, obviously looking for The List. Powered by its massive legs it suddenly leaped upstairs and trashed the rest of the house—screeching, "LIST! LIST! LIST! LIST!"
Then it was back in my playspace, looking for me, no doubt angrier and hungrier than ever.
The Prayer smiled eerily then, flashing jagged yellow, broken-bottle-shard teeth. It covered fifteen feet of room with a single hop.
"Game over, you pathetic little pukemeister. Maybe you know where The List is. Do you? DO YOU?"
That's when I realized that behind the thick wall of fear, my mind was actually trying to save me.
Of course, I thought. I had a plan, a shred of hope that could salvage my life.
The Prayer swung its evil-looking head around the side of the water heater.
And found absolutely nothing!
THE REPUGNANT FREAK GASPED with surprise and outrage. "What?" it screeched at the top of its voice range. "Not possible! I smelled you there a second ago!"
Well, technically I was still right there. I looked cross-eyed at my new beaklike hypostome as I scurried away on my eight new clawed legs. The answer to my immediate problem had been straightforward: all I needed to do was make myself less conspicuous to the murderous beast.
Do you follow what had just happened? The full significance of it? It's important.
You see, my abilities didn't stop at being able to make ticks talk and do tricks.
Now I was the tick. I had transformed myself.
Towering above me like a skyscraper, The Prayer opened its razor-sharp jaws and there was a bubbling-wet, sickening sound. Then a jet of jellylike blue flame shot from his mouth. The basement walls, carpet, and ceiling caught fire in the blink of my eyes.
"Take that, you little nothing! I flame-broil my meat. Like Burger King! And Beelzebub!"
Still in tiny tick form, I raced away from the smoke and scorching heat until I was crushed against the basement's concrete foundation wall, which now seemed as big as a cliff to me.
I reached up tentatively with one of my claws. Some good news at last. My claw stuck to the concrete like superglue.
Next I was scampering up the wall behind The Prayer's head. Then I jumped and landed smack-dab in the center of the alien's greasy, dreadlocked hair.
I locked my hypostome down tight like a seat belt on a strand of his hair just as the homicidal Prayer jumped effortlessly to the top of the burning basement stairs again.
There I got a horrific, never-to-be-forgotten look at my parents on the kitchen floor. I knew there was nothing I could do for them. I knew it in my heart and soul. I just couldn't believe it yet, couldn't accept it.
Then The Prayer smashed through the kitchen window and burst into the night.
"FAILURE! FAILURE! FAILURE!" it bellowed. "I hate failure! WHERE IS THE LIST?"
Something struck my head then, the end of a tree branch maybe, and I found myself flying through the cold air. The breath was knocked out of me, and I landed hard on the packed dirt floor of the woods behind our farmhouse.
I was a three-year-old boy again. Transformed. No longer a tick. I stood and turned back, and stared in disbelief and terror that could find no voice at that awful moment.
Already our house was a blazing shell of its former self. There was the sound of glass shattering as the upstairs window to my bedroom blew out with the heat.
Then, for a long time, there was the roar of the flames, and my soft, little-boy cries as I stood alone in the world for the first time, orphaned and homeless.
I recalled a song my mom used to sing to me: Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. She and my dad loved the skies and the stars.
And I remember thinking, very clearly, as if I had suddenly grown up on that horrifying, unforgettable night: I know where The List is—my father has taken me to see it many times. Maybe for just this reason.
And I know what it is: The List of Alien Outlaws on Terra Firma.
And I know who I am: Daniel, son of Graff, son of Terfdron—the Alien Hunter.
No last name, just Daniel X.
I have to tell you one more thing about that night. I must get it out.
Even though I was only three years old, I am ashamed that I didn't fight The Prayer to the death.
WHEN I TELL YOU THAT I'VE SEEN it all and done it all, I'm not lying or boasting—though sometimes I wish I were, and that I lived a normal life in some place like Peoria, Illinois, or Red Bank, New Jersey.
Since the death of my mom and dad, and in my years as an Alien Hunter—up to and including the present moment of extraordinary jeopardy—I've been kidnapped by faceless metallic humanoids. Twice.
I've been chased and caught by a shape-shifting protoplasm in London who wanted to make me into a jelly sandwich, without the bread.
I have done hand-to-antennae combat with an entire civilization of insects in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and Acapulco.
I've had my face run over again and again—for days—by self-replicating machines that were about to take over Detroit. And wait—it gets worse.
A billion or so "little wailing mouths" connected by an electrical network to a single mind—I don't know how else to describe them—ate and digested me in Hamburg, Germany.
I will not tell you how I got out of that one.
But this particular creature, currently right in my face, was really, really testing my limits, and my patience.
ITS NAME WAS ORKNG JLLFGNA and it was Number 19 on The List of Alien Outlaws. I had caught up with it in Portland, Oregon, after a month-long search through Canada and the Pacific Northwest, with a near-miss capture attempt in Seattle.
More to the point, it was at the moment blocking my escape out of a disgusting sewage pipe underneath the fair city of Portland, somewhere, I believe, between the Rose Garden Arena and PGE Park.
Orkng was actually living in the sewer, and on this particular night, at around two o'clock, I had come on an extermination mission. I despised this kidnapper of the elderly and their pets (dog liver is a delicacy on its hideous home planet). I can best describe this alien freak as part man, part jellyfish, part chain saw.
"You're very impressive and scary, Orkng—may I call you Orkng?" I asked.
"Is that your last wish?" The creature growled and then spun its immense buzz saw toward my eyes.
"Oh, I hope not. Say, I've read you have Level 4 strength. True or false?"
Orkng took out a quarter and bent it in half—with its eyelid!
"And you're a shape-shifter too?" I pretended to marvel, or grovel, I guess you could call it.
Rather than a simple yes or no, Orkng changed itself into a kind of squid with a human face featuring a mouth with hundreds of teeth.
The entire changing process took about five seconds.
Interesting, I thought. Could be something to work with here.
"That's it? That's all you can do?" I asked the squid thing. "I came down into this sewer for that?"
"That's nothing, you little chump." Orkng snickered, frowned, and burped up something resembling a dozen oysters sans the half shells.
Once again, it began to change—only this time, I leaped right inside the confluence of shifting molecules and atoms and photons. How brave, or dumb, was that?
Then I used my Level 3 strength for all it was worth. I punched and I kicked gaping holes into the still-unformulated creature. I fought as if my life depended on it—which it obviously did. Then I began shredding the murderous monster into tiny pieces with my hands.
It was terrible and gruesome and took hours to accomplish, and I hated every second of it, every shred.
But when the deed was done, I was able to cross Number 19 off my List, and I was one step closer to Number 1—The Prayer, who had killed my mom and dad.
All in a night's work in the sewers of Portland.
THE SUN WAS JUST COMING UP—well, the grayish-white smudge that passes for a sun in forever-overcast Portland—as I lumbered through my rental apartment's front door and plopped down on the couch.
I crossed my muddy boots on the coffee table and yawned as I opened the morning's newspaper.
As exhausted as my body was, my mind was still wired about the night before. I jumped up and went to my computer. I pulled up The List of Alien Outlaws and checked to see who was naughty and had been recently exterminated. Yessiree, Number 19 was no longer on the boards!
This was, in fact, the same List that The Prayer had been trying to find that fateful day so many years ago. When I was thirteen, I'd finally revisited the burnt-down farmhouse. After several days of searching, I found The List—buried under mud and rocks in the rather picturesque brook that ran behind the house.
The List was on a computer—the one now before me, which is thin as a notepad and probably five hundred years in advance of anything currently offered by Apple or IBM. When I first opened it, I discovered that it contained the names, full description, and approximate whereabouts of the known outlaw aliens currently roaming the earth. And trust me on this: they are out there, watching and studying us.
There was also a disturbing message for me from my mom and dad. If I was reading it, the note said, I was to replace them. I was to be the Alien Hunter. I would have to learn how mostly by myself.
As I was pondering this troubling episode from my past, the front doorbell rang.
Not good. I wasn't expecting anyone—I'm never expecting anyone. I don't really like visitors, which is ironic, since I'm lonely most of the time and I adore people, actually.
Oh, no! I thought, realizing who it was. And when I say I knew who it was, I'm not saying I had a really good hunch. I knew it as fact.
We'll get into that in greater detail after I get rid of my visitors.
PARANOIA ALERT! I told myself.
Standing on my doorstep were two hulking, none-too-happy-looking Portland PD uniforms. Their radios were squawking loudly beside their holstered 9 millimeter handguns.
"Hey, champ," the older-looking of the two said. "Parents home?" Interesting question. And a real conversation stopper given my history.
"Uh," I said. "Yeah. I mean, of course… but they're…
pretty busy right now. Maybe I could help you? Or you could come back later?"
"Later?" he said. "That's not exactly going to work with our busy schedule. See, we're from the Runaway Juvenile Unit. One of your neighbors called us. Said she sees you coming in and out at all times of the day and night, and no sign of your parents anywhere. So if they're too busy to come out and talk to the police, you can come with us. We'll straighten this out at the precinct house. That be okay? You following me so far?"
I'd dealt with the runaway units of several police departments in my travels over the previous couple of years. They were usually pretty cool people who were, for the most part, trying to help troubled kids. For the most part, but not right now.
I guess I could have told these two the truth. That I wasn't a runaway but an Alien Hunter in town to take care of an important extermination. But I don't know. They didn't look ready to hear about the timely end of Orkng Jllfgna down in Portland's sewers.
"Okay, kid. Time's up now. Let's get moving," the older guy said. "Charade's over."
Charade, I thought, nodding. What a good idea.
NOW PAY ATTENTION, because this is important, and also way out of the ordinary. I suspect you've never seen, or heard about, or read anything like this before.
The older patrolman was fingering the cuffs hanging off his Sam Browne belt when a loud clatter of pots and pans came from the kitchen.
The game was on! Here goes…
"Daniel, who's there?" a woman's voice called. "I'll be out in a minute, after I flip these pancakes. Daniel? I'm talking to you!"
The look of surprise on the cops' faces was priceless, actually, almost worth the stress of the moment.
"Want to join us for a late breakfast, gentlemen? Pancakes?" I said, with a "you know how moms are" look.
A door opened down the hall and a groggy-looking man in his forties stepped out wearing a ratty bathrobe, baggy pajama bottoms, flip-flops, and a Portland Trail Blazers T-shirt.
"Hey, what's all the noise about?" he said. "Hey, guys, what's up? Awful early for visitors."
"Officer Wirtschafter, Portland PD," the older cop said.
"Hey, Dad," I said. "Sorry to wake you. The police think—I'm a runaway?"
"A runaway?" My dad yawned and grabbed the edge of the door. "Well, I guess not. I'm Daniel's dad. Harold Hopper."
"Okay, Mr. Hopper, but I'm afraid there's another problem," Officer Wirtschafter said sourly. "Portland has a truancy reduction ordinance. All kids between seven and eighteen are required to attend school. It's nine-thirty now. Your son obviously isn't in school."
"Maybe he has the German measles," my dad said. "What kind of school does he have to attend?"
The cops exchanged a "we got a live one" look. Actually, quite the opposite was true.
"That would be, uh, high school," the older gentleman answered.
"High school, sure. Well, that would be a real waste of time," my dad said and began to laugh. I laughed along with him as he put his arm around my shoulder.
My mom came in then, wiping her hands on her apron. My mom is blond and tall and, if I do say so myself, quite the looker. In a very dignified, mom sort of way.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, officers. My husband is a jokester sometimes. And slow to get to the point. Daniel doesn't need to go to school anymore."
"MA'AM, EVERYBODY NEEDS to go to school," the cop said.
My mom continued. "Daniel went to high school—when he was ten. He has an IQ, oh, somewhere in the 190s. He graduated from MIT last year. Our Danny has a degree in molecular engineering. We're very proud of him."
"Is that so?" the cop said, dubious. "In that case, if you would just go and get his diploma. College or high school would be fine."
"No problem," my dad said, crossing his arms as he stood in front of me. "Right after we see yours. That sound fair to you?"
"You're a funny guy," the cop said. "You should be on Comedy Central. But I'm not joking about the diploma."
"You'll see his diploma when we see a warrant," my dad said with a winky smile. "Now you and Silent Bob there can leave. Wouldn't want you to catch the measles."
"It'll actually be fun hauling you, your wife, and your 'genius' son in when we come back with that warrant," the cop snarled.
He and his partner turned around and left in a huffy hurry.
"I don't think he was kidding," my dad said to me as we stood in the doorway and watched the Portland PD car squeal away from our building.
"I know, Dad. I'll be out of here before they get to the end of our street. I'm going after Number 6 next. Ergent Seth."
My mom winced. "Oh Daniel, are you sure about that? Number 6 might be way too much, way too soon."
I stared at her sadly. She looked real pretty in her apron. There was even a dab of pancake batter on her cheek. "Trust me, I've studied The List carefully, Mom. He's the next one. Ergent Seth has to go. Now. He's on a terrible rampage in California."
Then I closed my eyes. I took a breath and let it out slowly, and when I opened my eyes again, my mom and dad were gone.
They were gone because I was the one who created them in the first place. I fashioned them into existence out of my memory—just to run interference with the cops. Like I said, a charade. And a pretty good one too.
Now you know a little more about me.
You have no idea.
HERE'S THE THING that I have to share with you.
I have these powers, and I don't know exactly how I got them. I can create things, for example. Like my parents. Of course, technically they're not my parents. My real parents are dead. My imagined parents are probably just mental projections that I make real.
And when I say real, I mean it. When I manifest my mom and dad, they're as real as you or me. Right down to their DNA.
How do I do it? Good question.
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