Attack of the Froguanas! Chapter 1
For as long as humans have looked up at the sky, we have wondered if we are alone in the Universe. As we gaze up at the distant stars, is there anyone among them gazing back at us? Do we have neighbors in the infinite beyond, or is our damp, bluish planet the only speck of life in this vast cosmos?
For some people, the answer to this question is a resounding NO; for others, their faith in alien life is unshakable. But for most people, the answer to this question is cloaked in mystery. Who knows if there is life beyond the planet Earth?
Who knows…as it happens, there are a very few people who do know. Less than a dozen people know, beyond the slightest doubt, that the inhabitants of Earth are not the only life-forms in the Universe. They know, because fifty years ago, alien creatures visited the sleepy little town of Salmondale, Oregon, and changed the lives of its citizens forever.
As humans have reached out into space--that reach getting longer and longer with every passing decade--we have anticipated that our first contact with an alien race would be friendly. A little awkward, perhaps, and maybe contentious. Two radically different cultures clashing together cannot occur without conflict. However, there are very few humans who would anticipate that the only response to alien life would be violence and warfare.
However, those few humans are quite right. Because those few humans saw the Froguanas in Salmondale, Oregon, and they know exactly how deadly a close encounter can be.
This is their story…
Chapter 1: Friday Night in Salmondale
Shutting the door firmly behind her, Jess Dawson looked up and down the dimly lit street. The Sun had almost set, and its little remaining light tinted the cool spring air a pale violet, tinged with pink. From her front porch, the streetlamps that lined the road on either side were hidden from view, but she could see the golden light that pooled on the pavement as far as she could see in either direction. Thinking of the night ahead of her, Jess grinned in anticipation, before setting off down to the curb. Her trusty black Chevy was parked there, gleaming in the evening light. Climbing inside and revving the engine to life, Jess set off into town. It was Friday night, and we was on her way to find her best friends and her boyfriend. It was time to start the weekend off right.
The town of Salmondale, tucked into the northwest corner of Oregon, boasted a mercantile, a couple of diners, a gas station and auto repair shop, a small tavern, and a population that wavered around the one thousand mark. On weekend nights, the young adults who called the town home would attempt to discover various ways to combine those amenities into what might pass for a fun evening out. As she arrived at the top of the steep hill that was Curry Street, Jess could see the lights of downtown beaming up at her. The song on the radio swelled to its climax, and as she roared down the hill, gathering speed, she heard herself singing along with Ke$ha for the final chorus.
"I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums
Oh what a shame that you came here with someone
So while you're here in my arms
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young!"
She saw him on the corner of O'Brien and Quinn, surrounded by his jock friends. When baseball practice was over, the team usually wandered here, to Hinwood's Diner, to consume their respective body weights in carbs, and then retreat to this corner with their bottles of Coke to further rehash practice and talk about which girls were starring in their sweaty dreams lately. It was a time-honored masculine ritual, and one that Jess took no small pleasure in disrupting.
She pulled up beside the curb and waited for him to see her. Leaning back against her seat, she eyed him as he threw his head back, laughing at something outrageous his friend had said. In his letterman's jacket and jeans, with his blond hair gleaming from his post-practice shower, he was a vision of athletic gorgeousness, and Jess couldn't help whistling at him to get his attention.
Looking around, he caught her eye and waved, his eyes still bright from his laugh. Jess' whistle had also caught the attention of his friends, and they broke into a loud chorus of hilarity as they ribbed their teammate.
"Oh, Banner, looks like you missed curfew again!"
"You're in trouble now, O'Bannion!"
"Hey Jess, you'd better whoop that boy for us. He couldn't get it over the line for crap tonight!"
Downing the rest of his Coke, the blond boy pushed his way past his friends, punching shoulders and calling, "See you later, guys," until he made it to the passenger's side of Jess' car. Once he had climbed inside, they met across the gearshift in a long kiss.
"How's it going?"
"Not bad. Yourself?"
With other kiss, they were off, leaving the baseball boys far behind. As they drove, the DJ crooned in a break between songs. "We've got our annual music festival coming up this July. Send us a tweet in the next twelve minutes, and you could win free tickets to see Of Monsters and Men, Sleeper Agent, The Devil Wears Prada, All Time Low, Emilie Autumn, and many others. Now, here's Lorde with 'Royals…'"
They found Ashley and Matthew--more commonly known as the Kerr twins--outside the arcade, which was unsurprising since that was where they spent most of their non-school, non-sleeping hours. Matt had a job there--which, for the most part, kept the entire gang in burgers and MP3s--and Ash took full advantage of his employment in order to pursue her goal of becoming the Call of Duty World Champion.
They climbed into the backseat, arguing loudly about something.
"It's not my fault, Ash. I don't know what happened. Maybe Mr. Gray changed the calibration again."
Ash tossed her brown hair in irritation. "Well, if he did, I may have to go give him a good smack."
"How am I supposed to develop my game if the controls don't do what they're supposed to?" Ash was seldom serious about anything, but she seldom joked about her gaming.
Jess and Michael exchanged glances before Jess interrupted the bickering siblings. "Hey kids, d'you want me to turn this car around?"
Matt and Ash stopped arguing with each other in favor of teasing Jess and Michael. "Aw, Mom!" "Hey, can we get McDonalds?" "She started it!" "Are we there yet?"
As they drove, the sky darkened further, turning from pale violet to deep velvet blue. Jess spun the radio dial to a new station and drove on through the night. "We're up all night for good fun, we're up all night to get lucky…"
The path of their travels wasn't the same from weekend to weekend, but it featured the same familiar stops along the way. First, A Grill Aday for greasy jalapeño burgers and soggy fries (provided by the diner's wise-cracking proprietor, Mike), and then driving through the curving slopes of Sarandon Lane, shout-singing along with the radio through mouthfuls of food. A quick stop by the auto shop, where a couple of Ash's friends were working late. They spent some time talking trash about a certain teacher at their soon-to-be alma mater, Randall Winston High School.
"No study guide for the final, and of course it's cumulative." The dark-haired boy shook his head before disappearing beneath the blue Ford he was fixing.
"Well, don't you know, Olsen? High-school chemistry needs to be your top priority right now!" Ash grabbed a wrench and brandished it at the pixie-haired girl who was sitting on the floor with Jess, sharing her fries. "And that goes for you too, Seelye! All that college noise? Preparing for your future and whatnot? Forget it--Bostwick's class is all you should ever think about--ever!"
"Welcome to the new age, to the new age…" sang the radio. Ash began head-banging along with the song, singing in an imitation of the chemistry teacher's pompous, booming voice. Her audience snickered at her antics.
"They say Bostwick hasn't changed since he first started teaching," Michael volunteered. "My grandma says that the only thing he loved more than chemistry is giving kids a hard time about chemistry."
"Really? I would've thought the only thing he loved more than chemistry was the hair he cultivates in his ears." Ash gagged as the rest of the group cracked up.
Saying good-bye to the mechanics, Jess and her friends made their way back to the car. Before she got in the driver's seat, Jess happened to glance at the closest streetcorner and saw a red-haired girl walking toward her. Signaling her friends to wait for her, Jess raced toward the girl and caught her up in a hug. It was Emily Kramer, Jess' oldest friend, back home from her semester abroad in Scotland.
Making high-pitched sounds of delight, Jess ushered Em toward the car. When the rest of the group saw who it was, they called out to her in turn.
"Hey, Em's back!"
"What's happening, Em?"
"Oh, hey Em."
That last was from Ash, and Jess grimaced internally. Ash had never been very fond of Em, mainly because Em's taciturn nature was so different from Ash's own talkative hyperactivity. It didn't help that Em had harbored a significant crush on Matt practically since she'd first met him. Climbing behind the wheel, watching Matt slide into the middle seat for a blushing Em, Jess hoped she wouldn't need to mediate any fights that night.
Fortunately, the rest of the night passed without incident. The five friends drove back and forth through the small town, occasionally stopping for food or to say hello to various school friends as they wound their own ways through the night. The lights from the dashboard washed their faces in dim green light, and the car itself vibrated with music and loud talk as Em shyly shared details of her adventures in Scotland, Michael and Matt caught her up on all the local gossip, and Ash riffed hilariously on everything. Jess was content to listen to the chatter of her friends and watch the road in front of her as they drifted through the winding streets of their little town.
Around one, Em begged curfew, and the Kerrs made their own departure soon after she left. Jess was just about to drive Michael home, when a familiar giggle made her turn around and then groan. Her stupid sister, Taylor, was out tonight--way past her own curfew--and judging by the blue Pontiac she was clambering into, she had snuck out to meet Jake Daffee, one of Michael's teammates.
Holding out a hand to Michael, Jess strode over to her sister and spun her around angrily. "What are you doing out?" she demanded.
Taylor pursed her glossy lips, retorting in her brattiest tone, "You're not the boss of me, Jess. I can do what I want!"
"You're not supposed to be out this late, for a start," Jess continued, neglecting to mention the many times she had snuck out to meet Michael when she was Taylor's age. "And what the fetch are you doing with Jake Daffee? Do you not have any taste at all?"
"Ouch, Jess, that stings!" called Jake from inside the car, not sounding remotely stung.
Jess flapped a hand at Jake to silence him. "Don't think for a second I won't tell Mom and Dad about this, Tay."
"Go ahead, see if I care! I'll just go ahead and tell them about that time you and your stupid friends got yourselves sick on Dad's vodka!"
Jess snarled, but didn't reply. She was hoping to get out of the house and safely away at college before that particular story went viral. "Those shoes are incredibly tacky, Tay," she growled, before stalking back to her car.
"Of course they are," Taylor shouted after her. "I found them in your closet!"
Jess heard the car door slam, and turned to watch the Pontiac roared off down the street. She turned back to her car to see Michael looking at her with a concerned expression. "What's going on?"
Jess sighed. "Taylor snuck out to meet Jake."
Michael frowned. "You want me to tell him to stay away for you? Could get him stuck as equipment mule for the rest of school if you like."
Jess shook her head. "Thanks, but no thanks. It's not like I'm worried about him hurting her or anything. I just…wish she'd go out with someone who wasn't such a mook."
"Well, what d'you expect? She's your sister. Dawson girls have a habit of dating mooks, as you can see."
He pulled a freak-show expression and did a sort of jig up to her. "You're not a mook," Jess insisted, giggling in spite of herself.
"Oh, I'm not, am I?" Michael's eyes glittered with mischief, before he grabbed onto the nearest streetlamp and started twirling around it, making a series of ungodly noises. "JACHA-CHACHA-CHACHA-CHOW!"
"Oh my God, shut up!" Jess looked frantically around at the houses on either side of the street, praying her clown of a boyfriend didn't wake up the neighbors.
"FRAKA-KAKA-KAKA-KAKA-KOW!" Michael shrieked, his dancing becoming increasingly stripper-ish as he gyrated around the pole. Jess tried to grab him, but he just spun away, laughing. "WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?"
There was a loud slam as the upstairs window of the nearest house flew open. An old man's voice shouted, "THE FOX SAYS SHUT UP!" The voice swore loudly a few times before the window slammed shut again.
Briefly chastened, Michael shared a bug-eyed look of shock with Jess before opening his mouth to start singing again. Jess hurriedly clapped a hand over his mouth. "Alright!" she hissed. "Alright, you're a mook!"
At Michael's injured expression, Jess broke down laughing, her anger at Taylor melting away. She was still smiling when Michael slid his hand gently across her face and drew her in for a kiss.
After dropping Michael off at his house, Jess set off for her own home. The energy from her late-night fast food were wearing off, and she could feel a deep exhaustion settling itself into her bones. Parking her car at the curb, she staggered up the front walk and let herself into her house.
"Hello?" she called softly. She wasn't expecting her parents to answer--they were infamously heavy sleepers--but a soft voice answered her from the den. Padding down the hall, she peered through the doorway and grinned at her Grandpa Bob, who was listening to the radio and having a quiet drink.
"Hey, cowgirl." Bob smiled and toasted her with his drink. "Good night?"
Jess flopped down on the couch next to him. "Yeah, it was pretty chill. Em came back from her study abroad deal."
Bob nodded approvingly. "That's good. I know Johnny was getting pretty lonely without her."
Johnny was Em's Grandpa John, an old friend of Bob's from when they were kids. They still met up to play poker occasionally.
"Good night here?" Jess asked.
"Mm-hmm. Your grandma went to bed already. Said to tell you good-night."
"Probably wanted to get a bit of sleep without you snoring all over the place," Jess teased. Bob nudged her, but didn't deny it.
For a while, they listened to the radio in silence. Jess didn't generally care for oldies music, but she liked this station because it didn't play many commercials. The program was only interrupted once, by a news bulletin cutting in over the tail end of a Bobby Vinton song. "Salmondale citizens are encouraged to be on the lookout for cougars in the area. There have been several reported cases of missing and mutilated livestock in the areas nearest to the Cascadia National Forest. Keep your families safe!"
Bob downed the rest of his scotch. "Well, that's my cue to go to bed. You should to, cowgirl."
Jess nodded and yawned.
"By the way, I heard a window closing stealthily a while ago. Have you seen Taylor at all tonight?"
Jess huffed. "Yeah, she snuck out to meet Jake Daffee."
Bob's eyes widened. "Jeff Daffee's boy?" He whistled. "Well, maybe the apple fell a little further from the tree after all."
Bob nodded slowly, thinking it over. "Well, Tay's still young," he decided. "But she's got a good head on her shoulders. I'm sure she'll be fine."
Jess nodded. "Yeah. I just don't like seeing her making a fool of herself over that kid."
"Well, we all make fools of ourselves from time to time. I seem to remember a watery bottle of vodka and a very hungover Jess at the breakfast table a few years ago."
Jess blushed. "I didn't think you noticed," she mumbled.
"Oh, I noticed." Bob winked at her. "Tay's and your secrets are safe with me. Good-night, cowgirl."