Attack of the Froguanas! Chapter 5
Chapter 5: Fifty Years Ago
"Toss me the fries, will ya?"
Johnny flung the bag in Jim's direction without looking up. He rummaged through the cardboard box, getting increasingly frustrated. "Man! I can't believe it!"
He looked up at the group with a pained expression. "They forgot the ketchup," he groaned.
"Oh, rats," sighed Mary, keeping her face carefully blank. Waiting for Jim to turn his back again, Bobby caught his girlfriend Mary's eye and opened his hands to reveal a crumpled ball of ketchup packets. Mary seized a couple and then, with matching mischievous grins, they lobbed them all at the back of Johnny's head.
Laughing at Johnny's sudden yelp, Bobby and Mary leaned back on the picnic blanket, stretching their legs out and crossing their ankles one over the other. The pine-y smell of the trees that ringed the clearing filled Bobby's nose, along with the strawberry-and-cream smell of Mary's hair. He could just see a scattering of stars beyond the tangled tree branches overhead.
"Bobby! Quit mooning around and change the station!"
Bobby waved a dismissive hand in the general direction of his best friend, Jim. "Come on, man, you know you love singing nuns!"
"Like fetch I do!"
"I'll change it," Linda said from somewhere to Bobby's right. He heard the rustle of dead leaves on the ground as she got to her feet, made her way over to the little radio they had propped up on a tree trunk, and fiddled with the dials.
Johnny jumped up too, blurting something about helping her. Jim, his mouth full of fries, sent a glare Johnny's way. Mary and Bobby exchanged looks. They had been hoping they could get through a simple midnight picnic without any macho displays from Jim or Johnny, but it was looking unlikely. "Give him some more orange crush," muttered Mary. "That'll calm him down."
"Yeah," agreed Bobby. "Orange crush for the crush, right?"
The mood cheered up as the station was flipped away from "Dominique" and landed on Stevie Wonder. Fries were munched and gossip about school friends floated through the air. There was a mellow kind of happiness in their talk that they could almost taste. In a month or so, they'd all be done with high school and off into their real lives. Mary and Bobby would get married, Jim would get drafted by the Beavers, and Linda and Johnny would be off to teachers' college. They would all miss each other as they went their separate ways, but they had all promised to write, and that was really all you could do.
Jim was indulging in one of his favorite pastimes: making fun of Mr. Bostwick, the stuffy new science teacher. "I swear, if Boswick's ear hair gets any longer…" he was saying, before his voice choked off in a sudden gulp. Following his gaze, the other four friends spotted a pair of yellow eyes gleaming through the darkness of the surrounding forest.
"Holy crap. Is that what they looked like?"
Jess couldn't tear her eyes away from the sketch Mary had pulled from her purse. It was a horrific-looking creature, scaly and definitely carnivorous. Thinking about her kid sister facing one of those monsters gave her cold chills.
"But what are they?" Matt asked.
Bob shook his head and reached for his mug of coffee. "No idea. They're not from Earth, certainly."
"I always called 'em 'Froguanas,'" supplied Jim. "You know, part frog, part iguana? But yeah. Definitely alien."
"I always had this theory," said Linda, "I don't know if you remember, but that spring--a few months before they showed up--there was that meteor shower over the foothills."
Jim frowned. "Was it that spring?"
"You might have slept through it. I was staying up late on purpose, trying to do extra credit for Bostwick's class."
"You couldn't have needed extra credit, Linds. You were always such a brain."
Linda's mouth twisted into a smile. "I got distracted by the ear hair."
Jess rapped the coffee table for attention. "Excuse me, but this is kind of a situation. What are these things doing in the woods?"
"Living," replied Mary simply. "The forest is all they know. They're doing what all creatures do--they're killing and eating and breeding, trying to survive."
"But why haven't we heard of them before?" asked Michael. "If these things have been in the forest for fifty years, why doesn't everyone know about it?"
"Yeah," agreed Jess. "My sister gets attacked, and no one wants to hear the words 'giant lizard.'"
"It was the same when we were your age, Cowgirl," replied Bob. "Sheriff Aday didn't want to hear anything from us."
"You kids better stop stirring up trouble," warbled Jim, imitating the old cop. "Pay attention in school, stop reading those rotten comic books. That's the trouble with kids these days…and so on. Dumb hunk of meatloaf--I'm glad he's sticking to burgers these days and not running around with a gun and handcuffs."
"Anyway," Linda interrupted, "We knew we had to do something ourselves. If we didn't fight back, those lizards would've just gotten bolder and kept picking off people and livestock. They might have even ventured into town if we let them."
"So we met up at Mary's house to put together a plan…" said Bob.
Bobby paced back and forth, running his hands through his hair over and over. He couldn't bring himself to look at his friends--he felt far too guilty. They had just tried to kill the alien lizards in the forest, and it had all gone horribly wrong.
"It's just a scratch," Linda was saying. "I'm fine, really."
"Are you sure?" Johnny fretted. "I could get some iodine--Mary, where does your mom keep the medicine?"
"She said she's fine, Kramer. Would you leave her alone?" growled Jim, who was glowering from the corner.
"For cripes sake, Jim, would you grow up?" snapped Mary. "There are more important things to worry about, in case you haven't noticed!"
At her words, the frown slid off Jim's face, replaced by a hollow, fearful look. As one, the five kids turned to look at the handgun lying in the center of the kitchen table.
It was Bobby's uncle's gun, a leftover from the Korean War. Bobby had snuck it out of its holster earlier that day and brought it to Mary's house for safe-keeping. They had talked it over with Jim, Linda, and Johnny, and they had agreed that firepower was what they needed. If they could get off enough good shots, maybe they could get the lizards scared enough of humans to stop them venturing out of the forest again.
They managed to find one lizard snacking on what looked like a crow. Bobby, drawing on his childhood spent shooting milk bottles off the fence, managed to fire his first shot straight at the creature's head. However, rather than keeling over dead, the lizard had charged at him, snarling in a way that lizards never ought to do. The other four had managed to get the lizard away from Bobby so that he could take another shot, but that one had been as effective as the first. The five kids knew that they had been lucky to escape with their lives.
"I still wish you girls would've stayed behind." Jim had apparently found his voice again. "It was way too dangerous."
"Oh," retorted Mary hotly. "I guess you really didn't need me to throw a rock at that thing while you were busy tripping over your own feet. You're not welcome."
"I wouldn't have tripped if I hadn't been hurrying over to save Linda!" Jim's voice rose in anger, then dropped to a heated whisper as the others shushed him. "Next time, you and Lindy stay behind. We can handle those things on our own."
"What do you mean, 'handle' them?" scoffed Mary. "Like you 'handled' them tonight, you mean? You didn't leave a scratch! Bobby shot that big one right in the head and it didn't even blink!"
"I don't think they can blink," murmured Linda.
"You know what I mean."
"What we need is more guns," said Johnny. The others hissed in shock at Johnny's uncharacteristically violent statement, but he nodded his head seriously. "One gun between five is not nearly enough."
"No, what we need is a bigger gun," countered Jim, gesturing contemptuously at the gun on the table. "That little peashooter couldn't take out a squirrel. My dad's got a semi-automatic stashed in his shed. That ought to do the trick."
"Jim, that gun's got to be twenty years old!" objected Mary. "It'll blow up in your face if you so much as breathe on it."
"We can't use any more guns," Bobby interrupted.
Jim and Mary stopped arguing and turned to look at him. "Are you cracked?" Jim finally asked.
"Nope, not cracked." Bobby's voice was quite calm. "It's not hunting season, is it? If people start hearing a bunch of gunshots from the woods, they'll get suspicious. They'll start going into the woods to investigate, and then…"
He didn't finish his sentence, but he didn't have to. "So what do we do?" Johnny asked. "We can't just leave 'em alone. We're the only ones who know they exist. If we don't do something, no one will."
Bobby nodded, thinking fast. "We don't need guns," he murmured, starting to pace again. "It's not about fighting hard, it's about fighting smart. We need to find their weakness."
"Well, they really hate bullets," quipped Jim darkly. "They hate 'em so much they don't even let themselves get shot."
Mary rolled her eyes at Jim. "They don't seem to like sunlight, either. Think about it: every time we've seen them has been at night. All the attacks on livestock have happened at night."
Bobby pointed at her. "Nice one, honey. They don't go out during the day. Whether because they don't like light or heat, we don't know. But that's something."
"They're solitary," volunteered Linda. "We know there's more than one of them, but we've only ever see one of them at a time. And when we tried to shoot that one tonight, it came after me and Jim until Mary showed up. It didn't like the idea of taking on three at once."
"And it definitely could've," said Bobby, still pacing. "I mean, it had teeth and claws to beat the band. Why wouldn't it just pick us off, one at a time?"
"Lizards are heat-sensitive, aren't they?" offered Jim. "That's how they look for prey, right?"
"So you did pay attention in Mr. LaRoche's lecture," Johnny sniped at Jim. "Could've sworn that was you snoring in my ear, man."
"Oh, get stuffed, man!"
"That's it!" Bobby exclaimed, and then clapped his hand over his mouth as the others shushed him. For a few breathless seconds, they listened for sounds of movement from Mary's parents.
The silence stretched on. Finally, Bobby uncovered his mouth and sat down at the table with the others. "Okay, he whispered. "Here's the plan."
"The important thing to remember about these things--" Grandpa Bob began.
"Froguanas," interjected Jim.
Bob gave him a bland look before continuing. "The important thing to remember about them is that they're not from Earth. They came here from space."
"Why's that important, sir?" Michael asked.
"They're used to a different climate than we are," Bob replied. "Wherever they're from, it's probably much colder than it is here, and they've evolved to adapt to those conditions."
"They can survive alright on Earth," continued Mary, "As long as they stay where it's cooler. That's why they don't venture far beyond the forest."
"And that's why they keep to themselves," said Bob. "Jim was right when he said they were heat-sensitive. If there are too many warm bodies around, they get confused."
Em piped up. "The one I saw today ran away when I threw the coffee pot at it."
"Was it hot coffee?" asked Bob.
"Yeah, pretty hot," Em replied.
Bob nodded. "There you are, then."
"Well great," said Ash, speaking for the first time. "They don't like heat. Now what do we do? Boil up ten gallons of coffee and then start spraying it at everything that looks like a Ninja Turtle?"
"Not quite that complicated, Ash." Jim didn't look phased by his granddaughter's sarcasm. "It took a bit of doing, but we got 'em."
"Why did they come back, though?" asked Matt.
The question vaporized Jim's self-satisfied expression.
"They must've laid eggs," said Bob. "That's the only explanation I can think of. When we take them out this time, we ought to look for nests as well. If they lay eggs again, I think I'll be too old to take them out again when they hatch."
"Um.… Jess looked from each of her grandparents to the other, looking doubtful. "You guys aren't planning on going lizard-hunting, are you?"
"You bet your boots we are," retorted Bob sharply. "We're not going to let you go out on your own, that's for sure. You're just kids--all of you--"
"You mean, kids like you were fifty years ago?" Jess' tone was biting, and Bob flushed in anger.
Before he could reply, Michael held up his hands for quiet. "We would really appreciate any help you could give us with this thing, Mr. Dawson. All of you," he added, addressing the other grandparents. "You figured out how to beat them before--we'd really like to not have to start from scratch."
Bob and Jess eyed each other, jaws set in identical stubborn positions, before nodding in agreement with Michael. "Alright," said Jess, and reached for her coffee cup.
"Fantastic," said Matt. "So…where do we start?"