Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GOING HOME (from vacation) (09/03/15)
TITLE: A Frog for an Earthling
By Zacharia Fox
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He should be excited for home - to tell his parents about his first time on Earth, but his heart races for a different reason. He looks across the lounge at James, who whimpers in a corner.
Nebulo glances at the creature in his hand. “Frog.”
His eyes ricochet off of James. He hangs his head.
* * *
The colonies weren't anything special - nothing Nebulo hadn’t seen one-hundred times at colonies closer to Cronos-Major, where some ninety-five percent of humans lived. Mrs. Celestia said they held historical significance having been man’s first toddling steps into the cosmos. That didn’t interest Nebulo.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” he said to his friend, Quasar. “Having to stop at these stupid colonies, or listening to James prattle on about Earth like some hologram professor. James. What a stupid name.”
James eyebrows arched. “I’ll have you know, my grandparents were some of the last people to live on Earth. ‘James’ is a name that was used when Earth was inhabited, before Armageddon.”
“Really? I thought your parents gave you a stupid name ‘cause they knew you’d be a Muppet.”
James smiled. “You know, the word ‘Muppet’ originates from a show that was played on Earth, using hand puppets and…”
“Oh, shut-up!” Nebulo pushed James to the ground.
Nebulo tried to avoid James as they flew to Earth, but each fact James’ screechy voice broadcast only fed Nebulo’s intolerance.
“… some amphibians survived - amphibians are my favorite - lizards and frogs, mammals are interesting, but we won’t meet those, most mammals are extinct. My grandpa says the sun’s different from the stars of Cronos-Major - its warmth is like a hug and when I feel it I’ll be an Earthling, just like.…”
“Shut-it, James!” The cluster of kids listening to James snapped their heads toward Nebulo. “You’ve never even been to Earth you fraud!”
“Put a cork in it b’fore I stuff you in the pantry.” Nebula shoved James.
James’ eyes darted to everything except Nebulo.
“Look at me, James.” Nebulo caught James’ by the hair. “I said, I’ll stuff you in the pantry.”
James blinked like a shutter in burst-mode. “Wa-wa-why would you do that, Neb? It-it-it’s independently powered, with its own com and propulsion systems. If the sh-sh-ship blew up, I’d be the only one to sur-va-va-vive.”
Nebulo raised his fist, but Quasar caught his arm.
“Neb. Mrs. Celestia ’ll give you detention.”
Nebulo let go and James fell to the floor.
“To your seats now.” Mrs. Celestia walked into the lounge. “We’ll be entering Earth’s atmosphere in ten minutes.”
Everyone scrambled to their seats, Nebulo’s slitted eyes following James’. Nebulo popped his knuckles as the ship rattled into the atmosphere. When they’d landed, everyone formed a line at the door, pubescent voices drowning out Mrs. Celestia’s instructions.
Nebulo watched James being nudged to the back of the line, by the pantry. He slipped behind James and leaned close to his ear. “You forgot something about the pantry?”
James spun, mouth agape.
“It’s sound-proof.” Nebulo shoved James in the pantry and shut the door.
Then the space-ship entrance hissed, and slid open. Nebulo gasped, lifting his hand to his eyes. The warmth of the sun swallowed him as he stepped from the ship. Earth’s air filled his lungs with life like a newborn’s first breaths.
His next hours were a flurry of laughs, plants and animals.
Then Mrs. Celestia called, “Back to the ship now!”
Nebulo snatched a slimy creature at his feet and walked back grinning. The ship door closed, his smile lingering. And then he saw the pantry. He grabbed the door and pulled.
James was sitting on the floor looking at a picture of his grandpa. He looked up, eyes swollen and red. “I’ll never be an Earthling.”
* * *
Nebulo clutches a tiny slimy figure, eyes wet with remorse. He stands and walks across the lounge.
James stares at the wall. “Why are you mean to me?”
“I… I’m jealous. Your family. They’re Earthlings.” Nebulo holds out his hand.
“A frog… for an Earthling.”
James grins faintly, and takes the frog. “An amphibian.”
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