“I think Mr. Pinckney has been replaced by an alien,” said Damien. “He’s got an eldritch demeanor.”
‘Eldritch’ is a word Damien used to show off. Why not just say ‘spooky’ or ‘eerie.’ We were hanging out in Al’s basement, Al taking apart a humidifier, Howard reading ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ and Damien setting up for Dungeons and Dragons.
“He’s always acted strangely,” said Al.
It was true. The man spoke in a monotone, but he said the goofiest things. Like the other day he told us chemistry was like a hundred different flavors of lollipops, and then he looked around and said, ‘Just making sure there are no llamas in the room.’ What the heck? In a small town like ours, these eccentricities get noticed. ‘Eccentricity’ is a word my mom uses to describe freaks.
“Yeah,” said Damien. “But he’s gotten weirder.”
There’s another one. Why not say ‘weird’ instead of ‘eldritch?’
I found myself agreeing with both of them. “You’re right,” I said. “He’s gotten a bit bouncy when he walks up and down the rows of desks, and he stares out the window all the time now. Exactly the kinds of things an alien would miss while keeping his cover.”
“He’s also completely lost his beard,” said Damien.
“We should test him,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Al. “Let’s kick some alien butt.”
Howard put down his book and held up a finger. “If he’s been replaced by an alien, he’ll let his guard down when he’s not in public.”
“That’s right,” said Damien. “We’ll follow him home from school Monday.”
Thirteen hours of D&D and a half-night’s sleep later, we were all pretty electrified by the prospect of following Mr. Pinckney after school. We brought our bikes, and Damien brought his iPhone for pictures or video, just in case.
It was easier than expected. Mr. Pinckney only lived a few blocks from school, and he walked.
When he entered his house, we ditched our bikes at the end of his block’s alley and crept up, looking for vantage points to see inside. We cut through some yards and found a trashcan shed that gave us cover and a higher perch for observation. That’s when we saw him.
Mr. Pinckney was dancing! Inside his living room, he had a big smile on his face, rolled his arms, swayed, and just plain grooved.
“That can’t be him,” I said.
“Not in a thousand years,” said Al.
Damien tried to get some video, but it was too far away and too dark to show up well on the iPhone.
“So did extraterrestrials replace him with one of their own, or are they controlling his mind?” asked Damien.
I had to think about that. “That’s a good question.”
Harry raised a finger. “If he’s an ET, he won’t eat human food. He’ll eat something completely different.”
“True dat,” said Al. He was trying to sound like his dad.
We discussed how to get a better vantage point of the kitchen when Mr. Pinckney disappeared into the recesses of his house. A few minutes later he came out with a button-down shirt and a sport jacket, and went outside to his old, blue, beat-up Cavalier.
I jumped off the shed. “To our bikes. Hurry.”
We ran down the alley, picked them up, and hopped on at a run. By the time we got around to the street, he was already backing out of the driveway to head the other way. We pumped our legs hard to keep up and just barely kept him in sight after he turned and then stopped at a house a few blocks down.
He knocked on the door, and a lady came out, taking him arm-in-arm down the sidewalk.
“That’s gotta be his handler,” gasped Damien.
“Right,” I said, trying to catch my breath. “She could be controlling his mind right now.”
“You know she is,” said Al. “Look at how rigid he is walking next to her.”
We followed them to Main Street where they went into Applebees. We took turns pretending to use their bathroom to see if we could get a good look.
Howard went first. “They’re laughing in there. Mr. Pinckney never laughs.”
Al came back with a grave expression. “He’s eating real food. Soup and some chicken dish.” He glanced back toward the restaurant. “But she’s only eating vegetables. No meat. No dairy. Just water to drink.”
“I knew it,” said Damien. “So he’s still human, and she’s the alien controlling him.”
“We’ve got to break the spell,” said Al. “We can’t just leave him to her mercy.”
“Some kind of shock to his system,” said Howard.
“That makes sense,” I said. “All right. We’ll go in together, and you guys distract them.”
The boys did a great job. They said hello and pretended to be surprised to see him while I found a bottle of tabasco at the bar. I approached the table from the opposite side, Mr. Pinckney’s back to me, and the woman looking at my friends.
Mr. Pinckney gesticulated and said. “This is my girlfriend, Lauren.” The disbelief on the guys’s face was priceless. Mr. Pinckney with a girlfriend? It erased all doubt that she was an alien. I came in low behind him and shook a good dose of tabasco on what looked like chicken parmesan, then quickly capped and pocketed it.
I stepped in with the gang.
“Oh, hello there, Jimmy. Hope you all have your homework done for tomorrow.”
I laughed nervously, and we said our good-byes. Before we got out the door, Mr. Pinckney gasped and grabbed his water, chugging. His eyes popped out of his head, and I could see the clarity in his eyes, and maybe some embarrassment. He was definitely self-aware again.
In spite of that, he stayed with the woman and finished his dinner, but we all went home knowing that the spell was broken, if only for a time, and that we gave him his best chance to see the woman for what she was and to escape the mind control that threatened him.
Within a few weeks we found out that he stopped seeing her, and his behavior returned to normal. We’ll never know the true nature of that alien or how she managed to change his behavior and control him, so I marked it down in my notebook as ‘Case 18: unsolved.’