We gathered around the strange thing poking up through the cracks in the pavement in our alley.
“What is it?” Billy asked. Being the youngest, he could ask the question the rest of us were too proud to voice.
“Maybe it’s a wire?” Sam suggested, the ends of her hair dangling into her face like some automata with broken cables.
“Nah…” Chris leaned back against the brick walls, all nonchalant like he always does. Towering over the rest of us gives him power. The fact his dad is the Boss has nothing to do with it.
I peered closer while I waited for Chris to come to an authoritative decision The thing was green like a power button, but darker, with two larger bits sticking out on thin filaments, and two smaller bits coming from the center of those filaments. It didn’t smell right. None of us were brave enough to touch it, but I leaned closest, trying to figure out what it could possibly be.
An alien? Nah, aliens would move more than that. Maybe some sort of new spy equipment? Nah, it looked too fragile for that.
“I think we should wait and see what it does,” Chris finally pronounced. It was as close to admitting he had no better clue than the rest of us as he would get.
Wait and see.
A week went by and the thing made 2 more of those wide green bits. They looked different than the others, more rounded and a little bigger. More bits like that came, and they started to smell. It was a strange smell, one we had no name for. We needed a name to call it, so we called it the Thing and said we smelled like the Thing, but we didn’t know what it was. We didn’t ask, not the teacher bots or our parents. It was our secret, and ours alone.
Only it didn’t stay that way.
It was on my way to school, so I saw it every day. I saw them, the Cleaners with bright orange metal skins warning of danger, cover the Thing with a dome. As they rolled out of the alley, they went right past me, blocking it so I couldn’t see at first what they’d done.
The Thing was gone.
There was the smallest dark spot where it had been, but nothing else.
The news spread in whispers and gasps, but Chris merely leaned back against the playground wall and sighed. “I know what it was now. They were called plants. It’s the only thing that gets the orange ones out.”
I felt the word on my tongue, strange with the newness, stinging like hot sauce. Plants. The others tripped over the usual questions, hows and whys and where’d it come froms, the word sounding just as crazy coming from them as it felt on my mouth. Plants.
He just shrugged and kept leaning as if he had to hold the wall up.
We never told a soul.
But when school let out and started again, I kept my eyes peeled.
I knew, I just knew. If it was there once, it could happen again. And this time, I’d find a way to hide it and discover what secrets it held.