Pickles are Cucumbers in Vinegar

I knew that something was wrong as soon as I saw my sister eating pickles. She hates pickles – says they're too sour. So how come she was eating them? I wanted to know, so I asked her. Here's what we said:

Me: Alis, why are you eating pickles? I thought you hated them.

Alis: Shut up, twerp. None of your business. Besides, these are cucumbers.

Me: I thought you hated all vegetables, cucumbers included.

Alis: Well, cucumbers are good for my complexion. Now buzz off.

That concluded the dialogue, as you can see. Alis happens to be at least a foot taller than I am, and arguing with someone five years older than you, who also happens to be a first-level black belt, isn't a very good idea – I should know, because when she caught me with her precious Alanis Morrissette and Lisa Loeb CD's last summer, it hurt in certain places that hinder movement. I don't think my explanation would have helped much – trying to burn the CD's by pouring oil on them and then lighting the oil is certainly not a good excuse. (At least now I know that I didn't need the oil in the fisrt place!) Anyway, I knew something was weird. I mean, who ever heard of cucumbers improving complexion!? (And boy, does Alis need it!)

At school, I told my friend Andre about Alis' latest weirdness. He said that the crazy music that his sister and mine keep listening to everyday must have turned their brains to mush. He demonstrated the consistency of that mush by mashing up his sandwich with water on a plate – not that I blame him. (Who wants a tomato, garlic and peanut butter sandwich anyway?).

What I like about Andre is that his tastes are roughly similar to mine: he doesn't like a lot of the modern music that our sisters play, and he likes science fiction and fantasy books. Of course, he's a bit weird, but not much more so than I am. And we both hate pickles. In the way of making conversation, I asked: "What new group has your sister gotten addicted to?"

"Cranberries. She went crazy over this album – something like 'To the Dear Departed?' or something like that. She keeps singing this thing about John Lennon," he said, making a face at the thought of it.

"Yours too? Except mine also sings this stuff about 'Heroin eyes,'

and 'Salvation in dreams.' Or whatever. Then she also goes and sings that John Lennon song, except she changes it from 'John Lennon died,' to 'Ringo Starr lives.' Whoop-de-doo." Yeah. Some fun listening to my sister sing "He could have stayed up late, could have never cared," and then "Ringo Starr lives, Ringo Starr lives." She's gonna drive me crazy if she keeps on with this.

"Hey! Did you do your homework? The problem set about polynomials?" Andre reminded me.

"Oh shoot! I forgot! Do you have the answers?"

"Sure. Boy are you lucky math isn't your first subject. The way you forget to do your homework would make sure you didn't last very long."

Andre gave me his answers, and I copied them into my notebook. Ms. Anderson wouldn't be able to tell, since my handwriting looks equally messy whether I'm in a rush or not. The rest of the day went pretty much as usual.

"Greg! Give me back my tape of the Cranberries! I need it to sing along with 'John Lennon Died' and 'Salvation!' And you'd better give it back whole unless you feel like dying – do you know how easily I could kill you?" A nice, regular dialogue as soon as I get home. And, of course, I had to give back her tape. Who can resist such sweet persuasion? (At least she wasn't babbling some gibberish on the phone about Chris liking Penelope but asking Helen to the Prom, or about how it's dorky to wear neon shirts and black shorts with black rolled-up socks and Doc Martens.) Soon enough, I heard the tune of some song or other, along with Alis' voice from her room – across a bathroom and two closed doors: that's how loud it was.

I wished that either Mommy or Daddy were home – they wouldn't tolerate this, and she actually listens to them. Then I heard silence for a while, and then a new song, something about corners and insignificance and destiny. I sighed and took a look at my textbook page. "Factoring Pattern for ax2 + bx + c" Help! I'd started the page on Monday, and I still couldn't get the factoring pattern. Damn polynomials – the arithmetic of algebra.

Alis turned up the volume on her stereo. Standing on the corner of Stewart and the Avenue/Tearing up my mmm-mmm and a photograph of you Mommy's little nightmare is driving Daddy's car around… Just what I need to concentrate on polynomials – a little mind mushing music at top volume. This was certainly the reason why Alis had a lot of trouble hearing people. After all, if you play you stereo so loud that the walls of your room vibrate and it can be heard in an air-conditioned room separated by a bathroom and two closed doors, well, I guess you get what I mean. And then there were the parties she went to (at least one every week!), with that loud music blaring from the speakers, especially if you took MS Parties as an example: I'd been to one, and hadn't liked it at all – way too loud.

I wondered if maybe all this loud music really did turn people's minds into mush, and was the precursor to an alien invasion. The aliens would first turn everyone's minds into slush with that loud music and then come in and sell humans as slaves on the intergalactic flesh market. Well, it sure seemed to be working. Like Alis, and Andre's sister Phoebe, and Becky, who used to be okay and interested in collecting Series Three Marvel Cards, but became really snobby when she started getting interested in make up and got her period and stuff.

"This is crazy!" I said to myself. "Aliens invading Earth with rock music?! I must be weirder than I thought!" So I forced my mind back on track – almost – and started puzzling out how to factor ax2+bx+c.

In A/A I told Andre about my idea and he agreed with me. He also said that not only were the aliens going to sell us as slaves, but that they would take all the resources from this planet, sell those too and then destroy it and move on to some other planet, like Darkover. (Andre happened to be reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's series at the time, and he usually gets pretty wrapped up in what he reads.) Meanwhile, the rest of the class were trying to get our A/A teacher to let us watch Mortal Kombat the Movie, but she said it was too violent. (She'd also censored certain parts of Spartacus in Humanities.)

"What's your topic for the essay due tomorrow?" I asked Andre.

"I'm writing about pets. You?"

"Crap about what makes good sci-fi. I'll try to impress her by quoting a lot of examples, since I've read a lot." The bell rang and I had to run to P.E. and get changed quickly. (At least I didn't have a sprained ankle.) I wouldn't see Andre until Break, and then we could discuss the theory about an alien invasion more.

"Hey Greg! Did you hear that tomorrow's gonna be an activity schedule 'cause some rock band's performing?" Andre greeted me.

"Oh no. I hope they don't know anything by Mariah Carey, Lisa Loeb, Garbage, Alanis Morissette, Green Day, Nirvana, Metallica or the Cranberries," was my reply to his greeting.

"Well, don't worry. Only students in good standing can go, and since I haven't returned that Mercedes Lackey book to the MC yet and you haven't returned the Andre Norton one, neither of us is in good standing so we won't have to go."

"Great!" I answered "Any other theories concerning alien invasion?"

"Yeah. Maybe they won't sell all humans on the intergalactic black market, but use the ones they keep as breeding stock or as their own personal slaves."

"Or maybe they'll hypnotize some of the scientists and get them to do research on synthesization of metals because their planet doesn't have any and plastic isn't quite sturdy enough for a lot of things." (I got that idea from Sylvia Louise Engdahl's trilogy about a planet like that.)

I know it sounds crazy, but it's fun talking about alien invasions and stuff like that. I wondered again if maybe it was true, that there were aliens just waiting for the music they beamed into people's heads so that they would write it down and perform and record it – REALLY loud to turn everybody's minds into pulp.

That night I somehow finished my homework early without getting distracted by the new Christopher Pike novel that I'd bought over the weekend and hadn't had a chance to read yet – and went to bed early. I wasn't even distracted by Alis arguing to herself about whether or not green goes with blue, and how her hair would look in a bun or a ponytail. In fact, I actually went to sleep between nine and ten o'clock instead of between twelve and one! I also had a really weird dream, though I've had weirder (like an evil beast living in the bridge room downstairs, which you could get to only by passing through a tunnel in our garage). I was in this room made of metal and there was this thing – kinda like an elephant, but it stood upright, had arms instead of forelegs and was green and warty. It was saying something in some language that sounded like gibberish to me, though I somehow found myself translating some of what it said as Chinese. This was not a good idea, as I found myself with phrases like "I am a pencil" (Wo sh chien pi), "Eat red ballpen" (Ch hong yuen tz pi) and "Doctor is a big old pig" (Dai foo sh da lao joo).

Then the green elephant injected something into me (yowch! I hate injections) and I actually understood what it was saying! (Nothing was like what I'd translated from Mandarin, luckily.)It was sort of like this:

"You have been brought here because you have shown a remarkable ability to withstand the qwerty music of the jhds who intend to enslave your race and sell them on the intergalactic black market. Your friend is one of us in disguise, intended to test your capability to withstand the qwertying properties of the jhds music." This was all very new to me, and I supposed that the jhds were the aliens who were going to enslave us, and "qwerty" meant something like "mind-slush-make." Now I wonder just why I believed the green elephant at the time. It went on like that, saying how I had to help the members of my own race and how I would be given a device that could counteract the powers of the Jhds' music. "…Those concoctions of your world, cucumbers in an acidic solution – pickles, is it? – they help along the process of qwertying. And always remember that pickles are cucumbers in vinegar."

When I woke up, Daddy was knocking on the door of my room, and I was wearing a ring that looked very unusual. Wondering about the green elephant, especially wondering if my dream about it was real or the result of reading too many cheap sci-fi novels (or watching too many X-Files), I quickly got out of bed and ran into the bathroom to dress up. I supposed that the dream had to have been real, as otherwise I wouldn't be wearing the stupid heavy ring (it looked tacky, like tarnished silver). It's something that I wouldn't in my right mind wear. After breakfast, I stuffed my wallet into my bag, grabbed Andre Norton's Three Against the Witch World, picked up my lunch box and ran to the car. Today the band would play, and I had to be there.

As soon as I got to school, I went to the MC and paid my overdue fines (twenty pesos worth!) – I was now a student in good standing. The day dragged by, and when the twelve-thirty bell rang I almost ran to my A/A, prevented only because practically everybody else was going in the opposite direction. I joined the rest of my A/A and we filed into the Fine Arts Theatre. When we entered, I activated the device by twisting the ring around my finger and pressing some of the little knobs on it, and watched to see what would happen. The band got applause, perhaps a little less than they should have, but that was all. I was much disappointed as I'd expected something more drastic, like maybe stoning the band to death like in "The Lottery."

I'd left the ring activated on the way home, and that must have been why what Alis said to me was: "Greg? I'm sorry I got mad at you yesterday about my Cranberries tape. It's just that it's a new tape and I don't want to have to spend another hundred pesos to get a replacement." (Instead of "Don't you dare try taking another one of my tapes again!") Well, maybe it was a start, getting the MS and Alis free for a while, but of course there was the rest of the world. I sighed – this was much, much worse than ax2+bx+c.