Zeno-Phobic

Zeno looked stared at his father with wide eyes; his mouth hung open. After a moment he burst into laughter shaking his head. The orange-haired boy looked at his mother. She sat on the couch with her husband’s arm around her while retelling the story.

“Is that really how it happened?” She smiled and winked a crystal-pink eye at him.

“Your father embellished a bit to make himself look better,” she playfully dug her elbow into the man’s gut. “But all the important parts are there.”

Better?!” Zeno laughed again. “Geez dad,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m lucky I was born at all.”

“Yeah, well,” the man felt obligated to defend his honor. “You try thinking straight when you’ve got a woman…,” he pulled his wife closer to him with a squeeze. “…this beautiful interested in you.” The young teenager rolled his eyes again.

“Anyway,” the father continued. “We told you that to make sure you’re careful about every little thing. Be careful who you show your abilities to.”

“I know dad,” Zeno sighed. “That’s why I don’t have any friends.” Zeno’s mother stood from the couch while his father sat up straighter on the edge. He met his son’s eyes.

“Your mother and I have been talking a lot about that. You’ve been doing great in school and you’re a good kid,” he reached out and ruffled his son’s bright orange hair. “We’re proud of you. We got you a gift that might help you make more friends.” Zeno’s eyes widened again; this time in excitement.

He’d been hinting hard about wanting the latest online game. Most of the kids at school played it and it seemed to be the main social platform for them. Any time Zeno mentioned it to them he always mentioned how everyone he knows at school plays. His mother walked back into the room carrying a small white box with a red scissor logo on it. He recognized it instantly.

“No way!” He jumped off his seat on the coffee table and ran to hug his mom. “THANK YOU!” The moment he held the light, empty-feeling box in his hands his heart sank. He had been so focused on telling his parents about the game that he forgot to tell them how it needed to be set up. The AlterNet requires a pit of soil big enough for him to lay down in. Whenever he told his parents about thee things he could do in the game he always neglected to mention that extra detail. In his imagination, he hoped it would be set up in their only spare bedroom. Both his parents noticed the change.

“Hey, what’s wrong? We thought you’d be more excited,” his father asked. The tall man stood from the couch and walked over to them. Zeno nodded.

“It’s great dad. I just can’t play yet,” he said.

“What? What do you mean you can’t play? You haven’t even opened the box.” Zeno nodded.

“It’s my own fault,” he sighed. “I forgot to tell you about the setup needed. It’s not a computer game it’s something else.”

“What, like a phone game?” Zeno’s mom asked. He noticed a playful smirk on her face. “You’ve got a phone.”

“No, it’s not a phone game.” Zeno unceremoniously opened one end of the box and pulled out the white cardboard frame inside. A small, transparent, glassy rectangle rested on the cardboard. Zeno pulled it out and showed his parents. “To play this I need a big pit of dirt to lay down in.” The node began glowing with a muted green color as he held it. Zeno had never seen any of the nodes at school do that, but he assumed it was part of the setup process. His father burst into laughter; his mother smiled at the similarities between the two.

“A pit of dirt? Are you serious?” he asked his son and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Zeno said with downcast eyes.

“Boy, talk about coincidences. I dug up a pit of dirt in the spare room while you were at school today,” he said playfully. Zeno looked up.

“REALLY??” His father playfully slapped his cheek.

“Yeah. What kind of parents do you think we are that we don’t check out what our kid’s into when he wants something?” Before Zeno could give a smartmouth reply the doorbell rang. All three heads swiveled to the door. They were not expecting any company that evening. “Go show Mr. Nofaithinhisparents here the excellent job we did, I’ll get the door.” Mother and son walked toward the guest bedroom while chatting excitedly. Zeno’s father answered the door.

Two men in black suits, a tall one and a short one, stood on his doorstep; both wore sunglasses.

“Listen. Don’t panic.” The short one said quickly. “We know your wife is an alien, we know your son is half alien. The only thing we want is to make sure your son does not log into the AlterNet. Stop him then we can talk.”

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