Chapter 20, "The Winstons"
The ride continued in silence. I wanted to ask where Xlormp was taking me, but he seemed to be deep in thought and would not answer no matter what I said. I even flashed him once. Nothing.
The silence was aggravating, like someone poking you and yelling your name repeatedly even though you told them to wait a minute, you'd be right there. It was like that except more silent. So I only had me and my thoughts. Thoughts which mostly centered around ways to not have my brain eaten, but since I didn't entirely know what these tallybonkers did and why they wanted me, out of everyone in the entire universe, I couldn't really come up with any winning strategies.
I was yanked out of my reverie by Xlormp's voice. "I have to pick something up, Frig," he said, shoving me into the beam of the teleporter. "Stay here until I come back."
"But where-" I started to say, except that I didn't get to finish because the next thing I knew, I had been beamed into a room.
What the hell? I thought to myself, more than a little hurt that the reason I kept breathing in and out would so willingly shove me out of his spaceship. I disregarded the time he had done that exact thing without the help of the teleportation device.
In an attempt to heal my inner ache, I decided to focus on the space room in which I now found myself. It wasn't a very interesting room, I noted. Not at all how I would imagine a space room. I'd imagined more lights, blinking erratically, probably some sparklers just for ambiance.
"You must be Frig," a female voice from behind me declared. I jumped, startled and kind of confused. Turning around, I saw her: a woman, with hair, arms and legs, clothes on her body and glasses on her face. Yep, she was definitely human.
"Who are you?" I chirped askingly.
"I'm Mrs. Winston!" She explained. "Surely Xlormp's told you all about me."
I shook my head. I mean, I knew who she was and everything, but short of her being an "inadequate excuse for a living organism", he hadn't told me much.
"I'm his foster mother!"
"I know," I said, but it seemed stupid, because that was all I knew.
"Mr. Winston's around here somewhere...probably tormenting the hamsters."
I shook my head a few times, just to make sure my brain was still in it. "So, I'm not in outer space?"
"No, ma'am!" Mrs. Winston effused happily.
"I'm still on earth."
"Indeed you are!"
"If Xlormp was going to leave me on Earth, why would he leave me here, and not with Lou?"
Mrs. Winston sighed. "I guess he thought our defenses are better here."
"Against the tallybonkers?" I guessed using logical deduction.
"Yes, Xlormp set us up with the best mental inhibitors available. Although if you ask me, tallybonkers have such a tough time with human brains that all the security is somewhat unnecessary."
With a series of complicated hand gestures, she indicated I should follow her to the kitchen and sit down.
I thought about her words, and I wanted with all of my intestines to believe her, that I might actually be safe here. "Xlormp seems pretty panicked, though. Are you saying I've got nothing to worry about?"
Mrs. Winston winced. "Weeeeeeell....normally, you're only up against a few tallybonkers."
"You're saying I'm screwed." I sighed.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, honey! You're just...a unique case! Vodka?"
I blanched. "Excuse me? I thought I just heard you offer me some vodka."
"Well, sweetie, if I had the entirety of the tallybonker race trying to find me, I'd be knocking a few back myself."
I shook my head. "That's okay. I'm underage, you know."
She made a weird snorting noise. "Honey, that never stopped me."
I started to feel nervous about being locked in a house with this woman. "Um..." I dictated, attempting to steer the conversation away from underage drinking, "What exactly do the tallybonkers do?"
Mrs. Winston sat down next to me (she had previously been standing, you see), holding a glass of what looked like orange juice, but I had a feeling it contained some form of alcohol. She took a swig and shoved her glasses further up the bridge of her nose.
"The tallybonkers are an ancient race that feeds on minds. On their own, they aren't terribly formidable. It's when they get together that you have to worry."
She took another swig.
"But humans are safer than aliens. See, the tallybonkers have a tough time sorting out the complicated emotions and thought processes of the human mind. So while the tallybonkers get a huge rush feeding off of human brains, they're harder for them to overthrow."
I nodded. "Okay, but why would they want me?"
She paused, staring off into space momentarily. Then she shrugged. "Beats me."
"Have they ever gone after someone specific before?" I asked.
"What happened to them?"
"Their planet imploded."
Things were looking more and more hopeless by the minute. That vodka was starting to sound pretty tempting.
I heard a crash at the doorway. Glancing up, I observed that a man stood there, with all of the appropriate limbs and accessories. He appeared to be righting himself after missing the doorway on his first attempt at kitchen entry.
"That'll be Mr. Winston," Mrs. Winston slurred.
"And what are you girls doing in here? Gossiping?" He leaned over and pinched my cheek. I wanted to maim him with a ball peen hammer, or at least remind him about personal space, but it seemed like it might be pointless.
"We're discussing Frig's imminent doom," Mrs. Winston enunciated.
"Oh! Great! I'll just pour myself a screwdriver," Winston the Mister proclaimed enthusiastically, heading for the counter.
After about three hours with the Winstons, I was ready to take a shovel to my chest just to keep from feeling so freaking terrified. I'd also had two screwdrivers and a shot of tequila.
"So then," Mr. Winston yelled, waving his hands in the air, "I watched her dissolve entirely, from the inside out!"
The female Winston screeched. "Oh, yeah! I remember that! That was the time we had to move. Oh, the adventures one has, living with a space alien for a son."
Even through all of this alcohol, my heart ached for Xlormp. It sucked hard enough being away from him when I knew he'd return. This "wait until I come back" business was akin to Chinese water torture, if they were using piranha-infested acid instead of water. And the Winston's chattering was giving me a headache.
"Guys?" I managed to gurgle out, despite the intense swaying and swishing of the room. "I'm pretty sure I wanna...uh...I wanna sleep now."
"Oh, but we're having so much fun!" Mr. Winston sighed.
"Don't pester her, Eustice." Mrs. Winston rose from the table. "I'll pull out the guest bed."
Whatever happened between then and bed, I completely forgot, because I was too smashed.
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