“Dad? Is it really you?” He stood tall and straight like a soldier, his shoulders rounded back, with a playful smirk peaking out from beneath his whiskers. He wore the same flannel shirt and ratty cargo shorts he’d always wear around the yard and he smelled like Aqua-Velva, as always, even though it was clear he hadn’t shaved in months.
“I’ve been trying to tell you, son. I’d never abandon you in a time of great need.”
“Time of need?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Pop-Pop sigh and wrinkle his brow.
“The whole Matty Gibson business,” Dad said. “Mom told me all about it.”
“Mom?” I stared at the two nighttime visitors, not sure of what to make of them. The whole thing didn’t make sense. My ancestors rise from the grave and float though my window, and now they want to settle a score with the local bully? And Mom was somehow in on it? It didn’t add up, and I could feel my pulse quicken each time I tried to fight my way back to reality. “But you’re…both of you…you’re—“
“Dead?” Pop Pop said with his eyes burning little circles on Dad’s face. “You want to tell my grandson what you’ve been keeping from him all these years?” Dad did not answer. “Or should I?” Dad did not raise his glare from a patch of burnt-out grass sprouting up through the gravel. “It’s time he knows, Jerry. You can’t shield him for—“
“I kept it from him for his own protection! He wasn’t ready when they called for me, Ernie.” Pop Pop didn’t interject. Instead, he let my father continue to purge all the worry, all the guilt and frustration, from the well he carried upon his broad shoulders. “I couldn’t have him roaming this planet with what we know and without the knowledge of how to control it! You think it’s easy being away from my wife? From my son? Do you think it’s easy to be in charge, Ernie? Because it’s not. This galaxy is a stinking pile of sewage, and I get to deal with it everyday. I get to—“ Dad’s voice suddenly trailed off and his eyes met mine for the first time that evening. “I’m sorry, Ray,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice.”
That’s when he told me all the information I needed for this night, for my entire life up to this point, to finally make sense. It was all quite unbelievable at first, but after being roused from slumber by a series of glowing balls you find yourself willing to lend a persuadable ear.
Dad and Pop-Pop told me about my true existence. That I probably felt a lot like an alien all the time because I actually am one. And not one of those aliens that come from outside of the country, either. I’m a real alien. From another planet. Well, from another star, actually. And that star—well, it happens to be a pretty recognizable one, on this planet at least. I mean, you see it rise above your windowsill every morning, so I guess you know what I mean already.
Pop-Pop asked me, “Have you ever had a feeling there’s someone or something out there who watches over all of us and makes sure everything functions according to plan?”
“You mean, like God?” I asked him.
“Well, kind of. I mean like in charge of everything beyond just this planet.”
“You mean, like space and stuff?”
“Yeah, like space and stuff,” he said. “Well, that’s us.” And that’s basically how he explained it to me. Turns out my people live on the sun. Well, technically, they are the sun. Since we monitor life on every planet in the universe, the elders of our society thought it best if we get to experience life from a terrestrial-based perspective. That means to understand what it’s like to have a body and be a person. Don’t worry, Dad had to explain that one to me, too.
Our elders assign the select few to life on Earth because they know it as a planet where life is consistently difficult and full of decisions, interactions, and emotions—experiences that would shape the way the next generation of young officers would rule the universe, with poise and understanding. They also figure Earth was pretty close by if they ever wanted to visit.
“There’s something else you need to know,” Dad said when the stupefied look finally washed off my face. “It’s a long ways off, and your Mom and I didn’t want to burden you with it but…well, there’s no easy way to put this—“
“You’re next in line,” Pop-Pop finally blurted out.
“What?” I asked, not sure what line I’d been standing on in the first place.
“Next in line for the crown,” Dad said. “You’ll be my successor when the time comes.” I didn’t know how to respond. I mean, what do you say when you find out that you—the same kid who had his hair butchered by a kid whose own hairdo came straight out of a manual for Tibetan monks—were going to be Emperor of the Universe. Literally. That would be the actual title.
“Gibson’s going down,” I finally said, and Dad and Pop-Pop got a big kick out of my response. Then they showed me exactly how I’d get my revenge.
Turns out that, in addition to being the future ruler of all things living and non in the galaxy, I also had a few hidden talents—courtesy of my own curious molecular structure and its peculiar reaction with the Earth’s atmosphere. Apparently, I can control things with my mind. No, seriously. I can skip small stones across a pond without moving any muscle other than my brain. Dad and Pop-Pop showed me how to do it.
“Strain your eyes until your vision goes a little blurry,” Pop-Pop said. Check.
“Now concentrate on the space between your temples and directly behind the eyes.” Check. “Feel that tension?” Check. “Now, just concentrate on what you want to happen and—“ Check. Pop Pop had tossed a pebble across the vacant lot, and I had sent it shooting back over his shoulder like a boomerang coming out of a slingshot.
“What other special powers do I have?” I asked when I felt like I’d mastered the whole mind control thing.
“First of all,” Dad said, “let’s stop referring to your abilities as ‘special powers.’ It’s a little too super-heroish.”
“Yeah,” Pop-Pop confirmed, “and you’re no superhero. Remember that. Your abilities are a huge responsibility. Don’t use them unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Not even against Matty Gibson?” I asked.
“We can make an exception this one time,” Dad said. After we all had a good, devious chuckle, Dad continued. “Use the ability we taught you at tomorrow’s game. The other one is best left for another visit.” I was perfectly satisfied with only the one super power if it meant seeing Dad and Pop-Pop at some point in the near future.
We made our goodbyes, this time only temporary ones, and Dad said, “Next time we’ll give you a little notice. And we’ll meet you here. It’s too risky coming by the house.”
“Why here?” I asked.
“There’s always a reason,” Pop-Pop said.
“Just like there’s always been a reason why this lot has been vacant,” Dad continued. “So long, son.” There was a muffled pop, like the sound a can of peanuts makes when you twist the lid, and Dad and Pop-Pop vanished in a great flash of white light. Two charred marks in the yellow grass were the only bits of evidence they’d ever come to visit at all.