Among all 50 of the United States of America, none are considered to be more bland than South Dakota. To most, it was a few thousand square miles of cornfields with the occasional national monument strewn about, with the main exports being corn, postcards, and dust.
So what, you may ask, is more boring than South Dakota? How about living in South Dakota?
Dullahan. A small town surrounded by an ocean of cornfields and located roughly in the middle of Who-Gives-A-Shit County. As the name implies, it’s dull. A few years ago, it got some news coverage for having the highest divorce rate in the country, but aside from that, Dullahan was quiet, and hazy, and most people liked to stay inside and watch television or go out and shuck corn. Not to sell the corn, or eat the corn,no. Just to have something to fill their meaningless South Dakotan life.
Today however, was a rare period of activity in the town. The three hallowed months of summer had trickled to an end, and now the children were returning to a place somehow even more boring than South Dakota: school.
The town was short on schools, having only two: one for Kindergarten through eighth grades, and one for all the rest. There was a college being built near the west side of town, but for now, two was all they had.
Mel Gibson’s Career Memorial High School, or Gibson High for short, was an example of why you should never let anonymous Internet users vote on and submit names in a contest. Relatively new, the brick and steel building was massive compared to the smaller shops and houses in town. An actual architect was flown in from somewhere exciting to design the place, and it showed. It was flashy, loaded with expensive steel arches and wide windows that lit the school up with natural light. It even had a life size copper statue of Mel Gibson in front, decked in full Mad Max attire.
“How does it feel like to be an upperclassman, Ratio?” asked Charlie. Ratio shrugged. “Aw what, you’ve got nothing to say?”
“I just don’t think much has or is gonna change.” said Ratio plainly, staring at the other side of the road. “It’s just another year at this point.”
Charlie Chang and Horatio “Ratio” Robinson had been good friends since they first met in the school’s tutoring system. Charlie was taller than most, and almost always wore a black hoodie. Ratio was absolutely tiny, looking more like a middle schooler than a guy in his junior year, and had cinnamon colored skin. His thick glasses had green rims, which matched his shirt and shoes. This morning, they had met up to walk to school and compare schedules and were glad to find they had almost every class together. Signing up for all the same things had paid off.
“So, we have Mrs. White as homeroom again this year, right?” asked Charlie, pulling his schedule card out of his pocket and looking it over. Ratio nodded silently, and Charlie could tell something was distracting him.
“What is with you this morning?” Charlie asked. He bent down to Ratio’s level and looked around, trying to find what had Ratio so entranced. He found his answer soon.
She was tall, tan, blonde, and absolutely unobtainable to the two geeks. The pink tank top and white yoga pants she had on were tight, and Ratio’s eyes tracked every movement she made as she excitedly chatted with her friends, walking to school on the opposite sidewalk.
“Ah, I see. Becca Norbeck is violating school dress code again.” said Charlie with a laugh, straightening his back.
“She’s so hot.” said Ratio, managing to scrape his eyes away from her.
“Don’t you tutor her?” asked Charlie. “You’ve got an in, dude. Go for it!” He slapped Ratio’s back.
“Hey guys.” they heard from behind them. They turned around to see their last Musketeer, the third member of their incredibly small friend group.
Some girls, like Becca, had an hourglass figure. Others had a pear figure. Needles Fanning’s figure was best described as a squashed muffin. She was short and dark skinned, with tiny curls of black hair that clung tightly to her head.
“Oh, hey Needles.” said Ratio, who had turned back to Becca.
“What are you two assholes talking about?” asked Needles casually.
“Becca Norbeck.” they both said wistfully.
“I heard she can tie a banana peel with her tongue.” said Charlie.
“I heard she has to get her bras custom made.” said Ratio.
“I heard she can suck toothpaste through a straw.” said Charlie.
“I heard she’s so flexible she can fit in a carry-on bag.” said Ratio.
“Oh yeah?” asked Needles. “Well, I heard she slept with the entire football team, and the entire basketball team, and the entire soccer team, all at once.”
“Wow, seriously?” asked Ratio. “I really need to start doing sports, then.”
Needles groaned. “I don’t see why you guys are so into her. You could probably get gonorrhea just by standing near her too long.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what condoms are for.” Charlie laughed. “Don’t you know that jealousy is a sin, Needles?”
“Yeah, I’m jealous of her.” admitted Needles, who was eyeing Becca up. “Who isn’t? I got some things on her though.”
Charlie burst into laughter and Ratio chuckled a bit. “Like what?” asked Charlie, holding back more laughs. “Pounds?” Needles pouted.
Suddenly, a metallic sound rang out, and then a thud. The three looked over to see Becca on the ground, directly beneath a stop sign.
“Well, I’m not dumb enough to walk into a post, for starters.” said Needles, watching Becca get helped up by her friends.
“Man, is it just me, or is her butt looking cuter than normal today?” asked Charlie, turning to Ratio.
“Oh come on, for the love of God… it’s flatter than a pancake!” Needles cried.
The trio’s conversation continued at a similar tempo as they entered Gibson High and went towards homeroom. It just so happened that Needles was also in Mrs. White’s, and all arrived early enough to choose seats close to one another.
Mrs. White’s homeroom was one of the smaller ones, and since Mrs. White was a math teacher it was loaded with horrible math pun posters. Across the blackboard in chalk was written “Welcome Back,” along with a smiley face. Mrs. White beamed at her students as she passed out forms that parents would need to fill and extra schedule cards for those who had lost theirs.
As Charlie and Ratio chatted about girls and what they had done over the summer, Needles was cataloguing everyone who entered the classroom. If she liked them, she didn’t do anything, but if she hated them and didn’t want them to sit near her, she gave them a mean look until they were freaked out and sat somewhere else.
Eventually, the classroom began to fill up, the only two seats left were the ones on either side of the trio. To Charlie and Ratio’s delight, Becca Norbeck wandered into the classroom.
“Dude, she’s gotta sit next to me now!” said Charlie quietly, nudging Ratio as Becca walked up to the group. She looked around at the available seats, and after a moment of thought plopped down in the empty one adjacent to Needles.
“Hi Needles!” she said cheerily. “How was your summer?” Charlie’s head dropped to his desk.
“Good. How’s your forehead?” replied Needles bluntly, looking Becca straight in the eye.
“Oh, it’s… alright.” she said. “Why are you sneering like that?”
“Allergies.” said Needles, gritting her teeth.
While the two talked, the last person entered the classroom. Lewis Borglum was a well known guy around the school. He was tall, muscular, and had an incredibly outdated mullet that just simply looked bad when his red hair was taken into account. Lewis was the definition of a jock, if the school had a sports team, he was on it. Even the ones that don’t get you laid, like the ping pong squad, the bowling crew, or the curling coalition.
“Oh, hi Lewis!” said Mrs. White cheerily. He winked at her, and she fell back in her seat, swooning.
With nowhere else to go, he sat down next to Charlie. “Hey.” Lewis said coolly. He looked around, catching sight of Ratio. “Oh, hey Robinson, thanks for helping me out with my summer work.”
“Oh, no problem.” said Ratio, wiping the sweat off his neck. The most popular guy in school had said something nice to him!”
“No, seriously man, you’re a lifesaver. Want an invite to the Horror Club? You can bring Chang if you want.” Upon hearing this, both the boys perked up.
The Mel Gibson’s Career Memorial High Horror Club was not your average horror club, in the way that horror movies were in no way discussed there and instead it was just a group of teens who smoked pot in the cornfields after school was over. It was invite only and the most popular people in school all went.
“Oh, you’re going to Horror Club tonight too, cuz?” said Becca.
“Hell yeah.” said Lewis. “How’s Aunt Shirley doing, Beck?”
“Oh, Mom’s doing great! This divorce isn’t getting her as down as the last three did.”
“Hey, uh, sorry to interrupt, but, uh yeah I’d be cool with going to Horror Club.” said Ratio. “There’s a meeting tonight, right?”
“Yeah, I can drive you. Chang, you in?”
“Oh yeah, sounds great. Can we bring Needles, too?” asked Charlie.
“Your girlfriend?” asked Lewis. “Yeah, we’ll need 20 bucks and… you won't mind other guys banging her, right?”
“Ew, she’s not my girlfriend.” said Charlie. “Bang her all you want, man.”
“Hey!” Needles shouted from across the class.
Mars. The Red Planet. For ages, this dot in the sky was a mystery to humans, but ingenuity and inventions allowed them to scan its surface and bring light to the dark unknown.
But they could only see the surface. No human, not even the most brilliant mind could predict what lied beneath the surface.
Under the vast expanses red rock was a massive system of caves, supported by crude structures of iron and lit by sparsely placed bright blue fluorescent lights. Seven creatures dwelled in these caves. They were what was left of the mighty Slym Empire.
If you asked your average galactic citizen their opinion on the Slym, it’d be roughly the same response you’d get by asking a Jew their opinion on Hitler. The Slym’s rule lasted for a hundred years, and it was brutal. Entire races were subjugated, solar systems were demolished, and taxes were raised. To put it lightly, it sucked.
As with all regimes, they were eventually toppled. Slyms faced heavy casualties, probably because most members of the race were beaten to death as soon as another sentient organism saw them. Eventually their population was whittled down to the double digits by repeated attacks on their ships and a notable strike on their home planet that left the entire place an irradiated wasteland. With no chance left at survival, the remaining Slym were brought to the new Universal Federation’s decision-making council.
Surprisingly, they were shown mercy. It was decided a Slym simply could not live with other sentient beings. The last members of their race were exiled to a quiet solar system surrounded by quiet solar systems. It was like an deserted island in the middle of an open ocean. That planet, as you might’ve guessed, was Mars.
Slym’s have many things in common with humans - legs, arms, hair, a head with eyes, ears, and a mouth. In fact, if it weren't for the pale green skin, empty black eyes, and the six long tentacles protruding from their backs, a Slym could be mistaken for a human. A particularly ugly human, but a human nonetheless.
The throne room was crafted out of rock and iron, and six of the seven were there. Some sitting, some standing. But all were quiet. Slyms were never ones for conversation unless it was necessary. However, the silence was broken as the seventh rushed in.
“Sire! Sire!” he shouted. Tall and lanky, he was the youngest of the group.
The one on the throne stood up. He was imposing, bulky decked in traditional Slym armor. “What is it, Xeor?”
“Emperor Towrek.” he said, bowing. “Come with me. You’re going to want to see this.”
Towrek glanced around at his subjects, before returning his eyes to the young one. “Very well. I shall follow you, Xeor. Anyone else?”
Silence filled the room again. Wordlessly, Xeor and Towrek exited the throne room, quickly ascending a ladder to the surface.
“I had traveled to the boneyard, to pay respect to my father. But when I had gotten there…” explained Xeor as the two walked, voice distorted by the localized atmosphere system that allowed him to breathe on the alien world. “That… thing rolled up.”
Xeor pointed a bony finger at a strange robot that kind of looked like a spider. Six legs extruded from a body, each ending in a wheel. It slowly scooted around, observing its surroundings with a camera.
Towrek grinned, for he knew what Xeor didn’t. “Go back to the others, Xeor. Tell them to prepare the teleporter.” The young Slym nodded and made his way back to the entryway to the caves. When he was sure Xeor was gone, he cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together. It was monologue time.
“So the humans have progressed this far? They are ripe for the picking! Our teleporter may not be able to bring us outside of this system, but with Earth’s technology and resources, I will form a fleet that will end our exile and return the Slym to their rightful place as rulers of all that is known!”
The emperor belted out a hearty laugh. Oh, how long had he waited for another chance to do an evil monologue. With that, he stormed over to the machine. He looked at it from all angles, making sure to avoid the camera, and with little effort plunged his hands through the metal of the rover. He flicked his wrists, sending shards of metal and torn bits of wires everywhere. The rover was reduced to a scrap heap, and the legs fell to the ground of the boneyard in pieces
“Emperor!” he heard a voice call to him. It was Xeor, peeking his head out from the entryway to the caverns. “The teleporter’s all ready to go!”
“Excellent.” said Towrek venomously.
“I can’t believe how much we lucked out!” said Charlie, pulling off his shirt. “Gym class last period, and with Becca to boot!”
The boy’s changing room was crowded and loud. Everyone was getting ready to go home. Charlie and Ratio hung together while they got changed out of their uniforms, talking about how their days had gone. Both were surprised when a shirtless Lewis wandered over. A cigarette poked out of the side of his mouth.
“Hey.” he said. “Either of you two have a light?”
Charlie pulled out his Zippo and tossed it towards Lewis, who casually caught it. After he had lit his cigarette and taken a puff, he passed it back to Charlie.
“Hey, no prob. I’m just prepared for Horror Club tonight!”
At the mention of Horror Club, several boys cheered and some who weren’t cool enough or had the connections to be invited groaned. Lewis smirked, walking away from the duo.
Ratio grinned. “Man, everything is going our way today, huh?”
Meanwhile, Needles was getting ready to leave as well. Just like the boys, she had gym class last period, and was allowed to leave school out of the locker room back doors usually used by the sports teams. She had forgotten her uniform, and had to raid the lost and found for one to use for the day. But of course, it was ill fitting. It also smelled vaguely of mango, which confused and irritated her. She was glad to take it off.
“Oh, hey Needles!”
She looked up to see Becca coming her way. Internally she groaned.
“Hi.” she said curtly.
Becca put her schoolbag down on the ground near the bench Needles was sitting on and began to rustle through it.
“So I’ve got a weird question, Needles.” Becca pulled out her clothes.
“What's it like having… you know, having two dads?” she asked, trying to make her voice as gentle as possible.
Needles snorted. “I’m sorry, what number stepdad are you on right now?”
Becca laughed. “I mean, two dads at the same time.”
“It’s just… normal? I don’t know.” said Needles. She stared at the ground, scraping her brain for an answer, but she just kept coming up blank.
“Do you call them different things?” asked Becca.
“Nope, they’re just both... Dad.” said Needles. “It can get confusing sometimes.” She heard Becca giggle at what she had said.
“Hey,” the more popular of the two looked around, as if she was scared someone would hear what she was about to say next. “You didn’t look very comfortable during class, you okay?”
Needles looked around, before realizing what she was on about. “Oh, yeah it’s just my uniform. It doesn’t fit, I had to get it from the lost and found.”
“I still have my old uniform, the one from last year. “ Becca said with a smile. “It’s in my locker. Want to borrow that one?”
Needles looked down at herself, then at Becca. “Yeah that… definitely isn’t going to fit. I’m good, thanks.”
“Alright then!” said Becca, just as the bell rang. “Oh, you’re going to Horror Club, right?” Needles nodded. “You can drive with me and my cousin, if you’d like.”
“Sounds good.” said Needles, shrugging. The two headed out the door with the flood of other students. An old van drove up close to the two and the door slid open.
“Hey you guys, hop in!” said Charlie. Peeking his head out too was Ratio. Becca climbed in the front seat as Needles went in the back, which didn’t have any seats, just a mattress.
“Sorry, cheap piece of crap, I know.” said Lewis. “I usually use this thing to lug around my drum set.”
“Why is there a wet spot on this mattress?” asked Needles, trying to find a good spot to sit.
“Ask Mrs. White.” said Lewis, taking a drag on his cigarette before tossing it out the window. With that, he stepped on the gas. The crew sped out of the school parking lot and towards the cornfields.
While they were on a ridge, Becca looked out her window. She could see everything from here, the buildings at the edge of town and the sea of cornfields that surrounded it. But something seemed to be… calling out to her.
“Cuz, stop the car.”
Quickly, Lewis hit the breaks. “What is it, Beck?”
Becca popped open the passenger door and hopped out onto the road. The rest of the crew soon followed. Becca was standing dangerously close to the edge of the ridge.
“Beck, what is it?” asked her cousin, who put a hand on her shoulder.
“Look down there.” she said in a trance. The group all looked in unison, and couldn’t believe what they saw.
Carved into one of the many cornfields was a series of circular patterns. Lines stuck out in odd places and a single line connected all the circles, bending around to go through the centers.
“It’s a crop circle!” shouted Ratio, adjusting his glasses.
“There’s a path over there.” said Lewis, pointing. “Let’s head down and check it out.”
“Whoa, what about Horror Club?” said Charlie, backing up.
“You’d really pick getting high over checking out some kind of weird alien thing?” asked Needles.
“Yes, actually.” Charlie crossed his arms when he saw everyone staring at him. “I have a shot at getting my dick wet there, how can you frickin’ blame me?”
Lewis and Becca had already started down the path. “Are you coming or not, Charlie?” asked Needles.
Charlie thought about it for a minute, before groaning. “Fine. But if we do get abducted by aliens or some shit, I call dibs on saving Becca.” he said, pulling aside Ratio.
“Whatever.” said Ratio as they began to follow the two cousins. “Aliens definitely exist, but there’s no way they did this. There have been dozens of cases about cornfields, and all of them have been hoaxes.”
“My dibs still stand.” said Charlie.
It was a long walk, but eventually the teens made it to the crop circle. They meandered around it for a while, somewhat aimlessly. Needles and Becca had wandered off together and were observing a pile of corn and cornstalks.
“Something doesn’t seem right here.” said Becca, staring at it.
“So…” yawned Charlie. “Still got that weed, Lewis?”
“Yeah. Still got that lighter, Chang?” replied Lewis.
Suddenly, an idea popped into Needles’ head. “Charlie, toss me that lighter, will you?” She caught it and after flicking it on, tossed it at the pile. A fire roared to life, causing Becca and Needles to step back.
“What the hell?” shouted Lewis, who ran over and stamped it out quickly. “What, are you trying to turn this whole field into popcorn?”
Needles kneeled down, running a hand over the ground. Beneath all the corn, all the stalks, a hole had been burnt into the ground. She brushed aside some of the still smoking plant matter and a layer of dirt to find some kind of sheet below, pinned to the ground.
“It’s a tarp!” shouted Ratio. “Quick, help me pull it up.”
With Needles and Lewis’ help, Ratio dragged the tarp away from what it was hiding. A wide metal panel was built into the ground.
“It’s a metal panel!” shouted Ratio.
“Stop shouting the obvious, dickweed.” said Charlie. He walked over and kicked open the panel, revealing a set of rungs that lead down a pipe. Eventually the rungs vanished into darkness, no clear end to the ladder in sight.
“Looks like a ladder.” said Ratio.
“What did I just say?” said Charlie. Standing straight up, his voice took on a more authoritative tone. “Alright guys, this is how we should do this: Lewis, you climb down first. Then Needles, then Ratio, then me, and then Becca.”
“Why?” asked Lewis.
“He’s trying to perv out on your cous-” Needles was interrupted by Charlie, who clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Well, you and Needles are the strongest, so if there’s aliens down there, you can kick their asses, right? And if that fails, you have me and Ratio coming in hot with our weapons-grade diplomatic tactics! And then there’s Becca, who is precious and must be protected at all costs.”
"Alright, alright..." Lewis began to climb down. "Just quit blabbering." the pipe made
Soon, the rest of the group would follow.