Surrounded! [Alien Kids, #4]

The two friends stood frozen to the spot, their backs to the rest of the forest. The needle dog stepped onto a fallen blue log at the forest’s edge and lifted its two front paws. Its long, curving claws cut into the tree trunk. The dark fur along its neck stood up, making it seem even bigger. Then it growled again.

“Should we run?” Katie muttered through clenched teeth.

“No. Yes,” Francisco replied. “What if we…?”

He stopped because two more needle dogs appeared alongside the first one. They snarled at the two kids and drool hung from their open jaws.

“The alarm!” Katie whispered. “Press the alarm on your suit.”

“The distress signal?” Francisco whispered back. “No one will hear it, we’re too far from the colony.”

“They will,” she replied, her eyebrows raising as she stared at the growling beasts.

She tapped a red dot on the chest of her suit and immediately a loud, piercing siren filled the air. The three needle dogs snarled and began to whine.

“They don’t like it!” Katie said breathlessly. “Hit yours.”

Francisco touched his own emergency button, and a second siren joined the first. The high-pitched tones rose and fell. The three needle dogs yelped in pain, turned, and ran off along the edge of the forest. But they didn’t go far.

“It worked!” Francisco shouted over the wailing sound. “Good thinking! Now, let’s get out of here.”

“But where?” Katie asked. “Look!”

Three more needle dogs had appeared from another direction. Like the first three, they kept their distance. The siren clearly bothered them.

Francisco looked around. Their pet artetas, Spot and Rosie, had taken off again and were fluttering back and forth in the forest.

“Look, there’s a trail,” he said, pointing between two tall, blue trees.

Katie peered through the darkness under the branches. “Are you sure?” she cried, over the wailing of the sirens. “Maybe we should…”

Just then all six of the needle dogs stepped forward, though they still yelped and whined in pain from the noise.

“The sound isn’t going to hold them back forever,” Francisco said. “Come on. We just have to lose them, then we can make our way back home.”

They turned and ran into the forest, glancing over their shoulders as often as they could. It really wasn’t much of a trail, just a narrow, worn-out track that wound among the blue and purple trees and bushes. The sun, which had been so dangerously bright during the day, was quickly going down. Under the trees it was already dark. They turned on the lights built into their all-weather suits, and stumbled along, tripping over roots and stones.

“Which way is this going?” Katie asked, still shouting over the siren noises.

“Away from the dogs,” Francisco said, reaching up and turning off his distress signal. “Better turn yours off, too, to save the batteries. We can turn them back on if they get too close.”

“What do you mean, if?” Katie looked over her shoulder as she turned her signal off. In the fading light, she was sure she saw the gleam of tiny white teeth. She hurried along, bumping into Francisco.

“I think they’re right behind us,” she whispered.

“I know, just keep going. Maybe they’ll give up.”

Katie shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Francisco told her. “We should never have gone outside the fence. It was stupid. But now we’re here and I don’t know what else to do. We just have to stay calm. You figured out how to use the distress signal. We’ll just have to figure out the next thing to do.”

Katie gave him a funny look. “That sounds like something my dad would say.”

Francisco looked embarrassed. “It’s what my mom always says to me.”

They kept walking deeper into the trees, certain the needle dogs were following. The whole time, Spot and Rosie fluttered along just ahead of them, gaily flying among the trees. As the light grew even dimmer, the colorful patterns on their wings began to glow in the dark. Many of the leaves and flowers also glowed with an eerie light.

“This is definitely a path,” Francisco said as they struggled along. “Look how it’s beaten down.”

“But who made it?” Katie asked. “It’s so narrow. And I know it’s going in the wrong direction from the colony.”

“Have any signal on your map?”

“No. What about you?”

He shook his head and the lights on his suit moved back and forth across the tree trunks.

“Where to now?” Katie asked.

“Any place that gets us away from the needle dogs,” Francisco replied. “Are they still on our trail?”

The two friends held still for a few moments, listening closely. But then, they heard the snap of a few twigs, and there was a gleam of white teeth, flashing not too far away.

“There they are!” Katie exclaimed with fear in her voice. She hit her emergency signal again and the piercing wail filled the night air. The dogs screeched and scampered away.

“Let’s run!” Francisco shouted.

They took off, following the narrow trail, which rose slightly as they ran along. The trail continued to rise, and then suddenly they were out of the trees, in a clearing. The lights from their suits bounced off a tall rock face that blocked their path.

“Oh, great!” Francisco yelled. “It’s a dead end.”

Katie aimed one of her lights at the tall rock. “Look at Rosie and Spot,” she said.

The two artetas were flying straight at the stone wall. In the darkness, it looked like they were going to crash into it. Then they disappeared.

“What happened?” Francisco cried. “Where’d they go?”

He also turned his light on the wall, and they could see the answer. Just a little way up the rock face, there was a large hole, a cave. Their pets had flown inside.

“No!” Katie yelled, “I’m not going in there.”

“It might be our only choice,” Francisco responded quickly. “We’re surrounded.”

He was right. More than a dozen needle dogs had appeared, slinking out from behind the trees around the clearing. They barked and howled and tried to edge closer, in spite of the loud distress signal.

Francisco looked at Katie. “I don’t want to, either, but I think we’d better.” He held out his hand. “Come on,” he said, trying to sound brave. “Maybe needle dogs can’t climb.”

Katie hesitated, then took his hand. “Okay,” she said. Together, they pulled and tugged each other up the slope until they stood in the cave entrance. The needle dogs followed, keeping their distance.

“I think we need to make it harder for those dogs to get in here,” Francisco said. “See those big rocks behind us? Help me pile them up. Maybe that will keep them from coming in. At the very least, it will slow them down.”

“Okay,” Katie responded, “but it’s so dark back there. I know it will run down our power, but we need more light.” Over the sound of her signal, she called out, “Lantern.” Immediately, her suit began to glow, until it lit up the open space. Francisco did the same.

They saw that they were standing in an entrance to a large cavern, a deep hollow in the solid gray and blue rock. With Katie’s siren still screeching through the space, they spent some time pushing big boulders to the entrance. The needle dogs sat below, watching.

The siren was growing too loud to bear, magnified as it bounced off the rock walls. Francisco had to cover his ears with his hands. Katie shook her head and turned off her distress signal.

Suddenly, the cavern was silent. With their ears still ringing, Katie and Francisco turned to explore the cave. Its floor was flat and led further into the hillside. Then they noticed something really odd—the rock walls on either side were covered with round holes from floor to ceiling.

The two friends gazed in awe at the strange rows of holes. Some were open and some were covered with a thick, blue webbing.

Francisco let out a soft whistle. “Wow, this is wild.”

“It looks like a honeycomb,” Katie muttered. “Like a giant beehive.”

“I think you might be right,” Francisco told her, pointing: “Look at that.”

High up on the wall, Spot had landed in one of the openings. The arteta looked down at them and then folded its wings, turned and crawled inside. Not far away, Rosie sat in a second hole. She also disappeared inside.

“What’s happening?” Katie asked. “Why did both artetas come here, and why did they both disappear?”

“Maybe they hide here? Or die here? Or… I don’t know,” Francisco said. “I bet the other holes have artetas in them, too. It’s so weird!”

“Rosie, come back!” Katie hollered.

“Shhh, shhh,” Francisco quieted her, staring back toward the cavern entrance. “Look who’s here.”

With no siren to stop them, the needle dogs had scrambled up to the cavern entrance. Francisco reached to start his siren, but Katie stopped him.

“Hold on!” she told him. “Look: they’re not moving, they’re just sitting. They’re waiting.”

Francisco looked. He saw that needle dogs weren’t growling; they were making a purring sound, wagging their tails, and watching something. He turned to see what they were looking at—and ended up staring at the rows of openings in the cave wall.

“Look at that one,” he said to Katie. “The webbing or whatever it is, is moving. There’s something alive in there.”

“And that one, too,” Katie replied.

“I know why the needle dogs are waiting here,” Francisco told her. ”It’s the artetas! The needle dogs and the artetas…”

Before he could finish his sentence, he was tossed to the ground. The cavern started to shake and vibrate and Katie almost fell down, too. The needle dogs disappeared, running away, as Francisco pushed himself back onto his feet. The shaking grew more violent, and they heard a rumbling noise like the sound of falling rocks.

“It’s an earthquake!” Katie shouted. “Let’s get out of here!”

They turned to run, but Francisco’s foot caught in a hole in the cavern floor, and he fell again, hard, onto the rock.

“Get up!” Katie shouted. Stones began tumbling from the ceiling.

Francisco looked up from the ground, panicking, and shouted, “It’s going to collapse!”

Ed. : The tale ends with Part 5, “Big Changes.”