Alien Love Story
Love at first sighting.
Life is a headache fo
Someone shoved a pencil into Dan’s left nostril. It was big. One of those oversized souvenirs you find in museum gift shops. And it started twisting, as if Dan’s skull were a giant sharpener.
Impossibly, the tip grew.
Lead pierced Dan’s brain. Synapses were severed. Neurons were neutralised. Grey matter was shoved aside as if it didn’t matter after all.
Like Pinocchio’s nose, the lead of the pencil continued to extend. It pushed through bone and scalp. It poked out on the other side.
That’s when Dan shut his laptop.
How was he supposed to watch Hot Nurse Party with this pain?
Some days it felt like a pencil jabbing into him. Other days it was the screwdriver. The worst was the woodpecker. Just thinking about the woodpecker dialled his migraine up a notch.
In the book he kept beside his bed Dan made a note:
5:17pm – 6/10 – PAIN STARTED WHILE DOING BIOLOGY HOMEWORK
Doctors had dug in his ears, sampled his blood, beamed lights into his eyes and subjected him to MRI and CAT scans. If it existed they would have set a DOG on him too.
The only explanation they could come up with was that he was over-sensitive. In other words, the pain in his head was all in his head.
The diary had been his therapist’s idea.
‘There’s an explanation for everything,’ Doctor Maudlin had told him in her office one day, before handing over his new notebook.
The cover was a radioactive shade of green. Words like WOW, GREAT and FANTASTIC popped out all over the place. Just looking at it gave Dan a headache.
Now the book was half full (though in his current mood it felt half empty). And he was no closer to controlling anything. The pain came and went when it wanted. Like a cat. And Dan was more of a dog person.
Holding his forehead, Dan wobbled to his feet. He was 15 years old and felt like a retired boxer. If this was the prime of his life, how would he cope later on?
With his skinny frame and baby face he had yet to be offered anything stronger than cough mixture, but he could imagine how nice it would be to let go. Just kick back and allow whatever he had taken to swim through his system, dulling the pain. From his head to his heart, all his aches would be gone.
Sure, drugs were bad. But they couldn’t be worse than migraines.
The stairs blurred in and out of focus as he staggered down them. What he needed was love. And he knew just who to turn to.
‘Finished your homework?’ Nana said when he reached the kitchen.
‘Never mind.’ His grandmother closed Telly Mag, which she studied religiously despite never actually watching TV. ‘Rain must be on the way.’
That was Nana’s answer to everything. Headaches, muscle stiffness, colds and possibly even broken legs: rain was coming.
Dan nodded, though he knew the world wasn’t that simple. He just didn’t want to argue. Especially not when she was making macaroni and cheese. Just the smell of it made him feel better.
It was what she had made on that first day, three months ago. He hated thinking about the time before, but that day was special.
He had stepped off the train with only his suitcase and a headache and she had immediately dragged him across to the Life Science Centre. As if he were still a kid.
In that forest of dinosaur bones, DNA strands, magnets and mirrors they lost themselves. Afterwards Nana bought him a chocolate ice-cream – which made his headache worse, but was a nice gesture. In his new home, he was shown to his room. As promised at the funeral, the whole top floor had been cleared just for him.
Nana took such good care of him that Dan sometimes felt guilty for getting migraines.
‘Maybe,’ he said, ‘I just need some fresh air.’
‘In this weather?’ Nana frowned at the kitchen window.
It was so sunny that Dan had to screw up his eyes. ‘Nana, if it rains I’ll come straight in.’
‘Yes, don’t get caught.’ She continued to look at the sky as if at any moment it might burst open and start pouring. But the only thing that looked like a cloud was her hair.
Behind Nana’s house was a narrow lane punctuated by wheelie bins. The backs of houses and shops flew by as Dan rolled along. Other than the weekly rubbish truck, no cars came here – which made it perfect for skateboarding.
Dan tapped his back foot and the board popped up. For a second he was weightless. Already he felt better. Not 100%. But better. He was glad he had come outside. If Nana had her way with him, he would be wrapped in cotton wool and packed in the cupboard along with her Royal Family dinner plates. Still, it was good to know that someone was there for him. He wondered briefly what would happen if she were gone, but quickly stopped himself.
The past and future were off limits.
Dan tried a kickflip and landed feet-on-bolts to thunderous applause from an imaginary crowd.
Then he made a mistake. He wished Kyle had seen that.
Kyle was younger by eighteen months, but better than Dan at everything: skateboarding, football, chess, maths, spitting, pull-ups, push-ups and that game where you stamp on the other person’s feet. The little bugger even had a girlfriend.
Now he was gone.
Dan tried to derail his train of thought, but it was too late. His head began to throb, reminding him of that day. The Worst Day Ever.
Barely able to focus, he stamped his right foot and flicked out his left heel. It was a trick he barely knew how to do. And the board spun. And spun. Practically going into orbit. Dan’s feet connected with the edge of the deck as it clanked down sideways, in the dreaded position known as primo.
Flapping his hands, Dan did his best to balance. But gravity was quick to remind him who the law was around these parts.
The back of his head hammered against the tarmac. His ears rang. His ankle hurt. He was sure his left elbow was grazed.
All this was nothing unusual. But today he didn’t feel like getting up.
Today he was just going to lie there.
Dan spread out on tarmac that had been warmed by the June sunlight. He stared at the sky, which was still cloudless. Instead of trying to fight his memories, he let them in.
His first headache had been on the morning of that terrible day.
The four of them – him, Dad, Mum and Kyle – had planned to drive to Porthcawl so that he and Kyle could hire longboards and wetsuits and try some winter surfing. Really, it was just an excuse for Dad to use the camera he had got for Christmas.
But when Dan woke up he didn’t feel right. In fact, he felt as if he had been run over by a truck.
Mum took his temperature, stared into his eyes and checked his pulse. Her verdict was that you couldn’t be too careful with things like this. So instead of going to the beach, they hit the hospital.
Dan was put under observation with suspected meningitis and his brother was left fuming over his lost chance to tame the wild waves of Wales.
Kyle’s last words to Dan had been, ‘I hate you, dickface.’
His family had sat in the ward until the end of visiting hours and then waved goodbye. Dan had settled in for his evening on the NHS. And that was it.
A lorry, carrying bathroom fittings and steel bedframes, smashed into Mum’s Toyota on the A4174. Four people, including the lorry driver, were smeared like peanut butter across the motorway. Dan was told the news just after a hospital feast of pumpkin soup, chicken á la King and jelly – three things he would never be able to eat again.
Various relatives and family friends came to pack up and sell off everything. The only problem was what to do with the sulky teenage son who had survived. And so Dan was shipped from Bristol to Newcastle, where the only person he knew was 73-year-old Moira Glenn, aka Nana.
At school he quickly settled into his role as the mysterious silent kid you see in American movies. Only here in the North of England mysterious and silent equalled creepy. He wasn’t much of a footballer, which meant he had nothing to talk to anyone about, and his headaches saw him missing so many classes that even the teachers didn’t know his name.
Oh, and now today’s headache was turning into the woodpecker.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
With a groan, Dan sat up. Still not quite ready to face the world standing, he dragged himself over to the shade between two wheelie bins.
From here he could see the back of Lunch Munch, the sandwich shop up the road from Nana’s. It reminded him that he had to go home for supper. Nana was probably worried about him already, her finger trembling over the phone, poised to dial 999.
But Dan was still in the mood to mope.
He sat there – fate made him sit there, he would later think – until a figure stalked into his frame of vision.
It was a guy in a hooded top and pair of jeans so dirty that he was either homeless or a skateboarder.
Dan watched as he grabbed the handle of the green wheelie bin behind the sandwich shop.
Something about the guy didn’t seem right. It wasn’t just the hood pulled over his head despite the heat. His proportions were all wrong, his arms and legs too long for his body.
The guy lifted the lid of the bin and leaned inside.
Imagining the stench in there, Dan wanted to be sick. He also wanted to ensure that the kinds of people who ferretted around in rubbish bins stayed away from Nana’s house.
‘Excuse me,’ Dan said.
Waist-deep in the bin, the guy couldn’t hear.
Realising that he was being too polite, Dan scrambled to his feet and shouted, ‘Hey!’
The guy flopped out like an oversized baby being born from the bin.
‘I’m really sorry,’ Dan said, feeling a sudden pang of sympathy for someone down on his luck, ‘but you shouldn’t do that.’
His head lowered in shame, the guy began creeping away.
‘I mean, I can bring you a fresh sandwich,’ Dan offered. ‘Or my grandmother’s making mac and cheese. It’s really nice. She does it with bits of bacon. My name’s Dan, by the way.’
The guy stopped and turned. Beneath the hood he was wearing a pink beanie hat, which was crazy considering the heat. But the beanie wasn’t what made Dan gasp.
It wasn’t the eyes either. And they were huge: a pair of flickering disks that looked like the lenses of designer sunglasses.
What made Dan gasp was that this wasn’t a guy at all. Judging from the tiny nose, perfectly-curved cheekbones and pouting mouth, this was something else entirely.
‘You’re a girl,’ Dan blurted out.
The girl pulled the hood tighter over