Authors: Nate Ball
he answer is still no,” Zack said, stuffing a pair of jeans into the canvas bag that usually held his baseball gear.
“Just think about it,” Amp said from atop a pair of rolled-up wool socks that sat on Zack's desk.
“What part of âno' are you not getting?” Zack asked. “The
part? It's really a pretty simple word.”
Amp stared off into space dreamily. “I've always wanted to go camping,” he sighed.
“What?” Zack said, fixing his eyes on his tiny alien roommate. “Yesterday you had never even heard of camping! Now, suddenly, it's your lifelong goal? Give me a break, Short Pants.”
“We Erdians are fast learners,” Amp said with a proud shrug of his little blue shoulders. He folded
his arms behind his head and nestled deeper into the sock. “Besides, what an adventure! The chance to battle the elements, the opportunity to encounter wild animals, the daily struggle to find food? Who would pass that up?”
“I already told you, we don't struggle to find food.” Zack groaned, pulling a fistful of underwear from an open drawer and tossing it into his bag. “We bring about five hundred pounds of food with us. We're not exactly hunting down beavers with bows and arrows.”
Amp sat up and grabbed his antennas with excitement. “And to sleep on the ground in that little cloth house held up by sticks.”
“You mean a tent,” Zack said flatly.
“Yes!” Amp said, snapping his fingers. “A tent! I want to sleep in a tent.”
“Forget it,” Zack said, sitting on the corner of his unmade bed and holding his head in his hands. “Quit bugging me about this, okay? You know my family can never know you're here. They'd freak out if they ever saw you. Call the park ranger. Call the cops. Call the government. Not to mention you've still got a little alien invasion to stop. Remember the whole reason you came to this planet in the first place? You don't want the Erdian Army to arrive only to find their lead scout napping in the woods.”
“Come on, a camping trip might be just the thing I need to get the creative juices flowing again.”
“It's too risky. If anyone else sees you, they'll take you away and dissect you like a frog.”
“But look at the size of me,” Amp said, standing up and doing a sort of jumping-jack motion. “I'm so little, they'd never see me. Plus, you know how good I am at staying out of sight.”
Zack looked over at Amp and shook his head at his friend's energy.
His family had gone on an annual camping trip for the last three years, and each year had been a disaster. The McGee family just wasn't the outdoorsy type. But every year Zack's dad insisted they go. And every year, a perfectly good three-day weekend was ruined.
Amp fell onto his belly and pressed his face into the fluffy socks. “I promise if you take me with you to the Crooked Forest,” his muffled voice
begged, “you'll never know I was even there. I'll be like a ninja.”
“It's not called the Crooked Forest,” Zack said, rolling his eyes. “It's called Twisted Grove State Park.”
“Yes! That's it. I want to see the ghost, too,” Amp said, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. “I've never seen a ghost.”
“There's no ghost,” Zack sighed. “That's just a story people made up.”
“You told me the outlaw Nasty Ned hid his stolen gold in that forest over a hundred years ago, but could never find the spot where he buried it. Now his ghost wanders through the trees at night trying to find it.”
“I was just reading you that stuff from the back of the park's map,” Zack explained.
Amp sat up. “The anger from Nasty Ned's ghost made all those trees crooked. That's just so exciting.”
“But it's not true! It's just something they wrote to make the campgrounds sound mysterious to tourists. It's just a bunch of trees that got bent out of shape. It's no big deal.”
“Watch this,” Amp said, and he disappeared from sight. “See, nobody will see me,” his voice explained. “I'll be invisible. Now let's go hug some trees and see ghosts in the Crooked Forest!”
Zack pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.
He knew all too well about the Erdian mind trick that enabled Amp to stop your brain from seeing him. The way Amp explained it, he could make your brain forget you were seeing him at the same instant you were seeing him. Zack had trained himself to block the mind trick when he
wanted to, but now he just stared at the empty space above the sock.
“Forget it,” Zack said, yanking the sock off the desk and stuffing it in his bag. He heard Amp give an invisible cry and then appear just as he crashed onto the desk.
“Ouch!” Amp cried. “That was incredibly rude.”
“See, you can't always be invisible,” Zack said with a chuckle, zipping up his bag and heading toward the door. “Under the bed are enough Ritz Crackers and SweeTarts to last you a month. I'll be back late on Monday night, okay? Are we good?”
“But I'll be so bored,” Amp whined, rubbing the back of his head.
“Just stay in here and out of trouble,” Zack said and closed his door.
Alone in the hallway, Zack pressed on the door to make sure it was securely shut, sighed, shook his head, and headed downstairs.
There was one more thing he had to do before leaving.