Welcome back on this wonderful Wednesday, Arrowheads! Boy do I have a special treat for y’all today! 😀 During the course of planning Speak Your Mind‘s release this month, I sat down and wrote the backstory for Zeebot, one of the novel’s zany characters. If you missed Zeeb’s character interview on Monday, he is a kid at the middle school who thinks he’s an alien. This is the story of how he became Zeebot!
The wind was unusually crisp in the small rural town of Grahamwood, a result of the cold front brushing eastern North Carolina. Little Joey Troup pulled his lime green windbreaker tighter around his small frame, bracing the chilly breeze as his grandma escorted him to the next house.
“Grandma, why do I have to wear this dumb jacket? No one can see my costume!” Joey whined beneath his Darth Vader mask.
“Sonny, if I got to tell ya one more time!” Grandma said, zipping up his jacket. “You’ll be sick as a dog out here in the arctic. Now remember, say ‘Trick or Treat’!” She knocked on the door of one of the other well-to-do houses in their neighborhood. Joey’s father worked as a psychologist, though he came from a family of old southern money, to which Joey’s grandma paid more mind to than Joey half the time.
“Why hello there, Nova! I hardly recognized you without your red hat.” Mrs. Lenoir winked. She and Grandma Nova were in the local Red Hat Society branch together and enjoyed meeting for bridge club every Wednesday.
“Yes ma’am! I thought I’d let my grandson do all the dressing up tonight. What do you say, Joey?”
“Trick or treat!” Joey peeked around his grandma, eyeing the big bowl of candy Mrs. Lenoir held. He liked trick-or-treating in his neighborhood because he often scored full-size chocolate bars.
“Wow! Don’t we have a scary little feller here?” Mrs. Lenoir gaped, bending down to get a better look at him. She placed three candy bars in the pumpkin he held. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith!” Joey cried, thrusting out his glowing red lightsaber.
Mrs. Lenoir startled back, hand flying to her heart. “Oh, goodness me!” To Grandma Nova, she cupped her hand around her mouth and half-whispered, “Who is Dark Tater?”
Grandma Nova shrugged. “Beats me. Someone off all those space movies he watches. So, did you hear about Cordelia’s hip replacement?”
Joey sighed, turning his pumpkin back and forth in his hands. Grandma Nova never seemed to care about Star Wars as much as he did. Plus, all of Grandma’s friends were old and boring. They never knew anything about Star Wars or space either.
Growing bored of the hip replacement gossip, Joey ventured off to the next house alone, opting to tie his jacket around his waist. The closest house to Mrs. Lenoir’s was a little way past the neighborhood pool, so Joey wielded his lightsaber in case he crossed Brutus, the mean bulldog that liked to chase him around.
As Joey approached the pool, he walked by a group of teenage boys, the kind the other kids in the neighborhood knew to avoid. But then again, being an only child and preferring learning about space to socializing, Joey didn’t know any better.
“Hey, ain’t he the weird kid who zooms around school wearing the Buzz Lightyear bookbag?” The tallest one named Alex asked the other two boys.
“Yeah, I think so.” His friend Mikey laughed, watching Joey’s cape fly out behind him as he ran past.
“You want to have some fun?” Alex smirked, heading toward Joey. He was the meanest kid in Grahamwood. Having been held back in the eighth grade twice, he was much older than the other kids at Grahamwood Elementary/Junior High and used it to his advantage. His most notable pastime was stealing snacks from younger kids. He had the belly to prove it.
“Oh man, what’re you planning?” The third one, Rico, grinned through his braces.
“Same old, same old. Stealing candy from nerds. But, with a twist.” Alex glanced over his shoulder as he stopped about a foot behind Joey. “Hey kid! Nice Darth Vader costume!”
Joey stopped in his tracks, beaming as he turned around. Finally, someone appreciated his costume!
“Thank you!” he chirped into the night.
“No prob, little man. You know, you’ve got the makings for a great astronaut! I’m in charge of the town’s spaceman program, and I have a test I’d like you to take to get you in it.”
Oh boy! Joey thought, I could get to be a real-life astronaut! At only seven years old, he was just naïve enough to fall for Alex’s lies. Joey stepped forward.
“Awesome!” Alex chuckled to himself. “Just follow me!” Alex led Joey and the boys to the chain-link fence surrounding the pool. He unlatched the lock on the squeaky gate, proceeded past the pool, and stopped when he reached the dumpster behind the pool shed.
“Alright,” Alex said, reaching under a mat outside the shed door and pulling out a spare key. “Mikey and Rico will go into the shed to get the test kit. I’ve got to get your blindfold ready. Let me see your mask.”
Eager to begin his test, Joey peeled off the mask and handed it over. Alex snatched the mask and refit it on the little boy’s head upside down, so he couldn’t see out of the eye holes.
“Can you see anything?”
“Nope!” Joey answered.
“Excellent! Now, while you’re taking the test, you’ll have to give your sword and candy over to me, okay?”
“It’s a lightsaber,” Joey corrected. Nevertheless, he obeyed.
“As you probably know, a rocket ship ride can make you dizzy. So we’ll start with the Spin Test.” With that, Alex grabbed Joey’s shoulders, twisting him in fast circles.
After a moment, Joey began to stagger, clutching his stomach. “Did I pass?”
He could hear the faint crinkling of paper. Alex offered a muffled “uh huh”. The bigger boy burped. “That means we’re ready for phase two. Now it’s time to meet aliens!”
Joey gasped. He’d always dreamed of this moment!
“Come on out, guys!”
From behind the mask, Joey heard strange noises coming from the shed. Seconds later, a slimy, wet hand grabbed his arm.
“Zee bee ooo!” cried the alien.
“What did he say?!” Joey exclaimed, awestruck.
“Um… he said he likes you!” Alex scratched his chin, formulating another fib. He said he wants to take you to his planet!”
Joey jumped up and down. “Can I go? Please?”
“Of course! But first, you have to put on your space suit.”
“Where is it?” Joey started to peel off the mask, but Alex intercepted him.
“No! You’ve got to keep your blindfold on, or else their alien vision will blind you. Now, hold your arms straight up over your head. Perfect!” He laughed, sliding an inflatable pool ring over Joey’s arms and down to his waist. “There. You’re all set!”
The slimy hands grabbed Joey’s arms again, hoisting him into the air. They took off at the speed of light, and soon Joey could sense a bright light around them that previously wasn’t there.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Zee bee ooo dee bee!” The aliens chimed, swinging Joey back and forth.
Joey’s stomach rolled due to all the twists and turns. He was glad he hadn’t eaten any candy yet.
For a moment, all movement stopped. The aliens communicated in whispered tones.
“This is the Space Captain speaking. From this day forth, you are to be named Zeebot!” A deep voice rattled the silent night, startling Joey. “Joey is no more. You must now call yourself Zeebot, and speak of yourself as “he” or “him”. You are no longer a little boy. You have been abducted by the Zeebeedoten alien force.” Alex snickered in the background. “And now,” the voice shouted, “now you’ll be transported into our alien portal!”
Mikey and Rico picked Joey up again, hurling him into the uncovered pool. Joey landed with an incredible splash, which would have drenched the teenage boys, if they hadn’t run away.
“What’s going on here?” An angry elderly voice growled. The pitter patter of light footsteps raced toward the edge of the pool. “Joey!”
Joey kicked about unfazed. Is this what zero gravity felt like?
“Joseph Elias Troup the third! Get out of that pool this instant!”
“My—um, his name isn’t Joey anymore. His name is now Zeebot,” Joey replied, twisting in the water.
“What’s going on, Miss Nova?” one of the men from the neighborhood called, approaching the scene.
“Please get my grandson out of the pool. I think he’s caught hypothermia and has grown delirious!”
Without another word, a second splash dove in after Joey. The man stripped the mask from the boy’s face, dragging him back to safety amongst Joey’s kicking and screaming.
“No! No! I am an alien now!” Joey resisted, bursting into tears once their neighbor plopped him down at Grandma Nova’s feet.
Grandma Nova snatched her grandson by the ear, pulling him along with her back to their house. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Houston. I’ll be sure to let his father know about this.”
Joey trembled in his soaked costume, terrified of what his father would say. He was hardly ever home, and when he was, he had few words of encouragement for his son. Everything was psychology related, and Zeeb’s father only saw a collection of psychological wonders in his only child.
Grandma Nova didn’t delay after ripping open the front door to the Troup home. She marched Joey straight to Dr. Joseph Troup’s home office, her grandson’s drenched clothes dripping onto the hardwood floor.
Dr. Troup didn’t stir at the noise. He sat typing away at his desktop computer.
“Joseph, please attend to your son,” Grandma Nova spat, crossing her arms.
Dr. Troup peered over the monitor, eyes bulging behind his thick frames. “What on earth happened? I thought you took him trick-or-treating?”
“I did,” his mother argued, pointing to Joey. “But this little feller decided to go running off for a swim on his own. I couldn’t even find his jacket or his pumpkin anywhere.”
“Son, why would you do that? Are you still experiencing grief over your mother’s passing? Are you depressed?” Dr. Troup asked. Joey stared at him as if he had sprouted a horn. He never knew what the big words his father used meant.
A knock on the door kept Joey from answering his father. Dr. Troup jumped from his office chair to see who was there.
“Hey, Dr. Troup. After I got Joey out of the pool, I found his jacket and pumpkin laying back behind the pool shed. Looks like he ate all the candy he had in it,” Mr. Houston explained, passing over the pumpkin to Dr. Troup. The inside of the pumpkin was filled with opened candy wrappers.
“Thank you for all that you’ve done tonight, sir. Feel free to send me a bill for your dry cleaning.” Dr. Troup replied evenly, shutting the door as Mr. Houston retreated down the front steps. His calm demeanor faded as he pivoted to face his son. “Do you care to explain this?”
“Zeebot did not eat the candy. Zeebot was abducted by aliens from Zeebe… Zeebeedoten.” Joey recounted, frozen under his father’s glare. Why were his nostrils flaring? Joey was just telling the truth.
“No more sugar for you. Ever. If you can’t handle it responsibly, we have to remove the issue at hand. Sugar is nothing but a gateway into obesity and decaying teeth anyway.” Dr. Troup stated, storming over to the trashcan in the kitchen. Stepping on the opener, he tossed the entire pumpkin inside. The metal lid slammed with a thud.
Joey’s face crumpled at the sight. He ran upstairs to his bedroom, crying as he peeled off the freezing damp costume. Pulling on his Yoda pajamas, he looked into his bathroom mirror, a freckled-face boy he didn’t recognize staring back at him.
He knew what he’d been through that night. He heard the aliens, he felt their touch, earned their acceptance… something he’d never earned from his father.
“My name is Zeebot,” Joey whispered to the reflection. The name felt freeing on his lips. Now he had his own identity to go by. He never had to share his father’s name again.
© Copyright 2018, Allyson Kennedy. All rights reserved.
How did you like Zeeb’s backstory? I had the best time writing it for you all. Based on the character interviews, who is your favorite character in the novel so far?
Don’t forget to cast your vote for who the next interview will feature! Your choices are as follows:
Ms. Markovich: The kids’ language arts teacher and one of the reasons Victoria hates school
Meredith Waters: The meanest girl in school according to Victoria *Zeeb pushes me out of the way* And the sun of Zeebot’s galaxy!
Jessica Mayweather: A bubbly classmate of the kids, or
Brandon–aka Bran Muffin: Aiden’s awkward turtle older brother
Be sure to comment with your choice below! 😀
Interested in finding out more about Zeeb and the rest of the characters in Speak Your Mind? Add it to your Goodreads To-Read list by clicking the button below!
Speak Your Mind will be published on Saturday, November 24th (Lord willing).