David Gerrold
     THE MARTIAN CHILD


     David Gerrold, CIS: 70307,544
     OCR by Quentin J. Tarantino 2005

     THE MARTIAN CHILD
     by David Gerrold
     Toward the end of the meeting, the caseworker remarked, "Oh --  and one
more thing. Dennis thinks he's a Martian."
     "I beg your pardon?" I  wasn't certain I had heard her correctly. I had
papers scattered all over the meeting room table --  thick  piles of stapled
incident reports, manila-foldered psychiatric  evaluations, Xeroxed clinical
diagnoses, scribbled caseworker  histories, typed abuse reports, bound trial
transcripts, and my own crabbed notes as well: Hyperactivity. Fetal  Alcohol
Syndrome. Emotional  Abuse.  Physical Abuse. Conners Rating Scale. Apgars. I
had no idea there was so much to know about children. For  a  moment, I  was
actually looking for the folder labeled Martian.
     "He thinks he's a Martian," Ms. Bright repeated. She was a small woman,
very proper and polite. "He told  his group home  parents that he's not like
the other  children --  he's from Mars -- so he shouldn't be expected to act
like an Earthling all the time."
     "Well,  that's okay,"  I said, a little too  quickly. "Some of  my best
friends  are Martians. He'll fit right in.  As long as he  doesn't  eat  the
tribbles or tease the feral Chtorran."
     By  the  narrow  expressions  on their faces,  I  could tell  that  the
caseworkers weren't  amused. For a moment, my heart sank. Maybe I'd said the
wrong thing. Maybe I was being too facile with my answers.
     -- The hardest  thing about adoption is that you have to ask someone to
trust you with a child.
     That means  that  you  have to be  willing  to let them scrutinize your
entire life, everything: your financial standing, your medical history, your
home and belongings,  your  upbringing,  your personality, your motivations,
your arrest  record,  your  IQ, and even your sex life. It means  that every
self-esteem issue you have  ever had will come bubbling right to the surface
like last night's beans in this morning's bath tub.
     Whatever  you're  most insecure  about, that's  what the whole adoption
process  will feel like  it's focused  on.  For  me, it  was  that  terrible
familiar  feeling of being second best -- of not being  good enough  to play
with  the  big kids,  or get the job, or  win the award,  or whatever was at
stake. Even though the point  of this interview was simply  to see if Dennis
and I would be a good  match, I felt as if I was being judged again. What if
I wasn't good enough this time?
     I tried again. I began slowly. "Y'know, you all keep telling me all the
bad  news -- you  don't  even  know if this kid is capable of forming a deep
attachment -- it feels as if you're trying to  talk me out of this match." I
stopped  myself before I  said too much.  I was suddenly angry  and I didn't
know why. These people were only doing their job.
     And then it hit  me. That was it --  these people were only doing their
job.
     At that moment, I realized that there wasn't anyone in the room who had
the kind of commitment to Dennis that I did, and I hadn't even  met him yet.
To them,  he  was  only  another  case  to  handle.  To me,  he  was ... the
possibility  of a family. It  wasn't fair to unload  my frustration on these
tired, overworked, underpaid women. They cared. It just wasn't the same kind
of caring. I swallowed my anger.
     "Listen,"  I  said,  sitting  forward,  placing  my  hands  calmly  and
deliberately on  the table. "After everything this poor little guy has  been
through, if he wants to think  he's a Martian -- I'm not going to argue with
him. Actually, I think it's charming. It's evidence of  his resilience. It's
probably  the  most  rational  explanation he  can  come  up  with  for  his
irrational  situation.  He  probably feels alienated,  abandoned, different,
alone.  At least, this gives him a  reason  for it. It lets  him put a story
around  his  situation  so  he  can cope  with  it.  Maybe  it's  the  wrong
explanation, but it's  the only one  he's got. We'd be stupid to try to take
it away from him."
     And after I'd said  that, I  couldn't help  but add  another thought as
well. "I know a lot of people who hide out in fantasy because reality is too
hard to cope  with.  Fantasy  is my business.  The only  different is that I
write  it down  and  make  the rest of  the  world  pay for the privilege of
sharing the delusion. Fantasy isn't about escape; it's a survival mechanism.
It's a way to deal  with things that are so much bigger than you are.  So  I
think fantasy  is special, something  to be cherished and protected  because
it's  a  very  fragile thing and  without  it,  we're  so defenseless, we're
paralyzed.
     "I know what this boy  is feeling because I've been there. Not the same
circumstances, thank God  --  but I  know this much,  if he's surrounded  by
adults  who can't understand  what  he really  needs, he'll never have  that
chance  to connect that everyone keeps talking about." For the first  time I
looked directly into their eyes as if they had to  live up  to my standards.
"Excuse me for being presumptuous -- but he's got to he with  someone who'll
tell him that  it's all right for him to be  a Martian. Let him be a Martian
for as long as he needs."
     "Yes.  Thank  you,"  the  supervisor said  abruptly.  "I  think  that's
everything we need to cover. We'll be getting back to you shortly."
     My heart sank at her words. She hadn't  acknowledged a word of what I'd
said. I was certain she'd dismissed it totally. I gathered up all my papers.
We  exchanged pleasantries and handshakes, and I wore my company  smile  all
the way to the elevator. I didn't say a word, neither did my sister. We both
waited  until  we were  in  the  car and headed  back toward  the  Hollywood
Freeway. She drove,  guiding the big car  through traffic as effortlessly as
only a Los Angeles real estate agent can manage.
     "I blew it," I said. "Didn't I? I got too ... full of myself again."
     "Honey, I think you were fine." She patted my hand.
     "They're  not going to make the  match," I said. "It would  be a single
parent  adoption. They're not  going to  do it. First  they  choose  married
couples, Ward and June.  Then they choose  single women, Murphy Brown. Then,
only if there's no one else who'll take the kid, will they consider a single
man. I'm  at the bottom of the list. I'll never get this kid. I'll never get
any kid. My own caseworker  told  me  not to get my hopes up.  There are two
other families interested. This was just a formality, this interview. I know
it. Just so they could  prove they'd considered more than one match." I felt
the frustration building  up  inside my chest like a balloon  full of  hurt.
"But this is the kid  for me, Alice, I know it. I don't know  how I know it,
but I do."
     I'd first seen Dennis's picture three weeks earlier; a little square of
colors that suggested a smile in flight.
     I'd gone to the National Conference of the Adoptive Families of America
at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. There were six panels per hour, six hours
a day, two days, Saturday and  Sunday.  I  picked  the panels that I thought
would be most useful to  me in finding and raising a child and ordered tapes
-- over two dozen -- of the sessions I couldn't attend in person. I'd had no
idea there  were so many different issues to be  dealt with in adoptions.  I
soaked it up  like  a  sponge, listening eagerly  to  the advice of adoptive
parents, their  grown  children,  clinical psychologists, advocates,  social
workers, and adoption resource professionals.
     But my real reason for attending was to find the child.
     I'd already been approved. I'd spent more than a year filling out forms
and submitting to  interviews. But approval doesn't mean you get a child. It
only means that  your  name  is  in the hat.  Matching  is done to meet  the
child's needs first. Fair enough -- but terribly frustrating.
     Eventually,  I ended up in  the  conference's equivalent of  a dealer's
room.  Rows of tables and  heart-tugging displays. Books  of  all kinds  for
sale. Organizations. Agencies. Children in Eastern Europe. Children in Latin
America.  Asian  children. Children with special needs. Photo-listings, like
real-estate albums. Turn the pages, look at the eyes, the smiles, the needs.
"Johnny was abandoned by his mother  at age three. He is hyperactive, starts
fires,  and  has  been  cruel  to  small animals.  He  will  need  extensive
therapy...." "Janie, age 9, is severely retarded. She was sexually abused by
her stepfather,  she  will need round-the-clock  care...."  "Michael suffers
from  severe   epilepsy...."  "Linda  needs..."  "Danny  needs..."  "Michael
needs..." So many needs. So much hurt. It was overwhelming.
     Why were so many of the children in the books "special needs" children?
Retarded. Hyperactive. Abused. Had they been abandoned  because they weren't
perfect.  or  were  these the  leftovers after all  the  good children  were
selected? The part  that disturbed me  the  most was that I could understand
the  emotions  involved.  I wanted  a child, not a  case.  And some  of  the
descriptions in  the book did seem pretty intimidating. Were these  the only
kind of children available?
     Maybe it  was selfish, but I found myself turning the pages looking for
a child who represented an easy answer.  Did I  really want  another set  of
needs  in  my life  --  a  single  man  who's  old enough  to be  considered
middle-aged and ought to be thinking seriously about retirement plans?
     This was the most important  question of all. "Why do you want to adopt
a child?"  And  it  was a question I couldn't answer. I  couldn't  find  the
words. It seemed that there was something I couldn't write down.
     The motivational  questionnaire had  been a  brick wall that sat  on my
desk for a week. It took me thirty pages of  single-spaced printout just  to
get my thoughts organized. I could tell great stories about what I thought a
family should be, but I  couldn't really  answer the question why I wanted a
son. Not right away.
     The  three o'clock  in the  morning truth of it was  a  very  nasty and
selfish piece of business.
     I didn't want to die alone. I didn't want to be left unremembered.
     All those  books  and  TV scripts  ... they were nothing.  They used up
trees. They were exercises in excess. They made other people rich. They were
useless to me.  They  filled up shelves. They impressed  the impressionable.
But they didn't prove me a  real person. They didn't validate my life as one
worth living. In fact, they were about as valuable as the vice-presidency of
the United States.
     What I really wanted was to make a difference. I wanted someone to know
that there was a real person behind all those words. A dad.
     I  would lie  awake, staring into the darkness,  trying to  imagine it,
what it would be like, how I would handle the various situations that  might
come up, how I would deal with the day-to-day business of  daddying. I gamed
out scenarios and tried to figure out how to handle difficult situations.
     In  my mind, I was always kind and generous, compassionate and wise. My
fantasy child was  innocent and joyous,  full of love and  wide-eyed wonder,
and grateful to be  in my home. He was an invisible presence,  living inside
my soul, defying reality  to catch up. I  wondered where he was now, and how
and when I would finally meet him  -- and if the reality of  parenting would
be as wonderful as the dream.
     -- But  it  was  all fantasyland. The books  were  proof of that. These
children had histories, brutal, tragic, and heart-rending.
     I wandered on to the next table. One of the social workers from the Los
Angeles County Department of  Children's Services had a photo book with her.
I introduced myself, told her I'd been  approved -- but not matched. Could I
look through the  book? Yes, of course, she said. I turned the pages slowly,
studying  the innocent faces,  looking for  one who could be my son. All the
pictures  were of black children,  and  the county  wasn't doing transracial
adoptions anymore.  Too controversial. The black social workers had  taken a
stand  against it  --  I  could  see their  point -- but  how many  of these
children would not find homes now?
     Tucked away like an afterthought on  the very last page  was a photo of
the only white child in the book. My glance slid across the picture quickly,
I was already starting to close the album --  and then as the impact of what
I'd seen hit me, I froze in mid-action, almost slamming the book flat again.
     The  boy was riding a bicycle on a sunny  tree-lined sidewalk;  he  was
caught in the act of shouting or laughing at whoever was holding the camera.
His blond  hair was wild in  the wind of his  passage,  his  eyes shone like
stars behind his glasses, his expression was raucous and exuberant.
     I couldn't take  my eyes off the picture. A cold wave of certainty came
rolling up my  spine like  a blast of fire  and  ice.  It  was  a feeling of
recognition. This was him -- the child who'd taken up permanent residence in
my imagination! I could almost hear him yelling, "Hi, Daddy!"
     "Tell  me about this  child," I said, a little too quickly. The  social
worker  was already  looking at me  oddly. I could  understand  it. My voice
sounded odd to me too. I  tried to explain. "Tell me. Do you ever get people
looking at a picture and telling you that this is the one?"
     "All the time,"  she replied. Her  face softened into an  understanding
smile.
     His name was Dennis. He'd just turned eight. She'd just put his picture
in the book this morning.  And yes,  she'd have  the boy's caseworker get in
touch  with my  caseworker. But ...  she cautioned ...  remember  that there
might be other families interested too. And remember, the department matches
from the child's side.
     I didn't hear any of that. I heard the words, but not the cautions.
     I pushed hard and they set up a meeting to see if the match would work.
But they cautioned  me ahead  of time -- "this might not be the child you're
looking for.  He's classified as `hard-to-place.' He's  hyperactive and he's
been emotionally abused and he may have fetal alcohol effects  and he's been
in eight foster homes, he's never had a family of his own...."
     I didn't hear a word of it. I simply refused to listen. The boy  in the
picture had grabbed my heart so completely that I'd suddenly expanded all my
definitions of what I was willing to accept.
     I posted  messages on CompuServe  asking for  information and advice on
adoption, on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,  on  emotional  abuse
recovery, on everything I could think of -- what were  this  child's chances
of  becoming an independent  adult? I called the Adoption Warm Line and  was
referred  to  parents who'd been  through it.  I hit the bookstores  and the
libraries. I called my  cousin,  the doctor, and he faxed me twenty pages of
reports.  And I came  into the  meeting so well-papered and full of theories
and good intentions that I must have looked the perfect jerk.
     And now ... it was over.
     I  leaned my  head against the passenger side window of my sister's car
and moaned. "Dammit. I'm so tired of being pregnant. Thirteen months is long
enough for any man! I've got the baby blues so  bad, I can't even  go to the
supermarket anymore. I find myself watching other people with their children
and the tears start welling up in my eyes. I keep thinking `Where's mine?"'
     My sister understood. She had four  children  of her  own, none of whom
had ended  up  in  jail; so she had to have done something right. "Listen to
me, David. Maybe this little boy isn't right for you -- "
     "Of course he's right for me. He's a Martian."
     She  ignored  the interruption.  "And if he  isn't right,  there'll  be
another  child  who  is. I promise you.  And you  said it yourself  that you
didn't know if you could handle all the problems he'd be bringing with him."
     "I know -- it's just that. . .I feel like -- I  don't know what I  feel
like. This is  worse than anything I've ever been through. All this  wanting
and not having. Sometimes I'm afraid it's not going to happen at all."
     Alice pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. "Okay,
it's my turn," she said. "Stop beating yourself up. You are the smartest one
in  the whole family --  but sometimes you  can be awfully stupid.  You  are
going to be a terrific father to some very lucky little boy. Your caseworker
knows that. All of those social workers in that meeting saw your  commitment
and dedication. All that research you did -- when you  asked about the Apgar
numbers  and  the Conners  scale,  when  you  handed  them  that  report  on
hyperactivity, which even they didn't know about -- you impressed them."
     I shook my head. "Research is easy. You post a note on CompuServe, wait
two days, and then download your e-mail."
     "It's not the research," Alice  said.  "It's the fact  that you did it.
That demonstrates  your willingness to find  out what the child needs so you
can provide it."
     "I wish I could believe you," I said.
     She looked deeply at me. "What's the matter?"
     "What  if I'm really not good enough?" I said. "That's what I'm worried
about -- I can't shake that feeling."
     "Oh, that -- " she said, lightly. "That's normal. That's the proof that
you're going to do okay.  It's only those  parents who  don't worry who need
to."
     "Oh," I said. And then we both started laughing.
     She  hugged me then.  "You'll do  fine. Now let's go home and  call Mom
before she busts a kidney from the suspense."
     Two centuries later,  although  the  calendar  insisted otherwise,  Ms.
Bright called  me. "We've  made  a decision. If you're still  interested  in
Dennis, we'd like to arrange  a meeting -- " I don't remember a lot of  what
she said after that; most of it was details  about how we would proceed; but
I remember what she said at the end. "I want to tell you the two things that
helped us  make the decision.  First, all  that research  you did shows that
you're committed to Dennis's needs.  That's very  important in any adoption,
but especially in this one. The other thing  was what you said at the end of
the meeting -- about understanding  his need to be a Martian. We were really
touched by your empathy  for  his situation. We think  that's a quality that
Dennis  is going  to need very much in any family he's placed in. That's why
we decided to try you first."
     I thanked her profusely; at least, I think I did; I was suddenly having
trouble seeing. and the box of tissues had gone empty.




     I met Dennis  three days  later, at  the  Johnson Group Home in  Culver
City. He  was one  of six children living-at  the  facility;  four boys, two
girls. Because the caseworkers  didn't want him  to know  that  he was being
auditioned, I would be introduced as a friend of the group home parents.
     The child who came home from school was  a sullen little zombie,  going
through the motions of life. He walked in the door, walked past  me with  no
sign  of recognition,  and headed straight to  his room.  I said,  "Hi."  He
grunted  something that  could have  been "H'lo" and  kept  on  going. For a
moment, I felt  somehow cheated.  I recognized him, why hadn't he recognized
me? And then I had to remind  myself with a grin that I was the grownup, not
him. But, after a bit,  he came out from his retreat  and  asked me  to play
electric hockey.
     For the first few minutes, he was totally  intent on the game. I didn't
exist to him. Then I  remembered an exercise  from one  of my communications
courses -- about simply being with another person. I  stopped trying so hard
to do it right, and instead just focused my attention  on Dennis, letting it
be all right with me for him to be exactly the way he was.
     And yet, I  couldn't  turn off the  analytical  part of my  mind. After
reading  all those reports, and hearing all the opinions of the caseworkers,
I couldn't help but watch for evidence. I couldn't see it. None of it. All I
could see was a child. And then that  thing happened that  always happens to
an  adult who  is  willing  to  play with  a  child. I  rediscovered my  own
childhood again.  I got involved in the game, and very shortly I was smiling
and laughing when he  did, returning the same delight and approval  at every
audacious play. And  that's when it happened. He began to realize that there
was a  real human being  on the opposite  side of the game board.  Something
sparked. He started  reacting to me instead of to the puck. I could feel the
sense of connection almost as a physical presence.
     Then, abruptly, it was time for him to do  his chores. We loaded up the
wagon with the  cans  from the recycling bin  and  walked them over  to  the
nearby park. We talked about stuff. He talked, I listened. Sometimes I asked
questions,  sometimes he  did. On the way back, he insisted  that I pull the
wagon so he could  ride in it. By now, he was glowing. He was the boy in the
photograph.
     When we got back to the  group home, however, the  other  children  had
arrived home from school and were already playing together in the back yard.
As soon as he saw them, Dennis broke away from me and ran to the back of the
yard. He flung himself into the comer of a large old couch and  curled up in
a ball. He was as apart from the other children -- indeed the whole world --
as it was possible to get.
     What had suddenly triggered his unhappiness?  Was it the  thought  that
now that there were other children to play  with, I would reject him? Did he
have to reject  me first? Or was there something else going on? From  inside
the house, I watched him as he sat  alone. He was a very unhappy little boy.
And  he had stopped glowing. At  that  moment, I knew  I couldn't leave  him
here. Whatever other problems he might have, my commitment was bigger. Or so
I believed.
     The group home parents  invited me to stay to dinner with the children.
I hadn't planned on it, but all the children insisted that I stay, so I did,
specifically making a  point  of sitting next to  Dennis. He didn't  talk at
all,  he was subdued, as if he was afraid of losing something that he wanted
very much --  or maybe that  was  only my  perception.  He ate  quietly  and
timidly. But  then Tony, one of the more excitable  children, suddenly piped
up, "Do you know what Dennis said?"
     Tony was sitting directly across from me. He had that look of malicious
mischief common to children who are about to betray a  confidence. "What?" I
asked, with a queasy foreboding.
     "Dennis said he wishes you were his dad." Even without looking, I could
see that beside me, Dennis was cringing, readying himself for the inevitable
politely worded rejection.
     Instead,  I turned to  Dennis, focusing  all my  attention on  him, and
said, "Wow, what a great wish.  Thank you!"  There was more I wanted to add,
but I couldn't. Not yet. The "game plan" required me to be Dennis's "special
friend" for at least six weeks  before I made any kind of commitment to him.
He couldn't know that  I had the  same wish  he did.  I felt cheated at  not
being able to add, "So do I."  But I understood  the rationale, and  I would
follow it.
     "Better watch out," Tony  said. "He might  make it  a Martian wish, and
then you'll have to."
     At the time, I didn't understand what Tony had meant. So I forgot about
it.




     The next time I heard about Martians happened thirteen months later.
     I was in Arizona, at a party  at Jeff Duntemann's sprawling house. Jeff
is a two-time Hugo nominee who gave  up science fiction to write books about
computer programming.  Apparently, it was far  more profitable than  science
fiction;  now he was publishing his own  magazine, PC-Techniques.  I write a
regular column  for the  magazine, an  off-the-wall mix  of code and mutated
zen. It was the  standing joke that my contribution to the  magazine was the
"Martian perspective."
     I  was sitting on the  patio, watching Dennis  splash  enthusiastically
across the pool. He  was doing cannonballs  into the deep end. A year ago, I
couldn't pry him loose from the steps in  the  shallow end; he wouldn't even
let  me teach him how to  dog-paddle  -- now he was  an apprentice  fish. He
spent more time swimming across the bottom of the water than the top.
     A year ago, he'd been a waif -- capable of joy, the picture proved that
-- but more often sad,  uncertain,  alienated, and angry.  A year ago,  he'd
told his caseworker, "I don't  think God listens to my prayers. I prayed for
a dad and nothing happened." On  the day he moved in, I asked his caseworker
to remind him of that conversation and then tell him that sometimes it takes
God a little while to make a miracle happen.
     A miracle -- according to  my friend  Randy MacNamara --  is  something
that wouldn't  have happened anyway. Now, after  the fact,  after  the first
giddy days of panic and joy, after  the  days of bottomless fears, after the
tantrums  and the  testing,  after  a  thousand  and one peanut  butter  and
jellyfish sandwiches, I understood what he meant. And more. A miracle  takes
real commitment. It never happens by accident. I'd had other miracles happen
in my life -- one which I'd written about, one which I may never write about
-- but this one was the best. I had the proof of it framed on my wall.
     One afternoon  I'd opened Dennis's lunch kit to see how much he'd eaten
and found the note I'd  packed that morning. It said, "Please eat your whole
lunch  today! I love  you! Daddy." On the other side, written in  a childish
scrawl was Dennis's reply:  "I  love  you  to. you are very specil to  me. I
realy think your the best. I  love you very much  dady I never loved eneyone
more than you. I never new anyone nicer than you." At the bottom, he'd drawn
three hearts and put the word "dady" in the biggest of them.
     So the miracle was complete.  Dennis could form a deep attachment.  And
he could express  it. And all I had  to do was sit and glow and realize that
despite all my doubts  and all my mistakes, I was getting the important part
of  the  job  done  right.  I  had  passed  from  wannabe   to   gonnabe  to
finding-how-to-be to simply be-ing. I  was  glowing as brightly as the  warm
Arizona evening. Pink clouds were striped across the darkening twilight sky.
     I didn't know anyone  else at the  party besides Jeff and Carol --  and
the  world-famous Mr. Byte who was in the kitchen begging scraps  he  wasn't
supposed to have. But that was  all right.  I was content  just  to sit  and
watch my son enjoying himself. And then I heard  the  word "Martian" in back
of me, and without moving, my attention swiveled 180 degrees.
     Four of the wives were sitting together --  it was that kind of  party;
the programmers were talking code, the wives were talking children. I didn't
know  enough  about  either subject, I still  felt  like a dabbler  in  both
fields,  so I made the best kind  of listener. One of the women was  saying.
"No, it's true. Since she was old enough to talk she's insisted that she's a
Martian. Her mother has never been able to convince her otherwise. She asked
her, `How do  you explain that I remember  going to the  hospital and giving
birth to you?' and she said, `I was implanted  in your  tummy.' She's twelve
now and she still believes it. She has a whole  story,  an  explanation  for
everything. She says UFOs are implanting Martian babies all the time."
     The  other women laughed gently. I found  myself smiling to myself  and
watching Dennis.  Remembering for  the first time in a long while  what he'd
once  told  his  caseworker  -- that  he  was  a  Martian  too.  Interesting
coincidence.
     Then, one of the others said, "We had a boy in my daughter's school who
wore a T-shirt to  school  almost every day that said, `I am a  Martian.' He
took a lot of teasing about it. The principal tried to make him stop wearing
it, but he refused. All the kids thought he was crazy."
     "That was probably the only way he could get the attention he needed."
     "Well," said the fourth voice, "it's a common childhood fantasy -- that
the child is really a  changeling  or an orphan and that you're not her real
mother. Adding Mars to it is just a way to take advantage of the information
in the real world to make it more believable."
     I didn't hear any more of  that  conversation; we  were interrupted  by
Carol announcing that  dessert  was served;  but a  seed of inquiry had been
planted. If nothing else,  I thought it might make  an interesting story. If
only I could figure out an ending  for  it. Let's see, a man adopts a little
boy and then discovers that the child is a Martian.
     Hm. But what's the hook?
     Horror story? Too easy. Too  obvious -- the Martian children  are going
to  murder us in our beds. Besides, Richard Matheson could do it  better, if
he  hadn't  already.  John Wyndham  already  had.  A  hidden  invasion ? The
Martians will take us over  without our ever  knowing? Fred Brown had beaten
me to it  by four decades. His story  had even  ended  up as an  episode  on
Hitchcock. Maybe something tender and gentle instead?  Parenting  a starlost
orphan?  That  would  be  the  hardest to write  -- and Zenna Henderson  had
already written  it  several times over.  Sturgeon was another one who could
handle that angle. I wished I could pick up the phone and call him. He would
have  had  the  most interesting insight  for  the ending,  but  the connect
charges would have been horrendous. I could call Harlan, of course, but he'd
probably bitch at me for interrupting him during Jeopardy. Besides, I didn't
think  he would take this question seriously. "Harlan, listen --  I think my
son's a Martian, and I'm trying to write it up as a story...." Yeah,  right,
David. Have you had your medication checked recently?
     I  made a mental note  to think about  it  later. Maybe my subconscious
would  think about it  during the drive home.  Maybe  I'd  stumble across an
ending  by accident. I really couldn't do anything  at all without an ending
in mind. It's easy to start  a  story, but if you don't know the ending, you
don't know  what you're writing  toward and  after  a  while the  story goes
adrift, the  energy fails,  and you've  got one more thing  to be frustrated
about.  I had a file cabinet full of unfinished  stories to prove  that this
was not the best way to generate pay copy.




     The next day  ...  we  were  slicing  across  the desolate  red desert,
seemingly suspended  between  the blazing sky and  the shimmering  road, not
talking about anything,  just  listening to a  tape of  Van  Dyke Parks  and
sipping sodas from  the cooler. The tape came to an end  and the white noise
of  the wind rushed in to envelop us. Convertibles  are fun, but they aren't
quiet.
     Abruptly, I remembered last night's conversation.
     "Hey," I asked. "Are you a Martian?"
     "What?"
     "Are you a Martian?" I repeated.
     "Why do you ask that?"
     "Ah, obviously  you're a Jewish Martian. You  answer a question  with a
question."
     "Who told you I was a Martian?"
     "Kathy did. Before  I met you, we had a  meeting. She told me all about
you. She said that you told her you were a Martian.  Do you remember telling
her that?"
     "Yes."
     "Are you still a Martian?"
     "Yes," he said.
     "Oh," I said. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
     "Okay," he said. "I  was  made on Mars.  I  was a  tadpole. Then  I was
brought  to Earth  in  a UFO and implanted in my Mommy's  tummy. She  didn't
know. Then I was borned."
     "Ahh," I said. "That's how I thought it happened. Is that all?"
     "Uh-huh."
     "Why did the Martians send you here?"
     "So I could be a Earth-boy."
     "Oh."
     "Can  we go to  Round  Table  Pizza  for dinner?"  he  asked,  abruptly
changing the subject as if it was the most natural thing to do.
     "Do Martians like pizza?"
     "Yes!"  he said  excitedly.  Then he  pointed his fingers at me like  a
funny kind of ray gun. Most children would have pointed  the top two fingers
to make a pretend gun, but Dennis pointed his index  and little fingers, his
thumb stood straight up for the trigger. "If you don't take me out for pizza
tonight, I'll have to disneygrade you."
     "Ouch,   that  sounds  painful.  I   definitely  do  not  want   to  be
disneygraded. Then I'd  have to stand in  the dark and sing  that awful song
forever while boatloads of Japanese tourists take pictures of  me. But we're
not going tonight. Maybe tomorrow, if you have a good day at school."
     "No, tonight! " He pointed his  fingers menacingly -- both hands now --
and  for a moment  I wondered what would  happen if  he pressed  his  thumbs
forward. Would I be turned into a giant three-fingered mouse?
     "If you disneygrade me," I said, "for sure you won't get any pizza."
     "Okay," he said. Then  he closed up both weapons, first  one hand, then
the other. First the little finger of  his left hand, then the index finger;
then  the little finger of his right hand,  then the index finger. Each time
he made a soft  clicking sound with his mouth. Finally he folded  his thumbs
down -- and abruptly he had hands again.
     Later, I tried to do the same thing myself. A human can do it, but it's
like the Vulcan salute. It takes practice.




     I have a  pinched nerve  in  my back. If I do  my twisting exercises  a
couple of times a week, and if I take frequent breaks from the keyboard, and
if  I remember to put  myself into the spa every  couple  days  and let  the
bubbles boil  up around  me, then I can keep myself  functioning pretty much
like a normal person. It's  a fair trade. Usually  I wait until after dinner
to  sit  in  the  spa. After  the  sun  sets is a perfect  time for a little
skinny-dipping.
     Several  days  after  the Phoenix trip,  Dennis and I were alone in the
pool. The pool has a blue filter over the light, the spa has a red one; when
the bubbles are  on, it looks  a little like a hot lava  bath.  Sometimes we
talk about  nothing  important,  sometimes we just sit silently letting  the
bubbles massage our skins, sometimes we  stare up into the sky and watch for
meteors; once we'd seen  a bright red starpoint streak across the sky like a
bullet.
     But tonight, as he splashed in the bubbles, I found myself studying the
way the light  shaped his features. I'm not  an expert on the development of
children's  skulls, but abruptly I was struck by the odd  proportions of his
forehead and eyes.
     Before  I'd  adopted  him,  I'd  been given  copies of various doctor's
reports.  One doctor, who  was supposed  to  be looking  for  fetal  alcohol
effects,  had  described  the five-year-old Dennis  as "an  unusual-looking"
child. I couldn't see what he  was  talking about. To me, Dennis  had always
been an unusually good-looking boy.
     There are only  two shapes of faces  -- pie  and  horse.  Dennis was  a
pie-face, I'm a  horse. In that, he was lucky because his smile was  so wide
he  needed  a round face to hold it all. He was blessed with dark blond hair
which was growing steadily toward shoulder-length. His eyes were puppy-brown
and hidden behind  lashes  long  enough  to  trouble  the  sleep  of mascara
manufacturers. His complexion was as luminous and gold as an Arizona sunset.
     His body was  well-proportioned too; he had  long  legs and a swimmer's
torso. He  was  thin,  but  not  skinny.  He looked like a  Disney  child. I
expected him to be  a  heartbreaker when he grew up. The girls were going to
chase him  with lassos. Already I wondered what kind  of a teenager he would
become -- and if I would be able to handle it.
     Now ... seeing him in the reflected red light of the spa -- is this the
same color light they have on Mars? -- he did look a little alien to me. His
forehead  had a  roundish  bulge toward  the crown.  His  cheekbones  seemed
strangely angled. His eyes seemed narrow and reptilian. Probably  it was the
effect of the  light  coming from underneath instead of above, combined with
the  red filter, but it was momentarily  unnerving. For a moment, I wondered
what kind of a thing I'd brought into my life.
     "What?" he asked, staring back.
     "Nothing," I said.
     "You were looking at me."
     "I was admiring you. You're a beautiful kid, do you know that? "
     "Uh-huh." And suddenly he was Dennis again.
     "How do you know that?"
     "Everybody says so. They all like my eyelashes."
     I  laughed.  Of course.  Here was a  child  who'd  learned to work  the
system.  He was a skilled manipulator. He'd learned real fast how to turn on
his special  smile  and get what he wanted out of  people. Of course he knew
how much attention his eyelashes attracted.
     But -- for a moment  there, he  hadn't been Dennis the little boy. He'd
been something else.  Something cold and watchful. He'd noticed me  studying
him. He'd  sensed the suspicion. Or  was it  just the power of suggestion at
work? Most  of the  books  on  parenting  advised  not  to  feel guilty  for
wondering if  your child is going  to suddenly catch a fly  with his tongue.
It's a very common parental fear.
     And  then.. .whenever I had doubts about Dennis and  my ability to keep
up with him, all I had to do was ask myself one simple question. How would I
feel  if Kathy Bright said she had to remove him from my home? Ripped  apart
was the simplest answer. The truth was, I didn't care if he was a Martian or
not, I was as bonded to him as he was to me.
     But out  of curiosity, and possibly just to reassure myself that I  was
imagining things, I logged onto CompuServe. The ISSUES forum has a parenting
section. I left a message under the heading, "Is your child a Martian?"
     My little boy says he's a Martian. I've heard of two other children who
claim to be Martians as well. Has anyone else heard of  children who believe
that they're from Mars?
     Over the course of the next few days -- before the message scrolled off
the board and into the bit-bucket -- I received thirty-three replies.
     Several  of  the messages were thoughtful analyses of why a child might
say  such a  thing;  it was  pretty  much  what that  mother in Phoenix  had
surmised; it's  common for children to  fantasize  that they have  glamorous
origins.  In  the past,  children  might  have  believed they were  secretly
princes and princesses and  one day their real parents would arrive  to take
them  to  their  golden  castles. But because that  mythology has  now  been
superseded by  starships and mutants, it's more  appropriate for children to
fantasize about traveling away on the Millennium Falcon  or  the Enterprise.
But if  a child was experienced enough  to know that those stories were just
fiction, he would also know that Mars was  a real planet; therefore ... Mars
gave credibility to the fantasy. Etcetera. Etcetera. Local mileage may vary,
but  if the  delusion persists, see a good therapist. It may be evidence  of
some deeper problem. Etcetera some more.
     I knew what Dennis's deeper problems were. He'd been bounced around the
foster care system for eight years before landing in my arms. He didn't know
where he came from or where he belonged.
     Several of  the replies  I  received were  from other  parents  sharing
pieces  of  weirdness  their own children had demonstrated. Interesting, but
not particularly useful to my inquiry.
     But ... there were over a dozen private messages.
     "My sister's  little  girl  used to insist  that she'd  been brought to
Earth in  a  UFO and  implanted  in  her mommy's tummy  while  her mommy was
asleep.  She  kept this up  until  she  was about  fourteen,  then  abruptly
stopped. After that, she wouldn't answer questions about it at all."
     "My next door neighbors had a  boy who said he wasn't  from  Earth.  He
disappeared  when he was  twelve. Without a trace. The police assumed he was
kidnapped."
     "My ex-wife  was  a child  psychologist. She  used  to  joke  about her
Martian  children.  She said she could tell  how  crazy New York was by  the
number of Martians she saw in any given year. At first she used to  tell the
parents that  same old same old about children needing to  fantasize about a
glamorous background, but later on she began to wonder. The stories the kids
told  were all very similar. They began life  as Martian tadpoles brought to
Earth and implanted in the uteruses of  Earth women. She always wanted to do
a study on Martian children, but she could never get a grant."
     "I  dated  a  girl  once who  said  she was from  Mars .  She  was very
insistent on it. When I tried  to get serious with her,  she turned me  down
flat. She said she really liked  me, but  it  wouldn't work out  between us.
When I asked her why, she said it was because she was from Mars. That's all.
I guess Martians have a rule against marrying outside their species."
     "I heard about a Martian when  I was in high school. He killed himself.
I didn't know him. I only heard about it afterward."
     "I thought I was from Mars once. I even had memories  of being on Mars.
It had a pink  sky. That's how I knew it was Mars. When  the photos  came in
from  JPL  showing that Mars really did  have  a  pink sky, just like in  my
memories, I thought that proved something. When I told my parents, they took
me  to see  a doctor. I was  in therapy for a long time,  but  I'm fine now.
Maybe you should get your son into therapy
     It was the last one that really got to me. I knew  the  person who sent
it meant to be reassuring, but instead, his message had the opposite effect.
     Okay, maybe  it's  me. Maybe  it's because I'm a writer. I read subtext
where  none  is  intended.  And  maybe  the cumulative  effect of all  these
messages, especially the wistful, almost plaintive tone of the last one left
me with a very uncomfortable feeling.
     I replied to all of these messages.
     I know this sounds silly, but please indulge me. What did  your Martian
friend/relative   look   like?   Did   he/she   have  any  special  physical
characteristics or medical problems?  What was  his/her personality like? Do
you  know what happened to him other? Does he/she  still believe that he/she
is from Mars?
     It took a  week or two to  compile the  responses. Of the  ten Martians
specifically mentioned, two  had  committed suicide. One  was successful  in
business.  Three  refused  to  talk   about  Mars.  Two  were  "cured."  The
whereabouts  of the others were  unknown.  Three were  missing.  Two  of the
missing had been repeated runaways during their teen years. I wondered where
they thought they were running to.
     Of  the ten Martians,  six  were  known  to have had golden-brown skin,
round  faces,  brown  eyes  and  very  long eyelashes.  The  hair color  was
generally dark blond or brown. That was an interesting statistical anomaly.
     Of the  ten  Martians,  five were hyperactive, two were  epileptic. The
other three weren't known.
     I asked the fellow whose ex-wife had been a child psychologist if she'd
ever noticed any statistical patterns among her Martians. He  said he didn't
know  and he didn't even know her whereabouts  anymore. She had  disappeared
two years earlier.




     I  called my  friend, Steve Barnes. He'd  written one of  the character
references I'd needed to adopt Dennis, and because of that I regarded him as
an unofficial godfather to the boy. We  chatted about this  and that and the
other  thing for  awhile. And then,  finally, I  said, "Steve -- do you know
about the Martian  phenomenon?" He didn't. I told him about it. He  asked me
if I was smoking dope again.
     "I'm serious, Steve."
     "So am I."
     "I    haven't    touched    that    crap    since    I    kicked    out
she-who-must-not-be-named," I said it angrily.
     "Just checking. You gotta admit that's a pretty bizarre story, though."
     "I know that. That's why I'm telling you. You're one  of the few people
I know who will actually consider it fairly. Geez  -- why is it that science
fiction writers are the most skeptical animals of all?"
     "Because  we get  to deal with  more  crazies  than anyone else," Steve
replied without missing a beat.
     "I don't know what to do with this," I said, admitting my  frustration.
"I know  it  sounds like  one  more  crazy UFO  mystery.  Only  this  one is
something that can  actually be  validated.  This is the kind of statistical
anomaly that can't be explained away by coincidence. And I bet there's a lot
more to it too. Like,  what  was the  blood type of all those children? What
was the position  of the Earth and Mars  when they were conceived?  What was
the phase of the moon? What are their favorite  foods?  How well did they do
in  school? What if there's  something  really going on here?  --  maybe not
Martians, maybe some  kind of social  phenomenon or syndrome -- I don't know
what it  is,  I don't know what else to  ask, and I  don't know who to tell.
Most of all, I don't want to end up on the front page of the Inquirer. Can't
you just see it? `SCI-FI WRITER HAS MARTIAN CHILD!'"
     "It might  be good for your career," Steve said thoughtfully. "I wonder
how many new readers you could pick up."
     "Oh,  yeah, sure. And I wonder how many old readers I'll lose. I'd like
to  be  taken seriously in  my old  age,  Steve. Remember  what happened  to
what's-his-name."
     "I'll never forget old  what's-his-name," Steve said. "Yeah, that was a
real sad story."
     "Anyway ... " I said. "You see my point? Where do I go from here?"
     "You  want my  real advice?" Steve asked. He didn't wait  for my reply.
"Don't go anywhere with it.  Drop it. Let someone else figure  it out. Or no
one. You said it yourself, David. `It's  almost always dangerous to be right
too soon.' Don't go borrowing trouble. Turn it into a story if you  must and
let  people think  it's a harmless fantasy.  But don't let  it screw up your
life. You  wanted this kid, didn't you?  Now  you have him. Just parent him.
That's the only thing that's really wanted and needed."
     He was right.  I knew  it. But I couldn't accept it. "Sure. That's easy
for you to say. You don't have a Martian in the house."
     "Yes I do." He laughed. "Only mine's a girl."
     "Huh -- ?"
     "Don't you get it? All children  are Martians. We get thirteen years to
civilize  the  little monsters. After that, it's too  late. Then they  start
eating our hearts out for the rest of our lives."
     "You sound like my mother now."
     "I'll take that as a compliment."
     "It's a good thing you don't know her, or you wouldn't say that."
     "Listen to me,  David," and his tone  of voice was  so serious that six
different  jokes died before  they  could  pass my lips  . "You're right  on
schedule. Have  you ever really  looked at the faces of new parents? Most of
them are walking around in a state of shock, wondering what happened -- what
is  this  loathsome reptilian  thing that  has suddenly invaded their lives?
It's part  of the  process of assimilation. The only difference  is that you
have a more  active imagination than most people. You know how to  name your
fears.  Trust  me on  this, Toni and I went through it too  with  Nicki.  We
thought she was a  -- never mind. Just know that this normal. There are days
when  you are absolutely  certain that you've got a cute and  stinky  little
alien in your house."
     "But every day?"
     "Trust me. It  passes. In a year or two, you  won't even  remember what
your life was like before."
     "Hmm. Maybe that's how long it takes  a Martian to  brainwash his human
hosts...."
     Steve sighed. "You've got it bad."
     "Yes, I do," I admitted.




     The Martian thing gnawed at me like an ulcer. I couldn't get it out  of
my head. No matter what we did, the thought was there.
     If we went  out front to swat koosh-balls back and forth, I wondered if
the reason he was having  trouble with his  coordination was  the unfamiliar
gravity of  Earth.  If  we went in  the  back  yard and jumped  in the  pool
together, I wondered if his attraction to water was because it was so scarce
on Mars. I wondered about his ability to hear a piece of music a single time
and  still remember the  melody so clearly that he could sing it again, note
for note, a month later;  he would walk through the house singing songs that
he could not have heard except on the  tapes I occasionally played; how many
nine-year-olds  know how  to sing My Clone Sleeps Alone  like Pat Benatar? I
wondered why  he had so little interest in comic books, but loved  to  watch
television  dramas about the  relationships of  human beings. He  hated Star
Trek,  he thought  it was  "too silly."  He loved  the Discovery  channel --
especially all the shows about animals and insects.
     There  was  no apparent pattern to his behavior, nothing that could  be
pointed to as evidence  of otherworldliness.  Indeed, the fact that  he  was
making his father  paranoid was a very strong argument  that he was a normal
Earth kid.
     And  then,  just  when I'd  forgotten ... something would happen. Maybe
he'd react  to something  on television  with an  off-the-wall comment  that
would make me look over at him curiously. There was that Bugs Bunny cartoon,
for  instance, where the rabbit is  making  life  difficult  for Marvin  the
Martian, stealing the eludium-235 detonator  so he can't blow  up the Earth.
In  the middle of it, Dennis quietly  declared,  "No, that's wrong. Martians
aren't like that." Then he got up and turned the television set off.
     "Why did you do that?" I asked.
     "Because it was wrong," he said blandly.
     "But it's only a cartoon." One of my favorite cartoons, I might add.
     "It's still wrong." And then he turned and went outside as if the whole
concept of television would never be interesting to him again.




     And now,  almost two  years to  the day  since I'd filled out the first
application, the nickel finally dropped and I sat up in bed in the middle of
the night. Why were so many adopted children hyperactive?
     The evidence was all around me. I just hadn't noticed it before. It was
there  in the  photo-listing books.  It seemed as if  every third  child was
hyperactive.  It was acknowledged in the books, the  articles, the seminars,
the tapes  ... that  a  higher proportion of foster children  have Attention
Deficit Disorder, also called Hyperactivity. Why was that?
     Some  theorists suggested that it was the result of substance abuse  by
the parents, which is why we saw it more in abandoned and unwanted children.
Some  doctors  believed  that  hyperactivity  was the  result of  the body's
failure to produce certain key  enzymes in response to physical stimulation;
therefore the child needed to  overstimulate himself  in order to produce an
equivalent  amount of  calming.  Still  others postulated  that there was an
emotional component to the disorder;  that  it was  a response to a  lack of
nurturing. Most interesting of all to me was the offhand note in one article
that  some  theorists   believed  that  many  cases  of  ADD  were  actually
misdiagnoses.  If you were  unattached and didn't know who you were or where
you had come from or where you were going,  you'd have a lot to worry about;
your attention might be distracted too.
     Or ... what if the behavior that was judged abnormal for Earth children
was  perfectly normal for Martian children? What if there was no such  thing
as ADD ... in Martians?
     At this point, I'd reached the limits of  my  ability  to research  the
question.  Who  could  I tell? Who would have the resources  to  pursue this
further? And who would take me seriously?
     Suppose  I picked  up the Los  Angeles Times tomorrow and saw that  Ben
Bova had  called  a press conference to announce that he'd been kidnapped by
aliens  and  taken  into   space  where  they'd  performed   bizarre  sexual
experiments on  him  ...  would  I  believe  him? Ben  is one  of  the  most
believable  men in the world.  Once, he  almost talked  me into  voting  for
Ronald Reagan. But if I saw  a  report like that in the newspaper, the first
thing I'd do would be to call Barbara and ask if Ben were all right.
     In other  words ... there  was simply  no  way  for me to research this
question without destroying all of my credibility as a writer.
     Even worse, there was no way  to research it without also destroying my
credibility as a parent.
     Up until this time, I'd  always been candid  with the  caseworkers  and
therapists;  I'd  talked  to them about  our discipline  problems, about  my
feelings of frustration, about ever  little step in the right direction  and
every  major  victory.  But ... suddenly, I realized  this  was  something I
couldn't  talk  to them about.  Suppose  I called Kathy Bright. What could I
say? "Uh, Kathy, it's David.  I  want to  talk to you about Dennis. You know
how he says he's a Martian? Well, I think he might  really be a  Martian and
... "
     Uh-huh.
     If the  adoptive father was  starting to  have hallucinations about the
child, how long would the Department  of Children's Services leave the child
in that placement? About twenty minutes, I figured. About as long as it took
to  get out there  and pick him up.  She'd pull him out  of my house so fast
they'd be  hearing  sonic booms in  Malibu.  And I wouldn't even be  able to
argue. She'd  be  right  to do  so.  A child needs  a  stable and  nurturing
environment. How stable and nurturing  would it be for him to be living with
an adult who suspects  he's from  another planet  and is wondering about his
ultimate motives.
     If I pursued this, I'd lose my son.
     The thought was intolerable. I  might never recover. I was sure that he
wouldn't. For the first time in his life, he'd finally formed an attachment.
What  would it  do  to him to  have it  broken  so abruptly? It would  truly
destroy his ability to trust any other human being.
     I couldn't do that to him. I couldn't do anything that might hurt him.
     And what  about me? I had  my own "attachment issues." I couldn't stand
the thought of another failure. Another brick in the wall, as they say.
     That was where I stayed stuck for the longest time. I walked around the
house in physical pain for three weeks. My chest hurt. My head hurt. My legs
hurt. My back hurt. My eyes hurt.  My throat  hurt. The only part of me that
didn't hurt was my brain. That was so numb, I couldn't think.
     I didn't know if he was a Martian or not. But something weird was going
on. Wasn't it? And  if it was just me -- if I  was going insane -- then what
right  do I have to try to parent this child  anyway? Either way I  lose. If
he's  a Martian,  I can't tell anyone. And if he isn't a Martian,  then  I'm
going crazy.




     I  started  looking  for  local evidence. I began  browsing  through my
journal.  I'd been making daily  notes  of interesting  incidents, in case I
ever wanted to write a book about our experiences. At first, I couldn't find
anything. Most of the incidents I'd written  about were  fairly mundane. Not
even good Readers` Digest material.
     For instance, the week after he moved in, I'd taken him to the baseball
game at  Dodger  Stadium. For the  first  part of the  game, he'd been  more
interested in having  a pennant and  getting some  cotton candy than in what
was going on down on  the stadium floor.  But along  about the fifth inning,
he'd climbed  up onto my lap and I  began explaining the  game  to him. "See
that man at home plate, holding the bat. Wish for him to hit the ball  right
out of the park."
     "Okay," said Dennis.
     Cra-a-ack! The  ball  went sailing straight  out into  the  right field
stands. Someone in the lower deck caught it and the runner  sauntered easily
around the bases while the organist played, "Glory, glory, Hallelujah."
     "You're  a  good  wisher,  Dennis.  That  was terrific. Want to try  it
again?"
     "No."
     "Okay."
     Two  innings later, the Dodgers were  one run behind. I asked Dennis to
wish for  hits  again.  Four pitches later, there  were runners at first and
third.
     It didn't matter to me who  came up to bat now; I hadn't remembered the
names of any ballplayers  since Roy Campanella was catching for Don Drysdale
and Sandy Koufax.  As far  as I was concerned, Who was on first, What was on
second, and I Don't  Know still played third. I liked  baseball only so long
as I didn't have to be an expert; but I'd never seen the Dodgers win a game.
Every time I came to the  stadium they lost; so I'd made it a  point to stay
away from Dodger Stadium  to give them  a fair chance at  winning. I  didn't
expect them to  win tonight; but Dennis's wishes had brought them from three
runs behind.
     "Okay, Dennis," I said, giving him a little squeeze. "It's time for one
last wish. See that guy at the  home plate, holding  the bat. You gotta wish
for him to hit a home  run. All the way out  of  the park. Just like before.
Okay?"
     "Okay."
     And just  like  before -- cra-a-ack -- the ball went  sailing deep into
right field, triggering  a sudden  cluster of  excited  fans scrambling down
across the seats.
     The Dodgers  won  that night. All the way home, I kept  praising Dennis
for his excellent wishing.




     A couple of weeks after that, we were stopped  at a light,  waiting for
it  to  change.  It was one  of  those intersections  that existed  slightly
sideways to  reality.  Whenever  you stopped there, time  slowed down  to  a
crawl. Without even  thinking, I said, "Dennis, wish  for  the light to turn
green please."
     "Okay," he said.
     -- and abruptly the light turned green. I frowned. It  seemed to me the
cycle hadn't quite completed.
     Nah. I  must  have  been daydreaming.  I  eased  the  car  through  the
intersection. A moment later, we got caught at the next red light . I said a
word.
     "Why'd you say that?"
     "These lights are supposed  to  be synchronized," I said. "So you  only
get green ones. We must be out of synch. Why don't  you wish for this  light
to change too please."
     "Okay."
     -- green.
     "Boy! You are really a good wisher."
     "Thank you."
     A minute later, I said, "Can you wish this light to turn green too?"
     "No," he said, abruptly angry. "You're going to use up all my wishes."
     "Huh?" I looked over at him.
     "I only have so many  wishes and you're going to use  them  all  up  on
stoplights." There was a hurt quality in his voice.
     I pulled the car  over to the side of the road and stopped. I turned to
him and put  my  hand gently on his shoulder. "Oh, sweetheart. I  don't know
who  told you that, but  that's not so. The wish  bag is bottomless. You can
have as many wishes as you want."
     "No, you can't," he insisted. "I have to save my wishes for things that
are important."
     "What's  the  most  important  thing you ever wished  for? "  I  asked,
already knowing the answer.
     He didn't answer.
     "What's the most important wish?" I repeated.
     Very softly, he admitted,  "I  wished for  a dad. Someone  who would be
nice to me."
     "Uh-huh. And did you get your wish?"
     He nodded.
     "So, you see, sweetheart. There's no shortage of miracles."
     I didn't know if he believed me. It was still too early in the process.
We  were still learning who each other  was . I noted the conversation in my
journal  and let  the matter slide. But it  left  me with  an  uncomfortable
feeling. What has to  happen to a child to make  him believe there's a limit
to wishes?
     A year later, I looked at the words I'd written glowing on the computer
screen, and  wondered about  Dennis's ability  to  wish.  It  was probably a
coincidence.  But maybe it wasn't.  That time  we'd  matched four out of six
numbers in the lottery and won eighty-eight dollars -- was that the week I'd
asked him to wish real hard for us to win?
     Maybe Martians have precognitive or telekinetic powers ... ?




     Dennis likes cleaning things. Without asking, he'll go out and wash the
car, or the patio. He'll give the dogs baths. He'll vacuum the rugs and take
the Dustbuster to the couch. He'll mop  the floors. His favorite  toys are a
sponge and a  squirt-bottle of  Simple Green. I've seen him take a rusty old
wrench he  found  in a vacant field  and scrub  the rust off of it until  it
shone  like  new. One  night  after dinner,  after he  finished methodically
loading the dishwasher,  I sat him down at  the kitchen table and told him I
had a surprise for him.
     "What?"
     "It's a book of puzzles."
     "Oh." He sounded disappointed.
     "No, listen.  Here's  the  game. You  have  twenty  minutes to do these
puzzles,  and then when  you finish. I  add them  up  and we'll find out how
smart you are. Do you want to do this?"
     "It'll really tell you how smart I am?"
     "Uh-huh. "
     He grabbed for the book and a pencil.
     "Wait a minute -- let  me set the timer. Okay? Now once you  start, you
can't stop. You have to go all the way through to the end. Okay?"
     "Okay."
     "Ready? "
     "Ready. "
     "One, two, three ... go."
     He attacked the first three puzzles with a vengeance. They were simple.
Pick the  next shape  in a  series: triangle, square,  pentagon  ... ? Which
object doesn't belong: horse,  cow, sheep,  scissors? Feather  is to Bird as
Fur is to: dog, automobile, ice cream ... ?
     Then the puzzles started getting harder  and  he  started  to frown. He
brushed his hair out of his eyes  and once he stopped  to clean his glasses;
but he stayed interested and involved and when the timer went off, he didn't
want to  stop.  He insisted that he be allowed to finish the puzzle  he  was
working on. What the hell. I let him.
     "What  does  it  say?" Dennis asked as I  computed the  percentile.  He
wanted to grab the test book out of my hand.
     "Well ... let me finish here. " I held it out of his reach as I checked
the table of percentiles.
     The  test  showed  that  he   had  above-average  intelligence  --  not
unexpected; hyperactive  kids  tend to  be brighter than average -- but well
within the normal range for a nine-year-old. "It says that you are fifty-two
inches high, that you weigh sixty-six pounds, and that your daddy loves  you
very much. It also says that you are very smart."
     "How smart?"
     "Well,  if this test were given to one  hundred children, you  would be
smarter than ninety-two of them."
     "How good is that?"
     "That's very good. You can't get much better. And it means we should go
out for ice cream after dinner. What do you think?"
     "Yeah! "
     Oh,  that was  another  thing.  He didn't like chocolate.  He preferred
rainbow sherbet. I'd never seen that in a kid before.




     A couple of weeks later, we played another game. I made  sure to pick a
quiet  evening, one  with  no  distractions. "This  game  is even harder," I
explained. "It's a kind of card game," I explained. "See  these cards? There
are  six different shapes here.  A  circle, a square, a star, three squiggly
lines, a cross, and a figure-eight. All you have to do  is guess  which  one
I'm looking at. See if you can read my mind, okay?"
     He frowned at me, and I had to explain it two or three more times. This
was not a game  he wanted to play.  I said okay and started  to put the deck
away.  If he  didn't want  to  cooperate, the results would be inconclusive.
"Can we go for ice cream after we do this?" he asked abruptly.
     "Sure," I said.
     "Okay, let's do it then."
     "All night. We have  to do  it five times.  Do you think you can do  it
that many times?"
     He shrugged. I laid out a paper in front of him, showing him the shapes
so he would be able remember them all. I told him he could close his eyes if
it would help him concentrate. The  test conditions were less than  perfect,
but if there were any precognitive or telepathic powers present, five trials
should be enough to demonstrate them.
     Half an hour later, I knew.
     Martians aren't telepathic.
     But they do like rainbow sherbet. A lot.




     There were other  tests. Not many.  Not anything too weird. Just little
ones that might indicate if there was something worth further investigation.
There wasn't.  As near  as I  could determine, there was  nothing so unusual
about Dennis that it would register as a statistical anomaly in a repeatable
testable circumstance.  He couldn't levitate.  He couldn't move  objects. He
couldn't make  things disappear. He didn't  know  how to grok. He could only
hold  his  breath for thirty-three  seconds. He  couldn't think  muscles. He
couldn't see around comers.
     But --
     He could predict elevators. Take him into any  building, anywhere. Take
him  to the  elevator bank. Let  him push the  up  button. Don't say a word.
Without fail, the door he stands in front of will be the one where the first
elevator arrives. Was he wishing them or predicting them? I don't know. It's
useful  only  at  science  fiction  conventions,  which  are  legendary  for
recalcitrant elevators. It has little value anywhere else in the world.
     He  could  make stop lights  turn green -- sometimes. Mostly, he waited
until he saw the lights for the cross street turn yellow before he announced
his  wish.  Maybe  he could still  make the Dodgers  score  four runs in two
innings -- but it wasn't  consistent. We went back to Dodger Stadium in May,
and either Dennis wasn't wishing or he really had used up all his wishes.
     He could  sing with perfect  pitch, especially if the lyrics were about
Popeye's  gastrointestinal  distress.  He could play a  video game for  four
hours  straight without food or water. He could invent an  amazing number of
excuses for not staying in bed. He could also hug my neck so hard  that once
I felt a warning crack in my trachea. My throat hurt for a week afterward.
     I began to think that maybe I had imagined the whole thing.




     On school  nights, I tucked him  in at 9:30. We  had a whole ritual. If
there  was time,  we  read a  storybook  together; whatever was appropriate.
Afterward, prayers --
     "I'm sorry God for ... I didn't do anything to be sorry for."
     "How about sassing your dad? Remember you had to take a timeout?"
     "Oh, yeah. I'm sorry God for sassing my dad. Thank  you God for ... um,
I can't think of anything."
     "Going swimming."
     "No. Thank you God for Calvin, my cat."
     "Good. Anything else you want to say to God?"
     "Does God hear the prayers of Martians?"
     "Uh ... of course he does. God hears everybody's prayers."
     "Not Martians."
     "Yes, even Martians."
     "Uh-uh."
     "Why do you say no?"
     "Because God didn't make any Martians."
     "If God didn't make the Martians, then who did?"
     "The devil."
     "Did the devil make you?"
     "Uh-huh."
     "How do you know?"
     "Because ... I'm a Martian."
     "Mm," I said, remembering a little speech  I'd made  just  about a year
ago. Let it be all right for him to be a  Martian for as long as he needs to
be. "All right," I  said. "But let me tell you a secret," I  whispered. "The
devil  didn't  make any Martians. That's just a  lie the devil wants  you to
believe. God made the Martians."
     "Really? "
     "Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a noodle in my eye."
     "How do you know?" He was very insistent.
     "Because I talk to God every night,"  I said. "Just like you, I say  my
prayers. And God made everything in the world."
     "But Martians aren't from this world -- "
     "That's night. But God made Mars too. And everything  on  it. Just like
she made this  world, she made a  whole bunch of others, and Mars was one of
them. Honest."
     "How come you say `she' when you talk about God?"
     "Because  sometimes God is female and  sometimes  God is  male.  God is
everything. And now  it's  time  for you to stop asking questions and go  to
sleep. Hugs and kisses -- ? "
     "Hugs and kisses."
     "G'night. No more talking."
     "I love you."
     "I love you too. Now no more talking."
     "Dad?'
     "What?"
     "I have to tell you something."
     "What? "
     "I love you."
     "I love you too. Now, shhh. No more talking, Dennis."
     "G'night."
     "Sleep tight -- "
     Finally,  I  got smart. I  stopped answering. Control  freaks.  We each
wanted to have the last word.




     I padded barefoot down  the  hall. I  stopped in the  living room  long
enough  to  turn  off  the television set, the  VCR, and the  surround-sound
system. I continued on through the dining room and finally to my office. Two
computers  sat  on   my  desk,  both  showing  me  that  it  was  9:47.  The
monster-child had manipulated an extra seventeen minutes tonight.
     I sat  down in my chair,  leaned back, put  my feet up on my  desk, and
stared out at the  dark waters of  the  swimming pool in the back yard . The
pool glowed with soft blue light.  The  night was  ... silent.  Somewhere, a
dog, barked.
     Somewhere --  that was his  name, yes; he was  a writer's  dog -- lived
under my desk. Whenever  I said," Let's go to work," wherever he was in  the
house, Somewhere would  pick himself  up and laboriously pad-pad-pad into my
office where  he'd  squelch himself flat and scrooch his way under the desk,
with a great impassioned Jewish sigh of, "I hope  you appreciate  what  I do
for you. `
     He'd stay there all day --  as long as the  computer was on.  Somewhere
would  only come out  for two  things:  cookies and the  doorbell...and  the
doorbell was  broken. It  had been broken  for as long as I'd lived  in this
house. I'd never had the need to get it  fixed. If someone came to the door,
the dog barked.
     Somewhere, the dog, barked.
     That was why  I  loved him so much. He was a living clich'. He  was the
only possible  justification for one of the most  infamous sentences in  bad
writing. It was just a matter of placing the commas correctly.
     Somewhere had just enough intelligence to keep  out of the way and more
than enough intelligence to find his dinner dish  -- as long as no one moved
it.  He  spent his  mornings resting under my desk, his afternoons  snoozing
behind the  couch, his evenings  snoring next to  Dennis; he spent the hours
before  dawn in the dark space underneath the headboard  of my bed, dreaming
about the refrigerator.
     Almost every night, just as Dennis began saying  his prayers, Somewhere
would  come sighing down the  hall, a shaggy, absent-minded canine-American.
He'd step over everything that was in his way, uncaring if he knocked over a
day's worth of Lego construction. He'd climb onto the bed, over my lap, over
Dennis,  grumbling softly as he found his position next  to Dennis. With his
prehensile tongue, he could slurp  the inside of Dennis's right ear from the
left side of his head, taking either the internal or external route.
     Tonight, though, he knew I wasn't  finished working. I had some serious
thinking to  do.  He  remained  under the desk, sighing about the  overtime.
"You're in super-golden hours," I said to him; he shut up.
     Whenever I'm in doubt about something, I sit down and start  writing. I
write  down everything I'm  feeling or  thinking or worrying  about.  I  say
everything there is to say until there's nothing left to say. The first time
I did this was the day after my dad died. I sat and wrote for two days. When
I  was  finished, I had a Nebula  nominated story, In the Deadlands. To this
day  I  still  don't fully  understand  what the  story was about,  but  the
emotional impact of it is undeniable. It still gives me the shudders.
     But the lesson  I learned from that experience was the  most  important
thing I've  ever learned about storytelling. Effective  writing isn't in the
mechanics. Anyone can master the mechanical act of stringing together  words
and sentences  and  paragraphs to  make a character move  from A to  B.  The
bookstores are full of evidence. But that's not writing. Writing isn't about
the words, it's about the experience. It's about the feeling  that the story
creates inside of you. If there's no feeling, there's no story.
     But  sometimes,  there's  only  the  feeling  without  any  meaning  or
understanding.  And  that's  not a  story either. What  I was  feeling about
Dennis was  so  confusing and  troubling and uncertain that I couldn't  even
begin to  sort it out. I needed to write  down all the separate pieces -- as
if in  the act of telling, it would  sort itself out. Sometimes  the process
worked.
     When I looked up again, three hours  had passed. My  back and shoulders
ached. The dog had gone to bed, and I felt I had accomplished nothing at all
except to delineate the scale of my frustration.
     Why  would an alien species come to this planet? The  last time I spent
that much time on this question, I came  up with giant pink man-eating slugs
in search of new flavors. Why would Martians send their children to Earth?
     The most  logical idea  that I came up with was  that they were here as
observers. Spies.
     Haven't you ever been  pulling on your underwear and realized that your
dog or your cat is watching you? Haven't you ever considered the possibility
that  the creature  is sharing your secrets with some secret network of dogs
and  cats?  "Oh, you  think  that's weird?  My  human  wears underwear  with
pictures of Rocky and Bullwinkle on them."
     But dogs  and cats are limited in  what they can observe. If you really
want to know a culture, you have to be a member of it. But an alien couldn't
step  in and pretend  to be a member of this culture, could he? He'd have to
learn. He'd have to be taught....
     Where  could a Martian  go  to get lessons  in being a human? Who gives
lessons in human beingness?
     Mommies and Daddies. That's right.




     "You're  too paranoid,"  my sane  friend said. He asked me to leave his
name out of this narrative, so I'll just call him my sane friend.
     "What do you mean?"
     "You think  that aliens are all motivated by  evil  intentions.  You've
written four  novels  about evil  aliens  eating  our  children, and  you're
working on a fifth. Isn't it possible that you're wrong?"
     "Moi? Wrong?"
     "Do you ever think about the cuckoo?" my sane friend asked.
     "No," I said.
     "Well, think about the cuckoo for a moment."
     "Okay."
     "How do you feel about the cuckoo?" he asked.
     "It's an  evil bird," I  said. "It lays its egg  in the sparrow's nest.
The cuckoo chick pushes  the other  babies out of the nest. The sparrow ends
up raising it -- even at the expense of her own young. It's a parasite."
     "See, that's your judgment talking -- "
     "That's the truth -- " I started to object.
     "Is it? Is that what you tell Dennis about his birth-mother?"
     "Uh  -- I tell him that his birth-mom  couldn't take  care of him.  And
that  she loves him  and  misses him. And  that's  the  truth.  Sort of  ...
whitewashed."
     My sane friend grinned at me.
     "Okay," I admitted. "I'm protective of my son. So what?"
     My sane friend shrugged. "How do you think the cuckoo feels?"
     "Birds don't feel."
     "If it could feel, how do you think it would feel?"
     I thought  about it. The  first image that came to  mind  was the silly
little bird from the Dr.  Seuss story; the one  who flew off, leaving Horton
the elephant  to hatch her egg.  I shook my head. "I'm not getting  anything
useful -- ~}
     "How do you think Dennis's mother feels?"
     I  shook my head again. "Everything I've  heard  about her ... I  can't
empathize."
     "All right, try it this way. Under what  circumstances  would  you give
Dennis up?"
     "I'd die  before  I'd give him up," I  said. "He makes  me happier than
anybody  I've  ever  known before. Just looking at him, I  get an  endorphin
rush. If anybody  started proceedings to take him out of  my  home, I'd have
him on a plane to  New Zealand so  fast  -- " I stopped. "Oh, I see what you
mean." I  thought about  it. "If I wasn't able to take  care of him, or if I
thought I was hurting him, or if I thought I wasn't doing a good  enough job
-- " There was that old familiar twinge again. "If I thought he'd really  be
better off with someone else, I'd want him to have the best chance possible.
But I just can't see that happening."
     "Uh-huh...."  My  sane  friend  grinned.  "Now,  how  do  you think the
Martians feel?"
     "Huh?"
     He repeated the question.
     I thought about it for a while. "I'd have  to assume that if they  have
the capability to implant their children in human wombs that they would have
a highly  developed science and technology and  that implies -- to me anyway
-- a highly developed emotional  structure  and  probably a  correspondingly
well-developed  moral structure as well. At least,  that's what  I'd like to
believe."
     "And if what you believe is true ... " he started to say.
     I finished the thought for him. " ... then the Martians are trusting us
with their children."
     "Aren't they?" he asked.
     I didn't answer.  I didn't like where that train of thought might lead.
But I followed it anyway.
     "Would you trust your child to apes or wolves? " my sane friend  asked.
"No," I said. "You know what happens to feral children."
     He nodded. "I've read the same books you have."
     "So, if the Martians are trusting us with their  children ... then that
implies that either they don't  care about  their  children very much --  or
they do."
     "You want my best guess?"
     "This is where you resolve everything for me, isn't it?"
     "No. This is where I tell you what I think.  I think they're engaged in
a long-term breeding experiment ... to upgrade the level of intelligence and
compassion in the human race."
     "Yeah?" I gave him my best raised-eyebrow look. "Remember what happened
to  Spock? He  was a half-breed  too. His parents wanted to breed  a logical
human. Instead, they got an emotional Vulcan."
     "Have you got a better guess?"
     "No," I admitted. "But what kind of Martians are we raising?"
     "What kind of Martian are you raising?" he corrected.
     And that really did it for me. That was the question. "I don't know," I
finally admitted. "But -- he is mine to raise, isn't he?"
     "Yep," my sane friend agreed.
     That thought echoed for a long long moment. Finally, I acknowledged the
truth of it with a grin. "Yeah," I said. "I can live with that...."




     As a literary puzzle, this is incomplete.  As a story, it doesn't work.
There's no ending.
     There isn't enough evidence  for me to even suggest a  conclusion. What
do we know about the Martians? For that matter, what do we really know about
ourselves?  There's nothing to extrapolate. And if the Martians  are  really
engaged in some kind of large-scale genetic engineering we won't really know
what  their  intentions  are  until  the  Martian  children  start  reaching
adulthood.  Dennis will be old  enough  to  vote  in  2005.  And that raises
another question. How long have the Martians been planting  their babies  in
human homes? Maybe we already live in a Martian-influenced world? )
     Maybe  the  Martian children  will  be  super  geniuses, inventing cold
fusion  and  silicon sentience  and  nanotechnological  miracles  -- Stephen
Hawking and Buckminster Fuller. Maybe they'll be spiritual saviors, bringing
such  superior  technology of consciousness that those of us brave enough to
follow will achieve the enlightenment of saints. Maybe they'll be demagogues
and  dictators. Or maybe they'll be madmen and  all end  up in institutions.
And maybe they'll be monsters, giving us a  new generation of serial killers
and cult-leaders -- Jack the Ripper and Charles Manson.
     All we can do is wait and see how it works out.




     There's one more thing.
     In  reviewing  the  material for  this  story, I came across a  curious
coincidence.  Kathy Bright had given me  several  huge stacks of  reports on
Dennis,  written by various therapists and counselors.  I hadn't had time to
read them  all, and after  the first few,  I stopped -- I  didn't want their
experience  of Dennis;  I  wanted  to make up my  own mind. But as  I  paged
through the files, looking for Martian stuff, one  of them caught my eye. On
Saturday, June 27th, 1992, Carolyn Green (the  counselor  on his case at the
time) had noted,  "Dennis thinks God doesn't hear  his prayers,  because  he
wished for a dad and nothing happened."
     I first saw Dennis's picture on Saturday, June 27th, 1992, at about two
in  the aftemoon. According  to  Carolyn  Green's report, that was the exact
time of his weekly session. I cannot  help  but believe that he was  wishing
for a dad at the exact moment  I first saw his picture. A Martian  wish. Was
that what I felt so strongly?
     Does  it mean anything? Maybe. Maybe  not. In any case, I  know  better
than to argue with Martian wishes. Tonight, at bed time, he wished for me to
be happy.
     I had to smile. "Was that a Martian wish?" I asked.
     "Yes," he said, in a voice that left no room for disagreement.
     "Then, I'm happy," I said. And in fact, I was.
     I hadn't realized it before, because I hadn't acknowledged it, not even
to myself; but as I walked back down the  hall to my  office, I had to admit
that I was glowing. I'd  gotten everything I'd  wanted,  a wonderful son,  a
profound  sense of  family, a whole new reason for waking up in the morning.
So what if  he's a Martian, it  really doesn't matter, does it? He's my son,
and I love him. I'm not giving him up. He's special.
     When Dennis puts his  mind to  it,  he can predict  elevators  and make
stoplights turn  green and help the Dodgers win  baseball games. He can make
lottery tickets pay  off (a little bit, four numbers  at  a time) and he can
wish a father into his life. That's pretty powerful stuff.
     I think  we  might experiment  with that a little bit more. We  haven't
bought any lottery tickets in a while. Maybe we should buy a couple tonight.
And if that works, who  knows what else he could wish for. I was thinking of
asking  him to  wish  for  a  Hugo  award for  his dad --  just a test,  you
understand -- but this  morning, he announced he was going to wish for a mom
instead. I'll be very interested to see how that one works out.


     AUTHOR'S AFTERWORD:
     This story is, to the best of my knowledge, a work of fiction.
     Yes, I have an adopted son.  Yes,  his  name is Dennis. No, he is not a
Martian.
     I  asked  him if  he  was. He  said  he  wasn't. Then he  came over and
whispered in my ear, "I said no because we're not supposed to tell."






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