It wasn’t his fault. It was the damn ol’ grasshopper. The damn ol’ grasshopper had surprised him when it jumped onto his sleeve, so he’d batted at it. And it landed in the punch bowl.
Then crazy Grandma with her orange hair and million wrinkles had screeched, “Toby threw a grasshopper in the punch,” whereupon he’d accidentally knocked the punch bowl right off the sideboard. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if the punch bowl hadn’t hit tile floor. Fortunately there wasn’t much punch left in it, what with the grownups going back and forth to it all afternoon, steadily getting noisier and angrier.
Anyway, everyone was SHOUTING at him and at each other, so he’d made a run for the closet under the stairs. They were all still at it out there, but at least he wasn’t in the middle anymore.
He took his knees off his ears to have a listen. His mother’s voice sliced through the closet door. “What do you mean, your son? He’s our son, the last I looked, even if you’ve gone off to live in coital heaven.” And then Renee (“the so-called step-mother”, his Mum called her) had shrieked something about how she’d said this family wasn’t capable of a blended Christmas, and it wasn’t her stupid child who’d demolished the punch bowl, and she could not be under the same roof as the stupid child and its stupid mother. Then came Uncle Owen’s voice. “You might all want to consider quietening down a little,” which was more craziness because he was shouting too. It was like laser beams were firing out of everyone’s mouths.
Toby crouched down as footsteps climbed the stairs centimetres over his head. First came a clickety-clickety set, then heavier stomping ones. Dust trickled into his eyes. His mother’s voice hollered, “That’s right, run away, you coward. Go do some Christmas afternoon banging.”
At that point, Toby realised he badly needed to set up the Supersonic-Space-Shield. Now that his eyes were getting adjusted to the dark, he could see it standing against the wall. It looked like an ordinary umbrella, but Toby knew its actual powers.
“Las’ time I invite ANY of you to my housh for Chrishmas.” That was his grandmother, in her too-much-punch voice. He hurriedly set up the Supersonic-Space-Shield and switched it on, then put his fingers into his ears for good measure.
The sound shield worked fine, and after a while he pulled his fingers out of his ears. There was a tapping on the closet door. A voice said, “Toby? It’s Uncle Owen here. Wanna come out now?”
Silence for a moment.
“Well, can I come in?”
Toby considered the request. He liked Uncle Owen mightily. On the other hand, he was gay as a fruit fly, which he’d heard Renee say and meant something was wrong with him. Also, he was a pretty big guy and the closet under the stairs was pretty small.
Toby opened the door a crack. Uncle Owen’s face looked worriedly at him. “You can come in for a while,” Toby whispered. “But you have to be quiet in here.”
“I can do that,” said Uncle Owen.
“And you can’t see when you first come in, so you have to be careful.”
“I can do that.”
“I’ll put the Supersonic-Space-Shield down so there’s more room.”
“Thanks.” There was much scrunching and moving about while Uncle Owen got himself settled. “Ow!”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m just getting used to sitting on the vacuum cleaner attachment.” There was a long period of quiet.
“I didn’t exactly throw the grasshopper into the punch bowl,” Toby ventured.
“I sort of pointed it there, but it jumped on its own.”
“And I just had a reflex that made the punch bowl fall off. You know, like, a reflex?”
“Yeah, I know about reflexes.”
“And besides, the punch bowl was stupid. Everybody was going back and forth, back and forth to it, and getting louder and grumpier each time.”
There was a pause. “Click-clack-clerk dadadada shoodabunner.”
“What’s that?” Toby asked, startled.
“I’m pretty sure it was the space alien talking to us, the one who invented the shield. He said, ‘Well, at least they can’t drink the punch anymore.’”
Toby giggled. More silence.
“Do you think any of them will like me after this?”
“Blekka-blekka shostabang blekka-blekka kerchoo.”
“What does that mean?”
“The alien says: ‘They’ll all sober up soon, and feel bad that they got a little crazy. Then they’ll love you up all the more.’”
Toby found Uncle Owen’s hand and slid his own into it.
Silence. Either Uncle Owen or the space alien made a grunting noise, then Uncle Owen said, “Do you think we should go out on the planet surface now, inspect things after the invasion?”
Silence. Then, “Okay, but I’m taking the Supersonic-Space-Shield with me.”
“Good idea. I’ll go out first and check if there’s enough oxygen on the planet.” Uncle Owen cracked open the door and sniffed loudly. “It seems fine.”
Toby followed cautiously. The planet surface looked all right. There was no sign of Dad or Renee, who’d probably been vaporised. Grandma must have been zapped by an alien stun gun, as her orange hair was on crooked and she was making loud snores on the sofa. Mum was over in the corner on her hands and knees where the punch bowl had landed, with a pail of water and a bunch of newspaper beside her, making snuffling noises.
“Let’s sneak out and sit on the swing,” whispered Uncle Owen.
“Okay. I got the Supersonic-Space-Shield.”
They climbed into the swing. “That’s very useful when the grownups get too much into the punch,” Uncle Owen commented as Toby opened up the shield.
“Clooka clinka cavoot-voot-voot.”
“What’d he say?” asked Uncle Owen.
“He says, ‘I’ll stick around to keep you company. AND if we want, we can ring Uncle Owen.’”
“Smart dude,” said Uncle Owen, as they rocked back and forth.