Swordfish and Licorice

It was on the 3,768th fan rotation that Lani knocked on the door. I dove for the handle, only to have it squirm from my grasp. She knocked again, then again, until her pounding drummed around in my head as I wrestled with the Jello handle that kept squirting from my grasp.

It took some work to get the door off the hinges. But it fell like a drawbridge. Lani jumped back when it fell, then casually sidestepped around it and stood in the doorway. She was smiling, shining like Wonder Woman, her cape dripping with orange juice while her mascara ran in streams down her cheeks.

The dust hovered at her waist, threatening to wrap her up and drag her out to the melting horizon, pulsing with dusk…or dawn. Dawn I think, but I’ve never been good with labels or compasses. “I need your help,” she said, then handed me a swordfish. “Your family’s life depends on it.”


We were all set, I think, to go save my parents or something epic when the blast of a foghorn reminded me about the pizza in the oven. I regarded my scaly sword, thinking how anchovies would hit the spot. I was still basking in my brilliance when Lani jerked me off the porch and into the woods.

“There’s no time. Come on.”

She whisked me off. A beam of light cutting through the forest as I helped her up the tree. Its branches wiggled and swayed, the tree was trying to buck us from our mission with its many arms. But we climbed and climbed, our amphibious swords clearing the way. A pulsing glow from the bird house, humming and calling us to its spell. We were close when a branch swiped Lani from the tree.

“I’ll save you, Lani.”

I leapt, without regard for my own safety. The wind howled, screaming in my ears as I plummeted, and it was only after some painful flapping did I realize that I was stark naked. I hit with a thump, the roots of the tree in my rib cage, attempting to catch my breaths but they’d gotten a pretty good head start and were sprinting down the street as I gasped. A wiggle, a slither, those were not roots under my ribs but snakes, hissing and sliding and carrying me off on their backs. But Lani.

It took a heroic effort but I rolled off the roots and towards her only to have her wave me off.

“Your parents,” she moaned. “You must save your parents.”

A snake fastened itself around my ankle, sliding me into its den. Or is it a nest? Yeah, I think it’s a nest. Either was I was in a cucumber because my swordfish was out of reach, flopping and flailing in its own fight with the bristles of grass. Things were dire. The foghorn played on like a funeral song at the harbor.

I looked up to the stars, dripping with light, shooting and shining, swirling… and red. Red? I sat up on my elbows as an Earth shaking growl chased away the snakes, which were actually licorice Twizzlers but just as scary if not more so considering…

The mother ship lurched to a stop in the street. Doors opened. They came in pairs. Two here, rushing in with a giant worm in their hands.

They pointed to the house, where the menacing fog poured from the empty doorway. Two marched inside, the others approached me. By then the day was bright and the neighbors were gathering to watch the aliens overtake the house. More ships arrived. Lani must have been okay, because she was rolling on her back, giggling at the sky  and singing.

“The sun isn’t yellow, it’s chicken!”

Then I remembered.

“My pizza!”

Hoisted to my feet, the aliens confiscated my swordfish. Someone covered me with an itchy blanket of flaky asbestos. I sat beside Lani, her eyes were bright with wonder as we watched all of the platoon in the yard, giving commands and orders with their yellow heads and reflective skin. Two of them questioned the neighbors still wearing bathrobes.

Mrs. Willoughby informed them that my parents were out-of-town.

Oh thank God. They were safe.

We smiled. Lani licked the Jello off of my chin. Then she offered me another hit.


–Pete Fanning/2015


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