The third planet from the sun, with its rich nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, two-to-one ratio of sea to land, and somewhat primitive carbon-based life forms, was a complete and total mess. Frowning, Sklaar scratched his head with one of his hind-tentacles and wondered what to do.
As a mid-level Guardian, Sklaar was responsible for three galaxies on the eastern rim of the universe and there just weren't enough hours in the day, even though Sklaar's days were approximately four hundred and eighty years long. He'd been keeping an eye-stalk on the little blue-green planet for some time now and his latest findings were most worrisome.
For ten million years, the native life-forms and the planet's ecosystem had coexisted in perfect equilibrium: one big, happy family residing in a beautiful, pristine home. Recently, however, rapid and unfavorable changes were occurring in the planet's air, water, and weather, changes which were killing off species, both animal and vegetable, at an alarming rate.
If nothing was done, this would soon be a dead world.
Not on my watch, thought Sklaar, tapping his beak with a pen as he studied the planet's core-temperature readings.
The problem appeared to be the monkeys. Not all the monkeys, mind you, just one particular species, unique among their breed for having sparse fur, no tail, and laughably small penises.
Homo sapiens, in the unintentionally-ironic local parlance. Humans.
The humans had developed technologically to the point where they no longer had any natural enemies. They feared nothing, save death and taxes, and had even found ways to combat the viruses the Guardians sent to keep them in check. As a result, they were completely out of control, eating and drinking to excess, fighting constantly, and blithely poisoning the ecosystem with scant regard for each other, and none at all for the "lesser" life-forms.
Worse still, the humans seemed to devote the vast majority of their thoughts and actions to reproduction, or more specifically, the sex act. When they weren't copulating, they were thinking about it, and when they weren't thinking about it, they were watching videos of other monkeys copulating. Sex with their mates, sex with strangers, sex using toys or sex all alone, it didn't seem to matter: they just had to have it.
Consequently, the human population had grown exponentially and overrun every habitat in sight, even ones so blisteringly hot or desolately cold that they were previously considered unconducive to monkey life. In all his millennia, Sklaar had never encountered such a prolific and thoroughly horny race, they were even worse than the tri-breasted Pamelonians of Labia Minor.
The solution seemed simple enough: No more monkeys humping on the bed! But Sklaar was not ready to eradicate Homo sapiens, even though it would have required only the touch of a button. He'd spent countless hours studying them and, frankly, he was amazed at their science and industry, impressed with their art and music, and absolutely enthralled by their television.
Sklaar loved sitcoms, I Love Lucy in particular, and he'd snuck home footage to watch in his free time. He would crack up when Ricky fractured the language, chuckle when Ethel rolled her eyes, and laugh uproariously at Lucy's shenanigans. Fred, he was lukewarm on.
No, Sklaar could not sign off on the extermination of these complex, resourceful, and intelligent, albeit sex-addled, creatures. There had to be another way.
After much deliberation, the Universal Guardian decided to pay a visit to the endangered little world, in a guise the humans could relate to, and see if he couldn't somehow save the planet and the terribly naughty monkeys.
Sklaar donned his disguise -- a lifelike mask based on his favorite TV character, a blue suit and a red power tie -- and settled into the cockpit of his solar-powered spaceship. He pulled up a map of Washington, D.C., the apparent seat of planetary power, and punched in coordinates for the exact spot on Pennsylvania Avenue where he planned to land and address the human race, hopefully influencing the monkeys to change their wanton ways.
Then Guardian Sklaar blasted off, whooshing through the vast, yawning emptiness of space at an absurd rate of speed, a figure containing more zeroes than you could imagine, but available upon request.
It is said that the beating of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can affect the outcome of a presidential election in America, especially if one of the candidates has a brother who controls a key state. As it turns out, this is true; Brazilian butterflies are constantly interfering with the course of human affairs. They think it's funny.
As Sklaar's ship neared the Earth, a direct descendant of the butterfly whose fluttering once kept a war-mongering nitwit in the Oval Office for four more years, decided to flap his wings. He was promptly eaten by a bat, which was then chased by a cat, causing a SAT-COM truck to swerve and crash, putting a satellite directly in Sklaar's path, causing his ship to spin out of control before landing nose-first in a hole, in a swamp full of snakes in the same southern state once run by the President's bro'.
Lee-Ron Dingleberry was rocking back and forth on the porch of his ramshackle hut, smoking his corncob pipe and tapping his foot to his favorite tune, "You Done Left and Took the Soap." At his feet lay a puddle of gray coon-hound, comatose except for the occasional low growl directed at dream rabbits. As he rocked, Lee-Ron gazed up at the glimmering stars and tried to count them all, something that always relaxed him after a long, muggy day in the 'Glades.
He was already up to twelve when a shooting star suddenly streaked across the night sky.
Lee-Ron quickly closed his eyes -- although the one with the glass eye didn't close all the way, the damn thing never did fit right -- and made a wish. Then he glanced over at the couch which had once been the entire back seat of a '73 Caddy.
Grace was still there.
So much for wishing on a star. It seemed that the quarter-ton of sharp-tongued shrew he'd married when she was a mere wisp of a girl, at two-eighty or so, was immune to wishing and would continue to dampen his spirit, as surely as she was crushing the poor springs in the Cadillac couch.
A huge kaboom! tore Lee-Ron's attention away from his sweaty, wedge-faced wife and he half stood, staring out into the swamp. Now what in tarnation was that?
"C'mon, Dawg," he said, putting on his faded NASCAR cap and slinging his rifle over his shoulder. "Let's go check it out."
The gray dog neither budged nor made a sound; there was only the low hum of the cricket chorus and the rhythmic crunch of Cheese Doodles as Grace devoured them by the fistful. The radio, for some reason, seemed to have gone on the fritz.
Lee-Ron hopped into his flat-bottomed skiff and shoved off into the swamp, the boat cutting quietly through the dark, murky water, the surface unbroken save for the occasional glint of alligator eyes. He slapped at mosquitoes as he rowed and breathed deeply of the rich, putrescent perfume of the swamp. God, how he loved his life, although he couldn't say the same about his wife.
When she wasn't stuffing her face, Grace was terribly unhappy and she'd never been shy about letting him know. She seemingly existed only to eat and complain, and looked at sex the way Lee-Ron viewed dental treatment, as something messy and unpleasant, to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Not surprisingly, they were childless.
Lee-Ron navigated a narrow sawgrass slough with overhanging branches and vines, glancing left and right for hanging cottonmouths, and came out into a large moonlit pond, the full moon providing enough illumination to read a book by, if you cared for that sort of thing. Looking up, he noticed several cypress trees with sheared-off tops, some of the branches still smoking, and followed the pitch of the damage to a small mud flat where something lay whimpering in the mud.
As Lee-Ron headed for the flat, something fleshy floated by and he plucked it from the water. It was a latex-rubber mask and when he spread his fingers inside it, he could see it was supposed to be Ricky Ricardo. Lee-Ron grinned and laid the mask in the back of the boat for safekeeping. Grace enjoyed watching reruns of I Love Lucy before bed and she might get a kick out of seeing him wear the mask. And he might get lucky, though the odds were better for him winning the Mega Millions jackpot.
When the boat skidded to a halt on the mud flat, Lee-Ron gasped. Writhing in the muck was what looked like a giant squid, nearly six-foot long, wearing a blue suit that was torn in several places, revealing long, purplish tentacles.
In an instant, Lee-Ron saw it all: carloads of over-dressed Yankees pulling into his parking lot and lining up, cash in hand, for the right, nay, the privilege, of beholding "The Giant Squid From Outer Space!" And then, and this was the kicker, they'd file out through aisles full of Everglades souvenirs and hand every last bit of green in their wallets to the cashiers by the exit. Just like at Disney World.
Lee-Ron saw himself strolling around Squid World in a cream-colored suit, sucking on his pipe and smiling benevolently at the tourists, his new glass eye a perfect fit and the right color this time. He imagined all the women who'd be interested in such a man, a self-made man, a wealthy -- what was that French phrase again? -- a wealthy "ontray prenoor."
Yes, that's precisely what he'd tell the talk show hosts: Lee-Ron would say, "Jay -- may I call you Jay? -- based on my success in fifth grade, I always knew one day I'd be a wealthy ontray -- "
A low moan from the creature brought Lee-Ron back to the present. There'd be no cream-colored suit or fancy glass eye if the thing died.
Lee-Ron took the Confederate flag he stored under the back seat of the boat, wrapped the creature in it, and lugged it into the skiff. As they headed back to Lee-Ron's shack, he gently stroked the thing's shiny head and said, "You gonna be all right, big fella," and grinning widely enough to show all ten of his teeth, "We both are." An extraordinary number of alligators watched them as they floated by and the crickets were uncharacteristically silent, no doubt in awe of the Universal Guardian in their midst.
Grace stared at the strange creature, her mouth hanging open and empty for once, a trail of Cheese Doodle crumbs descending from her lips to her chin and on down the massive ski slope of her bosom, and she could think of only one thing: fried calamari.
Grace lived for food -- Raisinets were her raison d'etre -- and she was aware of only one need, the need to feed. She loved all kinds of food, especially seafood, but was particularly passionate about fried calamari, even though sometimes it could be bland and chewy, like the calamari at Capt. Dick's House of Crabs. This calamari, however, would be sweet and tender, heck, the thing was still alive!
Grace imagined flaying foot-long strips of flesh from the creature and lopping off entire fire hose-thick tentacles, then coating them with egg white and breading them in her own special recipe of grated cheese, garlic, oregano, and crushed-up Cheese Doodles. She thrilled at the thought of dropping the gooey, orange pieces into a big vat of sizzling fat and watching them turn a scrumptious golden brown. Why, her mouth was filling up with saliva just thinking about it.
But Lee-Ron was mumbling something about Squid World or some such nonsense -- he'd always been a dreamer -- and it was going to take something extra special to get the delectable-looking creature away from him.
Maybe sex. Grace could make that fool of a man do just about anything for a little nookie.
She looked meaningfully into Lee-Ron's good eye and purred, "Know whut I'm in the mood for, Darlin'?"
"A gallon of mint-chocolate chip ice cream?" he guessed.
His wife shook her head no and seductively licked her lips, washing off the Cheese Doodle dusting in the process.
"Cherry Garcia?" said Lee-Ron.
Grace realized he probably wouldn't guess sex since it wasn't his birthday, Christmas, or the running of the Talladega 500. She decided to use a more direct approach. She fell back on the Cadillac couch, the ancient coil springs protesting mightily, and pulled her tropical-flowered muu-muu, a garment spacious enough to have housed the Hindenburg, up to her waist.
Lee-Ron's real eye got nearly as big as his fake one and now he was licking his lips. He took one look at the creature, which appeared to be asleep and resting comfortably, then hurried over to his wife, grinning like a jack o'lantern and unbuckling his belt as he went.
In the distance, a lonely bobcat squalled its mating call.
After all, it was Saturday night.
Sklaar was awakened from a frightful dream by an odd, rhythmic squawking, like a trampoline that could use a little oil. He looked up -- it seemed he was lying on a floor, wrapped in a red and blue blanket -- and saw the most amazing thing he'd ever seen, which was saying a lot for a million-year old Guardian.
The male monkey who'd rescued him from the swamp was now perched on top of a huge, wobbly mountain of flesh, his scrawny butt bobbing up and down in the moonlight, the combined weight of the lovers threatening the very integrity of the couch. Sklaar couldn't tell what kind of creature the female was -- it didn't help that her top half was obscured by some sort of garish polyester material -- but she seemed much too large to be human.
No wonder this planet's in trouble, thought Sklaar. Despite having come face to face with an alien from space, the swamp-dwelling monkey was focused solely on sex, and not even with a member of his own species by the look of things.
As the male monkey grunted and groaned and moaned, Sklaar looked around and noticed a gray dog fast asleep in the corner. How the animal could sleep through such a ruckus, Sklaar didn't know, still, he thanked the Great Creator for such a worthy ally. Dogs were known throughout the universe as great helpers and protectors; without dogs, the foolish humans would have wiped themselves out eons ago.
The Guardian, though badly injured, was starting to heal now, his legendary energy slowly returning. He wondered if anything in his ship was salvageable after the brutal impact and underwater immersion. Probably not. Those damn Brazilian butterflies! He'd make sure to give them a piece of his mind before he left.
Landing grandly, all howling engines and flashing lights, in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue -- a strategy called "shock and awe" in the Guardian handbook -- was intended to subdue the monkeys' natural aggression, rendering them acquiescent and open to Sklaar's suggestions. But now, without "shock and awe," his ship, or his weapons, the Guardian was at a terrible disadvantage and potentially in harm's way since humans react badly to anything new or different.
The fornicating monkey finally finished, with a grunt and a brief shudder, then he rolled off his gargantuan partner and fell to the floor with a resounding whump! And there he lay, eyes closed and unmoving, whether asleep or concussed, Sklaar couldn't be sure. And now the flowery fabric was being rolled down and the female sat up, human after all, but more vast than an Andromedan moon cow.
She stared at Sklaar with unvarnished hunger, making him feel like he was lying on a dinner plate surrounded by garnish instead of on a rough wooden floor surrounded by candy wrappers and rusted motorcycle parts. Although he was recovering rapidly, Sklaar was still unable to stand, much less defend himself, and he cringed when the female monkey waddled over to the wall and grabbed a machete that was hanging from a hook.
Then she came for him, grinning maniacally and drooling from the side of her mouth, the machete's fine-honed edge flashing as she raised it overhead. In a blink, the gray dog was between them, barking furiously and baring his teeth.
"Shut up, you goldang mutt!" yelled Lee-Ron, rubbing the sleep from his eye. "Grace, whut the hell're you doin'? This here's an alien from space, gonna make us a fortune!"
Grace glared at the dog, then lowered the machete and smiled sweetly at her husband. "I thought you might be hungry, Darlin', after our wild night of passion. I was gonna fry us up some calamari."
Lee-Ron looked down at his limp member, laughably small even by human standards, and grinned the grin of the recently-laid. "That was special, Snooky Wookums," he said. "It felt just like the first time . . . or maybe the fifth."
Sklaar was finally himself again and he'd had just about enough of Darlin' and Snooky Wookums. He slithered upright, straightened his tie and proclaimed, "Behold, Earthlings, I am the Guardian Sklaar and I have come to save your planet."
"Well I'll be dipped in shit!" said Snooky Wookums.
The Guardian could make no sense of this, it must be a colloquialism, he thought and pressed onward. "Take me to your leader."
"Oh, you are too much!" said the female, giggling. "Is that you under there, Cletus?" she said, pinching Sklaar's beak hard enough for him to cry out and slither away a safe distance. For a brief moment he regretted not hitting the extermination button when he had the chance.
"I know no Cletus," he said irritably. "I am Sklaar, Guardian of the Eastern Rim Galaxies, Defender of the Universe!"
At this, Snooky Wookums doubled over in hysterics, laughing so hard she blew snot bubbles out her nose.
Sklaar, who had dined with the foul-smelling Turdledites of Fecal Five, found himself more thoroughly disgusted than he'd ever been in his life, yet another new low on this godforsaken trip. Disgust was a feeling unworthy of a Universal Guardian; they were specifically chosen for their non-judgment and compassion. Sklaar needed to turn this thing around.
He reached out a tentacle and touched the female's forehead, and with that touch, Grace remembered being a beautiful young teenager, not an ounce over two-hundred pounds, back when boys were more important than breakfast.
When had things gone sour? she wondered. When had food become so important that she stopped caring about others? Perhaps it was when Buster, her pet boa constrictor, had gotten run over by a semi. God, how she'd loved that snake! So many nights she'd cried herself to sleep over poor Buster.
But she'd never stopped being beautiful, she now realized, even if she had cocooned herself in a thick blanket of fat. It was high time she started living and loving others.
Smiling sheepishly, Grace said, "I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Sklaar. My name's Grace and I'll do anythin' I kin to help."
Before the Guardian could process this amazing change in Grace, he picked up something with his ultra-sensitive hearing. Sklaar, like others of his kind, had incredible auditory acuity. He could be sitting in a gale on top of Mt. Everest, yet still hear a clam fart on the ocean floor.
He now heard the rumble of several jeeps and armored trucks, all many miles away but moving rapidly in his direction. Worse still were the radio communiqués with the ominous phrases "potentially hostile alien" and "neutralize with extreme prejudice."
It seemed the authorities had tracked Sklaar's ship as it entered Earth's atmosphere and triangulated the exact location where he'd crashed. And thanks to real-time images from a spy satellite, they knew the alien was currently holed up at the Dingleberry residence on 52 Horny Toad Lane.
This was not good, not good at all. It was time to enlist the gray dog's help -- Sklaar's fate and the fate of mankind depended on it. The Guardian stared intently at Dawg and communicated with him telepathically. And together they came up with a plan.
Dawg performed a final inspection as the first jeeps came jouncing down the dirt road. He would have liked more prep time but considering the circumstances, they were as ready as they could be. Luckily, they would be dealing with the military, the most predictable and unimaginative beings in the universe.
The lead jeep screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust and an officer with a great many ribbons and medals came bustling toward the porch, flanked by gun-toting soldiers.
"All right, where's the alien?" he blurted, glaring at Lee-Ron and Grace, and totally ignoring Dawg.
This one's more predictable than most, thought Dawg, grinning.
"He ain't alien, he's Cuban," said Lee-Ron.
"Yeah, he's a distant cousin on my daddy's side," said Grace, "who just happened to be in the neighborhood."
The officer scowled at the homeowners and said, "Well let's just meet this cous -- " but before he could finish, the screen door banged open and a man walked out.
He had dark, slicked-back hair, a pleasant smile, and wore a badly-darned blue suit. His hands were stuffed in his pockets.
"What can I do for you fellows?" he said in a thick Cuban accent.
Twenty soldiers turned their rifles on him, their laser sights covering his forehead with red dots. The commanding officer coolly scrutinized the man and said, "State your name and your business."
"Ricky Ricardo," said Sklaar, smiling, "and I'm here on pleasure although I wouldn't mind landing a gig or two in Little Havana."
"Oh, so you're an entertainer, are you?" said the officer smugly. "Well, why don't you play a little something for us?" He folded his arms across his chest, careful not to disturb any medals, and waited. Several of the soldiers released the safeties on their weapons.
"What do you say, mi panas?" said the Guardian to Lee-Ron and his wife, and right on cue, Grace picked up an acoustic guitar and began strumming it. Lee-Ron joined in, slapping an empty gas can like a bongo, and then Sklaar belted out, "Babaloo aye, babaloo aye!" the three of them swaying in time to the beat.
When their stirring performance was over, the soldiers whistled and clapped until the commanding officer shut them down with a withering look.
"You're a pretty good singer, Mr. Ricardo," said the officer, taking a step closer, "But how do you explain this?"
He yanked Sklaar's hand out of his pocket, exposing a big, suction-cupped tentacle. But before anyone could pull the trigger, Dawg leapt between the alien and the officer and clamped his jaws -- ever so gently -- on the military man's crotch.
"Stand down," said the officer weakly.
"But, sir," said a square-jawed underling, "Our orders were to shoot the extraterrestrial on sight."
"I said stand down," hissed the officer, his voice rising as Dawg increased the pressure slightly. "Drop your weapons, men, immediately."
The soldiers engaged the safeties on their guns and dropped them, all except one moron whose automatic weapon hit the ground and sprayed a quick burst in the Guardian's direction. As Lee-Ron and Grace looked on, horrified, several streams of neon-green fluid flowed down the front of Sklaar's suit, and he collapsed.
"Nobody move," squeaked the commanding officer, his face beet-red in response to Dawg's nearly-unbearable bite force.
Dawg had feared just such a scenario and he pointed towards the swamp with his tail, indicating to the Dingleberry's that they should implement Plan B.
A weeping Grace wrapped Sklaar tight in the Confederate flag, Lee-Ron loaded him into the skiff, and the two of them pushed the boat into the swamp and watched the current take it away. Dawg had originally thought that an hour or two would be plenty of time for the boat to disappear into the vast, tractless Everglades, but he was furious with the military's brutish behavior and overriding lack of respect.
Why, I could stay clamped on this guy's package all day if I wanted to, thought Dawg, staring up into the commanding officer's panic-stricken face.
So he did.
Roxy took two more powerful strokes, then stood up and waded out of the pond wearing only gold earrings, a g-string, and a smile. This was normally her time for a little sunbathing but she was anxious to check in on her latest and strangest patient.
She'd found the squid-like creature ten days ago, in a boat that had washed up in the roots of a mangrove. The animal had apparently been shot by some red-neck hunters, too stupid or lazy to tie up their skiff, and was barely clinging to life. But luckily for the creature, all the bullets had passed through its body and thanks to Roxy's tender ministrations, it looked like the thing was going to survive.
Last night, the wildlife rescuer had been awakened by someone mumbling in a strange tongue and when she'd entered her makeshift hospital-tent, she realized it was the squid talking in its sleep.
"Gwin faroo maklack," it whispered, and "Zzzzzt too, blzzzmttt!" it yelled, and then, most shocking, "Oh Looh-see, I theen you got some splainin' to do," it said, clear as day. The creature was silent after that, leaving Roxy alone with her thoughts as a multitude of mosquitoes stared in through the netting.
A talking squid, oh my! Where in God's name had it come from? The unfathomable depths of the ocean perhaps, or one of the billions of stars up above? Or maybe it had merely fled Cuba, there was no mistaking that accent. Roxy would simply have to ask it when it regained consciousness.
After toweling herself off, Roxy took the thing's temperature, a balmy but steady one hundred and twenty degrees, and cleaned its wounds which were healing at an astounding rate. Having dedicated her life to saving animals, an avocation made possible by her brief but extremely lucrative career as an adult entertainer, Roxy was an expert on gunshot wounds. By all rights this squid should be dead.
But its heartbeats were strong -- it apparently had three hearts -- its respiration steady, and the ugly, gaping wounds it had arrived with were now the size of mosquito bites.
As Roxy rubbed the thing's tentacles with her own special concoction of aloe and coconut oil, it opened its big limpid eyes and said, "W-where am I?"
"That's a good question, my friend," she said, pouring more of the healing oil into her hands. "I change my location every couple of weeks, but it's safe to say we're somewhere in the heart of the Everglades." She stroked one of the thing's purple tentacles from its base to its tip, gently massaging the glistening flesh as she went.
"That feels good," said the creature. "You have a wonderful touch."
"So I've been told," said Roxy, working one tentacle after another. She noticed the squid staring at her ample bosom.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"I am Sklaar, Guardian of the, um . . . Universe," said the thing, licking its beak as Roxy stroked and squeezed the innermost tentacles.
"Oh my," said Roxy, reaching for a single, foot-long tentacle practically hidden in the midst of the others. "That sounds like a really important job." As she stroked the small tentacle, she felt it stiffen, and the creature groaned.
"Oh my," said Roxy, smirking and squirting more oil in her hand.
Sklaar took another bite of fried plantain -- Good Glarp, that was good! -- and washed it down with another Corona, his fifth since awakening. Then he picked up a pen and used it to type a message to his superiors:
Still recovering from injuries sustained while landing on Earth.
Those damn butterflies! Will need another couple of hours -- approx. forty years in local time -- to fully mend and hopefully influence the humans to behave better. Kindly ask Gribnetz to cover for me.
Best regards, Sklaar.
The Guardian hit the "send" button on Roxy's solar-powered laptop and then helped himself to another slice of mango. He'd checked on the broken-winged egret, watered the cannabis garden, and sent birthday wishes to his old pal, Dawg. And as the tropical sun slowly reached its zenith, it was finally time to relax.
Sklaar cracked open another Corona.
"Honey," called Roxy from their brand new tree-house. "Petticoat Junction's on in a minute."
Ah, that crafty Uncle Joe, thought Sklaar. Living with three hot bitches in the middle of nowhere. How sweet is that?
The Universal Guardian chuckled, drained his beer in a single gulp, and threw the empty bottle into the swamp.
"And don't forget the coconut oil," yelled Roxy.
"Coming, darling," said Sklaar.
Originally published in Roar & Thunder magazine.