AI assisted by Thersa Matsuura
The banging on my front door woke me around midnight. I grabbed my nucleic phaser, tiptoed downstairs, and made my way to the living room. A low growling sound filled the room giving me goosebumps. The banging continued.
It must be an emergency, I thought. Were the Mushiblooms back? Did they need my help again? Or was it something more nefarious? Maybe uber dangerous? Okay, then. I'm in! I am nothing if not a risk taker.
I took a deep breath, put my trigger finger on the nucleic phaser's Shred-Button and opened the door. I gasped when what greeted me was none other than—
“The one and only,” he said with a sly grin.
"You're up early. Or are you just plain rude?"
He stood there looking like a beefcake vision from an old sci-fi movie: all skin and bones with eyes like a caveman that looked too big for his head. His thick brown hair fell past his shoulders, nearly hiding those giant eyeballs. He was so short I had to tilt my head back to look up at him. As much as I wanted to stare, I forced myself to keep it professional. I tried not to think of his long slender fingers holding his pistol…
A big gust of wind blew through the apartment, causing the curtains to sway in the window. The musty smell of old paper assaulted me. This meant trouble.
"Asteroid Arnie? Is this some sort of joke?"
"No, no, no. I'd never dream of messing with the great and mighty Moom-a-Roof!"
"Wow, that brings back memories. I haven't been called that since, well, forever," I said, checking out his new tattoos. There was one tattoo in particular, a weird little symbol near his shoulder blade that kind of looked like a handkerchief.
"Yo, Moomie, my face is up here!" I felt my face turning red.
"Listen, I'm retired, but I can't help being curious. What brings you to my neck of the universe?"
Asteroid Arnie cackled loudly, stepped over the threshold and plopped himself down on my couch, folding his hands behind his neck.
"Well now…" he began, licking his lips. He sat back and folded his arms across his chest. "Now we're getting somewhere. Let me tell you about how I've come to discover why the skies have changed into such a hostile place."
"You don't have to tell me twice."
The Adventure Begins
Outside I saw his hovercraft humming like a fly swatter.
“Moomy, we got a problem. It’s the mushiblooms. They need our help."
I plopped down beside him and looked at the camera. "So should we tell them who the Mushibloom are?"
"Well yeah, they're little fuzzy critters from an alternate Earth. And they need our help right now. But it's going to be dangerous."
"Extremely. Let's go."
We made our way out to the street and took off on his hovercar. We drove for a few minutes, then he turned onto an access road leading into the woods. At the end of this new road was a path marked by signs posted everywhere that read, "CAUTION BELOW. VOLCANO RISK. BE CAREFUL."
It was an insane ride. First we went around and around in circles and then—poof! We were out in an open desert with dust flying all over us like little bug-like aliens escaping after killing some guy in a white button-down shirt from the faraway planet.
"Whoops, wrong universe. Let's try this again."
He mashed hard on the jolt button and the hovercar shot forward and we jumped straight into the air above the desert. It made a long skid of crazy spinning directions that seemed like they were going to last forever but it all turned into a blink , and we were right back on our original path—back in the woods—with broken trees strewn about where we'd been just moments before. Only now smoke was coming from things that looked like–hah!—campfires, I guess. Among one of them toasting marshmallows were—were the Mushiblooms!
Only they were transparent, like the ghost of Mushiblooms.
“Almost there, Moomy. This time should be a charm!”
It was so hot the way he punched that Go Button. Such confidence. And him going on like that about my hair. What color is it? Orange. Why doesn't anyone ever mention that color when they talk about hair shades!?
We soared high over our destination, which he found by looking down at it from far above. There lay huge Bonsai trees.
"Goddammit, wrong again."
Mash that button, punch!
The hovercar began to straighten its course until it streaked in an arcing pass among high-voltage lighting towers and down we went into what we now see was row after row of perfectly, regularly, superbly organized fields of these giant bonsai trees! Asteroid Arnie smiled and ran his thin fingers along one of them while simultaneously winkering at me with those sizable eye orbs!
We skidded to a stop. The dome popped open with a hiss.
“We're going to have to walk this one. Haul her through. Sometimes this baby has a mind of her own, although she always seems to know what’s best.”
“Grab a rope. The portal is just up there.”
I didn’t know where the hell we were. But I did as Arnie said and jumped out of the craft. Immediately I sunk right to my knees in hot sandy muck that felt like it was melting my boots faster than hot molten lava could possibly melt rock!
We shouldered the pull lines and pulled.
This is even worse than last time, in that hellacious hell-scape we referred to as “Mission of the Marsh.” Ah, the good old days.
The air smelled foul and had just a hint of sulfur burning our legs and chest hairs on up to our scalps! Here again were those fleshy winged monsters flying about, nudging up against us as we strolled through this sorority bitch trap blasted wasteland, where algae scum matted against our noses, while some type of strange winged-beetle tried to puncture our eyeballs with stinger flea fighting leeches!
Our eyes felt they were tearing up at every step we took, thereby causing us to rub our wrists against our face perpetually. It was a constant struggle now but finally—finally, we came upon it—in focus—it rose above us weaving among these additional trees: big mushrooms getting even bigger as they grew into mini worlds unto themselves. Where elves ruled with Miniature Fine Redwoods; mysteriokid orchids hiding; sleeping sunflowers crocheted with human fingers. I marveled at bongs molded from clutch bags and tobacco fiber but also miniature burst of Mauve Jelly Trees. A single note —A flat—rang out. The ghosts of past Mushiblooms beckoned us. All of them wearing sculpted “Teasin’ Mary Jane” T-shirts. So much fuzzy belly fur.
“Hey! Moomy! Snap out of it. Keep your focus.”
The Alternate Earth
Finally I saw it. A circle of blue. A portal. Beyond that a bridge that arced, then disappeared into an abyss below.
We stopped at the edge, looking down.
“There it is. The doorway to the alternate earth.”
"Is this safe?"
"Of course it isn't. Don't be a baby."
I looked down. It stretched miles and miles into the center of wherever we were. How far down did it go? It didn’t matter. I wasn't going to let something like terror worry me.
"Lead the way," I said.
As we walked on, I saw tiny orange creatures moving all along the surface. They were rooting for us in their silly way.
We crossed the blue lighted glowing bridge and I felt the familiar body zapping. You really have to get used to that or you can travel to alternate worlds. It feels something like what you'd imagine being microwaved feels like.
Several moments of that and Zaparoo!
We popped out on the other side, the alternate earth. It was early morning there and everything looked normal. No wonder. This place wasn't too different from ours.
So do you want to know what an alternate earth looks like? You would not believe me if I told you. But let me paint a picture for you using my own words. The land, grassy plains of green. Trees scattered about, all of varying height and girth. I could smell the fresh spring air blowing in my face and hear birds chirping. It looked a lot like my world but somehow it didn't feel right.
It looked a lot like Earth did in 1876 before it was destroyed during the American Civil War, as we both learned in school. But something seemed wrong. Strangely enough, I found the presence of something evil creeping through the air. I took a deep breath and my nostrils twitched. Yes, it smelled just as you'd expect a graveyard to smell. It had an iron, decaying smell that makes your lungs fill with mucus. Yet, somehow that was still better than this strange alien atmosphere that permeated the area. It was heavy. I wanted to get far away from here. But that’s not what a hero would do.
I looked behind me to see Asteroid Arnie standing at a distance. His eyes were wide and he stared. I walked over to him.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I guess. Hey, where's the sky?"
"What do you mean the sky? This is an alternate Earth, remember?"
“Yeah, yeah, I can relate but um…Seriously, where’s the sky?”
“It’s so weird that nothing seems to be floating above us. It doesn’t seem right to me.”
He turned to look at me as I looked up at the open blue space.
“That’s because the sky is gone. Because we lost it, you know. So I guess you could say it’s up. That’s the most appropriate answer to give.”
My jaw dropped. “I see.”
“Look, over there!”
There in a low meadow gathered the Mushibloom. Most of them stood in a circle with their arms linked together. In the center, the mushibloom with the most energy around his body was screaming while the rest hovered in the air. The Mushibloom looked terrified and couldn't seem to get away from The Screamer.
"We're here to help you!” I called, reholstering my nucleic phaser. I didn't want them to get the wrong idea. The Mushibloom could lose their shit, too.
"Who are you?" asked a Mushibloom named Rosemary. She looked to be the most nervous one. Her hair stuck out in every direction and her eyes darted around nervously.
"My name is Moom-a-roof, and we’ve been sent to help you."
Rosemary shrugged her shoulders. She glanced at the Mushibloom in the middle of the ring and he yelled louder, as if trying to drown me out.
"You see, that thing! Been doing that all damned day.”
“Listen up. You’re going to need our help soon or it’s lights out.”
"Help us? But we don't need any help!"
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Moom-a-roof. Everybody calls me Moomy, and I’m a princess from another planet. A kind of alternate Earth.”
The Mushibloom gasped. Even The Screamer shut his yap. Their faces all lit up with joy. Then they threw their arms around me.
“Moomy!” said a mushibloom named Orchard, "We knew you were real."
"Orchard?" I asked.
"Yes! It's good to see you again."
"It's good to be seen. I hope you're enjoying this alternate Earth."
“This isn’t an alternate Earth,” said another Mushibloom with long black hair, called Sweet Cabbage. “It’s the original planet we hail from, only the skies have disappeared from our home. Can you please bring them back?”
“It feels like an omen!” shouted Orchard.
“Who’s he?” Sweet Cabbage asked, pointing at Asteroid Arnie.
"Nobody," Orchard said, sniffing him up and down. "Don't mind him, he doesn't understand."
"He understands more than anyone I've ever met," I said, looking over at Arnie and smiling.
“He looks so alive," Sweet Cabbage said. "and I mean that in a good way."
"I know what you mean. He's awesome!"
Asteroid Arnie came over to stand beside me. He extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you guys. I'm glad to finally get to meet these infamous Mushibloom."
"You look like you belong in outer space," Orchard said.
"That's what I love about him. His skin is so white and smooth and shiny. And his hair...I’m going to cry!”
“Don’t!” Rosemary marched over and said, “We don’t have time for that. We’re being exterminated by an alien race. And they’re called…the Stinky Lollies.”
"Stinky Lolly? What the hell is that?"
"They can smell your fear. And we know they're coming."
"I hate to break it to you, but you're making that up."
"What? How can you smell that?"
"Easy, I can smell the deodorant you put on earlier."
“You two stop it! The sky is turning that viscous shade of green. That means the Stinky Lollies have entered our atmosphere. Quick everyone, follow me! Run to the shelter!”
The mushibloom rushed off. Asteroid Arnie and I followed close behind. There was a high fence around the house. We ran inside. The roof had lots of gaps and holes through which the sun shone. We all took a shadow. All the windows were broken. And it smelled like the abandoned building next door. There was even a pool table.
Asteroid Arnie said, “Nobody move!”
There was a moment when the air pressure inverted like some giant peeling away the atmosphere.
Then the Mushibloom started to sing. I never heard such beautiful voices. I never heard anything like it before. The songs were peaceful and calming. I could feel my anxiety erasing in long strokes.
"Thank you," I said to the Mushibloom.
"Anytime," Sweet Cabbage said.
"Do you guys have anywhere else to go?" I asked. "I mean, I think I hear the Stinky Lollies approaching. Your singing alerted them. Oh my god! They have Blaster Cannons."
"Blaster Cannons?" asked Asteroid Arnie.
"Yup. Can you hear that low rumble? That's a Blaster Cannon. They're huge! And powerful!"
"The music keeps us safe from their evil stench," Orchard said, ignoring my warning.
The Mushibloom continued singing. The Blaster Cannons made a horrible sound. It shook the air as if trying to tear it apart. We were cornered. I had to fight the relaxed feeling. I pulled my nuclatic phasor from my holster and held it one hand.
"Look over there!"
I looked up. I saw a flash of light. A large Blastcanter with a red face landed in front of us. It had a machine gun built into its shoulder joint.
"Holy shit!" I said. "The Stinky Lollies are teamed up with the Blastcanters.”
If you've ever seen a Blastercanter, you'd never forget. They have two weapons. One shoots destructive darts, like what you'd shoot at an enemy with a machine pistol in real life. The other emits a blasting sound that goes straight into your bones, like when you shake and shake a jar of bees and then hold it in close proximity.
“How will we escape this certain death?"
A Hero's Courage in the Face of Certain Death
"I've got an idea,"
"All right, how about this? When you reach for your nucleic phaser, give me a quick shove."
"Just give me a quick shove."
"Okay. Hold still." I reached out and pushed him gently.
"Ouch! Son of a…” He jumped back.
"See? It hurts!"
"Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Now, do it again."
I grabbed my nucleic phaser and pushed him with all my might.
"Yes!" I shouted. "Push!"
I pushed with all my strength, but I couldn't budge him, like the sticky molten core of this alternate earth was weighing down his veins.
"How is that supposed to work?"
"I'll explain it to you later."
With a clicking sound, Asteroid Arnie went into action. He waved his hands. He made a circular motion with his left hand. And then he did it again with his right. Then again. His arms were moving so fast I couldn't see them.
Suddenly, there was a flash of blue light. A soft hum came from the nucleic phaser. The air around me started to shimmer. Asteroid Arnie moved his hands faster and faster. He was now moving as though his arms had become blue flames, whipping his palms through the air like water, shooting powerful jets of energy. Blue particles gathered at his fingertips. Then they floated upwards, forming into a ball above his head.
Beneath his feet, Asteroid Arnie was hovering inches off the ground. A slight breeze blew past him. It whipped up his long, black hair around his head. Mad dancing ribbons. Singing.
"Help us! Help us! Help us! Help us!" cried the Mushibloom.
They had finally finished their song and realized they were all about to die.
Asteroid Arnie dropped the sphere on the ground and it shattered. The blue light inside was bright enough to turn night into day. I felt something burning in my throat. It felt like getting hit with pepper spray. The blue light kept expanding, covering everything in a haze. I could barely see and then I heard someone say, "It's working! It’s working!"
I don't know who it was, but they were right. My vision cleared a little. The only thing that I saw was a red blast cannon pointing right at my face. I reached up to grab it.
And that's when I heard a noise coming from the ceiling. I looked up.
I saw the faces of hundreds of Blastcanters with giant red lasers pointed down at me.
The Stinky Lollies were aiming their blaster cannons at Asteroid Arnie and the Mushibloom. The floor was covered in green slime. It stretched all the way to the ceiling. The most mysterious smell filled the room: burnt rubber mixed with burnt hair.
I looked over and Asteroid Arnie’s hair was glowing blue! He looked just like one of those kids' toys that light up when they strike their plastic heads together.
I heard Sweet Cabbage call out, “What the fuck is going on?”
Then the floor exploded in particles of green slime and blue light.
“I don’t know,” I cried.
Next, Asteroid Arnie also exploded into a million shiny pieces. Each piece attached to a Stinky Lolly or a Blastcanter, or a Blast Cannon and zloopped it neatly away; into some other universe, I guess. Out of this one at least.
It was suddenly quiet. A breeze blew in and everything smelled like sugar cookies. I wanted to cry.
The Mushibloom raised their hands high and spread their arms wide. They began to hum. The last blast of blue light surrounded us and then evaporated. There were no more Blastcanters. No more Stinky Lollies. No Blast Cannons. And no Asteroid Arnie.
Just a small herd of small, pink Mushibloom.
"We have destroyed the evilness of the outside world. Thank you, Moomy. Thank you Asteroid Arnie, wherever you are."
I wiped tears from my eyes. I'd miss that freaky Asteroid Arnie, with eyes like a caveman and a body like a hunka hunk of burning love.
I gave all the Mushibloom a hug and a pat on their fuzzy heads. They liked that. Then I climbed into Arnie's hovercar.
Into the Unknown, Alone
After I got in, I put on my headphones. The Mushibloom continued to sing. As far as melodies go, I thought it was kind of cute. The lyrics weren't great, but the melody was pretty nice.
"Well, guys, I gotta go home now. You stay safe and call if you're ever in danger again. Keep looking up and never lose hope."
I lifted off the ground, soaring through the forest canopy. Above me, I saw four Mushibloom, waving enthusiastically–Rosemary, Orchard, Sweet Cabbage and The Screamer.
Then they disappeared. I was alone in the sky. The sky had returned. I had my headphones on and the smell of sugar cookies to keep me company.
I drove away, just as I had done before.
Except this time, I wasn't driving out of the city. I was driving into the unknown, alone. The road wound around and under trees, zigzagging all the way to the center of the galaxy.
I turned the wheel to the right because that seemed like the way to go.
But somehow, even with my mind viciously overwhelmed, some quiet burned a fathomless heat inside and I felt humbled by the feeling of being part of something so huge and so incredibly beautiful.