I dropped the glass on the ground and watched as the glowing blue liquid oozed off the broken pieces of the slide, toward the toolbox where I’d just stored the jar. My breath caught in my throat as I watched the specimen wiggle its mass between the seal of the toolbox. My hands shook as I reached for the latch to see where it went next.
As I suspected, the blue liquid defied gravity and pushed itself into the seal between the jar and its lid, reuniting with its original contents. Sweat dripped down my forehead as what I’d just witnessed settled in.
I ran for the house calling Sean’s name. My partner came running out of Emily’s room to meet me at the threshold. “Phil, what’s wrong?”
“It’s not safe, Sean. The thing, it just, moved, and it went back to the jar, and—”
I gulped in air and caught my breath, steadying my nerves. “I put the jar in a toolbox, and then picked up the sample slide from Em’s desk. Next thing I know, it’s sliding on its own across the glass. I dropped the tablet and it slithered into the toolbox, into the jar with the rest of the stuff.”
“Holy cow.” Emily’s voice was behind them. “That’s so cool.”
I shook my head. “It’s dangerous. I think we need to leave. Get the kids to your mom’s house for the night.”
Dylan came out of his room, rubbing his eyes. “What’s going on?” he yawned.
“Dyl. Get a jacket and grab what you need. You too, Em.” I was on the verge of hysterics. “We’re taking you to Nana’s for the night.”
“Phil, are you sure that’s what you saw?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure.”
“Okay, okay.” He put up placating hands. “We’ll get the kids squared away, come back, and call someone.”
“Call who? The police? The army? National Guard? Who do you call about an alien substance you dug up from an oiling rig and brought home to your kids?”
Before Sean could say one more thing to try to calm me down, there was a knock on the door. We all looked toward the front hallway. None of us were expecting anyone at this time of night.
“Hello?” came a voice from the outside. “Is anyone home? We’re looking for our pet.”
I laughed, relieved. Sean chuckled too and turned on the hall light to go answer the front door.
“Hi, sorry we haven’t—” Sean’s jaw dropped as he opened the door and saw standing before him what looked like humanoid lizards.
I stepped in front of the kids to shield them, but I felt as their hands grabbed my waist to look around me.
“I’m so sorry, I know our appearance must startle, but truly, we mean no harm.” The creature on the left had a feminine voice. “We’re just looking for our pet. Well, part of it, anyway.”
“Uh…looks like oil, turns solid, then glows blue?” Sean asked.
The lizard man on the right nodded its head with excitement. “So you’ve seen it?”
I stepped forward and took a gulp. “I’m sorry, what—” I took a pause to choose my words carefully. Alien or not, I didn’t want to be rude. “Or rather, who are you?”
“Gracious,” laughed the one with a masculine voice. “So rude of us. I’m Hal, and this is my partner, Hedra.”
“Pleased to meet you. We’re not exactly from around here.” Hedra smiled.
“No kidding,” whispered Dylan.
I gave him a sharp look. “Dylan.”
Hal laughed, a sound that sounded like hissing. “It’s quite alright. We’re not human, so we know you’re unaccustomed to our kind.”
“We don’t surface often, and we rarely interact with your species since, well…” Hedra gestured to her and her husband’s faces and bodies. “But in this case, it was an emergency. We lost our dear Iggy.”
“The sludge’s name is Iggy?” laughed Emily.
“It’s not sludge, dear,” said Hedra with amusement. “It’s a sentient being known as a janopy in our world.”
“You said you don’t usually surface. Does that mean your world is underground?” Emily stepped around me now to get a closer look at the lizard people. I tried to pull her back, but she was already standing by Sean’s side. He put out a hand to stop her from stepping outside the house.
“My, you are a clever one.” Hal gave the girl a warm smile. “Yes, we live below the surface, many, many miles. Very close to the Earth’s core, in fact.”
“We like to go camping sometimes up here,” Hedra added. “The drilling your people do for oil makes for easy tunnels for travel.” She gave me a wink.
“Well, we have a jar full of the, I’m sorry, janopy?” Sean asked.
“Yes, it’s in our tool shed.” I stepped forward now, tentative, with Dylan close behind. “I can get it for you.”
“Oh that would be splendid, thank you.” Hal bowed his head with hands pressed together and pointing forward.
I looked to Sean to give him a silent, Stay here with the kids, before heading back out to the shed. I grabbed the jar and found the liquid had paled its blue light and was almost back to the original state we’d found it in.
With the jar in hand, but held out at a safe distance, I walked back to the house and placed it in Hal’s outstretched hand.
“Iggy, you scoundrel,” Hedra cooed. “Where is the rest of you?”
Sean and I looked at one another and started laughing.
“Sorry, folks, your Iggy is far from home,” Sean teased. “But we can take you to it if you’d like.”
I tilted my head. “Sean, the kids—”
“Can come with you,” piped up Emily. “We wanna see the rest of Iggy.”
Dylan nodded in agreement. Sean had that look on his face again, like a kid on Christmas. I rolled my eyes. “Fine, fine. Everyone comes along. But I don’t think we can all fit in the truck.”
“No worries, my good man.” Hal clapped me on the back. His touch was surprisingly warm. “We have our own mode of transportation. You just lead the way.”
I looked around the yard, seeking some vehicle I’d missed before in the dark of the night.
“No, no, darling. It’s us,” laughed Hedra. “We’re the mode of transportation.”
Emily and Dylan were already in the truck and honking the horn.
“Wait, are you saying you run?” Sean’s eyes looked about ready to fall out of his head.
Hal nodded. “Up to sixty miles per hour. These days at least. Not as spry as we once were.”
Hedra smiled. “Yes, when we were younger we could go as fast as one of your steam engines. Now, age has caught up to us.”
“Exactly how old are you?”
“Sean.” My face turned red as a crab.
Hal laughed. “No offense taken, gentlemen. My partner and I here are about two-hundred and fifty years old.”
Hedra shrugged. “You lose track of time when you live this long.”
Emily honked the car horn again. “Iggy is waiting. Let’s go.”
Sean held out a hand. “Since you’ll be running, would you like us to hold the jar for you?”
Hedra handed it back to him. “Yes, dear. Thank you so much.”
We got in the car, the engine already running thanks to Dylan, and settled ourselves in for the long ride. It would take at least three hours on the highway to get back to our drill site.
“You think they can keep it up for that long? The running, I mean.” I looked to Sean as he pulled out of the driveway. He gave me the devil’s smile he knew I loved. “Let’s find out.”
This is part 4 of a serialized short story I wrote called “Better Than Fiction.” See the rest below.