A few years ago I started sharing a short sci-fi story I wrote for a writing challenge called “Better Than Fiction” that I just really enjoyed. I posted the first four parts back in 2020 and never got around to posting the conclusion, but it’s finally here!
The next three hours that ensued were a flurry of questions from the kids that neither Sean nor I could answer. We’d never known of another species living beneath the surface near the planet’s core. It was entirely new to all of us.
When we arrived at the site’s edge, Sean turned off the engine and the truck’s lights. They weren’t necessary, as Iggy the janopy puddle we’d mistaken for oil was burning bright blue and pulsating like its counterpart in the jar had done.
Hedra and Hal came running up behind us, barely out of breath. Hedra ran forward first to put her hands in the pool of inky black liquid. “Iggy, you had me so worried. Why did you stray?”
Squinting at the scene, it looked to me like the substance was wriggling with excitement, the way a puppy would wag its tail upon seeing its owner walk through the front door.
Sean brought the jar out and handed it to Hal, who shook his hand. “Good man, sir. I’m sorry, never caught your names.”
“I’m Phil and this is my partner, Sean. Our children, Emily and Dylan.” We each waved a hand at the lizard people.
“Thank you all, so much,” cried Hedra. “I know it seems silly, but Iggy here, he’s like part of our family.”
Emily giggled. “How did he get stuck here, anyway?”
“Oh, well, we were upside for one of our annual camping trips,” Hal began to explain.
“And then we heard someone coming to our site, so we had to run and hide. We didn’t want to cause any trouble.”
“But Iggy, it seems he got scared and ran in the opposite direction. We lost track of him and had to go underground until the humans were gone.”
“Can I pet him?” asked Emily.
Sean and I reached for our daughter. “Em, I don’t think—”
Hal waved a hand. “It’s quite alright. It’s safe. Not dangerous at all. Much like dipping your hand in a pool, actually.”
I nodded consent, and both children moved forward to reach a hand for the janopy. As their hands got close, it reached up and slopped some liquid onto their hands.
“Is it, licking them?” Sean laughed.
“Yes, Iggy is quite friendly. Loves children, actually.” Hedra beamed.
Hal turned to us. “Gentlemen, how can I ever express my gratitude?”
Sean shrugged. “It’s fine. We’re glad you found your pet.” He looked sad.
I nudged him. “Hey, we did a good thing. So what if there’s no oil?”
“What exactly is oil?” Hal asked. “Why do humans dig for it so much?”
“Well, it’s considered black gold.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “It’s worth a lot of money. It’s a resource.”
Sean nodded. “We were hoping to strike it rich. We’ve been having some financial issues, what with all we invested in the site and the machine.”
“Gold is it?” Hedra came up behind her husband, leaving Dylan and Emily to play with Iggy. “You mean this?” She pulled rough nuggets out of an unseen pouch on her person.
My eyes bulged wide. “How did you—?”
“Oh, good man,” laughed Hal. “We have heaps of it in a depository nearby. Frankly, it’s not worth anything to us.”
“But I do like how it sparkles.” Hedra held the piece out to me. “Here, you can have this one. If you’d like more, we can get it for you.”
“Oh no.” Sean put a hand up. “That’s generous, but—”
“Nonsense.” Hal’s hissing laugh sounded like a breeze blowing through tree leaves. “We have plenty and we’re not wanting. Besides, you helped us find our pet. This is how we can repay you.”
Hal nodded to his wife and took off before anyone could protest further.
“He’ll be right along, gentlemen.” Hedra went back to playing with the kids and the janopy.
“Sean, pinch me.”
He obeyed. “What was that for?”
“To see if I’m dreaming. Lizard people. A sentient liquid being. Gold.”
“It’s all fiction until it’s real.” He grabbed my hand and brought it up to his lips for a kiss. “This is real.”
Hal returned in record time, bearing a bulging burlap sack on his shoulder. “Here you are, gents. Payment for helping us find our pet.”
I couldn’t help but take a peek inside. What I saw astounded me. Glittering in its raw form, were hundreds, possibly thousands, of gold nuggets. “Thank you so much. Really, you have no idea what this means.” I felt tears sting the back of my eyes.
“Thank you for your assistance.” Hedra beckoned to the janopy. “Come, Iggy. It’s time we get home.”
I heard Emily sniffle and turned to see her crying. “Sweet pea, what’s wrong?”
“We’re never gonna see them again, are we?” She buried her face into Sean’s stomach.
Hedra put a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Would you like to visit us next year, on our next camping trip?”
Emily and Dylan looked at me and Sean. “Can we?” they asked in unison.
I laughed. “Of course, if it’s alright with Hal and Hedra.”
Hal gave his signature chuckle. “It’s settled. The annual camping trip is now extended to our new friends. Glad to have you along.” He reached a hand out to me, and this time I did not hesitate to shake it.
“See you next year, then.”
“We’ll meet right here.” Hedra and Hal waved goodbye as they took off running with Iggy, the liquid sliding along as fast as its owners ran.
Dylan looked in the bag the lizard folks had left behind for them. “Dad. Papa. Are we rich now?”
Sean gave Dylan a playful shove. “What do you mean, now? We’ve always been rich.”
They loaded the bag of gold into the truck bed and headed home as the dawn’s rays began to spread across the periwinkle sky. Dylan and Emily fell asleep beside me as Sean navigated the road home.
“Can you believe our luck?” he whispered. He held one hand on the steering wheel and the other held mine. “We have the money we need to make a new life and provide.”
“We have new friends, too,” I laughed.
“And you thought it was all dangerous.” Sean gave me a smirk. “Told you not to worry.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just drive.”
Upon reaching the house, Sean and I each carried one child into the house and dropped them in their beds. They never stirred, staying fast asleep. Sean and I sat on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV.
“Wanna watch John Carpenter’s The Thing?” he teased.
I snorted. “Sean, we’ve lived it.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s not the same now that we know it’s real.”
“God, I hope The Thing’s not real.”
“I don’t know, Phil. Anything’s possible.”
“Yep. You never know when you’ll strike gold.” I leaned my head against his shoulder and felt my eyes droop close. This was real.