Words by Patrick Pryor
Illustration by Stav Sela
When E.T. landed in Humboldt County, his dewy saucer eyes glowed with the tinge of killer bud. The weed grew high and swayed in the chill night air. Each sweet leaf reached out to the twinkling stars like children groping for their mother’s skirt.
As E.T. waddled off the mothership, he couldn’t help but compare the fields of strange, new flora to the howling coyotes, dust brown homes, and flickering grid of Southern California. How could a state in a country on this island Earth contain such a vast array of landscapes and people?
E.T.’s heart glowed at the thought of Elliot, that dear human boy living in the suburbs. As E.T.’s pronged feet plodded across the dirt, he thought of Elliot tucked into his bunk bed late at night, yelling during a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons, or battling his Star Wars action figures.
Star Wars, E.T. thought to himself. What a cartoon.
E.T. parted green fronds with his moist knobby tendrils. The tiny plants did not match any specimen he had encountered before in his wildlife expeditions. The leaves smelled faintly of herbs Michael hid in his sock drawer, E.T. recalled. He remembered Michael stuffing them into a pipe and passing it around to his buddies during lazy after school jam “sesh-uns.” The boys laughed and coughed and laughed and played as if they heard the funniest joke in the world.
Some sort of bonding ritual, E.T. thought as he wrapped a knuckle around a leaf and brought it to his tiny nostrils. A way of keeping peace amongst humans. He squeezed his bulbous eyes shut, savoring the nostalgic whiff.
How E.T. longed for the days in that far flung SoCal neighborhood — playing dress up with Gerdy, mentoring Elliot with science homework, or wailin’ on the gee-tar with Michael.
Humans produce such wondrous music, E.T. thought as he dug his fingers into the soil. Nothing compared to the splendid celestial sonatas we compose, but that Earth bound clatter really gets my heart flashing.
E.T. tugged at the plant and raised it from the earth. Tiny tangled roots sagged. Cupping the plant in his slender palms, E.T. lurched back to the mothership. Its many flashing lights called out to E.T. like a warm, comforting cave.
Surely the magistrates will be pleased with this new discovery, E.T. thought. He pictured the higher ups on the Green Planet showering him with accolades and pulses from their heart lights. New life on an ailing alien planet, who knew?
A rabbit leapt from a bush and loped toward E.T. It wriggled a slight nose and stared at him with beady black eyes.
E.T. returned the gaze – such a wondrous animal! He extended his neck and took a closer look. The rabbit lazed on its haunches, soaking in the moonlight, nibbling herb like a creature without care. There, in the midst of the green field, E.T. felt one with nature. He sensed the tiny plants thriving, the rabbit’s curiosity peaking, the anger and hatred of a human scorned. . .
A boom ripped through the sky. A vision of Keys and his white-coated cronies flashed through E.T.’s expansive mind. He howled – a throaty rasp — and bolted to the mother ship. His fellow botanists grunted in panic and tore across the lush fields. Plant stalks bent as the wails grew louder.
“Come back, thief!”
Turning, E.T. made out a human with snakelike hair cradling a weapon similar to the one favored by the government men so many years ago. A shotgun, E.T. thought it was called. The snake-man, locks tucked under a red, yellow, and green hat, pumped his shot gun and pointed it straight at E.T.
Another boom burst through the field. E.T. shrieked louder and scrambled onto the mother ship. Clank clank clank. The gangplank rose behind him.
Sparks flew between the metalwork. E.T. clutched the plant tighter and backed into the hull and saw a few glowing hearts pulsing in the night. Help us! the heart lights seemed to cry in unison. Don’t leave us behind.
Another blast cut one of the cries short – a light extinguished and then gone as the gangplank snapped shut.
“Ouch.” E.T. said. He brushed a glowing finger against the hull in sympathy. “Home.”
An engine roared to life. E.T. turned and saw his squat fellow travelers preparing for launch. Many slender fingers twisted knobs, pulled levers, and spun wheels. Steam billowed between glowing crystals; a tree with a face wept.
“Home! Home!” The Captain cried, and with a rumble the ship lifted into the air.
“Ouch.” E.T. said as he gazed at Earth, growing smaller and smaller with each fleeting moment. He remembered the time his own had left him for dead, ignored his cries for help when the government men closed fast.
Did the others escape? E.T. wondered. Will they find a human like Elliot?
The Earth vanished into the blackness of space, swallowed by the stars and astro junk and moons. Plant leaves rustled in the moist ship air.
E.T. glanced at the weed in his hand, embraced its distinct scent. He waddled to the Captain, a lazeabout of an elder greying around his deep-set eyes, and presented the sweet smelling specimen. His heart light glowed.
“What have you got there?” The Captain asked, fingering one of the pointed leaves.
“A native herb of Earth. I believe it is called marijuana.”
A Botanist lost in a Hawaiian shirt waddled up to E.T. and The Captain and extended a neck to study the plant. Wide glassy eyes glistened.
“Crispy nugs!” The Botanist said. “Perhaps, we should run a few tests.”
“But I’ve encountered this plant before,” E.T. said. “It’s a potent herb.”
The Captain waved the Botanist toward the nursery. E.T. skulked after him and glanced back at the Captain. Not even a congratulations?
Crewmembers lumbered to and fro, stroking glowing crystals, collecting specimen samples with shears and tweezers and creeping fingers. Steam billowed from a grate; a throbbing mushroom moaned.
The Botanist and E.T. cleared a long cavern and squeezed into the nursery. Stalactites glimmered. Botanists, broad brows furrowed into studious lumps, tended to saplings from every corner of the galaxy. Sparkling Phoebus pines curled and purred, a bearded Betelgeusean birch guffawed, and Plutonian periwinkle trembled and shied.
E.T. shuffled his way across the shimmering Martian moss. The heart lights of crouching botanists peeped through the foliage.
“Isn’t this exciting?” E.T. asked the Botanist. “A new specimen for the nursery?”
“If I can’t eat it, then it’s not worth it.” The Botanist replied. “Will these nugs nourish my fine physique?”
E.T. remembered the great famine on the Green Planet. Thousands of his family choking and clutching to the threads of life with drying white digits. Home was a barren void of a rock. He needed a viable crop – a miracle staple that could withstand the heat of an ever-brightening sun. Could these crispy nugs be the key?
“I don’t know.”
E.T. and The Botanist hobbled to a shallow crevice in the ship wall. Glowing crystals, meshed and slanting like open maw, lined the interior.
“Here goes nothing,” The Botanist said, placing the potent plant into the crevice.
A pair of gemstones extended from the wall and burned bright. E.T. shielded his eyes. Although he loved botany, he abhorred the lightshow comprising a culture sample.
Two beams sparked from the glistening gems and hit the plant. The pale purple points of light circled and crossed, stopping every so often to linger on a stem or sagging leaf.
E.T. hoped the culture sample proved positive. All these years toiling and searching and studying and wishing had stirred up nothing but bunk. The failure of the botany program thus far had almost been enough to break the little explorer. E.T. remembered the long dark times huddled in Elliot’s closet, clutching a stuffed dog, fearful of the wheezing hulking men in suits. He remembered the false hope of Halle Bop Hemlock and the dashed dreams of Ursa Major Ivy.
A siren wailed. Steam hissed. E.T. extended his neck to the crevice. Crystals throbbed; beams brightened until plant erupted in flames!
E.T. and The Botanist lunged toward the crevice and fanned it with their slender hands. E.T. wailed more shrill and panicked than an Io Screamer.
“What did you do?”
Fire crept across the plant as it curled and blackened. Smoke rose. E.T. thrust his fingers into the flames but only grasped ash.
“Now we’ll never know. . .”
Smoke wafted into E.T.’s flaring nasal passages. He coughed. The Botanist gagged and gasped as the nursery filled with smoke. Other botanists threw up their arms, wailed, and scrambled to the cavern passage.
“Code 420!” A siren sqauwked. “All personnel report to the bridge.”
E.T. choked and hemmed and hawed as the smoke filled his lungs. Is this the end? E.T. wondered. Am I closing the book on botany forever?
As E.T. contemplated his life and place in this sprawling blanket of a galaxy, pounding on the cavern walls for an escape, he felt his anxieties wane.
This plant was not going to kill him. This plant made him feel. . .
E.T. knew a smoke filled ship was a serious affair, but the more he thought of the severity of the situation, the more he began to snicker. His heart light fluttered with dope vibes.
Pushing through the pulsing stalactites, E.T. waddled toward the bridge. He bumped past other giggling crewmembers. They touched glowing fingers together in salutation and coughed.
E.T.’s wrinkled hole of a mouth curled into a grin. Had the smoke from the plant caused this sensational feeling? Where had marijuana been his whole spacebound life?
Smoke billowed onto the bridge, smothering the crew in a cloud of super chill sensations. E.T. felt his squat body lift lighter as he waddled toward The coughing Captain. Orb-eyes bulged heavy; fingers drooped numb.
“Captain,” E.T. drawled. “I believe we found a cure for our Planet.”
The Captain smiled and leaned back on his navigation boulder.
“Whatever this smoke is. It feels. . .”
A pang rocked E.T.’s bulging sack of a gut. Visions of Budweiser, pilfered from Elliot’s fridge, seeped into his blissed-out brain.
If only I had a beer, E.T. thought. The sensation of the smoke reminded him of the time spent slumped across Elliot’s couch, absorbing Sesame Street in unbuttoned flannel.
Those were good times, E.T. thought. What I wouldn’t trade to share this sweet green with Elliot.
E.T. turned his attention to the navigation monitor. The screen loomed large; quadrants crept to the edge until they almost spilled.
E.T. stumbled past lounging colleagues, boogying explorers, and cuddling crewmembers. The Science Officer grabbed a stalagmite, planted pronged feet on each end, and acid dropped down a service ramp. A tree with a face wheezed.
“I’m so fucked up!”
E.T. grabbed crystals jutting from the master console and squeezed. They pulsed and throbbed and breathed and sighed.
Earth appeared on the sprawling monitor. The big blue marble loomed larger and larger until it filled the screen. North America swelled, The United States stretched, Southern California sailed into view and scattered into a swath of glimmering pixels.
The ship rattled and groaned. Stars whizzed past the portholes. Clutching the master console, E.T. dreamed of Elliot shaving his face with a safety razor, spooning ice cream into the gelatinous beak of an Earth baby, teaching his wife to putt, and chuckling with coworkers over martinis at Applebee’s. Did Elliot have coworkers? Did he work? Did he have an Earth-wife? Was he even alive?
E.T. screeched – shrill and panicked like a Saturn Shrew caught snacking in the trash. He needed to see his boy!
Ever since his return to the Green Planet, E.T. felt a certain distance from his peers. The Captain believed Earth life had spoiled E.T. – made him sentimental and soft in all the wrong places. Even the load lifters, the dock workers and scrap heavers and tin tinkerers snickered at E.T. when he waddled to the Supper Bay — those bulging eyes boring into his back. And the lies they told about his relationship with Elliot.
“Earth lover! SoCal Scum!”
Sometimes, all the talk was almost too much for E.T. to bear.
How selfish I’ve been, E.T. thought. Wrapped up in botany, but not once did I think of stopping to see Elliot.
His heart light flashed. Knobby fingers squeezed the crystals until they almost cracked.
Blackness engulfed the monitor. Sparks flew. A Scout festooned a sideways baseball cap, slid across the bridge, and yelled,
A red-eyed baby jumbled across the air. A tree with a face smoked two joints. The sparking monitor flashed in teletype:
“Kick back! Smoke a fatass joint!”
E.T. scuttled to a porthole and peered into the blackness of space. Outside, he saw a satellite, bent and sagging like a Gnar Gnat stripped of its wings.
The satellite sparked, clunked, sparked and blew! And E.T. knew it was his entire fault.
“Harsh realm, bro,” said the Hawaiian shirted Botanist, roping a glistening brown bicep around E.T. “But at least we have each other.”
Amidst all the coughing and laughing and lounging around, E.T. pictured those satellite signals lost. He thought of Elliot on Earth fuming and mashing buttons on his cellular phone. Or maybe he sprung from a Lay-Z-Boy and pounded a static screen on the fritz. Humans on Earth were choke slamming each other into the pavement, tearing out their neighbors’ “hairs” because one little explorer slipped into the past and strayed off course!
“What have I done!” E.T. yelled.
He clutched his brow lump with quivering digits – growled like an obese cat.
Let the boy go.
A transmission from the damaged satellite rocked the mothership with positive energy pure as stardust. Chicken scratch guitars. Lackadaisical bass. Crooning vocals that sounded like a chilled out snake-man wrapping the entire, troubled Earth in one blissful hug.
“Don’t you worry, about a thing. . . “
Such a wondrous song!
E.T. felt like a smooth, little fingered infant swaddled in an Orion Swing®. He sighed and inhaled a cloud of curling dank bud. The smoke crept down his protruding gullet — swathed his brain in glorious light.
Twisting a leather belt of a mouth into a grin, E.T. let his orbs-eyes droop. Elliot or no Elliot, I have discovered the magick drug. I and I alone (maybe with the help of a few dope humans) procured the cure that will restore peace and good vibes to the Green Planet until the ever-brightening sun burns too hot and bursts.
He wrapped his twig-arm around the Hawaiian shirted Botanist and said (with a tinge of red, green, and yellow snake-man),
“Every little thing gonna be alright!”