The Nukalofan threat…

…a story written for my mom on the occasion of her 75th birthday…

 The Nukalofan Threat 

I was walking home from school one wintry day when I was seven, wondering whether that afternoon I would be free to have a final contest, once and for all, with the evil that lurks in our universe.  It is a frightening evil, the kind that blasts defenseless women and children with beams of energy fired from starships orbiting the Earth.  It was my burden as well as my honor to lead the fight against this diabolical evil, a race of beings with bulbous heads, antennae, and no body hair, known far and wide as the Nukolofans.  The Nukalofans were a race that traveled from a galaxy, far, far away, to our Milky Way in order to subdue Planet Earth and wrench our earthly freedoms from our hearts.  

I was prepared to confront the Nukalofan threat that afternoon in December many years ago when I was seven, as the sun of the northern hemisphere sank low in the sky.  It was a sun that illuminated everything in its path with that winter’s light, that light of sharp angles, that light that makes it so that every creature, every tree, every car seems to radiate its own light, like a planet about to explode into a star.  Yet I knew that I had to wait until my mother drove my sisters to Hebrew School before I could engage in operations in and around our family compound, a six bedroom, two-story house on half an acre on the south shore of Long Island that had plenty of bushes and trees which provided cover against the aliens.  The only unanswered question in my mind was whether, during the free time that I would have between dropping my strong-willed sisters off at Hebrew School and when they and my father would arrive home for dinner, I would receive orders from my commander, otherwise known as my mother, to engage in search and destroy operations in and around the family compound.  Though it is hard to believe, it was my mom who was the Chief of Planet Earth’s Department of Homeland Security; and I and my dog Bonkers were her loyal lieutenants.  It would be mom’s decision whether or not a second grader’s homework would take precedence over securing our way of life on Planet Earth.

In the car, my sisters and their superficial friends yammered on about some teen idol of theirs on television, some cutesy David Cassidy or some such creature.  Luckily, these sisters of mine, who, I must admit, could still pummel me with the fierceness of an intergalactic swamp rat, were dropped off at Hebrew school, which much to my delight, was something they detested.  I of course was not thinking ahead to the time that I too would be forced to forgo intergalactic spying or even an afterschool soccer game for this forced Jewish learning.  Yet, with a few good years left as a spy, I scooted to the front seat of my mom’s station wagon and the two of us drove home.

Me and my mom.  Just the way I liked it.

“Got homework tonight, honey?” she asked.

I had only moments to make my case for the defense of the galaxy.

“It’s warm out for winter, Mom.  Can I run around the yard before supper?”

“How much homework do you have?”

Ahh, the dreaded homework question, raised immediately by my mother, whose acute intellect never missed a detail.  She was of course a starship commander.

“Not a lot,” I replied. “Some math, some reading.”

“Maybe you should get busy on that right when we get home.”

I had to explain to her the necessity of our maneuvers that day.  I had to explain how, if I delayed taking action with my team of intergalactic spies, then there might not be a Planet Earth in existence tomorrow, and that meant no elementary school around the corner, no second grade, and hence, you do the math, no homework due.

“But, Mom, the Nukalofans are planning an attack this afternoon before it gets dark and if I don’t stop them, the planet will be destroyed, and you know what that means?”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“Mrs. Grace (my second grade teacher) won’t be asking us to hand in our assignments.”

Mom smiled.  I detected a muffled laugh.  A starship commander such as she cannot be seen to be getting jocular with her subordinates.  I smiled.  Mom removed her eyes momentarily from the road, and she and I exchanged a glance, a knowing glance, a glance of co-conspirators.  I studied that smile on her olive-colored face, her lips painted red, her teeth straight and white, her hair wavy and as black as the hearts of those Nukalofans, the same color as mine.  That smile, which she shared with me before giving me my orders for the afternoon, was a smile I had given her.  From the time I was a baby learning to laugh at my mom’s goofy baby sounds, I had generously given her that smile.  I understood on some non-verbal level the principle that she that giveth shall receiveth.  That is, my mother had given me something, some primal emotional support only mammals understand, and in return, I gave her that smile.  Sometimes yelling at my sisters or arguing with my father or even on the rare occasion disappointed in me, my mother gave up that smile.  But that was only temporary.  She was a natural with laughter.  A naturally silly person.  She gave me the capacity to laugh, so I gave her that smile.  A smile that made her turn away from the road to glance in my direction once my strong-willed sisters had been left to contend with the rabbis.  Maybe it was the private burden my mother and I shared of having to save this watery planet from alien invasion that made us appreciate our few moments free to laugh and goof around. 

“Yesterday, you had me flying through space on a Nukalofan starship,” she said.  “I can’t get anything done up there in space.”

“I know,” I replied.  “It’s a good thing Bonkers and I rescued you.  Or we wouldn’t have had supper last night.  But today the Nukalofans are going to land on Planet Earth.  On our front lawn.  The whole world is in danger.”

 I had reached her.  She put her eyes back on the road, stiffened her neck and gave me my orders for the rest of the day.

“Okay, starship trooper, you can run around for a while, but keep your jacket on, and right after supper, you go up to your room and do your homework. I don’t want your father saying I go easy on you, not to mention your sisters.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I barked.  With a sharp jerk of my arm, I offered her the salute that she deserved.

Back at the family compound, while my mother prepared dinner in the kitchen, Bonkers and I set about our work.  It was dirty work, but someone had to do it.

I stretched myself out on the floor of the kitchen by the refrigerator with Bonkers, who was a little dog, yes, but a tough predator nonetheless.  He sat on my chest and we conferred on the imminent operations.  My mom had to step over me a couple of times to get to the frig.  She didn’t complain.  She and I communed in silence, almost as if we were exchanging thoughts telepathically about the imminent Nukalofan attack.  She smiled down at me.  She was calm, rolling meat balls in her palms.  I believe that rolling meat balls is a little-recognized therapeutic technique that could help many a world leader deal with the heavy weight of the problems they face.  Made me remember that time I rolled a meat ball around a grape, much to my sister Elise’s chagrin later at dinner when the tart juice squirted in her mouth when she thought she was biting into a harmless meat ball.  I think my mom even muffled a laugh at that time.  I loved to trick my sisters, but saved my most diabolical actions for the Nukalofan enemy.

“Aren’t you going outside?” my commander asked.  “If you wait much longer, it’ll get too late.”

With that, Bonkers and I launched our operations.  What looked like the headlights of a car coming down our street through the windows in the front of the house were in fact the lights of a Nukalofan shuttle craft landing in our front yard.  The Nukalofan away team was by this time in our house, so Bonkers and I sped out of the kitchen, jumped over the armrest of the couch in the living room and hid for a while beneath the cushions.

“Get out of there with Bonkers!” shouted my commander.

But, before we could do that, Bonkers and I took cover behind my father’s bar.

“I said, ‘Get out of there with Bonkers,” she repeated, firmly but amiably.  We both knew that I wasn’t supposed to be in the living room with Bonkers, but we both knew that she didn’t really care that much.  She was merely reinforcing the rules that we both knew would go into effect when my father arrived home.  Bonkers too was aware of the changing legal framework in our household when my father would arrive home, given his memory of rolled up magazines wacking him on the butt when he broke these iron-clad laws.

Outside Bonkers and I avoided an atom blast fired by a Nukalofan security officer by diving into the hedges along our driveway.  Then we made a break for the fence to the back yard. We closed the fence door behind us and ran for cover by the unfinished redwood deck.  Our plan was to lure the Nukalofans under the redwood deck, my favorite hiding place in the whole family compound.  It was a place my father hated me to hide, fearing a collapsing two-by-four, but a place my mother condoned me hiding when no one else, not my sisters, not my dad, was around.  It was where I would hide with Bonkers, luring the unsuspecting Nukalofans in order to fire my atom blaster at them.  I had to bring them into close range, and the bowels of the redwood deck provided the best possibility.  At close range, I could score a direct hit on their atom blasters, which would cause an anti-matter explosion which would cause these diabolical creatures and their nefarious way of life to cease to exist.  It was our only hope.  Earth’s only hope.  I think my mother, rolling meat balls in the kitchen, understood this.

Well, it seemed that it was not to be. Before Bonkers and I could reach the unfinished redwood deck, a team of five Nukalofan storm troopers surrounded us.  They tied me up and put ole Bonkers, barking incessantly, in a cage.

“We shall destroy you,” hissed their leader, “by lowering you into a pit of crocodiles. Then we will roast your little dog on the spit and serve him as a Nukalofan hors d’oeuvre.”

It seemed that we were finished. Soon to be destroyed, leaving the Earth itself, and all that we hold dear, to be obliterated.  But I felt calm.  It was a calm that comes from good parenting.  You see, I had been in fixes before out on operations in my family compound.  Whether it was killers from Argentina about to have my limbs pulled apart by wild animals, or galactic terrorists determined to cut my head off and sell Bonkers into slavery, I knew that my commander, my mom, was not far off. Oh sure, perhaps she was in another wing of the house sewing or cooking or painting or reading.  Perhaps she was talking on the phone, not nearby at all, preoccupied with something else.  But, I knew that when I was engaged in military operations designed to protect my family, protect our neighborhood, protect Planet Earth, when there was no one home but my mom and I, and I was free to roam the family compound, freed by my commander, my mother, I knew that she was never far away.  I knew that her smile was not far away.  I knew that she had a sixth sense about these things.  She knew when my life was in danger, when my enemies were upon me, and she would arrive and save me in the end. 

That was why I was calm when being lowered into a pit of man-eating crocodiles.  Tied to a board moving slowly down into the barbecue pit that the Nukalofans had turned into a crocodile nest, I could have despaired that all was lost.  But I knew, like James Bond, that I would prevail by the end of the movie.  As the crocs snapped hungrily just inches below by limbs, I heard my mom call from the backdoor of the house, “We’re eating!” 

When she spied my predicament, she pulled out her atom blaster.  The five Nukalofans barely knew what hit them.  As they turned, off-balanced and confused, the last thing they saw was a blast of energy coming their way and then they were no more.  Then she turned her wrath on the Nukalofan shuttle craft, blasting it to atoms, and then toward the sky, she shot a mega-photon ray at the Nukalofan starship orbiting the planet.  It was time for supper.

Thirty years later, I am proud to say that the Nukalofan threat, while not eliminated, has been held at bay.  Held at bay through the tireless efforts of my mom, my dog, and me, liberated each day a long time ago when my sisters and my father were away, liberated by my generous mom, rolling meat balls in her palms in the kitchen, liberated by her smile.  My mother let me have the run of the entire family compound so that I could engage in operations that would save the galaxy.  Hats off to my mom.    

I will always remember my mother’s gift to me.  Free reign and time alone to let my imagination run wild, all the while knowing that she was not too far away to save me in the last moment from my enemies.

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