(Note: The "squonk" animal is based on the lyrics of a 1976 Genesis song of the same name, from "Trick of the Tail", so all due credit to Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hacket.)


It was a bright, sunny day in August. Everyone had brought their kids to the Popland Zoo to take in the fresh air and sunshine. The occasion was the Annual Squonk Exhibit. The squonk was a tiny, furry creature that had escaped from a hunter’s bag in Chart Topperland back on Earth. Legend had it that the animal had escaped leaving only the tears it had shed in the hunter’s bag. It could talk! He told everyone he’d never been as happy as he was then, in the company of nice animals and caring people.

"How did you get out of that bag"? one child asked the squonk.

"Oh, the hunter under-estimated my cleverness", he answered. "He was sure he had me. I just quietly crawled out of the bag and he was just walking along. He didn’t even hear me jump out."

Several other children approached the structure where the squonk lived. They all wanted to see this remarkable creature. Just then a menacing man, who looked like a football player, approached the children. He was holding a sack of something. He pulled open his sack, and started to throw frozen dead fish into the squonk’s abode.

"You kids are idiots to be so interested in this creature", he yelled at the children. "Look, he’s just involved in a stupid publicity stunt for the zoo. An animal who talks. Humans are animals who talk too, so why do you even care?"

"He’s such a nice animal", said one of the children. "He’s never rude. He cares about us. He remembers us by name. How many people do you know who do that"?

"Oh, who cares?" asked the man. "Look, kids, life isn’t like that. It’s nasty, brutish and short. The only way you get anywhere is by cutting throats. Being nice gets you nowhere fast. And at the end of the day, it’s just about survival. Nothing means anything". And with that, he resumed throwing cold fish at the squonk.

"Help!" screamed the squonk. "Let me tell you, these things are starting to stink this place up!"

Two angry parents approached the man. I tagged along behind them. I’d heard about this amazing creature, but I’d never met him. Now this idiot was blowing my chance to meet him. I had some ideas…..

"What are you doing?" screamed the mother of one of the children. "Gabrielle was having a blast. Come on, darling, let’s go. I don’t feel like fooling with this guy".

"But I want to say hi to the squonk!" Gabrielle screamed.

"Wait a minute, you guys", I said. "Look, buster, I know every UFO Unit Commander in the Solar System.. I’ll bet you didn’t know that abusive behavior towards squonks is against Interplanetary Law."

"So", he taunted me, "what are you going to do about it? Nobody gets away with fooling around with me. I can knock you unconscious if you don’t watch it, kiddo. You guys are just idiots, taken in by this stupid animal".

"Shut up", I snapped. "There are things more powerful than force and intimidation. You’re about to find out. You guys can come with me," I said to the parents and the children. "Everything will be just fine. Don’t worry".

I went to the car to get my Extraterrestrial Cellular. I called up the Commander of the Venus UFO Unit. "We’ve got a heck of a commotion going on here with the Squonk Exhibit at the zoo".

"We’ve been told by the Popland Police Department. We don’t know how he got here, but we think Saturn is behind this horrible intimidation display. It suits them, does it not?"

"So, what can we do? This guy is as strong as an ox. He could knock us all unconscious."

"So are some members of the Neptunian UFO Unit", he told me. "We’ll get them here within the hour. What’s this about the frozen fish? He’s throwing these really stinking things at the squonk?"

"Yes", I said.

"Let me tell you something", he said. "The Neptunians have chilling sprays. They’ll get this guy’s fish, and freeze them to his body. Then they can keep on spraying him until he’s quite literally frozen solid—unless he agrees to stop throwing the fish. I’ll call them right now."

I put the Extraterrestrial Cellular back in the car. "OK", I said to the parents and kids. "The Popland Police know about this stuff. They’ve moved the squonk inside until the Neptunians get here. The man thinks he’s got us all beat, but wait until he’s felt that icy spray! Coldness begets coldness, you might say. He's got a heart of ice; we've got to melt it. Gosh, cynics are such a pain".

"Mother", said Gabrielle, "can we listen to Zooropa while we wait for the UFO people? You know, I’ve never met an alien, aside from the Venusians, of course. I hear the Neptunians are pretty cool".

"They’re great", I said. "They’ve helped us so much. It’s hard to believe that they’ve only had UFO’s for eight months. They sure know what they’re doing. They train their people very well".

We spent time listening to Zooropa waiting for the UFO officers. They finally came. They had their icing machines, great big round containers with hoses on them. They were accompanied by members of the Popland Police Force. They led us to the squonk residence. The man was standing there; the squonk was nowhere to be seen.

"I scared the heck out of that stupid little wimp," said the man. "OK, what have you guys got to prove?"

"Plenty" said one of the Neptunians. He held up his icing machine. "You think you’ve touched cold with your cold fish. Well, you’re in for a surprise. Just get out a couple of your fish. We have something to show you."

The man pulled out three cold fish. The Neptunian immediately turned on his icing machine and sprayed the man’s arm that held the fish. Within two minutes his entire arm was completely encased in ice.

"You dirty tricksters!" he yelled.

I looked at the Neptunians, and we all burst out laughing. "You, calling us dirty tricksters!" I said. "You’re the ultimate dirty trickster. Look at what you did to the squonk. Look at what you did to an entire community. You screwed up our Squonk Day. Now you have to pay the price."

"You’re under arrest", said one of the Popland police. "You’re going with the Neptunians. You’ve drawn the ultimate penalty for breaking the Popland Pleasure Laws—deportation to Saturn. They’ll take you there. If you don’t follow orders they’ll put their ice machines to good use."

The man followed the Neptunians. The squonk came back out. "Hey, Neptunians, thanks a million!" he said.

"Hey, no problem. You’re cool", said a Neptunian. "I’ve been wanting to meet you. I’m just sorry it was under these circumstances. Can I take a picture of you?"

"Sure", said the squonk.

The Neptunian took the picture. They were treated to free ice cream from the zoo staff. Then they left. I went to the gates of the zoo and yelled, "We got rid of that jerk. He’s on his way to Saturn, the only place for such cynics. Come back, the squonk is ready to talk again".


Story by Patricia M. Hefner

14 August 2001