Daniel Swensen is the Lord of Alien Cancer

I issued a challenge. Write an evil limerick or lyrics to a rock opera about a family suffering a HOME INVASION by ALIEN CANCER.

Several answered the call. Each stood up and sang. Thank you to Sarah Lantz, Marcy Luikart, and Rob Pearson.  I wish I were wealthy enough to reward you all.

Daniel Swensen, author of the incendiary short Burn (now available for free) and the forthcoming novel Orison, has won the contest with spine-tingling gusto. His EPIC rock opera, “Seven Stages to Mars”, is included below for your reading pleasure.

Without further ado, “Seven Stage to Mars”…

Seven Stages to Mars

By Daniel Swensen

Based on a concept by Murphy Jacobs and Rick Wayne

(C) 2013 by Daniel Swensen

Reproduced without permission


A pastel-colored 1960s kitchen, with blue walls, a tiny black-and-white television, and astronaut memorabilia decorating the walls. BUZZ, a 35-year-old astronaut, walks through the front door, clean-shaven and beaming. He puts down his official NASA briefcase by the door and hangs his hat.


Everybody! I’m home!

The kids run into the room to greet him: BILLY, 11, and SUSIE, 9. Billy is the spitting image of his old man with a Rocky Jones, Space Ranger shirt. Susie is holdin’ down the gender norms fort in a pink dress. Wife CAROL follows with a smile, all Donna Reed hair and floofy apron.


Pa! Pa!


(picks Billy up and gives him a noggie)

How you doin, sport? You take care of the family while I was gone?




Dad, did you really go all the way to Mars?


I sure did, sweetheart. And I brought you all back souvenirs!

Buzz puts down his son and pulls out several shiny, crystalline-looking green rocks. The kids grab at them greedily. Carol looks concerned.


Oh, Buzz, are those safe? And I thought you were in contagion quarantine for the next four days?


It’s fine, honey, I pulled some strings. Gus and Ronald came back fine, so they gave me a clean bill of health early!


I’m still not sure about this. Those rocks came from a place… not here.


(totally unconcerned)

They’re perfectly harmless, I promise. They’re just rocks! Besides, haven’t you missed me?


More than you know.

She throws her arms around his neck, and they kiss. Slowly, she puts her lips to his ear and whispers sensuously.


I made meatloaf.



My favorite.


Come on, kids!

Exeunt the family, exuberant. The LIGHTS fade as they stampede into the kitchen, revealing the Martian rocks glowing and pulsing with alien light.


Little Billy stands on a stool, brushing his teeth with Rocket Ranger brand toothpaste. Buzz, in a wife-beater tee and pajama bottoms, knocks on the door and opens it.


All right, champ, you’ve been in here ten minutes, I think you’ve fought off those cavities for another day.


(wheels, mouth full of foam)

My life for N’yarghl!





I had a dream I went to Mars, pa! I was an astronaut, like you, and I grew big and strong and the Martians made me their king!



Well right now the breakfast table needs its king. Your mother is making waffles. Run along, sport!

Billy washes off the toothpaste rabies and scampers out of the room. Buzz takes off his tee shirt, sees a small, strange greenish bruise in the center of his chest.


What the heck?

He probes the bruise / indentation, turning in the mirror and observing himself, occasionally flexing or doing some poses like he’s being photographed.




I came back alive

from Chryse Planitia

Came back to the meatloaf

and comforting wisteria

Now I can’t help feeling

all this strange euphoria

That something may have happened

While I walked Memnonia

But no one else on earth can do

What I do, I do, I do

No one else has this luck from birth

Like I do, I do, like I do

This could be something but it’s probably not

NASA wouldn’t put us in such a tight spot

Maybe I didn’t do the thing that I ought

And this could be something but it’s probably not

This is probably just a mole

The point is probably moot

Or maybe just a hole

Made by my astro-suit

I didn’t quarantine

Should have waited one more day

But I was just so keen

To give my wife a lay

No one else can make her feel

Like I do, I do, I do

No one else will make her squeal

Like I do, when we screw

This could be something but it’s probably not

I wouldn’t put Carol in such a tight spot

Maybe I didn’t do the thing that I ought

And this could be Martian but it’s probably not

I’m feeling real afraid

But also kind of fierce

A clarity surrounds me

The veil has been pierced

This home belongs to me

A castle needs its king

Giovanni Schiaparelli

Can kiss my pinkie ring

No one else has felt as strong as I do, I do, I do

No one’s Johnson grown so long as mine do, mine do, mine do

I could be Martian but I’m probably not

My memory is turning polyglot

My life for N’yarghl, and hey, why not?

I could still be human but I’m probably not

Buzz shakes his head as the music fades, rubbing his forehead.


What the — what’s happening to me?



I don’t feel so good!

A THUD is heard from the next room.


Oh no! Billy!

Alarmed, Buzz hurriedly puts on his shirt and runs out of

the room.


Billy sticks out his tongue and says “ah” as DOCTOR BRONSON peers in his mouth with a light and a tongue depressor. His tongue is colored bright green. Sighing with resignation, the doctor turns back to Carol and Buzz, who hold each other, looking concerned.


Mr. and Mrs. Mariner, I’m sorry.


Oh no — what is it? Is it something horrible?


The truth is even worse. We don’t know.


I want to say measles

Or possibly flu

I’d love to tell you little Billy

Has the ague

I’d say that he’ll be fine

But I can’t make that claim

His disease has no name

It’s surely not smallpox

Or sleep apne-O

I can say that it’s not rickets

And not polio

His symptoms could change now

Or just say the same

His disease has no name


(buries her face in Buzz’s shoulder)

Oh, Buzz!


I’m sorry. I can only recommend home care, unless his symptoms get somehow worse. It could just be temporary. After all, he’s a growing boy!

The Doctor exits. Carol sniffles, wipes her eyes, and pushes herself away from Buzz.


Buzz, tell me truthfully. Those rocks you brought back. Did NASA really say they were safe?


Well, they didn’t say they weren’t.


I can’t believe you’d do this! How could you endanger little Billy and Susie like this?

MUSIC begins.



We trusted you to keep us safe

When you came back to earth from Mars

We couldn’t wait till you came back

But now our Billy’s tongue turned green

You, cavalier, exposed us all

To some insidious Mars attack!

You didn’t wait for quarantine

Do you have any idea what this could mean?

Alien microbes could eat Billy’s spleen

Cause you didn’t wait for quarantine


Have you ever seen the Earth

Rising like a Christmas ball

Against the yawning void of space?

Have you ever faced the black

And thought you may not come back

And tried to win that mortal race?

I couldn’t wait for quarantine

My thought of home were gorgeous and serene

I know I didn’t think what it could mean

If I couldn’t wait for quarantine


I fear you’re not the man I knew

I’ll never know if you’ll turn blue

Some color out of space that I can’t see

I fear for Billy and poor Sue

Not to mention your rocket crew

How could you be so cruel to me?

You didn’t wait for quarantine

Do you have any idea what this could mean?

Some Martian chromosome could alter all your genes

Cause you didn’t wait for quarantine


Honey I wasn’t–


Oh Buzz, just don’t!

Carol slams the door to the patient room, leaving Buzz alone. He sings quietly:


I couldn’t wait for quarantine

My thought of Mars were gorgeous and serene

Do my wife and child suspect what it could mean

That I couldn’t wait for quarantine


Buzz works frantically on a strange-looking contraption that glows with an alien green light. Board games, weight sets, boxes of bric-a-brac and old clothes have been pushed off to the side to make room for the strange machine — some household items have even been incorporated into the mysterious machine. Buzz walks around the device in a fever, shirtless. The green spot on his chest has grown larger, a skein of arterial disease spreading outward to his arms and stomach.

Carol comes downstairs, her hair not so perfect now, her dress looks like she’s slept in it. The froofy apron is gone. She looks haggard and tired, and worse, there are faint green veins along her arms, mostly hidden by the sleeves.


Buzz, are you coming up for dinner? I made meatloaf.


No time. Have to finish the project. Have to save Billy.


This is madness, Buzz. Billy doesn’t need your insane plans or your insane machine. He needs your love.


The machine is the only love that matters now. I can save him, Carol. I have to save him.

Carol launches herself at him, striking at him with fists gangrenous with purple bruises.


You selfish son of a bitch! He doesn’t have that much time left! You’re going to waste it down here, working on this pointless monstrosity!

Buzz endures the beating without comment or reaction. Realizing he won’t change his mind, Carol breaks into sobs. She leans toward him, hoping for comfort. Buzz doesn’t move.


Monstrosity is all I have left. You can’t understand, Carol.


I understand everything.

Weeping, she runs back upstairs. The slam of the door leaves him in darkness. Left alone, Buzz makes an adjustment to the machine. It glows brightly for a moment with bright green alien light, but then something sparks and shorts out. The room is plunged into blackness, and we hear Buzz’s scream of frustration and rage. The light comes back low, a dim green radiance, as Buzz kneels with head in hands.

As he sings, Buzz runs in circles, trying to repair the machine, ripping out some parts, replacing them with others, beating on the machine with his wrench, growing ever more desperate, more violent. The machine spins up, spitting green light and clanking with life as he tries to make it operate.



I have traveled now a million years

What use my notoriety?

An ocean of inhuman tears

For that which I took from me

Is it now too late

To save my son this fate?

A life before the camera’s lens

To find there’s nothing left behind

My humanity goes round the bend

Into a new eternal night


In the naked time I fight

My anger is the key

A lifetime’s work, this final flight

I’ll fix up this machine

Science and medicine are telling me

We’ll do nothing for your son

Perform another test, to wait and see

When his race is nearly run

I can no longer wait

To save him from this fate

What does it profit any man

If he leaves his child to die?

With my knowledge now I know I can

Fend off that dreadful final “why”


In the naked time I fight

My anger is the key

A lifetime’s work, this desperate flight

I’ll start up the machine

What use all my fame and my skill

When all is silence?

One last good act, this I will

In raw defiance

In the naked time I fly

Love will find a way

Forever give it one last try

You’ll laugh again one day–

Buzz pauses in his work, pulls the switch to start up the machine. Sparks fly. The lights go out, and leave him once again in darkness. His cry of desperation peals into the dark.


Billy’s room is full of sickness. He lies in bed, his skin heavily splotched with green, being fed through a tube. The walls are decorated with Star Trek posters and pictures of his hero astronaut dad. From the ceiling hang plastic spaceships, moons, suns, and the planet Mars suspended against the window. Carol sits by his side, stroking his discolored forehead.


Dinner smells really good, mom.


Oh, honey, you always told me you hated meatloaf. I’d have to make a deal with you to get you to clean your plate, remember?


If I could eat, I’d clean my plate and you wouldn’t have to tell me to eat my vegetables. I’d just do it.


You’re going to get better, honey. And when you do, I make you this promise. I’ll never tell you to eat your vegetables again.


No more deals?


No more deals. Try to get some sleep, honey. I’ll be right in the next room.

Carol leaves the bedroom. As the light from the hall beyond narrows to a thin column, then to nothing, the glowing green hulk of an alien thing, a brain-shaped tentacled phantom, looms over Billy’s bed.


Who are you?


I am N’Yarghl. I grow inside you.


Like a baby? Am I pregnant?


In a manner of speaking, yes. You will give birth to me. You and your entire family. Your thoughts and desires will coalesce, a discordant bleat of hunger and disappointment made one holy chorus of unity.


You talk funny.




What will happen to us when you’re born?


You will die.


That’s not fair.


It is the way of things. The child is born, the parent dies. It is the best of all the possible worlds you know.


What if you just took me?


Why would I want to do that?


If you did, I wouldn’t fight you anymore. Aren’t you tired of fighting?


Aren’t you?


I asked you first.

The creature pauses, pulsing in the dark. It seems to think. Then it sings him a lullaby.


The borders of your life are drawn

This final trace

Strangers to your own family

Your unremembered face

Another night’s approach in

Mute complicity

Ambitions flatten before the

Weight of eternity

The doctors say you do not have long.

A final promise

One life for N’yarghl

To go alone

That is my bargain.


I have so many places

I wanted to go

To Phobos and Deimos and

to soar over Tycho

All I can think of now

Is to feel so beaten

The rocket ship’s empty howl

My dinner uneaten

Take me and just let the others go.

I make a promise

My life for N’yarghl

Just take me

That is my bargain.



Not far to go now

One life for Ny’arghl

One more day

That is the bargain.


Go to sleep, little traveler.


Buzz sits at the kitchen table. The house has fallen into disrepair around him. Dirty dishes stacked in the sink, the kitchen lies in ruins.

Carol walks in, sits silently next to him. She touches his shoulder, quietly, self-consciously, then just as self-consciously draws her hand away.


I couldn’t save him. The machine doesn’t work.


You tried.


It wasn’t enough. I did this to us, Carol. I did it to all of us.


You couldn’t have known.



Stop trying to let me off the hook. Stop trying to make it sound like I’m not to blame!


It doesn’t matter now. You should go to him. He doesn’t have long. Spend time with him, while you still can.


How can I face him after what I’ve done?


He’s your son.

Buzz finishes his beer numbly. He stands and walks out of the room. Carol sits at the kitchen table, staring unseeing into the dark. She rolls up her sleeves and reveals that the green bruise-like marks have gone.


Buzz walks quietly into the room. The only sound is Billy’s labored breath and the sterile sound of medical machines. Billy himself cannot be seen in the dark, only a lumpy shape in the blackness.






How are you feeling?


Better. I think it’s almost over,



Don’t talk like that, champ. You’re gonna be okay.


I know, Father. Everything’s going to be fine.


You’re going to get better. I got you a baseball glove. For when you’re feeling up to it. We can go play catch–


No, Father. We will never play catch again. Very soon, I will follow you and return to the stars. To my home.


What are you talking about, sport? You are home–

Buzz reaches for the light and turns it on. The shape in the bed is no longer human. A green, gelatinous Billy-shaped mass lolls in the bed, stubby tentacle arms waving. A baseball cap sits perched atop its neckless, rugose head.

Buzz screams with terror. An upbeat pop-metal tune starts up as Billy begins to slowly turn, accompanied by luminous radiance reminiscent of Close Encounters and / or disco lights.


I am the traveller,

I have so many forms.

You may call me what you will.

And with every form

My knowledge grows

A gnostic rite fulfilled.

The son you knew is gone

But you can still be “Dad” to me

And so together we

Will form eternity

I am the traveller

And I only ask that

you will remember my name

Don’t look so forlorn

I’m flabelliform

I am another branch on this World Tree

And with every branch

I look like Bruce Vilanch

Like Yoda says, luminous beings are we

You are progenitor,

And you gave me life

I offer my gratitude.

But don’t go spoilin’

My Phoenix vibe

With a bad attitude

We’ll always be together

Since I know your every thought

Even all the gross ones

When you thought Mom was hot

I am the traveller

But in me is the Billy that you always knew

Don’t be so uptight

We are made of light

Our consciousness travels out through the stars

In the endless sky

None of us will die

The tesseract vobiscum, out in the dark

Billy suddenly erupts into a blinding corona of light. When it fades, there is nothing left behind but a soggy bed dripping with green mess.

Carol runs into the room, hands over her mouth. She stares at the bed in shock.


He’s gone. Gone home.


I know. He’s in my head, and I’m in his. I can see him–


Floating out in the stars. I see him too.


The cities under the Martian canals!


The eggs of the Prime Progenitor, a labyrinth of caves teeming with green rock!


Teeming with life! Oh, Buzz, I want to go with him!


(puts an arm around her shoulder)

We are with him, honey. We’ll always be together now. We are one, each of us. We are light.

Buzz looks toward the window, up to the flickering stars.


And I have a feeling he’ll be back someday.

Carol leans her head on his shoulder.


I love you, Buzz.


I love you too, sweetie.


Maybe he’ll bring friends.



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