by Nick Diaz and Rob Diaz

(A note about ‘Mercury Marshmallow Men’) 

My son has been struggling in school with writing.  He has been putting together extremely brief answers to essay questions and largely not enough details about anything.  The other day, he got a ‘D’ on a story he had to write. This was because he was supposed to write a complete story and he, instead, wrote three or four sentences.  His ideas were very good, he simply didn’t explain them or explain what happened before or around the ideas.  He acknowledged that he really didn’t do the work but he didn’t know how to expand the simple ideas.  So, I decided to try to help him learn how to build a larger story, essay or answer from a brief idea. We sat down and took the last email I received, which was an update on NASA’s MESSENGER probe.  I said, “So, MESSENGER gets to Mercury and finds flashing lights.”  We built up the concept of the story from there over a 10 minute conversation in which we asked “okay, why?” and “Okay, what did it smell like?” a lot.  Then, based on our brief notes, we started writing.  This story is the result of our efforts.  We both worked on this and in spots it is probably clear who was leading the effort.  But ultimately this was collaborative.  And, it was a lot of fun. We’ll probably do it again.

It had been only thirteen days since NASA’s MESSENGER spaceship first went into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. Scientists on Earth were studying the data being sent back from Mercury when they noticed that the spaceship had recorded several bright flashes of light on the dark side of the planet. Over the next few weeks, the scientists directed the spaceship to spend more and more time focusing its cameras on the crater where the light was coming from. They used the spaceship’s cameras to zoom in and take close up pictures. They were surprised – shocked, actually—at what they saw.

What they saw were aliens!

Well, actually, they didn’t see aliens. They saw a broken, bent, pile of wrecked UFO parts. With a flashing light on it.

When news of this finding hit the newspapers, people started to worry.

“Oh no! The aliens are coming!” shouted one person in Brooklyn.

“Aliens are going to eat my brains!” shouted another person, in an elementary school in Central New Jersey.

“I like pie!” shouted his sister. “Don’t let the aliens take my pie!” she added.

Soon, people calmed down. Really smart scientists analyzed the data, because that’s what scientists do. What they figured out was the lights on the alien wreckage were flashing Morse Code.

Bob, the lead scientist, presented the findings.

“You’ll notice,” he said, pointing his laser pointer at the image on the projector, “this message is very important. Obviously, everyone here knows what it says, right?”

He waited as everyone looked at the projected message. The message looked like:

… — … .-.-.- / .– . / -. . . -.. / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– … .-.-.-

Bob was disappointed as he looked around at everyone in the room and they all had scowls on their faces like they had smelled something bad. Sighing, he said, “Fine. It says, ‘SOS. We need marshmallows.’ Clearly, we are seeing an intelligent alien life form that needs our help.”

Someone shouted, “Marshmallows? Are you sure you translated that correctly?”

“What do you mean?” asked Bob. “Clearly, everyone needs marshmallows!”

It took a few days to convince everyone that he was right, but eventually they all believed him. A plan was put together to bring a space shuttle out of retirement and send it to Mercury to rescue the aliens. It took many months, but finally the ship made it first into orbit and then to the surface, landing right next to the UFO.

The Space Troopers who were on the shuttle hurried out to take control of this remarkable discovery. They used special Alien Zapping Rays to stun the aliens and bring them on board the shuttle. The aliens made strange noises when they were inside the shuttle. The noises sounded like fingernails scraping against a chalkboard. It soon became known that this was nothing more than the sound of them snoring. But it was so loud that none of the Space Troopers could sleep or watch their favorite episodes of “Myth Busters” on ShuttleVision, so they locked the aliens in a sound proof room for the ride back to Earth.

When they finally landed on Earth, it was January 28, 2013. The American public had mostly forgotten about the whole thing, which made the scientists happy. They were happy because it made it easier to take the aliens to Disney World in Orlando without anyone noticing.

Now, they didn’t take the aliens to Disney World for the reasons you might think. The aliens might have been very interested in touring the world in Epcot Center, but the scientists didn’t care. Instead, they wanted to bring the aliens into Cinderella’s Castle, right in the middle of Disney World, where there was, hidden in plain sight, a secret government lab.

The government lab filled all of the areas of Cinderella’s Castle that were blocked off from the public. It also filled the 327 levels of the castle that were below the surface, hidden safely and deeply in the marshy lands under the happiest place on Earth.

Whenever humans were brought down into the secret lair of government testing, they freaked out and came out brainwashed. But the aliens, they seemed to perk right up. Their squeaky snoring stopped and they seemed to be very happy.

The scientists were confused by this, but then the aliens started tapping their feet in Morse Code. Bob, who had come to Orlando to try to communicate with the aliens, wrote down all of the tapping. And it looked like this:

.– . / .- .-. . / ..-. .-. — — / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. .. ..- … / .–. .-. .. — . .-.-.- / – …. . / … .–. — -. –. -.– –..– / … — . .-.. .-.. -.– / … — .. .-.. / …. . .-. . / .. … / .— ..- … – / .-.. .. -.- . / …. — — . .-.-.- / -.. — / -.– — ..- / …. .- …- . / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– / .–. .-.. .- -. – … / …. . .-. . ..–..

Since everyone else was used to texting and not used to translating Morse Code, Bob translated it for them:

“It says: We are from Marshmallius Prime. The spongy, smelly soil here is just like home. Do you have marshmallow plants here?

The aliens drew pictures of plants, with giant leaves and blue and purple flowers shaped like chicken beaks, with huge, bright white marshmallow blobs growing from them. They pointed and made their grey, slimy faces crinkle into what the scientists thought were smiles.

“No,” said Bob. “We don’t have plants that grow already-made marshmallows; ours are only ornamental.”

The aliens got very sad. A few days later, Bob came in with a mug of hot chocolate. He set it down on the table in front of him and the aliens saw it. They shrieked loudly when they saw the little marshmallows floating on top. One of them stuck his finger-like things into the boiling hot cocoa and grabbed a marshmallow. Then the alien started tapping his foot again.

-.– — ..- / -.. — / …. .- …- . / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– … .-.-.- / – .- -.- . / ..- … / – — / -.– — ..- .-. / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– / .–. .-.. .- -. – .-.-.-

This translated to “You DO have marshmallows. Take us to your marshmallow plant.”

So Bob took them outside and walked them down Main Street to the Walt Disney Marshmallow and Princess Pillow Factory. Standing outside, the aliens saw the pictures on the door and got very excited. They started trying to eat the pictures on the door.

“.– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . .- – / – …. . / — .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– … .-.-.-” they tapped.

“If you want to eat marshmallows,” Bob said, having translated their code, “it might be more effective to open the door first.”

He pulled the aliens off the door frame and then opened the door. The aliens shrieked happily and went inside, where they found themselves surrounded by more marshmallows than they had ever seen on their planet. Over the next few hours, Bob learned a whole lot from the aliens.

Long ago, their home world, Marshmallius Prime, was covered with forests of marshmallow plants. Theirs was the only planet in the universe on which marshmallows grew. So they built big spaceships to travel to other planets and take marshmallow plants to all the other people in the universe, because they liked to share. They would get to a planet, drop a whole bunch of marshmallows off and then leave to go to the next planet.

Suddenly, a few years ago, a great Marshmallow Plague came through their planet and killed all of the marshmallow forests. The Marshmallow Men searched the universe to find the marshmallows they had planted on all the other planets, but only Earth had any. So they came here to get some. But somewhere in the neighborhood of Mercury, their ship broke down and the crash landed in a crater. They were there for many months before they were rescued. And now they just needed a few marshmallow plants to take back with them so they could replant the great forests on their home world.

“We make our own marshmallows,” Bob said. “They don’t grow on trees, you know.”

“– .- .-. … …. — .- .-.. .-.. — .– / .–. .-.. .- -. – … .-.-.-” the aliens demanded.

“But we don’t have any marshmallow plants,” Bob insisted. But then he had a thought.

“What if the marshmallows we make inside our factories, our marshmallow plants, could grow on your planet?” Bob made air quotes when he said “marshmallow plants” even though he didn’t think the aliens knew what an air quote was. “Maybe we can just give you a big ship filled with marshmallows and you can put them in the ground at home to see if they grow?”

“-.– . … .-.-.-“, the aliens tapped, doing the weird smiling thing with their faces again.

Bob contacted the president to get permission and the president contacted Congress to get permission and Congress contacted their lawyers to get permission and the lawyers said, “It’s just marshmallows, let them have some!”

So Bob filled a ship with fresh, fluffy marshmallows and the aliens flew away, back to their home world, Marshmallius Prime, on the other side of the galaxy.

Many years later, a ship flew into Earth’s orbit. The sky was filled with a loud, booming sound that kept repeating itself. Bob, now old and retired, heard it and recognized it as Morse code. He wrote it down and it looked like this:

– .- -.- . / ..- … / – — / -.– — ..- .-. / .-.. . .- -.. . .-. .-.-.- / …. .. … / -. .- — . / .. … / -… — -… .-.-.-

He called the President and translated the message. “It says, ‘Take us to your leader. His name is Bob’.”

So the president contacted the Congress and the Congress contacted their lawyers and the lawyers said, “It’s just Bob the old scientist, let him go.” So Bob got in a government space car and was driven to orbit to dock with the alien space ship.

Once on board, one alien stepped forward. Bob got ready to translate from Morse code. Suddenly, the alien spoke, in plain English and said, “Bob, the people of Marshmallius Prime thank you for helping us get our great forests back. As a reward we want you to have some special soil from our home world so that you can grow fresh marshmallows, right in your house, and we will teach you how to make more of this special soil.”

The pot of dirt smelled bad. It was like cat farts and cabbage. Bob almost wanted to refuse the gift, but an alien came up and put a small marshmallow into the pot of dirt. Within seconds, the bad smell went away and a small green plant popped out of the top of the marshmallow. A few minutes later, the plant was covered in blue and purple, chicken beak shaped flowers. And by the time Bob was back on Earth, there were tiny, white marshmallows forming on the plant.

Bob pulled a marshmallow off and popped it into his mouth. And he smiled. It was the best marshmallow he had ever tasted, nothing like the cardboard marshmallows people bought at the store.

And everyone lived much more happily ever after.