Finding Johnny

Image of Short Story
Juniper’s pudgy limbs army crawled through the soggy mulch and rolled under the Palmerton playground’s dinky bridge to join Nellie, who was too busy sucking out all the jelly from her Uncrustable sandwich to notice Juniper washing off her mulch-covered elbows with her grape juice. I sat criss-cross-applesauce on top of the ugly, pee-stained (and pee-scented) yellow monkey bars; the rain pinged on my tinfoil crown as if God himself flung spitballs made of pearls at Earth. Palmerton, Pennsylvania consists of three stop lights, two dozen clothing shops only grandma’s shop at and, of course, the stereotypical stories of dirty secrets every small town infamously holds. I’d defend my hometown from that stereotype, but it’s far too true--I don’t make the rules, and, besides, I myself was caught up in a small town dirty secret. I wanted to catch an alien.

“Telly, if my daddy finds out you made me skip school, I’ll hire a lawyer, and I’ll make sure you get detention every day up until we graduate second grade,” Nellie complained. She combed out the bread crumbs from her braided hair and wiped her sticky jelly fingers onto Juniper’s white buttoned blouse. She didn’t believe in aliens, but I brought her along anyway--you always need to bring a skeptic along.

I jumped off the monkey bars, and my yellow and green plaid skirt puffed up like a parachute. “You won’t have to once your daddy sees us on the local news for finding a Johnny.”

Last Monday, I had caught my sixteen-year-old sister MaryAnn sneaking through our backdoor--her hands wrapped around her own neck. It was almost dinner time, and I must’ve scared the pimples off of her because she combined The Lord’s name with a few forbidden words when she saw me in the kitchen watching the History Channel’s Alien Monday Marathon. She should’ve known I wasn’t mom or dad; Mondays are our fast food days. They were out picking up greasy burgers and greasy fries. When MaryAnn realized it was only me, she let her arms swing off her neck and sighed. She should’ve kept her hands around her neck. Fruit punch red craters covered her skin. It wasn’t like any rash I had ever seen before. I paused the TV. “What’s with your neck?”

MaryAnn zipped over and gripped my shoulders so hard her nails left little lines in my skin. “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad I skipped school. One day you’ll understand, Telly. Soon enough, you’ll meet your own Johnny at the playground, you’ll get caught up with him and lose track of time, and you’ll want him even though no one else approves of him. You’ve got to understand. Please, for me?” That’s when everything made perfect sense. My sister discovered an alien species called Johnny! Those fruit punch red craters weren’t some kind of unusual rash. Those were some new kind of alien crop circles! I told my friends that we just had to catch a Johny at the park.

Juniper unzipped her backpack to yank out a Pepto Bismol pink bed sheet and a tennis racket. “I can’t wait to be famous! Gosh knows why your sister wouldn’t want to share her discovery. She could’ve been the Christopher Columbus of Palmerton’s extraterrestrials!”

Juniper and I tied the ends of the bed sheet to the tennis racket to make a giant butterfly net contraption. Nellie rolled her eyes at us. I promised her that if no Johnny showed up, then I’d publicly admit my stupidity, but I’m no fool. I knew a Johnny would appear at the playground soon.

“It’s never too early to get into our positions,” I said to them. “Juniper, you and I are gonna hide in the tube slide. We’ll be on the lookout. Nellie, you can do the honors. If we spot a Johnny, we’ll give you the signal ’He has risen’, and you’re gonna slide down the pole and trap that alien with the net.” I knighted Nellie with the giant net and held it out to her.

She stuck her little button nose in the air and slapped my tinfoil crown right off my head. “My mommy says to never slide down those playground poles. She says if you do, you’ll become a firefighter, but if you don’t become a firefighter, you’ll become a stripper.”

Juniper let out a long “whoa” in amazement.

I smoothed down my brown wispy hairs and placed the tinfoil crown back on my head. “You believe that, but you won’t believe in aliens?”

“I believe in logic,” she said, elongating each consonant in the word “logic”.

“I’ll be the future stripper then,” I scoffed. So, Juniper and Nellie crouched in the army green plastic tube slide next to the little bridge. I camped out behind the wall of the playground’s highest tier and held the giant net close to my chest.

I was glad I wasn’t stuck with Nellie in that tube slide, because she probably yapped and complained the whole time, but I couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged. I started to think that maybe all of Nellie’s yapping had a point; my morale was low. After two hours of waiting, the rain finally stopped and my stomach growled angry tunes. It was almost dinner time. My phone vibrated in my pocket. My sister spammed me with messages: “Where are you? Mom and dad are going to kill me!” and “Don’t be doing anything stupid, Telly.” I typed up the message, “be home soon, sorry,” but, before my thumb could press the send button, Juniper and Nellie slid down the slide and screamed, “He has risen!”--the signal! Down the pole I went, holding the net like a sword. Juniper pointed to the two bodies under the bridge, and, before I could make out their faces, I took one swing of the net. The bedsheet fluttered over two heads howling and swearing from A to F. The net contraption didn’t work too well. The two captives ripped off the Pepto Bismol pink bedsheet. A teenage girl with long blonde hair flowing to her butt and thin eyebrows that arched like checkmarks clenched her fists together. Laying next to her was a broad-shouldered, swoopy-haired teenage boy. He stared all three of us down.

That son-of-a-bloop Nellie knee-slapped and laughed and snorted like a snotty pig. “Nice teenagers you caught there, Telly.” She snatched my tinfoil crown and placed it on her own puny head.

“They could be in disguise,” Juniper whispered. I wanted to believe that, but, at that moment, I was ready to give up my alien dreams.

Nellie rolled her eyes and smacked her lips. “You really caught a Johnny, huh?”

The teenage girl whipped her head toward the teenage boy. “Johnny, how do these little punks even know you?” she said. She raised a checkmark eyebrow and tossed her long locks behind her shoulders, exposing her long neck.

My eyes couldn’t stop staring--that pencil-neck of hers was covered with fruit punch red crop circles! At that moment, my faith in aliens was restored. That was all the proof I needed to hear and see. Juniper gasped and cupped her hands over her mouth. Even Nellie’s mouth gaped open like a black hole, marking her official conversion from a skeptic to an alien believer.

Johnny’s lips formed an oval in an attempt to speak, but no words came out. I figured he couldn’t speak Earth-language too well, so I chimed in to help him. “MaryAnn, my sister, knows him! She met him here, too!”

Poor Johny tried to communicate with the teenage girl by rapidly shaking his head and flailing his arms. There must’ve been some misunderstanding. The girl slapped his extraterrestrial face and marched away.

“Hey,” Juniper shouted. “Don’t be rude to foreigners!”

Nellie placed the tinfoil crown back on my head--its rightful place. “Yeah, yeah, Telly. You were right. I was wrong. Blah blah blah. Now, hurry up and take some pictures of Johny for proof before he runs away!”

So, I did just that. I took a few photos of Johnny as he scurried out of the playground. Juniper, Nellie, and I suspected he was late to dinner and needed to hurry back to his UFO home. We were all late for our dinners, too, so I sent MaryAnn my “be home soon, sorry” text along with a blurry picture of Johnny escaping.