Ziggi is a manic pixie dream girl that went on a bender and never recovered. At least, that’s what her bandmates think. Pink-haired with a moonbow on her butt, Ziggi is your average punk barista searching for meaning in suburbia. Too bad her artistic roommate Cyrus turns out to be an alien who, when not smoking weed, is busy manipulating Ziggi’s genome in order to accelerate humanity’s evolutionary conga line. Oh yeah, and he’s been at it for centuries, meddling with human biology so long the Sumerians started a religion after him. At least he makes a mean fettucine alfredo?
After a concert goes sour, Ziggi and Cyrus blast off into space in Cyrus’ VW Beetle when Ziggi tries to turn off the radio. Stranded on a spaceship suited for amphibians, not punks, Ziggi learns that her new tenant Cyrus, real name Enki, isn’t remotely human. Gone are his good looks, replaced by tentacles and, well, he basically looks like a sewer mutant. To complicate things, Enki is the heir to the Milky Way’s dysfunctional overlords, the Anunnaki: shapeshifters who feed off information. In order to sexually mature, Enki has to shepherd humanity into his parent’s galactic dictatorship via good old genetic manipulation. Too bad he would rather make trippy artwork or eat pot brownies. A leader Enki is not, thus he is stuck in perpetual puberty, with the crown always just out of reach. No wonder he likes to get high.
As Enki gives Ziggi a tour of his spaceship, she is thrust into a world of intergalactic intrigue where the universe is in turmoil, thanks to Enki’s ruthless parents. Opposed to Enki’s genetic tinkering is his sister Ishtar who, though against interfering with species’ evolution, will do anything to take the throne. Soon the Brood come, and Ziggi, Enki and Ishtar are sold to the highest bidder, who happens to have a personal vendetta against the Anunnaki. Assassination plots are hatched, space pirates abound, and Ziggi discovers her talent for survival. She’s not alone for long, however, as her bandmates soon wind up in space, stranded on an outlaw planet after they got caught in Enki’s tractor beam. Forced to battle in interspecies cage matches and entertain their captors, Ziggi and her friends struggle to find a way out of the gladiator ring. Their solution? Form a space band, Anunnaki included, and rock their way to freedom.
Music is Ziggi’s ultimate salvation, and soon entire galaxies are salivating over her riffs. But will her new supernova stardom be too hot to handle? What about Enki’s despotic family? And what will Enki do when he runs out of weed? In this spoof of alien conspiracies, all these questions, and more, are answered in this Bowie-inspired mix of Lilith’s Brood and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Enki ascends to the throne, having overthrown his parents, and Ziggi, now a cosmic rock star, can finally quit her job at Java Lava and move on to bigger, better things, namely a record deal.
Smoke hung like a veil over the Black Cat as my hands worked a riff on my Gibson. Carlos anchored the song with his bass line, and Spike drummed like an earthquake god. Cyrus stood on the fringes, taking a drag from something that was decidedly not a cigarette.
Riff finished, I sang the bridge, then belted out the chorus three more times, summoning a chaotic picture of middle class ennui in the audience’s mind. The mosh pit moved in frenzy as we performed the final piece from our concept album about midlife crises and the 99%’s suburban discontent. Spike drummed on his cymbals, the lights flashed, and Carlos let his final note echo. I strummed my guitar once more, then moved into a harmonic that played like a ghost across the room.
The crowd cheered.
“Thanks,” I said, breathless, into the microphone. “You guys are great. I want to bottle your blood and sell it or something. You’re that fucking sweet. Like Pepsi or pixie dust or, or just like, I don’t know, hot chocolate spiked with rum-”
Carlos edged over to the microphone, bass over his shoulder. “That’s Ziggi, alright, with her vampire blood shit – she’s a parasite. Be careful or she’ll sip you right up.” He slung an arm around me. “CDs are at the back, next to the band patches. Buy them, please, and feed me. Playing makes me hungry.”
Someone threw a hamburger at Carlos. He caught it, shrugged, and bit in. Ketchup clung to his lip.
“Gimme that – you don’t know who or where in the hell it’s from,” I said.
I took the half-eaten hamburger and threw it back at the audience. The crowd hooted.
The floor cleared. We worked with tech backstage to dismantle our set. I put my electric blue Gibson back in its case. The Gibson, christened Orpheus, was my college graduation present. Spike hauled my amp into his van. Cyrus pocketed bits of trash from the crowd: a dysfunctional lighter and used earplugs.
We crammed into Spike’s van to drive back to Spike and Carlos’s townhouse in Arlington for an after-party. Spike was at the wheel, and Carlos sat shotgun, with Cyrus and me in the back. My roommate, dressed in a white jumpsuit, smelled pleasantly of rain. His pot smoke refused to cling to him. Instead, it coated me, like disgusting perfume from a sewer full of junkies.
I tried to sit as far away from Cyrus as possible.
Carlos put on the Dead Kennedys’ “I Fought the Law” cover. “This is my jam,” Carlos said, his labret piercing flashing in the streetlights. He sang along: “I BLEW GEORGE AND HARVEY’S BRAINS OUT WITH MY SIX GUN!/I FOUGHT THE LAW AND I WON!”
“Shut up, man,” Spike said, then changed the track to the Pogues, cutting Carlos off mid-lyric. Some song from Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash played. Dirty Old Town or something. I was too buzzed off performing to tell.
Carlos slumped back in his chair. “Fuck you, Spike-up-the-ass.”
Spike rolled down the window, letting the October air chill the car. “Don’t start this, man. We both know the Clash’s version is better. The Dead Kennedy’s can’t sing covers for shit.”
Carlos blew air through his teeth. “What, and Shane MacGowan doesn’t sound like a wino? Screw your tastes and screw your van. It smells like smegma.”
Spike arched his brows. “You know what smegma smells like? How many dirty dicks have you sucked?”
Carlos lit a cigarette. “I only suck clean dicks.” Carlos took a drag, then glanced back at Cyrus.
Cyrus hummed along to ‘Dirty Old Town,’ oblivious to Carlos’s attraction.
That was another thing about Cyrus – none of us could figure out my roommate’s orientation. Maybe he was sapiosexual, if that was even a thing and not a 4chan joke – we were just plebs too dumb for his artistic genius. In the few weeks that I had known him, Cyrus had spoken of no significant other, but with his dramatic flair for dress, long hair, and androgynous looks, I suspected he might have something going on. Despite his sex appeal, Cyrus was sexless, showing no interest in anyone and continually laughing off Carlos’s advances. Perhaps he was married to his art. That, or his weed.
“Hey, Ziggi, maybe you should grow a cock,” Spike said, speeding past a yellow light. “It would hit two birds with one stone, solving your lack of a boyfriend and curing Carlos’s lust.”
I curled my lip. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just suggest I become a dude. God knows you two have enough testosterone for this whole band.”
“Speaking of the band, I think we should change our name. ‘Iguana Knees’ is too grunge, and we’re not grunge,” Spike said.
“That’s our problem. We never fucking know what genre we are,” Carlos said.
I looked at the silent Cyrus, and my ankle throbbed. “Hey, I like our name.”
Cyrus looked at me, breaking his reverie. “I think ‘Iguana Knees’ suits your aesthetic.”
“Fuck. We dabble in so many styles, we’re unclassifiable,” Carlos blew smoke out the window. “We’re punk one week, then glam the next. Remember that time I dressed up like David Bowie in Labyrinth for that set we wrote about Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market? Jareth or whatever, and Ziggi looked like friggin Sarah Brightman from Phantom of the Opera. That was miles away from our new album about a suburban couple’s breakdown. One’s Fairport Convention and the other’s Green Day. I say we pick a genre and stick with it.”
“Hell no,” I said. “Why limit ourselves? Labels create sterility. Anyways, we’re not trying to go mainstream.”
“Not now, but eventually,” Spike said. “Right now we only have niche appeal. How are we supposed to market ourselves if we don’t know what genre we are?”
“We’ll figure it out,” I said. “You can’t just choose these things, they come to you, like the Oracle of Delphi. We’re kinda like modern prophets of music, that’s our thing: the voice of our generation, or at least Millennials in the DC suburbs.”
We pulled into Spike and Carlos’s driveway and got out into the autumn-spiced night. They lived in a tree-lined cul-de-sac in an area halfway between projects and a youth mecca. The housing was cheap compared to most places in Arlington, filled with twenty-somethings and young families just starting out.
We settled into their living room with beers and popped an old DVD of Mystery Science Theater 3000 into the TV. Cyrus sat in a bean bag on the floor while my band and I sank into the single threadbare couch.
The imprisoned character and his robot sidekicks of the cult TV show were spoofing a B-movie about hostile aliens. The actors playing the aliens were poorly made-up, with green rubber lizard masks, and the 70’s special effects were laughable. We munched on popcorn between sips of beer, chatting over the narration.
Only Cyrus was quiet, his eyes glued to the screen. He seemed almost solemn. The movie ended, and Spike turned off the TV.
“Man,” Carlos said, “screw aliens. They creep the shit out of me.”
I kicked my legs up on the table made of wooden crates. “Yeah?” I said.
Carlos nodded. “I used to watch the X-Files, and it messed me up. I was convinced that aliens were real, and that they had nothing better to do than abduct me and probe my ass.”
“I’m pretty sure aliens don’t want anything to do with a crusty bassist’s butt.” Spike downed the last of his beer.
Carlos punched Spike, knocking his empty beer can to the floor. “I’m not crusty, man.”
I laughed. “You two are idiots. God, maybe we should make our new EP about aliens. No, alienation. Crust punks and their fight against the man.”
“I’m not crust punk, and the only dude I want to fight is the idiot sitting next to me,” Carlos said, ribbing Spike.
“Don’t touch me.” Spike laughed. “I mean, look in the mirror – you’re an anarchist, you play a jacked up bass, and you listen to crap like Venom and Motörhead, and you think the best fucking place in the world is dirty-ass Richmond. You’re crusty.”
“Yeah, fine, maybe, but you make it sound like my skin is flaking off and I haven’t showered in twenty years,” Carlos said. He looked at me. “Ziggi, that EP sounds like trite bullshit.”
I frowned. “You always shoot down my ideas. What’s your damage? Why can’t we put a fresh spin on it?”
Carlos shook his head. “I don’t know, it’s just so overdone. The world doesn’t need more angry white twenty-somethings railing against the establishment.”
Spike snorted. “Isn’t that what we do? Admit it, we’re derivative.”
Frustration flared in my gut. “No, we’re not! We’re more original than 99% of the crap that’s out there. People hear the Iguana Knees, and it means something to them! Think of our fans! What we stand for!”
Carlos squinted. “Iguana Knees. That name’s like a stink bomb going off in my head. Can’t we be Wombat Attack Squad or something?”
“You always go back to Wombat Attack Squad, don’t you?” Spike said, amused.
“Wombats don’t attack things, Car, but iguanas have knees,” I said, tired of my band-mate’s nonsense.
“How do you know they don’t attack things?” Carlos said, crossing his arms. “Have you ever seen a wombat? I sure haven’t. They could be badass. With hidden superpowers, like me. Don’t underestimate a wombat.”
“Wombats are herbivores, they have no need to attack things, save grass,” Cyrus said. He took a drag from his blunt, then pulled out the broken lighter he’d collected from his pocket and flicked it repeatedly. No flame came on, but he was still enthralled.
Carlos narrowed his eyes. “I don’t buy that,” he said. “Ugh. Why can’t we ever agree on anything? We can never go on tour like this.”
I nearly choked on my stale beer. “Us? Go on tour? With what money and what roadies?”
“See?” Carlos said. “You say I don’t agree with you, but you always hate my ideas, whether it’s about going on tour or how awesome wombats are. You’re like the band dictator.”
“I am not!” I said. “Spike, back me up.”
Spike shrugged. “I’m too drunk to deal with you guys.”
“Cyrus?” I asked.
Cyrus bit his lower lip. “I think your tour will come to you when you need it most. Maybe now’s not the time.”
“See?” I said. “The stoner sage agrees.”
Carlos looked like he had a sour taste in his mouth. “Fine, whatever, have it your way. We can keep our shitty name and stay in the shitty suburbs and keep working our shitty jobs, living our small lives and never doing fucking anything.”
I flinched. “I’m not the villain. Come on. I’m just trying to do what’s best for us!”
“We don’t need mothering,” Carlos said, refusing to meet my gaze.
I sagged. “Fine, if that’s what you think of me, I guess I’ll just go. Cyrus?”
Cyrus pocketed his lighter. “Alright.”
Spike stood, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t leave. Car’s just being a tool because he’s drunk off his ass. You’re both oversensitive when you’re tipsy.”
I shrugged off his hand. “Whatever. I’m tired anyways.”
Cyrus followed me outside like a shadow.
“Screw what Carlos thinks,” I said, looking at the stars. The lone lemon tree by the cracked driveway was bent with age and wind.
Cyrus dropped his smoked blunt and put it out with the heel of his shoe. “I think your ideas are valid.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
We drove back to Centreville in Cyrus’ VW beetle on I-66. I was still waiting on my parent’s spare truck to be fixed at the autobody shop before I could drive it. Until then, I was dependent on Cyrus and the subway for rides.
Cyrus flipped through the radio stations until he settled on classic rock. I sat there, doubting the validity of my ideas and my place in the band, despite Cyrus’ reassurance. I finally broke the silence:
“Do you think I’m full of crap? Are my ideas stereotypical? I mean, I know I’m a caricature. I’m a pink-haired barista named Ziggi Moondust Collins in a band that’s falling apart.” I watched the moon sail across the sky, feeling empty.
Cyrus pulled into our apartment’s parking lot. “I don’t think so. You should let go of your worries,” he said, his voice soothing. “Both you and Carlos just drank a bit too much.”
“Forget an EP about alienation. Maybe I should just write about aliens.”
The radio began to play David Bowie’s “Starman.”
I gave a deflated laugh. “What, is the radio psychic? I was probably conceived to this song, fuck.”
I reached for the dashboard, squinting in the darkness to see which button to press to turn off the music. My index finger made contact with a red triangle-
“Ziggi, no, not that button!” Cyrus said.
I pressed it. “What are you talking about?”
A great clamor came from the VW beetle’s engine. A white light pulsed on the dashboard, and my seat plunged backwards, taking me with it. The windows darkened and the car thrust upwards, like the wheels had turned into rockets. We shot off the ground, into the air, careening past the trees.
“What the heck?”
Cyrus cursed, gripping the steering wheel hard as he navigated us through the air. “I can explain. Actually, it might be a bit difficult.”
We hit turbulence.
“Oh god, oh my god!” I hyperventilated.
The radio became static, then was replaced by a voice speaking in a sonorous language. I shrieked as the sound’s pressure made my eardrums near-rupture.
“Whoops,” Cyrus said.
A holographic screen appeared in front of him. Cyrus furrowed his brow and turned a hovering dial. The screen enlarged, and foreign script scrolled across it.
The radio’s voice grew in volume. It seemed to be asking a question.
Cyrus bit his lip, pressed another button, then replied to the radio’s query in the same language, so unnatural when it came from a human throat.
My stomach fell into my lap. I screamed, vomited, then screamed some more, my puke flying around the car-turned-spaceship. The velocity built, and my vision blackened.
Cyrus held my hand. “Ziggi. Ziggi? It’s okay. You’re safe. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have let you press the launch button. This is all my fault.”
“Launch button?” I said, then vomited again. My head spun, and the force of us flying through the air was like being pressed to death.
Cyrus wiped vomit from my brow. “It might be easier on you if you sleep this one out. Your body’s fragile. I’ll explain everything once you wake up.”
“What? No. No!”
He pressed a button on the holographic screen and a fine mist seeped from the air conditioning vents. I inhaled the mist and was instantly calmed. Drowsiness lumbered into my brain and sat at the crown of my head. Sleep dragged me down through its depths.