You Crack Me Up
by Leonard Schlenz
part 1 of 2
It all happened so quickly. The woman he loved left him for a lesser man with a monkey’s face. It all went down only yesterday but it hurt a lot and you couldn’t just ignore a thing like that. No, sir. “Give me a ticket to nowhere,” he found himself saying, and there just happened to be a vacant berth or two on the Shooting Star #765, now boarding.
The big ship was quickly ferried out with little fanfare. Drinking was permitted, and there was much wailing. The ship circled once, then shot downstream through the cosmos to deliver its broken hearts and various deadbeats desperate for a new start; there were lots of tears but few regrets.
They all knew there was no turning back, as foretold by the management and the laws of physics... But so what; it would have been chicken to change your mind, not to mention embarrassing.
Just as the boredom of travel was setting in, they called his number. There it was, a nice little place with a nice little moon. The locals called it Earth.
It was scary at first but not so bad. He was partial to talking a lot, and that was good because the language was cute, somewhat awkward, somewhat organic, nonetheless, cute. Sure, sometimes it was overly stark, sometimes too syrupy for serious conversation, but its liquid sounds filled his brain quickly.
The f-word was catchy as all get out. Though of course in fairness he became fond of the love word too. It gave him goosebumps, especially here in these parts, with banjos in the background and frogs croaking by the pond. The locals called it Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.
His natural features only fared the worse for makeup and so he forswore it; he and his fellow voyagers were chiseled and dark and... and, well, as near as they could tell from the picture books, they looked somewhat Mongolian, and so that was their story. Mongolian it would be.
For damn sure. No trouble at all inventing something along those lines in a country so diverse, where the folks seemed to speak with numb tongues they called a molasses drawl. He picked a suitable name from a book and there you have it. Genghis had a nice ring to it and a sound not so different from home.
The locals were mostly pale but they saw nothing too queer about Genghis’s kind, hardly guessing his people had trickled in from a zillion miles upstream of the Big Bang and who for the time lived peaceful lives in the wilderness caves up in Ouachita National Forest wherein previous boats of losers had surveyed the land and set up a sort of Introduction to Earth 101, well stocked with old videos and yellowed books, refurbished toasters and iron pans.
Genghis was smart, and it took him but a few months to screw his loneliness into a do-or-die drive to find love again while he sat around with the others on homesick nights listening to scratchy old records like You Light Up My Fire and The Sounds of Silence, all while spitting chewing tobacco into the agitated campfire, carefully aping the locals.
But he started to worry about the little things. Like some of the others, he found it all a tad scary and he developed a bit of a stutter which played on his anxiety, which in turn made him break up and reappear in the damnedest places, his people’s atoms being not as tightly bound as those of the native Arkansans.
And this roused considerable suspicion and well-founded rumors, not the least regarding what the locals came to think of as the practice of witchcraft, which led to stories in the local papers. And before they knew it the Feds came to roust them — since they weren’t supposed to be living in those caves anyway — not liking their strange habits at all, chief among them their seeming ability to disassemble and reassemble like spooks in the movies, thus evading lead bullets.
Homeland Security was particularly concerned, as there was considerable evidence these people really were from outer space, and they rubbed their stubble heads and talked with their own wizards at Quantico and came up with a plan of eradication based on the experiments they’d done on one of Genghis’s captured cousins.
Their plan of attack was packed with moral authority and a license to kill, not knowing and not caring of course that Genghis and his fellow losers were just looking for a new life to relieve any memory of the old one they’d had.
Consequently, Genghis lay in his cot one foggy hot night thinking about the air-conditioning at the Blue Swan in Little Rock... and the beer... and Blue Heart of Kentucky on the jukebox when he heard something that was not frogs croaking nor crickets chirping nor fellow losers weeping, but more like feet on wet logs squeaking, and then he heard suddenly screaming, and wood cracking under heavy feet and voices yelling, “There’s one, git ’im! Fire! There’s another! There’s another!” And even amidst all the commotion Genghis could detect the sickening buzz of atoms, and his friends gently popping like sappy logs in the campfire. They would weep no more.
He rolled out of the cot and he got away. He ran out and up into the slippery forest. He ran for his life as the intruders ripped open the heart of their new-world dream, at least a hundred of them armed with some sort of modified tasers, yelling, “Aim, fire! Aim, fire! Fire at will!” and shooting their electric barbs sent on flying streamers in arched trajectories through the humid air. Above the hollering was the popping of the little projectiles, popping by the dozens like champagne corks.
From Genghis’s perch above, the compound could have been a crazy victory parade, or a New Year’s Eve party, except that the streamers were tentacles of buzzing death disrupting the atoms of his lonesome travelers into irretrievable nothingness.
They eradicated the colony in less than twenty minutes. He heard whimpering afterwards from his safe place on the hillside as they finished off the survivors with close-up jolts and the clapping of high-fives. He crawled quickly up the hillside in slimy moss and clung to prickly shrubs. He looked back to catch his breath. “Fire in the hole!” and he watched the flames lapping the compound. “Fire in the hole!” He smelled the stench from the flamethrowers, smelling slightly like incense.
And then he heard the hound dogs yelping and he ran like hell. The dogs knew that one had got away.
Undeterred and in good time he continued his search for love. Armed with new skills as dishwasher and maker of magic, Genghis thumbed his way west and eventually lit upon Denver where, right off, he took the elevator to the top of a big skinny building on 16th Street and took in a big broiling sky and a sad moon, all within a few hours time. He liked that. Like Arkansas, it took the moon a month to blink.
He found a live-in job washing dishes and sweeping up, at a sort of bar-restaurant, with back-room living quarters for those without proper papers. His needs were few; he ate little and in his free time he studied up and wandered the city looking for that one person to love, and so one day on a street called Broadway he started his day and set the bell to clinging above the door of a collectible shop that prompted an old witch in an apron to smile a crooked smile as he let in the morning’s first beam of light. She hit at a hanging cobweb with one hand and seemed to powder the nose of a stone statue with the other, and she said, “I’m not open yet.”
“I’m just looking,” he said, which was true because he was looking to study the young woman sitting at the outside table across the street, the woman whom he’d fallen in love with at first sight.
The cranky woman snapped, “Looking for anything special?” Her eyes were crystal balls and empty, and she stared at him as if he were up to no good.
He looked down at some old jewelry and ceramic clowns with stupid grins and said, “I’m watching the girl across the street, the one there with the purple hair.” She was a pretty girl, plump, maybe thirty or so, and her dress was all flowers down to the ankles. Her braided hair was artfully ratty, thin and soft. He could make out fishhook things in her lip and a ring in her nose. He came to the conclusion she was a hippie.
“You from out of town?” the shopkeeper said.
She put down her bird feathers and moved closer. “Do you know her?”
“No. Just looking.”
She put her hands on her hips and puffed herself up like a rooster, “I think you maybe should move along. I don’t need any peeping Toms here.” She eyed him severely and when she pulled her cell phone from her apron he only too clearly imagined a screaming police car. Those long electrified tentacles were still vivid in his memory.
He didn’t need that. He said okay, sure, fine, whatever, while searching the depths of his recent learning for the proper human face to put on, and then folded his indignant arms across his chest like Jack Benny, and he waved goodbye and tugged the heavy door open, and he walked out, letting the door close itself with a sigh, and he meandered across the street with more confidence than brains to the restaurant where the girl sat.
They’d warned him in the caves that his prescience might be considered just damned annoying to the locals, but it was time for action and this was clearly the woman he loved.
Copyright © 2013 by Leonard Schlenz