I live pathetically alone and have no real friends but prefer it that way. A social life would just get in the way of my writing. So while I plucked away at my keyboard one typical drab evening, I was shocked and curious when I thought I heard a knock on the door.
I sat up and looked across the room, as if seeing the door would somehow confirm whether or not I’d really heard something. I waited. Another hard thump sounded and I jumped. Hadn’t they seen the “No Solicitors” sign?
Ignore them and they will go away.
I turned back to my story where my main character struggled to give CPR to his neighbor’s dog.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
I jumped, startled by what sounded like a battering ram butting its way into my house. I slammed both fists onto my keyboard and sent keys flying. The letter F flew across the room to the left and U to the right. When it comes to abusing keyboards, I don’t restrain myself. My keyboard captures my passion so I figure it is best not to keep any emotion from it. I always have at least ten spare keyboards in my closet.
It wasn’t really an F and a U but that was more amusing than reality, a V and an L.
I glared at the door, daring it to interrupt me again. Three knocks was my limit. If you go past three you deserved to be yelled at and I was primed to scream.
But the final knock was gentle, like somebody knew I was watching. And then I heard a calm voice.
“Tim, I represent the Guild of Creative Expression for system ZN9957. I am here to notify you that you won the award for Best Short Story.”
My anger vanished and I ran and opened the door. A short man with a crazy red afro and wearing a black tuxedo looked up at me and extended his hand.
“Felix Bartholomew at your service,” he said, looking at me intently from behind his golden spectacles.
The bizarre sight tripped up my thinking and I froze in the doorway, gaping. His red hair didn’t stop with the afro, it extended down his face into a beard that dropped to his mid-section. Who was this strange man? He twitched his fingers to nudge me along and I snapped out of my stupor and shook his hand. Then I continued my gawking.
“May I come in? We have a lot to cover,” he said.
I nodded and backed all the way to the couch and cleared away books, clothes, and a several dishes from the cushions. I didn’t apologize for the mess, why should I? This was my house.
I turned to see him standing patiently next to the couch holding a briefcase. He dipped his head at the coffee table.
“We’ll need that too, for the paperwork,” he said.
I nodded and lifted up one side of the table so that the mess on it became a mess next to it. The little man laughed a high pitched squeal that sounded more dolphinlike than humanlike.
“Wonderful!” he said and hoisted his briefcase onto the table.
He clicked the latches and it popped open. It was not like any briefcase I’d ever seen. There were lights, buttons, knobs, screens, flashing colors…
He noticed me staring and slammed it closed.
“You can’t look in there,” he said. “Regulations don’t allow it. Perhaps you should have a seat.”
He hopped onto the couch and I wheeled my office chair across the room because it was a lot easier than cleaning off the recliner and because I could position it right next to the table where I might get a peek inside his briefcase the next time he opened it.
He clapped his hands and his eyes opened into huge round O’s. “You won the grand prize in this year’s annual Creative Expression by an Organic Lifeform competition! Congratulations!”
I reacted exactly how you would expect. My mouth dropped, I covered it with my hands, and adrenalin made my body feel electric. I’d won! And then I stopped myself.
“But I didn’t enter that contest,” I said. I knew this without a doubt because I’d never shared any of my writing with anyone, let alone entered a contest.
He rolled back his head and again released his strange laugh. “Of course you didn’t! You don’t enter the ZN6624 Creative Expression contest, you are nominated. And your short story ‘The Sexual Dysfunctions of Planet Zeronius’ was nominated by your regional curator. The final judging was last week and I am here to officially award and sign you for the next round. I was on the committee and I have to say, briiiiilyaaant! Loooooved it! Now, shall we continue?”
His grin stretched from ear to ear as his head bobbed up and down in an aggressive nod which made his crazy hair wave like flames.
I shook my head, confused. “I’m flattered but I don’t know what you are talking about!”
The little man lowered his head and looked at me over his eyeglasses, “Oh my my my. You didn’t write ‘The Sexual Dysfunctions of Planet Zeronius?”
“No. I mean yes I wrote it. But I don’t know anything about a contest or how you even know about it.”
He snapped his tongue in rebuke, “tsk tsk tsk, I am not happy with my assistant right now. He should have told you everything and obtained your consent before even scheduling my visit.”
He took a deep breath and sighed, searching me with his eyes like he was sizing me up. He opened his mouth once, closed it, frowned, and then opened it again.
“I am not trained for this but since I am already here, I’ll give it my best.” He rubbed his hands together and then tightened his lips and then snapped them out with a pop. “I am on the Guild of Expression selection committee for ZN9957, the galaxy you call the Milky Way. We are entering the Awards season and have just completed our selections for the Grand Competition. You have been chosen to represent our galaxy for the short story category. Well, if you want to. We won’t submit it without your consent.”
I laughed, suddenly catching on. “Who are you, really? What is all this?”
“I assure you, this is no joke. You are the first earthling to ever win this award. In fact, you are only the second from this planet to ever win anything. Several million years ago one of your kind won for Best Drawing on a Cavern Wall.”
My mouth dropped open. I meant to say something but no words came out and I just let it hang open.
“By the way, this is my first time visiting and I took a few extra days to do some sightseeing, sort of a working vacation. You have a wonderful planet, your pyramids are known all across the galaxy. Huge attraction! I saw them yesterday. And to think the council originally considered destroying them because a rogue group from Tharma-Twelve had influenced their creation. But in the end, they let them stand. I think that was the right call. Don’t you?”
Despite myself, I nodded.
“I can tell you, however, if you don’t change your resource economics the council will intervene. But at least you aren’t the worst offenders. You should see the disaster on the third moon of Geenus Kull. They turned that place into a cesspool of toxic, super-intelligent cockroaches that have now demanded a seat on the council! Can you believe that? And to think, I’d once considered retiring there….”
He finally noticed my expression.
“You don’t believe me. Or you don’t know what to believe. You see? This is why these things should be addressed beforehand.” He made a strange sound that scared me. Then his brows furrowed and he said, “You should have already been informed and instructed about this and I apologize. But the truth is, we don’t have time now to follow the protocols which are supposed to help you understand and adapt in a timely and healthy manner. Sooo…..”
He jumped from the couch and popped open his briefcase.
“Let’s dispense with the doubt,” he said and began punching buttons and turning knobs.
There was a flash and I fell to the floor. My chair had vanished. I stood and saw my apartment transformed to an immaculate little circular room full of unusual devices. A giant TV stretched across the wall with a breathtaking image of the earth plastered to the screen.
Felix spread his arms, “You see?”
It was impressive and certainly a kind gesture, but where had everything gone? “What did you do with my stuff? Where’s my computer?” I said.
His forehead wrinkled, “Your stuff? Ohhhhhh, no no no! We are no longer in your little dwelling. This is my transport! That is your planet,” he said pointing at the TV.
I turned left, right, then took two steps forward and looked around again because I half expected it all to go away. The windows wrapped around the room in a large circle. Like a doughnut, or….spaceship. No! Impossible!
I took three large steps and stood next to the window and stared at the earth. Except for the fact that it was gigantic, it looked just like in movies and pictures from space. I tapped on the glass, or whatever it was, and it tinked.
I spun around. Felix was grinning. He opened his eyes wide and did his little rapid head nod again. “See, I told you! Now, the paperwork?”
There was another flash and we were back in my apartment. It took me several forced blinks to adjust.
“Actually, I was thinking we could fill out the paperwork up there on your transport,” I said, pointing to the sky.
“It’s that way,” he said, pointing in a slightly different direction. “And no, we can’t do that. I shouldn’t have even taken you up there but, quite frankly, we are running out of time and I’m not going to waste a trip halfway across the galaxy. Now, can we proceed?”
“May I chronicle?”
“Huh? You need the bathroom?” I said. For some reason the way he said ‘chronicle’ made me think of peeing.
He snapped his finger several times, “No, ummmm, …record! Bing!” he pointed at me. “May I record this? The legal stuff.”
“Oh, yes. Sure,” I said.
He did something with his briefcase and a baseball-like glowing white orb shot up into the air and hovered above us. Then a red laser light traced the perimeter of the room from floor to ceiling, something beeped, and the ball stopped glowing.
Felix looked at the floor and mumbled while shaking his head. Then he looked up and said, “can you give that a little tap?”
I nodded and stood up, reaching for it, “With my finger?”
“Oh Gods no!” He yelled and I jumped back.
He dolphin-laughed and then said, “yes, with your finger. It’s not going to hurt you.”
I glared disapprovingly at him and tapped the little orb. It started glowing again and made several buzzing and clicking sounds.
“English please!” Felix said and the orb fell silent. He looked up at it and raised his bushy-red eyebrows, “please? It won’t do him any good if he can’t understand you.”
“Whatever,” it said back. “State your name please for the record.”
I looked at Felix, shrugged, and pointed to myself. He nodded.
“Tim Harrison,” I said.
In a rather droll voice, it said “Tim Harrison from ZN9957, quadrant T599S999B, entity NEK8833 you are being scanned, recorded, and embedded with a CNG tracking device.”
A beam shot from the orb and bathed me in golden light and I instantly felt light headed, relaxed, and content. Like I’d just downed three shots of rum, one right after the other.
“No tracking device!” Felix yelled, raising his hand. “This is a class 7 legal matter.”
The light faded and my buzz instantly vanished, causing me to fall over. It was like jumping from a moving car.
“Too late,” the orb said.
“Too late?!?” I said, feeling my head for lumps. “No! I don’t want a CNG tracking device!”
“I am terribly sorry,” Felix said, spreading both hands as if that would calm me down. “That is a first generation orb recycled from a level six hostile containment facility and incorrectly assumed you would need a CNG. It’s not really his fault,” He shrugged apologetically. “We just don’t have the budget for the new models.” He looked up at the orb, “We can’t have him running around with an unauthorized CNG, especially with a Zanger-sweep scheduled next year.”
“I can remove it but without the proper calibrations he’ll lose the ability to smell and maybe his hearing too,” the orb said.
The orb started to whirr and I jumped back and yelled, “No! Stop!”
Felix looked at me, “You really don’t need odor detection and most likely your hearing won’t be impacted. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Evolution will rob your species of both abilities in three hundred thousand earth-years anyways.”
I shook my head, “No, don’t do it. Get calibrated or whatever you need to do first.”
“Not possible. The nearest authorized service center is in the Horsehead nebula.” He looked at me expecting a reaction. “The Horsehead Nebula? Zeronius?”
I could see he expected me to know what he was talking about. I shrugged my right shoulder.
“No travel is allowed there until a cure is found! You didn’t know?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know anything about anything he was saying.
“It’s what makes your story so perfect! Nobody has dared insult the Zeronius Council since the destruction of Cappius One until your story circulated! Of course, nobody admitted to being amused at first but I promise you, in private we were rolling on the floor! Writing that took one massive set of quadnuds,” he bounced his head in another rapid head nod, “But then when the truth came out and the scandal was exposed? Now the entire universe is laughing and they can’t do a thing about it because—” he slapped his leg and once again I heard the dolphins. “—because—“ he couldn’t stop laughing. “—because of the quarantine!!!!” He laughed and laughed.
His hysterical fit slowly died and he wiped tears from his eyes as his squawks died out. “Oh my,” he said. “You had no competition at all after that. In fact, I think you have a chance for a Dilldo, and it would be our first!”
“A what!!?!?!” I said.
“The grand prize!” he said. “Named after Dill Donius, the original creative genius of the universe!”
“That’s what they call it?” I said, dumbfounded.
His face took a pale shade and he looked into his briefcase and punched buttons. His eyes widened and mouth fell opened. “Oh my. Yes. Hmmmm, well, I see we shall have to refer to it with another term here on your planet.”
His body jerked and he pinched his lips shut, suppressing more laughter. “Although…” he jerked again. “It does add a whole new level to the whole Zeronius incident!” He rolled his head back and chittered like Flipper.
I laughed with him. I don’t know why, but it seemed like the right thing to do. My awkward laughter fizzled long before his. Then he regained his serious persona.
“Now, as I was saying.” He rolled his eyeballs sideways, frowned, and tapped his foot. “What was I saying?”
“The CNG tracker,” the orb said.
“The CNG tracker!” I said.
“The CNG tracker,” he said, nodding and tapping his finger on the side of his cheek. Suddenly, he sat up straight. “Not a problem because the Zangers won’t even be here for another year and you’ll be long dead by then. It will be fine.”
“Dead?” I gasped. “I looked at the orb, and back at Felix. “Why will I be dead?”
“Not earth years,” Felix said, holding up his hands and shaking his hairy, red head. “The universal year is more than 100 or your earth-orbits. So it’s not a problem. Your life cycle is vastly accelerated so like I said, you’ll be long dead.”
Questions were piling up faster than my head could track them and all I could get out was a single, “Huh?”
“We are running out of time, finish authorizing him!” Felix said to the orb.
“Do you claim original authorship of and allow the council to submit your story, ‘The Sexual Dysfunctions of Planet Zeronius’ to the Grand Universal Dill Donius Competition, affirm that this story is unpublished in every market except the planet you call earth, and forgo all inter-galactic rights?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m not done, please wait until I finish because now I have to start over,” the orb said with what I think was a tone of chastisement.
He repeated everything and continued, “…and forgo all rights thereunto?”
I sat quietly, waiting.
“Well? Do you?” the orb said.
“That was it? One word was all that was left? Thereunto?” I said.
“A simple YES will suffice,” he said and I definitely detected a tone of chastisement.
“Yes,” I said.
“Perfect!” Felix clapped his hands and threw down a sheet of paper on the table. “Sign that.”
I looked at it, confused. “But it’s just a blank piece of paper.”
“I was told your species likes paperwork and so I picked that up yesterday for you. Do you want to sign it or not?”
I shook my head.
“Then we are finished!” He jumped off the couch. “Good luck to you, and we will contact you if you win,” he extended his hand to shake.
“You are leaving?!” I said, shocked. “You can’t just leave! What about the tracker in my head? Tell me what happened on Zeronius! I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start!”
He looked at his wrist. Yes, he was wearing a watch.
“I’m sorry but if I don’t leave now we might miss the deadline. Especially with the weekend traffic through Ursa Major. But don’t worry, I’ll contact you when we know the results.”
That sounded reasonable. “Okay, when is that?”
He rolled his eyeballs up in thought, “Well, let’s see. That would be thirty years in earth time.”
“Thirty years! Are you kidding?” I said.
He held up his hands, “I’m really sorry but there is nothing I can do. I’ve already said too much and I can’t answer your questions because of the regulations. You know, the whole ‘don’t mess up other civilizations’ charter. I really have to get going, it’s been a pleasure.”
He extended his hand I took it, holding it tight as we shook to keep him from leaving.
“Take me with you!” I said.
He pulled his hand but I held firm. He used his other hand to pry away my fingers.
“I’m very sorry, but I must be going. Congratulations and good luck!” He reached over and punched a button in his open briefcase before I could grab him again and a light flashed. When my eyes adjusted to the flash, he was gone.
I ran to the front door, opened it, and looked into the dark sky. I expected to see a light streaking across the sky at the very least, but I saw nothing. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. It was like, perhaps quite literally, I had just discovered the complex formula to cure cancer, world hunger, and erectile dysfunction (with no four hour risk) in one simple pill and my hard drive had crashed and lost everything.
Maybe that mold in my attic was toxic after all and I was deep in the hallucinogenic stage of fungal infection. I’m either dreaming, in a coma, high, or dead. And if it was real I wasn’t much better off. I couldn’t prove it to myself, let alone anyone else. Maybe I’d just won the most prestigious creative honor of any human to ever walk the earth, except one caveman, or maybe I imagined it. What did it really matter? Nobody would believe me in a million years. Actually, they would believe me in 300,000 years because I could prophesy about the loss of hearing and smell to the human race.
I went back in the house, feeling sick, and fell onto the couch. Thirty years. I’d have to wait until I was 55 before I’d really ever know if tonight had been real or not? An alien visits me, teleports me to his spaceship, tells me I won best short story in the galaxy, and then vanishes for thirty years? I couldn’t decide if this was the best or worst night of my life.
[Alternate Ending, could there be more to this story?]
My eyes focused on the ceiling and chills ran through my body as a huge smile crept across my face. The orb was hovering above me. He forgot his orb!