A knock? On my door? I twisted and looked across the room at my entryway. Socializing interfered with my writing, so I lived alone and had no friends. Whoever was on my porch was only there to bother me. I turned back to my story where my main character struggled to give CPR to his neighbor’s dog.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
I almost fell off my chair. Were they using a battering ram? I slammed my fists onto my keyboard—the “F” and “U” keys flew across the room. No worry. There were new keyboards in the closet and a pile of broken ones on my back porch.
I glared at the door, daring it to interrupt again. Two knocks was my limit. Three, and I’d yelled and scream. But the final knock was gentle, like somebody knew I was watching. Then a calm voice spoke, which, strangely sounded like the man was already standing inside my house.
“Tim, I represent the Guild of Creative Expression for system ZN9957. You have won the award for Best Short Story.”
Award? Best Short Story? I ran to the door and flung it open. Nobody.
“Down here, sir,” a voice said.
I looked down. A short man with a crazy red afro and wearing a black tuxedo had his head cocked skyward to meet my gaze. He extended his hand.
“Felix Bartholomew at your service,” he said.
His eyes were magnified huge by large, golden spectacles. And behind them, orange eyes. I had to be seeing things. Nobody had orange eyes. His red hair didn’t stop with the afro. A bushy beard extended around his face and tapered to fiery point right at his mid-section. He twitched his fingers, calling for a shake, and I snapped out of my stupor. I shook his hand and went back to gawking.
“May I enter? There is much to discuss,” he said, picking up a briefcase.
I nodded and backed to the couch. I cleared books, clothes, and several dishes from a cushion so he could sit. I didn’t apologize for the mess, why should I? This was my house.
Felix stood patient while I smacked the dust out of the cushion, then he dipped his head at the coffee table. “We’ll need that too. For the paperwork,” he said.
I nodded and lifted one side of the table. The mess on it became a mess next to it.
The little man turned up his head and laughed a high-pitched squeal that sounded more dolphin than human. “Wonderful!” he said and hoisted his briefcase to the table. He clicked the latches and, after a whirly sound, it popped open. There were lights, buttons, knobs, screens, flashing colors…
Felix slammed the lid shut. “You can’t look in there. Regulations don’t allow it. We should take our seats.”
He started to climb onto the couch, and I considered lifting him—like I would my little niece. Only I don’t have a niece. Instead, I walked back to my computer and wheeled my office chair across the room—much easier than cleaning off another cushion. When I got back, he was sitting on the couch. I positioned my chair right next to the table because I wanted a peek inside the briefcase the next time he opened it.
Felix clapped his hands and his eyes opened into huge round orange O’s. “You won the grand prize in this year’s annual Creative Expression by an Organic Lifeform competition. Congratulations!”
My mouth dropped, I covered it with my hands. I’d won!
“But I didn’t enter that contest,” I said. I knew because I’d never shared my writing with anyone—let alone entered a contest.
Felix rolled back his head and, again, chortled like a dolphin. “Of course you didn’t! You don’t enter the ZN9957 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 sign you for the next round. I was on the committee and I have to say, briiiiilyaaant! Loooooved it! Now, shall we continue?” His wide grin opened his beard like a bite out of an apple. His crazy hair waved like flames as he nodded furiously.
“I don’t know what in the world you’re 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 found my story.”
He clicked 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, sighed, and seemed to be sizing me up with his eyes. He opened his mouth, closed it, frowned, and then opened it again.
“I am not trained for this, but since I am already here, I’ll do my best.” Felix rubbed his hands together, tightened his mouth, then popped his lips. “I am the marketing director for the Guild of Expression in 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? Who told you to do this?” I was touched that somebody cared enough to prank me.
“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 at all. 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.
“By the way, this is my first visit and I took a few extra days to do some sightseeing … a working vacation. You have a wonderful planet. Your pyramids are known 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, the council let them stand. I think that was the right call. Don’t you?”
I nodded. I didn’t know what else to do. What was happening?
“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…”
Felix stopped mid-sentence, his orange eyeballs pointed right at me. His smile faded.
Then he clapped, snapped, and pointed both fingers at me. “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. “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. Sooo…”
He shuffled forward and slid off the couch. Then he stepped up to his briefcase, and popped it open. “Let’s dispense with the doubt.” He punched buttons and turned knobs.
There was a flash and I fell to the floor. My chair had vanished. I stood and saw my apartment had transformed to an immaculate circular room with a low ceiling. A giant TV stretched along the wall and I slowly turned in a complete circle looking at it. It went all the way around the room! He was watching a breathtaking movie about the Earth, stars, and space.
Felix spread his arms. “You see?”
It was impressive and certainly a kind gesture, but what had he done with all my stuff? “Where’s my computer, and my couch?” 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 waddled forward on my knees as my head brushed the ceiling. I put my nose against the TV. Wait, not a TV. A window! That was Earth! Impossible. My breathing stopped. So blue … so gigantic. So beautiful. I gulped and turned around.
Felix grinned and did his rapid head nod again. “See, I told you! Now, the paperwork?”
There was another flash. I blinked several times as my messy, boring apartment reappeared … replacing the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
“Actually, I was thinking we could fill out the paperwork up there on your transport,” I said, pointing to the sky and trying to sound casual.
“I think you mean that way,” Felix 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.”
He did something with his briefcase and a baseball-like glowing white orb shot up into the air and hovered above us. 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 her a little tap?”
I nodded and stood up, reaching. “With my finger?”
“Oh, Gods, no!” he yelled and I jumped back.
He dolphin-laughed and then said, “Yes, with your finger. She won’t 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 blinked and raised his bushy-red eyebrows. “Please? It won’t do him any good if he can’t understand you.”
“Whatever. Earthling, state your name please for the record,” she said and I fell in love. Her accent was the sexiest thing I’d ever heard. And her voice, confident yet feminine…
“Your name?” she said.
I looked at Felix, shrugged, and pointed to myself. He nodded.
“Tim Harrison,” I said in my most manly voice.
She said, “Tim Harrison from ZN9957, quadrant NEK8833, entity T599S999B you are being scanned, recorded, and embedded with a CNG tracking device.”
A beam shot from the orb and bathed me in golden light. I instantly felt light-headed, relaxed, and content. Like I’d just downed three shots of rum, one after the other.
“No tracking device!” Felix yelled, raising his hand. “This is a class seven legal matter.”
The light faded and my buzz instantly vanished, causing me to fall over. Now I felt like the morning after three shots of rum.
“Too late,” the orb said.
“Too late?” I said, stumbling to my feet. I felt my head for lumps. “I don’t want a CNG tracking device!”
“I am terribly sorry,” Felix said, spreading both hands as if that would calm me down. “She 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 her 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,” she said.
I heard a whirring sound and jumped back. “No! Stop!”
“It’s okay,” Felix said. “You really don’t need odor detection and most likely your hearing won’t be altered. 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 her calibrated or whatever you need to do first.”
“Not possible. The nearest authorized service center is in the Horsehead Nebula.” Felix 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.
“No travel is allowed there until a cure is found! You didn’t know?”
I shook my head. Even if I knew what he was talking about, I wouldn’t know what he was talking about.
“It’s what makes your story so perfect! Nobody had dared insult the Zeronius Council since the destruction of Cappius One. And then your story appeared! Of course, nobody admitted to being amused, 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 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.
He wiped tears from his eyes as his hysterics passed. “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 paled, and he looked into his briefcase and punched buttons. His eyes widened and mouth fell open. “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. It seemed like the right thing to do. My awkward laughter fizzled long before his.
“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?”
“Oh, sorry. Not an earth year,” Felix said, holding up his hands and shaking his hairy, red head. “The universal year is more than 100 of 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.
“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?”
“What rights would I be…” I said.
“I’m not done,” she interrupted. “Please wait until I finish because now I have to start over.”
Had I just been chastised by an orb?
She 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,” she said. And I definitely detected a tone of chastisement.
“Yes,” I said. What intergalactic rights did I need anyways?
“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. He wears 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?”
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 and I took it, holding it tight as we shook to keep him from leaving.
“Take me with you!” I said. “I have no friends…”
He pulled his hand but I held firm. He used his other hand to pry 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 out the front door, and looked to the dark sky. I expected to see a light streak through the darkness 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. I had no way to know for sure. Either I’d just won the most prestigious creative honor of any human to ever walk the Earth, except one caveman, or I’d imagined it. What did it really matter? Even if it was true, 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 fifty-five before I’d know if tonight had been real. An alien visits, teleports me to his spaceship, tells me I won best short story in the galaxy, and vanishes for thirty years? I couldn’t decide if this was the best or worst night of my life.
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!