At first I thought I should of never had said yes because they promise you fame all up and down the planets and all kinds of money, but then there you are head-over-heels and pissing into a squeeze bottle, or trying to figure out how to open one of those tubes of steak and you don’t remember the last time you woke up from one of those nightmares without flying across the room and smashing your face on the bulkhead. I just can’t sleep all strapped-in, okay?
But they said, Act natural! Like there’s anything natural about reality television I should of said but didn’t, because I didn’t think of it. I wanted to be better than that but you can’t act different than everyone else. You just can’t. We acted natural, like monkeys. All over the space station. Zero-g has got a lot of advantages when you stop smashing your face—these chicks were pretty stacked I could not help but notice—and we did what we wanted and things were pretty okay, beer and tubes coming up like clockwork until they stopped and finally we noticed. The insides of our heads were banging and we noticed we were alone maybe for real. Chuck got right up into one of the cameras and he screamed his head off and Jamie cried pretty steadily when we ran out of tube lasagna and vodka, and if the cameras were still recording no one cared any more. Not even us, mostly.
We’re going to run out soon. Of squeeze bottles because Charlene won’t just wash hers like the rest of us mostly remember to do, and food tubes. Jimmy says we’re going to end up being like cannibals as if it was funny and then he said and I’ll eat Jamie first and the way he grabbed at her, and her shrieking, it was like they thought the cameras were still rolling.
Mostly we play gin rummy, or sleep or screw and wait for how it’s going to end. I’ve got a bottle of Jack under my bed, and I’m pretty sure I can take the girls. When Charlene’s down on her knees and I put my head against the window, when I look at that view, the Earth and all our fans floating out there too far away, I wonder if I should just crush her skull now.
The RV belonging to the guy who knew everything was parked behind the old building supply place off River Road, and the line to its door already stretched halfway across the parking lot. It was just after 2:00 on a hot Thursday, and the sun blasted me as I got in line.
I was surprised at how quickly we moved, but as I got closer to the RV I figured out why: most people were being turned away. A tall Chinese guy in a cowboy hat stood at the door beneath a camera pointed at the line. Next to the camera was a loudspeaker.
The tall guy must have had an earpiece or something, because as each person came up, he’d tilt his head, then say “Sorry, he can’t see you today,” or just “Sorry,” or sometimes something like “Get out of here, you son of a bitch.” He spoke in a twangy accent.
Three people in front of me there was a skinny woman in her 50′s with red hair, and for her the tall guy just stepped aside. She went in silently. Two minutes later the door burst open and she ran off across the parking lot, crying.
The tall guy, expressionless, closed the door, then turned his attention back to the line.
“Sorry,” he said to the next lady, then to the guy after her, “No.”
The guy in front of me wasn’t having it. “I just–”
“Please clear off before we have to get rough.”
“Don’t you threaten me! I’m seeing him, God damn –”
A nondescript, midwest-accented voice blared over the speaker. “Chad MacIntyre is the one who defaced the war memorial last summer. The spray paint cans are still in his garage.”
The guy in front of me turned white as paste and began backing away across the parking lot. “That’s a lie!” he shouted. “That’s a goddamn lie!” Then he ran for his car, gunned the engine, and tore off.
I was next, and I looked up at the tall guy. He tilted his head, then looked back at me and grinned.
“Mike says go on in,” he drawled. “You get one question, so don’t ask why he’s living in an RV or anything stupid like that, OK?”
“OK,” I said, and stepped up to the door, my heart hammering. My question suddenly felt small and sad.
For Mark Ferrari
Barely teenagers on their first expedition to Avalon, the three of them–Gwen, Lance and Mark–sought adventure. They paddled for three hours over Lochness Lake when a sea monster raised their rowboat aloft and, lurchingly, transported them. They clung to the gunwales, trying not to upset the boat’s precarious balance. “Land ho!” the three cried gleefully as the monster lowered them into the bay of a deserted isle.
They thanked the monster, which bowed as though accepting their gratitude graciously. Then it pulled up some seaweed and chewed like a cow, eyeing the tiny upright monkeys with bored indifference as seawater dribbled down its jaw.
However, they weren’t in Avalon but Camelot. That wasn’t the worst of it. Not only was Camelot a deserted desert isle, but a Bedouin must also have erected a discount-camel emporium, decorating it with sagging party balloons and brightly colored if tattered banners that quipped “Camelot’s Camel Lot!” The Bedouin then, due no doubt to disappointing sales in the British Isles, abandoned the lot.
The gaunt camels–still bound by the neck to stakes–periodically bent, sniffed and nibbled the sand in search of nourishment. Gwen, Lance and Mark tugged up handfuls of seaweed from the lake bottom and fed the camels. They built a makeshift water distillery, filled it, and watered the camels, each of which slurped eagerly and sloppily.
The camels and the trio became fast friends, despite the camels’ reluctance to give the trio a tour of the island. After camping the night on the beach beside the camels, Gwen, Lance, and Mark took turns rowing the camels, one by one, ashore. When at last they’d completed their arduous task–the camels bestowing love-bites to show their appreciation–the trio decided it would be best to find the camels caring homes (Mark suggested bottom-dwelling sea scavengers–a suggestion more desired than acted upon).
After selling them as guard dogs, Mark, Gwen and Lance made a bundle, which afforded them Avalon expeditions out the wazoo. Despite forty years of trying, however, they never did find Avalon.
They’ve still got time.
David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Daniel Braum, and Luc Reid
This is an exquisite corpse. Each of us wrote 1/3 of the story.
Joe wanted to blink. His eyes were shriekingly dry. He tried to focus. Bundles of dried wass reeds, a wall of them. Hung on the wall: stone-tipped spear, leather sack, dried Tolin head. He was in a native hut, but somehow things seemed to be too low. If he was standing on something, he couldn’t feel it. Holy crap! He couldn’t feel anything below his neck! Was he paralyzed? His mind ran panicked circles in his head.
A Tolin stood in front of him. It was a short one. They stood eye to eye, but most of the aliens were at least 7 feet tall.
The creature spoke.
“Death is not the answer,” it said.
Joe’s mind filled with a mechanical buzz. Sensation began to return to his limbs. Cold and stiff.
“Contact with you and your kind was too important to just let you die,” the Tolin continued.
Joe looked down and realized why he was able to understand its speech. His body had been replaced with artificial mechanisms. Parts of his new body looked like wreckage from his ship mixed together with the rudimentary Tolin technology.
But they couldn’t be that primitive, could they? Not half as primitive as he and his superiors back on Earth had thought … Joe dug into his memory, trying to recall. One of the top-heavy Tolin trees had crushed his chest. Had they really brought him back to life? Or had they just done some kind of radical surgery to save him?
“We want to understand your species,” the Tolin said, his voice a low hum that Joe could feel in his bones. “We know more than you imagine, and your computer video records are very easy for us to view, but we don’t speak your language yet. We thought perhaps if we took apart your brain, we would find your language in the pieces, but it was not there.”
Joe began to remember a little more now, disturbingly more. Yes, the tree had fallen on him: but now he remembered a group of Tolin standing in the shadows behind the tree as it fell.
“No, death is not the answer,” the Tolin said, “but that’s all right. We’ll just try something else.”