|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Who Likes Eggs
A clairvoyant shaded gleam shines within the center of the crystal ball. From the outside, it appears as though an entire universe is housed within the orb; brilliant lights and colors shine and reflect off the various specks that float within the petrified molten glass. Except, that is, for the spot that’s obscured under the four-dollars-and-fifty-six-cents price sticker that, speaking solely in terms of marketing, should be stuck to the underside of the cheap plastic pedestal the glass orb sits on rather than upon the orb itself.
Jack rotates the novelty paperweight in his hands while the mouth-watering smell of thin-sliced patties of pork product sizzling on a hot stove fills the air. He looks up to see Sigmund mesmerized by the Germanic beer steins and boot-shaped beer glasses, all hand-painted and handblown by a Deutsche goat farmer who passed mere days after this deli was opened. At least he was able to sell his art before he went; what else can one ask for?
Jack replaces the tchotchke on the shelf, letting it mingle with all the other inedible souvenirs sold at the local pork store, then he goes to find himself a booth.
“You a drinking man, Sigmund?” Sam calls from the back room with a pitcher of orange juice in his hands. “I’m tryna make some mimosas, they have like. All the sham-pan-yah back here, like, I’m borderline worried.”
“Gorge myself on the same flammable solvent that I use to clean the resin from Chuck smoking pipes? Hard no, sorry Sam.”
“He says as if he cleans my pipes for me, this guy! You can keep that shit to the left of me though Hippie, hard pass on the liquid sad-NEEEESSSSSSS,” Chuck sings as he walks out from the kitchen, holding that last note like a leading lady in an opera.
Sam accepts the apology and the serenade, secretly grateful that nobody wants to drink because he’s not actually a fan of the jungle juice. He was just trying to seem cool in front of the trippy adults.
Instead of occupying any of the other three booths, everyone gathers at the booth that Jack picked out for himself, and Chuck serves up a platter with no less than four sloppy, greasy stacks of Taylor Ham and cheese slapped together between fluffy, toasted, fresh baked two or three days ago Kaiser rolls. Two of these Jersian delicacies have fried eggs melted between the layers of cheese and fried pork product, as per the whispers in the air that Chuck heard between the sizzles and pops.
When he finally sits down, Chuck says, “I don’t know who likes egg here, but half of us better!”
As it turns out, nobody in the group likes egg, so not only is Chuck forced to make up a third sandwich for Jack, but he also must choke down both of the yolk-leaking stacks of salt, carbs, and more salt all by himself. He takes it like a champ though, only gagging fourteen individual times before his stomach finally accepts the gelatinous ketchup-slathered pre-baby birds that he can smell as he tastes them. Realistically they’re just bundles of cells when they’re cracked and slurped down, closer related to foodstuffs than they are to lifestuffs, but none of that really matters. At the end of the day it all turns to shit, and the Alps Deli doesn’t have public bathrooms.
“Why the hell didn’t you go when we were at home, dude? This is so ridiculous, you’re really going to make us all walk back?”
“NO,” Sam asserts, pulling out his phone for backup. “I’ll just call Harley for a ride, it’s fine Jack. Chill.”
“Harley? A ride?” Chuck asks, putting two and two together to make fish. “That’s some kind of innuendo, isn’t it?”
“No dude, she’s my Canna-guy. And my neighbor. Plus, she’s like three years older than me.”
“So!” Jack butts in, not quite grasping the handlebars of what they’re talking about as tight as he thinks he is. “Everyone evacuated when they saw the ship Sam, she’s not home.”
“Actually,” Sam says as he starts scrolling through his phone. “She sent me a text like… oh shit, it’s eleven’eleven already, damn. Anyway, she just sent me a text talking about a pussy that she wants to show me, she muh–”
“Did you really just lie, Hippieguy? Right to my face like that, after I cooked you breakfast? With my own two hands, slaving over that stove? Whatever. Littelarryliesalot over here.”
Sam chuckles. “Knowing her, she probably just found a new cat or something. But hey, if she gets kinky I’ll send you some videos.”
“Oh word? Don’t promise me with a good threat! Shit, wait a minute…”
Suddenly Jack gets it and, ‘For a completely unrelated reason,’ he isn’t hungry anymore. He faces Sigmund and tries to make small talk as Sam and Chuck fist-bump each other and walk outside to wait for Harley so Chuck can sample some of the local Cannabis. Sigmund doesn’t even try verbal reciprocation though, he’s busy engorging himself with his breakfast sandwich he studded with German candies he snagged off the shelves, the bag of which has a picture of a little fish on it. Jack grimaces and, once Sigmund is done swallowing, tries to get a word in before the man inhales another load.
“Is that… sardine candy?”
“Yes! Well, no, it’s actually herring flavored, but I’m so happy you know about this stuff! It’s great, isn’t it?”
“Uh… no. Why would you think that.”
Sigmund chomps off another mouthful, chews, chews again, swallows, drowns it with some water, and then goes for another bite. When this one is done, he shoves the rest of the quarter of the sandwich down his gullet and drains not one, but two water bottles.
Then, he says, “I used to work with some German scientists at this… well, you probably wouldn’t recognize the lab. Well, you would, but I’m not petty enough to invoke its name. Point is, they would always have these candies, and at first, I was like you, I thought it would be nasty. But then I tried one, and Jack? Jack? Are you listening, you little contest winner, you?”
Jack had not been listening, decidedly tuning Sigmund out when he audaciously asserted that Jack wouldn’t recognize whatever lab he was referring to. He obviously would recognize the lab, he’s been watching Terry for years now. ‘Since the beginning!’ If that wasn’t meant as an insult, he doesn’t know what an insult would sound like if it splattered on his head, just like that bird’s poop that one year during the annual family trip to Atlantic City.
Outside the deli, a beat Nahson Getdro pulls up in the deserted parking lot and Sam climbs in, followed by Chuck. Chuck sits on Sam’s lap after placing his hat there, the fedora transforming into a thin titanium plate on its way from Chuck’s head to Sam’s lap. At first the girl behind the wheel tries to shove Chuck out of the car, but then Chuck whips out three thousand dollars and asks for an eighth of an ounce of Cannabis. Moments later he walks into the deli with two and a half ounces, twenty-five hundred dollars, and a big smile on his face. As the car drives away, Jack tries not to notice the trail of smoke drifting out the driver-side window.
“I like her, she seems wild.”
“Cool. So anyway,” Jack says as he stands up to get out of the way of Sigmund’s porky fish breath, “what’s the plan for today?”
“What do you mean?” Chuck asks before he even has a chance to share a look with Sigmund.
Once he does, “OH, the contest thing. Right. Well, the aliens said that we were picked by fate to find the anomalous object in the woods before they get the chance to do so, so, do you know the trails around here?”
Sigmund sits up a little straighter, then, “That’s a great idea! Jack, you can come with us, that’ll be your prize for winning my Terry contest. You get to save the Universe.”
“Uh… I don’t know the trails though,” Jack says under his breath, tucked into a closet, and locked away where nobody can see him. “I really can’t go anyway, I have to get to school, so… yeah, so nothin’, I just have to get to school.”
Chuck’s eyes roll so hard that his pupils disappear into his upper eyelids and come up through his bottom eyelids. “Oh. Welp. Guess we’ll just go back to New Manhattan then, whatever. It was uh, good meeting you? I suppose? I feel like I know you somehow and I don’t know why. Meant to say that when we met but I got distracted.”
“Yeah Jack, it was nice to meet you, I do apologize if your Terry experience was a tad bit insipid. You did get to meet some legitimate extraterrestrials, at least.”
“Yeah… the human-looking ones that did drugs. Great.”
Chuck tries to give the boy a high five, but he doesn’t even go for a down low. ‘Ouch.’
The past twenty-four hours of life have been a very… unique experience for young Jackson Monta. His school unknowingly hired a robot, who was able to successfully take Jack out of class and then sneak him into a closet, nothing being done about it until after the potential abductor had walked out of said child-filled closet. Then Jack was taken out of school and transported to a faraway city by the robot, after the robot was fired for both suspicions of pedophilia and for physically assaulting a geriatric old man, where he watched that robot die whilst thinking it was a human the entire time, only to meet his idol and then immediately watch him die, too, albeit in a much more peaceful way. And then Jack learns that, Surprise! they were both robots controlled by an odiferous adult who doesn’t get very much sun. And then he watched grown men do drugs. And then he met aliens that, of course, also do drugs. Then, the goddamned aliens made me take the drugs and I almost fricking died, and these weird dudes have been with me along the whole journey and now they’re leaving. And I don’t know why I’m mad.’
‘You’re not the only one Ja–,’ oh sorry, you’re not the only one Jack. Sigmund is also very disappointed; you were a terrible contest winner. He did his best to host you up until the moment the aliens arrived, but when they, the ancient beings from another planet, took the reins? You really dropped the ball. You heard them say it yourself, that level of traumatic experience has never happened to anybody else, ever; little man, you’re one of a kind. Not just to humans, but to freaking aliens! And you refuse to accept that fact and just go with the flow! I’m getting heated, you are just so fucking difficult, so ungrateful. Check your damn phone already, the ringing is annoying the hell outta me.
Jack notices his phone is ringing, Sam’s name displayed on the caller ID. Normally he wouldn’t answer, but watching Chuck and Sigmund walk back in the direction of his house without him has the budding recluse feeling some sort of way. After a quick one-sided conversation with Sam about something he forgot to discuss over breakfast, Jack hangs up on his brother without saying goodbye and grabs a handful of those Softy candies that kind of look like sticks of gum. The boy then hurdles over the broken glass jutting out from the windowsill before taking off towards the Capes.
“Chuck wait!” “I don’t have,” “to go to,” “school!!” Jack shouts between heavy breaths as he comes barreling down the road in street shoes. He can feel his shins splinting with every step he takes but he doesn’t even care, he needs to tell his friends about his lead on what might possibly be their next adventure!
“What?” Chuck shouts back, unable to hear anything because of how loud this Quarryville Cannabis is.
“Sigmund tries a–” fuck, I did it again. Sigmund tries a, “He said he doesn’t have to go to school, I don’t know what that has to do with us though,” but, although he completely shares Sigmund’s lack of feeling of responsibility for Jack’s wellbeing, Chuck chastises Sigmund for narrating his own speech like some kind of meta-ass meathead.
When Jack catches up, they’re not even back to the dam yet; they actually still have quite a bit of ground to cover. Jack could have just walked at a slightly faster pace than the NewMenn and the team would have been reunited right when they hit the Skunksville Dam’s parking lot, that would have been a lot more aesthetic… although Chuck still wouldn’t be able to hear him, the loud flower smoke would have been replaced by the slightly less deafening whirlwinds Skunksville Reservoir whips over the waterfall bridge.
“Chuck, I need to tell you something, it’s important,” Jack gasps, not about to repeat what he just said.
“If you say you don’t need to go to school again I’m gonna get, I’ll just, I’ll, well I’ll be slightly annoyed because I can’t stand when humans repeat themselves,” with his arms folded.
“Last night when Sam was camping out in the woods, he saw a bigfoot. He meant to tell us before he went to Harley’s house, but he just remembered now. Wait… he said he was going to stop smoking! God damnit!”
Chuck, who had removed his tie at the mere mention of the word bigfoot, throws said tie on the ground and watches patiently as it transforms into a motorcycle with two sidecars, one’s cavity much more spacious than the other’s.
“Both of you, get in. Kid, you’re going to learn some trails today. My name’s Bubbo, and we’re boutta find bigfoot.”
Last Of My Kind
“You’re gonna hike in a business suit?” Jack asks just to go totally unanswered. A moment or two under three minutes later, the Three Chuckskateers park at Jack’s house, the magnificent view of the waters under the alien craft far too short lived for Jack’s liking. He may live here, only five minutes from the most beautiful piece of scenery in the northern three counties of New Jersey, but he doesn’t just go walking to it all willy-nilly. The boy’s got very important stuff to do! Just ask him, he’s a list prepared in his head at all times just in case somebody, anybody, wants to get into a debate.
“You know, now that I look at this house in the daytime, I totally remember why I found it so familiar. I’ve watched it on nanodrone camera at least a thousand times by now. Neat.”
“What?” Jack asks, immediately regretting all those nights he’s “slept” with his curtains open.
“Uh, nothin’. So how do we get to the woods?”
“Nope. No way, not this time. You’re going to have to explain that one Chuck,” Sigmund says, tagging in for Jack and backing his suited friend into a corner. “I can’t just let that one slide.”
Chuck, growing a pair of large feathery bat wings, flies out of the corner and lands upon Sigmund’s toes, clapping back with a comprehensive, “Way.”
After circumnavigating the Monta house to avoid being spotted by Jack’s passed-out-in-bed mother, Chuck says, “And to answer your question, this isn’t the first time I’ve hiked in my suit. I don’t do it much, but I love hiking, and my suit is what I wear. Leave me alone,” while they cross through the layer of bushy undergrowth, the resulting cacophony of snapping twigs making it difficult for any of the humans to hear his words, what with their underdeveloped sense of hearing and all.
It’s actually kind of funny, especially so to Tiny Tim, who hears them coming from the top of a mountain that doesn’t even exist in the same plane of reality as the band of bombastic billionaire-and-friends right now, and here’s why: the humans have subconsciously opted to evolve around their vehemently limited sense of sight, allowing the rest of their senses to just peter off and degrade over time. Hearing, smelling, even tasting the air like a snake provides a much more comprehensive perception of reality for the soul, yet the humans chose the ability to notice the difference between black and white as their perrogative.
Well, Tim supposes it’s not super surprising; aside from the humans, there are tons of species that evolved around sight, not the Quatchfut though. Ever since their emancipation near the end of the dusk of everything, they’ve allowed their senses to develop into the most perfect version of what they could be, ignoring the suggestions from their purple-skinned ex-cohorts regarding what they should be. But that was all a very, very long time ago, back when the Quatchfut population on Earth was still greater in number than the population of humans living atop Mount Drase.
“It’s really only you up here, old man?” the middle-aged hairy ape creature asks the old-aged hairless ape creature as the two pass a pipe back and forth between themselves.
“Yes, as it has been for quite a long time,” says the old man, adding to the cloud of smoke that’s beginning to surround his cabin as it leaks through the gaps between the logs.
“I’m afraid that I’m an island to myself as well… how do you deal with it?”
The old man takes another hit, only torching one side of the bowl as to conserve his greenery. He was given a very limited supply of smokable Cannabis by that friendly hippie girl, and the seedlings will take weeks to produce fruit. “Well I’m not very sure, my new friend. In the past, visitors like you – well, not you in the sense of… I believe you know what I mean, judging from the patient smile you wear.”
Tim nods, “You judge correctly.”
“Visitors from all walks of life would climb to this summit and stay with me; artists, traders, mystics who hadn’t washed their gowns in decades, everybody. I would get at least one visitor every week… ah, I do miss the red hues of their skin. My family would never have approved but… well, I suppose that’s why I came up here in the first place. The Great Spirit guided me up the crags that now sprout the dense jungle you traversed… ah, I’m sorry, I’ve been chiefing on this. Here you are.”
The old man passes the wooden pipe, hand-carved from the branch of a beech tree and fitted with a brass screen to prevent the inhalation of embers through the gaping hole in the bottom of the bowl, to Tiny Tim, who proceeds to torch the remainder of the filling, exhaling a mighty cloud into the hotbox atop the mountain. He then closes his eyes and waves his hand over the bowl, refilling it to the top.
This garners at least an eyebrow from the old man, whom Tim proceeds to ask, “How long have you been living atop this summit?”
“Well… to tell you the truth, I do not know for sure. I do know that I once lived in a harbor settlement called Boston, and following the dumping of a few years’ worth of tea sheets into the ocean, I was forced out of my parent’s house, leading me to relocate to this small lake-house town and come up here. I had a wife once, we wanted to have children but unfortunately she… well, it wasn’t destined to happen, I suppose.” He studies the wooden pipe, passing it back to Tim without lighting it. “I’ve been up here ever since.”
Tim draws the hot smoke into his lungs and holds it for a moment, contemplating the meaning of all the golden threads being spun from the old human’s lips. “I’ve been in the area for… it must be at least thirty years by now. I once lived on an island, surrounded by my own kind, but after… well, after we were properly introduced to the human race, I was quickly elevated to the status of last of my kind. It’s been a very lonely existence here in this jungle… I once encountered a human woman tending to a garden in the middle of the night, she was very eh… well built. I tried to approach her to commend her on her green thumb, but I was quickly chased off by an intoxicated elderly man armed with a shotgun… their kind is so consumed by fear of the unknown, it’s like they thought I was a monster. If only they knew…” he trails off, the memory of the inferno still freshly seared into the scarred patches of skin beneath his fur. “That was, oh, probably around a decade ago. I’ve tended to veer away from humans since then, until last night when I met another one.”
“Yeas, he was this… twigish thing, very light on his feet. I had trouble keeping up with the boy. I’ve never seen a human move like that, phasing through the forest as if he knew the trails better than I did.”
“Did the boy have long, curly brown hair? That sounds like one of the children I met recently.”
“You’ve had visitors?”
The pipe, empty once more, sits on the floor between their two mats, a gap between worlds, a beacon of hazy light to guide two tormented souls together in the time of their mutual need.
“Yes, the boy two days ago and yesterday a girl. A young thing, slightly less… twigish, than the boy. She came up here with a whole slew of this herb, the pipe, too. Cannabis, I believed they both called it. The boy offered some to me the previous day and I turned him down; I’ve never been one to smoke, but when the Great Spirit delivered unto me yet another harbinger, well, how could I say no?”
“Harbinger? You think the plant is an omen?”
“Well I never said that… we so often become lost in the world of words, these symbols that fly from our lips, that we allow them to befuddle the meaning they so desperately try to convey.”
“Was he friendly?”
“The boy? Oh, very much so. I believe his name was Samuel. We meditated for quite some time, talked some things out. He was having some trouble with his family not accepting him; being one who had sailed the seas in the very vessel he now occupies, I was in a cosmically appropriate position to show him the way to shore.”
“Hm… it must have been a different human. When I approached my twigish creature, he took off running. All I wanted to do was talk to him, he had a certain air about him that I recognized. He reminded me of my father, in a way.”
“How did you approach him?”
Tim-nah’tee WHOOPs for the old man, the specific frequency of the whoop vibrating the air in such a way to cause the quartz and magnetite composing the iceberg at the core of the old man’s mountain to vibrate as well. Without so much of a rumble to signify the passing through, the sky outside of the cabin shifts from that of a foggy, moonless overcast night to a bright and sunny day.
The very same whoop causes an exerted Chuck Leary to turn off the THC dispenser in his suit in favor of his rarely used sobriety fluid.
The ancients continue, not unaware of the existential change but accustomed to it.
“Well, that certainly explains a few things.”
“How do you mean, old man?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the state of being the humans have allowed themselves to be pushed into over the course of the last couple centuries, it is this: they have become afraid of the unknown, giving up their once-earned titled of planetary masters, or stewards, rather, in favor of cowering in the wooden caves they–” he pauses, looking around at the splintering walls making up his most humble of abodes. Then, “The wooden caves that we’re so inclined to build around ourselves. He told me that tomorrow, the tomorrow of my memory being the yesterday of your experience, he and a close friend were going to heighten their perceptions and embark on a journey through their young minds. The boy Samuel was probably frightened by your hulking presence; he likely sensed your energy from miles away.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, he had no idea that I was coming. I had been watching him for a while, truthfully; a few years, in fact, never getting close enough to be seen, but just close enough to keep an eye on him – he is many things, but afraid of the unknown is not one of them. If he had known that I had been lurking in the brush beyond his campsite, he would have approached me.”
“Well, evidently he was afraid of you, my friend… maybe he just didn’t expect to see Sasquatch lurking in the small patch of forest behind his mother’s house.”
The old man chuckles, finally deciding to pick up the pipe and enlighten his lungs once more.
Upon exhale, “Forgive me, that’s what my savage acquaintances called your kind on the rare occurrence they would allow themselves to be spotted as they watched over these forests. I hope you haven’t taken offense.”
Tiny Tim reaches across the wooden floorboards and rests a heavy hand on the old man’s boney shoulder, lightly grasping it in a show of solace. “Never, my new friend. We are two of a kind; we musn’t focus on what divides us, but rather what brings us close.”
“You are very wise, Tim-nah’tee. Would you like to join me in the garden? I like to meditate before I eat lunch.”
“Lunch? It was just night; you were getting ready to sleep when I came here!”
“Well,” the old man gestures to the light pouring through the paneless windows, “the Great Spirit clearly had other plans.”
Tim weighs this idea with the Cannabis pipe in his hand and all three of his lungs full to the trachea with TetraHydroCannabinol, among other cannabinoids. “Yes, he certainly seems to do that a lot, doesn’t he?”
“He?” the old man asks with a smile, his eyelids squinting over the sunset-red of his tired, aged eyes. “I always thought of the divine as more of a she.”