Universe W-2020: The Sideshows 10
May 25th, 2011
Stixville Public Library
It’s a quiet day at the Stixville Public Library. The children’s section is thankfully devoid of the rambunctious laughter and glee of the town’s munchkins, handicapped elderly men and women alike are scrolling through Fakebook and Encyclopedia Americana on the computers, and in the quiet section? A lone teenage boy about to catch the biggest wave of his current meme surfing sesh before he gets interrupted by a call on his cell phone. And of course there’s the head librarian, sitting at her desk facing away from the entrance with wireless headphones over her ears.
Enter a plucky young woman named Karen Page. Having just moved back home with her newly obtained writing baccalaureate, our girl’s decided to hit the ground running and get her foot in the door of the world of authorship, whether that world is ready for her or not. Karen’s got a lot of plans; novels, essays, a novella based on a year of living on a boat, said boat being the one she’s going to purchase with her novel and essay money, but first: an anthology of poetry. She figures a good twenty-five to forty works should suffice; she wants the humans of Earth to catch a wave of her passionate tears, but there’s no need for them to drown. Besides, since poems only take a minute or two to write, this should be a quick one- or two-day project, a warmup to get her authorship gears churning.
Karen walks up to the welcome desk and greets the back of the librarian’s head with a nostalgic smile. Before she became the head mistress of the library, Missus Berenstein was a third-grade teacher at Karen’s elementary school. Without Berenstein’s influence on her early life, Karen’s love for all things scribblable would never have amounted to anything; sure, Karen would make up stories with her mom when she was but a wee lass, but without Missus B, said stories would still be spinning around inside Karen’s skull, driving her functionally insane. ‘Twas Missus B that got Karen into the putting of pen to page, and without her influence, she’d probably be one of the millions of lost souls on the cusp of accepting a job as a lowly secretary or something – the humanity. Just imagine the desperation!
“Missus Bee! Do you remember me, from third grade? It’s me Karen, Karen Page!”
Missus Berenstein sits there motionless as an unused ice pick; no response, no acknowledgment, no reply.
“Uh… Missus Bee?” as Karen reaches over and taps her favorite teacher’s shoulder.
Missus Berenstein releases a shriek more cringey than that of an overzealous news reporter who just toppled over the edge of the bucket of grapeberries she was trying to squish to be made into wine, the wooden bucket splintering and impaling her shins as she fell. For a moment, the library is totally silent; this moment is broken by the teenager in the quiet section, who still hasn’t hung up his cell phone, apologizing to his mother for the distracting wail of the librarian. Berenstein swivels around in her wheelie chair and, squinting with one eye, looks Karen up and down with a disdainful stank eye.
Taking a deep breath through her clogged nostrils, “What is it that you could possibly want you insignificant, buzzing little insect of a child?!”
Karen shrinks down to the size of one of the six number 7 pencils in her bag. “Um… I… you… you taught me in third um… third grade, and… um… inspired me to want to be… be a, um… be a writer, so… so I um… I got a bachelor’s in… writing, like… a week ago, and um… I… I wanted to tell you.”
Berenstein’s eye unsquints. “Oh, is that right? Yes, I think I do remember you, yeah, it’s Helen Write, right?”
“Uh, well, I mean… no. I’m Karen Page.”
Berenstein rolls her eyes. “Ah, my mistake, as if it really makes a difference. So tell me, girl, what was your thesis about?”
Having returned to the height of your average plucky twenty-something, Karen’s eyes light up lack a jack-o-lantern for no other reason that I’m scrivening these events on the day called Halloween in my universe. “Myself! It was my life story, focused on my own struggle to stay true to my heart’s desires rather than conforming to what everyone around me wants me to do. I was pretty happy with it, and it was well-received by my professors.”
Mistress Librarian chortles. “I bet it was, along with the outfit of tank top and booty shorts you were doubtlessly wearing that day.” Karen doesn’t own any variant of either of those garments, not that it’s Bitchy Berenstein’s business anyway. “Well, good luck kid.”
Berenstein puts her headphones back on and resumes listening to her horrorcore death metal, the physic screams of fundamentally enraged adolescent men pleasantly drowning out the silence that is the atmosphere of the Stixville Public Library.
Karen wanted to say more, but like… ouch. She wanders over to the quiet section and plops down alone at an empty table for six, just existing there for a few minutes, slumped over in the noetic harumph of being verbally hamslammed by a woman she once looked up to. She certainly regrets dedicating those ten pages of her life story to Bitchy Berenstein now, but such is life; we live and we learn. What’s a triumph without a matching magazine rack of mistakes?
Eventually our girl musters up the nerve to take out her notebook and get working. This notebook, leather-bound with a tree stamped into the cover, was purchased from a caravanning merchant for no less than forty-seven dollars just a few weeks ago. A tad bit pricey, perhaps, but as far as Miss Karen Page is concerned, it’s all the more inspiration to use the pages for the beating of her craft. She places pencil to page and spends more than a few minutes carefully etching the beginning of what is sure to be that attention-hooking opener to her first poetic compendium. She loses herself in the process almost immediately, her very being fading out of her body for what feels like an eternity as her brain enters flow state and whisks her away to scribe stroke upon stroke without thought, the scratching of graphite on parchment serving as the silver cable connecting body and soul.
When she comes to, a subtle warmth and blatant peace washes over Karen’s body. When her eyes roll back from inside her skull, she looks down to read what she’s written thus far:
Karen throws her hands up, arching a pencil through the air like a fireball catapulted off a trebuchet. ‘How is that frickin’ possible?!’ screamed internally; externally, Kar’s cool, calm, and collected.
After a few deep breaths to bring her insides into equilibrium with her outsides, Karen spots her pencil lying a few feet from the foot of the dastardly memeager. She gets up and walks over, bending down to retrieve her lost soldier whilst catching the creepiest pair of eyes peering down her shirt on the way up. Alarmed by the boy’s doggedness and inspired by her own want to run the fuck out of the library, Karen powerwalks back to the table and resumes scrawling.
The dog likes to run/The dog’s name is Spot
Beautiful success. Karen sits back and draws in a breath, feeling the creative energy radiate through her body. Turning to her left, she gazes through the wall-encompassing window and enjoys a nice view of the outside world. The library is stationed in the midst of a large meadow, partitioned off from the rest of Stixville by a babbling river that flows stronger when it doesn’t rain; the sun is shining, the birds are likely chirping, and across the brook, the parking lot is absolutely packed with vehicles oft piloted by patrons of the town’s overused park-and-ride service.
Just then, inspiration strikes again, knocking Karen clear across the carpeted floor.
The dog likes to run/The dog’s name is Spot/
The dog goes outside
Karen can’t help but smile, her opening work is almost complete already! Short, simple, to the point, yet so complex. On the surface it seems like it’s about a dog, but is it really, though? Is this a simple poetic scribble, or is it a witty critique on the human condition, a statement about the dichotomy between the human being finding itself constantly in a state of warmongering, the primal, borderline feral animistic urges constantly duking it out with the higher, dare she say godly urges to create? The dog’s name is Spot, but what of the author? What’s her name, where did she come from, what’s her story? Why did she write the poem in the first place?
Only the last line will tell, and just like that, it pops into her head. Confident, Karen places her pencil to the page and brings into the world the conclusion to her first official work of writing.
The dog likes to run/The dog’s name is Spot/
The dog goes outside/And runs around a lot.
She raises her hand above the page and drops the pencil into the centerfold. Miss Karen Page: author, poet, philosopher, bomb ass bitch all around. Is there anything she can’t do, any goal she can’t accomplish?
With a yawn, Miss Karen Page: Author, Poet, Philosopher, Bomb Ass Bitch All Around closes her notebook and packs up her bag. Avoiding eye contact with her boy Peeping Tom, Karen slings the backpack over her collarbone and trots towards the exit, her aura embodying the spirit of every backpacker to ever pack a backpack. She nods at an oblivious Missus Berenstein, the wretch moping in her chair, wishing she had the vocal cords to scream fervently into a microphone alongside testosterone-riddled boys with anger issues. The nod ignored, Karen takes her leave.
A Twist Of Fate
The sun graces our girl’s face like a refreshing splash of water on a hot summer’s day. As she approaches the edge of the brick path leading to the parking lot, a twist of fate stops Karen in her path. An adorable little pupster with a spot on its cute little nose runs up and presents itself, tail a’wagging and tongue a’dripping with dog sweat. It looks just like the pitbull puppy Karen had as a child, what are the chances? She slowly reaches down to pet the little doggo when…
A scream of bloody murder erupts from Karen’s voice box. The door to the red sportscar that drifted around the corner opens and a man clad in a black business suit casually steps out. He strolls over to the front of the vehicle and, lowering his sunglasses, looks at the decimated dog carcass caught up in his left front wheel well. His apathetic gaze turns to the mortified human feem on the curb and his eyebrows rise, as if he expects her to say something.
When she doesn’t, “That uh… that your dog?”
Karen just stares at him for a moment, disbelief painted upon her face like clown makeup on a serial killer. She then shakes her head to and fro, slowly at first, gradually building up to a thrashing that could accurately yet incorrectly be described as rabid.
“N…no! But what does that matter?!” Karen cries, invoking the power of the writing gods. “You just murdered that poor, innocent dog, you fucking monster! That could have been me!”
The man lowers his sunglasses further and looks at Karen as if she only has one head whilst living on a planet of bicranial beings.
“Well?!” Karen shouts, about to unsheathe her armada of pencils and mutilate the man here, out in the open, on the brown brick road that leads to her hometown’s library. “What do you have to say for yourself?!”
“This, bitch,” as the man reaches into his suit jacket, his hand digging around for seconds that feel like hours to the Karen The Writer that witnesses it happening.
The suited man pulls out a large syringe, impressive and almost cartoonish in stature with a needle that could core a pineapple. Using his free hand, the man rips the canine carcass from his wheel well and throws in on the ground at Karen’s feet, the mess landing with a wet slap that makes Karen gag. The suited man then impales the poor, dead dog with the syringe and plunges the plunger, filling the already leaking what was once a puppy with more fluids as all the color drains from Karen’s face. Upon retracting the needle, the dog’s body starts going into convulsions, twitching and flailing in a mad seizure. A moment later, it pops up on all four of its legs, love in its eyes and wag in its tail. The man places the empty syringe between his right middle and ring fingers and uses it to flip Karen off before pocketing the thing from whence it spawned. Karen is mortified, mortally petrified, more speechless than a deaf mute who never learned to sing.
“I… how did… what the fuck?”
The suited man smiles, holding out his gloved hand. “Name’s Chuck, Chuck Leary. You uh… you need a job? My company just opened up a building over in NewMann and I’m in desperate need of a secretary.”
Karen cocks her head to the side. “New Man? I don’t even… what is that?”
Chuck pauses, closing his hand and retracting his offer for a shake. “Uh… New Manhattan? Do you live under a fucking rock or something? It’s all Earthlings are talking about these days. I think. I don’t really talk to them so I don’t know. I kind of live under a rock.”
Karen’s brow furrows, accompanied by a mouth open in shock. “All right asshole, now I know what you speak of. That stupid island where all the richy-riches live. No wonder…” as she starts to walk away, the dog following close behind her.
Karen turns to see the Chuck dude standing next to the passenger side of his red sportscar, holding the door open like he thinks he’s being a gentleman.
Karen almost says no. She almost tells this strange suited man to eat a bulging cowhide wallet before returning to her bicycle and pedaling home, her new dog sat in the basket, his tongue slobberin’ out his mouth. She’d have a hell of a story to tell Momma Page over MacDolan’s for dinner before she’s forced to fill out an application because it’s been a whole fourteen hours and her career as a writer hasn’t taken her to the top of the financial food chain. But, as they say, curiosity killed the cat, unlike the dog. Chuck killed the dog, and he did it violently. But… then he brought it back to life, so…
“You serious, man? I don’t know you, you don’t know me. Why do you even think I would be a good secretary? Honestly, it’s pretty freaking bold of you to assume I’d even consider getting into a car with you after I watched you run down the dog… like, what are you even doing here anyway? You don’t live in town, and we don’t get outsiders much. What the hell even is this, dude?!”
Karen’s attempts at driving the suited man off amount to said suited man saying, “You mean the dog that’s wagging its tail at your feet?”
Karen looks down at the puppydog’s sparkling eyes. ‘Tis indeed wagging its tail, and with sparkles in its eyes, no less. She takes a moment to contemplate the fate of her writing career if she were to actually say yes to this dude’s inane offer; the life of a secretary is a busy one indeed, especially for a secretary working for a likely eccentric man whose base of operations resides in New Manhattan. The city damn near popped up overnight; an island built entirely of recycled plastics and garbage to be used as the Dollaristic hub of all of America; its design is perfect, but its application is lackluster at best. Does Karen really want to get involved in all that? Does she really want to put her own dreams on the backburner for that first paycheck that will likely be worth more than all the money Momma Page has made in her entire life? She thinks about her mother, her squad of graduate students she left behind at college, Berenstein, Peeping Tom, the random old men and women at the computers busy reading about how the world used to be. How it’ll never be again.
“All right,” Karen says cautiously, “fine. But on one con–… two conditions.”
“Kay…?” Chuck says, annoyed that his new employee is giving him conditions but letting her do it because he likes the fact that she has ladyballs.
“One… you have to drive me home so I can get my things and say goodbye to my mom. And two… we’re taking the dog.”
“Fine, whatever dude,” as he walks around and climbs into his car, laughing internally because he knows the dog is actually a robot designed to mimic biology. Through an open window, “I ask again, you coming?”
Karen climbs in and, after the dog jumps up on her lap, closes the gullwing door. Chuck presses a button and the car begins to rumble before lifting clear off the ground.
“Buckle up Karen, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”
“Wait, how do you know my name?!”
A Different Chuck
“SIIIIIIIIIG-MUUUUND,” Chuck shouts from his desk, hoping that his buddyguy can hear him from his sub-plasti-spa-junk laboratory. “THERE’S SOMEONE BUZZING THE AAAWWWHHHHHH-FAAAAACCCCEEE”
When he doesn’t get an answer, Chuck begins to panic. He’s never been good at answering doors, never been an introducer, and his hands are trembling so much that he can’t even roll a joint for himself! The flakes keep falling out of the left end, not the right end for some reason, only the left end and over and over, like, why does this happen? He writes with his right hand, sure, but he never does any writing, he’s a blasted quadrillionaire, why the fuck would he do his own writing? Whatever.
After ten continuous minutes of the door buzzing, Chuck finally manages to seal the joint. Thus begins the never-ending search for a lighter; he finds one in seconds, because he has fifty of them in this desk alone, and after taking the two tokes to burn the loosey goosey down to its poorly rolled crutch, Chuck stands up ready to face the visitor.
He strolls over and, pretending he can’t see her until he opens the glass doors, Chuck introduces himself to the plucky woman who apparently decided to pay him a visit today. He’s never seen the woman before, but he feels slightly intimidated by her aura.
“Sup Chuck, is that my desk?” as she strolls past him, stationing herself upon her new guard post. Chuck thinks the desk suits her well, but he doesn’t dare say so.
“How uh… how do you know my name?”
The woman arches an eyebrow. “What do you mean? We just flew here together in that red car… by the way, fuck you for pulling the robot dog trick.”
Chuck is very confused, he’s been sat alone in his office all day. Plus, he crashed the red car like eleven years ago, this doesn’t make any logical sense.
“Ugh,” the woman ughs, infuriated. “My name is Karen Page, since you obviously forgot already. I’m your new secretary.”
Karen knows that Chuck didn’t forget, because this is a different Chuck than she met earlier today. A younger, more impressionable Chuck. The other Chuck was straight out of his mind, the dude took eccentric to levels that Karen never fathomed possible – he called her a weeaboo for Christ’s sake – but that’s just fine. He was from a different time, or something science fictiony like that. Karen’s never liked sci-fi, so she kinda blocked him out when he was blabbering, but regardless, this is her chance. She can save this Chuck from becoming the other Chuck, she can make him a better human. She can… well first, she’ll definitely deny his offer to smoke.
“Oh… okay,” Chuck says, disappointed. “Well uh, welcome to Cape Enterprises, I guess. Normally I’d throw you out of here, but I’m not really normal. So I guess I’ll just go with the flow.”
“You do that,” as Karen rolls her eyes playfully. She watches Chuck walk into the office behind her desk and begins to set herself up.
“Hey Karen,” Chuck calls, his footsteps approaching. “Put this bong on your desk, it’ll keep you company when I’m out doing Chuck things.”
Karen, frozen, watches her new bossman set a large repurposed absinthe bottle on her desk before running back to the back of the office. As the smell of dirty bong water fills her nostrils, she thinks to herself, ‘I guess this is what he meant by the bumpy ride.’
Then, the sound of radio static fades into Karen’s thoughts, and a foreign yet familiar voice says, ‘I told you to buckle up, kid.’