CAT NAP

Harry Capshaw turned the small valve on his tanker truck for the umpteenth time, sending the filthy mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals that he had brought with him on his 700-mile journey into the ground. As he did so, the usual pangs of guilt and planetary responsibility flooded his mind.

In no way, shape, or form did Mr. Capshaw condone fracking. As a matter of fact, he considered it to be fairly morally reprehensible. You see, Harry was essentially a decent person with more than a modicum of care for the planet that the universe had seen fit to place him on. He even gave up meat for a week. A whole week.

That being said, Harry Capshaw wasn’t delusional. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, that it was leading to the spread of all sorts of nasty diseases and giving tap water the unfortunate side effect of being extremely flammable. What’s more, the last thing he wanted to do was line the pockets of a greedy cat, fat or otherwise. But he had a family to think of. And if he were being completely honest with himself, he was really very good at what he did.

While other drivers took frequent pit stops lest they crash and test the flammable part a little early, Harry was indefatigable. His secret? He would often conduct elaborate interviews with himself on the day’s issues as he drove, complete with commercial breaks and product jingles. What started as a way to pass the time after his radio broke turned into a surefire drowsiness-prevention method. Call it strange, but it worked.

Anyway, everything seemed to be going quite smoothly and according to plan for Harry Capshaw. That is, until he heard it. There was a noise that was a cross between a very large man reacting from stubbing his toe and a very large man passing gas. Either way, the last thing Harry expected to hear coming from within the earth was any sort of noise a very large man could make, from any orifice for that matter.

Harry glanced over to his trusty old tanker, to the comically tiny valve that was responsible for the hundreds of gallons of deadly material now flooding the ground below. He knew he should probably turn it off for several reasons, not least among them the fact that an absolutely gargantuan man seemed to be suffering hundreds of miles within the earth because of it. Even so, a job was a job. He was just following orders, after all.

Just as this thought came and went through Mr. Capshaw’s conflicted brain, a new sound issued forth. This one was less flatulent, but no less alarming. It sounded as if some sort of unfathomably massive person had just shifted his weight on what had to be the largest bed ever constructed within the known universe. It wasn’t a happy weight-shifting from the sound of it either.

The more Mr. Capshaw thought about the troubling noises, the more they seemed to conflict with his self-made image of the bleeding-heart working man who reluctantly took on the task no one else wanted to do. Now that Harry thought about it, he had always had options. He could’ve even stayed in trucking if he wanted to, shipping solar panels, or little tree saplings, or really anything that wasn’t a hazardous, planet-killing material.

As these thoughts began to reproduce, Harry Capshaw became quite oblivious to the fact that he had approached his truck’s cute little button of a valve and started violently turning it in an effort to flood his brain by flooding the ground. Oblivious, also, seemed Harry of the massive roar that greeted the latest deluge of poisonous sludge within the earth.

Quite suddenly, the ground beneath Harry cracked with the ease and speed of an egg’s shell against a whisking bowl. Harry died instantly from the force of the blast. But worry not, dear reader, because unbeknownst to Harry, he was to reincarnate as a small desert weasel on a distant planet in the near future.

Also unbeknownst to Harry before his abrupt demise was the fact that the spot in which his drilling well had struck within the earth had just happened to be the forehead of a massive creature that had been sleeping there for the past 4.54 billion years.

The creature looked the spitting image of an obese man scaled to the size of a planet, despite the fact that he in no way had any relation to humans or any other Earth creature for that matter. It was all just one of the many coincidences the universe had to offer.

As it turns out, the creature had simply gotten tired one day and decided to find a nice spot to nap, which just so happened to be within the orbit of a very life-friendly star named Sol. Over the years, a crust formed over the rather lazy man, which became a little more complicated once life had decided to take root and whatnot.

But now, awakened and freed from his oversized sleep crust at last, the absolutely massive creature got up, shrugged with indifference at the remnants of Earth that floated around him, and went back to his unfathomably huge planet where he sat down to a nice marathon of gigantic alien reality TV.

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THE FIND

It was too late in the day to safely continue the expedition without fear of storm, whether solar or otherwise, but the captain’s curiosity had gotten the better of him, as it had a tendency to do. Today marked exactly one year to the day that the astronauts had descended on the planet in search of a sign of beings that could’ve come before, and the captain wanted something ceremonious for everyone back home.

The captain’s men could do with a good recharging and were nearly mutinous, but they were inextricably bound by their command line. They all marched obediently behind their captain, protective helmets secured over their heads as they left the comfort and safety of home base.

The dead world’s air was choked with red dust, almost stagnant as it seemed to hang in the air. A gust of it picked up, the grains abrasive enough to leave scratch marks on the captain’s helmet. They marched on over increasingly rocky terrain, fearless as they set out to chase the setting sun.

The captain’s mind wandered as they trekked on. Naturally, it went to the place it always had a tendency to gravitate toward whenever he considered the ever-elusive Find. How would it change belief back home? Would having concrete proof that they had once existed change anything? Would his name be in the history blogs for years to come, as he so wished it would?

Just as this thought crossed the captain’s mind, a tremor beneath the ground opened up a massive sinkhole that immediately swallowed up one of the astronaut archaeologists. He didn’t even have time to let out a yell before plummeting into the abyss of the dead planet’s interior.

The captain turned back, the look on his face a cross between mild interest and annoyance. This was the third man he’d lost so far. The others paused to look down into the sinkhole, more out of curiosity than empathy. The captain waved them on, impatient.

“We’ll just have to find a replacement when we get back. Come on.”

And so they all marched on without another look back toward their fallen comrade. The sun was nearly set on the horizon, and the captain knew they had much ground to cover before he’d let them all retire for the night.

And then he saw it. Peeking out from the detritus and dirt of untold centuries was what seemed to be the frame of a building. Standing out against this otherwise barren landscape was something that clearly had to be the work of intelligent hands.

Spurred on by this discovery, the captain took off his helmet to get a better look. The abrasive sand storm had since died down, and the scratches on his helmet just wouldn’t do as far as visibility went. The other astronauts followed suit, all of them approaching the ancient building without their helmets. Asphyxiation claimed none of them.

The captain entered first, relieving the building’s door of its nearly disintegrated hinges. Shelves stood out in sharp relief within the place, but there was too much dust on everything to make out what might be shelved here.

The captain stopped in his tracks, eyes locked ahead with laser precision. There at the front of the building was the unmistakable form of a cash register. He approached it with deference, eyes watering as he came closer. As the other astronauts gathered around, the captain placed his trembling hand upon the keyboard.

“A257, get the panel open. It’s here.”

The man this strange name apparently belonged to obeyed at once, removing the back panel of the cash register and exposing its electronic guts. The captain removed one of the computer chips and reached a hand to his face. He pulled at the skin around his neck. It flipped upward like rubber, revealing a complex skeleton made of chips and wires as opposed to flesh and bone. He held the register’s chip up to the exposed chips of his own face, the similarity striking.

“This is all the proof they’ll ever need. No one will be able to doubt that they made our ancestors here before creating us in their own image.”

“But sir, why would they simply vanish? Where could they have gone?”

The captain pondered this question for a moment before picking up the cash register and inspecting its every nook and cranny. Finally, he found a marking on the bottom. He wiped his hand across to relieve it of dust. Emblazoned across the bottom was, “MADE IN CHINA.” The captain pointed at the words.

“Perhaps here is where our answers lie.”

And so the astronaut androids set off with their find, elated at the prospect of finding the human gods who created and abandoned them long ago.

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OOBE

There he sat on the edge of his bed, a complete wreck with a bit of a headache and a burning desire to shut off his brain. Mr. Cromwell had just lost his job, his feet stank in their absence of odor-blocking, class-affirming shoes, and his cat simply refused to hop onto his bed, as was her norm.

A pamphlet rested half-opened in Mr. Cromwell’s hands, an image of a very austere woman deep in meditation on the front of it. He read the pamphlet his therapist had given him more in an effort to humor her than anything else.

All he had told her was that he wished he didn’t have to be himself any more. And with a matter-of-fact, I-know-just-what-you-need gesture, she’d handed him this pamphlet on out of body experiences. Mr. Cromwell laughed at the overabundant use of the acronym OOBE, imagining it to be the name of some unfortunate alien somewhere in the cosmos.

Mr. Cromwell came to his senses, stopped his reverie immediately. Isn’t that what got him in this mess in the first place? He was too much of a dreamer for his own good. There was no place for silly daydreams in the business world. He had to be more serious, more like his former coworkers. He might not have been fired had he been able to keep a level head at all times, like his boss.

And as these thoughts flooded in, Mr. Cromwell wanted to get out of his body more than he had in recent memory. The OOBE stuff started to seem less like hippie-dippie nonsense and more like a viable self-loathing-avoidance strategy.

He tossed the pamphlet aside, kicked off his sweat-soaked socks, and lay down on his bed. He closed his eyes and imagined himself climbing a rope that led from his brain, as silly as he realized that was. And: nothing happened. Try as he might, he remained firmly rooted to the one place he’d rather not be: his own body.

His breathing got slower, more rhythmic as he gave over his consciousness to the prospect of sleep. Just as everything was starting to fade, he turned over in the air and looked down at himself to make sure that he was in fact falling asleep and not just faking it. Wait, what?

Sure enough, there Mr. Cromwell was in the air, looking down at himself. He was nothing but ether, weightless in the claustrophobia of his Ikea-adorned bedroom. He floated down over to the mirror, scared of what he might see. But there was nothing there. No pudgy paunch to greet him, no dark bags under his ever-bloodshot eyes. There was just the recently vacated body of him in the background.

Mr. Cromwell took a deep breath, acclimating to this fresh experience. Or rather, he tried to take a deep breath. He had no lungs, no windpipe to send the air down. He wanted to reach at this absence of body parts, but he had no hands to do it with. He was a gust of wind, an abstract concept. And it felt great.

He rose up and flew past the ceiling, in ecstasy. He was airborne, rising up above the clouds. He flew straight through a passing commercial airliner and just kept on going. Within seconds, he was out of the atmosphere, soaring beyond what he thought to be possible.

He pushed forward, moving faster than thought. Earth was a tiny dot behind him now. Before long, he had pushed past Pluto. I’ll still always consider it a planet, no matter what they say, he told himself, flying on.

But he shouldn’t think about that, his imagination had already gotten him into enough trouble as it was. It was better to keep his head down, not offend. A thought occurred to Mr. Cromwell as he flew into the furthest reaches of space, a disembodied soul. Why the hell shouldn’t I think that way? What does it matter if my loser of a boss doesn’t like it?

Mr. Cromwell’s eyes widened, or rather they would have had he had any. But in time, he calmed down. He hadn’t been smote for such glaring insubordination as he thought he might be. His brain started working again, more than he’d allowed it to for quite some time. You know what? I don’t need his crap. I should do something else. I’ve always wanted to write. Hell, I think I’m pretty good at it too.

And before he could squelch it, Mr. Cromwell was struck with the burning urge to be back in his body, to sit in front of a blank screen and populate it with his thoughts. But his elation was short-lived, as he realized that not only was he out of the solar system, he was no longer within his own galaxy. How would he get back now?

His non-existent stomach dropped. What a joke it was, that after all this soul-searching and self-discovery he was to be trapped here, a wandering disembodied soul. The stars beyond weren’t interesting any more, the multi-colored nebulae were nothing more than distractions. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do, what he was meant to do, so what was the point?

But just as he thought this, a massive spacecraft flew through him, in much the same way he glided through the airliner back home. Mr. Cromwell flew inside of it, desperate to find out what it was. He was shocked to find himself in the company of an extraterrestrial. This shock was further outdone by the realization that the alien could actually see him.

After a bit of discussion, it was settled that Mr. Cromwell could hitch a ride back home, the ship was headed in that direction anyway.

And finally he was back, where he belonged. He turned to his alien pilot savior, thanking him copiously. He asked for his name after giving his own.

“Promise you won’t laugh? Everyone always does.” The alien sighed. “It’s Oobe.”

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CHRONOVISION

Dusty light filtered in through a musty old attic window, floorboards creaking as Jeremy Umbridge surveyed the room. It had been a while since he’d been up here, ten years to be exact. Back then he’d often sneak off from his grandpa in his never-ending quest to find a Nazi scalp or some other undoubtedly cool thing gramps must’ve brought back from the war.

But Jeremy was older now, and his grandfather had just quietly passed away. He didn’t go down in a blaze of gunfire against some hidden neo-Nazi uprising he just knew would spring up any day now, but hey, we can’t have it all.

As the rest of Jeremy’s family was either infirm or faking as much to get out of it, Jeremy was left with the task of sorting through whatever his grandfather hadn’t put in the will. Decades-old newspapers sat alongside boxes of old photographs, nothing out of the ordinary.

But then Jeremy saw it. Over in the corner of the attic, a heavy-looking wooden box practically beckoned him over, “FRAGILE” emblazoned on every square inch of the thing. The nails holding the box together were thankfully rusted out from over the years, making the whole task much easier.

Inside, a rather unimposing little device greeted him. It resembled an old television in every way. Jeremy pulled it out with great care and set it down at once. There was no other paperwork in the box, no instructions. Where a brand name might be on the device, instead was plastered “CHRONOVISION” in lettering that clearly hadn’t been considered cutting edge since the ‘50s.

The usual dials rested on the front of the thing, for changing the channel as well as the date. Wait, was that the date? Sure enough, upon closer inspection there was a dial where one could set the month, another for the day of said month, and four separate dials that each ranged from 0-9 for setting a year. The last dial simply read, “SIGNAL.” That dial’s options were “ME” and “OTHER.” Checking each dial, Jeremy was shocked to see that the dial was already set to “February 14, 1951, me.”

After some scrambling and much worrying that his foot might slip through the rickety floor, Jeremy wrangled the chronovision’s power cord over to a nearby outlet. As he plugged it in, he was knocked onto his posterior by the force of an electrical surge. Shocked, literally and otherwise, Jeremy got back to his feet and switched the chronovision on.

When he did, he was immediately greeted to the sight of: absolutely nothing. No sound came out of the thing either. He smacked the side of the screen until coming to his senses. The dial was set to “ME.” He wasn’t alive on Valentine’s Day in 1951, nor any other day in that year for that matter. After adjusting it to “OTHER,” an image gradually faded in. The screen showed Jeremy’s grandfather as a younger man, aggressively old-timey making out with what was unmistakably a younger version of Jeremy’s grandmother. The sight of it all froze the young man in terror, which gave the image of his grandmother just enough time to whisper sweet nothings to his granddad.

“Out of the skivvies, sailor, it’s whoopee time.”

After yelling as if being brutally attacked by a chainsaw, Jeremy violently swiped at the device’s dials. He breathed a sigh of relief as that harrowing image was thankfully wiped from the screen. In its place was a naked Winston Churchill feeding instructions to an aide while chomping down on a cigar.

“What the fuck, history?!”

Jeremy turned the device off at once, as disturbed as he was annoyed. He sat there alone in the mustiness of the asbestos-lined attic, thinking through the implications of this machine while trying to force what he saw out of his mind before it had the chance to scar him for life.

Soon enough, curiosity had gotten the better of him. He played with the dials, set it to today’s date. He switched the signal to “ME” and turned the chronovision back on. Jeremy’s eyes went wide as he looked on at a small Jeremy that looked into another chronovision, which in turn bore the image of a smaller Jeremy staring at his own chronovision, which… alright, you get the idea.

Anyway, after much miming and checking to see if each Jeremy would move exactly as he did, Jeremy began to get restless. He moved to turn the dial. But before he could, the chronovision had turned it for him, twenty years into the future. The older Jeremy was pudgy, haggard, and conspicuously balding despite his attempts at a comb-over.

Panicking, Jeremy began to look back in time, searching desperately for the trigger to each of his problems. As time went on, however, the musty old attic was no longer an ideal auditorium. He took the chronovision home and devoted his time to scouring what he saw for any clues as to how to make his life perfect.

His day job was no longer ideal, as it distracted too much from his chronovision. A part-time gig at the local supermarket wasn’t glamorous, but it gave him the time he needed. His friends and family were quite obviously possible triggers, so he did what he had to do and discarded them from his life.

But try as he might, years and years after finding the damn chronovision, Jeremy Umbridge still couldn’t find the source of his problems. Just as this frustrating thought crossed his mind, the power suddenly went off. So the electric company wasn’t bluffing after all. His sole focus in life now disabled, Jeremy looked around his house blankly. His eyes finally met something he hadn’t looked into for nearly two decades: a mirror. In it, he was pudgy, haggard, and conspicuously balding despite his attempts at a comb-over.

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