COME ON AND SLAM AND WELCOME TO THE JAM

Chris had been maxing out on all things nostalgic, thoroughly satisfied with his decision to have a ‘90s Day. He’d just beaten Aztec on Expert in Goldeneye, his belly was full of Pizza Lunchable and Mondo, and he was fanning out his Pokémon cards like they were hundred dollar bills.

He went on youtube, watched intros to the shows of his childhood. He didn’t care what anyone said, the theme to Duck Tales was a serious musical achievement. Chris was just about to turn off his computer for the night, satiated with his ‘90s fix when he saw it. “Quad City DJ’s – Space Jam for 10 hours.”

Now that was it. Space Jam had to be the pinnacle of ‘90s movies. Sure, he was a bit biased being from Chicago and living through the repeat three-peat, but come on now. What mentally sane young adult didn’t have fond memories of that damn movie? No one, that’s who.

He clicked the link, waited for his slow internet to load the abnormally long video. He perused the comments to pass the time. Among them: “DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ALL THE WAY THROUGH. PLEASE, SPARE YOURSELF THE TORMENT AND MENTAL ANGUISH. THIS WILL FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE YOU AS A HUMAN BEING. THE JAM WILL BE ALL YOU KNOW.”

Chris couldn’t help but smirk. Clever posts like this made it almost worth sifting through the illiterate muck that was youtube comments. Right then he decided that he’d do it. He’d top off the night by listening to the whole damn thing. Even if he had to stay up till 8 AM to do it.

The video loaded up. The song’s crowd cheered as that nearly monotone female voice cut in:

“Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now. We got the real jam goin’ down, welcome to the Space Jam. Here’s your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam… alright.”

And just like that, Chris was back in 1996, bowlcut on display as he watched Bugs and the rest tear up the Monstars on the blurriest of VHS tapes. He snapped back from his reverie and popped open a Wonderball, too distracted by the greatness of Space Jam to even wonder what was inside.

After five hours, Chris’s mouth was covered in chocolate, which chocolate smeared up perilously close to his eyes as his hand awkwardly propped up his half-asleep self. He was very soon passed out, the song still playing on without him.

What followed that morning was by far the stiffest and most uncomfortable of wake-ups that Chris could recall in recent memory. He smelled like Capri Sun and chocolate, spent Baby Bottle Pops stuck half-eaten to his socks, and he had spilled Lunchable pizza sauce on his fossilized, first edition, baby Raichu card.

Chris got to his feet, kicking away his sticky candy adornments and made his way to the fridge for a non-diabetes-inducing meal. He opened the fridge, and: nothing. He’d have to pick up some groceries real quick.

He made his way to the supermarket, cartoon theme songs still playing in his head. He walked in the door only to be greeted by a strange noise. It almost sounded like a crowd cheering. But just as soon as it appeared, it was gone.

“Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris’s head whipped to the source of the quote. A rather chipper employee stood smiling at him.

“What’d you just say?”

The employee’s grin faltered.

“Welcome to Trader Sam’s… Is something wrong, sir?”

Chris shook his head, more to wake himself up than respond to the employee. He headed over to the cereal aisle, trying his best not to jump to conclusions. Something caught his eye immediately. Among the cereal boxes stood a jar of jam that someone had left behind.

Chris grabbed the jar, incredulous. Behind it, none other than Michael Jordan’s smiling face greeted him from the cover of a Wheaties box. Chris dropped the jar, shattering it. He came to his senses almost immediately, shocked at himself.

He bent over to clean up the mess when a worker who saw the whole thing approached and politely brushed him aside.

“Don’t worry about it sir, I’ve got this. Just work that body, work that body, make sure you don’t hurt nobody.”

Chris blinked rapidly, as if that would alleviate the strangeness of whatever the hell the employee just said.

“Uh, what?”

The employee just smiled, returned to his job. Just then, the store’s muzak cut out abruptly. An intercom voice flooded the store.

“Attention shoppers, down in aisle nine you’ll find we’ve got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris backed away slowly, not even noticing as he knocked over a nearby display. Several toy basketballs fell from their perch on the toy rack, their bouncing noise somehow heightened, louder. The employee stared at Chris as he wiped the same spot on the floor over and over again, smiling all the while.

“Wave your hands in the air if you feel fine. We’re gonna take it into overtime.”

Chris was now officially losing his shit. He turned away from the creepy employee and started to briskly walk away from the whole jam situation. But standing there blocking his path was a mob of customers, their carts boxing out any possible escape. They all sang in unison:

“HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO? HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO?”

Chris turned around, toward the creepy employee. An even bigger mob of managers and employees had already appeared, joining in the chorus. They all slowly approached as they sang, arms outstretched. Chris opened his mouth to yell.

CRASH

Chris’s hand slipped, making his head smack against his laptop’s keyboard. The Space Jam loop had just started. He had the feeling he’d just had the weirdest dream, but couldn’t for the life of him remember any of it.

Chris shut the video off and went to bed, satisfied with his very successful ‘90s Day.

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

David Medulla lounged out at the patio set in his backyard, his little boy sitting across from him as they both gazed up at the stars. He’d just been vacillating between a speculative discussion on what killed the dinosaurs and a comparison between he and his boy and the two Dippers. Danny thought he’d be a smart Alec and claim that he should be the Big Dipper, and his dad made sure to give him a good tickle for that one.

David kept wanting to tone down the science of it all, but the truth was Danny could keep up just fine. Sure, he might be six, but he was a prodigy. More and more like his dad each day. Maybe he’d be a theoretical physicist too. Maybe a future David had already seen as much and would tell the present David soon enough.

Now seems as good a time as any to tell you. David was working on a time machine. Yes, he was serious. No, he didn’t have any funding for it. It was a pet project at best, something to work on in his spare time down in the basement.

“When’s it gonna come, dad?”

David came back to the present, remembering the meteor shower he’d promised Danny. And there was that look of wonder in his boy’s eye. He was so proud of him and his boundless curiosity, so happy that he got to be the caretaker of this particular tiny human. David just smiled at his son with pride, lost in his thoughts.

“What, dad?”

David shook his head, looked back to the sky.

“Nothing, bud. It should be here soon.”

David aped his dad, looked up in the sky with him. It was a perfect night for stargazing. No cloud cover, minimal light pollution. It seemed like the universe conspired to form this moment just for them.

And then it appeared. A light in the sky, burning up in the darkness of it all. A blip on the screen of the universe, like the blindingly bright pixels in the space games of the ‘80s.

But then something broke off from the rest of the group. A multicolored light flew out horizontally, as if it were self aware. The other meteors streaked downward as expected, but that one light flew off on its own.

Danny gasped, taking in everything his little eyes could. David was working out the probability factor of a meteor flying off of its own accord in his head. The odds were slim to none, he decided.

“Dad, look!”

David looked up. The multicolored light was growing larger by the second. It buzzed and hummed like some great insect. And was it…? But no, it couldn’t be. But the more David thought about it, the more he suspected that the thing was making a beeline for him and his son.

Within seconds, he didn’t have to suspect anymore. A massive flying saucer hovered above them, brilliant lights all around its outer edge. Danny was paralyzed in awe. A beam of light shone down from it, placing Danny directly in the center. It began to pull him up like some giant cosmic claw game. David leapt to his boy, clutched onto his ankle.

The ship flew forward in a heartbeat, jerking as if it intended to shake David off. Wind flew past his face so fast that he could barely keep his eyes open.

CCCCCCRRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSHHHHHH

David looked back as he held tight to Danny’s ankle. It was tough to see, but it seemed like one of the meteors had gone further into the atmosphere than the others. It was burning up no higher than a hundred feet over the neighborhood. Brilliant orange light, like a tiny sun.

BBBBBBBAAAAAAAAANNNNNGGGGGGG

The now-minuscule meteor smashed into the earth, sending up smoke and debris. David ignored the awe of the sight, focusing his brain solely on how to save his boy from whoever was trying to take him.

The saucer dipped and turned, zipping right back to where it came from. David’s grip threatened to falter, but he clung on like an open string’s endpoints would to a D-brane. (Even in the threat of mortal danger his brain made physics analogies.)

And to David’s surprise, the saucer was headed right back for his neighborhood. It was only when the ship hovered back over his yard and safely released David and his son that he saw it. The meteor had struck the patio set where just minutes before the two had been looking up at the stars. They would’ve been obliterated if it weren’t for the flying saucer.

Just then, the ship’s engine cut down to a whisper. A walkway descended from the bottom of the saucer. A panel began to slowly slide upward on the ship, blinding white light pouring through. The eerie silhouettes of two figures appeared. They walked down from their walkway slowly. Strange noises came from them. One of them raised its arms, began to shake them back and forth.

They came into the light. It was another David and Danny. The other David continued to shake his arms, still making a mocking, ghostlike “ooo” sound. The other Danny laughed at this. The original David was incredulous.

“The hell?”

The other David stopped making the ghost noises, although it seemed like he wanted to keep going.

“Had to get you… us… out of there. I knew you would never let go of him.”

David looked down at his son like he might disappear if he didn’t. He turned back to the other David.

“But why like that? That was so… complicated.”

“Come on. It’s us we’re talking about.”

David shrugged and nodded simultaneously with the other David. He looked back at the wreckage of his backyard, his house just barely avoiding destruction.

“Stinks about the patio set, huh?”

The other David appraised the damage.

“Yeah, I guess so. But at least we build the time machine.”

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THE PROPOSAL

Martin wiped his hands across his pants’ top, leaving the kind of sweaty residue you might expect from your average slug. His breathing was shallow, his heart was palpitating, and his dilated eyes probably made him look high. He was going to ask her.

There was no way she’d say no, but that didn’t make the whole thing any easier. He’d be down on his knee, like some sad parody of a squire waiting to be knighted. And there she’d be with her big green eyes, watering no doubt as she came to an all-encompassing silence.

And the ring. The thing she’d be wearing for all to see. He’d gotten it from the strangest of jewelers. He was a bug-eyed little man who kept looking to the sky and muttering to himself. But who cared? He got it and it was beautiful. She’d love it.

There was his Ashley. She stood radiant in the dull pink glow of the polluted sky, shining through even despite it. She was dressed for the occasion, with that black-and-white polka dot dress that made Martin’s brain turn to mush every time he looked her way. This wouldn’t be easy at all.

She smiled in the way a person does when they’re in on a harmless secret, her knowing eyes scanning Martin’s hand as it awkwardly left the ring box’s pocket. She knew. She always knew. It was one of her many talents. But he’d make a show of it anyway.

Martin took his lady down by the water, and they skipped stones in the exact spot they did on their first date so many late-night summers ago. They were practically babies then, their eagerness matched only by their all-encompassing naïveté. Even so, they were in love. Even then, on that first stone-skipping night. And they both knew it.

Martin snapped back from his reverie, he made a point to be as casual as possible while looking for opportunities to ask. Every time it got quiet and he thought he’d do it, something would happen. Ashley would tell a joke, or a nearby frog would make its sloppy entrance into the water. After a few minutes of this, Martin said fuck it.

“Fuck it.”

He got down on his knee, right then, and looked his lady in the eye.

“I don’t care if you saw this one coming, try to act surprised.”

She started to tear up, even though she told herself that under no circumstances would she do so. But when he pulled out that ring, she just couldn’t help it. Ashley said fuck it.

“Fuck it.”

“Ashley, will you marry me?”

She nodded immediately, falling into a happiness-induced silence the likes of which even Martin didn’t see coming. She proffered her finger to him. He slid the ring onto it.

SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW

Colors Martin didn’t even know existed flew by at breakneck speed. The sounds of what people from the ‘70s thought space sounded like were all around. Synthesizers ascending in pitch, coupled with Pink Floyd-esque guitar work. And here were Martin and Ashley, locking hands in a desperate attempt to not be flung into the multi-colored, space-rock abyss.

A parallax gave way to a gilded nebula, stars whizzed by them and planets fell in and out of sight. They were travelling too damned fast.

The stars turned black, the inky darkness of space turned to a milky white. There was an ocean at their feet, which were in the sky. Nothing made sense and everything was kind of sort of completely weird.

An orb was fast approaching in the distance. Or rather, Martin and Ashley were fast approaching it. Within seconds it was upon them, a massive planet of purple and orange and green and landmasses that jutted out millions of miles into the atmosphere.

The newly-fianced couple entered the atmosphere at incomprehensible speed, their insides feeling as though they were a few miles back and trying to catch up. They landed in the milky sweetness of an alien ocean, warm as it basked in its fourteen suns.

A beam shot them out of the water and onto land, where they faced a creature who sat upon a throne, surrounded by his subjects. They all had the general appearance of a dog mixed with a chimpanzee if said combination had eight eyes. It was compellingly disturbing.

“I AM NIMROD, RULER OF THE SEEN AND UNSEEN DIMENSIONS OF THE ALL-CONTENTS. YOU WILL RETURN THE RING OF POWER YOU PILFERRED FROM ME AT ONCE.”

“…”

Ashley looked at Martin, judging whether he’d be ready to make a break for it or not.

“Hehehe… his name’s Nimrod.”

Nimrod ignored this dig, instead raising what appeared to be a wand, but which looked more like a cute squeaky toy that a puppy might play with. With a flick of the wand, Ashley’s ring came loose on her finger. It started to float away.

Martin was on it in a second, he snatched it out of the air before Nimrod could steal it away. As Martin clutched it in his hand, the ring gave off a jolt of electricity that knocked everyone in the vicinity on their asses.

The kingdom’s subjects raised their own wands, shot off spells at the young couple. It was all Martin could do to keep from getting killed, but he kept them all at bay with the magic of the ring.

He grabbed his lady tight and handed the ring back to her. In a flash she slipped it on her finger and pointed to the sky.

SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW

It all flew past faster this time, the colors and Floydian sounds all one big, great blur.

And then they were there. Back by the water’s edge, hands unbelievably clammy as they remained tightly locked together. Martin turned to Ashley, still out of breath.

“I should’ve just gone to Zales or something, huh?”

“Meh. Wouldn’t have been as fun.”

Martin nodded his agreement. The couple walked off and went about the rest of their day.

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ROOMIE AND BOBO

Roomie made the rounds as was his norm, scooping up scattered dirt and detritus whenever he passed it. He made carefully sure to only read the papers that the facility’s scientists dropped when he was certain there wouldn’t be any prying eyes to notice the apparent sentience of a simple cleaning robot.

Yes, he was sentient. No, he wasn’t evil. Roomie became quite insulted whenever he picked up scattered scenes from movies that were watched in the break room. How insulting it was that the humans always made those movies about evil robotic overlords rising up. You see, Roomie was just a nice guy.

Every day he had the same routine. He’d do his best to scoop up a newspaper, eager to check up on the latest headlines and read the funnies. His favorite was Garfield, but he didn’t know why. Maybe it was for how nonchalant the cat was. If Roomie were being honest, he probably envied him a bit.

He’d then get down to some actual work so as not to attract unwanted attention before making his way to the animal testing section. It was here that he’d meet up with his perennially playful pal, the chimp named Bobo.

They’d sit down in Bobo’s room and Roomie would spit out his garbage to get to the funnies. Bobo didn’t know how to read yet, but he still thought the comics were hilarious. And Roomie was teaching him anyway, so it was nothing to be embarrassed about. Plus, Bobo knew sign language, which was already pretty cool on its own. Bobo would always sign how fed up he was with the humans, how he’d get out of there one day. Roomie never had the heart to contradict him. And then, when they’d inevitably had their fun, Roomie would suck all the garbage back up, allow Bobo to give his customary puckered chimp kiss, and be on his way.

But one day, the routine came to an end.

Roomie zipped over to the animal testing area, excited to deliver the latest comics to his monkey pal. But when he got there, the room was empty. Bobo was gone. Roomie zipped out of the room, checking all the testing areas in the process. He hated when the humans ran their experiments on Bobo, but maybe it was just that. He didn’t have to worry.

But Roomie checked each one, made several vacuum passes on each of their rugs. Finally, he made his way to the place. The place. The one where all the bodies were kept when the humans went too far. The place with the terrible black bags where it always felt empty. Roomie checked each tag, Bobo’s ID number memorized in his memory banks. After a long while of searching, just when Roomie thought he was in the clear, he saw it. Bobo’s number. His friend was gone. After years of cuddling and comics sharing and learning to read, his best buddy in the whole world was dead.

This was it. For years, Roomie put up with the humans. He kept on doing what he was programmed to do, hoping that he could help and that they’d stop hurting the animals some day. But they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t stop, not ever, and Roomie knew it. So he’d have to stop them.

Roomie made his way to the security room. He regurgitated one of his wires through his vacuum and connected to one of the mainframes when the security guard wasn’t watching. With just a notion he unlocked the doors to the rooms of each and every one of the hundreds of animals being tested there. The chimps ran wild, rats scurried out of the place. The humans were incredulous.

Roomie checked the security cameras, made sure all the animals had escaped. When he was sure they had, he overclocked all the computers in the facility and short-circuited the mainframe. He shut down the sprinkler system just before the fires started.

The humans scurried like the rats they once experimented on, desperate for a way out. But Roomie wouldn’t let them go. They killed his Bobo, and they’d have to pay. Roomie locked all the doors down.

Roomie watched the blazing inferno, alone with his thoughts. He resigned to the fact that he’d burn up there. Burn up with his friend and not have to be so lonely without him. The flames were licking at him now. He could feel the smoke as it clogged up his dirt sensors.

And then he heard it.

A screech, or a howl. Some noise the humans couldn’t make. Roomie listened in, and he heard it again. He zipped out of the room, closer to the noise. It got louder as he approached the room with the terrible black bags. And there it was, coming from that bag. But it couldn’t be. Bobo was howling and screeching, squirming around in his bag. Alive.

Roomie slammed into the table Bobo’s bag rested on, knocking it to the ground. The zipper ripped, freeing the little monkey. There he was, sure enough, alive and kicking. Bobo signed to him. “Set them free.” Roomie had no idea why, but he listened to his friend. Maybe it was the happiness of seeing him alive. Maybe it was the guilt he felt, being a decent guy like he was. Either way, he unlocked the doors and let the humans escape as the whole place burned to the ground.

Roomie and Bobo made it out safe, shaken but otherwise unharmed. Bobo explained the whole thing to Roomie. He’d faked his own death in an elaborate plot to finally get out like he’d always wanted to. He was going to sneak Roomie out with him, that is before Roomie made the place a fiery inferno. Roomie took the whole thing in stride, happy to be with his buddy again. He took a second, caught his metaphorical breath, and coughed up the latest funnies for him and Bobo to peruse.

Story by Megan Benbenek

Written by Nicholas Olson

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