Thursday, June 11, 2009

Old Short Story


“What the Dormouse Said”

Peter Morrison and Leon Hendricks were drinking eighty-buck-a-bottle brut champagne in Morrison’s hot tub around midnight when something punched a hole in the sky over Beaverton.

The night was cold, but the heat rising from the water was enough to keep their ears from being nipped by December’s frosty teeth. Morrison was trying to get Hendricks to feed him some insider information on the new microbrewery offering, hoping to get in on the ground floor. Hendricks was still half a bottle away from giving it up. Even over the Grateful Dead playing the Casey Jones cocaine song, they heard a sound kind of like a pencil poking through a sheet of Saran Wrap stretched over a bowl.

A real big pencil and a sheet of Saran Wrap maybe the size of, well, the midnight sky.

Both men looked up.

A bright, actinic, kind of . . . Maxfield Parrish light shined through the hole in the sky . After a second, a giant taloned finger poked through the hole, worried the sky fabric until it ripped a little more. Then a couple more fingers stretched the tear, until a whole hand made it halfway through. The hand, also a golden color, but more like pure, burnished 24-karat gold, pushed, and the sky gave way like soggy cardboard in a big, three-cornered tear. Made a hell of a racket.

Behind the space-time rent, a bald, golden gnome peered through the hole. It had big, purple eyes and an idiot grin. It only took a second for the thing to enlarge the hole enough to leap through.

Morrison figured the gnome must have been at least a couple hundred feet tall, though there wasn’t really anything to judge it against up there.

The golden idiot fell. Before it disappeared from view behind the fir trees in the side yard they could see that it was naked—and most assuredly male.

After a moment, the ground shook. Water sloshed out of the hot tub. Morrison grabbed the champagne bottle and Hendricks quickly moved the CD player so it wouldn’t get soaked. Five or six seconds later, there came a terrible ka-boom! as the sound of the creature landing arrived.

“Now, there’s something you don’t see every day,” Morrison observed.

“Sounded like it must have come down right in the middle of town,” Hendricks said, “judging from how long it took the noise to get here. Eleven hundred feet a second, isn’t it?”

Morrison nodded. “About a mile, I’d guess. More champagne?”

Hendricks extended his glass. “Please.”

“Good champagne,” Hendricks said, after sipping the bubbly.

“Come on, tell me about the microbrewery. You know you want to.”

There was a fair amount of noise, not at all usual for midnight in Beaverton, Oregon. They rolled up the sidewalks at nine and even the Safeway wasn’t open all night. Whitebread Republicans tended to keep it down, usually. But here was all this crunching, explosions, sirens and the like.

“You don’t suppose that had anything to do with Sam Sewall, do you?” Hendricks said. He waved. The hole in the sky was closing up. Another few seconds and you’d never be able to tell it had been there. “You know, that business about him painting his house blue and it turning back to yellow overnight?”

Sewall lived three houses down. Nice fella. Also hated the neighborhood association, which made him aces in Morrison’s book. Morrison took another goodly sip of his own wine. “No, I don’t think so. Sewall’s wife is a witch, and he forgot to ask her if he could paint the place.”

“Ah. Never a good idea to take the missus for granted.”

“Amen.”

Next door, the outside floodlights went on and Mr. Arlo McCartney, fifty and bald as an egg, ran from his house into the back yard, screaming. He wore a red flannel nightshirt.

Morrison raised his eyebrows.

“Perhaps we should go in?” Hendricks ventured.

“And have McCartney see us dangling our naked pendulums in the cold night air? I think not.”

A dinosaur ran out of McCartney’s house, leaning forward tail extended behind it like a rudder, teeth clacking as it snapped its jaws shut. It looked around. Spied McCartney.

McCartney screamed and ducked behind the metal tool shed, then slid in between the shed and the wooden good-neighbor fence.

The dinosaur, about as tall as a pro basketball player—if you didn’t count the tail—scrabbled at the edge of the shed, but couldn’t reach McCartney.

Score one for the bald guy.

“Help! Help! Somebody help!”

“Velocioraptor?” Henderson wondered aloud.

“Nah, T. rex.”

“Awfully small, isn’t it? I thought tyrannosaurs were bigger than that.”

“Well, sure, usually. But look at the shape of the head. And the tiny forelegs, that’s the giveaway. Maybe it’s a dwarf. Or a midget.”

“Ah.”

Frustrated at not being able to get to its prey, the dinosaur bleated. It sounded like a giant sheep.

“Spielberg sure got that part wrong,” Morrison said. He sipped at his champagne.

“Help! Morrison! Call the police! Call the SPCA! Call the goddamned Marines!”

The dinosaur took a deep breath and blew it at McCartney. The breath came out as a burst of bright red-orange flame.

“Urk—!” McCartney began.

Then he was reduced to a burnt out cinder the size of a small toaster. Smoke rose from the little mound of ash. The air was filled with the smell of McDonald’s at noon. You want fries with that Big Mac?

“Looks like both you and Spielberg were wrong,” Hendricks observed. “It’s not a Tyrannosaurus, it’s a dragon.”

The creature turned, looked at the two in the hot tub, shook its head, then went back into McCartney’s house.

“McCartney’s not married, is he?” Hendricks asked.

“No.”

“Well, if it’s not Mrs. McCartney, then it is definitely a dragon.”

“I sit corrected,” Morrison said. He sighed. “But I am getting wrinkled. Maybe we should go inside.”

“Well, let’s finish the bottle first, shall we?”

“You are going to tell me about the stock offering for that beer place?”

“Since you’re twisting my arm, okay.”

“Now you’re talking.” Morrison waved at the CD player. “Put something else on, would you? I don’t want to listen to Jerry and the boys wander around in minor chord-land for thirty minutes.”

“Sure. Stones? Beatles?”

“How about the Jefferson Airplane? That seems appropriate, doesn’t it?”

Hendricks grinned. “It does, doesn’t it?”

“PETER MORRISON!” came a thunderous voice from Heaven.

“That would be . . . God?” Hendricks said.

“Be my guess,” Morrison said. “Hey, God, how’s it going?”

“SAME OLD, SAME OLD. AND YOURSELF?”


“Hey, I can’t complain. Got the tub, my best friend who is going to help me make some money, really good French champagne.”

“MUST BE NICE,” God said. “I WOULD LOVE TO STAY AND VISIT BUT I HAVE TO GO NOW, DEITY’S WORK IS NEVER DONE.”

“Thanks for dropping by,” Morrison said. He raised his glass in a silent toast.

“Been a long time since I talked to God,” Hendricks said. “Back in ‘70, ‘71. Most of the time, I wound up in the bathroom talking to my penis.”

Morrison smiled. “Ah, yes, I’ve had a conversation or two with Mr. Johnson myself.”

“Short conversations, no doubt,” Hendricks said.

“Speak for yourself, pal. Mine weinerschnitzel plumps when he heats up, just like those hot dogs on TV. Gets longer, too. Real long.”

“Do tell. And is this water cold?”

“Internal heat, my man, internal heat.”

Grace Slick’s all-too-wise buttery voice floated from the speakers mounted on the outside wall of Morrison’s house, wrapped itself around the two men like the arms of a lover. Sang of pills that made you change your size. Sang of rabbits. Sang of psychedelic sights and sounds most people never knew. But places that were out there, all the same.

A pterodactyl soared overhead, and the spotlights picked it out. Ack-ack guns fired, hit the flying creature. It spiraled down and left a trail of smoke and flame. Crashed into a house across the street.

“That Richards’ place it hit?”

“So it appears. But—who can say?”

Both men laughed.

“About finished with that wine?”

“Last sip.”

“Here, I’ll get the towels.”

Both men stood. Glanced surreptitiously at each other. Not bad shape for ex-hippies in their late forties, they both figured. All things considered.

As a throbbing orange and green . . . something settled onto the house behind his and melted everything into a swirling widdershins puddle, Morrison said, “You know, I always knew the sixties would come in handy some day.”

Hendricks smiled, raised his hand, and gave Morrison the peace sign.

They went inside.

-30-

(Originally published in F&SF, Vol. 92 , Issue 1, January, 1997.)

5 comments:

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

by an old, tall guy...

Brad said...

Well now, that was weird.

Really weird.

Dave Huss said...

Wow, I was having old Harlan Ellison flashbacks. Read like Ticktockerman. That was so cool, Steve. Please do some more, pretty please!!!!

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, weird R us. Another of the wild hair stories, i.e., one that just sort of fell on me from God knows where, almost of a piece and for which I didn't believe I had a chance of selling it, it was so nutso.

I think it took me one afternoon to write, and revise it.

The writer, Kris Rusch, who was editing F&SF, and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, a writer, who was editing Pulphouse, had kind of shamed me into trying some short stories, which I'd stopped doing. Too much work, most of them weren't very good, and I could get a chapter or two in a book with the same effort, which paid off better.

Here's the note I sent to Kris with the piece:

"Well, there isn't really much I can say about this one. It is certainly the wildest of the wild hair stories I've sent you.

When I was in college, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was required to take ROTC. I didn't see any use for it at the time and couldn't see any use for it in the future being a burgeoning hippie, but I was wrong. Recently I had occasion to write a scene in which a character handles an old M-1 rifle—a weapon I learned about while marching in formation all those years ago during ROTC drill.

Everything is grist for a writer's mill, I just didn't know it then.

This story is kind of like that. The thought came up (while I was sitting in the hot tub), if reality were to suddenly begin breaking down, who would be best equipped to survive it? Here is my answer."

Dan Moran said...

What a fine piece of work. That's really cool.