Part V. The Secret of the Gold Planet

Putting people to sleep, made me sleepy. If I ever had grandchildren, I might tell them what I did with my life. “I went to sleep on the job, putting people to sleep.”

“Why did you do that?” They might ask.

“Because I couldn’t stand being awake.”

There wasn’t a horizon, so our sleep schedules occurred every 40 hours. I dreamed about sleeping. It got so I wondered whether I was asleep or awake. After my shift ended, I went to my bunk. That’s when I heard him. Captain Crewcut was patrolling the ward. He pulled an empty syringe out of his pocket, and injected it at the base of a patient’s brain.

“Perhaps you can tell me the secret of the gold planet,” he said. The stuff coming out was white; it looked like cerebral spinal fluid, so different from the green stuff we injected.

He immediately shot himself in the neck with the white stuff. I nearly puked. His eyes rolled back into his head, leaving two white spots where his pupils used to be.

“Schumann, you should be sleeping,” he said. “You do remember what I told you about following protocol?”

“Yes, but what you’re doing is obscene.”

“That’s only because you don’t understand. This crew never landed because they believed their dreams. Their dreams took over until they couldn’t tell the difference between waking and sleeping. The aliens on the gold planet are like greedy bankers; they have many telepathic safeguards.”

“Well, why steal his brains?”

“Because at least one of them knows the secret of the gold planet. I intend to discover that.”

His eyes were changing. They were going from white to black. Crewcut looked like an alien.

“You’ve got to leave protocol behind, whence you accept escape protocol. Will you be joining me?”

“I think I’ll stay and look after the ship.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. Captain Crewcut jettisoned the vessel and began his descent.

“It’s hot! It’s hot! I’m burning up! Aweeeee!”

“I think I’m going back to sleep,” I said. “All the gold in the universe isn’t better than a good night’s sleep.”

It was better than riches. Sleep had become my religion. I was a devout disciple of dreams. And I slept more soundly that cycle than ever before.

The End

Part IV. Awake

When I woke up, I had experienced 6 months of humiliation. I looked at my peers. They had endured the same. It was Captain Crewcut’s idea of a bad joke.

“What’s that smell?” I asked.

“It’s a nursing home in outer space. What did you expect? These people have been waiting here for 40 years.”

“Why didn’t they go back?”

“That’s a good question, I don’t have the answer to. We’d better suit-up.”

When we got to the ward, nobody was awake. “

As you can see, we keep them comatose—similar to hyper sleep, but with one exception; we have to keep them under with special medication, similar to stem cells.” Captain Crewcut was even more powerful looking in a medical jacket. Anyone who looked at him could tell he liked to play god.

“You insert the needle like so. Follow these charts. If something out of the ordinary happens, come and get me.” He said this like nothing out of the ordinary would happen.

That was it, and he left us. It was difficult to go to work with the view from outside. The gold planet glowed like a volcano. It was like staring at a second sun, but more solid, and so large, it nearly blotted out space.

“You’re telling me, there’s not a single place on that planet to land?” Brandon asked.

“Just look at it though, the eruptions, and the rivers of lava.”

“Somehow, Cortez would’ve found a way. The gas mines were pretty bad; I doubt the gold planet can be any worse.”

I read the charts and gathered up the syringes. “Mr. Covington, It’ll be two doses for you.” When I administered the contents, his body relaxed. He could’ve been 100 years old.

Then a pulse, like a gigantic sun spot shot across the station. Vibration and sound caused my ears to ring and my head to explode. Several of the patients sat up in the toxic black and gold light. Their faces were half-dead, with paralyzed muscles that quivered to speak, but couldn’t.

“What’s going on here?” Captain Crewcut demanded. “My god, you’ve got to give them more medication.” He started inserting the syringes himself, at the base of the skull, not paying attention to dosage.

I wasn’t a medical professional, and obviously, Captain Crewcut wasn’t either. He was panicked, but in no time, all the patients were sedated. It caused me to wonder about the Captain and why he so desperately needed to keep the patients under. It was an answer I was going to get to the bottom of.

Part III. Hyper Sleep

“I heard about this guy who couldn’t get to sleep and was always late to work because he kept sleeping in, so he decided to get himself a hyper sleep station. He set the time for 12 hours, and programmed his dreams. Each day, he woke up happy because he had been lying on a beach with a beautiful babe and getting laid. He became so addicted to his machine, that three-day weekends and holidays were spent sleeping. If he needed to lose weight, he wouldn’t hook up the feeding tubes, and he could lose 15 pounds, no problem. Pretty soon, the idea occurred to him that he enjoyed sleeping so much, why even wake up? People are rude; they don’t do what you want them to do; and getting laid, well that’s easy, but it’s even easier to get an STD. Problem was, he couldn’t afford to sleep. Someone had to pay the power bill, and the stomach-food-packets were expensive. He was a school teacher, so on summer break he rigged his machine so that he might go under for 90 days. Problem was, he punched an extra zero on accident. Three years later, they found him. When he came out of his coma, he couldn’t handle reality. Spending three years on a beach, and then being forced to teach pre-hormonal children will cause anyone to have a psychotic break.”

“That’s some story,” Brandon said. “Is it true?”

“No, but you get the point. Set your hyper sleep station correctly.”

“Okay.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Will said.

“Why not?” Jordan asked.

“Do think Captain Crewcut is going to let us sleep in? It’ll be reveille at 0900. Just be sure to set your dreams right. What are the options?”

“Babe on a beach, that’s a popular one. Counting money, you just won the lottery, that’s a favorite. And Ace of Space, you are the commander of a warship.”

“Babe on a beach, that’s the one for me.”

“Ai ai. Me too.”

“Me three.”

“Getting laid for 6 months. I’ll be ruined for women.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll have three years to recover.”

“Are my space cadets tucked in?” Captain Crewcut asked. That wasn’t his real name; his real one was Swafford, Captain Swafford, but it’s characteristic of menial types not to respect authority.

“When I press this button, you’ll all go under. Sweet dreams,” he laughed. I didn’t like how he said that, and for the next six months I was dreaming that I showed up to school without my pants on. Talk about embarrassing.

Part II. The Sadistic Boss

The universe has a strange way of giving us what we think about, and refusing us what we want. -Intellectual Shaman

“I hope all of you have empathy, because I don’t,” he said. There was a tightness in his face that betrayed his arrogance, although he wasn’t trying to hide it. His crewcut made him taller. He was definitely in command. I think I admired him, immediately; not for his lack of empathy, but for his sense of self. As we go through life, we have to adopt systems of belief about ourselves and other people. Most of these are fairly common, based on societal constructs. For atheists, they resort to politics, and for believers, they defer to a higher power. This man was god. It’s rare to find someone who genuinely believes it. They aren’t trying to be god, or pretending to be someone important; they just are.

“As you may have observed already, this rust bucket isn’t exactly new, or even second hand; they don’t call it the Lazarus for nothing. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘How did I end up here?’ Well, they all think that. I promise you an uncomfortable journey, but a fast one to Planet 59. The next three years will go by like you never lived them, kinda like the person who works the 9 to 5. You’ll stay busy or be shot into outer space. Anybody is free to be free; it just may be hard to breathe.” He laughed like he had said something clever. My peers gaped in horror. There was no HR to bail them out.

The main track around the Lazarus branched off into barracks, bar, gym, and entertainment room. The main problem was the air quality. It smelled like an old movie theater—one couldn’t tell if it was the mildew in the air conditioning or the pee in the seats.

“What are you going to do with your money?” Jordan asked.

“I’ve got a plan to buy a homestead near the outer rim. I’ve nearly got half saved. Given this journey and work, the government will be favorable,” Will said.

“Lot of wildlife out there, reptilian, I think.”

“I’ve got a rifle.”

“What are your plans, Schumann?”

I looked at them. Honestly, I didn’t know. “My business is my business,” I said.

“You don’t have to be a Jerk about it,” Brandon scoffed. He was missing two fingers from his right hand due to birth defects. They all had something wrong with them. I had something wrong with me. I just didn’t know what it was yet, and I didn’t want to find out.

Part I. The Elevator to Outer Space

The elevator gave everyone the sinking feeling of no escape as it reached escape velocity.

“God, will I be glad to leave this rock.”

“And go where?”

“Anywhere, but here—where there’s less methane.”

“What’s the matter, tired of breathing farts all day?”

“What do you think?”

Living on Planet X was worse than living with a parent who smoked; you got so that you breathed it in, and the poison reminded you of home.

I was hired for interplanetary space work, which is a fancy name for saying, low pay, radiation exposure, and no place to go. When you’re 21, and you have ambition, you will do stupid stuff to get ahead, and often it isn’t until later that you realize “getting ahead” was a clever salesman who lied to you. It takes decades to get ahead, and usually this requires one to use their own head and stop worrying about where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Working in gas mines is as bad as it sounds, and a lot worse. Sure, you wear a gas mask, but the stuff seeps into your clothes, gets onto your skin, and permanently effects how you smell. I haven’t had a date in three years. I realize that my plan to work on a space station is not much better than working in the mines, but where else is there to go?

I can’t stand people who say, “Pay your dues.” They’re just as trapped as everybody else, and they don’t know it. Maybe they’re one rung up on the ladder, but they’re on the same ladder. If I was to start a political revolution, it would be the party of “self”—not self-aggrandizement or self-love, but self-emancipation. People can’t escape who they are, and other people treat them according to their self-belief. I was expendable, despite my experience, which left me wondering what I had been doing for the last three years. Obviously, not anything important, despite the boss telling me how valuable I was and what a great job I was doing. If I escaped that, and I wound up in the same situation, I don’t know what I would do. It seemed that people in authority never spoke the truth. It was a secret club of saying one thing and thinking another. They were obsessed with their own importance, yet, they knew they were not important outside of their organization, which meant they had to protect their position. They were at the top, and the ladder was leaning against something I could not put my faith in.

Working with up-and-comers is alright, until they’ve moved on. You start to feel stuck; then you realize they are going places you don’t want to go, and you ask yourself, where am I going? It’s not a pleasant thought, if you don’t know.

I was with another group, two years younger than myself. We were headed to a transport that would take us to Planet 59. We would never touch down; no, our job was to take care of the sick and dying. Forty years ago, a ship was going to land on Planet 59, but it turned out the whole planet was one big volcano. Supposedly, it’s saturated with gold, but you can’t land, or even get close to it without burning up.

So, here I am, trapped on this elevator before we get to the ship. I’m hoping boredom won’t afflict me. Give me a sadistic boss, but don’t make me face the same day over and over again, until I can’t tell one month apart from the next.

To be continued…

Blank Pages

I’ve been trying to close this chapter of my life

for too long

and I can’t finish it

I’m stuck in the boring part

and I can’t skip ahead

Every waking moment is spent thinking about the moment after that

it’s impossible to write, when there is no life to write about

the book never ends

it’s just a bunch of blank pages

and I don’t believe I can write them alone

What is this book, anyway?

It used to be the chapters were planned out

now there is no plan

there is no writer

he doesn’t seem to have enough imagination

to come up with anything real

the plot is dead

the mind wanders

there is nothing to be read

at the end of life.

I can never get a word in…

I prefer to be formless

a nameless expression of nothing

not for a lack of ambition, but for an ambition that knows no lack

I cannot go on

without it

no one understands this nameless thing

some might call it demons

I call them spirits

they talk to me

and I listen

I talk to them

and they keep on talking

I can never get a word in

Maybe there’s not much difference

between the spirit world

and the rest of it.

Monster Glasses

The church was not welcoming, though it offered something the world couldn’t. Why is it that we turn to God, only when we have exhausted every other option? -Intellectual Shaman

I was there to see Father Jacob. The church was almost completely deserted. It caused me to wonder how a building like this stayed open—the heating costs alone. God must support his church because the world didn’t care. Rainbow light shined through the stained-glass windows, giving the sanctuary magical qualities; however, I would never say this to Father Jacob, as magic was a heretical offense 300 years ago, punishable by burning, and they still didn’t smile on it today. No, I had to be careful when I talked to the Father; I couldn’t mention my strange beliefs or my understanding of the universe.

Now I was completely alone, and I started to feel holy while simultaneously getting creeped out. God was there, I suppose, but he felt enormous—definitely more like the Old Testament God, and not the kinder one of the New Testament. I was less than perfect, so I cowered in His presence.

“Can I help you?”

I nearly jumped out of my skin, thinking it was God. “Father, you startled me.”

“I can tell you have something on your mind; otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”

“What about the others, I saw earlier?”

“Oh, they’re here every day, hoping to get their dose of God, but I’m not Him. Now tell me, what troubles you?”

“It’s the dating market.”

“They call it a market these days, huh?”

“Yeah; it’s horrible. I’m not entirely sure what my SMV is; maybe you can tell me.”

“SMV?”

“Sexual Marketplace Value.”

“I’m not sure that I want to know what that is.”

“It has to do with your rating from 1 out of 10. I would give myself a 6, so that means I can only date 4s or 5s.”

“Why only 4s or 5s?”

“Because women only date up. They call it hypergamy.”

“Son, I think you might be overthinking this…”

“I don’t know, Father; it’s a different world out there today.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

“Basically, how can I tell the good ones from the bad ones?”

“Awe, now I understand; a timeless question, and you know what, the church has been able to help young men like yourself for centuries.”

“How?”

“Well, men are primarily visual creatures, so they need a buffer against that. I have a pair of glasses you might like to try on. Just a second; they might be in my office.” He walked away, and left me waiting.

I just stood there; what if the answer to my problem was in the church all along? They didn’t seem hip, but Father Jacob said this was a timeless issue. I’d tried YouTube advice, but I couldn’t reconcile myself to sleep with 300 women in order to find the right one. According to the latest research, almost every woman in America had an STD and was mentally insane, which was definitely something I didn’t want to tangle with. Women are difficult to deal with as it is, but they are a whole different problem to solve when they’ve been damaged, and I didn’t want to be their therapist. The world suggested that a man should stick his appendage into an electric socket to check if there was a charge, and I thought, no thank you.

“Ah, you’re still here,” Father Jacob said.

“Father, I’m not going anywhere, you’re my last stop before Hell.”

“Hush, we don’t say the H word in the halls of God!”

“Sorry Father.”

“Well, as long as you really are sorry. Here are the glasses I told you about.” He handed them to me.

“The last guy who wore them, did so in the 1960s. I guess the free-love movement got him down, and he wanted to be sure the girl he married wasn’t a monster.”

“A monster?”

“Yeah; one of these so-called feminists.”

“Oh, that makes sense.”

Father Jacob fondled the horned-rimmed glasses like a sacred object, like a relic, like something to be cherished and taken care of. “Sorry about the style, it’s a bit out of date.” He dusted off the lenses with his handkerchief and gave them to me.

They were heavy on my face when I put them on, like a burden. The lenses were tinted red.

“The truth weighs heavy on you,” Father Jacob said.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see anything different.”

“That’s because you’re still talking to me. Why don’t you go out on a date, and look at the girl through rose colored glasses?”

“I can’t go out on a date with these. I’ll get rejected before I sit down at the table.”

“You’re probably right. I can alter them. It’s the lenses that matter. What would you like them to look like?”

“James Bond. You know, the sunglasses he wore in Specter.” I didn’t expect him to get the reference, but he smiled.

“I’ll see what I can do. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”

I had a date that evening. She was smokin’ hot. I wish I could’ve looked at her through the glasses, but by the end of the evening, I didn’t need to. We had the same things in common. She told me that she hated feminism—that all of those ideas about equality were hogwash. She was a conservative, and she only watched Fox news.

When I got to church the following day, I was going to tell Father Jacob to keep his glasses.

“I found the one,” I said.

“Really?”

“Yes. She’s perfect. I’m going to marry her.”

“Don’t you think you should court her, for a while?”

“No; it’s like God is talking to me. I’ve been waiting for her my whole life.”

“Well, I guess you don’t want these?” Father Jacob held up the glasses. They were identical to the ones Daniel Craig wore in the latest Bond movie.

“I’ll take ’em,” I said. “Father, I really appreciate this.”

“Don’t mention it, my son; and be sure to wear them on your date.”

“I will.”

And I did.

She was waiting for me at Baskin Robbins, but there was something different about her. As I got closer, she came into focus. Her eyes were red, like a snake’s, and her smile was a sneer. Her skin was covered in scales, and her breath smelled like a thousand rotting corpses. I cannot put words to my revulsion. It was like looking at Hitler or some demon from the underworld.

“I got to go,” I said.

“But Andy, you just got here; what’s wrong?” Her once angelic voice was the sound of Satan. I didn’t look back until I made it back into church.

“Father Jacob, these glasses are something else. I’m so glad you gave them to me.”

“Just remember, they’re on loan until you find a good girl. I know there are a lot of monsters out there, so it might take you a while.”

“Just out of curiosity, what do the women wear?”

“Oh, Sister Sandra takes care of that, but no one has been to see her in some time. These modern women prefer the bad boys anyway, so if they get a monster, it figures into their plan. They want to tame the beast, if you know what I mean?”

“I’ll never understand women,” I said.

Father Jacob smiled. “Why do you think I’m a Father?”

The End

The Smoking Room

The past is a lit cigar, burning low, and billowing into oblivion. -Intellectual Shaman

Smoke rings were rising into the air, forming clouds on the ceiling. It was anyone’s guess what might rain down. The gentlemen were discussing history, and not very well. They typically shared advice on finance, but today they were arguing about the past.

“The CIA shot Kennedy, as sure as shooting!”

“Why would our own government kill its most popular leader?”

“For that very reason—someone who’s popular is difficult to control. When you have the mob on your side, special interests take a back seat.”

“Might I remind you that Kennedy was not that popular. Much of the South wanted him dead.”

“It was Castro, working with Oswald and the Soviets.”

“Speaking of Castro, how did you get these cigars? They’re Cubans, right?”

“Sure, they’re Cubans—more difficult to smuggle than Cocaine.”

“Well, how did you do it?”

“You need to be connected,” the voice said smugly.

“I can’t see the hand in front of my face. Why doesn’t someone open a window?”

“Where is the window?”

There was some shifting furniture. “Ouch!”

“I tripped over your leg!”

“That was a table leg, you idiot!”

“Who put this room in order?”

“If we can’t open a window, I’m going to suffocate.”

“Hold on, what’s this?”

“That window wasn’t there a moment ago.”

“I’m not sure I should open it.”

“If you don’t, I’ll die. My asthma is acting up again.” Whoosh. The smoke twisted like it was caught in a vortex, and the men in the room went out with the smoke.

To be continued…

Sasquatch Teacher

Learning is difficult if you have disabilities, but I found the perfect teacher, and not many are able to find him. -Intellectual Shaman

Middle School is a time when we figure out there is a hierarchy, and I was at the bottom. I had dyslexia, meaning that I had trouble reading; all the words blended together and I couldn’t sound them out. The assistant worked with me, but even she became frustrated. “Andy, focus!” She said. I did, but the words went up and they went down, like a rollercoaster across the page. I just wasn’t a reader, even though I looked at the pictures and imagined what the story could be. My favorite was, Finding Sasquatch. Some had claimed to have seen Sasquatch, but never to have found ‘im. Others were trying to catch the creature in bear traps, but the Sasquatch was smarter than them. It had lived for hundreds of years, like a legend. It wasn’t all that smart, but it had lots of experience. Maybe I was the same as Sasquatch. I couldn’t read, but if I had a hundred years…

After school, I took these long walks through the woods, and the trees would whisper to me, groaning and complaining, the way old things do. I had my favorite spot where I read the Sasquatch book, or should I say, looked at the pictures. A tree with crooked limbs reminded me of Sasquatch, so I started calling it the Sasquatch Tree. I read there for hours, until the woods turned red for a moment, and then the sun went down.

It was in the month of January when the snow had fallen that I saw my first sign of Sasquatch. It was a footprint twice the size of a man’s or I guess it could’ve belonged to an NBA basketball player. I measured it with my ruler. 25 inches. I looked around. The woods were empty. I told my parents about Sasquatch, and they told me to stop reading that book, but I couldn’t. I believed in him. So, as the winter months turned into spring, I kept my eyes open. I was last in my 7th grade class, and they told me I would have to repeat a grade.

I went to the woods to clear my mind. Middle School was a time I wanted to pass through, but it looked as if I might get stuck. The sun was cutting through the dark trees like a magical flashlight when I saw its outline for the first time. It was big. It was hairy. It was smiling.

“Hi,” I said.

“Ughhhh, hoogha, hello,” it said.

“So, you’re Sasquatch?”

“Yes,” it said shyly.

“And no one has found you before?”

It shook his head. “Been found many times. Just prefer privacy. Make people promise not to say anything about me.”

“How do you know they’ll keep their mouths shut?”

“I just know, from years of experience. Watcha got there?”

“A book, on you, I guess.”

“Oh, on me? Let’s have a look see…”

He walked over. The Sasquatch was at least 10 feet tall. When he got closer, I was surprised I wasn’t afraid. He reminded me of a lovable carpet.

“Oh, these pictures not look like me.” He traced his black finger across the shape. “What does it say?”

“I can’t read,” I said.

“But you’re in middle school?”

“I know, I have a disability.”

“Oh, I had many disabilities. It took me some time to learn how to read.”

“You can read?”

“Yes; it took over a hundred years. Benjamin Franklin taught me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah; maybe I can teach you how to read. I’ve had lots of practice learning because I’m slow.”

That spring Sasquatch helped me learn how to read. I made so much improvement, so quickly, that I was told I could graduate to 8th grade. My teacher did end up retiring though, and there was a vacancy.

“I know someone who is a really good special education teacher,” I said.

“Who?” The principal asked.

“He’s the one who taught me how to read.”

“Well, tell him to come in for an interview.”

I talked to Ben about it. That’s right, Benjamin Franklin named him Ben, after himself. The Sasquatch thought long and hard. He twisted the brown hair under his chin in thought, and when he made up his mind, he rose to his feet.

“Okay,” he smiled.

“There’s just one problem,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“You’re a Sasquatch; they won’t let you into school.”

“Oh, well maybe this won’t work then,” he said.

“You know what, I have an idea. Renton School District is an equal opportunity employer that doesn’t discriminate against race or religion. You are a Sasquatch, so maybe that counts as a race, and you know what?”

“What?”

“You could dress in religious garb that would totally cover you at all times. Then you would meet both statutes, and remain completely hidden from teachers and students.”

“That might work,” Ben said.

Next year, Ben was the best special education teacher the district ever had. The female teachers wanted to know what he looked like. He was 10 feet tall, and a guy above 6 feet is attractive, but Ben was very religious. He refused to take-off his garb.

“I know you’re religious, but it’s picture day,” the photographer said.

“Pictures are against my religion; they steal my spirit,” Ben replied.

He was the invisible man, even though he was enormous. The janitor complained about his hair in the urinal.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Who has pubic hair a foot-and-a-half long? Seriously, someone needs to manscape!”

The End