The Last Science Fiction Story
“It’s blood,” I mutter, picking at the sticky, silvery mass on my forearm. I look up and stare at the bald, stocky man sitting behind the gunmetal table, but I can’t read his round face or dark eyes. I know he thinks I’m nuts.
“Sheriff Johnson, I didn’t kill anything…human,” I say. “I didn’t break any laws. You have to believe me.”
“Sure, I do,” he replies, tapping and scrawling notes on his pad.
How long since George died? Two hours? Three?
I can’t stop sweating. Makes me look guilty, but it’s so damned hot. Been a sweltering heat wave since dawn, and to add insult to injury, the window AC is blowing warm, stale air, and a dusty box fan is rattling uselessly behind me.
The sheriff touches the corner of his pad and a reedy voice announces, “Recording.”
“Interview on July 12. Sheriff Michael Johnson, Cortland County, conducting. Deputy James Gilmour, assisting.”
Johnson mops his brow with a camouflage-patterned bandana.
The deputy is also sweating and even more tired looking, leaning against the closed door. His dour expression matches the sheriff’s.
I suppose no one can be in good spirits on such a hot day.
“Time is 4:15. Stephen Donald of 221 Campbell Road, Cortland, received Miranda and waved counsel. State your name, that you asked to describe a murder you allegedly committed at about one o’clock today, and that you understand your rights.”
Johnson holds the pad towards me.
I lean forward and comply, shouting my conclusion, “It was self-defense!”
My mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. “May I have some water?”
“I’m good, Jim.” Johnson nods at the deputy, who leaves quickly, seemingly eager for any reason to escape the hot, confining room.
“Until now, my life’s been…well…boring,” I say. “Then Dad died and George showed up in the front yard…”
“This ‘George’ is the person you say you killed?”
I watch dust motes dance in the naked, fluorescent glow of the ceiling lights. Sweat runs down from the small of my back.
“Yeah. ‘Person.’ Your word, not mine.”
“I was a bank teller ’til two months ago.”
Gilmour returns with a plastic cup filled with lukewarm water and one rapidly vanishing ice cube. I down most of the water in two large gulps, watching the deputy try to torment me by opening slowly a cold can of soda that drips with condensation.
Nice. You bastard.
“Everything changed,” I say, wiping my forearm across my mouth, dismissing the deputy with a piercing glance, “when Dad died. I’m Manfred Donald’s son. Quit my job and came here from L.A. to bury him and sell his farm. Already sold the cows. The farm and equipment close next month. Then, back to L.A. I guess.”
“Sorry for your loss. Manny was…interesting,” Johnson says.
“Never knew him,” I reply. “My parents divorced when I was one. It was pretty bad. Mom, my older brother, and I moved in with my aunt in L.A. We never stayed in touch with Dad. Actually, I was born on his farm here, but grew up off Santa Monica Boulevard. I guess his death was the kick I’ve been needing to get out of L.A.
“So…I’ve been working on my science fiction novel for, like, eleven years. After Dad’s funeral, I decided to write full time. Funny thing, but his death made me think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Long odds making a living writing, especially science fiction, but I fell in love with it when I started reading my brother’s books, dreaming about all those fantastic worlds and weird-looking creatures.
“And I read everything I could: Asimov, Pohl, Herbert, Clarke. All the greats. They helped me escape my Mom’s ranting and her wacko boyfriends. We were always fighting–”
“What’s this got to do with killing George?” Johnson interrupts, teeth clenched, a hard tone infusing each word. He loosens his tie and drags his bandana across his brow.
“Look. Gotta tell it my way,” I reply, matching his tone, “or I can’t get through this. You need my backstory. You’ll see that I had no choice but to defend myself.”
“Not seeing anything so far.”
“I started Alien Odyssey when I was sixteen,” I say, ignoring the sheriff’s stare. “Filled dozens of notepads coming up with new ideas and characters all the time. Must’ve written two-hundred pages in pencil before my Mom decided I was serious and gave me her old laptop to use. It was wicked-intense typing up everything I’d written and all the new stuff, but it was the only way.
“I got through the long nights dreaming about skipping college, getting a Nebula or Hugo Award, doing book signings. I wanted so badly to be a science fiction author. I could taste it. Can’t imagine writing anything else.”
Johnson glances at his watch.
I wipe my brow.
“Talk about being wasted when I typed ‘The End’ on page four-hundred-six! But I stayed up all night printing it on my Mom’s laser printer, then mailed it the next day to the biggest publisher in New York City.
“Took months to get a response. Then hours more before I found the courage to open the envelope. No check or contract. Just a short letter that began: ‘Dear, Mr. Stephen.’ Damn it, Sheriff, they rejected me and didn’t even get my name right!”
I breathe deeply, trying to regain my composure.
“They said my novel didn’t…” I punctuate the next words with air quotes, “‘meet their expectations’ and I should ‘revise it and submit it to a publisher specializing in sci-fi.’
“Come on! Star Trek and Star Wars were sci-fi. Great effects, but it’s not real science fiction. Just eye candy and clichés. The imagining part was pretty much gone and where’s the science? Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Matrix had cool ideas, and it was great going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, but real science fiction is serious stuff. Rod Sterling once said, it’s ‘the improbable made possible.’”
“Hey, isn’t he the guy from that Twilight Zone show back in the ’60s?” Gilmour asks, his inquisitive expression seemingly genuine.
Johnson grunts and rolls his eyes. “Stephen, get back to today.”
“Want to know what pissed me off the most, Sheriff? The publisher sent back the first three pages all marked up. Red cross-outs, squiggles, backwards letter ‘P’s. They didn’t just reject my novel. They slaughtered it!
“Hey, I thought my novel was perfect. Who’d mark up the statue of David with red paint? Make his biceps larger? Put on pants? That’d be sacrilegious.”
Johnson reaches inside his shoulder holster. I yelp involuntarily and slide down the chair, trying to become a smaller target. He pulls out a cigarette pack and lighter, offering me a smoke. I stare at his outstretched hand, not comprehending at first, then slowly shake my head.
“I thought you were going to shoot me.”
“Day’s not over yet,” he says, lighting up and drawing deeply on the cigarette. He angles his head up and exhales. I sit up, coughing as the smoke drifts around me. I decide not to add “a complaint about his smoking” to my current list of problems.
“Guess it took me a while to realize my novel really did need some work,” I continue. “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten it. I’ve sent it to a ton of publishers and agents. Hey, you know, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance got rejected like over a hundred times before it sold, but I’m not that patient.
“Then George shows up at the farm today, and I knew I had to kill him. I’d never be a science fiction author if he lived.”
Johnson stops looking past my shoulder at the wall behind me and stares into my eyes. I finally have his attention.
“I was rewriting chapter ten,” I continue, “where Jason, my protagonist, lasers an insectoid alien horde, but I couldn’t concentrate with Hunter’s crazy barking and whining. Hunter was my Dad’s Golden Lab. Mine now, I guess.
“So, I go to the porch and guess what I saw?”
“What?” Johnson grunts, bending his pad stylus on the table.
“A real, live alien!” I shout, moving my outstretched hands above my head. “It started moving closer with Hunter circling and barking, then Hunter suddenly dropped and started wagging his tail in the grass.
“The alien was about five feet tall, and at it looked like a gray, stubby bundle of moldy asparagus. Three eye-stalks on top. Three knobby tentacles from its mid-section—two for its legs and one long arm with thin, wispy fingers at the end.
“About a hundred feet behind it hovered this weird, silvery sphere, covered in a soft, blue glow. You could smell the ozone. The sphere floated silently a few feet off the ground and probably was, maybe, fifty feet across.
“The tension in my muscles evaporated slowly. ‘Who you? What you?’ I finally croaked. I couldn’t believe I forgot the verbs. My hands were trembling, but I couldn’t command my legs to run. I was paralyzed.
“‘I am George Jetson,’ came the reply in a familiar nasally tone, seemingly from everywhere or maybe it was just in my head. ‘I work for Spacely Space Sprockets. I need your help with the button I push in my office.’
“If that weren’t strange enough, I felt calmer the more I listened. Started thinking of it as a ‘he,’ too, but there was no obvious way to tell.
“My thoughts were floundering, trying to make the connection, then it hit me. The old Jetsons TV cartoon, of course! I imagined there were alien Jane-, Judy-, Elroy-, and Astro-vegetables in the sphere. It was so absurd; I couldn’t even force myself to laugh.
“Look, guys, I’m not crazy. It’s all true. No! Don’t stop recording. Let me finish and I’ll show you the body, so you’ll have to believe me.”
Johnson beckons at the mirror behind him and I stare for a moment at my reflection. Drawn, sunken face. Stringy hair. God, I look awful. I rub my eyes and struggle to remember the insane events of a couple hours ago.
“George waved his fore-tentacle at me and said, ‘I hope my voice makes you feel comfortable. I have a proposal for you.’
“Wish I had a pad then, Sheriff,” I say. “George said lots of crazy stuff, like his home world was called Anaxathane, and he refined his English while orbiting Earth, studying for months the radio and TV signals we send off into space. He also said we were the first race they’d encountered who polluted space—broken satellites, probes littering Mars, electromagnetic radiation, that kind of stuff.”
Gilmour steps aside as another deputy opens the door and walks in. Johnson doesn’t bother with introductions, but at least the open door helps vent some of the heat.
“Because The Jetsons signals were stronger compared to others they received, their scientists believed it was an important story we wanted to share. Seems they were quite upset when they discovered it was just a ‘cartoon.’ Guess they don’t have entertainment programs on Anaxathane.
“Look, Sheriff, I was chatting with an alien asparagus like it’s something I do every day. I know what’s fiction and what’s reality. It wasn’t making any sense to me. I should have been terrified, but I wasn’t.
“Then George said the craziest thing. He’d come to Earth to survey it for—get this—resorts! You know, hotels, spas, pools, restaurants. George wanted my Dad’s thousand-acre farm to build an effing alien resort. It was his people’s way to always negotiate directly first.
“Seems the ’Thanes acquired Earth and Mars in some sort of interstellar real estate swap. They gave up a bunch of big gas planets somewhere for the rights to build thousands of resorts here for themselves and other aliens. I told him Earth didn’t have any room for aliens, what with almost eight-billion humans already here.
“George blinked his eyestalks, but said nothing. We stared at each other for a long moment. I could hear the wind and my breathing, but I don’t think George breathed at all. In fact, I remember thinking that he redefined the meaning of ‘still life.’
“‘I’m dry and cold,’ George said, finally breaking the silence. ‘Water, please.’
“I was about to ask why he felt cold on such a hot day, but Hunter bounded up the porch steps and began sniffing around the alien’s foot-tentacles.
“George had to be using some tech on us or maybe telepathy. I felt completely relaxed, talking to an E.T. on my porch, like he and I were best friends.
“I went inside to get the water and, the closer I got to the kitchen sink, the more nervous I became. As I filled the pitcher, the enormity of the situation overwhelmed me. Panic. Fear. The whole nine yards. I grabbed the counter edge as the words ‘There’s an alien on my porch!’ sounded inside my brain like ping pong balls rebounding in a steel bucket.”
I drew a deep breath.
“George was an alien who wanted to build resorts, for God’s sake!”
I wave my hands around in frustration.
“But that’s not why I killed George. Didn’t really care if he built resorts, harvested pineapples, or opened E.T. sushi bars. I was terrified because there was a real alien here on Earth.”
I swung my hands about, again, knocking my cup off the table, water drops spraying in a long arc.
Johnson rolls his eyes. “Get this one, Mallory.” The second deputy smirks as he leaves the room.
“Yeah, sounds crazy, but you weren’t there, Mallory,” I say. “Look, Sheriff, George wasn’t trying to laser me or suck my brains out. Would that have been more ‘self-defense’ for you? I was afraid, okay? I knew real science fiction was done for, and it was game over for me.”
The look on the sheriff’s face proves he doesn’t get it. I sigh, exhaling slowly.
“Aliens are real. UFOs are real. It’s all real! Alien cultures and amazing
technologies are gonna be science fact. Where does that leave science fiction? Or me? I don’t want to write romance novels or do restaurant reviews.”
My emotions well up.
“The Spiral Galaxy Resort orbiting the third moon of Rigel 12 has a six-supernova restaurant,” I intone. “Unparalleled recipes and phenomenal service, with a kid alien-friendly menu. Screw that!
“So, who’ll buy science fiction stories, go to conventions, or even watch sci-fi shows with something like that around? The real thing will be better than any novel or Hollywood special-effects movie.
“No need dreaming about distant worlds and aliens. Or asking the big, what-if questions about what it all means for the human condition. Just ask an asparagus-head to loan us his Encyclopedia Galactica and learn about everything instantly.
“We won’t have to think any more about space travel. It’ll all be everyday stuff, like catching a cab or flying in a plane. Illegal alien will really mean something else. And UFOs won’t be unidentified anymore, not with their alien crews dining at Applebee’s and drinking espressos at Starbucks.
“We’ll witness great intergalactic battles, read news stories about starship fleets exploring the universe, encounter incredible technologies that are indistinguishable from magic.
“The stories of Niven, Sawyer, Simmons, and Baxter will come to life right before our eyes.
“But what about me? I’ve wanted to be a science fiction author since I was old enough to say ‘Aldebaran.’ No freaking way any alien was going to take it all away from me!”
Mallory returns and I take the offered cup, sipping the tepid water.
The sheriff and deputies still seem uncomfortable, even after removing their ties and rolling up their sleeves. The sweat patches around their armpits are the size of cantaloupes.
“Don’t remember thinking about it,” I say. “I just knew I had to kill George. I had hoped I’d frighten the rest of the asparagus-heads to go back to their freaking Anaxathane.
“Besides, nothing had really changed if I was the only one who knew about them. Right? George told me I was his first human contact. My plan was so simple.
“I grabbed my shovel from the back porch. As I got closer to George, that serene feeling washed over me again. I knew it! Hypnosis or pheromones or something. Probably some evolutionary trick to subdue their prey when hunting.
“George’s tentacle-fingers grabbed the pitcher from me and upended it over his eye-stalks. The water soaked right into his skin. I stared, totally amazed. Not a drop hit the porch.
“His eyestalks focused on the shovel in my hand and I tensed my muscles. My mind raced for an explanation, fighting the tranquil feeling.
“‘Have to bury Hunter’s crap that’s on the walkway,’ I say haltingly, half-nodding at the pile the dog had left. I slowly turned away from George, took a step down, turned and swung the shovel hard, hitting right above where his leg-tentacles attached to his body.
“You should have seen it! Cut him right in half. Felt like slicing mushy bread. I spun around completely, the shovel flying off into the yard. Almost no resistance at all. A popping sound, then sticky, silvery goo—his blood—sprayed everywhere, especially on me.”
I point at the silvery globs on my shirt and hair.
“His eyes blinked up at me from the pile of mush that was once his top. I thought his expression conveyed surprise, but who knows?
“My pulse raced in my ears. Time seemed to slow as I watched his bottom half spray more goo; then the body twitched violently and slumped on its side. That’s when I dropped to my knees and puked. I was so skeeved out.”
I drag my forearm across my brow. “Yes, I killed him. George didn’t shout or cry. Can’t expect aliens to act like real people, can we?”
Johnson and his deputies stare at me for a few seconds, and then look at each other. I look down at the table.
“Hunter’s barking at the sphere brought me around,” I say. “Just in time to see the ship vanish into the atmosphere. I gave up looking for it and got some trash bags to put George in. He was starting to decompose already and he stunk something awful. Worse than any skunk roadkill.
“After tying the bags, the smell vanished, like it never was. I stood there, closed my eyes, and then I’m standing in the lobby, yelling at Deputy Gilmour about what happened to me. Bet that was George’s revenge: hypnotizing me to turn myself in.”
I spread my arms out, palms up.
“I had to kill him. He was going to ruin it all for me. I am going to be a science fiction author and no effing alien is going to stop me.”
I slump back in my chair, exhausted, sweaty, and thirsty.
“Sheriff,” Mallory says, moving away from the wall, “except for his sci-fi crap–”
“It’s not science fiction!” I shout.
“…sci-fi crap, it sure sounds like what Sarah Collins just called about a couple of minutes ago.”
“What?” Johnson asks, turning to face the deputy.
“Yeah,” Mallory continues. “I got her call when I came on shift. I knew she was really upset because of how she said it. She told me in calm tones she was having afternoon tea with a large, talking, purple carrot and could we come over and kill it. Can you believe that? I figure I’ll go over and see what’s up.”
Johnson taps the pad to stop the recording, then stands up. “Son of a bitch!” he exclaims, exhaling sharply. “First, the heat. Then, the AC goes AWOL. Now all this Roswell-crap insanity…
“Gilmour, put Stephen downstairs in the cage with the guy who claims he chopped up a talking, blue tomato this morning.”
The deputy moves behind me, unhooking the handcuffs on his belt.
“It was self-defense!”
I rise in protest, but Gilmour puts one hand on my shoulder, pushing me down, and the other on his nightstick.
“There are really more of them?” I whisper. My body shakes. My voice grows to a shout. “Oh my God, it’s not fair. Not fair!”
I slam my fist on the table, drop my chin, and choke back a sob.
“I’ll call the state barracks and get some backup to help and to watch the town, boys,” Johnson says. “We don’t need any hot-headed heroes tonight. Dammit, this means the Feds are gonna stick their noses in this mess. Mallory, get the shotguns anyway and let’s go check on Mrs. Collins.”
Looking down at me as I peer up through teary eyes, Johnson says, “I think it’s all crap, Stephen, and you’re full of it, too. You better pray to Heaven it’s just this damned heat wave messing with our heads. Otherwise, you and the ‘dice-em-up cowboy’ downstairs are why we get invaded by hordes of pissed-off aliens tonight. Or probably worse: Why we’ll soon be up to our armpits in shuffleboard-playing vegetables.
“Either way, folks won’t take kindly to aliens messing with us. It’s going to get a whole lot hotter before morning.”
© 2020, Alan Vincent Michaels