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October 03, 2022

Storytellers

By Jeffrey Carl Jefferis

"Tim? Is that you? Come on in."

"Mikey?"

"Back here. I'm in my room."

"Hey, Mikey."

"You ok, buddy? You look weird."

"I have to tell you something. You're never gonna believe this."

"Never? That's a bold call."

"Where's Noah at? He needs to hear this too."

"Don't know. I've been sitting in here all day."

"What? Why?"

"Working on something."

"Your resumé?"

"Right, good one. No, working on a story."

"A story? What are you talking about?"

"A story. I'm writing a story."

"But you're not a writer."

"Well, I am now." "No, you're an unemployed administrative assistant who is writing words on a piece of paper."

"Thanks, buddy. Real supportive."

"Ok, fine. Whatever. Tell me the story. What's it about?" "Nice. Well, here it is. I was watching a Twilight Zone marathon yesterday for like twelve hours."

"Yesterday being a Tuesday."

"Yes, yesterday being a Tuesday. I'm a loser. I get it. Shut up. Most of those shows were made in the fifties and sixties, so there are a bunch of plot lines with slightly predictable twists based on space travel and the atomic bomb. So, I was lying in bed this morning . . ."

"This morning?"

"Fine. It was noon. Shut up. And I think I found an angle that all those episodes missed, at least the ones I saw."

"Oh, boy. Here we go."

"The story is about a space station, like the ones we have now, not some distant future thing. And there are like five to ten people docking there on a routine mission. Then, a few days in, everything is going smoothly, until suddenly there is no radio contact. None. All systems seem to be working fine, but they can't get anything. It's like mission control disappeared. Soon after that, they finally see it. Mushroom clouds, hundreds of them, thousands, all over the Earth."

"Can you see that kind of thing from space?"

"Of course. Sure. Why not? Hell, I don't know. But they do. Shut up. So the crew puts the pieces together, and they finally realize that they are somewhat trapped. They don't know if they can get back on their own. They don't know if it will be safe to go home. If the nuclear fallout would kill them. If the United States had been destroyed and their enemies would kill them. If anyone in the world had even survived the explosions."

"This sounds familiar, to be honest."

"Well, I'm sure it's been done on some level. With people getting trapped somewhere and war breaking out. But, whatever. I think it's intriguing. The notion of seven or eight people trapped in orbit with supplies that will last them for only six months or a year. The breakdown of humanity and all that. Plus, there are going to be at least two female characters. The rest dudes. So, you know that will be some conflict."

"Yeah, that sounds pretty familiar too."

"That's why I already have one twist in mind. Check this out. One girl, due to the stress and confined quarters and weirdness of being in space, becomes a schizophrenic. She, as herself, becomes romantically involved with a guy crew member. But, her other personality is that of a gay man, and that personality is attracted to a different guy crew member."

"That sounds in no way familiar."

"Exactly. So, both guys start hooking up with the girl because, well, they're trapped in space with no options and sex is sex. But one guy struggles with having to share the girl. And the second guy struggles with the fact that the girl he's having sex with is assuming the personality of a man while they are having sex. Saying creepy things like, "You make me so hard," and calling himself Steve."

"Ok, now you're definitely losing me."

"No, don't you see? That's just one part of it! And then as they start running out of supplies, human nature takes over and civility just crumbles. I think that would be the scariest part of a disaster situation, society breaking down, law of the jungle sort of stuff. So, it would be like an erotic Lord of the Flies in space with an apocalyptic twist."

"An erotic Lord of the Flies in space with an apocalyptic twist? Wow. Working on the resumé is clearly a waste of your time."

"I know, right?"

"So, how much have you written so far?"

"Well, umm, nothing. I've been working on this doodle of what the space ship could look like."

"Of course."

"You have a title?"

"Yup."

"Ok, let's hear it."

"Deserted Space Island of Death."

"Beautiful. Ok, my turn. I really have to tell you something. Listen to this . . ."

"Wo, hold on a sec. My cell is vibrating. Just . . . a . . . sec. It's Noah."

"Good. Put it on speaker. He needs to hear this too."

"Noah, buddy? Where are you?"

"Mikey? Oh, thank God. Mikey, I'm in trouble. Where's Tim?"

"I'm sitting right here, Noah. What's wrong?"

"Yes. Ahh, man. That's great news. I need you both right now. Right now!"

"Right now? Where? Why?"

"Mikey, I'm down at the Smiley Café. You know the place, right?"

"Yeah, sure I do."

"Well, I need you and Tim to get your asses down here immediately."

"What's that sound?"

"That's a flushing toilet. I'm calling from the men's room."

"What is going on, buddy?"

"Look, I'm on a date."

"With Debbie?"

"Yeah, Mikey, with Debbie."

"You've been after her for years."

"I know this, Mikey. How would I not know that? Now look, I'm in trouble. There is a guy waiting for me out in the parking lot."

"Waiting for you?"

"Yeah, Tim. You know, waiting for me? As in he wants to kick the shit out of me? He's been out there for an hour. I've already had three cups of coffee with Debbie, after our lunch. I don't think I can stall anymore."

"That's it? That's the big emergency?"

"Yeah, Tim. That's the big emergency. I need you guys."

"Noah, buddy, I don't understand . . ."

"Look, guys. Fine. Here's the thing. The guy is . . . he's sixteen-years-old."

"What!?"

"Ha! That is hilarious!"

"Shut up! Just shut up! It is not hilarious. I'm a thirty-five-year-old man on a first date on a Wednesday afternoon, and there is a teenager waiting outside to kick the shit out of me."

"So? Go out there, give him a wedgie, and get on with your date."

"Yeah, buddy. How's Debbie look? She wearing something low-cut?"

"Dickheads! You're not hearing me. I can't fight the kid."

"Why not? How big is he?"

"Well, actually, he's a little guy. Short I mean. Really short. That's what started all this. I bumped into him and he gave me a little shove. When I turned and looked down at him, I chuckled a bit. He was just so short. And he knew it and just went off. He started screaming and yelling. His face turned red. The manager made him leave. But he told me he would be waiting for me outside. I played it cool, obviously, but my insides were freaking out. They still are."

"Noah, buddy. I'm still lost. A short teenager is waiting outside for you? Get over it. Who cares?"

"Mikey, he's a wrestler. I saw the patch on his letterman's jacket. And he may be short, but he looks strong. He is stocky and built. And what am I? A 6'0" tall, muscle-less sack of crap who doesn't know how to wrestle or fight. Guys, come on. I am almost a middle-aged man. I can't, I just cannot get beaten up by a high school kid while I'm on a date. I just freaking can't!"

"Noah, I think you're over-reacting."

"Am I!? Am I really, Tim!?"

"Umm, yes. Yes, you are."

"Really? You remember the kids who wrestled when we were in high school. They know stuff, you know? They are trained. They have moves. I'm an orthodontist. I have a practice here in town. I have no moves. And I can't risk ending up in a public parking lot in some sort of choke hold with a sixteen-year-old-kid making me say things like, "I'm your bitch," or "I'm a little girl," just to get him to stop. Think about it. Really think about it! It's ridiculous!"

"Yeah, that would be pretty funny."

"Funny? Funny, Mikey? Screw you. And besides, what happens if I manage to somehow win the fight? I'm gonna beat up a high school kid? That's what I'm gonna be known for? I'd get arrested. This is just awful. I need you guys. Get your asses down here."

"He's still out there you know. We're gonna have to go out sooner or later."

"Who was that?"

"Shhh. That was Debbie. She's getting impatient."

"You know what, forget it, Noah. I'm calling my sister. She'll give me a ride home. You can hide here all night for all I care."

"Guys. Get . . . down . . . here . . . now!"

"Noah? Noah? Hello?"

"He hung up, buddy."

"Well, Mikey, what do you think?"

"What do I think? It isn't obvious? I think . . . that is the funniest freaking thing I've ever heard! It's brilliant!"

"Ha! Yeah, you're right. It is. But, we're gonna go down there, right? You know where Noah is?"

"Yes, I do. And no, we're not. I'm not, at least."

"What?"

"He'll get out of it, somehow. And, so what if he doesn't? What if he ends up in a chokehold in a public parking lot in the middle of the day? That would be even funnier."

"Well, yeah. You have a point."

"Besides, what are we gonna do? Bully a high school kid?"

"Hell, he could probably take all three of us. The only thing worse than a thirty-five-year-old man getting beat up by a kid would be three thirty-five-year-old men getting beat up by a kid."

"Exactly. So, what's up? Looks like Noah is gonna be tied up for awhile. What's the news?"

"Oh, right. Well, it's not really news. It's just, uh, creepy. It's about my folks."

"Nancy and Buck? I love your folks. They ok?"

"Yeah, umm, they are. They're healthy, yes. It's not about that. It's about their, umm, past."

"Oh, really? Wow, this might be more interesting than I expected."

"You could definitely say that. All right, just listen. This is kind of hard to explain."

"Nice. I can't wait to hear it now."

"Mikey, you know how my parents are older, right? I mean older than your parents, Noah's parents, most parents of people our age."

"Definitely. They're pushing, what, eighty now?"

"Yeah, that's close enough. So, I was just over at their house, talking to my mom in the kitchen. She was getting on me again about being in my thirties and still single. She's always nagging me about that."

"I hear you. That's why I'm glad my folks are dead. I couldn't take that."

"Wow. Ok, anyway, so she starts suggesting things. On-line dating, taking a cooking class, going to church. I got annoyed, as always, and said I wouldn't do any of those things. That I would meet someone when I met someone. And I brought up the fact that her and dad didn't get married till they were our age. So I asked how they met. It occurred to me I had never heard that story."

"I can't see your dad in church or cooking. And I bet he still doesn't know what the Internet is."

"So Mom starts telling me the story. It's simple enough. She bumped into him on the street. He looked dashing, her words not mine. He was nervous and awkward. She found it cute. He asked her to get a cup of coffee. And that was that."

"Wow, Timbo. Great story. It puts 'Deserted Space Island of Death' to shame."

"Well, that's true, actually. But that's not the story. Not all of it. Before I left to come over here, I stopped in the backyard to said good-bye to Dad. He was sitting on the porch looking at birds. His favorite hobby these days. We chatted a bit. He asked what mom and I were talking about. I told him, you know, about how they met. But, for some reason, I asked him how he remembered it. Just to see. I'm not sure if I sensed something subconsciously, or what. But I was suddenly curious."

"Now you're back to interesting. What happened? Your mom was a schizo? What was her other personality? It wasn't a gay guy was it? I was counting on that to be original."

"No. And stop talking. Just listen. My dad starts telling the story, occasionally distracted by a bird flying by and clumsily trying to look it up in his reference book. And, again, it sounds good enough. It sounds about right. But, something was off. He said he had just left work, from a hardware store. My mom said he was wearing a suit. He said they went for a drink. My mom said they went for coffee. He said he was with his friends and that mom was with her friends. Mom said they were alone."

"So, what? That was forty years ago. Did your mom forget? Is your dad is senile?"

"No. Well, maybe, with Dad at least. But, something hit me. I knew that my dad had actually worked at a hardware store when he was just out of high school. That was true. So, I asked him. I asked him how old he was when he met mom. He said that he was twenty years old. Maybe twenty-one. He kept talking, but I ran back inside the house into the kitchen, and I asked Mom how old she was when she met dad. She said twenty-eight. Definitely twenty-eight. And she knew that specifically because it was the day after her twenty-eighth birthday."

"So, your mom's older than your dad. Big freaking deal. Actually, your mom looks pretty amazing for her age, in that case."

"No, no, no! You're missing the point, Mikey. My dad is a year older than my mom."

"You lost me."

"Mikey, ok, here's the thing. I called my dad in from the backyard. It took some nagging, but he finally came inside. And I explained to them what each had just told me. I asked them to explain the discrepancies in their stories, particularly the age thing. Mikey, you're not going to believe this. I didn't. Not sure if I do even now."

"For the first time, I am sincerely listening."

"My dad was telling the truth."

"Wow!"

"And my mom was telling the truth."

"Wow! Wait, what?"

"They had never told me. They had kept it secret for so long."

"You're killing me here."

"My mom and dad met when they were in their early twenties, their very early twenties. They hit it off immediately, just as my dad had said. And they dated for almost a year. But then, something happened. Something neither of them would admit to fully. Somebody had done something with somebody else, that's all I know. And my parents got into a terrible, terrible fight. Neither would tell me the details. Neither seemed to want to remember the details. Whatever happened, it ended horribly. Led by her father, my freaking grandpa, my mom accused my dad of raping her. And my dad, out of bitterness, accused my mom of assault and attempted murder."

"This is unbelievable!"

"No shit, asshole! That's what I've been trying to tell you. And it gets better, or creepier, whatever. Get this, they were both convicted! My mom and dad both went to jail, prison. They were, no, are felons. And the story my mom told, about meeting in their late twenties, was also absolutely true. They bumped into each other walking down the street weeks after both had been released from jail, prison, years later. She said that she had long blocked out what had happened before that and always considered that the first time they had met."

"Holy shit! Your parents are felons!? Your dad raped your mom and your mom tried to kill your dad!? That's the coolest thing I've ever heard! Too bad they didn't tell you sooner. You might have had more friends in high school."

"What!? Are you insane? The coolest thing you've ever heard? You are really messed up, Mikey."

"I'm messed up? Look at you. Your parents are violent criminals, not mine."

"Ha! Ok, thanks. I needed that. I've been freaking out about this since they told me. I stormed out of their house actually. Mom was crying."

"I have to admit, that's a great story. I can see why you couldn't wait to tell me, and Noah, wherever he is, being beaten up and getting a wedgie. And that definitely proves it."

"What? What's that suppose to mean?"

"Your folks. They are clearly, absolutely freaking clearly, meant to be together. Probably more so than any other two people in the world."

"Yeah, I know. They both said that they had just been young and stupid. That neither had really done anything the other had accused them of. They were just, well, young and stupid. And bitter and jealous. After years in a cell, all that stuff went away. And as soon as they saw each other, again, they felt the same way they had the first time they had seen each other."

"So, maybe the point is, you should start hanging out near the probation office to find a wife, right?"

"Ha! Yeah, I guess so. You know, maybe we'll see Noah there, after he beats up a minor."

"Nice. But I still think the emergency room is a better bet."

"Yeah, you're probably right."

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I must return to 'Deserted Space Island of Death.' Gotta make that rent money."

Article © Jeffrey Carl Jefferis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-05-16
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