I am a Pen Name, which means (unlike it is for “real” writers) there are little cracks in my mind that lead to places where strangely imagined circumstances are reality. Within one such crack turns a world exactly like our own except for one significant difference: On “Other Earth” the post WWII nuclear testing conducted by the US military out in the American southwest desert did result in the creation of the gigantic ants, mammoth scorpions, huge tarantulas, scores of Godzilla-sized lizards and a smattering of profoundly effed-up human beings that we see only in 1950’s science fiction films. Among the traits these creatures have in common (besides experiencing the enlarging effects of extreme radiation) are an immunity to conventional weapons and insatiable appetites for murder and destruction.
Naturally, Other Earth’s American government tried to cover up the fiasco, but that proved impossible after a bunch of the critters went to Vegas and did to the inhabitants what tourists do to free buffets. It didn’t take long for the monsters to spread the pain, thus the population of the Other Earth’s United States was decreased by twenty-seven percent during The Mutant-American War, which raged throughout the summer of 1947. And one may correctly suspect that the population would have been decreased to zero by Christmas if a truce hadn’t been signed by the warring factions near the hole in the ground that used to be San Clemente, California.
A Psychotic Colossal Man (who successfully ignored a missile jammed into his right eye socket), an eternally PMSing Fifty-foot Woman and a comparatively sane Shrinking Man (who, until he disappeared, was an exception to the rule) represented the monsters, who’d have never parlayed at all if not for the fact that their numbers weakened the farther they got away from the radioactive desert. At last these essentially immortal yet sterile (save for the flying ants, whom the Los Angeles smog wiped out) agreed to live on a reservation the size of southern California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico combined. This was convenient because those places had been depopulated and turned into radioactive hells on OtherEarth during the war. The monsters all live there to this day, behind mountain high walls of radioactively enlarged granite. Live “Food” and old automobiles, prefab homes and such (the non-foodstuffs are for recreational destruction purposes) are airlifted in around the clock.
You’d think that one Josef Stalin would be one too many for the Universe, but, no, those guys had one too. And he just had to have monsters of his own, lest the Other USSR face a mutant gap. So Other Earth’s Cold War featured the two Superpowers threatening to unleash ungovernable monsters on each other, until a treaty that banned the creation of new nuclear monsters was signed near the hole in the ground which used to be Stalingrad. To this day the whole of glowing Other Siberia is shrouded in enlarged granite, whilst live “Food” and items for recreational destruction are airlifted in around the clock to gigantic bears, immense tigers and barn-sized “sabre-rats.” And yes, other nations followed suit, and every one of them that did had to develop a “reservation” of its own.
Due to personal standards of good taste, I shan’t elaborate much on the subject of monster “Food.” Let’s just say that in the year 2020, Other Earth’s population was about a third of ours, and that their mean IQ was twenty-points higher than it has ever been here. Although disabled persons and the elderly are protected at Other Earth, there seems to be a noticeable lack of otherwise out of shape, slow-footed and unemployable people over there, but that’s just a personal observation unsupported by scientific data.
Other Earth’s history was exactly the same as ours until the monster situation broke out. Ever since, what you and I might call “strange doings” are commonplace on that planet. Although I am technically responsible for there being an Other Earth in the first place, like God I cannot be held to account for what happens there. All my Fictional Characters (Other Earth’s Mother Nature included) have Free Will, and if that Free Will leads to the creation of whopper-sized, homicidal insects and such even though the same has not happened here, so be it. Besides, as I’m certain God would tell you, just because you create something it doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. Parallel Universes and Other Earths have a way of getting out of hand pretty fast.
Still, there are Fictional Characters in my employ who stubbornly accuse me of a reckless action that led to the introduction of radioactive monsters on Other Earth, as well as the sudden and inexplicable appearance of “something” in this Earth that should not be. They point to the night I time travelled to Other Earth and arrived there on a date just prior to the monster fiasco. They also can’t help but notice that my return from Other Earth’s past coincides with the first Pie Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon sighting in our reality.
Alas, the circumstantial evidence against me mounts. It seems that people have nothing better to do than nitpick and fault find. The best thing for me to do is “put some spin on the sin.” There are lots of ways to spin a sin. I have chosen the time honored public confession of a venial “indiscretion” as means of deflecting the subject away from the mortal sin. Nitpickers and fault finders have limited attention spans. And as long as stupid people continue to have children, the art of lying will thrive despite the negative publicity.
My “apology” goes like this: “I admit that the sudden appearance of Pie Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon (who is a fellow who cannot possibly exist in our world but does) is my doing. And I want to apologize to all the people out there whom Peety has given a start. It must be difficult going through life with the nervous system of a meth-addicted rabbit; for in my opinion that is the only sort of person capable of being scared of Peety.”
The careful reader should notice that no mention is made of the monsters. That part of the sin spin comes later. You see, you mount the pillory and say sorry for something that really doesn’t mean nothing to nobody no how nowhere as a means of “gaining the white cloak of martyrdom.” Once affixed in this Christlike raiment your popularity soars and anyone who dares to attack you comes off as charming and trustworthy as an old raincoat boy offering licorice to the kiddies in the playground.
Still, no one can wear the white cloak of martyrdom forever. It only buys you time best invested in the composition of a Plausible Alternative to the Truth (aka, “PAT”). Every selling of PAT opens with the following phrase, which closes part one and opens part two of this piece: “It’s like this…”
It’s like this, whilst detoxing from one of the many many many substances that my employer and I are addicted to, I charged one of my old flip phones and converted it into a time machine. You see, since Other Earth was of my own invention, I figured that I’d go there and have a look around. Since I am a Pen Name whose limitations are only those set by my imagination, I am free to travel to any place of my invention and at any time of its existence without having to lamely “imagine” doing such. Yet for the sake of a plausible narrative, I went and changed an old cell into a time machine for the hell of it–disregarding the possibility of time travel paradox. I knew about the monsters over there and wanted to see what the other world was like before they came about. After so much abracadabra and tapping my heels together I wound up in a cocktail lounge at Globe, Arizona 13 November 1946.
Smartly, I took fifty bucks of pre 1946 issue with me. It cost me a premium to get the old bills, but I figured better that than getting arrested for counterfeiting on another planet almost eighty years ago. Of course I could have sprung myself from such a predicament, but where’s the art in that?
I’d researched the idiom of the day by ingesting a Humphrey Bogart marathon on Turner Classic Movies. The only item I had difficulty with was what to wear. I never sport a dress, and the way I see it “never” includes 1946 on Other Earth. Still, I could hardly expect to blend in if I arrived in sweats; it posed a problem until I leafed through a couple of film magazines of the era and discovered stars like Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn often wore men’s suits. Then I found a photo from the late thirties in which Carole Lombard was at a Halloween party dressed as a gangster. She wore a cream colored fedora tipped at a jaunty angle, a pinstriped loose-fitting “zoot suit,” black shirt and white tie. Now, feckless nature has seen to it that nobody will ever confuse me with Carole Lombard. But since I’m 4’-11” and the movie hoods of the day were three-footers like Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, the ensemble appealed to me and I put together one just like it.
You have to be highly specific when dealing with a time machine. Leave it any chance to fuck with you and it will. I can either text or speak into my flip phone time machine. “OK time machine,” I said, “send me back to the day on Other Earth when the monster thing began. But nowhere inhospitable to human beings, nor into a post, nor have me materialize right out in the open for everyone to see, nor have me seated atop a hatching monster egg…” My list of prohibitions went on for a while. But upon temporarily exhausting my collection of little paranoias, I finally pushed “Send.” I materialized just outside of the parking lot of a cocktail lounge in Other Earth’s Globe, Arizona on a Friday night. No one saw me pop into being except a coyote mama and her two puppies. My time machine had found it amusing to place me between the coyote mama and her issue. I do not know what the Other Earth world record is for sprinting from a mother coyote into a cocktail lounge, but I’m certain I gave it a good challenge that night.
Guess what? Saying “Hey sis, gimme a highball, and make it snappy” didn’t fly back in 1946 the way it does in old movies, that’s what. A rather surly dame (who had no customer skills whatsoever) gave me the finger via a pretend scratch of her nose and blew cigarette smoke in my face. Although I was delighted to be in a civilized place in which smoking was allowed indoors, I lit up and blew smoke right back at her. We might have gone fist city if I didn’t lay a “fin” on the bar and told her to pour me a rye and one for herself. It improved her manners.
I had never ordered a “rye” before. I’m guessing it’s the stuff left over at the bottom of the barrel after all the good whisky has gone to heaven. Imagine what lighter fluid combined with molten sandpaper that some bastard had first taken a piss on might taste and feel like and you’ll be pretty close. The rye got belligerent with my esophagus, lungs and attitude. Fortunately, what was rapidly degrading into a potentially ugly situation between me and the barmaid was averted when a rather pleasant and mutually squiffy man and woman approached me at the bar and asked me to join their party for a martini.
Now, I must pause for a second to reaffirm my stance against plagiarism. I will write the most absurd, self destructive thing that comes to mind before I’ll knowingly poach ideas or Fictional Characters from other authors, living or dead. I also hold disdain for “sampling” or “fan fickshun.” But there, with the gamma effect of the poisonous oozings scraped from the bottom of the bottom rye barrel boiling the usefulness out of my innards, I needed to meet Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated husband and wife sleuths from Hammett’s Thin Man; for only Fictional Characters of their stature had the power to prevent me from feeding the bar wench’s face to the mama coyote.
Nick and Nora, however, didn’t stay long. After one martini they and their little dog departed. But in that time they had introduced me to an advertising exec named Durwood Stevens, who was hard at work on the “PDQ Pilsner account” and a deranged looking yet oddly attractive woman named Professor Dagmar, who was wearing a white lab coat, which had PROPERTY of LOS ALAMOS clearly stenciled on the back of her collar.
Poor Durwood. I happen to be a leading authority on 40s and 50s American beer companies. I also collect original advertising from that era. Name it, I’ve got it: Hudepohl, Piels, Ballantine, Rhinelander, Blatz, Hamms–I’ve got posters and various bits of swag from them all–even a life-sized “Brewster the Goebel Rooster.” My scholarship in the field is vast, thus I knew that the PDQ Pilsner Brewing Company had keeled over dead in 1946, its only year of existence. The problem stemmed from the fact that the PDQ slogan, “Hey bartender, make mine PDQ” didn’t get past the censors. Although their initials “PDQ” stood for “Piedmont, Daly and Quince,” the grouping is and was popularly known as a shortcut for “Pretty damn quick.” Couldn’t even infer damn or hell and such on the radio back then.
Yet nobody had a problem with the beer’s mascot “Pie Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon.” In the very few illustrations of Peety extant he is extremely intoxicated–in one he is not only shown drunk, but he’s speeding away in a stolen PDQ truck, blazing past an elementary school, tossing samples to the kids.
All thoughts of monsters left my head. Although the idea of going back in time and adding to my collection has crossed my mind, I never do it because even a Pen Name can’t bring items home from the past and not cause templar displacement. Yet I admired the doodle Durwood was doing on a placemat to such an extent that I carelessly laid my flip phone on the table and asked him to let me have a closer look at the drawing.
“What on Earth is this?” Dr. Dagmar asked, picking up my phone.
“No, no, no don’t press anything,” I said, quickly reaching out.
“You mean like this?” she said, with a sinister smile on her face.
I instantly materialized in the present, at my office, minus my phone, but with Durwood’s drawing of Pie Eyed Peety in my hands.
Flip phone time machines are person specific, only the one they were designed to transport may use them. But I had never thought to smarten up the button on my time machine, so anyone could push the button and send me back from whence I’d come. Fortunately, flip phone time machines are one round trip use only, and never can again be used as temporal devices. Which meant, of course, Dr. Dagmar couldn’t zap me back and forth in time, or become a tourist in it herself. But she did have the phone, which was a product of a technology that was still a few decades down the line at Other Earth.
One of the good things about me is knowing when things are out of hand and beyond my control. I shrug off life’s little disasters and move toward my next little disaster unencumbered by wisdom gained from all my previous little disasters because my little disasters seldom repeat the souls of their natures. How I wish my employer had a similar lightness of being. Not three tenths of a second after I had laid what was now my picture of Pie Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon on my desk, used lipstick to add the “d” Durwood had accidentally omitted from “Eyed,” poured a shot of coffee liqueur and lighted the wrong end of a cigarette, she rang the Hot Line a top my desk.
“What hell did you do this time?”
Apparently my employer’s parents had taught her “What hell did you do this time?” is the proper way of greeting someone on the telephone.
“Relax,” I said. “Having a conscience has always been your Achilles heel. You’d be much happier and successful if you nurtured a sociopathic way of looking at things.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she said, “maybe that might help me overlook the fact that every time you visit Other Earth, something new and even weirder kicks into being over here. Now, you aren’t going to deny being at Other Earth, are you?”
I didn’t answer. For I never answer stupid questions unless I’ve got a zinger of a comeback. She and I share the same body, if not the same consciousness. We know what the other is and has been up to, in an instinctive sort of way. But the playing it cool act was suddenly interrupted by a change in my recently acquired Pie Eyed Peety picture. The paper and the other stuff on and in it were still there, but Peety himself was gone.
“Shit, where did he go?” I said.
“By ‘he’ do you mean a five-inch, two-dimensional, extremely wasted cartoon pigeon toting a bottle of beer almost as big as he is?” My employer said, all snotty-like.
“Well Mr. Maybe is currently out in my yard trying to put the moves on a plastic pink flamingo,” she said.
“How interesting,” I said. “Well, I’m certain he’ll come home after he gets some.”
My employer sighed. Whenever she sighs I must brace myself for a speech of some sort, which (I guess) is intended for my development as a Pen Name. I wasn’t wrong.
“Now, Leila,” she said, “every time you return from visiting Other Earth I have to call and remind you to knock it the hell off and let the place be. A temporal glitch has always prevented you from remembering that everytime you go back, Standard Evil Quick Study Genius, Dr. Dagmar swipes your phone, sends you back and somehow uses the stolen technology to create supersized nuclear monsters.”
“Blah blah blah,” I said. “I already know that, oh bossy-one. This is probably the eightieth time she’s hoodwinked me.”
“Then why in hell do you keep going back?” she said, her voice rising. “Every time you do I have to clean up some sort of temporal mess. Remember the coyotes? It took two weeks to catch them and return them to Other Earth.”
“Silly silly Hider Behind an Alias,” I said. “I keep going back for your sake. You’re the one who wanted an Other Earth where nuclear monsters rule, remember? Well, demented fantasy worlds don’t run themselves, boss. Every so often I have to return and refresh the debacle. And sometimes things come back with me. It seems you’ve fallen into a temporal loop of your own. See, we have this conversation every three weeks or so.”
“Great,” she said. “Now he’s out there whizzing in the yard for all the neighbors to see.”
“Just draw a big cage with a case of PDQ and a couple of bimbo quail in it,” I said as I hung up.
Anyway, my employer and I will continue to play this little game we have with Other Earth and the fabric of spacetime. It’s sort of like a by mail chess game. And on the off chance that you run across Pie Eyed Peety, don’t freak out. He understands that the meaning of life is having a good time.
(Illustration inserted in image created by John R. Freeman. Used by permission)