Without knocking, Renfield entered my office pushing an antique television on a furniture dolly. The thing looked old enough to have aired the Lincoln assassination.
“What now?” I asked.
She smiled. “Every time you ask me that; every time I avoid answering you, and every time I wonder why you have yet to catch on.”
I leaned back in my chair, put my feet on the desk and attempted to look wise yet amused, all knowing but still a good sport. For I’d read somewhere that such poses are commonly associated with a tall in the saddle style of leadership that people find inspiring. Unfortunately, I am very short.
“All right, wiseguy, allow me a wild guess. That relic,” I said, motioning at the TV, “has something to do with Daisy and Peety running amok at Other Earth.”
“Ah, the Boss has already called.”
“She’s always on the hotline. So much that she must think ‘What the fuck now?’ is her name.”
“Did she tell you about the PDQ Pilsner Playhouse?”
“You know I don’t listen to her after I hear the names Daisy and Peety.”
“Then you are in for a treat.”
Renfield locked the dolly’s wheels, plugged the set in and turned it on. It made a disconcerting buzz as the tubes heated up. The contraption resembled a thirties era living room radio, something out of a Rockwell painting. The screen, however, was small, more like a lens. A single white dot formed at the screen’s center; it increased into a jumpy, snowy, rolling jumble of amorphous images, and the buzz grew tenfold. Renfield adjusted the volume, vertical and horizontal. There was a “rabbit ears” antenna on top of the thing, and she moved each ear with great care. She did it all reverently and delicately, yet failed to get much of a result.
“If I remember my history right,” I said, “this is one of those objects that responds best to violence.”
Renfield slapped her forehead in a What Was I Thinking sort of way and gave the thing a heavy kick in the side. It almost fell off the dolly but righted itself with a thump. The picture resolved instantly.
I’ve had more than my fair share of weird sights as the Chief Executive Penname, here in my specific realm of fantasy, but I do believe that what appeared on the set became the newest Weird Champion. Nearly all the champions have been trained and shaped by my Imaginary Friend, Renfield, and eight or so of my roster of two-hundred-twenty-seven Fictional Characters (FC’s). My “employer” (she of the hotline) endowed me with Free Will and lost all control over me, and I have given my FC’s the same because neither my employer nor I learn from our mistakes. So it only seemed fitting that two of my Free-Willingest FC’s, by name, Pie-Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon and Daisy Cloverleaf the Pygmy Goatess had a wing and hoof in the ascension of the latest Weird Champion.
With a flourish of trumpets, a measured male baritone voice came over the speaker. On screen, and in glorious black and white, two industrial smoke stacks were pouring something up into the atmosphere. Both stacks had PDQ painted on them in giant letters.
The voice intoned:
“Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tonight. the PDQ Pilsner Playhouse proudly presents: Oedipus Rex.”
This was followed by a swell of classical music and a bunch of blather about the virtues of the sponsor.
“Um, this aired on Other Earth?” I asked. Lately, the replica of Earth devised by my employer and entrusted to me had become a royal pain in the keister. Other Earthlings also have Free Will and do not like being told that they are replicas–in fact they insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is the other way around.
“Yes,” Renfield said. “This aired on the Other Earth Dumont network in the Other United States and both Canadas on the sixth of January 1951.”
I sighed. “Rock, paper scissors you for the backstory.”
Renfield agreed. I played “rock”; she played “paper.” As any kid in the schoolyard can tell you, paper covers rock.
“Shit. How ‘bout best of three,” I said.
“Not a chance in hell.”
I pulled the pint of Wild Turkey I keep on hand for medical emergencies from the bottom drawer of my desk. There are also pints of Jim Beam, Four Freedoms vodka and several hotel bottles of peppermint schnapps in the same drawer. In fact there is little in my desk that isn’t there for medical emergencies. The bottle was half full. I took it down to the quarter mark, passed it to Renfield who transformed it into an empty vessel. I opened my Chromebook, activated the voice to text, rose from my chair and began to pace and orate, all the while ignoring the kinescope version of the Greek tragedy on TV.
“Dear Diary, how many years must pass before everyone recalls the debacles of youth fondly, before all involved laugh about those silly times when everything was oh so serious? Twenty, thirty? Perhaps it happens when we finally know how many seas a white dove must sail before she sleeps in the sand.” I paused and lit a cigarette, mainly in an effort to insinuate the end of this paragraph.
“Regardless of the future,” I continued, “I feel the need to unburden my soul–now. Since I created you with a purpose similar to that of a septic tank in mind, consider yourself the lucky recipient, Diary.”
As I spoke, I kept my eye on the program, which crammed about ten hours’ of material into forty-six minutes. That was its sole virtue. I didn’t recognize any of the actors. Yet. The title role was essayed by scenery chewing ham cured at the school of Hormel. There wasn’t an R this guy couldn’t trill or an emotion beyond his ability to overplay.
“It seems just yesterday when I visited Other Earth and accidentally brought a cartoon beer mascot pigeon named Pie-Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon home, just to see him morph into a sentient being able to travel back to Other Earth at any time in its history from his creation in 1947 on–for the laws of Other Earth physics do not allow for time travelling to any time before you existed.” I then went to my office window and opened it, in a literary act of foreshadowing an upcoming fate.
Renfield shook her head and fished a pint Cutty Sark out of my desk. She mumbled something that sounded like “So much for seamlessly laying the backstory.”
Undeterred, I left the window and I kept at it: “And it seems like only twenty minutes ago when Peety and one of my barnyarder FC’s, Daisy Cloverleaf the Pygmy Goatess, decided to form a superhero team called G.O.A.T.–as in the Greatest Of All Time–um please bold face the first letters of that if you will, Diary.…Anyway, G.O.A.T. specializes in entering old television shows and films at Other Earth to affect the outcome. They do it to rescue fellow FC’s–though not my own–who are in peril. And G.O.A.T. can do it because of Peety’s singular ability to go just about anywhere between Other Earth’s 1947 onward–including into programmes; Daisy is able to come along because she is an FC, thus insertable anywhere that is considered a public domain fictional story. The only prohibition being that they cannot enter films or shows in which the actor who played the character they interact with is still alive. Needless to say, TV viewers at Other Earth are somewhat surprised when watching an old rerun and suddenly see a hand-sized two-dimensional cartoon Pigeon and a Pygmy Goat wearing a cape enter a scene at a critical moment…When this happens I usually get an irate call from my employer, because the citizens of Other Earth consider her God, have her contact information and beseech her with all their troubles. She’s the sort of God those guys deserve. Anyway, talk at you later, Dearest Diary.”
Renfield had mixed herself a Cutty and ginger ale. Since she had the only clean glass, I took a pull of each straight from their bottles and swished them around in my mouth.
Then something occurred to me. “One thing, Rennie, I thought PDQ never made it. Went bankrupt about twenty minutes after they got the license.”
PDQ Pilsner has never existed in our world, and only briefly by name at Other Earth, for my employer thought it would be a cool idea. She never followed up on it, but she’s to blame anyway.
“That was true until recently. Daisy and Peety are becoming famous on Other Earth. So much so, and with me as a partner, that they licensed the name of PDQ Pilsner to another brewer, to a nifty profit, I might add.”
“But it was my idea.”
“So–according to the treaty the Boss signed with Other Earth you aren’t allowed to set foot in the place, let alone sue for damages. Besides, you retain all rights on this Earth.”
I was about to shred her logic to little pieces when the final act of the Oedipus saga reached denouement. Oedipus had learned the sad fact that the Oracle had told him the truth. In the most convoluted way possible, our hero learns that he indeed murdered his father and married his mother as foretold, despite all the precautions he took to avoid it. (Anyone who wants the full backstory can look up Sophocles in Hades.)
This, of course, was where Oedipus claws out his own eyes so he will see no more awful truths. But instead of that happening in a highly inferred artsy 1951 fashion, Pie Eyed-Peety and Daisy showed up in the scene, both, as stated before, dressed as superheroes: The Goat From G.O.A.T. and her sidekick Pie-Eyed Peety.
“What new humiliation, Zues? What fresh folly awaits, Olympus?” the Hormellian actor orated, upon the duo’s arrival.
“I am The Goat From G.O.A.T. and this is my sidekick Pie-Eyed Peety. We have brought you an alternative to blinding yourself that will work to the same effect.”
Daisy nodded at Peety who dashed off screen and returned with a pair of empty shopping bags.
Daisy took the bags in her mouth, gave them to “Oedipus” and said, “Here’s a bag to put over your head and one for Mom if yours falls off.”
“‘I find Milton as boring as you find Milton’-Professor Jennings, Animal House,” Peety Squawked.
“Sophocles wrote this Peety,” Daisy said primly. “But thank you for sharing.”
Two beats of a big drum sounded and a placard that said “FINIS” appeared on the screen, thus ending the transmission I assumed was beamed from Other Earth.
Naturally, the hotline rang.
“Be sure to tell the Boss it’s Hamlet next week.”
I threw the fated hotline out the open window.