Something Blue (conclusion)
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Agnes sipped wine from her plastic cup, with her pinky extended. It had been an odd evening already, and maybe it wasn't wise for me to be sitting on an LSD dealer's sofa, listening to her nonsense, and asking for more. Being wise has never been my habit, though, so I asked for more: "Tell us everything."

"All right," Agnes replied. "Everything: Ten or eleven years ago, toward the end of my crazy era, me and a friend took a trip to Roswell, for laughs. We really weren't big believers in all that alien stuff." I did not believe that Agnes was not a big believer, and her 'crazy era' seemed to be now, but I said nothing as she continued.

"Roswell is 'Wingnut City', like you said," she said. "There's a UFO Museum with a research room, and you can order an outer-space omelet at the diner. We stopped at a souvenir stand, and found this blue thing on a shelf." She pointed at it, still in Raoul's hands. "The lady who owned the shop said she had found it in some mud, cleaned it up, and she thought it looked exotic so she was selling it. I liked its shape and feel and especially the color, so I bought it."

I said, "And then what happened?" while Raoul said, "How much did it cost?"

Agnes said "25 bucks" to Raoul, and looked at me and shrugged. "What happened was — nothing. I came home and put it on a shelf. After a while I got tired of it, dumped it into a box in the basement. A few weeks ago, clearing clutter, I picked it up and it slipped out of my hand, and when it hit the floor it called me a dummy. 'Hey dummy, be careful, it's breakable,' same as it said tonight.

"After that, of course, I had to drop it again, to make sure the first time wasn't acid flashback. I've dropped it a lot since then, and always it says 'It's breakable' and then a minute later it says, 'Scan complete'."

"If it scans itself, then it's gotta be high-tech," Raoul said.

"But there's no keypad, no plug-ins," Agnes said, "so I figured, it must be voice activated."

"That makes as much sense as anything," I said. Which was no sense at all.

"So I Googled and made a list of common computer commands, and read those words to it, one by one. But the blue thing didn't answer. It just sat there being blue."

She took another pinky-extended sip of wine, and continued. "My next thought was, if it only speaks after it's been dropped, maybe that's the only time it can hear anything. Like, dropping it sort of 'wakes it up'? So I dropped it and dropped it, and went through the whole list of words again —"

"Agnes," I said, "all we know about this thing is that it tells us it's breakable. It says, 'don't drop it' — so you kept dropping it?"

"Yeah, that's a worry," she said, "but it's not science unless you run experiments, you know? And the experiments worked — whenever I drop it, the blue thing hears me. It responds, when I say certain words."

"What words do you say?" Raoul asked.

Agnes reached into her bra, pulled out a folded page, and passed it toward Raoul. He said, "Eww," so she handed it to me. I unfolded it, and on both sides of the warm paper was a long, handwritten list of commands — 'Start', 'Info', 'Help', 'Login', and many more. Most of the words had been crossed out.

"I've tried 143 commands," Agnes said, "and the blue thing ignores all but eight of them. For seven of those commands, it responds with error messages. There's only one command that works, but wow, it really, really works."

Raoul asked, "What's the command that works?"

Agnes looked at him, then at me. Still wearing a face that revealed nothing, she said, "Are you both ready?"

"I was born ready," said Raoul.

"I'm probably not ready," I said, "but don't let that stop you."

Agnes walked to where Raoul was sitting, held out her hand, and he gave her the blue thing. "We should all be sitting for this," she said, but she was the only one standing, so she sat in her chair again. Then she lifted the blue thing up, and dropped it.

Same as before, but unlike any time you've ever dropped anything, it didn't rebound or ricochet when it hit the floor. Instead it locked itself to the hardwood like a magnet to metal, and a moment later its emphysema voice said, "Hey, dummy, be careful. It's breakable."

Agnes said, "Login."

The craggy voice replied, "Nope. Registered users only."

She said, "Register."

It said, "Nope. First you buy, then you register."

Agnes looked at each of us, bit her lip and widened her eyes, and said, "Demo." On the floor, the grayish-blue oval pulsed briefly brighter, and there were four people in the room instead of three.

The newcomer was a strikingly handsome white man, dark haired, with some slight graying around his temples. He wore an oddly-tailored but well-fitted light blue suit, the same color as the blue thing. He looked like a game-show host, but other than being too damned handsome, he didn't seem to be an illusion. He wasn't transparent or anything silly like that.

"Hello," said the man in blue, smiling toothily and speaking directly to me. Later, Agnes and Raoul told me that he'd looked directly into their eyes at that moment, which is impossible, but also the least impossible thing going on that night.

What came next was a sales pitch for the blue thing — a commercial, but not the kind of commercial where you'd wander into the kitchen to get a snack.

The man in blue delivered his spiel slowly and theatrically: "The most powerful thing in the universe is the human mind. There may be no limit to what our minds can accomplish, when focused to maximum effect. I've designed and constructed a machine which amplifies and clarifies the mind's power, to maximum effect. You will experience things you wouldn't believe if I told you, but where we're going — right now — is absolutely real."

His voice was a silky smooth baritone, mesmerizing, and I hadn't even had time to be annoyed by his Caucasian perfection before he reached out and took my hand. He lightly pulled me up from the couch, and into orbit around a planet that wasn't Earth.

We were afloat in dark nothingness, untethered to anything, surrounded by more stars than I'd ever imagined existed. Before us were three moons — big and small and tiny — and behind us a brown sun. Miles or perhaps hundreds of miles below was an unearthly purple and orange world.

I felt suddenly sick to my stomach and wanted to retch roast beef and root beer, but before I could barf the nausea faded, as quickly as it had come. How were we breathing? Why weren't my eyeballs boiling in the vacuum? Space is supposed to be unfathomably cold, but I was cozy warm even without my jacket.

Agnes was slowly rolling left over right in the absence of gravity, til Mr Blue nudged her elbow with his, stabilizing her. What was stabilizing him, though? Raoul was rolling, too, but intentionally, laughing and tucking his head under his knees to make himself spin faster.

We passed through a cloud of debris — pebbles and smallish stones, apparently, and when I noticed no beer cans or plastic in the rubble, I knew this planet must belong to a better species than ours. "Watch your head," said the man in blue, as a loaf-of-bread-sized rock or clump of dirt whizzed past me.

We descended swiftly toward the world below, me and Agnes walking out of habit though there was nothing to walk on, and Raoul spinning beside us. Agnes looked like she was stoned, and I probably had the same dumb look on my face. Where we were, how we got there, or how we were getting back I didn't know, but none of that worried me. Raoul, still somersaulting, shouted to me across the void, "Jesus Christ, but in a good way!"

The flotsam we'd passed through was now above us, and looked like dust in the distance, and then it couldn't be seen at all. Everything zoomed and bloomed as we approached the ground, large patches of purple and orange, and smaller areas of myriad other colors. A splotchy golden field loomed larger, and coming closer we saw that its color came from a spaghetti-like tangle covering the surface. Cutting through the golden-getti was a white walkway, soft to the step like fuzzy marshmallow stepping stones, and that's where we touched down.

There were odd sounds all around us; perhaps a natural phenomenon unknown on Earth, or music made for structurally different ears than ours. Maybe it was the audio equivalent of words that can't be translated from one language to another. I don't know; you tell me.

The sky was the wrong color. What seemed to be a creek crossed under the trail, but the liquid was black and thick, almost gelatinous and barely flowing. Something slid along on the surface of the black jello-water, and then pierced it and disappeared under.

With Mr Blue leading the way, we walked past hundreds of silvery stumps, though like everything else I'm describing, 'stumps' might not be the right word. They were spread at random across the golden-getti, and each stump was different, but all were about the height and size of a dresser drawer. They were gray and smooth and mostly flat on their tops, bumpy and a bit darker in color on their sides. The bumps on the side of the stumps had a moist, mossy texture that was pleasant to touch, and I wondered whether I should wash the residue off my hands. And if so, where and how?

Atop most of these stumps-or-whatevers, were small, slightly curved tubes or blobs, roughly the size and shape of corn chips but bright red in color. Some of the stumps had a dozen of these blobs, some had just a few, some had none. As we walked, the man in blue snatched one of the red blobs off a stump, and put it into his mouth. "They're delicious," he said. "Have a couple."

Unsure, I bent over and sniffed one of the blobs. It smelled vaguely of vanilla and cinnamon and coffee, not unpleasant, so I picked it up and touched it to my tongue. It was sweet, so what the heck, I put it in my mouth and swirled it around. Mmmm, chewy like caramel, with a tingly effect and unfamiliar deep, rich flavors that urged me to take another, so I did. It was like candy with low-level electricity or a vodka kick, and when Mr Blue wasn't looking I slipped three more red blobs into my pocket.

Every aspect of everything was wrong, but wonderful. We saw tan trees or perhaps towers a mile away, and tall chartreuse mystery-things far in the distance, and brilliant purple clouds in the greenish sky above us. I reached down and ran my hands through the golden-getti, and it tightened in response, but not enough to hurt my fingers. A few silky purple strands with green triangles at the top poked up from between the yellow pasta — flowers or weeds, I suspected, or something akin. Dry, gray, fluffy flakes bounced on the ground and sometimes into the air, not falling like snow but being scattered by the breeze.

A fluttering noise from above drew my attention. I looked up, and saw a flock of four-winged birds — if bird is the word — flying above us. Each had two wings on each side, but instead of flapping or gliding, the wings slowly rotated, like oars dipping in water. It didn't seem practical, though — their bodies were too large for such an unhurried rotation to hold them aloft, but you can't argue with the fact that they were flying.

Whatever we were breathing wasn't clear like air; it was tinted with tan, and I'm guessing that was because of the brownness of the sun. Despite the color, though, we could see quite a long ways into the distance, and breathing was invigorating. Every inhalation made my aging body feel ... recharged.

Not two feet in front of me, one of the quadri-birds landed on a silver stump. Up close, the bird was fascinating — brown like the sun, smooth-skinned and featherless, and its eyes were under its mouth, or what seemed to be its mouth. Well, that's just wrong too, I thought, but it was a marvelous wrong. As I watched that creature, it watched me, and maybe we were both amazed. Humans have wondered since we crawled out of the pond, and the answer was yes, there is life on other worlds. Me and it were looking at each other.

Still perched on a silver stump, the bird spread its four wings majestically, then squatted or kneeled, and a new red blob emerged from the end opposite its head. I was close enough to hear it coming out, and it sounded gooey. Then the quadri-bird flew away, and Mr Blue said, "They're best when they're fresh." Everything about that world was unknown to us, but you wouldn't need a course in alien biology to understand that we'd been eating bird turds. Raoul didn't hesitate, though. He took the fresh one, popped it into his mouth, and squealed with delight as he savored it and swallowed it.

That's the moment when the man in blue stopped, a few steps ahead of us on the marshmallow trail. He turned and looked into my eyes (and Raoul's and Agnes's) and he said, "All this and so much more, anything you dream or desire, can be yours. The mind-machine is safe and secure, and once it's synced to your unique brain waves, your travels will be much, much more vivid than the rather generic demonstration we've now concluded."

As he spoke, we'd returned to Agnes's living room, and I saw myself sitting on the couch, before being myself sitting on the couch. The view of ourselves from above was yet another unforgettable moment, but it goes without saying that I'll never forget anything about that night, or everything that's happened after that night.

"When you're ready to purchase," said Mr Blue, "or if you have any questions, please call 'The Shaman' and I'll be there." And then the man in blue wasn't there. On the floor, where Agnes had dropped it eons ago, the blue thing — the mind-machine — ever-so-briefly glowed again, and then it was just blue.

I had nothing to say. I was lightheaded, and all three of us were quiet for perhaps five minutes, perhaps an hour. Anything any of us said would've simply been silly. Even now, months later, these words are piffle — laughably insufficient. Raoul was the first to remember language, when he said, "Gobsmacked."

According to the clock, it was 2:55 in the morning. Seven hours had passed since we'd finished dinner, but I couldn't guess how long we'd been gone, versus how long we'd been back but bewildered. On an ordinary Friday I'd have been asleep for six hours by now, but ordinary was over forever, and I'd never been more awake.

Suddenly I needed to pee, but I didn't have to ask where the bathroom was, because the same urgent need struck all of us simultaneously. Raoul had already darted down the hall, and Agnes quickly followed, and I followed her. Thankfully, Agnes said she'd use the upstairs bathroom, so I didn't have to wait long. I'm not sure I could've.

When I returned to the living room, Raoul was standing in front of Agnes's painting on the wall — the abstract piece that I'd thought was ugly, earlier that evening. It wasn't ugly. It was beautiful. We stood and stared, and lost ourselves in its reds and blues, orange and purples, yellows and browns and silvers, and I knew that Agnes had painted it after visiting that world.

Then Raoul took a few steps, and picked up the blue thing off the floor. Still dazed, we both sat down again, him in his chair and me on the couch. Agnes was still upstairs.

Raoul studied the device in his hand, and said, "Tina, were we here the whole time?"

"Maybe we were here," I said, "but definitely we were there."

"Here and there, all at once?"

I shook my head. "I got no answers, Raoul." I had a thousand questions, but, I said it again, "No answers."

He stared at the mind-machine, and then he said, "Demo," but nothing happened.

"Your aunt said you have to drop it first, to wake it up," I said.

"Yeah" he said. He looked at me, looked around the room, and looked a little confused, as was I. What a night it had been, and oh, the places we'd gone, and it was already the next morning.

Raoul smiled, lifted the blue thing high in his hand, and said, "Do you want to go again?"

"Let's wait for Agnes," I said, and we did, but it wasn't a long wait, and our next few trips weren't so bland.

Republished 5/10/2024   

Something Blue
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  1. "Something Blue" was something else! I relished the tale so much I paused twice to savor what I'd just read, like a fine repast. VERY disappointed it ended so soon. I love that your main character is female, as opposed to your own gender, Doug. (Excuse me, "Doug" is not a gender, but you get my drift. And half the time I type your name I add an "h" and have to backspace...maybe a subconscious reflex to your "Fat Slob" persona.) I really LIKE Tina, and hope you write more tales around her. Maybe you already have, as I'm a brand new explorer of your world. Anyway, a marvelous little gem of a story, thank you!

    1. Hey, thanks — I am quadruple glad you liked it. It's one of not too many pieces I've written that I'm actually pleased with.

      It was originally going to be a novel, but it was soooo much work, and life is short.


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