Space Opera in SPACE

I woke up in the middle of this night feeling like something was missing. “What is it,” I wondered. And my brain floated over to the world of writing. I have all this writing that still hasn’t seen the light of day. Little trailing pieces floating in the air; worlds without endings. And while I’ve decided not to put pressure on myself to get overly down about not writing enough, because I’m up to other fun things instead . . . I still do love writing.

So, here’s something I wrote a while back. It’s not serious. It’s really just fun. But here it is. And if you like it, there might be more. It’s a space opera story. Science Fiction, baby. But it’s also tied into a classic story. Can you guess which one? It’s actually rather obvious.

Here we go:

 

“The thing you have to remember is what?”

“Customers first.”

“Customers always first. Okay, pop quiz: Image the dinner rush has just ended—”

“The dinner rush ended two hours ago.”

“I know that. This is hypothetical. Now, the dinner rush just ended—No! Let me finish before you argue about the dinner time again. We’re pretending here, Newbie—Dinner is over and the restaurant is a mess. There’s no tomatoes left to put on the burgers, and a customer has just come in. What do you do?”

This is the question I always ask newbies. I may only be the night manager at Wurgers, but I know a thing or two about leadership. Our chain is as strong as its weakest link. James “The Day Manager” Marshall might do the hiring, but I’m the one the floor scooping fries, taking orders, and pacifying the drunks that come in from the bar. And where is James at two in the morning when some guy named Alf has just projectile vomited his Wurger milkshake to the cheer of his buddies? At home asleep in his king-sized bed, that’s where!

“Chop, chop, newbie! What do you do?”

“Serve the customer?”

“Then?”

“Tidy the restaurant?”

“And then?”

“Cut more tomatoes, I guess.”

“Exactly right. But next time, give it to me with certainty.”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay. Go count your cash.”

There’s some kind of storm brewing outside. Our Wurger’s is in the middle of a massive parking lot with a Mallmart on the other side. There’s about an acre between us, and all throughout the giant lamps are shaking like twigs and sparking with light. The wind is kicking up with a kind of strong Whoosh, Whoosh sound against the building.  Looks like there could be hail any second, which means my phone is crap, because it was predicting a clear night.

In these cases, some people might let their team go home early. But we have a contract with the plaza stating Wurgers stays open till four AM on Saturday nights, no exceptions. I’m not the kind of man who makes exceptions. We stay open. The storm can bugger off.

“Dorothy?”

“Yeah?”

“Quit sitting on the counter, and can you help Newbie with his cashing out?”

“Yeah.”

“Dorothy?”

“Yes?”

“Quit sitting on the counter.”

“Sorry.”

She’s a good girl, just a little bit spacey. Sometimes I think she’s not quite with us, but then she snaps right to it when a customer pulls up to the microphone. I’ve never seen a worker take an order so fast and have it turned around with cash in hand and the car pulling away. She’s set the record for most burgers sold in one hour, and that was at the drive through where people drop their money and stop four feet from the window.

“Dorothy?”

“Yeah?”

“I need someone to cover an extra shift next Wedn—‘”

“Oh my God!” yells the Newbie. “My car! It’s just been lifted and flung off the ground! There must be a tornado out there.”

We all move to the drive-through window to look at the Newbie’s car flying in circles through the air, except for Mike who hasn’t noticed a thing yet. The Newbie is whimpering.

“There go the lamp posts,” says Dorothy.

Lamp posts are now shooting from the ground up into the air, disappearing from view.

“What’s going on?” asks Mike, taking off his ear buds.  Finally he notices us. That kid smokes so much weed, it’s a wonder he can focus on flipping burgers at all.

“What the hell is going on out there?” I ask.

“Everything is flying,” replied Dorothy, as though this happens every night shift.

Suddenly the lights go out. We’re in the darkness for a moment, and then there’s flashing. It’s strobe lights and disco dancing, except we haven’t got a clue where it’s coming from. “What the hell is going on?” I ask again. “Is this candid camera? Are we on candid camera?” I fix my hair.

“That show hasn’t run in years!” shouts the Newbie.

The Whoosh Whoosh is now a WHOOSH WHOOSH as the wind just starts to rips everywhere—it sounds like it’s banging against the windows and pounding on our ceiling.

“Do something Tim, man!” yells Mike.

“What do you want me to do?” I yell back. Emergency Wurger protocol stipulates first and foremost the evacuation of customers in a dangerous situation. But they’re not here, so, “EVERYONE GET OUT!”

“I’m not going out there,” replies Dorothy. She doesn’t yell.

“EVERYONE STAY HERE!” I correct.

Suddenly the whole restaurant is shaking, take out containers are falling everywhere and the fries are jumping out of their fryer. The cash registers all burst open and there’s money floating into the air. Packets of salt and pepper are bursting open like confetti bombs. The secret sauce and plastic utensils are flying across the room.

“EVERYONE GET ON THE GROUND!” is the last thing I remember saying as we all duck down into the drive-through alcove and the chip boxes keep falling on top of us like cardboard rain as the wind begins blowing inside the restaurant and the shaking of the building becomes faster and faster till the place is vibrating, and those mystery strobe light goes faster and faster.

At some point, I must have had a seizure, because the next thing I remember is waking up with everything quiet and all of us strewn across the restaurant – which is a disaster by the way, and is going to take a hell of a long time to clean. What the hell just happened? I can’t even tell you. All I can really say, is that looking out the windows of our restaurant … we are not in the parking lot of East Central Talkapa anymore. I don’t know where we are. All I know is that it is glowing neon pink outside, and I need to unwrap a pair of sunglasses from the kiddie meal box to see anything.

*

We’ve locked the doors. I know that the customer is always meant to come first, but in this case I have two reasons for keeping them out.

One, the restaurant is a disaster. Dorothy is mopping the streaks of special sauce that were flung all over the chairs and tables. Mike is in the kitchen doing much of the same, only its worse in there – hamburger patties, limp lettuce, buns, fries and grease everywhere. I’ve been filling the trash bags. There are sixteen bags and counting waiting to go to the dump … wherever the dump may have gone.

And two. Two I can’t really explain. Like I said, the customer comes first—but what the hell am I supposed to do when the customer is a gang of cuddly teddies? Yeah, maybe that sounds adorable, but you’ve never seen a living teddy bear screaming at the top of its fluffy lungs.

“Just keep ignoring them,” I repeat. It’s pretty much all I’ve been saying for the past hour.

“Tim, let’s see what they want,” says Dorothy. She’s been pushing that mop around for the last twenty minutes, but her heart isn’t in it. She wants to go outside, that’s all she’s wanted to do since we woke up. “They might have the newbie with them.”

“Oh right, and we’re supposed to do something about that?” I ask. “Be logical, Dorothy. If they have the newbie, they’ll grab us the second we unlock those doors.”

“I think they’re cute,” she replies. Walking up the window, she pulls out her phone and takes a picture of the watching teddy bears.

“We’re not opening the doors.”

“Hello!” says Dorothy as she waves to the dolls. “They were only screaming for like, ten minutes, Tim. They’ve been perfectly quiet since then. Hello you!”

The teddy bears are waving back, more of them are crowding closer to window where Dorothy is standing. Is this what it feels like to be famous in Japan? It’s like we’ve gone from being their biggest nightmares to their greatest idols. Dorothy is fiddling with her phone, which, by the way, she’s not even meant to have on her person during a shift.

“Who could you possibly be texting?” I ask.

“I’m not texting anyone. I’m Instagraming their picture,” she replies.

I pull my phone out from my pocket. “We’re in the middle of a neon pink world with teddy bears. How can you “Insta” anything?” There’s no internet or mobile connection. The battery is down to five percent. Crap.

“I have really good reception,” replies Dorothy.

“Dorothy is right,” says Mike, who suddenly has an opinion on something. “There’s no point in cleaning this mess. We don’t know where we are, Wurgers is surrounded by freaky dolls, and Leon’s gone missing.”

“Teddy bears,” corrects Dorothy, still typing into her phone and smiling at something.

“Who’s Leon?” I ask.

“The new guy,” replies Mike.

“The newbie.”

“I think they want to eat us,” says a voice over the intercom.

“Hello?” I ask. “Who’s using the intercom without my permission?”

No one answers. Mike, Dorothy and I stop what we’re doing. Suddenly it occurs to me that one of the teddy bears might have gotten in. “Do you think one of them got in here?” I whisper to my team.

“I sure hope not,” whispers the voice over the intercom.

“New guy, is that you?” asks Dorothy.

“Of course it’s me.”

“Where are you?” asks Mike.

“I’m right here.”

“Where’s that?” I ask.

“Here.”

“New guy—“ starts Dorothy.

“Actually, it is Leon. I mean, it says Leon on my name tag which none of you ever read.”

“In tape and marker!” I say aloud to wherever the hell he is hiding. “You’re Newbie till I say different … or till you get a proper badge.”

“Yes, sir,” replies Leon, the newbie.

“New guy,” continues Dorothy, “We can’t actually see you. Are you hiding or something, cause we’re just hearing you over the intercom right now.”

“I’m right here, right where I was just before all that crazy stuff happened.”

This is weird. He’s nowhere that I can see.

“Leon?” I ask.

“I can use my name now?”

“Just this time. Leon, what do you see right now?”

“I see you three standing there looking up toward the ceiling.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“And I see the back door with a what looks like a big crowd of teddy bears.”

The back doors is at the very back of the restaurant, behind the kitchen and the office … can’t see it from where I’m standing.

“And, then I can see the basement too with the boxes. And the eating area. And the cash registers. And the entrance doors.”

“Anything else?”

“I can see what used to be the parking lot, but that’s just more bears and bright pink sunshine.”

Taking off my seal-shaped kiddie sunglasses (Dorothy is wearing the red parrot ones, and Mike went for the green alligator glasses, which goes to show you never know people till you see them in action), I head through the kitchen, stepping over the piles of patties and fries and fat, and into the back office. There’s the tiny CCTV screen switching between the different camera views of the restaurant: front of shop, back of shop, outside, exits, basement. But Leon isn’t here.

“He’s not back here!” I shout to the others, returning to the counter. “Leon, where the hell are you?”

“I’m right here.”

Dorothy looks at her phone. “My friend Millie thinks the teddy bears are adorable too.”

Leon laughs. “Starburst, that’s a good filter – works for everything.”

“How do you know what filter I used, Leon?” asks Dorothy.

Leon doesn’t answer. For a moment, all we can hear is the soft compression of teddy bear flesh against the windows and doors.

“Leon?” she asks again.

“I don’t know,” replies the newbie.

“I think he’s in the restaurant,” says Mike.

“We’re all in the restaurant,” I reply.

“Leon?” asks Dorothy.

“Yes?”

“Are your nails dirty?”

Another long pause. More compression of teddy bears. They are piling up on top of one another now, piling higher and higher against the door and blocking out the bright neon light. Every single one of them is smiling at us, which is better than the screaming, I guess. Leon hasn’t said anything yet.

“Newbie, tell her if your nails are dirty!” I shout.

“I can’t see my nails,” replies the Newbie.

“Are your shoelaces tied?” asks Dorothy.

“I can’t see my shoes.”

“Pinch the tip of your nose,” she instructs.

“Can’t find my nose.”

“Dude, you are not in Wurgers, you are Wurgers,” says Mike. “You’re the restaurant!”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I reply.

“None of this makes sense,” replies Mike.

And that’s when the lock flips on the entrance and in floods a wave of fluffy, plush teddy bears. Suddenly, we’re neck deep in the cuddly creatures, and then we’re crowd surfing, tiny fuzzy arm by tiny fuzzy arm, out of the Wurgers and into their bright pink world.

*

It looks like a story book, wherever the hell we are. The trees are swirly, and the hills are like pencil colour landscapes. Everything is pink, pink, pink, except for the teddy bears, which are more like every single bear that was every made and ever discarded collected in one place. This place. Wherever that is.

The bears are everywhere you look. They’re surrounding us and piling on top of one another. And, to add to the horror, they are giggling. It’s a tingle-inducing succession of tittering.

“I think we’re about to die,” I whisper to Mike.

Mike takes the ear plugs from his head, “What’s that?”

“I think they’re gonna kill us now.”

He shrugs and puts his ear buds back on.

“Hey,” I say to him.

He takes one out. “Yeah?”

“Here I am here sharing my last moments with you, and all you’ve got is a shrug?”

“Mike feels things deeply,” says Dorothy. “His music helps him.”

I feel things deeply,” I reply, “well, sometimes I feel things deeply. Like, you know, when we miss our month-end sales target, or a customer complains, or I’m about to die.”

Dorothy gives me a look. It’s knowing. Since when did she become the psychoanalyst of the group? “Watch this,” she says to me. “Hello little fellow,” she says to the nearest, largest teddy bear. “You want a hug?” As the large teddy bear raises its arms, she scoops it up and gives it a massive hug.

Suddenly the whole group of them are cheering and clapping their stuffed paws together. The teddy begins to speak in teddy-bear jibberish, waving it’s arms into the air.

Dorothy nods along, as if she’s actually understanding everything.

“Ask the bear if it wants to eat us,” says a voice that emanates from Dorothy’s phone.

“Newbie?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re in her phone too?”

“I’m everywhere, I think.”

“Where are we?” asks Dorothy to the Teddy Bear in her arms.

What a stupid question. Where are we? Who cares where we are? We’re in the middle of some strange bright pink world that nearly burns my retinas, and all I can manage to see are teddy bears. We’re in someone else’s acid trip, that’s where we are!

The teddy bear continues with its jibberish, but now something is happening. The crowd is moving aside and making a trail back to the Wurgers. . .

And that is it for now. I have a second part, but nothing beyond that. :) Maybe openly sharing a chapter will motivate me to write more. Or not . . . or maybe? It’s an experiment!

More than this “battle”

It’s so easy to say something with the best of intentions, and having it come out all wrong. I get that. I’ve done it myself actually more than once. But this whole “lost their battle” thing irks me so much, that I feel compelled to write about it in my post. Just gotta do it. So I’ll say this now while the pain of loss isn’t radiating, and it hopefully it won’t be seen as an attack on those who mean well, but rather as a constructive thought:

No one “loses their battle” and no one should be reduced to having lived only that part of their lives in the paragraphs, headlines, and memorials that mark their passing. That is how I feel, very strongly. It might be an easy expression, but it is a wrong one. It neglects all the possible ways a person might have lived a beautiful, full, impacting life. And if they only get that little paragraph of remembrance, should we not be celebrating their triumphs, rather than marking them as losers?

When it comes to illness, no one loses. A person may simply get dealt a shitty hand, and despite best efforts, life will take its course. I am tired of reading about all these lost battles.

And when it comes to being remembered in the media, we are not “Cancer Bloggers, Cancer Kids, Cancer Patients, Cancer Truckers, Cancer Waitresses, Cancer Artists, Cancer Models . . .” Just because it’s an easy headline doesn’t mean it isn’t totally degrading to the beautiful legacy that person left behind.

But how do you correct people? Can I tap someone on the shoulder while they post a memorial and say, “um, excuse me, I’m about to be an annoying pain to your already heartbroken self?” No, it’s just bad timing and disrespectful.

So it’s to be said now, at least here, and by one voice to add to others who have written about this: While those left behind may feel that deep, throbbing loss of a loved one, the life lived is far more valuable than a famililar but unconsidered add-on sentiment.

And that is all I have to say about that. For now.

In Which I Write About Dying

I watched a very good movie the other day, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and it has been hanging in my mind. I’ve had an emotional reaction to the film. Like, a real deep big tear-inducing emotional reaction.

Truth

The film starts off with the news reporter announcing that all attempts to stop this meteor have fail. The Earth will be destroyed in X number of days, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Everyone on Earth is going to die. That is the end. Over. Dead.

And I guess, everyone on Earth is going to die. Over. Dead. One day . . .when their time comes.

Part of me wanted to turn off the film immediately. It would be too emotional, I told myself. But another part of me was so intrigued. This film would be one big conversation around death and life, and everyone in that story was on the same playing field. Terminal illness no longer mattered. Accidents no longer mattered. Health no longer mattered. Obligations no longer mattered. Fighting for your life no longer mattered. Everyone was in the same boat.

And it is from here in the film that the protagonist finds the love of his life, days before the meteor hits, and they end up in bed having a conversation along these lines right before the film ends.

She says, “I wish we had met earlier. Like when we were kids.”

And he says, “It wouldn’t have been enough time. There would never be enough time. We had to meet each other now. It had to be this way.”

As the meteor begins to hit the earth (chunks of it, I imagine), with crashing noises in the far off distance. he calms her fears by asking about her childhood, and how many siblings she has, and what her favourite colour is. And that is the end of the movie. They die. They were never not going to die.

Why can’t it be that easy to accept death? And why can’t I just admit aloud, “I think about dying all the time. Like every day. I’m afraid to push things off too long, because everything could change any moment. I know I’m going to die. There will never be enough time, no matter how much time I am given. It scares me. It breaks my heart that I might leave the people I love. It wakes me up. It follows me in the good times, and it confronts me in the bad times.”

And then not have someone respond: “You have to think positive. You will beat this. You are going to live a long time.”

Because that may all be true, but sometimes I really just need to talk about dying. A gentle conversation where I don’t need to feel guilty for my fears or emotions.

Zsolt says he is here if I want to talk about dying. I reckon it must scare him a little, but he’s here. He also said, that maybe he just doesn’t completely understand, because he doesn’t think about dying much at all.

And the thing is, I don’t want to dread death. I just don’t. I would rather live with it. Make it a friend. Know it will be a good thing whenever it comes, because a part of me will be going back to whatever I was before I got here.

Matching the theme of death, I’ve been reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. There is a quote that one ghost girl says, as she dreams about really, truly dying properly.

“We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our home and always was.”

Isn’t that so beautiful? How is there sadness in that image? How is there any failure or lost battles in that?

I’d like to see death as going home, I would like the idea to not haunt me, but walk alongside me – and I reckon that will only happen if I admit it is there in the first place.

My name is Catherine, and I think about death. I think about it quietly, because I worry how others might feel if they knew this secret side of myself. And I don’t want to be told to keep fighting, unless, of course, it comforts someone to say it. Otherwise this is my life, and I decide when and how I live. I know how to keep living (forget fighting, that isn’t my style – it’s more about living and loving wholeheartedly, passionatly), and I think one day I’ll know when I am done. These choices are mine alone, and I’m pretty stubborn about those kinds of things.

I love living, and I plan on basking in life. Yes, I have fears. I worry over death. I worry over hurting others, particularly my husband. I am scared of what might come. But in the “now” I do my very best – you know? I just do my very best. I love my very best. There will never be enough time, but right “now” feels quite enough.

So all of this to say, dying happens. And I need to be able to talk about it sometimes. Maybe just here on the blog, where I talk about things that are otherwise too uncomfortable to share. And once in a while, I need to write a post that doesn’t ultimately strive to comfort those reading it, either.

This post is for me. I’ve said it. It’s done. And I’m still here despite all of that.

Sigh of contentment. I sure do love being alive.

 

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P.S. Zsoltster, szeretlek . Ne aggódj, mert én nem megyek sehova. Te vagy az én horgonyt .