Month: March 2020

Two Weeks in Roswell – Arthur Fogg

Chapter 2 – Arthur Fogg

EARTHNOT – The Gravity Works, Inc. – Late at Night

Levitation and psychokinetic scientist Arthur Fogg was the last to leave the Quality Assurance lab that night. On the nearly-empty shuttle ride back to his home in the suburbs, he closed his eyes to rest for just a second and almost ended up missing his stop. He was exhausted. Arthur had been putting in so many long hours recently that he wouldn’t know what a regular shift looked like if HR showed it to him in colorful charts and graphs. Nobody asked him to work these long hours, of course. He just did. Once he faced a problem, he didn’t know how to let go; his personality liked to hang out at the corner of Obsessive and Compulsive.

It was perhaps one reason why, whenever Arthur was offered a promotion to a management level position he declined. Arthur told HR he preferred to work in the trenches, as a principal contributor, and not get stuck in endless mid-management meetings that took a lot of time but went nowhere. The truth was a bit deeper, however. Arthur lacked confidence in his own decisions and did not believe he had the creative mindset to be a leader. He could execute someone else’s vision, true, but felt he lacked the visionary gene himself to be a leader. Or so he rationalized.

The Fogg Family Residence – Late at Night

As soon as Arthur arrived home, he looked in on his sleeping son, Danny, eight years old; four times worth of terrible twos packed in a rebellious body. Arthur dreaded the boy’s approaching teen years. Still, he loved his son and especially admired the boy’s spunk and directness, which he must have inherited from his mother’s side since Arthur was generally non-confrontational.

Next, Arthur checked in on fifteen-year-old Sara, a beauty destined to break many a young man’s heart. She, too, was sleeping. If Danny took after his mother, Sara was more like Arthur. A bit too passive or deferential at times, perhaps, but a hard worker who always tried to please others. Without a doubt, she was a team player and could be counted on in a pinch.

Finally, Arthur walked into his bedroom and looked at his wife, Doris, sleeping soundly. In many ways, they were complete opposites. Where Arthur was cautious, Doris was adventurous. Arthur considered himself a classic introvert, the nerdy scientist type; Doris was outgoing and a reliable presence on school boards and community action teams. No matter where they went, they always seemed to bump into someone Doris knew. They never seemed to remember Arthur’s name and she’d always have to re-introduce him as her husband, which was okay with Arthur. He preferred not sticking out and preferred anonymity to attention.

Arthur walked to the kitchen, removed his dinner from the fridge, warmed it up. He carried the plate of food to the dining room table, where he sat alone and began to eat. He looked at the three empty chairs around the table and decided he’d leave work early tomorrow and be home in time to have dinner with the entire family. He’d catch them by surprise. The thought made him smile.

EARTHNOT – The Gravity Works, Inc.

The next day, his regular shift over, Arthur joined a mass of employees leaving The Gravity Works building, a wavy metal structure that looked like something Frank Gehry would have designed on peyote. It fit right in, since all the office buildings in the central part of the city looked the same.

Arthur was taken aback by how crowded it was on his shuttle ride back to the suburbs, and reminded himself of another reason why he liked working late. To avoid the rush. This time he didn’t almost miss his stop.

As soon as Arthur entered his home, he announced his presence.

“Guess who’s home early?” he asked, to nobody in particular.

A post-it-note in the form of a hologram of Doris appeared instead. “Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Doris,” a robotic voice announced. The image of Doris spoke.

“Hello, Dear, I’m at the school weekly committee meeting. The rest of us had an early dinner. Just heat up the leftovers and I’ll be home soon. Love you,” said the hologram, which disappeared in a flash.

Before Arthur could send Doris a reply, a second hologram post-it-note appeared.

“Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Sara,” the robotic voice announced. “Hi, Dad. I’m studying late at the library. You and Mom don’t wait up. Love ya both,” said Sara’s post-it hologram. Truth be told, Sara was out partying with friends.

“Studying? That’s my girl,” he said. “Danny? Are you home?”

“Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Danny,” the same robotic voice announced. “Mom said I could sleep over at Ray’s. See you tomorrow,” said Danny’s hologram, which promptly disappeared into the ether.

“No. Wait. Did you clear that with your mother? A sleep over on a school night?” replied Arthur.

It wasn’t a school night, a minor detail that escaped Arthur’s notice. But what didn’t escape his notice were the three empty chairs around the dining room table as he ate his dinner alone.

[more next time]

Two Weeks in Roswell – Chapter 1.03

There are other differences, of course. Their language can neither be easily understood nor easily transcribed. They don’t read left-to-right or right-to-left or top-to-bottom but all at once, meaning whatever is in their field of vision can be read instantly. All of it. This skill can be very handy for anyone putting together IKEA furniture.

[Nota bene: The publisher of this novel spent a large amount of tax-deductible money securing an English-language translation of all alien-languages appearing in this book. Alien-languages in the audio version of this book will be subtitled]

They have limited telepathic skills and, especially in times of stress, can communicate with each other over short distances through their thoughts, a skill that makes idyll conversation and chit-chat unnecessary, and their lives, on the whole, much more meaningful and interesting.

Above all, Earthnothians are very literal. In fact, if they have any single flaw it is in their lack of a sense of humor. Tell them the joke about two termites walking into a bar where one termite asks “Is the bar tender here?” and they’ll want to know where the termites came from or how come nobody stepped on them or if the termites are related or married or co-workers and, hey, why did they choose that particular bar in the first place– of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world why did they step into that one? The joke’s punchline would fly unnoticed over their head like cosmic dust from Bode’s Galaxy.

Truth be told, this tell-it-like-it-is-just-the-facts-ma’am approach is the chief reason why stand-up comedy never took off on their planet in the first place. Certainly, they have been known to laugh on occasion. But when they do, it is typically as a nervous reaction to a stressful situation, something of a vestigial remain left deeply inside them. Where we might gasp or scream, they would most likely giggle or bray. Such unexpected and inopportune laughter can be awkward.

Although they have matured beyond the need to understand puns or strut one’s stuff, beat one’s chest, and wage war on perceived enemies for misunderstood slights, they are still subject to the basic laws of physics that skim along and bump into each other throughout the universe like a game of air hockey. They’re conceived, born, receive an education, work at boring jobs, start families, get sick, and eventually die. Yadda-yadda-yadda. Badda bing, badda boom. Repeat spin cycle.

That’s not to say they don’t have their fair share of arguments and oopsies. They are remarkedly accident prone, to a fault, and have no sense of direction whatsoever. If turning left is the correct move, they are just as likely to turn right—or proceed ahead without turning.

On their planet, just as on ours, the universal laws of physics are matched by the universal laws of parenting. Parents constantly worry about their off-spring, and children don’t want anything to do with their parents. In other words …

Family vacations suck.

Mostly.

[End of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 will begin after a short break]

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Two Weeks in Roswell – Chapter 1.02

In short, Planet Earthnot is a planet that doesn’t have the patience or desire to repeat mistakes. They do not suffer fools lightly, and learn quickly from life’s lessons. Take war, for example. As soon as experience taught them that war was a lose-lose proposition, it went away.

Mostly.

Interestingly enough, what we have in common is they look just like us. They only have one head and that human-like head comes equipped as standard issue with two eyes, one set of nostrils, a pair of ears, and the usual accouterments of upright walking man. Their arms and hands and legs and feet resemble ours and act much the same way. Fingers point, toes wiggle, knees creak.

It goes without saying—which is why it is now being said—that their brains are much more evolved that ours.

There is one notable other difference, however: they lack hair. Everywhere and anywhere. No hair on the scalp, arms, legs, nose, ears, and areas where the sun never shines. The residents of Earthnot are as smooth as a cue ball. If you were to dress an Earthnothian in orange swaddling and put him in a line-up with a bunch of Hare Krishnas, you wouldn’t be able to pick him out from the crowd. That is, until you noticed he was the only one not beating a drum or begging for nickels and dimes.

The reason they don’t have any hair is simple: they don’t need it. The temperature on their planet remains at a consistent and very comfortable level. Those who want to experience colder weather in winter travel to the north, while those seeking to feel more heat in winter go south. In-between, however, the weather is spot-on perfect. Their sun shines daily and it only rains at night.

To compensate for their lack of hair and as a matter of fashionable style, they wear hats. Lots and lots of hats. Not all at once, which would be silly. But there is no shortage of hats on Planet Earthnot. It’s common knowledge that if you need a hat, the only place to go in the universe is Earthnot, where the expression “My hat’s on to you” is a compliment, “My hat’s off to you” is an insult, and “Nice hat” is how they greet each other when they pass in the streets. Adult males usually prefer to wear manly fisherman caps or wide-brim hats, such as boaters and fedoras, while adult females are particularly fond of colorful yet delicate cloche hats, known to us as a flapper hat, and, for special occasions, a shade-providing, flower-festooned concoction. Very chic. All government officials wear what could best be described as a cross between a small office trash can and a turban, complete with dangling tassel. Children, on the other hand, wear whatever damn hat they please.

[to be, you know, continued]

Two Weeks in Roswell – 1.01

While sheltering in place, I thought now might be a good time to exercise some nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. So, I decided to rewrite one of my screenplays, Two Weeks in Roswell, as a novel. Here’s the TWIR script pitch: “When an alien Dad takes his family on a vacation to planet Earth and his son is kidnapped by tabloid journalists, the rest of the family must leave the safety of their tour and work together to rescue the kid. The aliens have landed and they’re on vacation!”

I hope to post more chapters as I go along, in 500-word chunks. Without further ado, here’s the first part of Chapter 1…

Chapter 1.01 – Planet Earthnot

In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Which shouldn’t surprise any of us, since Horatio barely scored a C- in his Philosophy of All Things Great and Small midterm exam.

Let’s face it, you don’t have to be Shakespeare or one of his characters to realize that with a radius estimated to be in the neighborhood of 45 billion light years, the universe holds many surprises. Which is why …

Fourteen-thousand feet above the surfers, the W.M. Keck Observatory on the big island of Hawaii searches for cosmic surprises. The world’s largest telescopes at the Mauna Kea Summit work in harmony to probe the sky, regularly blasting signals through the twinkling stars, scouring a vast and seemingly endless universe looking for any signs of life: Cassiopeia, Betelgeuse, the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Whirlpool Galaxy, the Sombrero Galaxy, car headlights on the L.A. Freeway, fireflies. These powerful telescopes—each visually a cross between a giant golf ball and a cyclops—are never-ending in their pursuit of extraterrestrial life.

But the best we’ve got is still not good enough, for we have yet to discover a very special planet that is much like Earth but, at the same time, is not Earth. We shall call it, ahem, Planet Earthnot.

Earthnot is a planet far, far beyond our galaxy and far, far more socially sophisticated and far, far more technologically advanced and far, far more just about anything else than our own simple gee-whiz planet. Simply put, that particular spinning rock way out there in space, a planet that even our greatest telescopes can’t see, billions of light years from our own spinning rock, is everything Earth is not.

Mostly.

So, why is Earthnot unlike our planet? For starters, it’s a planet of quick learners. The Great Insurance Scandal made them understand how nobody should get rich from someone else’s fears or anguish or accidents, which is why they decided to cover everyone—from cradle to grave. Ditto lessons they learned from The Great Pharmaceutical Drug Scandal, The Great Climate Destruction Scandal, The Great Corrupt Politicians Scandal, The Great Game Show Scandal, The Great What’s that Floating in My Water Scandal. They have 250 words for “great” and 115 words for “scandal,” but prefer to use “great” and “scandal” instead of their many other options, a reflection of their natural frugal tendencies. And they may be right, too. Why spend 250 words when one word will do, especially when that one word means the same thing?

[okay, it’s not a cliff-hanger, but, as they say, to be continued]