An excerpt from The Quality of Life in Outer Space
The elevator door slid shut behind Gary. He walked along the street. Nearby, a man with a buffalo head stood beside an old streetlamp. The man wore an orange suit. He held a briefcase in one hand and a pocket watch in the other. He looked down at the watch and shook his big, shaggy head in frustration.
“Excuse me,” Gary said, waving one wing.
“Oh, what is it?” yelled the man with the buffalo head.
“An asteroid is about to crash into this ship and kill us all.”
The buffalo man rolled his eyes. “I don’t have time to worry about things like that. I’m on my way to a meeting. A big meeting. I’m waiting for the stupid taxi to come. He’s running late. It’s already seven o’clock in the morning.”
“But this is important,” said Gary. “We’re all going to die!”
“This is the biggest meeting of the year, you fool!” the buffalo man snapped. “You couldn’t possibly understand. We’re preparing for the big screaming contest. It’s vital that the orange team gets control of the ship this year. Now go away and pester somebody else, you little vermin.”
“But none of that matters right now!”
“It most certainly matters!” the buffalo man laughed. “The yellow team wants to ruin everything for everybody. The yellow team wants to take the locks off our doors, confiscate our money, and put our children in slavery. It’s imperative that the orange team wins the screaming contest this year!”
A black car came rattling down the cobblestones. It stopped in front of the streetlamp. The buffalo man jerked open the door and crawled inside. As the car took off down the street again, Gary heard the buffalo man yelling, “You stupid driver! You probably work for the yellow team, don’t you? You want to ruin everything for everybody!”
Gary hung his head and shuffled down the sidewalk. The Styrofoam snowflakes bounced off his head. He had no idea how close the asteroid was. He wished there was a window close by.
He walked to the nearest cottage and clawed at the front door with his talons.
The door opened. An old man looked outside and frowned. Then he glanced down and saw Gary.
“Sir, can I come in for a moment?” Gary asked. “I have something important to tell you.”
“Good morning,” the old man said in a deep voice. “Your face looks familiar. Where did you come from?”
“The garbage,” Gary answered.
The old man titled his head. “Have I seen you before? It seems like I know you from somewhere. I used to see you a lot. A long time ago, when I was just a child.”
“I don’t think so,” said Gary. “I need to talk to you about something right now.”
“Come on in. But I don’t have much time. You’ll have to make it quick. I have an appointment I can’t miss.”
Gary followed him into the cottage. The old man let out a sigh and fell into a leather chair. He had a white beard. It was short and neatly trimmed. He had dark, beady eyes and stout arms.
“What is it?” the old man grunted.
Gary flapped into the air and perched on the armrest of the chair.
“Listen,” said Gary. “There’s an asteroid flying toward this ship. If we don’t get out of the way, it will hit us.”
“I hate to hear that,” the old man said.
“I’ve been trying to tell people, but nobody will listen,” Gary said, talking as fast as he could.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” the old man groaned, staring down at the floor.
“Can you do anything about it?” Gary asked, fidgeting on the armrest.
The old man gulped. “Oh, I wish I could.”
“What do you mean?” Gary panted.
“I wish I could help you,” the old man said. “But I can’t. There’s nothing I can do. My time is almost up. They’re coming for me. They’re going to be here soon. You should probably get out of here before they show up.”
“Bird, do you know anything about this ship? Do you know how things came to be the way they are now?”
“No, sir,” said Gary. “I don’t. I’ve lived in the garbage hold all my life. In the dark, in the very bottom of the ship, watching soap operas I don’t understand. I’m afraid I don’t know much of anything.”
“Years ago, when our ancestors lived on Earth, they realized the planet couldn’t sustain life much longer,” the old man explained. “The air was full of poison from all the bombs. The ecosystem was all messed up because of genetically engineered animal soldiers running loose in the wild. There were hornets the size of helicopters and locusts that ate human flesh. And diseases that killed whole cities. Oh, it was a big old mess. So some people in North America built a ship and left Earth, looking for a new planet. And they took along some genetically engineered creatures to do the cooking and cleaning. At first, things were good on this ship. I remember people being happy and getting along when I was a little boy. But that was forty years ago. That was before the old captain disappeared. After he vanished, the Law Master took over. Ever since then, we’ve been flying in circles.”
“Flying in circles?” Gary said.
“Yes. Now we’re barely moving at all. There are lots of people on this ship, more than you would think. Most of them are divided into two teams. Not all of them, but most of them. You have the yellow team. And you have the orange team. And they hate each other.”
Gary frowned. “What do the two teams stand for?”
The old man laughed. “What do they stand for? Not that much. The yellow team says the orange team is trying to ruin everybody’s life. And the orange team says the yellow team is trying to ruin everybody’s life. That’s it, basically. The two teams do have a few minor differences, but they’re pretty much the same, really. They’re just dedicated to hating each other.”
Gary glanced at the door and asked, “Who’s coming? And why are they coming? And how soon will they be here?”
“I committed a crime. One of the worse crimes a person can ever commit. I let my emotions get the best of me. It was a dumb thing to do, but I’d kept it bottled up inside me for too long. It had to come out eventually, I guess.”
“What did you do?” asked Gary, shifting his weight from one talon to the other.
“I went to a meeting and suggested we should all stop screaming at each other. I said we should all lower our voices and talk in a more respectful tone. That way, we could work together and make progress.”
“And then what happened?”
“The whole assembly got quiet,” the old man told him. “Everybody’s eyes got big. They all just stared at me. Both teams hated me for saying it, but I know a lot of people secretly agreed with me. Then the Law Master stood up and pointed his long, green finger at me. And he gave me the death sentence.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Gary yelled. “Why would they give somebody the death sentence just for saying something sensible?”
The old man put his finger to his lips. “Don’t say it too loud, bird! They might come for you too!”
“This whole ship is crazy,” Gary said.
“The window is open,” the old man whispered, closing his eyes and resting his chin on his chest. “Fly out the window now.”
“What?” Gary asked.
“Don’t you hear the footsteps?” the old man said, keeping his eyes closed and his head down. “They’re here. They’re outside. They’re coming up the walkway right now.”
Gary jerked his head back and forth. “Can’t you run out the back door? Can’t you go somewhere? It seems like there’s something you could do!”
“No matter where I go, they’ll find me,” said the old man. “Nobody ever gets away from these people. I’ve been around for a long time. I know. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do. It’s over now. I’m just going to sit here and wait for death. But I wish you luck, little bird. I hope you have some success.”
“No!” Gary cried. “You’re the only sane person here. I don’t want you to die!”
The old man smiled and opened his dark, beady eyes. “Bird, I know why you look familiar now. I know where I’ve seen your face before!”
“What are you talking about?” Gary said, shaking his head. “How is that possible? I’ve lived in the garbage all my life. This is the first day I’ve ever left the basement.”
“I told you we had a good captain when I was a boy,” he said. “Back when things were better. I don’t know what happened to him. But you look just like him. The human part of you, I mean. You know, your face. Your face looks just like his face. You look exactly like him. Same eyes, same nose, same chin, same hair.”
Gary snorted. “But how can that be?”
The front door exploded with a loud crash. Splinters flew all over the carpet. Gary screamed. The old man didn’t move. He just sat there, waiting for death.
“Go,” he urged Gary.
Two men in black suits stomped into the cottage, carrying silver guns. Their heads were bald and smooth. Their skin was light green. Their eyes glowed red. They both opened their mouths at the same time and showed their long, pointed teeth.
“There’s the criminal,” said one.
“Let’s carry out the execution,” said the other.
They raised their guns at the same time.
Gary didn’t want to abandon the old man, but his own self-preservation instinct took over automatically. He jumped off the armrest and flew as hard as he could out the window, into the flurry of Styrofoam snowflakes. Once he was in the air above the cottages, he glanced down and saw white light flash in the window of the old man’s home. He heard a long cry. Gary thought it would be short and quick, but it went on for a long time. The screaming and moaning and weeping seemed to last forever.
Gary cringed but kept on flying.
The Quality of Life in Outer Space is available on Amazon. Gary is an eagle with a human head. He lives on the bottom floor of a spaceship in a room full of garbage. When he looks out the window and sees an asteroid approaching, he takes off on a journey to the top floor to warn the crew. He learns some shocking secrets along the way. The Quality of Life in Outer Space is aimed at younger readers, but adults will enjoy it too. The paperback is $5 plus shipping and handling. The Kindle edition is $1.99. You can click here to order.
Copyright 2016, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.