Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind
by Gary Inbinder
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Nemo thought a moment. “Perhaps Nemo’s narratives tell too much. In addition to abhorring intelligent novels, agents hate writing that isn’t mostly showing with little or no telling.”
“Not sure I understand,” said the bureaucrat. “Perhaps you could give us an example of telling versus showing.”
“All right,” said Nemo. “Let’s say I write, ‘Kafka the Bureaucrat blew his nose.’ That’s just information, prosaic and dull. Here’s what the agents want. “Kafka the Bureaucrat reached into his grimy, sweat-stained pants pocket with his fat, grubby, black-nailed fingers. He whipped out a gray, booger-splotched rag that had once been a linen handkerchief. Raising the handkerchief to his roseate, pimply proboscis, Kafka honked three times. Out streamed a congealed mass of yellow pus-filled jelly—”
Kafka the Insurance Adjustor gagged. “Holy goldfish, Nemo! I’m eating a lemon jelly donut!”
“Yeah, man,” added the unemployed, “You’re showing way too much. It makes me wanna hurl.”
“That, my friends, is contemporary popular fiction in a nutshell,” Nemo replied. “Showing too much, sort of like some women in beach attire. Nemo recalls seeing a woman in a thong bikini sunbathing beside the apartment complex pool. She must have been the dark side of fifty and weighed three hundred pounds—”
“Let’s change the subject,” interjected the bureaucrat. He turned to the unemployed. “So update us. How goes the demonstration?”
“Well, I’ve met lots of cool people, and got lots of cool stuff. I’ve converted to five religions and joined six organizations. They all gave me pamphlets, signs, t-shirts, cookies, donuts, Kool-Aid, smokes, wine, grass and stuff. But Nihilists Against Everything is the coolest by far.”
“Excuse me,” the cat meowed skeptically, “Are Nihilists Against Everything against Nihilism?”
Kafka the Unemployed’s eyes rolled. Then he mumbled, “Whatever, dude.” After a moment, he continued. “Look at what they gave me. Isn’t it cool?” He reached into his fanny pack and retrieved a MyPhone 666.”
“May I see that, please,” the cat meowed. “I’m very much a geek on this technology.”
“Okay, man,” the unemployed answered hesitantly, “But don’t get any claw scratches on it. That thing’s worth at least a thousand bucks on the street.”
“I’ll be careful, my friend.” The cat examined the mobile device with keen interest evident in his sparkling emerald eyes. After a while, he observed, “This is a prototype. It’s not expected to come to market for at least two months. How did you come by it?”
The unemployed retrieved his precious toy. “Like I said man, the Nihilists gave it to me when I joined up.”
“Hmmm,” the cat mused, “I wonder how they got hold of it?”
The other members of the group stared at each other until an electronic bleeping of The March to the Scaffold from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique interrupted their unuttered suspicions and silent speculations.
“Excuse me, guys, this is important.” Kafka the Unemployed checked his device for a message. He smiled, returned the MyPhone 666 to his fanny pack and bid his friends a hasty farewell. “Sorry, dudes, gotta run.” He got up from the table and walked in the direction of the street exit. About halfway up the sidewalk, he stopped a moment, turned back to face his bewildered friends and grinned. “Remember, something heavy’s going down this morning. Something very heavy.”
The friends remained silent until Kafka the Unemployed left the strip mall. Nemo spoke first. “Nemo hopes our friend isn’t getting himself into trouble. Those Nihilists can be dangerous.”
“One thing’s for sure. They didn’t obtain that prototype MyPhone 666 by legal means,” the cat meowed suspiciously.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the insurance adjustor ventured. “Perhaps the designer of the device is a Nihilist.”
“Well, even if the designer is a Nihilist, that doesn’t mean he has the right to be handing out the prototype before it goes to market,” huffed the bureaucrat.
The discussion continued for some time till the sun rose up greenish gold in a crimson sky like a rotten orange swimming in a pool of blood. Suddenly, the cat meowed, “Gentlemen, please be silent. I sense something strange.”
“Say what?” said the bureaucrat.
The cat scampered under the table. “Gentlemen, duck and cover. Now!”
The group hunkered down under the table as the cat ordered, they having all heard, at one time or another, that cats can sense imminent earthquakes and stuff. After a moment of suspense, the strip mall rocked and rolled and their ears split with a blast resembling the noise level at a Grateful Dead concert. The quake was followed by a hot wind that blew a tidal wave of rubbish across the parking lot, bending trees, rocking cars, and scattering and splattering screeching birds against store front windows.
After a moment that seemed like an eternity, the trembling subsided, the wind ceased blowing, and the ear-splitting shock wave died down, leaving an eerie silence in its wake. Presently, first Kafka the Cat, and then the others, got up gingerly and gazed at the sky. Looking in the direction of the nearest Mall Mart, the group saw a vast plume of smoke topped by a mushroom cloud rising as high as one could see in the hazy yellow sky.
The post-apocalyptic calm was shattered by Harold the Homeless, crying in the newly made wilderness: “’Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’”
“Well hell,” the bureaucrat muttered, “that’s ruined my day.”
The others nodded in tacit agreement, until Nemo added: “Nemo assumes the Nihilists have nuked Mall Mart. He wonders if our friend survived the blast.”
The cat meowed, “Gentlemen, I have a confession. You all know me as Kafka the Cat. But I’m also known among the Nihilist underground movement as Felix, leader of Nihilists Against Everything. That is, when I’m not engaged in my day job designing mobile devices for Crapple, Inc., such as that very desirable MyPhone 666 which will soon be available at all Crapple stores for a very affordable price of $1,999.99.”
Nemo interjected, “My friends, Nemo believes we have reached the denouement, which in a traditional dramatic narrative ties up the loose ends left dangling after the climax.”
The insurance adjustor remarked, “You mean, like when the detective explains how the butler killed Major Minor in the library with an iron poker, after having induced Major Minor to alter his will in the butler’s favor?”
“Uh, something like that,” Nemo replied.
“Ahem,” Kafka the Cat, aka Felix the Nihilist meowed peevishly. “Literary agents decry narrative interpolations that draw the reader’s attention away from the story, thus subverting the fictional illusion.”
“But Kafka, my feline friend,” Nemo replied innocently, “in this context, Nemo is a character, not a narrator.”
The cat’s eyes rolled, displaying an unusual degree of petulance. “Context, schmontext. Mr. Nemo, a character morphing into an interpolating narrator is so Pomo Metafictional.”
“I know the agents hate ideas, but you mean they aren’t even into Postmodern Metafiction?” queried Nemo with a hint of exasperation.
“Into Postmodern Metafiction? Give me a break. I’d like to find an agent who can spell Postmodern Metafiction,” replied the cat. “Anyway, to return to the story, we are now living under a cloud of nuclear fall-out. However, in addition to being a brilliant designer of mobile devices, I’m also a science wizard and have secreted nearby a stash of pills that will render us impervious to the effects of radiation poisoning.”
“You mean we aren’t doomed to a slow, horrible, exceedingly painful death?” asked the bureaucrat hopefully.
“No, I didn’t say that” the cat meowed with a hint of impatience. “I just said that if we take my pills our potentially slow, horrible, exceedingly painful deaths should not result from radiation poisoning.”
Nemo asked, “What about the rest of the people in the vicinity of the nuclear cloud? Nemo means those who haven’t already been killed or terminally injured by the blast.”
“The ad campaign for my anti-radiation poisoning pills starts now, and they go on sale tomorrow. I expect quite a run on pharmacies; double and triple lines around the block, and then some. Of course, strings have been pulled with the FDA to grant emergency approval. I must save as many potential buyers of my soon-to-be-marketed mobile devices as possible.”
“But why nuke Mall Mart? Oh, the humanity — not to mention the claims settlements!” cried the insurance adjustor.
Kafka the Cat sniggered behind his paw, “Mew, mew, mew.” Then he turned on the insurance adjustor with a cold emerald glare. “Mall Mart was going to market a cheap, pirated foreign knock-off of my new mobile device. Does that answer your question?”
“I don’t get it, cat,” snarled the bureaucrat. “Are you a Nihilist or a Laissez Faire, cut-throat Capitalist? And how did you manage to pull strings with a Federal Agency and evade the law?”
The cat replied in a mild-mannered and eminently reasonable meow. “Actually, I’m a Utilitarian Pragmatist, and acts of Nihilism can be justified as means to my well intended ends. Capitalism is cool, so long as it works for me and my pals, of which you are among my closest. ‘The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number’ is my motto, and I maintain cordial relations with governments of all kinds. Let’s discuss this over coffee and donuts before we swallow our pills.”
“Sounds good to me,” the insurance adjustor remarked.
The group agreed. As they entered the café, the bureaucrat asked, “Well, Mr. Nemo, where are we now in your dramatic narrative?’
Nemo replied, “The end.”
Copyright © 2012 by Gary Inbinder