The JRB presents a new short story by Byron Loker.
You wake up on a spaceship’s operating table surrounded by strange creatures
Today I made my sixth-thousandth, seven-hundred, and thirty-third—give or take—job application in my so-called career as a so-called writer. Turns out just one of the many things that Covid has killed off—along with common sense among certain members of the population—is the curriculum vitae.
Nowadays, if you apply for a job, after suffering through a pile of patronising lies like, ‘Are you ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime? The kind of adventure that gives you the freedom to do what you love from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you might find yourself)!’, you will likely be steered off to a Google Forms form offering more patronising lies to wade through, along with some suicide-inducing questions.
Questions like: ‘Why do you think you have what it takes to work at [Suicide Central]?’ If you manage not to kill yourself right then and there, you might write in reply: ‘I have 20+ years of experience encompassing a critically acclaimed short story collection, my favourite piece of punctuation is the em-dash, and I prefer the Oxford comma. I’d love to submit a portfolio of my recently published online ghostwriting for Reader’s Digest, World Financial Review, Mail & Guardian, Daily Maverick, TNT Magazine, and many other prestigious publications—I think it “speaks for itself.”’
So, I scraped through that to the joy of an automated email reply inviting me to complete a piece of homework as part of my application, as if I’m having one of those nightmares where you’re the age you are now but back in standard seven for some inexplicable reason.
For my assignment, I chose ‘OPTION 3: You wake up on a spaceship’s operating table surrounded by strange creatures you’ve never seen before. How did you get here? How are you going to escape?’ You’ll see I use the em-dash liberally in my submission, so I hope I get the job. (By the way, the article referred to below is real—you can’t make that shit up no matter how hard you try, or how good a writer you are.)
I first read about it on the Agora Cosmopolitan when I clicked on a link accidentally—I only use the Internet for porno, race-baiting Biden-lovers on Facebook, or arranging the occasional lynching via Parlar—but there it was in black and white on that liberal, government whore publication: ‘Humans are being injected with artificial Life forms through COVID-19 vaccines’.
I fucking knew it! I didn’t know why ‘Life’ was capitalised while the rest of the words in the headline weren’t—literature never really was my strong suite in grade school—but that’s beside the point. Since I was there on a Web site that wasn’t porno or Facebook, I thought to myself: What the hell, might as well try and get some education, since I’m here anyway.
So, I read on: ‘What is the COVID-19 vaccine agenda? Humans are being injected with artificial life forms. You don’t believe? Watch the above video.’ There was nothing else to read there—and reading never was my strong suit neither, anyhow—so I went ahead and watched the video.
Well, first off, it’s a con because it’s not even a video, just a picture of a piece of broccoli and then this guy who sounds like he’s talking on the radio, yapping on and on. I didn’t even know what he was on about—I stopped ‘watching’ one minute and ten seconds in. Guy was so boring, and he didn’t even say nothin’ about the aliens and the vaccine and that, which was the whole point I clicked on the link in the first place.
Anyways, except for the reasons I mentioned above, the whole Internet is fake anyway—Bill Gates invented it to find a girlfriend, or was it Mark Zuckerberg? Same thing. I forget. Beside the point. Really, all you haveta do you wanna know somethin’ about somethin’ is ask Bob at the bar. Bob knows everything about everything. Sure don’t know how he does it because all he seems to do all day is be there at the bar—must be the only other guy who is at the bar more’n me. I know that because every day I go there, sure as shit, there Bob is already.
So, I ask Bob next time I’m at the bar—which is probably the next day, or the same day I read about the broccoli people (time comes in a man’s life when days has a way of running all one into the other). ‘Bob,’ I says, ‘you know anything about this here new vaccine the govmint is all tryna force down our craws? I seen this article in the capitalist whore news that it was invented by aliens that looks like a piece of broccoli. You heard about this?’
Bob said he heard about all this but that it doesn’t matter one bit about the aliens—that’s the least of it. ‘Thing is,’ Bob tells me, ‘if you don’t go and get that goddamn vaccine, goddamn govmint ain’t gonna let you go into no bar ever again in your whole goddamn life,’ is what Bob said about it. So, I got up and straight went and got that vaccine right then and there. Didn’t even finish my double Jack Daniels—just right up lit out of my barstool and went and got the vaccine in the arm—J&J one. It’s just quicker. (Reckon Bob finished my double Jack Daniels for me. Worst sin a man can commit in this life and the next is leaving a hard-earned drink standin’ on the bar.)
Worst mistake I ever made—not leaving the Jack Daniels, I mean, although that’s pretty bad—getting the vaccine, is what. Next thing I know, instead of waking up in the bar or its general vicinity, on the stairs to my apartment, or—and that’s if I get real lucky with the walking home—in a puddle of puke on my kitchen floor, I wake up on an operating table in an alien spaceship. Butt-naked.
Alien fucker—all bug-eyed, big-headed, silver-coloured, androgenous-looking fucker—is standing there with what looks like a thermometer—you know the kind you get in a fish tank, or the ones you see when you take your dyin’ cat to the vet again—only this thermometer is at least fifty times bigger’n the ones the vets got. I look that alien fucker up and down a good ol’ long time—as far as it’s comfortable to do so, being all tied face-down, butt-naked to a operatin’ table and what—and I says, as polite as polite can be: ‘What the fuck you gonna do with that there test-tube-looking thing in your hand there, friend?’
Turns out they ain’t so big on English on Mars or wherever it is them fuckers come from, so I tries again: ‘Donde esta el autobus?’ That’s about the only thing I knows in that particular language—except ‘tequila, por favor’—but it turns out they ain’t so sure about that language neither up there on spaceships.
Don’t even rightly know what happened next or how I got out of there, tell you the truth. Instead of waking up in the bar or general vicinity, in the dumpster behind Dunkin Donuts, or in the john at the burger place like I usually do if it’s been a fine night—I wakes up in my bed. At home. Butt-naked. That’s when you know things just ain’t normal and it’s been a really, really bad night and somethin’ just really bad has gone and happened to a man.
And I just know it happened to Bob too, I just know it; he got the vaccine also. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk much about nothin’ no more these days but I can see it there in Bob’s eyes, and I know it’s there in mine too.
I seen it in others too, out on the street, or when you just out doing your regular activities, mindin’ your own business, refillin’ your prescriptions and such at the drugstore, arrangin’ a lychin’ on Parlar—you just knows it when you sees it, the look some of us got now: wide-eyed, blank stare into the far distance, like you just seen the most terrifying thing a man can go and see, and you just go on seeing it over and over again. Bob ’n me, we just don’t talk about it though.
- Byron Loker has been called by a fellow South African man of letters ‘a talented writer who could go far if only he’d give up surfing and chasing women’. He was once a film student but is now fully rehabilitated. His first short story collection, New Swell, took thirty-two years to write and sank without a trace. His literary hero is Ernest Hemingway—as you may have already guessed. (He’d be a full-blown alcoholic if only he could afford it.) He lives somewhere in the so-called deep south on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa with a very sweet ginger tabby named Georgie, a selection of SSRIs, and a pile of regrets—chief among them being the decision to try and earn a living from writing.