by Nate Streeper
Doug stared at the coffee table while he adjusted his man bun. He had been staring at it for eons. Or was it minutes? Either way, he was staring at it now. And now was all that mattered.
“Dude,” he said to Brody. “Have you ever noticed? The way the wood in the coffee table is, like, a slice of life?”
Brody pushed long, dirty bangs out of his eyes and exhaled slowly before answering.
“Yeah, man.” He passed the joint to Doug. “Yeah, I have.”
Doug followed the wood grains along the table’s length with his eyes—except where the ashtray, and the remote control, and the dead batteries obscured the surface.
“It’s like, the wood is a slice of life. Cuz it was a tree. A living, fucking tree. And this…” He spread his arms slowly around their living room, encompassing the two of them, the tattered couch, the crushed Budweiser cans, and the stained David Bowie poster. “This is a slice of life, too. It’s like, we’re all... connected.”
Brody’s eyes widened. “Doug, that’s deep, man. You’re hella smart.”
“That’s what I keep telling Chuck. You don’t need a fancy college degree to understand the world. All you need to do is stop and think. Like, really think, you know?”
Chuck was their third roommate. He was enrolled in classes at the university. Always studying. Always exercising. Always complaining about the dishes not getting done. The guy was a total straight edge.
“The guy’s, like, a total straight edge,” said Brody, echoing the sentiment in the room.
“He’s probably out running right now. Always fucking running. But running where, man? Like, is he running toward something?” Doug took a deep breath, caught up in his own pot-fueled philosophy. “Or running away from something.”
“I mean, what’s even the point? Running sucks balls, you know?”
Brody sat forward, strategically re-positioning his lungs for a final hit.
“Well, they say it’s good for you, don’t they? Like, after you run, you’re supposed to feel real good about it.”
“But while you’re running, while you’re in the process… It sucks, right? I mean, it’s like you can hardly fucking breathe. Why would anyone do that to themselves?” Doug flailed meaningfully, coughing out a puff of smoke. “It’s like running sets your lungs on fire. It’s fucking miserable.”
“It is, man. I’m not a fan of that running bullshit.” Brody placed the joint on his lips and finished it.
“It makes you feel like crap! People run so they can feel good later? Why not just have a beer and feel good now?”
“Cuz of the hangover, maybe?”
“Well yeah, okay. With beer, there’s a hangover. But you can always fix that by having another beer.”
“So, in utter summation, man. In utter fucking summation, it’s like this: You can feel like shit now so you feel good later, or you can feel good now and maybe feel like shit later. The way I see it, Brody?”
“The whole thing’s a fuckin’ wash.”
Brody flicked the joint toward the ashtray and missed. The stub landed dangerously near the magazine. He pushed the magazines farther away. Upon doing so, he revealed a plastic bag full of white powder.
“It’s all a matter of when your story ends, right?” Doug said. “Like, when does your fucking story end? Does it end tomorrow? Does it end today?”
Brody picked up the bag and turned it over in his hands while Doug pontificated.
“Does it end in five minutes? Like, does the earthquake hit us in five minutes? Well, maybe. You don’t know, right? You don’t know. And if it does, and you’re Chuck, and you’re out there running around and feeling like you can hardly fucking breathe, and you die in the earthquake… It’s like you totally missed out on life! It’s like you never got to feel good about it. But we did, right? We feel good about it right now. And now is all that matters. Hey, what is that shit?”
Brody opened the bag and sniffed it. “Doug, we totally forgot about Gary’s stardust, man.”
The memory gradually resurfaced in Doug’s mind. “Dude. How could we have not tripped on that yet?”
“I don’t know, man. I guess we just fuckin’ forgot, you know?”
“Yeah,” Doug answered. “I guess we did.”
Last night—or was it two nights ago?—the two of them had wandered out to the neighboring park’s abandoned baseball field with a case of Bud and some edibles. They sat on a bench at the base of the stadium and looked across the empty field out at the sleepy town, and up at the twinkling stars. Life was good.
They were only four beers and two brownies into the affair when a spacecraft landed on the pitcher’s mound. It landed slowly enough, but something regarding the landing seemed awkward. Unplanned. Doug didn’t know much about spacecraft, but somehow, he could tell that much.
A tremendous plume of dirt kicked up as a result, immersing them in a dust cloud.
“What the fuck, bro?” Doug said as he wiped tears and dirt from his eyes.
A tiny hatch opened along the underside of the silver, bulbous craft. If it hadn’t opened, they wouldn’t have been able to tell it was there, the engineering was so seamless. Narrow stair droplets fell out of the opening’s base, each step just floating there, as though they were magnetically polarized against the earth. A little green man wearing an orange jumpsuit walked out in a huff, carrying a black metal box.
“Quarking shit!” the little green man said. Upon reaching the mound, he turned and kicked one of the steps. “Used piece of Gizmilion crap! Never buy from a Gendeck Hopper.” He flung the black box onto the ground and opened it, revealing what appeared to be a set of tools. He grabbed a black wrench with a neon red control panel imbedded in its handle and walked around to the back of the craft, then began tinkering with what must have been its engine unit.
Doug and Brody looked at each other, then looked back at the alien.
“Uh. Hello?” Doug said.
The alien continued to tinker, but answered noncommittally. “Yeah, hello.”
Brody just sat and watched, but in a low tone directed only to Doug, said, “Do you think it’s okay if he parks there?”
“Probably not,” Doug answered. “I mean, there might be a game tomorrow.” They just watched the alien for another minute or so, listening to him grumble and cuss as he banged around on thrusters and such. “Think I should tell him?”
“Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Hey, mister, uh… Mister alien dude?”
“Yeah?” the alien replied while he worked. “It’s probably the fuckin’ fidget-blower…” he muttered.
“Hey, uh… We’re not trying to, you know, interfere and stuff, but we thought we should maybe tell you that you might not wanna park there. On account of this being a place for baseball and stuff.”
“Uh huh.” The alien continued knocking his tool among engine components. “Protocol not withstanding, there weren’t any quarkin’ cornfields in the area when my Kriggin Drive sputtered out, so you’ll just have to excuse the fuck out of me this time.”
“This guy’s pissed,” Brody said.
“Hey, it’s cool man,” Doug called out to the alien. “It’s cool. We don’t wanna cause any trouble, you know? Just lookin’ out for ya.”
“Ah, that’s the problem,” the alien said, sounding relieved. “Now that’s fixable.” He tossed the tool back in the box and headed straight toward them, walking with such purpose that Brody flinched and held his arms up.
“He’s gonna shoot us with a ray gun!”
At this, the alien stopped and laughed. His antennae wiggled while his lower lids closed up over his enormous, black, almond eyes. “Ray gun? Hah! We haven’t used ray guns since the seventies. Get with the times, man!”
“Seriously.” He reached out a green appendage. “I believe you shake hands in this culture? Name’s Gary.”
“Brody,” Brody answered, responding to the gesture.
“Doug,” Doug said in turn.
“Well then. Brody. Doug. This is a little embarrassing, but it appears I’ve run out of aluminum alcho-line.”
“I’ve run out of energy. Fuel. Gas. Whatever the hell you wanna call it. Ship’s on empty.”
“It does indeed suck, Brody. But fortunately for me, you have exactly what I need right there.” He directed his antennae toward eight crushed beer cans.
“Dude,” Doug said. “You need Budweiser?”
“I need those cans, Doug. Five should cover it.”
“You need these,” Doug confirmed, picking one up.
“Yes, Doug. Yes, I do. Hey, I know, it’s a lot to ask. Tell you what! I’ll trade you for them. Be right back.”
Doug was going to tell him he could just have all eight of the empty beer cans for free, but Brody stopped him. “Hold on, man. Let’s see what he gives us.”
Doug nodded and remained silent.
Gary went back into the belly of his ship and rummaged around. They heard drawers being opened and slammed, furniture being drug along the floor. At one point, something sounded like an agitated beaver. “Ah, here it is!” Gary’s voice echoed. He exited the ship and marched back over to them, holding what looked like a dime bag of cocaine. “Here you go, boys! One sack of stardust.”
Brody reached out and took it. “Coke?”
“Hah!” the alien laughed as he gathered up the cans. “No, not coke. Stardust, man! Like, real stardust. Gathered from the tail of Haley’s comet. Trippiest shit you’ll ever experience.”
To find out what happens to Doug, Brody, and Gary, the complete story is available in Volume 4.