Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ballad of Sally McGee

"Sweet Sally McGee!" I shouted upon seeing balls of flame shoot into the sky over the moon base. Now, I'm aware that "Sweet Sally McGee" is somethin strange to be yellin when you see a gout of flame shoot into the sky, but it all goes back to third grade. Douggy and I attended elementary school with this girl named Sally McGee. I'll even go so far to admit that she was my first crush. I would watch her skip to school in her frilly dresses, red pigtails flappin in the breeze, but I never got the nerve to say nothin to her.

That went on for weeks. I would make sure that, in the morning, I was positioned somewhere I could see her approaching school. Even on the coldest days, with a nor'easter blowing and the snot freezing as it came dripping out of my nose and then being sculpted by the wind so that, by the time school started, I looked like I had dragon whiskers. Three times that winter, I was nearly transferred to the Dragon Elementary down the street by the vice-principal, but I was lucky enough to sit in his office for thirty minutes, allowing my snot whiskers to melt and, when I had to go into his office to discuss my dragonocity, he was willing to admit I wasn't a dragon.

Despite the cold, the being mistaken for a dragon, the almost losing my nose to frostbite, and the nearly being carried off by a yeti in that one snowstorm, it was all worth it to see Sally McGee skipping to school. That girl loved skipping. Even with two foot drifts on the ground, she would still skip to school. Keep in mind, this was back in the day, before kids got spoiled and expected schools to send buses to their homes and pick them up like they was some kind of celebrity of somethin, back in the time when a hill could run upwards both ways and before we expected school to be cancelled just because it was snowin a foot a minute and yetis were out snatchin people and takin them back to their winter lairs to do strange, awful things to them, like challenge them to a nacho eating contest and then cheatin at it. It was also back in the time where schools were just one little room, and we were lucky if some student or another brought a lump of coal with them to heat the place.

All that changed when Sally McGee came to school, and that was prolly why I loved her. You see, Sally's pa was a jalapeno farmer, and, though he made enough to pay the mortgage on their farm, he didn't make enough to feed his family any more than what he grow. The McGee family lived on a steady diet of jalapeno peppers. Keep in mind, now, that jalapenos is vegetables, just like any other pepper, and theys full of vitamins and nutrients and whatnot that growin and grown people need to get about their days, so the McGee family wasn't sufferin from malnutrition or nothin like that, so I don't want y'all gettin down on Mr. McGee, who was a good, upstandin man and a friendly citizen to boot (even if you couldn't touch your eyes or face after shakin hands with him).

Mrs. McGee did what she could to add some variety to her family's steady diet of peppers, but it couldn't have been easy. Sally would come to school carryin herself jalapeno crackers, jalapeno stews and, near the holidays, turkey sandwiches made entirely of jalapenos, which Mrs. McGee had painstakingly molded into turkey form and then dried in the sun to get that turkey color. Sure, it still tasted like jalapeno, but at least it looked like turkey.

The result of this steady diet of peppers was that the entire McGee family, Sally included, had an internal body temperature of, I would estimate, about three hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I can only estimate because every time the nurse tried to check Sally's temperature, which only happened three times, the mercury in the thermometer would start to boil and shatter the glass holding it in, spraying boiling mercury everywhere, which is why we always had our temperatures taken outside and at least 200 feet away from the nurse.

Because of her elevated body temperature, Sally's popularity varied depending on the season. In the winter, she was the most popular girl in school and the children all scrambled to get a desk near hers. It didn't help that the teacher, Mrs. Crowley, would sit Sally and her cast iron desk in the middle of the room, replacing the stove that only worked occasionally, or that other students would set tin cups of water with tea bags floating in them on Sally's desk and then never offer to share their tea with her. Some students were downright rude, bringing raw eggs from home and frying them on Sally's desk when she went up to go to the bathroom and then never even offering to trade their eggs for some jalapeno concoction that she brought in her lunch.

In the summer, Sally would be placed at the back of the room, as far away from the other children as she could get. When it started gettin above ninety, usually in the last week of school, Mrs. Crowley would go so far as to put Sally's desk outside so Sally had to look in the window in order to see what was written on the board. It was heartbreaking, I tell ya. I went home every day that year feelin bad for Sally McGee, and wonderin what I could do.

Then, one Tuesday afternoon, after studyin brave men of the past and how they did things even though they was scared, I got up the courage to speak to Sally. At lunch, I saw her go through her ritual of opening her lunch box, lookin in, sighin and then starin to weep a little before liftin whatever new jalapeno thing her mom had made out of the box and slowly start stuffin it in her mouth. This was my chance.

I walked over to Sally's desk and help my sandwich out to her. "Hey Sally," I said, profferin my lunch, "you wanna trade?"

"I dunno," she replied coyly, "what kinda sandwich ya got?"

"Tuna salad."

"Oh yeah?" she leaned back in her chair, "and whatchoo want for it?"

"I dunno." I scanned her lunchbox. "How 'bout that fried chicken?"

"That ain't really fried chicken, you know."

"I know, but it's ok."

She squealed with delight, digging into my sandwich with relish as she tossed me the jalapeno chicken leg with such disdain that it might as well have been a week old dead possum. We sat next to each other the rest of that lunch, but didn't say anything. She was too busy enjoyin the tuna salad and I was tryin my darndest not to cry from the heat. And I don't wanna hear no lip outta you about how jalapenos ain't that hot and how you've had a lot hotter stuff in your time, I was nine for heaven's sake, and I'd grown up mostly eatin tuna salad and potatoes and cabbage. The hottest thing I'd ever had up to that point was yellow mustard, and even that my mom mixed with water do it didn't upset our humors.

That trade was the beginning of a beautiful relationship spanning 3 whole months. Every day, Sally and I would trade a bit of our lunch and then enjoy it together. She gained a whole new appreciation for food and I, well, I raised my heat tolerance and got to see all the wonderful and ultimately terrible things that could be done by a determined mother with a near-endless supply of jalapenos. As we ate, we would talk. Just a little at first, but we learned more and more about each other.

Then, on the last day of third grade, I took the ultimate step. I told Sally I loved her.

"Well," she said, taken aback, "I didn't expect that."

I was crestfallen. "I understand if you don't feel the same way, Sally, but I had to tell you."

"No, no!" she said, "I just thought I was the only one who felt that way. I...I love you, too, Pat."

It was like a flock of doves had wrapped taffy around my heart and carried it into the clouds. I was elated. Sally apparently was, too, because she was more flushed than I'd ever seen her.

"So, now that we're in love," I said, prolly less slyly than I thought, "how's about we kiss?"

"Oh, I dunno," she blushed even redder, "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"It's all right," I cajoled, "I won't tell no one."

"It ain't that, silly. It's just...I ain't never kissed no one, and I'm afraid I'm gonna burn you."

"That's a risk I'll take," I said bravely, and leaned in, puckerin my lips like I'd seen Gary Cooper do.

Sure enough, Sally was right, she burned my lips right off my face. It took me two whole months to grow them lips back, and it caused me to miss the Iowa Whistlin Championships at the sate fair that summer, but it was worth it, I tell ya. I ain't never had no kiss like that since. It was like touchin the sun with my face, glorious and painful all at the same time. I think Sally felt the same way, but I never got a chance to ask her.

After the kiss, her face kept gettin redder and redder, sweat pourin out of her in pints.

"Oh, oh!" She shouted, "Oh no! OH NO!"

Then she burst into flame. It think it was the sudden rush of blood and increase in body temperature that inevitably follows a Pat O'Neil kiss, but I ain't no scientist. All I know is that, right there on the bench, she caught fire. She kept gettin hotter and hotter. I tried to brave it out the best I could, and I lasted long enough to burn off all my clothes and get first degree burns over half my body. But then I had to back away, wishin I could do somethin to help and feelin selfsh about kissin her. Sally burned hotter and hotter, gettin brighter and brighter, like a star about to supernova. We all had to shield our eyes and so we didn't see exactly how it happened, but we all heard the WHOOSH and felt the heat gettin farther away. We looked up to see Sally flyin through the sky, leavin a trail of flame behind her. And we all heard the boom as she went supersonic. Then, she was gone. When we looked into the sky that night, we saw an extra star in Orion and, though we couldn't be sure it was Sally, we all agreed to say it was as a way to honor her memory.

I never saw Sally McGee after that. Her dad decided that feedin his family nothin but jalapenos was a dangerous thing and so he sold his farm and moved back to the old country. As for Sally, n one ever saw her again. Tom Blickenstein, another kid in our class, kept track of the "Sally Star" every night, and updated us every day through high school. He ended up takin a career in astronomy, but was drummed out of the university where he was teachin when he delivered his paper on the burnin woman flyin through space. I guess it just wasn't sciencey enough for them egghead types.

In the years since then, I've had women come and go, but I ain't never lost my love for Sally McGee, and there ain't never been no woman that stacked up to her. I guess that's why my relationships ain't never lasted that long.

The long and the short of it is, whenever I see a ball of fire shootin through the sky, I'm taken back to that May day that I got my first kiss, and I remember my sweet Sally McGee and wonder when I'll ever see her again.

It was not to be this day, sadly. I saw the fireball erupt from the moon base, but soon saw it come back down. Then it shot into the air, and back down again. That fireball went up and down and up and down and...well, you get the picture.

"Get in closer," commanded Alistair, "let's get a look at what's going on."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Post #100: Aboard the Deus Ex Machina

I may not be the brightest knife in the drawer, but I sure as heck know a reference to eighth grade English class when I hear it. Sure, I may have no idea what it's talking about, but I sure as shootin remember that it is a reference to something from eighth grade English. And that's what that there Deus Ex Machina thing was. Now, I been around these here Squimonk for a time now, and I know they's hardcore nerds who talk about their fancy schmancy stuff all the time, tryin to act all uppity because they got big brains and they weren't dropped on their heads when they was babies and wasn't raised by an inarticulate family of harbor seals whose only literary discussion was one of 'em gettin into a coughin fit after forgettin to unwrap a cheeseburger before eatin it. Come to think of it, I prolly can't remember what Deus Ex Machina means because I was still relearnin English in the eighth grade. Either that or that's the week we put on that old Greek play and I was playin Zeus and at the end, when I was supposed to be lowered on this kinda machine thing, but Douggy was at the other end of the boom arm, and he was busy chattin up Helga Leibowitz, who he'd had a crush on since the third grade, but had never had the nerve to talk to, especially since her parents homeschooled her and never let her out except to go see "cultural events" like Greek plays and Kiss concerts. So Douggy wasn't really givin that boom arm his all and the whole machine that had the god Zeus (me) in it came crashin down on the stage, knockin me right out. I was out for three days, dreamin that I'd actually become Zeus and had to spend all my time wanderin around and gettin people out of impossible situations that they'd got themselves in because apparently, as a god, I didn't have nothin else to do but sole people's problems and get yelled at by my wife. I thought it was quite a headache until I realized the fly I swallowed was really causing me a headache and I had to take drastic measures. The doctors tell me that, in my sleep, I kept a running commentary of all this, which they'd neglected to tell Douggy, which is why I woke up from my coma to see him over my bed with his axe. I gotta say, for almost killin me twice in a week, he was bein a real stand-up guy.

I'm sorry, I got distracted there talkin about my role as a god in a machine, but I meant to be talkin about the Deus Ex Machina. Kinda funny how you can start talkin about one thing and end up talkin about somethin totally different. My first area of concern was not the name of the ship, though, but how it got there in the first place. But, not wantin to give away my intentions right away, I kind of sidled up to the question by askin about the name first.

"You see," Alistair explained to me, "we were working for some time on cracking the secret to faster than light travel. As I'm sure you know, due to the properties discovered by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, an object will increase its mass as it approaches the speed of light. If anything of any mass were to achieve the speed of light, it would become infinitely massive. Obviously, this is impossible. Even if it were possible, it would make travel even AT the speed of light a fatal proposition. This seemed to be a problem at first because everything with physical existence is supposed to have mass. Thus, theoretically speaking, travel at or above the speed of light should be impossible.

"However, after doing some research into cutting edge particle physics, we discovered a theory for the Higgs boson, which was said to be a particle with the special property of bestowing mass upon things. We built a pretty rudimentary particle accelerator in your backyard, did some experiments and came up with conclusive evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson. Then we developed a series of machines that would extract Higgs bosons from all of the atoms in a given area the size of this ship, developed an interstellar drive that takes advantage of gravity wells and we had an FTL ship."

"Well," I said, scratching my head, "that sounds fascinatin and everything, but it still don't say nothin about the name."

"Right. Well," he snickered, "That's a little joke. You see, the Higgs boson is known in some circles as the 'God particle' and, since we're taking the God from the Machine, we thought Deus Ex Machina was the most appropriate name."

I didn't know if that was clever or not, so I gave him a polite half-chuckle and moved on to what was really on my mind. "How in the heck did y'all find me?"

Alistair furrowed his brows. "You do remember running into Charles, do you not?"

"I sure do! We had pork sandwiches."

"Do you remember him giving you a button?"

I looked at my overalls. Sure enough, the button was still there. I pushed it out proudly, "You mean this button?"

"Yes," he said bluntly, "that button. As he was supposed to have told you, it contains a tracker. We can use it to follow you in the known universe."

"So let me get this straight," I said, "you got this Zeppelin that can go faster than the speed of light, and a machine that can track me anywhere in the universe..."

"KNOWN universe," he corrected.

"Fine, known universe, whatever. If you got all them fancy things, then what the heck took you so long to find me."

He closed his eyes and rubbed the spot between them. "Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! I tell you we research particle physics, build a faster than light drive AND a machine that extracts ALL mass in a small area and you think it took us TOO LONG?!?! AUUUUGH!!!"

Then he turned around and stomped off, his furry little hands wavin above his head.

I looked at Douggy. "What's got his panties all in a bunch?"

"Man," Douggy put a hand on his shoulder, "if you think this is bad, you shoulda seen him when the blip that was you moved from one side of the screen to the other. I thought his furry little head was gonna explode. How ya been?"

"Well, I been in a robot fight on a world taken over by meth, taken a trip to the moon with space pirates that was really copies of me, drunk moon spider poison, and came here to be almost killed by a coupla ninjas dressed like unicorns, but other than that, I got no complaints. How bout you?"

"Good," he said, "good."

Alistair came back, lookin a little less ruffled. "Let's get you debriefed. Then we can figure out where we're going next."

So, I told them all about what had happened to me since I last saw em. When I told em about my newly found and then lost ability to teleport, Alistair said, "That explains the movement in the tracker. It wasn't a malfunction!"

It took me a little while to get through the whole tale. I digressed some, but Alistair kept me on task like he was an 1800's school marm and I was Huck Finn. After hearin everything, we decided it would be best for everyone involved if we travelled back to the world of the moon base and helped them in their invasion plans. All agreed, we set the coordinates and jumped back just in time to see the first of the fireballs shoot into the sky.