How I Saved a Planet! |

How I Saved a Planet!

By Stephen Quatro

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Chapter K
On the planet Fweam...

The next town we encountered was Maryville. I suggested that Qarl and I split up for a bit to try to find the others more quickly. Qarl agreed, ducking down a side street while I continued up the main thoroughfare into the center of town.

Something seemed…”off”…about Maryville. Despite the presence of inhabitants, it was quiet—too quiet. I continued up the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of our party, but saw no one I recognized.

Maryville was a somber place. Everywhere I looked, aliens wandered in a zombie-like fashion, their heads down and their faces crestfallen. Occasionally, a sob would break through the veil of somberness and echo hauntingly off the building facades. I cautiously approached one of these sad creatures and asked what the matter was.

“I mourn,” the alien replied in a pitiful voice.

“I can see that,” I responded gently. “But what is wrong?” The creature looked up at me with watery eyes.

“I mourn the Absence of Mary,” he whispered.

“Who is Mary?” I queried further. The alien stared at me for a long moment before replying.

“I don’t know.”

With that, the alien turned and slinked away into the shadows, leaving me feeling more than a bit confused and uneasy. Desperate to find out what was going on, I approached another alien, only to receive the same exact response. Again and again I tried to obtain an answer from each creature I encountered, but to no avail. I finally gave up and plopped down on the steps of the nearest building.

“Do you want to know what is going on, stranger?” a quiet voice asked from behind me. I turned and looked up. I had chosen the steps of a temple to rest upon, and from its shadows emerged a dark figure. He was dressed in a simple robe with mysterious symbols embroidered into it. A silver chain hung around his neck, a tiny sphere of clouded glass attached in the front.

I stood up as he approached me. “I don’t mean to intrude,” I told him, “but I am very concerned by what I see. Can you tell me what is happening here? Why all the sorrow?”

“We mourn,” the dark figure replied. “We all mourn.”

I rolled my eyes slightly at this revelation. “Yes, that is abundantly clear,” I retorted. Before I could continue, the alien resumed his explanation.

“We mourn the Absence of Mary.”

“WHO is Mary??” I asked, thoroughly exasperated. The alien paused for a moment. “Let me guess,” I continued. “You don’t know. Nobody seems to know.” I threw up my hands in frustration.

“Nobody seems to know,” the dark figure repeated robotically.

“But you still mourn her anyways,” I pressed.

“Indeed, we still mourn her,” the alien nodded.

“Why would you mourn someone or something that you don’t even know?”

“We grieve her Absence, for that is a sorrowful thing. It is our way.” A single tear slid down the alien’s cheek as he said this.

“Well, why did she leave?” I asked, anticipating the answer in my head.

“Nobody seems to know,” the alien whispered cryptically. “But perhaps if we mourn her Absence enough, she will return to us.”

“And do what?” I pressed. “Rule the land? Teach the nation? Save you from yourselves?”

The alien smiled at me slightly before silently gliding backwards into the shadows of the temple interior.

“Well?” I called out after him. “What’s going to happen if she returns?”

A thin, whispery echo wafted from the darkness: “Nobody seems to knowwwwww…”

Beyond frustrated, I leapt from my seat on the temple steps and ran into the street, looking for Qarl. I found him down a side alley, standing on a soapbox and surrounded by a crowd of aliens. As I approached, I could hear his pinched, nasally voice speaking.

“My fellows,” he was saying, “since our great Mary left us, her Absence has been felt greatly by all. Shall we not then mourn until her return? Shall we not drown our sorrows with more sorrow? Shall we not grieve the greatest grief that could ever be grieven?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. What had happened to Qarl? I moved forward to the edge of the crowd, which was hanging eagerly on Qarl’s every word. He was not finished.

“Cry out, my friends!” he instructed. “Let sobs break forth from your air passages, and let us all wail in synchronicity. Mary is Absent, and we must drink the sorrow this brings us.”

He lifted a silver flask to his thick, purple lips as he said this and took a gulp of liquid. In response, the crowd erupted into doleful screeches of woe, their voices converging into a cacaphonic chorus that viciously assaulted the eardrums. Clapping my hands over my ears to block out the horrid sound, I moved further into the crowd and strained to get Qarl’s attention. He caught my eye momentarily, and I motioned frantically for him to come with me. Nodding slightly, he stepped somberly from his soapbox and cleared his throat loudly, his phlegmatic utterance breaking through the crowd’s vociferous lamentations. All fell silent and turned to give him attention.

“My planetary brethren,” he said gravely, “I must take leave of you briefly. Please continue mourning in my absence.” At the mention of the word “absence,” his voice faltered and tears welled up in his eyes. A thoughtful alien standing nearby placed a reassuring tentacle on his arm. “I hope to return very soon to you all,” he continued. “Grievings and lamentations!”

“Grievings and lamentations,” the crowd murmured back, parting to let him through. Once Qarl was free of the throng, I grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side of the alleyway.

“Qarl, what the hell are you doing?” I asked him, confusion and concern in my voice.

Qarl looked up at me, his eyes glazed over and his lips trembling. “I am mourning the Absence of Mary.”

“But why? Are you ok? What have they done to you?” I peppered Qarl with questions, but he seemed unfazed.

“She is…Absent,” he replied with a hiccup. Something was off about Qarl (and that was saying a lot). He seemed…

“Are you…drunk?” I asked incredulously. I snatched the silver flask from his hand and held it to my nose. Yep, Qarl was definitely drunk.

I turned back to the crowd, most of whom were still weeping at various decibel levels. “Who gave this to him?” I shouted above the din. No one paid me any mind. “HEY!” I yelled louder. “Shut the hell up!”

An instant hush fell over the crowd as all eyes turned to me. Qarl stumbled drunkenly beside me and reached for the flask, which I kept out of his reach, despite his slurred protests. I was angry now, and I was about to let the crowd have it.

“What is wrong with all of you? Huh? Why are you standing around wailing, getting my friend drunk in the middle of the day? Why are you mourning someone you don’t even know, someone you’ve never met, someone who should have no impact on your lives?”

The crowd remained silent, staring at me with unblinking eyes.

“Why can’t you do something productive with your time, instead of spending it grieving over some mysterious person who isn’t even here?”

I had my mouth open to continue when a disturbance at the edge of the crowd caught my eye. Two soldiers dressed in full regalia were parting the crowd and coming my way.

“You!” one shouted at me. “Come with us at once!”

“What for?” I countered. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“He is besmirching our beloved Mary’s memory,” an alien spoke up unhelpfully.

“What memory!?!” I yelled. “You all have no memory of this woman.” The soldiers had reached me now and grasped my arms to pull me away. I started to resist, but thought better of it when I saw the large swords they carried on their hips.

“You have committed a grave sin,” one of them told me roughly. “You and your blue friend must go before the council.” With that, they pulled us away from the crowd.

Qarl and I were brought into the center of the village where an ugly gray building stood. This was the council hall, we were told, where we would answer for our crimes. Once inside, we were each locked in a holding cell to wait until the council was ready to hear our case.

A few hours later, we were both summoned to the courtroom. It was a vast room, blandly decorated and somber in appearance. Guards were posted at every exit, while the crowd from earlier filled seats in a spectators’ section. All eyes turned to Qarl and me as we were led into the courtroom.

A wood-paneled judge’s bench occupied the far end of the space. Behind it sat twelve council members and a judge. Positioned in the center behind them was a large sphere made of clouded glass. I recognized it as a much larger version of the one the temple alien had round his neck. I wondered what the gigantic glass ball represented.

My attention turned to the judge. She had piercing eyes and a face frozen into a mournful scowl. Gray hair was piled atop her head, complementing her gray-tinged skin. She had ten bony fingers on each hand, which she tapped annoyingly on the bench. The most intriguing thing about her appearance, however, was a small gray rain cloud that hovered over her head, following her around whenever she moved. Occasionally a drop would fall, landing on her face and cascading down her cheek like a tear.

“It has been reported that you have been challenging our way of life to the village folk,” she said to me, reading off a large scroll.

“I’ve been questioning why everyone is mourning some woman they don’t even know,” I clarified.

“That is not your place!” she barked, her mournful expression turning swiftly into one of anger. “This is our way of life, and you must respect that.”

“But who is Mary?” I asked, still insistent on proving the ridiculousness of this whole venture.

“That is an irrelevant question. We need only to mourn her Absence.”

“You don’t even know anything about this Mary!” I exclaimed, thoroughly exasperated.

“We know enough,” she retorted. “We know our Mary is great, that she is Absent, and that we must mourn this Absence until she return to us in the year Two Thousand When, as saith the prophecy:
In the year Two Thousand When,
Mary shall return again.”

“And so may it be,” murmured the crowd in unison.

“And so may it be,” she repeated. “This is all we need to know.”

“This is utterly stupid,” I blurted out with a sarcastic chuckle. “Your whole lives revolve around this mystery woman that no one seems to know anything about. What’s the point of all this?”

As I said this last statement, a crack suddenly appeared in the glass sphere behind the bench, with a noise like ice breaking. The crowd gasped, and the judge leapt to her feet.

“Stop!” she ordered. “You are harming the bubble with your questions.”

“What are you talking about?”

She gestured towards the glass spheroid. “This bubble protects our way of life and must not be harmed.”

“Well I think your way of life is ridiculous.” The crack widened with a groan as I said this. The crowd collectively inhaled at a higher pitch.

“Silence!” cried the judge. The cloud above her head darkened. “Speak no further, or your punishment will be most severe.”

“What, are you going to mourn me to death?” I joked. The crack split into three branches, and a few aliens fainted.

“ENOUGH!” shrieked the judge. Her eyes flashed and thunder rumbled from her cloud. “The council must now decide your fate.”

The deliberation was brief, likely due to both my obvious culpability in “harming the bubble” and a frantic desire on their part to prevent further damage. The judge banged her gavel, cleared her throat, and spoke.

“The council has reached a decision. We shall keep your friend Qarl with us, as there is still a chance for his indoctrination,” she said decisively. “You, however...” (here she paused for effect) “…must be shunned!”

The crowd began to chant rhythmically, “Shun! Shun! Shun! Shun! Shun!” She hushed them and continued.

“Let the shunning begin!”

With that, she and the council swiveled their chairs away from me, while every member of the crowd turned their backs. Qarl drunkenly complied as well, turning his blue head away. Silence reigned in the chamber for a few moments. At length, one member of the council tentatively turned my way to see my reaction, which remained unchanged. He cleared his throat.

“Erm, Your Honor, the shunning appears not to be working as intended.”

The judge gave an exasperated sigh and turned back around to face me. The crowd followed suit.

“Very well,” she said sternly. “Given your grievous crimes, we have no choice but to turn you over to…” (here she paused again for effect) “…the Vream!”

The crowd collectively gasped at the news.

“The who?” I asked.

“The Vream of Fweam!” she responded dramatically. She rose from the bench, walked over to me, and thrust a black flask into my hand.

“Drink!” she ordered.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It is the Elixir of the Damned,” she replied coldly with an unnecessary flourish of her hand. The crowd ooooo’ed softly behind her.

“Oh......ok then.” I lifted the flask to my lips and took a tentative sip. The Elixir of the Damned was clearly ginger ale.

“This is clearly ginger ale,” I pointed out. She raised her hand as if to strike me.

“Shut up!” she ordered. “You must drink it.”

How disappointing, I thought, staring at the flask of tepid liquid. At least Qarl got to drink regular ale.

“Drink it all!” she hurried me. “Every drop must be taken for the Vream. The Elixir marks you as his.”

Screw it, I told myself, and tilting my head back, I drained the flask. No sooner had the flask left my lips than it was snatched out of my hands and given to a guard. Raising her arm, she pointed to the door.

“Let us go offer him to the Vream!”

I was led downstairs, out the door, and to the edge of town. Council and crowd both followed us. Night had fallen, and a black night it was. Nary a star twinkled in the sky, as if each was hiding its face from my impending doom. We finally stopped at the edge of a thick wood. The judge faced the dark trees with a sober expression on her severe features.

“O Vream!” she called out into the void. “O Vream of Fweam! Take your child of darkness. He waits here for you.”

Nothing happened.

“O Vream!” she repeated. “O Vream of Fweam! Take your child of darkness. Take him now!”

A pair of red eyes shone suddenly from the shadows. She stepped back in response, and I involuntarily followed suit.

“‘Tis the Vream!” she whispered breathlessly.

“‘Tis! ‘Tis! ‘Tis! ‘Tis!” the crowd repeated in a louder whisper. She turned and hushed them.

Placing her bony hand firmly on my back, she instructed, “Go and meet your new master.” I hesitated, as your average sane person would have. I knew that glowing red eyes are pretty much the universal sign of anger, malice, and/or all things evil.

“You know, I'm not exactly in the market for a new master,” I started to say, but her hand pressed harder into my back, sending pain shooting through my shoulders. Wriggling away from her forceful push, I stepped gingerly towards the darkness...and toward those foreboding eyes.

The eyes seemed to glow redder as I approached, but I'm sure my gripping fear had nothing to do with it. As I continued into the shadows, I could hear Qarl drunkenly singing in the crowd behind me.

“You got in trouble for harming the bubble,” he slurred. I really wanted to smack his head off again.

I had almost reached the eyes when I stopped suddenly. The eyes were rising. Up, up they traveled, until they were floating a good ten feet above my head. It was then that I noticed that the eyes were attached to a body, and that the body belonged to a giant shadowy beast, and that the beast was standing up.

I felt a wave of heat wash over me as the beast rose up on its legs. And then, in the next instant, a hot, yellow light enveloped my body. I dropped to the ground in a panic. Looking up, I saw a massive flame raging over my head. And in that moment, I knew.

The beast was a dragon. Yay.

As I continued staring up at the fire-breathing monster, the flame died away. Ever so menacingly, it turned its gaze downward to me.

I gulped in terror. Do something, I told myself. Don't just let him fry you! In that moment, I knew what I had to do. I crouched down and began to execute a perfect barrel roll towards the bushes. Alas, it was not to be. No sooner had I begun my roll when I felt my body leaving the ground.

Twisting my head around, I looked with terror into the glowing eyes of the fearsome beast, barely an inch away from my face. The dragon had picked me up with his dreadful claw and was carrying me away into the trees. The clamoring voices of the crowd grew quieter in the distance.

I was truly screwed.

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About Stephen Quatro

Stephen Quatro is a writer living in the NYC area. His favorite genre is humor. In addition to writing, Stephen enjoys singing, playing the piano, and composing.

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