Gulp Fiction: Parades & Pangalactic Gargleblasters
By Slurp Simmons
They say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. This story is dedicated to my neighbor, who’s so full of crap that they must be from Uranus.
“Another drink, Mr. Bingham?”
Ryan Bingham, publicity agent to the stars, looked up from the wet stain on the bar that he had been studying. To him, it looked like Laurence Olivier. “Sure thing, Sam,” he answered enthusiastically. And why not? Tonight, he was celebrating.
“The usual, Mr. Bingham? Or are we switching things up tonight?” As he waited for a response, Sam the bartender smiled a knowing smile and began to dry off a clean glass. He knew the answer would be the same one it always was.
“The usual, Sam. There’s no sense in breaking up a winning team.”
“You got it, Mr. Bingham. One Pangalactic Gargleblaster coming right up!” Ryan watched with a vested interest as Sam moved expertly behind the bar; his movements were so smooth and quick, they almost seemed to blur. One minute he was bending over, grabbing the Galliano from where it was tucked away; the next moment he was already pouring the second tablespoon of creme de menthe liqueur into the gap left between the lip of the glass and the slice of lemon that seemed to have teleported there as if by magic. They way he made drinks, and the way they tasted, it was as close to magic as anything that Ryan had ever seen.
The drink, a beautiful blue-green slush, was lightly crafted into an intoxicating pile and slid across the bar to him in a crystal glass that whistled as it moved. The glass swept over the stain that Ryan had been studying earlier. He glanced at it again. Now, it looked a bit more like Jackie Earle Haley.
Ryan took his time with the drink, gulping it down too quickly resulted in a brain freeze that hurt like the dickens. Ryan learned that as he did everything else, the hard way. But once he learned something, he damn sure never forgot it.
As Sam wandered off to serve some dame who just walked in, Ryan turned his attention back to his drink. It was cool, smooth, fun. It was him in a glass.
“Are you Mr. Ryan Bingham, the publicity agent?” Ryan almost jumped right off of his stool. The voice, deep and satin and mesmerizing, wasn’t loud, it was just close. Ryan turned to a stool that was two down from his, one that he thought had been empty just a minute ago. Geez, he thought to himself, I must have really been lost in that drink!
“That’s me, pal. Ryan Bingham, agent to the stars. And who are you, a ninja? Christ pal, you almost scared the pants off of me!”
The stranger who was sitting beside him, now just one barstool over, smiled. Ryan frowned for one moment; he could have sworn that the man was two stools down from him a moment ago. And not even there a minute before that.
The smiling man put out his hand in greeting. “My name is Dakar. I’m a Martian.” Ryan was already shaking his hand but, once he heard those words, he pulled his hand back as if he was afraid to catch something. Like insanity.
“Pleased to meet you, Dakar. You’re a, uhh, what did you say again?” The smile again. The man had all his teeth, none of his features were abnormal or grotesque, yet there was something that was just off-putting about the man.
“A Martian. I said I’m a Martian.”
Ryan turned back to his slush, back to his drink. He sighed and inhaled deeply. He wished he didn’t have to ask any followup questions, but he knew that he had to.
“A Martian, eh? Like from outer space and all that?”
“That is correct, Mr. Bingham. And you’re the agent to the stars, so I thought you’d be interested to help someone that was actually from them.”
“From the stars, huh? That’s cute, a good little gag you got going here. But look here, I’m out here celebrating, I’ve just had a decent win for my career. So let’s cut the horse apples here and just tell me what I can do for you. I’m not an astronaut or any nonsense like that, I’m a publicity agent. So not quite sure what help I’d be to a man from space.”
The strange, smiling man, apparently named Dakar, seemed to perk up a bit and he settled into a comfortable position on the stool next to Ryan. He steepled his fingers before he spoke. “Well then you are perfect, Mr. Bingham. That’s what I am looking for, I am looking to obtain some publicity. It seems, based on my personal observations anyway, that publicity is the very backbone of society on Earth, is it not?”
Ryan snorted. “Yeah, I suppose you could say that. So you need publicity, eh? For who? Who’s the client?”
“Why, the Martians, of course.”
Ryan pinched his eyes shut, as if he had gotten that brain freeze after all, and then he whirled on the weirdo next to him. “You know pal, a lot of people have already heard about Mars, so sounds like my work is already done. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to have my drink in peace.”
Dakar smiled again, his large, cat-like eyes were tinted with playfulness. “That’s another example of this relationship being perfect, for I come in peace.” Ryan let out a derisive chuckle, and then shook his head in disbelief.
“You’re good, Dakar. You really are. Here, I want you to meet someone. Simon! Hey, Simon! Get over here!” At Ryan’s beck and call as usual, Simon, assistant to the agent of the stars, rushed over to the bar from a nearby booth.
“What’s up, Mr. B?”
“Oh, nothing much here. Say, I want you to meet someone. This here is Dakar, he says he’s a Martian. You know, like from Mars.” Simon stuck his hand out to shake, a small smirk on his face. “Nice to meet you, Dakar. What brings you all the way here?”
Before Dakar could answer him, Ryan pressed on, “Never you mind that, Simon. I was just wondering if you could see our friend here outside, maybe make sure he gets back to his spaceship okay. Or, you know, the sanitarium.”
“No problem, boss. Come on Dakar, let’s go take a walk. You can tell me about the drive here, it sounds like a long commute.”
Dakar stayed seated. His large, probing eyes never left Ryan’s face. “Shame,” the Martian said, “I really think we could do business together. Your reaction to my words have convinced me of such. I do come prepared. I believe you call it a ‘cash retainer’?” Dakar reached into his pocket and pullet out a large, clean wad of cash and places it next to the Pangalactic Gargleblaster. Ryan’s eyes went wide.
“Scratch the sanitarium. Get this man a cigar, we have some business to discuss.”
As Simon hopped away to fetch his boss and his new client a cigar, Ryan turned and fixed Dakar with a Cheshire Cat grin. “So, what can I do for you exactly?”
Dakar returned the grin, although the effect was a little bit unnerving. “I want a publicity campaign. A very, very large one. It’s of the utmost importance.”
“Of course, of course it is,” crooned Ryan Bingham, agent to and for the stars now. “Now, what is your product? Is it something new, or something already established that needs a fresh spin on it.” The smile on Dakar’s face spread. “Oh I assure you, Mr. Bingham, it is quite a new concept. What do you usually do for your top clients?”
“Well, that really varies by account, both client and bank, if you know what I mean.” Dakar smiled. He did indeed, which he proved by absentmindedly pulling out another neatly banded stack of bills and placed them on the surface between them. “Money is no object,” Dakar assured him, and Ryan went on.
“Well, for your particular case here, I’d go with what we call a ‘suspense campaign’. First step, we buy a whole lot of ad space in the all the papers, nothing in them. Blank, every single one of them, except for a line saying ‘watch this space!’”
Dakar rubbed his smooth chin with spiny, elongated fingers. The effect wasn’t completely unlike that of a bundle of spiders running across the lower region of his face. “Mm hm,” was all that he uttered, so Ryan pressed on.
“Then, about a week later, we do the same thing. Only this time, we leave a trail of breadcrumbs, a few little teaser clues to get the buzz going. Something like ‘x-y-z’ or ‘5,6,7’, anything that might get people guessing and talking, while meaning nothing.”
“I see, yes, I see.”
“Then, final step, once you teased ‘em all enough, you blast the new product all over the place, unveil the project, the product, what have you, and you do it all with pizzazz and discounts and anything to bring the people in.”
“Excellent, I love it,” the Martian told me. “Like a surprise, made all the better for the waiting.”
“Exactly, pal! Now you got it! Of course, secrecy is of the utmost importance in these types of things. If anybody spills the beans about what you’re selling before it’s on the market, the whole thing is shot to hell. Copycats, critics, all that will ruin your bottom line. Got me?”
Dakar nodded his head, it bobbed up and down as weightless as a birthday balloon. “I assure you, Mr. Bingham, secrecy is no problem for me. Now, I assume that say, oh, one million dollars American ought to cover the whole campaign, don’t you think?”
If it weren’t attached by a bit of greasy flesh, Ryan’s jaw would have plunked right down on the polished hardwood of the bar. “Come again, pal? Did you say one million dollars?” Ryan got another devilish grin in response. “Of course, Mr. Bingham. I take it you’ve handled large accounts before, isn’t that right? This one, if I may be so bold, could become even bigger if you make it your number one priority. Do we have a deal?”
For the second time that evening, Dakar stuck out his hand for Ryan to shake. For the first time that evening, Ryan shook it without regret or hesitation. “Deal! When do we begin? We gotta get your first message out, stage one. We’ll saturate the newspapers, magazines, radio, television, all of that.”
Dakar smiled to himself as he produced a pen, seemingly out of midair, and then started jotting something down on a cocktail napkin. As Ryan waited for the message to be written, Simon reappeared with a couple of Arturo Fuente Anniverxarios for them to smoke in celebration. Ryan cut the ends off and got them both fired up as Dakar smiled and slid the napkin across the bar, stopping just short of sliding across the fading wet face of Jackie Earle Haley.
“The Martians are coming,” Ryan read aloud slowly and with a smirk. “Now, that is a teaser, eh Simon?” His assistants head bobbed up and down excitedly, matching his bosses energy as always.
“The next ad, the second step in the suspense campaign, as you call it, will read, ‘July 4th is Martian Day.’” Ryan cocked an eyebrow. “July 4th? As in, the 4th of July? What happens then? You know, a lot of people will already have plans in place for that day.” Dakar smiled another cold, knowing sort of smile. “Don’t we all, Mr. Bingham? The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.”
Ryan nodded slowly, muttering to himself, the wheels in his head already turning and gearing up. Before he could speak again, Dakar once more had something to add. “Besides, that is when the parade takes place. And everyone shows up for a parade, don’t they?”
“Parade? What parade?”
“I wish to arrange a large, festive parade, going up Sixth Avenue and beyond.” Ryan pulled a tight frown for a moment. “You mean,” he asked, “like the Macy’s Day parade or something like that?”
“Something like that,” Dakar purred, “but bigger. The theme would be ‘The New World of Tomorrow’; my clients would like it to be a very large affair. Marching bands, clowns, pennants, floats, candy, drum majorettes. The whole works, but with a Martian lean to it. Get the picture, Mr. Bingham?”
Whether he did or not, Ryan Bingham nodded his understanding vigorously. He saw large dollar signs in his eyes, that much was for sure. “Say, that sounds like a swell time, my Martian friend! I might even be able to scrounge up a couple tie-in deals with the stores along the route, what’s the product that we’re launching going to be?” Ryan’s answer, however, was met with a tsk tsk tsk.
“Secrecy, remember, Mr. Bingham? You said it yourself, it’s of the utmost importance.”
“Hey, I didn’t mean from me, for Christ’s sake! I’m the one pitching this for you, you know.” Ryan harrumphed and drummed his fingers unconsciously but loudly upon the bar next to his drink. Jackie Earle Haley was completely gone by this point.
“All in good time, my Earthling friend. For the moment, let’s say that it’s more of a concept, than a product. You’ll see. You’ll just have to trust me on this.” Dakar stood to leave, the action exposing his confidence that he had Ryan’s trust, at least for the moment. Simon looked back and forth between them, unsure himself of what exactly was going on.
“We’ll be in touch, Mr. Bingham.” As Dakar left, Simon slipped silently onto the stool next to his boss, who was shaking his head in half astonishment. “Well, just what do you think of that, Simon? All my days, this is definitely the strangest assignment yet.”
Ryan finished off his drink, the Pangalactic Gargleblaster, which had very slowly melted into a bit more of a mess in the glass. He threw the whole slushy concoction down this throat, brain freeze be damned.
“One more, to go Sam. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Sam the bartended nodded, always hearing his drink orders crystal clear, no matter what part of the bar he was tending to. His expert hands made quick work of the drink, he was already pouring the blended ingredients from the blender into another cleaned and dried glass. As Sam garnished the whole thing with a slice of lemon, expertly positioned to look like a crescent moon rising over the night sky, Ryan couldn’t but smile. Yes indeed, he thought to himself. This was a mighty fine night all around.
The telephone rang once, twice, three times. Ryan tapped his fingers against the grain of his desk, absentmindedly impatient. On the seventh ring, the line was answered. “Circus Performers, LLC. This is Barney Sneed speaking, how may I help you today?”
“Barney, how the hell are ya? This is Ryan Bingham. How stocked are you with little people?”
“Only you could start a conversation like that, that’s for sure. I got about forty of them, give or take, all on payroll. What you need ‘em for, you hosting an orgy or something over there?”
“No, no, nothing like that, or I would have called your mother, not you. No, I’m putting together a parade, a big one. I need them all, I’ll take all forty. It’s for the fourth of July, and what’s more, I need them dressed up in little space suits. That something you can handle, Barney old boy?”
“You got it, Ryan. I gotta say, that’s a lot of performers though, you have deep enough pockets for this?”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, buddy. I got a new client who doesn’t mind paying top dollar. So on top of that, I’ll need some other performers. Fifteen, no twenty! Gymnasts if you got ‘em. And a few more extras for marching, maybe fifty of them. All dressed up as Martians, you got that?”
There was a short silence on the other end of the line. Whether it was to write this down, or just to take a moment to process what was being asked of him, Ryan didn’t know, but shortly after, he heard Barney’s voice again. “Martians? Like little green men from Mars?”
“Yes sir, although not like you’ve seen before. Make them real creepy, real intimidating looking. We’re going for big time attention on this, all the stops pulled out.”
As Barney began putting things in motion, Ryan told him he had to go, and hung up the phone. The office door had just creaked open; Simon was standing patiently in the doorway, package tucked under his arm.
“Simon, how’s it hanging?”
“All fine, boss. As always. I got these flyers printed out,” Simon answered as he gestured at the bundle under his arm. “I also have a bunch of local kids pasting these little stickers all over the light poles and alley walls and subway platforms. All the stickers say the same thing as the full-page ads we’re putting out. ‘The Martians are coming!’”
Ryan chuckled and rubbed his hands together, pleased indeed with how things were already starting to shape up. Simon’s face, although also pleased, showed a little bit of apprehension as well. “Gee boss, between all this and the radio and TV spots that we’re running every hour, it’s all starting to get expensive. You sure we’re supposed to do it up this big?” Ryan grinned at his assistant, the memory of the knots of cash playing behind his eyes, as it has ever since the night at the bar.
“Of course! It’s all approved! Also, the more we spend, the bigger our percentage on this thing. So spend, damn you! Spend it like you were facing the firing squad tomorrow! Got me?”
Simon nodded, his apprehension eased. “I got you, boss. How are things coming along for the parade?”
“Smooth as butter, Simon. Smooth as butter. It’ll be the biggest media splash we’ve ever made. Sears, Macy’s, Saks, they’ve all agreed to sponsor and they’re all contributing floats to the parade. And they’re all Martian themed! Everything is gonna be all spaced up. Even the horses that the cops are riding are gonna have dangly antennas and extra limbs attached. It’s gonna go down in history, that’s for sure.”
Ryan drifted off, his gaze seemed far away for a beats, like he was already there at the parade, front row, proud parental smile on his face. Simon was nervous, and cleared his throat to voice as much. “It all sounds amazing, boss, it really does. Doesn’t it worry you, though?”
“Doesn’t what worry me?”
“Well, we don’t even know what it is that we’re promoting! I mean, what’s the product? What’s the product, boss?”
Simon instantly felt at least a little bit better, having voiced the anxiety that, as of late, threatened to crush him. “Simon,” came the response, “my good friend, do you think I’m stupid?” The question was asked playfully and Simon saw a large, infectious grin breakout across Ryan’s cheeks. “Do you really think I’d be spending all this money and not have put two and two together yet?”
“You mean, you figured out what all this Martian nonsense is about?”
Ryan crossed the short distance between them and put a heavy but friendly arm across his assistants shoulders. “Of course I did.” Ryan’s breath was hot and smelled faintly of Galliano and lemon. “I uncovered it accidentally, it was destiny once again smiling down around me.” Ryan went back to his seat behind his desk and sat down comfortably, feet propped up. “You see, I just learned that Big Dipper Pictures is making a new epic, one of those big, expensive Oscar chasers. They’re trying to keep is hush hush until they can spring it on the public with a bang. You wanna know what it is?”
“Sure thing, Mr. B. I won’t tell anybody.”
“It’s a space opera, Simon. It’s called Invaders from Mars. See the connection there? And the best part is, it opens sometime early July. Two plus two, Simon. Two plus two.” Simon frowned as he thought about it for a moment, trying to find any holes in Ryan’s logical conclusion. “Well, I suppose that makes sense, but what about Sharon Ryker? I thought she had an exclusive contract with Big Dipper for all their publicity stuff.”
“She does, but think about it. The way she bumbled the last picture, their big war movie that fell flat. They want to drop her, but they don’t want to pay off the contract. So they go around it, you see. They have an outside contractor, someone who can’t be traced to the studio, who hires us for all this Mars business and it just so happens to go hand-in-hand, and everyone’s none the wiser.”
“So, you’re saying that Dakar is actually with the studio? Just in an unofficial capacity?”
Ryan snorted. “Well where else would he be from, Mars? Don’t tell me you were buying his mumbo jumbo.” After a few more moments of camaraderie and assurances, Simon agreed that it all made sense, and the men were all smiles in the office. Soon afterwards, Ryan dismissed Simon, who was armed with a few new important tasks, and then settled himself back into his chair for another business call. The phone rang only twice before being snatched up off the receiver, a gruff hurried voice drifted across the line. “Commissioner Sloane here, who’s calling?”
“It’s Ryan. Ryan Bingham, agent to - ”
“To the stars,” the gruff voice cut in. “Yeah yeah, what do you want this time? To set up a trapeze between two skyscrapers? To get a donkey to skydive? Zombie John Lennon coming back to town? Listen Ryan, I don’t have time for any of your particular brand of insanity today.”
Ryan smiled, nonplussed by the greeting he received. “No, no, nothing like that Commissioner, I swear it. I just need to apply for a permit for a parade, July 4th. And as you know, since it’s a holiday, there isn’t going to be as much traffic or streets to clear so - ”
“Oh come on, look Ryan - ”
“No you come on, Commissioner. Macy’s gets a permit every year. The VFW gets a permit. Sears, shriners, every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to get a permit in this city, all I’m asking for is the same privilege.” There was a short pause on the other end of the line. Ryan knew from experience that the Commissioner was rubbing his eyes, punching them shut against the onslaught of a new stress headache. “Ryan,” he began, but the Commissioner was cut short.
“Now listen, I have the whole Sixth Avenue Merchant Association with me, so you won’t have any trouble from that. And the locals are sure on board, you can believe me on that.” A long sigh, followed by another short silence was the answer he got. But he knew what it meant.
“Okay,” came the gruff answer, acquiescence now peppering the edges of the mans tone. “I’ll get the forms faxed over to you in an hour and I’ll pass them along for approval. Just nothing too crazy, got it? I don’t know what someone like you is doing in charge of the fourth of July anyway. What do you know about independence? You can’t even blow your nose without me.”
Ryan smiled broadly on his end. “What’s the matter, don’t read the papers anymore, pal? Haven’t you heard? July fourth is Martian Day!”
“Mr. Bingham, how is the campaign coming along?”
Ryan’s head shot up, unaware that someone had entered his office. His shock gave way to a dull kind of acceptance as he saw Dakar darkening his doorway. He never seemed to see Dakar coming, the man was a silent as a ninja in slippers.
Ryan lit a cigar and let a few puffs of smoke float away towards the tiled ceiling and dissipate. “It’s coming along swimmingly, Dakar. Everybody and their mother is going to the parade! We got stores hanging signage in their windows. Every business in town is getting in on the action, making little space themed knickknacks and such. We had flyers passed out at schools and churches and public pools. Hell, we even got cranky ol’ Commissioner Sloane to come out on a float and accept a check for the Policeman’s Benevolent Fund from the Martians! Isn’t that great?”
Dakar smiled his big but unnerving smile. “That is most excellent news indeed, Mr. Bingham.” Ryan decided to try to push his luck and act on a hunch. Seizing the gap in the conversation, Ryan said, in a silky, secretive tone, “So I heard that Big Dipper spent a lot of moolah on that new movie.” Dakar’s smiled remained unchanged, but it still seemed somehow different. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Bingham?”
“Oh come on Dakar, the jig is up. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know, I figured out who your client is. But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me!” Dakar nodded slowly at this, his recessed eyes twinkling with more emotion than Ryan usually saw in them. “Well, let’s still keep it to ourselves then, shall we? As you said before, if the information leaked, the surprise would be ruined.”
Ryan beamed and puckered out a few more puffs from his smoking cigar. Ryan tapped his fingers to his temple with his free hand. “You got it, Dakar. And don’t worry, most people don’t think as much as ol’ Ryan Bingham, agent to, and from, the stars.”
The day of the parade had finally arrived. Every inch of the public streets were packed to the gills with happy, smiling, cheerful, pushing people. It was the biggest turnout an event like this had ever seen. Ryan stood and surveyed it all from his office window, looking down on his creation and smiling proudly. Maternally. Like Jesus on the seventh day. Ryan watched the streets buzz and soar as Dick Helmund, local legend and radio personality extraordinaire, perched atop the viewing stand and waved to the crowd. After putting on his large headset, Dick sat down in his patented comfy chair, ready to officially begin the festivities. All at once, many of the people in that bustling crowd pulled out headphones and small AM/FM portable radios, ready to hear Dick’s golden voice narrate the fun that they would be seeing that day.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dick Helmund, speaking to you from waaaaay on top of the viewing platform on the corner or Sixth and Taft. It’s another beautiful day in this fine city of ours, a perfect day for a parade. The streets have all been packed to capacity since the early hours of the morning; it seems like each and every citizen in each and every home woke up today and wanted to be sure of having a good seat when these so-called Martians would be coming by.”
There was a short pause as a man with sunglasses and a clipboard ran up and whispered something in Dick’s ear, and then placed a bundle of papers down in front of him. Dick nodded his understanding and leaned back into his microphone.
“Folks, I just got word from Paul Schifford down at the Wederlander Stadium that the Martians have landed! I repeat, the Martians have landed! The have descended from the sky in bright, round, pink and green balloons and have started to gather on the open field, forming formations and running into ranks. While we wait for the ranks to begin their official march through our fine city, we have a couple of guests here with us to talk about their reactions to this new development.”
Led by a different man in similar sunglasses and holding a similar clipboard, a beautiful young woman and her two small and excited children climbed and gathered on the viewing platform. “What’s your name ma’am, and where are you from?” Dick asked her in his calming cadence.
“I’m Linda Berghoff and these - ”
“A little bit louder ma’am, into the mic.”
“I’m Linda Berghoff,” she repeated with a little bit of redness in her cheeks, “and these are my sons, William and Wallace.” At the mention of their names, the boys on either side of their mom began pulling at the ends of her dress, pestering her for attention.
“And where are you from, Linda?” Dick asked her again, smoothly and unhurried. “We’re from right here in town, although we’ve never seen anything quite this big before!” Dick nodded his understanding and smiled, waving a hand out from the stand, gesturing to the entire celebration at large. “And what do you think of Martian Day so far, Linda?”
Linda smiled and, after calming her boys down for a moment, replied, “It’s a whole lot of fun. We’ve been hearing about this thing for a while now, it was all that the boys would talk about! Now that we’re here, we just can’t wait for the Martians to come march and show us what all the hubbub was about!”
“Thank you Linda; you too, William and Wallace. Well, you’d better head back to your spots, you don’t want to miss any of the fun or any of the giveaways! We’ll be right back after this word from some of our sponsors. Don’t you go anywhere! And as for you out there on the curbs and railings, you be careful out there!”
Ryan was deeply fixated on the action outside and he nearly jumped out of his skin when there came a sudden knock at his door. When he went to answer it, he saw with glee that it was a special delivery, just for him. Outside of the door, sitting cooly on a small, rectangular tray, was a perfectly crafted Pangalactic Gargleblaster. With it, a note.
Congrats on the parade, the whole thing is out of this world! This drink is on the house - Sam
What a guy that Sam is, Ryan thought to himself as he was already taking the first sweet sip from the slush in his cup. From across the room, the crackle of the radio alerted him that the commercials had ended, and Dick Helmund’s voice once again hypnotized listeners through the speakers.
“We are back ladies and gentleman, and right in the knick of time too! For here come the first few performers in this marvelous Martian celebration. We have the East High Cougar Marching Band, all decked out in glowing plastic antennae and green and gray face paint. As they play their fanfare, colored crepe paper and confetti blows out from the tuba section. My oh my! What an awesome display, it’s a regular Martian Mardi Gras.” That last line made Ryan smirk to himself. Martian Mardi Gras? Now there’s an idea; maybe next year!
Ryan returned to his perch at his window, back to surveying all the bliss that he had painstakingly put together.
“And bringing up the rear of the band, we have a whole troupe of little people, all of them wearing matching shiny silver space suits, tiny plastic blasters in their hands. As they point and zap them at the crowd, you can really see the kids going wild!” The music of the marching band and the cheers of the crowd all wafted up to the window in large, voluminous chunks.
“Ha ha! Yes folks, this is a mighty fine parade indeed. Rounding the corner now we see the No Laughing Matter Clown Troupe. They’re riding tiny bicycles, throwing pies in each others’ faces. The big goofy clowns with the large, alien eyes painted on their faces are tripping all over each other, crashing and sending handfuls of candy flying over the heads of the cheering children. This is quite a display, we’d especially like to tha - ” A shuffling of papers and a muffled sound, like a hand covering a microphone, brought Ryan out of his revelry, turning to squint to take in the happenings on the perch. This time, nobody was there with Dick. No sunglasses, no clipboard. Just Dick Helmund looking at something down the way, a little cloud of confusion on his face like clown makeup. “Huh? Wha, what’s all that?” Dick muttered to himself, before clearing his throat and uncovering the mic all the way. “Well folks, it seems like something is going on down there, starting at the corner where the procession is coming from. As they approach, a hush is falling over the crowd, a large, unnatural silence. Something big must be coming, something - ”
This time, it was once again a man with a clipboard interrupting Dick, murmuring something into his left ear. “Uh, okay ladies and gents, it seems like the Martian brigade is arriving at long last.” Although the viewing stand was a good distance away, Ryan could swear he saw the faintest traces of worry flicker across Dick Helmund’s face. “Yes sir. A great hush falls over the crowd at the sight of such a spectacle. It really is quite a sight to see these thousands of people, all silently standing in rapt attention. Even the kiddos seem to sense that something big is happening here.”
Ryan turned his attention to the corner. Like everyone else on the street, he held his breath as he waited, unaware that he was doing so.
“This is truly the climax of the parade, a real humdinger of a display. Here they come now, rounding the corner in perfect time.”
As Dick spoke, Ryan saw a humongous army of Martians, all marching in time to a beat from a single, solitary snare drum. Their feet rose and fell in perfect unison.
“This Martian army is truly awe-inspiring. Shiny, black boots all polished to a gleam. The helmets atop their heads bobbing in hypnotic waves, row after row after row of them.” As the Martians marched onward, all the noise and cries of celebration seemed to die out completely from the crowd. “This is truly an impressive sight! And in contrast to what we have seen thus far, very serious in comparison. Gone are the streamers and floats. Gone are the clowns and the little people and the trombones and the candy. In their stead, marching onward still in perfect time, are two, oh maybe three hundred tall, muscular men. Shoulders broad, barrel chested, an imposing sight in metallic, gray space suits. The helmets are visored and reflective, obscuring the Martian faces from view. The effect is quite intimidating, if I do say so myself.” Ryan, as he looked down upon the rows of invading Martians, had to agree. It was quite intimidating indeed. Stellar!
“Clutched in each and every hand, you can see a futuristic ray gun, all held in the ready position by disciplined men. They continue to march on, in complete silence, save that one snare drum being steadily beaten again and again by a slightly smaller, important looking Martian, all decked out in badges and insignia.” Ryan could hardly believe the effect the parade was having, he had never seen anything like it.
“The crowd continues to be held in a sort of prolonged hush. They all seem a little bit grim, a little bit serious. Perhaps this wondrous display has reminded them of real war and invasions, a little too realistic. Even the kids are awed by the display of power. Everyone is standing, silent, solemn, waiting for what’s next. I tell you, this legion of aliens has really made an impression here in our wonderful city.”
Without realizing he was doing so, Ryan had picked up his drink again, clutching it in a vice-like grip. He was sucked in just as badly as everyone else down there. Suddenly, movement. Action. In a blur of confusion and chaos, a woman dashed out into the street, making a beeline directly for the Martian line. “Holy cow! A woman, some woman has just run out into the street, folks. For what reason, I cannot tell. She’s slipped through security, past the police cordon, and she’s rapidly approaching the marching Martians. Whether you’re witnessing this in person, or listening to me live, I have the same advice: don’t try this, folks! Security is in place for a reason and, well, we’ll continue this later, as she’s now reached the advancing line of Martians and…is she? Yes! Yes she is, she’s trying to remove one of the visored helmets! What an odd display of - ”
Dick Helmund was cut short by a loud, blood-curdling scream that ripped up and down the streets and through the radio airwaves.
“Folks I…uhh..I don’t quite know what just happened, or how to even begin to describe it to you. She grabbed hold of a helmet and lifted and then she just..she just..she screamed! She screamed and fell hard to the pavement and hasn’t gotten up yet, she’s dropped in a stone cold faint! Unless the Martians stop their march, they’re going to trample her and, wait! The police, they’re breaking ranks, they rushed out from the cordon and they retrieved the petrified woman. By golly folks, like I said, please please please do not do anything like this. It looks like they’ve got her on the sidewalk and they’re attempting to revive her.”
As an uneasy murmuring rippled through the crowd, disrupting the peaceful gathering like a stone thrown callously into a calm pond. Ryan ran over to his desk and grabbed an old pair of binoculars that he kept in the top right drawer. Once back at the window, he watched clearly as the woman was covered and carried away by police on horseback.
“What’s that?” Dick asked quietly, trying to cover his microphone with his hand, but not entirely blocking out the sound of his voice. With his binoculars, Ryan saw Dick wipe sweat off his brow and then continue his broadcast, head shaking slightly in disbelief. “Folks,” he began somberly, “all sorts of rumors are starting to swirl around the incident, some of it filtering up here that the woman who fainted is now deceased. We can’t confirm anything at this time, but this dramatic scene has definitely cast a dark shadow over the collective mood here street-side. It’s such a shame that anything like this should happen, we continue to urge everyone to remain calm and try to enjoy themselves once more, more on this story as it develops. In the meantime, I now throw you over to a word from our sponsors.”
As Ryan left his perch at the window and returned the binoculars to his drawer, Simon came rushing into the room, a head full of steam. “Boss!” Simon cried, “did you see? Did you hear? Some poor woman just died out there in the street! She ran right up to the Martians and, and, and…”
Simon trailed off, a look of shock on his face, as he saw a large, sheepish grin appear on the face of his boss. “Of course she did, I oughta know. I paid her a hundred bucks to do it!” The shock gave way to relief as Simon processed this new information. Meanwhile, the radio prattled on messages from the parade sponsors:
“Don’t forget folks, it’s National Sweetie Crisp Week! Get a package of Sweetie Crisps today, try them just once and you’ll be hooked! No added sugars or dyes, just good ol’ fashioned, wholesome breakfast food.”
Simon shook his head, trying to clear the last of the fear-filled haze away. “Of course, the dramatic public scene! You think of everything, boss!” Ryan only smiled as the radio continued on:
“One, two, three, four! Who’s that knocking on your door? It’s the Sweetie Crisp man! Delivering nutrition and fun right to your door.”
Crossing the office to collapse into one of the plump, leather chairs opposite Ryan, Simon let out a huge sigh and allowed himself to wear a smile that matched that of his boss. “Boy, that sure is a relief! What do you say, you wanna go down there and catch the finale with Joe Public?”
“Sure thing Simon, I’ll be right behind you. In fact, I already cleared it so that we can head to the viewing platform with Dick Helmund and take in all the action from there. Why don’t you go on ahead, and close the window for me please, I need a moment of silence. I have a call to make.”
“Sure thing, Mr. B.” Simon closed the window and headed for the door. He was only two or three steps away when Ryan called out to him, “By the way, have you seen Dakar?”
“No, not at all today. Want me to try to ring him for you?”
“No, no, that’s okay. Go on ahead to the viewing stand, I’ll be there soon.” Once the door closed softly behind his assistant, Ryan propped his feet up on his large, oak desk and picked up the phone, loudly punching a few numbers on the keypad. A familiar voice answered the phone.
“Circus Performers, LLC. This is Barney Sneed speaking, how may I help you today?”
“Barney! You son of a donkey, what’s going on?”
Ryan’s voice was full of cheer and good-natured teasing. Barney’s voice, when he replied, was sullen and quiet. “Gee, listen Ryan, I’m sorry. I was going to call you, I swear I was. I’m sorry about those Martians.”
“Sorry? What could you possibly be sorry about? They’re fantastic! The marching, the costumes, the unformed heights and weights. It’s remarkable! You’ve truly outdone yourself this time Barney, you really have!”
A short, pregnant pause.
“Ryan, I swear to you, I’ll make it up to you. Honest I will. Please don’t tease me like this.” A cloud of confusion rolled over Ryan’s features. “Barney, what in the hell are you going on about? They’re great, I said! Even better than I asked for.”
“You, are you drunk or something, Ryan?”
“Drunk? Drunk?! It’s ten in the morning pal, the only one drunk at this hour is that loose mother of yours, now what the hell is wrong with you? What are you pulling my leg on this for?”
“You, you’re serious aren’t you? You’re telling me that there are Martians in the parade? Right now?” Ryan’s feet came off the desk. Instead of a relaxed position, Ryan now sat upright. Rigid. He ran over to the window, saw the ranks of Martians still rolling past on the streets beneath him. Way more than he initially thought too, the rows seemed endless and they just kept on coming.
“Are there Martians in the parade,” Ryan repeated back sarcastically. “Of course there is! It’s the damned Martian Day parade, is it not? I’m looking at them right now! Although I only ordered sixty of them, and there’s easily five times that, under the circumstances I’m not mad, worth every penny I say.”
Another pause, this one longer. Then, quietly, meekly, “Ryan, I didn’t hire those Martians.”
A peculiar, heavy feeling of dread hit Ryan’s insides. His heart dropped into his stomach, like the woman had flopped to the pavement a little bit ago. “What?” A one word question, that was all that Ryan could manage to get out from between his dry, cracked lips.
“Didn’t you hear about the strike? The movie studios, all the actors and extras, they’re all picketing and protesting. I couldn’t hire a single extra, let alone find the costumes from wardrobe. Like I said, I was going to call you but - ”
“Wait, wait, wait. Now just wait a damned minute here! So you’re telling me,” Ryan said as he looked out the window, dizzied by the amount of Martians that were now stepping in time to the snare, one heavy boot following another, “that you didn’t hire these guys?”
“No, Mr. Bingham, I most definitely didn’t.” The dread, the heaviness, it increased tenfold. “Then who did? Simon?”
“It’s possible, Ryan. All I know is that they didn’t come from us.”
“And you’re serious? You’re not messing with me?”
“I would never do such a thing, Ryan. I take my business very seriously.” The phone suddenly felt very heavy in Ryan’s hand. It weighed closer to a brick than a phone at the moment. “Oh, okay Barney. Listen, I’ll call you back, okay?” And he hung up before he could hear the response.
As quickly as the phone disconnected, Ryan was already punching in the next number, trying to get ahold of his assistant. After a few rings, “Hello? Mr. B, what’s up? I’m nearly at the viewing stand now, the crowd’s as thick as molasses down here.”
“Simon, did you hire the marching Martians?”
“The marching Martians? You mean, the ones that are flooding the street right now? No, no I thought that Barney over at - ”
“No, no, Barney had nothing to do with it, I just got off the phone with him. It’s the damnedest thing. Say, do you have Dakar’s info? Maybe he’s the one responsible for all this.”
“No, I don’t, sorry boss. Anytime I needed to talk to him, he just sort of, sort of…appeared, you know?” Ryan set his mouth into a tight line. He knew indeed, for he had the same experience with their Martian campaign leader. “Fine, fine, what’s the number for Big Dipper Pictures? I’ll try ringing him over there.”
Once he had the number, Ryan hung up on his assistant and tried ringing the studio’s executive office. It was picked up on the first ring. “Big Dipper Pictures, studio of the stars! How can I direct your call?”
“Get me Marshall Simms, your director of publicity please. It’s Ryan Bingham, and it’s important.” A few computer keys clacked on the other end of the line. “One moment, hold please.”
As Ryan was serenaded by gentle holding Muzak, he looked nervously out the window. The parade marched on. Only now, instead of an excited buzz about the crowd, there was a sense of foreboding, a sense of waiting for things to come. Ryan, it seemed, wasn’t the only one on hold. Streamers and banners and flags stopped waving, everyone just looked on expectantly as the Martians marched onwards and onwards in ever increasing numbers.
“Marshall, it’s Ryan Bingham.”
“Ryan! How’s the fam- -”
“The family’s fine, Marshall, now listen. I’m not trying to be rude but I’m dead serious right now, you got me? As serious as a heart attack.”
“Okay, I understand you. What’s wrong?”
“I’ve got to talk to Dakar. Please, this is an emergency. No bull.”
“Dan who? Did you say Dan Carr?”
“No! Not Dan Carr, Dakar. The guy you sent over for the big invasion movie, the Mars thing.”
“Ryan, I’m sorry but I have no idea who you’re talking about. Who’s Dakar?” Ryan slammed his fist against the wall in frustration, rattling the window in its pane. “Come on now, Marshall, I’m not foolin’ around here. I don’t care about your contracts, I’m not trying to get anything over on you. I just need to talk to him, it’s life-or-death over here.”
“Ryan, I swear to you that I’m playing it straight. I have no idea at all what you’re talking about, I never met anyone by that name before.” Ryan pinched his eyes shut, the room was spinning. He could feel one helluva headache coming on. “Well then, who did you hire to head the space thing? The Invaders from Mars picture?” A short beat of silence followed his question. Ryan heard Marshall clear his throat.
“I have no idea how you heard about that, but I know you’ll keep it on the low, I trust you. Didn’t you hear, though? That picture got put on ice over a month and a half ago, when the actors strike was starting. The big pictures always shut down first. What, your source didn’t tell you that? Now Ryan, I don’t know what’s going on but - ” But Ryan didn’t hear the rest of the sentence, for the room was spinning entirely out of control now. Spinning like a top. Like a Gravitron. Like he’d had one too many Pangalactic Gargleblasters. The phone clattered to the floor and Ryan clutched at the window sill to keep himself upright. What did it mean? What did it all mean?
As his view spun askew, he caught glimpses of the world outside of his window. The world that no longer made sense. The world that was rapidly filling up with hundreds upon hundreds of marching Martians. No extras could learn how to march that exactly. No seasoned veteran actors either. Not in the mere 72 hours since hiring Circus Performers to stock his parade. The only time Ryan had ever seen marching that discipled, that intimidatingly, he was watching an S.S. propaganda video in history class.
Ryan, head still whirling, dove down to the floor, sloppily collapsing to his knees and scooping up the phone. He punched in Simon’s number again. “Simon? Hey Simon, do me the biggest favor of my life. Go get that woman who fainted, the one who played dead. Her name’s Audrey Ford. Get her up to my office double quick. Ask Sloane, he’ll know where she is.” Ryan hung up without confirmation, knowing his assistant would do as he asked. Ryan gripped the window sill and hauled himself heavily back to his uneasy feet. He shook his head, trying to get his mind together but Audrey was in his office. The room had just stopped spinning when a knock came at the door. Ryan made a slow but relatively straight walk to the door. When he opened it, it wasn’t Simon, nor Audrey. It was a drink, with a note.
As usual, I made sure a second one was not too far behind. Hope you’re having a ‘blast’ today. - Sam
Ryan greedily gulped down the entire thing as soon as it crossed his threshold. The ensuing brain freeze was hardly notable amongst all the migraine pain and out-of-control thoughts.
A moment later, with screams of protest and frantic whimpering, Audrey was led into his office by Simon. When she laid her eyes on Ryan, she screamed louder and started scratching at Simon, who was blocking her path back. “Get away from me! Get away from me!”
Ryan walked over and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her just enough to get her to quiet down, and he looked into her wide, fearful eyes. “You can cut the act now, Audrey, it’s just me.” She struggled, shrugging her shoulders, trying to buck Ryan off of her like a bull at a rodeo. “You’re not you! You’re not Ryan. You’re one of them, one of those..those monsters! You’re wearing a mask! Both of you are just wearing masks!”
With more than a little trouble, Ryan and Simon were able to get Audrey into the office and into the puffy leather chair. “Settle down kid, settle down! Now it’s Ryan! Got that? It’s no mask, I’m Ryan Bingham, agent to the stars. I paid you a pretty penny to pull that stunt downstairs, so now you’re calm down and talk to me.” With a few more whimpers and sniffs, Ryan’s words did seem to have an effect and Audrey began to calm down, although she still sat rigid and tightly wound, like a cat readying to pounce.
“Now, I’m going to ask you this one time, and one time only, and then you can leave, okay? And I’ll double your pay for your trouble. Now tell me, what happened down there? What did you see?”
A choking, wet sound escaped from Audrey’s throat. She looked ready to bolt at the mere mention of the incident but, to her credit, she stayed put. “You mean..you mean under the visor?” Ryan shook his head yes. Her eyes filled to the brim with tears. “Oh it was awful, just awful. It was no make-up, no make-up is that realistic. It was so..so..”
“So what, Audrey?”
“So real! It was gruesome, and horrifying and wet and..and real. The dark, horrible eyes. The clacking, dripping teeth, the feelers! Oh god, the feelers! They way they moved and quivered and..and..and..” She couldn’t finish. She broke down once more, sobs consuming and shaking her entire tiny body.
It started to make sense. All of it. A horrible, earth-shattering sort of sense. He never said this to Simon, but the fainting? That wasn’t part of the act. He only asked her to run out there and pretend to be scared. But the fainting? The fainting that was so convincing that there were rumors that the woman had died? Apparently, that was real too.
“Get her out of here Simon, get her to a hospital. Then you stay out of here too, lay low for a little while. Things are going screwy here.” Simon looked up at his boss questioningly, but he didn’t argue with him. He saw the importance of what Ryan was saying, he saw it in Ryan’s large, scared, burning eyes. After Simon said his goodbyes and promised to get Audrey to the hospital, Ryan ripped the phone back from its holster and punched in another number frantically. After just a couple of rings, although it felt like an eternity to Ryan, the call was answered.
“Sloane,” the voice said simply. “Yeah, Commissioner? It’s Ryan Bingham. Listen, we have to cancel the parade, and quick! Lickity-split, before something terrible happens.” The Commissioner let out a huge, harsh exhale followed closely by a groan. “Are you even more out of your mind than usual? You must be, because no sane man would call me up, beg me for a stinking permit like it was the last dame on earth, and then - ”
“Sloane! Damn you Sloane, you gotta listen to me. The parade! The Martians, I didn’t hire them! I have no idea who or what they are and - ”
“No! Now you listen to me.” This time, it was the Commissioners turn to interrupt. “I don’t have time for another one of your little publicity stunts, okay? I got you the permit, I allowed that little fiasco with the fainting girl, even though it didn’t go down as we had discussed, and now this is the final straw. You must think I’m some kind of idiot.”
“No, no you got me all wrong. You gotta listen to me. There’s something bad going on.”
“I know there is,” Sloane said with confidence. “And it begins and ends with you, you attention-grabbing, lying bum! You got an issue? Take it up with the mayor, prick.” Sloane hung up and left Ryan’s mouth momentarily gaping. Sure, Commissioner Sloane had been cranky, even churlish at times, but never had he ever lost his cool on Ryan like that before. Once the shock was over, Ryan became livid. “You lousy, stinking, filthy pig!” Ryan shouted into the empty phone, before slamming it back on its holder. “I’ll have you busted down to meter maid by the time I’m through you with,” he grumbled a little less angrily, more so to keep the noise in the room. To keep talking. Because, once the talking ended, there would have to be action. And Ryan had absolutely no idea what to do.
He looked out the window. The marching had paused, but the Martians were still everywhere. Standing at attention. Blasters at the ready. As far down the street as Ryan could see in any direction, there stood ranks of waiting soldiers. The city was swamped with them. Suddenly, it clicked. Ryan knew what to do. He would take the good Commissioners advice. He’d call the mayor.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you are not going to see the mayor. Not without an appointment. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. You got me?” Ryan couldn’t get through on the phone, so he tried rushing his way into the mayor’s office a few blocks over from his own. He got as far as this cross, cross-armed guard who wouldn’t let him cross into the inner sanctum of the office.
“Listen to me you big ape! I’m trying to stop a disaster here! Imagine the headlines tomorrow when the world finds out that our esteemed mayor refused to listen when Ryan Bingham was warning him about big trouble coming for our city!” The guard, for his part, seemed unmoved by this tirade, but after a moment he put a hand to his ear, pushing his wireless headphone deeper into his ear to hear better. Whatever was said, it seemed to bring a glimmer of malice into two eyes that had only held annoyance and detachment seconds before.
“Oh, you’re trying to prevent something bad from happening, is that right? I suppose that you’re the same Ryan Bingham who put all those kids in the hospital, huh?” Ryan understood the words that were spoken, but they didn’t make any sense at all to him. “Kids? Hospital? What are you talking about?”
The guard fixed Ryan with the coldest, cruelest stare he had ever been on the receiving end of. If looks could kill, Ryan would be nothing but a smoldering pile of ash and crocodile shoes. “I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Martian candy, or should I say the poisoned candy that was being given away at your parade, it has put hundreds of children into intensive care. If I wasn’t on duty and keeping the mayor safe from sickos like you, I would take you out back and kick your ass so hard and so deep that I’d be cleaning your shit from my shoes for weeks, you got me?”
Ryan, desperate and grasping at straws, chose to now grasp the lapels of the guards uniform and entreat him one more time. He reeked of worry and chaos and sweat. “Help me! You gotta help me! Kick my ass, I don’t care, but get me to the mayor afterwards! We have got to stop this parade.” The guard smirked, but there was no joy at all in the half smile he wore. “Cancel the rest of the parade, huh? I bet you’d like that. Cause a big panic, maybe a couple hundred more people could get trampled and sent to the hospital, or maybe their graves. That would make for some mighty fine front page stories about your and your product, wouldn’t it?” Behind him, Ryan sensed and then heard some movement. There were more guards behind him, all of them also wearing angry smirks and itching to hurt him.
“What do you say boys? Why don’t you show this man out?”
The tintinnabulation of ice was the only sound that filled Ryan’s office. He clutched a cloudy glass with such ferocity that his knuckles were stark white. His hands shook as he attempted to poor scotch into the glass. Gone was his usual drink, just like gone were his usual smile, his usual hopes and his usual drive. Now, he just wanted to drink. Drink it all away.
He got most of the scotch that he poured into the glass and gulped it down, hardly tasting it or feeling the burn. His phone rang, but it sounded like a far off sound. Like it was in a dream. He picked it. “Simon? Simon, is that you?”
“Afraid not, Mr. Bingham. Your friend is, on the contrary, quite dead.”
The statement, uttered with such a light tone, completely devoid of emotion or weight, cut through the fog of his mind like a lighthouse. “Dakar? Dakar, is that you? What did you say about Simon?” Ryan shook his head. No, he couldn’t have heard right.
“I said that he is quite dead, as are a lot of people today. You see, he wanted to go to the police, wanted to convince them that there was some kind of plot afoot, some kind of invasion. I couldn’t have that, so I had to stop him.”
“Stop him? You just said you killed him, you murderer!” Although it was just a phone call, Ryan swore he could hear Dakar’s unsettling smile on the other end of the line. “Mr. Bingham, please collect yourself, there’s no need for name hurtling. Besides, after all of our planning, we would’t want the fun to be spoiled, would we?” Ryan felt cold all over. Cold as Simon apparently was.
Ryan fell heavily into his chair. He felt his body weighed several tons. The weight of the world was on his shoulders, and it was crushing him. “Dakar…Dakar you bastard, what is this all about? What is this all for?” He looked around for the bottle of scotch. He didn’t think he could survive life without it, let alone this phone call.
Dakar laughed. It was the first time Ryan had ever heard it. It was horrible. It was inhuman. It sounded like rocks in a blender. It sounded like despair incarnate. “Surely you know what this is all about, Mr. Bingham. You’ve been publicizing it for weeks! It’s the Martian invasion.” Dakar laughed again. This time, it didn’t just come through the speakers, it resounded in Ryan’s skull. It bounced around in his brain like the ice in his glass. The laughter filled the room until Ryan looked up and was hardly surprised to see that Dakar was there, standing in the corner. Like he was there the whole time. Like he had always been there.
“You see, our government sourced some scouting missions to your planet before planning the invasion. To see your skills, your habits, your weaknesses. And in the search for such, we discovered a massive one.” Dakar smiled, showing all his rows of glistening teeth. “We found that your people on this planet are obsessed with advertising and publicity. To be conditioned, told what to do. What to think. Where to go, how to get there. You Earthlings do everything under this yellow sun except for thinking for yourselves. So we came up with a concept. We decided to invade. Not secretly. Not in a huge, spectacular display of military superiority. But as a publicity stunt. To not only advertise our invasion, but to actually make you people come out and participate in it. Isn’t it marvelous?” Ryan didn’t answer, but Dakar went on anyway. “You have to admit it’s clever, don’t you. I mean, who would ever suspect that an invading enemy would advertise their plans for weeks and then invite the public to attend the surprise attack?”
At the mention of an attack, almost as if on cue from some telepathic command, Ryan heard screaming and running and crying and the unforgettable sound of peoples insides hitting the pavement. He didn’t look out the window, the only glass he looked through was the one in his hand. “So, this was the plan all along. You never mentioned what product you wanted to advertise, because there was no product.”
Dakar’s smile was all that Ryan could see. The sharp, tapered teeth seem to have multiplied. “A product? Of course there was a product, there always is.” He paused, apparently pauses for dramatic effect had caught on in outer space. “The product, my Earthen friend, is quite simple. The product, is death.”
The word knocked around and rattled what was left of Ryan’s brain like a demented pinball machine. “Death? For everyone? The whole entire planet?” Dakar smiled. More teeth seemed to appear. “No, of course not, Mr. Bingham. We are not a planet of savages after all! We’re not like you.” Dakar turned his back to Ryan and did what he could not; Dakar looked out the window. Reflected in the glass, more smiles. More teeth. “We do not enjoy war, as you seem to. We do not care to kill thousands of people, to raze numerous cities. Not when only a few hundred will do.” Another smile. Another row of teeth. “You see, or rather, you hear what is going on outside? Our troops are treating the entire world to a spectacle, just as you promised. The horrors and deaths witnessed and broadcasted today will bring the rest of your world down to its knees! Nations will push and trample each other just for the chance to surrender first!”
As the noises continued on outside, the brutal, wet, begging sounds, Ryan slumped to the floor and cried, not even noticing that Dakar was already gone from the room. The radio crackled and spit out the final, static-laden remains of its broadcast.
“This is Dick Helmund, signing off for the final time. Stay inside. Stay safe. If you’re from out of town, stay the hell away. It’s Martian Day here in our once beautiful city. And Martian Day it’ll remain for the foreseeable future. It has been an honor and a privilege to - ” An explosion and a flash of light from outside the window cut the broadcast short. After a long, excruciating silence, one more message, this one prerecorded:
“Yes, that’s right folks! It is Martian Day, but that’s not all! It’s also Sweetie Crisp week! Seven days of flavor, seven days of fun! So many flavors at our disposal that there’s one for everyone. Grab your mom, grab your dad, tell them breakfast is coming, the best one they ever had! Sweetie Crisps! For a limited time only, grab a box of Martian-mallows for an outer space taste that can’t be beat! That’s Sweetie Crisps! I say again, buy a box of Sweetie Crisps today, before it’s all too late!”
The Pangalactic Gargleblaster
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 per drink
- 1 tablespoon gin
- 1 tablespoon light rum
- 1 tablespoon vodka
- 1 tablespoon tequila
- 2 tablespoons creme de menthe liqueur
- 2 tablespoons Galliano
- 1 cup ice cubes
- 1 slice lemon
- Combine the gin, rum, vodka, tequila, creme de menthe, Galliano and ice in a blender. Cover, then blend until the contents are slushy. Pour into a glass and garnish with a slice of lemon, positioned to look like a crescent moon in the blue night sky. The night sky, once thought empty, except for the stars. Once thought beautiful, until there came the men from Mars. Drink up and enjoy! A drink so tasty, it might just be the last one you’ll ever have!