Trevor Winfeld gathered the used dishes from table twelve and placed them in a plastic bin. He wiped the crumbs from the table and swept them into the central vacuum inlet underneath. The door chimes rang out, and he waved his rag in acknowledgement as the last patrons of the lunch rush said good bye and thank you and exited Granny Bone’s Pizza Café. Trevor’s sneakers squeaked on the immaculate, checkered tiled floor as he walked his dish bin to the kitchen conveyor belt. Most restaurants in Lower Newburg had robots to perform this task, but Granny Bone’s Pizza Café prided itself on an old fashioned human touch. Trevor took drink orders, delivered food, and bussed tables. He did all this on a Saturday. He did all this on a Saturday until 3:00, when the lunch rush was over. He knew no one would come in for the next hour, and he would have to face the dreaded afternoon lull alone. There would be nothing to distract him from the aggressively upbeat doo-wop music that played non-stop to fully immerse the café’s customers in its quaint and nostalgic atmosphere. Not to say there was anything quaint about how the restaurant operated. Dr. Shoku Ashrafi, the restaurant’s owner, had developed a retinal scan that determined each individual’s idea of the perfect pizza. Thin crust margherita? Granny’s had you covered with freshly picked basil and heirloom tomatoes all on a crunchy crust. Or was a deep dish pizza with sauce on top your definition of pizza perfection. Drown your sorrows in its greasy goodness. From breakfast pizzas to (Trevor shuddered) deconstructed pizza salads there were an infinite number of possibilities all made to order from the mind’s eye. This alone should have been enough to bring about world peace and fulfill Newburg’s mandate to SAVE THE WORLDS! Yet the town labored on.
Trevor’s labor, however, had ceased. There were no customers to attend. All the tables had been cleaned. The floor was spotless. The kitchen robots were washing and drying the dishes. Even the wood-fired oven was somehow automatically regulated. There was nothing to mitigate the aural onslaught of doo-wop music that assaulted him from all angles.
Through the sound system, The Coasters sh-boomed about life being a dream, sweetheart. Trevor knew all the words, both real and nonsensical, to all the songs that played at the café. They reverberated around his head as he walked home from school. They came unbidden during exams. At night, he would often wake up in a cold sweat, snapping in time to rama lama ding dong! He wished he could carve out the part of his brain where the baleful music lived with an ice cream scoop. Alas, all he had available was an espresso portafilter, and he didn’t think this would cut it. He stood helplessly at the bar, as if it offered a hedge of protection against the sound. He cocked his head weakly to the side, and waited for the hour to pass, hoping that inhaling the scent of oregano and pizza dough would somehow kill him quickly.
But hoping was pointless. He had a meaningless existence wiping crumbs and shuttling dishes. He shouldn’t be here. He should be….somewhere else! Jackson and Gilbert were going to the Edge Line with some other kids in his 10th grade class to hang out and probably drink illegal potions. It was stupid, but there wasn’t much else to do in this one horse town. He wished he was exaggerating but no, there was technically only one horse. Fred was a chestnut gelding that had been cloned for farm work and carriage driving. You couldn’t take his carriage to the Edge Line though. The Edge Line was at the city limits of Newburg where it seemed like you were leaving but in reality you were only walking back toward town. Some people said that if you moved slowly enough over the line, you’d meet yourself coming the other way. The key was to keep moving, but hardly move at all. Trevor had never tried it, but he could have today.
Maybe. The guys hadn’t actually asked him to go but they hadn’t not asked him. They had the conversation at his locker while he was standing right there in the middle of their conversation circle. No one acknowledged he was there, but they had to notice him. Right? Oh who was he kidding? They hadn’t noticed him because no one noticed him. No one would ever notice him, unlike his father, the first born of Newburg. Everything revolved around name Roger Winfeld and his perfect smile, and his perfect health, and his perfect government job. Everything had to be perfect. His dad’s perfect picture didn’t include the FeelWave band Trevor had conceptualized. EmotiSlaughter would have truly expressed the oppressive weight of love that shackled and tormented the soul in the dungeon of life-through music. Had his dad miraculously given his approval for the band, Trevor knew he would have trouble signing up members. Because no one knew he existed! Even his lab partner, Xan, didn’t know his name when they started on their first project, and they had been in the same class together since first grade!
Oh Xan. Gorgeous dreamy glistening Xan.
The Chiffons doo-lang doo-langed about someone so fine and the song rang out through the atmospheric sound system. What did The Chiffons know about love?!!? Love was too heavy for such a cheery chorus. Trevor could barely even talk when he was around Xan (which partly accounted for their terrible physics grade, so not only did he seem mute but also thick-headed). No wonder Xan never acknowledged him outside of class.
Trevor sighed and collapsed on a barstool. He ran a thin hand through his wiry black hair. Afternoon sun streaked through the floor to ceiling windows at bold angles. Over the roof top of Sammy’s Donuts across the street, he could see the tips of the dunes that bordered Batholomew’s Barrens and just make out the faint, twin circles of Lear and Ophelia. These were Newburg’s moons, which every three months took on their most offensive formation and resembled exposed round cheeks in the sky. Newburg legend told that on days like today, when the moons were round, trouble abounds.
Trevor gazed at the clear blue sky, the warm sunshine, and the sparse foot traffic on Zinc Street. Nothing was happening, he was unnoticed and unnoticeable, and unless trouble appeared out of nowhere, he was in for a long wait before the dinner rush.
Thinking to doodle away the time, and blot out the ghastly noise in the café, he grabbed a pen from his apron pocket and began scribbling on the white, rubbery part of his propped up sneaker. But the pen wouldn’t write. He moved the point back and forth faster, and pressed harder, but there was no change. He tried again on his faded jeans; still nothing. That was strange. It had worked earlier on his order pad. He pulled said pad from his apron and made a mark. There, a straight black line. Believing he had worked the ink through, he set back to defacing his shoe again. But the pen refused to make a mark. He scribbled wildly back and forth on the length of his sole, but to no avail. The shoe remained unmarred. Only after he slammed the pen on the bar in frustration did he realize it must be a new invisible ink tech pen. It was a non-staining formula that could sense when it was on paper or not. How this scientific development was worth anyone’s time was beyond Trevor. How was invisible ink supposed to make the worlds better places to live?
The sky train passed swiftly over the restaurant rooftops taking people here and there and about their lives, and leaving a patterned shadow on the street below in the process. Trevor sighed again and fogged up the stainless steel of the old timey cash register which served no other purpose than to add to the vintage appeal of the place. Wiping the fog away with a long, black shirt sleeve, he saw his exposed ginger hair roots in his reflection. Time to get out the dye kit. It was rare that a Xan was ever attracted to another Xan let alone a human. Xan would never be attracted to his overly freckled face and bristly red hair. But at least he could dye away the red. His freckles were another matter. Holding his hair out of his eyes, Trevor took up the pen again and traced imaginary lines between the bigger freckles on his face. Surprisingly, he found a lot of recognizable constellations among his freckles. Across his nose and onto his right cheek was Cathy the One-Eyed Crone. On his other cheek, close to his left ear was Fred the Horse with his saddle and everything. He also found the Jackalope under one of Fred’s hooves. And then there was a Xan on his chin. Xan was not a constellation, but the unmistakable shape was there. At least if you looked hard enough.
He had nearly finished his invisible line between the freckle dots of the Jackalope’s fluffy tail when a dark shadow fell over his countenance. This wasn’t the usual shadow that came upon him as he mused over the futility of his life, nor was this the shadow from the sky train. This was a heavy and ominous darkness that blotted out the bright sunbeams through the windows and seemed to grow darker by the second.
Suddenly, the ground shook beneath Trevor’s feet. Instinctually, he hunkered under the bar ledge as dishes rattled in the kitchen behind him and the light fixtures swung overhead like pendulums. When the rumbling stopped, he could hear screams.
Trevor bolted from under the bar, flung the glass door open, and ran to the middle of street. Looking around, mouth agape, he saw pieces of metal debris littering the ground, some on fire. The store front of the currently under renovation Newburger Burger restaurant was demolished. A boulder sized lump of twisted steel was lodged where the patty making machine once stood. The force of the impact had driven the metal lump into the ground a few feet. People were running away from the destruction, and parents were attempting to comfort traumatized children.
Someone near him yelled, “Run!” as another shadow appeared overhead and drew dark and close. Trevor looked up to see an enormous ball of what looked like garbage plummeting toward him from the sky. He dove for the sidewalk under the awning of the pizza café as the garbage ball hit the ground with a disgusting splat, and an even more offensive smell. Another crash and metal screech was heard farther up the street, and Trevor covered his head with his arms. Then there was silence. After a few moments of calm, he carefully checked to see if the coast was clear. No other shadows. No other shapes in the sky. A few people sat on the curb cradling bloody limbs, but miraculously, no one appeared to be seriously injured. A wailing siren announced the impending arrival of the paramedics and fire department. Trevor rose from his prone position and then let out a scream.
“Oh Bertrum. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry to startle you sir. May I remove that banana peel, please,” asked a towering insect-like man, scooping a banana peel from Trevor’s head and gobbling it down with his strange mouth parts. Trevor tried to hide his disgust. The beneficial insects had been the accident of an agricultural experiment gone awry. Instead of genetically modifying plants, Newburg scientists modified the helpful insects, hoping to increase their ability to rid important crops of pests, and to pollinate plants more efficiently. However, the insects became large humanoid creatures that could no longer help in the fields. Fortunately, Newburg now had an efficient, if somewhat distasteful, waste disposal system. The insects had been performing their duties since well before Trevor was born, yet people still had an instantaneous, primal reaction to their bizarre faceted eyes and buggy demeanor.
“My brethren and I have been sensing this treasure trove for weeks, but we are far too heavy for our wings to have followed the scent into the sky. Oh! Is that moldy cheese?!!?”
Leaving Bertrum to his, gulp, task, Trevor studied the chaos around him. A gargantuan lattice work of steel sat where Nick’s Shoe store used to be; It was worse off than Newburger Burger. Huge chunks of sinuous metal and plastic were embedded in the street. Rotten food and arbitrary junk were strewn about the sidewalks and on top of awnings. A large pool of yellowish liquid was beginning to form beneath one of the heaps of plastic and steel, and small tongues of fire sprouted from another down the street. Half a dozen beneficial insects began collecting spent food from the road and stuffing it into their pockets. Emergency hover vehicles swooped in and workers earnestly began putting out fires and triaging the injured.
A paper cup rolled to Trevor’s feet. He picked it up and placed it in a recycling bin. It was the least he could do. Pathetically, it also seemed to be the most he could do.
“Trevor, what has happened?” asked a melodic voice. Trevor looked for the source of this angelic sound and found himself staring straight into the fathomless seafoam green eyes of Xan. The present moment stretched and slowed as Xan glided gracefully toward him on a mucilaginous foot leaving a trail of luminescent film behind. Xan’s long eyelashes fluttered as if in slow motion over wide and questioning eyes.
Trevor’s throat constricted and his knees turned to marshmallow fluff. Xan knew his name! Xan had asked him a question. He struggled to breathe normally as the neurons in his brain fired frantically in attempt to send an answer in the form of words to his mouth. Mouth. Mouth was a word!
“M-mouth,” he managed to rasp. The neurons in his brain celebrated. Xan’s eyes grew concerned rather than questioning, and an elegant, seafoam tentacle gently tapped Trevor’s shoulder.
“Trevor? Were you hurt? What are those black marks on your face?”
Terror overcame Trevor’s love-shock and his heart plummeted to his feet taking all the blood in his face with it. In horror he looked down to see his shoes and pants covered in black scribble marks. The invisible ink tech! It had failed! Gasp! And he had used the pen on his face!
Trevor slapped his hands to his cheeks so hard that it stung, but it didn’t cover all the constellations and his little Xan chin. Turning on his heel, he ran as fast as his marshmallow fluff knees would carry him, away from the chaos in the street, away from Xan’s observant gaze, past the empty pizza café blaring Teenager In Love, across Unity Street and into Old Towne. And all the while, the mischievous globes of Lear and Ophelia mooned him from above.