Mary Jane’s fine porcelain skin had a pinkish hue as she twaddled about her sun-drenched apartment watering her plants and trying to remember where she put her television set.
Then she saw the busted window. Then she saw the broken shards of glass on her cranberry and gold colored carpet and remembered. She remembered how she was finally fed up with all the blubbery drudgery that is supposedly supposed to entertain, encourage, and enlighten.
“That idiot box is rubbish,” she said to her plants as she watered them. “Pure rubbish.”
Mary Jane Hankerbloom was 33 and a half and she lived in a pastoral village on the Isle of St. Manitou, a place surrounded by a cold and beautiful sea. Her cozy apartment was right above an art gallery shoppe, and she worked around the corner at the Red Lighthouse Bookstore as a wee book clerk, tattoo artist and tea server.
On her days off she would read, water her plants, smoke grasspot, take walks by the water and watch the television set. Well, the television set was no more, so she will have to fill that gap, she thought to herself.
“Maybe I’ll take up blowtorch making,” she said to her flying aspidistra.
She stood still for a moment and thought about that thought.
“But that could be quite dangerous, I suppose. Hmm. I sound like an old hag, don’t I?” she said, turning to her marijuana plant, gently holding up the glistening leaves and snuffling in the aroma of a rich bud. “Ah, now that’s not rubbish at all,” she said with a little laugh.
The old timey radio that sat on a small table beside her favorite reading chair by the window suddenly changed from playing music to making an eerie beeping and crackling sound. Then there came “AN URGENT NEWS ALERT.”
“We have just learned that Amoopikan forces have started bombing Eyeland.”
Mary Jane dropped the watering can and water spilled out everywhere. She grabbed her purse and bounded out the door in a flurry and nearly stumbled down the narrow staircase and out into idyllic Castlebury Street.
She peered into the open doorway of the art shoppe and waved to the odd Jack Kullyfrutz, the gallery manager, who was sitting at the counter eating fried sausages and intently studying stone heads. Jack looked up when he saw her and waved her in.
“Hey Mary Jane, come look at these stone heads I have here.”
“Sorry Jack, I can’t right now. I’m off to the bookstore. I’ll stop by later.”
Jack waved her off and Mary Jane nodded and then ran straight over to the Red Lighthouse Bookstore to see her friend Sally Gruffunrump.
Sally was shelving books when Mary Jane burst in, nearly knocking her to the ground.
“Good grief Mary Jane,” Sally said. “What on Earth is wrong with you?”
“Did you hear the news… About the Amoopikans?” she said, out of breath.
“Now what did they do?”
“They’ve attacked Eyeland! You know what that means, we’re next!”
“Now Mary Jane, calm yourself. I’m sure the Amoopikans didn’t attack Eyeland. Why would they do that now? They do no harm to anyone.”
“Well, let’s go over to the pub and it will show it on the television set they have there.”
“I’m working Mary Jane. Tell you what, you go, and I’ll meet you when I finish up. Okay?”
“All right then. But please don’t forget.”
“I won’t,” Sally called out to Mary Jane as she rushed out of the bookstore. Sally shook her head and sighed. “Poor girl, gone mad she has.”
Mary Jane lit up a cigarette as she walked and looked up at the sky to see if she could see any signs of war. It was nothing but a clean sheet of blue. She crossed over and went into the Smashing Miners Pub House and Supper Club, owned and operated by a redheaded Englishman named Ollie Oxenfurd.
“Hello there Mary Jane, how are you doing today?” he said as he wiped out mugs with an animalistic white towel.
“I’m a bit puzzled in the head today, Ollie. Could you put the television set on?”
“Sorry Mary Jane, the TV set is broken. Some jackhole started pounding on it the other night ‘cause it wasn’t comin’ in clear enough for him. I had to throw him out and I think I have to get a new TV.”
“Well, then the radio. Can you turn on the radio?”
“Sure, but what’s this all about?”
“Shhh. Just listen.”
Ollie clicked the radio on:
“The bombing of Eyeland by the Amoopikans has been relentless. Casualties are mounting. Durbirch is burning once again.”
“You see! I’m not out of my fucking head then!” Mary Jane yelped.
“Good gravy. Why would they do something like that? Bastards!” Ollie said, slapping the bar with his big, freckled hand.
“They won’t be satisfied until they destroy the whole world with all their guns and bombs and tanks and aeroplanes, that’s what I say. Bunch of mad murderers and killers of culture, that’s what I say,” Mary Jane said.
“Amen to that Mary Jane girl. “It’ bloody looney tunes to be doing that. Here, let me get you a drink.”
Mary Jane and Ollie drank pints and listened to the radio in the afternoon lull of the pub. There wasn’t much conversation between them, just glances of sadness and bewilderment here and there and in between the mystical voice of the radio announcer.
It was about 4:15 in the after lunch when young and sassy Sally Gruffunrump came into the pub. She immediately went to Mary Jane and hugged her hard.
“Oh Mary Jane, you were right. I’ve been hearing about it all afternoon. People have been coming in the store and talking about it, and everyone is scared, really scared. What are we going to do?”
“What can we do?” Ollie asked before taking another big gulp of beer. “They’re bloody bullies, that’s what I say.”
El Presidente de Amoopikan via RADIO RADIATION in the Smashing Miners Pub House and Supper Club: “Today, the Amoopikan military launched its first strike against the Republic of Eyeland, and we will continue striking until our objectives are met. Those objectives were outlined in our original case for war, that is, the Republic of Eyeland’s adamant denial of its possession and use of, weapons of mass destruction. Not only have they used these weapons of mass destruction against their own people, but the innocent people of other nations, peaceful nations, mind you. As a nation of peace itself, Amoopika will not stand by idly while these mongers of war continue to sully our Earthly civilization with their killing machine. Now, we will kill them back, we will kill them until they know what true peace really is… And let it be known that any nation that comes to the aid of this island of evil, will face the same fate. Let operation Shardcock Freedom commence. May the peace and love of God be with you all.”
Ollie threw his beer mug at the radio, and it shattered and smoked and fizzled.
“Is he out of his bloody fucking mind!” Ollie screamed. “It’s completely fabricated. How can they possibly get away with this shit?!”
“Again,” Sally chimed in.
“And again and again,” Mary Jane added.
“People been saying all day in the bookstore that the whole weapons thing is just a big lie and distraction, and what the Amoopikans really want is all of Eyeland’s magic and green and to enslave the fairy folk,” Sally said with a nod of her head and a tip of her beer mug.
“It’s just like what they had in our history books back in school. You remember those, eh? The stories about those countries they used to have there in the middle of the world that are no longer there. You girls remember that?” Ollie asked, looking at the two worried ladies in his empty pub as day was quickly turning into night.
Ollie shook his head in disgust. “Why can’t they just let people live in peace in their own way? Why do they have to force their looney beliefs on everyone else… And with violence, no less.”
And then it was night, and Ollie Oxenfurd’s usually electric pub and supper club was eerily motionless and dead. Many of the people of the island of St. Manitou were sheltering in their homes, he guessed.
Ollie left the girls at the bar and walked outside. He took a whiff of the air and he thought he could smell burning. The whole village was unusually dim and quiet. There weren’t any people on the streets. There were no bicycles or beeping autos running by. There was no laughing or music playing or people singing. There were no bells, no whistles, no balloons, no children scampering. There was no shuffling of feet, no dancing, no love. And then he thought, as he bent his ear toward the void of life, he heard the horrified screams of people on the other side of the water. His soul hurt, and he turned and went back into the pub.
“I think I’m going to shut the pub for tonight. It’s dead out there. Mary Jane, would you mind getting the candles?”
“Are you all right Ollie?” Mary Jane asked him.
“It’s fine dear, just fine. Say, why don’t we finish this little party at your place Mary Jane?”
“Sure, that would be far out. You want to Sally?”
“I’m all for that,” Sally said, hopping off her bar chair. “Maybe we can try out some of your special medicine tonight, eh Mary Jane?”
“You mean smoke grasspot like little schoolchildren?” Ollie said sarcastically. “I’ll bring a couple of these just in case,” and he yanked two bottles of whiskey off the bar display.
“Can we stop by the gallery?” Mary Jane asked as she fished in her purse for another cigarette. “I want to invite Jack up as well.”
Sally and Ollie looked at each other.
“What? What’s the matter? You all don’t like Jack?” Mary Jane asked as she looked at them, an unlit cigarette dangling from her bottom lip.
“It’s not that we don’t like him,” Sally said. “He’s just a little strange is all.”
“What’s strange about him then?” Mary Jane asked as she lit her smoke.
“It’s just that he seems to be a little obsessed with meat pies and heads is all,” Ollie said.
“Ah rubbish,” Mary Jane said. “He’s an art gallery guy is all. They all like artsy stuff like heads and what not. And besides, it’s my place and I’ll invite whoever I want.”
The trio arrived at the gallery on Castlebury Street and Mary Jane knocked on the red door. Jack pulled a small curtain aside and peeked out. His bearded face lit up when he saw that it was Mary Jane, and he opened the door.
“Mary Jane, you came back as promised! I just shuttered the shoppe, but would you like to come in?”
“Actually Jack, I’ve come around to see if you would like to join me and my friends upstairs for a little get together.”
“That would be fantastic Mary Jane, and as I’m sure you well know, this could be our last night on Earth, and I don’t want to spend it alone. Let me just grab something and I’ll be up.”
Jack closed the door, and the others could hear him laughing and singing in the dim reverence of the gallery.
“He’s awfully jolly for it possibly being his last night on Earth, wouldn’t you say?” Ollie pointed out.
“He’s just a happy-go-lucky guy is all,” Mary Jane said, trying to defend her friend. “He’s just excited to be around people. I think he is generally lonely in there.”
The four of them sat in Mary Jane’s apartment looking at the moon through a big window and thinking about the bloody war raging not too far off. Ash was falling from the sky. Bone fragments clinked and clanked like hail on the rooftop. Skeleton dust began clouding Mary Jane’s skylight and obscuring the once charming view of the universe. They all pretended not to notice as they passed the grasspot and whiskey around.
Ollie noticed Jack was holding something in his lap.
“What’s that Jack?” he asked.
“Oh this?” Jack said, and he held up a stone head. “Why, this is the head of Nicolaus Copernicus. Well, not his actual head, it’s made of marble or alabaster or something like that. It’s hard though.” He tapped his knuckles on it to demonstrate.
Ollie took a long drag on the grasspot and exhaled a large plume of smoke straight at Jack.
“Didn’t he invent electricity or something?” Ollie asked.
Jack glanced at Mary Jane with a hint of exasperation.
“Well, no, he did not. He was an astronomer who lived a very long time ago.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right, man. Now I remember. Hey Mary Jane, you got anything to eat?” Ollie wondered.
“Take a look in the …” Mary Jane began, but Jack cut her off.
“I’ve got some meat pies downstairs. I’d be glad to cook one up for you.”
“No, that’s okay, I had one for lunch,” Ollie said.
“Really? How was it?” Jack asked with disturbing fascination.
“Um, you know. It was pretty good I guess.”
“You know, the Lumpy Plum has the best damn meat pies in the neighborhood,” Jack said enthusiastically. “Have any of you ever been there?”
“I used to work there, a long time ago” Sally chimed in. “My boss was a real A-hole, though. Always trying to grab my twat. What was his name again?”
“Francisco?” Jack asked somewhat sternly.
“Yeah, that’s it. Francisco. What a douche biscuit. How’d you know?”
“Francisco happens to be a wonderful friend of mine,” Jack said.
There was a long period of uncomfortable silence. The remains of war victims continued to tinkle down upon the rooftop. Jack held the head of Copernicus in front of his face and just stared at it. The others continued smoking grasspot and talking about their hopes and dreams for the future.
“I want to adopt a Chinese baby and name her Christmas and never let her eat ice cream,” Mary Jane said.
The others snorted and giggled.
“I want to go to the Lumpy Plum and eat a meat pie every day for the rest of my life,” Ollie said.
They burst out laughing and then turned toward Jack who was curled up in a chair with the head of Copernicus, and he just stared at them with a snarly, devilish look on his face.
“I want to… Eat a meat pie, and then have whimsical and bizarre conversations with a stone head,” Sally said, giggling the whole way through her sentence.
Mary Jane and Ollie burst out laughing once more, the kind of laughing where tears roll down the face and hands clutch the belly — not because it was truly funny, but because the grasspot had sent them to the wayward oddities of the stratosphere.
But Jack was far from amused, and he just sat there in the chair, motionless, creepy, staring at them, the snarly and devilish look on his face growing even more snarly and more devilish. He clutched Copernicus’ head tight to his breast and petted it as one would an evil cat.
Then the lights suddenly began to flicker and then went out completely.
“Oh bonkers. Hold on, I’ll get some candles,” Mary Jane said as she got up, giddy from the grasspot and strong drink.
“Hey Jack,” Sally began, “I’m really sorry about that whole Francisco thing. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow. I… I just didn’t enjoy getting groped all day.”
Ollie repeated her words, “a fine fellow, groped,” and he just couldn’t stop laughing.
Jack said nothing in the darkness, and when Mary Jane lit up the first candle, Jack’s face glowed with an even more sinister stare than anyone could possibly ever have.
“Damn, Jack. You truly look like a Jack-O-Lantern,” Ollie joked.
Somewhere far off there was an explosion.
“What the hell was that?” Ollie asked, looking around bewildered and clutching the fabric of time and space.
He got up and went to the glass doors leading to the veranda and looked out.
“Well?” Sally asked. “Do you see anything?”
“No, nothing but a blood-red glow of death off in the distance. I think I’ll go get some Chinese food. I’ll buy it and bring it back. Anyone?”
“Pork and snow peas for me please,” Sally said with a big high-as-a-kite grin on her flawless face.
“Veggie Lo Mein.”
“Uh, Jack. Would you like any Chinese food?”
“No!” Jack barked out, his jaw tight, his eyes tight. “And I am not a pumpkin!”
“Ok, you know what, if you’re going to act like a complete tool all night… I think you should just leave,” Ollie said to him sharply.
“No!” Jack blurted out again. “I can make my own lunch!”
“But Jack,” Mary Jane said, crawling closer to the chair and nearly touching him on the arm, “It’s late, don’t you want any dinner?”
“No!” Jack blurted out again. “I like turtles!”
“All right, whatever crazy man. I’ll be back later,” Ollie said, waving a hand and shaking his head.
“Be careful out there,” Sally said to Ollie, and she got up and ran over to him and surprisingly kissed him before he walked out the door.
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