Prufrock's Problem

By Robert Moriyama

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, this is the same Prufrock who caused so much trouble for Al Majius and friends. The original version of this story appeared in Titan webzine several years ago; this version appeared last year in the defunct Planet Relish webzine.)

Albert James Prufrock found the Green Room of The Tamyra Oakley Show somewhat disappointing. He had been in worse rooms, to be sure, but he had expected something more tasteful than bile-green paint (poorly applied, at that), cheap indoor-outdoor carpet, and furniture that looked (and smelled) as if it had been reclaimed from a landfill. The Tamyra Oakley Show was, after all, one of the most popular nationally-syndicated talk shows in the country -- a major step up from the local shows on which he had appeared.

Prufrock sighed, then smiled. A little discomfort is a small price to pay for this opportunity, he thought. For the first time, he would be able to offer a realistic view of the world to millions of people at once, instead of the handful who attended his lectures or purchased his books. Best of all, he would have the chance to show the world that Edward Johns was a charlatan and worse, a shameless exploiter of the vulnerability (and gullibility) of the bereaved.

At last, the moment arrived. "Mr. Prufrock, we're ready for you."

Prufrock stood, buttoning his jacket and smoothing the wrinkles from his pants. He took a moment to assess his reflection in the full-length mirror by the door: tall, slender, handsome in an understated way, with high forehead, aquiline nose, and piercing eyes. The suit, while not custom-tailored, draped well, and he had been assured that the color would look good under studio lighting. Surely the audience would recognize him as someone whose words should be taken seriously.

He walked onto the faux living room set, squinting momentarily as the glare of the television lighting, then striding confidently to meet Tamyra Oakley.

"Mr. Prufrock, a pleasure to meet you," Tamyra Oakley said. Slightly plump, with a pleasant, maternal face, Tamyra Oakley had been an actress, television reporter, and sometime lounge singer before she had found her calling. Now, her combination of charm and smarm had made her an icon to millions of daytime television viewers, and a popular choice for celebrities who had books or movies to promote.

"Ms. Oakley, thank you for inviting me to appear on your program."

"Mr. Prufrock, I'd like to introduce you to our other guest this afternoon, Mr. Edward Johns. Edward, this is Alfred Prufrock."

"Albert," Prufrock said, but his correction went unnoticed. He might have taken this as an omen of things to come, if he had believed in omens.

"Audience, this should be a fascinating show," Oakley said. "Alfred Prufrock is an expert in the field of -- what's the word? -- debunking fraudulent claims of the paranormal. He's the author of several books on the subject, and a frequent guest on local programs. Edward Johns, of course, is -- Edward Johns, the man who speaks with and for the dead on his own program, Window on the Beyond."

"Alfred -- may I call you Alfred? I understand that you have your doubts about my gifts," Johns said. Ruggedly handsome, with softly-curling grey hair and the build of a slightly-out-of-shape quarterback, he wore a sports jacket and slacks that probably cost more than Prufrock's car.

"My name is Albert," Prufrock said. "And I have no doubts whatsoever. You, sir, are a fraud."

The audience responded with hoots of derision.

"Now, Alfred," Oakley said, "I think you should give Edward a chance. Audience? Would you like to see Edward Johns at work?"

The hoots and boos changed instantaneously into wild applause. Prufrock felt his confidence waning, but forced himself to smile. "I believe I would like to watch Mr. Johns demonstrate his -- gifts -- myself."

Johns stood, raising his hands for quiet, then walked out to stand at the edge of the audience. A technician trotted out and handed a microphone to him, then withdrew out of camera range.

Johns closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and stood silently for a moment, swaying slightly from side to side. Then he raised one finger, and said, "I'm getting a name, a name starting with the letter D, or P ..."

Prufrock rolled his eyes. The vagueness begins.

"Daniel, David, Dean, Paul, Peter ..."

"Peter! My brother's name was Peter!" A woman in the audience sprang to her feet, waving frantically. Another technician quickly ushered her down to a waiting stand mike in the aisle between seating sections.

"Peter died recently, didn't he?" Johns said. "Three months -- six -- "

"Nine months ago," the woman said, her voice unsteady.

"After a long illness ..."

"No," the woman said, frowning slightly. "It was an accident --"

"Yes, of course, a terrible accident," Johns said quickly. "Peter wants you to know that he is happy, but misses you and the rest of the family terribly."

"But I'm the only family he had --"

"Now I'm getting another name, one starting with the letter B," Johns said, cutting her off in mid-sentence. "Barry, Bill, Bob ..."

And so it went, for another ten minutes. Prufrock shook his head. That anyone could be fooled by this routine lowered his already-low opinion of the average intelligence of the nation by at least ten points.

Finally, Johns returned to his seat, and Oakley said, "Mr. Prufrock, your assessment?"

"That was a truly amazing display --" he began, to the cheers of the audience. "A truly amazing display of tricks used by carnival mentalists and mind-readers for centuries!"

The audience fell silent.

"I want you all to think carefully about what you have witnessed," Prufrock said. "Edward Johns rhymes off names until he gets a response. He then makes vague and even inaccurate guesses until and unless he is corrected, and seizes on any correction and treats it as if he was its source. Any attempts to question him are drowned out when he starts the cycle again."

The audience was still silent, and Prufrock allowed himself to smile. They are listening. They are listening to me, and learning.

Then things went to Hell -- another thing he did not believe in -- as the shouting started, and bits of food started flying.

"Edward Johns is a saint!"

"You're the fraud!"

Prufrock noted absently that some of the food falling at his feet or actually striking him was better than the pseudo-Tex-Mex abomination in the Green Room. Then something heavy struck his face, and the too-bright lights faded to black ...


Some hours later, Prufrock arrived home, his mood as dark as the bruise on his cheek where a well-hurled water bottle had found its mark. "I did not fail the American people -- the American people, as represented by the Tamyra Oakley studio audience, failed themselves," he muttered.

He brushed the last crumbs of ersatz croissant from his hair, and sighed.

"There is no justice in this world," he said to himself. "Edward Johns and his like are lionized, while I -- I live in relative poverty."

"Relative poverty" was a three-acre walled estate, but it had been in his family for generations. His income from books, lectures, and television appearances merely allowed him to maintain the property and live a comfortable and dignified (if not extravagant) life. Johns, on the other hand, had houses in New York, Malibu, and Hawaii, and a collection of vintage automobiles.

Still, Prufrock derived some comfort from the fact that he was not a popular man among those of Edward Johns’s ilk (to say nothing of Johns’s fans). Attempted acts of vengeance ranging from threatening phone calls and e-mails to practical jokes intended to publicly humiliate him were a part of his daily existence, but served to encourage rather than intimidate him. They proved that at least people were listening to his message, even if they disagreed in quite disagreeable ways ...

"If the charlatans of the world hate me, then I am doing my job," he had told one interviewer. "My role in life is to protect the gullible from those who would exploit them -- when they will allow me to do so, that is. My only problem is that a bitter truth is harder to swallow than a sugar-coated lie."

Of course, some said that Prufrock’s problem was that he did not -- would not -- believe in anything outside his tightly-bounded view of the world, no matter what happened.


The night after the Edward Johns incident, Prufrock was on his way to the composter near the long-disused stables with a bucket of kitchen scraps when he made First Contact with an alien ship. To be more precise, his hands made contact, sending a colorful spray of vegetable peelings into the air; then his nose, chest, and kneecaps struck and rebounded from what amounted to an invisible wall.

For almost a minute, Prufrock lay sprawled in a semi-conscious tangle of bruised limbs and carrot tops, his spectacles dangling by one earpiece. Then indignation replaced confusion on his patrician face, and he sat up, scraping damp bits of potato and onion from his hair and clothes.

"Wod’s duh beaning of dis?" he sputtered, holding his injured nose. "I mean, what’s the meaning of this?"

He peered through the twilight shadows in the direction of his compost container, but failed to see the obstacle which had dared to get in his way. Puzzled, he stood up, favoring his throbbing knees.

"There must be something there," Prufrock said. "I have the bruises to prove it. Unless this is another juvenile practical joke -- putting a wall in the middle of the yard, then snatching it away ..."

Cautiously, he moved forward, his hands probing, like a man seeking a light switch in an unfamiliar room. Almost immediately, his fingers found a cool, hard surface; but even at that close range, he could see nothing.

"A glass wall? This is quite ridiculous!"

Further exploration revealed that the obstacle, as Prufrock continued to call it, was a horizontal cylinder of perhaps three meters in diameter, tapering to a blunt, hemispherical cap at each end of its six meter length. But for all its considerable size, the thing was completely invisible, devoid of any hints of color, or any reflections from the security lights. Even with his still-tender nose pressed against its surface, Prufrock found that looking at the object and looking through it were exactly synonymous.

Now Prufrock found himself smiling. "A challenge," he said. "A puzzle for me to solve -- and a damn fine one, at that. I wonder which of my adversaries devised this little prank?"

He was both pleased and irritated that his unknown "opponent" had gone to the trouble of placing something in his own back yard. His fences and gates were equipped with sensors to warn him of unauthorized visitors; moving something this size into the yard without triggering alarms was quite a feat in itself. A cargo helicopter, perhaps? The trees and wires would make it difficult, but surely not impossible.

Prufrock entered his house and gathered his camera, a high-powered flashlight, a light meter, a tape measure, and a folding tray. When he returned to the back yard, he set up the tray and arranged the other items on its surface.

First, he turned on the flashlight and aimed it at what he estimated to be the center of the object. He was unable to detect any surface reflections, and the light beam seemed to pass through with no change in color or angle.

Next, he used the light meter and the tape measure to measure the effect that the object had on light intensity, taking readings at a fixed distance to one side of the object, and then repeating the exercise with the object between the flashlight and the light meter. There was no difference between the two readings.

Prufrock frowned. The material, whatever it was, seemed to have a refractive index so close to that of air that it would be truly invisible to the naked eye. If not for the bruises on his kneecaps and the flattened patch of grass under the thing, he would have sworn that it wasn’t there at all.

He took pictures from several angles, to show the size of the imprint on the lawn. Besides, it was possible that something that he had missed might show up on the film.

He made another trip into the house, this time emerging with a hammer and chisel and a small container to hold samples. He positioned the chisel near one of the rounded ends of the object, and tapped gently with the hammer.

There was a musical ping much like the sound of a fingernail tapping on fine crystal, but Prufrock neither heard nor felt any damage to the invisible surface. He struck again, harder.

PING. No effect. PING!

"Please don’t do that."

For the second time that night, Prufrock found himself sitting on the lawn. The grass was soft enough, but the dampness was beginning to seep through the seat of his pants, and he resented being seen in such an undignified position.

The voice had apparently originated somewhere inside the object. Given the lack of any interior details, Prufrock speculated that there were speakers concealed somewhere nearby.

"I’ve had quite enough of this," he said. "Your little objet d’art is very impressive, and I haven’t been able to identify the material, but I would advise you to remove this -- this thing from my property. It’s killing my lawn."

"Profuse apologies, but I am unable to do so at this time," the voice said. "My stardrive has been damaged, and I must make repairs."

Prufrock rolled his eyes. "Stardrive? So this overgrown glass egg is supposed to be some kind of UFO?"

"I don’t understand. What is a you-foe?"

"UFO," Prufrock said. "You. Eff. Oh. Unidentified Flying Object. Flying saucer."

"These are terms for spacetime translation devices?"

"If you mean bloody spaceships, yes," Prufrock growled.

"Bloody? No blood involved. I come in peace," the voice said.

Prufrock snorted and climbed to his feet. "Somehow I guessed that. Now, I suppose you want me to take you to my leader?"

"Leaders irrelevant," the voice replied. "I am in need of components to repair my stardrive."

"Diamonds and platinum, no doubt," Prufrock muttered.

"Beg pardon, I did not hear --"

"Why don’t you come out of hiding?" Prufrock demanded. "I’ve admitted that I can’t explain how your toy was made; at least do me the courtesy of playing your games face to face."

"Not here for games, only to repair my stardrive," the voice said. "But I agree that hiding no longer serves any purpose."

Prufrock looked expectantly at the gate in the fence at the edge of his property, but quickly returned his attention to the "glass egg" when part of its surface began to glow softly.

A man appeared at the center of the glowing area, as if walking through a curtain of light. As he stepped clear of the glow, it faded, and the object was again invisible.

Prufrock blinked in surprise. After a moment, he shouldered past the man and ran his hands over the surface from which the man had emerged. It was as smooth and cool and flawless as before.

"Damn fine trick," Prufrock said admiringly. "Not even the Amazing Randi could explain that one -- at least not without time to study it. Holograms and hypnosis, I imagine."

The stranger shook his head. "No trick," he said. "I wish only to obtain components to repair my --"

"Stardrive," Prufrock interrupted. "Yes, yes, I know. I’m still sure that you are as much of a charlatan as all the rest, but you are without question the best charlatan I have ever encountered."

He picked up the hammer and chisel, and added it to the collection on the tray. Then he picked up the tray and carried it back toward the house.

"Come along, then, whatever you’re supposed to be," he called. "We might as well go through the rest of your spiel in comfort."

"I do not understand ‘spiel’," the stranger began, but Prufrock ignored him and entered the house, cursing as the tape measure tumbled from the tray and was lost in the flowerbed by the door.

It was not until they were seated at the kitchen table that Prufrock noticed the stranger’s eyes. The irises were of a nondescript color, but seemed unusually large, so almost no white showed around them; and the pupils were oddly shaped, almost like --

On sudden impulse, Prufrock snatched up the flashlight and aimed it at the stranger’s face. The stranger recoiled, raising his hands to shield his eyes, but not before Prufrock’s suspicions had been confirmed.

"Your pupils close into slits, like a cat," he said excitedly. "Photosensitive contact lenses! What marvelous attention to detail!"

He turned his attention to the stranger’s clothing. The cat-eyed fellow wore an apparently seamless jumpsuit which covered everything except his head and neck. The gloves and boots were of a different texture than the rest of the garment, but Prufrock found no gaps at the points where the texture changed.

"Some sort of plastic compound, I think," Prufrock murmured. "They must have sealed you in like leftovers in a freezer bag. Must be damned uncomfortable, and pure hell if you have to use the loo."

"‘Loo’?" the stranger began, "I do not understand --"

"Loo. Watercloset. Lavatory. Washroom. Bathroom."

The stranger still looked puzzled. Prufrock sighed, and continued, "Toilet. Urinal. Crapper. Where you relieve yourself of bodily wastes!"

The stranger shook his head. "Not necessary. No wastes."

Prufrock rolled his eyes. "I presume that means you don’t sweat, either." Then he frowned and peered at the stranger’s forehead.

"You aren’t sweating," he said. "In an outfit like that, you’re not sweating."

The stranger nodded. "Sweat is to regulate body temperature? Not necessary. Temperature constant inside clothing."

Prufrock groaned in disbelief. "Makeup. It must be a mask. By Houdini, you must be suffocating in that costume."

He straightened and extended his hand. "We might as introduce ourselves properly. I, of course, am Albert James Prufrock, M.S."

The stranger extended his hand in turn, and said, "I am called K’thcha’u."

Prufrock suppressed the urge to say ‘gesundheit’. He looked down at their hands, still separated by at least half a meter, and sighed. "Your devotion to your role is truly admirable. Very well, on with the show. What sort of -- ah -- components do you require?"

K’thcha’u frowned. "I am not certain what best equivalents would be in your technology. Do you have access to material explaining basic principles of your sciences? Also lists of available items?"

Prufrock nodded. "Just a moment." He left the room, returning in a few minutes with several dusty textbooks and a few glossy catalogues. He spread these on the table in front of K’thcha’u and indicated each in turn.

"Basic Physics. Principles of Electronics. Advanced Electronics. Advanced Physics. And the latest catalogues from Heath, Oxford Scientific, and -- Radio Shack. I prefer the printed catalogues to the on-line versions -- they are usually more comprehensive."

K’thcha’u smiled. Prufrock blinked as he realized that K’thcha’u had exactly two teeth: one upper, and one lower, each forming a continuous curve following the line of his jaw.

As K’thcha’u began to page rapidly through the textbooks, Prufrock reminded himself that prosthetic teeth were a highly-developed part of current movie makeup techniques. It was hardly surprising that K’thcha’u’s perfect costuming would extend inside his mouth.

After only a few minutes, K’thcha’u set the last textbook aside, and started on the catalogues.

"K’th -- K’thcha’u," Prufrock ventured. He was painfully aware that he had said something more like "cat chow" than the supposed alien’s name, but he persisted. "K’thcha’u, do you actually remember anything of those books you just -- skimmed?"

Without looking up from the Heath catalogue, K’thcha’u nodded. "Remember everything perfectly," he said.

Prufrock pounced on his Advanced Electronics textbook, and selected a passage at random. "Page 217," he said quickly. "What do you remember about that?"

"Discusses n- and p-type semiconductors, and principles behind integrated circuits," K’thcha’u replied. He picked up the Oxford Scientific catalogue and flipped through it at a rate of about one page per second.

Prufrock scowled. Even assuming that the conspirators had found out what books and catalogues he had on hand, such effortless recall of the contents would be difficult to fake. But if the actor (for surely K’thcha’u was an actor, cleverly costumed and masked) had a photographic memory --

"I have list of items which may be used to repair stardrive," K’thcha’u said abruptly.

Still bemused, Prufrock retrieved pen and paper from the kitchen junk drawer, and transcribed K’thcha’u’s rather peculiar shopping list. K’thcha’u supplied the catalogue page, item number, and price for each item on his list, and Prufrock was confused to note that the items tended to be remarkably simple and inexpensive.

"I don’t see how this collection of junk could have anything to do with a -- a stardrive," he remarked. "There doesn’t seem to be enough here to build a simple amplifier, let alone something that could move a vehicle through space."

K’thcha’u shrugged. "Not enough here for stardrive. Only enough to substitute for damaged parts, and only for a short time."

"I see," Prufrock said skeptically. "Well, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to my study. You can wait for me there while I go to purchase your odds and ends."

K’thcha’u obediently trailed after Prufrock into the study. The small, windowless room had walls lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and was dominated by a desk which held a lamp and an antique Remington typewriter. A brass lamp with a green glass shade flared to life as Prufrock flipped the wall switch.

"Have a seat," Prufrock directed, indicating the overstuffed leather captain’s chair behind the desk. After K’thcha’u settled into Prufrock’s throne, Prufrock left the room, locking the door behind him.

He made a brief stop in the adjacent room, where he activated a monitor and digital video recorder. If "K’thcha’u" tried to take advantage of his absence, Prufrock would have a record of his activities.

Two hours later, Prufrock returned, his purchases in two small parcels under his arm. Before returning to the study, he visited his surveillance room, where he called up a high-speed replay of his visitor’s activities..

After a few minutes, he swore under his breath and replayed several segments at normal speed. He swore again, and turned off the monitor. In two hours, K’thcha’u had not moved an inch. As far as he could tell, the amazing impostor had neither blinked nor even breathed.

"He doesn’t sweat," Prufrock muttered under his breath. "Fine, fine, that could just mean that he’s wearing a mask -- and cooking inside his bloody costume. He doesn’t seem to breathe -- but his costume could disguise chest movements, and if he’s a yoga adept, his breathing could be remarkably slow and shallow."

He scowled. "Not blinking, though -- the only way that could work would be if the eyes weren’t contact lenses, but were part of the mask, with his real eyes and eyelids completely hidden."

He nodded to himself, satisfied. "That makes sense," he said. "They couldn’t make the false eyelids move convincingly, so they left them alone. Damn fine job, though. Marvelous workmanship."

After carefully saving the multi-gigabyte video file, and backing it up to a DVD, Prufrock picked up K’thcha’u’s packages and let himself back into the study. He opened the parcels and spread the circuit boards and other electronic bric-a-brac across the desktop in front of the typewriter.

K’thcha’u took a deep breath, his chest expanding to an alarming degree, and then exhaled slowly. He blinked several times in rapid succession, then smiled as he examined the results of Prufrock’s shopping expedition.

"Most grateful, friend Prufrock," he said brightly. "These items should allow temporary repair of stardrive."

"You blinked," Prufrock sputtered. "Your eyelids moved."

K’thcha’u nodded. "Necessary for cleansing of ocular surfaces after long meditation," he said. "Many floating solid particles in this atmosphere, not enough moisture."

Prufrock paced the room, thinking frantically. The eyes and eyelids had to be false, or K’thcha’u could not go for more than a few minutes without blinking. They appeared to move quite naturally now -- but perhaps it required special effort to make them blink, and K’thcha’u had not bothered when he thought himself alone.

Prufrock nodded again, but he felt a growing suspicion that Occam’s Razor would make confetti out of his web of explanations. Nonetheless, he had to accept even the most elaborate set of admittedly flimsy rationalizations, considering the alternative. A hoax featuring makeup and costuming and special effects beyond "state of the art" was easier to accept than a stranded extraterrestrial.

"Friend Prufrock," K’thcha’u said, "Are you well? If so, I go now to repair stardrive. You are welcome to observe, if interested."

Prufrock gasped. "Observe? You mean you’ll let me see the inside of your -- your ship?"

K’thcha’u nodded. "If interested," he repeated. "Partial repayment for hospitality."

"Of course I’m interested!" Prufrock yelped. "Lead on, Cat-chow, lead on!"

K’thcha’u gathered up the electronic odds and ends from the desk, and walked briskly from the room, with Prufrock trailing in his wake. Together, they left the house and crossed the back lawn to the site of Prufrock’s "first contact".

K’thcha’u extended one hand, pressing against what Prufrock estimated to be the center of the invisible object. After a moment, a dim, pink-orange glow began to spread around the point of contact, expanding until it formed a roughly man-size ovoid cloud of light.

"Please follow," K’thcha’u said, and stepped into the glow. Prufrock watched closely as the alien -- he cursed as he caught himself believing, if only for a moment -- as the actor vanished into the light. It was as if K’thcha’u passed through a curtain of radiance into a hole in the air.

"Friend Prufrock, please follow," K’thcha’u’s voice prompted.

Prufrock shook himself like a dog after a rainstorm. There was nothing to fear. This was all illusion and medicine show foolery, wasn’t it? Smoke and mirrors, son et lumiére, and sooner or later, he would find the wires and the projectors, and all would be right again in his world.

Holding his head high, Prufrock strode boldly into the light, and promptly fell down a flight of crystalline stairs. Groaning, he picked himself up, silently lamenting the new additions to his catalogue of bruises.

Then he frowned, looking around in confusion. He seemed to be in a room as large as his entire house, with connecting tunnels at least five meters in diameter leading off in all directions.

"K’thcha’u!" he screamed. "K’thcha’u! What is this place?" For once, he pronounced the name perfectly, but he took little comfort from this minor victory.

"Stardrive section of my space-time translation module," K’thcha’u answered mildly.

Prufrock turned and spotted K’thcha’u bent over an oddly-curved console near one of the walls of the chamber.

The alien’s hands were busy, plunging into the seemingly-solid console to install the last of the electronic components. As he withdrew his hands, the console was lit from within by a pulsating blue glow; a moment later, the whole chamber began to flash in a matching rhythm.

K’thcha’u shook his head. "Not good. Resonance badly synchronized. But it should serve purpose, carry me close to home."

Prufrock sputtered, "Drugs! You’ve drugged me somehow, and brought me to this preposterous movie set! This is kidnapping!"

K’thcha’u tilted his head to one side. "I do not understand ‘kidnapping’."

"Bloody hell!" Prufrock shouted. "I’ve had more than enough of this charade, Cat-chow. I demand that you take me home, immediately!"

"Home is outside ship, at top of ladder," K’thcha’u said. "I do not understand why friend Prufrock is unhappy. Ship not perfect, but best K’thcha’u can offer --"

"Aaargh," Prufrock said. He turned and scrambled up the ladder. As he reached the top, the familiar pink-orange glow appeared around him.

"More drugs and hypnosis, I suppose," he snarled. "I might have believed all this was real, but you people went too far, making the ship bigger on the inside than on the outside. That’s straight out of that British children’s program, Doctor Whatsit!"

K’thcha’u said nothing. Taking this as an admission of guilt, Prufrock smiled coldly and stepped into the glow. He stumbled as his feet skidded on damp grass, but managed to preserve his dignity with an almost-graceful sweep of his arms.

"Goodbye, friend Prufrock," K’thcha’u’s voice said.

"Enough! Get off of my property!" Prufrock said commandingly. He backed away from the flattened patch of grass, hands on his hips, slowly at first, then broke into an awkward jog as the egg-like outlines of the ship became visible.

There was a soundless explosion of rainbow light, and Prufrock found himself sitting on the damp grass of his lawn for the third time in one night. Grumbling, he scrambled to his feet and walked carefully to the still-flattened area of the lawn.

He slashed the air with his hands, satisfying himself that the thing was really gone. "About time," he blustered. "Have to re-sod this patch, I suppose."

He returned to the house, removed his dew-stained clothes, and took a long, hot bath. When he emerged, he wrapped himself in an enormous terrycloth robe, and went to his monitoring room.

There, he deleted the video of K’thch’au’s stay in the study -- which might as well have been a single still picture, anyway -- and started a defragmenting routine that would effectively scramble any usable data that remained. The DVD backup he ground under his heel until the recording surface was scratched beyond repair, then stamped on it hard enough to break the disc into several pieces. Only when the fragments were safely distributed among three separate wastebaskets did he feel that the world had returned to an acceptable state.

After a moment, he frowned. The lawn was still ruined, and in a recognizably odd way. Resisting the urge to don his old golf shoes and trample the flattened imprint into a jumbled mess, he went to bed. In the morning, he would call the landscapers and have the damaged section of the lawn repaired.

"An elaborate hoax," he said to himself. "Thank Houdini that it’s over and done with."

As sleep crept over him in comforting waves, he mumbled, "Might just as well have never happened. Never happened, that’s the ticket."


K’thcha’u na Shk’art ur Thendri told his tale for the hundredth time since his rescue from his failing ship on the outer fringes of the P’au’modri system, and for the hundredth time, his audience responded with mocking laughter.

No matter how solemnly he related his adventures, no matter how earnestly he swore on his clan’s honor, everyone assumed that he was spinning shaggy Y’akht’au stories.

Nobody believed in Albert Prufrock.

The End

Copyright © 2004 by Robert Moriyama

Robert Moriyama is an Aphelion regular, with various stories and umpteen entries in the "Materia Magica" series featuring Al Majius, Githros and company, appearing in this 'zine over the past few years. (All the stories have the word "Matter" or "Matters" in the title ...) He is also participating in Jeff Williams's Nightwatch project, with the first tale, "Nightwatch: Dragon's Egg", in the June 2004 edition.



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