Aphelion Issue 230, Volume 22
July 2018
 
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Morning Starship

by Paul Lubaczewski




Spif slid up to the kids. Everybody under thirty was a kid to Spif. They were a group of them hanging out in an alley, just like kids had been doing as long as he could remember. Drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, trying to get laid, the shit that kids do. He knew one of this little pack so he could probably get to hang out some with them at any rate. He wasn't getting laid tonight, but then again, how often did that even happen anymore? How often did he give a damn if it did or didn't for that matter?

No, it was just nice to be allowed to be around people, to try and impress them with the same old stories he'd told a million times. Not just get run off like a hobo, just another bum who had never done anything with his life. You couldn't say that about Spif, it wasn't true, he'd been places, he'd done things, he'd gotten close enough to the fire that he still had the scars.

Spif let their conversations waft over him, sooner or later someone would say something he could jump in on. It always happened, you didn't go as many places and do as much as he had without someone finally giving you your lead in line. He could be patient. Spif figured, he needed them more than they needed his stories, hell they probably thought he was full of shit as it was, but what did it matter? As long as they suspected there was a possibility it was all true, they'd let him stay, he wouldn't get frozen back out into a world that didn't give a damn about him anymore. And that's all he needed, just a little time to remain in the light, so he could remember it later to bring joy to the dark places where Spif spent most of his days and nights.

Spif caught adrift in the conversation, they had begun rapping about early punk rock. Just a couple of more moments and...there! “Johnny Thunders, I knew that cat,” he growled with his cigarette-scarred voice, “we used to hang all the time.”

There were a couple of looks his way, most of the kids had mostly forgotten he was even there. Spif continued now while he had their attention, “Yeah man, we even talked about doin' some shit together, but, he was really....whaddayacallit? Unprofessional, he was already doin' a lot of junk back then. You couldn't fuckin' tell if the guy was even going to show up!”

That got a couple of “cools” from the kids, but nothing sounding remotely like a “tell us more” so Spif lapsed back into silence again waiting for another opportunity. He certainly didn't have anything recent to talk about. Nothing good at any rate, he had stories, but they were all ugly, they had no beauty to them, no fire of life, just the stink of death and hatred and violence. That kind of stuff might happen to Spif, but it wasn't the altar, he wanted to worship at. Those were just bad things that happened to you, or around you, those things had no hope for tomorrow, there was no future in any of that. So Spif didn't care about any of it enough to remember it one day to the next.

But there were things Spif deeply loved, things in his past, that were all about the future.


*****



The lights were bright, and the young man on the stage was smiling widely. He rocks back on his silver platform boots as the guitar solo wails. A tear of joy trickles down his face over the thick caked glittering silver makeup that covers it. He is in his element, he is beloved here, he can not help but be in his glory. Normally he tries to be humble, but false modesty washes right off in the waves of applause.

He returns to the microphone to finish the song. The lyrics are about the lusts of youth, but also more than just that. The potential of all this energy going off into space, into the great beyond. It might have been sung about before in one format or another, but this singer truly believes. Critics have called it all a mishmash of teenage lust and sci-fi fantasy, but he doesn't care about critics, they aren't filling the floor of the hall. The crowd out there tonight, they get it. The place is packed, and he stands upon the stage a lusty teenage space god. The critics are all at home lamenting that they don't have dates for tonight.

The song, which had been the encore closes, and the lights dim, the band all hustle off the stage to cries of, “SPIF! SPIF! SPIF!”


*****



The large forty ounce bottles of beer were empty, and pretty soon the kids would be moving on. They only came here as a place the cops wouldn't see them as they drank, they were all friends and not all of them could get into bars. Sort of a clubhouse for the inner city set, no trees for treehouses in this wilderness. You couldn't say there were no trees at all, but the park service got really bent if you tried to put a treehouse in one.

They'd shared some beer, with him, they'd given him almost enough cigarettes to make a pack. Spif had all of the half smoked buts tucked around his person for when nobody would be around to give him a cigarette. Most importantly, they had shared a bit of light with him. The teenage years had life, they had drive, they had fire, and even if he could never know it again, he'd at least been able to sit just outside the heat to enjoy the glow of it. Spif was pretty happy overall.

As they began to break up and leave, the one he knew, kid called Dip, slid by him. He whispered out of the side of his mouth to Spif, “I know you like to get a little high sometimes, and I know you can't pay. I feel bad about just leaving you out here like this, so have a little on me man.”

Spif could see the white packet palmed on the inside of Dip's hand. Spif quickly grabbed the hand and shook it, “Hey, thanks a lot, kid!”

“Yeah, I been high and dry a few times, no fun. Where you're stuck streeting it, less fun,” the kid actually smiled kindly. He could afford to, anybody who had the money for an extra bag could afford the warm glow charity gave you, they wouldn't be lacking for warm glows tonight after all.

He heard one of the kids' buddies ask as Dip ran to catch up, “What the fuck was the old fuck thanking you for?”

“I slipped him a couple of bucks to get some food,” Dip replied.

“Man, don't do that, it only encourages 'em. That's what my old man says.”

“Encourages 'em to do what? Eat? Maybe that's your old man's problem, too many people encouraged him!”

“Whaddya mean by that?”

“Your old man is a fat ass,” Dip laughed as their voices faded into the night.

Spif barely heard the friend reply. “Well, yeah, that's true.” before the sounds of the pair of them vanished around a bend in the alley.

Well, this was a turn up for the books, Spif was gonna' be able to nod off to sleep tonight. Seriously good deal, everything had hurt lately. His lung's wheezed constantly now, there was some pain in his guts, and he was afraid to even look at what was happening with that cut he had gotten last week. Last time he had looked at it where it was hidden under his old army jacket, it had been bright purple, and even as clogged up with city filth as his nose was, he could tell, it didn't smell right.

But for the first time in a long while, in a little while, there would be no more pain.


*****



It had been such a glorious night, but then again, all nights were glorious when he was on stage. When Spif was a little kid, he loved two things, rock'n'roll and outer space. Childhood had been packed and what it had been packed with was the space race and the Beatles, and what else could compete with that? Add in his own teenage hormones, and all of it had melded into a philosophy. The aliens were out there, space was where we were going, and we wouldn't get there until we played music that rocked, and finally admitted, everybody loves a well-filled pair of jeans, and hopes to get them off tonight. Your momma' did, your daddy did, so did your grandparents, or your ass wouldn't be there to be so hung up. He figured the aliens really wanted us to bang, to cut loose, to be ourselves, and that's where the hippies got it all messed up, they took all the fun out of it. You could make love a dozen times, but sometimes you just wanted to bang like the animal you were.

The way Spif figured it, good Rock N Roll let that beast out to play. He had read somewhere about bonobos, supposed to be the most mellow of all the great apes, and also, as his grandma would say, the most wanton. And until everybody showed the honesty to admit they had of bonobo in them, we were all stuck here in this solar system. We'd never get any further than the moon, or maybe Mars, but the spacemen, they would never want to talk to a group of people as hung up and full of it as we were now. Spif was offering up the way up and out as he saw it.

And as a philosophy for a rock band, it worked, it resonated with the kids. They had started doing small shows at little dinky clubs. Sometimes in Long Island, sometimes in the city, but soon enough they were playing Max's regular. Record companies had come sniffing around, mini-tours taking them as far south as Florida or west to Ohio. The crowds kept growing, and finally, a record contract had been signed.

They had spent half of the last year only playing sporadically, usually in the city. All of their time had been in the studio that their new manager Billy had rented for them. Billy had been around in the record business, he knew what he was doing. He knew they needed to get this right, and if it cost a good chunk of the advance to do it, well it was an investment in the future.

Here tonight, doing the record release party at Max's, they were gods.

Falling off the stage, behind the scenes, the entire band was floating all the way to their dressing room. There were hangers-on to get through, groupies, and pushers. Spif wanted nothing to do with any of them, he just wanted to get back to his dressing room to get something cold to drink. Most of all he just wanted to sit there and feel the glow he always felt on a night like this. Just to bask in the light until it faded.

Billy was waiting for him inside his door.

“Hey, Billy, what you doin' back here man?” Spif asked almost drunkenly from the leftover adrenaline of it all.

“Spif, we gotta talk.”

“About what baby?” Spif smiled as he went to flop on the full-length couch that waited for him.

“Spif, I don't know how to say this, so I'm gonna' just spit it out. The record company has cold feet. The tour is mostly canceled,” Billy said bluntly looking at the floor as he said it.

“What?! What in the hell are you talking about Billy? We leave in two weeks!” Spif demanded suddenly coming upright.

“Spif, I'm sorry, they got cold feet. They think glam is dead, that it will never be big in the states. Look Spif, it was all I could do to get them to still release the record,” Billy said almost plaintively.

“But we sell out every night we play!”

“The label doesn't care Spif, they think it's over. Bowie and Iggy are both looking for their new thing, the Dolls didn't end up selling as well as their label thought they should, and now they're imploding. The label thinks it's just a weird British thing and it's almost over. They don't know what they think will be the next big thing, but they think glam is dead.”

“But what about my dream?” Spif practically sobbed tears beginning to run down his made-up face.

“The lawyers that run record labels don't care about dreams Spif.”

“But what do I do now?”


*****



What they did, was a limited tour of the US. They played some massive shows in Japan, where it turned out they were huge, but after travel that didn't translate to much in the way of money. The record company said the sales had been just bad enough to justify dropping them from the label despite them having signed a three-record deal. They drifted around a few months after that, trying to find a new way to go, but with no contract, and no real hope of one, the band split up.

A couple of years of licking his wounds later, he and some other glam refugees tried to form a punk band. And then another. And another. All with the same dismal levels of failure. All that happened was a few independent releases, and some shows opening for some English pip-squeaks up and down Great Britain. Before he was even thirty Spif The Explorer was a has been, and worse, a never was, playing club dates for curiosity seekers.

Shows that didn't have any life, or light in them. Just slogging through the catalog for barely enough money to live on. And when Spif discovered that junk made the pain of losing all that love and light go away, it wasn't even enough to live on. Oddly the heroin burnout angle bought him another couple of years of a full touring schedule and even one more record on an indie label. He had no idea where the money went. It was pretty funny though, cause people who took one look at him had no trouble figuring out that the money went right into his arm.

Soon enough, there wasn't even that. Spif was just another burnt out old junkie living in a city that had enough wandering like zombies through the streets that they could form another city of their own. All of them former rock-stars in their own minds, or hangers-on, all of them friends with legends, or legends themselves. All of them dying one after the other. All of them except old Spif, lying here in an alley, for the moment at least he was still alive.

The way Spif felt right now, he figured he was getting ready for his own obituary on the back pages of the Village Voice, or whatever the music mag was these days. He knew a lot of things hurt, and they hurt weird, not just aches and pains hurt. The junk he'd been slipped tonight, was only numbing it up enough that he'd probably be able to sleep, but no more. He could feel a storm coming now.

Spif was pretty sure his dream was going to die with him tonight.


*****



“Spif, it's time to go” an ethereal voice disturbed him.

“Wh?”

“Oh honey, poor dear, look at what the world has done to you. We'll take care of it, don't you worry.”

Spif was barely able to get his eye open, everything was fuzzy and vague, but he felt bemused by this. Especially the huge dark eyes of the person carrying him. Carrying him? He felt that maybe he should be concerned about that, but he was just too far gone to really care at the moment. He felt so good, so good, better than he had for years. Better than junk good.

His surroundings got so bright he had to close his eye to shut it out, it hurt. He heard the voice again, “You just need to sleep now, dear boy, we'll explain it all later.”

Then it was dark again, inside and out.


*****



“Where am I?”

Spif was not at all surprised to see the figures that came over to him. He had always just assumed that this was what heaven would be like. He had known how bad a shape he was in after all, and he thought he was still a kind soul under it all who didn't deserve hell. The only thing that surprised him was how good he felt, he'd forgotten what really feeling good, felt like. But, you don't have the happiest time in your life singing about going to far off galaxies and making out and rocking under their moons, and let yourself be thrown off by a little thing like people with enormous eyes and skin with a gray tint to it. If anything you kind of expect it.

“Oh, good you're awake,” said one of the figures that hurried toward him, it was wearing a wide-collared green sparkling arrangement, the collar went up high and wide around the back of its head.

“We're sorry we had to sedate you, but there really was an awful lot of you that needed fixing,” said the other, who was wearing something that seemed to involve leather shoulder pauldrons, his outfit in red.

“You're where you've always wanted to be Spif,” said the first one, smiling at him.

Spif's eyes went huge as he replied, “Space?”

“Yes, honey. We heard your music. It brought us to you. Someone must have played it on a radio, and the signal just rocketed across the galaxy. We could not believe what we had heard, so we went to visit your planet. We found a recording of your music, and we all agreed we must find you.”

“My record?” Spif asked, dumbfounded by it all.

“Of course, it is now immensely popular with our people,” said the one in green, “we all heard it and said, 'How amazing, to find someone so far away who gets it, who understands how we can live in peace and travel the stars in harmony!' We had to find you.”

“And not a moment too soon I might add. But you will get well here, better than you've ever been. All you have to do is play, to sing.”

“I haven't played a note in years,” Spif shook his head sadly at even the thought of playing again.

“And look at the state of you for it,”the one in red suit, but said it with a smile.

“Walk with us, we have a 'band' that can play with you. We found a 'setlist' from one of your shows on an online auction on your planet, so it will be natural for you. Play again, and you will be well. We promise you that.”

They took his hand, and he couldn't think of what else to do but follow. They had already made him feel so much better than he had in years, if they meant to do something bad to him, they could have just left him in the alley after all. Life had already been doing something fatally bad to him when they showed up. But did he fear these men from outer space? Not at all, they were fans after all

But a different fear clenched at him a little, well more than a little. Nobody had really wanted him to play those songs in years, he didn't even know if he could even hit any of the notes after all those sad years. Could he even remember the words? These long and slender aliens had saved his life, he didn't know if he could look in their dark, dark eyes and tell them he was afraid to sing his own songs.

Spif took in his surroundings as they walked. The ship, for it, must be a ship, was not as sterile as he'd expected, it was done in warm colors or sparkling ones, and every part was different. This was not a place of cold, heartless aliens from science fiction movies, these were beings with style. This is how Spif would have decorated a spaceship. Maybe they were right, and he and they were on the same wavelength.

A door in front of them opened. Spif, almost died of shock, he almost ran away right then and there!

It was Max's, down to the last screw! Filled with aliens like these two, all chanting his name and stomping their feet in anticipation!

The one in green turned and smiled again, “We constructed it while you slept. We wanted you to be somewhere you knew and had triumphed. We wanted it to be about your joy of rocking again and not fear of your surroundings.”

Spif had a tear rolling down his cheek as he looked at the one in green, his voice barely a whisper “I don't even know what to say. Except, alright. Let's do this then!”

He moved through the crowd, which parted as if on cue, and climbed onto the stage. His band was all dressed in replica's of the outfits that his old band had worn on the back cover of the record, they all turned and smiled at him. “You cats ready to do this?”

They all nodded and smiled happily at him.

“Let me count it off, and we're right in to “Light-years From Rockin'” OK?”

Nods again.

Spif strode confidently to the mic, which surprised him, he didn't feel that way in his head, his heart, sure, but not his head. He grabbed it from the stand and shouted, “Alright spacemen! Are you ready to rock?”

A cheer erupted from the audience beyond the show lights.

“WELL, LET'S GO! 1...2....3....4!”

And the love and the light exploded in Spif stronger than it ever had before.


*****



If you were floating in the galaxy of Apparatus Sculptoris, well you'd probably be dead from lack of oxygen. But if somehow you didn't, you would see a cigar-shaped ship go cruising by. You would hear music playing so loud, even the ship vibrated with it as the ship passed through a cloud of cosmic dust that transferred the sound to you. If you had the knowing of it, you would know that Spif The Explorer, had found his own personal heaven.



THE END


2018 Paul Lubaczewski

Bio: Before deciding to take writing seriously Paul had done many things, printer, caving, the SCA, Brew-master, punk singer, music critic etc. Since then he has appeared in numerous science fiction, and horror magazines and anthologies. Born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, he moved to Appalachia in his 30s for the peace and adventure that can be found there. He has three children, two who live in his native Pennsylvania, and one interrupting his writing constantly at home. Married to his lovely wife Leslie for twenty years, they live in a fairy tale town in nestled in a valley by a river.

Twitter: Paul Lubaczewski

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