Aphelion Issue 234, Volume 22
November 2018
 
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Three Magi: Based on a True Story

by George Schaade




Two hundred light years from Earth in a small insignificant galaxy a massive yet insignificant star went supernova. Aside from destroying the insignificant life forms in its solar system, the explosion from the supernova created a significant number of cosmic particles that then raced at light speed across the universe which, not being the only universe, was quite insignificant. Many of the cosmic particles were absorbed by stars, black holes, dark matter, and other insignificant cosmological structures. The one cosmic particle that survived these obstacles and entered the Earth's atmosphere then passed through an insignificant rhinovirus located in the sinus cavity of Miguel Innuendo. The mutation of the virus and the subsequent changes to his DNA would have a significant impact on Miguel's future.

"Are you okay?" Billy Cordial was genuinely concerned about his friend.

"I'm miserable. Who's idea was it to go camping on Christmas Eve in a New Mexico desert?" asked Miguel through a stuffy nose filled with rhinoviruses that were quickly mutating.

The third member of the group, Conway Subtle, chuckled as he tossed another log on the fire. "That was you, Miguel. Remember, 'three friends celebrating a special night under the clear desert sky before we go our separate paths in life'. You said that, Miguel."

Miguel blew his nose momentarily clearing his sinuses and said, "It's good to be with you guys, but I didn't know it was going to be so chilly tonight and this cold is kicking my butt."

"Move closer to the fire," said Billy, "and you're not the only one suffering here. My ankle is killing me. I don't understand why we had to hike five miles to this spot when we could have pitched our tent next to the car."

"Geez," exclaimed Conway, "will both of you please quit whining. You complain like a couple of seventh grade girls. Pass me a beer."

The three friends slipped into an awkward silence which quickly became a painful moment and eventually developed into an agonizing quiet. Because Conway had caused it, he felt compelled to say something.

"Okay, I'm sorry. You guys aren't whiners. Now will somebody please roll a joint."

The three looked from one to the other.

"I thought Miguel was bringing some," said Billy.

"Conway always has the dope," said Miguel.

The friends started down the path toward another awkward silence but it was derailed when they burst into loud laughter.

Conway looked at his childhood buddy, Miguel, and asked, "So, have you decided what to do?"

"Well, since I failed math class and they started this damn draft lottery I'm now likely to be drafted for the Vietnam War. I don't want to do that so I guess I'll run away to Kansas."

"You mean Canada," said Billy.

"Kansas? Canada? I don't know. I flunked geology class too."

"You mean geography," said Billy

Miguel gave Billy an angry look and said, "In about thirty seconds it's going to be more than your ankle that's hurting."

Billy laughed it off. "It won't matter as long as I can get on that bus next week."

"You still going to California to be a rock and roll star?" asked Conway.

"I'm the best drummer in Farmington. It's time to take my skills to the big show. What about you? What are you going to do?"

Conway shrugged and stared into the fire. "Work in my dad's hardware store, I guess."

"I wish we could just hangout like this forever," said Miguel.

"That would be cool," added Billy.

"Forever isn't possible," said Conway.

"It would be if we were immoral," replied Miguel.

Billy and Conway burst out laughing.

"You mean immortal," said Billy.

Miguel smiled and shook his head. Though he didn't like it, Miguel had become accustomed to being the butt of his friends' jokes.

"If we lived forever we'd be like gods," said Conway.

"Or at least good friends with God," smiled Billy.

Conway took a swig from his beer and stared into the star-filled sky. Something caught his eye and he pointed. "What's that?"

Nestled among the multitude of sparkling stars in the Milky Way was a slightly brighter blue-green star that seemed to be getting bigger every second. Suddenly the strange light rushed toward them, expanded to cover half of the night sky, and alit on the other side of a ridge a few yards from the boys. The eerie blue-green light pulsated from beyond the rocky outcropping.

Billy pissed his pants but no one, including Billy, noticed.

A shadowy figure appeared at the top of the ridge, but the backlight was so bright that the boys couldn't make out any details of the being standing before them.

"Oh God," whispered Miguel.

A deep, booming, melodramatic, Isaac-Hayes-like voice said, "Yes, I am."

Conway pissed his pants but no one, including Conway, noticed.

For the next ten minutes God spoke to the three friends. Hard as they tried they wouldn't remember the conversation before God asked them what they wanted most of all. At that point the boys put their heads together and told God they wanted immortality. God told them what needed to be done to achieve immortality which included bringing him three gifts. As it turned out the gifts weren't a problem but there was a catch to the deal. God told them to return with the gifts in fifty years. God then stepped into the bright blue-green light and instantly shot back into the heavens.

Miguel pissed his pants, noticed what he had done, and "accidently" spilled his beer on his jeans.

"Oh wow! Wow!" Conway started jumping around the fire. "We talked to God! I can't believe it! We talked to God!"

Billy was still looking into the sky. "Far out," he whispered into the cold night air.

"Blankets," said Miguel. "We need to get some blankets. God said that if we want immortality we have to hide under blankets, right? We have to get blankets."

Miguel's face lit up as an insignificant memory exploded in his brain. He ran to his backpack and began to frantically pull things out. Eventually he got to the bottom of the pack where he found an old Navajo blanket his grandmother had given him. He slung it around his shoulders and over his head.

Conway sprang to his sleeping bag and pulled out a wool army blanket that he had bought at the army surplus store. He immediately draped it over his head.

Billy was in a panic. He looked at the other two and then at his meager backpack. Finally he pulled his jacket over his head and yelled, "I haven't got a blanket!"

"It's okay," said Conway. "I've got an old blanket in the trunk of my car. You can use that. We should head back anyway."

The three young men grabbed their gear, smothered their fire, and headed off toward their car. As they walked along at a brisk pace, they talked about their experience.

"My mom is going to flip when she hears about this," said Miguel.

"Nobody's going to believe us," said Conway. "We might be better off keeping our mouths shut."

"Well, I'm going to tell my mom."

"Do what you want," said Conway, "but what do we say when people ask us why we have blankets on our heads?"

"We tell them it's a religious thing," replied Billy. "That usually stops people from asking more questions. If that's not enough for them we can say we're Zoroastrians."

"What's that?" asked Miguel.

"An ancient religion."

When they got back to the car, Conway gave Billy the blanket from his trunk. They stood there for a few minutes, blankets on their heads, and looked at the stars in the sky. Their minds were processing what had happened.

"God talked to us," Conway said. "We must be the luckiest people in the world."

"Yeah," said Miguel. "And he's going to make us immortal."

"We've got to meet back here on Christmas Eve in fifty years and we've got to bring those gifts," reminded Billy.

"And keep the blankets over you," added Miguel.

"I'm going to do it," said Conway. "I swear."

"Me too," promised Billy.

"And me," swore Miguel.

The next day Miguel told his mom what had happened but she didn't believe him just like Conway had said. Later she told her friends that Miguel took drugs that scrambled his brain so she kicked him out of the house. Actually he ran away and hitchhiked to Kansas where he successfully avoided the draft by hiding under his blanket while the DNA in the brain cells of his intraparietal sulcus continued to change.

Although the boys attracted a lot of attention with blankets on their heads, Billy had been right about religion putting them off. If telling people "It's a religious thing" didn't work then saying "I'm a Zoroastrian" did. Nobody knew what a Zoroastrian was and nobody wanted to show their ignorance so the usual response was "Oh, I see" when really they saw nothing. As for Billy he packed his drumsticks, hopped a bus, and headed for Los Angeles.

For two weeks after talking to God Conway's eyes were watering and he was seeing spots. He was suffering from solar retinopathy. When the bright blue-green light was flashing Conway's eyelids were moving at 100 milliseconds a blink which was too slow to prevent photochemical injuries to his eyes' retinas. The optometrist told him that it wasn't permanent and he would be fine in a month or two.

The receptionist at the optometrist's office was a cute redhead with horn-rimmed glasses just like Conway's mother. The Oedipus complex kicked in and Conway fell in love in 100 milliseconds. The receptionist had an inferiority complex and just a touch of the complex hepatitis b virus, neither of which contributed to her falling in love with Conway but she did. Within three days they ran off to Las Vegas, got married, and moved into an apartment complex in Dog Bite, Nevada.


*****



Fifty years is a long time to keep a promise but over that time the boys became men and they stayed true to their word. They remained under their blankets, got their gifts for God, and met in the New Mexico desert on Christmas Eve.

"Billy? Oh, my gosh!" exclaimed Miguel. "You made it! You really made it!"

Conway and Miguel had met at a hotel in Farmington the day before. They were very concerned when Billy didn't show up but decided to drive out to the spot in the desert anyway. It was there that they found Billy.

The three were now complete.

"You look shorter than I remember," said Conway.

"I'm sitting in a wheelchair," said Billy.

"How come?" asked Miguel.

"I'm old and I fell off of a bar stool."

The three friends laughed together like fifty years was just 100 milliseconds. A few more laughs and hugs and they headed for their second meeting with God. Once they determined the right spot, Conway built a fire and they all watched as the sun set on the golden New Mexico desert.

"You guys remember how lousy I was at math?" asked Miguel. "Well, now I'm a professor of mathematics or at least an honorary one."

"Wow," said Conway. "How did that happen?"

"The first job I had when I got to Kansas City was working in a newsstand. I was having a hard time making change then one day something snapped in my head and I figured out a new way to do it. I nailed six pieces of string to the counter beside the cash register; then I tied knots in the strings at certain points. By crisscrossing the strings the positions of the knots told me what the total was or how much change to give."

"Like a Chinese abacus?" asked Billy.

"Sort of," said Miguel, "Except what I was doing was almost unique."

"Almost?"

"One day this guy came into the store and bought a copy of Theoretical Mathematics Review and one of The Journal of Obscure South American Cultures. He saw me use my strings to figure his bill and his jaw dropped. It seems that four thousand years ago the Caral civilization of northern Peru used a string or quipu system for doing their math and recording their history. No one could decipher their quipus until the man buying the magazines saw that I was using the same system. I explained it to him and he took me to dinner. We talked numbers for hours and finally agreed to write a book together. Have Knots: Solving The Caral Quipu Mystery was a best seller among those in the academic community. Soon other mathematicians and physicists were asking for my help which lead to some more books and that honorary doctorate. I've been real lucky, guys. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

"I've been pretty lucky too," said Billy. "After I got to Los Angeles I met this singer named Ace who was putting together a band. Naturally I became the drummer. You may have heard of us, Ace St. Savage and the Huh?

"We were very popular on the West Coast for a number of years. We made a few albums and opened for some big name groups. One of the reasons we were so popular was that we had a cool gimmick. We all dressed up like pirates. You know, tri-cornered hats, puffy shirts, boots, baggy pants. I found a blanket with a skull and crossbones on it. The groupies loved it, but they loved Ace most of all. He was the front man so he had the coolest outfit with a big black eye patch. For awhile it was the craze in California to wear an eye patch like Ace.

"Unfortunately when people wore the patch for a long time then took it off their depth perception was screwed up. Objects appeared farther than they really were. The problems people had ranged from having 'lazy eye' to one guy taking a long walk off a short pier.

"There were a couple of cities that tried to ban eye patches but that lead to discrimination lawsuits by people that really needed them. It was a big mess for awhile that caused the band to break up.

"But now the band is getting back together for a reunion tour. Evidently we're very popular in former Communist countries especially those in Southeast Asia.

"How about you, Conway? What have you been doing?"

"Not as much as you guys," said Conway. "After you left town I met this girl, we got married, and moved to Dog Bite, Nevada. I got a job advertising for a rug store. I guess it was because I had this blanket on my head."

"Duh!" joked Billy.

"The store was very successful. The owner recognized that it was because of my popularity in the TV commercials so he took me into the business. I became known as 'The Rug King of Rug City' and life was grand until a rival rug company moved into town. They called themselves 'The Rug Czars' and tried to tell everyone they were Persian, but I think they were a bunch of Columbian rug lords that wanted to expand into our area of the rug trade. I swore that I wasn't going to let them walk all over us. And so the Rug Wars began.

"It was in the middle of all this," Conway paused and hung his head, "that I lost my wife."

"I'm so sorry," lamented Miguel. "How did she die?"

Conway raised his head. "Oh, she didn't die. We were in Walmart and I lost her. Never found her again.

"Anyway," continued Conway, "once the Rug Enforcement Agency stepped in it was revealed that our competitors were heavily involved in rug smuggling and padding their books. They tried to reassure their customers but it was a stain they couldn't remove. The Rug Wars were over and I was made a full partner in the business."

"That's amazing stuff," said Billy. "It sounds like you've had a helluva life too."

"The girl you married," asked Miguel. "She was from Farmington? Did we know her?"

"I don't know," Conway replied. "Her name was Shelly Veneer."

Miguel thought it over. "No, I guess not. But I had some cataracts removed a few years ago by a Dr. Mason Veneer."

"That's odd," said Billy. "The band once had a road manager named Woody Veneer."

Shelly Veneer Subtle wasn't exactly lost in a Walmart in Dog Bite, Nevada. On that fateful day while Conway, the Rug King, was being swarmed by admirers in the electronics department Shelly's inferiority complex intensified. She quickly walked down the cookware aisle, through the automotive department, out the garden center, and made her way to Houston, Texas where she joined a Zoroastrian temple. The peace and serenity that came from the religion put Shelly more in tune with her inner self. It wasn't long before she realized that she was really a man trapped in a woman's body.

Shelly stole the temple's credit cards and headed to Mexico where she had sex reassignment surgery and became Mason Veneer who later bought an ophthalmologist license from a street vender in Guadalajara. Mason came back to the United States and set up a successful practice in Kansas City until Miguel Innuendo came in for cataract surgery. As soon as Mason saw Miguel's blanket he knew there was a connection to Conway so Mason sold his practice, changed his name to Woody Veneer, and left for California.

Woody grew a beard and wore an eye patch to hide his identity which worked quite well until he met Ace St. Savage at a party. Ace was inspired by Woody's pirate look and asked Woody to be road manager for Ace St. Savage and the Huh.

When Billy seemed suspicious, Woody left for South America where he spent the rest of his life living in a commune with rug dealers in northern Peru and writing articles for The Journal of Obscure South American Cultures.

"There!" yelled Billy. "He's coming!"

A blue-green twinkle in the night sky grew and then quickly fell behind the ridge near the three friends. The pulsating colored light was the perfect backdrop for God to make a dramatic appearance. Stepping to the top of the rocky outcropping was a small slender entity with a large bald head, black almond-shaped eyes, and a tiny mouth. Standing beside God was an exact duplicate though slightly smaller version of God that would soon be referred to as Another God.

"Hey, guys," said God. "Long time no see. Did you bring ..."

God leaned forward and stared at the three men.

"Why do you have blankets on your heads?"

"Because you told us to wear them," said Billy.

"No, I didn't," said God.

"Yes, you did," said Conway.

"No, I didn't," repeated God.

"You did," said Miguel. "I don't have a pornographic memory..."

"You mean photographic," injected Billy.

"...but I do remember you saying, 'You can’t attain immortality unless you hide under a blanket.'"

God stared at them for a long time then quickly pressed the palm of his hand to the forehead of his large bulbous head with such force as to create a loud fleshy sound.

"No!" cried God. "I said, 'You can't attain immortality unless you tried to understand it' not 'hide under a blanket.'"

"Ooooh," said the three.

"Who's that?" asked Conway pointing to the being beside God.

"Uhhh," stammered God. "That's another god."

"Nice to meet you, Another God," said Billy.

"Could I ask you something else?" asked Conway.

"Geez," exclaimed God. "What's with all the questions? Is this some kind of game show?"

"Why do you look like an alien?"

God smiled and winked to Another God.

"I don't look like an alien. They look like me. You see, I created aliens in my own image."

"I thought you created us in your image?" questioned Billy.

"Nope," said God flatly. "That's a common misconception among my creations. Dolphins think they were created in my image. Chimpanzees think they were created in my image. Same with pigs, parrots, octopi, and all the rest. Nope, I created aliens first so they're in my image."

"Now did you guys bring the gifts or not?"

Billy rolled forward and handed God a small box, then said, "It's every song made by the Beatles. I hope you have a CD player."

"Hey, I'm God. I'm sure I can figure it out." God enthusiastically pawed through the discs. "Are these guys still around making music?"

"Two of them are," answered Billy. "The other two died but I would have thought that you would know that."

"Sorry but I can't keep track of everybody that comes through my gates."

Conway presented God with a dark green bottle of Brut cologne. God opened the bottle and applied a few drops to his long neck and just behind his ear holes.

"Oh, yeah, that smells great!" said God. But Another God caught a whiff of the scent and shuttered.

Miguel handed God a metal cylinder full of peanut brittle. God took a piece and gave some to Another God.

"Mmmmm," said God. "This is the food of the gods."

Another God shrugged.

"Well, you came through with the gifts," said God. "But you were suppose to spend the last fifty years trying to understand immortality, not hide under a blanket."

"So, no immortality?" asked Conway.

"Sorry," said God.

The three friends huddled up for a quick conversation. When they finished Miguel approached God.

"We're okay with not getting the immortality thing," said Miguel. "We've had great lives and experienced some fantastic things. But we were wondering, would it be all right if we kept the blankets over our heads?"

"Sure," said God with a smile. "Enjoy."

The group slipped into an awkward silence which quickly became a painful moment and eventually developed into an agonizing quiet.

"Well," said Conway sheepishly. "I guess we should get back to the hotel."

"Yeah, we need to head out too," said God.

As the three friends walked and rolled back to their cars, their laughter filled the cold night air proving that people don't have to stay in contact for fifty years to be friends forever.

God and Another God turned and started for their blue-green glowing spaceship.

"Nice people," said Another God. "It's a pity the way you treated them."

"Well, I thought..." began God.

"You promised them immortality, told them to bring you cheap gifts, and made them wait fifty years with blankets on their heads. You know, this isn't the first time you've screwed up. As a matter of fact, you've been on a losing streak for some time now."

Another God thought for a second. "I think it all started when you accidently blew up that massive yet insignificant star in that insignificant galaxy two hundred light years from here."

"Yes, dear," said God. "Whatever you say, dear."



THE END


2018 George Schaade

Bio: George Schaade is a retired teacher living in the Big Thicket forest of East Texas. Though his favorite genre is SF he often ventures into fantasy and humor where his stories can be offbeat or even wacky.

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