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H. Turnip Smith is a tofu-eating madman obsessed with basketball and eating hormonally correct foods at a college in Dayton, Ohio.


Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

The Man with the Foot-Long Nose

by H. Turnip Smith


     Pick up the trash. Guy goes by. Nine feet tall, all muscle, yellow eyes, green hair, straight teeth, perfect. Sweep the floor. Girl goes by. Seven feet six inches, 196 pounds, all curves, silky blue hair, great smile, perfect. Mop the floor; guy comes back with girl on his arm; not me. Get off work, go back to space-coop alone.
     "You care if I'm a loser?" I say to my fat dog Bob. Only name I could think of.
     "Who hit you with an an ugly stick?" his liquid eyes say.
     Hear a joke -- don't get it. Go to a dance -- can't keep time. Go to beach -- lifeguard hangs sign around my neck: Beach closed due to visual pollution.
     Why me? I wonder again. Who's my mom and dad? I'm a Malthusian too, ain't I? We're supposed to be genetical programmed to be the same: good-looking, athulectic, and smart. Not me.
     Sure I'm healthy, but I look like a defective hippoprotamus assembled without a building permit. One eye bulging. Hair like a used-driveway-broom. Left ear a wind catcher. Left leg an inch too short, right arm with a little socket where Malthusians have hands.
     A thousand times I go down to the Delete Unhappiness Bureau, but it's always the same story. Some big deal Mr. M. with straight teeth tells me to follow the government pleasure guidelines and increase my dose of Pacsil ... no way; I'm drug-free.
     But this last time the clerk was some long-leg bluenette with silky hair cascading (that's a word I seen on a shampoo commercial) onto lightly-tanned shoulders. I could tell right off she was used to nucular physicians, crocktail parties, and such. I stumbled up to the counter, and she looked at me like I was something Bob barfed up on the carpet.
     "Name please," she says, staring at her computer screen.
     "#3467."
     "Full name, sir. We do not deal in sobriquets at this bureau."
     Tomatoing, I look up my full number on my ID card and read out the entire nine digit deal which I can never remember.
     "Nature of complaint?"      "Genetic disaster area -- reason unknown." I give her all the sickening details about my ugly and how smart I ain't, which, no doubt, she could have guessed for herself.
     "Sir," she goes, "lack of beauty and talent is not a valid complaint. Your record shows you are extremely healthy. The Malthusian Equal-Genes for Better Living breeding mechanism is entirely egalitarian. You certainly realize that an infrequent program error can not be surgically deleted at your stage of development. Nor are you eligible for additional government assistance."
     That's the way women always talk to me. The only satisfaction I could get was she had two bitty wrinkles and a mole on her neck.
     "Now hold on a minute," I roar, "you're not having to live with this used spaceship of a body. I'm not asking for more money. I just want to know why."
     "If your benefit check arrives on time, sir, and your appliances are functional, there is no reason for an inquiry. We advise you to see a psychiatrist."
     "I don't want no psychiatrist; I want to know what went wrong and get it fixed." I waved my arms and banged into a tropical plant suspended from the ceiling. "Look, don't hitting my clumsy head show you something's screwed up about me? All I want is an inquest or whatever. Don't you understand -- it ain't even close to fair to be a klutz in a land of movie stars?"
     She looks at me as though I'm some sort of giant bug and says, "You have failed to take advantage of the opportunities our society offers, and, at this bureau, sir, we are not interested in the vagaries of clients' sex lives and deficient self-esteem."
     "Well that's it. That's the problem," I shout. "I ain't had no vagaries," but it doesn't do no good.
     That evening the enforcers in yellow helmets came with a warrant. They hauled me down to the terminal and put me on an outward bound headed for Effluvia. As they strapped me into my seat, they handed me a document. By the dim green light of the craft I read the truth. I wasn't no Malthusian at all.
     I was born an Effluvian, which meant I was the resultant of random mating, that god-awful sexual lottery deal they run on that slum planet. I'd been smuggled across the border as an infant by my Effluvian father, who piloted a trash-removal rocket. Deposited in a cardboard box at the edge of a landfill, my shivering body had been found by a Malthusian woman walking her dog. After a heated debate by bureaucrats over whether or not ten days old was too mature for deletion, I'd been sent to the National Infant Care Center for acclimatization, destining me to be Malthusian Prime Reject #1.
     My hands trembled as I read the truth. Here was a chance to be somebody and have a real Mom and Dad instead of a bunch of Malthusian dorm counselors!
     When I walked out into the drab gray light of Effluvia, there was nothing for miles but sand, coal trucks, a forty mile long dump, fireworks stands, and Burger Boys. I trudged along full of hope. Even if it was 116 degrees, at least it was home. So what if Effluvians subsisted on foreign aid and 1,500 calories a day in termite-ridden hovels? This was my roots! I'd be able to answer questions on tv game shows. And above all I'll be able to talk to the old man about what to do with my life; fathers always knew what to do.
     Pretty soon a toothless, old guy on a bicycle offered me a ride. He dropped me off in front of the home place. Tears rose to my eyes; even though it was a shack with gray wash on the line, it didn't matter to me. When the screen-door with the nasty hole in it swung open, there was my mirror image under a velvet Nixon. Sitting in an undershirt, sucking on a can a beer, he was reading a newspaper with this headline: MAN BITES NOSE OFF PIT BULL. A cockroach crawled down his arm. I restrained myself from rushing across the room and hugging pop; instead I gave him a formal Malthusian kiss on the forehead and shyly explained who I was.
     "Your breath sure stinks," Pop said. "What'd you want to kiss me for?"
     "Pop, it's me -- you're long-lost son."
     "Who'd you say you was again?" he says, looking at me like I'm a quadratic equation.
     "Pop it's me; the baby you gave to the Malthusians."
     "Huh?" he says. "I ain't got no money to give you."
     "No, Pop, this is not about money. I'm the long-lost child -- number 3467."
     "I ain't got no sons with numbers and big noses. Who'd you say you was anyhow?"
     "Look for the sixth time, Pop, I'm your son, the one you sent to Malthus to escape to a better life. I'm the trash baby!"
     "Oh yeah," he says,"I pick up the trash. Well me and the old lady had a bunch of kids, you know. All looked the same to me. How long you staying? We ain't got much food."
     I cringe, then blurt what's on my mind. "Look, Pop, why in the hell did you ever think a genetic disaster area like me would have a chance of making good in a world of genetic superstars like Malthus? I couldn't even get a date."
     "Yep, yep, I've heard that word 'genetic' before," the old man says. "Now who'd you say you was?"
     I begin shouting at Pop, "Look, fathead, I'm your son. One of those things that squirts out of a woman after nine months. Your son. Get it?"
     "Yeah, the sun comes up every morning right on time. I know the sun alright. We go to work when the sun comes up -- every day of the year but five."
     "No. No. No. I'm the ugly baby you smuggled into the brightest civilization in this galaxy. You condemned me to a life of retardation because I had to compete with people from genetic heaven. You made my life a welfare-assisted hell!"
     "I seen something like that once on the tube," the old man says, "but I can't remember. Hey, you want a beer? Now who'd you say you was again?"
     That's when I gave up. I didn't even want to meet my ma. Desolate, I wandered past filthy tenements down the pothole-ridden, garbage-strewn streets. I was feeling dead inside when a fat lady with huge globs of suet for arms stopped me.
     "Hey big boy, where'd you get that there groovy nose?"
     I put up my fists ready to batter the harridan into submission. Then the mountain of fat in pink polyester smiled so that I could see her three broken front teeth and said, "If you ain't the best looking man on this planet, I want to know who are. Why don't you and me catch us a rat taxi over to a restaurant by the landfill and grab us something to eat ... you pay."
     I didn't know whether to laugh or dig a hole for safety, and then it him me. She was serious. She wanted me.
     This was it! Driven by a gust of hormonal insanity the likes of which I'd never felt before, I whispered, "Let's go."
     Stepping around gutters full of starved cats, we exchanged biographies on the way to the restaurant. Then we sat sweating in the malodorous stench of cabbage, our feet resting on unswept french-fries ground into the carpeting. We ate greasy spareribs with our fingers and leered at each other with amorous intent. Then Candy Jo, my first-ever date, belched, rambled on about her favorite television show, and said,"A formerly Malthusian as good looking as you ought to be emperor of this dump."
     "I don't think I'd be so hot at that," I said.
     "Why not?" she said. "It's always hot here. Stays 116 degrees for six months. You could go on television and do commercials if you wasn't a emperor. And if you wasn't a television star or emperor, you could just get you a ordinary job and maybe you and me could get married and raise us some little rug-rats."
     As she spoke, I pictured our little jointly-gened vermin, all jelly-haired, toddling on filthy carpet before they evolved into full-grown delinquents; then I shuddered, wondering if she might even have a tail.
     Before my feeling fully registered, she said, "Best part of living here is we live 900 years."
     "How can that be?" I said, "I was the healthiest man in Malthusia, but we only live to sixty."
     "Difference is we get borned again -- 900 times," she said. "First time we're born kind of dumb like, but we've got so much energy we just keep coming back from the dead and getting smarter. I guess some guy died or something for us on some other planet got it all started. Anyways we just keep coming back from the dead. You take me, for instance, I've been borned over sixty five times. I used to be dumber than owl shit couple of lifetimes back."
     That's when it hit me. It hammered around in my brain like a loose cannonball in a ship's marble bathroom. It rocked me like a runaway dumptruck crashing into a brickwall. The thought was this -- IF I HAVE A CHILD WITH THIS WOMAN, IT COULD MAKE BANANA PUDDING LOOK INTELLIGENT.
     Meanwhile, Candy Jo hadn't stopped talking. "And you and me could go fishing out in the cesspool by the landfill and eat hotdogs all day every day," she said, scratching her belly, as I suddenly vaulted towards the door, staggering towards the nearest truck I could throw myself under, mumbling under my breath, "Thank God for 22 years a Malthusian, and good old Bobby dog always loved me."
     It was twenty minutes later as I lay in the road unsuccessfully trying to get nailed by a truck, that the truth dawned on me. For God's sakes Candy Jo was right! I could run for emperor of Effluvia on a mandatory virginity, pro-birth control, selective-parenting platform. Of course, there wasn't much to work with in terms of Malthusian genes, but maybe, just maybe, say in 26,000 generations Malthusians might turn out to be smart enough to take a bath. Besides that, there was always the multiple lifetime gizmo. If I had seventy more lifetimes of getting smarter, my self, who knew; maybe at long last even I would be able to do long division and go on Effluvian Jeopardy. The thought of the great things I might do energized me, and suddenly I leapt up ready to immediately proclaim my candidacy.
     But it was too late, before I could break into a 11,000 candle-power politician's grin, I registered the huge garbage semi piloted by my own grinning father barreling straight at me doing 90 in the 20 mile an hour zone where I stood, and I knew for sure I was a goner.

THE END