Create Scifi Challenge: The End of the Rainbow, and How Alice Got There

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January was an inspiring month for science fiction writers. This is one of several responses to the Create picture challenge. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing and discussing them.

The End of the Rainbow, and How Alice Got There

Alice hummed to herself as she cleaned her kitchen. Somewhere over the rainbow, dishes dry… The kitchen was beautiful, state-of-the-art, all chrome. Alice herself wasn't feeling beautiful. At Sunday dinner with the Family, her mother-in-law had suggested a makeover, and her husband had murmured, 'You're always so thoughtful about Alice, Mom.' Since then, Alice had wondered if putting up with Bob and Bob's Mom was the price of living in a dream house with a perfect kitchen. And whether the price might not be too high.

The television set on the far counter was showing the morning news show. There was a clip from NASA history, a shot of the space shuttle Atlantis taking off in a blaze of glory. The sight made Alice snap.

'Damn!' She threw down her dishtowel. 'Damn, damn, damn.' And she started to cry. There aren't any more space shuttles, thought Alice, who had once dreamed of becoming an astronaut like Lt Uhura. The dream is over. Who's sadder, Neil Armstrong or me? Nothing ever works. Forget it. Alice reached to turn off the set, but miscalculated. Instead of picking up the TV remote, she grabbed the similar-looking remote that operated her brand-new microwave oven. As a result, the announcer finished up with NASA and moved on to cybercrime, while the microwave started up with a whirr and a fizz and a sound like popcorn popping.

What Alice didn't know was that her daughter, home from college, had indeed been making popcorn the night before. But, as her daughter and her guests had had the 'munchies' for a specific and rather disreputable reason, they had forgotten about the popcorn when they found a bag of Doritos in the cupboard.

What Alice, her mother, and her daughter's addled guests also did not know was that the popcorn did not originate in the labs of Mr Orville Redenbacher. If Alice had looked more carefully in the supermarket, she would have noticed this label on the microwaveable packet:

Düsseldorf Popcorn: Just add sugar!

Now, if Alice had noticed this label, she might have asked herself two things:

  1. Why was anybody selling popcorn in North Rhine-Westphalia?
  2. Who the blazes puts sugar on popcorn?1

With or without sugar, the Westphalian popcorn appeared to be potent stuff. The popping sounds which were to be expected from exploding Zea mays averta quickly began to take on an unfamiliar rhythm. It sounded like this, and made Alice want to dance. So she stopped crying, and danced happily around her chrome kitchen, forgetting all about Bob and Bob's Mom. The microwave turned and turned, throwing off a light show behind the glass window.

I wish life could be like this, thought Alice. Free to follow the flow…

Why can't it? The thought came into Alice's head, unbidden but whole. Not her own thought, but someone else's. Someone whose mind was different. Someone whose thought felt like the popcorn song sounded – a thought with rhythm and flow and freedom…but above all, a friendly thought. In sort of a deep bass voice.

Alice turned around and saw him – a short, stocky fellow in a denim shirt. Broad face, funny sort of smile. Definitely better-looking than Bob. Better-looking than Bob's Mom, she thought.

Who's Bob's Mom? came the thought back, and Alice realised with a start that the friendly-looking man in her kitchen was:

  1. Not there to repair the dishwasher.
  2. Able to read minds.
  3. Curiously familiar from the Discovery Channel. There was a…

…Neanderthaler in my kitchen, Alice thought, and then blushed. Maybe that was a rude thing to think?

The strange fellow smiled. Not at all, he thought back. I come from the Neander Valley, yes. That's near Düsseldorf. I have arrived without a passport, by way of the popcorn. You won't tell Homeland Security, will you? And he laughed out loud. His voice, when he laughed, was just as deep as Alice had imagined when she heard his thoughts in her head.

At first, Alice was going to ask herself, How's he talking to me in English, if he's German? Düsseldorf's in Germany, right? But then she realised that they weren't talking in words. The Neanderthaler's thoughts made pictures in her head. When he thought Düsseldorf, Alice saw a sidewalk café with people drinking beer from large glasses. There was a sign that said, Schneider Wibbel. When he thought about a passport, she saw a passport.

When he thought about Homeland Security, she blushed.

I like this way of talking, Mr..? she thought, and the Neanderthaler smiled.

Call me… Here came a thought that was almost like the smell of rain, so Alice decided to call her new friend 'Rainer'. She didn't say this, though. She just listened, because Rainer was telling her a rather long story about where he lived when he wasn't in Düsseldorf. It seemed to be a wonderful place where everybody talked the way they were talking now (partly because of those teeth, though Alice didn't quite get that part), and where there was a flow and a rhythm to life that didn't involve chrome kitchens, but had a lot to recommend it if you were inclined to 'go with the flow'.

Alice was inclined to go with the flow. She was also inclined to chuck chrome kitchens, and remote-controlled microwave ovens, and a world where space shuttles cost too much and nobody wanted to go back to the moon. Alice didn't want to go to the moon right now. She wanted to go with Rainer to wherever Rainer lived.

Rainer nodded. They didn't need any more words, or even any more thoughts. But they needed more popcorn. So they left the popped corn in a bowl on the kitchen table, stuck in the next batch (paying attention to the instructions that said 'This Side Up'), and, when the music started again, began dancing. Rainer was a pretty good dancer. As they danced, the music became louder, and the swirly things in the kitchen became brighter and more swirly, and then the whole chrome nightmare faded away…

And they found themselves Home.

They danced their way across the Rainbow Bridge, singing along with the new song that was in their heads.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

When Alice's daughter came home, she saw the popcorn on the table. Cool, she thought, and took it up to her room. When her dad got home, he was annoyed that there was no dinner. He called his mother to complain, and went over to her house for some pot roast.

They didn't call the police until they ran out of snackfood.

Fact and Fiction by Dmitri Gheorgheni

Dmitri Gheorgheni

06.02.12 Front Page

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1Alice should have counted herself lucky they didn't put mustard on it. Düsseldorf mustard is notorious.

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