Bowlesian! – The Giant Head in the SkyPosted: February 1, 2023 Filed under: Bowlesian!, Short Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Stories | Tags: Bowlesian!, Jeff Bowles, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Writing to be Read 3 Comments
The Giant Head in the Sky
by Jeff Bowles
The giant head in the sky was known to have begun as a metaphor for something much greater than itself. Unfortunately, the day the giant head appeared above Tulsa happens to have also been the day “metaphor” supplanted the word “fact” in most common-usage dictionaries.
Dave was there and managed to witness the whole thing. According to some ancient law or custom by which the rest of Galactic Society operated, virtually anything and everything could become a reality if and only if—and this was the important part—the dominant species of a given world became the primary provider of bullshit throughout the universe.
That of course was a prime directive that only translated loosely into the languages of Earth. Dave spoke English, but he was used to being told he didn’t.
“Hey, have you ever seen the show Black-ish?” said one of his classmates, Kenny something, sitting beside him on the bench, smoking his cheap cigarette all the way to the butt.
“No, man, I’ve never seen Black-ish.”
“No? I thought maybe you’d be into it.”
Dave rolled his eyes and got back to texting his girlfriend. Class at OSU was on break, so when the giant head blinked into existence perhaps 500 yards above the outdoor smokers’ area, Dave hit the deck and so did everyone else.
A sound like quivering JELL-O in the decibel range of a fighter jet exploded across the city. In the silence and eerie calm that followed, gentle pressure waves like the tide rippled over buildings and streets. This head, this immense melon unlike any other—with its long scraggly hair thick like power lines, and its lips the size of small single-family condominiums—bellowed at the world, “There, you see what you’ve done now? Too much bullshit, and now I’ve self-actualized. Where am I? Where is this now?”
His voice was a warbly baritone. He looked like a balding ex-hippie, bobbing around like a guillotined Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. Dave sensed the galactic symmetry involved in such astronomical phenomena, but he was not an astrophysicist, nor did he have any knowledge of the kinds of cosmic circumstances from which may have derived the spark of creation itself. In other words, he was shit out of luck for an explanation.
“Can anyone here speak for all of you, man?” the giant head said. “I’m kind of strung out and I’m not even sure existence is, like, a cool thing for me or not. See, I’m s’posed to tell you guys too much bullshit. Know what I mean, man? Like nonsense. Shenanigans. Hatred, aggression, bigotry, war. You dig?”
Dave could feel the walls closing in. Neither was he brave nor cowardly, but he definitely wasn’t going to die clutching a pack of cigarettes instead of his woman.
He told his classmate, “Sorry, man, I’m about to bounce,” and then he did just that.
Running flat-out the mile or so to his girlfriend Macy’s apartment building, Dave spun around every so often to observe the progress of the head. After a fashion, it seemed to be following him, if the course of its colossal path could be plotted in any reasonable way. All over the place, people ran here and there, clutching belongings and sacred bits of tic and tack. A store, a Walmart, they were looting it, which was amazing because Walmarts were basically impossible to loot. Everyone knew that. Real end of the world stuff. All those cheap HDTVs and cans of great value cola. Jesus. And the guns, all those glorious guns. A chill ran down his spine.
He’d been slurred before. He’d been slandered, brutalized, both in attitude and in action. But he never thought he’d live to see global upheaval, race riots, mass disobedience, until that day. Or that night. Or that weekend maybe, once the bad news had settled in. This was a Judgment Day thing, clearly too big for most minds to reconcile.
Dave arrived at Macy’s in fifteen minutes flat. He buzzed her and she let him up, opening her door to him and hugging him deeply the instant she saw him.
“Jesus, have you seen?” she said.
“Are you okay, baby? Is everything all right out there?”
“My sense of rationality hurts,” Dave said.
Macy nodded, a tear running down her cheek. “Ramen?”
“It’s got to be a mass delusion or something. Maybe someone slipped drugs into our water supply. Some crazy old white dude’s head?”
“I know. It’s ridiculous.”
They turned on the news after a bit, sitting on the couch, two bowls of steaming noodles resting precipitously on the edge of the coffee table, and they held hands and watched with the rest of the world as the head floated from neighborhood to neighborhood, asking Tulsa who was responsible for all the vileness spewing forth from this little blue planet.
News people shouted questions at him, and he heard them and responded.
“Nah, man, I have no idea. No, well how do you think I feel? As far as I’m aware, I didn’t even exist until an hour ago.”
Dave could picture it so clearly. Maybe a group of supernatural beings—not precisely aliens, because really, what were aliens?—and certainly not spirits or star gods, because such things were strange and terrifying to think about—but a group of eternal, uniquely positioned beings fervently discussing the fates of all the mortals below.
Mighty kings who ruled vast extraterrestrial forests and grasslands, manufacturing strange tests and trials for lesser worlds, riding fine steeds of velvety blue. Neighing and bridling. Maybe they liked space oats. What was the over/under or the moral profit gain/loss? Who had the balls to decide for whom? Giant Gallagher head, giant David Crosby, like any minute he’d break into singing harmony on Love the One You’re With.
“Okay, okay, my mind is finally clearing up,” the head proclaimed on TV. “The spot I popped into existence, I think I was supposed to be looking for a guy called Dave Lewis. Er, yeah, let me … yeah, I’m sure that was the name.”
Dave’s blood ran cold. Especially when the head turned to address the cameras directly, to in essence look him dead in the eye.
“Mr. Lewis. Duder,” the giant head said. “Can you tell me what’s the deal with this planet? Like, you’ve got this internet. And that mostly sucks. Intense dosage of yuck there. Social media. And pornography. Okay, I see you all really like the porn…. But your 24-hour news sucks. And your attitudes suck. I mean, generally speaking. And new wars every month, mass shootings every week. What’s up, man? What’s the deal with you guys? Come on, Mr. Lewis. Rap with me.”
“Don’t worry about the distance, Dave,” said the head. “I’ll hear you in my mind wherever you are. Don’t be afraid. Just let her rip.”
“Why me?” Dave asked.
The head shook itself. Windows shattered in surrounding buildings, and the trees of a small park beneath him flattened against the pavement. The head apologized profusely. He seemed to recognize then he had to modulate the effects of his size, the volume of his voice, considerate as you’d want any neighbor to be.
“I mean, why you? Why me? Why any of us?” the head whispered. “We all have our roles to play. Unique threads in the great tapestry, know what I’m saying?”
Dave licked his lips, gazing deep into the television. He deliberately conjured a lifetime’s worth of disappointment and frustration, abuse, humiliation, dehumanization, rhetorical and experiential disparagement and disdain, etcetera, etcetera—both quiet and loud, explicit and implicit—and he vented it in earnest.
“I’m tired of being marginalized. I’m tired of the status quo. And I’m not alone, oh giant head. In fact, the only people who aren’t tired are the ones the system benefits. Emperor’s got no clothes anymore, man. Racism is shit. Hatred is shit. Cowardice is shit. And I’d like it all to end.”
The head thought about this. He narrowed his bloodshot eyes, and though only a negligible amount of processing capacity was evident in his expression, he managed to grasp the full breadth of the problem at once.
“Well hell, that means everyone is guilty. By action or by inaction, you’re all equal in complicity. Galactic Society is not gonna like that answer.”
Macy whimpered and clutched Dave tightly.
“Don’t worry, Mace,” Dave said, “I don’t think this guy is together enough to wipe us out.”
The head sighed and gave what amounted to a lopsided shrug.
“I guess I could do that,” he said. “I guess I could wipe you out. But look, I’m tired and confused and I’m jonesing like a bitch. Like a real raging bitch, duder. I want you all to love each other. Most sincerely, that’s all I’ve ever wanted, I think. Is that, uh, is that like, um, you know, at all possible, man?”
If only. If only.
Here, Dave and his miraculous connection to the giant head in the sky must be left aside. A momentary break, if you please, as we acknowledge in all humility the fact that though, to paraphrase the man, the angels of our better nature are bound to triumph someday, humanity is in an ugly state of affairs, and in fact, only a trivial work of fiction would contrive to fix all the world’s ills in the blink of an eye.
But perhaps time plus space plus fiction equals perspective. The arbiters of these things are as numerous as there are human beings on the face of the Earth. The giant head considered Dave’s answer, which held significant weight and consequence. And even Dave could feel it. Screwing up its face, the head grunted and rendered its judgement at last.
“Okay, guys. I think I known what to do. Some of you may not like it. In fact, it’s gonna be a downright bummer for most of you. But only at first. Thanks, Dave. Good on you, buddy. The times, they are a’changing.”
Unexpected and unwelcome, but the medicine found its mark. As it turned out, due to Dave’s answer, it was possible for all human beings to once and for all love and care for each other. More or less, after a few decades or so. Generations of bullshit, wiped clean within sixty years. Because the head never left. He watched for a very long time, ever vigilant, and though humankind stumbled often (in fact, every few seconds or so), the head neither challenged nor condemned nor humbled them. He just laughed and nodded knowingly, always watchful and alert.
“Yup,” he often said, “I ought to wipe you out for that one, man. I ought to wipe you out.”
Great alien kings on velvety steeds or not. Space oats. Galactic whatevers, magnanimous. Blah. Dave and Macy had babies, and those babies grew up and had babies of their own. And damnit, what a world. Nothing to hang your hat on? Just wait around half a century or so. Something is bound to shake loose.
At the age of eighty-one, Dave met with the head one last time. The place that belonged to them, the smoker section at OSU. His joints and back were rheumatic and sore, and his liver had begun to fail him. He knew his life was spent. And he was fine with that. No more global strife, or at least, a hell of a lot less of it. But he did have something he wanted to say to the giant head, something that had nagged at him for decades.
“It’s a hell of a thing, oh giant head,” he said. “Who can say where authority lies? Might makes right, or rather size does. Imagine feeling like you’re the king, the boss, the chief of chiefs, the ultimate judge of all. Do you know what that would give you?”
“No,” said the head, “what would it give you?”
Dave smiled sweetly at him. “Why, it’d give you a big head, of course.”
And a frown wide as a cul-de-sac spread across that lofty cranium. “Ah, shit. Shit, man. That’s, like … whoa. You finally did it, Dave. You finally did. Mind. Blown.”
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Love/Madness/Demon, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. His latest novel, Resurrection Mixtape, is available on Amazon now.
BTW, I received my signed copy and the gift card from the giveaway, thank you. I have yet to be able to read the book because my sister snagged it off my dresser and has yet to give it back to me. You are a big hit in this family!!! 🙂
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Thank you, Annette! 😁
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Now write one about a shaggy dog!
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