TOF: The Truth About Fiction TEB #1: "The Road to Fiction" (Collects Issues 1-6)

Michael D Friedman mdfriedman at
Fri Aug 21 11:02:40 PDT 2015

TALES OF FICTION presents... 



VOLUME ONE: "The Road to Fiction" 

Written by Michael D Friedman 


FORWARD: When I returned to rec.arts.comics.creative after a 13 year absence, I wanted to start fresh with a new series, not tied to anything in any of the established universes. So, I created Tales of Fiction, which I hope will become a larger shared storytelling universe. But for now, it's just this series, "The Truth About Fiction." The first six issues are collected here. There are more issues on the way, and hopefully it won't be 13 years before I complete Austin Allen's tale. For now, enjoy the ride on "The Road to Fiction."


CHAPTER ONE: "The Miseducation of Austin Allen" 


Before I begin, I would like to assure you that everything I tell you is fact. 

Yes, I am Austin Allen. And yes, I am the son of the famous novelists Robert and Peggy Allen. And yes, I am the grandson of R. Joseph Allen, the "godfather of sci-fi," UFO hunter and general cult icon. 

But just because my entire family wrote fiction, that doesn't mean I have to. And I'm not going to. I'm dedicated to the truth. 


Right now, however, I'm pretty much regretting that choice as I sit across from Haley K, teen pop star and general airhead. I'm attempting to interview her for my school paper, _The Mission Valley Signal_, but I'm mainly watching her smack her gum vapidly as she "thinks." 

At least that's what she appears to be doing. I'm not sure she actually does think. 

I'm interviewing her at the sound check for her on-campus concert at Mission Valley College, where I'm finishing up my senior year as a journalism major. This story was assigned to me. I am not here by choice. I guess they wanted their best writer on the biggest news to hit our tiny suburban California school since... well, probably ever. 

For a moment, I contemplate how sad that statement is and forget what's happening... Oh yes, the interview. I'm waiting for Haley to stop twirling her bright pink hair with her finger and answer my question. This has been going on for several minutes now. 

"Well, I guess I'd have to say, like, they should try hard to look pretty. Because cute boys will only like you if you try to be pretty and stuff," she blurts out. 

So much for hard-hitting journalism. My question was, "How does it feel to be a role model to millions of young girls throughout the world?" 

Maybe I should take it down a notch. Clearly, I've been assailing her with a line of questioning meant only for politicians and theoretical physicists. 

"That was a tough question," she says, almost on cue. "Aren't you going to ask me about my boyfriend or my new line of perfume?" 

I break my pencil against my notepad in frustration. I decided to go into journalism so I could make a difference. I wanted to interview presidents and Nobel prize winners. Instead I'm gossiping with a pink-haired idiot. Maybe this is some sort of hazing ritual for graduating writers. My editor is a sick son-of-a-bitch... 

"Fine," I sigh, "how's your boyfriend?" 

"We broke up yesterday," she says, almost too happy about it. "You should, like, print that, or something. It'd be, like, an exclusive. You'll sell a ton of papers." 

"It's a student paper," I remind her. 


"It's free." 

"I don't see how you guys are going to make a profit if you don't charge anything." 

"Thanks for the microeconomics lesson," I retort, realizing she probably won't get the joke. "Now I can skip Thursday's class." 

She giggles at me and smiles, clearly not understanding a word I'm saying. 

"You're funny," she says, brushing her hand up against mine. 

I think I'm being hit on by an international pop superstar. 

"Jonathon!" she yells, and suddenly a balding man wearing a black turtleneck and hipster glasses is standing beside us. He nods at me and smirks, almost like he knows something I don't. 

"Make sure Mr. Allen gets a backstage pass for tonight," she says, backing away slowly. "He's kind of cute..." 

I _am_ being hit on by an international pop superstar. 

She then turns and heads back to her dressing room in what can only be described as a skipping motion. 

"Yes, Miss Haley," Jonathon yells to her as he pulls a lanyard from his back pocket. He drapes it around my neck, as if he were presenting me with some sort of royal honor, and grins again. "You don't deserve it." 

He then walks away, leaving me by myself. 

"What just happened?" I think. 

I try to process it, but almost immediately, I get the call that will change my life forever. The caller ID says "UNKNOWN," which I wouldn't usually answer. But for some reason, this time, I do. 

"Hello?" I ask. 

"Austin, your grandfather is dead." 


Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of Nevada, a buffalo spontaneously implodes. This has nothing and everything to do with my story. 


CHAPTER TWO: "Family Tree" 


R. Joseph Allen was always an eccentric man. After gaining success for a series of twelve science fiction novels dubbed _The Planetary Wars_, he was the talk of the town, and that town was Hollywood. 

His novels were bestsellers and he optioned them to a major movie studio for even more money. Joe, as he was called by his friends, was rich beyond his wildest dreams. He bought a mansion in Malibu. He had a collection of 20 sports cars. He was dating beautiful actresses, a different one each night. One of those encounters produced my father, Robert Allen. 

Joe loved his son very much, but Robert's mother was more interested in heroin than her son. Joe raised Robert as a single father and taught him everything he knew about writing. Robert was a best-selling author by the age of 19 with his book, _The Mercury Chronicles_. 

At an industry party, Robert met children's author Peggy Weinstein, who was coming off her own best-selling release, _Marty the Mongoose Goes to Montreal_. Robert instantly fell in love. Peggy was the complete package -- smart, beautiful and funny. The two eloped five months later, much to Joe's dismay. Joe felt that Peggy was only in it for the money. According to Joe, the children's book market was not "fiscally solvent" and Peggy merely wanted to hitch her wagon to the rising Allen star. To prove a point, Joe cut Robert off financially soon after their marriage. The father and son grew apart and barely spoke. 

Grandpa Joe didn't know for three years that I was even born. 

He attempted to reconcile with my father at my fourth birthday party. It didn't go well. After a rather public argument, Joe had several drinks and decided to head to Las Vegas for the night, as he was wont to do. On the way, due to his inebriation, he took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of the Nevada desert. 

That night, R. Joseph Allen, my grandfather, "officially" discovered the first alien life form on our planet. Or so he says. Most people prefer to think he imagined it, or worse, made it up. But Joe insisted to his dying day (which I guess is today) that it was true. 

According to my grandfather, the alien was wandering the desert alone when he came upon him in his car, almost hitting the tiny green man. As you can imagine, the fact that he was a "tiny green man" didn't really help his story, but that's how Joe described him -- about three feet tall with a large head, green skin and long fingers. This alien spoke to him in a language he could not understand, though it did try to communicate with him. 

My grandfather reached out to touch him and just as he did, a large light shined down from the sky, like a spotlight on himself and the alien. The next thing he knew, the alien was gone, and Joe passed out -- he says from the stress, but most people think it was from the alcohol. At either rate, he awoke the next day, alone in his car, in a Denny's parking lot about a mile from the Las Vegas strip. 

He drove home to Los Angeles as fast as he could. He held a press conference the next day to tell everybody what he saw. He went from the talk of the town to the city's biggest punchline. Nobody believed him. The press thought it was merely a publicity stunt for his latest novel, but Joe insisted that it was true. 

"This is Non-Fiction," he reiterated several times. For that, he earned the nickname "Fiction Joe" and jokes were made on the late-night talk shows about his alcohol and drug use. 

Joe was pissed. He knew what he saw was real, and he was determined to prove it. First, he quit drinking. He never had a drop of alcohol again. Then, over the course of a year, Joe sold off his palatial estate and almost all of his assets. He used the money to purchase nearly two hundred acres of land in the middle of the Mojave desert -- the place he encountered his alien friend. 
He packed all his remaining possessions into his 1964 Bentley Continental and drove to the desert, never to return to L.A.   

At first, Joe built a small shack to live in. Beside it, he built a massive antenna which he used to broadcast a radio signal into deep space, hoping to attract his alien friends once more. Every night he would sit in his shack, telling tales of our world, stories from his life and general philosophical musings to any alien life form that was waiting to hear it. 

It turns out, Joe had an audience. But it wasn't alien. He found plenty of followers from Las Vegas, about a hundred miles away. Lost causes, down to their last nickel, hoping to find proof of a higher cause, be it alien life or God himself. They found Joe instead. One by one, these lost souls made a pilgrimage to the Nevada desert. A small shanty town started to form, filled with "Josephists," as Joe's followers had dubbed themselves. 

Over the years, the shanties turned into actual buildings. Restaurants and businesses started to pop up. A town was born, and the citizens asked Joe to lead them. The first order of business was naming the town. Joe decided to name it Fiction, Nevada, as one last  "screw you" to the elitist Hollywood snobs that made him an outcast. 

Joe eventually built himself a new mansion, a huge estate with every amenity you could image. But every night, he would sneak out to his tiny shack to broadcast his radio show to anybody that would listen. 

He did so until his dying day (which I guess is today...) 

"Your grandfather is dead," repeats the voice at the other end of the line. 

"I'm sorry," I answer, coming out of my daze, "who is this?" 

"I'm your grandfather's attorney, Simon Malkowicz," he says before pausing. "As your grandfather's only living relative, I have been asked to pass along his wishes to you. Can you meet me tomorrow at my offices?" 

"Sure, but where..." 

"A courier will come by your residence with the details," he says rather clinically. "Thank you for your time." 

The phone call ends. 


I return to my dorm on the other side of campus. I've been contemplating my grandfather's life the whole walk home. I didn't know him all that well. He didn't even take me in when my parents died. But in the moments we had, I knew that he cared for me and I cared for him. 

Still in a daze, I turn the key to the door, not realizing the commotion going on inside. 

"Dude!" yells my roommate, Bubba. He looks exactly like what you'd expect, if you were expecting him to be a five-foot tall Asian kid with a sideways baseball cap and adorned in hip-hop gear. 

Several of his friends are gathered around a laptop computer. My laptop, specifically. They are also specifically sitting on my bed and in my chair and on top of my pile of dirty laundry. 

"We didn't know you was famous, bro," Bubba continues, gesturing toward the screen. 

There I am, in all my paused glory, a 12-year-old kid, at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. 

"Where did you get this?" I ask. I certainly never kept a copy of it 

"I Googled you, bro," Bubba grins. "Found this on some website, we've been playing it over and over." 

I look at Bubba's giggling friends, barely able to hold back their joy at my humiliation. 

"Yo. Play it again, Reggie," Bubba commands his friend. 

Reggie hits the spacebar and the video resumes playing: "Chlorophyll. C-H-O-R-uh...I-R...uh...X-Z-Q." 

My 12-year-old self looks like he's about to spew Spaghetti-O's all over the camera. A bell rings, confirming what I already knew at the time, I was eliminated. My next words are bleeped out and my eyes roll back in my head. The kid-me falls straight backward as the announcer can only muster an "Oh my!" 

Bubba's friends howl in laughter, and I can't take it any longer. I snap the laptop out of Reggie's hands and yell, "Get out! Now!" 

I point to the door. The group all just kind of sit there staring at me as if they were deer in my headlights. We have been roommates for about nine months and Bubba has never seen this look on my face before. 

"Uh, yeah," he stutters. "Maybe y'all should leave. I'll meet you down at the basketball court. Cool?" 

He shuffles them out of the room and closes the door behind them. He stands over me as I sit down on my bed. 

"Sorry 'bout that. Don't let them get to you, bro," he attempts to apologize, somewhat. I guess. 

I just sit there and stare my shoes, hoping he goes away. 

"Yo dawg," he continues. "Is that a backstage pass to Haley K?" 
I hadn't thought about my "celebrity encounter" since the phone call. 

"Yes," I growl, about to lose my last nerve. 

"You gonna go? I thought you hated her. I mean, I'll take the pass off your hands if you don't want to--" 

I do lose my last nerve and yell something that would probably be bleeped out if this was on national television. 

"Oh my!" is all Bubba can say. And with that, he finally leaves the room. 

I lie down in my bed and shed a tear for my Grandpa Joe... 


There's a knock at the door in what only seems to be five minutes later. 

"Go away," I yell at the door. 

I wipe my eyes and look at the alarm clock. It's actually been three hours. 

Another knock. 

I stumble out of my bed and reach the door. I open it to see a man dressed in a chauffeur's outfit. He holds out his arm and shoves a business card in my face. 

The card is black with only an address printed in small white lettering. It reads "187 S. La Brea, Los Angeles, California" 

"Did you read it?" asks the chauffeur. 

"Yeah, I--" 

He cuts me off by stuffing the black card back in his interior coat pocket. 

"Be there at precisely 8 p.m.," he says. He turns to leave. 


He does not wait. He walks down the stairs and out of sight. 

"How am I supposed to get to LA? I don't even own a car!" 


Don't worry, I'll get back to the imploding buffalo in a bit... 




I step off the bus after a wonderfully draining two-hour bus ride at 7:50. I'm standing on a street corner in a not-so-great section of Los Angeles, by myself, looking for 187 S. La Brea Ave. There doesn't appear to be one. Across the street is an odd looking pink and teal building that reads "For Your Pleasure" in large blue block letters across the front. There doesn't appear to be a door until I see a rather large man in a ball gown walk out of the "O" in "Your." 

I decide not to go in there to ask directions. Instead, I walk into the art gallery next door. 

There is a slight woman at the counter. She looks about 60 and is dressed in a tight black dress. She was probably a model about 40 years ago, but right now, things are sagging in not quite the optimal direction. She gives me a wink and it looks like her very thick, fake eyelash is about to fall off. 

The gallery is filled with paintings of gophers, portraying historical figures from different time periods. I recognize George Washington Gopher crossing the Delaware and Napoleon Gophernaparte laying siege to Moscow. 

I'm kind of regretting not going into the Pleasure Pit instead. 

"Can I help you?" asks the old model, in a combination of English and Smoker's Cough. 

"Do you know where 187 South La Brea is?" 

"Alley, in the back." 

She points to the plain white back door with an exit sign flickering above it. 

"Really?" I ask. 

"You are looking for Malkowicz, Malkowicz & Malkowicz, right?" 

"I guess so," I say, heading toward the door. 

"Well, then, have fun sweety." 

Fun isn't exactly the term I would use when visiting a law firm, but that's fine. I open the door to reveal the back alley, which is about two feet wide. 

In fact, the door won't even open all the way. It gets wedged against the wall on the other side of the alley. I manage to squeeze through the doorway. 

The air smells like vomit, and I see a drunkard passed out in the gutter. He's sitting right next to a door with the numbers "187" written sloppily in spray paint. It suddenly occurs to me that "187" is the California police code for homicide. I know this because practically every one of the gangsta rappers Bubba listens to -- and he listens to a lot of gangsta rap -- mention it at least once an album. 

At this point, I'm regretting not just buying a gopher painting. 

I gently pull the handle on the "187" door and it opens with a loud creak. Light leaks out from the doorway, practically blinding me and obscuring my view of what's inside. I step in and my eyes adjust to the light. The door closes behind me. 

I'm in an opulent sitting room, decorated in all white. There are white columns that line the walls, with ornate white molding depicting eagles and snakes. They seem to be in some sort of eternal battle for command of the room, frozen in time. 

In front of me is a modern white desk. Everything on the desk is white. Behind it is a white desk chair and in front of it is a comfy white leather chair which looks big enough to sit two people. I take a seat. 

The white clock on the wall ticks 8 o'clock and a door opens from behind the desk. I hadn't noticed it before as it blended perfectly with the wall. 

Out walks the chauffeur from earlier in the day. He has a seat at the desk chair and begins writing in a notebook on the desk. This goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time. I start to think that he doesn't even notice me sitting on the comfy white chair. That's practically impossible, since I'm wearing a blue jacket and blue jeans and the rest of the room is white. 

"Man, I wore a lot of blue today," I think to myself. "Maybe I should just say something. Should I just say something? I should say something. Okay, I'm gonna just say something." 

"Hello," I blurt out. 

The chauffeur looks up from his notebook and finally acknowledges my existence. He looks at the clock on the wall, which reads 8:04. He places his pen on the desk. 

"You're late," he says. 

I'm about to object when he cuts me off. 

"No matter. Mr. Malkowicz will see you know." 

He gestures to the door behind him. He gets back to writing in his notebook. 

I stand up. 

"So, I guess I should just..." 

The chauffeur does not acknowledge me, so I walk over to the door. I feel around for the hidden door handle and finally discover it. I open the door, and for some reason can't stop thinking that I'm going further and further down the rabbit hole. 


Surprisingly, things don't get much weirder. 

Instead I'm in a typical lawyer's office, complete with bookshelves of bound volumes stretching up to the ceiling. A large mahogany desk dominates the room, complete with the requisite lawyer's lamp illuminating the otherwise dimly lit office. 

Behind the desk sits Simon Malkowicz, my grandfather's lawyer. I met him once at a party in Las Vegas about 10 years ago. He doesn't look like he's aged a day. Which is good, because by my accounts he's easily 90 years old. 

He stands up and extends his hand to shake. 

"Austin," he addresses me. "Please have a seat." 

I shake his hand and sit down in front of him. 

"Big Haley K fan I see," he motions toward the backstage pass still dangling around my neck. 

"Sorry you had to miss the show." 

I had totally forgot I still had the lanyard. 

"No, it's okay." 

Simon starts singing Haley's big hit: "All girls like money/but I'm not your honey. Catchy tune." 

I am embarrassed for him. 

He slowly creaks back in his large leather desk chair, which slides backwards slowly to the point which he is too far away to reach the desk. He attempts to push himself forward with his feet, but cannot gain much traction. I get up from my seat. 

"Here, let me help you," I say and push his seat forward. 

"Thank you," he says to me with a large grin on his face. "It's rare to see much civility from your generation." 

I nod my head and grin back at him. 

"As you may know," he jumps right into things before I even have a chance to sit back down, "your grandfather hired me to be his representative in Los Angeles. He absolutely hated this town, but he felt it important that he keep track of things. Including you... He was very proud of you. At any rate, you probably want to know why I called you here today." 

"I'm assuming you are going to read my grandfather's will," I reply, sitting down. 

"Kind of," the old man says with a wink. 

He opens his desk drawer and pulls out a small metal orb. It looks like a prop from one of Grandpa Joe's _Planetary Wars_ movies. 

Simon attempts to lean across the desk to hand me the orb, but the desk is so large, he can only get about half way. I get up to grab it from him. I'm beginning to think I should just remain standing. 

"What is it?" I ask. 

As soon as I grab the orb, it starts to glow. A holographic projection emanates from the orb into the air in front of me. It's my grandfather. Well, a holographic image of him, at least. 

"Hello Austin," says holo-Joe. "Pretty cool tech, huh? Never thought I'd see the day, but it's reality. Anyway, I'm dead. Well, not right now, but if you are seeing this, it means I'm dead. Or at least I want people to think I'm dead... just kidding! Yeah, I'm really dead." 

Joe always did have an odd sense of humor. 

"Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I'm giving most of my possessions to the church. Those Josephites may be crazy sonsabitches, but they are loyal, so I figured I'd throw them a bone. I'm giving them the mansion. But I'm leaving you with so much more." 

"First, you get my Bentley," the hologram continues. "It should be parked outside by the time you leave Malkowicz's office." 

The hologram turns to Simon as if he's addressing him directly. 

"Don't let him lawyer you out of it! I mean it, Simon! I will not let this be another Nebraska!" 

Simon just looks at me and shrugs as if he has no idea what my grandfather is going on about. 

"Secondly, you get my radio shack," holo-Joe laughs. "Radio shack. Ha, never thought about that before. Get it?" 

"I got it," I say under my breath. 

"But most importantly, I know how much the truth means to you. I know you want to be a world-famous journalist someday. Well, grandson, that time is now. You are now owner, CEO and editor-in-chief of _The World News Weekly_, the top-selling publication in the world today!" 

I'm about to cry. It may be the most best-selling "newspaper" (I use the term loosely), but it's also the most ridiculous, featuring stories about Boy-Bat Creatures, Psychic Kittens and Bigfoot. 

Yeah, I'm going to be taken really seriously as a journalist... 


CHAPTER FOUR: "Runningbear" 


Okay, so it's been a few months since I was told that I was now CEO and editor-in-chief of the tabloid-iest tabloid that ever tabloid-ed. 

I haven't even been in to the offices. Heck, I haven't even been to the town of Fiction, Nevada, where they -- and my newly bequeathed radio shanty -- are located. 

Instead, I've graduated from college and I'm living off-campus in a Mission Valley apartment with my old on-campus roommate, Bubba. Life could be worse. Heck, I'm a multi-millionaire just on The WNW's profits alone. Not that I want any of the money. 

My attorney, Malkowicz, has been hounding me for weeks, asking me to check out the dump. But I've happily moved on to other pursuits. He can put away that money for a rainy day. 

Okay, maybe "happily" isn't the right choice of words. After all, none of the big newspapers will touch me, especially when they know my "connection" to my grandfather's rag. Not even _USA Today_, for Christ's sake! 

But I'm getting by... 

I'm editing for a living! The grammar! The glamor! 

Today's assignment is _Torpy The Torpedo_, a lovely children's tale about a poor submarine missile that gets lost at sea. Instead of blowing up U-Boats, Torpy makes friends with a tortoise and a starfish. He learns a valuable lesson that you can be anything you want to be, despite what others have planned for you 

I am Torpy. 

I'm just processing that thought when I'm interrupted by a large stack of newspapers crashing at my feet. 

"Yo, homey, you got more papes," says my eloquent roommate. "You gonna read 'em.?" 

"No, Bubba, stick them with the others." 

Bubba sighs and tosses them in what should be the breakfast nook. It's now basically The _WNW_ archives, Mission Valley branch. His heave manages to knock over a huge stack of papers. They come tumbling toward me like a wave of tabloid sadness. Two headed man horses trample UFO abductee amputee transsexuals in an avalanche of Princess baby photos... and then I see it. 

No, not it. I see ME. 

I see me and my parents on the cover of the May 12 issue: 


I think I will be making a trip to Fiction after all. 


My parents are supposed to be dead. There was a tragic plane crash in the Alps in 2001 that nobody heard about because it happened the day after 9/11. I was seven at the time. 

I don't remember much about it, but I do remember that Jamal Wilkins, the backup center for the LA Clippers, announced his retirement the same day. The news was similarly ignored for much the same reason, and also because the Clippers sucked at the time. But I was a fan. 

What is remarkable about this otherwise side note in NBA history, is that Wilkins had just signed a new 5-year contract and was at the top of his game. He just decided to walk away from millions of dollars. He never said why, and nobody ever asked. 

I tell you this, not because my parents mean nothing to me, but because Jamal Wilkins is now right in front of me, sitting on the hood of a broken-down Cadillac, on a dirt road in the middle of the desert, holding a goldfish in a glass bowl. 

"Can I get a ride?" he asks. 


Luckily for Jamal, the Bentley that my grandfather left me is a convertible, otherwise I don't think his 7'1" frame would've fit. 

I had been driving along highway Interstate 15 toward Nevada for about two hours, my brain wandering and wondering about Fiction. What would the town be like? Had my granddad's crazy followers destroyed the mansion? Who would I kill when I made it to _The World News Weekly_ offices? 

I wasn't wondering about my parents, who were obviously still dead. I just wanted to know if this was some sick joke to try to get me out there. Well, if it was, it had worked. I was going to make sure heads would roll. I may just shut down the whole operation. 

The next thing I knew, however, I was off on a side road, in the middle of nowhere. And soon, that side road turned into a dirt road. I looked down at my gas gauge enough to be satisfied that I could turn around. And then I looked up. 

And there was Jamal. I slammed on the brakes, and he said hello. 

So, now we are back on the road. The real road, not the dirt one. 

I finally get up the nerve to ask, "So you're Jamal Wilkes, right?" 

"Runningbear," he replied. 


"I go by Runningbear now. Jamal Runningbear. It is the name given to me by my ancestors." 

I smirk at how ridiculous this sounds. 

"Don't laugh," he chides me. "I am 1/16th Xuatl Indian." 

"Sure, sure. Okay, I didn't mean to laugh." 

"You should respect all cultures, even those different from your own," he adds. 

He's right. Torpy would've known that. 

I sit silently for a second. There's an obvious elephant in the room. Actually, there's an obvious goldfish in the Bentley. I keep looking at it. There has to be a story there. 

Jamal notices my attention on the goldfish. 

"Does he speak to you?" he asks. 


"The goldfish!" he says, gesturing wildly and almost spilling him. "I have been on the road for three days and he doesn't say anything to me!" 

"Oh yeah, he spoke to me," I chuckle. 

"What did he say?" 

"He said, 'Can you believe this guy is crazy enough to talk to goldfish?'" 

"He is my spirit animal!" Jamal spits forth in desperation. 

I can see that I have upset him, so I try to calm him down. 

"I'm sorry," I say. "You're right. I shouldn't mock other cultures. It's just... a goldfish?" 

I can't really help it. It seems so ridiculous. Even when I try to steer away from the topic, it's just sitting right there -- puckering at me. 

"You don't choose your spirit animal. It chooses you. I am on my vision quest." 

Uh, wait. Hold on. Vision quest? 

"Aren't you supposed to walk on a vision quest?" I say after my moment of befuddlement. "Like commune with nature or something? What were you doing in a Cadillac?" 

"Walking in the Mojave? Are you crazy?" 

Okay, so I'm the crazy one. 


We get to a small gas station-slash-diner by the time the sun starts to set. We're not even back to the Interstate yet, so I decide to take a break. 

"Do you want to get some food?" I ask. 

"Can't," Jamal replies. "Vision quest." 

His belly gurgles. 

"Says the man who drives a Caddy..." 

I walk into the diner. Jamal rolls his eyes, upset with himself. He gives up and follows me in, holding his goldfish bowl. 

The diner is retro-chic. It tries way too hard to remind you what the 50's might've been like. You know, the whole Route 66 thing. There's an old man sitting at the counter who looks like he could tell you all about it first hand. 

Besides him, the place is practically empty, except for two bald men in track suits, sitting next to each other in the corner booth. They both look at me with an odd stare. I quickly look away, as weird bald men usually don't lead to anything good. 

Jamal and I have a seat at the counter, and out walks a young, way-too-hip Hispanic hottie of a waitress. She's got beautiful green eyes, long black hair with a bit of a pink streak and lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous. Her other assets are worth noting as well, but I'll leave the rest to the imagination. This isn't a harlequin romance novel. Let's just say, at the moment I see her, I think I'm in love. Seriously. She's that attractive. 

Her nametag says that she's called "Peliculas," but that can't possibly be her name. That's Spanish for "movies." I don't think anybody would name their child "Movies." 

The waitress walks up to us, "Howdy boys, my name's Peliculas. What can I get for ya?" 

Okay. Screw it. I don't know what to expect anymore. 

And as if to confirm this, the two weird bald men in the corner jump up from their booth and yell, "It is him! Joe, it is him! Behold, the grandson, our savior!" 


CHAPTER FIVE: "A Cup of Joe" 


"It is him! Joe, it is him! Behold, the grandson, our savior!" 

The two weird bald guys run up to me at the counter. They both stare at me with very weird grins. Like I said, these guys are WEIRD, man. They both have matching track suits and they both call each other Joe... way too often. 

"Joe, can you believe it?" says one. 

"I can't, Joe! What a glorious day," says the other. 

"Can I help you?" I ask, in that tone that usually means 'I don't want to be bothered.' 

They don't get the subtle vocal inflection. 

"Brother Joe and I can't believe it. Is it really, you?" 

"Are you Austin Allen?" 

"Yes," I sigh. And I get it. These are the "Josephists" I've heard so much about. They are a cult, plain and simple. And they worshipped my father as a god-like leader. I guess that makes me God, the Third. 

"You are. Joe, I told you it was him." 

"Yes you did, Brother Joe." 

Jamal slowly backs away from the situation. I guess things have finally gotten too weird for the ex-NBA superstar carrying a fish on his vision quest. Yeah, I'm the weird one. I'm starting to get a repetitive use injury from rolling my eyes so much. 

"Are you coming into town, Austin Allen?" 

"Will you come by the mansion, Austin Allen?" 

"Can you give a speech, Austin Allen?" 


Oddly enough, that's not me. It's my lovely Peliculas, slamming a coffee pot on the counter so hard it shatters. 

"What I tell you about harassing my customers?" she yells. 

"A dozen pardons, Ms. Peliculas, we meant no harm," one of the Joes says, bowing incredulously like a scolded puppy. 

The two retreat to the door. 

"No more recruiting in my diner!" Peliculas yells. "Now git!" 

The two Joes hurriedly run out the door, while saying. "Please come by the Mansion, Austin Allen. We have many preparations to make anyway! Blessed be, Joe!" 

They both pile into a SmartCar and peel out of the parking lot. Well, as much as a SmartCar can "peel out." 

"Freakin' weirdos," says our waitress, calming down by stroking a stray hair from off her face. Her beautiful, gorgeous, lovely face... 

I start to daydream... 


"You gonna eat that?" 

I wake up from a bit of a daze, with Jamal hovering over my bacon. 

"Huh? No, I'm full," I reply. 

Peliculas gives me a smile across the counter. She leans over and pours me a new cup of coffee. 

"You're gonna need it," she says. 


"You've been kind of zoned out for the last few minutes," she smiles again. "The road will do that to you. Do you have a long way to go?" 

"Depends," I say. "How far away is Fiction?" 

Suddenly the smile drops from her face. 

"You don't want to go to that place." 

"Why not?" 

"Nothing good comes from that place," she says. "You saw those crazy men in here earlier, going on and on about Joe this and Joe that. Who the hell is this Joe person?" 

I'm kind of in love with the way she says "Joe." Somehow, she inserts and "h" and there and it comes out like "Jhoe." Crap, I'm getting distracted again. 

"It's all of them, I think," I take a sip of coffee. "Or, they are all one Joe or something. I can't remember." 

Jamal grabs a half eaten English muffin off my plate and starts tearing pieces off into the goldfish bowl. 

"You guys aren't one of them, is you?" Peliculas says as she begins to get a little bit more defensive. 

"No, no..." 

I try to calm the situation. Obviously, she's had some trouble with these guys in the past. More than just bugging customers at her restaurant. 

"So then, why do you go to Fiction?" 

"I, uh, sort of own the newspaper there?" I say meekly, waiting to get hit. 

"No way!" 

Peliculas is as giddy as a little schoolgirl now. 

"You own _The World News Weekly_?!" 

"Yeah," I grimace. 

"I love that paper!" 

Suddenly, Peliculas has become less attractive to me. 


So, there's this imploding buffalo that I mentioned a while back. At the time, I didn't realize it had happened. In fact, no human being on planet Earth realized that it had happened. Heck, the buffalo didn't even realize that it happened. 

That same buffalo was very aware of its existence when it reconstituted several months later, in the middle of Route 721, exactly halfway between Peliculas' diner and the town of Fiction, Nevada. 

This buffalo thought to itself, "Wow. That was odd. I wonder where I am? What are those lights in the distance? Why are they suddenly getting much brighter?" 

The buffalo wouldn't have to think about it much longer. Right before impact, he saw the SmartCar logo, then two bald men screaming as they flew through the window, and then nothing else... 


CHAPTER SIX: "The Mansion or the Shanty" 


After a 2-hour delay on Route 721, Jamal and I finally make it into the town of Fiction. I would figure out later that the reason for the delay was the death of Mark "Joe" Napoli and Carl "Joe" McIntosh, the two weird bald guys I met at Peliculas's diner. "Spontaneous buffalo emergeon" would eventually be labeled the cause of death. This would be the first of such instances, but not the last. 

At any rate, exhausted from the delay and with much of the town closed down for the night, I offer to let Jamal (and his goldfish) stay with me at "The Shanty." 

"The Shanty" is really the shack from which my grandfather broadcasted his radio shows. It's how he gained his immense following of "Josephists," the crazy followers of his "religion." When we finally arrive at the gate to the Allen estate, I'm amazed by the size of it. I had been to Grandpa Joe's mansion before, but in the years since, the grounds seemed to be more of a campus than a private residence. The main mansion still remained, but several other buildings must have "spontaneously emerged." 

There was the R. Joseph Allen Library of the Unknown, the R. Joseph Allen Museum of the Unknown and the R. Joseph Allen Cafeteria of the Unknown. 

As we pull up to the gate, a security guard -- a bald one in a track suit -- steps up and stops me. 

"What business do you have--?" he stops with his mouth agape. 

"I'm Austin Allen," I say after a short silence. "I'm here to stay at the Shanty." 

I wait for a response, but the guard is still an unresponsive gaping mouthhole. 

"I own the radio shack," I mention. 

"Get this man an RC car or a Tandy computer, stat!" jokes Jamal. 

Yeah, yeah, another Radio Shack joke. I get it. Very clever. I don't laugh. Neither does the guard, who's still staring at me. 

I snap my fingers, "excuse me? Hello?" 

The guard shakes his head, as if he was clearing out the dumbness. Forgive me... as Jamal said, I should be respectful of other cultures. He shakes his head, as if he was clearing out the stupidness. Better? 

"Of course, sir," says the guard. "I know all about you. Mr. Malkowicz said you'd be coming." 

Malkowicz? How did he know? 

"The Austin Allen Broadcast Center has been prepped for your arrival," the guard continued. 

I guess it's better than the Austin Allen Radio Shanty of the Unknown. 

The guard hands me two lanyards with our names on them, "Here are your badges. You can use them to get in the gate, and into the Broadcast Center. There's one for you and Mr. Runningbear." 

"Can we get one for the goldfish?" I try to joke. 

But then it occurs to me and apparently Jamal too. He gives me a weird look, like he's caught me in some lie. I know what he's thinking... How did the guard know his name? Heck, how did he even know there'd be two of us? What's with all these guys named Joe?" 

I shrug, because I'm asking the same questions. I look right back at him with the same weird look. 

"The Broadcast Center is just down the road, to the right, away from the Mansion." 

The guard lifts the gate with a manual crank. 

"Thank you," I say to the guard, with an awkward smile. 

"Don't go to the Mansion," the guard says ominously. 

"Ooookay," interrupts Jamal, "this is all just a little... what's the word? Sketchy. Yeah, sketchy." 

"What's in the Mansion?" I ask. 

"Yeah, what's in the Mansion?" agrees Jamal, nervously. 

"Nothing," says Guard-Joe. 

He smiles an ominous smile. 

"Can I just get a hotel?" asks Jamal. 

"No," I say and step on the gas. I head down the road and make a left. Toward the Mansion. 


Meanwhile, Peliculas, my waitress crush, was busy answering questions from two government officials, Agents Douglas and James. 

"Peliculas, huh?" says Douglas. "That's a weird name." 

"So is Douglas, for a lady," replies Peliculas. 

I guess I should note that the two agents were women. Jessica Douglas and Denise James, to be precise. They were both dressed in black suits with black fedoras. They claimed to be with the Dept of Homeland Security, but Peliculas knew better. She'd lived near Fiction long enough to know these two were part of "The Group." 

"The Group" always seemed to turn up whenever something weird happened. And something weird happened a lot in this area. You know, imploding buffaloes and all that... 

But "The Group" never seemed to actually investigate the weird instance. Instead, it seemed like it was their job to harass anybody in the general area, until they were so annoyed they forgot about the incident in the first place. 

"Do you have a green card, Peli-coo-lass?" asked James. 

"I was born here," says Peliculas, dismissively. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have customers." 

Peliculas motions to the old man sitting at the counter, the same one that was present when Jamal and I were there. 

"Old man Franklin?" Douglas laughs. "He need a 38th cup of coffee?" 

"He happens to be my best paying customer." 

Franklin coughs. A lot. Seems like he's going to choke and die on the spot. But then he stops, and takes a sip of coffee. 

"What do you know about Austin Allen?" says James. 

"Don't know him." 

"He was here about 2 hours ago," says Douglas. "Why are you protecting him?" 

"Protecting him from what?" 

"The dead Joes," Douglas yells out, before regaining her composure. "We know he did it." 



That was Jamal's response when we pulled up to the Mansion. 

"What is it?" I ask, not looking at him. Instead, I was staring at my grandfather's mansion, the lights darkened. There seemed to be movement at the windows, but I couldn't make it out. 

"Whaaaaaaaa?" repeats Jamal. 

"Shhh," I say, turning off the engine. "I'm trying to listen." 

"I think we should GO," Jamal finally verbalizes himself. 

"Don't be a pussy." 

I feel a tug at my arm. 

"I think we should GO," Jamal repeats in a loud whisper. 

"What is wrong with you?" I finally respond,, exasperated. As I turn to berate my rather large friend, I believe I see my dead father out of the corner of my eye. It couldn't be? Could it? 

Doesn't matter. What I see when I look at Jamal does. 

Jamal's goldfish is floating in mid-air about a foot above his fishbowl. He's glowing a neon-green color and he's staring right at me. 

"Don't go to the Mansion," says the goldfish. 

And with that, Jamal faints. 



BONUS MATERIAL: The winner of High Concept Challenge #54...


BOOK #2: "Torpy the Torpedo Discovers Atlantis" 

Written by Michael D Friedman 


This is the second in a series of children's novels. The original book, "Torpy the Torpedo," was a best-seller and started a line of toys and an animated series. The publisher/toy company requested several sequels to the original book. This is the first sequel... 


Torpy the Torpedo was swimming one day 
He ran into Sammy (the starfish) in the bay 
Sammy said, "How do you do?" 
Torpy replied, "I'm fine, how are you?" 

Sammy sighed and said, "I want to explore" 
Torpy said sure, "The ocean floor?" 
"I've explored the floor, but it's such a bore. 
Believe it or not, I want to see more!" 

Torpy put on his Torpy Adventure Goggles((tm)) 
"I have an exciting idea! I'm all a-boggle! 
We can search for Atlantis in the great big sea 
You will see more if you wear these, see?" 

Sammy said "yeah" and put on the eyewear 
He thought for a minute they shouldn't go there 
But then he thought more and said, "Why not? 
There's a legend of the Battle Sea Aquanaut ((tm))" 

"Battle Sea Aquanaut?" Torpy inquired. 
It's a big submarine from space that Sammy admired 
It has big flashing lights and a missile to fire 
And includes glow in the dark monster truck tires! 

Just then Tammy the Toirtose swam up 
She asked what was shaking by saying "wassup?" 
"We're going exploring!" said Torpy the Torpedo, 
"To find the lost city, isn't that neat-o?" 

The three finally found the ancient sunk city 
It was buried down deep, but still very pretty 
Oh! The sights they saw were to behold, 
The Atlantean Train Set((tm)) and the Dungeon Keep's Hold!((tm)) 

After their journey, the friends all went home 
To the place better known as the TorpedoDome((tm)) 
With it's huge storage size and bloops and beeps 
The three sea friends went fast to sleep 



THIS ENTIRE COLLECTION: (c) 2015 Michael D Friedman.

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