SFReader 2008 Story Contest
First Place Winner
This story is the end result of an experiment, in which I was looking for a way to tell a story entirely in dialogue without being tedious. The radio format provided a means of introducing numerous characters into a conversation without straining credulity. Though the story itself is entirely a product of my imagination, the character of Mike Colavito is inspired by an actual curmudgeonly, mayor-hating Cleveland media figure–as northeastern Ohio readers will have immediately noticed–who once devoted a show to unusually-ubiquitous jet contrails. However, I can assure you that the ending of the story bears no resemblance to actual events–at least as far as I can remember…
You’re listening to the Mike Colavito Show on Cleveland’s home for straight talk, WCUY 1200. The opinions expressed on this program do not reflect those of WCUY, its management, or its sponsors.
Fair warning; I’m in a mood today, folks.
We’ve got a mayor whose only talent seems to be showing up at luncheons and waving at the cameras.
Eighty bucks I had to pay yesterday for not wearing my seat belt. Show me the seat belts on a school bus.
I saw a Cleveland athlete on national TV last night wearing a Yankees cap.
And every day I get at least a dozen calls from schmucks who think that people like me are the problem in this city.
Tell me America’s not falling apart.
And some of you people–including our programming director, by the way–seem to think I’m running my mouth too much and not taking enough phone calls. I’ve only been number one in radio in this city for ten straight years; what would I know?
You want calls? You got ’em. Steven in Mayfield Heights, you’re on the air.
“Hey, what’s up, Mike?”
The rent. Art in Seven Hills, you’re on WCUY.
“How you doing, Mike. Just wondering if you caught that ball game last night?”
No. Andrea in Rocky River, go ahead.
“Hi, Mike, first-time caller.”
Well, call back tomorrow and you’ll be a second-time caller. Carol in Cleveland, what’s on your mind?
“Mike, what do you think of water boarding?”
My wife and I water board all the time, and it’s improved our sex life dramatically. Chuck in Parma, you’re on the air.
“Hey, Mike, I heard your show yesterday, and I was just wondering, if you know so much about football, why you don’t take over as head coach of the Browns?”
I wouldn’t want to take the pay cut. Mina in Lakewood, you’re on the air.
“Does your wife think that water boarding crack was funny?”
Play your cards right some night and you could find out for yourself, Mina. Tommy in Beachwood, you’re on WCUY.
“Hi, Mike, just wondering who you think the Indians should try and trade for next year.”
Your mother. Jane in Euclid, go ahead.
Looks like we lost Jane in Euclid. Must have answered her question already. That’s all right; we got in seven callers in under a minute. Everyone happy now? Hey, Jake, I have to take a breather; do the traffic.
Oh, yeah. This traffic is brought to you by West Side Hardware.
Thanks, Mike. Not much happening right now; 480, 271, and 77 are all clear, but traffic on the Shoreway is backed up in both directions, so our listeners might want to allow a few extra minutes if they’re headed that way. For West Side Hardware, this has been your WCUY traffic report on Cleveland’s home for straight talk.
Hey, Jake, don’t go yet. You still there? I gotta take the Shoreway home after the show. Any idea what the holdup is?
Can’t say, Mike; no accidents, just a general slowdown all along the lakeshore.
And people wonder why I’m always giving the mayor grief. Straightest stretch of highway in America, and traffic still won’t move. Somebody on the Shoreway, call in and tell me what the hell’s going on over there. Franklin in Cleveland, you’re on the air.
“What’s up, Mike? You gonna let me talk?”
Don’t worry, it’s all out of my system. The floor’s yours.
“Well, you’re entitled to your opinion about the mayor, but come on, man, how you gonna blame him for slow traffic?”
The traffic’s just a symptom. I’m talking about neglect. Name me one thing the mayor’s accomplished since he took office.
You can’t, Franklin, because there are none. Homicides in the triple digits, a downtown that looks like Baghdad, none of it bothers him. Everything’s A-OK as long as his picture’s on the front page every day.
“In fairness, Mike, he didn’t create those problems, he inherited most of them–”
Gotta let you go, Franklin, I think we’ve got an answer to my traffic query on line two. Pete on the Shoreway, what’s happening over there?
“There’s no wreck or anything, Mike; I think everyone’s just slowing down to look at the sky.”
“Bunch of jet trails over Lake Erie.”
Jet trails? I’m gonna be late for my poker game tonight because a bunch of morons are staring at jet trails? You people never seen a jet trail before?
“Well, there’s one hell of a lot of them; must be hundreds going every which way. I’ve never seen anything like it. Might be military planes–they’re looping and weaving all over the place.”
Okay, thanks, Pete. Now hang up the phone and pay attention before you kill someone.
Well, if there’s anyone left listening after this fascinating line of inquiry, in the next hour we’ll be talking to the Indians’ hitting coach…
All right, one more. Mel on the Shoreway, go ahead, you’re on the air.
“Hi, Mike. Hey, if you could see this for yourself, you might not dismiss it so fast. You think anybody else in the Cleveland media is going to bother looking into it?”
You’re right about that. But listen, you don’t think this might just be regular air traffic?
“Well, one of them just flew straight up, so you tell me.”
Okay, I have no window and I can’t leave, so somebody out there take some pictures of these things and email ’em to me during the ad break. Meanwhile, I’ll run down the hall to our WCUY news department and lean on those clowns, see if they know anything. Let’s get to the bottom of this so we can move on.
And we’re back on the Mike Colavito Show, where we’re devoting fifty thousand watts to a discussion of jet trails, if you can believe it. Thanks to our listeners, I’ve now seen some pictures of this mess, and, as much as it pains me, I have to agree with those people out on the Shoreway; that’s no ordinary air traffic.
And, I just checked with our newsroom; they have no clue. No surprise there, they haven’t broken a story since Teapot Dome. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Anyhow, unless you have something new to add, no more calls about this, okay? We know what it looks like. Craig in Mentor, you’re on the air.
“Have you seen the sky this afternoon, Mike? You should see what’s going on up there!”
Richard in Dayton…Dayton? Really? Well, thanks for listening all they way down there, Richard. Hey, at least you’re not calling about the sky over Lake Erie, right?
“Actually, Mr. Colavito, that’s exactly what I’m calling about.”
You mean this is going on in Dayton, too?
“Well, Mr. Colavito–”
Call me Mike, we’re all friends here.
“Mike, I’m not in Dayton proper; I’m calling from Wright-Patterson.”
The Air Force base?
“Yes sir, and I just wanted to clarify for your listening audience that there is no unusual aviation activity over northeastern Ohio.”
None at all?
So does that mean all those jet trails are from commercial planes after all?
Richard, I might have been born on a Monday, but it wasn’t last Monday.
“Mike, the air traffic’s always like that; but between the clouds and the pollution, you just can’t see it most of the time. Sometimes, though, when the weather’s cold and the sky’s clear enough, those trails become visible.”
And that’s all it is?
“That’s all, Mike.”
There are a lot of planes up there, Richard.
“It may look like it, but it’s perfectly normal.”
Well, I appreciate your call, sir.
“Any time, Mike. I’m just doing my duty, which in this case means averting a potential panic before it gets started.”
Thanks again, Richard.
Cold weather and a clear sky, gimme a break. No way I’m falling for this. Ronnie in Solon, you’re on the air.
“Hey Mike, maybe we’re being invaded by Canada.”
Could be, Ronnie; they were probably pretty peeved when the Indians swept the Blue Jays last week. Jeannie in South Euclid, you’re on WCUY.
“They might be flying saucers, Mike, had you considered that?”
Anyone smart enough to get to Earth would know better than to look for intelligent life in Cleveland. Look, I know Jeannie’s kidding, but let’s nip this stuff in the bud, okay? I don’t need those kinds of people coming out of the woodwork. John in Ashtabula, you’re on the air.
“Hi, Mike. Listen, I wouldn’t go dismissing this alien theory out of hand if I were you. It just so happens I’m an extraterrestrial myself.”
Oh, is that a fact? Now we’re getting somewhere. And when did you land here in Ohio?
“Oh, I didn’t land in the United States; I landed in Mexico and snuck across. Much easier that way.”
Never be funnier than the host, John. Jules in Cleveland Heights, go ahead.
“Mike, I don’t know what’s going on up there, but I can only hope it is aliens. I think we’ve gone as far as can on our own, and our only hope for peace and harmony is the descent of a new wisdom.”
Well, you’re definitely from Cleveland Heights, there’s no doubt about that. Go ahead, Jules.
“Humans have lost the way. We need to evolve and we’re stuck fast. Did you know we only use ten percent of our brains? Imagine if we could learn to harness all of our potential!”
Hey, Jules, guess what? People use a hundred percent of their brains all the time. It’s called a seizure, dummy.
I’ve already cut you off, Jules, but if you’re still listening, let me help you out, buddy; I think you hit the wrong button on your radio this afternoon. You want the one marked FM. This is AM, and it’s not safe for you here.
Let’s go to commercial, we’ve got bills to pay.
And we’re back, with certainly the oddest show I’ve ever done in ten years of radio. We’ve been discussing what I suspect are military jets in enormous numbers over Lake Erie, and I’m under the impression some people would rather we didn’t talk about it. There’s more to this than meets the eye, folks.
William in Dayton…another caller from Dayton? I suppose you’re in the Air Force too?
“Mr. Colavito, we’ve already explained the situation adequately. You’d be well-advised to stop spreading misinformation, let the matter drop altogether, and continue your show with a different topic.”
What’s that, a threat?
Well, you can forget it, William, or whatever your real name is, I’ll talk about it until morning if I feel like it. If something dangerous is happening, we’ve got a right to know. You’ll have to drag me out of this studio.
You think I’m afraid of the government? You think I have skeletons in my closet? All my skeletons are arranged tastefully on the front lawn. Patrick in Gates Mills, you’re on the air.
Go ahead, Patrick.
“Mike, I think I can clarify this entire situation for everyone, but I’ll need you to bear with me.”
I’m begging you, Patrick. I’m all ears.
“Thank you, Mike. Now, I have to begin by saying that I am not originally from this planet–”
Stop right there.
All right, let me tell you something, Patrick, this better get real interesting real fast. If you’re just some everyday nut, call back after midnight when that UFO guy comes on. You got me?
“I promise to make it worth your while, Mike.”
See that you do, Patrick.
“Perhaps this story would be more palatable if I spoke hypothetically. Suppose a person was in possession of some sensitive information–a new technology, say, or a military secret, or just some dirt on a politician–that, in the right hands, could change galactic civilization forever…”
Galactic civilization? Look, I’m not much of a Trekkie, Patrick. I only watch baseball, wrestling, and Rachael Ray.
“And suppose…Rachael Ray? Really?”
Get on with it, Patrick.
“And suppose you wanted this person out of the way, but he had a high enough profile that he couldn’t simply be done away with. What would you do? What could you do? Hide him in plain sight, on a crowded but unsophisticated planet, where no one could attempt to contact or rescue him without endangering his life. And he would have no choice but to adjust to his exile, to try and blend in with the barbarians, because even if he told the truth to everyone he met, no one would believe him.”
And this hypothetical alien is you, I suppose?
“That’s correct. I appreciate your open-mindedness.”
No problem, Patrick. Do you look human? You blending in okay?
“My disguise has been effective so far.”
What do you really look like?
“That’s hard to describe, at least in English.”
Well, thanks for outing yourself, so to speak, here on the Mike Colavito Show. But what’s it got to do with anything?
“Those flying saucers over the lake–and that is indeed what they are, not jet planes–represent a rather ill-advised attempt by some of my more zealous supporters to effect my rescue.”
That’s about as plausible as anything else I’ve heard today. But why reveal yourself now?
“Well, since the military is obviously monitoring your show, I thought perhaps an explanation of my situation might convince them not to interfere. Despite my present situation, I still have some rather powerful friends, and if something should happen to those spacecraft, even through a misunderstanding, it might not bode well for this planet, which, I must say, I’ve grown rather fond of.”
And I’m sure the feeling’s mutual, Patrick. Can you hang on through the break? This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
“I should really go, Mike; I’ve revealed too much already, and I’ve certainly placed myself in danger. But thank you for hearing me out.”
God love you, Patrick, you’ve made my afternoon.
If you’re just joining us, we’ve been discussing the plethora of jet trails over northeastern Ohio this afternoon, despite objections from certain quarters, and our most amusing theory comes from an apparent extraterrestrial living out in Gates Mills. If anybody can top it, I’m all ears. Ahmed in Lyndhurst, you’re on the air.
“Yes, Mike, I wanted to talk to you about Patrick; the last caller? Don’t believe a word he said; that story was nothing but a pack of lies.”
Congratulations on figuring that out, Ahmed. I was just having a little harmless fun by going along with him. What’s the problem?
“Harmless is hardly the word I would use to describe the most nefarious criminal in the galaxy, Mike.”
I asked for it, I guess. Much as I’d like to just go home right now and ride out the invasion in my media room, I guess you better elaborate.
“Naturally. Hypothetically speaking, suppose there were a master criminal of such malevolent cunning, with a network of felonious associates so vast, that anything he set his sights on was as good as his. Such a person could conceivably be responsible for the misappropriation of thousands of valuable items: state treasures, art objects, anything he could find a buyer for. Eventually there would be no option for a moral society but to banish him to a planet where, from a galactic standpoint, there was nothing worth stealing. No offense.”
None taken, Ahmed. And how do you know this?
“Well, one could never set such a dangerous person loose on a primitive planet without also leaving a minder behind to keep an eye on things. It would be unethical.”
And this minder, that’s you, right?
So you are also an alien?
“That’s right, Mike.”
And the trails?
“They’re spacecraft, just as Patrick said.”
He was telling the truth about that?
“I’m not scheduled to be relieved of my post here for another five years, so it can only be his cronies trying to extract him. I’m sure Patrick would like nothing better than for you to believe that he’s a political prisoner; he seems to think Earth is peopled entirely by rubes. I don’t, which is why I’m entrusting you with the truth. And I would also advise your Air Force to go ahead and engage those spacecraft; their destruction would be to the general good, and an immeasurable favor to Earth.”
I wonder if we could get Patrick back on for a rebuttal. Anything else to add, Ahmed?
“That’s it, Mike. Strictly speaking, I’ve said too much, but I think it’s for the best. I couldn’t just sit idly by.”
And we appreciate it, Ahmed. What do you think of our planet?
“I’ve seen worse. I do like the food.”
Is it time for the news yet?
Well, we still have a few minutes before the news break. Time for one more call. Maybe the Air Force’ll call back.
Line one’s lit up, but there’s no name or city. Hey, screener; who’s on line one?
What do you mean you don’t know?
Christ, I gotta do everything myself, I guess.
Okay, you’re on the air on WCUY; who am I talking to?
“I enjoyed hearing from Patrick and Ahmed very much, but I’ve got a story that’s even better. Are you interested?”
Sure, what have I got to lose? But who–
“Imagine a galactic civilization of unknowable antiquity, lapsed into decadence after eons of peace.
“Imagine a race from elsewhere, born of darkness but covetous of the light, desirous of exterminating the galaxy’s present inhabitants and assuming their place, but so unimaginably patient as to postpone invasion for nearly an eternity, until their evolution assured their practical invincibility.
“Such a race, attacking from all sides and from within, might very well eliminate all traces of galactic culture in mere hours.
“They might then take their time surveying the uncivilized worlds, calculating which species might best be enslaved and which simply eradicated.
“It is conceivable that on one such marginal planet, they might discover two remnants of the newly-extinct civilization; a convict and his jailor, perhaps.
“Fastidious to a fault, they would insist on destroying these last two anachronistic relics of a dead society, though, not entirely lacking a sense of humor, they might first take them back to their native worlds and show them what had been wrought in their absence.
“Knowing that others of their race would eventually return to this planet when its fate was determined, their innate orderliness would dictate that no evidence of this visit remain. To this end, a tailored but relatively simple signal, delivered simultaneously on all communication frequencies, would readily excise all offending memories from the natives’ unsophisticated brains, leaving them once again blissfully ignorant.
“All hypothetically speaking, of course. May I ask what you think of my story?”
Not much, I’m afraid. Good delivery, but lacks panache. I appreciate your call, though–
What is that? Does anyone else hear that?
That noise, it’s going right up my spine. Are we broadcasting that? What the hell…
What was that?
What were we talking about? Should we take a call? I have no idea what’s going on…
Okay, it’s time for WCUY’s award-winning news, then we’ll talk to the Cleveland Indians’ hitting coach and see if we can’t iron out this trouble they’ve been having. Back in a few…
Desmond Warzel has moved on, but the city of Cleveland, Ohio, will always have a place in his heart. A cold, graffiti-covered place, with inefficient local government and no sports championships. His short stories can be found in Abyss & Apex, Shroud, and AlienSkin, and are forthcoming in such anthologies as The Best of Abyss & Apex Volume One (Hadley Rille Books) and Things Aren’t What They Seem (From the Asylum Books). In 2008 he was a finalist for the Micro Award for fiction under one thousand words.Share