Spicer’s Modest Success

Jared VanDyke

 

“This has been Rockin’ Ron’s Evenin’ Attitude. You’re listening to Parma’s home for classic rock: 98.5, The Drive. Stay tuned for The Séance, sorry, The Science of Romance, with ‘Doctor’ Spicer and his toaster, aka his robot.”

Ron smirked heavily but Dr. Benson Spicer remained cool.  In his tweed jacket, his perfect posture could cut diamonds, and in his close-cut coif of gray-sprinkled hair, he stood ready to take off for the stars. In his arms his robot Copper — toaster sized and studded with Christmas tree lights – spun its wire limbs.

“Making a joke of my show again?”

“No, you do that for me,” Ron said. He smoothed down his Megadeth “Rust in Peace” t-shirt.  “You know you don’t have to dress up, right? This is radio. Nobody will see you.  Fortunately.”

“I dress for visitors,” said Benson. “I dress for success.”

“This is success?” Ron gestured expansively to the studio walls cracked with multiple layers of faux wood. A third-place award for best local station hung askew by the control booth’s window, where Grace, the Parma Community College intern, sat in her ‘PCC’s the Pits’ t-shirt and guzzled from an unmarked bottle.

Benson surveyed the perfection of his small-town radio domain. “No somnolent PCC students, no sullen teaching aides, no close-minded deans railing against robots in the classroom. I’ve a direct line to those who’ll actually benefit from my instruction. So, yes, success at its highest!”

“Inn-Core-Wrecked,” blared Copper.

Benson gave his lie-detecting cohost a stern look. Copper innocently spun its arms.

Ron stood up and conceded his spot with a mock bow. Benson acknowledged the bow and occupied the swivel chair throne.

“By the by, Ronald, how fares the new satellite dish? I hear we’re reaching farther than ever.”

“The new dish isn’t new, ‘by the by,’ just an old government rig salvaged from the quarry. Great range, but lots of interference.”

Benson paused, grinning like a child about to explode from a secret held too long. “Are you sure the interference wasn’t your music?”

Copper’s tin-speaker blared triumphant mariachi music.

“Is this the wit that got you from part-time to full-time volunteer? Another decade and maybe you can afford a real cohost instead of a talking trashcan.”

“Hey, now! I built Copper from my family’s first radio, and it remains a stellar cohost and companion. You may mock me, but I’ll thank you to leave Copper his dignity.”

Ron hissed and hooted as he grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

Benson called after him. “So how are we dealing with the interference?”

“… a pro like you can figure it out.” And Ron was out the creaking studio door.

Benson adjusted his and Copper’s headphones like a preening parrot. “Well, I can manage perfectly well on my own.”

“Inn-Core-Wrecked,” said Copper.

“Your faith is duly noted.”

Benson opened his show outline and reread the portions that weren’t doodles of rockets or 80s song lyrics. The margins overflowed with notes, condensing his lecturing experience and psychology PhD into talking points for sobbing callers. He patted Copper’s side, hummed the last bars of the fading commercial for Mabel’s Country Kitchen: home of the roadkill special, and leaned into the microphone.

“Good evening, and welcome to The Science of Romance. I’m Dr. Benson Spicer, the Love Scientist with a PhD in psychology and matrimony. Tonight’s topic is -“

“A-Lee-Inz.”

“Not quite Copper, it’s commitment. Are you ready to pop the question? Wondering if your relationship will last? Call 555-393-LOVE and let Dr. Spicer give you the formula.”

Benson pulled up the pending call line on his monitor. All twelve slots remained empty. So did the “next track” line. He threw a fistful of pencils at the control booth’s window before Grace startled awake, took a swig, and plugged in a tune.

“Tonight we lead off with Mr. Vandross and Ms. Carey in ‘Endless Love.’ You’re listening to The Science of Romance on 98.5, The Drive.”

Benson pulled Copper closer as ultra-smooth R&B pipes filled his headphones.

“What’s wrong buddy? You could speak well before we came in.”

He flipped open Copper’s back panel and fiddled with the interface. His effort was met with mariachi music.

“…did you ‘explore’ the toilet again? The gate is there for your own good. It’s not a challenge, or-“

“We got a problem.”

Benson sat up straight in surprise. He’d never known Grace to use the intercom, or do anything beyond load songs and choke down bags of potato chips.

“A million calls are coming in,” said Grace. “They aren’t queuing right, and most just hang up when I try and screen.”

“Must be the new satellite interfering…”

“Ron is pretty good with this stuff. I can call him back.”

“We can manage quite well without Ronald. We’ll cold answer and use the delay timer if a call goes sour.”

“Running near live?” said Grace. “Better hope the boss doesn’t find out.”

“He would only be impressed with my initiative.”

Grace guffawed out potato chip particles.

Benson raised his head high and waited as the last “Looovvve” drifted like velvet across the airwaves.

“Welcome back to The Science of Romance with Dr. Benson Spicer…” He glanced at Copper, idly poking one of its cellophane eyes. “…and my brilliant robot co-host, Copper.”

“Cah-Purr!”

“Thanks for joining us Copper. Now, before the break I floated the topic of commitment…”

Benson’s monitor flashed a roulette of waiting callers, and no amount of refreshes or adjustments exterminated the digital ants crawling the interface. Benson randomly selected line three and a ‘Kth Ornsthoon’ jumped onto the active call.

“…so let’s bring our first caller into the arena of Love, Kth… Kathy? Kathy O! Remember Kathy: Copper can spot a lie, so speak true and let me know how I can help you.”

Blasts of static broke the response into chunks.”Dr. Spice…my masters… …feel the wrath… my tentacles… will not survive the ordeal…”

Benson slammed the dump button. Plenty of delay time remained.

Meanwhile, Copper was trying to tip off the stool. Benson steadied his spinning companion and selected another number. A chaos of consonants splayed across the active call field.  He didn’t attempt a pronunciation.

“Looks like we have a new caller!  You’ve reached Dr. Benson Spicer on The Science of Romance.”

The crackling line went static-free as the caller intoned in a hollow whisper.

“We fear the dark star.”

“The dark star, eh? Forbidding, but not the strangest pet name I’ve heard, I assure you.”

“There are no pets, no names. The dark star consumes our sun, yet the Seventh Priestess says we are one with the dark star. She is enamored with its unending hunger, and our people’s sanity dies with the light of day. I am doomed. We are doomed. Save us, Dr. Spicer.”

Benson dumped out again and hung his head.

His PCC students had never been so creative in their joking. But a crank call is a small price to pay for success at its highest…

A little under a minute remained on the delay timer, and Copper was halfway down the stool again, flashing its Christmas lights for attention.

The good doctor hauled him back up and picked another incoherent name from the call list.

“We’ve a new caller joining The Science of-“

“A mate no longer warms my chamber!”

“A-a serious issue.” Benson checked his outline for communication issues, which breakups often stemmed from, and read from his notes. “’Sometimes commitment takes work. We often grow apart unless both partners stay attentive to, and honest about, each other’s needs.’ Has your ‘mate’ left for good, or have they vanished for the night?”

“I consumed him as the Pit Lord commanded! His flesh sustains me, yet I am saddened by his absence! Comfort me, Dr. Spicer!”

The remaining delay timer read twelve seconds as Benson dumped yet again.

Grace pressed her phone against the booth window with Ron’s number dialed and waiting. The studio’s 3rd-place award fell from its hook and split to pieces on the cracked linoleum floor. As Copper flailed in the exit’s direction a cellophane eye popped loose.  Benson held him back, wondering why his chaotic little robot wished to decamp.

He flipped a mental coin. Chance pranksters a fourth time or face Ronald’s know-it-all smirk.

He bit his lip and picked another name as the delay timer ticked into live time.

“…hello?” he ventured.

“Excuse me? Have I reached the right coordinates?” The voice chimed in clear and calm, like a veteran secretary at a day spa. “I seek Copper and Spicer.”

“Oh! W-why yes, you’ve reached The Science of Romance. What is your name and how may I assist you?”

“You may call me Allora. I have a question concerning commitment.  My partner is very…strong-willed. The Fifth Council holds him in high regard, but he focuses on his career at the expense of all else.”

Benson leaned back and exhaled, relieved to have a sane caller. Even the digital ants on his monitor had slowed down. Grace went back to swilling her label-free beverage. Copper, however, remained perfectly still and dark save for a whimpering vent fan.

 “On a council, eh?  That can be difficult. Those in positions of power often have trouble letting go when home.”

“Exactly!” said Allora. “I only see him a few times a cycle. And he’s always on about his Planar Forge. He thinks his is the biggest.”

“Well, we all like to think that. But have you told him how you feel?”

“Once,” said Allora. “It did not end well. He’s focused on his duties more than ever, and he will no longer lock horns with me.”

“‘Lock horns’! An interesting way of putting it. But you’ve already taken the first step, so-“

“WHO DARES DISRUPT MY HOUSE!? I WILL OBLITERATE YOU!”

Benson yanked off his headphones as hellish roars and screams filled the feed. Grace cut the line and cycled in a round of advertisements for Mabel’s Country Kitchen: home of the roadkill special.

He yelled to Grace “She’s under attack. I’ll think of something for airtime after I alert the police.”

He clutched his cell phone and ran outside for a better signal. The nip of snow flurries, a wash of pine trees, and a crust of splintered rock surrounded the mountainside work shed, aka radio station. Far below in the valley, Parma’s crosshatch of streetlights illuminated six bars, nine gun stores, and enough churches to cover consciences the morning after. Late at night, off-duty timber farmers gathered in bar parking lots. They stood around flaming barrels, drank discount slurry, and listened to oversized radios on the back of pickup trucks. Benson wondered if they listened to his show.  Not tonight he hoped.

He dialed Parma’s Police Department. The dispatcher came in through crackling static.

“I’m Benson Spicer at 98.5 The Drive. One of my callers is under attack. Her name is Allora, and I…”

Benson dropped the phone as a gigantic undulating mat of space metal descended upon Parma.

Thousands of spiral mechanical arms filled the sky, dropping down through winter clouds. Illuminated by moonlight they swung like huge metal cables rippling through the ocean, propelling a central crystalline pod larger than a skyscraper. Within it stood the seething form of a giant more goat than man. The hundreds of mech hands planted themselves along the shaking mountainside, suspending the pod to hover closer and closer over the radio station.

The pilot’s eyes were great orbs of fire bisected by horizontally slit pupils, focused with murderous intent on the speck of a man in a tweed jacket.

Benson ran into the station.

Grace was already gone. The cycle of commercials no longer played, and every screen cycled incomprehensible symbols.

In the midst of the shaking, the technological hijacking, and the multi-limbed deathship piloted by Baphomet’s gigantic cousin, Copper sat limply on the stool swinging its arms.

“O-kayyyy!”

Benson picked up his co-host and dashed out the front door. One massive hoof came down right where the station’s parking lot – and Grace’s car – had been. The ground quaked, flipping Benson into the air and sending him rolling down the mountain.  A giant goat hoof broke his momentum.

Cower before Illum of The Fifth Council, keeper of its Planar Forge! You twist my betrothed’s mind. Explain yourself!!”

Benson stayed curled into a ball, Copper tucked under his jacket, until the thunderous din subsided.  Shakily he stood, and looked up to find the goat man bending over him, his silhouette blocking the sky.

Copper tried escaping the jacket, but Benson stuffed his cohost back out of sight.

“I’m a, ah, ah….  I meant no harm.” Only the gust of the colossal goat’s breathing answered, so Benson tried again. “Allora told me… she’s not happy with you working all the time. I advised she let you know, that’s all!”

Illum snapped his jaws in earsplitting ire and the tassels along his horns rang a dire chorus through the valley.

You know nothing of my work.” Illum flicked his head towards his vessel, the chiming of his tassels eliciting neon pulses from the ship’s anchored limbs. “With the Planar Forge I disable dark stars so lesser systems may know safety, so The Fifth Council may reign. I am needed; I am supreme!

‘Inn-Core-Wrecked’ shot from within Benson’s jacket.

You doubt my power?” said Illum. “Perhaps a display is in order!

“No, nonono,” said Benson. “He’s only kidding. Right Copper?”

Benson’s hands shook as he lifted the toasterbot to eye level, silently pleading with it to back him up.

He turned Copper to face Illum, raised it on high, and heard:

“Inn-Core-Wrecked!”

He threw himself down the mountain before Illum could react. The James Bonds and John McClanes made it look so easy, but Benson Spicer clipped every rock and stump on his way down the slope. Illum stomped, and the shockwave popped him into the air. At the apex of his flight he spotted his trailer home at Parma’s edge, the football stadium PCC built instead of his robotics department, and the valley’s premier diner — Mabel’s Country Kitchen: home of the roadkill special.

He landed in a giant snowbank as Illum’s massive hand scooped him up, snow bank and all, and hoisted him up among the clouds.

What is your ‘advice’ for this situation?” roared Illum. “Should I crush you like a drazgul, or drop you to the ground which spawned you?

 

Benson’s mind raced through the stacks of psych journals littering his trailer for a suitable placatory response. But despite all the preparation, blind confidence, and margin notes he had no answer for escaping an angry giant goat being from light years away.

Copper – dented and sparking – blinked a Morse code of S.O.S.

A retreat, a cry for help, a surrender for the first time in decades.

Benson took the hint. “I… don’t know.”

Maybe it was the extreme height, or falling down a mountain, but his chest lightened as he repeated himself.

“I don’t know what to do; I don’t know everything! I’m just puffed up, and stubborn, and insensitive, and… !”

Copper played a garbled celebratory tune and hugged him. With care, and his face away from the sparking bits, Benson returned the hug.

“And I’ve neglected my friend.  I’m sorry, Copper. I’m a real dummy, huh?”

“Inn-Core-Wrecked,” said Copper.

All the while a giant flaming goat eye observed their reconciliation. “Why does this machine forgive your weakness?

Benson flinched under the booming echo. Illum looked down at him, his shaggy ears hanging, head tilted, trying to understand the oddity in his palm.

“I made Copper to be my friend, my advisor, and I…I haven’t listened for decades,” said Benson. “But now Copper knows I know better and I want to change.”  He tried to stay balanced in the giant furry palm as the alien weighed his words.

And this intent is enough?”

“It’s… it’s a start.  J-just listen to Allora, spend time with her. Think about it: she reached out across, what, light years? All for advice on how to fix things.”

Your advice, not mine!

“Well, ah, look at how… you, ah, reacted.” Benson flinched, waiting for a long drop to the parking lot, but Illum’s horns only dipped in contemplation. “She wants things to work, she cares for you, but you have to listen to her.”

Copper sparked as its remaining lights flashed in approval, and Benson coughed into his hand, embarrassed by the parallel.

Illum turned about sharply and carried them to the ramp of his many-armed spaceship. In the valley below hundreds of doors and windows were filled with staring faces. Parma locals saw surges of neon light reflecting off Illum’s armor, and his voice rolled down the valley like thunder.

I will not kill you, Benson Spicer.  You are but a tiny creature from a primitive planet, but you have wisdom. Together we will go to Allora and… listen. But if your way fails I will crush you beneath my hoof, understood?

“O-kayyyy,” said Copper.

Benson opened his mouth to protest, to cry fear for the horrors of space and impending death by giant hoof. But Illum carried them aboard his ship and commanded it to swim away as Copper blared mariachi music.

 

 

Ron spun away from his console as his outro cracked into synth wankery. The PCC student technician waved for attention, a film of sweat on his forehead.

“What, Jimmy? What’s the problem now?”

“Look… look at the screens!”

Ron stomped into the tech booth. Every screen skittered with shifting jibberish.

“It’s just the feed messing up. I’ll fix it during the break. Forward a call for now and I’ll answer it cold. We’ll dump out if any crazies get through.”

“No nonono-NO,” said Jimmy. “Grace was in my class. First the monitors scramble, then the host goes missing, then you get stomped by an alien! She was in the hospital for-“

“Grace was a drunk who fell in the parking lot.”

“The parking lot is shaped like a hoof!”

“Just forward a call!”

“I-I-I-“

Ron slammed the booth door. The 3rd-place station award, held together by wood glue and hope, fell and shattered again. Ron kicked it and spun to the microphone.

“Annnnnd welcome back to the Evenin’ Attitude with Rockin’ Ron on 98.5, The Drive. Hello, caller? Where you calling from and what’s your request?”

“This is Dr. Spicer calling from Kresge 07. How about something from ‘Buddhist Peach’ or ‘Depth Leathered?'”

Jimmy ran from the studio and off into the forest, screaming his fear of hoof stompage.   

Ron strangled the microphone. “You hack! Think you’re clever running off and leaving me ALL your shifts.”

“I do apologize.”

 “You’ll never work in radio again!”

“Oh. Drat.”

 “And by the way, Mabel turned your trailer into a roadkill shed.”

“How lovely. I’m just calling to tender my resignation. I’ll call in from time to time. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll do splendidly without me.”

And as Ron crushed the splinters of the 3rd place station award into dust, from his hoverchair thousands of light years away Benson Spicer pressed the disconnect button.

His office, a hollowed cyan crystal with luminescent furniture in Galactic Post-Modern, looked out over Kresge 07’s scintillating skies. Hundreds of spiring towers rose up through the clouds, flying the flags of the 293 space-faring civilizations allied to The Fifth Council. Sleek gleaming vessels slipped through the cloud layers like lunar octopi and whales.

Animate holo-photos of clients lined the crystal sphere’s walls.  Central were Illum and Allora, her magenta armor shimmering to scarlet as Illum rubbed horns with her. Other clients smiled and waved gratefully — Third Pit Lords breaking the habit of eating mates, enshadowed Seventh Priestesses breaking their hereditary engagements to dark star crawlers, Twelfth Legion warbeasts exploring the taboo subject of peace, a chitinous, eight-limbed aardvark analog longing to take a beach vacation.

Copper hovered close, toaster body and arms now cutting edge tech. Its voice issued from below a spherical liquid interface display. “Pleasant conversation with Ronald.”

“Earth business finished.”

Copper rattled off congratulations in 293 languages, sonic, subsonic, and far ultra-violet.

Benson ran a hand through his long, loose hair. “It seems I’m a success.”

“Incorr-“

“I mean, we’re a success.”

“Correct!”

“I wonder if Mabel would like to open a branch on Kresge 07…”

 

 

“Spicer’s Modest Success”  ©  Jared VanDyke, first publication, 11/23/18
Jared VanDyke is a former radio show host who traded the airwaves for careers in creative writing and library bookkeeping. While his publication history leans towards sci-fi, he is readily available for collaborating on fantasy, horror, and investigative projects. You can find him prancing about Twitter @WriteVanDyke – where he regularly shares writing market developments.

 

illustrations by Fran Eisemann. stock from Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons,and NASA

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