Funny Science Fiction Romance


By Andrew Paul Grell

“We’re here because we’re here because we’re here, kumquat.” Roman Nixon always had a piece of himself in summer camp, no matter how far he advanced in his successful life. “Gaze down upon our new domain, my blushing bride. See if you can pick out our new house. Tell me if you detect the enchantedness of our little hollow’s forest. Over there on the left.”

“I see a town’s main drag, two churches, five bars; ticky-tacky houses fronted with sensible cars. A school and a pool, a theatre showing movies, its name is The Jewel. A forest sparkly, surprising for trees so low in a valley. I’m guessing the house that’s three times the size of the others is ours?” Sheila Nawyu, a performance artist stage name, of course, bought a pig in a poke and she was now evaluating it for potential bacon quality.

“Of course, my Muse. Nothing is too good for my source of inspiration. Shall we go down to the Valley so low?”

“What, go down separately?”

“Oh, sorry. Not solo. So. Low.”

“Just jerking your chain, Romeo. Let’s go down and case the joint and get a look at the new digs. And what’s the deal with the enchanted forest?”

“It’s the reason we’re here in this valley and not some other valley. The way the leaves look like they’re sparkling. Actually, what led me here is an offhand remark you made, maybe you were trying it out on me for your act. It was not as strong as G.G. Allen, but a bit stronger than Jennifer Blow-dryer. If this works out, this will be your third off-hand remark that got me to make a new company. Good thing we just got married so you can get your half if you dump me. Shall we?”


To have and to hold, over the threshold, into the master’s castle hold.

“So, Whaddaya think? Just follow me. Kitchen island, breakfast nook, sub-zero appliances. Those French doors lead into a formal dining room. Here’s the main living room. Sectional conversation pit, all leather. Sixty-inch TV, 8K. Two guest bathrooms. C’mon, let’s go upstairs.”

“This is impressive, Rom. Is that a bidet? I don’t think I ever saw one in person before. Wow. Jacuzzi and steam bath.”

“So, Kumquat, you like?” We’ll have a basement studio by next month with your own T1. That door opens into a playroom. If we have kids, and those kids invite other kids, I think we can have about five couples making out with room to spare. and over there is a gym.”

“It’s lovely Romeo, really. I’m just not sure how I’m going to survive without a fire escape to sit on and watch the world go by. No altitude, not sure if I’d find anything even if I perched on the roof. It’s so much a part of my act. Speaking of which, where do the hip people hang in this, place, what’s it called, anyway?”


“Illium, really? I didn’t see any topless towers. Well, I guess I’ll have to germinate my own brand of hip. This is so special of you to surprise me like this. I’ll see about trying to fit in, really, I’ll try. Shall we check out the master bedroom?”

“Thought you’d never ask. Then tomorrow I’ll show you the secrets of the forest…”

Can’t wait, husband mine, chaunt in my ear of enchantments fine… Rom, I’m sure I’ll love it.”

# # #

“Roman. Roman, wake up.”

“Wha? Wassup? What is it, Mae? What happened, are you okay?” The bed was so large that it took the entrepreneur a fair amount of time to extricate himself, plant his feet on the floor, and round up some clothes.”

“You call this a Bagel, Mr. President?” The performance artist was so steaming mad she could have toasted the object in her hand.

“What? Is it round, does it have a hole in the middle, is it doughy with a tough but thin toroid crust?” Rom’s new bride threw the offending farinaceous imposter at her groom’s head.

“I snagged a look behind the counter, there were wrappers from Lender’s in the bin. Frozen Bagels, Rom! You took me from Grand Street and Essex to Lender’s fucking frozen bagels. I can’t wait to see how they’ll fuck up the pickles. What’s wrong with you, Rom? And you think this is a bed for a human couple? I needed a compass and sextant to navigate my way to the floor. Romeo, I love you, but why are we here?”

“You’ll see on our forest stroll today. But first, a proper fast-breaking for my beloved after her morning jog. Back in 37 shakes of a lamb’s tail.” Roman was led by his nose to find what he knew must exist here. It only took six blocks of sniffing to locate Jedediah’s Biscuits & Gravy. Pictures of Oak Ridge Lab and TVA dams had pride of place on the walls of Jedediah’s, a stack of News-Democrat newspapers competed for room with an equal pile of copies of USA Today. The booths and tables were likely the model that Johnny Rocket’s copied from for their faux-50s restaurants, down to the nickel jukeboxes at the tables. But without, of course, Johnny Rocket’s cups of nickles. The line was short, nobody ahead of him asked for the inside of the biscuits to be scraped out, not one customer needed anything vegan, gluten-free or low-carb. Anyone asking for an egg white biscuit would probably be met with a blank stare. These were hard-working, honest people who wanted breakfast and a crew that sought to give the people what they wanted. 

Sheila was counting slowly, estimating that a little ivy-eating lamb would need a tail-swish about every 30 second or so. She was at 35 when Roman showed up with a fully-laden breakfast-in-bed tray and a magician’s shout of “Ta dah!”

“Madam, I present to you glazed biscuits, country gravy biscuits, smoked ham biscuits, coffee with bluegrass Golden Guernsey half & half and cranberry juice.”

“Impressive. But cranberry juice? Really? You wish, you old fart.” Roman was only five years older than the love of his life. “Hey. These are pretty good. Start your day, the coronary way, get that farinaceous feeling with Parkay. Maybe I won’t have to sell you to the Tiger King and have my secret boyfriend hack the title to the new house.”

“Lucky Me. Chop chop, we have some flora to look at, Kumquat. Ever do any off-roading? There’s a Jeep Rubicon waiting for us downstairs. Think you can handle it?”

“Whatever you got, mister, I can handle. And you almost had another Grateful Dead song, but you got a Jeep instead of a Willis. Either way, I’ll still be your Sugar Magnolia. Buckle up, it may be a bumpy ride.”

“Turn right out of the hotel, take a left at the fork, then left onto the second bridge. Then a right for half a mile, you’ll see a sign that says ‘WELCOME TO SHINEY HILL. Another half mile and we’re there.”

“So, we’re here. There’s a sign that says ‘POSTED NO TRESPASSING.’ What do we do?”

We drive in up that dirt road. I posted that sign. I was gonna post one that said ‘Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted.’ But that wouldn’t be neighborly.”

“What’s that?”

It’s the paper mill. I was gonna call it the Papermill Playhouse. Who knows, maybe one day we may open a theatre here. But for now it’s a hobby-level mill that should be able to make paper from trees.”

Oh, bug, where is thy sting, I see now, tis upon my pins and on my wings. Rom, I hate this, I’m getting eaten alive. And I don’t know if I can cross that rickety bridge again. Tell me why you bought a hill in the middle of nowhere?”

“I was in the middle of my journey, and the road branched to the left and to the right. I chose the right hand path and saw the sparkling of the trees. Then I hired a bunch of Aggies; tall bucks and titanium-clad non-disclosure agreements. We found what made the forest sparkle. The lot was on the market, but nobody local was going to buy it at any price. There’s a Bogeyman or a curse or something, maybe a cursed Bogeyman. One tall tale was that the Messiah was here in the year 13 AD.”

“What, Jesus was here on Shiny Hill?”

“Maybe that Messiah, maybe another, there are many Messiahs, but the essential concept of suffering and redemption remains the same. They told me that life had been tough here, making a living between rivers and hills. Just up the road is a flat spot on the riverbank. The hard cases stayed there; people would bring them food, sometimes medicine. They were by the river so they could wash out and reuse their bandages. They’d just take them off, soak them in the wild water, ring them out, hang them to dry and put them back on. But one guy would do that with just one bandage at a time. He was the one the other guys called the Messiah; in case he was called to save the world, he would only have to put one bandage back on. The rough guys seemed to think they got bigger handouts when he was around.” Bogeyman, Messiah, who knows?”

“Messiah like the guy on the posters and the trucks in New York, with the black hat and the long beard? ‘Welcome Moshiach.’ That one?

“That’s one candidate.”

‘I lived across the street from the hospital he was in when he was dying. Fifteenth Street was a sea of black hats. Look, Rom, the more I talk to you the more I love you. But can’t we do this somewhere else?”

‘No; for now, it has to be here. Remember, or maybe you don’t, but this is all because of one of your offhand remarks. I bought the parcel, brought in the mill, and cut down some trees. I hated cutting down young trees, but it should yield a better output. And it’s a small mill. I saved the inaugural run for this, our honeymoon. Let me show you the leaves.”

“Is that what this is? A honeymoon? Mr. Nixon, I seriously don’t know how long I can last here, how much I can take. What I wouldn’t give for a bar with a Nine Inch Nails cover band and a tattoo parlor. With all the Hillbilly Heroin around towns like this, there’s gotta be a seamy underside somewhere.

A mist came through and glistened the leaves; the sparkly ones winked even brighter.

“Kumquat, this is an oak leaf. It’s kind of like an arrow with feathers on the shaft behind the point. This is a maple leaf. It looks like a hand, usually with five fingers. You want to collect two hundred oak leaves. Shouldn’t take long, they’re all over. I brought a trials suit for you in case the bugs chew you up. Have fun, I’m going to pick some logs and start the mill.”

“You’re right, it didn’t take too long, and the suit helped. So, Now what?”

“Spread out the leaves. Hold each one to the light. There ya go. See how translucent some of those leaves are in the veins just back from the arrowhead. See how that’s what makes the leaves dance and sing. I’ve already applied for a Plant Patent for this genetic mutation. Keep the ones that put on the best show. That’s it. We’ll be making paper just like the Egyptians. Pulp the cellulose source, lay it out and press it, dry it, and cut it up. But in with the oak logs will be the sparkling leaves. With any luck, the trees that sprouted those leaves will have the same sparkly genetic information. We’re going to leave the mash on the drying table and come back tomorrow.”

Job done, in the bag, to the one who is my one, I myself make like a tree and, of course, leave…”

“My love, this is what passes for Haute Cuisine around these parts. Welcome to the Holler Stump.”

“More like Ho’ cuisine, looks like. It’s a bar, Romeo. Let me guess. Fish and chips wrapped in the Democrat. Pot pies. Bacon-wrapped filet mignon medallions, i.e. the odd leftover cuts die-stamped into little circles. The coffee in Illium, they say it’s mighty fine, it looks like lemon soda and it tastes like turpentine. Ya see Rom, I wanna go, but you, won’t let me go, Ya see Rom, I wanna go home.”’

“Don’t yujally hear a voice with a timbre like that round here. Specially not one singin’ a song my Pappy sang ta me when he git back from the war, the big one, ya know.” The newlyweds both looked at what could have been Man Mountain Dean’s big brother.

“Hi, Mitch. As you see, I promised to come back and I did. With my new bride. We test ran the mill this morning.” Rom turned to his better half. “Kumquat, this is Mitch Hardcastle. He’s the executor of the trust that owned the Shiny Hill parcel. His veteran dad owned the patch. Mitch owns the other side of the hill.”

“Your wife’s name is Kumquat?”

“No, it’s Mae. Early on, there was some rough going, and I told her ‘I love you, kumquat Mae.’”

“And she stuck with you, huh? Brave girl. Nice ta meetcha, Ma’am,” Mitch allowed, holding out a ham with five fingers. “Let me know if yer in the market for any more real estate, either o’ yez. Dad had a few lots in town.”

“I may take you up on that, Mitch.”

“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

“Still navigating out of the bed. When I make a mistake, it’s a doozy.”

“Biscuits, Baby. Hey, on my jog down I saw three empty storefronts that had signs saying ‘Coming Soon, but didn’t say what was coming soon. You have anything to do with that, lover boy?”

“Oh, I might, Kumquat, I might.”

“I haven’t changed my mind, you know. I pine for pine street, wanna get popped on cherry street.”

“Let’s get dressed and head to the mill. Hopefully, it worked.”

“Alrighty, then. This is the longest, drawn-outest surprise ever. And you keep saying it was because of me. Let’s hit the road, Jack.”

# # #

“Well, this is it. I feel like carrying you over the threshold of the mill, but there are too many sharp objects. Hate to lose a wife by giddiness jitters. Let’s see what we’ve got,” Rom said, hitting the light switch.

“I don’t see a thing.”

“Exactly.” The entrepreneur turned on the rolling mill and fed the end of the dried and pressed pulp into it. In 45 seconds, Rom was able to present his true love with her forgotten desire.

“A roll of clear toilet paper? What is this, a joke?”

“Two years ago you had some digestive problems. Your doctor asked you to monitor your output, floaters or sinkers, color, blood or no blood. You almost died of embarrassment, even alone in the bathroom, to answer the medically necessary questions.  You told me you thought there should be clear toilet paper. And there it is. The first ever roll of Anopaquum. Rhymes with Vacuum. Paper with zero opacity. Not only that, the process adds an electrostatic charge. Whatever is on the paper sloughs off when it hits the water. A simple sidelong glance answers all the questions.”

“I Admire your dedication to granting my wishes, even the toss-off ones.”

It’s not just you. Ecole Normale Paris did a survey of TP related habits. Scrunch or fold, single, double, triple ply, wetwipes, a whole host of attributes. The most controversial was look or don’t look. With Anopaquum, a look is really no longer staring.”

Rom noticed no segue poem from his bride. He was driving and she had a noticeable chill. He took a different bridge back to Illium.

“Hey, isn’t that your friend Mitch with no shirt on, and isn’t that one of the stores with a ‘Coming Soon’ sign?” Mae could never stay mad at her Beau for more than a half hour or so.

“Let’s see what’s happening, Kumquat.” They parked out of rung-distance from the ladder and its impossible burden. Mitch was painting a sign, an old puddle jumper plane towing a banner trumpeting “Villechaize Tattoo.” The wings read “Watch for Grand Opening.”

“So, Mitch, what’s a big landowner like you doing manual labor,” Mae’s Sheila Nawyu’s personality inquired. “Plenty of muscles, dearth of cockles..”

“Why, I’m workin’ my land, Ma’am. Little easier painting a sign than truffle hunting with a boar. Safer, too. The kids in the valley like to take chances, sometimes they see me scoping out the fungus possibilities, sometimes they get scared of Petunia. The Boar.” Mae oscillated between the two men; she knew what was going on. The three of them felt comfortable chatting about the new shop and what was going on with the paper mill. Mitch smiled when Roman explained; the newlyweds expected he would break into laughter.

“So. Mae. Your husband’s invention will minimize misplaced shame and embarrassment, won’t it?” The happy couple nodded in sync. “Good on yer, then. The master sent the novice to get the shirt of the happiest man in the world. He returned, empty-handed, after a year. The master asked what happened and was told, “He had no shirt.”

Rom and Mae walked toward the ice cream parlor. They passed another ‘Coming Soon’ store. “Performance Art, Sheila Anawyu, Impresario. Watch for Grand Opening.”

Mae sealed the end of their first marital tiff with a kiss.

“I have to be here to monitor the mutation. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself.”

“Ya know, Romeo. I guess the Bogeyman was also the Messiah…”

September 17, 2020 03:44

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.