Gary lived in a nest of shredded magazine pages. Every morning and every night, he sat in his nest and stared at a miniature television set with a black and white screen, one he had found in a junk pile. Most of Gary’s knowledge about the world above him came from the television.
His nest was located on a windowsill in the basement of an old, old spaceship. All the ship’s garbage fell into the basement through trap doors in the ceiling. Gary spent his days flying over the garbage piles, searching for scraps of food and interesting pieces of junk. He was always careful to avoid the vulture beetles that ate everything (including metal) in order to make room for more garbage.
Gary didn’t live alone on the windowsill. An octopus human hybrid lived in a cardboard box right beside him. The octopus looked just like any other octopus except he had a human face (with baggy, bloodshot eyes) and breathed oxygen and complained about all of Gary’s soap operas.
One morning, Gary sat in his nest, watching a commercial for a steakhouse located on the top floor of the ship. He wondered what it would be like to eat in a steakhouse, to eat firsthand food rather than dirty old scraps someone else had tossed out.
The octopus slouched in his cardboard box and looked out the window at the stars.
“Hey, Gary, do you see that thing out there?” the octopus asked.
“You mean that giant asteroid?” said Gary. “Yes, I see that. What about it?”
“It’s coming straight toward us,” said the octopus.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not a problem.”
“Maybe you should go upstairs and mention it to somebody,” the octopus told him, shifting his bloodshot eyes back and forth.
Gary shrugged. “I’m sure they already know.”
“Maybe not. They might not be paying any attention. Everybody’s in a big frenzy. They’re all excited about the debate or something, aren’t they?”
“They’ll see it soon enough,” said Gary, shaking his head and wishing he could enjoy his soap opera in peace. “How could anyone overlook something that size?”
“I don’t know,” the octopus went on. “When you watch the evening news, you get the impression that most of those folks upstairs aren’t too bright. You know what I mean? You may want to just run up there real quick and, you know, mention it to somebody.”
“Not now,” said Gary.
“I think you should.”
Gary cleared his throat. “I may do it later.”
“It might be too late,” said the octopus, peeking out the window.
“Why can’t I sit here in my nest and watch my program?” Gary shouted, flapping his wings and grinding his teeth. “Can you at least let me have that one luxury? Please? Every day of my life is a bland, worthless echo of the one before it. I crawl out of my nest, I fly around this dark room, I find scraps of food for us to eat, I avoid the vicious vulture beetles, and then I return to the windowsill. Television is the only oasis I have. My only other form of recreation is gazing out the window at the black, infinite void and thinking about my futile existence.”
The octopus rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to miss anything, Gary, That show is a re-run, remember? All these people die at the end.”
Gary flapped his wings and screamed, “I’ve never seen this episode before! Why do you have to ruin it for me? Why?”
“Well, now you don’t have to watch it. You know how the thing’s going to end. Now run upstairs and tell somebody about that big space rock.”
“No!” Gary yelled. “Stop harassing me!”
“It’s getting closer. And it has little red patches. Looks like lava on that thing. What about that? A big ball covered in lava is coming at us. And you want to watch soap operas.”
Gary turned away from the miniature television and looked out the window again. He realized the octopus was right. The asteroid was getting closer. And there were red patches on it.
“But how would I get upstairs?” Gary asked, trembling. “The garbage associates hardly ever come down here. The doors are locked most of the time. I couldn’t go upstairs if I wanted to.”
You’ve been reading an excerpt from The Quality of Life in Outer Space, available on Amazon. Gary is an eagle with a human head. He takes off on a journey to the top floor of the spaceship and struggles to warn the crew about the oncoming asteroid. He learns some shocking secrets along the way. The book is aimed at younger readers, but adults would get a laugh out of it too. The paperback is $5 plus shipping and handling. The Kindle edition is $1.99. You can click here to order.