Where do writers of weird fiction get their inspirations? Perhaps some of us are born slightly warped, or are made so by an early and heavy diet of sci-fi and fantasy, with a dash of Mad Magazine thrown in for good measure.
Case in point: the short story below. The inspiration was a series of zany and inspired “Tiny Elvis” skits on Saturday Night Live from many years ago. It’s my homage to many of us writers who — despite many hours of trying — often fail to achieve a proper ending for what we initially think is a sure-fire plot.
-N. E. Walker
by N. E. Walker
“Hey, man, you’re huge!”
Pete, a few stools to my left, was slouched forward and morosely staring at the brown beer bottle cupped between his gnarly fingers. Johnny the bartender had his back to me, watching the game on the ancient overhead TV. I glimpsed my reflection nestled behind the array of cheap booze set haphazardly before the mirror at the back of the bar.
“Yeah, man. Huge! Heh heh.”
I swiveled around to see if someone had sneaked up behind me, but the room was empty. My puzzlement was interrupted by a light tap against the leg of my stool, and I reflexively leaned over and peered down. A small being, about six inches high with black pompadour hair and dark sunglasses, dressed in black skin-tight leggings with a matching leather jacket that was opened half-way down his bare chest, was peering up at me.
“Hey, man, give me a hand,” he said, holding up his little arm.
I straightened up and glanced to my left. The drunk remained adrift in his own happy-hour world, and Johnny was still watching the game. I laughed, rubbed my eyes, and downed another slug of whiskey.
“C’mon, man, I don’t have all night.”
Startled, I inhaled some of my drink and coughed, spraying droplets across the top of the bar. After I wiped my mouth I cautiously peeked down over my right shoulder. The little figure was still there.
“Johnny!” I barked.
After a couple of beats, he managed to pull his eyes from the ballgame and turned around, slapping on a grudging smile. “You need another hit, Norm?” he asked.
“Johnny, take a look at this, will you’?” I tilted my head to the right.
“What?” he said.
“On the floor. What do you see?”
Johnny leaned across the bar, peering down. “Oh, hi, Elvis,” he said. “How’ve you been? Give Elvis a hand up, Norm.”
I blinked my eyes rapidly, uncomprehending, and then took the path of least resistance: I bent down and cupped my hand around the small figure, who immediately jammed his little shoes over my pinky and draped his arms across my index finger, holding firm, as though being lifted in a giant’s hand was an everyday occurrence. I raised him up and gently placed my hand on the counter, whereupon he jumped out and executed a half-twist in the air, nimbly landing with knees bent, his right arm stretched outwards, pointing dramatically at me. “Thanks, man,” he said in his unmistakable baritone, straightening up and smiling. “I don’t like stayin’ down on the floor, you know; too easy to get squashed.”
“Where’s your bodyguards?” asked Johnny.
The little man’s expression turned sour. “Johnny,” he said, frowning. “Like I’ve told you before, they’re not my bodyguards, they’re my friends. Anyway, I gave ’em the night off.”
“Sure, sure, Elvis,” said Johnny. “You want your usual?”
“This is nuts,” I said.
“Oh,” said Johnny. “Elvis, this is Norm, one of my best customers.”
“Hi, Norm, nice to meet you,” said the little man, giving me a quick glance. “Naw, Johnny, I’m not in a Pepsi mood tonight. How about a shot of that new whiskey you sampled me last week.”
“Coming right up,” said Johnny, who quickly swiveled and walked towards the back of the bar.
“This is nuts,” I said again, louder, banging down my glass.
“Hey, Norm,” said the miniature figure, turning to face me. “Your drink is huge, man. Ha, ha. Seriously, though, what’s buggin’ you?”
“What’s bugging me?” I said loudly, staring down at the tiny man, as I wrestled with a mixture of anger and fear. “I come in here most days after work for a quiet drink, and everything’s peaceful. Maybe there’s a drunk or two like Pete, sometimes a few guys are hanging out and we talk sports; occasionally a cute babe stops by. But there’s never been any miniature celebrities walk in, until tonight. So I think I’m going nuts.”
“Could be,” said the little man.
“And listen to you,” I spluttered. “There’s no way your deep voice can be coming from your tiny body. Anyone with a basic science education knows that someone your size should have a voice that’s squeaky, high-pitched. Yet you sound just like Elvis — the original big Elvis.”
“Cool, man; good observation. I dig it. But–”
“This is ridiculous! You’re just a distorted fantasy from a Saturday Night Live skit from years ago. Which means that I am going crazy, or someone spiked the booze, or maybe I’m suffering from a temporal lobe epileptic seizure, or–”
“Yeah, I did a few gigs on SNL,” interrupted the little man. “The ‘Tiny Elvis’ bit. The audience dug it, but it required some tricky special effects.”
I laughed, and slapped my hand down on the bar. “Okay, I’ve got you now, my hallucinogenic friend. Why would you need special effects since you’re already tiny?”
The little figure threw up his hands. “Norm, Norm, what mad universe are you living in, man? Don’t you remember? Everyone was tiny then, after the Celebrities War. All of us performers, anyway; the bombs didn’t affect the squares like you, obviously — Hey Johnny! Where’s my drink?”
“Oh. Sorry, Elvis, I got distracted by the game–”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, Norm, for the Tiny Elvis skits the special effects team had to make it look like everyone else except me was large, like before the war. Dig it?”
I grasped my throbbing head in my hands, and squeezed my eyes shut, hard. But when I opened them Johnny was setting down a thimble filled with some amber liquid in front of Tiny Elvis, who grabbed it with both hands and lifted it to his lips.
“Mmm. Thanks, Johnny. Hey man, while you’re here, tell Norm about the Celebrities War.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked.
“No, Johnny. Your buddy Norm here appears to be suffering from amnesia.”
“Well–” started Johnny, giving me a puzzled look.
“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “This is absurd! There’s been no ‘Celebrities War,’ and this — this Tiny Elvis person here — well, he’s not real!”
Johnny cocked his head and pursed his lips, like bartenders do when they’re getting ready to tell you that you can’t have another drink. “Hey, Norm,” he said, firmly, “I really appreciate you being a regular customer, you know, but… well, if you’re going to insult Elvis, then I’m going to have to ask you–”
Elvis walked in between us, waving his arms at Johnny. “Hey, Johnny,” he said, “it’s cool, it’s cool. Maybe Norm has a point.”
Johnny froze, and then shrugged and walked away. “Whatever you say, Elvis,” he muttered.
“Damn straight,” I mumbled. “This must be just a dream.”
Elvis turned to face me. “Aw, Norm, no, that’s so lame. That’s an old hackneyed plot. It would never sell.”
“Yeah, Norm, don’t you get it? If you don’t remember the Celebrities War, then maybe this is just a story.”
“What? A story? That doesn’t make any sense.” I felt the room spinning and tightly grasped the edge of the bar.
“Whoa, Norm, hang in there. Hear me out, man. We can test my theory. Scoop me up and jump up and run out the front door. But don’t squeeze me, man, I don’t want to get crushed.”
“I don’t get it,” I said softly, fearing I was having a breakdown.
“Just do what I ask, man, and you’ll see.”
“Okay,” I said. I gritted my teeth, lightly grasped Tiny Elvis, and then jumped up and ran over to the front door and pushed it open, stepping out onto the sidewalk.
“Look!” he shouted.
I gazed across the street towards where his tiny arm was pointing. The row of buildings was hazy, indistinct, as though we were looking at an abstract muddled painting, or a shoddy facade on the back lot of a low-budget movie set.
“See!” yelled Tiny Elvis. “He can’t keep up.”
As we stared across the street, the buildings started to become more defined. Windows appeared, and then their frames. Bricks and stonework and doors and alleyways suddenly emerged from the former blankness, their empty grayish hues rapidly replaced by evening pastels, tinged yellow by the setting sun. Vehicles popped into existence in front of us, accompanied by beeping horns, the smell of exhaust, and the light hissing of tires as they spun along pavement made damp by an earlier rain. A moist breeze stirred, and the sidewalk erupted with evening revelers, bombarding us with snippets of laughter and conversation as they scurried past.
“We caught him off guard,” said Tiny Elvis.
“I… I still don’t get it,” I stuttered, amazed at what I had witnessed.
“Norm, buddy, you’re pretty slow. Take me back inside and I’ll explain.”
As I turned around I glanced quickly to my left, staring down the street. The scene was hazy, just stick figures of people and cars, set against an amorphous bland background. But immediately the view started to become more solid, like watching an artist apply pen and ink to a penciled sketch, then quickly dabbing in vivid colors. I pulled open the door.
“Hey, man, careful,” said Tiny Elvis. “Don’t squeeze.”
“Sorry, Elvis,” I said, loosening my grip. I walked us back inside, set Elvis down carefully on the bar, and slid onto my stool. “Okay, Elvis,” I said, trying to stay calm, “I give up. What’s going on?”
“Norm,” he said, flinging his hands up in exasperation, “haven’t you ever heard an author say that a story wrote itself? Hey, man, this is one of those stories! Except the author can’t keep up; the story’s running on ahead, faster than the author can describe it. Maybe the author’s exhausted or drunk. Who knows?”
My mouth dropped open. It made sense, in a crazy sort of way. Elvis was staring at me patiently, tiny hands on his famous tiny hips. “Yeah, Elvis,” I finally muttered. “I think I’m starting to understand. We’re just characters that–” The top of the bar abruptly turned black, inscribed with an array of white-lettered squares. Elvis’s legs were straddling the K and the L, his body tense and eyes filled with fear. His right arm shot up as he pointed over my head.
“Norm!” he shouted. “Man, that finger is huge!”
I jerked around and tilted my head back, watching in horror as the giant hand swiftly fell towards us, its index finger aimed at the square marked Del.