With some effort the dudes were able to clarify with the snorkelpooch officials that a sponsor was essential for them to get passage through their section of the galaxy, and the only alternative to seven years service doing something having to do with splatchbladders was to put on a talent show.
Tim hated talent shows. Glorified displays of dreams waiting to be shattered. Encouraging kids to seek stardom when they should be studying math, English, and explosives.
They sat on the floor in the very small oblong cell they shared, no chairs and no beds, but it was the only place available where the walls didn’t sweat and the floor didn’t cry when you stepped on it.
“This is ridiculous,” he said.
“Think of it as a cultural exchange,” said Nate.
Tim held up his fist. “How about I exchange your front teeth?”
“Ti-im.” Jack covered Tim’s fist with his hand and turned on his Mr. Rogers imitation. “These nice alien creatures have no concept of time, see? And seven years doing anything with splatchbladders will not be a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Sometimes boys and girls have to do things they don’t want to. Sure. Mm-hm. Have you ever had to do anything you didn’t want to, Tim?”
Tim made a grinding noise in the back of his throat. “I’m not going to dance like some poodle in a dog show.”
Jack let go of his fist and laid back.
“What other talents do you have?” asked Nate.
“He excels at cow tipping,” said Bradley.
Nate scowled. “You didn’t.”
Tim grinned. “Don’t judge.”
“Well, there aren’t any cows around. What can you do?” asked Nate.
“Guys.” Jack’s sat up. “Let’s just each find our own thing and put on the freaking show so we can get out of here. Can you come up with something, Tim?”
Tim shook his head. “Yeah.”
“Great. I’ll tell them.”
“Like a damn poodle.”
The next day the snorkelpooches escorted them into a wide, disorienting area they hadn’t been to yet. Except for a section in the center, the floor was full of the usual suction cups, but Tim couldn’t make out the shape of the room because it was impossible to focus on the ceiling or the walls.
The snorkelpooches positioned them in the clear section and filled up the room. Tim couldn’t see a single open suction cup, the aliens sitting quietly, looking like two or three blobs stacked on top of each other, it made Tim think of some demented Willie Wonka scene with an endless array of soft-serve ice cream without the cones. Once they sat down, the snorkelpooches were uncharacteristically still instead of morphing into uncountable shapes.
The aliens didn’t seem to be doing anything, so Tim gave Jack a nudge. Jack took the center. “Hello… er… snorkelpooches and… er other snorkelpooches. Today we present an intergalactic talent show starring four dudes from the planet earth, and we invite you to sponsor us to travel through snorkelpooch space.”
He looked over nervously. Tim chuckled. Who should he throw to the dogs first?
“Bradley, step up here.”
Tim and Nate sat on the floor as Bradley stepped up and beamed, his eyes bulging behind his Coke-bottle glasses. “This is a lot like my mom’s street mime preservation club.”
“Great, Bradley. What are you going to show us today.”
“Comedy. Shear, unadulterated comedy.”
Jack held his palm out. “I present you Bradley MacGoohan and his comedy act.”
The snorkelpooches bubbled a little, but otherwise didn’t move.
Jack sat next to Tim and whispered. “It’s eerie how still they are. Like this is dead serious or something.”
“Hello, ladies and lifeforms,” said Bradley.
“This is going to be painful,” whispered Tim.
“How many aliens does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Bradley waited a beat. “None. Lightbulbs are an earth invention.” Bradley laughed and spread out his hands as if waiting for the audience to respond.
Tim groaned. The snorkelpooches remained silent.
“Why did the chicken cross the galaxy?” Bradley put his finger to his head. “He was abducted by a Kalakalite.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” said Nate.
“What is black and white and red all over?” Bradley started laughing before the punchline. “An excited snorkelpooch convict.”
In spite of himself, Tim couldn’t help chortling at that one.
Suddenly every snorkelpooch in the room grew spines on their top blobs, a veritable army of sea urchins. The translator crackled. “BAWK reject.”
Bradley’s grin faded to an expression of confusion.
Jack got up and pulled him back. “Thank you, Bradley.”
“I guess they don’t appreciate the cerebral stuff.” Bradley shuffled over to Tim and sat.
“Next I have Nathaniel Fullwood. What are you going to do for us, Nate?”
Nate hissed in Jack’s ear. “I can’t remember the words.”
“Who cares. They won’t know the difference.”
Jack backed away and sat with the others.
“I’m going to sing an earth song titled ‘Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’”
“Oh, brother,” said Tim.
Nate cleared his throat, started the song with the wrong lyrics, and garbled up the rest of them, singing in fits and starts. When he hit the high notes, Tim covered his ears. Nate sounded like a goose getting played like a bagpipe.
Before he could finish the song, the snorkelpooches went full sea urchin. “BAWK reject.”
“I was just getting warmed up,” said Nate.
“It’s okay,” said Jack. “We all have off nights.”
“Yeah,” said Tim. “But only when you sing.”
Jack introduced Tim.
Tim just wanted to get it over with. He did some backflips and walked on his hands. The aliens remained quiet until he pulled three of the rubbery clumps of food they provided out of his pockets and started juggling. It must have offended them somehow, because they immediately turned into urchins and the translator barked. “BAWK ask BAWK stop it. BAWK reject, BAWK reject, BAWK reject.”
Tim let the clumps fall into his hand. “Really?” He stuffed them into his pockets. “After that last act, you find this bad?”
“Dang,” said Jack. “I was hoping we’d have a sponsor by now.”
“Git on up there,” said Tim.
Jack stepped to the middle and started beat-boxing, then went into M.C. Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ making the M.C Hammer dance moves as he went.
Tim laughed and rolled on the floor. Nate giggled, and Bradley started rapping along, bopping his head.
Spikes erupted everywhere. “BAWK reject.”
“No!” yelled Tim. “That was good. You gotta sponsor us.”
“We need you to sponsor us,” said Jack. “We went through a lot of trouble putting on this show for you.”
“Wait,” said Nate. “We’ve got one more act.”
Nate pulled them together. “Remember when we tamed the space gremlins with ‘Scarborough Fair?’ Bradley and Tim whistled harmony while Jack beat boxed and I voiced the base notes.”
“Have to admit, it sounded pretty good,” said Jack.
“Can’t hurt,” said Tim.
They stepped up together and Jack introduced them as ‘Four Dudes and a Universe.’
The performance went okay, though Nate went a little off key a bit and Bradley lost his place twice.
When it was finished they waited quietly. The snorkelpooches hesitated, but all at once they spiked. “BAWK reject.”
“Shit,” said Tim. “Dammit, Nate, you went off key.”
“You did, too. Thanks for seven years of splatchbladders.”
“Go to hell, jerk.”
Tim lunged for him, and they tumbled onto the floor. Tim raised his fist and Jack tackled him, pulling him right up to the edge of the snorkelpooches. Jack pulled him up. “Calm down, asshat.”
“I’ve got seven years to calm down. You calm down.” Tim gave Jack a shove.
Jack pushed him back and slapped him on the forehead. They closed into a grapple and fell on top of Nate who was just starting to get up. Nate pulled himself out and Bradley poked him in the eyes with two fingers.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“You’re supposed to put your hand flat in front of your nose to block it,” said Bradley.
Tim and Jack got to their feet, still grappling.
“This isn’t a game,” said Nate.
“Nyah, nyah, nyah,” said Bradley and slapped Nate three times.
Nate grabbed his arms and pushed him down. Bradley rolled back and hopped up in a karate stance, then ran at Nate. Nate side stepped, and Bradley ran into the other two knocking them into the ground.
After fighting back and forth for a bit, they noticed the chamber burst with bright reds and blues. They stopped and gaped, Jack with Bradley in a headlock, Bradley pulling on Tim’s leg, Nate elbowing Tim’s ribs, who had him by the hair, giving him a noogie. The snorkelpooches changed colors and shapes like a Christmas display on acid.
“BAWK accept. BAWK accept. BAWK sponsor. BAWK sponsor. BAWK accept. BAWK BAWK BAWK.”