The Mad Scientist, Part II
You need to see the alien’s face!”
That was the Mad Scientist’s greeting to me on a late winter’s day. I had snuck into his cold, disintegrating mansion, crept up the stairs and tip-toed through the Great Room littered with a week’s worth of empty coffee brandy bottles. I had a free afternoon and was gonna help cut firewood.
I stopped to examine a bicycle wheel, sans tire and tube, laying on its side atop his eating and drinking table. Plastic spoons stuck out like extended spokes along the entire circumference of the wheel. In the concavity of each spoon, the Mad Scientist had glued magnets and tiny pieces of broken mirror. I had no idea what the freakish wheel was supposed to do, but it had certainly taken time and effort to build.
I swung the kitchen door open, surprising him. Sitting in his chair beside a smoldering ashtray, wrapped in a sleeping bag, he was staring at the TV, engrossed in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
“You need to see the alien’s face,” he repeated, like we were in mid-conversation. “It’s friggin’ wild.”
“Wanna smoke a joint,” I asked, knowing he was jonesing, “and enjoy the rest of your show?”
“I ain’t watching that. Just waiting for the weather,” he said, even though the next news with a forecast was still hours away. He waved at the TV like it was an irritant. “Gonna friggin’ snow again,” he groaned, “or maybe rain, which is worse. Building’s gonna flood if it rains ’cuz all the snow on the roof will melt and pour right inside, like a waterfall.” He stood and dropped the sleeping bag on the floor. “Let’s smoke the joint downstairs, so you check out the alien’s face.”
I followed him through a rough hole hacked in the floor and down a shaky ladder to the furnace room, where his wood stove lived. He claimed the heat rose and kept the kitchen toasty, which wasn’t true. It was never warm upstairs, except during the height of summer. The furnace room, however, was wicked hot, so the Mad Scientist stripped out of his insulated coveralls.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the wall. “It’s friggin’ amazin’!”
I didn’t see anything. The wall, stud-framed and insulated with pink fiberglass, was covered in a thick, almost opaque, plastic.
“See! See! See!” his voice grew louder. “Do you see the outline of the face?”
“Ahhhhh,” I stalled, “not really.”
“Here,” he said, touching the wall with his stub of a forefinger mutilated two decades earlier during an industrial mishap. “This is the top of his head,” and he traced a line down and around the creased plastic. “This is the chin,” he said. “And this is his nose. Here’s his eyes. But he don’t have ears. This kind of alien don’t need ears. They communicate telepathically.”
“Really?” I said, still examining the wall. “Hmmm.”
“Yesterday, when I was stoking the fire, I discovered the alien’s face. Wasn’t there the day before, I know it.” He paused. “Where’s that joint?”
I handed it to him, he sparked up and inhaled deeply while I gazed at the wall. Still no sign of the face. He passed the joint and I toked while he traced the outline again.
“Yesterday, the shape was more obvious,” he said. “Like he’d just done it. Fresh, you know?”
I, of course, believe in aliens. I’m not so self-centered as to think Earth is the only place in the universe where life exists. But I had a hard time believing an alien had landed in Eastport, unobserved, and visited the Mad Scientist’s furnace room to trace an outline of his face on the wall. I wanted to see it, though. I would have loved to see it, to prove that this fella, my pal and constant colleague in hard labor and more, wasn’t completely nuts.
He babbled while we smoked the joint, continuing his speculations about the meaning of the alien face. I knew this would turn into another of his astonishing tales, like “My Miraculous Alaskan Survival Story,” or “I Was Sucked Into a Wringer-Washer as a Kid, Which Is Why I Have a Vaginal-Looking Scar for an Armpit,” or the classic “How I Perfected Salmon-Farming” lecture. “Alien Visitation,” however, turned out to be a tad more believable than the previous winter’s “A Deer is Living in My Attic,” a tale that was disproved and abandoned after a fat raccoon fell through the crumbling ceiling of the Mad Scientist’s boudoir, then scurried away, escaping into the bowels of the hundred-room house.
“C’mon, I’m here to help with firewood,” I said when we finished the joint. “Let’s go find some trees.”
The Mad Scientist had been burning green wood all winter, thanks to the spruce he’d been chopping down on his neighbor’s undeveloped, three-acre lot. He’d taken a couple dozen so far, convinced the out-of-staters would never notice. I kept my mouth shut, but the jagged stumps were beginning to outnumber the remaining trees.
“We can cut wood later,” he said, always eager to put off work. “Think about this. You know when people see the silhouette of the Virgin Mary or Jesus on a wall or a tortilla, then thousands of people visit? All sorts of money to be made. If people came to Eastport to see the alien face, then we could sell them stuff.”
Like what? He didn’t own much that was sellable. Not many alien-face pilgrims would want his almost-complete collection of Life magazines, carelessly stored, water-stained and moldering. Or the 3,000 square feet of clear oak flooring he ripped up from the auditorium. What else? The thick plates of steel we harvested from the bank vault demolition? Piles of scrap lumber? Old tires? Garbage bags full of asbestos?
“Maybe we can give tours of the building,” he said, “and charge ’em to see the alien face.” The Mad Scientist’s face suddenly brightened. “Follow me, I gotta show you something!”
We headed to the Great Room.
“This. This, is it,” he said, picking up the bike wheel with plastic spoons. “I figured it out.”
My gut told me that it had something to do with one of his two obsessions: perpetual-motion machines or the secrets of space travel. I was half-right. The device, he announced, was the answer to both of his manias.
We stood there, examining his work. Then he took the wheel and placed it on a stand I hadn’t noticed before.
“This,” he said, “is just the model. I’m gonna build a larger scale one. Gonna need stronger magnets. Rare earth magnets. And I still haven’t figured out the transaxle equation for the bigger model. But I’ll get to it. See, it’s a mix of magnetic propulsion and solar power, fueled by the sun, or by …” He paused and broke into his jack-o-lantern grin, ran his fingers through his curly blondish mop and removed his eyeglasses, which were held together with duct tape. “Star power,” he said with reverence.
“Wow,” I said. “Awesome.”
“Watch this,” he said, spinning the wheel. “Whaddya think?”
The wheel went round and round. The list of unfinished and half-started projects in his manse was overwhelming. He owed thousands in back property taxes. Tens of thousands in back federal and state income tax. His only job was seasonal work for a rich guy who ripped him off at every opportunity. Sex was a distant memory. Love was an unknown emotion. His house was collapsing around him. He was always hungry and hurting. Lonely and sad. Or drunk and angry.
His life would have broken a weaker man. Or killed a saner one.
“Great!” I said. “Wanna smoke another joint?”
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