The story of Scott and Daphne, plus assorted lizards, faires, and other odd creatures continues. If you missed part one, you probably ought to go back and read it now. Here’s your handy-dandy link: Click Here!
In case you forgot why I’m posting this tale here: it’s part of a continuing dialog about turning short stories into short novels, which seem to have become popular among ebook readers. Thank you, MTV. Herewith, the conclusion of “Channel Zero.” [See note following.]
Our Story Continues…
Scott held a chair for his boss, Hiram Spinaldi. The older man lowered his bulk into it with a prolonged huff, like air being forced from a beach ball. Scott nodded to Daphne to turn on the big monitor at the back of the room. “I know this may be a little hard to believe,” he said, “but it explains everything. We just aren’t sure how to deal with it. I’d like your input.”
Spinaldi said nothing, but dug his chins into his chest and crossed his arms. The corners of his mouth were turned down so far they almost touched his wrists. “This had better be good, Pettigrew. There’s been an increase in the number of inquiries about your job lately.”
Scott swallowed and checked his watch for the hundredth time. Daphne stepped away from the set, and they all waited.
The screen remained dark.
“Give him another minute or so,” Scott said.
“The, uhm, one responsible for our signals being so… confused.”
Spinaldi pursed his lips as he stared over the tops of his glasses first at Scott, then at Daphne. He began to check his watch nearly as often as Scott.
With the blue lizard twenty minutes overdue, and Scott out of excuses, Spinaldi heaved himself to his feet and walked to the door. He turned to face his subordinates. “You’re fired, Pettigrew. I have no more time to waste on incompetents.”
“Mr. Spinaldi, wait!” Daphne said.
The old man squinted at her. “Why?”
“It’s not his fault! If you’d just–”
“You want to join him? Fine. You’re both fired! You have thirty minutes to clear your personal belongings out of the building. And if I ever see another unscheduled fairy on one of my channels, I’ll have you arrested!” He slammed the door behind him.
“He’s as bad as Dashgarnefel,” said the lizard from the back of the room.
Scott wanted to kill something. “Where’ve you been?”
The lizard blinked. “Right here, of course.”
“No way!” Daphne said. “We’ve been watching the screen the whole time.”
“You didn’t expect me to transmit with that nasty thing in the room, did you?” The lizard shivered.
“Way too much negative energy.”
“I’ll give you negative energy!” Scott grumbled, his fists shaking.
Daphne put her hand on his arm. “Punching TV screens is a bad idea; trust me.”
The lizard nodded. “Besides, what makes you think he’d listen to me?”
“Couldn’t you spritz him with a little magic?” Daphne asked. “Something to make him human? I’d really like to get my job back.” She put the Dr. Pepper can to her lips and discovered it was empty.
“Thirsty?” The lizard held up a long-stemmed glass, the contents of which changed colors as rapidly as his robe. He traced a symbol in the air over his head and blew it toward them. Seconds later the goblet appeared on a desk between the stunned humans.
“That’s amazing!” Scott said.
The lizard curled its talons and blew on them.
Daphne looked puzzled. “If you can do stuff like that, why can’t you solve your own problem?”
The lizard sighed. “My range is limited. Do you think I’d be talking to you if I could change things on my own?”
Scott looked at the goblet, then at the lizard. “Your magic is limited? How much?”
“I’ve got enough to pump my programs to any of your channels, and out to all your subscribers.”
“Then why can’t you contact the FCC as well?”
The lizard removed its pointed cap and scratched its head. “That’s a problem. This is a visual medium, right? But there aren’t any TV sets where the FCC meets. With a monitor handy, I can work wonders, provided it’s hooked to your system. So far, you two are the only humans I’ve talked to.”
Daphne shook her head. “Just us?”
The lizard donned its cap. “Yep.”
“So what do we do now?” Scott asked.
“Like I said before, get me my own frequency.”
“So be it. Be sure and tune in for the trolls company picnic tomorrow. It’s an all-day affair.”
Scott and Daphne reached Feeney’s Fireside Lounge about a half hour before Scott’s wife and her handsome young attorney made their appearance. In the couple’s wake trailed a dozen people Scott didn’t know.
He watched his soon-to-be-ex use one of his credit cards to pay for the first round of drinks. The attorney raised his glass in a toast, but Scott couldn’t hear it. When his credit card was produced for the second round, Scott got to his feet.
“Another bad idea,” Daphne said.
“You’re probably right. If I live through this, promise to drag me someplace where I can heal, okay?”
Daphne shrugged and Scott wandered over to the congenial group surrounding his wife. “Why, Bertha,” he crowed, swaying a bit from two hastily consumed highballs. He grabbed the back of her chair for balance. “Fancy meeting you here!”
“It’s Berta,” she said pointedly. “Why don’t you crawl back under your rock?” She nodded at her well‑muscled companion. “Or do you need help?”
“No need for alarm, Bertie, I just thought I’d say hi.” He bobbed toward her chest, then away. “These new glasses are hell,” he said. “I thought for a minute there your boobs were the same size! How silly of me. Did you ever find the guy who did the work?”
Berta’s attorney was on his feet but had to circle the table and maneuver through a crowd before he reached Scott who was gesturing with both hands. “You can get damn near anything at K‑mart these days! Nobody pays retail for boo–”
When the lights slowly came back on, Daphne’s fuzzy but concerned face peered at him from a few inches away. “Am I dead?” Scott asked.
“Not yet.” Daphne draped a cold washcloth on his forehead.
Scott pushed the wet rag from his eyes and squinted at the unfamiliar room. “Where–”
“My place,” Daphne said. “You can sleep on the couch if you want.”
Scott’s jaw felt as if someone had unhinged it. “How badly did I hurt him?”
It took a while, but Daphne finally stopped laughing. “He was on the boxing team at some Ivy League school. You were gone before the end of the first inning.”
“Whatever.” She touched his face. “How long do you think it’ll stay swollen like that?”
Scott winced and struggled to his feet. “It’s okay to be ugly when you’re dead. And the way I feel, I must be close.”
“You aren’t ugly; you’re–”
“–wounded.” She handed him a key. “Your wife asked me to give you this. She had your stuff put in storage. She said she wanted to send it to the moon, but couldn’t afford the shipping, and figured you’d press charges if she had it burned.
Scott wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell?” Then he looked down at his clothes. “Oh, my God! It’s me!”
Daphne put her hand in front of her face and tried to hide her smile. It didn’t work. “That’s my fault, I’m afraid. It happened when I was hauling you here from the car.”
“You carried me here?”
“Not exactly. I draped you over a garbage can–it’s the only thing I could find with wheels.”
He looked again at his clothes. “Are you sure you didn’t put me in it?”
She laughed. “I’m positive. But you did fall off a couple times.”
“I can remember a time when I would’ve been upset by that.” Scott smiled. “Now I’m just glad you’re so resourceful.”
Daphne blushed. “Why don’t we get your stuff on the way back to the office?”
“Did I miss something else while I was out? Last I heard we’d been fired.”
“While you were, uhm, resting, I had some time to think. We’ve got a lot in common, y’know?”
“Sure. No family. No money. No prospects.”
Scott groaned. “You make it sound so hopeful.”
She punched him on the shoulder. “Anyway, I’ve got an idea, but we’ll need to talk to the lizard.”
Scott shrugged. “Why not? What’ve we got to lose?”
“My thoughts exactly,” Daphne said. “Let’s go. I’ll explain in the car.”
Scott and Daphne slipped past the guard while he yelled at the Orioles for completing a double play. They sneaked down the hallway to the control room and entered the area as if they’d been deep in conversation for some time.
Ralph Murchison, the night shift operator, looked up at them. “Yo, Daffy!” He waved his coffee and a Twinkie at her. “I thought you got canned. What’re you doin’ here?”
“Fired? Me?” She looked at Scott as if Ralph were an escaped mental patient. “You just want my shift, right? Wishful thinking.”
Ralph looked dubious but didn’t argue.
“I need your help,” Scott said. “We’re having a problem reading the schematics for some of the feeds. Daphne said you were the best at figuring the damn things out.”
Smiling despite the Twinkie cream on his chin, Ralph pushed away from his desk and waddled closer. “Sure, let’s go.” He followed Scott out of the room.
Two minutes later, Scott returned alone.
“You didn’t hurt him, did you?” Daphne asked.
“Nah. Just locked him in the janitor’s closet. I hope they don’t start cleaning up too early tonight.”
Daphne glanced at the digital wall clock. “Me, too. C’mon.”
They hurried to the back of the room and stared–first at the space where the big monitor used to be, then at each other. “Forget it,” Daphne said. “It’s not like he would’ve been there waiting for us.”
“I’d kind of hoped–”
“Forget it. I figure our best chance is to find out which channels are getting through to his world. Then maybe we can send him some kind of signal.”
Scott shook his head. “Maybe we ought to just leave now and head for the border. We could be miles away before anyone knows we’re even gone.”
“You don’t have to stay,” Daphne said. “I’ll do what I can by myself.”
He grinned. “I’m not that big a creep!”
Daphne grinned, too. “I knew that.”
“So, now what?”
“I say we start with the most offensive channel and work backward. I can type out a message that’ll appear on every screen we broadcast. If he’s watching, he’ll see it.”
“The phones’ll go nuts! Spinaldi’ll be here in a heartbeat.”
“I bet he’s already in bed,” Daphne said.
“What message were you going to use?”
“How about ‘Yo, lizard!'”
Scott frowned. “Would you respond if someone put up a message that said, ‘Yo, babe!”
Daphne straightened. “Me? You think of me as a babe?”
“Sure! Haven’t you ever looked at yourself in a mirror? Sheesh. Anyway, why don’t we say something like: ‘Hold off on the troll’s picnic; we need to talk.'”
Daphne seemed to be in a bit of a trance but quickly shook loose. “Yeah, that’ll do.” She slipped into a chair in front of the control console and reached for a keyboard. “I’ll go scroll it on all channels. There’s no telling which ones the lizard gets.”
Within moments, they heard a familiar voice. “You called?”
Scott and Daphne looked up at the bank of TV monitors. The powder blue lizard/wizard occupied all of them. Daphne stared down at the control panel. “How does he do that?”
“Later,” Scott said. “I’m going to check on our friend in the janitor’s closet. I’ll be right back.” He slipped a thumb drive from the desk into his pocket and stepped into the hallway.
The lizard squinted. “Where’s he going? I thought you wanted to talk.”
“We do,” Daphne said. “But we don’t have much time. We hoped you could help us get our jobs back. We had to break in here just to talk to you.”
Suddenly, Scott dashed back into the control room, slammed the door shut, and locked it. He turned away from the lizard and winked at Daphne. “Our guy, Murchison, is loose.” He dragged a desk in front of the door. “The cops will be here soon.”
The lizard blinked. “Murchison? Cops? I don’t care about any of that. All I want to know is whether you’ve figured out how to preserve my frequency!”
“No,” Scott said, “we haven’t, but we’ve thought of something even more important. If you keep broadcasting on our frequencies, the commercial interests here will want to tap into your market.”
The lizard frowned but remained quiet.
“And once they get a toe-hold, it won’t be long before they take over the whole thing. Your friendly little Public Access channels will be squeezed out. You’d get nothing but game shows, soaps, and reruns of ‘Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie.'”
The lizard looked stricken. “Dashgarnefel will have me stuffed!”
“Too bad,” Scott said, “especially since Daphne here could probably find a way to block the signals cluttering your network.”
“She could?” The lizard’s eyes grew wide.
Daphne squared her shoulders. “Sure, no problem.”
“Too bad she hates Public Access,” Scott said.
Daphne touched Scott’s shoulder. “Do you hear sirens?”
“What’s wrong with Public Access?” demanded the lizard.
“Nothing, provided you like banal programming executed with an utter lack of originality. That’s all you can expect from amateurs.” She sighed. “Without a knowledgeable director, the big networks will eat you up.”
“A director? Then what would be left for me?”
Daphne laughed. “You’d be the big shot–the Producer! Your job would be to wander around looking important, entertaining royalty–”
“Discovering new talent?” asked Scott.
Daphne shot him a look.
“But how could I lure a director away from one of the big studios?”
“A promise of wealth would do the trick,” Scott said. He cocked an ear toward the hallway. “Uh-oh. Hear that? Cops!”
“But I don’t have great wealth; we don’t care about that in our world!”
“Then you’d need to find someone who had to leave for other reasons.” Daphne looked at Scott. “Someone with the skills you need and no reason to stick around here.” She frowned. “Now I can hear footsteps, too.”
“It sounds like an army out there!” the lizard said.
Scott nodded. “A SWAT team most likely. They’re almost here. We’re sunk.” He looked at the lizard. “You, too.”
“Maybe not.” The lizard’s image faded from all the screens but one. He began to trace smoky runes in the air. “Can you step a little closer?”
Though he agreed to have his name stenciled on the back of his canvas director’s chair, Scott refused to wear either the beret or the scarf the lizard offered him. On the set of his latest dramatic effort, he winced as a buxom blonde elf muffed her lines for the twentieth time.
“Listen, Galadriel, trust me on this. Blanche Dubois would never throw pixie dust in Stanley’s face and fly away–honest!”
Daphne stepped behind him and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Take five!” he yelled.
“Tough day at the office?” she asked. “I thought this is what you wanted.”
He smiled. “It is. I hope I wanted the right thing.” He put his hand on hers. “Were you able to fix the transmission problem?”
She nodded. “Yep. We can turn off the signals in either direction any time we want, and the lizard showed me how to peek in on what’s going on back at the cable company.”
Scott sighed. “Who cares? We’re safe here. We’ve left the old lives behind.”
She stepped around to the front of the chair and sat in his lap. “Then it doesn’t interest you at all that I saw Berta in Spinaldi’s office? I think she was auditioning for something.”
Scott laughed. “I really don’t care; they deserve each other. The only thing I regret is not being able to bring along a copy of the Stormtrooper spot.”
Daphne shook her head. “You’d take a chance on letting the lizard see it?”
“Sure. I just wouldn’t want him to hear it–again.”