Monday, January 28, 2013

Laugh Track

Bill Ribber was an early-retired man who'd spent the last twelve of his forty-seven years living quite easily on the four-percent annual interest of his accumulated three million dollars. Of course, shortly after he discovered wealth did he discover an unbound love for donuts, cakes, and all things frosted, sugared, and armed-to-the-jimmies with calories. A pie and a platter of brownies were constant tenants on the second shelf of his four-floor refrigerator. They shared a certain likeness to the tenants of floors one, three, and an apartment drawer on floor four respectively.

Now, Bill Ribber considered himself a rather sharp man. He fancied himself keen of the senses, and able to spy even the tiniest fruit fly crawling sneakily behind the toaster and other counter top wares. Yet it wasn't until one evening—after a supper of pork which lasted three rounds—while he was shaking his tenants for rent that he heard something. This was not an unfamiliar something, mind you, it was something that had been with Bill all his life. It was simply now that he happened to have heard it. A cartoonish wooooop noise as his eyes traveled the fridge from bottom to top.

“What was that?” Bill asked over his shoulder. Only the click and buzz of the flickering over-sink lamp answered. With a shrug, Bill turned back to his refrigerator. There was a certain slice of cheesecake which had been calling to him for at least an hour.

But there it was again as he fell back into the fridge. That almost classic wooooop as though Bugs Bunny had tossed something high into the air. Bill snapped up at once, warily looking from side to side over his crunched nose. Something like a boar that thought itself a crocodile. Then quickly it became a mouse as the kitchen was flooded with laughter.

Boisterous, over-the-top laughter. The kind that isn't really humored—is in reality probably disgusted—but has to keep up appearances. The kind that generally makes you want to shove a brick in its owner's mouth, because it is far louder and more syllabic than any proper laughter has a right to be. Then of course is the clap. That single clap as though somehow the asphyxiated imposter-laugher could draw air through the skin of their hands. And this laughter of at least twenty invisible people chased Bill from the kitchen, and followed him (accompanied by a flight of piano keys) as he dashed up the stairs. Finally they simmered with the slam of his bedroom door, though there was a final “Bun-dun!” that chimed from the air.

His wife, a depressed woman three years his senior yet uncountable weight classes his junior, bolted up from her pillows. The book she was reading clattered to the ground. “Bill, what's going on?”

“Do you hear that?” His breath came in short bursts. His lungs screamed beneath his soft, pillowy chest. Sweat glazed his flesh. He pointed to the ceiling as he spoke.

“Hear what?” Her wide eyes darted to the ceiling, then back at Bill, then at the ceiling again.

“The laughing. The music. There's music and laughing. Do you hear it?” Bill didn't move. He stared at her with eyes so wide that it was easy to miss the tiny iris and pupil in the center.

“I don't hear anything,” she said nervously. Her forehead began to sweat.

“You, you don't hear that? You don't hear anything?” He sounded incredulous.

“Not a thing.”

“Well figure that.” Bill crossed his arms. As he did, a trumpeting brumph echoed from the room's corners. At once he was off the floor, then back down with a slam that sounded disastrous for the ceiling underneath. Laughter erupted through the cracks. “That! That! You hear it, don't you?”

“Oh, Bill.” Her voice was sad, almost pleading. “Bill, honey, don't do this. Please don't do this.”

“Do what?” He demanded, tossing his arms to the side. A motion followed by something like an accordion.

She was sobbing now, holding a clean tissue to her eyes. It didn't seem to wet, but her eyes sparkled like oceans all the same. “Oh Bill. Oh dear. Oh no, no. Oh please, dear, not again. No.”

“Not again what?” He was near fuming now. Was the music all Jess's doing? The laughing? Of course, it hit him suddenly. “It's your cousins, isn't it? You let Jed and all his country bumpkin brothers have some kind of party here. Of course. That must be it! That must be!”

“No, Bill. It's not. Jed is-”

He held out an open palm, shushing her with his lips and his eyes. “Not another word, Jess. I want them out. I want them out now. I'm kicking them out, Jess, and I don't want them back in.”

With that he twirled on his padded heels and raced through the door. All the time he was followed by a frantic orchestra of pianos and trumpets and flutes and all sorts of unusual sounding instruments. And when his foot hit the stairs, subsequently flying out from beneath him, there was that sound again. Wooooop as his monstrous body, for a moment, glided through the air. Just before the crash he heard again, just briefly, the forced, untrue cackling. Then there was fireworks. Flashes of red, blue, green, white, yellow. And then black.

For the first time in over a decade, Bill's feet didn't scream to be relieved of duty. In fact, no part of him felt extraodinarily unaccustomed to movement. He thought at first that he was submerged in water, but he didn't feel wet. When he opened his eyes everything was white excite for the sky, which was the most beautiful shade of blue he'd ever set eyes on.

He tried climbing to his feet, but he found that the ground was not solid. Really, it was not ground at all, but clouds. Big, poofy, white, cotton candy clouds. This didn't seem to frighten him at all, as the weightless feeling had made him somewhat high. He found that he could float around in a manner similar to swimming, with his arms out before him and pushing the air back behind.

A certain light seemed to call him from between two clouds, and he swam to it. All the while he was accompanied, but not alarmed by, a serene, almost hypnotic music. And when he came to peer behind the clouds there was a short medley of discovery.

A blue man sat at a piano. At least, the bottom part was a piano, but really it was a teetering tower of drums, trumpets, violins, flutes, triangles, whistles, back scratchers, rubberbands, and anything else that could be used to make an effective noise. The blue man stopped playing and rose from his stool. He looked at Bill with deep purple eyes, frowned, and took a steep bow.

“Who are you?” Bill asked, though he hadn't expected his voice to work.

“I am the orchestrator of the universe.” The blue man said plainly.

“Where am I?”

“You're dead, if that isn't obvious enough yet.”


“Clearly you don't understand it, and I haven't the time to explain it to you. Point is you're dead, kaput, off the air.”

“But why?” Bill said. “I mean, I'm out of shape, but-”

“It has nothing to do with your shape, Mr. Ribber, and everything to do with ratings. You see, you simply weren't getting any.” The blue man produced from his pocket a black briefcase into which he began disassembling his teetering tower of tempo.

“I really don't get it. What are you talking about?”

The blue man sighed and tisked. “Just like last time...”

Bill stared increduously. Had he finally gone mad?

“Alright, Bill, I'll make you a deal. But this is the last time. I'm only doing this because the execs back home think there's still hope. They think there's another season in you yet.” The blue man turned to him, balancing a trombone on his shoulder. “Forget about the music. Forget about the laughter. Forget about everything you've heard tonight. Forget about me. If you can do that, I'll send you back. I'll give you another chance. But just one, do you understand? Third time must be the charm.”

“Back? Why should I go back? Here I am free of my cursed appetite. Finally I can move, and fly. Nothing can hold me down. Nothing—nothing—will make me go back.”

“Well, if you say so.” The blue man stuffed the trombone into his briefcase. “But you never finished that cheesecake.”

Bill stared off into the sun. His eyes seemed drawn to it, as though it were staring back at him. As though they were communicating something that only he and it could understand. “Cheesecake... Come on, you'd do it right? Cheesecake!”

And so it came to pass that Uncle Bill was renewed for season four.

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