The Squared-Cubed Principle
“I don’t know why you took that stupid philosophy class anyway,” Jason said. “How can you take a test when there aren’t any correct answers to the questions?”
I gripped the sides of my seat, fingers digging into the rotting foam of the old VW as we slid along the twisty mountain road. I knew to be careful when arguing with Jason. It was always a trap. “You think there’s a logical answer to everything,” I said. “I feel…”
“Yep,” he interrupted, “that’s my philosophy. You think things out, you don’t feel them out.”
“You can’t explain everything with physics, Jase.”
He just looked over at me, his raised brow and that smile that resembled the way a child draws a bird in flight. It was the expression he used when dealing with humanities majors and it pissed me off that he’d turned it on me. Jason’s brain could be a pain. I mean all physics majors are weird, but Jason especially so. I’d seen him lock horns with our professors about esoteric points of quantum mechanics and frequently the instructors were the ones taking notes when he spoke.
Forget it, I thought. Screw Jason. Forget about my grade in philosophy 101. I stood up, the icy evening wind of the mountain pass trying to blow me backward. I gripped the top of the windshield and the rusty jagged steal of where Jason had cut off the roof with a chainsaw dug into my palms. I threw my head back and howled up at the almost full Moon high above the horizon. I rotated my eyes away from the bright orb and saw that the haze had smeared the stars around the sky like Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night.
I was forced to plop back in my seat as Jason down-shifted. Through my butt, I felt a squishiness and subtle deep down dampness. There were a few problems with Jason’s convertible concept. He’d drilled some holes in the floor to allow water to escape, but when we were stopped for any period of time there was a musty smell.
The broad Mojave Desert spread out in front of us as we descended the east side of the San Gabriel Mountains. The white dunes appeared like waves on a vast gritty sea, shifting and flowing like the ocean. Then I noticed one of the road’s yellow center lines begin to slither off the pavement like a snake. I grinned, looked up, the Van Gogh sky had become far more painterly.
I twisted my head toward Jason and catching his eyes, knew that he was feeling it too. For the last month or so, whenever we drove his bug for an hour or more it would hit us. It wasn’t like tequila or smoking dope, it was more like the effect of psychedelic mushrooms. At least that’s what a few of our more experimental friends had told us. A little research at UCLA’s biomedical library and we’d concluded that it was probably ergot alkaloids, LSD-like chemicals, produced by fungus that must be growing in the damp seats. Since then, we’d been taking a lot of long drives.
Jason pulled over onto the sand along the highway and we watched the wafting of the desert waves in the moonlight.
A streak of blue light bisected the sky off to the left and lit up the desert for an instant like a celestial strobe light. A second later there was a flash of red from the sand, followed by a thunderous sonic boom.
Jason screamed out: “what the fuck?” and put the car into gear. Since there was no roadside barrier he veered onto the sandy landscape, careening between creosote bushes and cacti.
“I’ll bet we’re about to find a meteorite,” Jason shouted over the noise of the whining engine. “A huge one.” His eyes gleamed green in the glow from the dash. “Talk about luck, this could be awesome.”
He slammed on the breaks in front of a dry wash. There was no easy way to drive around it, so we got out and walked. The red flash had died down, but we were still able to follow a sort of pinkish glow. As we got closer, we found ourselves staring up. I shook my head in an attempt to jolt reality. It didn’t work. I was still looking at what appeared to be a giant shoebox a couple hundred feet on a side. It was flat black, but with a faint radiance that continued to fade as we watched.
Jason and I turned to each other, “do you see what I see?” I said.
“That’s a rather difficult question to answer,” he said. “Does what you see look like it should have a Nike insignia on its side?”
“We couldn’t both be having the same hallucination,” he said. That would tear Ockham’s Razor to bits.”
“Aah, yah, you’re right,” I said, referring to that concept on the border between science and philosophy that implies that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon is usually the right one.
“Well Bud, I don’t think were in Kansas anymore.”
As Jason uttered his lame cliché, a dimple on the front of the shoebox burst open, then with an electric hum, it rapidly enlarged like the aperture of a humungous camera. From the hole issued something like light, but it was a deep purple, as if darkness could be projected. And in this spotlight of nothingness was what could only be described as a bug-eyed-monster. It leaped toward us and landed thirty feet away, shaking the ground and all the vegetation in the vicinity. It had something like a hundred bug-eyes the size of manhole covers on ten foot greenish stalks encircling its head. You could tell it was a head because of the mouth the size of a suburban swimming pool rimmed with blue tipped yellow teeth like those strike-anywhere matches. As I stared, a few of the teeth tips exploded into flame as if confirming my analogy. Its body sprouted too many spider like legs, each swathed with forearm length red hairs. Iridescent slime glowed in the beam of darkness from the ship and oozed from the mouth and scattered warts the size of Jason’s Beatle.
Jason began snickering, but was soon laughing uncontrollably. In between his chuckles, I caught bits of what he was saying: “This can’t be real… My imagination should be better than this… A shoebox spaceship?”
During his rant, I unconsciously inched backwards until the spines of a cactus pierced my left shoulder, halting my retreat. The bug-eyed-monster shook its huge body throwing slime in every direction and globs of the goo smacked both Jason and I with a rather non-hallucinogenic amount of force.
Jason stopped laughing, wiped slime from his face as he picked himself up from the ground where the impact had knocked him. Now he looked mad.
“Hey Jase, how about we, a — run away?”
He didn’t even look at me. “This is ridiculous,” he said, pointing at the shoebox. “That spaceship can’t exist. It violates several aspects of relativity theory.” To my amazement, and I think to Jason’s, the giant shoebox shimmered and flickered and then — faded away.
The bug-eyed-monster let out a bellow that I could feel resonating in my bones and began to advance toward us. Jason took a step forward, pushed me aside and screamed: “There can be no evolutionary significance for those hundred eye stalks.”
One by one the green bug-eyed stalks slipped from the Monster’s body, melting into an enlarging puddle of slime at its feet.
Jason looked over at me, a lizard-like grin cutting his face in half, like a South Park Canadian. “Cool, huh? You want to try?”
I shook my head, mouth too dry to speak.
He shrugged and turned back to the monster, scratched his head then blurted out: “according to the squared-cubed principle a body your shape and size could not dissipate heat fast enough to keep from burning up.” And with these words the Monster began to shrink, not halting until it was smaller than we were. Jason was on a roll. He spewed out scientific principle after scientific principle at the Monster until all that was left was the mouth, now devoid of teeth, hovering a couple of feet above the desert sand.
“How should I finish it off?” he said, turning to me.
Abruptly his face shifted from concentration to that wide smile of his and I knew he had it. If he had told me his idea and I could’ve gotten up the nerve to speak I would have warned him. Even after flunking my philosophy midterm I knew that you never mess with existentialism. He stared deeply into that Cheshire mouth and said: “there can be no purpose to your existence.”
The mouth, now shimmering with that glow of nothingness, spoke in a French accented voice that I recognized from a recorded interview I’d seen in class. The voice of Jean Paul Sartre said: “and what of your existence?”
Without a flash, without a fuss, the mouth and Jason vanished.