Popcorn Planet was originally published in ALL THE TOXIC WASTE FROM MY HEART available on Kindle and paperback by clicking here.
by Kevin Strange
“Last time we tried this we sent the monkey’s face up its asshole.”
Randal shot Miesha a look of disapproval. “With that attitude, we’ll always send monkeys up their own assholes. Have a little faith in science, darling.”
Miesha and Randal lived and worked in a secret underground military facility east of Massachusetts. They’d fallen in love in college while co-authoring a paper about discovering the formula for time travel.
The paper was never published. After a senior professor at MIT reviewed the paper and made a few phone calls, the government swooped in and offered them an obscene amount of money to work on the project uninterrupted and unsupervised, with an unlimited operational budget for as many years as it took to build a fully functioning time machine for military use.
A scientist’s dream.
They got married just before descending into their metal and concrete world, and have been happily crunching numbers and mutilating simians every since.
Randal ran a final diagnostic on his laptop as Miesha admired the man he’d become. Just a few years ago he was a scrawny little Vietnamese-American grad student who could barely grow a thin set of pubes on his chin. Now, it was as if everything had filled out. His hair was longer and he’d grown into his frame, looking more like a kickboxer or a ninja than a scientist due to his fascination with the weight room and heavy bag he’d discovered shortly after their arrival.
But more than his physical features, he carried himself with a quiet, somber confidence about his work that sharply contrasted the unsure, neurotic college kid worrying over his obsession with physics and time.
“Set him up,” Randal said, still fussing with the software on his computer. “Almost done here.”
Miesha opened Mr. Molars’s cage. “Come on, big guy. It’s your lucky day.”
They named him Mr. Molars because he had abnormally large teeth, making his head look almost cartoonish in comparison to the other monkeys. She led him over to the large, circular platform that theoretically served as their time gate (theoretical because all it had managed to do was hideously deform and kill their simian friends).
She strapped Mr. Molars down by his feet, doing her best not to make eye contact with him. Without children of her own, no matter what the sciency part of her brain told her, she thought of the monkeys as her kids.
That was the hardest part of their secret operation way down in this concrete compound. She’d had to say goodbye to her entire family. Being a native Pacific Islander, family was a huge part of her culture. Telling her mother she wouldn’t see grandchildren for the foreseeable future had crushed the naturally emotional woman.
It was affecting Miesha, too. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, the isolation, the mutilated simians, they seemed to be having the opposite affect on her than they had on Randal. Genetically, she was built wide and thick with legs that could twist the neck right off an unsuspecting gentleman if he wasn’t careful while tending to her tender parts. Even Randal had suffered quite a few sore necks after being a little too enthusiastic going down on her.
But down here, she saw the weight packing on her ass like she was preparing to hibernate for the winter. She kept telling herself she was going to start going to the gym with Randal, but always found herself hanging out with the monkeys instead.
Work, however, was work, and now it was time for Mr. Molars to suffer the cold wrath of science.
“He’s all good to go,” she said, retreating back across the yellow line they’d taped down—not because they were afraid they’d get caught in the temporal field the gigantic electromagnets surrounding the circular platform produced once the machine was switched on, but because that’s the furthest monkey blood and gore had splattered since they began large mammal experiments a month prior.
Randal smiled. “We’ve got it this time.”
“You sure about that, studly?” Meisha said, hugging him. “You’ve said that the last three times. Mr. Molars is running out of playmates.”
“We’ll know as soon as you check over these numbers, beautiful. You wrote the code, I’m just the guy who draws pictures of monkeys flying through time.”
Miesha shoved him out of the way. He always knew just what to say to make her feel important when it counted. She went over the changes they’d made to their formula over the last week and signed off on the numbers.
“Ok, then,” Randal said, rubbing his hands together like an excited child. “Let’s go over the details again.”
“We’ve done that a million times, deary. If all goes well, Mr. Molars will leave the time gate in a brilliant flash and appear back in the empty cage next to his because we will have received him back at the gate three days ago, and kept the future version of Mr. Molars next to the current time version to observe their behavior leading up to this exact moment in what will then be our future.”
“Still sounds fucked up, doesn’t it?” Randal said, scratching his head. “Wouldn’t he already be there right now if this worked?”
“Only if the theory that time exists as an absolute with no beginning or an end in one single reality where everything that happens or will ever happen has already happened. If that’s the case, then we’re about to execute this poor monkey like all his brothers and sisters. But if we’re right that time connects alternate realities together as they move forward in a progressive expansion, then time travel won’t exist in this version of reality until it exists. In which case what we’re about to do will be the first time in this reality that Mr. Molars has been sent through time because this will be the very first time we get time travel right.”
“That’s why I married you, toots.” Randal said, beaming with pride. “You’re the smart one. Now hit the fucking button!”
Mr. Molars voiced his approval in a series of OOs and AAhs as Miesha activated the time machine software.
Both scientists donned special goggles and ear plugs to protect their eyesight and hearing as several flashes bright as lightning and nearly as loud as a sonic boom blast shot through the concrete enclosure.
When the smoke cleared, Miesha apprehensively approached the empty cage, waving the remaining sulfur-smelling smoke out of the way. She had to get right up to the bars to see inside. There was a vague shape, but that was common. Whether the shape was inside out or not was another story.
“Mr. Molars? Do you still have a face?”
The monkey slammed against the bars, nearly knocking the cage over. “OOOHOOOOH! OHHHAAAAAHHAA!”
Miesha yelped and fell on her ass.
Randal scooped her up and kissed her deeply. “We fucking did it, baby! We fucking INVENTED TIME TRAVEL!”
An hour later they were drunk and, after a passionate lovemaking session, they lay on the floor of the chamber wearing nothing but their lab coats, basking in each other’s fluids.
Randal took another swig from their bottle of champagne. “So… even though we sent Mr. Molars back 3 days into the past, we still didn’t know we’d been observing him for half a week when we sent him through the portal…”
Miesha lay with her eyes closed in his naked lap. “My theory is, time separated reality at that exact moment. Somewhere in the multiverse is a reality in which we did observe the future Mr. Molars for three days before sending the present monkey through the portal, as per the notes we sent through the portal with him. Only we don’t exist in that reality. We still exist in the reality that invented time travel just an hour ago. Reality exists like the branching of lightning. All possibilities shooting out from one root. Reality Prime.”
“You’re making me hard again, sweetheart,” Randal said in a husky, drunk voice.
“Then do something about it, sugar,” Miesha said, turning over in his lap to meet his gaze.
Before any more juices could be exchanged from the two, another bright flash and boom shook the time travel chamber, sending a fresh wave of residual electromagnetic smoke through the room.
Buttoning their coats, Miesha and Randal ran over to the circular platform, coughing and waving smoke away to see what had come through the time gate.
It wasn’t a what. But a who.
A tall, skinny man with short, curly white hair lay on the platform. His clothes were singed and dirty, but he was unmistakably wearing red suspenders over a white shirt and black pants with a red bow tie.
“I didn’t realize this thing was already set up to receive as well as send!” Randal said, bouncing up and down. “Somebody just used our time gate from the future!”
The figure stirred, regaining consciousness. He fumbled around and picked up a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses. Climbing to his knees, he put them on, blinking his eyes, focusing in on the two scientists before him.
“H-hello,” he said, voice weak. “My name is—”
“Orville Redenbacher?” Randal interrupted, astonished.
The bespectacled man politely nodded and smiled. “My reputation precedes me. Yes. That’s right. I’m the popcorn guy.”
“But that’s impossible,” Randal said, his eyes glazing over. “You’ve been dead since the 90s, right? We just invented the time machine today. Even if I went back and grabbed you myself, I would have no way of returning to the present without another gateway. How did you get here?”
Orville began to speak, but teetered. Pulling a kerchief from his back pocket, he wiped the sweat from his forehead. “There will be plenty of time for explanations, my dear boy. But for now, I have to rest. I’m afraid my journey has been a long one.”
With that, the elderly popcorn mogul fell forward, unconscious. Randal and Miesha were barely able to catch him before he hit the floor. They dragged him over to the cot Randal kept in the chamber for when he worked through the night, and let the strange visitor sleep.
When he woke, they fed him, hydrated him, and explained to him where he was, when he was, and the work the two scientists were doing way down there underground.
“I suppose that’s where my story comes in, eh?” Orville said, having regained much of his strength. “Reports of my death in the 1990s were greatly exaggerated. In fact, they were outright lies. The truth is, I faked my death. Had I lived in public much longer, people would have begun to question why I was not aging. You see, in addition to my passion for creating the best tasting popcorn flavors in the world, I’ve also remained obsessed with ancient magic. Alchemy, to be precise.”
Randal and Miesha were completely enraptured by the story—particularly Miesha, who’d grown up with Orville’s brand of popcorn as a near daily ritual with her family when they’d watched movies together.
“As I was becoming rich and famous as the spokesman for Orville Redenbacher popcorn, I was traveling the world searching for the fountain of youth. Ironic that I found it so late in life, yes?”
Miesha stopped him. “You found it? You’re saying you found a way to reverse the aging process?”
Orville laughed. “Oh, I wish! More like delayed the process considerably. I haven’t noticed any progression in my aging for more than forty years.”
It was Randal’s turn to interrupt. “But it’s only been twenty years since you supposedly drown in your hot tub. It’s 2016.”
“Precisely,” Orville said. “I’m from the future. I came back in time through your gate from the year 2036.”
“Fuck me,” Randal said, running his fingers through his thick hair. “Why now? Why did you come back to 2016?”
“I’m glad you asked!” Orville said, smiling weirdly. “Better I show you,” he said, slowly reaching his hand behind his back.
Another sonic boom blast and flash ended the conversation as a new figure bounded through the time gate. Charging through the smoke the figure shouted, “STOP HIM! STOP HIM NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, DAMN YOU!”
The figure stepped out of the smoke, revealing his identity as…
“Orville Redenbacher?” Miesha coughed out, steadying herself against the computer desk.
The new Orville looked exactly like the one who’d come through the time gate before, only this Orville’s suspenders and bow tie were a stark green in color.
“Yes, yes! I am the TRUE Orville Redenbacher! That man is a fake. A dangerous imposter-Bacher!”
As the smoke cleared, The red Orville stood with a knife in his hand, and a crazed, maniacal look in his eyes. “Don’t listen to him! HE’S the phony! I came back in time to protect you from HIM!”
The green Orville drew a knife of his own. The two Orville Redenbachers circled each other, lunging and jabbing their knives at each other like expert killers.
“What the fuck is happening?” Miesha said, grabbing onto Randal in the face of the sudden and violent turn of events.
“He… told you…” the green Orville said, parrying away from a killing strike dealt by his doppelganger. “About the… elixir of life? Did he tell you… the part about it… driving him mad?!”
The red Orville mock laughed. “He’s been chasing me through time for a decade, but I’M the mad one? Help me restrain him before he ruins everything!”
“What the fuck is he talking about?” Miesha asked Randal, totally befuddled.
“I don’t have a clue,” Randal said, picking up the swivel chair at his desk. “But I believe the one in green!”
“The green one?” Miesha shouted. “I believe the red one!”
But it was too late. Randal smashed the chair over red Orville’s head, knocking him out cold.
The red Orville groaned when he woke. He tried to move his arms, but found himself restrained in the chair Randal used to incapacitate him.
“It’s ok,” Miesha said. “They made me tie you up, but I believe you.”
“We don’t have time for this! You have to stop him!” Red Orville said, struggling against his bindings.
“From what? You have to tell me what he’s here to do. Randal believes him. So I’m going to have to convince him you’re the real Orville and not… what exactly is he?”
Red Orville scooted the chair toward Miesha, whispering out of the earshot of Green Orville and Randal, who spoke in low tones on the other side of the room.
“He’s what happens when you take too much of my formula! Or rather, what happens when I take too much of it, since he is me, in a sense. He’s from a different dimension. A different reality. One in which my obsessions with the occult goes too far! He’s pickled his brain with the stuff! Just delaying aging isn’t enough for him. He’s found a way to jump through alternate realities. He’s trying to kill every other version of me in the entire multiverse! He thinks by eliminating all of the other Orvilles who’ve ever existed, he’ll live forever as Orville Prime!”
“It’s ok. Calm down. We’ll stop him, just—”
“Don’t you understand? I came here to protect you! He’s going to kill your husband and sabotage his time machine so that this reality will close off from all the rest!”
Miesha pursed her lips. The Green Orville still had his knife tucked in his back pocket as he and Randal chatted about the time machine near the gate.
She picked up Red Orville’s knife and stomped off toward them. “Like hell he is!”
But before she could attack, the gate exploded in a blinding fury. Miesha dove to the floor, covering her head, thinking she was too late, that Green Orville had already sabotaged the machine and destroyed Red Orville’s chance to escape.
But when the smoke cleared again, the figure that stood on the platform was hideous enough to make Miesha scream out in disgust.
It was humanoid, but entirely made of popcorn—even its suspenders, bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses. Its hair and facial features all held their own individual shades of yellowish white, creating the undeniable visage of Orville Redenbacher…
“Listen to me!” the popcorn man said, collapsing to his knees. “These two monsters are in league together! They’re both mad! They’re both evil! They’re both planning to kill you!”
Miesha looked for Randal through the remaining smoke, but didn’t see him. She was panicked. She no longer knew what to believe. Looking behind her, the chair and the rope lay discarded and the Red Orville was nowhere to be found.
“Randal! Where the fuck are you?!”
“Please,” the hideous popcorn Orville said, stepping tentatively off the platform on shaky popcorn legs. “Please help me!”
“Don’t listen to the freak!” Red Orville said, appearing behind Meisha. “He’s the craziest of us all!”
Green Orville stepped out from behind the time machine, knife in hand. “For once, I agree with that red fucker. Popcorn me is completely insane.”
“W-what have you done with Randal!” Miesha said, totally flabbergasted.
Ignoring her question, the man made of popcorn continued his impassioned speech. “I-I am the original Orville Redenbacher! These two abominations kidnapped me from my home one hundred and twenty seven years ago! They’ve had me imprisoned on a dark planet in a backward galaxy for decades doing these horrific experiments on my mind and body! They-they’ve turned me into popcorn!”
All three Orville Redenbachers moved toward Miesha. She stumbled backward, knocking into Mr. Molars’s cage, causing the monkey to cry out. She screamed, spun around, then quickly back toward the weird men advancing on her.
She pulled Red Orville’s knife out from her waistband and waved it in front of her, threateningly. “Back off! All of you! I’ll cut all you motherfuckers down! WHERE THE FUCK IS MY HUSBAND?”
“I’m telling you the truth!” The red Orville said, holding his hands in the air in a nonthreatening manner. “I’ve been honest with you since the beginning!”
“He lies!” The green popcorn mogul said, pointing at his red double. “He’s just waiting for his chance to—”
And then a weird thing happened. The green Orville snickered in the middle of his plea.
The red one’s eyebrows went up and his jaw dropped. “You laughed! Aw, fuck! You laughed right in the middle of it!”
The green one face-palmed, his shoulders jumping up and down as he tried to control his giggle fit. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. Fuck!”
The popcorn Orville nearly spit as he broke into a fit of his own.
“Aw, christ! You two fucks ruined the whole thing!” the red one said, fighting back his own laughter. Before long all three were howling, tears streaming down their faces.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LAUGHING ABOUT???” Miesha screamed, on the brink of losing whatever fragile grip on reality she had left.
The red Orville wiped his eyes and waved his hand at the other two, still snickering and giggling behind him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Look. The truth is, we’re all working together. All three of us. Have been for a long, long time.”
Miesha’s lip quivered and her eye twitched. The grip on her knife, however, only tightened.
“I’m going to tell you what’s going on because, frankly, you’re going to die anyway. This whole reality is going to cease to exist, really. And we screwed the pooch way early, so…” Red Orville pulled over the chair to which he’d been tied and sat down, crossing his legs. “You see, we’ve told you the truth. All of us, in our own way. I really did develop an age-defying serum.” He thumbed backward at Green Orville. “He really does think that by destroying all of the alternate versions of reality that he’ll live forever. The part I left out is that I think so, too. So does the freak back there.”
“Fuck you, flesh-pot!” Popcorn Orville said, still snickering.
“He’s actually the first one of us to figure out how to use these time machines to jump dimensions. And to perfect our serum to evolve himself into the perfect life form.” Red Orville’s eyes lit up with passion at the mention of the popcorn serum. “We’ll all become popcorn, eventually. Look, I’m already seeing the effects of the perfected formula!”
He rolled up his sleeve, showing flakes of popcorn forming like scales across the skin of his forearm. “Soon this whole planet will be covered in the most delicious substance known to man!”
“But not here,” Green Orville said, finally composing himself enough to talk. He walked up and rested his hand on the red copy’s shoulder. “Here we just fucked up. Normally when we come back here to the origin point of time travel, the furthest back we can go where we can still jump back through to Earth Prime, we make it a lot further along the time line.”
“You have no idea how hard it is to remember every nuanced beat and expression to fool you people into thinking this is our first time through the timeline,” Red Orville continued. “Usually your husband is standing next to you while we do this. Not sure what’s up with that, but there are little variations every time. Wouldn’t be an ALTERNATE reality if everything was exactly the same, right?” He sneered then. “Do you want to know which of you cracks first? Do you want to know who we get to kill the other? Do you want to know what your husband sounds like when he dies?”
Red Orville laughed. “I’m just fucking with you. I mean, it’s all true, but…. How many times have we done this now, Orville?” he asked over his shoulder to Popcorn Orville.
“Fuck, I don’t know… a thousand? Two thousand? I lost track a long time ago.”
Green Orville smiled. “We’ve gotten pretty far a few times, too. We turned every human being into popcorn at one point. Stayed on that timeline for a hundred years before it went to shit.”
“But we won’t be satisfied with just turning every human being into popcorn,” Red Orville said, sneering. “We won’t stop until every human, every animal, every plant on this planet is transmogrified into crunchy, delicious, buttery popcorn!”
“A fucking popcorn planet!” Popcorn Orville screamed.
Then he screamed again when Randal appeared behind him with the emergency fire ax he’d managed to pull off the wall without being noticed. Randal hit him in the neck with the ax, sending shattered popcorn flying across the room. Golden liquid butter jettisoned from the wound as the popcorn figure collapsed onto the floor.
Miesha stepped backward as the puddle expanded. It smelled delicious.
“That’s never happened before!” Red Orville screamed.
“Abort!” Green Orville said. “Let’s get the fuck outta here!”
The pair of human Orvilles turned to run toward the door leading out of the time gate facility.
“Now!” Randal screamed.
Miesha dropped the coy act and dove for Mr. Molars’s cage. She unlocked it and handed off the knife to the simian. Mr. Molars charged the red and green Orvilles, blocking their escape route. He screamed at them, baring his huge fangs.
“What the fuck is this?” Red Orville said, taking a tentative stop forward, only to have Mr. Molars jut the knife out in front of him, as if daring Red Orville to take another step.
“This is how you get fucked.”
The doors to the outside opened, and in stepped Randal, Miesha and two more versions of Mr. Molars. The humans carried military grade rifles strapped to their backs and were noticeably older than their counterparts already inside the time travel facility. Randal’s hair was down past his shoulders, showing signs of graying, and Miesha was thinner, more taught and athletic looking than the other version. The simians also carried rifles and also showed signs of aging. They waddled up to the knife-wielding version of themselves and trained their guns on the two remaining Orvilles.
The popcorn moguls were now surrounded on all sides. “I-I don’t get it! How did you know? We’ve never invaded this reality before!”
“Yes you have,” the aging Randal said. “Many, many times. And it’s always ended the same way. With you torturing and murdering us before moving on to the next phase of your insane plan. Except for one time. Do you remember when you traveled back here, maybe 600 or 700 times ago? Just once. Just one time you let Miesha and I jump through the portal into the past. Remember that?”
Red Orville smacked the green one on the back of the head. “I TOLD you not to let them go!”
“Wait. You made the time machine here. Now. In this time. Traveling past this point would trap you in the past! You can’t be here!” Green Orville said, frantically turning around looking for any means to defend himself or escape.
“Wrong,” Older Miesha said, sneering. “YOU can’t go back in time past this point because YOU would be trapped in the past. Us? We invented time travel, bitch. You think jumping into the past a few years was going to stop us from making a new machine? We already solved it! We already know how to make it!”
“Fuck!” Red Orville screamed in frustration. “So then—”
The present Miesha smiled. “YOU have no idea how hard it is to memorize every little thing we’re supposed to say to you to keep you fooled into thinking we weren’t expecting you. To make sure you did exactly what our future selves told us you’d do to make sure you didn’t suspect a thing. We even played out the last few hours before you got here exactly the way they told us to so we’d be in character when you got here.”
The older Randal walked up and patted one of the Mr. Molars on the head. “It’s taken us a LONG time to train these guys to shoot guns, but you best believe they’re expert marksmen now. We built a time loop between where we jumped to when we escaped you the first time, and a week ago. We’ve been jumping back into that loop for more than twenty years preparing for today.”
Future Miesha pulled the rifle off her back and stepped up to her husband. “Preparing to stop you fucking psychos from terrorizing the multiverse ever again!”
Behind the two Orvilles, the popcorn version erupted back to life. His buttery insides had coalesced into solid tendrils and whip-like appendages. The tendrils flopped around like fire hoses in the air above his head. He screeched, more like a beast than a man… made of popcorn.
“Shit!” the present Randal yelled, raising his ax over his head. “Gonna need some help back he—WOAHHHHH!”
One of Popcorn Orville’s tendrils shot out and wrapped around Present Randal’s ankle, lifting him to the ceiling.
“Let’s finish this!” Future Miesha screamed, tossing a spare rifle over the Orvilles’ heads to her present counterpart. The future humans and monkeys opened fire, mowing down the green and red Orvilles where they stood. Their bodies spewed the same golden buttery topping that had gushed from the Popcorn Orville as they flopped and fell from the gunfire.
The present Miesha jumped over the bodies and unloaded her whole clip into the tendrilled monster Orville, sending popcorn flying all over the entire room.
She dropped the clip and called for another one. Future Randal obliged, tossing a full clip her way. Jamming it into the gun she fired again in strafing lines, chopping down Monster Popcorn Orville’s tendrils till her husband dropped safely to the ground.
“Saved your ass, baby,” she said, smile beaming. “You owe me one.”
Before Present Randal could express his gratitude, a gigantic mess of butter and body parts rose up from behind her. The red and green Orvilles’ corpses had merged together into a gigantic monstrosity, and its dagger-like tendrils were aimed right at the back of Present Randal’s wife’s head.
He charged forward. “Duck!” he screamed.
Present Miesha dropped to her knees just as Present Randal leaped into the air, spring-boarded off her shoulder and launched himself up into the face of the monster. With two clean slashes from his ax, he decapitated both of the Orville’s heads from the top of the beast. He kicked off, back-flipping to safety. The momentum of his kick sent the corpse of the huge abomination crashing to the floor where Future Randal and Miesha put an extra few clips in the corpse to make sure it was really dead.
Present Miesha stood in awe. All that time in the gym really HAD turned her husband into a ninja. She vowed then and there to join him and transform herself into a badass, too.
“Well, that’s that,” Present Randal said, putting his arm around his wife. “We did it. We killed those bastards.”
“What happens now?” Present Miesha added. “Will you stay here with us?”
Future Miesha and Randal took the two future Mr. Molars by the hands.
“Not a chance,” Future Miesha said as they walked past their present selves toward the platform. “Wherever there’s a time gate in the multiverse, there’s an Orville Redenbacher trying to turn the whole world into a giant kernel of popcorn.”
The strange group stepped through the portal. As he vanished into the blinding light, Future Randal turned around. “And we aim to kill every last one of those delicious snack making motherfuckers.”
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