When The Light Comes Onbysojourner2001©
I know, it's been a long time since my earlier submissions. That's what happens when life gets in the way. This story is the result of four things, seeing the BBC six part version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"; listening to a radio commercial for a local auto parts/repair shop too many times; a recall notice for my car; and lastly, my own wishful thinking.
I went to my ophthalmologist's office and he seemed just as puzzled as I was. "All right then, John. What seems to be the problem?"
"I just want you to examine my eyes. Just take a look and see what's going on."
"There shouldn't be any changes, at least not this soon. After all, it's only been six weeks."
"Could you humor me, please?"
"OK. Mind telling me why, though?"
"If I tell you, you won't believe me."
"Suit yourself. Let's start by putting your glasses on and reading the charts."
"I don't wear glasses any more."
"Well I don't see how anyone can do contacts for you."
"No, no contacts either."
"That's not possible, and I don't know of any surgery that can correct your problems either, at least not right now. Maybe in five or ten years perhaps."
"Humor me. Let me have a look at your chart."
"Suit yourself, John. Here, put this over your left eye and tell me what you can read."
"E J R B Z F"
"Impossible. That's 20/10. You were no better than 20/200 just six weeks ago. What's going on?"
"Just take a good look at my eyes."
"Ok then. I'll be damned. This is impossible, totally impossible. You don't have a twin brother, do you?"
"No, there's only one of me."
"Then I can't explain it except to say that these are not the two eyes I saw six weeks ago. If I didn't know better, I'd say you'd had two complete eye transplants, and right now, that's impossible. We're not even close to being able to do that. What happened? Really?"
"You'd better sit down because you're not going to believe this at all."
I had been under a lot of stress. Just about everything that could go wrong in my life had. My doctor said my blood pressure was too high and that I had to give up salt. My boss had told me that business was bad and that I was being downsized. My eye doctor told me that I had more eye problems than he cared to mention and that I would probably go blind in a few years. Lastly I read that it seemed that the glaciers in Glacier National Park were melting and they would probably disappear in a few years.
I couldn't really do much about any of those things – except well maybe try and give up salt, but I could at least see those glaciers that I had been meaning to see while I still could.
It seemed like a nice idea really. Take a leisurely drive west, unwind from losing my job, enjoy the sights and all that and see things that I might never be able to see again. It was a bit depressing really but I packed up my car and drove out to Montana, avoiding the interstates and keeping to the back roads, taking my time.
I've honestly forgotten the name of the small town I stopped in (and I think that may be part of the problem) but I remember it was well off the main highway. It was about fourish in the afternoon and I saw this clean looking, modern motel with a nice little restaurant next door and I decided to spend the night there. I wasn't sure how far the next town was and this did look to be as nice a place as any I'd seen.
The man at the desk was friendly enough. There were several rooms available and the rate was quite reasonable. The room was clean and quiet. The TV worked and the shower was hot and the bed was comfortable.
I had dinner at the restaurant. Again, everything seemed very normal. I think I had sliced turkey in mashed potatoes or some such thing. It was very ordinary.
I awoke the next morning with a rather severe pain in my abdomen. At first, I thought it was something I had eaten but I had no desire at all to use the bathroom. I honestly had no idea what to do. I decided to call my doctor back in Chicago. I knew full well I wouldn't get through to him but he did have a nurse practitioner who might be able to help so I made the call.
I actually got through to her. She asked some questions and had me touch my abdomen a few times. "It sounds as if you have appendicitis," she pronounced. "You'd better get to the hospital as quick as you can."
"Great. I'm out in the middle of Montana, fifty miles from no where. I'll have to see what I can do."
I called the front desk of the motel. Much to his credit, the manager who checked me in came to my room just a moment later and I explained my situation.
"We've actually got a good doctor here in town, just a few blocks away. He opened up a small hospital a few years ago."
"You're sure he's good?"
"Very nice man, has a bunch of degrees on his wall and all. He's already saved more than a few lives around here. I'll call over there and tell him what's going on."
So, he picked up the phone and made a call and talked to someone. "Right, the doctor will be there in a few minutes. We're too small to have regular ambulance service here but the doctor suggested that I just drive you over there if you feel up to it."
"Well, I guess so. Don't have much choice do I?"
"Not really, no. Oh, and don't worry about your room. If you have to stay there over night, it's on the house."
I managed to get into the front seat of his pick up truck and as promised, a few minutes later, he pulled up at the front door of a very modern looking but small clinic. A man who turned out to be the doctor was waiting for us with a wheel chair and he wheeled me inside as I thanked the desk clerk. "You'll be just fine," he smiled.
I was half expecting the doctor to ask me all sorts of questions about my medical history or to at least get my health insurance information but there was none of that. Instead, he quickly maneuvered me onto one of those examination table things that doctors always seem to have.
"Just lay back," he smiled and as I did, he lowered what I assumed was a fancy sort of x-ray machine over me.
"I'm surprised you haven't asked me for my medical history and all that," I began.
"Oh, don't really need it but if you want to you can tell me later. Just need to know your name."
"John Ennis? That's odd. You're not on my list. You're not from around here, are you?"
"No, I'm from Chicago. Didn't the man from the motel tell you? I'm heading up to Glacier National Park to see the glaciers before they all melt and I stopped here last night. This morning I woke up with this horrible pain. I called my doctor's office and the nurse said she thinks it's appendicitis."
"Well, first of all, Tom from the motel did say something about having a guest who needed my attention but I assumed he was mistaken as this small town is off the beaten path. He's a nice enough fellow but he should know better but now that you're here, I see no sense in not helping you, even though I probably shouldn't. Secondly, you most certainly do not have appendicitis."
"Are you certain? It certainly feels like my appendix."
"But that doesn't mean that that is the problem. You have a car don't you?"
"Of course I do. I drove here from Chicago."
"It has a 'check engine' light, doesn't it?"
"Well yes, it does."
"When the light comes on, it doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the light. It simply means there is something else wrong with your engine. Same thing here. Your mechanic doesn't fix the light. He checks to see what is wrong with the engine. That's what I'm doing now."
"This is the most preposterous thing I've ever heard."
He was silent for a moment or two. I could see him sitting a small desk with what looked to be a computer terminal. He typed in a few keys and then turned again to me and smiled. "Right, there you are. Just as well you came in. Your appendix responded to my local beacon just as it should have even though you're not from around here. Your human bodies are programmed to respond when ever a service technician in the area turns on his local beacon."
"Local beacon? Look, are you sure you're really a doctor? I think I'd better leave."
"Nonsense, and besides, I'm not really a doctor, I'm a service technician."
"What about those diplomas and degrees you have?"
"What? Oh, those things on the wall? I was told I would need them here. This one is actually a certificate from the planet design course I took once and I think I just forged this other one. A couple of others were copied from one of your human doctors."
With that, I saw him punch a few keys and suddenly the pain stopped which was good but also, I couldn't move.
"What the devil is going on here?"
"Quite simple really, or perhaps, not so simple. You're eyes have gone bad."
"I could have told you that, if you had let me."
"Indeed you could have, but you couldn't have told me that they've been recalled."
"My eyes have been recalled?"
"Quite true. That's why I'm here on your rather drab little planet, replacing some eyes and doing other updates and upgrades, part of our rather comprehensive and long term warranty work."
"You sound quite insane. I think I'd better leave. I suggest you let me go."
"Can't do that now that you're here. It's against the rules I think and if it isn't, well it certainly ought to be. Don't worry, you'll be out of here in a jiffy, or may be two jiffies. I might as well give you all the updates and upgrades that I can. Let's start with the eyes first."
He came over to me and took a look at them. "They're both blue, aren't they?"
"Last time I noticed."
"I do hope I have another blue pair. Not fond of blue mind you. Partial to red myself. You wouldn't want a red pair would you?"
"Heavens no. Why would I? You can't be serious about replacing my eyes. That's major surgery."
He was over at a cabinet now and I could hear him opening doors going through drawers.
"It may be major surgery for you humans, but it's rather routine for us. My people designed you, you know."
"This, you humans, Earth, everything, the whole planet. Ah, there we are, a set of blue eyes."
"You mean to say your people, whoever your people are, designed this planet?"
"You humans are a bit repetitious aren't you. Yes, that's exactly what I said. We designed and built your planet. That's what we do, really, design and build planets, all shapes and sizes and everything that's on them. Been doing it for billions of years, really."
"Really? I thought God did all that."
He laughed. "No God. We would have found him by now, I think. I'm glad you mentioned God, though. I hadn't thought to check your operating system for updates. Yes, I see, there is an update for yours."
"An update for my operating system?"
"Yes human. Your brain. Unfortunately it was designed by a committee, a rather large committee I might add, and as you may have guessed, they thoroughly botched it. You think Windows is bad? It pales in comparison to yours. I believe when we built Antares, there was just one man in charge of the operating system, but, hmm, then again, five billion years later and they are still struggling with that fire thing, so, now that I think about it, maybe it's not so good."
He seemed to putter around for another moment. "Eyes, I believe were designed by just one man. Did a rather nice job if you ask me. Took a few planets to get all the bugs out but at least he had some idea of what he was doing by the time we got around to building this place. Problem is working with biological material. You set something in motion and go off and leave it for a few billion years and you never know how it's going to turn out. Look at your eyes for example. Shouldn't develop that glaucoma thing, just shouldn't, and macular degeneration shouldn't happen either but there you have it. Hm, well yes, especially in your case."
I was convinced he was quite mad and would have left except I couldn't move. I had no idea at all what to say to him and was more than a little terrified.
"Ok then," he resumed. "Time to take your eyes out."
"Time to take my eyes out? Are you mad? What about the anesthesia?"
"My dear human, you are quite the idiot aren't you? I've turned off your pain receptors and now I shall turn of the eyes themselves."
Suddenly, both eyes went totally dark.
"They are both off, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are. Now, thanks to you I am completely blind."
"And in a jiffy, you'll have two new eyes, but first I have to take the old ones out." I felt nothing and then just a few seconds later, "there, that's the left one and now for the right. Trust me, I do this all the time. Easy if you have the right tools. Like working on a car or a washing machine."
"But I'm not a car or a washing machine."
"Thank heavens or you'd really be in trouble. Don't know how to fix those. Now to put the new ones in. There, I think that's it. Let me turn them back on."
Suddenly, I could see him except, "I believe you're upside down, no wait a minute, just the left eye. In the right one, your right side up."
"Minor problem, minor problem. I was afraid this might happen. Let me just take it back out and turn it around. We also use these very same eyes on a couple of other planets. Saves time and money you know when designing these things. Anyway, on Altair Five and a couple of others, the operating system automatically compensates if the eyes are put in wrong. Yours on the other hand, doesn't but then again, be thankful you don't live on Altair Five, makes Cleveland look like paradise and the beings there are still in the stone age after ten billion years because their operating system was designed by a man known as Olgar the idiot, who I believe was the son of the president of the company and who, last I saw him, was assigned to sweeping the floor of the warehouse, and our warehouse is the size of several galaxies. I think he's less than half done and it's only been a few billion years. Anyway, let me pop this eye back in and see if I got it right. The factory doesn't bother marking them with a top or bottom any more. They say it's to cut costs but I think enough is enough, don't you?"
With that, my left eye was back in and apparently working. "Well, yes things look about as normal now as they ever have."
"Good, good. See, I told you it would only take a jiffy."
"Well, yes you did. What about transplant rejection? Isn't that going to be a problem?"
"My dear human, of course not. I know, I know, when your rather primitive doctors start tinkering about, trying to replace things they don't fully understand, your bodies tend to get rather cranky and fight back, but that's just because they don't have the skills and correct tools. It's like working on one of your cars. A skilled mechanic can probably change the spark plugs about as quickly as I changed your eyes and there wouldn't be any problem. If you on the other hand, were to try, it might take hours and your car might not run at all. Simply a matter of training and tools and I've been doing this for quite a long time."
"You do have a point. I did try changing the spark plugs on a car years ago. Made a mess of it too."
"Now then, let me see what other updates and upgrades I can make while you're here. Can't give you that because you're not a woman and this other one isn't necessary because I've just replaced the eyes. Ah, yes, there is the patch that will fix your belief in God."
"What's wrong with my belief in God?"
"Well, for one thing, there isn't one so it seems to us a bit silly to believe in something that doesn't exist."
"I beg your pardon? I enjoy going to church and I think it's helped me with some problems."
"But it hasn't actually solved any of them, has it? God isn't here fixing your eyes, is he? God didn't stop Hitler, or earthquakes or that oil spill. Did God answer your prayers then?"
"Of course he did. It's just that sometimes the answer is 'no'."
"Well, if you want to believe in something, try chocolate chip cookies and if you want help, try a therapist or a cocker spaniel. That reminds me, I'm developing quite a taste for them now that I'm on your world."
"You don't eat cocker spaniels, don you?"
"Heavens no, but I do like those chocolate chip cookies you have here. I simply can't get them back home. I've already shipped a couple of truck loads back there already."
"Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing something about two truck loads of cookies that have gone missing."
"Yes, well I am sorry about that and as for cocker spaniels, well I've found a couple and those are going back as well. Did I mention I'm leaving soon?"
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I was supposed to be here few hundred years or so but I've got to dash on over to Trelarian Two. One of the other service techs accidentally spliced one of your human defects onto the DNA of the species there and it's spread like wildfire through the gene pool. The beings there have two mouths and four arms and they've taken up smoking. Rather disgusting thought. The service tech I believe has been fired, or so I'm told. I suggested he ought to be made to clean up the mess himself, but no, I get to do it. Such is the life of the service tech."
"I'm sorry to hear about that. Smoking is a rather nasty habit."
"Glad you agree. It means I don't have to give you that update either. Let's just see, a couple of others and that should do it. Yes, that's the list."
He now came over to me and stood directly above me. "I'm going to install the upgrades, updates and patches now. It won't take long but it means your operating system will have to reboot. You humans call it going into a coma. I'll call Tom and have him take you back to the motel and you should wake up tomorrow and be just fine."
"And if I'm not?"
"Nice to have met you, John Ennis."
The next thing I remember, it was the following morning. I know I got up, had breakfast at the restaurant and checked out of the motel. I know I remember looking for my sunglasses and having to stop that morning and buy a new pair because I didn't have any except that there was a pair of prescription sunglasses in my car. I wondered who they belonged to and how on earth they got in my car.
I also remember driving to Glacier National Park and spending a few days there. I really did get to see the glaciers too, then I drove down to Yellowstone Park and also saw the Tetons. It was somewhere in there that I began to remember what happened. I tried to find the little town, I really did, but I just couldn't find it again. For a moment, I thought I had just dreamed it all. There was no record of even a charge to my credit card for the motel, nothing to prove what had happened.
"Except for your eyes," said my ophthalmologist.
"Exactly, that and the fact that I now don't want to go anywhere near a church."
"Well, I can simply repeat what I told you earlier. However it happened, those are not the two eyes you had six weeks ago but I have to tell you, that is the damnedest story I've ever heard."
"I agree except for the fact that as I was staying at Yellowstone, I got to talking with a man from Montana. Turns out, he had been diagnosed with three different types of cancer, then his appendix started acting up. Doesn't remember where he was or what happened but his doctor says he's fine now. Could it be that when the light comes on...?"