Parsnips and Parsecs ( Free chapter from my upcoming novel Nefarious Twit) / by tonymcmillen

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Throughout my novel Nefarious Twit there are these little chapters which take place outside the main story and explore the world in which the characters live. This chapter revolves around a TV show called Haunted Planet that the main characters of the book, the Lime brothers Rick and Lou, make mention of several times throughout the book. It's a fun bit of world building that also gives the reader some more information about Rick and Lou and how they were raised. The Kickstarter for Nefarious Twit is still live and you can contribute and get yourself a copy plus all the other goodies here.

25. Parsnips and Parsecs

Before this book returns to the present exploits of the Lime brothers and Nixon the following chapter, which concerns itself mostly with the repeatedly mentioned TV show Haunted Planet, will serve as an interlude of sorts. Do not be deceived by this introduction into thinking that this is but a minor chapter or that it is disposable in any way. It is not. This is important. Not as important as the first chapter, or the second, or even Chapter 14, but it is important. Much more important than Chapter 24, the previous chapter in this book. And since you have already read that you may as well read this chapter which is much more important. Not as important as upcoming chapters like Chapter 37 or especially Chapter 42. Chapter 42, now there is a significant chapter. But this chapter, Chapter 25, is still a worthwhile read. Though it should be said that upon further deliberation the last chapter, Chapter 24, is actually just as important, if not more important than this current chapter. The part in Chapter 24 with the boys, their dog Buster and the shovel, in particular, should not be undervalued. But at any rate this is still a fine chapter, even if it is only an interlude. It is an important interlude.

The science fiction television show Haunted Planet only lasted three seasons before it was cancelled. The show initially was a ratings hit. It was released a couple of years after the film Star Wars and was seen by many as network television trying to recreate and cash in on the phenomenon for the small screen. This is true. So true that the show’s creators were in fact sued by 20th Century Fox for plagiarism and copyright infringement for stealing ideas and concepts from their film Star Wars. Haunted Planet’s creators then countersued stating that many of the concepts and ideas they purportedly stole from Star Wars had they themselves been appropriated by Star Wars from various other sources. The creators of Haunted Planet also pointed to a similar case where 20th Century Fox tried to sue Universal Studios for plagiarism for its TV series Battlestar Galactica. 20th Century Fox lost the case and its claims were dismissed after Universal Studios countered that Star Wars borrowed many of its ideas from a pair of Universal Studio’s properties, the Buck Rogers serials, and their film Silent Running. Eventually the case against Haunted Planet was also dismissed.

Despite winning the legal battle against it and its early popularity by the time Haunted Planet got to its third season it had been all but forsaken or forgotten by its audience. Numerous reasons can be attributed to this. Constant airtime changes making the show harder and harder to find every week. Competing programs like All In The Family, Charlie’s Angels and The Dukes Of Hazard took away many viewers who already had a hard time finding the show. But most will agree that what really drove people away from Haunted Planet was the increasingly strange and sometimes controversial change in the show’s writing. What had begun as a perfectly enjoyable space opera with some supernatural, thriller elements thrown in, had now become a psychedelic, often frightening, almost always cutting edge, sociopolitical allegory that is seen now as tragically ahead of its time. At least this is what most critics who remember the show say. Others, like critic and notable Twit reader Charles R. Plumenche, consider the show’s new direction as, “A desperate and uninspired grope for seriousness combining hippie drug culture values with Saturday morning cartoon strip characters that is somehow supposed to explain the war in Vietnam? I don’t think so.” Plumenche, ever the prince went on further stating, “Put away the L.S.D. and the Bradbury novels and then step away from the typewriter.”

At the time many agreed with him or at the very least were equally as baffled as to what happened to the show they liked. A show about humans trying to escape from the Haunted Planet and the dreaded clutches of its Ghost Armada. But there were a few who remained faithful. Even more in love with the show now as it got more daring and bizarre. This legion of fans came to be known affectionately as “Haunters” after the show was taken off the air. Haunters would continue to gather at conventions year after year to reminisce about and celebrate their favorite canceled show. They gathered together to write thousands of letters to get the show back on the air. But most of all they gathered together to endlessly speculate on what was supposed to happen during the second part of the show’s finale.

The last episode of Haunted Planet, which closed out not only Season 3 but the entire show, ended on a cliffhanger. The creators behind Haunted Planet never intended it to be the final episode of the show. They were told that despite the show’s failing ratings they would be renewed for one more season. They had devised the final episode to merely be a teaser that would pose all sorts of questions that’d they’d resolve the following season. Of course this never came to be and the Haunters were outraged. Making things even worse was that the episode was not only a cliffhanger but a whopping sockdolger of a cliffhanger. The show cuts to credits right after one of its leads, Captain Felix Sebastian, played by fan fave David Druckman, somehow manages to pass through the Ghost Armada’s nekrosphere barrier that guards the villains’ inner sanctum. The importance and implications of this fried the minds of those watching. To explain, the nekrosphere served as a sort of force field that no living matter could penetrate, thereby making it completely inaccessible to the living human protagonists. But since the Ghost Armada were all comprised of nekromatter they could pass through the barrier without any problems. The significance of Captain Felix Sebastian passing through without being destroyed was clearly multifaceted. Did it mean that he too was actually a ghost being created by the living, diseased computer matrix at the center of the Haunted Planet? Was he a ghost all along or had he been killed in a previous battle with the Ghost Armada? Did it actually mean that all the humans left stranded on the planet were all ghosts as well? Did it somehow hint that maybe the ghosts themselves were not quite what they seemed? What about the ghost princess and her prophecy, how did that factor in to this? Needless to say as the screen turned black and the words “To be continued...” stretched across the remaining viewers of the show collectively lost their shit.

When word got out that the show was not coming back disbelief turned quickly to anger and then eventually depression. Making things considerably worse a few years later was the suicide of super fan and president of the “East Coast Haunters Alliance” 17-year-old Steven Porziell, whose hung body was found with an explanatory note that blamed the show’s demise and subsequent lack of resolution for his death. His note quoted one of the show’s recurring lines, “Be by your side, on the other side.” There was some talk of the show’s original creators and cast returning to make a TV movie for Haunted Planet but ironically the suicide of young Steven Porziell is thought to have be one of the chief causes behind the suicide of one of the show’s chief creators Erik Mack.

“Without Mack there is no Haunted Planet,” Brian Staples, another major creator behind the show, stated soon after Mack’s death. And with that the long awaited resurrection of the show Haunted Planet died with him.

Reruns of the show’s three seasons began airing soon after both suicides and in a way the media attention did give the show a new lease on life. Word of mouth spread and a new, younger generation discovered the show and its complex and compelling mythology, both on and outside the screen. More than ten years after the show was canceled an eleven-year-old Rick Lime and his five-year-old brother Lou discover Haunted Planet like many others through reruns, and then home video.

Rick and Lou try to watch the watch the show in sequential order on TV and when they get to the final episode they have no idea that this is the end of the entire show. Haunted Planet is shown every weekday on channel 11 at 6 pm and the next day Rick is baffled to see them play the first episode of the show again. “What the hell, it’s a rerun,” he says. “What are you talking about, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” Rick’s mother asks from the kitchen. “Haunted Planet Mom, the last episode was the first part of a two-parter but today it’s just showing an old episode.” “The first episode,” Lou adds. “You heard that from me,” Rick admonishes. “Yeah, it’s a stupid rerun.” “Well, they’re all reruns.” “What do you mean?” “This show is old, couldn’t you tell by the haircuts? They don’t make it anymore.” “What about the two-parter?”

Something starts sizzling on the burner and she comes around the wall of the kitchen puffing on a joint. “That’s what I was telling you when you asked me to buy it for you, there’s no ending.” “What? There has to be.” “I tried to tell you. They canceled it and then never finished the second part.” “Really?” “Yeah, everybody knows that,” she tells him then takes in a massive drag. “There was even some geeky teenager who killed himself because they said they weren’t going to make any more.” “Whoa, really?” “Don’t you kids ever watch the news?” Rick and Lou look at each other then back at their mother. When she smiles at them like some chain-smoking chimera Rick doesn’t know what to make of it. Then a familiar smell hits the air. “Oh, shit that’s the rice.” She gets up in a flurry and rushes back to the kitchen. On cue the smoke alarm for the apartment goes off. Lou covers his ears and starts panicking likes he always does whenever it goes off. “Stop, it’s okay. It’s okay,” Rick tells him. “Rick,” she screams at him. “Get the—” “I’m on it,” he shouts back not letting her finish. He gets out one of the big chairs from the table, climbs it and perches on the top of it so he can get at the beeping circle on the ceiling. He’s done this enough times now he knows how to twist and turn the thing off in one swift move. Once he’s decapitated the device the room falls gratefully silent. “Thanks, honey.” “Sure.” Rick gets off the chair carefully and walks into the kitchen to see his mother crouching down and wiping tears off Lou’s little face. He smiles up at her but she’s still not quite satisfied. She puts down her joint into an ashtray on the counter and then she wraps him in her arms. Rick watches all of this with the oddest sort of wonder. He doesn’t feel like a son watching his mother with his brother. He feels like someone else, a stranger or even an intruder stumbling into this moment between the two of them. He’s grateful for it. His mother looks beautiful with her eyes shut holding his little brother. She has a look on her face Rick realizes he doesn’t see often. “Alright, baby.” She lets Lou go and he walks past Rick looking embarrassed. Rick only smiles at him and then stares at his mother. “What are you smiling at, big man? I used to do the same thing to you when you were his age.” “I know.” She flashes the last of her grin at him before turning back to the meal she’s making. Rick’s turning around to go back into the living room when she tells him, “Can you do me a favor?” “Sure.” “Since you’re so grownup, how ‘bout you open up this jar of pickled parsnips for your mother.” “You got it,” he tells her. He puts down the smoke alarm and takes the parsnips from the fridge. “I don’t have to eat these right?” “I thought you liked pickled parsnips?” “No, Lou’s the one who likes ‘em. I think they taste like butt.” “Don’t be crude. You might not like them now but you will someday.” “How do you know?” He tries to turn the lid of the jar but it appears to be on tighter than he anticipated. “Because you’re Darjmainian and Darjmainians love pickled parsnips.” He tries again with the lid, nothing. He tries again until his hands and fingers feel like they’re on fire but it’s no use. “Is my little man having problems?” “No,” he tells her trying his best to keep his cool. He takes the bottom of his shirt and wraps it around the lid hoping it’ll make a difference as he twists the lid. It doesn’t. “Careful, don’t hurt yourself.” “I’m not. Just give me a minute.” He goes again, feeling the veins in his forehead bulging out. He takes his hand back after the newest failure, it hurts pretty bad. Feeling his mother’s eyes on him, he attempts to distract her. “So you really think I’m going to like these just because I’m Darjmainian?” “I know you will. I do, your Aunt Mira does. My mama and my papa did. Your father used to eat these like they were candy.” Rick stops trying to turn the lid for a second. His mother seems to understand and changes the subject quickly. “You know I never did see the last episode of that show, how did they leave it?” “Um,” Rick starts trying again with his shirt around the lid. “It’s really crazy. They showed Captain Sebastian going through the nekrosphere unharmed.” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah, which is crazy because only ghosts and ghost technology can go through it.” “Captain Sebastian’s the good looking guy with the dark blonde hair, right?” “Yeah,” he says. His grip on the lid now even tighter, his wrist becoming locked. “I guess.” “So that means he’s a ghost too?” “I guess, I don’t know. I was hoping they’d tell us with part two.” “But now you know that’s never going to happen.” “Yeah, now I know. It’s so stupid. How can they not finish it?” “I tried to warn you.” “I didn’t understand.” His entire arm feels like it’s going to fall off but he can finally feel the goddamn lid beginning to budge. At least he thinks he can. “It really sucks because now I don’t know if Sebastian’s a ghost or if Doc Macinroy and the rest of the good guys are ever going to get back to the planet to save him.” “Where are they? They got off the planet?” “Yeah, but then the Ghost Armada found them and blew off the right thruster of the XJ Battlecruiser and now they’re stranded like seven parsecs or something from the ghost home world.” She takes a hit off what’s left of her joint. “That actually is a pretty shitty way to end a show.” He stops with the jar for a moment and looks back at her. “It’s okay, if you can’t get it open,” she tells him with a slight grin. “I’m getting used to not having a man around the house.” “I told you I got it.” He almost snarls at her. “Rick, I was just joking.” He ignores her and bears down again on the jar with his shirt wrapped around it. “Rick stop it. Come on, be careful.” “I got it, Mom,” he tells her but by then his hands are covered in sweat. He loses his grip on the part of his shirt wrapped around the lid and sends the whole jar down to the ground. When it shatters he expects his mother to say something. For her to shout. She doesn’t, she just gets the broom. He tries to tell her he’s sorry and he tries to get the broom from her but she tells him no. She tells him she can get this and she tells him that it’s okay and that it’s not his fault. But when she tells him to go back into the living room with his little brother he doesn’t like it. It feels more like a punishment than a reward. Like a demotion.

He walks into the room carrying a glass of water and two Vitrillums for him and Lou to share as per his mother’s final instructions. After they take their medicine he and Lou lay on the couch together watching the human crew, well, human along with their android priest Father Rendel, as they crash the XJ Battlecruiser on the surface of the Haunted Planet for the first time. For the first time for the second time. It feels weird enjoying a story a second time knowing that it has no end. That nothing is going to really change. That it can only go so far, that it then just stops. Then they just start the whole thing over again. It occurs to Rick for the first time that stories are like that, all stories. They can exist for much longer than their audience. That for someone else this is the first time that they’ll see this episode of Haunted Planet. And that someday after he’s dead and gone someone else will be watching it for the first time too. In that way stories outlive the people who make them and who enjoy them. In that way stories are more important than people. The smell of pickled parsnips fills the entire apartment and Rick swears no matter how Darjmainian he is that he’s never going to eat them like they’re candy.

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