Some sort of concussion bomb went off about twenty yards to my right. The blast threw me off my feet and I fell into a hole excavated into the yellow clay by the on-going battle. I landed on my left shoulder and on the side of my head. I could no longer hear the sounds of battle. It was just bells, bells, bells. Clanging like the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral, maybe. Banging, pounding, hammering. Inside my head. Louder and louder. Louder and louder. Louder and louder. Feeding-back into itself, over and over as if there would never be anything else. I rolled over onto my back and surveyed the mess I was in. The hole I was in was full of dirt, chunks of sod and guts, odd bits of other body parts, and shrapnel. There was a broken helmet at one end of the crater and it looked like the shredded body of a soldier, splashed out at the other end. The hole was nearly a perfect circle and it was about thirty feet in diameter. I looked away from the body and I touched my own head and body and legs, wondering if I was bleeding. I didn’t seem to be. There was just this crazy shriek, this siren, this scream, that seemed to be coming from inside my ears. I rose, slow and jelly-like, to my hands and knees.
Just then, the earth under me seemed to fall apart and I was falling.
I tumbled out of control, without touching anything but loose filth, for about three seconds. I hit a hard surface. I hit it with that same shoulder that had gotten jammed up just a few seconds earlier, and that took my breath away. The pain spread like a hot, red branding iron from my shoulder to my neck and rebounded to my hips. I lay still and waited to die.
My new friend, Zog (following a unanimous vote by the Tralfamadorians, he had been knighted and he had just come from the ceremony where he’d been given the official title of Zog the Fabulous), knelt beside me, cooing in a peculiar, unsettling, Chinese sort of tone, and he touched my good shoulder in a gesture of care. Imagine my surprise!
Once again, I surveyed my surroundings. Despite the hammering my shoulder had taken, I realized it could have been much, much worse, if someone had not put a stack of wrestling mats in a pile, precisely where I landed. Something on me certainly would have gotten broken without that cushion. I remembered how long I’d been falling. It was like falling off a mountain. I’d been spinning and spinning and it seemed like I’d go on forever. My stomach lurched at the thought, and I nearly was sick.
I took inventory of my situation. On one hand, I was outside of the terrible battle I’d so recently been involved in. On that same hand, I was once again in the company of the peculiar-looking but evil-smelling Zog. For no reason that I could put into words, I trusted him. It turned out that he was the one who piled those mats up to keep me from injuring myself when I fell through the wormhole and landed on Tralfamadore.
I rolled off the mats and, once my feet were planted safely on the ground, I said hello to Zog and I asked him how it had happened that, after I had run hundreds of yards over broken terrain, under enemy fire, we had ended up in the same place at the same time.
“We didn’t end up in the same place at the same time,” he responded. “I got here before you and spread out all these mats to protect you when you fell through.”
“That was thoughtful of you,” I said, “but, why didn’t you just take me with you and why did I have to nearly get blown up to get here?”
“It’s just the way things are,” said Zog.
I considered that for a few seconds. Since he didn’t offer to add any information or insights to that statement, I sat down on the top mat (there were two dozen of them, and the top one was at just about the same height as a comfortable chair) and cogitated some more.
As the silence grew awkward, I said, “Can you explain any of this to me?”
“Not in any way that you would understand,” he said. He appeared satisfied and stood with his hands folded behind his back with his big bug-head grinning at me like a full moon.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You are on the planet Tralfamadore,” he said.
“How did I get here and why am I here?” I asked.
“I am not capable of answering either of those questions,” Zog smiled.
“Take me to your leader,” I said.
Zog clapped his hands in joy. “I was wondering how long it would take you to ask that,” he said. “I will take you to an emissary of Tralfamadore, a sort of greeter for Earthlings.”
“That would be swell,” I told him.
He clapped his hands twice and we found ourselves in a great hall that seemed oddly familiar to me. The Tralfamadorians had re-created a set from THE WIZARD OF OZ. It was designed to intimidate me, and it did.
I followed Zog down the seemingly endless hallway leading to a semi-circular apse with a lower, domed ceiling. There was a podium, there, and I climbed two stairs and stood in front of it. I looked around. I put my hands in my pockets. Zog stood silently by my side.
All around me, the walls, the vaulted ceiling, the immensity of the cathedral-like structure I was standing in, it all began to shimmer and sparkle. It was like I was about to have a Texas-sized migraine or that I was going to pass out. Neither of these things happened. Instead, this fantastic illusion of a grand edifice blinked out and I found myself standing in a vast, open space. It was uncluttered by any vestige, any trace, any clue that it had been, just moments before, a gigantic gothic castle. I looked around. Zog was gone. There was no air stirring. The surface I was standing on looked like marble. It went on forever.
And then, Cthulbanana appeared. Sitting next to him, in a straight-backed wooden chair, a mission-style chair, maybe a Stickley, was an distraught-looking, middle-aged woman. Sitting slightly behind her, in what appeared to be a comfortable-looking recliner, was a very old man. Cthulbanana clapped his hands in delight. “Here we are,” he said. “Isn’t this great?”
I couldn’t say. There was still way too much that I didn’t know or understand. Truth be told, I didn’t understand a bit of it and I certainly didn’t know what was going on. Don’t you hate that?
Cthulbanana read my mind. He twisted his dowel-shaped body so that his giant eye could rest for a moment on both Sylvia and Eliot Rosewater; then, he turned back to me and said to the three of us, “Let me explain everything.”
My legs wobbled and I experienced both auditory and visual hallucinations as Cthulbanana overwhelmed my senses with a telepathic summary of the past hundred years of Earth’s history and the reason that we had been collected here on Tralfamadore. It took him scant seconds to download the information. When he was done, I could only gape at him. My mouth hung open. Sylvia Rosewater’s mouth was also hanging open like a broken gate. Cthulbanana had opened her mind as well with this plethora of information. Eliot number one had a resolute stare in his eyes. He had just decided to surrender his carefree existence on Tralfamadore .