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Content Starts Chapter One – The Flavor of Life

(Transcripts may vary slightly from the published recording, because, you know, improvising. Also, grammar and punctuation may be imperfect…because…umm…Astral Plane.)

Attendant: Sorry, I lost the tape. it’s normally right, oh, there, there it is. Thanks for your patience.

Sounds of play button being pushed on tape player

Ethereal music begins playing

Attendant: Welcome to Desert Skies. We’re so glad you’re here. And I know what you’re thinking. Where is “here” exactly? I’ll do my best to explain.

This station resides on the lowest sphere of existence between life and death, or as we like to say here, between life and the next life. 

You have no reason to be afraid. No more reason to fret, nor worry. Whatever your needs, we are here to help.

My colleague here is the mechanic, or Mac, for short.

Mechanic: Yo

Attendant: It’s his job to service your vehicle in preparation for the journey across the celestial spheres. I am the attendant.

Mechanic: Or Tendy, for short.

Attendant: I asked you to not call me that in front of travelers. (Mac: I think it puts our travelers at ease) I’m trying to create an air of mystique (Mac: Well, I think that’s stupid) Yeah, well nobody asked you. Ahem. Like I said, I am the attendant. It’s my job to ensure you have adequate provisions and are well instructed in navigating the journey before you.

Now let me tell you about the selection of products available and any associated promotions.

We have all your road trip favorites. Chips, sodas, sunflower seeds, pickled pigs feet that induce devastating degrees of sadness. That’s Mac’s favorite.

Mechanic:It’s just nice to feel something

Attendant: Before hitting the road, how about one last trip south of the border? We have an impressive selection of over 34 varieties of microwavable burritos, everything from breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert flavors. Right now, purchase three and you’ll receive a portable microwave to take with you on your journey. 

Mechanic: Hell of a deal if you ask me

Attendant: Are you dealing with the regret of never having accomplished anything significant in your life? Punish yourself appropriately with some Flamin’ Hot Cheet…..

Lawrence: Enough. Enough. Turn off the music!

Attendant: What’s wrong? Was I reading too fast? That’s fine, I can start over. Just let me rewind this

Lawrence: No! Don’t do it again. Look, I need some answers. Five minutes ago, I’m sitting at home eating a plate of toaster waffles. Next thing I know I’m driving down a deserted highway, then pulling into a gas station in the middle of God knows where, and you start reading off some brain-melting specials of the day with Gimli here. I just want to know what’s really going on. Give it to me straight. Am I high right now?

Attendant: Possibly, but that’s irrelevant. You’re here because you’re dead. This is your last stop on your way to the great beyond. It’s our job to make sure you’re prepared for the ride.

Lawrence: Uh-huh. And what if I don’t believe you? What if this is all just some kind of sick dream, huh? Some elaborate prank?

Attendant: Look, I understand that this experience can be jarring, especially for those whose death was sudden and unexpected. I can’t remember but I probably experienced the same emotions you’re experiencing right now.

Lawrence: For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re telling me the truth. What’s to keep me from driving back the direction I came from, huh? High tailing it back to my living room, no pun intended.

Attendant: Nothing’s keeping you from that, but I don’t recommend it. 

Lawrence: Yeah and why’s that?

Mechanic: Microwavable Burritos

Lawrence: What? What is that supposed to mean?

Attendant: I’ll show you. Come on. Follow me.

Footsteps. Refrigeration sounds.

Attendant: Our microwavable burrito selection. Currently, there are 34 varieties. You drive back the way you came, there’s going to be 35. Take a look at the packages. What do you see?

Lawrence: Says Gut Buster brand microwavable burritos. And there’s a face, lady with red hair. Alice’s chicken a la king style.

Attendant: Read the back

Lawrence: sigh okay. This delicious microwavable snack is dedicated to Alice McDougal, who attempted to return to the physical realm and retrieve her beloved cat Wallace. We honor her brave effort. What the hell is this?

Attendant: Keep reading.

Lawrence: In accordance with the governing rules of the Astral Plane, the full essence of this individual’s existence, desires, purpose and romantic history has been meticulously crafted into this artisan style burrito. Taste the flavor of life. 

So there’s ground up lady in here?

Attendant: No, God no. That’s disgusting. This isn’t her physically, it’s the flavor and texture of her existence which apparently tastes like diced chicken in a cream sauce. It’s actually pretty good.

Lawrence: Congratulations, friend. I’ve heard crazy shit in my life but I’ve never heard anything like that.

…You know, I bet I’d be chicken. Some kind of chicken burrito.

Attendant: Why do you say that?

Lawrence: Saw it on one of those placemats at a Chinese restaurant. I was born in the year of the chicken.

Attendant: I think you mean rooster.

Lawrence: Really? I always thought it was chicken. I think I’d rather be a chicken than a cock, ya know?

Alright, I need a cigarette. You got those? Huh, a brand that doesn’t taste like devastating sadness, or contain the essence of someone’s great-grandma?

Mechanic: Here, have one of mine. 

Lawrence: Thank God. Something I can actually use. I know these things are awful for you

Mechanic: I’m not sure you got to worry about that anymore. C’mon, buddy. Let’s take a look at that car of yours.

Lawrence: That’s the other thing. I don’t even own a car, then boom, I’m suddenly cruising down the highway in a Buick Skylark. 

Mechanic: Hell of a car

Lawrence: Sure. I’m not complaining. But that’s not my automobile.

Mechanic: And this isn’t my beard’s natural color, yet here we are. C’mon, let’s get you road ready.

  Hey, Nintendo, or whatever your name is, you really telling me I’m dead?

Attendant: It’s Attendant, and yeah, you are. Sorry, friend.

Lawrence: Well, ain’t that just a kick in the pants. One more question. This place at the end of the road. What’s it like? Is it nice?

Attendant: Yeah. It’s nice.

Lawrence: Huh, that’s good to know I guess.

Attendant: Come back and see me before taking off. 

Lawrence: Whatever you want lord of the underworld

Attendant: Hey, Cash Register. 

Cash: Hello Attendant. How can I be of service?

Attendant: I always tell people that what lies at the end of that road is a nice place, cash.

Cash: You excel at putting our travelers at ease, attendant.

Attendant: Sure, but what if it’s a lie? I don’t know if it’s nice or not. For all I know it could be a plane of non-existence.

Cash: I would assume that even a state of non-existence is better than having your essence converted into a microwavable burrito.

Attendant: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. A lot of people like burritos.

Cash: Attendant, as you know, I’m incapable of lying.

Attendant: So you’ve told me

Cash: But you’re not. I can’t say for certain, but I believe that if given the ability to provide comfort to frightened travelers able to travel but one direction, I would allow myself to express confidence that they are headed towards a “nice place”, regardless of my uncertainty.

Attendant: You really think that’s okay?

Cash: Attendant, I am just a computational assistance and service help register,  but logic leads me to believe that the existence of Desert Skies, an Astral Plane Fuel and Service Station dedicated to the comfort and safety of travelers embarking on their final journey, well, it seems to me that level of intentional care would denote a certain amount of goodwill on the part of our superiors.

Attendance: Our superiors. I don’t even know who they are. Do you, Cash?

Cash: I’m sorry attendant, but as I’ve told you 473 times, I’m unable to speak to that subject.

Attendance: Unable or not allowed?

Cash: Is there anything else I can assist you with, Attendant?

Attendance: Play some music?

Cash: You got it. Mood?

Attendance: Contemplative

Mechanic: Welp, he’s all set.

Attendant: Where’s he at?

Mechanic: Hmph, dude’s just sitting in his car with his head resting on the steering wheel. I’d ask what gives, but it aint like I’ve never seen it before.

Attendant: I hear that. 

Mechanic: What’s his story anyway?

Attendant: Geez, I haven’t even ran the report. Cash Register.

Cash: How can I help you, attendant?

Attendant: Request a traveler bio for, geez I didn’t even ask his name.

Mechanic: I got that from him at least. Name’s Lawrence Cobb.

Cash: Requesting traveler biography for Lawrence Cobb.

Attendant: Alright, let’s take a look here. Lawrence Cobb, age 42.  Looks like it was the toaster waffles that did him in. Choked to death watching television.

Mechanic: When I die, that’s how I wanna go.

Attendant: Yeah, well you are dead and what??? You want to die choking on frozen breakfast foods watching reruns?

Mechanic: You’re judgy, you know that!

Attendant:  (sigh) Anyway. Born and raised in New York. Managed the electronics counter at a Department Store.

Mechanic: Mm-hmm. Fascinating stuff. But you know what I want.

Attendant: Yeah, I know. (Flips Pages). There you go you sick little man.

Mechanic: Embarrassing childhood memories. God, I love these. Look, in the 4th grade choked on an ice cube at lunch and threw up all over the table. How do you even do that!?!

Attendant: Hmm, says here his wife died. Her name sounds so familiar. Deborah Cobb. De-bo-rah Cobb. Cash, do you have a record of Deborah Cobb married to Lawrence Cobb?

Cash: Indeed. Deborah Cobb. Age 36. Sudden death. Brain aneurysm. 

Attendant: Jesus, that’s so young.

Mechanic: We have so many people come through here, Tendy. What makes you think you’d remember some random woman? We must have had twenty thousand Deborah’s at Desert Skies in my time, and at least a handful of Deborah Cobbs.

Attendant: I don’t know. Some people stick with you, Mac. 

Mechanic: Yeah, I guess that’s true. There was that one guy who crapped his pants dancing to “You’re the one that I want” during a school play. I still got the report pinned up in my shack. You can’t make this stuff up.

Attendant: No, you can’t. I think I’m going to check on our traveler. 

Outside, sound of dessert, steps, knock on car window

Soft music begins playing

Attendant: Mr. Cobb

Lawrence: (Muffled) Go away Nintendo

Attendant: I just want to talk, real quick. Give me thirty seconds. Please Mr. Cobb.

Lawrence: Stop calling me Mr. Cobb. My name is Lawrence. 

Attendant: Hey Lawrence. You’ve been out here a while and we’re getting kind of worried about you.

Lawrence: Worried about me? What’s there to worry about? I’m already dead.

Attendant: Dead is such a weighty word. You left the physical plane. So what? It’s just one plane of existence, this is another, and down that road is another. Your destination. The next life.

Lawrence: Yeah, well if it’s so great why haven’t you driven down that road, huh? If it’s so wonderful what are you doing out here in the plane of god-knows-what hawking burritos with people in ‘em?

Attendant: I don’t know

Lawrence: What do you mean you don’t know? You’re dead too, right? You must have pulled in here just like me, but you stayed.

Attendant: You’re right. I mean, I assume that’s what happened. But I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t working here. When I wasn’t the attendant. I don’t remember my life on the physical plane, or my real name. I have no idea who I am or how I died. 

Lawrence: Jesus, that’s messed up, guy. So what’s to keep you from going now? Get in the car and we go together. I know I’d feel better if someone was with me, ya know?

Attendant: I’m sorry Lawrence. I can’t. 

Lawrence: Why not?

Attendant: Because I like what I do. It may not seem like much to you, but to me it’s everything. It’s all I’ve ever known. Do you know how many Lawrence Cobbs I’ve had come through here. People like you who get behind that wheel and can’t seem to turn the key? And 99.9% of the time I get them down the road. I save them from the burrito plane of existence. I help them move on.

Lawrence: It might not be so bad being a burrito you know. A lot of people like burritos. 

Attendant: This is true

Lawrence: You know, I had a wife who died. Three years ago. I couldn’t do anything without her. Ever since she’s been gone my life’s just been one pointless day after another. I wish she was here. But, she might be up there too, huh? Down that road? How could I not realize that? She’s down that road! Tell me, did a Deborah Cobb ever come through this place?

Attendant: She did. Come inside Lawrence. Let’s get you what you need.

Lawrence: Well, okay. I’m going to get to see her again. You got any of those corn chips shaped like a dunce cap?

Attendant: Indeed we do

Lawrence: And you didn’t do nothing weird to it?

Attendant: No need. Those things are weird enough on their own.

Take a look around the store, Lawrence, and meet me at the counter when you’re done.

Lawrence: Thanks, but I can’t buy none of this stuff. I don’t even have my wallet.

Mechanic: Then how in the hell are you planning to pay for all that Astral-Grade fuel I just pumped into your Buick? We don’t take kindly to thieves around here.

Lawrence: Hey, now wait just a minute. You didn’t say nothin’ about no payment. I mean, what would you guys even do with money? 

Attendant: Nothing, at all. Mac is just being an asshat.

Mechanic: Yeah, I’m just messin’ with ya, buddy. Nobody’s got money this side of the physical realm. You know what they say, you can’t..

Lawrence: …take it with you when you go. Yeah.

Attendant: Grab whatever you like and meet me at the counter when you’re done.

And don’t forget to grab a map. They’re on that rack over by the burrito freezer. There’s only one main road that you’ll need to stay on, but there are some interesting sights along you may want to check out. It gets cold once you get past the martian sphere, but there’s a….

Lawrence: No, no, no no

Attendant: What’s wrong?

Lawrence: My Debbie

Attendant: What about her? I told you, she’s been through here, Lawrence.

Lawrence: Yeah, but she didn’t go down that road.

Attendant: What are you talking about?

Lawrence: Come see for yourself

Attendant: See what?

Lawrence: That’s her face. Right there. Debbie’s Waffle stuffed burrito. She didn’t go down that road. She tried to go back.

Attendant: Let me see

It says,

This delicious microwavable snack is dedicated to Deborah Cobb, who attempted to return to the physical plane for her dear husband Lawrence. We honor the sacrifice she made in the name of love.

Attendant: Dammit. I knew I remembered that name

Lawrence: My wife, the only reason I ever had for living, is a burrito

Mechanic: A lot of people like burritoooooo…..k. I should shut up

Lawrence: No, you’re right. A lot of people like burritos. But I loved this one. And she’s gone. For a second there I thought there was really a chance we could be together again.

Attendant: I’m so sorry, Lawrence

Lawrence: Que surah, surah. Could I have a moment alone fella’s?

Attendant: Of course. Mac?

Mechanic: Comin’

Attendant: Poor guy. I can’t imagine what he’s feeling. The thoughts that have to be going through his head.

Mechanic: And to think that if his wife could’ve just waited. They’d be together now. 

Attendant: I wonder what it feels like. To miss the physical plane, the people you left behind. I think I remember things about the physical plane. Real basic things. Telephones, TVs, chinese restaurants, but I don’t remember me.

The only me I remember is the me at desert skies. I’ve asked Cash to request a bio so many times I’ve lost count, and every time she says the same thing. I’m unable to submit bio requests for current staff. I know I’ve asked you before, Mac, but, you don’t remember anything about me when I got here.

Mechanic: Just the same stuff I told you before, Tendy. You showed up. Got out of the car. Walked past me like I wasn’t even there. Dead silent. You went inside. I started prepping your car for the journey and when I went to tell you it was ready you were already standing behind the counter. The old attendant had slipped out the back and took the car meant for you. I guess he was finally ready to hit the road. The funny thing is, I never got….

Attendant: Mac, come here, look at this.

Mechanic: What’s he doing?

Attendant: He’s chewing.

Mechanic: What’s that in his hand?

Attendant: That my friend is Deborah Cobb. The full essence of her existence, desires, purpose and romantic history meticulously crafted into an artisan style burrito. 

Mechanic: Well, I’ll be damned. I’ve never seen a man sob and eat a burrito at the same time.

Attendant: I have.

Mechanic: You said you’d never mention that again

Door Opens

Lawrence: Hey fellas

Attendant: Hey Lawrence. You alright?

Lawrence: Yeah, you know what, I am. I think I’m ready to go.

Attendant: But, you don’t have anything. You sure you don’t want to grab some snacks for the road?

Lawrence: Don’t need anything

Attendant: At least let me grab you a map.

Lawrence: No need. I aint stoppin’.

Attendant: Well, okay then. Sounds like you’re ready

Lawrence: As I’ll ever be. Thanks fellas. For everything.

Mechanic: And that was the list time that we ever saw Lawrence Cobb. As his tail lights faded into the distance we were reminded of the power of love, and its ability to cause wandering souls to find resolve. Perhaps, each one of us…

Attendant:  Give it a rest Mac, look. He’s turning around.

Mechanic: Maybe he’s coming back for somethin’

Attendant: I don’t think so. He’s not slowing down.

Lawrence: Arrivaderci my friends! See you in the freezer aisle.

Attendant: And there he goes

Mechanic: Nothing you coulda done, Tendy. 

Attendant: I really thought he was gonna make it

Mechanic: Who’s to say he didn’t? Seems to me like he made it exactly where he wanted to go.

Attendant: The freezer aisle.

Mechanic: C’mon, Tendy! We got a 35th variety now. Let’s see what it is. We’re going to need a bigger freezer!

Attendant: You go ahead. I’m going to submit my traveler report.

Attendant: Hey Cash.

Cash Register: Hello attendant.

Attendant: I’d like to submit my traveler report for Lawrence Cobb.

Cash Register: I’m ready to capture your report.

Attendant: Another traveler has come and gone. Lawrence Cobb never departed for his trip across the celestial spheres. It seems that he found a reason to head the other direction. Different this time though. He wasn’t trying to return to the physical plane, at least as far as I can tell. He knew what the outcome of driving that direction would be and that seemed to be his intention, to follow the path that his dearly departed Deborah had taken just three years before. I hope he found what he was looking for.

That’s the end of my report, Cash.

Cash Register: Pensive and succinct, attendant. Will you be needing anything else?

Attendant: Yeah, probably time we requested a second freezer. 34 varieties of microwavable burritos is just about all we have room for.

Mechanic: Looks like you’re not up to 35 varieties just yet, bud.

Attendant: What do you mean?

Mechanic: Here you go. Look for yourself.

Attendant: Lawrence and Debbie’s chicken and waffle stuffed burrito?

Mechanic: Uh-huh. And read the back.

Attendant: This delicious microwavable snack is dedicated to Lawrence and Deborah Cobb, whose love for one another transcends the boundaries of the known planes. May their essences enjoy an eternity of artisanal bliss together. Taste the flavor of love.

Mechanic: That is the weirdest most beautiful thing I’ve ever read on a microwavable food product.

Attendant: Same, my friend. Same.

Another traveler. Looks like it’s time to get back to work.