Nobody ever believes me. I look them in the eye. I put my hands in my pockets so that I won’t fidget. I tell them over and over, sometimes even when they ask, sometimes just to have something to do. People don’t say I’m crazy. They don’t say anything. My hands come out of my pockets. My words come out faster. I’ve shown them the scars where the feeding tubes were, the circular spot on my left temple where the hair refuses to grow. They nod and raise their eyebrows. I guess I can see where they’re coming from. It’s a lot to take in. They think it's the pipe.
Just a matter of perspective, you know, a big leap of logic for them. It was for me. Once there was a me that didn’t understand. That wasn’t crazy, if you will, before all the tubes and tests. But it’s true. It’s all true, every last word.
When The King died, they were debating about what to do with the body. He had gotten really fat in the past few years, his hair was glued on, and they didn’t want that on TV so much. Or the whole toilet thing. So they kept his body in the morgue under lock and key. Two cops sat in there playing pinochle among all of the dead bodies, drinking coffee over loaded, hip-slung pistols. The real business of the morgue was shut down: new bodies were referred to other hospitals outside of the Memphis area. It was really quite a pain if your grandma died around then, I’ve heard. That was during my time, but I never had a grandma. It’s kind of touching that they did all of that for him, all the same.
This turned out to be the better end of the deal for The King, who would have wound up beneath six feet or so of dirt, maybe burned into ashes and sold for $100 a gram. They were watching, had been fans since the beginning. They loved The King. He’d been broadcast for years by then. He was even better than that German guy that they had heard first.
They had decided to take him with them. He was dead, sure, but they saw this as only a mere technicality. A hurdle, nothing more. They had the technology, as they say.
So they broke into the hospital late the first night. It really wasn’t that hard, they had plenty of narcotics at their disposal to drug the languid guards and bored nurses they stumbled upon. They had been given survival and evasion training prior to their assignment, but the mere sight of them stunned the unfortunate souls in their path. Quick injections left any memories fuzzy and impressionable.
It was a cakewalk, as we say. They just needed the grey matter.
It was weeks after the body had been dealt with, when The King seemed to finally come back into consciousness. Its vocal processor would have to be upgraded to fit the actual chord ultrasounds they had on record. But he was there, sure enough. Confused as all hell, but he eventually rolled with the punches like they knew that he would. He was a real trooper.
They constructed a simulation for him, letting him be where he wanted to be. He had to go through the motions of travel, but there was no hindrance of his freedom. He rode in Cadillacs. He boarded planes to sit in first class. Painfully lovely stewardesses brought him scotch and phenobarbital. Most weren’t wearing panties. It was fantastic.
When he got around to it, after playing with the women and the drugs, he took it upon himself to play a show. They had installed an interface unit to serve as his manager. It was a machine, sure, but the only vehicle of communication that they had with The King. The unit arranged all of the necessary subroutines and macros that would be required for such a display.
It didn’t take long. It would be held in Memphis, on Beale Street. A stage would be flanked by the largest TV’s ever imagined by a disembodied central nervous system and an artificial interpreter. The King would wear gold lame, and the lights mounted on the roofs would be blinding when they enveloped him. He would be the Sun radiating, bringing life to the people, and they would stretch out into the distance beyond sight and comprehension.
The day came. The King had spent the night before in a paranoid haze of pharmaceuticals, hiding behind a blue woolen blanket in a corner of his bedroom, which seemed smaller, now, and he could not figure out why. The light coming through the window had stuttered. He knew that he had seen it. His eyes closed, he breathed deeply, feeling the drugs and the dark that kept him just above the level of total panic. Sleep found him at some point, and he woke the next morning cold, with a bladder that threatened to burst.
He took the stage with a long stride. The crowd simulation was enough to render someone with actual ears deaf and quaking. The King could hear it all, and his mind grew to perceive the myriad of different voices calling to him. Individuals moved in and out of the din; he coughed into the microphone.
“Good evening,” he said, smirking on one side of his face. “Glad that y’all could make it.”
The band kicked into a high energy number, and he could feel the microphone and the electricity of the PA respond to his voice, resonating and shaking the stage beneath his feet. The lights kicked into an explosion of color. Bright white spotlights seared through the gold lame suit, reflecting and making large bands of daylight glance in and around the buildings and the crowd. The lights never grew hot. Things should have caught fire; they were that bright.
He felt alive. He felt more than alive. His voice warmed up before he had even started. He sang better than he had ever before. Every note was there, waiting for him to choose it. The band was demure, but on point. They never missed a beat, nor was a single fill lacking any energy or excitement. When it came to the slow numbers, everybody cried and it was beautiful.
Of course they streamed this across the network. It was well received, even kept on file in many ships’ databases. Sometimes The King would watch it over fried chicken legs when it was replayed on the TV in his bedroom, which he had remodeled since the event. The colors from his set moved over his face, reflected in his black hair, and fell around the walls of the room. The King felt peace.
I only caught a glimpse of the real him while I was there. They drew some of my blood, ran an EKG or something. Other unmentionables, a lot of wires hung from me. I stared around at the sights when they moved me from place to place, upright and immobilized to something flat and warm. It was like being underground in a subway, but quiet and no pee smell. They parked me next to him for most of my visit.
Next to his floating brain and stem, there was a screen where you could see what he was seeing. From the way he acted, I think he was happy. I don’t know whether he’s still with them or not. I don’t know how long they can keep him alive.
They finished their business with me, and left me cold and naked on the side of the highway outside Senatobia.
“You alright, Ma’am?”
The two bright lights were circled by blue flashes. A deep, hungry growl threatened from the darkness behind them.
“They were here! Did you see them?”
“Ma’am, all I see is a muddy lady, naked as a jay bird in the middle of a field.”
“Did they send you to pick me up? Oh, they’re so thoughtful. I was beginning to get cold.”
She smiled and hugged her bare breasts to her chest. The Highway Patrolman went to the door of his car, opened it, and began to call in to the station.
“They didn’t want me to get cold, so they sent you. You kind, kind man, you.”
“Well, alright,” the patrolman said into his mic, “but I’m not cleaning the car when we get down there, now, dammit,” he laughed.
He motioned for the woman to come closer to the lights.
“Are we going to go tell everyone, now?”
“Yes, Ma’am. We’re going to go tell everyone everything. You just sit tight here in the backseat.”
“They are so thoughtful to have sent you for me.”
“That they were,” he said smiling. “That they were.”
Shutting the rear door of the patrol car, he chuckled to himself and shook his head.
The arresting officer didn’t believe her any more on the way to the station than he did in the field.
“There’s a piece of truth in all rumors, you know.”
“Yes, Ma’am. There sure is.”
“The King is so happy. It was so beautiful what they’d done for him.”