I’ve never quite felt at home on earth. I get sick sometimes, and that’s just wrong, and I am mildly afflicted when I have to tear out poison ivy in bunches, and that also is wrong. Sometimes I meet people who aren’t very nice, or who think that I am not very nice. Sometimes there are clouds when I want it to be sunny, and sometimes, when I was a boy and had to go to school, it would be clear and cold when I wanted it to be snowing! All wrong, all out of kilter.
And now I have discovered what the problem is. I had an inkling of it when I was four years old, and had a bad dream after watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. I felt at the time, and I remember thinking that I would write it in my diary if I had a diary and knew what a diary was, that I was not really an earthling. By really, I mean what I feel deep down, forty feet down, at the bottom of the well of my being. I am transplanetary.
My body, I admit, is human and of earth. But my something-or-other, not a “soul,” maybe my Inner Life Force, visible under certain atmospheric conditions as a cold blue light, is not human and not of earth. I am absolutely persuaded of this, just as a man I once knew was absolutely persuaded that aliens had contacted him by etching a message, their stylus a bolt of lightning, on a flat rock in West Virginia. My evidence for this claim is incontrovertible. I feel that it is so. And there can be no argument against feelings. In fact, even to mount an argument against someone’s feelings is evil, and must be punished swiftly and severely. Otherwise we could never live with one another.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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So then, I am really the habitation for the soul of a creature called a Primo (that’s the best English transliteration I can come up with; Primos have several palates and tongues, so they can talk out of both sides of their mouth at once, making them excellent public servants) from the planet Thnoffa. The proper way to greet me is to lie prone, with arms extended, crying, “How great a blessing it is, to lick the dust before Thy feet!” In case you meet me indoors or on a frozen lake, I carry a handful of dust in my pocket to oblige you. Nor are you permitted to say, “I should prefer not to.” My fantasies are reality. You must be assimilated.
Primos live for about eighty years—I have obtained my most reliable information from ancient Persian mysticism, a Ouija board, and inspirations from full-body immersion in the spores of psilocybin mushrooms. But since our planet takes a century to orbit our sun, those eighty years are what you earth-bound creatures would call eighty centuries. That means that reproduction on Thnoffa isn’t high on the list of priorities. Who wants to be the progenitor of descendants as numerous as the stars, or the grains of sand on the seashore? There aren’t any seashores on Thnoffa, and the thick clouds keep us from seeing any stars. But we Primos do important work that would be interrupted by offspring. Permit me to describe it.
The most remarkable of the Primos are our Phantaphils—in English, “Chefs of the Future.” They lie on the hillsides with their arms about their bellies, which on Thnoffa grow to be quite prodigious. A Primo walking about in a state of Cephalonebulism—that is, acute concentration upon Reality—will sometimes mistake a fellow Primo’s distended belly for a hummock, or a small hill, with embarrassing consequences. In any case, the Chef of the Future lies there and projects thoughts onto the future as less intellectual earthlings might project pictures onto a screen. The thoughts are always Great and Important and New and Revolutionary. Sometimes they think of a future in which no Primo will have to move again, but will be toted around on rickshaws by Secundos, the delightfully backward majority on Thnoffa. Sometimes it’s a future in which the Secundos gratefully give nearly half of their substance to the Primos, by drawing the life-fluid from their interior vessels, and just as gratefully tote away from the Primos their alimentary expulsions, redolent of violets, in wheelbarrows.
Sometimes they think of a future in which every single thing that is known about the nature of the creatures of the planet will be reversed, as if fish could fly and birds could swim, and children could discourse intelligently upon political matters, and public servants could refrain from enriching themselves, and males could remember to clean the sink and feed the baby, and females could string together ten thoughts without logical contradiction.
Laws on the planet Thnoffa are scrupulously just and clear, engraved in gold on lasting pillars for all to see. But the language on Thnoffa is expansive, for the sake of precision. The Thenovian word for “whereas” has forty syllables, and is declined for case, number, social standing of the speaker, social standing of the hearer, and intensity of relationship between the following clause and the speaker’s ulterior motives. So the Primos must use teeny-tiny lettering on the pillars. Fortunately, the minuscule characters do not hinder their legibility in the least, because the Primos are blessed with eyesight so acute, they can decipher the sentences from miles away; and some Primos are so eagle-eyed they are said to be able to divine the meaning of laws that they have never actually read. These go robed in black and are highly honored.
I should not, however, be understood as implying that the Secundos are blind or bleary eyed. It is simply that, habituated to lofty thoughts and distant projections, the Primos can only see clearly what is very far away. Some Secundos are known to take advantage of this wonderful capacity, by placing stones in the path of a Primo, or by digging holes, planting flagpoles, or spreading oil in his path.
Rights are protected on Thnoffa. Sometimes a Primo, lying on his hillside, will groan and cry out—not from a dinner of undercooked mice, as their detractors say, but from the prodigious greatness of the vision they are attempting to project. Then his fellow Primos hasten to the spot, by rolling, while the Secundos scurry for clean towels and boiling water. The belly of the afflicted Primo will swell so great as to hide the sun and the moon, and then all the other Primos will join in the groaning and heaving, while the Secundos plug up their ears. Then all at once the Great New Thought will come: “Nothing is real but the thought of a Primo!” “Two and two make five!” “All living things are machines!” “All living things are conic sections!” “There are no such things as things!” “Male is female and female is male!” “Fair is foul and foul is fair!” And with a sound like thunder a great wind will sweep across the hills, and the belly of the Primo will resume its ordinary measure of fatness as he falls into a deep and restorative sleep. Then all the inhabitants of Thnoffa are compelled to honor his vision. This is called Freedom of Expression.
There’s nothing so foolish as romance on Thnoffa. The Primas on Thnoffa discourage it. If a thoughtless Primo should approach a Prima with a bunch of flame-trees in full flower, she is taught to cry out, Fnifflism! Grofnthnation! Unthnepfnous! At which the young Primo retires in shame to a secluded hillside, where he proceeds to project, in private.
Since the Primas are therefore barren, all reproduction is undertaken by the few Secundos who have been left unsterilized. The most promising of their young are then transformed into Primos by an ingenious device, whose like is unknown on earth. They remove the young Secundo from its parents for most of the year, and brick it up in a large holding tank, kept away from fresh air and flora and fauna. In that tank it is fed the concoctions of the most prominent Chefs of the Future, by a process known as stuffing and cramming. The Primos have learned that these methods, continued for twenty of their years, produce tremendous belly-distended limb-withered dream-blessed Chefs of the Future.
That is what I AM. Address me accordingly.