It’s 2003. OG and I just finished our 13-hour shift painting a giant mural of the world’s largest lobster on the side of Lobster Shack, when my flip phone rings. I look at the caller ID: European Space Agency.
“You’ve been chosen,” the caller says. “We’ve been chosen,” I yell to OG from my lounge chair at one end of the wall. “Chosen for what?” OG yells back. I shrug. Then ask a few more questions. Very few. The caller isn’t in the mood for chatting.
“We’ll send a car. Be ready in an hour,” the caller says sternly. I look at OG. “We got it. The painting job. In Paris. Only thing is we have to go right now.”
OG and I had applied for a painting job for the European Space Agency (ESA). We thought it would be fun to get a new experience for our fledgling painting company. Even if it meant painting office walls. After all, ESA’s headquarters are in the City of Lights. And we could advertise that we were painters in Paris.
I know, I bet you’re thinking it’s a bit strange that the European Space Agency would send a car for us, just two unknown mural painters who were hired to paint office walls. We thought it was strange, too. But we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Our other option was that OG would have to pedal our only bicycle with me sitting on the back rim holding our bags. And that’s a long bike ride from Ogunquit, Maine to an international airport.
The car they sent was a VW Microbus. “A Bulli!” OG said as a big smile appeared on her face. She yanked open the driver’s door and gestured for The Chauffeur to move over. “I’ll drive.”
OG didn’t exactly drive to the airport. The steering wheel was just for show, and the guidance system in the Microbus took us to a trailer park.
“What is this?” I asked from the back seat. I was cranking the camper top up and down and not paying attention to where we were going. “You’ll see,” said The Chauffeur. Then she told OG, “Stop here.”
OG switched off the engine, and we just sat there for a minute. Wondered what in the heck was going on. An hour ago we were painting a lobster on the side of a building, and the next hour we’re sitting in a Bulli in Alquitran Vista Trailer Park.
The Chauffeur moved her eyes to one side, and with a tilt of her head indicated we should get out of the VW. “You both go in the Yellow Trailer. I’ll bring your bags in a minute,” she said. OG and I looked side-eyed at each other. We were getting a little suspicious. What was going on here? We thought we were going to Paris. Did we get hired to paint the inside of a trailer in rural New Hampshire? That wasn’t gonna do much for our advertising or our reputation.
When we went inside the Yellow Trailer there was nothing but barrels upon barrels that were labeled BLACK PAINT, a few large paintbrushes, some bins labeled SPACE FOOD, and two tilted chairs with lots of seat belts.
“Um, did we just get kidnapped?” OG asked as we stood in the middle of the Yellow Trailer. After a few minutes, The Chauffeur rushed through the door. She wasn’t carrying our bags. But she was carrying spacesuits. “Put these on,” she said, as if it was every day that we used spacesuits for painting.
“Is the paint toxic?” I asked as I struggled to pull on the spacesuit pants. ‘We usually just wear painting smocks when we paint.” Actually, I usually wore lederhosen, but that was too much information.
“Hurry up,” The Chauffeur said. “We don’t have much time. You’ll get your instructions after blast off.”
“Blast off?” OG and I asked at the same time. “Blast off?”
“Put on your suits. Fast. You only have two minutes. Then sit down in those chairs. And pull the seatbelts tight.” And with that last instruction, The Chauffeur ran out of the door of the Yellow Trailer. We could hear her lock up from the outside.
OG and I liked adventures. But we thought we would be painting in Paris. Now we were strapped into easy chairs and wearing spacesuits. We were waiting for our friends to come in the door and laugh and say it was all a big prank.
TEN-NINE-EIGHT-SEVEN. A countdown was coming over a loudspeaker. “I don’t think we’re going to be painting in Paris,” OG said over her communication headphone.
SIX-FIVE FOUR-THREE-TWO. “This is gonna be a heckuva story if we live through it,” I said to OG as the Yellow Trailer began to shake violently. I wasn’t sure we’d be alive to tell the story.
We could feel the Yellow Trailer liftoff. OG and I looked out the windows. There was a black dog wagging its tail. That was our last glance at Earth and Earthlings for a long while.
When we were in flight, we got our instructions. “We’re sending you to Saturn, to paint the sky,” said Intercom Voice. “Space has suddenly turned a strange shade of green, and we need you to get up there and paint it black. Yes, I started singing the lyrics. “No time for frivolity,” said Intercom Voice. “You need to concentrate. And get to work.”
I took that picture of OG when she first started painting the night sky near Saturn. She was the best large format mural painter in the world, and now I told her she was the best in the universe. Also, I liked her focus on safety; even though we were in zero gravity, she still used scaffolding.
As you can imagine, painting space can take a long time. Space is vast. And it’s lonely out there. After who-knows-how-long, we started to get a bit nostalgic for the Lobster Shack. We would send radio transmissions to Intercom Voice from time to time, updating our painting progress. But all we ever heard back was, “Keep going. We’ll let you know when your work is complete.”
I was getting tired of this endless task. And I was getting tired of eating space food. Sure, it was fun eating Space Ice Cream for the first few months, but then I was getting too fat to fit in my spacesuit. But the alternative was bad. Have your ever tried Space Broccoli? Trust me, you don’t want to. I just ate less Space Ice Cream.
“We got a postcard!” I heard OG shout one morning as I was waking up. (It was zero gravity, so we slept anywhere we wanted in the Yellow Trailer. That morning I was sleeping on the ceiling. “It’s from Earth,” she said. “Or at least closer to Earth. It’s from the Moon.”
WISH YOU WERE HERE. That was the message. We looked for more clues. None. But we were running out of paint, and figured our job must be coming to an end.
“Who do you think it’s from?” I asked OG. “Not sure,” she said. “At least someone knows we’re here.”
Just then, we got a transmission on our video system. It was the first time it ever came on.
“You. Will. Be. Transported. To. Metropolis.,” the Copper Robot said.
“Where’s Metropolis?” I asked. “Are we done here? Did we paint enough of the sky?
“All. Will. Be. Revealed. To You. Fear. Not.”
“Well, I’m scared,” I said to OG. “I’m a little worried myself,” she said. And this is from someone who was always up for a challenge and an adventure. And never scared. “We’ll be okay,” she reassured me. I wasn’t sure.
The next minute we felt our Yellow Trailer being lifted up. And then things went blurry.
When we woke up, we were on a tightrope with a weightlifter dressed in a flower petal tutu.
“I hate heights,” I said out loud. “You’re fine,” said the weightlifter. “We’re in zero gravity. You can’t fall.” OG let out a little laugh.
“Did you need a painter?” OG asked the weighlifter. “Otherwise, what are we doing here?”
The weightlifter just smiled. Flashed a red paper heart at her, and said, “I’m a Magical Faerie. My task is to transport you to our leader.” And at that moment, the Magical Faerie tossed aside his barbells, fluffed his flower petal tutu, and said, “Follow me.”
OG and I walked across the tightrope, and on the far platform was a set of guys drinking coffee and eating bits of burned bread. I wanted some. Remember how I said I was sick of space food?
“Are you the leaders?” OG asked? The men just grunted, and the Magical Faerie tittered. “We are just another door you have to open on your journey to the Great Blue One,” the one in the beehive hat said. And with that, he waved us away. “Follow me,” said our Magical Faerie. “We’re getting closer.” I grabbed a bit of bread on my way out.
I have to say, when we entered the next chamber that contained this creature, I was quaking. Scared. Wondering what was gonna happen.
“Can you speak?” OG asked the vermicular creature. “Are you the Great Blue One?” A high and sharp sound emanated from the yellow part on its body. We both thought that must be its mouth.
“The Chihuly doesn’t speak,” the Magical Faerie said. “It just is.”
“Take us to your leader,” OG said. Even though I was nervous, I laughed. She said it like she was starring in a science fiction movie. I was just hoping we wouldn’t get probed by aliens.
When we entered the next room, we both knew were were with the leader. “The Great Blue One will speak,” said the Magical Faerie. And with that, he fluffed his tutu once more, and waved goodbye to us with his red paper heart. “It’s been a pleasure to be your Magical Faerie,” he said as he danced across the tightrope.
“YOU WILL PAINT A MURAL THAT DISPLAYS MY GREATNESS,” bellowed the Great Blue One. “NOW, PAINT.”
OG picked up a brush, and before I could even move, she finished the mural of The Great Blue One. She even wrote her nom de plume below it: Kayla Nicolaso.
“YOU HAVE DONE WELL, YOUNG SPACE TRAVELER,” the Great Blue One said to OG in his James Earl Jones voice. “YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND,” it said to me. He shook his giant head. Then the Great Blue One waved his massive hand and the eagle on his head brought us a Saturn V rocket in its mighty beak. (Did I mention the Great Blue One was huge? I mean like space-sized huge.)
“YOU MAY GO HOME NOW,” the Great Blue One droned. “TAKE THIS ROCKET. AND PAINT MY IMAGE ON A WALL IN AN ALLEY IN SAN FRANCISCO. AND PAINT THE SKY ON YOUR WAY HOME. NOW BE GONE WITH YOU.”
On our way home, OG and I splashed colored paints out of the rocket as we were flying over the North Pole. And even though people thought they were seeing the most spectacular Aurora Borealis ever, what they really were seeing was the handiwork of two space muralists. But we’ll never tell.