A Toast to You
Neville started, then looked more closely. His eyes were definitely not playing tricks on him. It really was a flagpole with a small makeshift flag on the top, fluttering gently in the solar breeze.
A flagpole on an asteroid! Was it possible? Could this mean what he hoped it would mean? Were there actually other people out here in the asteroid field?
Neville quickened his pace, heading towards the asteroid with the flagpole. The asteroid was a little bigger than his earlier preference and it was moving a little faster than he would have liked, but when you’re out on your own in the middle of deep space you really can’t be too picky. Besides, the possibility that there were other people out here, other cast-offs from a world that had left them behind, was too exciting to ignore.
Neville reached the asteroid and climbed on. Its surface was rough and rocky, save for one large space, about fifty metres square. Neville’s heart leapt with joy as he walked onto this space. It had been cleared and flattened out into a sort of plaza, a sure sign of human habitation. The flagpole stood at the far side of the plaza. The flag on the top displayed some sort of silver symbol, roughly rectangular in shape, with two parallel black lines across the top.
As Neville stared at the flag, trying to figure out what the strange symbol represented, he noticed a small group of people coming towards him. They stopped about ten metres away and one of the men, who was obviously the leader, peeled off and approached Neville.
“Greetings friend,” said the man, his hand extended in greeting. “I would like to welcome you to our humble home.”
“Thank you,” replied Neville. “It’s nice to meet all of you.” He smiled broadly at the rest of the people but none of them said a word. Instead they looked at him intently. Neville felt a strange feeling of expectation, as if these people were waiting for him to say something.
“We, like you, are refugees from the world,” continued the man. “We, like you, could no longer handle the pace and the pressure. We, like you, have made the decision to escape the madness and to find here, on our asteroid, a far simpler lifestyle. A lifestyle you are more than welcome to join us in.”
“That’s awfully friendly of you,” said Neville. He looked again at the other people. They stared back at him. Even the leader was now staring at him, a rigid smile fixed to his face. The tension was unbelievable. Neville sensed that these people were looking for some sort of signal, perhaps a message in something he said, but he couldn’t imagine what it could be.
Finally the frustration became too much for the leader of the group. He dropped his smile and looked down at the ground for a second. When he spoke his voice was soft, quavering with nerves.
“I don’t suppose you brought a toaster.”
Neville shook his head.
There was a collective sigh from the group. Suddenly all of the tension had dissipated, to be replaced by an overpowering feeling of disappointment. The other people quickly dispersed leaving Neville, standing beside their leader, feeling somewhat let down.
“I apologise if our reception seems a bit, ungrateful,” said the man. “It’s just that we don’t have any toasters here and, well, we could all really do with a nice hot piece of toast.”
“I’m sorry,” said Neville. “I didn’t think to bring one. It all happened so suddenly.”
“That’s all right, you weren’t to know. None of us thought about it when we let go either. Still, we live in hope that someday, somehow, someone will come to us with a toaster, and then we can once again enjoy our breakfast in a civilised fashion. Till then, why don’t you let me show you around.”
Neville thanked the man and began to follow him away from the flattened square. As the man disappeared amongst the rocks at the edge of the square, Neville took one last look up at the flag. Suddenly he realised what it was supposed to be. Although poorly drawn, it was definitely meant to be some sort of stylised representation of a toaster.
Away from the square, the surface of the asteroid was a labyrinth of weirdly sculpted rock. Neville followed the man along a winding passageway, passing a series of holes carved into the high stone towers. Inside the holes the shapes of people could be made out, setting up homes in this amazing new world. Presently the man led Neville to a particularly large hole, a great open door in the rock, and motioned for him to enter. Neville paused for a moment, perturbed somewhat by the strange high pitched chanting he could hear coming from inside the rock. Then, as the man assured him there was nothing to fear, he walked through the door.
Neville found himself in a large cave. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that he was not alone. All around him people crouched on the ground, as if at worship. In front stood a man wearing ceremonial garb, holding a book and chanting and wailing in some sort of indecipherable language. Every so often the chanting would reach a crescendo and the people would leap up off the ground. Then they would crouch back down on the floor again.
The man from the plaza was standing next to Neville. “Welcome to our temple,” he said.
“Who is the man up the front?” asked Neville.
“He is our high priest,” replied the man.
“Why?” asked Neville. “What’s so special about him?”
“He brought to us the Holy Book.” The man indicated the book the priest was reading from.
“The Holy Book? What sort of Holy Book?”
“Do not question. Just listen. Let the wonder of the words enter your soul and fill you with life.”
“But I can’t understand what he’s saying.”
“Listen. Listen hard.”
Neville listened hard and found he was able to understand what the priest was chanting.
“…adjust thermostat if necessary to attain desired degree of darkness. For rye and raisin toast, a lighter setting may be required.”
He squinted his eyes and was just able to make out the title of the Holy Book.
Operating Instructions for the A367 Toasterama.
“Your Holy Book is the instruction manual for a toaster?” cried Neville in disbelief.
“It was in his pocket when he let go of the world,” said the main reverently. “He can’t explain why he had it there but we regard it as a sacred sign.”
Suddenly Neville realised what the people in the room were doing, why they were crouching down and then leaping up. They were toast. This whole ceremony was some sort of ritual imitating the making of toast.
Neville turned on his tail and walked quickly out of the cave. This was as much as he needed to know.
The man from the square hurried after Neville. “Where are you going?” he cried.
“I’m leaving,” retorted Neville.
“But you only just got here.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life living in a world where people worship toasters.” Neville reached the flattened plaza. He hurried to the edge and climbed off the asteroid. The voice of the man followed after him as he made his way back into the asteroid field.
“But you don’t understand. Our prophecy tells us that some day a toaster will come, and on that day we can all sit and eat toast and jam and crumpets and steaming hot muffins and…”
Neville suppressed a laugh as the man’s voice faded into the distance. Their prophecy was clearly ridiculous. If anyone was desperate enough to make the decision to let go of the world, the last thing on their mind would be what kitchen implements to bring along. Besides, even if someone did bring a toaster, what use would it be? They didn’t have anywhere to plug it in.
As Neville set off again, he suddenly heard a loud whooshing sound. It was the world spinning past again, now moving even faster than when he had let go. If Neville looked closely he could actually see the people on its surface running to keep up. And even as he watched, a number of people let go and were left lying in its wake. Some of them instantly leapt up and chased after the world. A couple even caught up and grabbed hold again. The others gradually got their bearings and began to wander into the asteroid field. Most of them made a direct line for the asteroid with the large flag flying.
Maybe, just maybe, the prophecy of the Toaster People was about to be fulfilled.
Wondering how Neville got out here in the first place – check out Doodling chapter 1.