After twenty-two years of performing vasectomies, Dr. Kenneth Longman was disenchanted with his work. Whilst he was not yet conscious of his ennui, it had become disturbingly apparent in his behaviour.
In earlier times Longman’s clients had remarked upon his charming eccentricity. Recent patients were more likely to wince at the mention of his name. In fact, a growing number of men harboured a bad memory of Kenny – a memory triggerable by the vaguest of testicular references.
Charles, a furniture restorer and intensely private man, had been horrified to have his flinching penis described as ‘a lively little fellow’. Regrettably Jez the paramedic’s member was deemed less perky. Rather it had looked to the grinning Longman like ‘a sausage left out in the rain’.
After experimenting with different workplace soundtracks, New Kenny had settled on the tinkling strains of The Nutcracker Suite. The doctor, in between humming loudly, didn’t mind sharing that he considered himself something of a real life Plum Fairy. ‘Who needs a wand when you wield a scalpel?’ he’d advised his last few patients, waggling the blade in a groinal direction.
The personalised number plate was the parmesan on the pasta. Longman, a keen motorist, had taken to whizzing round town in his convertible Mercedes, scarf rippling in the breeze. ‘DR B4LLS’ left a trail of bemused pensioners and hysterical youths in its wake. For ex-clients, a sighting of DR B4LLS would be enough to ruin their day.
The only place Kenny avoided was the Town Hall. The climate change protest camp on the front lawn was a real buzzkill.
Sadly, for all concerned, New Kenny became more energised as the week progressed. One particularly lively Thursday morning his PA, Bella (‘a beautiful name for a beautiful lady!’), entered the work kitchenette to the sight of Kenny’s wiggling bottom and seesawing shoulders. Even the microwave looked embarrassed.
‘Snip-a-dee-doo-dah, snip-a-dee-ay. My, oh my, what a wonderful day!’ the doctor’s voice boinged around like a rubber ball. Bella did a 180 on her espadrilles and scarpered. She was overdue for a sickie.
When Kenny one-man Barber-shopped into the consulting room, the aliens were seated three abreast in his orthopaedic swivel chair. The thudding of mug on floor did little to put them off their spiel.
‘Warm greetings, Dr. Kenneth Longman.’ The purple visitors spoke in high-pitched unison, often emphasising the wrong syllables. ‘We are reconnaissance squad from Planet Dargamas, galaxy and star system classified.’
‘What in God Almight… is this… are you…?’ Longman’s, eyes darted about for a camera crew.
‘We are intergalactic visitors, earthling. We have been surveilling you.’
As the colour drained from Kenny’s face, the aliens, anxious to build rapport, paled to a light mauve.
‘Bravo! The pranksters may reveal themselves!’ The doctor was applauding madly, craning his neck in every direction.
‘Nobody else here, Dr. Kenneth Longman. Beginning question sequence: Why make males seedless? What plans for infertility epidemic? Why not human who not want little human just stop genital merge?’ Kenny’s brain flipped between readying answers and fathoming the more immediate situation.
‘Ah ha! If you were extra-terrestrials I wouldn’t be able to understand you. This is just a dream induced by that awful Portuguese plonk of Eloise’s.’ The doctor began to slap himself on both cheeks. The visitors joined in eagerly.
‘Logical explanation, Dr. Longman. We wedge translator in your middle temporal gyrus when you non-responsive with wife in bed.’
‘The word you’re looking for is asleep. I… let me sit down.’ Longman was beaten. ‘Now, start again. One. Question. At. A. Time. And, please, call me Kenny.’
‘No matter questions, Kenny. Just chitchat. Real motive for visit is back on Dargamas we have mahoosive problem. Species called Elongates claiming ruling rights. Getting too big for boots despite relatively small feet. They wish to restrict us Squashies…’
‘Squashies?’ Kenny had expected something exotic.
‘…to menial bog work. Take freedoms. Elongate uprising could be quashed but – oops! – military force outlawed. After many peaceful millennia we decided it obsolete.’ The aliens looked sheepish. ‘Silly Billy us.’ Forced tinny laughter reverberated around the room.
‘Sounds decidedly unfair. What’s your plan?’ The doctor fancied himself a strategist.
‘Idea in homeland security is to pacify Elongates by unsettling them. For this we need your essence.’
‘My essence?’ Longman began wheeling his chair backwards towards the door.
‘We seek rare emotion. In our galaxy, we do not have this feeling “Cringe”’.
‘It is perfect for our purposes. Emotional manipulation of populace forbidden but – hurray! – we found giant loophole. No law covering emotions originating from outside galaxy.’ Kenny had never seen a smugger trio.
‘I’m beginning to see where this is going.’
‘Will take legislators centuries to make anti-Cringe laws. Even then effect too subtle to prove. But Cringe sufficient to thwart Elongates. Cringe drug will simulate empathetic embarrassment: secret meetings will be cringey, issuing orders will be cringey and plotting a coup d’etat will generate maximum awk!’
‘Ingenious. But what’s that got to do with my essence?’
‘Our scientists trace Cringe to your galaxy. Mightiest signal coming from this conurbation in Great Britain.’
Kenny ignored the sarcasm. ‘So cringe is abundant… in Wamcaster?’
‘Cringe abundant in you, Kenny. You are,’ the Squashies closed their eyes reverentially, ‘The Fountainhead of Cringe.’
‘I-I don’t know what to say.’
‘If Elongates prevail, other galaxies at risk. Even your Creamy Way and beautiful but trashy planet. Universe needs Fountainhead.’
Kenny felt a cosmic calling yanking him skywards like a wedgie. He pressed his palms into his desk and leapt up.
‘I’ll do it!’ The doctor was just realising how much he’d been craving an adventure when a concern arose. ‘How’d you say we’d capture my essence again?’
The aliens wriggled their toes uneasily. ‘Process not so simples. Your theatre fairly well equipped though.’
It turned out the aliens were downplaying the risks of surgical mind-harvesting. Granted it was quick but, with a 17.3% mortality rate, Kenny didn’t fancy it. The aliens shrugged their purply shoulders and offered the alternative. Non-surgical harvesting would take hours rather than minutes. It would involve extra personnel but the end product would be comparable – provided Longman could get the goods. He would have time to consider how, through the course of the day’s appointments and during ‘family games night’.
That evening, Kenny’s twenty-one year old twins, home for Easter, enjoyed a glimpse of their old, less cringey, Dad, as they thrashed him at KerPlunk. And, for the first time in weeks, Eloise did not reach for the Portuguese plonk.
At seven a.m. Kenny called the office voicemail to inform Bella he was sick (by nine a.m. the kitchenette would witness yet more joyful dancing). Then he rolled up his pyjama sleeves and began trawling the internet for Cringe potent enough to avert intergalactic disaster.
It was tricky to choose the most awkward ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ auditions but Longman applied surgical focus. To the Cringey primetime TV, he added a smattering of over-forties performing tweenage dance crazes and the most ill-judged dating profiles available. A dollop of Trump was a no-brainer. Kenny settled on a montage of the POTUS’s geography fails. Finally, he seasoned with Richard Madeley’s Ali G impersonation (a rare lapse in the journalist’s professionalism).
No doubt it was a good hoard but was it enough? Kenny didn’t want the aliens to arrive home just shy of the required Cringe. Luckily the solution was close to home. The aliens had designated him The Fountainhead. If they were right, it was his duty, nay destiny, to contribute his own material. With renewed purpose, Kenny dug out the surgery’s CCTV login details. Arguably, installing the cameras last year had been a bit dodgy, but these where litigious times and sometimes a chap needs to cover his back.
Kenny spent the rest of the night selecting the crème de la crème of Cringe. Whilst his lapsed bedside manner made for uncomfortable viewing, there was no denying the Squashies had struck gold.
After studying the material, the Squashies determined that seven people’s worth of Kenny Cringe would be ample. It didn’t take long to persuade Kenny of the merits of using ex-patients as the harvestees or the necessity of a night-time kidnapping operation.
It was when the aliens explained how the memory-wiping technology worked that Kenny had another good idea. It was all very well supporting intergalactic harmony but he was equally keen to make good his mortifying behaviour. Could the Squashies abduct all his recent clients and free them from their troubling recollections? The visitors were only too happy to oblige.
Equipped with incredibly strong and stretchy limbs, the aliens moved with octopal ease. Longman – from his lookout post next to a borrowed mini-bus – watched, awestruck, as they glided up walls and jimmied open windows, sedating each household with the same ‘almost benign’ substance used on Eloise and the twins. The oblivious patients were conveyed down a three-strong alien tower straight into the boot of the vehicle.
Problems surfaced when, several round trips later, the forty-three men were roused at the surgery. The vocal harmonising technique the aliens used to induce hypnosis took a quarter of an hour to work, during which the place erupted in manly shrieking. An anxious Kenny went hurrying off through the darkened surgery car park to intercept busybodies. Seeing PC Lovatt, he slowed to a mosey.
‘Evening, Sir. This your establishment?’
‘Officer! Yes, I run the clinic.’ Kenny proffered his ID card. ‘I expect you’re wondering what’s going on?’ What was going on? His mind was working like a cymbal-crashing monkey.
‘I run these… night-time…manhood workshops.’
The PC’s face quavered in amusement. ‘Well, can you suggest they take it down a notch?’
‘Of course, Officer. Sorry for your trouble.’
Longman had played a blinder.
He returned to observe the selection of ‘The Special Seven’. It was critical, stressed the aliens, given both ethical and technical thresholds, that nobody featured in the video should watch it. This left eight men to pick from.
Kenny watched as the Cringe was captured in a kind of wireless Ghostbuster trap, glowing with pride when the device to shuddered and creaked with effort. (The memory-wiping procedure was as pedestrian as the aliens had suggested and certainly not worthy of description here.)
As soon as the men were deposited back home, Longman’s conscious was clear. He could now legitimately claim credit for most of the stress-free intercourse in Wamcaster alongside his services to population control.
After a short nap next to his still-sedated wife, a bleary-eyed Kenny was summoned back to the office. The aliens invited him to be seated as they began ‘The Gratitude Ceremony’. Kenny was dismayed when the ‘thankful dancing’ morphed into the ‘flinging of the redeemer’ ritual but did his best to exude majesty as his head collided with the ceiling. An hour of flinging gave him chance to ponder what he wanted out of life.
For too long, the doctor realised, he had held the fate of a single man’s genitals in his hands – decades stuck in the red wire vs. green wire scenario, without any of the humanity-saving heroism. Forget Cringe, he would become The Fountainhead of Change. The Squashies were right, the planet was trashed and it was in everyone’s interests to repair it.
After 18 months of modernising his practice Kenny assumed the title of ‘World’s First Carbon Neutral Urologist’. ‘Climate Ken’, was soon wowing at medical conferences throughout Europe. And while the new New Kenny was not without his glitches, the Dargamal videoconferencing software he used for engagements further afield performed flawlessly.
Back on Dargamas, the Elongates were Cringed into submission without ever knowing what had quelled their appetite for dictatorship. The shrewd Squashies synthesised enough Cringe to maintain intragalactic peace indefinitely – and a little more besides.
So if, in some glorious future, you notice one of our own mad, bad, absurdly-coiffed leaders backtracks from despotism – a clench of buttocks detectable in their step – you’ll know who to thank, won’t you?
Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in South West England. She has been shortlisted by Flash 500, the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) and Retreat West and recently won Lunate Fiction’s monthly comp. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. Tweets @livingallover