by Dan Swanson
Henry James once wrote, “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance… and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” It was indeed art that made life for the thousands of art patrons visiting an art festival in Golden Gate Park on this late February day in 1961. The festival-goers were enjoying the mild San Francisco weather, the charm and uniqueness of the nearby neighborhood, centered around Haight Street, and the quality of the arts and crafts presented by over four-hundred exhibitors. It was a combination of Coney Island, a family picnic, a carnival funhouse, an art museum, a hobby house, a five-and-dime store, a jewelry department, a band festival, and an auction, all mixed together. If you added this to the Haight’s growing reputation as San Francisco’s most happening district, the festival was a must-see destination for tourists and locals alike. You had to see it to understand it; the full atmosphere was almost beyond description.
Wandering through the festival, a visitor could see open-air ballet, fashion shows, folk singers, sidewalk cafes, temporary open-air shops and boutiques, free concerts, dancing, and carnival games, without seeing half of what was available. Or the visitor could take a seat at one of the cafes and just watch people go by in this eclectic neighborhood, which had attracted students, artists, and other creative types thanks largely to how inexpensive it was to live there. One of the most striking things you would have noticed was how few unhappy faces there were. This was truly a festival enjoyed by everyone.
Alex Silverstone was one of the people who was really enjoying the festival. The Silverstone Art Gallery Annex, one of the hundreds of booths set up inside Kezar Stadium, was doing a brisk business, and inventory was just about all sold. There was another load in the back of her truck, a beat-up ’53 Studebaker 3R5 pickup that she had painted in an artistic style. “Tammi, I need you to watch the booth until I get the rest of the stuff from the truck,” she told her friend.
Tammi Paige was a stunningly beautiful girl who looked younger than her nineteen years, who stood at five feet, two inches tall. Today she was dressed like a pixie, all in sparkling silver, wearing leotard and tights with a tiny skirt, ballet slippers, and nearly transparent silver wings and a tiara to top it off, with her long brunette hair in braids; you could easily imagine her leaping into the air and flying away. She was obviously Alex’s favorite model, as many of the pictures and sculptures she’d sold today were clearly representations of Tammi. The young girl had a brilliant smile, and people who spent time with her often said she was so pretty that they could hear faint music whenever they were in her presence. But she wasn’t smiling now; instead, she was pouting.
“It’s time for Bryce to do a set. I promised him I’d be there, and you promised me I could go as soon as we sold out!” Tammi looked like she was about to stomp her foot. Bryce was their next-door neighbor, who sang and played guitar; he and several of his friends and fellow musicians had set up a booth as an open-air coffee house, and they were taking turns playing.
“I happen to know Bryce is scheduled for another set at five. You can go to that one. And I haven’t ‘sold out’ yet,” replied Alex. Tammi was about to continue the argument, so Alex put a little snap into her voice. “Watch the booth!” In response Tammi sighed loudly, letting the whole world know just how put-out she was, but she didn’t say anything else.
Alex hurried to the truck and quickly loaded two trunks onto her pushcart. They looked heavy, but Alex handled them easily. She was about five feet, ten inches tall, with short-cropped red hair and striking looks, though she was more often described as handsome than pretty. She quickly pushed the cart back to the annex, where she found Tammi in an argument with an older man who was standing next to a pushcart filled with books.
A quick glance showed Alex that there were at least six different titles, all mentioning aliens and invasions, and they all bore the logo of the same vanity publisher. An author named Eric Damien had spent a lot of money self-publishing his books, apparently attempting to warn humanity about an impending alien invasion. Alex guessed that this man was Damien himself.
“You can’t stand outside our booth and peddle your stupid books!” Tammi was furious, her pale skin now flushed pink. “You are scaring our customers away!”
Alex could see why. The old man had long, greasy black hair, tied back in a ponytail, which emphasized his receding hairline, and sported a bushy, Garibaldi-style full beard. His clothes were old, many times mended not too neatly, and mismatched, as if he’d rescued them from someone’s trash. His voice was a high tenor, and when he was excited, he sometimes squeaked; he was squeaking now. And he didn’t smell too clean.
“You must be one of the aliens, determined to stop me from revealing the truth! But I know everything about your plans — it’s all in my books! You can’t stop me!” He was shouting, and people nearby were moving away. Alex needed to stop this confrontation now.
“Is there something wrong, Mr. Damien?” she asked him sweetly, interrupting his tirade. She must have guessed right about his name.
“Our country is being invaded by aliens, even as we speak! I must warn everyone — you must all listen to me and prepare!” He shouted at the top of his voice. “Even now, they have begun their attack!”
At that very instant, Alex could hear people start screaming about something in the sky. She looked upward, and there was something hovering over the stadium — a flying saucer. A hatch was opening in the bottom of the saucer, and things were falling out.
“You see?!” screamed Damien. “All you fools ignored me, and now you will pay for your stupidity!”
“Tammi, warn everyone to leave the stadium. Make sure they know that you and I are here, and we’ll handle the saucer!” Alex snapped out a command.
Instantly, a very loud voice announced, “Attention! This is Miss Music! This is not a part of the festival. Please, quickly but safely leave the stadium. Palette and I will deal with the saucer. Please be courteous to those around you, and assist anyone who may need it.”
The voice continued to repeat the message, and suddenly, everyone in the stadium was rushing toward the exits.
The theme from The Twilight Zone was playing softly as Alex focused her eyes on the falling objects and exerted her powers, and suddenly she seemed to be only a few feet away from them. They seemed to be flares, and as they fell swiftly, straight down, the saucer followed more slowly. It seemed as if the aliens were giving the people below time to move away from the landing zone. The saucer had been hovering; as soon as it started to drop, the orderly exodus from the stadium became a mad rush, as terrified festival-goers suddenly panicked, even after the reassurance from the city’s greatest heroines, and fought to escape through the stadium exits, screaming and struggling.
The eerie background music changed to the opening theme from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Alex turned to her partner and suggested, “I think we ought to get into costume.”
Alex and Tammi ducked behind a partition in the booth, and for just a few seconds the background music played a few bars of an old burlesque song while the two women quickly changed into their heroic costumes. Then Alex and Tammi were gone, and Palette and Miss Music were on the case. Eric Damien had gotten an eyeful, and for a few seconds, he even stopped ranting about the aliens. The three watched the ship land, accompanied by Also sprach Zarathustra, with the climax timed to the landing of the ship.
During the whole time, Damien was muttering to himself. “Everything I wrote is true! Why, even their ship is exactly as I depicted it in my books! And now, they are coming for me, so I can’t reveal their invasion plans to the world.” When the ship landed, he turned to Miss Music and pleaded, “Everything is in my books! They may take me, but I’ve put all their plans in my books! Don’t let them take over the world!”
The ship was about forty feet from them, and a ramp extended outward. Three alien beings marched down the ramp, and the background music changed to The Ride of the Valkyries.
“Would you stop that?!” Palette snapped at her partner, and for the moment the background music stopped. In silence, the two groups examined each other.
The aliens were humanoid, with features similar to humans, except they were very short — none of them even reached Miss Music’s petite height — very skinny, and gray-skinned. Their heads were also much bigger in proportion than human heads. And they all carried pistols — very big pistols.
“They must be men — the smaller the guy, the bigger the gun he carries!” Palette chortled at her own joke, though Miss Music wasn’t amused.
“Crap! Space Monsters with Ray-Guns! We haven’t got a chance!”
“I’ll bet they’re saying, ‘Crap, it’s Palette and Miss Music, San Francisco’s AVant Guard! We haven’t got a chance!'”
“C’mon, Alex, didn’t you see that movie? The two beautiful girl extras get killed and dissected by the aliens in the opening scene!” Tammi was cracking wise to try to conceal her fear, but it wasn’t working. “And why do you get to be first? M comes before P!”
“Look, Tam, they’ve got eyes and ears, so our powers will work against them just fine. And we’re not the extras — we’re the stars!” Palette assured her partner, wishing she felt as confident as she was trying to sound. How could her power of casting illusions on solid surfaces help fight aliens? She knew a few tricks; hopefully they would pay off now. “Besides, they haven’t made any hostile moves yet; maybe they’re friendly.”
“They’re here to kill me!” Damien insisted, his shrill voice cracking with fear. “They know I know all their invasion plans, and they have to stop me from revealing them to the world!”
So far, neither side had moved. Then, before the humans could dodge, all three aliens pointed their pistols and fired. Pale gray beams reached out from the guns, and when they touched the human figures, they vanished instantly.
“I guess they are hostile!” Miss Music used her power to project the whisper directly into Palette’s ear, sure that no one could overhear. The three humans hadn’t ever been standing directly in front of the aliens; Palette had projected an image of them onto one of the walls of the Silverstone booth. Palette nodded and held up a single finger, which the two had defined as the signal for a particular attack.
The aliens appeared to be startled; somehow they realized that they hadn’t actually disintegrated the three humans. Suddenly, the stadium was filled with the sound of the 1812 Overture at the point just a few seconds before the first shot of the cannon, accompanied by some softly spoken words:
“This is the breakfast food that’s shot from guns.”
Miss Music exerted her powers to the utmost, strengthened by fear and adrenaline to a degree that she had never before attained, to amplify the sound of the cannon shot as much as she possibly could, and the epicenter of the incredibly loud explosion was in the middle of the small triangle formed by the three aliens.
Miss Music had never put quite so much power into her projected sounds before, and even she was stunned by the results. The aliens were knocked through the air, as if there had been a real explosion. One staggered backward and slammed into the side of the saucer, then slid to the ground, stunned. Another was knocked backward and tripped, fell down hard, and rolled around on the ground, dropping his over-sized pistol as he clapped his hands to his ears — much too late to prevent damage. The third managed to roll into the door of the ship, and somehow retained his pistol. He fired wildly, but not a short burst like before, as he squeezed and held the trigger, sweeping the gray beam across everything he could see.
Palette was still using her illusion powers to hide the trio, but the randomly swinging beam was moving too fast to escape, and as it touched both Eric Damien and Miss Music, they vanished instantly. Palette’s powers weren’t much good for attacking, but rage consumed her, and she charged the saucer, running as hard as she could and screaming bloody murder. The door to the saucer closed just before she reached it, and she couldn’t stop — or perhaps she didn’t even want to. She crashed with a sickening thud and slid down the side of the spaceship, unconscious. The saucer rose into the air, its mission accomplished, leaving behind two wounded aliens and a devastated super-heroine.