It was 1985; it was 1999. Few people realised how true that was. The year was 1985, the place was 1999. 1999 was a town that had for one hundred and seven years enjoyed its original name. Two years ago a man sharing that name went on a killing spree across four states. His crimes were so numerous and so heinous they seemed to fracture the soul of all acquainted with either the victims or the investigations. To everyone else they became a source of insatiable intrigue; the most intrigued of all flocked to the town now known as 1999 to pose for photographs with signs bearing the killer’s name. Had those murderer-curious tourists been lucrative, or respectful, or moderately sensible—heck, even just willing to clean up after themselves—the town now called 1999 would have kept its former name. But the tourists were none of those things.
Mayor Einstein (who had recently been elected after four previously unsuccessful campaigns, and also after legally changing his surname from Himmler) believed a new name would rid the town of its plague of fools. The renaming contest received two hundred and one entries; five were chosen as finalists; three of those had been submitted as jokes. Partly because of the townspeople’s infatuation with all things futuristic, and partly because of a confusingly elaborate voting system involving an obstacle course and the recitation of Clair de Lune on the banjo, only two votes were successfully cast: they were both for 1999.
In 1985, two ice cream vans operated in 1999. One played Greensleeves and the other played Sorrow by David Bowie. The van that played Greensleeves did so for the same reason many of the world’s evils had been committed: to honour tradition. Everyone thought the van that played Sorrow did so simply to break with tradition. Not so. The owner of that van knew that was just as damaging a motive. He played Sorrow because he liked it; it made him feel something. He didn’t feel much in this part of the universe, but what he did feel could only be felt here. It was worth the visit.
The owner of the ice cream van that played Sorrow was called Vernon Punch. He was disappointed with his name in 1999. Where he was from, his name—of which “Vernon Punch” was a rough phonetic rendering—was one of the coolest names ever bestowed upon a being. Selling ice cream, too, was a step down, not so much in prestige (that was little regarded where Vernon was from) but in fun. Vernon was by trade what could be best described in earthly terms as a dragon slayer and competitive karaoke singer. His current stay on earth was in its seventh year. Had he been confined to time as humans are he would have missed his home and his career.
For Vernon, selling ice cream was just a front to appear needy—to appear human. He was an apathetic business owner, and most people thought he was just money laundering for the local mafia. 1999’s mafia was (unofficially) allowed to operate because they were so amusingly pathetic.
When Vernon was not playing Sorrow in his van, he was usually on his trampoline, which was how he stayed connected to everywhere else.
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