Check out our episode here! Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Cameron Smith is a pretty typical sarcastic teenager who hates life. He doesn't have any friends, has a part time job that only adds to his misery, pines for the times he can smoke weed and listen to the falsetto, ukulele and recorder music of The Great Tremolo. Cameron hates his family--his physics professor father who is more interested in his job and his new teaching assistant, his community college English teacher mother who hasn’t made a decision or had a back bone in years, and his perfect cheerleader twin sister Jenna. He's coasting. He is waiting for his life to start and often recalls the happier days. For Cameron, the best day of his life was when he was five and nearly died at Disney World riding through the It’s a Small World After All ride. He was there with his family, back when they actually acted like a family, when he had a sugar-overloaded and probably heat stroke-induced anxiety attack in which he thought the ride was taking him to the afterlife. He freaked out and attempted to escape the water ride through a small door but fell into the water and nearly drowned instead. He still loves that ride, though.
Cameron, while in his Spanglish class learning about Don Quixote, falls asleep. This is normal for most high school classes, right? He suddenly jolts awake though when the room is on fire. Wait. No it’s not. That was a terrifying dream. Cameron pretends to have seen a cockroach, ((which could be WORSE?!)) is excused from the rest of class and goes to the stoner bathroom. While smoking pot with some buddies, he meets Gonzo, a little person, who was awkwardly using the toilet for entirely too long without anyone noticing. Cameron leaves, semi-buzzed, and waits for school to end. He of course has to run into all the popular kids, including his sister Jenna, her douchey, ultra religious football bro boyfriend Chet, and Staci, the hot girl Cameron is crushing on. Conversations are of course awkward and apathetic, and then school’s out and it’s time to hit the record store, Cameron’s favorite place.
After picking up the newest album by the Great Tremolo, Cameron’s ironically favorite falsetto, Portuguese ukulele and recorder player and being told to listen to jazz by the late, great Junior Webster, to get a girlfriend and a life by the shop owner, Cameron goes to see his dad at the University. Dr. Smith is flirting with his teaching assistant and pretty dismissive of Cameron. When Cameron stands to leave his dad’s office, he trips and shatters a snow globe onto a class project featuring pictures of a stolen yard gnome on vacation with students. He didn’t do it on purpose, though his dad thinks he did. His leg fell asleep. It’s not his fault. His dad says nothing is ever his fault. Let’s face it. Cameron’s dad is a jerk. But what’s going on with Cameron? Is he just extra clumsy lately? He takes a bus home and reads a tabloid on the way, seeing articles about a time traveling missing scientist, fires across the country, troubled teens at a bowling alley, following the feather of the Roadrunner bus line, supercolliders, a snow globe company, human growth hormones and a disease doctor that has cheated death. What an interesting newspaper!
At home, Cameron smokes some more weed then sees someone breaking into his house. He chases the person around with a frying pan like Wile E. Coyote chases the roadrunner and then finds a feather near an open window. That’s really weird. Everything is really weird. Must be some bad pot. The next day, Cameron goes to his shitty part time job at the Buddha Burger wherein he gets fired for being late and accidentally throwing milkshakes on Hot Staci and her cheerleader friends. His hands got all jittery and he just slipped. No one believes that though, except maybe that punk-rock angel in the corner. He must have done it on purpose. Wait, there’s no one in the corner.
A couple weeks later in school, Cameron is sick in the stoner bathroom. One of his buddies thinks he’s eaten bad mushrooms, but really, he hasn’t done any drugs apart from smoking a little weed. He goes to class and has another jittery moment and accidentally punches Chet in the stomach. Seriously, it was an accident. His pal explains the punch by saying Cameron’s on drugs, and that, along with the punch, gets him suspended from school. His parents take him to see a therapist and a drug counselor who prescribes him more drugs to stop him from using drugs. If only that was the problem. Cameron can’t explain to his parents what’s actually going on, mostly because he can’t explain it himself and also because they definitely won’t listen to him. He does tell the psychiatrist everything that he’s been experiencing, but he’s just prescribed antipsychotic medication and sent on his way.
Things start to get weird here (Start to? Yeah, right.), so apologies in advance for the nonsense that is the rest of this summary.
Cameron takes a bike ride to the record store and on his way home, the sky opens up into a black hole and there’s lightning everywhere. The lightning causes a fire that turns into a bunch of fire giants that start chasing him and then he sees a giant knight with a sword in the middle of the road. Then all of a sudden, everything is normal again. Back at home, Cameron searches the internet for what the hell is going on and finds a website called followthefeather.com. Music from a band called Copenhagen Interpretation starts playing and then there’s a scientist who talks about searching different dimensions for the meaning of life. Then Cameron wakes up the next morning. When he goes down for breakfast, he smells what is probably the toaster on fire. But it’s not. The fire giants are in the kitchen. They’re burning him up and then he has a seizure.
Finally, finally his parents believe that something is wrong with Cameron and he’s being shuffled between different specialists at the hospital and has MRIs and lots of other tests done. The doctors discover that he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, aka Mad Cow disease. There are prions inside his brain that are destroying it, causing progressive muscle weakness, dementia and delusions, and, worst of all, there is no cure. Cameron gets checked in to St. Jude’s hospital and things go downhill quickly. He has some visitors, watches TV, meets other patients, then he’s having seizures again and is intubated. He can no longer breathe on his own, but this is never said outright. While this is happening, Cameron focuses on the angel on the wall of his room and thinks about the punk rock angel he saw on his last day at Buddha Burger.
Cameron wakes up to see Gonzo sharing his room. His hypochondriac mother has made him check in to the hospital for whatever made up thing she suspects is killing him. Some time passes and once, when no one else is in the room, Cameron’s visited by the punk-rock angel. She introduces herself as Dulcie and tells him, while hanging a spoon off her nose, that he must go on an important mission to save the world. The prions in his brain that are killing him make him able to see things that others do not. They’re powered by dark energy that the mysterious Dr. X brought back with him after traveling through different dimensions. Cameron has to find Dr. X, stop the dark energy from flowing through a wormhole he’s created, and get a cure from him. He also has to take Gonzo with him. Dulcie gives Cameron a power bracelet that looks like an old Disney World armband that will give him health while he’s on his journey. Now, he and Gonzo must save the world.
Neither Cameron or Gonzo are entirely sure where or how they should be going on this world-saving adventure until Cameron begins to see clues and signs everywhere he looks and follows them. The universe guides them to the bus station and to New Orleans where Mardi Gras is in full swing. They meet Miss Demeanor, a drag queen who helps them get a private audience with supposedly-dead jazz legend, Junior Webster. Junior knows Cameron is searching for Dr. X and is on a quest to close the wormhole, so he plans to give Cameron his magic trumpet he can blow when he is in trouble. He also gives Cameron his sunglasses, tells him to bury them under the angel and wait for a message. Before their conversation concludes, the fire giants and an evil being called the Wizard of Reckoning come for them. The Wizard of Reckoning wants Junior’s trumpet and they have a musical battle for it. The Wizard kills Junior and explodes the jazz club just as Junior tosses Cameron the trumpet. Cameron and Gonzo flee in search of the angel where they’re supposed to bury the sunglasses. They meet up with Dulcie again and hey, she’s an angel!, so Cameron buries the sunglasses at her feet. Then he trips over a rock and finds a classified advertisement leading them to Daytona, Florida. The advertisement rips away in the wind, leaving Cameron with a piece that says to live.
They get on another bus and while riding, Cameron dozes off and hears his mom reading Don Quixote to him and sees a lot of different people that he knows walking around, but then he wakes up and he’s back on the bus. Dulcie is here now and they talk for a bit about random things and she tells him to make memories and to live, but then she disappears as the bus pulls over at a rest stop in Mississippi. Cameron overhears a cop talking to someone and realizes that they are looking for them! Cameron calls home to tell everyone that he’s safe, but then Dulcie shows up again and tells him he has to leave them behind because he’s on a mission. He gets angry and tells her to leave him alone and she disappears again. Unfortunately, things get worse because they get stranded here when Gonzo plays video games instead of paying attention to the bus which drives off without them. Now they have to hitchhike.
And, because of course things can’t go well ever, while hitchhiking, the fire giants show up. A van drives by and Cameron tries to get it to stop, but then someone’s doing chest compressions on him and calling for suction and paging Dr. Xavier, and then the van almost hits him. The van pulls over and then a guy and a girl wearing shirts that say CESSNAB offer Cameron and Gonzo a ride. Gonzo thinks they’re serial killers, but they turn out to be from a cult called the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack ‘N’ Bowl, CESSNAB. While we all know it’s a cult, Cameron doesn’t quite realize it yet and gets sucked in. They offer him whatever flavor smoothie he wants, but it turns out that all the smoothies are vanilla because everyone is happier when everything’s the same all the time. There are shops all around the CESSNAB facility where you can buy whatever you want because buying things makes you happy and anytime anyone there gets sad, they’re offered smoothies and made to go bowling where they all bowl strikes all the time. It’s definitely a cult and everyone knows it.
After some culty fun, Cameron begins to realize that being happy all the time isn’t so great and that there’s more to living life than this. A girl at the cult makes Cameron realize this, so they start a revolution by reading Shakespeare and breaking the magnets that cause everyone to always get strikes while bowling. Then everything explodes into chaos and Cameron and Gonzo are able to escape. They walk down the road for a long time until they come across a motel. They get a room for the night, but Cameron can’t sleep, so he leaves Gonzo and goes for a walk. He finds a payphone outside a gas station and calls his dad who tells him he loves him, but the connection isn’t great and the call drops. Cameron notices his Disney power bracelet is about half full of energy, which isn’t good. He goes into the shop and has another jittery fit, spilling soda and stuff everywhere and causing the attendant to get angry. He leaves and is picked up by a teenage girl called Tara and her boyfriend and they go to a party.
At the party, Cameron befriends a garden gnome called Balder who is actually a Norse god cursed by Loki to be a garden gnome. Together, they steal drug money from the guy who lives at the house and pees on Balder when he’s drunk and they go back to the motel. The next day, they go for breakfast and Balder tells Gonzo that he is the immortal Norse god Balder who was protected from death by his mother, Frigg, from everyone but the mistletoe bush and thus, he cannot be hurt. Gonzo and Balder get into a little fight and then Cameron leaves to call his mom. He leaves her a message and then runs into Dulcie. She gives him information she found out about Dr. X and tells him that the Wizard of Reckoning is on his way to find Dr. X. It won’t be good if he gets to Dr. X first. Cameron returns to the table to see the little fight has gotten worse. But actually, not worse. Gonzo and Balder are charging people to try to kill him and they’ve raised a bunch of money. But then things actually do get worse. The fire giants and the Wizard of Reckoning are here. Just as everything is about to end… Cameron falls asleep.
He wakes up in a field talking to a woman he met in the hospital. Then he is in the hospital watching cartoons. Then he’s back with Gonzo and Balder and the fire giants. They run away from the restaurant and the motel as the buildings and all the cars and trucks nearby are sucked into a black hole. Gonzo recognizes the Wizard and the fire giants from New Orleans and so Cameron tells him everything about them and Dr. X and saving the world. Gonzo wants to leave, but Balder wisely says that this is a quest and we do not give up on our friends. They really need to get to Daytona now, so they decide to buy an old Cadillac with their stolen drug money and drive the rest of the way. They listen to the Great Tremolo and make jokes for a while and it’s a very nice drive. Wonder how long this will last?
They’re still driving along when Cameron sees another clue with his random clue-finding mad cow brain. They pull over at a rest stop and while Gonzo and Balder sleep, Cameron takes a walk around. He finds an old man that runs a hardware store who directs him to a clearing where he then finds Dulcie at a huge wishing tree. There are lots of wishes on the tree and Cameron adds his own. They sit together and play charades and talk and Cameron asks her what’s next? What happens if I close the wormhole? Dulcie chides him. Always worrying about the future and never focused on the here and now, because this is it. This is what matters. He has a dream that he’s back in the hospital and then the fire giants are there and they take Dulcie away. He wakes up and nothing’s on fire, so he leaves the clearing and goes back to the hardware store where the old man gives him a magic screw.
They’re back on the road again and stop for gas just outside of Florida. Here they learn that they’re pretty much on the top ten of America’s Most Wanted. That’s bad. The cult members have said they’re responsible for the destruction of their cult and that they’re terrorists. The United Snow Globe Wholesalers company has put a bounty on their heads. Why them? Who knows. Not much time passes and then they’re out of gas again but this time, there's no gas station in sight, so they set off walking. They come across a building called Putopia full of scientists that are studying time travel and theoretical physics and string theories and parallel universes and supercolliders, the theory of nothing, the theory of everything, the theory of everything plus a little bit more and on and on. Turns out, they know about Dr. X. He loved snow globes and his wife always bought him one for Christmas but then she died in an explosion and he was forever changed. He wanted to learn to stop death. He also believed that music was its own dimension and he used the music of Copenhagen Interpretation to travel to another dimension. By using their music, he caused the group to disappear into an aurora borealis and they haven’t been seen for years and years. Cameron asks the scientists to send him to the same place Dr. X went and they try.
Cameron is put into a machine and time and space bend around him. The music of Copenhagen Interpretation is loud and he sees them playing and sees them being sucked into a wormhole and he sees Dr. X with his wife and without his wife and he sees Gonzo working a desk wearing a fedora and his dad with his arms around his shoulders and the It’s a Small World Ride and Dulcie crying in the snow. Then everything is quiet. He steps out of the machine and the scientists cheer. Even though Cameron didn’t travel to where Dr. X is, whatever they did was a success. One of the scientists at Putopia then tells Cameron that Dr. X is at Tomorrowland in Disney World, which makes about as much sense as anything else. Now, that’s where they’re headed.
They’re back on the road again and then they pick up some hitchhikers because of course they do. Cameron reasons that if they have more people in their car, the Snow Globe people won’t recognize them. Good plan. The hitchhikers are college bros who are on their way to Daytona to go to the Party House, which seems to be like some sort of televised wild and crazy spring break event. The bros really think Balder is cool and want to take pictures with him, but we all know Balder is a Norse god, so no, you can’t take pictures with him. Then they have to pee. They stop at a gas station and Dulcie is there so she and Cameron talk for a bit, then the lady working the register recognizes Cameron and starts shooting so Dulcie starts breaking snow globes as a distraction while Cameron, Gonzo, Balder and the bros speed away.
They stop a little bit later and camp out in the wilderness. Balder comes to life and tells the bros about his life as a Viking god and then they all drink beer and eat corn chips. Cameron gets sleepy and then a doctor is tapping his foot, but he can’t feel it. Then the doctor says something about hospice and then Cameron wakes back up and Dulcie is there. They hold hands and talk about the future and she reveals that one of the bros is going to vomit in 20 minutes. That’s the future she tells him about, but that’s not good enough. She then tells him about one of the other bros who will really enjoy hanging out with him and then he dies in a mine explosion later when he joins the army. Cameron tries to convince him not to join the army and tells him about the magic screw, which all the bros laugh about. Cameron gets mad at Dulcie for making him care about these stupid bros. How dare he care about people?! He’s probably going to die! He rips off his wristband and runs off, but comes back not too much later and talks to Balder, who convinces him to continue on his quest instead of giving up.
They get back on the road the next day and Cameron tells the bros that they need to part ways and they do with no hard feelings… and with Balder. THEY STOLE HIM! Cameron realizes after a few hours and so he and Gonzo head back to Daytona to find them. And then they get mixed up in the Party House. They use their time there to win money on game shows, which is definitely reasonable. Cameron plays a game about music and of course it’s all questions about The Great Tremolo and Junior Webster and Wile E. Coyote and everything else that’s been running through the book the whole time. It’s perfect! He wins $600, but he has to use it immediately because he spots Balder being auctioned off on another tv show. Unfortunately, he and Gonzo lose the auction to the college bros who are just auctioning Balder between themselves for money and attention, the bastards. Then the one that will later explode pulls out Cameron’s screw and hits on the show host with it. Seriously, let the guy explode. Luckily they find Balder and are able to get him back but only if Gonzo performs on a tv show called I Double Dog Dare You, to be filmed later that night.
They split up here, and Cameron takes Balder to rest in the room they rented. Then he runs into his sister Jenna. She is here with Staci and not with Chet because they broke up. They talk about whatever it is that’s going on with Cameron and his quest to save the world and also the fact that he’s a wanted terrorist. Jenna is scared for him, but believes in what he must do to save the world and himself, then she gets distracted by a hot guy and Cameron slips away and right into Staci. She reveals that she always had a crush on Cameron and then they have sex. At least when Cameron dies, he won’t be a virgin. Score! She leaves him right after, which probably isn't a good sign. He falls asleep then, but tells his nurse that he’s afraid to sleep because he’s going to die, but then Dulcie wakes him up and then he and Dulcie also have sex. Damn it, man!
When he wakes up the next day, Gonzo is nowhere to be found. Oh shit. He forgot about Gonzo and how he was supposed to be on that tv show and now he’s worried about him, but then he shows up with a mohawk and a boyfriend, so the tv show wasn’t so bad. He was dared to sit in an electric chair, but instead of shocking him, the host shaved his hair into a mohawk. Other people were dared to eat a dung beetle and be zapped with a cattle prod. Yikes. Luckily Gonzo is the winner and the best and now he’s got a cute boyfriend and a tattoo. That’s a big change for him! They get ready to head out again but there are tons of people around the Party House now. The Copenhagen Interpretation has reappeared from nowhere and they’re going to perform! The concert is completely awesome, and Dulcie is there and then they get to go backstage which is doubly awesome, but then… guess who shows up. That’s right. The fire giants. Shit. Cameron convinces the band to play the same song they did when they disappeared into the aurora borealis and they do and they disappear again, but they also close the wormhole and the fire giants and the evil wizard and everything else terrible disappears, too. Wow! Somehow, they probably saved the world! The wormhole is closed!
They decide to get back on the road now to find Dr. X for real even though they think the world is saved. But then the Snow Globe Bounty Hunter guys show up and start shooting and then Dulcie is there and she flies away with Cameron, but then she gets shot and gets sucked into a Snow Globe. She pushes Cameron into the ocean who then dreams about falling into the It’s a Small World Ride and wakes up captured by the Snow Globe guys who then freaking kill Balder. Cops show up then and the Snow Globe guys leave with Dulcie in her globe. Cameron and Gonzo give Balder a Viking funeral and then set off to follow the Snow Globe guys and rescue Dulcie. They should be going to Disney to find Dr. X and Cameron’s cure, but he doesn't care about that anymore. He only cares about saving Dulcie. Guess where the Snow Globe guys are going though. That’s right. They’re going to Disney World.
Cameron pretty much immediately gets caught by the Snow Globe guys, but then he starts singing It’s a Small World and gets all the crowds riled up and singing, too, and is able to escape. He sneaks through a back door on a ride in Tomorrowland and finds himself face to face with Dr. X. Yes! Finally! But no. Dr. X is actually an asshole with a very large snow globe collection who is very jaded about everything and doesn’t care about Cameron or saving his life. Cameron sees that Dr. X has the Dulcie globe and asks if he’ll set her free. He will, if Cameron can tell him one thing he’s learned on his journey, one thing worth living for. He responds to live is to love and to love is to live, but that’s not good enough for Dr. X. Then, the Wizard of Reckoning appears. And shockingly… he is Cameron.
The Wizard is upset with Cameron that he started caring so much at the end, because really, that’s all this is. The end. There’s no Dr. X, there’s no cure. There’s nothing but death. It’s all been inside his head. The only thing that was real was his wish that he made at the Wishing Tree. To live. The Wizard asks him if he’s lived these past two weeks on his quest and yes, he has, but he’s lived every week before this, too. Or has he just existed until now? Hmm… So, none of this has been real? Oh, it’s real because reality is what you make it. If that’s true, then Cameron wants the Wizard to make Dulcie real again, to free her from the snow globe. The Wizard says no and then tries to make Cameron come with him, to join him, which of course Cameron does not want to do. Then the Wizard slices him up with his sword and tells him to get his nurse to check on his wounds. But the nurse isn’t here, she’s at the hospital. Oh but wait… that’s where he’s been the entire time… or is this a trick? Cameron looks down and sees his power bracelet is actually his hospital bracelet. Then he makes his own reality and runs away from the Wizard through a doorway like the roadrunner running away from Wile E. Coyote.
Cameron runs through several doors that are futures and pasts of people he loves. He sees himself as a kid and his dad and his teaching assistant and Staci and the Small World ride and the magic screw guy getting blown up and also magic screw guy old in a shop and Gonzo and Copenhagen Interpretation and a million other things. Then they’re back where they started. The Wizard tells him that this is the end and asks if he has any last words. Cameron’s last words are the same as before, to live is to love and to love is to live, but the Wizard thinks that’s pretty lame, but there’s nothing else. Then Cameron remembers Junior Webster because he also apparently said something like that when giving Cameron his trumpet which he’s supposed to blow when he needs help. He does. No sound comes out, but then The Wizard crumples in on himself and the world slows down. There are beeps and whirrs and his mom and dad and sister holding his hands. The beeps and whirrs stop. Everything goes dark. Cameron wakes up one last time and sees Dulcie on the Small World ride. Everything is bright and beautiful here in Cameron’s favorite place. He and Dulcie kiss as she wraps him up in her wings.