The Drabblecast hits the lanes this week with original story, “Cosmic Bowling” by Mike James Davis.  Cover art by Shane Bevin!

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Cosmic Bowling
by Mike James Davis

I’m a frequent bowler, very frequent in fact, and nothing tickles me more than when my local lanes fire up an old throwback: Cosmic Bowl. The nostalgia overwhelms me, and I know how dear it is to my dad. The pin monkeys love seeing me stride in with fiend-like energy. With grins full of teeth like spares that need to be picked up, the nod at my arrival. They recognize my dad’s fever to roll in my eyes. It’s in the reverence I have for the game in the black light glow, and just like my dad, I crave to bask in the fluorescence and hear the pins explode.

So, I religiously show up at the lanes every third Thursday for my dad’s sake so that we may roll together where it all started. It has become the only day a month he leaves the house, and it means so much to him to hit the lanes when Cosmic Bowl is in swing.

My love for and my devotion to bowling started with my dad. You see, back in the late-90’s, my dad was obsessed with that certain carpet pattern, the one you used to see in bowling alleys that dazzled the senses of both kids and adults alike under the black lights. Dad would take us, the whole, big family, there all the time, and although that particular carpet pattern could be seen elsewhere like movie theaters, jazz halls, and party arcades, it was the bowling alley, it was Cosmic Bowl where it really came alive.

My dad couldn’t get enough of it. Often, I’d see him staring down at the carpet as the thunder of balls smashing pins rang out around him. While others watched those crude late-90’s animations of a pin getting what’s coming to it by the hands of a determined bowling ball, my dad watched the carpet with the same awe.

My mom, one of my many sisters, or even I would take his turn every once in a while, as he would wander the little arcade section in the back, oblivious to the raucous air hockey matches going on. He would ramble around with a little smirk on his face and shake his head in some sort of blissful disbelief every so often just blown away by what he was seeing. It got to be more and more of a chore to get him back to the actual lanes.

Mom was so embarrassed each time when we had to corral him back to the family, him having errantly bumped into some kid or gotten in the way of some other gamebut Cosmic Bowl was his night, it was his thing, and we all knew how much he loved it. Mom tolerated it for a while. She even started bowling in his place entirely.

One day, and much to the consternation of my mom, he hired a carpet fitter to carpet every floor of the house with these dark, mesmerizing, neon carpets. Every floor. Just like that. I stepped off the school bus not thinking it was even possible, but then I opened the door to my house to find my grinning dad smoothing the floor with his hands. It was just like the bowling alley. It even sort of smelled like the bowling alley. Powerful vapors.

Us kids loved it. It never struck me as impulsive or weird to carpet the entire house like that. We thought it was awesome because Cosmic Bowling was the pinnacle of cool. We all had those plastic rolly squares scooter things with the four little wheels in a complimentary neon pink color and got around the house by laying belly down so that we could be nose-close to the carpet. My tender boy eyes would dance across the bright squiggles and vague shapes.

My five sisters were exactly the same. We would be scooting around at floor level dumbly chuckling to ourselves at the wonder of our carpet. Even our dogs and cats seemed a bit enamored by it by the way they obsessively tracked some invisible prey across it and how they rested so peacefully on it. 

My days were a blur, thinking back on it. I didn’t play many video games or watch much Nickelodeon or whatever the kids at school were always talking about. I honestly can’t even remember any friendships or anything meaningful I learned in school. I just remember loving the house, loving the pattern on our floors.

Dad would almost never leave the ground, preferring to crawl and roll from room to room prattling off an endless stream of prayer and praise to the pattern. We’d frequently bump into him and oftentimes, he’d hardly notice since he was rapidly deep-sniffing the rug between the words of his sermon like a bloodhound on the scent of an escaped prisoner. The same relentlessness was in his eyes.

Of course, mom did her best to keep the family off the floor, keep us fed, get us off to school and work, and in retrospect, I commend her efforts, but these were 1990’s carpet pattern. This was Cosmic Bowl all the time. Even a mother’s love couldn’t compete with that.

Eventually, she succumbed to the carpeting, rolling along with dad and us. She had become just as enraptured as the rest of us. That’s when dad got ambitious. Mom was the last piece of the puzzle. The pattern was there to guide him, guide us. He didn’t stop at the floors, no, he contracted that carpet fitter to come out and carpet our walls and ceilings, our countertops, furniture upholstery, cover our beds and dressers, toilet, bath. Anything that didn’t need to be moved around was covered in this hypnotically wonderful carpet.

I remember hugging the floor trying to stay out of sight as my dad angrily berated the carpet fitter, who, evidently, didn’t feel it necessary to carpet so much of the house. My dad crouched low to the ground, delivering searing words with his head and eyes contorted upward to the carpet fitter but never far from the pattern. He reached up with a snake strike and snagged the man’s collar, pulling him low to the carpet, to my Dad’s level, and shoved the man’s face into the carpet like a bad dog in a puddle of urine. There was some silence as the scared carpet fitter struggled briefly, relaxed, and then acquiesced to my Dad’s demands. I never wanted to provoke my dad’s ire like that, so I stayed good, I stayed nosed to the carpet and the pattern.

Luckily after everything was covered in the pattern befitting a true Cosmic Bowl, we were free to stand and hug the walls and walk like normal folk again, while never needing to be more than an inch or so away from the carpet. All our lights were replaced with black lights, of course, to properly illuminate our halls and home. There was a womb warmth, a humidity pervading every inch of our neon home.

Dad reveled in it. He urged my sisters and I to focus on certain patterns in certain rooms and look for the Cosmic language. He sang to us, guided us, set us on the right path. His ululations echoed throughout our home at nearly all hours mixed with the faint echoes of today’s Top-40 hits.

The pattern coalescence for me just as my dad said they would if I remained pious and loyal to the pattern, to the Cosmic language in those neon squiggles. My dad’s bizarre orating became clearer and clearer. Our house was to be the nexus of a coming, a catalyst for change.

My dad knew. He knew before the first carpet was installed. He knew from the first moment he set foot in the Cosmic Bowl. He knew before any of us were even born.

Our neon home. His church. His altar. We even dressed the part by wearing enormous bowling shirts emblazoned with flames, pins, balls, and nicknames. My shirt blazed brightly white in the black lights. For everyone else, it was the mere accents and trim that glowed.

My dad chose me as the Cosmic Bowl chose him.

My sisters and mother experienced the will of the Cosmic pattern, so drawn were they to the language, so engulfed in the squiggles and shapes, so utterly entranced by the touch and feel. One by one, and to my dad’s elation, the will of the Cosmic Bowl was made clear.

First, however, was one of the dogs. She had been spending a lot of time in the mudroom standing perfectly still, perfectly transfixed. Was I supposed to have witnessed what I witnessed? Was it the will of the pattern, some sort of instinct, or an unseen influence of my dad’s? Whatever drew me to her, I padded quietly within her view, and remained as hidden as I could.

She shook, vibrated, but never yelped with fear as the pattern undulated beneath her, around her, distorted my sense of space. The fluorescence was nearly blinding even with my eyes having grown accustomed to such intensity throughout the house. Like the time lapsed creeping of sand dollars across the ocean floor, her fur sloughed off and diffused into the carpet. She slowly turned her skinless head towards me in a stupor, panting past a bright tongue. Her neon pink and yellow flesh and fat slipped off just as easily. All of it melted off her and was greedily sucked into the floor. All that remained were her fluorescent bones and horrible silence.

I dared not move. This was something dad needed to handle since dad knew all the answers, since dad was provided all the answers in the pattern. Paralyzed yet morbidly curious, I watched on as the bones of my beloved pet compressed and melded together, collapsing into a perfect pin.

It was over and I let out a shaky breath. As soon as I felt compelled to get up and pick up the pin, my dad wrapped his gangly arm around my shoulders and pressed his all-too-smooth face against mine. He felt cool to the touch.

He whispered in an unbroken stream of consciousness while rubbing the carpet right in front of my nose. The pattern spoke to me, translated for him.

“Is it not beautiful? Remain devoted, son.”

My dad crawled to the Cosmic Pin like a four-legged centipede, somersaulting to grab it when he got close. Ignoring me, he took the pin to the kitchen table and set it down. The red stripe around the neck of the pin seemed to pulse with life.

None in the family dared to move the pin, and although they didn’t see what I saw, they all knew that pin was our dog even if they never said so aloud. We felt the same warmth of her fur radiating from the pin, the same eagerness to please my dad. Right there on the table the pin remained, and soon it was joined by three more. Our cats roamed the halls no longer, but instead my dad lined them up with our dog.

If it wasn’t clear to me after the dog, the cosmic pattern spoke to me with little ambiguity after the cats.

Why didn’t my sisters try to flee? They remained devout to Cosmic Bowl, to the will of the pattern, to the guidance of our dad. I never got the sense that they were afraid of what would become of them over the next year. In fact, they seemed happily anxious, almost impatient to be the next chosen. They trusted completely in the neon squiggles, the glowing shapes, and the heat of the blacklights.

I was there to witness them all. It was as if I had to. It was as if without me there, it would never have happened. I was some sort of catalyst. It was just as the enigmatic sermons of my dad described.

The worst part wasn’t seeing the flesh stripped from my sisters and mother, nor was it how I could never bring myself to interfere and prevent it. The worst part was the gleeful acceptance of their fate. The Cosmic pattern had foretold their fate, ingrained it within their brains, and made them believe there was new life as a bowling pin. They would stare me down, skinless and radiating, and imitate the sound of pins crashing with disturbing realism before compressing down to pins themselves.

I watched each one of them in time. Each one was divinely drawn to some part of the house important to them, and I was drawn to them at the exact time the Cosmic Bowl took them. I watched all their bones contort and compress. My pets, my sisters, and mom.

My mom was especially difficult to watch stripped clean of her luminescent flesh. For her, it happened in the kitchen which was always her domain. She commanded the whole home from the kitchen, well, before the carpet was installed. The family funneled into and out of the kitchen for everything, and at the center was my mom handing us food, telling us where we needed to go, how long we’d be gone. She’d check on us, prepare us for the day, and keep the family together.

When I trembled before her apotheosis, the Cosmic Bowl saw it fit to keep her fluorescent white and blue eyes fixed on me. She couldn’t express any words, though she tried through clattering teeth, but her eyes were the only ones to show regret and fear. Maybe through all the madness of the pattern, she thought she failed us.

My dad felt none of my mom’s regret as he slinked past me murmuring as always. He picked up the mom pin and stroked her smooth curves. I say he felt no regret, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t emotional. He cried unabashedly, even blowing his nose into the collar of his bowling shirt. 

She was the last. Ten Cosmic Pins.

My dad favored me, his only son.

He set her with the rest as the leading pin in the triangle. We stood and appreciated them, thanked them, gave them an earned moment of silence, what silence there was in the constant hum of the black lights. Dad turned to me with glossy eyes. He told me to grab five of the pins as he scooped up the others. In all that time, I had never touched one of the pins. I had always been too guilty and intensely fearful of the wrath of my dad or the Cosmic pattern.

Holding them in my hands at that moment, however, my fear dissolved like their flesh. They were still there. They were still them, but just different, ascended. That one was Meredith. This one was Emily. Another was Jessica.

The cats. The dog. Mom. I was able to recognize them by touch. The pattern was preserving them.

Dad led me away from the kitchen and through a corridor I had never noticed before. He saw on my face that I was surprised by its existence and flashed me a mischievous smile, teeth like a vibrant pearlescence.

“Come on,” he whispered excitedly while clacking the pins against one another.

Further and further, I followed him into my all of a sudden labyrinthine home bathed in dark twilight and intense neon squiggles and shapes that twitched and reacted to our proximity. My dad sang at full volume some sort of new hymn that triggered a warmth in my sisters and mother.

At long last, my home opened up into a large hall. A cool glow coming from a handful of CRT screens naturally blended into the black lights and Cosmic pattern. It was a bowling alley, one with a single lane, one that belonged to our family, was created for our family. As we approached, a row of lights illuminated the lane in sequence, lastly highlighting a tragically empty pin rack.

The screens shifted between early-era 3D animations of anthropomorphic bowling balls and pins, all seemingly staring at me and beckoning me forward as they characters went about their goofy skits for spares, strikes, and gutter balls.

I wanted to question how, but it all became clear as the pattern in the carpet shifted to show me. This was Cosmic Bowl, the true Cosmic Bowl.

We didn’t need to talk. We simply set the pins up then strolled back to front.

I shook my head in astonishment.

“Where’s the balls, dad?” I asked.

He grabbed my hand and held it over the air vent attached to the ball return. The stale air felt divine. The balls and pin characters ceased acting out their animations and looked at me with eagerness, nodding expectantly. I let my skull drop back and stared at the ceiling, at that tremendously tall ceiling. Hovering above me appeared to be the bottoms of ten glittering pins, a glorious triangle miles away and monolithic.

“Has the cosmic pattern not seen fit to show you yet? Your ball is right before you,” was my dad’s response as he jerked my hand towards his face, plunging my fingers deep into his eye sockets and my thumb into his mouth.

“This is very important son,” he mumbled with my thumb deep in his mouth, “You have to keep your grip steady otherwise the fit will be all off.”

I didn’t know what to say to him. Words were useless anyway. His body, too, was beginning its metamorphosis into an extension of the Cosmic will.

Unlike the others, his flesh didn’t slough off, but instead everything compressed. He needed the density. I kept my fingers as still as possible as his warm, wet flesh slowly cooled and hardened. He thudded into the wood slat floor and I along with him, my righteous bowling shirt flapping open. He was the perfect ball: sixteen pin crushing pounds and the darkest, abyssal black patterned with that one and only carpet pattern.

Alone at the lane and dad in my hand, the CRTV flickered and showed my name. My turn. First frame.

Ï‡Ï Now, he is the glorious paterfamilias ball crashing into my family endlessly by my hand in this new Cosmos. Every game is a perfect game. χÏ


I am devout to Cosmic Bowling, and when I take my dad with me every third Thursday of the month, I sense the other patrons taking notice. Others will begin to see things in the pattern at their feet, some already are. Others will find divine lanes in their homes as well.