It was halfway through his colonoscopy when Mercer St. Stephens came to a realization that was to affect the entire course of his credit rating. Having been administered only a mild, local anesthetic, Mercer was miserably awake -- if not exactly alert -- for the procedure and distractedly watched the monitor as a fiber-optic camera plumbed the cavernous depths of his bowels. At that moment, Dr. Mark Crenshaw was studying the monitor and talking softly into a headset mic as he worked the remote control.
"Uh, excuse me, Doc," said Mercer. "What are you doing? Who are you talking to on that thing?"
"What, this? I'm recording the DVD commentary," replied Dr. Crenshaw, as if the answer were obvious.
"Sure. I got the idea from that Monty Python movie, The Meaning of Life. You seen it?"
"Uh, once maybe, a long time ago," Mercer half-fibbed. He didn't think he'd seen it, but he didn't want to come off as culturally illiterate.
"Well," continued the doctor, "there's this scene where a woman gives birth in a super-modern hospital and the doctor tells her the delivery will be available on Betamax, VHS, and Super 8. I thought to myself, 'Hey, Clyde, that's not a bad idea.' So I've worked souvenir DVDs into the practice as sort of a side business. Always thinking up ways to earn a few extra bucks, especially in this economy. Not too many people know this, but I studied film before I switched to pre-med. This is a way of combining my two passions. You'd be surprised how entertaining these procedures can be, once we put in some special effects, lay in a score, add some graphics, etc. With our video-editing software we can have the whole thing done in about an hour, so it can be completed and ready for direct sale by the time the patient's anesthesia wears off. Of course, the more eventful the colonoscopy, the better the resulting DVD."
"Oh," said Mercer. "How's mine shaping up?"
"Frankly," said the doctor, "it's pretty dull. Which is good for you, health-wise, but not so great for me as a filmmaker. No inflammation, no infection, no drama! This sure won't top The Gus Hurwitz Colonoscopy, that's for sure. We're going to have to do a lot of tightening in post. Maybe add some comedic sound effects. I dunno. Oh, hold on. I think I see something."
Mercer grew concerned. "What? A lesion? A polyp?"
"Not hardly," said the doctor. "This thing is moving."
"Holy shit!" yelled the doctor, forgetting his professional demeanor. "Nurse! Get over here! Look at this!"
A nurse ran to Dr. Crenshaw's side. He pointed to the monitor. The nurse gazed at the image and was soon slack-jawed. Her gaze darted from the screen to the doctor to Mercer and back again to the screen.
"I-it's a..." she stammered. "It's a man, doctor! A little man!"
"Oh thank Christ," replied the doctor. "You see it, too! For a second there, I thought I was seeing things!"
"A MAN?" shouted Mercer. "There's a little man in my colon? What is this, doc, some kinda joke?"
"No joke," said the clearly astonished physician. "Look for yourself!"
Mercer, a little woozy from the sedation and deprived of his eyeglasses, strained to look at the monitor. The bowel is a strange, gnarled place with lots of twists and turns like one of those "abandoned mineshaft" rides at amusement parks. Mercer studied the image and could just barely see a possible tiny humanoid figure peeking out from behind a corner, but it could just as easily have been a grey blur.
"But surely this some kind of cheap moviemaking trick. You don't expect me to believe this, do you?" queried Mercer.
"Mr. St. Stephens," replied the doctor, "this is live footage -- raw, unedited. This hasn't even been through Adobe After Effects yet!" The doctor then turned to the nurse. "Quick, Nurse Johnson, see if you can borrow a Doppler instrument from the obstetrician."
"So we can hear what he's saying! Dammit, nurse, don't question my orders. Just go!"
She all but bolted out of the room to carry out the doctor's stern command. Dr. Crenshaw then crouched down so that his head was as close as possible to the point of entry of the camera.
"Hello! Hello, little man! Can you hear me? It's all right! Don't be afraid!" He then looked up hopefully at the monitor. Slowly and carefully, the mysterious figure stepped into full view. It was a grey little homunculus, with arms, legs, a head and torso. More than anything, it resembled the kind of human figure a child might make out of clay, a sort of rudimentary and featureless approximation of a person. It waved, causing both doctor and patient to gasp. By this time, the nurse had returned with the Doppler, and soon all three were hearing the tinny little voice of the miraculous colon dweller.
"Hello," said the little man, somewhat shyly. His voice was a raspy, weak whisper.
"And hello to you, sir," replied the doctor. "I am Doctor Mark Crenshaw. Who are you?"
"I-I don't know" came the answer.
"Don't you have a name?" asked the doctor.
"Where did you come from?"
"I don't know. I've been here as long as I can remember."
"Is there anyone in there with you? Are you alone?"
"I am alone. I've been alone all my life."
"How did you learn to talk?"
"I heard Mr. St. Stephens and copied him. The walls are pretty thick, but I get some of it. I suppose I'm about as old as he is. I started growing in here when he was small, and I've been here ever since."
Mercer was amazed to hear his own name come up in this utterly bizarre, first-of-its-kind conversation.
"W-what are you... doing in there?" demanded Mercer.
"Doing? Oh, not much," said the little man. "It's awfully dark in here. Not much to do, really. This colonoscopy is the biggest thing to happen in years. I gotta tell ya, that colon cleansing was nice. The place hasn't looked this clean in I don't know how long."
"What do you eat?" asked the doctor.
"Trust me," said the little man in a long-suffering, "you don't want to know."
"Little man," said the doctor, "do you mind if Mr. St. Stephens and I chat for a bit."
"Go ahead," said the little man. "I've got all the time in the world."
The various video and audio devices were switched off, allowing the doctor and his patient to have a one-on-one conversation. Dr. Crenshaw tried to summon up an air of gravitas as he drew in close to Mercer and began to make his pitch.
"Mr. St. Stephens," he began, "I don't fully comprehend what is happening here. But what I do know is that this is a medical anomaly the likes of which the world has never seen."
Mercer was still a little out of it and was trying to make sense of this strange and fantastic happening. He merely nodded in agreement to what the doctor was saying.
"This," continued the doctor, "could be a fantastic opportunity for the both of us. Imagine the press we'll get. Not just the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, either. I'm talking People, Time, CNN, Fox, every news channel, magazine, and newspaper in the world! I mean, this is big! And you know what that means..."
The blank look on Mercer's face told Dr. Crenshaw that he did not know what it meant. A huge smile crept across the doctor's face, and the pupils of his eyes all but turned into cartoon dollar signs.
"CHA-CHING!" exclaimed the doctor. "This is our big break, Mr. St. Stephens. You and me, we're going to be in..." he paused to let the words take their proper effect... "SHOW BUSINESS!"
Show business! The magical words Mercer had been longing to hear since he was the only eight-year-old boy on his block taking tap lessons. The cruel circumstances of life had led him to a dull desk job at an insurance company, but no more! One way or another, Mercer was finally going to realize his dream -- fame, fortune, and the glory of the spotlight! Even if it meant having a camera up his ass 24/7!
Mercer beamed, his entire face registering unbridled joy.
"I take it," said Dr. Crenshaw, "that you approve of my plan."
Mercer bobbed his head up and down enthusiastically.
"Great!" said the doctor. "I'll start drafting your contract! This is where the film-school training pays off! Nurse!"
"Yes, doctor?" replied Nurse Johnson.
"Start searching the Internet to find the world's tiniest tuxedo. A STAR IS BORN!"