Monday, January 30, 2012

16546--The Peer Pressure Your Parents Warned You About

No, I'm not the peer pressure.  I'm on your side. 
I’m the guy who encourages you to be yourself.   I’m sure you’ve heard this bold advice before, but I’m going to throw it out into the ether again.

There are many who will tell you to do as they do or to follow the footsteps of others because their success is something that can be replicated by simply doing whatever they did.   That may work well in certain non-creative areas where an individual’s flair doesn’t show through, but that will only take you to certain places.

In movies and television, this sort of imitation is often attempted to try to capitalize on popular trends.   It’s the allure of the dollars, but that’s what studios are in business for, isn’t it?   I’m not going to fault them for that.   Creative people, in contrast, bear an artistic responsibility to themselves.   If you’re one of them, and you’re the only one who should be making that decision, you need to channel your energies into the directions that are your own.

My family recently attended the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus.   For some of us it was the first time.   For me, it was my fourth “greatest show on Earth.”   My first was when I was seven or maybe eight.   My latest was with a family in-tow, which included two boys I was considering encouraging to runaway with the circus.   I warned my wife I was also open to making a trade arrangement: the boys' weight in peanuts and popcorn in exchange for their shoveling an equivalent amount of elephant droppings, for example.   Once he got wind of this, our youngest was quick to assure us that he had no knowledge of shoveling techniques, ironically demonstrating an innate talent for shoveling crap.

Anyway, what I was getting at was that while we enjoyed the show, it was missing something.   I don’t want to be so harsh as to say it was missing heart, because at least some of the performers did seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.   The circus has lost its way, though, straying from its particular path.   It seems to be trying to merge itself with elements of Cirque du Soleil.   I enjoy Cirque du Soleil.   I’ve seen several of their shows, also, but it’s a different sort of show.   Little boys don’t runaway to join le cirque.   They’re drawn to the greatest show on Earth.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good show.  It certainly entertained and even had a moment or two of getting a genuine, unprompted rise out of the audience.  The clowns, though, were definitely more cirque than circus and there was no trapeze.  Filling three rings with rope climbers and having a couple of them swing around as though in flight isn’t the same as a free-flying triple back somersault executed thirty feet up and ending in a last-second catch.  They’ve offered busy, diffuse and safe activity over risky, death-defying and dramatic acts.  There were three rings of dancing horses and ponies, but not a single one at full gallop with a rider standing on bareback.   There was playing with tigers, but no leaps through rings of fire.

I really would’ve enjoyed seeing a trio of motorcycle riders racing around each other at top speed inside a steel cage.  That’s alright…I enjoy tumbling gymnasts, too.

I understand.  I do.  It’s a new age and Ringling Brothers, etc. has some serious competition that they didn’t have years ago.  To keep pace with what the audiences have shown they enjoy, the circus has changed its product to chase dollars rather than boldly being all the CIRCUS! it can be and drawing audience dollars to the greatest show.

If you’re a singer, don’t try to sound like whoever is topping the Billboard charts.  If you’re a painter, don’t try to copy Leonardo da Vinci.  If you’re a writer, don’t aim at writing another Harry Potter.  Don’t play to trends that appear to be selling.  That’s pandering.  I think it’s still illegal in most places.

It’s fine to learn the essentials of your craft from those who are already accomplished at it, but you must also find your own style of engaging in that craft or your work will never ring true.  You may find an audience that likes you, but the audience that could love what you do and rave about it will never find you.  Don't blunt your own edge.  Put on your own greatest show.

Friday, January 20, 2012

16536--Some Things Were Not Meant To Be

Any experienced reader can tell you as readily as any writer that the world of books consists of subdivisions of many genres.  A lot of readers spend their time and energy only on a few genres they love.  Most writers, likewise, keep their focus to only a few specific areas.

I feel pretty confident in declaring that romance is not one of my genres, neither as a reader nor a writer.  The only way I even get close to feeling tears flow is to watch Spock die.  They don't start, but I can feel them getting close.  From the writer's side, I really don't lean toward the hot and steamy in my plotting.  I let my characters have that stuff for their time off my clock.  That may not always be the case.  My storytelling style may yet go through many changes over time.

Among the significant changes we are all experiencing in storytelling exists in the form of this simple blog.  Not only can writers reach out and touch all on their own, but readers can respond in kind.  You see, one of the training tools that one of my better creative writing teachers employed was the critique.  His rules were clear and simple: first, praise; then, pan and offer any suggestions for improvement; lastly, whoever wrote what was being critiqued was to sit still and listen quietly. Were we to ever publish, he said, we wouldn’t be able to run around explaining to every reader what we’d meant to say so we should just listen. Now, though, we still may not be able to handle the actual travel, but we can virtually dialogue with every single reader if we’re so motivated and explain our work and gather feedback.

I find that impressive. It wouldn’t necessarily be productive, but it’s still quite a capability.  I feel I will always welcome feedback, though I don't plan on doing much explaining.  That, I don't think was meant to be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

16535--Accessorizing Characters

This is a lot more serious than a mere chat about fashion. I'm not concerned about purses and earrings and scarves being chosen to be just right for your characters, though that sort of thing does carry more gravitas and finality for them than for you.

When you've written and rewritten and settled on just the right item to make the magic flow the way you feel it needs to go, you have to feel confident that you've made the right choices in providing proper expressions of characterization for the characters. There's a tradition to magic rings, for example, that connects them to the soul of the wearer. So, from Gyges in ancient Greece, the rings of power that rocked the realms of Middle Earth or the power rings of the Green Lantern Corps, the choice of jewelry was significant. Middle Earth might not have been so shaken by a Feather Boa of Doom and it certainly would've made the various characters ask themselves some serious questions about their ability to master it. 

File:CabarEng Paro-Diva Grp2.JPG
"Bow before the...queen!"

Gyges sporting earrings of invisibility wouldn't work to convey the right feel to readers any more than Hal Jordan flying off in a tennis bracelet and Prada shoulder bag to confront cosmic menaces. Granted, for superheroing, it makes about as much sense as the pairing of a ring and lantern (the two being bitter enemies under natural circumstances), but using that ring to create expressions of the hero's will with which to fight evil was an inspired choice. That was an idea that came over time. Originally, Green Lantern's power was just expressed with lots of eerie emerald light...and a smashing purple cape.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader needed swords. Jedi and Sith doing battle with rings simply wouldn't feel right either. Even though rings speak to the expression of the characters' essence, they already had a power for that. They needed the contrast of the plasma sword's martial elegance against the use of the Force or else we'd have been watching a lot of stern looks and hand waving.
File:Manuel Joseph 2005.jpg
A character's accessories are important extensions of them whether distinctive clothing or a unique weapon. Warriors should be matched with swift, decisive means of delivering their awesome might (Thor, Conan, Clint Eastwood). Thinkers should have versatile resources through which they can exercise their cleverness (Bond, Batman, Felix the Cat). Passive folk should find themselves with items that are likewise vague and of limited use. Magic slippers come to mind and they are even more passive than magic rings and certainly out of place in a contest of wills and struggles for one's soul. Dorothy Gale did seem awfully light on her feet, though, and maybe Frodo (they're magic, of course they'd fit) could've handled all his walking better with magic shoes instead of that soul-crushing ring. Maybe we could've even gotten in another couple of song and dance numbers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

16530--Dead of Night

An unusual job for Brick Stone, private eye.  For him, it's a reminder that sometimes toughlove is the only kind The City has to offer.

It's a little something I share because I care.

Brick Stone listened to the familiar sound of raindrops tapping against his standard issue private eye hat and trench coat as he stood beside his car. Tensely opening and closing his hands, getting accustomed to the feel of his new leather gloves, he waited on his assistant. Brick was normally more casual about time, but he was on the clock of an unusual client this particular dark and stormy night.

“Finally,” he grumbled as the perky blonde came sprinting from her apartment building.

“Sorrysorrysorry,” she said, hurrying to the passenger side of the idling Charger. “I know we’re in a hurry. You sure you’re OK with this?”

“A little late to ask that,” he said. “I’m blaming this on the Monarch’s Heart. We need to find out why I’ve got it and how I can get rid of it because the damn thing’s a magnet for weird crap that I don’t need help drawing to me in this town.”

“Wow,” Jonni said, “this one really is making you cranky, huh?”

“Just get in the car,” he barked, getting behind the steering wheel. “We’ve got a client paying us to finish a hunt.”

“I think people have a right to die the death of their choice,” Jonni said, closing the door as she settled into the passenger seat.

“I don’t use my free time arguing about rights,” Brick replied as he revved the engine and sped down the street. “People live till they die. The only differences are details for the obits.”

“Well, something’s bothering you about this job.”

“People decide how they want to off themselves everyday--fast or slow, messy or stupid, menthol or getting in my way, whatever--but when they’re a threat to others, they need a short leash to limit how many they can take down with them.”

“I see your point,” his assistant said.

“It may be a special case,” Brick said, “but it feels like we’re being more reckless than usual by getting so close to these people.”

“Didn’t humans used to call this a curse?” Jonni asked.

“Lately, more people have been letting that idea go and just focusing on it as an aggressive, easily transmitted infection,” Brick said, slowing to turn down a dark alley. “I sure know it’s not something I want.  Every new outbreak it‘s the same pattern: fear, panic, pain and death, death and more death.”

“Incurable, either way, though,” Jonni said.

“Nobody’s come forward with a real cure yet,” Brick said. “Some snake oil nonsense makes the rounds every now and again, but even with all the witches and wizards and mad scientists running loose and crazy in this town--”

“Still incurable.”

“You got it, kid,” Brick confirmed, “and always trouble.”

The city streets were still wet from the early evening rain. The smells that had washed away had crept back upon The City with a vengeance. Randall Collins ran in a full-blown panic through rain-slick, litter-strewn alleys. The gun was still tightly clutched in his hand. Even cold and humid, the air burned at his lungs. His heart pounded wildly, almost blocking out all…tunnel vision…fear. Silently, almost mocking, the glowing full moon shone down on him unsympathetically. Somewhere in his frightened mind, Randall had some glimmer of memory that reminded him that he thought he would handle this better than the reality was showing him.

“Please, Randy,” she had pleaded, “you’ve got to do this.”

“No, Julie, I don’t,” he resisted. “It’s insane!”

“If it is, then so am I,” she said. “Who wouldn’t be over something like this?”

“Julie, you’re not being rational.”

“Just take this,” she said, shoving the small box at him. “It wasn’t easy to get.”

“How did you?” he asked as he hesitantly lifted the cardboard box lid.

“A lot of collecting and scraping, money and jewelry,” she answered. “It was expensive, but I got enough for two shots if we need it.”

“Forget it,” he said, closing the box. “I won’t do it! I can’t!”

“You love me, don’t you?”

“You know I do.”

“Then…you’ll kill me,” she said, “before this…horror…gets spread to anyone else. The longer I‘m alive, the more people are going to suffer and die from this.”


“Damn it, Randy, this isn’t chicken pox! This isn’t something we can just wait out! It’s serious! You have no idea how painful this is! Look at the newspapers! What’s the body count up to? Get a clue!”

“Julie, I…”

“Look, Randy,” she said, “there’s no more time for any of your…I hate putting this on you, but it’s supposed to come easier from a loved one.”

“I thought it was the loved ones who usually ended up dying first.”

“It needs to be soon…tonight, before things get any worse.”


“You heard me,” she said. “Can I count on you? If I could do it myself…”

“It’s murder.”

“It’s a mercy killing, just…don’t let it get you, too, whatever you do. Take precautions.”

“It’s just so insane.”

“It’s a lot to process, but it has to be. It’s the only reasonable choice left.”

“I wish there were another way,” he said, staring into her pale green eyes.

“I know you’ll do the right thing,” she told him. “It’s one of the reasons I love you.”

They kissed.

He tripped over something and tumbled to the cold, wet pavement. The gun flew from his trembling hand and slid into the shadows. He crawled about in the filth, frantically searching among shadowed puddles and random trash, desperate to reclaim the weapon. Finally, following what seemed an anxious eternity, he found the gun and stood again, gasping for breath and listening to the night.

“What was that?” he heard himself ask.

There were only The City’s night sounds, rising and falling, for him to hear. More than merely nervous, he bolted, continuing his interrupted run.

“Damned camping trip,” he muttered. “Through Tannhauser’s Gate and off into Avalon, exploring untamed fairy wilderness. We should’ve stayed in The City and minded our business. Nobody gets attacked like that in The City! Well, that’s no longer true, is it?”

He climbed a broken fence and a barking guard dog scared him half to death as he landed on the opposite side.

“Just a dog,” he assured himself, running onward.

An hour ago, the full moon had already been on the rise as the storm clouds thickened to blanket the sky. He had wrestled with the issue too long, hungry for every last minute he thought he might have with her. She wept as the pain began to overwhelm her, just as he did at watching her humanity fade. He could only watch in abject horror as she writhed naked on the floor like a woman possessed. Her bones reshaped themselves before his eyes as he reluctantly found himself believing everything she had told him. Her body’s hairs grew longer and thicker, rapidly covering her entire body with a coarse fur. Finger and toe nails became claws that began to rip the carpet and dig grooves into the floor beneath. Her screams were savage, each less human than the one preceding, sending chills through every fiber of Randy’s being. It struck him that the pain had to be far worse than she could have ever described.

Any other time, she had told him, she could control herself enough to resist the change. On the nights of the full moon, things were different. On those nights, in accordance with the legends, she had no hope of fighting off the raging beast that demanded free reign to kill. In Magick, there was more than one moon. With two moons visible from The City and three from Avalon, a full moon could hold sway as much as half of any given month. With every passing night, she would grow more wild, more savage and bloodthirsty. With every passing night, she felt sure that she lost a bit more of her soul.

Randy,” she cried out, a desperate sob mixed with a feral growl, “kill me! Please, kill me now!

Her glare came at him through bestial eyes, red with inhuman bloodlust. Her long white teeth gleamed, growing longer as he watched. He was unable to look away even as she snarled at him.

In his jacket pocket, he felt the gun she had given him. She had loaded it with two bullets tipped with the purest silver she could get together. Who could have done the actual work was beyond him. A man like Brick Stone knew people who specialized in that sort of thing, but not Julie. Cold with fear, Randy ran. That felt right to him. He remembered her warning not to let it get him, too. The beast would relish taking him from her, punishing her for keeping it locked within her whenever she could.

She howled. Deep inside, the last vestige of her drowning humanity hoped he could escape and, if it had been within her power, she would have shed a tear. Too late, though, for it already had her. She belonged to the beast and it already had his scent. It longed for the taste of his soft flesh, wet with his hot blood. The hunt was on.

He heard the heavy breaths of the beast drawing closer. Too tired to climb the tall chain link fence, he turned to face her and collapsed against the barrier. The nightmarish silhouette of his lycanthropic lover moved toward him, the bloodlust still burning in her eyes. Terror-stricken, he attempted to stop her by half-heartedly throwing a small crate her way. A swift swipe of her hairy arm shattered the empty box as a growl began to rise from deep in her chest.

“Julie, please,” Randy began to plead, but stopped, realizing there was no hint of mercy behind those eyes.

With one hand, she overturned a garbage-laden dumpster at Randall’s feet. Leaping atop the metal container with superhuman strength and agility, the beast crouched and stared down at him through narrowed eyes. Sharp claws scraped slowly across the metal surface. The growl was a hungry one. Randall was numb with fear. He no longer felt his cold, sweat-lank clothes clinging to his body. He felt nothing. He could only stare back at her numbly, searching for some trace of the girl that he loved but knowing that she was gone.

A powerful, clawed hand tightened around Randall’s neck. His hands grabbed at her wrist as she picked him up from the ground. His feet dangled in the air, kicking weakly at nothing. Her free hand drew back, fingers tensed. Something stayed her hand just a moment longer. Randall fumbled for the gun in his pocket. He was straining to retain consciousness, tears streaming from his fluttering eyelids, when the gun fired.

The silver slug shattered as it hit tough flesh and bone. Pieces of the bullet lodged in her chest as she cried out in pain. Together, they fell to the unyielding pavement, rain beginning to come down harder on them. Julie began to revert to her human form, though she was still quite hairy and obviously dying as he pulled himself to her. Rain mixed with sweat on her trembling skin as Randall sat up to prop her head in his lap. He took off his jacket to cover her upper body.

Looking up at him, Julie’s lips trembled as she smiled. He looked into her eyes, sparkling more beautifully than he had ever remembered them.

“It hurts…more than I thought it would,” she confessed weakly as he caressed her cheek. “Thank you…so much.”

“I’ll always love you,” he said, bending down to kiss her.

Randall lifted the gun again as memories of their time together rushed through both of their minds. They focused on pleasant images that had nothing to do with blood and death. One last kiss.

The gun fired again, this time the silver slug exploding into Randall’s chest. The gun fell from his hand as he collapsed against her. Julie wept, still painfully aware as Brick walked up on them, Jonni Berlin a few steps behind. Julie looked up at him.

“Finish it,” she whispered.

“You didn’t pay me just to come watch,” the trench-coated detective said, cocking the hammer of his .44 magnum revolver. “Close your eyes, kid, and…I don‘t know, think a happy thought.”

Brick sighed and squeezed off two more of his custom orichalcum bullets into her chest, exploding her heart.

“Wow, that’s sad,” Jonni said.

“For cryin’ out loud, you’d think that if a couple of kids in love were gonna have a shot at a ‘Happily ever after’, it would be in this town.”

“Love can get twisted here just like everything else, boss. Werewolves have a bloodlust for violent death and hearts. It’s part of the curse.”

“Just like they go after loved ones.”

“And love can bring them down,” Jonni said. “It’s a kind of magic all its own.”

“Well, let’s try not to find anymore like these two again for a while, Monarch‘s Heart or not. Cases like this are depressing.”

“Good work for snipers, huh?”

“You said a mouthful, kid,” Brick said, starting to walk down the alley toward his waiting Charger.

“What about the bodies, Brick?” his assistant asked, following him.

“Call the Medical Examiner’s office,” he told her, “and City Wildlife Management. Neither one’s gonna want it, but it’s their headache to work out now. We're done.”


Thursday, January 5, 2012

16522--Challenging the Challengers of the Unknown

I have a problem that has been with me for a long time.  It first manifested when I was a child, growing more significant in its influence over time.  It's not exactly a disability, but I can't not write.

Start the telethon.  There may never be a cure, but your dollars could offer hope of extracting clutter from my mind.  Contributors will, of course, be eligible to receive individual copies of my work.

Now, one drawback to attempting to plumb the depths of my mind is that it's a fertile ground for many imaginings.  As a result, it seems there's always more to find there.  I don't truly consider that to be a problem, but it is if I want to clean it out.  There's no knowing to what limits things may reach in there.File:Human brain NIH.jpg  That shouldn't really come as a surprise, as we are frequently told that there are limits to neither our own imaginations nor the possibilities that might be achieved by the application of our faculties.  We can't know everything.  Some say we can't be truly certain of knowing anything.  Well, sounds like there are a few limits after all.

It baffles me when people, often scholarly types who should be especially open to new ideas, will do all they can to destroy any theories that don't fit their worldview as though keeping deadly weeds from a delicate garden or a foreign predator from a balanced ecosystem.  The Big Bang Theory is still just an unproven theory.  Sure, it's a commonly accepted idea, but there are a lot of cosmological findings that don't fit the Big Bang model of the universe.  Many proponents of Big Bang would just like to sweep aside those...messy bits.  I think that a lot of people don't like not knowing things...or admitting they don't know things, but those devilish details don't stop existing just because you might wish it so.  That would be another limit.

In matters of less than cosmic significance, we have plenty of mysterious mysteries right here on Earth.  The Discovery and History channels appear to thrive not only on showing what's known, but on offering speculation about the great gaps in the recorded knowledge of mankind's past.  Sadly, many representatives of the mainstream scientific community are quick to dismiss as "pseudoscience" any such speculations that do not fit into the framework of what is already believed to be known.  That doesn't sound like the sort of thinking that's likely to greatly advance anyone's knowledge.  Hell, what science hasn't started out with a branding of "pseudoscience" until the old guard had put it through a thorough hazing?  Dues must be paid, I suppose.

I'm particularly fond of the programs that focus on mythologies and ancient history.  That said, it should come as little shock that I've spent many hours with cable programming such as Clash of the Gods, Stargate SG-1 and Ancient Aliens.  Before they came along, I used to ask the same sorts of questions these shows present.  I was a weird kid who wondered why there are pyramids all around the world, supposedly built by primitive cultures who never met.  When I'd read Bible passages about sky chariots and dragons and angels, I'd wonder what those people were seeing.  I know I'm not alone or those TV shows wouldn't exist.  The ideas aren't new.  Go check some original Star Trek and see.

I had a very amusing time talking about dinosaurs and prehistoric flying snakes with a seven-year-old.  Unfortunately, I was the one on the side of possibilities and he was already certain that flying snakes couldn't have ever existed.  Why not?  Simply because he had never seen one.  Feathered serpents figure prominently in Meso-American lore (Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan) and the book of Genesis indicates that serpents crawling on their bellies was an enforced punishment and not their original method of travel.  Both sources also tell us the serpent could speak.  Neither suggests a demonic nature nor the presence of legs, though both are typically assumed.  Could I readily accept that the serpent was part of an older lore that was made a villain by a newer religion?  Sure, just as I can swallow the concept of a flying snake more easily than a talking one, but I'm not going to bark at a crowd that I know every detail of what did or didn't occur with certainty just because I like the sound of one particular version over the others.  That's the sort of misbehavior is how religions get started.

I don't say I know the what and when and why and who and how the heck of the Nazca Lines...This aerial photograph was taken by Maria Reiche, one of the first archaeologists to study the lines, in 1953.

...or Stonehenge...Stonehenge in 2007

...or the Sphinx...

Kheops-Pyramid.jpg...or even a single pyramid.

I can't answer the unknowns of Atlantis or dropa stones or scores of chimeric creatures (the Sphinx comes to mind again--it used to ask riddles and eat people, but where'd it come from? Were these talking predators common?) or dinosaurs or lost civilizations or much of anything beyond a few thousand years ago.  I don't have a way-back machine.  We're guessing about that stuff and people who want to shut the door to speculation while claiming certainty are just overcome with arrogance.  Take the weird stuff out of the back rooms and put them on display with a little sign that says "Hey, we don't know what it is either, but it was found under thirty feet of sand with markings no one can read and it looks like a computer.  Share your best guess."

I don't know that alien astronauts didn't come here fifteen thousand years ago...

...or yesterday and every single day in between to work on genetics or social engineering or vacations and alien pranks.  Maybe they've been doing research for their own writing and doing incidental worldbuilding.  Neither does anyone else who doesn't have hard evidence to the contrary.

Face it: unless you've been there, you can't even be certain Tahiti exists.  Until you have personal confirmation, it's just a collective speculation, though it sounds like a nice one.  In fact, it sounds like some sort of Utopia.  Maybe it's not real after all.  Maybe I should ask my alien friends.  Who knows?  Maybe my next novel can give them a good laugh.

In the meantime, it's OK to know we don't know things.  It was once considered the starting point of wisdom.  It certainly gives us plenty to do.  We get to exercise our curiosity, wondering what's over the next horizon, letting our inner four-year-old ask why ad infinitum just to see where it gets us and enjoy the ride at the same time.  Learning is a process, a journey, apparently without a fixed goal.  It just teases us like some endlessly unwrappable gift that lets us peel away mysteries while revealing something more compelling underneath each one.  To me, that's pretty cool all by itself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

16521--Old Business

Old Business

To all appearances, an ordinary man stepped into view from the surrounding darkness. His short black hair was perfectly groomed. His simple black suit and narrow tie hung without a wrinkle on his slender frame. A slight creasing showed on his beige flesh at the corners of his mouth as it smiled enigmatically.

“Submitted for your approval,” he spoke, “a man and a woman, their names don’t matter.” His head moved slightly as he made minor gesticulations. “Tonight is different from any other, as they will soon learn, for it will decide the remainder of their future. Tonight, on the edge of understanding and the border of mortal comprehension, these two will plunge headlong…into…into…”

The aforementioned man led the aforementioned woman into a deserted doughnut shop and politely offered her a stool at the dining counter.

“Well, half the lights are on, but nobody’s here,” she said, looking around the empty diner. “That means no waiting. Life is good.”

“Ain‘t life a snood,” he said, looking around the establishment, “not a cop in sight.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” she muttered.


“Do you think I can get my pizza with relish?”

“You can’t be serious,” he told her. “You’ve had too much to drink already.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she challenged.

“Sure, I do. Your blue snood. You wore it last week.”

“A taxi backed over my mother, somebody shot my cow, etcetera, etcetera. Why wouldn’t I want a drink? Flying aardvarks, man! Did you know that Sigmund Freud had died?”

“That was a puppet.”

“A puppet?”

“Yeah, a puppet,” he explained. “Someone with somebody else’s hand up his pants. He was a legend.”

“Well, when life gives you melons,” she said, “make melonade.”

“That’s so sad,” he said with a sniff, wiping at a nonexistent tear on his cheek. Then, grabbing her by the shoulders and looking his companion squarely in the eyes, he told her, “You take your melons! Take them and shake what your mama gave you!”

Nearby, the man with the enigmatic smile came to life once more. In a soft voice, he spoke again, saying, “Variation on an age-old theme: If an economist gives a lecture, but no one shows up to hear, will it still be boring? Of course it will be.”

“Look, everyone’s entitled to three or four vodka martinis when the mood strikes!” she insisted.

“They don’t even serve leopard here,” he tried reasoning with her. “You’d have to go across town for that. Nothing else goes with martinis the way leopard does, but you just can‘t change its spots.”

“Damn spots! That’d be a horse of another color. I’m gonna go take a bath,” she said seductively. “Care to join me?”

“No, Lucy,” he said, spinning playfully on his stool, “you can’t come out to the club and be in the show.”

“But I have to be…or not to be,” she replied. “I can’t go hungry again! We’re having company for dinner.”

“Well, are you coming or not?” she persisted.

“I don’t know. Is that legal?”

“Cream cheese isn’t illegal,” she told him, “just flattening, but if you warm it up first, it even feels good.”

“Be careful,” he said, reaching out a gentle hand to her cheek. “I couldn’t bear it if anything were to happen to you.”

“Me, either,” she responded softly.

She stood, knocking over a container of coffee stirrers as she moved. They both looked at it as though it had come to life.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Let’s shoot it and see what happens.”

“That’s all you ever think about,” she complained. “You never lick my eyeballs the way you used to.”

“Life’s a snood,” he said. “Get used to it.”

“I have an announcement,” she said dramatically.

“The penguin died?”

“How’d you know?”

“You have that glow. Don’t look at me, though, I don’t even own a blender.”

“I’m so drunk.”

“Should I be surprised?”

Once again, the strange but well-dressed man spoke.

“Black rain falls from the cloudless, blood-red sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this place.”

Then, his body stiffened, becoming completely still. Across the shop, the man and woman had also become motionless.

“That’s enough!” a man cried out from the darkness. “No more! My ulcers can’t take this.”

Three men walked into the doughnut shop, one overweight and visibly disturbed, the second not quite as agitated though still concerned and the third dressed in gray coveralls and indifferent to the stressful plight causing so much anguish around him.

“Ya see what I gotta put up with?” the first man asked, waving his arms at the lifeless figures. “Whatta ya think it is?”

“After what I just saw,” the man in the coveralls said. “I’d say that their CK9Run logic dots probably burned out a while back.”

“They blew that entire scene,” the second man said.

“Yeah,” the man in coveralls said, “I’ve seen this before. They’re not going to make any sense till we replace those processors.”

“Can ya have ‘em done by morning?” the first man asked.

“No problem,” the repairman said. “I’m going to have to take them back to the shop, though.”

“Just make sure you have them back in the morning,” the second man said. “They’ve cost me enough time and stress already.”

“They’ll be ready.”

“Alright, get these piles of junk outta here,” the first man grumbled. “Jeez, Morrie, this is supposed to be the best hardware in the business and we can’t even get through a week without it breaking down? How does anybody ever get programs made?”

“I dunno, boss,” Morrie said, watching the repair crew walk the androids out of the studio, “life’s a real snood.”

“Oh, well,” the producer sighed, turning to walk back into the dark, “still less trouble than live actors.”

“Definitely, sir.”

“All that food talk has me starving. Get us sandwiches for lunch, will ya?”

“I’ll order in,” Morrie answered. “You know what you want?”

“Surprise me.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

16519--Harry, Estelle and Rusty Have a Special Visitor

Possession is 9/10 of the Law

Harry settled his bulk into the seat of his easy chair.  He wriggled his tush into the comfortable cushion and leaned back to enjoy the first of the day’s pre-game shows.  His special, super-deluxe, command center remote control was secure in his right hand as his left began reaching for the first beer of what would be many to come.

Estelle meandered into the living room and stood beside the television.  She looked at the screen and then at her husband and then at the screen and then at her husband again before finally turning off the TV.

“Estelle!” Harry shouted, nearly spilling his beer as he clutched at his remote control the way a heart attack victim would grab at his chest.  “Whatta ya doin’?”

“We never talk anymore,” Estelle opined, transposing her plumpness between the TV and her husband’s suddenly impotent remote control.

“Yeah, sure we do,” he insisted.  “Now move yer rump.”

“I’m serious, Harry,” his wife told him.  “I want us to talk.”

“Now?” Harry winced.  “Why now?  Why not when one a your shows is on?”

“Right now,” she said, folding her arms in a manner that made him wince again.

“But…honey muffin,” Harry pleaded, “the game’s gonna start in a few minutes and…and…”

There was something about her expression or perhaps in the way she had stopped blinking that made him squirm uncomfortably.  Finally, he let out a defeated sigh as he hung his head.

“OK, whatta ya wanna talk about?” he asked.

Estelle relaxed her stance, unfolding her arms.  Her facial expression softened.  Before she could utter a word, something in Harry’s brain clicked.  It was a something that pushed him to leap at a perceived opportunity to improve his position.

“Does this count?  I mean, we’re talkin’ now, right?  Do I get credit for--?  Hey, where ya goin‘, Estelle?  Are we done?  Was that a good talk?” Harry called after her as she stomped off to the kitchen, fuming silently.  “Are we done?  Was that a good talk?  Hey, it wasn’t so bad.  We could try it again…in a few days maybe, when there’s no games on?  Oh, the game,” he remembered, pressing the power button on his control and sparking the TV back to life.  “Hey, bring me some pretzels while you’re in there, huh, baby?”

Harry settled back in his chair again his pupils dilating as his eyes fixed on the flickering screen.  In the kitchen, Estelle looked out the window over the kitchen sink and allowed herself an indignant huff.  She turned her back to the window as she folded her arms again.  Not watching where she placed her fuzzy-slippered feet, she nearly kicked Rusty who was resting nearby.

“Hey, watch it!” the small, tan mutt ordered as he leapt aside.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Rus…ty,” Estelle said, slowly coming to the realization that, “You spoke? You…!”

The confused housewife bent over to take a closer look at the small dog.  Displaying an annoyed, almost feline level of detachment, the mongrel slowly turned his head to return her gaze from sleepy black eyes.

“No,” she whispered, “you didn’t speak.  No, you didn’t, did you?”

“What answer gets me fed faster?” Rusty asked.

“Oh, my God,” Estelle said, almost jumping backward as she bolted upright, though never taking her eyes from him.  “You did speak.  This is all Harry’s fault.  He’s finally made me crazy.”

“If I agree,” Rusty proposed, “will that get me fed?”

“Harry! Harry!” Estelle screamed. “Come here quick!  You gotta see this!”

Rusty rolled his eyes and let out a loud sigh.

“Come on, Rusty,” Estelle implored playfully.  “Talk for momma, baby.”

“Ugh,” Rusty grunted, looking up into her eyes, “I hate that cloying, baby-talk voice.  I’m not a child.”

“Rusty snookums,” Estelle said, standing erect and lowering her voice as it took on a disapproving tone, “that is definitely no way to talk to momma.”

“And I’m definitely not your child,” Rusty retorted.  “Look, is it too much to ask for a little basic food? Estelle, right?  Estelle, you’ve gotta have something worthwhile around.  How about some lasagna?”

“Oh, my God,” Estelle whispered, her hand raising to cover her mouth.

“This has nothing to do with--”

“Harry!” Estelle screamed, running from the room. “Rusty’s been repossessed!”

“Women,” Rusty sighed, rolling his eyes again.  “I guess I’m on my own.  I wonder what’s in the fridge.”

Estelle heard the van pull into the driveway and hurried from the bedroom.  She stopped and looked at Rusty scratching himself on the floor in front of Harry‘s chair.

“You’ll get yours now, you foul little monster,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at the dog.

“Lighten up, huh, Estelle?” Harry asked, his eyes never looking away from the game.  “I said ‘Excuse me.’  Whoa!  What a hit!”

Rusty burped at her.  Estelle shivered and rushed to the front door.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” Estelle said, pulling a man wearing a white jacket and stethoscope inside.

“So, you’re the lady that called for a vet?” the man asked.

“Yeah. God, yeah,” she answered as she steered him into the living room.  “He’s right…”

“Uh…your husband, ma’am?  I really only handle animals.”

“He was right there!” Estelle insisted. “God, oh, God!  He’s on the move!  Come on!”

Moving further from the open front door, Estelle led the vet to the kitchen.

“There!” she cried out, unleashing her accusing index finger once more.  “You see?”

“I see a pillow, ma’am,” the vet said, “and a half-eaten bowl of dog food.”

“He’s playing some kind of sick game, that’s what he’s doing,” Estelle said.

“Just try to stay calm, ma’am,” the vet said in his most soothing tone.  “Where else do you think he might’ve gone?”

“I…maybe…maybe the bedroom,” Estelle said, turning back to the hallway with the vet following.

Down the short hall and back to her bedroom, Estelle flung the door open wide.  There, the two found what they sought.

“Rusty!” Estelle snapped.  “Bad boy!  You know you’re not supposed to be up there.”

The vet looked at the small white mutt relaxing on the bed.  The small dog looked back at the vet and yawned.

“Well?” Estelle asked the vet.

“Your dog being on your bed doesn’t make him possessed, ma’am,” the vet said, holding back a chuckle.  “It doesn’t indicate satanic involvement of any kind.”

“You’re telling me you don’t see it?”

“See what, ma’am?” he asked.  “It’s a dog.”

“Could you two keep it down, please, Estelle?” Rusty asked.  “It’s been a rough week.  I‘d like to get some sleep.”

The wide-eyed vet’s mouth fell open.  Then, his eyes narrowed and he tightened his slack jaw.  The veterinarian dropped his little black bag to the foot of the bed and pushed up the sleeves of his white jacket.

“You called me just in time, ma’am,” the vet said, steely determination in his tone. “I’ll deal with Satan.”  The vet pulled a cross and a bottle of heartworm pills from his bag and cried, “Wither, spawn of perdition! In the names of St. Bruno and St. Denis, I condemn thee and impel thee return from whence thou hast come! I rebuke thee!”

“Spare me the melodrama, Kildare,” Rusty said.  “If I hadn’t had the Sixth Host of Zizzerron at my door, I wouldn’t be trying to lie low on a beach two planes away.  Without a pack of red wailing runebeasts coming in the windows, I wouldn’t have miscast the spell and I’d have half-naked babes bringing me fruity umbrella drinks, but what happened happened.  Sometimes, magic's like that.  Joke’s on me: I’m in a dog and it’ll wear off whenever it does.  Now, blow before I bite your ankle.”

“Ain’t ya got holy water or something?” the trembling Estelle asked the vet who was frantically digging through his black bag.

“For the love of…Estelle,” Rusty said, “at least spring for someone to dress up and do it in Latin. In Latin, this’d be hilarious."  Rusty paused for a tummy grumble, followed by a loud, long release of gas from each end of his tiny, hairy body, then said, “Ahhhh, much better.  Whatever that…meaty stuff was in the bottom of the fridge, Estelle…also not funny.”

“I‘m going to have to try something desperate, ma’am,” the vet said, grabbing a handful of salt and a worn parchment containing the Corruptor’s Salvation chant from his bag.

Estelle braced herself as she trembled in his shadow.  The hair on the back of Rusty’s neck bristled.

Harry reached for a handful of pretzels as an explosion rocked the small house.  Dark smoke billowed from the bedroom as a screaming man wearing a singed white lab coat and not carrying a small black bag ran out the front door.  His van left smoking skid marks in the driveway as it departed at forty-three miles per hour in reverse.  Dirty and disheveled, Estelle staggered numbly into the kitchen, a blackened pink house frock dragging the floor behind her.

Rusty trotted back into the living room and curled peacefully at Harry’s feet. Harry sniffed the air and sneered oddly.

“Hey, Estelle,” he called to his wife, “you’re burnin’ sumthin’. That your lasagna?”

“Shut up, Harry,” Estelle shouted back.

“Brimstone,” Rusty mumbled.

“Try to help,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and sipping his beer, “and see what it gets ya.  Women.”

“Amen to that,” Rusty said, looking up at the screen.  “What’s the score?”