Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Man in the Fedora

*a sequel to Exodus Lost

"Eyes on?" McGonigal asks into the headset. He's been in Los Angeles for over a month, leading a squad from Gabriel platoon on what was turning out to be a wild goose chase. Nobody had said anything, but it was becoming obvious that none of the men thought this target was ever going to show up... or even existed.

"Eyes on," comes the response. "Tango is wearing a gray fedora."

"Where are you?" McGonigal snaps his fingers and Anwar puts down his Wii controller and brings McGonigal a city map.

"West Pico heading east. Just went under the 405; about to cross Sepulveda."

McGonigal locates the intersection and points to it, making sure the other nine men in the room can see. "Roger. He on foot?"

"Affirmative."

"And you're sure it's him?"

There is a pause, which shakes both McGonigal's growing sense of excitement and skittish sense of confidence.

"Yes." The voice on the radio is calm, and if there is any uncertainty in it, it hides it well. "The intel is good."

"Roger. Contact Survey-two and inform them of your location. Gabe-one-one out." McGonigal unkeys the transmitter, double-checks the map, and looks over his men. Almost out of habit, he makes a quick headcount, counting eight. Though there are nine people in the room, only eight are under his command. The ninth person is, by order of their superiors, officially a guest. And, McGonigal reflects, not even human.

"Get your shit together," he says to his men, "this could be it."

He turns to address the guest, who is quietly staring out a warehouse window, enjoying the encroaching sunset. "Are you coming, or staying?" McGonigal asks. He's uncomfortable giving the option, but should there be any violent disagreement, McGonigal is certain that he'd come out on the losing end.

"No," says the guest, "I think I'll stay. And perhaps go for a walk."

***

Fedora smiles as he walks up the busy street, feeling the waning heat from the setting sun behind him. He loves the West Coast of the United States - something about the ocean horizon - but he hates being there. He hates being anywhere on this filthy planet, really. Earth is far more lovely when viewed from a distance. Far away, Fedora can pretend that man - those bipedal mammalian ants that are slowly killing their home - doesn't exist. Far away, Fedora can pretend that Mother Earth is as beautiful as she was millenia ago. At peace with herself and her children, rather than at war with them.

Still, as Fedora approaches a piano store, he recognizes that much of what man has wrought has been beautiful. Perhaps even good.

He enters the store, well aware that he's being followed and watched. Somehow a group of these over-intelligent monkeys figured out what is about to happen and are trying to stop it. What arrogance, Fedora thinks, to believe they can confront omnipotence. Ah, humanity.

***

A black van follows two black sedans through the streets of Los Angeles. It's cliché, McGonigal knows, but in a city full of curious imaginations, the effect that a convoy of black vehicles has in managing traffic is enough to be worth utilizing. McGonigal rides in the second sedan, with Anwar driving. The vehicle windows are heavily tinted, but Mac - so his men call him - preps his weapon well below the door-line.

"He's doing what?" McGonigal appears confused as he responds to his surveillance team's transmission. Though outwardly determined, he secretly wonders if he should start becoming afraid. After all, Talbot's team disappeared a week ago, and other than a heavily shot-up cathedral, no evidence was left of where they might have gone to.

"Gabe-one-one, he's... ah... playing the piano."

McGonigal winces, partly due to the loudness of his headset, but mostly due to the information. "Playing the piano," he utters matter-of-factly. He turns to Anwar as if to ask a question. Anwar, keeping his eyes on the road, simply shrugs.

"Don't ask me, Sergeant. I played the trumpet."

***

Felt-covered hammers strike strings of steel, initiating vibrations that attack the surrounding space with deliberate percussion. The tones are ethereal and the melody is felt in the bones of passers-by. People unconsciously flock to the source of the music, engaged by a curiosity that myth claims only the Sirens can instill.

***

Across the street, Gagne and his spotter, Hewson, exchange concern. Gagne keys his transmitter.

"Gabe-one-one, Gabe-one-alpha."

McGonigal's voice cracks through the earpiece. "Go ahead, one-alpha."

"We, uh... we have a problem, over."

"What is it?"

"The tango's pulling some sort of Pied Piper bullshit. Please advise."

Silence for a moment.

"Are you still clear?"

"Affirmative, one-one, but it's dirtying up quick."

"Take the shot."

***

What are you doing? the guest asks, completing a lap around the warehouse. Sunset is his favorite time of the day, partially because he's not too fond of light, and partially because it's a symbol of ending. That the sunrise negates such symbolic resonance the following morning does not concern him. The guest has been around long enough to know that everything, including beginnings and endings, is part of a cycle. Playing piano?

The guest pauses and gazes directly at the setting sun, waiting patiently for a response.

It finally comes.

Enjoying my favorite instrument. A pity it took them so long to create it. And then the question the guest knew would be asked, What are you doing here?

Stopping you.


Laughter permeates the guest's thoughts, but it is not his laughter. You? The Adversary? You've come to stop the Child? Who is managing the Court?

Choosing to take the question at face value, though he's aware it was not intended as such, the guest - The Adversary... Ha'Satan - replies, Daniel.

But of course. More laughter. The irony is not lost on either of them. I must go. Your pets are readying their bite.

Perhaps they will finally end you.

Come, now. They've been programmed to hate you, not me. They think you're their devil. I removed the stone from the tomb; they love me.

So much so they forgot to write your name.

At least they didn't soil it. Adversary.

***

Try as weapon specialists might, there's just no way to properly compensate for a Barrett's report. The .50-caliber weapon is simply too loud and too clumsy.

The front display window of the piano store shatters as the bullet continues its path towards Fedora's left eye. Dozens of once-enamored audience members scream and scurry like cockroaches. Yes, Fedora thinks, definitely cockroaches.

***

In the warehouse, the 13 men of Gabriel platoon's first squad gather, all upset and more than a little afraid at the failure of the operation. McGonigal steps away from his men and confronts Hotel Sierra - The Adversary's operational designation.

"That was no man."

The Adversary stares blankly into a wall. McGonigal briefly theorizes that he's looking through it.

"I informed you of such a possibility," the Adversary states. Though ostensibly emotionless, McGonigal imagines a graveness to the voice.

"Possibility? Bullshit. You knew. You fucking knew. Gagne and Hewson said he dodged that bullet. What was he?"

"What do you think?"

"A demon? An angel, maybe? We seem to be fighting every side here."

The Adversary nods. "Yes, an angel."

"What order?"

"One of the lower orders, though it wouldn't do any good to say which, since your kind has never properly deciphered our hierarchy. Your early propensity for storytelling hampered any chance of that happening."

McGonigal frowns. He doesn't like being told that his beliefs are really not what he believes. Yet, he has no choice to but to believe it. Sensing resignation in both McGonigal and the rest of the men, the Adversary uncharacteristically decides to offer further explanation.

"He was a man once. Our Patriarch impressed him into service."

"What?" McGonigal doesn't quite understand the point.

"Of all the orders, those are the easiest to kill."

Nodding, another question pops into McGonigal's mind. "They're impressed? Like slaves?"

"In a manner of speaking."

McGonigal blinks, unsure of what to make of the revelation.

"You are surprised?" the Adversary continues. "Your soul is a slave to your god. That you humans... refuse to call it that is self-righteous ignorance."

Tired of what McGonigal feels is blasphemous and heretical talk, he retorts, "Whatever." Returning to his men, he begins issuing orders. "Get everything ready to roll. We're going back to Ireland ASAP."

The men disperse, each somewhat excited to return to home base, but even more relieved to return to the one place on Earth they assume is safe to be, even if the assumption is a false one.

"Hold on, Gagne," McGonigal calls out, stopping his sniper in his tracks. "Is there anything you think is worth adding to the after-action?"

Gagne tilts his head and shakes it slowly, then replies, "His piano playing..." - the shake turns into a nod - "it was impressive."

***

Back at the piano store, as the Los Angeles PD takes statements and attempts to recreate the incident, an eerie sound begins to emanate from one of the pianos. It is a melody, ethereal and beautiful, like a haunting dream that may not have been dreamt. And nobody hears it.

Strangely, as detectives and patrol officers scour the scene, they find no bullet nor bullet hole in the store. Nor do they find a bullet casing around the bullet's estimated point of origin, that being safely tucked away in one of Gagne's pockets. There is nothing. No blood, no body, and no evidence... save a shattered window, the ramblings of uncertain witnesses... and a felt hat on a piano bench.

*Continued in Garden of Fire

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue II

You might notice the lack of IMDb links in this edition of Irreviews. In all honesty, I decided that I'm too lazy to insert those links, so now Irreviews are link-less. Take that!

Armored (2009)
Director: Nimród Antal
Writer(s): James V. Simpson
Starring: Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Columbus Short
-----
A by-the-numbers action film that relies extremely heavily on cliché for both plot progression and character development. In a nutshell, a group of crooked armored car guards decide to rob their own payload, but the sudden appearance of a witness to the crime screws everything up. Naturally, the protagonist has a change of heart and chaos ensues. Not too bad as far as films of this type go, and the supporting cast (Jean Reno, Amaury Nolasco, Skeet Ulrich, Milo Ventimiglia, Fred Ward) lend it a certain level of legitimacy. Columbus Short is surprisingly effective as the main character, despite the aforementioned cliché, and is easy to root for.
Verdict: If you're into the genre, SEE it.

Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Writer(s): James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
-----
Few movies can make my jaw drop. Fewer can keep me smiling for their entire run-time. Avatar did both (imagine how that must have looked). The hype is true: this is a movie that will change Hollywood forever. The storyline is mostly derivative of other, better film narratives, but it's a competent story that provides easy familiarity which (oh, by the way) lets the audience spend as much time doing what James Cameron actually wants them to do: sit back and be totally awed/blown-away/flabbergasted/amazed/stirred by the absolutely phenomenal and groundbreaking visuals. As far as the racism controversy surrounding the film: it's misguided. Those who are predisposed to look for and point out racism will find it; nobody else will.  
Verdict: SEE it. SEE it. SEE it. SEE it. SEE it. At least once. And make damn sure it's in 3-D (I'm going to see it again to see if the awe-inspiration, and perhaps the story, holds up).

Brothers (2009)
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writer(s): David Benioff, Susanne Bier (film: Brødre), Anders Thomas Jensen (film: Brødre)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
-----
Yet another Hollywood remake of a critically-acclaimed foreign film (the Dutch film Brødre), this one is pleasantly surprising. While it ultimately doesn't quite cut it as an effective war commentary, it is far more successful as a family drama. Unfortunately for the film, the narrative needs the war commentary to make the seamless transition into family drama. Still, there are powerful performances here, with Natalie Portman giving her first convincing performance as a mother, and Sam Shepherd providing his usual excellence as the Cahill family patriarch. Unlike in Jarhead, however, where the audience experiences that Jake Gyllenhal "gets" what it means to be a marine, Tobey Maguire doesn't quite reach that bar. All that aside, this is a very competently made film and worth a view.
Verdict: SEE it.

Couples Retreat (2009)
Director: Peter Billingsley
Writer(s): John Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, John Favreau, Kristen Bell
-----
Essentially a too-long version of a 30-minute television sitcom, this film would've been better served as such. Painfully shallow, I'm hoping it was just an excuse for Favreau and Vaughn to reunite on-screen, because there is no other substance to this unfunny comedy. Yes, there are laughs, but only in the form of punchlines. Some positives: Faizon Love steals every scene he is in, Jean Reno's appearance is a pleasant surprise (though even his character falls flat), and Malin Akerman proves that she does have potential as a legitimate actress (something she failed to do in Watchmen).
Verdict: SKIP it.

The Invention of Lying (2009)
Director: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Writer(s): Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner
-----
Ricky Gervais is very much a one-trick pony. His style doesn't vary, and all too-often we're stuck with seeing Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais. But, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and this is a very funny and enjoyable movie. Part criticism, part sit-com, and all satire, Gervais proves himself as a writer capable and willing of making fun of even the most sacred things civilization holds dear... and doing it with at least a modicum of respect. Playing a man who, in a world where everything can be accepted at face value, learns how to tell a lie, Gervais makes watching this story unfold almost comedic magic (I say almost because Gervais' craftsmanship clearly takes precedence over any attempt at being artistic). What can I say? I laughed my ass off at jokes I saw coming from a mile away.
Verdict: SEE it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Neptune Radio

opposite actions
and equal reactions
without consideration
are the strangest things
like space cowboys
listening to Neptune Radio
playing songs in reverse
trying to get their lovers back
not stopping to wonder
why there's a radio station
on Neptune

Monday, January 25, 2010

Keep It Simple, Stupid: An Adventure in Peanut Butter

When I was younger, definitely before I was 10, I read an article in one of those National Geographic kids magazines (it could've been "3-2-1 Contact," but I forget) concerning a child inventor and his invention that would solve a great problem in society: how to get the peanut butter that sticks to the bottom of the jar out of the jar.

Now, this is going to sound silly, but to a kid who was less than 10, it was profound. Basically, this brat inventor in question developed a peanut butter jar that had lids on both sides of the jar. This, obviously, allows the sandwich-maker to get to the hard-to-reach sandwich topping.

Excellent solution to a clear problem, right? I thought so. And I thought so for damn near the next 20 years. In fact, I'd often mosey through a grocery store wondering why in the Hell these jars weren't on the shelves.

Leave it to my mother to burst my balloon (she does that... all mothers receive pre-natal instruction in bursting balloons, I think).

A couple of years ago I was home visiting the parents when I saw my mother making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my niece and nephew (actually, she might've been making them for me, but I will never admit such a thing). I could tell by the sound of the knife that the peanut butter was almost gone, and the memory of that boy's invention jumped back into the forefront of my mind.

Hah, I thought, I bet mom wishes she had one of those jars right about now. Hehehe. 

Yes, you've interpreted the tone in that thought process correctly: secretly, I wanted to revel in the fact that my mother was about to suffer from the same bane that's blighted me for decades. A small one, sure, but a bane nonetheless (and never mind that she's, no doubt, been dealing with peanut butter jars a lot longer than I have... this is about me, dammit).

And then she did it. The unthinkable. She produced a solution right before my very eyes.

She used a spoon.

The moral of this tale is, well, simple. When we over-think things (cough, politicians, cough), we can wind up solving problems that didn't exist, or creating problems that won't get solved. Or something like that.

Nah... the moral of this tale is to buy peanut butter in pouches.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Irrewind, 20100123: History

I am, simply put, a history nut. I can't get enough of it. While I do have two favorite specific subjects of history (World War II and Classical Greece), I really do appreciate pretty much 100% of it. And I'm talking the good stuff and the heinous stuff. The old cliché is that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it, and while you will find many who believe this as much as I do, you will find no one who believes this more  than I do. The major fault I have with history is that, well, I don't write about it enough, which is probably why my progress towards a PhD in the topic is at a standstill (and looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future). Perhaps this will change soon; perhaps not. And perhaps I'll take the time to write about it here a bit more often. Admittedly, the idea appeals to me.

Hmm...

Anyway, here's some stuff that I have actually written:

"World War II: Pearl Harbor"
Not too long ago (probably sometime in June or July), I had to listen to a rant by my roommate/landlord about how FDR knew the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor. This, of course, made FDR a complete rat bastard in the eyes of my roommate. However, while I can't lay claim to whether or not FDR was a rat bastard, I'm pretty... Read More

"Iran: The White Elephant That Probably Shouldn't Be"
...despite the probability that Iran does harbor terrorists (something our state department rather judiciously reminds us of), the man likely wanted to pay his respects to a tragedy that even his country felt was an extreme response to so-called American imperialism. After all, a little known fact of Iran is that damn-near the entire... Read More

"War: What is it Good For?"
My intent is not to get too political here, but as I'm head-first into a ton of history at the moment, I've been finding the liberal peacenik question "what is war good for?" a little odd. Not that I'm a war mongering conservative asshole, mind you, but it is definitely a funny question ask. Especially because the answer is, well, it's good for quite... Read More

"Divisions of the United States Army"
This list of United States Army Divisions is divided into three eras: 1911-1917, 1917-1941, and 1941-present. These eras represent the major evolutions of Army division structure (there have been several minor changes during these times). The 1911-1917 era lists divisions raised during the Army's first attempts at modernizing the division... Read More

"American Independence"
When great minds gather, things change. Academic and intellectual rebellion is a given. The status quo starts to bend. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword, but without the gun, America does not stand. With the gun, the status quo breaks... Read More

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just Desserts

She's caught. Red-handed and with no way out. No excuse, she knows, will be good enough to dispute her undeniable guilt. But what, she wonders, gave her away?

The action was clean, wasn't it? There were no immediate witnesses, and the theft was quick and silent. The merchandise was left out in the open with no guard, no lock, and no key.

Then it comes to her. As her accuser towers above, scold and indictment readying themselves on lips, she sees it all. A sudden awareness empowers her and she scans the surrounding area. There was too much evidence left behind.

There are small pieces of bread - minute, even - scattered upon the kitchen counter. The result, no doubt, of a clumsy grab and a hasty retreat into the living room. There is cinnamon powder shaken into the air, settling in barely visible blotches on the floor and in the carpet, and still wafting through all-too-visible mists in the reflections of invasive sunbeams.

She was told to wait until after dinner, but she just couldn't. No, she couldn't... those muffins just looked too delicious to insult by waiting to eat them.

Her mother stands before her, eyes glaring, spatula in hand (clearly about to become an improvised paddle). "What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"

Guilt overwhelms her. Less for the crime and more for the fear of any ensuing spanking. But then, a moment of clarity. Of significance. Perhaps her young mind is on to something.

"I got you a muffin," she says innocently, handing the muffin in her left hand - the one she had yet to take a bite from - out to her mother.

Laughter erupts, and wink and smile assure her that she'll not be punished today. It is a monumental victory for a 5-year-old, and she revels in it.

Still, she got caught. This fact disturbs her developing imagination. She is not yet, it seems, quite clever enough.

She'll have to rectify that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Storms of Dust, Part II

*continued from The Storms of Dust, Part I

***

Kolfrosta felt both euphoric and guilty from her experience with Áfastr. The euphoria, for obvious reasons. Áfastr was the man she loved, after all. And to share her very first sexual encounter with him was better than she had ever dreamed.

The guilt, however, was from the reason why the encounter happened in the first place. She didn't believe she could ever bring herself to tell Áfastr that, in some strange turn of events, the Hellenes identified Kolfrosta as an Oracle. Oracles, according to Hellenic belief, had the ability to foresee possible futures during acts of sex and, because of this, Líknvé ordered the intercourse to take place. That Líknvé did so in front of the entire Attican Ecclesia meant that, Kolfrosta knew, it was only a matter of time before Áfastr found out. More than anything, she feared breaking Áfastr's heart.

Strangely enough, Áfastr hadn't learned of the order while they were still in the Hellenes. They were well-through Anatolia on their journey when, during a sibling argument, Afvaldr brought it up. Kolfrosta had no idea where Afvaldr had heard the story, but it was clear that the brother was saving it for when he deemed Áfastr needed humiliating. The pain in Áfastr's eyes when he asked her if the story was true was almost too much for her to bear. She couldn't even blame or get angry with him when he called her a worthless whore. Her anger continued to remain dormant when he barraged her with questions about how she learned to fuck - "make love" was no longer in Áfastr's vocabulary. Instead, she replied calmly and lovingly, telling of how the women of the Northmen frequently and casually discuss sex among themselves, and how Líknvé and several Hellenic noblewomen coached Kolfrosta the night before the forced, but voluntary, seduction.

When Áfastr added "lying" to "worthless whore," her anger still refused to flourish. He refused to speak to her for several days afterward, which prompted her to write the poem. She tore the parchment from some of her packed Northmen clothing and wrote it in haste in the middle of the night. It was from pure emotion that she wrote, and she hoped that it would be honest enough to assuage Áfastr's heart.

She almost cried when he threw it into a puddle of mud the day she gave it to him... the day that she and Líknvé were to head to the easternmost river, the Indigna, and follow it to the Pars Sea, while Áfastr and his brother were to continue along the Buranun after linking up with Hellenic guides that had still yet to appear. Líknvé was unsympathetic and afforded Kolfrosta no time to try to comfort Áfastr, and Kolfrosta's last memory of him was that of a man no longer in love.

She did not see Áfastr pick the parchment up and clean it off, for he had waited until she and Líknvé disappeared beyond the horizon to do so.

***

The memories end, replaced by stinging grains of sand from the storm. Áfastr feels a tinge of sadness at not being able to embrace Kolfrosta's wondrous body, but takes solace in the torn parchment he grasps in his hand and, especially, the words that he knows are written on it.

But the wind, however, has other ideas. It takes no account for solace.

Áfastr screams out as an errant gust whips the parchment from his fingers and carries it quickly into the dust-ridden darkness. Reflexively, he lunges in the direction he thinks the parchment has taken flight, but the action is futile.

An instant away from feeling despair at the loss of the only thing his would-be lover has ever given him, he is instead thrown down the hill of sand by a sudden and powerful impact. Something had just struck the very spot Áfastr was sitting in.

Before the adrenaline surge is even over, Áfastr stands at the base of the sand dune with sword drawn, trying to see his enemy through tightly-squinted eyes. Instead, he hears it. Though this is only the second time he's encountered a member of the dragon family, he knows his adversary is a sand wyvern. The wind distorts the sound, but he had listened to a Bedouin merchant recreate the noise merely two days ago, and it was close enough. At once guttural and screeching, there is nothing else it can be.

Áfastr is no berserker, but something overtakes his sensibilities and he charges the creature - or, rather, where he thinks the creature is - swinging his double-edged sword wildly. Much to his delight, the sword connects with the wyvern's front leg, though Áfastr is initially unsure if he hit the beast or a random rock. The ensuing scream of agony, however, assures Áfastr that his strike was true. Áfastr might have smiled had the wyvern's wing not knocked him through the air. Suddenly afraid, accounting for the severity of the wing's blow, Áfastr goes prone and lies still.

The Hellenes call dragons, "drakeins." Translated into Áfastr's language, drakein means "to see clearly," which is why the Hellenes also refer to dragons as clairvoyants. This makes Áfastr sublimely aware that he may be wasting his efforts in hiding, but he knows that he has little hope of victory in a direction confrontation with the beast.

For the next few minutes, Áfastr listens as the wyvern bellows out hunting calls, and he swears he can feel the ground shake with the wyvern's movements.  Áfastr hears the thuds and dispersal of sand while the creature leaps and strikes at areas it believes Áfastr to be. Through it all, the man remains motionless.

Hours pass in relative silence - only the howl of the wind - yet Áfastr waits hours more until he is satisfied that the creature is gone and the clairvoyant title is inaccurate. Unburying himself from the accumulated sand and no longer under the influence of adrenaline, Áfastr's body lets him know that it is exhausted. As with people, he's never been one to dwell on being at the whim of nature, and he quickly falls asleep.

***

He gasps for air as he wakes, subconsciously assuming that he's waking while completely buried, but his chest is well above the level of the sand. Scanning his surroundings, appearing almost ridiculous in his half-buried state, he attempts in vain to locate Kolfrosta's parchment. Upset for a moment, it dawns on him that if he hadn't lost the parchment to the wind, he would most certainly be dead. Thankful that he's alive, he digs himself out and starts knocking the sand off of - and out of, apparently - his body.

There's still no sign of his horse or his brother. Áfastr mentally shrugs and sets off toward the southeast, where he hopes to reunite with the Buranun River and find the missing Hellenic guides. The Abyss waits, after all, and there is nothing else to do but continue on.

And to recall the intimate scent of cinnamon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Storms of Dust, Part I

*a sequel to A Dragon in Winter. Fair warning: adult content.

Áfastr is, indeed, a long way from home. He's survived many a storm, flurry, and blizzard, of water, snow, and even ice. But this is his first time in a sandstorm.

Long separated from his brother, Afvaldr, and regretting the decision to not switch his horse out for a local dromedary, Áfastr sits nearly defeated on a small slope comprised of sand. He feels the loose earth beneath him shifting, but he doesn't care. With his back to the wind and wrapped in local garb that offers his body some protection from the storm - he's thankful that he agreed to that, at least - he holds a torn parchment in his hand.

Oh, lover, my lover... your presence; missed
remember, our last kiss? I cried; realized bliss
as sweat replaced the scent of perfumed mist
and our hearts collided between the touch of hips


He can't see the words, of course, for the sand and dust blot out the sun, and the constant barrage of rock and mineral particles encourages him to keep his eyes closed. But it's no matter; Áfastr's long since memorized the poem Kolfrosta gave to him the day their quest forced their paths to split. Though, in Áfastr's opinion, it's not a particularly good poem, it is unforgettable. For even stronger in his memory - if such a thing were possible - is what the poem is about.

***

It happened over two months ago, when they were still in the Hellenes. Líknvé had arranged for an audience with the Attican Ecclesia, an audience that Áfastr and his brother were not allowed to attend, despite their purported Hellenic ancestry. Not that it mattered, for neither brother spoke the language. That Líknvé did might have been a surprise, but the old woman's revelations had ceased to surprise him long before they passed the Dinarides Mountains on their way to the Hellenes.

Kolfrosta, however, was allowed to attend. Though she did not, to Áfastr's knowledge, speak the language either, Líknvé was resolute in her determination to teach Kolfrosta everything she knew. It was obvious to  Áfastr that the old woman was grooming a protégé, though doing so without the permission of Kolfrosta's father was a severe breach of Northmen protocol. Líknvé's attitude that it was okay since Kolfrosta's father was not around to object offended Áfastr greatly, but it was not the place for a 24-year old Northman hunter to rebuke the actions of an adviser to his King.

So, Áfastr and Afvaldr waited in quarters provided to each of them by the Hellenes. Áfastr's preference was to share a room with his brother, for Áfastr was uneasy with being a stranger in a strange land, but their hosts wouldn't allow it. The Hellenes, too, were leery of their strange guests and felt that segregation would provide better security for all parties by eliminating as many misunderstandings as possible. Never one to dwell on being at the whim of others, Áfastr quickly fell asleep.

Just before dawn, he was awakened by Hellene slaves bringing breakfast and local attire. To his surprise, Kolfrosta, dressed in a red peplos, accompanied them. Though Áfastr had previously joked that Hellenic garments reminded him of cheap drapery, he was overwhelmed with the realization that he'd never seen Kolfrosta so... exquisitely beautiful.

Kolfrosta easily noticed Áfastr's attention and partially hid her smile. "What is it?" she asked. To Áfastr, her tone was that of Líknvé's: playful, yet subversively manipulative. The old woman had been training her well. Before he could answer, Kolfrosta continued. "You should put those on," she said, pointing to the Hellenic clothes.

"Why?" His own tone caused Áfastr to wince. It was immature and lacking thought. Kolfrosta's new grin might have angered him, but he was still half-entranced by her beauty. The red of the peplos was a striking and complementary contrast to her black hair and slightly bronzed skin. He always remembered her with pale skin, however, though her skin took to the southern sun much more readily than his own.

"Líknvé convinced the Hellenes to help us," Kolfrosta replied, more seriously. "They know a lot more about these creatures than we do, and guides are being summoned to take us to the Abyss."

Though Áfastr had no idea what the Abyss was, he knew he didn't like the sound of it. Kolfrosta sensed his momentary fear and waited for the slaves to leave. When they did, she picked up the garments left for Áfastr and motioned for him to follow her.

"Where are you going?" Áfastr hadn't noticed her gesture.

"To my room. It's more secure and less-likely to be eavesdropped." Áfastr watched Kolfrosta's body carefully as she exited.  She paused in the doorway, nodded to a Hellene guard, and gave Áfastr enough time to enjoy her silhouette. "Come on," she finally said, "we're wasting the morning."

There was something in Kolfrosta's voice that spurred Áfastr's compliance.

***

The first thing Áfastr noticed about Kolfrosta's quarters was that they were much more elaborate than his. Where he had a simple room with a small window, Kolfrosta had multi-chambered quarters that not only offered expansive views of the city, but a balcony overlooking the square below.

The second thing he noticed was the odor.

"What's that smell?" he asked, as Kolfrosta worked her way into the bed chamber, placing his clothes on a small table near the bed.

She turned and smiled. "The bed's been perfumed with herbs and spices. Cinnamon, myrrh, aloe. It's some custom they have."

Wanting to ask why - for it seemed more a cooking pot than a bed - he instead asked, "Cinnamon?"

She approached him, moving slowly, her eyes on his. "A rare spice. From an island world far to the east."

Áfastr was about to admit that the odor was rather pleasant, but Kolfrosta's inexplicable disrobing and her sudden kiss froze him in place.

***

Kolfrosta alternated between aggressive and submissive, and Áfastr was taken aback by the shifting. It took mere seconds to maneuver Áfastr to the bed and remove his clothing. Initially, Áfastr didn't know what to do, but Kolfrosta's aggressiveness was more than enough to disguise Áfastr's indecision and the confusion only made the situation more exciting. There was a hint of embarrassment from both of them. Áfastr was a virgin, and he was under the impression that Kolfrosta was, as well, but as she took him into her mouth, he began to doubt that. Encroached anger burst and dissipated at the softness of Kolfrosta's lips and the tip of her tongue before Áfastr had a chance to protest. A gentle suction removed any thought of resistance from Áfastr's mind. Oddly enough, he kept his eyes mostly closed, preferring to imagine Kolfrosta still wearing the red peplos instead of gazing upon her nude form. Perhaps it was because he was unsure any of this was really happening, or perhaps the scent of sex among cinnamon was stronger when voluntarily blind. Whatever the reason, he was in his own paradise. And with the very woman he desired to be in it with.

As the morning progressed, Áfastr experienced many sensations that he, up until then, had only imagined. The dry-wet of Kolfrosta's mouth, both on his own lips and his phallic heartbeat; the smooth thrust into her vagina and the gentle pull out as she flexed invisible pelvic muscles; the sensation of acidic fluids down his erection and into his mouth; the ticklish and arousing caress of erect nipples brushing his torso. There was some brief discomfort, when Kolfrosta, still mounting him, turned around and faced away. As she leaned forward, bending part of him downward with her, she commanded him to penetrate her with a thumb. Were Áfastr sound of mind at that moment, he'd have refused, but she played his body and desires like a Hellenic minstrel played a lyre.

He learned, very quickly, that he preferred to be on top. While on top, he learned that he preferred Kolfrosta to be flat on her stomach. He didn't know if it was the soft impact of her buttocks against his pelvis, or the fact that she turned her head and looked back upon him as if he were some sort of god, but the position was undeniably the most arousing to him.

Whatever the case, when the act was over and Áfastr and Kolfrosta embraced, covered in the dust of perfume and the moisture of sweat, he decided to ask Kolfrosta to betroth him.

He had not been ready for her response.

"No."

*** 

*continued in The Storms of Dust, Part II

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Haiti and the San Diego Chargers

Before I get started on a ridiculous rant concerning Haiti, I just want to mention that I'm going to delete the TypePad and LiveJournal mirrors for this blog by the end of the week. If anyone follows via one of those methods (let's see, that should be about... none of you), they'll need to switch to something else. Or just ignore me altogether. I'm used to it.

Haiti

Haiti's messed up. Long the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there looked to be little hope for a so-called developing nation that wasn't, well, developing. Now they have a national disaster to deal with, and their outlook is much, much worse.

Yes, it's great that the international community is helping out (led by the United States... just thought I'd mention that) and, yes, there is a growing outside proliferation of Haitians attempting to help the disposition of their home nation (Wyclef Jean, etc.), but does anybody really see Haiti ever rising above and beyond their current status (earthquake notwithstanding)? I'm not claiming that such a feat would be impossible (nothing's impossible), but feasible? How does Haiti have any hope of being able to sustain itself? Even with the high probability (particularly now) of receiving debt cancellation, their reliance on imports and their relatively low amount of exports seems like it will keep them poor for a very, very long time.

So... why not offer them annexation? I mean, really... why not? I understand that it's en vogue to be an independent nation, but sovereign independence at the cost of economic dependence seems a bit empty to me. Haiti could become our 51st state, and as someone who sometimes reflects on the fact that I'm in danger of being part of the first generation of Americans to not live to see a new star added to our flag, I'd support it. And, let's face it, it won't hurt Haiti's standard of living.

Additionally, it would allow us to "politely" back out of Guantanamo Bay and establish not only a valid political and industrial presence in Haiti, but a military one, as well. And that it's closer to Venezuela is (for those who follow our government's strategic decisions) not a bad thing, either.

Do I see it happening? Of course not, but I figured I'd chuck it out there.

San Diego Chargers

The NFL 2009 Divisional Playoffs are done... and so are the Chargers. In a repeat of the 2004 season's playoff game versus the New York Jets, a misfiring Nate Kaeding doomed the Chargers to an early exit from the playoffs.

Kaeding, now the NFL's most accurate kicker in (regular season) history, went 0-for-3 in field goal attempts, leaving 9 points off the scoreboard for the Chargers... who lost 17-14. So, yes, I blame Kaeding. He is the San Diego goat until further notice.

It's generally accepted that the loss against the Jets is going to be LaDainian Tomlinson's last game as a Charger, primarily because he's due a nice paycheck next year, one which is essentially going to overpay him according to his recent output. LDT often claims he'd like to retire a Charger. So, LDT, if you're serious, renegotiate your contract and let the Chargers pay you less. You're already ridiculously rich... put your money where your mouth is.

A shout-out to a couple of bloggers I follow, Brian Miller and Tom, who are extremely happy that the Colts beat the Ravens.

I mentioned previously that I don't think the New Orleans Saints are going to be able to make it to the Super Bowl this year. After last Saturday's divisional playoff versus the Cardinals, I take it back. And, if the Saints make the Super Bowl, I will find myself in the unique position (for me) of rooting for an NFC team.

I'm gonna go sulk now.

Bleh.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NFL Special: Divisional Weekend

No, you're not imagining things... there was an Irrewind scheduled for this week, but due to the NFL playoffs it's been moved to next Saturday so I can rant and rave about football. Many of you have already quit reading by this point, but for those of you who remain:

Let's go Chargers!

So, last week I was 2 for 4 in my picks. I picked both games on Saturday correctly (Cowboys over Eagles; Jets over Bengals), but blew both games on Sunday (Patriots lost to the Ravens - in spectacular fashion, I might add; Packers lost to the Cardinals - in a nail-biter).

This means that the Cardinals play the Saints today at 4:30 Eastern, and the Ravens play the Colts at 8:15 Eastern. Tomorrow, Dallas is at Minnesota (1:00 Eastern) and my beloved Chargers host the New York Jets at 4:40 Eastern.

Granted, I was hoping the Patriots would've beat the Ravens, because that would've resulted in the Patriots at San Diego, and the Chargers certainly owe them one (actually two... the Patriots have been responsible for two of the Chargers' last three exits from the playoffs). But it's not so bad, as the Chargers still owe the Jets for being knocked out their first game of the 2004 season Wild Card game (an overtime loss, I might add).

Anyway... enough whining. On to my picks!

Which are easy, as I'm picking each home team (Saints, Colts, Vikings, Chargers). The Saints will win in a nail-biter, while the other three teams will win very convincingly.

NFL Musings

As much as I can't stand the Rooney Rule regarding coaching hires, I understand its intent. That stated, I wholeheartedly believe that both the Redskins and the Seahawks made a mockery of the rule, only interviewing minority candidates to satisfy the rule stipulations, and not with any real intent to hire a minority.

Pete Carroll's off to the Seahawks, eh? Does he really want another shot in the NFL, or does he just want to get away from USC before the shit hits the fan regarding various NCAA rule violations? I'll be fair: both.

Charger Musings

Even though the underrated Malcom Floyd is wearing the number, I really think that the Chargers should retire #80. Kellen Winslow? C'mon, dudes... there aren't a whole lot of players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as Chargers. Winslow's one of them; let's give him some respect.

On that note, the Chargers should retire #18, too (Charlie Joiner... who also happens to be the current wide receivers coach for the Chargers). And #74 (Ron Mix). And maybe even #71 (Fred Dean... although I'll accept arguments against this one).

Once again: Go Chargers!

Friday, January 15, 2010

An Open Letter to Pat Robertson

Okay, I know that I've stated that Fridays would be a day off from posting things, but I'm having a hard time holding my tongue.

Dear Pat Robertson,

You are a fucking moron. I'm probably a fucking moron, myself, but you are clearly and without doubt a fucking moron. Just so you know, I'm agnostic. I don't know if God, gods, or ethereal flying spaghetti monsters exist, and to be honest, I don't even care. But you claim to believe in a One True God, a Loving God, and a God that masters all Creation.

Sir, with all due respect (translation: none at all), you're full of shit.

Because of the existence of voodoo, you claim that Haitians once made a deal with the Devil in order to secure their independence from France? Really? Or are you just a racist idiot who finds it hard to believe that a culture of blacks managed to oust a Caucasian world power (and a Christian one at that)? I'm betting that's what it is, because you, sir, are a douchebag.

Maybe our Founding Fathers made the same deal, eh? After all, we whooped the British. Oh, wait... the French helped. Hmm...

Some things for your dumb ass to sit on:

1) Even if some of those estimated 50,000 Haitian casualties practice voodoo, I'm willing to bet that not all of them did. Further, I'm willing to bet that many of them were tried and true Christians. You're really suggesting that your God, as omnipotent as he may be, would punish those for merely being in the proximity of descendants of those who supposedly made a deal with the Devil?
2) And who the fuck are you to claim that voodoo is "evil," anyway? Didn't you once say that Methodists were manifestations of the Antichrist? Where's the great Methodist earthquake of the southern United States?
3) Doesn't your Bible clearly state that, "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself?" So why would your God punish "sons" over 200 years after the fact?

I'm no fan of Keith Olbermann, but he hit the nail on the head when he said, "... you are the Devil."

I hope St. Peter takes one look at you and points downward.

Sincerely,
JeffScape

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Surface

*Follows Gateway

Matt feels like he's swimming, though he knows that's impossible. He's unsure why it's impossible, but he knows it is. He almost drowned once, a long time ago, but never developed the fear of water that his parents thought he would. They even went around for a time telling friends that little Matt was afraid of water because of the incident, and though Matt knew he wasn't, he played along. He was a good little boy, after all. But he never stopped swimming.

Eventually, Matt confronted his mother about the absence of such a fear, but neither of them ever built up the courage to do the same with his father. The befuddled and embarrassed look on his father's face after "little Matt" won his first 50 meter freestyle remains one of Matt's fondest memories. Still, as his swimming career progressed through high school, culminating in a scholarship at Stanford, Matt's father never admitted that he'd made a mistake. Instead, his father told stories about how Matt, instilled by his parents with a sense of resiliency, overcame the fear through dedication and hard work.

Because his girlfriend was going to the University of Texas, Matt didn't want to go to Stanford. But his father, too interested in the prestige involved in having a child at Stanford, pressed the issue. Inadvertently, a comment from Matt's father a few weeks later ended the argument. Watching the news about a low-intensity conflict happening somewhere in an unfortunate corner of the world, he heard his father utter, "Stupid-ass soldiers. Gotta be an idiot to join the Army."

Within 48 hours, Matt enlisted.

That was a lifetime ago, and Matt knew that he wasn't anywhere near water, but he still feels like he's swimming.

***

"Move! Move!" Roarke screams at the top of her lungs, fairly certain that nobody can hear her over the gunfire and even more certain that the other soldiers are already running. Corridor by corridor, Roarke and the remnants of her squad fight their way toward the docking platform. Pausing in a somewhat defensible hallway, Roarke does a quick headcount, counting five others, including an unconscious McDaniels carried by Estevez.

Estevez sets McDaniels down and breaks out a medical kit, quickly dressing McDaniels' sucking chest wound with a flutter valve. Though not a formal medic, Estevez worked as an EMT prior to enlisting, and he knows he's McDaniels' only hope for survival.

In a normal situation - or as normal as these situations tend to get - Rourke would be assisting Estevez in caring for the downed soldier, but something else was bothering her.

"Did you see what I did?" Sipalia asks. Surprising herself, Roarke feels relief that Sipalia is among the survivors. Though she is "Icy Bitch," Roarke knows she's a mere jolt or two away from losing it completely. There is a tinge of guilt as she quietly gives thanks that Sipalia is still alive and that Campbell is dead. Or, at least, missing. Nobody actually saw Campbell go down.

Roarke shakes her thoughts loose and returns to Sipalia's inquiry. "I don't know for sure, but I think that was our SOS guy."

"Same here," acknowledges Sipalia. "He had an issue weapon."

"Greene's?"

Sipalia shrugs and nods. They both have the same thought: Greene's definitely dead. Even if he were still alive, there's no way he's staying that way much longer without his carbine. How the astronaut wound up with it is another story. Sipalia catches Roarke's eyes and shakes his head in silent recognition.

Before either of them have time to digest the fact they might be abandoning the very person they came to rescue, Estevez slides up to them.

"How is he?" Roarke asks, referring to McDaniels.

"Not good. Pulmonary aspiration and pneumothorax," Estevez starts. He continues before Roarke can ask for clarification. "Blood's filling up his lungs. The shit's oozing out of every hole he's got."

"Will he make it?" Sipalia asks.

"I fucking doubt it."

"Leave him, then," Sipalia orders, in a cold and calculating manner that only the desire to live can contrive.

"No," Roarke interrupts. "We're almost to the docking ring. No man behind." Her glare is adamant.

As with Campbell, Sipalia is technically Roarke's superior, but Roarke has been the de facto in charge since Greene's disappearance. And Sipalia doesn't want to waste time arguing.

"Fine," concedes Sipalia. "Grab McDaniels," he says to Estevez, "We're leaving." Sipalia runs over to Vasquez and Nduom, tapping them to signal that it's time to move. It's an unnecessary gesture, but Sipalia feels the need to try to establish command.

The six survivors, with McDaniels on Estevez' back in a fireman's carry, bolt through the next corridor, shooting judiciously at anything that moves or they think might be moving. Ammunition is precariously low, and any desire to spray an avenue of approach with lead is overcome by discipline.

***

They make it to the docking ring after what seems like hours, and Sipalia hops into the dropship to check it out. There's an overwhelming deflation of hope as Sipalia calls out that the flight crew is dead. The pilot ripped to shreds like Hashimoto and some of the others, and the crew chief missing.

Roarke inhales slowly, trying to remain calm. Estevez places McDaniels on the floor and whips out a respiratory bag to keep McDaniels breathing. As Estevez squeezes the bag with his hands, blood foams from McDaniels' nose, mouth, and the puncture wound in his torso. Estevez knows he's wasting his efforts, but he keeps at it anyway.

Nduom fires down the corridor at approaching Things while Vasquez slides the pressure door shut. "Are we fucked now?" Nduom asks sarcastically as the door closes and seals. The Things begin pounding on it as if to answer, "yes." It's clear from the impacts that the door won't hold long.

Sipalia reenters the airlock from the dropship and looks like he's about to agree with the sentiment when something catches his eye. He whistles at Roarke and points behind her.

Roarke turns, then turns back and smiles. "Pressure suits."

Sipalia nods and orders, "Count 'em."

Roarke runs to the suit locker and stops counting at six. There are over a dozen suits, but they don't need that many. She gives Sipalia a thumbs up.

"We can go outside to the surface, get far enough away from the jamming source and call the orbiter," Sipalia says, to no one in particular.

"What about McDaniels?" Estevez asks, wiping sweat from his brow.

"What about him?" retorts Roarke, almost offended at the tone of Estevez' question.

Estevez holds out his hands in a defeated gesture. "We have to manually breathe him or he's a goner. We can't do that in the suits. I don't even know if we'll be able to carry him."

Roarke frowns, upset at the prospect of losing another comrade. But she knows that there's no arguing this time; they have no choice but to leave McDaniels behind. Sipalia, sensing Roarke's mood, kneels beside her and places a hand on her shoulder. Fighting back tears that almost escape, Roarke nods rapidly, trying to get her reluctant agreement out of the way as quickly as possible.

"There's another problem," Sipalia starts, leery of adding pressure to the situation. "These aren't tactical suits. Our fingers won't fit in the trigger wells."

Roarke shakes her head. "Will the guns even fire out there?" There's a hint of desperation in her voice.

"Hope we won't need to find out."

It's too much. The ice finally melts. Without thinking, she grabs Sipalia and kisses him on the mouth - an inexplicable attempt at feeling something human for perhaps the last time. There is no passion, but numb from an extended battle with an enemy they know nothing about, she is willing to try. In that futile moment, she attempts to recall every sexual encounter she's ever had, beginning with the loss of her virginity the night before her high school prom and ending with the oral sex she exchanged with a potential boyfriend the morning before the unit left Earth.

There's no arousal. And the only emotion inspired is disgust at Sipalia's confused smile.

"Mount up," she orders the others, motioning to the pressure suits. As she dons her own suit, she can't bring herself to look at McDaniels.

***

Matt's still swimming, but in rough waters now. It seems as though the entire ocean is trying to drown him, as if he mistakenly insulted it somehow. He's aware he's dreaming, but the fear he experiences when he's unable to break the surface of the water is very real. His mind blocked out what it feels like to drown, but his body very much remembers. He can't breathe, and his lungs are filling with fluid.

The dream morphs into nightmare and there's a recollection of combat. Accentuating the memory, bullets begin to zip through the water. He smiles for a moment, knowing for certain that none of this is happening, for the belief that bullets can zip through open water is only perpetuated by the movies. In reality - he knows from experience - bullets only penetrate water a few inches before they cease to be any danger.

But then the bullets stop and Matt suddenly wakes. Eyes open, Matthew McDaniels spits out blood in another attempt to breathe, but can't. The last image he sees is one of the Things rearing back, preparing to tear him apart.

And the last thing he feels is a rush of air.

*Followed by Equation

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Noah's Ark? Not Exactly... Part II

Way back in July of 2006, I criticized the Christian fundamentalist group Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (aka: BASE) when they announced their "finding" of the remnants of Noah's Ark in Iran (for those interested in that criticism, you can read it here). I called BS back then (and I still call BS) primarily because of the existence of two previous flood-ark stories, one Sumerian and one Greek.

Yesterday, when perusing the Internet, I came across news reports concerning the finding of yet a third flood-ark story that predates the Judeo-Christian story. This one, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the Babylonians.

Apparently, while a certain Leonard Simmons was serving with the Royal Air Force in the Middle East after World War II, he came across a Babylonian tablet that he gave to his son, who ultimately brought it to one Irving Finkel. Finkel, a British expert on Ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), then translated the tablet and came up with some startling discoveries.

The first discovery, obviously, is this Babylonian version of the Noah's Ark. The second discovery, one that the other Ark stories in question all lack, is that the Babylonian version actually describes what the Ark looked like. What's so surprising about this? Well, it appears that the Ark was a circular vessel, and that an overwhelming amount of archaeological evidence supports this likelihood.

In other words, another nail in the coffin for the BASE team.

Some Notes From the Babylonian Tale

"Noah" in the Babylonian version is named Atram-Hasis, who in the story is a Sumerian king (there's those blasted Sumerians again).

The flood is the result of various gods screwing with each other, and the god who sympathizes with the humans who are going to be killed by the flood is named Enki (strange, too, that a character named Enkidu plays heavily in the Sumerian version of the tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh... then again, as the Babylonians basically took over from the Sumerians, this probably isn't strange at all).

In the Babylonian version, the main boat-builder is left to die (he has to stay outside to seal the ark) while Atram-Hasis gets all the glory.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Murder Mystery: An Exercise in Plot Creation

What does he do when he can't write? Be it from the so-called writer's block that he doesn't believe exists or the lack of writer's mood that he does. The answer is simple: he writes anyway. Usually it's crap, but sometimes there's a forced breakthrough in a creative process most claim is all too reliant on "flow." But he knows that's bullshit, too... even the naturals have to work at it. They all say so. Then again, there is the possibility that those naturals are just being polite, smiling to his face then laughing at him as soon as he turns away. He imagines the conversation happening behind his back:

"That silly bastard," Bob, a natural writer, would say. "He'll never know what it's like to just be able to write."

"I know," John, another natural writer, would reply. "Maybe we should just tell him the truth."

"What truth?" Bob might ask.

Then John could answer, "That he should aspire to something else."

But Bob, being the insufferably arrogant artistic type, would retort, "Are you fucking kidding? And ruin our fun?"

He remembers advice given to him when he was younger, advice he very much tried to follow. "Go live life," he was told, "because if you don't have anything to write about, you won't have anything to write." Redundant in its structure, he thinks he finally understands it now. If he is to write about murder, for instance, he should experience murder.

There's to be a smile when he reads tomorrow's headline: Bob and John Found Dead. And there's to be, perhaps, a book deal.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Oscars: Best Picture is Best Director

We are into Award Season for the various entertainment industries; Hollywood in particular. And, since I'm who I am, I figure I'd preempt the Academy Awards by, well, criticizing them a bit.

Don't get me wrong: I am a fan of the Academy Awards. And while the "casual fan" doesn't want to sit through more than three hours of award show, I'm totally fine with it. That stated...

It's long not made sense to me that "Best Picture" is awarded solely to producers. Yes, unlike most, I understand the role of the producer and why they are the ultimate "boss" for a given film production. But film is collaboration, is it not? And the entirety of a "picture" requires so much more than just the hands of its producers.

So I propose one of two solutions. The first solution, being the simplest, is to give producers some sort of "Best Producer/Producing/Production" award to recognize their value to the industry. And then award "Best Picture" to a conglomerate of sorts... the producers, the directors, etc. (maybe even the executive producers and/or the studio responsible for the film). Unfortunately, this would add an award and a few minutes to the telecast.

The second solution, somewhat related, is to get rid of the "Best Director" award and simply add a film's director as a recipient of the "Best Picture" award. I mean, why not? This would eliminate an award (which usually goes to the same film anyway) and shorten the telecast.

Some Background:

Since 1962, when the name of the award was changed from "Best Motion Picture" to "Best Picture," there have been only 8 instances (out of 47 award years) when the Best Picture and Best Director awards were given to separate movies:
  • 1967 - Best Picture: In the Heat of the Night; Best Director: Mike Nichols, The Graduate
  • 1972 - Best Picture: The Godfather; Best Director: Bob Fosse, Cabaret
  • 1981 - Best Picture: Chariots of Fire; Best Director: Warren Beatty, Reds
  • 1989 - Best Picture: Driving Miss Daisy; Best Director: Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July
  • 1998 - Best Picture: Shakespeare in Love; Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
  • 2000 - Best Picture: Gladiator; Best Director: Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
  • 2002 - Best Picture: Chicago; Best Director: Roman Polanski, The Pianist
  • 2005 - Best Picture: Crash; Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Going back to 1944, when the award switched to "Best Motion Picture" from "Outstanding Motion Picture" and the number of nominees dropped from ten to five, there have only been a further 5 discrepancies (out of 18 award years):
  • 1948 - Best Motion Picture: Hamlet; Best Director: John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • 1949 - Best Motion Picture: All the King's Men; Best Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives
  • 1951 - Best Motion Picture: An American in Paris; Best Director: George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
  • 1952 - Best Motion Picture: The Greatest Show on Earth; Best Director: John Ford, The Quiet Man
  • 1956 - Best Motion Picture: Around the World in 80 Days; Best Director: George Stevens, Giant
Including 1944 to 1961, the percentage of films winning both awards is 80%. If you start from 1962, the percentage is just under 83%. And until the aberrant run of four discrepancies in eight years (beginning with Shakespeare in Love), the percentage had increased to nearly 89% (or over 83% if including '44 to '61).

It's not a lock for a film to take home both awards, to be sure, but is an 11% to 20% occurrence rate enough to warrant separate awards?

More Oscar Musings

There should be an Academy Award for Best Stunts. Yes, there should be. Don't argue with me about this.

There should also be an Academy Award for Best Casting. Now, unlike in television, the directors of film like to take credit for most of a film's casting (and rightfully so), which is the primary argument as to why there is no award for Best Casting. However, I propose that (like the Best Picture idea above) both the film director and casting director receive this award. Why not? Oh, wait... telecast.

You wanna shorten the telecast? Get rid of the musical numbers. Keep the opening act, yes, but ditch the five songs throughout. Just play snippets of them when it's time for the category to be announced... you know, like all the other categories do it?

I'm willing to bet that increasing the Best Picture field back to 10 will have no positive effect on the ratings for the Oscars telecast. Whoever came up with that idea is, well... hmm... let's just say that it wasn't thought through.

I have a solution that might work, regarding award presentations and telecast length and ratings... but that can wait for another day.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tenth Daughters of Memory, 2009

As some are aware, in September of 2009 I co-founded (along with my buddy over at Caffeinated Joe) a writing/blogging group called The Tenth Daughter of Memory. There's nothing much to it, of course; it's just a bunch of writers motivating each other to write by way of "friendly competition." Obviously, there's no cash prize, but the "winner" of a particular topic or theme (there's a voting process) gets to pick the follow-up topic or theme. And because of this, in my humble opinion, there is some seriously high-quality stuff being submitted.

Anyway, if there are any budding (or already budded) writers out there who are interested, feel free to check it out. Below are the topics/themes and my entry for each. There is, I can safely say, quite a variety of work from the participants. And if you're curious of how the name of the group was chosen, read this: Irreverent Irrelevance: The Tenth Daughter of Memory.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Amid Hints of Sensation

Natalie stares at the dress as it lies on the floor. It is a reflective and questioning stare, and one unlikely to ever provide a satisfactory answer. A piece of woven evidence to what transpired the night before. Still stunned and lacking any other reaction, she picks it up and examines it.

The stain on the dress is not hers. Hidden amid the black and white polka dots, Natalie can only imagine what her roommate might say - or worse, ask - were it more obvious. She bundles it to further hide the spot, hoping to prevent any possible revelation to any possible visitor, blithely unaware that her confused but all too revealing smile is cause enough to elicit questioning. Feeling the grin, Natalie raises the dress to cover her face, unsure if shame should be the proper reaction. For though the stain is not hers, the dress most certainly is. It is then she notices the scent, and her inhibitions of both posture and memory suddenly find themselves with no desire to hold.

She remembers the seduction and everything about it. The tastes, the smells, the communication with the eyes and the alarming lack of spoken word. Natalie loves men, and never imagined herself in such a situation, but she fell victim of someone who had done this before... someone who knew how to use strangeness to reinforce one's sexuality by forcing them to break it. Its effectiveness was quick and more than a little startling, but as she tasted the lipstick of another amid hints of raspberry schnapps and strawberry vodka, the fear and exhilaration mixed themselves into an inebriation that no form of alcohol had any hope of inducing.

In the name of cautious experimentation, she obeyed the order of her temporary lover to unbutton the blouse that covered a body so similar to her own. Recalling a technique favored by her boyfriends, she paused to taste the perceived but nonexistent flavor of a woman's nipples. Natalie herself preferred gentle handling of her bosom, but Stephanie wanted to be bitten, and Natalie complied. Again mimicking the motions of men, her hands immediately wandered to lower places. Stephanie, however, stopped her and teasingly chided Natalie to have patience. Natalie felt that it was a violent patience, this forced extension of tactile lingering, but as she became overwhelmed with an understanding of what men experience when every inch of them reveals a heartbeat, she knew that the violence would resolve itself in ecstasy.

Briefly, Natalie separated herself from the moment and asked if she, too, should undress. The answer revealed itself in Stephanie's finger to Natalie's mouth, followed by an at-once gentle and rough push to the bed. Slowly, reassuringly, Stephanie straddled Natalie's left thigh and began to oscillate back and forth, gently squeezing her own thighs together in a rhythm timed to her own needs. Natalie gasped as Stephanie's left hand found its way in accompaniment, as if a master conductor in a finely balanced orchestra. Though this overture would not end in fanfare, but in a pouring out, both of emotion and fluids. A final allegro whose only written note would be a stain hidden amid the polka dots of a dress.

Afterward, when Stephanie had left, drunk with both alcoholic spirit and satisfaction, Natalie let it all sink in. Her upbringing caused her to feel a certain dirtiness with what she just did, and she took an extended shower in an attempt to wash off the mental filth. But the filth wouldn't go away, and she found herself more and more aroused as she thought about it, an arousal that soon took over the original purpose of the shower.

No, she decides, continuing to hold the dress near her smile. She should not feel dirty, nor will she. Despite the new memories she will forever willingly relive, she knows who she is and what she wants to make her happy. That she delved into something else has no bearing on that.

Still, she finds herself enjoying the scent of her dress. Perhaps she will wait until tomorrow to do the laundry.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To the Chargers: Norv Turner, I'm Sorry

Norv Turner, your second and third-string players succeeded in defeating the first-string players of the Washington Redskins, thereby giving the Chargers their second-best season finish in history (13-3). And even though the Chargers might lose to whomever they play in the divisional round of the playoffs, the fact remains that you got them there. I mentioned a while back that I'd call myself out and apologize to you, so here it is:

All Apologies to Norv Turner

I'm sorry. I was wrong. You, sir, are a pretty good head coach.

I was wrong when I suggested that your 11-5 finish in your first year as coach of the Chargers was merely part of the hangover left by the 14-2 Chargers of Marty Schottenheimer.

I was wrong when I implied that you were not a disciplinarian and could not hold a team together for an entire season.

I was wrong when I hinted that, as a head coach, you were too far removed from the quarterback position to be able to turn Philip Rivers into a true bad-ass.

I was wrong when I theorized that your hire was based on being a false figurehead with which A.J. Smith could play the entire team as pawns.

I said at the beginning of the 2008 season, after the Chargers lost to the Panthers in the season opener, that I would consider you a good coach should you have two more winning seasons. And despite 2008's regular season record of 8-8, you won the AFC West and beat the Indianapolis Colts in the wild card game, so I count that a winning season (Chargers great Leslie O'Neal said it best: "No season's a winning season if you don't make the playoffs.")

On November 17, 2008, I wrote that you should be "kicked to the curb."

I'm sorry. I was wrong. Here's hoping you, Mr. Turner, get a kick-ass extension!

*I just have to mention that I also initially opposed the hiring of Marty Schottenheimer, who (say what you will) was responsible for the Chargers' elevation out of the NFL's basement. What's my point? I guess I should shut up about coaches.

... nah...

Charger Musings

In all likelihood, neither LaDainian Tomlinson nor Shawne Merriman will be Chargers next year. Let's face it... Philip Rivers notwithstanding, LDT is the face of the San Diego Chargers offense, if not the the Chargers as a whole. Merriman, on the flip side, is the face of the Chargers defense (despite being outperformed by other Charger defenders this past season). I get that A.J. Smith prefers business being cold and hard, and it does seem to have worked out for him so far, but part of the front office side of football is marketing... so is it really a good idea to let either (or worse, both) LDT or Merriman go?

Speaking of "cold" and "hard" (feel free to roll your eyes now), Vincent Jackson saved his job as a Charger this season... because you know A.J. was gunning for him after that second DUI. Funny how success makes bedfellows.

Ron Rivera, the Chargers defensive coordinator whose attitude (if not scheme) helped save the Chargers defense from Ted Cottrell's ineptitude, might be the next head coach of the Buffalo Bills. That would suck (for us), but I think he's shown that he deserves a shot at being the guy.

Can anyone imagine how devastating the Chargers defensive line will be if Jamal Williams makes a successful return to form? Holy cow.

And, in all my fearlessness, I will predict it now: The Chargers will win the Super Bowl. And while I would love for the Saints to be their opponent (Rivers vs. Brees... how cool would that be?), I don't think the Saints are going to make it. That stated, I shall reserve my NFC prediction until after Wild Card Weekend.

Speaking of predictions:

Wild Card Predictions for the 2009 Season Post-Season that actually plays in 2010:

New York Jets over Cincinnati Bengals, barely.

Dallas Cowboys over Philadelphia Eagles, barely.

New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens, strongly.

Green Bay packers over Arizona Cardinals, barely.

(yes, I'm thinking this upcoming weekend will be packed with close games)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Uriah and Uriel: A Dialogue

At first the rain was useless to Uriah, because it didn't wash the blood off of his hands. But as the flooding started, he was able to cake himself with mud, hiding the crime. No evidence remained but a buried body unlikely to be found and a broken heart unlikely to be revealed. Surely, Uriah thought, his broken heart wouldn't betray him when they come to question him. It had been broken a long time, after all; this was just the first step in its mending.

Uriah didn't notice it at first. The rains were falling under a New Moon, and the clouds blocked the waning light from sunset and what little light the stars could provide. It wasn't until a flash of lightning startled Uriah that he saw the Messenger standing there. Perhaps it was its posture, or maybe something else, but the Messenger seemed luminescent somehow. It wasn't glowing, to be sure, but Uriah could see its faded wings clearly, and that was odd.

Odder still was its immediate recognition. The Messenger already knew who Uriah was - observation was its occupation - but Uriah should have had no idea who it was. But this was an uncanny night and such strangeness was barely a fleeting concern.

"What do you want?" asked Uriah, without making eye-contact.

"Why did you kill her?"

Picking up his crude shovel, Uriah wiped some rain from his brow with his forearm. "Why not?" This time, the question came with a glare.

"How vainly secretive. Do you often answer a question with a question?"

"Do you?"

The Messenger sighed as much as it could. It could see that there would be no explanation here, much less salvation. Vaguely recalling an argument it and others like it had against the creation of these... beasts, the Messenger turned to leave. To its surprise, Uriah called out.

"Are you disgusted? Or is that secret you that you've been hiding all these years finally celebrating?"

"There is no secret me," replied the Messenger, turning to face Uriah, "for I am not a man."

"Walks like, talks like."

"Then I am a goose or a loon. Perhaps a rail."

"And all are birds to be eaten for a meal."

The Messenger gestured to the fresh grave, quickly being covered by flood waters. "Is she to be eaten?"

Uriah laughed and nodded. "By worms. Or something less."

"There is no something less. Life is value. And it is a sin to murder."

"Yes, but sins are meant to be forgiven, and we all like to revel in the hypocrisy. That you expect more out of us is your folly."

The Messenger almost smiles. "I expect nothing from you. Those expectations arise from... elsewhere. You are no more valuable to me than the dirt you buried your lover with."

"Before your Lord animated dust, Prometheus had taken up pottery and Athena exhaled into clay. Either way, we are dirt. Winds and waters that we call time erode us, just as the real winds and waters erode the shore."

"Yes, you are clearly just dirt. Your kind will not ascend. You will only biodegrade."

"Maybe so. But without us, you're just text. And you will be forgotten."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue I

And here it is, the "all new" One-Line Movie Reviews, henceforth known as "Irreview." I don't know why that title didn't come to me sooner, but it didn't (and was defeated to the punch by "Irrewind," no less) so there's no reason for me to harp on it. Then again, there's no reason for me to do much of anything, but I do stuff anyway, so...

Ah, forget it. Away we go!

2012 (2009)
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer(s): Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
-----
Ugh. I didn't think it possible, but Roland Emmerich makes another bad movie that is worse than his previous bad movie (10,000 BC), which was worse than his previous bad movie (The Day After Tomorrow), which was worse than his previous bad movie (The Patriot). Seriously, the man should've stopped with Stargate, and I think it's safe to assume that Emmerich has devolved himself into the category of film directors that includes Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson. The actors are clearly only around for the paycheck and the exposure. Bad script accentuated by implausible storyline accentuated by ridiculously inept science and an already debunked "prophecy" makes for a most irritating and unenjoyable movie.  
Verdict: SKIP it.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Director: Marc Webb
Writer(s): Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
-----
"This is not a love story," the film's narrator warns. Oh, but it is, and a damned good one. The best funny movies are funny not because they try to be, but just because they are, and (500) Days of Summer just is. Similar to the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film is more grounded in reality and, while not as remarkable conceptually, it is arguably a better narrative. There are directing tricks which would seem cliché in other films, but Marc Webb utilizes them so naturally, one can only smile when watching.
Verdict: SEE it.

The Box (2009)
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer(s): Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson (short story)
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
-----
There are films that try to be "too much." This is definitely one of them. Ostensibly a drama concerning a moral question (would you kill a complete stranger for $1 million?), it is actually a B-grade science fiction movie that tries way too hard to be a thought-provoking reflection on the dark side of the human condition. Now, if you properly interpret the previous sentence as bloated superficiality pretending to be something deeply analytical, you will understand the tone of this film. Painfully predictable (though with an ending that almost works well) and all too reliant on deus ex machina gimmickry, The Box reeks of a story whose source material succeeded where its film adaptation failed. And Cameron Diaz gives one of the worst performances of her career.
Verdict: SKIP it.

Coraline (2009)
Director: Henry Selick
Writer(s): Henry Selick, Neil Gaiman (book)
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David
-----
An interesting adaption of Neil Gaiman's children's story, this one offers quite a bit of unusual visual interpretation, which is entirely appropriate for its tone. Story-wise, it borrows heavily from the classics and offers little new, but the concept provides enough to make it worth your while (though, in my opinion, it misses out on being "must see"). Interestingly enough, this film probably would have been better served as a live-action film (and probably would have been held in as high a regard as Pan's Labyrinth), yet remains enjoyable in its animated incarnation.
Verdict: SEE it. The character of the Cat is worth the viewing alone.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer(s): Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers, Maurice Sendak (book)
Starring: James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper
-----
A long-awaited adaptation of the classic children's book. While maintaining the essence of its source material, the film takes great liberties with it (for obvious reasons). Purposefully vague, subtle, and more than a tad depressing, this is a brilliant, brilliant film. Spike Jonze, the quirky director who gave us Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., outdoes himself by utilizing a deliberate style and by letting a "grown-up child" sensibility take over the storytelling. Despite what you might have heard, this is not a movie that will frighten kids, but is certainly a movie that children will not be able to appreciate (save for the ugly-cuteness of the monsters); the nuance is too much limited to the realm of adult comprehension. Max Records gives an excellent performance as Max.
Verdict: SEE it. And make your young children see it when they get a bit older.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Irrewind, 20100102: Poetry

Someone recently asked me if she could call me a poet. The answer to that is a resounding, "no." I write some poetry, to be sure, but often it's bad and needs heavy editing before even having a chance at publication (two poems that I have had published, for instance, were both heavily edited before making the cut... and neither one was over five lines, if I recall).

But, I still write the stuff, usually out of boredom or some substance-induced mood swing (no, not those substances) that briefly inspires an unusual train of thought.

Anyway, see for yourself:

"Bonus Track"
Life's one sad song after another
as if there's a rhythm to shedding tears
dance the night, unaware the sun is on its way... Read More

"Piano"
"Sit. And think." - Auguste Rodin

So sit and think
imagine voices, once calm and strong... Read More

"Neverland"
Teach me to ride the wind
and away we'll go
my shadow is lost this close to the sun... Read More

"Once a Time"
dust covers the house you grew up in
the street you grew up on
winds of change kept nothing clean... Read More

"Tabula Rasa"
a blank page
like blank mind
instinct formed between the covers... Read More

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hello, 2010

It's the New Year and I've a question to ask of it.

2010, are you gonna suck? Because if you are, I'd rather just keep living 2009. Actually, I'd rather keep living 1987, but at least the San Diego Chargers are a good team now. Anyway, please don't suck... I'm gonna be too busy to deal with too much adversity. Leave that shit to 2006, if you don't mind. Thanks in advance!

Let's see... resolutions for 2010... quit smoking, get published (not counting the three pieces in January, since those were commissioned and sold in 2009), and... no, that's about it. Same as every year.

Calendar Musings

Why do seven calendar months have 31 days, but February only has 28? Why not cut a day each from July and August and give February an equal shake? Sure, the knuckle trick won't work anymore, but we're long past honoring Roman Caesars.

Besides, those two bastard Romans are the reasons that September, October, November, and December aren't the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year, as their prefixes clearly imply. So how about that? Let's ditch July and August completely and go back to ten months in a year! Five months with 36 days and five with 37! No? Too much?

How come the calendar year isn't tied in to the solstices and the equinoxes (is that the plural of equinox?)? Why not make the winter solstice fall on January 1 and the summer solstice fall on July 1? Is it too much to ask for civilization to have some logic?

Can we please, PLEASE get rid of Daylight Savings Time?

There's a lot of hubbub concerning when the new decade starts. Some claim that today is the first day of the new decade; others claim that January 1, 2011 is the first day of the new decade. Well, to be technical, every January 1st is the first day of a new decade, depending on how you're counting your years... but, for the sake of argument: if you're counting cardinal decades, then 2011 is the correct starting year (and is the first year of the 202nd decade). If you're talking about the colloquially accepted "2010s," then, duh, of course it's 2010.

The same thing goes for centuries. The 21st century didn't start until January 1, 2001. But, again, the "2000s" started in... you can figure it out. Millennia  follow the same rule set.

Anyway, Happy New Year. Hope it becomes a Happy Old Year.

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all -...