Saturday, July 31, 2010

Magpie Tales, 2010: Volume 1

Well, as many of you are already aware, I went ahead and joined another writing/blogging group earlier this year. Called "Magpie Tales," it was started by Willow over at Life at Willow Manor and it's similar to Theme Thursday in that you get a prompt once a week, but in lieu of words, the prompts at Magpie Tales are images. It's fun, though I don't partake in it as frequently as I should.

Pieces not originally written for Magpie Tales are marked with an asterisk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Scheherazadi, Part III

*Continued from The Scheherazadi, Part I and The Scheherazadi, Part II

The Magic Carpet slowly whirs to life, emanating a hum that sounds a little like an alien version of the cooling turbines on a golem. I've heard Morgiana and Rashid talk about "carpet burns" before, but it was only yesterday that I learned what they were.

And, I must admit, the prospect of traveling via carpet burn scares the shit out of me.

***

They call themselves the Scheherazadi and they're not quite human. Human, yes, but even less natural than the tech-djinn. They don't talk about it with me, being an outsider and all, but as near as I can tell they serve some sort of entity - a god, a dictactor, a wet dream, I have no clue - they call the Shahryi.

Most of them stay away from me, save for Morgiana and two other women, Zumarra and Parizade. Although Parizade's kept her distance ever since we almost sealed the deal, if you know what I mean. The only male I have any contact with is Rashid, and he's the prick who walked in on Parizade and me. Everyone else I've interacted with has been on a sterile basis... braniac types who have been poking and prodding me, supposedly to ensure the modifications to my golem hold up under field tests, even though I haven't seen my golem since these people captured me.

I did happen to notice that there were no children present and that everyone was an intellectual of some sort. I couldn't figure out why, but Morgiana eventually let the cat out of the bag during my long indoctrination.

"While the rest of civilization were trying to save their useless children, our fathers were saving engineers, scientists, doctors," Morgiana says, the arrogance slipping through her kind's prescience.

I ignore it. Fact is, they all talk like this. "Is that why there aren't any kids?"

"We have children, though very few. The pleasures of nature are hard to suppress, as you know." She gives me an evil eye, obviously because of the whole Parizade debacle. I just chalk it up to jealousy. "But most of us are clones, either replacement bodies for those becoming too old or copies of those in high-risk positions."

"So, you don't die."

"Of course we do, though it is rare that a person is completely lost." Completely lost, she says. I like that. "500 years of research perfected the cloning and transfer of memories from body to body."

Whoa. Even I'm smart enough to have my mind blown by this.

"And, to think," Morgiana continues, "all you've managed to do is figure out how to transfer to machines."

Pathetic, I know.

"I'm still lost. How do you plan on saving the world?"

"Nothing more is expected from you." Because she's so beautiful, I let her insult me. Okay, okay, half the time I don't even realize she's insulting me. But that time I did. "And the same way we destroyed it. With technology and a desire to use it."

Funny, had I heard someone at home dune say that, I'd be worried. Morgiana's words, though, carry themselves with an immeasurable weight of trust. And I believe them.

***

"Open Simsim," Rashid commands and blast of bright light permeates the entire chamber. I was briefed for this, but there's nothing like seeing the Magic Carpet tear a hole through space-time in person.

Rashid and two of his soldiers step in with no hesitation and disintegrate in front of my very eyes. Morgiana smiles and follows. Parizade takes my hand and pulls me in as she herself disappears.

Now I know why it's called a carpet burn. I feel like I'm on fire.

When it subsides, something's not right. There's a bright blue planet over my head. Before I can even ask if that's Earth, Morgiana and Parizade lift me to my feet.

"Come," Morgiana says, her voice more deferential than I've ever heard it, "it's time for you to tell a story to the Shahryi."

Forget what I said about the Magic Carpet. Now I'm scared shitless.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Inception: A Perception

Few movies elicit a wow from my mouth, whether for technical or narrative spectacle. And even if one does, that doesn't necessarily mean I consider that film great. My wholeheartedly subjective list of great films is rather small, currently only at seven films. Avatar, which wowed me technically, was the last film I'd seen that threatened its way onto that list, but upon further viewings, in light of its fairly pedestrian story (though one, I maintain, holds up under scrutiny), it failed to do so.

Enter Christopher Nolan.

I have long been a fan of Nolan's, going way back to 2001, when I first saw Memento in a barracks room in South Korea. Though not quite a "wow" movie, that one certainly garnered a "holy shit." He followed it up with the "just okay" American remake of Insomnia, then stormed into the public consciousness as the guiding hand of the relaunched Batman franchise (of which both films are awesome). I enjoyed The Prestige, but while it was far superior to its competing magician film (The Illusionist), there was certainly nothing in it that screamed "great."

Enter Inception.

The plot, at its core, is relatively simple: there are secrets men hold that other men want to know. Really, that's it in a nutshell. But the "spies" hired to discover these secrets steal them by entering the dreams of their targets. And that's where everything goes haywire. I won't even try to explain it in detail, because I don't think I can. But Nolan... well, he proves his mastery in directing and - as the film's sole credited screenwriter - creating a seemingly convoluted story that is, in fact, so tightly woven there's not only no room for error, there's no noticeable error at all. Though he came close, he didn't do this with Memento. He certainly didn't do this with the Batman films (lots of comic book fans continuously poke holes in those plots). But he certainly has done it with Inception.

Initially, the story seems rushed. We're getting to the point so fast, we don't really know who the characters are by the time we get into the second act. In a normal film, I'd be highly irritated by this, but given Inception's extended run-time and the fact that Nolan does an extremely adept job at filling in the characters throughout Act 2, I quickly forgave its rapid-fire opening and jumped into the film.

Enter Act 3.

Hands down, the best third act of a film I've ever seen. Ever. Everything we've learned in the first two acts comes into play and we're given a spectacle of imagination, action, and resolution that one must describe as beautiful. Nolan also provided each of the protagonists with entirely separate (screen-wise) climaxes, and there is no doubt that upon reading the script, none of the actors had to think twice about accepting their roles. And if there is a poor sap out there that did, well, he or she is an idiot. Some of the promotional material for Inception labeled the film as "The Matrix meets James Bond," and while I'm hesitant to make such a direct comparison, it's definitely an apt one (although "The Matrix meets Mission: Impossible" is probably more accurate).

In the hands of lesser filmmakers, we could have been shown a tattered mess, with dangling plot-threads and continuity errors galore. In Nolan's hands, though, the dots are connected and the threads are tied. If any weren't, I didn't notice, and I'm a bit anal about plot-holes.

The casting is near-perfect, with every role played to perfection save for that of Ariadne's (portrayed by Ellen Page). Not sure why, but she stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Of course, there is a strong possibility that this was Nolan's intent, so my criticism of Page ends there. As far as the rest, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy seemed destined for their roles. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who at first seems a little odd, completely owns his character by the end of the film and one would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone else playing The Pointman. Cameos by Michael Caine, Lukas Haas, Tom Berenger, and Pete Postlethwaite aren't distracting in the least, and I'd be remiss by not mentioning the underutilized talent of Dileep Rao (used to great extent in Inception).

If I have one issue with the film, it's the attempt at an ambiguous ending. Nolan did such an excellent job setting and wrapping things up, audiences were already wondering what was real and what wasn't. He didn't have to hammer that point home. Granted, the final moments of the film are, no doubt, what will have everyone talking, but they were unnecessary. Everyone would've been talking anyway. Still, it wasn't as forcefully ambiguous as a lot of these so-called clever films tend to be, and it will take no enjoyment or wonder away from what you just saw.

Inception, my friends, is that good. Great, even. Wow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Waking; Warning

"Get up, baby."

Alarms blare in the background - foreground, really - and eyes reluctantly open. The ignition that is arousal sparks an explosion that blasts away the dream. Five more minutes would be lovely, and is all that's desired. Is it procrastination when there's nothing yet, or left, to do?

"Shit. Already?"

Bodies move to programming; years of muscle memory. Life is waiting and reaction is procreated survival. But there's nothing revealed when the curtains open, nothing learned when the impact comes. The flash is blinding, but fails to illuminate in spite of its glow.

"You gonna get up or do I have to get you horny?"

Arousal is prepared while a mind awakens. Memories this early are never clear, never sure if they're still dreams. Eyes wander, hesitant, and a choice is made. None witness save a poster on a ceiling, and she offers no advice. Deceptively demure eyes do not point the way and supple, quivering lips remain silent.

"As good a way to wake up as any, I suppose."

Worn clothes worn, reminders of chores unfulfilled. One wonders if appearance would be so important in the land of the blind. It feels good enough with eyes closed. And open eyes are not necessary for a follower of dreams. The muffled gasps sound so loud.

"For fuck's sake, hurry up."

Feet hang off a bedside, afraid of what lies beneath. Monsters might make the world more interesting, but it's the floor that's too cold. He wants to stay in bed and continue the moment, for spirits enjoy their revelry without decisions in the way. This has become monotonous. Nightmares, never banal, reveal that sleep is truly living.

"Once more into the breach, eh, babe?"

Blankets comfort, even when they're too warm. And loneliness can be cold at night. Both serve as reminders of false memories; fantasies in the dark. There is no time for games, but there's grace in the playing. Open mouths taste the ambiance and closed eyes are not necessary, but oh, how wonderful they can be. If nothing else, they disguise the fear of embarrassment.

"I hate waking you up."

"I love it when you wake me up."

The joke's finally over. Both men want to get home. But they're going to have to survive the mortar attack first. The hands of far away lovers guide their aims and they know the fallen bodies of their enemies will revisit them later in life. At least they know it will be in the comfort of their own beds... and the foreplay won't be as deadly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

DreamScape II: Dream-Road Trucker

Every now and then I have these really vivid and insane dreams. Not just intense... insane. Yes, I know that these happen to everybody, but last year I took the time to write one down (A Really Strange Dream, hereby retroactively titled "DreamScape I"). Since that one, I started writing more of them down. At first I wasn't sure how I wanted to present them... flat-out and up-front or mixed with a bit of creative writing... but then I figured that presentation would depend on the dream itself. So I worked out a system of italicizing the actual dream portions while writing everything else in standard font.

Also, I don't put much stock into dream analysis, but several of my friends do, and I invite them to check these out. If they can handle the insanity, that is.

Anyway, here's one from sometime in March of 2010:

***

I'm a big-rig driver. Never mind that I've never driven a big-rig in my waking life, for such details don't matter. I have a pet tarantula whose name I don't know, but he's fuzzy and doesn't talk much, so is a pleasure to drive with. I'm surround by other truck drivers and we're waiting for legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells to give us a speech. I can't remember what he says, but I'm sure it's motivational. The man did win a couple of Super Bowls, after all.

He takes us to the movie theater and hands us movie tickets. Some sort of football movie, probably, but I miss the showing. Instead, I'm lost in a mall. Calm down. Find the exit. The mall can't be that big. Or, wait... yes it can.

There's the starting gun. I'm running to my truck, apparently part of some sort of combination convoy and race. It's clear I'm on the East Coast somewhere. My three dogs are with me. I hope they don't eat my tarantula. My two teammates are already loaded. I don't know why they're on my team, because neither can drive a truck.

Most of the Eastern portion of the United States flies by my window and the next thing I know  my dogs have vanished into thin air (I guess the spider is safe) and I'm pulling up to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I dream about the place often, given my history there and all, but it never looks the same. There are Koreans running all over the base hospital, kidnapping the other drivers and groups of soldiers. They're doing some kind of experiments on the unwitting patients. Chemical lobotomies. Or maybe the lobotomies aren't the experiments, but the method in which the Koreans capture everybody. I can't recall exactly. Some of these bastards have large metal spiders growing out of their abdomens. Ever seen Total Recall? Yeah, those metal spiders remind me of the mutant head. Yuck.

I find some sort of spray weapon that keeps the Koreans away from me. They're afraid of it. I have no idea why, but it's allowing me to get to the exit. Don't ask how I got in the hospital. I just sort of appeared there, I suppose. Teleportation and magic doors run rampant in my dream worlds. I need to go back and rescue the others. Good thing I have a large supply of whatever this shit is the spider-Koreans are terrified of. I do rescue some people... not sure if any of them are my teammates.

I jump in my truck. On the way off the base, I pick up Amaury Nolasco (an actor from Prison Break). He doesn't seem to mind the tarantula, either. Driving down a lonely road that I remember has a pretty nice steakhouse, we stop at a small residence. I guess I know who lives here, but I've never seen these people in my life. Some woman and her friend greet me with hugs, not having seen me in a while (ever, in reality). They're crying. The woman's daughter has died or something. Whatever happened, it was tragic, though I never get clarification if the girl's dead or not. Scott Bakula is here for moral support. He doesn't want me to feel bad.

***

So... anyone feel like trying to analyze that?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Road

*For Greg and Cam

"Fuck, it hurts." Truth be told, Roberts can't feel his leg at all. He's afraid to look, but his brain knows something is wrong.

Pulling Roberts by the drag-handle on Roberts' web-gear, Mullens screams, "Shut up. We're almost there."

The howitzer shell had hit too close. Concussion-propelled shrapnel tore its way through anything unlucky enough to be in the way. Mullens was covered in the blood of his best friend, who had shoved Mullens behind him. There is no time for sentiment. Nobody's around to care, anyway.

***

Roberts wakes up from the nightmare. It is a memory that will not die. He turns to look at the empty pillow beside, the result of a woman's promise to leave if he didn't get out of the Army. Even in spite of his injury, she refused to come back. Refused, in fact, to even look at him. Couldn't.

***

An errant bounce against a boulder forces to Roberts to witness what he's feared. His left leg is no longer attached to his body. Nowhere to be seen. A hasty tourniquet of five-fifty cord keeps him alive. Two, actually. His right leg would be missing, too, were it not for a stubborn clump of tissue. "Oh, no."

Had Mullens been paying attention, he would have noticed the complete lack of emotion in Roberts' despair. But he's too busy trying to pull Roberts away from the impact area. Blood- and tear-obscured dust is not making their escape any easier.

***

Another nightmare and another glance at an empty pillow. Only after having stared into the face of war has he realized the value of the body of woman. Too late. Exhausted from his dream, Roberts doesn't even try to get out of bed, preferring simply to pretend there's comfort to be found in sleeping in his own urine.

***

Roberts knows he's going to lose the other leg soon enough. The thought of having no legs finds life among the surrounding dead. "Leave me here, Mullens. Just leave me here. Please, just leave me here."

"Shut the fuck up."

***

He's a coward and he hates himself for it. The taste of gunmetal is, by now, a familiar friend. But he can't sum up the courage to pull the trigger. An old soldier of his happened to stop by the one time he thought he could do it, but the asshole took Roberts' gun. Good thing the other pistol was stored under a floorboard. If it were on top of the closet like the last one was, he didn't think he'd have the capability of getting it down. It's odd to see all of one's higher shelves completely empty.

***

Mortar blasts continue to mop up the area and it is sheer fortune that none have hit Mullens and Roberts. In Roberts' view, it is sheer misfortune. He wants to die and makes this clear to Mullens. But Mullens isn't listening. Instead, he's counting aloud... over and over again from one to thirteen.

Roberts will never learn that Mullens was counting the members of their patrol killed by the howitzer shell.

***

The doorbell rings, startling Roberts awake from an afternoon nap. Though there's no discernible difference in time between his morning, afternoon, or evening naps anymore. To him, there's no discernible difference in being dead or alive.

He crawls to his motorized wheelchair - parked too far from the bed in a drunken stupor, no doubt - and guides it to the front door. He's long since quit smelling the shit and piss he's allowed to dry to his skin.

Opening the door, he's surprised to see a woman.

***

Roberts can hear screams in English and the sound of gunfire from American weapons. Still hidden from view in the kicked up dirt and the craggy terrain, he can't tell how far they are from rescue. All he can see is the amount of soil collecting in the open wound of his right leg. For a brief moment, Roberts imagines an ice cream cone. Then he imagines flying. And all goes dark and silent.

***

This woman finds it hard to look at Roberts, just like all the others. She quickly forces herself to do so, saying a name that fails to register. After a few minutes of one-way conversation, the woman gives up. Before she leaves, she says something Roberts does hear.

"My husband died saving you. I hope you don't waste my life by killing yourself."

Roberts slams the door. What would she know?

***

When he comes to, Roberts can't hear a thing and his vision is blurred by blood. His face is on fire. So is Mullens' body. Thoughts of self-pity mercifully disappear and Roberts pulls himself to Mullens. When they're finally found, the sight of a faceless, legless man futilely applying CPR to his dead friend makes more than one soldier throw up.

***

It's night, but bereft of nightmare. Instead, a dream like those Roberts once had as a younger man with everything to look forward to. He's driving his brother's hand-me-down 80s Camaro, nothing but open road in front of him. Eventually reaching the secluded canyon where Roberts had his first drink, his first kiss, his first fist-fight, and his first fuck, he pulls the car over and turns off the engine.

A campfire roars and surrounding it are fourteen men he'd grown to love in the deserts of a faraway land. Each raises a beer to Roberts' arrival, smiling their warm smiles. Though only a dream, Roberts' return smile is his first since the battle. He opens the door, intent on joining them.

Mullens' smile turns into a frown. "Get the fuck back in the car. You ain't dead yet."

***

Converted to be driven without the use of legs, Roberts' Camaro sits idling on a cliff-side overlooking his favorite city. Headlights on, windows open, the radio blasting a popular tune, a letter of apology to Mullens' wife half-written on the passenger seat. Lying broken at the bottom of the cliff, a gun once loaded with a single bullet.

Roberts is asleep at the wheel, dreaming of the road ahead. Though it will be a journey more difficult than any he's ever faced, the weight of fourteen men will help carry him along. Perhaps he should walk.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tenth Daughters of Memory, 2010: Volume 1

The Tenth Daughter of Memory continues to roll along and, I must say, I've been quite pleased with the relative quality of all the participants' entries. Still some cowards lurking about who need to come out of the shadows, but the ones who've been brave enough to jump in have knocked out some seriously good stuff.

These are my contributions for the first half of 2010:

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Winter Tale, Part II

*Continued from A Winter Tale, Part I

"The twilight thickens, and the fleeting scene
   Leaves but a hallow’d memory of love!" -
H.P Lovecraft, "Sunset"

"What happened here?" They were the first words spoken by either my partner or myself since we first set our footprints on this property this night. The horrible conclusion which had been gradually obtruding itself upon our confused and reluctant minds was now an awful certainty. This manor was no house, but a lair. And somewhere inside - with us - there lurked a beast.

***

My partner shot me a questioning glance, his left hand on the edge of the door. I could only reply with a nod and watched in subdued terror as he shut the double-doors behind us. The encroaching fear each of us had experienced was now fully present and it was likely only our overzealous pride that forced us to remain enclosed in the manor. There was no doubt that my partner briefly considered a rapid absconding, as I had. The consideration likely occurred a subsequent instance, as the flickering light from my hasty torch revealed blood-stained keys on the grand piano. The stains were black under the orange light, but the dried texture was unmistakable. Beyond the occasional crackle from the flame and the conventional creaks and groans of such a large structure, we could hear nothing save our own respiration.

Moving into an adjacent gallery, shadows thrown onto portraits of the manor's residents and their ancestors heightened our anxieties and almost caused me to allow the torch to extinguish itself. Painted eyes stared at us as we walked toward the hallway leading to the grand salon and the staircase to the upper levels. Though a childish notion, the eyes seemed foreboding, as if they could see the outcome of this night. Equally childish, the thought that those same eyes bore cognizant witness to earlier events bore its way into my imagination and I mentally interrogated the portraits within my own mind. That the image of a previous matriarch answered my query with mortal warning served only to reinforce my own intuition or my own insanity.

Fortuitously, most of the manor's walkways were at least partially carpeted and afforded us the ability to maneuver through the home in relative silence. Communication between my partner and myself was a necessity, but the strengthening of the odor as we ascended the staircase only motivated our taciturn mood, and we withheld our desire for vocal reassurance, preferring instead to utilize visual expressions and an expeditiously concocted language of hand signals.

It was in the second floor dining room that we found the deputy. Rather, a portion of him, identified only by the worn leather holster below what was left of a hip, for his upper torso was nowhere to be found. Neither my partner nor I were very much interested in following the trail of smeared blood that led into the next room, a room designed to fully appropriate a morning's sunlight for the enjoyment of any occupant. This disinterest was perpetuated by the fact that the deputy's firearm - a trusty Colt revolver - was incontrovertibly missing.

Our attempt at avoiding encounter with the remainder of the deputy's body, however, proved fruitless as we again encountered the trail of blood upon the staircase to the third floor. Thankfully, the revolver was located at the bottom of the staircase, likely having dislodged itself from the upper torso that was ostensibly dragged up the steps. I handed the torch - whose flames were by now threatening to expire - to my partner and collected the firearm, verifying that it contained its lethal payload. We were disheartened to learn that two bullets had been fired. Given the deputy's reputation as an expert shot, we could only assume that his aim was certain and that whatever it was that he hit simply did not die before halving the man's figure.

Not lacking want of departure, my partner and I silently agreed to hasten our search of the manor, our original intent long abandoned in lieu of solving this mystery we had unwisely decided to decipher. The horrifying discovery made upon entering the master bedroom is what caused my partner to break our self-imposed silence.

***

I had no response. Piled and protected under rudimentary camouflage were several bodies, all unrecognizable in their state of massacre. That three were women was no question - the mother, the daughter, and a servant - but the rest were indistinguishable from one another. Just before the flame from the torch died a fitful death, my partner attempted to point to the floor. I could briefly see a pattern painted in blood before we were engulfed by darkness.

Despite being able to literally see nothing, I leveled the pistol in the darkness, listening to the sounds of my partner feeling along the walls for another mounted lamp.

"Oh, Christ."

My partner inadvertently placed his hand in dried sinew that once belonged to the body of the son. That a seven-year-old boy's flesh had solidified itself to a wall six-feet from the floor was enough to finally convince us to partake in an exit. The match-strike was deafeningly loud and both of us quickly examined the symbol outlined in blood. Resembling a demon with a tentacled mouth, it bewildered our sensibilities. Sections of the image were smeared by footprints. Some human and others... something else entirely. My eyes made contact with my partner's and a cooperative decision was come to - we were to immediately leave.

Upon turning to the doorway, I became educated in what the image portrayed. My partner was never granted the same opportunity. His soul-curdling scream pierced its way into my very bones and I was once again engulfed by darkness.

Lighting my way to the corridor with the flash of gunpowder, the sound of penetrated tissue momentarily encouraged me until I accepted the possibility that I had instead shot my partner. Selfishly - and embarrassingly -  I prayed that the beast would stop long enough to enjoy its feast or to preserve my partner's body with the bodies of the others. Amid the chaos of thoughts of death and the reality of blindness-induced vertigo I ran, unsure of whether or not I was even on the ground floor. Even after the fall through broken glass I could not determine how far I descended. Fainting from the impact on iced-over snow was not, I bemoaned, what I wanted my final impression of life to be.

***

In the morning, I awoke to the scrutinizing hands of a doctor and the sounds of a fire brigade quenching thirsting flames. The manor was saved and the bodies of the inhabitants were found, along with the body of my partner and, strangely, the intact - and completely nude - body of the patriarch. He had been shot three times with the gun the local police found in my possession.

It is for that reason that I have been divorced and am currently awaiting the hangman's noose. Only in facing death do I realize the truth. My partner and I invaded the home of a demon surreptitiously living among us in a man's form. A demon, perhaps in an effort to return home, that devoured its own friend and family. I attempt to take solace in the fact that the killing of such a monster might earn my passage into Heaven.

But I fear that even God will not believe my tale.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Winter Tale, Part I

"Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
    Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win." -
Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher

It is not without depravity that my partner and I live our lives. During the whole of a dark, moonless night in the winter of the year, with reluctant rainclouds scarring the field of stars above, we had been engaging in one of our depraved and insufferable acts. That we are experts in our chosen occupation provides us with misplaced and obsequious senses of superiority. We are better than our fellow man - the fairer gender included - and if we cannot have what we feel we deserve, then we shall simply obtain it by any feasible means.

The large house - one easily described as a manor or a mansion - stands as the lone structure on nearly 50 acres of property in southwestern New York. The plot of land appears inviting, serene - and it is most certainly peaceful out here - while the house itself exudes a melancholy aura, as if the very wood and metals it is comprised are embarrassed at their intrusion on an area so pristinely natural, save, of course, for the existence of its foundation, its walls, and its many heavily draped windows. There has been talk of the proprietors erecting other structures - a barn, a guesthouse, a separate quarters for the few employed servants - but the lady of the house, a self-professed follower of Transcendentalism, has so far won out the arguments she often partakes in with her far-too enamored spouse.

My partner and I had been observing the tenants of the home for almost four years. There is a popular utterance among the more professional of our peers that one should never, and I quote, work in one's backyard. And, in light of our own professionalism and the fortuitousness of having both married into wealthy families, my partner and I adhered to this philosophy as if we were the star disciples of Aristotle and Socrates. We had bantered about plying our trade the first winter when each of us noticed - at varying times - that the inhabitants of the manor were absent for nearly a fortnight, leaving only one retired deputy to protect the manor and the grounds, though the grounds themselves needed no protection. The second winter we had even surveilled the property, noting that the deputy, despite his aptitude with the firearm, failed to notice even our footprints slowly filling in with snow just a few feet from the kitchen door on the reverse side of the structure. By the third winter we had managed to draw plans of the house by peering in each window and, on more than one humorous occasion, even sketched the sleeping deputy while standing arrogantly in full view, had he but awoken from his slumber.

And, so, my partner and I decided that should the residents of the house take an extended leave from their abode a fourth straight winter season, then my partner and I shall break our long-held belief and alleviate the residence of its possessions of value.

Though we had both remained calm experiencing an instinctual inclination that something was amiss - there were no signs or hints that the deputy was present, and all the drapes to all of the windows, including those of the higher floors, were drawn shut - we proceeded as we had so carefully devised over the course of the past year. The bolt on the solid oak double doors of the music room turned simply enough, my partner extraordinarily adept at aligning the tumblers of a lock without the use of its appropriate key.

Neither of us were prepared for the fetid and putrid odor that each of our acute senses of smell were assaulted with. My partner immediately turned, covering his mouth, in a futile attempt at preventing his evening meal from committing rebellious upheaval. We were not murderers, though we must both reluctantly admit that we were guilty of having killed, and the familiar stench of death both alerted us to the predicament at hand and invigorated senescent memories of our most vile of acts.

Our intent upon entering the abode was to seal the doors behind us and allow our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness before we began our task. The unpleasant fragrance emanating from the room - my partner theorized the entire house - prevented us from a quick entry and instilled in us an irresistible desire to see. Hastily I created an improvised torch using oil from a mounted lamp and a discarded stick from a pile of stacked firewood nearby. My partner, in the process of gathering his fortitude, queried my decision to not simply remove the lamp from the wall, but resolved himself that the handle might provide whatever creature - imagined or substantial - responsible for the odor additional opportunity to audibly track us through our exploration of the manor.

It is not without hesitation that my partner and I live our lives. During the whole of a dark, moonless night in the winter of the year, with reluctant rainclouds scarring the field of stars above, we hesitated for an eternity before proceeding further and farther into the darkness. That we are the only known souls within miles provides us with a misplaced and fallacious sense of responsibility. There are dead here -  perhaps something else - and, like the black cat, curiosities to be sated.

*Continued in A Winter Tale, Part II

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Things Hollywood Should Quit Computer-Animating

I get it. You get it. Everyone gets it. We are well into the digital age and computers are taking over most of our art forms (or have taken over already). Still, as creatures of the natural world we can (most of the time) identify what is real and what is computer generated. The likelihood is that we won't be able to in a few years, but right now we can. So I'd like to ask our beloved film industry to quit, until computers can truly fool us, computer-animating the following things:

1. Aircraft - I first noticed the folly of computer-animated aircraft way back in 1996 when I saw The Rock at a theater in Columbus, Georgia. The F-18 Hornets (yes, I know it's supposed to be "F/A") looked like shit flying away from their aborted sortie on Alcatraz. Granted, at the time I just chalked it up to Hollywood trying new things, but in subsequent movie after movie, I could still tell a computer-animated plane from a real one. The biggest crime came in that crap-tacular comic book film, Ghost Rider. I mean... they didn't even TRY to make those helicopters look real.

2. Breath - Is there not a single computer animator in Hollywood who has spent time in cold climates? Vapor does not jet out and dissipate like that. There's an easy fix for this, of course, but it involves shoving prima donna actors into refrigerated sets, which would involve prima donna actors experiencing a certain level of discomfort. Geez...

3. Bullets (and related effects) - zip, zip, bang, etc. Were Hollywood to be believed, nearly every bullet ever fired in history has been a tracer round. Or traveling slow enough to notice between blinks. Ugh. And, in a related note, please quit showing the beams from laser sights. Unless they're pointing right at a target's eye (or in a ridiculously dusty place), nobody's going to see anything other than the little light on the sight itself and the end of the beam.

4. Fire - Is there not a single computer animator in Hollywood who has seen a real fire? All that technology spent developing computer-controlled propane fires and Hollywood is too lazy to use it. Bleh.

5. People - typically, people are computer animated for stunt sequences or large battle scenes. I don't really mind the large battle scenes (although a few badly-animated ones have bothered me... Troy, for example), but the replacement of stuntmen and stuntwomen is not only A) insulting to the stunt trade, but B) retarded-looking. Yes, Die Another Day, I'm talking about you and your para-surfing off of a collapsing glacier.

6. Race Cars - and cars in general. The Fast and the Furious franchise (or is it Fast and Furious?) is a big culprit of this one. But, concerning NASCAR and Indy races, how fucking hard is it to, I dunno, just go film B-roll at a real race? Stallone's Driven (or is it Drivel) also comes to mind. What happened to stunt drivers? Somebody resurrect Steve McQueen!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Scheherazadi, Part II

*Continued from The Scheherazadi, Part I

I'm dreaming of a green world. A wonderful world full of life and lots of naked women.  I know, I know... I can be a tad perverted. But, hey, it's my fucking dream.

Of course, it's all a crock of shit. These types of dreams are common when unplugging from a golem. The last thing I remember is getting hit by some sort of missile. I guess my tech-djinn deactivated my brain in time. I owe it my life, sure. But I'm still gonna smack it in the face.

Or I would, if I didn't just wake up surrounded by a group of strangers. My eyes are blurry, but I don't recognize any of the voices and I'm tied to a metal pallet. I'm guessing these guys don't like me.

Don't worry. I don't know what's going on, either. Better get some sleep.

***

They're talking like I'm not in the room. Which is a little rude since, you know, I'm tied to a metal pallet. They don't realize I speak French, so their attempt at keeping me ignorant is falling short a bit.

"I think we should kill this one and find another," one says. I think his name is Rashid.

"Why do you say that, Rashid?" a woman asks him. So, yep, his name is Rashid. These people are ridiculously tall. I clock in at 73 inches, but everyone else in the room - the women included - have me beat by at least four more. They're also rather dark... every hue of skin from heavy bronze to deep brown. No pale bodies in the group.

"He's an irreverent asshole."

Seriously, what did they expect? I wake up tied to a metal pallet and then they interrogate me? And I'm supposed to be polite? Fuck 'em.

"No," the woman replies - for a tall chick, she's gorgeous... Hell, for any type of chick, she's gorgeous. "There's a chance his djinn transmitted a signal, so our tactic will likely be recognized the next time."

Rashid frowns and almost pouts. This guy called me an asshole?

"Besides," the woman continues, "this one didn't even shoot at us. I doubt we'd be so lucky again."

"Perhaps he's incompetent." Fuck you, Rashid. Really.

"No. I believe quite the opposite. The shock of seeing humans on the surface must have registered quickly."

Yeah, that. I'm really starting to like this broad. Of course, I'll probably be ordered to kill her at some point.

"Where am I?" I ask, tiring of their exchange. I speak in English, not wanting to give away that I speak their little fruity tongue.

She looks at me, her eyes - not naturally piercing - manage to stab at me. "Somewhere under the Russian Ocean," she answers, absent any discernible emotion.

Well, that's a long way from home. Fucking wonderful. She nods at who I'm guessing is a medical technician and the jerk sticks something in my arm. I'm passing out... again.

***

It's the green world. What it looked like centuries ago. It wasn't all green, of course - desert was still around and there was plenty of blue - but it looks like a chia pet in my dream. I can hear voices, so I'm probably not completely asleep. French voices, too. Sound like scientists, because they're explaining how the nuclear fallout over the Arctic isn't what fucked Mama Earth... it was the Antarctic melt that really caused problems. Oh, and some massive secret project to create more water using nuclear fusion that didn't quite pan out. Some angel in my dream who's a drop-dead gorgeous brunette with an accent - British, maybe... can't really tell - talks about how the coolers failed at the worst possible moment, exacerbated by a terrorist attack on the secondary coolers. Kaboom went the man-made glacier machines and splash went the planet.

The desire to survive instituted a global feudal system and that's pretty much been the preferred form of government since the flood. Only no Noah's Ark this time. Yeah, some animals survived - dogs and cats, mostly... people and their pets, let me tell ya - but this extinction event took care of most our four-legged, eight-legged, no-legged, and winged friends. Humanity's stubbornness and a brief (as existence goes) adoption of cannibalism saved what was left.

The voices are disappearing and my angel fades. Damn, she's beautiful. I hope she revisits me again some night. Her voice does me in. The last thing I hear her say throws me for a bit of a loop.

"Save the planet."

Me? What the fuck am I supposed to do? I'm just a dumb grunt who lost his golem.

***

And I'm waking up... again. I'm getting real sick of these hangovers. At least this time only the woman is in the room with me.

"My name is Morgiana and you're probably wondering why you're here."

I didn't notice it before - strange, I know - but she's not wearing very much clothing. Topless, in fact. Then again, I'm drowzy... maybe seducing me is the next stage of the interrogation. And, trust me, I'd let this one seduce me. It's at this point during my morning arousal - if it's even morning - I realize how hot it is here. I should say something snarky, but I keep my mouth shut and nod.

"We need you."

Nice and vague. And probably a lie. "How'd you get my body?"

"We assaulted your home dune the same time we attacked your golem. Your tech-djinn is dead, along with all of the other inhabitants of your dune. For that, I apologize. We could take no chances at being discovered or reported."

Djinn's dead? And all of my friends, even the ones I didn't really like. Yeah, this upsets me a little. And pisses me off a lot.

"So why not kill me?"

"I told you. We need you. We're not interested in your wars over land. We have a much larger goal."

She's starting to sound like one of those over-the-top villains from an old spy movie.

"And what's that?"

"Saving the planet."

For some reason - no doubt an imaginary brunette -  I believe her. Now I'm intrigued. Whether by the concept, by the dream, or by Morgiana's beautifully smooth and supple nipples, I've no idea. But I'm intrigued.

"Yeah, fine. When are you going to untie me?" Perhaps I should've toned down the defiance in my voice a little bit.

"When I decide to trust you."

Great. I might be here a while. Judging from the syringe she's holding, I'm gonna have a lot of headaches, too.

*Continued in The Scheherazadi, Part III

Monday, July 19, 2010

Screwed-Up Movies: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

And away we go...

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer(s): Jae-sun Lee, Jong-yong Lee, Mu-yeong Lee, Chan-wook Park
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin, Doona Bae
-----
South Korean films have, for whatever reason, a noticeable sensibility of being apologetic. What, exactly, South Koreans are apologizing for I've never been able to determine, even after having lived on the peninsula for a year. This sense of apology is prevalent in every genre: horror, drama, fantasy, action. The guilty are guilty (whether objectively or subjectively so) and are always punished. It is not, however, a punishment befitting of "justice prevails." Rather, it is quite simply... punishment. It is a sad aspect of their art, but also the aspect that reveals their art to be decidedly South Korean. I wish I could explain it better, but my experience in sociology and cultural anthropology is far from qualified to do so.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not the most disturbing film I've ever seen, but it is far and away the most depressing film I've ever seen. Following the misadventures of a young man struggling to take care of his invalid sister (suffering from a debilitating kidney ailment), this is - at its core - a tale of morality gone wrong. The young man, Ryu, will do anything it takes to save his sister. Unfortunately for him, life does not reveal itself to be Machiavellian, and when Ryu delves into the morally ambiguous (and, indeed, morally wrong) everything backfires. And I do mean everything.

Though the plot is complicated, convoluted, and often nonsensical, director Chan-wook Park is clearly not a filmmaker satisfied with hanging plot threads. Quite literally adept at the concept of Chekhov's gun, everything introduced in the film - be it via main or sub-plot - enjoys a resolution by the end of the film. That every single resolution is painfully depressing is both the point and beside the point. Even the protagonist is a fitting example of Chekhov's gun (Ryu is both deaf and dumb). In a harrowing arc that involves Ryu kidnapping the daughter of his former boss in order to collect a ransom intended to pay for his sister's kidney transplant, the following occurs:
  • Ryu is unaware that he was laid off, not out of corporate greed to increase the bottom line, but because the company has entered bankruptcy (taking his former boss' assets with it).
  • Ryu's sister - who is introduced to the kidnapped girl - discovers what her brother has done and commits suicide from the shame incurred.
  • When burying his sister at their favorite place (a river they played at when children), the little girl drowns. Ryu's deafness does not allow him to hear the girl's cries for help.
Now, by this point in the story, Ryu has already been conned by black-market organ thieves and is missing a kidney himself. I refuse to go into more detail concerning the story because, well, it's very hard to explain and already bad situations get much, much worse. Quite bluntly, this film has to be seen to be believed.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a brilliant film, though I do not recommend it for everyone (few, in fact). That it is so well-made is its curse. The South Korean "apology" in this film is overwhelming, stretching far beyond the fringes of the society that created it and into the realm of the world-at-large. Its presentation is both vulnerable and matter-of-fact and, in this aspect, it makes no apology.

A cautionary tale of revenge, it will make you feel horrible to be human. But it will also remind you that things could be much, much worse. Though its effectiveness lies in the fact that you will never forget how bad it made you feel, its efficiency in storytelling can make you appreciate where you are. Even if that place is the top of a bridge, staring down into inviting waters.

Make of that (and the film) what you will.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Irrewind, 20100717: Grammar Wars

Regulars here should know by now I'm rather nitpicky when it comes to language, including grammar and word definitions. Heck, a previous Irrewind was dedicated to the very topic (check it out here). I'm not entirely sure why or how I got so anal about it, but given modern discourses (and, really, discourses throughout history) conducted by people who like to flower or vague-up their language (politicians, liars, douchebags, etc.) in order to win fallacious arguments, I rather appreciate my anality (how's that for a neologism?).

Anyway, though I haven't done one for a while (this will be rectified, I assure you), I used to write these little things called "Grammar Wars." They're intended to be a bit sarcastic and a bit silly, but that's the way I roll (if you haven't guessed).

I also wanted to break my record for parentheses today, but I'm not sure I did (although I might have).

"Grammar War I: Speak English? Write English, Too"
Not too long ago, I heard some jackass complaining about immigrants not knowing how to speak English. Yeah, fine, I'm all for having English proficiency a requirement to be a citizen, but for fuck's sake, make sure YOU know proper English before you yell at some poor soul who's trying to grasp our highly illogical language. After all, "Y'all... Read More

"Grammar War II: Regarding Words"
1) The difference between "there," "their," and "they're" - THERE is a multifunction word indicating a place or a point. Examples: THERE is the school where we learn grammar or stand right THERE and look stupid.THEIR is an adjective indicating THEY as a possessor. Examples: THEIR brains have higher capacities than yours and... Read More

"Grammar War III: Wh Th?"
1) Everybody's favorite: the difference between "who" and "whom"- WHO and WHOM are both pronouns used to reference a specific person. The difference in use lies solely in intent. WHOM is used when the "who" follows a direct object or a preposition. I realize that those of you who don't already know the difference probably also don't... Read More

"Grammar War IV: Stupid Words"
3. decimate - I hate this one. As English apparently doesn't have enough words pertaining to destruction, stupid people have usurped this word to simple mean "to cause great destruction or harm to." Only, it actually has a specific meaning: "to select by lot and kill every tenth man of." "Deci," right? Meaning tenth. Hello!... Read More

"Grammar War V: He, She... Shit"
English, as most of us know, is a strange, erratic language. It almost completely lacks the masculine and feminine distinctions found in most other languages, particularly those of the Romance/Neolatin family. When it comes to singular pronouns, we have "he," we have "she," and we have "it". He, obviously, refers to males. She to females. ... Read More

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Living Backwards

"Ka-blam, elimination! Lack of education!" - Big Mama, The Fox and the Hound, 1981

She's heard the term, "a child going older," but she never realized that most were applying it to her. A false halo filled with the pride of a false independence hung gently and comfortingly over her head. She'd only paid rent at one place in her entire life, and that was at a discounted rate a brother had secured for her. Her first time away from home ended in disaster. Her second time, too. Still, she tried everything to fake growing up and out. After all, living off of parents is the only thing that signifies remaining a child, right? Living with a grandparent, a sister, a boyfriend, a co-worker, and a husband of convenience was simply part of the plan to make independence less expensive.

When your dirty clothes are piled to the ceiling is not the time to learn how to do laundry. When your footprints let you know where you've tread is not the time to learn how to use the vacuum. That your hand was held so tightly is only killing you now. That your eyes only ever looked to the shadows of your parents is why the world seems so strange. Hear no, see no, speak no does not apply to knowledge, but you revel in your ignorance and call it innocence.

She's loathe to accept cautions for what they are, preferring instead to interpret them as criticisms, never stopping to realize that people are trying to help. False halos from those who do not believe in her god will not affect her, regardless of their benevolence. Her Tower of Babylon is already built and those who love her watch in futility as she tumbles down its steps. She adores the descent, though, ignoring the bruises and convincing herself that no flight is accomplished without pain. Without the stern prodding of a parent toward the edge of the nest, she remains afraid to truly fly. Adults only learn to glide on the wind by flapping their wings and this one refuses to flap.

When you finally hit the ground, expect no womb to return to. When you finally accept that your wings are too old to learn to fly, expect no sympathy. Convince yourself that your god fated this life for you as you wonder why happiness is so elusive. Convince yourself that independent thought is dependent on constellations and Tarot cards. Hear no, see no, speak no does not apply to wisdom, but you revel in your eradication and call it experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Exploration of Screwed-Up Movies

You ever seen a film that just left you feeling... depressed to be alive? Yes, of course you have, but I'm not talking about movies that are simply crap, but well-crafted movies designed to make you feel bad about being alive. Movies so disturbing in their subject matter that you can't help but want to take a shower immediately after the end credits start to roll.

Keep in mind that I'm somewhat of a film masochist and I'll watch practically anything once, so I am, by no means, recommending that you see the films presented in "Screwed Up Movies." But, if you're game, go ahead and consider me a film sadist, as well (take that, Lars von Trier!).

*Note: I wrote that previous line prior to having seen von Trier's Antichrist... which is THE most disturbing movie ever made.

Though some might claim Quentin Tarantino is a progenitor of "Screwed-Up Movies" (and they would be right), he cautiously straddles the line of what is acceptable cinema while hiding much of his potential commentary as homage to long-forgotten exploitation genres (this is not a criticism, merely an observation... I love Tarantino films). The films that will appear in "Screwed-Up Movies" are truly that... screwed-up. Honest and blunt depictions of everything society likes to pretend doesn't exist. They are films that I (and most critics) consider outstanding motion pictures, but they are not for everybody.

In the near-future I will attempt to break down Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Irreversible, and Antichrist. These break downs are most certainly not recommendations, but I would encourage the brave and the bold to give them a viewing. Consider this your warning.

I believe it to be no accident that the movies are not English-language films (well, Antichrist is, but is a Danish production). American cinema (and, to a large extent, that of the English-speaking Commonwealth) is loathe to present such situations and subject matter so plainly. While the independent segments of those industries have made great strides in promoting and provoking a wider-range of humanity, their general cinemas much prefer the escapist aspect of their art form. There are opposing philosophies and theories behind this - maturity versus immaturity, morality versus immorality, etc. - and I believe them all to be wrong.

Art does not imitate life, and life does not imitate art. They are one and the same, and have been since we developed the ability of sentient thought. It's time we accept that.

*Come back next Monday for Screwed-Up Movies: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cricket & Rabbit

Cricket and Rabbit shared many adventures together. Though the two lived together for only a short while, they'd seen and experienced nearly all their world had to offer. Crossing the Hard River of Black was particularly dangerous, and the screaming lights almost made finding home impossible. The Wood Towers provided a journey full of hardship and exhilaration. And the Abyss Underneath revealed several hidden wonders while exposing terrifying fears.

Never were there closer friends than Cricket and Rabbit. They were not, however, a cricket and a rabbit. Brother cats from the same litter, they were taken from their mother by the kind young man and cared for like they were the man's own offspring. Despite the love of the kind young man, there was a big, ugly, white dog who had black spots. His name was Xander and, try as Cricket and Rabbit might, Xander refused to befriend the kittens. In fact, Xander remained a vile enemy for all time.

***

"Wake up, Rabbit!" Cricket is always excited in the morning. Then again, Cricket is always excited. If ever a cat can be described as loquacious, Cricket is it. Always jumpy, he's almost always making some sort of noise, even in his sleep. In fact, the only time Cricket is quiet is when he's scared.

"Oh, Cricket," Rabbit mumbled, "can't you give me until the sun's actually over the line at the end of the sky?"

"But there's adventure to be had!"

"Aw, Cricket, we had one yesterday."

"That was yesterday!"

Rabbit straightens himself out, yawning a toothy yawn, his butt and his tail extending into the air. He considers momentarily to slash at his brother with his exposed claws, but he forgets the idea. Rabbit's rarely mean to anybody, including overeager siblings. "Fine, but let me use the sandbox first."

"Hurry, hurry! The man is putting more leaves in the field!"

"He does that all the time," Rabbit utters as he makes his way into the room called a laundry room. There he finds the sandbox he's looking for, full of dusty and gritty gray grains of dirt. And hardened clumps of yesterday's business. "What he needs to do is get us new sand."

***

Cricket and Rabbit stare at the large glass, mesmerized by the rising sun and the young man placing a strange, green plant in the middle of a field with other strange plants (not all of them green). This new plant looks like a weak group of fuzzy vines. But on the fuzzy vines were these green and red (mostly red) balls. After the young man seems satisfied with where the plant is, he grabs one of the balls and takes a bite out of it. There's a large smile across the young man's face.

"Oh, it's food!" Cricket exclaims, which reminds him that he's yet to partake in the morning's kitten chow.

"It looks gross," Rabbit replies.

The two cats watch through the large glass - something the young man calls a window - as Xander trots up to the plant and sniffs it. Cricket and Rabbit watch, to their delight, as the young man bats Xander on the nose and scolds the dog.

"Shall we go take a closer look?" Cricket asks, the answer already in his mind.

"I don't know, Cricket." Rabbit appears nervous. "I don't think the man wants us to go near it."

"Oh, come on, it'll be an adventure!"

Before Rabbit can object, Cricket takes his usual position near a small table and prepares to pounce through the opening door. The man enters the house, intent on washing his hands, and Cricket bolts outside.

Not wanting to get left behind, even with his nagging reservations, Rabbit calls out, "Wait for me!" and joins his brother in the backyard.

***

At the strange plant, the two kittens examine it with their noses and their paws. Cricket is a tad disappointed and Rabbit knows it, but Rabbit also knows that Cricket will pretend that he's enjoying this so-called grand adventure anyway.

"Oh, look, Rabbit! It's so... red!"

"I think we should go back inside. The sun's heating my favorite part of the carpet."

"Come on! That can wait!"

"So can this."

A thought pops into Cricket's head and he rushes over to where Xander is reluctantly sleeping. Xander very much wants to play with the young man, but it seems the young man spends most of his time inside with the two stupid kittens. Rabbit, realizing that Cricket is going to bother the dog, chases him.

"Cricket, don't wake up Xander! He might eat you!"

"He's not going to eat me. Don't be stupid."

Xander notices the exchange and opens his eyes. "I will if you get any closer to me, you annoying whelps."

Cricket and Rabbit freeze in their tracks. Cricket, suddenly unsure of what to do, just comes out and asks a question. "Why did the young man bat your nose when you sniffed the new leaves?"

Lifting his head, Xander almost answers honestly, but stops himself. He stares at the two kittens and formulates a wicked plan. "Oh," Xander starts, "he said I'm not ready for the magical gifts yet."

Cricket's eyes widen while Rabbit's suspicions arise. "Magical gifts?" Cricket inquires.

"Yes, yes," Xander answers, trying not to laugh. "Those red balls are magic. If you eat one, you will receive a special power."

"You're lying," Rabbit says, not one to trust anything that comes out of Xander's mouth, which includes his breath.

"What special power?" Cricket's lost in dreams of being a magical cat and ignores the obvious concern in Rabbit's tone.

Xander closes his eyes and lays his head back down. "Well, there's only one way to find out." It is a clever response to both Rabbit's statement and Cricket's question.

***

"Aw, what happened?" the young woman asks the young man. Rabbit could hear the false sympathy in her voice, but is too tired and depressed to run over to her pantyhouse and scratch her for it.

"I don't know," the young man starts, "but the vet thinks he got into the tomato plant. I didn't even know he got outside."

"What did you do with his body?"

"It's buried in the backyard."

Rabbit, through tear-filled eyes, glances out the large glass to the freshly turned soil beneath which his brother is laid to rest. On top of it lies a large rock, there partly as a marker - it reads: "Here lies Cricket, the most energetic kitten I've ever seen." - and partly to keep Xander from digging up the body.

Gazing at the sleeping dog, Rabbit swears that the evil beast is smiling in his sleep. One day, perhaps when Rabbit is larger, there will be revenge.

For now, though, Rabbit will fall asleep and dream of a great adventure... with Cricket at his side.

"Rabbit, there's adventure to be had!"

"Aw, Cricket, we had one yesterday."

"That was yesterday!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Song-Writing

There's no question in anybody's mind that people are creatures of mood. Mood, what random thing, creates and destroys, wages war and pursues peace, and decides who lives and who dies. Most probably don't look at mood that way, but it's the truth. How many of us were born as a result of momentary passion and how many will be killed from reactionary anger or stupidity? An old definition of mood is "fit of anger." Perhaps a resurrection of such definition would be apropos.

Life. Death. It's all a case of mood.

Art, as we all know, is the greatest motivation for and execution of mood that humanity has ever known or will ever know. Painting, sculpture, theatre, motion picture, dance... all causes and effects of motivation, inspiration, emotion. Each capable of lighting a fire that can burn in artistic and scientific minds alike... but those burns tend to be temporal.

Music, however, has a far greater ability to be "permanent."

No. I am not claiming that music is the greatest form of art. Some might think so (musicians, probably), but such interpretation is solely within the realm of the individual. What I am claiming is that music, unlike other art forms, can be consistently inspirational AND do so while someone is in the process of creating.

Think about it. All you need is some sort of music-playing device and some ear-phones and, bingo, you can write to music, paint to music, sculpt to music, etc (perhaps composing music to other music is a tad difficult, but you get where I'm going). A sad song on repeat can instill the proper level of depression for an author to write a morose passage in a novel. A lively song on repeat can impact a painter's use of bright colors. And the list goes on.

All of this probably seems obvious, and you're probably wondering why I'm wasting my time writing about it. Well, writing to music often works for me and I recommend it to those who are having trouble finding the correct tone for their work. I will admit that attempting to construct plot to music is a little distracting and difficult, but as more writers have issues with characterization than they do plot, this little trick comes in handy. Emotional writing comes from emotional reaction. And reacting emotionally to music is a rather easy thing to do.

Many of you do this already, no doubt, but some of you might not. When I initially started "song-writing" I tended to listen to a preferred radio station or an entire CD. Because of the shift in tone that invariably happens from one song to the next (even the subtle shifts between, say, ballad to ballad), I often found that my writing would wind up wildly inconsistent in tone. But then I tried a single song on repeat. And it works for me.

Of course, we're all different. Perhaps you'd prefer to write to sculpture. Or the wonderful music that is silence. Use whatever sets the mood required to annihilate a blank page staring at you, and the art will follow.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Theme Thursdays, 2010: Volume 1

Yep, I'm still doing Theme Thursday (although I've skipped a few). It's a fun way to force creativity and the occasions in which I can combine the theme there with a Muse at The Tenth Daughter of Memory provide a bit of a challenge, as well. I can't say I'm satisfied with their resistance to "direct links," since it's practically impossible to go back and enjoy old entries, but c'est la vie. At least I can enjoy mine (the ones that don't suck, anyway):

Thursday, July 8, 2010

All's Fair

On an alien world, underneath the artificial light of energy weapons and cheap ballistic tracers, two abandoned humans find comfort in the arms of each other. Each a soldier in separate allied armies of a coalition, both were caught behind their respective salients when an enemy counterattack forced an all-out retreat. The timing of the ground attack coincided with a surgical elimination of orbiting communications satellites and a dispersion of the friendly fleet.

They've survived together for more than two weeks, and hopes of rescue are fading. The atmosphere here is breathable, but only for short periods, and their scavenging of oxygen from fallen comrades is resulting in fewer and fewer usable tanks. Virtually cut off from existence, they begin to believe they're all that's left of their homeworld. The Boy, for he is barely 20 years old, hails from Madrid and speaks little English. The Girl, for she is just over 21, hails from Korea and speaks even less English. But the two speak the same body language, and they find themselves surprisingly resilient. By the time their bodies are found when the coalition retakes the world, a military coroner make a disheartening discovery.

"Ah, damn." The Coroner has no vested interested in the dead woman, but the revelation affects him greatly.

"What is it?"

"This one was pregnant. Twins. About four months in."

The Assistant's reply seems cold, but her professionalism is merely a defense against sorrow. "They were down there that long?"

***

Sounds of guitar and piano fade away and guitarist and pianist stare at each other. The Guitarist has been in love with the Pianist since they met at university. Her boyfriend, though, frightened him to the point that he rarely talked to her then. But he's away with the French Foreign Legion fighting some fool's war. Serves him right, too. A stupid Arab in the French Army, stealing a Caucasian woman from France's pool of eligible Whites. But the Guitarist would never admit he feels that way. He needs to live the lie to win this one.

"I love you." The Guitarist may mean it, but he's not currently thinking with his head.

So far, so good. He studied as a composer after discovering that song-writing - in addition to playing - worked wonders for his bed count. He had long hoped the Pianist would succumb to his serenades, and with her boyfriend gone, she finally will.

"I love you." Heart wracked with guilt, the Pianist does mean it.

Of course, the Guitarist had to wait for her twin brother to deploy, as well, for even though the brother was not in the same unit as the boyfriend, there was a mutual respect of service. And the brother would not have stood for his sister's betrayal.

"It's okay. Quiet." Hands ready to play a different instrument entirely, he sits next to her on the bench.

All are gone, whether literally or figuratively. The sounds of guitar and piano fade away into a lustful song whose melody would result in many deaths, were it heard amid the din of battle.

***

Blood erupts from the Soldier's mouth as two medics check him for triage. "I... I need to get home."

One medic shakes his head, just barely out of the view of the dying infantryman, but the other medic pushes him away. In all likelihood, the second medic would have concurred and moved on to the next casualty, but this one happens to be a drinking buddy. He deserves the chance to live. And the Medic deserves the chance to save him. A brotherhood formed beyond the constraints of family... of blood. Too many friends already gone. They both need this.

Mortar fire hits danger close and the first medic leaves in a hurry. Burning dirt stings the back of the Medic's neck and there's little question that the enemy on the other side of the ridge has them sighted in. The next blast will be the last thing both men hear.

"I need... to get home, doc." The Soldier has less than 90 days left on his tour before he'd be allowed to rotate home on 30-days leave. Those 30 days were to be packed with last-minute planning, rehearsals, and a walk down the aisle with the woman he's loved for the past seven years. They already have children - twin boy and girl - from a moment of unrequited passion before he shipped out over nine months ago. "She's waiting."

The Medic starts to cry. He nods, injects the Soldier with an overdose of Morphine and some new-fangled synthetic painkiller. "I'll get you home."

There's just enough time to see the Soldier smile before dashing away from the next mortar.

***

"General?" The Woman addresses him hesitantly. The entire situation is hesitant, however, and no one thinks less of her for it. A hardened life has aged her quickly in the past five years. Still beautiful, still proud, she nevertheless shows the wear of her heart in her eyes, her smile, her laughter... when they manage to brighten.

"Yes, m'lady?" He is relatively young for a general, having taken quite a youthful appreciation of the art - and act - of war. The progenitor of a large family, he is no family man. But this exchange is of the most serious nature. And that his son - the father of the twins he accepts from the woman - is away at war leaves the General responsible for the arrangements.

"Please care for them." She can't bring herself to look at her infant son and daughter, wrapped comfortably in warm blankets and carried away by dutiful midwives.

"They are my grandchildren, m'lady. There will be no other option." He smiles, genuinely, though he fears she doesn't believe it. His reputation as a ruthless commander is well known. And certainly known by his son's affair.

"Richard and Matilda." The words are forced out quickly. She is very much ready to succumb to violent heartbreak. She knows her children will not remember this day, but she refuses to let even the impression of their last memory of her be one of sorrow.

"M'lady?" The General oversees the midwives mounting their heavily armored carriage and turns to face the Woman.

"Their names, General." She spins away from him, aware of escaping tears. "It's their names."

The General watches as the Woman runs to her attendant and mounts her horse. He smirks for a moment. She's always been outgoing, according to gossip. And that characteristic apparently extends to the way she rides. Like a warrior towards the sound of battle. Although, he reflects as she begins to trot away, perhaps that is what this is to her. An everlasting fight to leave this spot; this exchange borne of false chivalry and propriety.

"M'lady." He rarely yells, save for in the thick of a fray. She doesn't pause her retreat, but he knows she can hear him. "They will know you. They will know your name."

A quick flick of a horsewhip and the Woman gallops away with her entourage.

***

"They are wicked siblings, are they not?" It is a moonless night, and the Speaker wishes not to be seen. Light would have revealed little but an expressionless face.

The Listener merely nods. The two have known each other long enough to understand their unique nuance of the unspoken.

"Was it John Lyly?"

Another nod.

"It's a good quote, even if misquoted. Apropos, all the same." The Speaker looks up to where the moon should be and silently misses its presence. It seems forever since she's shone here.

Still another nod.

"I prefer this one." The Speaker inhales, preparing himself for a properly intoned oration. "A heat full of coldness, a sweet full of bitterness, a pain full of pleasantness, which maketh thoughts have eyes, and hearts, and ears; bred by desire, nursed by delight, weaned by jealousy, killed by dissembling, buried by ingratitude; and this is love."

Another nod. "And, let's not forget..." The Listener's voice almost shocks the Speaker. "... war."

It is the Speaker's turn to nod. "Ugly twins, they are."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Internet Writers - Quick Blog Reviews IV

Just figured I'd pimp out more blogs that I enjoy...

Creative Infanticide - a veteran blogger who recently decided to give creative writing a shot, her stuff is, well, pretty good. Though her initial intent was to write contemporary fiction, she quickly expanded into fantasy, including some science fiction and a bit of erotica. She might claim otherwise, but she was born to tell stories. The consistent, constant improvement in her work is proof enough of that.

Kaigan Lotlin - Okay, so this is a blog that I help administer, but only because it's the repository for some really inane stuff from my niece and nephew (neither of whom are older than 10 at the moment). No, it's not very good stuff right now, but I'm hoping their development as storytellers continues (if they choose to do so) at a steady pace. So read 'em!

The Rambling Decorum - another veteran blogger who wanted to separate her creativity from her rambling (ironic that her creative blog is The Rambling Decorum and her rambling blog is Tales from a Motherless Daughter), you can find intriguing fiction and photography here. Sometimes lacking confidence in herself, she nonetheless produces quality work. An oft-published writer once told her to give up writing (or so she says), but that was years ago. I'm certain he'd have a different opinion now should she ever find the courage to send him some of her more recent work.

Siobhan's Random Ramblings - an extremely young blogger, this one really does produce random ramblings (don't we all). And while her insights into life are clearly that of a youth's, there are moments of clarity beyond her years. That aside, her artwork is fantastic and a recent delving into creative writing is producing some seriously competent pieces.

WaystationOne - I've been reading this one for a while and the only reasons I've not touted the home of Brian Miller before are that 1) I used to have an arbitrary rule about only pimping lesser-known blogs, and 2) he's got a shitload of followers. Already in possession of an excellent grasp on poetic prose, he's been stylistically spreading his wings as of late. Typically writing warm-and-fuzzy material, his darker stuff is what drew me to his work. That there are hints of ugly underneath pieces most describe as beautiful is why he's so intriguing. He's afforded me the honor of reading some of his more disturbing material before he posts and/or publishes it, and it's brilliant.

Give 'em a whirl; tell 'em I sent ya.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Checkmate

She's always been the type to lie. Her initial reaction to any statement that ended in a question mark. The truth left her empty - always did; always will - so why not lie?

Funny that an honest man is better at it than she is.

He'd lost interest in her long ago. And she knows she needs to be with another liar. It's the only way for her life to mean anything. He should just get up and walk away, but she challenged him to this game. And he's stubborn about challenges.

"I love you," she says. It is an opening move meant to disarm, but he's seen that one before.

"I don't care." Riposte. A pawn in the open. Will she chase it? Or does she still not know the rules?

"You never did." She tries to widen her puppy-dog eyes, knowing the value of visual reinforcement. They quickly shift to a disgruntled squint in response to his refusal to take his own eyes off the board.

He does see her expression - both of them - and holds back a confident laugh. She's beautiful, no question about that, but if ever the cliché concerning inner beauty were true, it is now. Her pale skin hides tissue diseased in its existence. A rotting corpse living in a spoiled and wasted body, white knights foolishly attempting rescue. Bishops skirting the issue from corner to corner.

Good thing, then, that the rook prefers the blunt, direct approach. "Your move," is his only response.

They are queen and king in every sense of the irony. She, powerful in motion and overbearing beyond the limits of patience, failing to recognize that she exists only to protect her king. He, subtle in motion and preferring to hide behind a wall of peers, failing to recognize that his queen is his best asset. Still, he can survive without a queen. She is lost without a king.

She castles, shifting her king to another location. It is a strategy that does not exist in the real world. A lie on the battlefield. How apropos, he thinks. How useful, is her own thought on the matter.

White falls to black and black to white, leaving chips of gray in the wake of simplistic frays. He lives here, in the gray, knowing that is how the world works. She prefers the black and white of wrong and right... and as long as she is on one side, she believes her motives to be pure.

"I've never lied to you," she claims, knowing he will recognize this as a lie. Still, better than a half-truth, which she oddly disdains. One or the other is her philosophy. Purity, if one would.

"A secret is a lie." It is a statement not intended for her, for she is unwittingly incapable of keeping secrets. But he knows it will piss her off.

It does. With a quick and violent swipe, the board and its pieces are sent to the floor. He flinches, holding his hands close to his chest.

"You don't get it! I just wanted to be happy!" she yells.

"And what does that entail, exactly?" It is a question she's never been able to answer, not even with a lie.

"Fuck you." Ah, that old staple. She storms off.

He can't resist. "You lose."

She turns and glares at him. "We didn't finish." There is pride in her sarcasm, both in her voice and in her eyes. She begins to laugh and leaves the room.

Watching the door slam shut, he allows a small smile. He no longer cares to prove anything to her. Opening his left hand, his king is revealed. Placing it on the table, bereft of battlefield, of ally, and - most importantly - of enemy, he whispers, "Checkmate."

He pities her, truly. Such a person can never be happy, and he knows she knows it. Searching for pieces of games she will never finish, she will be as empty of life as the room will be when he, too, leaves.

Closing the door behind him, he takes one last glance at the king on the table. Devoid of conflict, it stands alone, content in its peace. And patiently awaiting the next player.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue XI

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Director: Charles Crichton
Writer(s): John Cleese, Charles Crichton (story)
Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline
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I thought I've seen this movie. I could've sworn I've seen this movie. Turns out, I've never seen this movie. I love this movie. Probably John Cleese's best film role ever and easily Jamie Lee Curtis' sexiest film ever, the performances take this farcical crime story and make it an excellent comedy (though Kevin Kline's a bit flat, although that could've been the point). Some tout it as a post-Monty Python Monty Python film, but it isn't really. Sure, Cleese and Michael Palin often seem to homage the famous British comedy troupe, but when do they not? Regardless, this is a fabulous and fabulously funny movie.
Verdict: SEE it.

The A-Team (2010)
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer(s): Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods, Frank Lupo (TV series), Stephen J. Cannell (TV series)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel
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Over-the-top. Ridiculous. Loud. And worth the ticket. This uber-violent film is not to be taken seriously and it does the gracious thing and admits that to the audience in the opening scene. The result is an over-the-top, ridiculous, loud, and extremely fun movie to watch. While the television series was "family-friendly camp," the film is just action camp, with actors who both play their roles straight and allow their characters to fade into the banter-between-friends that made the television series so popular. I admit, the trailer had me worried and I was expecting something despicable along the lines of G.I. Joe, but I had a great time.
Verdict: SEE it.

The Duchess (2008)
Director: Saul Dibb
Writer(s): Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, Saul Dibb, Amanda Foreman (book)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling
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The true story of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, is harrowing in and of itself. Maybe even more so than Queen Elizabeth, it's built for the movies (okay, forget I said that). And so, with fairly low expectations (mainly due to a misguided disdain for Keira Knightley... who is one Hell of an actor), I gave the film a view. First, let me state that I love the story. I really do. But... the pacing of the film was rather quick, almost break-neck at points, and a film such as this deserves time to develop, envelop, and engulf its audience in its drama. I've no idea exactly how historically accurate the film is (a cursory investigation reveals that it's not bad), but there are hints of the world at large in many of the subplots, which is a nice touch. I did like the movie and do recommend it. Still, it wasn't as good as it should've been.
Verdict: SEE it. Neither a groundbreaking nor profound film, the subject matter is still interesting enough to be worth a view.

Sanbiki No Samurai (Three Outlaw Samurai) - 1964
Director: Hideo Gosha
Writer(s): Keiichi Abe, Hideo Gosha, Eizaburo Shiba
Starring: Tetsuro Tamba, Isamu Nagato, Mikijiro Hira
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Imagine Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai as a shorter, faster, more-traditional action film, and that's essentially what Three Outlaw Samurai is. The two films share similar plots and resolutions, but their setups and progressions are vastly different. Even with a runtime that's over 100 minutes shorter than Seven Samurai, Three Outlaw Samurai presents story and characters (the three protagonists are perfect fits for both the plot and for each other) that are as engaging, entertaining, and memorable. That it is not "epic" is, no doubt, the major reason for its lack of popularity.
Verdict: SEE it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer(s): Michael Arndt, John Lasseter (story), Andrew Stanton (story), Lee Unkrich (story)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
-----
Leave it to Pixar to break the curse of "Part 3s" (Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Matrix Revolutions, the list goes on...). Toy Story 3 is quite simply the best way to send off the Toy Story film franchise. Funny, heartwarming, sad, scary, hilarious, and depressing all rolled into one Hell of a computer-animated feature. No, the 3D is unnecessary, but it doesn't hurt the movie one bit. Yes, Pixar knocks another one out of the park. Nothing really much more to say here. Side Note: Outside of some forced moralizing, the pre-feature short film ("Day & Night") is outstanding all by itself. Those Pixar people really are clever.
Verdict: SEE it. Absolutely SEE it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Irrewind, 20100703: Movie Reviews

Back when I first started sharing my thoughts on the Internet, I used to write cursory reviews (though not as cursory as my Irreviews) of films here and there. I still do, obviously, but it was far more prevalent an act before I figured out a way to take yet another short-cut and abbreviate yet another topic (another allusion to my Irreviews).

Anyhoo... here are some of the older ones (take note of my annoying use of the phrase, "first up"):

"Translation & Terminal: Two Reviews"
First up, Lost in Translation. I don't say this often, but this a movie that had me smiling from beginning to end. Yeah, opening a film with a shot of Scarlett Johansson's butt is always a good idea, but that's really not why I liked it. Actually, I don't really know why I liked it. It was just a beautiful, beautiful movie. There were some... Read More

"A Clearing, A Garden, Some Flowers: Three Reviews"
First up is, let's work backwards through the title, Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch's more-normal-than-usual entry (watch his Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and you'll see what I mean) into what I'm going to start calling the "human insight" genre. It stars Bill Murray and, like Lost in Translation, is a great peek into the... Read More

"D & Diamond: Two Reviews"
First up is Jack Black's highly anticipated (I think) Tenacious D: the Pick of Destiny. I'm not really going to go into much detail, as I'm pretty sure people got what they expected from the film... but I thought it was lame. Yeah, it was kinda cool how Black and Gass served themselves up and rehashed much of their CD into a movie of sorts, but... Read More

"Movie Night: 3 Reviews"
First up is Michael Mann's Miami Vice. Given the sporadic reviews of the theatrical cut, I watched the director's cut instead and, I must say, really enjoyed it. Admittedly, the plot was convoluted enough to make Brian de Palma proud, but it tied together well. The film was nowhere near as good as Mann's two previous crime dramas (the... Read More

"Letters, Labyrinth: Two Reviews"
First up is the Japanese-language, Clint Eastwood-directed World War II film, Letters from Iwo Jima. Earlier, I implied how good Eastwood's other World War II film was, and now, I must say, Letters from Iwo Jima blows that one out of the water in every conceivable aspect. The acting is better, the pacing is better, and despite the fact that... Read More

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 -...