Thursday, September 30, 2010

Through Limbo

"What's the plan?"

"Get to the West Coast, find a boat, and get my wife."

"You're fucking crazy. We've got to get somewhere we can hold."

"I'm going to California."

"California's going to be gone when you get there, brother. She's dead, anyway."

Keith Durant, despite nine years in the US Army - the last two attached to non-Department of Defense task forces - had never killed anybody before that moment.

***

The decision to travel more northern routes seems a bad one. Durant cannot afford to sleep so heavily. Traveling by night, struggling to stay warm, and killing his own food exhausted him far more than estimated. The two German Shepherds he rescued from the Blight occasionally bring him food, but much too infrequently. And he still had to skin and cook their kills himself. It is no surprise that, lately, he's been eating kills raw, hoping that his constitution adjusts quickly enough to keep him from falling too ill to travel. So far, so good. Regardless, he continues to cook most of his meals when fire can be readily concealed.

He often considers dumping some weapons. The consideration never lasts long. They are, to put it bluntly, more important than food or water. Without them he'd have been dead weeks and miles ago. It was sheer luck that his escape from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had taken him through the post's ammo holding area. He'd have probably stayed there were it not for wanting to find his wife. But the AHA had no food stores to speak of. Which meant foraging parties. Which meant purposeful contact with the Blight. Which probably meant everyone at the AHA was dead by now. At least the man in charge was nice enough to let Keith leave with a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Carrying it had been a hassle, but in the first days following the invasion - or the revelation, depending on what one believes - he went through bullets like piss. He still has his Army-issue M4 carbine. The shotgun he found on a dead man. The pistol on a dead cop. Dead cops were gold mines for equipment these days.

According to some Canadians Keith briefly traveled with through West Virginia, the United States was holding out against the Blight better than every other nation. Everyone agreed that it was due to the high percentage of guns among the civilian populace, and that was the reason why the Canadians came south across the border. That boded well for Keith. It gives him a decent chance of making the Pacific Ocean. He has no idea how many guns are in Australia. He hopes his wife managed to find one. Or, at least, find people with guns. No one knows if the Blight are alien or demon - or, he'd heard one posit, man-made - but they can be killed. Keith killed one with his Bowie knife not long after leaving Fort Bragg. It was already wounded, but the brawl exhausted Keith. Far easier to shoot them.

He doesn't think about it much. There's too much guilt to deal with. If he lives through this, he'll spend more time trying to figure out what the Blight are. Though they seem more like rabid animals to him than intelligent life, he doesn't really care. Right now, he only knows one thing: westward. His only reason for living. And he'll have to kill a Hell of a lot of things to make it there. People included.

It is Lavinia - the female German Shepherd - who wakes Keith. A cold nose creeps its way around the holes of his ski mask. It is an effective alarm clock. Aeneas - the male - is usually responsible for the act. Today, something has Aeneas' attention. Keith's transition from drowsy to alert is nearly instantaneous.

The dogs never make a sound. During their struggle with the Blight their growls and whines were loud, rapid, and clear in meaning. Since then Keith hasn't heard either of them so much as bark. Perhaps survival instinct was gracious enough to teach the dogs that noises allow the Blight to locate them. Or perhaps they were just quiet dogs to begin with. Keith did find the matter curious. But the begging question will have to wait.

Aeneas locks his body in a stiff pose. It reminds Keith of a Pointer-mix he had when he was a boy. Lining himself up behind his companion, Keith gazes down Aeneas' sight line.

A Blight is searching the woods. There's no indication that it knows human and canine are nearby. Keith has come to call this version of the Blight "scouts." He's never obtained a good look at one, but Scouts appear to Keith as colored wind. From what he's heard, Scouts are notoriously hard to kill.

He hopes the shotgun will wound it enough for Lavinia and Aeneas to bring it down.

*To be continued...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quick Blog Reviews V

Yeah, so... my Internet habits are changing a tad. You might have noticed I combined the old blog rolls (I think there were five) into two. I've dropped most of the blogs I follow from my reader, preferring instead to just click on their links when they pop up. The irony is that I'm actually reading more blogs than I used to (a temporary phenomenon, I'm sure).

Anyway, here are more blogs I've been enjoying (not all of which I actually "follow"). It's a cool mix.

Empathy's Ego - A somewhat reluctant blog, it's a bit disheartening that it's not updated more often, but the snippets of poetry and prose you'll find there reveal an eager and consistently improving talent. Perhaps all she needs is a bit more encouragement. So go encourage.

The Far Queue - I'm not entirely sure how to describe this one (then, that may be the point there), but I'd have to call it "counter-pop pop culture." An amazing talent filters through competent poetry, engaging fiction, and often cathartic commentary. In all likelihood, you're going to disagree with many of the perspectives shared in the work at The Far Queue, but so what? It's enjoyable to read (there's no dogmatic attempt to shove dissenting opinions down your throat) and will make you think.

Just a Lost Soul Swimmin' in a Fish Bowl - We all know how I love irreverent attitudes, and blog author Jeney is about as irreverent as they come. Though sometimes dealing with serious topics, the pervasive sarcasm and finger-pointing humor (often at herself) is hilarious. And for those of you who like a blogger who directly engages their audience (unlike me), you'll find this blog destination to be to your liking.

Life at Willow Manor - A former "blog of note" on blogger, this one needs absolutely no endorsement from me (and probably won't notice, anyway). Not only one of the better variety/slices of life blogs I've come across (recipes, movie reviews, book reviews, travelogues abound), it's also home to some of the best blog poetry I've ever read. Willow understands the singular nature of effective poetry and uses it to its full aesthetic and creative advantage. She'll be on bookshelves at some point, I'm certain.

PattiKen and the Muses - Like Empathy's Ego, this blog is home to an eager and consistently improving talent. Initially (I must admit), the prose just seemed to stagnate and remained predictable... but then something happened. I don't know what or how it came about, but there's a moment when the creative floodgates opened and all Hell broke loose (she'll appreciate that joke... heh). Now, you really don't know what you're going to get, and the result is thoroughly enjoyable. There's a saying in art (and other things) that "less is more," and as I sometimes point out over there, she's mastering that little facet of narration quite well.

***

As some of you are aware, I used to only pimp out blogs with a relatively small following (some of these larger blogs could do the same, but perhaps they lack the ego of empathy... cough, cough). I'm aware my influence in "pimping" is limited, at best, but as I prepare for my fade from the blogosphere, I feel that some of these bloggers warrant another mention.

From Quick Blog Reviews II:
From Quick Blog Reviews IV:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Creative Development?

"Give me something. Anything."

"Okay, how about a fantasy piece?"

"No."

"All right. A Western?"

"A Western? Yeah, that might work. Haven't tried one of those in a while. Okay... plot?"

"Texas Rangers track down a..."

"No."

"An outlaw robs a bank and..."

"No."

"Robs a train."

"No."

"Rapes a woman."

"Clint Eastwood did that already."

"Rapes a donkey."

"Don't be a dick."

"Finds a hidden treasure."

"Oh, come on."

"Seriously. Finds a sunken pirate ship. Why wouldn't a cowboy be able to find a pirate ship?"

"Sounds stupid, but okay. So is he an outlaw or a cowboy?"

"How about a college professor?"

"For a Western?"

"Why not? Remember The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?"

"Was Jimmy Stewart a college professor in that?"

"I don't remember, but he was some kind of academic."

"Fine. What next?"

"Wait. Didn't you want to retell The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance without all the political crap?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Why not just do that?"

"Where's the treasure come in?"

"I mean write a different story."

"Dude. I'm kinda liking this pirate-Western story now."

"You said it sounded stupid."

"So? So does spoiled Civil War brat ignoring her true love and fucking a whole lot of other people."

"That's Gone With the Wind."

"Exactly."

"Gone With the Wind is a classic."

"The book's better."

"What the fuck does that have to do with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?"

"I don't know. You brought it up."

"Gone With the Wind?"

"No, Liberty Valance."

"I was making a point about a character."

"Which one?"

"The outlaw. I mean the college professor."

"In a Western?"

***

Opening 2013: Liberty Valance and the Treasure of Blackbeard.

Theaters everywhere, Memorial Day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Best of Each 007

As some may have noticed, I've been watching all of the Bond films (in order, mind you). Initially my intent was to introduce my niece and nephew to the grandeur of the world of James Bond, but it quickly became a preferred activity for myself. Though they're both clearly Pierce Brosnan fans (their first introduction to Bond was watching me play the excellent Everything or Nothing video game on Xbox), it's a hilarious thing to see two under-ten-year-olds running around quoting the earlier films. It's also a bit disconcerting to learn that my niece now intends on marrying Bond, but that's another story.

It's a long-running exercise in the media to try to determine who the best Bond is, and while I admit I even gave it a whirl (albeit a half-assed whirl), I'm not convinced that anyone can even honestly try. I mean, Sean Connery has the advantage of originating the role, so even if he had stunk, he'd still be the bar by which all other comers are measured (Michael Keaton as Batman ring a bell?). George Lazenby (admittedly my least favorite Bond) only had one film, so judging him isn't altogether fair (he's certainly not helped by the lack of significant non-Bond projects). Roger Moore gave us the light-hearted and campy Bond, which doesn't really allow for direct comparison to any of the others. Timothy Dalton tried to channel the literary Bond (and generally succeeded, for better or worse). Pierce Brosnan, in my humble opinion, was the ultimate Bond, but suffered from scripts that were too grandiose, even for Bond films. And now, Daniel Craig is hitting the screen as arguably the least-traditional Bond, albeit one who is an amalgamation of Connery and Dalton.

What does this all mean? Well, everyone's going to have a different opinion of who the best Bond is, and those opinions are likely heavily influenced by who the actor was in the first Bond film seen (with notable exceptions, since Moore was the first Bond I remember, though I didn't become a Bond fanatic until Dalton had the role).

In light of all of this, instead of trying to judge who the best 007 is, I'm going to list what I think are the best films played by each of the Bond actors.

Sean Connery - From Russia With Love
I've stated this elsewhere, but From Russia With Love must be heralded for being the first Bond film in which the so-called Bond formula is utilized. Not only that, it stays remarkably close to the book and is an excellent movie. Sure, Dr. No is held closely to Bond film aficionados' hearts, but only because it is the first big screen depiction of 007. Thunderball is damned good, too, and can easily be argued as the best, but the rest are too chaotic, too over the top (Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice included, both of which aren't bad... but don't get me started on Diamonds Are Forever).

George Lazenby - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
This one's obvious, since it's Lazenby's only Bond film. But, I must admit, even in light of Lazenby's slightly disappointing "Connery-emulation," On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the series' best overall entries.

Roger Moore - For Your Eyes Only
Moore started out fairly seriously (Live and Let Die), but quickly delved into camp (although The Man With the Golden Gun is a sentimental favorite... blame it on a lonely night in South Korea). The Spy Who Loved Me is a good one, but Moonraker is an embarrassment. And, let's face it, by Octopussy and A View to a Kill, Moore was too old for the role. But in between Moonraker and Octopussy, we got a return to the kick-ass version of Bond we all know and love with For Your Eyes Only. With one of the most sentimental scenes in Bond film history (visiting his dead wife's grave) and the best ski sequences since On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this film stands out as far and away Moore's overall best.

Timothy Dalton - The Living Daylights
This one is also fairly obvious, even in spite of the misguided love towards License to Kill (the only Bond film to earn an R rating upon release... since re-rated, by the way). Dalton's intro is perfect, with a slam-bang pre-title sequence that shows us three 00 agents on screen at the same time, and an opening post-title sequence that is almost verbatim an adaptation of the short story the film is based on. Dalton could have went a long way as Bond, but thanks to some legal issues that delayed the Bond franchise for six years between License to Kill and Goldeneye (the longest break between Bond films so far), we'll never know.

Pierce Brosnan - Goldeneye
Though all of Brosnan's films successfully brought Agent 007 back into the limelight of world cinema, it is his first effort that is the best. Goldeneye has one of the best Bond villains ever (Sean Bean as a traitorous 006), the best Bond girls out of any Brosnan entry, and a script that is remarkably subdued (though still outlandish). Tomorrow Never Dies is a good one, as well, replete with an excellent villain, but its attempt at sentimentality (in the guise of an old flame of Bond's) falls a bit flat. The World Is Not Enough has a horrible script and, though populated by two excellent Bond girls (portrayed by Maria Grazia Cucinotta and Sophie Marceau), has the worst Bond girl ever (Christmas Jones, portrayed by Denise Richards). Die Another Day serves as a good wrap to the film franchise's first 40 years, but the heavy reliance on computer imagery and the appearance of Halle Berry (thank goodness they didn't greenlight her planned spinoff franchise) just doesn't work for me.

Daniel Craig - Casino Royale
The jury's still out on Craig, seeing as how he's only done two and is contractually obligated for more (and we might be waiting awhile, since another extracurricular issue is threatening to derail the franchise again), but given that Quantum of Solace seems more like a direct response to the Jason Bourne franchise rather than an honest attempt at a Bond film, it's pretty easy to claim that Casino Royale is Craig's (so far) best. A franchise reboot, the film also does a good job of sticking to Fleming's novel, and the decision to show Bond's development from rough around the edges to smooth and refined is a great one. It's also relatively easy to claim that Casino Royale (this version, not either of the two that preceded it) is one of the high points of the overall series.

And there you have it.

But, just for the sake of inciting argument: Pierce Brosnan is the best Bond and Casino Royale is the best Bond film. So there. Bring on the double entendre!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Table of Contents: Gateway

I've received several requests to post my multi-part stories as single posts, and I've decided to comply. For those unfamiliar, these are portions of much larger stories, but (in all likelihood) their lifecycle here at Irreverent Irrelevance is complete. Further work on them (if there is any) will be done for the purpose of appearing in other media.

Anyway, the second piece to be "completed" here is a science fiction story - with heavy nods to Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and John W. Campbell - called Gateway.

"Gateway"
The smell of cedar is out of place. Israel is not to the south and there are no trees. He doesn't know what death smells like - perhaps it does smell like wood - but he is resolutely certain that fear should smell like something else. The nitrocellulose in the air does little to staunch the odor. Cedar among blood. It's an interesting scent and its... Read More

"Surface"
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... Read More

"Equation"
Falling from an aircraft and experiencing flight the way only a liar can feels nothing like falling from a planet. Or in this case a moon, Samuel reminds himself. The landscape here doesn't vary and the dark skies make it hard to gauge how high up he actually is. His head hurts, an infection-inspired vertigo, and that his eyes constantly... Read More

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Driven

Headlights go dark upon impact with the barrier. Wrenching metal twists and snaps, scraping an expensive paint job, one designed to stand out in traffic. But there are no witnesses here. There might have been a squeal of tires and the reverberating hum of anti-lock brakes... except there was no hint of regret; no thought of reversing a decision, until the Ascari A10 was already airborne.

***

Kyle's running full-speed in what will be his final professional game. He has no idea that his leg will momentarily twist violently, shredding both cruciate, both collateral, and his patellar ligaments in his left knee. He's already internationally famous in the football world. And the YouTube replay of a leg heading one direction while a body heads another will make him an Internet sensation.

He's flanking the the opposing striker, dutifully engaged in a battle for position as an attacking midfielder sets up what would otherwise be a breakaway. But Kyle's challenge fails. And since a fellow defender had been drawn hopelessly out of position, he finds himself alone on his side of the field. Another fellow defender rushes towards the goal, but he's too far away. It is the attacking midfielder that Kyle fails to see who charges him, freeing the opposing striker to fire a shot into the goal.

It bounces safely off the crossbar and into the hands of Kyle's goalkeeper while the attacking midfielder, unable to change his momentum, knocks Kyle to the ground while Kyle's left cleat is planted firmly in the grass.

The goal is saved and the red card awarded. But Kyle cannot get up. He hasn't screamed this loud since his brother was killed.

***

As if some futile cosmic joke, the Ascari's brake lights engage in mid-air as the top of a Jeffrey Pine snaps, throwing needles to the ground like confetti in a welcome-home parade.

***

In the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Kyle gradually accepts that his playing career is over. His agent, unwilling to let a friend and client worry about the future, quickly obtains an assistant coaching position for Kyle in America's nascent Major League Soccer organization. Kyle remains understandably upset over his situation, but he appreciates the gesture. He's been a football mentor since his high school days, often volunteering to coach in local youth leagues, and many agree - the press benevolently included - that the switch will fit him like a glove.

It is only two weeks into his physical therapy that Kyle receives his second injury of the year. A childhood friend has committed suicide. The news is hard to accept and, upon acceptance, even harder to bear. Though Kyle never mentions exactly why, those closest to him accurately surmise that Kyle somehow blames himself... just like, years before, he blamed himself for the death of his brother.

His agent tries unsuccessfully to convince Kyle to remain in therapy; to forgo the funeral. Not out of disrespect for the dead - quite the opposite, in fact. Kyle's agent seems to know what seeing a friend, lying dead in a casket, will do to the former football superstar. Particularly this friend. Whose picture - known only to Kyle's teammates, coaches, and his agent - lovingly adorns Kyle's locker. The agent realizes that he never knew the girl's name until the funeral notice arrived. And even before he told Kyle, he knew the notice was of the girl in the photograph.

***

Another tree shifts the trajectory of the sports car, initiating a spin that is only stopped by yet another tree. Bark and pine needles fire their way through shattering safely glass and transmission axle begins to cut through foliage. A deploying airbag mercifully deflects the end of a branch away from the driver's face, resulting in only a burning cut on right cheek.

***

Kyle lost his virginity to Elise in high school, even though he had been dating someone else at the time. He was 18; Elise was 17. It happened in a guest bedroom at a friend's Valentine's Day party. Kyle knew Elise and his brother were practically an item, but he justified it in that neither Elise nor his brother ever came out and said it. Kyle was - is, really - also in love with Elise. Both were drunk, and he makes no excuses for taking advantage of the situation. He asked her several times if it was okay. She only responded by opening her legs to him or squeezing them around him. When he felt unable to resist his lust for her any longer, he unzipped his trousers, flipped her dress, and entered her body. Though completely drunk, it is his most powerful - and favorite - memory.

He left her there by herself when they finished. She passed out after faking her orgasm and though he tucked her under the blankets, he failed to lock the door behind him. She was raped by a teammate while Kyle was off having sex with his girlfriend. He's never forgiven himself. For leaving her there. For being with another girl. For betraying his brother. And for not killing the rapist, though he tried.

To this day, he knows why Elise ran to Keith and not Kyle after the incident, even though Keith had not come to the party. She must have known where Kyle was and what he was doing. She must have figured that Keith loved her more than Kyle did. Kyle's since refused to determine for himself if that was the case or not. But he did love her. Still does.

She moved away shortly after the rape. Kyle never saw her again. He wanted to, of course, and was planning on doing so. But Keith's death changed everything. And Kyle couldn't live with any more guilt.

***

The chassis' forward progress is halted by a sturdy trunk and the car begins to slide straight down. A branch bends but does not break, flinging the Ascari into a rolling descent. Seat-belt burns a mark into neck as wooden hands begin tearing apart carbon-fiber and leather.

***

Kyle remembers the calming nature of the Sierra Nevadas. The crisp mountain air, the moon's reflection on mountain lake. He's tried everything to outrun his ghosts - both of them - but nothing's seemed to work. The winding highways through the mountain range offer brief solace. He drives dangerously and it's making him focus.

At least for a while.

He can smell the brakes heating up. He can feel the transmission struggling through constant downshifting. He can see the red-line on the tachometer. He can hear his brother. He can hear the lover he always wanted. And he wants to join them.

A guilty conscious makes for a poor passenger. Kyle is well-aware of this, having lived with one for years. He decides to finally let it drive.

There is no hint of regret; no thought of reversing a decision. Until the sensation of flight reminds him of what it means to be alive.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

DreamScape IV: Dancer, Dog, Wife, Cat

I have to admit, this dream (from the wee hours of May 31, 2010) is probably my favorite dream of recent memory. Analyze that.

Actual dream portions in italics.

***

Where am I? It's not Reno, because I can see the Strip. But it's not Las Vegas, either, because my friends from Reno are here. David, Linnea, and someone else I guess I don't actually know. Then again, maybe it is Las Vegas and they're just visiting. Regardless, we're all eating in a restaurant in a casino called The Istanbul. Just where The Istanbul is, I couldn't tell you, but the food is good and we're imbibing a little too much. Fuck it. I haven't seen Dave or Linnea in four years and the mood is fitting. Can't recall what we talked about, but I'm sure it had to do with high school.

By the time our lunch is over, I'm wasted. Irresponsible, I know, since I'm at The Instanbul to work on a dancing competition show for television. It's all good, though, because somehow I'm sober by the time I get to my room upstairs (gotta love dreamworlds). There are three dancers practicing there, and I guess I should be confused as to why there would be dancers rehearsing in my room, but I'm not. One of the dancers is "Gia," a contestant from an earlier season. As soon as I enter, the other two dancers leave, and I'm surprised as anybody when Gia kisses me. 

"It's about time. Where have you been?" she asks.

We're supposedly dating, and while I can neither confirm nor deny this, I don't much care. She's hot, it's my dream, and I can be as superficial as I want to be. Naturally, such a relationship is against the policy of the show. It's a wonder why we're not keeping it a better secret.

"We have to get to set." I'm not sure, but I think she just gave me an order.

We're following a big line of people to the theater. The Istanbul's theater appears to be a separate building and, on our way there, we run into a woman who remembers me from somewhere. I don't recognize her, but then we start listing television shows and films we've worked on.

"Maybe it was this same show? I worked here a couple of years ago," I tell the woman. And that I did, except for the fact that I didn't work the Vegas portion. Gia knows I didn't, and the lie - or half-truth - kinda pisses her off. The woman, though, accepted my answer and turns away.

"Or the singing show," I call after the woman, who doesn't seem to care anymore.

Gia glares at me. I didn't meant to lie, it was a simple mistake. But then it dawns on me... I think in some imaginary history I told Gia I was somewhere else. She's seething. "The next time, you'd better tell me something when you have to tell me something."

I have no idea what that means. All I do know is that I'm packing heat. Where the gun came from is a mystery, but it's in an SAS-style holster and the fact that nobody's yet noticed it is a little odd. I get a call to report to a funeral and Gia, feeling a tad sorry for me that I can't work the show, kisses and forgives me for my earlier faux pas.

The funeral is for some woman... a disgustingly obese black woman. I get the feeling that I should know who she is - a celebrity of some sort, perhaps - but I can't place her. It seems more than disrespectful that her funeral is being held in a large closet somewhere in a casino. Am I still at the Istanbul? I can't tell, but it's unimportant.

One of the other cops - for it appears that I'm a cop - tells me that the dead woman was a psychic who could communicate telepathically with cats and dogs. From beyond the grave she "called in" a tip. Some assholes were running some sort of animal torture operation in the city. That's when we notice the pack of stray dogs beckoning us to follow them. SWAT is notified and my partner and I take off after the dogs.

Somehow, SWAT already figured out where to go because they're waiting at the location - a large warehouse in the middle of a lightly-forested area that has no business being in Southern Nevada - when my partner and I arrive with the dogs. The dogs run into the facility and we all follow. Immediately, we're fired upon.

One gunman appears on a catwalk and I return fire, flying through the air in an ill-advised homage to a John Woo movie. I can see my partner duck behind cover. A second gunman appears, wearing a wolf-mask, and rushes me. He's holding something in his hand and clearly wants to grapple, but I bring my pistol to bear quickly enough that I fire a bullet point-blank into his face. Before I even notice any spray...

...I wake up, spooning my beautiful wife, who is not Gia. I get the sensation that this woman isn't American, and though she's not awake, I know she's from a Commonwealth country. The world seems perfect, lying next to the woman of my dreams.

***

And then I wake up, for real this time, spooning my cat.

Cat aside, everything is weird to me because this is the first "dream within a dream" I can ever remember having.

Like I requested earlier... analyze that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Star Fall

There is a certain hardy professionalism involved with soldiers who volunteer for atmospheric assault units. Most military movies these days concern themselves with AAUs, despite the fact they make up less than five per cent of combat rolls. For decades, AAUs have had a reputation - earned or not - for being the best of the best. One thing's for sure, Humphries muses, they're the craziest of the crazy.

The fact that he's smiling as he plummets at terminal velocity towards the surface of an alien planet is more than enough proof of that.

   Just let your fears go
   You might find your way back home
   Let your fears go
   You might find that you’re not lost


For some reason, the ballistic personnel carrier fired his unit's pods at too shallow an angle and Humphries quickly recognized that he was in danger of taking a one-way trip into deep space. There was no time to determine what happened - the BPC probably came under orbital flak, panicking the pilot into firing his payload too early - so Humphries ejected from his pod, hoping his suit's jets were enough to carry him close enough to the planet's gravity well to bring him in. Once he got situated, a sensor check assured him that most of his unit made it into the atmosphere. Only a handful of transponders were silent, but those could have simply been out of range or already well into the ionization blackout.

At any rate, he has more pressing matters to worry about. Without the drag chutes on the pod, he might not be able to slow down enough for his suit's drag chutes to deploy successfully. Not to mention he's already burned some of his jet fuel.

  Forget the peace inside
  You’ve given way to the gods of destruction
  Full of desire
  You feel afraid that there’s nothing left


"Open net, Thorne 2-6, over." The radio call is probably futile, since there has never been a recorded incident of an AA trooper in uncontrolled descent - oddly referred to as a cigarette burn in some strange homage to the ancient days of paratroopers - being successfully saved from the inevitable splat. But, Humphries is a hopeless optimist, and futility has never been reason enough not to try. Besides, the thought of his drinking buddies haunted by being the last to hear Humphries' voice is strangely appealing. Selfish, he knows, but who's going to hold that against him in this moment?

"Open net, Thorne 2-6, over."

  The ocean is dry
  Do you feel hollow?
  Nowhere to hide
  And nothing to swallow


The wind pummels his suit and maintaining form during descent slowly becomes an exhaustive exercise. A man who once completed a military 30-kilometer march in just over three hours suddenly finds himself angry at the thought of lacking the endurance to fall properly. The irony only makes matters worse and Humphries' open net calls are soon laced with expletives.

  And when you can’t recognize
  Anything solid
  Where do you turn?
  When you can’t buy it?


Managing to calm himself down, Humphries tumbles into a fetal position then gradually extends limbs, gaining control of his spin. His suit has control surfaces, but he fears that deploying them will only result in them breaking off at these speeds. Entering the upper level of a thundercloud, he inhales deeply and slowly exhales. Zipping by multi-colored bolts of lightning, he notices how beautiful storms can be.

As a child who once spent countless hours finding shapes in masses of water vapor, he withdraws into his past and begins to create shapes in his mind. Though he is far too close - within, really - and moving far too fast, it is almost immediately that he begins to see her. His visor now riddled with drops of water, even an onlooker directly in front of him would not be able to tell that Humphries has started to cry.

  What can you believe in now
  With no love to follow?
  Now that you have lost yourself
  Oh, can anything help you now?


He fell in love with her upon first glance. Though she was dressed in a silly getup supposedly resembling a Middle Eastern princess, he recognized the subtle smile of one whose love of life was only matched by an unspoken loneliness. She learned to enjoy the small things as much as possible, for the large things seemed elusive. Having endured similar heartbreak, he knew that someone must have recently hurt her. At the time, she should've been far too young to be familiar with such pain. But the universe doesn't care to wait when teaching such lessons. Nor, it seemed, did it care to wait when alleviating them.

It would be months before he could get her to talk to him. An emotional eternity, entirely subjective to itself. A free fall into her embrace that seemed to last forever.

  What did you learn?
  What was it worth?
  What did you yearn for?
  Everything’s lost now

  ... and not alone


She finally agreed to spend significant time with him after, he lamented, he received his orders to deploy. It was a repetitive story, and sad, that everyone seemed to wait until he was leaving. But in her case, it was enough. Her initial resistance to him was due to nothing more than she knew he was a soldier and would often be absent from her life. She never told him that she loved him, even as he boarded the shuttle for orbit, but her kiss spoke more to him than anything he could remember. In spite of her pragmatic hesitance, her lips made no secret that they were aware she is loved in return. It was an impact upon both their psyches unlike any other.

Including, he's confident, the impact that will momentarily end his life. His smile returns as he imagines her hair violently whipping in the free fall. Though his desire is to spend the rest of her life at her side, he's content with having been a part of her journey. Perhaps that is the only reason he was born in the first place.

A foolish thought, he knows, as he lets his smile evolve into laughter. He hopes that she will remember a falling star that once wished upon her. And that the universe gets the joke.

  Just let your fears go
  You might find your way back home
  Let your fears go
  You might find that you’re not lost


*Lyrics from Sunlounger's "Lost"

Monday, September 20, 2010

State of the Irre(x2): September 2010

Lots of changes afoot around here (then again, there have been a lot of changes already). This is both an update to the previous State of the Irre(x2) and an update in general.

1. The Twitter and Tumblr mirrors for this blog are going bye-bye. And soon (truth be told, the Tumblr mirror is already gone). So the very few of you who read this place via those microblogs need to switch your subscription method.

2. Genwi has changed their business model, which means that blog mirror is gone forever.

3. For the one LiveJournal subscriber I had... no, I won't be opening that mirror again. That goes for the TypePad microblog mirror (and its one subscriber), as well.

4. The MySpace mirror isn't really what I'd hoped it would be (it's really just an RSS feed application), so that's gone private (MySpace friends only). Ditto for the Windows Live mirror.

5. The Facebook "Notes" mirror is gone, but the Facebook-based Networked Blogs mirror is still active (obviously). I think "friends" were hiding me because of my notes/status updates. Jerks.

6. There's been strong consideration given to creating a WordPress mirror (or moving to WordPress outright), but Blogger's recent explosion of new features has more than convinced me to stick around. Like, seriously... awesome job, Blogger team. Still not sure why you limit "Pages" to ten, though, since they're essentially just undated blog posts... which are, to my knowledge, unlimited.

7. Irrewinds, though (in my opinion) a valiant experiment, will be discontinued at the end of the year. As I've come to understand the general reading habits of blog readers, I'm convinced that things like Irrewinds are futile and useless (as are the page tabs at the top, but those require little effort on my part). That stated, I'll still do an occasional "Table of Contents" (since those came into being by request) and "Index" (since those are more for my own benefit).

8. Those of you who read my Theme Thursday rant the other day and have noticed that I'm still participating in Theme Thursday might be wondering why, since it seems a bit hypocritical. Well, I'll tell you: I'm one of those who "kindly offered suggestions" on how to keep the place going, and since they're trying many of those suggestions, I'd feel like an asshole if I didn't stick around. Yes, those who dislike the changes should feel free to berate me. I won't care. But I do laugh at those who ripped "Oh, it's 'Theme Week' now" criticisms, since it's always been "Theme Week." Or didn't you notice the themes used to be posted on Sundays and dozens of participants would post early? Even when they held back the link system until "Thursday," it was really Wednesday for most of us. So... yeah... your naysaying logic sucks.

9. You've no doubt noticed the redesigns here. More are coming, but learning how to read the CSS coding in the new Blogger templates is a little more difficult for me than learning how to read the CSS coding in the old Blogger templates was. But I'm on it!

And that's all for this pathetic excuse of an entry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Irrewind, 20100918: Poetry II

I should probably title this particular Irrewind, "Bad Poetry," for even though my first few efforts here haven't been altogether bad, most of the poems I've written since have been - even I'll agree - crap. There's always one or two lines that stick out, but that's not enough to make me happy (for consistently competent poetry, I'll have to direct you to Life at Willow Manor, The Alchemist's Pillow, and The Far Queue).

Anyway, here you go... as always, criticism is welcome and desired.

"Symphony"
There's a song between breaths
Lyrics, subtle
from respiratory winds... Read More

"A Mighty Wind"
Wind of change, unwanted
With her gale in the wrong direction
Wildflowers, once gently caressed... Read More

"Today"
remember when the conversation
turned from orange to violet
an end to ends, all over again... Read More

"The Snowbird"
Feathers of ice
falling from a dying bird
that I cannot see... Read More

"The Heartbroken of Narcissus"
Your buried past
above ground, once
when it all began... Read More

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Water Stolen From the Desert Does Not Belong to You

*a continuation of The Window Blinks When the Mirror Sees

"We almost missed it," Jimenez says, proud of the small box-like device in his hand. "Everyone thought it was just part of the computer system, but one of the boys at impound used to work for an effects company."

Detective Ervin shakes his head. This is getting weird. "So the car was rigged?"

"Oh, totally. See these two leads?" Jimenez points at two connectors. "Left-right steering. These three? Gas, brake, and clutch." Jimenez lets it sink in. "Me, I'd have just rigged an automatic tranny, but I'm guessing whoever did this wanted to show off."

Ervin's partner, Lim, bursts into the room.

"Dude, what?" Ervin scolds, a bit startled.

Lim catches his breath. "That girl? Green eyes?"

"Yeah, man. Spit it out."

"Her dad's an effects technician. Specializing in remote-controlled vehicles."

***

The two Kern County Sheriff's deputies didn't seem to care what's going on. Both are, by cruel serendipity, Los Angeles transplants and harbor stereotypical ill-will towards most things Hollywood. Particularly the rich pricks who work in it. Then again, most will accurately describe the man yelling at the two deputies as a prick.

Joey Gould is not a tall man and is more than a little heavyset. He knows he's not physically imposing, but he's mastered the art of the insult and has more than enough money and influence to throw around. That the deputies aren't budging is only make his blood pressure go even higher.

"You found my fucking car, right? It's my fucking car! I need it to finish the goddamn shot! You know, the shot we were nice enough to shoot in this fuckhole of a place!"

Gould's rant is a comical sight, explaining why the deputies are trying very hard to stifle laughter. "We don't have your car, sir. LAPD has it."

An expression of shock is followed by an expression of relief. Shock from the car being in Los Angeles. Relief from knowing he can more easily pull strings with the Los Angeles police.

***

Somewhere a smile widens beyond even the limits of its face. The Devil's joke makes even God laugh. Laughing so hard there are tears. And sobs.

***

"There are no bodies," Ervin says, tapping the photos of the remote. He's smiling, wondering what she's going to do when they bring her father in.

She leans forward slowly, a succubus knowing well and good what her body can do to men. A far too dangerous trait for one so young. "There are always bodies, Detective Ervin."

His smile begins to disappear with the appearance of hers. He leans back, careful to leave her thinking she's in the position of superiority. "Who stole the car?"

"What car?"

The one your father rigged, you dumb bitch. It is a thought he would be more than happy to let loose upon his lips, but Ervin simply nods, gets up, and leaves.

***

"You've gotta be fucking kidding."

Someone throws up. Must be the heat wave.

***

"We don't even know if the bodies in the tub are related to the car," Lim protests. "For all we know, we're forcing two puzzles together and pretending we're Picasso."

Jimenez and a couple of the other detectives turn to stare at Lim, oblivious to what Lim was trying to say.

"If," Lim continues, pounding the two files with his finger for emphasis, "these are related, then shooting up the Aston was done for what? To gather attention, right? Other than the property damage and discharge of firearms, there's nothing to the crime for a pro to be worried about."

Jimenez nods and one of the others, Baldwin, leaves to get get coffee. Lim glares after him. "I'm sorry if I put your brain into overdrive, but for fuck's sake."

Jimenez waves Lim's attention back to the task at hand. "Keep going, man."

"Yeah, fine. Look, we don't even know who the melted bodies are. Burbank's still taking a crack at them. But the point is... if you wanted to claim the killings, why not just call? Or mail a fucking letter? Why get so complicated?"

Ervin storms in. "Because they just found her father's body in the other Aston Martin."

"Other Aston Martin?" Lim asks, the confusion he thought he'd finally begun to sift through returning all at once.

"Propped up in the passenger seat like he's on a Sunday drive."

"Other Aston Martin?" Jimenez repeats the question.

Lim can't keep it in. An exhaled chuckle, full of disbelief. "Except he's dead."

*to be continued...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Better Way to Kill Flies

I hate flies. Hate 'em. Despise them.

Okay, let me qualify that by adding "in the house" to the above.

Seriously, a long time ago, back in my Army days, a couple of flies got into my apartment and, like horny little flies tend to do, had a mating session. A few days later (by which I remained totally unaware of the fly porn going on in my abode) I awoke to a pretty nasty odor. The odor was so strong it, in fact, is what woke me up in the first place. Upon investigation (which took, oh, three seconds), I found a trail of maggots. A trail of hundreds of maggots. And I quickly learned that Raid and other fly-killing chemicals do not kill maggots.

So I swept, stomped, and spewed until all of the maggots I could find were in the dumpster in the parking lot.

A couple of days after that I awoke to the unmistakable sound of hundreds of flies buzzing. They were mainly on the sliding glass door, trying to get out into the backyard. Long-story short... out came the Raid, down went the flies. And I quickly learned that I hate the smell of Raid. I need not mention the health risk pesticides under pressure post towards humans.

So, using what I'd learned about other insects, I switched from Raid to degreasers. And natural degreasers, at that.

What I'm trying to say here is that, while Raid might be the best option for killing hundreds of flies at the same time, Clorox's "Green Works" is the best thing I've found to kill flies in small numbers. It's safer (for you and the environment), smells better, and allows you to spot-clean while killing pesky little winged insects at the same time. And since the chemical simply sticks to the fly's wings, making it too heavy to zip away, it gives "I love all life" environmentalist-types the option of picking the fly up and putting it outside.

Me? I just crush 'em. Because I hate flies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

After Paris

He's from too young a generation to know who Bogart or Bergman are, but he knows the saying. It was, after all, once spoken to him. It is with this memory that he foolishly leads his squad into the ruins of the former capital of France. Paris fell nearly three months ago and, by all accounts, was annihilated. The intelligence reports - human, signal, and image - all agree that La Ville-Lumière is permanently and completely dark.

One light, however, does remain. And the image of a pendant and chain hanging from the neck of a woman lustfully and lovingly hovering above proves far too resilient to extinguish without irrefutable proof.

Master Sergeant Ocean is not a stupid man and his mission has been carefully planned and disguised as a legitimate reconnaissance op. Some of his promotions have been attributed to being the last man standing, so to speak, but an equal number have been granted due to competence and candor. Outside of this one indiscretion, he maintains a reputation for bluntness that those in offices far outranking his - indeed, offices of men and women he's likely to never meet - often give him extra rope with which to tie loose ends... or hang himself. There is a pang of guilt in taking advantage of this reputation for such a personal matter, but ever since the Coalition tore through the coastal European plains - stopped only by a desperate Alliance defense of the Pyrenees - he's been unable to sleep.

She is the last woman he's loved. His favorite. Given his hopeful hopeless romanticism, without her - or the idea of her - he fears his uselessness to the world at large. It is an arrogance to think the universe cares about one small heart wanting another, but such is the nature of men whose pulls of triggers have altered political landscapes.

"Two klick spread. Everything might look dead, chaps, but that doesn't make it so."

Three green lights appear on his VISOR display, signifying acknowledgment from elements Charlie Echo 2, 3, and 4.

"Verify active camo batteries above point-seven-five. We're going to need them," Ocean relays to the response of three more greens.

"Dissipators at full." And still three more. Parts of Paris are still burning, even after this much time, but Ocean is unsure if the fires are hot enough to cover his team's heat signatures. Bad enough that he could only acquire Talos suits for this recon - the Achilles were far more efficient at moving undetected - but many of their vents had been battle-damaged during whatever previous engagements they were a part of.

"Flares at ready." Only two green lights this time. Ocean is a millisecond away from inquiring of the third when a vocal response is received.

"We've done this before, Captain Obvious."

Ordinarily Ocean would berate such a blatant disregard for transmission protocol, but the response comes from Ioannis, his best soldier and one whose tactical reputation is Ocean's equal. Not only that, but the other two members of the recon come from Ioannis' unit, and their loyalty is clearly to Ioannis and not Ocean. As if driving the point home, the third green appears on Ocean's display.

It proves too much.

Ocean deactivates his disippators and drops his active camo, utilizing all-too-hot and all-too-bright jump jets to close the distance between himself and Ioannis. He imagines three masked "uh ohs" as the two kilometer separation disappears in a matter of seconds.

Not wanting to exacerbate things, Ioannis' Talos maintains its position and he waits for Ocean to jack-in the direct line.

"This is not the time, Ioannis."

"You're not yourself," Ioannis replies, tone respectful of rank, if not of man. "We're heading to Aulnay-sous-Bois, which has no reconnaissance value whatsoever. Care to let me in on what the fuck we're really doing out here?"

Ocean sighs. His irritation subsides, giving way to a crescendo of guilt. There's no point in keeping it a secret at this point.

***

To Ioannis' credit, he says nothing to the other Talos-operators. Even when Ocean disengages from his Talos' cockpit with a DNA scanner and enters the ruins of what was once an upper-middle-class residence. Instead, Ioannis issues a simple order: "Triangle out, center-point here. Max limit."

The three other Talos' jump away, giving Ocean much-desired privacy under the auspices of a defensive formation. He waits until the others disappear from view, staring through a foyer window that somehow remained intact. When he's finally alone with his ghost, he begins the search.

Finding her body doesn't take as long as Ocean feared. Burnt and rotting, the smell is almost too much to bear. She is unrecognizable in her current state and Ocean cuts off a tissue sample, placing it into the scanner. Holding his breath for the few seconds it takes to analyze, the news is bad... and entirely expected.

What is unexpected is the second body. A man's. Possibly a brother, he hopes, but just as practicality dictates that Ocean returns to his Talos, curiosity results in another analyzed tissue sample. And another.

***

Ioannis catches up to Ocean back at FOB Azores and notes Ocean's dour expression.

"You find what you were looking for, Master Sergeant?"

"I did," Ocean mutters behind a slow nod.

Something's wrong, and Ioannis knows it. "I'll handle the debrief."

"Thank you."

***

Ocean stands on the banks of Lagoa das Sete Cidades, the charred necklace he found in the rubble of Paris in his hand. He's crying, an activity rare in his lifetime, and falls to his knees.

"We'll always have Paris." A whisper in memory; a scream in imagination.

Fear of being seen forces Ocean back to his feet. He takes a longing glance at the necklace before throwing it into the volcanic lake.

Conscience resolved, Ocean gives thanks that Paris is gone and heads back to the base.

In the months ahead, Ocean formally takes command of Ioannis' unit. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and what is recorded in combat reviews as the most effective fighting unit of the war.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jasper Over Jax

Change is weird. Not in any bad sense of being weird... it's just weird. Sometime around late 2002/early 2003 I acquired the first of my three current dogs. He was a stray, apparently abandoned, and a lovable lonely little thing. My roommate and I named him Chody (in honor of a character from a Trey Parker/Matt Stone film... shame on you if you know what it means) and adopted him after attempting to find his owner. After my roommate deployed to Iraq, my then-girlfriend decided to guilt-trip me into changing his name to Jax. And, from then on, Jax became my alpha male (albeit in a pack of one).

Fast forward to January of 2004... After being activated myself and realizing how lonely Jax could get, I went ahead and adopted another dog, Jasper. Though both dogs are named after the same soap opera character (don't ask), they are complete opposites of each other in almost every way. Jax is a mutt... part pointer and terrier (either English bull or Boston... hard to tell); Jasper is a pure German Shepherd. Jax is not neutered, the result of misguided sentimentality. Jasper had to be cut because of an undescended testicle (I used the pick of the litter honor on the runt). Jax is aggressive, a fighter, and unflinchingly dominant. Jasper is passive, a soldier, and unflinchingly submissive. Strange, then, to recall that when Jasper was a puppy, Jax would always let Jasper eat first.

One day, that all changed. Long-story short, the little 35-pound dog had the larger 75-pound dog by the balls.

Sometime late in 2009, Jax seriously injured one of his shoulders. Instead of taking it easy and letting it heal properly, however, Jax overcompensated and instead became much more aggressive towards Jasper (a third dog, Starbuck - acquired late 2004/early 2005 - never really acknowledged the canine chain-of-command, kept to himself, and largely avoided any attempts of submission by Jax).

In March of 2010, our little pack returned to the deserts of the West, which placed the dogs in the ridiculous summer heat of Nevada. Largely due to inactivity during the day and being in a garage at night, Jax was given the opportunity to recover from his injury with much-needed rest (anti-inflammatories hadn't even seemed to help much). Staying with my sister, her children were introduced the wonders of having dogs around and - in a moment a bit out of character for her - she adopted her own dog, Wally. A dog that Jasper took the opportunity to establish dominance over.

The result? Having his own underling, Jasper began to challenge Jax. By July 2, with Jax still recovering, Jasper even started challenging Jax at the food bowl. I must admit, the first time I saw it, I thought Jasper might have confused Jax for Wally... but he kept doing it. Finally, I thought, Jasper would no longer be relegated as a chew toy (literally... he bears several scars from Jax's teeth).

But it was not to be.

I left to sign for a rental property in California on July 31, leaving my dogs with my sister. By August 1, according to her, Jax decided to reclaim his undisputed throne as the alpha male, working overtime trying (and succeeding, apparently) to subdue Jasper all over again. And, upon my return to Nevada, Jasper's persistent whines as Jax subtly exerts his influence serve as proof that Jax is still, undeniably, the king of the pack.

Ah, well. It was interesting while it lasted. Jax can sure be a jerk sometimes. I wonder who he gets it from?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Theme Thursdays, 2010: Volume 2

Something's amiss with Theme Thursday and I've not been able to figure it out. Things just got... weird... in the past couple of months. In light of this (and for several other unrelated reasons), I'm taking a hiatus from participating there for a while, but I continue to recommend it for anyone who needs or wants an excuse to post something or otherwise be creative.

Obviously, this "Volume 2" post should go up sometime in January, but given the circumstances, I'll put it up now.

Submitted for the second half of 2010 (titles marked with * were not originally written for Theme Thursday):

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Rapture in Silence

*Inspired in part by "A Violent Quiet" and Alan Burnett's "I Brush My Teeth With a Tooth Brush"

It is quiet up here, the sensation of falling numbing all other sensations. Those already on the ground deafened by the very thing that inadvertently provides solace for those still in the air. Even heat - solar, geothermal, mechanical... it matters not - fails to register in a mind subconsciously waiting for an impact that will return the ability to hear.

Listening is accomplished through eyes, not due to the matter of decibel, but due to the matter of subject. It is not its volume, but its volume. Overwhelming individual perceptions combine to overwhelm the individual. Defensively, ears turn themselves off. They need not recognize the sound of gunfire, for the eyes perceive muzzle flash just fine. The almost cartoonish sound of small pieces of metal flying by only serve to make the experience more unbelievable. What does it matter if being killed can be heard? It will be felt, regardless. And the disgusting splash that punctured flesh makes will one day finally be recognized for what it was.

Until then, there is a naive ignorance of the furor. Fingers shake far too rapidly to safely hold the detonator for very long. With the realization that everything here is an enemy, there is a smile. The very air reeks of murderous intention. In a few moments it will even feel of it. The tumbling whistle of random ricochet goes unnoticed until the infinite calculations of fate cross its path with that of a baby's finger-sized blasting cap.

For an instant the explosion is heard.

And then... nothing.

***

He did not hear the blood-curdling screams of the other survivors caught in the blast. He did not hear their curses - at him; at war; at life in general. He did not hear anything.

Because he cannot.

A medevac flight was never so peaceful.

***

It's hard, she says. Or so he sees. He tries to keep his frustration from being deaf away from her. She's only doing her job. But lip-reading is not coming easy to him. Taking a deep breath, he nods in acknowledgment, knowing she will smile in return. It's a beautiful smile and, truth be told, it's one of the few reasons he bothers coming to this lip-reading class. As soldiers often do - albeit typically with nurses - he has fallen in love with a caretaker. Perhaps it's her perfume. Perhaps it's the softness of her touch when she tries to reassure her students of their progress. Perhaps it's the way she places her tongue on her upper lip when lost in thought. Probably all three.

He feels his own sigh and resolves to impress her today.

She moves to the front of class and continues the day's lesson. He smiles as she exaggerates the motions of speaking - her mouth moves with, he gathers, the flourish of a Shakespearean actress. Pointing to a female soldier in the front row of chairs, the instructor mouths a phrase and asks the student what was said. Though he cannot hear the response, the accompanying actions of the instructor make it obvious: "I brush my teeth with a toothbrush."

Moving to another student, another phrase is mouthed - this one accompanied by a hand sweeping over a head. "I brush my hair with a hairbrush."

So far, these seem to be easy and he can wait no longer. His hand goes up, eagerly volunteering for the next phrase. The instructor smiles a wry smile - the way her lip upturns only on the right side of her face betrays a sense of pride in her student... or, perhaps, something else - and she again moves towards him. She mouths the new phrase, making a delicate brushing motion across her legs and allowing a look a deep satisfaction to cross her face.

He almost frowns, completely unsure of what she said. He asks her to repeat it and she does so, with even more emphasis. In deep thought he purses his lips. The resolve to impress her threatens to overwhelm him. He responds, "I brush my thighs with a pastry brush."

She laughs and the embarrassment washes over him like a tide in the Bay of Fundy. Momentarily unaware that no one else in the room could hear his response, he storms out of class, intent on fading away. Surprisingly - then again, probably not - a hand grabs his shoulder in the hallway. He turns, still red-faced from the incident, and the instructor beckons him to return to class. "It's all right," she mouths.

Frustration still painted on his face, he remains hesitant. But she pulls him in. "You're cute when you're embarrassed," she says. He can't help it. He returns to his seat, full of borrowed resolve. Such is the case with a soldier's misguided love.

***

Weeks later, upon graduating the class, the instructor presents him with a gift after the other students have left. A small box. Inside, a pastry brush and a note with her email address. She smiles; kisses him on the cheek - it is only then that a long-forgotten reaction takes place... he checks her left hand. It is devoid of ring.

He can't hear her and can only imagine the loveliness of her voice. "Call me," she says, complete with accompanying hand - thumb and pinky finger extended - to her ear.

A pantomime was never so loud.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Procrastination II: More Adventures Before a Deadline

There's work to be done this week, and a lot of it. Wait, forgive me, that's how I began the last "Adventures Before a Deadline." Pardon me for a few moments while I consider the implications of plagiarizing oneself. Wait, forgive me, you're reading this all at once and won't notice the delay.

Forget I mentioned it.

Truth be told, this entire year's been a procrastination. No, seriously, practically all of 2010. Yeah, there was the occasional gig that required me to physically show up somewhere and work (which, this year, happened to typically be in Las Vegas, which isn't exactly conducive to working hard), but for the most part everything's been a work at home deal (which isn't exactly conducive to working hard).

Met a lot of cool people this year... both via the virtual world and via the real world (what a hazy line that's become, eh?). Some are people who were already writing when I met them, many of whom should pursue publishing (and some who should not). Some are people who I - cough, cough - "strong-armed" (as they'd put it, no doubt) into giving creative writing a shot (surprise, surprise - or not - they're actually good!). Other than that, though, everyone I've met has been a bastard.

Okay, not really, but I'm going for symmetry here. Because, well, looking for symmetry is keeping me from my work, which is what this is all about.

So how else has 2010 been a procrastination? Well, I'll tell you. I've been "trying" to get to my current location for a long time. I left a previous location in October of 2009... and got all of 80 or 90 miles to a friend's house. At which point two of my dogs ran away for five days and screwed up my entire schedule. And instead of getting immediately back on track, I stayed put until March of 2010 (which is when things got a bit... tenuous). From March until July of 2010 I let myself get a tad too comfortable in yet another location that was not my intended location.

Until, finally, I got here. Not that any of that will make sense to anyone (well, it will to a handful, but probably not to you).

I'd have been here earlier, mind you, but a dust-up with a landlord and a delay in work material screwed up my entire schedule. At least no runaway dogs were involved (although a runaway cat almost played a hand).

So here I am, once again rushing before a submission deadline for publication. I thoroughly enjoyed the research portion, but am now caught in the mire of actually producing what my contract dictates I produce. It's not helping that there are a couple of people I prefer wasting my time with (not that I consider them wastes of time... far to the contrary, in fact). Then again, I've given away all of my televisions, brought none of my video games with me, and have temporarily given up any semblance of a nightlife (to and including a substantial personal life).

One would think there'd be nothing to procrastinate with, eh? Ah, Hell no! There's Facebook!

Hang on... time for a status update. "JeffScape is a lazy bastard."

Yeah, that seems to fit at the moment.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Matches? Check. Charcoal? Check.

*a continuation of No Meat; No Creamer and Your Machete; My Cleaver

Coffee's rather passionate about the subject, it being one of the few areas he's clearly better than Merlot at. Her smile and wink never fails to distract him, but that doesn't mean he's going to stop trying to explain it.

"C-4 is a cutting charge, okay? You got that? A cutting charge." He figures this must be what fathers sometimes feel like when trying to explain things to precocious children.

"So, what? It's used for cutting?" Merlot smiles, winks, and successfully distracts and irritates Coffee. She's actually quite adept at demolitions and knows the difference between cutting and concussion charges, but allows Coffee the acknowledgment that, yes, he's better at blowing things up than she is. "What do you cut with it?"

Ah, finally... he gets to answer a legitimate question. Merlot sure looks gorgeous in black. It hides her curves and shows them off at the same time. "You know, metal. Steel is the usual culprit. You can usually use weaker explosives for other stuff."

She gives him a kiss on the cheek. Might as well soften him up before irritating him again. "You know what else C-4 can be used for?"

Uh oh, here it comes. Some smart-ass thing from a mouth so sexy... and vulgar. She does have a vocabulary like a sailor's. Coffee, though, simply stares at her in anticipation of her answer to her own question.

"Blowing the fuck out of Grayson's car."

They both turn and look at the metallic silver BMW 760i parked mere feet from the two of them. Coffee drops a backpack on the ground and unzips it. Green blocks of military-grade C-4. "M112" printed in yellow letters on each block. The backpack is completely stuffed with them.

"You need to change your name from Merlot to Overkill."

***

When Grayson first arrived in Tunis, he was ordered to obtain a vehicle that didn't stick out. Lucky for him, BMWs were not in short supply in this part of North Africa. Though he might have overstepped his bounds a bit by acquiring something so expensive, he figured it was worth it. He loved his fucking car. V-12, 535 brake horsepower, and a back seat large enough to quickly kick out the cheap hookers. All in the name of king and country. Well, country.

It was almost 11 PM when he pulled in to the parking garage under his personal safehouse - really, just an apartment, but he likes to call it a safehouse because it sounds cool - and had only just locked and closed the driver's door when his phone rang. It was from a number he'd been anxiously waiting to call.

"Is it done?" Grayson asked as he proceeded to the elevators.

He froze in his tracks and titled his head, trying to make out some background noise. "Is that gunfire?"

***

Merlot watched intently as the Fence counted the money. Licking his thumb every ten bills or so, he glanced up at her with an inquisitive expression. "You're paying double?"

"Actually no," she said, taking a sip of the wine the Fence had given her. It was an expensive vintage Château Ausone. To her it tasted like shit - she hates Cabernet Franc - and she only drank it to be polite. "We've got a shadow I'd like you light up."

Well, when she put it that way. The Fence always appreciated a wry sense of humor. He nodded and winked - the latter to no effect - then made a phone call.

***

The gunmen were no match in either movement or aim for the Silhouette. Making that obvious to bystanders was the fact that the Silhouette was having a conversation on a cell phone in between returning fire.

"Yes, it's gunfire." The voice was steady, calm. There wasn't even a smile or an expression of relief when a well-aimed shot created another eye socket in a gunman's forehead. "She manufactured an obstacle. It will be short-lived... correction, it's been overcome. But she's gone. I don't know where."

Finally, a smile as the last shooter's body slumped onto a car hood and slid to the ground. "You might want to lay low for a while."

Before Grayson could answer, the Silhouette hung up and disappeared into the shadows. There was a time when handiwork would have been admired, but that was many years ago.

***

"We're not going to blow up an apartment building, are we?" Coffee was a bit nervous. A murderer, he was not. Nor was there any intention to become one.

"No, no, no, sweetie," she demurred, stroking his cheek. She couldn't figure out exactly why, but Merlot loved to baby Coffee. Maybe because he ate it up, but maybe... nah... she shook the thought.

The roar of an accelerator signaled their target's approach and they both watched as the BMW they've been waiting for pulled into the parking garage. Merlot checked her watch, then returned her attention to Coffee. "We'll give him a few minutes. Tell me about these explosives."

***

Coffee's grand theft auto skills impress Merlot. Neither the primary or secondary alarm on the car even beep. She's not so much impressed with his driving, though, but he insists. Since he placed the explosives, he demands control of the vehicle under the auspices of safety or some such nonsense. Merlot relents, mainly because she's tired and won't mind a nap in the passenger seat. Besides, if he really wants to drive a 760i that badly...

"Do you know where we're going?" she asks, tilting the seat back. Her eyes are already closed, but she knows he's trying to check out her cleavage.

"Yeah, of course."

***

The explosion is marvelous. The Parc du Belvédère lights up as bright as day for a few moments, then dims as flash fades into fire. Coffee and Merlot sit on a bench off the Avenue Charles Nicolle and stare at the spectacle. He smiles widely, not having created an explosion that big since his Army days - shit, they probably heard this one in Sicily. Merlot's smiling, too, because she finds the whole thing quite funny.

Oh, Grayson, you poor bastard. You fucked with the wrong people.

Merlot leans her head on Coffee's shoulder and his smile runs out of face. Damn, she smells good.

*Continued in Mercury Costs More Than Cyanide

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bon Voyage, You Lovely Aussies!

On the other side of the world, a good friend of mine is embarking on her dream vacation. I know this because she's reminded me of it constantly over the past few months. Sometimes I think she forgets that I already knew (because she's absent-minded like that), but mostly I think she's just rubbing it in (because she's mean like that).

And not only did she rub it in (my last real vacation was in... oh, shit... 2007?), she provided shopping updates for all of the essentials she'd need for the trip. Like traveling pants and bras (which she got cheap... on sale... I'm just sayin'). Personally, I'm one for simply throwing stuff in a tote and hopping on a plane, train, ship, or whatever. However, she decided to explain how such an attitude doesn't apply towards women.

The following is an excerpt from a real conversation: "All you need is a pair of boxers and nobody cares whether they have 'Swamp Thing' or 'Calvin Klein' on them. Women have to have something practical and comfortable but also glamorous. Not easy. Especially if you are, er, well-endowed."

Do you see the vanity involved with this person? Oh, it's all fine and dandy to point out that, sure, women have different undergarment requirements than men... but then she just had to subtly point out that she is, er, well-endowed. If I were female, I'd claim she was just rubbing it in. But I'm not, and I'm quite happy with the relative size of my man-boobs. So... nyer.

Where she is successful in rubbing something in is the fact that her uber-gorgeous daughter is accompanying her on this trip. Only, she's far more clever handling that particular subject. Devious, in fact.

So, let's go over the list (she loves lists): Absent-minded? Check. Mean? Check. Vain? Check. Devious? Check. (She's also rude, but we can talk about that another day). That I love her to death is beside the point.

Anyway, I hope she kisses the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle, I hope she gets slapped in the face by a gypsy, I hope her traveling pants don't fall apart, and I hope locals take pity on her understanding of their language and just break down and berate her in English.

Au revoir and bon voyage, you lovely Aussies!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Irrewind, 20100904: Smoking

I'm a recovering smoker (and given how far in advance some of these posts are scheduled, I hope I still am by the time anyone reads this). I started smoking sometime in late 1999 and have been actively trying to quit since sometime in 2000. There have been high points (including a 10-month span completely nicotine-free in 2006) and have been low points (pretty much anytime else) in my efforts, and I often found myself whining (or whinging, pending your location) about it here at Irreverent Irrelevance.

Anyway, in light of a friend trying to quit herself (or, at least, claiming to want to), I figured to post some of my observations - both personal and otherwise - concerning the topic.

"One Billion Tobacco Deaths? Big Whoop"
I don't mean that in a bad way, but seriously, one billion people? Over the course of a century? That's not too bad, if you ask me. In fact, it helps out another "problem" that the World Health Organization is worried about: overpopulation. Not only that, these smokers are dying from something that, in all likelihood, THEY WANT TO DO... Read More

"Cigarette Musings"
Strangely, I didn't have another cigarette until two days later, when I returned to my real job and suddenly became very depressed. I know, I know... that's not an excuse, but it's what happened, so shut up. Since then, I've had about 40 cigarettes... not a high number, given the usual number of cigarettes smokers light up in a day, but... Read More

"Off the Wagon... Again"
Of course, I can always use the excuse "but all people on set smoke" (see: "but all soldiers smoke" for my military excuse), but the fact of the matter is I just felt like it. Maybe I just felt like it because I usually hate Atlanta (I loved it this time) and needed some edge off, but it's probably just because I'm a fucking moron... Read More

"A Cigarette When You Don't Want One"
 Smoking's a crutch in so many ways. It's an excuse, an abuse, and a reason to drink more coffee. People trying to quit, like myself, look for anything negative or otherwise not ideal to serve as motivation to light up a smoke. I had a bad day, for instance, which is why there's a pack of fresh Camel Turkish Silvers on my desk. And, yeah, I hate... Read More 

"Marijuana versus Tobacco: A Great Irony"
I fully believe that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. I fully believe that smoking marijuana is bad for you. And I fully believe that both should be legal, regulated as little as possible, and available on the open market to be enjoyed wherever someone (someone being an individual or a business) provides a spot for them to be enjoyed... Read More 

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Infanticide Exchange: A Correspondence

There have been some very thoughtful questions and concerns about The Infanticide Exchange and it's probably a good idea to address those publicly. I'll do this again, I'm sure, but for now I'm just posting an email response (heavily edited... along with some extra snippets) I sent to an inquirer.

***

1. There are rules on The Infanticide Exchange concerning the difference between being "blunt" and being "insulting." Trust me, we'll come down on "dicks for dicks sake."

2. Artists of any genre (and you know this... just repeating for posterity) have thick skins. Back when I was actually pursuing writing as a career (and despite popular belief, I gave up on that about 3 years ago), I ran the gamut... got notes from everything stating "go back to school" to "blockbuster." Since I've moved to the other side of that fence, I often dole out similar notes. In short, if someone's even half-serious about attempting publication, they need to get used to it. Otherwise, they shouldn't even bother (a good friend of mine has one of his... more colorful... rejection letters framed on his mantle. It's quite insulting and hilarious... but he keeps submitting!).

3. The Infanticide Exchange is private because it's not for "bloggers." Exclusivity is not an issue, it's simply for people who want to get published and have a desire to protect their copyright without plots and characters flying around the Internet. We're not interested in helping out with The Tenth Daughter of Memory, Theme Thursday, Magpie Tales, or other creative meme entries. This is to review works that authors plan on sending out for print and paycheck. In fact, I'll be REALLY PISSED if someone submits on The Infanticide Exchange and I read the submission on their blog later.

4. The Infanticide Exchange is NOT a competitive site.

5. The way it's set up, you "try it for a day" before making any final decision. If it's not for you, then don't ask for an author invite. But there's no harm in looking.

6. And, by the way, nobody gets to sign up just to critique others. Put your stuff up, or shut your stuff up. Hence, "exchange."

Any other questions? Just ask!

Don't know what The Infanticide Exchange is? Read this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

You're Beautiful

"You're beautiful," her mother said the first time she held Elise in her arms. Elise didn't remember that instance, but one of her first memories was of her father holding her in his arms and telling her the same thing. She didn't realize that the fall she remembered happening just after he said it was a memory of his heart attack until many years later.

Her father had been a successful man and while he was alive Elise's mother was well-cared for. The estate wasn't insignificant, but a damaged worldview and a broken heart tore through its assets far too quickly. More a defense mechanism than a desire to marry someone new, her mother eagerly attached herself to any man willing to have a second date. Nothing ever came of the many men that entered and exited her mother's bedroom, and unable to maintain their lifestyle, Elise's mother was forced to move them away. Seeing her mother cry one night, Elise asked what was wrong. "Nobody wants me. I'm too ugly."

"No, you're not. Dad wants you."

It was by sheer fortune that their new neighborhood introduced Elise to the two best friends she would ever havw. Kyle, 11, and his brother Keith, 10. On appearance, they looked quite similar to each other - not quite twins, but one easily mistaken for the other in bad lighting. They were, however, as different as the cliché allowed. Kyle was an athlete - he excelled at baseball and soccer - who preferred studying history and grammar. Keith was an artist - a pianist, guitarist, illustrator, and writer - who preferred science and math. Dichotomies between each other and within themselves. Before she even learned their names they had both told her, in unison, "You're pretty." She doesn't remember which of them was her first kiss - innocent enough - because they happened so closely together.

By the time Elise was old enough to drive, she truly was what even grown men would call beautiful. It was a blessing in that it made her inadvertently popular. What was a curse was that she preferred to keep a small company of friends - mainly Kyle and Keith - and it caused many a rumor during her high school years. And, like all rumors, trouble followed. She was raped just after her 17th birthday by the junior varsity center-forward. "Relax, beautiful," he had said while tearing her skirt from her nubile legs.

Keith had found out what happened and he, along with Elise's mother, was present when the doctors ensured there would be no pregnancy. Keith's face was bloodied and bruised, a valiant unsuccessful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for Elise. His injuries would be revealed to be rather severe - a broken jaw the least of his worries - and he would spend much time undergoing reconstructive surgeries. During this period, Kyle wound up in juvenile hall after a valiant successful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for both Elise and his brother. Other than that, the center-forward was never punished. Elise's mother again moved them away, supposedly to protect her daughter. But taking Elise away from the brothers was the worst thing that could ever have happened.

Still, Elise and the brothers stayed in touch, usually on a daily basis. After high school, Keith surprised Elise on her doorstep, dressed in an Army uniform. On his way to becoming a warrior poet, he professed his love for her. Even to her surprise, she kissed him. "You know, you're beautiful," Keith told her. It would be the last time she'd ever see him. While away at college, Kyle called to inform her that Keith had been killed in action. She couldn't stop crying that night, but that didn't prevent her college boyfriend from subduing her - calling her his beautiful baby all the while - and forcing himself inside of her. The moment destroyed Elise.

She tried many times to visit Kyle, but he was usually away in Europe playing professional football - he had taught her, at least, not to call it soccer - and skyrocketing to fame and fortune. Truth was, he couldn't bear to see her, for he was in love with her, too. And the sense of betrayal was amplified in the shadow of a dead brother. He didn't even attend her mother's funeral.

Throughout it all, Elise lived a good life. She never succumbed to alcohol or drugs, despite the plethora of opportunities, and rarely gave herself away to men. Her beauty, though, combined with her sad and private demeanor, continued to foster her place as an object of rumors. "See that hot chick? She gives good head," was as commonly spoken of her as was, "Poor girl. Such a difficult life for one so young."

Unexpectedly, Elise killed herself on her 27th birthday. At her funeral were no family and few real friends. It was mostly a church full of false mourners - misinformed from years of lies Elise had no energy to dispute - secretly satisfied that Elise got what she deserved. The well-dressed and obviously wealthy stranger who approached the open casket would only prompt more posthumous tales of Elise's infidelities. The stranger limped - whispers abounded as to its cause, none knowing it was from an injury that ended a playing career.

Kyle, the only remnant from her childhood, places a hand on her cheek and leans in to kiss her, a tear from his eye falling gently on to hers. "Don't listen to them, Elise. You will always be beautiful."

*Learn more about Kyle... in Driven

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Infanticide Exchange

In an attempt to foster a bit more quality from Internet writers, bloggers Wings and JeffScape started The Tenth Daughter of Memory, a quasi-competitive collection of bored souls whose only prize for winning a Muse (the term for prompts there) is being able to pick a following Muse. And while the intention was not to concentrate on writing, it's sort of turned out that way (they've had non-writing entries and it's very much open to other types of creativity) and a general expectation has arisen concerning honest critical feedback.

Now, in an attempt not to scare off the scores of cowards lurking around The Tenth Daughter of Memory, a new blog is being created... one in which people who really want constructive criticism can come to get it: The Infanticide Exchange. Yes, your stories are your babies, and the intent is to try to kill them (because, you know, the ones that survive will only become stronger).

Anyone who already reads Creative Infanticide will know the philosophy behind the term, and anyone who wants in is welcome to join.

The blog is entirely private. It is invite only (so request an invitation), does not show up on search engines (nobody there is going to rip off anybody's work), and will be a great place for those who want to be writers to get honest, cold-hearted feedback (without the risk of dozens of "ooh, this is so good, you should be published" comments).

There are rules there, however. One is that your identity (name, age, email address, location, and phone number) must be shared with everyone else on the blog. Nothing within The Infanticide Exchange is anonymous, and everyone gets to follow everyone else's career aspirations and progress. Members will be activated as blog authors (we're limited to 100, but that shouldn't be an issue... and if it is, priority will be given to 10thDoM participants), and once something is posted, it cannot be removed. There are other rules, but you can learn about them there. Any violation (ANY) means you're kicked out of the group for good.

The Infanticide Exchange is up and running now, and the admins are Tom at Half-Moose with a Twist, Baino at Creative Infanticide, and JeffScape at Irreverent Irrelevance. Email one of them, and they'll get you started.

If you're willing to partake in a bit of baby-killing, that is.