Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oldest Trick in the Book

Burt shoved the gun against my forehead.

“Cute,” he said. “Very cute.”

“Thank you,” I stammered.

“Reese never mentioned you were funny.” He moved the gun to my chest and whispered in my ear. “I hate funny.”

“Me, too,” I said. “And clichés. I hate clichés.” Crap. Couldn’t stop myself.

Burt jammed the muzzle into my ribs.

“Are you saying I’m a cliché?”

“Just your dialogue,” I replied. “I mean, come on, ‘I hate funny.’ It’s like an episode of Rockford Files or something.”

“You want to see a cliché? I got a cliché for you. How about the dead guy with a big hole in his head?”

“You’re actually pointing at my heart right now.”

“Shut up!”

Ouch. He’d shouted that right into my ear.

“Listen,” I said. “Let’s just go back to Reese and talk to him. I’m sure he’ll understand if I can just explain it to him.”

“Explain it to me, funny man.” Burt took a step back, the gun still pointed at me. “Go ahead.”

“Well,” I began, casually stepping toward him, “it’s like this.”

Burt reflexively took another step back. And dropped into the open manhole.

“Whoopsie,” I said, grabbing Reese’s briefcase and heading off to the airport.

Turns out I’d lied to Burt. Actually, I love clichés.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Short Story Published - Marathon

I've had a new short story published over at Pow Fast Flash Fiction.

Please check it out here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Come On Down

I found this unfinished story and thought I'd post it here. It's instantly dated by the existence of Bob Barker. And it's, um, odd.


I’d probably feel more like Buck Rogers if I wasn’t wearing Homer Simpson underpants. And I should be toting a raygun instead of this Army surplus .45. Still, I am standing on another freakin’ planet, so I guess I ought to be thankful. But it sure would be nice to see a few green-skinned alien babes instead of this armada of walking toasters.

Later tonight I’m going to make a run for the greenhouse. If I can grab another handful of blue carrots without getting burned I should make it through the night. Now if I could only find another stash of bullets somewhere I could pop a few more holes into those bastards. They make a very satisfying sizzle when you pierce their shell and their insides start leaking out, all brown and oily.

But that burnt toast they spit at you stings like hell.

Stupid damned robots. Where the hell is Captain Kirk when you need him?

I haven’t seen Sandy in days. I don’t know if there’s some sort of robot leader, a giant Queen Toaster who rules this place, but maybe Sandy’s safe in their robot lair. If there is such a thing. A giant toaster oven where they all hang out and get refueled with slices of bread. They whisked her away on the second day. Whacked her with toast, herding her toward the horizon while I shouted and kicked every little bastard that crossed my path. But what could I do? They’re fast little suckers, though you wouldn’t think so to look at them. Soon enough I’d lost sight of Sandy, blinded temporarily by a piece of toast that hit me in the eye, sending me staggering back to this outcropping of rocks like some cowboy in an old western.

I only wish to God the cavalry would show up.

It’s all Bob Barker’s fault. I should have stayed on 55 cents but he made me feel like an idiot so I spun again, hit 45 cents and boom, I’d won a thousand bucks plus a bonus spin and, of course, a spot in the showcase which is where I really got screwed. I was the runner up and the first showcase had a new boat which the hotshot college kid bid on, forcing me to bid on the second showcase.

“Your showcase features prizes used by the lovely Heather as she reads the adventures of Buck Rogers,” Rod Roddy began as one of the blonde bombshell models strutted across the stage, a skimpy retro-fifties spacesuit getup enveloping her body, a prop comic book in her impeccably manicured hands. “First, they’ll find a comfortable place to sit in this new living room!”

A recliner, sofa and loveseat were all included. A bit on the ugly side, though, so I ended up selling the whole set soon after they arrived.

“Next, you can put down that comic and watch Buck Rogers on your new big screen TV!”

Okay, the TV was worth it. It’s sharp. But the rest of that damned showcase...

“And when you’re through daydreaming, why not have your own adventure by taking a trip--” the painted flats behind Heather slid open “--through the Dimensional Door! You and a guest will fly to fabulous Acapulco for a two night stay at the Acapulco Hilton where you’ll enjoy a luxurious beachside room at one of Mexico’s top resorts. Then you’ll be driven to the top secret mountain location of the newly discovered Dimensional Doorway! You’ll walk through the Door for a five-day excursion into an exotic unknown dimension. Newly approved for civilian travel, this safe portal to adventure will make this a vacation to remember forever!”

The lovely Heather’s teeth gleamed like some damned supernova.

“This showcase can be yours, if the price is right!”

And it was.

To start off, Acapulco’s a hole. Dirty and crowded with beaches patrolled by military guys, Acapulco was obviously in a big decline, in spite of the Door. Sandy and I never felt safe while we were there. In fact, we ended up hanging out in the hotel room most of the time, fantasizing about where we’d end up when we stepped through.

We’d heard the stories. And the rumors. The lovely Heather herself told me she’d gone to some sort of hot tub world on her trip through the Door. I chatted her up a bit while the end credits were rolling. Sandy later gave me a hard time about that, but she wasn’t in the studio for the big show. She’d gone to some golf course with her sister, leaving me to brave the game show alone.

Back in Phoenix, when the show aired, Sandy was quick to spot my post-showcase activity. Instead of reclining in my new living room, I made a beeline for the lovely Heather. You never know, I figured. I mean, Sandy and I weren’t married...yet.

The lovely Heather feigned interest, but only until the cameras stopped rolling.

I think I can pick off that four-slice monstrosity looming over the ridge above me. I’ve got one bullet left and if I can just be patient before squeezing it off, I should take him out. Then I’ll just have the greenhouse guard to worry about. It’s a pretty standard two-slicer that I winged a couple of days ago, so it should be easy pickings. I’ve got a really big rock I’m going to drop on top of it. Primitive, I know, but it should do the job. Then I’ll be in blue carrot heaven.

Last night I decided that this was all some sort of an Old Testament ironic punishment kind of thing. Payment for my sins. I starred in a play in college that’s got a scene with all these toasters stacked up and I used a golf club to beat the hell out of one of them. That had to be it.

But then I remembered that it was actually a typewriter that I demolished during the play. The toasters just got piled up on a counter and I ate a piece of toast. Granted, I had to eat the toast in a menacing sort of way, but I never laid a hand on those toasters.

An army of typewriters I’d understand.

Inside the greenhouse I choked down a few of the yellow beets then loaded my pockets with blue carrots. I didn’t even bother to try the phone this time. I’m sure I still have a red splotch on my ear from the jolt. There’s nothing like smelling your own flesh burning.

Who the hell rigs a phone to an electric current? What kind of Pavlovian nightmare have I stumbled into?

I’m starting to get a little nervous. I’ve been scanning the hills around the greenhouse for what feels like hours and I can’t see a single toaster. It’s all too quiet. I’m afraid they’re planning something big.

The problem is, this whole place is too quiet. Unnaturally so. No birds. No insects that I’ve seen. Just rocks and this greenhouse and an armada of robot toasters.

Sandy and I both got spooked the second we stepped out of the Door and onto the wooden receiving platform. We were excited, not knowing what to expect, as we stood on the Mexican side of the Door. It’s literally a door, an old wooden door like you might find in any old rundown Mexican home. The officials are all grins and “amigo” as they shuffle you forward. A soldier opens the door and in you go. I can’t help thinking that if we’d first discovered the door somewhere in America, we’d have at least painted the damned thing.

First there’s queasiness as lights flash and you get a real disoriented kind of feeling and then you’ve stepped onto a platform on the other side. Boom, just like that.

Once my eyes readjusted to the natural light, I expected to see, I don’t know, another reception committee of some sort. Maybe Julie your cruise director. Not a two-slice Procter-Silex with an attitude.

I’ve got one! I saw the bastard skulking around near the back of the greenhouse, so I just stood my ground and waited, finally jumping on it when it got close enough. I’ve tied it to the table leg using its own electrical cord as a rope. It finally stopped struggling about twenty minutes ago and now it’s just sitting there, staring at me. I shoved a couple of handfuls of dirt into its slots to disarm it, but I don’t think it had any bread in there anyway.

I’m going to try to adjust the setting on it, see what that does. Maybe if I turn it toward “lighter” it’ll get more mellow.

Oh, hell, I think I’ve killed it. It started squirming when I turned the knob, but then it sort of spasmed and then I got mad and started whacking it with the butt of the .45. It’s got some big ass dents in it. And I could almost swear it was shrieking.

Hell, maybe they’re not robots after all. Planet of the living toasters.

What the hell have they done with Sandy?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Remember Me

A short story from the archives. We once shot it as a video and I can only picture those two actors in my mind as I reread it now.

"Remember me?"

The voice stings me, penetrates my spine, but I simply continue tapping the carton in my hand, let a single cigarette drop out. I light it carefully, deliberately. The smoke trails from my mouth as I finally reply.


I can feel her straddle the barstool beside me even as I avoid turning my head.

"Since when do you smoke?"

I take a long drag, then finger my drink. "A while." The ice swirls slowly, melting amidst the warm scotch.

"I get it," she says. "It's a Bogart thing, right?"

I finally summon the strength to look her in the eye. Blue steel, solid, penetrating, taking me in, thin lips upturned slightly in that way she does so well.

"You look better with short hair," I mutter as I return my gaze to the watered down drink in front of me.

"Thanks." She snatches the fedora from my head. "You look better with long hair. And without the hat." She drops it onto the bar.

What was she doing here? Didn't those angry promises mean anything to her? I tried not to think, tried not to remember.

"I see your nose has healed," she says. "It's almost back to its normal size."

I finally flinch, my nose tweaking in remembered pain. It all starts flooding back. The words. The broken paintings. Her arm pulling back and my precious cordless phone flying toward me.

I force myself to take another sip of scotch, another drag from the cigarette during the long, cold silence. I will not look at her. I refuse to react. Not this time.

I feel the hand on my jaw, try to resist as she turns my face to hers. I meet her steel gaze.

Her mouth opens, ready to spit words at me, tear it all open, finally and definitively. The last word. A few months late, but what the hell. It was just something she needed to do, I guess. To finally close the book on her nightmare life with me.

But I beat her to it: "I have always loved you."

I pull my head away, down the remaining scotch and toss a few bills onto the bar before I make my way toward the front door. I hit the street running, realizing already that tomorrow, first thing, I'd have to buy a new hat.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

5 Things I Learned from David Lynch

Like most of mainstream America, my first exposure to the work of David Lynch came with the release of The Elephant Man, his first bigtime Hollywood production. Bankrolled by Mel Brooks, the film was striking and, except for the strange elephant-noise collage sequences, pretty straightforward in a narrative sense. It provoked a lot of discussion with my fellow high schoolers and I, for one, loved the use of black and white.

Next up was Dune, a film that came with a crib sheet handed out at the box office. I again enjoyed a lot of the visuals in the film and really dug the atypical soundtrack music by the (unfamiliar to me, because I am a nerd) rock band Toto. I’d tried to read the novel Dune several times in high school and never made it past, oh, 1/3 of the way into the book. I was therefore startled when nearly the entire film consisted of ideas and scenes that I’d read in the novel. I guess that’s why the SciFi Channel ended up doing a miniseries version years later.

Then came Blue Velvet. So disturbing. So strange. So wonderful. I loved it. And when I read (in Rolling Stone, trying to temper my nerdosity) a couple years later that Lynch was developing a new TV series, I couldn’t wait to see it.

Twin Peaks absorbed my thoughts and attention in a way no other TV show had since, I don’t know, Star Trek when I was a kid. And I couldn’t wait to see Wild at Heart upon its release. I’d become a Lynch junkie. I sought out his Industrial Symphony. I spent hours listening to Julee Cruise. I baked pies. I considered drinking 14 cups of coffee a day, as he reputedly did. I thought of ways to come up with images and scenes that were seemingly tangential to the main scope of a piece.

By the time Twin Peaks, well, peaked, I’d come down from my Lynch high and the Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me didn’t help restore the luster. I saw and enjoyed (if it’s actually possible to say you “enjoyed”) Lost Highway but I haven’t seen any of his other, later films.

But those critical years also taught me a lot about the nature of creativity.

  1. Read the Art Spirit by Robert Henri. This book was mentioned by Lynch a couple of times in interviews, so I sought it out. It’s addressed primarily to visual artists, painters, but there is so much in there that applies to the creative process in general. I gave away my first copy to another writer I thought would appreciate it. The takeaway message I got from Henri was about focus, about paying attention to the moment, of fully investing yourself in the creation of a work. Be there, let it flow out and don’t second guess and rearrange and fret. Let it flow. I should probably read it again soon.
  2. Diversify. Lynch is a writer, director, painter, sculptor and musician. He works in film, television, stage and galleries. He hits and misses. He doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket. He lets his muse tell him which way a particular idea should be expressed. He lets it flow. Again with the flow.
  3. Put a fish in the percolator. One of the strangest and most wonderful moments in early Twin Peaks comes from Pete, the odd fellow who first discovers the body of Laura Palmer. Pete offers Agent Cooper some coffee and, just as Cooper takes a sip, Pete warns him not to drink it – “There was a fish in the percolator.” It’s an image that makes you laugh and then makes you try to figure out why there would be a fish in a percolator. It’s nonsensical and, quite possibly, the first time that phrase has ever been uttered anywhere in any language. Lynch creates unique moments that, with one line, can define a character. Doesn’t this say everything we might want to know about Pete? Stuck with a scene? Stick a fish in the percolator. Or find out what the log has to say.
  4. Damn good coffee – and hot! Yes, this is more Twin Peaks, but that whole coffee and pie thing helped reinforce that idea of living in the moment, of trying to fully appreciate where you are and what you are doing. Sip that coffee, smell it, spit it out if it’s too hot. And don’t just eat the pie, savor it. And don’t forget to thank the person who brought it to you.
  5. Go to extremes. Some of the creepiest moments in an already creepy film come when Willem Dafoe’s head separates from his body in Wild at Heart. And a dog walks off with a hand.  And both these moments are actually funny. I remember laughing and laughing when I saw the film. It’s okay to go to absurd lengths very once in a while. Wrap a girl up in plastic. Go ahead and start your film by tunneling underground to see ants, thus making explicit the implicit idea of your film. Don’t be afraid. Go where you need to go.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Found Poetry, Almost a Haiku (Elvis)

If I have to kiss
another fat girl, I'll puke.
Where the hell are my pills?

Bright Lights, Big Teeth

A short short short story originally written circa 1993.

He didn't know which pain was worse, the usual hangover or the two small puncture wounds in his neck. Under the shower head he attempted to recall the wounds' source. It must have been the babe, the perfect brunette smiling at him through the haze of the club.

Damn, he was thirsty.

He offered her scotch when they left the dance floor, she offered him the ride of his life.

In the mirror, his pointy incisors reminded him again of his thirst.

Grabbing his sunglasses on the way out, he couldn't remember being this excited about going to work at the blood bank.