The Philosophy of Farts

Excerpt from the current WIP:

General Weaving nods. “Of course, of course. Please, take a seat around my chair. I will tell you all I know.”

We gather in the sitting chairs around his elegant one as General Weaving plops into place. He lets out a weary sigh, of both tension and relief, before looking to the three of us.

“Triumphant Three,” he announces. “I have a great deal of information to present to you. But first, I have to start with a question.”

“Go on,” I say.

“Why are farts so funny?” General Weaving asks. There’s a heavy pause, a still silence in the room for several moments, before I respond.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask. “Is everything in existence about butts and poop and farts and balls? You really are a version of Will because…”

General Weaving holds a hand up to halt me. “Rial instructed me to begin our conversation this way. It is how it must play out.”

“Do you have like, two hours, man?” Will asks. “Cause my mental list is already fifty items deep.”

“This Rial guy sounds…wacky,” Clare observes. “Dimension traveling, philosophy….farts…he’s got a wide range of thoughts and interests.”

“Yes,” General Weaving responds. “Rial traverses many realities. His essence experiences a great deal simultaneously. He has insights we can barely comprehend.”

“Insights about farts?” I ask.

General Weaving nods.

“I guess I’ll give it a shot,” Clare offers.

“Be my guest,” I say, crossing my arms.

“So why do we find farts funny?” General Weaving asks.

“Because they’re random,” Clare answers. “Unexpected. It’s funny even if they are foul.”

“Ah,” General Weaving says, nodding his head. “Random is funny then. What do you mean by random? Certainly, farts can released upon command.”

As if written by a cosmic script, Will lets loose a rancid fart, squeaking out from between his ass cheeks in a shrill yet thunderous fashion. He giggles like an moron before looking around for high fives that are never to come.

“I said random, you idiot,” Clare says, holding her nose and shooting him a glare. “It’s just gross when we know it’s coming. Wait…” she pauses, staring off into thought. “Yeah, that’s it.”

“Go on,” General Weaving encourages, seeming to know where this is going.

“Farts are most funny when they are unexpected. When they’re accidental,” Clare explains. “Like if someone is in public, or they ruin a dinner or embarrass somehow. It’s unpredictable and hilarious.”

“Why?” General Weaving asks, reading from the script in his mind.

“Because…” Clare begins. “Because the nature of a fart pulls us out of our illusions.”

“Like smelling salts?” Will asks, squeaking out another blast.

“No,” Clare says. “The illusion that we’re…in control. Think of it,” she posits. “We live in our civilized society, with rules, and manners, and protocols. We establish these, we practically worship them, but we can’t escape the biological. At any time, our carefully laid plans, our committed to rituals, can blow up in the form of a biological stinkbomb. A gross fart is an absurd reminder of our place in the world. We imagine and create so much, yet we have biological constraints.”

“That’s why dicks, vaginas, and buttholes are the subject of awkward and immature jokes,” I jump in. “Because they are the reminder of how the biological rules over us, despite the deep and complex nature of our souls.”

“Exactly!” Clare says. “The biological knocks us off our high horses. Reduces us to what we’ve always actually been. It’s funny when it happens to someone else because of this and horrifying when it happens to us.”

“So I’m being like, philosophical and thoughtful when I let loose a blast?” Will asks.

“No, you’re being a jackass,” I counter. “But what Clare is saying makes sense. It’s the same reason why people make jokes about death and have a dark senses of humor. We want others to acknowledge the inherent hopelessness that comes with being trapped in the biological, but we also want to have a moment of control. An instance of power, and what better way to do that than by…”

“Making a joke,” Clare finishes. “Mockery instills a false sense of power and superiority, even if for a moment.”

“Excellent, purely excellent,” General Weaving says, clapping. “The three of you are even sharper and more astute than I imagined. The fate of the universe is certainly in good hands.”

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Murderers Anonymous Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of a dark thriller which made the rounds with Big 5 Publishers. Didn’t make the cut. What do you think?

                                                                                           1

You don’t want to read about me.

Seriously, I’m not worth your time.

You’re still reading? Are you one of those types who has to leave a handprint on the wall because you don’t trust the wet paint sign? Or is it just a rebellious streak? Have you been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder?

Approximately 26% of Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from at least one diagnosable cognitive disorder. Spend some time researching your personality quirks on the internet and you’ll come up with a myriad of disastrous issues. Are you obsessive compulsive? Bulimic? Maybe you have ADHD? Social anxiety issues? Ergophobia? List some things about yourself – don’t worry you won’t be alone! We can give you a nice little label, some pills, and most importantly an excuse for all of your shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not discounting disorders entirely. We are all legitimately fucked up. Maybe I’m just saying the titles, categories, and treatments are misnomers. Maybe I’m saying narrowing the scope of what’s wrong down to one “condition” only serves to give us the illusion of control.

Or maybe I’m not.

Are you seriously still reading?

I knew a guy once; let’s call him Billy, who went off to Iraq fresh out of high school. Billy was pretty fucked up before he went to Iraq, a borderline alcoholic with penchant for fighting anyone who looked at him the wrong way. Billy had issues, but these combined with his miserably low high school GPA made him a perfect candidate to become one of Uncle Sam’s boys.

Three weeks into deployment an RPG struck Billy’s Humvee. He probably would have become meat pudding if it hadn’t been for his best friend in the unit, a poor son of a bitch named Joe Murphy, who happened to be standing between Billy and the Humvee when the grenade struck.

“So she lifts up the burka and she’s packing a dong!” Kind of sad, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you wish your last words were more flattering, and not the punch line to a joke about a goat-herder’s unfortunate run in with a transsexual Sunni?

I don’t know; who am I to judge?

What was left of Joe coated Billy. I’m talking searing hot flesh melting into his skin, gore forcing its way into his mouth, and eviscerated organs clinging to his body like parts of some grotesque ensemble.

I remember the party his family threw for him when he returned. I attended not because I was particularly fond of Billy; I just wanted to feel a sense of belonging. You know, the type of feeling that you get when tell someone you donated to charity, or ran a 5k to support cancer research.

You just do it so everyone thinks you’re a good person.

Everyone includes you.

Halfway through the evening, someone popped a balloon and Billy shit himself, put his hands over his ears, screamed at the top of his lungs, and ran until he tripped and fell face first into his welcome back cake, destroying it as he fell to the floor, face coated in vanilla frosting and pants soaked through with feces.

Approximately 7.7 million Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, typically resulting from an injury or severe psychological shock. Symptoms include loss of sleep, constant vivid recall of the traumatic experience, inappropriate emotional outbursts, psychological regression, and a dulled response to the outside world.

The last I heard, Billy was addicted to pain killers, had a constant twitch, was unemployed and blowing dudes for pills in an alley in Tacoma, Washington. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.

Does it matter? He’s fucked up, you’re fucked up, I’m fucked up.

And you’re still reading.

I knew a kid once, an imaginative, bright little boy who had the misfortune of being born into a low income family. Maybe his creativity came from his mother, a failed artist turned pot dealer who was more concerned with completing high school level pieces of art than she ever was with taking care of a son. Or maybe it was from his father, who so inventively named the belt he beat his son with “Mr. Slack” for reasons unknown.

“You’ve been a bad, bad boy!” Mr. Slack would say in a voice eerily similar to that of Mickey Mouse. “Mr. Slack is comin’ for ya!”

But honestly, the boy probably got his creative and unique perspective from watching his parents fuck. His first memories of this were from when he was four or five, but he thought that the experiences went further back than that. His parents had the odd habit of stripping down and boning right in front of him, literally dropping whatever they were doing to go at it.

“Oh let him watch! He’ll learn early!” his obese father cackled as he thrust his stubby cock into the eagerly awaiting mouth of his wife. The boy was startled by how his mother stared directly into his eyes the entire time, as if she was taunting him.

Or enticing him.

Maybe his parents caused his social anxiety and sexual dysfunction issues, but these were exacerbated by wasting four years of his life dating a stuck-up, cold-blooded cunt who left him during his most trying time.  

I fucking hate you, Kelly.

I love you, Kelly.

You don’t want to read about that boy. It will only make you a worse person. The baggage he’s carrying, well it’s just too much. Why don’t you go buy one of those commercial novels? You know, one of those feel good stories with the predictable arc where, despite the central conflict and the tension that arises with the love interest, the main character learns a valuable lesson, all misunderstandings are cleared up, the conflict is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is your final warning.

No?

Maybe you’re just as fucked up as I am.

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Ice Cream and Debauchery Chapter 2

Chapter two of a humorous sci/fi horror adventure!

2

“Ice cream and debauchery?”

“What?” I ask.

“Cigar and a soiree?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Rigatoni and a rave?” Will asks with a grin, flashing his pearly yellows in the process. He’s leaning on the counter across from me. We’re both wearing our K-Mart shirts, blue and embroidered with a red K. Will’s has an accompanying mustard stain that’s gone crusty. I’m on register and he’s on stock, but with how barren and desolate the store is, we both can afford to kill some time.

“C’mon you schmuck, I’m asking what you want to do tonight,” Will says.

“It doesn’t matter to me, man,” I reply. “Drinks, video games, whatever. I have nothing on the agenda.”

“Dude,” Will whispers, leaning forward on the counter. “I heard there’s a sweet new laser tag place in Johnson City. You can see the lasers shooting through the air. Pew pew and all that shit.”

I look Will in his (dilated) pupils and consider the prospect. A couple of twenty-five year old guys in sweat-stained t-shirts going all out on a group of middle schoolers, diving behind cover and screaming while firing a barrage of light beams in a retaliatory strike. It would be like Saving Private Ryan, but somehow more sad and desperate.

“Sounds great,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to shoot thirteen year olds.”

“Yeah, fuck kids!” Will declares.

“A-hem,” a voice rasps.

Shelly, our manager, stands with her arms crossed a few feet away. She’s a rigid stick of a woman, tiny but imposing, and she’s wearing her “you fucked up” expression on her face.

You’d know it if you saw it.

“Oh shit!” Will says. “Liam didn’t mean he actually wants to shoot thirteen year olds.” He pauses. “And I didn’t mean I like to…”

“Enough!” Shelly belts. “I don’t care what you two morons blather on about. Most of the time it doesn’t make a damn difference in this place but I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it while there were customers waiting in line.” Shelly extends a bony finger past Will, where two customers stand.

“Oh, got it, got it,” Will says. “I’ll go and…”

“Get the boxes from storage,” Shelly says. “I’m sorry folks,” she says to the customers. “It won’t happen again.” Shelly shoots me a glare before stomping off. Will looks to the customers tepidly, offering a shy smile and wave.

“The children are our future,” he declares before trotting off.

“Sorry about that,” I say as the man approaches.

Most people would be worried about being fired for such a transgression. Admittedly, when I first joined the K-Mart team, I was concerned about my performance. About being on time. About doing things the right way. About greeting every customer with a smile.

Now I’m tempted to tell half of them to buzz off.

There’s no threat of being fired. The place can barely keep enough employees to function. And how can they? Minimum wage pay, no pay increases per year, extremely limited mobility, the unsavory assholes taking out their daily ilk and strife on you as they berate you over the price of shorts, the limited variety of snack cakes, and the behavior of their own mutant children.

Okay, so they’re not really mutants.

Most of them.

The point is, who cares? Slap that on a bumper stick. Sell it to all the millennials. Nothing matters we’re all going to die, have some fun in the meantime.

“Excurse me!”

That’s not a typo.

“Excurse me!” The man in front of me repeats. He has a strange accent, or some type of slur. Regardless he sounds Scandinavian, or eastern European or something.

“Hello sir,” I say. The man before me is tall, and Frankenstein-like in his demeanor. His body moves in lurches, lumpy and improperly set. He’s like an action figure a kid’s twisted one times too many, his shoulders pushed upward and permanently displaced.

This isn’t the only odd thing about him. I swear to God (well, at least some iteration of the higher power that does exist) that this guy is the spitting image of Gary Busey. Well, Gary Busey if he’d gotten in a bar fight. His face is swollen and lumpy, though there are no sign of cuts or bruising.

I feel a strange vibration. A chilling tickle up my spine. And that’s not some revisionist history. I didn’t know what was up with this guy or what was bound to happen, but when you see a Frankenstein-like Gary Busey with a strange accent and those horrible horse teeth staring at you with corpse-gray eyes, you know something’s up.

Busey slams three objects down upon the counter. His hand shakes over them, as if he is straining to pull his arm back. To make his arm work. He used his other hand to grab his wrist and assist. I stare down at the three items.

A cucumber. An opened (and apparently bitten) stick of butter. A pack of Trojan Brand Condoms.

Again, the R’s aren’t typos.

“Therse are the things that are being bought togrether, am I being of the correrect?

“Excuse me?”

“Excurse?” Busey coughs. His breath smells like dogfarts.

“What did you ask, sir?”

His eyes roll in his head. His tongue falls out of the side of his mouth. Now, for the first time, I understand the true nature and severity of what I’m dealing with.

A meth head.

In a town as forlorn and economically distraught as Rosedale Pennsylvania, plenty of people hide from their problems with drugs and alcohol. There are no jobs, no opportunity, just failing businesses and disappointing people. I can’t blame people for hiding from themselves, for hiding from the reality of their lives. I’ve done it plenty, but the meth heads…they are a different variety. Often times they are…

“Dangerous,” Busey says, except he pronounces it “Dan Grr Us.”

“What?”

“I am dangerous,” Busey repeats, slobbering down his oafish face. “I am are buying what the humans are liking to be buying.”

I look down at the cucumber, the half-eaten stick of butter, and the condoms, and agree that the combination could indeed be dangerous.

“Yes, very dangerous. Um…do you have…a rewards card?”

Busey recoils like he’s been struck. His eyes go wide and he bears those impossible piano key teeth.

“Cardddddd?” he slurs.

I flick on my checkout station light to indicate I need a manager. Busey looks up, confused, and runs his hands through his stringy hair.

“The realms are of the threatening of to merging,” he rasps.

“Sure,” I agree. It’s at this point, the customer behind him, who so happens to be his cohort, approaches, and I shit you not, he looks almost exactly like Danny DeVito, except paler and covered in grease.

“It has been foretold,” DeVito says solemnly in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Sean Connery. “That the Keybearer would react in such a way. So said Lekreshi, Snake Lord of the Black Sun. The moment of triumph is upon us.” He babbles this as snot leaks down his nose onto the collar of his shirt, which I notice, is a women’s designer brand.

“Are we…larping or something?” I ask taking a step back from the counter.

“What are you name?” Busey shouts, drawing the attention of others in the store.

“Liam,” I say. “Liam Carroll.”

They freeze. They go rigid. Their eyes shoot wide open.  

“Uh, what…did I say?”

DeVito tilts his head back. He cranks it back until it’s pointing straight at the ceiling. Green gunk oozes from the side of his mouth as he lets out a guttural cry, sounding like some unholy union between a cockroach and an automotive engine.

“Sccrrrrunnnnnnnkcccchhtch!” Devito wails.

Busey opens his mouth as well, though that’s a bit of an understatement. His jaw unhinges and out from his gullet spring forth scaly, black as night tentacles.

It’s at this point the story gets weird.

The tentacles force their way from his mouth like a creature trying to escape his throat. They’re two fingers thick, and six of them whip out of his mouth, flailing violently. As the nightmare tentacles force themselves out, Busey stumbles around drunkenly, struggling to keep his head raised.

“The transfer is still young. The process is incomplete,” DeVito rasps, green gunk spilling from the corners of his mouth.

I stand back, mouth agape, and convince myself this is a dream. Yep, I’m asleep in my bed, the one spring near the bottom of my mattress wedged up against my spine. I’ll curse at it when I wake up but boy will I be happy to get out of this nightmare.

I pinch my cheek. I shake my head. Anytime, now. C’mon Liam, wake up and get back to your mediocre existence. Anything is better than this.

Busey slams his hand on the counter and squeezes the edge of it. There’s crunching as the counter gives under the force. The eel-like tentacles are pointed my way now, molesting the air and reaching out for me.

DeVito begins singing in a voice that comes across as static. His tone is deep and rhythmic, like this is some hymn or cultic chant.

“Sommmmmmmeboddddddddddy onccce tollld meeee the worrrrrrrrrld issss gonnnna rolll meeee,” DeVito belts.

“What the hell?” I whisper. I’m paralyzed, unable to move as the tentacles grow closer. This isn’t real. It can’t be.

“Blooorrck,” Busey grunts as the tentacles extend further from his throat. He’s leaning over the counter as I back up against the wall. The hungry tentacles whip and lash, seeming to grow excited as they approach my face.

“I ainnnnnn’t the sharrrrpest toooooooool in the shedddddddd,” DeVito continues.

“What’s going on?” A voice cries. I’m broken from my paralysis and see Shelly rushing towards Busey. She’s coming from behind and can’t see the appendages bursting forth from his mouth.

No, get out of here Shelly! Run! I want to shout the words but they collide in my throat, tumbling out as a stunted croak.

Shelly puts her hand on Busey’s shoulder, meaning to spin him around. When touched, he shoots up straight and rigid.

“Intruder!” he croaks through the tentacles. They vibrate with each word. He spins around to face Shelly.

Shelly’s eyes go wide and all color flees her face. The reality of the nightmare is made apparent to her fragile mind just before Busey strikes. It all happens in a blur, but I’ll never forget the expression engraved on Shelly’s face for that split second. It was absolute horror dashed with bafflement, all coated in a sick layer of acceptance.

She knew what was to come.

“Heyyyyyyy nowwwww you’rreeeeeee an alllll starrrrrrr.”

The tentacles lash at Shelly, stretching to impossible lengths and wrapping themselves around her. Effortlessly, they lift Shelly into the air, Busey craning his neck back as he holds her over himself. The tentacles slither over Shelly’s skin, wrapping themselves around her limbs as she cries out hysterically. Then, they find their targets, burrowing into her flesh like worms into wet soil.

Wiggle, wiggle, slicch, slicch.

Shelly’s cries are bloodcurdling.

Chaos ensues. People scream. Some pull out their phones and call the cops. Most run out of the store. Amidst this I’m frozen, heart barely beating, as I watch my manager be drained of blood. The tentacles act like pumps and I hear the suction as they slurp the blood from Shelly’s body, pulsating as they take in her essence. Busey’s eyes are rolled up in the back of his head in an expression of ecstasy as he absorbs Shelly’s lifeforce.

Shelly is fading. The color is gone from her body, and it looks like she is shriveling up, like the tentacles are a straw as she’s a Capri Sun pouch. The pain in her eyes is rich, and all life is fading from her eyes as her skin goes loose and…

“COWABUNGA MOTHERFUCKERS!” Will yells. I look over and see him flying in on a Razor scooter, kicking the floor with all he has to gain speed. He’s wearing a Chewbacca mask and holding a shovel. He hops off the scooter and it clatters to the floor next to DeVito.

“Hey now, you’re a rock star,” DeVito observes.

“That’s right I am shit-weasel,” Will shouts. He presses the side of his mask, which lets out an electronic Chewbacca roar, before he lays into DeVito with the shovel, striking him in the crotch.

DeVito doubles over, gasping for air. “A…all…t-that…gl-glitters…is….g-gold,” he sputters.

“ONLY SHOOTING STARS BREAK THE MOLD!” Will screams before bashing DeVito on the back of the head. DeVito falls to the ground, writhing and sputtering.

Will presses the side of his mask, letting out another Chewbacca roar as he shouts, “Can you DIG it, sucka?!”

Shelly is nothing more than a ragged corpse now, skin hanging off her bones, eyes sunken in and nearly falling out of their sockets. The tentacles discard her, tossing her aside like garbage. Busey turns his attention to Will, tentacles whipping and lashing his way.

He’s going to kill him. have to save my best friend.

Will approaches, shovel wound up behind him like a baseball bat. I fumble behind the counter for anything I can find. Anything to help my friend, and I throw the first thing I get my hands on.

It soars through the air and my aim is true.

The pack of menthol cigarettes connects with the side of Busey’s face. He winces, and one of the tentacles catches the pack before it hits the ground. The tentacles rip the pack apart and bury themselves into the cigarettes, sucking them dry just like they did Shelly.

Busey stumbles, going pale. He lets out a series of coughs and for a moment the tentacles go limp. He holds his head and tries to regain his composure.

The cigarettes. He must not have liked them.

“Ha,” Will shouts. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to smoke? Well, too bad for you because the only thing worse for you than cigarettes is a shovel….to….your…nads.” Will presses the button but the Chewbacca cry doesn’t come. He runs forward and swings the shovel, throwing his whole body into it. The head of the shovel connects with Busey’s crotch, letting out a loud thunk in the process.

Busey doesn’t crumple. He doesn’t even react to the shot. He still seems to be recovering from the menthols.

Fuck this. I can’t let Will go at it alone.

I grab a plastic bag and hop on top of the counter. Busey is hunched over so I have my angle. I jump onto his back and pull the plastic bag over his face. The tentacles are forced downward and hang limply from his mouth as I yank the bag and suffocate him.

“Hell yeah!” Will shouts as he brings the shovel back and busts Busey’s balls again.

Busey bucks as regains some composure. I feel the tremor of the tentacles as they shake and come back to life. I don’t think I’m going to be able to hold him.

Thunk! Will slams Busey in the dick again.

“Sterrrp….sterrrp crunching my balls,” Busey coughs. Just then he’s back, snapping up like a rodeo bull. The tentacles spring to life and cut through the plastic bag, leaving it as shreds in my hands. They launch forward and seize the shovel, yanking it from Will. They waive it above Busey’s head like a spoil of war, and I wonder if they’re about to bash me with it.

“Playground tactics!” I cry, letting go of Busey and falling to the ground. I crouch behind him, pressed right to his legs.

Will gets it.

He picks up the scooter with both hands and raises it above his head. Will whips it around in a circle, like it’s a flail, and the stand of the scooter picks up speed. The tentacles pull the shovel back like they’re going to swing it but Will is too fast. He charges forward and blasts Busey in the chest with the scooter, back wheel hitting him dead center. Busey is hulking and powerful, the shot barely sends him back, but I’m right under his feet.

“Werrrt therrr ferrrrk?” Busey cries as he falls backwards over me. There’s a deafening crack and wet thud as he bashes his head off a nearby display shelf. I scramble to my feet and witness the result of our attack.

Busey is out of commission, at least for the time being. He’s laying in a heap, head tilted against the shelf. A puddle of black liquid congregates around his head, his eyes rolled up completely. Some of the tentacles hang from his mouth like half slurped spaghetti, while others are severed in two. The bitten ones wiggle on the floor like fish out of water. After thrashing for a few moments, they straighten themselves out, and as if coordinated, slither towards me, each leaving a thick trail of black ooze behind.

“I….like….girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch…” DeVito rasps. Will and I turn back to him and see him rising to his feet. Boils have overtaken every visible inch of his flesh, and through their thin membrane is something contained in them.

Something wiggling.

They look like worms, or a smaller version of the Busey tentacles. Either way, Will and I don’t want to find out.

“I’d take her if I had one wish,” DeVito grunts as he gets back to his feet. “But she’s been gone since that summer.” There’s a pause, and then his eyes shoot to us, resolute with as much purpose as they are malevolent hatred.

“Since that summer,” DeVito snarls.

“Fuck this, let’s go,” I shout and start running towards the exit.

“That song blows, bro!” Will says before pressing his Chewbacca mask, letting out another valiant electronic cry before he hops on the scooter and pedals his way behind me.

We scramble out of the store into the cool night, the chaos of songs and shouts behind us and the calamity of sirens ahead a mere taste of the insanity yet to come.

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Ice Cream and Debauchery

Chapters 1 and 2 of an experimental new project, similar to John Dies at The End.

1

It’s not every day you learn you’re a link between worlds and a crucial peg in the ongoing struggle of good against evil, the fate of the entire universe hinging upon your actions.

In fact, I’d say it’s pretty rare.

At least I think. I can only speak for myself. The types of things I learn in a usual day are that the Doritos have gone stale, or one of our eight cats has pissed in my bed. On occasion I learn the Netflix subscription has expired, and sometimes my brother’s back hair and toenail clippings amass so much that they clog the shower drain.

Gross, right?

Anyway, that’s what you deal with. Typical everyday bullshit. The ancillary details that somehow become the staple of your life. And yeah, it sucks. My home smells like weed and my car is constantly on the urge of breaking down but at least it’s normal.

Acid spitting demons. Tentacle…things. Interdimensional beings with the power to phase out facets of existence.

Like what the fuck?

And I’m a boring dude. Forgettable. Stinky, even. I’m not a protagonist. A hero. I’m just a unkempt slacker with a mountain of student loan debt constantly paralyzed by crippling anxiety and self-doubt.

Okay, so that’s like half of my generation, but whatever, you get the point.

I can’t even remember to return my DVDs to Redbox, yet I’m charged with saving all of existence?

And who the hell rents DVDs anymore?

Okay, fine, fine I’ll stop wasting time. I’ll get to the point. It’s one that took me 3,500 years to understand (time’s not linear – it’s a long story) but here’s my best summary:

There are infinite universes. Infinite timelines. Infinite outcomes. You are just a thread in the entire cosmic rope of you. Also, there are demi-god assholes wagering on the fate of all of our lives. Most of them are dicks.

Get it?

Good. So we’ll start from the beginning, because this guide might be helpful to whoever comes next. Even if it’s another iteration of me. Or something.

Stick with me, I barely get it myself.

So all of this…the murders, the massacre, the interdimensional travel, it all started in one place. A place many of us think of as common, but that was destined to be the hallowed ground, the launching point for the ultimate conflict, the one that encompasses all of our lives and which very well could end them all.

We begin at K-Mart.

2

“Ice cream and debauchery?”

“What?” I ask.

“Cigar and a soiree?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Refreshments and a rave?” Will asks with a grin, flashing his pearly yellows in the process. He’s leaning on the counter across from me. We’re both wearing our K-Mart shirts, blue and embroidered with a red K. Will’s has an accompanying mustard stain that’s gone crusty. I’m on register and he’s on stock, but with how barren and desolate the store is, we both can afford to kill some time.

“C’mon you schmuck, I’m asking what you want to do tonight,” Will says.

“The same thing we do every night, Pinky,” I reply.

Will blinks. “Why are you calling me Pinky?”

“Never mind.”

“Do I have marker on my face or something?” Will wipes at his face.

“Stop it,” I urge. “I don’t care what we do tonight. Drinks, video games, whatever. I have nothing on the agenda.”

“Dude,” Will whispers, leaning forward on the counter. “I heard there’s a sweet new laser tag place in Johnson City. You can see the lasers shooting through the air. Pew pew and all that shit.”

I look Will in his (dilated) pupils and consider the prospect. A couple of twenty-five year old guys in sweat-stained t shirts going all out on a group of middle schoolers, diving behind cover and screaming while firing a barrage of light beams in a retaliatory strike. It would be like Saving Private Ryan, but somehow more sad and desperate.

“Sounds great,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to shoot thirteen year olds.”

“Yeah, fuck kids!” Will declares.

“A-hem,” a voice rasps.

Will and I look and see Shelly, our manager, standing with her arms crossed a few feet away. She’s a rigid stick of a woman, tiny but imposing, and she’s wearing her “you fucked up” expression on her face.

You’d know it if you saw it.

“Oh shit!” Will says. “Liam didn’t mean he actually wants to shoot thirteen year olds.” He pauses. “And I didn’t mean I like to…”

“Enough!” Shelly belts. “I don’t care what you two morons blather on about. Most of the time it doesn’t make a damn difference in this place but I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it while there were customers waiting in line.” Shelly extends a bony finger past Will, where two customers stand.

“Oh, got it, got it,” Will says. “I’ll go and…”

“Get the boxes from storage,” Shelly says. “I’m sorry folks,” she says to the customers. “Won’t happen again.” She shoots me a glare before stomping off. Will looks to the customers tepidly, offering a shy smile and wave.

“The children are our future,” he declares before trotting off.

“Sorry about that,” I say as the man approaches.

Most people would be worried about being fired for such a transgression. Admittedly, when I first joined the K-Mart team, I was concerned about my performance. About being on time. About doing things the right way. About greeting every customer with a smile.

Now I’m tempted to tell half of them to fuck themselves.

The rude mean half. I’m not some type of monster.

Not yet, anyway.

There’s no threat of being fired. The place can barely keep enough employees to function. And how can they? Minimum wage pay, no pay increases per year, extremely limited mobility, the unsavory assholes taking out their daily ilk and strife on you as they berate you over the price of shorts, the limited variety of snack cakes, and the behavior of their own mutant children.

Okay, so they’re not really mutants.

Most of them.

The point is, who cares? Slap that on a bumper stick. Sell it to all the millennials. Nothing matters we’re all going to die, have some fun in the meantime.

“Excurse me!”

That’s not a typo.

“Excurse me!” The man in front of me repeats. He has a strange accent, or some type of slur. Regardless he sounds Scandinavian, or eastern European or something.

“Hello sir,” I say. The man before me is tall, and Frankenstein-like in his demeanor. His body moves in lurches, appearing lumpy and improperly set. He’s like an action figure a kid’s twisted one times too many, and it looks like his shoulders are permanently pushed upwards out of place.

This isn’t the only odd thing about him. I swear to God (well, at least some iteration of the higher power that does exist) that this guy is the spitting image of Gary Busey. Well, Gary Busey if he’d gotten in a bar fight. His face is swollen and lumpy, though there are no sign of cuts or bruising.

I feel a strange vibration. A chilling tickle up my spine. And that’s not some revisionist history. I didn’t know what was up with this guy or what was bound to happen, but when you see a Frankenstein-like Gary Busey with a strange accent and those horrible horse teeth staring at you with corpse-gray eyes, you know something’s up.

Busey slams three objects down upon the counter. His hand shakes over them, as if he is straining to pull his arm back. To make his arm work. He used his other hand to grab his wrist and assist. I stare down at the three items.

A cucumber. An opened (and bitten) stick of butter. A pack of Trojan Brand Condoms.

Again, the R’s aren’t typos.

“Therse are the things that are being bought togrether, am I being of the correrect?

“Excuse me?”

“Excurse?” Busey coughs. His breath smells like dogfarts.

“What did you ask, sir?”

His eyes roll in his head. His tongue falls out of the side of his mouth. Now, for the first time, I understand the true nature and severity of what I’m dealing with.

A meth head.

In a town as forlorn and economically distraught as Rosedale Pennsylvania, plenty of people hide from their problems with drugs and alcohol. There are no jobs, no opportunity, just failing businesses and disappointing people. I can’t blame people for hiding from themselves, for hiding from the reality of their lives. I’ve done it plenty, but the meth heads…they are a different variety. Often times they are…

“Dangerous,” Busey says, except he pronounces it “Dan Grr Us.”

“What?”

“I am dangerous,” Busey repeats, slobbering down his oafish face. “I am are buying what the humans are liking to be buying.”

I look down at the cucumber, the half-eaten stick of butter, and the condoms, and agree that the combination could indeed be dangerous.

“Yes, very dangerous. Um…do you have…a rewards card?”

Busey recoils like he’s been struck. His eyes go wide and he bears those impossible piano key teeth.

“Cardddddd?” he slurs.

I flick on my checkout station light to indicate I need a manager. Busey looks up, confused, and running his hands through his stringy hair.

“The realms are of the threatening of to merging,” he rasps.

“Sure,” I agree. It’s at this point, the customer behind him, who so happens to be his cohort, approaches, and I shit you not, he looks almost exactly like Danny DeVito, except paler and covered in grease.

“It has been foretold,” DeVito says solemnly in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Sean Connery. “That the Keybearer would react in such a way. So said Lekreshi, Snake Lord of the Black Sun. The moment of triumph is upon us.” He babbles this as snot leaks down his nose onto the collar of his shirt, which I notice, is a women’s designer brand.

“Are we…larping or something?” I ask taking a step back from the counter.

“What are you name?” Busey shouts, drawing the attention of others in the store.

“Liam,” I say. “Liam Conners.”

They freeze. They go rigid. Their eyes shoot wide.

“Uh, what…did I say?”

DeVito tilts his head back. He cranks it back until it’s pointing straight at the ceiling. Green gunk oozes from the side of his mouth as he lets out a guttural cry, sounding like some unholy union between a cockroach and an automotive engine.

“Sccrrrrunnnnnnnkcccchhtch!” Devito wails.

Busey opens his mouth as well, though that’s a bit of an understatement. His jaw unhinges and out from his gullet spring forth scaly, black as night tentacles.

It’s at this point the story gets weird.

The tentacles force their way from his mouth like a creature trying to escape his throat. They’re two fingers thick, and six of them whip out of his mouth, flailing around violently. Busey seems in limited control of the tentacles, stumbling around drunkenly and trying to keep his head raised.

“The transfer is still young. The process is incomplete,” DeVito rasps, green gunk spilling out of his mouth.

I stand back, mouth agape, and convince myself this is a dream. Yep, I’m asleep in my bed, the one spring near the bottom of my mattress pressing up and poking me in the spine. I’ll curse at it when I wake up but boy will I be happy to get out of this nightmare.

I pinch my cheek. I shake my head. Anytime, now. C’mon Liam, wake up and get back to your mediocre existence. Anything is better than this.

Busey slams his hand on the counter and squeezes the edge of it. There’s a crunching sound as the counter gives under the force. The eel-like tentacles are pointed my way now, molesting the air and reaching out for me.

DeVito begins singing in a voice that comes across as static. His tone is deep and rhythmic, like this is some hymn or cultic chant.

“Sommmmmmmeboddddddddddy onccce tollld meeee the worrrrrrrrrld issss gonnnna rolll meeee,” DeVito belts.

“What the fuck?” I whisper. I’m paralyzed, unable to move as the tentacles grow closer. This isn’t real. It can’t be.

“Blooorrck,” Busey grunts as the tentacles extend further from his throat. He’s leaning over the counter as I back up against the wall. The hungry tentacles whip and lash, seeming to grow excited as they approach my face.

“I ainnnnnn’t the sharrrrpest toooooooool in the shedddddddd,” DeVito continues.

“What the hell is going on?” A voice cries. I’m broken from my paralysis and see Shelly rushing towards Busey. She’s coming from behind and can’t see the appendages bursting forth from his mouth.

No, get out of here Shelly! Run! I want to shout the words but they collide in my throat, tumbling out as a stunted croak.

Shelly puts her hand on Busey’s shoulder, meaning to spin him around. When touched, he shoots up straight and rigid.

“Intruder!” he croaks through the tentacles. They vibrate with each word. He spins around to face Shelly.

Shelly’s eyes go wide and all color flees her face. The reality of the nightmare is made apparent to her fragile mind just before Busey strikes. It all happens in a blur, but I’ll never forget the expression engraved on Shelly’s face for that split second. It was absolute horror dashed with bafflement, all coated in a sick layer of acceptance.

She knew what was to come.

“Heyyyyyyy nowwwww you’rreeeeeee an alllll starrrrrrr.”

The tentacles lash at Shelly, stretching to impossible lengths and wrapping themselves around her. Effortlessly, they lift Shelly into the air, Busey craning his neck back as he holds her over himself. The tentacles slither over Shelly’s skin, wrapping themselves around her limbs as she cries out hysterically. Then, they find their targets, burrowing into her flesh like worms into wet soil.

Wiggle, wiggle, slicch, slicch.

Her cries are bloodcurdling.

Chaos ensues. People scream. Some pull out their phones and call the cops. Most run out of the store. Amidst this I’m frozen, heart barely beating, as I watch my manager be drained of blood. The tentacles act like pumps and I hear the suction as they slurp the blood from Shelly’s body, pulsating as they take in her essence. Busey’s eyes are rolled up in the back of his head as he absorbs her lifeforce, a look of ecstasy on his monstrous face.

Shelly is fading. The color is gone from her body, and it looks like she is shriveling up, like the tentacles are a straw as she’s a Capri Sun pouch. The pain in her eyes is rich, and all life is fading from her eyes as her skin goes loose and…

“COWABUNGA MOTHERFUCKERS!” Will yells. I look over and see him flying in on a Razor scooter, kicking the floor with all he has to gain speed. He’s wearing a Chewbacca mask and holding a shovel. He hops off the scooter and it clatters to the floor next to DeVito.

“Hey now, you’re a rock star,” DeVito observes.

“That’s right I am shit-weasel!,” Will shouts. He presses the side of his mask, which lets out an electronic Chewbacca roar, before he lays into DeVito with the shovel, striking him in the crotch.

DeVito doubles over, gasping for air. “A…all…t-that…gl-glitters…is….g-gold,” he sputters.

“ONLY SHOOTING STARS BREAK THE MOLD!” Will screams before bashing DeVito on the back of the head. He falls to the ground, writhing and sputtering.

Will presses the side of his mask, letting out another Chewbacca roar as he shouts, “Can you DIG it, sucka?!”

Shelly is nothing more than a ragged corpse now, skin hanging off her bones, eyes sunken in and nearly falling out of their sockets. The tentacles discard her, tossing her aside like garbage. Busey turns his attention to Will, tentacles whipping and lashing his way.

He’s going to kill him. I have to do something. I have to save my best friend.

Will is approaching, shovel wound up behind him like a baseball bat, when I strike. I fumble behind the counter for anything I can find. Anything to help my friend, and I throw the first thing I get my hands on.

It soars through the air and my aim is true.

The pack of menthol cigarettes connects with the side of Busey’s face. He winces, and one of the tentacles catches the pack before it hits the ground. The tentacles rip the pack apart and bury themselves into the cigarettes, sucking them dry just like they did Shelly.

Busey stumbles, going pale. He lets out a series of coughs and for a moment the tentacles go limp. He holds his head and tries to regain his composure.

The cigarettes. He must not have liked them.

“Ha,” Will shouts. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to smoke? Well, too bad for you because the only thing worse for you than cigarettes is a shovel….to….your…nads.” Will presses the button but the Chewbacca cry doesn’t come. He runs forward and swings the shovel, throwing his whole body into it. The head of the shovel connects with Busey’s crotch, letting out a loud thunk in the process.

Busey doesn’t crumple. He doesn’t even react to the shot. He still seems to be recovering from the menthols.

Fuck this. I can’t let Will go at it alone.

I grab a plastic bag and hop on top of the counter. Busey is hunched over slightly so I have my angle. I jump onto his back and pull the plastic bag over his face. The tentacles are forced downward and hang limply from his mouth as I yank the bag and suffocate him.

“Fuck yeah!” Will shouts as he brings the shovel back and busts Busey’s balls again.

Busey is getting a little more life in him. He’s wheezing as he stumbles about, each motion with more force. I feel the tremor of the tentacles as they shake and come back to life. I don’t think I’m going to be able to hold him.

Thunk! Will slams Busey in the dick again.

“Sterrrp….sterrrp crunching my balls,” Busey coughs. Just then he’s back, snapping up like a rodeo bull. I’m nearly thrown from his body. The tentacles spring to life and cut through the plastic bag, leaving it as shreds in my hands. They launch forward and seize the shovel, yanking it from Will. They waive it above Busey’s head like a spoil of war, and I wonder if they’re about to bash me with it.

“Playground tactics!” I cry, letting go of Busey and falling to the ground. I crouch behind him, pressed right to his legs.

Will gets it.

He picks up the scooter with both hands and raises it above his head. Will whips it around in a circle, like it’s a flail, and the stand of the scooter picks up speed. The tentacles pull the shovel back like they’re going to swing it but Will is too fast. He charges forward and blasts Busey in the chest with the scooter, wheel hitting him dead center. Busey is hulking and powerful, the shot barely sends him back, but I’m right under his feet.

“Werrrt therrr ferrrrk?” Busey cries as he falls backwards over me. There’s a deafening crack and wet thud as he bashes his head off a nearby display shelf. I scramble to my feet and witness the result of our attack.

Busey is out of commission, at least for the time being. He’s laying in a heap, head tilted against the display shelf. There’s a puddle of black liquid congregating around his head, his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. The fall caused him to bite down on the tentacles. Some of them hang from his mouth like half slurped spaghetti, while others are severed in two. The bitten ones wiggle on the floor like fish out of water. After thrashing for a few moments, they straighten themselves out, and as if coordinated, slither towards me, a thick trail of black ooze left behind with each motion.

“I….like….girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch…” DeVito rasps. Will and I turn back to him and see him rising to his feet. Boils have overtaken every visible inch of his flesh, and through their thin membrane is something contained in them.

Something wiggling.

They look like worms, or a smaller version of the Busey tentacles. Either way, Will and I don’t want to find out.

“I’d take her if I had one wish,” DeVito grunts as he gets back to his feet. “But she’s been gone since that summer.” There’s a pause, and then his eyes shoot to us, resolute with as much purpose as they are malevolent hatred.

“Since that summer,” DeVito snarls.

“Fuck this, let’s go,” I shout and start running towards the exit.

“That song blows, bro!” Will says before pressing his Chewbacca mask, letting out another valiant electronic cry before he hops on the scooter and pedals his way behind me.

We scramble out of the store into the cool night, the chaos of songs and shouts left behind us and the calamity of sirens ahead a mere taste of the insanity yet to come.

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Writing tip

Don’t become too attached. You may need to slash those scenes you love most. Was that last bit for the reader or for you? It’s all a natural part of the process. Keep grinding.

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Suicide Jack Chapter 1

Chapter one of a completed novel that my agent wasn’t so enthusiastic about. I think it has some appeal though, what about you?

1

There’s classical music playing. This is Richard Landry’s first thought as his senses come back to him. Everything is dark, but his ears key in on the sound, which at first seems far away but then drifts closer.

Piano, he thinks. Someone is playing piano, and they’re damn good. He sees it in his mind, a pair of hands dancing over the keys, producing the notes in perfect rhythm. Richard almost feels himself swaying to the tune.

Then his cognition reboots.

Where am I?

He was going home, wasn’t he? He had put his keys in the door and opened it, stepped inside then…

Blackness.

And now, classical music.

His head aches, and he feels the pain pulsating from the crown of his skull. He tries to move and finds he can’t; his arms, legs, and body strapped down. He’s tied to a chair, or something similar.

What the hell? he thinks. He’d been too incoherent to understand the gravity of the situation before, but now the possibilities race to him.

Richard opens his eyes.

The beauty of the room before him is the first thing to catch his attention, a regal sort of elegance infused into the foyer. The floors are shiny, perhaps marble, and are a decorative royal pattern. There are two large antique mirrors on either side of the far wall, followed by a series of paintings, classical portraits and baroque market scenes. A crimson red Berber carpet directs his eyes to the staircase to his right, where it ascends the stairs and guides visitors to the second floor.

The music stops playing.

Richard looks towards the grand piano, where a figure is seated, wearing a sleek charcoal gray suit. The man stands up and speaks in a voice that is silky smooth, but void of emotion.

“Your hands are dirty, Richard.”

Richard looks down. He’s strapped to a heavy chair by a series of belts. He gazes at his hands.

They aren’t there.

Richard stares down in disbelief. Each of his arms now ends in a stump, stitched closed where his hands are supposed to be.

“Oh my god!” Richard screams.

“That was Rachmaninoff’s Number 2 in C Minor, in case you were wondering,” the man says. “Pardon me taking liberties with my interpretation, I must admit I rarely play pieces exactly as they are written.”

“Holy shit!” Richard screams. “Where are my hands? You took my hands!” He thrashes in his restraints.

“Relax, Richard,” the man assures, his voice even.  He reaches inside either side of his coat and pulls out two objects as he approaches. The man tosses the two items into Richard’s lap, and after a short bounce they settle into place.

Richard lets out a cry and bucks his hips upward, launching the hands from his body. They tumble to the floor with a thud. “Help! Someone help me!” he sobs, throwing his body as hard as he can in each direction.

“No, no, no,” the man says as he places a butterfly knife to Richard’s throat. “If you cannot behave yourself, we’ll have to make this encounter short.”

Richard stifles his cry, his body going rigid. The man looms over him and for the first time Richard looks at his face.

His eyes, Richard thinks. They are blue, icy blue, but so faded in color it is as if they don’t exist at all. They are pale, faraway, detached, yet in the moment, so intently focused on him.

“Wh-what do you want?” Richard croaks. “Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone about this.”

The man laughs. It has the vocal quality of a laugh but lacks the human element. “Detective Landry, this was about you and your dirty hands,” the man explains. “Taking bribes to misplace evidence? Selling drugs that had been confiscated to make your own side profit? Rather audacious of someone who is supposed to protect and serve the public.”

“I’ll stop!” Richard gasps. “That’s all it is? I’ll stop. I’ll give you the profits. I’ll give you any amount of money you want!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the man says, shaking his head. The blade digs into Richard’s flesh just slightly. “This isn’t about money, Detective Landry, this is about principle! What gave you the right to act in such a manner, to be above the laws you enforce on others? Do you think your job gives you that sort of power?”

“What?” Richard asks. “No, I just…I just needed more money.”

“Needed?” the man asks, grinding the blade into Richard’s skin. A trickle of blood zig-zags its way down his neck.

“Wanted!” Richard gasps. “I wanted it. And now you can take it from me. All of it!”  

The man is shaking his head again. “You acted as if there would be no repercussions. As if you had an inherent right to do as you did. I’m not here to make you change your ways, detective, and I’m not here for a cut of your money.”

“Wh-what are you here for?” Richard asks.

The man smiles and it’s the most horrifying thing Richard has ever seen. “Call me an agent of truth,” the man explains. “I’m here to show you that there’s really only one type of power in the world.”

“What do you…” Richard began before letting out a wet choke.

The man drags the blade across Richard’s throat, slitting it. Richard’s head falls forward and the world begins turning dark again. He spits up blood and shakes violently, and just before the world fades away, he processes one last thing.

The man has started playing the piano again.

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Imitates Art Chapters 3 and 4

Chapters 3 and 4 of the latest work in progress. Refer to the last post for the beginning. Let me know what you think!

                                                                              3

The words jar me from my own homicidal fantasy. The class looks to me with a sort of bored impatience, part of their minds wanting to have the basic questions answered but another part wanting to leave and get to whatever social event they have planned. I shoot a look to Gary, who, after my hand slam upon his desk is at his fullest attention, before walking to my desk and seizing the stack of syllabi. I pass one to the gentleman in the front row and they circulate around the class.

Losing one’s self in fantasies can be an effective way for an author to immerse himself in his craft. By imagining what I could do to Gary and the hysterical fallout that would follow, I become closer to my character, Thomas. By experiencing such a vivid fantasy, I can aptly describe such a scene in my book, shocking the readers and drawing them in further as they question what such an unstable character may do next.

Despite this course being pure research on my end, I’ve put effort in to make Writing for Commercial Publication a worthwhile seminar. I will cover the how to’s of the writing industry, including submissions to literary magazines, the ins and outs of writer’s groups, landing an agent for literary representation, etcetera, before getting to the actual process of writing. The students will be working on various short story assignments with peer editors, however the bulk of the course’s grade will come from a single capstone project, a fifty page sample of a novel or story they will be writing.

A few students linger as I dismiss the class early, though most of them gather up their supplies and hurry out. Two of the lingerers ask more questions about the syllabus and I put on a friendly face and answer them. Once they’re gone, there’s one student left in the classroom, studying me up and down, the smallest of smiles creasing her face.

It’s Melody Brooks.

“Should I call you Professor White or Dorian?” she asks. “I figure a famous author like yourself has an affinity for his namesake.”

“Let’s go with professor, and keep it formal for now,” I say.

Her face crinkles up in a smile. She’s of average height, thin but with subtle curves. Her face is soft in an angelic sort of way, with eyes matching the color and depth of her mahogany hair.

“I took this class because I saw you were teaching it,” Melody says. “I have to admit, you’re my favorite author, and by a long shot.”

“Why thank you,” I say. “That means alot to me, I try to really impact my audience.”

I stare at this beautiful young fan and wonder if my character would have an attraction to her. To her taut body and lovely features, her witty personality and fine taste in literature. Thomas would be cantankerous certainly, but he’d present well, being charming and alluring enough to catch a young woman’s eye.  He’d let her in, let her close, but then when she saw too much…

Well, you get the idea.

“You certainly make an impact,” Melody says. “In Step Ahead, I was floored by the twist! The fact that Detective Brannigan was so obsessed with finding the killer, that his entire career was staked on it, and it turned out to be him all along. It dazzled me that you were able to present such a disturbed character with a split personality so effectively.”

“It was really meant to show the duality of our nature. That we can be so driven to be one person while simultaneously hiding from who we really are, even though the evidence was there all along.”

Melody tilts her head. “That’s exactly what I took away from it. The duality of our nature, the traumas we’ve suffered through refusing to be buried away, coming out in such stark ways. I think anyone who has a bit of darkness in them can relate.”

“You’re far too kind,” I say. “My critics certainly don’t agree with you. It’s nice to hear what I do is resonating with some people.”

“Pardon my language but your critics are talking out of their asses,” Melody says. “When I saw that you were teaching a course my heart fluttered. You’re definitely my favorite author. Wow, I bet I sound like a giddy school girl.”

“That’s just being human,” I say, patting her shoulder. “We all have people we’re fans of, myself included. And who knows, maybe after this, I’ll be a fan of your writing.”

Melody blushes and shakes her head. “I’m more of a reader than a writer,” she confesses. “I have some interesting ideas, especially inspired from what I read, but while it all looks good on my head it just…”

“Doesn’t come out,” I finish.

“Exactly. I love what I think but hate what comes out.”

I explain to Melody that many talented authors hate what comes out in their first draft. The ideas may be there but the execution is lacking. The difference between good and great writers is the time they put into their craft. Like exercise, routine and repetition is key, and the more one writes and edits, the better the future results are.

King said the first million words are just practice, after all.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Melody says. “And I’ll keep practicing, though I have to admit,” she looks down, “I’m a little nervous to have you see my work. Having your idol review what you come up with? Daunting to say the least.”

Little things like Melody looking away, blushing, deflecting a compliment, they all say something about her without actually explicitly saying anything. Sometimes, the most subtle movement, gesture, or observation can illuminate a character more than their direct thoughts and feelings can.

This is called showing instead of telling.

“Don’t be worried,” I say. “This is about growth, about improvement, and every student in here will have room to do that. Why don’t you drop by my office during office hours tomorrow and we’ll talk about your ideas for the course? Stories, goals, ambitions, and then see how we can help you out.”

“Yes!” Melody says. “That would be wonderful, thank you so much!”

“Just trying to embrace my role as a professor,” I say. “Plus, I have plenty of time for such a wonderful fan.”

Melody beams. “Sounds great, I’m looking forward to it, and this course.”

We walk towards the door together and I speak lightly.

“Oh, so am I, Melody, so am I.”

 

4

I sit in my office and stare out the window, a light mist drizzling down from a milky gray sky, pattering my window with dots of rain. It’s a breezy fall afternoon, thick layers of clouds blanketing downtown Drayton in a scene many would describe as dreary but one that I find serene. The view is limited, encompassing only the sides of a few buildings, but is pleasant enough, with a view of the street below, abound with students hurriedly crossing en route to their next destination.

My office is small, boxy, but with enough room for a bookcase stocked with some classics, the works of Dostoyevsky and Poe mingling with more contemporaries such as Palahniuk, Vonnegut, and King. Besides that it is relatively bare, a small plant on my desk and my diploma hung up on the wall, giving the office some semblance of authenticity.

I think about Melody Brooks and find it convenient that she wandered into my life on the first day of class. I jot down notes of how she can fit into my story, potential roles for her to fill during my time at the university. From protege to lover, the options seem ripe with possibility, all worthwhile research to be incorporated into my masterpiece.

Notes and outlines are important to some writers in order to provide a framework, a sense of organization for the entire novel. By laying out plot lines and character development, the author can layer what happens and present the story in an intriguing, intentional manner. By listing Melody’s character traits (attractive, creative, bright, fan of dark novels) I can realistically portray her, creating a believable character progression, especially if/when her weaknesses (naivete, amourous) are exploited, pulling her into a nightmarish situation right out of her favorite books.

It’s almost too good to be true.

I’m laying out how she may be roped into all this, scrawling notes in every direction, when I’m interrupted by the sound of my office door opening and someone stepping inside.

I look up as the interloper closes the door behind him. He stands with a firm yet amused look on his face, blue eyes dancing with a condescending sort of mischief behind his wire-frame glasses. His salt-and pepper mustache is thick, matching in color with his hair, and proudly stands above his lips as bold statement against all things fashionable and attractive.

“Dr. John Halstrom, what a pleasant surprise,” I say.

“Dorian White, I must say, I never expected to see you back here,” Halstrom says with an irritating grin.

“All thanks to your tutelage,” I shoot back. His expression barely creases.

“I always thought it would be Sam Hamilton who’d hit it big in writing,” Halstrom says. “You remember how vivid and detailed his short stories were, and he was a hit with the campus literary magazine. He’s just an editor of a small online magazine now, but look at you. Just goes to show how fickle the public is. Never can quite tell what suits their tastes.”

Apparently good ol’ John hasn’t changed a bit since he was my professor for three courses during my time at the university. As crass as he is dim-witted, John Halstrom is the type who believes his Ph.D in literature means he has the utmost authority in declaring what writing is good and which is trash. He held that air of superiority throughout my time as his student, putting down my work at every possible turn. He ridiculed my dark voice as being edgy for edgy’s sake. He said my work lacked substance and authenticity, that my style was too minimal, my writing was mostly choppy, and he called my tendency to throw in single line paragraphs gimmicky, attention-grabbing at best.

The audacity.

“I’ve been fortunate,” I say. “Readers were eager for a new dark voice, one that spoke to what lurks in the inner recesses of their minds. It’s going well, I almost can’t believe how far I’ve come since I was a clueless kid sitting in your class. How have you been? Has your writing worked out at all?”

Halstrom’s face scrunches up in a way that makes him look like he’s trying to eat his own mustache. His voice is gruff yet wet, like someone recovering from a long standing cold. “Oh, it’s going well enough. A few pieces published here and there, you know, I’ve built quite a name for myself with my short stories, particularly those in the fantasy genre. Even a few award nominations. The public, as you know, isn’t always ready for true work, actual artistry, and often accepts whatever recycled trash the big publishers throw at them.”

Halstrom is bitter because he’s never been able to break into the big time, despite his repeated attempts at publishing novels through the Big Five publishers. He’s published two through small indie presses, but both were panned by readers, hosting pitiful reviews on Amazon. The man writes like an academic, as if there’s a defined system and structure to a good novel.

He leaves out the soul.

“Glad to hear you’re finding your own sort of success, professor,” I say. “The writing world is truly a struggle. Do you have an agent? I could help you out with that, put in a good word.”

Color rises in Halstrom’s face. “Oh, no need. I haven’t tried in a while but I’m sure once I finish my next project I’ll have a few interested.”

In order to land a novel with mainstream publishers an author needs to acquire a literary agent. Major publishers will not review a manuscript that does not have representation. By sending out a query letter (usually two-hundred and fifty words summarizing the novel and your literary accomplishments) an author earns the right to wait anywhere from one day to one year for a response, at which point the agent will review a sample of the work or the full book itself. After another few months to a year, the agent may offer representation. Then, once submitted, if the book is accepted by an editor, it can be another one to three years before it is released to the public.

Halstrom hasn’t landed an agent.

99% of those who try don’t.

“I’m sure you’ll find your success,” I lie. “How are you holding things together at the university? I imagine the English program is top-notch, as always.”

“We have standards here,” Halstrom says. “Which is why I’m surprised they were so eager to bring a B student on board. I recommended to the chair that we didn’t hire you. I figured you were only in it for yourself.”

I laugh and shake my head. “Are you holding grudges, John? Because I told you off a few times back when I was a student? Because I followed my dreams? I understand your hesitancy to bring me aboard, especially with the content of what I write, but you can’t decry my qualifications.”

Halstrom laughs, a nasally tone carried by condescension. “Your writing is inauthentic. There’s no meat to it, just whatever gross, heinous thing your mind can create on a whim. It doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel deep, yet with your shocking subject matter and freshman level philosophy you’ve ensnared the attention of the nation.”

I walk over to Halstrom offering my hand. When he looks at it I kick his leg out from under him and he falls forward, bashing his head off the corner of my desk. The wet thunk that emanates sends thrilling sensations throughout my body. I grab him by the shirt collar and scruff of the neck, and as he lets out cry I drive his head into desk again. Blood oozes from his gash onto the desk, dripping down to the floor. Halstrom’s cry is shallow as I pull him back and slam his head into the corner again. The sound is wet and thick, like a pumpkin slammed to pavement.

This is called a simile.

I bash his head again.

Then again.

As the splats rise in volume his cries diminish. Soon all I hear is wet thumping with the occasional crack splintered in. Fluid drips from his head down onto my hand, coating it in a sticky mess. His head goes concave and rubbery bits of brain leak out of his skull and onto the floor.

I bash his head again.

Then again.

This is called repetition.

I drop his limp form to the floor. He collapses in a heap, and I feel a sense of vindication. The lowly maggot who had criticized me has been put in his place. He found out just where he belonged before I asserted my power over him.

Yes, this is exactly what a psychopath would think.

I make note to add this type of scene to my book.

“I’ll take that as a challenge, John,” I say, breaking from the daydream. “I will rise to the occasion and show my students can take away something meaningful from this.”  

Halstrom chortles. “Now you’re really writing fiction. But if you need to know how these sort of things are done, let me know. Assignments, grading rubrics, guest speakers, I know the ropes and I can help make sure the course is done professionally.”

I smile. “Actually, that sounds great. I’ll make a list of things I need shortly. I appreciate the help.”

Halstrom’s eyes are narrow slits in his bowling ball head. “Of course. I’ll be around, keeping an eye on you if need something.”

“Thanks John. If you’re free we should catch up more, get coffee sometime.”

Halstrom nods before turning to take his leave. “Yeah, possibly,” he mumbles as he shuffles towards the door.

“Bye,” I say, and he closes the door behind him.

The fantasy has inspired me to write Halstrom as a character. In a transgressive novel, where the main character is an anti-hero, an antagonist can be used to help the reader sympathize with the main character. This type of person is rude, dismissive, and overly assuming with few or no redeemable traits.

I spend another twenty minutes finishing my notes about him and Melody. Both will add great layers of depth to my story and I’m satisfied with the progress. I’m really beginning to flesh things out, and when I grab my materials to leave for the day, a smile adorns my face.

As I’m exiting St. Thomas Hall, I feel a strange sensation wash over me. Call it Deja Vu, but a preliminary sense, like I’m already experiencing the impending storm. I know something is going to happen, something big, yet I am already going through it. I’m going somewhere, and it’s dark and wild, unexplored and uninhabited. I shake the feeling off as I exit, but make a note not to forget the strange sensation.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, after all.

 

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