Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hell or High Water

The writing challenge continues from Indie Ink. You know the drill: we writers swap challenges and write about them--we have until 11 p.m. on Thursday evening to meet these challenges or bad things happen! New contestants are always welcome to join by going to the link and signing up!

Welcome to my week 7. As always, feel free to leave comments, suggestions, and other neuronically-fired feedback either in the comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook!

Week 7.
My Challenger: LifenBits
My Challenge: You take the train from California to Seattle and have to deal with a tsunami.
Who I am Challenging: My Plaid Pants
What I Challenged Them With: Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "Pulling Heaven Down" by Blue October. Tell me what your favorite song is, what it is about the song that speaks to you... You could even incorporate this into a fictional piece if you so desire.
Previous Challenges I have answered:
[Week 1.] [Week 2.] [Week 3.] [Week 4.] [Week 5.] [Week 6.]

Hell or High Water

Earthquake in Hawaii--Depressing... Click. Ugh... Economic Depression Still On... Click. Woo-hoo! Another "behind-the-scenes-story" about the royal wedding--puh-leeze!

Eric snapped the laptop shut and left his gaze drift out the window, feeling more than listening to the soothing rhythm of the train as he stretched out his legs and rested his neck on the blue-patterned seat.

Click-click... Click-click... Click-click...

Like a heartbeat, he thought. Twelve hours in, and he was pretty sure they had to be over the Oregon state line by now. He never quite realized until now just how far he had moved when he left home in Seattle for the great life in L.A. How long had it been since the space needle graced his horizon? Fifteen--no, wait. Sixteen years?

Sixteen years... He wouldn't even be thinking about this now were it not for the blasted phone call. Fucking technology. Intrusive as fuck, really. Gone were the days where months and years could roll by, noting nothing more than the changing seasons that affected your world and only your world. When what the neighbors were up to was big news.

He let his gaze drift upward, taking in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains... Were they even called the Rocky Mountains here? Or are these the Cascades...?

When mountains just used to be mountains--those were probably the days. Except for that nasty Donner party incident, of course.

"They're certainly beautiful, aren't they?" a wrinkled old lady one seat away practically whispered.

"Excuse me?"

"The mountains. Every year I make this trip, and every year, they just seem so much..." She shook her head as though there weren't enough words.

"Mountain-ier?" He suppressed a smile. His girlfriend had recently told him his least attractive feature was when he laughed at his own witticisms--especially when they weren't all that witty.

But she cackled like a witch finishing a nasty revenge spell. "My, aren't we the funny one!" She clapped her hands in delight. "Yes, 'mountainier' is an adequate word!" Her shoulders continued to jump up and down in now-silent laughter.

He tugged at his shirt collar. It wasn't that funny. He smiled and nodded, then turned his attention away toward the view out the window once more.

"You see, this was my honeymoon," she continued.

Sweet Jesus, not one of these people... Eric pulled his polite smile out of reserve just as his head nodded back toward the old bird. "You don't say?" Your husband was El Cheapo?

"Yes. Seventy years ago, that was. Of course, the train wasn't this fancy, or this fast. But then again, the sleeper cars were so much nicer, and the dinner cars? Oh, even New York City restaurants today couldn't begin to compare!"

Eric nodded again, turned away, put the smile away, and prayed for that to be the end. Aren't old people supposed to be sleeping on train rides? Or--in a home?

What if she escaped from her home! He glanced sideways, but didn't see any kind of hospital bracelet dangling from her wrists. But he knew he saw that on an episode of Golden Girls once. Or was it Designing Women? The fact that he was even thinking this was proof he really needed to take the remote control away from Savannah more often. It was his big screen television, after all. The one he went to law school for, was in debt up to his eyeballs for, why he worked 12 hour days, six days a week for. What did she do all day? Yoga? Granted, she had a killer bod, but that was certainly not work. Not the kind of work that earned you the remote control on Sundays, that was for damn sure.

"--and he said, 'Mildred, it's okay, everyone gets a little travel sick at times!' Oh, how I laughed. So that's when I told him we were pregnant! Right here on this very same train route!" She sighed the sigh of the old and senile and content. "That was our third time on this trip, you see."

"Hmm." There, he thought. Get the hint, grandma--not in a chatty mood here, trying to sleep and relax!

"So, Mr...?" the old gecko hinted.

"Oh, sorry. Eric. Eric von Grueben." He held out his hand which she gingerly accepted and shook.

"Mildred Pierce. 'Von Grueben,' eh? Sounds so dignified! What a glorious name!" Mildred replied, before starting up that insane sounding laughter once more. "I, well, before I was a Pierce, I was a Buttz. Can you believe it? Mildred Buttz. Oh, how I loathed my father for years for that name!"


"But really, how mad could I stay at him? So I decided to be mad at my grandfather instead!" More laughter.

Someone overdosed on their happy pills this morning. Eric shifted in his seat, becoming more uncomfortable the more she babbled.

"Are you traveling alone?" Mildred queried. "Such a trip up the coast is always best enjoyed when in good company, I always say."

"Yes, hmm. Would you excuse me for a moment?" Eric started down the aisle, toward the dining car. If you can't beat 'em, go drink. That's what I always say.


As he closed the door behind him, shutting out the bustling noise of the wind created by the speed of the train, he noticed something odd. Everyone was glued to the television sets over the bar area.

What the... He pulled up a stool and flagged one of the bartenders. "Ginger Vodka, please. What's going on?" he then asked, motioning toward the television sets.

"Huge earthquake, man!" the young man replied as he broke out a glass and some bottles. "They say there's a mega-tsunami heading right for the west coast!"

Eric laughed in spite of himself. "Oh, okay then." He left a ten on the counter and ambled closer to the screen behind the gawkers.

"...and U.S. officials are warning the entire west coast, particularly those areas north of Bandon, Oregon, all of Washington State, Vancouver Island, all the way up through the Alaskan pan handle. Get to higher elevations..."

"Oh, come on. That kind of stuff--"

"Shh!" one of the others turned, finger to lips, with an angry stare.

" least a 40 foot wave is expected to hit around 10 a.m. Pacific time, starting at it's most southern point near the Oregon/California border..."

"Whatever," Eric said to no one in particular. Tsunami's on the U.S. coast--bah! He took a seat at the table opposite the bar, once again taking in the mountainous view.

"Those, young man, are the Klamath Mountains," Mildred stated as she sat down across from him.

"Oh, uh..."

"I remember one year the train broke down right about this very spot. So Walter and I decided right then and there to go see that big waterfall they have. After all, no one knew when the train would be repaired anyway, so we hired a driver to go to the park, found a hotel. I think that was the first--and only--time we didn't make it all the way to Mount Vernon. That's where his family originally hailed from, you see."

"Uh, yeah..."

"But we had fun nonetheless!"


"Mr. von Greuben, could I trouble you to get me a Tom Collins?"

"A wha-- Oh, yes, uh... Tom Collins?" Eric sat up and walked the three feet to the other side of the dining car and flagged down the bartender from the television once more.

"It's not often you see a young man having a drink with his mother," he replied. "Very sweet, if I do say so."

"Oh, no," Eric replied. "She's not--"

"Hey, Gabe! Look at that!" shouted someone, and the bartender turned to stare at the television. "Sweet Jesus..."

Eric also turned. Video images were flashing across the screen of what had apparently used to be Hawaii.

What had used to be Hawaii...

"Holy fuck..." he muttered.

"Oh, Mr. von Greuben?"

Eric waved in her general direction, never turning to look, a dismissive gesture if he had ever given one before. The current video was being taken by helicopter, showing the spewing volcano of Hawaii as it apparently was being deluged by masses of water... you know, Mauna Kea, Hawaii's tallest volcano, which was thought to be quite dormant, stood at 13,796 feet above sea level. It unexpectedly and terrifyingly blew it's top off today, so who knows what the elevation is now, but the giant crater it has left is being pummeled by the waves the volcano itself created when at 5:15 pacific time, the volcano erupted with a ferocity...

"Mr. von Greuben."

He still didn't turn to look, but as he went to wave at her dismissively once more, he ended up slapping her in the face. "Oh, wha--"

"Eric Stiles von Greuben!" came his full name from the lips of this old, withered stranger.

And he turned to look.

"How--" Mildred Pierce no longer stood before him--well, it was still Mildred Pierce, only it wasn't Mildred Pierce... His brain scrambled and reached for a sane, reasonable, logical way to rectify this conundrum and arrived at complete failure in nanoseconds. "Wha-- I mean, how--"

"Time is of the essence, Eric. And before that time arrives, I'd like my Tom Collins! It's been ages since one of those graced my lips. Now, chop-chop!" Gone was the sweet my-life-was-so-sweet-and-boring old lady, and in her place stood a listen-or-die old commando.

"I think that's the sweetest thing you thought of me all morning," Mildred said as she gently took the glass from Eric's quivering hands.

"I--" Eric stammered.

"Sit down, you spoiled brat." She gestured toward the chair opposite herself, then smoothed her own skirt beneath her legs as she sat herself. She leaned forward and, with a straw, began sipping on her drink, eyes closed, lips forming a smile as they sucked down the alcohol. "Whew!" she replied, eyes wide, as she released the straw from her mouth. "They certainly make them stronger these days!"

Eric plopped down across from her as his brain began to function once more. "Who are you, and how do you know my name--my full, actual name?"

"Oh, Eric... Let me try to summarize this quickly and neatly. I'm what you call your Last Chance Angel, or, as I like to say, your Hell or High Water Angel." She laughed, slapping her withered hands on the table. "Very appropriate for today, I think. Oddly enough, I'm also your grandmother on your mother's side, but I passed on before you came along. Shame, seeing as how I probably could have whipped some manners into you before this time came." She sighed and brought her glass to her lips.

"You're a loon," Eric stated flatly. "Why do I always get stuck on trips with the batty ones?"

She stared balefully at him over the rim of her glass, her lips never leaving Tom.

"I'm going back to my seat. Good-bye, crazy."

"Eric. Listen carefully now. In exactly half an hour, that wave is going to come crashing up the Oregon coast. It will easily travel up through the Rogue River canyon, wiping out every city and town--and train--it comes across."


"Twenty-nine minutes. That's how long you have to make your case."

"Excuse me?"

"Why you should continue to live."

"I'm going back to my seat. Don't follow me, you old bird."

She waved. "Last chance, Eric. Another Tom Collins, please, barkeep."


He kept glancing at his watch. Couldn't help it, really. Hell or High Water Angel--Ha!

But if it were true, he had just under 10 minutes to live now.

Eric wiped the sweat from his brow, glanced at the Rolex again. He picked up his laptop. Just send a quick email to Savannah--tell her to enjoy the big screen. He quickly slapped it shut again. A morbid, from beyond the grave email? Was he really buying into this crap?

Why did he always get stuck with the crazies on these trips?

"I thought I was a 'loon'," Mildred said, setting herself down beside him.

"Why me? Why aren't you torturing some other poor sap?"

"That sounds like 'buying into this crap,' if you were to ask this loon," she replied, her eyes looking past him toward the mountain range beyond the glass.

"That's a nice parlor trick, pretending to read my mind." He wiped his sweaty palms on his pant legs, then ran his hands through his hair. "You could probably make a few bucks doing that back in the dining car, you know."

"Oh, Eric," she sighed. She folded her hands in her lap and stared at them intently. "What can I say? I don't like this anymore than you do. But the fact remains, you need to tell me, truly and honestly, why your life should be spared this oncoming disaster!"

"Why don't I see other people having these conversations with other passengers, eh? If this is true, doesn't everyone get a chance to say why they should live? And, anyway, why should anyone have to die! This--this is preposterous!"

She patted his leg. "Let me tell you a story," she said, "to help explain this a bit. Now, you see, there was once a man who had three daughters: Victoria, Veronica, and Virginia."

"Are you kidding me with this?"

"Hush. Now, all three girls were special in their own way. Victoria could play the piano like nothing doing. A genius on the keys. Veronica had a sweet, gentle soul and a way with animals. Could even heal the warts on a toad. It was whispered it was witchcraft, but it wasn't. And lastly there was Virginia. Slow, stupid, 'touched,' I think was another word for it. She wasn't stupid, mind you, just a bit slow, but more talented than the other two sisters combined--she was just never given the chance, and she had no desire to outshine her sisters, such was her deep and abiding love for them...

"Anyway, disease struck the family--the entire town, honestly. The doctor came to their home, but had only enough medicine to save one of the three little girls. The father was torn apart, wracked with guilt and grief. After all, how can one choose? They were all three his daughters! But choose he had to, and choose he did."


"Well?" Eric asked, trying to suppress his exasperation.

"Well what?"

"Which daughter did he choose?"

"Eric, that's not the point."

"What?! You're telling me I only have three minutes, give or take, to live, to tell you why I deserve to live, like I'm on trial or something, and you want me to solve RIDDLES?!"

"Sometimes you remind me so much of your father." She sighed. "Listen, the point is, sometimes we are given seemingly impossible choices. Call it fate, destiny, luck--whatever. But, having been given this choice, of whether or not you feel you are even worthy of being given such a choice, will you make the choice? Take the choice?"

"I'm still not sure I understand."

She suddenly placed one arm in the air while placing the other directly on Eric's chest. "It's coming," she whispered.


"The water is coming. There, look." She pointed one crooked finger out the window, rearward, toward a gap between the distant mountains. "The water comes."

"But--I'm not ready! I'm not ready to die! I'm only thirty-five, for fuck's sake!" Eric was screaming now, full panic mode.

"Who ever is? Eric, look, I'm not the one in charge of deciding whether or not you do, in fact, get to live through this. I'm only a messenger, the vial of medicine in the doctor's bag, if you will. Just give me a reason--any reason, be it honest and true, and I will do what I can to make sure you do not die today."

"Isn't not wanting to die reason enough?"

"I don't know. Is it? Only you know the answer to that. Is not wanting to die reason enough to live? For you? For anyone?"

"I'd like to think the fuck so!" Eric shouted.

"Anything else you'd like to add to that?"

"The train--it's speeding up!" Eric noted hopefully. People were now rushing through the aisles between the seats, not that there was anywhere to go. Panicked conversations floated past Eric's ears, with one another and on cell phones.

"The conductor has been told the water is coming, but he can't go fast enough soon enough. Its too late for the train, and for most of the people on it," Mildred said sadly, shaking her head. "I'm not sure who gets to live and who gets to die. All I know is I was sent to ask you. You, Eric. Why should you get to live?"

"I-- I don't know." He slumped back down into his seat and stared at the panicking passengers around him. The sobs and screams as people saw the water rushing up from somewhere behind the train. Mobs of people were now rushing mainly forward, shoving and pushing their way toward the engine.

Mildred placed her hand on Eric's. "I'm sorry, my grandson."

"I'm going to die, aren't I?"

The train lurched. The lights flickered. People screamed. A quick glance out the window. and Eric saw the ground beginning to lift away--or was that the train simply beginning to lean sideways off the tracks as the water lifted and slammed it?

As he turned his head to once again speak to Mildred, he noted he was now quite definitely looking down toward Mildred. He grabbed the railing, the arms of his seat, anything to keep from falling on top of her. She seemed quite unfazed by any of it. She still wore a faintly sad smile.

"I DON'T WANT TO DIE!" he screamed over the noise.

Water suddenly seemed everywhere. He no longer knew which way was up. All noise was silenced through the filter of water in his ears, over his head. He felt his body slamming into objects, people, things. He tried to focus his eyes on something, anything, his hands grabbing and grasping for something solid, something not wet, something not moving...

Grasping for life, come hell or high water...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Near the Beginning...:
#54: Rewrites...

Near the Beginning: Rewrites...
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Tale of a Fateful Flick...

The writing challenge continues from Indie Ink. You know the drill: we writers swap challenges and write about them--we have until 11 p.m. on Thursday evening to meet these challenges or bad things happen! New contestants are always welcome to join by going to the link and signing up! Feel free to visit (most of) the blogs of the other writers taking this challenge in the column to the right (yes, I need to update it, but that is most of them)... Welcome to my week 6. As always, feel free to leave comments, suggestions, and other neuronically-fired feedback either in the comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook!

Week 5.
My Challenger: Zee
My Challenge: You have three objects in your pocket. What are they and why do you carry them around?
Who I am Challenging: Flaming Nyx
What I Challenged Them With: Tell me a story that involves: a toaster, a Jehovah's witness, nuclear war, Ivana Trump, and the painting "The Lady of Shallot." Oh, and have fun! :)
Previous Challenges I have answered:
[Week 1.] [Week 2.] [Week 3.] [Week 4.] [Week 5.]

A Tale of a Fateful Flick

(Muy importante: Read to the tune of Gilligan's Island...)

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a Levi's pocket
That rested on these thunder thighs
With more friction than research rocket.

The first object was a bright orange zippo lighter,
It's flame quite bright and sure.
It lit cigarettes for weeks and weeks
For nicotine to ensure (for nicotine to ensure...)

The second object was a pack of cig's,
It's contents getting quite low,
If not for the presence of the credit card
The habit would be lost (the habit would be lost...)

The pocket and content went to the shop of this tiny red-neck town,
With shaky hands,
The lighter too,
The wallet and it's cash,
The order placed,
With a swipe and a pin entered in,
Just to keep the pockets filled!

So this is the tale of the three objects,
They're here for a long, long time,
They'll continue to grace my presence,
(As this gets hard to rhyme.)

The cigarette and the zippo lighter,
Will do their very best,
To make their owner comfortable,
With nicotine that's so blessed.

No patch, no gum, and no withdrawal,
It's a singular luxury,
Like the Marlboro cowboy,
It's succulent as can be.

So don't join us here each day my friends,
If second-hand smoke you do not like,
From my pockets to my lips,
My three objects I do like!

As a disclaimer, I would just like to add that I do not advocate anyone taking up this filthy habit. However, if we can't have a little fun about our vices and realize it is a silly thing to light a bunch of dead leaves on fire, suck it into your lungs, and thoroughly trick your brain into believing it's something it can't live without? Well, then...

Oh, and to read the actual lyrics to Gilligan's Island, go here. (Trust me, I had to go back and forth a few times to try to keep the tempo and syllables right--there's no shame in you having to do so as well...) :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On Beauty...

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

"You're beautiful on the inside."

"Yes, but you're nice."

As a former ugly, fat, and low-self-confidence person, I can truly say these are THE most hated phrases we like to hear.

Why? Well, we know the sentiments are well-intentioned, but that does not help when billboard after magazine cover after television ad all show what is truly valued in our society--physical beauty.

The perfect abs. The well-formed pecs. The chiseled jaw line. The perky boobs. The all-but-impossible flat stomach.

Lucky for me, I almost have the chiseled jaw line. Everything else is a work in progress.

And I say "former ugly person" for only one very specific reason: I no longer feel ugly, but it isn't because I could now grace the cover of PlayGirl and get a standing ovation. And I also can't say it's because I now value my looks over my personality. If it came right down to it, I'd choose my personality--but it would be a hard choice.

Looks come with entitlement. We, even subconsciously, extrapolate onto beautiful people a beautiful personality. We stare at them longer, want to be standing near them in the hopes that some of that beauty will "spill over" onto us, laugh louder at their jokes in the hopes that getting their attention will make us just that much more attractive to others...

Yes, that was me. The "hoverer." An Ugly Betty, if you will, living in what seemed to be a Mode world.

Amanda: You're so lucky, Betty. I never know if men like me because of my personality or because of my looks.
Cry me a fucking river, Amanda.

You can add that quote to the list of things we ugo's quite hate to hear: After all, just because the Amanda's of the world can't judge who likes her for her looks and who likes her because of her personality is her failing. Not ours. So don't push it off on us.

I think all of us have these parts of our personality, however. "How do I look?" "Does this outfit highlight all the right parts?" "Does this make me look fat?" "How does my hair look?" We all want to present ourselves the most attractive way possible, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, none of us can blame the genetic lottery for being ugly OR for being considered beautiful. That's just a fact. And neither can we blame the beautiful people of the world for taking advantage of their sheer luck at high cheekbones, a propensity for higher metabolic rates, or that bubble butt.

And we ugo's have only ourselves to blame for not hitting the gym.

That being said: We have no way of judging whether you meant that tip on getting rid of that bulge as a well-meaning piece of friendly advice, or as an opportunity to make yourself feel better about your non-bulge at our expense--and just maybe, it was both.

But unless we ask for that advice, keep it to yourself. It only serves to make us self-conscious about one more thing on our growing list of how we feel inadequate to be human in your presence. We don't want to hear about our great personalities--after all, we're the ones that perfected "great personality" since we didn't have bikini-bodies to fall back on. We don't want to hear about the trials of being beautiful--we'll never have that problem despite hours spent trying in our bathrooms and beauty parlors across the globe. (As my cousin Courtney likes to say, "I'm a beautician, not a magician!") And we certainly don't want to hear about how we're beautiful on the inside because it's nothing more than a metaphor for how ugly we are on the outside.

And we certainly don't need reminded of that.

Learning to love myself, especially after a young woman in junior high named Stephanie told me, quite out of the blue, that I was so ugly she was amazed anyone would even consider dating me, was quite an uphill battle. All I was doing was standing by the biology classroom door, waiting for the bell to ring so I could go to my locker and get the books I needed for the next class. Thanks, Steph. I hope your thin, straight hair has started falling out. (But that's not the nice part of my personality, so--forget I even thought it...)

The point of this post? Not sure--maybe I just need to get these things out here onto the blogosphere so I can move on. Maybe I just want to let my fellow ugo's know that we've all been there, are still there, and never quite leave there. After all, even today when someone lets me know they find me attractive, I can ride that high feelings for days, if not weeks. And I hate myself for that. I hate that that part of my past days of low-self-confidence continues to live on.

I've realized I'll never be "Male Model of the Year," or even anything close. But I have learned to work with what I have, and that took some hard work.

But--dear, sweet, well-meaning beautiful people? Go suck my personality.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Justice and Mercy

The writing challenge continues from Indie Ink. Each week a group of us come up with an "idea" or a "challenge" which then randomly gets submitted to another person on the list. Feel free to visit (most of) the blogs of the other writers taking this challenge in the column to the right (yes, I need to update it, but that is most of them)... Welcome to my week 5. As always, feel free to leave comments, suggestions, and other neuronically-fired feedback either in the comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook!

Week 5.
My Challenger: Kat (the Sassy Irish lass...)
My Challenge: You are abruptly awakened by a blaring alarm and the smell of smoke...

Previous Challenges:
[Week 1.] [Week 2.] [Week 3.] [Week 4.]

Justice and Mercy

Sniff, sniff.

"What the... Hello?" Wait--I can't... Am I tied down? What...?

"Hello? Someone? I smell... I can't... Hello? Is anyone there?"

Silence greets me. No, not total silence. I hear the faint noise of an alarm sounding, seemingly from miles away. But darkness embraces me. A small hint of light teases me from behind, but-- Looking down, I am bound and tied to a chair. I think. It's is so damn dark!


Then a sound booms through the darkness with a terrifying loudness: "Victim 1. Arnold Smith. Aged 42."

I feel tears running down my face. Victim 3? Arnold... Smith? Is that who I am? But the booming electronic sounding voice that had shattered the silence of a thousand moments didn't answer my thoughts. "Hello? Who--is someone there? Help! I seem to be tied down... And I can't move my arms or legs?"

Why am I saying this like a question? I can't move my arms or legs! The feeble light from behind my head has turned an alarming shade of red. Maybe if I twist...

But it was no use. The chair must be bolted to the floor. The high back of the chair keeps me from peering behind, and looking up--more darkness.

Sniff, sniff.

"I think--I think there's a fire!" I yell. "Hey! This isn't-- Is this a joke? Hello?!"

Silence. More smoke.

Either my eyes are adjusting, or the red light ("The fire!") is growing brighter, stronger... Hotter.

Yes, it's definitely getting brighter and hotter in here. "HEY! Someone! Please! There's a fire in here! HELLO! HELP!"

Nothing. Sweat and tears mingle and stream down my face. I feel my clothes becoming a damp mess. Am I wearing-- is this a hospital gown? What the...?

I feel the flames licking up behind me, the intense heat beginning to singe my leg hairs from behind. "Hey you fuckers!! Get me out of here! I know you can hear me! Hey! HELP!"

("No one is coming for you. This is your fate. Your self-created destiny.")

"WHO SAID THAT!!" Either I'm totally losing it--and who wouldn't, tied down, unable to move, with a fire creeping up behind you?--or I'm in the hands of a very very sick person. "WHO IS THERE? GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF-- AAARRHH!"

The flames have me now--I feel it searing into my scalp, feel the vinyl of the chair melting, burning, searing into my skin, mingling and becoming one with the layers of my body as they burn, peel, singe away.

All I can do is scream, but that allows the flames to shoot down into my throat, into my lungs... I'm burning alive... I'm burning...


"What?!" I gasp, sweating, laboring to breath. Still alive... Just a nightmare...

But-- wait... No... Tied... Down... What the FUCK! I'm not tied down... I just--my body won't move! This isn't even my body! It's all wrinkled looking! Old! And I have--breasts?! Now I know that's wrong. I may not remember what the hell is going on, but I know I'm not an old woman... Right? Wait...

But I'm alive. Alive. No fire. I sigh. Glance around. Hospital gown. Light pink walls. Body won't respond. Am I sick? What's going on?

"Oh, nurse? Nurse?" What the hell, it can't hurt, right? I think I see one behind the translucent curtains covering the window that looks like it leads out into a hall.

"Hello?! Can anyone here me?"

"Now Mrs. White--"

Then that same weird electronic voice booms over: "Victim 2. Vivian White. Aged 87."

My eyes dart around, the sheer loudness tearing up my eyes, drowning out the young man I now see on my right. Can't--I missed something. He acts like he can't hear "The Voice."

"--and you'll pay soon enough for making my life a living hell, you old witch!"

I gasp--at least, I think I gasp. He looks so familiar...But I can't place him, and the fear cutting through my heart cuts off any more logical thought processes. That murderous look in his eyes! That rage--directed at me!

I notice my hands are reaching for the call button--not that I'm doing that!

I'm in someone else's body! The realization hits hard, and if I'd had a body, I'm sure I would have fallen right out of this bed!

"Don't bother, Mrs.White," the young man grins hideously as he twirls a broken cord in his hands. "There's no one coming to help you." Then I see him pull a book of matches out from his pocket.

No! NO! But it's useless. I have no control over this body--all I can do is observe, screaming, begging him not to light that match.

But he does. And tosses it on the bed.

And leaves, shutting the door behind him.

I see the flame beginning to grow. I'm shouting, yelling, cursing in futility as it begins to lick up the sheets around my feet.

Sniff, sniff.

The smoke--the smoke is back. The room is growing dim so quickly! The screaming isn't helping, the old body trying so helplessly to escape isn't comforting, and there's not a goddamn thing I can do about it--

But I do feel the pain as the flames begin to eat through the sheets. "No, no! Not again! NO! SOMEONE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! HELP!"

But it's no use. The room grows thick with smoke. Bells are going off, I see people rushing about on the edges of my vision. They're trying to get into my room, but something is preventing them from entering.


The pain again as the flames begin to eagerly consume me, it's meal, it's nourishment. "SWEETJESUSFUCKITHURTSMAKEITSTOP--AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!"


"NO!!!" Gasping, sweating, screaming... But...

Oh, fuck.

"No, no, nonononononono--"

The Voice: "Victim 3. Alan Robespierre. Aged 12."

In his head. Alan's. I get it now. I'm in his head, watching him play with his marbles on the sidewalk. I notice him notice the black van coming slowly up the street. I notice him notice the window rolling down, notice that same young man from the hospital holding a bottle, notice the fire dancing at the top of that bottle, notice it flying in my direction, smashing me/him directly in the chest, notice the flames quickly engulfing me--



I'm going mad, I can feel it. This has to be a dream--a series of nightmares. How many times can I die before I die?

I'm in another child's body, I see.

And I hear it: "Victim 4. Sicily Gunter. Aged 9."

Nine? Nine?!

I/Sicily turn and see the orange flames...

More fire...

More pain...


"Hey, doc!" the policeman yelled. "He's flat-lining again."

The doctor comes around the bedside and stares down at the young man, checks the I.V. drip, then produces a needle. "I hate it when I pull this shift," he mutters, sticking the young man in the arm. The machine that had been buzzing continuously has a steady rhythm once again: Beep.... Beep.... Beep....

"I ain't so fond of it myself, but it pays the bills." The policeman props his feet back up on his desk, then takes a sip of coffee from his mug.

"What's that, the third time now? For a serial arsonist, you'd think he'd have a stronger stomach," the doctor states.

The policeman looks down at the monitors of his desk. "And he's only just now starting his seventh victim! Looks like it's going to be a long night, doc."

"How many did he kill?"


"Seriously? What a monster. We should just let him die!"

"Now, doc, you know the rules. We have to keep him alive until he relives all of his victims' deaths. If he's still alive after the last one--well, that's for the doc's in the psychiatric ward to deal with then. You and me? We're just carrying out his sentence, nothing more, nothing less. Otherwise we're no better than he is."

The doctor sighs. "I suppose. You have to love 23rd century justice."

"That you do. Oh, watch him. I think he's--yep. Flat-lined again. Bring him back, doc."

The doctor sighs again. "Somehow I think it'd be more effective if we didn't wipe his memory before we put him through this." He plunges the needle into the young man's arm.

"But then where would the justice be? The devil deserves it. As sentenced by a jury of his peers."



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just So You Know...

The writing challenge continues from Indie Ink. Each week about 30 of us come up with an "idea" or a "challenge" which then randomly gets submitted to another person on the list. I've obviously missed the last two weeks... Getting a new job will do that to you. Anyway, you can visit the blogs of the other writers taking this challenge in the column to the right... Welcome to my week 4. As always, feel free to leave comments, suggestions, and other neuronically-fired feedback either in the comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook!

Week 4.
My Challenger: flamingnyx
My Challenge: Write a letter to one and/or both your parents about how the way they raised you allowed you to rebel against them that 'one' time.

Previous Challenges:
[Week 1.] [Week 2.] [Week 3.]

Just So You Know...

Dear Mom,

Okay, okay, that's too formal. I know it, you know it, we all know it. Yet, when one is writing a letter, the "Dear" just sort of writes itself, you know? Geez, look at that--I get that from you, you know. That repetitive phrase that peppers the language of me and the four sibs gets on all our spouses and partners nerves. Just so you know.

But anyway--down to the nitty-gritty. I could tell more tales than Scheherazade on how your actions caused my reactions, but that's just relationships. Mother/son, husband/husband, brother/sister, brother/brother, friend/friend...

Do you remember that time you chased me around and around the dining room table with the paddle? We were both laughing hysterically at the end, and I for the life of me cannot remember what it was I had done to get into trouble that day. I do know, though, that you promised me Dad would get me when he got home. And, knowing that I could take you at your word, decided to suddenly get a bath as soon as we heard his car pulling up in the driveway. He came in, lifted me out of the tub by one arm, spanked me on my bare, dripping-wet ass, then lowered me back into the tub with a stern, "Next time you listen to your mother."

From that day on, I tried my best to never get into trouble.

But this letter doesn't concern that snapshot--not really, anyway. After all, not wanting to be paddled isn't exactly "rebellion," is it? Especially if the farthest I was going was to the other side of the dining room table...

Then there was the time I ran away--actually ran away--for what, three, four hours? I had written (what I thought at the time) was a convincing argument as to why my little brother, Michael, was a bad, bad kid who had gotten away with too much, who was on my last nerve, who was the bane of my existence. I took my new backpack that had been purchased for the upcoming school year, took some hot dog rolls and hot dogs from the chest freezer, and went walking. Once I was lonely enough, I walked home to see you and Dad frantically speaking on our front sidewalk. As I emerged from the woods on the bike path, you ran over, near tears, asking where I had been. Honestly, I think I was more surprised you had noticed I had been gone. It's rough getting attention when there are five of you only six years apart. When I mentioned that I had left a letter to you on my desk, you asked quizically, "Why didn't you leave it on my desk?" I shrugged.

I still owe Michael an apology for that day. The worry and anxiety you and Dad took out on him was probably just a tad too much, and that was my fault. That was the day I promised to try to be a better older brother, to try to keep my three younger siblings from getting into trouble on my account. I failed at this as well, but not for trying.

But this letter isn't about that incident either.

It was in seventh grade that I first heard the words "HIV" and "AIDS." The whole school was having a mandatory assembly to learn about this disease: what it was, where it came from, how it worked. And, I must applaud the Daniel Boone Jr. Sr. High School for this, very progressive of them in the winter of 1988, since not too much was known about it anyway.

Our assembly meeting consisted of the seventh through ninth grades. At one point, they handed everybody a pencil and an index card. "Write down any question you have--there are no stupid questions!"

So I wrote down the only question I could think of: "Is being gay genetic?"

Let's have some insight here: I already knew I liked boys and not girls. The only person I knew who also liked boys and not girls was Uncle Timmy. I also knew that Uncle Timmy was dying of HIV/AIDS.

I was scared out of my mind.

What didn't help matters later during the assembly, was when one of the presenters, in a fit of righteous indignation said, and I quote: "It's obvious some of you kids aren't paying attention to what we're saying up here. HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease! So whoever it was that asked if being gay was inherited? Don't be stupid!"

That was the day I promised myself that I'd try not to be stupid, and therefore try not to be gay. I failed at that as well. Obviously.

The next morning, after the assembly, as Tom and I were getting ready for school and you were getting our breakfast together, Tom started talking about how great the assembly was, and how he had learned a lot. (This was before my older brother hit his silent stage--which he still hasn't grown out of...) You turned to me, Mom, and asked, "And what did you think, Jason? What did you learn?"

This conversation holds new perspective for me now that I've had years to digest it. After all, you also knew your favorite uncle--the uncle who had taken you dress shopping for your prom, who spent time with you, and was your confidant growing up--was dying of HIV/AIDS. You wanted us as children to understand what was happening, that it wasn't because Uncle Timmy was "bad," or that he had done something wrong to be punished by god. That when Grandmom made him eat off paper plates and drink out of plastic cups for fear of catching it that she was being stupid.

But when you turned to me, and asked me what I had learned?

I had learned that I was stupid, truth be told. And the last thing I wanted to tell you was that I, too, would eventually get AIDS because I, too, was like Uncle Timmy.

"It was stupid," I said. "They shouldn't talk about those kinds of things in school!"

I remember the shock on your face. I think Tom punched me in the shoulder, as was, and still is, his wont. I ran from the breakfast table, grabbed my backpack, and started racing down the driveway. I did not want to have this conversation with you, or anyone. After all, where could it lead except for the inevitable conclusion? You would find out how wrong I was. How twisted I was. How sinful.

How gay.

You stood at the end of our sidewalk: "JAY-son! Get back here! What's going on? What's the matter? Get back here NOW!"

"No!" I shouted, tears starting to cloud over my eyes. The gravel crunched under my feet as I speed-walked down the hill and around the curve, trying to get to that part of the driveway covered in trees, blocking me from your sight. Once I was out of sight, then this conversation would end. I would be safe. I could keep my secret.

You ran after me. "Jason, what is wrong? What is going on? Talk to me!"

You easily caught up to me. After all, my body had yet to grasp the concept of "coordination," something that my fast-growing legs and arms wouldn't fully grasp until way beyond high school. You grabbed my arm, yanked me around. "Jason! What's the matter?"

I blinked back the tears while trying to free my arm from your vice-like grasp, unsuccessfully. "Nothing!" I shouted. "I just think they shouldn't be talking about stuff like that in school!"

Confusion was etched into your face. I think some hurt as well. What did I know? A self-absorbed teenager worried about his sexuality and death had little time for worrying about what his actions were doing to his mother.

It was then that I promised myself to be even more inconspicuous, to not do anything to gain your attention if I could help it. Because you were my mother, and you are like a pitbull--once you latch onto something, you do not let go until it's resolved. I'm not sure how long we would have stood like that, pitbull to pitbull, if Tom hadn't casually walked by, oblivious to the tension and said, "The bus will be here soon."

I could tell you wanted nothing more than to drag out of me "The Truth." But your duties as a mother meant you had three more children back in the house to get ready for elementary school that morning. That making me miss the bus would be the beginning of a disastrous day, with everything out of whack. You eyed me warily as you let go of my arm. I turned and started my speed-walking again, toward the top of the next hill on our long, winding driveway, once again the goal to be out of your sight.

It was then that I learned how to embrace passive-aggressiveness as an effective means of getting out of trouble. To say what I thought you--and the other adults in my life--wanted to hear. To act the way I thought you wanted me to act.

I started the silent act, the untraceable, undetectable rebellion. And, luckily for me, I had Tom, Mike, Sylvia and Cynthia to act out in other ways, physical ways, to keep the attention off of me. To let me be silent. To perfect the art of acting.

Was it a typical "rebellion"? By no means. After all, how rebellious is it really to not act out, to not call attention to yourself? This "rebellion" story has nothing on some of the stunts my other siblings pulled--not even close. But that was their lives, their rebellion, their way of trying to figure out who they were and what they wanted out of life--and this was mine.

And it was the only way I knew, in the cacophony that was our household, to stay under the radar.

And in doing so, I did us both a great disservice. It wasn't until years later--after the army, after college, after moving out to my own apartment--that I would learn to trust myself--and you, as parents--again. To start speaking up, saying what I actually thought, acting how I wanted to act. Letting you get to know the real me.

Yes, I was nothing but a stupid teenager, just not stupid in the ways I thought I was. But I still need to ask your forgiveness, Mom. I'm sorry for not trusting you, for not trusting in your love and understanding. If I could go back and change it all, would I? I'm not sure. I'm not sure we'd be as close as we are today if we both hadn't gone through those moments together.

But I should have known, even then, that I could trust you. And I'm sorry I didn't.

But at least I know now. And I thank you for that.

Thank you for being my mother, and now for being my friend. I couldn't ask for a better one of either, you know?