Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Dressmaker’s Last Call


Chuck’s challenge this week:  The classic Random Title Challenge.  I did this one properly, rolling the dice before I even looked at the possible titles, coming up with the bizarre title “The Dressmaker’s Last Call.”  I balked at it, not knowing how I’d possibly approach it.  But no, the challenge is in working outside of your comfort zone, so I set it on to percolate.

I went through a lot of different concepts and plots before ultimately arriving at this one.  My Five Stories, One Title exercise has taught me that I get my best work done after I flush out the pipes a little bit first.  I pushed away my initial ideas of thieving and murder in favor of something entirely different.  I actually ended up liking this little story quite a lot.

Clocking in at 989 words, here it is.

 

The Dressmaker’s Last Call

******

As she stepped into the light and spun delicately on her toes, tears sprung into Tanner’s eyes.  He had woven nightsilk garments before, but never one so fine as this, and he would never weave another.  Myra was a miracle cloaked in the night; as she spun the candles seemed to gutter and fail, lending their light to hers.  The dress pulled the luminescence in and suffused her with it; setting her aglow in the sudden dimness, radiance spilling out from her skin.

“It’s incredible,” said Myra, laying her fingers lightly on her arms as if she were afraid to touch it.  In truth, she was, a little.

“Let me,” Tanner said.

He began the work of making tiny adjustments to the garment.  The shimmering material flowed through his hands like water; it cascaded over his fingertips and pooled in gathering incorporeal heaps and whispered as his needle pierced it again and again.  Darkly it billowed in swirling waves of deepest purple, midnight blue, and the black of the void; the fabric so light its touch on the skin was almost imperceptible, if it could be called fabric at all.  Far too fine and fragile for any machine to ever touch, the nightsilk, once stitched, seemed to mold and shape itself to itself and to Myra; a seeking thing almost merging with her porcelain skin, a congealed shadow, a living darkness.

Tanner stepped back and regarded his work with a frown.  It was immaculate, but his exacting eye picked out the flaws nobody else would ever see.  There was nothing for it; the shadowed silk was a mystery even to him, each garment unique, each swatch of silk with a personality all its own.  Even before his eyes, the dress bent and twisted with tiny imperceptible ripples, the thrashings of light and vibration that would ultimately tear the dress to pieces.

The room was alive with the flames of a hundred candles, guttering dimly, but the dress and their faces were barely visible. He clasped her by the hand.  “The dress will hide you from the eyes of the living wherever you walk.  You will appear as but a shadow, if they can bring themselves to look upon you at all.  Even now, it turns my eyes.”  It was true.  The longer she stood in the tiny room, the more she seemed to fade at the edges, the more she seemed just an extension of the shadows stretching across the floor.  His eyes hurt with the effort of keeping her in focus.

“But I’ll be able to see her?”  Myra stared back into the old man’s eyes, brushing his cheek with her hand.  The gesture seemed to calm him.  “And she, me?”

His lips pressed into a thin line, and he inclined his head ever so slightly.  “The dead walk in shadow.  To become a shadow yourself is to become like them.”  He squeezed her hand with a grimace and walked across the room.  Picking up a lantern, he turned to her and scratched his head in hesitation — he could no longer see her.  Myra reached out to take his hand, and he relaxed.  “Keep this near you, lest the darkness take you forever.”  She took the lantern and hung it in the crook of her arm.  Kissing him on the cheek like a whisper of autumn air, she left without another word.  He knew she was gone when the candles blazed back to life.  He gave the last scrap of the nightsilk to the flames and watched as it convulsed, shriveled, and died on the floor in an ashless wisp of smoke.

***

The sun had set and the stars did not show their faces — their tiny pinpoints of light drunk up by the nightsilk.  Myra made her way to the graveyard and hesitated; before her, in the dark, were the shuffling, aimless shapes of neighbors and friends long dead.  They floated in the darkness, gossamer and grey, barely visible, gazing back at her with wonder and contempt.  They spoke in words she could not hear and prodded at her with fingers she could not feel.  Seeing that she was not like them, they lost interest, allowing her to pass unmolested through their ranks.  There were more gravestones than living people in the town, and the yard was thick with their shadows, but they parted wordlessly before her as she pressed on toward the small, unmarked stone in a lonely corner, where a small wispy shade of a girl sat singing to herself, tunelessly, the way Myra’s husband used to do.

Myra’s voice caught in her throat.  She reached for the girl but pulled her hand back, tears in a river down her cheeks. Finally, she choked, “Clara?”

The girl spun and regarded her strangely, expressionlessly, then stood and faced her.  Myra felt sobs wracking her body, but made no sound.  The girl’s mouth seemed to move, but Myra could not hear the words.

“I can’t hear you, darling,” Myra protested.  She longed to grasp her, to squeeze her as if she could somehow share her own light with the girl, but Myra’s hand passed through her as through a fog.  Myra drew her hand back in horror as the girl recoiled from her, shielding her eyes.

In an instant, Myra forgot the Weaver’s warning.  The light hurt her little girl’s eyes; she must put it out.  The lantern shattered, the oil taking flame in a tiny gout that sputtered and faded in the night.  As the lantern’s light died, Myra felt her daughter’s tiny arms closing around her shoulders, felt the dress shifting and changing into the gossamer grey that the other dead wore.  The voices of the dead became a sudden clamor in her ears; Myra fought the rising panic until she heard her daughter’s voice, tiny and sweet and real again, after so long.

“Mommy, it’s safe.  You’re with me now.”


The New Batch of TV Shows Is So Depressing


I’m going to embarrass myself (again) and say that we watch a lot of TV in my house.  Too much, really, for a couple of otherwise intelligent adults.  Now, we read a lot too, but most of our “together time” is spent watching one thing or another on the good ol’ boob tube.  Needless to say, we are enthusiastically anticipating the return of some of our favorite shows and curious about the wave of new entrants to the fling-advertisements-at-our-face race.  We’ve seen some of the new pilots, and the general consensus so far?

Network TV is trying too hard.

I’m going to talk mostly about The Red Band Society, because it was the guiltiest of the parties, but all the shows I’ve seen yet are coming up a mess in one way or another; usually by dint of insulting their audiences.

First and foremost, RBS is trying to capitalize on the The Fault in our Stars dollar by shoving cancer kids in our faces and counting on that fact alone to tug at our heartstrings and keep us tuned in.  A sympathy play as empty as the heart of a god that would allow kids to get cancer.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to ride the coattails of a successful product, but, I mean, at least embellish upon the idea.  TFIOS resonated with readers (and subsequently, viewers) because of its compelling, flawed, sassy but ultimately likable and admirable protagonist and her relationship/obsession (resessionship?) with Cancer Jesus.  RBS takes that trope (compelling, flawed, sassy) and paints a caricature of it.  Bitchy girl is so bitchy she’s unredeemable (but I’ll bet my no-longer-attached-left-nut she will find redemption, oh, somewhere toward the end of season 1, but slip back into her bitchy bitchiness just in time for season 2, should the show survive that long).  Sassy guy has every answer for every situation ever, knows everybody and knows how to get what he wants from everybody, but he’s too smart for his own good.  Horny black teen is horny and black and a teenager in the most transparent of ways (“awkwardly” propositioning his new nurse since he doesn’t want to die a virgin in a scene so painful and forced that … well, the point of all this is that it insults its viewers, so you know, THAT).  Uptight girl is uptight, but she OH SO DESPERATELY SECRETLY WANTS TO BREAK THE RULES.  And the protagonist (how is he a protagonist without being involved in any of the action?) watches (???) all this unfold from the depths of a coma in which he can hear everything around him, and boy has he learned a lot about life!

These are cardboard cutouts of tired characters who have appeared in every teen story we know since FOREVER, and they all have cancer and they all fight ferociously to prove who they are at every stage and they all spout pseudo-philosophical drivel in an attempt to sound deep that ultimately just left us scratching our heads.  Example:

Put-upon Doctor:  I guess the word “no” isn’t in your vocabulary?

Cancer Kid:  If it was, would I be asking you to say “yes?”

That’s not clever, it’s an idiotic non-sequitur.  And EVERY KID HAS A LINE LIKE THAT.  That’s not character development, that’s a sledgehammer with the word “character” scratched in the side by a rusty penknife.  And don’t tell me, “well, of course the characters are simple, it’s aimed at a teen audience!”  It’s going into the Prime-time lineup.  Glee is a show ostensibly for teens, but it has tremendous viewership outside of that demographic (or HAD, until the sharknado writing became super-sharknadoey writing after the second season).  No, teens might be a focus of the show, but they are not the only audience intended for the show.  But even if they were, that doesn’t change the fact that even teenagers are tired of these cookie-cutter characters.  Glee was a bag of chocolate covered potato chips — an interesting treat, but not something you want to eat a whole bag of.  RBS is trying to be a bag of chocolate covered potato chips with a dead frog in the bag for good measure.  They’re counting on the fact that the kids have cancer to bring weight in and of itself to a show as hollow as anything on TV, and it’s not going to make me want to eat a dead frog.

Also?  And this is not just RBS, but all the pilots we’ve watched yet — Narration.  God, gag me with a hammer over some narration.  Coma kid narrates all the comings and goings of the hospital from his coma.  (How does he know what’s going on in the basement, by the way?  Did everybody tell him everything after he woke up?  Isn’t that sort of spoiling the entire show for us?)  Some female voice narrates every facet of the female protagonist’s life on A to Z.  It’s not the female lead’s voice, which is odd, because the female lead is grown and theoretically should not need an “old person” to provide her voice in flashback, so who is she?  If she’s a character who will appear later in the story, why not introduce her in the pilot?  If not, why have a separate voice narrating a character’s life?  This show, also, suffers from trying-too-hard-to-be-significant disease in its dialogue: “Their relationship will last for three hundred, twenty-two days, seven hours, and fifty-six minutes.  This is their story, from A to Z.”  It’s cutesy the first time you hear it in the opening, but then you hear it again as the show closes out and you realize it’s going to keep happening and I just want to reach for a hammer.

Screenwriters:  If the action is strong enough, YOU DON’T NEED A NARRATOR.  If the action is not strong enough, WRITE BETTER ACTION.  The only time you need a narrator is if there’s some seriously deep behind-the-scenes stuff developing, and even then the narrator should be hamstrung and chained to a post with a five-foot leash.  Narration KILLS stories.  And while I’m on the A to Z show, are you just going to make 26 episodes?

The only show that’s shown any promise yet, to my mind, is Selfie, and even that promise is dubious.  I found myself wondering how I was supposed to identify with and root for a scummy shell of a human being, but at least the show had the good sense to poke fun at the shell and make the show about redeeming that person.  It’s a good message for our technologically-advanced-socially-retarded society, but I wonder whether there’s any longevity in the concept.  I fear that, more likely, it will splash around in the waters of social commentary for a little while and then get sand in its britches when it realizes that depth is hard and move to the kiddie pool with the other sit-com-rom-com dropouts (looking at you, A to Z).  It does, however, have that girl from Doctor Who, so that’s a plus, though hearing her speak with an Americanized accent seems wrong somehow.

To be fair, I’ve not looked at any of the new dramas this year, but do I need to?  More crime procedurals, more gritty tales of outside-the-box, not-by-the-book antiheroes with hearts of gold?  Is there anything coming out with a legitimately original concept and a legitimate chance at longevity?

It’s all so depressing.  Why can’t we have a show like Sherlock being produced in this country?  Where is the next Breaking Bad, the next Dexter (prior to season 3)?  Where, in short, is the next show I can get lost in?


(Redacted)


It happened.

I wrote a post that was maybe too personal, perhaps a bit too embarrassing, and for the moment at least, entirely too gross to post here.

It’s a shame, because it really was one of the most bizarre situations I’ve found myself in over the last several years, but… well, we get married so that our significant others can tell us when we’re doing something wrong, and that was the case with this one.  I’ve saved it, and in the case that I’m ever not dependent on my job at a school system, maybe I can dust it off and share it.  I hate to spend the time and work to fire off a solid post and then not share it, but there it is.  Maybe one day.

If you’re curious, it involved a vial of, uh, genetic legacy, my lunchbox, and a day at work.  THAT’S ALL YOU GET.  And if you caught it in the fifteen minutes it was posted, well, you get to be special.

And I’m just kidding.  We get married for LOVE.  Telling us when we’re wrong is just one of the many services a spouse can provide.


Bull Rush


Chuck’s challenge this week:  Nothing but Action.

Action is a thing I struggle with, so this was an exercise I desperately needed.  I really like the beginning of this one… I have to confess I couldn’t think of an action-y way to end it.  The ending suffers a bit for that, I’m afraid.  And to my wife, when she reads it… I just couldn’t work the duck into it.  I’ll break that thing out later.

 

Bull Rush

Checking the figures on his monitor one last time, Taurie breathes deep and jabs the needle into his thigh.  The clear solution oozes in and he feels a slimy cold spread through his leg.  He hears a distant crunch as they kick in the downstairs door.  He mashes the red button to arm the failsafe, throws his chair through the window, and dives out.  He drops two stories, tucks, rolls, and cracks his skull on the side of a dumpster.

The agents kick his door in and flood his room like cockroaches, sweeping through his apartment in a frenzied buzz of intercom chatter.  It’s only seconds before an agent spies the window, shards of glass still clinging to the frame, drapes floating lazily in the breeze.

Taurie blinks the stars away and lurches to his feet.  Twenty feet above him, he sees a suit and sunglasses speak into its wrist and disappear back into his apartment. He jogs to the street, then lapses in judgment for a fraction of a second and looks back toward his building.

The smear of blood on his forehead gives him away.  Taurie sees the guy in the camouflage shorts and handlebar mustache, and Handlebars sees Taurie see him.  As if a starter pistol had gone off, they both break into a dead run.  Nondescript faces and bodies fly at Taurie as he hurtles down the sidewalk, brushing them aside or ducking around them as best as he can, knowing that he’s only creating an empty wake for Handlebars to follow him in.  He doesn’t even have to look behind him to know that the guy is closing.  Taurie’s short, and Handlebars has the benefit of not having to pick an escape route.  So Taurie hurls himself into the street.

A cab lurches to a heavy halt but can’t stop in time; Taurie tumbles across its hood, pirouettes and dashes in a jagged arc across four lanes to a chorus of honks and shouts.  A passing bus clips his heel but doesn’t slow down.  He hazards a glance over his shoulder as he makes the far sidewalk.  Handlebars, initially slowed by the detour into the street, is now closing the gap between them, aided by his long strides and the fact that all of the traffic is now stopped.  In the open, he’ll be caught in seconds, not minutes.  Taurie spots a bellhop pushing a luggage rack out through the doors of the Grand.  He aims a shoulder at the guy’s midsection, sending him sprawling.  He grabs the trundle, yanks it sideways behind him and wedges it in the door.

Handlebars grabs his hand through the stack of suitcases and flowered dresses just as Taurie turns to bolt through the lobby.  He twists Taurie’s wrist backwards; Taurie yelps in pain and collapses backward into a foul-smelling duffel bag, kept upright and pinned in an iron grip.

“It’s over, Conway,” Handlebars says, his ludicrous facial hair twisting into some sort of fuzzy alien punctuation mark.

Taurie aims a mule-kick at the stack of luggage; it topples over and crashes down on Handlebars.  His hand comes free, and Taurie bolts through the lobby —

And then the building is shaking like the inside of a bass drum with the percussive force of a massive explosion.  Through one of the floor-length glass panes, Taurie sees the roof of his building belching fire and smoke into the sky.  He has only a moment of panic to realize that the inhibitor signal is probably about to cease, and then Taurie is gone and the Tank takes over.

Handlebars has extricated himself from the tangle of mothballed dresses and hardshelled suitcases and he sees Taurie stop short across the lobby.  The kid doubles over and begins pounding on the floor, his shirt stretching and snapping, his neck and shoulders and arms bulging like he’s been suddenly pumped full of hot air.  Handlebars’s mouth goes dry and his stomach turns.  He unholsters his pistol and fires off a tranq dart — then a second, for good measure.  The thing that used to be Taurie peers ponderously at the feathers sprouting from its butt and rounds on him.

The scrawny kid is gone; in his place is a golden-eyed monster the size of three linebackers, snorting and snarling with great bull nostrils and great bull horns sprouting from his sweat-matted hair.

Now it’s Handlebars’s turn to run.  He stumbles into the street but the Tank is on him in the blink of an eye.  He feels his ankle caught as if in cement, and then the world turns a half flip and he’s dangling upside-down, staring into the inverted face of Taurie-Tank.  Its bulging eyes bore into his, protruding snout exploring his face, horns jabbing into his collarbones.  Its breath smells of rancid meat and ashes; he gets lightheaded breathing it in.  This is the end, Handlebars thinks, and then he hears the pock-pock of gunfire, feels warm spray spatter his cheek, tastes iron on his tongue.  The monster drops him on his face and he feels consciousness slip away as the Tank leaps toward the dark-suited agents across the street, stomping a crater in a sedan along the way.

****

Taurie wakes up in a stainless steel room, cuffed to a bed.  There’s pain in his shoulder, but it’s faint and distant.  In the corner stands Handlebars, his ankle in a cast and a bandage over one eye.

“Welcome back.”

Taurie asks the only question that matters.  “Did I kill anybody?”

“Is that what you’re worried about?”

“What should I be worried about?”

Handlebars shrugs.  “Whether or not you ever see daylight again.”

Taurie folds his arms, or tries to.  The handcuff clatters at his wrist.  “You want my research.  I’m not giving it to you.  Why do you think I blew up my apartment?”

Handlebars smiles.  “We already have your research.”  He hobbles into the light, his unbandaged eye turning gold.

 


That Kind of Morning


I usually don’t use the blarg to vent about little things; it’s not my jam to get overly worked up over the ticky tacky stuff that happens to everybody all the time.  Then again, sometimes things happen that just throw you so far off your stride it’s impossible to get past it.  Douglas Adams made a fantastic comparison once (and I’m paraphrasing heavily): It’s as if you’re going along happily in third gear, and feeling how wonderfully powerful you are and how smoothly everything is going, and then as you shift into fourth gear you miss the shift and throw the vehicle into reverse, and your vehicle vomits its engine out onto the highway.  I feel like that was in The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, but I can’t be certain.

There are just some things you take for granted in your day.  Some simple things that are so very simple they cannot fail.  The sky, for example, will hover merrily above your head.  Gravity will tug gently downward at you.  People will generally be decent, if a bit self-absorbed.  Doors will operate by the simple use of their handle.

But you can’t take all of those things for granted.

wpid-20140826_072051.jpg

That’s my driver’s side door, moments after I attempted to open it to go to work this morning.  I took hold of the handle and pulled it toward me in the proscribed manner, and then with a comically loud snap, it broke off in my hand, sending me windmilling wildly backward in my driveway.  (I wish I could have said windmilling wildly westward, but I don’t know if that’s true and it’s a bit aggrandized.)  I can still get it open, but I have to slide a finger behind that tab of remaining handle to lift up the metal bit which lies flush against the back of the handle well, and then get my other fingers under that to open the door.  So it’s about five times as much work as opening a door should be, plus it looks like absolute ass.  And okay, yes, first world problems and all that, but ugh.  Of all the things that can go wrong with a car, you don’t expect the door handle to be anywhere near that list, or in fact on the list at all, or even adjacent to the list.

I’m not one to ascribe significance where there is none.  The breaking of a door handle has no bearing on the rest of my day except for leaving me a little bit in doubt as to whether other taken-for-granted elements in the world will also cease to function as advertised.  Still, this strikes me as pretty odd.  I mean, I didn’t know this could happen through what I can only assume is normal use of the product.

Am I wrong?  Does this happen?  Are we all just in some long invisible queue waiting for the automatic certainties of the universe to decay on us?  Or is all my working out paying off, so much that I now need to be really careful when I handle delicate objects?

Ahem.  So this is Tuesday.


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