Daily Archives: October 8, 2016

A Laughing Matter


Scowling through the mirror at Earl is a face as twisted as the ones in his nightmares.

One hand tightens on the brown bottle, the other on the glass. The cubes swirl and clink as he pours a drink too many and tosses it back.

“You’re just not making them laugh like you used to, big guy.” Max had given him a sorry grin, like a dog who’s eaten your dinner but who knows you’re not going to do a damned thing about it. “Nothing personal.”

And just like that, here he is, cleaning his crap out of the dressing room for the last time. Over the monitor, Earl can hear the trite jokes from some new kid on the circuit — name of Zamir, of all things, riffing on his foreign parents — to what sounds like an ocean of raucous laughter.

A sound Earl’s only ever from backstage; never in person.

The glass flies from his hand and shatters the mirror, and now it’s not a single scowling mask that looks back at him, but a dozen. Earl stares himself down for a good, hard minute, then grabs his jacket, frayed elbows and all, and beats it.

There’s a storm rolling in. The first fat drops are just starting to fall, but the real action’s a long way off, yet. A couple of drunks are hanging out, grinning at each other in that half-lidded, glassy-eyed way that you only see at one in the morning outside a comedy club. One of them recognizes Earl, and it begins.

“Hey, it’s the comedian.”

Earl knows what’s coming. He pulls up his collar and tries to walk by, but the guy’s in front of him, a hand on his chest, fruity, watered-down vodka on his breath. “You weren’t funny.”

“Sorry you didn’t like it.” Earl sighs. Tries to be contrite. “Look, talk to Max. Tell him Earl said to give you a few free passes for next week.” Max will never give this guy anything, but vodka breath doesn’t know that.

“What, so we can hear more lame jokes about your mother-in-law?”

Vodka-breath’s buddy thinks this is really funny. He bursts out in a laugh that sounds like a choking horse. Again, the sound of laughter that isn’t for him burns away at Earl worse than the bourbon burning through his guts.

Everybody thinks they know what funny is, but they don’t, not really. They don’t laugh at Earl’s jokes. But they’ll laugh at their idiot friends making fun of Earl’s jokes, sure, no problem.

Earl stares at horse-laugh long enough for it to get real uncomfortable. “You think that’s funny? How about a knife in your spleen, think that’d be funny?”

A low rumble of thunder punctuates this, and the drunks back away real slow, watching Earl like he’s rabid.

“Thought not,” Earl mutters, and shoves his way past, making sure to give vodka-breath an elbow to the gut as he goes.

“Asshole.”

Then a bottle hits him in the back of the head, and everything goes dark to the sound of shattering glass.

#

Earl comes to — he’s not sure how much later — choking on the rainwater that’s puddling around him. His head hurts like hell; he rubs at it and his hand comes away hot and bloody. Lightning lights up the deluge that’s falling now, and the thunder rattles his skull.

The club is dark. Max. Probably saw Earl lying there when he left and didn’t do a damned thing to help him.

It’s the last straw.

#

Blue-lipped and shivering, Earl almost knocks the door to his cramped, moldy apartment off its hinges. He brushes past a sink full of dishes and a table covered with slowly decomposing takeout Chinese and makes for the bathroom.

It’s no mistake that his bathroom is set up like a green room; the apartment may be a shithole, but this is a shrine. His shaving kit, immaculately laid out by the sink. A couple of freshly-pressed towels hung on the rack. The bright lights overhead make him blink when he turns them on. Worn, curling pictures and newspaper clippings — over a dozen of each — are sandwiched between the frame and the mirror. Earl catches glimpses of himself in between as he looks back and forth. His father, his uncles, grandfathers and greats.

Down one side, he sees Samuel, the foppish Auguste in a frilled collar and big red nose. Randolph, a simple Whiteface in an oversized suit with white gloves. Freddy, the bumbling Tramp with a chewed-up derby and stippled-on stubble. All grinning in that carefree, gleeful way that clowns have, like even behind all the paint and the makeup and the oversized shoes, they find the whole world funny.

You could say it’s a family business. One that Earl’s tried to avoid. “Cheap laughs,” he always called it. But clowning is in his blood, he knows that, now, as he sees his eyes reflected in the pale masks.

But the other side of the mirror is in his blood, too. Tri-Cities Terror. Seaside Strangler. The Knife in the Night. They’re Earl’s family, too, and their mugshots stare back at him with the same clownish grin as the others, minus the makeup.

If psychology were a thing Earl’s family ever bothered with, they might have made something of the checkered legacy he has inherited. All Earl knows as the storm pounds on the windows is that he tried, he really did. He only wanted to kill them with laughter.

Now, he thinks as he reaches for the greasepaint, he’s just going to kill them.

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Holy carp, how long has it been since I turned in a flash fiction?

Well, this one’s not complete, but that’s by design: Chuck’s challenge this week is to start off a horror story that somebody else will (hopefully) pick up and run with. I figured, hey, clowns are topical right now, right?

Anyway. Sorry to the clown-phobes in attendance. Guess I shoulda put a trigger warning up top, huh?


The Weekly Re-Motivator: No Such Thing as Coincidence


I posted earlier this week about my missing flash drive.

It’s now been a solid week since I realized it was missing, and having now cleaned the house and looked in every reasonable place three times (and the unreasonable places, once or twice), it’s hard to argue with the simple, impassive truth. It’s gone.

And because I’m an idiot, the missing little chunk of plastic and silicone has taken with it about 40,000 words of work — the bulk of almost three months daily wordhammering — on the latest novel.

Just gone. Not like somebody broke into my house and my TV, dvd player, and all my wife’s jewelry are missing — that sort of thing, while senseless and random, would at least make sense in a causal sense. There would also be the lovely spectre of somebody to blame. No, it’s rather like I went to the grocery store and came back to find my dog gone. All of her toys still strewn around the house. Sprouts of fur on her blanket and bed. Leash on the wall hook. But no sign of the mutt herself; just the back gate swinging in the breeze. The gate I forgot to close before I left the house.

It’d be tempting to think that it’s an awfully big coincidence that my entire project literally vanishes when I’ve been struggling so mightily with it over these past few months. Some of the days have been good, but most of them have been a bit too much like work, and as much as I like the central idea of the book, there’s just something … off about it. Maybe it’s the tone, maybe it’s the point of view, maybe it’s the setting; hard to pin down, but the idea just hasn’t caught fire with me the way I wanted it to.

So it disappears when I haven’t backed it up in months, and wipes out all those months of work.

But I don’t believe in coincidences; at least not in that cosmic, maybe it was meant to be kind of way. I’m furious with myself for losing it. I’m ready to throttle myself over the idiocy of failing to back up my project. And no matter how the project might have pained me, I don’t believe that simply throwing all that work out the window — literally, it turns out — would have been the best choice. Even bad writing sometimes reveals hidden gems, turns of phrase worth keeping, little narrative nuggets buried among the scree and scrap.

But I also don’t believe that it just happened. I think that, if I were really proud of this work, if I really felt it was worthy of my time, I probably would have safeguarded it a little bit better. I think if it mattered to me that much, I would have found the time to click a few buttons and back it up.

I don’t think me losing the flash drive and the project is the universe’s way of telling me that the project is wrong. I think that me losing the project was my own way of telling myself that the project was wrong.

Because here’s something I noticed in edits for my first novel: as much as I changed things, there was a hesitation to really deconstruct the thing, to shred it to pieces and rebuild the stuff I had spent so much time building the first time around. I did that deep rebuilding in places here and there, but a not insignificant portion of the first draft survived, coming through with only cosmetic changes.

With this project, though, I won’t have that option. I know the outline of what I wrote — the plotlines and the character developments that need to take place to get me to the middle — but I won’t have the fleshy bits, the meat of the story. I’ll have to rebuild all that.

Which is frustrating, but also kind of liberating. Not only am I not tethered by the shortcomings of the draft, but I can’t even see them in the rearview mirror. I’ve got no choice but to take this in an entirely new direction.

And the fact that I’m not filled with dread at the prospect tells me that, even though it burns worse than a throatful of rotgut bourbon, it doesn’t have to be all bad.

So maybe it’s just a coincidence that my project vanished into the ether when I was filled with so much doubt about it.

But I kind of don’t think so.

Maybe it’s just more likely that I’m devoted enough to this thing to turn this lemon — and man, is it a hell of a lemon — into something like lemonade.

Or maybe I have an alter ego who knows what’s best for my writing and chucked the thing in the garbage disposal while I thought I was asleep.

Either way, it’s time for a fresh start.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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