Rock Bottom Sneak Peek 2

Part 1 Here

The Gates of UpTop, panels of red and gold lacquer, trembled beneath the blows of a pick-axe. The very walls circling the UpTop Kingdom shook from the force. Grunting could be heard on the other side of the Gates between strikes and the contour of a pick-axe was everywhere.

Even if the Sea of Sand had not stood in the way, the Gates could be reached only after a sheer climb of over ten thousand feet. There had never been a need to repel a serious invader. There had never even been a thought of invasion. The Gates, therefore, had been built only for decorative purposes.

The UpTop People had watched with babbling wonder as the traveler had approached Gray Matter Rock. They had waited for him to die of thirst or keel over from sunstroke. He had not. When he had finally passed under the critical angle where he could be viewed by the Great Lenses, their babbling wonder had turned to mute horror. The citizenry now stood in the square, with hushed breath for the inevitable. The Gates of UpTop vibrated on their hinges like a plucked string until…

Finally, the Gates fell inward, throwing up motes of dust.

As one, the People of UpTop drew back.

A man stood in the entryway, a pick-axe held in two strong hands, a bright red beard outlining a dazzling white grin. He was slicked with sweat. The light on his hardhat was blinding.

The troops, who had been part-time volunteers for the entire history of UpTop, stood stupidly, waiting for orders.

WHERE IS THE KING? asked the Little Miner, before spitting on the ground.

 

*****

 

Nothing worse than waking up with wet pants. No matter how old you were, it made you feel like you were a kid again. Some dumb kid that couldn’t even take care of himself.

Martie’s head, which had some kind of painful cotton candy where his brain was supposed to be, rose and fell back against the pillow. The cotton candy of his brain protested any movement. It was one of those mornings where too much direct sunlight or moisture threatened to melt what was left of his neurons.

“I hate it when I piss the bed.”

Martie reached under the covers, not daring to open his eyes, put his thumbs under the waist of his pants and threw them away into a corner. His underwear followed shortly thereafter.

He’d made it home last night. He was sure of it. Or to the mission. Or something. He was in a bed, and that was the important part. There was a mattress under his back. Otherwise, this was going to be another one of “those stories.” The ones he kept pretending to be ashamed of or amused by, instead of coldly indifferent to.

“Rosalie! Vamanos! Laundry!” he shouted.

No one responded, and he was so fucked up it seemed like there had been an echo.

He had a maid.

A mattress and a maid.

He was certain of it.

It might be three o’clock in the morning for all he knew. Rosalie didn’t show up until noon, when he was still dead asleep most days. He pushed the covers off the bed. Martie didn’t sleep in his own piss. No matter how far he’d fallen. No matter, how much cotton candy there was in his head, Martie didn’t sleep where he’d pissed.

He’d wake up to Rosalie clucking and tsking in a few hours. Then she would feed him breakfast. Eggs and bacon and hashbrowns. He’d have an orange juice and promise that he would do better. He’d have been dead years ago if it wasn’t for Rosalie.

Unless he wasn’t home.

Unless he was somewhere that somebody could see him.

In which case he’d pretend he was embarrassed. He was getting worse at pretending to be embarrassed. You could only piss yourself so many times before it got to be routine.

Except… he didn’t have a home anymore.

That had ended months and months ago.

They’d kicked him out of the house.

They’d kicked him out of the van by the river.

And they’d kicked him out of the mission.

Martie didn’t have a bed.

His thoughts felt suddenly clear.

Where the fuck was he?

He opened his eyes, just to check where he was so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise when he decided to get up.

He saw a clock.

No, not a clock.

The Big Clock.

The clock.

2149:56:32

“Fuck me,” he said.

His heart skipped a beat, but unmercifully found its rhythm again.

 

*****

 

“How are you feeling, Martie?”

“Oh, better. Much better.”

“Are you going to all the meetings?”

“Yes, absolutely. I’m making a lot of progress. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself.”

“When’s the last time you used?”

“Not since that last time I told you about, when it got really bad.”

Barbara still wanted to be friends. Martie didn’t know why. She hadn’t forgiven him. Not really. She just felt guilty that all her love hadn’t been able to make him give up heroin. All her love hadn’t been able to fill up the hole inside of him. Barbara still thought of it as a failure on her part.

Quietly, in an ugly place in his heart, Martie agreed with that assessment.

“You promise?”

He hadn’t forgiven her for abandoning him with himself.

“I promise.”

He still had cycles so he wasn’t always lying. Sometimes he was a month on then a week off. Two months on, a week and a half off. He never stopped using entirely but he sometimes he came close and in those moments between shooting up that it was almost like being clean. It was goddamn agony. Before this phone call he’d been in a continuous haze for two months.

“I’m seeing someone,” said Barbara.

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“He’s a good guy. You’d like him.”

“I’m happy for you.”

Strange how he didn’t feel anything at all. Not rage. Not acceptance. Not anything. There’d been a time when the thought of Barbara with another man would have sent him up the wall. There’d been a time when he would have strangled the bastard. He heard crying on the other end of the line.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Martie?”

He was too tired to resent the implication. Too tired to have this conversation. Too used up to do anything but Need.

“I said I’m fine.”

He hung up the phone. Barbara wasn’t a quiet crier. She wailed and wailed and Martie couldn’t sit alone in a mansion and listen to that. It was day outside. Regular people liked days like this. Regular people didn’t listen to their ex cry on the phone on a day like this.

The Need howled its predator cry.

Ever since he’d cut back on using this time, it felt like his skeleton was trying to crawl out of his skin. Morning runs left him tired but didn’t seem to exhaust that essential energy inside him. The runs only left his body aching and imprisoned his racing mind. He had to make things. Not games. Not yet. But making things had always used that energy up so it wouldn’t tear him apart.

He decided to fuck around in the garden.

He would have liked to have called it “gardening” in his garden, but it was only really fucking around. He didn’t give a fuck about flowers. You couldn’t make flowers if you didn’t give a fuck, you could only move them around. All Martie gave a fuck about was being able to take a picture of “a garden” so people wouldn’t give him so much grief about using. So somewhere far off Barbara would think he was actually getting better. The only thing he could make these days were goddamn illusions.

Junkies aren’t known to garden.

Therefore, Martie decided he would garden.

Except… he was a junkie.

Honesty had a terrible way of creeping up on him when he was sober.

He, Martie, was a junkie. All of his other labels and descriptors disappeared under the weight of that single word.

Junkie.

Martie shoveled some dirt where he planned to build a shed. The shovel blade bit into the soil with a sound like “liar!” He knew he didn’t want a goddamn shed, because he hated gardening. He wanted to make a game, but he couldn’t. He wanted to make something useful. Something like a game. He didn’t know what, though.

He kept digging.

There was no particular reason for the digging. Other than that he felt lost, small and alone, and there happened to be a shovel in his hands with which he could finally dig the actual grave he’d been trying to carve out of his arm with a needle for the last several years.

He told himself it was a well. There were plenty of reasons to dig a well. Of course not with a shovel, but there were plenty of reasons people dug wells. It was a logical justification, if not quite an explanation.

But it was still a lie.

The next day, he kept digging.

He liked to feel the Earth creeping up over him. Liked to hear the sounds from up above fade away. Loved to feel like he was ancient and below and lived apart from the surface.

He dug the next day. And the day after. And the day after that.

His hands were a mess of blisters but he didn’t stop.

Somewhere, deep below everything else, he felt the Little Miner in his head trying to make his way to the surface. It stood to reason, that if he dug down, met the Little Miner halfway, then maybe he’d feel alive again.

He dug down for weeks, in a frenzy.

And somewhere, from below, the Little Miner was digging up.

Martie had made up the Little Miner for his Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The miner was a dwarvish man in a silver hardhat with a bright flashbulb, the protagonist of some as yet unmade game. The bulb was so the miner could make his way through the darkness and the gleaming silver pick-axe was a weapon against the obstacles in his way.

Martie had laughed with some of his junkie friends about it. About how everyone in the meeting had nodded solemnly and said if this metaphor was God as Martie understood him, then it was a fine God indeed.

“Can you believe the shit they let me get away with? I’ve got them all fooled.”

His dealer had shared a laugh with him over it.

Who would believe in something so obviously stupid?

He believed now.

As he dug, Martie came to realize that the Little Miner he had laughed at, that he thought of as a joke, was perhaps the last little part of himself that could actually save him. And he was terrified because he’d been right to laugh.

How was an imaginary game character supposed to help him out of this?

Toward the end, when he realized what he was actually creating, Martie had to get smart. He found a desperate focus, like the final flicker of dying candle. He had to hire a back-hoe. He had to hire a crane. He had to hire welders.

In the end, he’d told everyone the Pit was going to be a storm shelter. Then he’d built a shed over it and told everyone he’d filled it in. Everyone forgot about it. He was erratic. He was crazy. He was on drugs. He did crazy shit all the time.

He’d bought a giraffe once, then gave it to the zoo when the city complained. It later died when the zoo hadn’t been able to undo Martie’s neglect.

No one cared that he’d dug a hole in the ground.

When he dug the Pit, Martie felt the way he had felt when he made video games. He felt like the missing part of him, the part that Barbara always called the Sadness Hole when she brought it up in their arguments, was suddenly full.

When he finished the Pit, Martie stood back and beheld his creation… and realized what he had actually done. He’d known the Pit for what it was then. Not just a hole in the ground, but the last desperate attempt by everything worthy in him to heal everything that was broken.

And Martie knew that such healing would cost him everything.

Looking at the Pit, Martie realized that he was, in fact, broken. No whole and complete person would have ever created such a thing.

The Pit presented a clear and immediate choice.

So that night Martie chose to stick a needle in his arm.

Junkies fuck up.

Martie was a junkie.

Repost: The Write Frame of Mind

This is a story from my old blog and contains pretty much everything you need to know about me as a person.

What I needed, I decided in a flash of genius-level insanity, was a pet sloth. Yes, a pet sloth, that was the ticket! I burst out smiling at the very idea, and was thankful that no one was around to see the sudden change in my expression.

I walked by the canal, hands in pockets, shrugging in my winter jacket so that the collar would ride up by my ears. Wind so cold it was sharp kept finding its way inside my ear canal. When the wind got in that far, it felt like being stabbed in the brain with an icicle. My ipod earphones were flimsy defense, and sometimes even seemed to act as a condenser.

Deciding that brain-stabbing was an actionable offense as it distracted me from focusing on my pet sloth, I muttered to myself, and flipped up my collar by hand.

Asshole wind, making me take my hands out of my pockets and breaking my train of thought.

Once done, I sighed. I was walking so that when I got home I would be in, what I called, the “Write Frame of Mind.”

I hadn’t written anything in ages, and I supposed a pet sloth would help to relieve the guilt. I wanted to write, and could not summon the will and the fact that I actually had people waiting to read what I wrote didn’t help matters.

I was tired from work. Tired from coming home and having to deal with the family. The kids and their problems. My mom and her problems. Mike and his problems, and his desire to make all the other problems even worse. By the time it was all done with, writing felt like trying to wring moisture from a dry cloth.

But a pet sloth would change everything!

Why would anyone buy a small hyper-active dog that never seemed to run out of energy? Or a cat with such impregnable self esteem that it barely seemed to need a human? Surely, when people compared themselves to these dogs and cats they inevitably felt like unproductive, self-hating, low-energy, wastes of space.

But if I had a pet sloth? I would wake up every day, see the sloth in more or less the same position as the day previous, and leave my house feeling as though I had boundless energy. The sloth would magnify everything I did to heroic proportions.

I practically skipped down the dirt path.

The sloth would transform me from a man into a god.

The ground crunched beneath my feet. The canal was empty now, because the water up in the mountains was freezing, but some of the moisture had stayed in the ground by the canal and it was getting crunchy in the cold. Thankfully, my boots were heavy leather and my socks were thick wool.

When I came home from work, I would no longer feel tired if the sloth was there! I would feel like a conqueror returned from a successful campaign, ready to have rose petals fall upon me. Children in the streets would flock to me, knowing that seeing me would be one of the most important event of their lives, and that they must chisel it into their memories like words on a stone tablet.

The family problems would seem to be inconsequential. With my sloth I would assume absolute authority and no one would question me any longer when I wanted to do the right thing. I would sit down in front of the computer every day and literary splendor would fall from my fingers, all thanks to the lowly sloth.

I swallowed a bit of air so cold it froze the back of my throat, and I coughed. But no matter, I was in the “Write Frame of Mind” and my brain was too busy telling itself a story to bother itself over a bit of throat irritation.

In a matter of months I would be famous. I would go on Oprah. She would praise me as the next Mark Twain, and I would correct her and say that I was actually the first BC Woods. Then the audience would laugh, and Oprah would be humbled by my intellect. The sloth would watch the interview in the green room, surrounded by friends and family.

And the sloth would be there every step of the way, my silent supporter whose tiny mind and tiny accomplishments made me feel so enormous and powerful.

Damn.

I paused for a moment. The one-armed walker was approaching me from the other direction. We were both frequent walkers, and when he passed me he always nodded like he wanted to be my friend.

I, in turn, kept changing my walk times to avoid him, but he nevertheless always managed to find me.

Suddenly, my dreams of wooing the talk show circuit with my pet sloth in tow revealed themselves to be utterly fantastical, since I was now experiencing anxiety at the very prospect of talking to a rather mundane man with one-arm.

And why was I so nervous?

In the same part of my brain where the sloth had been born, I had already hypothetically spoken with the one-armed man a thousand times. Never once had I managed to bring up the subject of his missing arm in a way that did not offend him. I had also never managed to hypothetically speak with him without bringing up his arm.

I wished my pet sloth were there for real. If my sloth were there then I would not have experienced discomfort at talking to someone in a social setting.

I turned my iPod volume on full, so that it could be heard in the muffling white silence of unpopulated winter streets, figuring this would dissuade the one-armed man from talking to me.

There was a terrifying moment when we passed each other where it seemed as though we might make some sort of conversation but I got by with a nod. I didn’t breathe normally again until I rounded a bend and he was out of view.

I felt jaded all of the sudden.

God damn sloth. Where was it when I needed it?

Was it sitting at home jealous of me? Jealous of me and my new found fame? Was it sitting at home this very instant in a plush red chair, drinking vermouth in front of a crackling fire and snarling at my portrait?

Good God!

Was it being a pet to other humans?

My ears were so cold that if they were flicked they would have snapped off, but I was now in a lather over my the infidelities of my pet sloth.

That bitch… and/or word for a female sloth!

I had taken her out of South America, from nothing, and this was how she repaid me! That… that… sloth-bitch! That worthless bitch of a sloth, who was no doubt even now helping some other writer feel good about himself.

Inside my pockets, I clenched my fists in rage and gritted my teeth.

I was again, more than a little thankful no one was there to ask me about the change in my expression.

I saw my pet sloth on the beach, in photos taken with that bastard of some other writer. I saw my pet sloth on a Ferris Wheel sitting next to him sharing the same ice cream cone. I saw my pet sloth with a towel wrapped around it, getting out of the shower with no make-up on.

I realized I was squeezing my hands very tight.

I let out my breath in a rush.

“God, I’m fucking crazy,” I said.

My worry over my sanity was higher than usual. I had in fact stopped wearing what I called my “Ear-Muff Hat” because I had recently read “A Confederacy of Dunces” and it made me feel like Ignatius J Reilly.

Disappointed in myself, I reached the end of the dirt path and was ready to turn around. I pinched the bridge of my nose, then took a few moments to warm my ears up with my hands. Focus on the moment. That was the thing. Forget all about the sloth that was cheating on me.

I turned back, and decided there was no reason to be so hostile toward my imaginary sloth since it wasn’t even real in the first place and hadn’t even been imaginary till about half an hour ago.

I decided that in order to be more “real” I needed to go on a date. I’d never been on a real actual date before. Oh, I had taken a few girls to dinner and such but never on a “date.” Oh, I’d be uncomfortable and out of my element but maybe that was….

I started walking again.

Damn it was cold.

Unable to help myself, I wondered if the sloth was cold right now. I had been gone for so long… two weeks I decided… on business.

In fact, I’d been so angry at the sloth when I left, so bloated with my own self-importance that I was going away “on business.” I had even said cruel words to the sloth, and insulted its very slothliness. I had been so righteously indignant, that I had coated the entire floor by the sloth’s bowl with food just so show the sloth how much contempt I had for its sloth habits.

Then I slammed the door, leaving the sloth halfway between the bedroom and the doorway.

I felt a dark turn.

“God damn it. Why do I thinks hit like this?” I muttered, sensing what was to come.

But it was too late now. I was in the “Write Frame of Mind” and the story had to be acted out.

I was on my way home, and I knew what I would find when I opened that door. The sloth would be dead. Starved to death. It had crawled up on the bed and died.

Its food bowl was next to the door, untouched.

The sloth had committed suicide.

The scene wrapped around me and became real, even though I knew I was still walking on the dirt path by the canal.

I’m inside my bedroom, giving the sloth CPR. Crying, begging the sloth to move. It’s chest is waxen, and its fur lacks luster. I’m calling 9-11, sobbing and begging them to send out the veterinary ambulance that in this fantasy exists without question.

I hold the sloth in my lap, rocking back and forth, wondering why God, why?

I’m at the sloth’s funeral, people trying to console me only to have me shrug their hands off my shoulder.

I’m in a church praying to sloth-Jesus, asking to understand.

“This is so fucked up,” I remind myself. It is a distant voice that has no real chance at stopping the story.

I’m inside the sloth’s mind now. The sloth is newly born in the jungle. The world is dangerous. The sloth struggles to find food and cowers in fear of shadowy streaks that move like lightning and kill other sloths. There are many fast shadowy streaks, as only trees and other sloths are constant in this world.

In the world of the sloth, it is not the sloth that is slow. It is everything else that is fast.

One day a streak of shadow grabs the sloth, and the sloth is terrified. Not only does it know that it will be eaten, it is terrified to be carried at such high speeds. It wants to claw its way free, but its hands are too slow to ever strike the shadow creature… but then… the shadow creature takes the sloth into the light.

The light is a new miracle, because before it saw the light the sloth had never even known such things as miracles existed. The sloth is stunned.

The sloth has lived its whole life under the canopy of the rain forest. It has never seen light like this before. Every aspect of the landscape is visible. And then… wonder of wonders if the sloth stares long enough it can start to see the shape of some sort of giant hairless sloth that holds it.

The Hairless One holds it gently, as its own sloth-mother once did, so the sloth stops struggling. And then they get into a tube of metal and the sloth is carried to a new place where food is plentiful.

The sloth sees the Hairless One often, because it sits for long periods of time in front of a glowing white box that bathes its face in light. The sloth is happy to have this protector and will die to defend it. It especially likes the soft thing it sleeps on at night next to the Hairless One where the Hairless One is finally as still as is proper for a giant sloth.

But something happens. The Hairless One is there less and less often. Sometimes it is only there at night, and when this happens the sloth will not sleep but will spend all night making sure that the Hairless One is still there and safe.

But then days go by and the Hairless One does not return. The sloth worries, but then the Hairless One is back in the bed. But the worry does not leave. The sloth becomes frightened to leave the bedroom, for fear of missing the Hairless One the next time it appears, and the sloth  is afraid to be alone. Food still appears, but it is company the sloth craves.

The jungle had been terrifying, but at least there had been other sloths there.

Soon is seems that the Hairless One is never home, and the sloth wants to cry from loneliness. Where has the Hairless One gone? The one who pulled it from the horrible jungle with the evil streaking shadows and brought it to this place of light and food?

One day, just for a moment, the sloth thinks it see the Hairless One shouting, enraged, slamming doors and yelling. But the sloth does not think this is so, for when the Hairless One sleeps at night it looks so calm and peaceful that it can not really be related to the shadow-streak.

Food appears in the place it has always been, so much food… but the sloth is not hungry. It is lonely. The bedroom is so far, and it knows that every step there will put the food farther and farther behind, but the Hairless One will come back with rescue.

The Hairless One will come back.

And the sloth waits there on the bed, staring at the place where the Hairless One sleeps.

It waits there until it dies of starvation.

“Ugh,” I groaned.

I was glad no was walking the dirt path then, because it would have been embarrassing to say that my eyes were red because a sloth had died in my imagination and that the sloth had only been imaginary for a little under an hour.

Cosmic Horseshit

I made two lasagnas, two days ago.

One of them exploded.

I have a very rigid scientific worldview, but I can’t help but feel that this falls under the heading of “Cosmic Horseshit.” Which is my catch-all phrase for things that aren’t magical, but would be magical if anything was magical. For example, if you loudly declare that ghosts aren’t real and then all your books fly off the shelves that’s “Cosmic Horseshit.”

I had left the stove-top on by accident and placed one of the lasagnas on top of it after I pulled it from the oven. I left it there to cool so I could take it to my little brother and sister when I got ready to drive to their house. I sat down to unwind for a bit and then I heard this really terrible glass shattering sound.

The tray exploded all over the place. Huge mess. Glass shards everywhere.

I believe what happened is that the cheese formed a seal over the top of he pan and then the boiling of the sauce inside the pan increased the pressure such that the pan could no longer bear the strain.

I now know that pyrex cookware is made of safety glass.

No idea what it means, other than that physics works even when we don’t intend it to.

GOING OUT

I decided to be an adult human being and went out with some people I work with for dinner. It ended up being two couples and me so it was somewhat awkward.  I think I did a pretty good job of not being freaked out by the restaurant, though.

I ate a meal so big it felt like getting punched in the stomach, but that was the kind of restaurant it was, where every item on the menu says “Fuck you, I dare you, motherfucker” in the description. They had pretty great cinnamon butter, though.

I only got slightly turned around while trying to find the exit. I tend to get pretty turned around when I’m surrounded by a lot of people. I usually just play it off like I’m trying to find something else.

I’ve decided to practice being around people again, since I’m getting bad at that in a probably dangerous (for me) way.

I’ll probably go to some poetry slams or something. Because I like poetry. And it’s embarrassing as shit to read in front of other people.

SNOW DAY

It snowed a foot here.

I hate it.

So much.

There are five cats in my house trying to get out of the snow.

I can’t bring myself to kick any of them out.

Seeing them all together in one place really has me questioning every life decision that has led up to this moment.

Rock Bottom Sneak Peek

STEP 1

 

The mountain loomed over the desert like the gnomon of a sundial, solitary and steep. Gray Matter Rock jutted upward from a graveyard of crushed stones, like the arm of the unquiet dead. The Sea of Sands lay in every direction, an endless desert reaching out to meet the thousand mile shadow of the mountain.

Gray Matter Rock’s sky-facing inhabitants, the UpTop people, scampered about its face in a routine as old as the Rock itself. They brought up ores from the Twilight Kingdoms inside the mountain. They shopped at their cozy shops, exchanging goods and swapping stories, living quiet comfortable lives. The UpTop kingdom was the sort of secluded place that had no memory of a beginning and which could not conceive of an ending.

Except today.

For the first time, change had come to the mountain.

Horns sounded.

Horns whose first notes were filled with spider-webs and dust and rubbish and which had been all but forgotten before being blown.

Troops rallied.

Troops which could parade and flourish and perform, but had never once fought.

The Great Lenses of UpTop pivoted toward a single point on the horizon. Generals shoved and shouted each other out of the way trying to make sense of the image.

A short man approached on a mule from across the Sea of Sand, a silver pick-axe slung over his shoulder. He wore a battered metal hat with a shining magnesium light fixed to his brow.

The people of UpTop whispered.

The people of UpTop trembled.

The Rock was obdurate.

The Rock had never fallen.

From deep, deep below came a rumbling upon the mountain.

 

*****

 

Martie darted across the neatly-cut grasses of his lawn with wide steps on the brink of a run. His bare feet left no tracks. Only his frantic gasps left any sign of someone having passed. A trail of mist stretched behind him as though from an invisible cigarette.

A maddening thought looped through Martie’s head: If a man could be swallowed up by the Earth and not a soul would notice, then perhaps that man deserved to be swallowed.

It had come to that, finally.

There might be a way out. One way. But there wasn’t much time. The guard could be back any moment and there was still fifty yards of open space to clear.

And the Need.

The Need drove him forward.

The Need above all.

It surprised Martie, when he was sober enough to have a sense of perspective, that he had ever managed to get a house big enough that walking across the yard was a significant chore. Most junkies never had mansions, but then most junkies weren’t millionaires.

Through the headache of impending withdrawal, Martie struggled to remind himself that none of it was his anymore.

Six months ago all of his assets had been seized and he’d been kicked out on the street for breach of contract. He’d violated a clause on a fifteen-year-old piece of paper that he’d never even bothered to read and would have been too high to understand if he had.

The bank had hired a security guard to keep the house safe until they were allowed to sell it. Once that happened, Martie’s entire empire would be well and truly erased. He might as well have never been born.

The guard.

He had to remember the guard!

There wasn’t much time.

The house was a distant point of light now, hidden behind trees.

The shed lay ahead.

Twenty yards.

A door slammed, far away, open and shut.

The guard!

And the Need.

The Need!

Ten yards.

With a leap, Martie reached the shed and entered. The door latched shut behind him with a click, cutting off his view of a moonless night sky. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a trembling hand.

“You’ve got this,” he said.

A rake smiled at him with steel-sharp teeth. A feminine spade laughed at Martie with its friend, a busty cocktease of a garden hoe. With a single sweep of his arm, Martie knocked all of them to the ground.

“It doesn’t matter what you think!”

Would the guard have heard him say that?

For no particular reason, he laughed before bursting into tears.

“Gotta do it. Got to. Game over. No other way.”

Stepping over the corpses of various lawn tools, Martie reached out and grabbed a length of rope. Thank God the bank hadn’t cleared this stuff out, or who knew where he’d have stolen a rope. Fibers bit his hands, but he hardly felt it. He hardly felt anything these days unless he could inject it into his arm.

Clumsy fingers tied a loop.

Then another. And another. And one last one.

“I’ll show ‘em.”

Martie stomped on the spade-head shovel when its dead face wanted to know just who exactly he thought he was talking to. A stern and steady work stool screeched in protest when he pulled it into position.

By some miracle, Martie managed to stand on the stool and touch the shed ceiling. His whole body shook, and it felt like he’d fall and break his neck any minute. At last, his fingers found the remote he’d hidden in the rafters.

Merciful Christ.

His hands shook with the Need.

He was going to do it this time. Not like the million billion fantasies he’d had of doing it. Not like the hundreds of times he’d come into this shed and turned back around. This time he was really, truly, finally, actually going to do it.

Martie closed his eyes and pressed a button on the remote. A small compartment in the ceiling opened up. A winch slid into view just above his hands.

Before he had time to think himself out of it, before he had time to contemplate the stupid danger, or ponder all the easier paths, Martie threaded the rope through the winch-hole.

He got off the stool and dragged a large metal basket into the center of the shed. He secured the rope to the four corners of the basket.

The assembly looked not unlike a swing. Maybe something you’d build for a kid. Or maybe a noose that had hung a basket by mistake. Martie climbed into the contraption and curled up like a baby.

He had only done this once before. Just to test it and make sure the winch was operational. But that had just been a test. For the first time in a long time, Martie felt an actual feeling. A feeling of being real.

It was terrifying.

Martie pressed another button.

Hydraulic coils, hidden in the floor of the shed, began to hum. A muted screech sounded and then the floor began to open.

Martie made sure to stare at the ceiling, because the way the floor opened looked too much like a mouth preparing to swallow him alive.

Then the basket descended into the Pit hidden under the shed.

Observing the ever-lengthening walls of the Pit, Martie had the sensation of sliding down a throat. He became suddenly aware of the cold and shivered. The Pit would be warm though. Hell was always warm and Martie himself had designed this hell.

Fingers touched the basket, tugged at the rope, brushed the metal cord that ran up to the motors in the ceiling. Fingers that trembled in awe of their own genius. Whoever had dug this Pit couldn’t have been Martie. Or at least not the part of Martie that had been in control for the last fifteen years.

Perhaps this Pit had been built by another part of him. The part of him that had been trying to dig up to the surface through the haze of his drug abuse, the reckless indulgence of his guilt, and sheer annoyance with his self-hating brand of narcissism. Perhaps this Pit had been made by the part of him that knew the most fucked up thing that had ever happened to him was that he had learned to feel truly sorry for himself.

The basket spun as it descended.

“Look at me, Barbara! Look at me! I bet you’d never have guessed I could do this after the nightclub!”

He’d made it all so easy. So easy for himself. Because he’d always known he’d be too stupid high to do anything complicated when this moment came. All he’d had to do was push the button.

The basket slowed. Twenty feet. Twenty-five feet. Thirty feet. Forty Feet. The basket stopped with a lurch.

Martie had precisely two minutes to back out. Turning back would have been a more tempting idea if he’d had somewhere to go. And… he had to do something down here that would take longer than two minutes.

The Need had to be satisfied.

Always.

That’s what the Need was there for.

The homeless shelter had kicked him out. He’d spent the last two weeks sleeping in a dried up drain culvert until it had finally rained. Before that he’d lived in a van with other users. And besides, this Pit, this trap he’d built for himself was baited.

There was heroin under the bed and everything he needed to cook. He’d set it aside from better days, when he’d been making so much money that he couldn’t fuck up fast enough to go broke.

There was food down here too. Martie hadn’t eaten in days. His stomach growled.

He ran to the heroin first.

It had been almost ten hours since his last fix. Inhumanly long. The Need begged for satisfaction. The Silly Martie of Forever Ago had put the heroin inside of some kind of a time-release box that was tied to the floor. The Wise Martie of Now pressed a button. A clock with a timer of 5:00 flashed red. Then it said, 4:59 and 4:58 and 4:57.

So many stupid clocks. He felt faint and weak. Overwhelmed by numbers. Too many numbers.

A Big Clock at the top of the pit said, 1:45 and 1:44 and 1:43.

The red of the clock displays was the color of blood splattered across the lens of a flashlight.

While he waited, Martie crawled over to the bed and tore open a bag of beef jerky and gulped down a bottled water. His thirst seemed of paramount importance. Almost absentmindedly, he unhooked the rope from the winch so that the winch cord hung free like a dangling uvula.

The Big Clock said, 0:33.

That didn’t matter because the little clock said, 3:45

Martie saw a shelf full of books he’d forgotten about. He used to read, once. He hadn’t done so in years. Once Martie might have considered someone saying such a thing about reading to be like announcing their eye color had naturally changed but it didn’t feel that way anymore.

There was a computer down here too. It seemed almost ancient, an artifact of another civilization. And then there was a hot plate and shelf upon shelf of food… and a toilet. Like an adult version of the forts he’d built as a child.

The Big Clock said, 0:00.

The winch cord ascended.

Martie didn’t notice. The little clock still said, 3:12.

He couldn’t have made this place.

Not Martie.

Not a washed-up junkie game-maker.

Martie hadn’t made this place.

It was the other part of him that had built this. The part of him that had dug up as he dug down. The part of him that had struggled to get to the surface as he buried himself. He could feel it there in the back of his head. A tingling, almost. He imagined a little miner with a magnesium flare hat and a silver pick-axe, chipping away at the dark in his brain.

The floor, now the ceiling, closed above Martie. Two lights came on. A clock on the wall lit up. It said:

2160:00:00

Then it said:

2159:59:59

The Little Miner in his head smiled now. The Little Miner sensed daylight. The daylight was far-off but the Little Miner had been trapped in the darkness for years. And his silver pick was digging into the night, breaking it apart bit by bit.

The breaking of the dark hurt, because Martie was that darkness. His whole soul was hollow spaces and false faces and shadows.

More immediate concerns drew his attention.

The little clock said, 0:00 and popped open.

Martie took the heroin out from under the bed. Martie cooked the heroin. Martie filled the needle. Martie shot up.

Nobody was going to report Martie missing.

You have to have someone to miss you before you can go missing.

 

*****

 

“No fucking way, dude. You made this shit?”

Before Martie could reply through the cloud of Pot smoke that Snake had blown in his face, the other boy’s spine arched as he suddenly jabbed at the keyboard.

“Fuck, these guys are all over me! Martie, what do I do?” Snake leaned back in the chair, his face half-turned away from the screen, as “the Fuzzies” began sticking to his avatar.

Martie smiled when he saw that Snake’s eyes were wild with panic. Snake’s whole acne-ridden face contorted in anguish. The joint was left on the computer table, forgotten.

“Drink the Fire Potion.”

Snake gave him a blank look.

“Press Ctrl + F,” Martie sighed.

“Oh yeah, thanks dude.”

Martie watched the computer screen as Snake’s character blazed orange, yellow and red. The dandelion bodies of “The Fuzzies” erupted into flames. They died screaming. Martie was absurdly proud of the screaming. He’d made the scream himself. It was actually a sound his cat made run through a couple of audio filters and it was eerie as hell.

He grabbed the joint off the computer table, while Snake was distracted.

“Now what?”

Snake’s breath stank like weed and his teeth, even at seventeen, were already going gray. Martie took a cruelly deliberate drink from Snake’s beer and made sure to smack his lips while Snake thrashed impatiently. Then he took a hit from the joint. Snake’s health points were vanishing by the second. Finally, Snake struck Martie’s arm.

“Tell me what to do, asshole!”

“You’ve got to jump into some water before you burn alive.”

“Oh! That’s why that shit is all over the place?”

“Yeah, but you better hurry.”

Snake dived into a blue river, which had the added benefit to moving him past several dangerous obstacles and further toward the end of the level. His avatar emerged with a few black pixels but not much worse for wear. Water healed fire damage if you got to it quick enough. Already the Fuzzies were back on pursuit and there were some swinging blades farther ahead

Snake’s eyes remained glued to the screen.

“Who taught you how to make this stuff, bro? I ain’t never known someone who could make a fucking video game before.”

The real answer to the question was that loneliness had taught Martie. Loneliness and isolation and having a big hollow pit inside of himself that could never be filled. All those things had taught him as much as being left alone with a computer from an early age.

“Just learned it on the internet. And Mr. Lewis lets me use the computer lab at school sometimes-”

“The fuck did these swords come from!”

“It’s not as hard as you think it is, you’ve just got to put in the time to-”

Snake threw up his hands in disgust.

“How do I get by the swords, Martie?”

Martie took another drag.

He leaned back, feeling full and happy and confident, watching Snake grow desperate for the next clue. He’d always been able to hook people. That, as well as the making, was the true gift.

The secret, he’d once confided to Snake, was that you had to suck people in. It wasn’t just a game. It was seduction. It was his twisted way of loving the world.

He couldn’t seduce women. He couldn’t seduce friends. But he could seduce total strangers with games. People always liked the things Martie made more than they liked Martie.

“The swords will kill the Fuzzies too. You’ve just gotta time it right.”

“I could sell this, bro. Like, if you burned it on CD’s and shit.”

Martie paused. He’d never even thought of doing something like that before.

“Sure, why not?”

Pleasant Surprises

I guess Patrick Rothfuss linked to my review.

That was a very nice surprise. It took me back to the olden golden days when I had a highly trafficked blog and had to actually make time to respond to comments.  Also, hello to the people reading this who came here who I haven’t ever talked to before.

I mostly just meander aimlessly on this blog. Every now and again I do something interesting. More often I give a weird over-share. Hopefully I’ll be interesting more often, since I seem to be getting better. I don’t know if you really want to stick around.  I probably wouldn’t. I’m not very pushy about things. But if you do, hello, how are you?

I decided that tomorrow when I go to the grocery store I’m going to make a lasagna for myself to celebrate as my shrink says I’m supposed to do stuff like that because I have a hard time acknowledging positive things. Also, I love lasagna.

You just can’t go wrong with lasagna.

Speaking of Patrick Rothfuss, for the tens upon tens of you who stuck with me through my bullcrap and my whole not-writing-anything-for-years, you may remember this from my old blog as I linked to it from there a lot, but Patrick is running his annual charity thing where he helps fund sustainable agriculture for developing nations. I think I’ve donated every year and you should too. They do good stuff.

I’m fighting the urge to give a long nervous over-share about who I am and what I write and things because I know people are reading this who wouldn’t be otherwise.  I’ll just say for those of you who care, I am working on things. Scary Stories are in progress. I’ll have “Rock Bottom” out probably by the end of this month. That’s my messy story about addiction, videogames and doomsday bunkers.

Also, don’t buy Nikola Tesla’s Unicorn Pigeon. It’s kind of meh, and I wrote it mostly as a dare to myself to see how many random discordant elements I could put in one story from stuff people gave me on facebook.

Brain Chemistry

CABERNET CABERET

I got very drunk last week, which was why there was no update.

I finally got around to talking to my therapist about that crazy episode where I tried to be somebody else. How I can never remember a time in my life where I was happy that didn’t turn out to be some kind of lie. How I feel like a failure for not being that other person. How sick I am of having “potential” and not having done things.

Then I spent a solid hour talking about how I don’t know who I am if I’m not miserable, how I’m ashamed of who I am, and then I ended up expressing how very much I wish I’d never been born.

Then that hour was over and I still hated myself.

So I got a bottle of Cabernet and drank it all and…

I spent the first hour watching videos of dogs being rescued on youtube and crying my eyes out. There are a lot of dogs out there that people aren’t taking care of. I cried for all of them.

Then I called pretty much everyone I know and sang into their voicemail. I sang the Impossible Dream, a lounge version of the theme from Star Wars, and others. I think I was urinating during one. I’m not exactly sure. I know I drank a lot of water to avoid being hungover.

I danced with Violet and Cathulu and told them both that they’re too handsome to be alive. Cathulu snuggled with me afterward, but Violet was too suspicious and kept her distance.

Then I slept for an entire day.

I decided I should probably go to the gym the next day. And keep going on back. And just focus on being me and being healthy and talking to my therapist about how unnatural it feels to be happy. I’ve been eating a lot of salad and vegetables lately.

THE LAST UNICORN

Bryn made me go to the Last Unicorn Tour this week. I was in the middle of hating myself for not exercising more and for not writing more and for not being better at everything, and then she interrupted me and threatened to not be my brother anymore.

Bryn and my friend Nare are the only two people I talk to really, so it was like she was holding half my friends hostage. So I sighed and went to the theater where they were showing it. I was early so I squeezed in about twenty minutes of hating myself in the car before I had to go inside. It felt like getting a big gulp of air before diving underwater.

I haven’t actually read the Last Unicorn because I’m saving it. Every now and again I spot a book I think I’ll really like and won’t read it. I haven’t read many of Harlan Ellison’s novels for this reason. I’m stock-piling them just in case. So, anyway, I felt like a fraud for going there and then that got me all twitchy.

I’m sure everyone in the line was wondering why it looked like I was preparing to wrestle with a Jaguar. Then I kept thinking about all those internet things about creepy dudes showing up at SFF stuff. And I kept thinking “you’re being that creepy dude right now.” Except of course I always refuse to talk to anyone or look at anyone, so I probably just looked more like a serial killer working himself up into a froth.

I was also worried someone might recognize me. I don’t why. It’s not really likely, but I figured the odds of it happening at a place like that were a lot higher than elsewhere. I was mostly just thinking up worst case scenarios. I hate being approached by strangers and if someone recognized and approached me then that probably would have made me cry which is super embarrassing because I’m a giant man with fists like hams. I’m not supposed to be a crier.

Anyhow, of course that was a stupid conceited thing to think. I’ve only been recognized in public a couple of times and that most of those were back in college after my family stories took off at Rudius. I was running the disaster scenario through my head, because that’s what I do when I’m in public. Then I imagined a tiny person emerging from nowhere and demanding everyone clear an area while declaring “Give him room! He’s very sad!” so that made me feel okay for a while.

The theater was packed, which was terrible for me but awesome for Peter S. Beagle (the guy who wrote the Last Unicorn). The way I see it, if you’re in Idaho things haven’t gone according to plan. No one wants to be in Idaho. But also, if you draw a huge crowd in Idaho then holy shit are you amazing.

There was a giant goddamn crowd there. Not that I wanted a small crowd because then there would have been too much focus on me as an individual. I want the exact number of people necessary to disappear.

I kept wanting to leave because I was going full PTSD but Bryn would have yelled at me for having two vaginas, because she’s a misogynist. I also couldn’t figure out how to leave without looking like a total dick.

Peter S. Beagle is one of those nice old men you wish was your grandfather and who would have probably totally understood if I cried for no apparent reason, which would have made it totally worse. I prefer to be treated with hatred and contempt. I couldn’t just get up in the middle of his movie and walk out. So I took a seat in the front row as close as I could to the Emergency Exit so my neck was at a super awkward angle for the whole movie.

I was uncomfortably close to Peter S. Beagle at one point when he came up to the front to answer questions, and then there was a raffle I was freaking out that I was going to win because if I did I was going to have to go up to the front and have a bunch of people look at me and then people would have put their arms around me and taken pictures.

By the way, I’m usually not this bad. I’ve just had a lousy couple of weeks. I’m all twitchy.

Thankfully, some nice happy people won the raffle.

That gave me enough time to do some relaxation techniques my shrink taught me.

I sat in the theater while everyone watched the movie and I made sure no one went crazy and tried to assassinate everyone. Which is what I do instead of watching a movie in a crowded theater. I feel it’s my responsibility to deal with crazy people who hate others instead of themselves, like I do.

I forgot to mention the line was so long that I hadn’t got to make it through the first time.

So I ended up back in line and had to be crammed in close with a bunch of people. One of the ladies volunteering there was so goddamn nice it made my heart hurt and hate myself for focusing on my stupid bullshit self-hatred (my favorite thing to do is hate myself for hating myself) when she was so nice. She told a story about Peter S. Beagle doing a total solid for her family for no goddamn reason other than to be a good dude. It was like that time I heard about Fred Rogers defending a gay person in his church. I started to get emotional so I gave $15 to their carbon neutral charity thing instead of allowing myself to feel a positive human emotion.

I got a poster for Bryn and by the time I was up at the front to get it signed I had sweat so much it left hand prints on the poster. Peter S. Beagle tried to engage me in polite, kind human conversation and I don’t think I knew how to respond and I’m not sure what I said. I know his pen almost got stuck in the poster and I had to give it back to him but I was really focusing on the door at that point.

He signed it.

I walked at a quick but non suspicious pace to get out of there.

I hung it on my wall, because what the hell was I thinking, Bryn doesn’t even live anywhere near me. It’s there right now. I’m too lazy to take a picture.

Anyway, he’s a good dude. I’m sorry if I made anyone feel weird.

I’m going to go work on things so I don’t have to live in Idaho anymore.

This Pretzel is the Worst Lasagna Ever

Untitled-14

Imagine you are one of the foremost makers of lasagna in the entire world.

You spent an anonymous decade making the same lasagna over and over again, obsessively perfecting your craft. When you make a lasagna, there can be no doubt it is the result of years of passion, perspiration and perseverance. Your lasagna captures, in its meaty deliciousness and cheese-tastic wonder, the very thumbprint of God.

You are as close to a prophet of lasagna as a human being can ever come. You have created a lasagna so perfect, your face and name are synonymous with lasagna. You cannot even make lasagna as fast as the world wants to devour it. There are websites and people who spend a significant portion of their lives dreaming about what your next lasagna will be like.

Stretch your imagination a bit further.

Imagine…

… that one day you make a pretzel.

The urge just came to you while you were making some lasagna noodles. You felt the dough in your hand and dared dream a different dream. Suddenly, there was a pretzel inside of you waiting to be made.

And you make that pretzel.

It seems to spring out of you, from nowhere.

Then, much more quickly than you could have ever made a lasagna, it is done.

The pretzel is there in front of you.

You step back and behold what you have created. The loops and saltiness and crispness and other pretzel attributes are… in a word? Perfect.

But you are the prophet of lasagna.

Lasagna prophets do not make pretzels.

Of course not.

Except this pretzel? THIS pretzel BEGS to be eaten.

This pretzel wantonly cries to be swallowed by the whole world.

This pretzel cannot be denied.

And… perhaps some people who like lasagna might also like pretzels?

You carefully declare that despite your reputation for making lasagna, you have decided to make a pretzel. You insert in the very packaging of this pretzel a specific warning that it is not lasagna. You understand not all people who like lasagna like pretzels. There is no judgement in you against them.

You release this pretzel.

People eat this pretzel.

Some, have read the packaging and understood it is a pretzel and find it delicious. They appreciate its pretzeliness. Others find they do not care for this specific pretzel and that is fine. It would, in fact, be worrisome if everyone loved it for then some of them would have to be pretending and you’d have cause to doubt your craft.

Others, declare this pretzel is the worst lasagna they’ve ever had. Which is true, because pretzels are not lasagna. But also stupid, for the same reason.

*****

The Slow Regard of Silent Things” by Patrick Rothfuss was written for me.

It’s my favorite story that I’ve read in quite a while and I’ve gone through it three times now. I find I have acquired a love for the word “Incarnadine” and murmur it to myself as a way of relieving stress. I found the story to be perfect from beginning to end.

I’m almost offended by how much perfection I found. It felt like someone had been spying on me in my most private and intimate moments and then put all of it together into a book without my permission. I don’t often read a book and find myself nodding “exactly” as I flip the pages.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is the story of a mentally ill (it’s more complicated than that, but that description will work for now) girl who wants to find a present for her friend before their next meeting. There is no dialogue. There are no other characters, per se. She spends most of the story walking around in the dark anthropomorphizing garbage.

That’s not what it is about, but that’s what happens.

I’m not trying to trick you with that summary. That’s pretty much the story. She makes soap for a significant sum of pages and she has to remove some negative emotion that is living inside of the soap. Another time, she breaks a gear and experiences euphoria to find that breaking it apart has made it perfect. Those are the most classically “exciting” things that happen.

You know those “nonsense” paintings where you look at them and think “I could have done that, what utter bullshit.” Sometimes, a lot more than people admit to, I think it really is utter bullshit. That’s because art is hard and it requires a lot of work and not everyone puts in all that work. So stuff gets passed along that doesn’t really mean anything, but appears to mean something, and then people to get to have lots of existential arguments about what the difference is between meaning something and seeming to mean something.

But sometimes, also more than people admit, that kind of “nonsense” art is not bullshit at all. Sometimes it’s just that perfection looked different than you thought it would. My definition of art is when someone reaches out the with their soul through paint, or words or whatever, and grabs hold of someone else’s soul and says “you’re not alone and the world is full of thoughts you’ve never had before.”

That’s a journey and it takes significant amounts of context.

Before I can appreciate “modern Art” I have to go back and see the artist’s entire journey for context. It’s a lot of work and it takes time and even then it might not be that exciting. But when you see a soul unfolding across canvas or stone or a story, I think that’s as close as you can ever get to knowing for sure that you’re not alone in the universe and that everyone’s mind is as bright and important and powerful as your own. Good art shows you the promise that the whole universe is full of near infinite and unique wonders.

Here’s why I loved “The Slow Regard of Silent Things.”

It’s a story about appreciating journeys and about helping journeys along. It’s also a story about what it’s like to make things and create stories. It’s a story for a certain kind of artist. Not all artists, and not “the best” artists although I’m sure many of the “best” artists will love the story for the same reasons I do. Many of “the best” artists might hate it for valid reasons, but the fact remains that for many artists it’s an exact metaphor for what it’s like to deal with things that aren’t real, but which have or at least seem to have enormous consequences.

Auri, the sole character of the story, arranges garbage down in the dark. She does this because she’s trying to make the world perfect. She does this in the same way that through some impossible power that shouldn’t be real, but is, a writer or a painter or a sculptor can move a bunch of dead matter around in front of you and speak with exactness to a part of you that you were not even previously aware existed. Auri does these bizarre things, like almost drowning to retrieve a broken gear wheel, to follow her moral code and to love the world and to speak with love to the people she cares about. Her insanity, on the inside, is rational and strict and moral. Auri struggles the same way every creator who has ever created struggles with esoteric inconsequential disasters to make something which says only what it is meant to say and nothing else and be, by some invisible standard, “complete.”

Can you taste a poem? You can’t. What would you taste it with? Except you taste a poem every time you read or write or recite one. This story is about choosing the flavors of words, and the characters of colors and the souls of rocks. It’s about what it’s like before you’re done making something, when you have to spend a whole day crying in despair because nothing seems to come out quite right.

I empathize with Auri. I am, by most definitions, a recluse. I go to work. I go to therapy. I come home to an improbable number of cats. That is my life. Seeing another human being on personal terms is a rare and luxurious occurrence. But I also struggle to make things. Not always good things. Not always things people like. Not always even things that I like. But things. I make them as well as I can. I could no more not make something as well as I could than I could walk by a child screaming for help.

One time I organized all of my books by how well I thought their characters would get along. It took me five or six hours. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Just wasn’t able to stop. Things aren’t usually that bad, but they can be. Auri would know what I mean.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things” was written for me.

I loved it.

Maybe it wasn’t written for you, but if you hate it, I ask only that you hate it for being a poor pretzel and not for being bad lasagna.

Scary Stories

There’s no realistic way I’m going to be able to get those horror stories done in time for Halloween. Two of the longer ones are first drafts at this point and not really something I’d feel comfortable asking you to purchase. Leaving them out of the collection simply isn’t an option. They’ve probably got another month or so of polishing before they get there.

On an awesome note, our very own ShawShaw wrote a story I’m going to include that is awesome.

There’s just no real way I could do all the stories in the amount of time I have left. I’ve had some unexpected and unavoidable chores to do during my days off and my recently purchased lap top broke and I haven’t had a chance to take it in for repair. Which sucks as it was an enormous boon to my creativity.

Such is life.

I might get them all done in time for November, but I’m thinking Rock Bottom (which has some stuff left to tweak but is largely done) will be done’ish by then. Maybe we’ll have a double November.

Also, how would you all feel about a paypal store? If at least three people want it to avoid the hassle of dealing with Amazon I’ll do it.

Here are some excerpts.

THE SAFE PLACE AND THE DOOR OF THE DARK

Seth considered the bright yellow cover of the book with a grimace, as though contemplating a piece of unsettling and explicit pornography. Like something you’d find in a Las Vegas gutter, crumpled and moist and laid open like a wound in the world. Seth frowned and rubbed a hand back through his long black hair. Finally, he checked all of his car mirrors for any sign of approach and opened the book to the first page expecting an accompanying clap of thunder.

None came.

The day was bright and clear. Visibility was limited only by the curvature of the earth. For three hundred yards in any direction there was nowhere to hide. Nowhere significant to hide for double that distance. But a thousand eyes watched him from out of nowhere. A hundred hands poised to grab his shoulder from the shadows. The car was crammed full with ghosts.

“Establishing a Safe Space,” Seth read with a cough.

Again, he checked the mirrors. Again, he scanned the roads. Again, he thought there was no place on earth private enough for such thoughts or such feelings. Not even inside of his own head.

“Many survivors have difficulty feeling safe. In fact, many survivors report having never felt safe in their entire lives. Before you work through the following chapters in this book, it is important that you take the time to establish a place separate from your normal living environment where you can feel safe from harm,” Seth read.

Seth looked out to the parking lot again. He’d come to this spot a lot as a kid. Even then, the factory that had once been served by the parking lot had been long since demolished. All that was left of it was a slight depression in the ground. Out here, it felt like you could see the whole world at a glance.

Best of all, there were almost no shadows.

“What objects make you feel safe? Do you have any best loved books? Any posters or icons or movie heroes or heroines that inspire a feeling of confidence? There is no right answer for what makes a safe space. There is only your answer. Please know that no answer is wrong or too embarrassing.

“However, if you are a suicide risk, it is strongly discouraged you keep firearms in your safe place. While working through the following chapters you may experience extreme distress. You may even have suicidal thoughts. For that reason, please fill out the following list of people you have for support while you go through this process,” he read.

Taking a pen from out of the visor he wrote down names. Lima, from the Group who he could not ever conceive of calling. Jason, his counselor, who he already saw once a week. Uncle Dutch even though he lived two towns away. Matrisse had told him to call her if he ever felt down, but he’d kind of gotten the sense she’d rather not hear from him if that happened. Still, he wrote her name down even though he put her last. He didn’t have so many friends these days that he could be picky just because one happened to hate him.

“If you have trouble identifying people you trust, then consider people with whom you have a close but neutral relationship. If you cannot think of anyone who you trust to wish you well, who do you trust not to wish you ill?” Seth read and snorted.

That description applied to every name he’d written down.

There were more pages. He flipped through them and sighed. Terrible questions awaited. Questions like “Have you ever felt happy?” that a normal person would never be asked to answer. Questions a normal person wouldn’t have to think on for five or six minutes before answering. Questions like “Have you ever committed arson?” like he was a criminal by association.

The questions felt like having his fingernails ripped out, really. Self torture. Seth figured they’d fill out most of the answers at Group tonight so he skipped ahead.

At last he came to a page that said “What do you want to accomplish?”

He thought about that for a long time.

A crow appeared from out of the last lingering rubble of the factory and twitched its wings and cawed before flying off. Long grasses swayed in the wind. The sun gleamed on his hood ornament.

“To find out what I want to accomplish,” he said and wrote.

And to not be afraid of the dark. Or confined spaces. Or ghosts. Or sex. But the parking lot wasn’t safe enough to write those answers down.

Nowhere was that safe.

THE PANCAKE FAMILY

How’s my complexion? That pale, huh? Hell, I bet I look like a ghost. I think I’m still in shock. There’s not a scratch on me and I feel like I’ve bled two gallons.

I’m sorry to ramble. It’s just that I’m… what’s the word for it?

Detached?

Strange feeling, detachment. Seen it enough times on other people. After all I’ve been through, I figured if I was ever going to experience it myself then I would have experienced it by now. I feel like I’m floating outside of my body.

Did you see the crime scene?

INTERVIEWER: No.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t. Don’t even look at the pictures. You’ll thank me later.

I can’t get my knees to stop rattling. Is that why you’re holding onto your coffee like that? I’m shaking the table, aren’t I? Hold on a second, let me back up my chair. There, that’s better.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks, Hob. Can you confirm for the record that you’re waiving your right to an attorney?

No, I’m still not interested in an attorney. I mean, yes, I’m waiving my rights. Sorry.

INTERVIEWER: Are you sure?

Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Let the record show that Detective Hobson Milgate, retired, has waived his right to an attorney.

The facts speak for themselves. I won’t need a lawyer after the DA sees the crime scene photos. There’s no way they’re showing that to a jury. There’s nothing harder than mercy, sometimes. I did the right thing. Or at least I did what I had to do. It just happened to be hard and ugly.

INTERVIEWER: Are you hungry?

No. No, I’d think I’d just puke again if you gave me anything. I can’t keep anything down.

INTERVIEWER: Are you ready to begin?

No, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

INTERVIEWER: What led you to the crime scene on the night in question?

Would you believe I was planning a fishing trip before all of this started?

Nevermind.

It was a reporter. Name of Stacy Bamer. She contacted me a week ago by email and claimed she had new information on the Driscoll murders. I was the lead investigator and I’m sure you know the case had gone unsolved for twenty years. I thought it was a gag at first. If you’ve been in this job long enough, I’d imagine you know how that can be. Most of the time it’s not even on purpose. Everyone thinks they know something that will crack a case wide open. The Driscoll murders were a big case. Over the years, I must’ve gotten a couple hundred fake leads.

I handed the case over to Detective Warren Caroll when I retired, but I didn’t want him to be bothered with any fake bullshit. I know he’s busy with everything else that’s going on. Since she contacted me, I figured I’d check it out for him as a courtesy. I wasn’t expecting it to go anywhere.

I met her for lunch at Puryear’s Cafe. She was a good-looking blonde gal, so she didn’t fit the typical profile of a hoaxer. Not that I put too much faith in profiles, after forty years. She also might have been one of those creepy gals that gets off on death. God knows I’ve dealt with enough of those.

She seemed normal enough, but I still thought she might be pulling my leg, or maybe she had been fooled too, but she had a file with her. It contained what appeared to be a confession by the Driscoll… well, he wasn’t a murderer was he?

I really do wish he had been, you know.

It would have been so much better for everyone.

INTERVIEWER: Can you please fill us in on the relevant details of the Driscoll case?

Let’s see, it would have been twenty years ago now. As I’ve said twenty years ago there was a disappearance. Thinking of all those years… I mean, twenty goddamn years. That’s a long time…

INTERVIEWER: Take your time, Hob.

Thanks.

[Throat Clearing]

The Driscolls were a family of six out in the suburbs. Upper middle class. Father was an attorney, mother ran her own business selling pottery out of the house. She even had her own kiln. Four children, all high school age and below. All good kids. Honor roll. No criminal record to speak of. The oldest son was caught smoking dope at his high school once, but nothing much besides that. Just the typical stuff you find when you look at people too closely.

They disappeared October 13th, 1994. No trace was found of the bodies. That’s why it made the press go crazy. You still see it show up on some of those unsolved mystery shows. A whole family disappeared and no one saw a thing. No one knew where they went.

A neighbor lodged a sound complaint, which is how we found the scene. Goddamn carbon monoxide alarm wouldn’t stop chirping. Upon entry, there were obvious signs of a struggle in the youngest daughter’s bedroom. The bed had been flipped over and the sheets were torn. We found elevated concentrations of carbon monoxide in the fabric of all the bedspreads except the youngest daughter’s. We knew to look because of the alarm. The neighbor indicated the sound had been going on for a few days, and he’d been unable to get anyone to answer the door during that time. We estimated the time of disappearance at two days prior.

We found several aluminum canisters and some hoses in a dumpster a few blocks away. We assumed at the time the Driscolls been gassed and disposed of at a different location. Excepting, of course, the daughter who woke up at the end and put up a struggle.

The investigation gave no leads. Of course, we figured the father might have done it. We checked it out but he didn’t fit the profile. Same with the mother. Surviving family checked out clean.

The father had a few clients who might have had motive, but the means weren’t there. He was a divorce lawyer, but not for anybody who could have taken out an entire family without leaving evidence. There was a chemistry teacher who lived three blocks away and we investigated him for a while because of the canisters but he alibied out. Same with a dentist who lived nearby.

The wife had a flirtation with some kid over in England but nothing adulterous and he wasn’t even in the country at the time of the murder.

The canisters had been stolen from a laboratory ten miles away and there was no security footage. After three months the investigation went cold. They’d been knocked out and abducted. Like I said, no one ever found the bodies.

Until, well, you know the rest of that. I’d rather only talk about that once.

INTERVIEWER: What can you tell us about how the confession wound up with Miss Bamer?

She’d been following the case for some years, both personally and as a reporter. Like I said, it captured the imagination of a lot of people. Even seemingly normal folks thought it could have been aliens, ghosts or demons. Miss Bamer published a retrospective on the murders given the twenty year anniversary. It caused a renewed interest, which happened from time to time. As usual, I declined to comment citing lack of new evidence. I remembered her asking for my quote though, which is why I accepted the lunch meeting.

After publication of the article, Miss Bamer claimed that she had been sent a file which she wished to have me authenticate. The most pertinent part of the file was a confession. I assured Miss Bamer that such false documents are not uncommon, especially on older cases like this, and that I’d personally heard two dozen confessions of the Driscoll murders. She was insistent. Once I felt she wasn’t trying to pull off a hoax or getting off on the idea of talking about a murder, I agreed to the meeting.

We met for lunch, as I said, and she stated it had been mailed to her in the same envelope she showed to me.

INTERVIEWER: Can you describe its contents?

Newspaper clippings outlining the progress of my investigation from twenty years ago. They seemed appropriately yellowed with age, so I’d guess they were from the trophy book of the perpetrator. There were also six photos alleging to be of the individual members of the Driscoll family, as well as several other photos of the facility where they had been… taken.

Jesus, my hands won’t stop shaking, see? I’m trying as hard as I can and I just can’t make it happen. I’ll have to ask the paramedic for a sedative when I’m done with the statement. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep, otherwise. No, I’m fine for now. I don’t want anything to interfere with my recollection for your recording.

Just carrying it around in my head is like… sorry, I’ll stay focused.

The photos WERE of the Driscoll family, of course. At the time I didn’t know that. The photos had aged poorly and they could have been of anyone. It was very hard to distinguish features. However, given the elaborate nature of the file I figured it did warrant a further look.

As to the confession letter, well, it was brief. It gave an address. That’s the first thing I noticed. I couldn’t locate the address online, which meant it had to be old. The confession letter said, ‘Stop printing lies. I never killed anyone. It just took a while to get them ready for breakfast.’ There was no signature included.

I just remembered something.

We got sent a breakfast menu a month after the disappearance! Someone had drawn a red circle around a picture of pancakes. The letter said ‘They’re not dead, they’re getting ready for breakfast!’ We put it in the junk lead file.

Oh God.

Messed Up

First off, a weird thing. Or a cool thing. I’m not sure.

My friend Bryn loves her dog. It’s almost a religion with her. Every part of her life is planned around how it will impact her relationship with her dog. I’m just grateful that there aren’t any kind of violent associations with that love, because Bryn could make ISIS seem reasonable if something came between her and that dog.

Anyway, Bryn posted a picture of her dog, Nixie, on imgur and it went to number one on reddit and as of now has had 2.8 million views. A few hours ago she made a facebook page, and it already has more likes than my facebook author page.

This means Bryn is now a more successful creator than I ever was for any single piece of culture I have ever produced. Which makes me feel… *sigh.* A picture of a dog? Really?!? Do you know how hard I’ve worked for years and years to perfect my voice and craft?!?

I’m actually very excited for her.

Speaking of pieces of culture I have produced, thanks again for everyone who has purchased any of my stuff on Amazon. Your readership is appreciated as always. Next month I’m planning to put up my first short novel, Rock Bottom. Toward the end of this month, I hope, I will have between three and four short stories all gathered together for sale on Amazon. I’m calling the collection “Fear Fang and Family.”

One of the stories is based on a nightmare I had recently, which is the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. I wasn’t intending to include it, but I woke up sobbing and gasping and I thought “Oh, that would be perfect for what I’m doing right now.” It’s one of those stories where as I’m writing I keep thinking “this is screwed up, people will judge me for having made this.” It’s called The Pancake Family. Everything in the collection makes me feel like people will have problems with me. The other stories are Family of Fang in Claw, The Door of the Dark and hopefully The Glass Tongue.

All the stories are about families and how they hurt as well as support us.

 

 

Zoe Quinn Once Did Something Nice for No Reason

I used to call myself BC Woods and I used to write on a couple of different websites under that name. I also used to be somewhat entertaining and popular.

This will become relevant, shortly.

I wrote stories about my bizarre, white-trash disaster of a family in a way that was probably a bit too open and a bit too sensationalized. In my defense, I was twenty-one and started with a bigger voice than I really deserved. You can probably find something I wrote pretty easily and you wouldn’t have to try very hard to find something wrong with it. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people could relate, so I got a lot of email from a lot of people.

One of those people was a blue-haired young lady, who I now understand to be Zoe Quinn. I didn’t realize that until a few days ago. I kept reading about some person on twitter who was, apparently, Basically Hitler. I don’t know anyone who is Basically Hitler so I didn’t care. No matter how much I didn’t care, though, everywhere I looked I saw something like “Basically Hitler is even more Essentially Hitler than Previously Assumed” or “Basically Hitler is Not Even Kind of Hitler” and blah blah blah.

I rolled my eyes and ignored those things and moved on. I’ve seen enough shit in my life that I like twitter for jokes and articles about things that I would never have thought about. I feel no shame for this. I don’ t go out of my way to get bummed out. Except twitter is now less about interesting bits of humanity and more of a funnel for self-righteous bullshit that has been welded over my eye.  So the other day I found out that Basically Hitler… was a person I knew.

Not a person I knew well, to be honest. But a person I knew as a person. Imagine my surprise. I hadn’t even recognized the photos of her face until put into the right context.

You know how you walk into the same grocery store or laundromat or gas station enough times and you get to know the people there in a passing sort of way? I’d say I knew Zoe Quinn about one level above that. We talked about writing, mostly.

She was nice, personable, funny and driven. She never tried to do anything sneaky or underhanded or be anything other than be upfront. She never asked me for anything and I did have some minor amount of popularity at the time that I could have helped her with. She was a touch eccentric, yes, but I’m crazy so who am I to judge?

We had completely appropriate regular person conversations.

I’m pretty boring these days, so I don’t know how compelling this line of argument is going to be. I’m hoping this might persuade some people to my way of thinking which I don’t think is the same thing everyone else has been trying to force people to think. I’m writing this right now and thinking “Man, this blows.” And also “This part about how much this blows, also blows.” Also “Does this even matter? Do I have the right to say this? I don’t know that anyone gives a shit.”

I’m as tired of the self-righteous bullshit as anyone and I don’t want to be piling on. I try to be earnest. I go to a lot of therapy and I read a lot of books and am quietly trying to put myself  back together after I fell apart a few years ago. I’m a fuck-up, is what I’m saying, so maybe I’m way off base here.

So, my point:

I’m not saying Zoe Quinn is the greatest person who has ever lived. I think telling people that can be as bad as telling them they’re terrible. People fuck up. That’s part of being a person. If you haven’t fucked-up, live a little longer. If you still haven’t fucked-up, it’s because you’re not trying to do anything that’s worth doing. But fuck-ups are still fuck-ups. I’m not trying to be morally ambiguous. It’s just that fuck-ups aren’t all you are. You do good things in between fucking up, no matter who you are. And you’re just as much the good things as the bad things.

But, imagine if someone put all of your fuck-ups in a neat little line and took out all the good stuff and said “that’s all of you that matters. You’re just all of these fuck-ups, you fuck-up.” Now imagine literally hundreds if not thousands of people engaged in this activity.

Did you fuck up?

Yeah, probably. It’s all right there in a little line.

Except, how can you even begin to reflect on what you may or may  not have fucked up on and grow as a person when you’ve got that kind of shouting going on? Especially when the shouting is probably even more of a huge cultural fuck-up than whatever you fucked-up? There was probably an appropriate response in there at some point that would have helped you grow and become a stronger person but the appropriate response got blown up by the nuclear punishment of everyone weirdly hating their mother and never having faced that.

And dudes, who may be reading this, thinking I don’t understand the motivation: I get it. I soooo get it.

I get super annoyed with internet feminism all the time. I’m a rape survivor. You can’t imagine how often I have to roll my eyes and bite my tongue when someone tells me I’m contributing to rape and somehow responsible for rape (which is them basically calling me the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, which is awesome).

I get it.

I’m just not much for mobs. Any mob. If I ever find myself running wildly in the same direction as a bunch of other people… I don’t even know what I’d do.

Has anyone ever convinced you of anything by screaming in your face? I’ve told people they’ve convinced me by screaming in my face because it was the only way to stop them from screaming in my face. But I wasn’t ever really convinced and I don’t know how good that is for society. I’m also not much for reducing people down into the best and/or worst things they’ve ever done and acting like it’s not attached to a living breathing person.

(Also, so far as I have seen, the people in whom public trust was actually vested and who allegedly didn’t live up to it don’t seem to be getting their fair share of the shit.)

The only person who could ever convince me of anything was my grandmother and she did it by knowing how much I deserved to be loved and loving me more, and by knowing what kind of person I was and thinking I could be better. “I know you’re better than that,” she’d say, and then I’d have to apologize to my cousin Timmy for punching him in the side of the head. What was I supposed to say? “No grandma, I am that big of a piece of shit.”

I think almost everyone is a better person when you give them the chance to be.

I’m pretty sure that when people get into mobs that nothing good ever happens.  I don’t like mobs ganging up on people, even if I disagree with those people. I came to the defense of a conservative author a while back because I felt I saw the same kind of thing happening (I did it anonymously, because who I am was not important then, while it is important here).

So, I guess in summation:

People fuck up sometimes, but they also do the right thing sometimes. And you’re every bit as much the good things you do as your mistakes.

I have a niece whose mother was a drug addict and sold her parental rights for less than $500. I wrote about her on my website. Zoe Quinn sent me this email:

Hi, not so sure you remember me, but I’m that purple haired girl that’s been reading your stuff since DDHM.

If it’s not too creepy I was wondering a few things…

1 – Is your family celebrating xmas?

2 – If so, could I have your address?

3 – Would it be totally out of line for me to send something for Natasha anonymously? I don’t want rachel to give her shit for it or anything, but I was kind of in the same place when I was her age… Minus having an uncle that gave a crap about me.

I can’t do a whole lot or anything, since I was homeless for a few months and am now getting myself back on my feet, but I want to do something. As long as it’s not creepy, out of line, or counterproductive.

Anyhow, if it’s faster to talk on AIM or whatever, my screen name is [Obviously Not Sharing].

Hang in there.

I haven’t talked to Zoe Quinn in years. I didn’t run this by her. She didn’t ask me to write it.

Ask yourself:  Do you really want to keep screaming at someone who didn’t have much to spare and still wanted to buy a Christmas present for a little girl whose mom sold her for drug money and didn’t ask for anything in return?

 

little things become big things