Archive for the ‘ Fiction ’ Category

Heart-Barfing: A Dialogue

I’ve been thinking about rejection. The loss of my job (which felt so much like being dumped just because the girl wasn’t “feeling it” it’s almost hilarious), applying for work, and of course the ever-looming dread of romantic… disentanglement? I know it sounds like it runs counter to my renewed effort this year to take value in myself and the things I can offer and accomplish, but it doesn’t. Rejection and acceptance are intimately familiar to each other, and by looking inward at why I’ve internalized rejection for most of my life, I’m hoping to find the answer to how I can internalize its much happier, healthier partner.

My dad never really had the chance to coach me through romantic rejection. He coached me through plenty of other emotional turmoils, but not that particular one. I only went through one major heartbreak in high school, and I never brought that up with him. I’m not sure he would’ve had much insight on the subject: he broke up with every girl he dated before my mom, and even their whirlwind romance could best be described by someone who doesn’t love them as “blandly consensual.” But he would have been their for me, because that was what he did.

So last night, instead of doing any of the things I told myself I was going to do (the dogs got fed and walked, that is a thing that happened, don’t worry), I sat down and wrote this dialogue. Someday I will give this advice to someone, and if I’m actually smart I’ll take it as well.

(Sorry in advance for the schmaltz.)

—–

Son: “Hey Dad.”

Dad: “Uh-oh. The talk with Andy didn’t go quite as you hoped, I take it?”

Son: “Nope.”

Dad: “Scootch over.”

Son: “Dad… why does my chest hurt so much?”

Dad: “That’d be the rejection, buddy.”

S: “Obviously. But why does my chest actually hurt?”

D: “Well, what’d you do today?”

S: “Tried to figure out what I was going to say to Andy tonight.”

D: “We’re you supposed to write that thank you letter to Grandma?”

S: “Sorry.”

D: “It’s okay. When you were going over what you wanted to say to Andy, how did you feel? In your chest and stomach?”

S: “I dunno. Tight in my chest, and sort of ropey in the rest of me.”

D: “And I bet it got worse when you biked over to his house, right?”

S: “Yeah. ”

D: “That, my darling, is how it feels to be in love. Your chest feels tight because your heart knows you’re in love, and it’s trying to get out of there, to go out into the world to find that person and to be with them and to be accepted by them—”

S: “He said he doesn’t like boys. He said I’m one of his best friends, but he doesn’t like boys and he’s dating Trisha Plevish.”

D: “—and sometimes, if you’re not lucky, the person you want to give it to doesn’t want your heart, or they can’t take it for whatever reason, or they’re only able to accept part of it, which is what it sounds like Andy was trying to tell you. And when that happens, your heart often won’t get the message right away. So it’s still trying to go somewhere, but now it has nowhere to go.”

S: “I feel like I did the night after we went to that restaurant.”

D: “You’re emotionally constipated. Your heart needs to make the biggest barf of its life, but it can’t so now it’s just moody and miserable and gassy.”

S: “That’s fucking gross, Dad.”

D: “Don’t swear. And it’s how you feel, isn’t it?”

S: “I think so. How do you know all this?”

D: “I had a life before you came along, Lucas. I had a life before I met your mom, which is probably more germane.”

S: “So what am I supposed to do? I don’t know if can talk to Andy anymore.”

D: “Well, maybe take a week. Eventually your heart will catch up with your brain, it’ll settle back down, and you won’t feel like this anymore. And now you know more about him, and he knows more about you, and you can be better friends to each other.”

S: “Will this happen to me again, Dad?”

D: “Many times. You have inherited my easy affection for other people.”

S: “So you’ve doomed me to heart-barfing forever.”

D: “You’re welcome. It’s not as bad as you think.”

S: “Liar.”

D: “Only kinda. Look, I know it sucks crazy super volcanoes right now. And I cannot promise you won’t go through this a hundred more times. But sometimes, and I can promise you this, the person you want to give your heart will take it gladly.”

S: “I hope so.”

D: “I hope so for you to, Lucas. But what you really should hope for, and work towards, is to be with someone who feels just as pressing a need to hork up their feelings and give them to you too, mess and all. Because as shitty—don’t tell Mom—as shitty as you feel in your chest right now, it doesn’t even compare to how it feels to give your heart to someone who’s going to be selfish with it.”

S: “How will I know if he’s the good kind?”

D: “Maybe he’ll tell you, maybe he won’t. What’s important is that you keep taking that chance—and not just to people you… do you know what I mean when I say like like? Is that still a phrase?”

S: “I can figure it out.”

D: “Well, not just to them. Train your heart to feel barfy for everyone: your friends, your enemies, your teachers, your sister.”

S: “Eh.”

D: “Your sister. Give all of them just little shavings of your heart, and accept those pieces in return, and like that tree whose name I can’t remember those stripling hearts will grow and prosper create a vast network of love and vomit and then, if this sort of emotional blockage happens again, you won’t feel so stopped up in here.”

S: “Oh my God, Dad, stop.”

D: “You’re going to be fine.”

S: “I know.”

D: “I heart-barf you, Lucas. Now and forever, until the sun dies out and the world goes cold.”

S: “I heart-barf you, too, Dad. Why do you always add that last part?”

D: “Because. Now, don’t take any of the advice I just gave you literally, or you’ll probably die.”

Cloacademia

Big ups to Zach Lefler to the one-word prompt (as seen above) that started this whole thing. It’s turning into a much larger project than I anticipated, so here’s the opener to whet your whistle.

“We’re doing great work here at the Avian Fecal Reclamation Project.” Carol eyed the beak-nosed, big-eyed man in front of her, and wondered vaguely if he’d always looked like that, or if working at the AFRP for so many years had somehow changed him. She’d recognized him instantly as Professor Robert Ybarra when he came up to her in the lobby.

“You must be Carol, correct?” he’d asked with his ear towards her, making him look all the more like a pigeon.

“Yes, sir, Prof. Ybarra,” she’d stammered.

“Ah, you know me, splendid. I despise introductions.” He’d opened the front door, and waved her in. The lobby was much as she expected, not much different from her own school’s labs. Clean, modern, decorated with pictures of the various teams who’d worked there over the years. The only difference was the heavy plastic sheeting at the back of the room, blocking off the main hallway. “We’re doing great work here at the Avian Fecal Reclamation Project. Useful work. God’s work. But it’s not exactly glamorous work. Can I ask what drew you to us here?”

“Well, new technologies is such an interesting field, isn’t it?” Carol replied eagerly. “Dealing with the future every day, practically crafting it yourself!” Ybarra looked unsatisfied, so she ventured, “And of course I’ve always considered myself a bird lover.”

This seemed to appease him. “Good, good. Wouldn’t do to hate our feathered friends, no sir. Now Carol, may I call you Carol? Word of warning, Carol. Your first time can be a little… powerful.” He grabbed the plastic sheeting and flung it back in a dramatic manner that spoke of a youth misspent wearing a cape.

There’s a thing about animals in large groups, in that the smell and the noise they generate seem to be competing over which one gets to hurt you first and hardest. In the AFRP, though, scent and sound must have reached some sort of armistice. The assault was coordinated, a beautiful dance. First came the noise, an artillery barrage of a thousand birdsouls crying out for freedom, or possible food and sex. Below it, slowly, cautiously, along came the smell, like a gentleman out for a lazy stroll in a familiar park. He sits down next to you on a peaceful bench, and only after you give him a cautious, yet friendly, smile does he whip out his sword cane and slash your throat with it.

Later, after the vomiting stopped, Ybarra tried his best to be consoling. “It’s actually a good sign that you’re purging. We’ve conducted internal surveys, and to a man, everyone who didn’t vomit their first time went absolutely bonkers within two years!” He leaned in, and in a conspiratorial fashion, whispered, “We’ve had to dispose of thirteen altars to the stench.” Carol eyed him cautiously, hoping it was some sort of joke, but his expression betrayed the fact that, in his mind, he’d just made major headway in building a sort of working trust. She wasn’t heartless enough to deny him that.

Carol stood up as proudly as she could and spat out the last of it. “Shall we give it a second go?”

Dream Journal

I rarely remember my dreams. And even more rarely is the product of my horrifying psyche a solid idea for a short independent film. But this morning I kind of woke up with a gem. The basic premise is that a group of young friends are early victims of a zombie apocalypse, except the twist is that when they die, they come back to life at a different point in time (but always within the confines of said zombiepocalypse). And it’s a comedy.

The dream contained actual scenes, even, complete with cinematography and proper camera swooping. The earliest one I remember actually started off disconnected from the undead theme. It was a pastor at a predominantly African American megachurch giving a rousing sermon that was so uplifting it inspired a horde of young men and women, all of whom were unironically wearing angel wings, to rush the stage and embrace the pastor. Then more people—also in angel wings—come on from backstage. These people have been bitten, but in the religious fervor, who’s to judge?

Okay, you can’t really do that on an amateur budget, but whatever.

The first time we see our heroes having the reality of the outbreak come crashing in on their world is at a birthday party. (Which, last night, was a version of a birthday party I’m going to this weekend. Hoping I’m not clairvoyant.) The revelry is broken up when one of the friends, freshly bitten, obviously, is carried in and laid to rest on the coffee table. After absolutely no mourning by a guy who is clearly his best friend, he expires.

This is interrupted by a completely normal looking young woman landing on the balcony from somewhere up in the sky, dropping off some extra zombies, and swooping away into the night. She is our villain. The zombies overrun the party, every body dies, and cut to the two best friends waking up in a hospital, and fighting over the lack of proper grief in the previous scene. This is our introduction to the basic mechanic of the film.

Also there’s a pee joke in there. I’m serious. I dreamt a urine sight gag.

That’s about all I can remember, but I’m thinking of taking the time to build it into something more. Feedback appreciated, theft is not.

This is Stupid

I joined a writing group. This picture was my first prompt.

And here is what I wrote. I apologize in advance.

They were brothers, once. In oath, and in blood.

Philosophers and officers of the law like to quip that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Take a moment to think about that and you’ll realize that the same is true of all weather, be it rain, snow, hail, a gentle breeze, or like today, warm uplifting sunlight.

One is just, one is not—though you’d be hard pressed to figure out which is which—they spy each other through a crowded street on a pleasant spring morning. It is immediately clear that neither of them ever expected to the see the other alive again. The man in white is the first to move, slowly, so slowly, in and around and through the crowd. His demeanor speaks of a military man, of training, rank, and discipline. He sits on a simple bench and lays his weapon—still sheathed in its bucket—across his lap. The invitation is clear.

The man in yellow, the Clown, approaches the bench, but remains standing. He is casual, languid, comfortable in the movement of his body in a way the colonel could never be. His hand rests easily on the hilt of his frysaber.

 

“Hello, Ronnie,” says the man in white, the Colonel. “You never did answer my letters.”

The Clown eyes him carefully. Though he never anticipated having to go through with it, he’d rehearsed this meeting hundreds of times in his head, and it was already well off script. Never one to be easily flustered, he smiles and sits. Only now, side by side, does it become painfully obvious: beneath the facepaint, the white goatee, and all the damage cause by years of hovering over a hot grill, these men are identical. With strong chins offset by weak cheeks, they look much, much younger than they actually are.

“They were written to a man who no longer exists, Harland. They call me McDonald now.”

The Colonel laughs to himself quietly. “Yes. Ronald McDonald, the wandering clown. Is it true what the people say? That you’re slinging burgers in towns from here to the mountains?”

“Further,” says the Clown, swelling with pride. “Killed the ‘Burglar, too.”

“I knew that one. Saw the… leftovers.” They sit for a few minutes in surprisingly comfortable silence, watching passersby. Perhaps they are reminiscing about their time as boys, fishing together by the river. Perhaps each is planning how exactly he will kill the other. Who can say. “Why are you doing this, Ronnie? You’re a Sanders. We’re chicken folk. We’ve always been chicken folk.”

The Clown turns to his brother, his breath shallow and controlled. “You know exactly why I left, Harland.”

“Ronnie—“

“Stop calling me that.”

“Ronald,” sighs the Colonel, “whatever’s happened between us, whatever has yet to happen between us, you know I loved Wendy just as much as you.”

“Not enough to save her,” retorts the Clown.

The Colonel is taken aback by his brother’s stubbornness, though he supposes he shouldn’t be surprised. They were nothing if not stubborn. “Perhaps not.” He leans in and hisses, “but I’m not the one who walked her right to middle of the court of the King.”

They sit quietly for a time again, though now there is no doubt as to what is on their minds.

“So how is it going to be, Ronald?” asks the Colonel. “Shall we let each other pass peacefully, go about our business like ships in the night? In honor of our long-lost ginger?”

The Clown’s hands tense visibly on the hilt of the frysaber.

“No,” signs the Colonel. “I suppose not.”

Less Suddenly…

Between Pittsburgh, my computer being at the shop, being sick, Emerald City, and Pokemon White, (and actual work), I haven’t written that much lately. Let’s fix that.

SomewhereSomewhen

Somehow else…

A gangly, knobby creature of uncomfortable proportions marches down a hallway in a facility built from the dessicated remains of a reptile the size of Pluto. Despite the vast biological, societal, and universal gulfs between your species and his, you can tell he is in a foul mood because I used the verb “marches”. He is wearing a crisp, pressed suit made from a material that doesn’t exist, styled in the fashion of either the military or the military industrial complete. It is the suit of a being who does not tolerate others or their opinions with ease. It has lapels that can only be described as inexorable.

Trailing him is an aide who is identical to him in absolutely every conceivable way, only less so.

“Apes,” he grouses with all the indignity his mouth can muster. Which is quite a bit, considering those freakish tongues of theirs. “It’s always apes.”

“Technically sir,”  chirps the aide, “they are hominids. At best we might say they are ‘post-simian’. They have industry, art, and just recently they cracked the atom and developed rudimentary extraplanetary trav…”

“They are an infection, nameless minion #7235, a pollution upon what I am assured is one of the greatest discoveries in the history of paralexcavation, and suddenly I’m getting calls in the middle of the night to come solve this shitbacle!” He stops, the aide’s words finally seeping into the cracks in the wall of his indignation. “Cracked, you say?”

“They have turned the atom into a bomb, yes.”

He spat, blasphemed, and spat again.

“However,” the aide chirps again, “if I might be so presumptuous, I think I’ve found a solution.”

Suddenly, A Giraffe (The Gritty Reboot)

The microphone of the esteemed Professor Ethan Staggebaek—recently appointed chair of the Department of Interspecies Studies at Yale and the author of the recent New York Times bestseller, “Humungulates: How Humanity And Giraffity Will Learn To Coexist In The Coming Millennium” from Oxford University Press, his choice of publisher causing no small amount of kerfuffle—is cut off.

He taps the mic to test it, but A warm, slightly tinny voice has replaced him. “Thank you, Professor.” Whoever the new speaker is, their voice sounds like springtime and altitude. “You will no longer be needed.” The tone is gracious, yet firm, like a grandfather oak that is also an actual grandfather.

Staggebaek mutters and muddles his way offstage, visibly yet unnoticeably distraught. The crowd is far too excited about the speaker to be at all concerned with their colleague’s impending suicide (or so it will be deemed.)

While its owner remains hidden, the voice continues: “Sentience, as the professor was so valiantly trying to convey, was once something that could only be ascribed to humanity. Anything else was fantasy, surely. ‘At best,’ you reasoned, ‘we might find it out amongst the stars, in the vast emptiness of the heavens. Maybe, if we’re damned lucky, those dolphins will show us what for? And certainly the dinosaurs could have managed all sorts of wonders.’ Never in your wildest imaginations did you think that it would come at you from your own white picket fenced backyards.”

Suddenly, there is an unfolding of space—and possibly time, and certainly narrative—in the middle of the stage. It is over before it began, quite literally due to weird time stuff, and now, standing in the middle of the stage, is one of the most well composed giraffes you ever did see. There is not a hint of awkward gangliness in his demeanor; just a quiet satisfaction as he takes in the cheering audience. He is wearing a human-styled suit, condescendingly. On his mind, is conquest.

(to be continued)

(illustration courtesy of Ezra Butt. He is handsome.)

Suddenly, A Giraffe, Part 1 (C, With Extra Sauce)

“Excuse me,” no one hears him whimper. “If everyone could please take their seats…” It’s a pretty safe bet that he intends to finish that sentence, but someone else does something rude, which is more worthy of our attentions

“Hey Staggebaek,” shouts Victor Bergman, a chemist known for his lax attitudes towards chemical consumption and distribution, currently sitting in the second row. “Nervous? Maybe you should get one of your graduates to do it for you?” Those who know the poor little man at the podium, Ethan Staggebaek, laugh hardest, though anyone who’s realized that student are little more glorified indentured servants are amused. Staggebaek bridles at their jocularity, and nothing rallies a nervous nerd quite like indignity.

“I would, Victor, but they’re all on a special study in Tucson. It involves your mother and a rock hard, 13-inch bunsen burner.”

“Hey—!”

“The bunsen burner is black.” Now addressing the larger audience, “But we’re not here to talk about Mrs. Bergman’s bizarre sexual proclivities, or our own Dr. Bergman’s dubious origins. We’re here about the future. The future of science, the future of our planet, and the future of what it means to be a society. For years we have looked to the heavens for other intelligent life. Sentience, self-awareness, something so powerful and unique, could only be found out amongst the stars, we reasoned, or maybe dolphins, and hopefully the dinosaurs.”

(More later.)