Monthly Archives: September 2013

Centenial

“This is Turk Mangan, and today I am interviewing my great-grandfather Abel Thompson, for Media Arts 101. Today my great-grandfather turns 100 years old.

Happy birthday, Grandpa. How are you feeling today?”

“I’m good. Happy to be here.”

“So, you know I’m recording this for my class and I have five questions to ask you.”

“Shoot.”

“Ok. You are 100 years old today. What’s the secret of your long life?”

“It’s not a secret. There is no secret. You live to be 100 by either a curse or dumb luck. I knew people who supposedly lived better lives than me and they are gone. I knew people who did stupid things and they out-lived some of the better ones, for a while I guess. I guess they’re gone now too. You live your life. You do the best you can. You get what you get.”

“What was the best thing you’ve seen over the span of your lifetime?”

“Your great-grandmother.”

“Ah. I meant over the last 100 years, in the world.”

“I know. My answer’s the same. Humans have done some incredible things over my time. I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve seen some terrible things. For all their brains, humans aren’t very good at what matters. It’s hard to find somebody who will go through the mess with you, who will put up with you. If you do, and you don’t screw it up, it’s magic. It beats anything.”

“What’s one thing you never got to do that you always wanted to do?”

“Deep sea diving.”

“Really?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s just never come up.”

“What else is there? I’ve done a lot of stuff. My to do list is pretty short these days. Of course, I never shot anybody either.”

“That was a joke, boy.”

“Oh! Right! Of course. Uhm … How long would you like to live?”

“I think I’m pretty much done. A lot of people I knew are gone. I hate to think of them all having any kind of fun without me. When you get to be this old, there isn’t much use for you. I don’t have much use for me. I paint a little, but mostly people near my age spend most of their time waiting, waiting for their bus they call it. They don’t have any idea when it’s going to come, but they will be ready. I don’t see much good in that. Waiting is boring. Being 100 is boring. If 100 were the new 50, we’d have more to talk about.”

“I see. My final question is, how would you like to be remembered?”

“That’s a trick question.”

“How so?”

“Who is doing the remembering?”

“Well … people, us, your family.”

“Most the people who knew me are gone. You will remember me as being old, and probably a bit crazy. Being remembered is only part of it, and it’s a useless part if you only get the bits and pieces. Hell, I don’t remember many of the details. I guess they don’t matter. If I’m to be remembered, I guess I’d want people to know that I was just man. I did the best I could. If I did anything right, it would be reflected in those I leave behind. That would be enough.”

Turk reached over and clicked the recording panel to off. The two sat together for a long while, mostly in silence as he pulled together his gear. 

“Grandpa?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you mind if I stayed and we could just talk for a while?”

Ledge

Elliston Craw stood on the ledge and looked down, slowly so as not to toss his balance. The view from seventeen stories above the ground was unsettling at first. The ledge extended a good three inches past the tips of his shoes, so he felt sure enough that he wouldn’t slip off too easily. His back and arms were pressed against the bricks behind him as if he were holding the wall back from tumbling down to the street below.

A gust of wind ripped by him and while he felt secure in his footing at the moment, the brush of the wind’s fingers caused him to jerk and to catch himself as if he might fall.

He closed his eyes and tried to relax a little. He took as deep of a breath as he dared and then stared out across the city. This might have been a mistake.

Initially, his being here was a clear case of his curiosity, clouding…no, obliterating his better judgment. For eight years, the window next to his desk at Harlow & Jenks afforded him the opportunity to stare out into the wild blue and gray of city and sky to wonder. What do pigeons do all day? Does that ledge go all the way around the building? Is it strong enough to hold someone? How long might it take to go all the way around the building on the ledge? Would anyone notice him being gone? Is seventeen floors high enough?

He wasn’t sure what actually tipped the scales between wondering and doing. It could have been seeing the window washers last Tuesday. It could have been that it hadn’t rained in eight days so everything was pretty dry. It could have been that in eight years of wondering he realized that he did and awful lot of wondering and very little doing.

The window in the older building opened easy enough. The height of his desk and the first drawer accommodated his getting to the ledge as if they were designed to do so. Actually standing on the ledge and getting adjusted so the he wouldn’t fall was a bit slow going, but he managed and the inching down across it was like walking, once he got a pattern down.

It was when he stopped to embrace the moment that things sort of changed.

He looked down again. It was exhilarating. It was the most dramatic thing he had ever done. It was life.

Another gust of wind raked over him and he tried to get even closer to the wall as if it might hold him if he got unsteady.

His goal, if he even had one, because at this point he realized this was all pretty crazy, was to step out onto the ledge, go around the outside of the building, get back inside and finish his work on the Whorton account.

But now.

A glimmer of the depth of what was happening crept into his thinking. This was not normal. Normal people may think about walking on ledges, but normal people usually discount those notions quickly in lieu of the greater call of a food craving or other useless distraction.

This was…

A lot of his thinking stopped when one thought, or the memory of the thought pushed everything away. Is seventeen floors high enough?

He had a nice place to live. He had a decent job that, while it would never make him a rich man, it would give him a decent life and the occasional trip out of town. Still…

Is seventeen floors high enough?

Elliston Craw closed his eyes. He opened them again to look at the sun. Another heart gust of wind blew towards his direction.

An open letter to Miley Cyrus

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Miley Cyrus – Dear Miley Cyrus:

We don’t know each other and I doubt that the circumstances of our existences will ever allow our paths to cross. I also realize that it might appear a bit cliché to address you publicly at the peak of your current festival of weirdness. Considering all the other people in the world who have decided to weigh in on your recent round of personal and professional choices, I can see how easy it would be to assume I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

I want to be clear on this one point. I am not one of those “pile on” people who will berate you for what’s currently going on in your world. Frankly, I’m not a fan of your work, so I couldn’t care less about what you decide to do professionally. And since I don’t see you babysitting my kids any time soon, I couldn’t care less about your personal choices. I say, let your freak flag fly baby.

I was 20 once. I know what it feels like to want to break free of your childhood and establish yourself as an adult. I recognize that being 20 and wanting to be an adult is way different from actually being a mature adult. At 20, your head is still full of crazy. Some people tamp that down better than others. Very few get to go through this change as publicly as you, so they don’t know your circumstances well enough to bash you for bad decisions.

I’m quite sure that a lot of “mature adults” out there who are hating on you right now, might A) be a little jealous of your ability to completely disregard any personal sense of tact and grace, or B) be dishing out a little of what they got at 20 when they did something stupid on a grand scale.

There might also be a third factor in that many “mature adults” harbor a deep-rooted longing to break free from their own lives even now, and seeing you so loose and free only fills them with a feeling of venomous envy. I don’t know many adults who haven’t gone through a “take this job and shove it” phase.

To me, you and your circumstances raise different questions. For instance, what makes young stars, and in your case, young Disney stars, go so berserk, so publicly? Is the desire for admiration, adoration, fawning, money, or whatever might pass as genuine love in that world so strong that they are willing to do anything to keep it or grow it? I mean let’s face it, it could be argued that Disney has churned out some truly “damaged” young people.

Another question that comes to mind is what happens next, and then, after that?

There are things I did at your age, that if given the chance, I might go back and punch myself in the face for. After all, we are the products of all of our decisions. Some people get iggy if any sort of their past resurfaces say on Facebook or similar forum because they aren’t really those people anymore and they don’t want to have to justify any past decisions made with a 20 year-old’s crazy brain. I didn’t grow up in a time where every waking moment is recorded and shared so freely. You have, and you will have one hell of a time putting this all away once you decide to move on.

Maybe you won’t move on. Maybe this is the person you have longed to be and you have hit your sweet spot and the rest of the world can just suck it. If so, good for you, but I’d like to caution that the standard scale for “outrageous behavior” has shifted over the years.

Despite what some might see as your shocking display, you still have a way to go before you have to do any real damage control. I just hope you recognize that there is only so far a person can go and still look at themselves with comfort and calm. Once you’re all covered with ink, have been bare and naked to the world from head to toe, have stuck your tongue everywhere it could possibly go, have sworn and offended, have risen and fallen, and loved and lost, got loaded up and detoxified, where do you go for the shock and awe? Only you can answer that. I suppose it will come down to what you want more, the seductive drug of attention or some sense of personal joy and satisfaction.

The long and the short of it is, I wish you well on your journey. Again, I’m not a fan of your work, so the only thing I’m subjected to is the onslaught of imagery and news coverage that I wish frankly were dedicated to the more pressing matters we face here on the planet. But, I can’t control that either.

Whether you rise to the highest heights or crash and burn, it’s all up to you now. Many people have gone through far greater struggles than you are ever likely to face as a poor, confused rich girl and they come out just fine. I hope you find your path and your peace and if you could just put your tongue away, that would be awesome.

Your friend in the cosmos – Java

Writer

Copper Channing made a living from the extreme misfortune of others. Writing horror novels, and best sellers at that, gave him access to a world he would have never known otherwise. Had he not called in sick to work at the foundry and picked up a pen and a legal pad that day at the ripe old age of twenty-one, who knows where he would be today.

Still, despite the wealth and fame, Copper Channing suffered from the very same thing every mailman, housewife, café chef, preschool teacher and everyone else in between suffered from. He was dissatisfied. Despite his very enviable position he yearned for something more. It was a ‘grass is greener’ mindset that allowed the blues to settle deep in his soul. It generated a certain loathing for his position, a disconnection with his entire accumulated body of work and a nauseating guilt that came with wanting something else, something better, in the face of having so much already. It was greed and immaturity and envy wrapped up into one distasteful ulcer of woe.

It wasn’t the writing. He loved the writing. He loved the fact that words had given him so much. Where his hands excelled at typing, they proved to be of little use to him in any other endeavor. The writing was his still and long-standing silent partner, the agent of evil he sold his soul to in exchange for security and position.

It was what he was writing that was the problem.

Perhaps it was because success came so fast and the struggle fairly slight. It took twenty-three months from the time he scratched those first words onto that pad, until he secured his first publishing contract. It wasn’t that he was a particularly gifted writer, but more that his imagination allowed him to conjured the darker images that the general public yearned to look at. He simply wrote down what he saw in his mind.

Kill Eye, was his first book to top the best-seller lists pretty much everywhere. Plastic, followed the year after and triggered a windfall of luck which carried him over the years to fifteen best sellers, eight top grossing films and a mountain of awards which he kept in boxes in a storage unit at the back of his property.

Still, he would give it all up today, or so he told himself, if he could write something real. And what was real? He wrestled with the notion that because horror came fairly easy to him it lacked soul and skill. It was hack-work, and the popularity of his product showed him, at least in this moment, that the reading public required little from him beyond a good reason to invest in a nightlight and a vivid description of one of a hundred ways a human could be disemboweled. It was tripe.

He sold millions of books, but could even one of them compete as one of the great American novels? He created relationships and families, but had he ever written a great love story? He would likely be remembered beyond his time, but in the same hallowed halls as Hemingway, or Shaw, or Eliot or would he be packed into the circus tent of lesser writers known for their mass appeal, and not so much for the mastery of their craft?

He tried. October Frost had the makings of a great love story until the text, or his mind, demanded the introduction of a wraith. It ended up being one of his biggest, not because of his insights into the tender, fragile state of love, but more into the inter-dimensional and explosive struggle for the human soul at the end.

In Ferryman’s Wake, his exploration of the complications that come with the loss of a loved one showed depth and promise, but that was all but dashed with the appearance of Old Hamm, one of the many characters he created to represent Satan, or really, the darkness in all of us.

Even now, having traded legal pads for processing power long ago, he sat before the blank screen intent on writing something truly moving, or truly funny, or truly anything to show that his years of practice had not gone to waste. Anything to show that he could connect on a deeper level. Yet, all his head would allow was blood and a thousand gruesome ways in which to release it.

Aliens

“You’re out of your mind,” Durf said, flipping the tops of the boxes open to release the glorious scents and magnificent sight of two Canterelli pizzas. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

Lex reached over and grabbed a slice of pepperoni. “From heaven above,” he said plopping back down on the couch. “And I don’t know why you disagree with the premise.” His words wrestled with the molten glob of pepperoni, sauce, cheese and dough to make their way to the air clearly.

“Uh, because it’s stupid,” Durf said, plopping down on the other side of the couch while balancing a hearty slice of everything but anchovies.

“It’s not stupid. It’s amply reflected in popular culture. Popular culture represents us as a race and as a species. Therefore one can surmise that the popular culture, while admittedly glorified for effect, can be tied to reality.”

“Yes, but aliens?” said Durf.

“Absolutely!” said Lex. “Don’t confuse a truth with acceptance. Just because something exists and it is what it is, doesn’t mean we have to accept it or participate. But, we can’t ignore it as if it’s not the truth and hope that everything works out differently. I just think it’s some weird fascination of mankind’s that probably dates all they way back to when we crawled out of the primordial goo.”

“Some sort of latent survival instinct?”

“Exactly! It’s the desire to propel the species, if not forward, at least onward. I’m not sure what’s so hard to get.”

Durf took a big bite of his slice. After a few hearty chews he forced the mass into his cheek. “I wouldn’t do it.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.”

“You don’t and it’s stupid to say so.”

“I know.”

Lex licked his fingers and reached for another slice. “You don’t. That’s like saying if we discovered a new fruit deep in the jungle somewhere that could cure any disease, you wouldn’t try it because you never heard it before, because you had no familiarity with it.”

“It’s hardly the same thing.”

“It isn’t. All I’m saying is that if we encountered a race of aliens, someone, somewhere, at some point would try to mate with it. It’s inevitable. I never said it was right. I just said that it’s our reality. And…I’ll go as far to say that after a while, with enough time, it probably wouldn’t matter what the alien looked like. I mean it’s a slam-dunk if they all came down looking like Tani Capers.”

“Tani Capers?”

“See? I got you,” Lex said. “If a spaceship full of Tani Capers looking aliens dropped down into the backyard, I’ll bet your entire pristine collection of classic Hobarts albums that you would have more on your mind than finding out how the ship works or taking them to your leader.”

Durf sat and thought for a moment. “Fine. I can see alien Tani Capers, but not those from something like Space Scream Six.”

“What if they could transform?”

“Shut up.”

Superpower

Kelber Knoll had a superpower. He could put people to sleep. Not like he could bore people to the point of sleep, but quite literally, with a light touch and a whisper, “sleep,” he could drop people into a good, solid, deep repose.

He discovered the power one night when he was very young and playing a game with his mother. It was about seven. It was getting late and he was restless and awake. He kept singing into the darkness to pass the time. Eventually, his mother came in to settle him down.

“Goodness, young man,” she said while fixing his blankets and tucking him in. “You go to sleep.” And she tapped him on the nose with her finger.

With a big grin on his face Kelber reached out and tapped his mother on the nose. “You sleep.” After which she crumpled to the ground in a big sleeping pile.

It sat ill with him at first, for he didn’t really understand it. He lay there waiting for her to get up, “Mom?” But he light snore was the only response. About an hour later she stirred, then popped up and sort of picked up where she left off. “Ok, little man, you’ve go to get some sleep,” and she left.

Over the next few months Kelber tested the power of his “magical sleep finger,” as he called it mostly on his mom, because she was around and on Mustang, the family dog. Every sleep worked out to about an hour – depending on how tired his mom was, or the dog. And every time she woke up refreshed and with little memory of what put her off. He also learned it’s best when she was sitting, that way she wouldn’t hurt herself.

The magical sleep finger was really more like a trick than a superpower, but he supposed it was like a superpower in that, as far as he knew, nobody else could do it, nobody that he met could resist it and everybody reacted the same way.

It came in handy a few times for getting out of scrapes. Like the time Andy Duetcheff was bullying him. Kelber dropped him like a bag of rocks was able to climb on his bike and glide away, with Andy never the wiser.

He also found that he could only put one person to sleep at a time, the result of another parental test one night in front of the T.V.  That basically dashed the notion of putting his whole class to sleep at one time.

He protected his trick like a superpower by keeping it a complete secret, even from his best friend Gill. Who knows if or when he might need to put Gill to sleep? He didn’t have any immediate plans at the time, but one never knows.

Over the years, with practice, he got quite good at putting somebody under without others noticing. It came in handy during arguments and uncomfortable situations the he didn’t want to deal with at the time.

He tried to use his trick sparingly and only for good, as any superhero would. He could vividly imagine using his power to mess people up and put them in embarrassing situations, but he never considered that a call to the dark side as much as a reminder that even a small amount of unique power must be handled with respect and care.

He tried to only use it if he felt the people he used it on could afford the time, if he or someone else was in peril, or if he felt that person really needed a good solid nap. While his mom wondered what the heck was up with her during his testing years, she never really complained about how good she felt when she woke up.

Warning

In a small town like Cromwell, it stood to reason that the Bronson Family Funeral Home would see nothing but slow weeks. And that was usually that case. Unless there was a service, Thad Bronson, III was generally in his chair at home plodding his way through the newspaper and capping off his first scotch of the evening by 6:30.

This past week however, proved something of an anomaly. Poor Tyler Montgomery came in after a tragic swimming accident at the quarry. There was the John Doe, found dead on Route 32 and if that weren’t enough, one of the town matriarchs, Maggie Crisp passed away in her sleep last night.

Creature of habit, Thad liked everything in its place, and with three in the cooler, he got to his routine a bit later than he anticipated. Deep in the heart of Fall, it was already dark outside by the time he put the last of the tools away and finished wiping everything down. When he gave the room his last inspection before heading out, he nodded silently to himself in satisfaction.

The Bronson Family Funeral Home had been a staple of the Cromwell community for well over 75 years. It was a fairly simple but effective operation that the people in town seemed to appreciate. Much like Pastor Kirt or Doc Matts, the folks who made their stay in Cromwell were destined to come to the Bronson’s place sooner of later.

Thad took over the family business just over a year ago after his father died. He liked the business overall. It was calming, quiet work that served a purpose. There was a simple level of gratification that came with it, a sense of peace.

Thad washed his hands one last time and wiped the sink out. Slipping his watch over his wrist, he noticed it was much later than he anticipated almost 11:30. He grabbed his jacket from the hook near the stairs and headed up. He was three steps closer to home when he heard the small crash behind him. He stopped, turned and listened. A small frown crossed his face as he stepped back down into the workroom.

A small pile of glass that used to be a beaker lay on the floor. “Hm,” Thad thought with a grunt. He secured the broom and dustpan and cleaned the mess quickly, but effectively to ensure no wayward shards got away. He took a good look around the room, even closer than before to make double sure everything was in its place.

Once more, he headed to the steps, but drew to a stop the moment he heard it…a small, single knock.

Thad turned to face the room again. He squinted as he traced the space from end to end. Sometimes kids like to mess with funeral homes, mostly because they were scared of them. Dares and double dares often led to small and mostly harmless pranks.

Silence.

Thad turned slowly toward the steps as if he was waiting for something to happen. The moment his foot touched the first step, another knock came. He spun around.

“Who’s there?”

He set his posture and decided on one more look, when another knock came and another. They were soft at first, but as the volume grew so did the intensity. Thad’s heart was pounding heavy in is chest. For a moment, he thought of his father who died of a heart attack. The sound of the pounding began to fill the room. It was coming from the cooler.

Thad stepped closer, almost as if hypnotized. The sound of the pounding grew and the cooler door, a good solid and heavy door, appeared to shake and rattle on its hinges. He placed his and on the door to confirm the vibrations. With his heart pounding in his ears, Thad reached for the handle. Taking a deep breath, he pulled that handle and yanked at the door forcing the light inside to click on.

He staggered backwards. Three gurneys sat in a line. All was well, accept for Maggie Crisp who sat upright before him, her drape had slid into her lap.

Thad gulped heavy breaths to try and keep pace with his racing heart. He stared at the woman, his face contorting with disbelief as her head slowly turned to meet his gaze, but with closed eyes. The stiff, deceased muscle made the movement slow and strained. Maggie lifted her hand, again slow and with substantial effort. She began to point at him.

Thad stepped backward. His chest heaved as he gulped in the cold air. His heart beat like a bass drum in his head.

Maggie’s mouth a jaw split open and worked itself a couple of times as if it had just been released from a vice.

Thad had backed himself up against the cooled wall and while he had nowhere to go his feet continued to push.

A long, soft, guttural whisper gushed from the deceased woman’s mouth, “Four Days.” It was then that Maggie Crisp truly expired. Whatever work she was intended to do was done. The corpse collapsed backwards with enough speed and force to knock it to the floor.

It was then that Thad Bronson, III began to scream.