Thursday, December 31, 2009


Fireworks have been going off intermittantly all day, so this was sort of inspired by those sounds. It's a bit gloomy, but I hope you enjoy it.



As if the door were made of jello it swayed inward. In the middle of the room Andrew McCall watched. He stood tall, at six foot nine, and played basketball in high school despite being ungainly and poorly coordinated. His coach used to glower at Andrew's every trip and scuff and fumble but was reluctant to pull his player, afraid to lose the sheer intimidation that height inflicted on the opposing teams.

Andrew's life was filled with disappointments. Disappointments he set on others and disappointments others set on him. "You're smart," said his mother, even though he was actually slightly below average and didn't much enjoy learning or have any ambition to do so. "You're strong," said his father, even though in reality he suffered from asthma and a rare heart condition, and the circumference of his upper arm was only eleven inches when he reached his full height. His early sparks of dreams and ambitions were dampened by the ambitions his parents laid on him and the relentless scolding he received every day that he failed. By the time he was seven his last internal ember grew cold.

In his teens his parents gave up altogether, realizing he showed no signs of becoming the man they wanted him to be. It was a comfortable detente for Andrew. He often lay on his bed in his spare time, staring at the peeling lead paint on the ceiling, and thinking about nothing, as if the future did not exist in the way that most people build it in their minds; as if the present was divided up into slides in a projector, each one illuminated for a time, static, then replaced by a new present. It was as if he could just turn himself off for awhile.

In the world, as an adult, he was a ghost. He formed few friendships and no deep ones. Whenever he walked down the street the people around him would not move for him; he was unnoticed, almost invisible. They looked somewhat small to him. Every building was made for them, not him. He was in a different space, one that butted up perpendicular to their space and time.

He shuffled through some non-notable occupations. He bagged groceries at a supermarket where the fluorescent lights blinked out their own morse code to each other. They bleached the floors in bluish light and made the shoppers look sallow and unslept. The music was a mash made to dull and calm the mind designed to relax shoppers enough to buy more high-profit, high-carb items in the center aisles of the store. Andrew didn't mind the music. He passed many hours without memory of anything he bagged. He earned average evaluations from his shift manager, an older woman with frizzy hair and corns on her feet.

In his next job he washed the windows of stripmall stores, frozen yogurt dives, porn shops, nail salons, dog groomers, western wear outfitters, seasonal tax return experts, pizza parlors, military recruitment centers, nutritional supplement stores and the odd arcade. He was hired because he was tall and could easily reach the far top corners of the windows. He liked the vibrations the squeegee made against the glass. He liked watching the water drip down.

For a time he was unemployed. He collected unemployment and lay on the couch in front of the TV all day but watched nothing. He just stared at the dark gray screen and blinked occasionally.

On a Friday his father kicked him out of the house. His mother looked forlorn but didn't protest.

On a Saturday his passed the military recruitment center. He paused and looked at the glass. He remembered washing it. He licked his finger and ran it down the window and savored the vibrations and snags. The recruiter, alone for hours and bored, mistook this as a sign of interest, that Andrew was contemplating serving his country. The recruiter sauntered out and smiled. A half hour later Andrew had signed away the next two years of his life. It was something to do.

Andrew's platoon was filled with boys younger than him, boys with ambitions and places to be, someday, once they got out of the desert. They almost universally dreamed of a day they could call sleep sleep, not rack. They dreamed of hot showers, junk food, girls gone wild, alcohol soaked adventures. Some dreamed of college and future families and Peace on Earth, sometime. Some dreamed of fiery, painful deaths, with their own blood running out and coagulating in sand, of feral dogs feasting on their corpses, of being dragged awkwardly by the hands of enemy children through piss-saturated rubbly streets until all appendages rotted off. These dreams were pushed under but never drowned by bravura talk, horseplay, cards, and abstract arguments of faraway politics.

Andrew still didn't dream. When he was at rest he stared at the sky or at the ceiling, depending on his location. When he was on the move he watched his feet or a fixed point in the distance. He rarely looked around. This unnerved his mates. Once he watched a cockcroach crawl in and out of the festering abscesses of a dead child in an alleyway for three hours until a fellow soldier slapped him across the face for doing so.

By the time the door swayed inward, his platoon had long ago given him up for dead. An oddity that breathed and took up space, but who had little bearing on their lives. As the wood in the door began to pull apart, something stirred in Andrew. He spread his arms and legs instinctively. Splinters broke off and shot towards him. Metal shrapnel from the bomb followed. Bits of organs and flesh from the bomber came third, as their aerodynamics slowed their progress in comparison. Wood dust exploded into the room. Everything struck Andrew. He felt nothing. The men behind him, three members of his platoon, suffered only minor scrapes and some perforated eardrums.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Factory Day

Oh dear god, this is one of my favorites. Unfortunately it totally fell flat at my writer's group when I presented it a couple of years back. Most people couldn't follow it. It might be structured a bit too loosely, and it's definitely weird. There's no easy way into this story or this world, but damn I like the way I rendered this one. If you can't tell by the end of it, it's a blatant comment on materialism. Enjoy.

Factory Day

"Anna honey, wake up..."

Anna opened her eyes to find them staring at the fixer, hypnotized by its pulsating, burning needles as they threaded their way through the layers of plastic, painting thin green lines. The vibrations purring from the internal motions of the fixer calmed her, even as she was repulsed by the acrid smell of it. This was not her first time operating this fixer. It required green wax and produced the reclaimed plastic sheaths that the workers wore when rain was in the air outside the factory. She was careful not to get her fingers too close to the green slicked needles; her fingers were already raw from gathering. She had been sent out earlier to gather wax but the ruins were being slowly dismantled with the constant gathering, and appropriate supplies were getting harder to find.

Overhead, the vast vaulted ceiling of the factory reverberated with the sounds of thousands of humming fixers operated by thousands of silent workers. Speech was forbidden on the floor, and singing was a distant memory. Anna somehow caught a few notes skimming around in her brain but she always managed to concentrate and force them out by repeating the laws of the factory. The pheromones phiffing from the cracks in the skin of the fixers took care of the rest.

The factory shuddered as it began another lumbering descent. Anna instinctively clutched the fixer for support, and it flexed its flesh in response to her sudden touch. Several of its antennae stiffened then relaxed, oozing a thin black liquid. Its one clouded eye darted vaguely in her direction, then slowly returned its deadened gaze to a spot fixed in the air halfway to the ceiling. The wax was almost gone and she would surely be brought up to the office to account for her failure. She had to keep the feeding tube full of wax and her fingers away from the needles as she guided the plastic through, but sleep kept tugging at the ragged ends of her mind.

Her fingers fluttered as the level of wax fell. If the wax ran out before the factory finished its descent, she would surely be punished. She picked up the last of the crayons she had collected. The label said "Forest Green". It triggered a faint hint of a memory. She remembered it, or something like it. She surreptitiously brought the crayon to her nose. A sound came back, a sound that workers make, larval workers, many of them, in a room with lots of paper.
Anna peeled the crayon carefully, and bending low to avoid the sight of other workers, put the paper in her mouth. She let saliva soak through it, and she tasted its bitterness before pushing it up behind her back teeth. There was a pit in her stomach a mile deep, and the paper made it seep deeper, but it was a relief to have something that reminded her of food. She couldn't remember when she last ate; it was before the factories descended and froze the day, before she was recruited as a worker, the time before that she could barely remember.

Anna fed the last crayon into the feeding tube, and waited with dread for the fixer to come to a grumbling stop. As the wax ran out, the plastic sheets bunched up behind the needles. The fixer paused motionless, and then it released its chapped mouth from the feeding tube and started screaming. Anna clapped her hands over her ears and shut her eyes tight. The other operators sluggishly turned their heads in her direction, then, almost in unison, slowly turned their heavy lidded eyes back to their own fixers.

The cry of the fixer abated somewhat to an intermittent keening, and Anna clutched her hands over her mouth in horror. She looked up to the office door, and there was movement behind its transparent membrane. She wanted to scream herself. Maybe they would just let her go out and collect more wax, or maybe they would shove her into the feeder fixers on the down below. She would just have to explain that she hadn't been able to find enough before it was time for the factory to go up again.

The office door transluced, relaxed, and opened. The floor manager appeared at the opening and squeezed himself out onto the deck. Anna could not remember the name of this one. There seemed to be a new one after every few gatherings. He stood looking to locate the source of the cry. He spotted her trying to crouch low behind the cloudy-eyed fixer.

"You!" he said. "Come here." Anna stood up and began to walk slowly up the aisle, drawing a few furtive glances. "Faster!" Anna picked up her pace, and reached the ladder to the deck under the glare of this floor manager. "Inside!"

Anna thrust her hand into the door, causing it to relax open again. She squeezed her body in. Inside was a finder fixer, a dark figure with spines and a row of slicer scales, and it too wore a sheath. It was hanging from a hook on the wall, its thousands of tentacles pooling on the floor like fresh-cooked angel hair pasta. It appeared to be turned off. The floor manager followed her in.

"Now, state your name."


"Recite the first law."

"Always do what the factory asks."

"Very good. Now recite the second law."

"Never ask questions."

"Also good. My name is Scott. I have just been appointed to this post. Now while my predecessor may have tolerated such lax adherence to the laws, I do not. You have clearly not done what the factory has asked." Scott's left eye twitched, it looked as if it was desperately trying to fall asleep.

"Scott, sir, I collected as much wax as I could--"

"I do not care for the details, and I do not like excuses. The factory requires that you collect as much material as it needs, no more, no less. The factory requires me to punish you."

"How can I -- I cannot know how much to collect if the factory doesn't tell me how--"

"I did not require you to speak. Do no test my limited patience Alice. Now, I don't think this first offense under my watch requires anything drastic." Scott smugly smoothed the front of his sheath. "The factory has asked me to find someone who can name this." He pulled a small metal object from his sheath pocket. "If you can name it, you will be spared the usual punishment."

"A fork-- that's a fork."

"You do know then. That's excellent."

"That's what we used to use to--"

"I do not need to know the purpose of this object. It is of course completely irrelevant. It's just source material. The factory has a new design it would like to make, and requires many of these. The fixers are being remade to process it. Undoubtedly, the new object will exceed in beauty the old object. This is quite a priority." Scott smiled, his gaze fixed on the fork.

"Sure. I'm sure it will be wonderful, Scott."

"Yes. Now leave. The factory will be descended soon. You will be gathering these, forks."

Anna left the office with an instinctive parting glance at the finder, creaking slightly on the hook with the motion of the factory as it steadied. She stood on the deck for a moment, and watched as the operators got up in unison, and began to file towards the side ports. Not wanting to linger too long, she climbed down the ladder and joined them.

Anna always looked forward to the moment of leaving, but she didn't understand why. There was a dulled sense of joy to it, something she only ever felt in her brief dreams that crept over her, unwillingly but wanted desperately. She shuffled slowly forward, behind her another worker put his hand on her shoulder to steady himself, and then she heard a word.


Anna's face froze in terror though her feet kept sliding forward. Had he been heard by anyone else? She stole a gaze backward, and all she saw was a leaden face devoid of intelligence. Perhaps it was just her mind speaking to her again. She turned back. She was nearing the port. The worker ahead of her pushed through, then it was her turn. She squeezed her hand through, pushed, and then she was out, falling slowing to the ruins below.

The air was cool and wet. Suspended droplets cascaded against her face and popped gently on her sheath. It was dusk here, they must have come a long way, and it had been awhile since she saw the night. She righted herself so that she could land feet first. Air billowed up under her sheath, and permeated her old clothes beneath. Her bare feet grew cold as they reached toward the half-eaten roofs of the ruins. A cul-de-sac reached slowly up to her toes. She felt that this would be an ideal place to gather. She shifted her arms, and guided her descent towards the lawn of one of the houses. Next to it, the carcass of a black automobile rotted on a patch of concrete.
Ahead of her, other workers were already landing, and were dashing into houses with determined faces to find more of the materials their fixer's required. She briefly wondered which of them had been reassigned green wax.

Finally, her toes touched damp grass, and she closed her eyes. A dream came in. Water was spraying; droplets were actually falling. The air was warm and sunlight teased her skin. "Wake up Anna. There's no time to sleep."

Another worker pushed her from behind as he ran past her and into the nearest house. Anna opened her eyes and watched him yank on the locked door, then run to a broken out window. He hoisted himself up, and shoved himself through, his dark stained feet dangling briefly in the opening.

"Forks. Right." Anna often spoke to herself while gathering. Many of the other workers did too. It was the only time they were allowed to do so unless specifically addressed by a superior or a finder, and it helped alleviate the tedium.

Anna began to walk across the grass. It felt good, and cold, and somehow still alive, not frozen. "Forks are for eating Scott." she paused. "Not actually eating Scott per se. Though I'm sure you will be eaten down below shortly." She walked to the window that the other worker had gone through. There was no glass left anywhere, and parts of the casement had been ripped out, as had most of the siding on the house. By the door, a plastic number seven was hanging upside down on one nail.

Anna pushed herself through. It would be hard to search in this dark, and the other worker was mumbling loudly to himself as he worked his way without nimbleness through the remaining strewn contents of the house. Anna slid her feet on the floor, catching debris with the tops of her feet instead of stepping on it. She made her way to the far wall without interference, and followed the wall to a door. She felt with her foot into the other room. Wood gave way to tile. She was in the right place.

She worked her way around the new room, and had to climb over a capsized refrigerator before she encountered drawers and cabinets. Some had been pulled out, the contents broadcast to the floor. She crouched, and ran her hands over the debris. No forks. Her hand came across a cylindrical object wider at one end. A flashlight. Anna wondered if it would work. She picked it up and slid the button on. A strong beam flooded out, and whipped erratically across the room.
"Cool. This will help a lot. Maybe I can keep it with me. Maybe the factory won't know if I carry it with me in my pocket with the forks I still need to find." She shot the beam back to the door, just as the other worker stumbled by. He paused in the glare, arms stuffed with shards of berber carpet.

"Better not keep that, if that's not what you’re looking for." He stumbled on.

"Yeah, yeah. Scott's replacement will get all upset." She turned the beam to the far side of the room, and it shot through to another room.

"Forks Anna, forks. But there may be forks in a dining room. No guarantee. A kitchen always has spare forks. I can get both. No, shouldn't waste the time, I'll get fed for sure." Anna walked into the other room, hardwood meeting her feet, and worked the beam around, cameoing each piece of furniture. This room had been left relatively intact, but there were few items inside. Then the beam fell on something odd, a tall, narrow chair with a larval worker still sitting in it, staring blankly.

Anna moved closer, and it slowly turned its face towards her, squinting its glassy eyes in the light. Anna dropped the flashlight in horror. When it hit the floor, the beam rebounded chaotically around the room. In the darkness, the worker moved a pudgy arm, and held it out in her direction.

"Are you..."Anna could not understand why it was here, how it had been missed. How had it not been gathered for incubation in a cell just above the down below? Anna herself had gathered larvae, but that had been done a long time ago. How long had this one been here unattended? Where were its parents?

"Parents. I haven't thought about that in..." A dream took over. Wet clothes were hanging lank under a summer sun. Anna was watching them from below, seated on a red tricycle. A woman smiled down at her, a blue plastic pin in her hand. "Anna honey, you have to focus dear." Anna absently back-pedaled, trying to remember why. "Remember freedom Anna." Her lids peeled apart unwillingly.

She stepped towards the larva. She reached her hand to its outstretched arm. It looked up at her, and opened its mouth attempting to say words it did not know. Anna touched the warm skin of its forearm. The sensation washed away the memory of the scent and sight and feel of the fixers. "You're not... you're not a larva, are you?"

Anna stepped closer, reached into the chair, and picked the baby up. The child put it's arms around Anna's neck and looked into her eyes. The baby was heavy in her arms. "You must be as hungry as me little one. Maybe there is something left to eat in here. Then we should find your parents. You can't grow up without somebody to take care of you." She stooped with the baby clutched to her chest, and picked up the flashlight.

The factory wailed plaintively, signaling the call to return, and Anna was pulled back to its urgent needs. The other worker crashed and swore somewhere on the upstairs level. Anna began to panic. She could not bring the child back to the factory, the factory would be angry. She could not leave the child behind, it would end up staying there forever in its chair, alone in the darkness of the perpetual night.

She swung the light around the room again. She brushed it across a door, canted on one hinge. Past the doorway lay damp grass. If she ran now, would the factory know she was missing? Would it send its finders after her? She stepped over to the threshold of the door. The factory loomed above her, the bottom cells squirming with hungry feeders, the wailing beginning to crest.

She felt the first wave of the tugging; it welled up deep inside her. Her mind flailed against the unbidden desire to return to the factory. The tugging became more insistent. The factory knew. It knew she didn't want to go back. The tugging wrapped itself around her insides, and pulled, constricting her. Anna's feet left the floor, and she was slammed into the ceiling. Anna dropped the baby and it fell gently down amid a halo of paint flecks and bits of stucco. The tugging relaxed, and Anna knew she should leave the house.

She returned to the floor and picked up the baby once more. Anna looked around for something to hold on to. The beam of the flashlight caught sight of an oven missing its elements, but it still had a handle. She ran over to it, sliding on debris. She managed to drop the flashlight in her pocket and take hold just as the tugging regained its grip on her insides.

"No, you're not taking me!" She screamed as the tugging felt like it was dissolving the middle part of her body. Her arm strained as she was hoisted again and again towards the ceiling, as the tugging pulsated within her. The baby clutched at the front of her sheath. Pain was wracked over its face; the tugging had taken hold of it too.

A tendril of pain wove itself through her ribcage then wrapped itself several times around her spine. As it inched its way towards the base of her skull, she fought the urge to let go of the oven door. Then it relaxed.

"You're not taking me, you're not taking us!" Savagely, the tugging invaded her brain. She could see nothing but whiteness and could not feel her body. The tugging subsided again, and Anna found herself being scraped across the ceiling on her back toward the open door, but the baby was still held close. She let herself relax until her feet hit the door casing. She braced for another strong tugging but it did not come. She was simply held frozen to the ceiling. Stucco pricked her back as she wondered what was next; she had never resisted the tugging before.

She could smell it first. It was unmistakable. Outside the kitchen door Anna heard the rustling of a sheath, then it wrapped several thin tentacles around the broken doorjamb. They poked at the metal of the hinges finding purchase. The tugging pulsed within her and strengthened its grip. The finder shot through the doorway below her and stopped just before the wall opposite, spraying debris, its slicers extending several feet to give it balance between the floor and the ceiling. Tile cracked loudly as Anna's heart fought frantically within her immobilized body. Three large, red, ringed eyes turned towards her, and darted from her face to the light from her sheath pocket, and finally settled on the baby in her arms.

The finder shuddered, its tentacles briefly swirled and flexed. It contracted some of the slicers and moved towards Anna slowly. A probing tentacle curled through the air, gleaming with a rank clear fluid that the finder was exuding. The tip of the tentacle brushed against her hand before it slid across the cheek of the baby. It pulled away drawing a string of the sticky fluid.

The tentacle returned to the finder, and it contracted all the way into its body. The finder's eyes darted as it processed the new information. Anna was breathing hard now, but malice was taking hold, steadying her.

"What are you going to do now?" The finder returned one eye to her face. "It's a baby. A human baby. A child. Do you know what that is?"

The finder slowly rose and forced a slicer through the ceiling, lazily sending bits of stucco through the air. Wood creaked as the finder held tighter. "You don't scare me." Anna shook with anger. The finder moved closer, it's eyes just inches from hers, the stench almost unbearable as it's warm breath leaked out between the cracks in its carapace. "Why did you come here? Why did you take our memories away?"

A dream took hold of Anna again. She was in a maze of warm blankets, and then there was a ringing sound. A voice came, "Turn on the news Anna. You won't believe this!" Then everything froze, and her life seeped away. Anna felt a pain in her hand. She woke.

The finder was slicing into her thumb, and hooked around the bone. It slowly pulled her hand away from the baby. Tears wanted to well up in Anna's eyes, but couldn't find their way. "I'll never be free will I? The best I can hope for is to be fed to the feeders." Several tentacles wrapped around the baby, one right over the eyes. Gently, the finder pulled the baby up and under its carapace. Then it pulled out a short metal rod.

The rod gleamed with clear fluid, and glowed intermittently at one end. The finder brought the glowing end to Anna's face, and pressed it into her cheek. The tip was so cold, a searing pain radiated into her face. The tugging crawled up out of her chest, through her skull, and into the rod. As it left, Anna began to fall slowly to the floor. She tried to land on her feet, but the tugging had left her legs a tangled mess of pins and needles. She reached the tile belly first, and fumbled towards the doorway. The finder loomed over her watching.

The debris bit into her through the thin layer of sheath. She inched forward, and managed to grab hold of the edge of the metal plate at the bottom of the doorway. The finder moved with her, above her. As she began to shove her way to the outside, it hooked a slicer on the back of her sheath. Anna strained against it, until the sheath tore. She fell numbly onto the steps, tumbling over until her face met the wet grass of the back lawn.

Anna rolled over onto her back, trembling, and completely exhausted. The finder emerged from the doorway, holding the rod above her. "Are you going to drag me up to the factory now to be eaten, or would you rather torture me?" Darting eyes answered her.

"I'm just going to keep crawling." Anna's hands gripped tufts of lawn. "You're going to have to rip me up from the Earth." Tentacles splayed out in the air. "But maybe I'm too much trouble."
The finder released the rod, and it fell slowly towards Anna. She rolled to the side to avoid it, and it impaled the lawn instead. The finder descended beside her, landing a slicer right next to her legs. Three red eyes examined her face, and then suddenly the finder was gone.

Rain pelted the lawn, and the air grew cold. Then light. The sun rose. Clouds broke and the sun reached a low wintry apex. But the sun didn't stop. As Anna took one breath, the sun flashed three times across the sky. As she took another, it flashed ten times. Then in a moment, it passed overhead a thousand times.

Anna looked up, and the house rotted away in a blur. In the distance something large had crashed, and trees grew up into the sky atop it. Only the area a few feet around the rod seemed unchanged. The sky strobed then turned to a dull gray. She sensed forms moving around her, as a forest surged into the sky. The forest vanished, and then surged again, taller, its foliage completely covering her view of the sky.

The numbness slowly left her body, and she sat up. The forest vanished once more, and the soil around the circle of lawn began to fall away. The lawn was undercut, and suddenly leaned at an angle. Anna grabbed the rod to keep from falling out. The forest returned. Then Anna noticed that the circle was slowly shrinking.

Anna curled up around the rod, holding it tightly. The forest grew closer and closer. She thought about letting go, but the thought of being half in and half out of the circle disturbed her.
As her toes fought to stay on the lawn, the rod stopped glowing. The sun paused above. It was late afternoon. Anna could hear something singing in the trees. An animal rooted at the base of the lawn. Anna slid off the circle and landed next to the creature. Soft decaying leaves nestled around her feet. The animal looked up at her in surprise. Its long snout twitched as it sniffed the air, trying to determine what exactly Anna was. It had one cloudy eye that punctuated a face covered slackly in cracked skin. The antennae on its back oozed black fluid before it darted off into the underbrush, snuffling and wheezing loudly.

Anna collapsed to the ground, and fell instantly to sleep.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner with Knives and Forks

This was written a few years back as an dialog exercise at a meeting of the local RWA chapter (and it's further proof I don't belong at an RWA meeting). Enjoy!

Dinner with Knives and Forks

Jake, a homeless man is rooting through a fast food dumpster. His companion is Bartholemew, a rat.

Jake: I got barbeque sauce on my shirt again! Why do they have to make these damn sandwiches so sloppy?

Bart: The trick is to lick the sauce off the paper first. It's like an appetizer.

Jake: Why do you always have to interrupt my good rants? Why don't you poke your whiskers into someone else's business?

Bart: I'm only trying to help.

Jake: How can you help me you filthy little runt? What are you going to do, teach me how to run through a sewer without getting my feet wet?

Bart: Actually, the trick is to --

Jake: Ah, shut up! Damnit, you made me drip more sauce on my shirt. I hate you!

Bart: You know, that stain is beginning to look like the Virgin Mary --

Jake: I'll give you an appetizer!

Bart: Hey hold on - I'm trying to tell you something important!

Jake: You're a rat, what do you know? You've got a tiny little brain the size of a pea!

Bart: Fine. I'll just tell you.

Jake: Spill it then. This should be hilarious.

Bart: Be happy friend.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Zero Player Game

I wrote this almost two years ago. I actually have little memory of writing it. I was deep into depression and on anti-depressants at the time and my memory is nearly black for a couple of months around that time (which is one of the reasons why I swear against using anti-depressants; so little benefit for so many side effects). I do remember that the story was inspired by an idea from my friend Steve. He came up with the concept of a world without laws, but which was not necessarily anarchic.


Zero Player Game

I am a judge. Not that the title means much these days, not with the New Law, now two decades old -- hard to believe it has been so long, hard to believe New Law is still around, but I guess everyone just loves their drugs and sex and gambling too much. I guess they just loved the fact they could pay for a license to murder or capture those stodgy holdovers that clung to "morality". My grandfather laughingly called those poor suckers the "moral majority", which meant they could never have been more than an irritating minority -- those weirdos who thought freedom was a bad thing. What was that quote from Benjamin Franklin? Something about giving up freedom for security. I can never remember the exact wording. There were protests the first few years. I was too young to understand, and too old not to be frightened.

Change always makes me think of Conway's automaton. Patterns you think might stick around never do. People don't survive by clinging to old ways just because they are old. You've got to adapt -- and run when you need to run, hide when you need to hide. Don't stand in front of the tank and expect it to stop (unless it stops on you, then backs up and over again just to make sure you're dead). We used to live next to a dissident back in the tenement, when I lived with my mother and grandfather. His name was George. He was about forty at the time and had a scraggly mustache, thick glasses and deep wrinkles around his eyes -- too old for his age. He used to be a high school art teacher before the depression. He used to drive a subcompact car called an "Elantra" and he used to own a three bedroom house on an adjustable rate mortgage (which he cursed about regularly). He used to have a wife, but she died of cancer at the start of the depression because the nearest hospital couldn't afford electricity, and George and his wife couldn't afford gas to get to the next nearest one. So she died in her own bed like people used to do hundreds of years ago. George said he could still sometimes hear her screams when he slept, still see the hard, knotty tumors that had crept over her body when he dreamed.

When George lived next door, he supported himself by selling bongs he made online. He let me watch him blow the glass. He made me a translucent pink swan once, with black glass seed beads for eyes, it's beak tipped in orange glass. Watching him work was beautiful and quiet, his deep breathing, his furrowed concentration, the rhythmic rolling of the metal blow tube in his dirty lined hands, the lava hot glow from his makeshift oven all mesmerized me. He always had a look of tiredness. Between each completed bong, he talked at me. "Things are getting worse Gwen", "The politicians don't give a rat's ass about us little people Gwen", "The world is going to hell Gwen", "You aren't going to have any kind of world to grow up into Gwen." He was a bit of a downer for a kid to be around, but I didn't have much else to do. My mother wouldn't let me play with the other children in the building because she was afraid I would get shanked (I may have been on the small and sassy side, but I think she got the potential shankers and shankees reversed). There was no longer any school -- just a lot of hours rumbling around the tenement watching my grandfather get drunk, waiting for my mother to get home from her double-shift at the prison, or hanging out with George and his bongs and his oven.

I remember knocking on his door one day, and a woman with brittle black hair answered. She was overweight and wearing a stained black sack dress.

"Go home," she said, staring down at me.

"Where's George?" I asked. She lit up a cigarette and watched me with beady eyes. She said nothing in reply.

"What happened to George? Who are you?" I asked.

"What do you want with a forty-year old man?"

"I like to watch him make bongs." I wanted to say that I thought he was my friend, but I wasn't too sure about that.

"A little girl like you shouldn't be visiting a forty year-old man."

"Why not? And, I'm not a little girl, I'm twelve." People always assumed I was younger than I was because I was small. It annoyed the crap out of me.

"Aren't you afraid he'll molest you?"

"No. Should I be? Is he a registered sex offender or something?" She just looked at me.

"No," She said. "Go home."

"I'd like to know what happened to George."

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do. I spend every afternoon with him, learning how to blow glass. He gives me lessons." It was a lie, and I knew it probably wasn't convincing. George never let me touch any of his glass blowing stuff.

"Really. Well, then, if you are his student, maybe you better come inside. Seems like you are not about to leave on your own anyway." She moved aside and let me into George's room. I sat down on the tile floor next to the oven. It was still warm from yesterday. I stared up at brittle-hair woman as she bolted the door and turned around.

"Do you know who I am?"

"No," I said.

"I'm George's sister."

" where's George. Why are you here?"

"Listen kid, do you even know what's going on these days? Do you know what our fucking fascist government is up to? What they do to people who think?"

"I dunno--"

"So you are twelve. Can you even comprehend how insane it's gotten? These godless people in charge have no morals, they have no right to tell us what to do and how to live! They've run our country right into the ground -- they've pissed on our flag and our constitution!"

"Why the fuck are you yelling at me?!" She lunged forward and slapped me across the mouth.

"You bitch! You are too young to have a filthy mouth!" She hit me again. "Didn't your parents teach you right and wrong?" Another hit.

"Stop that! Stop hitting me! You used that word too!"

"Have you learned your lesson?" She straightened her back, panting, took a long drag from her cigarette, and peered at me through slitted eyes. I couldn't resist.

"Fuck you lady."

I was expecting another slap, or at least her pulling my hair (my mother's favorite disciplinary tactic), but she just looked at me.

"Harlot. Fucking harlot. You'll never be anything but wild." I had no idea what a harlot was at the time, or that the only people who used that word were of a particularly rigid religious sect.

She sighed. "George is gone."

"Gone where?"

"He's dead."

I never saw George again. That was the only time I saw his sister. The police came later that day and shot her. I heard her fat body thud on tile. I watched them drag her body down the stairs through the peephole in our door. They pushed all his belongings out his window and into the street. A week later a noisy family of six resided in George's apartment.

In retrospect, maybe people like George had a point. Maybe there is a place in society for restraint. Maybe that's why I wanted to become a judge. I think I had a sense that everything was going to unravel.

I get a large office and a government stipend. The office sits like a morbidly obese frog in the middle of a brackish pond. The room itself is wide and long and squat, government green carpeting, rimmed with black walnut flooring and an insulating layer of old law books stretching from floor to ceiling, from back in the day when there were laws on books. No windows. The room is dead-center in Building A of capitol judicial sub-complex H, twelve floors up, with eleven floors above, a labyrinth of green carpeting, black walnut, sallow lighting, and faintly phthalate smells from the electronics snuggled between walls and floors and ceilings. All the judges' quarters are in the center of the building, a layered column shielded with extra concrete -- under New Law the judges act as temporary governors if all other government systems fail. This is something I try not to think about too much, though it does lend my duties a satisfying feeling of gravity. The stipend isn't much to talk about -- it is a nominal token to legitimize the job.

I get a large car that likes leaded gasoline. A big, sleek, black late model custom with a threaded stream of chrome curly-cue lines from hood to trunk, very art deco. Gullwing doors. Privacy tinted windows. Phat fins right out of the 1970s. Whale leather in the cabin with polar bear fur trim. Very expensive, very chic, though far over the top. You have to go to a zoo these days to get those materials, and then only when the animal is dead (zoos are very popular -- people actually pay to watch "criminals" get killed by large predators -- A few of my winning plaintiffs went and payed handsomely for this service). Otherwise the animal lovers will kill you, even if you have a hunting license. They have a well-funded union. Polar bear fur. I wonder how much he had to pay for that. My predecessor had rather rhinestony taste. Come to think of it, he did own a terry bath robe dappled in rhinestones and glitter. That narcissistic asshole.

It was a sad death. It's never much fun watching someone die, even if they are a bastard. He struggled for about twenty minutes. I hired a professional poisoner, so I didn't have to touch him, but I did stay and watch. I guess maybe I was angry. I particularly remember how the blood vessels burst in his eyes. Also, the amount of foam that came out of him was surprising, and of course he got it everywhere as he staggered around cursing me. He left quite a mess on the carpet. I had to get it ripped out (it was a tragedy because it was Peruvian wool -- hand-woven and absolutely gorgeous), and even then the smell lingered for weeks. I could barely sleep -- little tendrils of stench would waft into the bedroom when the air conditioner came on, waking me up. I couldn't have any guests over without someone making a comment, and then of course I had to give them the digest version of how I earned my government commission.

It got old -- telling that story over glasses of absinthe and subsected cheese wheels (my vices) -- a standard, run-of-the-mill sort of death. The only quirk was that I had to re-file the death warrant because I spelled the judge's name incorrectly, the whole i before e fiasco of the English language, and even that was terribly boring to retell after the fifth or sixth time. You just can't do a decent job of entertaining a plaintiff when your predecessor lingers in the room. You just can't get a decent legal fee. It's unprofessional. I finally hired a cleaning company that specializes in human remains to get the stain out of the floor. Their ad in the directory said "We Do People". I liked that it was slightly sexual, a little necrophilic, they had a sense of humor, but who starts a business like that? Who decides "I think I will clean up the stains from dead people, that seems highly lucrative"? They charged and arm and a leg.

The old judge's choking and gurgling was painful to watch, but I deserved the job. Damn it, I deserved that job -- the old bastard didn't take his office seriously and he wronged me. He made me serve out a month long sentence for a perfectly legal crime. He made me serve a month in his bed because I couldn't be bothered to get a fucking drug vending license and I got caught. I had been selling for years to a select, private clientèle -- passing off bribes when necessary. A license meant you got listed in the directory, and I didn't want to be bothered with random calls from addled users looking for a discount on Grade B or C before their veins gave out. The old judge wouldn't take a bribe. I guess he liked the look of me or something -- wanted me. He made me rub his greasy ape-skin back, I had to touch large pimples and coarse hair. He made me touch other parts as well. Fucking gag-worthy. Fuck him, I deserved that job. I watched him work that whole month, and I figured out how to do it better. I compensated his surviving family members with a handsome percentage of my income in the position, so I easily secured their blessing. Apparently they thought as much of him as I did. Luckily I have no family.

I like that the car I get is bullet-proof. I hate being down on street level with the trash, but I'm glad to have that car. Other people of wealth find sport in hanging out their car windows, high on those popular cocaine/mescaline energy drinks with automatic weapons picking out random street people, the poor fucks. I like to keep a lower profile. I am not so wild. I like to be orderly. I like my car to speak for me. Carry a big stick and all that. The New Law doesn't erase revenge from human nature, and you never know who might be slumming. Besides, I am the one assigned to resolve blood disputes, not create them. It's unbecoming.

I have the use of a sprawling luxury apartment midway up Liberty Tower. The view of the city is fantastic with cathedral windows on three sides -- the ruins from the war can be seen to the west, the ocean to the south, and the Garden Reserve to the east, which is quite a sight when the summer hunting games start up. There is something beautiful about the flare of a flame thrower chasing down prey at night -- but then again I am far enough up to see the action but not hear the screams.

I have the use of three slaves bound to the office, three strapping young men serving out their punishment for their juvenile "crimes" (I'm not sure of the specifics, but I'm sure their current tenure with my office involved them not being able to afford their legal fees). Jeffrey, a tall brooder, great in bed. Roderick with small eyes -- he talks too much, with a nervousness I can't quite appreciate, though he seems to look up to me, a reasonable trade-off. Gavin, red-headed, sallow and freckled. He is smart, quiet, and I don't trust him. He seemed highly loyal to the old judge, why I can't fathom. I'm torn between releasing him from his sentence early or just having him murdered and out of my sight, but I'd hate to do the latter because it seems a poor excuse to kill someone simply because they give you a funny look. Maybe he is just inscrutable. See? I am fair, more than most judges. By all accounts I treat them well, and in turn they are loyal enough to protect my life -- an essential service if I am to keep my job for more than a few months.

The best perks are the bribes. Most of my time is taken up with politely and discretely negotiating and accepting bribes. You might think it is a sweet job, but I have to take great care in these negotiations. An offended plaintiff or defendant might file a motion to have me murdered. I can't have that.

People often call me conservative. That's probably a fair label. When I got my license to practice New Law (which costs more than you might think), I had to provide a brief statement of legal philosophy to be listed next to my name in the directory. After a lot of thought, I chose "I listen to all sides". Plaintiffs and defendants have to agree to be seen by the same judge, and the statement of legal philosophy helps them to choose. I was hoping for lots of clients, lots of work. Who wouldn't be partial to a statement like that? I also hope to attract clients that were neither too wealthy (too great a chance of being murdered by the wealthier party if I didn't rule in their favor) or too poverty stricken (what they could pay is not worth my time). I want to be as middle of the road as any could be. I want to be a judge a long time, at least until someone more lucrative steps in my way.

Why I should never write a romantic comedy

I think I wrote this about two years back. It's pretty bad. I'm bad for thinking it. I apologize for the blatant sexism (but I still think it's funny--just bad funny, guilty funny). It's in screenplay format. I was thinking about doing another short film and wanted to write a scene that was all dialog and wouldn't require cuts (because I'm lazy when it comes to editing, and I get annoyed when my hard drive fills up). Enjoy!


INT night women's public restroom

Do you think I have on too much eye-makeup?


I need enough to bring out my eyes, but not be whorish.

It's not whorish.


Whores don't wear that much eye-makeup. You look more like you're trolling for a hallucinogenic milk bar.

Oh god, you just reminded me about last night at that bar. What's wrong with men?

Just repeat this mantra: he's gay. Say it with me now....

No, it's not that. I haven't even told you what happened have I?

No, I just assumed...

Well, okay. My blind date last night-

Stop right there.


Did you meet online?


Uhhh (shudders) Okay, continue.

Don't judge me-

Not judging. It's a valid method for meeting potential mates.

You're judging me.

Okay yes. I apologize. Please continue, and in the process reinforce my negative opinion of online "dating" (air quotes)

Anyway. So he wants to meet at this bar-

Which one?

That one on 5th and Main, downtown.

Is that the one with the pool tables and a slightly seedy vibe?

Yes, that one.

That's pretty far away. Why'd you go there?

It was near his work-

No, see, that was your second mistake, never go to his turf. That's some bad voodoo. It should be your turf, or the very least neutral and inexpensive, like the Olive Garden or something, and very well lit. Preferably at noon on a weekday. If you are going to do the blind date thing at all.

Oh I agree, it was a bad idea. I don't know what I was thinking. So, we meet, and the first thing he does is plant his hand on the small of my back. And he keeps putting it there off and on the entire evening. I felt like a ventriloquist dummy. Then he starts talking about his ex-girlfriend, and how much of a bitch she was. I tried changing the subject several times. I even tried regurgitating the one fact I know about football, but no matter what I said he kept steering it back to his ex-girlfriend. It was all Martha this, and Martha that-

Her name is Martha?

You know she used to run that bakery on 15th street.

Oh I loved that place. They had awesome creampuffs.

Well, guess why she broke up with him? He took money from the till. Like all the time. It ran the business into the ground. It had been her parents' business.

Yikes. And he couldn't see why she would be upset about that?

No, he felt he was entitled to her money. They weren't even married.

And he just told you all this, on the first date?

The only date. When I got up to leave, saying of course I had to get up early in the morning, he actually said "do you want to have sex now?"

He actually said that?

He actually said that.

Was he hot?

Not really.

What's wrong with men?

I don't know. I don't understand them.

You know, with in vitro fertilization we could totally reproduce the species without having to bother with men. We could keep a few around unconscious to provide sperm-or better yet we should just do cloning. Adult stem cell cloning. I mean, we're the ones with the uteruses.


Dunno. My latin is crap.

I think they fear the uterus. In many cultures they think we are "unclean". Weak, frail-minded, and unclean.

That's fucking bullshit. They're the ones that don't wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. Seriously though - why bother with men?

Love? Companionship?


Jar opening?

Run the lid under the hot water tap.


Use your hands and your imagination.


Have a child.

There's definitely nothing more intimate than carrying another person inside you.


What do you think they would do if they found out they were virtually irrelevant?

Have an orgasmic orgy of apocalyptic violence where everyone dies and the planet becomes a raging fireball. Because in their logic, if they can't be on top, no one can.

Are we chauvinists for thinking about these things?

I know I am, but damn it, men are a major source of consternation, frustration, and anger for me. They start all the wars, they piss in public, they invented professional wrestling, and way too many of them are pedophiles.

Margaret Thatcher.


Didn't she start that war in the Falcon Islands?

I dunno. But she's mannish. She doesn't count.

Well, we should get back to our dates.

I'm not feeling the date vibe right now.

Me either.

I apologize for the man-rant. (beat) Hey, do you just want to skip out and catch a movie instead?

On a Saturday night? It'll be packed with teenagers.

Yeah. And Hollywood hasn't pooped out anything good in awhile.

Actually I was eyeing the desert menu. They have cheesecake here.

I like cheesecake. Cheesecake is better than sex. New York style?

We could ask.

Sounds like a plan.