November 30, 2010



***FIRST 100+ PAGES***




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November 23, 2010

The Fury

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Stills of John Cassavetes getting blown up by telekinetic teen Gillian from Brian De Palma's 1978 The Fury.  Am I mistaken, or is he flipping the bird in the third frame? 

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November 21, 2010

Drone Wars: Prelude



            The grass lawn of the museum grounds was always kept perfectly manicured.  On the weekends people came to picnic.  During the week there were usually two to three field trips per day.  The place was built in the style of an office park, and opened out to a sloped incline.  A local artist had been commissioned to create an original theme for the landscaping.  It featured a stream that ran the length of the majestic slant, and poured out into a reflective pool at the bottom of the hill.  The green courtyard -- planted with brightly colored seasonal flowers and strategically placed trees -- was a favorite place for patrons to congregate.  Some kids played Frisbee along the shore of the man-made lake.  On a clear sunny day the view from up there was indescribably beautiful. 

Much to the schoolteacher's delight, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  She didn't care much for the county museum's collection.  Contemporary art seemed self-indulgent to her.  She came there to enjoy the scenery that stretched for miles around the hilltop park.  Her elementary school students could run around and get some fresh air without too much supervision.  It was an easy day for her.  She liked that the lawn of the grounds was arranged in the shape of a gigantic mandala-like sundial, and she could teach the little ones how to tell what time it was from the angle of the sun and the shadow it cast across the grass.  The connection between an abstract idea and its relationship to the world around them was so direct, her students' eyes always lit up much the way they did when they watched the tomatoes and vegetables grow in the little garden they had all planted together back at school in the wedge-shaped plot of dirt in their playground. 

            One of the little girls from her class tugged at her sleeve.  The student had to go to the bathroom.  The teacher surveyed the group.  Her other kids were all busy trying to make their own sundials with rocks and twigs they had gathered from the bushes.  They seemed hard at work.  For a little while, at any rate, they wouldn't miss her.  She checked in with another member of the elementary school faculty to ask him to make sure and keep an eye on her class while she took the girl up to the restroom. 

Hand-in-hand, they climbed the hill.  The student, she couldn't help but notice, had a little trouble walking up the final rung of stairs.  She told her teacher it was on account of how she had twisted her ankle the day before when she turned to wave back at a boy who lived down the block from her.  "I don't like him," she sighed, "but I had to be polite, didn't I?"  The little girl looked up at her with big round eyes.  There was something so mature about the way she expressed herself.  The word 'polite' particularly made an impression on her teacher.  It was so grown-up sounding. 

            Nearly at the top of the slope, alongside the gravel path that skirted the meandering stream, the teacher recognized the white haired man and his wife who ran the small mom-and-pop insurance business off the main drag.  They were brown bagging it on the museum grounds with several of their younger employees, their middle son among them.  The group was as happy to see her, as she was to run into them in such an ideal and unexpected place.  "Thirty years in business," the wife beamed.  Although they were discrete enough to drink out of opaque plastic cups, a chilled bottle of white wine was clearly visible in their cooler. 

She liked the elderly couple.  Even though the franchise they owned was on the conservative side, they were a rather free spirited bunch.  In her spare time, the wife ran an amateur theater company.  The teacher had once attended one of her recitals, a low-budget production in which some of the more prominent members of the local small business community were recruited to perform.  They offered her a cup of wine, but she had to decline.  She indicated the little girl at her side, and said she was sorry, it was a school day, she was at work, and thanked them for their generous offer.  "Perhaps another time," the little girl leaned into her teacher, her legs crossed to indicate the gravity of the situation. 

            Going to the bathroom with a kindergartener was more involved than one might have guessed.  The teacher had to disinfect the seat with a handy wipe she pulled from her shoulder bag, thoroughly tissue its rim with paper towels so no part of the plastic would touch the little girl's skin, help her off with her pants and underwear, and assist her onto the rim of the bowl.  Afterwards she had to supervise the student when she wiped herself, she had to dress her again, and make sure she washed her hands properly.  Regardless of the many years she had spent with children that age, she never got past how, despite their intellectual development -- they were already in so many ways little adults, especially the girls -- they were still practically helpless in the most basic ways. 

            When the two of them emerged from the public restroom the food court was in chaos.  Women screamed.  Museum goers ran, bent over, for cover.  The teacher heard the rat-tat-tat of automatic weapons fire.  She ducked behind a pillar, and pushed the little girl's head down.  A spray of bullets nicked the concrete column directly above them.  Nothing she had ever experienced to that point in her life could have prepared her for the carnage she saw when she peeked around the corner of the ceramic planter and saw the dead bodies of patrons scattered across the green lawn of the courtyard.  The schoolteacher held the child close, and peered around to try and figure out where the arms-fire was coming from.  It took her a while, but she eventually discerned that the perpetrator was an elderly man in his late sixties who wore a white shirt and a bright red tie.  She had to look again.  What she saw simply didn't compute.  It looked to her like the gunman on the pitch was her shiny-faced, white haired insurance broker.  The man waved his rifle and fired indiscriminately in every direction.  He had apparently opened up on her students while she and the little girl were both still in the bathroom.  They all lay where they had worked on their sundials.  None of them moved. 

            At first, the teacher thought the kindergartener experienced a panic attack.  The girl bit her hard in the arm.  She tried to calm the child down, but the little one refused to relent.  It was as if a vicious, demonic spirit possessed her.  The child jumped on the back of the woman next to her and bit her on the neck behind her ear, like she had gone completely berserk.  Her teacher crumbled against the pillar, held her bloody arm tightly against her breast, and pissed herself.  She could plainly hear the crack of gunfire only a few yards away.  The assassin was on the other side of the column.  From the staggered shots, she could tell he had changed his weapon to a hand-held pistol, and he was picking off survivors of the initial attack one at a time. 

When questioned by the authorities, the teacher told the officer that the gunman had stood over her.  She could clearly identify him.  The white haired insurance salesman had trained his gun against her head.  If the police sirens hadn't frightened him off, she would without a doubt be dead along with all the rest of the museum patrons, including the man's wife, his son, and staff.  She said she had known the man for years.  There was no one kinder and more patient.  The old man had been a big help after her mother's will got caught up in probate.  He had introduced her to a lawyer friend who cleared the whole mess up free of charge. 

Something inexplicable had overcome him.  That was the only way she could put it.  There was no way the person she witnessed on the killing spree was the same man she knew.  Some essential change had overcome him.  The person she knew all these years was a man of impeccable moral character, and simply couldn't have done what he did.  She didn't say anything about the little girl.  She couldn't have if she wanted to.  Who knows what dark secrets lurk in the heart of an old man?  The kindergartener's violent reaction, on the other hand, -- that was entirely beyond the scope of her comprehension.  And there was one other detail she had held back for fear of drawing unwanted attention to herself from the authorities.  When she had looked out at the sundial the angle of the sun had been wrong.  The shadow seemed to flicker, had erratically jumped across the green lawn, back and forth several time as if a cloud had crossed overhead... but the sky was pristine, there were no clouds. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Flavor Crystals



            The medication made everyone at the hospital for the criminally insane seem leaden to Buddy Alexander.  Doctors, orderlies, and inmates alike, seemed nearly inanimate, as if they were all wrought from stone, carved from the side of a mountain.  Their minds seemed burdened as if cast from some dense heavy metal.  Each and every one of them seemed so dispirited, discouraged, and disheartened, it was as if their souls were laden with heavy sacks of gravel and sand.  When they moved it was slowly and painfully, as if their limbs were made of the hardest material, as if their efforts made the audible groan of granite blocks scraped together, like a lid pushed aside from a sarcophagus. 

Midway through the greasy-haired kid's sentence, Buddy Alexander looked up at the teenage boy blankly.  Picnic-style metal benches and tables were bolted to the floor of the fenced-in concrete outdoor patio where he and the other inmates in his ward were escorted most days after lunch hour, weather permitting.  The hospital, as it turned out, was mostly empty.  He hadn't realized how huge the place was until they began to let him out of his cell.  Many floors were abandoned outright, others mysteriously marked as 'off limits', even to the institution staff.  Apparently, shortly after the facility was opened, federal policy changed with regard to the care of the insane, and most of the regular population was released back onto the streets.  Among the rest of the inmates, the largest portion was transferred into the regular prison population, which left only the most recalcitrant violent cases, those deemed by the government too dangerous to integrate into the national penitentiary system. 

Generally, Buddy Alexander kept to himself.  He didn't much like to engage in conversation with the other inmates.  The patio afforded him an ideal vantage point from which to view the activities of the waist-disposal company that had set up shop in the hollow of firs behind the hospital, and an unobstructed view of the most recent developments in the encampment, but he relented for the kid's sake.  He knew the other teenager from his neighborhood.  The normally lethargic, saturnine boy worked the graveyard shift at the gas station convenience mart, and he had been impressed by the fact the kid wore his punker pins on his uniform at work -- by the protest, however diminutive, by the insistence on asserting an independent identity, however troubled, in such a cold and unforgiving environment.  Even if he thought the guy was nothing but a sorry-ass, pathetic freak, there was something heroic about the boy's doomed effort to try and maintain his sense of dignity at a job that could not possibly have been more loathsome to him. 

            The kid was in for matricide.  Home life was a disaster.  As far as Buddy Alexander could make out from the teenager's rambling account, the guy's mother was single.  She lived alone.  Dad was upstate, in for a dime for armed robbery.  It was just the two of them in the old Victorian house, him and his mother.  She was so heavily medicated with anti-depressants, and had such a terrible alcohol addiction they had to let her go from work years ago.  Her days were spent in a bathrobe in her bed, and she only ever came out to yell at him.  That was why he had to take the job at the store, to pay the bills, and to get away from her.  The teenager was a little less forthcoming about what, if anything in particular, precipitated the crime.  Buddy Alexander didn't press the boy on the subject.  He didn't have to.  The guy swore up and down he didn't do it, and, as they walked along the perimeter of the chain-link fence to the far end of the patio, the kid proceeded to describe the scene of the crime with an uncanny sensitivity to detail. 

Buddy Alexander wanted to get a closer look at the car that drove into the encampment.  While the kid enumerated the belongings on his mother's bedroom side table, he watched as a man opened the back door of the sedan to let another out.  It was too far away to get a clear view, but the way the first man stood it looked like he had something trained on the second man, like maybe he held a small pistol or knife to his back.  Mid-inventory, the kid went silent.  They both watched a person in a white construction helmet emerge from a trailer in the thicket to greet the two men who had just arrived.  It was as if the boy forgot the original reason he had initiated the list of items, and he turned to his new friend for help. 

"Something to do with your mother's habit of leaving the paper sleeve in the packet when she pulled out a silver-wrapped stick of gum," Buddy Alexander offered. 

"No, no, no," the kid shook his head vigorously, nearly apoplectic at the insinuation.  "No way.  You're wrong.  You're just as stupid as the detectives.  I told them the same thing.  She had no such habit.  She hated the taste of spearmint.  She hated 'flavor crystals'.  Chewing gum made her sick.  I told them the only things she liked were her cigarettes, drugs, and liquor.  Did I tell you how much she despised me?  I mean how much she really detested me?  How morning, noon, and night, as long as I can remember, she was always so high on tranquilizers and booze she used to crap herself?"  The boy was clearly less upset about her death than he was about being misunderstood.  "Whoever killed her," the kid seemed to regain his former composure, "They must have left the pack of spearmint chewing gum behind by mistake." 

            Loath though he was to give up his prime view of the woods and miss any crucial interaction between the three men in the glade, especially since the man in the white construction helmet seemed to indicate for the fellow who stepped out from the backseat of the car to kneel on the ground, he knew the clock was running out fast, the two of them couldn't stand there forever, if they didn't move along right away, the white-coated orderly would come around shortly with his baton and threaten to revoke their patio privileges, or far worse. 

His medication, the kid told Buddy Alexander when they sat down at the nearest table, definitely helped him to forget how bad his mother had looked when he found her in the morning.  For that small solace, he confided, he was thankful.  The sight of her parted blue-purple lips, as if something had crawled out of her throat, her mouth caked in dry yellow vomit, as if it was the amniotic fluid left behind by some unholy gremlin birth, was the least of it.  Whoever the killer was, they were not content to simply "hack her to bits" -- his words.  They insisted on leaving their satanic mark on her body.  The medicine helped with everything, the teenager admitted -- everything but the memory of the nightmare he dreamed the night his mother was killed, the dream in which he died.  Buddy Alexander listened as the guy compared the nightmare to a video game in which normal people were turned, without warning, into homicidal maniacs, and made to engage in senseless mass murder sprees, but what caught his attention most of all was the boy's insistence that it was as if the game was broken, the vehemence with which the geek swore some aspect crucial to the operation of the firmware on the motherboard must have shorted out. 

            The muffled pop made everyone in the caged-in, outdoor recreation area turn in the same direction -- towards the wooded area behind the hospital.  Guards and orderlies responded as quickly as their earthbound, boulder-like bodies permitted.  Detainee patients were escorted from the patio facility by the staff in an orderly, if excruciatingly drawn out fashion.  Inmates were formed into a line, and urged, one cumbersome step at a time, to exit through the rear door.  Throughout the evacuation, the expression on the young kid's face seemed out of place, bemused despite everyone else's stark mood.  "My mother," the teenager confided as they reentered the building, "worked for the waste removal company that has the contract to clear the forest behind the asylum.  That was her job before she got fired for her drug and alcohol related addictions.  She was their office manager and accountant," he let on as if it was nothing more than an ironic coincidence.  Back on his cot in his cell, Buddy Alexander stared at the cracks in the ceiling.  Although the remark was made offhandedly, to him it was a crucial revelation.  The company she worked for, according to the kid, was a mob front.  They had one contract, and one client only... the federal government. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Lisa & The Devil


More bloody mannequin stills.  This time from Lisa & The Devil (1973), directed by Mario Bava.  Check out Teli Savalas as the chain smoking, lollipop sucking devil.  




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November 16, 2010

Drone Wars: Death Squads



            A decade or so prior, the land the federal asylum was built on was the property of the local forestry school.  The government chose the heavily wooded area at the edge of the city to erect it on because of its   seclusion.  The idea was to keep it out of the prying public eye and avoid any undue local attention.  To one side of the mental institution there was a reservoir, on the other an abandoned quarry where teenagers from town sometimes hung out at night and partied. 

Buddy Alexander's barred cell window looked out over the wooded preserve that was book-ended by the lake and grotto, and there wasn't much else for him to do most days than stare out at the thickets of those old firs.  The orderlies hardly ever let him out.  The only time the hospital attendants had come for him the first week was to bring him downstairs to see his folks who had come by with some personal effects of his.  His father told him how the prosecution had tried hard to get him the lethal injection, but in the end their high-priced lawyer had prevailed with the single condition demanded by the court appointed psychiatrist that he spend the rest of his natural life in state care at the asylum for the criminally insane.  His dad, the stoic, had tried to make it out like a victory.  The visit had been much more emotional for his mother.  She cried so uncontrollably his old man eventually had to pull her away.  He was sorry, his dad apologized, he wished they could spend more time together, but obviously, the boy's mother was still not up to it, they would have to cut their stay short on account of her poor health.  To the young man they both looked like they had aged ten years.  He could barely stand watching his old man fumble uncharacteristically for the right thing to say, for the correct combination of parting words that could somehow make everything better again, especially when the best his dad could muster was: "Hang in there, son.  We haven't exhausted every option, yet.  Our lawyer thinks we may yet have cause for appeal." 

            All the time spent looking out his window at the tall evergreens blowing in the wind made him feel lousy about the things he had said to his parents.  In hindsight, he shouldn't have mentioned anything to them about the football game, about the supermarket pharmacy, or why he was under the impression he had to do what he did to his girlfriend.  His father put up a good front, but there was no way his mother could get her head around it.  She was still trying to deal with the fact that her son was a clinically insane homicidal maniac who would be locked away in the dark where no one could see him, imprisoned behind these cold gray walls for the rest of his life.  She would have preferred a sign of remorse, a little contrition.  At least then, in her mind, there would have been room for hope, the possibility that he might get better, redeem himself, someday somehow get out of the forsaken place.  The idea that he had his reasons for what he did was simply too much for her to handle.  He should never have told her about how they were all, every single one of them -- him, her, his dad, their neighbors, his girlfriend, his teachers, their pastor --fantasy figures in a made up world, one without either God or Satan to direct them through the troubled times, -- computers not God had created them, nothing other than the machines were to blame for their worldly suffering, but there was something wrong with the technology, it had broken down, or far worse, its software was permanently disabled.  For one reason or another, at any rate -- he admittedly hadn't pieced it all together -- what was obvious was that the computers had left off before they were finished, and everyone he knew and loved was stuck in a stalemate of events, lost in a never-ending ambivalence of replication from which there was no escape, unless he did something to try and break them out of the cycle. 

Alone in his cell, with all the time in the world to dwell on what he had done, it occurred to him, as far as his parents were concerned, he would probably have been much better off if he told them he had seen mass graves in the forest behind his cell, just beyond the tree line.  They would probably have been much happier if he had told them he had witnessed death squads in black uniforms use the cover of the trees to murder and bury enemies of the state.  If he had said he alone had seen the soldiers drive in under the cover of dark in tarp covered camouflaged trucks, line their victims up in front of ditches they had dug up earlier in the day with their bulldozers and other heavy equipment, seen them cold-bloodedly mow down the prisoners with machine gun fire, his mother and father would probably have simply nodded their heads and looked at each other sympathetically.  If he had claimed thirty, maybe sixty people were killed outside his cell on a daily basis, old and young men alike murdered by the death squads, mothers, wives, and children killed for no other reason than that they didn't agree with the current policies of the federal government, or had unwittingly crossed some powerful official, described how all of them were murdered and crudely buried under damp dirt and pine needles in gaping pits it would have been exactly the kind of senseless lunacy his parents expected him to spout.  They would have accepted without question a story about a little girl who tried to escape the assassination squad, had made a heroic run for it, only to get picked off by a fifty millimeter round to the back of her head right under his window.  If he had told them no one ever came up with a better way to step on the neck of an innocent person than the Fascists/ there were some tasks they simply excelled at, no need to look elsewhere for a more effective method, when it came to making a man eat a mouthful of tire tread some techniques were simply timeless, they simply worked better than others did, both his parents, but especially his mother, would without a doubt have had a much easier time dealing with it.  It was what she expected to hear from her deranged son, exactly the kind of crazy-talk she had agonizingly braced herself against.  He should have known anything else would only throw her into a tailspin.  There was no way she would have been able to prepare herself for any other scenario. 

            Not that the business about the death squads was far from credible.  The story wasn't entirely fabricated from whole cloth.  There was definitely something odd going on in the woods outside his barred cell window.  He had noticed the trucks and vans driving in and out of the forest grounds the third day of his incarceration at the asylum.  For all intents and purposes it looked like a logging company was hired to clear out some dead trees, yet he couldn't help but marvel at the strange equipment they offloaded alongside the wood chippers and chainsaws. 

The hospital orderly didn't know who owned the land behind the asylum.  Why any waste disposal company would be camped out there was a mystery to him.  As far as the fellow knew all of it was government land.  The utility company owned the parcel that included the reservoir, but the rest of it, he was pretty sure, was leased to the federal government as part of the deal they made with the municipality when they built the hospital for the criminally insane.  Whatever they were doing out there didn't concern the young man, or anyone else, the orderly insisted.  It was government business.  If Buddy Alexander was going to get along at the hospital, the male nurse advised, he should take his pills, and preoccupy himself with any pursuit other than staring out his window all day long. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Court Appointed Shrink



Think back, buddy boy, Buddy Alexander was scared and desperate.  A vagrant who lived under the bridge had found his chopped up girlfriend.  Think back, way back to the other night.  What, he implored himself, was the last thing he remembered?  What happened?  He blindly searched his murky mind for some trace, some record or clue, lost or misplaced among his synapses, that once found, would pull the whole episode back out of the clammy, black nothingness of oblivion into which it had disappeared. 

What were they talking about in her parents' den before she began her private show of cheers for him?  Something about goats and unicorns, wasn't it?  How goats were the original unicorns.  He told the court appointed shrink that she had learned on the Internet that they used to curl the horns of goats for certain rituals in Dionysian bacchanals.  It was an ancient practice.  The original curled horns were not unicorn horns, she said.  Horses came into it later, no one knew exactly when.  It wasn't like he could remember everything she told him before he killed her, every little detail, he stammered, but the part about the unicorns in the pyre, that part he was sure about.  He recalled how she explained how they used to burn the unicorns in a bonfire as a tribute to their gods, and how her and the other cheerleaders thought it would be cool if they could do something like that with a stuffed satin unicorn before the homecoming game the following week. 

The court appointed psychiatrist wrote something down on a legal pad and looked knowingly at the young man in the high school letter jacket.  Buddy Alexander remembered how he uncapped the fifth of Maker's Mark he bought to wash back his painkillers.  Between nips of bourbon he recalled how he and his girlfriend had undressed each other in the plush Naugahyde chair.  How her folks were out of town for the weekend, and the two of them had the place all to themselves.  He remembered how smooth and beautiful her skin was in the flicker of yellow candlelight.  "An idea overwhelmed me," the young man told the court appointed psychiatrist.  There was something he always wanted to, but never had done before.  How, with a swift motion he had grabbed the waistband of his girlfriend's underwear and tore them off her. 

Her first reaction, he remembered, had been confused, a little angry even.  They were her nicest lace underwear.  He dimly recalled her telling him she had saved them especially for such an occasion.  But, her anger it seemed to him hadn't lasted more than a split second.  None of her other boyfriends, she had slurred her words slightly drunk on the bourbon, had ever ripped her underwear off before.  In fact, she was sure it was a romantic first for her.  He remembered her hot breath when she whispered it in his ear.  It was like one of those choice scenes highlighted in a pubescent girl's first romance novel, she had told him.  He remembered how she had said that when she was a few years younger, alone in her bedroom at night with her pillow between her legs it was the kind of passage she had dreamed would some day come true.

            When he tore her bra off he remembered a darker look had flashed across her face.  At the time he thought he had witnessed a mysterious shadowy and shapeless entity briefly emerge from the deep uncharted currents that coursed under her skin.  Gone just as quickly as it had appeared, the apparition had retreated right back into the impenetrable and gloomy waters of her unconscious.  He told the court appointed psychiatrist it was too late, though, he had already seen the dark amorphous shape race to the surface and snap at him. 

Of course, now that he thought back on it he realized what he had seen in those eyes was probably more like primal fear and confusion than some kind of monster that lived inside her body, like maybe she had thought he had gone too far, crossed some line of propriety, like maybe she hadn't been so sure if it was really funny anymore, and she had wanted him to stop.  When he had roughly turned her over on her stomach and pinned her head against the couch seat cushion with his knee he remembered how she had tried to shake herself loose and yelled for him to let go.  "You're hurting me," she had screamed.  He remembered how red faced she had been when she shrieked at him.  He remembered how she had spit the words out at him when she realized he wasn't kidding around, and she was really going to die. 

After that, he told the court appointed shrink, he didn't remember anything more, like someone or something had totally erased it from his memory.  Except, he added, for the strangest feeling that maybe he wasn't himself anymore, like maybe he was someone else, like maybe someone else was at the helm.  Didn't religious fanatics, and even well respected pillars of the community, like his church pastor -- he spoke without any regard for the flurry of notes the psychiatrist made on his pad -- often talk about themselves as conduits for divine inspiration?  The experience was not as unusual as folks made it out to be.  Creative types, his English teacher had told the class, whether composers, artists, or writers often described how they were clueless where extended episodes or crucial elements of their work came from, how totally alien their own work often appeared to them after the fact, how there was nothing in their lives as far as they knew that they could have drawn from to arrive at the finished piece, as if someone or something they didn't or couldn't understand had communicated through them, and they could take no more credit for what they had accomplished than a spirit medium could take for the expressed sentiments they channeled from the dead. 

"Makes you wonder, doesn't it?" he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned forward like his stomach cramped up on him.  "Like, what if we are all nothing but puppet characters stuck in some kind of downward spiral and we don't even know it?"  He told the shrink the whole ride over to his cheerleader girlfriend's parents' place he was worried what if he was right, and not even our mystery handlers realize how totally out-of-control the situation they had created had become.  "I mean that would be a game changer, right?  I had to do something to try and stop the cycle, didn't I, to try and get there attention so they would stop what they had set into motion before it was too late for everyone else?" 

            "A classic case," the court appointed psychiatrist wrote at the top of his pad next to the young man's name, and underlined it three times.  After the police officers took the high school kid away, the older man sat in his office alone for a while before he flipped back through his notes.  There was a passage that bothered him more than the others.  The young man could easily have gone to the hardware store in the morning after he left his girlfriend's house, and there was something else.  About the purchases he had made; about the garden sheers and the duck tape.  Why had he chosen to run the errand before he went over to her house?  Why those particular items?  Whether or not the young man was fully conscious of his actions didn't matter much in the eyes of the law.  It was as if he had already made his mind up about what he was going to do before he left the chain store, as if he already knew what he was going to do before he showed up at her house, which, if true, meant that the crime was, at least to some extent, premeditated.  The shrink put a star next to the section in question in case he would need to refer back to it at the court hearing, and filed his case notes. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Dirty Doll (rewrite)



            When he showed up at his girlfriend's parents' place he was in so much pain from the pounding, she needed to help him off with his letter jacket.  He welcomed the intimacy of her tender touch happy for some warmth and close attention after such a grueling ordeal, even if he felt a little less like a living breathing person in her arms than a long awaited catalog purchase she unpacked after weeks of waiting for its arrival.  He couldn't help but think that she squeezed his upper arm to gauge its firmness, combed her fingers through his hair as if to assess its quality as compared to natural fiber, slowly ran her hands over his neck and shoulders like she was looking for seams at the joints, pressed her ear to his chest to ascertain whether his unit came with a heartbeat, and playfully grabbed the denim crotch of his pants to make sure there were no defects in the assemblage, nothing important was left on the factory floor, she hadn't been gypped, and he was in every way anatomically correct. 

            "My barcode is tattooed on my ass," he winced when she pulled his sore arm out of his jacket sleeve.  Her face seemed to light the living room up with an eerie glow, at once welcoming and filled with kindness, and simultaneously strained, as if she was trying too hard, and her smile could crack at any time.  She was still in her cheerleading outfit, and was more than happy to let him twirl her around, take her all in.  If, as she made him feel, in her eyes he was some unreal object of adoration, maybe she didn't believe that she was real either.  She carefully walked him over to the Naugahyde recliner, and cautiously lowered his battered frame into the plush seat so that he could more comfortably enjoy the performance of high school cheers she had in store for him. 

And, maybe she was right?  Maybe the desire that coursed through his veins when she kissed him lightly on the lips and coyly lifted her skirt to show him the white, frilly lace underwear she had worn for the occasion was only a false computer simulation of human passion.  Maybe he did feel the same way about her as she did about him?  Maybe when he fantasized about making love to her in the shadow of a mountain, under the canopy of the lush trees of a valley, or beside the cool flow of a country stream, he did wonder if her body wasn't actually hollow, too beautiful to be true, filled with nothing but electronic hardware and gears, like maybe he thought of her as a product of his imagination as much as she thought of him as a product of hers, and they were both nothing but illusions?

            The sheer giddiness of the private show was, he could plainly tell, what got her more exited than anything else, like she was a little girl again -- the mid-American version of a little ballerina -- who entertained for the grownups at some family gathering or other.  At first she pumped her pom-poms enthusiastically and kicked her legs up through her regular old routine, but alone together in her parent's den, with them gone, and her a little drunk on the cheap bourbon, it didn't take long before her dance moves got more erotic.  She cupped her breasts and flashed him more panty shots.  All the kinky posing and jumping around clearly aroused her as much as it did him.  The longer she danced for him, the more randy she became, until, breathless and flushed, she decided to give him a full view of her ass, and turned to bend over and stretch.  In her cheerleader's micro-skirt, she extended her right heel so it rested on the ledge of the credenza, and leaned over the long length of her outstretched leg, all the while, entirely aware of how devastatingly provocative the pose was. 

            It wasn't his intention to hurt her feelings, but when she turned around and saw him throw back a handful of painkillers, he could tell she was a little puzzled by his lack of enthusiasm, disappointed she didn't have him entirely under the spell of her seduction.  She jumped on his lap and looked him deep in the eyes, the way she did when she wanted to read his mind, a bit guilty at her selfishness.  Had she underestimated how badly injured he was?  His inscrutable expression only made her hornier.  "'Want a lap dance?" she whispered hoarsely in his ear, as she straddled his thighs, "My pussy feels like it's on fire."  She unzipped her cheerleader dress and pulled the armless sleeves off her shoulders, one at a time, so he could see her small, beautiful suntan breasts.  The thin sheen of sweat on her ribbed torso made it glow in the soft light of the candles, like she was some kind of goddess made entirely of precious metal.  As she pulled the crotch of her panties to the side to lower herself on him she threw her head back and let out a small sigh of pleasure. 

            Afterwards, he knew, there would be no more touching.  She would lie on her back on the floor, or the couch, or wherever they ended up, until her breathing became regular again, and it would be all over.  She would wipe his cum off her body with his boxers, put him back in his box, and shelve him like he was a favorite sexual prosthetic device she hid under her mattress for fear her mother, or nosey little brother might find out about it, but until then, the deal was that she was without any restriction his personal plaything.  He could do whatever he liked to her.  She was his dirty doll.  Nothing was off limits.  Later, in the shower, after she had fallen asleep, he would have more than enough time to rationalize the superhuman Mountain High team.  The next morning when he was bagging leaves in the front yard of his parents' house, he could attempt to put into perspective the undead customers and clerks at the supermarket pharmacy, could better attempt to assess the reason it was so important for him to know if his girlfriend was actually a robot, or not.  He would have all the time in the world to consider whether there was an assembly line between him and some black-smoke-choked industrial tower far away on which her body was pieced together by giant, computerized robotic limbs fitted with precision instruments, to imagine whether or not the process started with her torso.  To ruminate over the order in which she was pieced together, whether her legs were attached next, or her two arms, and if, just before he knocked on the front door of her parents' house, her head was firmly fitted onto her shoulders. 

There was time enough later to wonder why he thought her figure looked like it was visibly outlined by a bright crimson aura when she answered the door, like a movie prop person was standing behind her with a colored gel taped over a very bright neon light.  To speculate why she seemed to glide across the room effortlessly, like a spirit girl, as if she was detached from the earth, and her feet never touched the ground.  Coupled with her seemingly effortless movements, the effect had been rather remarkable to him -- as though she floated atop a dolly with wheels that could swivel in any direction, her buoyant frame pulled around by invisible strings held by equally invisible stage hands.  There was time enough to try and process all these seemingly contradictory experiences after they made love.  Meanwhile, he could tell by the increasingly frequent contractions of the glistening skin of her stomach and the more rapid and abandoned thrusts of her pelvis against his lower abdomen that she was very close to climax.  He flipped her onto her stomach and roughly took her from behind. 


--Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Happy Pills (new)



            After the game, on his way over to his girlfriend's parents' house, Buddy Alexander stopped at the supermarket pharmacy to pick up the prescription of painkillers the team doctor had called in ahead of time for him, along with a fifth of cheap bourbon to wash them down with.  The ride back from Mountain High had been quiet.  His squad's glorious unbeaten streak was history.  Everyone on the team bus had seemed shell-shocked after the abrupt end to the dream season.  Not a single one of them had said a word to him the whole time.  They had stared blankly out their windows at the passing farms and trees along the rural route.  In line at the store, he wanted to put the whole experience behind him, to forget their concerned glances in the locker room, the confused mixture of emotions in their patronizing parting wishes, about as heartfelt and sincere as the calculated sentiment on a condolence card. 

            The colorful scarf wrapped around the woman's head at the register lead him to believe that she was probably sick with cancer and wore it due to the hair loss she suffered from her chemotherapy treatments.  Only when he stepped up to the counter, and stood right in front of her, did he notice how tightly her skin was stretched over her facial bones, how opaque her eyes were in their sockets, like she was in the late stages of glaucoma, and suffered a far worse malady than he had previously figured.  He looked around the market, first, at the man behind the second register, then at the other customers.  The second store clerk, whose skin resembled stitched leather as if his head was a melon-sized baseball, also looked like he was in some state of advanced illness.  Even the eyes of the two delinquent adolescents who loitered in the magazine aisle seemed oddly black and sunken, and there was something else unsettling about them that propelled him to look back in their direction a second time.  Both had their black hoodies zipped up with their hoods over their heads even though it wasn't that cold outside. 

            A guy he recognized from a few classes ahead of him in high school impatiently waited behind him with a twelve pack under his arm and a bag of chips in his hand.  His complexion was also sallow and gray, his cheeks sunken, as if he too was sickly, in the final stages of some terrible disease.  Buddy Alexander nodded and smiled as pleasantly as he could at the guy, and remembered the cold-hearted, mean-spirited prank the varsity football team had played on the poor kid when the fellow was still on the junior squad in his senior year.  He couldn't be entirely certain, but he had the strangest impression the skin of the guy's neck ended abruptly at his collarbone, as if the face was not his, as if the guy he remembered was recently deceased, someone else had removed his face, and whoever the imposter was that currently wore it, the guy had pulled it over his own head like a tightly fitted rubber mask. 

            Had no one been looking, Buddy Alexander might have popped the lid on the pills and thrown back a couple right there.  There was something about the harsh, clinical shade of red they chose for the chain, something about the way the bright fluorescents reflected off of it that always filled him with nervous energy whenever he was in there for more than a short while.  Usually, he felt as if he and everyone else there were as much on display as the sale items on the shelves and tables, endowed with the same corporate illusion of strength, fitness, and immortality as the goods in the store.  It had never occurred to him that the place could have the exact opposite effect on him, could make him feel unfit, like he was an interloper in an industrial fantasy in which he didn't belong, an imperfect person in a perfect world.  Maybe the team doctor was right.  Maybe it was all a delusional hallucination, the result of the concussion he had received late in the second quarter, and he was stricken with some sort of minor dementia.  The battery of x-rays they had taken at halftime had been inconclusive, but the doctor had told him there might be some lingering, residual effects, he should make sure to take it easy. 

            "'Want some mixed nuts?" the lady behind the cash register pointed to the assortment of snacks she had lined up along the counter.  In her nylon headscarf she looked to him like an old whore well passed her sell-by date -- nearly dead from cancer and a blown-up, ulcerated liver after years of chain smoking and heavy drinking -- she had no choice but to try and make it as best she could in the straight world, even if she had no chance and would, in all likelihood, be dead within the year. 

            "'First time I ever remember anyone here at the store with any side-action," his attention was drawn back to the deep lines in her face, her glazed over eyes. 

            "That's what you call side-action?" she scoffed, like someone who had run a thousand amateur cons in her day, masterminded a slew of petty grafts that even at their worst were far more respectable than trying to push a thin, cellophane pouch of bar nuts on a hapless customer for a worthless commission. 

            It was almost as if he could see the earthworms wriggling around in her empty eye sockets, almost as if he could see maggots crawl out of her noseless face, and the black, writhing snakes that poured from out of the tar-stained teeth of the lipless hole in her neck that passed for a mouth, slithered down her throat, squirmed down past the stained bosom of her red company frock with the indecipherable nametag pinned to her breast pocket, and fell by twos and threes in dead, scaly clumps on top of the salted peanuts and cashews she was trying to hawk.  He dropped his bundle of prescription medications on the counter -- his "feel-good, happy pills", he called them -- careful to avoid the tangle of dead and dying bugs and reptiles that he imagined came out of her eyes and ears, and, with all the poise he could muster, indicated the brand and size bottle of bourbon he wanted her to include in his purchase.  No one at his neighborhood branch of the chain had ever carded him before, and he hoped the shrunken ex-crack head prostitute wasn't going to be the first to hassle him. 

            "Are you okay, son?" the lady asked him as she paper bagged his bottle of booze, and rang him up.  "You look like you got hit by a train."

            "That was about the size of it," he indicated the letter on his school jacket with all the gold football pins in it, and intent not to have any physical contact with her, carefully handed the cashier his debit card.  All he wanted to do was to get out of there, and get over to the hardware store before it closed.  There were a couple of more things he needed to pick up before he arrived at his cheerleader girlfriend's parents' place.  Her folks were away for the weekend, and the faster he got his errands out of the ways the sooner they could be together.  He pocketed his wallet and picked up his paper bag with a renewed sense of urgency.  Rain was predicted for the weekend.  His dad wanted him to clear out the leaves from the gutters first thing in the morning.  For starters, he would need a pair of garden sheers to clear the branches, some duck tape for small repairs, and a roll of heavy plastic bags for the leaves.


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

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Drone Wars: Game On! (rewrite)



From the moment the ball was snapped, Buddy Alexander was aware something was terribly wrong with the game.  The opposing defensive unit ripped through his linemen like a squad of roid-head super-cops let loose at a junior anarchist rally in full riot gear.  They came across the line of scrimmage as if they crashed a makeshift barrier of tires and trashcans erected by lefty students.  His players were no more effective against them than flimsy, plywood cutouts, no more substantial in the face of the onslaught than a bunch of animatronic dummies, like they were nothing but dusty mechanical figures salvaged from the storehouse of the original Disney Pirates of the Caribbean ride matched up against futuristic, state-of-the-art, android crowd control units with shields and truncheons.  Even after the referee called the play dead, the home team seemed to him to huddle around his fallen players in groups of two or three, like they were looking for the slightest excuse to bash some more heads in, as if they would not be satisfied until they had crushed the skull of every one of his teammates, and torn them limb for limb. 

After each successive drive by the opposing team the clock should have reset, the points should have come off the board, yet the score against them accumulated without pause.  His overmatched teammates were unable to bring down the giant, lumbering Mountain High players.  Buddy Alexander wished someone else besides himself might notice that there was something amiss with his squad, might notice that they resembled analogue board pieces from some ancient, quaint, arcade era, -- and only seemed capable of moving in one direction at any given time -- laterally. 

To anyone else it should have looked like the game was stuck in some kind of locked groove, but the hometown fans didn't seem to mind one bit that his team was getting creamed -- virtually dismembered.  The crowd cheered just as loudly after every successive assault by the defenders as they had done the time before, as if they too were caught up in the time warp, as if it was the identical cheer that roared from their throats each and every time his line was decimated by the home team, and they too had no idea that they were stuck in the same rut as their players on the field.  Buddy Alexander couldn't help but feel like the game was digitally frozen, and he had to do something quickly to try and make someone among them snap out of the endlessly repeated cycle -- maybe an announcer, a vendor, one of the cheerleaders, or one of their parents -- somehow draw their attention to the problem, so they might reboot the program before there was nothing more left of his teammates on the field than a pile of throttled bodies. 

What if no one noticed?  As loathsome as the prospect was to him, he had no other choice than to consider the possibility.  What would it be like after the second or third quarter the other team came across the line unopposed, unblocked?  After a while they wouldn't be content to mangle one of his players at a time.  Nothing of his teammates would be left on the gridiron but their strewn about, cracked equipment, a green sea of bloody uniforms, pads and helmets.  The other team would eventually zero in on him.  At first, he guessed it would start to feel like he was detached from his body, a floating timeworn spirit who watched from above as they gang tackled him in the backfield.  It would probably start to seem to him like he was watching himself on the big screen, he would look away with impatience as they grabbed him by his jersey, pulled him down on the ground, and piled on top.  Maybe, disgusted by the spectacle, he would turn his attention to the circling crows and gulls, or simply let his mind wander unfettered, his attention only drawn back to the field by the referee's shrill whistle in time to see himself carried off the field on a medical gurney.  How long would it take before he began to tire of the inhuman massacre, before he became restless, and wished for another diversion, before the sight of the defenders overrunning his line became so commonplace, and he was sacked so often it started to feel like the grass on the field was growing up around his brain, crowding out his thoughts?  Wouldn't he eventually become desperate for some other more profitable diversion, anything really, to interrupt the deadly monotony of such a poorly conceived nightmare scenario once realized?  After a while, wouldn't the fulfilled curse start to feel more like yet another one of life's litany of little drudgeries?  

The referee wound his arm to indicate the game clock was restarted.  Buddy Alexander lined up behind the center to run another play.  Cleats dug into the turf.  Larger boys grunted as they made contact and tried to gain leverage over each other.  As predicted, he experienced a sense of disassociation as the line surged to the right, and the defensive tackle crumbled his blocker, caught the offensive right guard's leg in his hands, pushed it aside in favor of his throwing arm, and sank his shoulder pad into the soft muscle tissue of his lower torso.  The kid flattened him in the backfield, like a wolf with the front leg of a deer firmly grasped in its jaw. 

A three-and-out possession the previous time out followed by what?  Buddy Alexander barked out the snap count.  Was it going to be another broken play for his team, or would time slow back down to normal, and the grisly defenders be restored to their former teenage human selves?  He was less distraught than annoyed when he felt the linebacker's helmet spear him in the chest at the same time he released the ball, totally frustrated when he saw the pigskin tipped by the taped fingers of the nose tackle, enough to send it high and wide of its intended target, in the general direction of the free safety who looked like he had a clear shot at a sure interception.  There was no way the defending player shouldn't have easily been able to pull the floating-duck down.  Had he been playing in real time he would have done so without any difficulty, but the kid was too quick for his own good, too fast to be human, and started running -- down the field well before he had firmly secured the ball.

Buddy Alexander sat up, and pulled a tuft of sod from his face guard.  The team medic asked the quarterback how many fingers he was holding up.  "The good news," the man reported back to the head coach after he returned to the sideline with the kid in tow, "is that he knows what day it is, and he was able to tell me what his name was.  The bad news," he went on undeterred by the objections of the trainer at his side, "is that he's probably taken one too many hard hits to the head.  Your quarterback wanted to know if I didn't think there was something unusual about the Mountain High team?  Didn't I see the way they moved around the field, he asked, as if their bodies didn't obey the same laws of physics like everyone else's?  Hadn't it struck me as strange that there was not a single scratch, cut, or bruise on a one of them, he wanted to know, -- how they never seemed to blink?  Couldn't I tell that Mountain High had somehow figured out a way to cheat the game, and they had somehow replaced their team with these never-before-seen, advanced, technological ringer droids?" 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2010

Posted by d-m-b at 04:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack