January 23, 2012 12:20 PM


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #159, acrylic on wood, 24" x 19-1/2"


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #158, acrylic on canvas, 24" x 27"


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #157, acrylic on wood, 35" x 35"


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #156, acrylic on wood, 35" x 35"


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #155, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 30"


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2012, #154, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 30"

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January 23, 2012 12:13 PM


Lives and works in Los Angeles

1996 MFA, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
1988 BA, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

2007 Naked Paintings, Modernism, San Francisco
2006 The Paintings Are Alive, Mandarin Gallery, Los Angeles
1999 Color, Line, and Language, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

2012 California Abstract Painting 1952-2011, (organized by James Hayward), Woodbury University, Burbank, CA
2008 Alone, Fredericks and Freiser, New York, New York
West Coast Abstraction: Selected Works from 1975-2007, Modernism, San Francisco
2007 L'Invitation Au Voyage, Modernism, San Francisco
Grey Scale, Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA
2006 A Little So Cal Abstraction, Mandarin Gallery, (organized by James Hayward), Los Angeles
2005 L.A., Lucas Schoormans Gallery, New York, New York
2003 Raid the Icebox, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
2002 Alexis Smith, Roy Dowell, Daniel Mendel-Black, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
Trade Show, Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, Orange, CA,
Neo Painting, Young Eun Museum of Contemporary Art, Kwangju, Korea
2001 Mark Bradford, Richard Haga, Daniel Mendel-Black, Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, Orange, CA
New Angeles, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, IL
Seeing Or Believing, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
1999 Under 500: Intimate Abstract Painting, The Black Dragon Society, Los Angeles, (organized by James Hayward)
1998 Still and Otherwise, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
90069, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

Catherine Sullivan, "The Artists' Artists," Artforum, December 2007, p. 122
Kenneth Baker, "Daniel Mendel-Back's colorful abstractions," San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 2007
Michael Ned Holte, "Daniel Mendel-Black," Artforum, February 2007, pp. 301-302
Doug Harvey, “Seven Abstract Painting Shows,” LA Weekly, December 22-28, 2006
Peter Frank, Art Pic of the Week, LA Weekly, Sept. 29 – Oct. 5, 2006, Vol. 28, No. 45
Chris Kraus, LA Artland, London: Black Dog Press, 2005, pp. 12-14
Chris Kraus, “Daniel Mendel-Black: Solutions to Problems that Do Not Exist,” C International, Fall 2004
Kim, Mi Jin, Neo Painting: Korean and American Young Painting, Kwangju: Young Eun Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002
David Pagel, “Storefront Galleries,” Los Angeles Times, November 1, 2001
“ ”, “Daniel Mendel-Black: Chaos Around The Corner,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2001
“ ”, “Daniel Mendel-Black: At Margo Leavin,” Art Issues, January-February 2000
“ ”, Themes Out of School: Art & Education in Los Angeles, Los Angeles: CAAArt, 2000, p. 73
Michael Duncan, “LA Confidential: Daniel Mendel-Black,” Artnet, Fall 1999



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August 10, 2011 01:44 PM


Daniel Mendel-Black, #153, 2011, 33" x 36", oil on canvas

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July 24, 2011 01:23 PM

2 More Impastos


Daniel Mendel-Black, #151, 2011, 33" x 36", oil on canvas


Daniel Mendel-Black, #152, 2011, 24" x 26", oil on canvas

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July 16, 2011 02:14 PM

2 Prototypes


Daniel Mendel-Black, #149, 2011, 25" x 29", acrylic on canvas

Daniel Mendel-Black, #150, 2011, 19" x 19-1/2", acrylic on wood

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July 03, 2011 04:28 PM

Chromatic Summer Drawings


Daniel Mendel-Black, #116, 2011, acrylic on paper, 19" x 19.5"


Daniel Mendel-Black, #117, 2011, acrylic on paper, 19" x 19.5"

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June 25, 2011 06:02 PM

More Summer Drawings


Daniel Mendel-Black, #106, 2011, Graphite and acrylic on paper, 24" x 19"


Daniel Mendel-Black, #107, 2011, Graphite and acrylic on paper, 24" x 19"


Daniel Mendel-Black, #111, 2011, Graphite and acrylic on paper, 36" x 19"


Daniel Mendel-Black, #112, 2011, Graphite and acrylic on paper, 36" x 19"

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June 22, 2011 06:37 PM

Summer Drawings


Daniel Mendel-Black, 2011, #102, Graphite and acrylic on white paper, 19" x 19.5".

Daniel Mendel-Black, 2011, #103, Graphite and acrylic on white paper, 19" x 19.5".

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May 11, 2011 10:43 AM



Daniel Mendel-Black, #148, 2011, oil on wrinkled canvas, 40" x 44"

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May 07, 2011 02:19 PM



Daniel Mendel-Black, #147, 2011, oil on wrinkled canvas, 29-1/2" x 36"

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March 28, 2011 06:31 PM

Latest Paintings


Daniel Mendel-Black, #144, 2011, oil on uneven panel, 32" x 37-1/2"


Daniel Mendel-Black, #145, 2011, oil on wrinkled canvas, 32" x 37-1/2"

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March 27, 2011 09:30 PM

Drone Wars: Rat Trap

skinny dipping.jpg


            On impact, the windows and walls imploded as if the oxygen was sucked out from the uppermost floors of the storage tower.  Gas-masked troops were deployed to secure street level exits.  A number of others swarmed the emergency stairwell.  A third strike force was dispatched from a chopper.  They rapelled into the rooftop crater.  Sam Spikone had managed to empty at least half a dozen clips, and launched most of his incendiary devices before he heard the whine of the unmanned aerial robot drone above him.  He fell through the vent of a ceiling airshaft with a couple of armed, black-uniformed men in close pursuit. 

            Bullets zipped past his head and shattered the fluted concrete pillars as if they were made of glass.  The smoke was nearly blinding, but he made out a light at the end of the long room.  He kept close to the ground.  The air was thick with soot.  Shapes wavered in the heat.  His throat burned.  If he could only reach the exit, he might be able to get out of the inferno before the troops cornered him, but he couldn't tell where the shots originated.  It was as if he took fire from all sides.  He retreated behind a stack of cardboard boxes ahead of several gunmen equipped with air tanks, respirators and thermal goggles.  They were closing in on him.  Several other shadow-figures blocked him from his intended destination.  At the back of the loft was a warren of rooms, as if someone had set out to build a two story structure complete with bay windows and a French-quarterstyle balcony inside the storehouse without a plan, as if they had worked in the dark by intuition alone, and had abandoned the project after they realized how demented it had turned out, like a child's tree-fort version of a human scale rodent habitat.  The first level consisted of a number of partly apportioned interiors, including one with a multi-bulbed mirror vanity, the kind you might find in an actor's dressing room.  On the second level there was the bare skeletal structure of what must have been intended, given all the exposed plumbing, as a bathroom or kitchen.

            Three gunmen came around the corner.  There was something all too familiar about the layout of the rest of the workshop.  As he back-peddled, and lost his balance he recognized the torn, bloodstained chair, the defaced pornographic magazines scattered about.  Despite the fact he was nowhere near the Ineran Corp. infirmary, nowhere, as far as he could tell, near the Fortean College campus, it exactly duplicated the laboratory in his dream.  Every detail was the same as he remembered from his nightmare: the operating table was identical; the gurney with all the surgical equipment could not have been more closely matched.  The only things missing were the dwarf clown, the glowing red brain, and the headless torso. 

Part of him wished the person that walked in behind the figures with the chemical warfare-type masks was the government scientist.  The last thing he expected was the dark figure to remove its rubber and glass headgear, and shake its black hair free.  Like he had done the night of the senior class raid on the freshman dorms, he prostrated himself at the young woman's feet.  It didn't matter that three sub machine gun barrels were leveled at his head.  His rescuer, Tammy, would save him. She was his guardian angel, the talking doll that had befriended him when no one else would.  He was about to get brained for a crime he hadn't committed, like some agricultural animal, and she was the only one who could vouch for his complete innocence.  A kind word from her was all it would take.  If she wanted to, she could wave the SWAT units off, send them back to their barracks.  He reiterated his eternal allegiance to her.  Like the night at the ice-age boulder, he told her that her every whim was his command.  His abilities were limited, he readily admitted as much, but there must be something more useful he could do for her than sacrifice his life for such a trivial cover-up.  He was more valuable to her alive.  In the grand scheme of things, there were no bounds to what he might do, if she would only keep him around ... just a little while longer. 

            "It's your show," Tammy told him.  She sent everyone but Garry and Katie out of the room, reached into the zippered thigh pocket of her hip-hugging, black, military-style jumpsuit, and handed the kid with the makeup and dog collar a loaded pistol.  "Play it any way you want."  He wouldn't have to die alone.  One among the three of them could go down with him.  The kid would have the opportunity if he so chose to kill any one of them before the two others were able to fire back, but it didn't have to end that way.  The gamble was that more than likely whatever kind of survival mechanism he possessed would kick in, and he would rather try and save himself than take a bullet.  He might make a grab for her, but Tammy doubted it.  More than likely, he would opt, for his hostage, to seize a challenger to her affection.  Between Garry and Katie, which did he least like?  Both of them stood in his way.  The kid, she suspected, really had it in for Garry, but if he earnestly wanted to save his own skin, Katie was by far the clear choice for the getaway.  Considering she was Tammy's lover, he would rightly figure he had a much better chance with her as his human shield. 

            Somehow, given the dire circumstances, Garry assumed Tammy might show a little more emotion, after all there was a pistol pointed at her girlfriend's head -- but she didn't flinch.  It was as if she had seen it coming all along, knew exactly what was going to happen next, like she had a crystal ball inside her head --, like what followed was preordained, foretold, and there was nothing left for her to do other than go through the motions, play the scenario all the way out.

            Even Garry had to marvel at the young woman's gall.  He rolled his eyes and threw his rifle to the floor with both hands.  The weapon skittered across the linoleum of the laboratory.  The clatter was all the distraction his training partner needed.  It was as if they had practiced the maneuver beforehand with just such an opportunity in mind.  Tammy had enough time to raise her gun to eye level, take aim, and squeeze off a round.  Only five yards at the most separated them.  The shot hit its mark.  The kid sank to his knees, mascara tears streaming down his cheeks.  Tammy had done what the sniveling twerp had least expected, and without the slightest reservation,  cold-bloodedly shot her girlfriend in the heart.  The bullet had passed through Katie's chest and out the shoulder blade.  Her lifeless body lay draped over Sam's thighs as if he was a latter day, cross-dressing madonna. 

            If not for the garbled barrage of signals, codes, and formulas that unconsciously overwhelmed the young man with a sense of higher purpose and direction, he would not have known what to do.  If not for Dr. Edward Vincent's voice, as it assailed his inner mind with machine-to-machine-like screeches that pierced his ear, his consciousness might have rebelled, repelled by his latest directive.  Instead, he was given over to his involuntary reflexes, and reborn somewhere deep inside himself as a primeval straw man.  In his netherworld he and Tammy were like two totems manipulated by a shaman dwarf in a plastic clown mask.  Her body was inlaid with rhinestones like the spangled statuette of a reinvented fertility goddess, a radiant, white full moon for a belly. 

In his unconscious mind the two of them were placed side-by-side under a durian tree at the edge of a sparkling lake.  Ahead of them, in the mist, he could hear the sound of splashing water, and girls' laughter. Five others beside Tammy Mori swam nude in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, five gorgeous women, they played in the water like unearthly apparitions, without the slightest regard for the impending disruption of their blissful revelry.  The voice inside his ear told him they were accursed creatures that had fled from their lofty abode to partake in earthly delights.  The voice told him to go to them.  The fallen angels would embrace him.  They would seduce him.  If he did not continue on his present course, and put the pistol in his mouth and pull the trigger, he would never enjoy the unimaginable pleasure they offered.  "Go on, son," the machine-like voice of the government scientist encouraged him.  "No more pain.  That's what you want isn't it -- for the pain to go away?  Just take your clothes off.  Jump in."  If he withdrew from his present position at the beachhead of the unreal waterhole among the equally unreal nymphs, Dr. Edward Vincent insisted he would have no other choice than to send the kid back to the Tetragon inverted city for further modifications. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2011

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March 20, 2011 01:11 PM

Drone Wars: Fourth Self


            There were those who made a mess, those who cleaned it up, and the rest were only worth the loose change in their pockets.  Is that how it was?  Whatever Sam Spikone suffered from, it wasn't cold-hearted callousness.  There was the fugitive kind -- those poor, forgotten folks that lived on the margins of society, like the church-shelter dwellers, without even a penny to their names.  If Tammy wished for him to clean her ass after she took her big dump on the world, he would obediently accept the support function, but how was it supposed to end?  If not in the loft, where then?  Was he to fall in with some left wing lunatic fringers, get all worked up about the ascension of law and order culture, stalk some right leaning, charismatic leader?  Maybe he was the self-proclaimed sober guy at the party who accused everyone else of being drunk -- the weird, uptight guy with the buzz cut that nobody else understood -- the confused, angst ridden kid that mistook his enemies for friends -- the kind of person who didn't comprehend why no one beside him realized the obvious solution was to kill the popular leader, to eradicate the world of the authoritarian menace -- as if it was the patriotic duty of every citizen, but that nobody besides him saw the situation so clearly. 

An ice cream parlor, or coffee shop was as good a spot as any to ambush whoever they were.  Maybe the victim was a freshman congressperson who met their constituents at a library without their full security detail.  When the time came, would the person look at him and smile without the faintest notion he was about to kill'm?  Would he run up behind them and put a cap in their cranium?  Perhaps there would be a woman with a baby carriage who would get caught between them?  There would be children at the terminals in the reading room.  Maybe the upstart politician would hold a town hall at the mall.  Sam could pick off adolescents as they ran from the multiplex.  Would he duck into the basement of an exurb construction site afterwards to take cover from the police?  Was it where he was intended to die, in a dirt hole in the ground, or was there another far less palatable fate in store for him? 

The strong wind almost knocked him over the rail of the fire escape as he wrestled his unwieldy black bag out the window. 

            The first time he had the recurring nightmare it had not ended so neatly with his discovery that the severed head bore his features.  Thereafter, the reason he awoke with such a start was because he couldn't stand to replay what happened next in the dream.  In the fray, Dr. Edward Vincent had nicked him on the scalp with his motorized, surgical blade.  The shock from the sharp blow had temporarily incapacitated him. 

            Cut up pornographic magazines with the sexual organs scissor-sliced from the pages (like the personal collection retrieved from the lair of some serial killer) littered every surface of the laboratory.  A ragged, throwaway chair with torn upholstery was covered with blood.  In the dream the head with the hole in it had a body.  The transvestite doctor used pins and nails to affix the cut out portions from the dirty periodicals to the dead kid's chest.  A dwarf clown knelt over the head.  Like a puppeteer, the little person moved the lips of the mouth up and down with his fingers.  "I don't feel so good," the ventriloquist clown manipulated the jaw, while the government scientist hosed the gore from the chest of the headless body next to it. 

            A perimeter had already been set up around the block.  Sam hoisted himself and his laden canvas duffle up to the snow-covered roof.  The wind gusted, icicles hung from the lower lips of the array of satellite dishes, microwave relays, and smashed, dormant solar panels.  Apparently there wasn't going to be any meet-up with the progressive, anti-government outfit spearheaded by the decadent, ruined, intellectual aristocrat, no comradely introduction to a cabal of embattled revolutionary idealists whose ideas were as outdated as their methods were repulsive.  He cleared a swath with the bottom of his knapsack, set it atop a rectangular vent, pulled out his guns, placed them side by side on the gritty tar paper.  He wouldn't have to march up to someone he knew little or nothing about in the middle of the afternoon and gun them down for no better reason than that a questionable roundtable of characters he never met beforehand insisted the person they sent him after was the pure incarnation of everything truly morally objectionable and reprehensible in the world.  The kid with the make up and dog collar picked out a long range rifle, mounted it with a sniper scope, and affixed it to a small tripod.  No innocent bystanders were going to get in the way.  Save for divine intervention, it was, one way or the other, going to end right there. 

            If that was the original Sam Spikone's body and head in the laboratory nightmare, who was he then?  Was he related in some way to the other person, or was he someone else entirely without any affiliation with the deceased?  Perhaps they had found him destitute on the streets, or in some hobo shanty ... and that in his former past he was not a middle class suburban kid who listened to hip-hop, liked street art, played video games all day long, and had a misplaced superiority complex; none of those memories had anything to do with him, and forces he knew not wherefrom had ordained he was to take the place of the sheltered, pampered kid with the Hispanic nanny -- assume the other person's name and past?

The dream made no sense.  Why would anybody go through so much trouble to create a false persona for him then waste the effort on such a pointless, ignoble death?  Through his range finder, the kid with the black lipstick and nail polish surveyed the amassed barricade of law enforcers.  He imagined the crawling headline, "Lone Gunman Killed By Police -- Suspected Leader of Insurgent Militia Group Dies In Downtown Shootout With Government Authorities".  In the scope, an officer unfolded an architectural plan of the building on the hood of a car and ran his finger over the page, presumably outlining a plan of attack for the troopers gathered around him.  Slightly over to the side the kid paused.  Katie Faye was in conference with a number of other government agents.  Garry had survived the shootout with police after all.  Tammy and he were among the agents behind the mobile command center.

Did the intelligence people know what Garry and Tammy were?  Did they have any idea they were homicidal maniacs?  Did they know about Katie?  Did they know about her and Tammy?  He could handle Garry as a rival, but not the government agent.  Her power over his beloved was incredible.  Together they were insufferable.  They became like one person.  The rest of the world didn't seem to matter to them.  If they were practically impenetrable apart, together they were impossible to untangle, a two-headed hydra.  When they spoke, they nearly used the same language as if they were of a single mind.  He was tempted to shoot the black wig off Katie's head, but held off.  After he started picking off troops, it wouldn't take the ground forces long to spot him, and the minute they called in air support he would be utterly exposed up there, defenseless, nowhere to take refuge, except in an old bird coop.  If he could only ascertain who his fourth self in the nightmare was, maybe it would answer some of his questions, shed some light on who, if not Sam Spikone, he was, and why he was up on a roof about to go to war with an army of local, state, and federal police. 

--Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2011

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March 20, 2011 01:09 PM

Drone Wars: Bone Saw


            A pain shot through Sam Spikone's arm.  He felt a wet drip from his nose.  Another ran down the back of his neck.  For a while, he lay absolutely motionless, unsure whether or not he could move, unsure if he was still dreaming.   

Through the broken, wire-reinforced glass he could see white-capped mountains in the distance.  It was a crystal clear day, the first in a while.  On the street below, the night's snow had already begun to turn dirty brown.  His best guess was that Tammy had dumped him in some downtown shit-hole, except the tangle of raised, intertwined cement structures suspended above street level could have placed him in any number of defunct, formerly light industrial districts, or otherwise blighted inner-city urban neighborhoods that ran alongside the main metropolitan manufacturing route.  The place was empty, long since cleared out.  There were no signs of the revelers from the sex club reenactment at the church-shelter.  By the look of the stripped down interior it had been uninhabitable for a while. 

            After the recurring nightmare, he had the constant feeling he had been psychically molested, his unconscious mind violated by the government scientist's intrusive probes.  He could never get the dwarf clown out of his mind, or shake the irrational sensation the mad doctor had tampered with his insides in some despicable way.  He shut his eyes, partly because of his splitting headache, partly in a pointless attempt to assess if the dream was real or imaginary, as if to give his inner self a chance to run a diagnostic, to let it search out a reflective surface to examine its likeness undisturbed by the outside world, so it could pull down its lids to check the whiteness of its eyes, press its fingers into the hollows of its cheeks to make sure the same person as there had always been was still inside, and that the good doctor with the bone saw hadn't replaced him with an evil clown doppelganger while he was helpless and unconscious. 

            The events of the night before were a tumultuous chaos awash with distorted, many-colored shapes and sounds.  With difficulty, he put his fingertips to his tongue.  No metallic taste, sweet.  Fake pig's blood.  Like an amniotic tank full of autonomous body parts, his fragmented recollections floated around as if they were electrified, harvested human and animal limbs that never quite managed to reconnect into anything intelligible.  When they did fuse it was with a charged crack, and the result was fantastical, creepy, resembling more than anything else a hybrid, misbegotten being, like an updated, conceptual version of a chimera.  Witches bobbled red, jelly-mold brains as they tripped over large floppy shoes.  Clowns chanted to the devil in a circle.  Dr. Edward Vincent was a transvestite prostitute.  The disenfranchised and alienated tried without success to reassemble a human brain.  Fabulous transsexuals more beautiful than any woman he had ever seen, even Tammy, performed an autopsy on a teenage kid.  Yellow rubber ducks flocked into a chapel to partake in one last taboo sacrament.  Noses melted off ventriloquist dolls in a crematorium incinerator.  One-legged pink flamingos weighed organs then sewed them back into a torso.  Some of it Sam had dreamt.  Other parts might actually have happened.  Seeming fact intermingled freely with seeming fiction to the point where no matter how hard he tried they were so mixed up in his mind that the one was permanently and irretrievably inseparable from the other. 

            Contrary to whatever else, the blood that poured from his nose wasn't make-believe.  If he was able to wipe it away, he might have noticed that a subtle change had indeed come over his features.  Not that it would have mattered, but he might have seen that regardless of the red smear above his upper lip, he was no longer exactly the same person he was up on the dais before the congregation of street denizens.  He might have observed that his normally frightened expression was faintly despoiled by an unfamiliar shadow, one that had never previously graced his complexion.  Whether it was the result of his nightmare, or it was precipitated by the dreadful affair Tammy and Katie had organized was a matter for academic speculation, beyond his power, irrelevant to the reaction he would have had at the sight of the unwelcome imposter.  If he had been able to study himself closely, he might have noticed the transformation that had overcome him, that his double bore him only an eerie resemblance.  If he could have seen the pretender, what would he have done?  Would he have fought back, enraged by the duplicity?  Or would he have withdrawn into his shell the way he always did in deference to a more driven, headstrong personality? 

Like a million tiny paragliders aloft in the air, dust floated in the diagonal rays of light that came through the sliver of window.  He wrenched his torso forward.  For the first time, he saw the rest of the cavernous space.  If it were not so convincingly arranged, what confronted him would have struck anybody as patently absurd.  Much to his consternation, the letters "S.P." were spray painted in red enamel on the wall across from him.  There was also a satin banner with the same nonsensical insignia draped from the ceiling.  Further down, a number of automatic rifles leaned against a lone office divider.  There were several grenades on a desk.  An even larger stockpile of machine guns was stacked against a row of drawerless, warm gray, metal file cabinets, and if that wasn't bad enough, there was a cracked pine crate to one side with the straw packing material pulled back to expose an RPG launcher.  You could have started a minor war with that kind of hardware.  A genius cap wasn't required to figure out the intention was to make the loft resemble a Suicide Party weapons cash.  What was supposed to happen?  Had Katie Faye called in a hot tip to her branch office?  He grabbed his motionless leg, and grimaced.  The feeling was coming back.  Were government agents already outside?  Was a black uniformed SWAT team amassed on the sidewalk?  Were there sharpshooters positioned in all the windows of the surrounding buildings?  Was there a spy satellite with its camera trained directly at the rooftop overhead?  Had they called in a drone?  He shook off the mound of reeking, encrusted, cast-off clothing dumped on top of him, and tried as best he could to massage his thighs back to life.  If the objective was for them to come through the heavy, steel-plated track-door and find him there, like he was some kind of drug over-dose-punker, like he was a washed-up Svengali, he certainly didn't want to stick around and find out the hard way.  Somehow the kid with the makeup and dog collar got to his feet, found a large, black canvas shoulder bag among the rags, and crammed it full with as many weapons and rounds as he was able to carry.

-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2011

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March 02, 2011 05:40 PM

Drone Wars: Dream Within A Dream



A red light glowed inside a hole.  Sam Spikone inched forward.  The source of the bright light, as it turned out, was an almost blindingly radiant human brain inside a head whose profile he couldn't quite recognize, almost like someone had set off a roadside emergency flare inside a hollowed out pumpkin.  Except it wasn't a gourd, it was a human head, there was no smoke, and the light was steady and unvarying in intensity the whole time he watched it. 

An oddly bent figure walked past him and peered inside the brilliant opening in the side of the temple.  Even though the other person's narrow shoulders were turned to him, the man's silhouette struck Sam as misshapen, distorted in a way he could not exactly articulate, as if the proportions were all wrong for that size body. 

It was a reoccurring nightmare.  It didn't happen with the same frequency and regularity as it did during the first weeks of school but when he had it, the dream was no less frightening than it was before.  No matter how often he relived it, it always startled him.  In the nightmare, like all students at Fortean College, he was confined to the infirmary for several days before he was allowed to enter the Tetragon.  Wherever he went, he had to wheel around the squeaky metal frame from which his intravenous drip was suspended, which made it difficult for him to maneuver the empty hallways of the medical wing without giving himself away.  In the room alone with the mysterious figure, he was afraid to move, afraid even to breathe, but he was also overwhelmed with an incredible desire to learn the identity of the man whose back was turned to him, and to discover whose head it was on the operating table with the illuminated brain inside it.

At one point it seemed to the young man as if the other person's arms were elbow-deep in the circular opening, as if there was a halogen bulb inside the patient's skull, and the other man was some kind of diabolical mechanic or plumber who strained every muscle to get at a difficult spot at the far back.  Every once in a while he would swear and pull his arms out to exchange one cumbersome looking tool for another.  They were piled willy-nilly on a stainless steel gurney.  The figure would put one down, which would hit the table with a heavy metallic clank, pick another one up, and plunge his arms in with renewed vigor, his latest implement firmly gripped in yellow rubber gloves that went up past his forearms.

In Sam Spikon's nightmare his own image was usually doubled, but sometimes there were three and even four of him all mixed up in a mosaic pattern, as if he saw himself through the many-sided crystal of a kaleidoscope.  All these four images, seemingly identical, repeatedly exchanged places with one another until it made him dizzy to try and follow them around.  One, a picture of himself he recognized easily enough, was of a young man who melted away hours of convalescence at the college infirmary glued to a video game box.  It was a slightly more innocent, pre-radicalized version of his present self.  Another, a little less clear but a still very strongly felt picture, was of a sheltered suburban kid who had, with the help of a homicidal young woman, discovered another much wilder side of his personality.  It was his past self.  Of the third and fourth images, one that he could still barely make out was of a very unpopular, lonely kid who had all the latest toys and gadgets one could ever wish for but no one to play with.  That self was almost completely gone.  Try as he might to make out the last, however, it was an impenetrable mystery.  If he strained to picture it he drew a complete blank.  All he felt was a cold sensation, as if he had walked into a room he thought was twice as large, and discovered that the illusion of deep space was only a cheap trick created by a mirrored wall.  That self no longer existed at all.

Every time he awoke from his dream within a dream he had the same disquieting sensation, as if he'd emerged from a circus tent.  One clown in particular always frightened him most, its head too big and heavy for its thin neck and hunchbacked torso to possibly support.  In the dream within a dream, the young man was left to sit alone in the big top and watch the painted freak with the huge head take center ring.  The performance was always the same.  There was another head much bigger even than the clown's.  The kid watched as the deformed performer in surgeon's scrubs climbed a small ladder, unscrewed the top of the free-standing bust, took out the radiant red brain, and cut at it with the dull, toothy blade of a large handsaw until the pieces were all scattered about a table.  Some parts were removed, others replaced. 

He could never fall back to sleep after he awoke from the dream within a dream.  He would swing his skinny legs over the side of the metal frame bed, slip his feet into his overlarge disposable slippers, put his robe on over his paper fiber hospital pajamas, and crack his door open to make sure no one was around.  With one hand he would brace it against the wall and with the other he would shove the wheeled chassis that supported the intravenous drip forward.  No one was ever on duty but the night watchman who always sat stock still in his booth in front of a monitor with his back turned toward the corridor.  Every time he had the dream, Sam would push the noisy cart in front of him as fast as it could go, which wasn't so fast.  He wanted to get to the surgery before the misshapen man did -- to finally creep up undisturbed to the head on the operating table with the hole in it, close enough to discover its identity.

Every night the dream within the dream was unchanged.  The kid would watch in revulsion as the crazed clown under the spotlight in the center ring of the big tent stuck his arms inside a large hole in the side of a giant head and pulled out a glowing brain as though it wasn't a brain at all he was holding in his hands, but a jiggling gob of slippery, gelatinous, red colored goop he never quite got a good handle on.  The brain would always end up splashed on the sawdust of the circus floor. 

The nightmare invariably ended the same way.  He woke up from the dream within a dream, followed the lane marked by a yellow stripe through the poorly lit corridors of the infirmary, and entered the laboratory while the anonymous tinkerer was hard at work on the glowing brain.  However many times the kid had the dream, he inadvertently tripped into the table piled high with medical equipment, and flipped the gurney over.  Everything always happened exactly the same way as it had the time before.  He lay on his stomach on the slick linoleum floor helpless and death scared while the angry doctor in his blood spattered rubber apron reeled above him and stabbed at the air with a buzzing electrical, surgical saw. 

In his nightmare, the head with the hole in it rolled next to him, and he was able to crawl up close enough to see whose brain it was Dr. Edward Vincent butchered alone in his surgery at night.  At the end of the clown show, in his dream within a dream, as he exited the tent and followed the yellow line on the corridor floor to the government scientist's laboratory, he sensed something very significant was about to happen, something these unnerving visions he experienced in his sleep were meant to warn him against.  No matter how often the nightmare repeated itself, the head he saw on the clinical floor had exactly the same features as the one he had previously seen on the giant, comic, stage-prop-bust spotlighted in the big top, circus center ring.  Just before he awoke from his nightmare the last thing he saw after the metal-on-metal sparks from the doctor's spinning, motor-driven blade as it hit the side of a tipped over stainless steel shelf was always his own face beside him. 


-- Daniel Mendel-Black, copyright 2011

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