Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Desert Wind

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge. " - Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"

There was no assigned sentence this time, so I took the above Chandler quote as an inspiration.


It was a dark and stormy night... Well, actually, it wasn't. The full moon, bright and orange, was burning in the night sky like a Chinese lantern. The sight of it filled all the dogs with indescribable yearnings and dispair, till they were howling their songs of unrequited love into the night.

There were hot winds blowing from the desert, carrying with them dust and ancient curses. They rattled the windows, overturned all the planters, played pinball with the garden furniture, and brought down the old willow tree in the neighbors' yard. They knocked the whole world off-kilter.

As always, Marge Cooper soothed her frayed nerves with a romance novel. Ruefully she gazed at the cover of her latest. The man on it looked a little like Ben; more handsome, but with similar dark curls and hazel eyes. A small sigh escaped her lips.

Back when they met, Ben had seemed like a romantic hero to her. He had been handsome and quiet. Every Sunday they had gone to the movies, and afterwards stopped at the diner. Over their milkshakes he had looked at her, with his dark eyes full of sorrow. She had been certain Ben was brooding over some dark secret, or lost love. She had spun fanciful fantasies about her love and unwavering devotion freeing Ben's heart from it's dark prison, and two of them falling into each others' arms, lips burning hot like their love...

After the wedding Marge had gradually realized that Ben was so quiet because he had nothing to say. His needs were basic: food, sex, beer, sleep, tv - not necessarily in that order. That look in his eyes was not sorrow, just indigestion. Having a conversation, going for a walk, a picnic weren't among his interests. The only time she saw him animated was while watching "the game" on tv. He would sit down with a beer or two, or six, and then he would hoot or curse, shout at the set. There was always some "game" on. Football, baseball, basketball... What was it with men and balls? What made a bunch of testosterone cases chasing after a round object so engrossing?

It was awfully hard with all that noise to concentrate on her books. At first she used to try to distract him with romantic overtures. Later she just gave him the silent treatment. Not that he noticed. Well, at least it was quiet now. Ben was sitting on the couch, feet on the coffee table, beer in front of him, as always, but there was not a sound. She supposed she should pull that butcher knife out of his chest eventually. Not yet though, the knife sealed the wound, if she removed it blood might start spurting all over her clean carpet. She’d read that bit about knife wounds and blood in a medieval story about the handsome nobleman and the milkmaid. She’d just have to wait.

She picked up her book: It was a dark and stormy night…

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

"Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh."

It was the 24th day of December. An elderly gent was sitting at the edge of the swimming pool, feet dangling into the water, eyes gazing out to the ocean. He wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt of dancing hula girls. A content little smile played on his lips.

S. Claus was pleased with himself. Selling the business and moving to Florida had been the best decision of his life. Thanks to a more active life style and healthier eating habits he had lost twenty-five pounds in the past year. His bouts of seasonal depression were eliminated by the constant sunlight. Finally he got to trim his scraggly beard. To be honest, he had never enjoyed resembling the aging Jerry Garcia, but he had been expected to maintain his trademark image. He much preferred the pointy mustache and short beard. He liked to think that he looked a little like Colonel Sanders.

364 days previously

He dragged himself into his office by noon. The elves of course got the day off - it was in their contract - but he didn't have that luxury. Mrs. Claus, filling in for the secretary, was already there, waiting for him. She trailed him into the office weighed down with a stack of papers. He slumped into his chair with a groan. One would think that on the day after the 'Big Push' he could have some peace, but no.

"The elves are demanding a pay raise." She began. "The union representative would like to see you early in January."

"Fine. What else?"

"There are the complaints. A Bobby Jones from Melbourne states that you brought him the purple Subsonic Mutant Ninja Warrior instead of the black one. Suzie Walker from Springfield says she wanted a real pony..."

He raised his hand to stop her.

"Tell them all to stuff themselves. Anything else?"

She rolled her eyes, but continued.

"According to Ernie, the mechanic, the sled is about to throw an axle, and the differential is on the fritz."

"What the bloody hell does that even mean?"

"That it'll be expensive."

He slumped deeper into his chair, feeling the seed of a raging migraine growing behind his eyes, while she kept rifling through the papers.

"Oh yeah. A Mr. Bezos called. He'd like to discuss a business proposition."

"I've never heard of him."

"He is the CEO of a company called Amazon. They sell stuff."

"What stuff?"

"Well, pretty much everything. I think he wants to buy us out."

His eyes glinted with interest at last.

"Call that Bozo..."


"...call him, and set up a meeting."

Mrs. Claus was right, Mr. Bezos' interest was in acquisition. Mr. Claus concentrated on keeping a straight face while the lawyers battled out the details. Once they were all gone he could let go, and laugh like he hadn’t laughed in a long time. Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Day in the Country

Émile Zola: Germinal

"So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?"


"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

They were standing in the shadows, waiting for the sun to dip under the horizon, waiting patiently, as always. Times like this Mr. Brown got talkative.

"See my dear Will, what the bard is alluding to is how the names we give things aren't inherent, not ‘true’, but a construct, and meaning exist only because we as a society have agreed upon the name of things."

Will had no idea what Mr. Brown meant, but nodded. He knew that Mr. Brown considered himself cultured and well read.

"... and just as the name of a thing is not the thing itself, the appearance of it isn’t either - as Monsieur Magritte so aptly demonstrated. See, the name "chicken" is just an abstract, and a picture of a chicken is just an idea of a chicken."

Will wasn't sure what "abstract" was, although someone once shown him a book with pictures that were just blotches of colors, and told him they were abstract paintings. Some were kind of pretty, but a chicken was definitely nothing like one of those pictures. He was sure of that. He did like the idea of a chicken, but he liked an actual chicken even more.

Will didn't know about "the bard" or the other man Mr. Brown mentioned, but that didn't matter. Will was a good listener; he didn't interrupt or ask stupid questions. He managed that by not asking any questions at all. Will knew that Mr. Brown liked going on about things, and no more than occasional grunts were required from Will to keep up the appearance that Mr. Brown wasn't just talking to himself.

Will considered himself a practical man. He knew naught of "constructs", but he knew names mattered. Well, maybe not what they were, but how they were used. Take them for example: Nobody who knew him, called Mr. Brown anything else but Mr. Brown. Not to his face anyway. Even those who didn't know him, called Mr. Brown 'Sir'. Meanwhile, nobody ever called Will anything other than Will, and only those scared of him ever called him ‘Sir’. Even though they physically looked similar, there was never a question who was the boss, and who was just the muscle.

Will was woken up from his thoughts by silence. Mr. Brown stopped talking. The sun was finally gone, leaving nothing but a violent smear of color behind. Mr. Brown stretched his limbs and looked at Will.

“So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?”

They stole across the dusty road like two shadows, unseen and unheard, under the fence and into the chicken coop.

Half an hour later Will sat down on his haunches and took in the sight of feathers, splotches of white, red, and brown. He squinted and cocked his head sideways.

“I think I understand what you meant by “abstract”, Mr. Brown.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Literal Aspirations

I've been bad, missed a week, and ended up rolling two prompts into each other.

Prompt 1: Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

"Through the rusted bars, tastes, rather than glimpses, were caught of the jumbled neighborhood; and nothing within range, nearer or lower than the summits of the two-great towers of Notre-Dame, had any promise on it of healthy life or wholesome aspirations."

Prompt 2: Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary

"They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards."


Through the rusted bars, tastes, rather than glimpses, were caught of the jumbled neighborhood; and nothing within range, nearer or lower than the summits of the two-great towers of Notre-Dame, had any promise on it of healthy life or wholesome aspirations. Pigeons. Delectable, fluttering, feathered imbeciles of the sky, flapping about the towers. He considered them with hunger and contempt.

He slid between the bars and gingerly picked his way among the detritus and grime of the alley. The sanitation workers' strike did nothing for the charm of the city. He scrambled up the tree, down a branch, and hopped to the balcony with all the skill, but none of the pomposity of a Circe de Soleil acrobat. He could hear inside a familiar male voice muttering about feminist theories.

He walked into the room, straight to the young woman sitting in an overstuffed armchair. His mistress scooped him up into her lap.

"There you are, muffin-face!" She cooed to him tenderly.

His yellow eyes were about to shoot a murderous look at the indignity, but slender fingers commenced to scratch the thick fur of his jowl, there, yeah, right... right there. He closed his eyes and started to purr. Still scratching, she turned her attention back to the other quivering male mass in the room.

"Bollocks to theory, Marcel. It's just common sense. I mean seriously, just look at it: Madame Bovary is supposedly written from the woman's point of view, but it's just a stinking pile of male chauvinistic manure. We are expected to sympathize with the husband; a country bumpkin who bought himself a young virgin straight from the convent, for breeding purposes. Then we are supposed to be aghast that she goes off and has a fling with some handsome young thing. Yeah sure, she is an idiot, but she is a baby seal thrown into the shark tank. To finish it off, her sins are deemed so unforgivable that she must die the most horrendous way that misogynistic twat Flaubert could think up."

Marcel cleared his throat. "So you are still planning on drawing parallels between Madame Bovary and Princes Diana in you essay?"

"You bet your sweet ass, I do." She grinned.

"Professor Vittet will be thrilled."

He was about to say more, but their attention was drawn to the loud banging from the direction of the hallway. They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards. The door popped open and Mistress' younger brother bound in dressed in full pirate regalia, including hat, eye patch, peg leg, and a stuffed parrot.

"How do I look?" He preened in front of them.

"Terrifyingly bloodthirsty." She professed.

"Fearsome." Added Marcel.

The boy, satisfied, turned and hurried out of the room as fast as his mismatched legs allowed him.

Marcel raised a questioning eyebrow.

"School play. Musical version of Pirates of the Caribbean. She rolled her eyes.

"Well at least it's not Pirates of Penzance."

She chortled in mirthful agreement.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bartender's Guide to Bewitching Brews


Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita

"Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable."


Georgina Lilian David-Weston - George to her friends - was dead. Mostly dead. From an unbiased outsider's point of view she was completely, regrettably and irrevocably dead. However, from her own - admittedly biased - standpoint she was still very much around, even if not quite alive, strictly speaking.

She absolutely refused to call herself a ghost. That would’ve sounded early-evening-network-tv trashy. Anyway, ghosts were not real, and she was. Everything she knew about ghosts suggested that they would be a dull, obsessive-compulsive lot, always hanging out at the same place. She, on the other hand, could, and did, move about anywhere she wanted, and so far have not been responsible for any haunting or other similarly undignified activities.

'Incorporeal Entity' - she decided. It had a serious, almost scientific sound to it, and she liked serious sounding things. It made all the more out of character for her to have gotten mixed up in witchcraft - yet she did. It started innocently enough. She and Bobby were walking down the Venice Beach promenade when they spotted 'The Magic Shop'. She tugged Bobby's arm.

"Let's go, see if Giles is in!"

Sadly, the proprietor was a woman in the local flavor of neo-hippy, retro-loony who immediately started rattling on about hemp oil witch candles and her psychic gardening web site. George cunningly drifted towards the direction of some shelves. She looked back: Bobby was politely nodding, a snarl of a smile frozen on his face. Oh dear. A garish looking booklet grabbed her attention: It called itself The Witch's Brew. Between maroon covers lay truly lurid illustrations mixed with recipes that looked hysterically funny even at a brief glimpse. She had to have it - it would make the perfect gag gift.

The hippy-woman shopkeeper was prattling about tantric yoga while ringing up the purchase. She beamed at George with practiced cordiality:

"Just be careful honey. Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable."

George smiled politely, if somewhat stiffly, while Bobby was dragging her out of the store. She didn't start giggling until they were safely outside.

It wasn't till several days later, alone at home, that George took another look at the book. It seemed to be a bartender's guide – for witches. The brilliant thing about it was that none of the recipes required eye of newt or any of that archaic junk. No, nothing that a well stocked kitchen of an aspiring lush wouldn't have. Right up her alley. She decided to try a recipe that looked like an interesting twist on vodka martini.

Let's see... a dash of cayenne pepper, some more sprinkled around the cocktail shaker, vodka, a little bit of this and that, a short chant, shaken not stirred... Voilà! Mmm... not bad, a little bit spicy, not too sweet.

She fell asleep on the couch watching Top Chef. When she woke up, her body was cold and stiff, and there was an incorporeal version of herself staring down at it baffled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paris Noir

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables

"Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for."


J. carefully slipped out of the bed, looking back at the sleeping figure half draped by the sheets. He pulled his clothes on quietly and tiptoed out of the room. The door closed with a barely audible click behind him. He walked to the end of the hallway, turned right, through the "Hotel Staff Only" double door and took the service elevator to the basement. He briskly walked through the bowels of the hotel, down a long and narrow corridor and up small staircase.

He found himself in a small courtyard at the Southeast corner of the hotel. It was surrounded by a crumbling stone wall with a cast iron gate in the middle. Across, over the wall he could see a drunk stumbling through another courtyard, one of an apartment building. The drunk fumbled with the door, dropping his keys, then finally was gone. It was quiet now, except for the consistently random noises of a sleeping city.

Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for. The street was dark with something more than just the night, and he shuddered, tightening his jacket around himself.

His steps echoed down the empty street. He slipped into the shadows and stopped. He held still, listening, watching. Nothing. "H. Cousin" - declared the sign over the otherwise nondescript doorway. He rapped his knuckles twice on the door, halted, rapped three times. The door opened. The gorilla inside looked at him with a bored sort of contempt and jerked his head to follow him.

Behind the heavy desk sat an exceptionally fat man wrapped in expensive looking pinstriped fabric roughly in the shape of a suit.

"Have you got it?" The fat man asked, not bothering with niceties.

J. extracted an envelope from his pocket and dropped it on the desk, just so that the other had to strain to reach it. It didn't please the pinstripe, and neither did the contents of the package.

"This is not what we agreed upon." He spat the words at him.

"That was before you sent your man to follow me. That was stupid, Anglade. Did you really think I was going to go anywhere near my contact with a thug in tow? With all your money, one would think you could hire better quality help. Where do you get them anyway, the local pound?" He shot a pointed glance at the muscle, now standing by the doorway, who returned it with a less than loving stare.

"My dear Jaque, I assure you I have no idea what you are talking about." Anglade gave him his best solemn look, but failed to come across reassuring. Maybe because of the slight nod that was not directed exactly at him but a little over his right shoulder. His world exploded into a million shiny stars before he could turn. This was not going to be a good day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence

'"Tell me what you do all day,” he said, crossing his arms under his tilted-back head, and pushing his hat forward to screen the sun-dazzle.'

I met J. in Paris. I was sitting at a small sidewalk café, trying to order a coffee in French – I was a believer of making an effort when abroad, and it was supposed to make the locals more amiable. It wasn’t working. The waiter was looking at me with that special brand of snootiness that only the French can master.

I was about to give up when the man sitting by the next table swiveled towards me and offered assistance, which I accepted with relief.

He flashed a smile at the waiter and made an order in fluent French.

He turned back to me, large hand outstretched. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He had an American accent, and looked American, but not the way the tourists back in London did. No, he looked more like a movie star back from the days when movies came in glorious shades of gray instead of color. He was tall, well-built, cleft chin, improbably blue eyes. Impulsively I invited him to join me and he accepted.

He settled, leaned back in his chair and immediately looked comfortable. Nervously, to make conversation, I started jabbering about the economy of traveling pre-season, avoiding the crowds. He was just looking at me with a half smile.

“Tell me what you do all day,” he said, crossing his arms under his tilted-back head, and pushing his hat forward to screen the sun-dazzle. He looked decidedly cat-like, muscles lazily stretched out, half-lidded eyes sparkling amused, with a touch of hungry mixed in. I suddenly felt like something small and fuzzy, and possibly appetizing. I babbled on about the churches and museums and all that touristy stuff.

He laughed and asked if I wanted to see the real Paris.

Later I realized the strangeness of that it never occurred to me to ask how he got to know Paris so well. He showed me courtyards that must have looked the same for hundreds of years, streets that no tourist ever saw. We stopped at a bistro that had no menu, only great food.

It was twilight and we were walking down an alley that reminded me of a Brassai photograph. It was then that he pressed me against the wall with his whole body and we kissed. My knees went so weak, I had to cling to him, oh FUCK.

“I know this charming little hotel just around the corner.” He murmured into my neck.

The hotel indeed had an old world charm, a little bit worn and faded, but not quite shabby. The receptionist wordlessly handed J. a key, and made a poor effort of hiding a smirk. We entered an elevator that had an old style lattice grille.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were staying here?” I asked him somewhat peeved.

“You didn’t ask.” He replied with a wide and filthy grin, pulling me close.

Smug bastard, I thought, I’ll make him pay. And that was my last coherent thought for the night.

No Place

Jack Kerouac: On The Road

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds."

I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds.

It was strangely peaceful, and I felt light headed. I kept still and wished to stay like that a little longer, but at the sixteenth tick all that was gone flooded back. Still, I lay there motionless, and let it wash over me.

I remembered you like I saw you for the last time, standing in the doorway, shoulders slightly hunched, smiling. You smiled like that when you were flirting, when you told bawdy stories, when you poked fun of the things that terrified us all. It wasn’t really the last time, of course, but it was the last time you were you. I didn’t want to remember you lying broken in the hospital bed, but we don’t have choices in these matters. They stole your words – how cruel was that!

I remembered the time I didn’t see you; the empty bed with crisp white linen stretched taut over the mattress, toiletries neatly arranged on the nightstand, the strained expression on the nurse’s face. I felt sorry for her at that moment.

Whoever said time heals all wounds lied. Time heals nothing. It just numbs the pain, and does even that excruciatingly slow. Back then I kept picking at the scabs, trying to stop the itching, but only managed to dig up the pain. There is something dispassionately cruel about time. I remember that moment when the line between everything fine and everything horribly wrong was so razor thin that I felt that if I just wanted it hard enough I could step back over the line, go backwards in time, but obviously I couldn’t.

It was dark by the time I was ready to move. Then, as now, I liked the darkness – the distraction of too many details falls away, and you can think more clearly. I couldn’t forget then, and I don’t want now. I picked up a few more scars since, and I’m fond of them all.

I like this, being lost in this alien landscape, standing in the dark, on top this hill, looking at the lights shimmer above and bellow, listening to the coyotes cackle; at this moment as the warm breath of summer breeze envelops me, I know that I’m not far away from home any more, because there is no such place as home, except the one we make for ourselves, and that can be anywhere, except where we started from, and I don’t mind missing you. You would understand.