The Devil’s Backbone

“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
Guillermo del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone

Will I ever see another movie in a real theater? I’m sure I will, but right now it’s unimaginable.

I decided to pay for the streaming service, The Criterion Channel. Tonight I watched a movie that I had seen in the theater a few years ago – Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo). I had made a point to go down to Mockingbird to catch it at the Angelika after seeing its crackerjack trailer before another movie a week earlier.

It’s worth a second look.

The first scene is a bomb falling from a warplane in a rainstorm. It turns out the bomb falls in the courtyard of a Spanish orphanage, but it doesn’t explode. It remains stuck in the ground, sticking up at a steep angle- death, danger, and doom made into steel. The orphanage claims the bomb has been defused, but the orphans claim that it is still ticking.

The orphanage is collecting the sons of the Republican fighters in the final catastrophic days of the Spanish Civil War. The bomb is by no means the most frightening thing in the orphanage – there is the war, boatloads of secrets, and a ghost boy with dire warnings.

Yes, it is a ghost story… but in a world gone to hell, a ghost can almost be a breath of… if not fresh – at least welcome air.

Guillermo del Toro has gone on to great Hollywood fame (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Hellboy, The Shape of Water) but he has said this is his favorite among his own films. A sibling film to Pan’s Labyrinth (also set during the Spanish Civil War).

There are ghosts, and pain, and hell comes to earth… but there is also poetry, friends, and music and sometimes that’s enough to go on.

Podcast on The Devil’s Backbone

Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Ghost Collecting by Sheila Massie

Yes, there are people who collect ghosts. I happen to be one of them.

—-Sheila Massie, Ghost Collecting

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Now that I’ve completed my goal of writing 100 pieces of fiction in 100 days I’ll post some other types of blog entries. I’m still writing fiction most days, but I’ll revise and edit some and send them out into the big, wide world.

Really there is no better inspiration for a piece of flash fiction than reading or thinking about Craigslist ads. I once went to a performance at an art gallery that was mostly naked women reading Craigslist personal ads.

In this crackerjack story, the author imagines Craigslist selling a haunted item.

Ghost Collecting by Sheila Massie

from Flash Fiction Online

Sheila Massie

Sheila Massie Twitter

Short Story Of the Day – The Friendly Ghost (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“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 wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Window Reflection, Dallas Public Library


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#61) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

The Friendly Ghost

It was so hot and so humid and the sun was so bright. The sand in Dave’s shorts made walking unpleasant and the store was so far away. The island was a long thin sandbar and they could hear the roar of the surf as they walked, though it was screened by rows of tattered beach houses on stilts and the line of dunes by the beach.

“Come on Dave,” Bernard said. “We’ve got to walk to the store. The girls are coming by tonight and I told them we would have Piña Coladas.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s so damn far though. I can’t even see it yet.” Dave stared into the heat haze that stretched out in front of him in a vast blur. He shook his head at the distance.

“What is in a Piña Colada anyway?” he asked.

“Isn’t it vodka, milk and pineapple juice?” Bernard answered.

“That doesn’t sound right. I thought it was bananas and cream.”

“Naw, it has to be pineapple… doesn’t Piña mean pineapple in Spanish?”

“I don’t think so. I think it just means cold drink or something like that.”

Dave stopped, shaded his eyes, and tried again to spot the big yellow sign in front of the store.

“Nothing.”

He turned back to see how far they had walked. He saw a ragged looking van coming down the road toward them and, on a whim, turned his hand and half-heartily extended a thumb.

As the van neared the bright sun poured through the windscreen and he could see clearly that there were two young women in the cab. The side windows must have been down and the wind blew their blonde hair up in a halo around their smiling faces. In seconds, the van rumbled past.

Dave let out a little sigh and then was shocked as the brake lights came on and it rattled to a stop on the sandy shoulder.

“What the hell?” said Bernard. He must not have seen the thumb.

“Come on, man, run. They’re giving us a ride.”

As they came around the side, the sliding panel flew open. Dave and Bernard both jumped as the unexpected face jutted out from the dim bowels of the van into the sunlight. It was a huge, wild face, topped with a massive pile of unkempt red hair.

But what threw them was his beard – a thick mane that was inexplicably streaked with bright gold. The face opened and an unintelligible but loud grunt rushed out. Dave and Bernard stepped back, caught off guard in sudden fear.

“Come on guys, get in… Where y’all goin’ anyway?” came a sweet voice from the driver, turning in her seat.

Two meaty hands emerged on either side of the gold-streaked face and grabbed the hitchhikers, pulling them into the dark maw of the van. The door rumbled shut and the van sped off.

“She asked y’all, where ya going?” This was the other girl, sitting beside the driver.

“Uhh,” Bernard was the first to respond, “We’re headed to the store, the Lopez Quick Stop. We appreciate the ride… it was a long walk.”

“You ain’t a kiddin’ honey, The Lopez Quick Stop is back the other way. Y’all would be walkin’ all day and never get there.”

“Jeez Dave! I told you.”

But Dave was too stunned by the scene in the back of the van to respond. The metal walls were hot and the air was stuffy with some terrible solvent smell. There were two men back there – the giant that had pulled them in, and another tall, thin bald man that appeared to have no hair on his body at all. Neither were wearing anything other than dingy boxer underwear and were rolling around on the floor of the van. There were no seats or other furniture, and the carpeted floor could barely be seen through a thick layer of comic books.

Even though the windowless van was dark except for what filtered in from the front windshield the thin man was reading one, and once the big one settled down he grabbed a couple at random and started staring at them. Dave’s eyes grew large as he looked around and realized that all the hundred or so comics littering the floor were various issues of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The thin one lowered his comic and nodded to Dave, then reached down and picked up two books, throwing one each to Dave and Bernard. The thin one’s mouth and cheeks were splashed with gold like his big friend.

“Your name’s Dave?” one of the women asked. Dave was startled to see the driver turned around and looking at him instead of the road. Quickly though, she turned back and the other leaned over her shoulder and continued, “What’s your name then?”

“He’s Bernard,” Dave said. Bernard had finally taken in the scene and seemed struck speechless. In a meek gesture, he raised a Casper and began to thumb through it, without really looking.

“I’m Sara and that’s Suzy,” the passenger said.

“We’re Sisters,” said the driver, again turning around to speak.

“People think we’re twins, but we’re a year apart, really.” This was the passenger. They seemed to be in the habit of taking turns talking to the point of finishing each other’s sentences.

“Those two in the back, the big one’s Lucien.”

“And the other’s Beauregard.”

“But we just call him Bo. ‘Scuse how he looks, he shaved off all his hair last night.”

“All of it.”

“All of it. He got the willies.”

“And thought bugs were crawlin’ all over him.”

“Really they weren’t though – but once he got started.”

“He wasn’t goin’ stop. I told him it wouldn’t help.”

“But he’s always doin’ crazy shit like that.”

The two blonde sisters then started laughing. It was a high, childlike, tinkling laugh, and Dave thought it out of place in the van.

As if on cue, Lucian dropped his comic and reached into a cardboard box that was duct taped to one wheel well. He pulled out a large ziplock bag and a can of gold metallic spray paint. The bag was no longer transparent – its inside coated with a layer of gold. Shaking the can, Lucian sprayed the paint into the bag then lifted it to his mouth and took a quick series of deep, huffing breaths.

His head snapped back and he let out a frightening groan, even louder and more primal than the one they had heard when the door opened. He threw the can and bag over to Bo who repeated the process.

“Hot Damn!” Bo yelled as he finished, a fresh swath of gold smeared across his face. “Wow, that’ll take you places you don’t wanna go, for sure.”

He lifted the bag and can, offering it to Dave.

“Those boys do like their gold paint!” came a comment from the front.

“Yes they sure do. That’s why we know y’all walkin’ the wrong way.”

“It’s weird, but we just came from Da Lopez Quick Stop weselves.”

“The boys bought their spray cans there.”

“Old man Lopez always keeps some gold in the back for them.”

“And some books too.”

“The boys like that lil’ ol’ Friendly Ghost almost as much as they like that gold paint.”

“They love to read ‘em.”

“Never tired of ‘em.”

“Or at least to look at the pictures.”

Bo was grunting at Dave, trying to get him to take the paint and bag.

“Ummm, no thank you.”

“Why were you boys going to Lopez anyway.”

Bernard answered, “We’re going to get stuff for Piña Coladas… we’ve got some people coming over.”

“That’s cool,” the driver, Suzy, said, sounding actually interested.

Dave decided to at least take the bag and can, hoping to get Bo to settle down.

“Thank you,” he said.

He held the stuff in his lap and pretended to look at a comic, disturbed that his hand was smeared with gold. He looked up to see Bo making motions around his face, trying to egg Dave into huffing the paint, so Dave looked back down, trying to ignore him.

“Do either of you girls know how to make a Piña Colada?” Bernard asked.

“I donno, really, how ‘bout you Lucien?”

The big guy let out a loud bellow.

“Naw, I don’t think that’s it,” said Sara. “I think it has, like papaya and strawberries, maybe some champagne.”

“No, I don’t think so either,” said Suzy. “Isn’t it ice and lime and some double “sec” stuff or something.

“I know,” said Sara, brightening. “Forget old Lopez, there’s a liquor store up about another mile. “They’ll know.”

“They might even have some stuff.”

Dave and Bernard felt the van accelerate. Even though he didn’t really trust Suzy’s driving, Dave was glad for the speed. He wanted out as fast as he could. He tried to concentrate on the comic and avoided looking at Bo at all. He let the bag and can slip through his hand and onto a pile of Caspers.

After what seemed like hours, the van squealed off the road and into a small parking lot. Dave grabbed the handle and shoved the door open.

“Thanks for the ride and enjoy your evening,” Dave said as he moved toward the door, carefully avoiding eye contact. Bernard didn’t say anything and beat him out the door.

“But boys, don’t you…” came a voice from the front. Dave ignored it and slid the door shut as hard as he could. He noticed that Lucien had picked up the bag and was shaking the can again.

“Holy shit!” said Bernard as they ran into the store. They crouched down, peering out the grimy window. The van idled for a while, shaking slightly in the lot. The two held their breath, scared that Lucien, Bo, or both would come bounding out looking for them.

“What do we do?” asked Bernard.

“I ain’t moving while that van is out there.”

They watched, trembling, until they saw the van swing back out onto the road. Both let out a deep sigh of relief.

“OK, memorize the direction, so we can walk back.”

“It’s going to be a long walk.”

“Well, I sure as hell ain’t hitching no more.”

They both let out a long breath and walked up to the counter. A fat, sullen clerk put down a comic book and looked out at them. They were relieved to see it was an X-Men.

“Do you know what goes into a Piña Colada?”

The man stared at them for a second and then pulled a bottle of some bilious white liquid out from under the counter.

“Rum and Piña Colada mix,” he said.

 

Short Story Of the Day, I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link

It’s hard for the demon lover to grow old.

—-Kelly Link, I Can See Right Through You

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

I first read about Kelly Link and her fiction when I read that Salon had named her collection of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, a book of the year. I tracked down the paperback and read it – and it was as good as advertised. I’ve been a fan of her work – a weird melange of oddly modern adult stories told as twisted fairy tales – ever since.

I’ve linked to two of her short stories before – Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (unfortunately, no longer online) and Catskin. Buy some of her books – and visit her publishing house – especially since she offers so much that she has written and/or published under a creative commons license.

So today I’ll link to I Can See Right Through You – it starts out fragmented and jumping around and then settles down and then veers into something a little unexpected. Worth it… genius, really.

Read it here:

I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link

from McSweeney’s

Kelly Link Homepage

Small Beer Press

Kelly Link’s Twitter

Short Story of the Day – What Bram Saw by AE Stueve

It was a strong ancestral pull from the phantasmagoric, but curiosity shoved me toward Bram, toward the tapping.

—- AE Stueve, What Bram Saw

Detail from Eyes of the Cat, by Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky

Today’s short story – a tasty little nightmare of flash fiction:

What Bram Saw by AE Stueve

From Flash Fiction Magazine

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 8 – Haunting Olivia, by Karen Russell

Dallas Arts District
Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 8 – Haunting Olivia, by Karen Russell

Read it online here:
Haunting Olivia, by Karen Russell

The goggles are starting to feel less like a superpower and more like a divine punishment, one of those particularly inventive cruelties that you read about in Greek mythology.
—-Karen Russell, Haunting Olivia

Magical realism is a tricky thing. It is much easier to pull off in Spanish than in English. If not done correctly it simply feels strange and twee.

But if done right it is entertaining and can carry an emotional wallop.

I like what Karen Russell has done in today’s story. It is mostly realism tinged with just the right amount of magic. At first you aren’t sure – the story of two young boys looking for the ghost of their beloved baby sister – their imaginations are expected to run wild. But there are just enough clues to tell you that the world of Haunting Olivia isn’t quite the same dreary one that we get up and go to work in every day.

She pulls it off. In English.

Interview with Karen Russell from Guernica:

Guernica: The term “magical realism” refers to a specific movement in Latin American literature, though it’s now used to encompass a range of writers, from Rushdie to Díaz, Kafka to Aimee Bender. To what extent have magical realist writers influenced you? Do you see yourself in that tradition?

Karen Russell: It’s funny, for a long time I would go watermelon-red and deny that I was a magical realist. It felt imprecise to me, a misrepresentation. Because, as you say, that term refers to a very specific historical moment and movement in Latin American literature. Now, of course, you see the term “magical realist” applied to basically any story told with a little shimmer on the lens.

I still get shy about applying the term “magical realism” to my own work. But I would not be writing the way I do today had I not fallen in love with Borges, Rulfo, Márquez. I was hugely excited to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Rulfo, and Julio Cortázar’s Blow-Up: And Other Stories and Hopscotch. European fabulists like Calvino and Kafka and American dark romantic weirdos like Poe also expanded my ideas of what fiction could be, and could do.

Dancers, Arts District, Dallas

Ghosts In the Library

“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 wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

 

Window Reflection, Dallas Public Library

Complete Steel

What may this mean.
That thou, dead corpse, again, in complete steel,
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon.
Making night hideous ; and we, fools of nature,
So horridly to shake our disposition,
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this?
—-Shakespeare, Hamlet

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly (click to enlarge)

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly
(click to enlarge)