Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Wallpaper by Bill Chance

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

—- Bill Chance, Wallpaper

Ganesha,
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas

Sam tore the wallpaper off the walls in the spare bedroom – the one at the end of the hall. Nobody wanted to sleep in that room – the old house was a firetrap – especially on the second floor and that isolated windowless room would be impossible to escape from in a house filling with smoke. It was handy for drunken visitors to crash in, but not much else.

It was stale and airless and the condensation was making the paper peel. That upset Sam’s sense of order and the he thought about gluing it back – but once he inspected how loose it was, how spotted with mold, he decided it had to go. He’d tear it off, see what was underneath, and then deal with it.

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

The plaster that had been hidden by the wall coverings was painted with fantastical figures – one figure, or group of figures, on each wall. They seemed to be a gallery of deities – some shaped like animals – others voluptuous and human in form.

There was a large elephant improbably balanced on one leg and wearing a crown of skulls – holding a massive spear. Across the room a curvaceous woman stood in the same pose with a multitude of arms sprouting from behind her – each clasping a different mysterious object.

To the side, a couple sat – he in the Lotus position – she on lap with her legs wrapped behind his back. They each had three faces – one set looking at each other – the other two off to the side. Their bodies were covered in jewelry – colorful and detailed – with the same shapes as the object held by the many-armed woman.

The final wall was divided into many rectangles and each one contained a small drawing – crude compared to the detailed murals on the other walls – but still clear and strong. Around the characters in the small frames were curved lines of mysterious writing – filling every square inch of the surface.

Sam was stunned and obsessed. The small room had no electrical outlets so he stretched an extension cord down the hall and scrounged up four lamps – replacing the bulbs with a higher wattage in order to study the drawings better. He removed the few items of furniture but brought in a thin mattress. He began to sleep in the room, feeling somehow that the deities on the wall would protect him from the possibilities of fire.

At first, the others were curious and climbed the stairs, braved the hall, to come down and look at the walls – but Sam became surly and began to discourage casual visitors. After a week he repaired the hinges on the door, cut a passage for the extension cord, and installed a strong new lock. He felt and acted like the room was his and the deities were looking over him alone.

He did decide to pay a visit to a professor at the university – an elderly woman from the Asian Studies Department. With frayed nerves and strong second thoughts he led her down the hall and into his room, turning on the lamps.

She showed no emotion, but walked around the room giving the characters names – Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama. Sam politely took a few notes, knowing he’d never need to look at them – the names and stories were instantly burned into his brain.

“This is a strange mixture,” she said. “The deities are mostly Hindu – an unusual melange of times, regions, and sects. It’s as if the person that drew these borrowed freely from whatever tradition seemed to mean the most to him and made up some additional myths to suit his purposes.”

“Purposes? What would those be?”

“I have no idea. And this,” she said, gesturing at the complex wall of panels, “is a complete legend, a story.”

“What is it about?” asked Sam, trying to conceal the eagerness in his voice.

“Well, again, it’s a mixture. The characters seem to be mostly familiar minor Hindu Demi-Gods, but the story looks like the Chinese Buddhist legend of the Monkey King. It’s a famous legend – one of the classic myths of the world.”

“What Language is it?”

“That’s what is especially odd – I don’t really know. I’ve never seen it before. It looks like a dialect of Tibet – one I’m not familiar with. That might make sense – Tibet is at the juncture of India and China – the border of Buddhist and Hindu traditions – which would help explain the mixture.”

The woman wanted to photograph the walls of the room and said she would make arrangements to return with a photographer and proper lighting. But Sam never returned her calls – although she tried many times to reach him. After a few weeks she gave up. By then Sam had become even more obsessed with the drawings, spending more and more time in the room, neglecting everything else.

At first Sam thought that he was losing his mind, but after a month it began happening so often he came to realize it was real. With a great expenditure of willpower he stayed out of the room for a day and a half, sleeping fitfully on the couch downstairs. With a desperate relief he gave in and threw the door open.

There was no doubt now. The drawings were different. They were changing. They were moving.

Shiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 11th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art

Shiva and Parvati
Stele of Uma-Maheshvara… 12th Century… Buff Sandstone
Dallas Museum of Art

 

Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Call Me Ishmael by Bill Chance

In a moment of panic, Sam realized that he had almost forgotten the woman’s name. He thought it was Elizabeth… but he wasn’t sure.

—- Bill Chance, Call Me Ishmael

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

I found some stuff in an obscure subdirectory that I think I wrote a few years ago. Looking at it – I have no memory of having written it at all. I worry that maybe I didn’t write it – maybe I typed it in (or copied and pasted) from somewhere else. I did a bunch of internet searches and found nothing. So maybe it is mine. Anyway, here is the shortest piece – which, ironically, has some relevance to today. If you have read it somewhere else – sorry – I didn’t mean to. Maybe it’s from a virus.

Call Me Ishmael

Sam was enthralled. The woman was beautiful, tall and slim – friendly, and she seemed truly interested in him. He felt that finally, someone genuine had come along. They met waiting in line at the buffet and walked together to a little round table at the rear. She was telling Sam her story.

“It was tough, having four sisters like that,” she said. “My sister Jane is older than me. She is very beautiful.”

In a moment of panic, Sam realized that he had almost forgotten the woman’s name. He thought it was Elizabeth… but he wasn’t sure.

“It’s amazing how different we all are from each other. My next younger sister, Mary, is so smart… such a good student. Lydia, the youngest, is a ball of fire and Kitty does whatever she is told.”

The woman went on with her story, telling of some man that was in love with her sister and a friend of his – some rich loutish oaf that was causing her a lot of grief. Sam became more and more suspicious. When the woman excused herself, saying, “I’ll be right back,” he pulled out his phone and opened the “Real or Not” app. Thinking for a second, he then typed in her name along with her four sisters: Elizabeth, Nancy, Kitty, Mary and Lydia.

The app immediately responded with, “Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.”

“Crap!” Sam said to himself as he gathered himself up quickly so he could leave before “Elizabeth” returned. “Another fake…. There are so many.”


It started with the CIA – a way to send secret messages. A method had been developed, deep within the laboratories of the Military-Industrial Complex, to encode English text onto a string of DNA. This was then inserted into a virus, and a human carrier was infected. The idea was that this person would travel to a destination, sneeze out some of the virus, and the DNA could be decoded.

A completely unexpected problem came up, however. To this day, nobody really understands the mechanism, but once the carrier was infected with the virus, he would understand the message. It would appear as if he had experienced it in the past. The message would usually attach itself to some real memory… like a favorite childhood scene or a more recent traumatic incident.

It didn’t take long for this to become a tool in education. Entire volumes were encoded in DNA and inserted into students. At first, an injection was needed, then a drop on a sugar cube. Finally, a professor would be infected with the virus and he would simply sneeze towards the class from the front of the hall.

And that was what spiraled out of control – the entire population was infected with an epidemic of literature. Modern, popular works were tightly controlled, injected, because publishers needed to get paid. Classic literature, out of copyright, was widely disseminated – there was nothing to stop the spread.

As the viruses evolved and duplicated the literature began to warp. Finally, all those stories mixed and changed and sank in until nobody really knew what was a true memory and what was a leftover from classic literature.

 

Short Story Of the Day, The Island at Noon by Julio Cortazar

The island was visible for a few minutes, but the air was always so clean, and it was outlined by the sea with such a minute cruelty that the smallest details were implacably adjusted to the memory of the preceding flight: the green spot of the headland to the north, the lead-grey houses, the nets drying on the sand. When the nets weren’t there, Marini felt as if he had been robbed, insulted.

—-Julio Cortazar, The Island at Noon

Reflecting pool, Art District, Dallas, Texas

I have flown in airplanes often for well over a half-century. But still, even now, I act like a curious little kid in that I like to sit in a window seat and stare out at the land passing beneath. I always wonder exactly where we are. When we cross the center of the country  I look at the shape of lakes, try and memorize them, so I can look them up on maps. I look for well-known rivers, and highways. If we go over the Rockies I look for familiar peaks. When we cross the ocean, like the protagonist of today’s story, I look for islands – again, memorizing their shape.

My favorite thing is to spot someplace I have been before, that I recognize, and that I enjoy seeing from a new, unique, angle. It makes me happy.

Read today’s story here:

The Island at Noon, by Julio Cortazar

from Electric Literature

Gervaise

“With almost superhuman strength she seized Virginie by the waist, bent her forward with her face to the brick floor and, notwithstanding her struggles, lifted her skirts and showed the white and naked skin. Then she brought her beater down as she had formerly done at Plassans under the trees on the riverside, where her employer had washed the linen of the garrison.

Each blow of the beater fell on the soft flesh with a dull thud, leaving a scarlet mark.”

Emile Zola, L’Assommoir

 

Yesterday I finished Zola’s L’Assommoir and enjoyed it a lot. In doing some online research about the book I discovered it had been made into a 1956 French film called Gervaise that wasn’t supposed to be too bad. It was directed by René Clément and starred Maria Schell (sister of Maximilian). I was able to find a copy of the film and waited until I finished the book – then sat down to watch it.

L’Assommoir is a big, complicated, 500 page book and I knew they would have to slim it down to get the story into a movie. They did, but remained faithful to the spirit of the Zola novel. The movie concentrates on Gervaise – not surprisingly – and leaves out a lot of the tumult around her. I really liked the film – despite being over sixty years old (a year older than me) it holds up well. Gervaise’s decent into abject poverty, despair, and destruction is rushed as compared to the book – she is still alive at the end of the film and the book conveys the horrors of her descent better. There is a political subplot added to the movie that wasn’t in the book – and I didn’t think it added much. But otherwise, I thought the movie did a good job and illustrated the look of a lot of the story that I had trouble imagining (having never been to Paris of the Second Empire myself).

Like the book, the movie suffered from prudish editing – luckily the version I found seems mostly uncut (it was 116 minutes long). The biggest difference seems to be in the fight in the wash house between Gervaise and her arch-rival Virginie at the beginning of the story – the version I saw had a bloody scene of Gervaise tearing off Virginie’s earring and then beating her bare bottom with a wooden paddle. Tame by modern standards – those scenes were too much for the 1950’s.

The movie is one of the most expensive (in modern currency) foreign films ever made. The sets are extensive, detailed, and realistic.

And the best thing is that many of the memorable set pieces of the book are preserved. The wedding party and its visit to the Louvre, the horrifying fall her husband takes off a roof on the day she is to buy her shop, Gervaise’s Name-Day feast, Coupou’s alcoholic madness (though transferred from an asylum to Gervaise’s shop – probably more dramatic that way), and most of all the famous fight between Gervaise and Virginie in the wash house – all were giving loving care and exciting treatment.

Gervaise and Virginie going at it in the wash house. Gervaise’s man, Lantier, has just run off with Virginie’s prostitute sister, Adèle.

Virginie about to hit Gervaise with the wooden paddle.

Gervaise has reversed the fight and is about to give Virginie a vicious paddling.

This scene was apparently too much for the censors. Virginie is about to get hers.

The wedding party goes to the Louvre, here Gervaise and Goujet are standing in front of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People

Gervaise singing at her Name Day party – the high point of her life.

A ruined and despairing Gervaise at the end of the film.

Compare this scene to:

L’Absinthe (detail) by Edgar Degas

At least Degas’ woman still has her hat (Gervaise has pawned hers).

 

Reviews of Gervaise:

Adapting Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, René Clément’s Gervaise (1956)

Gervaise: True Grit

GERVAISE – ESSENTIAL ART HOUSE

 

Short Story Of the Day, “anatomy of a burning thing” by Monica Robinson

The city at night sounded like his ribs when they broke, his body as it caved in on itself and snapped in half so loudly they heard it downstairs and thought it was a gunshot, another bullet hitting its mark, eating into the flesh of another broken soul, unwanted — unwanted, yes, disowned, in a room no warmer than the frigid air outside, shivering under layers, skin stretched too tight across bones.

—-Monica Robinson, “anatomy of a burning thing”

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Olive

Point of View – Stream of Consciousness – Reliability of Narration

You can play with this stuff… if you have the chops.

Read it here:

“anatomy of a burning thing” by Monica Robinson

from Blanket Sea

Monica Robinson

 

Short Story Of the Day (Flash Fiction) – Taylor Swift, by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

You’re in love; it’s great, you swipe on your phone and order: the next day a Taylor Swift clone shows up at your house. It’s not awkward, it’s everything you want.

—- Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Taylor Swift

Banjo Player on Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

Are you social distancing? Are you quarantined? What would be better than going online and ordering your own Taylor Swift?

A crackerjack piece of flash fiction. Click on the link and read it… it’s short and I know you have the time. That’s all we have right now is time. Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of writing in the second person… but in this case, it works. What do you think?

Read it here:

Taylor Swift, by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

 

From Electric Literature

Short Story of the Day – A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo

A cannon that breaks its moorings suddenly becomes some strange, supernatural beast. It is a machine transformed into a monster. That short mass on wheels moves like a billiard-ball, rolls with the rolling of the ship, plunges with the pitching goes, comes, stops, seems to meditate, starts on its course again, shoots like an arrow from one end of the vessel to the other, whirls around, slips away, dodges, rears, bangs, crashes, kills, exterminates. It is a battering ram capriciously assaulting a wall. Add to this the fact that the ram is of metal, the wall of wood.

—-Victor Hugo, A Fight With a Cannon

Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas, Dallas, Texas

A FIGHT WITH A CANNON By Victor Hugo

All my life I have heard the phrase “A loose cannon” used to describe a person that, in some way or another, is dangerously out of control. Have heard it, as have you, thousands of times. I have never really thought about what it means.

Today’s short story A Fight With a Cannon by Victor Hugo explains what a loose cannon is and what it means in intricate, desperate, and horrific detail. Imagine a huge cylinder of metal, heavy and hard, on a carriage of wheels set loose unrestrained on a deck of a sailing ship on the high seas. It is a battering ram – full of random destructive motion. This is what a loose cannon is.

But what to do about it? And what to do after that? And after that? The story has the surprising solutions(s). Some people are not what they seem.  There is truly more than one kind of loose cannon.

Some helpful definitions:

Carronade – an obsolete naval gun of short barrel and large bore

Assignat – one of the notes issued as paper currency from 1789 to 1796 by the revolutionary government on the security of confiscated lands.

Chevalier – French History. the lowest title of rank in the old nobility.

Cascabel – a knoblike projection at the rear of the breech of a muzzleloading cannon.

Cross of Saint-Louis – The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis was founded in 1693. The king would award the Cross of Saint-Louis to reward outstanding service to France. The recipient then became a “knight of Saint Louis”.

Ambuscade – an ambush.

Hammock-shroud – A poetical expression which derives its force from the fact that the bodies of sailors or other persons dying at sea are sewed up in hammocks and committed to the deep.

Son Excellence Eugène Rougon

“He [Eugène Rougon] believed exclusively in himself; where another saw reasons, Rougon possessed convictions; he subordinated everything to the incessant aggrandisement of his own ego. Despite being utterly devoid of real self-indulgence, he nevertheless indulged in secret orgies of supreme power.”
― Émile Zola, His Excellency

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, real life basis for Clorinde Balbi, from the book His Excellency, by Emile Zola

I just finished another book in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle. This one was Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (His Excellency, in English). This was the sixth book written, but the second one in the recommended order – that I am following. The book was excellent (even though I was reading an inferior translation) although I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book The Fortune of the Rougons.

The book is a finely-drawn portrait of the highest reaches of power during France’s Second Empire. It follows the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of Eugène Rougon – a power mad politician and one of the branches of the Rougon trunk of the Rougon-Macquart family that spreads across the twenty novels. Rougon has a diverse crew of hangers-on that depend on his influence for their ill-gotten gains – but are more than ready to throw him under the bus at any time.

His main rival is Clorinde Balbi – a young, beautiful ambitious woman that is forced to depend on her own skills and machinations – all behind the scenes – to advance her own cause and bring her revenge upon Rougon – who rejects her and marries her off to one of his friends. She is by far the most interesting character in the novel – a woman before her time doing the best she can. Still, the novel is more of a portrait of an age and place than a gripping story – its one weakness is that none of the characters are really worth caring about. I am glad I read it, though – it does a great job of transporting the reader to an exotic time and place – one that in its corruption and grubbing for power is still frighteningly familiar.

I finished the book on vacation, on a Caribbean cruise. The last few pages were turned (more accurately clicked – I was reading on a Kindle) lounging on a remote uncrowded deck, while the turquoise waves rumbled past. Reading on vacation seems like a waste of precious leisure time, but I enjoy it immensely. What could be better than being in one exotic location (on a ship at sea) and being transported to another – Paris in the Second Empire?

Now, on the the next, La Curée (The Kill). This one looks especially good.

Short Story of the Day – “Driven Snow” by Nancy M. Michael

“Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.”
― Jim Thompson

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

I read a lot of short stories. I read A LOT of short stories. In most cases I read pretty much a short story a day. I like to read them, I don’t have much time for long novels, and I like to write them.I have learned that it is best that I read what I am writing.

Over time, I have spent months where I review and online short story each day –

Short Story Months:
Day One 2013

Day One 2015

Day One 2017

Instead of doing an entire month, I think I’ll put up stories I enjoy one at a time.

There is a fantastic independent publishing house, Akashic Books. From their website:

Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

In particular, I enjoy their Noir series – each book consisting of a group of savage short stories based in a particular city. I have written about their Noir books based on the two cities I am most familiar with: Dallas Noir and New Orleans Noir.

They have a tasty extensive list of short and flash fiction available online.

Today I have a free online short story put out by Akashic Books. It’s a warped little romantic tale about how a relationship handles a snowstorm on I70 in Colorado. The flash fiction piece is a lot of fun – though it seems to have one obvious little error (Isn’t it nights in WHITE satin?).

Driven Snow by Nancy M. Michael – Loveland Pass, Colorado

Like the city-themed Noir books, fiction, especially thrillers or horror, is always more fun when it is set somewhere that you are familiar with. I am somewhat familiar with I70 through the mountains, Loveland Pass and Ski Basin, the scenic route off the Interstate to A Basin, and the feeling of snow whiteout conditions.

I remember jockeying down that stretch of highway in a blinding blizzard with a tiny Datsun jockying with a string of monstrous snowplows going 80 miles an hour inches off my bumper and looking bigger than the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

Whew! just the memory makes me feel frozen and sweaty at the same time.

So take a few minutes to go read the story and while you are there – check out Akashic Books and their other offerings. They deserve our support.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Patricia Johanson, Sagitaria Platyphylla (Delta Duckpotato), Fair Park, 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 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Read it online here:
Feral by Christopher Moyer

Our grandmother watches us some of the time. The rest of the time, we do what we want. At school, the adults asked a lot of questions about that, so we stopped going. We haven’t gone down to the school in weeks or maybe months, I don’t know—our watches stopped a long time ago, too, and after that we threw them in the creek down by the park just to watch them splash.

—-Christopher Moyer, Feral

I had always wanted to own a home on a creek lot. Our house technically is, though it is more of a ditch than a creek. At any rate, there is quite a cavalcade of critters parading by, other than the joggers and dog-walkers. If you sit in my back yard at dawn and sip a cup of coffee you will see the coyotes trotting back to their dens – I assume hidden in the clumps of trees along the fairways of the golf course. A family of beavers live under the road and sometimes can be seen on the jogging trail bridges at night. Rabbits, ducks, and possums are common, sometimes a fox will show up. There is a bobcat terrorizing the neighborhood – not much can be done.

Nature is never as far away as we think it is.

Today’s bit of flash fiction by Christopher Moyer reminds us, not only of the wild presence, but how easy it is to slip back… to lose our humanity… to become feral. Easy, and maybe not so bad.

Christopher Moyer:

The first time I bid on a freelance job to ghostwrite a doomsday survival guide, I was only asked one question: Did I have experience writing for middle-aged Republican men? I told the client that I had experience writing for a wide variety of ages and political affiliations, which was noncommittal enough to be true.

The client said, “Sounds good, bro.”

We were off to the races.
—From Confessions of a Former Apocalypse Survival Guide Writer, at Vice Motherboard

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.