Two Women

I was talking to someone at work about the viral video that is going around, the one about the NASA scientist that made the elaborate, over-engineered, hilarious booby trap to revenge upon thieves that steal Amazon packages. My point is that he made the package look too tempting – he was creating thieves. The other guy disagreed – he felt that people either were thieves or not. I think that it is more a matter of degree, and everyone, sometimes, steals something.

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited this year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a thousand or so words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about the two people.

 

Two Women

 

One day, due to a mix-up at a department store wedding registry two weeks before the scheduled weddings, Moss Williams and Isabel Green discovered they were both engaged to the same man, Augustus Piper.

Moss William’s condominium was on the twenty third floor and she had always been disappointed that the windows didn’t open. She lifted up an expensive, exquisite abstract marble sculpture that Augustus Piper had bought her on one of his business trips to Venice and fixed the window. The marble made an appropriate expensive explosive boom when it hit the concrete over two hundred feet below – followed by an exquisite tinkle as the shards of broken glass caught up. Augustus had bought her the condo and had planned on moving in too after the wedding.

She enjoyed the sting of the cold wind whipping through the open wound in the glass wall of the building as she collected everything that either belonged to Augustus or had been bought by him and would fit through the hole in the window left by the marble. This was everything in the place other than the furniture. With amazing energy and rapidity she threw it all out.

The only thing she saved was the cocaine. Moss lined it all up in a group that looked like a tiny neatly plowed field of snowy ground on the glass coffee table – then hurled the expensive sterling necklace with its hidden compartment out too. He had bought her the jewelry in San Francisco. He had bought the cocaine too, but it was too good to waste… even in fury. She visited the little field on the coffee table whenever her energy began to fade.

“Here, dear,” Isabel’s mother called, “I’m back from the store with the ice cream.” She began unloading the pints from the shrink-wrapped cardboard flat and loaded them into her daughter’s freezer. “It’s a little soft from the trip back from the store, but I think it’s still edible… do you want a pint now?”

The loud sobbing from the bedroom paused for a few seconds. “Yes,” Isabel said, “Bring me a pint and a spoon.”

“What flavor? They sold these variety flats and that’s what I bought.”

“Who cares mother? Just bring me something.”

“Chunky Monkey OK?” asked Isabel’s mother.  The sobbing didn’t stop this time, so she assumed that Chunkey Monkey wasn’t good, so she exchanged it with a pint of chocolate mint. The spoon she chose from her daughter’s drawer didn’t look quite right, so she bent over the sink and gave it a quick scrubbing before heading back to the bedroom.

It took two hours and three pints of ice cream to get Isabel to quit crying enough for her mother to feel like she could leave and head home. Alone, Isabel felt that one more pint might hit the spot.  After all, she had been starving herself for almost a year in order to fit into the wedding dress that Augustus had picked out.

Before all this her mother had been wondering how she was going to spend the insurance settlement from her third husband’s death and when, at last, her only daughter was engaged she had her outlet. She paid for the elaborate and expensive wedding dress without hesitation. She bought that hideous marble sculpture at the gallery and insisted Isabel give it to Augustus for his birthday. Her mother gave Isabel the money for the little silver cocaine vault that Augustus had his eye on. Augustus always liked his coke and Isabel always was willing beg cash from her mom and  to drive down to the South Side of town to pick some up for him – though, of course, she always lied to her mother about what the money was for.

Now all that was over. Isabel sat up on the edge of the bed and forced herself to try and imagine what life was going to be like now… how it was going to go on without Augustus. She picked up the little drop knife she kept on her bed stand. Even that reminded her of Augustus. One evening she was standing in a dingy alley in the South Side of town waiting for her connection to show up. She was kicking at the dirt and felt something with the toe of her show. It was the knife, buried in the oily dust of the alley. She fished it out, took it home, and cleaned it up. She liked to think of what horrors that little lifeless piece of stainless steel had seen.

Isabel flicked the knife open and closed a couple of times, thinking about one more horror.

 

———————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Moss looked at the piece of paper for the thousandth time. There was the name of the store, and Augustus’ name and then, under that, instead of, “Moss Williams” it said, “Isabel Green.” She stared at it and wondered what kind of evil worthless harpy that name represented, a name that stole her fiancé. Then she stared at the next line, a phone number. She had seen that number on Augustus’ cell… seen it many times. She had assumed it was his work.

She dialed.

“Why are you mad at me?’ Isabel cried, “I didn’t do anything!”

“Yes you did, you stole my fiancé,” Moss said.

“No I didn’t! I didn’t know anything about you. You stole my fiancé too.  He’s the bastard that screwed both of us. Literally.”

Moss hadn’t thought of that.

A long silence on the line. “What?” asked Isabel, “Are you still there?”

“Yes… I’m here. Give me a minute. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Finally Moss decided.

“Isabel?” she said, “I think we need to meet. We need to hash this out.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“No, not at all. But I don’t see any choice.”

“Ok, Where?”

“You know the pub down on Carol Street, the Golden Horse?”

“Yeah I know the place.”

“Eight tonight.”

 

———————————————————————————————————————————

 

The two sat at a dark table in the back corner. At first they did more staring than talking. But after a few rounds – Moss drank Jameson, Isabel light beer – they began to open up. Each was surprised at how easy it was to get along with the other. They did, after all, have a lot in common.

“I have a confession to make,” said Isabel.

“What?” asked Moss.

“I didn’t know how this was going to go, so I brought this.” She reached in her purse and brought out the drop knife. “I hope you’re not pissed.”

“Oh,” replied Moss, “That’s nothing.”

“Really?’

“Really, look at this.” She reached into her purse for something also. “You know I’m a seamstress? Have been since I was a little girl.”

“No idea, really.”

“So, like you brought your knife, I brought this.” She brandished a heavy, wicked looking pair of pinking shears. She moved it so the light sparked across the wavy saw teeth.

“Wow.”

“Yeah wow.”

“Yeah, I know there’s only one thing we’d both like to use these on now,” said Isabel with an evil chuckle. “I’d love to see what those shears would do to it.”

“Ughh, as much fun as that would be… that’s one thing I don’t ever want to see ever again.”

The two women started laughing and seeing each other laugh, couldn’t stop until the both doubled over with pain in their diaphragms.”

“You know?” said Moss, “I’ve had another idea, one a lot less violent. Something simple. Something to do first, put the fear of God into the rat bastard.”

“What?”

“Back there, by the bathroom, there’s a photo booth. One of those old fashioned ones. The ones that take a strip of four pictures.”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s take some shots. Together. And send them to that son of a bitch. That will scare the shit out of him – the thought that we are together, plotting”

“Yeah lets. Let’s flip him off.”

 

 

 

 

 

Zastrozzi

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

Spirit of the Centennial, Woman’s Building, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Is it finished?

The sky was unusually obscured, the sun had sunk beneath the western mountain, and its departing ray tinged the heavy clouds with a red glare.–The rising blast sighed through the towering pines, which rose loftily above Matilda’s head: the distant thunder, hoarse as the murmurs of the grove, in indistinct echoes mingled with the hollow breeze; the scintillating lightning flashed incessantly across her path, as Matilda, heeding not the storm, advanced along the trackless forest.

The crashing thunder now rattled madly above, the lightnings flashed a larger curve, and at intervals, through the surrounding gloom, showed a scathed larch, which, blasted by frequent storms, reared its bare head on a height above.

Matilda sat upon a fragment of jutting granite, and contemplated the storm which raged around her. The portentous calm, which at intervals occurred amid the reverberating thunder, portentous of a more violent tempest, resembled the serenity which spread itself over Matilda’s mind–a serenity only to be succeeded by a fiercer paroxysm of passion.
—-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Zastrozzi

Two down, ninety-eight to go.

A few days ago, while working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately. The first one I read was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

How I chose this one, I have no idea. While I have nothing against real books, I knew that to read a hundred books I’ll have to put a lot of them onto my Kindle. So I started perusing the various sources of free ebooks online (especially Project Gutenberg) and downloaded Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first novel, Zastrozzi, from Project Gutenberg Australia.

It is a true Gothic Novel – a revenge tale of overwhelming lust and evil. There is nothing subtle here, but who is in the mood for that? I liked it a lot more than I expected. It is short – about a hundred pages or so, and a quick read.

A wood engraving by Cecil Keeling from the 1955 Golden Cockerel Press edition of Zastrozzi

It is interesting how many similar scenes there are in this book to Frankenstein – written by Shelley’s wife Mary. That reminded me of the terribly wonderful and extremely entertaining (if fatally flawed) over-the-top film of that fateful weekend where Mary Shelley wrote her tale The Modern Prometheus, basically on a dare – Gothic directed by the mad genius Ken Russell. I’d like to watch that thing again.

Looking around, I see that an updated Zastrozzi was also made into a British mimi-series (also from 1986) starring Tilda Swinton as Julia. I’d love to see that, but it’s pretty obscure. Have to keep my eyes out.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 13 – Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

Deep Ellum
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 13 – Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

Read it online here:

Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

The eight ourang-outangs, taking Hop-Frog’s advice, waited patiently until midnight (when the room was thoroughly filled with masqueraders) before making their appearance. No sooner had the clock ceased striking, however, than they rushed, or rather rolled in, all together–for the impediments of their chains caused most of the party to fall, and all to stumble as they entered.

—-Edgar Allan Poe, Hop-Frog

Everyone has read Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in school. Everyone is familiar with The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, or A Cask of Amontillado. But I bet you haven’t read Hop-Frog.

It is a brutally simple tale of revenge and horror. Never one for subtlety, Poe goes for the jugular here, and delivers. I’m surprised this tale hasn’t been used more often (as has Poe’s other tropes) in modern horror films. It’s a yarn that holds up well, almost two centuries after it was written.

An interesting fact about the story is that, apparently, Poe wrote it as a literary “revenge” against a woman, Elizabeth F. Ellet, and her circle of friends. They had been trafficking in gossip about Poe and alleged improprieties to the extent that Poe’s wife felt they had driven her to her deathbed.

Don’t mess with a short story writer, or you will be immortalized in horror.

Poe on Writing:

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view — for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest — I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
—-from THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION

Coal and coke fire, Frisco, Texas.

Monday Flash Fiction – The Lunch Thief

“Did you bring the duct tape?”

“Of course, did you bring the… you know… the pliers?”

“Yup.”

Sam pulled a hideous looking pair of rusty heavy duty curved-jaw carpenter’s pincers from the inside of his jacket. “I was going to clean these up last night, but….”

“No, they are more frightening that way.”

“I know, right?”

“Now when Clayton gets here with the chloroform, we’ll be ready.”

Sam and Brandon stood at the entrance to the office cubicle, fidgeting, Sam clutching his pincers and Brandon trying to push his hand through the cardboard tube at the center of the roll of gray shiny tape. They both could feel their nerves ratcheting up when Clayton came walking down the aisle between the cubicles. He was carrying a cardboard shoe box under his arm and the two could hear the glass bottle rattling around as he moved. He had a white folded face towel in his hand.

“Now we’re ready,” said Sam, “Now we’ll catch the son of a bitch that’s been stealing everybody’s lunches.”

—————————————————————–

“So, as you see… we have all three of you pretty much red-handed,” the Human Resources Woman said as she stopped the video. “Plus, his blood and your prints… partials, but enough, were on the pincers we found in your desk. Those things were horrible, where did you find something like that?”

“My grandfather had them in his woodshop, I picked them up when he died.” Sam kicked himself internally. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice that surveillance camera before.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“You have been assigned to that cube… how long? Seven years?”

Sam nodded.

“That camera has been there all this time, a black dome over your head, in plain view, but it had disappeared from your mind, they always do.”

Sam glared at the Human Resources Woman. “Yeah, you look at something for long enough, you don’t notice it anymore.”

“That’s why we don’t bother to hide the cameras.”

Sam looked at the Human Resources Woman, really looked at her for the first time. He was never good at guessing ages and she could be anything from twenty-five to forty. She was wearing a standard and severe woman’s business outfit, a subtle patterned dark gray tube from skirt to shoulder carefully designed to disguise the fact she was a human being. Her hair was pulled back so tight it gave her a rictus grin.

Behind her desk was a blown-up copy of a diploma from a school with the word “middle” and two different compass directions preceding the name of a distant impoverished state. He glanced at the nameplate on her desk but forgot what it said as soon as his eyes returned to her.

Sam glowered. “Have you brought in Brandon and Clayton yet?”

“No, not yet. After we found Markson duct-taped to the water heater in the janitor’s closet, bleeding and missing most of a molar, it didn’t take long to find the incriminating evidence.”

“Markson, the asshole. So he ratted us out.”

“Nope, he wouldn’t say a word. He didn’t show up for work after that, though.”

“No, I guessed he wouldn’t. That was the point.”

“But the lunches kept on disappearing, didn’t they.”

“Yeah… dammit. We were sure that it was Markson.”

“But you were wrong.”

“Yes we were.”

“He never confessed, even under your torture, did he?”

“No, not a peep. He said that his lunches were stolen out of the office refrigerator too. So now what? Are you going to fire me? I don’t blame you. Let’s get on with it.”

The Human Resources Woman expanded her smile enough that the bun on the back of her head dipped a little.

“Fire you, oh no. There is an opening in the operations department, a district level manager’s position, with an office. You are one of the three remaining candidates.”

“Wait? What? You are offering me a promotion? But I don’t know anything about operations. I’m an accountant.”

“Here at Yoyodyne, we value pluck, independence, and innovation. Your reaction to the stolen lunches seems to indicate that you have the qualities we value in a management setting.”

“Yoyodyne? What does that mean? The company is called Earnest and Baynes. I’m not even really sure what we do… what they do.”

“Yes, that is our public name. We are offering you the opportunity to join the inner circle, the people that really understand what is going on. The group in charge of the Yoyodyne operation.”

Sam’s head was spinning; he found it hard to catch his breath. The air suddenly felt thin, lacking in oxygen.

“Are you interested,” said the Human Resources Woman. She didn’t ask it as a question.

“I guess,” said Sam. “What do I need to do to qualify?”

“That is for you to figure out.”

Sam rubbed his face with his palm, trying to decide what to do next. Suddenly, an important question came to mind.

“You said there were three candidates. Who are the other two?”

“Brandon and Clayton, of course. They have not been notified and hopefully, never will be. We have decided to give you the first shot.”

As Sam turned to leave, the Human Resources Woman called him back.

“We wanted to return these.”

She handed him the pinchers. They had been cleaned and the rust buffed off, leaving gleaming arcs of steel. Sam nodded, slipped them under his suit jacket, and left.

—————————————————————–

Getting rid of Clayton was easy. He had always been a natural crook, but very sloppy, plus fast and loose with the books in his department. A detailed anonymous letter to the local tax board inspector (mailed from another city) was all it took. Everyone lined the corridor while Clayton was marched out of the maze of cubes clutching a thin plastic grocery bag with his meager personal possessions. They didn’t even give him the dignity of the customary cardboard box.

After he left, a fast wave of employees fell upon Clayton’s cubicle to grab any left-behind office supplies. Only Sam and Brandon stood back. Sam eyed his rival and caught a distinct stink-eye glare from his former co-conspirator. Had the Human Resources Woman lied? Did Brandon know something?

It was on.

Both sides brought out every dirty trick in the book. Tiny slivers of seafood hidden in the crevices of the cubical. Invitations to non-existent meetings across town at critical times. Subscriptions to gay-porn message servers with work email addresses. Wiping out of data files. A potato in an exhaust pipe. Subtle, yet critical changes to customer databases. Viruses inserted in desktop computers.

Finally, though, Sam obtained information from a young administrative assistant about Brandon meeting up with a cute intern at a hot new nightspot. Sam knew that was the evening Brandon’s wife always went out with a group of friends. A careful email insured that the group chose the proper place to meet and was sure to run into Brandon and his illicit date.

And that was the end of Brandon.
—————————————————————–

As he left for home, an hour earlier than he had for seven years, Sam locked up his Yoyodyne badge in his desk and pulled out the Earnest and Baynes badge he wore outside of work. He took one long last look at the spectacular views from both corner office floor-to-ceiling glass windows before leaving his private office and dropping off a pile of work on his assistant’s desk.

The executive elevator was waiting and whisked him to the executive parking garage where his new Mercedes sat tight in its assigned spot. His smile turned to a scowl when he saw the heavy yellow boot locked on the front wheel. There was a typed note under one wiper blade, “Please come see us in the garage office and we can settle this minor matter.”

“What the fuck!” Sam screamed as he yanked the note off his windshield and strode toward the cinder block office. “I will have someone’s ass over this!”

He jerked open the heavy metal door and jumped into the small, windowless office. There were three parking garage employees standing by the opposite wall, facing away from him, all wearing stained yellow coveralls.

“Ok, which one of you assholes booted my Mercedes?” Sam screamed. His voice echoed around in the tiny office.

One of the men clicked something in his hand, a small remote. Sam heard a bolt slide in the door behind him. Before he could ask why the door was locked, the three turned around.

It was Brandon, Clayton, and Markson. Brandon had a roll of tape that looked like the same roll they had used on Markson, weeks before. Clayton had the same bottle of chloroform. And Markson swung something long, red, and massive, holding it with both hands. It was a big pair of nasty looking heavy duty bolt cutters. Swinging the handles, Markson made sure Sam could see the steel levers forcing the thick jaws open and shut.

“There are things you might miss a lot more than a tooth,” Markson said in a frightening, calm, matter-of-fact voice.

“Hey… what the hell?” Sam pleaded in desperation as the three closed in on him. “Come on guys. Don’t blame me, I didn’t steal anybody’s lunch.”