awkwardly

Wednesday

about me

Critiques of Trailer of the Temptress by Zoetrope workshop members

Zoetrope online writers workshop is a defunct site that was run by Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope All-Story.

    Greg T. --  i liked the story, but i believe there are some aspects of
    it you could change to make it more affective. dialogue was
    the main problem. you need more dialogue between you and
    the first two characters. without it, they weren`t
    believable. you observed a lot about them (physical traits,
    enviroment, etc.), but i found it hard believing they were
    real people. put life into them. that`s your job as a
    writer. it could be my opinion, but descriptions don`t make
    characters affective. actions do. 
    i enjoyed the incorporataton of fairy tales into the
    encounters with the characters. it put a refreshing twist
    on the story. sometimes i felt it was a little vague.
    incorporation, like the kind you did in your story, is
    hard. to make it affective, is twice as hard. my suggestion
    to you would be to work on clarity and fluidity. 
    your puncuation was pretty good overall, but watch how you
    use those commas. one problem i saw was with placement in
    between adjectives describing a noun. if the adjective
    describes the noun separately use a comma. if it doesn`t
    there`s no need. spelling was also a problem in a few
    places too. i have the same problem. work on it. 
    the best advice i can give you is read, read, read! great
    books are never hard to find. learn from the masters. good
    luck! 
    p.s. don`t take what i say too seriously. i don`t. 


    Victor Z -- Very interesting and
    entertaining story. I specially enjoyed how you mingled the
    magical characters in our more mundane world. 
    Just a couple of observations. There are a few sentences
    that you begin with "and", cardinal sin. There is also once
    sentence that I`ve reprinted below that needs to be
    reworked. You`ve linked to many things together with too
    many "ands". 

    And the shelves were covered with German cuckoo clocks and
    kissing Dutch tots and glass kittens cleaning themselves
    and ceramic figurines of anorexic faeries holding flowers
    and golden angels blowing trumpets and purple plastic Happy
    Meal gorillas and three issues of Popular Mechanics and a
    broken remote control for a TV that`s been gone 15 years
    and more ceramic figurines and glass hearts and fake orange
    flowers and wooden clothespins. 

    You`ve got an imaginative and entertaining style, good luck
    with your story. 


    Betty A -- I like it! However, I do
    find many "ly" ending words and suggest they be removed or
    find a method to use vivid verbs to replace them. Also, I
    noticed many tense shifts as "pull" should have been
    pulled. 

    Overall a delightful story. 


    David E -- Rob, the writing is
    definitely of professional standard. The idea is terrific. 

    But the criterion that matters in any fantasy is the reader
    is able to suspend disbelief during the course of the
    story. 

    Too much weirdness, too quickly, spoils the taste. Somebody
    clever once told authors that they should be content with
    "one big lie" in each story. 

    I was sucked in totally by the troll, but had lost the plot
    by the time I got to the temptress. 

    I genuinely think you`re on to a terrific idea. But I also
    think that any one of your favourite weirdos would make a
    better story than the whole lot put together. 

    Incidentally, I think your last line is very, very good. 


    Michael F -- I enjoyed this story
    because of its satisfactory blending of the mundane and the
    fantastic (meals on wheels being delivered to goblins,
    etc.). I often find the everyday world feels fantastic and
    supernatural when you really look at it in a certain way,
    so there was something pleasing about the way the author
    mixed the two. I also appreciated the author`s basic prose
    skills. Northrup is obviously a very experienced writer or
    a very talented beginner, because the prose flowed smoothly
    and never felt over or under-written. There were no
    howlers, groaners or reaching for effect. It takes either a
    lot of practice or a tremendous amout of raw talent to
    write prose that seems so effortless. What I found wanting
    in the story was -- to put it simply -- a story. Once the
    author set the scene I waited for something to happen that
    would engage me or make me care what was going to happen
    next. I know that many writers are mood or language
    oriented and disdain plot, but I find that the best mood
    pieces have some kind of dramatic tension underpinning
    them, and I felt the lack of that here. Despite the good
    writing and engaging, imaginative locale described, I found
    my mind wandering about 3/4 of the way through, because
    there was no realy story to engage me. However, I do
    appreciate the talent and skill that went into this work,
    and the piece worked for me 75% even without a story, which
    is saying something. 


    Larry S -- 

    Things of note: 
    >this wide flowering shrub 
    A mention of type of shrub perhaps ... this seems kind of
    flat (I do it often myself). 

    >And the shelves were covered ... 
    This is one whopper of a sentence. I could have read it
    better had it been broken up a bit. 

    >Strong girl if you carry goats for me 
    I guess I hadn`t guessed the narrator was a girl 
    up to now. Was that intentional? 

    >The trailers near the front of Sunshine Court 
    This paragraph contained what I thought was well 
    done description. 

    General Impression: 
    You have some passages that give very good description. 
    I think you help engage sparks of imagination in all of us.

    I believe the story may have began better if the troll`s 
    existence was dropped on the reader almost immediately. 
    He/she would then have known right away that this story 
    held something unusual. 

    I didn`t see enough dialog to comment much. The 
    characters could have been described more. I was 
    well into the story before I had any vision of the 
    main character, and only received scant details of 
    most other characters. 

    Thanks for the excursion into the land of imagination. 


    gina F B -- I thought this was a
    great story. Very imaginative with the right abmount of
    reality mixed in to make it totally believable. I thought
    the voice of the narrator was great, the language used was
    perfect. I really liked all the imagery and dialogue. The
    part where you used the run-on sentance to describe the
    trolls nik-naks was perfect, really gave the impression of
    a crowded junk shop. In my opinion the section with the 150
    year old woman and the troll were the best. For some reason
    I didn`t think the middle shut-in was as developed as it
    could have been. I liked your ending, thought it fit really
    well.  

Criticism of "godfella"

Jason S. -- Wow, maybe wowsers... This was a really great story, the man took a joke and worked it out to over 3,000 words, and it kept the punchline going throughout, keeping it funny instead of suicidally depressing. I thought the ending was pretty interesting, almost a pick me up, you`re left thinking maybe this fellows life could pick up a little after standing up to this grubby jerk who ransacks his apartment. I look forward to seeing any of this guys future works, in fact, Rob, let me know where you get published so I can pick up some of your stuff. In other words, good job guy.

Colin R. -- This is disgusting blasphemy, and I hope you burn in Hell for daring to put it on the page! 
Naaah! But I bet you'd get a few of those if this was published in the open. I have.

Great opening Rob, really caught me and got me laughing. There were lots of funny lines - particularly those which seemed to portray Paul as suffering, rather than being in awe of, the presence of his god - but a few of them passed me by. "Bruno"; why? To get a laugh, it should have some significance, and I couldn`t see it. I`d have got him to explain it more himself.

There are some clever observations hidden away in there, too. "Those who say they came out even are lying ..." etc, being one.

Criticism? Shame about the on-screen formatting, of course, but apart from that, there was nothing seriously wrong with the writing. The section with Kelly Terliss was quite powerfully written, but it felt too out of place in the middle of this comedy.

I dunno how much of a joke and how much of a piss-take the ending was supposed to be, but it made me laugh all the same. It fitted, in a bizarre sort of way, and god knows how else you could have ended it. Maybe with Paul not giving a shit, but Kelly dying in the bath then - bring the whole thing down with a nasty bump.

Weird, but it made me smile.


Dennis L. -- Decent writing, but the last few sentences changed the tone of the whole story, which is what I`m sure you intended. It`s too bad because you had an interesting story here, but maybe you didn`t know how to end it? The concept of God and religion is a touchy subject for many people, and I`m sure this will insult some readers. But you can`t please everyone. I liked the underlying humor and the flow. I would give it an ending, though, because I was beat up by everyone in grade school and want to know how I should take myself out.


Todd S. -- You kind of ran outta gas there, huh? At the end I mean. It reminds me of me, actually. I`m a great premise or set up man, but plot comes a little more difficult. I like your God here. He`s suitably bizarre. This is the second "weird god" story I`ve read on this site in two days ( the other is in a story called "a funny thing happened on the way to evolution" or something like that.) Well, you need some more conflict. I say, your God here is a betting kind of fellow. How about having the narrator make some sort of bet with god to make his life better? Some sort of Murphy`s Oil soap guzzling contest or something. Or arm wrestling. Something pretty childish. God can end up getting his ass handed to him. Or maybe the narrator can ask God how many times *he* got beat up in grade school. I`m betting a lot. Who wants to be friends with stupid god boy. Yeah, I`d cheat off his test paper, but it`d be wedgie city for the almighty.


Diane B. -- Well, Rob, you definitely gave it to us in the end, but I hope this isn`t your usual way of ending stories..lol. You won`t get many followers of your stories in the future.

Your dialogue was good. It was realistic. Your characterization was strong and vivid. I could visualize the events as they were taking place--sometimes too well..lol.

I was a little queasy over the old olives and the Murphy`s Oil Soap. Being a Southern Baptist, I felt like I was being sacreligious the whole time I was reading the story...lol.

I think if you really worked on the end and made a real point to the story, it could be a good one. I don`t think all ends should be tied up in a story, but you need to have it go somewhere, have a direction, or make a point, and ending this one as you did, didn`t do that.

You have talent and the basic skills to write great stories with solid characters and a plot that flows. Good luck with it. 

Stories

Buckaroo Banzai in the Lesterverse
http://h2g2.com/entry/A5781323

Wreck of the S.S. Neglected
http://h2g2.com/entry/A8319963

My Terrifying, Dry Warrior

Chapter One: Francis Gives Gus the Finger
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34569156

Chapter Two: Kidding the Buddha
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570271

Chapter Three: Crushed Gus
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570424

Chapter Four: Dry Ice
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570668

Chapter Five: Live and Let Dry
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570839

fangboy

godfella

Grunyon (unfinished, rated T for Teen)

The Myth of the Mountain Tree
http://h2g2.com/entry/A421354

Vampire in the Mountain Tree
http://h2g2.com/entry/A421417


Suburban Lanes (novella)

Trailer of the Temptress
http://h2g2.com/entry/A398748

Trapping Beaver (unfinished)

Truckin
http://evilbobdayjob.blogspot.com/2014/03/truckin.html

Yet Another Creation Myth
http://evilbobdayjob.blogspot.com/2014/03/yet-another-creation-myth-as-told-to.html

"Dismal bookstore event under Livonia"
Story I posted on Amazon author blog which I can't find a copy of.


radio plays:
Brazen Hearts, Fresh, On Sticks
bloody goblin love story podcast

The Radcliffe Project by Robert Levi
Audio commentary to second Harry Potter movie, in which the narrator describes the hidden messages planted by Chris Columbus, J.K. Rowling and Time Warner to prevent Mr. Levi from marrying the star of the film, Daniel Radcliffe. 2005.
http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/15238


Pat Benatar Interviews Rainbow Brite
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZrLb3kzS4Q

One-Upsmanship Mates!
[lost]

critiques of my stories:
godfella
Trailer of the Temptress

Saturday

Reasons why you should get it on with Marvin Gaye, in order from his weakest argument to strongest

1. My body wants it. My body wants it.
2. I ain't gonna worry.
3. Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on.
4. Since we've got to be, let's live. [And by "live," I mean get it on.]
5. I won't push you, baby.
6. We're all sensitive people with so much to give.
7. There's nothing wrong with me loving you.
8. Nothing wrong with love.
9. You are hearing this request in the form of a serenade from Marvin Gaye, a very good looking guy.

Sunday

Non-Fiction archive

Furniture Strumpets and Debit Card Toilets

DIY Intelligent Design

Activist Judge

FUCK TEXAS
or try the original grainy pamphlet version of fuck texas!


How To Write A Bad Movie
Event Horizon
John Carpenter's Vampires
Meet Joe Black
John Hughes' Underdogs Only Win If They're Bitches

Ken Burns' Jazz Ain't That Bad

Peanuts Grow Underground
Questioning and celebrating the darker side Of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts Mythos

Porn Pundit
Essay written in character of a fairy munchkin named Bosun Chubris, probably not safe for work

punkasfudge
a search for subbacultcha

Rage Against The Medicine

RYSABL!
anti-lawncare activism

Subj: FWD: Instructions For Life -- Tantra Luck
with rebuttal

What Would Linus Do?
2000 voter's guide to Peanuts & Scooby-Doo

h2g2 (Hitchhiker's Guide entries)

Jackson, Michigan, USA

The Ann Arbor Hash Bash, Michigan, USA

Waffle House Restaurants

The Secret To Winning Friends Discovered Through Mercenary Bell-Ringing

Kucinich, rhymes with spinach
http://h2g2.com/entry/A2274428

Awesome South American Writers Whose Names I Can Never Keep Straight
http://h2g2.com/entry/A778520

The Eyes of Our Savior
http://h2g2.com/entry/A601192

Zaphodista Army of Cybernautic Liberation
http://h2g2.com/entry/A520769

movie reviews & interpretations on h2g2

Chick Movies of the Tragic Chinese Variety
http://h2g2.com/entry/A811081

Fried Green Tomatoes with Boys On The Side
http://h2g2.com/entry/A1018306

Lilo & Stitch - the Best Disney Movie for macho guys
http://h2g2.com/entry/A954470
[I later reworked this idea into Lysistrata & Stitch for Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzation.]

Movies that capture "The Horror of Childhood"
http://h2g2.com/entry/A720721

Subtext Ahoy!
http://h2g2.com/entry/A585786

Selling Points - movies mentioned in blog
Snake People (1968) (15 JUL 2004)
Death Ride To Osaka (1983) (2 JUL 2004)
The Hulk (5 JAN 2004)

Audio/Video

Brazen Hearts, Fresh, On Sticks
Chick Lit takes a Critical Hit in the bloody goblin love story podcast. Josie is a typical young goblin, selling freshly grilled human hearts outside the mall, trying to survive her ruthless family, and pining after that dreamy hobgoblin who just stomped into town. In each chapter, she describes part of her story to you, another human whose heart she will soon be selling on a stick.

Dungeons and Dayjobs podcast
Me and whoever I can rope into it, reading fantasy and sci-fi stories from the collection pictured below. Started Jan 2007.

The Radcliffe Project
Audio commentary to second Harry Potter movie, in which the narrator describes the hidden messages planted by Chris Columbus, J.K. Rowling and Time Warner to prevent Mr. Levi from marrying the star of the film, Daniel Radcliffe. 2005.
http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/15238

Pat Benatar Interviews Rainbow Bright
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZrLb3kzS4Q


video
Deidzoeb on YouTube
That's me. Lots of mashups, a few songs, a few crochet demonstrations, some vlogs.

Melsbasketcase on YouTube
Cats and baby sasquatches and grey aliens and mental health and politics and vlogging by Melinda.

A few more stories posted on h2g2

Buckaroo Banzai in the Lesterverse
http://h2g2.com/entry/A5781323

Wreck of the S.S. Neglected
http://h2g2.com/entry/A8319963

My Terrifying, Dry Warrior

Chapter One: Francis Gives Gus the Finger
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34569156

Chapter Two: Kidding the Buddha
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570271

Chapter Three: Crushed Gus
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570424

Chapter Four: Dry Ice
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570668

Chapter Five: Live and Let Dry
http://h2g2.com/entry/A34570839

fangboy

SINGLE WICCAN FEMALE (SWF), 22, seeks fangboy, not too ripe (15-25), for nocturnal adventures, trading notes on the occult lifestyle. Other interests include indie film, hiking, making candles. Leila, #1332.
This ad caught my eye cause I was in the right age range, sorta. I asked Tod, "Nocturnal means night-time, right?" He said, "Yeah, lemme see," and took the paper. "This one, nocturnal adventures? Sure that looks good. At the start of the ad she sounds like she might be too much for you, but if she's into movies and hiking and candles, she ain't much to worry bout." "So, um, should I study up on racing movies so she'll think I'm into em too?" "Racing-? No, man, that's independent movies. She likes little arthouse movies and French shit that nobody else goes to see. Naw, don't study up on that shit. If you don't know anything about it, that makes her feel like an expert in her field. Don't worry about any her interest, Dennis. The kinda people that write these ads can't get a date with anybody they work with or people they know, so they take a little time out from their desperate masturbating to write a ad. You could be a young Republican stockbroker that never watches movies, has asthma attacks on hikes and gets hives from candle smoke. She'll still snuggle her ass up to you, as long as you seem like you read vampire books." "Tod, what's a Republican again? That's like Nixon, right?" "Yeah, like Nixon. They're the bad guys. Aw shit, you don't even know who the presidents were the last twenty years. If she talks about anything like that, just say you don't follow politics. Or sports. And you don't watch much TV or movies. "I'm tryin to think of shit she might talk about that would blow your cover. Uh, Clinton, the president right now is Bill Clinton. A lot of people hate him, but he kinda admitted he smoked weed in college, so he's okay." "No shit?" "What else is big, lemme think. . .Russia fell apart. They're alright now, for the most part. Umm, wars -- you need to know about the Gulf War. Irock is this country in the Mid-East. Dude: we tore their shit up. It was like a hundred thousand of them died and only two or three hundred of us." "Wow. Hey, what happened about Nam?" "Oh, they finally just got sick of us getting stomped so they pulled our guys out and the Commies took over." "Wow. What else? I won't be able to remember all these wars! What can I do?" "No, that's about all really. Other than that, it's just invasions like Grenada and Panama, uhh, something around South America, um, the Falkland Islands, that's the one. . ." "Okay, so we had a war in Irock, we surrendered in Nam, and we invaded South America and where else?" "Forget it, forget it. You're fifteen, you don't have to know any of that. She'll think most of that happened while you were in diapers. What we gotta do that's more important is teach you to be a modern day fifteen year old kid." So Tod put the radio on this buzzing shit and he started digging through his guest bedroom closet and pulling stuff out for me. I asked if the speakers on his hi-fi were blown, but he said that's the way the music is these days. He yelled at me to pay attention to it, but the only good ones were Sheryl Crow and Blues Traveller. (Is that what they call "Blues" these days?) After I complained enough, he turned it to a "Classic Rock" station (Ha!) and said I could claim I like that stuff. "Tell her you listen to your parents' old records, Beatles and Hendrix and The Doors and whatever." "Bachman-Turner Overdrive, man!" "No, look, you don't want to sound like too much of an expert when you're only 15. Just mention a couple bands, not too many." Tod tossed a black turtleneck and black slacks on the bed, then thought better of it and put back the turtleneck. "That Goth shtick is about worn out. How's this?" He held a blue-gray shirt that would make me look from a distance like a bare-chested zombie. I put it back in the closet for him and rummaged through on my own. "I just need advice on how to pick up women, Tod, I don't need you to dress me." A lot of the crap in his closet was silly stuff I wouldn't wear: a cop's uniform, dresses, skirts, t-shirts from rock concerts by demonic sounding bands like "Tesla" and "Motorhead" and "Styx." On one side wall of the closet there was even a suit of blue and orange fur. Tod said he lost the bulldog head somewhere along the way, but it had come from a high school football mascot. She had worn leotards under the mascot suit so her movement wouldn't be restricted. The leotard he kept in a more special place. Finally I found a white dress shirt with a strange collar, just straight up like a priest's collar. Kinda like the collar on a Nehru jacket.. It was too big for me, but that just made it baggy around my chest and blousy around the arms. Tod said baggy pants were stylish these days, but he wasn't sure about shirts. "That don't matter. I like it. Now what's next. Will you call her for me?" Tod said, "Don't be fuckin stupid. You want me to kill her for ya too? Don't even gimme that look. It won't happen. Just take her ad and call the number and work off the ad. "Come on, let's get right to it," Tod said, waving me through the kitchen and into his big living room with the vaulted ceiling. He bumped me onto the end of his pillowy brown couch, right next to the phone. "Just look at the ad and tell her shit about yourself that the ad makes you think of."\ I looked over the ad again and said, "Okay, so I'll dial this number and say HI, can I speak to Leila? And-" "It's gonna be a recording. Christ, you're a walking flashback. Listen, man, it's a recording. Everything's a recording these days. You'll call this number and you'll hear a sexy, plastic, secretary voice tell you 'Hello and welcome to the Meridian Greensheet's VoiceBox Dateline.' Then it'll tell you to press a button for men seeking women or a different button for women seeking men or couples seeking swingers or weirdos seeking pets. You type in her number and it'll play you a little message of hers, prob'ly word for word what her written ad said, and then it'll beep and you'll say: . . ." Tod rolled his hands at me like beckoning more words out of me in a game of charades. "Um, okay, I say Hi Leila, um, I saw your ad here, in the Greensheet. Okay, about me, I'm uh 15 and I have curly light brown hair and green eyes-" Tod stopped pacing to say, "We're gonna change your hair, Dennis, so don't tell her that." "No, you're not! My hair is fine like this! Jenny always liked it!" "Fuck, man, Jenny was twenty years ago. You're way outta style. She's gonna be lookin for a young Tom Cruise and you're gonna show up with a lopsided afro like you're tryin to be Peter Frampton!" "Who's Tom Cruise? No, never mind. I'm keepin my hair like this and that's all there is to it." "Fine, whatever." Tod was pacing again. I stared at the ad, repeating, "Hi Leila, saw your ad in the Greensheet. My name's Dennis. I'm five foot six, CURLY LIGHT BROWN HAIR and green eyes, and what else do I say? I don't know what to tell her, Tod." "Look at the ad and talk about it. Say you like candles even when it's not a candle-light dinner, and you like going out late at night. Just follow it down the list of shit she says and think of how they might involve things you like to do. What's the first words on her ad?" "Single wiccan female. What's wiccan?" Tod turned from his east-west pacing route across the living room to drop to his knees in the pillowy brown La-Z-Boy and slam his fist on top of the chair back like a moslem angrily bowing towards Mecca, hollering, "Jesus Henry Christ on a pogo stick! You're hopeless! There's no fuckin way! How can I teach you all this shit to stay in character like a modern 15 year old when you're so fuckin flighty and useless! It's not that you're stupid, man, I know you got some brains clattering around in there. But the only fresh knowledge they seem capable of picking up is fuckin Mario Superkart and what your stinky, old, dead hippy bands created after you settled in for your God damn li'l beauty sleep!" I put my chin on my fists and pouted at that point, but couldn't stay mad when he jumped off his big chair to face me and screamed, "No more Credence! You don't play any more of my fuckin Credence albums for the rest of this year, you got it?! I ain't no Fortunate One havin to listen to you play that fuckin 'Down on the corner! Out in the street!' fuckin over and over! I don't wanna hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama com and take me by the hand!" He was actually caught up in the song with all his raving, so I jumped up and tried to sing the low part without my voice cracking: "By the hand (hand) take me by the hand (pretty mama!) Dance with your daddy all night long!" Tod wouldn't have it. "No," he told himself, walking across the coffee table and arm chair, "it don't matter. This ain't rocket science, it's just trappin beaver. Even you can handle this. Get down off there! Like I need your damn dirty shoes up on my God damn davenport." "What's a davenport?" Tod shoved me down on the sofa again and explained, "A Wiccan is a person who practices the religion of Wicca. The religion is basically an excuse to say God is a woman. They claim that witches have worshipped nature spirits and the Great Mother Goddess for a million years, so they burn candles and incense and sing and dance and wave wands and enjoy their menses. (Don't fuckin ask me what menses is, boy, go talk to yo mama!) It also fits perfectly with feminism, by coincidence. So anyhow, the ones I've met are either way into feminist politics -- which means they're as friendly as a cold pick axe -- or they're the type that wants to dance nekkid in the woods. That's what your babe here sounds like. "You don't need to know everything about how it works, cuz she'll clue you in and probably want to convert you. Man, really, I can't be there on your date to help you out. So I'm just gonna walk out of the room, let you make the call, and you'll stand or fall on your own merit. Okay?" After five minutes I went into his bedroom to find him trying to read Rolling Stone. He said, "Well?" "Do you think I should say Hi or Hello at the start of the call? Or should I be cute and say Howdy or something?" ... ... EPILOGUE Leila peeked around the corner of her cubicle after Mr. Jeffries settled into his office for the morning. She ducked low so her topknot wouldn't be seen floating over the tops of the cubicle walls, and snuck over to Tina. She couldn't really confide in her middle-aged co-workers about her strange nightlife. But Tina was young and hip and had to take the ring out of her eyebrow before coming to work every morning. "Tina!" she whispered, leaning around the wall. "Yeah, how'd your date go with the teeny bopper?" Tina said, still staring at the document she was entering data from beside her terminal. When Leila said nothing for a moment, Tina turned to face her. Leila was pulling back her black turtleneck and showing a big bruised scab a the place where her neck met her collarbone. "He gives the most righteous hickeys!" END.

godfella

(c)1999 by Rob Northrup

Awakened by a jostling at the foot of his bed, Paul was disturbed to discover that The Lord God Almighty had fucked-up teeth. It wasn't enough that He sat on the edge of Paul's bed in a glowing human form, or that He was drinking the juice from an old jar of olives Paul had lost in his fridge. Even the stunning fact that Almighty God was a stocky, mean-looking, black-haired youth instead of a bearded old fogey failed to be as stunning as His fucked-up teeth. The overbite was barely noticable, but all His teeth were jagged and sharp, the canines setting forward from the rest, one of the bottom front teeth tilted sideways and inward.

"I am your Lord God Almighty," He said, and waited for it to sink in. Then He rested.

Paul squinted. For no particularly solid reason, he knew it was God sitting in front of him. But there was a tiny millisecond of doubt when common sense made Paul think, This is all just a dream. Then God took another swig from the olive jar, and the potent smell of fermented olives climbed up his nostrils. Paul's dreams were never vivid enough to include fragrances. He decided he wasn't asleep, and it was very definitely God sitting in front of him.

The Lord God Almighty slurped at the last of the juice from the olive jar and selected an olive to chew on. He spit the pimento back into the jar and mumbled, "Ya see, Pauly, I decided I'm gonna give you a break. Figured I'd just pop in here to your place and tell you the Secret of Life, so you can kill yourself now and be done with it. I know it's earlier than you prefer to wake up, but I figure, why let you waste another day? We'll just nip it in the bud before the day even gets going."

There was really no reason for Paul to believe this character on the end of his bed was God, in fact there were a lot of reasons to believe He wasn't. The glowing aura wasn't awe-inspiring enough to really prove He was God, since it was kinda dim. Would God be the kind of being who would sit wiht only one butt-cheek on Paul's oak leaf and duck pattern bedspread? For that matter, why would God choose to visit Paul at all? Let alone to tell Paul the Secret of Life?

"Seeee--ahem--Secret of Life?" Paul croaked, his throat filled with phlegm.

"Yeah," the Lord God Almighty said, spitting another pimento into the jar, then sucking another olive out. "The secret of life that tells why you're here. The answer to all questions of philosophy and religion and crap like that. You ready for it?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm awake." Realizing he would be up for a while, Paul pulled his glasses off the nightstand and fumbled them on his face. "What did you say your name was again?" Paul asked, scratching a pimple on his lower back.

This was enough to make the Lord God Almighty stop chewing and look steadily at Paul. With a frown worthy of a supreme being, the glowing figure at the end of Paul's bed spit another pimento into the olive jar and said, "Bruno. Call me Bruno. I'm sure you've heard some of my aliases like 'Allah,' 'Yahweh,' 'Jehovah,' 'Zeus,' 'Ra,' 'Lord,' 'God,' 'Godhead,' 'Godfella,' 'the Godmeister,' 'God of Abraham,' sound familiar? Just skip all that malarky and call me Bruno."

Paul thought that such a momentous occasion as meeting God should be sealed by a handshake (if Gid would permit it). But his father had taught him to always stand up when shaking hands with someone, and to do that would mean getting out from under the covers and standing in front of God wearing nothing but Fruit of the Looms. "Okay, Bruno, uh, sir--I mean, your honor," Paul said. "What's that you were saying about the Secret of Life?" Paul was also curious about the God's idea that he might kill himself, but thought it better not to ask.

"Yes, well, the Secret of Life is this-" Bruno began, and quickly swallowed the olive He had just started, pimento and all. After making a sour face, Bruno the Lord God Almighty said, "The quality of your life, and all the events in the course of your life, are determined by the fights you have when you're in elementary school."

With that final tidbit tipping the scales to an overload of nonsense, Paul felt the urge to go back to sleep. It would be rude to go to sleep when God is trying to talk to you though, and maybe deadly if He was as jealous and temperamental as some of His followers claimed. Paul blinked at the digital clock that showed 5:46, struggling to keep his eyes open. "When you say 'fights,' you mean the struggles and tribulations that I faced as an elementary school student?"

"No, I mean the fights. Like fisticuffs. Knock-down, drag-out punching and kicking and hurting with occasional biting." Bruno set the olive jar on the floor near the cornerpost of the bed.

"Okay." Paul stared at the thick, dark V where the deity's eyebrows ran together over His nose. Paul's mind reeled backwards and missed the point again. "So what does the fighting in school mean again?"

As angry as Bruno looked, He didn't let Paul's bleary thinking affect His mood. "The fights in elementary school determine how well the rest of your life goes. If you won the fights on the playground, you win at the rest of your life. If you lost those crucial childhood fights, then you lose at every major life event for the rest of your days."

There was no question of how this secret applied to Paul. He had lost every fight in school. He had been beaten on the playgrounds, in between classes, during classes when the teacher wasn't looking, during classes when the teacher was looking, even on the busrides home.

But it sounded like such a shabby way to determine the fate of human lives, Paul had to refute the idea. "What about people who win some and lose some? Their life turns out so-so?"

Bruno shook His head with brief, tight movements. "Doesn't happen. Nobody wins some and loses some. There is no middle ground. Childhood fistfights have only winners and losers. The people who claim they came out even are lying, because they're losers." God licked His gray lips and looked back at the olive jar, now full of little, red, glistening, maggot-shaped pimentos. "You got any pretzels around? Eagle brand especially..." He looked back through the wall toward Paul's kitchenette and said, "Aha! Crunchy chow mein noodles! I'll be right back!" God trotted out the door of Paul's bedroom.

The course of human lives, Paul pondered, are determined by whether they win or lose their childhood fights? "Like how much of a person's life is determined? I mean, exactly how important is it that you win those fights? Does it kick you up into a higher tax bracket, or does it just boost you a little, or does it get you one better job? Or does it, like, make you really win at everything, like money, women, happiness, paradise?"

"Everything," Almight God Bruno said when He finally returned from Paul's kitchen cupboard with the crunchy chow mein noodles. "You win those fights, your life is great. Jimmy Stewart picked on every boy, girl and teacher at his school until he kicked all their asses twice each. You know why Katie Couric smiles so much? She killed a class full of kids when she was in fifth grade. Her family moved and changed their names, and now she can't stop smiling for an instant. Arnold Schwarzeneggar systematically burned down five Austrian schoolhouses when he was nine years old.

"On the other hand, Pauly, you got beat up by Neal Omus in kindergarten; Jenny Lasky and Brian Eberhart in first grade; Benny Charles, Olaf Stevenson, Sally Taffeta, John Perez-"

"Yeah, all right, I get the picture!" Paul ground his teeth and looked at the corner of his bedroom away from God. He considered the many battles of his childhood, all losses. From the first time he was knocked down by a neighbor girl at age three, he had never won a fight. His usual strategy was to run away, though he was rarely fast enough. But what was he supposed to do? He had always been scrawny, born scrawny when his mother popped him out of the womb three months early. The quality of his life had been determined by the dozens of fights he couldn't help losing as a boy? Paul looked into God's beady eyes and said, "That's bullshit."

"Oh no, it's true," God said, looking infinitely sincere.

"I mean, it's a bullshit way of doing things. It's not fair!"

God Bruno grew bored with the plain chow mein noodles, so He strolled back toward the other room for something to dip them in, saying, "I know. I wasn't reaaly thinking of the justice of it all when I set it up this way. You know, this place looks pretty bare. You oughtta get some posters or some cheap art prints. Maybe some sculpture?"

"So what were you thinking when you set up life this way?" Paul threw off the bedspread with brown ducks all over it and followed the Lord God Almighty into the other room. Then he remembered he was still wearing only his Fruit Of The Looms, and thought he should put something on. But it was God he was about to go yell some more at, the Creator of Paul's underwear and all they contained. He stormed off to confront his Creator.

"I honestly wasn't thinking about how it would affect you people," God said, digging His fist into the can of chow mein noodles and dipping fist and all into a small jar of Murphy's Oil Soap. "It was a long time ago. I was young. You know, 'the Folly of Youth.' I was just fiddling around and thought it'd be fun to watch some partially intelligent creatures playing around with each other, and...well, that's not the point. I realize now that it wasn't a very nice thing to do. That's why I'm here trying to clear things up for you. I'm letting you know why your life is the way it is, and how it will be for the rest of your life, so you can decide whether or not to continue it."

Some of Paul's anger flashed away for a moment when he asked, "How will the rest of my life be? Can it get better if I go out and beat up some little kids?"

God chuckled, "No, too late for that. Your life is set, nothing you can do about it now, assuming you follow through and live out the rest of it. It'll go pretty much the same as it has gone so far. No one has ever fallen in love with you. The people you think of as your 'friends' think of you as their 'acquaintance.' You work at the plant making basketball shoes you could never afford to wear. You're always tired and scared and bored and suspecting that you'll come across some good luck a few days down the road. You think you've only had a little streak of bad luck, but it's been running twenty- eight years straight.

"And from that, you can guess how the rest of your life will be." God shovelled more crunchy noodles dipped in oil soap into His mouth, crumbs falling down his t-shirt and onto the crusty vinyl floor.

Paul leaned back against the wall and stared up at the glass light shade on the ceiling and all the dead flies in it. If he could look through walls and wood like God could, Paul would have seen in the apartment above where Kelly Terliss was sitting in her bathtub getting chilly. Kelly was somehow chubby yet flat- chested. She had her dingey blond hair cut short, and some blond hairs over her lip formed a faint but noticable mustache. She never smiled. Everyone thought she was a lesbian, including the guys she hoped would ask her out. She was getting chilly because most of her blood had flowed out the fresh, deep slashes she had made in her forearms after God had visited her. The hot water had numbed her arms a little bit, so she had been fairly comfortable watching the blood make tiny waves in the surface of the bathwater.

After putting a lot of thought into it, Paul was just angry. Questions about the whole situation kept springing to mind, but they all echoed back to feed his anger. Why give humans so much intelligence if He was going to let them beat each other and live out their unjustly earned fates? Why hadn't He killed off everyone long ago? Where did He get the nerve to pull this kind of bullshit? Then Paul thought of a more personal question, and shouted it: "Why are you telling me all this? What's in it for you?"

"Like I said, I was feeling a little compassionate today, so I'm granting pardons to a few thousand people. You seemed pitiful enough that I decided to let you in on the whole thing so you can get out of it if you want." God up-ended the can over His mouth to get all the last little, broken pieces and flakes of noodles.

Paul walked to the front door and swung it open.

"If you're thinking of going up to the roof to dive off, I'd recommend against it." God wiped His mouth with the back of His hand. "This building's not high enough. You'll break a lot of bones, but you won't die from it. Try something like-"

"Get out," Paul interupted, standing beside the open door. "I'm not going anywhere. You are."

It took a minute for God to close His mouth again and regain His composure. He shrugged and walked slowly out the door. "You're right. I got more people to see. Uh, goodbye, I guess." The Lord God Almighty stopped at the threshold and turned back to face His creation. "Say, if the suicide goes wrong for some reason, don't bother telling anybody we had this little conversation, okay? It'll only make things worse for you. They'll think you're whacked, and they'll put you away."

"Right, well, thanks for all you've done," Paul said as the door flew out of his hand and thumped shut. What gall! he thought. Paul turned the key in the lck, clicked the deadbolt into position and trudged over to lean against his eighteen inch wide kitchenette counter. He stared at his bare feet on the vinyl floor and saw all the crumbs and handfull of chow mein noodles God had dropped.

What a slob, Paul thought. He breaks into my place, wakes me up, tells me that not only is my existence pointless but that it's pointless by design, pre-destined to be shitty, then eats my fuckin food and doesn't bother cleaning up after Himself!

In the end, Paul was left angry with a vaguely empty feeling, like the way you feel when you realize this is The End and the loose ends aren't all tied off to your satisfaction. But Paul also felt happy and a little powerful for having yelled at God and thrown Him out of the apartment, like the way I feel to have fucked you over with this ending.

And that was enough.

THE END.

The Myth of the Mountain Tree

The Myth of the Mountain Tree
http://h2g2.com/entry/A421354

Vampire in the Mountain Tree
http://h2g2.com/entry/A421417

Suburban Lanes

Suburban Lanes is a set of connected scenes I wrote in 1992 or 1993 that I thought would be my first novel but wasn't that long. Instead of chapter titles, I listed lane numbers that correspond with each set of characters, and frame numbers to indicate how they were connected in time. If you read all the scenes for "Lane One," you'd follow the same characters through their part of the story. All of the scenes in the "First Frame" would show events of different characters happening at roughly the same time. If you like what you see below, you can read the rest in my short story collection Dungeons and Dayjobs in paperback or hardcover, Kindle edition and other ebook formats.









First Frame.
Lane One.

Tim listened to the conversation being held on the opposite end of the table from him.  The magazine in front of his face had been open to the same page for the last ten minutes.

"The way I know about it," the woman with black hair continued, "is a friend of mine, Jenny Crenshaw, she had a problem like that."

The woman facing her across the table, a red-head, nodded.  This was the one who commanded most of Tim's attention.

The air rumbled for a moment, then clattered and returned to normal.

"This was when she was a carpenter.  Anyway, she was using a nail-gun, halfway up this ladder.  She was holding the one  board-" here the talker pantomimed what she was describing, "-and stuck the nail-gun up against it between her fingers.  But the nail hit a knot in the wood, so it came up and around through the board, and back through her thumb.  Her thumb was actually nailed to the board."

The red-head cringed.  She leaned towards the table, listening intently.  Her movement did wonderful things to her shoulders and light reddish-blonde curls.  In fact, Tim thought, the movement did wonderful things to her whole torso.  Her face, bright and expressive, set off happy gears inside Tim's head.  He could see the profiles of both girls from where he sat at the end of the table.  He nudged his glasses back up his nose and peered over his magazine.

A softer rumbling spread for a long moment, followed by a quiet knock, the sound Larry and Curly's heads make when Moe cracks them together.

"And the nails they use have barbs so they won't pull out easy.  So she couldn't pull the nail out and slide her thumb off.  She had to cut the head off the nail and jerk her thumb back the rest of the way."

"Eeeuw," the red-head said.

"Only her cutters were on the ground next to the ladder.  So this guy that's been watchin it all comes up and picks up the cutters and starts laughin at her.  Well, she grabs the claw hammer from her tool belt with her free hand, hooks the 
claw under this bastard's collar, and lifts him off the ground.  (She was the Southeastern California Women's Weightlifting Champion.)  So the asshole stops laughin and she drops him and snatches the cutters out of the air.  Then she cuts off the nail-head and yanks her thumb off it."

"Jeez," the red-head added.

Another loud burst of rumbling sounded before an explosion of clattering.

Content with finishing her story, the talker grabbed some M&M's off the table and popped them in her mouth.  The tattered ends of her black hair fell onto her faded denim jacket.  A black patch on the shoulder of her coat read, "MEGADETH."

"Tim!"

The girls both turned to face him.  Tim looked back at them 
in shock.  Then a hand clapped on his shoulder and the girls 
turned back toward each other.

"How the Hell have you bee?" a familiar voice asked.  Tim 
couldn't place the face right away.  The crew cut was 
different, but the round, boyish face and beady brown eyes 
reminded him.

"Perry?"  A few images played through Tim's mind before he 
could remember whether to be glad to see Perry.  A fist-
fight in third grade.  Lazy games of baseball in high school 
gym class.  Laughing through English.  "Uh, what's up?"

The smiling hooligan flipped a chair around backwards beside 
Tim and leaned his chest over the back of it.  "Not much, 
man, not too damn much."  The hard plastic chair was an old 
contoured style, with a wide, curving seat that dug into 
Perry's thighs.  But comfort wasn't his concern.  "How 'bout 
yourself?"

"Oh, uh, not a whole lot, just hanging out after work."  
Tim set the magazine on the table.

"You workin here?  I didn't know you were big into bowling."  
As he spoke, Perry drew a pack of cigarettes from the pocket 
of his flannel shirt.  He poked the pack toward his face and 
caught a stubby, brown cigarette between his lips.

"No, no, I'm an assistant librarian downtown.  I don't bowl 
much."  Tim crossed his arms and added, "No thanks," when 
Perry held out the pack.

A ball thumped and rumbled down a lane, then slid into a 
gutter.  Someone grumbled, "God-" and trailed off muttering.

Perry fumbled a book of matches from his pocket, nodding.  
"That's cool.  You got a consistent gig there?"  After 
lighting his cigarette (or is that big enough to be a cigar?, 
Tim wondered.  Do cigars come in packs like that?), Perry 
rose from his chair and appropriated an ashtray from half-
way down the long table.  "You're not using this, are ya?" 
he asked the girls.  They shook their heads and Perry 
returned to his backwards chair.

"Yeah, it's a real job.  Maybe a half step up from flipping 
burgers, but I like it."  Tim closed the magazine on the 
table.  It was the library's latest copy of Newsweek, with 
an article about the next Star Trek movie.  He hadn't read 
more than two paragraphs of it in the last fifteen minutes.  
"Yeah, I come by here after work sometimes before heading 
home.  The coffee from their vending machine here is better 
than the scum they try to serve at the diner."

Perry leaned his forearms on the table, leaving the stogie 
in a corner of his mouth.  "I thought you lived the other 
side of town, out past the mill?"  The stick of brown pulp 
in his mouth slurred his words a little, so it sounded more 
like "-out paft the miw?"

"Oh yea, I use to, but I'm renting a room from my uncle now.  
His place is another couple blocks this way from downtown."  
Tim took a sip from the paper coffee cup and set it back on 
the table empty.  "I had to get away from my parents.  I 
guess living with one relative is as bad as another, but my 
uncle's okay."

"Hey, if you're making enough to get out of your parents' 
place, you're doing better than a lotta the people we 
graduated with."  Perry tapped ash off his cigarette (or 
whatever it was he was smoking) and stuck it in the corner 
of his mouth.

"That's what I figure."  Tim folded his arms.

Perry nodded.

Tim glanced at the girls down the table.  He returned his 
gaze to the magazine lying on the table.

Perry blew smoke.

Tim asked, "So what have you been doing the last few years?"

"Fixing toilets in freight airplanes."

Tim laughed, but Perry smiled and laughed.  Not deadpan 
enough for it to really be a joke.

"It's funny but not that funny," Perry said.  "I swear to 
God, I'm a plumber for the federal government.  Figured I'd 
be a big-time pilot in the Air Force, right?  Nothing 
physically wrong with me, right?"  Perry leaned back from 
the table and spread his arms out to show himself.

Tim shrugged.  "So what stopped you?"

"I didn't even have to finish the whole physical.  They let me 
leave right after the eye exam."

"They can't be too bad if you don't wear glasses.  Or do you 
wear contacts?"

"No, they're 20/20.  But I'm color-blind.  Evidently there's 
something crucial about distinguishing colors for flying.  
The controls, or identifying enemy aircraft or whatever."

Tim nodded.

"Yep.  That's how it goes.  So I've been dumping Liquid 
Plumber down sinks in Air Force bases and pulling pens and 
combs out of clogged johns for two years."  Perry tapped off 
more ash and switched the cigarette to the other corner of 
his mouth.  "I was thinking about going all the way and bein' 
a Lifer, retire at 44, all that.  It's not as physical or 
restrictive as I thought it'd be.  But I don't want to be 
fixin' toilets for the next thirty years."

Tim nodded, looking at the magazine.

"I'm surprised you didn't go to college," Perry said.

"Oh, well, I am, kind of.  I'm taking a couple classes here 
and there at Kensington Community College."

"Ahhh," Perry said, making the connection of what Tim meant 
when he had said, "kind of."  "So what are you goin for?  
Business degree or something?"

"No.  For now, I'm just taking some music classes.  Symphony 
and Music Composition and Poetry.  Just screwin around, you 
know."

Perry nodded as he inhaled.  "That's right: you were in Band, 
weren't you?"

"Yep."  Tim wondered if Perry would mention the term he used 
back in school: "Band fags."

A rumbling ball smacked into enough pins to make the bowler 
and his buddies cheer.  Tim watched the red-head throw back 
her head laughing at something.  Somehow even the bland 
fluorescent lights here made her hair flash.  She had gray-
brown eyes that complemented her light reddish hair, and 
vaguely reminded Tim of Hobbits.  Not that she was 
particularly short, and he couldn't imagine tufts of fur on 
her feet.  But the colors of her hair and skin and eyes made 
him think of Fall and trees and the Earth, the elemental 
images associated with ground-dwelling Hobbits.

On the other hand, she was sort of stocky, with the kind of 
soft, pudgy-looking muscles that always hide surprising 
strength.  She had the build of a volleyball or softball 
player.

Perry took the stogie from his mouth and blew smoke audibly: 
"Whewww."  He clapped his free hand on his knee and asked, 
"Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?"

Tim shook his head and shrugged, looking down at his magazine 
for the umpteenth time.

"You nerd!" he recalled Perry yelling at him in what must 
have been a sixth grade Science class.  He remembered a time 
when he had hated Perry, but that feeling mellowed into 
nothing after a pile of years.  They had become, if not 
friendly, at least tolerant of each other in the years since, 
eventually talking and joking in some high school classes 
where the only people they had known were each other.

"Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?" Perry 
repeated.

Tim started to say, "No," when he realized that Perry had 
asked the girls at the other end of the table.

"Actually, yeah," the black-haired girl said.  Then she just 
looked at him coldly.

Perry looked back at her for a moment without saying anything, 
then said, "But will it be any good?"  He frowned at her 
seriously, then raised one eyebrow like an inquisitive Vulcan.  
His magic worked on both girls, gradually infecting them with 
smiles, and triggered a boomerang effect that carried a smile 
back around to Tim.

More pins clattered, more people cheered for the strike.  The 
metallic voice of a robot announced, "Countdown intruder," 
from a video game.

The thin woman with black hair leaned back in her chair and 
crossed her arms.  Her smile became a cynical grin.  "Yeah, 
it should be pretty good."  She resumed her purposeful 
silence.

Perry slouched back in his chair and crossed his arms to 
mimic her.  "Well, what do I have to do to coax it out of 
you?"

"I don't know," she said.  "How do I know you aren't going 
to be some trouble-maker that'll puke on the hostess and 
pass out?"

"He can vouch for me," Perry replied, hooking a thumb over 
his shoulder at Tim.

Tim grunted, "Ha!  Until today I haven't seen him in two and 
a half or three years, but I can vouch for him: if you got a 
clogged john-"

"What he means," Perry interrupted, "is that I have a 
reputation of honor and dignity, and a character that is 
untarnished.  Right?  So he vouches for me and there you 
go."

Tim said, "I would have used the word 'character' 
differently."

The red-head laughed and joined in, "And who's going to vouch 
for you?"

Perry said, "I vouch for him!  So, what time does it start 
and where's it at?"

The black-haired cynic tapped her teeth with a red fingernail 
and said, "I don't know. . ."

Perry cocked his head sideways like a puppy dog.  Tim sighed 
with real sadness, feeling this chance slip by.

"If nothing else," the red-head breathed, sitting up 
straight, "they'll keep us amused up until the time they puke 
and pass out."

Tim was giddy, smiling hugely, not quite restraining giggles.  
Going to the same party as the red-head would be wonderful 
enough, but "keeping her amused" would require close 
association.  Tim wanted to associate with her as closely as 
possible.

Still tapping them with a fingernail, the cynic now sucked 
air through her teeth.  She squinted in mock concentration, 
then raised her eyebrows.  "Okay."

Trailer of the Temptress

Yet Another Creation Myth as told to Emmanuel McGillicuddy

I guess what you'd call this here would be a "revelation." It was told to me over the course of something like thirty years by a thing who talked to me. I'm no kind of preacher, and I don't expect no money or nothing. I don't even care if you believe it. All I know is I was told to write this stuff down exactly how The Being thing said, and it's supposedly the truth about the world. It started out like this...
The Being sat in the nothingness, one hand propping up its cheek. With Its free hand, The Being swirled a finger around in the nothingness. The swirling void began to glow, and eventually became somethingness, little bits of stuff spinning and circling and flying away.
The Being sighed for eons. It noticed a speck buzzing away from the swirl in an awkward, loopy pattern. With a closer look, The Being saw that there were little things moving around inside the speck. The little things within the speck bumped around and chattered at each other and disappeared and formed new little things.
"Huh," The Being grunted, in honest surprise. "Neat." The Being held the speck and looked at it. After a short while (about nine thousand years), he understood what they were chattering about.
"Many of our young people now regard these ceremonies as futile," the Captain of the little things said from the Control Room of the speck. The speck was what we would consider to be twenty miles long and about half that wide and tall. The aged Captain continued his weekly sermon, "They say that our world will never move again. Some even say the legends are lies, that we never travelled through the stars and that we have always been stationary. But I derive some satisfaction, some sense of purpose from continuing this procedure. I have faith that one day our world will move again."
Then he recited the prayer to move the world: "Ensign, on my mark, all ahead full."
"Uh, 'full,' sir?" the ensign said.
"Yes, give it warp nine," the descendant of the original Captain specified. "Really push it this time. Doesn't quite seem worth the effort unless we get things shaking, does it?"
The ensign gulped and positioned her fingers over the controls. "Yes, sir."
The Captain allowed the moment to drag out, to test the youth's patience, before saying, "Engage."
The speck shuddered between The Being's gentle fingers and The Being let it go.
"Cool," said The Being, looking around for more specks with unnatural patterns of flight. The Being examined the ever-widening range of chunks and bits of stuff all around.
On one of the bits of stuff, a tiny ball 8,000 miles in diameter, The Being saw boiling juices that formed clouds and fell back to the ball's surface. Within the juices, The Being saw itty-bitty things, tiny even by our standards, bumping around and disappearing and forming new itty-bitty things.
When the juices evaporated more, some of the itty-bitty things decided to live more slowly. They would find dry spots on the ball, spurt up, and eventually wither and fall. These bits didn't seem as excited as the others; they were content to stay in one spot the whole time they lived. They usually came out green, or, if they were the sturdier variety, brown with green tips. Using Its fingernails, The Being carefully plucked a few of the bigger ones and tasted them.
They weren't enough to crunch, barely enough to taste, but The Being lingered over them, staring off into the nothingness. "Could use some salt, but I've tasted worse."
When The Being returned Its attention to the ball, the more excited itty-bitty things had grown a little. They had taken hundreds of shapes, but many had scales. Swarms of them crawled across the dry spots on the ball or slithered through the wet spots. Some of them even jumped into the clouds and waved their appendages until they could stay up longer than the others. The scaly things had lots of fun bumping around and forming new scaly things and devouring each other. In fact, they got quite good at devouring each other, growing just the right appendages and just the right guts for the job, even forming rows of hard, sharp points to tear into each other and break down their food instead of swallowing it whole. An objective observer would almost think they were "designed" for killing and eating each other. They were very sensitive to changes in temperature though, so most of them disappeared when the ball cooled off.
The Being felt an itch and turned Its head all the way around to see a couple pieces of stuff poking at Its back.
"We demand a dialog," one of the pieces communicated. The pieces were each about three light-years across, teeming with living things inside.
The Being shrugged (a strange gesture with Its head turned fully backwards). "Okay."
"How come you made us?" they shouted. "Who are we? What do you want? Is this all there is?"
The Being considered their questions. When The Being answered them hundreds of their generations later, there were more and bigger pieces of audience gathered behind It. "I dunno," The Being answered.
"Not good enough!" the pieces screamed, but The Being ignored them and turned back to the interesting ball.
By then, the squirmy little inhabitants of the ball had begun to assume different forms. One form in particular chattered more and conveyed more complex meanings when it did. The creatures of this form had developed enough that they could think about what they were doing before they did it.
The Being liked them. When they were far enough along to understand, The Being told them how they got there, and tried to tell them how they could be happy.
But by the way they retold the stories to each other, The Being could see that they didn't understand. They heard only what they liked from The Being's stories, and retold only what they wanted to believe.
"Oh well, not quite ready yet," The Being muttered. "Damn!" The Being smaked at the things poking into Its back and scratched the itchy spot back there.
On the ball, the things that still weren't quite smart enough were building elaborate rituals and societies around different distorted versions of The Being's stories. The Being noticed one of the little guys sitting under the green tips of a calm growth. The little guy was thinking about his life. He wanted to know the answers to the same questions those itchy pieces had bitched about (and still were bitching about).
The Being put some ideas in the little guy's head. The gist of the ideas was like this: you live, you die, you won't always be happy, just deal with it and try not to worry about it.
The guy did a fairly good job of conveying the ideas to others, codifying his ideas and adding his own touches to them. The other people called the guy "the Enlightened One," and stretched his ideas in other directions. Some of them inevitably got sidetracked and worshipped the Enlightened One instead of his message. Many of them still believed the distorted versions of the first stories The Being had told. Often people who believed similarly would hang out together, and beat up anyone who didn't believe their way. But the Enlightened One's ideas comforted some people, so it was mostly okay.
The Being noticed how any of the stories or ideas that It gave the people seemed to work the way a pool of liquid works when seeds or pebbles drop into it. The juice forms ripples around the foreign object, and the ripples dissipate in some directions, or react and rebound in other directions.
The Being started another ripple, but planned ahead this time, planting ideas in the mind of a baby. This time The Being's message was: quit fighting; be nice to others and maybe they'll be nice back. The people nicknamed the messenger "the Annointed." he got the idea around fairly well, but more of those same stupid people got involved with spreading his message. The idiots were more concerned about telling everyone "Our message is right and yours is wrong!" Their main message quickly became "worship the messenger," relegating that little detail about "being nice" to an afterthought, if it were mentioned at all. The messenger was shortly put to death, which event his P/R men worked into the story, so that it "proved" their side.
The Being noticed this right away and did something about it almost immediately (500 years later). This time The Being picked a guy named Muhammed. "Let's try this again," The Being thought. "Love, harmony, justice, all that stuff like I said before. Got it?"
More people heard Muhammed's ideas, more were comforted, and of course, some of them split into groups and started to fight with everyone else and each other.
The Being sat back and pondered the situation. Many of the fiesty, little inhabitants of the ball were happier because of the stories. The Being had contacted others besides Muhammed, the Annointed One and the Enlightened One, but none of the others had done much better. Kung-fu-tze, Zoroaster, that whole "Saint Joan" fiasco, hordes of other "saints" and cult leaders.
One thing The Being noticed, upon reflection, was that the contactees or their immediate followers almost always put their stories in writing. People saw the Written Word as more substantial and credible than the Spoken Word, maybe because only academic types wasted time writing things down. Half the time when people argued about it, they would refer to the written account of their faction for "proof" of whatever they believed. They rarely thought about how many hundreds of revisions their written account had gone through before they saw it.
"Maybe..." The Being thought, and sent some ideas to a guy in New York named Joseph Smith. This time, there were plates of gold with words already etched in them. All Joe had to do was translate them with the handy device provided.
Joseph toiled on the translation happily, adding "thee" and "thou" and "unto" to give it more of an ancient sounding pep like the King James Version of some other dramatic stories he had heard (even though Joe was working on it just after 1823).
The Being figured this ready-made story might work better, and would at least make some more people happy. It worked about as successfully as the previous experiments had.
The Being modified the Joe Smith method and enacted a toned-down policy of poking Its ideas into the imaginations of a lot of writers. I asked The Being to list some of them, and It just mumbled, "Oh, I dunno, Vonnegut, Roddenberry, Lennon, uh, Heinlein, that 'e.e. cummings' character, hundreds of 'em.
"Never mind that. The reason I'm telling you-" The Being was silent for half an hour. "Hold on, I gotta do something about this rash. I'll get back to you soon. Don't go dying on me now."
...And that was the last entry in my notebook. I was 28, so that must have been '64 or '65. Naturally The Silly Bugger waits 'til I have arthritis so bad I can hardly hold a pencil before bothering to come back.
You know, I'm really not the "writing" type anyway. I been a plumber for 30 years! But don't make a big deal about it. I mean, don't build any shrines filled with pipe-wrenches or porcelain altars just because of this.
My name is Manny, by the way. Emmanuel McGillicuddy.
Anyway, I never was any good at English back in high school. (The Being helped me with the spelling and grammar on all this. Says my "style" could stand to be improved. I say, "Style this!") That Joker must of known it though, and I still can't figure why It picked me.
But The Being came back finally. Apparently It spent all those years scratching and creating a race of super-duper anti-bodies, each one the size of a galaxy, to fight the infection in Its back.
"Where was I?" The Being asked me from out of nowhere. "Oh yeah. The reason I'm telling you this is that I wanted to get down one last direct revelation, in case this rash gets the better of me. Those pests just won't take 'I don't know' for an answer!"
At that point, I said, "I got a question. My wife wanted to know why you didn't have any women? I mean, why you only told your stories to men."
A few days later (pretty quick response, considering), The Being replied, "To be honest, the women didn't seem to need it as much. Plus, everyone tends to listen to men more, because of the way they've always bullied women. But, no, I've contacted women too, they just never got as much attention. Ever heard of Jennifer Abromowitz?"
"No," I said.
"See what I mean?"
The Being was silent for a few days after that. I got fed up and yelled, "If you're gonna make me wait forever, you could at least do something about this arthritis!" It was gone instantly and I've never had a flare-up since. The winning Lotto tickets I demanded the next day, however, didn't pan out as well.
Two weeks later, The Being spoke up again. "I guess that's about all there is.
"Now, I don't want another one of those circuses springing up around you, so here's what you do. Don't even bother to tell anyone that this is a revelation. With that thing down in Texas a few minutes ago, and that Jim Jones massacre the other day, no one would believe it. And the ones who would believe it are the ones you have to worry about the most.
"What you gotta do is make it all hypothetical somehow, so it might be true or might not, and the people have to figure it out for themselves. Hell, claim it's just a story! Tell 'em it's a piece of fiction, you know, something like that. I'm sure you can come up with something. Say it's a communication from your 'collective unconscious' or some 'Sixties crap like that."
"Uhhh," I stammered, trying to keep talking in the hopes that It wouldn't take another week-long break from the conversation, "I'll just write down what you said."
"Yeah, whatever," The Being replied that same day. "You can publish the whole thing as a short story. I'll try to pull some strings, but you know how editors are..."
"Anything else?" I asked after a while.
Four days later, The Being said, "What the hell. While I'm at it, I may as well set the records straight about Stonehenge and Atlantis and JFK. See, it was all-"
A thundering voice that was not The Being's resonated through everything in the world. It seemed to originate from up above, in the unattainable heavens where these voices always come from. "I don't find any of this amusing," God said.
So I stopped right there.


Truckin

IN GEAR

 Conrad was drifting off to sleep when the 
first five blobs of lead punched through his trailer.  
Another three bullets ripped through the gas tank on 
the left side of his rig.  He wasn't sure where the 
sound was coming from, so he jammed on the airbrakes.  
Only one bullet passed through his cab, but one was 
all he needed.  The bullet came in from the upper 
right corner of the windshield, right where the glass 
met steel, and popped straight through Conrad's 
forehead.
 Eventually he was able to bring the sixteen 
wheeler to a stop.  Conrad left it idling while he 
threw open the door and hopped down to check the 
pigs.  Sports cars and hatchbacks and semis blurred 
past him an armlength away.  He ran back along the 
side and peered through the slats into the trailer.  
The waves of pigshit stink came to him, but he was 
beyond the point of noticing it.  All twenty-three 
of his bustling and snorting units of cargo seemed 
intact.  He would find out later that one of them 
had been hit, but the bullet had only broken off a 
chunk of the pig's hoof.
 Blowing a giant sigh of relief, Conrad stepped 
back from the side of the trailer.  He noticed a smear 
of blood along one of the dull metal slats of the 
trailer's wall.
 He yelled, "Christ!"  To spray pig blood that 
high up the wall, about as high as his head, he 
thought it must have ricocheted off somewhere, maybe 
the bottom of the trailer, before running through the 
pig.  Conrad leaned against the slats again to look for 
an injured pig, cupping his hands around his eyes to see 
in better.
 He didn't worry much when he felt the blood on 
his hands.  But when he felt the hole in his head, a 
little high and forward of his left temple, Conrad began 
to wonder.  He stepped back from the rig again, and 
looked at the blood on the trailer as he gingerly fingered 
the new hole in his head.  When he saw the smear on the 
metal slat again, it immediately occurred to him that 
his own bleeding head had caused it.  
 "Damn," he said quietly.  He used his index and 
middle fingers to explore the ragged exit-wound on the 
left side of his head.  Conrad frowned and jogged back to 
the cab.  He yanked the door open so he could see himself 
in the side mirror.  Sure enough, a little hole up on the 
right side of his forehead, a bigger hole of the left side 
and back more.  Quite a bit of blood was trickling out 
of the right hole.  Conrad had gotten chicken pox when 
he was five and still had a few scars, three of them 
across the back of his head.  Whenever he got a crewcut, 
the scars showed emphatically because the hair didn't 
grow over them.  This damn thing would leave another scar 
just into his hairline.
 "Can you believe this shit?"  Conrad pulled 
himself into the truck and swore again when he noticed a 
dark spot on the upholstery.  He could feel something 
give way in his forehead, and suddenly everything looked 
much brighter than before.  The silver trim along the 
hood of his cab shone white, and all the cars cruising 
past looked yellow or red.  They weren't moving too fast, 
so Conrad was able to pull into traffic soon.
 Within nine miles, he saw signs for a rest area 
ahead.  He guided his truck along the ramp, and left it 
in the handicapped spot closest to the brown, A-frame 
building.
 

OVERDRIVE

 Conrad pushed open the easy-swing glass door and 
stepped into the Visitor Information Center lobby.  
There was a line of tourists stretching along two walls 
of the room.  The lady in front of Conrad wore a sheer 
black kimono, and had a Chihuahua draped over her 
shoulder.  In the middle of the line was a young father 
and his precocious son.  The young father had a huge 
video camera on his shoulder like a second head, slowly 
turning to film every detail of the lobby.  The 
precocious boy spotted Conrad and said, "Daddy, look!  
That man is bleeding!"
 Daddy spun to aim the camera where his son was 
pointing.  "Oh, yes.  He's been shot, Billy.  Look at 
the big hole in that side of his head: can you see how 
the blood is coming out in little spurts?  That's 
called a 'pulse.'"
 The dapper-looking youth behind the counter 
cleared his throat in an attempt to stifle the talking.  
As he was looking up at the delinquents, he noticed 
something even more disturbing.  "Excuse me, you two at 
the back of the line?  Please clean up after yourselves 
if you're going to make a mess like that."
 Conrad was still the last in line, looking 
around to see what kind of "mess" he was making.  At 
his feet, small puddles of blood were spreading across 
the beige tile.  He pulled a bandana from his back jeans 
pocket and mopped up the worst of the blood.  It was 
soaked and dripping a little, but he held it under his 
chin to catch any further spillage.
 The woman in front of him turned to him and 
smiled.  She had one thick, black eyebrow, glistening 
with facial grease so it matched the shine of her kimono.  
"Could I borrow your handkerchief, sir?"  The Chihuahua 
on her shoulder had left a slippery streak of drool down 
the front of her kimono, and a puddle of drool spread 
away from her bare feet to a drain in the center of the 
floor.
 "Uh, sure," Conrad mumbled.  "I don't know 
that it'll be much help to you, though."  He set the 
dripping bandana across her outstretched hand, then 
flicked the blood off his fingers.
 She knelt and began to scrub at the drool-covered 
tiles in slow, circular motions.
 A half hour later, Conrad finally lost his 
patience after the old man at the counter spent the 
whole time trying to get directions to Wright River.  
The Visitor Information attendant had taken twenty 
minutes to confirm which was the right Wright River, 
since there were four Wright Rivers in the county.  He 
spent another ten trying to make the senior citizen 
realize that he could get there by taking the next turn 
on the right when he left.  Right?
 Conrad stepped out of line and walked to the 
front, causing all the other visitors to gasp and begin 
muttering behind him.  "Hey," he said, bleeding over 
the counter, "Can you just tell me where the nearest 
hospital is?"
 The youth behind the counter shifted his 
shoulders forward menacingly within the burgundy suit 
coat.  His face was going brick red and bits of his 
teeth were gritting off.  The old man with the map open 
said, "Sure!  You take the next exit so you can loop 
around and get to the other direction, then it's about 
thirteen miles.  You wanna get in the left lane before 
then, head off at the Shulberg exit, not the Schulburg 
exit which comes later, and follow the signs over to 
St. Christopher's.  Can't be more than twenty minutes 
north on Shulberg."
 "Oh, don't go there," the Visitor Information 
attendant said, "My grandmother stayed there for the 
last six months before she died, and she never stopped 
bitching about it.  The food was all gooey baby food 
and the TV didn't get more than two cable channels and 
the whole place stunk like rubbing alcohol!"
 Conrad pressed his palm against the hole on the 
right side of his forehead to minimize the mess.  The 
left hole was too big to cover, so he had stopped 
trying.  "Where else can I go?"
 The dapper youth looked back at the line and 
waved his hand for Conrad to lean closer.  When he did, 
the youth said, "You didn't hear it from me, but out 
back of the men's restroom building there's a paramedic 
on break.  He works on all the sniper victims that come 
through.  Slip him a twenty and he'll fix you up fine, 
be outta here in no time."  He cleared his voice again 
and said loudly, "Now if you'll excuse me."  The youth 
continued telling the old man to take the next right 
when he left to get to the right Wright River.
 

DOWNSHIFT

 Conrad stumbled backwards from the counter.  
His boot slipped in the puddle of bloody Chihuahua drool 
in the middle of the floor, and Conrad wafted into the 
air.  He landed hard on the tiles and, naturally, cracked 
his head open.
 The woman with the cyclopean eyebrow loomed over 
Conrad and held out the slimy bandana.  It had 
originally been red with white outlines of swirly 
paisley patterns.  Now it was just red.  "Thank you for 
letting me borrow your handkerchief," she said.  A thick 
drop of something red threatened to fall from the bottom 
corner of the bandana into Conrad's eye.
 "Uh, that's okay," Conrad said, rolling to the 
side as he held his skull together with both hands.  
"You can keep it."
 "Why, how kind of you," the woman said with her 
tight smile.  She slid the mushy gob of red into her 
kimono, where there may or may not have been an inside 
pocket.
 Conrad walked carefully to the door and 
shouldered it open, plodded out towards the men's 
restroom building.  His hands were still pressing his 
skull together, gut he thought it might stay there all 
right if he let go.  He gently lifted his hands away, 
felt the two halves of his skull settle a little, then 
stop.  If he didn't walk too enthusiastically - that is, 
if he didn't "romp" - then it would probably stay together.


POP THE CLUTCH

 In the neatly mown lawn behind the men's restroom 
building, Conrad found the paramedic and his clients.  
There were only two in line, waiting for the man to 
rejuvenate a gerbil who was a victim of the road.  Conrad 
got in line and began his wait.
 It didn't take long for the health-care provider 
to get the gerbil back to shape: he simply blew into the 
rodent's head through an eye socket to puff the tiny 
creature whole again, then gently returned his entrails 
to their proper place through its mouth.  It didn't even 
take more than twenty minutes to sew up the ripped stomach, 
no more than a half hour to set all the creatures bones 
and construct a full-body cast.  What took the biggest 
chuck of time was performing micro-CPR on the critter.
 Conrad had long since fashioned a turban out of 
his denim shirt.  The turban functioned as a bandage to 
stop the blood loss, and as a temporary measure to hold his 
skull together.  He was beginning to feel woozy, and 
getting a chill with his shirt off, so he set fire to the 
restroom building.  The building was conveniently 
constructed of mesquite, which provided just a soupcon of 
low background aroma to the full, heady fragance of the 
fire.  Sadly, the burning feces spoiled the scent somewhat.
 When the gerbil finally sprang to life and bit the 
paramedic, who promptly cut off all its limbs and laughed 
with satisfaction at the quadriplegic rodent, the line 
advanced.  Next was a chubby woman with her Siamese twin 
nieces joined at the knees.  The only one left in line in 
front of Conrad was a short Black man with a chest wound, 
another victim of a sniper.  Conrad tried to strike up a 
conversation with the man, since they had at least one 
thing in common, but the man ignored him.
 During the wait, Conrad became a "foxhole 
convert," believing with all his heart that the universe 
must have been created by a benevolent being.  Conrad 
loved God and knew he would pull through, or maybe he 
would die and go on to the next life, but either way it 
would be God's plan and God was right and God would love 
him and he would love God.
 That idea eventually trickled out the side of 
his head like everything else.  When he was only the 
second in line, Conrad's faith had been strengthened by 
a feeling of hope.  The paramedic's successful separation 
of the teenaged twins using only a sharp soup-can lid was 
nothing short of inspirational.  But when it came turn 
for the Black man with the chest wound, and the man 
revealed that he also had a ruptured cornea which would 
require hours of delicate surgery, plus testicular cancer 
and tennis elbow, and the man said that he was holding 
place in line for a bus-load of expiring nuns (this point 
naturally came to a large dispute, but the paramedic 
allowed it); it was then that Conrad lost faith and began 
to despair.  It was one thing if God would fix him up and 
let him be His eternal servant, or if God would let him 
die and get it over with.  But God wasn't doing anything.  
The Almighty was letting Conrad suffer for days and weeks 
with his head punctured and on the verge of splitting in 
half, while some other clown got fixed.  And, he decided, 
any world where you can hold places in line for people 
well, there's no justice in a world like that.
 Conrad left in a huff, saying, "Well, fuck you."
 "He pulled his rig around, made his way to St. 
Christopher's, and began to die.  The surgeons clamped 
his head shut and filled the hole with gauze.  They 
accidentally left a fingernail clipping in the left lobe 
of his brain, which brought him within an arm's length 
from death.  A nurse saved him, married him, had a boy 
child by him.  They lived happily ever after until they 
were both sixty-three and killed themselves.

THE END.