Clutter

Rose and Jack“All the world’s a stage” ~ As You Like It, Act II Scene VII, by William Shakespeare, used without his permission.

It’s been a stressful couple of months for a number of reasons (long hours, stomach flu, etc.), and during this time I’ve noticed that my mind keeps circling back to the famous Doctor Who story arc in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.”

  •   Are you my mummy?

As I daydream these two episodes get mingled with a conversation I had with a friend over the holidays.  It was one of those “tough love” kind of conversations (I was on the receiving end), which sought to knock some sense into me about the stresses in my life compared to those of others.  There is no doubt that my friend was right:  Others have it far, far worse than I.  We throw away enough food here in America to feed entire continents.  We have electricity, heat, air conditioning, and we even still have Twinkies.  And I am grateful.  I’m grateful to everyone, from farmers to HVAC mechanics, who help make us a first-world country.   So, no, I’m not living in desolation.  But even those who’re the same demographic as I am have their own burdens of stress, grief, disease, and turmoil on a daily basis.  Knowing this, however, does not comfort me.  Knowing that everyone else is going through hell just makes me wonder if I’m the victim of a gargantuan prank.  I’m not — I’m not that jaded — but it does make me wonder.

Which brings us back to

  •     Are you my mummy?

this two-part Doctor Who episode.  It’s a compelling, kitchen-sink mix of science fiction, history, humor, and horror.  We get to see a new character: The swashbuckling and handsome Jack Harkness.  We get to see Rose out of character: Freewheeling and whimsical in a delightful way that brings balance to the plot.  And we get to hear The Doctor’s name again: Not his real one, of course, but the time-worn (as it were) John Smith pseudonym once again.  And the story, like life, is a mountainous journey, with high peaks and shadowed valleys meant to

  • Are you my mmmmmmm-ummmmmmy?

scare the bejesus out of us.  But my goal is not to rehash the plot.  My goal is to say that the episode is CLUTTER!  In a good way :)

Like our lives, it is overwhelming — a city being bombed to rubble, a nano-virus on the loose, paranoia of not becoming “like them.”  Steven Moffat and his crew at the BBC took this confusion and turned it into a classic piece of entertainment.  For those of us who’ve never fought in a war or been helpless victims as bombs erupted in the sky we cannot possibly imagine the

  • Are you my mummy?

terrors of battle.  From the explosions that will blow your eardrums out, to the sights of rubble and carnage and blood, to the smells of death — the latter being the one thing that TV will never, I hope, provide us — the episode imagines destruction on a planetary scale and fright on a human scale.   But it’s all fiction.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  It’s … all … a … play.  So, yes, for most people understanding that you’re not alone in your struggle helps to deal with an unpredictable world.   But that doesn’t help me.  What does help is story-telling, in all its forms.  Those media (books, film, TV) provide a sanctuary for my personal stress.   And they allow me to take a step back and project my life onto a stage, while I take my seat in the audience.  It helps me to know that Shakespeare was right: The world really is a stage.  It keeps me from going crazier’n a shithouse rat.  And that’s the “therapy” I need.  I don’t need tough love.  I need fantasy.

And you know what else helps, friends and neighbors?  Sneaking up on people and whispering, “Are you my mummy?” in a creepy British accent.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Smith and Jones and AHHHHHH!

Smith and JonesCross-genre fiction … ever heard of it?  That’s when a writer mixes a couple of different types of story into a single piece of fiction: a novel, short story, screenplay, etc.  A good example is the science fantasy of the Star Wars movies or the science-fiction-romance of  The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But those are the exceptions.  Believe me.  The last time I tried to publish a short story that overlapped the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and humor, the publisher took one look at the manuscript and said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

But evidently the producers at the BBC were a tad more open-minded to this kind of story.

A great example is the Doctor Who episode “Smith and Jones” (s03e02), with David Tennant as the Doctor.

This is the episode where we’re introduced to a delightful new Companion, the staggeringly smart medical school resident Martha Jones.  And we get to meet her in a hospital.   Oh, and on the moon.  And being threatened by an extraterrestrial plasma vampire.  And among a race of humanoid-rhinos.  And … oh, that hospital?  It was on the moon.

No, this episode wasn’t a reject from Space:1999 or a 50s’ schlepp flick. This was the critically-acclaimed 3rd-season opener for a British TV drama that’s been on the air for 9713 years and 5 months.

Since a gazillion words have zigzagged over the globe describing the characters’ chemistry, which is undeniable, I wanted to give my thoughts from a different angle.  I stared with wide-eyed incredulity while a plot unfolded not unlike the story I’d written that caused the publisher to go, “Ahhhhhhhh!”

Every damn rule of fiction was broken in his one, single episode. Every last one of them. The writer, Russell T. Davies, threw the kitchen sink into this flick and … it worked.  I threw the kitchen sink into my own story and it was rejected.
Ahhhhhhh!

Here’s a brief list of things that happen in this show.  I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second and provide snarky remarks as if I were someone who hated SF and wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at the screen.  But these snarks are not how I really feel, as you shall see.

  • Doctor Who removes his necktie, shows it to Martha, and says, “… like so!”
    • Chekov’s gun disguised as menswear.
  • Doctor Who refers to himself as John Smith, an homage to the very first Doctor Who episode (1963) and his granddaughter.
    • Quiz: Was she a Time Lord also?
  •  The first Doctor’s granddaughter was listening to a rock-n-roll group called “John Smith and the Common Men.”
    • No worse than The Quarrymen, I suppose.
  • Martha is a resident at a London hospital and witnesses rain falling up.
    • At least I didn’t expect that.
  • There’s an alien vampire in the hospital who has body guards dressed in motorcycle gear.  Their helmets make them look like Roswell aliens
    • Shouldn’t people be changing channels about now?  But they’re not.  And neither did I.
  • The Judoon are chasing the  vampire creature because she killed one of their princesses.
    • BLANK STARE
  • Laser beams
    • Ditto
  • To their credit, the characters in the hospital, which is now on the moon, ask how and why they have air.
    • Well, this is science fiction, after all.
  • The Doctor is asked if he has a brother and he says, “Not anymore.”
    • sniff, sniff
  • The hospital is inside a domed force-field
    • No.  No cliches here.
  • The vampire’s victim is a Mr. Stoker
    • BRAVO!
  • The Vampire modifies an MRI machine to destroy all life on the moon.
    • Kinda makes you pine for reverse-tachyon beams, doesn’t it?
  • The Judoon leave, but transport the hospital back to earth before the atmosphere gets too low.
    • Waste not, want not.
  • After a bad fight with her maniacally-dysfunctional family Martha spots the Doctor and the TARDIS.
    • Wonder where this is going?
  • To convince her he is indeed a time traveler the Doctor travels back in time, reappears, and tells Martha that he can’t make a time travel trip into existing timeline …
    • wait for it …
  • “Except for cheap tricks, … like so!”

So how’d they do it?   How does really good drama emerge out of that much campiness?  We all know the answer: Character.  But damn, does it really take 49-frakking-years to establish a set of characters so you can write any kind of plot you want?  Maybe so.

What I do know is that I love this episode.  On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d give it a 9.1.  For comparison sake, I’d give Doctor Who’s “Blink” a 9.8, and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” a 10.0.

Once again, I find myself mystified as to exactly why I like it, but if I had to guess it’d be because … oh, yeah!  It’s because Martha Jones is hot!  And I reckon the Doctor is okay, too.

:)

Pax,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

What’s in the Trash Can? (A Short Story)

trash canA voice said, “What is in the trash?”

I overheard this question as I rounded the corner at the office, on my way to get my morning coffee.  You know it’s bad when people don’t use contractions.

“You smell that?”

Ewww.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, God.”

Luckily the halls in the building are infinitely long, so whatever was antagonizing my coworkers was out near the vanishing point.  I was far enough away to ignore them safely; I’m a very prudent person, after all.  But they stood near the side door and the water fountain, and that gave me pause.  Was there a plumbing problem?  If so, then that would affect the quality — not to mention sanitary condition — of my morning java.  So instead of turning into the break room I approached my circle of coworkers.  Four of them, gawking and muttering, were standing over a waste basket sitting in the middle of the hallway.  Three more people stood back away from it, like folks at a car wreck.  One woman had a hand at her throat.  One man was chewing on his knuckle.  The chatter continued.

“What is that smell, anyway?”

“Sulfer?”

“I think it’s rotten egg.”

“That is sulfer!”

“It’s bad fish.”

“It’s bad seafood, not fish.  God!” (Are human resources departments required to hire one know-it-all smartass?)

“Is it dead?”

“Better question: Is it alive?”

A woman stuck her palm out, in a stop gesture.  She scampered away, headed toward the restroom.

More remarks followed, and a second circle formed where I stood, making us all a human Stonehenge.  That’s fitting in a way: Many employees had rock-like personalities.  I looked to my left and right.  The questions were now decaying into an argument, not just about what the smell was, or who was more accurate about its revolting odor, but who was responsible for it, and who was going to do something about it.  One boss snapped at another boss.  One old guy started telling a story about what he’d seen in a war.  One young woman started asking if she could go home.

I snorted.

Slamming my coffee mug down on the water fountain, I pushed myself through the throng, and grabbed the trash can on a quick trot.  I was halfway out the sidedoor before people started talking again.

“Who was that?” the young woman said.

“I think it was Eric.”

“Eric?  It was Eric.” The young woman’s voice had a hint of revelation to it, as if she’d just discovered the true identity of the masked man.

Was I wearing a cape?  Nope.  I’m just a guy, named Eric, who’d rather do something than stand around talking about it.

I heaved the entire waste basket — not just its contents — into the parking-lot dumpster and walked around to the main entrance brushing off my hands.  I didn’t talk to any of my coworkers that day, content to spend my time scrolling through hundreds of emails.  Before I left, though, I picked up the phone, put it back, then picked it up again and called the young woman’s extension.  I was a bit nervous, but finally managed to ask if she wanted to go get a cocktail.

It turns out there was nothing for me to be nervous about.

The End

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, settings or circumstances is purely coincidental.

Dystopian Dysfunction

Yesterday I quit watching the episode “Bad Wolf” from Season 1 of the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who.  There are a number of critical reasons – including setting, dialog, pacing, character development, and enough deus ex machina events to depopulate Mount Olympus for decades – but the real reason is that it sucked.  And that’s a shame.  It’s the penultimate (I wanted to use that word today) episode of the season and supposedly has a cliffhanger to die for.

If you’re curious, the story is about The Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Captain Jack suddenly finding themselves contestants in sinister game shows of the future.  Did it work?  No.  In fact, the show was so campy it made me long for the carrot-people of Lost in Space.  Yeah, it was that bad.

Bad_Wolf_BWI’m sure I’ll struggle through the damn thing this evening.  After all, it’s just a TV show, and it is part of the larger Doctor Who and Torchwood story arcs.  How do I know this?  By using Google?  Reading episode guides?  No.  I know it’s part of the grander scheme because I’ve been watching the show backwards.  After all, it’s about time travel, so the order shouldn’t matter.  (Actually, it’d be more accurate to say I’m watching the series sideways, which is pronounced “utra-guh-a-guh” for you Three Stooges fans out there.)

What was it that was so unappealing?   As I stared dumbly at the ol’ idiot box, wondering whether the damn thing would ever end, I kept thinking about The Hunger Games.  Why?  Well, like The Hunger Games, this episode was long, tedious, and weird, with dumbass haircuts, glitter, plastic boobs, and computer-generated voices.  That’s when it dawned on me: This is just one more example of dystopian dysfunction that’s gripped entertainment in recent years.

What is the deal with the apocalypse these days?  It can’t be the fact that mankind is living through tough times.  Hell, we’ve been doing that ever since God told Abraham to carve up his son like a Thanksgiving turkey.  I mean, holy bat, cow man, how much of this end times crap do we have to put up with, anyway?

I want normal settings.  I want period pieces.  And I want something speculative, like an alien, a time machine, or an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

So what led Russell T. Davies – the writer of this episode – to script one of the lowest-rated Doctor Who episodes ever?   My guess is that it was a disastrous attempt at humor.   That’s where it diverges from The Hunger Games.  The latter is a serious attempt at warning young adult readers about the dangers of totalitarianism.  I think Davies was trying to write satire.  And I fear he failed.  Less is more when it comes to yucking it up, and Davies tried to push “more is more” down our throats.

As I told someone on G+ not too long ago, the best humor involves puns, subtlety, and resisting the urge to repeat the punch line ad nauseum.   Consider a handful of one-liners that’ve been known to make people laugh:

“I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paper work.”

“A Southern man will stagger to the polls to vote dry.”

“You can skydive without a paracute.  You just can’t do it twice.”

If Davies were trying to make a satire out of “Bad Wolf” I feel he failed badly.  If he were trying to create yet another dysfunctional dystopian soap opera, then he succeeded beyond imagination, unfortunately.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

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Text of this blog is Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  The graphic embedded in this blog entry is a copyrighted screenshot that has been changed to a black-and-white image because no free alternative is known to exist.

Keith of All Trades

Forgive me if this post is a bit self-conscious, but I have a feeling that, among writers, artists, critics, professors and healers in general; and science fiction, fantasy, and horror enthusiasts in particular, this description of myself may be indicative of a lot of my readers.

I like time traveling, humor, creative writing, college football, frosted flakes, encyclopedias, garbage, history, whiskey, science fiction, gadgets, three-toed sloths, sketching, pleasing people, coffee, slouching, interesting monsters, connecting with people, graves, beer, bungalows, Heinz Doofenschmirtz, Lovecraft, quoting movies, fantasy, classic rock, Poptarts, Gnosticism, bookstores, Christmas, the Internet, drinking wine, Wile E. Coyote, banana pudding, tentacles, pot roast, and any year, make or model of the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California (ohh, yeah).

I also write run-on sentences. #rebel

I’m a generalist, a Jack-of-all-Trades who happens to be named Keith.  I’m a Keith-of-all-Trades. While it’s true I have a technical degree, that’s not exactly by choice (long story). And while I do have a successful career, it’s not exactly a fun one.  I work with a lot of high-tech types.  Some of them are kind-hearted, thoughtful and witty.  Some are assholes. Such is life. But contrary to what you may read in articles about Myers-Briggs Personality Types, many tend to be “Es” and they tend to be “Js”.  There’s nothing wrong with that … unless you’re stuck in a room with one … all day … every day … while they make assumptions about you … without so much as a “by your leave” … and Father-God-and-Sonny-Jesus are those people tightwads.  There are times I really wanna bitch-slap ’em and say, “Spend the damn money, already!”

But I digress. This isn’t about them, it’s about me. I’m an INFP in the Myers-Briggs minefield (and Indiana Jones in my own mind-field).  That means, via nature and nurture, I should’ve been a minister, writer, or – if the stars had lined up just right  –  a dog-groomer. In other words, I was destined by DNA to be poor.

BradburyI am not poor.  Neither was Ray Bradbury (he was an INFP).

And I’m pretty sure Jennifer Aniston (also one) is doing okay for herself.jennifer

And while I can’t pursue my dream job I can still pursue my passion for writing, science fiction, whiskey … basically all that crap listed above.  And I can also pass along some wisdom.  Maybe you’ve never studied the Myers-Briggs profiles.  If not, no biggie.  Some people hate that kind of thing anyway.  But basically, if you’re an INFP you’re a healer; and if you’re a “healer,” then you might be an INFP.  If you have a friend or loved-one who’s like this, please encourage them to be the person they are instead of the person you want them to be.  If you do, they’ll accomplish more than you can possibly imagine.  Since people like lists here’s a checklist for those who’re burdened blessed with a healer in their life:

  • We work our asses off; don’t micromanage us.
  • We do the right thing; don’t moralize to us.
  • We sit in dimly-lit rooms; don’t turn on the fucking lights.
  • We feed you; don’t bite our hand.
  • We listen to your stories; don’t gossip about ours.
  • We use our hands and eyes to express ourselves; don’t ever tell us we’re melodramatic.
  • We joke; don’t steal our punch lines.
  • We criticize ourselves; we don’t need you to that for us.
  • We are your friend; don’t make us an enemy.
  • We will heal you; don’t betray us.

This last part is crucial. If you betray us we’ll be hurt, but we may not be hurt right away.  It may take a few days for the pain to sink in … unless we have a temper.  Given our penchant for drama, we might haul off and punch you in the teeth.  And that will hurt.  Because, you see, we learn.  We’re jacks-of-all trades.  We’ve learned all about street fighting. And boxing. And Boxing Day (Canada). And maple leafs. And the Maple Leafs. And ice hockey.  And horse hockey.  And commodes.  And plumbing.  And pipes.  And smoking.  And health.  And science.  And history.  And the future.

rocket shipWe’re science fiction fans.

I don’t think there’s a better description of an INFP than that.  We healers are science fiction fans, even if we hate science fiction.  Now as you know, I happen to love the SFFH genre, but I know quite a few who can’t stand it.  But whether they know it or not, healers are fans of science fiction because science fiction implies so much more than spaceships and ray guns and robots named Robbie. Science fiction implies speculation, thinking about what could be.  And INFPs love fiction, because we live fictional lives.  We look at our daily activity – scrambling some eggs, making coffee, taking out the trash – as if we’re watching ourselves through the kitchen window.

Since I’m here in the South, a lot of my readers will get pissed off that I’m going to close with a quote from the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  But what he said in his eulogy for his fallen brother, Robert, captures everything we healers want to be known for.

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.’”

By the way, did you know Harry Potter is an INFP? HarryPotter

That’s fitting because he doesn’t exist.  Many of us feel like we don’t either, in a good way.  Now, where’s that invisibility cloak?

Until next time …

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  Images are included under fair use regulations.  Hyperlinks are provided to websites that have their own copyright provisions.

Meat

There were more mashed potatoes and more meat on the plate than there’d been a just few minutes ago. Johnny blinked.  His head was sizzling, ice-pick pain crushing his eyeballs.  His leg, too, throbbed as if it’d taken hammer blow to the shin bone. It reminded him of how his mama told him the Romans broke Jesus’ legs on the cross.  But this wasn’t ancient Jerusalem.  He was simply sitting on a bed, in the present day.

He blinked.

There was more roast beef on the plate, now.  Had there been that much before?  He couldn’t tell because he couldn’t taste, his tastebuds had been cauterized, and his tongue was as dead as the meat that laid there, so he surely hadn’t been eating anything, and yet … and yet, he daintily wiped the corner of his mouth (did manners even matter here?) … and his hand came away with brown gravy on it.

He blinked.

Blackened gargoyles flashed before his closed eyelids.  He was still sitting there on the bed, but it felt different now, and the food was gone so he figured it was over, that it was past dinnertime and now he’d moved on to … on to what?  Somebody was yelling from next door, something about fire, something about a fizzle?  Sizzle?  Was that what they said?  And lightning?  Something about him and lightning.  Were they talking about his woodworking? His woodcarvings?  He always talked about how he liked the smell of a power carver burning into a fresh wood.  He brushed the top of his head, found stubble from his … what? … his crew cut?  Why did he have a buzz cut?

He blinked hard.

White feverish splotches flashed before his eyelids, and now he smelled barbecue pork, the kind Johnny’s dad pulled off pigs over barrel fires when he was a kid, better barbecue than any joint in Alabama ever dreamed of cooking.

He blinked.

His lungs were crushed, smashed, a seat-belt … was that it? … yanking his rib bones into his flesh and puncturing his lungs, making him scream … but he couldn’t scream.  He opened his mouth … did a little gravy dribble out? … but he couldn’t scream.

He blinked.

He sat at a large table, but kept his elbows off.  Old habits died hard, especially here in the South.  It was a  library table like he’d sat at in school on Saturdays.  But this table was rough-hewn, and his fingernails dug into a splintered crevasses that’d been gouged deep into its surface over the years.

He blinked three times.

The images were splashes of acid hitting his wide-open eyeballs.

A man in a suit stood on the other side of the table, his necktie loose, his shirt sweaty … can anybody sing that ring-around-the-collar jingle? The man’s face was wrinkled and tired, but his eyes were alive from too much coffee and sugar.  His milquetoast face had darkened from beard stubble … kinda like the stubble on your head, eh, Johnny boy?  The man glared.   The suit was expensive.  Armani, or a damn good knockoff.  And it’d been pressed … but not for a long while.  And he had a sported a watch … an expensive one, complicated … a Bulova, full of hands and dialsspinning, turning, ticking, tocking.

Johnny’s head still ached, a post-trauma pounding.  It felt like he’d been sunburned, and then sunburned again, and then sunburned yet again after the first two had healed.  His leg still crackled from the hammer blow,  or whatever it was, and he now wondered if the bastard had used the claw of the hammer to break his leg bone slowly, sadistically.

Johnny blinked.

The man in the suit looked … better.  His tie was tied.  His suit didn’t have wrinkles.  And his face was fresher, no three-day shadow, and no perspiration.

“You have to,” the man was saying.  “You have to.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I didn’t do nothing.  Nu-thing.”

The man’s nostrils flared.  He slammed his hands on the table, rattling Johnny.  “What’s your favorite meal, John?  Hmm?  What is your favorite meal?”

“Wha –.”

“Food, man!  What’d you choose if it was your last?”

Johnny blinked.

This time nothing changed.

“Mashed potatoes with roast beef and grav–.”  Johnny stopped, the word a bone caught in his throat.

That’s when he focused on the man’s elegant wristwatch, at all the hands and dials.  And the main one, the military dial, told him it was little after 1400 hours.  He zoomed in, bringing the watch’s second hand into view, and it was running backward.  He ran his hand through his hair, and he had hair now.  He … had … hair … now.

Johnny blinked.

Nothing changed, but he now knew that mashed potatoes had reappeared on his plate because he’d eaten them, in the future.

They shaved your leg.  They shaved your head.

“What year is it?” he said

The man in the suit blinked.  “What does that have to do with –.”

Johnny’s turn to slam his fist.  “What year is it?” he yelled.

The lawyer told him.

“And when would I get out?” Johnny said. “If I take the deal?”

The lawyer’s face — which had been sharp angles and tension — suddenly sagged, his brown eyes hound-dog sad.

Johnny felt a tear well up in one eye, the way it’d always been.  He always cried from one eye.  It’d been that way when the cops had kicked down the door and found Johnny standing over one of the bodies, holding the serrated knife that’d been used to slice open throats all over the apartment building, and he’d cried because he knew they’d never believe that he’d removed the knife from of one of the victims to save the woman’s life because he was a nurse and that’s what nurses did.  But the evidence was a D.A.’s wet dream, fingerprints on every floor.  Johnny had helped those old men and women for years, and they thanked him — oh, yes — but they’d also insulted him when they thought he was getting uppity.  It was annoying, stupid.  He’d even got a scalding cup of coffee in the face once.  That was more than “annoying.”  But he still loved them.

But that coffee wasn’t nearly as hot as the skull cap, was it?  They said the electric chair was painless.  They said the initial jolt of voltage knocked you out.  They were wrong.  Dead wrong.

Johnny looked up slowly, through moist eyes.  “How’d you do it?” he asked the man with the backward clock.  “My mama would’ve called it devil’s work.”

The man shook his head.  “Not witchcraft.  Just … a gadget.”

“You let me see my future.”

“I let you live your future, John.  Or one possible future.  You’ve traveled forward, and now you’re coming back.  And you still remember everything, for now.  But soon enough those memories of the future will be gone.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

“And I died.”

“We all die in the future, John.  You will be killed in the future if you don’t take the plea.  But if you do take it, you’ll live in the future.  You’ll make woodcarvings.  And one of those woodcarvings will be a spaceship.  You’ll make it on a whim.  And thirty years from now you’ll give it to a schoolgirl who’ll become the first human to set foot on another planet.”

“You’re making that up.”

“You don’t know that.  But you do know what the electric chair does to you.”

Johnny nodded.  “But I didn’t kill those people.  I tried to help them.  I tried to help them!”

His lawyer gestured toward the room outside.  “I know that.  But they don’t.  They don’t know and they don’t care.”

“Then is there one thing I can ask?  Just one thing?”

“We have very little wiggle room.”

“Can you at least tell them I’m a vegetarian? I don’t want to eat meat.”

The lawyer puckered his lips.  “I might be able to swing that one, Johnny.  If you apologize.  Show remorse.”

“For something I didn’t do.”

The lawyer nodded.  “For something you didn’t do.  I bet I can get you a vegetarian diet.  I might be able to swing that one.”

Johnny slumped in the chair, his eye teary, his body hiccoughing with sobs.

He blinked.

The lawyer turned to go see the prosecution, winding his watch as he left the room.

The End

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Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

What’s This Doing Here? (A Short Story)

“And I thought, ‘What’s this doing here?’”

I stepped into my backyard workshop, felt the tension of the week slip away as I surrounded myself by my favorite gadgets: a flux capacitor, neutralizer, light sabre, helicopter hat, cigarette gun, Maxwell Smart’s shoe, and an invisibility cloak.  These were tucked away among Dad’s hammers, mallets, Allen wrenches, saws, screwdrivers, soldering irons, and a highly illegal coil of asbestos.  But something odd glinted in the late afternoon sun.  Eyes wide, I suddenly realized what I’d left out there, and what a buffoon I’d been.  I leapt toward it, my arm stretched out, … and stubbed my toe.

“Oh, my God!”

I bent, grabbed my foot, and struck my forehead on the workbench.  The searing pain overwhelmed the throbbing toe.

Tumbling backward against the open workshop door, blood snaked down from my eyebrows.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I said.

I shook my head and began to feel a sneeze coming on, autumn ragweed jolting my sinuses in a sneak attack.  Turning my head (because I didn’t want to spread germs to the spiders in the shed?) I ripped my shirt on a rusty nail sticking out of the door.  I stumbled back out into the yard, my toe on fire, my head throbbing, my nose aflame, my tongue itching.

My foot came down on the teeth of rake, its handle smacking me in the lips, just like Dad said it’d do one day.

“Mother Mary!”

I looked up.  A bird cooed, chastising me.  Not just any bird.  A pigeon.  A rat of the sky.

Snorting, bleeding, aching, I turned and looked back at the workshop.

Why’d I done it? There was always hell to pay.  I knew there would be.  Still, I had to try.  Money was tight, and all I needed was one good set of lottery numbers, and then … and then the time machines quit, one by one: the capacitor, the Wellsian, the phone booth, and even old reliable himself, the Connecticut dream machine.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket.  I pulled it out, looked at the text on the screen: Funding was cut. We’re already at the bar.

“Father God and Sonny Jesus!”

I stared at the glow of the phone’s screen, watching a drop of blood splatter across it, forming a gory starburst.  My hand was shaking as I dropped the cell back in my pocket, or so I thought.  I actually missed my pocket.  The phone fell to the grass.  Well, not the grass, but rather a small patch of mud.  I bent over, gritting my teeth.

It was not mud.

“Ewww.”  I held my cell phone with two fingers at arm’s length as I staggered back toward the house, my tongue itching, my forehead freely bleeding, my toe on fire.

Inside the den Sarah was sitting in the recliner.  Her brown eyes widened as she saw me, bloody-faced, ragged, limping, smelling like yesterday’s dog shit.

“What?  What happened?” she said.

“I pissed God off.”

Again?”

I nodded, and then turned and pointed.  The pain didn’t matter.  She did.

“There’s something in the workshop.  Between the tricorder and the Q-37.  Could you get it?  There’s still plenty of light.”

“Sure.  No problem,” she said. Her wrinkled brow betrayed the confidence in her voice.  Sarah hated spiders and cave crickets and every other critter that infested that shack.  “But only if you’ll clean that thing.”

I told her I’d take the phone out to the mudroom.

When Sarah returned she herself was in tears.  The diamond sparkled in the lamplight.  I sat on the edge of the sofa and held my hands out, palms up.

“Does it fit?”

She shook her head. “Doesn’t need to.”

When she threw herself at me I could see where she’d tried to force the ring on over her knuckle, cutting her finger.  We fell backward in a tumble of romance and blood, giggling.

Turning serious, I said, “We can’t go out.  We lost funding.  Money’s going to be tight.”

Sarah shook her head.  “Shush,” she said.  “It’s going to be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

I looked at her sideways. “How?”

She grinned.  “You left the crystal ball on the coffee table again.”

I felt every ounce of tension in my body drain away as I sank back into the cushions.  Everything was going to be okay, I just didn’t know it yet.  The next day I put the time machines out on the curb for the junk man to collect, and then I went to mass, for confession.

It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

The End

This piece of flash fiction was inspired by a challenge from WordPress.com’s @freshly_pressed tweet.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.  Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.

There He Goes …

“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and – Duration.” ~ H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895

The grandfather paradox is such a morbid thought question. And even as a scientist I’ll be the first to admit scientists and science fiction writers can conjure some pretty dark humor from time to time (see: Cat, Schrödinger’s). But have you ever really thought about the meaning of the grandfather paradox? It means you go back in time and murder your own grandfather before he has a chance to bring your parent into the world. Is that messed up, or what?

The paradox itself is pretty simple: If you dispose of one of your forefathers before you’ve been conceived, then how can you even exist in order to go back in time and commit the crime in the first place? After all, one of your parents was never born, so how could you have been? The paradox has other names, of course, and there are various ways “around” the problem that have been explored to death, as it were, but think about the human part of this for a second. I think that that’s something lost in a lot of science fiction literature.

My own grandfather wasn’t killed, thankfully. He passed away in 1975 while working on a storm door on the back porch. He was sitting there on the decking, cross-legged, screwdriver in hand, trying to fasten a hinge. He simply fell over sideways and … died. There are worse ways to go.

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Granddaddy was a good-humored man. Thin, balding, long-faced and mellow, he was the epitome of the easy-going Southern working man, a true shade-tree mechanic who actually did work on cars under the shade of … a tree … an oak, to be exact. But as that shade started to get long, and the wet Alabama heat started to fritter away, he’d retire to his front porch, a sweaty glass of sweetened iced tea in hand. As a youngster, I’d sit next to him, watching cars and pedestrians pass on the street out front.

One time a man sporting blue jeans and a white T-shirt moseyed by on the sidewalk.

My grandfather nodded, said, “There he goes.”

I tilted my head. “Who?”

Granddaddy pointed. “Him.”

“You know him?” I said.

He never answered. He just cracked a wry smile and sipped his tea. Later in life I learned the expression “there he goes” is slang from my grandparents’ generation, a form of martini dry humor from folks born around 1900.

Now, fast forward to 2012. Suppose I rewired the DeLorean or phone booth in my backyard. If I turn its knobs and dials so it’s ready for a flight to 1969, Earth, North America, United States, Alabama (I’m sure there’s an app for that) I just might find myself strolling along that same roadway, prompting my own grandfather to nod at the older me, so he could then tell the younger me, “There he goes.” And he’d be right.

My point here is to offer advice: All of the time travel paradoxes are well-known, and if you try to explain those logical twists and contortions in your fiction, you’re going to bore your reader. If you want to write time travel fiction (and I urge you to do so) you need to embrace the element that binds all good fiction: character. Without it, why would we write in the first place?

I’ve got my blue jeans on. Now, where’d I put that white T-shirt?

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker. The content of this blog is copyrighted across all time and space.

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, oh, my, too!

Did you really think I’d write a Halloween blog and not have a sequel? How could I possibly be true to Hollywood’s model of movie-making if I muffed that one? Since today is actually Halloween, I thought you’d like to read about the the movies that have scared the living piss out of me over the years. I actually don’t like scary stuff all that much, which is a partial lie because some of my favorite stories from science fiction and fantasy hang close to that crumbling cemetery wall known as the horror genre.

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(The freakishly odd “mask” art was done by my daughter on our iPad. She didn’t mean for it to be a scary image, but when I saw it I immediately thought, “Hannibal Lecter.”)

A caveat about lying: I’m a fiction writer; I fib out of habit.

Now, on to the movies that have scared the holy mackerel out of me, even though I prefer swordfish, with field peas and a nice … never mind.

  • The freakin’ previews for The Exorcist back in the mid-70s … Jesus! Do you realize I’ve never seen that movie because of the previews?
  • The Silence of the Lambs – Well, what can you say? The movie is an Oscar-winning masterpiece, with freakishly superb acting by Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster … “quid pro quo
  • Psycho – Kids these days! Geesh, they’ll tell you that old movies aren’t scary. Next time they say this put them in a dark room and watch them shiver as Hitchcock’s black-and-white creepiness unfolds before them.
  • Seven – Okay, this flick is just downright “ewwww,” but I also can’t help thinking about it on days like this … or whenever a package comes in the mail.
  • The Green Mile – I don’t like executions. Hopefully there aren’t many people who do, but the electric chair puts me into a deer-in-headlights trance of abject terror quicker than most anything else (aside from disco).
  • Angel Heart – Yeah, this is the scariest thing I have ever seen. It’s gruesome, sickening, and hammers me over the head with the single worst fear I’ve ever had: Finding out I did something horrific that I cannot remember at all. And it doesn’t help that the ending implies that Harry Angel/Johnny Favourite is going to be riding the lightning soon (see above).

They tell you to write what you love. Makes me wonder: Should you also write what you hate?

If you’re out and about tonight, then please be safe. Keep your pets inside. Keep your kids safe.

Peace, from Keith

Copyright ©2012 Alan Keith Parker. This brilliant piece of writing is mine. All mine! Some countries give you the death penalty for stealing. Don’t do it!

Even Good Blogs Get Put on Probation

My blog has not been updating itself.
Therefore, I have decided, as its parent, that I have no choice but to place it on probation.
When good computers go bad they become doorstops.

Seriously, though, my mother died last week from Alzheimer’s, and I need time (a lot of time) to rethink the direction of my own writing. It’s been exhausting and bewildering, nightmarish and surreal, a struggle with strokes and dementia, nursing homes and hospitals, bureaucracies and bemusement. Over the course of this journey, I’ve met some of the kindest-hearted doctors and nurses on the planet; and I’ve met some doctors and nurses who redefine the meaning of the word “asshole”. One nurse from a rehab facility particularly comes to mind.

So, what now? Well …
I’m toying with the idea of writing a personal memoir.
I’m pondering whether to do some charity work for Alzheimer’s organizations.
I’m considering taking up sketching for a while.
I’m also toying with the idea of writing a game. After all, I got game.
Sorry. Bad joke.
And I’m also strongly thinking about sitting around and doing nothing.

I actually think that I left you all with some good things to consider for your own writing.
The hook and tag line post has generated a lot of interest.
That’s a topic that fascinates me to no end.

In closing, if you think of an idea for a hook and you’d like some feedback, send it my way, either by replying here or via email. I enjoy brainstorming. I also enjoy sleep, which I need a lot of.

But that doesn’t change the rules of reward/punishment.
The World Wide Web is neither sentient nor creative, and it did not hold up its end of the bargain of dazzling you with wit and humor. Therefore, I am making my blog sit in the corner with a dunce cap on.

Having said that, goodnight, and, as always,
Peace, from Keith