Tales of the Storage Space, Part 28

Martin was starved.  He’d had bugger all to eat.  Rifling through the frig, he was finding a lot more meat than he remembered buying, but the real question was what he could cook fastest.

Meat…  Meat…  Finally he grabbed the thinnest piece.  Canola oil in the frying pan.  Didn’t even bother to wash the meat, just tossed it in the pan to sizzle.  In so much of a hurry that he dropped some on the floor.

Hands shaking, Martin leaned over to pick it up.  Funny, the floor was solid black, not the vintage linoleum he’d paid so much for online.  And he couldn’t find the meat he’d dropped until he reached under the stove and pulled out a slab of Karen’s face.

Martin sat up on his mustard-colored, vintage Danish Modern sofa and screamed at the top of his lungs.  How could he have allowed himself to fall asleep again?

Jennifer’s phone.  He remembered the ringtone.  Somewhere on the sofa.  Ringing again.  Maybe it was Ms. Morales from work again.  Maybe calling to say the tall man with the gun, looking for him…and Frank, who he’d killed…was gone.  Maybe they’d had him arrested.

Martin scrambled to find Jennifer’s phone, wondering why Ms. Morales hadn’t called him on his own phone, since they’d talked before.  Found it between the cushions just as it stopped ringing.

Bloody hell!

Maybe Ms. Morales had called Jennifer because she couldn’t reach him.  He checked his own phone for voicemail.  Battery was dead.

A beep from Jennifer’s phone.  Martin picked it back up and saw a message about new voicemail.  But how could he get it without her bloody password?

He called her voicemail and tried “Jennifer” for her password, and all possible permutations of her birthday, without success.  Then inspiration hit.  He typed in “Martin.”

“You have six unheard messages.”

None of them indicated that the tall man with a gun had been arrested.  The second to last message was from a dry cleaner complaining that he, Martin, hadn’t picked up Jennifer’s dry cleaning…which she hadn’t yet asked him to pick up.  The message that had just come in was from a collection agency.  It said they had tried unsuccessfully to reach Martin about paying her bill…which she hadn’t told him about either.

Bloody fucking hell!

Martin sat on his expensive Danish Modern sofa, stained with the sweat of his nightmares, and stared down the endless road of what his life imprisonment by Jennifer was going to be like.  Could serving the time in a real prison really be worse?  Tortured by frustration and helplessness, he clicked around in her apps, idly noting the stupid games she played.  Really by mistake, because his shaking finger hit the wrong thing, he clicked into “Notes,” then started reading…eyes widening.  Suddenly he heard something he hadn’t thought he’d ever hear again:  his own laughter.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 27

Jennifer couldn’t stand it.  Simply couldn’t stand it.  She could have screamed at the top of her lungs.  She, Jennifer, had wasted her time being nice to another person.  And a homeless person at that.  Jennifer had actually asked her questions, like her name, and given up the last clean edge of that miserable tablecloth to clean one of this Amelia’s wounds, when it could have been put to much more important use cleaning Jennifer’s shoe.  All for no other reason, of course, than because Amelia had lied to supply an alibi for Jennifer to that cop.

And it was only after Jennifer had wasted all that time being nice, thinking she was buying Amelia’s continued support, that it came out that Amelia’s support had already been paid for.  The only reason the bitch had lied about Jennifer not being in the storage space the night before was because the bitch didn’t want Jennifer bothering her about the phone she stole from Jennifer.

Smug, that’s what the bitch was.  Smug.  Jennifer could see it in her face, a face that said that she, a ratty old homeless person, felt sorry for Jennifer.

People were so unreasonable.

But Jennifer considered:  a charge against her credit card for a new phone or a charge against her for first-degree murder.  It was one of the hardest things she had ever done but she managed to twist her lips into a smile.  “I’m going to have to leave now, Amelia…but I’ll come back…and help you later…if you still need it.”

Bitch looked even more smug, as if she pitied Jennifer for stuttering through her last speech.  But how was Jennifer supposed to know what to say when pretending to be nice?  Meanwhile Amelia even had the nerve to reach up and touch Jennifer’s lips, as if trying to straighten them out.  “Relax, Sweetheart.  You need not trouble yourself.  I’ll be okay.”  And, speaking of smug, there it was again.  That beautiful voice.  “You need not come back.”

Oh, so that’s it, thought Jennifer.  Afraid that if I come back I’ll have worked up the nerve to ask you to give me my phone back?

But no helping it.  Jennifer had no choice but to put her never-adequately-cleaned shoe back on, get to her feet, and head back to Martin’s where all her precious stuff was.  Including all her boxes from the storage space except the one Martin had sent her back for because he said he’d left it.

Martin…  She was so proud of herself for blackmailing him into taking her back.  Good thing he’d killed that Frank so she’d had something to work with.  Maybe things weren’t so bad:  It would be nice to upgrade her phone, and Martin would pay for it.

Phone…  She was halfway down the block before she remembered just what she had on her phone.  Stuff she absolutely, positively couldn’t let anyone else see.  Jennifer wheeled, not even caring that she scraped her shoe in the process, and started back to get her phone from Amelia after all.

Another homeless person…  Out of thin air…  Judging from his head-to-toe layer of garbage, she’d guess he’d been dumpster diving out back somewhere.  Tall, not at all humble, somehow very menacing…  Standing between her and Amelia…  Staring straight at Jennifer…

A cold shudder went up Jennifer’s spine.  She pretended to check her scraped shoe, not even caring anymore when she discovered it was ruined.  But she was trying to look casual, unafraid, while she strained to watch this tall guy in her peripheral vision.  Go away, she thought at him.  Go away so I can get my phone!

But he didn’t.  He just stared at her, starting to approach.

Another shudder went up Jennifer’s spine.

“Excuse me.”  It was that beautiful voice again.  Amelia.

The tall man spun on a dime, arms positioned funny, like he was trying to be The Karate Kid or something, then squatted at Amelia’s side.  “How could I?  How could I have failed to notice you and your need?”

Jennifer risked looking straight at them.

The homeless man gently examined Amelia’s injuries with an expertise that suggested medical training, then scooped her up in his arms and started to carry her away.  But he paused to look down at her.  “Whoever did this to you will be forced to eat several dinners consisting of their own body parts before I allow them to die.”

Jennifer could see that even Amelia shuddered at that one.  But, again, Jennifer had no choice.  She followed them.  She just had to get that phone back.  At least, she consoled herself for the time-being, it was password protected.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 26

The Storage Space simply couldn’t tolerate Irwin Le Grand Rat a moment longer.  It would have screamed at the top of its lungs, if only a building could…

An intruder!

Out back with all the bags of trash.  The bags of trash that appallingly inadequate Irwin hadn’t taken to the dump yet.  Including the bags with that Frank’s body parts in them, which Irwin had actually used to conceal some other bags that presumably contained something even more dreadful or incriminating.

No one but Irwin was ever out back; it wasn’t possible for anyone else to gain access.  Yet this man wasn’t Le Grand Rat!  Perhaps…were it even possible…this intruder was an even grander rat.

Tall, clad quite literally in rags that whirled around him like a thick fog.  Tattered hood concealing most of his face.  The poor long-suffering Storage Space strongly suspected he smelled even worse than all the garbage combined.

But there was something peculiar about what little was visible of his face.  That goatee was rather impeccably groomed for a bum.

He was going through the garbage bags, one by one.

Again it was strange that he tossed aside a potpourri of fresh food in one bag.  Any self-respecting bum should have been delighted!

He started opening the first bag with Frank’s body parts.  The Storage Space would have held its breath, if only a building could…

What?  The bum tossed what was obviously part of a human leg aside without the slightest reaction.  Other bags of body parts got the same treatment until he got to Frank’s head.  The bum was about to toss that aside, too.  But suddenly he caught sight of Frank’s face and did a double take.  Then he slapped a hand to his forehead, knocking the tattered hood off to reveal a look of almost comical disbelief.  Next he sank into a seated position, completely ignoring the gore and garbage in which he sat and still held Frank’s head.

“How could I?” the bum asked aloud, addressing Frank’s head.  “How could I have thought…”  He bowed his head before looking back up at Frank’s head with tears in his eyes.  Then he looked back at Irwin’s whole collection of garbage bags, face hardening, before springing to his feet.

Like greased lightning he put everything he’d tossed aside back in its garbage bag, cleaning up all evidence that he’d been there.  Then he stood back, squinting at the arrangement he’d recreated accurately with the bags of Frank’s body parts shielding some of the other bags.  Frowning, he opened one the concealed bags, carefully digging beneath the unremarkable trash on the top till he pulled a neat bag of ripped-up paper from the bottom.  Wiping his hands clean on his clothing first, he delicately pieced together some of the ripped-up papers.  His first reaction was dumbfounded shock.  His second was a huge, evil grin.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 25

Atta’ girl! 

Frank pulled his misty-green punch, intended for the guy with the misty-green sword that was only a stage prop, and used it to highlight the open water bottle that butcher Irwin had left behind.  Karen should probably get some fluids in her first after all that blood loss, before she went for the French fries.

The only-a-stage-prop sword, blunt as hell and inexpertly swung, hurt like hell.

But how could that be?  What the fuck!  Frank knew he was dead.  Nothing could have made that clearer than watching that fucking butcher Irwin carve his body up with a fucking chainsaw.  Frank looked down.  The only-a-stage-prop sword had cut him in half at the waist.

How was that possible?  What the fuck were the physics of being a green mist?

Frank headbutted the other guy, but his head just passed through the other guy’s head…

Switzerland.  1898.  Yearning.  For a woman.  A flurry of men in top hats, women in long skirts, and horses whinnying and clamoring over cobblestones.  Couldn’t find her.  Agony.  Fucking bonkers.

Then Frank’s head came out behind the other guy’s.  And the other guy seemed to wither and finally slink away, out of Karen’s storage unit, like a green snake.

Karen…

Frank swirled around Irwin’s open water bottle again, doing all he could to attract Karen’s attention to it.

No fan of that fuck Irwin.  Had appreciated the other green mist’s sharing Frank’s outrage when Irwin cut up Frank’s body.  But Irwin had done two things right.  He hadn’t noticed Karen wedged in the back of her storage unit, or who the fuck knows what he would have done with her.  Good thing he hadn’t bothered to clean up Frank’s blood inside her storage unit, just the hall.  And he’d left his water and lunch just inside her storage unit.

Karen’s outstretched hand shook and dropped.  She couldn’t reach the water.  Fucking A!

The physics of being a green mist…  Could Frank move it closer?  He balled himself up and tried.  Nothing happened.

Karen’s eyes closed again.  She was going to fucking die.

He had to.  He fucking had to move that water bottle.

A monster truck rumbled over a monster pothole just outside, reminding Frank for a moment of how his crazy partner Alex drove.

Karen’s eyes fluttered open as the water bottle moved an inch closer to her.  Had Frank done it or the truck?

Karen reached, shaking fingertips threatening to knock the bottle over when she made contact, then passed out again.

A thought cut through Frank far more painfully than that blunt sword.  It was:  Karen, how could I?  Frank fucking had to move that water bottle.

Something happened Frank didn’t understand at all.  For a moment he wasn’t in Karen’s storage unit anymore.  He was home, inside her, the first time they made love.  Then he was back in her storage unit.

The water bottle, the French fries, and even Irwin’s sandwich were within Karen’s reach.  Slowly, very slowly, she managed to eat and drink some.  Woozy as hell, she got confused and dipped a French fry not into the ketchup but into a huge glop of Frank’s blood on the floor.

Frank wasn’t sure what to think, watching her struggle to get that French fry dripping with clumps of his blood into her mouth.  Much-needed protein?  What the fuck.  Wasn’t doing him any good any more.  He swallowed heavily, then thought, eat up, baby.  It’s the very least I can do for you.

She wrinkled her nose and licked her lips thoughtfully, before her eyes widened in horror.

Uh oh, thought Frank.  She’s figured it out.  It’s okay, he thought at her desperately.  It’s okay.  He had trouble with the next words; they weren’t words he thought often, no matter what he felt.  But they burst out of him:  “I love you!”

The word he then saw burst out of her, however, was the only word capable of destroying a love even death hadn’t ended.  It was, “Martin!”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 24

Karen felt something, a weak fluttering under her cool, clammy skin.  Fast.  Was that…her pulse?  Her eyes seemed to be open.  Through swirls of green mist, she thought she saw the fingers of one hand resting on the inside wrist of her other.  Was it minutes, hours or days later?  Karen was so confused, and grasping for breath.

The green mist swirled, hypnotic, adding to Karen’s dizziness and nausea, even though she was lying down.  Still, weakly, her stomach also grumbled with hunger and she smelled something.  French fries.

And ketchup?  And something else, something metallic…

Her hand…  Had the bleeding finally slowed?

Karen tried to flip her hand over to check, only to be met with waves of wooziness.  Silence.  She was alone in the back of her storage unit with no phone.  Karen opened her mouth and screamed for help but couldn’t even hear it herself.

Was it already too late?  Even if the hand she was too weak to flip over had finally stopped bleeding?

A summer’s day…

Half the green mist now swirled around Karen’s face.  Sunlight sparkled through it.  Karen’s eyes closed.  She saw a summer’s day with flowers starting to bloom as a man’s elegant and melodic voice spoke of “the darling buds of May.”

Light!  The light became so bright, and Karen longed for it so.  She strained to reach it, to reach the sun, her feet seeming to leave the earth behind her.

“No, Karen, no!”

Frank’s voice pulled her back.  Her eyes fluttered open.  Two separate green mists seemed to be at war with each other in front of her.  Karen struggled for breath.

French fries.

Karen’s fingers twitched.  It seemed all she could do.

Ketchup.

Her stomach heaved with nausea, but then it grumbled.  Ever so slowly, Karen slid her arm across the floor.  

Browne Barr: Vocation?

The poem below was written in the late 1930s by my father when he was an undergraduate student.

Vocation?

My friend, upon the world that lies below,
Now, look, this night, and think of all it knows.

The shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.
All joy in life is here at end of day.

A song we’ve sung; a prayer we’ve said; the crowd
Dissolved; the night is here; our faith we’ve vowed.

Today a politician’s pimple broke
And shot its friendly filth on simple folk.

The statistician raved and said we might
All be extinct before the fall of night.

The dietitian thought we could not live
Without the vitamins she had to give,

That clean and purge and make men strong.  She said
The children were obnoxious if well fed.

The politicians, statisticians, too
Know only of the Lilliputians’ view.

Perhaps they’ve never thought at end of day,
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away

That there is not abidance in the facts
When they alone administrate our acts.

Perhaps they’ve never felt the warmth of night
That mitigates all aching in its light

Or seen the hills that lie around their town
And heard their deathless call to eyes cast down,

“Lift up unto the hills.  There find the source
Of power, strength, tenacity and force.”

Tonight, my friend, we think of life ahead.
We see some bodies ache, some minds ‘most dead.

Let’s go awake their minds, relieve the pain
Of Lilliputian views that never gain

For them a favoured hour at end of day
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.

On The Road, Pittsburra: SFWA 2017 Nebula Awards Conference

All right, all right, it’s not Pittsburra, but rather Pittsburgh, but the last five letters are the same as in Edinburgh…

Anyway, long ago I could have become an active member of “SIF-wuh.”  (Speaking of pronunciation, that’s how they say SFWA, which stands for Science Fiction Writers of America.)  But I just joined.  This past weekend I went to their yearly Nebula Awards Conference for the first time, which was held in Pittsburra.

Considering that their Nebula Award is the most prestigious award for this genre, the Nobel Prize in Literature for those of us who write speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), the first thing that struck me was the open friendliness extended to me as a newcomer.  The president of the organization was kind enough to meet with me one-on-one, an honor I wasn’t expecting, and even bought one of my books from the bookstore.  A writer reputed to make six figures a year as an indie author was so intent on offering me marketing advise that he spent twice as long with me as he’d agreed to.  It didn’t take me long to realize, from everyone I came in contact with, that what I had joined was a family.

And then there was the banquet, during which the Nebula Awards were announced and given out to the winners for work published in the previous year.  Floral arrangements in the center of the tables?  No…and here I’ll start dropping names…a unique found-object robot sculpture on each table, compliments of Don L. Jones.  Dull, small talk among the strangers I was seated with?  No, I had two animated authors on one side and, on the other, Jim Fiscus who won a well-deserved special award and delighted me as we debated the merits of various Japanese film directors.  Toastmaster?  A real, live astronaut, Dr. Kjell Lindgren, who delighted us with his personal pictures and stories from four months of weightlessness with killer views.  This special guest, having watched our planet for so long from afar, stole our hearts when he expressed how he couldn’t understand why anyone fortunate to live on such a beautiful planet could do anything nasty to the rest of us living here.  Charlie Jane Anders stole our hearts when, having just won a Nebula for her novel All the Birds in the Sky, she said…in the small voice of someone who feels very deeply what they say…that everyone should have a voice.

In short, this writer had a truly wonderful time in…oh, all right…Pittsburgh.

 

Final Favorite Films (for foreseeable future)

If you need to search a little to find these, I think it’s worth it.

  1. THE THIN MAN (1934).  The camera makes its way through the tuxedoed gents at a posh bar to find our leading man, William Powell, the most elegant of them all.  So what if the character he plays is such a consummate alcoholic he can hardly stand?  Or if he’s living off his rich wife and sprawls across the sofa Christmas morning to amuse himself with his new BB gun by shooting the ornaments off the tree?  None can match this couple’s gentility with the possible exception of Astor, their dog.
  2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  Sizzling tale of insurance fraud.  Possibly the classic film noir of all time.
  3. DEAD RECKONING (1947).  Speaking of noir, this one with Humphrey Bogart includes Lizabeth Scott, the queen of noir.  I just hope I remember Bogie’s advise at the end when it’s my time to die.
  4. BLADE RUNNER (1982, original theatrical release with the old gumshoe-detective voiceovers).  Moving right along to neo-noir and in anticipation of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to be released in October, please don’t miss my all-time favorite film for many years.  Director Ridley Scott’s steamy, deliciously exotic but grubbily believable future haunts me still.
  5. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003).  Worth it for the artistry of the animation alone, but a delightfully weird romp overall.

Further Favorite Films

You may also need to search for some of these.  Again, in my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. GUNGA DIN (1939).  Not to have seen this rollicking, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-style tale of British India isn’t an oversight; it’s a crime.  Afterwards (spoiler alert), treat yourself to both the Rudyard Kipling poem it’s based on and its 1939 movie review in The New York Times.
  2. D.O.A. (1950).  Starts with a guy staggering into a police station:  “I want to report a murder.”  Cop:  “Who was murdered?”  Guy:  “I was.”
  3. HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959).  Nothing has ever illustrated with such accuracy the nutty, optical-illusion-like reality shifts in a relationship.
  4. NIGHT ON EARTH (1991).  When I saw the Rome sequence with Roberto Benigni the first time, I laughed so hard I honestly feared choking.
  5. HORATIO’S DRIVE:  AMERICA’S FIRST ROAD TRIP (2003).  Folksy, fun and imaginatively convincing reconstruction of the true story of the first person to successfully cross the United States in a car in 1903.  The best part is that Horatio had no qualifications whatsoever to do this…starting with only a whim, a $50 bet, and no car.

 

Five Favorite Films

You may need to search for some of these.  In my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. PICCADILLY (1929).  What could be better than seeing a gorgeous black-and-white exactly as it was seen in 1929?…which is to say not in black and white.  This rare theatrical-release version is tinted blue for the exterior shots at night, where stately vehicles discharge elegantly clad customers in front of a posh London nightclub.  The interior sparkles with warm, peachy brilliance from its amber tint.  The absolutely luscious Jameson Thomas, as the swanky nightclub owner, drips elegance with every move.  Anna May Wong, the immigrant kitchen worker who claws her way from rags to riches, is the consummate femme fatale.  Finally, the newly composed music for the soundtrack is magnificent.
  2. NOTORIOUS (1946).  Hitchcock directed this sizzling noir with a notorious Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains.
  3. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).  Poor Orson Welles is no match for Rita Hayworth.
  4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950).  How can you resist a film that starts with the camera looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool at the main character…who’s floating face down, dead, and about to tell us how he got that way?
  5. LIMELIGHT (1952).  You thought The Little Tramp was a soulful charmer in silent films?  Wait till you hear Charlie Chaplin talk!  He wrote and directed this story of a fading performer that fits him like the proverbial glove.