Sparkle Motion (And How Your Commitment is Doubted)

Donnie: I made a new friend.
Dr. Lilian Thurman: Real or imaginary?
Donnie: Imaginary.

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Let’s see. Last entry was in late June. Sounds about right.

I had two earlier entries written and almost ready to go. One was totally scrapped. The other (a sort of review and one-man discussion about IT) will be posted sometime in the next week or two. Or maybe in nine months. Possibly never.

Daniel Johnston passed away a few days ago. I will have an entire post dedicated to him coming soon as well. It’s too much to put in here. RIP. True love will find you in the end.

New York Comic Con is in about two weeks. Sure I’ll have plenty to say about that experience. Assuming I survive, that is.

I’ve tried to keep track of my constant nonsensical thoughts over the last month. Most have been forgotten. Some will be ignored. I don’t need to cross back into the eternal gun debate. Enough folks on both sides of that stupid fence keep that fire burning day and night.

I have an idea. This goes out to anyone looking to spice up their gym (Mouser’s…I’m looking at you…not that your gym needs anymore spice). Add a room with furniture. Couches. Fridges. Armoires. Giant boxes full of books. You get the idea. Pick it up and move it around a bit. Maybe make it a distance thing. I don’t know. It’s a great idea.

Football is back. Week 3 approaches and the Steelers are already in a bit of a pickle. Roethlisberger is out for the rest of the season. Elbow surgery. That’s a swift kick in the dick, folks. Ah well. You never know what might happen. News broke last night that they traded for Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fans and media types alike have been clamoring for the Steelers to upgrade their defense a bit more. Well, they did. And it goes to show that they have faith in their new starter Mason Rudolph.

I am 1-1 in fantasy football. Not a terrible start. Usually I go 0-3 or 1-2 to start most seasons. Suppose the latter could still happen.

The Penguins played their first preseason game last night. They made the little haul across the state and took the ice in Penn State’s Pegula Arena. A team comprised of mostly Wilkes Barre/Scranton players (with a few big club players sprinkled in) took on a Buffalo Sabres team that had about half of their usual NHL lineup (Eichel, Skinner, Dahlin, Hutton – to name a few). The stream quality was iffy so I tuned in and out and in and out. First two periods were mostly forgettable (being outshot 37-9 is yucky). But they managed a strong third period and the teams went to OT tied 4-4. Eichel got the OT winner.

I’m always asked how I think the Penguins are going to do. Despite my unconditional love for the NHL as a whole, I do hold the Penguins at the tippy top of my heart. Optimism is always in full swing at the start of any season. They’ll win the Cup. Right? If you’re a fan, you don’t think any other way. Realism dictates that we’ll have a clear picture come January or February. And, as history tells us, even that time of the year doesn’t exactly paint the clearest picture. I find it’s best to avoid social media, root for your team, and enjoy the ride. If you weren’t a fan before, say, 2009, then you probably don’t remember the struggles this team went through. Count yourselves as fortune and lucky that things are still good. Yeah, being swept out of the playoffs was poop. But it’s a new year. It’s a new day. Yes it is.

I am making my yearly fall resolution to try my best to finish a season of American Horror Story. Jot that down somewhere. They’re doing an 80’s slasher theme this season. That’s right up my alley. We’ll see how it goes. In the 8 seasons they’ve done, I’ve only finished 3 (Murder House, Roanoke, Cult). A show like that should be right up my alley but man…I just have a hard time really sticking with it. And that sucks. I always tell myself that a time will come when I’ll strap myself to the big chair in the living room and force my way through the whole series. Clockwork Orange style if need be.

Are we on the verge of the next pro wrestling war?

No. We are not.

I’m sure in the minds of fans across the Internet, war is immanent. Battle lines will be drawn on Twitter and Instagram and teenagers who dedicate their lives to running weird fan accounts will be swimming in content they’ve plucked from other folks. Horrible things will be said back and forth. It will be a shining example of why wrestling fans are slowly ruining everything.

It’s NXT vs. AEW, right? Two “rival” wrestling shows on at the same time. Battling for ratings supremacy. We are reaching into the past and dredging up memories of the fabled Monday Night Wars. WWE vs. WCW. It’s going to be the same thing all over again! Ahhh!

No. It’s not.

WWE vs. WCW was a war for ratings. A war for survival. For fans. They duked it out to see who could put on the better program. Thing is, fans actually had to make a choice back then. Unless you had your VCR programmed to record one show while you watched another, you had to choose. And each company had its loyal fan base. Some of us would flip between USA and TNT and stick with whatever seemed most interesting at the time. Others just stayed on one channel and enjoyed the entire show. I believe WCW showed a replay of their show but most of us had to get up early for school the next day, so staying up wasn’t an option.

It’s 2019. Not many people are forced to make choices when it comes to programming anymore.

DVR. On Demand. WWE Network. YouTube. I could go on and on.

I believe the people that are preparing for “war” are just young kids that weren’t around for the Monday night stuff. Or, possibly, they are older “fans” who live and die on the Internet. And there seems to be a constant need for these lads and ladies to feel like they belong to something. It’s all well and fine to have a home team you like to root for. But this is entertainment. Everyone — in both companies — works hard and deserves success.

Again, it’s best to avoid social media. Wrestling fans seem to have nothing better to do with their time than complain and bitch about what they watch (despite, you know, continuing to watch the thing that is causing them so much grief). And going to shows is usually no better. If people aren’t sitting on their hands, then they are doing everything they can to try and get themselves “over” (I hate using wrestling terminology). I don’t get all the hate. I don’t get all the negativity. It’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun. If you aren’t entertained — if you aren’t having fun — then why are you still watching? Find something else to do. And we won’t even touch on the insanity of “fans” being awful to wrestlers on social media. Well, okay, “fans” being awful to pretty much everyone on social media. Wrestlers are people too.

We’ve got tickets to the AEW show that’s coming up in Pittsburgh and man, I do worry about it. Not what we’ll see in the ring — that’ll be great — but by what (or whom) will be sitting near us. Around us. Seems like folks just like shitting all over everything. And that can be a handful to deal with in a public setting. I’m sure I could do an entire rant about people and the general lack of spacial awareness they usually display.

I tend to rag on Philadelphia. A LOT. But we have attended a number of wrestling shows over there in the last few years and it’s been a treat. Especially NXT: TakeOver in 2018. That crowd was electric. I love being a part of stuff like that. I cannot imagine what it’s like being on the other side of that enthusiasm. A feeling greater than your normal run-of-the-mill adrenaline rush, I’d guess.

So yeah. AEW vs. NXT.

AEW. Cody. Kenny Omega. Young Bucks. Jon Moxley. Britt Baker. A brand new promotion that is looking to gain footing and put on exciting, entertaining shows. NXT. The Undisputed Era. Johnny Gargano. Shayna Baszler. Velveteen Dream. Our guy, Joaquin Wilde. WWE’s hottest roster. A group of guys and gals who constantly put on incredible matches and exist under the umbrella of the biggest wrestling company in the known universe.

Just enjoy both. Be happy that we live in a time where enjoying both is a possibility. I know I will.

And, if the Penguins are playing on Wednesday…well…my DVR will be pulling double duty those nights. Probably most Wednesday nights. Once the NHL season starts, I’ll have at least one game a night to watch. Can my dream of a Penguins/Oilers Cup final happen this season? Optimism says yes.

So okay. Be good to one another. And yourselves.

 

 

 

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Dreamland (1…2…3)

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.”
― Ray Bradbury

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Joaquin Wilde makes his NXT TV debut. (Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

Last night, I watched a dream come true.

I don’t write about professional wrestling much. Ever, actually. And it’s not that I don’t want to — sometimes I think it would make for interesting subject matter — but I generally drop into something else and say “next time”. I don’t find shame or embarrassment in writing or talking about pro wrestling. I’m a fan. I’ve always been a fan. I’m sure I’ll always be a fan. Wrestling was brought into my life at a very young age — as it was for most of us — and it’s stayed there ever since. One of my earliest memories is going with my dad down to Wheeling for a show. I don’t remember much of the action. I don’t even really remember where we sat. I do recall being upset that I wasn’t allowed to get one of those big foam fingers. Priorities.

But last night, I watched a dream come true.

Dreams. We all have them. The weird stuff we see and experience when we sleep. Some are good. Some are iffy. Some are just full on nightmares. Some don’t make a bit of sense and we forget them the moment we wake.

But that’s not the direction we are headed today.

Because last night I watched a dream come true.

When I was a kid (around 10 or 11), I met a guy named Michael Paris. Here was this scrawny Filipino kid living in West Virginia. He liked basketball and on first glance, I didn’t expect much in the way of a friendship. Turns out, he was also a huge fan of pro wrestling. And so was I! So the bond was formed. And that’s how it works. One simple thing can bring people together for life. One shared enjoyment is all it takes.

We grew up together. We spent collective years watching and studying and enjoying wrestling. As time went along, more and more people trickled in and out of what became a very tight knit group of friends. A group of guys that loved wrestling and could never get enough of it.

Michael had the dream back then. The itch. He was going to make wrestling his life. That was it. There was no hesitation. He was going to give it his all. If it worked, it worked. If not, well, that wasn’t a scenario that was talked about much.

I shared that dream. Sometimes, I still think about a reality where that was something that happened for me. But it didn’t and maybe it was never meant to. I went along and found my own way and now I’m navigating my own choppy dream waters.

Michael chased that dream. He put in the work. The time. The years of blood, sweat, and tears. He faced highs. Lows. Moments of self-doubt. Moments where he stood between a rock and a hard place. Moments where — unfortunately — he faced life and death.

In April 2017, he suffered a very serious injury while performing in Mexico City. An injury that almost cost him his career — and more importantly — his life. A ruptured colon and internal bleeding led to a major surgery that would alter the course of his life forever.

Everything happens for a reason, right?

In March of this year, Michael signed with WWE.

I’ve watched his career from the start. From the days when we goofed off in the backyard, to him taking an unbelievable beating at the hands of Homicide at the IWC Super Indy Tournament, to holding titles in Impact Wrestling (TNA), and now to stepping into a WWE ring.

Michael made his NXT TV debut last night. And I’m still in awe.

I’m in awe because my friend made his dream come true.

And that’s why we’re all here, right? To make our best lives? To enjoy each moment? I think, sometimes, chasing your dreams is looked at with cocked eyes and pursed lips because as you get older, the nasty adult priorities are always biting at our heels. As kids we are told that we can be anything that we want to be (assuming you have parents that see fit to encourage such things). As we grow older, we are exposed to the crop of folks that say otherwise. I’ve always been convinced that the naysayers are just fools who let their dreams die. Or fools that never had dreams in the first place. (Because, well, if they couldn’t do it…neither should you).

As kids, the possibilities seemed endless. Infinite. We wanted to be superheroes. Movie stars. Rock gods. Comic book artists. We wanted to catch the game winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Walk out of WrestleMania as the champion! We fell in love with those things and projected ourselves into those roles every day.

But time and dreams are always working against one another. And more often than not, those big ideas we had as kids are tucked away in a trunk and pushed into the back of the closet.

Is it easy to do the big stuff? No. Actually, it will probably be some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. But if it was easy, then everyone would do it. There are no guarantees. No shortcuts. And there is no middle ground. You’re either all in or all out. I believe that’s the only way it’ll really work. The path to making a dream come true is full of rejection and reality and walls that occasionally extend to the sky.

It takes reckless courage to chase dreams. And it takes even more courage to hold onto those dreams and let them carry you wherever you’re meant to go.

I always lean to the idea of staying humble and hungry. Complacency is a killer. So is ego. The two combined form a weird parasite that looks like it slithered right out of Carpenter’s remake of The Thing.

The dream path has two endings. Either it works or it doesn’t. Failure is always a possibility. It always lingers. It’s the monster around the corner that’s just waiting for you to let your guard down so it can strike and eat your face. The idea of failure is scary, sure, but it’s one I’d rather face than the alternative. I’ve always said that it’s better to try and fail than to have never tried at all. Personally, I don’t want to face death and have a big fat ‘what-if’ scenario hanging over my head.

Michael and I took very different paths in life. It’s been a few years since we saw one another. We don’t even talk much these but that’s okay. I miss my friend, yes, but I know he’s living his best life. He’s walking proof that dreams come true. That dreams are worth having. That the countless hours and hours of hard work will pay off in the end.

It struck me, as I sat down to write this, that his near-death experience and mine lined up within a month of one another. Life is weird that way, I guess. It really isn’t a thing that you want to have in common with someone. But we’re still here and still working toward the things we want. So there’s that.

I’m sure dozens and dozens of things like this will be written. Memories will be shared and maybe even some name dropping to family and friends and co-workers. I mean, knowing someone in the WWE is a cool thing, right?

I watched a dream come true last night. And that gives me hope. Hope not only for myself but for every person out there who wants to do something special with their life. Anything is possible. And we can accomplish anything if we just put every bit of ourselves into it.

And never stop believing. Never giving up. Never settling when someone says no. Reckless courage. Always being willing to knock down every single thing that tries to get in the way.

My friend made his dream come true. And it makes me so freaking happy.

Be good to one another.

(NXT can be seen every Wednesday night on the WWE Network. Worth watching if you’re a wrestling fan.)

 

 

Critical (Waffles, Sheep, and Detox)

“It’s easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It’s a lot more difficult to perform one.”
― Chuck Palahniuk

 

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Hamster in Butt World
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Corn Universe. Where man evolved from corn.

It’s fun to be mad. There is a feeling of exhilaration when our feet slide into those well worn grooves on the soapbox. It doesn’t matter if we have an actual grasp on the facts of a subject. We grab our digital telescopes and look down the block and hope we see something that will stir up the fires in the hearts and fingers of our buddies who camp out (for now) in the land of outrage culture.

Do we want to hate things more? Or is it just easier? Having a negative opinion about a certain thing gives us a lot more leg room when it comes to talking about said thing. There is an eagerness to this kind of negativity. Before, we jumped at the chance to be the one to introduce something to the group (music, movies, books, etc…). Now, the line is log-jammed at the front with folks who want to be the first to publicly hate something. We take a break from begging celebrities to notice us on social media so we can flame and torch a thing that someone else did. That, in itself, I suppose, is another attempt at being noticed. At being taken with some sort of value. We think — maybe assume — that our wit and intelligence will bleed across the things we type.

But it’s been said — here and plenty of others places — hating everything doesn’t make you interesting.

They say everyone is a critic and that’s very true. It’s the easy thing to do. It’s a position that requires the least amount of effort. “This thing you spent months and months doing…yeah, it sucks…and I could have done it so much better…but I didn’t…and I won’t…”. And hey, I get it. You put yourself and your creations out into the public and you’re going to get criticism. The two go hand in hand. I know writers are told to avoid reviews. I would think the same would go for anyone in the realm of entertainment.

It’s weird. People get attacked for liking things. They are made to feel like they shouldn’t enjoy what they enjoy. I used to be guilty of trashing stuff I didn’t like. And yeah, I’m right at that point in my life where I DO NOT understand a lot of the stuff that younger folks enjoy. Hell, I don’t even understand half of the stuff my wife enjoys. We’ve been together almost 8 years now and I still find myself confused by the stuff she does. I expect that to last for as long as I do. And I am sure that I will continue to shake my head and drift off to take part in my own weird activities. She watches people play video games. I write stories about demons and monsters while listening to Bach, Beethoven, and then I’ll change it up and bop my head along to something by The Beach Boys.

I usually throw a chunk of the blame at social media. We’re continually drifting away from land and the island we’re building is toxic and weird and more dangerous than the one from LOST. I expect that the smoke monster has a Twitter handle and creates A LOT of online petitions to fire people for doing stuff.

It all comes down to the human condition. We are never blameless. Guns don’t kill people. Facebook doesn’t shame mothers. Instagram doesn’t push agendas. We do. We take these tools and abuse them. We pick targets and go after them until there is nothing left. Compassion for other humans is gone. Toast. Poof. Thanos dusted that part of us. The lot of us just go along with no repercussions and all is perfectly smooth and buttery.

We’re all exposed to the good and the bad. Some of us even see the ugly from time to time to time. Optimism. Pessimism. Realism. I know everyone has used at least one of those words when describing themselves. Maybe you picked the right one and did so with pride. Or maybe you lied and picked one that isn’t exactly a correct descriptor of your real nature. I’ve been told countless times that I’m a negative person. Usually, I combat that by saying that I just operate under the realism umbrella. And that’s partially the truth.

I don’t often look forward to things. Usually I hope that social situations and plans somehow get cancelled last minute. When I start a journey somewhere, I generally focus on how much time is left before I can get out and get back home. I pass on food and regret it. I eat food and regret it. Sometimes, I smell food and regret it. That really happens. I keep an eye out for people and situations that send up that ever-so-familiar red flag and I try to stay on the other side of them. I mumble through conversations because I don’t think that I have anything truly interesting to bring to the table. I mean, if you want to talk hockey or movies, then I’m your guy. And sometimes I can fake it just long enough to make it out unscathed. Is this negativity? Realism? A clear sign of serious depression? Tapeworm? The beginning stages of demonic possession?

Stranger things have happened. Stranger things will continue to happen.

(Stranger Things Season 3 is starting in a few more weeks! EEEEK!)

I had a dream that my wife gave birth to the Anti-Christ. And I had a chance to kill it. And I didn’t. Dream me was fine with letting that little demon grow up and take over the world. Most of you know that I am not overly fond of children. So this choice made by dream me was very interesting.

On a side note. If I was a parent to the Anti-Christ, I’d still get that little fella vaccinated.

Clearly I’ve had demons and the Devil on my mind quite a bit lately. I finally watched Rosemary’s Baby all the way through. My last novel had a good bit to do with demons and possession. My new novel/novella/whatever-the-heck-it-is does as well. Good to see that I’m branching out to other things.

On a side side note. I also watched Repulsion. It’s Roman Polanski’s first English film. If you are a fan of raw, suffocating horror, go ahead and watch that.

The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup. Dead last in January to champions in June. I am curious if the Blues model will be used next season. Be terrible at the start. Fire the coach. Come together as a team. Win it all. It worked for the Penguins twice (’09 and ’16).

The NHL Draft is on Friday (June 21). I’m not very good at predicting the future but I do expect some big moves to be made. By the Pens and a few other teams. We are just coming out of a playoff race where all 4 division winners were knocked out in the first round. Something tells me that there will be some changes. Blockbuster stuff? Maybe. You can never count on that happening but I do think we’ll see some interesting movement.

The term ‘tech detox’ was used in one of the new Black Mirror episodes. I laughed when I heard it. Then I quickly realized that it’s probably a good idea. Then I laughed again.

Book Recommendations:
The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott
The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor

Be good.

 

Lower the Curtain (What Are You Looking For?)

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“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones aired its final episode a few weeks ago. It was met with a very mixed reaction. In other news, water is wet and clouds occasionally look like puppies.

There was so much debate sparked about those final episodes. And some of it was earned. A lot wasn’t. But that’s just my take. I wish the seasons had been longer. Those dreaded “filler” episodes would have eased some of the complaining, I think. Still, we were treated to some really cool stuff. I was happy with it and felt it did a good job closing out the story.

Remember, there are always the books. If you hated this season and turned into an expert on writing and show running, then you’ll have your chance to re-live the story again when GRRM puts out books six and seven. Or, I don’t know, sit down and write out your own ending(s). Fan-fiction is still a thing (I think).

Outside of Breaking Bad, I don’t know of many television shows that received overall positive vibes for the finale. I’m sure there are some out there. Cheers? M*A*S*H? The Office? Muppet Babies?

Writing an ending to anything is tough. Writing an ending to something that is beloved by millions is well outside of my knowledge. Fan expectation can be over the top at times and often allows itself to grow into something that can never be attained. We all have our ideas of how things should play out and what should happen and how we’d do things. More often than not, though, all of that stuff doesn’t happen and we (as fans) feel slighted and let down.

Storytellers don’t have an obligation to write what the fans want. They just have to keep everyone invested. Keep them wanting more.

There was a series that aired on ABC called Happy Town. It aired in 2010 and was cancelled after 5 episodes? 4 maybe? I recall they put the remaining episodes online for anyone who cared enough to finish them. Which I did. Now maybe this is one of those cases where I am looking at memories through rose colored glasses but I remember this show being pretty cool. The overall mystery was about a rash of serial kidnappings happening in a remote town in Minnesota. The cast was great. Steven Weber. Sam Neil. Frances Conroy. M. C. Gainey. Just to name a couple. I think the bad guy was called the Magic Man? I should go back and watch the thing sometime. I know ABC still has it on their website.

It’s an interesting thing to look at over and over. Obviously, the ratings for the program were bad enough that ABC didn’t want to invest anymore time or money. I get that. Television is big business. It was 9 years ago, yeah, but you didn’t have the major streaming platforms around like we do now. Something like this could have found a home with a Netflix or a Hulu. And I think it’s a shame that it didn’t.

Side bar. I am still waiting for Hannibal to find a new home. It’s been years since NBC cancelled that show and I still want more.

To the point. There are a ton of stories that never get an ending. There are countless hours put forth by men and women to bring these creations to life. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t believe lack of effort is ever the issue. Heck, I get lost in my own head space when I’m writing stories. Sometimes I get lost when I’m doing the dishes. I can’t imagine having the kind of pressure that television writers and show runners have. Seems like the type of pressure that could easily suffocate a person.

I am good at being late to the party with a lot of stuff. Especially media. I just finished both seasons of Barry. It’s with Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan, and Henry Winkler. It’s on HBO and definitely worth watching. It has a wonderful blend of dark humor and drama. Hader plays a hit-man who follows a target into an acting class and ends up joining the class and wanting to become an actor. Performances are fantastic and it’s got plenty to keep you hooked.

Robert Pattinson has been cast as Batman. I’m fine with this. I was hoping to have taken in some of Pattinson’s indie work before I got to this bit but I’m shit at time management. I learned a long time ago that getting all worked up over casting is pointless. Utterly pointless. Did anyone think it was a good idea that Heath Ledger landed the role of the Joker? No. And yet, damn near everyone loved it. And him. It’s okay to step back from the pre-judgement table and wait it out somewhere else.

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Interior page from Detective Comics 27 (1st appearance of Batman)

I think it’s hard for folks to separate actors from their more famous roles. I just hope the script is good. Definitely on board with the story idea of going back to Batman’s roots as the world’s greatest detective. And as a comic fan, I do hope for some of the more colorful villains. Having a proper Riddler seems all too obvious at this point. Killer Croc? Ventriloquist and Scarface? Hugo Strange? Zsasz? Man Bat? Calendar Man?

I could go on and on and on here.

Just remember this:

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The good ‘ol days before Captain America. Give Pattinson a chance before you set fire to the Rotten Tomatoes ratings.

We spend last weekend in Philadelphia. I know, I know. That sentence alone should throw up a big red flag. We had tickets to see Glen Hansard and it was worth every bit. He’s playing in Cleveland in September but I don’t really do so well with activities that involve standing for hours at a time. So Philadelphia was the only other option. The guy is brilliant. He put out a new album called “This Wild Willing” and I highly recommend it. Hansard is an Irish singer/songwriter and an Oscar winner (“Falling Slowly” from the film Once).

Philly isn’t nearly as crowded as NYC, so that was a plus. A bit easier for me to get around. And finding a bathroom wasn’t a big issue. Another plus there. We’d been to the city plenty of times but this was the first time we’d ever really been downtown and got to walk around a little. I wasn’t accosted or even threatened for wearing a Penguins hat! Imagine that. I still have a pretty hard time when it comes to traveling. And usually in the moment, I regret leaving the house and I always tell myself that I don’t want to ever go anywhere again.

On Saturday we did a bit of walking around the King of Prussia Mall. A few miles worth. That place is huge. Worth a visit (if you’re a fan of malls…). We’ve been there several times (a usual haunt from our Scranton days). Plenty of high end stores. You know, the stores where they check your credit before you’re even allowed to peruse their offerings. T-shirts well over $100 each. Fashion has always — and will always — elude me. If I’m ever out and about and you see me and I’m looking stylish or whatever, please, I beg of you, heavily consider the idea that I have been replaced by a pod person. And act accordingly.

The new season of Black Mirror released this morning. So I’m off to binge the hell out of that.

Be good.

 

 

Number 13 is Me (And You)

“We’ve forgotten much. How to struggle, how to rise to dizzy heights and sink to unparalleled depths. We no longer aspire to anything. Even the finer shades of despair are lost to us. We’ve ceased to be runners. We plod from structure to conveyance to employment and back again. We live within the boundaries that science has determined for us. The measuring stick is short and sweet. The full gamut of life is a brief, shadowy continuum that runs from gray to more gray. The rainbow is bleached. We hardly know how to doubt anymore. (“The Thing”)”
― Richard Matheson, Collected Stories, Vol. 1

I brought home an old storage box a few weeks ago. It had been taking up space in my mom’s basement for years. Turns out, it was my own little time capsule. Old pictures. Pogs (!). All the old art books I painfully tried to replicate. Old music books (and yet I still fumble and bang the piano keys without rhythm or talent). I also found a folder of stories I’d written in high school. To top that, said folder also included a book I wrote in the 6th grade. Before we jump with excitement, no, it is not an actual book. Class project. Everyone had to write and draw their own story. It was laminated and put on display at an assembly (I think…)

What did I write about, you ask? A murdering boy who had been scarred by acid (like Two-Face from Batman lore). Yep. This chap, at the tender age of 11, was writing about death and murder and monsters. Sounds about right. I wonder if any of the teachers called my parents about that one. What did the other parents/kids think when they saw that? It is poorly written and the art is quite sub-par. I’m happy to see that some things never change.

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Don’t eat the clues.

We are obsessed with true crime. It’s mad. Nothing gets the blood flowing like listening to a story about humans acting like…well…humans. It’s a way to tap into a world that the majority of us will never be a part of (hopefully). Should we bat an eyelash or three if our significant other spends hours watching/listening to these stories? Especially if it’s about spouses killing other spouses? Probably not. Unless you’re a dick. But if you are a dick, you probably don’t notice what they are doing to begin with. And you certainly won’t notice when they poison your drink or ram a knife into your head. Life, man.

Avengers: Endgame was great. Game of Thrones has been great. When you reach the end of stories, there is a bit of an emotional drain. You’re forced to realize the importance of finality. As I write this, Game of Thrones has two episodes left and I’ll correctly guess that there will be a hefty amount of emotions flowing in the coming weeks. I found I enjoyed the battle in Episode 3 of GOT more than I did the big battle in Endgame. Both were awesome. Endgame just went too fast. I know; an odd thing to say about a 3 hour movie. There were some things I would have changed but that’s only important to me. Still a monster of a movie with some very satisfying moments (for those of us who enjoy such things).

I realize, too, that we are approaching the end of The Big Bang Theory. 12 years of consistent laughter and entertainment. It’s unusual to say such a thing about a network comedy. Usually the good stories and jokes drop off somewhere around season 6 or 7. Not always the case but it sure seems that way. I anticipate a very strong sendoff. For me, this isn’t a show where I’m worried about disappointment in a finale.

The teaser trailer for IT: Chapter Two dropped a few days ago. Holy crap. I challenged Britt to read the book before the release of this movie (September 6th). We’ll see how that goes. I’m pulling for her. I like that they are doing the Adrian Mellon story. I like that they are going to pull on the cosmic stuff too. Very interested to see how they actually do the Ritual of Chüd on screen. Yay!

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The NHL playoffs have been bonkers and I’m really glad I didn’t put any money down on a winner. Because I would have lost. Several times over. Britt and I did a pick ’em sheet for the second round. She went 4 for 4. I did not. 2 for 4. Perhaps I need to get out of the guessing game when it comes to hockey.

I just finished reading The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon. It’s a good read. A slow burn mystery that really captured the imagination we allow ourselves to have as children. The supernatural bits were well spread around and gave it another interesting layer.

I finished the zero draft of a new book. Right now it’s called Monster Match and you can find the short story upon which it’s based HERE. It was Joe Hill that made mention of a zero draft and I wish I could find the quote but I can’t. It might have been a tweet. Anyway. This one works just as well.

 

I would tell you that it’s a story about finding love in the weirdest of places. Trying to find a place in a time when nothing makes a whole lot of sense. But I fell down the rabbit hole of insanity and popped out in a totally different place. We’ll see what happens when I re-visit the thing and start re-writes.

Now that the weather has cleared, we’re gearing up for another shoot this weekend. Steve was asked to check out a house over in Burgettstown. As long as things hold up (health, mainly), it looks like we’ve got a few places to keep the schedule full this summer. Have to re-sharpen those editing skills! Well, just sharpen them period. They were never sharp to begin with. But we move on! I hope to have a new episode put together with all the footage and evidence we collect. Or maybe not. The possibility always exists that we capture nothing. Some ghosts don’t want to be seen or heard. Others are far too willing at times.

See ya down the road.

Myths and Stories (And Syrup)

“I submit that the real reason we criticized and disliked Lynch’s Laura’s muddy bothness is that it required of us an empathetic confrontation with the exact same muddy bothness in ourselves and our intimates that makes the real world of moral selves so tense and uncomfortable, a bothness we go to the movies to get a couple hours’ fucking relief from.”
― David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

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I find it interesting to see just how quickly things can spread. Stories. Viral videos and images. Hoaxes. Preventable diseases. maxresdefault

We’re really moving backwards. The sidewalk is going in the opposite direction and people seem to be fine with it. I guess if you don’t have to worry about making the effort to walk then you can’t really complain about where you’re being taken.

I was fascinated when the stories started popping up about the Momo Challenge. You know what I’m talking about. The creepy sculpture that came to life and started inhabiting kid’s YouTube videos. You know, the thing telling kids to harm themselves and others.

Momo

I have made this exact comment before but I feel it needs reiterated. As kids, we were always taught to believe half of what we see and none of what we hear. That was hastily replaced with ‘if it’s on Facebook, then it’s true’.

And before I keep going with this train of thought, I need to make mention that I totally forgot about the time change. I was transfixed on Momo and realized I’d completely missed out on 2:00 AM. I hope she/he/it didn’t invade my thoughts and force me to do something wicked.

Anyway. You can throw this adorable little thing in with the stories like Slenderman and Candle Cove and Jeff the Killer. It isn’t real. It was never real. It just goes to show you what a creative mind can do with one little picture. It also goes to show you that we could very well be one meme away from a total collapse. A war. Mass hysteria! Think the Marshmallow Man scene in Ghostbusters. Only bigger! And with more marshmallow!

(As long as it is a gender neutral marshmallow)

That’s not to say that there aren’t dangers out there. The Internet is a dark and scary place — especially for kids. Bad people could certainly use this sort of stuff to lure in kids. To somehow trick them into doing something bad. There isn’t much outside of the realm of possibility anymore. People think the planet is flat again. Mothers are still convinced vaccines will screw up their kids. Misinformation is the real threat. Well, that, and gullible parents. Common sense is key! If my cats wanted to use the Internet, I’m sure I’d consider monitoring their activity.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. That is very real. Very very real. Mainstream media won’t report on it but trust me, it is the most dangerous thing on the Internet right now. Hide your kids. Hide your wives and husbands and step-parents. Make sure your pets don’t have your computer password.

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Heard Antonio Brown was traded to Oakland. Okay. Obviously the Steelers will go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl now. Hey, you never know. Moving away from toxic things (and people) can be life changing. And is something that should be done 10 out of 10 times.

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I watched most of Saturday Night Live for the first time in years. I adore everything Kate McKinnon does. Pete Davidson had an interesting bit on Weekend Update. He talked about the recent documentaries regarding R. Kelly and Michael Jackson. He compared supporting the Catholic Church to being an R. Kelly fan. “If you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that the same thing as being an R. Kelly fan?” he said. “I don’t see the difference. Only one’s music is significantly better.”

His point was leading toward the moral dilemma of whether or not you can appreciate the work/art of a monster. I originally typed that in quotes but there was actually no need. It does raise an interesting question and topic of debate. Should you (and can you) still like and appreciate the work/art done by someone who did horrible things in their life?

I say yes. I will continue to listen to the occasional Michael Jackson song. I will still watch the occasional Kevin Spacey movie. Does it mean I like the things they did to people? No. Do I support them? No. It means that I can separate the two. Twitter wants us to erase every bad person from history. They want the evil just wiped away with digital 409 and a wet nap. If it isn’t PC then it must go! That’s quite the opposite of what should be done. You can’t learn from history’s mistakes if that history isn’t allowed to exist. Hell, I’ll still watch a Chris Benoit match from time to time. We can acknowledge the good and the bad simultaneously.

The final season of Game of Thrones premieres in about a month. I’m excited. I imagine it must feel very strange and maybe a little sad for George R. R. Martin. This series defined him as a fantasy author. A Song of Ice and Fire was started in 1991 and the first book (A Game of Thrones) was published in 1996. I can’t imagine putting that many years of your life into something only to see it finished on a different medium (and by different writers). Some (maybe all) will simply counter this by saying that Martin had plenty of time to finish his books. That he knew the show was going to get ahead of him. The last two novels, The Winds of Winter (Book Six) and A Dream of Spring (Book Seven) are currently without any publication date in the immediate future. Personally, I had hoped that he had been leading everyone down a false path and would drop both books a chunk of time before the Season 8 premiere. Clearly I have ridiculous fantasies.

Maybe this will lead Martin to change the books. Obviously he’s got the time to do so. I’m sure the main plot stuff will stay the same (he did consult with the show runners about where things were headed). I don’t know. There has got to be frustration and dismay within the original book fan club. You invest years into reading a series only to see it finished on TV. Imagine that happening to Harry Potter. Yeah. What would be the magic spell to quell that anger? Rowling would have to deactivate her Twitter account.

I know Martin gets so much crap from people who want the book(s). That certainly can’t make things any easier. I stumble around short stories sometimes. Can’t imagine the kind of pressure he is under.

Anyway. I am very much looking forward to these final six episodes. All of which are of feature film length. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. Will it be good? Will the ending be satisfying? All we know is that characters will die. A lot of them. Most of your favorites, I’d say. The books will come out when they do and that will be that. Look at it as another few chapters in the adventure. Unless you don’t read. Then this whole thing has no application in your life.

I had an idea for a fantasy series when I was in high school. It involved ancient worlds, knights, castles, kingdoms, time travel, dimensional travel, evil lords, and the main character’s friend had a stuttering problem. Fairly certain it was Lord of the Rings and The Dark Tower mashed up in one heck of a messy ripoff.

I admire fantasy authors. I have a fascination with process. I would love to sit down and see how these folks put that kind of stuff together. World building and character arcs and family trees. I think it’s neat how it all comes together. It can be very complicated at times, I’m sure, but usually the end result is something pretty cool. I always walk through the fantasy section at the book store and just marvel at the length of the books in there. A lot of it isn’t for me. I enjoy the genre but sometimes it can be a bit too much. I keep saying I’m going to try reading The Wheel of Time. Or any of the Sanderson stuff. We’ll see.

I did read My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Pretty cool story. Imagine The Exorcist meets an 80’s high school movie.

Reading pile is getting bigger and bigger. I have the time. Lack the focus. I think my mom reads like 3 books in a day now. Maybe not that much. Maybe more. I really don’t know. I’ve had the same book sitting in the bathroom for the last three weeks. Bookmark hasn’t moved a whole lot. I get into weird routines. Sometimes I gobble up books in a few days. Sometimes it takes me a month. Two months. A year. Sometimes I lower my head in shame and remove the bookmark and put the book back on the shelf. I’m still a self-proclaimed victim of a poor reading memory. Names. Places. Important plot points. These things escape me after a while.

I find that happening in life more and more. I was looking through old pictures today and came across some from a Penguins game that I don’t remember going to. I keep a running list of teams that I’ve never seen play before and I always thought Winnipeg was on that list. Turns out I was wrong. Very wrong.

Well, it’s late. Or early. However you look at it. I have other writing to do and I can feel my eyes starting to fall out just a bit.

I hope Momo doesn’t eat your children. Though if you aren’t vaccinating them, I imagine being eaten by Momo would result in a far better fate.

Be good to one another.

Winter Storm Mittens (Run!)

“On a traffic light green means ‘go’ and yellow means ‘yield’, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means ‘hold on,’ yellow means ‘go ahead,’ and red means, ‘where the hell did you get that banana at?”
— Mitch Hedberg, Strategic Grill Locations : Mitch Hedberg

New year. New me?

No. Same me. Same nonsense coming out of my mouth. I have, however, made one subtle life change. I downgraded from Monster energy drinks to Rockstar. I figure if I’m still going to fight against falling asleep several times a day, I may as well spend a little less doing it. The “zero” brand has a decent taste. It’s well enough removed from the traditional energy drink flavor of gasoline mixed with Skittles that have been opened for 3 years.

I don’t get into the resolution thing. If you do, then good on you. I take a more practical approach. If I’m not doing something already, then I’m certainly not going to start doing it just because the calendar has a new number on the top. I find if you are waiting for a specific date to start something new then you don’t want to start that particular thing to begin with. Once the excitement of seeing 2019 wears off, you’ll probably look for other reasons to not do things. It’s cold. I’m tired. The clouds look scary today. That burrito is still wrecking havoc. So on and so on and so on.

Not that anyone should look for excuses! Keep doing stuff. I mean, if you want to get in shape, then do it. If you want to learn an instrument or a new language, then do it. Just find the things that truly matter. And do those things for the right reasons. Keep in mind, however, that nothing good comes easy. Changes — those ones you want to make for the good — can’t just be temporary. It never works that way. If it matters to you — if it’s truly something you want — then it’s forever. And yeah, sure, you’ll see highs and lows along the way. Probably more lows than anything at first. Change is not easy. Life adjustments are not simple and quick. The road is long and arduous and gross most of the time. And the finish line doesn’t exist. As I said, it’s forever and ever. But at some point, that road splits off from the poo poo stuff and you’ll find it’s a bit nicer moving along that way.

At what point does our generation become the ‘old man yelling at cloud’ generation? Or are we there? Millennials are freaking weird but are we much different from the generations that came before us? I’m sure in some ways, yeah. I mean, I don’t recall previous generations wanting to bring back diseases because a fake article told them that vaccines are bad.

I mean, I get it. Sure. No one likes anything. Everything is stupid. Popular stuff is garbage. Unless it was made in a garage or with a budget equivalent to the value menu at your fast food joint of choice, then said thing needs to be shunned. Cast away. And damn those many fools who don’t feel the same way.

I’d hate to be someone of importance. Or close to any sort of “fame”. The anonymous Internet warriors will lay down layers and layers of egg shells for you to walk on top of. One slip up and kaboom! You’re toast, kid. Not the warm buttery variety either — no no! It’s agree with us or feel our digital wrath! Agree with us or lose your job! Obey! Obey!

Or they’ll just bypass that and say the most horrible things. I can’t wrap my head around any of it but that might be the one that gets me the most. How can someone just sit there and be good with the world after telling someone else to kill themselves? Or unload insult after insult after insult? I’d love to see a live map of the brain when someone starts into that business. Is it gratification? Does it make them feel good? Tough? Superior? Is it a prelude to some weird sexual fetish? Do they call a celebrity ‘ugly’ and ‘fat’ and then immediately turn the browser to incest porn and fire away? You know none of those “people” have the gumption to say anything to others in real life. It’s easy to thumb away at your phone and say terrible stuff. I’m well aware that not everyone is sitting on the sunny side of the common sense tree. Believe me, I understand.

And why are we so focused on which side of the fence people are supposed to agree/disagree with? Left! Right! Well, what about the Up? the Down? the Upside Down?????

What about the mutants living in the sewers??

I say it’s all about reaction. About going “viral”. People — for the most part — don’t care about issues. They aren’t offended. They aren’t passionate about issues. They want to be noticed. They want their band of merry Internet followers to see what they “said” and, in turn, praise them for it. They want to be able to add something in their Twitter bio to make them stand out among the rest of the underground dwellers. And not, I’m not talking about the CHUDs.

People aren’t yelling at clouds. They’re yelling at one another. And in a way, they’re just yelling at themselves. Misguided fools who waste time chasing shadows and their own tails. And at the end of all of this, they’ll be left kicking at the dust. Why is that? Because everyone will stop caring. The focus will shift away from this culture and land on something else. And people will find new clouds to yell at.

I don’t know enough about the political climate in order to have a real opinion. When I see the threads of discussion and arguments, I am grateful for my ignorance. There are a lot of nicer things to do instead of arguing politics. Having a 400-pound hooker step on your genitals ranks right at the top. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that extreme. The hooker can be smaller.

The Superbowl approaches. I’ll probably watch some of it. Unless there is a hockey game on at the same time. Or even close to the same time. Okay, I just checked. Last games start at 2:00 PM. Well. There we have it. With all the drama surrounding the Steelers this season, I was almost glad to see them knocked out of the thing. I’m by no means a Pats fan but at least they are structured and disciplined. Too much ego and high school shenanigans involved with pro football. And, as we saw with the pro wrestling style finish of the Saints/Rams game, it’s become a game overly controlled by the officials. There will come a time when tackling is outlawed and every play is reviewed for the smallest of infractions. 

It used to be an event worth watching for the commercials. Forget the game. Now, those same commercials are readily available on YouTube minutes after airing. Does anyone remember any really good commercials from over the years? I always remember the one from Pepsi where the little kid got sucked into the bottle on the beach. I’m sure there are a good bit of fun ones that have aired over the years. Before YouTube, you had to sit and watch the game and hope you weren’t in the bathroom when something good aired. I think the Today Show recapped them that next morning but we were in school by then. 

Speaking of football, I’ve become rather interested in watching Premier League every weekend. I think it would be very cool to attend a match one of these days. I’m not overly familiar with the specifics and rules but it’s fun to watch. 

I need some new music to listen to. Sharon Van Etten put out a new album last week and it’s great. I honestly can’t recall the last time I sat down and listened to something new and was totally blown away by it. Phoebe Bridgers debut album is probably the closest one. And if I have to sit and think, then chances are it just hasn’t happened.

I have been trying to play catch up with some of the movies I’ve missed over these last few months. 

Suspiria (remake): Nothing like the original. Watch the original. This was different. In what way? I don’t know. The ending is bonkers.

A Star is Born (remake of a remake): I haven’t watched either of the previous entries. Enjoyed this. Big fan of Bradley Cooper. And Lady Gaga. I usually enjoy music related movies.

Hell Fest: Decent slasher movie. Worth a watch (if you like that sort of thing).

So yeah. Be good to each other. I’ll try to come up with something more interesting next time.

 

The Rot (Short Tragedy)

The Rot

By: Travis Ralston

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            There is something beyond all of this. That’s what he showed me in the dream. This was my third time there. A place where the stars were dark and hung low. A reality painted on a canvas made from temptation and sin. I was with him again. The man made of shadows. He said it was always warm. Always welcoming. He led me down a winding road that felt soft. Light. He offered to hold my hand but I refused. I wanted to experience it all on my own. I wanted every sensation to belong to me and me alone. That, and he had no real hand to grab onto.

            The path was lined with dead flowers but they didn’t bother me. The wilted petals had turned gray; the same gray that made up the sky. A light dusting of snow had started to fall but I wasn’t cold. He was persistent. Eager to move along. I wanted to stop at every curve and soak up the atmosphere. My eyes darted from place to place—never focusing on just one thing at a time. There was so much. Oh so much. The enormity had taken a physical form and wanted to wrap itself around my body. It wanted to enter me and latch onto the inner essence of my being. It wanted my soul. It needed me. And I felt like I needed it.

            He moved along next to me and I knew he wanted to speak. His mouth—or where it should have been—would open for a moment before closing. He knew it was better that I see it for myself. This place. This discarded frame of the cosmos. We walked and walked. Everything fell into focus the closer we got. It was like a video game on a bad connection—loading the world as you approached. The dead flowers were slowly replaced with broken slabs of concrete. Rubble that had been smashed over and over. But it wasn’t fear I felt. No. It was something deeper. Worry and exhilaration mixed with hope and sickness.

            We moved along and took to a hill. It was sharp. High. Yet there was no struggle. No lactic acid bubbling up and making my muscles scream for mercy. Clouds had gathered next to the stars and I could see their faces. Some happy. Some sad. Some looked puzzled. Others looked maniacal. Their eyes were wide. Mouths wide and full of teeth. Sharp. Cracked. Dull. Some were dark. Others as white as white could possibly be. We kept walking and I thought about telling him it was okay to take my hand. It just had to be that way, I felt. I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed to give him permission. Just like in real life. Consent. I looked up and saw that the clouds were watching me. I locked eyes with them and there was still no fear. No hesitation. People have described that feeling of going home. The familiarity. A sure fire resonation with that one special place. But where was this? When was this? It felt off. Pieced together from things that were never meant to be aware of the existence of the other.

            He ushered me along and I didn’t want to move any further. No. I wanted to cement my feet into the uneven ground. He motioned for me to come to him. Closer. There was something ahead—just ahead—that I needed to see. The clouds kept watching. They stayed silent until they weren’t. A cloud with eyes as round as saucers was screaming. Crying. The tears fell and smashed into the ground like missiles. It was deafening. The other clouds followed suit and soon the world was encased in the sadness of this living sky. The stars turned and turned and tried to move as far away from the clouds as they could get. This outpour of emotion was met with celestial disapproval. The tears continued to fall and fall and before I knew it, the water was knee high. He kept pushing me toward him and I had no idea why. Yes, there was something truly unnerving about this place. About this world. But I wasn’t turned off. There was intrigue.

            He turned to me and for the first time I was going to see his face. The face behind the being.

            But there was nothing but darkness. A thick, black darkness that had spilled right out of another place.

            And then…a whisper.

            He asked me if I believed in God. It was a question birthed from an ethereal being with no form. No physical identity.

            Yet to his question I responded heartily and with much confidence.

            No, I told him. No, I do not.

#

            I have to take a moment to catch my breath. The room is bright. Warm. It must be just after 6:00 PM—the sunlight hits the big window in the bedroom then and turns this tiny area of the apartment into a miniature oven. I stretch and run my hands across my legs. They’re wet and chilled from the thinnest layer of sleep sweat. My top is soaked too. It isn’t very warm in here now but it very well could have been earlier. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I rub at my eyes and sigh with just a spot of relief when I realize I’d taken out my contacts earlier in the afternoon. There is an odd tenseness running through my muscles and nerves. I feel shaken up; like I’d just witnessed something traumatic. But a dream is just a dream—no matter the dreamer.

            It’s quiet and the bedroom smells a little like a cinnamon bun. Justin can’t stand strong scents so we sort of compromised and I stuck it out in the hallway. For such a shit little piece of plastic, the thing sure has decent range. I close my eyes and imagine I’m in a bakery. My bakery. The one I’ve got just about enough saved up to start. The one with a little bell on the door that rings every time it’s opened. You know, the little place that sits happily squished in between Starbucks and that little sandwich shop. The one with the sparkling tile floor and a display case that seems to stretch on for miles and miles. Cookies and cakes and donuts and sugary happiness that will never ignore you. That will always be happy to see you. That will never let you down.

            I toss my damp clothes into the basket near the door and settle for a long tee. It’s already near dark and Justin will be home soon and I’m feeling some sort of way. A certain tingle crept up my legs and into my stomach just as I left the dream. I try to let my mind wander and stretch in between fantasy and wanting to dive back into what my mind had conjured up. I dig my toes into the sort of soft brown carpet and I can’t help but picture him. The man in my dream. He dances along in my memory like an actor in a silent picture. The main act in a traveling vaudeville. This is his performance and I am the only one in the audience.

#

            The sun is getting low and I’m perched on our loveseat in the living room. It’s angled just so I can look out the sliding glass door that leads out to a somewhat private balcony. Apartment buildings aren’t exactly top of the line when it comes to truly having your own space but this works well enough. I can see the trees ahead—ancient creatures that have grown right along with the rest of the world. The leaves changed about a month ago and are close to seeing the end of their life cycle. The smattered mess of red and orange and green and yellow flutters in the wind and I swear it might just be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever laid eyes on. The dream is still with me and I try to imagine what that world would look like with just a little more color. I feel it again—that tingle. A certain lust. There is a craving there.

            I must have trailed off into my head because I don’t even hear Justin come home. I swing my legs around to stand up and there he is by the door. Clunk. Clunk. His boots fall to the ground and his face is illuminated by the screen on his phone. The stubble is just coming back onto his face—which I enjoy—but I can still see his jawline. The way his muscles run up from his arms to his shoulders and into his neck. Even when he’s bent over looking at something, he’s still tall.

            “Hey, you,” I say. I feel the excitement in my voice. The pep.

            “Hey,” he says, not taking one look away from his digital interests.

            “How was work?”

            “Ah, you know. Work.”

            I stand up and glide toward the kitchen. I’m sure he’s hungry. And I realize I hadn’t thought much about food since I woke when my stomach reminds me of that very fact with a very audible rumble.

            “What can I make you for dinner?” I ask.

            Silence. I’m in the kitchen now and there is a bit of a divider between myself and him. I wait for another moment. I’m sure he’s just clicking through the menu in his head. Trying to decide what would be good.

            “Dinner?” I ask again. I move my head into his view and see that he’s still enveloped in phone time.

            “Hey,” I say with just a little snap. He looks up at me.

            “What?”

            “Dinner? What do you want for dinner?”

            “Oh. I don’t care.” His eyes fall right back away from mine.

            “I was thinking burgers. Good?”

            I see him nod. Sort of. I’ll take it. We could spend another hour debating what to eat. I don’t have that kind of time. I feel like I haven’t eaten in days. The hunger pains bark like a lowly mutt waiting for breakfast. I plod the rest of the way into the kitchen and start digging through the freezer. I find a few patties towards the back—a bit frost covered—but they’ll do. The tile is cold on my feet and it’s strange because I just don’t seem to mind.

#

            We eat and neither of us speak very much. He’s glued to his phone. I ate my burger in about three minutes and let myself wander into whatever babble is being discussed on ESPN. I enjoy sports, yeah, but I still feel like there are far more important matters to attend to tonight. LeBron can score all the points in the world and I don’t think I’m going to care. At least not right now. I still feel that tingle—the one that is pushing me to sit next to him. To get to him and to make things go where I want them. He’s distant and I don’t think he means it. Maybe he does. Sometimes I can’t tell. At least not anymore.

            Go on…tell him…

            I had sketched out some ideas earlier in the day. Just little doodles, really. Just some ideas on how I thought the logo for the bakery would look. But something inside pulled me back just a little. I don’t know if he really cares. A dream is a dream, sure, but it isn’t always best to carry them alone. And besides, I’ve got other matters on my mind. Pressing matters.

            “So, what do you say we get to bed a little early tonight?” I ask. Fuck it. I forego the hesitation and the doubt and now I’ve got my lips caressing the side of his neck.

            “I’m okay,” he says. My focus drops down to his phone and he’s running through his Instagram feed. I persist. I kiss his collar bone and let my hand slide down to his thigh. The tingle is alive and I feel alive.

            “Come on,” I say. I get up and start heading toward the bedroom. It’s cool. Welcoming. I keep the lights off and crawl up toward my end. My pillow smells sweet. This whole room smells sweet. I’m yearning for this. For him.

            And he’s not here.

            After ten minutes, I get up and walk back out into the living room. He’s still in the same spot. Same posture. Left hand keeping his phone steady while his right just swipes and flicks. I stand in the doorway and watch him. He’s oblivious. Lost. Is he unhappy? Is there something he’s not telling me? Something that I should know? Is there someone else? What is so fucking important about that thing that he’s just pushing off everything in front of him?

            I open my mouth to speak but something inside of me tells me to stop. It urges me to just slink back into the dark room and forget about it. It isn’t happening. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Probably not for a while. Not until he gets desperate. But that doesn’t sound right. That isn’t how this works. It isn’t how we work. Is it? No. I tell myself that he’s just had a long day and wants to unwind. The logic is missing, I know, but that’s what I think. Right? Yes. Yes. That’s what I think. He’s just tired. Just wants peace and quiet. But, too, he’s a man and men don’t often turn down sex. They could be in the middle of a brain hemorrhage and still jump into bed.

            So I do what I always do. I calmly walk back into the dark and wait for sleep to visit once more.

#

            I feel a push. A light touch. I stir from a dreamless dark for a moment. My eyes stay closed and I wait. I’m tired. Very tired. I don’t bother to move. I don’t turn to look at the Mickey clock next to the table.

            Then, again, another push. I come to just a little more. It’s Justin.

            “Roll over,” he says with a certain disgust.

            “Whaa…wh…” I mumble.

            “Your breath is bad,” he says before rolling over himself.

#

            He is with me again. The man made of shadows. Except now he’s a little more put together. I can see his legs. His torso. He’s still made of shadow. Of nothing and everything. But there is some form to him. We are back inside of the dream. Back in the world he wants so desperately to show me. The clouds are gone and it is dry. But it is not bright. A heaviness hangs over this place and I feel like it could suffocate me at any time. We’re standing on top of a great hill—one that looks over a valley covered in a thick fog. The thickest I’ve ever seen. He’s next to me with arms wide open. Well, what I assume are arms. More like tendrils of smoke and shadow. But I know what he’s doing. He’s presenting this to me. Showing me that this could all be mine. This world could belong to me.

            And him. That’s right. It isn’t a one person packaged deal, no. He lives here and he wants me here with him.

            “What about Justin?” I ask. My voice is faint. Hollow. It sounds like I’m speaking from far away. The shadow man just shakes what would be his head and gestures to me. He wants me to step closer to the edge of the hill. To see the kingdom that he is promising. I take a moment to question that—how do I know this is all for me—but the answer comes just as fast as the first thought. I just know. The same way you know what’s happening inside of any other dream when you awake inside of one. There is that certain predisposition to knowledge. A seed that was planted long before the mind slipped into whatever realm that houses the dreamscape.

            “Why does it feel right?” I ask. The shadow man looks at me and then back out at the valley beyond. “Why does it feel good that he isn’t here?”

            The sky is almost black but there is still enough color left to make out the scope of this place. It’s deep. Massive. A yawning beyond. The last time it was gray. Sick. There is life now. A swirling red and orange that looks like a fire that has been raging for a century. Off in the distance—I swear—I can see birds. Flying and swooping and cutting right through the air.

            “Is this how life is supposed to be?” I ask. The shadow man says nothing. I am aware that I am dreaming. That I’m present in this other place. My body is in my own bed—in my own reality—but the very best parts of me are here. With the shadow man. Overlooking this place that could be a true paradise.

            “I mean, I never had any real expectations. I never knew what to think. I just went along with how I felt and that was that. He was caring. Loving. Fuck, the way he used to look at me. Like I was his whole world and I was his. I was sure that…well…”

            I let myself trail off and I go back to watching everything below. My heart aches and I know I’m speeding closer and closer to the truth. There is something wrong. Something very wrong. And when I’m here—in here—I don’t feel any of it.

            It’s okay…you can…

            I notice, just then, that the shadow man has grabbed my hand with one of his own. The smoky shadows are almost gone.

#

            Justin is already gone when I wake. I feel like shit. My head hurts. My ears ache. The back of my throat is raw—like I’d been up all night screaming. And not in the way I would have liked. I still feel the frustration from last night. I let my eyes open just a pinch. It looks dreary out there. Wet. A storm must have rolled through when I was asleep. No matter. Mickey tells me that it’s 11:00 AM. Jesus. I must have really needed the sleep.

            “Or you’re getting sick, idiot,” I say. I peel back the covers and slink towards the bathroom. My muscles and bones are screaming. I’m likely coming down with something. Great. Just great. Any hope I had of getting him into bed tonight is shot down the toilet. He won’t come near me when I’m sick. He says, over and over, that his immune system is garbage. I think he’s just disgusted by sickness. I don’t blame him. It isn’t pretty. But, well, real life usually isn’t.

            I pull myself in front of the mirror and have to take a step back. Either the lighting in here suddenly got terrible or I look like I’m wearing a Halloween mask made by an impatient sixth grader. My eyes are resting comfortably against thick bags. My skin looks sickly. Pale. Tough. Like it’s stretched just a little too thin. I worry for a moment when I see a bit of a yellowish tint but I’m quick to convince myself that it’s nothing more than bad fluorescent lighting and a little too much sleep.

            He really won’t love you anymore if your looks go…

            Where the hell did that come from? I shake the thought away and remove myself from the judging gaze of my own reflection. There isn’t a question or whether or not he loves me. Is there? No. Not to me. I know he does. I know it.

            If you were an app on his phone, he’d actually pay attention to you…want to spend time with you…give you real effort…real love…

            It’s just this sickness—whatever it is—has me cloudy today. Feeling just a little under the weather is all. Yeah. That’s what happens. All that mucus and disease gets into the brain. Clogs it up. Can’t think straight. I just need to go back to bed. Sleep it off.

            I managed to text Justin just before I fall asleep.

            Feeling sick. Headed back to bed. See you tonight. Love. XoXo.

            At least he’ll see that.

            I grab the pillow and squish it up a bit for a little more support. I’m not fond of being sick—though I don’t figure anyone is. I can feel my body shutting down. Rebooting. Readying for another round with the sandman.

            No…with the shadow man…

            I chuckle at the thought and roll over. My side of the bed is a little messier than Justin’s. We have matching nightstands and his is usually fairly well kept. Phone charger. A coaster for his nightly cup of water. I have those things. And a box of tissues. And my glasses case. And my notebooks. I grab the one on top. I haven’t been in school for twelve years but I still take advantage of the sales when it’s just about time to go back. I want to sleep but I want to look at something before I go. A reminder. A kick in the pants, perhaps. My bakery sketches fill up the empty space around my sight. I see the half-baked ideas for the logo. Some designs for what I think the main counter would look like. It’s quaint. I know it’ll work. And I know Justin will love it. I can show him. Yes, I can. Later, when he gets home. He’ll look and ask what certain things are and I can lay out the whole thing.

            Maybe I can even get up before he gets home and whip up something. Cookies? That does sound good. I flip through a few more pages.

            I stop. I’m at a sketch I don’t quite remember, yet, I do. It’s another one of the main dining area. Just a few tables here and there. But sure enough, he’s there. In the back. Sitting against the wall. On his table is a cup of coffee—I even sketched the little steam lines so I knew it was fresh—and a little saucer with what I think is a muffin. It’s him, alright.

            The shadow man.

#

            “Where are we?” I ask.

            The shadow man now has both hands. And arms. Almost a fully formed upper body. He’s tall. Muscular but not overly. Just enough definition to notice. But why can’t I see his face? Why is there nothing there?

            “This place…it feels good…but it feels wrong…how can that be?”

            My questions aren’t being answered by the shadow man but I can hear that little voice in my head. It speaks for him. At least for now.

            This is your new home. If you want it to be. Is that wrong? Having a place to belong?

            We are no longer on the big hill that overlooks the valley below. When the dreamscape came to life, he was there to greet me with a horse and carriage. It was romantic. A surprise. And yet, that too felt off. The horse looked real enough. I never cared much for horses—they are beautiful creatures—but I never much felt the need to ride one. Or even be near one. Was there something wrong with this one? I couldn’t come up with enough courage to ask. I could see scars on its legs. And face. Like it had seen battle and come out on the side of the victor. Its mane was a wild mess of black and white.

            The shadow man took my hand and led me into the carriage. He signaled for the horse to start off on whatever journey we were taking this time. And he sat quietly. Patiently. And I assume if he had a face that it would have been focused solely on me.

            “Is this Carcosa?” I ask. I’m taken back for a moment. I don’t know that word. Or where I’d heard it before.

            No, my dear, it is not. Some like to think so. This place…this place is something more.

            “It is very beautiful,” I say. I sense that he is pleased. And I sense that I may truly believe that. We’re trotting along a cobblestone pathway; going just slightly downhill. I can see the clifftops from here—the one where we stood atop before and others just like it. The sky is once again full of dark stars and thankfully, for my own sanity, clear of the clouds with faces. On either side of us, giant daises and sunflowers have grown and I swear they are watching and waving as we go by. The grass is a lush green and the breeze is as cool as you’d get on any fall afternoon. The ride is smooth. Steady. There are trees ahead. A forest. But it isn’t real. The backdrop is made of cardboard and watercolors. Trees of all sizes with faded spots where the paint didn’t quite settle. I imagine stagehands behind them—moving the pieces back and forth—creating some animated existence.

            I see them. Just then. The things grazing in the grass. At first I thought they could have been cows. A little big from what I could tell but the body structure was similar. But the closer we get, the more I’m realizing they aren’t cows. They aren’t anything I’ve ever seen before.

            “What are those?” I ask. The shadow man does not look over. He knows of which I speak.

            Souls, my dear. The bad ones. The rotten ones. Judged. Trapped.

            I look at them closer. I study their movements. Slow. Plodding. Methodical. I can see that they aren’t animals. Their bodies are fat. Almost immobile. But they are human. They have human faces that look like a smashed puzzle—pieces in the wrong places. Noses where eyes should be. Mouths on their chests. They have been stripped of their skin and I can see their innards. They are on all fours. Munching away at the grass. A creature with a single purpose.

            The shadow man has changed. He has a head now. Bald. But still no face. The darkness that made up the entirety of his body is almost gone—replaced with a fine black suit. I can feel him. Now more than ever. He’s next to me and he is welcoming and he wants me. He wants me to feel wanted. Cared for. Is this what I want though? Our horse is moving us along through this wondrous land and I have stopped looking at the great reality that I have been gifted. The shadow man loves me. I know this as a truth. My eyes turn to his featureless face. I want to let go. I want to give in to every instinct. To every desire. I reach for him—my arms outstretched—and there is warmth. Heat. His hands slide into mine and suddenly the clarity that I’d been stripped off in my own world returns. I lean in and kiss him on the neck. Once. Twice. I feel a shudder and I’m unsure if it is mine or his. I kiss him again. My lips react and don’t like the rough feeling of his skin. It’s almost like leather. I persist. I move up and kiss where I think his mouth would be. I taste sweat. Salt. Sulfer. And blood. His hands move away from mine and grab onto my waist. His grip is stronger than anything I’ve ever felt.

            This can be yours. All of it.

            “I want all of it.”

            Give yourself to me.

            “I want that.” My words are again distant. Robotic in a way. Like we are rehearsing a play.

            Soon. Very soon.

#

            It’s dark when I wake up. The sheets are soaked and I think I must have a fever. I feel like I’m melting. My hair is damp and stringy. It doesn’t take more than a second to realize it isn’t sweat. My pants are almost dripping. I pissed all over myself and the bed. Everything is coming at me and I am in a full daze. My head is spinning. The aches I felt earlier are worse. Harder. There is a pounding behind my eyes that won’t let up. I struggle to get out of bed. I need to move. I need to change the sheets and clean myself up. But something keeps telling me to stay here. Just relax. Rest. I need it.

            I feel a burning on my side when I finally gather the strength to stand up. It’s as though I’ve been stung by a hundred bees at once. Like something inside has been set on fire. I manage to pull my shirt up just enough to look.

            Scratches. Three scratches.

            Right where the shadow man grabbed me.

#

            I see Justin in the living room when I come out of the bedroom. I didn’t even notice what time it was when I woke up. I’m groggy. Weak. I should be hungry but I don’t feel it. Truth spoken, I don’t feel much of anything right now. I have the sheets balled up along with my clothes and they go right into the washer. He’s oblivious. Locked in a self-created cage of digital amusement. I didn’t even bother to slip into a robe. Or underwear for that matter. I close the lid on the washer and I hope the thud snaps him back into this world.

            But it doesn’t.

            I can’t deal with this right now. I’m either going to pass out or combust. Possibly both. I flip the lights and fan on in the bathroom and I have to go slow. Step by step by step. One wrong move and I know I’m going down. I could fall down, start burning alive, and I doubt he’d even smell the smoke until it crept up and slapped him in the face.

            The bathroom lighting is still unappealing as ever. Maybe we need new bulbs. I don’t know. Something to ask the landlord about. I have to put both hands on the base of the sink to keep my balance. If this is the flu then it’s really coming at me. I look sick. Sickly. I need to wait for the room to stop spinning before I can do anything else. I want to see myself. Truly see myself. That shouldn’t even be a thought of priority right now but it is. The scratches. They scared me something bad.

            Just coincidence. Nothing more. You probably just clawed at yourself when you were asleep. That’s all.

            I look down and they are there. Deep. Scraggly. Uneven. Three scratches right along my waist. I close my eyes and try to go back there. Back to the dream. Back to the shadow man. He didn’t do this. His hands were soft. Caring. Gentle. I look like the beginnings of a Freddy Krueger victim. No. This was not the shadow man. It couldn’t be.

            I pull a towel down from the metal rack above the toilet and another nasty bit of skin disfiguration catches my eye. Bruises. Thick nasty ones. Two on my right shoulder. One just below my right breast.

            I must have done a number on myself today. Jesus.

            I toss the towel on the floor and kick on the water. I have a sudden blip in my head—maybe, just maybe, Justin will want to come in and join me. Maybe I’m wrong about all of this.

            You’re sick…literally sick…now is not the time to want dear ‘ol Justin to creep in the shower behind you and bend you over…

            But that’s what I want. It’s the attention. The desire from him. I want to know that he wants me. I want the serious face and the hard hands to caress every fucking inch of my body. I don’t want to keep feeling like I’m just another flexible part of his daily schedule. The shadow man wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t leave me waiting. Alone. Confused. No. He would be respectful. Caring. If I was healthy and ready, then he’d have me anywhere I wanted. And I know if he were here now, he’d sit next to me in here and wash my back and keep a warm rag against my neck and he’d talk to me and let me talk and there wouldn’t be an ounce of distraction. Not a single fucking ounce of other interests. I would be his priority. His world.

            Is the shadow man here? I swear I heard something. Did the door open? I’m lost in thought. I’m not here, am I? When is this?

            Fever talk, kiddo. Just fever talk.

            No, I know I heard him. The door opened. He’s here. With me.

            He’s not real…he’s a part of some dream…some delusion…

            But I know that’s a lie. Dreams don’t leave marks.

            Time isn’t on my side. Or in my head. The water is getting cold and I want to go back to bed. Back to the warmth. Back to him.

            I step out and don’t find much surprise when I see the door is still closed. No Justin. No shadow man. Just me and my fevered crazy talk.

            Oh. And a smiley face drawn on the fogged mirror.

            Did I do that? I can’t remember.

#

            “You feeling any better?” Justin asks as I walk into the bedroom. He’s putting new sheets on the bed. I hadn’t even bothered to check if there were pee stains left on the mattress. I suppose it doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t say a word if there were. I’m surprised he isn’t watching YouTube while doing it. Multitasking. I’m sure he’s good at that.

            “No,” I mutter. I turn away from him—unusual—and start to drop the towel on the floor. I dig through the top drawer of the dresser until I find a long shirt. I don’t want to wear anything to bed but I want to cover up. At least while he’s in here. Usually I don’t mind a bit if he sees me naked. What do I have to cover up? We’re committed. Together. We’ve shared our naked bodies plenty of times. Those few seconds when dressing never used to matter.

            “Do you know Carcosa?” I ask without thinking.

            Where the fuck did that come from?

            “What?”

            “Nothing. I’m going to go back to sleep.”

            “Okay.” He sounds timid. Unsure of what’s happening. I choose to believe that. He adorns the top of my head with the lightest kiss I’ve ever felt and then he’s closing the door behind him. I stand and stare and there is nothing going on inside of my head.

#

            “Wake up.”

            I feel a nudge. A push.

            “Wake up.”

            Another push.

            Where am I? When am I?

            “Hey.”

            It’s Justin. The room is pitch black but I know his voice.

            “What?” I ask. My voice is lower than usual. Crisper. The flu must be taking over. Giving me that raspy cold voice.

            “You were screaming,” he says. It comes out so casual. So uninterested. The tiniest hint of care may be slipped in there somewhere but I have no clue where.

            “Sorry,” I mumble. I don’t know why I would have been screaming. I don’t even know where I am.

            He says nothing else. I wait for the sound of his head smashing into his pillow. And then it comes. I’m on my back and my side is on fire and my legs are quivering. I roll my eyes toward him and can see the specks of light coming from his phone. He’s rolled away from me and his big shoulder is blocking most of it but I know. I can tell.

            Maybe he’s talking to another girl. Did you ever consider that?

            I had and I don’t think that would be so bad. A slightly better reason than the one I’m stuck believing.

            I’m swimming. My head is the size of a manhole and I’m under water. Even with my eyes closed, I’m in motion. Am I here? Am I drowning? Did I die?

            I try to roll over but I have no strength.

            And I swear I can see the shadow man standing by the door. Watching us. Watching me.

#

            I don’t remember much about last night. It’s bright. Really bright. Justin must have bumped the curtain when he was getting ready this morning. Usually it covers the whole window and blocks out the light just enough to keep the room relatively dark. I love the sun. I love the warmth. The reminder of our tiny limited meaning amongst the rest of the cosmos and how it can still be beautiful. I don’t know what time it is. Hell, I don’t know what day it is. Wednesday? Thursday maybe? I can’t shake this feeling. I should probably go and see a doctor. Antibiotics might help. I still don’t have much strength—I’m struggling to peel back the covers—but I manage and I’m relieved when I see that I didn’t pee all over the bed again.

            Did I dream last night? I can’t remember. Was I there? In that place? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve remembered every dream up until now.

            But he was here last night, remember? The shadow man. He was standing right by the door.

            Did I remember that? Was that what really happened? Did he visit me this time? Did he step foot into our world?

            Suddenly, there is no more time to debate about anything. My stomach screams and I’m sprinting toward the bathroom. Strength or no strength, I’ve got to get in there before…

            I throw up all over the floor. Something triggered and I’m letting loose what little sustenance was in my gut. It comes as a hot and heavy wave. I see it exit my mouth and splash onto the tile floor just feet away from the toilet. The wall on the opposite side of the sink gets hit with a bit of it. I stumble and fall against the door. My breathing is heavy. Loud. It feels like an acid factory has taken up production in there. I have to grab onto the door handle just to keep upright. Last thing I need is to slip and fall into my own vomit.

            I look over and see myself in the mirror just then. My hair is ragged. Oily and full of knots. The blood has left my face and most of my upper body. The whites of my eyes are almost gone—replaced with pallid shade of yellow. My skin looks green. Warped. It looks like it’s covered with a fine glaze. And there are pieces missing. Around my neck and shoulders. Not huge chunks but enough to notice. I’m trembling. Terrified. I prop myself up against the edge of the sink and slowly work my shirt off. There are more missing patches of skin around my stomach and hips.

            Call someone…get to a hospital…

            I shrug off the notion. No. I just want to go back to bed. I want to sleep. It’s a bug. That’s all. Nothing more. I just need to sleep it off. I drop the shirt right into the pooling vomit and head back toward the bedroom.

            You need help…this isn’t right…

            But it is. And I’m fine.

#

            “What are you going to call it?” he asks. The shadow man.

            We’re standing in the middle of an empty room that belongs to an empty building. But I know it, don’t I? Yes. We’re in the property that’s going to become home to my bakery. It’s empty for now but soon it will be full. Alive. Warm to the touch.

            “I don’t know,” I say. I feel better here. More put together. The burning is gone. The fever has disappeared. All of my skin is back where it should be. “I was thinking Carcosa.”

            The shadow man shakes his head. He has fine black hair that’s slicked back. A light beard—maybe a few weeks old. His teeth are perfect. His nose fits just right. I can see his cheekbones and the veins in his neck.

            “Do I frighten you?” he asks. I shake my head. I know he should. Everything about this should. I see his eyes and they are nothing. Darkness. Two black holes that looks far into the realities that we are never to be privy to. There is eternity there. Infinite damnation.

            “No,” I say. My voice sounds closer than it ever has inside of this dreamscape.

            “You need a better name,” he says. I watch him with fascination as he walks around to the other side of the counter. The counter that is now present with us. Along with the rest of the bakery. The tables. The chairs. The display case full to the brim with that day’s specials and the usual goodies. And I can smell it. The sugar. The flour. The sweet guilt of it all.

            “I wish it was already like this. In real life.”

            “Who’s to say this isn’t real life?”

            “We’re in a dream. This…all this…it’s just part of my imagination. See, over in the corner there. That painting. The one with the boats and the kids? My grandma painted that when she was my age. I have it in storage. And that’s where it’s going to hang. This is just…just a way that I’m getting everything that I want.”

            “Is that what you want? Everything?”

            “Who doesn’t?”

            “Your boyfriend? It doesn’t seem that he wants much.”

            It stings to think about it.

            “Justin works hard. He has hopes. Dreams.”

            “Does he?”

            I don’t answer. I watch the shadow man as he moves away from the counter and toward the painting I talked about. He’s admiring it like an art critic. Looking at every angle. Analyzing the meaning and what the artist must have been thinking when it was created.

            “This is not Carcosa. I’ve told you that. But it could be. If you want.”

            “I don’t even know what that is. What it means. It’s just a word.”

            “Words are words. Things are things. Just like this painting. Your reality was created the same way. Paints. Brushes. A canvas. And some ideas. That’s it.”

            “It can’t be that simple.”

            “Why not? Why does there always have to be some sort of massive cosmic significance to everything? You don’t look at this painting and say that, do you? No. Because you understand its simplistic nature. You know where it came from. You know when and how it was created. You know your grandmother meticulously sat and painted every inch of this canvas with love. With passion. And that’s what it is. A beautiful scene. A reminder of her, perhaps.”

            I feel cold all of a sudden. There is a thick chill in the air.

            “But what about the people living inside of the painting? Would it be in their best interest to tell them that they are nothing more than just colors and brush strokes? Characters acting out a scene in a play? Do you consider the idea that maybe they look towards the sky and question the very nature of their reality?”
            “No. That’s not possible. They aren’t real. It’s just a painting. An old painting.”

            The shadow man smiles. His teeth are no longer that perfect straight white. They’ve aged. Cracked. Dulled in color and sharpened at the end.

            “Yet, you dismiss the same notion about yourself.”

            “I know what I am. I know where I’m from. I’m not just some…thing that someone dreamt up and used for an art project.”

            I think he’s taller now. His shadow has gotten longer. The sun is getting low and the temperature has dropped. I shiver but remain still. Stoic.

            “Allow me to show you something,” the shadow man says. He raises his right arm and snaps his fingers. The darkness grabs hold and we are no longer anywhere. The bakery is gone. The atmosphere has disappeared. We’re lost for a moment—sifting through the threads that exist between realities.

            Then, we stop. I’m sitting in a chair in a room that has no walls and no ceiling. None that I can see anyway. We’re on the precipice of infinity. The chair is leather—red and torn just a little on the arms. On the floor is a rug made up of a black and white diamond design. In front of me is a television playing nothing but static.

            “Good. Evil. God. Satan. The length of that narrative has been spread too thin. Even for my tastes. There are far greater things that exist inside the scope of every world. Each reality is different but they are all governed by the same beings. The same ageless creatures that have painted millions of pictures. Look. Look. Look.”

            He’s pointing at the television and it has a picture.

            And there I am. In bed. Writing in pain. Coughing. Blood shooting from my nose and mouth. My body is a weakened, cracked shell. Clinging onto whatever sad amount of life there is left. More of my skin is missing. The stench is bad enough that it has reached out here—wherever here exists. Shit and vomit and death. I’m rotting away and no one is paying a lick of attention.

            “Am I dying?” I ask. The shadow man rests his hand on my shoulder.

            “No.”

            His long finger extends just past my vision and points. “Look.”

            The camera in my reality moves up and away from my failing body in the bedroom. It pulls back far enough that I can see the top of the set. The dividing lines between me and Justin and our life that we’ve built together. Just drywall and wood and some nails and screws. We’re on top of him. The camera drops down and he’s there. On the couch. A half-eaten bowl of pasta on the cheap coffee table in front of him. Oblivious to the world. Oblivious to my death in the next room.

            “Why isn’t he helping?” I ask. The shadow man says nothing. He wants me to watch. He wants me to soak it all in and experience this moment.

            “Why? Why is he just sitting there?” I shout. Rage is bubbling up from within me. There is a feeling that I cannot possibly comprehend at this moment—a thick stew of regret and madness and sadness. I feel the tears as they trickle from my eyes. They burn. Fuck, they burn so bad. They are tearing away at my skin. I can smell the flesh as it is cooking on my face.

            I close my eyes and I want to wish I was somewhere else. In another dream. In someone else’s dream. It is true, though. A dream is a dream—no matter the dreamer. The shadow man is not what he seems. He’s not as I thought he was. This I know as a truth. A single truth in the fabric of my mind and body. I peer up and catch the black eyes of the shadow man. They are pure. Wondrous. Full of lies and evil and I do not care.

            I use a moment to imagine that I can work my soul away from this place and into Justin’s phone. That I could be seen in a little screen that pops up and warns him about the things that are to come. I wouldn’t yell and scream. I wouldn’t judge him. Heck, I wouldn’t even swear. It would be calm. Peaceful. A sturdy goodbye. Thanks for everything but now I’m looking out for me and me alone.

            “Is this real? Or is that real?” I ask. The shadow man is now seated next to me. His long arms are folded neatly on his lap.

            “A dream is nothing more than a glimpse into another realm.”

            I’m watching Justin. There is nothing behind his eyes. “He doesn’t know anything is wrong, does he?”

            “He suspects it, but no. There are forces at work on him as well.”

            “Like what?”

            “The very things that corrupt and ruin every human being eventually. Mistakes. Self-absorption. Unhappiness. Sins.”

            “I thought this wasn’t about all that…God and Satan.”

            “This is us. Simplistic in itself. It is what you want it to be.”

            My thoughts go back to Justin.

            “Why wasn’t I enough? Why couldn’t he ever see me for me?”

            “There is never enough. Not for anyone.”

            “Is this…are we…is this Carcosa?”

            “No, my dear, it is not.”

            “Then what is it? Why do I know that name?”

            “It’s a fairytale. A made up place from a made up world. You wanted to believe this place was something other than what it is. You wanted an escape. A push out the door, so to speak. Earth. Heaven. Hell. Carcosa. They’re all parts of different stories. Lavish settings for the dreamers that exist in worlds beyond this. Far beyond you and I.”

            More tears fall and melt away more of my face. “You are a liar, aren’t you?”

            The shadow man smiles. “I am whatever you want me to be.”

            I say nothing more. The room is silent and the television screen is focused on Justin and his choices as I slide closer to the shadow man. My face is on fire and I don’t mind at bit. This is where my story comes to an end. Inside of a dream. I see the red flicker in his eyes as he looks over my body. He takes me—right there—and I know nothing after.

#

            Mickey says that it is 1:00 AM. We are tired but excited. Awake. Alive. We remove the sheets and their foul contents and toss them at the plastic basket in the corner. The odor of human decay has all but evaporated into the air. We stretch and make our joints move and crack and loosen. We are fine. We are happy. It is a new day. A new life. A new world.

            “Justin,” we say with the sweetest and most inviting of voices. “Come here. Please.”

            No response. Silence. We figured as much.

            We walk into the living room. Our naked body relishes the cool night air. He’s left the windows open and it feels wonderful. We see him there. Lost in his own dream. Trapped with his own evils.

            “Justin,” we say again. His mind has melted and grafted itself into the digital landscape. He doesn’t see us grab the fork from off the table. He doesn’t see anything but the images on his screen.

            He doesn’t even bother to look up when we drive the fork through his neck. We watch with an overly excited glee as we pull the blade out and unleash the torrential blood-fall. It starts slow—a slow leak—but in seconds it fires off and starts dripping in massive volume. We are thankful. He’s choking. Writhing. We are happy. His hands try to hold off the end he now knows is coming. But it is too late. His head droops forward until his chin smacks against his chest. The blood has covered the phone and before long, it drops from his hands and lands on the floor. The sound is muffled. This is satisfaction. This is a job well done.

            And tomorrow we start work on the bakery.

            This is our life now. Our story.

Monkey Loves You (Understanding the Fool)

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“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I see that I haven’t written in this since August. It’s not a surprise — to me anyway — that this little blog has been left unattended. Honestly, I am often juggling projects and I haven’t been able to properly juggle anything since 8th grade. And even then, I was so-so.

I have been asked a lot lately if I’ve been writing. The answer is usually ‘yes, but not enough’. The idea well hasn’t dried up. The substance inside has just taken on a bit of a different shape is all. There are plenty of stories bouncing around inside this unfocused noggin. I’ve just been pushing into a new direction these last few months and my time management is about as bad as my juggling prowess. But, as George Argh Argh Martin said, the dragons are coming. 

I realized that I am rather horrible at promoting myself or my projects. Other than this blog, I really don’t take much of an initiative to put my name and work out there. I throw stories at a lot of the same folks and then move along to the next thing. I do think this new project will have a bit of a broader reach than my usual nonsense. And it’s purely visual — so no reading required! 

So, I’ll call myself out here. I’ve taken notice of some things as of late and realized that I have been guilty of doing these things in the past (and maybe in the present). We seem to be in a weird patch of time where being overly negative about things has become “cool”. I see it everywhere. Relating to just about everything. Publicly hating on everything — especially popular things — does not make someone smart. Or interesting. Or better than the rest of the populace (there are plenty of other things that do, I’m sure). I’ve written about it in here before. I will act like I’m some sort of film snob. As if my likes and interests are right and everyone else is wrong. And that’s stupid. That makes me stupid. We’re all entitled to our opinions and our likes and dislikes. 

Negativity is nothing new. Especially for this guy. But there should be a limit on how much negativity you and me and we toss into the public ring. Let people enjoy things. If I don’t like a movie, I shouldn’t feel the need to make it a big public thing. A mention in passing, fine. Telling someone how I feel if asked, okay. But god damn. It hit me one day that I just want to enjoy what I can while I’m still able to enjoy things. And others deserve that exact same courtesy. 

It’s disheartening when I see horrible things happen. You feel for the victims. The families. The community at large. You sit and wonder — even briefly — if this experiment known as humanity is on a speed slide toward total failure. Now, as a somewhat rational (I think) person, my first instinct when I see tragedy is not to jump onto Photoshop and create a logo or meme about said tragedy. Maybe I’m an asshole for thinking that way. I don’t know. It just seems like it takes less than an hour after the initial news breaking and social media is flooded with logos and rallying images. That may be a backwards way of looking at it. 

I’ve been watching a lot of hockey this season. Britt bought me an early Christmas present in the form of NHL Center Ice. Every game. Every night. I never have to miss a game. It’s wonderful. It’s been a weird and exciting season so far. Buffalo has come out of the gate as the biggest surprise (as of now). They finally tightened up the goal tending position in Hutton. Skinner has been absolutely fantastic. Dahlin is a stud on the back end. Are they a playoff contender? I think so. They’re also in a tough division. You’ve got Boston, Tampa, and Toronto right there. Nothing easy about any of that.

Looking out west, I don’t think the Oilers are going to have that same luck this year. I’ve become a big fan of that team over the last few years but there is still something missing there. McDavid can’t do it all on his own. They brought in Hitchcock to right the ship and maybe he can. We’ll see. The Pacific division is a bit muddled this year and I don’t think it’ll settle until sometime around the trade deadline. If the Oilers can get some help on the back end, I think they’ll have a better chance at snatching up a playoff spot. Calgary is one of the only teams I’ve watched that consistently looks dangerous. I’m not surprised that Colorado is doing so well. When they traded Duchene last year, that team went on a tear and they’re still chugging along. Nashville looks great. So does Winnipeg. Those matches in the West are a lot of fun to watch. 

Penguins have been stumbling around all year. Is there a true solution? Beats me. Honestly, unless they go into a black hole and lose a ton, I’d just stay the course and see what happens. Let 87 and 81 play together. I like Rust and Simon just fine but Crosby needs a wing that is going to produce. They have tried it for a few games now and it seems to be working just fine. Will Murray get out of his own head and return to his elite play? I sure hope so. 

What happened to the Blackhawks and the Kings? Both teams are fighting for the basement spot in the NHL right now. These things happen. Especially to good teams. More so to good teams who take measures to win championships. The Hawks and Kings split 5 Cups between them in the last 10 years (Hawks in ’10, ’13, and ’15 — Kings in ’12 and ’14). Fans might not like it so much right now but that is an unfortunate price to pay for success. 

So, the Avengers: End Game trailer did come online. A pure teaser. Title reveal. And rich with hype. Hype. Hype. Like the old Mojo Rawley, this movie is packed to the brim with hype and energy. I never would have thought I’d see a comic book franchise come in and dominate Hollywood like the Avengers has. Growing up, the only good Marvel properties being put out there were those Fox cartoons. I certainly wasn’t alive for the 60’s cartoons and the 70’s television shows. As a wide-eyed kid, I’d scour the floor of comic book conventions and see the bootleg tapes featuring The Hulk, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and the amazing 1994 Fantastic Four movie that was never supposed to exist. And I wasn’t really a Marvel fanboy back then. I read DC stuff. Things have changed over the years. Heck, I think I’ve watched Infinity War at least 5 or 6 times since it was released. With a couple of exceptions, the whole MCU line of films has been a real treat. They are fun. Pure fun. Do you have superhero fatigue? I sure don’t. And a lot of other people don’t either. Come April, this new Avengers film will — once again — shatter box office records.

Fantastic Four (1967)
Fantastic Four (1994)

I’m overly thrilled that the Fantastic Four will FINALLY get a proper film. When Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, us comic fans just about blew our stacks with pure excitement. X-Men. Fantastic Four. Two of the biggest properties in Marvel are finally coming into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). With legal mumbo jumbo still in the way, we won’t see these characters (we think) for another couple of years. But that’s okay. Because, again, they are coming. My ideal post-credit stinger for Avengers is something similar to how Thanos was introduced at the end of the first movie. Except, this time around, we’re treated to a rather large, planet consuming purple fella.

Christmas is in a few weeks. I always have the exact same thoughts every December 25th. Always. “I can’t believe it’s here already.” It comes. It goes. I may not be a super festive person but sometimes we just have to suck it up and play along. I’ve eased away from hating major holidays — that seemed to be a big “me” thing over the last few years. Things are how they are. I enjoy seeing other people being happy and so that’s good enough for me.

I’m going to watch A Christmas Story 20 times, struggle with the constant threat of spoiling my diet with delicious holiday food, and enjoy the time I get to spend with my family and friends.

I will only shell out a small bit of unsolicited advice. Mute the social world — even for just a little bit. Free yourself of negativity and divisiveness. Stop listening to people on Twitter. Don’t contribute to PC culture.

Just be good to one another.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. And happy whatever other holidays you may celebrate. 

Green is Not a Creative Color (Headache)

“To spend one’s life being angry, and in the process doing nothing to change it, is to me ridiculous. I could be mad all day long, but if I’m not doing a damn thing, what difference does it make?”
― Charles Fuller

I had a pretty nasty headache the other night. I tried to write and was just coming up with a whole lot of banter that was antagonistic and lacked substance. It didn’t sit well. I was half-asleep and just wanted to paint a picture with word vomit.

I spent Friday night watching the new Puppet Master movie (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich). It has been a few years (and I mean quite a few) since I last put eyes on the Puppet Master franchise. I figure at whatever young age I was at the time, I didn’t have enough appreciation for the absurdity of the whole thing. Killer puppets. Over the top gore. Silly animation. A ridiculous story. All the ingredients for a good time (now). This new one is no different. It’s stupid. Hilarious. A bloody good time (literally). If you’ve ever wanted to see someone pee on their own decapitated head, then this film is for you.

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If you do something and don’t film it, then did you really do it?

If you’re not doing something and don’t tell anyone that you aren’t doing said thing, then are you really not doing said said thing?

It’s strange to me when I see the overwhelming effort that folks put into making sure they get credit for something. A like. A re-tweet. An up-vote. It’s critical that the individual is rewarded with praise. Internet notoriety. A gold star for the day. Attention is like a strange new currency. Wonder if it’ll blow up like Bitcoin? This is where hindsight ahead of time would be swell.

Parents. Grandparents. Older folks. Many, many years ago, you taught a lesson that told us to believe only half of what we see and none of what we hear. Let’s try and apply this to life again, okay?

Football season is quickly approaching. Plenty of chatter out there — as expected — over the national anthem protests. Boycotts! Girlcotts! Cowcotts! I’m just making up nonsense now! I’m pretty sure that no one cares if you’re watching or not. Circulating memes, probably-made-up-statistics, and subtle racism isn’t going to suddenly grab the attention of NFL brass. Ratings will fluctuate. They always do. Personally, I stopped caring about the game a long time ago. You have about 16 minutes of actual playing time crammed into a 4 hour window. Hitting is just about outlawed. Sneezing too loudly draws a 15 yard penalty. Tom Brady has spy equipment embedded in his dreamy eyes. At least 4 or 5 players are guaranteed to beat their wives or girlfriends every season. Toss in some drug issues for a few.  A very small percentage of fans and their outrage towards protesting has little to no impact on the game, the way its played, and the numbers that come in after. There are clearly bigger issues that plague the league. They still aren’t entirely sure what constitutes as a catch. One small step at a time.

I’d like to see folks film themselves standing for the anthem every time it’s played on television. ‘Murica.

I always play the ‘can you imagine if social media was around when…’ game. Usually I’m alone and everything I come up with is hilarious and would win (assuming the game had a point based system that led to wins and losses). What if social media was around when women were protesting for the right to vote? Holy shit. What if social media was around during the fight for civil rights? Subtle racism move over. Digital lynching! What if social media was around during the first big movements to end discrimination against gays? Jesus, take the wheel!

And just so we’re all on the same page, it’s 2018 and these issues are still everywhere and social media is a toxic breeding ground. It’s the only place you can go to see hate and cute pictures of kittens. Sometimes at the same time!

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I came across an interesting debate the other day. The topic of conversation was that someone wanted to know why other people thought a certain band was any good. Things sort of spiraled away rather quickly. I briefly considered chiming in and then thought the better of it. But this situation — matched with another — got the wheels in this rusted ‘ol head turning.

I try to live in a way that’s positive. I think it’s important to have a good outlook and to enjoy things. Entertainment is the one thing that bounds the majority of us together. Do I like everything? Heck no. I don’t like certain musical genres (namely rap and current country). Other people like that stuff and that’s just fine. I think my general disagreement with the aforementioned post above was in regards to the idea of the question being posed to begin with. It doesn’t matter why people think something is good. They just do. My wife likes pop music and I don’t as much. My playlist rolls through plenty of popular stuff, oddities, and things alike. Just now I’ve heard Chromatics, Lissie, The Beatles, Metallica, Conor Oberst, Kate Nash, Pixies, and Echo & The Bunnymen. Doubt she listens to any of that away from me. And same goes here. I probably won’t sit here and write while listening to Kesha. Or Cardi B. Or whomever else is popular right now. (To be fair, I’m really out of touch with a lot).

It was brought to my attention that there are still stigmas attached to liking certain things and other people being aware of these things. I get it. Sort of. Maybe you enjoy something and are terrified that other people are going to laugh at you. Make fun of you. Look down on you for enjoying something that they don’t care for or don’t understand. I call rubbish. A healthy attitude is one that says “fuck other people”. Who gives a single shit what someone else thinks? How’s that going to shape your day? Your week? Your life? Is their opinion that important? We all like stuff that some may see as silly or embarrassing. Whatever. I still think stuffed animals are adorable. Especially the ones from the candy shop at the mall. You know, the little stuffed fruits, veggies, and other tasty food items.

See. Squishable Comfort Food!

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Take a moment to appreciate Eye Guy.

Point is, it’s perfectly acceptable to let other people enjoy stuff. Don’t worry about the how and the why. Point yourself into a different direction if there is something ahead of you that you don’t care for. Your opinion on the matter won’t sway anyone into changing theirs.

I’ll leave you with some music. Eddie Vedder – “Out of Sand” (Featured on Twin Peaks: The Return).