Friday, December 13, 2013

NRS Video Games of the Year (Not Necessarily Released this Year)

Didn't play a whole lot from this year, and most of what I played were shooters, surprisingly. My best game of 2013 was Dark Souls, which I put one-hundred hours into, with only a few of those being composed of pure frustration. I loved the game world (bleak and strange), the art style (somehow reminiscent of Quake), the combat (simple yet difficult to master); yet it's one of those games that I probably won't come back to, seeing how my first play through was so thorough, and because it's a stressful game, really. Sure, you eventually come to catharsis after you beat the Four Kings or Seath the Scaleless, but every single failure builds up to that catharsis, hence the stress.The experience of playing Dark Souls is like becoming a geyser of emotion that only erupts periodically, unlike Old Faithful. 

Civilization 5 was a close second. It was the first strategy game I've played in a while, and it's certainly very addictive. The wife even liked it too, so bonus points for that. I'm not a veteran of the series, so some of the complaints others might of had didn't register. Loved that it allowed single computer multiplayer.

X-Com is number 3. The combat is great, the tech tree is okay, the random environments are a bit boring after a while, but overall an excellent game. Kind of wish that there was more to the interceptor mini-game, and that base building was more evolved. The expansion is on my wishlist.

Honorable mentions-Shadow Warrior, Metro: Last Light; Dishonored DLC; Hotline Miami.

Biggest Disappointment. Yeah, Bioshock Infinite. It's somehow too much like the previous games while simultaneously being too little like them. It wastes its wondrous floating world on a contradictory story about time travel (although all stories about time travel have similar problems). I liked the shooting, Elizabeth, and the main twist. I understand why they didn't just make it Bioshock in the sky. But we should've been able to explore Columbia, and like many others, I found the violence to be a little out of place. Still a good game and one worth playing, but still a disappointed. It was almost doomed to be.

Honorable disappointment mention. Crysis 3. Did you remember that it was released this year? All I remember about it are respawning enemies, lots of cutscenes (though thankfully fewer than the previous title) and giant guns that take up most of the screen. Why the hell did they switch the protagonist again? What the hell happened to Nomad and Alcatraz? Why can't I just run around on an island throwing turtles at Koreans?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

One-Hundred Obituaries



One
Philip J. Dick died on the way home from a farmers' market while in the process of preparing to eat a cinnamon pecan roll. His attention divided between driving his car and unwrapping his pastry, Mr. Dick's vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a semi-tractor trailer.  Like its occupant, Mr. Dick's vehicle, a 2003 model Chrysler PT cruiser, did not fair very well in the accident. One witness, a certain Mary Contrarian, described the scene as resembling "the meeting of a train and a cow." Mr. Dick would have been disturbed to hear himself compared to a cow, considering the amount of time he put forth trying to change his corpulent physique. His wife had just purchased one of those total gym exercise machines, this one in particular purporting to help its user drop fifty pounds in just a month when used only fifteen minutes a day. Mr. Dick had the opportunity to use the machine once before his untimely demise, though to be honest, he likely would have used it only a few times more, Mr. Dick being one of those people who detest exercise in any form. Yet his wife was constantly telling him to lose weight, which was why Mr. Dick was always participating in the latest exercise fad. He had attempted to dance off the pounds while watching videos of spandex-clad vixens throwing their lithe little bodies to and fro; he'd bought a bike, which rusted in the garage, as well as a weight set, which also rusted in the garage. He had implements and elastic bands and fat calipers and all manner of things which he had bought and discarded to the garage, which served as a sort of museum for the last decade's infomercial exercise equipment. He wife called it the monument to desire, though to whose desire the garage was a monument to was uncertain. Mrs. Dick was not particularly svelte herself; her son, a monster named Dick Jr., often called his mother "Momma Three-Bills," though her weight was not in actuality in excess of two-hundred and fifty pounds. This is not her obituary, however. We shall cease discussing Mrs. Dick.
            During his last thirty minutes of life, Mr. Dick spent fifteen of those minutes wandering around his local farmers' market, located in the rear of a church. Not being a spiritual man, churches made Mr. Dick uneasy. His mother had been especially devout, requiring little Mr. Dick to attend Sunday school every week, a mind-numbing experience, and one that was damaging to the boy's sense of religion. The market made him uneasy as well. Mr. Dick did not like vegetables; his wife (Mrs. Dick again) called him a "meatatarian," though that awkward adjective was not entirely accurate, since Mr. Dick did love his starches, particularly when fried, as well as his sugary sweets, as we already know. The presence of so much so called "good food"—apples and beets and lettuce and roots and god knows what else—made him feel a little guilty, for he knew that he was not going to buy any of it. He entered the market on an impulse. Forty years of American life had made him an impulsive, confused creature. The cinnamon roll was all he purchased, yet he felt good when he exited, certain that he had taken a step toward slimness. Life was made of small steps, of this he was certain, and all one had to do was make a concerted effort and all of one's desires would be granted, almost like magic. The progression by steps theory had not resulted in much personal success for Mr. Dick, yet he clung to it like a warm blanket all the same. He was actually thinking of exercising right before glancing down at his crouch at the cinnamon roll that lay there, wrapped up in white paper like a Christmas present, waiting. Mr. Dick could not wait.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Impressions



First Impressions
I tell Tristan to expect the worst, but I can tell that he is shocked. His mouth hangs open just enough to make his handsome face look stupid. I can see it through his eyes. The old dryer, sitting in the yard with a rust hole as big as a cannon ball rotting in its side. Diesel's old tricycle, twisted into otherworldly shapes, blackened with firework soot. The massive chain that lies suspended and taut over much of the refuse, its beginning and end undetectable, my favorite "relic" (which is what I call all the junk littering our yard). I usually tell guests that we have a really big dog, and it's always fun to see their eyes grow as large as dinner plates, but I don't tell Tristan this. I let him soak it in. "Why?" he seems to ask silently. Garbage, cans, broken bottles, clothes, dead appliances. Flat tires. Multiple dog houses. Enough plastic to choke every fish on the planet. There are craters spread through the junk, and I consider explaining that there aren't any landmines out there, but I can't say this with one-hundred percent conviction. God knows what my brothers have done.
            "You want to come inside?" I ask, pointing at the faded white double-wide that lies beyond. I don't think he's even seen it. He's the first boy I've brought home. I guess this is a test.
            "Yeah, sure," he says, trying to muster up some enthusiasm.
            "My mom likes to collect things," I tell him. He doesn't understand; he thinks I'm talking about the yard. I get out of his car and take him by the hand and together we make the walk. The junk doesn't bother me that much (it's kind of a statement, really). It's not that we produce more garbage than anyone else; it's that we put it on display. We don't truck it off and hide it in a landfill where it is out of sight and mind. Most of this stuff won't decay for thousands of years. Having our trash visible before us may act as a catalyst, encouraging us to consume less, although one look at my mother and one is liable to reach another conclusion.
            We reach the door and I pull it open and let him enter first. The insides of the double wide aren't really that wide, especially when there are boxes and clothes and packaged food lining the walls like an art project. There is a smell too, I am told, though I guess I am too used to it to notice. Tristan's nostrils are quivering; I guess the odor is rather pungent. If I had to guess, I'd say the trailer smells like an enormously fat woman: damp, musky, fungal. There is a closet to the right of the doorway, though you'd never be able to tell, since there's a seven foot tall heap of clothing blocking it. Tristan turns back to me, exasperation on his face. He doesn't know what to do or where to go. I squeeze past him and navigate through the labyrinth, deftly twisting my body around protruding clutter, moving like an eel. My short, slender physique was born out of developing in this environment. Maybe evolution knew the direction my mother would pursue as I gestated in her body and reacted accordingly. Tristan's clumsily running into things, making a racket. I tell him to be quiet and act a little more civilly.
            Mother is where I expected her to be. She's sitting on the couch, looking like a beached cetacean. Her arms are little vestigial things, flipper-like, dangling uselessly from her meaty shoulders. Mother is wearing one of her many muumuus, this one whitish (I say "whitish" because there are stains of many colors adorning this dress). There is a box of Cheetos next to her, and there is orange on her hands and around her mouth. This is the woman that birthed me, I whisper to Tristan, and he looks at me, amazement on his face. She is obviously the fattest human being he has ever seen.
            "Hey mom," I say. My mother turns suddenly, her baby face erupting into a smile. She's got strawberry colored hair, long and stringy, greasy and unwashed. I feel so many things looking at her that I have to turn away and regain my composure.
            "Who've you brought over, honey?" says my mom. She has a sweet voice.
            "This is Tristan," I tell her, but Tristan has left my side suddenly and gone over to her. He's tall and blonde and wide-shouldered, in the prime of life, and this perfect looking man/boy is standing over my monstrously fat mother, and they don't even look like they are of the same species. He introduces himself, extends a hand, and my mother is extremely pleased by his manners, his courtesy, and I feel sick inside, not knowing how to interpret this interaction. Her sausage fingers grip his long, lean ones, leaving orange dust on his pristine flesh, and I have a horrible premonition of Tristan as my mother, his high cheek bones encased in a gelatinous circle of blubber, his sleek form bulbous, rotund, and bloated with excess. But it doesn't spread like that, I think, examining my own skinny hands. Although it could be that I am immune.
            Mother is trying to get up off of the couch for some reason; she keeps rocking her torso back and forth, trying to build up enough momentum to defeat gravity and stand on her own two legs. Tristan watches her with the same kind of detachment one might wear while witnessing an overturned turtle struggling to right itself. I can't help Mom, because she's killing me right now. Finally, she gets onto her feet, panting, the effort having exhausted her.
            "You kids want something to eat?" she hollers. Tristan gives her a wide berth, but she can't help grazing him with her hip as she turns around and heads to the kitchen. He exaggerates and quietly stumbles into some stacked boxes, his limbs askew, his eyes closed. I don't laugh and move to the couch, but I don't sit down. My mother's left a crater where she sat; the upholstery is damp and smelling of ass sweat.   
            "I got Twizzlers, Hostess donuts, some Oreos," yells my mother, rummaging through the cupboard.
            "We'll have them all," says Tristan, moving beside me. He's looking at the sweat crater, wrinkling his nose. I know she stinks; he doesn't have to tell me. I want to go to my room, but guilt is keeping me by this couch, waiting for my mother.
            My baby brother Tripp materializes out of an alcove, a seven year-old boy clad solely in a diaper, and sprints past us, in the process smacking Tristan on the calf before hiding behind the couch.
            "What the fuck?" says Tristan.
            "He does that to everyone new," I explain. "Diesel wore a diaper till he was ten." I don't know why I volunteer this information, but I do.
            "That's weird," he says. Well, no shit, Tristan. Of course it's weird.
            My mom lumbers toward us with a plate full of junk food, grimacing because she's diabetic and her feet are always hurting. Tripp peeks out from the couch, a mischievous grin on his face, and I could just beat him to death right now, the little gargoyle.
            "Here you go, kids," she says, offering the sugary treats. Oreos are spread out in a ring, with a big handful of crumbled Doritos rising from the center like the ruins of a mountain. Tristan looks at me as if to say How can we eat this stuff? so I grab three Oreos in one hand and the Doritos crumbs in the other and stuff everything into my mouth. I chew noisily, my lips peeled back, revealing a Halloween smile of orange, black, and white. The stuff tastes awful mixed together; the urge to vomit starts coming up my throat, yet I push it back and swallow my cud. He's looking at me differently now; perhaps he sees the pretty little thing my mother once was before she succumbed to gluttony and sloth. My mother seems to think this is a stunt, some new dating tactic, for she's smiling, her blubbery lips resembling pale pink worms. Tripp lets out a howl he learned from a cartoon and jumps out in front of everyone and starts wagging his diapered ass around suggestively, and I can tell he's been watching MTV, since he imitates everything he sees. Mom's fat lips turn into a frown, and she's up and chasing the little devil as best as she can; he is, of course, far too agile and lean to be caught by my mother, and he knows his way around the litter of our lives better than any one of us. He darts and weaves behind a stack of cardboard boxes, making animal sounds as my mother reaches helplessly for him, his taunting gyrations eliciting threats of corporal punishment from her. Tristan is trying to suppress his laughter and failing. He thinks I've brought him here to laugh at my family; he thinks I've brought him to a comedy show or a zoo. Maybe I have unknowingly. It's hard for me to know anything with absolute certainty, and I can't see how that will ever change.







Saturday, November 16, 2013

Faith



Faith
At night they come for us. We hide in the tunnels, in maintenance shafts, in holes carved out of concrete. We pull pieces of plywood over us as we squat and listen to the scrape of their claws, the rattle of their fangs, and their wheezing breath. They howl and grunt and speak in violent tongues as we cover our mouths with rags to muffle our exhalations. When they leave there are always a few dead. We take the remains and pile them up in great bonfires, basking in the heat and light. No one has seen the surface in fifty years. My brother's eyes are as big and white as mother's fine china, and he does not have to squint in the darkness. My hands are my gift. My fingers are long and taper into claws, and I can feel minute differences between textures, between sand and grain and dirt and stone. I know what is radioactive and what is safe to eat. It does not have to glow for me to know.
            Rupert claims that they were once rats before the fallout. He says they grew tired of eating our scraps and decided to eat us. Jeremiah says that they were dogs without homes, and that they were once our very best friends. He says we cuddled them and doled out kindnesses like they were our children, precious and loving. He says that they just wish to love us but they've forgotten how in their hunger and their torment. Little is left for them up there, he says. There is no oxygen and no vegetation and therefore little meat, so they come down into our subway system to see what their former masters have for them. We have nothing, so they eat us. He says we should have taken them with us into the tunnels instead of leaving them up top to die. They are ghosts, he insists, though this is not true, for we have killed them with firearms and blunt objects. I know what he means, though.
My mother had a dog named Fluffy. I can just remember her. She was Yorkshire terrier, and mother paid four-hundred dollars for her. I used to carry her around when I was a child. I had to be very careful with Fluffy because she was fragile. I couldn't drop her or toss her around like a stuffed toy. When the sirens went off we left her in the living room. Mother cried and cried. Father said they didn't allow dogs because oxygen and rations were limited, but still Mother wanted to hide her in her purse. I think we left a twenty-pound bag of dog food opened on the floor, the kibble spilling out. Fluffy yipped at us when we went out the door.
            I wonder if Fluffy devoured Levi Stevens, leaving nothing but the head for us to burn. That dog food wouldn't have lasted forever. More than likely, Fluffy was eaten by a larger animal. That's what I like to think, at least.
            I tell Rupert that it wouldn't be so bad to be eaten. I tell him that they probably kill you quickly, seeing how their claws and teeth are so large and sharp. Animals don't mess around, I say. They go straight for the jugular, and you probably pass out without feeling a thing. He always shakes his head and spits when I tell him that. He says they keep you alive as long as possible because they like their meat living and warm. I tell him he's full of shit, which he is. This is a shantytown, I say. We cover ourselves in rags and shit in the corner. We cough and wheeze in the smoke. What light we have is produced by the burning of dead flesh. What food we eat is scavenged. We are victims, I say, and we are consumed as such. They have no reason to make us suffer further.
            Rupert, sunny optimist that he is, claims that there are other cities out there below the earth. It's mathematics, he says, and I don't know what he means. He means to set out someday to look for others. He wants to steal a gun from the armory as well as some canned food, a gas mask, and a headlamp, and map out the subway. I tell him he wouldn't last a minute. Rupert is fresh meat, weak meat, and he's quiet and slow, easy prey for any monster. Rupert says he's a man, and that after he maps out the subway, he'll return and make me marry him. I laugh at him when he says this, for I can't see why he'd want to marry me or anyone else. I am old and mutated, though less than most, and my desire has long ago faded with my memories of the surface. I don't know if I can have children, and I don't want to try. I wouldn't want to bring anyone into a world of tunnels and darkness.
            Jeremiah says he saw his dead wife the last time they came. He took up a position in the battery, and as they fired at the monsters his wife walked unharmed, beautiful and clad in a white dress. Her hair was as black as obsidian, he says, and her eyes as green as the ooze which flows through the splintered cracks of our foundation. He stopped firing when he saw her. The monsters moved around her, foaming at the mouth, but his wife lingered oblivious. She was an angel, he says, and he regrets that he did not join her. No monster would have touched him, he says. No bullet would have pierced his flesh.
            No one wants to talk about it, but I see what's happening. They are changing. I saw my mother amongst them. She was happy and smiling, wearing that apron she always used to wear when she did work around the house. She had a feather duster in her right hand, and she was using it on the railway. I didn't say anything, but I look at others and know that they see the same. They see their loved ones when the monsters come.        
            Are they ghosts? Are they hallucinations born of the radioactive fallout? Are they projections created by the monsters? Have they tapped into our memories to use them against us?
            I was afraid that they would shoot Rupert when he tried to break into the armory, so I told the station chief of his plans. They arrested him and threw him in a cell. He won't talk to me anymore, but at least he's alive. I know he draws pictures with chalk on his prison walls. He sings old hymns and talks like the future never came to pass. He shall be released, he says. He has faith.
            I don't know why Rupert is like he is. He has grey skin like an elephant, cracking and covered in sores, and his teeth are almost all gone, yet he pretends he's a human being. I ask him about the ghosts and he doesn't respond. I think faith requires a certain disconnection from reality. It requires an imagination.
            The next time they come I do not hide and cower in a hole. I stand in the tunnel, a bright light before me, and I watch as they pass. They cannot see me; they will not touch me, and I feel the heat of their enormous bodies as they lumber toward the station, looking for food. I want to reach out and touch one, but here comes Fluffy, hairless, vertebrae protruding like spikes from her back. It's the eyes that let me know that it's her. The eyes are heartbroken—they ask "Why did you leave me?" and I start blabbering about oxygen and rations and government rules while the monster crawls up to me, shaking in the light. "I was a child, Fluffy," I say. "I couldn't do anything but follow everyone else." The eyes tell me that my explanation is not good enough. I didn't think a few words would excuse a deformed lifetime. But hell, what else was I to say?
           
                       

Friday, October 4, 2013

Love Poem #2



I Have
 Big black eyes
           That are the mouths of wells
She would say as much
    Had she not
    Great green eyes
    That rest half-lidded
           And open
           Only to look at me.
You would see the wells,
  The water, you’d hear
    The cold cavernous sloshing
           You’d feel
    The slime on my stone.
           You’d smell
           The lead leaking in.
             She can’t taste
           Any of this.
                       I’d close up my wells
                       With concrete and earth
                       But she might drown down there
                       Having already
                           Tumbled in.
                       To blink and to shutter,
                       Those great green eyes.
                       To lid and to cover,
                       Those great green eyes.
                       To seal and to staple,
                       With my own black blinds.
I shouldn’t.
                                                                                                                       I wouldn’t.
I couldn’t.
Do such a thing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Time Passes Ever so Quickly

I hadn't realized how long it's been since I've written for this blog. A big harvest at the orchard has kept me very busy (We've picked so many apples this year that even after adding a cooler extension, we still don't have enough room) and when you come home in the evening tired, you really just want a beer and a baseball game. In the Depths of the Valley, my work in progress, has just now reached 25,000 words, and I've been working on it for four months. I was unable to find a publisher for Black Box (which kind of got me down), but after the season slows, I'm going to edit it a final time and put it up on Amazon for a miniscule price. I think I need to focus more on short stories and getting published in magazines instead of writing 430 page novels and querying literary agents. In the meantime, I hope to update this blog with music and features. Mitch R. Singer, a character in my novel Black Box (and damn-near a real person) has agreed to write a segment for me entitled "Mitch R. Singer's Most Horrible Places in the World," so look for that soon.

What I've been watching: September baseball. The world's only Cardinals/Reds fan here. Only a handful of games to go!

What I've been playing: Xcom. A good tactical turn-based strategy game from the makers of Civilization.

What I've been listening to: The Jeevas, Elvis Costello, The Hives, House of Freaks.

What I've been lifting: On my third cycle of Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program, which is a nice change of pace.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

TPM on Grooveshark

I uploaded an album entitled "The Everlasting Bore" onto Grooveshark for everyone's listening pleasure. Just go to http://grooveshark.com/ and search for "Theme Park Mistress." Twelve tracks of solid gold. All written and recorded by yours truly, Nathan Russell.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What's going on

Boy it is hard to keep up a blog when you actually work, let alone find the time for writing music or fiction. Hopefully I'll have some news regarding my novel Black Box within the next month or so. It's patient business, trying to get a book published, and I am not known for my patience.

What I've been reading: A Dance of Dragons by George R.R. Martin. I really enjoyed the first three novels in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, but the last two drag on a bit. I don't know if Martian knows where he's going, which is probably why there's been such a gap between books.

What I've been listening to: pretty much nothing. Grooveshark, '90 nostalgia.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In the Depths of the Valley Chapter Six

Because I haven't posted anything in a long while, he's the sixth chapter of my work in progress, In the Depths of the Valley.



Chapter Six
Thaddeus Pencilton stops his car before the river, the moon reflecting off of the Ohio’s surface like the spotlight of God, the white light rippling with the waves of the river. His heart is beating a little too fast as he rolls down his window and lets in the humid night’s air. Pamela Jean Harvey is sitting in the passenger’s seat, but he doesn’t dare look at her yet. The frogs and locusts hum down by the river; the bank sports a tiny park with a swing set and a sidewalk that stretches for about a half mile. Wes Montgomery is on his stereo, playing a song called Polka Dots and Moonbeams, soft, melodic jazz. Thad likes the song, but he’s selected it to make him appear sophisticated to his date; his outfit, a tucked-in collared shirt worn with khaki pants and wingtips, is another attempt to convey an idea to his date’s mind, this idea being that Thaddeus Pencilton is a mature young adult with aspirations far exceeding those of his classmates. He’s smuggled a couple of his grandfather’s finer cigars and hidden them in the glove compartment, but too many variables (Does she hate cigar smoke? Does she hate smoking? Do you offer a woman a cigar?) keep him from offering the contraband. Instead, he stares at the river, watching it undulate like serpent, wondering how it feels to go out into those muddy waters, polluted and full of driftwood, to go out there drunk and naked, a little mad, a little lovesick, hornier than he’s liable to admit, to see what will find him in the ancient, abused river, leaving the girl here to wait in the passenger’s seat for all eternity. Wes Montgomery has ended and a song called Alcoholiday booms out of his speakers—it must’ve switched disks, the damned CD player, but Pamela is looking at him now, smiling, so he lets it be and looks back at her. She’s worn a dress; none of the girls ever wear a dress—it’s blue with straps and she’s got her hair down and lipstick smeared all over her lips—and she’s possessed by a reckless beauty accentuated by her youth, her inexperience, and her own barely contained nervousness, which Thad is oblivious to, of course, being a boy and being rather stupid at the moment and unable to see past his own scared, selfish desires. He puts his arm down on her arm rest, his hand lingering in her space, his fist curled up into a tight ball, knuckles almost white. He sees past her face through her hair and eyes and lipstick, and there's something behind her, the silhouette of a teenager's woman, tiny and lean and clad only in a black brassiere with a guitar at her feet, its headstock just covering her pubic hair, all legs and tapered waist and white breasts, and this spectral minx looks at Thad and winks while showing her teeth, her lips as red and wide as a cartoon's, and then he blinks and he's still staring into the pretty innocent visage of Pamela Jean Harvey, who looks at him quizzically, so he feels compelled to cease his hallucinating and speak.
            "It's a pretty moon outside." He sniffs and coughs softly, the lingering hand now back in his lap.
            "Did you space out for a second? Or is there something in my hair?" Her hands flutter up like birds, feeling, kneading.
            "It's kind of hot in here, isn't it? A little too humid outside."
            "It's not bad," she says, still smiling. Her eyeliner is starting to run down her cheeks. Thad notices immediately but feels neither revulsion nor pity. I could hand her a handkerchief he thinks, but then remembers that he's left it at home, thinking it, like the cigars, too anachronistic and strange to bring on a date.  
            "We like a lot of the same music," she says. "Maybe we could go to a show."
            Thad's arm has made one terribly slow motion toward Pamela and as her eyes follow the limb, he pauses and nearly withdrawals it—staring at her, frozen, he grins sheepishly—and then the arm is around her shoulders and he's pulling her to him but his seatbelt is in the way, he's never taken it off, so he stares down at the buckle like he's forgotten how to press a button. It was all so easy the other night he thinks while wondering where this awkwardness has come from. She's put off already, I've blown it, she thinks I'm an idiot, and then Pamela reaches down and unbuckles the seatbelt, and her free hand is on his thigh and another button has been pressed and suddenly his penis is hardening, clearly visible through the thin fabric of his kakis, and it travels down toward Pamela's hand, unresponsive to his mental energies, moving with a mind of its own. She's looking at it now—her hand has inched off his thigh somewhat, to give the thing a little breathing room—and Thad is unable to completely interpret her expression (there's fear there, a little bit of curiosity, and perhaps a dash of humor), so he stares straight ahead, catatonic, almost closing his eyes out of embarrassment, and his cheeks redden when she suddenly bursts out laughing, and he looks at her and sees her makeup running down her face, she looks like an insane harlequin, and he's out of the car now, walking through the grass, part of his brain registering that Big Star's Sitting in the Back of a Car is playing, his incompliant penis now finally deflating. He moves down the path, not looking where he steps, and nearly falls when his left foot kicks a fire hydrant. The little animals continue to make their night noises, oblivious to the drama unfolding before them, and Thad keeps walking, picking up his pace, his embarrassment turning into anger. Why does everything have to be so goddamn difficult? he wonders. He stops by the swing set and leans against its cold metal supports, his gaze directed at the river, breathing hard, burrow furrowed, hands in pockets. He hears her creep up to the swing set, but he doesn't turn his head to look at her. Pamela sits down on a swing and starts to rock back and forth, her motions initiating an ugly creaking sound from the set.
            "I'm sorry," she says, the sides of her face still upturned.
            "It's fine," says Thad curtly.
            "It's so goddamn hot out here," replies Pamela. "Let's go somewhere else."
            Thad shrugs. He doesn't really want to get back into the car, but he's equally reluctant to abandon this date.
            "What are your friends doing? Dwight and Jasper?"
            "They're probably sitting around the fire pit at Dwight's house," he says. "Drinking and playing cards and eating frozen pizza."
            "That sounds fun," she replies.
            "You think so?"
            "Let's go."
            As they leave the park, Thad wonders if it's a good idea to take Pamela to visit his friends. He's never brought a girlfriend to them; he's never had a girlfriend, and he contemplates how they'll react. They'll either be overly quiet or show off like morons, and what will Pamela think of me, associating with such idiots? The are, however, the crème de la crème of Hillsdale, Indiana High School. Who else am I supposed to hangout with? The Watsons? The hot air feels thick as a blanket with the windows down as they drive up Main Street, passing Thad's family's restaurant and hotel and then the Angry Bear, a bar of ill repute run by the father of Gordy Weaver, one of their classmates. Main Street is well-lit, the bright lamplights provided by the riverboat casino that employs much of the small town, and the moths have gathered around the globes, bats darting in to feast on the insects, and Pamela points them out to Thad, who looks and nearly crashes into a parked car. He hasn't been driving for very long, having just turned sixteen last month, but the near crash doesn't disturb Pamela, who continues to smile and wave her slender arm out the window. The song California Son by the Adolescents is playing on the radio; Thad's CD player has shifted to his punk mix, and he reaches to change it before deciding that, hell, it really doesn't matter. A wave of relief has taken him suddenly—no longer will the difficult and stressful task of handling a female be his alone—and even if his friends act like morons, their idiocy will make him look better.
            They turn onto the narrow gravel road that lies behind the school and in front of the town's largest cemetery. The road turns and winds past the headstones, a fog moving over the graveyard like a scene from a horror movie; Thad's about to point this out when he sees a red Firebird heading straight for him, smoking billowing out of its rear windows, and as Thad pulls into the ditch, the Firebird does a tire-squealing U-turn and burns rubber down the road, accelerating and then abruptly turning into the dump that lies across from the Howard house, it's headlights flashing maniacally, the mangled structures of the dump illuminated in static images, large bins full of blighted branches and old washing machines appearing and disappearing in the dark.
            "That's Toblé," says Thad, shaking his head. "You sure you want to go down there? I can see the bonfire from here." In the near distance, the flames were high and clearly visible, looking as though they would lick the tops of the trees.
            "I'm sure I can handle it," says Pamela.
            "Many have spoken those words and never returned from the Howard bonfire," replies Thad.
            "May they rest in peace," says Pamela. "Let's go down there."
            The Howard house is a ranch bungalow gently easing into a dilapidated state. Grandma Howard, the main parental figure and chief resident (Dwight's wayward father pays the bills but is treated the same as the other members of the family), is of an advanced age, and though dementia has not quite set in, its specter hovers around her stern, implacable face. Thad parks his car and looks at the porch, squinting his eyes to see if Grandma Howard sits on the porch swing, not wanting to deal with her lack of recognition or her antiquated values regarding the presence of unaccompanied females on her property. Thankfully, she is not there; Artemus Howard is the only occupant of the swing, Dwight's slightly younger brother, and Thad can see that he's holding a beer can in one hand and an unlit sparkler in the other.
            "Where's the banjo and the blind boy?" asks Thad of Art, exiting the car.
            "Huh?" says Art, sipping his beer.
            "Why don't you light that thing? Where's your brother?"
            "Who's that?" asks Art, pointing at Pamela.
            "She's a crazy pixie illusion, brought on by your nascent alcoholism. She's a cross of Tinkerbell and Marilyn Monroe and whatever porn you've been watching." He glances at Pamela, feeling his confidence restored, and takes her by the arm. "Where's your brother, you goddamn simpleton?"
            "There out by the bonfire," says Art. "Gordy's with him."
            "That little weasel in the polo shirt? One of your buddies, right?"
            Art just stares at him. He wears a white t-shirt and pair of jean shorts, and he's started fixing his hair into a pompadour, which annoys the hell out of Thad—Fourteen is an obnoxious age, and God knows where he picked up the style, probably MTV or some shitty pop punk band—but he doesn't want to be too mean to the little twerp, not with Pamela watching. He takes his date by the arm and leads her past the boy, who is gawking at her without any sense of modesty, letting her lean on him a little as they traverse the hillside and step off the pavement onto the long yard that needs to be mowed. The bonfire is near, burning tall and bright, and they can see two figures sitting on stones like gargoyles, hunched and strangely quiet, as though transfixed by the flames. Toublé's red Firebird has disappeared down a side road of the graveyard, but his smoke remains, sticking in their lungs. "Watch out for the gopher holes," Thad whispers into Pamela's ear, apropos of nothing, and the edge of his top lip touches her earlobe, causing her to shiver suddenly. "Why?" whispers Pamela back. "Because they're out here," Thad replies, making a move to kiss her on the neck, but she deftly moves aside. He's about to seize her and get at least one kiss in return for the laughter earlier in the evening when Gordy Weaver stirs from his firelight reverie and shouts "Hey, who the hell's there!" with a formidable stick in his hands, lengthy and at least an inch in diameter, and he's brandishing it like a weapon, staring into the darkness, unable to see Thaddeus and Pamela, yet they can see him. Thad puts his finger to his lips and sneaks over to an apple tree, part of a neglected orchard planted by the previous owners of the Howard dwelling. He plucks a small developing apple from the branches and waits for Gordy to turn back to the fire. "Watch this," he whispers to a nonexistent Pamela, who is walking toward the fire.
            "Hey," she says, and Dwight and Gordy nearly collide leaping out of their seats. "Thad is back there. I think he's planning on pelting you two with apples."
            "No shit?" says Gordy, staring at her incredulously. Dwight looks at her like he's never seen a girl before. Even with her melted makeup, Pamela Jean Harvey is a stunning young woman, as captivating as any siren conjured up from the depths of Dwight's teenage mind, and unlike those enchanting seductresses, she shows no sign of vanishing.
            "Have a marshmallow," he says, extending the bag toward her, his brain as stagnant as the stinking creek that lies just beyond the fire pit.
            "You can sit by me," says Gordy, patting an empty tree stump. Gordy is fourteen, two years younger than Pamela, and a freshmen, but he's knows it's time to perfect his courtship skills, as he's right in the middle of puberty, its initial onset having hit him like an atom bomb, and he's just now coming into his senses and is loath to pass up any opportunity to practice. Pamela doesn't think about any of this; she sits down on the stump next to the horny young boy, after taking the proffered marshmallow.
            "Who buys you guys beer?" she asks.
            "This is Dad's stuff," replies Dwight. "The garage is full of beer. He never notices a missing case."
            "Why does he have so much beer?"
            "He knows a liquor distributor, and I guess he owes him. Plus, he's an alcoholic."
            "Mean Steve Reeves," says Gordy. "That's who my dad gets his Miller from for the bar."
            "What does your dad do?" Pamela asks Dwight.
            "I'm not really sure," admits Dwight.
            Thad stays in the apple orchard, watching them, wanting to move but unable to, for some phantom reason. Toublé tears down the road, smoke still pouring from the windows of the Firebird, and Thad hypothesizes that the boy is testing out a smoke machine that he's undoubtedly constructed in his primitive laboratory. Jasper will only tolerate people in small doses, as he's far more comfortable around the din of machinery and power tools. Thad feels like Jasper more often than he'd care to admit, and right now is one of those times when he'd rather linger in the dark beneath an apple tree, a witness and an observer, just a person who watches and waits. His friends have not disemboweled Pamela, and she seems to be engaging them better than he could have imagined. He starts to move his feet toward the bonfire when he steps into a gopher hole, his shin sinking in nearly to his knee. These things must be huge, he thinks, imagining beaver-sized rodents lumbering through spacious tunnels. Toublé is making a howling noise now; he can't tell if the sound is coming from the boy or his sound system. He looks toward the graveyard as he removes his foot from the hole and through the rows he thinks he sees something large and black, doglike, yet moving with an alien purpose, seemingly gliding among the headstones. When he blinks, it is no longer there. The hallucination, if that is what it was, makes him abandon the orchard and move toward the refuge of the fire, gooseflesh forming on his neck, a chill suddenly on his arms, his legs, and his forehead.
           
           

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Relationship

I promise that one day this blog will be more than a collection of links to Youtube and Soundcloud. But that day is not today.

The Relationship

Friday, May 31, 2013

Satisfaction

Posted this song to Sound Cloud today. It's an older composition that I never got around to recording. Enjoy.

Listen Here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Don't Worry

The artists formerly known as Theme Park Mistress had a jam session last week, and from one of our riffs I constructed this song.

Click Here!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

You've Got to Be the One

Just wrote this today, I've had the main theme in my head for over a year. I was listening to a lot of Jeff Buckley at the time. This is basically a demo (all of my songs kind of are), since this one really needs a band.

Listen Here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Valley Chapter 5

This is the last chapter I'm going to post for a while of In the Depths of the Valley. I might post a few more as the book ends; this isn't going to be a 134,000 page work like Black Box.


Chapter Five
It is noon, and while the children lunch I find myself engaged in a conversation with Mr. Lurch, the other English teacher at Hillsdale High School. We lean against the lockers, Mr. Lurch clutching a diet soda, gesticulating with his free hand. People think that Mr. Lurch and I look like twins, since we are both short, stocky men; Mr. Lurch's stockiness, however, is resultant of his weightlifting regimen, to which he is extremely dedicated. He also has more hair on his head than I, a fact which I resent deeply. He is something, however, of a bozo.
            "Sometimes during a lecture, I fade off and walk to the trash can, just to make sure that my fly's not unzipped," says Mr. Lurch. "You ever stop halfway through a lecture and discover that your pants are unzipped? I swear, the kids will never let you forget."
            I find myself always being cornered by a faculty member, usually at times when I'd rather be alone. People tell me things that should be kept private—I know which marriages are in trouble, whose kids are probable psychopaths, which teachers have criminal records. Mr. Lurch is eager to discuss his wife's infidelity, I can tell, since it is the subject we always discuss, and despite my disinterest, my innate politeness keeps me from walking away.
            "I'll tell ya, Will, she did it again, I can tell," says Mr. Lurch. "I got home the other day and she wasn't there, even though it was her day off. So I pace around, debating what to do. I'm thinking I should go out looking for her, hit the bars, you know, when I see a sweater lying on the couch. A man's sweater, but not one of my own. It's got a low cut neckline and it's light pink. I don't have any V-neck pink sweaters, Will. I wouldn't wear pink if you put a gun to my head. It's an effeminate color. It saps testosterone, drains it right from the skin. I pick up this pink sweater and smell it. That's my first instinct. It smells like a man's sweater, by which I mean it smells like cheap cologne and body odor. There's even a little bit of moistness in the armpit region. No woman would sweat in a sweater, am I right? That's just not a possibility in this universe."
            "You are sure it was a man's sweater?" I say, telling him what he wants to hear.
            "Oh yeah, the shoulders were stretched out. It was too broad for any woman. And like I said, no woman would foul an article of clothing with her body fluids. You learn these things, Will, when you're married. As far as some women are concerned, they don't sweat, fart, belch, or do anything remotely unladylike, except for cheat on their husbands."
            "Did you confront her about it?" I ask, leading him along. The locker I'm leaning against is cold and slick, and I'm getting whiffs of a foul odor like unwashed gym shorts coming from its vent.
            "I need more evidence," he says, shaking his head. "You and I know that there's no way that sweater belongs to me. Logic dictates that it belongs to some bastard that's cuckolding me, but it's not the kind of evidence that would stand up in court. She'd deny it, say it was either my sweater or her own. I just looked at her when she got back around nine that night. Just looked at her and didn't say a think. 'How was work?' she asks, like everything's a-ok. I don't reply and keep staring. You can't sleep in the same bed with a woman like that. I stayed on the couch."
            I have no idea whether Mr. Lurch is delusional or if his wife is a floozy. I don't particularly care; herein lies the irony in people seeing me as a confidant. I have my suspicions regarding Mr. Lurch's intelligence: for example, how can he be certain that a pink V-neck sweater, a sweater that he admits as a man he would never wear, could not belong to a woman? False bravado surrounds Mr. Lurch. He had some sort of failed athletic career in football or baseball, I can't remember, and it seems that his failure to realize his dream of playing professional sports has resulted in a palpable sense of inadequacy. He puffs up his chest, talks tough, struts down the hallways, yet he confesses his fears to me while no one else is around. His students snicker at him during class while he checks his zipper. It is best that he does not know this.
             I tell him to hang in there, that his worries may be unfounded. He looks at me uncertainly and then hits me hard on the back, a friendly gesture, to be sure, but it hurts. The bell rings and the hallways flood with children. I walk quickly back to class, standing in the doorway, smiling as my AP students walk inside. I give Katarina Giles extra room for her wide ass. They slouch into their chairs, throw their books onto the floor, whisper amongst themselves as I give them a minute to adjust. Illusions die quickly for teachers; I know these children only desire to pass the class. I don't want to make it too hard for them, but my integrity prevents me from making it too easy to pass.
            "So, how did your poems go?" I ask. The students immediately understand that it is to be a casual day, and they relax. No hands will be raised. My intention is to approximate the atmosphere of a college classroom. Too few of the teachers here treat these children like adults.
            "It wasn't too bad," says Pamela, smiling. Her legs are bare and crossed, her black hair in a pony-tail. She is certainly the prettiest girl in the room.
            The boys in the back mumble and look down at their desks. Most likely, they devoted about fifteen minutes before class scrawling something down. I decide to make them confront their fear of public speaking.
            "I want everyone to pull their desks into a circle," I say, my words immediately eliciting a chorus of groans.
            "You're not going to make us read our poems out loud?" whines Bobby Stevens, petulant as always.  
            "Why is that a problem? This is an advanced placement course. You will receive college credit upon completion of the final exam. You don't think you'll ever have to speak out loud in college or in life? I don't ask much from you people." I furrow my brow, trying to approximate an implacable expression.
            "What's that supposed to mean?" says Katarina, who occasionally mirrors Stevens' attitude. They are teenagers, after all.
            "Mr. Toblé, will you please read your poem?" I ask. Jasper looks up with heavy-lidded eyes, purple circles hanging beneath. He slouches and comes to life slowly, like a creature just waking from hibernation. I consider taking him aside after class and advising him to shave that unkempt mustache, hinting that he will perhaps see more attention from the females of his age if he were to do so. Such behavior, however, would be inappropriate.
            Mr. Toblé pulls out a crinkled piece of paper from a weathered Trapper Keeper binder that is on the verge of falling to pieces. He takes his time to smooth the paper, clears his voice, and then looks at me. I nod and he begins to read.
            "My poem is called Explosion. Here it goes…"
            I look out across a grassy knoll and see a drum of metal
            It speaks to me as I walk with heavy footsteps
            My hands burdened with matches and implements of tiny destruction
            It asks me to spare its life
            But I am deaf to its words.
            How can metal speak?
            How can it be heard?
            I'll tell you: You fill up the drum with paper and childhood toys
            Prized possessions of your younger brother
            And you add some kindling and about half a quart of kerosene
            Then you light your firework and toss it in.
            You run like hell, your feet stumbling over one another
            Snorting like a pig, air sucking into your hungry mouth.
            You turn at the right moment and see the now air born drum
            Fifty feet high and smoking
            And you cry out loud like an infant
            Raising your fist in celebration
            Waiting with anticipation for the coming crash and the flames.
            They will spread, sowing destruction and Indian signals,
            Sent to gods that you will never know.
            "Well that wasn't too bad, was it, Jasper?" I say, a little shocked. "I don't know if you wrote two pages worth of material, and you were a little off subject, but I am impressed. This is a hypothetical event you wrote about, correct?"
            Jasper shrugs, a little embarrassed.
            "You're not going to blow up the school some day, are you?" asks Bobby Stevens.
            "Probably not," replies Toblé.
            "You all know there's no kidding around about that subject." I have Bobby Stevens read next, and her poem commits all the errors I warned against. It rhymes, is concerned with a nebulous subject unrelated to any feature of the environment, and seems to be composed entirely of clichés. There are better poems, but not everyone gets to read as time dwindles down. I tell them all to read another three chapters of Deliverance and to be prepared for a quiz.
            I sit at my desk for a while and move the papers around, thinking of William Burroughs' cut-up technique. I could take a pair of scissors and remove lines from my students' poems, rearranging their phrases, creating something new and fresh out of the cliché and hackneyed, and then present the poem to them, challenging them to notice anything particular about it. Would they recognize their own clauses? Would they know their own words? Is it possible to teach anyone anything?
            I turn to look out the window and see Miss Mendez walking across the parking lot to her red sedan. She is a math teacher; we operate on opposite sides of the narrow spectrum of secondary education. The intelligent students here are either math wizs like Jasper Toblé or future English majors like Pamela Jean Harvey. They are either logical, square thinkers or round-about daydreamers. I feel as though the gulf would close if Miss Mendez and I were to unite—such whimsical thinking is characteristic of the daydreamer, and I have always been a daydreamer, a space cadet, a foggy-eyed seer of hypotheticals. I want to tell her about the graveyard, but I know she could not understand.
            A word catches my eye from one of the papers. The paper is Dwight Howard's. Goat Belly it says at the top, and I start to read it while gooseflesh prickles my skin.
            When there is no one left to give names or define characteristics, or say what exactly makes an entity alike or different from another, then the realm of possibility becomes vast and black and empty with promise.
            You could say that it was a thing and that it was vast and black and empty with promise. Maybe it was like a dog except for the hooves and the horns and the sour barren pits where eyeballs should be. In its mannerisms it probably most closely resembled man's best friend, that is, if a dog could be both friendly and hateful, both loyal and independent. It was like a dog except for it might lick your hand while sucking your blood. It loved and hated, it courted while killing. It was not a very pleasant creature.
            This isn't a poem; it's some sort of strange short story. Goat Belly resonates with me; it's the word on the tip of my tongue that I have never dared to speak. Has he seen me? There are no coincidences or happy accidents. I crinkle the paper up and shove it into my pocket and make my way outside, my heart in my throat, sweat beading on my brow. I can't ask it. I can only show it the paper and hope that it will understand. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

You Need a Fire

What I've been reading: Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers, Dostoesvsky's the Gambler
What I've been listening to: Soundgarden
What I've been working on: This nice little rock song.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

In the Depths of the Valley Chapter 4


Chapter Four
"Get the hell back before this blows us to hell!" yells Jasper Toblé, tossing the M-80 into a fifty-five gallon drum. He runs from the small hill through the tan, tall grass, his lanky body moving awkwardly in frayed blue jeans, skinned knees just visible. Dwight Howard and Thad Pencilton have predicted his warning and are huddled down in a ditch several hundred feet away, exchanging looks as Jasper runs with wide-eyed terror and excitement. They don't know what he's placed in the drum; judging from his speed, the drum is filled with something that will react violently with the firework and possibly produce shrapnel. Dwight is thinking how Jasper runs like a wounded man, with a slight limp caused by a knee that doesn't quite go as high as it should; Thad is seeing the coming explosion, which causes him to think back to the previous night, when he achieved an important milestone in the development of any young man: his first impromptu orgasm, occurring prematurely in the presence of a female. Thad has not told his friends about his nascent relationship with Pamela Jean Harvey; Dwight Howard is too scared around girls, and Jasper Toblé shows little interest in the opposite sex. In Thad's opinion, Jasper is either gay or asexual. He doesn't particularly care.
            The fifty-five gallon drum shoots into the air, rusty pieces of metal flying out in all directions, the drum clearing twenty feet before falling back toward the earth. Jasper is hit as he jumps for the ditch; Thad sees a shard of metal lodge itself into the boy's calf muscle as he soars through the air. Dwight makes a face like he has been shot; Jasper is still grinning, crooked teeth visible as he lands hard on his chest in-between his friends, the smell of gun powder and burnt grass reaching their nostrils.
            "That was pretty good, wasn't it?" says Jasper.
            "You weren't even facing the right way to see it," says Thad.
            "I'll watch it on the camera," says Jasper, pointing toward the large black camcorder he's installed atop an old basketball goal. It stands forlornly in the field, its patch of concrete cracked and overgrown with grass. Jasper and his brother have no interest in traditional sports.
            "Dude, you're wounded," says Dwight, pointing to the leg. Jasper's calf is bleeding through the thin material of his pant leg.
            "I just got a tetanus shot," replies Jasper. He rolls up the pant leg, and after examining his wound, pulls out a thin sliver of rusted metal.
            "What did you put in that drum?" says Thad.
            "Kerosene and some of Jimmy's junk," he says. Jimmy is Jasper's frequently tormented younger brother.
            "You're lucky you didn't set the field on fire," says Thad.
            "It's been on fire before. That's why the extinguisher is close at hand." He points toward the single-story metal garage that houses Jasper's tools and experiments. "Come on, I'll show you guys what I've been working on."
            Dwight considers Jasper to be a budding mad scientist, albeit a hillbilly one; his main interests lie in figuring out ways to make things explode. They follow him into the garage, stepping around scattered pneumatic tools and ancient CRT monitors. A go-cart rests disassembled in one corner; an automobile engine sits propped up by thick boards stretching across two metal sawhorses. Chains hang from the ceiling; the whole place is soaked in the odor of gasoline, and it will always smell that way, no matter how much cleaning is performed. In the center of the floor, illuminated by large hanging lights, is a curious structure made out of PVC pipe. It looks like a cannon or some other homemade weapon of war, the kind of creation a terrorist might utilize in some desperate scenario, if left with only a bit of cash and the resources of a small hardware store. 
            "I put it together with pipe cement," begins Jasper. "There's a main chamber with a female adapter for connecting to my air compressor. I installed one with a pressure meter so that I don't go over one-hundred and twenty PSI, which I've deemed to be just under the maximum safe load. When that level of compression is reached, and a projectile loaded down the barrel," he points to the tip of the cannon and a broom stick that is lodged within it, "you only need to aim and press this button, which will open the solenoid value, almost instantly releasing the air and propelling the projectile at high velocity. I've been meaning to buy a radar detector, but suffice it to say that I've buried six inch nails into the trunk of an oak tree on the corner of the property, so this thing's pretty powerful."
            "Jeez, man, really?" says Dwight. He steps toward the cannon. "This is more impressive than the old potato cannon."
            "Jasper burned his eyebrows off too many times with Aqua Net hairspray," says Thad.
            "That old combustion launcher was cool and elegantly simple, but this thing is better." Jasper picks up the cannon and cradles it in his arms. "We'll have a lot of fun with it."
            "You're not thinking about using it in the war, are you?" asks Thad.
            Jasper doesn't say anything, but the right corner of his mouth rises slightly.
            "The war" Thad refers to is an annual event called the stick war, a wild occasion that has become a simulation of forest combat, its violence escalating every year as the boys grow older. The first Stick War occurred sometime around '96 or early '97 on the Toblé property, and it consisted of two teams of three, each approaching from different corners of the woods, the boys armed with both heavy and light tree branches, the former for throwing, the latter for striking with whip-like slashes. The objective of these early battles was nebulous; rules were not defined, there was no way to win or lose (although Jonas McClain certainly lost a lot of blood when his lip was split by an oak branch thrown by Douglas Murray). Then the boys obtained paintball guns; Jasper commenced building a crude structure out of posts, two by fours, and plywood that he simply referred to as "the fort." Each year he's added on to the building, giving it a second story and dual turrets, and now there's the rumor that he's wired the fort, providing it with electricity, powering it with car batteries and a homemade generator. Wires are strung through the trees, leading back to the barn. He hints at booby-traps, plans for an underground tunnel system, and an electrified fence. Dwight and Thad are not on Jasper's team; they have not seen the fort for almost a year. Each has expressed concerns to the other that Jasper is taking the simulation a bit too far.
            "Let's fill it up and shoot it," says Jasper, grabbing the air compressor's hose and plugging it into the cannon. The compressor kicks on loudly, and Thad and Dwight step out of the dark metal barn and into the sunlight. Sweat streams down both boys' faces. Jasper is used to the heat. He never wears shorts, only jeans.
            They follow him back out into the field, passing the exploded drum, still smoldering, and walk down a steep hill, digging their heels into the earth. Jasper cuts through the brush, his free hand grasping onto tree trunks for support. At the bottom, they cross a trickle of a creek, hopping from large stone to stone, their feet standing on the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures, mollusks, worms, and trilobites. Dwight likes the smells out here, the scents of grass and wild foliage, the slight fishy stink of the creek. They step carefully around a rotting carcass, little more than a skull and dried up bits of skin. They are climbing another hill now; the forest thins somewhat, giving way to tall grass and stunted pine trees. At the top, Jasper stops and points straight ahead.
            "There," he says, "You can see it from a distance."
            Standing twenty feet above a tangled wall of dried vine and thorn stands a boxy structure with two elevated towers, small, square platforms like deer stands. It has been painted a dull white with red streaks running randomly across its front like trails of blood. There are only slits for windows and no visible door. A ditch lies around the wall of debris, spikes jutting up from the earth. Thad thinks it looks like a prehistoric castle, the kind of thing cobbled together by hulking cavemen and their captives, built with brawn and human sacrifice. There is a flag billowing from a pole extending from the top of the fort. It is the American flag, but a black x has been spray painted across it.
            "Doug did that," says Jasper, pointing to the flag. "You know how he is."
            "He's a weird hillbilly albino scarecrow," says Thad, "full of hippie shit."
            "You're going to kill somebody," says Dwight, pointing toward the spikes.
            "It's just decoration," says Jasper. "All right, who wants to shoot this thing?"
             "You should shoot it. You built it," says Thad.
            "I'll shoot it," volunteers Dwight. "What should I aim at?"
            "We could wait till Jimmy finishes jacking off in the house," says Jasper. "He'll come wandering down here sooner or later. He's curious about the fort."
            "To be your younger brother. I don't know how he's managed to live this long," says Thad.
            "I swear he won't live more than a couple of months," says Jasper. Dwight looks in his eyes, black and almond-shaped, and knows that he's serious.
            "Isn't there a glass house down that way?" says Dwight.
            "I've caused enough damaged to it," says Jasper. "Hit that scrubby pine about one-hundred yards ahead."
            Dwight crouches down and steadies the cannon across his knee. Jasper shakes his head and pulls the broom stick out of the barrel, and then pulls a six inch nail out of his pocket and places it in the cannon.
            Thad looks at the long, lean piece of two inch PVC and thinks about Pamela Jean's long, lean legs. You need to buy her something, he thinks. Within the wallet lies the way to third base.
            Dwight presses the button and the nail shoots out, lodging into the tree. "Cool," he says, simply.
            "Too much air is escaping around the nail. I need to buy some with larger heads," says Jasper.
            Thad looks up toward the ridge and sees a little shape moving along, spying on them. On the ground a centipede moves, orange and black like Halloween candy. He can't take his eyes off of it, as his friends move back up the hill. It looks like jewelry, he thinks, as it scurries beneath a rock. Back among the cool, the wet, and the dark