The Joaquin Dead

fiction by Jason Edwards

Folks, if you’re hunkered down for the night in some abandoned house, hiding behind a make-shift barricade, curled around a small transistor radio with the volume turned down low to save batteries and so the zombies won’t hear and come crashing in to devour your flesh, if over the past few months you’ve seen loved ones massacred by hungry monsters, some of them still alive and driven to madness by our now lawless society, well, I can finally tell you who’s to blame for all of it. It’s Joaquin Phoenix. Yes, the movie star, the man who used to delight you in such films as Gladiator and Walk the Line. Joaquin Rafael Phoenix, of Puerto Rico, brother of the late River, and I’m sad to report, also now late Rain, Summer, Liberty, and half-sister Jodean, all of whom were consumed at the Phoenix compound, in, ironically, Mesa Arizona. Joaquin Phoenix, nominated several times but never winning Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAS, whatever those are. Joaquin Phoenix, once called Leaf, is whole responsibly for the zombie apocalypse.

It seems Joaquin got it into his fool Hollywood brain that he could reunite the Grateful Dead, and not just a few of the surviving members, but the original band. Including Jerry Garcia—Joaquin told the New York Press that the Dead without Jerry would be like peas n carrots without peas. Never was a Dead fan, myself, and found it a bit odd that the man who portrayed Johnny Cash would have any interest in that kind of music. But that’s Hollywood for you, which just like God, works in mysterious ways.

Old Joa tried different methods to bring back Jerry. He tried séances, in an attempt to have the ghost of Jerry Garcia possess, in turn, the bodies of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, and interestingly Dakota Fanning. But of course, none of that worked. He enlisted the assistance of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who helped Joa rig up an erstwhile Frankenstein’s laboratory, complete with Ron Howard’s brother Clint as an Igor—their second choice, it seems, as they originally wanted Michael John Berryman, who was too busy signing autographs at a record two-thousandth sci-fi/horror convention.

But no dice. So off he went to the Caribbean, to look for some of that voodoo mojo, some of that serpent and rainbow. Meanwhile, other bands got in on the act, in an attempt to placate Joa Q. What was left of the Dead, a group called The Other Ones, and then The Dead, and then Furthur, sent Mr. Phoenix several telegrams assuring him they would take no part in a reunion with a reanimated Garcia. Other jam bands expressed interest in helping him with the project using non-zombie methods: Phish, Reel Big Phish, Fishbone, Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony, and Markie Mark Harmon (a hybrid Markie-Mark/Mark Harmon impersonator know for shopping mall performances of 20-minute jam covers of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) all submitted proposals via text message. Blues Traveler’s John Popper jokingly asked if Joaquin would consider resurrected his dead career, and more than a few thousand fans offered to kill Dave Matthews so that he could be brought back to life.

Joaquin stuck to his guns, and insisted on pursuing a means by which to revive Garcia himself. Many of us in the media became complacent, as we were certain this Hollywood yahoo would be too inspired by film and television, and would never hit on a non-fictional solution to his endeavor. Alas, that hubris would come back to bite us in the ass, figuratively, and literally in the case of Brian Jennings, one of the first news anchors to be eaten by a zombie—but that came later.

What came first was Joaquin returning in triumph to the United States, covered in hair, tribal tattoos, and smelling sharply of formaldehyde. At this point the internet finally got involved, and the most prominent theory was that Joaquin was in pursuit of a very elaborate ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, one of those marketing tricks where consumers look for clues which leads them to solve puzzles surrounding some new brand identity. Veterans of Halo’s “I Like Bees,” Cloverfield’s “Slusho”, and Nine Inch Nail’s “Year Zero” began a massive investigation, stumbling across and pre-solving neo-nascent ARGs for Disney’s Cars 4, a new book by Mark Danieliewski, and even a non-existent ARG for A Night Without Sunshine (the team who solved it were treated to an all-you-can eat day at a Seattle Taco Bell, location undisclosed to protect the innocent) .

Meanwhile, Joaquin and his team of 3.2 GPA MIT scientists landed in San Francisco and headed straight for the funeral home in San Rafael where Garcia had been cremated. There, they constructed an elaborate device made from the scales of starfish, dinosaur bones, radioactive carbon coated with toad DNA, and twisted –up pages from a graphic-novel version of the script of the film version of the Necronomicon. Little did Joa and company know what was in store for them—while they set up shop inside, much to the chagrin of the assistant manager of the funeral parlor who was only then made aware of the huge pay-off Phoenix had made to the owner, outside a large protest was forming, a silent vigil, fans who had gathered to both stop and worship the monster Garcia if/when it emerged.

The night sky was lit up by purple and green flashes coming from the windows (the neighborhood otherwise dark due to the power-drain caused by Joaquin’s equipment). Leading the crowd was Chuck Garvey of a certain jam band (I can’t really do justice to their name on air, as it requires a peculiar capitalization and punctuation—but it looks like the name of bartender from the Simpson and is coincidentally a Japanese slang term which has something ambiguously to do with being a fan of anime-style pre-pubescence especially personified in non-animated and no- pre-pubescent things). Garvey and String Cheese Incident’s Jason Haan assured the crowd via a 20-minute improvisational megaphone rap-battle that as long as the lights were not blue and red, all was well and Garcia was still but ash scattered in the Bay and the Ganges.

This was when the lights turned blue and red, the windows shattered, and the ground shook for miles around. All went silent, the crowd tense, eyes wide in the darkness. A low moaning was heard, and then a sharp scream, and Joaquin himself burst through the doors, standing before the crowd, covered in blood, most of it coursing from an open wound on his neck, barely visible beneath his mighty beard. And then Jerry Garcia was upon him, knocking him down and ripping viscera from his body and flinging it about him as he tried to shovel it into his face.

Folks, he was even still wearing those little glasses.

It turns out that the ashes Deborah Koons thought she had scattered were, alas, not Jerry Garcia. His body had been preserved and hidden in the funeral parlor, a fact that Joaquin had discovered almost by accident during that whole mockumentary “I’m Still Here” nonsense. (When asked to comment, Werner Herzog reportedly said something incoherent and predictably German, mentioning black-footed gray langurs, or something).

The crowd reacted predictably. Some surged towards their masters, to touch Garcia, to save Phoenix. Same fled. Some shed their clothes. And even as other bodies began to emerge from the funeral home, shuffling, reeking of rotted flesh, already in advanced states of decay despite being freshly dead and freshly reanimated, still it might have been only a minor incident and easily under control if Les Claypool and Kevin Bacon hadn’t chosen that exact moment to fire up generators, amps, and guitars, starting a bay-area funk jam fused with New Orleans style neo-Dixie, which the crowd, clothed, naked, gnawed-on or gnawing-on couldn’t help but dance to, play hacky sack to, attracting still more souls from miles around.

The heady stink of mary jane and blood covered all, and the zombies apocalypse began in an orgy of free love, craft-brewed IPAs, and more 8-gig thumb drives than had ever been collected in one spot. Some were killed and eaten outright, some were only bitten and converted on the spot to zombiedom, and still others were so overcome with THC as to call their bosses, quit their jobs via voicemail, and start bidding on VW microbuses on E-bay. But whatever happened, the zombie sickness spread. From San Rafeal to San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose, even Fresno in a matter of a few hours. The National Guard were called in, but instead of police chatter and instructions their headsets only played The Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic.

For a few days the apocalypse was contained between Yosemite National Park and the Pacific Ocean. But once it leaked into Los Angeles, all was lost. The US Government scooped up potential zombies and sent them to Afghanistan, Japanese school girls began to collect Joaquin Dead stickers laced with zombie DNA, sales of crossbows sky-rocketed, and women started naming their newborns Little Ass Kicker. The beginning of the end was in full gorge. Seattle fell, Chicago was overrun, New York fought back, gamely, but was eventually undermined by its own gridlocked streets and survivors’ confusion of the word “fuck” between either a triumphant shout or a call for help. Atlanta, of course, never stood a chance.

The last major metropolitan hold-out was in Toronto, Canada, thanks to a mixture of cold temperatures and Justin Bieber fans, who have long-been recognized as some of the most virulently anti-zombie and anti-jam-band people on the planet. They put up a game defense, but over the course of a few weeks, they too were chased down, tripped up, slaughtered, their iPods blasting “If Only You Love Me” shattered and silenced.

And so here we are, folks, scattered and broken, small groups of us clinging together for survival, fighting off the occasional tie-dyed hoard even as we fight with one another over the few remaining scraps of dignity left to us. Even as I broadcast this message, there are zombies collecting around the building that houses this studio, and I fear my own end is near. But there’s plenty of battery left, and I know some of you out there are still grasping for a bit of hope, huddled as you are around your little radios. So I’ll cue up the longest non-jam song I own,” Thick as Brick” by Jethro Tull, and set it on repeat.

Do You Wave?

Posted at The Loop, the blogs at Runner’

It’s a little after seven in the morning, not quite light but not fully dark either. I’m two minutes into a run, chugging up a minor incline, on the left side of the road, no sidewalks, not even a decent patch of grass to skim along. Headlights appear ahead, and I glance behind me to see if there’s anyone approaching from behind. There’s no one else—just me and the oncoming car. It’s still a quarter mile away but the driver nevertheless eases into the other lane. I wait until he’s a hundred yards away, and then lift my hand in thanks.

Do you wave when you run? I do—my theory is that every runner is a running ambassador, and it is our duty to spread goodwill to those who have to interact with us. I’m lucky in that the neighborhoods where I run are mostly run-friendly: sidewalks, running trails, plenty of crosswalks at the busy intersections. But sometimes I wind up on a road without a sidewalk, and so I run in the street. I always run on the left side of the road, so I can see any cars coming, and most of the time they make a point of giving me as much space as possible.

And want them to be glad they did it. I want them to know it’s appreciated—so I wave, knowing that they’ll come across another runner someday, and that we’re grateful for the consideration. Sometimes if the traffic is a bit busy, I might come across three or four cars in a row. But they each get a wave, even if it looks like I think I’m in a parade or something.

I wave to other runners, too, and pedestrians if we’re sharing a sidewalk. (I don’t wave to bikers, because I don’t want them to think they have to take their hands off the handlebars and wave back—to them I give a very obvious head-nod). I figure that as lonely a sport as running can be, it’s god to acknowledge others as much as possible.

I guess it comes down to this: I don’t have to run. Running is a luxury, an indulgence, and if someone has to adjust their activity to accommodate me, they’re doing me a favor. Some guy in pick-up truck, on his way to a job, didn’t wake up in the morning expecting to have to deal with a potential deadly situation on the asphalt. And maybe it’s not big deal to turn the wheel a few degrees for a few seconds. But it’s no big deal to hold my hand up for a few seconds and smile, either.

And sometimes they wave back, and smile too. And to me that’s pretty cool.

Hit Parade– review on Goodreads

Hit Parade (Keller, #3)Hit Parade by Lawrence Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hit Parade picks up where Hit Man leaves off, which is not saying much, really, as the impression you get at the beginning is simply that Keller’s still around, so his exploits might as well be chronicled. Not that they’re all that amazing. Keller’ just this guy who kills people, a contract killer, not a serial killer. What the difference? One’s a job, the other’s a hobby.

Keller does have a hobby, though: his stamp collection, which has given him enough reason to keep his day job as to make up for the fact that he murders for money. He doesn’t relish it, very much. He likes the satisfaction of solving a problem, and that’s, more or less, what Lawrence Block is offering his readers. You don’t take satisfaction from the deaths themselves, but you do enjoy that Keller perseveres. If reading is your hobby, Keller’s killings are required to keep you in stories.

If Hit List, the second book, saw Keller consider, for just a moment, the Jungian “big-picture” impact of what he does, then in Hit Parade he’s considering, just for second, the long-term emotional effects of his work. But he doesn’t do so via some crisis of consciousness. He’s not struggling with his soul, here. He’s just looking for motivation, and deciding to be motivated by a desire to get out of the business– which he can only do by immersing himself in the business to earn enough to retire on. And what do you think will be conclusion to that?

There’s two more Keller books to be read, so, the conclusion is pretty obvious.

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Hit List– review on Goodreads

Hit List (Keller, #2)Hit List by Lawrence Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There isn’t much new here in Hit List, as compared to Hit Man. You can decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or not. For me, if I like something, I’ll probably like more of the same, so I don’t need Hit List to be more than, for all intents and purposes, just the second half of Hit Man. My understanding is that, like the first book, this second is a collection of shorter works that were published independently, and so this is not a “novel” in the strictest sense of the word. There’s some character development, but of the “reveal” variety, not the “evolve” variety. Keller is still killing people, or not, for reasons that are, if not strictly morally, at least not merely sociopathic. Keller does what he does. He’s as bland as toast.

If you’re not satisfied with merely more of the same, well, at least in this book there’s Keller’s stamp collection. There’s his ninety-nine mile distance from what was his previous one-hundred-mile existentialism. There’s his toying with some new-age sensibilities, which are as perfunctory and inconsequential as any other thought he might have. Keller is dull, life is dull, death is extremely dull.

And somehow, the book is not. Not really sure how else to say it. This is what happens when a comfortable, well-experienced master of words like Lawrence Block sits down to just do what he does. Not every book has to be pyrotechnics and deeply emotional. Most of existence isn’t. If you need your novels to be written by men who eventually kill themselves, don’t bother. But if you just want to read something for a while, where some folks get killed, go right ahead, read Hit List.

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Keep Calm and Bang That Drum

Fiction by Jason Edwards.
This story was a gift for a friends’ birthday.

Mabel Francis, 52, eyes of blue, five foot four, sun dress, inappropriate for the weather, appropriate for the season, inappropriate for what she’s doing: chasing a dog. Appropriate for 197 pounds? Maybe. Mabel’s been seeing a therapist for a few years now who’s been trying to convince her how sad she is for having a BMI in the 30s when really she’s been not only fine with it but actually quite happy since she was 47 and her husband left her for someone who was skinny and who then got cancer and Mabel would never wish misery on anyone and she wasn’t glad the skinny bitch got cancer, just glad it made her husband sad when the skinny bitch kicked him out for thinking the cancer was his punishment for leaving Mabel. She’s seeing the therapist because she feels guilty for being glad her ex-husband’s sad. Good Christians don’t feel glad when people are sad. But the therapist won’t stop asking her if her weight affects her mood (it doesn’t) so she’s thinking maybe she should just give up Christianity altogether because then she can feel good about smiling and say, in all sincerity, Fuck you, Carl.

She’s chasing the dog because he stole her purse, the little shit.

She’d woken up and looked outside and saw the sun and thought, screw it, screw work, screw therapy, why not put on a sun dress and walk down to the bakery where they have fudge cake and cute Mexican boys who don’t speak English very well but always smile at her? So she’d done that, put on the dress, and stepped outside, and the sun had been warm and she’d been in a cocoon of happiness and potential and then she’d stepped off the porch and the clouds and raindrops and the voice of Carl saying where you going dressed liked that people can see your legs, Mabel. Good Christians don’t use the middle finger, certainly don’t lift up one high and point at the sky where Jesus himself might be sitting. No offense, Jesus, so instead of flipping the bird she’d decided to weather the weather; it was a short walk to the bakery anyway.

Maybe she’d get soaked to the skin and it would look sort of sexy.

She hadn’t it; it didn’t; the rain had stopped before it had even started although the clouds had been persistent and there was a little wind. But then she’d gotten to the corner where she was supposed to turn and she was just thinking about the skinny bitch, who wasn’t really all that much of a bitch, not really, not her fault she’s attracted a man like Carl, not like she’d gone out of her way to find Mabel, find her husband, seduce him with her jeans and her sports bras and her nose piercing, seriously, who the hell has a nose piercing in their 40s? No, Carl had chased her, and left Mabel for her, and gotten cancer and finally wised up and kicked his fat belly and his sunken chest to the curb, and one day out of audacious curiosity Mabel had gone to where the woman worked and looked at her and she actually seemed nice enough and if there was any Jesus, I mean justice, it would have been Mabel who made friends with the skinny bitch and Carl who’d gotten the cancer.

Thinking about all of this when a cloud opened up and a ray of light stabbed Mabel right in the eye. She blinked, and there was a rainbow. And out of nowhere that loud rushing noise she’d been ignoring was all of sudden a truck racing down the road, within inches of her, and in the window an old Mexican guy with a lecherous smile, who made a kissing face at her. The shock of the truck made her drop her purse, the kissing face made her blush, the wind whipping at her dress made her feel like a little girl, and the dog that was running past her snatched up her purse and kept running.

And Mabel was running too before she even knew it. Running after the little dog, white with orange spots, orange blotches, blotches like the one’s on Mabel’s cheeks, like the one on her knees, like the one’s on the skinny bitches cancer-bebalded head. Show some decency, girl, show some self-respect, wear a scarf, that’s what cancer patients are supposed to do. Honestly, what kind of person would attract a man like Carl in the first place? Plenty of skinny bitches out there, plenty of nose piercings, why this one?

The dog darts around a corner and Mabel’s right behind him. He’s not running that fast, burdened by her purse, but he’s not even going as fast as he can, and Mabel’s doing that sort of bent-over run, the one with both hands in front and palms up like she’s going to catch him. As if. 197 pounds, divorced, sun dress, windy, clouds, occasional drop of rain, skipped work, wants fudge cake, doesn’t get much alimony from Carl but spends half of it on therapy and the other half on the collection plate.

Mabel gets close, swipes at the little shits tail, but he does a thing with his ass where he’s going two directions at the same time and then he’s out of her reach again and running across the road. Mabel’s half-way across the road before she realizes it and she comes to a stop just in case there’s more fast-moving trucks with smiling Mexicans. Alas, no. The road’s empty. The dog stops too. Looks at her from the other side of the road, purse in his mouth, panting. She leaps towards him and he’s off again. Damn it! She half giggles.

Around another corner, across a yard, Mabel would never think to trespass but it’s her purse and she’s chasing a skinny little white dog with orange spots, there has to be an allowance for that. Her shoes are gone. The grass is wet, cold, stings her feet. Now he’s trotting down a sidewalk and her feet are filthy. She’s never been in this neighborhood before, lived here ever since she got married and she’s never been here, less than even a mile away. Because they can’t have run miles yet, there’s no way, there’s no way Mabel could run even a mile, could she?

Mabel’s out of breath, slowing down. The dog’s nowhere to be seen. She leans up against a wall, panting. Her purse. Her white one, the small one, just her checkbook and her driver’s license and some tissues and a lipstick. Call the bank, get a new license, tissues are cheap, the lipstick is tawdry anyway. Stupid dog. Stupid sunshine, stupid clouds. Maybe her therapist was right, two years of therapy, maybe he was onto something. She’d been 197 pounds in high school, captain of the debate team, took them to State, almost won, maybe she’s been sublimating all that fat self-hate, just like he said. College, economics major, 4.0 thank you very much, 197 pounds, who’s going to ask her to Frat parties, of course she got good grades. And then Carl, called her his pudgy princess, married her, 197 pounds on her wedding day. Stupid sunshine, stupid fudge cake.

She’s hadn’t changed in thirty-six years. Not one bit. Oh she’d gotten her diploma and her degree and her marriage certificate and her divorce papers, but she hadn’t really changed. Carl went from nice guy to asshole, the skinny bitch had gone from healthy to cancer, even the day had gone from sunny to cloudy. But she was still the same old Mabel. She went to church every Sunday, and asked Jesus to forgive her for being glad Carl was getting his just desserts, and all the old women in the pews looking at her sitting there alone, like she had done something wrong. Maybe she had. Maybe she should have gotten skinny for Carl. But she hadn’t, hadn’t changed a bit, stayed the same old Mabel she’d been since she was sixteen and lost her virginity to Rodrigo. And now here she is, she’s lost and tired and wet and cold. And hungry. She’d just chased a dog for 15 minutes. How many calories was that? How much fudge cake is she going to have to eat to get back to her usual 197 pounds?

Mabel looks down the sidewalk. At the end, the dog sitting there, big smile on his face, purse in his mouth. She walks towards him. He’s just sitting there. She can see his tail, wagging. He drops her purse. Lies down on the sidewalk. She walks up to him, reaches for her purse. The dog shoves his head into her hand. She has to scratch him behind his ears. He wags his tail even harder.

Mabel decides: fuck her therapist. She’s glad she weighs 197 pounds. She’s glad Carl and their marriage and his betrayal and their divorce didn’t change her. She’s glad the skinny bitch got cancer. Fuck church too. She’d been happy before she met Carl, happy after they got married, sad for a bit when he’d left her, but she was happy again and there was nothing fucking wrong with that.

A smell, a wonderful smell, a deep rich lemony smell. A man is standing behind the dog. He’s holding a paper sack. The amazing smells is coming from that bag. Mabel looks up at the man. He smiles at her. “I see you’ve met my dog.”

“Oh, is he yours?” Mable stands up. “The little shit stole my purse!” She giggles.

The man blushes. “Ah Jesus, I’m sorry. He does that. Here, let me give you a lemon square. I just bought them.”

Before she can say no, he’s handed her the square. Despite herself, she takes a bite.

It’s the most amazing thing she’s ever eaten.

Mouth full, dress clinging to her in spots, Mabel says “What did you say his name is?”

The man takes a bite of a lemon square too. His eyes fairly twinkle, and she can tell, he’s loving the lemon square too. “Cymbal” he says.

Mabel laughs. “You gotta be shittin’ me.”

Hit Man– review on Goodreads

Hit Man (Keller, #1)Hit Man by Lawrence Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I stumbled across Lawrence Block when I was a young man, one of the Burglar novels. I read all of the ones I could find, and anything else I could find by him, mostly in libraries and used bookstores. (I eschewed the Matthew Scudder novels, however, as I couldn’t find the first one and didn’t want read them out of order). As a result, Block ended up having a fairly significant influence on me as a reader. Books had to be clever without being too self-indulgent, serious without being maudlin and amusing without being silly.

As a reader, I’ve grown since then, more than willing now to read self-indulgent, maudlin, silly nonsense. But when I saw that Block is to have a new Hit Man book out this month, I decided to go back and re-read the other Keller books. Just breezed through Hit Man #1 in less than 24 hours, and it was a good read.

Block’s gifted at matching his prose style to the personality of his character. Keller is simple, straightforward, almost plain, with a few idiosyncrasies to keep you interested. Same is true for the book itself— what amounts to a connected collection of short stories about a paid killer. There’s not much in the way of character development, or plot for that matter. It’s just an easy read, fun while it lasts, and done when it’s done.

Except, of course, it’s not done—I recall I did read at least one other Keller back then, before moving on and getting a degree in English and having reading ruined for me for a good ten years. I’m diving into Hit List next, and then all the rest. I’m not expecting fireworks, but then I’m not staying up past my bed time, either.

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This is Why They Number Channels Sequentially

fiction by Jason Edwards

Theseus had been walking for seemed like hours, and at first he was tense, walking slowly, shield up and sword at the ready. But after a while of nothing happening, of twisting corridors, left turns and right turns and seemingly endless miles of wall, he had become a little less vigilant. Now he walked with plodding steps, head almost hanging, sword dragging. His shield was gone—he’d set it down to take a leak, and then forgotten it. The truth was he was bored, just so damn bored. Actually, taking a whiz on a random wall had been the most exciting thing that had happened in the last 60 minutes.

The walls weren’t all exactly the same, but their difference was starting to blend together. Brick, stone, wood in places. Earthen walls and walls made of marble. Occasional graffiti, mostly in Greek, sometimes in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Sanskrit, the familiar scrawls and dirty pictures. None of it interesting. One message in larger, more angry letters read “Go back to Athens!” and if Theseus was less bored he would have scratched in his own “Crete sucks” beneath it, but couldn’t really be bothered.

He’d had such high hopes, too. An adventure! Volunteer for sacrifice, enter the labyrinth, stalk the minotaur, kill it, free his people from ritual sacrifice, live forever in legend. Yawn. Such great plans, as they say, or will say, or whatever. Theseus was bored, had probably been bored when he’d decided to do this, and now he was reaping what he’d sown.

He could smell himself, the fear-sweat dried now and the sweat of tedium and worthlessness settled on him like a shroud of misery. Is that what he was, miserable? Yes. He almost wished the minotaur would come along now and just lop off his head. And of course it occurred to him that this was exactly what the labyrinth was supposed to do to a man, break his will. Well, Theseus wasn’t so sure his will was broken, exactly. He was just becoming fully aware of the tedium of everything.

You get up, take a leak, eat something, run around the city like an asshole, take a crap, screw somebody, go to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat, except for the wash part unless you lived near a handy hotspring, which most folks didn’t, and the lucky one who did stank like rotten eggs anyway. Who fucking cares.

Theseus sat down, counting his breaths, looking at his sword. Fine craftsmanship, but then every man said that about his sword. To hate your own sword was to beg for another man’s sword, which was some kind of metaphor, probably. Or wasn’t. Sometimes a sword was just a sword. And swords are for killing people, of course. Either the minotaur, or Theseus himself. Is that what’s supposed to happen? Is he supposed to kill himself with his own sword? And the minotaur is a symbol of, what? The beast called depression? No, that’s stupid. Sometimes a minotaur is just a minotaur.

Across the corridor where he sat, Theseus saw something at the foot of the wall, something in the dirty shadows. Something orange? He scanned the base, and saw the cord stretching along in both directions, disappearing around a corner to his right, dwindling to invisibility to his left. Theseus got up to take a look, sword left behind him. On his hands and knees, he crawled to the opposite wall. Yes, some kind of cord, about as thick as a finger, and made of, what, some kind of rope, coated with a thick wax. He lifted it up—it was heavy, not so heavy he couldn’t lift it, but heavy from there being so much of it.

Theseus looked up and down the corridor. How had he not noticed this before. He took a deep breath. The air stank of muddy plains and old lightning. Maybe this was a guide of some kind. Yes, that must be it. That girl, what was her name, Adrian or something. Amy. Annie. She’d said she would leave him a sign of some sort. He hadn’t really paid attention to her. She had spots on her face.

Theseus went back for his sword, and half expected the cord to be gone when he turned around again, the hallucination of a mind fevered by boredom and fatigue. But no, it was still there. He tried to remember which way he’d been walking. Which way had he come from? He took a few steps to the right of where he’d been sitting. Then back and a few more. Neither way seemed better. He shrugged, decided to keep going left.

After a few hundred feet, there was a knot in the cord. Well, not a knot exactly, just a thicker spot, sculpted and square. Theseus knelt to look at it. The cord changed color here, from one shade of orange to almost, but not quite, the exact same shade And where the cord was flexible, this knot seemed very rigid. He plucked at it, then set it back down. He walked on.

After several hundred more feet, a four-way intersection. Theseus had been using the good-old fashioned right-hand rule, although he had been using his left hand, his shield hand. But here the cord went around the corner to his right. And there was another knot, and another change in color—still orange. Was this some kind of strange beast, sewn together, or perhaps a new kind of wool, spun from an odd kind of sheep? Theseus scratched his cheek. He needed a shave. His feet were sore from walking. His scalp itched. He was hungry, thirsty. His eyes felt full of sand, and burned when he closed them. He moved on.

More cord. Hundreds of feet of it, and dozens of those thick spots, the change in color. This was becoming as pointless as his earlier, aimless wandering. He decided to inspect one of the knots again. He picked up the cord, and crack appeared in the knot. Theseus pulled, and the knot came apart with a reluctant, smooth pop. On one side, three metallic prongs. On the other, three aptly shaped holes. In the distance, a loud, low scream of rage.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, a chill raced down his spine. Theseus looked in the direction of the scream, the direction he’d been walking. The scream continued, although it did not get any louder. Theseus stuck the knot back together again, and after a few seconds, the screaming stopped. Theseus dropped the knot, put his hand on his hip for his sword. It was gone.

He looked around him, but he couldn’t see it anywhere. He trotted back the way he’d come, but he didn’t find anything. Damn it. How long had he been walking? Hours? Days? Most of his waking life? Nevermind. He’d deal with… whatever on his own. He didn’t need a sword. He went to where he’d pulled the knot apart, and kept going, following the cord. Picked up the pace a little. Around a corner. Panic for a moment when he couldn’t see the cord anymore. But there it was, wedged tight against the wall and the floor, which was, here, some sort of bushy grass. No, not grass, some sort of rug. Tight little fibers, and the cord wedged underneath a wooden footing at the base of the wall.

He kept going. The wall was white, not glass smooth but smoother than stone. The ceiling was the same material. There were framed pictures here and there in the hallways. Landscapes, pictures of tall, monstrous structures. One of them so well rendered, he thought it was a real person, frozen inside a window. But it was just a painting. And in the ceiling, holes letting in sunlight. He must have walked all day and night, and now it was morning again outside, so bright he couldn’t see the sky past the glare.

He could here sounds now, coming from a door way at the end of this corridor. What sounded like music, and tinny, distant laughter. As he approached, he could make out dialogue, a man and woman. He couldn’t understands what they were saying, but every other line was punctuated by more laughter. Theseus nodded, understanding at last. The center of the labyrinth was probably an auditorium, where the people of Crete could watch the final battle between whoever found their way and the minotaur himself. Disgusting. Well, they’d see a different slaughter today. Theseus was angry.

He wished he had his sword. But he’d tear the Minotaur with his bare hands. Such idiocy, this whole labyrinth thing. The ritual sacrifice of Athenian youth, and for what? Revenge? Because some jealous assholes killed Androgeos, son of Minos? To avoid the subsequent plague? A plague on that plague. A plague on Minos. A plague on fools who ask gods to kill for them. Theseus would kill this Minotaur, end the sacrifices, and then he would… and then he would… and then he would think of something else to do.

Theseus reached the doorway, throwing caution to the wind, and stormed through. But this was no auditorium. This was a room like any other. Large, very large, ceilings high. The cord snaked across and ran up into a large box in the middle, which was throwing colored lights from the other side. Across from it a fat man sat in a large overstuffed chair. He was surrounded by piles of thin boxes, all of them filthy, greasy. A wave of smells hit Theseus, thick, sweet, savory rotten smells, making him hungry and nauseous all at the same time.

The man looked up as Theseus entered. “Come in!” he shouted, smiling. “You want some chicken wings?” he started to rise from his throne. He got to his feet, then winced, putting a hand to his back. He was wearing some kind of short tunic on his chest, white but filthy with food stains, shoulders exposed, large belly protruding from beneath. Short pants beneath that ending above his knees, some kind of flimsy material, also white with faded red heart shapes scattered around. The man sat back down again. “Ouch.” He said. “Go ahead and just help yourself.”

Theseus approached the flashing box and the man in chair. The box was emitting the sounds of speaking and laughter and music, still tinny and far away, as if it were a spy-window on some auditorium—perhaps below the room they steed in. “I’m looking for the minotaur,” he said, finally.

The man’s eyes were glued to the box. “Where’s your sword?” he said. His fat cheeks rested on his chest, half-reclined in his chair. His balding forehead shone with lazy sweat. He grabbed a cup sitting next to him quaffed its contents, and then crushed it with mighty strength and tossed it behind him.

“I don’t know. Do you know where the minotaur is? I was following that orange cord, and it led me here..”

“Oh! So you’re the little shit who unplugged my TV!” the man barked with laughter. “Thought I was going to have a heart attack, I was so mad!”

“That was you who roared?”

“Yeah. I’m the minotaur. You found me. Ready to fight? It’s to the death, you know.” The man chuckled.

“The minotaur is half man half beast, the foul offspring of the Creten Bull and the king’s wife Pasiphae.”

“Yeah, or, he’s the bastard child of a blacksmith and a whore who knows how to tell a good lie to her idiot husband.” The man laughed again, picked up a rod from within the cushions of his throne, and pointed it at the box. The colors shifted, and the dialogue abruptly changed. “Be for real, man.”

“If you’re the minotaur, than it was you who consumed the tribute every year, seven boy and girl virgins from Athens?” Theseus took a few steps closer, wanting to see what was inside that box.

The man shook his head. “Naw, not unless you mean seven pizzas and a few dozen orders of hot wings.” He laughed again. “Yeah, we got that ‘tribute’ every year. I think most of them just wandered around until they found the exit, then, like, got jobs or something. I don’t know.”

“But then what do I…” Theseus was at a loss. Confused, tired, and much to his shame and horror, finding the conversation altogether more boring than even the walking through the labyrinth had been.

The man shrugged. “I don’t know. You can hang out here, if you want.” He shifted on his chair, emitted a loud sound of flatulence, made a face. His eyes never left the box.

Theseus finally stepped close enough to look at it. It was indeed a window of some kind. Inside, tiny players spoke in a rapid-fire tongue, the stage behind them a mottled, chaotic scene. He couldn’t make any sense of it at all. “What is that?” he finally asked.

Something one of the players said made the man laugh. “It’s called Friends. I’ve seen, like, every episode, like twice. But it’s the only thing on until Seinfeld.” The man heaved a bowl onto his lap, overflowed with small white kernels, which he began to shovel into his mouth. “Of course,” he said, mouth spilling gruel “I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld twice, too.” The man laughed again.

Although he couldn’t understand what they were saying, Theseus found himself transfixed. One of the players opened a door, and another behind it screamed. Theseus felt a smile cross his lips, the first one in ages. Or perhaps ever. “Why is that man wearing a goose in his head?”

“It’s not a goose, it’s a shower cap. And that’s not a man, it’s a–” the man started coughing. “It’s a woman, she’s the—“ he coughed again, louder.

Theseus turned to look. The man’s face was turning read as he coughed, louder, as bits of food flew from his mouth. His eyes were wide, and drool was spraying from his mouth. The man clutched at his chest, waving his other arm in the air. “Water!” he shouted, and continued to cough. He was shaking back and forth in his chair, tipping it side to side, taking in huge gulps of air in between coughing fits. His nose was running, his tongue protruding, his face shifting from red to purple. And all the while the noises and the laughter from the box continued.

The coughing came in smaller bursts and the man’s breathing become more rapid but shallow, increasingly shallow. His eyes started to close, and he stopped shaking the chair back and forth. He continued to clutch his chest, but then the hand finally flopped down at his side. He coughed once more, took a deep breath, and then stopped moving as the breath leaked out of for a long time. He was still.

“Minotaur?” Theseus said.

The Minotaur didn’t move.

Theseus turned to the TV. A man was pouring something from a bag into a bowl, and dog nosed its way into the bowling, eating. Theseus took a deep breath, and smelled something delicious, cheese and onion and garlic and tomatoes. In front of the dead minotaur, on a low table, a thin box with a large round bread, coated with flavors. Theseus started to drool.

Eventually, he got the dead minotaur out of the chair, and rolled the body off into the shadows. Theseus returned to the box, sat down in front of it, and watched as he began to eat. Soon he was laughing hysterically.

Wolf Hall– review on Goodreads

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s folly to compare one writer to another, usually, but then, usually, I’m something of a fool. Hilary Mantel’s writing is just so absorbing, so engaging, she reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in that respect. Stylistically they’re nothing alike. And yet, if you told me that, in my retirement, I’d just sit around in lounge chairs sipping tea and reading Mantel and Marquez, I’d wonder what I done right in life to earn that.

I’d already read Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, before reading Wolf Hall itself . I’d read the one because it was on the Booker Prize longlist for 2012 (then it made the shortlist and then it won). Wolf Hall also won, in 2009, and I’d enjoyed Bring so much, catching up with Wolf Hall was a no-brainer; nor did it disappoint.

And it’s interesting to read a book and to know, ahead of time, how it will end. Doubly true here, as these are historical novels, and knowing history is as easy as looking things up on Wikipedia. Which I did, often, as, with my reading of Bring, I was nearly overwhelmed with the multitude of characters.

Knowing the ending, of course, isn’t the same as knowing the plot, so there’s still plenty of intrigue to be had in Wolf Hall. And now that I’ve finished it, I can make good on my intention to re-read Bring Up The Bodies. And then, when Mantel writes the promised third in the series, I’ll be that much more prepared. And I am very certain that as excellent a read as these books are, being less of a fool myself will make them that much better.

View all my reviews

Finding Myself Getting Lost

Posted at The Loop, the blogs at Runner’

By the time you read this I will have flown to North Carolina, and hopefully I will have run in a new place. Not an official race or anything, just a set of streets I’ve never been on before, in a city I’ve only visited for the first time.

(Of course, strictly speaking “by the time you read this” I could be dead and in my grave for a few hundred years. I have no idea when it is that you’re reading this. That’s the trouble with looking ahead to the future- there’s probably more future left then there is past. Or not, I don’t know, I’m not a chronoastronomist).

I could wait until I’ve actually been there and done the running before posting about it, which would make a kind of sense, but what if I go and don’t run for some reason? We’re going there for a baby shower, and who knows if I’ll have time to strap on my Nike Frees and pound some asphalt for 30 minutes or so. Writing now, this way, I get to talk about it even if I don’t do it.

For me, running is about the adventure. It’s about exploration, going from here to there, it’s about streets I haven’t been on, finding new ways to connect where I’m at with where I want to be. A few months ago I was at my sister-in-law’s place, looking out their window at the gorgeous view. I spotted a distant hill, and decided I would try to find a way to run to it.

I hopped onto to see where I was and where I was going. I love maps, love looking at routes and puzzling out how to defeat rivers, elevations changes, busy streets with no sidewalks. I figured out how to get to that hill, then took off running– and got lost.

I have a horrible memory (my excuse: I have an excellent imagination). You’ll have to decide if that’s a blessing or a curse, when it comes to exploring while on a run. But, for what it’s worth, I still had an excellent run, and I did make it up that hill. The view was fantastic.

So by the time this weekend has past, I’ll have run around a bit of Greensboro, North Carolina. I’m looking at Mapometer right now, trying to figure out what streets looks the most interesting. We’ll be near Buffalo Lake and Philadelphia Lake, so maybe I’ll trot down and see those. Greensboro Country Park isn’t too far away.

Most likely, whatever I plan, I’ll get lost, and have to call my wife to come find me (she’s never been there before, either). Talk about an adventure! If I survive, I’ll let you know. I mean survive my wife’s wrath. Pretty sure I’ll survive the run. Pretty sure.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Reborn

fiction by Jason Edwards

The vampires in Portland are pretty cool I guess. Found one in this dive bar called Toreador, in the Alphabet district. I didn’t notice him at first because when I went in I had to take a wicked piss, so I made straight for the men’s room. Doors within doors. There were two guys at the urinals, frozen, or so it seemed like, and really creepy, in their identical baggy pants, thermal underwear sleeves under t-shirt, knit woolen caps. Like that guy at the end of The Blair Witch Project, just standing there. I mean, of course they were pissing, but it made me pause for a second. But only a second. No one was in the stall so I went in, another door, closed it, toed up the seat with my foot, and made a noise like one of those porno guys. Jesus Christ. But not as much blood in my urine, so I guess I was healing up.

When I was done I washed my hands and didn’t really notice there was no mirror above the sink, just a frame. But then I left the restroom and saw the vampire sitting at the bar, plain as night, and I realized he’d been there when I came in and I had missed it. That sent a shiver down my spine. Back in the day, missing a vampire and walking into the men’s room would have been my death sentence. They’ve got incredible instincts, and I know he would have clocked me for what I was, followed me, and did me right there. I stood there for a second, staring at him, and vampires are commonplace nowadays I guess but no so common that they’d don’t get stared at, but still. I shook myself out of it, shoved my hand in my pocket and cupped the tooth I had in there, then went and sat at the end of the bar. Ordered something local. Portland’s supposed to be famous for their hops or something.

Back in the day was about a year ago, and I was just getting good at vampire hunting, but I had to get out of it. My old buddy, Rebus, was closing in on his hundredth kill, but he was getting sloppy, and the vampires were just popping up everywhere. They were getting bold, just hanging out in places out in the open, and people were just accepting it. It kind of soured things, like, we sort of enjoyed the hunting and the shadows. Then we’d just see them places and we’d wait and follow them home and do them there. But it was too easy, and then it was like what’s the point? But Rebus wanted his century, and one night when I was doing something else, he followed one to a nest but one got away and followed him home and that’s where I found him.

It was pretty gnarly. He was naked, which made me nervous, because I didn’t know if the tooth in your pocket worked only when they did you or if it had to stay on you in the grave. If Rebus came back I’d have to do him and I did not relish the thought. I cleaned up the mess and tossed him an old factory incinerator we used when the ones we did didn’t go to ash, and I decided that was it for me, no more hunting. Still kept my tooth, just in case, but I’ve met several vampires since then, in bars and places and they can always tell. Like I said, instincts. But it’s like, they can also somehow tell that if I’m done it’s because they’re done so what’s the point in doing me if they don’t even know of the ones I did before? Vampires don’t have racial pride or anything like that.

So I sipped my beer and sort of glanced over at the vampire now and again. This bar didn’t have a mirror behind it, either, and I was getting the idea this was the guy’s main hang out. He was dressed like a punk rock reject from the 80s. Greasy black hair that had been spiked up and then neglected, one ear pierced with a dangly feather, black leather jacket all beat to hell, studded dog collar, dirty black pants. His skin was pale, of course, and his lips were pale too, like he hadn’t had a feed in a few weeks. Probably, if he had followed me into the bathroom, I could have held him off. He didn’t look like much.

I looked away and thought about Jenny and then got that cold shiver and he was sitting next to me, all of sudden and just like that. I tried not to react, but ended up cupping my arms around my beer like where in a prison lunchroom or something. “Hey there, hunter,” he said, in a thick British accent.

That made my stomach drop. I put my hand in my pocket again and he just laughed, throwing his head back and showing his fangs. They were yellow, dirty, so yeah, he hadn’t fed for a long time. “Thought so, I could smell it, when you came in. How’s tricks.”

I turned away. I was having second thoughts about whether I could, afterall, take him. He did look scrawny but he wasn’t jumpy at all, his eyeballs weren’t bouncing all over the place. He was all confidence and charm, like he kept a little girl on a chain in his backroom and didn’t need to feed unless it was for sport.

“Don’t worry, I don’t do that anymore,” I said. I took my hand out of my pocket and gripped my beer. Took a sip, pretty damn bitter.

“Oh I’m not worried, hunter. You mind if I call you hunter, even though you don’t hunt anymore, hunter?” He locked his eyes on me, tiny dots for pupils, no irises, bloodshot. Freaky shit unless you’d seen it a hundred times before. No stink on his breath, none at all.

“Call me whatever you want,” I said, and then reached into my jacket. I grabbed the stake, then turned to the other side as I turned to look away. Just like I thought, he switched sides on me to look me in the face again, and I already had the stake pointed at his chest. “I told you, I don’t do that anymore, but I could if I had to.”

He looked down at the stake, and I had it back in my pocket again as he reached to grab it. Then I went back to my beer. I’m not faster than vampires, or stronger. But they’re so damn predictable.

The vampire licked his lips, then laughed again. “Shit!” his accent was gone. “I know when I’ve met my match. Harry! Next round for the hunter’s on me.” Then he stood up, at normal speed, patted me on the back, and walked back to his seat.

The bartender poured me another and brought it over, so I knocked back what was left of the old one and grabbed the new one. I thought about Jenny again, about how much she hated vampires, but hated what I told her I done even more, like somehow I was cheating on her, doing vampires. I chugged the second beer.

Thought about ordering another, but I had to piss again and I thought about what I would do if I walked into the men’s room and those two guys were still there, still standing still, still pissing. I looked around the bar, at the other people. The bartender looked normal, or at least Portland normal, in his full beard and mustache, pink t-shirt, tattoos. There were a few other patrons sitting at tables. A DJ with dreds mixing old B-52 songs, and doing a horrible job at it. A Korean kid shooting baskets on one of the pop-a-shot machines. None of them seemed to be in thrall. None of them seemed to not know the punk was a vampire, or to know and not care. He was just another weird thing in a weird place in a weird town. So much weird, nothing was weird.

Except for those guys at the urinals, so I dropped a few bills on the bar, and got up to leave, to hunt down a cafe or a diner for some eggs and hopefully a less occupied men’s room. Walked outside, and the cold hit me like a slap and sunk into my bones. I shoved my hands in my pockets and made it a few steps before the vampire was next to me with his arm on my shoulder. “Where to next, hunter?” He said.

I kept walking. We looked like lovers. “I’m hungry,” I said.

He laughed again. “Oh, I doubt that,” he said, and then he was gone.

I walked a few more blocks and thought about Jenny some more. I didn’t want to. I never wanted to. About the way she looked the first time we met, in that sun dress and the sun behind her like a halo, so fucking corny, long blond hair and freckles and green eyes and she smelled liked shampoo and peppermint candies. How I was outside of myself, talking to her, no way I could have done that on my own, I must have been possessed, and it never occurred to me there was something wrong with her, had to be, a girl like that talking to a guy like me, and us on the stupid futon, me too poor to even afford a frame for the damn thing, and the way she looked at me.

How it freaked me out, the first vampire I ever did, that same damn look in her eyes, somehow, and me again feeling outside of myself, no way I could do something like that, kill a living creature, undead but alive, whatever, not even a futon, just a bunch of filthy blankets wadded up on the floor, the vampire all coated in scars and dried up blood, her hair matted and black, but that same look, and damn me to hell, that same feeling when I drove the stake in, a dry tearing sound, a wet squelch and poof she was ashes.

Getting drunk, going home to Jenny, not telling her, and her so trusting. And I did it again, and again, and finally told her, and she acted like I was the monster, and left. So I did ten more. Goddamn I was good at it. And then ten more. And you know how this ends, the way stories like this always end, number 37, and it was her, same blonde hair, same freckles, but her eyes weren’t green anymore, they were red, blood red, full red, and I wasn’t outside myself anymore, I was right inside me, and I did her, right there in that great big ass mansion, huge four poster bed, blood everywhere, no ashes, and we did the owner of the place too, and bunch of other little new vampires, I was up to 43 end of that night, Rebus was in his 80s, and we felt like shit, we felt like total shit.

I walked around the corner, and the wind died down a bit, things were quiet except for my boots on the pavement. Through the midnight gloom I spotted some neon, a hole in the wall, every god damn place in Portland is a hole in the wall. I just wanted to some eggs. Went inside. No one else was there. It wasn’t dark inside, filled with a yellow light, but not the light you could really see by. Ordered some eggs, found the men’s room, took a wicked piss. No blood at all. Beer cures everything.

I ate my eggs. Added too much salt. Too much pepper. I really didn’t have what you could call taste buds anymore. Everything tasted like ash. But I drank a huge cup of coffee anyway, milk and sugar. When I was done I wasn’t full, but I wasn’t hungry anymore. I paid, then went back to the bathroom to wash my hands, wash my face. Checked this time– there was a mirror. Not sure if I had noticed it the first time. I took a long look at myself. I didn’t see much.

I left the bathroom in time to hear the soft ting of the bell above the door going outside- someone had just left. Whatever. The place had been empty when I’d come in, so who knows. I shoved my hands into my pockets for the cold, felt that tooth again. To become a vampire would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person.

I wasn’t exactly lost, but I wasn’t exactly sure where my car was, either, and I wanted to get on the road. So I walked around for a bit, stiff against the cold. I started recognizing places that I’d walked by already that night, so I kind of got my bearings and headed in the right direction finally. Turned a corner, and of course, right across the street was the 80s reject punk vampire, up against the wall, some girl shoved up against him, lots of red hair. She was bleeding freely from the neck, but she had her hands all over him, and he was just taking it, smiling, his chin stained with her blood. He saw me, licked his lips, smiled, and gave me a thumbs up. The girl kept kissing him all over, and he’d occasionally tilt her head to the side and suck. But he looked bored. I stopped watching and kept walking. Whatever.

I found my car, and got in. Checked my phone, found the easiest route to the highway. I had enough gas to get to Seattle. I figured I’d drive up there next. I haven’t slept in weeks, not since that old vampire, the one I’d met in a bar in Oakland, told me that if you don’t see them go to ash, or turn them into ash yourself, then they’re not all the way dead. And there’s ways for them to come back.