Exercises in Style

Today my niece was watching me do a bit of writing, and asked why I had written a certain sentence. I explained to her that I was writing in a certain style, and we decided to write our own story to practice different styles.

First, I asked her to think up a place, a person, a problem, and a solution. She came up with:

  • The beach.
  • Izzy and her uncle.
  • Crabs were pinching us.
  • Use a rock to push the pinchers away.

This is the story we wrote:

One day, Izzy and her uncle were at the beach. They were having a wonderful time, but then crabs started to pinch them. Izzy said, “Let’s use a rock to push the pinchers away!” So her uncle found a rock, and tried Izzy’s solution. It worked! They went back to having a wonderful day.

Here’s the same story with shorter sentences:

It was day. Izzy and her uncle were playing ball. The ball was at the beach. It was fun. But then there were crabs. They pinched. Izzy said, “We need a rock!” Her uncle found one. The rock stopped the pinchers. Hurray. They played more ball.

Here’s the same story again, with me showing off and being extremely silly:

On a glorious summer’s day replete with heady sunshine and the kind of breeze that made you pine for chocolate ice-cream under a snow-white veranda, Izzy, aged 5 and her uncle, who was too old to count, were frolicking on a sandy beach that stretched from left to right for miles and miles. They were having so much fun, they didn’t even see the hoary legions of crabs that were marching forth-with from the frothy surf. So, it was much to their dismay when the fell crabs began their pinching. Such woe and suffering. But Izzy, aged 5, had a brilliant idea, the likes of which had not been seen on God’s green earth since the invention of bread cut into slices sufficient for making toast and/or sandwiches. “Find a rock, Uncle, and put to rest this foul and most horrendous succession of deeds accomplished in a pinching fashion.” And lo, her uncle searched the expansive sand-bars and found the perfect amalgamation of stony pebble construction. He pushed it, with puissance and determination, into the pinchers. The crabs were thus thwarted. And so, Izzy and her uncle were able to return to their most joyous adventures of fun-having.

My niece, by the way, is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

Things Sure Do Get Boring Without You Here

fiction by Jason Edwards

Remember that time we ate thirteen ninjas? We spent the summer building a time machine and then went back to medieval Japan and impersonated a particularly evil overlord. When the ninja showed up to assassinate us we let him, since that’s the only way to return to your own time, but not before getting into a wicked katana battle and covering ourselves with his DNA. Boy, you really know how to swing a sword, I’ll give you credit for that.

Then we used the blood to clone him and grew him in a vat and ground him up into hamburger and had a nice little barbecue. But you put way too much relish on yours, man, and that kinda made me mad. And I tried to tell you, but all you wanted to do was tell me some anecdote about the first time Amos Tvesky tried to order a hamburger with relish in Michigan. And I kept saying “who the hell is Amos Tvesky” and you kinda got mad at me for saying that over and over. You never did finish your story, and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

And then one day we’re walking down the street, I think it’s 5th or 15th or 125th or something. There was a five in it. Between Nickerson and Mount Baker. Or Bakker with two Ts? Anyway. Walking along and talking about baseball and, I don’t know, Helga Lovekaty or whatever, and all of a sudden you’re like: “He wasn’t a ninja.” Then we got coffee.

And we got into this deep existential conversation about how just because we had, like, a firefighter’s DNA, and we cloned him (you kept saying “or her” like we needed to be feminists, and it almost derailed the conversation, and it was only later that I figured out you were saying it because the barista could have been listening and she was cute in that not-gorgeous-but-attainable way, which is, when you think about it, a really sexist way to describe someone, dude) if that clone had never fought a fire, was it a fire fighter too? Our ninja clone never went around ninja-ing stuff. You can’t ninja in a vat.

I’m going to be honest with you, I forget who was saying “definitely ninja” and who was saying “definitely not ninja” by the end of it. We talked about destiny and potential and collapsing wave-forms and social constructs and crap. I pointed out that a table with only one leg wasn’t a table, except it was, and you pointed out how using a cardboard box to hold up a plate of spaghetti while you watch TV wasn’t a table either, except it was.

We got back to our time machine. Coffee jittery and sort of itchy. It was hot that day, our allergies were going nuts, the ninja-clone-growing vat had this weird smell coming off it, like formaldehyde dancing with pine-sol and a stack of old strawberry-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers. I got a sudden craving for root beer. And you said “Fudge it,” and shoved me into the time machine. You never could curse very well.

The first ninja we found got away because, while we were waiting for him, lurking in some bushes and giggling, I pulled out my cell phone. It’s like a habit. I don’t know what I was going to do, maybe play Angry Birds. But I had two bars! I was getting a cell-signal! In medieval Japan! So when the ninja comes waltzing along you sprang out and grabbed him but I screwed it up. I mean, sorry, not sorry, finding out there are cell towers in medieval Japan seemed like a more worthwhile thing to pursue than capturing, killing, field-dressing, butchering, barbecuing and eating a damned ninja.

Okay sure, we figured out that the signal was coming through our time machine from the future to my phone. But still. That in and of itself was pretty cool. Those service providers who talk about comprehensive nation-wide coverage? Being able to say that have not just any-where but any-time coverage? That would be one hell of a commercial!

Whatever. Next ninja, not as easy as the first. He got away too. Good for us, though, he came back, with friends. Man, you really know how to swing a sword. Did I say that already?

We got a taste for it, I’ll admit. Back home, you and me, another walk, 6th this time, or maybe 16th, or 166th, talking about how when you were a kid you thought “a quarter-after three” meant 3:25. And I kept asking “PM or AM?” Did you know, when you get frustrated, your face turns this weird purple color? LIke fuschia, but angrier.

I tried to change the subject. Which baseball teens would specific porn stars probably root for? Like, if they didn’t just root for the Angels since most of them live there? And I don’t know, the conversation just naturally kind-of moved into eating ninjas and how we sorta had a taste for it, and you said you wanted to go back and try one with relish.

Three months! Three months we spent tweaking that damn time machine, trying to figure out how to take a jar of relish back with us. The experiments! A plastic bottle of ketchup and a visit to colonial America. I never told you this, but that lieutenant? From the 6th dragoons? He didn’t give me indigestion. I was just mad because I thought this was such a stupid idea. But I bet you kind of already knew that. Or that packet of soy sauce we took back to the Battle of Hastings. You, running around, shouting “Why does everyone know the date for this battle? Why is it so important?” and then you got a bow and arrow off a guy and, who knows, maybe you’re the reason everyone knows that date now.

We were on our cots, remember? Looking up the ceiling, where we’d pasted those glow-in-the-dark stars to accurately depict what the night-sky would have looked like in medieval Japan on a clear autumn night. Man I was I tired. I don’t remember what you said. I thought you said we needed to go to a 7-11 on the other side of the country and get some lemonade. But that’s silly, of course that’s not what you said. And I was so tired, I should have pointed out how we live, like, really close to a 7-11. There’s on on 4th or 144th or something. I said, “Let’s just make our own.”

You jumped off the cot. Started screaming. Called me a genius. Scared the crap out of me. “We can make our own!” You shouted. Shoved me into the time machine. Medieval Japan. Again. “Now let’s go find some pickles!” you said.

Well, the didn’t have pickles back then did they. Did they? Fine, we hunted up cucumbers. None of those either? We went to China. China! Oh man, can I tell you something? Your face, when we finally got back to Japan with that sack of cucumber seeds and a jar of sea salt, and we found that old farmer, and he was eating pickles. Serendipity? You were so mad, you killed that farmer, made a quick relish out of what was left of his pickle, and screamed and screamed about how bad it was. So we told the local constable or whatever the called ’em, what we done, got executed, and when we got back home, we broke into Heinz.

It’s funny how things work out, I mean, all those ninjas we fought and killed and ate, and there we were, going full-ninja on that Heinz break-in. We were one with the shadows, weren’t we? I don’t think they had key-card locks and motion detectors in Medieval Japan, but we made it through just fine. Found that secret recipe, on that computer. I’m not going to say I told you so, but when we were kids? And you called me a nerd because I liked computer games more than baseball? Just sayin’.

And the whole time you were reading the recipe. Shaking your head. “I knew it. I fudging knew it.” You never were good at cursing.

One thing I always liked about you was how fearless you were, and how many ridiculous fears you had at the same time. You’d take a sword into a crowd of ninjas like it was nothing. But then you’d see a black cat and freak the fudge out. I’m bleeding from, like, fifteen different places, you’ve got ninja blood up to your knees, and you’re standing behind me, gripping my shoulders, yelling at me. “Make it go away! Make it fudging go away!”

That’s what got you killed, you know. Those stupid fears. That’s my theory, anyway. We killed and ate our twelfth ninja. With our homemade Heinz recipe relish. Fine, I’ll admit it, I can see sort of maybe why you liked it so much. And then one more ninja showed up, and I had my crossbow all ready, and you we’re like, “No way man. Thirteen is an unlucky number.” I guess we need to get back anyway. You had that paper to write and I was supposed to pull a double shift at work.

But, like, what if we had killed him too? And we’d eaten him? See, thing is, we’d already eaten thirteen if you counted the first vat-ninja. I guess that’s ironic. I guess you were right. Because we got back and everything was fine for a long time. We dismantled the time machine and sold the cloning vat on Craig’s List and you got married and I started seeing Jackie and life was just life, you know? We robbed a few banks, a few casinos, a train, even. No big.

I guess I’m telling you things you already know. How we were rappelling down the side of First National because there was a company on the 14th floor that had some files you wanted. We could have gone through the front door. We could have just asked for them. But you said stealing them would make them more valuable. And your stupid fear of the number thirteen, telling me how tall buildings never have a thirteenth floor.

But First National was built, like, three years ago. Superstitions like that are dead, man. Wrong floor, security guard, and you with no sword. I like to pretend, sometimes, that you traveled here, to this timeline, from the future, and we grew up together, and when you got killed you just went back where you came from.

Look, I have to go. I’m supposed to see my parole officer this afternoon and she gets all snotty if I’m late. Here’s another jar of relish. I’m sure the cemetery custodian keeps taking them, because they’re always gone when I come back. But I like to think that, somehow, you’re the one who takes them, wherever you are. Fudging relish.

You know what? I just thought of something. My parole officer? She’s Japanese, I think. And she’s always wearing black. Huh. We’ll see I guess. I’ll see you later. Things sure do get boring without you here.

Tales from Halcyon Detectives: Old Masters

fiction by Jason Edwards

The sun rose like it does which makes for a nice start to things, day time and such. But nothing gets started on its own, does it. Sunlight chases away the cockroaches that collect around old ladies and ATMs, but then there’s the heat, and the humidity, and if your my partner, bright ideas about fixing up the place.

I walked into our office, and stumbled over the sheet he’d laid down to protect the floors from paint. “There’s no tarp so deadly as the tarp you set for yourself,”, he said. Suave little schmuck in his pink linen suit.

“You’re hilarious, Hill. What’s with the decor change? One of your divorcees get weepy over the mint green?” I managed to find my desk, my chair, a glass that wasn’t too dirty, a bottle that wasn’t too empty. For now.

He looked at the bottle, the glass, my desk. He avoided my face, which meant he was in a good mood, more or less. He sighed and went back to the roller brush. It’s one thing to throw down a sheet and make with the refurbish. But this guy, in his suit, whistling. And not a drop on him anywhere.

I was in a bad mood myself, however. The little lady back home, getting less little by the day, and with it the hormones and the fun that brings. Fecundity, it turns out, ain’t a dirty word, except it is, if you know what I mean. “You got a problem with my morning ablations, say it.”

He just smiled, tossed a cigarette into his mouth, lit up. Took a big drag, blew it out casually. Shrugged. “There’s no bad ablation. There are only some ablations that aren’t as good as others.” He walked to his own desk, pulled a bottle out of a drawer, walked it over to me.

The good stuff. He gave me a pat on the shoulder, went back to his painting. We worked in silence for a while, me putting receipts against a telefax for a case we had, him with the roller brush and the occasional hummed phrase from an 80s era hip-hop song.

After a bit I put the bottle away, sat up straight, gave my neck a twist and crack. “Well, that’s that then. No matches, not that I can find. If Fenway’s wife is stepping out on him, we’re going to need some other kind of proof. Nothing’s happening with this paper trail.”

“In working a case, when things stall out, just wait for two guys to come through the door with guns,” he said. Which sent a chill down my spine. All the time with the Chandler quotes. Like he was writing this thing, not living it.

“Now you listen to me Hill. I got a kid on the way, I don’t need-” but it was too late. The door burst open, and sure enough, two nasty looking toughs came spilling in, both of ’em armed to cause trouble.

My partner lost no time, dropping into a crouch and ripping up the tarp. The dumb lugs hit the floor, and were wrapped up and tied in a wriggling roll faster than you could say monkey business.  I got up and walked over,  nudged ’em with my toe. We just stood there, hands on our hips, looking at ’em.

“I dunno, Hill. This ain’t got to do with Fenway. I mean, unless his old lady’s stepping with a made guy, but why would a made guy bother?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” One of the toughs said. “We ain’t got anything to do with them guys. Which is why, you let us go now, we don’t have to tell ’em what happened here.”

I knelt down. “And what are you going to not tell ’em, paisan? That you didn’t come in here with your roscoe erect, didn’t get tripped up by a guy painting the walls, didn’t get your asses handed to you out back a few minutes later by a fat old bastard in a Hawaiian shirt?”

“You don’t know who you’re messin’ with,” one of ’em said. “Don Marconi don’t-”

“Shut your goddamn mouth,” the other one said.

I stood up. Oh goody. A Don Marconi thing. I went back to my desk, grabbed the phone, and dialed. My partner rolled the two over towards the wall, went back to painting, over a symphony of curses.

“This is Kendrick,” a voice finally said.

“Alfonse. It’s Edwards.”

“I know. Caller ID. Whattayaneed. Someone to drag a coupla scumbags outta your office?”

“You got ESP Kendrick? How the hell-”

“You’re working that Fenway thing, right? His old lady’s putting the horns on him, and Don Marconi’s the hunter. Or something. I’m not the writer– you can’t probably come up with something better.”

“Well how come you never told me?”

“Ask your partner. He said you needed something to write about. Something about old man’s ennui, I dunno. Kid’s got a ten dollar vocabulary, and me with my nickel ears.”

“Tell me about it. Yeah, okay, can you send over a cruiser, coupla boys?”

“Already on their way,” he said, and hang up.

I put the phone down. “Hill. You asshole.” But I had to grin.

My partner just smiled, one foot resting on the jerks in the tarp, cigarette in his mouth, one eye closed against the smoke. Painting. “I can kill time, or kill myself. Time dies better,” he said.

I shook my head. Some guys read too much Raymond Chandler for their own good. Or mine.

The Odd Spy

writing exercise, 750words.com

fiction by Jason Edwards

A man dressed in khaki chinos and white cotton chambray work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms sits in front of a rickety desk, in a tiny room in a tall building in old San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the desk, a typewriter hulks and a half-drunk Cuba Libra sweats. The air is still. Cigarette smoke hangs. The man gazes out at the Bajo Tablazo, one elbow on the desk, hand up, two fingers up, cigarette contributing to the entropy of the universe in orange embers and a subtle hint of vanilla off the filter. He slides the cigarette into his mouth, closes one eye against the smoke, turns to the typewriter, and fills the room with clacking and clicking.

The page fills with words. It’s the sentence “Look at the frog,” over and over again. Look at the frog. Look at the frog. Look at the frog. His typing pace is a mother and son running in broken gaits across a desert trying to avoid monstrous sand worms. He stops. Typo. Look at the fog. There’s sweat on his forehead, sweat in his armpits, a drop rolls down his back slow enough to give him a chill. A hot, smothering chill. He looks guiltily out the window, then back inside, at the wall opposite.

He picks up the Cuba Libre, brings it to his lips, sets it back down in precisely the same position. There’s no perceptible loss of liquid. The man unrolls the page in the typewrite a bit, glares at that word. Fog. God damn it. God damn it all to hell. In a fit he rips out the page, crumples it, cocks his hand back to throw the wad at the wall opposite the window. Considers the implications. Sighs, and drops the wad at his side.

A fresh piece of paper. He rolls it into the typewriter, twisting it up and down in a complicated rhythm, getting it just right. Gazes out the window again. Ashes his cigarette. He’s avoiding that wall now. He waits.

The view from the window is not exclusively the Bajo. There’s another building, an older one, the top three floors missing. Graffiti, water damage, exposed rebar, grit and dust. Two men in trench coats. Honest to god trench coats. How often does it rain in Old San Juan? How often is it dark? Is it ever cold?

They’re trying to stick to shadows. The man in the room can’t see them, wouldn’t look at them if he could. An old legend that when clipper ships came to the New World, they were so alien the natives literally could not seem them. The man has been in Puerto Rico for about a year, and wouldn’t know a trenchcoat from a suit of armor.

They whisper at each other. Code words and secret phrases. Each has been sent under the impression that the other is a fake spy and will surely know all of the secret words and code phrases. Proof, like a witch who doesn’t drown, of guilt. And then there will be an inspired chase scene. But who is chasing whom.

The man finds a pack of cigarettes in his pants pocket, a lighter worn smooth from a practiced thumb. Lights up. Inhales deeply. Exhales and fills the room with blue. Ashes, puts the cigarette in his mouth, squints, starts typing. Look at the frog, look at the frog. His rhythm is a drunk kung-fu master defeating ruffians.

Guns are drawn. A Mexican stand-off. A common misunderstanding. Puerto Rico is Spanish, not Mexican. The difference is the difference when asking a napkin in America and asking for one in Great Britain. A cruise ship blows her mighty horn, telling her passengers to come back and bring along their touristy knick-knacks and doo-dads. One of the spies is distracted by the sound, enough for the other spy to try and make a break for it. And shoot the other spy too. Neither plan works. And like a thousand music stands ,dropped off a tall building in a performance by a Julliard music student for his senior thesis, will, by mistake in the random cacophony include a spate that sounds too much like a snippet from Beethoven’s Fifth, earning the senor a D-, the spies manage to start an erstwhile and earnest chase through the now rapidly darkening streets of Old San Juan. Why keep the lights on when the tourists are gone.

The man finishes a page of Look at the frogs and starts another one with a practiced and repetitive rhythm of inserting a new blank page. Behind that wall opposite the window, a parabolic mike linked to a sophisticated tape recorder and computer interpret the rhythms of his typing. Ostensibly, they were recording the two spies on the broken rooftop.

The man knows better. Look at the fog almost started World War III.

A Trip To San Francisco

Discovered in 1776, founded in 1860, and rebuilt from the ashes up in 1906, San Francisco is a city that boasts 50 hills, 6 islands, 2 earthquake faults, and well over a million people in the greater metropolitan area. And even though it’s the second most densely populated city in America, there’s plenty of room for visitors. Thinking about a trip to “The Paris of the West,” the city where Al Capone died, where The Gap (inc) keeps its home office, where the Giants baseball team are ritualistically handed the World Series every year? If so, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of “The City That Knows How.”

  • Be careful you don’t confuse Fisherman’s Wharf, with “Flasherman Warf”, a dude in the Tenderloin dressed like a half naked Klingon from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • If you’re going to Alcatraz, get your tickets early. If you’re not going, it doesn’t matter when you get your tickets.
  • The San Francisco National Cemetery is very popular—people are dying to get in there. (Get it?)
  • There’s a zoo in San Francisco. If you’ve never been to a zoo before, than you haven’t been to this one either.
  • Don’t bother bringing an issue of TV Guide on the Cable Cars ‘cause they’re not that kind of cable.
  • Lombard street. Crooked. Lumbar support, so your back doesn’t get crooked. This joke still under construction.
  • The Mission district has good burritos. They’re called “Missionary Style” burritos because even though they’re not exciting, they get the job done. Heyo!
  • Facts: Golden Gate Park is neither golden, has gates, or any good places to put your car.
  • “The Painted Ladies” is NOT a transvestite review, but an area with bunch of houses painted with more than two colors. I know, massively disappointing, right?
  • Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower, Grace Cathedral, Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, SF Ferry Building, Golden Gate Bridge: you can buy postcards for these EVERYWHERE.
  • Chinatown allegedly has some very nice restaurants, but none of them are Panda Express, so I don’t know.
  • Haight-Ashbury is where LSD was invented, but I don’t know if it’s worth the “trip.” (Mwaah-mwaaa…)

Yes, a visit to “Frisco” should be on everyone’s bucket list. And when you’re here, be sure to call it “Frisco.” The locals love it when visitors say that. And when they ask for Rice-A-Roni. And when they complain about the cold and the fog and the traffic and your sore aching feet.

Fahrenheit 145

fiction by Jason Edwards

Halberd Donson spent January on Gulliver Street, pork-chopping his way through every restaurant between 123rd and 198th. Most of them served pork chops, and when they didn’t, he brought his own. In a little baggie, in his jacket pocket. Sometimes it was a few days old if he’d had a good run. Only one place had had a problem with this.

Halberd walked in, was greeted by the hostess, a chubby little number in a red dress that had been tight before she’d been dumped and found a new boyfriend called carrot marble  ice-cream cake. She handed him the menu, told him his server would be right with him, and put a little wiggle in her impressive back-side as she sashayed away. Halberd was not impressed, but not displeased: in another world, another month, different street, he’d have merrily grabbed a handful of that derriere and wished it a happy life the next morning.

A man is made out of his experiences, so such musings where not to be dismissed, but he was in Buck’s Diner for a different reason, and there was no pork chop on the menu. He understood there not being pork chops on the menu in a Chinese, or a Mexico, or one of the places that serve the small plates that end up costing you more somehow. But a diner that didn’t have pork chops on the menu? Maybe the tuna melt was something to write home about and regulars didn’t bother with the chop.

Fine. The waitress stopped by and he ordered a salad and an extra plate. The table had ketchup and mustard bottles, but not sauce– he asked if they had sauce. She explained that the salad came with dressing, and he knew he was in for a night of trouble.

Herself, the waitress, world-weary and willing to show it. Bottle-brassy hair, curly like she meant business, set of shoulders on her from humping plates for twenty years. Her pantyhose were industrial strength, her shoes were sensible, her husband was okay if they managed to not spend too much time together, and her kid was making decent grades and paying his own way through city college. Had an earring, but what are you going to do. She had a tattoo, so who was she to judge.

Halberd decided not to prevaricate. He hauled his spare chop out of his pocket and showed it to her. It’s for this, he said. The sauce.

The waitress frowned. You can’t bring that in here, she said.

Halberd nodded. Look, I won’t stiff you on the tip. You can even up-charge me on the salad, if you want. Better yet, I’ll have a tuna melt, to go. How’s that?

She bit her bottom lip, chewed on it mostly. She’d been late to her shift, not her fault, the god damned busses in this town. And the night manager giving her attitude. She’d been here longer than him, could do his job if she wanted to. Not that she did. Not that the owner would let her. A woman restaurant manager. Think of it.

So she was in no mood. Look pal. It’s a health-code violation. You don’t like it? Take it up with city hall. And then stared at him, stared at the chop, willing it to go back into his pocket.

He probably shouldn’t have, but he did: Halberd stared right back at her, right in her eyes. Tired eyes, crows feet, seen a thing or two. (Who’s? Both of ’em.) He pulled the chop out of the baggie, held it delicately, pinkie in the air, and never breaking his gaze on her, took a bite.

The flush that came to her cheeks. The sour that built up in her stomach. The streak of hot lead that shot up and down her spine. She probably shouldn’t have, but she did: the waitress slapped the chop out his hand. It went flying, landed on an empty table.

Halberd wasn’t shocked or anything. Just a little sad. He knew she didn’t mean nothin’ by it. He knew she was probably just having a day. He only had himself to blame; he should have prevaricated. Should have just eaten the chop furtively, in his hand, hiding it in his jacket between bites.

Still, there were plenty of waitressing jobs. Maybe he was doing her a favor. Maybe she’d move on to something better. Then again, maybe not. But Halberd couldn’t let that change things. He had a goal: to eat a pork chop on every restaurant on Gulliver street between 123rd and 198th. He got up and left.

To her credit, the waitress let him go. She didn’t bother telling anyone about it. The busboy, who spoke about as much English as the president ate fried pickle sandwiches (none, in case you don’t know who the president is) picked up the chop when he bussed a few other tables and didn’t think a thing about it.

At about 2 AM, Halberd made sure no one was in there when he set the fire. He was not a cruel man.

High School Violence

fiction by Jason Edwards

The fattest girl in our high school was Lori Eastman, and the second fattest girl was Gloria Beastman. Now what I want to know is, what kind of asshole keeps the name Beastman? How did he think it was going to go for his kid? And could he not see, at some point, that she was getting kind of large? Surely, by the time she hit Junior High, Gloria was not petite. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the same kind of myopia that lets dads forget that their daughters get periods and have sex. Well, girls other than that tub of lard Beastman.

That’s cruel but she brought it on herself. Maybe she was just the victim of a life time of abuse, with the name and the fat and all. But I’m here to tell you she was not a nice person. She was cynical and sarcastic and maybe she was smart but not smart enough to justify treating people like crap.

There was this one time when the teacher was calling roll and goes “Larry?” and even though he was sitting right here, he didn’t say anything. And the teacher was one of those insufferable types who insisted on doing things one certain way. So even though she can see him, she expects him to say “here.” I mean, for crying out loud, she had exactly 30 kids in her class, the chairs were arranged in a perfect five by six square, all she had to do was see there were no empty seats and, voila, roll call is done. No absences.

But not this teacher. How is a teacher like that going to teach English, anyway. Sure, there’s rules and such, grammar and APA style I guess, but anything other than spelling is open to interpretation. And that includes whatever the hell Hemingway meant when he wrote “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” I mean, there’s a comma splice right there.

Finally the teacher goes “I can see you, Larry, are you here.” And he goes “My name isn’t Larry. It’s Lawrence.”

I mean, fair enough. You get to an age where you want to define yourself, want to be your own person, why not start with your name? It’s given to you, forced on you I suppose, so why not own it however you can, insist people call you what you want to be called. Like if a guy decided to put on a dress and go by the name of Brunhilda, were supposed to go along with it, right? Let him drain the lizard in the girl’s restroom, even, I mean, there’s laws in Congress about that. If Larry wants to be Lawrence he can be Lawrence.

And before the teacher could say anything (I mean, stickler for rules, maybe she would have been into it, maybe she would have approved, maybe she would have given Larry a gold star for the day) Gloria Beastman goes “Oh please, you little weasel.”

Half the class laughed. I think they laughed because it caught them off guard. No one liked Gloria, not at all, and so the other half managed to not laugh because they had that not-like fresh in their minds. Or it wasn’t that funny. Or they didn’t hear because they were busy scrambling to get next periods homework done.

And then Larry goes “Whatever, Beats-men.” And nobody laughed. Larry was the skinny little shit, you see. I mean, born premature or didn’t get enough protein or hadn’t hit puberty yet, something along those lines. But he was an okay fellow more or less, no Napoleon complex that I was aware of. And Gloria had this reputation. That tiny little Larry would take on Gloria like that– it was easily the bravest thing any of us had ever witnessed.

Gloria turned red. I mean bright red. I mean, you have to understand, that as awful as she was, and as scary as she was, she was not safe from getting picked on by the popular kids and the assholes. So it’s not like she hadn’t been called every name in the book. But the names were all around how fat she was and how she was, you know, a “beast.” I have no idea where Larry got “Beats-men,” and no idea why none of us thought of it before.

She launched herself out of her desk. Across two rows, screaming this loud, high-pitched snarl that, since she was so damned huge, reverberated on a subliminal level too and made everyone’s spine quiver. She landed right on top of Larry and went to town. Holy shit.

I mean, he called her “beats-men” and the she beat him. I mean, it’s poetic or something. It took two jocks to get her off of him, and when they did she just thrashed around and let loose with the most vile, disgusting tirade I’d ever heard in my life. Racist stuff, anti-Semitic, coprophagic, demonic. It was amazing. We all cowered in the corner, Larry crushed beneath us and forgotten, while she tore the room apart. A couple other jocks went and got the football coach, and they all hauled her out of there.

She sued the school for that. Got a settlement. We never saw her again. Lawrence went to the hospital but he was more or less okay. Was a kind of celebrity for a while, but then it died down and the school went back to being just another bunch of assholes.

The third fattest girl in our school was Calliope Winthrop. We dated for a while. She was a sweetheart. Sort of smelled like peaches.

Little Red, Riding

Daily Writing Exercise, 750Words.com

Fiction by Jason Edwards

She keeps thinking she’s forgotten something, and then she remembers that what she’s forgotten is to remember that she hasn’t forgotten anything this time. And she’s usually so forgetful. Then she tries not to think about it because the light turns green and she doesn’t want to kill anyone by accident.

Not by accident.

In her red car. The dealer had said “Red? You know the cops pull over drivers in red cars more often.” She’d replied with something about red hiding the blood. He’d laughed. She’d kept him in the trunk for a week before she’d remembered.

She’s killed a lot. A lot a lot. So much that she’s lost count, it’s beyond counting, way beyond there ever having been a first one or a first time. Might as well recall the first time one saw a tree. Sure, in the desert, your first tree must be a sight to behold. But in a forest? Its only trees.

Pointless to talk about. She just does it. Drives to a motel, goes to the front desk, asks for a room, takes the key, kills the woman behind the desk, stuffs her into a closet. Goes to bed and goes to sleep. Wakes up. Something about checking out?

Or: drives to a hotel. Goes to the front desks, asks for a room, takes the key card. Goes to bed, wakes up, call downs for fresh towels. When the maid arrives, kills her, stuffs her into a closet. Takes a shower. Uses, like, every towel on the cart.

DNA? Please. This is real life, not an episode of a television show.

Another red light, so she remembers to stop. Is that what she forgot? To stop at the last red light? That time in Ann Arbor. Ran a stop light, got pulled over. The police officer had said, do you know why I pulled you over? She’d said something about the color red, and when he’d walked back to his cruiser, she’d ran over him. Stuffed him in his own trunk. Had to go back a few hours later because she’d forgotten about the camera mounted on his dashboard.

A hoot and a holler. An actual wolf whistle. Two guys in the car next to her. It’s a black car, filthy. Black cars always get dirtier than white ones. “Where you headed, little girl?” The one shouts. The driver’s leering at her too. She says something about Grandma’s house. They laugh. She laughs. The light turns green. They accelerate, she accelerates, she clips their bumper, speeds up and passes them. They give chase. They drive deep into the forest of the city.

It’s not always this easy. Sometimes it’s everything she can do to lure someone to a secluded area. Not that it has to be secluded. She’s forgotten how many people she’s put a knife into, in restaurants, fast food joints, convenience stores. But those places sometimes don’t have closets or trunks. At least in this alley, when she’s done with them, she can stuff them into their own trunk.

She thinks about stuffing the good looking one, the one who wasn’t driving, into her own trunk. Then she has a bad moment- has she forgotten that there’s someone in there already? She could go check. She’s covered in their blood, a little of her own. If there’s already someone in there, she’ll be very disappointed in herself. For having forgotten.

She decides she won’t check. She stuffs them into their own trunk, along with her bloody clothes. Fetches distilled water out of her back seat, has a nice shadow bath there in the alley. Gets dressed in fresh underwear, jeans, a t-shirt with a gas-station logo on it. That poor old man, who had smiled at her sweetly when she’d gone in to pay for gas, saw the shirts, knew she’d need a pile, put a knife through him, stuffed him into a supply closet. After a while, you can really tell the difference between different brands of disinfectant, in jars and bottles and cans.

Back in her red car, she drives around the city, towards suburbs, towards Grandma’s house. That part was true. But then she remembers: she’s always told the truth. Always. Because why not. A lie takes effort, energy, invention, fabrication, creation. She has no interest in creating anything. That one guy in Texas. Those hands. The bruises on her ribs when she’d been on top of him, choking him. And then nausea and sore breasts and clean underwear. And utter depression.

They don’t do abortions in Texas. But she does.

Space Aliens Have Landed In The American Midwest

fiction by Jason Edwards

Space aliens have landed in the American Midwest and taken on the form of indigenous peoples of the region from 10,000 years ago. Despite hailing from a star system several million light years away, these bioforms now look and act like Indians. “But don’t call us that,” says X!3gkrk Twofeather, one of their leaders. “The forms we have now predate such nomenclature.”

“Even travelling faster than the speed of light,” Twofeather explains, “it took us several thousand years to get here. We took readings with worm-hole scanners to find a form we could shape ourselves to and in that way blend in. We chose what was, at the time, one of the most stable, long-lived forms. We used a controlled evolutionary process, which took as many years. What we were before was, basically, sentient rocks. The switch from silicone to carbon was itself a few millenia.”

Astride his horse, wearing a war bonnet and gazing regally out at the plains, Twofeather is utterly unmistakable from an authentic Native American– at least our modern sense of one. “We didn’t expect your planet to change so rapidly. But here we are. And we’re adapting as quickly as we can. This horse, for example. The bioforms who dwelled her ten thousand years ago didn’t have horses. We’re just catching up.”

As expected, the arrival of foreign bodies has stirred up protest. Hundreds have gathered at the edges of the designated encampments to expression their displeasure with the new visitors. “Go back where you came from!” reads more than one sign.

Zk*tp7r Lurking Bear tries to engage some of them in conversation. “I’ll go back where I came from if you do, brother,” he says.

“I was born here, ya martian,” shouts his fellow interlocutor.

Lurking Bears eyes flash a dark green, as he performs a retinal DNA-residue scan on the protestor. “No you weren’t. You were formed in the back of internal-combustion powered vehicle some several thousand miles from here. I, however, was in vat of forming proteins until five days ago. I was “born” 200 hundred feet from this spot.”

“You know what I mean! Go back to your mother ship, asshole.”

Nearby, actual Native Americans are in conference, deciding how to approach these doppelgangers. Max Brandt, one-eight Sioux, explains: “On the one hand, it’s hilarious to see white people tell natives to ;go back home.’ On the other hand, these advanced beings are not us. They’ve appropriated our culture.”

Presented with this opinion, Twofeather shakes his head. “We have not appropriated their culture. We have appropriated the culture of their ancestors, and have adapted to modern expectations. Indeed, technically, it’s Mr. Brandt and his kind of who appropriated our culture. But we aren’t going to complain. Our understanding is that complaining about cultural appropriation is the purview of so-called Social Justice Workers, and we don’t want to steal their raison d’etre.”

Molly Waldring, a survivor of the Tumblr revolution who identifies as a bi-straight penguin kintype with homo-normative kanga (non-roo) tripolarity, has presented the New (Old) Natives with a manifesto, detailing grievances of the Uncis Nation. “And using phrases like ‘raison d’etre’ ranks right up there; stealing the linguistic heritage of French-born multikins, no matter what they’re self-designated geospatial centering coordinates are, is tantamount to brain-slavery,” s(h)e[it-they] explains while having bandages applied to stress fractures from rapid typing. “We won’t stand for it!”

Waldring’s colleauge, ex-Olympic bronze medalist sprinter Kart Mittering, who identifies as a quadraplegic snailkin with snake-formative sex-prey commercial-unbranding, scoffs. “Stand for it? Enabling shit-lord.”

Back in his intersteller neutron punch-drive wigwam, Twofeather goes over his people’s  seven-point plan for assimilating and thriving on planet Earth. “We’ve already contacted the heads of state around the world, and provided them with information as it pertains to cancer, infectious disease, super-bug suppression, improved forms of non-animal nutrition distribution, the ozone layer, global warming, the roles of women and minorities in the motion picture industry, reducing head trauma in contact sports, and inoculations against Boy Bands and Top 40 Radio. Of course, we sent them this information some 50 years ago, before we arrived, so we’re not sure why they’ve taken so long to implement our solutions.”

“Nevertheless, we’re hopeful,” he goes on to say. “We’ve encoded information on large squares of fabric by precision-cutting them to a ratio that, when measured to the appropriate decimal point, will contain information on all of the secrets of the universe. We’ve taken these “blanks” and sliced them into holographic portions, and distributed them around the world. And, we made sure each of this “blank-ettes” is appropriately coated with self-replicating copies of our original DNA. Kind of like your so-called earth ‘viruses’ but much more hearty.”

Twofeather smiles. “We’ve been reading up on your theories of Manifest Destiny. We think it’s a really great theory.”

Electric Cab Opener

fiction by Jason Edwards

I’ve never been the sort of person who just goes out and buys something if I can get my design team to make it for me, but I made a spelling error in the req and now I’ve got myself an electric cab opener.

And let’s be frank, this things is completely useless. Nevertheless, I’m not about to let all that R&D go to waste. So I went downtown to do some shopping. I put on my three-piece suit, the sharkskin one with a hint of salmon, a black silk shirt, a tie the board gave me as a thank you for 2012. 2012 was a great year!

I looked good for a guy in his late fifties, shaped like a butterball, going bald. I love it when people underestimate me. That’s how I get ’em. No one was going to underestimate me in my sharkskin and silk, though. I had my driver drop me at West and 144th, and walked a block to Jazeray’s. Think Bed Bath & Beyond but everything costs about as much as a decent family-sized home in the mid west.

I mean, can you imagine. Standing there, trying to decide between a blender and a split-level ranch in Nicoma Park, Oklahoma? And don’t tell me none of the houses in Nicoma Park are split-level ranches, or I’ll go there, build one just to make this illustration work, and then jack the price up to a queen bed-sheet set or even one of them “art prints” they got hanging in droves at the front of the store. Talk about overpriced. Tell me shag carpeting and popcorn stucco ceilings are worth 5 year’s salary and I’ll call the loony bin on ya myself.

Where was I. Oh yeah, West and 145th, since I walked a block from 144th. That was fun, walking on the street like a regular person. I went into Jazeray’s, bought about a dozen ice cream scoops, some refills for my Soda Stream, a throw blanket with a sport team logo on it– I forget which one. I was into sports in 2011, when me and the boys from the club where buying and selling shares in each other’s franchises. It was like a game- pun intended- to see who could own the most shares of the most winning teams. Kind of like fantasy football, but all that money shuffling put a couple thousand people out of work. Don’t worry, we got ’em all dream jobs scattered around the country. One guys piloting a desk and getting paid to answer the phone once an hour. I’ve called himself a few times. Nice fella. Knows a lot of movie trivia.

Went outside with my purchases, hailed a hack. You look like I do, you don’t wait long for a taxi. Tried out the electric cab opener– had it on the wrong setting. All four doors, hood, trunk, glove compartment, poor guy’s lunchbox. Woops. He started apologizing all over the place. I guess he didn’t know it was my doing. I didn’t set him straight. Apologetic’s less stress than anger on the ticker, and he looked about as old as me but without the room full of doctors sitting around playing Canasta in case I get a papercut or throw a clot.

He asked me where to and for a second there I forget my three assistants hadn’t faxed him my whole day’s itinerary that same morning while he was having his daily monkey-butt coffee. You know, that coffee where they give the beans to a monkey and his gastric juices break it down so when he craps it out it’s ready for roasting. My driver has expensive tastes. He used to be a Fortune 500 CEO with his own island in the Caymans. But I talked him into the job after a heart-to-heart about what corporate life was doing to his kidneys. Pour guy was on his fifth and sixth ones, respectively, and the AKF was flush and didn’t need any more charity.

Oh, and those rumors? That I started the American Kidney Foundation, the first non-profit to earn the equivalent of the GDP of half the countries in Scandinavia, just to put this guy in a position to need us and then need me? Not true. I mean, I’m on the board, but that’s coincidence. I don’t get off on having billionaires drive for me. Not at all. He’s just a fantastic driver.

Finally came to my senses and told the cabbie to drive me home. On the way I handed him an improved meter. It was way better than the one he had. He was reluctant at first, but I told him to keep it and I’d pay both meters. He wised up when he realized that while his meter said seventy-six bucks, mine said Tuition for All Your Kids.

And I paid both, too, even tipped him on the seventy-six. But not on the Tuition. I’m not an asshole.