Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on "Creeper"

If you haven't read it yet, now is the time. Part One and Part Two.

The idea for this short story was one of those lame "ripped from the headlines" deals about some guy who had made spreadsheets about his online dating and somehow got caught. That, in and of itself, wasn't especially interesting, but the amount of venom that was generated from the usual tolerant suspects intrigued me and I started wondering what the real story was. We'll probably never know, so I made one up.

The danger with this sort of "real life incident" writing is that it almost always sucks the vein rocket. The writer assumes, wrongly, that the unusual nature of the core conceit is enough to carry the story and the end result is a shaggy dog tale with no substance or heart. This is why I generally don't like drawing on "real life," as some people call it, for ideas. Ultimately, it can't do all the work for you, or even some of the work.

A good example of doing it right is "The Possessed" by Dostoevsky. Among other things it deals with a revolutionary being killed by his own group in hopes of bringing about a People Rise Up scenario. That's an interesting real life story, but it's the treatment it gets from the Russian that makes it memorable. In lesser hands that would not have been the case. It's the same way an interesting setting or a clever high concept or you liked it when it was this so you'll like my copy of it can't save poor writing. Character, humor, description...I don't always succeed, but it's always the goal.

The upshot of all this is that the narrator in "Creeper" is given a chance to be a fully realized character instead of a one-line joke that gets stretched for several pages. He's no saint, for sure, but I tried to make his motives understandable and perhaps even sympathetic. I'm trying to go deeper, look at motivations and shared humanity. Does it work? Eh, it's a free short story, who gives a fuck?

But I still think, yes, it does.

My favorite joke to write was Patriot Manufacturing moving from China to Bora Bora and causing investor panic that must be assuaged ("burp and change them" as the narrator puts it). It's absurd, ridiculous, a little insulting to our intelligence and let's be honest, completely believable. That edge where a farce has some real truth to it, that's where a lot of the best humor lies. Maybe that's the one benefit of living in a country that gets more insane by the day: the jokes get a lot easier to write.

What happens to our narrator after the story ends? It's something I've wondered about, I've even considered maybe taking concepts from this and using them in a future novel. I guess the answer is "back to comfortable anonymity after the outrage fades." Indeed, the man in the real life story has been forgotten as newer, more interesting crimes and follies have cropped up. In today's world infamy has become as difficult to obtain and just as fleeting as fame. I don't know what that says about us, but probably nothing good.

DotTeeVee will be back on Sunday, see you all then.

Aaron Zehner's first novel is The Foolchild Invention.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #9: Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?

Last time I tried an eighties gamebook I ended up dead at the hands of a living stereotype. Other highlights included nearly being killed by a gully, thinking ordinary table salt was some sort of dangerous chemical and being oblivious enough to get lassoed. Suffice it to say, this failure was so complete that I've decided to try something a lot easier for my next foray into the world of thirty-year-old books intended for children.

Note I said "easier" and not "less messed up." Here we have a cover that promises killing and features illustrations of booze, smoking, a corpse, Pete Rose hair and some sort of ghoul/vampire hybrid. Again, this series was aimed at ten year-olds. We're a long way from "Johnny and His Two Fathers Go to the Diversity Picnic" or whatever b.s. is produced for today's kids. The incredible thing is the series got even more extreme and insane as it went. By the time it reached triple digits there were probably titles like "Escape From the Catholic Confessional" and "You Participate in a Gang Rape." I exaggerate, but only just.

Anyway, all we have to do is make choices. No rolling dice, no putting points into skills that fail when faced with a tube full of salt, just make a choice and turn a page. Let's do this thing.

We start with some straightforward exposition introducing the "you" that the reader will portray in this story. Specifically, you've got mad mystery solving skillz. When "Aunt Marinda" was the victim of a home invasion (!) in furtherance of burglary (!!) (in a rare show of restraint for these books she isn't murdered or worse) your sharp eyes notice a "beer bottle." (!!!) Said bottle contains the prints of the criminal and leads to his capture. Man, this is like C.S.I. Miami. It is fun to imagine some guy drinking a beer, dropping it right in front of a window and then deciding to try some of the old B&E immediately afterward.

...and that's the end of that chapter.

After solving the case of the Pre-Gaming Sleep Bandit you're feeling your oats and decide to become a detective, full-time. Forget school, it means nothing to the mystery solving community. The result is a transformation into a pint-size Sherlock Holmes, presumably minus the pit-fighting and cocaine addiction. You've got "quite a reputation" and it attracts the attention of a One Percenter named Harlowe Thrombey. The massive spoiler in the book's title takes a lot of the drama out of our interaction with this "plastics" magnate. He says his "life is in danger." Well, duh. Clearly the only one you can trust in such a situation is a child who found a beer bottle, once. 

Consider the options and it gets even more laughable. You are wealthy and in fear of your life. Do you use your massive fortune to flee the country? Hire bodyguards? No. Instead ask a pre-teen trouble shooter to do some pro bono work on your behalf. He wants you to come by at 5 pm to, I guess, get his back. "I hear you have sharp eyes," as Thrombey puts it. If the murder weapon is a partially concealed Night Train bottle, you're in good hands.

Amusingly enough you get the choice to blow off this Captain of Industry and instead "call back in a day or so." This is great. "Yeah, life in danger. Whatever, Uncle Pennybags. How about I stop by in a few days, if I'm in the neighborhood and I feel like it. Oh, and never call here again, all right?" *Click*

Predictably my heartless refusal to aid a desperate man leads to his "poisoning," a fact I learn from his lawyer who calls the next day. Man, Kiddie Detective Agency should hire a secretary or something to handle all this nonsense. Anyway, the facts include a Greenhouse break-in, a bottle of Arsenic and a bottle of Brandy. You have to admit this sort of case is right in your wheelhouse, what with the bottles and unlawful entry. Your trust in an eleven year-old was well-placed, sir.

We meet some suspects and get some additional information on times and so on, but all this is getting in the way of solving a case the way they do on the moron box: beating up suspects, acting like a Big Man, swearing, putting on military body armor and waving around huge, impractical guns, dropping your pants, that sort of thing. You're offered a chance to compare notes with a police inspector, but you think he's a "bumbling idiot." Man, this sort of intolerance is what happens when you make books that actually entertain kids instead of being packed with marxist drivel. 

Al Presidente??? Que???

Passing on a chance to hang out with someone my character considers to be less than competent I head over to the Thrombey estate. I ask some questions to the maid, who takes being interrogated by someone half a decade away from a driver's license in stride. Her alibi seems to check out, so you talk with a girl named Jenny whose pet theory is that Harlowe committed suicide (!) because he was "tired of living" (!!) and that this would show up his wife (!!!) who didn't take his morbid fear of death seriously. 

Yes, this is a children's book with the stones to address murder, suicide, loveless marriages and death paranoia. Is it any wonder people still remember these books fondly?

I'm given a choice to take her "false or possibly real suicide to show up wife and screw over heirs" theory seriously and decide to do so. "As a detective you must consider all possibilities" counsels the book. We must carefully consider the possibility of self-negation as a final middle-finger to the meaninglessness of live and the lie of love. So I go see his doctor, who I'm guessing was also the "candy man" for this guy, if you know what I'm saying.

Translation: Bruce Lee Battles the Venal Ghoul Monsters.

Dr. Bloom is dismissive of your "suicide" theory and even admits the victim's delusional fear of being murdered was actually fully justified, in light of recent events. Hard to argue with that one. It might seem like time wasted, but I have a feeling I just made a connection for some of those prescription pleasure pills when my character hits his teenage years, realizes there's no future in amateur sleuthing and becomes a pathetic junkie and human derelict.

Back at Thrombey manner the police are on the scene. Inspector Prufrock announces he's "solved the murder!" Well, that is his job and all. We get a "the butler did it" solution that's so lame we don't even consider it, unlike the more plausible "existential surrender in the face of nothingness" theory that proved so fruitless. Either way, the butler has already escaped. Maybe next time cuff him first, then declare victory. 

This inspired you to invent "roof hits."

An indeterminate amount of time passes and it's back to the house. It looks empty, but someone is waiting to get the drop on the underage fixer. Here you get a gun to the back (!!!) and  a towel wrapped around your head (!!!!) before being tied to a chair.  The unseen attacker is going through the desk in the room while you're tied to a chair. The book lets you remove the blindfold, i.e. the towel, and the reward is being pistol-whipped. You wake up in the hospital. Better tell that doctor from earlier to start filling that "prescription" right away. 

In a funny bit the E.R. doctor hands you a threatening letter that was found on your unconscious body. Drop the case or die is the gist of it. Maybe not the best thing to show someone who is recovering from a serious concussion. You're not about to be dissuaded by something as feckless as a death threat delivered after a head-busting. "In this business you have to take chances." Chances like running around right after getting a serious head injury.

 I'll be fine, it's really nothing.

Time to investigate the sketchy niece's "dentist" alibi. False pretenses are used over the phone to obtain the information, and compared to suicide, pistol-whippings, poison and being wrapped in a towel this bit of deviance barely registers. 

We then reach the crowning glory of the book, a page with nothing but "What should I do next?" followed by several conditional choices. This is awesome, and I say that in all sincerity. In total there's 13 possible choices here and depending on what you've done so far some of them are probably very logical solutions. In my case I wasted time facing the horrific nothingness of life's absurdity, talking to a quack doctor and getting beat down. Still, there is hope. The last choice is "If you're absolutely sure you have the case wrapped up." 

Yeah, I'm sure of that. Neat little package.

You turn to that page and are declared the winner, without even saying who you turn in, or why, or on what evidence. Just an arbitrary "instant win" button. We'll say that I turned in Jenny, who obviously was trying to derail my case by introducing massive existential despair and/or getting me hooked on pills and Inspector Prufrock who probably did the pistol-whipping and whose apparent ineptitude was just a cover for an insane criminal genius.  

In another ending the ghoul/vampire "lets you have it."

Overall this book is great stuff for what it is. There's a lot of depth and character I largely ignored and if you play the ending straight you probably have to really use your head and put clues together. On the other hand, murder, suicide, confrontation with existential oblivion, alcoholism, break-ins, drug abuse, head injuries, smoking, ghouls, shootings...enjoy your nightmares, kids!

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Part Two of "Creeper"

This is the conclusion of an original short story. If you haven't read part one, be sure to do that before reading the conclusion. I'll be posting thoughts about writing this short story next Wednesday.

*          *          *          *

I walk around like the boss. It’s been three months. The system keeps expanding, but never faster than my ability to keep it organized in that other gray computer. I’ve got it all color-coded now, which helps a lot. I’ve always considered myself to be one of those logical data-crunchers, but I think I’m discovering an artistic side. Maybe I’ll quit this paper-chase to sink crosses in piss and shit or something, haha.
The night before I’d obtained biblical knowledge of the fourth girl in as many weeks. I still have that fear of failure in the back of my mind, but these days all it does is make the success even more exciting than it would be otherwise. The System is just that good. I haven’t missed a name and I was only wrong about a girl being in a “save the dogs” charity one time and I just played it off like it was a joke. Yeah, this works well. I almost wonder if the time has come to share it with the world. For a fee, of course. Maybe not. Cash isn’t exactly in short supply and I like to think that there’s a certain dignity to this exercise. It’s not one of those as seen on TeeVee gimmicks.
I actually went to one of those “how to get girls” seminars at a fancy hotel a few years ago. Yeah. I was the youngest sucker in the room, lots of balding old bastards sweating grease and wearing gold chains over hairy chests and fat guts. All you need, Mr. Scumbag, is a few magic phrases and you’ll be getting 18-year-old pussy. That’s how it was. The pick-up expert was, of course, young and good looking. All nail polish and funny hats, which was probably just for appearances.
He had a lot of energy, I’ll give him that. Bouncing from one side of the room to the other like a well-manicured tennis ball, constantly firing off ideas that would help transform the human slugs packed into the room into lady killers. We were supposed to insult them. We were supposed to be arrogant and unconventional. Hold that drink by your belt, not up near your mouth! Something about clawing onto dance floors. That was the exact word, clawing. There was a ten minute intermission halfway through. I used that opportunity to leave.
Maybe some of that stuff had value, but it didn’t fit my own very unique and special circumstances. There’s nothing that screams “special and different” more than being one of several interchangeable suits in a randomly selected office building nearly identical to a hundred others. That’s all changed now. I’m now the dissenting voice in the wilderness, the modern rebel.
And I’m getting laid. A lot.
*          *          *          *

The only fear now, apart from the usual shit about the west collapsing when the browns rise up or some jihadan blowing up my building, is that I’m getting complacent and not pushing for even more. It’s been nearly a year since that moment of direct communication with a force that some, in their ignorance, call “God.” The spreadsheet now stretches for several full screens in both directions. From modest beginnings it now represents a Wonder of the Modern World. Logic and reason have conquered the land of emotion and frivolity and now rule over it with absolute authority. I have cut the Gordian knot, crossed the Rubicon and slayed countless boom-boom kitties.
I’m now some sort of Vice President. I do even less for even more. The change in my demeanor didn’t go unnoticed by the invisible wire-pullers, I guess. Better move this guy up. I’ve got a huge corner office now and I come and go as I please. The day’s work usually takes ten minutes, if that. The rest of the time is spent devising ways to take this game to the next level. The Ottoman harem has been realized. The final level, if I dare, is full-blown Ghengis Khan game. I think it’s time.
Maybe a year or two after that pick-up workshop I was deep in the computer dating. I was still in school, now a graduate student, and it seemed like a convenient way to meet virtuous young ladies to discuss the good and beautiful with. Maybe in theory. I wrote lots of cutesy little e-mails, shit like made-up screenplays and semi-clever poems and sent them out to likely candidates. The response was deafening silence, until finally a hot little number liked a Casablanca homage I sent her. We arranged to meet for some of that hot brown liquid. Rock and roll.
Long story shorter, she didn’t show. Instead the coffee house was jammed full of other men, all of whom seemed to be looking around for a special someone. Fuck, we’d been set up! Get out, abort, abort! Or just turn and leave in dejection, whatever. On the way out the door some kid of perhaps eighteen snapped a picture of me with his phone, yelled “White Knight,” and ran off through an ally.

It seems like a completely different life.
I was back on the train after another day of vice presidenting for those big bucks. The Ice Bitch was there. I don’t think she remembered me. I walked over and did an “opening.” It’s all a scientific process now, so totally predictable. Ask a few unexpected and unusual questions. “I’m looking for a book recommendation, what do you think would be most appropriate for me?” and “Do you ever get a little sick from the train’s movement?” All too easy. A few of those put-downs I paid $80 to learn about years ago, some light touching, follow the flow-chart, one step at a time.
Later I inserted my penis into her vagina.

*          *          *          *
Disaster! I’ve been exposed! Ok, I’ll slow down and tell it right. Like every great tragedy the mighty man was brought low by hubris. I got way too sloppy. I left everything in a vulnerable position and got found out. She must have been rooting through my things, the way women do, while I was enjoying some post-coitus oblivion. Stupid, stupid! The lap top was right there on the table, turned on even. I think the file might have even been open. It all comes crashing down.
Then the internet celebrity, like that fat kid pretending to be yoda and all that. Two days later and it had circled the globe, the creepy fuck with the spreadsheets full of women. The language generated wasn’t exactly of the tolerant and non-judgmental sort that is supposed to be used. E-mail box just exploded, full of angry harpies and laughing male losers who probably wish they had thought of it first, but can now bite deep into the sour grapes and savor the misery. Even the phone was going off before I shut it off. Lots of screaming, you better believe it.
The security guards arrived at the office today, to show me out and make sure I don’t go all American Psycho up in this bitch or something. That’s wonderful, being treated like a criminal. Clean out the drawers. They marched me out of the building. Probably would have taken even more liberties if there weren’t witnesses everywhere. On the midday train I don’t recognize anyone. They probably sense I’m an outsider. Everywhere I’m hiding from looks full of accusation and contempt.
The sun just went down. I’m deep into the whiskey, probably gonna really accelerate the pace now, ha, ha. I checked the e-mail one last time, just morbid curiosity, thousands of messages. One push of that delete key, see ya. Just a setback, just a setback. This too shall pass, right? The booze barely burns at all now, just slides down nice and easy.
My turn to use the phone, call that bitch from the train. Again, just one push of a button to do it, age of miracles. It just rings. It’s dark now. Pour another glass. Getting sent to voice mail. Got to play this one just right. Concede, but don’t actually apologize, that’s the way. My speech is slurring just a little. I tell her to get over here and bring back the disc she took. It is, after all, my property. After that we can start again, sadder and wiser.
The call is over. Through the window I see the city lights, dancing through the Tennessee Lenses like distant stars or that Van Gogh painting. Something like that, I’m not an artist. Tomorrow I can hide. Everything seems peaceful for the moment.
One final gulp.
I’ll find something better.

*          *          *          *

Aaron Zehner is the author of The Foolchild Invention, available now.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

DotTeeVee: Todd Bentley Violence Collection Video

Wouldn't it be awesome if charismatic holy rollin' could somehow be combined with the douche bag troglodytes that form the target audience for mixed martial arts? I have this thought literally dozens of times a day and the inevitable conclusion I invariably arrive at is "yes, it would." Sadly, we live in a world where this amazing fusion of disparate human failure has, for what ever reason, never occurred. Much like the alternate earth where a man never brought an entire jar of peanut butter to an opera for some reason and then suffered the accidental immersion of a chocolate bar in said jar only to discover the combination somehow worked, we have been denied this incredible synergy.

Or have we? Major spoiler: it happened.

After an intro screen advertising some sort of evangelical atheist group (they even have a website!) we're off and running. We meet Pastor (?) Bentley, a full-figured, tattooed gentlemen who looks like the kind of guy who would wear an Affliction shirt, spill beer on you, brag about his "Muay Thai Black Belt" and wonder "when are we gonna see Fedor in the you eff see?" He's possibly the first preacher in the history of Christianity to be baptized in water and vinegar. If the argument is "this guy exists, therefore atheism" I have to admit they might have a point for once.

 GSP would totally rape Anderson Silva, bro.

We're discussing the problem of healing the crippled. Specifically, hammering some lady's non-functional legs into "the platform like a baseball bat." Seems logical. It's not like you can make them more crippled or something, am I right? After a brief "hulk smash" demonstration of how this process was performed we are told it was successful. You don't need a wheelchair, just a good hard ass-kicking.

Now it's time to hear directly from the Creator of the Universe. This should be good, or at least non-ridiculous. Our endomorphic prophet wonders why "the spirit isn't moving" (are you sure it's plugged in? Check the socket. Are you on channel 3?). The answer from the Unmoved Mover is "because you haven't kicked that woman in the face." Well, duh.

As far as divine revelations go it's not exactly "tell Pharaoh to let my people go" or even "be excellent to each other" but such is the world of the only religious leader sponsored by Tap Out. The congregation even has a cheerful laugh at the thought of this gas-bag soccer-kicking a sickly old woman. 

Violence against the elderly is hilarious!

We even get a sort of halfway golf-clap as Todd demonstrates how helpless and vulnerable his victim was. I really don't know what to say about this. Is elderly-bashing the secret to growing your mega-ministry? Maybe drop an elbow on a palsy child for good measure? We've come a long way from touching the hem of a garment. 

Anyway the voices that only this douche can hear are all "kick her in the face...with your biker boot!" Basically the voice of God is like that weaselly kid in grade school who was always trying to get you to do dumb things so he could laugh when you got in trouble. "The voice of the divine commands you...lick the flagpole!" 

The crowd is just lapping this nonsense up. "It's funny when totally harmless, humble people get mauled by a loud-mouthed, obese living metaphor for the seven deadly sins!" Anyway the boot was delivered...and more healing? I don't think that's how the laws of our physical universe operate. Forgive me if I find this story to be of somewhat questionable veracity.

Dropkick me Jesus, through the goal posts of life...

Then the "gift of faith" arrived. Specifically, God wanted him to "run 'em down." This process consisted of tackling some random individual and acquiring the "full mount." Luckily Pastor Affliction decided not to throw hands from this dominant posture. Unluckily, he started choking his prey instead. This is how the devil is removed from the human body. After this successful Satan-ectomy it's time to single out a "Chinese" man. We're told he got the bull rush treatment and lost a tooth. Take that demon!

Awful music kicks in and will unfortunately accompany the majority of the video. I would have selected that Ultimate Fighter theme about "you're gonna get knocked out" and "you're gonna bleed your own blood" if it was up to me. We get a montage of various attempts to fix his sick, demonized congregation, starting with a man with a serious case of the shivers. Get him a coat, Todd! He ends up falling prone and twitching on the ground instead, in what will be a reoccurring motif. Several similar interactions follow. Maybe "Whole Lot of Shaking Going On" should have been the theme music.

I forgive you for rooting for Michael Bisping.

Bentley himself is not immune from this bizarre malfunction. One segment consists of little more than him falling down and lying on the stage. I've heard of "lay and pray" but this is a little much. Nothing is happening! Restart them on their feet, ref!

Down goes Bentley! Down goes Bentley!

As revolutionary and paradigm-shifting as everything we've witnessed is, it's now time to go back to more orthodox activities, if such a word can even be applied to the world of holy rollin' and ground 'n' pound for Jesus. We get the old "head touch collapse" that used to make up the main body of these services before biker boot kicks and "God told me to rush 'em" became the new standard. This is too predictable. In a word, boring.

Luckily it's back to the good stuff as God's soldier runs around like a lunatic while holding a lap top. Maybe it has viruses that need to be exorcised or something. Can you guess how this ends? If you guessed "he falls over" you're right!

Someone on the Affliction message board called me a "Greg Jackson nuthugger!"

After collapsing he lies on his back, still holding the open Apple product. Not to put to fine a point on it, but he's also exhibiting all the symptoms usually associated with the male orgasm. This is not an image I want or need.

One thing I've noticed while watching these highlights is the dearth of actual MMA techniques as a tool of salvation. Sure, he talks about kicking and choking and ground and pound, but it doesn't really seem in evidence in these clips. That changes somewhat as he performs a "healing knee" but it's delivered so gingerly I doubt it's going to drive out a devil, let alone knock out teeth. It doesn't stop the recipient from thrashing around like a freshly landed fish, though. As a final indignity a red cloth is thrown over his collapsed body for reasons unknown.

Las Vegas crowd speaking with one voice: "KNEE!!!"

More people collapse from head touching in grainy footage full of obese Americans. Crazy religion, violence and obesity: now I know what the average European envisions when they imagine the U.S.A. Bentley convulses as if he's auditioning for the next Crank movie. The music ends. We finish with a final bit of wisdom from this Holy Man: "Anybody that steps into it...uhhhhhh!!!...gets it!" Yeah, no kidding.

Komment Korner

She didn't fall under the power of God you idiot ! You knocked her out.


demons on acid

Photo shopped.


Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Part One of "Creeper"

I got the idea when I couldn’t remember her name. It was one of those moments of extreme clarity when unrelated threads come together in a surprising way, revealing a suddenly obvious answer in a flash of genius. A moment of invention and inspiration, a divine gift received from an unknown hand. I wanted to stand up and shout, to completely embrace this moment of transcendence, but this would violate the laws of semi-formal dining and obviously this was the last thing I’d ever want to do.
I think her name was Jenny or Jenna or some variation on that theme. If she had noticed my moment of prescience there was no outward indication, as the soft droning about a human resources career continued. In a bit of serendipity it was that very choice of topic that reminded me of my own highly stimulating employment and led to The Revelation. That was the thing: it had been right in front of my face the entire time. I guess the solution, no matter how obscure, always seems simple once it is revealed.
“Well?” Shit, I was expected to engage in actual human interaction with this delightful collage of legs, breast, lips and so on. Just don’t panic, that was the trick. With enthusiasm from the discovery threatening to explode at any moment into socially awkward elation I needed to play this one close.
“Well, people are just crazy sometimes. There’s nothing to do about it.” She made a non-committal clicking noise before tucking back into pricey, nicely arranged vittles. Kick is up, kick is good.  
I settled my gaze on breasts that were about 80% exposed. Yeah, that’s nice. It pulled me back into the moment, at least a little bit. Get some of that blood out of the brain. My own meal, some sort of steak mix, was growing cold, largely uneaten. Let it go, let it go.
She talked some more about something or other. I guess the remains of the night really have blurred down to just a few impressions. I’m almost certain I still got her name wrong at the apartment door, destroying any lingering possibility of canine postures. It didn’t even matter. With the new way, the unexpected invention, the future looked bright for the first time in a long time.

*    *    *    *
I was supposed to be working, but you know how it is. There’s maybe an hour of actual tasks, but it’s always spread out over eight. Client wants this, client wants that, rich old boy needs help using the big boy bathroom or is afraid a dinosaur might get him. In between these crises where they’re losing a billion dollars a second and it’s all up to me to save the day there’s the big empty. Sit behind the desk, wear uncomfortable clothes and look busy. These are the main qualifications for the new world we’re entering.
With a few purposeful key strokes, the vision of the previous evening began to align itself with the physical reality. The spreadsheet format was going to be perfect, that was for sure. If anything this idea was too good, as I found myself getting carried away with the amount of possible data. Keep it under control for now. You can always add more, right? It’s the taking away that’s so fucking hard. I had name fields, occupation fields, maybe a few that would track the progress of the dates. Interests? Personality? I wondered if that was even needed, what with all the similarity. Put it in the “maybe” category for now.
Things were shaping up nicely when a silk-clad form burst through my door. Another emergency. The Patriot Manufacturing Corp.stock was crashing. Apparently their factory in China was moving to Bangladesh or Bora Bota or something and investors were in a lather over it. It wasn’t going to lose any real value, probably come out ahead. Time to call the client, give assurances, burp him and change him. The project would have to wait.

*    *    *    *

Real progress! I had three dates with three different women last week and had no problem keeping track of all those little details like names and so on. I was actually surprised at just how easy it was, as if a small corner of my mind where the inner critic dwells still doubts the miracle, even as I’m striding over the water. That little voice of doubt has fallen silent now and for good reason.
It’s so easy. I just review the spreadsheet for an hour or so at the office before each night out. To an untrained eye it even looks like I’m actually doing something from the job description. The way the data is organized, it doesn’t even seem like effort to process it. Then, like magic, it’s ready at critical moments later on. I remember that she loves the little brown people or isn’t religious but very spiritual or whatever the exact bullshit is. You get the idea.
I was tossing these thoughts playfully back and forth on the train home when I saw the meltdown. Real scary stuff, oh yes. It’s all about a girl, of course. There’s this ice bitch that always seems to be on the same car with me when I’m heading home. You know the type, real pretty, nose either in the air or buried in a book, right in that sweet spot of life we all think is going to last forever. I tried to talk to her once, months ago, ask about the book. Yeah, I know. “What are you reading? Looks interesting,” just brutal. She didn’t even answer. Kind of turned her body to face away without actually leaving the seat. I flew solo that night.
Anyway, this other guy decided he’d try to solve this one piece puzzle. I missed the first part, because I was deep in the self-satisfied waking slumber, but the wailing exploding out of this guy brought me back quick. He was a college-type, all scruffy face and well-worn clothes, basically a bum but with still something to hope for and maybe slightly less fucked-up. He was getting loud. “You can at least talk to me! My mom just died last week! You fucking bitch! Bitch!”
That little transcript probably isn’t entirely accurate, you know poetic license and fuzzy memory and all. It’s probably not too far off. He kept yelling about female dogs and dead mothers, getting louder and louder. She just sat there like the rock of Gibraltar or something, maybe trying to chameleon into the seat, who knows. Eventually he just wore out from hitting all those high notes and got off at the next stop.
I guess I had a fair amount of sympathy. There but for the grace of and shit like that. I mean, he was just trying to “man up” like the television is always saying. Maybe take her out for milkshakes or ice skating but none of that will happen when no one is willing to recognize your humanity or even the fact that you’re made of matter and displacing part of the atmosphere. Then you’ll graduate and go nowhere and if you thought you were unattractive to the fairer sex now just wait until you’re a balding, impotent, under-employed forty year-old that spends every morning with a gun in his mouth and every night passed out drunk on the cheap stuff.
Luckily for me, I’d cracked the code. Lied my way into a decent bit of employment, put this foul-smelling foam on my melon twice a day to keep the crowning glory and pop little pills with letters on them so that blood will enter the third leg. And don’t forget the spreadsheets. I even felt a rush of inspiration, right there amongst the dregs and lost, the damned and forgotten. I popped out that lap top and got down on it.       

Well-washed hands flashed over the keypad, hammering out truth to power. “Bus Girl (name unknown). Likes: Reading, Being Left Alone. Dislikes: Being Screamed At, Being Talked to in Any Way.” Not bad, not bad at all. The motherless screamer would be avenged. By hook or by crook, I’m going to fuck that bitch.
And many others! Maybe even find a wife before nature really finishes me off. House and kids, fence and pies, all through the miracle of the age. Satisfied, I turned off the laptop and watched the city lights for awhile. 

*    *    *    *

The second and concluding portion will be posted next week Wednesday. My First novel "The Foolchild Invention is currently available.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Freeway Warrior: Highway Holocaust

I always aim to be as topical as possible, chasing those latest trends with that special sort of desperation found in someone that's always one step behind. That's why today I'll be playing through a gamebook published in 1988 that was intended for that era's 12-year-olds with undiagnosed social anxiety issues. I've always had a soft spot for these books, so let's enjoy pointless nostalgia and the heavy irony of a grown-ass man making wisecracks and pretending to be cool while playing through a book aimed at children that came out during the Reagan administration. Through the miracle of the internet you can try it too and bathe in second-hand ironic coolness.

The "Freeway Warrior" series is not, as you might expect, a harrowing journey into the daily commute of some nine-to-five-nothing. Instead, it's Mad Max Americanized via England, with all the names and numbers covered over with black tape or turned inside out like the time I wore a "Metal Up Your Ass" shirt to junior high. The Brit who wrote this once won a Dungeons and Dragons contest, so you know you're in good hands. He also wrote quite a few books set in more conventional fantasy settings that I'll probably do at some point.

We get off to a hot start with some amazing background material delivered via a timeline. Remember back in 2008 when both the President of the U.S.A. and Secretary of the Supreme Soviet (both Obama, haw haw) were assassinated at an emergency summit? Or for that matter the 2009 imprisonment of HAVOK agents in "deep pens?" It's fun to imagine the sort of protests we would have had over putting people into deep pens and so on. Or for that matter the 2008 Truth Movement we'd probably get.

No More Deep Pens! HAVOK is a government false flag!

The upshot of this is that nuclear holocaust destroys the world, setting up the best sort of post-apocalypse scenario. Face facts, after the bomb is far cooler than lame zombie holocausts and don't even get me started on the "so far past lame if you were standing on lame you'd need a telescope to see it" loss of electricity apocalypse where people make complicated devices like crossbows but have forgotten how to make, say, batteries. 

Anyway, gale force winds, dust storms, and finally radiation settles to "tolerable levels" and survivors try to pick up the pieces. My character is one of those survivors, a man named Cal Phoenix (Get it? Clever.) On a Texas vacation your oilman Uncle was all "want to visit a nuclear-bomb resistant underground complex?" and through that lucky coincidence Cal survived the nuclear war to become humanity's last, best hope. With skills like "refining gasoline" and "shooting" he's a pretty major force, to say the least. His first task is to try to link up with another colony of survivors to exchange supplies and prepare to flee to California (which somehow wasn't wrecked by nukes???). Sounds easy enough.

Don't mess with post-apocalyptic Texas.

Time to roll up some stats. My Close Combat Skills is 18 with an Endurance of 24, pretty good numbers. Out of the "Survival Skills" I put points in Stealth, Driving and Perception starting with a 5,4,4 in these and 3s in Shooting and Field Craft. For items I take a Geiger Counter (there's "tolerable" levels of radiation out there), a compass, binoculars and three meals (you have to eat). Carrying all this stuff like a post-apocalyptic bag lady reduces Stealth by one to four. I start with four med-kits, which can be used to heal myself or others. You get a knife for "close combat" and a choice of one "missile weapon" or as we might call them on this continent, guns. I take a rifle. You only get four bullets, so the shots are going to have to count.

The adventure starts with some guy named "Long Jake" scouting ahead of your Road Warrior-style convoy. He hits the jackpot be finding rifles, ammunition and a teenage girl (!) but his truck breaks down. "Trust Jake to go an' maroon hi'self with a gal!" grumbles Uncle Jonas, wryly. It's my job to find him and presumably, prevent any inter-generational sex from occurring.

When you find the missing individuals the author is quick to assure us that she looks eighteen. Honest, officer. No time to dwell on it, because we're being shot at by unseen villains. Running back to my "roadster" to make a cowardly retreat leads to a fight with a "renegade" which I guess are the "orcs" of this setting. He dies in fairly short order.

Unable to drive off, I have to run for cover, getting shot in the process. I'm down to 16 Endurance. There's just enough time to learn that we're dealing with evil "yankees" before I shoot some generic mook trying to sneak up from the back. In the process Long Jake dies, but the jailbait is safe, so it's a net win. She even talks: ‘This dude you've wasted has some real mean kin. They'll soon get to wonderin' what's hap'ning in here and'll come to check us out." The U.S.A. as imagined by a European, ladies and gentlemen.What hap'ens next is we run to the car and drive off.

We learn the girl has a name (Kate) and is fleeing from a gang from Detroit called the Lions (!) led by Mad-Dog Michigan (!!!) who turns out to be a Deep Pen escapee. Man, all that seemingly unimportant back story is really coming together into a highly satisfying story of futuristic action-adventure. Anyway, the entire gang of ex-HAVOK agents and general hard cases are going to be looking for her. Complications!

On two we try to get some under-aged action. Break!

Remember that unnamed, generic and presumably completely unimportant minion I wasted with my rifle? Well, I'm informed by Kate that he's Mad Dog Michigan's Brother. Whoops.

Time to burn the ranch and move the colony. I drive ahead into Denton and certain danger. Or at least I sense said danger with my Phoenix Senses or whatever. Better use those binoculars...motorcycle smoke! Fearing a possible encounter with the Grandsons of Anarchy (it's the FUTURE) I advise the convoy to avoid Denton. 

Take a Drink. Yeah, the book makes you do that. Realism with a capital R, friends.

A trip over a dry lake is uneventful and we find the highway afterwards. But first: It leads to the ruins of a once prestigious building—the North Texas State University. Yes! Time to search the Texas Harvard for useful items!

It just screams "prestige."

I find some NaCl, but a failed perception roll leads me to believe that ordinary salt might be "dangerous chemicals." Civilization's last hope, right here. Back to more exciting driving and map reading. Unfortunately the bridge I picked has a "manned barricade." The solution is a half-baked plan to use a school bus as a battering ram. During this process a car is sent flying straight at me.

Great plan, really.

Incredibly some lucky rolling gets me out with nothing but "facial wounds." I apply some med-kits to the facial region. I pass on a chance to explore an Air Force Base (it's no North Texas U). Eat a meal. More driving. All the action of an endless road trip, in book format!

I'm diverted to investigate a radio signal. No, it isn't Three Dog. Instead it's the skeletal remains of "Dr. Drool."

Doctorate in Heavy Metal from North Texas, Beloved Radio Personality, R.I.P.

 The convoy is attacked at night by "bikers" and only a good roll saves me from being sucked underneath one of their murdercycles. A quick fight leaves me with 13 Endurance. I knife three bikers in rapid succession, which is both bad-ass and highly improbable. More gunfire is avoided and I use the old "scream to make him think you're dead" trick. Yeah, that old one.

I take a moment to contemplate the destruction of the small town of Thurber, but stop short of a "you blew it up, you maniacs" type emotional collapse. Then I'm distracted by a flickering light and must go check it out. This guy is all over the place. 

I don't have any light, so I fall into a gully. The savior of humanity. Nearly killed by my own idiocy and lack of planning I use all my med-kits but one. I'm able to climb out of the gully without further incident, preventing an ignominious end. "Here lies Cal Phoenix, Hero of Humanity. Slew countless evil bikers and crazed renegades. Killed by a gully because he thought walking around in total darkness was a good idea."

More dangerous than gun-wielding killers.

I follow the light to a cave and am rewarded for my curiosity by meeting a bizarre man in "evil-smelling rags." He offers a "rat steak" that is politely refused by our hero. Somehow he knows about our troubles and will get the needed part if I agree to a proposition. Oh-Kay. The words "no homo" come to mind.

Seems legit.

He wants to join the convoy. Deal. Surprisingly having an evil-smelling, half-insane shaman join doesn't win me any popularity. He points us toward a likely location, but it's currently in the hands of "renegades" who were recently whomped by some character named Mekong Mike. They call themselves "The Skulls" because of their shaved heads. They probably wear Affliction shirts and hold advanced degrees in Tap Out, too. Sigh. Is is ever easy? Suffice it to say, I'm in charge of this rather poorly conceived raid.

I sneak up through an ally and avoid a poorly drawn patrol of Skulls. Honestly, look at this shit:

The regular artist was sick that day.

I find a bottle of bourbon...could be useful...maybe? We're about to get the part from an old school bus when I get attacked by some random goof. I have to use my last Med-kit afterwards, giving me 13 Endurance. We get out with the part! Then we encounter a hole in the road. After being nearly killed by a similar danger I take every precaution. I'm attacked by rabid dogs! Rifle fire scares them off, but I'm down to one bullet. I talk to two doomed Rad-Vics (instead of getting super powers they've been poisoned by radiation) and give them a med-kit I don't actually have.

Pursued by bikers I order the convoy south, then take damage from salt loss. Good thing I knew to avoid those "dangerous chemicals" back at the Lone Star State's answer to Yale. I walk into a town and suffer the indignity of being lassoed. The Guardian of Texas does it again. I'm disarmed by individuals who resemble "red indians" I once saw in something called a "book." 

Every possible Native American stereotype is deployed and then they declare their intention to sacrifice me to "The Spirit of Thunder." Good grief. Lacking a saw or signal flare it looks like I'm boned, but I somehow get free during the sacrifice attempt. The dice have really been kind to me.

Meet interesting people from ancient cultures; kill them.

And my luck promptly runs out and he kills me in the ensuing fight. Too bad, I was starting to think I had a chance of reaching the end. This book has been described as extremely difficult, but I didn't really get that impression. I guess I did get some good rolls to avoid random deaths. With better item choices I could have avoided the situations that kicked my ass. 

...and that's how the last hope of the human race got killed by an insane, heavily stereotyped "Thunder Spirit" worshiper. Still more dignified than being killed by a gully.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

DotTeeVee: Albany Crossfit Strongman The Worst Weightlifting Video in the History of Weightlifting Videos

Whenever I hear something described as "worst ever" my immediate response is "how bad could it be, really?" People do tend to exaggerate. Honestly, there can be only one worst in the entire world and the competition is fierce. This has to be just limp hyperbole in a pathetic bid to get views.

Then I saw the word "crossfit." Let's watch.

We get off to a stumbling start as the logo for Albany Crossfit appears. It looks more like a Soviet propaganda poster than anything else. Cast down your kettlebells, comrades! We will now all be equal in a glorious lifter's paradise!

Their exercise ideas work about as well as communism, as we will see.

Crossfitters of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but working rotator cuffs.

We're quickly introduced to what will be the reoccurring motif for this video: young ladies attempting to lift weights that are too heavy for them with truly awful form. Our first contestant quickly sets the tone by attempting what a youtube commentator who was down-voted back to the stone age called a "continental clean." It consists of awkwardly raising the bar to mid-abdomen, switching your grip, arching your back for maximum damage, snapping the weight up to the shoulders for additional spinal destruction and then failing to press it. In the case of this first girl said failure comes first as the conventional "too heavy, back down slowly" sort and then nearly results in the bar landing on her head. Yikes.

The international judges declare "no lift."

Without any extra time wasted on the spectacular and dangerous failure we just witnessed it's time to meet the next victim "Jenna" who clearly "has this" according to faceless, disinterested supporters. She's very skinny, has a deer-in-the-headlights expression and bends like a human gumby during the awkward abdominal roll and grip change portion of the "continental clean." Suffice it to say she fails miserably.

So far, so good.

The next woman crossfitter has the dubious honor of the worst attempt of the entire video, as she can't get past the grip exchange, although if it's any consolation she looked like she was in a lot of pain and that's the whole point of exercise, right? We must suffer and hurt ourselves.

Next up we get another "so close!" did not qualify from a blonde who starts laughing halfway through and then is told by a faceless well-wisher to "jerk it." That's the part I would have laughed at. Well, that and her overall form.

Being able to walk upright in later life is over-rated, giggle, giggle.

After four straight scratches in the women's division, it's time to inject some testosterone into this mess by bringing in the manly men, the Spartans. Much like the Olympics, the men's portion is treated as a bit of an afterthought, although in this case with good reason. For example our first gentleman competitor is advised to have "fast hips" and proceeds to completely ignore that advice.  Instead he begins to fail just like the ladies, but then remembers he has 50% more upper body muscle and just awkwardly forces the lift, presumably causing significant tissue and ligament damage in the process. But think of the glory! He even grunts!!!!

As if to initiate a sort of "anything you can do, I can do better" type rivalry it's right back to the skinny, scared young lady from earlier! This time she manages to complete the lift in defiance of every expectation which earns tepid applause from the other ladies. Their thought process probably is mostly "I hate her so much because she's skinny and young" rather than the socially prescribed "Good job, Becca!" 

"You got the got the power..."

Time for the men to step up again and I had to check to make sure I wasn't caught in some sort of time bounce that causes recent events to replay themselves over and over while all free will and human agency is lost. Luckily, that was not the case. Unluckily it's another prematurely aged goof grunting and straining his way to success after concepts like "good form" were utterly abandoned.

We check in briefly with the ladies, where the next contestant effortlessly does the lift. Seriously, she doesn't even seem to be trying very hard. Way to make everyone else look even worse, Crissy.

Back to the men and failure is the order of the day in a sequence that calls to mind Ivan Drago's lift in front of the press in Rocky IV. Apparently if the Soviet Superman had been a crossfitter he would have failed the lift with a disappointed and wimpy sigh, the fight would have been cancelled, Rocky wouldn't have taught the world that we can change and two men killing each other in a ring is better than two nations killing each other and you and everyone you care about would have been devoured by Atomic Fire.

Yes, crossfit would have caused a nuclear holocaust if it had existed in the eighties. Our "paleo" diet would be forced on us by a rapid return to the stone age, rather than modern fad. 

Enough about that, because it's time to meet the real star of the video, a girl named "Jess" who will mimic the punishment of Sisyphus for our amusement. Her first two failures follow the established script of being "so very close" having no clue about proper technique and getting useless and insincere advice and encouragement. But then, it's time to activate Honey Badger Mode as she growls, demands another attempt and basically acts more masculine than any of the men we'll see. She gets complimented for being an "animal" by the blonde from earlier, who kind of ruins the compliment by cackling like a crazy witch immediately after giving it. We're just getting started.

If you or a loved one is struggling with crossfit, we can help...

We're promised "double footage!" by our narrator/camera operator, but instead we get a guy in questionable shape doing the lift with a minimum of grunting and/or straining. Better get more weight on there, it's supposed to look like a death struggle when it's done right. Then the guy who made me think of Rocky IV is back, but fuck him because a THREE LEGGED DOG walks into the shot. What. The. Fuck.

Albany Crossfit: for all your voodoo medicine bag needs. The teeth of a three legged dog, the tears of a middle-aged man and four hairs from someone who recently hurt their back. Put it in a cloth bag and bury it over an unmarked grave. You should get the desires of your heart in less than one week's time. 

If you believe, that is.

"Yup, I lost it at a crossfit obedience school."

Skinny guy turns red and, eventually, completes his press. Yay?

We're rewarded with more Jess. In an inspired editing decision we join her mid-failure, but this "animal" is just beginning the hunt. "Let the bar rise above your head," blondie offers in a bizarre non-sequitur. Suffice it to say, the bar fails to rise above the head of our crossfitting anti-hero.

The only thing rising is my insurance premiums.

Even our dorky cameraman can't resist calling out the "rise above your head" nonsense after Jess's predictable failure. The blonde bubble head responds by repeating the line, but this time with an affected ethnic accent! It calls to mind Hilary Clinton's infamous "I is in no ways tarred" speech.

Come for the crossfit, stay for the degrading ethnic caricatures.

We have to give Jess another try after that abortion. I'm pretty sure the Olympic rule is that if some airhead says something unbelievably moronic right before you start your lift the failure isn't counted against you. That should be the rule if it isn't. This time Jess is told to "pop and drop" which sounds like something many of the "athletes" in this video will soon experience if they don't learn to do the lifts correctly. Major spoiler: she fails again. 

"Why am I so close?" demands Jess. "Because God hates you," would be a funny rejoinder to that, but that's not what we get, sadly.

We waste some valuable Jess time watching some other girl finish the lift, then it's back for more with our favorite crossfit "animal." The advice for this round: "drop lower!" No prizes for guessing the outcome.

You're still not low enough!

We leave the whole Jess debacle to watch some gentlemen with aggressive beer bellies. Nothing says "practical fitness" and "pushing yourself to the limit" like awkwardly balancing a bar on your huge gut while another bloated individual watches approvingly.

No, I'm in excellent crossfit shape. This is just experimental male pregnancy.

There's a little more of the men's division, but honestly I'm pretty numb at this point. Bars rising above your head. Deformed dogs. Injuring yourself for no good reason. It becomes spiritually oppressive after awhile, although I managed to make it to the end, staring through glazed over eyes at the folly of humanity and the self-inflicted misery we're capable of.

So, was it the worst weightlifting video ever? Yes. Yes, it was. It's going to take a lot of time around a squat rack to erase the awful memories of this fucking abomination. 

Here it is for your viewing displeasure. Enjoy. Let it just rise above your head. Rise, rise...


Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Excerpt From "The Foolchild Invention"

No one had contacted me yet and I was adrift, left again to my own devices and my own fairly agreeable company. They say we’re all connected, that we’re all made from the same stuff, that we’re not islands of protoplasm. I had trouble with that, as my natural state seemed to be isolation and alienation. It felt good. It was only when I tried to leave this safety that everything goes fucking crazy. As a private citizen I’m not going to hurt anyone that isn’t a video game enemy.
The country was going down the toilet. I’d been somewhat aware of this process, but my own rise to power had obviously taken precedence. I’ve got mine, after all. Now I finally took notice of the rot that seemed to be devouring everything. It’s funny how easy that rot is to ignore when it’s always happening to someone else. Nothing bad ever happens to me. I’ve even got an actual paying job and a steady source of in-out.

Our great nation, the only nation other than ancient Babylon ever created by the direct will of a deity, was on the ropes. The credit status had been downgraded and no one had any solutions. I’m pretty sure that guy who looks like he’s been embalmed who sells bankruptcy advice doesn’t take on jobs this big. The president gave a speech. “We’re still a great country. This downgrade doesn’t change that.” Yeah. We’ll just change the meaning of words. Plusgood.

They probably gave speeches like that in the final days of Rome. “Friends and citizens! We are still Romans and we are still a mighty empire, even if that empire can now be measured in square feet. Today we will battle a much larger army of bloodthirsty barbarians, but we’ll somehow win because heaven likes us more. Now let’s go die for our beloved child emperor.” QED.

There was only one main point to take away from all of this. Harper was right. We were on the cutting edge of the new economy. In a few years we might even diversify into brigandage and the cutting edge sacking and burning technology. An exciting time to be alive for a man willing to take the big risks to soar with the eagles.

After nearly a week, the doorbell signaled the beginning of Round Two in the big fight to become heavyweight champion of the societal collapse division. There was a fresh rush of panic and a profound difficulty in maintaining my usual noble bearing. The call of history, the pen that would write the future was calling and it was hard to maintain comforting numbness in the face of it. All the joystick and moron box and meaningless sexual intercourse in the world was powerless against the hand of fate knocking on the door, the bell tolling for thee and all that other bullshit.
The visitor was presumably the third man that had been delegated the less than desirable task of performing scenes from the most fucked up Babysitter’s Club book ever written. I’d offer a description worthy of such a cornerstone of the bold future but the truth was this new honored guest at Casa Del Lotus Eater wasn’t exceptional in any way and I forgot his face long before becoming accustomed to it. As best as I can recall he was your typical generic white male professional, the eternal middle manager who loves the local sports team, has a mostly adequate marriage and maybe a skeleton or two like disliking the colored people or being a serial rapist or the like. Nice to know that kidnapping rings produce the same sort of midlevel drone that you find in every other cutting edge field. Change and continuity, powerful forces at work.

The gist of the message was I’d be working an evening shift, which was unusual in and of itself because firstly I never worked an evening and secondly because I’d never worked an actual shift. There would probably have been even more oddities to his statements if they weren’t so brief and forgettable. I assured my partner in crime that it would not be a problem rescheduling the usual late night snacking and onanism to perform my contractually agreed upon tasks. With that, he was gone.
Then time jumped forward again. It was well after that duck-faced pervert finishes the late show, probably the small hours of the morning. I was moving through the streets of the suburban business district, weaving around buildings and through alleys behind independently owned businesses. Everything lay dormant, the only lights came from the street lamps. There was no traffic, car or otherwise. It was easy to imagine that some bird plague or neutron bomb or call home from the old man in the sky had taken all human life just recently. I was the Last Man, somehow immune to a radiation bath or the finger of Jehovah. Even the corner bars showed no activity. It had to be very late. I scaled a small fence and cut behind a locksmith. In a moment of clarity I remembered that this particular business had sponsored my little league team when I was ten. The logo was on the back of our jerseys, complete with a little five pointed star symbolizing law and order. After all, is there anything that says civilization more than a lock? The triumph of private property, the ability to protect the fruits of my labor, to own your efforts, meritocracy, everyone does what they’re best at. That’s the world I want.
My body seemed to know where it was going and I didn’t resist the pull of the autopilot. When I was in junior high I had a combination lock that I opened by feel. I completely forgot the numbers, my hand just knew what to do from muscle memory. That’s how that nocturnal skulking felt. The mortal prison had its own volition. My friend reason, what remained of him, was restricted to drifting into the past, thinking about little league and lock companies and “no batter, no batter” and you struck out again and his face will be like that forever and on and on. Somewhere a dog was barking. It could have been miles away, the night was that still. It did cause a momentary flash of panic. The last thing I need was a battle against the soulless canines of the dead world.
I turned a corner, passing under a globe that presented the continents in a manner that wasn’t strictly accurate, geographically speaking. For one thing, the real planet doesn’t have “Almost Ordinary Bar” written across parts of what might have been central Asia a hundred million years ago. Get with the times, man. Pangea is so last geologic age. Everyone is about discrete individual continents now, none of this lame single land mass jive. We be plate tectonicing.
Moving out of the dim light generated by the bizarre globe I picked my way through the inky blackness of the adjacent parking lot and then cut back into another alley. “Almost there.” The thought came and went in a flash, accepted as fact without any proof. The horse knows the way, just let it have its head and show a little faith. I took one final hard right and found myself facing a battery of dumpsters. This is it.

Being careful not to play on or around the impressive disposal technology I skulked into a dark corner. There it was. It was one of those brown grocery bags that looked like it had been used repeatedly, possibly in an attempt to save our world from the endless rapine of Mother Man. Paper, not plastic. Still moving on instinct, I carefully unfolded the object of my night quest. The expectations were quickly confirmed: it was filled to the brim with neatly banded Federal Reserve run-off. This was the stuff dreams are built from, right here. I tucked it under an arm like a new born inflation baby and prepared to melt back into the shadows.
“Who the fuck ar’ ya?” Oh no, I’ve been discovered! Possible ninja scenarios flashed through my mind as an unidentified mass of carbon-based material wrapped in filthy cloth staggered into my field of vision. Better kill him quick, before my cover is further compromised. Maybe a face full of poison powder or a throwing star to the forehead or the old staff-sword into the guts. Then I remembered that none of these options were actually available. I didn’t even have the old Saturday evening six to blast my way out of this.
“What you got there?” For a second I made out a fat unshaven peasant face as the figure passed through the halo of a nearby streetlight. Ok, it is a human being. We can dismiss the theory of being attacked by intelligent gas blobs from Pluto. Which wasn’t to say this individual didn’t have at least some gas blob tendencies, but his origin was far less exotic. “You hearin’ me? What you got dar?”
“It’s nothing. I was just leaving.” It was the type of situation where popping some Mentos would not have been inappropriate, but again I was shocking under-equipped. This is what happens when you’re not allowed to be in the Boy Scouts because your parents think they’ll have to drive your troop around and they can’t afford the gas or whatever the weak excuse was. This. Right here. If only my ten year old self could foresee this future problem and make the most convincing argument possible. “You don’t want my human meat racket to fall apart because I didn’t know the importance of proper preparation, do you?” Of course you don’t.
And there I was, in a fix. So close to successful and lucrative criminality, but so very far away.
“You got a bottle, don’t ya? Let me have a pull.” I noted the all-American beer belly stretching a stained shirt displaying the corporate logo of a professional sporting concern. There would be rich irony there, if it wasn’t such a common bit of dissonance. Even standing near the latest advances in waste management solutions I could still clearly discriminate the rich bouquet of sweat and domestic beer emanating from the threat to successful bag-manning.
 “Gimme the fucking bottle!” Furry arms worthy of an out-of-shape bruin extended toward my retirement found, the stained white meat of grease-coated hands seeming to glow in the poor illumination. I tried to pull a move worthy of a Nice Fucking Life running back by evading the rush with a quick spin move. It didn’t quite come off and I collided with the lover of the grain and forsaker of the soap sending both of us crashing to the filth encrusted pavement. How come all my crimes seem to end up with short trips and bad landings? My inner ears were good last time I checked. Maybe that undiagnosed Uncontrollable Falling Down Syndrome needs to finally be addressed and deadened by taking colorful pills that cause impotence and self-wetting. But hey, at least you’re not slapping skin with the ground so often. There is, after all, a strong correlation between successful extortion schemes and the ability to maintain verticality.


The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble. The paperback edition is coming soon.