Saturday, August 29, 2015

Flash! Friday: The Hero + Death By Acme

by Michael Seese

Another week of Flash! Friday x2.

This week’s novel inspiration, from one fellowship to another: Lord of the Rings. I don't think I need to tell you what it's about.

The story elements are:


* Conflict: man v man
* Character (choose one): an uncrowned king, an ordinary person tangled in epic events, an immortal sacrificing immortality for love’s sake, a wizard battling a higher-ranked wizard, a princess disguised as a soldier, a humble gardener
* Theme (choose one): good triumphs over evil, courage, power of friendship, beauty cannot last
* Setting (choose one): long road en route to a volcano, a beautiful forest


We also were allowed to use this picture























though you may have noticed that of late, I have not. The character of the ordinary person tangled in epic events appealed to me, and led to "The Hero."


A hero? Bullshit.

I'm just a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. And a guy who, almost a year removed from that day, still wakes in a lake of my own sweat at least once a week. With the anniversary approaching, I imagine the local paper will seek me out, sit me down at a coffeeshop, and make me die through the day all over again.

I was walking home after my shift at the diner. A whim of providence killed the wind. If it hadn't, I never would have heard her.

"Somebody help me."

It was easy to find her. I followed the skid marks off the road, through the trees, to the pond. Only the roof of the car remained visible. I dove in. Through the rear window, cracked open just a bit, I saw two desperate doe eyes. The water was lapping at her chin, and ready to drink the rest of her.

"Don't worry, I said. "I'll get you out of there."

"I'm scared," was all she said.

"I don't blame you. What's your name?"

"Pamela."

"Everything will be fine, Pamela." I tried to open the door. It wouldn't budge, which I expected. "Close your eyes a minute, Pamela." I grabbed the luggage rack, and managed to build up enough force to kick out the window. I reached in, took hold of her collar, and yanked her out just as the car sank to the bottom.

When we got to the shore, the EMS was waiting.

So, am I hero? They asked me that back then. They'll ask me again now. And I'll answer with words that have plagued me, gnawed at me, for nearly a year.

"To that girl, to 14-year-old Pamela Akers, I guess I am a hero. But a real hero would've realized she was in the back seat, and thought to get the driver, her mother, out too."

Originally I thought I'd write a happy story, one where nobody dies. Then I thought...


NAH!

After completing that one, I looked again at the prompts. "A humble gardener" stood out. So I then wrote "Death By Acme."


He appeared in my sights, steadily looming larger as the distance between us shrank. His manner, his stride exuded pure confidence. One might even say cockiness. Deservedly so. For he knew he would get what he wanted. He always did. Though my trusty shotgun lay by my side, I realized it would be useless against him. He was damned near immortal.


Watching him approach, I got a sense of how Lee's Army must have felt during the waning days of the War, retreating in fear as Sherman's troops advanced, knowing there wasn't a damn thing they could do.


Looking at him, at his diminutive stature, I couldn't help but wonder. How? How did he do it? How did he survive so many attempts on his life with nary a scratch, while those who opposed him fell like little yellow birds in a coal mine? His mere presence here meant the others had failed. And I realized that I was our last line of defense. I, a simple gardener, was all that stood between him and our food stores.


He hopped over the fence with ease, and plucked a luscious Daucus Carota from the ground. He consumed it with a greedy gusto, before looking at me with animated eyes.


"What's u--"


Click!


Shotgun, handgun, rifle, knife, garrote, bear trap, dynamite, hole painted on the ground. It didn't matter. No tactic, no weapon employed by those who had gone before me seemed capable of killing him.


But that Acme Land Mine sure did the trick.

After the smoke cleared, the air smelled of hasenpfeffer, a dish my master – the king – loved. Collecting the smoldering pieces of that wascally wabbit, I smiled and said, "Merle Fudd, you have managed to do something amazing. Something that Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, and your brother Elmer never could." 
 

So we'll see how I fared on Monday.

 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Flash! Friday: Playing With Fire & The Storm

by Michael Seese

I could have done a lot with this week's Flash! Friday.  

As always, of late, this picture was optional.

 















Required was the novel inspiration: Canterbury Tales, a collection of tales by a troupe of pilgrims. The story elements were:

* Conflict: man v man
* Character (choose one): a knight on a quest, a patient wife, a treacherous wife, three foolish gamblers, a talking rooster, a saint who survives execution
* Theme(s) (choose one): subterfuge, corruption, justice, pranks, courtly love
* Setting: long road en route to a shrine

That's a light of characters. Alas, we can only enter two stories. I wanted to come up with something allegorical, so I wrote "Playing With Fire."


Long after the wine had begun flowing, and shortly before it would spill, three boastful tongues wagged as they bluffed their way through the game. The antes escalated, as did the tenor of the conversation. It started innocently enough...

"You two need me," said one. "You know you do."

"We got along just fine without you," said the second, sounding slightly sloshed.

"I agree. You did," the first countered. "But you've gotten soft. Now, I support you. I give you a bed to lie in."

"You may be strong, grounded. But in time, I can wear you down."

"Ooh! I'm trembling."

The third finally spoke.

"You both seem to forget," he said, coolly, "that I was here at the beginning. Well before either of you came along."

"That may be so, old man. But I could crush you now."

"And I could snuff you out like that."

Their insouciance proved too much. His temper flared, and he upended the table, scattering the cards. Seeing the smolder in his eyes, they realized they had crossed a line.

The Earth quaked.

Water started running at the mouth, babbling words he hoped would placate their friend. But his anger was not to be extinguished.

"Game over," said Fire, striking a match.



Then something more down to earth in "The Storm."


I barricaded the basement door, and huddled in the relative safety of a corner, holding my little one close. I struggled to stifle the tremble that seemed intent on burrowing through my body, starting at my extremities, not stopping until it took root in my heart. I needed to be, or at least appear to be, brave for him.

We sat in silence as the storm raged above us. Mikey shuddered each time a plate shattered, or a chair splintered.

"Do you think my Legos will be OK?" he asked.

"Tell you what. If anything happens to them, I'll get you new ones."

"Really? Even the Star Wars AT-AT?"

"Anything you want, little man."

A momentary lull tricked me into believing the storm had passed. But it was just gathering steam, building to the next onslaught.

"Where the fuck are you!" Though slurred, the words clearly conveyed the sobriety of the threat.

"Ooh! I heard an F-word," Mikey said.

"I know. Don't repeat it. Ever. Not at school. And certainly not in front of Grandma. Promise?"

"Promise. I'm scared, Daddy."

"I am, too. But don't worry. It will be over soon. And in the morning, Mommy won't remember a thing. She never does. You'll see."



It was weird writing about an abusive, drunken wife, as wife is neither. But the prompt didn't say a "treacherous husband...."

There is no Janet contest, so this is it for the week.

Thoughts?


Friday, August 21, 2015

Castle: "Hollander's Woods"

by Michael Seese

"It's about time!" I know you're saying. Two words: summer vacation.




 












Speaking personally, the wait was worth it. "Hollander's Woods" was a taut thriller. First of all, anything with "woods" in the title can't be good. And like many of the darker Castle episodes, the directors used lighting and camera angles as an effective mood element. The two scenes that stand out in my mind:

So I should say... SPOILERS!

- The interrogation. To me it looked as though the characters were lit from below, which always gives the demon-face effect. (For example, Baltar from the original BattleStar Galactica). Though it's possible the lighting was from directly overhead. Hard to say. And as always, I'm too lazy to go back and re-watch.) Plus, the way they shot Noah from slightly below was creepy.

- The scene where Castle and Beckett were interviewing Dr. Holtzman. Though better said, Castle was interrogating him. Here, they used tight camera angles and side lighting, if memory serves. And I loved Holtzman's measured responses to Castle's questions as he commented on the mask being the true face of the killer, while face he wears every day being false the false one.

Kudos to me, and my wife: as soon as they showed Dr. Holtzman we both called him out as the killer.

And though I recall nothing cool about the lighting, the scene where Beckett was being grilled about her conduct was awesome, and her rebuttal was even better.

Poor Lanie. This week she didn't get to say "lividity." Just decomposition.

Being that "Hollander's Woods" was the season ender, I was worried that they would give us a cliffhanger. They did not, and I was glad. As I've often said:

1. Even if you put Castle (or Beckett) in seemingly inescapable jeopardy, you know the writers are not going to kill off a main character, and 

2. I'm a fan. I'm going to tune in to see the season premiere. (Or record it, and watch it at my leisure.) You don't need to keep me wondering.

But when Castle entered the barn (and what a creepy barn), and Beckett was sitting in the unlocked car, I couldn't know there was no cliffhanger forthcoming, so I assumed something bad would happen. But it all worked out. I thought it was a neat idea to have Castle dispatch his personal bogeyman, and the way that scene was shot -- with the slow-motion grab of the gun -- was fantastic. Though when Holtzman had Castle on the ground, near the door, I wondered why Castle didn't just say, "Kate! Shoot straight in one foot up." Oh well the end result was still the same.

The awards dinner was a nice conclusion, and a great way to end the season on an up note. I especially liked Castle's reference to his mother and Alexis being his "red-headed pillars of unconditional love." Though I admit part of me was worried that something nefarious would happen, and give us a true cliffhanger.

Sometimes I think I think too much.

So, the lines...

Martha: "I love both of my son's big heads equally."

Castle: "There's the death-as-opportunity spirit we all love."

Castle: "It's your mannniversary? And I didn't get you anything."
Esposito: "There's still time."

Castle: "One day you'll look back and you will realize that every experience you ever had, every seeming mistake or blind alley was actually a straight line to who you were meant to be."

Until next season...which isn't too far away.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Sad Day

by Michael Seese

The world seems a little heavier these past few days. As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend we went to the annual music party in Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful event, though bittersweet.

Then came the sucker punch.

On Tuesday, we got an email from our friend Ray, who said the Inn had caught fire. For all intents and purposes, it burned to the ground. The only reason it didn't literally was because the exterior walls are all foot-thick blocks of stone.

Our loss -- that of a place we loved to meet friends -- is trivial compared to the loss suffered by the owner, our friend Megin. She and her son got out unscathed. But Megin lost her livelihood and her home. (She lived on the third floor.)

You can Google "Century Inn fire" to read about it and see pictures. But here's one -- probably copyrighted, but I don't care -- which really hits home with me.

Forty-eight hours before these pictures were taken, my family was sleeping in the room circled in red.

 



































 In one of the articles, the head of the local historical society said it was like a death in the family.

He's right.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Three Flashes

by Michael Seese

No, I'm not talking about a thunderstorm. Below are three flash fiction pieces all together. I didn't get a chance to do my usual Saturday + Sunday posts because we were out of town, at the annual music party in Scenery Hill, PA.

Always a good time, though this year's event was bittersweet as our friend "Jake" Yothers, the driving force behind the party, passed away last winter.

But the show must go on.

As must the writing. So before we headed southeast, I managed to knock out two pieces for Flash! Friday, and one for Janet.

For Flash! Friday, our novel prompt was The Great Gatsby. So we needed to include two elements from:

* Conflict (choose one): man vs man; man vs society
* Character (choose one): nouveau riche, jealous husband, shallow socialite
* Theme(s) (choose one): obsession, prohibition, the limitations of wealth
* Setting: 1920s New York

And this picture, if we wanted.

























I came up with "Money Can't Buy" and "Birds." (For the record, I came up with concept for "Birds" first, but wrote it second.)




My first three attempts missed. But the fourth was a direct score. I watched with detached satisfaction while flames licked the paper. As yet another thing of value was being consumed before my eyes, I folded the next $100 bill into an airplane and consigned it to a fiery demise.

Despite the uneasy silence which now owned our house, I didn't hear my wife enter.

"It's after midnight. Come to bed."

"I'll be up in a few."

I glanced at the mirror above the fireplace as she left. She turned to the right, much like I've found myself doing of late. It's a slightly longer route. But it doesn't force us to pass that room.

After dispatching another dozen Benjamins, I slogged out.

To the right.

They say money can't buy happiness. That may or may not be true. But it sure as hell can't buy a cure for cancer.


-----


The day did not dawn black. It just seemed that way.

Do birds see in color? Or is it just dogs that are confined to a black and white prison?

I wonder if prison is as bad as they say.

When they say someone eats like a bird, what does that mean? Birds eat all the time.

I wonder how my family is going to eat now?

What does it mean to say someone has to eat crow? What do crows eat? Humble pie, perhaps.

I don't remember most of what Mr. Charles Mitchell, the stockbroker, said. Something about "excessive leverage." All I know is that he ended with, "Your money is gone. Out the window."

He followed shortly thereafter.

As I stood on the ledge, looking down at the red mass that used to be Mr. Charles Mitchell, the stockbroker, I had but one thought.

I am a bird.


Janet asked us to incorporate the words


remove
escape
away
lull
spare


I used them in "Escape."

 
When there is no prison, there is nothing to escape from.

Except boredom.

And loneliness.

And emptiness.

And Corn Flakes for dinner. Again.

And the occasional blissful bout of silence.

And the screams masquerading as lullabies.

And the fists which, I came to learn, sting less with each passing year.

But other than that, nothing.

Out on a lonely highway, I finally found freedom. Unfortunately, freedom also came with a flat tire, and no spare. I'd had to remove it to make room.

The flashing lights circling like vultures told me I won't be getting away.

But neither did he.


So we'll see Monday how I did. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Janet Flash:

by Michael Seese

We had a pretty busy weekend, so I didn't get a chance to post this. I'll be brief. The latest Janet Reid contest (since it's now Tuesday, I know it didn't win) asked us to incorporate

scene
feral
numb
suit
wry


in the usual 100-word piece. So here is the (uncharacteristically, for me) short "A Script."



Certain days play out like a scene from a movie.

Me in my best suit.

She in a white gown.

Petals strewn in her path.

"I do."

A kiss for love.

Rice in our eyes.

The winding road to the reception.

Happy guests, waiting.

But...

Sometimes the Director balks, the writers offer alternate endings, and the script goes awry.

Oncoming headlights.

Squealing tires.

Crunching metal.

Crunching bones.

"My legs are numb."

A kiss goodbye.

Lilies on fresh dirt.

Fade to black.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Flash! Friday: At Bay

by Michael Seese

I had a howling good time writing this week's Flash! Friday entry. (Horrible pun intended.) 

Our mission: to work off the Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale starring celebrated detective Sherlock Holmes, who uses his (arrogant) genius to solve murders against a backdrop of a legendary, terrifying hellhound.

So the story elements were:

* Conflict: man vs man
* Character (choose one): arrogant detective, retired doctor, a lord under a family curse
* Theme(s) (choose one): cunning, guilt, superstition
* Setting: isolated country manor


I chose the latter two, and ignored the picture...



















... I guess, in writing "At Bay."

A man's blood can be rather tenacious. Try as I might, I cannot rid myself of the stain.

From my clothing.

From my hands.

From my soul.

Each time I rend another's still-beating heart from his chest, a small portion of mine dies in concert.

In repose by the window, I hardly savor the final vestiges of freedom, as I await with imponderable dread the inevitable.

Were that I could trade lives with one of them. My victims. Then the nightmare finally could end.

The full moon glides out from behind the Coromandel screen of a cloud, baring her soul, and forcing me to do likewise. My hands distort as the talons erupt from my fingertips. My mouth aches as the fangs assume their devilish station. My scream morphs to a howl, my body to an abomination.

At last, it ends.

I look upon my wife, sleeping, then crawl to her bed, on all fours, like the animal I am. She is so beautiful. So at peace. I cannot bear the thought of what is to transpire.

She opens her eyes, eyes which no longer reveal anything within.

She smiles.

At that moment, the moonbeam that had been slithering across the floor strikes her face. Her body contorts, wracked by the curse we share. Or better said, the curse she chose to foist upon our house.

Unlike me, she seems to enjoy the pain wedded to the transformation. After a brief recovery, she stands and strokes my hirsute cheek.

"The moors beckon, my love. 'Tis time for us to hunt."

As you can tell, I've been spending a lot of time over at horrortree.com
 

Tomorrow (surprise, surprise) is another Janet contest. My entry is well under way.