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WMSP, Part II: a third entertainment

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Theatre on May 15, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(This is an ongoing series. If you enjoy confusion, read the rest of this post. If you want a firm foundation under your cottage of delights, start here.)

ACT I, Sc. 3

(We are on a small, wooded rise. Dead, dry grass and pine needles surround a small, dry dirt clearing, at the center of which stands a round, hand-built stone tower of about nine feet in height. It’s late on a summer night. There are pine trees bordering this clearing—shorter downstage, taller in the back, but they have the bedraggled, drought-stricken appearance of bedraggled, drought-stricken pine trees. None are more than twenty-five feet high. There is some trash visible: a Starbucks cup, an empty Fritos bag, a used condom and the like.

Interlocutor enters.)

INTERLOCUTOR
We are in a very different part of the forest now, ladies and gentlemen. On a certain level, it could be said to be a different forest altogether, though from a purely geographical, topographical standpoint, it is not too far from our last encounter with our intrepid be-khaki’d adventuress.
I think, however, that you will find her efforts less-than-successful in this, the final scene of the evening’s entertainment.
Brace yourselves: this will be bloody.
And should any of you find the idea of a young lady flayed alive upsetting to your sensibilities, remember this: she is a sinner like the rest of us, and therefore deserves everything coming to her. Better thee than me, as the sentiment goes. Ah, here she comes now!

(Reader enters, dressed as she was in Sc. 2, but dustier, dirtier, her hair askew. She holds her hat to her head, a large bump on her forehead, glancing behind her as she runs up the slope to this tower.

Interlocutor stands back and watches during the following, perhaps crossing his arms, perhaps bouncing in place, willing her to fail and unable to contain his delight.

Reader circles the tower, searching it for something. She consults a journal she carries on her person, eyes on the book as she leans her staff against a tree and removes her backpack to lean next to her staff. She speaks during all of the above action.

As Reader speaks, a figure appears—unseen by Reader—from the trees beyond the tower: the Hooded Thing from the last scene, lurching and hungry; it hears her, pauses, sniffs the air, rubs at its groin and steps out of the robe, shifting shape to a human female form in early 20th Century dress; though her garb is everyday wear, she is somewhat formal in her bearing. Her hair is in a bun. Head bowed, she is a shadow, a silhouette moving with dark purpose. She stands on the opposite side of the tower. She opens her left hand; a large axe slides into it, as though it came from within her sleeve, which it did not. The head of the axe hits the dirt with a soft thud, the base of the handle resting in her hand. She raises the axe, ready to chop. Her head remains bowed. This is Axe Lady.

All of the above takes place during the time it takes for Reader to enter, set down her burdens and speak her monologue below.)

READER
As Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came, so do I circle now this monument to that shadowed tale. I see no markings, I sense no shift in power, no tingling foreboding. I must check my notes.
This night is strangely warm, the lights of the city brighter and more abundant than from any other vista on this mountainside.
I find no traces. On the other side of the tower, perhaps I missed—

(As Reader crosses toward the other side of the tower, Axe Lady screams, swinging the axe at Reader’s head; Axe Lady’s head remains bowed.

Reader ducks, axe misses.

There are cries from offstage, male voices and the sound of three men approaching.

Axe Lady falls to the ground, head facing upstage, clutching her side and wriggling in what looks like pain.)

AXE LADY
Help, help. /She’s trying to kill me. Come closer. Please help me.

(/Three men enter; they are not of this time, not of this story: an actor in his mid-40’s, a writer-filmmaker in his mid-twenties, a singer in his mid-twenties.

Reader picks up axe, whirling to face the newcomers.

Interlocutor is not amused, but knows how this will end. He waits.)

ACTOR
What the fuck?!

READER
Who the heck are you fellows?
And why do you cuss so much?

AXE LADY
Don’t let her kill me, please. /Please help me. She followed me in the night with an axe. She stole my husband. She’s nothing but a slut!

SINGER
/The one with the axe is the girl who fell.
I don’t know who the talkative lady is. Who are you, lady?

READER
Why are you following me? And how? My steps are untraceable, my path forever winding!

WRITER
She didn’t have an axe a minute ago.

AXE LADY
Please come closer, I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding because this girl chopped me. She chopped me because my husband was so hard for me when he got home!

(Writer steps toward Axe Lady.)

ACTOR
Wait. Something isn’t right.

(Writer stops, looking at Actor.

Actor points at Axe Lady.)

There’s no blood.

(Axe Lady’s head snaps around backward. Face fully revealed for the first time, her eyes glow white.)

AXE LADY
I am the biter of penises!

SINGER
Kellyanne Conway?

(Axe Lady drags herself across the ground toward the men, arms and legs at wrong angles, blue chunks dripping from her mouth.

The men back away, she tries to corner them in the clearing during the following.)

WRITER
Something tells me we should go /now.

AXE LADY
/Mine is the mouth that turns your dreams to dread, the tongue that snakes into your boyholes while you dream your secret lusts!

SINGER
(to Actor)
See, this is why I prefer men.

ACTOR
Right now I get it.

READER
Do you not know how much danger you’re in?! Why are men so stupid?

(Reader leaps toward Axe Lady, swinging axe with a wild battle cry; she’s clearly had some experience with this. The axe will take off Axe Lady’s head.

The men stare, shocked.

Just as the axe is about to make contact, Axe Lady catches the blade in her hand: it is silent, literally all sound disappears for a moment as the contact is made. Reader is helpless, dangling in the air, unable to let go of the axe.)

SINGER
Time to go.

(Singer turns and runs back the way they came—but hits an invisible barrier, is thrown back, landing hard, the breath knocked out of him. He lays there, horrible hurking noises coming out of him as he struggles to breathe.

Writer is looking from Singer to Axe Lady, frantic.

Actor is searching his pockets, also frantic.

Axe Lady opens her other hand, flicking her index finger into a long, tapering needle-sharp point.)

AXE LADY
The darkness must be fed. Interfering sluts get what they deserve.

(Axe Lady slowly runs the needlefinger up Reader’s leg, toward her groin.)

ACTOR
Fuck! No salt! Ghost Child Mary, can you help us out?

(Ghost Child Mary appears atop the tower.

Interlocutor staggers back, shocked; possibly even damaged.

As Interlocutor is shocked, so is Axe Lady; their movements mirror one another, but Axe Lady does not lose her grip on Reader, pulling her close, staring her bright white eyes into Reader’s eyes until Reader goes limp.)

GHOST CHILD MARY
Mama says you got yourself all tangled up, Mister!

INTERLOCUTOR
Abandon the slut! Take the child! Her sightless eyes see too much!

(All see Interlocutor now. Actor, Writer ad-lib realistic reactions. Singer is incapacitated.

Ghost Child Mary, initially focused on Actor, sees Interlocutor, Reader and the Axe Lady.)

AXE LADY
I hunger to peel her skin from her flesh!
I hunger to peel her flesh from her /bones!

GHOST CHILD MARY
/This scene is supposed to end badly.
I know that girl in khaki; she thinks I don’t see her, but she’s always running, hunting, searching.
Oh, but that man hides the truth of events. That lady is made of bad things. Not a person at all.
Mama, can I help?

(A wind blows; pine needles rain down like snow.)

Please, Mama?

(Wind blows stronger. Dust and pine needles whirl up, blinding everyone—including Interlocutor and Axe Lady, who drops Reader.

A little to the side and back of the tower, the dust and pine needles whirl more tightly into a violent dust devil.

All variously cry out, over which we hear:)

But I wanna help!

(From the center of the dust devil steps an old man in a black coat, with a full white beard and crazy white hair.)

OLD MAN
Room! Room to turn round in, to breathe and be free!

(As he speaks, he gestures: the air above the tower fractures. Wind intensifies.)

To grow to be giant, to sail as at sea

(Another gesture, a fallen tree branch sweeps Interlocutor and Axe Lady off into the night. Wind is howling like a tornado now. Still, the Old Man’s voice carries easily.)

With the speed of the wind on a steed with his mane

(The fracture in the air forks down into the earth on either side of the tower.)

To the wind, without pathway or route or a rein!

(Lightning strikes the tower; what was a fracture now shatters: but what, if anything, did it affect?

The wind ceases.

Ghost Child Mary has disappeared.

The Old Man stands there, smiling, surveying his handiwork.

Actor sits up.)

ACTOR
Everyone okay?

WRITER
(from his position on the ground)
How the fuck do you get anything done if this is what your nights are like after rehearsal?

(Singer sits up.)

SINGER
Yeah, no, I’m done.

(Singer stands, leaves; as he exits:)

Bye Felicia.

(Singer is gone; Old Man watches him go, bemused.

During the following, Actor and Writer sit up, dusting themselves off, wary eyes on the Old Man.)

OLD MAN
I once sat alone in the moonlight,
In the moonlight soft and fair,
And a thousand thoughts stole o’er me,
While penciling, sitting there;
And the cricket was chirping, a chirping
And sang as I sat alone,
How green grows the grass around you?
What path beyond tower of stone?

(Old Man vanishes in a swirling of thistledown. Actor and Writer react, standing, looking around for him.)

WRITER
How many times can I say what the fuck in one night?

(Snow is falling. Actor and Writer notice it through the next three lines.)

ACTOR
I’ve seen that guy before. Backstage at Woodminster in … 1994, I think.

WRITER
I thought your first Woodminster show was in 2015.

ACTOR
Long story. I thought you … read it …

(A cold wind blows from the trees upstage; Actor and Writer turn to see:

The moon coming out from behind clouds upstage, revealing the same landscape, but covered completely by snow; it looks like Norway at Christmas.

Actor clicks on his flashlight, illuminating a set of tracks leading off upstage, into the snowbound forest.

They stand staring at the footprints. Actor turns off his flashlight.

Snowfall increases.

An owl hoots.

End of Scene 3.)

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WMSP, Part II, Episode V; Thursday, July 27

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing on May 8, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Ongoing series; it begins here. If you’re all caught up, read on!)

Are you guys going to murder me?”

This from Bryan as we’re walking down Sanborn Drive, the paved road that goes through Joaquin Miller Park. It traces a curvy loop from farther down Joaquin Miller Road, up past the pyramid—where it splits into a higher road and a lower road like a river around an island, converging again behind(ish) Woodminster, whence it leads out past the ranger station to Joaquin Miller Road again. The entrance by the ranger station is now the main entrance to the park, and the only automotive access to Woodminster itself. It’s gated at the lower entrance. At the upper end, automobile traffic is blocked on the right fork where the road splits, the left fork leading down to Woodminster. This blocked right fork is the road I walked down both times in search of the pyramid.

It’s after 10:30 at night, we’ve all parked our cars out on Joaquin Miller Road, as the rangers will eventually lock the front gate. The night is warm, easily 75 degrees. It was very hot today.

Yes, Bryan, we’re going to murder you,” Jeremy says.

I, for one, plan to murder you in the face,” I say.

You make everything sound sexual, Mr. Edward,” Bryan says.

Do I? How’s this: porkpie hats and a barrel of rum.”

See? You make everything filthy.”

Dead puppies.”

Kinky bastard.”

Okay, now you’re just projecting.”

Guys,” Jeremy says. His tone is quiet, urgent. We stop, and I’m aware, in the stillness, that there’s been a goosebumpy susurration in the brittle grass on either side of the road, building as we’ve walked.

We’re on the high road, right-hand side of the island split, exactly the same route I’ve taken each time I’ve walked this road. There in front of us, dimly visible in the night, is a trail leading off to the right, up a hill. Next to it is a wooden sign. I can’t make out what it says from this distance. We stand still like this for quite a while.

Bryan says, “Why am I spooked?”

I … thought I saw someone. Up that trail,” says Jeremy.

We’ve all got flashlights,” says Bryan. “Let’s use them?”

Nobody turns on their flashlight.

What does that sign say?” I say.

That’s the Browning Monument,” Jeremy says.

Bryan and I both go, “Ohhh … ”

I click my flashlight on. Brown-painted wood, two signboards supported by wooden posts at the sides, yellow lettering, nothing fancy:

THE BROWNING MONUMENT
BUILT 1904

On the lower board it says:

ERECTED BY POET JOAQUIN MILLER TO HONOR
HIS FELLOW POET AND FRIENDS ROBERT AND
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

Still, nobody moves.

The grass is whispering, but there’s no breeze here. I’m thinking we should have come during the day.

Someone shoves past us from behind, knocking Bryan to the ground, then tripping over a staff to go sprawling in the dirt and dry grass at the base of the sign.

I train the beam of my flashlight on this person as I move to help them up, saying, “Are you okay?”

It’s a young woman in khaki, an old-school backpack and bedroll on her back. She’s wearing a Smokey the Bear hat, and she’s terrified at my approach. Brandishing the staff, she scrambles to her feet, running away from us.

Her hat falls off.

She runs through the sign marking the Browning Monument, as though it isn’t there.

She notices her missing hat, turns around, runs back through the sign, picks up her hat and, clapping it to her head, runs smack into the sign, falling back onto her ass with a surprised cry of—I kid you not—“Aw, gee!”

The fuck?” Jeremy says.

Her eyes go wide as she gasps, turning to us, looking scandalized as she again scrambles to her feet. Her hair is all askew now, though from the curls I imagine it escapes regularly.

She looks around, doing a massive comic double-take at those lights of Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area visible from this spot. She lingers a moment, then shakes her head and dashes around the Browning Monument sign, up the slope and into the darkness.

This is a very complex prank,” says Bryan.

If she’s a ghost, she’s confused,” I say.

Confused and hot,” says Jeremy.

Only straight boys would want to fuck a ghost,” says Bryan.

Happy Halloween,” says Jeremy.

From the darkness up the slope, a terrified scream.

WMSP, Part II, Episode IV; Thursday, July 27

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized, Writing on May 1, 2019 at 12:06 pm

(Newbies go here; familiar readers, dive in below.)

Offstage left. In my place for my next entrance, poring over the strange three sentences, I’m so engrossed in unscrambling the words that I don’t notice anyone around me until a voice startles me over my right shoulder.

In my thought every word lied he was first?” says Bryan Munar. “Who was second, Mr. Edward?”

I turn to look at him and Bryan puts a finger over one ear, humming off-key and then singing, “Younger than spring-time, am I … ” He deliberately loses the key, which was wrong to begin with, spiraling off into wrong notes.

You sing so beautifully,” I say.

Bryan curtsies, flips invisible hair and puts a finger over his ear again, singing, “There is nothing like a da-aaaaa-aaaaame … ” Again losing the key, he sings louder.

From onstage, Joel calls, “Can we have it quiet offstage please?”

Everybody goes quiet.

Bryan mock slaps my shoulder and offstage-murmurs, “Geez, Edward, learn to sing.”

I could never sing as well as you, Bryan,” I say, matching his volume.

From my left another voice murmurs, “That’s a word scramble.”

I turn, discovering Jeremy Brandt, the production photographer, writer, local film student. He’s 20-something with curly, close-cropped hair and spectacles. Energetic. Upbeat. He looks like the fellow who should be solving this puzzle.

Bryan says, “Duh, of course it’s a word scramble.” He takes the paper from my hands, saying, “These words are familiar, like a famous quote or something.”

Let me see that,” Jeremy says. He stands next to Bryan, they’re both holding the paper, mulling it over, murmuring the words like a secret incantation.

They move closer to a dim, blue backstage light, holding the paper close to the bulb. Stagehands come through under the direction of Judy, and we all step aside as a large set piece is moved into the stage left entrance, ready to be rolled on. Bryan is left holding the paper against the light.

Do you practice fire safety as well as you sing?” I say.

Bryan looks at the paper and whisks it away. The light bulb has left a strange mark on the bottom of the paper, under the words.

We step up onto the concrete steps leading to the top of the theater, near another backstage light.

Oh my gosh, Edward,” Bryan says, then sings, “Inviii-iiiisible iii-hiii-hiii-hiiiiink.”

I’m the last one to see it: a square with nine numbered boxes, like an enclosed tic-tac-toe.

Invisible ink indeed,” I say. “Lemon juice? Milk?”

Jeremy sniffs the paper. “Now it just smells like old paint. But one thing’s for certain: that’s a magic square,” he says.

The paper looks like this:

in my thought
every word lied
he was first
____
|7|1|3|
|8|9|6|
|5|4|2|

Is this like Sudoku? So boring,” says Bryan. “I haaaaa-aaaaate iih-hii-hiiiiiit.”

Look at the words,” Jeremy says.

There are nine words,” I say.

OMG,” Bryan says.

Then we all say, slowly, finding the words that match the numerical order,

My … first … thought … was … he … lied … in … every word.”

Is this a note from your ex girlfriend, Mr. Edward?” says Bryan.

This is Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning,” says Jeremy.

Eew, creeper porn?” says Bryan.

No, fucko, it’s a poem,” I say. “And I’m embarrassed to confess, I’ve never read it.”

I have, and this is the first line. That’s why it felt so familiar. Like, In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree,” says Jeremy. “Where did you get this, Edward?”

I found it. In a pyramid.”

They’re quiet.

I realize how fucking odd that sounds. I’m about to change my story, make a joke about pyramid schemes. But they’re looking at me in a way that gives me pause.

Is this … part of your blog thing?” Bryan says. “Too creepy. I couldn’t read past the third episode.”

Dude. Kill me off. Like, seriously. Put me in it and kill me off,” Jeremy says.

Wait, you guys are reading my stuff?” I’m pleasantly surprised.

A bunch of people are scared to walk to their cars at night because of your creepy-ass stories, Mr. Edwaa-aaaa-ha-ha-haaaaard,” Bryan says. He emphasizes the “hard.”

Edward! Where the hell are you?” Judy shouts from the bottom of the stairs, looking upstage toward the roll door.

I’ve missed an entrance. I scramble down the steps and jaunt onto the stage like I’m right on time.

All I can think about is the quote.

When I exit at the end of my scene, Bryan and Jeremy are standing offstage left with an old paperback between them. I peek at the title: The Collected Works of Robert Browning, Volume [faded, obscured number].

It’s from Jim’s library, over there,” says Jeremy before I ask.

Who names their kid Cuthbert?” says Bryan, focused on the words.

I go to the shelves near Joel’s office, formerly his father Jim Schlader’s office, searching for a duplicate copy. Nothing else by Browning. I return to where Bryan and Jeremy are reading, feeling like a third wheel.

Jeremy says, “This is awkward, it feels like you’re a third wheel.” He looks up from the book. “How do you come up with all this creepy stuff, Edward? And—wait, if this paper is related to your blog, how is it here? I mean, do you craft props to support your fiction, or … ”

I’m flummoxed. How to answer? They’re both looking at me now, as various actors and crew members swarm back and forth on their various paths. We’re a still pool amid furious rapids. In spite of our stillness, I’m aware of a whirlpool of doubt forming.

Is it possible I’ve imagined all of this? Clearly, it hasn’t been deliberate. But has anyone else here seen Weedbeard? Even the interactions between Obi-Wan-point-five, Weedbeard and Judy were a recovered memory. That may not have ever happened. Because the thing is, people literally do not “imagine” events and believe them. It’s a common term, “I must have imagined it,” but what it really means is, “I must have mis-perceived / mis-remembered / misunderstood what I was seeing.” When people see things that are not there, those people are delusional. And when delusional people believe the unreal things they see … Yikes, am I more than just depressed?

Mental illness—as far as I know—only manifests in my family in the form of depression. But is it possible that I’m the one who inherited a more generous dollop of genetic mental issues? There are multiple things I remember from my childhood that nobody else in the family has any memory of; in addition, I have what sometimes feels like a perception of an alternate universe, wherein some events coincide with events in our timeline, and I can feel when those events happen.

I can feel when those events happen sounds like something a delusional schizophrenic might say. Would say.

Holy shit.

I even have an entire timeline in my head of a massive earthquake that hit the Bay Area in 2012. It’s something I started to write down at the time. It didn’t happen in this world, but aspects of those alternate reality events had echoes in our own, most notably the predictions of Harold Camping, Jr., and the direct correlation between the days he predicted the end of our world and the days upon which the quakes occurred in that alternate timeline.

This is the kind of thing I push to a mental back burner most of the time. It only really bubbles to the surface when I’m about to fall asleep, when I let my mental guard down.

All of the above runs through my head in the span of an interminable three seconds. I realize now that I can’t tell them anything about this. I need help. I need to tell my therapist everything on Tuesday.

Jeremy says, “Oh fuck. Is it real, Edward?”

Bryan looks from Jeremy to me, then back. “Wait, no? Please? Tell me it’s not real Mr. Edward.”

I’m frozen in place, entirely uncertain. I feel myself blushing.

The Browning Monument!” Jeremy says. “That’s it!”

Quiet offstage!” from Judy in the stage left wings.

Browning Monument feels familiar,” I say.

It’s a tower, Edward. It’s right here in the park,” Jeremy says, very excited. “’My first thought was he lied in every word,’ is the first line of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This means you have to go to the tower!” Judy peeks around the corner from the wings, scowling. The three of us move away from the roll doors, toward the men’s dressing room. Jeremy says, quiet but nearly bouncing out of his shoes, “And holy fuck-a-mighty, it’s real!

Wait. This is all bullshit, right?” says Bryan. “You guys planned this? To freak me out?”

I’m looking at them. Thinking about how I never would have found this answer so quickly without them.

Have I found my detective companions?

WMSP, Part II: a further entertainment

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized, Writing on April 24, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Act I, Sc. 2

(The Reader is alone in the forested darkness of the outdoors night time.
She is searching near an ancient monument. This monument looks at once familiar and out of place.
Nearby, a spot that looks as though it should be occupied. It remains, for the moment, empty.

A gentleman, the Interlocutor, enters. It is possible he wears a three-piece suit. You will not remember, therefore it is also possible he wears a four-piece suit.
The Interlocutor steps into the empty space. Theatre Majors, you’re welcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
(Always speaking directly to the audience, unless otherwise noted.)
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am not here.
It is at this point in the narrative that I am obliged to offer the following warning: the events you purport to be witnessing are not, in fact, occurring. Further, should you endeavour to describe what you’re about to not see to anyone, anywhere, at any time or place, you are obliged to begin with the following caveat:
“The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.”
Remember that phrase, please.
Now, to our heroine—not of the opioid variety, though potentially just as addictive. We’ll call her the Reader, or simply Reader, where appropriate. She is an attractive young woman of whatever ethnicity you please. As you can see, she is appropriately attired in outdoorsy khaki and a campaign hat, the sleeves of her button-down rolled up because she’s ready to get to work.
Her neckerchief is from Camp Clever Redwoods in Trevarno, California; the slide has an emblem that is hard to see in this darkness—in full light, it is clearly two crossed diagonal upward-pointing arrows with strange symbols in the resulting four quadrants.
Trevarno does not exist. Do not go looking for it.
This is a young woman of parts.
On her back is a bedroll pack; a sensible and possibly weaponized walking staff leans against a nearby tree.
On her belt are an assortment of pouches, each containing necessities of the life-and-death variety.
It is unfortunate that, despite her being so well-equipped, she will—eventually—be devoured.
A waning gibbous moon shines down from above, illuminating the monument as best it can in its lessened state.

READER
(Speaks directly to audience.)
The first thing you need to know is that nothing I’m about to say actually happened.

(Interlocutor turns to us; single external take recommended.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Oh my. It appears I may have tampered with the text.
You will perhaps later understand that I have done so with your best interests at heart, ladies and gentlemen.

READER
(To herself, as she examines the monument.)
Long have I searched in vain for that which is hidden. Dark and desolate, the reaches I’ve trekked. Uncertain the path and treacherous the pass, my journey has been fueled by rumor and whispers, stymied by obscurances and sudden lackings. It is now, under this waning gibbous Scorpio moon, that I have come to this place in the dark of night to delve secretly for the first part of a lost book, a hidden book, a book that does not exist—yet sits at the center of a web of shadow.

(In the darkness beyond the fitful moonlight, we hear a sound.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Pause for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, as you can see our Reader has done; for, indeed, there was a sound in the darkness beneath the surrounding trees. Was it a night bird?
Observe her poise, listening over one shoulder.
Do you suppose she will maintain that poise when her belly is ripped open by the splintry teeth of whatever waits for her in the darkness?
Watch now as she shakes off her dread and attempts to reassure herself and, by extension, all of you.

READER
(As she speaks, Reader draws on the monument with chalk: four symbols at upper left, lower right, upper right and lower left.)
It is the custom of whatever forces seek to prevent the book’s discovery to sound dark warnings and foreboding cries in the night. These grunting warblers and howls of rending occur all along my path, which tells me two things:
The first is that they do not want me on this path.
The second is that they know—of my deepest heart—that which fills me with terror. For each time I believe I am close to that which I seek, they step in to suggest the approach of some—puppy nestled in the comforting crook of my grandmother’s arms.

(Reader stops, shakes head, disorientated.)
I did not mean to say that. Something is amiss.

INTERLOCUTOR
Observe: even as she turns to look around, I step forward to down center stage, gesturing with my left hand to lower the light on Miss Reader, thus obscuring the full nature of the symbols and whatever else she does in the darkness. None of this matters because / it is not real—

(/A gigantic, tattered and shadowy horror—the Bat-winged Hog—erupts, screaming, from the trees beyond the monument.
Interlocutor disappears, quiet; we are distracted by the horror of the Bat-winged Hog, its leathery wings beating as it claws its way through the branches.
Reader steps forward, executing a graceful yet complex reverence (in the balletic sense) as she drops her pack and arms herself with her staff.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! Thine is not the head I wish to impale upon a pike this night! Long my path and dark my days, but never under the shadow of thy impressively foul leatherflaps!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits a wad of leech-tar at Reader.
She steps easily from harm; the tar splatters on a tree, burning and wriggling as the tree screams; all beetles and bugs on or around the tree flee the leeches. Fungi lean toward the tree and begin a visible mycelium migration toward the tree.
Reader sees this and begins, while speaking the following, a desperate search of the surrounding forest floor.)

READER
Dark this night and dim this moon—if we are to battle, let us battle under a full moon in a sign less toxic to thy most undead and yet porcine self! Terrestrial scorpion’s sting may hold no danger for your farmstead cousins, O Harbinger of the Rotting Trough, but Luna in Scorpio may prove fatal for one who lives only by night!

(Bat-Winged Hog shits another wad of leech-tar in the crook of a tree, then begins chewing one of its front feet off.)

READER
Bat-Winged Hog! I see thy plan: self-chewed foot planted in leech-tar shite grows Hogling Toothface! Even as you struggle with this foul endeavor, I scour the forest for your doom!

(True to her word, Reader drops to her knees and, lighting a small oil lantern from within her pack, begins searching at the bases of trees. She continues this throughout the following, until otherwise noted.

Meanwhile, Bat-Winged Hog nods, delighted and giddy at its clever plan; the foot is fully chewed; gouting poisoned blood, this creature of night plants its severed foot in the leech- tar.
Immediately the leech-tar quivers and spurts, like a lanced pilonidal cyst.
Hogling Toothface begins to emerge, face-first: its visage entirely of teeth, with one or two eyes misplaced and a rapacious digit, of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity, which protrudes from its forehead and spastically beckons: come-hither.

Interlocutor appears.

During the following, Hogling Toothface is thoroughly birthed with many splats and a final, massive plorp. He screams and bawls and makes his way down the tree toward Reader like a baby bird seeking its nest.)

INTERLOCUTOR
A word or two about Hogling Toothface.
As you can see, he is ugly and small.
His eyes, such as they are, do not easily stay within his skull. Ah, there we go: one of them has gotten snagged on a twig and—plorp—how unpleasant. Ah, but see? It does not merely dangle: it
watches.
The face which lost that eye, while made entirely of teeth, might be mistaken as merely horrific—but not necessarily dangerous.
This is incorrect. Should you encounter him on your night hikes at Audubon Canyon Ranch, my friends, be not mistaken: the bashing of his head against your hip or pelvis will not merely
break but will immediately pulverize bone. The teeth of his face churn against one another, turning in and biting, ripping from their sockets to pierce further with their twisted roots.
This causes him excruciating pain. Which can only be relieved by the use of that peculiar cranial protuberance you see jutting from his forehead. This is known as his Toothface Poker … his Naughty Dentist … or his Fingerling Potato.
All of which are comparatively innocuous euphemisms for what is, as clearly described in the stage directions of this text and reinforced by the words I speak, a rapacious digit. Meaning that is its sole purpose: the indiscriminate penetration of the penetrable.
This is a digit of profound interphalangeal artiuclarity. Meaning it has bones and it can move all sorts of ways.
As you can see, it spastically beckons: come-hither. Why? Because, seeing that gesture, you are more likely to run. And by all means, do. Run! Run away, fast as you can.
Yes, for you see: the fact is, no matter how fast you run, Hogling Toothface is faster. Because Hogling Toothface wants you more than you can possibly imagine. Male, female, gender neutral, gender switched, no matter!—whatever flavor you represent, you have holes. And running, you present
at least one of them.
So if you’re out and about on the trails of an evening and you feel eyes on you, or you hear the thumping patter of little cloven-hoofed babyfeet, know that you will soon be the very special friend of Hogling Toothface.
See now how close he is? See now how he reaches for her? Watch now and see her story end in screaming, in anguish, internal ripping audible in the cold forest of the night, her body discovered by park rangers in two weeks, assumed to have been fed upon by carrion eaters.

(Hogling Toothface is indeed just above Reader, reaching for her hair, his digit dripping leeches from the tip. He is grabbing her hair—

Reader leaps to her feet, her actions fitting her words as follows.

Bat-Winged Hog reacts, enraged, to all that follows; its wings get tangled and torn, stuck in the branches of the trees.)

READER
False Parasol! Thus do I raise this mushroom above me, its toxicity shading me from the dark sun of your evil origins, Bat-Winged Hog!
Only a fool runs from Hogling Toothface! See now how I grasp him by this foul protuberance! See how he is disabled by his pleasure at the contact, but, O! See now his doom!, for indeed this mushroom can be stuffed into the dribbling hole of his unnatural pene
traitor, spelled with an ‘I’ because I see that his very existence is a betrayal of all things good and right in this world!
With this broken twig I shove and stab the false parasol into his fallacy of a phallus!, tamping it deep past his un-mushroomed tip like the poisonous charge of a fiendish cannon, I seat the round in the breach and prepare to fire! Cannoneers to your posts!

(Reader wedges screaming, struggling, near-orgasmic Hogling Toothface in the crook of a tree, facing Bat-Winged Hog, readying a box of strike-anywhere matches.)

INTERLOCUTOR
She cannot possibly succeed.

READER
Friction-primer set! Sergeant, fire!

(Reader strikes the match, igniting Hogling Toothface’s anus.

Hogling Toothface screams in ecstasy and pain, his digit clogged with poisonous mushroom, the screech building until with a plorping FWOOM, the False Parasol and much of Hogling Toothface’s strange digit shoot like a cannonball at Bat-Winged Hog.)

READER
To Hell with you and your foul progeny, Infection of the Nightmare Barnyard!

(Reader’s aim is true: Bat-Winged Hog is blasted from its place in the trees, ripping from its wings and disintegrating into smoke and dust. In its place is a harmless, beautiful moth.
At the same time and in the same manner, Hogling Toothface disintegrates. In its place is nothing.
The leech-tar in the tree has been covered over by healing fungi; the trees will thrive.

Interlocutor is staring, incensed, at Reader, who crouches, wary, catching her breath. After a moment, Interlocutor remembers the audience. He turns to us and smiles.)

INTERLOCUTOR
It appears that our entertainment will last an entire evening, ladies and gentlemen. Allow me now to summon a truly diverting amusement—

(Music fills the glade.
Interlocutor is halted in his speech by its beauty.
The moth moves through the trees, appearing now i
n a shaft of oddly bright moonlight (considering that this is a gibbous moon).
If a moth can appear dazed, it does. [Note to directors: consider puppetry; training moths is perilous at the best of times.]
Reader executes a deeply graceful reverence in the moonlight.
The moth dances in the air to Reader’s speakings.)

READER
Hyalophora Euryalus, I salute you. In your eternal spiral quest to reach the moon, you have been waylaid this night by forces most unpleasant. It was never my intent that you would be used in such shadowy crabblings.
Go now and flutter thy glorious wings, for someday thy offspring shall feast upon Ceanothus! Pseudotsuga Menziesii! Ribes! Salix
!

(The moth bows and flutters up toward the Scorpio moon.
Its music continues through the rest of the scene.
Reader kneels to the moth and the moon, then moves her pack and staff to the base of the monument, making notes in a leatherbound journal during the following. It is clear she expected a different outcome.)

INTERLOCUTOR
Ladies and Gentlemen, thus do we conclude this portion of the evening’s entertainment. Little does our Reader know she has spoken the words which open a gateway to the moon. And, on levels yet to be discovered, her words may have echoed toward other gateways. Would that this were enough to save her. Alas. The next scene will, I suspect, prove most diverting—even to those among you whose tastes are more, shall we say, European? Splendid. Now / to change the scene—

(/One of the symbols on the monument glows blue, a deeper music thrumming from the monument itself, harmonizing with the music of the moon moth.
Reader is startled, stepping back, journal in hand, to observe.
Interlocutor stares in shock.)

READER
Cold my nights and shadowed my path, but now I know which new path to take! Thank you, little Moon Moth! I am inspired by your in-spiral-ation!

(Reader dons her pack and takes up her staff, heading off upstage left, exploring once again this dark forest.
Watching her go, the Interlocutor gestures. From under the ground comes a crooked figure in a tattered black hooded robe. It is under the thrall of the Interlocutor.)

INTERLOCUTOR
I bring you, now, from deepest dark
To run and fetch a prize;
You’ll scour and scathe this wooded park
Until you behold with your eyes
The slender girl with shapely thighs
Whose trek you’ll halt until she dies
And, left to rot in leaves and bark,
Her knowledge with her lies.

HOODED THING
I will halt her, choc’late malt her.

INTERLOCUTOR
Halt her first in little ways,
Frustrate every breath;
Then take her toes and split her nose,
Pull the petals from her rose,
Bite her ’til her mind quite goes
Then halt her quite to death.

HOODED THING
I’ll halt her in the darkest ways, I’ll pleasure me, she’ll scream for days.

INTERLOCUTOR
Go now!

(The Hooded Thing bounds off, grunting and growling, after Reader.
Interlocutor turns to us.)

INERLOCUTOR
(Continued.)
Let us change the scene.

(Interlocutor exits; as he does so, the scene changes to … )

Fong’s XIV

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

“This one? What the hell is that thing, Fong?”

“Unless I am very much mistaken, we want to get to Knucklebrow before he finds out. Onward, my little bull elephant!” And he was off, in long, graceful running strides, appearing to float one or two inches off the muck of the city. Penny charged after him; in seconds they were turning left down the same alley.

Buildings were closer together here. The alleys were like a maze. Deathtrap in a fire, she thought. There was little or no light, save weak lamplight from an occasional window.

Fong reached into his left sleeve and scattered a handful of objects ahead of them as they ran. “Flower of Enlightenment!” he cried. The object closest to them ignited, blossoming like a flower – of course and throwing greenish golden sparks into the air as it lit.

The others were rolling down the sloping, twisting alley. Where they came to rest, they blossomed in a cascading eruption of sparks that lit not only the area around them, but in one or two cases ignited piles of refuse.

“Fong, isn’t that dangerous?” Penny said.

“True Enlightenment destroys only trash, never infrastructure,” he said, giggling.

“Do you ever just answer a question?”

“No.”

They were nearing Knucklebrow, who was lurching to his feet from a stumble about one hundred yards ahead. The furthest Flower of Enlightenment passed him and came to rest at the base of a wall where the alley forked. It ignited and Knucklebrow tried to stop, slipping and falling, his left foot dipping into the flames of the Flower.

“Knucklebrow, wait!” Penny cried.

From the rooftops above came a screeching call that sent chills up her spine.

Knucklebrow scrabbled to his feet, turning to look up behind him. Even at a distance, it was clear that he was both terrified and familiar with what he saw above. He bellowed, “No, not you! Not again!” and ran away down an alley to the right.

His left foot was on fire.

Fong’s XIII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 23, 2015 at 11:45 am

Running down slick cobbled streets in heels isn’t wise at the best of times, but at night in thick fog, in pursuit of a man who has lost all concern for his personal wellbeing?

Harrowing. Good word for what I’m doing right now. ‘The woman found that running in heels on cobblestones was … harrowing.’

Penny Onehole ran with her skirts bunched in both hands, her shoulders hunched, ready to plow aside any obstacles. Her heels had been designed by Fong for this purpose, being both lighter and sturdier than any shoes worn by other women in her profession.

Which is what, precisely?

Penny Onehole hadn’t yet found the word for it.

Each time her mind wandered in the direction of a definition, she checked it with a checklist. Her shoes, for example, also held a variety of useful items in one or two secret compartments. Of course, her footwear and their secrets weren’t the only items in her personal arsenal. She watched the man who had designed that arsenal and trained her in its uses: Fong ran just ahead of her, to her left, his blue silk robes tucked up into his left elbow. She never understood where he carried his weapons – or illusions of human frailty, as he called them – but she was armed to the teeth. As Fong had put it, “The most tortuous elements of feminine fashion are also those best suited to weaponization.”

Reviewing her checklist as she ran, Penny was distracted by movement above and stumbled, almost spilling ass over teakettle into a mire of filth near a clogged sewer grating. Catching herself and leaping across the shit swamp to launch off a brick wall, she saw Fong clocking her trajectory and noting the same movement above which had caught her attention to begin with.

“We are not alone in our pursuit, Penny Onehole!” he said. Fong was always delighted to be on the hunt, and added danger filled him with a ridiculous degree of cheer.

Two blocks ahead, Knucklebrow made a left down an alley. Fong stopped, his right arm out to halt Penny. She arrested her sprint with a slight sideways skid, resolving into a position Fong called, Floating Lotus (“The lotus that floats is both at peace and unattached, ready for anything.”) She felt his eyes on her heels, heard his satisfied hm at their flexibility and strength. He was very pleased with himself.

“Look up,” Fong said.

Penny Onehole looked up in time to see a gigantic bat-like creature leap from the rooftops, crossing the street above them. It disappeared into the darkness above the rooftops to the left, heading in the same direction as Knucklebrow. Its wings were at least eight feet across, and the smell that assaulted them was a combination of rotting flesh, shit and mammalian musk.

“Goat balls,” Penny said.

“Yes,” said Fong, “This one is male.”

Fong’s Part XII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 22, 2015 at 11:45 am

Sudden searing pain in her right cheek, and Penny fell to her knees, clutching her face.

“I’ve already made the pigfucker joke,” the boy said to his men. “Was bacon too much?”

Penny looked up to see the still-smoking Peacemaker in the boy’s hand. Rivard stood stock still, the mangled remnants of his blade and its mechanism dangling from his torn sleeve. His hand bled, the glove torn – but all of his fingers intact.

“That was unwise,” said Rivard.

“On the contrary, I prevented you from – wait, are you bleeding, Miss?” The young man kept his gun trained on Rivard, his eyes locked on Penny’s.

She took her hand away from her face. The blood that covered her fingers was beginning to clot.

“I am … bleeding,” Penny said. She felt distant from her voice, a numbness settling over her.

“This is unpardonable. Enough games,” the young man said.

He fired his gun five times. Even as his eyes flicked toward his targets, Penny felt as though they never left hers. And though she knew she flinched with each shot, she never allowed herself to blink or break from his gaze. Each bullet found its mark, and each of Rivard’s men fell dead or certain to die, their blood pooling on the fine polished wood of the yacht.

As he fired the last round in his gun, the young man pulled another from its holster and tossed the first behind him where it was caught by a figure still obscured in the fog. This fresh gun was again trained on Rivard. “Let her go,” the young man said, “And I’ll let you live.”

The figure behind the young man had emptied and reloaded the revolver, slipping it into the holster on the young man’s left hip.

“Who’s that behind you, then?” Rivard said. “You bring your mommy along to wipe your ass?”

The young man’s answer was cut off by the boom of a cannon and a great crash of water just beyond the yacht. A voice called out of the fog, “In the name of the Republic! Throw down your arms and surrender your vessels!”

The young man leapt aboard, drawing a sword and slashing it toward Rivard with unexpected skill. Rivard raised a walking stick, blocking the hit, then drew a sword from within. Shots were being fired and male voices were bellowing, but Penny felt like she was fading from the world. Her face was numb and she was having trouble breathing. Everything looked blurry.

“Jack!” a familiar voice called out, “She’s poisoned!”

Jack turned to look at her and was clubbed to his knees by Rivard.

The last thing Penny saw was Rivard’s blade pressing into Jack’s throat.

All went black.

Fong’s Part XI

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 20, 2015 at 11:45 am

The voice in the fog said, “Here we go again. Rivard feels threatened, boys. To what does Rivard retreat when he feels threatened?”

“Comparisons of manhood,” the men with the rifles said as one.

“Fuck yourselves with your rifles and fuck off – ” Rivard began.

The voice cut him off: “Too complex, Rivard. For now, we’re focusing on your obsession with manhood or, to put it more succinctly, boys?”

“Cock,” said the men with the rifles.

Penny laughed again and Rivard lunged in her direction. In slow motion she saw the blade in his right cuff sliding up into his gloved hand. Some kind of mechanism, she thought, even as she realized she was about to get sliced, possibly killed. A peculiar calm settled over her.

A Bowie knife thunked, quivering, into the gleaming deck of the yacht, right next to Rivard’s foot. He froze.

“What’s this, Rivard? Are you branching out? Is that an actual human girl you’ve got there?” The owner of the voice stepped forward, in the middle of and just behind the men with the rifles. He was sixteen, maybe seventeen, with a wild thatch of thick brown hair, and deep-set, intense eyes. “I’m shocked, Rivard. And proud of you. Having seen your whores offering their dubious wares by the docks, I never expected you to join the rest of us in our longing for clean, attractive, un-scarred human females.”

“Go fuck your mother’s ass,” Rivard said.

“I’m so glad you brought up mothers, Rivard. I didn’t want to be the first to mention it. I’ve actually met mine. She raised me. As did my father. They know one another’s names, and he’s never sliced her face. This is where we differ, isn’t it, Rivard? This and your penchant for the smell of fish and bacon clinging to your cock after a flea-infested rut – ”

Rivard snatched Penny by the hair, his knife whistling toward her throat.

A gun roared.

Fong’s Part X

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 19, 2015 at 11:45 am

They’d been about halfway across the bay when one of Rivard’s men had shouted a warning and – out of nowhere – a larger vessel had appeared in the fog, drawing alongside and grappling them. The hooks gouging into the fine wood paneling of the yacht had Rivard bellowing in incoherent rage.

“What’s this, then? Pigfucking son of a whore has a fancy tub now?” The voice came from the other vessel; it was young, its owner as yet unseen.

Penny peered across, but aside from the men pointing rifles at them from the port bow, the other figures were indistinct. The fog was, if anything, thicker in this part of the bay. A small, quiet, safe part of Penny wondered for a moment that a place so still and calm could hold such darkness. Had Fong known, when he sent Krauty to escort her to the docks that morning, that she would be assaulted by strange men not three hours later? She would have liked to return to this spot in the fog on a day when she wasn’t in danger. She couldn’t remember when that had been.

“Show yourself, boy! The only pig I’ll fuck is your face, with my handy blade!” Rivard said.

“Rivard, Rivard, Rivard … still confusing humans and barn animals? I think this tells us more about your upbringing than every gaudy waistcoat you’ve ever worn.” The brazen charm of that voice – this boy didn’t fear Rivard at all. Penny felt her heart relax the tiniest amount.

“You want a pissing contest, boy? Come out where I can see you. We’ll soon learn whose cock is biggest,” Rivard waggled his head as he said this, turning to smile at his men as though he was the wittiest man alive. It was ridiculous, and Penny laughed aloud, then clamped a hand over her mouth.

Rivard wheeled, glaring at Penny. She caught the gleam of steel in his sleeve.

Fong’s Part IX

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 18, 2015 at 11:45 am

“What’s your sister’s name,” someone said. Fong, Heifitz and Knucklebrow were all looking at her. Penny didn’t realize she had spoken. The steam of the coffee shifted to purple as Fong sprinkled a pinch of brown powder over it, and Knucklebrow Twosie gave a half-hiccup, involuntary gasp.

“Penelopye,” he said. It came out Peenellopyeh, but its similarity to Penny’s own name was enough to earn a rare lift of the eyebrow from Fong.

“That’s an uncommon pronunciation,” Fong said. “Where is your family from, Knucklebrow?”

“Ruritania,” Knucklebrow said, “Originally. Then Pennsylvania.”

“Penelopye and Peter of Pennsylvania …” Fong said. His voice was quiet, but each word caused a cascade of twitches across Knucklebrow’s face. It was like watching a mountainside rearrange itself.

From the steam of the coffee came a brief, faint trumpet fanfare, a snippet of a sturdy national anthem as a single word formed above the cup: Strelsau.

“He speaks the truth. Catch him!” Fong said, as Knucklebrow’s eyes rolled up into his head and he tipped backward. Penny reached for him as Heifitz sprang diagonally over the bar, landing to Knucklebrow’s left – but it was too late: Knucklebrow hit the floor with a crash that rattled the cups on every table, the other patrons knocking over chairs in their haste to avoid injury.

Fong scooped a tiny amount of the coffee from the still-steaming cup with a spoon smaller than his thumb, leaning down to pour it over Knucklebrow’s lips.

“That a good idea, boss?” Heifitz said.

“I have no way of knowing. But it seems as good as anything else at the moment,” Fong said.

The coffee cup began to bubble, rattling on the bar and sloshing. More coffee than could fill the cup was pouring out, a tiny splash landing on Penny’s hand, scalding hot. Penny, Fong and Heifitz all turned to stare at it.

The cup exploded.

Knucklebrow shot to his feet, dashing out the door, bellowing, “She’s near the docks!”

“Quickly, Penny – after him! In his state he’s uncontrollable. We’ve no time to lose – Heifitz! Call Jack!” Fong grabbed Penny’s hand and whisked her toward the entrance.

“Jack who?” Heifitz was reaching for the stereoptiphone.

“Who do you think?” Fong threw this last over his shoulder as he and Penny were out the door, the figure of Knucklebrow fading into the night ahead of them. Penny knew which Jack it was, and felt a thrill in her heart of hearts.

Her hero, her savior, her secret love: Pirate Jack, the terror of the Bay.