Monday, January 31, 2011

Flash Fiction - Confront

Good evening,

 The past week has been hectic. I ground this one out in two and a half days, if that. I like the idea of it, though.

 Behold:

***

            The towers seemed higher than before. Massive spires of steel, they made the surrounding walls of East District look puny. As he switched on the service elevator to go to the lower decks of the city, he could not help but watch the sun setting across the skyline. Orange rays danced along the metal towers and construction cranes that covered the buildings.
            He looked down at his full-body extermination suit and waited. Gears ground against gears behind him as rusted wires pulled the cab up. He took this time to watch a flock of birds circle one of the towers and vanish just above him.
            There was a ringing in his ear as the cab slid into place. Pressing on the side of his helmet, he accepted the call. “Olsen here.”
            “Isaac?” squeaked a familiar voice.
            He grinned a little as the grate-lined elevator doors parted. He stepped inside. “Oh, hey, Stan. Listen, I’m about to head Below.”
            “Oh,” his friend said, distantly.
            “Yeah, a big one apparently broke through last week,” Isaac said, hitting the lowest button on the console. “Three workers are dead, five are in hospice and I can guarantee you that at least one of the bastards is turning right now.” The doors closed in front of him. “So, I need to be quick before it hits the residential areas.”
            “That’s okay, then.”
            “When can I call you back?”
            No answer.
His heart stopped. The sun began to dip behind the walls and high towers as his elevator sank. “Stan?”
            “No, it’s nothing. I’ll just go.”
            He knew what was happening. A voice belonging to an old counselling professor told him to keep his friend on the line. “Stan, come on, you called me. Something’s up, and you wanted to talk about it. You know I’m not gonna let something this cryptic slip by, so level with me: what is wrong?”
            There was silence again. The elevator passed through an iron floor separating the city from the Below. The sun was gone. Basement Levels for each tower dangled like stalactites, dotted with windows that shone halogen lights in the gloom.
            A sigh; his friend started: “I’m just so tired, man. Just with all these infestations and everything. Planet’s a mess, people are pissing around, and now Vanessa’s mad at me –”
            “What happened with Vanessa?” he said, That seemed like a good place to start.
            Stan groaned as though he were sick. “I lost my job at the plant, right? And now her dad’s telling her to call off the engagement, says I can’t support her now.”
            In seconds, the lower halves of the towers were gone. All that connected him to the world above was the service elevator shaft he rode in. The darkness of the Below was growing deeper, even with the faint lamplight of the old shops and buildings illuminating the forgotten world beneath him.
            “So?” he asked, inputting a code into his armcom. A video screen came up. “Her dad’s not marrying you; she is. Tell him to back off.”
            “But he’s got a point, right? I mean, there’s no time to sit around anymore, not with –”
            The gears began to grind loudly, cutting off his friend’s speech. With a heavy kachunk, the cab stopped moving and the doors slid open. A dingy intersection lay before him, cracked concrete and scraps of trash lining the ground. Burnt, crumbling buildings surrounded the shaft.
            There was a high beeping noise. He checked his armcom as a message from H.Q. came to him. Slowly, Isaac read it and continued his chat, “Sorry, I didn’t catch a word of that,” he said.
            “Nothing. It’s just,” his friend stammered, weakly, “I’m just wondering what the point of all this is, you know?”
            Angrily, Isaac Olsen stepped from the elevator and typed out a quick response. “The point?! Damn it, Stan, I’m down here risking my life for people like you and Nessa! Seriously, if anything happened to you, I’d lie down and let the fuckers take me!”
            “You don’t mean that.”
            “Testing me, now?” he said, keeping watch on the emptied streets. A door was off its hinges just left of him, lined with scratch marks and blood stains, “I’m just some putz who cleans the streets. One hundred and seventeen of me back at the base. But you, there’s only one of you, and only one of Vanessa, and you wanna know the point?”
            “Isaac, I –”
            Something rustled.
            Isaac turned to face a dark alleyway. Movement came from behind a row of garbage cans. His voice lowered. “Call Nessa and tell her you love her. Take your ass to Jonesy’s tomorrow and fill out a goddamn form. Hit the West District, upper levels, start talking to people, find a new gig. If Nessa’s dad starts giving you trouble, tell him that you're taking initiative.”
            “But –”
            “Don’t argue. I already got Elle to find someone to work on your resume. He’ll be there within the hour.”
            There was a choked cry on the other side. His friend sniffed and whimpered in his ear: “Isaac, I love you man.”
            “You, too,” he said, watching as something lithe and thin speared a garbage can, dragging it into the black unknown just as quickly as it appeared. “Now get your ass together. I see it.”
            “Right. Knock ‘em dead.”
            The com switched off. From an iron holster in his thigh, a long gun unfolded. He gripped the butt of it and stood at the ready.
            A quartet of long, spindly legs unfolded from the darkness and dug into the concrete. There was a low hiss like steam escaping a rusted pipe.
            He sneered at the thing. “Come on, you bastard. I got places to be.”

***

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. Edit, edit, edit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flash Fiction - The Bar

Good evening,

 Decided to put up a part three to my series on superheroics. Do you remember Captain Astonishing from The Hero or at least the organization he "fights" against, as showcased in Interview?

 Let's see how he's doing.

***

            With Anti-Lope, Hind, and the rest of The Stag Party put away, the city could rest easily. Captain Astonishing had dealt a mighty blow against crime, most of the bank’s money had been returned, and the world would sleep a little better that night. Newspapers were alight with the heroics of the Captain. Interviews were lined up. Public mania was bursting at the seams.
            He knew the truth. The rest of the money that went ‘missing’ would be used by the Bleak Consulate to hire a good lawyer to reduce Anti-Lope and Hind’s sentencing and have them sent to Cloudbank Penitentiary, somewhere that served more as a resort than a prison. They would be out in six months, their release arranged to resemble a jailbreak.
            This was not the life he wanted.
            Back in his tower, the secretary that the rest of the Liberty Legion had left for him gave nothing but praise for his first mission. His commander Paradigm had sent a cheque for the day’s work and left it on top of his desk. An invitation to another gala sat next to it.
He needed something stiff.

            He found a greasy spoon on the dark side of town and sat at the bar. Alone and in civilian clothes, he nursed a sour-smelling brew and watched the television. Small groups of men and women congregated by the windows or near the bathrooms, nattering loudly about sports or philosophy. The Captain envied their small-talk.
He took out the cheque again and stared at it. It made him ill to look at, yet he couldn’t turn away from it. This was his world now, and it was smothering him.
            Someone called out to him: “Hey.”
            The Captain put the paper away and looked to his left. A lean man in short sleeves with shocked-up red hair and brilliant green eyes approached; a glass of something brown and frothy was in one hand. He took the empty seat to the Captain’s left.
“Hey, man,” the man said, sliding closer to him, “You’re that new superhero ain’tcha?”
            “No,” he immediately snapped back, nervously. This felt wrong. He felt his heat vision powering up.
            The man put his hands in the air. “Hey, relax, brother. My best pal’s brother helps run the L.L.’s Megabunker up in Seattle.”
            Rolling his eyes, The Captain sulked in his seat. He didn’t need any fans approaching him. “Are you looking for an autograph?”
            “Nah, man,” the stranger explained, setting his drink-hand down and keeping the other up. “Just wanted to say that we got stuff in common, is all.”
            “Like what?”
            “Like this.”
            A flash; the stranger’s raised forearm lit up with swirls of blue flame. Lithely, it snaked around his wrist and along his palm, up to the tips of his fingers. There, it danced and flickered in the air. He cupped his hand. The fire slithered forward and formed a ball in his palm. A straight tail of flame dangled between his fingers. A burning wine glass sat in his hand.
            The bar erupted in applause. One group at a booth near the bathrooms gave a standing ovation. The stranger raised his glasses at them as The Captain smiled at the display. “You have powers,” he said, amazed, “What team are you with?”
            “I’m not,” the stranger replied, flicking his wrist. The fire vanished. Wisps of smoke were all that remained.
            The Captain went pale. “You’re rogue.”
            “I never bothered.”
            “You never bothered?!”
            He shook his head. “No way, man. I ain’t puttin’ on a set of tights and fighting cowboy zombies for money. That ever happens, I’ll do it for free, and I don’t need no damn suit or fancy nickname. People wanna call me something fancy, let ‘em call me ‘that freakin’ mechanic with the fire comin’ out of his hands.’”
            “You’re okay with that?” The Captain wondered, “You wouldn’t want the benefits?”
            “Here’s all I need,” he said, reaching into his pocket. From its inside, he produced a single photograph. “Her name’s Colleen.”
The Captain brought it to his face. A supple woman with young features, coffee-coloured skin and pearl-white teeth smiled up at him in a silver dress. Her curled hair fell down her shoulders in tresses. Bright lights of some discotheque were in the background.
“She’s gorgeous,” The Captain said.
The man grinned, taking the photo back. “We met in high school. She’s a nurse out East. Sharp as a tack, she is. Finally got hitched in the fall.”
“You’re a lucky man,” mused the hero, “Only women in my life are a bunch of sexually frustrated news reporters.”
He laughed. “Nothing wrong with that. Hey, my name's Keith,” the man said, extending his hand.
The Captain reached up “I'm,” he stopped, his hand drifting in the air. Swallowing hard, he clasped the palm of the stranger. “I'm Dashiell.”
“Are you freaking serious?” Keith said, with a laugh. “Like the writer?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “Dashiell August.”
The stranger laughed. “Gotta be a superhero with a name like that.”
Running his hand through his hair, The Captain smiled weakly. “Yeah. But I should've been a doctor.”
Keith grinned wider than before. “So, Dash, you gonna come here often?”
"I will now," he admitted, half-shamefully. "Next time you see my mug on the news, you better take the bus down here."
The Captain's new friend gave another laugh. “No transit for me; I can fly.”

***

 Alright, now I'm going to not write about superheroes until, oh, March?

 This will, however, not mean an end to giving some of my stories sequels. I'm itching to add more to L, but only because I love Jeff to pieces, the miserable creep.

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. Edit, edit, edit.



Monday, January 17, 2011

Review/Analysis/Tongue-Bath for "Black Swan"

Good evening.

 I’m writing a review of Black Swan. I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.

 I said to myself that I didn’t want this blogspot account to go the way of my old one and become a cavalcade of mediocre and flimsily-made reviews. Normally, I would keep myself from doing this sort of thing these days, but I was sold on this film the minute I read the words “Darren Aronofsky.” I’m a big fan of The Wrestler and The Fountain and, while I’ve yet to see his other works, I’m so far convinced that the man can do no wrong.

 You have to understand that I love this film. I saw it on Saturday, and I think it’s one of the best psychological horror films I’ve seen. So many horror movies are about running from ghosts or squidmen or guys with chainsaws strapped to their dicks, and that’s fine, but it’s a lot more frightening when the thing that’s haunting you cannot be eluded or killed with a silver bullet one way or another. I love it so much that I’m putting off writing this week’s flash fiction so I can gather my thoughts and lovingly rub them on this Word document.

 So, summary: Black Swan deals with Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer slowly losing her mind while preparing for the lead roles in Swan Lake, the pure and sweet White Swan and her twin, the evil and seductive Black Swan. She’s a perfect match for the former, but cannot lose herself enough to take on the role of the latter. Circumstances involving her controlling fallen starlet mother, a director and dance instructor who can’t keep his hands out of the pants of his lead actresses, and a mysterious San-Fran party girl trying to steal the role from Nina, all send her down a dark road of transformation, destruction, pleasure, jealousy, and paranoia.

 Let’s talk cast. Natalie Portman does a good job portraying a mostly-innocent woman who slowly gets torn apart by an increasing sense of entitlement, a struggle for individuality in an incredibly strict field, and her own sexual frustration. Vincent Cassel, meanwhile, plays the idle-handed director Thomas, a perfect blend of suave and serpentine who treats the women he favours like hats; Barbara Hershey embraces the role of Nina’s domineering and eerily sweet mother Erica, while Mila Kunis plays Lily, the double-faced San-Fran girl who seems to take on the role of the Black Swan better than Nina.

 With Portman’s character in particular, you get a sense of someone trapped and torn apart by the only world she knows, her grip on reality slipping away with every step she takes to become the Black Swan. As she finds all of the people in her life to be following their own agendas, agendas that involve stepping on her as much as possible, the crippling realization that she is alone and becoming something cruel and inhuman sends her further and further down the rabbit hole. It’s easy to see why someone like her would collapse under pressure. Granted, most people would probably just drop out and jump the next train out of town, but this movie is not about most people.

 Sound direction stood out to me, too. The flapping of wings is heard often, either faintly or as a deafening boom. Sometimes it felt unnecessary, not in terms of placement but in terms of volume, but there was not a moment where it took me out of the experience. And then there’s the musical score. My god, it’s like Tchaikovsky’s music was performed by Nyarlathotep itself, with familiar tunes twisted and mutated to fit the mood of the film, well-depicting the beauty and horror in Nina’s ascension and eventual downward spiral.

 Now, I could continue running down the bog-standard review mess of discussing the acting, sound, camera work, writing, pacing, and presence of hot-dog vendors, but I’d rather talk about the use of colour instead.

 This film is black and white and red all over and it’s not afraid to show it. Colours are used to not only set tone and place, but also character. Black denotes sexuality and control, while white is associated with purity and passion, and red shows up to represent the ever-popular tag team of lust and the grotesque.

 Black in particular is prominent, not only worn by the rest of the cast as they drive Nina towards her dark side, but also in the background as shadows or the paintings in her mother’s room. The colour black then feels like a force she, and we, cannot escape, appearing in so many places that it becomes hard for us to not notice it. Finally, we see black in her make-up, showing that she has lost control of herself.

 If you go to see this film, keep your eyes open but I’m still reeling at how intricate it is. There are all these little set pieces that Aronofsky leaves around that are hitting me even as I write this, and I’m not going to go into detail because I’ve already gushed enough and you probably got the point by now. Plus, if I end up doing reviews in the future, I have no intention of becoming one of those guys who spoils everything. Needless to say, I consider this to be a cinematic marvel, and you need to see it as soon as you can.

 Come to think of it, the only thing I didn’t like about it was this one guy in the theatre who burst out laughing during a pivotal moment towards the end, resulting in the only time in my life I ever wanted Joseph Stalin as an audience member.

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. Made one small, small edit to make one of my points seem stronger.