Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flash Fiction - Place to Place

Good day,

 Dabbling with an assignment for BlogTO and other things kept me at bay for a while, but now I'm here with a tale for y'all.

***


            I’m writing this from the tea shop above Thorne Street. I’m seeing cars stop at the toll both outside my window just before the robot at the counter lets them zip away. Neon pink Chinese characters hang over the intersection next to a video screen showing some disgusting shampoo ad. Below me, arrays of pleather-clad prostitutes stalk the streets and leer at passing men and women.
            There’s a newspaper on my table. Gang warfare’s on the rise, it tells me. Members of the East-End cartel Murder Per Capita got in a big fight with The Buccaneers over the weekend. Police succeeded in capturing MPC enforcer Lars “Zero Tolerance” Kroener during the battle. Eleven people, however, died during the fight. I couldn’t be happier.
            Languidly, I open it and read through the pages of election scandals and the riots in West Persia. I stop on an expose of the dinosaur cloning facility in Stockholm, one page before the obituaries. I’m writing this to ask myself what kind of sadist concerns himself with the burning wreckage of a third-world nation. I want to know who cares if ten thousand people lose their jobs. Who cares about –
            My girlfriend’s calling. I have to stop being me for a second.
            “Hi, baby,” she says, in a voice that is one part saccharine and one part sinister.
            “Hey, honey,” I say, putting on my ‘I am a good boyfriend and I am not sitting in a tea shop on Thorne Street writing about things I hate’ voice.
            She sees through me, “Where are you?”
            “Oh, nowhere.”
            “Stop lying. Did you go back to Thorne Street?”
            “Well –”
            “You know how much I hate that place. Somebody was shot there just last week.”
            “People die everywhere.”
            “You’re impossible.”
“Yeah. How are your parents?” They hate me, by the way.
“Still in Maui,” she admits, before sighing, “Look, baby, please take the train to my place. I can’t stand to know you’re there. We’ll talk more when I know you haven’t been knifed.”
And off I go.

I’m on the train barrelling out of the downtown core. As usual, my car is lined with grit and litter, and populated by some of society’s worst.
I see a man with augmented legs standing up against the wall, wearing shorts in this abysmal time of year and showing off his implants. A pregnant woman sits across from me, next to a large man with a unicycle who I seriously hope isn’t her husband. Three boys with dyed silver hair and skin-tight gym clothes are loafing in the distance.
The ads around me are tacky and the antithesis of clever. “Try Trilonyl For Trying Pains.” “This summer, one man and his parakeet will rock your world.” “Perfection Defined.” Nobody seems to realize how droll these all are. They’re crimes against our very sanity, part of a dreary campaign against our hearts and minds. Yet, we let companies pollute our brains and –
That was embarrassing. Some woman was reading over my shoulder just now. I had to slip my Pad away and act normal, but she read it. She read it all. Before she got off the train, she looked at me with sad eyes.
“Try smiling,” she said, “It will get you through this all.”
Damn it. I don’t want people to worry about me. I don’t want anyone sticking up for me and being concerned about my mental health. Let me be cruel. Let me write about dark skies and scandals and senseless deaths.
I’ll be outside soon. Maybe that’ll calm me down.

Oh thank god it’s raining again.
It’s tipping down. The city is being drenched by a waterfall from the skies. Idiots in the height of fashion are being soaked from head to toe.  Someone’s coat is being blown up by a fierce wind. The only tree in sight is being blown.
My girlfriend’s place is across the way. I can take my time. I’ll just sit here until the rain stops and tell her I –
And someone just gave me his umbrella.
“It’s okay, I’ve got another one in my bag,” he says, unfolding his spare and running into the storm. He vanishes over the horizon.
Just my luck. I’m out on the most miserable day of the year, and nobody wants me to be miserable.
I guess I’ll cross the street to my girlfriend’s and have sex, then.

***

 In other news, I'm debating going back through my old stories and editing up the ones I like. Maybe I'll make that part of a Spring Cleaning project. Ooh that sounds catchy.

See you next time,

-RWI

Monday, April 16, 2012

If I Did - Superman Returns


Good evening,

            The ‘If I Did’ series seems to be popular with people. I know this now because I mentioned IID at a friend’s party some time ago. Needless to say, my vision of Twilight and Hangover 2 won over some and perplexed others. Then, something I never thought possible happened: someone issued a challenge.

            “Okay, hot-shot,” he said, not actually calling me hot-shot, “Redo Superman Returns.

            You know how these things work. The gears got turning and soon enough I had a premise. Now, I’m going to post it here. It’s funny, because I didn’t get into Superman as much as I did with Batman or Spiderman, but there’s something about him that is fun. I had some of the comics, and I saw the Richard Donner films and the Bruce Timm animated series. Then, in 2006, I hit the theatres and saw Returns… and I kind of liked it. Kind of.

Okay, yes, it was silly, melodramatic, and riddled with plot-holes – especially the whole illegitimate son arc and the ‘Superman lifts the Kryptonite island and becomes a Jesus metaphor’ malarkey – but it was fun for me. Then again, the films have always been silly. If you can believe a man can fly and shoot heat-rays, then taking a bullet to the eyeball and pushing the earth back through time should be easy to understand.

Returns, though, could have been much better, but Superman is incredibly difficult to write for. How exactly do you add tension when your main character is a solar-powered god? Singer had the right idea by hitting Superman in the soul rather than across the jaw, but how could he have explored that further?

Here are some ideas:

First, I’d start with a recap. You know how The Incredible Hulk began with Bruce Banners’ origin story being played alongside the credits without labouring over details or alienating the audience who never bothered with the Ang Lee film? I’d do the same; the opening credits would show the death of Krypton, Superman landing on earth, growing up, heading to the Daily Planet, stopping Lex and Zod, romancing Lois, and then soaring off to find himself. No dialogue, just quick-cuts, and all done in just under four minutes.

Then we roll into it. See, Singer had the right idea by having a time jump for when Superman was away, but it was too short. So, rather than Superman being absent from the planet for only six or seven years, he’s actually been gone for over two decades. We begin with Lois Lane in charge of the Daily Planet, but she’s no longer a spry twenty-something but a woman in her mid-forties and married with two teenaged kids. She reminisces on the days of old as her new editor, Jimmy Olsen, prepares the presses for the President’s speech.

All of a sudden, a huge alien ship breaks through the atmosphere. It launches an attack, travelling across the world wreaking havoc. Probes zip through the streets abducting people, and any tanks and fighter jets that get mobilized to stop it end up shot down.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, another ship crash-lands in the middle of a field and is discovered by the grandson of Ma and Pa Kent’s neighbours. It opens up, and it’s Superman, still a young man of twenty-something as he was when he first left the earth. Before he gets told how long he’s been gone, though, his super-hearing picks up on Metropolis being invaded.

Superman appears as the ship does, beats back the probes, and the UFO retreats. This is when Kal-El finds out he’s been gone for twenty years and that Lois Lane’s moved on with her life. His friends have changed or are gone, and society and technology are now far beyond what he was used to. More importantly, he gets called out and praised by the new President of the United States of America: his former arch-nemesis Lex Luthor.

This is the tipping point for Superman. Disillusioned, Superman runs back to the Arctic and revisits his Fortress of Solitude. He takes the time there to consult his crystal computer about the new era. After some much-needed me-time, he puts together an “aged Clark Kent” look with some hair dye and returns to the Daily Planet, reconnecting with Lois and Jimmy Olsen. Clark gets his job back, and also goes back to slipping out as Superman to do some good, later reconnecting with Lois as Superman and finding out more about Mrs. Lane’s life and discussing the love they once had. Things get tense, Superman suddenly feels less super knowing that Lois settled for an average guy, and sulks off.

On one of his outings, Superman blows out a fire at an abandoned factory and meets an unexpected visitor – President Luthor. Luthor explains that his goons started the fire to get Superman’s attention, and that he wants to team up to stop the alien robot-thing that attacked Earth. Superman, of course, refuses and flies off.

The next day, the alien ship returns. Luthor arrives in Metropolis, announcing to the American public that he hired roboticist Winslow Schott to help him develop a device that might help him communicate with the aliens. This proves fruitless when Lex and Winslow get abducted and the ship continues its assault on Metropolis, abducting Lois Lane and the Daily Planet crew next. Clark Kent becomes Superman and breaks into the ship.

Inside, he finds people being frozen in tubes, shrunk down and stored in cases by a humanoid. It introduces itself as a Coluan supercomputer its people colloquially referred to as “Brainiac.” Brainiac explains that it was programmed to gather architecture samples from other civilizations for its masters, but the Coluans destroyed themselves during one of its outings. Since then, it has decided to collect entire intelligent species instead, and that it plans to start with Earth. Superman explains that Brainiac can’t travel the universe stealing off with people for his galactic butterfly collection, but the robot won’t listen. Brainiac decides that the only logical course of action is to wipe the floor with Superman.

Big fight, biff-bang-pow. Superman throws Brainiac aside and figures out how to free the citizens of Earth, including Lois and co, and – much to his disdain – Lex Luthor and Winslow Schott. Brainiac recovers and attacks Superman again while Lois gets everyone to Brainiac’s probes, sending everyone back to Earth. Superman crashes the ship outside the White House and then punches Brainiac into the sun. After the battle, Superman discovers a hidden room in the ship where he finds a shrunken-down ancient Kryptonian city called Kandor. He takes Lois and Kandor back with him to the Fortress of Solitude. He clears the air with Lois, and the two agree that even though they can’t be lovers again, they can still be together as friends.

As the film ends, we get our big twist: that Lex and Winslow planned to get abducted. They knew Superman would come to the rescue and free them, but he didn’t anticipate that Winslow and Lex would run amok in the ship, find a control panel and redirect the UFO towards the nation’s capital. Luthor’s science team pick apart the remains of the spacecraft, Brainiac’s body, and some other technology found on board, and then set to work on three projects code-named “Metallo,” “Parasite,” and “Bizarro.”

And there you have it. Once again, kudos to Josh L. for giving me the idea, and thank you for reading.

See you next time!

-RWI

EDIT: A friend noticed that I forgot a word in one of the paragraphs. It's fixed now. Thanks, Michael!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flash Fiction - Below My Feet

Good evening,

 I worked double-time to make sure this story got saved. Thankfully I remembered enough of it to play around with it, and plus I was lucky enough to find a not-quite-as-older version on my laptop. So without further ado: this.

***


Ryo and Manabu sat on the edge. Their legs dangled like hanged men over the side of the old building. A bag of snacks was nestled between them. They stared out at the cityscape and enjoyed their idle Sunday chatter. From where they sat, they could see the towering skyscrapers of Oldtown stabbing the clouds in the West Quarter. Neon rainbow lights erupted from Central Square. Oily smells from the Langstrom Factory crossbred with the sweet marketplace aromas. A zeppelin soared over the West Gate.
Languidly, tall and greying Manabu popped a chip into his mouth, “Are you proposing to Asami yet?”
Ryo nodded, his dyed-gold hair bobbing, “Mm. That’ll be tonight.”
“Good luck.”
“Thanks. What about you and Michele?”
“Ha?”
“That’s her, right? The blondie from Wayfarer.”
Manabu sucked air through his teeth, “It’s too early to say. I think I want to get married more than she does.”
Ryo laughed a little, “She’s young, that’s why.”
Manabu punched his friend’s arm, “She’s your age. Don’t –”
A horn roared behind them. They looked over their shoulders. The massive doors of the South Gate were not far from where they sat, and they were opening. A chorus of joyous cries came from the streets.
Manabu winced and faced the street again, “So noisy.”
Ryo kept facing the gate, “Someone returning from battle, no doubt. The frogfolk by the South Lake are getting restless. Fishermen turning up dead and all that.”
“Doesn’t mean they have to be so noisy,” the greying man grunted.
Something in Ryo’s pocket chirped. He pulled out a small golden circle decorated with flashing lights. He pressed its middle. A blue light shot into his eyes and disappeared. He pocketed the device. “Billy’s at Naga Square. Let’s go.”
“How can you stand those things?” the greying man asked, sliding away from the building’s ledge, “They’ll give you eye cancer or something.”
“There’s no such thing as eye cancer,” Ryo grunted, grabbing the snack bag.
Manabu brought himself to his feet and headed for the stairway down, “There will be if you keep using that. Anyway, let’s go.”

Back in the streets, they headed for the marble fountain in Naga Square. Shop windows obnoxiously flashed advertisements at them. Newsboys trumpeted local gossip and tales from abroad. A priest called out passages from old holy texts. Schools of people overtook the streets; girls in tight pants and bright shirts, a dirty-faced man in his leather jacket, three old men at a chess table, young lovers and tradesmen and vagabonds and soldiers stomping the streets for satisfaction and excitement.
There were also the hunters. Swarthy, cocky fighters in stolen clothes and improbable homemade weapons swaggered through the streets, joking with each other and making passes at whoever was nearby. Women wearing iron and silk teased hard-bodied boys decorated with bone and leather coats. Modified guns and long blades were slung over their shoulders or holstered on their belts, in blatant disregard of the law. Among themselves, they were unique and heroic, but to the general public they were suicidal thrill-seekers with no sense of subtlety.
Manabu saw one particularly large man pass by and huffed, “I heard Keith’s brother is joining those guys.”
Ryo raised an eyebrow, “Who?”
“Keith! Narumi’s boyfriend. Remember, he’s got those big pale eyes?”
“Oh! Creepy Eyes!”
“Yeah, yeah! Him!”
“Wow!” Ryo said, leaning back and folding his arms, “So Creepy Eyes’ brother is going to be a hunter, eh?”
“Looks like it. I wonder if he has creepy eyes too,” he wondered, eying his young friend, “Would you ever do that?”
“No way,” the boy scoffed, “I can’t even walk into a butcher’s shop. Besides, who says we can’t share the land?”
“Careful, talk like that’ll get you arrested,” Manabu warned, “I just might start screaming ‘Traitor, there’s a traitor here!’ Then what?”
“Then who’s going to cook my special biryani chicken?” Ryo asked, flatly.
Manabu meditated on that, “Good point.”
They stepped around a voluptuous hunter in a lizard-skin dress chatting up two sensibly-dressed men and saw the fountain. It was a tall and twisting marble monolith, depicting four snakes bent around a nude woman, covering the important parts of her body. Water poured out of their mouths.
Tan and muscular, Billy was pacing in front of it. As they came near, he checked his messenger-disc one last time before putting it aside. “Hey, guys.”
“Hey, Billy!” Manabu laughed, waving, “How’s it going?”
He shrugged, “Not much. Have you heard about Keith’s brother?”
Ryo clucked his tongue, “Yeah. I feel bad for Creepy –” Manabu nudged his friend and shot him a look. The young man grunted, “I mean: I feel bad for Keith. How did it happen?”
Billy pulled out a cigarette and lit it, “A valtonite made it into the sewers last week. It popped out of the manhole in the East Quarter. Keith’s brother, Charlie, he was working there, but when he saw it attacking people, he charged it with a metal chair and beat it to death. Kid’s lucky to be alive.”
“Okay, I have to admit,” Ryo said, putting his hands up, “that’s pretty impressive. Those things are huge.”
“Yeah, but now the little man wants to be a hunter,” grunted Billy, taking a drag, “He’s half my size and he thinks he can hold his own out in the wild.”
Manabu looked left to see two hunters bickering over a gaudy scythe that one of them held, “How’s Keith taking it?”
Billy took another drag, “He’s mad as hell. Ron and Obie stopped him from drinking his weight in spicewine last night. Narumi’s a mess, too, but more because Keith’s a wreck now.”
“Poor girl,” Ryo sighed, pocketing his hands, “We should go cheer her up.”
“We should hold an intervention instead,” Manabu proposed, lifting his arm and waving it high. A carriage in the distance slowed down and veered, heading their way “Charlie’s almost ready to kill himself and we’re sitting here.”
“I agree,” Billy started, heading for the carriage, “Kid’s full-on delusional. He put this big post up on the MyLife bulletin board, saying that he ‘feels alive,’ like he’s standing above the city and that the world’s below his feet.”
Manabu sighed, folding his arms, “I guess he never sat on the edge of a building before.”

***

See you next time,

-RWI

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Damnable Setback.

Well that was embarrassing.

 I spent yesterday burning daylight with this week's Flash Fiction. See, my process is to save my files on three different drives: my laptop, my desktop, and a USB key I keep on hand at all times. So because I'm a massive genius I accidentally saved over my most recent version of this week's story with an older version. So, this week's post will be delayed.

 It might be for the best, though. Perhaps I need to expand on this one a bit more, and make it bigger and better.

 Until then, we are experiencing technical difficulties.

Please stand by,

-RWI

Monday, April 2, 2012

Flash Fiction, The Excavation Part Three

Good day,

 I'm here to FINISH THE JOB.

***


Calum Grady’s chest heaved as the glass covering rose. Unseen gears grated together. White clouds billowed out of the chamber, spreading across the machine and dancing along the ground. A figure sat in the tube. It stirred.
            Calum lost his footing. He fell onto his backside and swung his arms in an attempt to seize the wall for balance. Joan was calling out to him on his com-wire; he couldn’t listen. He was too busy looking at the alien form emerging before him.
            The thing was large and covered in coarse brown fur. Its body was broad and muscular, its hands were clawed and its head was wide. Compound eyes stared unblinking at the world. A quartet of long tubes hung from its face. Leathery straps held together a set of thick fabrics clothing its body.
            Blindly, the creature stumbled out. It held its face and gripped the side of the glass-and-metal chamber. It gurgled drowsily with a low, guttural growl as it rubbed its eyes. It looked around itself. Calum heard it huffing.
It faced his way.
Intensity filled its bulbous eyes. Its breathing grew heavier. Calum heard a grunt. He didn’t respond; he didn’t know how to.
            “Uuurgh!” it barked, storming over to him, “Nuurruuruu huuuurr!”
Instinctively, the archaeologist raised his arms. He hoped that it would not see him as a threat. “No! Wait!”
            “Nuwhooooough,” howled the creature, stamping the ground at him, “Nuwhooooough huhrrooooooo! URRRRH!”
            Before Calum could respond, it gripped his shoulders and lifted him up. Violently, the creature shook him and roared again. The archaeologist’s heart pounded. His broken leg hit the wall, sending shots of pain across his body. As the beast bellowed, bringing its inhuman face close to his, Calum winced and braced for death.
Suddenly, the creature slumped. Calum watched his attacker drop to its knees, keeping hold of his suit. Its body shook. Head lowered, the thing’s rumbling growls fell to a low timbre.
The explorer felt himself being dragged down. He watched the creature pull him close. Resting on his good leg, Calum laid the damaged one out beside him and kept it level.
The thing raised its face. Water streamed out of its eyes.
“Nuhmrrrr,” it sobbed, pawing weakly at Calum’s chest, “Hrmohhh.”
Things were getting very confusing very quickly. The archaeologist shook his head at the weeping alien. Slowly, Calum brought his hands up and patted the hairy arms of the creature. It looked away, facing the floor.
It lost everything, Calum told himself, suddenly understanding, Its family, its friends... maybe even a lover. If it has such things, I mean.
At that moment, Calum thought of his wife. He thought of her auburn hair and toothy smile. He thought of her long hands and her slim ankles and the way she laughed. He thought of Kara. He imagined waking up thousands of years later to find her long dead. He imagined cradling her body and screaming at the sky. It froze his blood.
“Hrm,” he grunted, thinking of Kara.
“Mrm,” it grunted, eying Calum’s broken leg.
“Huh,” he huffed, looking up at the ceiling and the pin-point of light in the distance.
“Muh,” it huffed, following Calum’s gaze.
The thing rose again. It put its arms around Calum’s waist and lifted him. Turning on a heel, the thing took Calum’s arm put it over its shoulders.

The rescue team found Calum an hour later. Joan Holliday saw her superior sitting comfortably on a wooden box at the end of a long hallway filled with empty glass tubes. She ran to his side and hugged him. He weakly patted her shoulders. “This’ll be a fine story for the missus,” he told her.
Joan just then noticed the seven-foot hairy beast. It typed away at a long keyboard that slid into a wall just as she faced it. The team watched it take a step back, turning to Calum with compound eyes and a set of tubes where its mouth should have been.
“My god, what is that?” Joan asked, taking Calum by the arm.
“Friendly,” he joked.
She shot him a look. “I didn’t ask that.”
He rubbed his good leg, “Near as I can figure, it sealed itself here millennia ago. Now it’s awake and all alone. I think this place was some kind of command tower.”
“So what’s it doing?”
“No idea. It tried to rip my head off one second, then the next second it’s crying its eyes out, and now it’s brought me here. It was typing on that keyboard you just saw for the better part of a half-hour.”
“So what –?”
A whirring noise sounded behind the wall and interrupted them. A large panel slid open, revealing a great display monitor that blinked to life. The creature turned to it, bringing its claws to its chest. It seemed to be gripping itself with anticipation.
A simple if all-too-familiar outline of a tall stone ziggurat appeared on screen. A pair of lines slid down its sides and formed another set of outlines. Rows and rows of rooms and floors opened under the tower. Yellow lights blinked on and off on different levels.
Giddily, the creature jumped, throwing its claws in the air. It roared with triumph. Facing the rescue team, it made a sweeping gesture, pointing to the lights that appeared on screen.
More panels opened. More monitors filled the room. The rescue team tensed. Joan cursed and Calum’s eyes widened. On each one, they saw rooms and rooms of glass tubes fixed to metal machines. And each tube they saw was opening up.
Joan’s jaw dropped, “We didn’t just find a tower, did we?”
“No,” said Calum Grady, “We found life.”

***

 Let us never speak of this again. Or let's, just, like, in private.

See you next time,

-RWI