Manuscripts Burn


MANUSCRIPTS BURN

"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 7

***NOTE: THIS IS THE LAST ENTRY FOR CHAPTER 3. AS A SPECIAL INCENTIVE, THE FIRST PERSON TO COMMENT ANYWHERE ON THE MANUSCRIPTS BURN BLOG WILL BE THE SUBJECT OF TOMORROW'S MULTIMEDIA EXTRAVAGANZA IN HONOR OF THEIR GOOD TASTE. IF THERE IS NO COMMENT BY MIDNIGHT TONIGHT, THERE WILL BE NO MULTIMEDIA TOMORROW. WHICH IS AN INCENTIVE OF IT'S OWN, I SUPPOSE, IF YOU DISLIKE THE MULTIMEDIA.***

The phone exploded into annoyingly loud and incessant ringing. Ben grunted. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock. It was terribly early in the morning.

“What, what, what, what, what?” he muttered.

Taking the phone out of it’s cradle, he said, "What is it?"

It was Victory’s voice. It was strange because it was a week or so after the meeting. Ben wondered briefly if he was calling another meeting. Maybe Vic was calling to find out if he had found the jackets yet. The answer to that was fortunately yes. His true reason was soon revealed.

"Ganyu's dead."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 6

"We need slogans. We need banners. We need a bunch of things that excite the imagination, and fire the soul. What the Fellowship needs is something that everyone can rally around."

"Are we looking to recruit new members, or galvanize the ones we already have?" Ben asked.

"Both," Victory Halov said, “What we need is numbers."

"And the only way to get numbers is to get a rally cry. I understand, Victory," Ben said, nodding.

"I'm thinking an exceptionally recognizable piece of clothing for all the Fellows to wear," said Margaret Hwang, one of the new members of the Fellowship, "Something that will set us apart from the crowd."

"Margaret's on to something," Ben said, leaning back in his chair, "First and foremost are colors...what colors?"

"Can't be white and it can't be black," Rick said, leaning forward, "Either one could be perceived as racist."

In the few weeks since Victory had been recruiting The Fellowship of Business, Labor, and Merchantry had become a small but quickly growing weed in the garden of employment. All manner of workers seemed drawn to it like moths to a flame, but few were as zealous about it as Victory was. The Fellowship seemed to offer something to everyone. It was a somewhat odd organization in that it had no real minorities. The amounts of blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians were all roughly equal. It was also almost evenly half men and half women. Races and religions were also fairly well mixed. They all considered each other equals (if not necessarily family as the members of the Fellowship were supposed to consider each other). The Fellowship was a very interesting and singular achievement for that reason, not just in America, but in the world.

"Red..." Victory suggested ambiguously.

"Too reminiscent of communism," Margaret said.

"How about silver, for tools, metal, that kind of thing," put in Annie Martinez, who had come with Ben Goldberg, and despite her initial trepidation she had really gotten excited about the Fellowship.

"Keep it in mind," Victory said.

Suddenly Ben brightened up. A lightbulb seemed to appear above his head.

"Blue, maybe?" he asked, "Blue collar, appeals to the workers, Blue blooded, appeals to the higher classes. Nothing offensive about blue."

"I like that," Victory said, "All in favor?"

In unison, the small group said, "Aye."

"Let's say jackets then. Ben, it was your idea, you want to get on top of ordering some for us specifically."

"Look for a neutral shade of blue," Annie said suddenly.

"All right," Brian said, making a mental note.

"That was painless enough," Margaret said, "Now for the hard part...developing a symbol."

"Slogans first, symbols later," Ben said.

“We’ve got a symbol, the ox,” Victory said, pointing at the flag he had made.

“Slipped my mind,” Ben said, “But still, slogans.”

"Well, what do we stand for exactly?" Annie said, a little testily.

"Democracy, capitalism,” Victory said, ticking things off on his fingers, “We stand for supporting hard work in any form. We stand for no tolerating unemployment. We believe that unemployment simply means laziness, and we hate laziness. Basically, we work to defend anyone who works."

"Okay...the unemployed have no money because they don't work. We can't say, 'Don't work and you'll have no money'," Ben said.

"Too many negatives," Rick said.

"But we could say...'Work is money'. That's it! 'Work is money'."

The small group applauded Ben’s brilliant idea. The meeting had been dragging on for an hour or two and because it was beginning to wear down, Victory decided to end it. Ganyu had been surprisingly silent throughout the whole thing, considering the fact that it was in his house. The Fellows began filing out, shaking hands with Victory and Ganyu as they did so. As the last of them left, Victory finally turned to Ganyu.

“You’ve been very quiet,” Victory said.

“Yes,” the Bulgarian √©migr√© said.

“Any reason?”

Ganyu shrugged.

"They’re all pretty excited. But there aren’t many people like that. You’ve been trying to recruit for what, five weeks now? And you’ve found what, ten members?”

“It’s a very diverse group,” Victory said thoughtfully, “It really seems to fulfill what I wanted it to be.”

“It’s small,” Ganyu said, stating the fact very simply.

“Do you know why that is?”

“It’s because you’re inarticulate, my friend. A leader needs to be an orator. You’ve got vague hazy ideas. These few people are looking for lofty ideals, but as time wears on, you’re going to find yourself in trouble because you can't voice any of this in practical terms. You’re going to lose them as time goes on because you’ll accomplish nothing.

“Look, in the past two hours you did nothing but debate and quarrel over meaningless little things like colors an slogans. In your first meeting, the most important meeting ever, you all accomplished nothing. Victory...you need to learn how to speak or find somebody who can, or else this noble Fellowship of yours is going to die in the womb."

The old intellectual patted Victory on the shoulder paternally. Victory nodded, sighed, and left. He knew the old man was right, but it came as such a blow to him.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 5

Ben Goldberg lowered his hand. A shiver of excitement ran through him. He was a part of something. Something that was going to be big. Victory, the guy who had sworn him in, had made it abundantly clear how small the Fellowship was right now. Still, Ben could tell that it was going to be huge. It had a certain universal appeal.

That Victory seemed a little downtrodden. He seemed like a nice, honest Fellow. It seemed odd that he looked so haggard at this point. Had Ben known that Victory had been trying to recruit people all weekend for almost five weeks now and had only managed to actually get a few people, he might have explained Vic's appearance.

"I have a friend at work who would probably be interested in joining," Ben said.

Victory brightened up a little.

"Well, that's great, Ben. I think I've gotten enough support to have a meeting. We’ll be working on planning and organizing for the future of the Fellowship. If you can bring your friend there, that would be great."

"When?"

"I'm planning on holding it at 7:30 next Sunday at Ganyu Yovkov's house."

"How do I get there?" Ben asked.

"I have your number. I'll call you with directions."

"All right. I'll keep that date free. Good bye."

And with that, Ben left the park.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 4

Victory drove the wooden staff into the ground and looked proudly at it. The wooden pole was ornately carved with meaningless runes and symbols, and it was varnished. Hanging from the staff was a flag, a white field fringed with gold. In the center of the white field was the fairly large form of a blue ox, pointed to the right. On the other side of the flag another blue ox was sewn on pointing the same direction. He had made the entire thing himself. It looked spectacular to him.

“What’s this?” someone asked, coming up to him.

“This,” he said, pointing at the sacred banner, “Is the flag of the Fellowship.”

He said it with such a finality and importance, that the lady stopped and just basked in the appearance of the flag and the man for a moment.

“Which Fellowship is that?” she asked.

“The Fellowship of Labor, Business, and Merchantry,” Victory replied.

“Oh,” she said, and nodded dumbly.

They looked at each other for a few moments and then the lady scurried away. Victory sighed. It was a little discouraging. Somehow he had imagined that people would be fighting each other to come under his banner. Forming something was a lot harder than it seemed.

"What is this?" a man asked in a faint European accent.

Vic turned to see a dignified old man with glasses, a cane, and a moustache approaching him. He did not seem well, or, if it wasn't illness it was the ravages of time.

"This is the flag for my organization," Victory said proudly.

"And what organization is that?" the old man asked.

Victory loudly said the fancy name he had concocted. The old man looked unctuously at him.

"And how many members do you have in this Fellowship of yours?"

"Well, none yet, aside from me," he admitted.

"And that is why you are here? To, uh, recruit?"

"Yes," Victory said.

"Then tell me about your group's philosophy. If it is similar to my own, I may become a charter member of your Fellowship."

So Victory went into the rather lengthy and bulky discourse he had made up in his head. He slipped up a few times, and the man seemed perfectly bored at points.

Finally he summed it up saying, "So, basically, the Fellows will help each other out, we will try to end unemployment, and basically do a service to the economy and America as well."

The old man smiled when Victory finished.

"I believe I understand what you are saying," he said, "I think I might very much like to be a brother in your organization. Is there a pledge to sign or dues to pay, anything like that?"

Victory brought his arms down from the glee-filled position they had been in, which, on a football field, generally meant a touchdown had been scored.

"What?" he asked.

"Any sort of initiation?"

The old man sighed.

"Come now, my boy, take down your flag, and let's go find a bench. I'm growing tired of standing here for so long."

"Okay," Victory said, and did as he was told.

The European man hobbled along until they found a bench which stood before a duck pond. He ponderously lowered himself into the seat, and Victory followed suit.

"You are going about this business in a rather ham-handed fashion, young man," the European said, "So why don't we cut down to the bare bones of the situation. My name is Ganyu Yovkov. I am originally from Bulgaria, but I came to America after I retired. Now what is your name?"

"Victory Halov," he said, "My family is Russian, but I was born here in Philadelphia."

"Russians are good people," Ganyu said, drawing on his first hand experience, "They are usually not quick to act. They are usually slow and thoughtful, and plan things out far ahead of time. When you came here looking for people to join your club, did you even think to bring some paper to write names down on?"

Victory's silence was a fine answer.

"You are a young and brash American. Which is a good thing, but not when you are trying to build something that will last and make a difference. Now, as I said, I am retired, so I have time to give you. I want to help you. I will wait here. You go and find paper and pens and a clipboard, and come back here. Leave your flag; I will protect it. I will be here when you return."

"Yes. Thank you."

Victory scurried off. While he was gone purchasing the items like the Bulgarian had said, he had a vague tickling in the back of his mind that he shouldn't have left his flag with a stranger. He had put weeks of work into the thing. But when he returned to the park his fears were assuaged. The old man had moved to a different bench to shade himself from the sun's rays, but he was still there.

"Ah, good, you are back, Victory. I had a good sit while you were gone. Now you got some paper, yes?"

"Yes," Vic said, and proudly displayed the stuff he'd gotten.

"Now you gave me a long dissertation on your Fellowship. I had time to sit here and wait for you to finish, but most people with regular jobs, would have cut you off less than halfway through. I need for you to condense your entire philosophy into one paragraph."

"All right, I can do that, I think."

"But," the old man held up a single emaciated finger, "It must be in the 'I' form. 'I will do this as a brother', 'I will do that as a brother'. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good. Then write."

Victory began to scribble furiously on the clipboard. Ganyu watched the pond intently, but he must have kept one eye pointed in Victory's direction, because he noticed when he turned onto another sheet.

"Keep it short," Ganyu said, "You are too long winded. In fact, shorten it. Cut out unnecessary sentences."

"But I've taken it down as far..."

"Take it down farther. Make simpler concepts. You're not making out a book of laws, you're just making a general theory."

"Okay," Victory said, and began to scratch out and rewrite numerous sentences.

After a few more minutes of revising, with the occasional gentle nudge from the Bulgarian intellectual, Victory finished. He said as much.

"Let me see," Ganyu said, and held out a hand to receive the clipboard.

The old man took one look at the chicken scratch writing and countless cross-outs, and handed it back to Victory.

"Rewrite it so that my weak eyes can read it."

Victory tore out a clean sheet of paper and carefully took down each letter. Then he handed it to Ganyu. It read:

As a Brother, I swear to labor furiously at all my tasks to the best of my ability. I swear to help end poverty and unemployment through peaceful methods. I swear to help my Fellows when they need it. I swear to teach others about the problems of poverty so that they can help my cause. I swear that I will be open to the ethnic, cultural, racial, and gender differences of all decent hard-working people. I swear with all my being to righteously do all these things and more.

"Very good, Victory," Ganyu said, "Now work on your sales-pitch. People who decide to join your Fellowship, have them repeat this verbally, and then sign some sheet, a roster sheet. And do not get discouraged, many people will ignore you. Now, swear me in, and I shall swear you in."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 3

Ben tapped his pencil against his desk. He was stuck in one of those damnable cubicles. It was bad enough he had to work on a Saturday, on a day when half the city was out at a huge outdoor party for the opening of the new museum. But he also had to endure his damned cubicle.

He had never minded working in a small space before, but those three weak walls served to sever his contact with his co-workers, making him feel like a caged animal in a zoo. He knew, he just knew, someone was watching him, too. Oh, sure, there weren't any security cameras that he could see. But that didn't mean they weren't there. Someone must have been watching him. If no one was watching him, then what was the point of sealing him up like this?

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining. Ben had to admit that this particular lining was very thin, very poor, and very tarnished, but it was there at least. It was this: the cubicle walls didn't reach the ceiling. There was a small amount of space between the peak of the wall and the ceiling of the office building. That meant that he was able to speak, and be heard by the person in the cubicle next to him. He could hold a limited conversation, even if he couldn't see the other person's face.

Ben put the pencil down. He was about to venture to give it a shot. His boss occasionally walked past the cubicle doors (or openings, rather) to see that his employees weren't slacking off. That meant those conversations with his prison mates always had to be short and discreet. It was a pain in the ass.

He opened his mouth, and was just about to shout over his shoulder when he heard the clump of a footstep, and a shadow darkened the floor. Ben snapped his mouth shut and started clacking away at his computer. His boss poked her head in.

"How's it going, Ben?" she asked pleasantly.

"Oh, it's coming along, it's coming along."

"Good work," she said, and started to step out, but paused, "You've been doing real well lately Ben. I'm thinking of putting you in for a promotion."

Ben was stunned. He was usually a decent worker, but today he'd been doing nothing but wasting time all day. Here he'd been, lollygagging around, and his boss had been thinking of how diligent he was.

"Thank you...thank you very much."

"You're welcome. You deserve it."

She smiled and walked out. He gave a little wave after she had gone (he was still in a slight daze). Then a voice wafted over from the space between the cubicles.

"You're a lucky guy, Goldberg," his neighbor said.

"You might call it luck, Martinez, but I call it hard work paying off."

"You never worked hard a day in your life. You're a bum."

"Don't you call me that!" Ben snapped crossly, "I'll bash your head in."

Then Annie Martinez heard Ben standing up and moving closer to the talking space. He did this so he wouldn't have to speak so loudly. It generally meant he was going to say something off color.

"Hey, Annie," he whispered confidentially, "What's the difference between someone who’s unemployed and a sack of shit?

"What?"

"The sack."

Annie had to contain herself from bursting out laughing.

"Hey, did you hear this one?" she began.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 2

Victory put a wooden shaft, a woodcarving knife, a can of varnish, a needle, some thread, some golden yarn, a large piece of white fabric, and a smaller piece of blue fabric on the counter. The cashier was a kindly old lady with horn-rimmed glasses that were attached by a string to her neck. The craft store had a humble appearance, but it had anything you could possibly want for odds and ends.

“Did you find everything you were looking for, young man?” the lady asked.

“Yes, I did,” Victory said with a smile, and handed her the money.

“Will you be all right with the sewing, son?” she asked, bagging his items.

Victory thought back to his younger days in the Boy Scouts. He’d been a real hell raiser in his patrol, throwing frogs in fires, spraying no-stick oil on cabins, beating up the younger scouts, and chopping at everything that moved. His mother had staunchly refused to sew any badges onto his uniform for him. After the first few shoddy merit badges and rank advancements, he’d gotten the knack of it.

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

“And the woodcarving?”

Victory once again reminisced about his days bopping around the various campsites in and around Pennsylvania. Resica Falls, Delmont, Daniel Boone’s homestead, Blue Rocks, and Camp Horseshoe. He’d picked up a lot about woodcarving (as well as a lot of scars and gashes).

“I can handle it,” he said.

“Well, have a nice day, young man.”

“Thank you.”

Victory stepped outside, and shaded his eyes from the sun with his hand. A big crowd was milling around. He quickly spotted Dina and she joined him. They walked together, arm in arm.

"What did you get in there?" she asked him.

"Nothing much," he said.

"Come on, tell me," she said.

"Later. Look, the mayor's about to speak."

The mayor, Richard Abel, was standing on a podium on the steps to the new Museum of Modern History. He was a handsome man, and very honest. Everything he did seemed to have the air of being totally above-board. Women liked him, although he wasn't married or even romantically involved. Men respected him for not acting like a politician. His image was that of a lovable buffoon, and he liked to cultivate that image. He was dressed in an Italian suit which might have looked stylish in another situation, but it was so sweaty it looked more like a crumpled jogger's clothes.

"Hello, everyone!" Abel declared in his usual, cheerful voice, "I'd like to thank you all for coming out on this scorching day for this museum dedication. I brought a giant pair of scissors to cut the ribbon, and also a giant roll of tape to fix it."

This elicited a few laughs from the crowd.

"God, why is he wearing that suit?" Victory whispered to Dina, "It must be a hundred degrees."

"He wants to look professional, I guess," Dina said, without looking at her boyfriend.

"I've seen politicians look professional in short sleeves," Victory replied.

"Quiet," Dina hissed.

Abel had started speaking again.

"Now this is a history museum. I know history probably isn't important for a lot of you. For a lot of you it was just another boring subject at school you had to sit through to pass. Heck, I remember that most of the work I did in history class was passing notes to the girl behind me."

There was a little chuckling from the audience. Abel was actually blushing.

"But, all joking aside, history is a very important matter. History is a bit like a compass, and the future is a lot like a dark sea. We have no idea where the future will take us, and if we just let the wind blow us around, we'll crash. But we can look to history for lessons that will help us guide our way in the future.

"This museum stands here as a lighthouse - sorry to mix my metaphors - but it's a permanent building. And there are so many things we can learn from what's inside. I know learning isn't fun, but we have to do it, or else we'll end back in another Dark Age.

"I mean, think about how far our country has come just since the Civil War. Slave owning is over. People are more tolerant of one another. But it's not as though it could never happen again. There's still hatred in this world. I know that for a fact."

His tone suddenly became dark, and a strange, unusual mood took him.

"I grew up on the streets. I know what it's like. I know about the racism, the hatred, the anger. I've seen things I pray no one else ever has to. Gang wars, drugs, crime, it's there. I could be the wave of the future, if we're not careful. If we sail into the future without remembering how racism tore our country apart, we could end up back in the same place we were before the Civil War. We've not come to the point where we're safe from the past."

He became cheerful again, the dark cloud passed. He returned to his usual casual bantering style of speechmaking.

"But I'm not here to give you a history lesson. That's what the people of this fine new institution are here for. I just want to tell you a bit of what I think. See, some people think the past is dead and buried, and it can never come back. But I think differently. I think the past is like a prisoner. We keep all the good things, the knowledge, the love, the wisdom, and all the bad things, the ignorance, the anger, the war, we lock it all away. It's not dead. It can always escape and attack us. That's why we have to be ever vigilant. We must always keep the past foremost in our minds, or it will escape and devour us. With beacons of knowledge like this new museum, we can keep all the pain and the woes of the past safely locked away. So I hope you'll make use of this place, often and thoroughly, so that our future will be bright and sunny."

Abel cut the ribbon and the crowd swarmed up the steps. Victory tried very hard to bully his way to the mayor, who was busy grinning and shaking hands. He was almost swept away by the wave of people, but he pushed his way up to the podium. He suddenly remembered Dina, and looked for her. She was inside the museum, fascinated by a display on McCarthyism. She wouldn't mind being apart from him for a bit. He wanted to speak to the mayor.

A journalist was asking Abel, "Mr. Abel, they call you 'The Bachelor Mayor'. Is there any reason why a fine catch like you hasn't been, well, caught yet?"

Abel laughed affably.

"I guess the right fisherman - fisherwoman, I should say - hasn't come along yet."

"No personal problems, sir?" the same lady asked him.

"No, no," he said, "Unless shyness is a personal problem. Ladies just intimidate me a little, that's all."

He was very charming, and his mock-shyness was very attractive. Many of the women around him were looking at him moonily. Victory finally managed to break through to his goal. He stuck out his hand, and the mayor, somewhat distracted took it.

"Sir, my name is Victory Halov, and I..."

"Kale, was it?"

"No, sir, Halov."

"Halov, good. Nice to meet you."

"Thank you, sir, you too. Sir, about what you were saying, I've often thought the same thing myself. In fact, I'm thinking of starting an organization to promote tolerance and understanding. A sort of brotherhood of workers."

"Sounds like a fine idea, Mr. Halov," Abel said, "Don't call it a brotherhood, though, call it a fellowship. That way you won't exclude ladies."

"Oh, thanks for the idea, sir."

"Let me know if the thing comes together, Halov," Abel said, beginning to be swept away by the crowd, "I'll throw a little political support your way."

"Thank you, sir!" Vic said, raising his arm to wave.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 3, Part 1

Alexander Tennett sighed as he reached his door. He was having an existential day. To put it simply, he was questioning the point of living. He leaned against the shingles of his small, one floor hovel.

"What am I doing?" he sobbed, "Why am I doing this?"

Then his answer came. Sally turned the light on inside.

His daughter must have heard his sobs. Whether she knew he was crying or not, she knew he was at the door. She came and turned the handle, and the door opened inwards. There she was, like a glimmer of hope in a nightmare.

"Hi, daddy!" she exclaimed, and ran up to him.

"Hi, Sally," Alexander replied.

He smiled grimly and patted his daughter's head. She was still so small that she could hug his leg. It broke his heart sometimes when he thought of how little she was.

"Why don't you come inside, daddy?" she asked.

"Oh, in a minute, darling," he said heavily.

She was young, but she could still tell when someone was upset. She walked back into the house and left Alexander out there. He took one last look at the bright moon that was out that night, and then he stepped over the threshold.

"How was school?" he asked, dropping his bag on the floor and slumping into his comfortable old recliner.

"Boring," she replied.

"Did you stay in day care the whole time?"

She shuffled her feet and looked at the ground.

"Well?" he asked.

"I left a little early," she stressed, "But we weren't doing anything there, and I was hungry."

He frowned. He wondered how much was "a little". A few hours? She was remarkably responsible, though, so he decided not to scold her. He trusted her on her own.

"Dinner went all right?" he asked.

She nodded. His face fell somewhat. She was only in third grade, and she was walking home from school and making her own dinner.

"Come here," he said and held out his arms to her.

She came and jumped up into his arms. He stood up and held her against his face.

"I love you, you know that?"

"Mmm hmmm," she agreed.

"And you know mommy’s watching over you from heaven?"

She nodded again. She was so young and full of innocence. She had a round happy face that smiled a lot. Sally was a lovely little girl.

"Do you mind that we don't live in a big house, and that I can't always get you what you want?"

"No," she said, and hugged him.

"Do you mind not getting to see me much?"

"Sometimes," she said, "But then I think how you make sick people better, and I don't mind so much."

He held her close. The money he got from the government to run the free clinic was not very much. It was barely enough to live on. But he still felt a sense of duty to work to help the less fortunate. Everyone deserved to be healthy, he felt. And he'd made an oath that he would help everyone he could. Sometimes, like tonight, he wondered if it might not be better to find a high-paying job in a regular hospital, and make enough money to keep his daughter happy.

It hadn't been so bad before Julie had died. She spent time at home with the girl. She could get the care and attention she needed. But Julie was dead, and there was no way to bring her back. It bothered him sometimes that he could help so many people, but not his own daughter.

"I'll tell you what," he said, "Tomorrow's Saturday. We're going to do whatever you want all day."

Her eyes lit up.

"There's going to be a big party tomorrow. The mayor's going to be there and stuff. I saw it on TV."

"I heard about that. The new museum's opening. You want to go to a museum?"

She tightened her face as though she had swallowed an onion.

"I don't want to go to the museum," she said in exasperation, "I want to go to the party. It's outside. And let's get hot dogs and ice cream and stuff."

Tennett grinned.

"All right. We'll go. And we'll have hot dogs with ice cream on top."

"Eww! That's awful."

"Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it. You've never had it before, have you? Have you?"

"No," she admitted.

"Then we'll try some tomorrow."

He lifted her high into the air and she squealed in delight. Then he brought her down so she was sitting on his shoulders.

"But for now it's bedtime."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Multimedia Extravaganza: The Long-Awaited Return of "Life on Mars!"



In honor of the return of "Life on Mars" this week after two agonizing months, we'll be taking a break from your regularly scheduled web novella. Please enjoy my fan commercial above and my interpretation of the song lyrics below. Please make sure to watch the show Wednesday night and tell your friends. I would hate to see another brilliant science fiction show die an ignominious death because people would rather tune in to "Wife Swap."

REDLEG'S INTERPRETATION OF "LIFE ON MARS" BY DAVID BOWIE

You know how some songs make you say, "Oh I love that song but what the Hell is it about?" David Bowie seems to be a master of this, with dense lyrics that may just be pure nonsense or may be so deep you'll just never get it. Who knows? Anyway, I've been feeling this problem acutely since Life on Mars started playing on TV and I've been wracking my brain over the lyrics of its namesake song. I eventually got fed up and started looking it up online. People have a lot of ideas, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus. So here is my humble interpretation, line by line and then an overall conclusion at the bottom.

It's a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair

Ok, so this first verse is a little play or story. The girl is getting yelled at by her parents about something utterly insignificant to her (possibly about meeting her boyfriend at the movie theater.) She's disdainful of them because whatever they're yelling about, it's a "god-awful small affair" to her. And why mousy hair? Well, this puts her in contrast with the movie stars. A movie star has blond hair, or maybe is a brunette or a redhead. You would never describe a movie star as having "mousy" hair. So the girl is ordinary, normal, bland, pedestrian - whatever else she is, she isn't a movie star.

But her mummy is yelling "No"
And her daddy has told her to go

They kick her out of the house.

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view

I'm not 100% clear whether the parents were yelling about her boyfriend or something else. Either way, her boyfriend doesn't meet her at the movies. So she's depressed as she sits down.

And she's hooked to the silver screen

Now this is important. As I see it, the song is about the difference between the real world and the movie world. Notice how the girl is "hooked" to the silver screen because she is desperate for the movies to take away her pain, or help her forget, or whatever. She desperately WANTS it to be fulfilling.

But the film is a saddening bore
For she's lived it ten times or more

But the movie is NOT fulfilling. Either it's a bad movie or she's too full of her own emotions to let it carry her away. Or maybe the movie is not as exciting as the things she's done in real life over and over (which seems unlikely.) More likely she's seen this type of movie so many times she knows exactly what's coming.

She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

She's probably still angry at her parents or her boyfriend. But the "fools" she's consciously referring to is the movie producers (or directors, or whatever) who expect her to like this drivel.

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy

This is where the song goes really up tempo. This is all the stuff that's going on in the movie (or in movies in general.) Sailors dancing like in a musical, cavemen like in a prehistoric flick (or maybe the "cavemen" part is a jibe at the sailors.) A cops and robbers movie. This stuff actually sounds interesting and Bowie sings it like it's interesting and it's clearly nothing that the girl with the mousy hair has lived "ten times or more." This is where I get the impression that it's not actually a bad movie, but she is just still too angry to get lost in the power of cinema.

Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show

Kind of a snarky comment about the cop. He's just a character in a movie, so he can't possible know if his movie is a blockbuster or not.

Is there life on Mars?

The central question of the song. It could mean a couple of things. A) Going with the movie theme, it could be describing a science fiction type movie. B) The girl is so fed up with her terrestrial life that she wants to go as far away as possible to Mars. C) The song's narrator is so disgusted by the crass commercialism of human life that he hopes there's life elsewhere. I think in this first chorus it's a combination of A and B and in the second chorus it's very clearly C.

It's on America's tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow

The play or story is over in the second verse. Now we're talking about broad generalities of consumer culture. The girl in the story was just a victim of a society that values pop culture as the remedy for all ills. Basically, Mickey Mouse used to be just a cute little cartoon character. But he grew up to be a cash cow, allowing the Disney Empire with all its pop culture dreck to flood the world.

Now the workers have struck for fame
'Cause Lennon's on sale again

This part's kind of complicated. It's kind of about communism, but kind of not. The workers used to strike for benefits and money, but now they're striking for "fame" in other words, they don't understand why they can't be movie stars. John Lennon went from being working class to being bigger than Jesus. But he's on sale again - he sold out. Also, there's kind of a Lennon/Lenin homonym thing, especially implied following a line about workers. Maybe Lenin has sold out, too.

See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

This is saying people are tiny creatures and is also a callback to the girl with the "mousy" hair. Ibiza is a Spanish island known for English tourists, kind of how Americans see Cancun. The Norfolk Broads is a network of rivers in England, kind of how Americans see Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. So I guess this is a funny way of saying all the English people - sort of how we might say from Maine to California or from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But I also think this refers to humanity as a whole, and Bowie just couched it this way because he is English.

Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns

"Rule, Brittania!" is a British patriotic song, but not the national anthem, sort of like "God Bless America." I take this bit to mean that we satisfy ourselves with the pervasiveness of pop culture by claiming that some things are out of bounds for pop - God or family or country or what have you. So, "Rule Brittania is out of bounds" is a way of saying, "You can commercialize everything else, but you can't commercialize patriotism!" Which he then immediately and sarcastically negates by saying it's only out of bounds to a few people - in other words, you're fooling yourself if you really think you can't commercialize everything.

But the film is a saddening bore
'Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It's about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

I guess this is Bowie, or the narrator, saying that he's contributing to the malevolence of pop culture himself. He's the one who's asking you to forget your sorrows in the movies. Not only that, he keeps churning out the same crap over and over again. That's why the girl with the mousy hair keeps seeing the same crap over and over again. He's the fool whose eye the girl was ostensibly spitting in during the first verse.

Conclusion: The impression I get is that people's lives are so miserable that they only have solace in pop culture, escaping into movies. People are the metaphorical mice and the literal mouse (Mickey) is a metaphorical monster preying on us. This situation is so miserable, that we can only hope the people on Mars have it better, and maybe we can escape there someday.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 8

Dan gave him the third degree again as they got in the car. He made the same affectionate display to Dina as he always did. Victory waved goodbye to the Sharps as he pulled out of their driveway. As they got back onto the main thoroughfares, Dina put her arm around his waist.

"I'm sorry about the way my father acted that whole time," she said, "He was being a real jerk and working you like a slave."

"I don't know," Victory said, looking at Dina, "I saw a lot more to him than the exterior. And I think he may have seen some more in me. I think brilliance must run in your family, Dina."

"Was that a compliment or an insult?"

"Neither, just a statement."

As they drove on, Dina moved closer to him.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 7

"Halov!" Dan called out.

Victory got up from the dirt and walked over to Dan. For once the crazy old man was smiling. Victory wondered briefly what he was up to. Did he have some other sadistic chore in mind for him? Then again, it was Tuesday, the last day Victory would have to spend on the farm. Maybe the man planned on killing him before he left.

"My wife and daughter went to town for a few hours," Dan said, and I'm glad because I have a few things to say to you."

Oh great. Stuck alone with the girlfriend's father, who hated his guts, for who knows how long, and any stray farm hands who might easily beat him up at the father's slightest word. It was not a great situation for Victory, and he was a bit uneasy.

"What do you have to say, sir?" Victory asked.

"I have to congratulate you, Victory. I'm impressed," Dan said, with a broad smile on his face.

Dan slapped Victory paternally on the shoulder. Victory was confused. Actually, he was frightened. This was the first time Dan had called him by his Christian name. It was also the first time he had said anything even remotely complimentary.

"What?' Victory said, growing a few shades paler, and wondering if any of the hired helpers were sneaking up behind him with a blunt instrument.

"I treated you like shit and you're standing there smelling like roses. You've impressed me, my boy. I want to let you know that I approve of your relationship with my daughter, and I would be proud to have you as a son-in-law, if you ever choose to propose."

Victory just stared dumbly at Dan. He smiled a little bit broader.

"You're wondering about the sudden change of heart?"

Victory nodded with a blank expression on his face.

"Well, it's not so much a change of heart as a change of manner, if you understand my meaning, Victory. I liked you the moment you stepped into my house. Strong, polite, well groomed, certainly a pillar of virtue on the outside. What I really wanted to get at, Victory, was your insides. I wanted to see if you genuinely love my daughter.

"I know I've treated you harshly this whole time, but now I see what you're willing to go through out of love for Dina. If you'd given up before now, I'd've known you weren't the man for her. But now I see you're determined, hard working, honest, and very genuinely in love with my girl. Now take this."

Dan took out an ugly puke green tie from his pocket. It was wrinkled and hideous. He pressed it into Victory's hand.

"On the day when you propose to Dina, wear this. If she says yes seeing you in this tie, you'll know it was meant to be."

Dan smiled at Victory's bewildered looked.

"I know how you feel, Victory. Thirty years ago I felt the same way when Esther's father said the same thing to me. I went to his home and treated him as well as I could, and he spat in my face the whole time. I thought I had lost Esther forever.

"Then, one rainy night, her father knocked on my door. He told me that he had treated me gruffly to test my resolve. He said that I had withstood terrible treatment, and that he could see that Esther and I were meant to be together. Then he handed me this tie and said to wear it the day I asked for Esther's hand. And he told me a story just like this one. Some day you'll be saying the same thing to your future son-in-law, Victory.

"You know another thing that my father-in-law said that the bad treatment would also draw Esther and myself closer. I didn't understand what he meant, but I saw it was true. It seemed like Esther loved me more because he acted like he disapproved of me."

"So we'll keep up this facade?" Victory asked.

It was the first thing he'd said.

"Until you're married at least," Dan said with a smile, "Now take a break until the ladies get back, and then get back to work."

Victory nodded. He was still stunned.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 6

Throwing the last egg into the basket, he snorted in contempt at the chickens. They were disgusting creatures, little better that pigeons (which he thought of as rats with wings). The cock was off somewhere being lazy, so he hadn’t had much trouble collecting the precious orbs this time, but it was still a dirty job. He stepped out of the henhouse and he saw a vision.

It was just what he’d been looking for all this time. A symbol, a thought, an idea. Before him stood a massive snorting ox. Muscles rippled all over it’s body. It was a monstrous creature of labor. It was a perfect anachronism for work.

The sun was directly behind the ox, and so everything around it was blurred out in a white haze. The beast of burden had a bluish tint from the devastating rays of the sun. It began to hurt Victory’s eyes, so he turned away. But he had seen it. He had had an epiphany. There was his symbol.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 5

"I've never seen a dog work so hard in my life," Victory muttered under his breath, "In fact, most dogs that I've seen have been lazy brutes."

"Lazy brutish dogs impress me more than you have so far this morning," Daniel Sharp said.

Victory sullenly turned back to his job of pitching hay. Sharp had been outside the open barn doors and Victory had been in the hayloft when he heard Vic. Vic had learned that the old man was very perceptive. He had eyes like a hawk and could hear everything around. If it's true that the senses grow dull as one grows older, then Dan Sharp must have had unrivalled powers of sight and hearing in his youth.

"I'm finished, Mr. Sharp," Victory said, climbing down from the hayloft and approaching Dan.

"Go milk the cows," Dan said.

"How?" Victory inquired (he had been born and raised in the city, and didn't know much about rural life).

Sharp made some motions in the air, demonstrating the proper milking technique. Victory nodded and went off to find the bovines. He was fairly amazed as he walked through the farm. It was a sprawling and majestic patchwork of crops and paddocks, spread out over hundreds of acres. It was a relic of an earlier age, the illusion of which was shattered only by the modern harvesting equipment which dotted the landscape.

The air was fresh and clean. Victory's nostrils roared in pleasure at being freed from the vicious irritations of urban pollution. He was surprised at how little the various plants agitated his sinuses. In fact, he felt better breathing in pollen, which was almost unknown to him, than car exhaust, which was infinitely more familiar.

Victory reached his destination and sat down on the small three-legged stool which facilitated cow milking. He began to do it the way Dan had showed him, although the animal was clearly uncomfortable. Someone walked in. He was pleased to see that it was Dina.

“How are you doing, Vic?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he admitted truthfully, “I don’t think I’m milking her right. She seems uncomfortable.”

Dina laughed.

“Of course the cow’s uncomfortable,” she said, “Think about what you’re doing to her. You’re doing it all right. Your form is bad, but it’s not exactly an Olympic sport, you know. Whatever works.”

“Thanks,” he said.

He continued working and she watched him. Aside from the squishing noises of the cow’s udders, and the spurt of milk into the metal bucket on the ground, the barn was silent.

“Hey, Dina…”

“Yeah?”

“How do you get people to back a cause?”

She gave him a queer look.

“Are you trying to start a cause.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said.

“Well,” she said, digging back into her memory, “You need symbols, insignia, flags, songs. Things for the general public to rally around and something that you can wave and display. Your cause needs to offer something to people, even if it’s just personal satisfaction. That means you have to be careful in what you say. The written word can help, like in pamphlets or books or on the internet, but the main thing that will attract people is the spoken word. You’ve got to talk to people. That might mean giving a public speech, or it might mean just having conversations with friends. But the point is, you’ve got to sway people. You’re also going to have to actually do something, to demonstrate your good faith. Words and actions are the only way that you can affect people.”

Victory nodded. Symbols, words, actions…

“What are you trying to start?” Dina asked.

"I think unemployment's the root of society's problems..." he said.

"That's a pretty common philosophy," Dina mentioned.

"And I think we should for a society or something of citizens to stop unemployment, you know? Welfare isn't helping. There needs to be more than what the government can do."

Dina shrugged.

"Well, it sounds like a noble pursuit, Vic," she said, "If you can keep on track and not let your society get out of hand, or let your ideas take on a life of their own."

Victory nodded.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 4

"Wake up, Halov."

Victory murmured a low humming noise. He rolled over and forcibly pried his eyes open in order to view the clock on the guest room bedstand. As he focused his eyes and converted analog to digital in his mind, he wondered briefly if he'd slept until Monday evening. Then he realized it was not evening, but an ungodly hour of the morning.

"Four thirty?" Victory murmured.

"Well, I let you sleep in a bit because you're a guest," Dan said, "Come on, time for you to earn your keep."

Victory burbled something that sounded like a question mark.

"Listen, Halov," Dan said in a confidential and malicious tone of voice, "I want to make sure of a few things. If you should ever get around to suggesting marriage, you're going to have to provide for my daughter. I want to be certain that you're a hard worker. I want to be sure that you have decent traditional values. If I'm not satisfied with you by the end of this visit, I'm going to end your relationship with my daughter."

Victory wasn't sure what that meant, but he knew it was direly serious. If it involved Dan making Dina choose between him and her family, he wasn't certain that he would be chosen. Victory became resolute. He'd play the game, and do whatever he had to in order to stay with Dina.

"What do I have to do?" Victory asked.

"Work like a dog," Dan replied simply.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 3

“Now, then, Halov, you’ve been seeing my daughter for how long?”

"Almost three years, sir," Victory said.

"It was just before I got my Ph.D., Dad," Dina added, a bit impatiently.

"And how much funny stuff has been going on in these three years?"

"Dad!" Dina scolded.

"That's none of your business, Dan," Esther said testily.

"It is my business because I'm a decent Catholic father. And in decent Catholic families you wait until you're married to start fooling around. I want to know why in three years worth of funny stuff you haven't yet asked to take my daughter's hand in marriage."

"You don't have to answer that," Dina said to Victory, "He's just making a pain of himself."

Victory carefully put down his utensils.

"No, your father's right. I'd like to explain myself. Sir, I think that marriage is a very sacred thing, and should not be tossed around lightly. I'd like to get to know your daughter inside and out..." Dan Sharp snorted derisively at this, "...And give her the same opportunity to get to know me.

"I won't deny that there has been more to our relationship than just dating. But sir, your daughter is so lovely and beautiful that sometimes I am so struck I forget to act like a gentleman."

"Oh, so now it's my daughter's fault for being to beautiful, eh?" Sharp said suspiciously.

"Oh, shut up, Dan. Stop tormenting the poor boy," Esther said.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 2

The old fashioned doorbell rang anxiously. It was an ancient cacophonous monstrosity, but it did it’s job. Dan Sharp believed in keeping something until it stopped working. It lent a very rustic look to his whole house. Of course, it was a farmhouse, so rustic became it.

“Coming!” Esther Sharp yelled.

The kindly, cherubic, old lady waddled to the door. She threw it open and there was a silent flourish.

“Oh, Dina!” Esther exclaimed, and threw her considerable arms around her daughter.

“Hi, mom,” Dina said weakly (perhaps from asphyxiation).

“Oh, and this must be your lucky beau. What’s your name again, young man?”

“Victory Halov, Mrs. Sharp. It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

Victory put out his hand and tried not to squeeze too hard.

“Oh, and he’s so polite,” Esther Sharp said, “A perfect gentleman.”

“Oh, thank you, ma’am,” Victory said, almost blushing.

She didn’t hear him though. She was yelling across the house.

“Dan! Dan, get out here. It’s your daughter and her new caller.”

There were few men more crotchety than Daniel Jebediah Sharp. After extricating himself from his armchair with all the groans and annoyance his fifty-some years allowed, he plodded into the foyer.

“Dina!” Dan exclaimed, and made a long, complicated show of affection.

When his attention was finally pulled away from his daughter, he noticed Victory standing there and politely smiling.

“Who’s this?” Dan grunted.

“Victory Halov, sir,” Vic said, offering his hand for a shake.

Dan ignored the hand. After a few seconds, Victory dropped it.

“Well, dinner’s almost ready,” Esther said, breaking the tension somewhat, “Let’s go and eat, shall we?”

Esther led the way to the dining room.

“After you, Halov,” Dan said frigidly.

“Thank you, sir,” Victory said, and followed Dina’s mother.

Dan stopped his daughter before she could follow her boyfriend.

“Dina, my girl, you’ve got to develop some more discriminating tastes!” he exclaimed.

“Christ, Dad, he can hear you!”

“No, I can’t” Victory said wryly over his shoulder.

“See, he…” Daniel Sharp began, “Oh, wait.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 2, Part 1

Victory rolled over and looked at the clock. It was about 1:00 am. They'd been driving all day. Around ten they had checked in to a Holiday Inn. They had eaten, and now Dina was fast asleep next to him. He couldn't sleep for some reason. Maybe because he'd slept in so late that morning. Maybe it was because he had so much on his mind. Whatever the reason, he was awake now.

He sat up in bed and looked at Dina. Though he hadn't known it, she had done the same thing to him on Friday night, and the same thoughts ran through both their heads. He stroked the side of her head, running his hands through her rich hair. She was still fast asleep, but she wriggled a little from the pleasant contact and her mouth widened into a smile.

Victory turned on the dim bedside lamp. He rummaged around in the drawers of the nightstand and procured a Gideon's Bible, a pad of paper, and a pen. As he was flipping through to Revelations, he caught a glimpse of a sentence from John.

So don't be surprised, dear friends, if the world hates you.

"Maybe, but if I labor to do my duty, the world will love me," Victory said, as if in response to Jesus' words.

That struck him as profound, so he wrote it down on the notepad. He closed the Bible and began scribbling on the pad. After the first sentence, he wrote this:

It is the obligation of all those who can work at all to work as hard as they can. There is a very grand Fellowship throughout the world, and that is the Fellowship of diligent workers. Everyone loves a person who strives to do his best in his occupation and his life. We work to give our children a future, we work to feed ourselves and others, and we work because it is the right thing to do. It doesn't matter at what you labor, whether it be as a laborer, a businessman, a civil servant, a banker, a teacher, or anything else. Even a person employed in the lowliest of tasks should be respected and honored, because they do their work well.

Though we know that there is an invisible bond between all those who do their jobs, I suggest that we give substance to that intangible Fellowship. This is why I have decided to start the Fraternity of Labor, Business, and Merchantry. This organization will promote diligence, and it will also serve to break down the artificial barriers which we have erected. You see, people of all races, backgrounds, religions, and genders, will be welcome in the Fraternity, because all manner of people work hard.

It was a good start. For the moment he was just trying to hammer out the idea in his head, but this was a pretty good start.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 7

"He seems so peaceful when he's asleep," Dina reflected.

His nose was whistling with each breath. That little whistle was like a metronome; Dina could've set a watch to it. It was less annoying than snoring, but more annoying than silence. At least, that was how it seemed when Dina and Victory had first started dating. Now it was a familiar and comfortable noise. It was funny how someone's foibles can change from unattractive to attractive over time, as you get to know them. She sighed and stood up.

She was a professor of psychological history at Temple University. It was a somewhat new area to teach, one which had been denounced by many critics. Psychological history explored the ideas and emotions which caused historical events to occur. It tried to determine what was going through the minds of leaders and the populace while history was being made.

How did insanity affect leaders? How did mob mentality overcome normally sane people's scruples? What inspirations and influences affected any given chain of events? How did thinkers, and speakers, and philosophers change people's outlooks? These were the questions that she and others in her field tried to answer.

To put it simply, as she usually told her classes at the beginning of each semester, "Where history analyzes actual events, psychological history analyzes the causes of those events."

Her lecture earlier that day had been about a generally accepted series of events which led to mass persecution. It could be applied to The Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials, the early Roman persecution of Christians, slavery in America, and dozens of other cases.

She was young, vibrant, and full of life. Most professors grew crotchety and resentful after teaching for too long. Dina, though, still loved her subject, and loved to try to make her student's eyes light up with knowledge. She even loved the way most psychologists and historians treated her like a sandals-and-candles revolutionary. It filled her with happiness to think she was teaching something new and exciting which stodgy old experts frowned upon.

She was smooth, delicate, and beautiful, and her gleeful disposition only enhanced her beauty. Her lovely flowing locks of buttery golden hair seemed to jump for joy every time she moved her head, and her august turquoise eyes were round and bright. There was a feline grace and nimble quickness to Dina Sharp that didn't seem to make her stand out as a professor.

Dina was a very sharp contrast to her boyfriend Victory. He had about the same grace and poise as a sick rhinoceros. He was indeed handsome, but where Dina's general love of life heightened her appearance, Victory's gloomy and generally sullen disposition heightened his. He was stark, strong, well built, and down to earth. Victory had short jet-black hair and terribly dark eyes. His daily shave never seemed to work because he always had a halo of stubble that seemed to enhance his gritty appearance. Victory was "dangerous" attractive; Dina was "lively" attractive.

Victory didn't really care about his job. He worked at HealTech, sending off shipments of pharmacopoeia all throughout Pennsylvania. It wasn't particularly exciting, but the pay was decent and the benefits were good. He didn't care so much about what job he was doing, but he liked to do his job well. He was the kind of guy who got things done. Victory wasn't powerful or high paid, but he did his work. She sometimes felt really proud of him for that. She loved to teach, but he did his job because he had a serious work ethic.

All this went through her head just watching him sleep.

"Vic," she said, and prodded his shoulder.

Nothing happened.

"Victory!" she said, and shook him violently.

"What?" he grumbled.

"It's Saturday."

"When?"

"Eleven."

"Too early. Come back later."

"Too early," she laughed, and pulled the blanket off the bed, "Unless you were drugged last night, you've overslept. Come on, we've got to go. If we don't leave soon, we'll be late."

"Where?" he said, now coherently.

"Dad's farm."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 6

Victory woke up and gasped for air. He gently eased himself out of bed and walked over to where he had thrown his briefcase. There was still a rhythmic pattering of rain outside that calmed him. It was the dead of night.

He pulled out his day planner. Extracting his pen and flipping to the note pages that served as his journal, he began scribbling. Below the date, he wrote:

Accosted after work today. Bum. I feel bad now – made him cry. Too tired and annoyed to feel bad before. Been thinking. Employment is big problem in America. Need some kind of organization to combat it. Unions are too small. Too limited. Need to make a sort of super-Union. Everyone should work – very important. Slept at Dina’s tonight. Just woke up with this thought. Wanted to write it down before I lost it.

Yawning, Victory closed the book and replaced the pen. He was glad he’d been able to turn the thought into paper before he had forgotten it. It would be something he’d have to work on. He crawled back into bed and slept much easier.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 5

Dina didn't allow herself to be distracted by the door opening and closing. Whoever was walking now that she was almost finished her lecture was trying to be very quiet, but ended up sounding only as quiet as water buffaloes tap dancing. In an instant she knew it was Victory.

"This is, basically, the self-destructive path of bigotry. Once the first of these five phases begins, it simply can not be stopped. The other four phases will automatically occur, almost as a reflex. So, our job is to recognize and stop bigotry before it reaches Phase One. The process can only be stopped when it's just a few jokes and pranks and insults. My greatest fear is that humanity will never be able to stop the cycle. I'm afraid that people won't become aware that every part of the process is destructive. Even after the persecution is over it's destructive. In conclusion, I dread the possibility that the fire of bigotry will keep burning for eternity."

The class clapped and hooted and hollered. Then the bell rung.

"Remember to read the first three chapters of Mein Kampf by Monday. And have a good weekend!"

Some of the students groaned. But they all filed out of the classroom, under Victory's approving gaze. One of the girls, the last in line, stopped. She had a crush on him, based on the few times when he had seen her picking up Dina after class.

"Hello, Mr. Halov," she said.

"Hello," he replied, "How goes the matriculation?"

She blushed and giggled.

"It's all right. Good bye!" she said, and then ran out of the room.

Victory waved after her. He stopped because of a pain in his side. The source of the pain was Dina's elbow.

"Hitting on other women, dear loyal Victory?" she asked.

"They're only college girls," he said, putting his arm around his pedagogical girlfriend, "Of course they'd have a crush on a handsome guy like me."

"Of course. Come on, you dog," she said, and they walked out of the room together.

As she locked the door, she asked him how his day was.

"Exhausting," he replied with a yawn that was partly theatrical and partly real, "It was the same old thing as always. Pushing the paperwork for shipments of drugs and medical supplies way out to the boondocks. And after I worked all day some street rat started bothering the hell out of me. I told him off though. Now I just want to go home, get some food, and sleep."

"You can crash at my place if you don't want to drive all the way home," she said.

"Okay, professor," he agreed.

Their two apartments were in diametrically opposed positions in the city of Philadelphia. He picked her up from the Temple campus every day, even though it was a long haul to drop her off and then get back to his home. It was the bright spot of his usually dreary days just to see her, and it saved her from having to take the bus or the subway except in the mornings.

Dina had had a very nice car for a while, a used Chevrolet, but when it broke down she found out just how used it was. The old lemon still sat in her apartment building's parking lot, because she seemed to procrastinate about getting it fixed every single day. Public transportation and Victory took care of most of her movement needs, so she wasn't too worried about it.

Once he had pulled into her building's lot, it started raining. They both took off from the car and rushed to the entrance, where it seemed that her key had decided to stop fitting in the lock.

"Wow, Miss Sharp," Victory said, cold and shivering, "I can't believe I actually get to see the inside of your apartment. It's almost like you and I are going out or something."

"Oh, be quiet," she said with a smile.

Finally the fickle key decided to do them the immense favor of turning in the lock.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 4

Victory Halov stumbled down the steps of HealTech in a funk. It had been a long day for him. He’d been working for about 12 hours, since 6:00 am, and he was exhausted. What he wanted was simple. He wanted to get to his car, see his girlfriend and drop her off at her house, then have a peaceful drive home, order a pizza, and sleep. It was Friday. He planned to sleep until Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, as often happens in life, even simple wishes are interrupted by harsh reality.

“Got some change, sir?”

The man was filthy and disgusting. He had a thick, greasy, crusty beard. He wore ancient, grubby, hole-filled clothes. And he was extending one dirty hand, palm upwards, towards Victory.

“Go away,” Victory muttered.

“Please, sir, I beg of you…” Ronnie said.

“Get a job, you bum,” Victory said, and tried to hurry past him.

“Sir, I can’t get a job.”

That was the last straw for Victory. Something in him just snapped.

“Can’t get a job?” he asked in a low, predatory voice, turning back to Ronnie.

“No, sir.”

“Can’t get a job!” Victory nearly screamed.

Ronnie was flustered. This man was starting to scare him. He was genuinely afraid that Victory would attack him – something which had never happened to him before.

“I…I…” Ronnie said, groping for words.

“Have you ever tried to get a job? Have you ever gone to an interview? No, of course you haven’t, because if you had, you’d be working now instead of bothering me. Even if you don’t have one ounce of skill in your whole worthless body, you could still work as a janitor, or in a fast food joint. Your problem, you little son of a bitch, is that you’re lazy. You don’t want to work. You’d rather stand here and beg other people for their hard-earned money.”

“I…I do want to work, but…” Ronnie said.

“But what? But what? You’ve got two good arms, two good legs, and a head on your shoulders. What more do you need to work? But, no, you’d rather take money from real people, decent people. You’d rather accost them in the street. All I wanted was to get from my office – where I work for a living – to my car, in peace. But, no, I have to be bothered by this worthless parasite.”

By now a fairly large crowd had gathered around the two men. About a dozen people were intently watching their every move. Then, something in Ronnie snapped. He couldn’t take the hateful glare of each person in the crowd, or the angry yelling of this man. He took off, pushing people away, and ran down the street. He ran away as fast as he possibly could. He was scared and hurt. Tears drew streaks of cleanliness down his muddy face.

“There is no reason why we should have to put up with that,” Victory exclaimed.

The crowd of people which had gathered began applauding. Victory’s passion had died out. After that brief, fiery outburst, even the embers were growing cold. He was unbelievably tired once again. The crowd broke up, and he took off for his car.

“Hey, wait, sir!”

Victory turned around. A man was there in coveralls. His hands were greasy and he was sweaty. Probably a ship worker, Victory reflected. He was a black man, about middle aged. He had probably been a real lady magnet when he had been in his prime, but time and hard work had worn away at his appearance. He was still quite dignified and handsome.

“My name’s Greg Barlow,” the worker said, thrusting out his hand.

Victory took it, despite the fact that it was covered with axle grease, and said his name in kind.

“Well, Mr. Halov, I was real impressed by how you handled that bum, there, sir. There are a lot of folks I know who think the same as you. Personally, I think that bums are what’s wrong with this country.”

Victory grunted in agreement.

“I’d appreciate it, sir, if you could come down to my factory one day, and meet my foreman. His name’s Adrian Cain. He’s the best damned speechmaker I’ve ever heard. I think with your guts and his words working together, well, who knows what you can achieve?”

Greg wrote the address of his shipyard, near Penn's Landing, and the name Adrian Cain, capitalized and underlined, on the back of a grocery receipt he found in his pocket. He handed the piece of paper to Victory.

“I'll think about it,” Victory said, “Thanks.”

“No, thank you, sir. And have a good night.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 3

"The next phase is that historians are persecuted. You see, during the first two phases, a lot of lies and accusations will come out against both groups. There will be negative propaganda against both the bigots and their victims. There will be a lot of gossip, lies, jokes, rumors, and generally shady information. But once all of that is over, people will begin to wonder about the truth. Historians will now begin to dispel all the half-truths and innuendoes, and come out with hard facts. This invariably ignites the whole controversy all over again! No one is going to like it when the historical facts come out. People’s illusions will be shattered, and no one likes to have their illusions shattered. They'll find out that the bigots were not completely malicious, or that the victims had done something shocking and warranting revenge, or that the bigots had been especially brutal, or that some generally held view was a misconception, and so the historians will be branded as sympathizers with one group or the other. The historians will be persecuted for their 'views', when, in fact, their 'views' are the truth."

"Then there comes the final and the worst phase. This is the phase when everyone is persecuted. Generally the government steps in and puts in some legislation about the controversy. This is the time period when the idea goes beyond sensitive, and becomes a taboo. No one can talk about in any sense for any reason. Any views contrary to the government mandated one are quelched. And so, the general public is oppressed."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 2

Ronnie coughed and hacked and wheezed. His cold was getting worse. He knew that he was going to die, and it would be fairly soon. He was less than entirely in control of his faculties, but there were some things even he couldn't delude himself about. It made him a little sad. But then he remembered the other thing which, unfortunately, he couldn't delude himself about, and that was that he was unimportant. He wouldn't be missed. Most likely he wouldn't even be noticed until he started to smell.

With a force of will (aided somewhat by his dementia) he pushed all that to the back of his mind. He had an important occupation, and he couldn't waste any time on personal matters. His job was professional beggar. It wasn't much of a job, but it was his, and it kept food in his belly, so he was happy with it.

There was a trick to it. You had to know the way people thought, just at sight. You had to give a person whatever spiel would win you sympathy. You had to personalize each appeal to the particular person, and you had to know when not to bother with a person. Ronnie was all right, not great, at doing that. Some of the beggars tried to canvass everyone who went past. That didn't seem like a very effective system to Ronnie. Oh, here came a likely candidate now.

"Excuse me, mister, can you spare a little money so a sick man can eat?"

"Sure," the businessman said gruffly, and threw a little change into Ronnie's grubby, waiting hand.

Ronnie quickly counted it as a little more than a dollar in coins.

"God bless you, sir. God bless and keep you."

He continued on for the most of the day, but he never managed to score more than he had that first time. The veteran spiel didn't work. (He never really fought, but he had watched a lot of war movies, so he could be pretty convincing, at least, he thought so). The family spiel didn't work well at all. (One day he'd found a wallet, empty of money, probably leftover from a mugging. It had been full of pictures of cute little girls and some man's wife. He sometimes used those pictures as a prop. He'd even made up names and ages for the girls and the wife.) The ethnic spiel had a little luck. (He periodically pretended to be an immigrant from the same country as the people he met on the street.)

His whole beat had been generally disappointing. Beggars usually gave each other a rough bit of territory so that they wouldn't be stepping on each other's toes. Ronnie had grown so desperate he had even ventured out of his territory.

As he reached a large building marked HealTech, he came to a decision. He would give up his last vestige of self-respect in exchange for financial compensation. He would no longer speak to only people who had potential in his eyes. Ronnie decided he would start begging from everyone. He felt that made him even more pathetic than he already was.

"Oh, well," he muttered, and started.

Eternity Burning: Chapter 1, Part 1

"There is a very clear and..." she paused for a moment to think of a fitting adjective, "Certain cycle. It's like an upward spiral: it starts out very small but slowly loops out to encompass more and more. Or, no, it's more like a fire. When you have a very dry area, all it takes is a single spark and very quickly there is a major inferno.

"But the point is," Professor Dina Sharp continued, "There is a very predictable series of events surrounding bigotry. It generally starts off with something simple and unimportant. A certain group of people will become the target of jokes, or insults behind their backs. Then, if no one keeps track of it, it'll get out of hand. People will start bullying that group, they'll start insulting them to their face, beating them up, and committing minor crimes like vandalism.

"It could fizzle out then. But in certain cases it won't. Generally the reason that it doesn't stop at petty intimidation is that someone has an idea. Someone develops a theory. Basically, there is some intellectual rationale for the attacks to continue. After that theory or idea develops, there become two distinct groups: the persecutors and the persecuted. Amongst the people who do not fall into either of these categories, there are those who support either side, and those who don't really care either way. The point, however, is that people become divided over the issue.

"Once there is full fledged persecution, there are certain stages which follow, and each stage can be any imaginable length, from days to years. The first stage is that the group is persecuted. They will be sneered at, spat upon, hurt, killed, and many other forms of terrorism hate crimes will be visited upon the group. This can last for quite a while, at some points in human history groups have been persecuted for hundreds, and even thousands of years.

"But, eventually, and inexorably, public opinion will, for whatever reason, sway from the persecutors to the persecuted. The ranks of the persecutors will diminish, and the hate crimes will become less and less. Paradoxically, the persecutors will now become the persecuted. This group now becomes hated on the basis of what they did to another group. And, ironically, similar hate crimes will be visited on them, often by the group that they persecuted to begin with. Those people will want revenge against their assailants. The fickle force of bigotry will turn from the victims to the attackers.

"The third phase is not a very active one, it is more of a period of transition. This is the point in time when, after the first two phases are over, people stop being actively aggressive towards anyone. Now the whole idea becomes sensitive. Anyone who wants to discuss or explain the earlier bigotry will be stepping on very thin ice, and their words and actions will be very closely scrutinized. It will simply be a period of tension, for everyone."
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