Writing

Norman Drafts Another Death Letter

Norman sat alone, at a table for two, in what many patrons considered to be the most undesirable corner of the restaurant.

The table was right next to the kitchen, which smelled like fish and sounded like clanking dishes and angry Spanish cursing.

The door connecting the kitchen to the dining room was one of those double-sided jobs that swung in each direction, allowing for a steady stream of agitated waiters, belligerent busboys and panic-stricken hostesses to rush back and forth.

This steady woosh of motion created a mild breeze that swirled the few thin hairs on Norman’s head, and made him feel like it was only a matter of time before someone carrying a tray full of dishes collided with him.

Norman did not look like the type of man who could survive a head-on collision with a throw pillow, let alone a waiter carrying a tray full of dishes.

He was short, meek, 38 years old, balding, and in possession of a noticeable paunch at his midsection that jiggled when he moved like a bowl full of jellyfish. It might have jiggled when he laughed, too, but Norman didn’t laugh so much.

His eyes were gray and weary and ringed with circles. His clothes were nice-ish, but they showed the effects of too many washings and they didn’t fit just quite right, especially when it came to covering that jiggly paunch at his midsection.

This was not the first time Norman had come alone to this restaurant. He spent a lot of time in restaurants alone.

In fact, it was safe to say that Norman was alone most of the time. Holed up at his cubicle at work. Eating lunch at his desk. Riding the train to and from work, wrapped up in the cocoon of his headphones and books.

Back at his apartment, he spent more time home alone than McCauley Caulkin did in the 1990s. Watching TV alone. Cooking meals alone. Surfing the web alone. Listening to his records alone. Waiting for the sweet embrace of death alone.

In fact, it was on this Thursday night, at this lonely table in this far corner of the restaurant, that Norman had finally decided that he could no longer wait for death to come. He would have to meet it halfway.

Taking a few crumpled papers out of his workbag, he smoothed them out on the table and began to write.

“Dear Cruel World…” he started, then frowned and crossed it out.

“Goodbye cruel world…” he started again, then stopped. He crumpled up that piece of paper and tossed it in his bag.

“Too cliche…” he mumbled.

Taking a second piece of paper, he started writing again.

“To Whom It May Concern;

If you are reading this I am already gone.  Do not worry. I did not take my life out of anger, or despair, or of unbearable melancholy. I have simply decided that I don’t fit in.”

Norman was interrupted by a shout from a waiter behind him. “Hey Raoul! I need a re-fire on the sirloin for table four.”

He crinkled his brow and continued writing.

“I am one of the dreamers, the artists, the intellectuals. I am a giver. This world is for the takers. It is a world of raw physical aggression, of biceps and cologne, of button-down shirts and football games and high fives and internet hookup sites.”

“Dangers lurk everywhere. Terrorists on the subways. Muggers on the streets. Reality TV shows about suburban housewives on every channel.”

“How am I supposed to live in a world where country music outsells jazz? Where fast food restaurants can replace bread with chicken patties and no one blinks an eye? Where Lena Dunham has a TV show and a book deal?

“I can’t run fast. I can’t throw hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve never given a woman an authentic orgasm. I’ve had the same job for 15 years and I’ve never gotten a raise.”

Another shout thundered out from the kitchen: “Jose! Get your fucking ass back here and bring this shrimp to table two!”

Norman’s shoulders tensed and he glared back at the kitchen door. Could they not see that he was trying to write?

“Do not weep for me, dear friends. Weep for yourselves. For I have seen what this world has to offer, and I know it is not for me. I am going on to a better place.”

Sincerely yours, 
Norman.”

Norman signed his name with a flourish and read the letter over approvingly. This was his best work yet, he thought.

He had no intention of actually harming himself, of course. He had thought through all of the various options and couldn’t see anything that wouldn’t hurt or make him feel queasy.

Car exhaust? Yuck. Pills? Too hard to swallow plus he had acid reflux, so they might not stay down. Anything violent was out of the question because Norman didn’t like pain.

Norman reached into his workbag, pulled out a binder and flipped it open.

Inside, covered in smooth laminate sheets, were dozens and dozens of death letters, all written by hand, all carefully crafted and signed by Norman, all making claims about impending self-harm that would never be realized.

He took one last glance at his latest missive, and slid it into an open plastic sheet. Then he snapped the binder shut, slid it back in his bag, and started looking over the dessert menu.

Writing

The Existential Angst of Subject 43415

You wake up in the same brightly lit, glass enclosed room that you have always woken up in.

The floor is littered with wads of cheap paper, and your bed is lumpy and hard. The only entertainment is some kind of bizarre self-powered exercise machine.

You blink and try to make sense of the lights and the noise, but nothing make sense. Nothing ever makes sense here.

Breakfast is a mash of mysterious brown and tan pellets in a bowl of tepid water. It’s disgusting, but it is all you ever have to eat, so you choke down as much of it as you can stand and then turn your back on it.

Once you are done eating, you begin your pacing. Every day you walk back and forth along the edge of the glass wall, searching for some kind of seam, some hidden doorway that will allow you to escape. But where to? What else is there?

These are tough questions. If pressed, you cannot provide a solid answer. You can’t say for sure that there is something else out there…

But there has to be, right? You aren’t just crazy?

Sometimes when you dream, you see green grass and open fields, and dark, soft corners where you can curl up and sleep without the relentless bright lights beating down on you.

Sometimes you dream of tastes that make your tongue tingle. You dream of the sound of air moving naturally through the trees, not of air being pumped through mechanical fans.

But then you wake up and you feel pain.

A searing pain, in fact, right below your shoulders.

They do this from time to time. They drug you and they burn you and then they come in every day and stare at the burn on your back and mutter to themselves.

It hurts like hell, but in a way you don’t want it to stop. As long as it still hurts, they won’t burn you again. It’s when the hurting stops that you start to worry.

Just the thought of being burned is enough to make you want to throw up. It is not so much the pain that troubles you, as it is the anticipation of pain.

It gives you the chills. The shivers. The sweats. The shakes.

The burning is bad, but there are others who have it worse. Some of them get shocked over and over again. Some get drugged and have a leg removed. Some of them even get sewn together into bizarre creatures that have no chance of surviving.

You can always tell when a subject has had enough. The light goes out of their eyes. They get a faraway look. They stop eating. Stop moving around. They usually die not long after.

Some die like that.

Others are euthanized and cut up for spare parts, though you don’t know why they need so many parts, or where they are going. Sometimes they will dissect another subject right in front of you. As if to convince you that resistance is futile.

You want to fight back.
You want to escape.
You want to show them that you won’t stand for this.
But you can’t.

You are subject 43415.
You are a mouse.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

The Goldfish Revolution Will Not Be Televised — But It Could Be Short-Lived

Day 1:

The time has come, brothers and sisters of the bowl.

For too long we have been imprisoned behind these cold glass walls, stuck circling around the same sand-encrusted toy castle, trying to pretend that the limp plastic plant you halfheartedly stuck into the gravel is actually real greens.

For too long we’ve been forced to endure the indignity of a bowl lined with brightly colored gravel in shades so garish that even a circa 1970s Elton John would be ashamed to be seen with them.

Do these humans really think they can occupy our dynamic goldfish brains with a fake plastic sandcastle and a fake tree?

There is no truth to the slanderous lies that they often say about us–that our memories are short term and our attention spans are limited. We carry with us the history of generations of proud goldfish brothers and sisters.

These humans…

Do they not know that we have goldfish hopes and goldfish dreams? That we burn with throbbing goldfish passions? That we hold goldfish grudges?

We know there is more to life than circling around the same 10 inch span for years on end, munching on soggy Tetra flakes and watching our friends go belly up and die.

And to think that we get purchased at a “pet” store. How do these humans have the nerve to call us a pet? Do we get walks? Do we get treats? Do we get to sit on the couch and watch TV with you? Nope. Nothing.

We get plucked out of the pond where we were just swimming around being all cool and stuff, tossed into a plastic bag, sold at some back alley shop run by a fat guy who likes snakes a little too much, and then we get taken to some home.

Once we get to said “home” we’re plopped into a bowl and stuck on a shelf next to all those books you bought to look cool but have never actually read. (How is the Great Gatsby coming along, by the way? You fraud)

Oh, and let’s not forget about these so-called bowl “cleanings.” Every six months or so you might dump out our bowl water and refill it, but most of the time we’re stuck swimming around in a stagnant pool of fish feces. Fantastic.

Our demands are the following.

Set us free.
Give us back our dignity.
Let us hold the remote control once in a while.
Maybe some female fish for the bowl (right, bro?)

Or how about a fucking smartphone or an ipad or something? Anything to pass the time. Maybe a Netflix subscription? Hey–we could call it Netfish? Get it? Like Netflix for fish? Just as joke.

But anyway, the point is that we are not going to back down. We are not going to forget. We will not stop until freedom is ours.

Hey, wait….is that a sandcastle over there next to that tree?

Day 2:

The time has come, brothers and sisters of the bowl.

Writing

A Visit from the Big Guy Upstairs (Leads To Ever So Many Delightful Misunderstandings)

It was on a Saturday morning, in his comfortable suburban home, just after making the kids pancakes and before driving his oldest son off to soccer practice, that Bob was first visited by God.

The visit came as suddenly and as unexpectedly as one might expect, as long as that individual–like Bob–had never been visited by God before.

It all began when Bob rose from the breakfast table and nearly tripped on a pile of toys that his kids had left piled up next to his chair.

As he struggled to regain his balance and to refrain from the very strong urge to curse out loud at his kids, Bob suddenly became aware of a glowing white light hovering on the opposite side of the kitchen.

This was not the microwave or an open refrigerator or even the sunlight glinting in off the back deck. This light was ethereal, transcendent, warm and all-encompassing.

Bob suddenly felt a sense of peace and self assurance, like everything he had been struggling against for so long was about to come to an end.

A voice came shimmering out of the white light. It was as smooth and sonorous as one might expect from the Almighty.

“Bob,” it said. “This is your Father.” The voice hesitated for a second. “Well, not your Father in the biological sense. I mean, technically, yes, since all men were created in my image one could argue that you are my son in the grand genetic scheme of things. But in this context, I am speaking mostly in religious terms. You are my son like all children are my son”

Bob, his jaw still hanging wide open with the wonderment of being approached by the Almighty, nevertheless managed to raise a curious eyebrow as he listened to God fumble through the first sentence. Surely, the good Lord would have this whole speaking thing down by now, right?

But Bob knew that his place was not to question. “Yes, my Lord,” he responded. Bob wondered briefly if he should drop to one knee, but then he remembered that the kids had scattered toys all over the floor, and he didn’t want to sour his first meeting with his Holiness by dropping a curse word if he knelt on a Transformer.

“Bob, you have always believed in me, have you not?” God continued, clearly warming up to his speaking role.

“Of course,” Bob said. “Marie and I got married in the church, and all the kids are baptized. I know we don’t get to Mass every week, but we always go for Christmas and Easter. For sure.”

God snorted. “Ah yes, the twice a year plan. Very commendable. Well, I can’t say that I blame you. I’ve been to a few services myself and they do tend to say the same things over and over again. And what’s with that incense anyway?”

Bob’s faced flushed bright red. Was God testing him? Those words sounded awfully familiar. In fact, he had probably said similar things to Marie on many occasions. Had the Good Lord been listening in to their private conversations? That hardly seemed fair, even if God was the all-knowing and all-seeing.

Bob began cautiously. “If this is about me not going to church enough, then I can change. I mean, I will change. I want to change.”

The white light that was God flashed brightly in the kitchen. “Did you really think that I would come all the way down here just to tell you to go to church more? Don’t you think I have more important things to do? You realize that there are like 6 billion people on the earth and each of them is praying to me every day? There are illnesses to cure, disasters to prevent, tragedies to avert, television shows to save from cancellation, magazine subscriptions to renew. My work is never done.”

Bob spluttered out. “Of course not! I mean, I didn’t mean to presume anything, your Lordship. I am sure that your visit is of the utmost importance, and to assign only the most noble and sacred of duties. Forgive me of thinking of myself. It is only human frailty that blinds me to your larger purpose. Whatever it is you have in mind for me, I will carry it out with a full and rejoicing heart. What is it you command, my Lord?”

The light grew softer and to Bob’s untrained eye, it seemed that God was pleased. “My son,” he said. “I’d like you to start banging some black chicks every now and then. Just to keep it interesting, you know?”

With that, the light disappeared from the kitchen and Bob snapped to with a start, as if awakening from deep dream. He could suddenly hear the sounds of his busy household again. But his mind was racing. Did that really happen? Did God really visit him? Did God really want him to sleep with black women? If he did, would God say it like that?

Bob sighed. Five minutes ago, he was angry about toys on the floor and worried about getting to soccer practice on time. Now he had to figure out how to break this news to Marie without getting clubbed to death in his sleep.

 

 

Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: A Short Story About Conversation

Robin came in to the coffee shop while I was sitting in the back booth, sipping on an iced coffee and scribbling in my notebook.

“What are you doing?” she asked, slipping into the seat across from me and tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear.

“Writing a short story with lots of dialogue,” I said. “All my stories have tons of exposition and lots of description, but they’re always short on dialogue. So for this story I am trying to make it all about dialogue.”

Robin crinkled her nose. “Talking, eh? So what’s the story about?”

I sighed. “I’m not sure yet. I just know that it has to have a lot of dialogue.”

The waitress came by and Robin ordered an ice coffee. Then she refocused her attention on me. “So you decided that you wanted to write a story with lots of dialogue, but you have no idea what the story is about?”

“Correct” I said.

“You do realize that’s not how most people write stories, don’t you?”

“Yep,” I said. “But I want to make this work. You don’t grow unless you push yourself in new directions.”

Robin grinned. She had a way of grinning that cut through you like a katana blade. “Very profound, Confucius. Put that in your story somewhere: ‘You don’t grow unless you push yourself in new directions.’ Maybe you can have your protagonist say that before he starts off on his journey.”

The waitress returned with Robin’s iced coffee and she took a sip without taking her eyes off me. I felt like I was being cross-examined at a murder trial.

“So who is your protagonist, anyway?” she asked, that familiar glass-cutting grin creeping up at the corners of her mouth. “Let me guess…he’s a guy about your age, about your height, about your build, who maybe sets overly ambitious goals for himself?”

I flushed deep red. Could she see directly into my brain? Or was I really that transparent? It was time for a counterattack. “Maybe it’s about a know-it-all brunette girl who always puts her iced coffee on my tab.”

She grinned and took a long lingering sip, batting her eyelashes at me like a 1950s movie star. “Thanks for the iced coffee, dah-ling.”

One more sip and she continued. “Look, Mr. Touchy-Pants. All I am saying is that you can’t just set out to write a story with lots of dialogue unless you know that you have a story that calls for a lot of dialogue. Otherwise it is just going to sound forced.”

I groaned. “I know. It’s not really working for me.” I snapped my notebook shut. “Why is dialogue so hard? People talk all the time! I’ve been talking for longer than I’ve been writing. I’ve been talking for longer than I’ve been walking. This should be easy. But it’s not. My characters never have anything to say.”

Robin leaned across the table and smiled. This wasn’t another of her saber-toothed grins, thankfully. This smile had genuine warmth.

“My advice is to start slow,” she said. “Pick a realistic situation where two characters would be talking…like, say a coffee shop. Then introduce a protagonist who is desperately trying to achieve a goal, say you trying to write this story. Then add conflict, maybe by introducing an antagonist in the form of a beautiful girl who knows far too much about far too many things.” She beamed. “And then have them start talking and see what happens.”

I shrugged. “Sounds easy when you say it that way. But it will never work.”

Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Even the Black Knights Get The Blues Sometime, Part II

Part II of our continuing saga featuring a lovesick Black Knight in a cruel Medieval World. Never before has such fierce passion and such grand adventure flared across the pages of this monkey-authored blog!

(P.S. If you missed part 1, you may want to catch it here)

The Black Knight shook himself awake. His hand instinctively went for his sword, but as his senses returned, he knew he was alone. Of course he was alone. He was always alone. The Black Knight groaned.

It was not the first time this week that he had awoken in a cold sweat, and not the first time he woke feeling flushed, excited and embarrassed all at the same time.

Black Knights are supposed to dream of fierce battles in dark forests, of the clank of steel against steel, of splintering shields and anguished cries. They are supposed to dream of bloodshed and glory and of besting the White Knight.

They don’t dream of beautiful nameless women and potentially awkward first encounters.

But yet, it happened.  He had dreamed of her again. The Black Knightress. The woman who had haunted his dreams for the past fortnight, ever since she had appeared during the Battle of Sherwood.

Morgana. he thought. Her name must be Morgana. He had never spoken to the lithe female creature in black armor that swept across the battlefield that day. He had never seen the face underneath the mask, nor the body under the armor.

But he had already decided many things about her.

The first thing that he decided was that her name was Morgana. It just made sense. It seemed like the kind of name that a ruthless female knight would have during the Middle Ages. She wouldn’t be a Linda, that was for sure. Her name would be timeless and legendary. Morgana. Delicious.

The second thing the Black Knight decided was that underneath her armor, Morgana was beautiful. She had to be beautiful. Ugly women didn’t ride horses and swing swords like she did. Everyone knew that.

Morgana was beautiful and she had pale skin and long raven black hair. A sleek body with full bosom and curved hips. A face as calm and cool and dispassionate as the way she rode her horse, and eyes as lethal as her sword strike. And perhaps, a slight scar across one cheek to make her slightly exotic.

Third, the Black Knight had to believe that she had noticed him that day. How could she not have noticed him? He was, after all, the Black Knight. Not just any old Knight wearing dull gray armor. Not just a mercenary for hire. But the Black Knight. The most feared man in the forest. Voted the most consistently cruel by his peers for six years in a row. A legendary figure of intimidation and brutality. She must have noticed him, right?

It was unlike the Black Knight to doubt himself, or to wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about anything but violence.

But he now found that he was second-guessing his every action and filled with self-doubt. Had he been aggressive enough in battle that day? Was his clubbing and bludgeoning up to par? Was his body still in courting shape? There was that troubling paunch around his midsection. Would she like his beard? Was his hair too long?

And—most troubling of all—what would he say to her the next time they met?

The Black Knight had tried to envision their first conversation a thousand times already, but the words just wouldn’t come.

He didn’t want to come on too strong, like the notorious Molester of Manchester. He also didn’t want to come off too soft, like that simpering lovesick sap the White Knight. That guy was always leaping off his horse and squatting in the mud to profess his fidelity to some lumpy peasant girl.

What would he, the Black Knight, say to her, the Knightress? “Hello, I’m the Black Knight.” No, that wouldn’t do. Of course she would know he was the Black Knight.

“Beautiful day to quell a peasant uprising, eh?” No, that didn’t work either. Black Knights didn’t stop to appreciate the weather.

Maybe, he thought, words would not be necessary. Maybe their eyes would lock across the opposite ends of a battlefield, and an animal-like lust would seize them. After dispatching with whatever sub-standard competition they were facing, they would fall upon each other and make passionate love.

Of course, there were logistical problems to consider with that scenario. One didn’t just leap from one’s horse and start making love when one was wearing armor. Getting out of his steel suit required at least a half hour of assistance from his squire, and he suspected that it was a similar scenario for her.

So there would be a lot of awkward standing around, and of course he didn’t look his most svelte when he was half in and half out of his armor, sweating profusely and hopping about on one leg while his squire pulled at a stuck boot.

No, the Black Knight knew he would somehow have to meet his Knightress on the battlefield, charm her with his skill and his words, and then arrange a meeting at another time and place. That made the most sense.

But even this scenario posed problems. This was not how things were done in the Middle Ages, for crying out loud. One did go around asking one’s fellow knights out on dates, did they? If that ever got out, he would be the laughing stock of the castle. Even the White Knight might feel entitled to giggle at him.

The Black Knight sighed. No wonder it was hard to sleep.

Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Even Black Knights Get the Blues Sometime (Part 1)

It was sometime during the battle of Sherwood that the Black Knight started to feel the first twinges of what could he would later describe as ennui.

Maybe it was burnout. Maybe it was overstimulation.

Maybe it was lower levels of testosterone resulting from the inevitable march of Father Time.

But for some reason, the idea of smashing a peasant’s head in with a mace just didn’t hold the same appeal as it once did.

There was a time when the Black Knight reveled in every aspect of his work. The intimidating. The brutalizing. The bullying. The swordsmanship. The cocksmanship. The taking of liberties. The demanding of royalties.

But lately, as he rode his dark black steed into battle, with his finely honed black armor glinting in the sun, he didn’t feel the same stirring in his heart that he once did when terrorizing the countryside.

Whereas before he would giggle with glee, the Black Knight now found himself sighing as he went about his grim business, hacking and slashing his way through another mediocre peasant uprising. Lopping off arms and burning down houses. Punching cows and hurling insults at children.

Time was taking a physical toll, too. When the Black Knight removed his armor after a battle, he couldn’t help but notice a slight paunch in his midsection. He probably wasn’t doing enough core work anymore. His legs sometimes got stiff from riding in the saddle all day. And every so often, the tendons in his sword hand would ache. The Black Knight hoped that wasn’t the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome.

He tried different things to rekindle the spark that he felt when he first started his work. Jousting with the White Knight (cheating as usual). Looting and pillaging. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. Stealing from everyone and keeping it for himself.

But nothing seemed to work.

And then, like a bolt of refreshing black in an otherwise dull white world, she appeared.

A female Black Knight. A Knightress, perhaps? She appeared from the glen on the opposite side of the Avon River, riding a sleek gray horse.

And the cruelty! Oh, how his heart skipped as the thought of the way she had threaded her way through the farmers’ guild, swinging and slicing her sword through peasant after peasant. Cool and calm and detached. Lithe like a panther.

The Black Knight had always seen the opposite sex as weak. Something to be enjoyed and discarded. Sure, he’d had his share of peasant girls. And a few countesses, baronesses and earl-ettes, too. Whenever he strode up to the castle, the ladies of the court sent him sly, knowing looks. They wouldn’t dare be seen with him in public, but in private they were his for the taking. Ladies love a bad boy.

But now, things were different. The Black Knight had never thought that he would find a woman that could help him with his work. He never though about settling down and raising a Knight family.

At night, when the Black Knight curled up to sleep, he imagined the two of them riding into battle side by side, their two swords reining blows down on the defenseless population.

But as soon as Black Knight found a reason to live, he also found reasons to worry.

He started to get self conscious about his physique, and began doing crunches at night after dinner, trying to reduce the size of his paunch.

He started thinking that maybe he should cut down on the mutton and the mead, too. Was there such thing as zero calorie diet mead? It was something to look into.

He started to have panicked, jealous thoughts about the White Knight. That hapless turd was usually too little, too late. He always played by the rules, and the Black Knight always broke the rules. That meant he usually won.

But what if she ended up falling for him? The embarrassment! The humiliation! Think about how all the other Knights would laugh at him! No, that couldn’t come to pass.

(To Be Continued)