Thursday, October 12, 2006

Johnny's missing minutes

THE unanswered question in "The Night of the Living Dead" is what happened to Johnny between the time his head was smashed on the headstone and when he pulled Barbra out of the house. The events of these infamous minutes are left as an exercise for the student in Steven E. Wedel's class "Writing Character Driven Horror Fiction" being taught at the Moore-Norman Vo-Tech.

Here is my homework for class. Let me know if this is how you think the "missing minutes" passed.

* * * *

Dear Sweet Barbra

The stinking man-thing was stronger than God had ever intended. It used the weight of its own body like a third clawing arm to trip me. Falling. I remember falling and the stink of dirt and mold, and that sound. It was like the crack of an eggshell, and then a wet pulse of its contents in one thick warm squirt. Then a yellow flash wrapped its arms around me. I could shut down, rest a moment here and everything would be alright. I heard her voice so clearly. Dear sweet Barbra. Are you singing or is that screaming. Is there a difference? Let me rest here a minute. I'll catch up with you later. It will be alright, you know.

Flickering spirits clung to the light like celestial moths tangled in the hair of God. It was a warm, safe, filling place. I felt content, complete and whole as never before. They should have told me about this in church before. Was it a secret for only a privileged few?

Something came to take me away from there. It was a hard pull I could not resist. Though I fought the invisible hand, I struggled in vain. My eyes once filled with light, dimmed but did not let loose of the sight of that far shore and there my stolen destiny. I landed with a crash into my wrecked body back in the graveyard. My skull smashed against a low gray headstone. An electric thrumming warmed the insides of my head. It hurt. I know it should have hurt more, but it didn't. When I dared to open my eyes, what sights I saw! The night rolled back before me. I saw the lilting paw of trees in the breeze, the rough covering of bark on their limbs, the yawning mouths of leaves sighing their last exhale of sunlight into the chilled suck of Fall, and the radiant spectra of roosting birds. What power had I obtained? Raw energy throbbed in my chest. I was new, even better than new. I was powerful.

That steady crackle of energy in my head warmed my spine and limbs. All the years of coming to this forsaken place to lay a wreath on Father's grave had been life draining ordeals. I only did it to appease mother, and it helped Barbra somehow. Dear sweet Barbra. She was shattered glass, lost and unfit for this world anymore. She was there when Father died, beside him, his bloody hand in hers. An icy country road, a sharp turn hidden by snow laden trees, and a hot apple pie wrapped in foil in the backseat. Barbra and Father spent the last hours of the feast holiday pinned in the crumpled husk of the car, beneath the broken jagged trailer of a semi-truck. Most of her ordered, sunlit world died before they found her there. Those scars never healed. Change was something she never did again.

Change was something I could do and had. I sat up and dusted myself off. I saw a lost shoe on the hump of a distant grave. I recognized it as hers. How could she have lost it? She loved her shoes. I remembered that awful man-thing monster. Oh no. What had become of her? She needed me. Dear sweet Barbra. When was this world going to stop being so cruel to you? It occurred to me then that I could stop all the cruelty, pain, and suffering. I had the power. I laughed, I had to - the truth of it was so clear now. I knew what all of this meant.

I pushed myself up onto my unruly feet. Steps helped loosen the stiffness there. I walked to her shoe and picked it up. It was cold to touch. My new eyes saw the afterglow of her presence in that shoe. The soft leather didn't give up its secrets through some sorcery, reveal her location or help me in the least. All it told me was the curve of her arch and instep, the hard roundness of her heel, and her fading scent. She was out there somewhere, alone and scared. She needed me.

I saw the others, locked in a slow trudging march toward a house a quarter of a mile away. Light peeked out of windows that were cross-hatched with boards. The light stung my hypersensitive eyes. I tossed the shoe aside and joined the crowd marching to the house.

That familiar electric drone in my head was stronger in their company. Some of them were fresh up from the grave, many others had moldered in peace for far too long, still others were wet with injuries that should have been fatal, and yet on they marched. We were many and we were strong. We were united in an aching emptiness, a strange hunger I couldn't explain. It was a feeling, like the one before a sneeze. It gripped me and pulled me along, bobbing in the current with these others.

The others surrounded the little house. They banged their fists on the doors. Each new arrival swelled the crowd. I could feel their frustration. Anger heaped upon white hot anger. The heat of it spilled out of them and burned the ground under their feet. They surged in waves against the barred windows and doors of the house. One group of them banged sticks on sticks, adding a rhythmic crack to the shrill screams of people inside the house. The low hungry wails of those outside it hung heavy the air.

Through a barred window, I saw Barbra inside screaming. One of the others had a handful of her golden hair. The people inside the house did not lift a finger to help her. One inside the house brandished a rifle. A shot rang out. Another clutched his side and dropped out of sight. The breakdown of the order of their world was complete.

I pushed through the crowd, my gloved fists battering the others in my way. I had to reach her. An arm smashed across my face. A single thought crowded the rest at the front of my mind -- I had to help Barbra. Dear sweet Barbra.

The truth of my own words tormented me. "They're coming to get you, Barbara." I wished I could take all of this back, restart the sunlit world Barbra and I left a few hours ago. The others gushed forward behind me, knocking me down. I struggled up but feet kept stomping me back down. I heard Barbra scream again. Red, hot fury fueled my body as I clawed my way up one their bodies until I was on my own feet again. I swung my elbows to clear the path to Barbra. My fingers balled into a fist of iron and I swung it at the spine of the one who had a clenched a handful of Barbra's hair. His death grip was pulling her neck backwards. My fist landed hard where I had aimed it. There was sound. The crunching noise of bone breaking bone, of desiccated corpse-flesh crinkling and tearing, freeing the gooey insides. It was an enemy who buckled and dropped underfoot. Her enemy.

Now that Barbra was free of his grip, she wheeled around and I saw her face. I saw the terror in her eyes. I could make her safe. She merely had to trust me one last time. She called my name. The sound came out feeble and overwhelmed. It was sweet to my ears nonetheless. I clamped my hand onto her and pulled her hard to the window. She struggled, too much in fear of these wretches around me. I wrapped my arms around her in a loving embrace and pulled her through the window. She pressed her head against me and hot tears fell onto my neck. I turned and pushed through the crowd with her as my prize, safely away from the others. She struggled in my arms to be free. These awful creatures around me frightened her too badly to reason through the situation. Now I could give her the gift of protection. I pressed my mouth to her neck. How she struggled in my arms for this gift. It thrilled me to give it to her. Her liquid scent filled my nose, and pulsed into my mouth and down my chest. She was so soft and warm. Finally, she relaxed in my grip. Her unmoving eyes consented, accepting to the offer I'd made. Dear sweet Barbra hurried to the safe place inside my stomach.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Satisfying, quick and fun

"A Matter of Honor" by Sally Malcolm is a catchy story about SG-1's visit to P4X-481, a planet that has some interesting security technology and even more interesting gravitational machinery. Ordinarily that would be enough for two episodes worth of adventure, or equivalently one trade paperback from Fandemonium Books. Because the adventure has a well wrapped Baal tie-in, a Senator Kinsey hook, and all the pull of the planet-chomping black hole from the season 2 episode, "A Matter of Time" -- it rates a royal treatment -- a double book presentation. "A Matter of Honor" is the first part of the story, and "The Cost of Honor" is its conclusion. The plot of "A Matter of Honor" is very well done. It reads as fast as it is fun.

The hardest thing in the SG-1 universe for an author to do is to get the characterizations right. Sally Malcolm did an admirable job bringing our favorite Jaffa, Teal'c, to life in the pages of this book. The mannerisms were spot on. His subtle humor was natural and effectively presented. I liked her presentation of General Hammond very much.

In three places in "A Matter of Honor" the author missed the characterization mark. These EXTREMELY jarring gaffs happened in the characterization of Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill. The first happens very, very early in the story when Samantha Carter thinks about when she will HAVE to relieve Colonel O'Neill of his command. There is an unfortunate and out of place discussion of military service being equivalent to legalized murder. The last and most appalling is when Colonel O'Neill shoots Teal'c in the ear because he mistook Teal'c for an enemy. Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill are heroic characters. The SG-1 canon has never wavered on that point. Taking liberties with the heroic nature of these four characters is -- CHEATING. Don't do it! These three miscues are the only weakness that mattered to me in the story because the storyline is so strong and (otherwise) well done.

This book is definitely worth a read, even if you have to hold your nose to cross three bad paragraphs. All the rest of the 236 pages of "A Matter of Honor" are a pleasure to read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mile 147

It's one of those days when everything feels a little out of whack. They had a fire alarm today. Everyone went outside, across the street, into an oversized gazebo, and out of the rain. A fireman climbed onto one of the picnic tables and announced that "as a part of fire safety week everyone should check the batteries in their fire extinguishers and make sure the pressure in their smoke detectors was still good". At first I thought it was just me, then the network server sympathetically failed when they announced who the "Employee of the Month" was. On a related note, they renewed the Son of Santa's network support contract today. A bald guy and a pregnant woman in a huge Chrysler challenged me to race to a southside taco stand. I didn't have enough gas for it. An abnormally tall man asked me why they put a buffalo on the back of the Kansas quarter because "everyone knew" that the last buffalo had already left and was swimming to the Phillipines. Is it still "dog paddling" if a buffalo does it?

Mile 147 is an ordinary mile marker on Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle east of Amarillo. Mile 147 is 1.4 miles from mile marker 146. This wouldn't matter if not for the fact that Mile 147 marks the secret entrance to the Isle of Misfit Toys. Stop by and say "Hi!" sometime. Rudolph and I work nights there with a small and charming Fish (who's our hero and union steward).