Tell

Say: Ought the tree with roots enough
To westward both and eastward grow—
Dear reader,
Tell: Ought he both directions weigh
Or is he free to choose, as choose
One must, else freeze and stagnant die
Before decisions left unmade?
—choose west and journey out and far
And not regret the east forsook,
And be not ravaged for the loss?

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Five Men Eat Alone: Five

Vignettes from a college assignment a few years ago. Characters different, circumstances the same: A man, eating dinner alone at a restaurant.

FIVE

The man took a thin sip of water from the dirty cup, a chem-dust edge biting his lips as he swallowed. The rat on his plate looked not too far removed from life. Its eye was open, clouded over. He shook his head, tried to see it like any other meat. The fork, knife, and spoon were mismatched but sat neatly arranged on either side of the aluminum plate. He hadn’t used silverware in years. Maybe the fork was in the wrong place.

A grey snowflake fell through the hole blasted in the roof, landing on the man’s sooty face as he looked out the western window-holes. A blood sunset floated on the far edge of a dark sea of clouds. That red bulb looked like it hadn’t moved in ages.

He turned back to the rat. It still lay there, dry as when he found it. Maybe it died of thirst. Last sight of water was some miles back, and that only lasted long enough for the people-packs to find it. He stabbed at the rat with the fork. A few brittle bones crunched under the surface, but the skin was too tough to puncture.

 

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Five Men Eat Alone: Two

Vignettes from a college assignment a few years ago. Characters different, circumstances the same: A man, eating dinner alone at a restaurant.

TWO

Mr. Fenton watched the measly baked chicken drip pallid yellow sauce onto a gigantic white plate. It was supposed to be appetizing. It wasn’t. This place just dropped from an A to a hesitant B, Sauvignon Blanc notwithstanding.

The waitress continued. He’d forgotten she was still here. “…and for your side you chose the cilantro rice soufflé.”

She set down the dish, a little white pie browned heavily at the tips, smelling of eggs more than rice. And for some reason, mustard.

“Tha– Thank you.” He said, trying to keep his nose from turning up. The waitress smiled, and he could see a bead of sweat roll down her makeup-dusted left temple. Yes, she was nice enough, but her appearance fell short—lipstick that didn’t quite stay within the lines, hair that looked like it had been attempted that morning but never subdued, shirt obviously the same and only one she’d worn on the job for weeks, if not months. He doubted that she’d been here for long, or that she’d remain much longer. At least it wouldn’t be her alone: after tonight, the restaurant itself wouldn’t last.

 

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Five Men Eat Alone: Four

Vignettes from a college assignment a few years ago. Characters different, circumstances the same: A man, eating dinner alone at a restaurant.

FOUR

Axe ate like a drunk bear. After four plates of ribs, just ribs, the waitress came by, saw the dripping pile of bones, and gave him a look of disgust as he downed another beer.

“Hey girl, don’ knock it ‘til you try it.” She—what was her name again? Charlene? Shirley? whatever—she stuck her nose up, and he always got a kick out of that anyway.

“They don’t say I’m this county’s top eater for nothing.” He chuckled, wiped a barbecue droplet from the gold-plastic medal slung from his neck. “Another beer, babe?”

“They don’t call me the waitress for nothing.” She turned around and headed back through the swinging door. Axe watched her leave; her back was so straight he could almost hear it pop on every step. He gave a “mmmhmmm” of approval, not really knowing whether it was about Charlene-what’s-her-face or the ribs. Didn’t matter. He was at the top of his game.

Next thing he knew, he was on the linoleum, choking on the bone of an ill-swallowed rib. Charlene was kneeling next to him, and seemed to hesitate before prepping for a Heimlich.

 

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Five Men Eat Alone: Three

Vignettes from a college assignment a few years ago. Characters different, circumstances the same: A man, eating dinner alone at a restaurant.

THREE

“How long does it take to get a dang steak cooked?” Buford questioned to nobody through his heavy mustache. A glass of Coke sat alongside two empties in front of him. He didn’t expect an answer.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, tried to loosen the neck of his polo. It itched like heck, but if that’s what it took to get a bona fide real paying job around here, he’d make this one sacrifice. Though, after a day of applications and interviews, he felt like he’d already been put back to the grind.

The steak was supposed to be a treat to himself for his last interview, which went pretty well if he could say so himself. Actually, the steak was a cheat on his wife’s undignified meatless diet. Buford couldn’t stand her health kicks. He loved her like a hound loves a hunter, but all the same, she’d never know if he snuck a Texas Roadhouse instead of that guac-bean sandwich she made. He knew how to hide the smell of beefhide and A1 sauce.

Buford looked at his watch. An hour had passed since his order. He began to consider just a bite or two of that sandwich.

 

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I Won an Award

I wrote a thing, and people liked it.

More specifically, I wrote The Verso Verdict, a short film produced by Nick Smith Productions for The 100 Hour Film Race of 2018, where it won best picture. Recently, though, it was also submitted to the 2019 Kite Film Festival in Destin, FL, and there it won Best Screenplay.

I’m honestly not quite sure what to do with this, but you by all means can now enjoy an award winning short film from an award winning screenwriter, here:

P.S.: The Verso Verdict is a sci-fi short about a future of justice-on-demand, and a woman who must make a life or death judgement after watching the memories of a criminal.

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#100hourfilmrace

Mausoleums

Mausoleums and marble
Statues occupying dim corners
Of unused rooms in designer houses—
Standing in place of the real, the perfect.
When the soul is dead
Nothing is left to commemorate
But the dusty corpse
Which will go on walking
Brainless for a full eighty years
Stitching together shreds
Torn from Time-Life, Vogue,
Home & Garden. Rotting
Adequate garnishes in new arrangement
Tossed on hastily carved
Stone facades, hiding black fracture
And the erosion of what might have been
Alive once,
Now never.

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Black Forest

I am not the sort of man
To stamp, shout or rage
Or sly, slip a secret
Or slouch, slump or rot.

I am the sort of man
You might fear for what I keep 
Locked in my chest,
Ribcage swung shut like
Wrought-iron gates to a Black Forest.
What’s grown there I’ve little altered.
I find instead that altar of uncut stones
Alone, a light and fire 
Warming the deepest corners—

So when you come, I’ll give you keys:
Ask me why I do what I do.
And when I can’t tell you,
Because I haven’t braved myself so deeply, 
Make it your life to find answers.
Be a paladin lost in the woods
And I’ll cleave a home for you here.

Image Source, thanks to Inge Bovens Photography.

Five Men Eat Dinner Alone: One

The first of five vignettes from a college assignment a few years ago. Characters different, circumstances the same: A man, eating dinner alone at a restaurant.

ONE

Viktor found himself thinking about Annika somewhere between the American “appetizer” and the main course. Somehow, it wasn’t right—eating and working and sleeping here, in this country, while she was somewhere on the other side of the world. He felt dishonest, as though he had made some second life, some secret he couldn’t tell her.

“Thank you.” He tried to swallow his accent as the waitress refilled his coffee.

He resolved that he would do it anyway, and for Annika. He would eat here, as eating gave him strength to work. He would work here, as it was the only way to bring Annika here, to their new home. And he would sleep here—alone, and cold often—as with every night’s passing, he could at least see her in his dreams.

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That’s Not Real—That’s Science Fiction!

I stumbled for the first time on the Atlantic Council, the Art of Future Warfare Project, and the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, all in one sitting. Proof is here: people are using fiction—science fiction even!—in practical ways to train and foster professional creativity—for national security contexts even!

In addition to professionals in an other than “creative” field assenting to the value of “creative” works, I am interested particularly in what one of them said, and the thought it provoked in me.

“Directed energy weapons, electromagnetic pulse, and autonomous warfare—all things of science fiction just a few years ago—are now materializing.”

This quote comes from author Martin Dempsey, in his intro to the Art of Future Warfare sci-fi anthology, and the sentiment is not so very remarkable of its own; you and I have heard such talk before. But by it, and for the first time, I was struck by the bias of my own perspective on tech fantasies-come-realities: that to me, the line it suggests, of such tech being decidedly only fiction and now reality, does not really exist.

To me.

I have been immersed from youth in science fiction that presents forms of things only degrees advanced from what is already real and existing. Robots in movies are paralleled by robotic manufacturing and early AI. Directed energy weapons could be extrapolated from any Walmart pen-laser I happened to find. Mega cities, self-driving cars, automated assistants, info-talitarian* “online” networks, holograms…

Things in my age’s science fiction are either frequently slipping into reality at lightning speeds, or else have already been around for long enough to seem commonplace. Either the great paragons of Sci-Fi movies, TV, and books can barely keep up with the stranger realities emerging; or they are simply cleaning up the policies and machine rights issues.

By encountering Dempsey’s statement, then, I feel much as a fish would if briefly flung out onto a dry beach. My sci-fi reality is not everywhere. It has not always been so.

If you are old enough, you may be laughing already. If you are around my age, maybe you are nodding in agreement.

A rather obvious example of historical difference of perspective on this matter could be put thus: Fiction about flight, space travel, interplanetary voyages, lunar explorations predated humanity ever actually accomplishing any of those things—a major threshold. In other words, we may have thought about them as possible, but until we did them, there was nothing yet to confirm that we ever would.

Not so, I think, with modern science fiction in the eyes of a modern audience. To us, there is no threshold, no line. To us, what cannot be done?

“…they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible for them.

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*Let’s talk about informational totalitarianism sometime.