Monday, March 18, 2013

The Dispatch From Escalatorville - Eat My Shorts.

Every now and again, I'll take up the challenge of trying to write a short story. Sometimes, I'll have an idea that won't escape until I put it down in full detail - other times, I write for the sport of it. What follows are two pieces of the latter, written according to specific contest guidelines (i.e. a given subject matter, a word-count requirement, etc.) - for contests that I did not win.

However, the losses (if one can really call them that) give me the chance to show off these stories on my own. Eventually, these may become longer and more thorough stories, or screenplays, or simply forgotten altogether. I'm presenting them now in their "submitted" form with the hope that the ideas behind them will provide a bit of enjoyment; possibly put a few images in your own head-space, and give a different glimpse into mine.

The Power Of Persuasion

(Written for the short fiction series which is part of a Nationally known Public Radio program)

Anton Mesmer sat in the room of his Presidential Library, reading headlines from his inauguration 28 years prior; reminiscing on slow days when business wasn't exactly busy.

He'd been the first Independent victor of the race for the Presidency, although he'd had otherworldly help. Unknown to the public, he was the first President with supernatural powers.

A child in Iowa, he'd stopped a bully's violence - willed it gone by stating “You don't need to do this.” - thus becoming aware of his  ability to convince others to do his bidding. He'd inherited the trait – coercive persuasion/mass hypnosis- from his father, who warned Anton at age 11;

“Strange? Wonderful? Yes.” Dad cautioned,
“But, NO ONE can know of this – use it sparingly – for it could vanish in an instant. Use this wisely, only for good.”

Anton stood strong. Smart, passionate - he used intelligence and fortitude to get ahead – resisting the use of his phenomenal skill. That is, until he personally witnessed suffering that self-absorbed actions of die-hard politicos brought his fellow citizens.

At 37, he ran for President. With grand ideas, he beguiled media interviewers. A common sense platform plus subtle mind control equaled landslide victory.

A photo from inauguration day shows Mesmer after taking the oath, proud father leaning to whisper in his ear. In reality, 'twas a plea- “I know how you did this; please be careful.”

Soon after, Anton faced opposition from D.C. bigwigs used to ingrained benefits gained from lifetimes of being on government payrolls. At a joint session of Congress – Anton made his grandest suggestion:

“Inspire the country,“ he stated, casting a spell over the throng, ”Take personal responsibility.”

An audible gasp filled the room, the Judicial and Legislative branches hadn't considered “responsibility” in ages.

He proposed the only bill ever passed unanimously: Federal Employees Reduced Entitlement Plan – cutting ornate pensions afforded to  Senators, Representatives, and the Executive Branch.

“Why,” he asked the entranced, “should taxpayers continue to pay for services that WE have retired from?”

The people so admired Anton for his honesty and integrity that, via a write-in campaign coupled with the citizens blitzkrieg on media outlets, an amendment was passed to change the face on the $100 bill. So long Franklin, make way for Mesmer.

Then, March Third, Mesmer's fourth year in office, it happened.

Anton called the kitchen, requesting his favorite breakfast – peanut butter waffles with hot chocolate. Hortense, the official chef, declined – offering a healthier alternative.

“Really?” he pressed, trying hard to use the power which had  propelled the country toward greater days.

“Today's menu:” clarified Hortense, “Cereal, Fruit, Orange Juice.”

As warned, the power had vanished. Anton's confidence remained high, but his diminished persuasiveness made Washington revert to it's old ways. There'd be no second term. Policies were overturned, save one - Commander's in Chief would pay their own way upon leaving office.

Decades on, Anton stood by this decision.

“At least,” he pondered, “I used that power to good ends, some folks had their burden eased for a while.”

His thoughts were interrupted by a rumbling truck on the pavement outside. Anton ambled out the front door.

“Can I help you?” he stated, diplomatically.

“Fill it up with regular,” the driver said as she popped out of her seat, stiletto heels clicking on the fluorescent-lit floor of the station bay, “I'mma use the restroom.”

She then skipped across the lot to a door marked “Women.”

Mesmer -gracefully still serving the people- took the gas pump, topped off the tank.

The gal returned,  “Whadda I owe yuh?”

“$92.78, Miss.” the former President uttered.

She pulled a bill from her wallet, never glimpsing the face of the once prominent man she'd read about in school not so very long ago, and handed it over -
“Keep the change, buddy.”

Ignoring the small museum on the grounds, the truck rushed back to the highways that lay beyond that tiny Iowan town.

Anton returned to the register on his desk and quietly slipped his portrait into the till.

Creep City
(My entry into the County Library System's recent murder/mystery challenge.)

There are plenty of places to dispose of a body in The Nation's Oldest City.

Heck, in this towns vast and voluminous history, there's no part of town that hasn't served as a graveyard or burial ground. Hidden crevices in ancient buildings, marshes and ditches galore, loose cobblestones in the wee hours on dark streets... 

The very elements of the city itself, mixed with a few of the right chemical compounds, of course - and a person can disappear into the realm of the ghostly in fairly quick time.

"Thirty-seven vanishings from downtown last year," my pal Ralston stated, "This year alone, we're already up to 13, and barely into March!"

Ralston, a reporter for a local radio station and noted gadfly - albeit a very smart fellow - had invited me to get my thoughts, as a native of the area and one of his close friends.

Close friends who've known each other for years, so knowledgeable of  routines and habits that even though we can go months without a deep thoughtful conversation- I can still walk into his kitchen, grab a glass from the cupboard and juice from the fridge any day of the week. He'd do the same in mine. Sometimes what seems like diminished courtesy simply indicates a friendly familiarity.

The circumstances of mysterious disappearances in the old town were never really looked into. It was generally tourists that vanished and the local police nearly always determined - with nary an investigation - that the missing had just grown tired of their situation (or companion) and decided to up and leave without notice. 

The cops did have a bit of a point in their favor; this is what the locals call a “boomerang” town, meaning that one can always "leave," yet will always come back to visit, or live, or die.

Ralston was a determined fuss-budget, however.

He'd invited me to a brunch babble at a bistro in the “Old Town” section of the, ahem, old town. Since I'd been born here, and he'd only been around a dozen years, he thought I might have some more "native" insight.

"Have you ever witnessed another showcase for abandonment such as this?" he prodded.

"Well, not really," I stammered, "but keep in mind that I hardly pay attention to that type of stuff. I'm just a townie, and us townies get it that strange things happen in this place. It's a trait inbred in anyone that's lived here forever. The city's been living up to curse after curse put upon it since the Catholic Spaniards killed all the French Protestants and threw 'em in the Matanzas Bay four hundred years ago."

What I meant to say to Ralston was this; peculiarities that seem odd and random to most folks who visit, are relatively passé to the "born-ins." We live with ghosts all around us. We've all heard, told, experienced, or simply made-up stories of our own that share the tales of this old burg. I myself was born on the day that Athalia Lindsey was killed. My folks drove past that horrific scene on the way to the hospital on Marine street. ("So bloody. A gruesome, jarring memory I'll not forget," my mother so royally stated once . “After seeing the mess the devil made of that woman's flesh, I shuddered all the way to the delivery room.")

"Ralsie," I pestered, "so what - it's a higher than usual number. You're a reporter, you know that crime rates, traffic accidents, births, deaths - they fluctuate every few years, right? Right?" 

I asked twice because I could see he was distracted.

"Zinetta Farussa hasn't been home in 4 days," was his next turn of headline induced phrase. 

"She left work at the Historic Society the other night - and her boyfriend, Dean, hasn't seen her since. The Historic Society's missing a 150 year old black onyx ring, belonged to the wife of the guy that read the Emancipation Proclamation here when Lincoln was President.  Nobody's seen Chad Rettier since Church last Sunday either."

"Chad Rettier's a flake and a pompous ass." I retorted "probably split to some music rave-up downstate, or maybe just up in Savannah on a bender - you know how he gets."

"Well yeah," offered Ralston "But what about Zinetta?"

Zinetta Farussa had been a cheerleader and class president at the local high school 15 years back, and was still a fairly well regarded member of society. A fixture at art walks and local festivals - she remained a smart and admirable, if whimsically wanton, woman.

"I dunno," I replied "I haven't seen her since our falling out at that folk festival, and I don't think she really forgives me for my drunken tirade that night..."

"She's over you." Ralston dryly noted. "Besides, she and Rettier both had failed business ventures with "Old Man" Altemann over on the island.

"You think Der Krautmeister's gotten 'em into some trouble or something?" I haphazardly replied, anticipating a raft of explanation, as Ralsie is wont to extrapolate.

"I dunno," he replied in brief- "but I'm looking into it. Altemann's a sketchy guy, and there's a bunch of folks who think he's up to no good."
We ended brunch and walked back toward our neighborhood. We stopped at his place and I cautioned my bud.

"Look, I don't know if there’s any credit to be given to your theories," I warned, "but don't get yourself into trouble over this - there’s just some juju in this place you don't want to mess with. Trust me."
"You got it, Jakey LaBeau." He said as he shrugged (I hated it when he called me Jakey), "but you'll be the first to know when I figure it all out."

"You bet." I laughed at his dedication, but I think he knew he was running a dead horse up the wrong tree.

Perhaps he didn't? I never thought to ask that.
At 3:30 yesterday morning, I heard the doorknob turn simultaneously with the sound of Ralston's quivering voice.

"Hey man...I hope you're up, I just found some weird stuff..." he stated with nervous excitement as he entered the house to find me, yes, still awake at 3:30 AM.

Still awake at 3:30 AM, cursing myself that I'd left the damn door unlocked. 
Still awake, and caught at the kitchen sink – blood and chemical soaked, peeling the remaining flesh from the bones of Miss Zinetta Farussa.

Ralston's face turned as white as her exposed and freshly scrubbed collarbone.
He forced a mumble. "I suppose you have the ring too..." 
There are plenty of places to dispose of a body in the Nation's Oldest City. Ralston now knows this to be incredibly true.


Now, I don't know why I wrote key events in both stories to take place in March - neither was written during that specific lunar cycle - but it seems as good as any month to release them to the world. Read 'em twice, that last one's kinda ghoulish. More new stuff to be foisted upon ya soon.

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively; Proprietor/Pulp Rioteer for threats and love letters.

No comments: