Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dreaming
D. Paul Angel
666 Words

I knew I was in a dream. Light just doesn’t behave like that in real life. And, how else did I end up in a hospital? Even with my eyes closed I couldn’t miss the distinctive smell. I looked around as best I could, but the light only really showed the floor. I could watch the checkerboard pattern of stark white and anti-septic green pass beneath my bare feet. The ceiling though was pitch black, and everything in between seemed to be a fog of darkness. Like Erebus’ smoking den. The edges of exam tables could sometimes be seen, as could gurney wheels, and bases for IVs; everything else was shrouded in wafting darkness.

The Corridor I was in ended at an abrupt T-intersection. I turned left and came to a pair of doors with wide, institutional windows, the kind with wire mesh embedded inside. I was just about to try the handle when I suddenly saw my dad in the window. It had been years since I’d dreamt about him, and even as I felt my feet stick in fear I began doing the Lucid Dreaming exercises Dr. Munroe had taught me. I closed my eyes and concentrated on taking over the dream and turning my father into a clown.

Ridiculous, after all, isn’t frightening. But it didn’t quite work. My dad wasn’t the buffoon he was supposed to be. The clown makeup only accentuated his angry sneer. The rainbows over his eyes merely highlighted their cold hatred. His suspenders were writhing, desiccated coral snakes, and the flower in his hat had a human eye for its center, moistly staring at me. The belt in his hand was supposed to be gone, but it looked as real as ever, cracked and worn; with tiny speckles of dried blood.

The door opened of its own and I turned to run in a panic. I didn’t know if he was pursuing me or not, I just sprinted the other way. I thought I was passing the main corridor but it wasn’t a T-intersection any longer. Instead the corridor continued on into the darkness. Past was another set of doors, again with windows, and, despite my silent scream; again with my father behind them. I turned back to the extension of the corridor when Dr. Munroe stepped out of the shadow-webbed fog.

“Follow me,” he said in his familiarly comforting, smoker’s voice. I followed his portly form down the hall as the fog seemed to shrink away from him. I started to tell him what was going on but he just doubled his pace and held a finger to his bearded lips silencing me. I kept my peace and just trailed along as fast as I could, letting myself focus only on his bald pate while trying to avoid the nightmare surrounding me.

We quickly came to another T-intersection, but instead of slowing down, he sped up and went through the wall. I stopped just short and banged my hand on it, feeling its solidity. I turned, putting my back to it, and saw my father slowly walking towards me in the center of all three corridors, each with a similar clown outfit, though distinctly unique as well. In a second I had made up my mind and threw myself at the wall as hard as I could.

I stumbled through and found myself alone with Dr. Munroe; floating together in an infinite expanse of the purest white above and darkest black below. As I looked at Dr. Munroe he started to change. He grew and lost his clothes to an enveloping black robe that seemed to be the darkest shade of every color ,mottled into a black darker than black itself could ever be. His clipboard morphed into a tall, well honed scythe, and the skin on his face receded to an ivory skull. His round spectacles were finally absorbed into empty eye sockets that, despite being bone, conveyed utter, knowing finality. I’d woken from Life’s lucid dream.

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Re — The Look

umbridge__s_office_by_feliciacano-d4k0930(The above drawing by Felicia Cano is the best match to my imagination of Umbridge that I have come across)

I would offer that J.K. Rowling’s Dolores Umbridge, of Harry Potter fame, is the best literary villain I have ever encountered.  From her smug condescension to her self-righteous superiority, I cannot think of an antagonist who has been more, well, antagonizing.  A huge part of that is how much depth Rowling gives Umbridge.  It is brutally clear that Umbridge believes herself to not just be right, but wholly, completely, and utterly right without even the tiniest tinge of possibility of being wrong.  Rowling of course does it deftly, bringing you to share our hero’s loathing of the woman without ever actually saying, “Umbridge is a horrible person.”

She doesn’t tell us the kind of person Umbridge is, she shows us.

For me, this is where my writing tends to fall flat.  I find myself in a catch-22 because I find some of these personalities so frustrating that I can’t understand them.  And because I can’t understand them, I can’t create a character to capture it, even when it is the perfect personality for an antagonist.

Hence my exercise Friday.  Truth be told it was hard to write.  I had my favorite beta-reader look over it again, my ex-wife, and while she helped me tighten it up some, I knew I had missed the mark.  In many ways a misogynistic dudebro is both easy and difficult to capture.  Easy, because their reactions are always guided by their bigotry.  Difficult because my exploration of him was both too little and too much.  It was too much in that he came across more of a generic ass, instead of a specifically sexist one.  Too little in that I know the glimpses into his head a but a smidgeon of the darkness that pervades such individuals. (If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is dip a toe or two into the ugly, sexist morass that seethes under the monicker, “#GamerGate.”)

So I think the experiment was successful in that I conveyed who he was, and I now know I have more work to do in order that my readers can satisfactorily hate my villains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Look

The Look
D. Paul Angel
675 Words

One of the difficulties I have in writing is to create bad characters. Let me rephrase that. Bad characters are easy to make- I do it all the time! Creating villains, now therein lies the rub. What follows is my attempt to create the essence of such an antagonist, in particular, a dudebro. I think I missed the target, though not completely. So any thoughts would be most welcome!

Oh yeah, she has got to be giving me the look. You get used to it after a while. Chicks are born knowing how to flash it. Gotta be in that extra leg of their chromosomes or somethin’.

I assumed it was just a mom thing until I had to appear before this lady judge as a teen. See, I’d taken dad’s ride to impress this sophomore hottie, when this asshole runs me off the road. But does he get charged? Nope. I do, for joy riding and causing my own accident. So I appear before this lady judge and all she wants to say is, Blah blah blah going the wrong way blah blah blah.” Because, of course, I’m just a kid and he’s the “adult.” But if he saw me coming, why didn’t he move? Pffft. Some adult. But say that to a judge, especially a lady one, and oh yeah, I got the look. That’s when I knew it was a female thing and not just a mom thing.

Like when I joined the Navy straight outta high school. They called me a seaman, (I still laugh at that!). I go into the club and there’s this smokin’ hot MILF at the bar. She’s wearing a little black dress, so I know she wants a guy like me. So I go up to her, right, but all she wants to know is what I’m doing in the Officer’s Club if I’m not an officer? Please! ‘Cause that’s where the good tail is, right? And anyways, I tell her, with a rack that fine I’d motorboat her till she felt like a Captain. That’s when she busted out the look. And busted me all the way out to the Aleutians.And just ’cause an Admiral outranks a Captain, I guess?

I thought the Navy’d be the end of bitches, but no. I had this cush’ job for awhile on Wall Street. All the perks, all the benies… all good except this broad boss riding my ass all the damn time. “Why’re you late? Why’d you leave early? Where’re your TSP reports?” On and on and ON! There was no rest from her. Finally, she’s busted my balls so much I had to stay late. Pissed me off. Then I got a text from my bro that he needs a wingman for this pair of ladies at a party. So I tell my boss I need to go but, no, she just rolls her eyes and tells me I can’t leave till the reports are done. Like you can do three weeks of reports in a night? Please. So I tell her I gotta roll and she just gives me the look. Then fires me! Bam! No warning, no nothing, just, here’s the door, goodbye!

Well, Wall Street was dead to me at that point, so here I am now, out in the boonies of suburbia, staring back at this old lady. The golf course won’t let me on anymore, me… and it’s a freakin’muni course! Just cause my time’s to valuable to wait for a bunch of grandmas to slug through their cinco-bogeyed holes? Women shouldn’t be on the course at any age! But, whatever. So I play my own game and just hit yard to yard, ya know? No harm. Hardly a divot in any lawns at all.

And, like I’m trying to explain to the lady in front of me, there is no out of bounds. So I should totally be able to hit it back out of her den and not have to pick up. I mean the glass door’s already broken, right? Not like it can be broken again. But of course she’s not listening at all. Just like the rest of them. Never wanting to admit how right the man is. Please. After I tell her that, yeah I’m almost certain she’s giving me the look. It’s just hard to tell with that shotgun of hers covering so much of her face.

That and the muzzle flash.

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Where Were You?

Where Were You?
D. Paul Angel
750 Words

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  This is an autobiographical #FridayFlash of the 16 year old me’s experience of the 6.9 Earthquake.

I found myself in midair. Literally.

One second I was laying in bed watching the start of Game 3, the next second I was leaping out of bed. I was looking down at the floor feeling my legs kick around for landing as I became aware of my actions. I had just enough time to wonder what I was doing when I found out why.

That’s when the earthquake hit.

There was no build up, no gradual intensifying; it just was. I could hear the walls move as they fought against their foundation bolts. The floor was undulating so violently that I almost fell several times crossing the 6 feet to my door. Once there I had to brace my back against the frame with my legs to stay in place. Mom was headed towards me from the front room. I watched her fight her way to me across a floor that was oscillating at seemingly impossible angles. When she was close we reach out for each other, only to just miss as the shaking staggered her backwards. She tried again and soon we were both in the doorframe, holding and bracing each other to stay upright, wrapped in the thunderous roar of the earthquake.

It lasted a long 15 seconds.

We knew there would be aftershocks so we we hurried out of the house as soon as we could could gather ourselves. We were shocked to find our kitchen floor, a mere dozen feet away, covered in broken plates and glasses. The cabinets had opened throwing everything inside crashing to the the Kitchen’s tile floor. The earthquake was so loud we hadn’t heard anything break. We saw cracked stucco as we headed towards the driveway, making us wonder at the structural soundness of the house.

We turned the corner to the garage and saw the rollup door and fallen off of its rails and was hanging on the Volkswagon van in the garage. Shelves had fallen in the garage too, the various hazardous liquids and chemicals all now mixing in a pool to the far right of the van. Through the narrow gap between the spill and the van our dog Sunshine came walking out. She was old enough to be completely deaf deaf and almost blind, and seemed more upset at having been woken than frightened.

A neighbor came by a short time later to check on us and ended up helping us free the van from the garage door. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, causing mine and my Mom’s heads to snap up. “look at how scratched the roof of your van is.”

My Mom told me later all she could think at that was, “Have you seen my house!?

With the Van free we waited. It was, except for the earthquake, a beautiful middling October day. We sat on the bench at the edge of the driveway, far enough from the house to be safe, Sunshine at our feet. A large aftershock rolled though, and we could see trees on the other side of the valley surreally sway with the roll.

With the immediate danger passed, aftershocks not withstanding, I was suddenly chilled by the magnitude of the event. We didn’t know we were less than 5 miles from the epicenter, so we had assumed that this was the Big One, with its epicenter 100 miles North in San Francisco. We had friends at the game and though we hoped they were safe, down deep I knew there was no way the stadium could still be standing; anymore than the rest of San Francisco. The phrase, “Wrath of an angry God,” became both immediate and distant.

Dad came and checked on us sometime late that night. He was head of the County’s 9-1-1 center so his visit was both wonderful and brief. We found out at last that the epicenter was here, in Santa Cruz, and that while San Francisco took damage, it wasn’t catastrophic. More importantly to us, we knew he was safe, and he knew were. In the those early hours after the quake, when there was no other way of knowing, it was a Godsend of relief.

The next week was a blur, but we got things cleaned up and fixed, as did the rest of town. For the next several months everyone you met was an instant friend. The stories were many and varied, from funny to scary; from sad to miraculous. And the question was always the same, “Where were you?”

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Re Beginnings Chapter 2 — Overboard

King of Swamp Castle: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.

–Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Beginnings Chapter 2 — Overboard” came about after I read Mark Gardner’s “Beginnings.” In the comments he indicated that he wasn’t going to take up anything else with the story, so I inquired if I could give it a shot. He gave me the go ahead and I wrote away. Within a couple days I had a draft, did a revision and had what I thought was a final draft.

Thought.

My ex wife regularly reads my stories before I post them. I gave this to her for a read and she really did not like it. Some of the criticisms I didn’t necessarily agree with, but I certainly saw where she was coming from. The first version took up the events immediately after Steve went through the door. There were, I think, some cool concepts in my draft that I can use later, but I started to see how this wasn’t the right place for them. We talked about it for awhile more, but when she summed it up as, “You can do better,” I knew I needed to give it another go.

I decided to take her advice to heart and I tried going in a different direction with the second version. It was wholly different from the first, but still didn’t pass muster. This one took place on the dock the day after Steve received the coin from James, early in the morning, but it spent far too much time giving detail, and not enough time exploring the relationship between the two characters.

So I started again. This time I only made it halfway through before shitcanning it myself. If the first two were merely collapsing in the swamp, this one truly had burned down and fell over and sank into the swamp. While I let her read it, I already knew it was past the point of saving. She didn’t think it was as bad as I did, but she definitely thought it needed work.

So, on it was to the fourth one. Much like Swamp Castle, this one was firmly built on the rubble of the previous four. Where I had struggled to write the first three (two and a half?) this one flowed naturally, and I was happy with it at the end. It didn’t try and do too much, but it gave a more solid base to both James and Steve, and opened a window into their relationship. Her smile after reading it was a reward in itself. All the things that my former wife had recommended were very much the perfect fit for the second chapter, and it shows.

The moral of the story being, more than anything else, honest beta readers are a Godsend, but only if you listen to them.

The story is now in the hands of Miss Alister, and I am excited to see where it goes after giving it my own solid nudge.

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Beginnings Chapter 2 — Overboard

Beginnings — Chapter 2
#FridayFlash Overboard
D. Paul Angel
658 Words

This is a continuation of “Beginnings,” Mark Gardner’s #FridayFlash from 26 September 2014 on his fantastic blog Article 94. Mark wrote it as a stream of consciousness piece on an old school typewriter. In the comments he gave me permission to continue to the story, and you’ll find that below. Having added my piece, I would now invite someone else to take on the next chapter and see how this story unfolds.  Let me know in the comments below if you’d like to write the next chapter!

My body hung in the life vest, gently bobbing with each swell. If I turned my head far enough I could just see James turning the Zebedee in a slow arc to come back and pick me up. I’d been working with him for almost a year now, but this was easily my biggest mistake. And I’d made plenty.

I remembered a lot of the mistakes, and just how many of them James caught before they could escalate. It was frustrating at first. Well, at second and third too; probably more so because he never seemed angry or upset by anything. It was always either a nod, a few words of correction, or a quick tap on the shoulder. It had been frustratingly incessant the first couple weeks. I couldn’t turn around without him telling me something I was doing wrong. Always patient, always firm: always there.

I realized as I was floating that he hadn’t hardly corrected me at all for days. Weeks? I couldn’t even remember for sure, but at least a awhile. And then I up and fall off the damned boat.

I could only imagine what he was going to say when he got me back on deck. I went through everything again: getting tangled in the line, trying to haul up more net than I easily lug, and so on down the list. Well, at least I’d already have the answers when he started asking me about doing things different!

He eased the motors to idle and the boat drifted by slowly. Down on one knee he reached out and clasped my arm. He possessed deceptive strength for an old, scrawny guy and easily hauled me up.

“Thanks,” I said, truly grateful. Nothing really gives you a sense for the size of the ocean so much as drifting in it, even for a short time. “I know what I did wrong, James,” I began, but he cut me off.

“Of course you do, Steve. But I’d wager you’d like to have dry clothes on. Off you go, then back to work. You had your break for the day,” he added with a twinkle to his eye before lighting another cigar.

“Um, uh, thanks again,” I stammered. I ducked into the cabin and came out a few minutes later far dryer and with clean clothes on.

“Do you want to know what happened?”

“I know what happened,” he said, “I watched it.”

“Then why didn’t you stop me? You’ve been on me about everything else the last year.”

“Has it really been a year already? Time flies, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling some of the old frustration from rarely knowing how he was going to react to anything. “But that has nothing to do with why you suddenly stopped correcting me just before I went overboard.”

“Ah. That.”

“Yes!” I admit I snapped a little, “That.”

“Did you like being in the water?”

“Of course not!”

“Are you going to do it again?”

“Well, no. I know what I did wrong. I had some time to think about it while bobbing up and down in the wake.”

“Then you didn’t really need me to teach you anything, did ya? You got the lesson all on your own.”

“But everything else was so much smaller.”

“At the time, yeah. But those little mistakes could quickly become big ones, and, really, how many of them were obvious mistakes to a greenhorn?”

I found myself there for a little bit, looking up and remembering many, many such lessons. He was right. What he had caught me on weren’t necessarily obvious blunders, but in hindsight they could have turned out far worse than an unexpected, late afternoon salt-water bath.

“Huh,” I finally replied, taking it all in.

“‘Huh,’ indeed. Just remember Steve,” he said poking me square in the chest with his index finger firmly wrapped around his stogie, “you can’t rush ready. So don’t get cocky.”

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Miss Alister continues the story with Chapter 3 — The Transference

#FridayFlash: When the Stars Appear

When the Stars Appear
D. Paul Angel
303 Words

He sat in the camping chair looking up past the trees at the end of his neighborhood. He raised his wineglass to the darkening sky, lifting his index finger to point, “That’s Venus I think. It’s always the first this time of year. But you can just see another dot almost straight above it.”

He smiled, enjoying the Summer warmth that had lingered into early Fall. “There’s one,” he said, pointing again, “They just seem to appear. Poking through the dark after traveling for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

“I think this is the best time to see the stars. I don’t know why, maybe because everything else is still just a little lit, but this is when you can almost feel their distance, ya know?”

He sipped a little more Rosé, watching the stars appear one by one as the sky darkened, each one making him smile anew. He watched a jet silently fly over, waiting until it was lost to the far horizon before talking again, “It’s so high up we wouldn’t even know it was there if it wasn’t just dark enough to see its lights.”

He distractedly swirled the wine around his glass as he became more pensive, “Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t see a plane like that and not think of all the lives on board, ya know? Half leaving home and half coming. Some lost in their own thoughts. Some reading, some asleep, and some…” he grinned as he looked up, trying to find another jet. “Some are making friends with the passenger next them- just like we did, all those years ago, remem-” he stopped mid-word, choking up as he turned to see the empty chair next to him; a summer’s worth of leaves and pine needles still piled on its seat.

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