Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Human Trials, Part Four

First of all, the cat is all right. Let's get that said immediately. Marzi, my little ten month old orange and white male kitten is all right. He lived.

I have some cats. Cats being what they are, you only see three or four of them at a time. So that's how many cats I have. Three or four. Marzi, Andy, Spot and Edie and their mother Dru (oops, five) joined Achilles, Naomi and Cloudy last summer (is that eight?). I blame the idiots who do not neuter their cats and then ABANDON THEM IN OUR DRIVEWAY. Thanks to economic downturn, we couldn't off the strays—the shelters were full. So, here we are. All of us.

For anyone who thinks this is excessive, you are so correct! But we are four (semi) adults who live in the country and the cats are indoor/outdoor varietals. It only gets really hairy around feeding time. I have my bee suit and whip. We make it work.

Andy is a puffy-haired gray male with a lolloping walk and a whisker for trouble. He is a well-known hooligan. If I have an appliance—oven, Cuisinart, coffee grinder, washing machine, electric toothbrush—the cat is all over it, in it or eating it. Many's the time Andy has hopped into the clothes dryer when my back is turned. I scoop him out and shut the door.

Not so last night. I threw in my wet socks and workout clothes, turned to look for Andy who was clamoring for half-and-half in the kitchen. I turned back, shut the door, started the dryer and left the room.

There was a clumping sound, like shoes in the dryer. I don't want to say how long I ignored it before going back to check. It was a, hmmm, I don't remember putting shoes in there feeling. I opened the door and saw Marzi's limp body fall to the bottom of the dryer. Not moving.

I'm not proud. I screamed and ran. The Professor didn't understand what I was screaming about, as if "Marzi! Dead! Dryer! Omigod! Omigod! Marzi! Dead! Dryer!" didn't make complete sense. By the time he got to the dryer, the cat was up and wobbling away. They tell me he was fluffier than usual.

I didn't think it was possible, but after a couple of hours hiding under the coffee table and trying to get as close to the gravitational center of the earth as possible, I was all right. And Marzi is fine. No broken bones or anything. I said his nose looked too pink this morning and the Professor, bless his little cotton socks, offered to roll me up in a rug and take me to the psychiatrist.

To celebrate having lived another day without becoming a cat murderer, here is Part Four of Human Trials. People are different; killing them in fiction doesn't seem so bad.

Human Trials, Part Four


The beauty of the drug was that Richard only had to find one perfect girl.

Sal explained it over beers one night, months earlier. Time distortion was still theoretical at that point and no one knew if the drug would actually create the effect. Everyone at the lab joked about Dr. Mack. Who gave funding to such a whack job?

But Sal believed it might work. Or maybe he just saw future opportunities. Of a financial nature.

"Ever wanted to relive the best fuck of your life?" asked Sal. "Think about it."

"Like virtual reality?"

"Virtual nothing! It's the real deal, Richard. You are there."

Richard paused for a sip of beer, gathering his thoughts. Already, there was a girl. "Does it affect other people?"

Sal shook his head. "Unknown. It's supposed to create a distortion envelope around the subject's body. Like it's Thursday in the world, but Wednesday for you. But we've talked about making it a bigger event with a higher dosage."

"Make it Wednesday in a whole room?"

"Make the whole planet Wednesday, Richard. Or any day you like."

The last time Richard saw Sal in the hall before he died he was too busy to talk. "Gotta run, Rich. Remember that thing we talked about? It's going very well. Know what I'm saying? You won't fucking believe it."

"Wednesday?" Richard asked.

Sal laughed, already moving down the hall. "Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday."

Richard wondered what day it had been when Sal had injected a planet-sized dose into his arm and blown the top of his head off.

In the confusion before the cops arrived, Richard stepped into the booth and grabbed a handful of vials from a cooler. Two empty vials were next to a syringe on the table and Sal's remains were on the floor. Hard to associate the guy with whom he'd shared a few beers to the thing on the floor with a lower jaw and not much more above the collar.

Two empty vials; that was Sal's mistake. All Richard wanted was to replay the events of one night in one crappy little neighborhood. Make it Friday again. You didn't need to mainline a gallon of the stuff to do that.

And he already had the girl.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Human Trials, Part Three

Here's another section of Connie. It's back story. As a standalone blog post, there isn't much depth. But as part of the story, it works as a quiet section. More Richard tomorrow.
The idea for X came to me complete and fully formed after watching all three Back to the Future movies. I was nine months pregnant, the weather was hot and dry, and the sunset was a burning pyre in the kitchen window through which I could make out the shadowy outlines of Portland's tallest buildings. I could no longer eat or drink or sleep.

It materialized like a constellation of stars. I knew instantly what it was and why it would work, although I couldn't explain where it had come from. One moment it wasn't there and the next it was. I sketched the equation as my water broke and the salty aquarium inside me flooded the kitchen floor.

I spent the next eight years writing grants and more grants, most of which passed me by. All I needed was one. I suffered through part-time jobs and academic appointments, pointless research for other scientists and countless students with their own petty agendas.

Each day I dropped Jennifer at a little pink house and retrieved her each night. In between those time posts, I wasn't a mother or a wife. I was a needle carrying an invisible thread, raising stitch after stitch until someone, somewhere, could see what I saw.

My marriage dwindled to two separate trenches in our futon mattress. My husband found a girlfriend. As he packed his bags, I calculated the impact of losing him. No loss, really. To my work. That was the week I made the first cut for the National Research Foundation's two-year grant. A month later, I had the money in hand and hired Sal. I don't recall thinking about Jim after that except on weekends, when he had Jennifer.

So X was worth, approximately, eight years of time, one marriage, my academic credibility, the lives of 2,548 white mice, and now Sal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Human Trials, Part Two

I meant to post this yesterday, but I got distracted by White-nose syndrome, a disease that is devastating bat populations. It is slowly spreading west from it's first reported location in New York. Now they say it is in Missouri. Bat mortality rates are 80 to 100%. Speculation is that if the disease isn't controlled it could extirpate whole bat species. Want to learn more, go to Bat Conservation International. I'll post some photos when I can.

For now, here is part two of Human Trials. New point of view character is Richard.

Monday: God does it this way too.

Richard drove to work on Monday, his normal route taking him within a block of the girl's crappy apartment complex. The bus stop where he picked her up on Friday was in front of the Minit Mart where he bought a cup of coffee every morning. It would be wrong if he didn't stop today.

Richard hadn't been careful, picking up a neighborhood girl. If he'd planned ahead instead of acting on impulse he wouldn't be so damned jumpy. But he always acted on impulse.

Across the street was the Pizza Hut where he occasionally stopped for take-out. Two blocks up was the Thriftway where they had both shopped, maybe even passing one another in the aisles, she with tampons and orange juice in her cart, he with frozen dinners. He'd seen the receipts in her wallet and almost crapped his pants. Local.

How stupid could you get?

When he arrived at work, Richard logged in and checked his e-mail. His boss wasn't in her cubicle, although he saw her jacket slung over the back of her chair. A meeting. There had been a lot of meetings since Sal Preciado died in the observation booth last week. The worst of the blood spatter was still there, fused like black glue to the safety glass. Maintenance would need razor blades to get it off.

The official story was that Sal shot himself. Most of the office drones believed it. Old Sal eating his gun was the worst thing they could imagine.

But Richard had been first on the scene after Connie Mack started screaming, and he never bought the suicide story. Her grinding, mechanical shrieks had wafted into his office through the cold air return. Richard went downstairs to the lab level to investigate and found Connie screaming into the safety glass while Sal's brains dribbled to the floor.

Sal and Connie had been working on a vaccine for several years. Richard didn't understand the chemistry behind it, but he processed the invoices and he understood that a great deal of money had been thrown at this project.

"Did you hear?" Jill from HR stopped at his desk. She was a cheerful, tuna-sandwich-and-cookies sort of woman with a pear-shaped bottom that Richard found inoffensive. "She-boss has been called upstairs."

"Are we in trouble?"

"Someone is." Jill wrinkled her nose. "One of the experiments is missing."

"Missing how?" He cracked his knuckles. "The mice got out? The computers crashed?"

"No, the stuff. The drug. The vaccine. It's gone. They're pretty sure Sal took it before he died, but Dr. Mack is convinced someone in the building took it. I heard She-boss and Mack having it out. Pretty nasty stuff."

Richard minimized his e-mail and rolled his shoulders. "It had to be Sal. No one else around here knew what they were doing in the lab."

"Did you know what they were doing, Richard? I bet you didn't know anymore than the rest of us." Jill giggled, a sound he hated. He visualized squeezing her spongy middle until the giggles wheezed out of her. Oblivious, Jill made a few other conversational gambits but he turned away and she finally took the hint.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Human Trials

This week I'm going to serialize an old short story called Human Trials. I love this piece because it's ambitious, not particularly literary, and the idea itself was electrifying back in 2003 when I first wrote it. I was emerging from the long incubation of motherhood about this time, and the piece is full of constant parenting touchstones. Needless to say, my worst years as a mother were yet to come...I just didn't know it yet. This is one of two pieces that convinced me I needed to get my MFA. Not because the writing is particularly good, but because I was so passionate about the story. It was my olive branch, proof of dry land.

I'll post it in sections this week.

Human Trials: Part One

10cc administered at 8 a.m.

Trials of X on animal subjects are a joke. Half the mice continued their minuscule, unplanned existences, while the other half went into convulsions and died. I was surprised at the death rate, but we couldn't be sure of dosages. My assistant, Sal, macerated their tiny brains and we went on.

Our grant funds included a full range of animal testing, including rhesus monkey trials. Dogs if we want them. Three years ago, we were throwing everything into the work plan, including animals. But it doesn't work if they can't tell you what time they think it is. Or what day.

Sal and I took my daughter, Jennifer, to the zoo and watched the various monkey breeds in their cages. I couldn't see any sign the animals could differentiate between now and then, past and present, today and yesterday. My eight-year-old daughter exhibits a more finely developed sense of the linear nature of time than a monkey, but I couldn't test her.

Yet it had to be a human trial. When Jennifer went to her father's for the summer and I was free for two months, I decided to self-inject a low dose of X.

I'd been thinking a great deal about time and memory and how some memories seem to be written deeply into the brain, while others evaporate like mist, leaving only that tip-of-the-tongue feeling.

One memory stood out for me. Not long after Jennifer was born, I remember putting her down for a nap. It was high summer. The sheer white curtains puffed over the bassinet on a breeze scented with jasmine and barbecue. That's all. An insignificant memory, yet so vivid I could almost close my eyes and feel hot wind on my skin, or reach out and touch my daughter's newly wrought skull.

I think, in essence, that memory is what X is all about.

The day I planned to start the trial, I walked into the lab to find Sal locked in the booth. It's a glass-enclosed observation booth where we keep monitoring equipment, take private calls and eat our lunch. Its chief virtue is that it's soundproof and can be locked from the inside.

"The effects are localized, Connie," he said. His voice came out of the speaker system, rattled with electronic distortion. "But I'm experiencing…something."

"When did you do it? And how much?" I went to the door and tried the handle. Locked. I walked around to the front of the booth. Sal sat at the table, splay-legged, his arms flopped on the table. His color was more pasty than usual and his eyes had a loose, liquid quality I couldn't identify.

A blood streaked syringe sat on the tray next to his elbow.

"Ten cc's an hour ago. I've created the effect twice. I think it works, Connie."

"Unlock the door, Sal."

"Can't do it. I said the effect is localized, but it's strong. I'm not sure I can control it."

"Of course you can control it. Control your thoughts."

He laughed and shook his head. "It turns out I was never very good at that."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Five

Working title: Rapid Onset

This one features the real secret of time travel, a loving tribute to Back to the Future and one badass serial killer. I started it ages ago, before grad school. I shelved it because there's no "genre" in grad school, silly woman. It occurred to me this thing would scorch the horror zines with its undeniable coolness. Reason to believe, people!

But it feels so extreme. The serial killer is horrible. The scientist lady and her Tom Sizemore-like assistant are dull until the assistant's head explodes. It's out of control as though I never once said no to death and destruction. Someone's going to read all the mayhem and say this woman is not a lyrical novelist.

The thing is I am, a little, tiny, itty bitty bit, still trying to suck up to lyrical novelists. You know who I mean—the ones with working wives. (I did not say that! Bad!) See, I'm still angry about it. Four years after grad school. If I were a lyrical novelist writing about horses and rivers and other western things (not cowboy western, I mean western like a sad trailer house filled with vodka and waitresses) true mayhem would out me as a secret genre infiltrator. And I couldn't go to the reunions.

And yet…mayhem is fun. Lowdown, booglerizing fun. The kind of fun you don't want people to remind you of too often. Or when they do, they say, "Girl, those shoes. You could kill a zombie six different ways with those." And you feel okay.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Four

Working title: Sgt Fury and the Zombie in the Bathroom.

Catchy title, eh? The source for this idea was a story I wrote for a zombie anthology last year which got swiftly kicked back to me because A) It was told from a middle-aged woman's pov and who wants that; B) The rag was in the UK, holy ground for SF, and the editor didn't mind reminding me of this at length. So anyhoo, I saw a way to refit the story: a teenage boy takes a job at a diner because he sees this beautiful chick on roller skates who looks exactly like ValkYra, a girl he and his best friend have created in their graphic novel. The girl has no interest in him or his friend, but they don't mind being worshipful. Based on son Cheech's best friend from second grade (and maybe some Cheech too).

One afternoon at the diner, a customer makes some very disturbing noises in the locked stall of the public loo. He's just been infected with a prion disease that turns people into zombies. It's more like full-blown dementia but you can't blame people for freaking the hell out because it happens so fast. Mayhem results, trashing the diner. What's the boy's name, you may ask? Brendan Tierney. And the girl? Keisha. Those of you who know (about three actual living people) will recognize these names as characters in MA.

Here's an image of Sgt. Fury, since I'm not sure how he's going to fit into the story yet:
And here's a later reincarnation, Nick Fury, who looks like he's feeling a post apocalyptic world:
I have a lot of this story in the can, thanks to the earlier version and I've been happy to reconnect with my character, Tierney, as a young pup. His mom calls him "BrenDAN!". I'm not going to say this story has the most interest for me, especially since I started seeing my Killer cop from Story 3 as Johnny Depp from The Ninth Gate. Imagine him tramping through The Canyon, trying to remember what he did during those long-ago college days that would catch him up now, as a grown man. But Tierney as a kid, fighting zombies...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Three

Story Three
Working title: Assassin's Guild

Reading Philip K. Dick biographies (because I can't read the novels, all right? I just can't) put me in mind of the ultimate Reed College paranoia game that seemed to flourish during spring terms on campus. If you haven't been there, you just don't know. The Professor and I can still drive on, say, any east-west street in southeast Portland at a certain time of year, and during a lull in the conversation, I know we're both back at Reed. It's not the fall we remember with the pretty weather and the optimistic new classes, but spring when renewal and flowers and baby birds seem like a joke next to incompletes and finals and hangovers.

In the spring, it's not sunny but it's not cold, nobody is thrilled to see you anymore, the drug of choice is some anti-social speed derivative, half the people in your dorm never leave their rooms, at least one had an abortion (you hear her crying), another is taking LSD every day (you hear him crying), and the rest are playing D & D. All they serve is sheet cake in the Commons; you go and sit for hours in the infirmary because something hurts, you're just not sure what, and your boyfriend's thesis on Walter Pater (for which he will receive the coveted AA) is making the sophomore biology major down the hall look very, very, very delicious. And you haven't gone to French class in a month.

Okay, the story's not about that. It's about a paranoid game called Assassin. Who knew everyone in every college plays Assassin? Called Killer at Reed, all I ever knew about it was one skinny, terrified math major who found himself walking alone to the mail room. "Just walk with me, okay? If I'm not alone, they can't kill me." "Who's going to kill you?" "I don't know."

This article in Wikipedia will tell you everything you want to know about Killer, but make special note of where they talk about umps and cops.

So picture this, a dead body killed with Nerf darts. Our heroine, a detective on the case, has no clues except a phone number in the cell phone. It belongs to a man who has been a cop in Killer games for twenty years. Down on his luck, seen it all, probably has cats. He doesn't know who the killer is but he can guess. How do you catch a Killer killer gone rogue? With a clothes pin.

Friday, April 2, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Two

Story Two
Working Title: That Story I Always Wanted to Write About Pod People and School Shootings.

Except what if it's the teacher who does the shooting? And what if the adults act crazy but aren't? And it's really the evil children? Admit it, haven't you always wanted to write about this? Think Ghost Story meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I've read Ghost Story many times. After I saw the movie, I couldn't picture Ricky Hawthorne as anyone but Fred Astaire. The author, Peter Straub, internalized the lessons of HP Lovecraft in such a delicate yet persistent way: the surface comforts and predictability of the regular world is only a thin and rather fragile veneer over the rotten secrets of the past. And the past is an engine of destruction that these old men have been avoiding for years.

The best part of all is when the evil thing is trapped in the body of the child and the younger guy (okay, been a few years since I read it and I don't remember the dude's name) drives cross country with the child bound and gagged in the back seat. It was an innocent time.

And then there are pod people stories ("That's not my mother! It killed my mother!"). As a parent, it's not so hard to believe. I once called daughter Chichi a vampire whore when I was at the absolute limit of my ability to understand her. She looked at me with empty eyes, an utterly alien creature with no human feelings. Brrr! She blames me for that now, BTW.

So the story would be a kind of Children of the Corn homage, except the Dad suspects it's his wife who is crazy. Until the end.

I have about four pages and an image of the husband and wife staring into one another's eyes and seeing nothing. I suspect this story will devolve into mayhem at the end, and I will feel unclean. Or stupid. Or possibly both.

I don't know about this one. Am I feeling it?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story 1

Working title: Little Man

A Mormon lady discovers an actual horny little gnome dogging her steps. Is it a homunculus created by her erring husband? Is it her imagination? Or is it… real? Inspiration for this comes from an amazing 1973 Kim Darby movie called "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." I'd barely learned to sleep without a nightlight in 1973, so I was very, very afraid. Tiny wicked little people torment a slightly crackers wife, and no one else can see them but her. A later and less inspired variant featured an evil voodoo doll which ended when the woman threw the doll into a microwave. After it dings, she opens the door and the evil spirit jumps into her.

What is it about dolls that come to life? My kids Cheech and Chichi (not their real names) had a stuffed panda bear they attacked with scissors because it was EVIL. They also had two identical Linnea dolls, one who was good and one they set on fire. In this photo Linnea has no face and that might have been part of the problem.

As a kid I was tormented by the China Doll story, which second grade girls probably still whisper to one another on the school bus. Late at night, in the dark, I would wonder why no adults knew about the very real dangers posed by dolls. I became a writer firstly to add to the wealth of knowledge about King Arthur, but secondly to warn everyone about those crazy, flesh shredding dolls.

The version I heard as a kid:

Here's the adult version:

I have an early story idea about the REAL China doll, but after the initial shock value, there wasn't any place to go with the idea. It waits for another doll-fueled moment of terror in my life.

Little Man celebrates this neighbor of mine who is all about kicking some serious homunculous ass. I have five pages done, and some ideas for making Barbara the homunculous queen at the end.

Good idea?