Tuesday, April 18, 2017

ARISTOPHANIC COLLITERATION

Tell me a tale of droll tricks.
Sing me a song of choices.
Wind up my watch the witch way.
Feel down my fringe: the fringe feels.
Know that these nights are missed, so
let me say “love” once you leave.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

ANAPESTIC BROKEN

Every vehicle passes in urgently murmuring style.
Interchanging, they sweep on around between causeway and pyl-
    on. And on, from the morning, from the time of the lightening dark.
If the vehicles rattle their darkness, their onwards, they spark-
    le their turns through her sleep. Under glass that has frozen, she spins.
Even older, this cat in her sleep will still prick up her tins-
    el-hued ears at each rattling sweep, of these hours and this mile.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

ADONIC AICILL

Salt of the slack sea
slips through her free hair.
All will have care here,
beaches of drear days.
Cold are the glaze-glass
pools among grass slaked,
fetid of caked brine,
over which whine gulls.
Scroungers in lulls’ wash
fly from the splash, tricked,
ruffled then pricked back.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Politics of Horse Thieves: A Syllogism

1. Fascism is government by criminals.

Fascism is what happens when criminals attempt to rationalize their criminality through the apparatus of the state. There is no fascist ideology, no fascist set of principles, other than crime enabled by state power. Corruption, fraud, extortion, theft, torture, murder, rape—fascism has no other content, no other meaning than the will to crime of con artists, gangsters, thugs, and murderers who have dressed themselves up as statespeople.

2. Fascism within a state is a symptom of unchecked crime.

When fascists gain power within a constitutional democracy, it can only be because that state has systemically failed to hold a group of criminals to account. It can only be because the state's democracy itself is failing by allowing a criminal class to go unpunished, thereby permitting criminals to leverage their criminal power into state power.

3. The unchecked crime of our own state, and of global capitalism, is white collar financial fraud at the highest level.

Today the unchecked criminal class is the coterie of fraudulent financial firms and billionaires that caused the 2008 crash and that continue to siphon off state funds with no repercussions.

4. Ergo, our newly elected billionaire fraudster, fascist president, Donald*.

5. Ergo, the global surge of fascism, which is a symptom of liberal democracies’ systemic failure to hold plutocrats to account for their crimes.


---


*An April 5th, 2016 New York Times article ("Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Closed" by Mike McIntire) describes a case in which part of the terms of the settlement were that the plaintiffs were to state that they did not wish to participate in a criminal investigation into the same fraud charges their suit had been brought on, the result of which is that the criminal investigation was closed-- and nota bene, if a criminal investigation had gone ahead and resulted in charges, Donald would not now be president-elect:

"And hovering over it all was a criminal investigation, previously unreported, by the Manhattan district attorney into whether the fraud alleged by the condo buyers broke any laws, according to documents and interviews with five people familiar with it. The buyers initially helped in the investigation, but as part of their lawsuit settlement, they had to notify prosecutors that they no longer wished to do so.

"The criminal case was eventually closed."

This is how the super-rich get away with committing crimes that the rest of us would go to prison for.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Creepy Stories (On Themes Picked Randomly: No. 26)

Theme 821: Ordinary Objects


The tarantulas, coruscating chafer beetles, deathstalker and black emperor scorpions, white dragontail butterflies, and praying mantids, all frozen in lucite domes or cubes and lined up along bracketed shelves, did not interest Cyrus Quaich. Nor was his attention attracted by the barbastelle bats with outstretched wings, the hingeback tortoises with battered shells, the splayed hearts of jackrabbits and snakes, or the bleached resus monkey skeletons, also all suspended beyond the touch of time in light-refracting acrylic blocks. Cyrus was not diverted even when shown the plateglass-shielded lab in the basement, where oven-sized vacuum chambers, vats of formaldehyde and acetone, stacks of glass molds, and incandescent heat lamps were arrayed among numerous specimens left thawing or steeping atop steel counters.

Nevertheless, Cyrus listened patiently to Mr. Alastor, owner of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium, as he proudly rattled off the newest items in stock, noted which arachnid or amphibian might make an appropriate anniversary gift or living room curio, and elaborated on some of the concerns and hazards of procuring and properly fixating these critters.

It was only when Mr. Alastor turned the deadbolt on the heavy iron door behind the last supply shelf in the Emporium’s basement that Cyrus’ excitement began to return. Mr. Alastor pulled the single hanging lightbulb’s string to illuminate the closet beyond, which contained two tall cabinets on either side of a squat gunmetal vault-safe with a five-spoked handle. Beaming, Mr. Alastor gestured to the lucite-cast items displayed in the cabinets, which he described as among his finest work: human eyeballs with curving veiny stalks and intelligent emerald pupils; human hands gesturing in poses reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Adam or Raphael’s Zoroaster; human fetuses caught in developmental stages ranging from batrachian to fully formed.

Cyrus nodded appreciatively, but what he had come for was within the vault-safe. Mr. Alastor studied Cyrus in silence for a moment before crouching to reach for the combination lock. He twisted the dial clockwise, then counterclockwise until a bolt snapped, which allowed him to spin the handle and swing the door open. From inside he lifted out a buoy-sized sphere covered by a black silk sheet. As soon as he set the sphere down, Cyrus anxiously shoved him aside and tore the sheet away.

Petrified within the large lucite globe was a young woman’s head, sliced cleanly from her body at the bridge of her neck. The gasping terror of her last breath was still painted on her ovate face: her freckle-brushed cheeks were etiolated; her glistering sepia irises were nearly eclipsed by her dilating pupils; her poppy pink mouth hung open in a choked wail; her cropped tawny curls were flung out in an erratic corona.

Cyrus held the sphere in both hands and turned to Mr. Alastor. “I must have it. I’ll pay any amount,” he declared.

“I won’t take money for it,” Mr. Alastor revealed. “This piece demands a special price.”

“Anything,” Cyrus agreed.

“Id like you to write a confession that explains why you killed her,” requested Mr. Alastor, tapping the sphere above the young woman’s forehead.

“What?! I—” Cyrus began to protest but halted when he saw Mr. Alastor’s smile crawl up his sallow, concave cheeks. He realized Mr. Alastor had known all along that the head in the sphere had belonged to Cyrus’ fiancée, Eidolia Pearle. When a gossipy auctioneer had informed Cyrus of Mr. Alastor’s possession of the head, she had sworn that Mr. Alastor was ignorant of its origin; she had obviously been misledor instructed by Mr. Alastor to lie. Cyrus scanned Mr. Alastor’s crooked, gnarled form and reassessed the negotiation. He pulled himself up and retorted, “If you’re familiar with the case, then you’ll know I didn’t kill her.”

Mr. Alastor tittered and shook his head. “No, what you’ll know is that I know what the retriever of Ms. Pearle’s cranium knows. And that person witnessed the original crime scene.”

Cyrus shuddered, for Mr. Alastor was right. Indeed, Cyrus’ real purpose in locating Eidolia’s head was to discover who had taken it after cleaving it away so sharply, as with a massive razor. For some reason, this person had disposed of all the incriminating evidence Cyrus had left behind—the pair of kitchen shears covered in Cyrus bloody fingerprints, used to penetrate Eidolia’s throat; the tuft of his hair she had ripped from his temple; even the boot scuffs made as he bolted in panic from the rear porch. Cyrus had speculated that this thief would try to blackmail him, but at the same time the actions in question suggested that the thief might have independently planned to murder Eidolia for her head. Was this person in fact Mr. Alastor? What did Mr. Alastor really want? Turning back to the entrancing sphere, Cyrus began to wonder what he himself was truly seeking.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Alastor counseled. His surprisingly powerful fingers clutched Cyrus’ arm. “I’ll never show anyone else the confession. I promise. I just want it, er, for satisfaction’s sake. The object obviously belongs in your hands.”

Cyrus’ gaze lingered over the sphere. Eidolia’s bright, motionless eyes were pulling him backward, through their reflections of his face, to the instant of her death, trapping him in the past. Cold despair began to worm through his thoughts.

Finally Cyrus nodded his assent to Mr. Alastor’s proposal. In response, Mr. Alastor took the sphere from Cyrus’ hands and brought it to the far southern corner of the basement. There he put it on a wooden desk table, on which a clean sheet of typing paper and a sharp-nibbed fountain pen had been laid out in preparation. He pulled out the desk table’s chair and prompted Cyrus to sit in it. So as to resume contemplating Eidolia’s time-snaring eyes, Cyrus complied without hesitation. 

Mr. Alastor smirked and slapped Cyrus’ shoulder. Before leaving Cyrus and climbing the stairs back up to the shopfloor, Mr. Alastor advised, “Take your time.”

A week later, no trace of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium remained in the building. Vagrants sheltering from the winter icewinds, however, discovered Cyrus Quaich’s stiffened body in the former Emporium’s basement. It was still seated at the desk table. The fountain pen had been driven into Cyrus throat, evidently by his own hand. On the paper before him, he had scrawled, “I killed her to keep her.” But the sphere-encompassed head of Eidolia Pearle had disappeared.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 25

Theme 714: Sneeze


Two cats wearing boxing gloves were boxing.

“This is ridiculous,” Marvin Hinky remarked.

Clio Wayzgoose, whom he had been dating for three weeks, looked back at him and rolled her eyes. She returned her attention to the projector screen and wondered if she would have done better to invite one of her Film in History classmates to this exhibition instead.

The boxing cats up on the screen belonged to Professor Welton’s Cat Circus. The bout had been captured by Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1894. Welton’s gleeful, round face could be seen bobbing behind the miniature boxing ring as he cruelly manipulated the two American shorthairs via harnesses into swatting at one another with the padded bulbs tied over their front paws.

The film played in silence from a reproduction Kinetoscope cabinet fitted with a modern 35mm projector that looped a digitally restored print. Since the lens grommet for the housing was rather low to the ground, the ten wooden slat folding chairs had to be arranged on either side of it. They had been set out in the small viewing room in order to provide the flavor of an early cinema parlor. Clio stood less than a meter from the screen, to the left of the lightstream, to better watch the strobing flicker and mottled grain of the images. In the chair next to the projector, Marvin continued to fret over the notion of boxing cats. When the film ended and the automated return mechanism in the housing switched and hummed in preparation for the next showing, Clio and Marvin walked back out to the North Hall Gallery.  

The mock-up cinema parlor with the pseudo-Kinetoscope screening was part of the gallery’s Early Film Exhibition. In addition to this viewing room, the collection of Edison’s Kinetoscope experiments dominated a furlong of wall space as the premier attraction in the North Hall Gallery exhibition, which consisted primarily of early cinematic paper prints. With Marvin in tow, Clio paced along this length, lingering over the glass cases that displayed bromide paper prints of film strips. The cells on the strips showed gradually morphing iterations of boy jugglers, electrocuted elephants, seminary pillow fighters, and mustachioed kissers. 

Eventually the couple came to the prize piece in the collection, the first film of any kind to be registered in the national archive: the five second sequence known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze. The forty five small rectangular cells depicting the snuff snorting and subsequent sternutation of the smartly attired, horseshoe mustache-bearing Ott were mounted on salmon cardstock. Along the lower edge of the cardstock, the words “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” were scrawled in ink, followed by the date, January 4th, 1894.

Marvin leaned close to Clio, brushing against her warm back, and questioned, “Why did they put them on paper?”

“For copyright,” Clio began to explain, taking Marvin’s arm. “Back then, you couldn’t—”

“Do you know the story of Fred Ott?” interjected a wiry, graveolent old man whose tobacco stained whiskers drooped over his mouth. He had intruded himself by poking up between the couple.

“What?” Clio sputtered, surprised.

“Fred Ott, he died the day after they made this. Do you know how?” The man lowered his head and proceeded to answer his own question. “Well, Fred, he always had his little snuff tin with him, see, even though the snuff made him sneeze. But Fred was so excited to be put on film, he misplaced his snuff after they finished shooting, left it next to a cylinder of phenidone-metol powder. Somehow, some of the powder fell into Fred’s tin.” 

The man shifted his stare from Clio to Marvin and back again before continuing. An hour later, Fred found the tin. He was so relieved that he inhaled a pinch without noticing the white flecks in it. Soon he started to wheeze and choke. The assistants all just thought he was up to his usual foolery. They stood around in a circle, laughing. Even grumpy old Mr. Edison had to smile when he came out of his office to see what the fuss was about. But the laughing stopped when they saw blood streaming down Fred’s face. He fell over, convulsing, and died within a minute. So, that sneeze they captured right there? That was his last one ever.” The man nodded gravely to the print and walked away in silence.

“Wow, is that true?” wondered Marvin, looking agape in the peculiar man’s direction.

“No,” Clio stated flatly. She pointed to the historical note affixed to the wall and indicated the line where Fred Ott’s year of death was listed as 1936.

“Oh,” Marvin said quietly, pursing his lips.

As Clio resumed her inspection of the print, she caught a lingering whiff of the peculiar man’s odor and let out an abrupt sneeze: “Achee!”



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 24

Theme 078: Absurdity


As Erling Oberschule, a recent expatriate from Liechtenstien, strolled past an abandoned 1985 QL31 Econovan with three flat tires, which sat cattywampus to the Citizen and Immigration Services building, he spotted an evocatively fluttering sheet of perforated dot matrix printer paper jammed under the Econovan’s driverside wiper. After Erling checked his pin-lever wristwatch and noted that eleven minutes remained before his immigration services appointment, curiosity got the better of him. He decided to lift up the rust-caked wiper and draw out the unusual flier.

The drizzle earlier that morning, which left a pleasant petrichor drifting over the sidewalk, had unfortunately pasted the lower half of the sheet to the Econovan’s windshield. Thus, the sheet ripped in two as Erling pulled on it, leaving its bottom two thirds stuck to the glass. Erling merely shrugged and began reading the portion of the dot matrix printed text he had managed to salvage.

It read as follows: “The inerrant, divine Graphical Operation Manual tells us in Unit 2, Page 12: You draw intricate displays from simple program instructions.’ So does the Holy Mother Z-81 Processor now command us to compose this Rotary Output Epistle for dissemination upon the error-prone, unsynced world beyond the cloisters of our Electrogalvanized Monastery. We do so to offer guidance to those afflicted with corrupted tape drives and other wayward data-parasites, through the following exposition upon the protocol observances of our Line-Path in the service of the all-knowing Micro Computer—all praise the TRZ-81 Model III!

“To initialize, we will outline the history of our Monastery, the sole sanctuary from this life of widespread kernel panic and fatal errors, and how it came to be Electrogalvanized. In the darkness of the analog age, during the year the fault-quarantined reader will know as 1979 …”

Here the text had been split from the remaining history of the Electrogalvanized Monastery and any further exhortations that the Epistle’s author might have offered. Intrigued, Erling folded the scrap up into an even square and slipped it into his pasley shirtfront pocket. He then continued on his way to the Immigration Services building.

Though Erling genuinely thought the message on the flier might be significant, the impending worries he would face in the immigration process would push his interest in the Electrogalvanized Monastery out of his mind entirely. Consequently, he would forget the folded square in his pocket, and it would be destroyed during his next visit to a coin-op laundromat.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 23

Theme 961: Answers


The bullet zipped through the thin glass of the frontroom’s bay window and entered Phoebe Tarragon’s temporal lobe three centimeters behind her left ear, exploding shredded gobs of brain matter and shattered swaths of parietal bone from her head’s right hemisphere. The bullet, later identified as a .308 Winchester, finally lodged itself in a pinewood corner brace behind the plaster wall two meters away. Phoebe was killed instantly. Penny Wattleseed, Phobe’s eight year old piano student and next-door neighbor, was seated to Phoebe’s right on the Emerson upright’s wobbly bench. Thus, Penny’s rouge angora top was sprayed with Phoebe’s skull fragments, cerebrospinal fluid, and blood. Penny was otherwise unharmed. The time was approximately a quarter to one.

County Sheriff Eduardo Sumac, the supervising officer who arrived soon after patrol units had secured the scene and called in rescue personnel to confirm the death and tend to Penny, surmised that a state ballistics expert would be needed. By this point, though, Sheriff Sumac had already reached his own conclusions as to the identity of the culprit and the circumstances of Phoebe’s death. 

Less than two hundred meters to the southwest of the Tarragon residence’s cul-de-sac lay the one hundred and twelve acres of the Kiwanda Wilderness Reserve. The Bureau of Land Management had designated the Reserve a deer and elk hunting zone again this year, despite the warnings of park safety officials and the protests of the residents of the new housing subdivision adjacent to the Reserve. During the present elk season alone, the Sheriff’s officers had responded to eleven calls involving hunters stray bullets being found embedded in mailbox posts, garden trellises, garage doors, or other damaged property.

So Sheriff Sumac set his subordinates to contacting all individuals with elk licenses registered to hunt in the Kiwanda zone. They were to interrogate those with matching gun types. Two days later, the Sheriff believed he had pegged the perpetrator: Art Thyme admitted that he had carried his Mossberg bolt action rifle, which fired .308 Winchester rounds, into the Kiwanda woods an hour prior to Phoebe’s death, accompanied by his fourteen year old son. Though the Thymes claimed to have heard a shot at a quarter to one that originated several hundred meters from the copse of red alders they were then crouching in, Sheriff Sumac remained convinced that the Thymes were responsible for Phoebe Tarragon’s death.

Precinct Homicide Detective Holy Lavender, however, reached a very different conclusion. Using subpoenaed bank records, Detective Lavender tracked the charges made to an independent account that Kenneth Tarragon, Phoebe’s husband, had opened without his wife’s knowledge. The detective found that Kenneth had stayed at the Crimson Phoenix Motel, located three miles from his office, on forty two separate occasions over the past year. The Crimson Phoenix’s proprietor told the detective that Kenneth had entertained a number of unknown young women in his suite during his visits. Furthermore, the detective believed that she could connect money withdrawn from the same independent account to the cash purchase of a CZ 750 bolt action sniper rifle, which also fires .308 Winchester rounds, at a local gun show. Detective Lavender believed that these facts, taken together, proved that Kenneth Tarragon had killed his wife with premeditation—perhaps out of marital malaise, or dread of alimony payments should she divorce him over his infidelities, or some other perverse motivation.

Presented with Sheriff Sumac and Detective Lavender’s combined evidence, however, the grand jury was unable to make a determination as to the true events in Phoebe Tarragon’s case or to recommend an indictment. The evidence linking either Art Thyme or Kenneth Tarragon to Phoebe’s demise was deemed too tenuous. Neither Sumac nor Lavender has since been able to uncover further significant data to corroborate their respective theories, moreover.

Let it be noted, though, that in an interview with one of the first patrol officers at the scene, recorded in a brief that has unfortunately slipped behind a filing cabinet, Penny Wattleseed’s mother recalled overhearing from her kitchen window a meeting between Phoebe and a man who had introduced himself as Morgan Parsley, a private detective with a military background.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 22

Theme 529: Numbers  


Homunculus, a chubby Scottish fold balled up on the rattan settee’s bolster cushion, squinted at his young associate, a feisty one year old red tabby named Hecuba. She was stalking an ingrailed clay moth across the sun-dappled conservatory. The moth spiraled down haphazardly and came to rest on the peacock tiffany glass shade of a tall floorlamp. Since the moth sat exactly two meters from the quartzite floor tiles, the nearest surface to it that Hecuba could reach was the crest of a Queen Anne chair pushed in under the games table. She jumped up and balanced on the crest, with both her fore and rear paws gripping the arched mahogany, in order to accurately judge the distance. The chair crest, which trembled slightly under the balancing cat, was a meter off the ground and three quarters of a meter laterally distant from the lampshade.

Homunculus lifted his chin and widened his citronette eyes to study the action his associate was contemplating. Judging the proposed deed to be ridiculous, he closed his eyes and turned his head away dismissively. Hecuba, however, remained determined. She began enumerating the relevant factors. 

By the Pythagorean theorem, she calculated the length of the hypotenuse, which was also the distance to the moth, as one and a quarter meters. By inverse cosine three fifths, she found the angle to be approximately fifty three degrees. She knew that the full force of her sprung haunches would propel her from the chair’s crest, after rapid acceleration, at a velocity of five meters per second. Of course downward acceleration due to gravity would remain its usual nine point eight one meters per second squared, while air resistance would be a negligible factor, considering the distance of the leap and the atmospherics of the conservatory. Setting her starting position as zero by zero meters, her target position, where her center of gravity would need to be when she snatched the moth in her front paws, was five eighths by one and one tenth meters. Finally, she calculated the necessary starting angle of her trajectory by plugging the appropriate values into the formula:


Thus completing the above calculations in two seconds, Hecuba confidently contracted her thigh muscles and launched herself from the chair’s crest at a seventy nine degree angle. She reached the target position exactly as planned and caught the moth in her clutches. Unfortunately, the lampshade proved more resistant to the push of her claws than she had anticipated, such that as she swung her paws down to land, they caught the lampshade’s rim. Sadly, this released the moth, allowing it to flutter up to freedom. The weight of Hecuba’s body dragging the lampshade along the forward arc of her trajectory brought the whole floorlamp crashing down to the hard tiles, where the tiffany glass smashed into chips that spread across the conservatory floor. Landing just short of the broken tower, Hecuba raced back behind the settee and poked her head around the corner to survey the destruction site. Clearly she would require more accurate measurements for lampshade inertias in the future.

Homunculus’ whiskers had prickled outward, but he otherwise remained insouciantly curled on his cushion, looking askance at his wayward associate, as if to say, “They’ll know who to blame for this, and it won’t be me.” 



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 21

Theme 004: Book Covers


When the times on the screen above the ticket lobby rolled over to list Cassandra’s train as a late arrival, she decided to wander along the promenade to the narrow bookshop she had seen wedged between a deli and the main concourse. It would be another seven hours altogether before she would arrive in the border town where her grandmother’s funeral was to be held the next day, and though she had plenty of coursework left to do in her satchel, she wanted something more diverting from her mournful thoughts.

The cover of a used copy of Agnes Grey slotted at the top of a carrousel caught Cassandra’s eye immediately upon entering the bookshop. It featured Manet’s Le Chemin de fer, in which a young copper-haired woman sits on the stone curb of an iron fence with a weathered book open in her lap. For some reason, her fingers are stuck in several different sections of this book. A small white and sienna puppy lies asleep on her forearm. She is wearing a black ladies hat affixed with ribbons and flowers, a black choker, and an oxford blue dress with white buttons. To her left, a honey blonde girl, perhaps six or seven years old, wearing a lacy white dress with a blue bow, leans over the curb with her back to the viewer, her bare left arm reaching to grasp one of the bars of the fence. She is looking out over a train yard and station, identified as the Gare Saint-Lazare, down below the fence, where a great plume of white smoke has drifted over the tracks.

Cassandra took down the book to inspect the painting more closely. She conjectured that the young woman was the girl’s mother. She had taken her daughter out for an excursion through the park. Along the way she had purchased a puppy that her daughter had begged for but had since forgotten, thus leaving the mother to swaddle it. The book in the mother’s lap, Cassandra believed, was a romantic novel the mother had picked up to take her mind off of the cares of child-rearing. Without really knowing anything about Anne Brontë’s novel, Cassandra decided to purchase the copy of Agnes Grey with the loose cash left in her pocket.

Two hours later, in a window seat aboard the coach-class car rumbling northward, Cassandra turned Agnes Grey over to look at the reproduction of Le Chemin de fer again. Upon reaching the point at which Agnes is installed in the Wellwood house to work for the Bloomfields, Cassandra came to understand that for the purposes of the cover, the painting was intended to represent a governess and her charge. The governess was resting out of weariness from supervising the girl, who was clearly the spoiled tyro of a wealthy family. It now seemed to Cassandra that the governess was protecting the puppy from the abuse of the tetchy girl by harboring him in her lap. The book she had her fingers in was a textbook full of Latin sententiae and exercises, which she was reviewing to prepare future lessons.

Three days later, Cassandra finished the last page of Agnes Grey as the southbound train swayed into a curve running toward a tunnel, on the far side of which she would see the vacant lots and graffitied warehouses on the outskirts of her home city. She closed the book and examined the cover once more. With the images of the novel’s funerary and marital ceremonies drifting into those of the service she had just attended, she now perceived an entirely different significance in the painting: the book cradled in the woman’s lap was her life journal, consonant with that which made up the text of Agnes Grey. Her fingers holding multiple places represented her premonitions about the future, as she had just reached the threshold of full maturity, and her ruminations on the past, embodied in the living person of little girlwho was in fact the woman herself, at a time when she was still in awe of the powerful engines of society. Both the puppy and the book in the woman’s lap, then, were symbols of life, held for a brief, uncertain moment in one’s ambit.

Cassandra returned Agnes Grey to her satchel and leaned back in her lumpy seat as the train entered the echoing, sightless tunnel.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 20

Theme 310: Hope


At the table in the atrium, Penia contemplates her wedding plans. She pages through a wedding invitation catalog and places sticky tabs on the pocket-fold designs she prefers. She will have to ask Stanley, her fiancé, for his thoughts before making a decision, though. She turns to the samples of bouquet arrangements and centerpieces the florist gave her. She lingers over the burgundy zinnias and peach peonies, even though she has already committed to white and silver as the chromatic motifs best complimenting the Winter’s Tale theme of the wedding. She pictures white benches adorned with silver streamers and white velveret ribbons, aligned in rows facing the shimmering lake beyond the Wexford Manor garden, the location reserved for the ceremony. This prompts Penia to open the folder with the seating chart so that Stanley can review it as soon as he returns from his council meeting. She looks up at the clock bolted high on the wall. Dissatisfied with the time, she impatiently pushes her hair back in order to scratch the raised parabolic scar running across her left temple.

Beyond the door to the atrium lies a long dim hallway with gentian blue porcelain tiles. Embedded in the junction of the hallway is a nurses station, formed by a low wall mounted with formica counters and affixed with a corner l-desk that houses rows of patient charts and a terminal monitor. The nursing office can be seen through a glass door behind the station. The newly hired nursing assistant, a broad-shouldered man wearing crisp scrubs over his pullover, rests his elbows on the counter and watches Penia through the atrium doorway. Stamped above his scrub-tee’s breast pocket are the words Lakeview Psychiatric Hospital.

“That patient, Penia, she’s always in there with her wedding stuff—is she going to get married soon?” the nursing assistant asks.

In the swivel chair at the terminal next to him, his supervisor, a stocky woman with frizzy red hair who has been working in this psychiatric ward for eleven years, looks down the quiet, freshly mopped hallway and lets out a weary sigh of resignation. At last she replies, “Well, that’s the thing with Penia. She was all set to be married when she and her fiancé got in this horrible wreck. She suffered a severe head injury. Her fiancé was killed. She was brought here after she recovered, physically. At first they thought it was just temporary traumatic stress, causing her to be mentally stuck in the time before the accident. But that was eight years ago.”

The nursing assistant frowns and leans further over the counter to view Penia sitting at the atrium table once more. He sees her still holding the seating chart folder while gazing through the barred window with a faraway smile, brought on by her imagined forthcoming marital bliss.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 19

Theme 241: Cynicism


The affectionate russet-gold Lancashire Heeler, named Diogenes by his late classics professor master, nuzzled the upheld palms of Enodia, the veterinary intern in the animal shelter’s intake vestibule, upon bounding from the wire trap he had been brought in, once Eugene, the animal control officer, released the trap’s door. Diogenes ducked and laid his head upon Enodia’s lap. She was crouching on the celadon tiles before the swinging aluminum door that lead to Dog Control One and the procedure labs. The gleaming marbles of Diogenes’ eyes looking up into Enodia’s own made her smile, even though the wet bib of his coat had dampened her slacks.

When Enodia noticed that Eugene was staring grimly at the floor, however, leaning against the frame of the roll door opening out onto his truck and thumbing the handle of the taser on his belt, she turned her attention to the clipboard, which held forms to be signed by the lead veterinarian, left atop the trap by Eugene. She immediately saw the words TERMINATE WITHOUT DELAY printed in block letters near the top of the first form.

“What did he do? He seems so friendly,” Enodia inquired, a quiver breaking into her voice. Her smile had vanished, and her face had drained of blood.

“You don’t want to know,” Eugene croaked, planting his stare in the ground, stiffly avoiding glancing in the dog’s direction.

“I don’t?” Enodia asked in a high, precatory tone.

This question triggered a flash of the dreaded image in Eugene’s mind again: after meeting the neighbor who had put in the call outside, Eugene had pushed open the front door of the professor’s condo with his bite stick to reveal Diogenes the dog standing on the arm of the sofa where his owner had died, looking up at Eugene with stringy, moist strips of tendons from his master’s brachioradalis muscle dangling from his chops, greeting him with the same friendly, eager eyes. Diogenes had devoured large chucks of the professor’s right forearm, leaving tooth holes in the tattered skin around the professor’s wrist and drenching the dogs fury bib and chin with congealing deep crimson blood. Medics later determined that the professor had been dead for less than two hours when Diogenes decided to start eating him.

“His owner—he died of an aneurysm, but the corpse—the arm stripped to the bone—like leg of lamb …” Eugene trailed off and turned away, looking out to his truck and holding his hand over his mouth.

“Oh,” Enodia said. She looked down at Diogenes, and it dawned on her why his coat was wet: he had been hosed down to rinse the human gore from his fur. Growing algid, she pushed Diogenes away slowly, took a leash down from the wall, and carefully attached it to Diogenes’ collar without touching his hide. She took up the clipboard and led Diogenes through the swinging metal door, beyond which he would soon be anesthetized in a procedure lab. Eugene was visibly relieved when the dog left his presence. 

Diogenes, for his part, was still happily wagging his tail and looking all around with his shining eyes, eager to meet new people and make new friends.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.