Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Divergent"

This month's issue of Harpers Magazine reveals a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of a University of Chicago study that correctly predicted the death of a particular human being on the dark, drug-infested streets of the South Side. Inputs were many and involved Stephen "Freakonomics" Leavitt, who continues to show us patterns driving our choices and their inexorable, predictable consequences. In the end, the unfortunate youth hung with the wrong faction, and placed honor to that faction above his own life's blood. 

And from the Unbelievable Coincidence Dept.: "Divergent" hits the big screens of Hollywood tomorrow: the factionalized dystopian Chicago presented to us in this new major motion picture gives us a rather squalid extension view of today's compartmentalized subcultures, not gang insignias - factions that have evolved based on received wisdom, tradition, hereditary or learned instincts, at the expense of diversity and acceptance of differences. 

The understated historical reasons for such an outlandish means of societal organization are buried deeply within a young-girl-coming-of-age tale, and are only vaguely alluded to from the viewpoint of the teenage protagonist, Beatrice, in the novel on which the new film is based. 

"Achieving peace" is the nominal stated goal, the idea being that within factions it is easier to achieve cross-societal detente than it is in mixed "us and them" configurations, with their invariable messy clashes in heterogeneous social circles on random street corners. 

From the HarperCollins Children's (!) audiobook I just finished, the author Veronica West seems intent on preaching socioeconomic diversity and  teaming as a strength to be nurtured by our leaders, in opposition to mindless sectarian tribalism and absolute purist tendencies.  All good so far as that goes. 

Her putative factions, though -- "Abnegation", "Dauntless", "Erudite", "Candor", and "Amity" --besides failing abysmally the "Consistent Parts of Speech Test", also strike me as fairly arbitrary avatars (and therefore stereotypes) for certain religious orders and sects (Quakers, Mennonites, Buddhists, Jews, et. al. on one hand, and reckless, thrill-seeking militant street gangs on the other) -- "The Fight Club" meets "The Hitler Youth" as it were. 

Competitive and often sadistic "initiation trials" leave many would-be tribe members faction-less (and ostensibly homeless) - a fate depicted as worse than death. "Faction Before Blood" appears as a universal mantra devised to minimize interfactional fraternizing. 

The timing? Both the data-predicted murder and the novel have 2012 datestamps.  

Naturally the factions  in "Divergent" prove unstable and unsuccessful in preventing the war they were devised to allay, turning what could have been a probing lesson in social planning, government intrusion, and fair division of labor and wealth for the next generation into a Hollywood-ready cookie cutter screenplay for "Generation Xbox". 

Nowhere to be found in this world is any social media, free press, music or arts, professional sports stadiums, twelve-juror trials, or democratically-elected leaders. Or education as we know it today, to help ameliorate societal ills - though somehow tattoos, paintball, ziplining, and virtual reality simulations - oh! and even computers, elevators and toasters - HAVE made their way from today into this future, along with cliques, rivalries, and redemptive teenage love on the down-low (in the off-hours between initiation trials only, of course). 

I hope that the point of "Divergent" - that well-rounded, well-educated civil societies rely on each of their citizens to be candid, dauntless, amicable, self-effacing, *and* erudite, each in turn and in moderation, while keeping in check the signs of decadent excesses both in themselves and others, is not lost amidst the simplistic vilification of power-hungry zealot-traitor characters and the (literally) mindless zombie violence which clearly enabled this screenplay to be considered "Fine Hollywood Material" two years after its publication. 

In short, "Divergent" stops well short of providing a new "Animal Farm", "1984", "Fahrenheit 451" or "Brave New World" for Millennials now coming of age and facing hard questions about who should lead America to its future.  

That crucial treatment will apparently have to wait a multi-million dollar blockbuster sequel or two. 

And several more predictable, preventable deaths in Chicago, apparently. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

“A Spirited Defense”

by David M. J. Saslav
A 1,000-word ghost story set in a hotel bar featuring a pair of sunglasses
Written in 48 hours for the 2013 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 


This story should only appear on the SazBlog, http://dsaslav.blogspot.com/ - any other publication is not authorized.

------------------------------------------------------


Bella goes floor-to-floor searching for three or more of them. The first she spots easily, under a bed in 1017. "Boo," he grins. You'll be of no help, she thinks – sinister, small, unwilling to respond when spoken to – and with time fast spilling away, she hurriedly moves on.

Such hunts would ordinarily be made easier by the fact that the remains of egos tend to glow in bas relief, like faces within the small, focused squares on the tourists’ camera screens.

But she's on the fourth floor, scanning a large suite, when a relatively young one she hadn’t noticed pops out at her from an armoire’s built-in safety lockbox. "No fair, you peeked!" laments the child.

"And just how could I do that?" Bella chides. "You chose an impenetrable hiding place with a secret locking code." Come to think of it, Bella realizes, this one shouldn't have been able to get in or out of such an enclosure, if I couldn’t see her.  Some unfamiliar metal they’ve started using, perhaps.

"I’m Bella.  You're needed downstairs. Join with me at once."

"The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak!" comes the response. "I'm Myra. As in, 'Myra-sistance-is-futile'!" 

Engulfing Myra's youthful exuberance adds tempo to Bella's pace.  Bella also notices quite a few peppy clichés and childish puns suddenly added to her thought stream.

After unearthing an older, languid, closet-hider from the penthouse and incorporating her with little resistance, Bella can find no others on any of the hotel’s once densely-inhabited floors.

"Usually a few of us in the bar," intones the nameless newcomer.

"Yes!  The bar!" pipes Myra. "Let's go there!"

Bella realizes she's now out of options. And time.

Flowing together downwards and into "The Schooner", they spot several of their own kind immediately. "The imbibing of spirits" is an apt phrase, as it turns out. "Like the porch lamp to the moths!" bubbles Myra, who’s never been here before.

"More like a slow strip-tease in the red-light district," adds the older one.

Either way, dozens of shadows dance furiously here, whirling their way hungrily amongst the lost souls of the living as they pour alcohol onto wounds of all kinds, dimming their defenses; low lavender lighting lubricates the ghostly choreography.  But human souls enthrall their spirit-world invaders reciprocally, Bella muses; none of these drunken dervishes will be useful here, either.

"Whoa, check out the one with the Shades!" squeaks Myra with alarm. "That black aura!"

A tall, dark-haired man with curly hair wearing expensive sunglasses is nursing a Rum Collins. To his right slumps a shapely brunette in her twenties.  She emanates a fading gray aura, nearly indistinguishable from the air that surrounds her.

A pair of balletic dancers swim majestic figure eights around the two, giving Mr. Shades the wider berth, then sprint toward the trio.

"About time you got back," despairs the first.

"She's nearly finished, I'm afraid," moans the second. "How many did you bring from above?"

"Three and free!" exclaims Myra.

Bella adds, "The rest of the hotel’s deserted. Those with a choice, and all the Transitioners checked out long ago."

The pair of drunken dancers respond dolefully, in unison. "Well, the three of you will have to do it by yourselves, then. Get to it!”

"Right.  Myra,” commands Bella. “Get that girl’s lights back on!"

"Myra-suscitates!" and in one fluid motion she splits out, speeds over, and inhabits the drugged brunette, whose left arm suddenly shoots out, knocking over her shotglass, spilling ounces of awful, cloudy fluid entirely onto her companion’s lap. The empty glass shatters on the floor with a sound like two colliding cars.

"Dammit, Chrissy!" hisses Shades.

"Ooh....sorry... Mr.... Polson," she manages. 

Nice work, Myra!

The bartender hands Polson some tiny square napkins, but he snaps back, "Yeah, right. This'll need the blowdryer in the men's room. Keep her here, willya?" And leaves a hundred-dollar bill on the bar.

After he’s disappeared, the languid one says, "I got this part. Similar money changed hands over me, near my own end."

Bella sees her sad companion detach and float slowly toward the man and the girl at the bar.  Suddenly, lifted by an unexplained draft, the bill wafts up and out of reach, out of sight of the flabbergasted, flailing bartender beneath it.

Myra seems to be making some progress within Chrissy, who is now staggering to her feet on wobbly legs that seem unsure where to take her.  The bartender extends a hand and grabs Chrissy's arm, steadying her but also restraining her.

My turn, thinks Bella.

Bella swims off well to the left, then directly through the bar, positioning herself across from a group of three middle-aged Japanese tourists husbanding several glasses and bottles between them.

And materializes.

Bella's ghastly face, horrifically slashed eight floors up and eighty years ago, has the desired effect on the three incredulous patrons. Their terrified screams precede the sound of shattering glasses, cleared off the bar by the men’s reflexive gesticulations, each scrambling to keep his frame and sanity upright.

The distracted bartender releases the girl and heads over, swearing. 

Perfect.

Her five seconds of daily opacity spent, Bella rejoins Myra, this time inside Chrissy.

"Now, let’s get us some fresh air – fast!" shouts Bella.

"O-outside the hotel?" quavers Myra, unsure.  "I've n-never g-g-gone..."

"Myra!  You know what happened upstairs?  To you, to me, to the others?  Well?"

"Yes, b-b-but I need to s-s-stay ..."

"Listen! Those things are about to happen here, again, if we don't help.  Worse things, maybe. Things you never grew old enough to learn about. You and I are the ones who can prevent it.  Right here, right now. Roger?"

On a shared cue, they steer Chrissy forward, away from the bar, out through “The Schooner” entrance, past the front desk, and out of the hotel, where a cab stand awaits.

As a cab rolls up, at that precise moment, a hundred-dollar bill floats downward, coming to rest on Chrissy's heaving, recovering chest.


Nice teamwork, thinks Bella. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Final Report"

"Final Report"
by David Saslav

"Final Report" was written in 48 hours for the first of four rounds of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2013 Contest.  My group of writers was assigned the romance genre, the setting of an apple orchard, and a fake mustache as the item to appear somewhere in the story.

This story should only appear on the SazBlog, http://dsaslav.blogspot.com/ - any other publication is not authorized.

------------------------------------------------------



Final Report

Final Report.  John Branca, Private Investigator
Client: Peter Harmon, Subject: Anna Harmon

Friday, September 23

04:48PM – Subject may have recognized me outside motel room. Surprise encounter while I purchased pistachios from vending machine; may have made me from line at Nordstrom earlier. Fortunately engaged Disguise #7 earlier in day: half-inch sideburns, mustache, wig.  Continued observation, but with additional caution.  Two spottings maximum limit.

05:15PM - Subject turned on TV – is he coming?  

05:43PM - Checked out of hotel, steaming mad; four straight no-shows.  Waited several minutes, then effected entry into the room.  Pad by phone had scratch marks, from furious note written on top page, since removed.  Pencil-traced what was left to reveal, “Behind Granny Smith Fruit Stand HWY 2 @1”. 

One?  As in, that night? The following afternoon?  So I had no choice but to conduct another all-night stakeout.  Any other case, two weeks in, I’d probably just turn in what I already got. But it was way too late for that, for me, now; I was way beyond “professional curiosity.”

Saturday, September 24

12:45AM - Granny Smith’s grocery store, tiny, middle of nowhere, out Highway 2 past mini-mall.  Store in front of large apple orchard.  Took position in rear with infrared camera and far-zoom mic, climbing up a sturdy tree; waited.

12:55 AM - Two sets of headlights pulled into side lot, one after the other, and killed their headlights fast.  Two figures carrying flashlights walked behind store, halfway to orchard, within range of my mic. Audio transcript follows:
  • Subject: Mark, all this sneaking and dodging – I’ve had it, I’m done.
  • Contact: Christ, Anna, can we kiss first, and talk logistics later?
  • Subject: No! I’m through with the redirections and missed appointments and all your out-of-the-way locations. You’re either leaving her or you’re not.  [Pause.] Well? Which is it?
  • Subject: What about you? You’re still with …
She must have thrown an apple as something hit him square in the leg in mid-sentence, and rolled in my direction.  I sent up a silent cheer as he yelped in pain.
  • Subject (yelling): Stop it! I’ve told you a million times, the pre-nup means I’m screwed if I take off without something else lined up.  That was your job, remember? Line something else up.
God, why did Harmon have to hire me?  His wealth and advanced age must’ve produced a ton of well-justified paranoia about his stunning young wife. If only he could have hired some other damn PI!


1:08AM - Shouting and a tussle; Contact chased Subject into orchard; caught her five feet directly beneath my branch.  Dark orange moonlight enabled me to remain unseen.  He grabbed her, slapped her hard; Subject fell against tree, slid to ground, whimpering. 

Jesus!  How could such an obvious low-life attract a beauty like Anna? Her boredom with Harmon  must have served as some kind of rocket fuel to her heart, Mark clearly nothing more than a flashy distraction to her...

1:10AM - Contact advanced further; I jumped off branch and fell on him like proverbial piano from seventeenth floor window. Contact knocked unconscious; my fake mustache and right sideburn flew off my face at impact. As I handcuffed him, Anna let loose with a scream.
  • JB: Useful things, these handcuffs. He won’t be hurting you again.
  • Anna: Who the hell are - ? Why were you up - ? Hey, you’re the guy from the motel – you’ve been following me! You a cop or what?
  • JB: Anna, yes, I’ve been following you.  I’m John – John Branca, and your husband Peter’s been paying me to follow you around, prove you were having an affair.
  • Anna: That rat bastard! He proves I’m seeing someone, he can discard me like an old shoe and withhold the shoelace!
  • JB: As in, the pre-nup?
  • Anna: How did you know – oh sure, you’re watching and listening, both.  You finding my affairs real entertaining, Branca?
  • JB: Anna, listen to me – both these guys are dirt compared to you! I don’t even need to run a check on this one here, he isn’t even worth my trouble. Tell me, he play rough like that before?
  • Anna: N-not quite as bad as that....  

She rubbed her bruised apple of a cheek, and continued:
  • Anna: Boy, you really did save me, Branca, kinda like Tarzan swinging out of that tree, didn’t you? 

She flashed me a million-dollar smile that melted my heart all over, for the umpteenth time that week.
  • Anna: These yours?

She’d picked up my stray sideburn and mustache from beside her on the ground, and got back to her feet.  What a woman!
  • JB: Thanks so much.  Look, God - please call me John, will you?
  • Anna: John, right, ok. Th- Thanks so much for saving me, John.
  • Me: Anna, look, I’ve got money put away from this line of work, and I can keep slime like this far from you.  Would you let me provide you with, um, free bodyguard services?
  • Anna: You’re funny, you know that, John? 

She gave me her hand to hold -- sending me to the harvest moon -- then:
  • Anna: And I’m not sure, but you may actually be cute, too. Does any more of your face come off?

I'm sure I blushed, as I shed the remainder of Disguise #7.
  • Me: Anna, this is me, the whole me, and nothing but me. This whole case, I’m getting this steep sense we’re supposed to be together.  Let me take you away, where it’s safe.
  • Anna: You have any idea what you’re getting into with me?
  • Me: Probably not. Here’s the thing: I head back to your place, your husband gets one of two possible reports from me.
  • Anna: Sounds like you’ve got me over a barrel. What’ve I got on you, John?

I pointed at Mark, now slowly coming around.
  • Me: This goon’s phone number, Peter’s number, whatever. I ever fail you, they’ll both take real delight getting even with me for this, won’t they?
  • Anna: You’re right, we’ve got each other right where we want.  Look.  I’m famished, and nothing's open this late...
  • Me: Guess again.  There's an open bag of motel pistachios in my car…

[Transcript ends; report archived; never submitted.]

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Win With Weth 2012" Contest - Prize-Winning Haiku

Is Doctor Zoidberg
Ever going to pass "GO",
Or just eat Boardwalk?

This haiku just won a brand new Monopoly Futurama Edition in the "Win With Weth 2012" Contest - my first-ever prize-winning poem!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Bianagrams from December 2012:


"No personal response, no sale!"
 - note this does feature the word "no" twice but is so tasty I felt the exception was justified.

"Bounded last -- but not least!"

"Strong leads aren't gold."

"Support prospects to cause loyalty." 

"Curse most customers!"

"Lord, champions open new world machines!"

"Instant coffee isn't constant, is it?"


What is a bianagram?  Read more about them here:
http://dsaslav.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Mom" - A Poem With Very Short Words

Inspired by feelings of melancholy I experienced while reflecting on my mother's recent 76th birthday, and a very short memo I received via Skype the other day, I fashioned this poem out of words no longer than three letters, using the memo itself as the poem's first line.

                 Mom

Yes, we are in the old one now
The day is old, we are old
And I am old and sad.
And Mom is not by us now.

My boy and I are not too bad off - Oh,
But try, if you can, to say, sir,
How we can get in our car and go
To the era of sky and sea, to her.

Mom was, for all of us, the way.
She had us; we had her.
She was our sun, our sky
Day by day by day by day.

Our bus to the zoo!
Can we go to the sea?
Our car to the sky!
Let me!  Let me!

We had her, and all was joy.
She was the one to lug a bag
She was the one to cry and hug
For me, and for my boy.

Yes, we are in the old one now
The day is old, we are old
And I am old and sad.
And Mom is not by us now.

(c) 2012 David Saslav

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"I disavow vowel deals" - Introducing Bianagrams

What is a Bianagram?

In June 2012, I invented a new form of lexical construct called the "bianagram".  Related to anagrams, they involve using only pairs of letters to form interesting sentences and phrases.

Unlike with anagrams, though, where you are prohibited from adding or re-using letters, bianagrams involve not only re-arranging, but also nearly always adding additional letters as needed to form the sentence or phrase, stopping only once it consists exclusively of letters in pairs.

Thus, while "PETER A." can be anagrammized to "REPEAT", the bianagram requires adding a "P", "T", "R", and "A" to the original six letters, since they have no paired counterparts.  Adding additional pairs of letters to the mix (say, two "S"es and two additional "E"s), you can form the required (sensible, grammatical) sentence, as in, "A trap! See, Peters?"

Notice that because "PETER A." started with two "E"s, it was not necessary to add any "E"s to form this bianagram, though we chose to do so in the end.

Additionally, since acronyms, abbreviations, and initials are not allowed in bianagrams, "TRAP PETER A." is not a bianagram, even though all letters in it appear in pairs (2A, 2E, 2P, 2R, 2T).  Creating a valid bianagram in this case actually requires rearranging it to "Peter, a trap!" or, with the help of additional letters, in this case the 2E's and 2S's above, "A trap!  See, Peters?"  Thus, one bianagram can evolve naturally into another, simply by adding or removing pairs of identical letters.  You're not done until you are satisfied with the elegance of the sentence or phrase you've produced (and all letters are used in pairs, of course).

So you might ask, legitimately, whether just a word (or name, or phrase) and its anagram used together to form a sentence constitute a bianagram or not, without any letters added; and the answer would be "Yes, so long as no acronyms, abbreviations, and initials are used in the final construction."  An example might be the "mirrored bianagram":

"Desserts," Anna stressed.
(2A, 2D, 4E, 2N, 2R, 6S, 2T)

You might also ask if bianagrams require names to appear in them - they do not.  Any set of words forming a legitimate sentence or phrase consisting only of letters in pairs counts as a bianagram.  See the fourth example below.

Here are some examples of bianagrams, to get you started:

"Man, animal, Ali!"
"Man, animal, David Saslav!"
"Idly, Melissa sails by."
"I disavow vowel deals."
"Have a fun one forever, Hun!"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Open Letter to CEO of Wyndham Hotels

Open Letter to Stephen P. Holmes, Chairman and CEO of Wyndham Worldwide, one of the world’s largest hospitality companies including Wyndham hotels:

April 17, 2012
Dear Stephen,

The cost to Wyndham of replacing large groups of disaffected customers is greater than replacing a known-faulty water boiler, which on several occasions over the past year has apparently prevented all showers in your Indianapolis Wyndham property on Executive Dr. from generating any hot water to guest bathrooms for the first half of the morning.

By this point, six months and multiple identical incidents later, I would be surprised if your properties garner any repeat business from business travelers (a hardy bunch that can withstand the depredations of travel on several fronts but require a hot shower and a good cup of coffee to start each day on the road).

Sincerely,

David Saslav
dsaslav@gmail.com
http://dsaslav.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Overexposure" - A work of short horror fiction

"Overexposure" was composed over a span of eight days as part of the first round challenge for the 2012 NYCMidnight.com Short Story Challenge.  The challenge for my group of contestants was to write a horror story in 2,500 words or fewer, featuring a theme of bullying, and a photographer.


Overexposure


Grunnoch crept slowly forward, toward the small, quivering form.  Slowly, and with anticipation, without fear.  For although neither could it see the thoughts of humans, nor those of any other living creatures in the physical sphere, it knew full well that this one posed no threat, as things stood.

Or, more precisely, as things lie, Grunnoch smirked to itself. 

Having witnessed the two elder boys attacking the smaller one with debilitating blows, taunts, and gibes, it suspected that he would be ripe for recruitment, and bear a fine yield.  As always, it was merely a question of selecting the proper enticement  in the time available. 

Time was of the essence, of course, for it could not maintain the integrity of the portal that separates Here from There, not for long, anyway.  Not without outside assistance.

Circling the sobbing, shaking boy, Grunnoch noticed the shattered camera, much of its film protruding, exposed to air. Grunnoch examined it more closely, recalling the recent scene of senseless, youthful violence that had just transpired.

“Taking pictures of we Greyhawks is gonna cost ya, punk,” one of the two pursuers had yelled.  They had chased down and surrounded the smaller one, whose careful, two-handed grip on his camera had impeded his running speed, dooming his attempt at flight.  Suddenly, an arm twisted and held fast evinced a painful shriek; the camera dropped, breaking.

“And I don’t see nearly enough coin in his pockets, Lenny,” the other had added, having turned the small boy’s pockets inside out as the first one continued to restrain him with his malicious, superior strength.

“From now on, Marvin, you ask permission from me and from him before this thing comes out again, got it?” the first had said.

The embattled child had, foolishly, attempted to combat unreason with reason, serving only to fire his tormentors’ cauldrons still further.

“I didn’t mean n-n-nothing by it, guys, it was just s-s-some shots for a Sentinel article about the school p-playground, I-I-I,” he’d managed to say, between sobs.

“Shut your hole!” the one called Lenny had responded, imparting further pain to the boy.  Wresting the camera away, Lenny had flung it into a nearby wall, rendering it inoperable.  For good measure, he had pulled the film from the camera, exposing it to killing sunlight.

The sight of the camera’s sudden ruination seemed to create in the small photographer a sudden animal ferocity.

“Lenny, no!  Th-there’s dozens of undeveloped pictu- OOF!”

And the final battle had been enjoined in full, predictable in its outcome but gruesome nonetheless. 

From where it lurked, Grunnoch had easily identified its candidate as the three had approached – a distinctive fragrance combining fear with impotence, rage with resentment. 

Few in Grunnoch’s time had ever produced such strong and redolent scent as this.  It felt confident that the temptation of redemption and revenge would prove sufficient here.

After the two bullies had abandoned their hapless victim, Grunnoch had created a temporary portal, slipped through, and assumed human form, molding itself quickly into a figure of authority, an adult in uniform. One whose voice it knew the young one would find comforting at this critical juncture.

“Marvin?  Marvin, can you hear me?”

The beaten child lifted his head from the pavement, startled and sobbing, but said nothing.

“Now, Marvin, listen to me,” said Grunnoch in a practiced, authoritarian tone.  “You would like those who harmed you to be brought to justice, correct?”

A nod. 

“Then you shall do just that.  Capture your tormentors in clear light with this new, more powerful camera.  They will torment you no more.”

The boy shook his head in wonderment.  “M-more powerful?  How does it work?  The Greyhawks said never to – “

Taking care to ensure the boy didn’t notice, Grunnoch had transmuted the broken camera into a new, silvery form, with several shiny knobs and dials on its back.  A large, oval-shaped flashbulb extended from its top, and a sturdy strap with a small, sealed pouch extended from hooks on the camera’s side.

Grunnoch proffered it to him.

“Marvin, take this; it is indestructible and carries great power, one which will give you total invincibility as you capture the images of those who have harmed you.” 

After the boy had taken the camera, and the usual moment of infusion and transformation, he comported himself quickly.  “I don’t get it… but you got it,” he said, and fled quickly.

Watching the boy retreat, Grunnoch glowed, returning to its essential form, and retreated quickly to its own sphere, through the vanishing portal, to wait.

*****

When Marvin had grasped the odd-looking camera from the strange man, he had sensed a strange energy coursing through him.  It had a warm, healing, empowering feeling to it.  All of a sudden, it no longer hurt where the Greyhawks had pummeled him repeatedly.  He no longer felt anything, actually, other than strength and a kind of powerful giddiness he’d never experienced before. 

Looking down at the controls on the new silver camera, he saw they were laid out logically; they required no manual, no explanation or labeling. 

Marvin knew their meaning intuitively; and he thrilled inwardly at the challenge awaiting him.

“I don’t get it, but you got it,”  he’d said, running off in the direction of the playground.

When he reached the playground, Marvin positioned himself behind a fence, which opened onto the basketball court, and spied through a small knothole.  The Greyhawks were in full assembly there, playing three against three, Lenny and his evil lieutenant Vince shouting instructions to the others as they squared off against one another.

Marvin placed the lens of the camera against the opening in the fence, and, peering into the camera’s eyehole, made sure all six Greyhawks were in proper focus.

Then he depressed the shutter, and held it down.

Where he’d been expecting a mere flash and a click, though, Marvin felt more of a shuddering roar and a boom as the camera’s strange flashbulb erupted.  The camera dropped from his hands, landing on his right foot.  The sensation he’d felt as the picture was shot resembled what he’d felt last summer while visiting Grandpa on the airplane.  Just as it was about to land, in a rough and turbulent rainstorm, lightning had struck one of the wings, or very close to it.  Marvin had never been more certain he was going to die than at the moment that incredibly loud, jarring combination of sounds and sensations had rattled through his small frame.  Even his parents had looked shaken, as had everyone else on board that miserable flight.

Returning from that awful memory, Marvin picked up the camera and peered back through the knothole in the fence.

To his surprise, the basketball court was empty.  The basketball had fallen from its mid-air trajectory, and Marvin watched as it bounced to a halt, then rolled off the court’s edge.

Gone!  All six Greyhawks had disappeared into thin air!

Marvin couldn’t believe the scene before him.  They had all simply disappeared as he’d snapped their picture! But how could it be?  A camera can’t affect its subject.  Marvin knew enough about photography to be sure of that, except with the light of the flashbulb.  And yet, the facts remained: the gang had been there when he depressed the shutter, and gone once the picture was taken!

The loud noise had caused a crowd to form, made up of nervous, shouting adults and confused children.  Marvin returned from his reverie, and realized he needed to be elsewhere. 

Making sure not to be seen, he ran in the direction of West Maple, where his elder cousin Barry lived.

Barry was in his backyard, frying ants with a magnifying glass.  That was his favorite hobby, whenever Marvin wasn’t there for him to pick on instead.

“Marvin,” yelled Barry when he spotted him running across the yard toward him. “What are you doing here, twerp?  Can’t you see I’m busy doing a science project?”  That last was a dig; Barry always loved to deride Marvin’s bent for science.

“Barry, I need a picture of you, right now.”

“What?” Barry stood up, smiled cruelly, and began cracking his knuckles. “And then you’re gonna sell me that camera for ten cents, aren’t you, Marvin…?”

Marvin had stopped short of Barry’s arm’s reach, aiming the camera at him.

Barry was too quick, though; he reached out to snatch the camera.  His hand got no closer than six inches, though, before he retracted it with a yell, and began waving it gingerly back and forth.

“Ow! What is that, some kind of electrified screen around that thing?”

“Smile,” replied Marvin, looking through the eyehole at his cousin, as he depressed the camera’s shutter.

Once again, the loud, booming noise erupted and shot through Marvin, causing him to lose his hold on the camera.  Barry was no longer anywhere to be seen.

“Barry?” Marvin called, loud enough to be heard from the yard’s few hiding places.  “Are you there?”

The echoing stillness contained only the sound of birdsong and a passing truck engine nearby.

Marvin’s Aunt Louise’s voice rang out, “Barry!  What was that noise? Are you playing with explosives again?”

Marvin raced from the yard, hoping he’d remained unobserved, and set off to find Archie Peregoff.

*****

Two hours later, Marvin found himself lost in another reverie while pouring out the developing solution in his basement darkroom.  His parents were upstairs watching television, as usual.

Nine of them, gone!  Permanently, he hoped.  Nine of his worst nightmares, vanished with the press of a button.  The entire Greyhawk gang, his cousin Barry, Archie Peregoff (who had been making a habit of stealing his lunch money of late), and the old, menacing shopkeeper at the corner store.  He had caught Marvin stealing a lousy pack of baseball cards the previous weekend, grabbing his hand painfully.  Said he’d be reporting him to his parents the next time they were in the store.  But his parents hadn’t mentioned the incident yet, so he guessed they hadn’t gone there since then.  And now, of course, no one would be saying anything to them or anyone else about it, ever. 

As Marvin lay the film in the developing tray, he counted four exposed frames.  There were twelve unused frames.  Ordinarily, Marvin liked to wait until all the pictures on a roll had been shot before developing them, but in this case, his curiosity had gotten the better of him.  Plus, the camera itself gave no indication of how many shots were left to take, so he couldn’t predict when he’d run out.  He vowed to count carefully to sixteen before returning to the darkroom.

Then, suddenly, an unnerving thought struck him.  He had no way of obtaining more film beyond what was currently developing!

Unless the stranger who’d given him the camera reappeared at some point to replenish his camera, his little payback crusade was finished!   He let out a small sob.  Then he remembered the small pouch hanging off the camera’s strap.  Opening it quickly, he found another roll of film, exactly the same as the first.  With a manic glee, he opened the camera, placed the new film inside, and re-closed it with a snap. 

“Armed and dangerous once again,” smiled Marvin.

Now his attention returned to the photographs developing in the dim purple light of his darkroom. There was still no trace of whatever the camera had picked up on any of the four shots.   Marvin’s scientific mind began to take over, wondering whether the camera had worked at all, and what could take these pictures so long to develop.

Then, finally, the very first picture he had taken, the one shot through the playground fence outside the basketball court, began to materialize. 

Only Marvin couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.

Pictures typically take a few minutes to develop; from the start of the process to the end, the subject of the photo gains outline and clarity over that entire time.  The image in the photograph stays constant, other than in its resolution.

This camera’s pictures, on the other hand, were playing out like a slow-motion movie sequence as they developed.  The six Greyhawks were there, underexposed, with the basketball in flight from one pair of oversized hands, arcing ever so slowly, second by second, toward the basket.  It was as if several thousand exposures had been taken in the split second the shutter was depressed, and the process of developing them was replaying that split second.

The photos continued to develop.

As the ball reached the top of its trajectory, another form suddenly appeared in the sequence, seemingly out of nowhere.  It descended from the top of the frame, and resembled a huge, hideous spider, bigger than the basketball court, only instead of legs, this thing had what looked more like gnarled tentacles with suction cups that reached down and covered the heads of all six boys simultaneously.  It reminded Marvin of the program he’d seen on TV of a giant squid devouring its prey.  It had appeared from nothingness, through a crease in the sky. 

Marvin recalled the incredible roaring boom that accompanied each of the four shots he’d taken, and suddenly knew its cause.

All four pictures began developing, and Marvin saw the same horrifying creature in all four, a slow-motion descent from the crack in the sky, the sickening, extending tentacles ensnaring the subjects within a frame or two.   The ensnared victims were then pulled up into a giant maw of a mouth that had appeared on the creature’s underside.  The helpless victims disappeared into it quickly, bodies writhing. 

Then the beast began disappearing into the same fissure that had produced it, though now engorged with its human prey, leaving only the empty background of each scene.  As he stared down in shock, all four pictures flashed to white.  Overexposed – that should not have been possible!

Marvin was paralyzed with revulsion.  What had he done?  By taking pictures of his mortal enemies, he had consigned them to an ungodly and horrifying death.  He couldn't believe it.  How could such a thing exist anywhere in the Universe?

As the minutes passed by, Marvin began to shake uncontrollably.  His mind was racing.  How could he ever atone for what the monstrous being had done?

“Marvin, dear?” His mother’s voice called from outside the darkroom door.  “Aunt Louise is on the phone.  Something very strange is going on…”

Marvin turned towards the door, and contemplated facing his parents.  Impossible.  The horror of what he had seen in the darkroom tray burned his memory like fire.

He tried to say something, but he could form no words.  No thoughts, other than the terror of existing in a world where such an awful thing could enter.  Beckoned, as it were, by Marvin.

Soundlessly, then, Marvin chose.  He picked up the camera, turned it toward himself, closed his eyes, and depressed the shutter.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dave Saslav's Workout Mix Lists


Legend:

*       = Avoid
**      = Keeps the pulse / OK for startup/cooldown
***     = Inspires athletic thoughts, increases pace     
****    = Real Calorie Burner!!
*****   = All-Time Best Workout Music Award

------------------------------
Exercise songs, 16-Jan-2012
Spotify 80's Radio Mix
------------------------------
Eternal Flame (The Bangles) **
Head over Heels (Tears for Fears) **
Modern Love (David Bowie) ***
The Final Countdown (Europe) ****
Sharp-Dressed Man (ZZ Top) ****
Simply the Best (Tina Turner) **
Thriller (Michael Jackson) ****

---------------------------------
Cool-down songs 16-Jan-2012
Spotify 80's Radio Classical Mix
---------------------------------
Schumann, "Traumerai" from Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Bizet, Habanera from Carmen
Mozart, Finale (from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik)
Dvorak, Nocturne in B Major, Op. 40
------------------------------



------------------------------
Exercise songs, 15-Jan-2012
Spotify 80's Radio Mix
------------------------------
Papa, Don't Preach (Madonna) **
Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) *
Come On, Eileen (Dexy's Midnight Runners) ***
Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler) * 
"Major Tom" ("Völlig Losgelöst", the German version, by Peter Schilling) ***
Smalltown Boy (Bronski Beat) ***
Little Lies (Fleetwood Mac) ***

---------------------------------
Cool-down songs 15-Jan-2012
Spotify 80's Radio Classical Mix
---------------------------------
The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams, orchestral)
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (J.S. Bach, chorus and organ)
Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor (Chopin, piano)
Overture No. 2, Minuet (J.S. Bach, orchestral)
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies (Tchaikovsky, orchestral)
Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart, piano)
Peer Gynt, "Morning" (Grieg, orchestral)
------------------------------


------------------------------
Exercise songs, 14-Jan-2012
------------------------------

Su-Susudio (Phil Collins)  *****
What's Love Got to Do With it? (Tina Turner) **
Panama (Van Halen) ****
Separate Ways (Journey) *****
Last Christmas (Wham!) *
Karma Chameleon (Culture Club)  *****
Power of Love (Huey Lewis and the News)  *****
Sharp-Dressed Man (ZZ Top) ****

--------------------------------
Cool-down songs 14-Jan-2012
--------------------------------
Africa (Toto) *
Little Red Corvette (Prince) ***
Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes) *
Heart of Glass (Blondie) **
Love Shack (B-52s) ****