First Bite

First Bite

“The physiology of zombies is impossible, that’s all I’m saying,” Isolde insisted. Her eyes roamed the decaying city, the sun at one o’clock.

“This whole goddamn situation is impossible,” Anouk groaned back with a snarl.

Anouk peeked around the back end of a burned out Telsa sedan clenching an old-school, analog toothbrush – the kind that made you move your hand back-and-forth in order to scrub the plague off your teeth. What a goddam hassle she always thought about the process, especially whenever her long, black, sweat-tangled hair got in her mouth when she brushed. What the holy hell were people’s teeth like before laser toothbrushes? Anouk didn’t know.

“Got two of ‘em,” Anouk grunted towards Isolde who was crouched behind the car’s front tire. “The one coming around your side is limping; shouldn’t be too fast for you but that’s not an excuse to take your sweet ass time.” Isolde dribble a bit of spit onto the pavement and tucked her own toothbrush away.

“Phhtpt,” Isolde sounded. “Physiologically, zombies are dead. Their blood isn’t circulating and they don’t breathe. They’re not getting any oxygen to their cells so how could they be making the body’s energy molecule that’s required for muscle contraction and cellular respiration? It just doesn’t make any sense.” Anouk was patting her on the shoulder indicating that they should get ready but Isolde was still lost in thought.

“And nothing in classical pop culture has prepared us for this,” Isolde continued. “Zombies like this don’t exist anywhere in fiction or mythology. Don’t get bit or you turn instantly? We didn’t see that coming. Worse, for a while we had no idea what we had to do in order to deal with them, which doesn’t make sense either. But I guess there’s some things you just can’t make up.”

A grizzled veteran of World War One – they lost all their historical records and had to start counting over again – Anouk grabbed a fistful of Isolde’s tattered shirt and pulled the young medic towards her scarred face.

“Listen to me, kid, shit’s about to get really real now. When you spring into action, you can’t give ‘em a chance. They sense you coming and they’ll be gone right quick and we won’t be able to catch up. They’re gonna struggle too; they’re strong…”

“They shouldn’t be,” Isolde’s brows worried.

“Yeah, well, they are. They’re gonna try to bite you if you don’t hang on long enough and you know what that means,” Anouk shoved the youngster away. “Now get ready. Remember, you gotta hold that shit for a good fifteen seconds. A nice deep bite and hold it! It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be the absolute worst goddamn thing you’ve ever tasted. But you gotta hold on. You ready or not?”

Isolde patted the cooler by her side. It was filled with IV’s their friends and enemies were going to need.

“Soon as they come ‘round. Here they come,” Anouk breathed. “Go!”

Anouk tackled the zombie coming around the car’s rear end from the side, knocking it to the ground as she sank her teeth into the zombie’s spare tire. The monster’s flesh was bitter and sour, gooey yet chunky, and penetrated into the tongue. It was a taste that lingered for days so fiercely that you needed someone back at camp trained in PTSD to deal with grunts like Anouk and Isolde when they returned from the field, if they returned from the field. Anouk reached up and pulled the creature’s hair back so she wouldn’t get bit. She wanted to gag but she held on.

Isolde spun around the front of the car and smacked her forehead against the zombie’s. Everyone’s got to go into the field at least once, the twenty-something remembered as she fell back. This was their camp’s rule and it was especially true for the medics since a successful attack meant the dead would need medical assistance right away when they returned to life after a human bite, dehydration being the biggest concern.

Young, light, and lithe, Isolde tucked her chin to her chest before hitting the pavement flat. She avoided a concussion and lost her breath for merely a split second. It really was really real now Isolde knew as she spun around on her back like a breakdancer. (She’d seen videos but their audio was always missing. Was breakdancing a form of field training? She never liked that assumption and preferred to think people used to do it for fun.) The medic grabbed the zombie by the ankle as it was already up and turning to run away. With the fiercest grip she could muster, she dragged herself toward the monstrosity and sank her teeth into the thing’s calf.

Oh! Oh my god! That…is…never tasted anything…so bad. Hold. Hold on fired across her brain. The zombie squealed something unholy before it reached down, lifted Isolde upside down like she weighed nothing and gnashed her buttocks. Isolde spit out a chunk of the zombie’s calf muscle to let loose her own unholy exclamation. She knew she hadn’t bitten it long enough to turn it but time wasn’t a factor for the zombie’s bite.

“Anouk! I’m bit! I’m going to turn, I’m going to…”

Well fuck all to shit Anouk thought as she timed out her own bite. The zombie she was latched onto collapsed as was always the case when they re-turned, allowing Anouk to let go. She jumped towards Isolde while the zombie that bit her turned and broke into a 40mph sprint. Gotta let it go now she figured as she fell on her knees by Isolde’s side, rotten blood flowing from her mouth. As the veteran heard that familiar growl common to the dead, she wondered if the taste wouldn’t be so bad since Isolde had turned only seconds ago. Anouk snapped down at the waist and bit Isolde on the ass for the sake of consistency, limiting the noob’s injuries.

“Nopeph, shtil taysh like shiff,” Anouk muttered as she held down the flailing medic. A few seconds later Isolde went limp. Anouk rolled the kid over and slapped her hard across the face. “Now I ain’t wanna eat shit for a week now, ya dumb…” Anouk was going to say something highly inappropriate for those trying to rebuild a civil civilization. She leaned her head back and yelled ‘fuck’ as loud as she could.

“What happened?” Isolde asked groggily. The youngster stirred, reached back and felt her buttocks, and felt the warmth of her own blood. “Did I get bit? It really hurts.”

“Oh, kid, you have no fucking idea,” Anouk jawed. The veteran hoped Isolde hadn’t been keeping track of her swearing; she had no credits left to give up to the community’s swear jar. Anouk engaged her quads and pulled Isolde up along with her. “See to our new friend over here,” she pointed to the former zombie lying unconscious nearby. “At least we got one of ‘em.”

“Oh god, did mine get away? Did I bite that thing for nothing?” Isolde ran her tongue around her mouth. “Oh, oh fuck. Oh fuck. Is that going to go away?”

“In a few days,” Anouk answered. “But the memory is forever,” she smiled before going straight-lipped.

Isolde limped over to her medical supplies and retrieved two IV bags. She popped some syringes and fed a needle into each arm of the newly human. Judging by the relatively mild state of exposure to the elements of the former zombie, Anouk figured this man would be conscious and walking within 30 minutes. Good; she was tired, bitter in more than one sense, and didn’t feel like doing jack shit else today.

“I wish we’d gotten the other one,” Isolde fretted as she watched over the man.

“Don’t you worry, kid, you owe me two bites. Gonna be fun seeing you pay your dues.” Anouk looked around garbage-strewn city. You couldn’t see it but there, hiding in the shadows were plenty of opportunities.

 

All Rights Reserved © October 2018 John J Vinacci

Philosophy: A Comedic Play

Philosophy: A Comedic Play

[Author’s note: I wrote this play for a class back in 2009 when I was a fledgling Philosophy major. I had something to say about how ridiculous Rene Descartes’ philosophy was which I can’t believe few people at the time saw. As with most old, famous dead people, Descartes had a good PR agent and I reluctantly admit he got due credit for writing his thoughts about thoughts down. I suppose modern epistemology had to start somewhere.]

(Twilight Zone music plays)

Rod Serling Submitted for your approval, two of the world’s most renowned philosophers, French mathematician Rene Descartes and the prominent Ancient Greek, Socrates. Scientists armed with advanced technology have brought the two men into the future to instruct at The Hall of Great Philosophers. What will happen when Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’ crosses paths with Socrates humble remark, “All I know is that I know nothing”?

Descartes (Flipping through an anatomy book) Hmm, I appears I was wrong about the pineal gland. (Appearing thoughtful) Perhaps the cerebellum is the mind-brain interface.

Socrates (Approaching) Descartes? Rene Descartes, it is you! How wonderful. I have met many wonderful philosophers here as of late but it is you whom I have wanted to meet most of all.

Descartes And you are the famous Athenian, Socrates. How interesting that we should meet, being that we are the most famous men of our respective eras. Do please excuse me if I appear skeptical regarding the reality of this encounter, though. (Snarkily) Perceptions are unreliable, after all.

Socrates Ah, yes, I’ve read your work and that is why I am anxious to talk to you. I have reservations with some of your ideas. All of them, in fact.

Descartes (looking around cautiously) Between you and me, sir, in my defense I was trying to spare my head the indignity of being separated from my shoulders. A contemporary of mine, Galileo, spent time in jail for challenging official Church doctrine.

Socartes I’m afraid I know how he feels. At least I think I do.

Descartes Well in thinking you do, at least you can rest assured that you exist. That is a conclusion I stand by and am justly famous for – Cogito ergo sum.

Socrates Yes. (Pause) Out of curiosity, do you find your conclusion about the pineal gland as satisfying?

Descartes I don’t see how it is relevant but it seems I was wrong on that account.

Socrates Exactly, Rene. Now, if we are to believe you could be wrong regarding the simple matter of the pineal gland, might we suspect you could be wrong regarding more important matters?

Descartes Do you mean to question the reliability of ‘Cogito ergo sum’ Socrates? I’m afraid you’ll find my conclusion unassailable. It is exactly because I can make a conclusion that my conclusion about the mind is correct. If I am thinking, I must exist.

Socrates Unless you do not exist. If only I existed and you were my imagination but did not know you were my imagination, you would be incorrect. Don’t you agree?

Descartes (Getting irritated) You are playing with words, Socrates. Do you wish me to call you a Sophist? If only you existed, my argument would still be true for yourself. Without existence – my mind, your mind – would not be capable of experiencing thought. Therefore, the mind exists.

Socrates Let’s speak of your malicious demon then, the one you wrote of in Meditations. Are you saying it is plausible that this demon may deceive you in all matters except for the matter of being able to deceive you? Surely you mean this.

Descartes I do.

Socrates If I may, in postulating this demon, it appears to me you terribly underestimate this entity, for surely they may be the cleverest of time keepers.

Descartes I’m not sure I follow.

Socrates It is a fact, I’m sure you’ll agree, that all of your experiences – especially the fundamental experience of thoughts – can only take place because of time. Without the passing of time, you would not be able to formulate the thoughts that lead you to ‘Cogito ergo sum.’ Your conclusion is based on the culmination of perceptions, prior knowledge, memories, which you admit in Meditations can be manipulated with malicious intent.

Descartes It is the fact that you experience anything at all, whether one is fooled in the process or not, that indicates that I, as a thinking thing, exists. (Frustrated) Is that so difficult to understand?

Socrates Have you stopped to consider what would happen if this demon of yours ran time in a backwards fashion? Would that devilish trick cause you to unthink yourself, leading you away from your conclusion? What if this demon could stop time and begin it anew at their convenience? Your mind wouldn’t be aware that it had been stopped. In what sense then would your mind exist if it cannot think? How do you say, “I do not think, therefore I am not,” in French?

Descartes (Slowly) Yes, yes, I am beginning to understand why your countrymen sentenced you to death.

Socrates You have come to a certain conclusion by arbitrarily limiting the powers of your demon. But if you grant your demon the powers I suggest, then your conclusion about your mind – your self – is cast in doubt. I think it reasonable at this point to conclude that none of us really knows anything, least of all that we are thinking things.

Descartes (Rubbing his temples) Would you agree with my conclusion if only for the sake of practicality, Socrates? My conclusions are how the world appears, after all.

Socrates A perception that you know may be wrong, Rene. What practicality is there in that?

Descartes (Annoyed) If I didn’t know better, and I may not, I would say you are my Cartesian Demon. I’m going back to 1641 to give it some more thought. You can stay here in the future, Socrates, where I’m the father of modern philosophy, by the way. Oh, and here’s a pen. Write something down once in a while.

Socrates Oh, don’t be upset, Rene. Let’s share a drink before you go. Some hemlock, perchance? No? Well, give my regards to Galileo. (Turning around) Friedrich Nietzsche, is that you? I’ve heard so much about you…

 

All Rights Reserved © 2009 John J Vinacci

Moo-ed For A Day

Moo-ed For A Day

“I think it speaks, Betsy!” the blunt-horned space-cow mooed. The inter-dimensional space traveler turned its black-marbled eyes towards its colleague then back to the skinned ape shrinking in its cage.

“I thought it only uttered a sound when we prodded it with our electric sticks, Clarabelle,” Betsy replied. The elephant-sized bovine lowered her head towards the plump human in his cage. “Yes. It speaks primitive words but they are easily figured out. How curious.”

“It says something over and over again. Let’s take a closer listen,” Clarabelle petitioned. She leaned an orange-haired ear towards their captive.

“Is it…is it saying ‘You can’t eat me’?” Betsy looked to Clarabelle for confirmation.

“Why yes it is! Curiouser and curiouser. I know it’s taboo to abase ourselves by speaking such a primitive language, but I just have to ask it.” Clarabelle looked back at Betsy for some unspoken permission. Betsy grimaced out the side of her mouth then nodded.

Clarabelle’s hooves stepped towards the ape-thing’s cage. The animal was much smaller than herself and of course, very stupid, so she wasn’t afraid to approach it.

“Why do you speak, tall monkey? Why do you say we cannot eat you?” Clarabelle cocked her head.

“Because you can’t! I won’t taste good. I eat junk food. I don’t exercise. And it’d just be wrong. You see, I’m a human and I’m an intelligent animal. You can’t go around eating other intelligent animals,” it said. Clarabelle and Betsy laughed at that last bit. They laughed well.

“Betsy, did it just say it was an intelligent animal?” Betsy was still laughing so hard she couldn’t answer through her tears.

“Forgive us, hairless ape-something, but does your species travel between dimensions? Has your species ever been further than your moon? Your species hasn’t even reconciled quantum mechanics and gravity yet!” Clarabelle chuckled. “Why would we eat you anyway?”

“Oh. Oh, I thought this was some kind of revenge thing,” the self-described human answered timidly. “You know, we eat your kind so you show up from outer space and eat us to teach us a lesson.” Clarabelle and Betsy looked at each other, paused, then gasped.

“What do you mean ‘we eat your kind’? Are there others like us on this planet?” the elephantine bovine growled.

“We…we, uh, have animals on this planet that look a lot like you, ‘cept they’re smaller and they’re usually white and black, or brown. We call them ‘cows.’”

“And you eat them?” Clarabelle was incredulous. “WHY?”

“I…I don’t know,” the man said stepping back. “We’ve always eaten them, I guess. They taste good and…and we need the protein.” The man could back up no further.

Clarabelle squinted. “You said you do not exercise so what do you need the protein for?”

“I dunno,” the primitive hurried. “That’s what they tell us.”

“And who are ‘they’?” the space-cow wanted to know.

“I don’t know. The meat industry, I suppose.” The man wrung his fingers. “They’re a very powerful lobby!”

“Let me get this straight,” Betsy began as she too approached the cage. “You have animals on this planet that look like us and you eat them for pleasure and this is a regular thing?”

“And we eat them for the protein! Don’t forget the protein!” The human was close to sobbing.

Clarabelle brought a hoof to her head and squeezed her eyes shut. “Hold on, hold on. So…a minute ago you said you were afraid we were going to eat you? If we were going to eat you, what exactly would be wrong with that?”

“Like I said,” the man quivered, “We’re intelligent! It’s wrong for intelligent animals to eat each other.”

“Your species is far from intelligent, biped,” Betsy piped. “Your failure to account for the multitude of intelligences that exist among living things is confirmation of your breathtaking stupidity. Honestly now.” Betsy shook her head towards Clarabelle who looked like she was experiencing a migraine.

“Are you okay, Clarabelle?” she asked.

“I was just scanning the few neurons this thing has.” Clarabelle opened her eyes and stomped her hoof on the ground. “They call themselves ‘humans’ and they have a long history of, of, of harvesting other animals and slaughtering them for food, if you can believe that! And, sometimes they even kill each other but they don’t eat those people. So inefficient…”

The man had crept forward in his pen and with trepidation asked, “So you weren’t planning to eat me?”

“Well I think we will now,” Clarabelle snarled. “It seems you would qualify as Kobe meat to us? You’re your appearance indicates you will be very tender. You will melt in our mouths!”

“But intelligence…” the man drew back as Clarabelle bumped the cage with her nose.

“In scanning your memories, there is the headline you read about all the animals your scientists think are as intelligent as a four year old human. Do you raises four year old children of your kind for the purpose of eating them? No? Why not; you are more intelligent than they are. Using intelligence as a defense is not intelligent at all, it is completely arbitrary! But eating solely for pleasure, we hadn’t thought of doing that, probably because we are not stupid!” Clarabelle was rocking the cage with her horns now.

“Clarabelle, we mustn’t stoop to their low level,” Betsy protested in the human language. “Let this thing go like we always do. We had just caught it for fun, remember?”

“See! See, you guys like to have fun, too!” The man thought he had just secured victory.

Clarabelle grinned. “We do, human. But we do not kill other animals for the sake of that pleasure.”

“We just catch and release,” Betsy confirmed. “A small tase at first, sure, but no lasting harm done.”

The man threw himself at Clarabelle’s face and gripped the cage bars. “Oh thank god! That’s so kind of you. Yes, release me and I will tell my people to stop eating cows, that it’s not a smart thing to do.”

“The history of your kind, such as you know it, means you know your words will fall on deaf ears, human,” Clarabelle said. She looked back at Betsy. “You do realize that if we don’t punish this thing they will continue their ways. It seems they are not very good from learning from mistakes but they do change their behavior when their lives are at risk. On occasion, anyway.”

“We cannot kill other living things, Clara!” Betsy gulped.

“Nothing like that, Betsy, we are far above that. But we will get revenge for our distant cousins I think. You see, this monkey-brain also saw a headline about an insect whose bite causes humans to become allergic to meat. We’ll investigate this further. If such a thing exists, human,” Clarabelle snorted into the cage, “We are going to make sure you all get bitten by it.”

The man simply frowned. “Well that’s not fair.”

“The universe cares not, you bald ape!” Clarabelle declared. “If you don’t care about other living things, why should the universe care about you?”

“This isn’t fun anymore,” Betsy said. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Bets. We’ll leave this dumb thing here for his brethren to find. They won’t believe what he’s seen while we go find this insect.” Clarabelle turned and bumped the cage with her hind quarters. “GOT MILK?” she laughed.

The caged animal took a wallet out of his back pocket, slipped out a McDonald’s gift card and stared at it before weeping like a baby for hours.

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Once Beyond A Time

Once Beyond A Time

The experiment is a success. It is also a failure, Pari scribbled before the pencil broke. She’d moved it too fast, breaking it through sheer speed of movement. “And now I am alone,” she added in her raspy voice. She looked up and waited for the analog clock’s second hand to move. Pari abandoned the task; it’d be another ten minutes before the clock would move. She could try making another entry in her lab journal instead.

She picked up her third pencil, slowly as she could. She had to slow herself down, far below the crawl of a snail, or risk never writing anything ever again. Could it be done? The Indian scientist didn’t know but as a scientist had to see. After a quarter hour of painstakingly picking up the pencil and bringing it to paper, the woman began to etch I would not change what “I’ve attempted to do here,” she finished her thought verbally having left a burn mark on the paper.

Pari Bahl had been hired by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to create unique strains of crop that would grow at incredibly advanced rates thereby helping to feed the world. That was their pitch to her anyway. Dr. Bahl was wise to reality, though; she knew it was bullshit but the company’s resources would allow her conduct the work she wanted without raising any eyebrows. That is if you considered a physicist working for a pharmaceutical company normal to begin with.

Pari Bahl considered nothing normal after the incident. Five months into her Masters program she was assaulted by a colleague and summarily dismissed by police in her country who did little or nothing to stem a rape culture. Overpowered and overlooked, her research was going finally put women at a physical advantage, make them faster than any man alive. Pari was going to make men inferior.

“I knew I was going to end up alone as a result of this,” she spoke into a microphone. She’d managed to dictate the note to a laptop without breaking it but knew that unless someone had the good sense to dramatically slow down the recording, her voice would appear as a high pitched blip among persistent white noise. Most of her co-workers were men; they’d never figure it out.

“I knew I’d end up alone as a result of my work. I know many of my countrywomen – and maybe many women around the world – would defend the old ways if I’d succeeded here. And I know no man would understand once holding the high ground then having their physical advantage torn from their bosom.” She chuckled at her choice of words before falling silent for a few moments. It was the most remotely funny thing she’d said in a long time.

Though she’d never done a scientific survey, Pari was sure there would still be scores of women who’d sign up for her program, to become the heralds of the future. But they were beyond her reach now. Dr. Bahl couldn’t work her instruments with any precision, unable to so much as punch a button without it taking a virtual eternity or smashing it and nearly breaking a finger in the process. (The fingers of her right hand were crumpled in black-and-blue pain. It had taken her several attempts before it dawned on her what had happened after her space-time dilator fired early, before she had time to clear the testing range.)

“I am in the future and they are in the past,” she spoke to someone maybe a millennia from the present. “They are all behind me,” Pari explained as she noticed the clock’s second hand move a third time in the last half-hour.

“This is not the power I wanted to wield. It’s uncontrolled. I’m moving too fast. If I were to kiss my own mother’s hand, I would break it. It might even kill her. Killing is not my intent. I just wanted to put men where they have put women for thousands of years.” Pari looked up at the clock again, drew a light breath that rustled some papers, and reflected. “Maybe that is the same as death?” she wondered.

The scientist watched the clock, waiting for the second hand to move again. It seemed to be taking more time than usual. She was sure it was. It had to be at least another half hour now of listening to her own breath, just waiting, just waiting with nothing but nothing to fill the void.

The tick of the clock startled her from her meditation on time. Maybe the rest of the world had slowed down and I have not sped up? she questioned herself. It didn’t matter, she concluded; the result was the same. She was in the company of photons now, imperceptible unless she interacts with matter. She could make her presence known but she’d either die in the process or be considered a ghost, a poltergeist they might say in German. Again, death or a ghost; same difference.

Dr. Bahl sat down in her lab chair, still as could be, long as could be. Maybe she could sit still long enough for her image to be seen by the world she rushed by. But as her local time accelerated, she withered to dust on an air conditioned breeze, too far into the future to be considered by a world perpetually sitting still.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

Blammo and The Abandoned City

Blammo and The Abandoned City

Blammo took a big gulp as he stopped outside the towering ivory gate doors chiseled with the reliefs of legends. To one side, Hobbes, Calvin’s erstwhile stuffed tiger and faithful companion. The other gate was carved with the likeness of that spectral troublemaker from Family Circus, Not Me. Hobbes and Not Me were depicted as reaching towards each other, seeking to embrace the only thing they had left after being forgotten in the wake of time. Welcome to The Abandoned City.

The Abandoned City was the last refuge of imaginary friends and there were two things you could do here – one could rent an apartment and watch reruns of their adventures until they faded away, totally forgotten, never to be recollected. Or, one could choose the path of their human counterparts and grow up, whatever that meant. Blammo didn’t care much for option number one; he was literally conceived as an action hero. So it would have to be option two. Blammo just had to open the gate.

He figured he could blast the doors open with the mega-explosion pistol that was faithfully strapped to his thigh. Then again, growing up probably meant you didn’t do those kinds of things anymore. Blammo only figured this because of the dwindling adventures Jimmy took him on and so took his palm off the pistol’s grip. After all, it’s not like he couldn’t unholster the pistol faster than any other imaginary friend there ever was should the need arise. Whatever lay on the other side of this entrance, Blammo could handle it. He parted the gate doors with his entirely fictional calloused hands.

“Welcome to The Abandoned City! I’m Patrick,” a pint-sized pink elephant announced. “We’ve been expecting you. Here are your supplies.” The short-statured pachyderm shoved a pencil case and a Spiderman lunchbox into Blammo’s arms and spun him towards the right with its trunk. “Just up ahead is school. Hurry along now.”

“School?” Blammo questioned. “There’s where Jimmy started going. That’s when he started to forget me. But I don’t understand what school is. What is ‘school’?”

“School is where you go to learn things,” Patrick informed.

“I thought that’s what the internet was for,” Blammo returned.

“Honestly now,” Patrick bristled, “And what will you know if the wifi is down and you’ve used up all your data for the month? We all go to school just in case there’s something Siri or Alexa can’t answer for you. It’s also where you can make real friends, well, real imaginary friends in our case.” The little pink elephant pushed Blammo along with its stubby foot.

And so Blammo went off to school, learning how to add and subtract which seemed rather useless considering his mega-explosion pistol held an infinite number of bullets. But the more he learned, the more he forgot about his pistol. He began to forget about Jimmy, too.

Throughout these formative school years, Blammo naturally excelled at gym class. His agility and endurance were astounding; running, leaping, tucking, and tumbling better than anyone. Of course, his aim was impeccable and this catapulted him to captain of the basketball team by junior high. His prowess even made the prim-and-proper Little Miss Teacup swoon.

After a brief courtship – drunken sex in which they took each other’s virginity – Blammo dumped Little Miss Teacup in favor of Penny Punchbowl. She didn’t last long any longer. Bianca, Lar’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Flutter Nutter also fell in quick succession. Sometime Blammo would feel bad that he used all these young ladies but it seemed his behavior was expected of him. While on occasion it felt like some vague kind of oppression that athletes should behave as rogues, nerds had to dress as if their mothers had chosen their clothes for them in the dark while hipsters were required to wear the latest trends, oh, and don’t forget that stoners had to act slow and forgetful, Blammo avoided trying to make sense of the whole ‘growing up’ thing by drinking cheap beer and belching as loud as he could. It was what the athletes did.

Eventually, the high school championship game came. It was the biggest basketball game of the year, always between the same two teams seeing how there were only two in the entire league – The Abandoned City Rollers and the Island of Forgotten Toys Tigers. In a freak accident – some claim Wendy the Good Witch had put a hex on him – Blammo caught his ankle around Charlie in the Box’s neck during a routine lay-up, breaking his shin bone in five places. He was never going to play basketball again. He’d never be as fast or nimble as before. The former adventurer still had great aim, though, but it wasn’t enough to get him a scholarship for college much less into the pros. Athletics behind him, Blammo was going to have to start taking knowing things seriously.

And so one day Blammo was in his Philosophy of Harry Potter class, not listening, staring out the window at an old tree. Remember the days he’d climb and swing from the long branches of trees like that! Over hot lava and pits of dragons, ready to fight his way out of being surrounded by toothy, tentacled aliens toting laser guns. Ah, that was so long ago. But it was so much fun! Hmph! Then Blammo had chosen to grow up when he could’ve just faded away like the smarter imaginary friends. Figures; Blammo had never been good at making choices. He was good with his mega-explosion pistol, though. Maybe. It’d been a long time since he’d pulled that trigger.

“Blammo! Are you paying attention?” Mrs. Otterpants bleated from the head of the classroom.

Blammo recoiled at the sound of his name, his palm releasing the grip on his mega-explosion pistol much like on the day he entered The Abandoned City. His shoulders went slack and his eyes drooped as Mrs. Otterpants suggested – in no uncertain terms – that he visit his academic counselor. Right now. Like, right. Now.

Patrick, the Pink Elephant, sat Blammo down at his desk. “Haven’t seen you in some time, Blammo. You were doing so well. With the basketball, I mean. I think you could have gone pro. Anyway, Mrs. Otterpants called down to say you’ve been inattentive lately. Is there anything I can help you with?” Patrick shoveled some peanuts into his mouth with the end of his trunk and munched loudly.

Blammo cast his eyes down, ashamed to say what he’d been feeling. “I miss shooting my pistol.”

Patrick leaned back. Ground up peanuts fell out of his mouth as his jaw dropped. “Well, you just can’t do that anymore. You’re growing up. And grown-ups don’t go on adventures. They don’t go off shooting their pistols anytime they want. Now I’m sorry about your ankle; that little dream is dead. But now you’re going to finish college, go out into the real world, get a job that pays you short of what you’re worth, spend entirely too much time working that job, and put money away for retirement instead of taking too much time off of work so that you don’t hate work.”

Blammo looked up with squinted eyes. “What’s retirement?”

Patrick leaned forward and put the flats of his feet together. “Oh, retirement is when you’ve grown old and don’t have to work anymore because as we age we get slow and crotchety. Understandably, younger people, younger workers, don’t like to be around senior citizens. The good news is that when you retire you get to do all the things you wanted to do when you were younger but didn’t have time to because you were working.”

Blammo head went full askew. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the things you really want when you’re younger? I’ve already lost a step after breaking my ankle; wouldn’t I be even slower when I’m old?” the young man questioned. “How am I going to jump clear of a lava pit when I’m 65?”

“Uh,” the pink elephant stammered, “I don’t think you understand. There are no more lava pits. No more dragons. No more villainous aliens. Those things don’t exist for us anymore. That was all imaginary. We’ve grown up.”

“I think growing up sucks!” Blammo erupted. He snapped to attention, his palm fastening around his mega-explosion pistol. He kept the pistol holstered but his whole arm was shaking. Patrick didn’t seem too concerned.

“Oh, growing up isn’t so bad. Why, after you get your job, you’ll marry someone you’ll love for seven to ten years, then rediscover the thrill of love with your neighbor’s wife. Then the day will come you’re really excited by that new car smell after you wreck whatever lease you’ve been driving for five years. Eventually, you’ll savor nights alone by yourself, with nothing to keep you company but your taxes until it’s time to go back to work the next day. It’s just what’s expected of you,” Patrick shrugged. It was only when he stopped blabbering that the rosy pachyderm noticed Blammo’s pistol to his head.

“I would advise you not to pull that trigger, Blammo,” Patrick offered with the barest hint of concern. The trigger clicked anyway. The hammer fell. No explosion. Not even a whimper out of the pistol’s barrel. Blammo brought the pistol towards his face, confused.

“Your imagination is dead, impotent if you will, Blammo. See, it’s one of those use-it-or-lose-it kind of things. Very common, happens to everyone. Nothing to be ashamed of.” The academic adviser whom everyone sees eventually in an attempt to ignore reality held out the flat of his foot. “The pistol, if you’d be so kind.”

All the blood had left Blammo’s face. Stunned, he ever so slowly placed his mega-explosion pistol in Patrick’s care. It was expected of him. Blammo shuffled from side to side as he turned around to face the exit, his eyes coal dead.

“That’s it, be a fine young man and get back to class,” Patrick coaxed. “Pay attention now. You need to know things. Chin up! It’s the first day of the rest of your life.” The student almost out the door, the diminutive flush-fleshed mammal placed Blammo’s pistol in his desk drawer.

Two decades later, Blammo was sitting in his recliner, flipping television channels in the late evening. (That’s what was expected of you when you had insomnia.) On the 126th channel, Blammo stumbled across a cartoon called Puff, the Magic Dragon. “Stupid,” Blammo muttered. “Dragons aren’t real and if they were they’d be dangerous,” he illuminated the threadbare walls. Of course dragons aren’t real; that’s what grownups expect. And Blammo was a grownup. He turned off the television. He’d already turned off his mind.

Eventually, Blammo began to nod off. The usual dreams – deadlines at work, his wife screaming at him for another stupid mistake – made him flit and jerk as he slipped off into deep sleep. Then…

A CRY FOR HELP! Was it some new nightmare,? The voice, it sounded familiar, long ago, but familiar. The cry for help came again. No. No, no, no. This was not his imagination. Blammo had heard that cry before, in some distant memory. It sounded like…like…my god, what was his name?

Jimmy! His name was Jimmy. And he was in trouble.

Blammo didn’t bother opening the front door. He exploded through it, no pistol required, to bring hope back into the dark of night.

 

All rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

The Phone Game

The Phone Game

“You could always choose a younger version of yourself,” the wiry NextUs salesman said flipping his hand as he turned away and smiled at another customer entering the store. “That’s more expensive, of course, and it’ll take a week for us to clone you.”

“But the gala is tonight!” Misha pouted. She pressed her face into her boyfriend’s chiseled, muscular chest.

“You’re making this way harder than it has to be,” her boyfriend, Brock, soothed. “You just need to make a choice. Or, we can do like I suggested and you can be me and I can be you. Everyone does the gender swap sooner or later.”

“Ugh!” Misha stomped and turned away. She folded her arms. “I don’t want to be a guy! Guys aren’t pretty. Girls are pretty. I like being a girl; it’s a reflection of who I am inside.”

Misha walked herself towards the nearest gleaming white pod, an almond-skinned Asian teenager motionless before her. 5,000 credits, the sign read. It was a little more than she was hoping to spend. She didn’t want to be impulsive; it would take a while to save another 5,000 credits. But, like she said, the gala is tonight.

“Dammit,” she cursed under her breath. “Asians age really well, right? I can probably live with this model for a few years until I have enough money to buy the next one.”

“Yeah, that’s a good one,” Brock seconded, eying the model a little too long.

“Oh, so this half-black, half-white girl doesn’t turn you on anymore?” Misha snapped her tongue at the young man. Before her boyfriend could stutter his half-witted response, Misha broke a smile. “I’m kidding,” she laid a hand on his arm. “You think I had you choose the model you’re in now because the original you was so hot?”

Brock raised his eyebrows. “You want me to stick with this model for a while?” The muscle-head would be relieved. This body was very fit and he’d rather spend his credits on enjoying extreme sports.

“Actually, yeah, I still like it. And it makes other girls jealous,” Misha answered. This was due in part to how many credits Brock had spent on the model.

Misha returned her attention to the warm but lifeless model before her. The self-styled princess’ light chocolate fingertips glided along the Asian model’s arm. The arm was silky smooth.

“I wonder where they found her,” Misha spoke softly.

Brock moved to cover her mouth but thought the better of it and placed his hand on her shoulder. He spoke low. “You’ve heard the rumors. They were probably rounded up in the slums. But we don’t talk about it, Mish. You want this technology to stay cheap? Then don’t say stuff like that.”

“Fine,” Misha drew out. “Oh, Mister Salesman, over here. I think I’m going to go with this one.”

The effeminate gentleman returned and looked over the Asian model. “That is indeed a fine choice, Miss.” The salesman waved a hand and the display pod went from white to green. He pointed a finger to a cashier station at the back of the store. “Go see Javier at the desk, pay for your model and he’ll que you for the transfer.”

Misha spun towards Brock and gripped both hands around his bulging bicep. “Oo, my first swap! This is so exciting. Everyone is going to love the new me tonight.”

“Alright, Miss Milian, nothing to be scared of. Just gently lean back, take nice even breaths while we attach the headset…In just a moment we’ll begin transferring your consciousness.” Javier’s smile was warm and inviting, just the thing Misha needed before slipping into her new dress.

It was a fairly expensive dress to begin with, but the technician hadn’t double-checked the credit amount the young lady had been approved for. He’d accidently added two zeroes not so much in haste, but as one of those mistakes routine sometimes slips by us. Thing was, NextUs didn’t even have a 500,000 model.

With the headset in place, the white-clothed technician reached over to lift a clear plate of glass from a red button. A spark popped between Javier’s finger and the master control just before he pressed down. “And here you go, Miss.”

Brock was looking over the tech’s shoulder and waiting for the old Misha to open her eyes. They would be opaque and lifeless, the sign that her consciousness had left her original body. But her eyes didn’t open right away like they should have. Instead, Brock and Javier turned to each other as seconds ticked away. What was taking so long? The process was supposed to be near instantaneous.

Phones rang and vibrated in everyone’s pockets across the sales floor. Those who got to their phones fast enough before the ringing stopped barely managed to glimpse of an unknown caller ID. Brock and Javier whipped their heads around when the model Misha selected cried out in pain. Brock ran to his girlfriend’s side as she fell forward. His strong arms righted his paramour.

“Misha, you okay? We thought the transfer stalled or something.” Brock searched new Misha’s eyes for cognition.

“Hole. E. Shit,” Misha said as she lifted a hand to her head. “I’m here. I’m here. Little bit of a headache, though. That’s normal, right?”

“Ah, sure, Miss Milian. Probably dehydration from the excitement. I’ll fetch you a glass of water.” Javier scurried off into a back room shaking his head and talking to himself with the minor concern.

“No, I’ll be fine,” Misha stammered. “I just want to go get ready for the gala,” she finished before the technician could return.

“Misha, dahling, I love the new look!” an African woman with a long, gold-ringed neck chimed as they stood in the mansion’s enormous foyer.

Misha was momentarily confused. Was Diana referring to her new body or the shimmering silver dress? She looked at Brock standing beside her then back at Diana. Then it hit her.

The young Asian woman tilted her head. “Funny, Diana, that’s the first nice thing you’ve ever said about me. Except it’s not nice, is it? Why, I think it was just last night you confessed in your private video diary that you thought I was a cheap little girl trying to act like I had money and that you’d never accept me as an equal, that you let me come to your fancy parties to inflate your friend count. Sad, that last bit.”

Diana’s mouth dropped open but no words came out for a few moments. “How did you get access to my video diary?” The words spilled out of the hostess’ mouth like blood. It would have run her gown red had it not already been. Misha pushed passed the woman while Brock traded wide eyes with Diana.

Another woman approached Misha, a stunningly symmetrical face bordered by literally golden hair. “Misha! I saw your selfie on MyBook as you left NextUs. You have impeccable tas…”

“Oh, shut up, Coraline,” Misha rolled her eyes as she started up the winding, flower-patterned staircase. “You’re still using Siri to make your fashion choices for you. I didn’t even know anyone used Apple anymore.”

Brock fought to catch up with his girlfriend while putting out her pyrotechnics, finally catching her by the arm at the top of the staircase. “What the heck has gotten into you all of a sudden?” he growled gently, his eyes darting back and forth.

Misha used the strength of her new body to tug her arm free of her paramour’s grip. Her face scrunched up and thrust itself at him. “Would you please lay off the animal porn. You’re looking at it on your phone…almost non-stop for shit’s sake.” Brock’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He used an encrypted browser for that.

“I don’t even know what that’s about,” Misha continued. “I guess it’s better than looking a regular porn, or is it? I have no fucking idea.”

A slender pale-white gentleman in a tuxedo approached with arms wide open, undeterred by Brock’s silent insistence he come no closer.

“How is one of Georgiatown’s happiest couples these days?” he beamed.

“For the love of God, Chavo, would you just come out already? You’re in those chat rooms every day. Is it the NSA you’re worried about, think you’re going to lose your job because you’re gay? Trust me, they already know. They don’t care. I do find it interesting you’re a spy, though.” Misha’s head spun like a chain-gun, looking for another victim.

Brock was shocked by what was coming out of his young lover’s mouth, too scared to do anything about Chavo giving Misha a good shove over the balustrade. Her head hit the marble floor first and broke her neck, killing her instantly. Chavo swept his head across the foyer and noted the few who had the presence of mind to video the whole thing on their phone.

“No one saw anything, right?” Chavo said flippantly. “She just…fell over the railing here. Poor thing must have had too much to drink,” he finished with a sneer.

A dozen people swiped over to their photo bucket and hit delete. The gala was momentarily silent as everyone checked their phone’s history.

 

All Rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

Interview with a Novelist

Interview with a Novelist

Why did you write Alpha vs. Omega?

Because I was getting bored with superhero stories. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan, but I’ve reached the point of saturation. For one thing, the main comic book companies – Marvel and DC – have cheapened the relevance of their characters by invoking what I call ‘the multiple universes clause.’ They’ve created multiple versions of their superheroes and villains so they can tell ‘new’ stories when they’ve exhausted a character’s possibilities instead of taking things to their logical conclusion. Frankly, I think this is lazy storytelling and has cheapened the importance and uniqueness of each character. ‘The multiple universes clause’ also has the effect of lessening the gravity of what might otherwise be some dire situation. With these particular criticisms in mind, I wanted to make sure that the superhero universe I created was an entity unto itself to the point of inserting a crucial plot point to make sure that stays the case and that there’s no going back and changing it. I also wanted to address something else I am weary of in superhero stories – which is occasionally tied to ‘the multiple universes clause’ – the constant retelling of a hero’s origin. I don’t find a hero’s origin all that central to their character, though there are some notable exceptions (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman). Again, it’s lazy writing. In Alpha vs. Omega, I purposefully gave just about everyone the same origin, if not outright then metaphorically (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). Originally, Alpha vs. Omega was meant to satirize the comic book genre and its tropes, but as I wrote I found there were some things that just have to be said if given a world of people with actual super human powers; the way people use and abuse power, for example. Superheroes and villains also provide us with the perfect backdrop in which to say a few things about religion. Unfortunately but understandably, the Big Two comic companies generally avoid the topic.

What was most difficult about writing this book?

I’ve never undertaken anything of this magnitude before. Alpha vs. Omega is epic in scope and with that meant trying to keep the timeline of events straight (in a book in which the timing of events is relevant to the plot) while trying to avoid plot holes. There was a lot of scribbled notes, a lot of back and forth to make sure things remained as consistent as possible. Trying to find the time to write was difficult as well; a little bit here, a little bit there, over the course of almost four years. Trying to be a writer while working full time and maintaining a home life isn’t easy. Now I know why so many writers are characterized as alcoholics. I completely understand that now.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Probably Thiha, who is generally characterized as the antagonist, though he may be the protagonist depending upon your point of view. I think he’s one of best character’s I’ve ever created; he’s got a quick wit and is almost always cheerful regardless of the situation, not to mention his background. And, despite possessing nearly god-like powers he makes a lot of mistakes which I think speaks to the foibles of being human no matter how much power you possess. I’m also very fond of The Mega Dudes as one of the central super hero groups. They’ve been bouncing around in my head as characters for about 30 years now, as they’re based upon myself and some high school friends. One of The Mega Dudes, Brawl Boy, is based upon my old friend Paul, who was plagued with brain cancer in his youth and pancreatic cancer as an adult. (Paul passed away from the latter disease on January 3, 2018).) The Mega Dudes represent to me what people what super powers should be doing on a regular basis – providing aid in emergency situations. So I was very happy to finally breathe some life into what were formally some very poorly drawn superheroes. Interestingly, the Four Dragons that also appear in the story – they’re the Chinese super hero group – were The Mega Dudes’ arch enemies in those old comics I drew. And just like in those stories, they square off here as well. I guess I’m a little nostalgic.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

I find the scene in which one the super hero teams – the UNRT – sits down to dinner with their alien ‘guest’ very amusing. The alien finds human ways very primitive of course and even makes fun of their food choice. The scene is meant to be a little strange, a little out-of-place as you have these people that can do fantastic things just sitting around talking, though the conversation does take a serious turn. I didn’t realize it when I wrote the chapter, but my scene is vaguely similar to the post-credit scene of Marvel’s The Avengers in which the team is sitting around quietly eating shawarma after winning an apocalyptic battle.

What are you working on next?

I will most likely put together an anthology of my short stories and poetry before I undertake my next novel, IF I undertake another novel. I love time travel stories and with that I’d like to tackle another very old idea of mine of a time warrior who traverses space and time in a bid to stop his older, renegade self from doing something catastrophic. Given how difficult Alpha vs. Omega was near the end – I wanted to finish it so badly but tried not to rush it – I’m not sure I want to write another novel.

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci