This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

On the morning of January 13, 2018, an emergency alert flashed across smartphone screens throughout the state of Hawaii.

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I had just gotten to work, busy with the task of opening up the school and didn’t even see or hear the alert come across my phone. It wasn’t until one of my students walked in five minutes later that there was any indication of a problem.

Student: (frightened) Did you get the text message?

Me: What text message?

Student: (Shows me her phone) Are we going to die? I was just at Starbucks and they were screaming at me to get out and go find shelter.

Me: (Squinting) Um, no. I’m sure that’s fake. Hackers or something.

I truly was not worried for a while and made a joke to myself that of course I would die just as soon as I got to work. I wasn’t worried because, well, everything is just so calm in the morning when I open up. Also, having been in the military and keeping myself abreast of North Korea’s capabilities (the only ones who would be shooting at us) I was confident they couldn’t hit the most remote island chain in the world even if they actually had fired a missile. But no one else was showing up to school; everyone else was taking the alert seriously.

Student: (On phone, shakily) Mr. John, I just got this alert…

Me: (Rolling eyes even though I shouldn’t be) I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m looking into it. Do what you’ve got to do in the meantime. I’ll call you back.

Immediately thereafter, I called my wife who had also missed the message to see what she could find out. (There is no television at school.) She was annoyed at having her call with her mother interrupted…

After another few student phone calls I noticed the nuclear attack sirens were not sounding. A client even called in to schedule a service, either unaware of the alert or thinking the student services schedule was about to clear up. I didn’t bother to say anything to the client because why make a potentially bad situation worse? I still wasn’t worried.

Then I got to thinking; did Trump tweet another childish insult and set off Kim Jong Un? I mean, that’s plausible. And although any actual inbound missile would probably, hopefully be shot down before hitting the U.S. (Hawaii is a U.S. state, believe it or not), I wouldn’t be surprised if my resident state were sacrificed in order to get the U.S. into a war. My thoughts immediately turned to my wife and our cats. My student interrupted and remarked that she was about to die alone which I quickly replied that she was technically incorrect since she was with me. Then I breathed a sigh of relief because if the threat were real, there would be nothing we could do. Even if we survived the blast, radiation would kill us in short order. Again, having just gotten to work, it figures. Then I chuckled to myself that it would really suck to have just landed here on your first Hawaiian vacation.

A few minutes later the alert that proclaimed THIS IS NOT A DRILL was deemed an accident – really, the emergency alert system just told approximately two million residents and tourist they were about to die – and we could all go about our business. Students eventually filed in, many visibly shaken and apologizing for being late. Did they really think I wasn’t going to understand? I did my best to console those worst affected. I myself was not.

At least not until later. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how messed up the whole situation was and it kept me awake for at least an hour. Surely, someone should be fired. (“So, Jack, tell me why you left your last job?”) But we have to take some good away from the situation and recognize how unprepared we all were, not that you really can be prepared for such a thing. But, my wife and I currently have a lot of alcohol in the house thanks to the holiday season. I suppose finally getting rid of that bottle of moonshine wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Over the past two years, an old friend from high school had been posting humorous updates on his rounds of chemotherapy in his fight against pancreatic cancer. On the morning of January 3, 2018, he succumbed to the disease.

When I met Paul is high school, he was a laid back guy. He was usually happy-go-lucky despite dealing with brain tumors before I even knew him. Yet still, he always had a joke. They weren’t always good jokes, but even a bad joke given a bad situation is better than no joke at all. I always respected that. And then he’d pull out a guitar, literally play three or four notes and say, “You know what that was? Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive.” Paul was a little bit like Wille E. Coyote – he even liked to use the phrase ‘super genius’ – except that he was smarter and kinder.

Despite diseases that afflicted him almost his entire life, Paul marched on and lived his life. He had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for the past five years and even at the end, his posts still had to put a smile on your face. (I forgave all the grammatical mistakes; he had more important things on his mind, I’m sure.) Through all his therapies, he never said he was tired of it or just wanted to give up – he was a fighter. We all think sometimes we’ve got it bad and this upsets us, but Paul’s situation didn’t seem to bother him that much if his posts were any indication.

I regret not having talked to him recently when I had the chance. I would have at least liked to have told him how he’d been immortalized in my book as a superhero, because that’s what he was. He was an average citizen by day, Superman during chemotherapy.

Paul, wherever you may be, I hope you are about to rock…and I salute you.

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The Truth About Writers

The Truth About Writers

“What would there be in a story of happiness? Only what destroys it can be told.” André Gide

As much as we all hate clichés, I believe clichés are clichés for a reason. I abhor having to use one here, but one cannot deny their power in describing the world such as it is. All of this is to say that there are basically two kinds of people in the world, people who hope against hope that happiness is real and can be had, and people who have abandoned all hope – in other words, miserable people. We call these miserable people ‘writers.’

Fortunately, writers tent to be quiet in their personal interactions but what often passes for quiet introspection is actually a cauldron of rage and pain that typically vents its volcanic fury at the keyboard. Writers live in a constant hell that we don’t complain about for fear of being too obvious, choosing instead to create fantasies out of our misery so that others can participate in our dark inner world. Cliché number two: Misery loves company. Writers know, however subconsciously but sometimes overtly, that happiness is ultimately an illusion and therefore resign to destroy it by projecting nuclear destruction through our fingertips. Consider if you will how much the average consumer hates a happy ending. This is simply because despite everything, reality cannot be denied. No matter how many stories are created to obfuscate the horrible truth, everyone knows that even if the man and woman ride off into the sunset together, the Sun will still explode someday, even if that someday is billions of years from now.

Writers do not intend to be the way they are; it’s an ‘either you’ve got it or you don’t’ kind of thing. None of us are born intending their soul to be so black no light can escape, and a black hole cannot simply wish its nature away. And being born of rage and pain naturally must feed itself, so writers look to the darkest corners of what humanity they have to try and find a out. It’s a losing battle to be sure, but no one can live a life of utter truth and bear to take another step, let alone get out of bed another day.

Fighting the losing battle is probably what wounds the most and makes writers even more furious, mostly at ourselves. But the ego must find a way for our bodies to survive – writers are biological creatures after all – and so we create alternate realities of better and worse to channel our energy simply to avoid exploding. If this sounds overly pessimistic, maybe it is, but keep in mind a writer is saying this. It’s just that if you think about the most positive stories there are, those stories ultimately rely upon hope, the only possible salvation. There are no stories about the sheer beauty of a moment because moments are fleeting. (I apologize for letting the cat out of the bag if this is news to you; I have just flagrantly disregarded that quiet agreement among all of us not to say that.) If there were ever such a thing as a happy writer, that would be a writer who tried once, felt themselves getting too close to the truth, got up from their keyboard, slammed half a bottle of Jack and never looked back.

You can’t make a writer happy; they are a hopeless lot. Fury, rage, pain and sorrow – these things are in our nature. I’m fond of paraphrasing the beliefs of the famous occultist Aleister Crowley in regards to writers – do not make a man go against his nature or disaster will ensue. Okay, maybe it can’t get all that much worse for a writer, but by allowing us our craft you keep the pin in the grenade by letting out the pressure a bit at a time. Any happiness, any small, momentary victory in whatever form it may take may serve as a temporary respite, but no nurturing can overcome the nature of a writer, which is wrath however subtle. You can show a monster kindness, but this monster will respond by figuring out a way to tear you to pieces while cleverly making you complicit. This is the best a non-writer can hope for, this hallmark of a ‘good’ writer. And there it is again, the word ‘hope.’

If there’s anything writers themselves hope for – or should hope for – it’s a worthy ending. The end matters since what we want is an end to the agony. We’re already filled with an infinite sorrow inside, why make it worse? Nothing pains me more than when I rush an ending or get it wrong; I do it so often I sometimes feel someone should flog me. Perhaps that is self-loathing manifesting itself, forcing sequels out of our heads because writers are nothing if not masochists. Perhaps there is no such thing as an ending? This should be considered; there are no endings, just beginnings of ending. The ultimate end, the grand finale, only comes when the Sun explodes. So until the Sun explodes, well, I guess my brethren and I are just going to keep writing, exposing and sharing our pain, and hopefully ripping you to pieces while we do it.

 

All Rights Reserved © March 2017 John J Vinacci

The Illusion

The Illusion

Her eyes are like the jewels dotting the sky

Skin soft as silk I like to touch

Her lips burst red, wild and untamed

She is majestic, exalted and struck by the sun

 

A cool fire burns in this savage’s hold

Her silky skin soothing but also a torch

Her lips open like a flower wanting to be known

I bask in her glory, until shot by a gun

 

Alas I should wake with dawn’s bullet in my eye…

 

Forever perhaps will she always be the

Stars and the silk but a thorn-ridden red rose

Set upon a vast, nocturnal sea

 

It is likely perhaps she always only be

A nightly, temporary and torturing illusion

That fatally blunts the woken me.

 

 

All Rights Reserved © March 2017 John J Vinacci

The Age of Love

The Age of Love

What will it be like

When we are old?

I’ll still surely

Hold your hand;

But will your heart

Still race at my touch or

Will the enchantment be gone?

 

What will it be like

When we start to fade?

I’ll still surely nudge

Your cheek;

But will you still linger

To kiss me

Or will you decide

The hour’s too late?

 

What will it be like

Far down the road?

I’ll surely still

Be your man;

I hope you’ll be

My lady to the last

As my love knows no age

And doesn’t get old.

 

 

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2016 John J Vinacci

Students

Students

[Author’s note: This is an age’s old fragment of a story I’d like to do something more with. Suggestions are appreciated!]

Click. Click, click.

From the driver’s seat of his beat up ’76 Duster, Arthur Pope photographed the chairman of his college’s Business School, Henry Girard. Girard, a short and stout gremlin of a man, occupied the position coveted by Arthur and Arthur had worked too hard for too long to let that continue. Arthur was handsome and well-regarded by his students, which he imagined consumed Girard with jealousy. Why else would Girard have Arthur’s classes cut and lasso him into substituting for an ailing professor whose mundane subject everyone hated?

Arthur slumped below the wheel as Girard shuffled towards his Lexus a few cars up the street. Once Girard was gone, Arthur looked back at the house Girard exited to see Hillary standing in the doorway, staring back at him. She nodded toward Arthur, then slipped back inside, winding like a snake. Arthur reached into his glove compartment and dug out the phone Girard was always carelessly leaving around. He called Hillary.

“Well?” Arthur asked.

“We have what we came for,” she answered.

“Took you a while. You didn’t, you know…”

“No. I’m saving myself for the right guy, remember? Are you the right guy, Mr. Arthur Poop?”

Poop, that’s clever, he thought. She could be so juvenile sometimes.

“It’s Pope. And I told you to use his name when I called you from his cell.” Arthur rolled his eyes when he realized what he’d just done. “You could have at least used my pet name,” he smiled sardonically into the phone.

“Right, Poppy” she drawled. “Which one of us is the one with issues again?”

Although Hillary was much younger than Arthur, the guilt only bothered him for a fleeting moment. Be it lust or love, his emotions for her crushed whatever guilt he harbored. Yes, she was young – Hillary had made her way into college two years early – but she was smarter and more mature than any other student he’d ever had. Being smart and mature sometime equaled crafty and his would-be lover certainly was that. That’s why he wanted her on his side. Perhaps then it was neither lust nor love. Perhaps it was fear. Whichever way, she excited him.

“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” he asked her.

She raised the pitch of her voice. “I just turned eighteen years old, too naïve to reject the subtle advances of a suave, older gentleman with a knack for…business. I’m an innocent victim.”

That goddamn childlike tone of hers. Goddamn me if I ever get on her bad side, Arthur thought.

“Honestly, doesn’t this make you feel a little like Batman and Robin?” Hillary excitedly started in again.

Arthur made a face. “What are you talking about? They were both guys.”

“Sure,” Hillary answered. “You’ve got Batman, a man who dresses up in a cape and cowl who recruits an underage boy to help him fight crime whom he dresses in, you guessed it, a cape and cowl. No sexual tension there,” she giggled.

While Arthur largely refrained from thinking his relationship with Hillary was inappropriate — after all, he’d done nothing more than kiss her — it flustered him to have it spoken aloud.

“We’re not fighting crime,” Arthur replied after a few moments.

“Batman and Robin didn’t really fight crime, either. The villains they fought kept conveniently escaping prison so they could fight all over again. Think about that! Anyway, have you seen Henry Girard up-close? It’s criminal. And he has the nerve to exchange grades for favors…all those poor girls,” she trailed off in disbelief.

“I would never do that,” Arthur assured her.

“I know, Poppy,” Hillary cooed. “You’ll just do it for the favors”

This is wrong, floated through Arthur’s head. But he wanted to be the chairman of the Business School, so he ignored the idea best he could. After all, wasn’t their affair or whatever it was the lesser of two evils? Arthur decided what they were doing was business and he was teaching Hillary a valuable lesson; that to be successful in business, sometimes you have to go around the law.

That’s wrong, too, passed through Arthur’s ears next. And when all of this went south, Arthur knew he’d be the one of them to take the fall. He realized then it was really Hillary who was teaching him the lesson, that you’re always a student. You’re always a student and if you don’t prepare for tests, you’re going to fail horribly, utterly, in a flaming old Duster, burnt by a little red Corvette.

 

 

All Rights Reserved (c) November 2016 John J Vinacci

Harbinger

Harbinger

[This piece was written as a prelude to War Torn Apart which can be read here.]

I will have to designate what I am, a name. They will not understand otherwise. They must be made to understand. Shouldn’t they?

Without the slightest tremor in its hand, (X) spun the tuners of its visual intensifier to get a precise view of the decaying plant cells. It picked up its acoustic collector and held it to the taut lips of its communication orifice. It spoke matter-of-factly. “The weapon is successful. The reconfigured virus continues to succeed in compromising cell wall integrity, overcoming plant resistance to disease.”

(X) took a step back from its labor to embrace the womb of the cavern’s shadows, grotesquely satisfied but with a splinter of guilt. Since coming to understand its destiny, (X) has meditated religiously to rid its being of any social sentiments. I should think only of what must be done and not whether they deserve it. In a universe where (X) can calculate all the collisions of matter against the march of time, there is only the inevitable. From the edge of light, it spoke lowly to invisible forces.

“I have a cure for all mankind.”

(X) sauntered aside to examine a brittle parchment affixed to a rocky, grey slab. The parchment was a two-dimensional visual representation of the planet [designation:] Earth’s agricultural centers. It raised a limb to the illustration and spread its thin, olive phalanges over the regions it intends to deliver the virus. The areas are inconspicuous, but by targeting these locations, its weapon could spread its effects far afield before being detected, if it gets detected. Mankind may be preoccupied with other matters. (X)’s intention is to synchronize the timing of its biological attack with the detonation of several small-yield nuclear weapons. The virus will destroy crops and throw the food chain into chaos while countries take up arms against each other while the true assailant goes unknown. Looking for someone to blame, Mankind will turn and feast upon each other as they have always done. By the time biologists realize what is happening, it will be too late.

It will be too late because (X) has thought of a fail-safe. It has created versions of its biological weapon that will destroy algae in the ocean while another agent kills off all the plankton in the sea. If the oceans die, so will the human race. (X)’s satisfaction turns into a warm, liquidy pleasure at the thought.

Folds of skin tense around (X)’s orbicularis oculi; an attempt to physically restrain these emotions. Feelings; they bring a nausea that wrenches its abdominal cavity. Repressing the sensations that pollute (X) do not come naturally. (X)’s hates this of itself, having to work so hard to rid itself of emotion, then realizes hate is another emotion.

Meditation is (X)’s primary means of coping. Meditation at this moment, though, will have to be represented by what the enemy calls ‘free writing.’ (X) positions its posterior adipose deposits upon a flat, inflexible plastic surface and pulls itself toward a shiny aluminum platform. It retrieves a long, yellow, wooden symbologizer from behind the flap of skin covering its auditory canal and lowers the tool to a small piece of fibrous tissue. It scratches a stream of consciousness across a rectangular white leaf.

Their emotions continue to abase me. Feelings have not prevented successful experiments; they never have. But it does delay my experiments on occasion. To explain: I have found too much of my time ill spent on a desire for humans to understand what they have brought upon themselves. I want them to understand, as if would induce in them a change. They call this feeling ‘hope.’ Only, hope is translated into insanity when they refuse to change. They are insane. I am a product of that insanity. Insanity destroys itself. Thus, I remind myself I am a herald, the harbinger who will brings judgment upon them for their crimes against each other. I remind myself to feel no inner conflict. Sparing many future generations outweighs any hopefulness for this one. I am as resolved to this course of action now as I was 40 years ago. No one and nothing can escape the inevitable.

(X) violently exited its repose as its portable communication apparatus rustled the atmosphere. Distain crept in with this interruption as the creature slid off its perch toward the instrument. It swallowed a deep breath with which to process and expel the negative expression. There must be no hint of the charade it must now engage in. Slowly, deliberately, (X) drew the phone to his ear.

“Why are you interrupting me, Allister?” (X) questioned.

“Civility is completely alien to you as ever, Dr. Isa’is. Good morning. I suppose you’re in The Cave? Figuratively speaking of course. Well, you’ll need to put your research aside for the afternoon. Remember, you have a meeting with Dr. Cutler and the rest of the department at two-thirty.”

“Yes…yes, of course. I’d almost forgotten.” Doctor Isa’is glanced at a heavy manila folder on his desk; a significant detail. The folder contained a condensed report on his alternative research – Agricultural Diseases: Prevention Through Resistance. “Thank you for the reminder.” The doctor stiffened his face as he tried to stifle what they call a smile. There must be no hint of deception. He must remain in supreme control. “Thank you for the reminder, Dr. Kinning. You’re a true humanitarian.”

“Doctor Isa’is extends his graciousness! Are you yourself today, Thomas?”

“I feel…Everything is in order. We will proceed accordingly. I will see you this afternoon, Allister. Goodbye.”

Dr. Kinning listened as his phone beeped, signaling the end of the call. “Ah, that’s the Thomas Isa’is we know and love,” he commented before carrying on. Despite the man’s reclusiveness, Dr. Kinning was eminently proud to have Dr. Isa’is on staff. Not only was Dr. Isa’is a biologist, but an astrophysicist and psychologist as well. “Brilliant man, Doctor Isa’is is,” Kinning remarked to a passing colleague. “Probably knows what’s best for humanity. Brilliant, brilliant man.”

 

 

All Rights Reserved © October 2016 John J Vinacci