Tag Archives: Satire

CLARIFYING LIES ABOUT THE INTERNET by John Wiswell

I need to the clear the air. The internet has not diminished attention spans. People were never able to take in more than four paragraphs of information unless it was formatted into The Top Ten Best Asses in Hollywood. There were never newspapers, magazines, novels, letters, or epic poems that entire tribes memorized verbatim. No one ever intended you to finish a short story in a single sitting. Man did not evolve to read the entire Nutrition Information on the side of a cereal box, and certainly not to figure out how much saturated fat he was actually consuming in four bowls of the stuff, unless someone first designed an app for doing so. Except man has never had the patience to design an app. They are found in the wild, caught, captured, domesticated and price-coded by Apple. Contrary to your memory, you could not spend all day reading for pleasure when you were a child. You sat by the window and dreamed, wished and prayed that someone would put videogames on a phone, and you sat there doing nothing more than this wishing until it went on sale. You should not feel badly for skimming Cracked to get to the next item, or for only reading the funny captions under their stock photos. Nor should you feel bad for having the same NYTimes article open in your browser for two weeks, perpetually intending to finish it. It cannot be finished. If you had the superhuman will to consume every sentence, you would find that the writer herself did not finish it, instead trailing off into a series of vowels and punctuation marks. This was the result of her bravely passing out from the effort of trying to sustain thought. This is hazardous and should not be attempted for so long as you can get Angry Birds at a discounted price. I’d go on, but then I wouldn’t have the mental stamina left to tweet about Twitter going down for half an hour tonight. Farewell.

JOHN WISWELL writes daily at http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com. His fiction has appeared at Weird Tales, Flash Fiction Online, 10Flash, Every Day Fiction and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind. He is working on his second novel.

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CHARITY FOR THE BLIND by Huston Lowell

The old blind man sat in the filth of the street, holding a badly chipped clay pot, his eyes clenched to well-practiced slits, patiently waiting for the charity of strangers.  As he watched the people bustle through the market square, he gritted his sparse yellow teeth every time one of them dropped something into the threadbare begging sack the little lame boy across the street held out so pitifully.

The boy was the worst kind of amateur.  The blind man had studied him with contempt in the several days since he had appeared.  He watched him kick his legs around to change position every few minutes, then get up and walk home at dusk each night.  It amazed him that nobody else had noticed.  Why should that Johnny-come-lately get all the good charity with his sloppy act, when a seasoned professional went hungry?  It was downright infuriating.

The blind man had staked his claim on street begging years earlier.  He had walked into town, led on a short rope by a stolen donkey, which he had almost immediately bartered to the innkeeper.  The animal had been worth a meal of rancid mutton and a stinking bed that had previously served as a sort of central office for the town’s inveterate harlot, until a dispute over incorrect change that day had gotten her stoned in the street for prostitution.

The next morning, when the innkeeper discovered the donkey dead in its stall, he chased the blind man into the street, beating him with a rod.  The welts had been good for business.  The blind man’s begging had never been so fruitful.

The blind man shook his empty pot and listened to the nothingness failing to rattle around in it.  He would give his right eye for a few more welts, right about now.

He spotted a wealthy fat man in a crisp linen tunic and brightly colored robes, swaggering toward him.  Finally!  As his mark approached, the blind man cocked his head a quarter turn to avoid the appearance of looking at the man.

“Help for a poor blind man?” the blind man said, holding his dirty hand out to the air just past the wealthy man.  “Charity for the blind?”

“Don’t you have a family to take care of you?”  The wealthy man eyed him incredulously.

“No,” said the blind man, still sizing up the fat man, “My wife and sons all died of a plague.  I am alone.  Alone and blind.  And terribly poor.  Will you help me?”  His voice quivered and fairly dripped with self-pity.

He watched out of the corner of his slitted eye as the wealthy man scooped a pebble up from the ground with a malicious smirk and tossed it into the pot.  Even to the untrained ears of a man who had pretended so long to be blind, the pebble sounded nothing like a coin.

“Oh,” said the blind man as another thick group of people shuffled past behind the wealthy man, “thank you, kind sir.  Thank you, and may your kindness be rewarded a hundredfold.”  Then, addressing the passing crowd, “This generous man has offered me a great kindness, the first one of the day.  And because of him, I will not starve today.  Will someone please come and look at the treasure he has placed in my pot?  From the sound, it must be very valuable.”

“Yes, old man,” said a deep voice behind the wealthy man, “I’ll look at your new treasure for you.  If you’ll give me a share of it.”

The crowd began to gather around the blind man, murmuring about treasures and gifts for the poor.  The blind man bit his lip to keep from smiling at the squirming rich man.

“Of course, young man,” the blind man said, “I will gladly give you fully half of whatever this kind man has placed into my pot.”

A young, muscular man who dwarfed the fidgety little rich man pushed past and reached into the blind man’s pot.  The chubby rich man tried to push his way through the gathering throng, but the young strongman gripped his shoulder and held him in place.

The young man pulled out the pebble and inspected it with a grim expression.  The fat little man tried to break away from his grip, but he could not.

“This is the great treasure this generous man has given the blind man!”  The young man held the pebble high in the air for all to see.  “Such generosity!”

The crowd roared with laughter.

“What is it, son?” the blind man asked, focusing his slitted eyes on a spectator thirty feet to the right of the pebble.  She was an attractive young woman, and he found himself quite taken with her.

“This man has tricked you,” said the young man, “tricked a poor old blind man, whose life is already filled with nothing but difficulty.  I am sorry.  Your treasure is nothing but a pebble from the street.”  Then, to the wealthy man, “Shame on you!”

“I will die today, after all!” the blind man wailed, “Is there no kindness left in the world?”

The crowd began to murmur disapprovingly.  The attractive young woman just watched with a pleasant smile and attentive eyes that made the blind man a little nervous.  He waited for the noise of disapproval to reach a crescendo before beginning to weep openly.

“Stone him!” shouted a voice from the crowd.

“It was a mistake,” the rich man shouted to the crowd, “a mistake!  I meant to give him this.”  He held up a dull copper coin from another city.

“Not good enough,” shouted the same voice, “let’s stone him!”

“No!” the wealthy man shouted back to the crowd, “No!  I‘ll give him this whole bag of silver.  Just let me go.”  He held up a heavy silk pouch, then loosened the string on it to show its contents to the strongman whose grip was grinding a bruise into his shoulder.

“That’s pretty good,” shouted another voice in the crowd.

“Let’s stone him, anyway!” boomed the first voice.

“Yeah!”  A third voice joined in.  “Stone the cheap bastard!”

“But!  But!  Wait!” the rich man stammered, dropping the silver into the blind man’s pot, pouch and all.  “I have gold, too!”

He held up another pouch.  The blind man couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the sweating rich man just inside his periphery, and focusing unnoticed on the beautiful young woman’s placid smile was a rare treat, despite her unnervingly probing eyes.  It was shaping up to be a good day, after all.

“What else you got?” the first crowd voice demanded.

A rock flew past the rich man’s head, straight toward the blind man.  With an awkward twitching motion, the blind man spun his torso to get out of the way of the rock.  The beautiful woman’s eyebrows almost levitated off her face.  Then, she settled again into a knowing smile and winked at him.

“Wait!” said the rich man, “If you don’t kill me, I’ll give it all to you fine people!”

“That’s fair!” said the first crowd voice.

“Give over!” said another.

The rich man loosened the string on his bag of gold and cocked it back to launch it into the crowd, but at the last moment, he stopped.  Instead, he jammed his hand back into the blind man’s pot and lobbed the bag of silver, creating a metallic rain of silver over the crowd.

In the frenzied melee that erupted around the falling coins, the rich man broke free of the young muscleman and darted away from the throng.  As the fat man ran, looking backwards, the blind man seized an opportunity to get a little revenge.  He stuck his leg out and tripped the rich man, sending him tumbling headlong into the street.

Soon, the rich man’s uncoordinated stumble-run had made good his escape, and the mob had dissipated just as quickly.  The blind man returned to his vocation.

“Help a poor blind man?” he said to the first person to approach him.  Looking up from her sandals, he could see that same knowing, placid smile.  It was her.

“I will help you,” she said.  Then, she took out a crust of bread and slowly bent forward with a sultry shimmy, exposing maximum cleavage to the blind man.  He barely noticed the tink of the bread she dropped into his pot.

The blind man caught himself staring directly at her ample bosom, but it was too late.  She looked down at her own bosom, then back at him and winked again.  With a shiver he jerked his head back to a convincing blind man’s quarter turn away from her.

“Thank you, dear child,” he said, “there is still goodness in the world.”

Without a word, she sauntered over to a group of a baker’s dozen beggars in filthy robes.  That was all he needed.  First, the lame boy, now these thirteen able-bodied men to horn in on his action.  He didn’t have long to wonder what their game was.

He could see the woman whisper something to one of them, a nondescript man in his late twenties with a confident smile that burned through his unkempt beard and became an outright laugh as she continued to whisper.  She gave him a quick lover’s peck on the cheek and led him by the hand back to the blind man.

“Help for a poor blind man?” the blind man said nervously, as they approached.

“The power of my god will help you, brother,” the bearded man said in a gentle voice, never losing his smile.  “You will see today.”

“That’s nonsense,” the blind man said with a wave of his hand, “I am blind, and that’s the end of it.  Go away.”

The other twelve beggars surrounded the blind man, entirely covering him with their shadows.

“My god calls for this miracle to be done for you today to glorify Him,” the young man said in a voice intended for the crowd.

As the crowd gathered around, despite the blind man’s protestations, the young bearded beggar turned his back and dug his fingers into the ground, pulling out a chunk of dirt.  He spat into his palm and rubbed his hands together to make a loose, foamy yellowish mud.

“Hold him down,” he instructed his followers, as he walked slowly toward the blind man.

At once, the blind man’s arms and legs were in the steely grip of the twelve followers.  He kicked and fought in vain.  He forgot to squint and look a quarter turn away when he saw what the man intended to do with the nasty spit-mud.

“No!” the man shouted, “Please!  Somebody help me!”

“Heal him!” the familiar stoning-happy voice called out.  “Then he’ll stop being such a pain in the ass!”

“Yeah!” another voice called out, “Do it!”

A moment later, the blind man had fingers in his eyes, grinding the gritty, stinging mud into them.

“Owwww!” he howled in pain and fear, “My eyes!  Stop!  It burns!  Stop it!  Please!”

The crowd murmured in anticipation.  The muddy fingers finally relented, and the woman brought the blind man a cup of water from the well.

“Rinse your eyes,” the would-be healer ordered him.

The blind man splashed the water into his eyes and wiped them on his sleeves.  Then, he repeated it a number of times, before relaxing back into his trained squint.

“Can you see anything,” the young, smiling man asked.

“No, you crazy bastard,” the blind man shouted, “I’m blind!”

“Hold him down again.”  The young beggar gathered up another plug of dirt and made a show of preparing to spit into his hands again.

“No!” the blind man said frantically, “Wait!  I can see.  Just a little.  You all look like…  Like dim shadows of trees walking around.”

The crowd murmured excitedly as the details made it from the nearest to furthest.  From putting spit-mud in the blind man’s eyes to putting his eyes on a muddy spit, the story changed and became weirder with each retelling.

“Well,” the crazy beggar said, stroking his beard, “It’s a start.”

The healer hocked up a snot ball that made the crowd groan.  He held one of the blind man’s eyes wide open and spat into it.

“Ewww!” the stoning-happy voice yelled, “That’s just wrong!”

Another snot ball went into the other eye.

“All right!  All right!” the blind man shrieked.  “You win!  I give!”

“Release him,” the crazy beggar said placidly.

The blind man took the fresh cup of water from the woman again and frantically washed the snot out of his eyes.

“What can you see, now?”

“Everything,” the blind man said bitterly.  “I can see everything.  You, your girlfriend, your twelve minions, the crowd.  Everything!  Are you satisfied, you sadistic son of a bitch?  Are you?”

The crowd cheered.  A healing had occurred.

“Praise the stranger!” shouted one voice above the rest.

“Praise whichever god he worships!” shouted another.

“Hey, buddy,” shouted the stoning-happy voice, “You think you could fix my hemorrhoids?”

The crazy beggar waved the crowd down.

“Maybe we could go just one more round.”  He stooped and picked up another plug of dirt and turned toward the blind man.  The blind man screamed in wordless terror as he approached slowly, menacingly, grinning wider than ever.

“Just kidding,” the crazy beggar said, dropping the dirt and turning back to be swallowed up by the adoring horde and crowd-surfed into the inn.

The blind man watched until the inn door closed behind them.  For the first time in years, he had his eyes wide open and focused straight in front of him.  It was liberating.  Perhaps a miracle of sorts had been worked for him today, after all.

“Get up out of the street,” a stern voice said behind him.  “You’re not blind anymore.  Quit your begging.”

He turned just in time to be hit squarely in the mouth with a broom wielded by the innkeeper’s wife.  Picking broom straw from between his teeth, he stood and walked across the street to the little lame boy.

The strongman reappeared from between the street vendors’ kiosks.  The blind man nodded at him as he approached.

“What do you suppose we should do, now, father?” the strongman asked.

“Well, we can’t stay here,” the blind man said, watching the little lame boy change the position of his legs again, “maybe we should get into the traveling miracle business.”

“Help for a little lame boy?”  The filthy little boy put on his best sad eyes and held out his begging sack.  “Please?”

“What do you mean,” asked the strongman with a blank face.

“Just watch,” the blind man said.  Then, he turned to the little lame boy.

“Little boy,” the blind man said to the little lame boy in a voice that was a caricature of the crazy beggar’s, “I’ve felt the power of the stranger’s god.  That same power will heal you today, too.”

“Oh, I’m sure it can’t,” said the little lame boy, “I will be like this forever.”

“Well, we’ll just give it a try, just the same,” the blind man said, hauling back his foot.

“Heal!” the blind man yelled at the little lame boy, as he kicked the boy squarely in the crotch.

The little boy howled in pain and balled up into a fetal position, rocking back and forth.  When the boy seemed to begin to relax again, the blind man pulled his foot back again.

“Are you fully healed?” he asked the little boy.  “Or do you need another go?”

“Ohhhhh,” said the strongman, “I get it, now.”  Then, turning to the little lame boy, “I’d just get up if I were you.”

The little boy got up to his feet, and began to waddle away clutching his groin.  The strongman grabbed his bag as he passed by.

When their attention was away from the little lame boy, he stopped and gave them and obscene hand gesture before moving on.

“Look!” a voice called out from the inn doorway, “It’s another healing!  He wasn’t even over there.  This guy is good!  Somebody buy him another round!”

“We could travel to Jerusalem, father,” said the strongman, “It’s a big place.  I’ll bet they could use a miracle or two there.”

“You might just be right, Barabbas,” the blind man said, “You might just be right.”

HUSTON LOWELL lives in Eastern Missouri with a wife and a house full of kids. He has written screenplays for three award-winning indie films and has had his work showcased under various pseudonyms in venues across the webverse, including most recently Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k) and the 19 October 2010 front page of WeirdYear. His favorite author is Rodney Whitaker, and his favorite color is red.”

KILLING THE SUSPENSE by Matt Sharar

Robert Black didn’t work for the movies.

The closest he’d ventured to the silver screen: a score strung together for a just-about-straight-to-DVD horror flick: “Friday Night Frights.”

Black’s official vocation was now reality-TV score composer, but if you dropped the reality-TV part, you’d be left with how he truly saw himself: Goth composer.  The closest Corinthian had come to the big time: a record release party in France, at a smoky subterranean bistro: Nick Cave solo, their supporting act.

After Mute Records sent Corinthian packing, and the other band members disappeared into drugs, Black had to retune.  At a studio session, laying down steel guitar for a respected alt-country singer (an 80’s one hit wonder maintaining a steady fan base), he was asked to hit the road again.  This time, it didn’t hit him back: Deep stage left, he played piano, organ and guitar on a cushioned stool, his mug shaded by a black cowboy hat.  On the tour bus, lit by the glow of his Mac, he was finally able to hone his macabre instrumentals, other markets firmly in mind.

For two years the band latched onto an 80’s revue tour, filled with light shows and wrinkled rockers, happy to be remembered and paid.  The gig locked him into an annual album-tour salary, roughly thirty thousand a year.  He paid twelve months’ rent—in full—at the start of each tour, but at tour’s end, he had to crawl back into Borders Books & Music, to pay for the drinks that weren’t free anymore.

The alt-country singer became pregnant and Black was back to where he was when he answered that “STUDIO GUITARIST NEEDED” ad three years ago.

Square one.  Freelance.

Making freelance Hollywood dollars was not for the faint of heart.  But years of touring in the van with Corinthian, talking all things morbid with all brand of nocturnal creature in all manner of fleabag motel, provided fuel for his dark concoctions.  State by state, mile by mile, gig by gig, he carved a dark thick skin of a soul: one he deemed fit to absorb the Hollywood hits.

If clients second-guessed his darkness, they only had to repeat his name: Robert Black.  He had wiki-ed a few famous Blacks, all women who had married into the name: Holly, Karen, and even one from Ireland, Mary.  Like Robert, they all made art that embraced the dark side, with matching black hair.  Picky, stubborn, and never willing to admit his intimacy issues (even when he was drunk), Black wasn’t keen on making anyone a Black-neé-something.  He was too busy living up to his own birthright, down to every black strand of his hair (which, when he was too overworked to dye it, revealed traces of his natural Irish red).

On his second go at freelance, the suspense started. There was always the hunt, the chase, his heart beating for the next buck: that fat royalty check flapping behind the smog of the Hollywood skyline.  At first, he felt like the hunter, making, and trying to hit his own targets.  But it was he who was always slain: a connection broken here, an interview, cancelled there.  “That’s Hollywood,” they’d say.  Black started camping out in bars, trying to conjure his now-monthly rent (even as he drank it away) from the swirl of his cigarette smoke.

There’s no pension plan in rock n’ roll he’d heard himself say, a thousand times, backstage, at after-parties, as the musicians chatted biz: “the recession,” touring twice as hard to recoup record sales lost to downloads and file sharing.

When Black found his dark corner, his niche—how could he have missed it, flipping channels?—he was more than prepared to exploit it.  Trying to fit other, “respectable” projects into his calendar proved only problematic.  Hashed out with a few other gifted souls (mostly through e-mailed mpegs), these collaborations left nothing but a few more notches on his myspace/youtube resume: a few bar buddies, if he ever bumped into them, but never friendships.

To the “fascist corporate fucks ruling his life,” as the DJ from Release the Bats coined them one night, Robert Black’s music fit the bill.

Now, they were footing it.

He finally had the “cush” job: reality-TV score composer, a steady stream of payments rolling in, like the ticker tape on those money market shows he watched, trying to avoid clicking on NTV, NTV2 and V2: music channels comprising the conglomerate that signed ninety percent of his paychecks.  He could see no end in sight for NTV and V2—or their new, teat-bursting cash cow.  Reality TV would forge on forever, padding Black’s account until retirement reared around.

He was one of the rock n’ roll survivors, who’d bucked the casualty list, and didn’t have to hear his songs in Guitar Hero perpetuity.  No, he’d stick to the shadows, sharpening his musical scalpel, scraping the backs of peoples’ brains for bucks.  The suspense was never-ending for them, but for Robert Black, it was over…

#

Stepping into the glare of a blinding footlight, Black covered his squinting eyes.  He thought of the grip he’d bumped into moments before, an old drinking buddy from Long Beach.  Like yesterday, he kept the chit-chat short, as he preferred to talk to acquaintances in the dimness of dives: caves, he called them.  He was barely on time, a gofer handing him a pair of headphones like an afterthought.

The two contestants stood side-by-side: Dakota, wearing jewel-encrusted jeans and holding a cowboy hat: and Raven, wearing a silk black dress and holding her expression, a tense stare.  This was the big show, the season finale, the canvas to paint their celebrity on: T-RON’S REAL LOVE.

The producer had wanted Black “there” and here he was, ready to finalize the timing of his suspenseful instrumental.  But Black was also here for the raven-haired, smooth-skinned beauty staring into the camera, fretting only elimination, and nothing close to losing T-RON’S REAL LOVE.

Candace Reese had sent in an audition tape (Black had discovered, asking the Long Beach grip) because her unemployment ran out.  But maybe she’d wanted a little more, he surmised.  Maybe she’d missed out on the dorm drama in college, the warring factions: freak vs. sorority sister, sorority sister vs. sorority sister, sorority vs. sorority.  On weekends, she was probably out drinking with a coven of Goths, chasing down bands like Corinthian.  Maybe those days were the same as T-RON’S REAL LOVE, only dressed in black.

One thing was obvious to Black about Candace Reese: She had lightened her look for the show.  On air, her only remaining Gothic badge was her tattoo, a one-inch ankh, no doubt based on “Sandman’s” Death, riding the slope of her ankle.  Off air, she wore shiny patent leather corsets and dresses: hardcore, and expensive, Goth gear sold in specialty shops.  Candace Reese had gone undercover—for the money, a little notoriety, or maybe that “soul-searching trip” after college: not to the playgrounds of Europe but Hollywood, all expenses paid.  When the camera rolled, she was Raven, and her true self was put on hold for T-RON: a has-been white rapper, sporting taut cornrows, staring across at the Final Two, ready to banish the runner-up.

Ready to eliminate.

“Count ‘em in,” said Rich Waterman Jr., director.

On cue, Black’s cocktail slipped into his headphones: bone-chilling, back-tingling, brain-numbing: a schlock of suspense that epitomized the elevator music of reality show elimination segments: creaking metals, swooning organs, pounding drums: a meat freezer, a funeral hall, an African jungle, all in their cheesiest manifestations.

Black stared at pale-faced Raven, but with his sonic swamp swishing in his skull, his mind drifted to the past.  All those shows he’d worked on for the NTV/V2 conglomerate: ROMAN’S BESTEST B.F.F., CASH MONEY X 3, and the one that

got him started in the racket: TUFF ENUFF: SEASON 6.

All that suspense music.  All those hours in his apartment with his Pro-Tools, or in the mix room.  All those nights alone on the sixth floor of the Capitol Records tower, looming over Hollywood & Vine, toiling over masters.  All those months synchronizing with footage reels, watching contestants being lined up like cattle to be shot to his soundtrack.  All that sound pounding in his head, refusing to let him sleep at night, driving him to the ear-splitting edge.

The wrestling show, though the gaudiest, had haunted him, rattled his nerves the most: Being his first freelance TV gig, he equated the bone-crunching wrestling maneuvers, and the convulsing ring, as metaphors for the industry’s hard knocks.  The show’s catchphrase—ARE U TUFF ENUFF?—brainwashed him, reminding him that he could not, would not be a loser at this game.  Doing bills at the end of the month, staring at his trashed apartment, or staring down all those TV execs, staring right back at him, he’d ask himself: ARE U TUFF ENUFF, ROBERT BLACK?

Black wasn’t hearing the cemetery bells anymore, the SAW’s-1-through-5 iron scrapings, or the funereal cellos, inspired by the foghorns he used to listen to, rising from the San Pedro docks: the droning wail of some lumbering Lovecraftian leviathan, which in the worst of his unemployed moods, always signaled THE END.  Now in his earmuffs was weepy, wistful music: a lone, John Tesh harpsichord, plucked to Raven packing her bags, pulling a sliding glass door and walking, ankh and all, out of the rented Hollywood Hills mansion.  (Robert Black refused to compose sappy post-elim music, as it was dubbed in the biz: It would bleach his reputation.)

“Cut!” Waterman Jr., director, said and Raven’s ankh swung back through the glass door and up to Black.  She was smiling, Black thought, because she had procured her twenty-thousand dollar second place fee—smiling because she hadn’t run screaming out of the mansion in a fit of Prozac-fueled-sadness and eliminated herself before the winner was announced.  Or was she smiling because of Robert Black—that old face he’d caught her sizing up yesterday?  A face he hoped she had recognized in a CD bin, or on a late night Internet search.

“Robert Black?” she said.  “Were you on set yesterday?”

“I score the show, if you haven’t guessed.”  She looked him up and down, stopping in the middle to appraise his slight beer gut.  “Do you want to go drink this one

off?”  Black said, T-RON stepping away with Dakota for a private moment: O.C. they called it, Off-Camera.

“Sure.  But not tonight.  Tomorrow…at the wrap party.”

She was calling Black to her current turf: this cast of fair weather fuck-heads she had lived with—had to live with—for the past two months of her life.

Rich Waterman Jr., director, son of Rich Waterman Sr., CEO, stepped up to Raven.  Waterman Jr., a silver-spooner who wanted to be the next enfant terrible, was shooting reality shows incognito to “learn his craft”—instead of going the longer, harder route: UCLA film school, with all those critical eyes dissecting him, eyes that had driven away the First Father of Dark Romantic, that one-film wonder: Jim Morrison.

“Actors can’t date crew,” Waterman Jr., director, said, with a smirk.

“But crew can go to the wrap party,” Black said, nodding at Raven.

The smirk said what it said yesterday: Waterman Jr., director, wanted to bag Candace Reese, a.k.a. Raven, if only for the cheap frisson of having something he’d captured behind his lens.

Black walked away, for he didn’t want to forfeit his hand: He also wanted Raven and had watched her, in bikinis, pajamas, evening gowns: every outfit that a boyfriend (even a Goth boyfriend) would watch his girlfriend wear through the months.  He had grown so accustomed to admiring her ankh tattoo, as if he’d picked it out himself.  The tattoo tattoo transfixed him, because it reminded him of who she really was.

After timing the final episode’s schlock of suspense, deep into the nocturnal hours he could only work in, Black slept alone, his ominous organs, tinkling glass and whining bows swelling in his head.

#

Robert stepped into the club, scanning for Raven.

It didn’t take him long to see that sworn enemies from the show were keeping their distance, and that “unbreakable alliances” were clustered, their colorful drinks aglow—like warning signs, or mixed signals.

Under a thumping techno beat, Black sensed another tone, another note: Everyone was relieved the show was over.  The only worry on their faces was that wrinkle of tension Robert knew so well: when, where’s my next gig? Some of the actresses on T-RON’S REAL LOVE would be, or already were, repeat offenders: reality stars that garnered increasing pay, per second season, per spin-off.  They concealed their fear, their D-listedness, with intense chatter, centered around the biz, all roads Black had ridden before.

He caught Raven—Candace, he reminded himself to call her—in the corner of the bar.  Waterman Jr., director, leaned into her ear, yelling over the DJ.

Later, Black thought.

Dakota, wearing her ubiquitous suede cowboy hat, knocked back a tequila shot, T-RON nowhere in sight.

Black sidled up to the other end of the bar.  His usual: Guinness, the only beer dark enough for him.  Before he could fling out his twenty, the bar-back told him tonight was all on the house, on NTV/V2, Rich Waterman.  Black almost asked which one, but held back.

One look over at Candace, and she caught him.  Her lithe body slinked around the hulking son-of-a-CEO: Like a fox, Black thought, escaping a predator.

Candace, her drink held above the crowd, came striding over in her real attire: a corset stitched so tight it simply could not have been tied by one of her thin-wristed girlfriends (none of who appeared to be in sight).  Since Candace was wearing big, knee-high boots, Black had to imagine her ankh tattoo, bounding up to him, along with her crystalline drink: vodka, he guessed, a Goth standby popularized by Siouxsie, the one name wonder.

“Let’s go to Bar Sinister,” was the first thing she said to Black: a command?  He hadn’t been there in years, had outgrown the 80’s hit parade battery, the pretentious upstairs V.I.P. parlor.

“Anywhere’s better than here,” he said, grabbing Candy’s hand and turning for the exit.

Waterman Jr., director, stalked from behind, nudging nobodies aside, hangers-on, inconsequential cast members: Big Money, Six Pack, Dakota.  Black tracked Waterman as he shoved his way through.

“Old Hollywood rule,” Waterman smirked, “crew don’t date cast.”

Black returned the smirk, and said:

“Old punk proverb.  Piss off…”

Later, Black, shirtless, shoeless, sockless, would lie in bed next to Raven, after a long four-hour talk.  She would take off her boots, but stayed fully corseted—those strings tied too damn tight to undo in the shadows.

His ankle against hers, astride her ankh tattoo, he realized she was facing the same thing all of the other women in his life had ever faced.

Elimination.

#

Robert Black awoke to the ring of his phone, Candace Reese out of his bed, her number, scrawled on a napkin, imprinted with the purse of her black lips.

It was the producer, telling Black the review meeting

for his final take had been cancelled; NTV was happy with

the tape he’d dropped off yesterday—the deep floor toms  and gongs must’ve accented the pre-elimination jitters just perfectly—and he didn’t need to do another drop of work.

This was a first—no review meeting, no screening—so he gambled a call to NTV/V2.

The secretary, in a stream of sympathetic whispers, said that Waterman Sr., CEO, had actually “made the call.” They had “hired someone else” to time Black’s piece with the final cut of the last episode; Black’s mix was “grossly out of sync” with the footage reel and “Rich was pissed.”

Robert flopped back in bed, thinking of Rich Waterman Jr., director, son of Richard Waterman Sr., CEO: wondering why he’d mixed business with pleasure: wondering why he’d wanted a girl the boss’s son had already targeted: wondering if he’d walked into the whole mess on purpose.

He thought of the line he crossed, and a pun of such career-changing finality that it had to make him laugh, had to make him forget the last five years of his life, had to make him call Candace Reese back.

Robert Black had been blacklisted.

Eliminated.

The suspense was over.

MATT SHARAR, a writer from San Pedro, heard somewhere that you had to write a thousand pages to be a writer and he thinks, between the comic book scripts, short stories and children’s fantasy novel, he’s at nine-fifty so that appositive phrase at the start of this bio might be a lie.