Monday, October 5, 2015


 John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde in 1920

The story comes from a dream. Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, woke him up from a nightmare one hundred-thirty years ago. He had been screaming. According to her, he said, “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.” She had awakened him during the first transformation of the good Dr. Jekyll into the evil Mr. Hyde, and he was as anxious to see it again himself as audiences have been ever since.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886. Three years after Stevenson’s dream, actor Richard Mansfield was under suspicion of being Jack the Ripper because of his disturbing change into Mr. Hyde. (The 1988 made-for-TV “Jack the Ripper” has Armand Assante as Mansfield in a terrific transformation scene.)
The Jekyll and Hyde switch speaks so strongly to people, it’s part of the lexicon. Stevenson himself was not satisfied with the story, evidently even irked by its success. Yet it has inspired over a hundred film renditions and untold offshoots from Altered States to The Silence of the Lambs.
The best film version is from 1931 starring Fredric March. The 1920 silent version has John Barrymore looking suitably creepy in stills as Hyde, otherwise it’s as stagey and dated as one would expect. Not so with the 1931 film.

Rouben Mamoulian’s innovative direction puts the viewer in Dr. Jekyll’s shoes at the start, and again during the transformation. Thick fog in Victorian gaslight sustains the Gothic atmosphere of this Academy Award-winner. For many years the puzzle of how the transformation was accomplished in the film remained secret. Turns out, different colored filters were removed in stages through the shot, allowing makeup on March to convincingly appear.
On one level, audiences respond—presumably particularly during the Depression—to the monstrous inner self of the outwardly respectable rich. However, the malleability of the change and what it means means everything. Certainly repression is involved. On the one hand the change into the bad self, which comes from drinking a potion, may clearly be likened with alcoholism. But then in the 1941 version, Spencer Tracy as the doctor says in one scene that the bad needs to be segregated—and this from the director of {Gone with the Wind}—segregated to “destroy itself in its own degradation.”
Sean Young in Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995) and Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly (1996) further said malleability. The Incredible Hulk and the Batman villain Two-Face also both owe a debt to Jekyll and Hyde.
Classic Looney Tunes episodes and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) willfully ignore Stevenson in making Hyde huge. In the novella Hyde is “smaller, slighter and younger” than Jekyll. This is due to the lack of Jekyll’s evil being exercised. The callous trampling on the poor does not require an impressive physical presence, only the presence of evil. Jekyll’s dehumanization of himself as a product of the Industrial Age cuts closer to the heart of it. As a story about a doctor seeking to eliminate human imperfection, it even anticipates eugenics and genetic modification.

 Stewart Kirby writes for


Saturday, September 26, 2015


In one of the great moments of literature, a Limbless Thing, with quasi-human facial features and malignant intelligence, slithers unfinished from its Maker and manages to kill a guy before getting tracked down and dispatched. Just one of many scenes from The Island of Dr. Moreau never captured on film.
The H.G. Wells classic concerning genetic modification has thrice graced the big screen. In keeping with Moreau’s efforts, each of the three bears the semblance of the book, yet all stand marked by distinct variations like cinematic caricatures of the original creation.
The best one, Island of Lost Souls (1932), stars Charles Laughton as the doctor and features Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law. Laughton’s charm girds the movie—highly atmospheric in glorious black and white—but he’s not rugged enough or curious enough to accurately reflect the title character.
It can be no coincidence that the artist Gustave Moreau, who preceded Wells, was a recluse who painted half-human, half-animal figures.
As the shipwrecked survivor stranded on a remote Pacific island, Michael York casts the most indelible impression in 1977. Here the filmmakers change the name of this character to Braddock, apparently because they didn’t want to have to say Prendick.

So far, Burt Lancaster, opposite York, makes the best Moreau, but his not being British departs significantly from the story.
Similarly, Marlon Brando, maybe the best actor ever, is simply miscast in the 1996 version. He looks and behaves nothing like the Dr. Moreau in the book. (With the right script, Anthony Hopkins would be perfect for the part.) Playing Montgomery, Moreau’s assistant, Val Kilmer amuses—with, among other things, a great Brando impression—but he also distracts. 
The bulk of the story concerns the uninvited guest’s gradual realization that the strange animal-like men he sees are the products of Dr. Moreau’s unseemly experiments. At no point in Wells’ story does Moreau attempt to turn a man into a beast. One main sin in the 1977 version is in forgetting that. Another is the introduction of Barbara Carerra as Maria in order to give York a love-interest.
All three versions are worth watching, but they decrease in quality in direct proportion to the focus on special effects. Moreau’s creatures number well over a hundred in the book, yet this has proved too daunting a task for film. And in every case, filmmakers ignore description from Wells that “few of them were conspicuously hairy.”
At heart, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a product of the Industrial Age. The last few paragraphs of the book make clear the dehumanization of the working poor. Commenting on the literal with the figurative—this is what art does—Wells’ story reflects class issues. Beast Folk reverting to animals suggests Wells’ own social rise and his shame when on the rare occasion in conversation his language slipped, revealing origins he regarded as unbearably humble.


 Stewart Kirby writes for


Starring Dylan O'Brien,
Ki Hong Lee,
Kayla Scodelario,
Thomas Brodie-Sangster,
Dexter Darden,
Alexander Flores,
Rosa Salazar,
Giancarlo Esposito,
Lili Taylor,
Patricia Clarkson
Directed by Wes Ball
Written by T.S. Nowlin
Based on the novel by James Dashner
Runtime 132 minutes
Rated PG-13
Second installment of the derivative franchise trending off of The Hunger Games.
Neither as smart nor as engaging as its primary source material, Scorch Trials features young people running from suspicious authority figures and occasional hordes of jacked-up quasi-zombies.
In the previous episode, The Maze Runner, we learned that the teenagers trapped in a giant and entirely pointless labyrinth were being studied by a mysterious agency. Now taken to an agency base, they quickly see they need to leave.
Problem is, everything outside the walls of the base is in ruins. A catastrophic virus has turned most people into slavering, incoherent monsters. Chance immunity has so far saved the teens from the virus, but they're still vulnerable to the violence of the infected and the machinations of the agency.
A dystopian pastiche, Scorch Trials lifts bits not only from Hunger Games but I, Legend, The Walking Dead and sundry other sources. Consequently, the characters are so thin, it's hard to remember any of their names.
The team effort required for the young people to survive is the film's strong suit. Most of the older people that they meet try to deceive them in the service of the system, thereby uniting the young to generally work together. Naturally the focus does fall on one, Thomas (O'Brien). As happens all too often, the role is nondescript.
That said, the strength of the team movie isn't just that there's a team, but individual characters working together. Think Seven Samurai and The Great Escape. Here, we don't get any sense of that individuality. Largely this is because of the premise of The Maze Runner that all of the young people in the maze have had their memories erased. They don't know who they are, so we don't know, either.
Heading into the hills in hopes of finding an outpost of Road Warrior-ish survivors, the kids try to escape the agency like hobbits hiding from Black Riders. We're not supposed to ask where the video game-like infected masses obtain their limitless caloric stores, nor wonder what they do when they're not chasing the kids.
Tilted buildings and crumbling remnants of post-apocalyptic rubble set a nightmarish stage for some of the more effective scenes. Yet, whereas Hunger Games has something to say--the first installment's gender role-reversal, for example--Scorch Trials lacks that big screen inventiveness which ignites the imagination.

 Stewart Kirby writes for

Tuesday, September 8, 2015



There’s a piece of crap in my creative writing class with a weak little writing ego. He showed his crap attitude one night in class, trying to interrupt my responses when students asked me questions, and pretending not to be listening when I told him what was what.

Initially he was upset because he wanted me to proofread some pages he'd already written prior to class. I told him the week before that if I had the time, I'd try to proof it for him, but I clearly stated that my proofreading his previously written material was not part of class. At all, ever. This class is about starting and finishing at least one story. That process does not include outside work. We're not there for me to clean up old documents, and we're not there for him to ride on my coattails. 

I experienced some of his contentious behavior on the second week of class, when he first appeared. He had a story printed out—supposedly a chapter to a book he’s been working on—and after he read it aloud, he said he wanted feedback. I felt he should hear something I considered important for this chapter at this stage: He had a character in conversation on the phone, and attributed a beeping sound from the phone and an operator interrupting to one of the characters speaking. When I explained that the quotation marks incorrectly attribute the sound of the phone and the operator to the speaker, he didn’t understand. “But that’s what the guy on the other end hears,” he said. “Yes,” I agreed, “but those aren’t things that the speaker is saying.” I explained how he needed to end the quotes and start them up again. He could use a dash insertion, or just have a separate sentence. As soon as my response moved from praise to constructive criticism, he didn’t like that at all, and being a piece of crap, he showed it.

Separate from that, he did write a story, and on the 24th I gave it feedback. I’m always careful not to criticize a student out of writing a story. I try hard to encourage getting the story out first before trying to polish it, because I know how fragile the writing process can be for some people. Everyone in the class assured me that they don't merely want to be told they're great. Everyone assured me that they all very much want constructive criticism. So far, everyone but the weakling can handle it. And his story had a glaring problem that he was just too fragile to hear.

Briefly, he wanted to write a horror story. If you've ever seen The Wicker Man, there's a valid comparison I used: In that movie, we start with the modern world character of a cop going to a secluded island on a missing person case. Gradually, he finds the people of the island practice ancient heathen rites—and eventually learns that he is in fact the sacrifice. It wouldn't work if the story started off by telling us that this secluded island is a place of ancient heathen rites, and then tacked on the cop later. We need to see these things unveiled in layers, so that horror can build. I suggested he re-write his story by introducing the modern world characters, and then allow the horror of their practicing heathen sacrifices to culminate. Unfortunately, he had prefaced reading his story aloud by saying that it was great. But once again, I could see he was upset when my constructive criticism didn’t provide the praise he was looking for.

The previous week, having discussed some of the advantages of putting stories on, the audio market being perfectly viable, I asked if the class wanted to hear, for illustrative purposes, a story of mine running under ten minutes toward the end of class, and they all said yes. Part of my intent was to show how a slice of repeated sound in the background—in this case, Theremin music—can add texture to a story. I also wanted to model the efficacy of Audacity software with purposes of encouraging students to pursue presenting their own work as audio stories through podcasts and radio broadcasts. Afterwards, that piece of crap even took the CD from me as a gift. A week later though, he decided to use that as a complaint against me.

He’s the only problem in the class. Everyone else is doing great.


He showed up to prove what he is again last night.

Piece of crap hadn’t been to class since the night he heard constructive criticism for a story and initiated his retaliation against me for that. Last week by email he announced his intention to return for the purpose of dropping off some manuscripts. Apparently he still wanted to obtain free proofreading from me for outside work having nothing to do with this class. To this I responded that he was welcome to share writing in class for the purpose of receiving constructive criticism.

About fifteen minutes into class last night, he breezed in while a real student was reading her material, completely interrupting her, and started trying to require her and another student to dig out any copies of his work they might still have. He didn’t look at me, or address me, or sit down to take part in class. I kept my patience during this, incredulous as I was to see such complete self-absorption and disrespect for everyone else. I said to him, “You just interrupted her in the middle of her reading.”

He didn't want to acknowledge that. He wanted me to hand over some material he had written outside of class. I’d had time to proofread a page of his error-ridden waste product prior to his first round of complaints weeks ago, and explained once again as I handed it back that this class is not a forum for dropping off manuscripts of outside work for free proofreading. At this point he cranked up his douche-ness. When I calmly said he seemed antagonistic, he took the bait. “Yeah, I am a little antagonistic!” To which I replied, “Then you can leave. You’re welcome to be here when you’re ready to take part in class.” Not exactly the truth, but I'm a professional.

Then I got up. Anybody on the planet looking at us immediately knows I can wad him up anytime I want, twist him into a pretzel, and break his weak little body all over the place like a really smart gorilla with a shitty piece of luggage.

Frightened, he started screaming. I raised my voice over his screaming to repeat that if he was willing to take part in class he was welcome to do that. But he had zero intention of doing that, even openly stating he wanted to be antagonistic. This was in front of other students. He backed away, scared, and yelled in the doorway, until, moving toward him, I channeled my inner Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh and roared, “You may leave now, sir!”

Then he scurried away. And this loser’s in his forties.

In his forties, and he put on such an absolutely outrageous display of insolent malice, I can only conclude that while he would benefit enormously from the rigors of a writing class, were he to ever partake in one, what he really needs is medication. That’s not me being flip. I don’t say that lightly. I mean it quite sincerely. That and a sound pummeling, which I’m perfectly happy to provide at any point.

What’s the protocol for a student who won’t be a student? What do you do when someone shows up to interrupt actual serious students and starts screaming at the instructor out of sheer petty jealousy? I think I did the only thing that could be done. Because I’m twice the guy’s size—one of the ways I pay my bills is swinging an axe splitting wood—I was very careful to not appear physically threatening to him.

Well, not really, but close enough.


Glory be to God, I saw that piece of crap hitching a ride last night. It's been weeks since the end of the term. I could see his car was broken down. Right away, I pulled over. "Twat do I owe the pleasure?" I said.

I almost pulled my hatchet on him one time in class. I happened to have it in my briefcase, this hatchet I made back in high school metal shop. Used to stand at that grinder spitting off sparks first thing in the morning. Mask, muffs and glasses on, scarred, singed gloves dictating the pitch of the blaring scream. In the course of my vast education I never once took a class from any writing teacher who actually wrote with a regular readership. None of them were real. All they ever did was talk right out of their asses. What my writing teachers knew how to do was to wheedle. Not a single one was a doer. They were talker-abouters. They claimed to love writing, but they didn't love writing. What they loved was the idea of themselves being writers, and the closest they ever got to that was talking about other people's work, feeding off of it like parasites. Sometimes they'd get together in their pointless little groups and pretend to really care while they shared their worthless shit, but they never had a regular readership from real readers outside the loop. "Hold on, I have something for you in my briefcase." It's not like I had planned to right then and there chop that douche bag into bits. Lots of bitty little pieces. Stick that hatchet into him so fast. Watch that goddam face of his scream. But somebody had walked back into class.

How like Montresor I was when he sat in my car with me. Tiny toy of a fellow, so pitifully small and weak. I told him sure, I was heading into town and I could take him to the station, he never dreaming I knew of his hollow and baseless calls of complaint filling the coordinator's answering machine. And how unlike himself he seemed, sitting now so quietly. Some people take a creative writing class because they have a bit of skill and they're looking to improve it. Others enroll because they have the time. They're curious, they want to be active, they figure it might be fun. I wouldn't do it, I told the class. It's not part of my process at all. At least I could respect their motives, though. Not like with this lying little leech.

My copy of Crime and Punishment had been in the passenger seat. Turning corners sent it sliding across the dash. I spoke on Dostoevsky, he never dreaming I knew of a place nearby. The most suitable grounds imaginable, as if handed unto me by Providence. We weren't in cell phone range. I knew of an old grow-op here, and easily recalled the combination on the lock. Contriving a pretense, I'd lead him inside.

Why wasn't Dostoevsky the richest man in the world? I rhetorically demanded, adding Poe and a host of the world's great writers to the list even as I visualized taking this douche bag, who had conspired against me in his bitchy selfish bitterness with poisonous emails to classmates, to the hidden door in the floor leading down to the great big room that the Mexican crew dug out in a day. Conversely, I expounded, why weren't the rich the real creators, why weren't they the world's great thinkers?

("Time now for your schooling," I heard myself tell him when we were underground. "This is where I'm going to leave your broken body rotting.")

Because art and money have nothing to do with each other, I said. In writing, if there isn't a preexisting market for the work, it won't get published. That only means that the publishing business is inherently flawed. But to develop a regular readership in spite of all this is the sweetest plum of all. Followed closely by killing this abject rat, and it would have been only too easy. We hadn't seen a single car, not any other vehicle. The remote location were in had nothing around at all but trees. I would wipe off the prints when I left. Nobody worked underground anymore. The owner of the place poured everything into hoopers. He had buyers from Los Angeles and San Diego making offers all the time. This old site, it was nothing to him. He probably even had a few bags of concrete on hand.

An audio version of one of my stories was already in the disc-changer. For cruel and unusual kicks I went ahead and played it.


Piece of crap had no idea. About anything, really. Instead of wasting his and other people's time and energy with all that groundless bitching, if he'd focused on actually writing a story, he might have had a better chance of falling into one of my giant footsteps.

The way I got him into the old grow-op was wonderful. "If you're looking to make some money to get your wheels fixed," I lied, "I can help you out there." I could see the wheels in his brittle skull spin. I knew I could get him to go right where I wanted him as long as he thought he’d be getting some dirt he could use on me. When we reached the spot—and of course he thought he was so clever trying to mark every turn of the maze-like tunnel through the trees—I got out and stepped a short distance up to a little hill with a view stretching below. There I pulled out my phone. Down by the car, he did the same, remarking that he got no service.

“Same here,” I said, and took him to the locked door. Perceiving his attempt to note the combination, I turned my shoulder, then led him in.

Wasn’t that much inside. Assuming a playful air, as of one excited to reveal some amazing secret, I yet paused a moment to step back to my car. I had almost forgotten my briefcase. The whole time, I noticed, he stayed right with me. Just in case I wanted to give him the slip, perhaps. When of course nothing was further from my thoughts.

“What’s that for?” he said.

“Gotta take some back with me. Can you unload any pounds?”

I had to be careful here because I’ve never grown or sold pot in my life. Heard about it enough. No doubt about it, as soon as he set foot in the simple structure—of which I am being purposely vague—he didn’t have a prayer. But it would have showed poor form to trip myself up at this point. I’m sure it wasn’t too much of a shock to him to see the secret door in the floor. Half the homesteads in the hills probably have similar contingents.

Peripherally I detected an affected noncommittal interest ill-concealing rapt attention. He was already scanning his mental Rolodex wondering who he could get to rip this place off. With the cover dragged to the side, I went down the ladder first, briefcase in one hand, happy that the smell of weed still permeated the basement. A moment passed, I suppose, where he questioned the wisdom of willingly descending into the confines with me. He might even have backed out altogether, and evinced rather the adamant desire to return to the car and continue back on into town. I could easily see him being so petulant a priss. The name of an exotic and impressive strain, however, would suffice as a final inducement. No way he could pass up trying to be a know-it-all there. Sure enough, he climbed down inside.

Craning his neck to get a look as he warily descended, my problem student saw all of the old pot-growing supplies belonging to my buddy and became visibly assured of the room’s illicit authenticity. The way the place was wired, I would had to have turned on the generator outside first in order to get any light in the basement, and I had forgotten about that. But I also saw on a table several small lights with straps made for wearing over the head. I clicked one on for myself and started to hand another to him, at the same time positioning myself between him and the ladder. I didn’t give him any light. I told him to sit down instead.

There was nothing he could do. Nothing to grab to use as a weapon. Just a bunch of long wooden soil beds built along the walls. Even with the cover to the hatch still open, the room soaked up most of the noise, and the outer door closed off the rest in an area where no one was around anyway. Just to let him know I meant business, I shoved him in the chest with one hand and he went down to the concrete floor on his ass. As soon as he hit the floor a look crossed his face. Like a pouty brat about to bawl. He had a hand up trying to shield his eyes from the light on my head shining into his face and his face was all screwed up like he was having a hard time holding off crying. “You shut up,” I said, and shoved him. “You shut your goddam mouth.” For some several quite enjoyable seconds the problem student with the big, big mouth sat shaking on his ass where I shoved him. “You signed up for a class with me, boy. By God, I’m gonna give you your education.” I had my briefcase right next to me up on the corner of a soil bed, sort of like a podium. Reaching into it, I withdrew a manuscript.

“You’re going to listen to some real writing, now,” I told him. “And you’ll pay very close attention, too”—here I leaned in a little bit closer, to help him better understand my sincerity—“or I’m absolutely certain to chop you up into little bits and mix you into a concrete pour.”  Just to help emphasize the point, I flashed the light over on a few bags of concrete. In the clearest possible language I made him understand that now was the time for him to finally be a true student, and at last genuinely learn. Obviously he thought I’d snapped. Figuring his best bet was to wait for an opportune moment to escape, he played along. I helped him.

“Look,” I said, “I wanna cut you some slack, but you did screw up and you do need to pay for it. So you need to shut your mouth, just keep it shut, and listen very carefully to every word, because this right here is real writing.” It was all hand-written, too. The entire manuscript.

Before I began reading, I had to say that it was really great, and I could see it being part of a trilogy. “I’m not sure what it’s called just yet. The chapters are called posts. Here’s the first one.”

He was very quiet. I started reading.


Being of sound mind and such, I, John William Calder, son of James Zechariah and Rose Elizabeth Calder, do solemnly write these here accounts from my own life, some of which are sure to be real rip-snorters, and all of which being true as anything.

I figure on writing this here autobiography of me since I already got the implements handy from having to keep records mining for gold. I am now the sole proprietor of the Buckwourth mining camp a good ways up Little Miss River and right on the edge of Indian territory. Regarding gold mining, or mining of any sort, it is true that I know next to nothing on the subject, having never had occasion to undertake the occupation prior to my mother's brother kicking the bucket and me thereby falling into it. But seeing how life as a clerk fits poorly on my disposition, plus taking into account Uncle Luke's certainty of the mother lode about to show, that I am plum willing to give the venture a go, and reckon I can say the same for this here autobiography writing that I am fixing on doing.

In San Francisco I met a man who told me he had been to Sutter's Mill early in '48 and found a fortune in four hours. The biggest chunks filled his fists! Buckwourth being northwest of the Sierra Nevadas, I am nowhere near Coloma, yet cannot say I would too much mind if I was, because at the train station I also met a woman who said she was bound for that very destination, and except for Miss Felicity she was about the loveliest and most enchanting creature to ever trod soil. 

I have cooked up a mess of beans, and they are very good. What with flour, coffee, salt, tea, tobacco and a deal of venison I picked up at the trading post for one of my three fifteen dollar beaver traps, I am feeling fairly well-provisioned. My nearest neighbor is a devoutly religious man by all accounts--most of those coming from the trading post--a trapper and a miner whose piety is reputed to be matched only by his delight on practicing cannibalism. And he's done that at least twice. But the last white man he killed and ate was fifteen years ago, and even though he is older and slower, he has passed up plenty of chances in favor of savages picked up at the post. So with my .40-caliber rifle courtesy of the Hawken brothers of St. Louis, I am not too concerned.


My Dearest Miss Felicity,

I have fixed my mind on writing my own autobiography, and would certainly be a good bit into it were it not for the hardships of daily life. Amenities-wise, the outhouse appears in distressed circumstances. After gnawing off a deal of venison this morning by way of breakfast, I have come to learn through hard tribulation to never trust a man trading venison again.

It being spring, the river is bracing and brisk. I have tried my hand at panning. You cannot believe how cold a man's hands get holding a pan in the shallows. Yet this biting cold was made less bitter by the image of your divine visage there to sustain me. Looking at the water I'd see your face floating there. Or if with a crick in my neck from being all hunkered over I looked up, why there you'd be again. I confess I felt a most marked and shameful embarrassment in wondering exactly how much of my hardships of the morning the hovering image of you had seen, but your vision sweetly reminded me in the most angelic manner that I was still working off the ill-effects of the tainted meat.

The bulk of the day went toward repairing the sluice, which I have done as best I can. When I have made my fortune and come calling on you proper, I will share with you this letter along with my autobiography so that you can come to understand the warm ardor with which I regard you as I remain now and forevermore your devoted admirer,

John William Calder


A week has slipped along since I last wrote. Though the days pass filled with toil, still I do not lament. I shall persevere in my endeavor to secure my fortune or perish in the attempt. I find the load of my drudgery lightened when recalling amusing incidents which I yet intend to pen. The plain fact is, however, at end of the day, I find both body and mind so beset with fatigue as to preclude all possibility of any sort of further pursuit.

I have discovered an additional neighbor, by all appearances a deformed albino native child. The wretch watched me from over yonder rise while I worked in the river this afternoon. The feeling I was being stared at suddenly washed upon me. On my word, I have never in my life seen a waif half as white as this poor malformed native entirely destitute of clothing.


My Dearest Miss Felicity,

I have been cooking up a mess of beans this evening and thinking on that fateful day I first seen your beatific visage. A man gets powerful lonesome with hardly no companionship to speak of other than a family of otters upriver that sometimes chase each other down here and splash around a bit.

On two occasions now I have seen a malformed waif, the slenderest child with the whitest skin and hugest head you ever saw. The wastrel wears not a stitch of clothing, and likewise has no hair. As on the first occasion, I did not achieve a satisfactory view of the elusive creature, but rather glimpsed it when retreating from me in the denseness of a thicket. I am pretty near certain I have a fix on where within the thicket the creature most often resides. If it appears any closer to camp, I am prepared to rout it out.

The evening sky, profusely bedecked with a myriad of stars, shines in great magnificence, but next to thoughts of you it stands hardly even better than the rear end of a green apple mule.

Your ardent admirer,

John William Calder


Today my nearest neighbor, a disagreeable man and thoroughly wretched in most respects, stopped by for a visit. "Name's Red Meat Bob," he said while I was fixing the slough. "Reckon you prolly heard I et white folks back when."

"Yep," I says.

"Well, I'm plum done with that. Been done these seven and a half years. Whaddaya call this operation?"

"This here's the Buckwourth mining camp, mister."

“You play cards?”

“Ain’t no hand at poker,” I says.

“They say the beginners have the best luck.”


“Didn’t you hear me say,” I told my problem student, “if you make me have to stop, I’m apt to kick the crap out of you?”

“My legs fell asleep.”

“Then stretch them out in front of you, and shut up. I’m not too happy with the next couple pages, actually. The cannibal guy gets Calder to play cards. I think that scene slows it down, though. Eventually Calder wins a copy of a book.” I flipped ahead through the manuscript. Then back a little bit. “Hold on.” Forward again. “Here it is. Okay, so Calder’s alone in his cabin and he starts reading this rare book he won at cards. It’s a true account from seventy-four years prior to his time, yet shockingly innovative and uncommonly bawdy.”

“What’s it called?”

Untold Frontier. So here’s what Calder reads.” And I started reading the first chapter.

Chapter One

“Got hardtack?”

Danyul Bune in skin of coon and buck had in his mighty hand a big bent blade worn from overuse shaving his great bald head. A shave-pate man was he, and bare-chested he strode on the soft rust duff of the redwood forest turf. Upon this dreamy terrain a squat and sturdy figure stood.

“What the fuck’s hardtack?” Tracker, Danyul Bune’s trusty, crusty sidekick, said.

“It’s like a biscuit, ain’t it?”

Tracker ran a sandpaper hand across his chin, squinting, and grinned. “I plumb fergot. It’s a biscuit, all right. I might just have one or two,” Tracker wryly added, opening up his pack and producing a fist-sized chunk which he tossed across the wide clean carpet of fallen redwood bits collected across untold millennia and clear on up to the Wild and Wooly Western World Year of 1775--when the redwoods really rocked--which Danyul caught on the fly, proceeding then to smash and to smash said hardtack on the blade, striking sparks as he smote and saying, “Just need somethin’ to pound this here pig-sticker back into place.”

“I can see that, stupid! Why don’t yew use yer fuckin’ head?”

“Sounds to me,” Danyul said, audibly testing the flattened blade on his already bald skull skin, “like you don’t think she’ll show.” Here he referred to Sacajariton. And in fact wondered himself if Sacajariton would appear with news of a fight set up with a twelve year-old Bigfoot. One of Yawg the Stick-Man’s boys. He of the Mountain Folk. The Yupa knew Danyul was the Goods in the Woods. That was specifically how they billed him. But this twelve year-old young buck was showing some serious promise, and Danyul needed the money.

“Gotcherself all dainty agin?”

Astonishingly scantily-clad, Sacajariton appeared. “Now now, Tracker,” she said, “we all know that’s where Danyul gets his legendary strength.”

“Have we got a fight?”

“Well, yes and no, Danyul,” said Sacajariton. “Grok”—that was the twelve year-old Bigfoot—“got shot by some fops and fed to some pigs.” Those were wild boars let loose by Lord Buttle, he being the top resident fop. “But they do have a sick bear for you,” she said.

Sacajariton filled in details as the three hightailed across the ridge to the pit where the Yupa waited and took bets. The salmon were thick in the river, and large calling birds were on the wing.

And they grooved through the grove heartbeat in hand, as one with the wind as were their kind, and they came to a place where Yupa warrior guards spun round from behind trees with great big knives and slapped high fives as the three passed by, swiveling like that periodically right on up to the twenty-four foot square pit wherein a one-eyed black bear with mange sat on its vaguely gray and pinkish mottled haunches looking up at the moneyed mitts of the ravenous spittle-spewing crowd which consisted of screaming pink-skinned white men, many of whom wore bright white powdered wigs and said things like, “You filthy sons of whores!” and, “Kill! Kill! Die! Die!” with such furious exertion--doubly resounding on the appearance of the astonishingly scantily clad Sacajariton--that it was a matter of some several moments before every man there felt fully the presence of Danyul Bune among them, and subsequently shut the fuck up.

It was a foregone conclusion to all who knew Danyul that he would win, or at least should have been, not simply because the bear was small and sick and lacked an eye, but because Danyul had, far and away, the best resume of anybody around for physically besting other beings. Pick a contest, any contest, Danyul always won. Some folks said it bothered him that far to the east there was another guy in coonskin whose name sounded the same. Playing the fame game. When in fact if you actually compared them, Danyul was way better.

For one thing, Danyul was only four years old when he first killed a man. Danyul was a robust man who looked very strong, but Danyul was much stronger than he looked. Sturdily constructed in the extreme, he could at the same time imbibe to much further an extent than one would ever think of even dreaming humanly possible. Some contended Danyul Bune wasn’t even human.

He was already stripped down to the waist. Danyul’s super-manly torso, sporting just that right amount of sag, rigorously jiggled when he dropped down in the pit. Very authentic. Still, he had the balls.

Tracker yelled encouragement at the lip of the pit. “Yeee-haww, Danyul! Show that mangy ol’ bar what’s what! Wooo-weee!”

What was left of the bear’s hair flew off in clumps as it flared up in defense of its tortured life. At this point, it only wanted out, really. But Danyul wasn’t having any of it. He didn’t like the way this goddam bear was looking at him. The bear had, Danyul strongly felt, shown him grave insult. It had initiated asininity. Danyul had taken a personal dislike to it. The code of honor had been breached, and Danyul demanded justice.

“Don’t fuck with me, bitch!” Danyul barked an inarticulate oath, lunging in with a left hook that connected at the base of the bear’s jaw and sent it sprawling to the length of its chain with an audible snap of the spine that nearly killed it.

The cheers of the men resounded through the redwoods as Danyul Bune bashed the bear's brains clear out of its screaming skull with a loud and sudden burst! Later on, after getting paid, with Sacajariton on one arm, a stein of beer in hand, tokin' a fattie, he'd hear Tracker recount the way the bear's neck stretched waaaay out when Danyul struck it, and how the blow lifted the bear clean off of the dirt, so that it hung in the air for one golden moment for everyone forever. But this, this moment was his.

A detachment of fops from Lord Buttle's stockade accosted Danyul and Tracker after they'd dropped Sacajariton off at her place. Tracker quickly inferred that the fops had stupidly bet on the bear, and now as revenge for their loss they claimed the right to detain and search Danyul Bune's person.

Not being a man to suffer others treading on his liberty, Danyul Bune whipped out the war hatchet he kept at his side with a bloodcurdling whoop and shocked the assemblage of freedom-hating functionaries by severing their leader's skull clear from his body with one quick swipe. Dark arcs of blood fountained from the fresh stump. The white wig, spattered with red, flew aside and the shocked, distorted face winced on contact with the surface of the trail.

Tracker, having suffered who knows what in his youth, smiled and smiled and giggled with his peculiar high-pitched mirth as Danyul struck and smote and slashed until all of the butchering was done, at which point Danyul collected a number of body parts to take back to Black Raven to aid in powerful magic.

Black Raven once brewed Danyul Bune an elixir that revealed the secret speech of the beasts of the wood. When Danyul was fresh with this knowledge, a group of three Bigfeet attacked him one night in his sleep, and would have torn Danyul apart then and there to punish him for discovering the cave in the forest leading down to their hidden world, but Danyul was able to speak to the hairy giants in their own language, and thereby managed to save his skin because of the magic of the Yupa shaman.

Chapter Two

That night in the redwoods, partyin' with the Yupa peoples, gettin' all fucked up, Tracker assured Danyul Bune that yes, he could in fact build a time machine. "Yew want a time machine, Danyul, yew jest say the word! Ain't no trick to buildin' a damn time machine! Hell, gimme some crystals, li'l bit of yer basic minin' essentials and whatnot . . . "

Tracker rattled off a buncha other stuff too technical for Danyul in his current state or at any other time to adequately process. His current state was higher than the giant redwoods which stabbed at the stars. Coonskin cap askew, Danyul passed the pipe to Black Raven.

Black Raven took a long hit. One of those hits where the insides of the cheeks meet. He took a long hit like a man with something to prove, but that was just Black Raven.

Black Raven stared at Tracker for awhile. Tracker didn't notice. He was sitting on an overturned bucket recently acquired from a regiment of freedom-haters, examining Black Raven's collection of crystals and expanding to the ether on the subject of his first love, to which no one was listening, which was just as well anyway, because for the life of him he couldn't remember.

"Tracker's such a trip," Black Raven said.

"Tell you one thing," Danyul said kickin' back on a bear skin rug, chompin' down on salmon jerky, "the man's damn sure mechanically-inclined. I seen him make all kinds of shit. It's the way you gotta be out here, yeah I know, I get that. Crap sake. But I ain't never seen nothin' like Tracker for constructin' a contraption."

Black Raven went around his place, coughing and trying not to, putting on various feather headdresses, trying hard to look normal and not look stoned. Then Black Raven saw that Danyul was not only a warrior in the can-do spirit of self-reliance, the embodied epitome of independent excellence, he was also a born storyteller and true friend to the end, for he told of the time Tracker constructed an air balloon device which carried him higher than the tallest redwood. The ominous gloomy figure that was Black Raven got along really well with that battler of Bigfeet and his trusty, crusty sidekick, and knew them as a couple of bullshitters from way back. They were the guys that went the furthest the soonest, livin' the dream on the buckskin fringe, so far ahead of the rest, it would take the rest of their lives to wait around for everybody else to catch up.

"Tracker can make a machine if he wants," Black Raven said, "but it would be easier to use what already is. In a land far from here, long ago, three brothers stepped through a doorway to our world and taught the people how to live."

"Sounds like a bossy buncha buttholes," Danyul said, chucking a chunk of oak on the fire.

"What kinda doorway?" Tracker asked, roused now from his reverie.

"One that goes to other worlds. And yes, very bossy."

"Yeah, well, what the hell kinda doorway goes to other worlds?"

The shaman grew silent, and seemed as though he would speak no more.

"Somethin' I said?" Tracker appealed, perplexed. "What the hell?"

Danyul shrugged.

Again, silence. The oak chunk on the fire snapped and sparked.

Then staring into space Black Raven said, "Tracker, you are my brother, but too often you let your tone get shitty with me." He turned and looked at Tracker. "It pisses me off."

Snap, spark.

There was an uncomfortable pause before Tracker broke the silence. Clearing his throat, he said, "There any of them doorways around here?"

Another pause. Then the shaman replied, "Yes."

"Hey Black Raven," Danyul said, loading a fresh bowl, "what do you say we pass this here around, then go check out your doorway to other worlds?"

Tracker plunked himself down in arm's reach, leaving the overturned bucket seat free.

"It's not mine," Black Raven said, "but okay."


I was just about to go on into Chapter Three, when suddenly I got interrupted again. This time, though, I wasn't interrupted by my problem student. The door to the room above slammed shut. Footsteps on the dusty concrete, indistinct murmur of voices.

"Help, help!" my hostage desperately cried. "I'm down here! Help me, help!"

There was an absolutely perfect pregnant pause. Then I burst out laughing. "You're early," I barely managed. I thought I'd have enough time to read all the way through Chapter Three. "What happens is," I explained, "they all three go to the portal, When they step out of the portal, they're in another time. Our time, actually. They emerged in an Indian casino shortly before I met them. Ain't that right, boys?"

The piece of crap just about crapped himself when he saw, descending into the grow-room, a big Indian in a feather headdress. The Indian hopped down in, followed quickly by two more men wearing buckskin, the big one being bald and uncommonly robust.

"Yew got my manuscript?" said the other.

"Right here," I told Tracker as I gathered it up.

"Yew done read it?"

"Absolutely. I was just sharing it with this lowlife so he could hear what great writing sounds like and get an education."

At this point Tracker discussed his writing process, revealing that he created the character of John William Calder long ago, envisioning a future man in a future world, 1849 being a long way from 1775. Uncannily, he got the Gold Rush part pretty well right. Mainly though, he figured he needed some sort of device to introduce the star of the story, Danyul Bune.

In my feedback to Tracker's comments, I let him know how impressed I was not only with the sheer power of his literary style, but the tremendous quality of character he showed. "Here you are, clearly inspired by someone's greatness"--Danyul bowed--"and instead of being a miserable and jealous twat, you show greatness of your own."


"No problem, my pleasure." Closing my briefcase I turned to my poor little problem student. "You look like you really have gone right around the bend. Wow, kinda gross. Hey, you remember when I had my cell phone out when we first got here? Turns out I didn't tell you the whole story when I said there wasn't any service. Actually, I was standing in the one spot where it works just fine. Texting my friends here. I knew they were for real as soon as we got to talking that first night in the casino. As a writer, I knew. The kinds of things they say and do, no one could make up."

Danyul Bune looked me in the eye. "Much obliged fer yer hospitality," he said, and shook my hand. "If you can find us any pot to trim, me and the boys are lookin' for work."

"You're my favorite frontier hero, Danyul. The last real American. I'll see what I can do. Anyway, for now you can pay off my proofreading the manuscript." Briefcase in hand, I began to climb the ladder.

Several of the little head lamps which I had already clicked on during the course of my reading provided more than sufficient light to see Black Raven as he grabbed a handful of the problem student's hair. I had no wish to witness more. The whole time I was reading and waiting for them to show up I thought I'd want to see, but once it started happening for real it kind of turned my stomach.

From somewhere deep in Danyul Bune grew low and savage growls.

"Wooo-weeee!" Tracker howled, clapping his calloused hands resoundingly and letting out a laugh as he rubbed them together. "We gonna have us a time!"

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