Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Well, maybe not a "song" exactly.

Okay, totally not a song.
But there's a definite lunar-ish quality, of sorts...


The woman who made wax figures left her house early one morning with something bulky in her arms wrapped in dark green cloth, and the intention of conducting a conversation with one of the ascended masters. The transcribed speech of a sleeptalker had revealed the master's weakness. She had in her arms a mechanical music automaton, a monkey garbed like a jester. When activated, the automaton played Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata and hopped back and forth through a silver hoop.

The sleeptalker was a neighbor girl named Agatha. The woman who made wax figures paid with a charming doll for Agatha to record what she said in her sleep and present the sealed transcription. The music box was irreplaceable, but the wax woman knew a bargain when she saw one. She once saw the girl use her gift to disintegrate a bad chicken that kept pecking all of the chicks. The bad chicken's residue drifted over a scrub field as a diffuse cloud of light that spun aimlessly about and fizzled. Seeing the look in the girl's eyes, the wax woman had sealed her lips regarding the wasting of chicken meat...




Monday, September 15, 2014


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Magic, The Wicker Man, and American Gothic.

In honor of autumn fast approaching, these moody movies steeped in madness, torture, and murder. Dark, offbeat films that play for keeps, each features an absence of the supernatural, minimal special effects, and an absence of the villain as hero. Common to all four stories is the need for meaning, and human connection, the fear of time, and of being alone.
Also, dolls. Grand Guignol—that French Gothic theater and arch, ominous style--means “big puppets,” and each of these films deals with puppets in weird ways worth checking.
In Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play sisters living in a rotting LA mansion. The Davis character, a former child star called Baby Jane Hudson, was herself a sort of puppet. And used a doll in her routine. But that was many years ago, and now her routine consists of taking care of the wheelchair-bound sister she resents.
As Corkey in Magic (1978), Anthony Hopkins plays a bottled-up character destined to pop. Like Baby Jane with her doll, Corkey’s ventriloquist dummy Fats resembles him, and serves effectively as his manikin. The doll-self, ageless and frozen in a fixed role, accentuates the predicament of the puppeteer.
From Heart of Darkness to Deliverance, the further away from civilization the greater the predicament, as well. The same holds true for The Wicker Man (1973) and American Gothic (1988). In the dark roots found at the extremities, traditions of violent sacrifice await, and a curious mix of “You shouldn’t be here” combines with “Stay with us forever.”
In all four movies the element of hanging onto something longer than should be held is crucial. The policeman played by Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man—itself a giant sort of doll—finds the people of Summer Isle hanging onto some mighty strange old ways. The yuppies in American Gothic similarly uncover an antiquated family when they find themselves stranded on a Pacific Northwest island.
Absence of villain as hero. What generally drags horror movies down is the mistaken idea that slashing equals horror. It is a rite of passage to laugh and eat treats while watching movie murders, the grislier the better. That’s why most of those movies are boring. What makes these four films work is the uncommon focus on story. That allows for interesting characters, which in turn fuels some legendary performances.
Davis and Hopkins both give some of the best performances ever seen on film. Perhaps only Peter Lorre in M has the breakdown moment to rival scenes in Baby Jane and Magic. For Christopher Lee, the name most associated with film horror of any in these selections, Wicker Man is arguably the best role of his career—and he did the movie entirely for free.
That’s how good.
Rod Steiger playing Pa in American Gothic is a solid choice. He brings a ton of character to Pa when he lets one eyelid droop a little while speaking. Like he just got whacked in the head with a pan. But Yvonne De Carlo as Ma. Sephora from The Ten Commandments meets Mrs. Munster. Now that’s inspired casting.


 Stewart Kirby writes for

Friday, September 12, 2014


Audio link:

In the summer of 1939, Alfred Hitchcock was set to shoot a film which would be produced by William Randolph Hearst. A big-budget suspense thriller, the picture would star Errol Flynn opposite Peter Lorre. Flynn was to play the owner of an advertising agency mistakenly kidnapped by henchmen of bad guy Lorre, with action culminating at Hearst Castle. The role of Flynn's love-interest was to go to a gorgeous newcomer supposedly hand-picked by Hearst.

Principle parties headed from Hollywood up north to San Simeon in the middle of July to stay for a week, with the exception of Hitchcock, who hated the idea and managed to avoid going. Over dinner one night with a dozen celebrities, Orson Welles, soaking impressions in preparation for Citizen Kane, remarked how appropriate it was that the film's two leads, diametrically opposed as characters, even had opposite names.

"Errol, Lorre," young Welles said as though he were introducing the two, "Lorre, Errol."

Everyone got a big kick out of it. Even Peter Lorre, who took Errol Flynn's friendly slap on the back with a good-natured chuckle. The previous year, during a radio broadcast which Welles gave the night before Halloween, panic had ensued when many of those listening thought The War of the Worlds was actually happening.

The dinner was held in a huge room filled with art and antiquities of inestimable worth, and the room rang with music, laughter, and conversations recounting wonders beheld by awestruck celebrities and goggle-eyed tycoons. Hearst himself presided over most of the affair, keeping his gorgeous young protege close by, and always ready to intervene whenever it seemed she and anyone else, particularly Errol Flynn, became engaged in dialogue.

Halfway through the second course, an attendant briskly whispered in Hearst's ear, and the host left the starched and glittering assemblage upon some pressing point of business, in which absence the protege regaled those seated nearest her at the long and sumptuous banquet table with some rather fascinating information to which she happened to be privy.

"He let me see some special pictures," she said, not seeming to notice the reserved amusement this admission elicited. The table grew increasingly quiet, however, as the excited young actress held the attention of people she idolized growing up, and for the first time in a long time the looks she saw on people's faces had nothing to do with her inestimable beauty. "There used to be giants all around here," she went on. "Long time ago, some ten feet tall! The ones I seen the pictures of had great big long heads that went way back, and they had long red hair. You could still see it. Why, they got ten foot-tall red-haired mummies all over the country."

Brows knit, his watery, boiled egg eyes glistening concern, Peter Lorre inquired, "Where are these enormous mummies now?" 

"Beats me. Still underground, I guess. Gee they got swell towns down there. Hey, anybody gonna have that lobster?"

Lionel Barrymore being in attendance, he executed a world-class boarding house reach and passed the lady her lobster. "Go on, my dear."

"Well, I probably shouldn't say, but it's on account of all these ancient underground cites that go back nobody knows how many thousands of years that this here picture's even being made. Can you believe that?"

"Why, dear child," Barrymore said, "whatever do you mean?"

"Well, it's not for me to say, but with what he knows about all these giants and things he's sure gonna turn some heads. They're gonna have to re-write history because of him. That's an honest-to-God fact."

Through open bay windows which admitted ocean air there appeared the startling sight of a huge head quietly regarding the dinner guests. One of the giraffes allowed to stroll freely around the golden rolling hills of the estate had learned to hop the fence . . .



First day teaching Creative Writing at the College of the Redwoods Garberville Instructional Site.

We started off by introducing ourselves, saying a little bit about our writing background, including whether we'd ever written a story. Of the eight writers enrolled in the class, two have trilogies in progress, two bubble with dystopian narratives, one has an earth goddess-y sort of superhero, most have dabbled in poetry, and everyone there blew me away with the quality of their writing.

I was the only one there wearing a tie. Amazed my fingers even remembered how to do it, actually. I carried my dad's old briefcase. He taught at the high school for many years, and got to see me come slumping back after work with the tie untied and draped over a shoulder. It was my dad's old tie, come to think of it. One of a few he gave me long ago. Why, that tie even figured into my contribution for our in-class writing:

The classroom was quiet. Too quiet. "I'm supposed to write a piece of description," he thought. He looked at his tie. The green and tan stripes in the half-Windsor smacked of used car sales and nights in St. Augustine sipping cold gruel. They didn't make gruel like they used to.

He thought about that as he listened to busy fingers tapping. Suddenly, Brandon's cell phone went off. Talk about grueling. They didn't make cell phones like they used to, either. This one was loud. Too loud. Loud as a man selling used cars in St. Augustine with a green and tan tie.

I'm still fascinated by and appreciative of getting to see people shine. You notice the little details, and see the humanity of the people in your community. You wish there was beer and a selection of cold cuts. You figure that probably some sort of picnic should be in order.

We talked about getting into that self-hypnotic state, most or all preferring to compose longhand initially, and we shared views on marrying honed skills with life knowledge, and on distilling the essence of one's visions into story.

So now we're off and running! Looking forward to next week when we'll hear what we've all come up with during our absence . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2014


It’s summer in Fernden. The fair is on its way, and locals are rehearsing for the upcoming production of “Hair.” Yet unknown to all, ancient alien technology buried in the redwoods, having finally corroded, has bled into the biosphere and reanimated a corpse bent on revenge, with the help of a Deadhead Sancho Panza.

From Chapter 4 of Part Four:

Opening night on the way to the play, the rotted corpse prowled the tunnels below the town, emerging periodically beneath partially lifted manhole covers to ascertain whereabouts. It was a tactic that had proven generally tenable before. Having emerged on one occasion near Statuary or Bust, what was Will Todd escaped detection from unexpected passersby by holding still among the statues displayed in the shadowy yard. Another instance, fifteen minutes passed posing as a scarecrow before a change in the wind worked in the corpse’s favor. Being able to somewhat simulate, but not requiring breath, it could stay stock still till all the cows came home and died of old age, if necessary.
But on opening night when the corpse got caught, the preference for secrecy had greatly abated.
In raising the manhole cover, and bothering less with stealth, the corpse determined to descend and progress further past two more manholes in the tunnel. Yet at the grating sound of the heavy lid angled up from below and settling back again flush, two young men of college age noticed from an alley on the other side of the street.
Their names were Trent and Christopher. Trent was working the summer at the Fernden branch of Rodeo Video. It was smaller than the one in Carata, but if you watched the commercial–“Yee-hah! Just a buck! Wrassle up a passel of moo-moo-moovies!”–there was a moment where the Fernden branch was acknowledged, and you could see Trent was the one handing a video to a smiling and nodding customer. He hated the job, and had plans on becoming a director. It was his brother, Ron, who had turned him on to attending the university in Carata in the first place. But now he rarely saw Ron at all.
His friend, Christopher (that was the name by which he always introduced himself, and never liked anyone who called him Chris), also from down in the city, was tall, overweight around the hips, and had a rich dad. Christopher was absolutely certain he carried a superior air. Trent thought that, too. It was what had gravitated him to Christopher, down in the city, at a party. Now he was trying to sell Christopher on the area in general and the university in particular. Christopher, already sold, was also absolutely certain he was much too bright to be a very good student, and had privately committed himself to trying to sell his dad on the prospect by showing an interest in the fraternity.
In a mutually emboldening display promoted by the way they felt two college guys who had some drinks should act, and aided by a flashlight on Trent’s key chain, they removed the cover and climbed down.
The dank black tunnel extended further behind, to the south, than to the north where it terminated at a lefthand bend fifteen feet ahead. “I didn’t know you could go down here,” Trent said.
“It’s not like anybody has anything else to do around here,” Christopher snorted, bowing alongside Trent and trying not to get his clothes dirty. “It’s all gross down here. I can’t even stand up. Where’d that sucker go?”
“I don’t know, man,” Trent said, raising his voice. Already his legs were fluttering from maintaining his knees bent at a forty-five degree angle in an excessive effort to avoid touching anything. “Where did that sucker go?”
“You know what? You know what? We ought to go kick his ass. Kick his freakin’ ass!
 “Holy crap, Christopher!” Frankly impressed with his friend, Trent wanted Christopher to know how messed up those drinks really got him, too. He swung his flashlight in an arc across the confines that settled on the figure directly behind them.
The crouching corpse punched Trent in the face with a stiff left. Then hooked him again on the side of the head, and on the neck. Half a dozen thudding punches before in desperation Christopher reacted, extending his arms and clawing ineffectually on what felt corded and grooved like the bark of a tree. Even as Trent slumped in the muck, legs quivering spasmodically, Christopher’s buffeted head slammed against the damp wall with a sickening crunch, and the felled body hit the grime like an animal in a slaughterhouse . . .



In the college town of Carata, Phil S. Stein, passionately opposed to television, can’t find work beyond his weekly-paper movie reviews and occasional part-time jobs. When his landlord, Dinah Zauber, offers to pay him to pick up a flat screen TV on the outskirts of Las Vegas, where stands the world’s tallest tower, Phil takes the job. Yet for all his education, Phil has no idea what’s inside the TV waiting for him, somewhere deep in the shadow of the tower.

From Chapter 8:

The city looked like a motherboard, gutted from a giant computer.
J. Ronald Nixfeld surveyed the scene unimpressed high in the tower above. 3,333 feet high above. His blurred eyes spun like slot machine wheels scanning the sprawling grid, taking Southbridge down to Chipset, turning left on AGP, right on ATX. The ball bouncing in his spinning brain landed on a number.
“Eyes On Those Neighbors,” he said on speaker phone. “The Price Of Liberty Is Service. Resistance Is The Real Slavery. Are you getting all this?”
From overhead speakers came the voice: “Yes sir.”
“Difference Is Failure. Your Next Life Will Be Better—Buy Now. No, wait, scratch that. You'll Get Your Life Later—Don’t Be A Freeloader! Exclamation point.
“All right now, put those out there. I want those slogans everywhere. That's all for now.”
“Yes sir,” the voice from above replied.
J. Ronald Nixfeld didn't use cell phones. “They cause cancer,” he often said, and knew whereof he spoke because he owned several cell phone patents and manufacturing plants. Same thing with soda pop. He didn't ever drink Punch Drunk. That was only something he owned. Most of what he owned caused death, one way or another. Of all his possessions, the tower was the most tangible, dominating the sky. Most tangible, and most visible. A crack whore once asked him if he wasn't afraid of a plane hitting the tower. J. Ronald Nixfeld responded by saying nothing, only letting a long wide grin crack across his face. Then the smile became a giggle. And the giggle became a laugh. He had walked away, laughing.
Languid crack whores in the next room were calling out to him. J. Ronald—J.R. to his intimates—had already voice-activated another call. “Have him sit down for the interview with the microphone receiver in his ear, away from the cameras. I'll tell him what to say. He'll look like he's thinking for a moment while he waits to hear what I tell him. Got it?”
“Yes sir.”
“You've already provided the interviewer with the list of questions?”
“Yes sir.”
“J.R....come on, baby....”
“Hold on, baby,” he called back to the crack whores. “Now listen, I want you to look into interactive graves.”
“Pardon me, sir?”
“You know! Didn't I tell you? The thing where you pay and a projection of the dead person appears over the grave and answers prepared questions or something. I can make more money off people when they're dead than I can when they're alive. Death lasts longer. You really widen your market base that way.”
Interactive graves was actually an idea from Wanda. So was the one where people pay to participate in actual virtual war. She got the idea of people paying to push the button that fires the gun from the drone at people on the other side of the world, in real-time, while she was smoking crack. The ability to safely and comfortably participate in actual warfare, paying to press the button and see on a big TV a village get bombed by an unmanned drone was not yet an available product, but J. Ronald Nixfeld was working on it. And again, it was Wanda the crack whore secretly responsible for the color coding of the political parties.
High as a 3,333 foot kite, J. Ronald Nixfeld, giggling uncontrollably, had barely managed to say, “What colors should we use?”
And Wanda the crack whore said, “Oh, fuck! I don't know! Red and blue!”
“Which color for which party though?”
“It don't matter, baby. You own ‘em both, anyway.”
Wanda and Trixie called out for J.R. again.
“I'll be there in a minute, baby,” he croakingly cooed, then resumed with the overhead speaker as he turned from the grid of the city spread before him in the slanting morning rays. “A friend of mine in the pharmaceutical industry came through for me, so call in a favor with that guy who owes me at the lab. And don't worry about catching anything. It'll be pigment specific. Tell the heads of the mortuary industry they all owe me another one now, by the way.”
J. Ronald Nixfeld’s stubby pud started to stir. So much talk about death and debt seemed to help the Raisex. The same company was coming up with an equivalent product for women not yet available for market, to some extent because it caused cancer. Knowing that, and still providing it to his crack whores, gave J. Ronald Nixfeld a little extra thrill . . .