Friday, October 9, 2020

BACK ON THE MICRO TRAIN

 


     So I actually started coming up with the long-neglected form that is the Micro Novel this past week. I wrote like 6 or 7, I'll give you a few here. Don't say I never did nothing for ya.


BUKOWSKI AND ALCOHOL

(A Seriocomic Micro-dissertation in one act)



"You could toss the idea of cause and effect all day long, but consider this: If the hero of the story shows up in an Oldsmobile, what's the central point-----that he was in an Oldsmobile, or that he showed up?"

Wally skulked toward the back. The lecture had just begun and it was already too boring and pretentious.

He found the restroom and locked himself in. His salivary glands were going crazy. He knelt over the throne and spat repeatedly. His entire torso felt like it was about to implode. Finally the feeling passed. He sat down and shat like a horse. After that he stood up, turned around and threw up.

He puked standing, and all the blood vessels in his face exploded. He felt it burn hard across his cheeks and knew his face would be all red and blotchy when he came back out. He lay down for maybe twenty minutes. When he stumbled out the damned lecture was still going on.


                                              ************


STABBY STAB STAB

A Micro Novel



The Meet and Greet did not go well. Some people can bring the whole room up and some people can bring the whole room down. Jeremy had some imagined beef with Knuckles and he was going to sink the whole room with it.

"What happened to the other singer?" Jeremy demanded.

"I'm the singer," said Knuckles.

"You weren't the original singer..."

"Yeah, I am."

"You aren't the guy on the first album," said Jeremy. That guy had a really low voice. You sound like Janis Joplin on a crack bender." Knuckles' face was darkening, but Jeremy seemed unphased by the whole thing. "I liked that first album. What happened to that singer?"

"I am that singer," Knuckles growled.

"How come you changed your voice, then?" Jeremy stared daggers through him.

"It's called throat cancer, you idiot," screamed Knuckles. Jeremy glowered and decided that sounded like it might be important or something. He kept his mouth shut the rest of the time.


                                    ****************


THE NIHILISTS OVER IN DOVER


A Micro Novel




All holy hell over the fragility of furniture and anything on the upended coffee table legally belongs to the floor. It's not an easy night as the goddamned spanking paddle has broken clean it half, cheap piece of crap that it is.

“Was”, not “is”. There's no time to get sentimental about these things.

The sad malfunction's not going to slow me down, though---I'm a bull in the China Shop writ large, bashing down norms, guardrails and your Mom's old bread pudding recipe. What'll I wreck next? What have you got?

I couldn't tell you word one about god, whatever that is---all I know is I go nuts when her lips form the word, “fondue”.


                            ****************



HOW TO GIVE PEOPLE SEPSIS AND OTHER PARTY TRICKS


A Micro Novel



All over the kitchen, up and down the stairs, losing consortium and tearing her hair out, “all the bags, so many bags, where are all the bags coming from?!” She hailed from the Midwest, so “bag” kept sounding like, “baig”.

Punky just laughed the whole thing off. He was eating like a King.


                 ********************


So there's some of the latest fun. I go back and forth on "Stabby" because to me it's less a Micro Novel and more flash fiction. But who am I to split hairs? I think I said what I wanted with it; you clowns can bandy theory back and forth----I got less important things to do.

Copyright 2020/C.F. Roberts/Molotov Editions


THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:

DAVID BOWIE-Heathen, Aladdin Sane

VAN HALEN-Van Halen I, Diver Down

THE RHINO BROS PRESENT THE WORLD'S WORST RECORDS


Thursday, August 6, 2020

I AM THE EXCREMENT: "The Second Wound" and fun with rejection letters


A few months ago, when Alien Buddha Press announced their “rejection” issue, allowing writers to bring forth their favorite rejected pieces and rejection letters, my first thought, was, damn....I wish I could find “The Second Wound”----moreover, I wish I still had the rejection letter from that one goth mag....

Well, lo and behold, here I am on the tail end of a move, going through some rando boxes of cripcrap, and guess what turns up?


--the SECOND wound--



You are the second wound. Does that distress you or please you? If it helps any, you're the second behind her and somehow the worst. It came as a jolt, because I never thought, in all my wildest, blackest dreams, that you would draw more blood than she. There you are, my dear, secondhand but ultimately lethal, but I still have to thank you, because your sting eclipses hers and I thought I'd never get through hers alive.

She was the golden, whirring blade of the west, a jewel, a sapphire turning into diamond in the setting sun of my youth's distressed autumn. Hope. A word I laughed, barking stonily at. Joy. Light. Love, for light and all such dazzling things. Excited, hands clapping with glee as though she were at the circus. She was the first wound, the bitter plateau that made my heart foolish, caring, expectant, insane.

Reckless was the name of my fall, all the while begging favors. Divination, ghosts lurking in cabinets, the voices I ran to, the voices I screamed for, an easy answer, a ray of hope, off on my hobby horse, examining frivolous trace elements of matters unscientific. All the while I was buoyant yet sinking in quicksand, groping for a branch, a root, an imaginary hand to hold on to, invisible warmth, a cold lie, a mountain untamed, and what it was, was sacred ground too high and foreboding for a lowly immigrant palmer, a fortress, the shrine untouched and unseen.

All bridges and paper towers must fall beneath the unsure feet of a mad, sad fool and with time these steps were torn asunder as I tried to balance myself on them. The Prettiest Girl in the World is groomed into royalty and so knows well her station in life. Her criteria are demanding and fruitful in achievement. Who shall she choose for her consort but the Prettiest boy in the world? And so in flash, a clear, sparking wonder, a world ends, a tiny world, insignificant, one that will never be missed, imbedded in the grainy pavement to be scrubbed away by a wretched civic lackey after the wailing morning editions.

And so she was the golden blade which struck me and drew that unlucky first blood—she was like the wide golden pathway paved with gems and adornmemnts. My body and my soul trembled, my hands shook and my knuckles whitened, on my knee alone and bowed, cowed against those castle walls, the unscalable fortress. No, over and over in a shaking, feverish litany, no, no, no, don't let it hurt, no, don't do this, no, not again, don't let it happen to me, a telltale sign, a sealed, oaken door, a dead end that cackled and proclaimed, fool! It happened to you before you even realized it! A world untouchable, untouched, a relentless cliff never climbed, never to be, never to be, foremost in an endless string of tragedies and aches and unheeded prayers.

An ending, but not an ending, because you are the second wound, the silver knife sheathed lovingly in an ornate, touching icon, camouflaged in a fairy tale skin. Your cool waters drove me helplessly your way and again I was pilgrim, beaten against the torrent, wanting and needing for a cure, an antidote for the leprosy, the damage of my soul.

But the soft, quiet glory sought was glory superficial, for you held that concealed blade and when salvation grinned at my addled eyes like a snake hypnotic or a tiger voracious the illusion laughed and pulled away. The Sacred Virgin is a statue, forged of granite, eyes of cold stone and this false, eleventh-hour hope, that small faith I held to my heart and so fleetingly entertained turned savage and gaping and tore me in half. This timid pilgrim approaching with bent reverence and the cautious eye of an injured child only seeking the warmth, the calm, the shelter of grace, an exit from these dark, lugubrious corridors, was surprised to be mauled by such treacherous beauty. I liken you to pitcher plant, fragrant, irresistable, inescapable and carnivorous. This is how we bleed and die, we impetuous insects, bleed and die, bleed and die. The rose in its blooming, pink allure entrances us, blinds us to the barb and leaves us torn.

Callous, iron multitudes passed my chalk outline and in despair I dragged myself away. Off the sidewalk and out of the rain-beaten gutter which was at this point sanguine with my dark discharge. I was half-paralyzed, wondering how to ever, ever walk, function, live or look straight ahead into the world again like I wasn't wounded and dead. I was seeing everything around me with shocking, new, crystalline eyes that weren't condescended to or lied to by futile hope or eager desperation. Mine were the stark eyes that saw through the shadows, the lyrical summers, the lovely screens and this world's lush, seductive contradictions. In my rage and disappointment I bellowed like a lost, trapped animal (which is what I was) and prayed to be struck blind forever.

I never asked for these feelings you and she have visited upon me and were I given the opportunity, the offer of false hope once again, if I had a choice in the matter, I would choose to be petrified, a thing of stone, and feel nothing. I am the excrement, the beggars in gray legions who crawl these cold streets. We try to rise above the flurrying traffic, holding up a frightened hand to reach out, seize a handhold and then our grasping fingers are trodden upon, broken.

Bedraggled and frozen, I crawled to the cathedral, held my battered body against its walls and cut my forehead on the stained glass. Bloodied forever, the pain, the ache drove me to my knees, drove me into a ball, a giant fetus on God's doorstep. Noooo, I cried, while the heavenly host sang in their intangible jubilation, noooo, not again, not again, don't let it huuuuurrrrt anymoooorrrrrre, crying out, shattered and choked like a broken mother bereaved of a soldier son. Not again not again nooooo, but yes, again. Again. Again, like a revolving door, like an assembly line, ongoing, repetetive, unending.


******


The ice, the roar of the vacuum, the disease unholy and toothsome in my innards I stumbled about the parchment harbor and I came to the blades, the mill, the concentration camp, the noisesome grinder where the fish are taken every day to be disposed of. The mass grave, surrounded by gratings, rusty, bloodstained tin walls and bridges which ride, brazen, discolored and unmoving, like the baleen of a long-dead whale and in between all of it, the dirty, used-up water is confined, semi-stagnant, where it lashes out against the structure with feeble, dying waves. The nets are dragged up mechanically from the water, pulling the fish up again and again for sorting, butchering and separation. Different bins are filled with different parts---the stripped flesh, the various internal organs—the bins are individualized for easy and even shipping and distribution. In the meantime, the bones and the heads, those visages, pictures of their shredded souls now wiped away, are dropped like so much mechanized stool into a Dispose-All Unit the size of Yankee Stadium and the blades whirr like those of a giant blender, pureeing it all into muck and the stench fills the air for miles.

I sit and watch it all and my face becomes dry, stretched, like leather. After a million bodies are destroyed, blessed oblivion creeps in to conquer me and it is all rendered abstract, meaningless.

Copyright 1990 C.F. Roberts, 2020 Molotov Editions



The Second Wound” was the granddaddy of all the Guy-Who-Can't-Get-Laid stories, along with the way-the-hell-too-long “The Night is for Lovers”, which I wrote concurrently in 1990, after I'd finally polished off my first novel. I found this manuscript for the first time in many years and ran it by my wife, who was sort of taken aback by the whole thing. “There are a few words and phrases that jump out,” she said, “but I've been reading your writing for years, now, and this doesn't read like you.”

Do with that what you will. You're on my blog---there's plenty to read.

The “story”, such as it is, is simple: When you strip away all the imagery, metaphor and flowery language, it's like, “I liked this girl, but she liked this other guy and I was bummed. Then I fell for this other girl and she rejected me, too. Now I'm really bummed.” Kind of a textbook example of raw emotion and very little substance wrapped up in a lot of fluffy, overwrought prose.

It was the early 90s, I was starting to actually pick up some publications and an ad came up in one of these zines I contributed to soliciting for poetry and fiction for consideration in this forthcoming Gothic magazine.

Gothic. Okay. “Gothic Literature”, as I understood it, was very purple, angst-ridden, fatalistic romance of the sort that was churned out by the likes of Goethe, the Bronte Sisters and so on. Gothic MUSIC was the label, as I understood, being fixed onto bands I enjoyed listening to like the Sisters of Mercy, the Cure and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds....again, gloomy, overwrought, depressing and fatalistic.....I'M THERE. You want Gothic Fiction, lil' magazine coming out of Maine? Have I got the ticket for YOU!!!!!

I sent out “The Second Wound”, which was a mainstay in my story arsenal at the time, as well as a newer one, “Fat Chance”, an equally depresso piece of work which you can find elsewhere on this blog (happy hunting!)

The lil' magazine out of Maine wasn't havin' it. I became well-acquainted with the editor at this point, who was not shy regarding constructive criticism nor about sharing her philosophies on writing, themes, philosophical approach and a variety of other things.....

She gave all kudos to my talent and my wordplay, but told me that, surely I must know how dangerous it was to objectify an individual as a “wound” or a “blade” or any such thing.....

Do WHAT, now?????

I learned a few things about political correctness at this time. So you couldn't use metaphors or allusions or other such writerly tools to describe an emotional state of being, because that's “objectifying an individual”.

SUUUURE.

Wanna tell me the story sucks? Sure, I'll buy that. Overwrought, solipsistic garbage? Okay. This “objectifying an individual” horseshit? No. Just fuck off a cliff with that nonsense.

She further told me that the character in the story deserved the heartache he suffered because he was weak and left himself open to it....she tried to sell me on Ayn Rand's ANTHEM, which I gave a pass to.....so, politically correct AND an Ayn Rand freak? Points for versatility, I guess.....she would later declare that she categorically refused to read all 20th century authors with the exceptions of Rand and Anne Rice----well, yeah, this lady was one of a kind....

She came back and told me, later that she'd decided that she'd be willing to run “TSW” as part of a compilation of “feminist horror stories”, as kind of a cautionary tale....I responded, not just with a no, but a HELL no, because that was never my intention with the story. Seriously....this lady was calling herself “Gothic”?

But I'm never one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I became a reader and supporter of the mag, which lasted a year or two....

VAMPIRES, huh? Wow. Didn't realize up 'til then this shit was supposed to be about VAMPIRES. Okay....

I did get several stories and poems run in the mag over the span of its existence, anyway---although I always found it kind of odd that my whiney guy-who-can't-get-laid stories were considered beyond the pale and “objectifying”, but my stories about predatorial psycho killers (who looked at their victims, more or less, as food, and usually came out of the stories with no comeuppance for their actions) were a shoe-in.

You never know.

There was perpetually a dig between us, though....she began pushing her idea of a literary revolution she called “outsiderism”, which near as I could figure was supposed to combine many of our underground/DIY ethic with her Ayn Rand aesthetics.....she described me in some editorial as ”a writer who uses his elastic command of language to promote ideas far afield from Outsiderism”....uuuhhh....not sure what “ideas” those might have been.

I think that she always perceived some imagined “rivalry” between us which was honestly never interesting to me. She projected this kind of highfaluttin' pseudointellectualism where in one instance she would be challenging “Miltonians” (people who like John Milton, I guess) over one thing or another and it was difficult to discern what her issue with Milton was---at another point she extended an invitation to me to attend some soiree up at her place in Maine, where he announced (in the mag) as drinks and discussion over the place of romance in contemporary art and literature....

NUH-UH!!!! Sorry, lady, it don't work that way! I'm not driving all the way up to Maine to be your foil in front of all your hoity-toity drinking buddies!!!!!

I'm not the champion of some supposed genre, nor do I have an agenda in pushing some abstract philosophy. I'm a fucking guy who writes stories, and THAT'S IT.

The Second Wound” would get a second lease on life in 1995, in the pages of BIZARA, an interesting little fly-by-night mag that used some interesting, if now-outdated computerized fonts and graphics that would become more commonplace in the next decade. So, at the end of the day, life was good.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

JEZEBEL'S WIG (A Caustic Lament)




    1. I'd gotten tired of peoples' expectations, which is to say everyone expected me to get over it, and none of them would have settled for my dirty shoes on a bet. They're soiled; they're venal. I'm white napkins on spiffy tables. And I know they want to railroad me.
“Deal with it,” she says, and he eyes are all gethsemane, e.g. don't pass this cup under me, Dad.
I grow weary of explaining these things.
Bustling multitudes of walking, phlegm-blasting, yellowjacket casualties ghost over the desert and beat on Jerusalem's door. They're carted off to well-wishing and tea on 18-wheel hearses of sad glory and obligatory fish fountains.
She readjusts her interchangeable coiff and that makes her blonde this week. She likes being a blonde. She excels at being a blonde.
The bodies stink around her, but even in the puke-and-piss-mired nightfall she retains a kind of infernal, unflagging stature. She'll burn all the bridges she must to get her heap of flapjacks. All others be damned, she is the Quintessential Entropy Device.
(Here it should be noted my Better looks over my shoulder and prods me, reminding me of the danger involved when one objectifies an individual as a “Device”. I hawk an erudite loogie and continue)
She rides in state among the festering carnage, trying to be subtle as she pulls up a stocking.

    1. There are too many Bathroom Gods wielding ball peen hammers to impress the compulsions of the weak. We need renovations.
Give me strange dogs, a la Bunuel and Dali. Throw it all out in the open. Give me the primal play of a baby's eye. Give me nails and tacks in technicolor.
Give me irresponsible rhetoric and action—only through unreasonable maneuvers can one hope to subvert the zeitgeist.
Give me a piss-and-vinegar outlook and a mask, a cap and a burlap bag so I might be a burglar of th latent mind. Give me actions above and beyond the deadweight of conscience and consequence.
Give me a horrific effigy god with a blunt barbecue tree stump snout. This deity will be the last word in terror. So terrible that he causes mean-spirited little men to weep in supplication and reconsider their paths in life.
Give me a crew of soaked miscreants too get drunk, ridiculous and sentimental with while oldsters in traditional lederhosen honk on alpine horns and batter accordions with percussive, padded cell furor.
Give me the raw of the movie stripped past the mind's vain distinctions of time and place, revert personage back to archetype, subtle aberrations of nuance and characterization to the most base level of grunting moral and skeletal campfire yarn.
Give me a life without apologies, a clear, uncut conscience not hampered by the nervous tremors of Should.
Give me a premature, hereditary widow's peak. Give me the best thighs on the regional poetry scene after she gets done fucking his image off her body. Give me the knife of her words to twist hard. It's the only defense I have left.
Give me a quaint coastal town, the platonist dream, the dullard standard of a writer's paradise, to strafe and raze and obliterate along with its entire population of fishermen, franco-american blue collar yobbos and yuppie tranquility fiends. What sane scribe can write in paradise?
Give me the ability to piss on a tiara and get past all of this.




'96 or '97, early days in Fayetteville, I think. Never published.

Copyright 2020, C.F. Roberts/Molotov Editions

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

"THE MEAT FACTORY" has landed






THE LOST DINER
THE MEAT FACTORY
ZONED INDUSTRIAL
MONSTER KID
SHIT FLAVORED SHIT
RETURN TO THE MEAT FACTORY
HANNIBAL AND SANDI IN THE AFTERGLOW
THURSDAY (The Sound of Tiny Planets Dying)
THE AQUARIUM
GHETTO HEAD
LOVE AND DESPERATION IN THE MEAT FACTORY
THE KING OF MOTHS
THE SCOWL
THE JENNIFER TREE
AFTER THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH
ACQUAINTANCE
MAGGIE AND MERRILL GET REAL
THE MASK
I HEARD HER CALL MY NAME (A Story of Devotion) 
JESUS, SUPERMAN AND RICE PATTIES
SON OF THE MEAT FACTORY
ACTION, REACTION
CARTOON LAND

This protein laden beast available now from the fine folks at Alien Buddha Press (Distributors of fine contemporary literature)



THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
MINIVAN-Debut album
ALICE DONUT-Mule
THE WHO-Tommy

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

KINGS, QUEENS, ACES AND JOKERS





take another wild stab at
an entire damned house of
cards collapsing
where mortgage bubbles pop and
austerity grimaces from the ramparts
dogs and monkeys tell
cheap futures

when the next gaggle of regular joes
crumble under the weight of a
thousand dollar emergency
when the next dozen grenfells fall
and the yellow vests multiply

will I see you there
brothers and sisters?
Will you break bread with me
over oligarchs roasting on spits?

Eventually
it all comes down to physics
entropy
erosion
applied pressure
escalation

eventually

it all comes down


12/31/19


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

PUG HATES HIS NAKEDNESS


reviling the mirror perversion, mercury blasphemy, this stain, this ache, this blot on his soul. Pug is true to his stigma—chases those parked cars, bashes his fool nose in---pokes, heaves. Pug huffs and crawls, humps cruel linoleum. Climbs, laughing, cursing his forsaken flab, his opaque, his fishwhite. Mounts porcelain face first, groans, retches---cascade of resentment and broken expectations. Purulent dream. Shuddering. Pug natters, ugly powdered hailstones, pelted with psychic pains, learns no lessons, hands over his head, sputters, rattles. Blessed mess, immaculate decline.
Muscles grind, constrict and Pug bites at the strings of a liquid rainbow, vivid filth. Permanent stains in toilet, in sets color, decoration. Bitter bane, gastric walls of acrid colors...shit tube wells in revulsion, forever a graffiti salad. Pug heaves, pulls remnants of spew away from his flat, unrequited face—Pug pelts off-sterile white from his drudgery and existential bathroom woe. Throws darts at his own eyes---conjures thorns for your braincake.
Hitting the floor with a meaty pug thud, Pug whispers curses to his dull, limp pallor, throws hatred and disdain toward his genitalia dangling sorry—exercise in vile science Pug cools forehead on cold appliance---fever broken reverie, indulgence suicide. Pug hates full-on, jealousy smashes bugs in multitudes----



Copyright 1991 C.F. Roberts, 2019 Molotov Editions


THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
THE GUN CLUB-Mother Juno
SWANS-Leaving Meaning
KING CRIMSON-Larks' Tongues in Aspic

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

THE WINDSHIELD OF A MOVING CAR IS HARD, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU DROP ON TOP OF IT FROM THIRTY FEET


Okay, so, note: I said I was going to do this thing over a year ago. It was the most outrageously stupid idea for a short story imaginable.......if you knew me back then you'll remember the quote: "I'm going to write a story about a guy who legally changes his name to Howard the Duck. And I'm going to make it good. And I'm going to get it published."
        And I did, too. Here ya go. 





Howard the Duck stumbles through the intersection of North Street and Mission Boulevard. He coughs. The light changes halfway through his crossing, because the light, the confounded crossing sign, is never up long enough for anyone trying to cross the street. He coughs again, almost trips, and cars begin honking. He finally makes it across and the stream of traffic headed up Mission Boulevard continues on its way. A van full of kids in baseball caps is one of the vehicles that rolls past him. As it goes by, the door slides open and one of the kids leans out bodily. The kid yells, “hey, buddy! Fuck you!!!!”
It sounds, probably due to the wind, the general street ambiance and what have you, as though the kid yelled “puck you.” or maybe “buck you,” but Howard the Duck gets the point.
He doubles over and lets loose a loud, hacking cough and then he tries to flip the kid the bird. The door has closed back up and the van is now safely in the distance, well past his revenge.
Most of the suffering in the world is created by kids wearing baseball caps, Howard the Duck thinks. He looks down at the base of his hand and notices a wad of blood. Goddammit, He thinks, and tries to wipe it off on his jacket. He keeps walking.
Howard the Duck has problems. First and foremost, he has Tuberculosis. He is dying. He's also a pedestrian, which only belabors the point.
There are other problems, though, that only create greater impact in his life.
A. Howard the Duck has a price on his head. He is almost sure of it.
B. He is a walking copyright infringement. And he must allow that this is not an accident of birth but a choice he made, a moral stand that has had ramifications in his life.
      1. Nobody understands him----not his girlfriend, or the guys at work....not even his best friend.
All of which brings him back to his primary goal. He's walking to McDonald's. He's going to meet his friend Spider-Man, to tell him he disapproves of his lifestyle choices.
Howard the Duck shakes his head. Skippy, he corrects himself, not Spider-Man. I refuse to call
him Spider-Man.
Skippy does not understand the weight and the stress of being a walking copyright infringement. Skippy is young, of course, and only sees the glitz and glamour of naming yourself after your favorite character. Howard the Duck realizes all of this and hopes to make Skippy aware of some of the pitfalls he has to live with.
He hears a shout back toward the intersection. He half-turns. He's always looking over his shoulder these days, because he knows Marvel Comics are following him and he is sure that they mean to kill him.
Nothing. This time.
Besides, he thinks, changing your name legally to “Spider-Man” is stupid. Spider-Man is a popular character consumed by the masses for no good reason and to no good end. There is nothing special, risky or meaningful about such a move.
Changing one's name legally to “Howard the Duck” is a bold and deeply personal move that invites hardship and misunderstanding.
A. Few if any people hear “Howard the Duck” and think of Steve Gerber's brilliant, existential satirical comic. They usually think of the horrid '80s movie if they think of anything.
B. There is nothing fun or glamorous about filling out paperwork and signing it as “Howard the Duck”. Try renting an apartment that way. Buying a car. Shit, try VOTING.
      1. And again, the afformentioned understanding that you are a marked man, your days are numbered and Marvel Comics are trying to kill you. And in the case of Howard the Duck, it's just an arrogant grab for intellectual property. There's not even a goddamned profit motive.
He will set Skippy straight on this and more, if it's the last thing he does. And it might be.
His real last given name is “Vlierboom”. He hates it. The guys at the factory simply call him “Boom”, which he's fine with. They can't pronounce “Vlierboom”. Past the bosses who hand him his paycheck and the personnel department who he had to clear the change with he has no desire to share this with his co-workers for all the obvious reasons. He doesn't need any of the wise guys pointing out that he is not actually a duck. He knows that.
It's a point that Jessie, his girlfriend, makes frequently. “I'd be happy to meet you in the middle and call you 'Howard the Man',” she tells him. “I mean, you are a man, you know.”
“That's not the point,” he retorts, “I'm trapped in a world I never made. I literally am that character.”
“You're making a world you never made by calling yourself a duck,” she says. She always falls back on that one and he thinks it's all beside the point but then they smoke up another big fatty, he hacks up a lung and she starts talking to him about how he needs to see a doctor. So nothing is really ever solved in this circular exchange.
It might be a problem of the therapist in question. Jessie says she's a playwrite, although she's never written a play in the whole time he's known her.
Howard the Duck busts his hump for a couple of miles before finally reaching the big intersection and heading to McDonald's on the other side of the street. He winds himself getting across the intersection but makes it in good time. He crumples up by the light post. “Uh-hriiiii-hriiiii-hriiiiii-hriiii,” he coughs.
To get to McDonald's from the corner he has to hike up a steep hill and cross a couple of different parking lots. He thinks that motorists don't know the painstaking difficulty required in going everywhere on foot----needing to walk miles for a futile meeting at McDonalds because your best friend has made a stupid life decision. Of course, the whole process only exacerbates the coughing. He
tries to apply some thought to this. Spider-Man. Why Spider-Man? And for the love of God, how the hell did Skippy slip that one past Judge Dunn?
Judge Dunn hates legal name changes. Jessie had actually told him this back when he first decided to change his name to Howard the Duck. She had a friend, she said, named April Morgan, who decided, for religious reasons, that she wanted to change her name to Purple Vanguard Trixie Diatribe 6. Yes, the number six, that was her last name. Judge Dunn grudgingly gave it to her but not before forcing her to give a long, detailed explanation as to why she wanted the name change and what it meant.
“Later on, like a year later,” Jessie told him, “she thought maybe her choice went a little far and she was having trouble getting jobs...she went back and got it shortened to just 'Trixie Diatribe', and the Judge yelled at her about how much of a burden she was putting on taxpayers. She gave her the name change but told her she didn't ever want to see her in her court again.”
Howard the Duck encountered similar wrath. He explained to the judge that he wanted the name change because he was trapped in a world he'd never made. She told him that such frivolous petitions like his were putting state taxpayers into a world they'd never made, but she grudgingly granted him the name change.
He does not know Trixie Diatribe.
After a herculean hike (and another good, hard cough), Howard the Duck finally makes McDonald's. Skippy is sitting in the booth closest to the exit. He's sipping on a shake. “Took ya long enough,” says Skippy.
“You know how far I had to walk,” rasps Howard the Duck, and this causes him to lurch into another coughing fit.
“You oughtta take a Riccola,” Skippy adds. Howard the Duck stops and regards Skippy's hairy moonface, peering at him guilelessly from underneath a mop of greasy, brown hair. He stops short of ripping him a new one.
“You eating, smart guy?”
Skippy looks down at his shake and then looks back up. “Nah, I'm good. Been waiting for you. For a while.” He holds up his wristwatch for emphasis.
“Alright, well, I've had a long walk, so I'm getting something.” Skippy nods agreeably and Howard the Duck gets in line.
His McDonald's order looks like this:
A. Quarter Pounder, no cheese.
B. 10-piece McNuggets.
        1. Sweet-and-Sour Sauce.
          D. Hot Mustard Sauce
          E. Large Fries.
          F. Medium Diet Coke.
Howard the Duck does not drink Diet Coke because he believes it will make him thin. He drinks Diet Coke because regular coke drinks are too sugary for him.
Upon receiving his order he sits down with Skippy at the booth by the exit.
“Skippy,” he says, and then, seeing Skippy frown, he corrects himself. “Sorry....'Spider-Man'.” Skippy's face softens slightly---apology expected.
“Been missing you at Munchkin, dude,” Skippy says, glazing over the faux pas. “Where ya been?”
“Sick,” says Howard the Duck, coughing again.
“Yeah, no shit,” remarks Skippy. “You oughtta take something for that.”
“I have TB,” Howard the Duck grunts.
Skippy takes another sip off his shake. “Sucks,” he says.
“Yeah,” Howard the Duck says. He tears into the burger and begins coughing again. This time it seems like the ketchup is setting it off, but everything sets it off. The cold air. The car exhaust. The food. You name it.
“Damn, dude,” Skippy says again.
“I'm dying,” says Howard the Duck.
“I guess,” Skippy muses.
“You're a goddamned idiot,” says Howard the Duck.
“What do you mean?”
“First and foremost, you don't listen to anything anyone tells you. That's just for starters.”
“Huh?! Dude, I have absolutely no idea what you mean!”
“I bet you don't, but that's just for starters!”
“What the hell, pal???? We haven't seen you for weeks at Munchkin.....months, maybe----and then you're all yellin' and attackin' and callin' names?”
Howard the Duck regards Skippy with a hard look and several vignettes go through his head:
A. Impalement
B. Castration
      1. Waterboarding, however hot, hip and trendy that may come off.
All of the above scenarios are accompanied by happy whistling music. There are a multitude of grievances at work in his head right now, but he puts them all aside in favor of one, which in his mind represents everything.
“Spider-Man,” he sighs.
Skippy smiles. “That's my name, don't wear it out!”
“Are you on crack, you fuckin' moron?! Seriously, are you sure your parents weren't related? Answer that for me, will ya?”
“Dude!”
“Don't 'Dude' me again, okay, ya mongoloid? Just what the fuck is wrong with you???”
“What do you mean??? Dude, what's up your ass????”
“Okay, so first off, I have to know, how hard did Judge Dunn jump down your throat when you told her you wanted to change your name to Spider-Man?!”
“Not at all! Man, she was a stand-up Judge!”
“Yeah, I'll bet she was.”
“Listen, just because she was a cooze to you doesn't mean she didn't learn something and lighten the hell up, man.....”
“Yeah? Yeah? What, exactly, do you figure she learned, huh?”
Skippy stammers for a few seconds and licks his lips. “Ah, maybe she got more tolerant of other peoples' individuality? And maybe you could re-learn some of that?”
“Oh, really? And whose individuality did she get more tolerant of? Explain that to me, will ya?”
“People like US, dude!!!! People who have their own ideas! People who don't march to everyone else's drummer, you know?”
“People like us,” crabs Howard the Duck, half under his breath. “Explain to me, exactly, how calling yourself 'Spider Man' helps you assert your individuality.”
“Well,” says Spider-Man, look a little nonplussed, “you know!” He gestures frantically to Howard, as if that should speak for itself.
“No,” Howard the Duck smiles. “I don't. How about you explain it to me?”
Spider-Man now has a look of concern and frustration on his moonface. It reads a mix of “you should understand this already, dude,” coupled with a dash of “I thought you were my friend”.
“You know....being the Hero. Being your OWN hero! What you always tried to tell me!”
Howard the Duck is not placated. “I don't remember ever telling you that.”
“Well, not in so many words....”
“It's my moral obligation to call you on your shit, genius,” Howard the Duck sneers. “I'm dying, do you understand that? I'm DYING. And on top of that my life is shit. Marvel Comics are coming to kill me. And if they're coming to kill me, you'd better believe they're coming to kill you! Do you have any clue as to the can of worms you've popped upon yourself?”
Skippy cocks his head, not unlike one of those pug dogs who doesn't understand what it's being told by its owners. “No one's going to kill you, my friend! How could you think something like that?!”
“Fuck you!” Howard the Duck says though gritted teeth. The dumpy employee cleaning tables across the way stares their way and it's over. Howard the Duck knows he's been made. “Calling yourself 'Spider-Man'-----what kinds of sacrifices does that really require you to make? How much harder has it made your life? Do you have any idea of the cliff you're headed for???”
Again, the quizzical expression. “What are you talking about? You're starting to worry me, bro!”
“Why 'Spider-Man'?!” Howard the Duck is trying his damndest not to scream in Skippy's face right there in the restaurant now. “Justify that to me, will you please? Why the hell was it such a big deal for you to call yourself 'Spider-Man'? What made you think that was such a good idea?”
Skippy stammers, “it's just my own personal choice!” He waits expectantly, as if that should be a satisfactory response.
“I get that part. What the hell is so great about Spider-Man to where you're going to change your name to that?”
Skippy looks agog as if to say, how can you even ask that? “Dude! What's so great about Spider-Man? What's so great about Howard the Duck? So, see how easy that is?”
“You're avoiding the question! What the fuck does goddamn Spider-Man say about you?”
Skippy looks contemplative for the first time ever and he chews into his answer with some level of deliberation. “Well,” he says, as if thinking about it for the first time ever, “Spider-Man is cool.”
Howard the Duck fights back a scream. “Please continue.”
Skippy searches for the words. “Spider-Man is a badass. And by taking the name I become a badass!” He smiles hopefully.
“Kill me,” groans Howard the Duck. He lets loose a frail, spluttering cough.
Now Skippy goes on the offensive. “Listen, where do you get off? I made a personal choice that's very important to me. Spider-Man is cool, everyone knows that! What the hell's so great about calling yourself Howard the Duck?! I saw that movie when I was a kid----it sucked ass!”
Howard the Duck affixes a dead stare on Skippy.
“Yeah, you heard me,” Skippy says, more emboldened. “I saw that movie. Howard the Duck sucks ass. So don't go trying to judge me!”
Howard the Duck gets up out of his seat. He suffers an explosive coughing fit.
“That's right, buddy,” grins Skippy. “So how do you like it?” Howard the Duck hobbles out the door, hacking uncontrollably.
With great difficulty, he makes it across the parking lot and into the woods out in back of the shopping plaza. He finds a treestump in a clearing and rolls himself a cigarette. He smokes and coughs and smokes and coughs and then he just sits there for several hours, thinking and yet trying not to think because thinking hurts too much.
It's getting dark. He's wasted his entire day on this worthless errand. He hobbles at least a mile to the Gas Mart. There's at least one good reason to stop there---they've got one of the few still-functioning payphones----hell, maybe the very last----in town.
He sees that it's fifty cents per call and he wistfully remembers back when a dime was required.
He stops for a second and remembers when there were payphones.
Howard the Duck doesn't have a cell phone. He dislikes and distrusts them. He had a little flip phone at one point---he got rid of it because it was problematic and everyone was looking at him as if they thought he was a drug dealer.
He dials up Jessie. “I need to see you,” he wheezes
“That's cool,” she says, her aloof, baked tones coming across the phone line. “Dude, this is amazing---I have to show you!”
“What?” Howard the Duck is irritated. His head's still back in McDonald's with Skippy, who legally changed his name because he thought it would be cool.
Spider-Man, he corrects himself.
Jessie disrupts his personal hell. “I'm back! I'm done! I wrote a musical! A whole musical! It's finished!”
Howard the Duck is not in the headspace for this. “What?”
“I wrote a musical-----big, broadway, all the bells and whistles-----I wrote a musical based on WATERSHIP DOWN!”
It's as if someone hit him in the face with a brick. “WATERSHIP DOWN???”
“Omigod, babe, it's so amazing....I feel like it came out of me through some other force----this is going to change everything!”
“Hold on, back it up a sec. WATERSHIP DOWN, that's a book about rabbits, isn't it?”
“No! It's an allegory----it's an epic and an exodus about people who leave their homeland and fight to make a new existence.....”
“Epic and an exodus, Jessie----are the characters in the story or are they not rabbits?”
“I....they are but they're not,” long silence. “Dude, you're really harshing my buzz, okay? Come over----I'll play you the songs. They'll make you believe, just like the world is going to believe!”
A harsh wheeze turns into another coughing jag. He manages to eke out “I'm dying,” into the phone.
“God, there you go being negative again! Come to my place! I'm going to play you my songs and....”
“I saw Skippy. He changed his name to Spider-Man.”
“Wow. That's crazy.”
“He doesn't even know. He doesn't even know.....”
“Howard, you need to stop, okay? It's a little weird, just like changing your name to 'The Duck' is a little weird, but it's fine! That's his choice!”
“No, but his reasoning, Christ, it's so dumb! “
“Boy, there's the pot calling the kettle black! Dude! Drop all your crazy no-hope and come hear all the songs. And quit worrying!”
“ 'Kay,” he grumbles. “I'll be over soon.”
“ 'Bout time! Love you!” She coos.
“Yeah,” he grumps and hangs up the phone. He ambles past the front window of the Gas Mart and sees that there's a comic rack in there.....understocked and lonely, but goddammit, it's an According-to-Hoyle comic book rack. A twentyish, unkempt, long haired kid is loitering by it, thumbing through a dog-eared Archie comic.
The kid looks up and stares through the window at him, as does the fat clerk with the muttonchop sideburns behind the counter.
Payphones. Comic book racks. There's something not right about this place....these people. Time to leave.
He worries that they might all be agents of Marvel Comics, sent to watch him. Or apprehend.
He walks along the dark road and hits the trailer park where Jessie lives by eight thirty in the evening. Several things happen:
A. Jessie plugs in her Casio synth and plays Howard the Duck all the songs from her WATERSHIP DOWN musical, in sequence. She talks about how she wants all the actors to wear hats with bunny ears and she shows him some of her choreography ideas.
B. Howard the Duck goes out to the tiny kitchenette, grabs a steak knife and stabs Jessie forty times.
    1. He lights a number of glass-encased Catholic saint candles around the house and places them all around the gas stove.
    1. He opens up all the gas valves on the stove and heads out.
E. He begins the arduous hike back to his own place. He never gets there. He's found dead by the side of the road the next morning. The eventual autopsy report mentions exposure and exhaustion. And Tuberculosis.
News of the oddball murder/death makes the rounds on all the local news affiliates, everyone has a good laugh over the whole thing and it is quickly forgotten. He is consistently referred to in the reports as “Howard Vlierboom” instead of his legal name, but everyone takes a moment out to laugh over his given name. No mention is ever made of his obsession with an arcane cult comic book character.
Skippy is overcome with grief because of the death of his friend.
A. He belly flops off the overpass on Exit 76 one Saturday morning.
B. He goes straight through the windshield of a Mini-Cooper, accidentally killing a family of four who were visiting from Oregon.
    1. Several state highway workers are wounded in the wreck.
The entire region is shocked and saddened by Skippy's death. Roadside tributes are erected in his honor. His sister tearfully tells the local media that he had been very despondent over the last several weeks. She describes him as “an old soul” and says that he loved comic book heroes like Spider-Man.
Spider-Man ephemera pops up along with the usual bouquets and crosses along the spot where Skippy ended his life. Years go by but sad and haunting stories are handed down and exchanged for decades to follow, regarding the tragic story of The Spider-Man of Exit 76.




Copyright 2018 C.F. Roberts, published in UNLIKELY STORIES MARK V. Copyright 2019 Molotov Editions


THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:

ALICE DONUT-Pure Acid Park
WAYNE SHORTER-Juju
SWANS-The Seer
SWANS-To Be Kind
VIC BONDI/ARTICLES OF FAITH-Fortunate Son EP