Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Comedy Edit Prep 20120


To Miss Marie,
     I have received the letter regarding your uncle, and I would be more than happy to respond. However, unless you have the misfortune of sharing his troubles, it would be impossible for me to tell you what Edgar Valentine was going through when he killed himself. It is a sad reality that people have committed suicide for a long while now. Depression and circumstance have long been the tipping point for many a poor soul. However, at the time of your uncle's death, no one had ever climbed to the top of the world, only to jump. Since I cannot possibly tell you how he felt, let me tell you more about the man himself; perhaps knowing these things will help you feel for him as he deserved.
     Edgar Valentine was the child of a minister in a small Indiana town that you couldn't even hide a cough in. He had seven brothers and sisters, and an overprotective mother. Like the countless numbers of fictional characters Edgar read about, he set off for Hollywood at a young age to make his way in the world. They say that things don't always turn out like they do in the stories, but the truth of the matter is slightly different, in that even those few lives that do manage to mimic stories aren't all full of good luck and smiles. Those kind of stories are still read from oily pages covered in grime and sweat.
     He would one day come to be recognized as the single greatest comedic actor the world had ever seen, but it wasn't always that way. No, at first he was like the rest of those heavyhearted, but high-hoped youth that crawled the town. He drank heavily, he fought often, and he auditioned constantly, but he did very little acting. In fact, it wouldn't be until a casting director heard a quirk of his that he got any real work at all. When Edgar would sneeze, it would come out as a shrill “achoo”, followed by the throwing of his body in motion to the sneeze. If you have seen any of his movies – as I hope you have - you'll know it as his signature joke.
     For all of his success later in life, he was always known as a recluse, and a shy man off of the set. He would spend hours in his room drinking after the day was done, but everyone thought that the “world’s funniest man” just enjoyed a drink or ten to relieve stress. I suppose we can't really blame them without blaming ourselves as well though, now can we? Some say that if Edgar were alive in the present day acting scene, things would have gone differently, but that is neither here nor there. The point of this letter to you is so that you may understand that Edgar tried his hardest to fix what was broken inside of him, and if he were alive today, he would still be trying his best to make people laugh just as hard as he himself could not.
     The last conversation recorded with Edgar was with a reporter that is notorious for this interview. After what happened, he was promptly fired, and hated by one and all for the rest of his life. I do hope you won't hold what happened against this young reporter though. To be fair, this man was just the last jet of oxygen inside of a balloon before it popped. It wasn't his fault, but I will still tell you what happened.
     After his third installment of “The Kensington Thief” series, your uncle truly was king of the world in the media. Besides himself, there wasn't a person alive who didn't love your uncle; but looking back, we all should have seen how he was behaving that day. He was so very nervous, and he appeared to be on the verge of tears all day. He was required by contract to perform an interview with Douglas Black of the “Hollywood Delve” magazine in regard to his career so far. The lights were dim, and none of us could see the tears that dampened his face until it was too late.
     Looking back though, never having dealt with this kind of thing before, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I had lost so much sleep over it - nights of tossing and turning and crying and wishing - but I finally learned to live with the fact that none of us had any idea such a thing was possible, and perhaps somehow your Uncle helped out Hollywood more than he thought by presenting the possibility to us.
     “Mr. Valentine, thank you- may I call you Edgar?” Douglas asked sitting across from the man. Responding to the nod from Edgar, Douglas continued. “Thank you for showing up here today. This is a very important article for us, and we hope for you as well,” he said while scribbling notes onto a pad of paper. “My first question is what do you think of your own movies? Do you ever watch them and laugh yourself?”. Edgar shifted his weight on the chair, and exhaled slowly before answering. Carefully stepping around the second question, Edgar responded with a simple “I think people enjoy them”. The reporter didn't even give the situation a second thought as he laughed to himself, and replied with a “I'd say so, what with your Thief series being the all time biggest movie success yet!”. Edgar only shrugged his shoulders, and spoke a quick agreement. The reporter still went on though with these useless questions that Edgar had already answers in countless other newspapers and magazines.
     After about fifteen minutes into the conversation, we began to worry over Edgar. He was shaking in his chair, and only answering questions with single word answers. We finally decided that enough was enough, and instructed Douglas to wrap things up. To this day, I wish we didn’t allow him to ask “just one more question”. That “just one more” damn question was the killing blow to your uncle, and later that evening, the final straw on a long list of grievances against his own life. The reporter placed his notepad on his lap, and leaned down over it, peering towards Edgar in the dim light, and tightened his eyes for what he knew to be a serious question.
     “Why don't you try serious acting,” he asked, “why do you only make comedy movies?”. Unknown to us, this question finally pushed poor, sweet Ed over the edge. Jumping out of his seat, and throwing his chair across the room, Edgar grabbed the reporter by the shirt, and pulled him in close. “Because I don't want to be serious!” Edgar screamed. Letting the reporter, now wide-eyed, fall back into his chair, Edgar stared off at nothing particular, and whispered “Because I need comedy like a drowning man needs oxygen,” and with that, he slowly walked out of the room, and went home. To this day, it still gives me chills seeing how ominous his analogy of a dying man would be.
     Only a few of us heard what he said, and because of this, the newspapers fought over what had really happened at that interview, and how it connected to his death later that night. Being your uncle’s best friend, I regret to inform you that the newspapers all had it wrong. It wasn't some mistake made by a brain heavily drowned in alcohol. It wasn't an accident by not paying attention to what he was doing. Your uncle sat down in his bed, swallowed half a bottle of Seconal, and passed away in his sleep; the poor bastard wasn't even smiling! Perhaps what hurt the most, is that even in giving up the weight that for so long pushed down his shoulders, he still couldn't find joy. I can't begin to tell you on paper how very much knowing that would come to hurt me over the next few years.
     For the longest time, I thought he left very little of himself in this world. A hastily scrawled will, dispersing his assets to friends and family, a media war that would rage for years, and a body were all that I thought he left behind. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized he left behind something infinitely more important than anything you and I will ever hope to contribute.
     He left behind him a legacy of movies that gave people what he so desperately needed in life. A sincere smile, lacking condition, that appeared on a face wholeheartedly, and without regret. A red face, and a hand raised to a mouth. A nod in agreement, a slap on a knee, a pat on a young child's head, and most importantly a laugh. Throughout his entire life, all he ever wanted to do was to make sure no one had to feel as he did, and that by watching his movies, they could remember to laugh.
     I guess what I'm trying to say, whatever the reason you sent me this letter, I hope upon reading this, your reaction isn't an obsessive one, drunk on the idea of finding out who your uncle was. Even if you never met him in person, the only thing you ever needed to do to know who he was is watch his movies. Everything he would have wanted you to see rests in them, and that digging through the hows and whys of his life would only cause him to be upset. Just laugh, that is all you need to do to show your uncle how much you loved him. All you need to do is laugh.
- Richmond Alexander: producer, director, and friend.

The Astounding Death of Gregory Fault Edit Prep 2012

The Astounding Death of Gregory Faust

     When I mention classic Hollywood, what is the first image to pop into your head? Rugged men in suits, and fragile women in dresses, floating through heavy hazes of cigarette smoke? In these early days of the American film industry, celebrities acted differently than their predecessors today. Some say they had more morals, and others that they were just more talented. I've always thought the truth to simply be that mystery shadowed their every step. They seemed less people, and more so something unexplainable. Of all these stars, a man named Gregory Faust shone the brightest.
    Gregory Faust was Hollywood personified. He came from old money, had a seemingly endless supply of talent, and had such a charisma that people who would never meet him in person still felt a sort of bond to him. He was known for being "dashingly handsome, and devilishly sly". I apologize for paraphrasing such a cliché, but women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Even at the top of the world, Gregory was still looking up; however, much like another popular cliché, “all good things must come to an end”. Perhaps “what comes up, must come down” is more fitting. Whatever your preference to outdated sayings, Gregory fell hard, and when he hit rock bottom, all of Tinseltown winced for a brief second before going back to their lives, as required of their status.
    We could sit around all day, and listen to the rise and fall of Gregory Faust, and all of the splendor that came with it, but as the title suggests, I'm here to tell you of something much more poetic – his death. Even to this day, nobody can justly describe what happened, but the most respected, important, cherished, and even loved man in the entire world went out in a way that was infinitely more beautiful than the amazing life he had already lived. Here is the story of the astounding death of Gregory Faust.

    “Willem! Damnit Willem, where are you!” a man roars into the darkness of a moonlit room.

    A pool of light from a candle seeps into the room from the space under a closed door.

    “Coming sir,” a strained, but eloquent voice responds.

    The door opens, and the introduction of the candle's flame blinds the lying man for a second. A tall fellow, with a straight back, and a wearied face collecting wrinkles shuffles in and sets the candle on a small table next to the man’s large canopy bed.

    “What can I help you with Mr. Faust?” Willem softly speaks.

    “I had another damn nightmare again! This time, I was a young man, walking down the streets, and the masses are showering me with admiration, but all I do is stare straight ahead, never gracing them with a response. This goes on for a while, until I walk by a mirror, and in the reflection is a defeated old man; the old, wrinkled, pathetic face that I now carry with me. When I look back, the streets are cold and empty. I walk around calling out for help, but nobody responds. I walk back to that mirror, and I see nothing. Even my reflection won't show itself to me. I lay there on the ground, alone and beaten, and the world folds and collapses in on me Willem”.

    Grabbing the butler by the collar of his sleepwear, he pulls himself up to see him eye to eye, and shouts “Tell me I matter Willem! For God sake, tell me I am still as much Gregory Faust as I ever was Willem!”

    With that, his hands let go of the jacket, and he fell back onto the bed. In an instance, he was back to snoring as all old men do. Tucking him in, the weary old butler allows a quiet sigh.

    “We do not age like wine my old friend.” Willem whispers as he looks out the nearest window. Blowing out the candle, he gets up and starts to head back to his room. These nightly visits have been a recurring habit for the past ten years. In a matter of moments, he is safely lying in his own bed even without the help of candlelight, and falls into dreams of when he himself was the young assistant of the world’s biggest star. Dreams of all of the love his career had laid in his hands, and of all the regrets that he had piled up with them as time slipped on by.
    Over the years, Gregory's life had turned into a single recurring schedule. Up by 9:00 AM, and back down by 10:00 PM, filled with the same habits of eating, reading, smoking, and reminiscing about the old days scattered in between. However, the next morning would prove to be something entirely new. The morning light would show suprising boldness, as it entered the room from under the blinds to rest on a clock that read 6:14 AM. Sitting upright with a stunned look on his face, almost as if having an epiphany, Gregory climbs out of his bed, and makes his way downstairs.
    Rubbing his eyes, Willem looks over at his clock, and reads 6:16 AM. Chuckling to himself, he rolls back over, and closes his eyes, knowing he still has three hours before Gregory awakes. Shooting up out of bed, he hears the distant noise of a car sputtering. 56 years could never erase the noise of Mr. Faust's 1923 custom Desmond Model 7, a car that had about as much status as the man who bought it did. It was rightfully named Norma, and was the only vehicle of its kind. All the years spent in the mansion have allowed him to masterfully weave throughout the house, arriving at the garage in a matter of seconds; even at his old age. Breathing heavily, Willem bursts through the door, his old bones shouting at him to take a breather. “About time you woke up Willem. Make us some breakfast, and get ready to take me to town, I've an audition today,” a voice says from under the hood of the vehicle.
    Wringing his hands together fitfully, Willem raises his hand to speak, but lets it fall several times before finally clearing his throat to continue. Not a single word comes out before he is cut off by Gregory.

    “No Willem, I will not be talked out of it, and no this isn't me finally going mad. I have decided to get back out in the acting business. The world doesn't remember me, but they will my friend. I'm Gregory Faust, damnit! If I want to come back to this world, I will make them welcome me with open arms”. “So be a good man, and get ready to leave, time is of the essence!” Gregory says as he slams the hood down. “Ahh, good as new. I'll be in the cab waiting for you, hurry now.”

    Gloves, scarf, and goggles all equipped, Willem fires up the engine, and closes his eyes for a few seconds. A flood of memories of driving around town as a young buck washes over him, and surprisingly puts a bit of energy into his old bones.

    “This was a great idea sir” Willem shouts over his shoulder.
    “This is nothing Willem, wait until we're back on top,” Gregory says with a smirk on his face.

They continue driving along, until Gregory sits forward, and points to a certain street.

    “Turn right here Willem, onto Sunset Boulevard. That's where the studio for my audition is at,” Gregory exclaims, child-like anxiety creeping from his voice.

    Arriving at the studio, Willem turns and stops Gregory by the sleeve of his jacket as he steps out of the vehicle.

    “Sir, I don't mean to dampen your mood, but if things go awry, please don't take it personally,” Willem says. Steeling his face, he looks Gregory directly in the eyes. “You have been my boss, and closest friend for 56 years, and if you feel it so to fire me for this, I understand. But sir, you are pushing 73 years old! You've had more in your life than a thousand men combined, and as much as I would give anything to have it back, wishes are a pallet of pastels that paint over your eyes and blind you to what is reality. What is reality, sir, is that maybe we're just too old for this, and we should enjoy the years we have left.” Willem keeps staring at him, and feels a tightening of his chest as Gregory starts to show his age again; the spark of youth is yet again gone.
    Jerking away his coat sleeve, Gregory puts on a small frown, and stares at Willem. “I'm Gregory Faust, damnit! I've beaten everything else in life, why should old age be any different?” With that, he put on a small smile, and in a much softer voice said “Don't worry so much old friend, you'll see”. As Gregory walked away, Willem sat in the driver’s seat, and pulled out a cigarette. In spite of himself, he laughed about it too. “I guess I’ve been in this job too long to start doubting him now,” he chuckled to himself. Taking a final drag, and flicking the barely started cigarette out of the window, Willem locked up the car, and started to shuffle inside the studio, curiously enough feeling a little kick in his step.
    Backstage, Gregory stands in front of a mirror looking at himself. How many times had he been standing like this backstage in his life? The numbers in his head were warped and running together, and he tossed the thought aside and focused himself. “What do you plan to do you old fool, just wing it like the old times?” he chuckled. With his fingers, he slowly traced the lines on his face for a few minutes. “What am I doing here,” he muttered to himself a couple of times before being cut off by a loud voice shouting “we're ready for you Mr. Faust!”
    Walking out onto the stage, Gregory felt something in him growing incredibly anxious. A seasoned actor such as himself knew a trick or two about calming his butterflies, but this was something different. He felt what could only be described as feeling out of place, but that surely couldn't have been it. This was his world, he wrote the rules, and set impossible to break standards. He could see nothing but the pitch black of the studio, and the only thing that assured him people were out there was the soft scurrying of men and women busy at work.
    After a few seconds, a voice asked “are you ready, sir?” and bright lights flaring up around the stage followed his own affirmation. Holding his hands to shield the light, he peered out into the audience, and stared in horror at the faces. All of the young faces that looked right through him. His nightmare was here in the flesh; his world had forgotten him. He stood for a second, before calming himself, and lowering his hand. To this day, the members of the audience will only say that he looked like a man who had finally found the missing piece of a puzzle long since started.
    When he finally spoke, his trained voice started off soft, and quickly rose to reverberate through the studio. “These lights... They seem so cold and unfamiliar to me now. I know this may sound strange, but there was a time in my life where I thought of them as close friends of mine. To be honest, I felt more warmth from those lights than I did for all but a few choice individuals.”
    As he spoke, he stared ahead at no one in particular, and sadly started to pace on the stage. “What did I expect to happen today? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I had hoped that some of that old synergy would be waiting for me with open arms like those of a long lost friend, but I guess it goes without saying that inanimate objects and superstitions are poor excuses for company”.
    Laughing to himself, he stopped his pacing, and turned to the people. “I look around and see all of your young faces, and for the first time in my life, I think that I truly feel out of place; for once, I can feel the age in me. You know, Tom Hopper sat in that directors chair almost 50 years ago at my very first audition. None of you probably remember it, but I decided I wanted to play the lead, Pietro, in the movie Breath of Air, and at the urging of some friends, I decided to show up.” Staring at the ground, Gregory clasped his hands together, his knuckles showing white.
    “This was the very first movie for the man who would single-handedly conquer all of show business, but do you know what that old Tom said to me that day? Something incredibly moving, or a melodramatic speech of epic proportions perhaps? Maybe some single, poetic line of acceptance? No, Tom lowered the lights after the audition, and after a few silent moments of staring at me, he said “I am impressed”, and started to laugh.
    Of all the things I've forgotten in life, I can still remember this moment perfectly. At the time, something so small amazed me at the impact it had. I had just impressed a famous, classically trained director with my first audition. I took it optimistically, and it was fuel that added to the fire of my career. Looking back however, I realize that pessimistically, I would never feel what he felt that day, because I was only offered the best in life. I had never experienced sublime beauty. I am glad to say that after today, I may finally have figured out what that feels like.”
    Wiping tears from his cheek, Gregory stared out into the darkness of the studio for a few moments before starting again. “Coming onto this stage today, I now realize that I retired a long time ago. I assume most of you know who I am, but I am completely unaware as to who you all are. It pains me to say, but this is no longer my world. Now that you know a little more about me than you did this morning, would you be impressed if this was the last performance of Gregory Faust? Lord, for you all and myself, I do so hope so. In my parting words, allow me to lament for one last moment.”
    Standing up straight, Gregory showed a certain fierceness to his eyes, and took on a stance that suggested youth. He looked proud, strong, and wise up there on that stage that day, with nothing more than a bright light blinding him, and blurry faces watching him from the shadows. “I guess if your life's plan goes right even half of the time, you're much better off than most. Lord knows mine is in contention for the best, but I'm afraid to admit that growing old was never part of my plan.”
    Turning around and starting to walk off stage, Gregory stops for a second, and lifts his head up. “I guess I'm human after all, eh?” With that, he started to laugh as he retreated from the stage, and left the men and women of the studio with their thoughts. “I'm going home,” he says to himself. “I've made a big enough fool of myself for one day”.
    Willem is surprised to feel tears fresh on his cheek. “Mr. Faust, you fool. You poor, stupid, brave, brilliant fool”. As a few of the lights turned back on, he looked around at all of the faces in the small audience gathered around the stage. A few old faces matched up with old memories, and they too had tear strewn faces, staring straight ahead in a sort of trance. Willem scrubbed his sleeve under his eyes to dry them, and laughed at the irony of the situation. Gregory Faust could walk onto a stage and tell you that he was disappointed that the world he once controlled no longer acknowledged him, and that he would never act again, and still put on the performance of a life time. Even just talking to himself, the man could still control a room with no effort.

    Willem would find his way outside the studio after exchanging a few words with the director, who coincidentally enough wanted Gregory for the part, and was disappointed when Willem declined for him. The drive home would hold no words, but both men held smiles dearly. When they got home, Willem parked the car, and they walked inside the mansion together, like two young friends returning from a joy ride around the block. They put on an old movie of Gregory's, and fell asleep on the stiff leather couches in the small theater he had built in the house. If they still didn't feel their age by this point, they certainly did in the morning.
    Gregory Faust would live for a few more years, and thankfully, they were happy ones. Old friendships were renewed, and even some of his remaining family got to spend valuable moments with him. Gregory was no longer that young hot shot who held the world in his palm, but a wise old man that clawed with tooth and nail to cherish every waking moment that life offered him.
    When Gregory died in his sleep one night, the mansion was alive with people the following morning. Willem walked around, shaking hands with those who had come to mourn for the late Mr. Faust, but he himself, did not weep. Gregory was found in his bed on a bright spring morning, with his hands resting on his chest, and a large smile on his face. For the first time in over 60 years, Gregory had found peace, and found it just in time. The world that he thought had forgotten him, showed its true colors. From the television to the newspapers, the world said their goodbyes to the late, great, Mr. Faust – the finest actor the world had ever seen.
    Willem would return to the cemetery Gregory was buried at in a few weeks, and hold up an umbrella to stop some of the rain from hitting him. Standing in front of the large obelisk Gregory had purchased some years ago, Willem smiled, and spoke of how the world missed him, and how he too had missed his best friend. A coughing fit attacked him, and when he lowered his handkerchief, dark splotches of red clung to the clothe. Smiling in spite of the situation, Willem laid a lily at the foot of the monument, and turned to go.

    “See you soon old friend” he said over his shoulder. The coughing fits grew softer and softer before a car engine started, and the grind of tires on gravel disappeared into the distance.

    When I started to tell you this story of the life and death of Gregory Faust, I told you that his exit was infinitely more astounding than his entry, and I hope that you agree. However, I won't hold it against you if you don't, because no amount of words could ever convey what we felt in that audience that night, watching him grow from a bitter old man into a peaceful one. My name is Willem Black, and the doctors say I've only a few weeks left in me, but I wish it would hurry up. I miss my best friend, and I've grown tired of this world that has long-since forgotten about me. As for you, we all stack up regrets until they show on our bodies like bruises, and we can no longer remember what life is- a journey, have fun.

“I have lived a fulfilling life, and I admit that I am impressed”.
Read from the gravestone of a “Willem Black”. A small gravestone in the shadow of a large obelisk in an old cemetery on the south side of Hollywood.

Starcatcher Edit Prep 2012

Star Catcher: A Tale of Average Proportions

I sometimes raise my hand to the night sky, and drag my fingers through the lights, hoping to catch one and bring it to me. But the stars never move, do they? Maybe they aren't so beautiful after all.”

     My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes, I was named after the late lead singer of The Doors. My parents grew up in an age where the popular burned away the necessary brain cells to remember all the good times they had. To try and be nice, you could say my parents lived a life larger than their brains could hold. I, however, call them burnouts who mentally peaked at twenty.
     My name is James Morrison Murphy, and unlike the lizard king, I don't have much sex appeal. I am an average man, of average build, with an average face, and an average personality. I could continue, but I'm sure you see the pattern here. For that, I do so solemnly apologize for telling you my name. I know a person with a name like mine sounds like the adventurous sort, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not. Things always have a way of changing though. Here is my story.

     When I turned 24, I was a lighthearted fellow, fresh from college, and just beginning to taste the bitter flavor life has to offer. I had always wanted to write a novel, but the sad reality was that I was just too plain of a person. Taking the wrong way to work, or getting lost for a few minutes was an adventure to me. I decided to be a book publicist instead; working with books, but in a safe environment. It sometimes occurs to me that the only changes I've made in my life are the results of my mistakes. Does everyone experience this? Is this some sort of life lesson we were all supposed to learn in elementary school?
     Working for a book publishing company was my first mistake. My superiors were the same kind of people you could find on any playground, tossing sand and taking toys that weren't theirs. I came to realize then, that when an explosive personality turned on a candle flame, the result is only the absence of a small puddle of light. This is how I felt when I met my superiors at Castel Publishing; I felt like that quivering flame on top of a melting pillar of wax, thinking that I would soon be snuffed out, either by my own design or that of an outside source. I didn't have a backbone to show, so they would push me as far as they wanted. They knew I wouldn't break, and knew that I wouldn't push back. It's a terrible thing, being so average.
     My second mistake was meeting Sarah. Sarah was similar to me in many ways, much in the same way climbing a cliff is similar to falling off of one. Her father was the president of the company, and she took it upon herself to become my backbone. She loved me, for whatever reason, and I suppose I also loved her as well. Whatever it was, it helped me become better at my job and climb the corporate ladder. I was now in charge of the lower level of publishing—the make it or break it for hopeful authors. I remember once being moved by a recording of the brilliant physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, quoting a passage of the Bhagavad Gita. He said “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” In my new position, I felt as if I too had been given that sort of decision. At least in my own petty, watered down way.
     My biggest mistake though, was actually Sarah's. Why would you put someone lacking imagination in a position to turn down ideas? A novel I turned down was instantly picked up elsewhere, and became a best seller. They even made a movie about it, with that pretty brunette from those big mobster movies a few years back. It managed to grab a nomination at the Oscars. Because of this — and several other major errors — the company decided to let me go, but for whatever reason, Sarah told me she wanted to marry me anyway. The headache I got from trying to fathom this was the kind to keep me off my feet for days. You'd think ceilings were mirrors to some magical land of love and wonder, from how long I stared into one.
     When I finally got up, I spent the entire day with Sarah. Perhaps the things we did had been done a thousand times by a thousand people, but for once, something average felt like something more to me. I held Sarah close to me, sitting in a hammock outside, staring up at the moon, and asked her what she wanted. With her eyes closed, and her head on my chest, she playfully told me “The stars, James. Give me the stars.” She fell asleep on me there that night, but I didn't sleep for many hours yet. “The stars, huh?” I whispered to myself. Can I do that? Can someone like me do something like that?
     I spent the next month of my life sleeping outside under the stars; hands gliding through the dark clouds, jumping into infinite pits of complicated questions under that night sky. I told myself that I was done being average. I was going to grab something of the confusion out there, and make it solid. I was going to give Sarah a star, and for once, I was going to view my life from above, looking down at past troubles and laughing. My hands always seemed to fall short though.
     On our one year anniversary, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant. I had never been a social person, and as such wasn't too great at hiding things. As a publisher herself, it was like being at work for her—from the way she read me as she would a book. Dinner rolled on uneventfully, and we made it back to my home, where we laid down in my hammock for a few silent minutes together. She asked me what was wrong, and I didn't know how to answer her.

“I couldn't get you that star.”
“I didn't think you could.”
“I'm so tired of being average.”
“I'm okay with it.”
“I'm sorry, but I'm not.”

     Looking back, I realize that I lost much more than Sarah that night. I lost a little piece of myself that genuinely loved her, and I lost the future we could have made together. However, like I said earlier, for all of you out there like me who never had the ability to reach into the black curtain of life, and pull out basic truths as children usually do, I had also gained something. I picked up a typewriter sometime between then and now, and I started to write a novel. It was published by a decent company, and actually made me some good money. I didn't get any movie deals, and I didn't win any awards. I never got the girl, and I never found a way to capture the stars—but you know what? When I wake up in the morning, and I look in the mirror, I can tell myself that I am not average. I'm of course no Alexander the Great, nor am I like the brilliant Robert Oppenheimer. I haven't picked the world up on my shoulders, and set it down a little differently.
     I am no one’s messiah, but I did have an average looking person come up to me at a book signing, and you know what they told me? They told me that I gave them hope. She told me that I given her hope. I had given someone else hope.
     I, plain old James Morrison Murphy, the lying lizard king, the school yard Oppenheimer, the heart breaker, the failed starry night sky conqueror, and the man who never had a spine or a shadow, had taken someone up in my arms and told them everything would be alright, and they believed me. I won't soar through the stars in the sky, looking down at my legacy; nor will I again be that candle, so easily put out. I'm stuck somewhere between the two, looking back at my past mistakes, and looking forward to the future ones.

     My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes I was named after the late lead singer of The Doors, and no, I am nothing like him. My name is James Morrison Murphy, and I am just myself — not average, not unique.
Just James, and for once, I think I am truly okay with that. I hope you can look back at your life — mistakes included — and be proud of yourself as well. Thank you.

- Pictor Vela

Tales Told by Lost Shadows Edit Prep 2012

Tales Told by Lost Shadows

     Our tale starts off on a green stretch of softly rolling hills, running in every direction as far as the eye can see. The wind - delicate today – picks up blades of grass the length of a hand, and gently sets them back in place. It dances on deft toes in many different directions, forming patterns of intertwining shapes pressed into the blankets of grass. The designs flow together as they run across the field, until being momentarily divided by a little girl standing in the middle of this never ending expanse.
     The girl – a child in fact – appears to be only six or seven. She wears a long sleeved blue jacket, with a brown skirt; a typical school uniform, in an untypical setting. Walking through the grassy field, she looks over her shoulder irritably, and begins to glare. “Go away,” she whispers, as she starts to trudge ahead; stomping her small feet, eyes looking straight ahead. “Go away,” she says again, this time a little louder than before. Straining her eyes to look behind, the glare darkens as she bares her teeth. Kicking off her shoes, she begins to quickly run through the grass, eyes closed and chest pounding with the effort. Thinking she has outrun it, she slowly turns her head, only to see that no ground has been gained.
     The anger in her eyes flares for only a brief second before shock takes over as she plummets to the ground. Turning around, nothing can be seen in the field except for her shadow, dancing on the waving grass. In desperation, she starts to hammer her tiny fists into the ground where the shadow rests, and starts screaming “Go away! Go away!” Aggressive shouts quickly melt into weeping pleas, as she tries to crawl away, crying out “Please... please just go away. Please leave me alone. I just want to be left alone”.
     The dancing shadow just stares as the little girl grips tufts of grass with her hands, and sobs into the dirt. Unaware, she continues to cry as the shadow starts to stretch out and break away from her. Tiny hands split from the shadow's side; their fingers trying to lace themselves with hers, but coming up short. The sound of a hammer striking an anvil starts to echo inside her head, knocking her onto her back, kicking and screaming for it to stop. Only a few moments pass before she faints, lying there in that field with the wind – delicate today- as it picks up strands of her hair, and gently sets them back in place.
     For those of you unaware, the human spirit is a fragile house of cards, made up of astronomical coincidences; each part playing its own respective role. Removing even the smallest, most insignificant piece will change it. It’s as if completing a puzzle, and then removing a small piece from the middle. Perhaps nobody on the outside will notice, and perhaps it will look fine, but the puzzle is still incomplete. That missing piece will make others close to it loose, and soon, they too will be gone. It’s only a matter of time before it all crumbles, and the puzzle is nothing more than a pile of broken pieces. When Amissa removed her shadow, she in turn removed a small part of herself. She now roamed the countryside, searching for something she was never quite sure of; walking ahead, growing increasingly weary with life. 
     Her shadow was cursed to live life as the shadow of a shadow; close enough to see, but too far to reach out and feel. He knew if he could say just one word to her, they would be together again, but she would never look back. One foot in front of the other, she stared straight ahead and never saw him. For years, she walked from town to town, always searching for that forgotten something, long since forgetting why she was even looking in the first place. Her shadow had given up trying to reach her, and instead finally came to terms with the reality that he would never have her back. After all this time, even he couldn't walk without his head down, staring at his feet and marching in line – nothing else mattered anymore. 
     Our tale concludes three months later, on Amissa's 18th birthday, in the field where she first lost her shadow. Much like her own state of mind, the sky above was heavy and gray. The wind was electric today, changing directions in the blink of an eye; rain fell in heavy sheets. Eyes on the ground, the shadow starts to speak to itself for the first time in over a year. “That's right,” he says with a small laugh, barely recognizable as such. "Today is Amissa's birthday isn't it. Happy birthday dear,” he spoke softly. He somehow found the courage to lift his frail neck, and tried to yet again reach her. To be honest, the shadow didn't really expect to catch her anymore. He had long since given up such ridiculous hope. This was just merely a routine that kept him going. The drumming of rain and crashing of waves is broken by a dry scream, as the shadow runs ahead like he never had before.
     “It's my 18th birthday today,” Amissa said to herself sadly. “12 years of searching for nothing, when is it time to rest?” “I'm so tired,” she whimpers to herself. “I'm so damn tired.” As with every day since that time in the field she had long since forgotten, she walked forward, staring at the ground in front of her. All other sound is drowned out by the crash of waves beating against the side of the cliff, but she doesn’t hear them. It's been a long time since she's really listened to anything. Closing her eyes, she continues to walk forward until she feels the ground disappear from beneath her, and plummets from the cliff into the ocean. If you don't look up every now and then, you’re always bound to fall. She never opened her mouth, because death was not something to fear anymore, yet something surprising happened. She could have sworn she heard a familiar voice scream, but it wasn't hers.
     Her arms are suddenly lifted up, as a black figure wraps his own around her waist. “Absum, you're back,” Amissa sleepily says. “I am, my love, I am,” the shadow responds. Wrapped in his arms, she places her chin on his chest, and peers into his dark face and starts to softly weep. “I'm tired Absum, I'm so very tired,” she manages to get out. Turning her head sideways, he presses her cheek against his chest, and begins to drag his fingers through her hair. “Shh, we can go to sleep now my love,” he whispers into her ear. Through a yawn, she manages to say “I've missed you so,” before falling asleep. Like a long lost friend, Absum's smile appeared on his face for a moment, as tears streamed from his cheek and onto her sleeping face. He held her close, and shut his eyes, and for a brief second, felt as if flying before slipping off to sleep as well.
     Smiles plastered to their faces, and their minds soundly asleep, they never felt the rocks at the bottom as they crashed upon them. Death came instantly, and although quick, in it, held more meaning than a lifetime of searching. If you ever feel that you are wasting your entire life searching for something you can't explain, just look over your shoulder my friend. Chances are it's the only place you haven't yet looked.
- Marek Morello

Friday, June 1, 2012

And the Brief Scent of Roses 2012 Edit.

"And the Brief Scent of Roses"

     On a window ledge sits a pot full of roses, long since having wilted from lack of water. Despite their withering attempts, they do nothing to change the sterile smelling air of the hospital room. Gloria Mayweather sits in her bed, propped up with two pillows, and joins them in staring out of the window. The roses came from her son, who is much too busy with work to come and see her that often. Years of being a mother have taught her to bear the brunt of disappointment, and just hope that he is happy with what he’s doing. Dearest Gloria, how strong your heart must be.
     This night, as with every other for the past month, goes by without event. The nurses call for lights-out round 8:00pm, and after a few minutes, Gloria props herself back up to watch the cars drive by from her hospital window. When she finally finds sleep, it rushes towards her fitfully, full of dreary dreams about all of the regrets in life she has ignored up until now. Suddenly, a metal clipboard at the end of her bed crashes to the floor and startles her awake. The word “cancer” can be seen over and over again as the paperwork scatters across the floor. Her dreams were fuzzy, and full of old faces. The most recognizable being her husband’s; she watched him wander down a long stretch of hallway, asking where she went and why he feels so tired.
     Her husband, Mr. Mayweather, was a wealthy man, from a strong family lineage of engineers. He was also known as a very generous philanthropist, and was well liked by all that he met. He would be taken only two years prior to this story; heart attack they suspect. Although Gloria knew that death would come at anytime in their age, she had trouble ignoring the pain of not being able to say goodbye. The thought seeped into the cracks of her dreams, and haunted her every night until she finally just wished death would come to her. Gloria Maribel Mayweather knew the adage for wishing, but didn’t much care to be careful.
     Several days passed, and while staring out the window, she was surprised one afternoon as cold fingers set themselves onto her shoulder. “How did a nurse get in here,” she wondered to herself, having heard no footsteps to alert her. She turned around, preparing to dismiss the nurse, when her eyes fell on the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. “Robert… I… I can’t believe it, how are you here?” she asks the nurse looming over her. With a roguish grin and a hand dragging through his hair, the man – almost a boy in fact – clears his throat and says “I think you have the wrong person. My name is Michael, and I’m your new nurse”.
     Holding a hand up to her blushing face, she tries to break her eyes away from his, and mumbles an apology. “I’m sorry child; it’s just that you look just like my late husband”. Throwing on a charming smile, the man sets down a glass of water next to her pills. “I’m sure he was a great man, perhaps at another time we could talk about it,” he says, as he turns to walk out of the room. Silence hangs suspended in the air above her, occasionally broken by the sound of her heavy-beating heart. Her face flush red as a rose in embarrassment.
     For several weeks these friendly interactions would continue, and soon began to boarder onto flirting. “What am I doing?” she asks herself. “He’s young enough to be my grandson, I have to just stop being nice to him is all. He’s not being intentionally flirty, he is just a kind boy, trying to make an old lady happy.” She resolved herself to speak to the boy the next time she saw him. However, time passed as slowly as ever, and her motherly patience was starting to show cracks.
Six nurses would present themselves in the next few days that followed, but none of them would be Michael. “Where had the boy gone to?” she began thinking to herself. When she finally asked one of the other nurses about it, she received only a peculiar look.“There is no nurse named Michael on staff. Are you feeling alright dear?” Confused, and moreso angry, it wouldn’t be until the next night that she would see him again.
     Lights-out had been called, and for several minutes Gloria had been watching her cars outside the window, when a knock came at the door. Michael walked in without making a noise, and sat at the foot of her bed, watching with her for a time. Together, they sat there in silence, staring at the speeding lights fly past each other without ever looking back. The solitude is broken as she turns abruptly, and starts lecturing the boy. “Why is it you come here and talk to me so often? What is it about this worn-down old woman that you so desperately seek friendship with?” In spite of the serious situation, Michael let out a small laugh. “That is just like you Gloria, straight to the point”. Misinterpreting his laughing as an insult, her face darkens. “I know you don’t work here, I have already asked, so what is it you want from me?” Michael puts on a small smile, and replies in a calm voice “I may not be registered, but I assure you I do a lot of work around here.”
     Turning his smile to the window, he notices the flowers in the vase, and comments “Pretty flowers”. “What are you going on about? They are dying old roses, nothing more than ugly reminders of their past beauty” Gloria responds. Plucking a rose from the vase, he holds it in his hand and starts to speak to nobody in particular, “To me, a rose is only perfect when it has finally shown its age, and to that effect, its true colors. It has been beautiful its whole life, but it’s not until it shuts in on itself that we can see how gorgeous it has turned out to really be. The way it finally shows its flaws, the way it finally drops its guard. That is how you are Gloria, you are still as beautiful as the day you first met your husband on that dock in northern Michigan,”.
     Holding up her hand to rest it on his shoulder, she tells him “I appreciate your kind words, but I am no longer that eighteen year old girl playing coy on a dock in the Michigan summer, I am old and-”, she stops talking as she falls back to her bed and starts to shake. Something terrifying dawns on her. “I never told you where I first met Robert, nor were you alive to see me back then. "How… how do you know these things?” she asked him. “Because it was the last thing he told me before I took him” Michael said solemnly; black eyes reflecting the dancing white lights of the cars on the highway. “He told me all about you, and how happy his life was because of you. It made me very happy to see him smile before the end.”
     Gloria felt as if she should be screaming for help, for fear of her life, but somehow she couldn’t. The only thing that mattered to her was what Michae had just said about her late husband. “He… he said those things about me before dying?” she asked. “Yes” he replied, a sad smile showing itself on his face. Shaking softly, she turns her heard towards him, and whispers “Then are you here to kill me as well?” “Yes” he replied, that sad smile losing what little warmth it had, “but I’m not here to necessarily kill you. It’s just that it’s your time, that’s all”.

Wh-who are you?”
 “I refer to myself as Absolution, but many call me Death.”
“Was all of this just so that you could take my life?”
“Did you do it, that I might pass in peace?”
“Thank you. I assume yours is a thankless job, but for what it’s worth, thank you.”
 “You’d be surprised. But you’re welcome all the same.”

     “I’m ready” she says as she closes her eyes. She hears his fading words in the form of “It’s already over” as she falls into a deep sleep. Her body felt warm as she drifted off from consciousness. A smile bloomed on her face – completely genuine – anxiously waiting to see her husband. A chiming melody softly reached her ears, the scratch of a record player barely letting itself be known over the music; the final song from their high school dance. Letting loose her final breath, she thought to herself “I’m close darling”, and with that she let go.

Also, there is one last thing I forgot to mention; she smelled the brief scent of roses.

                                                                                                                              - Singultus Feelgood