Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat

Halloween, in case I haven't told you already, is my favorite holiday. There are lots of reasons for this, most of them obvious: the imaginative aspects, the fun of dress-up, the candy, the ghost stories. Then there's my own special reason: Halloween is the only holiday that's almost entirely politician-proof. When's the last time you heard some blowhard spouting off about how Halloween expresses the values that made this country great? "Our long-suffering pagan ancestors, in the days of yore...." It just ain't gonna happen.

I had a great Halloween this year, though it was tinged by a sad note: my old animation teacher, Tippi, died several weeks before. Tippi (or Priscilla, as I discovered from the obituary she was named) was one of the great influences of my young life, when, at the age of nine, I joined her class at the local arts center to learn the craft of stop-motion, cell, and other forms of animation. With regular-8 camera in hand, I produced lots of wobbly, jerky claymation shorts in hopes that one day I'd become the next great stop-motion animator, following my heroes Willis H. O'Brien (who animated my favorite movie of all time, the 1933 King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (whose swan song, Clash of the Titans, was remade earlier this year). Of course, it didn't work out that way; stop-motion went the way of the dinosaurs when computer-generated effects hit their stride, and in any event, I'd moved on to other venues by that time. But I still think of Tippi as one of the most important people in my life, one of the first people who took entirely seriously my love of fantasy and my desire to live a life not altogether according to convention. Several years before she died, I had the pleasure of presenting her with a copy of my book on fantasy film, in which she receives acknowledgment. I acknowledge her again here as an extraordinary woman and an undying part of who I am today.

And speaking of early childhood influences, who should I run into while taking my kids out trick-or-treating (my son in homemade General Grievous costume, my daughter in homemade Ms. Pac-Man monster suit) but one of my childhood friends, Herman, with whom (among many other things) I used to construct Halloween haunted houses in my parents' basement? We'd lost touch for many years, then reconnected several years ago, lost touch again, and now (having traded emails) I expect we'll keep the friendship going once more. It was at Herman's house that I first saw some of the fantasy films I remember best today; on his birthday, his family would set up a rented projector in the livingroom and a bunch of us boys would watch such movies as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (another Harryhausen classic) and The Blob (which made just about all of us sick). I've carried on the haunted-house tradition with my own kids; at our annual Halloween party, my son, the younger of the two, squats inside a cardboard box and pulls all the fishing lines that make ghosts and werwolves and devils dance while my daughter reads a script full of spooky names and (age-appropriate) scary scenarios. So just like Tippi, Herman was one of the first people who helped nurture my love of the fantastic, and bumping into him on Halloween was both a perfect coincidence and quite a treat.

Another coincidence, this one more of a trick: I was unable to attend Tippi's memorial service because it conflicted with my Halloween party. But I guess you could say, in the truest sense, that she was there in spirit.

Monday, October 25, 2010


My latest sci-fi story, "Frogsong," is due out in the anthology Farspace 2 (available any day now through this link). Here's a teaser:


By J. David Bell

The delivery truck rumbled along the muddy road above the swamp. In the cab, eyes fighting fatigue and the gathering dark, Todd Stuckey guided the rig up a steep grade. He could feel his rear tires slaloming in the slop until with a rattle and cough of gears they caught hold. He kept the window cracked just an inch, taking in rich whiffs of diesel to clear his head of the swamp stench, rank and stifling as a latrine. The lush green of overhanging trees faded to a blur in the twilight as luminescent bugs started to dance over the marsh like sparklers. And behind it all, as ever, the song: a drone, a peal, a whine. An endless, senseless cacophony of throats crying carols across the swamp.

In low gear, Stuckey inched down a grade that levelled at the swamp’s edge. One more bend and the compound rose in his headlights: a paved loading dock, prefab trailers, the broad squat gable of the mess hall. On the flagpole, the Stars and Stripes drooped in the sultry air. Beside the dock a halo of sulphur light revealed a solitary figure slumped in his booth, head lowered on crossed arms. Stuckey wheeled around the drive, backed her in, and hopped from the cab. His boots met the pavement with a familiar liquid smack. He circled his truck, unlatched the gate, and sent it rattling to roost. Then he approached the clerk.

The man had shown no awareness of the truck’s arrival; he remained prone, head buried in his arms, cap hiding his face and hair. Close up, Stuckey could see his shoulders rising and falling, hear his snores. They seemed to keep time with the rhythmic pulse of the swamp.

“Delivery,” Stuckey said. His voice came out loud and ringing against the background buzz. “Where do you want it?”

The clerk muttered, raised his head, and squinted. Stuckey saw then he was only a kid, maybe twenty-two, red-haired and freckled, red-eyed and raw cheeked. New guy. He removed his cap, ran a hand through unruly hair, and yawned.

“What you hauling, Joe?” They called the delivery guys “Joes”--as in “Regular Joe.” Stuckey’d have preferred to be called a Regular, but it was the Joe part that had stuck.

He shrugged. “Laminate, drywall, the usual. It’s in the manifest,” he said, shoving his clipboard at the kid’s face. “We got an unloading crew?”

The kid scratched his head as if he’d never heard such a question. “Ease up, Joe,” he said. “Just take it easy.”

“Look,” Stuckey began, but the kid had roused himself from his stool and gotten his legs out the door. “I’ll make the call,” he said, and yawned again. Then he sat there stupidly, hands in his lap, staring at his open palms.

Stuckey left the clipboard and returned to his truck. Last run of the day, he reminded himself. A tepid shower, a frozen dinner, a lukewarm beer, a rerun or sportscast in the rec room. Anything to dream the place away, drown out the sound and smell for a moment. Then bed. Then the same thing the next day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Stupor Bowl

I was listening to a local DJ rant and rave about a guy named James Harrison. Apparently, James Harrison is a professional football player, and apparently he was fined $75,000 for hitting another football player really hard and hurting him.

Now, of course, the object of football is to hit other players really hard and hurt them, so it’s not clear to me why anyone should be surprised when this happens (or why any player should be fined for doing it).

But anyway, this DJ was talking about a Facebook site wherein fans of James Harrison are encouraged to submit one dollar to help pay his fine. Evidently, 10,000 people have already contributed.

The DJ couldn’t fathom this. He kept calling these people stupid. In fact, he used the word "stupid" approximately ten times (which in my household would have cost him ten dollars). How, he foamed, could anyone think to pay a millionaire’s fine? How stupid could you get?

To an extent, I agreed with him. It is stupid for average football fans, folks who make roughly one one-thousandth of what this James Harrison character makes every time he steps on a football field, to pay his fine.

But what this DJ overlooked is, these people already have paid Mr. James Harrison’s fine. They paid it when they paid his outrageous salary, and they paid that when they paid the outrageous ticket prices charged to watch the football games in which he hits other people really hard, the outrageous product prices charged for official licensed team merchandise with his name and likeness on it, and the outrageous broadcast prices charged for pay-per-view and the other forms of media in which his antics are featured.

If it’s stupid to pay one dollar to cover some thug’s fine--and it is--how much more stupid is it to pay that same thug fifty million dollars?

Professional sports, in short, are paradigmatic of capitalist/consumer culture, which convinces relatively poor people to consume overpriced, disposable products (in this case, the games themselves and the merchandise associated with them) in order to enrich a tiny, select group of individuals lucky or unscrupulous enough to have acquired the necessary endowments for such highway robbery (in this case, big bodies, even bigger wallets, and shriveled, nearly nonexistent souls).

And it’s not as if non-fans like me are exempt from this stupidity. When the city in which I live built brand-new football and baseball stadiums to prevent these capitalist vultures from carrying out their threats to leave town, it paid the costs with taxpayer money. Supposedly, this was necessary in order to boost civic pride (something that never paid any hardworking taxpayer one single dime) and to keep jobs in the city (mostly, I might note, the low-paying, menial, benefit-less positions--janitorial, vending, food services--that sports franchises support).

And the amazing thing is, most people in my city--in all cities--are only too happy to pay.

So yes, we’re all part of the stupidity: the fans who send their hard-earned dollars to cover the fines of bloated criminals like James Harrison, the DJs (including the one who broke this story) who host daily shows to whip everyone up into a frenzy about the team’s latest escapades, the city officials who throw taxpayer money at gluttonous bazillionaires, the taxpayers who don’t storm city hall with torches and pitchforks and throw the bums out.

But you can’t say stuff like this to anyone. They’d think you were stupid.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trash Stinks

While I'm on the subject of commercials, how about this one for unrivaled stupidity:

A husband and wife are sitting on their couch at home. Their noses wrinkle. Seems like something stinks. Next thing you know, the camera zooms back to reveal that they're sitting in the middle of a landfill. Apparently, this is meant to represent the fact that their house is malodorous.

So what do they do? Buy a Glade air freshener, of course! Couple sits back down on couch, camera zooms back once more, and presto! they're now sitting in the midst of a forest glen. The miracle of modern air freshening technology has converted a dump to a national park.

Now, of course, once the air freshener runs out--which it will in a month or two--where's it going to go? Into a landfill, naturally (where, I can assure you, it will no longer smell quite so wholesome and piney). But that's okay--the couple can always buy another, and another, and another, and keep on disposing of them in their friendly (someone else's) neighborhood landfill. Their house need never stink again! So what if some other guy's house--or the entire planet--stinks to high heaven? So what if, sooner or later, there will no longer be a forest glen with which to compare the smell of their home?

No one expects commercials to have a social conscience. Or a brain. It would be nice if the people watching them did, though.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Droids R Us

The most terrifying commercial I've seen in a long time is an advertisement for the newest "Droid" techno-gizmo. I freely confess that I don't know what "Droid" is, though from what I've seen, I gather it's the latest and raciest in a seemingly endless line of palm-held gadgets designed to lure us away from life into a pseudo-realm of puerile, onanistic fantasy.

Anyway, in the commercial, a young guy, early twenty-ish, sits at a conference table in his office building, surrounded by his co-workers, his boss standing at the head. Our hero whips out his "Droid" and begins fooling with it. As his fingers fly ever faster over the crotch-sized keyboard, a startling, CG-assisted transformation takes place: his hands and forearms turn to shining, chrome-plated cables, and before you know it, man has become part-machine. As he completes his task and rests back in his chair, the voice-over intones: "Turning you into an instrument of efficiency."

What are we to make of this? To begin with, the masturbatory appeal of the pitch is unmistakable, with a presumably pleasurable physical transformation obtained via the agency of one's own hand. At the same time, the voice-over converts erotic pleasure into yet another business protocol: hearkening back to the efficiency system of Frederick Winslow Taylor, this commercial defines the ideal worker as the man who buries his individuality (and sexuality) in the routinized performance of corporate labor. To put it simply: you jerk off, the Company makes a killing. Work, in this commercial, is literally transformed into a fetish; sexual arousal and fulfillment arise not from human contact but from contact with, indeed inseparability from, the machine.

All of this is horrifying enough. But when you add to it the fact that the "Droid" into which our satiated worker turns strongly resembles the soulless killing machines of the Terminator movies, we've left the realm of horror and entered that of absolute, totalitarian nightmare. This commercial implies--and from what I've seen on the street and in the classroom, it's not far off--that people want to be turned into Terminators, want to surrender their humanity in the interest of corporate profit, want to lose their identity, their heart, their spirit. The Terminators are precisely what I've described above: mass-produced slave labor employed by the ultimate faceless corporate entity, the military computer Skynet; their sole reason for existence, their sole source of pleasure (if they can be said to desire or experience pleasure at all) lies in carrying out Skynet's merciless, murderous dictates. The Terminators are out to kill the human race--and they do so with perfect efficiency.

It makes me want to ask: this is what we long to become? This is our evolution as a species? This is the end of human life?

On second thought, I guess it might be.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another Lost Tale

As promised, I'm publishing on the blog those short stories of mine that have vanished into the cybersphere due to the collapse, disbanding, or simply disappearance of the zines in which they were published. Today, I offer my story "Princess." Special prize to the first person to identify the literary allusion!


By J. David Bell

It is impossible to avoid people you live with.

Chris would be waiting for me this morning, as always. Waiting, a hand on his doorknob, waiting for the telltale jiggle of my door beside his. When it came, he would fling his door against the wall, its noise so jarring I had to stop in my scramble for the steps even though I knew he who hesitates is screwed. The first few days I eyed his blank portal as I inched toward safety, thinking a watched door never yawns or maybe even I could will it to stay closed. But always the door would snap open like the maw of a toad while I, the fly, stood transfixed. The next thing I knew Chris would be in the hall, lazily fiddling with his lock or shrugging into his baggy blue letter jacket, carelessly cocksure. Then he would look up, snap sandy hair from his eyes, and begin his charge, one hand raised as if hailing a cab, the other out to stiffarm obstacles from his path. His grin would widen as he saw how I stood, the door bar half-pushed and the toe of my sneaker wedged in the inch-wide opening. Inevitably his momentum would loosen my hold and he would ride me into a tight corner. Trapped.

Another snap and the long lick of hair would fall into place. “Yo, Deberg,” he would pant, grinning. “How’s it goin’?”

“Fine,” I would reply, my voice strangled with defiance.

“Cool,” he’d say. “Hey, how’s the poems coming?”

My teeth would clench. “Fine,” I would breathe.

“Well, that’s good.” He would smile.

And I would explode: “Listen, Chris, it’s no deal! Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

“Awww, Cy, come on,” he’d say, laying an arm across my shoulders. “It’ll take you ten minutes, I’ll give you five bucks, you get me in the door. Everyone’s a winner. Aren’t we buddies?”


“Well, what’s that got to do with it? Listen, Cy--”

“Chris, leave me the hell alone!” I would shake free of his embrace and push past him.

“Well, if you won’t even do a guy a favor!” he would yell.

I would rush down the stairs, the hallway a long gullet convulsing around me, peristaltic panic as I struggled to escape. Then bursting out the front door, leaning against the brick, slimy mollusk feel of dew-wet ivy on my back, passersby staring as I gripped my books against my chest and drew long breaths. At last off to class, no sounds of pursuit, but behind me the baleen grin of the beast, waiting to strip my shell like a mass of krill.


Princess. . . . How oft have I staked thee out, watching thru orange filter of window shade thy ballerina silhouette, thy waist a needle-thin outline, thy upper and nether regions black tulip bulbs bobbing, thy arms and legs pirouetting thru windmill arcs to make da Vinci proud, thy tresses a soft pillow of cloud behind thee? How oft thy marble hand admired as with a motion as of a bird settling to roost it flicks the shade high, and there at thy window in thy nightgown have I beheld thee, thy head tipped as if listening, thy locks trailing o’er thy shoulder, thy dexter hand resting upon the curling tail while thy sinister combs and caresses? How oft espied thy upward gaze as if the moon holds the secret to thy loneliness? How oft composed the sonnets to banish the enchantment that holds thee, and longed for the guts to cry out, Princess, cast down thy golden hair? How oft. . . .

Actually, never. But that’s what imagination’s for.

Twice weekly for two months, though, had I seen her in the seat ahead of mine in Baby Bio, a class fully living up to its prefix in that the teacher had assigned us alphabetically to seats the first day of the semester and reprimanded us thereafter for absenteeism, tardiness, or any other mutiny against the seating chart’s rigid rule. My row, second from the left, doorway on the right, hence a long humiliating walk whenever I was late (which was oft) between black slab of chalkboard and brown pickets of seats garnished with red, yellow, pink and blue. Toothpick thin professor in tweed, with a gray goatee, sadly shaking his head and marking a broad X in my square on the chart; jeering rows of jesters parading their punctuality with freckle-faced grins. Halfway down the row to my seat I drop my notebook and the coils twang, ejecting my pencil like a BB pellet to clatter at the professor’s desk. More peer hilarity and pedagogical head shakes as I stoop to retrieve it. Then creaking into my seat at last and an involuntary, stress-induced fart, provoking yet greater mirth and wrinkled noses. Only Roxane Deli does not look, does not laugh, does not squirm in her seat; only Roxane remains impervious, her broad back repelling me like a wall. Though I don’t relish her scorn, it would at least prove my ability to trespass upon her consciousness. But I do not: to her, my epic trek before the class was the passage of a ghost, my projectile pencil the merest flare minus the acrid aftertaste of gunpowder, my gastric distress a dry whisper as insignificant as the shuffling of a dusty deck of cards. I open my textbook and though the breeze ruffles her hair, not the slightest shake of her head indicates that a single follicle was disturbed.

The room: wooden chairs with hinged desks, minor incline, high terraced ceiling, fluorescent lights. My row, back to front: Stuart Crowell, Marybeth Deacon, Cyrus Deberg, Roxane Deli, Ruth Dorf, Jason Eisenson, Elaine Eckridge. On my right, Beatrice Adams; my left, Fiona Gallagher. Capsule critiques: Stuart, loud and always wrong; Marybeth, wispy and black-haired and seemingly alcoholic; Ruth, cool and sharp, with a voice like an electric shaver; Jason, red-haired and pygmy small; Elaine, stringy blonde and lost in her hockey-star boyfriend’s letter jacket; Beatrice, black and sarcastic, with purple nails; Fiona, three hundred pounds if she’s an ounce. Shrewd observer of humanity, Cy Deberg, floundering amidst the sweltering mass of accumulating details. Today I will observe how Fiona scratches her cavernous armpits beneath her rainbow-striped tank top; the next I will note how Stuart’s hand-raising takes on a strained and desperate quality as his wrong answers mount; the following I will register how Marybeth totters to her chair and catches only the lip in sitting, but remains poised for some seconds as she tries to decide which way lies solid matter. Each day more and more pressure from details I can’t help attracting; they crowd me like an angry swarm. Each day more and more of the world’s people press upon me in rude entreaty, seeking to unload sorrows as if I could free them from their grotesquerie. I’m so sick of people. I want to spring to my feet, spread my arms and scream, “I can’t help you! Now go away!” Instead, I turn to page sixty-five and see a picture of a child with cystic fibrosis.

And Roxane, in the seat before me, nibbling absently on a pencil, sporting a sunny yellow sweater, a tight black leather belt, and a flowered skirt which her legs, in crossing, have thrown over her dumpling thigh, exposing razor-sharp shiny shins. By a great act of charity one might describe her figure as hourglass; actually it is more wasp, two unwieldy orbs tied by the tiniest thread. Her hair, golden and kinky and disclosing dark roots, hangs mere inches from my seat. Lamenting the lost art of inkwells, I can do nothing but watch as she shakes her head, fluffing the snaky curls. Her smell: cigarettes and perfume, stale and sweet, like mildewed roses. Her complexion: marathon-runner red, the outcome of a makeup orgy calculated to conceal pockmarks as numerous as those on an orange rind. Her eyes: presumably brown, though lost in such a fecund overgrowth of mascara as to make any attempt at taxonomy highly speculative; her nose, long and fleshy; her lips, glossy slick, pumped beyond capacity and threatening to explode. She wears glasses with thick dark frames and says very little. When she does speak her voice is--how does one put this?--ugly, not merely deep but flat, slow, thick, like day-old coffee. Her hand is not the graceful bird of my imagined nighttime vigil; when occasionally it rises, heavy and hesitant, fingers flexing and unflexing timorously, it puts me in mind of worms groping for the surface. And if it is not called upon, it shrivels instantly and nosedives for her lap, where the tremor in her forearm tells me it is still fidgeting nervously.

But it is her back that confronts me, disdains me, reviles me. Roxane’s back, spread out like a picnic blanket before me every Tuesday and Thursday, will always be a source of shame. I know she considers me disgusting, because I sneezed on her back once, by accident--it just came out too fast. It was, in all fairness, her fault, for she was hyper-perfumy that day, physically perfumy in a way that plucked painfully at my nostril hairs. I am allergic to anything artificial, which includes perfume, Popsicles, polyester and most people. By merest bad luck, however, the incident had occurred on a sweltering fall day, and Roxane had been wearing a halter top exposing her freckled, ice cream white back--thus my nasal geyser had been particularly offensive. Compounding my ill fortune, it had been the first day of the term when my nose got the better of me, so such had been our introduction. She had said to me that day--or not to me, and not really said, but more to her lap, and mumbled--the only words she ever had, or would, and they were this: “Fucking asshole.”


Chris is waiting for me, striking a casual pose by the water fountain, his eyes roving the hallway like a john scoping out the local meat. Broad-shouldered and swaybacked, with the beginnings of a beer belly, he reminds me of various trolls and ogres from bedtime stories. But oh, is he cute! Ask anyone. That almost-military haircut with the single unruly smear across his forehead, those ballpoint blue eyes, those prominent, big-veined hands, those gunslinger bowlegs, that powerful physique enhanced by his padded jacket and his own inflated opinion of himself. His entourage doesn’t hurt either: those swooning steamy girls so eager to lap up his frat-mentality rantings about his gridiron glory days, to whisper the answers to the Chem test in his ear, to open wide and let the slimy worm crawl in. I fear I am beginning to lose my composure. I leap for my door, but Chris sees, tosses me a gesture halfway between a wave and a salute, and strides over. His boots stomp the carpet.

“Hey Deberg,” he says. “Given any more thought to my little business preposition?” Snicker, snicker, wink.

“No,” I say.

He spreads his hands. “Deberg. You look like the kind of guy who knows a quick buck when he sees it. Look. I’ll make it ten. Final offer.”

“No deal,” I say.

“Deberrrrg,” he whines. “One letter. That’s all I’m asking. Look, I’d do it myself, but I can’t write that romantic shit like you.”

Compliments, now.

“Just one letter,” he says. “I’ll never ask for anything else. Hell,” he pulls himself up, hands on belt loops, “that’s all I’ll need. I just--man, I don’t know where to start. She’s like . . . ah, like a princess. . . .” He nudges me in the ribs to make sure I caught the simile. His face is red, whether from embarrassment or the effort of cerebration I don’t know. “Just one letter. . .” he concludes feebly.

“You don’t need me,” I say. My voice grates. “You need a pimp.”

“Awww, Deberg, don’t be like that.” The duck of the head, the carpet-kick are impressive. He scrambles for his wallet. “Fifteen,” he gasps, shoving it in my face. “You’re robbing me.”

“A hundred,” I say. Saying it, I feel a strange mixture of power and dread. I begin to tremble, wondering if I would take it.

“A hundred!” He gapes. “For a lousy letter? Hell, she’s not worth that much!”

“Then no deal.” I can barely get the words out.

He stands silent for a minute, biting his lip. “Twenty-five,” he says heavily. “And you don’t have to write the letter. Just gimme one of those mushy poems of yours. She’ll eat it up.”

For a moment I stare at him, praying for the strength to commit murder. Then I push past him and race for my room.

He catches my arm. His paw grinds into my skin. “Deberg,” he says. “What is it with you? You’d think I was asking. . . .” Then a new thought strikes him and his voice changes. “You like her, is that it? Hell, just say the word. I’ll lay off.”

I look at him. The greedy, feral grin is gone; his features have softened. Can he be serious? Would the knight relinquish the princess for the frog’s sake? And if so, what then? Frogs don’t get princesses anymore. “Let go of me,” I say.

He drops my arm. I fumble for my keys and enter my room. I leave him standing there limp, drained, alone. Something clutches my chest and won’t let go.


A frail princess slept atop a tower of mattresses, and underneath was a rusty coat hanger, a lead pipe, the transmission of a Toyota Tercel, a sack of gravel, a thermonuclear device and a pea. She awakened with multiple compound fractures of the tibia and fibula, a lacerated scalp, a deviated septum, third-degree burns over ninety-five percent of her body, arteriosclerosis, breast cancer and an aneurysm. When asked how she had slept she replied, “Not bad, except for that damn pea. I should have stayed at Holiday Inn.” She was immediately recognized as the true princess, but she died the next day. There was great lamentation and rending of garments until the court wise man said, “Princesses is a dime a dozen. Rig up them matteresses again.” And thus it came to pass that a lowly serving wench, resting her tired bones atop the pile after an exhausting day of catering to the whims of a fickle royalty, complained subsequently of lower back pain and was crowned Princess. The frail one’s bones were pitched in a pauper’s grave and her name forgotten. She was too sensitive for this world, alas.

I lay in bed. The toad crouched on my chest, its mucosa tongue idly darting in and out. Princess. . . . You sit alone in your room, watching yourself in a hand-held mirror, the glass scarred and spotted, the plastic frame chipped. Your breasts, freed from the constriction of underwire and yellow sweater, sag gratefully; your posture, no longer under public scrutiny, would shame a hunchback; your stomach, girdleless, sinks into folds you are helpless to control. You swab pigment from your face with a white cloth and discard it next to a dozen rags bloodied by the same pink powder. You reach for a medicated pad and siphon grease from the creases beside your nose, the hollows beneath your eyes, the folds to either side of your mouth. You pick a clot from your hair, shake your head and scoop dandruff off the dressing table into your palm. Slowly, you begin to brush out the tangles, your hand moving in practiced rhythm, zombielike. At last you lie down, feeling the weight of your body settle, still but never satisfied. You roll onto your stomach, you clutch your pillow, you shove your face into its suffocating folds, you shake your head fitfully: finally sleep comes. You dream you are trapped in a tower, short-haired, mute. You plot revenge against the time you will be free.

Inside Roxane sleeps, innocent of the dirty designs Chris would have me accomplice to. And outside, a frog in the moonlight, I attempt to scale the tower. I spit on my suction-cup fingers, press them against the stone, but the mortar drips oil, and down I fall in a puddle, my pants wet again. I stand, hurl myself against the wall, but it repels me with a comical sprrooiiing! I rant and leap, splashing in the marsh; I shake my fists. Lilypads dance, exposing their pale green bellies; cattails snap erect and flat with metronomic frenzy; smaller creatures scurry for safety, zigzagging blindly, tapping the water in brittle ripples then off again. Inside, Roxane rolls over in her sleep, beating her arms over her head and whimpering. Outside, the frog collapses, spent.

But she saves her sorrow for night; night, shut in her tower, immune to my advances. In two days she will be back in class, aloof, her beautiful barbaric back reminding me of the time I defiled it. Fluff from her sweater will loosen as she rubs against her seat; it will float upward, sucked into the vortex of her scent, swirling, finally settling in her hair. My hand will flinch to brush it away, and I will know I can’t. I can’t touch her. I can’t--I can’t! I began to tremble, rage and frustration gagging me. And then I thought of Chris and his filthy plans, and as in a vision I knew what I could do. Springing from bed, I crouched over my desk and began to write.

Dear Roxane,

You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching you. My name is Chris Newville. I see your every detail before me now: your hair like licorice, your tits like ripe nectarines, your buns like buns. I want to clutch you, sink my teeth into you, have you for lunch. So far I’ve controlled myself, but I can’t trust myself to do so much longer. Please help. Don’t make me do something I’ll regret. I’m too shy to say these things to your face, but believe me when I say that I find you irresistible and will be watching you, waiting for my moment to have you.

Affectionately yours,


I ripped the page from my notebook and, handling it like a rat that’s likely to bite, folded it in half. I wrote her name in loopy, frilly writing, then drew a flower that was really a coiled-up snake if you looked at it hard. I crept outside. The hall was dark and quiet; no doors popped open at the sound of my exit. I laughed. I imagined Chris alone in his room, condemned to a lifetime of meaningless encounters, futile gestures, danger he was too bland to recognize. And Roxane. . . . I could hear the scream when she looked under her door and read the note, see the fearful glances from those black-choked eyes and thick frames, feel the clutch in her throat when a man at night crossed the street to her side. I foresaw that there might come a time, if I could engineer the circumstances, when she would welcome my gentle company; yes, me. There might come a time when she would be happy for what she could get, when Her Majesty wouldn’t be too high and mighty for a frog anymore. She might need me. After all, there are a lot of scary creatures out there.