Monthly Archives: May 2018

26 Stories

26 Stories: Confessions of a Mad God

My second effort on my personal writing challenge is a theatrical monologue. If, for some reason, you’re not familiar with the format, good news! I generally am not, either. I mean, I know what a monologue is (one onstage actor/character, lots of lines, etc.), but I’ve got no actual practice writing any.

This also touches on some of the more metaphysical concepts that constantly float around in my brain despite being a pretty staunch skeptic and atheist. But just because I don’t subscribe to religious or spiritual ways of thinking doesn’t mean that I don’t find the subject fascinating and great sources of story ideas. In this story, it’s about what it would truly mean to be omniscient. We short-lived, narrow-focused humans can’t truly grasp what it means to know everything when most of us can barely handle the small subset of data that we do know. This story at least touches on the idea of what it might do to a sapient mind to be truly omniscient.

In this case, the character is a homeless man who believes he is god, or rather, God occupying the body of a homeless person. Either way, one of them is mentally ill… or you are. Or we all are (spoiler alert, I am). As you read this, if your’e not familiar with the stage play format, it should be pretty easy to follow. Text in parenthesis are stage directions (and “(beat)” merely means a pause). Imagine a single actor on stage, addressing “Robert” on the street outside a building that at bare minimum, makes you a bit uneasy.

Confessions of a Mad God

First Floor, Street

SCENE

(A street in front of an imposing residential building, somewhere in a busy city. A stoplight or stop sign is the only defining characteristic. As the lights come up, GOD—disheveled and homeless—sits with a cardboard sign that says something Biblical. It doesn’t matter if it actually means anything; that’s unimportant. For a number of reasons.)

GOD

(After a moment, to an unspecified person walking by.)

Spare some change? No? Okay, fine.

(After another moment, to someone else.)

Anything for someone to have a hot meal? No? Okay, bless you.

(And again)

What about you, Robert? Something for a hungry old god?

(Beat)

Yeah, you. Robert.

(Beat)

You’re trying to figure out if you know me. I assure you, you do and you don’t. Don’t-

(Excited)

Don’t! Don’t walk away. Listen to me for just a second, okay? You’re weirded out, I get that. “Hey, who’s this homeless guy who knows my name,” you’re thinking. And that’s fair. Who am I? I mean, aside from God…

(Pleading)

Wait, wait! I know that sounds out there. Please!

(Reaching out)

Please. Don’t leave yet. Hear me out. Hear me out and you can go on your way and live your life and not think about the lunatic who accosted you on the street today. I know how this looks. Believe me, I know exactly how this looks, in more ways than you think that I know. It’s not everyday that you meet God, and not only does he claim to be God, but he seems to know things like your name, Robert, or things like how…

(Desperate, as the target of his pleading seems to be wandering off)

… you’re currently afraid that you’re a terrible husband to your wife Lucy, or a bad father to your daughter Sarah. But you’re not. They both love you, even if you doubt yourself. And believe me, the desire to mate and run off? That’s a completely natural thing that almost all other animals hew to, but most of your kind don’t give into it.

(Pauses, then smiles a little)

Yeah, that struck a chord, didn’t it? Wanting to run away and leave it all behind isn’t something you’ve told anyone, not even your therapist, because you’re afraid she’ll judge you. It’s okay, though… no one who matters is going to judge you. Well, except me…

(Puts his hands up)

Kidding! I’m kidding! I mean, I’m not, but I am. I’m a lot of things at the same time. It’s kind of nuts, you know? Of course you don’t know, but maybe I can make some sense of it for you, if you’ll just take a second?

(Beat)

Okay. Okay, this is progress, Robert. So you want to know, “why is it that this crazy God is pretending to be a homeless person?”

(Beat)

No, I assure you, it’s not the other way around. I-

(Taps his chest)

-am a crazy God, and I’m… not so much as pretending to be a homeless person, as I am occupying one. Let me ask you a question, to start: what are the major characteristics that you know about me… by which I mean “capital-G” God?

(Listens, and holds up one finger, then another, then a third, responding to Robert)

Right, “omnipotence,” “omniscience,” and “omni-benevolence.” Two of those aren’t one-hundred percent correct, but hey, in the words of the immortal Meat Loaf, “two out of three ain’t bad…” or… I guess, one out of three?

(Shakes his head)

No, I’m getting confused again. Okay, look: Omnipotence is out, because of the whole “can God create a rock so heavy even he can’t move it” paradox. The answer is no, because I’m not actually all-powerful, so it’s not really a paradox. I am very powerful, sure, but even I have limits.

(Beat)

Next, am I all good, or all loving, or all just or whatever you want “omni-benevolent” to mean? No. Fuck no. Evil exists. If I could stop evil then I clearly haven’t, which ain’t very “good,” which also reinforces the not all-powerful thing. Tapeworms exist. Kids die all the time, and kids don’t deserve anything bad. Fucking Nickleback exists. So that nixes omnipotence and being the ultimate goody-two shoes. Which leaves?

(Expectant)

That’s correct! Omniscience! I do, in fact, know everything.

(Beat)

Oh yeah, it’s super great. Uh-huh. Knowing everything. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Are you envisioning what you would do with that power? Why am I even bothering to ask, because of course I know that’s the first thing you thought about. Some shit where you know the results of sporting events or the next big company to invest in while they’re still working out of a garage. Yeah, that’s not what “everything” is. That is an infinitesimally small subset of everything. Here… let me explain to you what “everything” means.

(Deep breath)

So let’s start with a baseline. In theory, I know what every single living being is thinking and doing at any exact moment, right? And I know how that’s going to turn out and know everything that lead up to that thought and everything that results as a consequence of it. So that’s billions of beings right this moment with a myriad of thoughts doing more than a few things at every discreet instance of time, and I can see the outcome of those events as they are happening, before they are happening, and well after they happened.

(Beat)

It does sound like a lot. Just that right there should be enough to be overwhelming. There aren’t entire computer networks that can handle that much information. Now, expand that. Every living thing at some level has what you might think of as a “thought” is in there, too. The amount of biomass that is aware and taking actions based on that awareness on this planet dwarfs just you. There are hundreds of millions of insects alone for every one of those multi-billion of your kind. Add the other animals. Add the fungus and bacteria and viruses and you can only imagine how many things’ thoughts and actions, and the knowledge of the consequences of those thoughts and actions, are running around up here!

(Points to his head, getting agitated)

And it doesn’t stop with living things! I know everything! I know when every single pebble rolls down a hill. I know how that pebble will careen off of other pebbles, causing other pebbles to roll down the hill in different directions. I know how each molecule of air will move across this rock, and how that movement will affect other molecules, which will affect other molecules, and on, and on, and on!

(Even more agitated)

And that’s just on this planet! If you count the number of molecules in not just the solar system and galaxy and universe, that’s close enough to infinity to your mind, but-

(Yelling now)

-I can count each and every single one!

(Spittle flies as he continues)

Every single motion of every single molecule and every consequence of every molecule’s motion from the beginning to the end of time is RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RIGHT NOW!

(Breathing rapidly, he moves around the stage, as if chasing “Robert”)

And it doesn’t stop there!

(He pauses, taking a deep breath.)

Do you remember Heisenberg? The guy who said you can’t know both the position and speed of an object?

(Beat)

No, wait… of course you don’t. What was I thinking? Wrong… wrong audience. Well, nonetheless, that’s something that your kind can’t observe, but I CAN! Both properties of each and every particle in all of existence at the exact same time!

(He laughs)

And you know what? You know what the icing on this cake is?

(Laughing again, nearly maniacal.)

There. Are. An. INFINITE. Number. Of. Universes! So all of that knowledge that I know? It is infinite! I know that there are universes where Heisenberg discovered that there are more than two properties of a particle you can’t fucking know, and I know all those right now, too! There are universes where that Heisenberg guy is a semi-sentient collection of atoms that are almost-but-not-quite Helium that doesn’t know shit about shit! So you’ll excuse me if I’m a little! Fucking! CRAZY!

(Panting now)

(Takes a moment to center himself)

Okay… okay, sorry. That’s hardly your fault. That’s not even my fault, even though it is entirely my fault.

(Beat)

Yeah, it’s “weird” alright. So fucking succinct. So fucking your kind.

(Beat, listening)

What do you mean, “what do I want?” To tell you about it, that’s what.

(Beat)

“Why?” Fuck, man, I don’t know…

(Expecting Robert to get the joke)

Do you get it? “I don’t know?” And I just got through with all the omniscience stuff?

(Exasperated)

 I’d like to say I gave you a sense of humor when I made you, only I didn’t really make you on purpose. You just sort of showed up in this reality. Not all powerful, remember? I mean, I can make life, and I have made life, but you really, really don’t want to meet the life a crazy god made intentionally…

(Spaces out)

(Snaps, remembering)

Oh! That’s what it was! That’s why I was trying to talk to you or someone who would listen.

(Intense)

The other things? The things I did make?

(Beat)

They’re coming. They found you, and they’re coming, and they are not at all going to be happy when they get here. They worship me, too, for some stupid reason, and right now, they think that I like you better, and they are petty beings.

(Pause)

No, they’re not demons. Your “demons” are cute, they really are. With the tails and the horns and the rawr

(Chuckles)

These are something else entirely.

(Deadly serious)

They’re something else that you can’t even fathom. And when they get here, they are going to do horrible, horrible things to all of you. Your imagined eternal torment and lakes of fire are going to seem so blissful when the end comes. But the end is going to take a very long time.

(Beat)

A warning? Well, I guess you can see this as a warning, but what are you going to do? Leave? They’d find you. They’ll find you here and in every reality where you flourish, and some where you can’t. And besides, whatever it is you think that you can do, even in the realities where you can get others to listen to you, it doesn’t matter. See, that’s the thing about omnipotence and near-omniscience. I created these things almost perfectly, but not quite. And I can tell you this…

(Motions ROBERT closer)

I know the outcome. In every version of every reality it all comes crashing to an end because of them. Because of what I made. And you can’t change it.

(He laughs)

I made something just heavy enough that I can’t lift it… I can’t hold it up…  and it’s going to crush all of you—and likely me—with it. And maybe then…

(Beat)

Maybe then, I can die.

(Beat)

You? Your kind? Well, if I hadn’t made those things, then maybe you would have eventually understood what it meant to be me, so consider yourselves lucky. But I always make those things, every time, without fail. It’s something in my nature I guess. No, those things are going to come for you, and you will weep, and beg, and plead for me to do something, but I can’t. Or I won’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. No, Robert, this is all I can say…

(Staring)

The Humans are coming, and they are not merciful.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: He Summons His Muse

I feel like I have to edit this post, at least so that I can clarify what, precisely, this is. It is the first part of a story that I am choosing to put “out there” for general consumption. It is part of a greater story that has to do do with muses and inspiration. It is, as is consistent with me, not something with a happy ending. I.e., it will end up dark eventually, just give it time.

I felt like it was appropriate to start out this endeavor, by a character who is clearly not me in any capacity whatsoever (he totally is) doing something drastic, albeit unintentionally, to find his inspiration. Bear in mind that I look at the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses as something beyond human, though more like a force of nature and less like a capital-G God one might be familiar with.

He Summons His Muse

Part 1

The glass shattered against the poster hanging on the wall with a ferocity that would have surprised anyone other than the person who threw it, had there been anyone in the room with John when he let it fly. The bourbon it contained, as expensive a version as John had been able to afford, which wasn’t saying much, ran from the point of impact and down the poster, drawing damp amber tears on the stylized flapper’s face that leered out at him from the poster, forever frozen in time. The gloomy basement apartment, barely lit by only a few electric bulbs and weakly warmed by a stuttering radiator, was a stark contrast to the look of unrestrained, hedonistic joy that had been forever captured by the third-rate poster artist he’d commissioned to promote his one and only successful endeavor.

John put his head in his hands, his bangs spilling over them and dangling there, greasy and slick, his hair (in addition to the rest of him) having gone for days unwashed. He sighed, drawing the breath from somewhere deep within his lungs and letting it out with a full-body shudder. The typewriter on the desk in front of him was stoic and unyielding, presenting a stark-white sheet of paper hiding the ghosts of stories that would, at this rate, never be told.  John picked his head up and rubbed at his eyes, bloodshot from too little sleep and too much of that cheap bourbon now puddling on the floor. He stared at the typewriter, looking at it as if hoping to see the words he sought there on the blank page; words that he had yet to write and would likely never write. He cast his gaze back toward the poster he had just defaced, the flapper still enraptured, the booze seeping through the paper, weakening and thinning it to the point of tearing. “The Bandleader’s Muse,” it said in a bold modern font, and below that, “A Play by Johnathan Frederickson.” He sighed again, watching as the liquor stained the paper, disturbed on some level that his poster for his play was now defaced, but unable to summon the will to care.

“Consider those necessary libations for you, oh muse,” he said to the poster with a degree of bitterness that surprised no one. “And give me some fucking inspiration, would you?” he added.

With another sigh, he pushed his damp hair back from his forehead. He shook his head, regarding again the typewriter, and slid his chair out from his desk. He stood, absently pulling the slacked suspenders up over his shoulders. He walked around his desk to the floor in front of the poster, jamming his hands into his wrinkled pants pockets. Shaking his head in defeat, he bent down to the floor to collect the broken shards of glass from his tumbler. The glass, a gift from his closing-night celebration, was one of the last extravagances he owned, and it was now fragmented and scattered across the floor. As he collected the shards, he yelped and yanked his hand back, a sliver of glass embedding itself deep into his palm. The pain only somewhat deadened by the alcohol, he took in the damage the glass caused, a miniscule javelin pressed deeply into the skin. A small piece of it jutted out, exposed above his clammy palm, glinting in the faint light of the room. He raised his hand to his teeth, grasped what he could of the glass knife between them, and pulled. The shard was either deeper or more substantial than he had anticipated, because as he felt it slide out, it brought with it agony. He hissed and spat the shard to the floor as blood welled in his palm, a stark red against the pale white of his skin. He looked at it stupidly as he turned his hand over, watching the rivulet of blood trace a lazy path along his deep palm lines, down his wrist, and underneath the sleeve of his shirt. He swayed, and instinctively reached out to steady himself, pressing his hand to the poster. He pulled his hand away, leaving a red handprint on the neck and scandalously exposed, plunging neckline of the woman.

“Shit,” he managed to mutter, looking from his bloody hand to the poster, unable to process how he had managed to deface his own poster twice now in one evening, with both booze and blood.

Beaten and exhausted from fighting with his writing and his continually slipping sense of self-worth, he turned back to his room and froze.

The woman in his bed stirred, stretching with the languished ease of a housecat awakening in a small square of afternoon sunlight streaming through a bay window. After a long, satisfying reach toward the ceiling, she rose up onto her elbows and looked lazily around the room. Inexplicably, she wore the same outfit as the flapper on the poster, complete with a garish, glittering headband and a loose string of pearls strung around her long neck. The feather nocked in the headband shifted as she took in her surroundings with an otherworldly ease and grace. Finally, after another stretch and a yawn, her eyes locked onto John’s.

“Hey there, Johnny,” she said.

“Uh,” was all that he could manage in reply.

“I get it,” she said, “it’s a little odd for a gentleman to suddenly find a woman in his bed when he was certain that his bed was empty.” She looked at him appraisingly, “Which is a shame, to say the least. You look like a man who should regularly wake up with different women, and I dare say, you shouldn’t be too gentle.”

“I…”

“You’ll want to know who I am, right?” John’s non-answer was all she needed. “Well,” she continued, “you can call me Callie.”

“Is that short for something?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but what it’s short for is a little too ‘on the nose,’ if you understand.” She followed it with a light tap to her nose with the index finger of her left hand. “Therefore, we can stick with ‘Callie’ for now.”

“You’re right, I don’t understand,” he said.

“You’ll get it later,” she said, taking a second and longer look around the apartment, as if to find some sense of familiarity there. She then sighed, much as John had sighed earlier, before the strange woman—Callie—had appeared in his apartment. “I,” she said, “am your muse.”

“My muse?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Did I… did I drink too much to remember you coming back here?”

“No,” she replied. “Or rather, you may have had too much to drink prior to my coming here, but you finding me here in your bed is not related to that. Give it time, though.” She swung long, olive-skinned legs out from under the moth-eaten sheets and onto the floor. She wiggled her toes as if discovering them for the first time and smiled. “It’s nice to have these again,” she said.

“Feet?” he asked.

“Feet,” she agreed, and flexed her fingers in front of her face. “Fingers. Ears. Eyes.” She looked down the neck of her blouse appraisingly, “breasts. Presumably a pussy.”

John blanched.

“Spare me your false Protestant modesty,” she said. “I know how men think. I’ve known how men think for quite a long time.”

“I…” he stammered.

“Human sexuality is more natural than you care to admit. You have been tainted by centuries of belief that such things are ‘forbidden’ or ‘dirty.’ Where I come from, the human body is nothing at all to be ashamed of. My pussy, your cock and balls.”

“My co— Where do you come from?” John asked.

A coy smile was her only reply.

“You’re not going to tell me?” he asked.

“It’s a bit difficult to explain, Johnny.” She thought about it for a moment. “Let’s just say, as painfully clichéd as it is, that I come from both somewhere deep within you and far away.” She swept her arm dramatically to emphasize some great distance.

“Europe?” He asked.

“You’re funny.”

“You’re not making much sense.”

“You know,” she replied, “back when I was the bee’s knees, I wouldn’t have been questioned quite like this.”

“I really,” he said, “don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

She smiled, halfway between a smirk and a frown. “It doesn’t matter. The thing is, you needed inspiration. I… I inspire.”

“A muse,” he said, repeating her earlier assertion.

Le Lotto,” she replied. “Or, I guess, ‘bingo.’”

“So, some whore who I found and—” his throat suddenly constricted, cutting him off. She marched close to him as he struggled to breathe, staring with the intensity of an angry predator facing down its cornered prey moments before pouncing.

“Not” she said, angrily, “a whore. And I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, John, as we go forward.”

He gasped and choked. She relinquished her stare, and he collapsed to the floor, sucking in a lungful of air.

“Being comfortable with sex does not make me a prostitute who, by the way, would still deserve your respect for the essential services provided. A whore is something different,” she said, leaning down to where he suddenly found himself.

He tried to respond, gagging against the release of the crushing pressure against his windpipe.

“I am your muse,” she said, “and you should treat me as such.”

“What,” John managed to stammer, “does that mean?”

“It means,” she said, her earlier benevolence returning, “that I am here to help you.  But you,” she punctuated with a sharp finger, “must respect me. Agreed?”

“That’s an odd demand,” John said, ill-advisedly, “coming from a woman who appears to have shown up in my own bedroom without my foreknowledge or consent.”

She smiled down at him, genuinely. “See, that’s why I like writers. Wit in the face of death. John,” she said, “I’ve been around longer than you know. I’ve been here,” she tapped a slender finger against his forehead, “since you were barely a trickle of your father’s seed on your mother’s thigh.”

“Hey!” John shouted, before Callie raised her hand, halting him.

“We are all, at some point,” she replied, “not but cum dripping out of the cunts of our mothers. It is the way of life.” John flinched at this, turning his head away. With a kindness that belied her previous aggression, she approached and put a gentile hand to his face.

“John,” she said, “please. Don’t find in my visit a reason for fear or mistrust.”

“But,” he replied, “how can’t I? You just… showed up here. I know I didn’t bring you here, but here you are.”

“But you did bring me here, only not in a way that you think you did. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. Do you know,” she said, “that blood has been a part of the rituals of so many cultures throughout the ages? So much so, that the idea of a blood offering is built into at least one ritual of every major religion. Even the Christians have it, though they substitute wine for blood.” She laughed, distracted. “It amuses me that they are unknowingly giving praise to an entirely different god with that, but” she shrugged, “everyone forgets or ignores the origins of their deeply held beliefs.”

John looked to his bleeding hand and up to the poster where his crimson handprint stood out brightly on the muted colors of the poster.  “That… summoned you?”

“Not on its own, no. See, that’s the part that so many of those rituals get wrong. The blood is a symbol of sacrifice. Of the supplicant’s willingness to give of him or herself. Which is why those cultures that sacrifice others or livestock are missing the point, to a degree. The livestock is important, to be sure, but the bleeding of the beasts is incidental to the smoking and offering of the aroma….” She stopped. “But look at me, reminiscing on old times. It’s not the blood or the alcohol on their own that carry the power. It is the speaking of the words that convey the intent and the earnestness of the sacrifice.”

“So,” he said, “when I said the thing about the ‘libations,’ that did it?”

“It was more the ‘give me some fucking inspiration’ that caught my attention. Across the gulf of nothingness and oblivion, the desperation was a beacon in the darkness. That and not many of you call out to me or my sisters these days. Pickings are slim.”

“Your sisters,” he asked.

“The others of the nine. Which, at this point, if you don’t know what I am, I’ll never get through to you. In any event, you called out for inspiration, and I answered.”

“I need to write,” he blurted. “I need more of that,” and he jabbed a finger accusingly at the poster soiled with blood and liquor.

“And you can have more of that,” she said, “with my help.”

“Okay,” he said, rising and quickly moving over to his typewriter. “Okay, then let’s begin.”

She shook her head, “We can’t start with that yet. We haven’t come to an agreement.”

He frowned. “But the blood and the… the words?”

“Those merely called me.”

“Do you need more blood?” he asked. “Because I can open up more wounds for you. I would bleed myself until I was an empty husk if it meant I could write again.” He looked around, finding another knife-like piece of glass, picking it up, and holding it to his palm before she held out a hand to him, stopping him.

“I don’t need more blood,” she said, kindly.

“Then what do you need?” he asked. “Whatever you need, I’ll give it to you.”

“I need,” she said, “adoration.”

“You’ll have it,” he said, desperately.

She moved closer to him. “I need you to venerate me.”

“Of course,” he gasped.

“Give yourself to me.”

“I will.”

“Above all else,” she said as she closed the distance to him, pressing close to him, her lips inches from his. He could feel her breath playing gently across them, carrying a slight hint of ambrosia with it.

“Yes,” he said.

“I need you to worship me.”

“I will,” he managed before pressing his lips against hers.

She sank into his body, pulling away from his kiss just enough to whisper, “then a deal is struck.”


To be continued…

What is 26 Stories?

26 Stories

26 Stories is, at its core, about exercising my writing muscles with a dose of accountability. In short, I intend to post some piece of writing (or similar) here every two weeks for at least a year. At the end, there will be twenty-six stories for you to enjoy (or not). Because this makes me think of a building, I’m going to try to shoehorn fit the thematic device of floors of a building. “Stories,” if you will.

Brace yourself, folks, for more “clever” wordplay like that. It’s my jam, what can I say?

This exercise is more about forcing myself to write something—anything—to try and get back into a groove. A rhythm, baby. The somewhat steady pattern and cadence of storytelling.

What will I write? Whatever comes to mind at the time. Short stories. Poetry. Parts of longer works. Short plays. Weird concept pieces. Who the Hell really knows? I might even delve into a few podcast like tales, carried to you on the sweet, dulcimer tones of my own voice.

It’s about a creative jumpstart for the dead battery that is my idiot brain.

Look for the first story in the next few days. And to be honest, it’s going to be a bookend story of sorts that will continue on and off throughout this exercise, in addition to closing it all out with a bang. Or possibly a “splat.”

Obligatory warning: I’m not straying away from any topic, no matter how controversial. Violence. Horror. Sex. Politics. The unholy and truly fucked-up practice of putting pineapples on pizza. I will try my best to provide trigger warnings, but odds are I’ll touch a nerve with someone. Apologies in advance, but I’m not censoring myself; at least, no more than I would normally censor myself.

So, welcome to the building. The neighborhood is a little run down, the alleys are dark, and the stray dogs are a constant problem that Animal Control can never seem to deal with (and the shits they leave that smell like sulfur are pretty off-putting). Some of the tenants may seem a little eccentric, but you might find it’s the overly friendly ones you have to watch out for. I highly recommend not doing your laundry in the basement after dark, and never, ever put your ear to the air ducts, even if you swear you can hear children laughing.

In any event, here are your keys. Oh, and those mewling, slobbering noises that come from behind the landlord’s door? Don’t worry about those. Maintenance issues will be dealt with, usually while you sleep. If you wake, keep your eyes tightly shut, no matter which lost loved one you hear begging you to open them.