Thursday, June 21, 2018

Explaining Stories: Carlos vs. Bryan


***EXPLAINING STORIES: CARLOS VS. BRYAN***

I’ve allowed this topic to float away in the breeze for far too long, yet it’s been rolling around in my head since college. At WWU, I had two different writing teachers who had opposite schools of thought when it came to authors explaining their own work. Carlos Martinez, my first multi-genre writing teacher, was of the belief that it’s okay to explain yourself while Bryan Willis, my dramatic writing professor, was adamantly against it and would discourage students from doing so during critique sessions. Today we’re going to look at both sides of that debate and see which among you is on Team Carlos or Team Bryan. Though there will be disagreements, I promise you this debate won’t be nearly as much of a train wreck as the 2016 US Presidential Debates. But that’s an argument for another day.

If you’re in a critiquing session and you want your beta-readers/editors to know what it is they need to watch out for, you’ll probably want to sign up with Team Carlos. That is information your readers need. It’s your work, so you should have full reign as to what your story is trying to say or do. Your editors can’t give you advice on how to best convey your message if you don’t explain yourself ahead of time. Being a member of Team Carlos also has benefits if your work is unintentionally offensive and you’re trying to do damage control. While it is true that there’s always someone out there who will be pissed off at what you do, it would help those people greatly if you put them at ease with a reasonable explanation. But when you give them that explanation, give them the sensitivity they were looking for this whole time and don’t be condescending.

But if what you want most is for your art to be a democracy, join Team Bryan. Art by its very nature is a subjective field. Everybody sees something different and it’s those many interpretations that give the medium the spotlight it deserves. It sparks debate, just like this blog entry is attempting to do. According to Bryan’s way of thinking, if you tell people what to believe, you’re taking away the creativity you yourself exercise so freely. I think this might be part of the reason why my current beta-reader Ashley Uzzell tells me not to put little disclaimers at the top of my poems. Of course, the other reason why she tells me not to do that is because it’s insulting to the reader’s intelligence if the lyrics are blatantly obvious. It’s like if an author says “green grass”, “red blood”, or “big elephant”. Duh! Remember, kids: show, don’t tell. Don’t tell your audience how to feel about your work. Show them and let them make their own decisions. The last time someone forced his artistic will upon his audience, it was in the movie Pink Floyd the Wall during the music videos for “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell”. You don’t want to do that.

So there you have it, folks: both sides of this debate presented in full. Both Carlos and Bryan have good points that should be carefully considered, but ultimately, my own personal loyalties lie with Team Carlos. My biggest reason for that is because I’ve been on the wrong end of offending an audience before and I know what it feels like to be rained down upon with hateful comments. In 2009, I wrote an opinion essay called “Class of ‘13”, which was supposed to be a humorously vulgar look at what life would be like if I became an English teacher. My readers didn’t think it was funny at all and labeled me an ageist (because of my views at the time on teenagers). The argument started with me hurling endless insults at the readers, which to nobody’s surprise escalated their anger even further. Only through explaining my work in a calm and collected manner whilst apologizing did the situation eventually cool off. I’ll be the first to admit that aside from my big gut and chubby cheeks, I don’t have much of a thick skin. Being diplomatic and having the ability to defuse a situation is a huge benefit to being on Team Carlos.

Now don’t get me wrong: just because I favor one teacher’s point of view over the other’s, doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong altogether. Both Carlos and Bryan were easily some of my favorite teachers at Western Washington University. They had everything a student could ask for in a professor: friendly personality, flexible rules, infinite wisdom, and an open door policy when it came to asking for help. I particularly liked Bryan because of how much of an interest he took in one of my theater scenes. He wanted to see more of that story come out, so he gave me alternative assignments from the rest of the class where I would add on to the ongoing narrative through different characters’ points of view. The original story was about a high school student named Kurtis who complained to his girlfriend about a D- he received in his history class. One of the alternative assignments I had was to write a monologue from the teacher’s point of view and the other one was an interaction between the girlfriend and the teacher. These new assignments were a huge ego boost, not that my arrogant ass needed one.

As far as why I liked Carlos so much goes (aside from his views on explaining stories), he was just an all around gentle human being even during moments when the students got under his skin. Even when one student openly admitted to not doing a reading assignment out of blatant laziness, Carlos never raised his voice when he reprimanded that kid. He was also delicate about how constructive criticism was handled amongst our stories. He insisted that we all be nice to each other, because at the end of the day, every author is sensitive towards critiques no matter how much they hide it. Carlos even told us a story about how he got pissed off as a kid when his fellow students told him to cut his lengthy poem down to four lines. Being hurt by critiques (whether they’re friendly or not) is universal and one-hundred percent natural. But the more you surround yourself with people who want you to succeed, the less painful those critiques become. Carlos wanted all of us to succeed and it showed in his friendly and calm attitude.

Not that this is a focal point of the greater debate at hand, but in case you’re curious, I ended up getting an A in Carlos’s class and a B+ in Bryan’s class. And to prove it’s not a focal point, I don’t hold any ill will towards one professor of mine, Katie, who gave me a C in my medieval literature class. She did everything she could to help me whether it was answering my questions or allowing me to visit her office for a one-on-one session. The blame for that C falls squarely on my shoulders since I had a hard time understanding the material. I went into that class thinking it was going to be like reading Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but instead all I got was religious zeal and purple prose, lots of purple prose! They call that period in literature the Dark Ages for a reason. That class was my version of the Dark Ages by virtue of how difficult it was to learn the material (despite having a good teacher).

But enough about me, let’s turn this debate over to you fine internet folks. Are you on Team Carlos (explaining your work) or Team Bryan (allowing your work to speak for itself)? Are there any points on either side of this debate that I’ve unintentionally neglected? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. I’m Garrison Kelly! Even when you feel like dying, keep climbing the mountain! And to show you my undying loyalty towards Team Carlos, I’m going to explain my signing off phrase. They’re lyrics from the Three Days Grace song “The Mountain”. Not only do I love the hell out of that band, but those lyrics can be surprisingly inspirational to someone who needs encouragement.


***LYRICS OF THE DAY***

“Sailing along the river of time. Adrift on dreams through midnight chimes. Positively frozen crystal waterfalls. The mountain of hope is there to be climbed. The sea of serenity is rightfully mine. Step onto the water knowing what is true. The beat of my heart. The rhythm of love. The earth that’s beneath us. The heavens above. I can hear forever calling out to me. The changes we go through are making me strong. The shelter of friendship is where we belong. Look into the future knowing what we see. The whirlpool of doubt can spin you around. The wave of emotion takes you up, pulls you down. Leaving far behind us sweet young passion spray. And never blame the rainbows for the rain. And learn to forget the memories that caused you pain. The last whispered wish of age is to live it all again. And never blame the rainbows for the rain.”

-The Moody Blues singing “Never Blame the Rainbows For the Rain”-

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Double Features


***COLD OPEN***

Before I begin with the body of this blog entry, I want to announce that my current creative project will be editing the shit out of Beautiful Monster and turning it into a clean-cut second draft. I’ve edited the first three chapters so far and really all I needed to do was cut out unnecessary phrases and make Tarja Rikkinen a little less flirty. Once Beautiful Monster officially becomes a second draft, I’m going to take it over to Hollow Hills Publishing for further editing and beta-reading. Hollow Hills is Ashley Uzzell/Marie Krepps’s new business and I plan on being her loudest and proudest customer. Any price I pay for her services will be well worth it. And now onto the main attraction…


***DOUBLE FEATURES***

You know how some movies are really just two short movies fused together? Grind House and Attack of the Five-Foot-Two Women are both shining examples of this. And that got me thinking: could the double feature be pulled off with books too? I’d like to think so. Then again, I’m biased because I tried to do the same thing back in 2014. When I first published Occupy Wrestling, it was originally intended to be part of a double feature that also included Filter Feeder (the most dreadful first draft I have). That overall book was called Brawl-Mart, which is why one of the covers on Good Reads has that title and not Occupy Wrestling exclusively. I have since cut Filter Feeder like the cancer it is and now Occupy Wrestling is just a little bit shy of one-hundred pages. It’s so tiny of a book that the title doesn’t fit on the spine. So tiny. So, so tiny. And now I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a Viagra commercial.

In some ways, I believe a double feature book can be beneficial if pulled off correctly. For starters, it would make the book thicker and therefore more marketable. I hate to admit it sometimes, but books with small page counts aren’t nearly as marketable as those with larger page counts. Someday you’ll get your time to shine, Occupy Wrestling. Someday. But of course, in order for a double feature to work, both novellas have to be of similar genres. The same thing applies with short story collections, which is why American Darkness (contemporary drama) and Poison Tongue Tales (science-fiction, fantasy, and horror) don’t coincide with each other. That’s how you have to think of a double feature: a collection of short stories even though there are only two of them. They may intertwine, they may not, your choice.

As far as my current crop of first draft novels goes, I can picture some of them being placed in the same volume while others are questionable. Watch You Burn (psychological college fantasy) and Demon Axe (heavy metal fantasy) could easily fit together since they’re both urban fantasies with mental illness as their major themes. Silent Warrior is a little tricky since it’s the only first draft I have that conforms to the modern day drama genre. That just leaves Beautiful Monster and Filter Feeder with nowhere to go. One is an alternative history fantasy while the other is urban fantasy. Maybe I’m not fitting all of these puzzle pieces together adequately enough. Maybe I need to write more first draft novels of similar genres in order for a double feature to work.

But don’t take my word as gospel, because I’m by no means an expert on double feature books. I’m just giving my thoughts based on a failed experiment involving Occupy Wrestling and Filter Feeder, the latter of which hasn’t seen the light of day beyond Deviant Art. I’m sure there are wiser authors than me when it comes to the subject, one of them once again being Ashley Uzzell. She co-authored a double feature book called “Reaching For the Light”, a duo of stories dealing with the topic of mental illness. I ended up giving the book five out of five stars (extra credit grade), so she and her co-author must have done something right. I know there are others out there who feel the same way about that awesome book, judging from its current star rating on Amazon and Good Reads. I know this sounds like a plug, probably because it is. And while I’m in advertising mode, a portion of the proceeds from book sales will go to mental health charities, so that pretty much solidifies the message of both stories.

Does anybody out there have experience with reading double feature stories? If so, what are your favorites? I’d like to think graphic novel omnibuses count, because they’re just an overall collection of issues from one comic book series. But what about regular print novels? Am I missing something that I’m not aware of? Let me know in the comments section what your thoughts of double feature novels are. I’m Garrison Kelly! Even when you feel like dying, keep climbing the mountain!


***JOKE OF THE DAY***

Q: What do you call a depressed Rage Against the Machine fan?

A: Pro-Zach.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Don't Call Me That


Don’t call me a racist, don’t call me a sexist
Don’t laugh at my failures, don’t pray for my exit
Don’t call me a monster, don’t call me a perv
Don’t call me the ugliest motherfucker on earth
Don’t call me a weirdo, don’t call me a psycho
Don’t text your threats at me with a million typos
Don’t call me a piggy-pie, don’t call me fat
Don’t look at me like you’re disgusted at that
Don’t call me a sinner, don’t call me the devil
Don’t even suggest I’m on the lowest level
Don’t call me a rookie, don’t call me lazy
You’re nearsighted and your vision’s hazy
Don’t call me something you can never take back
What are you smoking? Weed, tobacco, or crack?
Who told you those lies? The leader of a cult?
Whatever it is, it’s getting really fucking old
Speak only for yourself and for nobody else
When you buy your own lies, the bullshit sells
I’m not going to heaven, I’m not going to hell
I’d rather stay at the dingiest no-tell motel
Rather die on the toilet of a McDonald’s bathroom
Than on the battlefield serving your holy platoon
Don’t call me your prisoner of your losing war
Don’t call me a ghost you should always ignore

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sex Surrogate


VERSE 1
It’s been forever since our last session
Not much going on that’s worth mention
I still coast through life at a turtle’s pace
I still have my famous Resting Bitch Face
Should’ve called you when I had the chance
Not much happening in the way of romance
How many more sessions am I allowed to have?
Can we still meet for at least an hour and a half?

VERSE 2
I’m sorry I’m late, but traffic was a mess
I’m sorry for these excuses I must confess
I got cold feet and stalled for a while
I might as well be walking the green mile
We all know how this session will end
I can’t be cured, but I can make amends
I’m sorry I’m not who you want me to be
Whether in bed or in life, nothing is free

VERSE 3
I must admit that I’m starting to like you
I’m sorry if this confession frightens you
I know we can’t have romantic feelings
But it’s a desire which I’ve been feeding
You’re married and happy, I understand
Reciprocation isn’t something I demand
I just had to get it all off my chest today
What a wonderful time to feel so brave

VERSE 4
This isn’t working, give me back my pills
This never ending pain is mine to kill
Sedated and jaded, everything has faded
Nothing left after my ego has deflated
The comfort zone is calling my name
It tells me to stop playing these sex games
It tells me that taking risks is foolish
Maybe I’ll listen until the day I’m ghoulish

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Three Roads


***COLD OPEN***

Before I get to the bulk of this blog entry, I want to say a quick thank you to everyone who offered me and my family condolences after we had to put our dog Maggie to sleep. She was a dear member of the Haines-Temons-Stevens-Wilson household and will always have a special place in our hearts. Thank you, Maggie, for bringing us over a decade of joy. You’re now reunited with Molly and the two of you can play and wrestle on the Rainbow Bridge forever. I love you, Maggie-Pie.


***THREE ROADS***

Though I struggled to concentrate, I managed to write the final chapter of Beautiful Monster last night, which means I’m going to need another project to work on. As of now, I have three possible routes I could go. One of them is to write movie reviews for my birthday DVD’s until I can come up with something more permanent. The second option would be to work on another novel, but I don’t know which one I want to take a stab at yet. And then there’s the third and arguably most difficult option, edit the shit out of one of my many first drafts and publish it in paperback and Kindle form. Tonight we’re going to look at all three options to see which one is best for me at the moment.


***MOVIE REVIEWS***

Anytime I receive gifts for my birthday or Christmas, I always have to take pictures of them and post them online. I don’t know what I hope to achieve with that. It’s not like they’re award-winning photographs. It must have something to do with being chronologically predisposed to taking pictures of everything since I was born in 1985. One of these many pictures features a pile of DVD’s juxtaposed with a graphic novel about Andre the Giant (another medium I plan on reviewing in the future). I don’t get the opportunity to watch movies that much (because I’m too zonked out to even try), but I’ll make time for these DVD’s for sure. Here are the reviews you can look forward to:

  1. Aviator
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. Cloud Atlas
  4. District 9
  5. Flight Plan

My mom’s work buddy Eric has nothing but good things to say about Cloud Atlas, so I’ll probably watch and review that one first. And then there’s District 9, which Ashley-Pie says is a modern day classic. I don’t know a whole lot about the other three movies, but they’re getting their time to shine one way or another.


***NOVEL IDEAS***

A little birdie once suggested to me that I write longer chapters and shoot for more of them instead of only conforming to a twenty chapter limit. Actually, he’s not a birdie. His name is Patrick and he’s easily one of my favorite readers, so I put a lot of trust in the things he says. The question now becomes, what will that next novel be? I don’t have very many mapped out from beginning to end, so that will be something I have to do when I eventually make my choice. I’m leaning towards these ideas as of now:

  1. Booger the Clown (modern fantasy about an ex-marine turned birthday clown who picks fights with an orc militia in an attempt to kill himself)
  2. Fantasmic Land (modern fantasy about a high school student who runs away from home and spends his days in a hedonistic magical theme park)
  3. Incelbordination (college drama about a dwarf student who is a person of interest for an on-campus organization of “involuntary celibates”)
  4. Suck It, Double Dork (crime thriller about a disgruntled cartoonist (loosely based on the creator of Ren & Stimpy, John K) who leaves pornographic drawings in public places in order to create a shock in the system)
  5. The Last Thunder Eagle (young adult drama about an angry elementary school kid who spends summer vacation playing soccer (which he hates) instead of playing videogames (which he loves))

Decisions, decisions, decisions…and choices, too…


***UPDATED CHICKEN SHIT LIST***

A chicken shit list is a term I coined for a roster of first draft creative writing projects that I hope to have edited and published sometime in the near future. The term comes from the phrase “making chicken salad out of chicken shit”. The higher on the list the project ranks, the harder it will be to edit the shit out of. Novels will always rank highest since altering one part of them could change the whole story altogether. Short story collections rank in the middle since they don’t interact with each other canon-wise. Poetry ranks lowest on the list because, well, poems are much easier to write than novels and short stories. This is what my updated chicken shit list looks like:

  1. Filter Feeder (environmental fantasy novel about a duo of clam fisherman who want revenge on an energy corporation after their lake was poisoned with oil)
  2. Watch You Burn (psychological fantasy novel about a schizophrenic college student who has realistic hallucinations about being the chosen hero in his favorite anime)
  3. Demon Axe (heavy metal fantasy novel about a singer who must gain the confidence to slay an elven terrorist after the singer’s band mates are brutally murdered)
  4. Silent Warrior (young adult drama novel about a high school introvert who feels as though he’s being mentally crippled by the system around him)
  5. Beautiful Monster (historical fantasy drama about an elf knight who escapes sex slavery and must deal with the consequences of PTSD afterwards)
  6. Poison Tongue Tales 2 (science-fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories of varying subject matter)
  7. American Darkness 2 (contemporary drama short stories of varying subject matter, mostly politics)
  8. American Darkness 3 (more contemporary stories that I’ll probably fuse with its predecessor when the time comes to publish the collection)
  9. It’s My Country and I’ll Cry If I Want To (WIP poetry collection about varying subject matter, mostly dealing with politics and psychology)

The next project I edit the shit out of will depend on my editor/beta-readers’ collective schedules. The more time they have, the more likely they are to take on a high-ranking project. No pressure whatsoever.


***CONCLUSION***

So that’s what the near future looks like for Garrison Kelly a.k.a. me. If you have any input as to which roads I should take, I’d love to hear it. Let’s turn this artistic process into a democracy! Why? Because I love you all, that’s why! Even when you feel like dying, keep climbing the mountain!


***LYRICS OF THE DAY***

“A restless eye across a weary room. A glazed look and I was on the road to ruin. The music played and played as we whirled without end No hint, no word, her honor to defend. “I will, I will,” she sighed to my request. And then she tossed her mane while my resolve was put to the test. Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire, I led the way to the funeral pyre. Without a thought of consequence, I gave into my decadence. Was it love or was it the idea of being in love? Or was it the hand of fate that seemed to fit just like a glove? A moment slipped by and soon the seeds were sewn. The year grew late and neither one wanted to remain alone. One slip and down the hole we fall. It seems to take no time at all. A momentary lapse of reason that binds a life for life. A small regret you won’t forget. There’ll be no sleep in here tonight.”

-Pink Floyd singing “One Slip”-

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Beautiful Monster, Final Chapter


At first Tarja thought that Windham’s longing to travel south was just a means to get as far away from Paladin Cross and Shelly Atwood as possible. She wouldn’t have blamed him for it and might have done the same thing herself. It turns out the South Country held something more dear to Windham’s permanently stopped heart: his old village.

Traveling on horseback took several days of eating nothing but salted meat and drinking lukewarm water. Tarja’s rations were close to depleting, but her stomach didn’t do nearly as much growling in pain as her broken heart, though stopping to vomit along the way told a different story. How could she be sick when she took special care not to contract the same disease that Windham had?

By the time she reached the Xavier Village, Tarja had grown too weak to appreciate the beauty of such a place. She dismounted her horse and nearly lost her equilibrium. Her eyes glazed in and out of focus. She ignored the several domesticated cats that rubbed their fuzzy faces against her ankles. All that mattered to her was the weapon in her hand that tortured many foes and brought five second peace of mind to the one using it.

Tarja couldn’t shake the images of Windham whipping his opponents and getting an emotional high off of it. The female bandit whose back was shredded into little stringy tassels. Rinehart’s spinal column and ribs exposed for all to see. Though she wasn’t there to see Shelly and Torger’s deaths, the imagery of it all sent chills through her limbs. Windham did all of this in the name of personal freedom, yet his biggest form of relief didn’t come until after he ingested those toxic mushrooms.

With her head hung low, Tarja trudged through the dirt path completely ignoring the shocked expressions of Windham’s fellow elves. These people had been picking crisp vegetables and plump fruits from various gardens. They were building grass huts as tall as the eye could see. They petted and fed the various cats strolling around the fields. And now they all stopped what they were doing to gaze upon the weapon that had once belonged to their dearest friend, now in the hands of a sorrowful and mysterious woman.

The tallest grass hut adorned with amber jewelry and wooden artifacts was the one Tarja needed to enter the most. Sitting at her throne drinking herbal tea was a woman who could have been Rinehart’s mirror image (as opposed to anybody else here?). Her blond hair flowed freely down her back, decorated with a singular braid down the middle and a wooden crown upon her forehead. Her regal white dress gave as much of an air of gentleness as her solemn, slender face.

“Come forth, warrior,” the elven queen whispered. Tarja did so, but not without dragging her heavy feet across the carpeted floor, exhausted emotionally and physically. “Young lady,” the queen continued. “Why do you look so sad?” Instead of telling her, Tarja showed her as she placed Windham’s whip in the elf politician’s hand. The queen lifted her head with a single tear falling from her lovely visage. “Is this my brother’s?”

“It is,” answered Tarja, wiping tears from her own face with her trench coat sleeve. “I failed him. He’s gone because of me. And that whip is all that’s left of him.”

The queen smiled, shook her head, and patted the seat next to her. “Please, have a seat. Drink some tea with me and tell me everything I need to know about Windham. I want to hear the whole story from beginning to end.”

Tarja plopped down in the cushy chair almost as if she was ready to fall asleep right there. She would nave never felt this relaxed around Rinehart. Everything about this village from its elves to its cats to its d├ęcor made Tarja comfortable enough to actually want to tell Windham’s story. She needed to, but did so in a sorrowful drone, occasionally wiping away more tears with her sleeve. Her eye still burned from the final battle with Rinehart, but puffy red was a better look on her than ashen black.

The story only took a few minutes to tell, but to Tarja it felt like she was reliving it all again. Every time she and Windham made love, every time they fought with each other and against different opponents, every tear they shed, every heart they broke, it all came pouring out of Tarja’s mouth in a trembling mess.

But instead of rape jokes and vitriol, the queen patted Tarja’s hands reassuringly and smiled her brightest smile some more. “If what you say is true, then you have no reason to blame yourself for what happened to Windham. On the contrary, the Xavier Village is forever in your debt.”

Tarja chuckled sadly, “You don’t owe me anything, Your Highness.”

“Please, call me Michelle.”

“Okay, Michelle…you don’t owe me anything. If I didn’t drag Windham back to Paladin Cross in the first place, he wouldn’t have needed Torger’s mushrooms. We all know it’s…”

Michelle Xavier put a fingertip on Tarja’s lips and said, “Enough. The blame doesn’t fall on your shoulders, Miss Rikkinen. I’ve tried to warn Windham of Rinehart’s evil ways. I tried to talk him out of lusting for that awful human’s gold. But he was convinced that our village was in danger. He obsessed over it. He took what he thought was the easiest path to earning our village money. Windham wasn’t reasonable. He wouldn’t listen. But the blame doesn’t fall on his shoulders either. Rinehart took advantage of his youth and naivety much like he does any other recruit. That’s what his business is about.”

One of the village’s puffy gray cats leapt up on Tarja’s lap and rubbed its head against her chest. For once the distraction was welcome as the former Paladin Cross mercenary scratched the critter’s ears and chin, causing a thunderous purr to erupt from its vocal cords. Michelle giggled, “Even the cat agrees that neither you nor Windham deserves the blame.”

Another vomiting spell erupted from Tarja’s mouth and scared away the cat. Instead of being angry with her, Michelle’s face told the story of concern. “Are you alright? Do you need some more tea for your stomach?”

“Nah, that’s fine. I’ve been vomiting ever since I buried Windham in the forest. Whatever it is, another cup of tea probably won’t help.” Michelle’s worried expression turned into wide-grinned happiness as she pressed her fingertips against Tarja’s stomach. The knight’s eyebrows rose as she asked, “Could it be? Is this…Am I really…Oh my god!” The two ladies hugged it out and teared up on each other’s shoulders. “I’m…I’m going to be a mother!” sobbed Tarja with utmost joy.

The embrace broke off and both women stared at each other with tearful, happy expressions. Tarja rubbed her tummy some more, dumbfounded as to what to say next. She didn’t need to say anything: her lit up face said it all. She must have gotten pregnant after the first night she and Windham made love. She hadn’t taken any blows to the stomach this whole time, so she kept up hope that the baby would be born healthy.

Michelle held Tarja’s hands and whispered, “This is wonderful news. But where will you raise such a beautiful child?”

Tarja sighed and tucked her head to think about it for a minute. “You know…I’m probably not welcome back at the Paladin Cross dorms. My old town is all but dead to me. But…I don’t want to impose on anybody. If I do find a place to call my own, I want to earn my keep. I will work harder than I ever have in my life.”

“You’re more than welcome to have the child here in our village,” said Michelle with a lovely smile. Tarja made a flat tire noise in an attempt at protesting, but the queen placed a fingertip on her lips yet again. “It’s like I said before….for the joy you’ve given Windham during his final days…the Xavier family is forever in your debt. You’ve more than earned your keep, Miss Rikkinen. Come…join us.”

Despite Michelle Xavier absolving her of blame and responsibility, Tarja insisted on giving back to the village that took her in. She picked vegetables and fruit. She helped plant even more of them. She snuggled with and fed the many cats that curled up beside her feet. She counseled the other elves as they grieved over Windham’s death. Throughout the next nine months, Tarja Rikkinen felt like she finally belonged somewhere. Not one dick joke was made. Not one act of violence was committed. Not one dangerous drug was taken. Everybody kept each other happy, just like all extended families should do.

The nine months had drawn to a close and Tarja’s belly had grown significantly. She could no longer wear her metal armor as it was too restricting. Instead all she needed was a white dress not unlike the one Michelle wore quite frequently. A splash of water dropped to the bottom of her dress and the pains in her stomach amplified tenfold. The elves rushed her over to the medical hut and laid her down on one of the feathery beds. Tarja screamed and breathed heavily while the elves gathered around her, Michelle included.

The torturous pain surged through the mother’s body, causing even more thunderous screams to erupt from her throat. Just a few more pushes. Just a few more deep breaths. Just a few more minutes of agony. After what seemed like forever, the distinct cries of a little baby had filled the medical bay. Tarja’s eyes dampened as she held the little bundle of joy against her chest, allowing her to suckle on the mother’s breast. The entire village shared her tears and smiles. Some of the cats sneaking around the forest hopped up on the bed and licked both the mother and daughter with sandpaper tongues and lawnmower purrs.

Nobody entertained the thought of Paladin Cross potentially filling its power vacuum after spending all of Rinehart’s money. Nobody dwelled on the misgivings of Shelly Atwood, Torger Manson, or Orpheus Rinehart. Today wasn’t about the death of a nasty three-headed dragon. It was about one person and one person only: Naomi Susanna Rikkinen, a young lady who would no doubt grow up to be as beautiful and golden-hearted as her mother. Windham would have loved to see this, to be the father of his daughter. Maybe in the next life, Windham. Maybe in the next life.


THE END

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Beautiful Monster, Chapter 20


The Paladin Cross soldiers stared at each other like monkeys doing a physics problem. “Free?” a young warrior named Jarrod replied. “Free? Free to do what? Rip out your other eyeball?” This got a cheer from the crowd. “Free to gangbang the shit out of you until your vagina is bleeding barrels?” Another wild cheer. “Free to yank your spinal column out of your asshole? Oh wait, that’s impossible because your asshole is too tight and you don’t have a fucking spinal column!” Yet another wild cheer, this time with whistling and wolf calls.

“No, you fucking imbecile!” retorted Tarja. “You’re free from Rinehart’s iron tight grip around your ball sack. The fact that you made all of those disgusting threats to me, Jarrod, suggests just how poisonous of a human being Orpheus Jackson Rinehart really was. Hell, me making that joke about your balls shows he’s rubbing off on me too. He successfully brainwashed each and every one of you into believing that vulgarity is a social norm. It’s not. And if you ever need proof of that, think of how your own wives and daughters must feel when they’re around you.”

Only a handful of soldiers lowered their weapons and backed away slowly at that statement, all of those particular ones with wedding rings around their fingers. “Hold on a second!” belted Jarrod. “You’re not actually buying into what this slut says, are you? Rinehart spoke the truth and we should all thank him for that! Seriously, why are we talking about this shit? Let’s just jump her right now!”

“We’re talking about this because that’s what logical people do, you fucking moron,” said Tarja. “Think about this for a second: you’re actually singing the praises of someone who’s no longer alive and no longer capable of telling you what to do or what to believe. The only reason he was able to get away with it for so long was because he paid you all handsomely. We all became overnight aristocrats under his hire. Well, who’s going to pay you for all your hard work now?”

Another microcosmic minority of soldiers lowered their weapons and stood down, but the circle around Tarja was still thick with iron masculinity. Jarrod scoffed, “So in other words, we’re all unemployed because of you? Bitch, you just put an even bigger target on that back of yours.” That got a cheer from the remaining soldiers.

Tarja’s forehead dripped with sweat, some of it getting in her bad eye and stinging it to high hell. Despite the excruciating pain thumping in her head, she refused to look weak in front of a crowd of men who could swarm in and kill her at a moment’s notice. She knelt down and picked a ring of keys off of Rinehart’s belt before dangling them in front of everyone like a cat toy.

“So it’s money you want, huh?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, it’s probably not a big fucking secret to everybody here that Rinehart was born with a silver spoon in his sloppy-jowled mouth. His parents were high ranking politicians, so he naturally had well over enough money to start his own mercenary organization. Well, aren’t you at all curious as to where he keeps all of that precious coin? I’m sure most of you have been in the basement of the cathedral at least a hundred times to collect your pay. These keys unlock the vault in which all of his precious belongings are stored. All of them.”

Jarrod burst with sarcastic laughter, doubled over, and clapped several times before straightening himself. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Once again, you’re trying to weasel your way out of a beat down, this time over a ring of fucking keys!”

“You don’t believe me? That’s okay, you don’t have to. You can live in poverty all you want, I don’t care. But if you’re going to live in poverty, you might want to consider what you’re going to do for the few gold pieces you do earn. Sure, you could freelance your way to success, but who’s going to hire a bunch of angry men who can’t even figure out who the new leader of Paladin Cross is going to be?”

Two or three more soldiers lowered their weapons and backed away, yet the crowd remained large. “Goddamn it, you guys!” shouted Jarrod while pounding his sides like a small child. “You’re doing exactly what she wants you to do! She’s just a murderous bitch who’s trying to get out of what’s coming to her! Did you all forget what she did to Christian Savage? He was just like us! One of the guys! And she just tossed him through a fucking window and killed him! You’re telling me you’re going to let that slide?”

“And what exactly does it take to be one of the guys, Jarrod? Huh?” asked Tarja with a razor sharp tone. “I’ve heard the stories from Windham right before he drooled himself to death. He wasn’t on a reconnaissance mission and neither were any of you! Rinehart sent you there to be tortured and raped because he thought it would make men out of you! Well, it doesn’t look like any of you are tougher for the experience! You’re just putting on this front so that Rinehart won’t call you a faggot or a pussy! Well, Rinehart can’t call you those things anymore because he’s fucking dead!”

A few more soldiers stepped away, one of them with a tear rolling down his cheek. The crowd looked relatively smaller than usual, but Jarrod wasn’t having any of it. He threw a profanity-laced hissyfit while pounding the ground with his fists. A taller soldier with a Mohawk named Daniel patted his shoulder and said, “Come one, let’s just take the keys and get out of here.”

Jarrod grabbed hold of Daniel’s trench coat and shouted, “No! No! No! Nobody is going anywhere! Nobody is taking a stupid ring of keys! Nobody is leaving Tarja to skip away Scot free! For god’s sake, look at her! She’s all on her own! She doesn’t have her boy toy to back her up anymore! She set traps for all of us hoping we would die! You’re going to reward her for that?!”

“If someone freed you from psychological slavery, wouldn’t you reward that guy too?!” blasted Tarja. “I’m sure a lot of you who went up to the North Country would have loved it if someone rescued you from that nightmare. I know Windham would have loved it. But he didn’t have anybody like that, so he had to rescue himself as well as anybody else who would have gone up there to be raped and tortured. Instead of chastising him, you all should be thanking Windham for what he’s done for all of you. Paladin Cross was a shitty work environment and even the toughest of the toughest will tell you that!”

Jarrod threw another temper tantrum and pounded the ground some more. “I can’t fucking believe you people are falling for this shit! This is the oldest trick in the book!”

“Fuck you, Jarrod, I want some gold!” belted Daniel before smacking his “comrade” in the back of the head, putting an end to the child-like tantrum. “Tarja, hand me the keys and we’ll be on our way. I could use a permanent vacation.” Tarja tossed the keys and Daniel caught them perfectly. Several remaining soldiers tried to yank them out of his hands, but he held them sky high and yelled, “Come on, everyone! Drinks are on me tonight!” The soldiers cheered like wild animals as one-by-one they filed out of the forest, leaving Jarrod there to throw another fit.

“If it’s any consolation to you, Jarrod, you can loot Rinehart’s body to see if he’s holding back anything else from you. You look like you could use a smoke.” Pointing at her bum eye, Tarja said, “Well, I happen to know he’s got plenty of cigars and matches in his belt.”

“Shut up, you fucking con artist!” snapped Jarrod as he leapt to his feet and grabbed Windham’s whip, lashing it several times on the ground for intimidation purposes. “Rinehart was a leader! A genius! He had everything figured out and you fucked it up for everyone, all because your dead boyfriend was too much of a snowflake to keep it all on the inside!”

“We’ll see who the snowflake is!” said Tarja as she and Jarrod engaged in a brief battle for supremacy. Jarrod flung the whip around like he didn’t know how to use the damn thing. He was no Windham in any sense of the word. He ripped chunks out of trees and the dirt road, but was way off target as Tarja’s footwork was too much for him. She then cracked Jarrod across the groin with her staff and sent him into crying fits. She then smiled at him and said, “Get a job, punk!” before knocking him unconscious with a solid blow to the skull. He might have been more than unconscious judging from the blood pooling in the back of his skull.

Tarja pulled the whip out of the limp Jarrod’s hand and surveyed the landscape. Not one soldier came back to help their fallen “friend”. They were all mercenaries until the end, caring more about coin than comrade. The truth never made anybody free. It was only doubt that brought those men psychological emancipation. Without Rinehart there to suppress their doubts, the freedom came easily. Tarja looked down at the fat man’s corpse and muttered, “Rest in peace.”

Her moments of strength had dwindled upon seeing Windham’s lifeless, foam and blood-covered body lying on the ground. She knelt beside him and cradled his head in her arms while tearfully repeating the words, “I’m sorry, my love. I’m so sorry! It should have never come to this.” Her final words to him were punctuated with a small amount of vomit covering her boyfriend’s chest. She wiped the acidic taste out of her mouth with her sleeve and wiped it off Windham’s chest as well.

Tarja gazed down at the remains of her lover and couldn’t stop the tears from flooding her eyeballs (or what was left of her right one). He looked nothing like the pillar of strength she once knew. Those moments of crying didn’t make him weaker; they made him stronger and more believable. He refused to conform to toxic masculinity and he paid the price for it.

It wouldn’t have been right for Tarja to leave his body lying there, so she went to work in digging a hole with her hands. The blood and foam from both corpses had softened the dirt a little bit, so digging wasn’t much of a chore, though it did take longer than anticipated. Tarja cradled Windham’s body in her arms and set him gently down in his new resting place. She kissed his forehead one last time and said, “Goodbye, my love” before closing his widened, bloody eyes with her gentle fingertips. She hurried in covering Windham with dirt until he was completely buried beneath the earth. Tarja dropped to her knees and wept some more for her fallen lover.

During her moment of sorrow, she threw up a little bit over the grave yet again. She justified her sickness when she looked over at Rinehart’s corpse with vicious eyes. Such a contrast the two dead bodies were. Rinehart looked pitiful in death, probably because he believed his own hype about heaven and hell and went to the wrong place in the afterlife.

Tarja wiped the tears from her eyes and lifted him up like the man baby he was. She then dropped him down a steep hill and watched his chubby ass roll and bounce off rocks and trees. His body was already broken beforehand, but now bones were disconnecting from his body and scattering all over the hillside.

Tarja gave him one last sneer before grabbing Windham’s whip and walking away. Just one last order of business for her. Somebody needed to know about Windham’s journey and hopefully telling his tale to that somebody wouldn’t be nearly as taxing as telling it to an uncaring Rinehart.