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BLOW, CRACKBATTON, BLOW

The instrument was much too long. Samuel Crackbatton built it before he had any notion of how it would be played, and with its assortment of valves, frets, keys, slides, pedals and strings being mostly out of his reach, it was unlikely he would ever learn. While some of these components essential to the mastery of this strange instrument were still within his sight (he could see them just across the street if he went to look out the window) he could do little more than imagine his fingertips moving along each of them, wringing out notes that had never before been heard.

As it disappeared around the corner, his mood would darken as he realized he could not even remember what the rest of the instrument looked like. Creeping down alleyways and up fire escapes, obstructing roadways, entering restaurants where it became slathered in grease and condiments, it dared to leave the town almost entirely unplayed by any who lived there. Only the dirty old men who sat on park benches bothered to finger its more provocative knobs and spit valves, but such touching seemed to cause little more than an unrelated slurping sound, which the instrument could hardly be blamed for.

Deep in the forest, the instrument continued its progress away from Samuel. Here, birds would land upon this strange perch, and if it this had been the place it had come to finally make its music heard, the force with which Samuel would blow into it would have immediately sent them fluttering in a shock of feathers towards the sky. But it was only once you got into the distant town of Munce that these unknown noises he made could be heard. Entering through the bedroom window of one John Applestance, the horn of this instrument could be found finally coming to a rest upon his nightstand.

Even though Samuel was always considerate enough to only practice upon it during the afternoon, unfortunately in Munce it would already be nighttime. And as poor John lost yet another evenings sleep to all this skronking and tooting and bleating being transmitted to him from Salt Seeall, a town he’d never even heard of, he kept his prayers simple. If there really was a God, one day, whoever was on the other end of this infernal instrument, might one day learn how to play it.



KARATE DAD

My father jumps into the room where I’m watching TV. He is dressed for a karate fight. His hands are fists. There are Japanese hieroglyphs on his shirt. The pants are too short and they are showing his hairless shins. Even though he’s barefoot he doesn’t dare demonstrate a kick. His legs don’t work very well and he is stinking of beer. One kick and he would fall over.

I’m not sure how to respond as he goes “hiiiiyaaaaaa”. There are good things on the television and I am torn over what I’m supposed to be looking at. I’m not really sure why this is happening. I’m sure a karate outfit is not what he went to the store with my grandmother to get. He has all sorts of problems and pretending he knows karate will not fix any of them.

I later learn what he is wearing is called a karetegi. He has bought two of them, a black one and a white one. He hasn’t taken the black one out of the plastic wrapping yet and it is sitting on the kitchen table where my stepmother is impatiently waiting to drive him home. Maybe the second one is for her. He’ll get her to put it on when they’re home and then kick her. Throw her off the balcony. I have no idea what married people do.

I get angry when he won’t let me get back to my movie and start to yell at him as he keeps punching the air around him. We get into a fight and I say something that makes him go into the kitchen. Everything has gone quiet. Eventually, my grandmother comes in to tell me I need to give him a hug and tell him I’m sorry. What I said was very cruel. I’ve never hugged my father before, but I slowly walk to where he’s now standing in the hall. I put my arms around his waist, push my face into his swollen belly, and feel my insides turn into worms. He is still wearing a headband.



He gave up his career as a martial artist, just for me!
Are him and Karate Stepmom still together?


Asking for a friend.



Once a man breaks his karate vows, the writing is on the wall for stepmoms.
And she knows karate, right?


Asking for a friend.



And she knows karate, right?


Asking for a friend.

If I remember correctly she....crocheted.



Her legacy is an ugly, orange afghan I still use to this day.



And, of course, memories of her being able to use those crafty needles to assassinate any henchman sent by Kung Fu Death Squads to drink my fathers beer.




And, of course, memories of her being able to use those crafty needles to assassinate any henchman sent by Kung Fu Death Squads to drink my fathers beer.

Or at least this is what my father assumed when she agreed to marry him.


Turns out, she was more likely to use her Centipede Style to dump his beer down the sink.



I will refrain from further Renee Harmon gifs in light of this information.



I will refrain from further Renee Harmon gifs in light of this information.

But they perfectly evoke her crocheting essence!



PILE DRIVEN UNDERGROUND

Mort’s got wrestlers in his basement. Dozens of them. A common enough problem ever since the children of Salt Seeall learned the truth about wrestling. Now they dare not show their faces in the street. Have gone underground. Stay wherever they aren’t chased away with brooms. While Mort never considered himself a fan of the sport, he doesn’t mind the company. He finds they keep away the rats. Help him twist open stubborn jar lids. At least those who can resist smashing his glassware over their heads.

At night, they keep their costumes on. They sleep in their thigh high boots, glitter capes, feather boas, studded bracelets, sweat bands, horned Viking helmets, spandex singlets. Those who are bare-chested, bundle together in one corner for warmth. When they wake, only their face paint needs touching up, which they do by leaning over to where they can see their reflections in the glass door of Mort’s electric clothes dryer. Then, once ready, they immediately begin to circle each other. Grapple. Grunt. Stomp their feet and smack each other in the face.

This will be how they pass their time in the mornings as they wait for Mort to bring them down some breakfast. They will eat this vigorously with their hands, standing as they chew, never taking their eyes off that days opponent, who will also eat looking directly back at them. Once he is sure they all have a plate, Mort will then quickly returns upstairs, always finding himself somewhat relieved to escape before they begin to wrestle again. While he trusts them, even the fiercest looking of the Heels who really aren’t so bad once you get to know them, he carries with him a fear of one day being mistakenly pile-drived to his death. As an accountant for a mattress wholesaler, he knew this was not the way a man of his profession should be ended, even though he could not help sometimes wondering what it might feel like to have his skull crushed between a pair of knees. All those facts and figures regarding mattress profitability graciously released from his head onto the floor of his basement. A fantasy he even dreamed of with some regularity, but never told anyone.

Once the wrestlers are finally finished eating, and their noisy chewing slowly draws to a close, they are always sure to neatly pile their plates at the bottom of the stairs for Mort to collect later. Then they get back to wrestling. At first slowly, because of the influence of all that food. Sticky with marmalade. Groggy with pancakes. Burping the smell of eggs into the faces of their opponents as they pin them for the three count. The influence of Mort will be in every victory and defeat doled out over the course of the day. And not only in their eventual need to defecate behind the furnace.

The floor of the basement they wrestle on is made of earth. Once mixed with their sweat, it can at times nearly turn to mud. It splashes up onto the white walls as they run back and forth and crash into each other. Gets transferred from hand to hand every time a wrestler catching his breath is tagged back into the action. And with every bodyslam into the growing mush beneath them, they sink further and further down into it. Down and down and down. Where all the dead from previous matches lay. Where the losers of this day will soon also be buried. As they continue to wrestle on top of their fallen comrades, they all know no day can ever be considered over until at least one of them is put down there too. Necks cracked. Covered in mud. Full of worms.

After Mort supplies them with their dinner, this will be the time for them to hold their vigil for that day’s dead. They will stand solemnly beneath the one bare bulb that illuminates the basement. All of them entirely naked. Their exposed flesh swamped with grime. There they will stand, brimming over with a true love for their sport. Thinking forward to the day when those who survive finally climb out from Mort’s basement into the sunlight. Redeemed. Ready for the children to once again worship them.

Silently they pray for this glorious day to come soon. Not making a sound. Barely even moving until there is a sudden noise that brings them back to the darkness they are all standing in. The wash is done. One by one they line up to collect their costumes, now clean, even though they are still filthy.



BEER TACKLE

I really liked to look at the fishing lures in our basement. We had a heavy metal box filled with old ones made of wood, big enough to fill my hand. I imagined the kind of mouths that would be large enough to eat them. I wondered if any fish could be so big.

The hooks that hung from their varnished undercarriages would rattle when I shook them, and the thought of these settling inside the soft belly of some enormous fish clung unwanted to every thought I had of the cottage. I could not wait to go. I had already packed my bags even though we would not leave for weeks. And yet whenever I became excited about our coming trip, these thoughts tugged upon my mind like of fish full of hooks, and I dared not pull them entirely to the surface.

As it turned out we wouldn’t bring these old wooden lures with us to the cottage. Instead, me and my father bought new ones at the hardware store the day before we left. They were much smaller and made of plastic. It was easier for me to understand why a fish might choose to eat these since they almost looked real. We got a whole bag full of them and I took turns looking at each as we sat in the tavern we went to afterwards. It was too dark inside to see just how colourful and shiny these new lures were. I thought it was probably even darker here than at the bottom of the lake we were going to.

My father always preferred to drink his beer in places where there was not much light and so we sat in the corner, away from the waitresses and other people eating their lunches. I threatened to throw a rubber worm barbed with many hooks into his beer and he put his hand over his glass and shook his head as if he was not something worth catching. I asked if I could get some fries when he motioned for the waitress to come over to our dark corner. For a long while, it seemed like she would never see us.



minds his own damn business
*karate fish kick gif*
__________________



Everyone needs rules!


THE 12 ESSENTIAL RULES TO WRITING FICTION YOU'LL WISH YOU DIDN'T


1) Characters do not know what story you want to tell, and so should be allowed to act in ways that disrupt whatever point you are trying to make

2) Never work on anything so long you figure out exactly what you want to say. Once it begins to reveal its shape, abandon it.

3) Recognize nothing matters if it does not contain at least one unsolvable mystery.

4) Stories should function like jokes with their punchlines amputated.

5) Each paragraph should aim to tell its own story.

6) If what you have written doesn’t embarrass you, you’ve written the wrong story

7) Embrace the discomfort that comes with the notion that anything tragic can be funny, and anything funny can be tragic.

8) There is honesty in fabrication and exaggeration. Untreated truth can’t survive on a page long enough to have the kind of impact you’re hoping for.

9) Try never to be in the grip of the emotions you are writing about. Sadness does not truly understand sadness. Happiness does not truly understand happiness.

10) Remove as much connective tissue between sentences as possible. It’s tricky to decide how much of this a story can survive before it becomes unreadable, but hopefully, the rhythm of your language and imagery can keep it on life support as you cut it to pieces.

11) Erase anything you did not enjoy writing.

12) Everything you write, no matter how fantastic or stupid, is biographical. Treat it as such.



IF YOU'RE BABYSITTING DEATH, BEST NOT GET DRUNK

1

Matthew Birch had the toys we wanted. We’d crowd around a window-well to peer into the basement where he kept them. Lean towards the glass until driven back by sparks shooting from the mouth of Godzilla. The noxious clouds erupting from chemistry set test tubes. The kamikaze propellers of remote-controlled airplanes. We could barely get a glimpse of what was down there before the toys rose up and chased us away.

Sometimes Matthew would let some of us in. He would stand on the hood of his parent's car and announce which of us he considered friends, then quickly usher those selected inside. Anyone not invited were discouraged from staying on his lawn, as I had once done, waiting for everyone I had just been playing with to come back. I had seen them peeking out at me through the curtains. Thought this was a sign they would soon return and so made myself comfortable on the grass. But after some minutes of being alone, only his mother came out. Stood on the porch with her arms crossed over her chest. Staring meanly until I got up and began to move down the street, away from where everyone else was.

It was near to dinnertime when I got home. My grandparents would have only just left for the horse track and so the kitchen was empty. In the living room the television was on, and beneath a heavy old woolen blanket, some crooked, snore-shook lump had risen from between the couch cushions. It was a shape not fully formed, still in gestation, yet one I was certain would become my father once all the details I needed to recognize him were put in place. The moustache. The cigarette-stained fingers. The sticking up hair. The jean jacket smelling of beer lunch. Only once finished, would he begin to rise from underneath his blanket to become that evening’s babysitter.

And so I still had time to remain unseen. I hurried upstairs. There would be no one around to interrupt my transformation into Death.

2

I had warned Matthew before not to take my friends away. That there would be consequences. And now, looking at the collection of tiny jars and bottles I had shaken from my grandmother's make-up bag into the sink, I knew what those would be. What I would have to become.

Blood would run from my eyes. I sampled the many reds of her nail polish on hand-crushed tissues to see which was closest to the colour of her nosebleeds. Then carefully dribbled the best one down my cheeks.

I would also need to be old. Used her blackest mascara to scrawl wrinkles into my forehead. Around the corners of my mouth. But this still wasn’t enough. I chewed on a lipstick until the pulp ran down my chin. Then, slapped my face hard with talcum powder, until I was as pale and dusty as a corpse dropped in lye.

I sneezed. Looked into the mirror. Still recognized myself.

Worried my father would wake before the transition was complete, I hurriedly searched through my grandfather's closet until I found a tattered, old bathrobe. As brown as grave dirt. Draped it over my head like a death shroud and, once I was sure it fully covered the t-shirt and swim trunks I’d been sporting all afternoon, I tied its terrycloth belt around my neck to keep it in place. Found myself worrying about the wind blowing it open as I stepped outside. Used my hands, still dusty with talcum powder, sticky with nail polish drippings, to tightly snatch it shut. Keep these skinny legs of Death from being exposed to the neighbours. From being laughed at.

In the garage I searched for a walking stick that would allow me to lean my skeletal, death-like wobble into. A bamboo pole my grandmother used in her garden to grow tomatoes would be good enough. Then, coming across the hangman’s noose I’d made from a bit of yellow rope the weekend before, I allowed this to dangle from between my fingers as I drifted out towards the street. Towards the home of Matthew Birch. Staring straight ahead, unaware of anything but the next boy on my list. Unsure of who I even was anymore, until I heard the sound of my father's voice, calling me from the porch.

“Oh, no you don’t”, he cried out. “Nope!”

I turned to confront him. Realized I had not walked nearly as far as I had thought. He would still be able to catch me if I started to run, so I stood my ground. “I am Death. Do not dare think you can stop me”

My father pointed towards the door. “If Death is hoping for pizza, inside, now”

Reluctantly I drifted back inside. Sat at the kitchen table sulking as my father contemplated toppings. Made it clear, Death would not tolerate anything but pepperoni. Something I felt he should have known without asking.

3

It was dark in the room. Curled upon the loveseat, I stared towards the boy we had constructed on the carpet. He was laying in my spot, just beneath the television, looking funny and wrong. Much too long to be me. Wearing rubber galoshes in his sleep. I could tell his head had already come lose from the collar of the shirt I had given him. Rolled face first into the rug. The wig remained fastened tight though, a tight nest of curls we had found in the basement at the bottom of a box full of spiderwebs. A tangle of hair I found myself staring deeply into as I listened to my father snore on the couch next to me.

The crunching of beer cans had come to an end. As had all my father's stories. I’d been listening to them all night. Mostly about my mother's family. Grandpa Tennisball-Head had once lived in an abandoned factory, slept on the concrete floor next to a machine big enough to fill a house. Uncle Gary standing on a hilltop and pointing a rifle down at the city beneath them. Uncle Terry breaking into a house and stealing a briefcase full of loose change. Paying the fare of his getaway cab in handfuls of dimes.

He also talked about his time with my mother, which he almost never did. How she used to spend all her free time counting the pennies she collected in a jar. Filled all the ashtrays with sunflower seeds. How these are the kinds of things that can make you hate a person. But not so much you’d ever kick them in the mouth with the heel of a cowboy boot. Never that, he swore. He hadn't meant it, even though no one who’d been there that night believed him. They only saw all that blood and called the cops.

Most of his stories had been told at the kitchen table, as I sat listening, the nail polish in my eyes now itching, the powder on my face drifting into my lap. He’d once been shot in the head with the worlds tiniest gun. Couldn’t stop laughing as it was pointed at him. Showed me the place in his hair line where the bullet had lodged itself, and how my mother had to pick it out of his skull with her fingernails.

“Weren’t you scared?” I asked.

He wouldn’t say. Only told me about the times he and a friend used to lay on the freeway, waiting for cars to run them over. How he may have buried bodies in a field with a girl named Trisha Klegg. I think he even mentioned that I once had a brother, when I was very young. But he died before I would have had a chance to remember him.

“Do you like horror movies”, I asked. “I hope a horror movie is on TV tonight”

We had come into the family room to check what was on the television. Began to build this boy on the carpet when we found nothing worth watching. “Weren't you saying something about needing a friend”, he explained when I asked why we were doing this. “We’ll make you a proper one you can perform all that voodoo of yours on”

I kept talking about movies as we stuffed the boy on the floor full of newspapers and bits of firewood. He said he liked them too when he was young, and I asked him what his favorite was. He told me he liked Frankenstein the most. How in that movie they collected the bodies of recently hung convicts. How he always wanted the job of Fritz, climbing up the gallows with a knife in his teeth to cut them down. Instead, he had ended up working on an assembly line, powder coating sheet metal.

All night long, I couldn't help but notice he’d kept my hangman’s noose near to him. Kept complimenting my handiwork. Said it looked like a tricky knot for a kid to master, but I had done a good job. I told him it had taken me a long while, but I eventually figured it out on my own.

I sometimes held out my hand and asked for him to let me have it back, but he would clench it tightly in his fist. Refuse to put it down. It kept following us into every room we visited. Upstairs to find the mannequin head I had once seen in a spare closet. Down to the basement where we would discover the wig. When it got late, it was still in his hands as I sat watching him tugging at it, seeing if it would come loose, only letting it slip from his fingers as his eyes began to droop shut.

But now he was asleep. I had outlasted him. Finally got the noose back. My fingers slowly untying it beneath my pillow as I looked towards the boy on the carpet who was already coming apart. Later that night, I had plans to sneak out to Matthew Birch’s home. Crawl quietly up onto his porch and tie this bit of rope to his door handle. A calling card to let him know Death had paid him a visit. Even if, by now, most of my grandmother’s makeup had rubbed off and I hardly felt very frightening.

At some point I fell asleep. I don’t know when. I only woke when I heard my grandparents standing in the living room, talking amongst themselves, counting beer cans and wondering who my father had let fall asleep on the floor. Hissing his name under their breath, as if he was the only one it would wake.