Tag Archives: writing

Unbridled Fire (just a bit more)

The rest of the week passed quietly and slowly.  He spent his free time at home, packing in boxes the things he needed to take with him, looking for apartments online, drinking, reading comics, and watching anime.  On Wednesday night, after basketball and a mildly bitter argument with Susan, Claire called to complain about not hearing back from him after their date.

“Hey, Claire.”

“Jacob.  How are you doing this fine evening?”

“I’m having a bit of a crisis, actually.  I’m having serious doubts about the existence of vampires in animated films and tv series.  They just aren’t scary, and vampire slaying isn’t nearly as cool as ninja warfare, cyborg-tech related espionage, supernatural kung fu battles—I’m doubting whether vampires should have a place in anime at all.”

“Sounds like you don’t understand the significance of vampires in folklore and modern literature.  Were you going to call me again after our date Saturday night?”

“I was.  Of course I was…  You think vampire legends are important enough to make all these boring movies and tv shows?”

“Which ones are you referring to?”

Jacob thought for a few seconds.  “Pretty much every vampire story ever told.”

Dracula is universally considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.”

“Never read it.  Are you sure about that?”

Nosferatu, Interview with the Vampire, Blade, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, all spectacular films.”

Bloodlust was okay.  I just don’t see the draw for all these fans.”

Claire shouted something incomprehensible, then checked herself and asked, in a calmer voice, “What is it you don’t like about vampire stories?”

“Good question…  I think the bad guys get on my nerves a little bit, in a way they’re not meant to.  Villains are evil, threatening, destructive characters, that’s what makes them villains, but vampires have this weird fog around them, like they’re supposed to be, uh…”

She heard him snapping his fingers.  “Seductive?”

“No, not seductive.  Intriguing.  There’s always some mysterious cloud surrounding them, and we’re expected to be so intrigued by them.  I couldn’t care less what they do in the catacombs of their shadowy old mansions, in Transylvania or wherever.  The main characters seem drawn to them, mesmerized somehow, I don’t get it.”

“You’re not suspending your disbelief.”

“I shouldn’t have to.”

“They can fly, sometimes, turn invisible, run super-fast, they’re incredibly smart and strong, not to mention immortal—”

“Not impressed.  Give Spiderman a few thousand stakes, he’d exterminate every last one in less than a year.”

“To each his own, Jacob.  When are we hanging out again?”

They decided Friday night would be good since he planned to start moving his stuff out the day after.  Because of Claire’s artwork, he thought she’d enjoy a visit to the Art Museum, but the suggestion made her laugh and say she’d seen enough portraits and naked goddess statues in grade school.  In her opinion the Potawatomi Casino was a better place to go.  She got paid on Friday and she’d been working extra shifts to have enough to buy Christmas presents for her family and some of her friends.  Jacob inquired as to whether or not it might be wiser to postpone their trip to the casino until after she had bought the presents, to which she replied by saying she’d be outside his house at eight, and if he wanted to come with, then he shouldn’t be so critical.

 

Unbridled Fire (second part)

It had surprised him that she’d consented to the date so quickly.  Susan treated him like a baby when it came to normal adult activities, like going out to have a few beers with his friends, crashing at someone else’s house for a night, and spending time alone with a woman.  He almost never did these things, but could remember a strange paralysis coming over her, a glassy-eyed intractability, when he wanted to do basic stuff like this in the past.  Last night was no problem for her, for some reason.  Maybe she finally realized he’s a real, live, grown-up human being.  Or was it something different?  Jacob double-checked the alarm time on his cell phone.  It’s possible she sensed the truth about him and Claire, that they were meant to be together, and she didn’t want to mess with fate.  Like playing with fire, he mused, dreaming off to sleep.

To the right of the black marble steps, the ramp led up to the revolving doors in three parallel segments, with a couple feet of space between them.  Pushing hard up the first section of the ramp, Jacob’s arms began to tire, shoulders and triceps aching before turning to ascend the second, which he climbed more slowly, gasping at the start of each new push.  Halfway up the third segment and less than twenty feet from the top, his right arm gave out, and the chair swung back to the left, and struck the metal railing with a low, percussive ring, a sound that tensed and uncoiled, sweeping out through his surroundings and permeating the ground, walls, and buildings as if they were merely air.

The front entrance had a single automatic door by the top of the ramp, yet it didn’t open when he pressed the button.  Jacob clumsily wheeled in using his elbow to prevent the door from closing on him, rolled weakly past the vacant front desk, and continued across the spacious, warmly furnished lobby toward the row of elevators at the far wall.  The effort required to convey his chair across the floor seemed to increase with each rotation of the wheels, his muscles felt like dead weight, his lungs began to choke on the sour air, and his head, sweating, nauseous, clouded by exhaustion and despair, sank forward and hung limply on his chest.  He kept pushing.  One arm, both arms, one again, both again…  The lamplight in the room grew dim, and in the oaken darkness Jacob sensed the presence of his family and friends, pale, luminous figures, like spectators on either side of him, faces growing clearer, his sister and brother-in-law, with their kids, his physical therapist, his bro Sunny, Mom, Dad, Claire…  They were smiling, and crying, some of them, watching him push.  He raised his head.  The elevators appeared, blurry and quivering, just a few yards away.  The wheels squeaked on the cold tiles as he inched his way forward.  Susan stood to his left, quiet like the rest, silently cheering him on.  He looked at her and smiled, faced forward again, and propelled the chair onward with a final, broken cry.

The elevator doors slid open.  In a moment he was strong again, and wheeled inside with ease.  Four vertical rows of square buttons, twenty-five in each row and numbered one to a hundred, with several for the lower levels below, shone with amber light in front of him.  He pressed the button for floor eighty-two.  The car jolted and rattled into motion, swaying slightly as it rose, while the grid of lights over Jacob’s head cast bright floating circles on him and the elevator floor.

The car stopped and the doors opened.  He rolled into a dim, high hallway where a woman sat at a desk in a cutout to his left.  Her hair was sandy blonde, straight with dark roots, and she glanced up from her computer and smiled as he passed her.  A conference room at the end of the hall, illumined by floor-to-ceiling windows, drew him to its glass wall and door, which he pulled open, awkwardly entering, and wheeling past the empty table and chairs, he parked before the center window and stared out at the city and sunset.

Above the staggered buildings, the clouds swept down in orange, pink, and purple waves, like the break of a cosmic surf, static, though imperceptibly flowing, crashing to the earth from a separate encompassing world.  Within his heart, the softest change, a watered seed first parting, then peace, eternal dreams—

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

The early shift at Makermart was painful on Mondays.  The majority of the flow team, and the entirety of the management, moped through the store on autopilot, performing their duties with alternating vexation and stoic misery.  Jacob didn’t feel too bad on this particular morning, in part because Sunny would be picking him up at two and driving him across the river to Pointer Arena to see the MMA fights that night.  He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, and so had Sunny, who’d studied Jiu-Jitsu and fought in some amateur bouts himself.

It was almost two-thirty by the time he arrived, as Jacob sat in the cold debating whether or not to call Susan.  “I am so sorry, man,” he said, jumping out of the driver’s seat and jogging back to open the hatch of his Sonic LS.

“I was about to give up on you,” he laughed, “thought we were gonna miss the fights.”

“No way.”  He removed a narrow aluminum ramp from the back of the car, anchored one end on the pavement, and did the same with another identical piece.  “My nephew had to go to the hospital, he got food poisoning at school, toxic bologna or something.”

“Is he okay?”

“Now he is, now that he puked his guts out.”

“Thank God…  Beware the poison lunchmeat.”

As they approached the Kilbourn Street Bridge, they decided to park and grab a cup of coffee and some food, and kill an hour or two along the river.  “Sorry I’m such a pain in the ass,” he called back as Sunny unloaded his electric chair in the parking garage.

“You’d be worth the trouble if you bought the food more often.”

Stopping at a Ringman’s not far from the bridge, Jacob paid for their coffee and scones and they strolled down the riverwalk as they ate.  Two young women passed them going the opposite way, walking a black Pit Bull mix.  The taller one smiled at Jacob, who grinned and said, “Hello, ladies,” forgetting he had a mouthful of blueberry scone.

“Real smooth, bro,” said Sunny, and they veered to the right, parked and sat by the railing.  The river wasn’t icy at all, even though he was pretty sure it was below freezing.  The two of them sat quietly for a minute, finishing their coffee.

“I had a date the other night.”

Sunny turned.  “With Claire?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“How’d it go?”

“How do you think it went?  I swept her off her feet.  She’s in love with me.”

“Where’d you guys go?”

“Stayed in, watched a movie.  I cooked dinner while she told me her life story.”

“What about the Sub?”

“She agreed to spend the night elsewhere, believe it or not.”  He glanced to his right.  “Shut up,” he said, shaking his head.

“Tell me you at least kissed her.”

“No—”

“Awww.”

“That would have been nice, though.  No, we just watched the movie, talked a little, and then she left.  She had a good time, though, I know that.”

Sunny peered down at the dark green water.  “And you were worried about that stupid dream you had.  I knew you’d be alright.  When are you hanging out again?”

“We didn’t make plans.  I don’t know, sometimes…”  Jacob’s eyes seemed to darken as he stared down through the bars of the railing.  “I think sometimes it’d be better if I lived alone.  I mean stayed alone, forever.”  He glanced at Sunny again.  “I’m not sure I could make her happy, especially someone like Claire.”

“You said your equipment worked just fine.”

“I hate you, bro.  I’m talking about long term, everyday life.  Do you remember, The Death of Superman?”

“The comic book?”

“Yes, the comic book.  It starts with a spiked fist beating the hell out of this thick iron door.  A big dude in a green jumpsuit busts out, and starts tearing through the forest.  Well, the Justice League hears about the damage he’s doing, and they come to bring him in, but he starts pummeling those guys.  Later Superman shows up, and Doomsday punches him in the stomach, then turns around and kicks him through a house, clean through a house.  Superman.”

“What’s this got to do with Claire and you?”

A flash of anger reddened Jacob’s face.  “Because no matter how they try to crush him, the dude keeps getting stronger.  Even Superman can’t stop him, unless he dies too.”  He searched Sunny’s eyes again.  “I feel like that some days, like Superman in that story.  Or maybe like Doomsday.  I don’t know…”

He watched the current a second longer, reached over and squeezed Jacob’s bicep.  “You might be like Supergirl in that story.  Come on, let’s go.”

Less than half the seats in Pointer Arena had filled up by the starting bell of the first fight.  Their tickets had only cost thirty-two dollars a piece, which bought them a view from about three hundred feet away from the ring—worse than most of the people there, but neither Jacob nor Sunny was too disappointed.  The first bout ended quickly, the favorite, whose reach gave him a dominating advantage, kept his stronger opponent out of range with his jab, and when he began getting tired hammered his head and face with hooks and crosses.  The next few bouts lasted longer, the fighters more evenly matched, and the last fight they saw raged for all five rounds.  One of the guys could draw and dodge punches with blinding speed, then he’d either counter or take his opponent down to the mat, but the guy kept breaking free, landing elbows or kicks while he got away, and the process would start over again.  Both fighters were swollen, bloody, and barely conscious by the end of the fifth, when the faster guy won by decision.  Sunny admitted on the ride home he probably couldn’t have beaten either one of them.  As Jacob rolled in the house at just past nine, Susan asked if it was a fun trip to the art museum.  “Sure was,” he nodded.  “You’d be amazed how exciting flower paintings can be.”

His morning routine the following day took an extra twenty minutes, since he slipped off the seat in his shower as he was reaching for the conditioner, and in his efforts to pull himself back up, his foot got caught in the plastic suspension bands, and he fell onto the shower floor again trying to free his leg.  Once he had, Susan knocked on the bathroom door in a panic, asking if he was okay.  Jacob inhaled and exhaled five deep breaths before answering, “Yes, I’m fine.  A minor accident, that’s all.”  He lay still a while on the floor of the shower, until he was reasonably sure that she’d gone away, then resumed the attempt to climb onto his shower seat.  By the time he’d finished getting ready for work, and wheeled out to the kitchen, Susan had prepared a fresh, hot breakfast of steak and egg whites, scalloped potatoes, and avocado salad.

“This looks delicious,” he said, surprised.  “I haven’t lifted for a few days, I don’t need that much protein.  Thanks, though, I appreciate it.”

“Figured I might as well,” she smiled from the sink, “having awoken to a loud, mysterious thud in the direction of your bathroom.”

“Yeah, I slipped off the seat trying to reach my conditioner.  No permanent damage.”

Turning off the water, she placed the last pan in the dishwasher and came to the table to sit with him.  “Why don’t you keep it where it’s supposed to be?”

“I do, usually.  I was…  Never mind, please.”

Susan gazed out the window, through the open blinds at a sparrow perched on the bird feeder hanging from a lower limb of the pear tree in their backyard.  A female cardinal soon alighted upon the opposite side and frightened the sparrow away, and a minute or two later a round gray dove appeared and scared the cardinal away.  She let her eyes drift down to Jacob beside her, dividing the last of the egg whites with his fork.  Her left hand flew out to brush the damp yellow waves of hair back over his ear.  His arm shot up to block hers and force it away.

Please don’t touch me.”  Swallowing the food in his mouth and setting the plate and utensils aside, he looked down at the table, turned to her and said, “Will you help me pack my stuff this week?  I need to move out.”

Susan flinched, almost invisibly, and sat up straighter in her chair.  Regarding, briefly, the kind certainty in Jacob’s face, and focusing on the bird feeder again, vacant now, the seeds reduced to dotted, uneven sand between the glass, she covered his look with her own, replying, “Only if you take me with you.”

 

Unbridled Fire (short story in progress)

Here are the first ten pages of a short story I’m writing, about a couple who go to Las Vegas and get married.

Unbridled Fire

Jacob sat slightly higher at the table than his friend, Sunny, with whom he was speaking.  Sunny’s hands were placed flat on either side of the cloudy orange tabletop as he listened intently to the dream being recounted.

“She was waiting for me in the back of a small restaurant, kind of like this one, at a table, opposite an empty chair, and her friend Barbara sat to her left.  She was smiling a hidden kind of smile as I walked up to her.”

“You could walk, in the dream?”

“Yes,” nodded Jacob, “and when I sat down Claire leaned back and crossed her arms, like this.”  He folded his arms against his chest and tilted his head back, peering at Sunny through distrustful eyes.  “I don’t remember how it got started, but I had a book in front of me, uh…”

 After ten seconds or so, Sunny said, “A textbook?  A paperback?”

Jacob raised his eyes to meet his friend’s.  “No.  A schedule book, you know, a—what do you call those things?”

“A day planner?”

“Yeah, one of those, all filled with events and plans.  Every day had a box filled with notes, the entire year was mapped out for us with dates, vacations, parties, family visits and stuff, even big celebrations like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  I kept flipping through the book for the best days, and reading the day’s events to her, trying to convince her, but she didn’t smile or move really.”

“Convince her of what?”

“I don’t know,” he laughed.  “Impress her, maybe.  To make her fall in love with me.”

“What was Barbara doing?”

“She might have been helping me look for days.”  Jacob stared down at his plate, at the half-eaten pile of french fries and swirl of ketchup.  “I woke up before Claire gave me an answer.”

Sunny followed him past the counter and register, then helped push his electric wheelchair over the ridge in the doorway.  They listened to the Classic Rock station on the ride home while Jacob nodded to the music, throwing punches at the air and shouting, “Alright,” when the songs got good.

“God bless you, brother,” Sunny waved out the window and sped away, the taillights blinking on in the blue evening haze.  Jacob watched the grey Chevy shrink and blur into the stream of humming vehicles, then spun and motored up the walkway toward the ramp and front door.

 All he had to do for the rest of the day was shower, get dressed, eat dinner, and go to sleep before ten o’clock.  His job at Makermart required him to be there at six sharp so he could scan the boxes after the flow team unloaded the morning deliveries.  After work he had basketball practice on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if he didn’t get enough sleep he’d be drowsy and lagging on the court.

The simple task of showering and putting on clothes took Jacob approximately three to four times longer than an able-bodied person.  Once he completed this process, he checked his phone, and seeing no new messages or calls, wheeled over to his desk, removed a bottle of tequila and plastic lime from the drawer, and commenced watching an episode of Attack on Titan on his laptop.  A team of warriors flew through the trees raining hell on a malevolent giant who had the power to regenerate his limbs and organs.  Jacob poured another shot, threw it back, and squirted some lime juice in his mouth.  His thoughts drifted to Claire and the dream again.  There may be some truth to it, he thought.  Sometimes he felt like he was trying too hard, and if she wasn’t into it, so what, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.  Then the green of her eyes washed over him, melted his indifference into a renewed determination to win her.  “I love her,” he’d say to himself, “but she better know I’m liquid metal.”

The boxes dropped onto the conveyor and slid over the silver bars, the worn cylinders roaring, then faintly whistling, as the cardboard rolled past, and Jacob’s coworkers loaded the pallets on either side of the line.  He used his manual chair there since it was easier to maneuver in close quarters.  Once a pallet was ready to go out to the floor, the worker would raise a hand and he’d shoot over and scan the bar codes on each of the boxes.  Not the most awesome job in his opinion, but at least he could listen to music, and the people weren’t all unbearable.

“But it don’t make no difference,” he sang under his breath, “Cause I ain’t gonna be easy, easy.  The only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m, killed by death…”

“What you listenin’ to today, Jake?” his friend Shane asked, but he just kept singing and scanning the boxes.

When ten-thirty came around he grabbed his lunch and rolled outside to the employee smoking area on the south side of the building.  Early December in Milwaukee, the clouds of vapor billowed out from Jacob’s lungs as the turkey sandwich on his lap began to freeze.  He watched the cars gliding past beyond the creek encircling the hill on which the Makermart sat, and let his eyes drift down to the icy water.  The edges were frozen, jagged white borders constricting the dark green current, winding through the dense woods before the highway.  He didn’t move for a while, only sat, listening.  Then, at ten fifty-five, he quickly ate the frosty sandwich and wheeled back in to help stock and zone items on the lower shelves.

The Dial n’ Go shuttle picked him up at two and took him straight to basketball, and his mother’s friend, Susan, the woman he lived with, picked him up from there.  “How was practice?” she asked, folding the wheelchair and preparing to stow it in back of the van.  “You look exhausted, did you eat your lunch?”  Jacob hoisted his right leg inside and reached out to close the passenger door, pausing a moment to consider answering her question.  “Never mind, then,” she said when the door slammed shut.

“I got you those elbow sleeves you asked for, the kind with the pad.  They’re on your bed,” she called from the kitchen.

His head bowed, almost dropping on the empty plate.  “How many times have I told you—politely—to stay out of my room?”

“Oh, I know…”  Her attention focused on the task at hand, cracking and straining the yokes out of five large eggs for Jacob’s dinner omelet, part of a high-protein, low-calorie diet he’d started for basketball, and to help him get “insanely ripped” by New Year’s.  “I thought it’d be easier than having to carry them yourself.  Couldn’t help seeing those empty bottles in the trash.  I wish you’d quit drinking so much, young man.”

He raised his head, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.  “Nine years, I’ve been old enough to drink.  I’ll be—”

“Thirty years-old in March,” she finished the sentence with him, rounding the counter with a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of milk.  “Please take it under advisement,” she smiled gently, “you drink enough tequila to drown a mariachi band each week.”

“And she’s racist, too.”

“Winters are rough sometimes,” she said, returning to the kitchen.  “The soul tends to weep and yearn for light.  Spring will be a time of waxing joy and renewal.”

“I’m happy to hear that, Susan.”

He deliberately waited until 8:05pm to call Claire.  She picked up the phone after one ring.  “Hey, Jacob!”

“Claire, how’s it going?  How was—”

“Not bad, you know—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.  I’m in the middle of inking the next SkyWench issue and it’s stressing me out.”

Jacob paused a second.  “I saw the sample pages on your blog the other day.  It looks amazing.”

“Well, thank you, sir.  Should be one of the best ones yet.  Now all I need is some readers.”

“Hey, Claire.”

“Yeah?  Present.”

“Would you want to have dinner with me Saturday, at my place, maybe watch a movie after?”  He almost added, “I can cook a mean roasted chicken with sauvignon blanc,” but kept his mouth shut.

A few hours passed, and Claire said, “Sure.  I’d love to.  What time should I be there?”

“Eight, eight-thirty.  I’ll start cooking around eight.”

“Sounds great, Jake,” she said, possibly smiling.  “I’ll see you, Saturday night.”

After work the next day he hit the gym, but not too hard since he had practice the day after that.  He wondered if Claire might want to go to his game Sunday.  Depending on how their date went, asking her to the basketball game could be a smart move, but if he came on too strong she might brush him off like a charity case who got too clingy.  “Cute little Jacob,” he groaned, pulling himself up into a seated position on the workout bench.  “He thinks Claire’s gonna be his girlfriend.”  Opposite the incline and decline presses, a woman in dark grey spandex pants and a sports bra was doing alternating curls and watching herself in the mirror.  He eyed her for a moment, checking out her body.  Curvy and muscular, a large chest but not huge, a moderately pretty face, and straight black hair.  She caught a glimpse of him, glanced at his shoulders and arms, and smiled.  He smiled back, then her eyes moved to the wheelchair parked beside his bench, she flashed a confused expression, stole a glance at his legs, and turned back to her own reflection.  Jacob lied down and started his next set.

Tired, tired, tired.  So tired of this…  Waking up to pitch black alarm, smelling filth in a soiled diaper, dragging self out of bed, washing, grooming, dressing, for another day like every other God-damned day.  Another day of crawling.  Susan loves, cares, and toils for him.  Sunny loves him like a brother.  Claire laughs and gazes at him from time to time, soft beaming starlight in her eyes, soon to fade, or fall, displaced by cloud or shadow, unknown amusement shaping lips into a grin.

“Hold up, let me scan those,” he barked at Richard, who’d started jacking up a pallet near the back of the truck.

“Sorry, Jake.  Kind of want to get these done in a hurry.  They should let us scan our own boxes, it’d be way faster.”

“Management wants it this way,” he said quickly.

“You’d be out of a job though, huh?”

“And what a tragedy that would be.  Kay, you’re good to go, Dick.”

Half of practice was drills, exercise, and strategy, while the second half was a scrimmage game.  His team went all out during practice games unless they had an important real game in the next few days.  Sunday afternoon they were playing the West Allis Porcupines, so no one on Jacob’s team was very worried.  The scrimmage began as usual in a fun, even brotherly spirit of good-natured competition.

“Once in a while it’s the right play to pass the ball, lame legs.”

“I’ll make sure to tell your mom that later.”

“At least Jake actually makes a shot sometimes, Danny.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” his teammates laughed.

Jacob spun and launched down the left side of the court, hoping to snag a rebound and sail the ball to Nick or Max for a shot.  He locked chairs with Elliot at the three-point line and fought to break free, but by then his team had possession, storming up the court where Max lobbed one in from under the basket.

Susan waited in the parking lot at four, folded his chair, stowed it in back, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the van.  “Your friend dropped by today,” she said quietly.  “She left you a comic book.  Said you’re cooking her dinner tomorrow night?”

He rolled down the window, spat on the pavement, and rolled it up again.  “Is that alright?”

They already had the soy sauce, vinegar, and carrots at home, but they still needed soy beans, soba noodles, and salmon filets, so they stopped at the EarthWay grocery by their house.  He had found the Ginger Salmon recipe on a gourmet cooking site, he told her, and thought a Japanese meal would go well with the film they were watching, plus Claire liked anime, sushi, and some Shibuya-kei music.  He appreciated Susan taking him to buy the groceries.  He also appreciated her finding someplace else to be tomorrow night from seven o’clock onward, so he and Claire could have the privacy they’re entitled to as responsible, non-threatening adults.

The comic she’d given him, the latest issue of SkyWench, wasn’t her best work, although Jacob respected what she was trying to do.  Previous issues focused more on the clashes between Mina’s skyborn clan of sister warriors and the rock-dwelling Scorporanths that fed on human beings, often indulging a nigh unquenchable thirst for human spinal fluid.  In this one all she did was fly from mountain to mountain on her Sordes, with a few of her warriors, on a quest to locate a floating island where the land was fertile and the Scorporanths couldn’t reach them.  Mina ends up finding it, then changes her mind, saying life there would be, “A thunderless dream, and hence a virago’s nightmare.”  Claire’s other readers might enjoy it, either way he intended to keep any negative opinions to himself.

She showed up just after eight while he was grating the carrots.  On his way to the door he hit play on the stereo.  He had considered listening to an album that he knew Claire liked, Stereo * Type A or This Will Destroy You, but before he started cooking went with Use Your Illusion I, not wanting to look overeager to make her happy.  She stood on the doorstep, smiling, for a couple seconds, and he said, “Hey, Claire.  You look…  Hazardous.”

Black sweater unbuttoned down the front, white v-neck t-shirt, faded jeans, frayed at the bottom, over a new pair of sambas.  No purse in her hands, gently resting at her sides, and a calm, radiant, almost sarcastic look in her emerald green eyes.  Dark brown hair streaked with blonde fell over one side of her face, curled slightly beneath her chin, and flowed in a crescent to the back of her neck.  Pale rose lips, round above with softly dimpled corners, delicate, ivory cheeks, and the faintest freckles on a nose sloping bravely from the quiet shadows round her eyes.

“Invite me in at your own risk,” she said impatiently.

He poured her a glass of the Merlot that Susan drank, set it on the counter in front of her, and resumed prepping the ingredients.  Most of the tables and counters were about half a foot lower than usual, part of the renovation done after Susan bought the house.  In spite of this, and the feature of Jacob’s electric wheelchair allowing him to elevate or lower himself somewhat, he couldn’t shake a nagging embarrassment as Claire watched him cook and talked about her friends, the work they were doing, their plans for the future, and hers, which were more like vague wishes really because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she’d rather live overseas and teach English than keep slanging shirts and keychains at the mall, and listening to the same fake-azz pop songs all day.

“Don’t you have to speak a foreign language to be able to teach overseas?”

“Not really.  Besides, I could always learn.”

“Where would you want to live?”

“Europe, China, South America…”

“Why not Japan?”

“I think most people already have a working knowledge of English there.  If not they probably don’t need more teachers.”

“Wouldn’t you miss this place?  Milwaukee isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s way better than Chicago, or St. Louis.”

Claire laughed a single, ecstatic, “Ha,” and let her head fall on her forearms, lifted it again, and finished her wine.  “I just know my life here has been a tragedy.”

They ate quickly, laughing now and then at each other’s jokes.  The salmon was delicious, perfectly cooked according to him, though Claire thought it was too well done.  “I agree,” she told him, “couldn’t be better.”  The tv in the living room emitted an obnoxious buzzing sound when the previews started.  He nearly fell out of his chair trying to get to the entertainment center to adjust the wires.  Unplugging and plugging them back in fixed the problem, and the film began.  The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  He’d almost chosen Ninja Scroll, but after some deliberation ordered this one, not wanting to risk Claire getting freaked out—uncomfortable, rather—due to the abundant violence.  The movie amazed her right away, she slid over next to Jacob, who’d moved from his wheelchair to the couch, and put his arm around her.

“Farewell, Mina,” he called from the doorway, instantly regretting it until she turned, laughing, and blew him a kiss.  Later, as he was falling asleep, he assured himself that it was better not to have asked her to go to his game on Sunday, better still not to have made any plans at all.  Their date was good.  Maybe in a few days he’d call her again.

The game was a blowout, as expected.  His team, the Badgers, dominated the West Allis Porcupines for a 43 to 17-point win, then Jacob and a few of the guys drove to a nearby sports bar for burgers and beers.

“I’ll buy the drinks today, boys,” he said as they rolled up to their table.

“Why you gonna do that, Jake?” asked Nick.

“I feel like being nice, since when do I need a reason?”

Danny eyed him for a second.

“In that case I want the most expensive whiskey they’ve got,” laughed Tyler.

“Did you get lucky last night, bro?” asked Danny.

Everyone at the table stopped talking, and looked at him.

“I told your mom to keep quiet about tha—”

“Yeah, yeah, just answer the question.”

He stared back at Danny and looked around at everyone.  “None of your business, but yeah, I had a date last night.”

All the guys said, “Oooooh,” and started making dumb jokes, when the server walked over.

“You sound like a bunch of tween-age girls,” he yelled.  “Look, the waitress is here.”

They ate, talked, and laughed for almost two hours, watching the Admirals and some other games on tv.  Jacob and Danny drank shots of Jack until Danny threw up a little on his plate and disqualified himself.  At home later, Susan asked how the date had gone.  He declined to answer, only said, “Thank you,” and wheeled into his room.

 

Soft on the Devil, Chapter 3

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

From Soft on the Devil:

Chapter 3

     September turned into October and St. Henry got cold.  If you’ve never lived in the Midwest, our summers are super-hot and our winters are super-cold, and the temperate seasons of Spring and Fall don’t seem to last more than a few weeks.  I try to make the most of Fall by doing outdoor stuff like hiking or walking around one of the parks in town, chilling with a book on the patio of the coffee shop by my work, or going to one of my old high school’s football games.  Soccer’s my favorite sport but I like those games, it feels good to support their team, and I get to see my teachers and occasionally my old friends.
     A week into October, I went to see Meremac South vs. Concordia Academy, a team we usually beat pretty bad.  I sat next to my history teacher, Mr. Samuelson.  “What’s up, sir?  How are classes this year?”
     He squinted at me beneath his bushy caterpillar eyebrows.  “Ian Phillips.  Nice to see you again, young man.  Classes are fine.  The students… don’t change very much.”
     “Is that good or bad?”
     “Neither.  Both,” he laughed.  “I don’t know.  I have just as many slackers as I had when you were enrolled here.  I can’t remember, were you a good student?”
     “You gave me a B-.  I think you were being generous.”
     “What was your term paper on?”
     “The Civil Rights Movement, tied to the necessity for compassionate politics in present day America.”
     “There’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one,” he laughed.  “You might as well extol the benefits of waging peaceful wars.”
     “Speaking of politics, what’s going on with those fraud charges?” I asked.  “I saw something about it on the news back in June, but haven’t heard anything since.”
     “Hey, I just work here,” he said, turning up his palms.  “I’m happy to have this job.  Plenty of teachers like me have gotten the boot to make room for kids like you.”
     “Twenty-four isn’t a kid.  I wish it was, my parents might still give me gas money.”
     “How are they doing?”
     “You’ll have to ask them.  See you later, Mr. Samuelson.”
     Standing in line at the concession stand to get a pretzel before kickoff, I recognized the girl beside me from back in the day.  She’d gone to one of the other Meremac schools, North or East, I couldn’t remember.  I thought her name was Amy.  “Hey, it’s Amy, right?”
     She turned quickly, her reddish-brown hair whipping the front of her face.  “Yes!  Hi, and you are?”
     “Ian.  I used to go here, I graduated in 2011, the same year as you.  We had some friends in common I think.”
     “Sorry, I don’t know you.”
     “Like I said, we had some friends in common.  You went to Meremac North, right?”
     “How’d you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
     “We saw each other at parties and stuff.  We even talked a few times.  Ian Phillips.  You honestly don’t remember me?”
     “No, I honestly don’t, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bother me again.”
     “Sorry, Amy, I had no idea I was bothering you.  I was just trying to be nice.  I won’t speak to you again.”
     We waited in line for another two minutes or so, side by side, extremely awkward.  She stepped up to the counter and ordered a hotdog and Diet Sprite, which was a relief since I half-expected her to ask the concessions guy to call security.  I stepped up to the counter as she was getting her change, and started to order a Diet Sprite too, because that’s what I always drink, but stopped in the middle of the word “diet” for fear she’d accuse me of being some kind of soda-order-mimicking-stalker or some bizarre thing.  “Di… et Pepsi,” I said, “and a pretzel with light butter, please.”  Amy walked away with her food.  After getting mine I went to sit on the upper bleachers where it wasn’t too crowded.
     The game was closer than I’d expected, with Concor-dia coming back strong in the second half.  A field goal in the final minute put them in tying range with thirty-four points to Meremac’s forty-one.  Our defensive line held like a brick wall, though, and my alma mater brought home the win.  On the way to my car I saw one of my old friends, Claire Hendel, talking to Amy as they walked toward the parking lot.  “Hey, Claire,” I yelled, running up and giving her a big bear hug, picking her up and spinning her around.  “It’s so good to see you!”
     “Ian,” she laughed, “put me down, you lunatic!  How are you?  Why don’t you come to The Haus anymore?”
    “Why, so I can get wasted and crash my car?  I just wanted to say hello,” I looked at Amy behind her, “since we were such good friends back in the day.  It’s great to know we all still love and respect each other, isn’t it?”
     “Let’s get coffee sometime, the three of us.  You know Amy, right?”
     “I do know Amy.  Hi, Amy,” I waved.
     She nodded silently.
     “Take care you guys.”
     “Bye, Ian.”
     About this time last year I started noticing symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder creeping into my daily routine.  When I woke up each day I felt obligated to perform my morning activities in the same specific order.  I’d wake up, use the bathroom, wash my hands, brew my cup of coffee, fix breakfast, take a shower, brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and get dressed.  If I started brewing coffee before going to the bathroom, or putting on deodorant before brushing my teeth, I’d be forced by an irresistible compulsion to stop what I was doing and return to the normal order.  One day I forgot to brush my teeth and apply deodorant before heading to work.  I didn’t realize it until after I’d arrived and clocked in, and all of a sudden it was like a door slammed shut, locking me in an airtight room.  I couldn’t breathe or talk or think straight.  Walking out from behind the café counter and back out of the store, I got in my car and started driving home to brush my teeth and put on deodorant, but made a U-turn around the circle and parked again, realizing they might fire me for bailing on them like that.
     Other weird stuff started happening at about this time, not only psychological stuff but also strange occurrences involving people I knew, and events in the world.  I had more bad dreams about Cindy showing up at my apartment and jumping out of shadows.  Some-times I’d think I saw her from a distance while I was awake, catch a glimpse of her rounding a corner, or looking out a window, or leaning against a building far away.  The people in my apartment complex gave me weirder vibes than usual, too.  That guy, Gary, who I chatted with on occasion, started saying scary stuff about the people he called, “the powers.”  He meant the government, the rich, the people on tv and in the news, and he’d talk like they were the enemy, saying things like, “America won’t last much longer,” or, “Someone better stand up to the powers real soon.”  It might not sound scary when I say it, but the way Gary said it felt like something horrible was going to happen.  And he wasn’t the only one, I sensed a dark, lurking anger all over town.
     This was around Thanksgiving of last year, ironically.  I remember thinking, if every city is feeling like St. Henry’s been feeling, maybe America really isn’t going to last much longer.  I kept on waking up, driving to work, and reading the Bible at night, which helped me to not worry so much.  I knew that the only true power is God power.  The devil can lead people astray from time to time and cause a fair amount of trouble, but at the end of the day it’s still the Lord’s world, and Christ alone is sovereign here.  I switched from reading Jeremiah and the Prophets at night to reading the Gospels, to coincide with the holidays coming up.  Having Christmas around the corner helped also, not just me but everyone.
     I saw the dark-haired lady, Mrs. Romero-Newstead, parked outside my work a few more times, just sitting and staring.  I didn’t go up and talk to her again in case she’d tell her husband a man at EarthWay was hassling her, and then I might have two groups of thugs to be paranoid about.  With the amount of money Mr. Newstead had you’d be able to order any kind of malevolent treatment you could imagine—not that he would, necessarily.  He may have been a perfectly nice and gentle person, I’m just saying what he could have done. 
     I saw Amy again around Thanksgiving, the week after in fact.  My old buddy, Scott, showed up at EarthWay to meet Claire for lunch one day.  Almost a year had passed since the last time I’d seen him, and he looked healthier than I remembered him, brighter, like an actor in the final shot of one of those prescription drug commercials.  Vera let me have a five-minute break to catch up with him.  I told him he looked good, like he was doing well and all that, and he said he’d given up booze and smoking and had started doing yoga, which had helped his aura considerably.  He said he’d been working for his uncle’s real estate company and had scored big on a couple good sales over the summer, and he’d leased a condo for the following year out here in the county, in Marine Echoes, a pretty affluent part of town.  He asked if I wanted to stop by that Friday for a dinner party he was hosting, with a few people from school and some other friends of his.  I said sure.
     The wine section of my store was having a sale on Cabernet Sauvignon, so I picked up a bottle to bring to the party.  It was between that and the Pinot Grigio, but the description on the label swayed me.  I have a bottle of the same wine right here.  “This selection offers a quintessential incarnation, complex in character with an inky hue, flavors of cherry, eucalyptus, and black plum.”  The condo Scott was leasing turned out to be right next to the lake, less than a hundred yards from the water.  Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees by then so you could see the reflection of the distant windows and passing headlights on the surface of the water.  The humming of voices and deep rhythm of a jazz record escaped through the windows and walls as I climbed the steps.  No one answered when I knocked so I turned the knob and entered.  Crowded room, twenty or so, a few of them looked to see who I was.  I made my way into the kitchen with the bottle of Cabernet.
     “You made it,” Scott greeted me.  “Thanks for the wine, looks nice.  Make yourself at home, bro.  We’ve got apps on the table, beers in the fridge, mixed drinks at the bar.  You know most of the people here, right?”
     “Yeah,” I nodded without looking around.
     “Sweet, man!  Glad you could come.”
     A second later he was gone.  I grabbed a can of Blue Moon out of the fridge and stood near four people by the front door.  A tall blonde woman without any makeup was talking passionately, saying, “It’s get what you can as fast as you can, legally if possible, or a way you won’t get caught.  We’ve actually gone back in time a hundred and twenty years with regard to regulations, and the majority actually thinks it’s a good thing.”
     “What do you think should be done about it?” asked a guy with a Jaxon hat and Elvis-style sideburns.
     “Honestly, we need people to step up and hold the frenzy feeders accountable for their actions.”
     As she was talking someone to my right called my name.  I turned and it was Amy.  “I was very rude at the game that day.  I’m sorry,” she said, almost shouting over the music.
     “Yeah, you were kind of rude,” I said, walking over.  “No big deal though, it’s not like we were best friends back then.”
     “I’d be highly offended if you had treated me like that.”
     “Really, it’s okay.”  Noticing the absence of a drink in her hand, I asked if she wanted a glass of wine.
     “Sure,” she smiled.
     Using a corkscrew on the counter I opened the bottle and poured a glass right away.  I know you’re supposed to let red wine breathe for a few minutes but that wasn’t really an option given the potential awkwardness of the time we’d spend waiting.  She took the glass and sipped the wine.  Over her shoulder some guys I didn’t recognize were staring at us from the opposite corner of the room.  The music was loud, dark, slow jazz, sax and trumpets moaning in ever-rising platforms of rigid sound.  “Do you want to take a walk?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” she nodded.
     We got our coats, walked down the steps, and down the drive toward the lake, the gravel crunching beneath our feet.  “I like the cold,” I said.  “I used to hate the winter.  Now it seems quieter, more peaceful.  You?”
     “No,” she shook her head.  “I’ll take a sunny day at the beach over a cold peaceful day anytime.”
     “The closest beach is a thousand miles away.”
     “That’s probably why,” she said.
     The shore was mostly sand and gravel, with fallen trees here and there, farther back from the water.  Amy and I sat on one of the fallen tree trunks.  I breathed a giant cloud of steam into the air.  She breathed a smaller cloud.  “Just sad,” she said.  The lighted windows of the houses on the other side of the lake bobbed and swelled faintly on the black surface of the water.  I sidestepped toward her, sat next to her on the tree.  I looked at her cheek, the reddish-brown waves of her hair, pure black in the night, she looked at her hands, then up at me, I leaned over, and kissed her.

 

Reconstitution (Full Screenplay)

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

 

Reconstitution

A Screenplay by
Robert Lampros

 

View from the back of the White House Press Room, the platform is empty except for the podium and two flags, the chairs are filled, journalists making last minute notes and talking to each other.  In the left corner by the platform stands a Secret Service Agent, while the right wall is lined with cameramen holding shoulder-mounted news cameras.

Jean sits in the second to last row of chairs, holding a digital tablet, preparing to record audio and take notes.  View of podium from her perspective, over the heads of the journalists in the dozen or so rows in front of her.  She turns and looks back at the line of reporters standing behind the last row of chairs, they wait quietly for the President to appear.  Jean faces forward and sits up straighter, looking over the heads at Deborah, a woman in the first row of chairs talking quickly to the man sitting next to her.

The President enters the room and steps up to the podium.

PRESIDENT LANG    
January twenty-fifth, two thousand eighteen, will be remembered, not merely as a tragic day, but more significantly as a day when truth prevailed over falsehood.  The people who died in Dubthach Stadium yesterday, the fathers, caring patriarchs of bright, beautiful families.  The mothers, loving protectors and nurturers of vibrant, happy children.  The sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who all gathered to celebrate life together peacefully…  They came to watch a basketball game in the company of those they know and value most, their closest family and friends.

Jean thinks of something and writes a few notes on her tablet.

PRESIDENT LANG
The moment the shots began, and terror wrenched the peace of that atmosphere apart, evil struck a blow against the very fabric of our society—that which makes us one nation, one America.  Our freedom to assemble and enjoy ourselves without fear of oppression or violent attack constitutes the essence of what makes it such a blessing to be American.  Without this freedom the principles our forebears labored, fought, and died for, don’t shine through and illuminate this land.  But those principles did shine through yesterday, in the midst and aftermath of the violence, our better angels showed up and went to work.  The Koreston Police, Fire Department, the stadium’s security officers, employees, the shellshocked players and spectators at the game, and indeed the victims themselves, responded to the emergency with courage, strength, and a real concern for the safety and well-being of others at the scene.  A greater love prevailed yesterday, a selfless love, far truer than hate, doubt, or terror.  And no matter how they might try to destroy our love, the terrorists can not and shall not win, because the war’s already won.  Thank you.

Wolfram stands up in front of the platform.

WOLFRAM                
We’re only answering a few questions today.  This isn’t the time to discuss the attack’s implications for security, gun rights, or foreign policy, so please limit your questions to the shooting itself.

He steps aside.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Nods to a journalist in the third row.
Mr. Gregson.

GREGSON                 
Thank you, Mr. President.  Can you tell us more about Mizreb’s connections to KESG (pronounced key-sig), or other organized terror groups?

PRESIDENT LANG    
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are working with the Koreston Police and the suspect’s family to know more about his motives and possible involvement with active terror groups.  Mrs. Chambet.

CHAMBET                 
Have the authorities discovered evidence of Adnan planning the attack with anyone?  A student from the University, friend or family member?

PRESIDENT LANG
So far there has not been any indication of Adnan Mizreb having planned the shooting with a partner or partners.  His parents are hardworking American citizens.  His father is a pharmaceutical chemist, his mother sells dresses in a shopping mall.  These are typical Americans like you and me.  As the investigation continues, all pertinent facts will be released.  Deborah, why don’t you close the meeting today.

DEBORAH
Mr. President, considering this marks the fourth mass murder involving an assault weapon in the last twelve months, do you regret your failure to compromise on gun control during your first term?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at Deborah for a moment, then down at podium.

WOLFRAM
Surprised and angered, almost walks over to conclude the meeting, but hesitates.

PRESIDENT LANG    
Judging from what we know at present the suspect obtained the gun illegally.  While this particular type of rifle is available to purchase in a majority of States, I do not believe gun control restrictions would have played a significant role in preventing this attack.  That’s it for today, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform with Wolfram following.  Jean stands up as the room ignites with voices, texting, and phone calls.  She looks once more at Deborah and starts edging her way out of the row of chairs.

President Lang and Wolfram walk down a West Wing hallway toward the Roosevelt Room.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Straight for the jugular.

WOLFRAM
My fault, Mr. President.  I should have closed the meeting immediately after your statement.

PRESIDENT LANG
You’d think twenty-two bodies in the morgue would prompt a bit of respect from that woman.

WOLFRAM
All’s fair in war, sir.

They turn a corner.

WOLFRAM
Should we run the interview with Mizreb’s family, sir?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yeah, go ahead.

They enter the Roosevelt Room, where a Secret Service agent stands near the door, and two men and a woman sit at the table with laptops and papers in front of them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are we?

MAN 1            
Adnan’s closest friend at the University’s been talking.  He says they went target shooting a few times about an hour south of town, mostly corn fields and woods there.  He claims, and I quote, “Addie wouldn’t take the M4, only the .38 Special.  It was like the rifle was sacred or something.”

PRESIDENT LANG
What about the motive?

WOMAN                    
Sounds more like a Columbine than a religion or politically motivated attack.  These guys were angry, at their peers, at themselves, the faces they saw on tv.  Mizreb joked about making an RPG where the shooter could walk into the world of television and “shred the stars of his favorite shows.”

WOLFRAM
That’s cute.

MAN 1
The friend didn’t quite share his desire for carnage.  Jonathan tried to calm him down when he took it too far, change the subject to girls or video games.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are they on the source of the weapon?

MAN 2
We think he bought the M4A1 from a dealer in Chicago.  Mainly sells narcotics, but acquires a stray bag of firearms on occasion.  The thirty-eight we don’t know yet.

PRESIDENT LANG
Find out, please.

MAN 2            
Yes, Mr. President.

*       *       *

Jean drives on a street in Washington D.C., talking to Vera on speaker phone.

JEAN
Can you grab lunch today?

VERA
I can’t leave work, but if you stop by I’ll have André fix you something.  How’d the press thing go?

JEAN
President Lang made a beautiful statement about the shooting, then Deborah Elm burned him on gun control.

VERA
You didn’t ask a question?

JEAN
No, they ended the session after that.  I’ll see you at eleven, okay?

She walks into a busy news studio, past several side offices, through the main room, and past a news desk where two reporters are broadcasting.  Jean stands watching for a minute.

TODD
If your ride is bumpier than usual in to work today, you might blame potholes.

SHEILA
Seen them all over, turns out you may drive over fewer than normal right now.  CDN’s Monique Green has been checkin’ out the roads, and has more on why that is.  Hey, Monique.

MONIQUE
Via monitor.
Hey, guys, you know our warm weather has been really good for the D.C. Department of Transportation.  We’re driving along now on Brewster Rd. in northwest D.C., and we’ve got some potholes here on this stretch.  There are a couple of trucks in front of us—you know, the extreme freezing and then the thawing, that’s what makes the craters in the road.  Here we go, oh yeah, we got some, and then on the other side of the street here…

Jean’s boss, Stanley, stands beside her behind the cameras, and they talk quietly.

STANLEY
Smidgen sent an email, reproving the “shameful conduct” of Mrs. Elm this morning.

JEAN
Smiles faintly.

STANLEY
“In the wake of a national tragedy there is expected a modest level of dignified restraint, and reverence for the Office of President of the United States.”

JEAN
Did she respond?

STANLEY
Not yet.  Knowing her she will, though.

JEAN
May I have a word with you in your office?

STANLEY
Always.

They enter Stanley’s office and he closes the door behind her.  He pulls out the chair, walks around the desk, and they sit facing each other.

STANLEY
What’s up, Jean?

JEAN
I want to have a sit down with the President, one-on-one, to discuss his stance on gun control.

STANLEY
Stares at her a moment.
You want to have a televised conversation with President Thomas Lang about the one issue he’s refused to talk about for six years?

JEAN
Yeah.

STANLEY
You.

JEAN
Thanks a lot, Stanley.

STANLEY
You aren’t the most logical choice for an interviewer.

JEAN
I’m a D.C. journalist with a successful nightly program.  Whether he knows it yet or not he’s going to need to give America a thorough answer for his intractability on this issue, more than reciting the Second Amendment.

STANLEY
Probably so, but why would he sit down with you?

Medium closeup on Jean’s face as she looks at him, thinking.

Adnan Mizreb’s burial, a priest, a few government officials, police officers, and two groundskeepers stand around the closed casket in a cemetery on a quiet hillside.  Medium closeup on small headstone reading:

RESTING PEACEFULLY
IN THE ARMS OF GOD
A.M.
1999-2018

Also engraved on the headstone, a thin bouquet of flowers growing up the left side, curling slightly over the letters.

PRIEST
Reading from a prayer book.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…

View of Mizreb’s parents’ house from outside where a number of vehicles, reporters, and angry protesters line the street.  Inside the sunlit living room, Mr. Mizreb sits on a couch with luminous window blinds behind him.  We see through the lens of one of the cameras being used to film the interview.

INTERVIEWER                      
Can you tell us something about what Adnan was like growing up?

MIZREB
Adnan was a playful child.  He spent hours running with the other children in our neighborhood, in the streets and fields around our home.  They’d make up different games, cops and robbers, king of the mountain, and he would never want to come inside for dinner. 
Laughs weakly, tears in his eyes.
He just wanted to keep running around outside.

INTERVIEWER
How about when he got older, in middle school and high school, what did he like to do?

MIZREB
Normal things, you know.  Athletics, video games…  He did not like to study, but, uh…
Shrugs his shoulders, stares blankly.

INTERVIEWER                      
What teenager does?

MIZREB
Smiles.
Right.  Adnan, he did have frequent tantrums in his older years.  If his mom or I told him to work harder for a test or term paper, he’d occasionally lose his temper and yell, or go into his room and slam the door, and we’d hear him cussing.  He did not like being told what to do, my son.  He was, oh, what is the word?  Bullheaded.

INTERVIEWER
Smiles warmly.
Thank you, sir.  Can you tell us more about your whole family?  How did you and your wife meet?

Jean sits at a small table near the front window in the restaurant Vera manages.  She looks out the window at cars passing on the street.  Vera falls into the chair across from her and freezes her face in a goofy smile.

JEAN
Laughs.
What’d you order?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Just tell me what I’m eating.

VERA
Are… you… ready?

JEAN
Yes, I’m ready.

VERA
André is preparing for you our smoked trout BLT—

JEAN
Ooooh…

VERA
And on the side flash-fried Brussels sprouts with garlic and lime.

JEAN
More intensely.
Ooooooh…

VERA
And for dessert…

JEAN
Yeah?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Anger.

VERA
Warm banana and ale bread pudding.

JEAN
Oh!
Drops head on tabletop.

VERA
A la mooode.

JEAN
You’re too good to me, Vera. 
Glances around the semi-crowded restaurant.
How’s business?

VERA
Not great.  We’re working on a Spring menu that’ll have people crawling on the ceiling.

JEAN
What?

VERA
Points up and raises eyebrows.

JEAN
That’s, a little terrifying.

VERA
What’s up with you?

JEAN
Preparing for an interview.

VERA
Interview, what interview?  You never…  You never said anything about an interview.  With whom is this interview taking place?

JEAN
Mouths silently.
The President.

VERA
Mouths silently.
The who?

JEAN
Glances covertly side to side, whispers.
The President of the United States.

VERA
Exaggerated surprise and realization.
Wait, I thought you’re a local news person.

JEAN
I am, and that’s exactly why he’ll grant the interview.  I’m gonna call him and say, “President Lang, this is Jean Connelly with CDN News.  You’ve been neglecting the local press.  It’s high time you gave me an hour to sit down and talk about gun control.”

VERA
You think he will?

JEAN
Probably not.

VERA
Yeah, no way in hell.

Mizreb’s parents’ living room, interview being concluded.

INTERVIEWER
Mr. Mizreb, given the horrific nature of your son’s crime, is there anything you want America to know about Adnan?

MIZREB
I know that certain people are afraid of people like me.  I was born in Iran, I have brown skin, and there are those from my birthplace who despise this country.  However, this is not who I am, nor my wife, Ranim.  We are true Americans.  Our son…
Starts crying.
His hate… 

Breaks down into heavy weeping.

INTERVIEWER
Okay, that’s enough.  Turn the camera off, please.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen on a bench near a fountain in a park (preferably a fountain with mermaids).  He’s eating a sandwich and talking on his phone.

WOLFRAM
Did you get enough for the full half hour? 
Waits while interviewer responds.
Great, send it over and we’ll take a look.

President Lang sits at his desk in the Oval Office, reading some papers.  The phone beeps, and his assistant speaks over the intercom.

ASSISTANT
Mr. President?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yes, ma’am?

ASSISTANT
Stanley Balto, the head of CDN News, left a message for you to please call him at your convenience.  He said he has something important to discuss regarding the shooting.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks up from papers and thinks for a second.

Stanley and Jean wait in his office, Jean in a chair and Stanley pacing behind his desk.

STANLEY      
Stops pacing.
What makes you think he won’t laugh and tell us to go cover the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon?

JEAN
Steve’s already covering the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon.

Phone rings.  Stanley looks at Jean, and picks it up.

STANLEY
CDN News, this is Mr. Balto.

Oval Office, President Lang on the phone.

PRESIDENT LANG
Hello, Mr. Balto, I just received your message.  What information do you have about the attack?

Stanley’s office.

STANLEY
No information, Mr. President.  A journalist of mine has a proposal she believes to be of the utmost importance to our country, uh, in light of recent events.

Oval Office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Okay, let’s hear it.

Stanley holds phone out to Jean.  She walks to the desk and starts talking.

JEAN
Hello, Mr. President.  I’m sorry to trouble you right now, I know you’re very busy.  My name is Jean Connelly and I’m a nightly anchor for CDN.

PRESIDENT LANG
Through phone.
I know you, Jean, I watch your show on occasion.

JEAN
Well, as you also know, this latest tragedy has got people as serious as ever about gun control regulations.  Contrary to what you said at the meeting today, a near majority of the American people believe a ban on assault rifles could’ve helped to prevent the massacre in Koreston and the losses of many other lives over the past year.  I think—and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries here—it would be a very good idea for you to talk with someone politically neutral about your stance on this issue, and how you plan to address the problem during your remaining two years in office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Someone like you, perhaps?

JEAN
I’d be a new face for the public.  There’d be no grounds for personal bias among the viewership, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Silent for a few seconds.
This is a good idea, Ms. Connelly.  Let me run it by some folks and get back to you.  We may prefer a more familiar and established interviewer for this particular job.

JEAN
I understand, sir.  Thank you for your time.
She hangs up the phone, and she and Stanley stand quietly for a moment.

Interrogation room, Adnan’s friend, Jonathan, talks to an interrogator.

JONATHAN
No, it wasn’t like he was planning some jihad, holy war attack or something.  Addie didn’t even pray.

INTERVIEWER
You didn’t know about the shooting ahead of time?

JONATHAN
No way.  I told you this already, ten times already.  I knew he was gonna do something, I didn’t think he’d actually pull the trigger.  It’s like I said, it was…
Searches for the word.
Fantasy.

INTERVIEWER
You had no knowledge of when or where this attack would take place?

JONATHAN
No.

INTERVIEWER
Are you willing to take a polygraph to confirm that?

JONATHAN
Vehemently.
Yes.

Aerial view of Washington D.C., fast forward through late afternoon and beautiful sunset.

President Lang and Wolfram sit in Air Force One with some other officials and Secret Service agents as the plane prepares to take off.

WOLFRAM                
It can’t be McFeely or they’ll accuse us of lobbing you easy pitches.  It’s got to be someone from LQVN, or someone else, someone new.

PRESIDENT LANG
Not Connelly?

WOLFRAM
Laughs.
No, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks out window at lights passing along runway.
Keep the press about this trip to a minimum, will you?  I don’t want it to look like a PR exhibition.

WOLFRAM
With all due respect, sir, we need to bolster your image concerning this issue.  As long as you’re visiting the wounded and bereaved, we might as well—

PRESIDENT LANG
The public knows about this trip, they don’t need to see it.  Request a minimum of coverage please, Mr. Smidgen.

Reaction shot of Wolfram looking irritated, then subduing his anger.

Jean alone in her house that evening, laying on the couch, reading a book.  Quiet music from the stereo.  The title of the book is A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, by Mary McCarthy.  She finishes reading a chapter and sets the book aside, walks over to the window, and looks outside at the quiet street.

Jean walks down the suburban street at night, past one-story houses and under the occasional streetlight.  It’s cold and she has her hands in her coat pockets, she tilts her head back and looks up as she walks, looks up at the softly twinkling stars beyond the treetops.

Jean back in her house after the walk.  She checks her phone and sees that Vera called while she was out, and calls her back.  Their conversation cuts back and forth from Jean’s house to Vera’s house, while some of their lines are heard through the phone without a cut.

VERA
Hey, Jean, how’s it goin’, babe?

JEAN
I’m bored but I don’t feel like working.  Why’d you call?

VERA
Just checkin’ on my babes.  Seein’ how my Jeanie’s doin’.

JEAN
I could use another bread pudding, actually.

VERA
Oh, next time you gotta try the Warm Apple Crostada with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce.  It’s part of our dinner menu.

JEAN
How’s Alex doing?

VERA
Who?

JEAN
Your husband.

VERA
Oh, he’s around.  On the roof, probably, with his telescope.  Did you see the news?  About the President?

JEAN
Yeah, he’s in Koreston.

VERA
Yep, and he’s doing the interview.

JEAN
What?

VERA
They announced it just now, he’s gonna discuss his position on gun control with Charles Stockton, and air it this Sunday evening.

JEAN
Silent, medium closeup on her face.

VERA
That’s good, right?

JEAN
Silent.

VERA
You didn’t think he’d do the interview with you, did you?  For reals?

JEAN
Not really, no.  Thanks for telling me, Vera.  See ya later.

VERA
Wait, waaaaiii—
Jean hangs up the phone.

The next morning in Jean’s office, she sits at her desk reading over the notes for her show that day.  Close-up on the sheet of paper and slow pan down over the typed headlines and stories.
–     Sixteen year-old girl missing from Alexandria, Virginia.

(brief story follows)
–     Russian spy ship spotted off the coast of Delaware.
(brief story follows)
–     Congress moves to strike down D.C.’s assisted suicide law.
(brief story follows)
–     Police search for suspects after ATM theft.
(brief story follows)
–     Man killed by vehicle in Md. identified.
(brief story follows)

Stanley walks up and knocks on the open door.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.

JEAN
Don’t even say it.

STANLEY
If it makes you feel better—

JEAN
Ah…  Yeah?

STANLEY
Reveals heart-shaped box of chocolates from behind his back, smiles, then walks over and sets them on her desk.

JEAN
Smiles.
Chocolates?  Valentine’s Day isn’t for two weeks.

STANLEY
Sits down in a chair across from her.

JEAN
Oh, no.  Here we go.

STANLEY
You know the first week you started working here, the first day—the Monday after I hired you…

JEAN
Waits impatiently.

STANLEY
You walked in with your bag slung crooked around your shoulder, venti chai latte in your hand, ready to save the world.

JEAN
Please, spare me this talk.

STANLEY
I thought you’d drop out after a couple months, work for higher pay somewhere, and fewer hours, but no.  You stuck with us.

JEAN
Smiles artificially, nods.

STANLEY
Since then you’ve been the motor of this operation.

JEAN
The motor?

STANLEY
Ferrari, Formula 1, all cylinders firing, engine of this place.  One of the best decisions I’ve made.
Looks down for a second.  
This town…  It’s the lion’s den.  We have to keep our arms out, wide.  And trust we don’t get eaten alive.  
Stands up, walks over, and kisses the top of her head, then walks to the door, and pauses.
All set for today’s broadcast?

JEAN
Nods lightly, tears in her eyes.

STANLEY
Okay.
Walks away.

*       *       *

A woman lays in a hospital bed with her leg slightly elevated in a cast, and her left shoulder bandaged due to a bullet wound.  She flips through channels on the television with the remote in her right hand.  A nurse enters.

NURSE
Hi, Savannah.  How’s it going today?

SAVANNAH
Oh, not bad.  These soaps are terrible.

NURSE
Looks at tv.
I thought you loved Nightdreams Exposed.

SAVANNAH
I did, until Manuel started an affair with Persephone’s step daughter.  Is it time for meds again? 

NURSE
Actually, you have a visitor, all the way from Washington D.C.  President Lang?

He enters the hospital room, waves, and stands at the foot of Savannah’s bed, and smiles at her.

Wolfram stands near a window in a quiet area on the same floor of the hospital, talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listens for a few seconds, looking out the window.
We have to give them something…  Half our country’s screaming for blood, if we don’t—

Looks out window, listens.
If we don’t throw them a bone, at least tightening restrictions, we’re going to have a million anti-gun activists loading up on weapons.

Hospital room, President Lang sits beside Savannah’s bed.

PRESIDENT LANG
Middle school or high school?

SAVANNAH
Ninth grade.  She just started going to “ragers.”

PRESIDENT LANG
Smiles.
Most kids are more responsible than they let on.  I think they exaggerate their wildness sometimes to scare us, make us care more.  Jeremy likes to brag about his close calls on the road, when he’s angry at me, at least.

SAVANNAH
Aren’t they the worst?  My mama would have whooped me senseless if I’d said some of these words.

Wolfram at the window.

WOLFRAM
Okay.  Okay, yes, sir.  I will pass that along to the President.
Listens for a second, stares out coldly at the horizon.
We’ll see how this plays out next week.

Hospital room.

PRESIDENT LANG
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?

SAVANNAH
It’s a Wonderful Life.  Watching Jimmy Stewart around the holidays just made me feel… safer.  What was yours?

PRESIDENT LANG
The French Connection.  Well, Savannah, we’re certainly working to make you feel safer now.  God bless you.

CDN News Studio, Stanley sits at a news desk preparing to speak live on television.  We see him on the screen of a news camera, then on a monitor, then straight ahead, centered in the frame.

STANLEY
Good evening, Washington.  I’m Stanley Balto.  I run the newsroom here at CDN.  I’ve lived and worked in the D.C. area for most of my life, and I can proudly say, in spite of its many flaws, this city is my home.  In a couple of days the President is going to give an interview about one of the major issues dividing our nation.  We don’t often discuss these kinds of issues here, we mostly report on things like weather, traffic, and local news of a more idiosyncratic character, but I wanted to say a few words tonight about what has become a foreboding subject in the minds of many Americans.  When news comes in of another shooting, whether it’s a murder/robbery in the street or a mass shooting in a different city, part of me wishes that firearms just didn’t exist.

Wolfram rushes into the living room of his apartment, picks up the remote from the table, clicks on the television, and turns to channel five.

STANLEY
On Wolfram’s tv.
And I agree, we live in a problematic world.  My question for you, and for the leaders here in Washington, and for gun rights advocates all over the world, is how far are we willing to stretch our ideals in order to combat the world’s problems?

Center frame in newsroom.
I don’t have any answers.  It’s challenging enough for me to keep my studio operating at a halfway functional level.  But I do know this.  Something has to change, today.  We need new laws, new restrictions, and new programs regarding gun control that more closely line up with the America we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.  Above all, we need courage here in Washington.  I hope we see some of that overdue courage in the President’s interview this Sunday.  Thank you for listening.  Stay tuned for Jean Connelly and our nightly news.

*       *       *

Jean sits alone in an all but empty bar, stirring a whiskey with a straw. Close-up on her face as she watches the ice cubes revolve in the glass. Flashback to her loading a bag into a packed car in the lot of a condo complex. A man stands behind the car, talking quickly, the sound is muffled and the words unintelligible.

ROB
Suddenly the words are clear.
It wasn’t you, Jean, it wasn’t you or me. Don’t waste this.
Extends hands, steps toward her.

JEAN
Stay—away from me.

ROB
You don’t know what you’re doing.

JEAN
Turns from organizing the bags in her car.
I’m jumping ship. I’m leaving a bad situation… before we both drown.

She closes the door, walks around the back of the car, through his outstretched arms, and gets in the driver’s seat.

Back in the bar, she keeps stirring the whiskey. Two young women sit a few seats down, talking and laughing.

WOMAN 1
Can we have three more Apple Jacks, please?
Looks over at Jean.
Do a shot with us.

JEAN
No, thanks, I’ve had more than enough.

WOMAN 1
You might as well. We’re in the vortex.

JEAN
The vortex?

WOMAN 2
Yeah, the place where good men go to fall.

JEAN
Keeps looking, thinks for a second.

President Lang and an assistant stand in a side room of the White House as he finishes preparing for his interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
The amendment clearly states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I understand the necessity to adapt this nation’s laws to better help us govern this land, but this is the Constitution, established to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liverty.” The blessings of Lib—of Liberty.

ASSISTANT
Sounds great, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Don’t flatter me, Ms. Baker. I sound like a malfunctioning robot.

ASSISTANT
“What do you say to those who hold the view that the Second Amendment is completely obsolete in today’s America?”

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

ASSISTANT
“Do you have any firearms, President Lang?”

Wolfram stands on the balcony of his high-rise apartment, staring out toward the Capitol Building. Storm clouds, lightning, and thunder on the horizon.

Jean sits in her office at CDN, watching footage of Jonathan’s (Adnan’s friend’s) interview on a news website.

INTERVIEWER
We know that Mizreb purchased the rifle from a drug dealer in Chicago, but we haven’t been able to trace the source of the other gun, the .38, not used in the attack. Can you tell us where he got that one?

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

She reverses the video and watches Jonathan’s response again.

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

President Lang and Charles Stockton in the Blue Room of the White House, cameras rolling.

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

STOCKTON
Do you have any firearms, President Lang?

PRESIDENT LANG
I do not own any guns, no. I do have several friends, some old college buddies, whom I go hunting with on occasion. Deer, turkey, quail, a couple times a year, but I don’t have guns of my own.

Jean in her office, searching through old news articles online, comes across an article in The Columbus Observer from two thousand and ten. “Driver, Pygmy Goat Wounded at Fair.” She starts reading.

Blue Room, interview.

STOCKTON
What do you have to say to people who claim your intractable position on gun control is the result of billions of dollars from the gun lobby, and has nothing to do with our civil liberties?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’d recommend that they take a look at my record. My years in office have demonstrated a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

Jean’s office. She continues reading the article. Close-up on screen:
Both the demolition derby driver and the goat were shot by a .38 caliber revolver, however the shooter could not be identified. Acer said, “He darted out from behind the trees by the changing tents and fired four quick shots.”

Blue room, interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
To be completely honest, Mr. Stockton, I don’t like guns. When I get news of yet another mass shooting, or of one more gun-related death in the streets of this or any city across our nation, there’s a part of me that wishes firearms just didn’t exist. The tragedy in Koreston has solidified the necessity for regulations on the sale and distribution of certain types of guns in every State in America. I pray the time it takes to implement those restrictions doesn’t give opportunity for the loss of more innocent lives.

*       *       *

Jean, Vera, and two children, a three year-old girl and five year-old boy, walk up to the edge of the Red Panda exhibit at the D.C. Zoo.

VERA
Look, Squibbles, look at the pandas.

MARY
Those not pandas.

JEAN
They’re red pandas, see? Right there on the sign.

MATTHEW
Red Pandas?

VERA
They’re kind of like sloths. They just sit there in the tree all day. Don’t they remind you of your Uncle Alex?

The four of them walk slowly over a bridge spanning the elephant exhibit.

JEAN
This could mean a big shift in Lang’s approval ratings in the next two years.

VERA
Can he even make a change like this in that amount of time?

JEAN
He’s going to try. He wouldn’t say what he said unless he was planning to follow through immediately.

VERA
What’d your boss say?

JEAN
Freaked. Last thing he expected to hear.

They approach the fence of the alligator pond, where half a dozen gators swim and lay 5-10 yards away from them.

VERA
Extends arms like jaws and closes them on Matthew’s face and head.
Chomp, chomp, chomp.

MATTHEW
Shrieks and darts away.

JEAN
You’re probably the worst grownup at the Zoo today.

Jean and Vera sitting at the bar in her restaurant, not very crowded, the large window on the opposite side of the room bright with sunlight.

VERA
Takes a sip of her drink.
Your hair looks delicious in this lighting.

JEAN
Looks at her, surprised and alluring.

VERA
Golden-strawberry angel hair pasta.

JEAN
Brushes it back over her shoulder.

VERA
With olive oil and cinnamon.

JEAN
Be careful. I might steal you away from your husband.

VERA
Pshhh. He’d pay you to take me.

JEAN
I used to think we could actually change. All of us, you know, wake up and live… without chains on.

VERA
Squints thoughtfully.

JEAN
I thought I could help the people here stop pushing and pulling and just believe in ideals again.

VERA
You do.

JEAN
Huh?

VERA
You help me believe.

JEAN
In the traffic report? The weather? The propped-up scandal of the week?

VERA
In God. And in truth. Because you report on the little stuff, it helps me believe in everything. And be careful what you say, I feed people food for a living, and they just turn around and poop it out.

JEAN
Ugh.

VERA
Fart sound from mouth.
You give people info, stuff that matters. Some of it really does make a difference.

JEAN
This country needs to know… We’re not alone.

*       *       *

Classroom of the University in Koreston. A female professor stands at the whiteboard in a small lecture hall, half-full of students.

PROFESSOR
Writes on board:
Muscogee
Seminole
Chickasaw
Choctaw
Cherokee
Turns and speaks.
Thousands of Native Americans from each of these tribes were forced to leave their homes and walk westward.
Turns and draws arched lines from right to left.
Starting in 1830, and by 1837 about twenty-five million acres of land had been made available for the settlers. Can anyone tell me from the reading, approximately how many Native Americans died on their journey?

After class, a female student, Melissa, stops at the desk on her way out.

MELISSA
Do you have the essay I turned in last week? On the Boston Tea Party and civil rights?

PROFESSOR
Hi, Melissa. I think so…
Flips through a binder on the table.
I don’t see it here, I must have left it at home. How are you holding up?

MELISSA
I’m fine.
Smiles.

She walks down a hallway of the building, checks emails on her cell phone. One email has the subject line, “Coffee Tonight?” and is from dhasselhoff@hotmail.com. Melissa looks confused for a moment, and keeps walking.

Wolfram sits alone in his apartment, a laptop on the table in front of him. The screen shows a photo of the President and Stockton during the interview. The headline reads: “No More Innocent Lives,” says President. Wolfram stands up, irritated, and walks back and forth behind the couch. He laughs incredulously. A thought occurs to him, and he stops walking.

Jean works out on an elliptical machine at the gym, sweating, and reading a book on her tablet. On her way to her car, her phone rings.

STANLEY
Through phone.
Not coming in today?

JEAN
I’m polishing my report on the eagle sanctuary. Joe will record it tonight.

STANLEY
In his office.
Alright, alright.

JEAN
Getting into her car.
There’s something else, about the shooting in Koreston. Mizreb’s friend has been hiding something.

STANLEY
Thinks for a moment.
Careful what you search for, Jeanie. Quite a few snakes in the grass today.

Jonathan sits at a table in a coffee shop similar to Starbuck’s, scrolling through messages on his phone. Melissa sits down across from him.

JONATHAN
Sets phone aside.
Thanks for meeting me. I know it’s been crazy recently.

MELISSA
What do you want to talk about?

JONATHAN
Who contacted you? The police? The Feds?

MELISSA
Confused.
Nobody. No one at all.

JONATHAN
Leans forward.
Don’t lie to me. There are… a lot of things I can do, to make your life… difficult.

MELISSA
Threatening me now? You think that’s smart?

JONATHAN
More calmly.
No. You’re right. Don’t think I won’t know about it. If you do start talking, I’ll know.
Looks around the coffee shop.
Addie would want us to stick together.

MELISSA
Laughs.
Try to understand, you’re not my boss. You’re not my boyfriend. Jonathan, you… Please don’t contact me again.
Stands up, walks away.

A U.S. General, General Albertson, walks down a hallway in the Pentagon, and enters his office. On the desk beside his keyboard is a paper coffee cup. He picks it up, removes the lid, and dumps a small amount of liquid into the trash can beside his desk, then turns the cup upside down and slides a circular paper disc off the bottom. He turns the disc over, and reads the typed message. Close-up on the words:

The field only reveals to man
his own folly and despair,
and victory is an illusion
of philosophers and fools.

The General places the paper disc between his palms, and rubs his hands quickly back and forth for about ten seconds. He turns it over and reads:
                                                             s         o   l          d
                                                                  v          s
                                                                      s                      o   s

He walks into the bathroom, drops the disc in the toilet, and flushes.

*       *       *

Through a handheld news camera, Jean walks down a gravel road, past large cages with various kinds of eagles inside.

JEAN
Holding microphone.
Some of these majestic birds are free to leave their cages and take to the sky, however there are a number of injured eagles which must remain in captivity until they have healed and can safely fly and hunt in the wild.

She slows and approaches a sign on the front of a cage holding two bald eagles, one perched on an artificial tree limb and another standing on the ground facing the camera.

JEAN
Points at the sign with the eagles’ names.
Here we have Ahab and Archer. They must have grouped them together because they have similar sounding names. It looks like the one on the ground might have an injured talon, he’s kind of bowlegged on one side. As you can see, the one on the branch looks healthy.

The eagle on the limb spreads and flaps its wings.

JEAN
Hello, wow! Powerful wings indeed.

Wolfram Smidgen sits alone at a café table in a shopping mall, drinking espresso from a tiny mug, and glancing around nervously. On the table is a newspaper, open and folded back in quarters. He sees Stanley enter the café area, and stands up to greet him.

STANLEY
Good to see you, Mr. Smidgen. I hope you haven’t been waiting very long.

WOLFRAM
Not at all. It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Balto. Thanks for sitting down with me.

STANLEY
Of course. How can I help you?

WOLFRAM
Well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry Ms. Connelly wasn’t able to host the interview she’d suggested. Charles seemed like a better choice to present such a pivotal moment.

STANLEY
I think Jean understood that. She’s grateful you took her advice.

WOLFRAM
Slides newspaper around so Stanley can read it. Headline: Lang Calls Committee On Gun Regs.
The President is moving quickly on this. We need qualified journalists to help with the PR. If yourself and Ms. Connelly would be willing, we’d like you to do a special on recent gun violence in the U.S., to be aired on LQVN.

STANLEY
Laughs, nods slowly.
Mr. Smidgen, I’ve lived in this city for about as many years as you’ve been alive, but even before that I learned you never get something for nothing. You either have to buy it, steal it, or spend a lifetime earning it. I’d say thanks for the offer but that wouldn’t be too honest, seeing as it’s likely some kind of shark bait. Why don’t we just part ways?

WAITER
Approaches.
Can I get you something to drink, sir?

STANLEY
No, thank you.
Stands up to leave.

WOLFRAM
It’s a legitimate offer, Mr. Balto. Your experience could be useful in bringing the President, and our government, through a critical situation.

STANLEY
Extends right hand.
Please tell him I’m sorry.

They shake hands, and Stanley walks away.

Jean stands facing the news camera, speaking into a microphone. Behind her the row of eagle cages extends down the gravel road into the background.

JEAN
As we’ve observed today, the Washington D.C. Eagle Sanctuary is both home and hospital to some of the most exquisite birds of prey in the world. From the relatively small Booted eagle, to the much larger Steller’s sea eagle, the variety of species here is astounding, and includes, of course, the national emblem of our country, the American Bald Eagle.

A man with a bald eagle perched on his forearm walks into the frame, and transfers the bird onto Jean’s left shoulder. She winces slightly and tilts sideways under its weight.

JEAN
Struggling as the eagle grapples for a better hold on her shoulder.
You might not know this, but one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted to make the turkey our national bird. Right now I kind of wish they would have.

Pan right from Jean and eagle on a screen in the studio, to Jean seated at her news desk watching the last few seconds of her report. She turns to face the camera.

JEAN
Thank you for watching, everyone. I hope you enjoyed that report as much as I did. This has been the CDN Evening News. Our Capital, Your City.

*       *       *

White House Press Room, the seats are filled, journalists, cameras, the podium stands alone on the platform.  Wolfram steps into the frame and rests his hands on the podium, looking out over the crowded room.

WOLFRAM
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’d like to give a brief statement in order to clarify to some extent the truth, regarding the allegations surrounding the President’s decision to pass laws restricting the sale and distribution of certain firearms.  The notion that anyone in this administration has worked in conjunction with KESG (pronounced key-sig), accepted funding from any terrorist organization, or granted them any measure of influence in shaping our domestic or foreign policy, is outrageous.  The Koreston shooting was the last straw, and while he has been quiet about this issue until now, President Lang intends to complete the work of implementing responsible gun regulations by the end of next year—in spite of the swarming cloud of unfounded theories obstructing that work right now.  Whether or not members of KESG or other terror groups would benefit from such laws being passed in the United States is simply irrelevant.  The questions we should be asking are, “Will this legislation be good for Americans?”  “How likely is it that this legislation will contribute to a safer more peaceful homeland?”  “What should we do to facilitate tranquility, prosperity, and wellness for future generations?”
Looks down at notes.
We need to focus on goals that align with the true values of this nation, and not on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform and exits the room to an uproar of questions and flashing cameras.

Inside a gun/army surplus/survival store, the camera moves past a wall with hunting rifles, assault rifles, and shotguns mounted and leaning against it, then curves left and down, moving over a long glass counter and a row of dozens of handguns, then turns left and up, passing boxes of ammunition, kevlar vests, various targets, and other supplies, then curves left again, completing a spiral, and settling on Jean, a cameraman, and an employee who is speaking.

KEVIN
I take it shooting maybe two, three times a month.  She’s a beautiful weapon, the ACR.

JEAN
Do you ever use it for hunting?

KEVIN
Hunting with automatic weapons is illegal in the State of Alabama.  No, I fire that gun at the rifle range, strictly at the rifle range.

JEAN
How many guns do you have, total, if you don’t mind saying?

KEVIN
Including pistols?

JEAN
Yes, everything.

KEVIN
Thinks for a few seconds.
Twenty-five—no, there’s the five-shot Remington, the cross bow…  Do cross bows count?

JEAN
No, just firearms.

KEVIN
Twenty-six, then.

JEAN
What would you say to people who want to make selling certain types of firearms illegal?

KEVIN
Looks silently at her for a moment.
I’d tell ‘em I’ve got a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that’s a right our Forefathers guaranteed to protect us from tyrannous governments.  It’s a right I hold near and dear.

Medium close-up on Jean nodding.

Jean and two crew members driving down a street in an SUV, through a residential area of Alabama, past houses and cars and people every so often, working in their yards or walking on the sidewalk.  Silence inside the car.  They pull up to a hotel in a fairly nice area of the town, and Jean gets out at the front entrance, while the other two drive off to park.

She enters her hotel room, sets her backpack on a chair by the door, and walks over to the mini-fridge.  She takes a bar of chocolate and small bottle of brandy out, and sits in a chair by the glass door.  Medium-close shot of her leaning back in her chair, tipping the front chair legs off the floor, eating the chocolate, and staring out the window.

Jean jogs along streets and paths in Tuscaloosa, while listening to Modest Mouse’s, “Missed the Boat,” on headphones.  We see different scenic views of the town in the early evening.  She returns to the hotel and meets her crew in the lobby.

JEAN
You two look handsome.  Where ya off to?

CAMERAMAN
Remy wants to check out the karaoke bar up the street.  You want to go?

JEAN
No, I’m kind of tired.

REMY
Sings.
Somewhere, beyond the sea…  Somewhere, waiting for me…  My lover stands—

JEAN
Starts walking away.
Hate to miss that.

Television screen showing Adnan as a child, swinging a plastic bat as his dad pitches tennis balls to him in a small backyard.  The video camera bounces and drifts slightly, and his mother says, “Good hit, Addie!” when he hits a ball and starts to run the imaginary bases.  Next on the screen, the camera approaches his mother in the kitchen of their home, as she prepares Chicken Shawarma Kabobs and rice, and we hear Adnan’s voice:

ADNAN
And here is my beautiful mother, making my favorite dinner, chicken shawarma.
He zooms in on the line of kabobs on the stovetop, then back out at his mom.
Pose for the camera, Mama.

RANIM
Go away, Adnan, I am busy.
She pushes the camera away.

Next on the screen, an indoor skating rink where middle schoolers are playing roller hockey.

MIZREB
From behind the camera in the stands, as Adnan steals the puck and breaks away toward the goal.
Go, Son, go!

He takes a shot and misses wide, the fans jump in their seats and settle down again.

Mr. Mizreb pays for the stack of DVD’s at the front counter, takes his credit card and receipt, and leaves with the stack in his hands.  It is morning.  As he approaches the corner of a gray brick building, a man on the other side of the street starts crossing towards him.  We see Mr. Mizreb walking down the sidewalk, beyond the shooter’s back, about forty feet away.  He sees him and keeps walking, the shooter draws a black handgun, Mr. Mizreb sees it and drops the DVD’s and raises his hands.  The shooter fires a bullet into his heart, but Mr. Mizreb manages to turn and start running.  The shooter fires a bullet into his right shoulder blade, and he falls forward and sideways against the gray brick wall.  He looks up, dazed, at the shooter.  Close-up of the gun in profile as it fires one more bullet.  Slow fade to black.

Jean and her crew load their bags into the SUV in front of the hotel.  Her phone rings.  She checks the name.

JEAN
Hey, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.  Did you all leave yet?

JEAN
Packing the car right now.

STANLEY
I need you back in D.C.  Adnan’s father’s just been killed.

She closes the car door, looks up in disbelief.

*       *       *

Wolfram sits across the table from a beautiful woman in an elegant, dimly lit restaurant.  As they silently finish eating their lunch entrées, he glances up at her and sips his wine.  The door to his apartment opens and they enter, Wolfram first, then he closes and locks it behind her.

WOLFRAM
Would you like some more wine, I have—

The woman pushes him back against the door and kisses him.  He lets her, but doesn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm.

WOLFRAM
Just a moment.

WOMAN
Stops kissing his neck.
Huh?

WOLFRAM
Just… one second.
He places his keys and wallet in a bowl on the kitchen table, removes his jacket, and hangs it on the back of a chair.
Are you sure you don’t want another glass?

She walks slowly towards him, takes his tie in her hand, turns, and leads him through the living room and down the hall.

In his bedroom (still daytime), he sits propped up in bed with his laptop in front of him, while the woman sleeps naked beside him.  On the screen is an article and photo of the corner where Mr. Mizreb was shot, a perimeter of yellow tape, crowded with police, journalists, and civilians.

In the Roosevelt Room, President Lang, Wolfram, two men in military uniforms, and a few others sit quietly at the table, while two Secret Service Agents stand beside the doors.  Lang stands up and paces back and forth behind his chair, then stops and leans forward on the chair back, looking around at each person seated at the table.  They continue waiting for a few seconds.  A voice speaks from one of the laptops, which shows a mountain range in the desert.

SOLDIER
The target has entered the red zone, sir.

GENERAL
Thank you, Captain.
He turns to look at the President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Bows his head, closes his eyes for a moment, looks at the General, and nods.

GENERAL
Fire when ready, Captain.

A missile launches from a U.S. Military base in the desert, flies low through the air as the land rushes by below.  The rocket accelerates over the low plain leading toward the mountain range several miles ahead, toward a cave-like opening at the foot of one of the mountains, a few vehicles and crates outside the entrance.  The missile enters and detonates, fire erupts from the opening, followed by dust and falling boulders from above, sealing the cave shut.  Silence, and the view of the mountain becomes the same image on the General’s laptop in the Roosevelt Room.  He turns and nods to the President.

On his way out the door, Wolfram is accompanied by Lang, and they walk out through the White House together.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thanks for your help today, Secretary Smidgen.

WOLFRAM
My pleasure, sir.  I’ll have a statement drawn up for the evening report.

PRESIDENT LANG
“Our battle is more full of names than yours,
 Our men more perfect in the use of arms,
 Our armour all as strong, our cause the best;
 Then reason will our hearts should be as good.”

WOLFRAM
You think we should let Shakespeare handle our PR from now on?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’m sure he’d refuse.

WOLFRAM
Smiles.
What should we do about Mosul?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at him sternly for a second.
Tell the truth.

Jean and Vera on exercise bikes, sweating, in the back row of a crowded Spin class, and talking over the music (If possible, “You Shook Me All Night Long/Good Girl” Remix), with occasional interruptions from the instructor.

VERA
Two more months of this, my buns are gonna be rock hard.

JEAN
You already have a great body.  It’s me who needs to get in shape.

INSTRUCTOR
Okay, Ladies, let’s take it up out of the saddle.
She stands up on her bicycle, and the rest of the class does likewise.
Still on a flat road, we’re approaching our first hill.

JEAN
Did you hear about Adnan Mizreb’s father?

VERA
Course.  I haven’t isolated myself completely.

JEAN
They’re saying it was a lone gunman, a guy who went crazy, and hates Muslims.

VERA
Well, his son was a terrorist.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Find those glutes, wake ‘em up!
She dials up the resistance on her bike and starts pedaling faster.

JEAN
I don’t think his dad had anything to do with the attack.  I think it was all him, and his buddy, Jonathan.

VERA
That smokin’ little frat boy?  They cleared him already.

JEAN
Yes, they did.

INSTRUCTOR
Back in the saddle.  We’re headin’ back to our jumps.
Sits down again.
Take it down, keep it here.

The rest of the class sits down and dials down the resistance on their bikes.

VERA
What about your big special report?

JEAN
We have some more footage to get, but so far we’re on schedule.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Up…
Stands up riding, class follows.
Down…

Sits down, class follows.
Up…

Stands up again, class follows.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen in a park with the dome of the Capitol Building in the background.  He’s talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listening, composedly distressed.
Do you understand what’s happening?  …The truth is coming to light.  Lang’s accounts are being investigated by three different committees, as we speak…  I hope to God they find no ties between them…

Listens, settling his eyes on the Capitol Building.
I’m telling you to wait.

Jean introduces the evening news from her desk in the studio.

JEAN
To camera.
Tonight on CDN Evening News, a bus carrying nineteen children and three adults, including the driver, overturned yesterday on a Maryland interstate, on its way to Washington D.C. for a field trip.  Four students and one teacher have been hospitalized, and the teacher, Terry Isaacs, is in critical condition.  Also, The Sound of Music heads to the Kennedy Center this week.  Nathaniel Waterloo, who plays Captain Georg von Trapp, stopped by CDN to talk about the upcoming production.  But first…

Footage of a staggered line of brown and yellow ducklings waddling up a “duck ramp” at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

JEAN-VO
Ducklings are in luck!  Two new ramps have been installed at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to provide easier water access to families of ducks—and the ducklings have already figured out how to use the new amenity.

The ducklings turn and waddle toward the water, starting down the declined plank over the ledge.  They slip and fall, sliding and splashing into the pool, as Jean talks.

JEAN-VO
Warmer weather has allowed for an increase in the pool’s duckling population, but its slanted edge was making it difficult for them to get back into the water.

Stanley approaches Jean as she’s removing her microphone after the broadcast.

STANLEY
Good show, lady.

JEAN
Thank you, kind sir.

STANLEY
Cup of coffee, ten minutes?

They stand between two stone lions on the front steps of the CDN News studio.

STANLEY
Will the special be done in time to meet the new deadline?

JEAN
Saturday’s the day.

STANLEY
Can Joe finish editing without you?

JEAN
I trust him with it.  Whether or not Smidgen’s people approve it is a different story.

STANLEY
Don’t worry about that.  Listen, we need everything ready by the time that special airs.  Mizreb’s death may be the start.  We have to act before the earthquake gets worse.

JEAN
You want me to go to Koreston?

STANLEY
Go, get what you need, and be back by Sunday.  Who knows, your work might be what saved the world after all.

*       *       *

An underground warehouse in the Middle East, four guards armed with assault rifles stand on opposite walls near the steps at the front of a large room full of crates and various containers of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals.  The sound of the metal door at the top of the steps (out of frame), clanking and swinging open.  A voice shouts (in Arabic), “Hurry up, lock it in!”  The sound of a metal case dropping on metal rails, and the voice yells (in Arabic), “Careful!”  The sound of the case sliding down the rails on either side of the steps, and the backs of two men, side by side, walking backwards down the steps with the case in front of them (about the size of a refrigerator), come into view at the bottom of the steps, and slide the case onto two pallets on the floor in front of the steps.  The guards don’t move as the five men transporting the case center it on the pallets and prepare to store it among the other crates of weapons.

In the small bedroom of a house in an unspecified Middle Eastern city, a white man (soldier) in plain clothes sits at a table with a laptop in front of him.  On the screen, bank account information showing a recent transfer of $75,000,000.  He opens a new window on the screen, a blank message box, and types, “The beans have been planted.  Say hello to the farmer.” and clicks send.

General Albertson sits at the desk in his office, reading an email on his computer.  The phone beeps and his secretary’s voice speaks.

SECRETARY
General Albertson, President Lang for you, sir.

He stops reading and looks from the screen to the telephone, thinks for a moment.

GENERAL ALBERTSON
Thank you, Sarah.
Picks up phone.
Hello, Mr. President…  I’m doing well, how about yourself?

Obligatory smile.
Of course, not the fairest weather…

Listens for fifteen seconds as Lang speaks.
Yes, sir.  I will be there.  Eight o’clock…  You too, Mr. President.  Mm-hm, God bless.

Hangs up phone, sits back and stares blankly at screen for a moment.

In the classroom at the University in Koreston, Melissa sits among students spaced every other chair, taking an exam.  Close-up on page, multiple choice question:  “A prominent leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, he both raided and resisted U.S. and Mexican forces in southwestern American territories and northern Mexican states, following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

a) Chief Touch the Clouds
b) Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
c) Tisquantum (Squanto)
d) Geronimo
e) Sacagawea

She reads over the answers, and circles “d.”  She exits the class and sees Jean standing across the hall waiting for her, but Melissa doesn’t seem to recognize her.

JEAN
Walks after her.
Melissa.  Can we talk for a minute?

MELISSA
Keeps walking.

JEAN
Catches up to her, walks alongside.
I can help you, if you talk to me.

Jean and Melissa sit at a table in a study room of the University library.  The front wall of the room is glass, and we see them speaking for a few seconds but don’t hear what they are saying.

MELISSA
We weren’t even officially “together.”  I went over to his place once or twice a week, and we’d watch tv and hang out.  Neither of us wanted a relationship.

JEAN
Why didn’t you tell the police?

MELISSA
Adnan and I stopped seeing each other almost half a year ago.  What could I have told them?

JEAN
It was serious enough for his mother to know about you.

MELISSA
He exaggerates.  He probably told her so she’d think he was normal.

JEAN
Melissa, I know there’s nothing I can say to make sense of what happened—the shooting.  And I know you know more than you’re letting on.  I’m trying to help us to be more protected from this type of violence in the future.

MELISSA
Glances up at her, then back down at the table.

JEAN
When you were with him, did you ever see or hear anything that might indicate his being connected to a terrorist network?

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen stands behind a row of desks in a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  A large flat-screen tv almost covers the wall in front of them, and is divided into twelve equal sections, each one showing a different news channel, some from foreign countries.  Most of the sections are muted, while a few have people speaking and footage playing simultaneously.  Headlines: 

  1. Dutch Lawmakers Approve U.K. Trade Deal with Ukraine
  2. KESG Blast Kills Dozens at Family Gathering in Iraq
  3. More Than 150 Pot Shops Busted in Detroit
  4. South Korea Leader Orders Investigation into Unreported U.S. Launches
  5. Bangladesh Cyclone Wreaks Havoc in Rohingya Refugee Camps

He walks down a hallway, past several doorways, and stops at one to lean in and talk to his assistant.

WOLFRAM
I’m going out to grab some lunch.

ASSISTANT
Okay, Mr. Secretary.

He walks through the hall toward the front entrance of the building.  View of doors from outside, one door opens and Wolfram emerges, starts down steps and down the walkway to the street.  As he walks toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the camera zooms out at a medium-fast pace to reveal the entirety of the Eisenhower Building, the front courtyard, and then the White House and front lawn next door, continuing to zoom out until all of downtown D.C. is visible in the frame.

On a restaurant patio overlooking a lake, college students stand and sit around tables, drinking beer and eating appetizers.  Jean stands inside the glass doors, looking out at the students.  She sees Jonathan sitting with a few other kids, talking and laughing.  Jonathan slides three empty glasses onto the outside bar.

JONATHAN
Three more Heineken’s, please.

BARTENDER
Coming right up.

JEAN
Finally getting back to normal around here, huh?

JONATHAN
Looks quickly at her.
You’re that reporter.  Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days?

JEAN
That’s the plan.  I’m hoping you can answer a question for me first.

JONATHAN
One question?

JEAN
What do you think they’re going to do when they find out you pushed Adnan into killing all those people?

JONATHAN
Laughs.
I don’t know what you heard, but—

JEAN
God knows.  And the authorities know about Fairfield.

JONATHAN
So what?  I didn’t shoot those people, Addie did.  You get the hell away from me.

JEAN
What you did as a child, plus giving Addie the .38, your life’s over.  Good luck finding a job.

JONATHAN
Angry.
I don’t need a—

Looks away, then back at her.
This is harassment.  You have no right to be here.

Leaves a twenty on the bar, takes the beers, and walks away.

Smidgen walks along a street, turns into a park, and continues on a path while fixing a thin black adhesive strip to a black zip drive.  Near the center of the park is a fountain (different fountain than the earlier scene), light crowd in the surrounding area.  He enters the square and walks past the fountain, bending quickly to hide the zip drive underneath its outer edge.  He glances around rapidly as he keeps walking and exits the square on the other side.

Deborah Elm rides in the passenger seat of a golf cart, beside a man with gray hair, and they stop on a fairway a few hundred feet from the green.  She removes her phone from her pocket and checks the message:  Private Number: “Keating Park.  Center fountain.  Southeast side, under the outer edge.”

Early evening, as the sun is setting, she walks toward the fountain, a little nervous, and kneels down to look under the edge.  Seeing the zip drive, she stands up and walks a few paces, removes it, puts it in her pocket and keeps walking.

*       *       *

Stanley and Joe in the editing room at CDN, watching Jean’s gun violence special on the center screen.  She is walking down the sidewalk in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, and talking into a microphone.

JEAN
Some believe having the right to carry a concealed firearm serves to promote peace, by discouraging would-be attackers from preying on others.
She stops walking.
But what’s keeping the people who lawfully carry guns from misusing them in public—with potentially fatal consequences?

The special cuts to Jean interviewing a man in the front yard of his house.

JEAN
Have you ever drawn a weapon on a human being?

MAN
Few times.  Never had to shoot nobody.

Monique knocks on the door to the editing room, and opens it.

MONIQUE
Mr. Balto, you might want to see this.

They walk into the main studio, where a few large screens are showing a national news channel with Deborah Elm speaking to the camera.

DEBORAH
We can clearly hear President Lang’s voice on this recording.  There is no question that this is the President of the United States.
The screen splits to show a man at another desk.
In your opinion, is there any way to tell when this conversation took place?

He starts replying, as Stanley reacts.

STANLEY
No, no, no…  What is this?

EXPERT
So we know the file was saved onto the drive approximately forty-eight hours ago, but we can’t as yet determine when the President spoke these words.

DEBORAH
Can we hear the recording again, please?

PRESIDENT LANG
Slight static.
The next one gets cleared by me…  Make sure they know that…

Angry.
Now they can trace those weapons to us.

DEBORAH
An investigation into the specific types, quantities, and locations of the weapons is currently underway.  Neither President Lang, nor any member of his administration, has made a statement.

JOE
Could it be fake?  Can they fabricate someone’s voice like that?

STANLEY
They can and they did.
He looks at the screen a moment longer, then turns and starts to leave.

JOE
What about the show, are we gonna—

STANLEY
On his way out.
Still on, tomorrow night.

Jean sitting near the back of an airplane, dark outside.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Bell rings.
Good evening, passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seat backs to their upright and locked positions.  We will be landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in about fifteen minutes.  I repeat, we will be landing in Washington D.C. in about fifteen minutes.

Aerial view of D.C. at night, followed by a time-lapse shot of the sun rising over the downtown area.

A conference room in the Capitol Building, twenty or so of the President’s Advisors, Generals, and Chiefs-of-Staff, (including Wolfram and General Albertson), sit quietly around a long rectangular table.  President Lang enters, walks to the head of the table, pulls out the chair, sits down, and looks up at them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thank you all for being here this morning.  I don’t intend to bore you with any stale anecdotes about the time before I came to Washington, the years when the thought of my becoming President would have been pretty funny.  I should say that I’ve always loved this nation.  It’s not our freedom that I love, or our ideals, our values, or our history.  I love it cause it’s mine.  And yours, and the bums who sleep outside on benches, or in the woods, it’s theirs too.  The United States is everyone’s.

When I took office I swore to faithfully execute my duties, and to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  In the course of carrying out that promise I’ve made some enemies, some of whom are right here at this table.  Some have devoted themselves to undermining my work with blatant lies, vindictive accusations, and treasonous plots to cast my presidency in the most sinister shades of darkness.  Don’t think for one instant that either your actions, or your intentions, have gone unobserved.

A number of you might cringe upon hearing this again, but my grandfather fought and died for this country in the first World War.  He took a stand for this place, marched off to hell, and died there, in part so we could serve here, free from the threat of hell overtaking our own shores.  If you disagree with my agenda to increase regulations on certain firearms, that’s fine, you’re free to oppose me.  But if you’re operating under the assumption that you have any chance of getting away with treachery…
He looks around at them again.
You’d better take a step back, and find a different way to go.

He stands up, walks out of the silent room.

*       *       *

Stanley in the control room of CDN, watching a national news channel as Jean and their crew prepare for the broadcast.  On the screen, four people sit behind a desk talking fervently about the audio recording.

ANCHOR
We have to be real, here.  How much evidence do you need?  There are at least two offshore bank accounts holding a combined five hundred and thirty million dollars, which have been linked to known business associates of men in Lang’s administration, and now we have undeniable proof that he oversaw an illegal arms trade.  What could convince you at this point?

GUEST
Hold on, can we back up a second?  The accounts being linked to President Lang’s administration, hasn’t been proven yet—

ANCHOR
Rolls his eyes.
Hasn’t been—okay, I guess it hasn’t been proven that you’ve appeared as a guest on this program, either.

Stanley watches, dismayed, then looks out at Jean behind the desk in the studio.  A crew member in the control room starts calling his name, but he keeps looking at her as she reads over her notes, then looks back at him through the glass, and smiles.

CREW MEMBER
Speaks into headset microphone.
Yes, sir, Mr. Stockton, he’s ready.
Switches microphone off.
Stanley, you in there?  They’re ready to roll at LQVN.

STANLEY
Puts on headset.
All set, Ms. Connelly?

JEAN
Takes a breath, and nods.

The intro to LQVN’s Thursday night program begins on two of the monitors in the CDN control room, while Jean stays on the other screens.  Charles Stockton appears facing the camera, from his desk at LQVN.

STOCKTON
Good evening, ladies and gentleman.  Tonight we have a special report from a journalist you may not know.  She’s a local D.C. reporter named Jean Connelly, and she hosts the CDN nightly news on weekdays at six p.m.  Jean’s been traveling the country for the last few weeks, interviewing and doing research on the subject of gun violence in America.  Here she is to introduce the piece, live from Washington.  Hello, Jean.

JEAN
Hi, Mr. Stockton.  Thanks for letting me be a part of your show.  It’s an honor to be here.  Before we air the special, I’d like to address a couple issues that are of the utmost importance to the American people.  The shooting last month in Koreston was, as we all know, a senseless tragedy.

Wolfram sits staring at the tv in his apartment, half-empty whiskey bottle on the table in front of him.

JEAN
Adnan Mizreb was a severely disturbed young man, isolated, depressed, and therefore vulnerable to hatred and evil.  However despite what most of the media, and the authorities have stated, he was not the only one responsible for the attack.

Vera lays stretched out on the couch in her house, a glass of wine and a bowl of Funyuns on the table.

VERA
Alex, get in here, Jeanie’s thing is on tv.

JEAN
Adnan’s friend, Jonathan Rand, who’s now in custody, both helped him to plan and pressured him into committing the murders, as well as supplying Adnan with the thirty-eight caliber revolver as a backup weapon.  Jonathan acquired the gun at least eight years ago, and possibly used it in two thousand ten to wound a driver at a demolition derby in Fairfield, Ohio, where his older brother was competing.

Wolfram watches tv, anxious and perplexed.

JEAN
An anonymous source who was close to Adnan has claimed and is willing to testify that Jonathan, quote, “offered her money to help him go through with it.”
She pauses a moment, looks down at her notes.
The last point I’d like to address concerns the recent accusations directed at President Lang and his administration.  After the Koreston shooting I spoke with the President about interviewing him on the topic of gun control, but later Secretary Smidgen informed us of their decision to go with a more experienced journalist.
Flashback to Wolfram and Stanley at the café as Jean continues talking.
Soon after the interview, my boss received an offer to begin work on a special to be aired nationally, the program we’ll be showing tonight.
Flashback to Stanley and Lang talking (new scene), then investigators searching files on computers, and monitoring Smidgen’s communications).
When Stanley saw the Secretary’s change of heart about our competence, he could tell something was wrong, and went to talk with President Lang, who discovered not only Smidgen’s connections to certain members of KESG, but also his efforts to spread the lies we’ve been hearing.

Wolfram watches Jean on tv, realizes what’s happening and becomes enraged, then back to Jean in the studio.

JEAN
As for the audio that’s just been released, it’s easy enough to replicate a person’s voice now.  We managed to do more than that in less than twenty-four hours.

She turns to look at the large screen beside the news desk, where an image of the White House Press Room appears, the empty platform, podium, two flags, cameramen, and chairs full of journalists.  Wolfram enters the room and steps up to the podium.

WOLFRAM
Hello, America.  I falsified evidence in order to frame Thomas Lang.
Smiles, and walks out of the frame.

Wolfram in his apartment, bows his head for a second, then grips the edge of the glass table and flips it over, shattering it against the tv and wall.

WOLFRAM
Points at Jean’s face on the cracked screen.
I’m gonna kill you.

He walks down the hall toward his bedroom, and we see Jean and hear fragments of her words through the broken tv.  Wolfram walks out of the dark hallway with a small black handgun, over the shattered glass on the carpet, and to the front door, opens it, and walks out into the hallway of his apartment building.  He slams the door and starts left toward the elevators, about one hundred feet away, where a Secret Service Agent steps into view.  Wolfram sees him, keeps walking, and starts to raise the gun.  The Agent draws his gun and shoots Wolfram in the right shoulder, his arm falls to his side, but he does not drop the gun.  Staggering a little, he keeps walking, reaching over with his left hand to take the gun from his right.

SECRET SERVICE AGENT
Aiming at him.
Don’t do this, sir.

Wolfram grips the gun in his left hand, walking slowly, about forty feet from the Agent, and raises it quickly to shoulder level, and the Agent fires a bullet through Wolfram’s heart.  He falls forward and sideways against the wall, similar to Mr. Mizreb, and lies dead with his upper back and head against the wall.  The Agent approaches slowly and kicks the gun away. 

*       *       *

Upper and Lower Senate Garden, bright, sunny, early Spring, the sound of the fountain and a few people sitting and walking nearby.  Jean sits on a bench with the Capitol Building in the background.  Vera approaches, and she smiles.

VERA
Hey, hot stuff.  Want to have a drink?

JEAN
With you?  Anytime.

VERA
How do I know you won’t run away, to New York or something, and leave me stranded here?

JEAN
Looks down at her feet, up again.
To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll do that.  I’ll come back and visit.
She stands up, and they start walking along the row of trees.

The camera rises above the fountain as they walk away, their conversation slowly fading out.

VERA
Can I come with you?

JEAN
Come with me?  I don’t even know your name, lady.

VERA
Mi nombre es Antonella.  Cómo te llamas, Rojita?

JEAN
This… isn’t fun anymore.

VERA
No, please…  Let’s do the whole day like this.

JEAN
Shut up, Vera.

VERA

 

 

~  Music and Credits  ~

 

Undivided Lines: Short Stories

https://www.amazon.com/Undivided-Lines-Robert-Lampros/dp/1539766810/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Undivided Lines is a collection of stories about wisdom, love, adventure, and redemption, featuring a diverse range of characters who brave challenging and life-altering experiences.  From a tenacious senator defending the legacy of his work, to a Native American youth fighting for survival in his homeland, to a new mother traveling the galaxy to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance, these stories entertain, amaze, and enlighten.

3 Free Paperback Copies Available (for U.S. residents):  Email rlampros27@yahoo.com or reply with your email address in the comment section below.

From Undivided Lines:

Communion

I heard the sound of flowing water and saw the outline of plants and trees by the bank.  I felt for my bow and ran down the path beside the river, able to see the light brown earth in the night.  The path curved with the riverbank.  I couldn’t see the water but could hear it rushing downstream, like a spirit in communion with life, the sound of power in harmony.

At the fork where one path led into the trees below the highest hill on this side of the river, I followed it and turned parallel to the hillside.  Even though it was dark I left the path and climbed up where there weren’t many thorns or bushes.  Before I reached the crest of the hill the sun had started to rise.

Waiting for the light with my back against the trunk of a Callum tree, I looked up with closed eyes, and stretched my arms toward the heavens.  I shook my bow in glory for God so He would bless my hunt that day, and quietly sang the song my uncle taught me, a song of gratitude and need.  The sun burnt the sky over the hills in layers of orange, pink, and yellow, with the deep green night still overhead.  A few more minutes and the land would reveal itself, and the deer come out to seek their food.

I knelt behind a line of bushes on the western slope of the hill where I could see all the way to the river.  Within an hour a doe appeared from the north, walking south along the bank near the path, fifty feet or so from the water, stopping frequently to chew grass or tear leaves from a low branch.  I waited.  If she was a mother her children had been weaned by now, for there were no other deer in sight.  Slowly I stood up, circled around the southwest side of the hill, downwind of course, avoiding leaves and sticks and pausing behind trees for cover.

A short distance uphill and three hundred feet south of the deer, I stopped behind the trunk of an old Callum and drew my bow.  She raised her head from the brush she was chewing, and lowered it again.  I closed my left eye, took aim at the hollow between her neck and left shoulder, drew my bow to full extension, and released the arrow.

After dressing the deer and eating lunch, I returned to my camp to salt the meat and prepare a gift for my family.  My way since leaving the village has been to bring them an offering from every kill.  Many capable hunters abide there, but this makes life easier for my mother, sisters, and uncle, and is an honorable gesture.  Packing the steaks into my bag, storing my share at my camp, and filling my canteen at the river, I left for the village, hoping to return before midnight.

I ran most of the way to the village, walking when my breath grew heavy, then running again after a minute or two.  This was early Fall when some leaves were changing color.  I heard their song as I ran and imagined myself flying through the air with the leaves on the tallest trees.  I flew over paths and jumped over fallen trees and leaped across streams from rock to rock, keeping my eyes and ears open for people and predators.  The bow on my back and ax in my belt gave me courage because I knew how to use them.

Entering the village one hour from sunset, I found my mother resting in the tent as her stew cooked over the fire outside.  She smiled in bed and lifted her arms for me.  I showed her the offering of meat and she called my sister, Nali, who peeked inside and stuck out her tongue at me, then took the meat away to store it.  Mother told the news of our tribe from the last two weeks.  I listened to some of it, but not all, because my mother’s voice is sharp and she speaks many words.  She said my uncle was struggling with the elders to set up a camp in the southern grasslands for the winter.  The winter before had been hungry due to hunters from other tribes killing game in our hills.  She asked me to stay for dinner that night but I said no, I hoped to return to my own camp by midnight, which was the truth.

Leaving the village at sunset I stopped at the market to see if Zeeba would give me some vegetables, she is like my aunt, but her husband, Temul, was there instead.  I thought about finding my uncle before I left, but I knew that he was busy.  The woods were dark when I left.  This was no problem because I had run the trails in the dark many times before, and the moon would be high and bright that night.

Coyotes yipped and howled after sunset, and sometimes bears and wolves came near the village, but that was rare.  As the moon rose I ran and kept running, not slowing for breath, alive with the spirit of life and the joy of life.  My legs and heart felt strong as I ran, flying with the leaves on the tallest trees.  Leaping over streams, launching off fallen trees on the path, climbing steep rises, and soaring down hills, the blood in my veins flowed through me, electrifying my journey in the quiet night.

The final stretch of the trip curved up along the river near my camp.  The moon shone brighter than the night before, the path and trees looked clearer, and I could see the light dancing on the surface of the water.  Coming to the fork where one of the paths led into the trees below the highest hill, a sharp rush surprised me and an arrow pierced a tree on the riverbank.  The next arrow hit the water, and the next tore through the brush as I ran behind a tree by the path.  The angle of the arrows showed the bowman to be one hundred and fifty feet away on the hillside, but he could have run down afterwards to fight me hand-to-hand.  I removed the ax from my belt and held it ready.  Without a sound the man appeared to my left, ten feet away by the path.  He had traded his bow for a crescent-shaped machete hanging beside his knee.  He saw my ax.

“I do not wish to fight you,” I said loudly.

“You seldom do,” he said back.  He was one of the Rihnlo Tribe.

“I have nothing to steal, except my bow and this ax.”

“It is enough,” he smiled.  This was when I knew that one of us would die.

More swiftly than I expected, his blade hissed beneath my chin then swung around below my knees, so I had to jump in order to dodge it.  The Rihnlo was fast and well-trained, but I was a champion of my village, and knew I could defeat him.  Watching the center of his chest as he weaved side to side, I saw his next strike before he did, and sank my ax into his throat.  The Rihnlo died at my feet, and I set his body and spirit free upon the river.

Dawn broke the next day and I returned to the hillside to collect his bow and other possessions.  Walking out of my camp I heard footsteps behind me in the leaves.  I was not alarmed because these were not the footsteps of a warrior. Gathering the bow and arrows from the hillside, and finding no other tools or goods there, I climbed to the crest of the highest hill where I had watched the sunrise the day before.  Leaning back against a large Callum tree, I let the one following me come within twenty feet, and called, “You are a friend of the Rihnlo I killed last night.  Come forward so I can see you.”

The person approached and I stepped out from behind the tree.  In front of me stood a woman with a baby in her arms, sleeping.  She looked at me and said nothing as the sun shone orange and gold on her and on the tiny child.  I stood looking and she stood looking, and this is how I met my wife.

 

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.

1946

_____

1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific. [back]

2) Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.) [back]

3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field. [back]

THE END

 

The Real Eternal Friday

     They decided to meet at the Chinese restaurant next door to the bowling alley, because the food there was great, and although the bowling alley hosted a league on Thursday nights and got super crowded, almost no one dined in at the restaurant.  Most of the business came from takeout orders, so the four of them could eat and talk in peace.

     Jessica and Sathvik showed up at about the same time and requested the booth in the corner by the window.  “Let me get that for you,” he said, helping remove her coat.  “How’ve you been, Jess?”

     “Oh, not bad.  I have a thousand different things to do by the end of the week, and I haven’t started on any.”

     “Sounds like a typical week, then,” he smiled.

     “Yep, pretty much.  How are you doing, Sathvik?”

     “I’ve got two thousand things to do this week, and I actually have started a few of them.”

     “You overachiever,” she scowled.

     “Really?  You guys want to sit by the window?”  A tall guy with a blonde semi-mohawk stood by the front door.  “Hello, I’m with them,” he waved to the hostess.

     “Stanley, what’s up, broseph?”

     “Sathvik.  Jessica,” he nodded, tossing his jacket on the window ledge.  “Have you guys ordered yet?”

     “What’s wrong with by the window?” asked Jessica.

     “It just feels so… public.”

     “We are in public, restaurants are public places,” said Sathvik.  “No, we haven’t ordered yet.”

     “Let’s get some fried wontons.”

     “Ugh, no thank you.  I’m fat enough as it is.”

     “You’re not fat, Jess.”

     “Yes, I am, Stan.”

     “No, you’re not.”

     “How about spring rolls?  Those are pretty healthy.”

     “Okay.”

     “Sounds good.”  Jessica motioned for the waiter.

     “Are you ready to order?”

     “We’d like some apps, and drinks,” said Stanley.  “Our friend is running a little late.  We’ll wait till he shows up to order our entrées.  Jess, what do you want to drink?”

     “I’ll have wine, please.  Red, merlot, or whatever is cheapest.”

     “Sathvik?”

     “Dr. Pepper, if you have it.”

     “What if they only have Pibb?”

     “We have Dr. Pepper,” said the waiter.  “For you, sir?”

     “I’ll have a Tsingtao.”

     “What if they only have Sapporo?” asked Jessica.

     “Don’t speak,” said Stanley.

     Jake arrived as they were arguing over who should get the last spring roll.  “Sorry, guys, my mom threw a bunch of work at me, like she does every time I go over there.  Hey, is anyone gonna eat that spring roll?”

     As soon as they’d ordered their food they started the meeting.  Sathvik suggested they each take a few minutes to present their work so far, including a brief summary of their sections, their focus, themes, what they’d written, the tone and perspective of their writing, etc., and after everyone had gotten a chance to talk they could address specific concerns and discuss the big picture of the book in light of what they’d heard.

     “My section begins with the last date I had with Laura.”

     “The one when—”

     “Yes, when she broke up with me.”

     “Good call,” said Jessica.

     “I tell it like an action piece, put the reader in my shoes, my mind.  It’s graduation, we’re launching out into the world, no more school, new jobs, high hopes for the future, and then, bam.”

     “Bam.”

     “She drops the H-bomb.”

     “What’s the H-bomb?” asked Stanley.

     “You don’t know what the H-bomb is?”

     “The Hydrogen bomb,” said Sathvik.  “The most destructive weapon known to man.  It’s a metaphor, Stan, she told me she wanted to break up.”

     “She broke his heart,” said Jessica.

     “She crushed my heart.  And that’s how I introduce my life since then.  I talk about my work, the shift from college to career, my social life, my perspective on romance and dating, and go through some of the experiences I’ve had since breaking up with Laura.”

     “It sounds like a journal,” said Stanley.

     “It’s more objective than that.”

     “Do you mention specific people?”

     “I describe a few of the dates I went on.  Where we went, what we discussed, good and bad vibes, how the nights ended.  I changed all the names of course.”

     “How many women have you dated?”

     “Since Laura?  Two, one of whom is… ongoing.”

     “Girlfriend?”

     “Not officially.”

     “Does she know about the book?” asked Jake.

     “Of course.  Alright, who’s next?”  He pointed at Jessica.

     “Why me?”  She rolled her eyes.  “Fine.  I begin with my first kiss.”

     “Aww, how sweet.”

     “Shut up, Stan.  Twelve years-old, my last year at summer camp, spin the bottle with the boys in the pavilion.”

     “What was his name?”

     “None of your business.”

     “Dang, someone’s touchy tonight.”

     “Let her talk, Stan,” Jake grumbled.

     “Thank you.  Start with my first kiss, jump from there to my boyfriends in high school, juxtapose that with the dreams I’d acquired from books, movies, imagination.  I’ve only really outlined the piece so far.  It’s good, but it’s…”

     “Sad.”

     “Miserable.  Quite fitting in fact, for such is my love life.”

     “What about Todd?”

     “I’ll reference that as a transitional period, when I realized not all men are evil.  It’s a work in progress.  I intend to mine a nugget of hope from the dark solitude of my existence.  Okay, who’s next?”

     “Fair enough,” said Sathvik.  “Jake, how about you?”

     “Look at that smile,” laughed Jessica.

     “Y’all already know what my section’s about.”

     “The coolest lady on the planet,” she and Sathvik said in unison.

     “Great, so it’s a love letter,” said Stanley.

     “It’s about love, it isn’t a love letter.”

     “How did you start?”

     “With something my dad told me when I was a kid.  On the way home from junior high one day, he turned to me when we were stopped at a stoplight, and said, ‘Jacob, a man’s got two jobs to do in this world.  Serve the Lord, and love his wife.’  I start with that and go on to talk about Abbie.”

     “What do you focus on?” asked Stanley.

     “Everything.  Her eyes, her hair, her nose, her lips…”

     They all laughed.

     “Do you talk about race at all?” he asked.

     “Here and there.”

     “Why is that important?” asked Jessica.

     “It’s not,” said Stanley, “but it’s interesting.  He’s black, she’s white, it could provide some good material for a book about relationships.”

     “I mention race in my section,” said Sathvik, “the cultural aspect, my parents’ views on dating, establish a background for where I’m at now.”

     “He shouldn’t have to write about race if he doesn’t want to.”

     “I’m not saying he has to, I’m just saying readers might find it interesting.  The conflicts, social stigmas, prejudice, stuff like that.”

     “I get it,” said Jake.  “I considered going that route, but honestly I’d rather make it about Abbie and me, more than about Abbie and me and the world.  We’ve been together for three and a half amazing years, and yeah, the race thing has been a factor, but it’s not what we’re about.”

     The waiter set a large tray holding the group’s entrées on a foldable stand next to the table.  “Moo Shu Pork?  Okay.  Chicken Lo Mein?  Okay.  General Tsao’s Chicken?  Okay.  Mongolian Beef?  Okay.  May I refill your drinks?  Yes.  No.  Yes.  Yes.  Okay, thank you.”

     “This looks uber-delish,” said Jessica.

     “Uber-delish?” said Sathvik.

     “You’re a bunch of uber-dorks,” said Stanley.

     “What are you writing, Stan?” Jake asked as they dug in to their meal.

     “Confessions… of the Studliest Stud in Studderton.”

     “Sounds delightful,” said Jessica.

     “Sounds fictional,” said Sathvik.

     “Very funny, Vik.  No, I’m actually doing a story about the future.  I’m writing about my wife, whoever she is, and how I’d like it to be someday.  We wake up in the morning, eat breakfast together, joke and laugh and kiss each other.  How marriage is supposed to be, you know, through my eyes.”

     “That actually does sound delightful.”

     “What are you going to call it?”

     “The Real Eternal Friday.”

 

Snap Back

Explanations for inhuman miscalculations
guard against conscientious estimations,
at the height of political, 
global realizations of one’s
inexplicable moral violations.

Understanding extremes of spiritual resilience
refills deepest wells of divine benevolence,
rewards tireless wars, superhuman endurance,
etching names and faces in walls
beyond the wings of our deliverance.

Before the air crashes earthward
into sharpest winter daggers,
and the final, precarious breath,
sever anti-Christian affirmations,
seek upward, outward, skyward…

 

The Corner Club Press, Issue 21, Vol. 6

http://thecornerclubpress.weebly.com/issues.html

From Issue 21, Volume 6:

Games
by Robert Lampros

The breath, before the starting whistle,
open air over grass or dust,
teams in formation, crashing forward
in halting visions of their minds,
a stillness captured by the light.

Days when battles stormed the earth
like rumbling torrents of hailing skies,
when shields landed silently
on the dark red ground, survivors
cried to each other, lifting their eyes.

What people do for sport, for glory,
power, money, fame, might haunt them,
cast them in a towering flame,
the victories of yesterday may crumble
into glowing ashes of one’s own shame.

Rising into sight above the field,
does the sun perceive the bodies,
fallen temples of lost and angry souls?
Will the winners sense the shaded eyes,
or feel the warmth that makes us new?