Bukz 9/14

This week’s reading list is a bit…optimistic. Awestruck Optimus Prime and Vehicle Voltron for scale.

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I’ll be happy if I can manage it by the end of the month – but then again I am really excited about all of these. If I emerge in a week’s time bleary-eyed and reeking, asking you what year it is, just roll with it.

Mirrored

A really old short. 2004 maybe? There’s a kernel of a good story here, and a few nice moments — but damn this thing is overwritten. Just shut up, younger me, and let the story tell itself. 

 

 

I tapped at the mirror lightly, and found it solid. I ran my fingers along its edges, decades of dust collecting on the pads of my fingers. They became chalky, and I quickly came to dislike the tactile feel of it. I rubbed my soiled fingers together and the sensation was like a sound running through my bones. A twitch shocked its stilting way up through my spine, and I shuddered. I wiped my fingers on my jeans and tapped at the mirror again, finally finding a loose shard of glass. I pried one end up with my fingernail and pulled it free. A small image of me shined and shifted across it. I narrowed my eyes, trying to spot any differences. There was nothing – a mole under the left eye, a wrinkle across the brow, a few days worth of stubble, a scar – wait, there. The scar. In the mirror, the end beneath my chin forked outward, forming a very faint cross. I pulled the Polaroid from my back pocket and held it next to the mirror. The images of my face – one static, one fluid – were nearly identical but for the scar. The picture scar turned only on one end, hooking off to the left. The mirror scar split into miniature crossroads, mere millimeters across. Satisfied that the shard held a difference, I set it down at my left foot and took a picture. The camera was old, dusty itself. It whirred and clacked like an ancient steamwork machine, the faint rumble of engineering feeling solid and important in my hands. The new Polaroid ejected, filmed white, and picked out the image slowly, finely, sewing up details in threads of color. When it finished, I set it at my right foot, and the older Polaroid I had used for comparison between them. I lined them up carefully, and focused on the crossroads of the scar.

“I see it. I’ve found it. The scar is different; the mirror shows forks at its end where there are none. There. There’s no point to it now, I know you’re there. Come on out, we need to talk.”

I focused intently on the mirror, and waited through the long silence. Dust mites drifted through slashes of sunlight; I could hear them fall. The mirror image focused back, did not falter.

“Here, knock it off, alright?” I said, growing impatient “you know the rules, I’ve found you. Out.”

The mirror self knit its eyebrows in worry, and reluctantly began to climb outwards. His hands grew larger in the reflection, caught its edges, and began hauling his body upwards towards my viewpoint. Something happened with perspective, the dimensions tilted nauseatingly as he worked his way through. A feeling like vertigo gripped me, and I felt the rising surges of a panic attack. I let it go, counted to ten, took a breath. And then he stood before me, the same in every way; the strain of fighting his vertigo showing on his face as clearly as I’m sure it did mine. When we recovered, he spoke first.

“How did you know?”

“Well,” I replied, pulling cigarettes from my pocket, “you’re not exactly the first.”

“How did you ever know?” He seemed tense.

“Vanity. Got a bad haircut in fifth grade, kept looking in the mirror. Obsessing. I memorized every hair of it in anticipation of the shame of showing up to class. I was passing a broken mirror in mom’s hallway when I noticed the part was a full inch lower. I took a picture to make sure, held them together, wondered out loud what the hell was going on and there you go; I found myself popping out of a mirror and asking me just what it was I wanted. Thought I was crazy. Spent two years in a hospital.”

“Jesus…how many have you found?” He asked, eyeballing my pack.

“Want one?” I put the cigarette up to my mouth, held one up for him.

“I…well, I quit actually. A few years back…”

“Huh. I never could get it to stick. Still,” I gestured the open pack towards him, “if there was ever a time…”

He took one from the pack and held it between his lips. I noticed it trembling.  As I lit our smokes, I caught a strange sense of déjà vu. Somewhere I had seen this before, this lighting of my own cigarette in a long forgotten storage locker, this striping of shadow and light, this dust falling like distant snow through the lazy nebulas of afternoon sunlight.

“Déjà vu,” we both muttered.

He looked shocked for a moment, before we put it together. Somewhere, right now, another pair of us were doing this same thing. Only with minor differences, of course. His hands shook as he smoked.

“You avoided the question,” he insisted.

“Right you are. How many have I found, was it? Honestly, I don’t even know any more. I did it over and over again after the hospital, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Tried showing the doctor, once. You know how that went.”

“God. The blurring.”

“Yeah, anyway, dozens probably. I had a lot of regrets, to start with. Now I’m just fucking bored.”

“Boredom? You would do this out of boredom?” He was smoking furiously now, his pacing carving little rivers of bare floor through the dusty landscapes.

“Boredom can get big. It can get mean. I thought I had it good here, but everything was too ordinary. It’s a good life though: Syl is still with me, I have a decent enough job writing copy for pharmaceutical ads, no kids, beach house, all good stuff. It just doesn’t feel like the one, though. Something is missing here, something I haven’t had yet.”

“Syl…she’s still with you in this life? Is she, uh…is she okay?” I had piqued his interest apparently.

“She’s gone in yours? She was in my original life, too. That doesn’t happen a lot, maybe four or five times out of all the ones I’ve been through. She left?” I exhaled a cloud of smoke through the fog of dust, it swirled symbols in the air.

“No. Dead. Cancer. Took years. God, it took fucking years. Another?” He gestured towards my pocket, and dutifully I offered another cigarette.

“That’s a first,” I said. “Not exactly promising. She’s still with me in this one, very much alive. We’re pretty happy, all told. At least she is, and I keep her that way. So you get something out of this too, see. It’s not all bad.”

“You’d still go, knowing she’s dead in mine? Why?”

“The fuck would I care, honestly? She’s not really my Syl, you know. Mine left. Fucking a doctor in Virginia last I heard. You can have her again, if you want.”

“I don’t think you’d like my life,” I lit his cigarette, and he continued mapping pathways across the floor.

“Then I’ll leave again. So what? I’d like to see for myself. I’ve been in this one six months now, sent this poor bastard to a place where he lost a hand in a rodeo, of all things,” we both laughed, imagining ourselves in rodeos, “I skipped as soon as I found out, myself. I imagine he had to explain how he suddenly grew a new fucking hand back to a few folks there,” the laughter died out, and we smoked in silence for a few minutes.

“Could I leave, too, do you think? If I don’t like it. I didn’t know anything about this stuff until you pulled me off the mirror, then it all just sort of came to me. Do you think I could do it too, now that I know?”

“No, you only know because I know. Once I leave, you’d have to find out for yourself all over again. Speaking of…” I shrugged towards the mirror and the self-photographs, lying absently on the floor like a shrine to narcissism, “I really should get going.”

“So…will I like it here? All of these decisions I never made, I mean…they’re not me, will I know it’s not me? I…Christ this is all a bit much…” he flicked his cigarette into the dark, where it smoldered, burned the dust.

“This one seemed happy enough before I came. You’ll find yourself slotting into everything like you’ve always been here just as soon as I go. These will be your decisions. This will be your life, not just something that could have been,” I stepped towards the mirror, gathering up my photographs and camera.

“And she loves me, here? And she’s…God, she’s healthy?”

“Yeah. It’s all rather homey actually, after the shit you went through I think you’ll do just fine. You’ll probably feel some kind of uplifting as your old life sloughs off onto me, and if it’s anything like when I came here first, you’ll get a whole new sense of gratitude for the things you have. That should be it. I have to be off now. Best to do it quick. Forgive me, but saying goodbye to yourself for the fiftieth time just doesn’t have the same impact as the first,” I raised a hand towards him in farewell, and headed towards the mirror. I reached to slot the shard back into place, and stopped. I turned and threw him the cigarettes. Leave the poor bastard something to remember me by, anyway. He smiled a little, and I snapped the broken shard back into the mirror again.

I must have been spacing out. I shook my head to snap out of it, and looked around the storage locker. What had I come down here for? I thought for a minute, but nothing came to me. I locked the gates behind me and headed back up the stairs. Syl would be home before me tonight, and I found myself suddenly missing her. Things were going so good lately, I don’t know, it’s all just so perfect. I feel like I’ve walked across broken glass to get here, all of a sudden, but heading home to her now seems like the best thing in the world.

Where the hell did I get these cigarettes?

 

 

 

 

Cars. Booze. Central Oregon.

Just a short prose piece I wrote for some friends’ zine a while back.

You know it’s wrong, and immoral, and unsafe, and an all around bastardly thing to do, but honestly now, is there any better feeling than getting a vicious buzz on and coasting down an empty backroad at four in the morning in a beat-up 1986 Ford Taurus, the summer air just now turning too cold for a T-shirt, all the windows open to keep you alert, shitty lo-fi punk rock blaring out of the shitty lo-fi stereo, and you’re young, and hollering along, and Brandon is passed out in the backseat, and Matt threw up on his shoes earlier, and you need to go home, should really go home, but god damn it, is there nowhere else to go?

The nights bleed together in memory. Did we go up on the roof that night, or was that the night we played spy-games with the cows? It was Griffin’s house, sure, but which night? Was that the night we broke in when he was on vacation, and the next morning somebody woke up and asked “are you Chuck Norris?” and a foreign, adult voice responded “No.” Too bright, too hungover to risk moving lest the nausea catch on that you’re awake and force you into the bathroom, every step driving a headache into the place where your spine meets your skull. So you stay perfectly still beneath the blanket, hoping that Walker, Texas Ranger just…just goes away. Hoping that whatever he was here to do, he decides against it, after finding this purportedly empty house full of drunken heaps of teenager instead. But he doesn’t. He stays, he asks angry questions of somebody, and that’s okay too: That’s for outside-the-blanket-people to deal with. That’s not your world.

It wasn’t that night – so when was it? The night you crested that hill cutting through the sage grass fields, and the moon was full, bright, cold. You stopped the car, right there in the middle of the road, because you could. For no other reason. You hugged the steering wheel, looked up at the moon, and lit a cigarette and said “God damn.” And then you said “1,2,1,2,3,4” because the song did too and that’s always your favorite part.

What song was that? What band? Dead Kennedys or Dead Milkmen? Something was dead, anyway.

Matt stirred, and he asked if you were here, and you said “no,” and you kept driving. Smiling so hard, the way you only do in private – got an image to keep up, deep teenager is way too cool for pure euphoric childhood joy – but you can’t stop it because it’s just all too good. And tomorrow night is the same. Probably. Hopefully. If you can get somebody to shoulder-tap (you’re way too shy for it,) and if somebody’s got a place, and hell – even if they don’t. It’s not too cold for the woods. Climb down those rocks that the cops don’t feel like trekking down, set up a tent, chase apparitions in the woods with the giddiness in your chest that the mushrooms give you, and no – that’s another night.

This night wasn’t the woods. This night was definitely Griffin’s house.

Not the night you got in a footrace on the dirt road without your glasses and crashed into a tree, woke up in the waterbed in a pool of blood. You didn’t make it home that night. This night, you pulled into the driveway with your lights out, cursing every single individual piece of gravel that betrayed your car to your sleeping dad. You stood on the deck, it still smelled like fresh stain, and watched the air be cold and clear and still for a minute. Then you turned and hauled Matt in, pushed him up through the window and heard the thump as he fell over the recliner you used as a step-stool whenever you snuck out. You climbed in after him, threw a blanket over him on the floor, and slept in your bed, dreading how quickly the handful of hours would pass before dad would be there, waking you up with a project.

He’s building a helicopter in the garage. Out of wood. What?

No, that’s later. This time it’s a boat made out of carpet, soaked in resin – it’ll work! He says! It’ll work!

Ah, that was in Bend, though.

This is Redmond, Oregon, 4:30AM, nighttime in July. He’s building a cabinet, and he wants you to sand tomorrow. You wish, now, that you’d paid attention to that stuff; that you appreciated what it was to make something tangible, physical, spent more time learning how good it was to build. But it’s gone now, and it’s bed then, and the drymouth is already setting in, so you better get to sleep before you’re too hungover to sleep.

Did you lay for what seemed like hours, with your eyes closed, trying to chase that song out of your head? Who was it, Buzzcocks or Screeching Weasel? Or did you dream stupid power dreams, still giddy from kissing that pretty girl by the side of the road, headlights flashing by right as you closed your eyes? That wasn’t at Griffin’s house. You never kissed anybody too special at that house.

Probably. From what you can remember.

No, at Griffin’s house, you mostly fought for position in the beanbag chair (you didn’t call fives; I did too) and listened to records, and drank shots of cheap, foul liquor because you’re a man, god damn it, and you’re broke (god, damn it.) Sometimes a moment stands out, but two years could all have happened in one hectic, blurry, fantastic night – laughing, drinking, hurting yourself and others, not on purpose but it happens and let’s go on the roof! Trying to kiss pretty girls and mostly failing – but that drive home is the one constant.

You’re the last one up. Drunk, but you hold it well enough to drive, and you never did see a single other car on those back roads at four AM, nighttime (morning? Morning is more like ten, if you’re lucky and Dad forgets about the cabinet) in July. And you’re sure there wasn’t always a fuck-all moon, and you’re sure you didn’t always stop in the middle of that road, and you’re sure Matt didn’t always throw up on his shoes, and it wasn’t always Brandon in the back, and it wasn’t always The Clash on the radio, but when you look back, it is.

It’s all the same night, and it’s a good night.

Sometimes these stupid words, they don’t do what you tell them to. You want them to communicate what it is to be mad and horny and drunk-tired and drug-wired and insecure and sublimely arrogant all at the same time. You want them to talk about the peace in that moment, the way the cold feels only during early summer mornings, the quietness of that moon, how fucking in love you are with the notion of cars – you can go anywhere, everywhere! – and how great friends are when you’re young, and how they’ll never be that great again, and all they want to talk about is Griffin’s house.

And what’s on the radio.

Archery Class

I haven’t shot a bow since I was a kid, so I took a ‘beginner’s archery’ course as a refresher before maybe getting back in to it. I had some concerns, so I asked the most authoritatively bearded man in the archery shop (there’s your life hack: When in doubt, find the man with the most inspiring beard – he no longer cares about conventional grooming standards, for he has other, more important matters to consider) if they had classes. He said yes. I then asked if said classes were going to be made up of me and like 20 ten-year-old boys. He laughed and said “no, of course not.”

I assumed he meant that adults take this course, too. You know what they say about “assumptions.” They make an “ass” out of “u” and “mption.” What the beard actually meant was that it would not be me and 20 ten-year-old boys; it would be and about 18 8-year-old girls. Technically, his response was correct. Technically, he was also a total asshole and deserves to be publicly debearded.

See, Brave and Hunger Games changed the whole archery scene, apparently. When I was a kid, I didn’t know any other kids who were into archery. It was just strange old dudes who smelled like dried leather and looked like they were one cardboard box short of a mail-bombing rampage. Now, of course, those same guys are still there. I don’t mean the same types of guy — those exact guys, they’re just twenty-five years older and thirty-five years crazier now. I blame Obama. And so do they. For everything.

But recent kid-friendly movies have made archery cool with little girls (although really, Hunger Games was not kid-friendly in any sense of the word, since it’s entire plot revolved around murdering children, but I digress). So now the archery store is packed with two types of people: sixty-year-old feral hermits, and mostly unattended, bright-eyed little girls. It doesn’t take Chris Hansen to see the problem here.

And here I was in a class. The sole bearded man-strosity in a sea of pink ribbons. This was not a fluke. I didn’t accidentally attend the class on the one day a Katniss-obsessed little girl held a themed birthday party — all over the “training range” were stickers of pretty rainbows, unicorns, and the girl from Brave. Nearly all of the bows were child sized. The foam targets were all chewed up at the very bottom, because the girls’ little arms struggled to get the arrows the entire 20 foot distance. I looked around and thought “welp, I’m just gonna go ahead and jump out that window before we-”

“Time to get started!” Chirped the instructor.

I panicked. Surely there would be at least one other adult here? This is a sport based on the deadly arts! If normal grown-ups find this ridiculous, fine, but at the very least I expected some ragey dude-bros and the errant aspiring murderer…

And thank god, there they were, rolling in the door. They were just a little bit late. Half a dozen adults, actually — it was all going to be okay. They were going to take their place on the shooting line, and it would all still be a little weird, but ultimately okay. They came in, waved hello to the perky instructor lady, the excited little kids, and the large bearded man with horror in his eyes.

Then they took a seat. All of them. In the chairs just to the side of, and facing the class. Not a single one joined the line. They were all here to watch their daughters, like proud parents at an Easter Egg hunt.

So anyway, I’m under arrest now for corruption of a minor and rightly so. The guard is waving me away from the computer. My minutes are up. Did you know they still use AOL in the county jails? Craziest thing.

Badass Retro Autosports

This was from the brief time, a few years ago, when car magazines thought it was a good idea to feature my particular brand of irresponsible idiocy. I warned them against it, but they insisted. With money. My only weakness. This was commissioned by an off-roading publication. I no longer remember the name. They never sent me a copy, much less a notice that it had been published, and internet searches turn up nothing. I am going to assume that I’m either cleared for use under copyright law, or that I was doing mushrooms at the time and hallucinated the entire job. They wanted it to be a sort of Cracked cross-over, so we re-used a couple of entries from my other columns (with permission, of course). But some of them are new, or substantially reworked.

We modern day idiots like to think we have a lock on ridiculous vehicular death defiance. Our trucks can take more damage, our bikes are faster, our planes fly higher – hell, we even have sci-fi staples like jet packs with which to mock the reaper in his frumpy old-lady robes. But no matter how much high engineering and hard science we put into our own hurtling attempted-suicides, the past has one thing that modern man just can’t compete with:  Giant, wobbling, almost unhealthily gargantuan balls. Back when ‘seatbelts’ were a rude suggestion, and ‘crumple zones’ were your own face and arms, people were hooning their automated carriages and motorized cycles in ways that put our modern shenanigans to shame.

Globes of Death

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The Globe of Death is basically a simple physics demonstration: Centripetal force can keep a moving vehicle from succumbing to gravity even when it’s gone completely parallel to the Earth. Though it looks like snarky motorcycle riders are exploiting a loophole in science, it’s relatively easy, if you know what you’re doing. We even have a few globes of death still around, running in county fairs around the world – though they have become a rarity, as children of today find watching reality programs about storage far more compelling than a man flipping about on a guided missile inside of a metal hamster ball. But those globes up there – the kind that you may have seen before, nestled between the funnel cake booth and the tilt-a-hurl – they were actually considered tame back in the day. Here’s what the real ones used to look like:

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That variation was called the Hornby Smith Globe, and though it works on the same basic principle as a regular Globe of Death (drive fast enough and hope that physics just sorta loses track of you), the consequences for failure were a hell of a lot more severe. Lose control in a normal Globe of Death and you fall no more than 16 feet, which is plenty enough to kill you, especially when you factor in the 300 pounds of out of control motorcycle trapped in there with you. Lose control on a Hornby Smith Globe, and you fell potentially hundreds of feet – sometimes into nice, forgiving water, sometimes into flames, or sometimes directly into the audience below, depending on how jaded with death the carnies had become over the years.

And falling wasn’t unheard of. Motorcycles today are just barely contained engines; back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, they were more like politely redirected explosions. Drive chains could and did frequently snap, overheated tires blew — hell, even a simple stall and accompanying drop in speed would send the rider straight to their death. But at least the old-timey vehicular daredevils died doing what they loved: Trying to die as elaborately as possible.

The Peking to Paris Autorace

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The Dakar Rally today is pure madness: We’re pitting the height of modern technology and human endurance against the worst that nature has to offer across two continents. And it’s absolutely brutal. But that’s nothing compared to the races of yesteryear. One of the first major international rallies was the Paris to Peking in 1907, which all began with this random challenge issued by French Newspaper Le Matin:

“…We ask this question of car manufacturers in France and abroad: Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Paris to Peking by automobile? Whoever he is, this tough and daring man, whose gallant car will have a dozen nations watching its progress, he will certainly deserve to have his name spoken as a byword in the four quarters of the earth…”

There was an initial response of 40 teams willing to mount up what was, at the time, a barely existent form of transportation and race it across half the globe, all because some French wood pulp dared them to. But 35 of those teams had apparently entered on drunken promises and with fingers crossed: Only 5 teams actually showed up in Peking (modern day Beijing; they’d reversed the initial route to avoid monsoon season). Due to low participation, organizers quickly cancelled the event…which meant less than nothing to the teams, who all went ahead anyway and held an ad-hoc intercontinental death rally just for the hell of it.

Remember: Cars in general were such a new thing that most of the western world barely had roads. They were plain non-existent in the east: The racers had to take narrow footpaths and bumpy horsecart trails – they even drove up planks to mount their tires on railroad tracks, until the inevitable happened and the Italian team found themselves frantically prying up their car as an oncoming train barreled down on them.

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If you’re unfamiliar with your early 20th century Chinese history (not you, esteemed reader, surely), this puts the route right through the heart of rural China in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, wherein the long-oppressed Chinese finally rose up and murdered every foreigner they could find (but especially the western European ones), then up into the Gobi Desert, where racers had to feed their drinking water into the car’s radiators just to keep them from catching on fire (not always successfully), and  through post-revolution Russia. So to sum up: The Paris to Peking racers were mostly affluent Europeans in a place that hated affluent Europeans, they had no infrastructure in place for their largely experimental vehicles, and were trying to race them through two continents of hostile territory and post-warfare chaos. It’s like hopping in an electric car today, and racing from Somalia to the North Pole via Iraq, while blasting the Star-Spangled Banner the entire time.

The Italian team finally won, after 61 days of puttering a 40HP motorized cart through the most dangerous places on Earth, past several billion people that wanted them dead. They had nearly been hit by a train, fallen through a bridge, fought off a crowd of angry villagers with pistols, and caught fire in the middle of the desert.

And they did most of it without brakes, which they’d lost somewhere in Russia.

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But hey, at least they claimed their prize: One single bottle of Mumm’s champagne.

Auto Polo

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Just take a minute and really appreciate that photograph. Cast your eyes on the man who has just been freshly ejected from a speeding automobile. There he is, currently flailing through the air. Now turn your gaze slowly to the other man — the one with a giant smile on his face, waiting to smack said crash victim with a comically oversized mallet before he hits the ground. Everybody in that image either died immediately after it was taken or were promptly investigated for suspected Highlanderism. But that was auto polo:

You would head out to your nearest muddy field, mount up an unstable, dangerous, rickety car — a vehicle that had only been invented 30 years earlier, remember — and then wail the bastard about psychotically while swinging a friggin’ hammer over your head. That’s like you and your friends buying a bunch of jet packs and jai alai sticks today and just setting off into the open sky, giving the finger to your concerned families — it’s insane that you would even own the technology in the first place, much less have the balls to violently misuse it like that. Auto polo was not just some Jackass-style one-off stunt, either: Demonstration matches were frequently held at county fairs and stadiums all across the country, though it was most prominent in the Midwest during the early 1910s. It was usually played with a basketball, and the only mandated gear was a jaunty cap and a callous disregard for human life. It was every bit as unquestionably awesome as it was uncontrollably, screamingly idiotic:

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That picture is perfect. It’s everything art should be: There’s an Old West style sheriff in a ten-gallon hat, grimly staring off into the sunset as a pair of land-based airboats wait patiently for permission to start their automotive hammer-jousting. I’m going to dedicate that last sentence to my wife, because that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever created.

Don’t go thinking that auto polo was a case of things looking worse than they really were, either: I’m not cherry-picking exciting photos from a boring event. If you couldn’t guess from the ridiculous abundance of overturned cars and men flying through the air, about to successively eat shit and then have their heads bashed in by their own hurtling hammers…

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Auto polo was so deadly, it was eventually banned nationwide. Heartbroken enthusiasts of sport and blunt-force injuries the world over had to pack up their families every Sunday, and settle for attending another boring old…

Lion Drome

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This was how you took in a show, back in the day. It was like going to the matinee now, only instead of watching Jeremy Renner pout in front of a shaky camera, you had the kids stick their unshielded little faces out over a bowl of automotive trauma and told them to inhale the heady fumes of gasoline and jungle predator.

Lion Dromes originally started as a spinoff of the Globes of Death, but of course, driving sideways in defiance of how everything should be wasn’t entertaining enough for the discerning automotive hooligan of yesteryear. So they added lions, naturally. Makes perfect sense: What’s better than oddly stoic men in severe suits bolting small lions to tiny cars and trying to outrace a million years of primal, murderous instinct … sideways?

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That’s easy! Hot women and giant lions bolted to tiny cars and flinging haphazardly about a little wooden arena!

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Our forefathers were so jaded by the rampant, unchained awesomeness of day-to-day life that they looked at motor vehicles defying gravity with zero safety measures and stifled a yawn. Then they politely requested that the show owners mix some comely lasses and apex predators into the Bowl of Death to really earn that nickel admission fee.

I know that we, as a species, have come a long way since then: We have established such important concepts as “human rights” and “respect for animals” and “basic, rational safety measures” in our modern society. And that’s great. Wonderful. But maybe it’s time we all stopped and asked ourselves: Is it worth what we gave up? Is it worth the total and complete absence of angry lions doing sweet motorcycle tricks in our lives?

I humbly posit that it is not.

Unseen Projects

In my old backup folder, I just found what scientists are estimating to be “a bunch” of old articles for projects, sites and publications that are no longer with us. Unless you’re a Brockway super-fan, you haven’t seen these before (and to all my Brockway super-fans — hi, me!).

Now, bear in mind that some of these were from my early days in writing, some of them were written under duress from corporate overlords, and some of them just never saw publication for a damn good reason. You have been warned. Away we go.

Cut Material from The Unnoticeables

This is cut material from The Unnoticeables, the first book in my upcoming urban fantasy trilogy from Tor. The book itself won’t be out until June, 2015, with each installment to follow a year after. There wasn’t a whole lot directly cut from the book, which has to be a good sign, right? However, this section was in the first chapter and interrupted the flow a bit. “But Robert,” you say “this makes very little sense out of context.” To which I reply: “Why do you gotta be such a jerk all the time?” And then I sniffle a little bit. You monster.

The exact methods vary, from person to person: I had seen the angels before, but the first man I saw solved was a conductor named Harold, back in Lisbon.

It was 1974, two weeks after the Carnation Revolution, a mostly bloodless, beautiful little moment of peace and love that bucked the odds and won out over violence and oppression. Everybody descended to the streets with flowers in their hands, civilians mixing in with the soldiers, slipping carnations into the barrels of M16s. Into the lapels of grinning young boys in ragged uniforms who, at any other time, in any other place on Earth, might have been emptying their clips into that crowd with set jaws and hard eyes.

It was a crisp, churning mass of collective euphoria. Drivers left their cars idling on the street; mothers picked up their children and left their homes; shopkeepers left their stores to be a part of something unique and beauteous. Which was dumb, in retrospect.

Hey, I wasn’t the only one looting.

Two weeks later, and I was trading shots of aguardente with Harold, a little bug-eyed fellow in the back room of a recently closed brothel. We’d both swung by with conspicuously large bulges of cash in our wallets, and conspicuously average-sized bulges elsewhere, only to find the place half-burned and empty. I had a bottle. He had a flashlight. Neither of us had anywhere else to be. We were playing a drinking game, wherein one person said “drink!” and the other person did.

“Drink!” I said to him, and he drank.

“Drink!” He said to me, and I did.

“Drink!” I said to him, and half the room exploded.

Something pale and shining flared into existence on the other side of the singed sofa. It was impossible to focus on. It was like the aftermath of staring right into a camera flash – that washed out, smudgy brightness that you can’t blink away. I got the sense of an outline in there, something sharp churning in the heart of a star. The light was magnificent, but it was not beautiful. There was something cold and clinical to it, something more like fluorescents in a filthy warehouse than sunshine in a meadow.

“No!” Harold said, slapping at the air, “I did it! It all happened!”

I think the light may have wavered in response. Not something as dramatic as flickered, but maybe it pulsed, or shifted focus. I got the general sense that it replied in some fashion. But that might just be a hard drunk scrabbling to assign relevance to a traumatic event after the fact. Either way, the conductor answered as if it had spoken:

“Look outside! It’s there! It’s all there! Just like we s-“

But the light simply blinked out of existence. When our eyes finally adjusted to the dark, we saw what it had left for us.

Harold’s answer.

His solution was a snatch of discordant music, and a rippling patch of color in the air – something softly red, that undulated blue as it moved. When he heard those notes and that saw that disembodied, shifting swatch of crimson-blue, his heart collapsed. The empty space in his chest sunk into itself with a crackling sound, like tires on gravel. It brought the rest of his body with it, folding his legs and arms up with sickening snaps, and slurping his head down and around like a wad of flushed toilet paper. I still remember the expression on his face: There was no terror there, just pure, unhappy surprise. Like he’d answered the door and found a particularly vile ex-girlfriend standing there, holding a baby.

There was a loud pop, the floorboards beneath my feet rattled once, and Harold was gone. Answered. Reduced to something simpler, I suppose.

Harold got a few notes of strange new music, and a color never before seen on Earth that shifted states through space and time, and he was solved.