Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter Sixteen: "The Yard, Part II."

Part two of some horror fiction.

 

The ride home was easy to forget, and Whitecotton did so as soon as the driver let him out and led him to his front door. The cab was nearly washed out by the heavy rains that had settled on the night, and the scenery, Whitecotton noted at the time, although  disremembered the moment he was in his home, had transformed into a fluid, sharp black. The night lamps dotting the roadways hit the cobble and reflected in the their own light and the ebbing puddles and drain floods. The world was keen and whetted. The world was at large, and it was washing away, as he had stared through the carriage’s window, his receding hairline resting there. He did not delete the smell of barbecue from his mind.
            
 Bolts of thunder locked as he cracked his door bolt clasped. He stumbled through the blackness of his lonely shotgun, grasping any vertical object for friendly support. He tumbled to his kitchen, then into his anteceding bathroom and stared out the closed window into his backyard. The coming down made splashes and punctured the yard, carving craters into deadened grass highlighted by the porch lamp. A briny foam rose from those pools, and the yard seemed to crave him. He stared there, and hardened lines formed in his face from thought, or attempts of, or from the patterns etched into the pane glass. The yard was ballooning with the wasted leaves and the deadened garden, forsaken weeks ago from lack of care and knowledge, pooled and overflowed, spilling black dirt like bile into the lagoon that had birthed. There were whispers that secreted from the bile, and the drowning mulch that caused Whitecotton to slip into the sink of sleep near the stained sink adjacent his toilette.
           
             
The rains continued to fall during that spell of ponderous slumber, grossly ruining the yard, and knotting Whitecotton’s mind. He had crumbled into a crumpled position against the wall of the washroom, and like a cat’s fit he twitched until hours later he awoke, bewildered and hunched into a harshly curved spine. He slowly took account of his surroundings: the profane drip of the faucet, accounting time in regulated plops; the argent gleam of the candle bleeding the action of shadow on the walls; the brumal wall, silting his face in a teeth-like embrace; the icy corners underneath the sink‘s pipes; the rustic toilette, stamped in indescribable stains and unpleasantness; the lullaby of pounding rains occurring beyond the wall in the yard.
           


He noticed he had removed his boots and socks, soggy, warm, raw and occupied, although not by his feet.
            
 And still the whispers came from the yard, masked slightly behind the sloshes of drops and puddles. Whitecotton knelt his head against the wall again, listening to the dark rain that fell in the early morning. Ruminations of the ruin he had caused at the get-together hours earlier penetrated his softened skull. The morning still felt midnight, and the numb of dawn duly awoke his soured demeanor towards the results. His own assurances needled him; another speaking engagement funneled through the fuel of spirits and a fool, and again barricaded in a bag of delusions. The cold wall felt this worry, and responded with an increased bleakness. He felt a sickness, spawned by his own narcissism, bred in a company of rancor and self-condemnation, and it tired his teeth as his bones settled against the wall.
            
 And again, whispers shivered from the yard, seeping through the wall. The thunder ran in decreased increments, allowing Whitecotton to feel the murmurs disperse through his frame. He continued attempting to ignore their presence, but his acknowledgement of the dogged perseverance of their existence only amplified their sentiments, and volume. His eyes grew wide as they stared sideways down the show of the wall, and he could no longer break his mind from its concentration on the slight calls for his name. With a sudden and furious shake, he was vertical, groping for the edges of the sink basin to allow his ascent to complexities of a standing position.
            
 His stance swayed, and his balance balked, and as blood seemed to rush through his skull - and not necessarily his brain - he squinted  and darkened. He paused to readjust to his new role, and to determine, again, if tricks were in the works.
            
 Is this a bit too much rum? he ruminated. Perhaps the belated attack of a spoiled condiment from the braai? A bite of underdone pork, or even a cold sickness from soaking from the storm?
            
 And the whispers made him green with goosebumps, his heart fluttering like a tot. His name, from the yard.
            


 He felt vindicated in his sanity and perceptions, and began scrambling with his shed clothing, seethed from the rains. The taunts of Rags scolded through him, prodding his reactions. I cannot communicate the truth - oh the truth! - to others; and I cannot remain angry with them. The frailty of their lives, and sorry wastes of thought, cremate their ability for insight. If one cannot see the conventional vulgarities of common life, and one works, marries, and dreams in only that raped and lost state, how can one shed the daily bramble and understand the grasp of actual truth and thought.
            
 Those grandiose sentiments rang with the thunder as he reached for his sock near the crack in the wall. Truth and thought. Truth and thought. Truth and thought. Truth and--     
            
 The bite was real, and it was shocking, and it was offensive in every sense to Whitecotton. His immediate reaction was a knee jerk and a kick, then a pitiful, but drilling and well-meant stomp against the worn tile of the floor, which increased the pain. He attempted a scream, and at first failed, only delivering a scowling open-mouthed swallow, followed finally by a savage but brief vocal report at the ceiling, with clenched eyes. Swift reconsideration brought another scramble, this time to remove the cause of the sharp agony, the sock. He was instantly on the floor, ripping the worn clothing from his foot. His heel throbbed, and there was blood. He examined his injury, unbelievably, as the shock designed a confusion throughout his own truths and thoughts. Maddened, he turned the cloth tube inside out, examining the cause, only to discover a rolled, crushed, balled spider, nearly smeared into the soils of his footwear, crumpled from the ill fortunes of its day. Another ruined web, leading to an unexpected attack, and wholly undeserved death.
            
 The poison acted quickly as Whitecotton caressed, squeezed, wiped and patted his ruined heel. He leaned his back against the sink pipes, as though awaiting another assailment. His fingers gripped into his sole, and his eyes began to widen, the whites overtaking the overall area of the pupil. The shock had brutalized his already slipped mind, and he clutched his foot and the floor. Without moving his head, he glanced all around him in a rage, ready for attack from angles unknown.
            


 A stiffness transfixed his body, and a sweat began covering his neck and limbs. There existed a numbness that outnumbered his bones, and he directly became deaf.
            
 Except for the whispers. His body tensed in the aftermath, and his heart began to bruise his ribs in the stillness that became reality. And the whispers from the yard turned to vengeful, raging vociferations that called inside him. There was a taut moment, followed by an ugly authentication of crude action. The world raced.
             
Whitecotton’s body steamed as he rose, and his fever roiled, branding his intentions like scars into his brain. He shook with violence and, grasping rigidly for support, was again on his feet. With a weakened right heel, he sprung through the bathroom door, through the kitchen and, with a fumbling from perspiring hands on the lock, out the back door into the back yard. His movements were sporadic, and he shook violently; a raw, water soaked shake that penetrated every jerking step, every breath, every jolt of his eyes, still whitely rounded and widely surveying the planet around him.
            
 The yard lay before him, doused  and flooded, and screaming his being, brine swelling, a heavy wind laboring the limbs of the trees into his direction. He felt his blood clump in his back, and his fingers swelled and turned a purple red. Whitecotton was aware of these things, but concerned himself only with the mope of the yard.
            
 Whitecotton’s stance was an embellished slant, a slapping together of the leftovers of drink, the pulsing sickness that was angling through his blood, and the madness that gripped his heart. The yard’s call, fused within his mind and with the simultaneous thunder, slid from faint calls of his name to unintelligible sentences; perhaps instructions. Whitecotton had to lean forward further to learn their meanings, and in the absence of plain sense, began silently mouthing the words, regardless of whether his discernment was correct in the non-negotiable noise of the weather. There come points when choices are made among certain species that believe they have the capacity to consider; this gift is mainly found in the breed called men, and especially those of a mediocre caliber bent on paths of dishonest trust in their simple perceptions of the world surrounding them. As with most braggarts prone to sweeping the backstages of comedy clubs, especially those wrapped in self-defeat and touched with a slight mixture of fever derived from an assured madness and clamored in their own selfish intents toward nature, the choices are not difficult, and nearly always incorrect. And so, without the safety of hesitation, Whitecotton listened to his own dulled opinions, and took a step ahead, leaving the confines of the wooden deck that separated him from the yard. 


            
 His bare feet snapped into the pools of water, as the thunder drummed a snare-ish arc. The dying weeds pushed into the mud as his step was steeped in puddles and pollution. The water swam above his ankles, and was a dark green. Whitecotton, nearly falling several times, followed the yard further, seeing only the end.
            
 Only the trees, and the yard, and the dilapidated garden, and all that is contained here. I will write; I will produce, and reproduce; I will not perform for those left in society, breaking all kind open. Yes; the cursed genius, in the yard, simply put, pouring thought, pouring sod.
            
 Whitecotton’s slow tread through the streams pursued the yard’s voices, calling from beyond the uneven swing, and the twin evergreens. He paused, and slowly glanced back at the deck, the house, the lights from the window panes, and his temples flared, and trickles of blood, brushed away by the rain, fell from his nose. The noise of the storm had faded despite its audacity, and his voice and the yard’s yell pounded unrelenting through his mind. A moat had formed between him and the house, and his head slowly swiveled back towards the end of the yard, and the piles and scrap and the tall black oak surrounded by haplessly strewn trash and overgrown bushes of incalculable natures.  The moat swore passing an impossibility.
            
 A mind swept away, arranged in tomes no one knows, understands, comprehends. Swing, saw, we heard them all, buried in plant,  
            
 Unsettled, but compliant, a trespasser, he advanced through the flood, the weeds wrapping themselves around his ankles. The wind, the rain, all warning and slashing through him, as he hummed.
            Trees, trees, like tresses they’ll fall;
            down the guard, down the yard;
            down the guard, down the yard.
             
His feet were cut by the gravel, the rusted metals, and the oak’s roots, black and hidden in the dark standing waters. Whitecotton ignored the injuries, his fevers undetectable in the whitewashes of the rains, and stumbled, and fell, and then wrenched a sharpened object that had pricked his side, and stumbled and fell, and realized that it had pierced his side. He flung the object as he stammered toward the oak. Whitecotton cursed, unable to see, and unwilling to acknowledge, the blood from his ribs.
            
 Godfucks! 
             
He fell forward, clasping the hard wrinkles of the oak, gripping and clenching the steel hide of the tree. It bruised and bloodied his hands, and no shelter from its branches stopped the storm’s squeezing wrath. 
            


 He held against the giant, the yard silent now. The poison cued Whitecotton to vomit, wrenching blots of blood from his punctures.  A pile of bricks sat undisturbed under a copse near the giant tree.
            My words do not dwindle,
            words sound simple,
            here we stand,
            bark,
            yard,
            alone,
            and.
             
A laugh trembled from him. And he felt himself cry, and then the need to sleep.  


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chapter Fifteen: "The House of Horrors Became the House of Horrors, Part II: 'Theater of Blood'/'Madhouse'"




All things of horror in film eventually come around to Vincent Price. You can’t really escape him.

Price was born in 1911 in St. Louis, began acting in theater in 1935 and made his film debut in 1938. His first horror picture came in the 1939 Boris Karloff feature “Tower of London.”

Like Karloff, whose face and name had become, and would remain, a staple of horror following “Frankenstein” in 1931, Price would also secure himself as an actor always identified with creepy characters and horror films. There are several actors that will always be associated with horror films because of one or two legendary roles: Anthony Perkins will always be scary because of “Psycho”; Jack Nicholson has a certain bizarre insanity that lingers because of “The Shining”; Robert Englund will always be recognized as Freddy Krueger; Linda Blair has the “The Exorcist” locked down.

But not all of these actors necessarily became staples of the genre; actors whose very facial features and voices have been ingrained into American society for so long and so powerfully they are a constant anchor of the idea of horror, transcending even cinema. The characters of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers have become legendary in these respects, but not necessarily the actors that played them. Max Schreck’s 1922 portrayal of the title role in “Nosferatu” exists as an image burned into horror forever. Rondo Hatton’s few appearances as The Creeper almost became a stamped counterpart to the genre (which I discuss here). However, the images and sounds of Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price have almost anchored the holiday of Halloween for decade upon decade. Just to invoke their names usually means you are discussing something in the horror realm.  Price’s iconic voice was often used in voiceover work that dabbled in horror, including in such popular music as Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare” (1975) and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982). (It is often assumed he is the voice at the beginning of Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast,” but because the band could not afford Price’s asking price, they used an imitator, instead.)

This entry isn’t to follow Price’s entire career, but instead just review two films he made in the early 1970s, nearly 40 years into his career. Still, they are interesting films simply because they work on plots that reference Price’s standing as the “master of the macabre,” and recognize the associations, and well, typecasting, that exists with him. Basically, if Vincent Price is involved, you know it is probably falling somewhere in the horror genre.  



At the dawn of the 1970s, horror films were on the verge of a renaissance. Price had scored several successes throughout the 1960s, especially in Roger Corman’s film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories. He had begun to increase his voiceover work toward the end of that decade, and had begun to make regular appearances in television productions, sometimes as himself. At that point, Price was already heavily associated with gothic storylines. He had also exhibited his sense of humor, earning him a reputation for serio-comedy.  

“Theater of Blood” was released in 1973. His last two major films had been the 1971 hit “The Abdominable Dr. Phibes” and its sequel. “Theatre of Blood” allowed Price to fully immerse himself in bizarre imaginative insanity as Edward Lionheart, the Shakespearean actor who has come back from the dead to exact revenge on his critics.



When reading about another film I reviewed a few posts ago, “House of Horrors” (1946), comparisons in the plot between the two movies were constant. “House of Horrors” finds a sculptor exacting revenge on harsh through the murderous reach of the Creeper, his muse and accomplice. However, “Theater of Blood” follows Price’s Lionheart as he himself plans and pursues the death of each critic that prevented him from receiving the “Critics Circle Award for Best Actor” during the last year of his career before his supposed suicide.



This is the beauty of this flick. Lionheart extracts his revenge by setting up and performing murders based on deaths in the Shakespearean plays he performed in his final year. Based on scenes from “Julius Caesar,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Cymbeline” and several others, Lionheart beheads, drowns, stabs, electrocutes and just plain terrorizes these critics with such a crazy glee and joy it’s…it’s just fucking creepy. Each scene he seems to relish in his overacting, spouting Shakespeare’s words amid blood and guts in full 1970s color. Supposedly it was one of Price’s favorite films, being a fan of Shakespeare and the theater. The sets are wonderful, bizarre and macabre. His fellow murdering actors that assist him in his “productions” act like ravaging insane zombie homeless people (all of whom are drunk on some purple bottled liquid that I never quite understood).




During the whole film I just got the sense that Price was having fun. “OK, Mr. Price: you’re playing a theater-actor killing people while reciting Shakespeare.” “Oh, well, now, how wonderful!” Definitely Price at one of his weirdest moments.


Price followed this insanity up with, well, “Madhouse” in 1974.



“Madhouse” follows Price as another actor – Peter Toombes. Toombes is instead an esteemed horror film actor known for his portrayal as “Dr. Death,” a legend of the genre. The idea of “Dr. Death” was created by Toombes and his friend, screenwriter Herbert Flay (played by Hammer Horror icon, Peter Cushing). It is revealed early in the movie that Flay had begun his career as an actor, but once Toombes became successful as Dr. Death, Flay became the main writer of the character. 


 Toombes’ career basically comes to a halt when his fiancĂ© is murdered the night of their engagement at a party promoting Toombes’ latest film. Toombes is accused of the murder, never convicted, but spends time in an insane asylum. After being released, he attempts to resume his acting career, persuaded by Flay to again appear as Dr. Death in a new television series based on the character. Toombes is reluctant to do so, unsure of his own sanity, which, as the film progresses, is tested frequently once murders again begin happening on the set, all of which are based on scenes from his earlier Dr. Death films.


I wasn’t sure what the quality of “Madhouse” was going to be the night I watched it. I started it somewhere around 1 AM, expecting to follow it for a bit before turning in, and was surprised at how sucked into it I got based on the weirdness that Price, again, delivers perfectly.   

 The film sets up the self-referential image of Price as the ultimate horror actor. The entire film, while loosely based on the Angus Hall novel “Devil Day” (1969), I believe was re-tooled blatantly for Price. The scenes of Toombes/Dr. Death’s earlier films, shown at various points throughout “Madhouse,” are taken from Price’s classic films “The Haunted Palace,” “Tales of Terror,” “The Raven” and “Houseof Usher” (and even feature, as regurgitated cameos, Karloff and Basil Rathbone). Price seems to basically be playing himself as an older actor, respected by generations of horror fans (although, hopefully Price was not as mentally off-balance and unsure of reality as Toomes). There is even a cast/crew costume party featuring Cushing as Dracula (referencing his role as Van Helsing from the Hammer Horror’s “Dracula” series) and Robert Quarry as Count Yorga (referencing his starring role in the 1970 film “Count Yorga,Vampire”).

“Madhouse” has a sense of fun to it, but is still filled with some shadowy-bizarro imagery. Just seeing Price walk the sets of the television show in full Dr. Death cape, fedora and make-up is worth the price of admission, to me. I just believe that at this point in his career, Price had become so typecast as the horrorific/goth expert, they decided to make a couple of films in which he plays just that – the experienced icon. However, he was not near the end of his long career, yet. Again, following these films, most of his career seems to have been based on just that. Here’s Vincent Price – slightly campy, often with a sense of humor, but he is horror.


Both “Theatre of Blood” and “Madhouse” might be counted as Price’s last real horror films. As the mid-70s began, his career became one of voiceover work, horror spoofs, and completely self-referential appearances.     

Price died in 1993, nearly twenty years later. His last major film appearance was as the lonely inventor of the title character in “Edward Scissorhands” in 1990, which was, in my opinion, Tim Burton’s ode to the perfector of the goth idea he has remained immersed in most of his career.


One last unrelated item: the origin of the title of this small series to my personal Fright Fest – “The House of Horrors Became the House of Horrors.” Circa 1999, a group of my closest friends and I huddled around a television armed with beers and blankets and watched the premiere of the “VH1 Behind theMusic” series’ biography of the glam/hair rock band Poison. We made a night of it, relishing in the fun, cheese, spandex and rock. Somewhere in there, guitarist CC DeVille, in his raspy voice, tried to describe the decadence that the band fell into after hitting success in the late 1980s. The quote that always struck me, and the rest of the room, resulting in guffaws all around, was “the house of horrors became the house of horrors.” This became one of those quotes I’ve thrown about at various situations, whether they were my own slips into the well of self-destruction and gloam, or others’ own falls.

The funny thing is, I’ve had the quote wrong since 1999 – yeah, 12 years. DeVille is actually saying, “the house of whores [describing his fantastical drug-den LA party mansion]…became the house of horrors,” which, sorta, makes much more sense. But, a mix of Pabst and CC DeVille’s gargled cocaine voice, made me mistranslate those audio signals over a decade ago. So, I still cling to my original thought, and now, reapply it, tactfully.

Basically, it’s an in-joke on myself, folks. That’s all.

Here’s the clip if you’re interested. It hovers at the 7:22 mark.



Don’t need nothing but a good time. G’nite, Cleveland (what a way to end some writing about Mr. Price).



Sources: 
www.vincentprice.org
www.songfacts.com
www.legendsofhorror.org
www.imdb.com
www.wikipedia.org

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chapter Fourteen: "The Yard, Part I."

My attempt at writing horror fiction in the style of HP Lovecraft or HG Wells a couple of years ago. In the spirit of the holiday and such.




There had always been a sentence hanging within Mr. Ake Whitecotton, but it was never for him to transcribe. The long of this seems to have been proven amongst the thick groves of flies and soul bugs that permeate the backyards of certain Southeastern vicinities in the States. Sewn to the thought that he was a human worth more than the share delineated to him since his birth, his collapses in schooling, social senses, and his failed writing career, Whitecotton’s stare became the most of his written word, transfixed upon that tree in that yard, undisturbed. His ideas remained un-channeled, his conclusions ignored, and the wealth of his superfluous creativity had dried with his life amongst vines, curious possums, and the rising Kentucky grass. It was nature, he once spoke to his ex-companions, that only understood him, and it was society, he had continued, that would eventually have to share the burden of his intellectualism, which, according to he, towered so mightily above the sounds of voices of common men, or even the thoughts of the “so-called educated university stooges,” that he held to himself only because he had never met anyone who would understand his superior curse of genius.
            
 But that was spoke before the Summer of ‘07, the year summer brought death, and Whitecotton’s presence burdened only a copse near the wooded privacy by the back alley of his yard.



Whitecotton’s ill fortunes began with a heavy storm in the middle of that summer. It was a vicious drifting gale that contained amongst its agitations deep winds and a crashing rain. These drops attacked the Kentucky landscape, and sent all creatures searching for their own brand of cover. The combination of the winds and the sheets of downpour happened to destroy a small, clustered web near the crawlspace of Whitecotton’s shotgun home. This senseless destruction, while a frequent occurrence in the world of spiders, was still not delighted in by the joint-legged creature, who was quite taken with her design, being a conceited weaver. And it was the retreat of this ill-tempered arachnid into the nearest space she could locate that led her, disgusted, hungry and overall, quite offended, into the home of Whitecotton, and into the harbor that was his sock. And it was this sock that a frustrated Whitecotton donned that very morning. The bite, the realization of the pain, the panicked response, and the following poison-induced sickness happened rather quickly, although for whom it was worse in the final end we cannot say, for the weaver died that day delivering her blow. But, for the intents of this recounting, it was, indeed, the illness taken from the bite of the ill-tempered spider that Whitecotton’s ill fortunes began that season. 
            
 In actualities, to say that Whitecotton’s ill fortunes began that summer would be untrue. Perhaps more honestly, his ill fortunes began their fall that summer. Lost luck had plagued him most of his life, as a matter of fact. When we was but nine years old, Whitecotton fell victim to temporomandibular joint dysfunction, for which the dentist and his round of specialist friends had no cure, nor any real solution, other than a breaking and a resetting of the jaw, a resolution both he and his father had decided to deny. Whitecotton had spent the end of his ninth and the beginning of his tenth year in a frozen frown, his jaws locked in place based on what the doctors claimed was simply “too much worry.” From that point, periods passed, some without the misfortunes, most with. The destruction of his first automobile, leaving him destitute without income set him back, he felt, years. Love was discovered, and marriage occurred, only to see it vanish through her infidelity and his ignorance of human relationships. Careers had eluded him endlessly, forcing him to careen through odd jobs and low wages, until he finally secured a small life sweeping floors and changing toilet rolls at a nearby comedy/variety club, as well as developing a depressing drinking pattern.

            

 Yet, Whitecotton remained in friendly company with his peers, even as he saw them launch lives filled with travel and fulfillment. They surrounded themselves, foolishly, he concluded, with wives, property, securities, and overall attempts at coziness. He was still invited to their get-togethers (no longer parties in the traditional sense; that wasn’t  conventional for people in their thirties and early forties) to watch them crudely fangle with their stereo systems and digital screens. They would drink and sit on back decks and tell stories of France, professional  accomplishments, and overall achievements and perfection. They discussed and pondered sentimentalities concerning their loved ones and the supposed perfection of the adjustments they had made in their lives that allowed them to pursue all of the goals they had drank and sat and pondered on back decks a decade earlier. The journalists, artists, professors, cinematographers and psychologists usually sipped their single barrel malts and talked altered politics and unusual takes on regular occurrences in the world. And Whitecotton, stammering and ugly, simply mocked them and their savoir faire, his self-absorption forthcoming and his maturity and once polite mannerisms receding more than his hairline, and they all laughed, because they still loved him and accepted him as one of their own. Then they would abscond into the evening, bright faced with their brandy or bourbon, to their individual homes with their happiness and compassionate loved ones. And the host always knew, and was grateful and appreciative and glad, although maybe sometimes annoyed, but usually in a generously piteous veil, that Whitecotton would stay the evening, falling to slumber alone in the guest bedroom, or the couch in the great room, or on especially celebratory nights, in the backyard, ranting and cursing those around him in a vile aura.
            
 It was one of these very get-togethers that Whitecotton did, in fact, attack his host and his host’s guests to a much more abandoned degree. The home was owned by one of Whitecotton’s former college roommates, and a man who had been his closest acquaintance throughout his middle and secondary school years. His name had been, for the most part of their journeyed friendship, Rags, although he now preferred to be called by his given name of Paul-Simon, a moniker Whitecotton wholeheartedly scorned. Despite the separate paths their lives had traveled, Rags Paul-Simon had always shown little but respect and appreciation for Whitecotton’s interests, experiences, and opinions. Unlike Whitecotton, Rags Paul-Simon had taken his higher education seriously, and had pursued a calling in journalism, ironing a life with a home, beautiful wife and the means to live expensively. He maintained his youthfulness assuredly, and had become a respected writer in his field, creating headlines nationwide with his exposes on national economic fronts, and nigh earning his employing newspaper a Pulitzer for his coverage of the scandals involved in the structural adjustment programs employed in the Horn of Africa by international financial institutions led by the nose of United States interests. Yet, his heart remained balanced, and he funneled his friendships toward the guests, including Whitecotton.
            
 The get-together, a sentimental assembly filed with old friends and acquaintances, occurred near the middle of that summer, and yes, only a fine slip of time away from a certain rainstorm and the certain fleeing of an ill-tempered arachnid into the confines of a sock. Rags Paul-Simon has spared no capital in containing the festive occasion to the heartiest Southern barbeque: grilled steaks and vegetables, smoked pork, and even homemade macaroni salad. Rags Paul-Simon’s neighbors gritted enviously, resentful they were not invited next door, trapped in an evening of drifting laughter and the essence of a closed-gated bring and braai spiced with spareribs. And to compliment the gala, the host provided a crowning lot of liquors for his guests; each rum, bourbon, vodka and brew was the premium, and well, to the observant Ake Whitecotton, lavish and brashly cocky, however delicious they were, and however much he consumed of them, feeling no need to starve his lust for mental and spiritual removal.

            

 The fest proceeded into the evening, and friends shared memories like shrapnel, cutting the flesh of Whitecotton’s hide as they poured their drinks and poured more of their hearts, eating the music and dancing to the feast. Whitecotton sat shrunk into the wooden corner of the backyard deck, sifting in the lights of the porch and the candles, sacrificing his time to make judgmental comments and inappropriate observations, occasionally. And he brooded as laughter at the past and a satisfaction with this day rose and fell, and rose again, in capacity, volume, and viscosity. Tales of college romances unrequited were admitted, sometimes embarrassingly concerning members of the present company, which wrought excitement between some and sad jealousy from others, and Whitecotton took minute dips into pleasure through the needling at those displeased, attempting to aggravate the situations. But, the evening would not be slanted. Stories of valiant little insanities of risky, and most often, inebriated  and youthful adventures from those days of irresponsible childhood that had left the participants only six to ten years prior, were recounted with guffaw, and shuddered at agreeably as though such days are best left for the adolescents they once were, and Whitecotton squinted from behind several drinks too many and lauded them for giving into society’s expectations too quickly. And still they snickered  ahead, cheerfully mindful of his bitter revisions of their lives.
           
“Oh, Whitecotton, you bunk,” a plump, round fellow named Brenting that Whitecotton had only held company with briefly in the past decade due to his friendship with Rags Paul-Simon. “You have always been such an old man. Never happy with anything,” and he laughed, hoping for the laughter to follow from his fellows.
            
 Whitecotton’s ire had begun to up his own back, but he held himself coolly, slumped in the deck corner.
           
“The present is always an agitated state of mind,” he slurred.
            
 “And, once again,” Brenting remarked with a raised glass of borrowed bourbon. “Always the beacon of good hope and cheer for us all. To Whitecotton, our flare through all of our blackish glooms and brunette undertakings.” And Brenting stole a look at Rags Paul-Simon, as though for approval. Rags Paul-Simon not only seemed taken by the stick at his friend, but rose with his own glass, and saluted. They all hurrahed and drank, Whitecotton’s disposition being another reason to consume their drinks as the night wore long.
            
 “Brunette undertakings?” Rags Paul-Simon added, his girth and jolliness expanding with his stance and subsequent swigs. “I've never known Whitecotton to be caught with any brunette undertaking! And I was his roommate!”
            
 And they all swam in their fun.


            
 Whitecotton rose, his head sorry for its state. And he shook that head and simply stared at them. His eyes seemed tunneled, and the blood rushed to his pupils, causing spots that made it difficult to create a morbid glare to penetrate them, succeeding in only tipping his glass of rum and ice too many degrees to spill some down his shirt, and throwing them all a gaze that could only be read as muddled, and perhaps slightly constipated. 
            
 “You, Brenting,” Whitecotton’s sudden activation strangled the toasts and mirth directed at him. “You wouldn’ have even had friends, or relations with brunettes, or anything, if it hadn’ been for riding the droppings of your fearless leader, Mr. Paul-Simon there,” His voice had grown to a boom, a common overcompensation from bitter men delivering drunken soliloquies swathed in selfish intent. “So, here’s to Brenting,” And Whitecotton raised his glass alone. “May he realize he had no friends, or undertakings, but did only follow’d Rags like a little pup, and never realized how unknown, unneeded, and pointless his pointed little fat-head, on top of his useless fat body, and how he would have never found his life or career in this modern world without the favors, attention, and path handed to him by his good frien’, our modest and successful hos’, Paul-Simon.”
            
 And Whitecotton tilted his head back, spilled more rum and ice water down his chin, alone in his thanksgiving.
            
 The crowd had become silent. The dying charcoal still cracked spits of sentiment to Whitecotton’s growling cheer. As his head readjusted itself, awkwardly, he noticed the lack of ceremony. So, he pointed at Brenting, and humanity, to finish the unprepared and eloquent speech he had begun.
            
 “I mean, did you ever work a day in your uninteresting life, or have you always just mopped up the remains of salt left behind by other foot soldiers? I ‘ave never seen someone without a reason to ‘nhabit the globe-”
            
 “Ake!” Rags Paul-Simon interrupted. “What the devil are you doing? Please, look here, calm yourself down, have some water. We were just having a row with you, not attacking-”
            
 “I’m just pointing out his pointlessness, ‘s all,” Whitecotton continued.
            
 “Not at my get-together,” Rags Paul-Simon raised his voice. As the merriment began to show signs of singing a good-night, several of the revelers began to stir in the direction of their belongings. “Apologize.”
            
 Whitecotton noticed the hesitancy of the carnival to participate in his unyielding show of grinding and verbalized callousness. He saw the unraveling of the jollity, and his nerves knew it was the result of his own joylessness, but were bent on securing his carousal of acerbic burden.
            
 “Apologize?” He left his cornered post, facing Rags Paul-Simon. “I’m merely making the statement that you people claim to have progressed so far, so much, to have grown past into a knowledgeable adulthood, specking your touted lives with pats on your own backs and congrats and hurrahs-”
            
 “Ake-”
            
 “Hosh!” He crumpled the work of words before they left Rags Paul-Simon’s mouth. Flies circled the porch lamp. “Yes, another night where Whitecotton’s the clown, the smudge in your fancies, all your pretty things tied in messes of stability and mistaken assertions of accomplishments. All your careers, doubled in moneyed successes and monumental credentials, drunk in fear of the facts that you’ve wasted your lives to gain social grace. Leaving alone all the desires to never be the sorts of wishful midlife wits that you’ve become, believing that you’ve lived and had and loved and seen and heard and experienced and suffered and stomached. Have any of you spent hours waiting for a bus in the winter? Have any of you greyed your hairs with jobs spent cleaning the properties of well-to-do’ers by collecting sticks from underneath their trees for hours on end? Have any of you, my well-learned friends, struggled a day without the knowledge that when you arrive home, there may not be a meal?”
             
The flies circled the porch lamp. One of the guests gnashed their teeth.


            
 “And what have you done to live?” Brenting said. “What have you done that far surpasses our insufficient existences? What have you done?”
            
 Whitecotton paused. Again, he realized that another evening had disintegrated into another painting of his self-absorbed soreness, his battled and mangled ego. Still, he felt vinegar remaining; enough to tilt and spill. So he sloshed his cup.
            
 “You washed out brutes,” He responded to Brenting, a journalist, also, by trade. “If I so felt, I could write sentences you only desired could escape your pen. I’d actually apply thought , as well as that weary concept of creative might, that once sought fashion, into a song of words, singing from the page with more fusion of sin and love than your mired readers would understand. I would re-purify the language, meld the arts and the trees into tresses that curled and fell onto the shoulders of common and uncommon men, singeing the indoor soul and selling the outward mind, simultaneously. I would expound on the ions of pain in the planet, and paw the human life of its devils and its dogs, and Create. And I wouldn’t need an editor, or a handsome pay, or a beautiful and supportive and loving wife, or a friend to clap my back! Only the angels and nature would comprehend the porous stature of my hand; not humans, they already fail to grasp things as they are as it is. Only trees would read my writing, and see the existence of soul that can come from a terra mind. This curse of this pent ingenuity, and seeing the garb that others wear as the talent in the written word, dries me and burdens my existence. No one understands this mind, only the trees, the scrubs, the earthworms, the bush, the bricks, the dirt, the yard!”
            
 A keen breeze sniffed through the jealous self-interest that poised Whitecotton’s verbal rotes, and Brenting the journalist split the silence.
            
 “So, Whitecotton,” He paused in an aching and qualified silence. “Why show the brunt of your unhappiness in occupations to us, with accusations and lashings, and not pursue your wits, and be generous with this genius?”
            
 More spills, down to Whitecotton’s toes. “What, for your amusement? How can one work in this environment? Among such wasted minutes as these. I could deliver novels and pages and essays and literal wonders, but how can one be expected to do so when the only outlets are smeared in the tar of rats like yourself? Am I to sentence myself to bland outpourings in a ragged newspaper? The noises of this city, of this society, are but blunders and reinforcements of idiocy. You cannot expect creation after a small day of work at a small job eating small portions of rice in a small cold house on a street of lunatics, nor to garner inspirations when you see your wasted acquaintances beguiled in such worship of immaterial slop, pardoning themselves with the excuse of age as the mediating factor to which accomplishments should be measured. You force your work for pay and immediate satisfactions, and as a result, I witness it as typed deficits. I, meanwhile, shoulder the weight of literature as it was meant to be, and will compose it when it should be composed. I do not, and will not, set down truths without the correct environment, and will not ignore the need for postponement to simply garner a delicious mast to proudly display to my dunce wife and drunk friends at a useless backyard barbecue in the middle of the evening.”
            
 He sloshed his crashing liquor.
            
 Whitecotton’s last words became a mumble. Most of the patrons, their hearts aching for Whitecotton, and their minds aching from his speeches, had vanished. Brenting, his coat in hand and his eyes coarse, turned his back.
            
 “Dearest Whitecotton, it’s refreshing to see you have adjusted so well to the sincere ignorance of the rest of us. To see your consciousness of your ingenuity gripped and viced in such a humble style.” Rags Paul-Simon said. “Then go forth, and do it. But not here. Ever again. Go write to your yard, and live your still life.”
            
 Thunder had begun.


 to be continued.