Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Kidney Stone Trilogy part one

“Whatever Happened to Al Bruno III?”
Or
“This Too Shall Pass”


So it has been some time since anyone on the internet has seen or heard from me. Now in many quarters of the world such news is greeted with a resounding “Who cares?” but my blog has ten subscribers who haven’t been getting their money’s worth so I feel an explanation is in order.

You see my problems all began when I started peeing blood.

(And there goes one subscriber)

I’ve had kidney stones before and for those of you who don’t know it is not a pleasant experience but now I know what to expect and how to react.

But blood? That was a new one.

I left work early and called my doctor but they were having an early Christmas party so they referred me to their urgent care center but they were having a Christmas party too. Since it was a Friday I took a lot of over the counter pain killers and went to bed early. In my addled mind I imagined the staff of my doctor’s office singing ailment specific Christmas carols to me.

Like this one,

Oh kidney stone, oh kidney stone
Will it break your urethra?


(That’s another subscriber)

The pain and blood faded as I spent the weekend taking it easy and watching television. Much as I loathe reality TV I must admit to having affection to THE SMOKING GUN PRESENTS series. It is essentially a clip show of humorous and true events commented upon by comedians and celebrities that have had brushes with the law like Todd Bridges, Danny Bonaduce and Tonya Harding.

I must admit for reasons I could never adequately explain I have always had a thing for Tonya Harding. That’s the story of my love life really- forever drawn to troublemaking blondes and crazy redheads, maybe that’s why I married a brunette and made her dye her hair.

(There goes another one. Was it a redhead or a blonde- that’s a question I’ll carry to my grave.)

As the weekend wore on the pain and blood dwindled to nothing, much like the career of Nathan Fillion-

(Oops there goes the Firefly fan!)

Anyway by Monday I felt fine and I headed out for my appointment with my therapist. My therapist and I have been trying to understand how I could have a god complex and low self esteem. It was in the middle of a story about how my brother Phil and I shared bunk beds and an unfortunate penchant for bedwetting that a fresh bout of pains hit me in the kidney.

And this was bad folks, it felt like my kidneys were burning and my loins were aflame- and not in a good way. I cut the therapy session short and spent about half an hour in the bathroom dealing with pain and nausea; my urine the color of Hawaiian Punch and my face was the color of Mountain Dew.

I made my way to my doctor’s office and even though I didn’t have an appointment they rushed me right in to see him. Now this might have been because of their thorough professionalism or it could have been because they just wanted to get rid of the big bald idiot that was curled into a ball and whimpering on the floor of their waiting room.

My general practitioner gave me a shot of a painkiller and referred me to a urologist; the urologist saw me right away. You know you’re in good shape when you hand your urine samples over and the nurse blanches.

Tests were performed, internal organs were scanned, co-pays were deferred. The news was that I had a 4ml kidney stone trying to make its way into my bladder via 5ml vein- hence the blood and pain. I used to experience the same thing with a pair of corduroy slacks I refused to throw away but could never quite fit into. In that situation it came down to either dieting or giving the slacks away to goodwill.

Maybe one of you readers are wearing those dark green corduroys right now!

The urologist gave me two sets of pills and a funnel with a mesh at the end. One set of pills was to widen out my urological track and grease the gears if you will, the wire mesh was so I could strain my urine and catch the kidney stone. At first I thought this would be a great thing- I could give the kidney stone away to on of my lucky readers as a prize!

The urologist told me this would be impossible, he needed to kidney stone for tests.

(Of course this revelation won’t be enough to stop subscriber number 5 from leaving. Sorry. Be sure to drink lots of cranberry juice.)

My new urologist also gave me a prescription for a week’s worth of Vicodin and a note to take the week off from work.

Now this worried me a little, I wasn’t sure how my corporate overlords would react to me being gone for that long. It isn’t that any one of my six supervisors are bad people in any sense of the word but when you work for an organization that considers Goldings’s Lord of the Flies a training manual you have to be a little worried.

I got home and went to bed early, I was to take the Vicodin as needed and thanks to my general practitioner all I needed now was a few hours rest.

The next morning I called in sick to work but in retrospect I should have waited to until after I this was accomplished before I took my first ever dose of Vicodin. For those of you that haven’t followed my work closely (That’s you Western Hemisphere.) I should inform you that in my 41 years I have never tried illegal drugs of any sort. This is because of my high principles and intense cowardice.

The end result of this is that as I was on hold waiting for a supervisor to give them the news of my extended absence the Vicodin hit me like a freight train.

In truth I am not exactly sure who I spoke to or what I said, all I know for sure is that my speech was slurred and I told them that I loved them. With that done I called my wife at work and told her that I loved her. Then I sent my ex-girlfriend’s husband an email telling him that I loved him.

(And he was a subscriber! Who knew?)

I’ve spent the last seven days in a stupor, too wasted to write anything coherent at all- I mean if you thought my grammar are badder now…

So with writing off the table I tried to watch TV but I kept fading in and out so I really didn’t get to enjoy much. I couldn’t read because the words kept getting melty. Pretty much all I could do was nap and play Tetris on X-Box Live.

In other words I was turning into my two slacker pals Love Boat and Chaw Monkey.

(And there they go! Can’t you guys take a joke? How many subscribers do I have left now? Just two? I better be more careful.)

Whenever I napped my dreams were in color and the stuff of fanfic but they were poisoned by the constant ache in my bladder. If I was the captain of a starship I would find that a transporter accident has caused there to be only one bathroom available for the entire crew to use and that bathroom’s location was constantly changing. Many of the crew had already lost control of their bladders but I, their captain, was fighting to keep control. But it already seemed like a lost cause, no one was at their station, there were Klingons everywhere and I had to go to yellow alert.

Sometime during this long hazy week I somehow ended up insulting my 8 year old daughter’s playmate and now she won’t come over for playdates anymore. I know I made her cry but I’m not sure what I said. I mean I have a vague idea but…

Anyway I apologized to her and her parents but they’re all still pretty upset.

(Ok I deserved to lose that subscriber. I’m a total jerk.)

The last of the Vicodin is working its way through my system now- I wish that explained the quality of the writing but let’s be honest here…

My follow up appointment is for this afternoon, there’s no sign of that pesky kidney stone and the word ‘stent’ has been used. I wasn’t sure what I meant so I checked Wikipedia.

Oh. Damn.

So depending on how things go I’ll ether be adding more stories sooner or later. I can only hope that this update has amused and informed. Maybe the one reader I have left will keep following along with what I’ve-

(Damnit. You too Mom?)



Sunday, November 30, 2008

Price Breaks and Heartaches: part six

The story you are looking for has been relocated and retooled.


If you can't find one of your favorite chapters don't worry, it'll be back!

Still chugging away...

Hello readers.

Just wanted to mention that I am still here and I am still writing. In fact Part 6 of Price Breaks and Heart Breaks is finished, I just have to get it edited and formatted.

I hope you all had a nice holiday and in honor of MST3K's 20th anniversary let me ask you all to KEEP CIRCULATING THE BLOG.

I always wanted to say that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

In This Twilight: Pass It On, It’ll Make Your Skin Crawl

IN THIS TWILIGHT
Pass It On, It’ll Make Your Skin Crawl
By
Al Bruno III





The dog was barking, its voice high and frightened. Josh woke at once wondering how long he had been asleep for. He had just lain down for a moment to relax but the clock told him he had been out for hours. Josh shook his head, no wonder the dog was barking.


His wife Dina stirred uneasily, eight months pregnant and forever uncomfortable. Josh smiled at her in the dark, still terrified and bemused at the thought of fatherhood. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt Josh opened the back door expecting to find his beloved mastiff bounding in place expectantly.


Good thing my nearest neighbor is over a mile away.


The fenced in back yard was empty and the front gate was still latched. Up ahead the dog’s barks had become combative snarls.


This made no sense. Josh had trained Roscoe well; the dog knew his boundaries and going past the front gate when he wasn’t on a leash was simply not allowed. Josh headed around to the front of the house, to the dirt driveway that was far enough back from the road to reduce the occasional pair of headlights to frail shafts of illumination flickering between the trees. After ten years of living in the heart of Chicago he still found it hard to sleep without the murmuring din of the city and the light from oncoming traffic.


Earth oozed between his toes as he scrambled between his old battered truck and the newly purchased minivan. Four footsteps later and his feet were caked with mud and he vowed to himself that this spring he would find a way to finance paving the driveway.


Along with touching up the roof and re-grouting the bathroom wall … and the baby too. He thought. So many plans, so many expenses.


The dog became silent. “Roscoe?” Josh called, “Come here boy!”


A muffled cry filled the air. It was a human cry. No dog ever made a sound like that.


Visions of lawsuits filling his head Josh plunged forward into the trees to find Roscoe half-chewing, half-gagging on something wet and gleaming. Another shape was retreating toward the road, nearly collapsing with every pained step. Josh ordered the dog back to the house but Roscoe was snarling, his ears pinned back. Josh had to strike the dog to make him obey.


This is crazy! Roscoe never acts this way. At least until now.


The trespasser, if that’s what it was, collapsed between a pair of trees.


“Are you all right?” Once he was sure the dog had retreated back to the house Josh moved closer, “Did he bite you?”


A car sped past leaving him with a snapshot image; a supine shape, slender and dressed in a shapeless orange and white hooded suit. A dark stain spreading out from the figure's midsection; blood soaking through the layers of cloth and PVC. The suit was hooded with a clear plastic faceplate that was cracked into a dozen spider web patterns; it obscured the wearer’s face beyond any hope of recognition. Josh involuntarily took a step back, a generations worth of TV shows and movies had taught him what a hazmat suit looked like. The knee of the suit was torn away, marking the place where Roscoe had bitten. There was something about the wounds that looked too dark and too greasy.


Then the car was gone and all Josh had left was shadows.


The figure in the hazmat suit spoke with a voice that was a sexless rasp, “I’m sorry.”


“Are you all right?” Josh felt ridiculous asking the question. He and his father had gone deer hunting for years, he knew a bullet wound when he saw one. The bite on the knee from Roscoe was nothing compared to that.


“Somehow dogs always know. It’s even in one of the memos. I should have stayed back but I saw your truck…” The figure made a sound somewhere between choking and a nervous laugh, “I thought you could help. Isn’t that hysterical?”


“Look, you wait here. I’ll call an ambulance.”


“Wait. Don’t go,” the figure in the hazmat suit sat up suddenly and whimpered from the pain of it. Josh flinched away from the smell of the wounds; the scent brought to mind something septic and rotten. The flesh beneath the cracked faceplate was all swollen ridges and thick furrows. Those unnatural striations shifted and slithered of their own accord. The figure pushed the strap from a tattered knapsack into Josh’s hand, “Take these. It’s almost too late...”


“What-” Josh drew back.


“I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones.”


With a soft splitting sound a thin weal opened up on the flesh of the dog bitten knee and blood, heavy with thick wormy shapes began to ooze from it. The shape in the hazmat suit mewled. Flecks of red began to spatter the face plate from the inside, shapes wriggled against the broken visor.


Stunned and almost breathless Josh ran back to his house. The front door hung open; he must have forgotten to close it behind him. There were muddy paw prints in the kitchen. Josh scrambled for the phone. Who could he call? The police? An ambulance? The fire department? Josh dialed 911 and let them decide. Whoever they decided to send it would take fifteen minutes at best for them to get here. Would the man- or woman- in the hazmat suit even be alive by then?


When the 911 operator finally answered Josh gave them whatever information he could and hung up.


Should I wake Dina? Should I go out there and tell that… guy I think… that help is on the way? Maybe I should wash my-


Josh looked down at his hand; he was still holding the muddy, torn knapsack. He looked at it for a moment, and then dropped it. It tore open from the impact, a digital camera and a sheaf of papers spilled across the kitchen floor. Tilting his head at an angle he saw they were all documents with some kind of a corporate letterhead.


Trinity Advance Corporation, they have a place about a few miles up the road. They’re a medical research facility… they make artificial limbs and stuff.


Josh glanced closer at the papers, they were all photocopies and they looked to have been hastily made with the images off center and marked with the occasional glimpse of a finger or hand near the corner of the document. They all seemed to concern something called ‘Research Initiative I:VI:VII’, it was all over Josh’s head but the one thing that did catch his eye was a map of an unnamed city with concentric rings drawn around a central point. Each ring was marked with different percentage- ‘99% Efficiency… 71% Efficiency… 49% Efficiency.’


Sifting through the papers Josh found other documents, letters from ranking military officials first sanctioning then removing support for the project. The dates however didn’t add up to the other requisitions and testing data.


The digital camera was within arms reach. Josh picked it up and flicked it on. A small LCD window lit up giving him an image of the Trinity Advance building; he could see their triangle shaped logo that read TRIAD near the main gates.


With a push of a button he was looking at another image, this one of a room full of prosthetic arms in sealed vacuum pouches. Figures had been caught moving in the background but the picture had been taken in haste making them seem distended and inhuman. Josh wondered how the person in the hazmat suit had gotten onto the grounds of the building, past the checkpoints and electrified fences.


Another press of the button and another picture, this one of men in familiar-looking orange and white hazmat suits. They were working in a long white room, tending to vials incubators and microscopes. Is this where they make vaccines? Whoever did this had brass balls. I wouldn’t break into a lab like that for a million bucks.


The fourth picture was similar to the first except now it appeared the picture taker was on the other side of the room. There was a trough of some kind to the left of the frame; it seemed to be filled with some kind of a dark liquid. There was a stain on the floor nearby, a patch of discoloration that seemed to resemble a smeared handprint. There was something about it Josh didn’t like.


The next digital photograph was the last, the symbol in the upper corner of the frame read ‘5/5’. This picture was almost the same as the third picture except for the two figures in the center of the frame, a man and a woman. They reminded Josh of sketches, all clean angles and perfect features. They were dressed in street clothes. The woman had her head thrown back in laughter, the man had his head turned towards the strange troughs but his eyes were focused directly on the camera taking his picture.


What is all this? Will I ever know? Do I really want to? Well the police can sort it out. But I still better wash my hands just in case.


Roscoe groaned. Josh turned to see the dog laying half in and half out of the bathroom doorway. The old mastiff’s breathing was labored and phlegmy.


Josh knelt beside the old dog and reached out to stroke his fur. It writhed beneath his touch. Josh pulled his hand away as though it had been scalded. Roscoe took a final sobbing pant. Pale shapes began to seep from the dog’s mouth and the corners of his eyes.


“We have to get out of here,” Josh choked back tears. His car keys were on the counter in the usual place; he called his wife, shouted for her.


“What’s wrong?” Dina’s speech was slurred with sleep.


He rushed into the bedroom, pulled her to her feet, “We have to get out of here.”


He was afraid that if he explained more he might start sobbing or screaming.


He thought of the map in the pile of papers on his kitchen floor…


‘99% Efficiency… 71% Efficiency… 49% Efficiency.’


Where was he now on that map?


“What’s the matter?” Dina pulled away from him, “Tell me.”


“Listen, please…” He kept tight hold of her hand; out of habit he put his arm around her waist.


He felt the skin of her belly flutter and undulate.


Dina winced, “Oh! He’s awake too.”


Josh’s eyes found the muddy paw prints and it all made sense. Didn’t Roscoe always go to her when he thought he might be in trouble for chewing up a pillow or having an accident?


“Honey?” Dina asked, “What’s the matter?”


Josh didn’t answer; he just kissed his wife and waited for the police to arrive. He tried to tell himself it was just the baby kicking, but he knew that when the police arrived here they would find something terrible.


He could feel it in his bones.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A few quick notes and a sad goodbye

An unfortunate series of personal and professional setbacks has slowed down work on this project. I had hoped to be able to have new material before I left for the weekend but I am afraid it is not going to happen. I'm not even close.

But fear not! Tomorrow I plan to dredge something up from my files to share with you.

Perhaps using the word "dredge" when discussing my fiction is not a good idea.

One of the many awful things that happened this week was the death of one of my favorite writers. George C. Chesbro's mystery novels are was evocative, strange and never failed to entertain. His most famous creation was a private detective with dwarfism called Dr. Robert "Mongo" Frederickson. These fantastic books were the X-Files before there was an X-Files, each mystery would start out in the most innocuous way and suddenly you were dragged through the funhouse mirror and loving every minute ot it.

Allow me to quote from the email I received from the George C. Chesbro mailing list:
_______________________________________________

I am very sad to report that George Chesbro died this morning after anillness.Like all of you, I am a huge fan of George's work. My friendship withhim began in 1999 when I sent him a letter describing the fan websitethat I had created for his work. He liked what I'd done, and over thenext couple of months, the fan site was transformed into DangerousDwarf, the official George C. Chesbro website.I've very much enjoyed my friendship with George and Robin over theyears, and I will miss being able to correspond with him.I'm sure Mongo and Garth will miss him, too.

HunterWebmaster for DangerousDwarf.com


---------------------------------------
NEW BALTIMORE - George Clark Chesbro, 68, of New Baltimore, diedTuesday, November 18, 2008 at St. Peter's Hospital.Born in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 1940, he was the son of the lateGeorge W. and Maxine (Sharpe) Chesbro. An author of over 25 novels andnearly 100 short stories, George was a recipient of an Ellery QueenAward and had served as president of the Mystery Writers Associationof America. Earlier in his career, George had worked as a specialeducation teacher at Pearl River and at the Rockland PsychiatricCenter where he worked with emotionally troubled teens.Survivors include his wife, Robin N. Chesbro; a son, Mark Chesbro;, adaughter Michelle Chesbro; two stepdaughters, Rachael and Leah Gass; asister, Judith (Richard) Ragone and many nieces, nephews, great-niecesand great-nephews.Services are private at the convenience of the family.In lieu of flowers, those who wish may send a remembrance in his nameto the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, 3 Oakland Ave.,Menands, NY 12204.

_______________________________________________

If you have never read one of Mr.. Chesbro's novels then do yourself a favor and head on down to DangerousDwarf.com to order a few.

George, I never met you but I miss you already.

I find I miss a lot of people lately.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Different Kind Of Ghost Story

A Different Kind Of Ghost Story

The mall had slowly rotted away from the inside, it was not a physical rot mind you but an economic one. The stories had trickled out of it bit by bit, when the small chain stores disappeared that was one thing, when certain stories went away it could be seen as a sign of changing trends and fashions.

But when the McDonalds has to close down? That means it's all over but the liquidation sales. I was at one of those liquidation sales, it was for a big box electronics store that had been placed there in hopes of reviving customer traffic. The plan had failed and now this store was the last one left. Everything else was empty storefronts and boarded up windows.

Now this store it had a main door in the front and a second doorway that led to the interior of the mall itself. The liquidators kept that inner door open so they could bring in more merchandise and equipment from the loading area. It was easy enough for me to slip past those doors and wander into The mall's darkened interior.

Where there had once been music and voices there was not nothing but the click of my footsteps, I could see the empty spaces that had been a Woolworth's, a restaurant and a Spencer's gifts. As a teenager how many hours and dollars had I frittered away in this mall and the three or four others on the main bus route?

At 36 it made me feel old just thinking about it but I walked on. The mall's fountain had dried up long ago, the water turned off the pennies and nickels snatched away. There was dirt and dust everywhere as well as scraps of old paper and rat droppings dried and fresh. The newspapers said that as soon as they electronics store was emptied this mall would be knocked down and a much more eye pleasing shopping plaza would rise up from its wreckage. There were even hushed and reverent whispers that a Target store would soon be there.

Well they could do that if they wanted to, they could do whatever they wanted. I just needed to get one last thing before they tore the place to its foundations.

Despite the dark and the grime and the passage of almost two decades I found the spot easily. It was just an ordinary everyday bench, I remember it faced a women's clothing store. The bench was chipped and lopsided so I sat down on it comfortably. I stayed on the left side of the bench because I remembered she had sat to my right. Then I closed my eyes. It all came back to me in a heartbeat.

The sounds were first, the murmur of voices the empty din of the piped-in music. I saw myself sixteen years old and awkward with self-doubt, never feeling quite good enough always feeling like I had just missed out on the joke. Finally I saw her, I could tell you that she was as cute as a button but that would be a lie because there wasn't a button made in the 1980's that could have held a candle to her. I remember the white winter jacket she wore and that when I drew close I caught a whiff of the perfume it was soft, gentle and unique just like her. We were talking, joking around and when she landed that first kiss on me, that first real kiss ever, well nothing was ever the same again.

And then I open my eyes again and I'm sitting alone in the faux-deco tomb the mall has become. I'm older, more mature and maybe a little wiser. I have a wife, daughter and appalling number of pets waiting for me back home.

Still though I linger a moment longer, savoring the memory and when I get up to leave I bring it with me. No one will mind one less ghost in a place like this.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Well I suppose it doesn't hurt to Just Ask...

Admittedly I'd write these things even if there was no internet, even if I had to take random hostages and force them to read my stories before having them fill out a questionnaire and letting them go...

Oh wait... I just got into a whole weird area didn't I?

Let me try this again...

If you have enjoyed the works you've read here or on my webpage and if your 401k is not swirling down the drain then why not go to http://albruno3.com and leave a few bucks in my virtual tip jar? All monies given to me will be put right back into my writing projects in the form of research, printer ink and the occasional eBay auction of Doctor Who merchandise.

So what do you say?

Stop by http://albruno3.com/virtualtipjar.html and avoid the rush...










All donations are not tax deductible and will most likely cause your accountant to shake his head in disgust.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Price Breaks and Heartaches: prologue

The story you are looking for has been relocated and retooled.


If you can't find one of your favorite chapters don't worry, it'll be back!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Little Something For Daddy

A Little Something For Daddy
by
Al Bruno III


The problem is that the local shopping mall has no bookstores and no place that sells horror movies on DVD so when the Bruno family and I head out there I find myself bored beyond reason or worse. Both my wife and daughter get stuff on these trips but I never do, I mean I'm not greedy but it would be nice to get a little something.

The first thing you notice as you walk into the mall is one of those crane games, you know the kind where you try to free one of the twenty or so stuffed animals crammed into the thing using a metal claw with the grip strength of a geriatric on Quaaludes. My daughter is fascinated by these machines and left to her own devices I think she would sacrifice her entire college fund trying to win a misshapen replica of SpongeBob Squarepants stuffed with shredded magazines and used Chinese diapers.

This time we managed to get away with simply sacrificing one or two dollars but my daughter always voices some disappointment that I can never win one of those things for her. Truth be told I never even try. It's one of her uncles that has a real talent for those things, he can usually empty one in the course of an hour but let's be honest here it's his only marketable skill.

That obstacle bypassed we stopped for a bite to eat, the food court is clean, well lit and surprisingly rat free. Laugh all you want but over a decade ago when I worked at one of Albany's larger malls the food court had a real problem with rodents; and these being New York rats they frequently carried switchblades.

A quick sodium filled meal later we made our first stop a ladieswear store. I am not uncomfortable in such places because I spent a summer working in women's clothing... but I never really learned how to walk in high heels.

Nyuck Nyuck.

Most women's clothing stories have chairs near the changing room for the men to sit in and contemplate their lives of quiet desperation but I didn't get the chance to in one of them because I was busy chasing after my daughter as she rummaged through the spin racks full of beads and baubles near the main register. She likes to try on everything- at once. My choice is not an easy one; do I let my daughter have a good time or get a jump start on this afternoon's tantrum? Eventually I give in to the withering gaze of the clerk manning the register but not before my daughter looks like an explosion at Cyndi Lauper's house.

My wife called me over and asked for an opinion on a blouse.

"Why don't you pick whatever one you like best?" I said.

"Come on," the Missus chided me. "Your opinion matters. Do you prefer the blue or the yellow?"

I paused for a moment considering, "The blue. Yes, the blue works best I think."

The Missus held each blouse up, nodding, "No. I don't think the blue goes with any of my outfits. Yellow is more my color anyway."

"I'm just glad I was able to help." I turned back to see my daughter trying to climb onto one of the shelving units.

One blouse, two pairs of slacks and an apology later we headed for another store but this time it was so the Missus could find a new handbag. It had been over three weeks since she'd changed purses and you could tell that the strain of it was beginning to wear on her sanity. My daughter started fussing that she wanted to go to look at toys so I had her stand near the front of the store as a kind of impromptu time out. As my daughter glared sullenly at the world the Missus remarked to me that she couldn't find any purses that really caught her eye. I suggested that she just use one of the older ones she had piled up in the hall closet.

Once I was out of time out we took my daughter to the toy store so she could 'Ooh' and 'Ah' over the bits of molded plastic. These days Hanna Montana was her drug of choice but she was also starting to get into all those other tweener bands. I couldn't stand the stuff. I mean what happened to kids' music? When I was growing up we had real bands that spoke for an entire generation like The Banana Splits, Jose and the Pussycats and The Brady Kids.

Laugh if you want but do you think the Jonas Brothers could survive being lost in outer space? I think not!

The Missus and I decided to let my daughter get a new doll, after all she hadn't tried to disassemble the apartment's electrical system in almost a week. Yeah she is kinda spoiled but I want to have these moments to remember when she's a teenager and she hates my guts.

The last stop on this little excursion was the beauty salon. The girls wanted to get their hair done and that was fine, except that I knew I would find myself sitting there trying pass the time reading by Cosmo and Modern Bride. The articles were kind of OK but all the perfume ads made me want to sneeze.

The hairdressers were all young and gossipy, the salon was dead so my wife and daughter got immediate service. About halfway through her rinse the Missus suggested, "You know there's no other customer's why don't you get a haircut? You need one."

She was right that I did need a haircut, the sides and back were a ragged mess but as always the top of my head looked like a satellite photograph of the deforested areas of Brazil. Long ago all hopes of a comb-over had been lost so I had taken to shaving my head on a semi-regular basis. There is an old saying that when a balding man shaves his head its like saying "You can't fire me I quit!" So be it.

In the interests of saving money I sheared my head using the clippers we had bought for doing maintenance on our Persian cat's fluffy black fur. This was before we learned that trying to shave down a cat was about as advisable as opening a Fredrick's of Hollywood in Amish country.

"Come on." The Missus said again, "This way I won't be cleaning hair out of the bathroom sink for days."

"Sure." I said, "Why not?"

"Hi I'm Kara." A red haired Chinese girl led me to one of the chairs and asked, "You want me to trim the sides and the back?"

"No." I explained, "Just shave it all off."

"What?" She draped the vinyl cape over me and around my neck.

"Just take a pair of clippers and shear my head down until its like a GI JOE doll."

She looked at me like I was crazy, "You want your hair like an action figure?"

There was a brief moment where I sobbed with the realization of how old I was but then I gathered myself up again and explained, "Just take a pair of clippers and take it all off maybe leave half and inch or so."

"Oh OK."

"You have done this kind of thing before right?" I asked.

"Well your only my third or fourth customer since I got out of beauty school." She explained.

The clippers buzzed to life, I took one last mournful look at the curves of my ears and she got to work.

Thankfully my beautician's hands were steady and the blades of the clippers were clean and sharp.Soon enough my head looked like a farm fresh egg with a light coating of brown mold. "There you go." She ran her fingers along my scalp, "It feels nice."

"Thanks." I said uncertainly, "You do good work."

"Hey Kristy! Kitty!" She called over to one of the other girls, "Come here and feel this!"

My wife and daughter were freshly coiffured and waiting at the register while three college aged hotties took turns rubbing the top of my head telling me how much I looked like that Private Pyle guy from that old movie. However it didn't take long for their amusement to wear off and they all headed off for a collective cigarette break. Kara pulled the cutting cape from around me and announced, "Ok you can get up now."

"No," I said, "No I can't."

A little something indeed.

In The Twilight: AMERICAN MONSTER

IN THIS TWILIGHT
American Monster
by
Al Bruno III




When they hoisted me up from the bottom of the well, I almost found myself mourning the silence and the darkness. The wooden cross I had been lashed to had long since rotted away but the weighted chains were still about my limbs. They rattled as my long dormant limbs shuddered and flexed; with each blink of my eyes my vision returned and became more precise.


There were four people in the basement of the abandoned Georgetown manor. The two closest to me were a tall woman and a little man. They wore pale blue hospital gowns, caps and surgical masks that puffed in and out with every word or breath. Rubber gloves covered their hands and thick, brown-stained aprons with pockets that hung heavy with the tools of their trade. They looked me over with clinical fascination and spoke as though I was some kind of long lost heirloom.

Which I suppose I am.

The two men near the door were tall, detached and statue still, they both had handguns hidden beneath their black suits. I recognized them as Agents of the Pharos project immediately but all that meant was that they were just new breeds of a very old kind of dog.

They always think I am helpless.

I let them examine me for a time, poking and prodding but all the while I could feel the trembling in my limbs weakening. An hour into the assessment put them to the test.

Rust and time had left my bonds weakened, with a single motion I pulled my right arm free. Links of rusted steel scattered everywhere, clattering on the floor and bouncing off the walls. The woman shouted, her surgical mask puffing out comically. My hands tore into the soft flesh of the little man's throat. Robbed of his voice he could only beg for mercy with his eyes.

And how he begged!

I tightened my grip feeling the blood well up around my fingertips. With a final pull the cartilage snapped and came away. I let the man’s body fall to the cellar floor, all the while leering at the woman.

The two Pharos Agents drew their weapons and fired. The woman was caught in the crossfire; bullets tore through her flesh to bury themselves in mine.

So many years, so many bullets.

Pulling free of the last of the chains I raised myself up to my full height. One of them bellowed for me to surrender. I made swift work of them, bending their bodies and twisting their limbs. I let one of them twitch for a while as I tried to assess what fresh surprises this new administration might have in store for me.

Then I made my way to the top of the stairs. The door was locked but it tore off the hinges easily enough.

A figure greeted me at the top of the landing; a tall, slump shouldered figure, with thick mismatched arms and undersized legs.

The head atop those massive shoulders was dracocephalic; with small close-set eyes, a nose broken beyond all hope of healing and a cruel line of a mouth. Everywhere there were scars, making the brutish figure seem as tattered and threadbare as the clothes it wore. Miss-set bones jutted at odd angles; thick, rope like veins bulged against yellowed skin.

Bringing both fists down I smashed the full length mirror; the monstrous image fragmented and collapsed in on itself. Broken glass cracked under my bare feet as I moved through interior of the empty house. I could still remember the expensive furniture that had once crowded every room and the elegant oil paintings that hung on every wall. Now was only dust. I felt myself begin to laugh.

Once a great and learned man lived here, a noted historian and a mediocre mystic; he had believed he could make a civilized being of me, that he could make me manageable with his soothing words and opiates. I toyed with him for months, aping the results he wanted, telling him just what he expected to hear. Then one day he came home to find I had escaped my bonds, dismembered his sons, smashed his wife's skull to fragments and raped his daughter.

How she squirmed beneath me as I whispered to her the secrets only I knew. The knowledge drove her mad…

The expression on his face however was mine and mine alone and I still treasured it. I like to think he might have tried to kill me had there not been Agents of the Pharos project there with him that day. No agent of any administration would ever allow me to come to harm; I can never truly be punished, merely imprisoned until I am needed again.

And I will always be needed, that is my power.

Laughter echoing off the bare walls I headed out into the dusk, keeping out of sight as best I could. The air was warm but heavy with the odor of chemicals. Cars moved in an orderly procession down the streets, lampposts flickered to life, and citizens walked to and fro, enjoying the summer weather. I marveled at how much Sussex County could change in less than a decade, at how much one nation could change.

My mouth watered at the thought of what other wonders might be waiting for me but I knew I had to move carefully. By now my captors would be aware I had escaped once more and they would be desperate in their panic.

They have to be subtle, afraid to let anyone know there are still giants in the Earth.

Concealing myself until I had the full cover of night I spent an hour searching until I found a man with proportions near to mine. He was jogging, his respiration steady his expression vacant. I dragged him off the street and killed him bloodlessly.

It felt good to have clean clothes against my skin, especially clothes that stretched so easily to accommodate my frame. I found my way to the railroad tracks and followed them south.

Hours and miles passed with ease but I knew that soon the constellation of Lyra would be in ascendance and I would be helpless. I needed security, and I needed nourishment. Opportunity presented itself in the form of a house just off the main road. I kicked in the front door, surprising the family gathered around the television set.

I am always hungry, even now.

The patriarch of the family challenged me. I struck him and felt his ribs splinter. Blood spilled from his mouth, staining my new clothes. His wife and four children screamed as one. I subdued them easily, crippling them but making sure they stayed alive.

I ate the patriarch, starting with the soft entrails and working my way to the marrow. His wife and children begged and pleaded but their cries only sweetened the meal. It had been too long since I had last eaten but it had been well worth the wait; this new generation of citizens had been raised like veal, protected and sheltered.

Even raw, the meat falls right off the bones.

With that sanguine desire sated I demonstrated my gratitude by teaching the woman the secret of how to foretell the future from spilled entrails.

By her third child she found the trick of it.

Clad in an ill-fitting suit and heavy jacket I left the house behind. I followed the tracks again until I found a train yard. I didn’t see any guards or fences so I climbed into the first abandoned cattle car I could find.

Even with the shadows drawn in close I couldn’t fully relax, a fluttering nameless suspicion nagged at me. I picked idly at the fresh bullet wounds while waiting for the stars to be right. Having tried to ascertain my future, I naturally found my thoughts returning to my past.

My life began under the stars, in 1784 in an open air laboratory designed and built by Thomas Jefferson. He was working from Ben Franklin's notes and those notes in turn were stolen from the royal mystics of France. Franklin had refused to aid in my creation; the memories of his own disastrous experiments still haunted him.

Thomas Jefferson did not work alone that night however. A series of ever more dangerous setbacks led him to commission Jedediah Orne to assist him in his endeavors. Orne was only too happy to visit the young nation and aid in translating and supplementing Jefferson’s incomplete transcription of The Talos Formulae. Jefferson was determined that the new fledgling nation would have an avatar on par with the articulate, wise and beautiful creatures that had advised the royalty of the world since the age of antiquity.

Orne however was determined to put some of his own more radical theories to the test.

No ash and copper wire for him! Or for me.

My original body was that of a long forgotten Egyptian Lord, shriveled and grayish but perfectly preserved. Once he had been a god king but grave robbers had ransacked his tomb and sold his remains as a curio. Jedediah Orne worked tirelessly in Jefferson’s laboratory, using The Talos Formulae more as a guideline than a gospel. Runes were carved beneath the mummy’s tongue, at the bottoms of his feet and most importantly on the underside of his skull. Where mechanical contrivances and ash had been called for, Orne used the flesh of the recently dead in combinations specifically chosen to create sorcerous fission.

The heart of a patriot. The blood of one a native. The brain of a traitor.

I came to life in a haze of alchemical smoke. Terrified and confused I kicked my way free of my glass womb. At first the cool air was an agony to my lungs. My muscles struggled to raise my misshapen head. Jedediah Orne rolled me on my back so his audience could gaze down upon me. My first sight was Vega at its zenith; its bluish white light filling my mind with knowledge and mysteries. Twelve of the nation's founding fathers stared down at me and I instantly knew their histories and potentials; I even knew how they might die.

The President of the United States in Congress Assembled, Richard Henry Lee, asked me a question. I wanted nothing more than to curse him but I was helpless. I had to answer in full.

The low drone of a helicopter startled me from my reminiscing, it sounded close. A spotlight swept over the train car, shafts of light insinuating between the gaps in the walls and the open doorway. I heard shouting voices and the barking of dogs.

I climbed up onto the train car’s roof and spied a dozen police officers and dogs moving in. The spotlight found me and an amplified voice ordered me to surrender. These were ordinary officers of the law and I wondered how much they had been warned to expect by the Agents of Project Pharos.

An animal sound stirring in my throat, I leapt down into the midst of them. The sight of me gave them pause but they kept coming, confident in their training and body armor. One leapt at me and I slapped him in the side of the face with all my strength. The snap of his neck sounded like gunfire.

A second one struck me across the knees with a baton, I caught him easily. My thumbs found his eye sockets, his head split apart like an overripe fruit. The high pitched keening of his voice panicked the dogs and slowed the other police officers’ approach.

The amplified voice from the helicopter cursed me, promising revenge. They released the dogs; the two beasts leapt as one, their teeth sinking into my forearms. Their eyes were small and frenzied with terror. I grabbed one of the dogs by its collar and tore it free not caring that a mouthful of my flesh came away with it.

I hurled the yelping animal at the helicopter. The spotlight shattered, the aircraft twisted in mid-air, fighting to stay aloft. The second dog let go and slunk away.

A high-powered rifle shot pierced my back, knocking the wind from me. I turned to see a woman, a Pharos Agent, methodically taking aim again. Another bullet caught me in the meat of my leg. I stumbled for her but the surviving police surrounded me.

They clubbed me, landing blow after blow. I fell to my knees clawing at my attackers. I knew if I could just get ahold of one of them I could take a hostage, I could bargain and delay.

Then Vega was at its zenith and my mind was on fire. I could only whimper as the rune carved into the underside of my skull reacted to the starlight. My mind is flooded with knowledge, everything I should know, everything I could know.

…allies that can become enemies… pragmatic motives… …enemies that might become allies… the Monarchs drawing ever closer to the world… …clever idealism… economic probabilities… …empty dogmas... …the dark gods still in hiding, waiting and playing at oracles. Does one of them see me now? …technological dreams… …cannibalistic nationalism… …emerging heroes and familiar scapegoats…

…and politics, always politics…

And then I knew how they had found me. I reached to the back of my skull, to the nest of scars and cysts and plucked out the tracking chip.

It took six of them to hold me down as I writhed, my mind boiling with stolen wisdom. The woman approached me, her rifle abandoned for a long bladed knife and in a moment I know her name and I knew what she had suffered what had been done to her. She hamstrung me with practiced efficiency.

The helicopter landed somewhere nearby. I tried to raise myself up with my arms and crawl away only to be brought back down again.

They manacled me with heavy chains, my arms and legs bound behind my back. A steel bar was jammed into my screaming mouth. I wanted to curse them, I wanted to tell them what they truly served and how little it meant.

Then a man with graying hair and a sour expression approached me, he was holding a syringe. Ridiculously over the din of the chaos he tried to speak to me of reassurances, promising me that it would all be all right. He even dared to call me Citizen Aslingan.

That name is a sick joke. A veritable slur. Do you know your Old English?

The hypodermic descended in a slow deliberate arc, burying itself in the corner of my eye, where an ordinary man might have a tear duct.

The drugs took hold and I slipped into fugue full of new memories and old dreams.

“Citizen Aslingan… all hail Citizen Aslingan… the Soul of a new nation…”

Of course you must understand now that I was unlike any other of my kind. The others had been built from known mystical and alchemical principals by nations at the height of their power.

The line began with giant Talos, made from bronze; he stood guard of the kingdom of Minos. The conquering Greeks brought Talos’ remains to wise Daedalus and he used what he discovered to create the nine clockwork muses, whose wisdom led a nation and whose beauty inspired a generation of artists. The Egyptians stole Daedalus’ notes and used them to create stoic Ptah, who would defend their empire for generations until he fled before the coming Romans, losing himself in the shadowy Husk Worlds. The world-conquering Romans had their own copy of what was now called The Talos Formulae and used it to birth Quirinus; so perfect in his features that his was frequently mistaken for a living man.

Quirinus’ fortunes would ebb and flow with those of the empire, some Caesars would take his council, some tried to have him killed, some took him in their beds. Mongol raiders captured him and studied him until they learned the secret of his creation. From that knowledge they created artificial concubines that served the emperors and Mandarins of China. The secret found its way to the wizards of that land and they used it to create the blasphemous Song of Tian-gou.

With the fall of Rome the secret of our creation was lost to the West. While it is true that Muslim scholars had copies of both The Song of Tian-gou and The Talos Formulae, there is no record of either ever being used. The same held true for Hebrew scholars.

It fell to Gerbert of Aurilliac to rediscover the secrets long lost. He created Meridiana from the purest bronze and last remaining sketch of the muse of hymns. Her wisdom guided him until he became Pope, then in an act of contrition he had her melted down in 1003. He died shortly afterwards.

Like a living thing the secret traveled to Britain where Gog and Magog were created to defend the city of London. By the time of the Renaissance each nation had its own avatar. In France there was a near perfect copy of Meridiana called Luxuria who never spoke but always taught. In Portugal winged Esibraeus sat at the side of kings. In Italy Demodocus spoke only in song but his advice was always correct.

By the year of my creation they all still lived but their faculties had begun to dwindle; Gog and Magog had become reclusive, Esibraeus had lost the ability to fly, Demodocus had gone blind. Did the fortunes of a nation dwindle with their avatar or did the avatar falter when a kingdom fell to disrepair?

The powers of this nation are all too aware of that question, which is why they never stopped trying to improve me, melioration upon melioration. Piece by piece the body of the old Pharaoh was stripped away and fine American flesh was put in its place.

This arm belonged to the assassin John Wilkes Booth. These legs came from an unnecessary amputation performed on a valiant soldier. Here and there are bits of slaves and madmen.

They have tried to make me handsome but my little excursions always leave such scars. They have tried to make me obedient with drugs, bribes and chains but they are always too careful. I am actually surprised they dared to put a tracking chip at the base of my neck.

When I awoke I found myself chained to a metal gurney, legs bound together arms outstretched.

How we Americans love our crucifixions!

A nest of machines clustered around me, measuring heart rate and brainwave activity. If you were to look at them you would see that they meet no human criterion. IVs and catheters pass fluids to and from me, bright lights shone in my eyes. My skull still rung with the roar of information the mystical circuit gave me. At that moment I was the most well informed being in the nation, perhaps the world. But even without that wisdom I would have been able to guess that I would not be able to escape this chamber easily. There were no visible windows, and a single air-lock like doorway.

The man that had called me by my old name was there and I could see now that his hair was more blonde than gray but that he carried himself like a man ten years his senior. I knew his name now just as I knew that he lead the Pharos Project as his father had before him.

And he knew that I could tell him how his father truly died. That I could tell him why there was a closed casket. He had only to ask.

He offered me a draught of water. I accepted. He took a damp cloth, held it far over my mouth and squeezed out a few drops. I wanted to ask him if he understood the symbolism of Project Pharos’ name.

He wanted to ask. He needed to ask. But he didn’t dare.

Everyone stopped what they doing at the hiss of the vault door opening. Two Pharos agents in dark suits, practically twins to the ones I had killed earlier in the day, walked into the room; a small, middle-aged man followed them. The agents of Project immediately began fawning over him, full of salutations, apologies and compliments. The President of the United States waves them off.

He wasn’t there to speak to them.

He was there to see me, but I could tell he’d rather be anywhere else. I disgusted him but he knew I would only truthfully answer the questions of the nation’s leader.

Like every other President in the last quarter century, he looked like a substitute pallbearer. His eyes were dull and collusive, his skin soft and pink. When he spoke his voice had an effected rural twang, “You stirred up a lot of trouble for us.”

“Mr. President.” I replied, “I serve at your pleasure."

“My pleasure would be that you stopped acting like a beast and started acting like a man. The trouble you’ve caused this administration… Witnesses have to be quieted down. Explanations created. You think that kind of stuff is easy?”

“I have my appetites. We all do.”

“When I read the reports about you – ”

“What do you want to know?” I cracked a smile, “Why did you have them pull me up out of that well?”

The President bristled, “Who do you think you’re
talking to?”

“I know who I’m taking to.” I said, “And I know what you need. Ask your questions and stop trying to scold me like I am one of your errant children.”

For a moment he just scowled at me, and then he pulled a sheaf of index cards and a pen from his suit pocket and asked his questions. His administration wanted advice on finances and diplomacy; how best to reverse the current recession and how best to navigate the current brewing conflicts simmering around the world. He wanted to know which of his political allies was plotting against him and which of his enemies he could trust. His last question was about his wife’s fidelity.

The questions have changed so little in over two centuries.

When it was over the President thanked me, but from the expression on his face I could tell that he immediately regretted it. He slipped the cards back into his pocket, I glimpsed the notes he had taken; his handwriting was scrawling and child-like.

“Is it back to the well for me now Mr. President?” I asked.

“No.” He shook his head, but his eyes were already on the door, “You’ll stay here. Special Agent Wight has some ideas about what to do with you.”

“Really?” I tried to watch him but the bonds and the drugs kept me from doing more than turning my head.

“Of course.” The President said, “There have been advances in science that even you would be amazed at. I'm sure you can be rehabilitated.”

I started laughing then, my voice mad and booming. The President flinched at the sound as Pharos Agents ushered him out the door. The gurney shook with my hysterics, the chains rattled. Special Agent Wight was ready with another of his syringes and injected an opiate directly into my IV tube.

The weeks became months, I could hear them as they performed fresh miracles upon me. Stem cells and skin grafts, bone marrow transplants and gene therapy; they re-sculpted me as though I were made of clay. They thought that if I ceased to look like a monster I would cease to be a monster.

Then all I had to do was wait for them to become trusting, to become complacent. This latest escape was the easiest of all.

If I am careful it will take them years to find me again, if ever. Perhaps even now I am reading the newspaper over your shoulder and as I decide whether or not to allow you to live I cannot help but chuckle at what has become of your nation now that its Presidents finally have to think for themselves.