Sunday, November 30, 2008
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
Pass It On, It’ll Make Your Skin Crawl
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
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.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
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
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
Sunday, October 12, 2008
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.
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."
"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.