Film NoiARRRRR excerpt

Yo Ho

NoiARRRRR, my film noir/pirate/buddy cop mashup film, has hit a snag: I’ve been too busy with this semester to plan out the entire thing, and it needs to be filmed by the end of this month. There’s not much time. It’s looking likely that I’ll have to rewrite the thing into a spoof trailer, rather than an actual film, and try to get that shot.

Regardless, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give you the first scene. Here’s the excerpt.

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Short story: Robin

My college’s literary magazine held a contest: the prompt was to write about a window washer named Robin. At the same time, my professor in the advanced composition class assigned us to write a story in which we adhered to strict sentence lengths: nothing longer than 16 words, the words must never be longer than two syllables, and every sentence must be at least 4 words longer or shorter than the last.

Naturally, I wrote one story that fit both criteria. Here it is.

(In the end, I revised it a bit, adding a few three-syllable words for clarity.)

 

Gray.

 

Robin

 

I lean against the thick metal rail, still angled forward to balance my rig. The chill September day funnels into my rear through the railing. But I don’t mind. My pails are dry; it’s break time. I hit a lever, and start moving up the sixty story building.

I like window washing. There’s no better excuse to peer into the lives of hundreds of strangers. Except maybe holding an audit.

The first forty floors are gray. Gray cubes grip gray men with great piles of grey papers. I can smell the inbound rain and my oily jeans, neither of which are gray. The windows filter; the seat of my pants conducts.

One worker looks up. He blinks like a lizard exposed to sun. His shirt is white and his shoes are black, but his hair is red. He stares ‘til I pull above him, maybe glad for the change of scene or maybe just tired. I’m already gone.

I knock gently against the glass every few feet. Strong wind. Inside, office drones huddle in clumps, breaking off only to scuttle into another group. Moving up. They get more frantic the higher up they are, it seems. Man. I don’t even have to look for the metaphors at this point.

There’s a swift switch at floor fifty, where the senior partners reside among dark leather and crimson carpets. My bay window view is of one man eyeing me from a floor-length painting. He’s got color – trophies, wine, and rows of antique books. Gray’s just in one spot. His head.

With the CEO below, I reach the next level of power. The building sentries. They scan screens and tap keys to survey and secure. Right now, they’re the most frantic. A big red light sputters. Panic.

I have only one story left. Almost safe. One man, a leader, sees me. He pauses. He throws a finger at me. He yells. Work, work, work: It’s clear to me that no one here takes the time to fully enjoy life. That’s why I like the window washer getup: normal art theft can get boring.

Recent Happenings

I recently starred in this little advert for my college’s May term program:

Everyone left because they hate answering questions.

Everyone left because they hate answering questions.

I also published a post over here:

3 Unavoidable Problems When Answering Questions In Class

You might assume college exists to help students learn things. Learning, college, the two words are kind of connected. Yet somehow, inevitably, certain problems crop up within the classroom environment that keep everyone from learning more.

Most of the students don’t care about learning as much as they possibly can. You probably don’t either, some of the time. But that attitude leads to a poor learning environment that you’ll probably regret once we all get drop-kicked into the competitive world of wage-earning and panel interviews. And the attitude isn’t just in huge core classes, but shows up in smaller courses where your professor expects people to interact by responding to questions.

The bad news is that you can never avoid these problems behind trying to answer your professor’s questions. But if you’re aware of them, you might be able to fight them. (More)

HookDuel1LL

And I published the short story A Singular Duel over at the newly established Omnibrow website. It’s about a 2000-word period farce in the manner of P.G. Wodehouse. It features a young man who accidentally becomes the back-up to both men who plan to duel to the death, and is forced to fight himself. Here’s an excerpt:

“Fiancés are odd little things,” Lemuel Sieve pondered. “Not that I have anything against them, of course. I’ve got one myself.” He picked up his tumbler, then looked at his arm as if surprised not to find a fiancé clinging to it. “She’s around here somewhere, at any rate,” he continued.

“I know just what you mean,” assured Reggie Hoop-Grenfeld. “I’ve got one myself, you know.”

“You too? They pop up like Brussels sprouts. There’s mine, over by the dining table.”

Lemuel’s true love was inspecting the raw oyster forks. Her eyebrows were engaged in battle, dipping and swooping at every oyster fork that dared to stray from the side of its plate. She looked ready to have a talk with the hostess over the impropriety of it all. Lemuel’s valet, Worthing, stood beside her. He had been tasked with serving her, an imposition Lemuel felt slightly guilty about.

“She seems…vigorous,” was the best compliment Reggie could muster. Lemuel nodded, following this acknowledgment with a stiff drink. “It’s funny,” he added, staring at the dredges of his gin and tonic, “But as a matter of fact, that’s why we’re engaged. She decided one day that we should get married, and I didn’t have the heart to explain otherwise.”

“Really?” Reggie said, “I don’t know, old chap; that doesn’t seem healthy to me.”

“Balderdash,” Lemuel scoffed. “You were just explaining how topnotch your own fiancé is. Besides, everyone’s got ‘em. Why, Nicolas Juffington picked one up just the other day.”

Reggie made a funny noise behind his wineglass, like a trout learning a show tune. “Juffington?” he said. He slapped his wineglass on the nearest table, sending a spout of wine into the cucumber sandwiches. “Juffington?

“Yes,” Lemuel said. “Have you met?”

(More)

Short Fiction: “Dead Stop”

Cold dark road.

On the road to work, I hit a deer. It was bad: too fast; head on; hard.

I came to a dead stop. So did the deer.

I stared. Great. Now I would be late. What a day. First I made my bed. (A dumb job with no point, I say) Now my boss would pin my rear to the wall. I threw the dead little guy to the road’s side. The bent car front gleamed at me. Could the car start? I had my doubts: the steam was a bit thick. If only the deer were still alive. At least then I could ride it to work.

I stretched my eyes over the street. Parched grass and cold sky. What looked like a dead duck. Lovely. I had to catch a ride. A truck drove up, so I stuck out my thumb. Truck folks are often cool. With luck, this one would be. He wasn’t. He had a hook hand, dead eye, and peg leg. He was a vibrant thug.

“Is that yours?” he barked. His stretched arm was vague. Hook hands will do that to you. “You gone eat that?”

“What, the deer? Uh. No.” I was lost: to flee or not to flee? But there was just one move. Play to your strengths, I always say. “I’ll swap it for a ride.” He grinned; I cinched the deal. “Free duck, if you pledge not to kill me.”

~~~

I wrote this for an assignment with specific parameters: No sentences over ten words long, and no words over one syllable long. I played around with the paragraph size, making it longer than you might normally expect, and used a motif of death. Ultimately, it’s a narrative-based story.

 

The Singular Duel

Here’s the second story I’ve written for the StumbleUpon contest. This one’s a period comedy in PG Wodehousian style, centering on a dapper young fop who accidentally winds up as the second for both men dueling each other to the death. They both fail to show, and he must fight himself. It’s basically the definition of a comedy of manners, in my opinion.

Read it, love it, like it from your official StumbleUpon account and help me win:

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1SURyC

Short story – “Apocalypse”

Not in the sequel, either.

A book that this story is not in.

Here’s a short story that I originally wrote last year for the second Machine of Death anthology, for which all stories must be set in a world with machines that accurately predict how someone will die. The anthology didn’t accept this story. I have to admit that I played fast and loose with the few basic guidelines that they set down for the submissions– they didn’t want the machines to ever be wrong. I would maintain that the machines weren’t exactly ‘wrong’, but I can see how they might disagree. Read the story and make up your own mind on the matter:

Apocalypse
By Adam Rowe

My heart skipped several beats, like a rusty stick shift hitting high gear, before slipping into an accelerated pounding.
“Did you—” I stammered.
“Kill him? No,” Mr. Lucas answered. “If my bullets weren’t rubber, he might have had the foreknowledge to wear a bulletproof jacket today. Come on, stop standing like a moron.” He shoved me towards the elevator by the small of my back. “Walk like one instead.”
I stepped over the twitching security guard as we passed, a numbness delaying my shudder of response until our elevator was on the third floor. Mr. Lucas turned to me with a single eyebrow lowered in condemnation.
“You know, Ben, when I hired an assistant, the implication was that you would be in the proper shape to assist me.”
“The ad was for an assistant, not an assassin!”
“Hey, I told you, he’s not dead. I’m here to save lives, not steal them.”
“Whatever. I didn’t sign up for this,” I started, but broke off when Mr. Lucas pulled his gun to waist level, barrel pointing at my guts. College tuition wasn’t worth this level of crazy. I decided to shut up and avoid eye contact until I could get away.
The elevator kept cruising upwards. Its vast swath of buttons was a monochromatic wasteland with just a single light at the bottom, number eighty-eight. We would be going up for a while yet. At least we had a view; the glass doors looked out over the crowded metropolis of North Dakota.
“What’s your c of d?” Mr. Lucas asked before we’d gone up three more flights.
“Heart attack.” I wasn’t bothered by my prediction, unlike some people. It’s not like it affected my life much. Or at least, not that I’d noticed.
“No, it’s not,” Lucas said. That was the second craziest thing he’d done, right behind walking into the Death Corp headquarters and shooting some random security guard in the chest.
“Sure it is. The machines never lie.”
“They don’t. The men who run them do.”
“Ok, ok,” I said, forgetting my plan to shut up, “Let me guess. You got some prediction you didn’t like, went nuts, and decided to kill the president of the company that made all those terrible machines. What was your c of d? Paranoia?”
“It doesn’t matter. Mine was wrong too.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
We hit floor twenty-seven. I considered my chances of rescue, which were fat and slim. The only sign of consciousness (aside from a now unconscious guard) had been a handful of sluggish interns at the pay grade of pizza delivery boys clustered around the front desk.
“About a hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the machines started giving strange predictions,” Lucas said. “One little baby got a card that told him he’d die of an “APOCALYPSE.” Then a few more babies got it. Then more, and more, all over the globe. Death Corp’s covered the whole thing up.”
“They’ve covered up the end of the world?” I asked, as if this was a normal conversation. Lucas was logical, at least, even if he got an F in plausibility. Predictions would have had to start showing up about a lifetime ago, and increase until the very second of the apocalypse, when everyone in the world would have the prediction.
The light for floor sixty flashed for a moment before light sixty-one took over.
“Ok, I’ve got a problem with your little theory. Why haven’t we noticed that the predictions are wrong? If this is such a big conspiracy, someone would have caught on by now.”
“The only wrong predictions are those that were originally about the apocalypse,” Lucas countered, “Nobody’s going to die until it happens, and nobody’s going to find out about a wrong prediction until they die. So no one’s found out yet that they won’t really die of cancer or a car crash or whatever gibberish they were told.”
Arguing with this guy only made him seem even more right. He stared out over the highway, watching the translucent stream of cars with an air of self-righteous pity for the world.
“What exactly are you trying to do here?” I asked. “A suicide bombing? Because you’re forgetting one thing: you can’t change the future.”
The elevator hit eighty-eight and Lucas swiveled, pulling his handgun from his coat pocket. The doors opened at the junction of two hallways. The motif was an industrial concrete and fiberglass. True to crazy-person form, Lucas wasted no time in threatening the only man to be seen.
The guy had the neck flab of an upper-tier employee and was dressed in a poorly-fitted suit. As a result, he looked like a batch of biscuit dough trying to escape its can. Still, he had pleasant features, and seemed like a nice guy. He probably didn’t think the same of me. I tried to flip up my jacket collar.
“Where’s the prediction hub?” Lucas growled.
“I—I can’t tell you that,” the man said. Lucas jabbed him. A few seconds later we were headed one hallway down, to the right, and into the second door on the left, keeping our informer in tow.
Lucas stole the man’s badge to swipe us into the room. “If you’ve got the clearance to be in here, you must know all about the Apocalypse.”
“The what?”
Lucas shoved him into the room, which was filled with monitors and official looking computers. Oddly, no one else was around.
“Don’t play around with me,” Lucas said as he thrust a thumb drive on the vast array of knobs and blinking lights. “You know.”
The man broke down surprisingly easily. “You know what?” He didn’t snap the words at us, but might have if the gun wasn’t an issue. “It doesn’t matter anymore. The apocalypse hits today. We’re all going to die.”
“It’s today?” I thought about the phrase “at least things can’t get worse,” but clearly that hadn’t been true so far. “How can you know for sure?”
“As soon as all the predictions say ‘Apocalypse,’” Lucas clarified.
“We were down to our last 150,000 non-Apocalypse deaths yesterday,” our suited prisoner chimed in. Pondering his imminent death appeared to relax him a bit. “By now they’re just about gone. I expect we’ll hear the earthquakes any minute now. They were the top choice in the office betting pool.”
“That’s why security’s so lax around here,” I said. “If you know that the world’s going to die, you don’t care as much about clocking in eight hours a day.” Either this whole thing made a lot of sense or I was being sucked into their delusion. Both options churned my bodily organs.
Lucas kept tapping away on the computer, but I didn’t bother watching the screen. The tech-heads were the only ones who could keep up with technology advancements, and as a poly sci major, I didn’t qualify.
“You should be ashamed.” Lucas said, still tapping away. He apparently chastised his victims while still executing the crime; if gentleman thieves actually existed somewhere, he was one of them. “Your corporation’s been lying to the world.”
“We’ve been helping them!” the man said, taking too much offense. The Apocalypse, in its simultaneous numbing doom and catalyzing urgency, had broken his reaction gauge. “If everyone knew the time they’d die in addition to the manner, they’d all lose hope. Society would collapse!”
“Mankind’s never lost hope,” Lucas pointed out. “That’s a fact.”
I had to agree. If political science had taught me anything, it was that humankind never stopped banging its collective head against a wall. Even now, I was still hoping that this was all a dream and that I’d wake up in Professor Guthrie’s Soc class just in time for lunch. Maybe that cute girl who sits in front of me would strike up a conversation, since I was dreaming anyway.
Back in the prediction hub, however, I’d given up on escaping. Even the Death Corps employee was more of a spectator than a prisoner, as Lucas opened the program that he’d loaded onto the Death Corp’s supercomputer. Between clicks on the computer, he’d occasionally wave his gun at me and the employee. He finally turned to us, consolidating his attention.
“You’ve heard of self-fulfilling prophecies, I know,” he said. “What’s the latest urban myth? A philosopher works himself to death trying to decipher the deeper meaning behind the c of d ‘PHILOSOPHIZES TO DEATH,’ or something like that. The death machines keep all those stories entertaining just by lending one new element — a touch of inevitability — the fact that the little slip of paper will always tell the truth, no matter how obscurely.”
“What, are you twelve?” the employee asked. He was sweating heavily now, despite suffering no worse exertion than sitting. Doom was exhausting. “Everyone knows that stuff.” He was right; acting like it was a revelation was about as cheesy as promoting the power of true love. Sure, love exists, but that doesn’t mean that I need to hear a lecture on it before I can get a lunch date.
“My point,” Lucas said icily, “Is that no one takes advantage of this. It boggles the mind why they don’t, really.”
“They can’t! Like you said, the machines are never wrong!”
“That’s right. Don’t ignore reality, but don’t accept it at face value either. Make your own future fit the machine’s.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, fighting the paralyzing fact that the Apocalypse was minutes away. Lucas had been in control up til now. Whatever he had to say was my last hope.
“Assumptions control everything. For example, you only tagged along today because I claimed I needed a chauffeur. Some assumptions power the world. Money only has value because we’ve all agreed it does. But if you make the wrong assumption, you get the wrong results. Instead of running from our predictions, we must embrace them.”
“This is nonsense.” With that, the Corps employee rocked back in his seat to give up talking in favor of wobbling in fear.
Lucas looked back at the computer and hit a key. “My program temporarily disables the machines’ computer system, making all predictions give the reason they’ve failed rather than the reason for death. And it’s retroactive.”
This time I matched the suited man in disbelief. Lucas staved us off; “No, I don’t understand how the machine works, but I can still piggyback off of the time-defying aspect.”
Our chubby businessman wasn’t even interested in that, however. “The reason for death? Do you mean you named it–?”
The flash drive even had a tiny tag on it, since the name was so integral to the plan. Lucas smiled, proud of himself. “The ‘Apocalypse’ was initiated two minutes ago, gentlemen. And we’re still alive.”
I didn’t relax for another five minutes. I’ve seen movies and knew that was practically asking an Apocalypse to sneak up on me. But nothing happened. There were no darkening skies, no ominous earthquakes. I was, however, suddenly aware of how annoying nervous sweat was.
“That program… is the Apocalypse?” I asked.
“Like I said, you need to adjust your assumptions. The future might be set, but you can still make it whatever you want.” Lucas slipped out of his chair much like a very dry fish. His sweat glands clearly hadn’t felt the need to stress themselves. “Come on, Ben, we shouldn’t stay.”
I left weakly, resolved not to face any more apocalypses for a long while. I was still shell-shocked as we waited for the elevator. Lucas amused himself by getting his real c of d from a tiny machine installed beside the hand sanitizer. “I actually did need a chauffeur,” he clarified while sucking a pin-pricked pinky. “So sometimes reality is as it seems. I guess. But you never know.”
Sometimes it was a comfort when reality was reality. Now that it wasn’t killing me in an apocalypse, I felt spurred to take advantage of it, and asking my cute sociology classmate to lunch might make a good starter.
The elevator’s ding heralded the slip of paper spat from the machine.
“BLAZE OF GLORY,” Lucas read.
“Wow…” I said, “Impressive. Going out with a bang, eh?”
“Ben, Ben, Ben,” Lucas said to the elevator interior with a theatrical sigh, “haven’t you learned anything today? I now plan to buy a retirement home in order to rename it ‘Blaze of Glory’.”

Con Artist Kid

Here’s a story I wrote last month. It was originally published on my tumblr, and was one of the very few posts there that was more then a few scant paragraphs of my own writing. I tried to convert to tumblr as an arena for long posts combined with quick fun reposts of cool creative things I find online, but tumblr’s quite demanding, and I found it too easy to churn out short posts than the long ones about my personal projects that I tend to post on WordPress.

Therefore I’m back on my WordPress blog, though I’m changing it up: now WordPress is solely for longform blog posts, while I’ll constrain my fun snippets to my tumblr account. Also, I’ve got a few new projects that I’ll be discussing on WordPress. There’s a link to them and to my Tumblr at the top of the page.

And now the story, complete with the original caveat I posted on tumblr.

I’m normally not a fan of writing about my own life, since it’s not normally entertaining enough. This is almost an exception to both normalities… but I still embellished the thing, so it isn’t quite.

“Ahh, so close! Shoot shoot shoot!” was what brought the kid to my attention. I had been daydreaming, as usual, but he was loud enough that everyone waiting in line must have heard him.

“I just need one more dollar!” he said, in a voice that was a bit too loud. The voice was too flat, as well, missing the proper emotion. My time in a speech and debate league had taught me that voice well: it was the dulcet, theatrical tone of a bad actor.

Two packages of batteries lay on the counter in front of him. The kid continued shouting, “Sooo close. Aw, Man!” I was disbelieving for a moment, but his sidelong glance at his captive audience convinced me: he was gunning for a free dollar.

He managed to lock eyes with me, even though I slide them away a half-second later, instinctually and causally looking past him. I was a pro at avoiding eye contact. The trick is to not dart your eyes away, but move them gently.

“So do you want to get just one, then?” the cashier, a middle-aged woman with a creased, heavy face that probably deserved better than a bright red Sheetz uniform, asked.

“But I need two! Otherwise my smoke detector won’t work!”

A smoke detector.. was that a lie or the truth? The kid had an oversized body and an undersized chin, but he looked about twelve. Maybe a dim-witted fourteen. I often judge people’s ages by their apparent intelligence. It’s the only half-decent indicator, in my opinion, and even that isn’t saying much. As far as lies went, it was a good one, and I doubted he could come up with that quality. I decided he was probably telling the truth.

He keened a bit more, glancing around a bit more. The cashier waited. No one else noticed. Finally, I had to step in.

“You know, there’s better ways to do that,” I said to him. “If you ask someone straight out, they’re more likely to feel pressured into giving it to you. It’s just a dollar, so odds are, they care less about losing the money than they care about looking selfish by refusing to offer it.”

The kid kept his mouth shut, staring at me with an expression eighty percent confused, twenty percent guilty. The cashier couldn’t decide between affronted or amused.

“Try, “Excuse me, sir, but I can’t afford to buy the batteries I need for my smoke alarm. Can you give me just one dollar?’” I said, assuming a dignified, honest tone for the question, then slipping back into my casual one. “People respond better to the straightforward approach. Keep practicing, though. That’s all it takes, really.”

The kid was just working himself up for a retort when he saw my hand emerge from my pocket. I plunked down three quarters. I never use my spare change, anyway.

I left him to pay the final twenty-five cents. After all, the guy needed to learn a lesson of some sort.