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Pax Scribendi, Hiatus Over

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After an intense 6 week course of MBA 707, a rude introduction to a derecho, and a dastardly cat named Cocoa eating the powercord cord of my Mac Book, I have finally begun writing again.

The MBA is something I feel is needed to excel at my job and therefore a necessary evil.  No way around it, I make good living, but I always want to do more and I’m not satisfied with status quo when it comes to, well when it comes to anything really.  Therefore, I must forge forward and add letters to my tittle.

If you don’t know what a derecho is, all you need to know is it comes, it kicks your ass, takes your power, and freaking spoils all the food in your fridge.  Derecho, you suck and I’m glad you’re a “once in a generation” storm in south Jersey.

For those of you who are interested, Cocoa the cat is now subject to cruel yet necessary water gun therapy.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it works, one apple knock-off power cord later.

So the short story I was working on before all of this happened is in a coma, basically dead.  For me story ideas are like burning embers, you best use it to start a fire or it will simply turn to gray ash and die, and that is what happened.

Now, I am close to finished with a first draft of a story tentatively titled “The Broken Art of Perfection.”  The idea of the story came to me from an article I read in the NY Times about dream therapy.  I’ve enjoyed writing it so far.

In the mean-time a couple of stories have been rejected.  Dark Discoveries said “Always a Soldier” was quite well written, but not for them.  Black Static, which has become my great white whale, simple form rejected me on “Reflections.”

Heavy Metal Magazine, upon inquiry to my submission “The Cost that Lies Between Heaven and Earth”, said “I assure you that everything that is sent in is reviewed and we respond only to those works we choose to publish.  Please also note that we are working on magazines several months in advance of publication so don’t despair it often takes many many months for a project to be selected for inclusion in future magazines.”  I have no idea if that means I was rejected or not?! 

Illustration from The Key

I was fortunate enough to touch base with Vladimir Petkovic who illustrated my short story “The Key” coming up in Morpheus Tales.

Morpheus Tales is of on the UK’s finest Horror Magazines and I am pumped to be published in its pages. However, we need to wait until January of 2012 to see it in print. I can’t wait.

I love the interpretation that Vladimir has made of a scene in my story. Obviously I can’t get into it now but come 2012 I’ll be happy to go over the scene and the gorgeous illustration.

Vladimir is a talented dude. Check out his work here (I also added him to my blogroll):

http://vladimirpetkovic.webs.com/

Everyone is a critic: Infestation

Because I haven’t written a short story in a while I figured I would collect some of the positive and negative comments of my published stories. I will leave out comments by anyone I know, because lets face it, they are probably considered ringers.

Thankfully there are more good than bad reviews. Just an FYI, if you plan to check out the story, there are spoilers in the reviews. First up, “Infestation.”

The Good

“this one had me covering my eyes and gritting my teeth.It takes a lot to get this reaction from me,but if anything will-its large flying flesh eating insects. Excellent performance from the narrator,keep up the good work psuedopod.”

“Spooky should be made into a short film so the audio is done proper justice”

“Whew… what a ride.”

“Insects-in-your-body stories are always among the most horrific, and this was very well done. Only way to make it worse is to involve genitals a la Scott Sigler’s “Infected.”
Kudos on the story, and doubly so for the reader!”

“oooooo, foo, this one made me nauseous. Yet I couldn’t turn it off. I hate you all.”

“Makes me afraid of the strange looking plants that pop up in my flower bed. I think I’ll go pull them up and burn them now…”

“Loved it; wished it was longer.”

“Absolutely horride! I loved it! Keep up the good work!”

“Wow. I haven’t had that kind of physical reaction to a story in quite a while. I was driving while I listened, and was squirming, flinching and writihing while trying to steer. Made it to the studio, thanks to cruise control.”

“Very descriptive story. Kept me interested until it was over.
Very scarey story. Right up their with Stephen King.”

“I hope I can sleep tonight… the reading of this was amazing. ugh! Amy….ps.. I think I’m going to puke.”

“Gentlemen, excellent episode! THIS is the kind of story I’d write if I was about 160% more talented than I am. Kudos, Mr. Piskun!”

“This was classic horror. Very scary, fast, witty, and leaving just enough slight room for hope to keep you listening intently ’till the final, horrific ending. Very good reading performance, too!”

“scaryyyyyy”

“Yukkkk. Great episode that made me uncomfortable.”

“I listened to this story twice it was so good! I loved the narrator and the story was just chilling!”

The Bad (and Ugly)

“Meh. It’s been done before, and done better. One thing I did like was the way that the narrator lapsed into religious metaphor at the end – it was a nice character touch that, when he’s pushed to the point of breaking, that was emerging”

“The commenter who called it graphic and intense was absolutely right, however, I was a little disappointed. This story was my first introduction to Pseudopod, and I have to say, my first reaction was “Haven’t I read/heard this before? People are still writing/reading stories about bugs crawling under skin and eating people alive?” I know it’s a tried-and-true horror theme, but I just didn’t think this version added much. I seem to be alone in this assessment, though, as this seems to be a very popular story!”

“In all honesty, this is probably one of the stories I’ve liked least so far in Pseudopod. (I’m working my way back; I’m down to the sixties now.) It was just gross-out horror for the sake of gross-out. Don’t get me wrong; the language was evocative and cringe-inducing and the reading was spot-on, but “bugs under the skin” is one of the old reliable tropes and this story didn’t really do anything interesting with it. Heck, it doesn’t even give it a decent foundation.

There’s no reason for the bugs. They’re just… there. From a plant the girl scouts were selling. So presumably there are now dozens of homes being filled with these plant-bug monsters that breed faster than bacteria. I guess that would be scary if the bugs weren’t so ludicrous. The whole thing is wildly implausible, but doesn’t have the resonance of a strong thematic/symbolic structure to give us a reason why these impossible creatures exist. I’m okay with hallucinatory, surreal action, but I’m less okay with it when it doesn’t serve any purpose other than increasing the shock value. I was reminded of “Sealab 2021″ and the discussion of putting human brains into robot bodies rapidly devolved into requests for an Adrienne-Barbeau-bot with chainsaw hands. The story became so unrealistic – after such a lovingly-detailed ’slice of life’ at the beginning, too – that it stopped being scary and just started seeming kind of goofy to me
It was well written, and very well narrated. As I said, I enjoyed it, I just didn’t find it special.”

“I like to masturbate. So I did. Later, my wife comes home with a strange plant filled with ravenous alien bugs, and they kill her, my unborn child, and force me to kill myself just to stop them. The end.”

Fortune Cookie

Wrote this about 3 years ago. Has some good parts I think.

Declan drove out of his Urologist’s parking lot and shifted uncomfortably in his car seat, wondering what force on earth, if any, could stop a latex glove with KY jelly on it. He groaned at the far to recent memory and felt his asshole tighten.
His cell-phone sang out “I’m bringin’ sexy back” by Justin Timberlake, which meant his wife Alison was calling. He rolled his eyes at the phone and flipped it open.
“‘Lo”.
“Hi hon, how was your appointment?”
“Don’t wanna talk about it.”
Laughter.
“Yeah, goddamn hilarious.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to survive long enough to bring home dinner?”
“Sure, what do you want?”
“Surprise us.”
“Will do, love ya bye.”
Declan turned on to Bay Avenue and rolled down his window. He took a deep breath to relax and inhaled a crisp Atlantic Ocean breeze. Next he made a right onto Route 9 where all the strip malls restaurants were. He saw the bright yellow Primo’s Pizza sign and kept driving, today was Wednesday and they usually had pizza every Friday. Next he saw Don Pablo’s and the thought of Mexican made his stomach strain and asshole tighten once more. He kept driving. Then he smelled it. Sweeter than the ocean breeze came blowing in the smell of pork fried rice and egg rolls. ‘The general’s chicken!’ he thought and his stomach growled in agreement. His ass said nothing. Chinese it was!
Declan had lived here for four years and had never seen this place before. It was a plain red, brick building with tinted windows and no signs that displayed the business’ name or hours.
Inside the walls were plain brown. No colored pictures of the different available Chinese food dishes, no menu, and no paintings of old fashioned Chinese countrysides. At the counter stood an Asian teenage boy with an IPOD in his breast pocket and an earphone in one ear.
“You guys just open up?”
The teenager looked at Declan as if he was severely retarded for asking such a question and said nothing.
“Well, do you guys have a menu?”
“We can make whatever you want.”
“Alright, I’ll have a General Tso, Chicken lo mein, and a sweet n’ sour chicken.”
“We don’t have sweet n’ sour chicken.’
“I thought you said you could make anything.”
“Anything but that.”
Again with the ‘how fucking stupid are you?’ stare.
“Fine, make it a chicken and broccoli.”
“Fifteen minutes.”
Declan sat at one of the tables for two as he waited for his food. He stared out at the cars driving by when he felt a tap on his left shoulder. He turned around and no one was there. He looked at the counter and the teenager wasn’t there. He turned his attention back to the passing cars. With his stomach growling his mind drifted to his wife and daughter, Merle. Declan wondered if she would eat dinner tonight. She was fourteen, struggling with her weight, and had started skipping dinners.
He felt a warm breeze from behind, hot and sticky, turning the back of his neck damp. Declan quickly turned around and saw nothing. There was no window behind him, just the empty front counter. He scanned the unfinished ceiling of steel frame squares, wires, and insulated piping. ‘The breeze must come from up there’ he thought as he wiped the back of his neck with a napkin from the dispenser on the table. Once more he turned his attention to outside when it felt like someone hit him in the shoulder.
He quickly turned again and saw no one but wait, how did he not notice this before? A large, golden, Chinese dragon stared at him from a table in the corner, its snakelike body twisted in loop. Down it’s spine was a boney, fanlike fin and at the tip of the tail were three long twisting braids of hair. Four short arms each bearing five sharp talons reached out into the air, ready to snap closed. The details were all so beautiful and lifelike. It did not look like it was carved at all, but a living; breathing dragon had been turned to gold while taking flight. As exquisite as the body looked was it was nothing compared to the dragon’s face.
Its mouth was closed in an upturned grin with tendrils of hair flowing down from its chin, thick and twisted. Its nostrils were flared as if exhaling and three spiraling horns rose from the dragon’s forehead. The dragon’s upturned grin was filled with sharp, pointed teeth locked together. What stood out most on the dragons wise and menacing face was its eyes, set in stone the color of flowing burgundy that sat shimmering in the head of solid gold. The lights from the ceiling glinted off the dragon’s body but its eyes collected the light and refracted it in scarlet rays that scintillated in every direction.
Declan was lost in the dragon’s hypnotic gaze. He could hear the breeze that caressed his neck earlier drift past his ear carrying undecipherable whispers barely audible over the ticking of the wall clock. The minute hand of the cluck spun, one, two, twenty, one hundred; time passed him by as he sat motionless.
“Order’s ready, mister.”
Declan snapped out of his trance with a quick shake of his head and went to the counter.
“$18.95.”
Declan grabbed the brown, paper bag stapled together at the top with a message scrawled in Chinese in black marker at the top.
“Here’s a twenty, keep the change. Are there any fortune cookies in there?”
The teenager said nothing, his eyes darting nervously around the room.
“Uhm, fortune cookies?” Declan repeated.
The teenager pointed his finger across the room.
“Over there, by the dragon. I can’t give you any, you have to pick your own.”
Declan shrugged then followed his finger over to the red, ceramic bowl next to the golden dragon whose sparkling eyes he’d been lost in earlier. The dragon’s golden scales slithered as he moved towards it.
“Did that thing just move!?”
“No, no, its just the light. People ask that all the time. It’s very shiny.”
Declan reached his and into the ceramic bowl and couldn’t help but glance into the dragons searching red eyes. The whispers came again only to be drowned out by the beating of his heart. Declan grabbed a handful of fortune cookies, flinching when they stung like grabbing dry ice. His hand numb and mind lost in the dragons gaze, it took the jarring plastic crunch of a car accident in the parking lot to startle him from his trance. He opened the brown bag containing his food and tossed a handful of fortune cookies in.

Alison finished her chicken lo mein and Declan savored every last bite of his General Tso. The general never disappointed him. Merle pushed her chicken and broccoli back and forth across her plate with her fork.
“Where did you say you got this, Declan?”
“You know, I have no idea what this place was called, Ali. I think it’s new.”
“Merle, eat your chicken. I got a healthy dish just for you.”
“No thanks, Dad. You know I’m trying to loose weight!”
Declan knew better than to argue with his teenage daughter about her weight. She was fine the way she was but what did he know? Instead he turned over the plain, brown, paper bag and dumped the fortune cookies out on the kitchen table.
“I’ll have just one” said Merle as she quickly snatched one. She opened the wrapper and bit the cookie in half, pulling out the thin paper fortune.
“What does it say?” asked Alison.
“That I have one wish, and Confucius say use it wisely, or some crap.”
“Watch your mouth!” said Alison.
Declan just rolled his eyes and asked, “What are you going to wish for?”
“To get thinner of course”, said Merle as she pushed the second half of the cookie into her mouth.
Alison grabbed a cookie from the table, opened it, ate it and unraveled her fortune. “I am ambitious, I am short tempered, I am the fire dragon?”
“Nice!” said Declan with a wink. Alison winked back with her soft brown eyes. Declan went to grab a fortune cookie when his stomach let out a large, hollow gurgle. “General, no!” shouted Declan as his ran for the bathroom and shut the door.

Later that night, Merle was getting ready for bed when Declan put on the thick, yellow and black stripped sweatshirt he wore almost every night. He walked through the kitchen and put the last two fortune cookies in the sweatshirts pocket, sat on the couch and turned on the television. Alison came in and sat next to him.
“What do you want to watch, Ali?”
“Dancing With the Stars.”
“Bullshit!”
Merle walked into the living room, her hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“Goodnight.”
“Night.”
Declan got up to hug his daughter goodnight and noticed that felt slimmer than usual.
“Merle, whatever you’ve been doing is working. You feel like you lost a couple of pounds.”
“Thanks, Dad. I have been walking a lot.”
Merle gave her mother a kiss on the check and went to bed. Alison grabbed the remote and turned on ‘Dancing With the Stars’.
Merle lay in bed and stared up at the glow in the dark stars that decorated her ceiling. She rubbed her hands across her stomach and felt her ribs. She had lost weight! The stars on the ceiling started to twinkle and spin. Merle rubbed her eyes and looked again. The stars were still moving. They formed circles inside of circles and spun inside each other. Merle started to feel dizzy. She shut her eyes tight but the woozy feeling was still there. She felt weak. ‘I must have food poisoning’ she thought and tried to call out for her parents. Only whispers came when she tried to scream for help. Her skin felt tight and her stomach sank. Her rib cage protruded out further and she felt her cheeks sinking in. Merle felt the fat being sucked out of her. It felt like thousands of frenzied ants crawling beneath her skin, marching and chewing. The stars shined brightly above her, still spinning in hypnotizing circles.
Merle turned her head and threw-up. A steady stream of yellow and white fat poured from her mouth and splattered on the floor with a wet slap. Now her muscles started to shrink, fibers unraveled and disintegrated. Tendons melted away like candle wax and tears stained red and thickened with fat poured from her eyes and dried on her face.
Merle tried to call for help again, but her tongue had dissolved into a gummy stub and her diaphragm unraveled into shreds. Hollow rasps and sucking sounds was all she could produce. She lay in bed getting thinner and thinner, unable to move, unable to breathe. She felt her heart unraveling in her chest as she stared up at the dancing, spinning stars until the twinkling light on her ceiling was no more.

“I’m not feeling so good.”
“It’s this shitty show, Ali.”
“Very funny.”
“Now that you mention it, you look a little green.”
“I’m gonna go to bed.”
Declan quickly grabbed the remote, as Alison went up stairs, and changed the channel.
Upstairs Alison tossed and turned in bed. The blood of the dragon was coursing through her veins. It poured into her heart and was pumped through her body burning the old in cleansing fire and growing anew. Cells multiplied and grew, attaching themselves to her organs, metastasizing, spreading, invading. Her skin turned a dark shade of green.
She sat up in bed to the sound of tearing sheets. Her hands and feet were now talons, each with five claws, razor sharp. She stumbled out of bed and arched her back in agony, letting out a guttural growl as the hardened skin of her back split open at her shoulder blades. Folded wings pushed themselves free of the torn flesh and spread out wide and flapped, drying the clear coat of mucous that covered them. Alison’s lower body stretched long and thin, scaling over until the transformation was complete. With a bellowing roar the dragon spread her wings and burst through the bedroom wall out into the night.
The roar made Declan, who had fallen asleep watching sports highlights, leap of his couch. The following sound of smashing glass and splintered wood made him scared the hell out of him and he ran up the stairs to check on his family. The first room he ran into was his daughters and he turned on the light. Declan gasped as he saw a skeleton lying in her bed. It was wrapped tightly in pale thin skin, eyes sunken in, mouth open. Declan walked closer and saw the hardened fat colored ooze that dripped off the side of the bed. He gathered his strength and walked closer still until he saw its face and knew that it was his daughter. He placed his hand on her chest and felt nothing. He shouted her name and got no response. He shook her shoulder, trying to wake her up, and her shoulder let out a dry snap then tore away from her body and fell to the floor.
“Ali! Alison, cal 911!”
Declan ran into his room to get his wife and skidded to a halt as he saw the twelve foot wide hole in the side of his house.”
Declan ran to the opening, scanned the ground below for his wife, and shouted for his wife. He heard a whooshing of air and looked up into the night sky and saw nothing. The full moon bathed the grass and they swayed like tiny, silver stalks in the breeze. Now he heard the beating of leather wings and looked up into the night again. Blocking out the moon was a large winged shape coming toward him. He stepped back into the hallway, keeping his gaze fixed on the creature flying right at him. It hovered in front of the house flapping its giant green wings and snorted.
Declan’s mind, staggering to make sense of the situation, could only muster three simple words, ‘Shit, a dragon!’ He watched as the beast moved its emerald head from side to side, sniffing the air. Thick, long strands of golden, silk hair hung from its nose and chin.
He took a few tentative steps backwards not wanting to alarm the giant beast. The dragon opened and closed its mouth to the tune of steel smacking steel and fixed its stare on Declan. Adrenaline, the last chance drug of the hunted, sped through his body, his pupils widening to meet the soft brown eyes of the dragon. He froze for an instant, a fleeting feeling of recognition hung between them, until the dragon opened its great jaws.
Declan saw the light coming from deep down its throat, a living breathing cloud of blue and yellow ignition, followed by the sucking sound of oxygen being consumed. He turned and ran as a stream of fire poured from the dragon’s throat. It sounded like the roar of a jet engine and Declan could smell the paint burning off the walls as he turned the corner and ran down the stairs, tripping and falling over the last four steps and twisting his ankle with a stomach turning pop.
He got to his feet and heard the piercing cry of his hunter in the front yard. He opened the sliding glass doors in is kitchen and hopped out into his backyard, his ankle starting to swell and throb. He saw the slightly open door of the steel shed and made his way inside and shut the door.
He sat on his Toro push mower and tried to control his breathing. He heard the beating of wings outside and held his breath. His ankle was throbbing to the beat of his heart and a sharp pain felt like a knife twisting in his stomach.
The dragon roared followed by the whooshing sound of another plume of flame. He heard his house crackling as it was devoured by fire. He thought of Merle, lying in bed unable to move as the flames moved in to devour. He thought of thick, black smoke bearing in on her and stopped himself from imagining further. He leaned forward, placing his hands over his face, and silently cried as the dragon roared in its search for him.
‘What had happened?’ he asked himself. His daughter emaciated, found in bed melted away like some wax statue. He heard a thud outside as the dragon landed nearby. What about the dragon? His mind raced but could find no answer. His hands dropped in his lap to the sound of crunching plastic wrapper. The dragon roared and it reverberated inside the steel shed shaking him numb. His mind raced, there was an answer. His daughter wasted away, getting thinner, and the dragon. The dragon with the wings beating, the talons, the teeth, and the soft brown eyes! Alison’s eyes! Could it be?
He reached his hand into the pockets of his yellow and black sweatshirt and pulled out the two fortune cookies. ‘Impossible!’ he thought. His daughter, with her fortune, wished to be thinner and Alison’s said she was the dragon.
He could see a large shadow approaching from under the sheds door. With a pop and a crack he heard his house come crashing down. The dragon pressed its head against the shed and sniffed.
Declan stared at the two fortune cookies in his hand, he had never opened his. The sniffing at the sheds door grew louder and more intense. Thinking there was nothing to loose he tore the cookie form its wrapper and pulled out the fortune. It was to dark to read it!
The dragon bellowed outside and tore through the side of the shed with one of its talons. The light from his smoldering house came in through the opening and he read his fortune; “You are steel, you are power, you are the dragon slayer.”
Declan’s walked out of the shed as his skin hardened, shimmering yellow and silver from the intermingling beams of moonlight with the glare of he roaring flames. He held, in hand, a blade the vibrated with energy. He felt it! He was power! The dragon swiped at his him with its claws and they merely caused sparks as they brushed against his armor. He laughed. He was the dragon slayer. He would slice of the hands of the lizard. He would cut off its head and hold the trophy high and howl into the moonlight. He was the dragon slayer! Now he would go and kill it. Now he would go kill, his wife.
The word “wife” resonated in his mind and was reflected in the eyes of the creature before him. With a huge gust of wind and ash the dragon lifted into the air and circled him from above, getting ready to swoop down for the kill. The sword sung in his hand. He tried to think of another way. There was one fortune cookie left. It sat on the ground before him, crushed inside its wrapper. The dragon, his wife, bellowed in the air above. He dropped his sword and picked up the crushed cookie. He ripped open the wrapper, small, yellow pieces of cookie spilled onto the grass. He held the fortune in his hand. He thought of the possibilities, “It was all a dream”, “This never happened and all will return to normal”. ‘Please’ he begged, ‘give me a wish!’
He unrolled the small scroll and read it as the dragon came swooping down

The firemen would come and put out the blaze. Police and emergency responders would scour the ashes and find no bodies and the reports of a screaming rampaging beast that flew through the air burning the earth would never be reported by the few neighbors that choose to believe there eyes.
What was never found was the paper fortune that fluttered through the breeze, slightly burned and stained of ash that read: “You are celestial dragon and you pull the chariot of the gods.”
What could be seen though, when the moon wasn’t bright enough to blot out the neighboring stars was the faint, far off constellation. The first cluster of stars, twinkled gold, trailed by two groups of blue-white stars dispersed in patterns.
When discovered this new constellation would be called the “Heavenly Dragon.” The stars would be connected to show the golden celestial dragon pulling his chariot and in it, the two maidens of fire and light.