Unreal Serial: Wicked Web’s End

Charred rubble of a city destroyed.

Unreal Serial: a new series of short stories in serial form.

Wicked Web: Conclusion

The government’s anti-spider blitz was an unmitigated disaster. The army drenched the nation in untested toxins that inflamed asthmatic reactions, catalyzed aggressive cancers, and induced painful blisters on anyone caught in the lethal downpour.

Millions died that first month, and the months that followed brought even more death and disaster: without spiders to eat them, hordes of mosquitoes spread vile diseases, while crickets, cicadas and grasshoppers devoured crops across the land, leading to widespread hunger. 

The supply chain broke down almost immediately. Banks ran out of money. People starved. People killed themselves. People killed others. The president fled. The government collapsed and society entropized and chaos spread globally as the toxins rode the jet streams, dispersing pandemonium like a net of death. Now, when people took Cob, the Web of Life shivered in pain; the souls in the dew drops cried out in agony.

Astute as always, Dan saw the disaster coming a mile away and drove his new truck from the city back to where the end began: the cabin overlooking the evergreen valley. Isaac was supposed to follow after, but Dan never heard from him again. Dan would never know Isaac got stuck in an elevator during a blackout. He would never know he fell to his death trying to escape.

Dan asked Jennie to come, too. Begged her, actually – gave her that ring and everything, but she headed west. “I need to be with my family,” she said, like Dan was some disposable diversion. 

Now Dan was at home, alone, standing on his cabin porch as fires chewed through the evergreen valley below. “Marauders,” he said to no one. 

Silently Dan wondered if he was safe. He wondered if he deserved to be safe. Wondered if anyone would ever know the role he played in this tragedy. Would he ever be taken to task for what he set in motion? Would justice man-made or supernatural charge him for living large while causing so much carnage. Would history mar him for all eternity?

Dan’s questions remained unanswered. As he stood there brooding on his porch, the president’s plane was flying overhead – straight into a swarm of locusts. Blinded, the pilot pulled the controls upward before overcorrecting and sending the aircraft careening right into Dan. 

Dan was vaporized immediately. No one ever knew he was there. 

As for the spiders — they were never really gone. “Operation: Untie Oppression” killed billions of the creatures, yes, but billions more followed their instincts and burrowed into cracks, crevices, and crannies – huddling and hiding and surviving on grubs to avoid annihilation, just as their ancestors did during the dinosaurs’ extinction. 

Once the dust settled and almost all humans were dead or dying, the spiders crawled from the wreckage and rebuilt their homes atop the rubble of our own. And there, among the eight-legged remainders, was the little spider. He’d been under Dan’s cabin the entire time. 

The little spider now emerged from below the mangle of the log cabin and metallic plane, climbed up the porch’s charred yet still-standing door frame, and spun his web. 

As he worked and weaved that night, the spider thought of all the bugs he’d devour in the hours ahead, of all the bugs he’d been denied since that fateful evening his and Dan’s paths crossed. 

The little spider’s patience paid off: the ash-laden breeze delivered a plethora of insects to him that night. That night, the little spider ate until he was full. He ate more than he imagined possible.

🕷

Unreal Serial: Wicked Web 4 and 5

A hippy-looking group dancing in a circle.

Unreal Serial: a new series of short stories in serial form.

Wicked Web: Part 4

Dan and Isaac spent the rest of the day harvesting spiderweb, and the rest of the afternoon testing it. They learned in the process the web’s origin didn’t matter. Whether from a leaky factory or an arid workshop, the results were the same. “Always a great trip,” Isaac said as they smeared web on cigarettes Isaac got cheap from a dubious source. By sunrise they were ready for business.

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Ghosts of You and Me in ‘Ghosts of America’

Jackie Kennedy in shadows while watching the 1960 presidential debate.
Credit: Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Shutterstock.

Spooky stories and barren winter go hand-in-hand. Humans of the 8th century passed the long, dark nights with the saga of Beowulf’s monster hunting. Trauma and tragedy run rampant in Shakespeare’s 1611 work A Winter’s Tale. Centuries later, the Victorians fused yules and ghouls via Christmas yarns like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Christmas-themed “The Body Snatcher,” Sir Walter Scott’s “The Tapestried Chamber” and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  

Keep the tradition alive this winter by immersing yourself in a narrative more timeless than any Christmas story, and more chilling: Caroline Hagood’s Ghosts of America: A Great American Novel (Hanging Loose Press).*

The central hauntee here – the Scrooge – is Herzog, a middle-aged, misogynistic author famous for his “biographical novels” of even more famous women. His first big hit was about Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol. Now he’s turned his pen toward Jackie Kennedy – and it’s not going well. Probably because Herzog’s too obsessed with his aging, drunken body, his faltering inspiration, and his incessant peeping on a young woman across the alley. 

Herzog knows he’s objectifying this woman – just as he knows he objectifies the women he writes about. It’s all wrong and he’s disgusting – and yet he persists. He’s both aware of and ashamed of his flaws but only because that shame lets him maintain his flaws with less guilt.

He’s such a major pig that when a fortune teller warns his life will be visited by spirits who look like beautiful women, Herzog says, “I think I salivated a little hearing that one.” He soon changes his tune.

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Unreal Serial: Wicked Web 3

Blurry orbs of blue and pink light against a night sky.
Image via Carine06

Unreal Serial: a new series of short stories in serial form.

Wicked Web: 3/6

Dan woke right where he’d been: on the mountainside cabin’s porch above the evergreen valley. His half-smoked cigarette lay at his feet. In the sky, as if for the first time, stars twinkled. When the crisp breeze blew, Dan felt his cheeks wet with tears. It had only been ten minutes.

Dan was astute enough to know the spider’s web caused his hallucination; and he was experienced enough to appreciate there was no comedown or hangover. He actually felt better than before smoking the web – a lot better. He didn’t even feel those beers. He felt cleansed. Whole. He knew he’d metamorphosed – and now he had to spread the word.

🕷

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Unreal Serial: Wicked Web 2

Unreal Serial: a new series of short stories in serial form.

Wicked Web, Part 2/6:

Dan felt a fizz at his temples after smoking the web-glazed cigarette. It was slight at first – an almost imperceptible simmer under the surface of his skin on either side of his head. Then the sensations grew – fizzes became buzzes; buzzes became vibrations.

Those vibrations spread across Dan’s brow, drawing closer and closer to one another, nearer and nearer until they converged right between Dan’s eyes, two coalescing into one. 

FLASH! 

A fist-sized bulb of blue light erupted from Dan’s forehead into the sky – an incandescent sapphire hovering amidst pitch-black. Dan felt his face for an exit wound, but there was none. No gaping hole, no shattered skull or blood. Just his skin and a few zits.

The glowing blue bulb began rotating above the valley, and with each revolution it pulsated bright and brighter, spun faster and faster, gaining so much speed that it’s rounded edges blurred and broke, unfurling prismatic threads from the bulb’s center into the air.

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On Bald Women of the ’90s

I recently wrote about the preponderance of bald women in 90s pop culture for the website Neon Splatter. Here’s a brief blurb:

“The unisex and gender-neutral styles circa the ’90s…squashed gender into a singularity – a futuristic monogender made for an efficient tomorrow. It was an attempt at hurdling over gendered codes and modes by disregarding them. The consensus there could be read as: ‘We’re all basic in the future.'”

Head on over to Neon Splatter to check out the rest.

“Go Woke, Go Broke” and the Right’s Antipathy To Empathy

Conservatives have a long history of couching their cruel policies in bubbly branding. It was the right’s self-proclaimed “Moral Majority” that launched the war on drugs, ostracized AIDS patients, and demonized black women. It was “compassionate conservatism” that slashed food assistance, fought women’s rights, and banned same-sex marriage. (Actually, both did all of that and more.)

Branding aside, in all cases conservatives led by the GOP claimed they were enacting policies for the greater good, often leaving out “this will hurt you more than it will hurt me.” But those days are over. Today the right makes no secret of their exclusionary, ignorant ways. Now they loudly, proudly proclaim, “go woke, go broke,” a rhyme scheme that reveals the depths of their disdain for their fellow humans. They have no empathy and brag about it.

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Microfiction: “The Light Endures”

Siobhan plodded barefoot across the dark cabin’s earthen floor.

Last night’s embers still blushed amid the stove ash. Siobhan placed dried hay atop the amber mounds and blew until the bundle ignited. Liam would expect breakfast when he returned.

Siobhan sighed as she mixed the biscuits. This isn’t what she envisioned when Liam implored her to America: a sod-walled, grease paper-windowed, one-room shanty plopped on a frayed Nebraska plain.

She hurried outside to watch for him. The night sky was dissolving into a blotted, bruise-like dawn but one solitary, tenacious star still lingered, burning bright.

Siobhan made a wish.

(Image by Carol Highsmith.)

A ‘Medium’ Experiment

Just a heads up: I’m currently transitioning In Case You’re Interested over to Medium.

It will have the same historic and political slant as this version of the site, plus the addition of interviews, more comic book coverage, and potentially some short fiction. We’ll see. We’ll also see how long this move to Medium lasts – could be brief or could be forever. Only time will tell!

That said, please visit my new page over at Medium. I’m still moving content over and hope to have it all together by the end of the week. Again, we’ll see.

Thank you for your support so far!

Times Square at Night, 1908-2018

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I avoided Times Square when I lived in New York. Most of the city’s residents do – the Square’s too crowded; it’s too loud and bright and far too commercial. That was my general opinion for years, and still is, more or less. But right now I’m missing it.

I didn’t come to appreciate that garish tangle of streets until last year. I returned to the city for a work trip and was put up at a hotel on 46th street and 8th avenue, not far from an AA meeting I enjoy and a few doors down from the Scientology HQ, which I didn’t even know existed. Mel Brooks was performing two buildings further east, closer to 7th avenue and the runoff of Times Square proper.

It was the perfect summer night for a stroll. The Square was as white hot bright as ever; it was chaotic and cacophonous. A replica Back to the Future DeLorean drove by and life-sized cartoon characters jostled for change as a light drizzle fell. It was past 11, but despite the hour and weather, people were still everywhere, strolling, hustling, and gawking – thousands upon thousands of the reasons I once bypassed the so-called Crossroad of the World at all costs.

Today those crossroads are quiet as the Big Apple continues battling the pandemic. As my own lockdown continues I find myself wishing I could be back in the time before, right there in Times Square’s throbbing center – and I’m sure other people do, too, even New Yorkers.

Until we can be there, here are 23 images of Times Square at night, all taken between 1908 and 2018. A lot happened in those 110 years – two world wars, a Great Depression, some recessions, HIV, 9/11, the Great Recession, a super storm, and a whole lot of other shit – and Times Square stood strong: a tinsel testament to humankind’s tenacity and audacity; a glittering epicenter for all people. It will be so again, and will be for decades to come, come hell or high water, for better and for worse. And I look forward to being in the thick of it.

Scrollable version of the slideshow below.

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