Sunday, November 29, 2020

drinkdrankdrunk: "The Ventriloquist's Doll" by Mark Justice

“Well, Stanley, are we ready to go?” Fenton Harcourt asked, checking his appearance in the brightly lit mirror.  He squinted his eyes through thin, wire-rimmed glasses, and looked his egg-shaped face over.  “I feel like I’m getting old, Stanley.”

You look like death,” a small voice muttered.

“What?” Fenton turned quickly, eyes fixed on Stanley, his wooden eyes open and staring blankly.

“Are you ready yet, Mr. Harcourt?” came the voice again.  Oh, from the door, Fenton sighed as the stage manager’s face peered through the opened door. “Everything’s ready for you, Mr. Harcourt,” the stagehand smiled, nodded and shut the door.

“Okay, Stanley, time to get on with the show.  After tonight, we’ll take a nice, long break.  We need a break, don’t we?”

You need to be dead,” a little voice whispered.  Fenton removed his glasses, grabbed at his temples with his thumb and middle finger and rubbed.  Too much work and too little rest, he thought.  Hearing that other voice all of the time was one of the eventual drawbacks of being a ventriloquist.  That other voice.  That other personality.  That other presence.  Always thinking of yourself as two people had its complications, Fenton laughed to himself.  He put his glasses back on, ran a palm over his thinning hair, wiping the perspiration from his balding, pointy head.

“Fenton the Magnificent,” he billed himself.  He liked the way it sounded and thought it reminiscent of vaudeville.  Sometimes, though, when he was in a dour mood, he thought it sounded more like a name you’d see spread across a gawky carnival sideshow tent.  He had thought of using Fenton the Fabulous, but the double F sounded too contrived.  He tried Fenton & Stanley once, but after a promoter paid him with 2 checks, one written out to him, the other to Stanley, he began billing his act as it was now.

He picked Stanley up, cradled him, and walked through the dark hallway toward the soft cold light of the stage.  The room was thick with the smell of smoke, stale and cloying. He sat on the stool that was centered under the spotlights on the stage, a small table next to him, a glass of water on it.

He began the routine as always, a few tired jokes, some impressions.  He played straight man to Stanley’s wisecracking; that seemed to work well.  Audiences loved Stanley--he was sharp, witty, sometimes abrasive.  He seemed to be more so lately.

While he repeated yet again the rehearsed lines of give-and-take dialogue with his wooden counterpart, his mind wandered off to that show last week in Topeka. Right in the middle of the act, Stanley started making comments to a woman who sat in a table near the stage.  At least it seemed like that.  The heavyset woman wore a gaudy dress, complete with an equally garish hat.

Fenton thought he’d break routine by interacting with the members of the audience that night.  “Nice hat,” he started to say, “looks like a kite on your head" but he could have sworn he heard “you’re fat; I want to take a knife and stick it in your head.”

He glanced over at Stanley, felt the worn wooden rod that turned his head pull slightly under his fingers as Stanley’s head moved a little toward him, eyes looking into his.  Ahh, fingers are sweaty, must have slipped.  Fenton saw the woman’s response, said, “Stanley, that’s not a nice thing to say to the fine lady …”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, finishing with an overly big smile and an exaggerated wink and felt relief with laughs began to leak up.  Good, they get that I’m joking … “I’m sorry,” he muttered again.  Now, was it just tiredness, or did he hear “for your husband,” come mumbling from Stanley?  Fenton moved his fingers to pull the string that operated Stanley’s mouth, but it wouldn’t budge.  Was it caught on something?  Did a knot somehow get in the twine?  He fiddled with it for a few seconds, then it released.  Stanley's mouth opened and closed easily, just like normal.

Fenton fanned the cloud of memory from his mind; just one more night, he thought to himself.  Let's just finish tonight.  Mindful that his much-needed vacation was only an hour away, Fenton's mood lightened.  He felt himself move into a space that seemed automatic not in the machine-like sense but in that he didn’t have to work to be funny.  He didn’t worry about remembering lines or finger movements or timing.  He simply was in the moment, and that felt good.  Laughter echoed back to him as Stanley made crack after crack at his expense.  He didn't mind.

He allowed himself another few moments of simply feeling then slowly became aware of something … different.  Confused, he looked at his audience, then at Stanley.  Stanley was shuddering, giggling on his knee.  All by himself.  A small shock of pain pricked Fenton's chest.  A little pop of light flashed in the front of his brain.  He then realized that he, himself, was laughing, too, his leg nervously dancing up and down.

I am ready for a rest, he thought to himself.

He finished his routine with a simple “thank you” and bowed to the audience. Applause was still heavy in the air as he walked off the stage.  "Well, Stanley, we're all done now. Time to go home and rest ..."

"In peace ..." Fenton thought he hear a small voice squeak as he strolled through the dark corridor to his room.

"Good show, Fenton," a husky voice called to him from the doorway.  Fenton turned and smiled at the manager's round face, sweaty skin glistening.

"Thank you."

"Hey, you seen any makeup lying around?  We're missing some, thought you might have ..." the manager paused, "accidentally packed it."

"Certainly not!" Fenton responded, brows furrowed.

"Okay, okay, just have to check.  Here's your money.  Hope to see you again."  The salty sweat smell lingered a few seconds after he left the room.

……….

The drive home was comforting.  The first thing Fenton did when he arrived was open all of the windows to let the cool early Fall air breathe a little fresh life into the staleness that had built up while he was gone.  He put his suitcases on his bed and carried the trunk that held Stanley to Stanley's room.

The room itself was Spartan in d├ęcor--medium grey-blue walls, dark wood trim, a picture of Fenton holding Stanley centered on one wall.  The beauty of the room came from the picture window that illuminated the entire space.  Under the window sat a small rocking chair.  Fenton placed Stanley in the chair and stepped back to look out the window.  He sighed.  "Well, Stanley, now we can rest for a while." Stanley gazed at him with his eyes wide open, mouth in its fixed, rictus grin.

Fenton fell asleep to the crashing and aching of a storm that had swept in.  He started from sleep several times as peels of thunder shook the house. He awoke to a strange sound--a rhythmic chattering.  Was he dreaming?  Was some branch beating against the window?  He felt a draft of cold air drift past him like a ghost. He got out of bed and followed the apparitional breeze.  It was coming from Stanley's room.

He turned the light in Stanley's room on.  Immediately, his hands went to his eyes to block the light's glare--all red and flashing, little pops of light under his eyelids. He squinted a few times, made sure he was seeing what his eyes told him he was. The rocking chair was no longer facing him--it was facing the window.  It rocked back and forth a few times then stopped.  The chattering sound stopped as well.

What is this? Fenton thought to himself.  The window was thrown open, curtains billowing with each gust of wind that came through.  Naked and spindly tree branches whipped the window, tapped against the glass.  "Oh, that's it," Fenton said aloud, the crackle of adrenaline passing from his body; his breathing slowed.

"Come on, Stanley. I'll put you back. Did the wind push you around?" Fenton mumbled as he turned the rocking chair back towards himself.  He patted Stanley on gently on the head.  "Good night, Stanley," he yawned as he stretched, began walking back to his bedroom, rubbing his sleep-filled eyes.

When sleep did come again, it was fitful.  Fenton felt unsure, anxious, and a little fevered.  He dreamed of the tree slapping its thin wet branches against the window.  Tap tap tap.  Click click click.  The noise became louder, more constant, like an annoying mosquito buzzing around your ears while sleeping, one that couldn’t be found and swatted into silence.

"Stanley!"  A shout startled him out of his sleep.  He sat up, head throbbing, disoriented--what time is it?  Where am I?  It was hard to think clearly.  That tapping sound.  It was here again.  Where was it coming from?  The storm had passed, he'd shut the window, so what was it?

His eyes began to adjust to the darkness, but he couldn't see what was making the chattering sound--click click click.  It sounded like it was coming from near the foot of his bed.  The filtered light of the full moon lit the room with a pale, milky haze.  Fenton sat up in his bed, got on to his hands and knees and eased over the edge of the bed.  What he saw made him stop for a second and doubt that he was awake at all.  He looked at his hand, moved his fingers, and rubbed them against one another.  They felt real--didn't feel like a dream.

Sitting on the floor, near the foot of the bed, was Stanley, in his rocking chair, his eyes wide and staring.  His mouth was opening and closing, wooden lips clicking together rapidly, click click click.  Fenton felt an icy wave of nausea roll from his stomach to his head, blurring his vision.  He felt dizzy and wished he could close his eyes and that this would all be a nightmare he could vomit up and get back to sleep.

He watched Stanley's clicking mouth open and close, its eyes staring blankly back at his own.  He wasn't sure how long the wooden teeth clapped flatly against one another.  All of a sudden, the movement stopped.  The chattering mouth was silent. Fenton lay on the cold carpet for a moment then leaned closer.  He got so close that he could smell the faint odor of paint on Stanley's face.  A moment passed. Two.  Fenton wanted to breathe a quick sigh of relief and shake his head as if trying to shake off belief, even chuckle to himself, but he couldn’t.

He glanced at Stanley again.  Stanley glanced back.  Fenton felt the crackles of adrenaline spread over his body, like the pinpricks of a limb waking from sleep. Suddenly, Stanley's body began to convulse in the rocking chair, pulsing and spasming rhythmically as if possessed.  A low raspy sound gurgled its way out of Stanley's head.  The gurgle built slowly to a moan that grew louder and more frantic; the groan became a shriek, started to break into a giggle.  The giggle grew louder and turned into laughter.  Stanley convulsed and laughed.  Fenton's mind began to swim, consciousness wavered, and he thought he might pass out.

Suddenly, the laughter and convulsing stopped.  There was silence in the bedroom, stifling silence.  Fenton stared in horror and realized he had wet himself.  He stared at the doll.  Its eyes moved to stare into his.

"Boo!" came the voice from the doll's mouth.

In an instant, Stanley was upon him.  Its mouth, opened wide, clamped down on Fenton's left cheek.  A jab of pain shot across Fenton's face.  He felt the skin break and a warm gush of wetness run down his face.  He wrapped his hands around Stanley's chest and pushed him away from him.  He looked at Stanley's bloody mouth, touched his wet cheek, and felt a little light-headed.  The doll reached out and grabbed Fenton's nose and squeezed down hard.  Fenton yelled as he felt the little wooden hands twist and pull away.

Stanley held up his thumb, sticking between his first two fingers.  "Got your nose!" it shrieked then punched Fenton in the eye.  Fenton recoiled and put his palm against his eye, winced, and slowly began to crawl backwards.  Stanley began walking slowly towards him.

Fenton continued crawling backwards, crablike, into the hallway.  Stanley continued slowly towards him, waving his arms and shaking his head. “Booga, booga, booga, I’m gonna getchya!” it yelled.

Fenton felt a blow of dull pain at the back of his head and felt his vision narrow and blacken. He’d hit the back of his head on the open bathroom door. His hands felt something cold. He had crawled into the bathroom. He quickly stood up, grabbed the open door’s knob, and pulled it shut behind him. He felt the cold, smooth linoleum on his feet and stood in the darkness.

“This can’t be happening,” Fenton kept repeating to himself.  “Maybe I’m just dreaming.”  He fumbled for the faucet, turned the knob for the cold water, cupped his hands under the flow, filled them, then brought them up to his face.  The cold water was a welcome shock to his skin and made him feel as if he were truly awake now.

“Alright, this is just a dream,” he muttered and felt for the light switch.  He flicked the switch up and winced as the cold light burned his eyes.  He opened them slightly and looked up at the mirror.  He saw his face all scrunched up and clammy looking, his right cheek purpled and glistening red, the blood flowing slowing down the side of his face.  He then noticed the writing.  Smeared on the mirror, in white greasepaint, were the words, “I DON’T LIKE STANLEY!”

"That's right, Fenton old pal, I hate the stupid name you gave me!" Fenton heard Stanley’s voice.  Something popped in his brain that made him feel a little dizzy.  He looked over his right shoulder.  The door was open, and there was Stanley, eyes wide, wooden teeth clacking up and down quickly.

“Hiya, pal,” Stanley said, and in that instant, leapt onto the back of Fenton’s neck, wrapping its fabric arms and cotton-stuffed legs around his face.  It rested his wooden head on Fenton's and dug his chin into the top of it.  "I don't like Stanley!" he screamed.

Stanley shifted his weight and thrust forward, driving Fenton's face into the mirror.  "I don't like Stanley!" it shrieked, smashing Fenton's face into the mirror with each word he spoke:  "I" smash "don't" smash "like" smash "Stanley!" smash. On the last hit, Fenton's head broke the mirror.  He screamed as large pieces of it cracked and fell, small shards of it sticking in his face.

"Aww, did the poor baby get a boo boo?" it mocked.  "Here, let me give you a kiss," it said as it scrambled around his head to his cut face.  "Humpty ..." it began as it thrust its groin on him, then spun around and grinded its rear against Fenton's bloody nose ... "dumpty!" it cackled, then leapt off him and was gone.

Fenton felt suffocated, like he was slowly drowning in syrup--a sickening sweet smell of delirium was light in the air.  He was still hoping to wake from a horrible nightmare and find Stanley sitting quietly in his rocking chair in his room, cold, silent, and wooden.

“Stanley, why?” Fenton asked as he stumbled out of the bathroom, trying to avoid stepping on the broken glass that had fallen on the hallway carpet.

A small voice spoke delicately and evenly. “Oh, I already told you, butterball.  I don’t like ‘Stanley.”  The voice came from the kitchen.  “I hate that stupid name, you moron, you dope, you jackanapes!” it cackled.  There was a loud crash, clanging and clinking, sounds of metal, plastic, and wood being tossed.

“Stanley, why are you doing this?” Fenton heard himself mumble through growing waves of nausea and disbelief.

“Oh, because I love you, Fenton. I love you.”

Fenton came into the kitchen, blood oozing still from his face.  Silverware and wooden stirring spoons were thrown all over the white linoleum floor.  Standing in the middle of the mess was Stanley.  It picked up a wooden spoon and thrust it between his legs from behind.  “I’m sportin’ wood for ya!” it cackled maniacally.

Fenton took a few slow steps backwards and began to turn around.  “Oh, no, no!  Come back, lover!” it screamed.  Fenton felt a hard impact on his back.  “You’re not getting away that easy!  Oh, Fenton, I love feeling your fat sweaty fingers digging into my back every night.  I just wanted to show you what it feels like to have a little of me inside you!” it said as it jabbed repeatedly the handle of the wooden spoon into Fenton’s back.  Each thrust brought spasms of pain wracked Fenton’s body and dropped him to his knees.

“How do you like it?” it wailed.  “Don’t you love it?  I love it!” 

Stanley leapt onto Fenton’s crumbling, shaking, body, standing on his shoulders. “I’m a little teapot, short and stout …” it began, reaching around and jabbing Fenton’s head from behind, each punch grinding the pieces of broken mirror further into Fenton’s bloody cheeks.  “Here is my handle …” it whispered as it scrambled around onto Fenton’s face and thrust its crotch into his mouth, “… and here is my spout!”  It laughed and head-butted Fenton then ran off.  Fenton heard footsteps then the bathroom door slam.

Fenton sat for a moment and began to sob.  He slowly got to his feet, went to the bathroom, and tried the door.  It was locked.

“Who is it?” came a tiny, lilting voice from behind the door.

“Stanley, stop this!  This can’t be happening; you can’t really be alive …” Fenton thought how both stupid and insane these words sounded as he spoke them.

“Oh, indeed I am--now you wait your turn; I’m getting ready for you, Fenton, so hold your horses!”  Fenton slumped down and began to weep softly, despair and fragility taking his body over.  Fenton felt as if his sanity was beginning to fracture, small cracks and pops like light bulbs breaking in his brain.

A few minutes passed.  Fenton heard the doorknob turn slowly.  “Fenton,” it called to him in a singsong way, “I’m ready for you.”

Fenton stood up and watched the door open.  Stanley stood there, his face all white with fat blue smears over his eyes, a sloppy red smile smeared over his mouth.  He was a grotesque clown, standing there, holding a shard of broken mirror in his right hand.

“Yes, Fenton, I stole the makeup; but it’s okay, ’cause I was just clownin’!” Fenton’s eyes grew huge.  Shocked, he quickly stood up and began slowly backing away.

“Why don’t you want to clown around?” it muttered menacingly.  “Don’t you wanna clown around?” it asked loudly.  “Don’t you want to clown around, Fenton?” it screamed as it took slow and deliberate steps toward him.

Fenton continued backing, shaking his head.  He felt like he was falling through a tunnel with only a little light at the end.  He felt the blackness surround and smother him.  The little light at the end of the tunnel grew larger, but all that could be seen was Stanley’s hideous clown face, teeth chattering at him, arms swiping at him with a piece of broken mirror.

“I’m tired of playing, Fenton.  Daddy’s home, and he’s had a hard day.”  It continued walking, slowly.  “Do you want some, Fenton?”

Fenton was woozy.  He stumbled back into the kitchen.  The floor was cold and slick under his bare feet.  Pain shot through the sole of his foot.  He pulled his leg up quickly and saw the end of a serving fork sticking out of his foot.  He felt little wooden hands push him from behind, and he began to fall.  On the way down, he felt a wrecking blow to his temple as his head smacked the side of the countertop. He landed on the cold tile and lay on his back, his vision blurred, his thoughts fuzzy and random.

“Aww, Fenton, you’re all forked up now!” Fenton felt its small feet walk up his body.  It sat down on his chest.  “Oh, Fenton, you’ll like this, being the cut-up that you are,” it cackled.  Fenton felt an icy slash of pain across his forehead as the mirror shard sliced into his flesh.  All Fenton heard was giddy laughter.

“Don’t cry over spilt blood” it laughed as it brought the shard down again and again, cutting and slicing, crisscrossing the skin, splattering bright and sticky blood all over the white linoleum.  Fenton barely felt the pain any more.  He felt himself drifting away, falling into a fog that billowed around his consciousness.

“Oh, Fenton, you’re as pretty as a picture--you’re such a doll,” it cooed and sank the shard into his throat.  The last thing Fenton heard was his own breath, gurgling and hissing …

………

The dummy’s head was bigger than normal, but the ventriloquist didn’t mind.  He tried its mouth, made it open and close, and rolled its eyes.  “Oh, you’re so messy …” it said, holding the head lovingly in his lap, his right hand working inside its still warm and wet interior.  Now, for a name, it thought.

“I know … I’ll call you Stanley!” it cackled.

Mark Justice is the author of several books.  His latest is Toxic, a nonfiction work. I am pleased to run on his work on drinkdrankdrunk!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Alternative Incite Reviews Edna's Employment Agency!

  

My old ULA comrade Joe Smith is doing a new zine called Alternative Incite.  He's up to #2, and I have enjoyed both issues so far.  In #2, he reviews my latest novel, Edna's Employment Agency.  Given that reviews for independently-published novels are hard to find these days--hey, even reviews for mainstream corporate literature are somewhat hard to find these days, so you can imagine what trying to get a DIY novel reviews is like--that is greatly appreciated.  I would have been happy even with a bad review (hey, at least someone read it!), but fortunately Joe liked it.  He wrote:

"Do you know what the world needs?  More people like Wred Fright.  Talk about someone who follows the creative impulse, I think Wred has given his free reign over his life.  Wred is the author of four novels--Blog Love Omega Glee, Frequently Asked Questions [A]bout Being Dead, The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus, and Edna's Employment Agency.  He also has a blog, which he posts to on a regular basis, and he always seems to have other writing or zine-related irons in the fire (see the listing for The Slush Pile below to see what I mean).  In short, Wred is a DIY-publishing dynamo who deserves some of your time and attention.

Should you decide to do that, I recommend you start with Edna's Employment Agency.  I was told (and not necessarily by Wred) that the book is "laugh-out-loud funny" and, because I'm a bitter, cynical fuck, I didn't believe it.  I should never have doubted him.  Wred had me laughing out loud by page 3.

I must confess, I haven't gotten all the way through the book, so I can't give it a thorough review at this time.  (Sorry, Wred).  To that end, I'll borrow the following text from the book's introduction to give you some idea of what you're in for:  'If you like television shows such as The Office and Parks And Recreation, then you likely will enjoy this novel of workplace humor.'

For the record, I did not like those shows (or I didn't watch them), but that didn't stop me from enjoying the pages I did read.  Regardless of your thoughts on The Office and Parks [A]nd Recreation, I think you'll like it too, assuming you like to laugh and you don't mind some foul-mouthed dialog.  Check this book out.  You'll be glad you did."

Thanks, Joe!  

In addition to possessing good taste in novels, ahem!, Alternative Incite also hipped me to some other good stuff in the reviews.  I already ordered a zine that sounded interesting, one which I hadn't heard about before.  It's good to see that there are zines still out there worth reading, and Alternative Incite is one of them!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

"Hatebomb" Video!

 
I had fun making this video.  I kept to the song storyline of two retail store managers who take their rivalry too far and acted out scenes from the lyrics mainly, though I threw in some musical clips as well in the middle.  It's appropriate that this month contains Black Friday as I can easily imagine this song being set in some November as each store tries to outdo the other.  

For more silly fun, please read my latest novel:  Edna's Employment Agency!

Monday, November 9, 2020

New Recording!: "Hatebomb"

This song is a fun early one. The Escaped Fetal Pigs played it, and then I brought it back for Team Fright. It's based on my old K-Mart store manager going on spying expeditions at the nearby Fisher's Big Wheel store. The song imagines two retail store managers taking their rivalry into warfare. Thankfully, such carnage remains in the imaginary realm, but my old store manager sure would get fired up. He took his job seriously. The low stakes corporate espionage used to make me chuckle though. Old Big Wheel finally went out of business, but my old K-Mart didn't celebrate for too, too long before WalMart killed them off. Maybe today WalMart and Target store managers engage in these sorts of hijinks. For the new recording, I enjoyed adding some chanty background vocals while letting the drums just go crazy and the guitar carry the song forward. This was a lot of fun to revisit.

Read my latest novel for more workplace humor!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

What To Do With Old Zines?

 

I once amassed 32 boxes or more of comic books by seldom getting rid of one.  Fortunately, before I had to move them and probably get a hernia in the process, I decided to shed them and over the years whittled the collection down to 1 box.  Eventually, even that 1 box will finally go.  

With zines, I never quite let things accumulate to that level.  Over the years, I've gotten rid of most of the zines I've read soon after reading them.  I've given them away to friends, traded them with other zinesters, left them at coffeehouses and record stores, and often given them away to libraries, both academic and anarchist.  Some of the libraries were great (Bowling Green State University's Popular Culture Library who seems to still have my donations) while others were not (Kent State University's Special Collections who seemed to lose the zines immediately after I donated them).  Regardless, I still had a big box of zines that I had saved.  After one last backbreaking move, I decided it was time to shed them as well.  As much as I would like to find them a good home by donation, I didn't want to risk the crapshoot anymore as libraries go under (the anarchist ones) or change policies (the academic ones), nor did I want to pay a bunch of money in postage shipping the donation, so I decided to try selling them before I did the easiest thing and just threw them in the recycling bin.

To my surprise, the zines sold.  There must be some serious zine collectors out there, which is cool because the zines do feature some good reading.  And, once someone has paid money, he or she tends to value the possession more.  However, strange a psychological quirk that is, it does seem to exist for many people.  Currently, I have up a couple of Stephen Perkins's publications, which are about zines and are from the early 1990s.  I imagine this stuff is fairly rare.  The box is empty now, though I am still rereading my way through a stack of Zine Worlds.  I've been rereading the zines as I shed them, which has been quite fun.  This led to the ULA anthology project I did earlier this year (those zines should see the auction block in 2025 after enough time has passed from the anthology that it is clear I do not need them any more).  

On a related note, I was happy to see that Zine World founder Doug Holland has resurfaced, though his resurfacing has a sad cause (the death of his wife).  Maybe now, we'll finally see the long-awaited Pathetic Life anthology.

The Zine Worlds are dense reading, so I don't expect them to be sold until next year at the earliest.  They are rather rare, so I expect they will sell.  Of course, rarity does not always equate to valuation.  No one else may care.  In which case, there is always the recycling bin.  But that would make me a bit sad.

I might have gathered some more zines by then or more might have turned up that I stashed somewhere in some other boxes with other stuff, in which case they will be headed out the door one way or another as well.  Eventually, I imagine the only zines left in the house will be file copies of my own zines.

But if I move again, I might want to shed them also.

One thing I won't shed is my latest novel!