Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Madame Rag and Mister Bone poolside: a Vignette.

Since it has been a while since I've been doing much but working on the novel, here's an unedited excerpt from chapter seven that may, or may not, make it into the final draft. Since it's pretty much in the same state as when I first wrote it, expect errors. It was a fun little scene to bash out. Mister Bone and Madame Rag are such cartoony villains they almost write themselves.   

 Lucy Fur doing a random spot-check on my writing.

Every city, no matter where it is on the globe, has places that, if not abandoned, are at least left deserted for long stretches at a time. Wherever they went, Madame Rag and Mister Bone went out of their way to seek out such places, and if one couldn’t be found, they simply created the vacancies they required.

It wasn’t that the husband and wife team didn’t enjoy the modern perks of hot running water, fine food, and comfy beds, it was simply that things so often seemed to go badly when they brushed shoulders with “the normal folk.” They mixed less well with the public than sea birds did with ruptured oil tankers. The end result in both cases were rows of dead things, be they migratory sandpipers, or uniformed hotel staff.

It was decided years and years ago that to maintain a healthy breeding population of hospitality workers, that they would strictly curtail their contact with the world of the regulars—especially Mister Bone, who admittedly had impulse control issues. Whenever they were called in for a job that required more than an afternoon to complete, they would simply retire to the closest abandoned motel, condemned home, or recently-depopulated flop house to await their orders.

When their employer was Doctor Knox, this arrangement was even more desirable. Being around Knox made both Rag and Bone feel as though they were walking on eggshells, eggshells made of unstable high explosive. This was likewise fine with Knox, to whom the idea of any kind of familiar relationship with “the help,” was unthinkable. 

The evening found Mister Bone and Madame Rag sitting by lantern light on the moldy cushions of decomposing deck furniture at the edge of a long-neglected indoor pool. Emerald moss and black mildew clung to the tiled walls in streaks, and floating in the center of the once-luxurious pool was a large hummock of brown stringy vegetation. The cold air was moist and held the dark stink of decomposing fungus. Both Rag and Bone were silent, it was the tight expectant silence of an impending unpleasant conversation.

In Mister Bone’s time he’d been shot, stabbed, poisoned, drowned, and defenestrated. He’d lived through Cholera, Typhus, and Plague. He’d been set upon by dogs and burned by acid. He’d been buried up to his neck in the desert sand and left for dead. He’d had limbs caught in steam-powered machinery, and been hung by the neck on no less than three separate occasions. Being nearly crushed under a car was something new, and the novelty wasn’t a welcome one.

As he considered this new turn of events he marched a large brown spider across one set of his knuckles then the other. He’d once seen a street magician do the same trick with a coin, but his way was better. 

“Want to know something?” he asked Madame Rag in a dolorous voice, “Being run over really hurts.” As he said it, he rubbed at his shoulder where tire rubber was still visible against his pale skin.
“It was just a small car,” she said tightly, throwing a quick deprecating glance at his shoulder. “I was crushed by an omnibus. Remember that Shillibeer in Westminster? Three times the weight, and three sets of hooves. That car didn’t even crush your rib cage, I had scars for a week.”

Bone gently released the spider on a cracked resin coffee table, and peered down at her curiously. “Healed fine,” he said, fingering open a gap in the buttons of her top. He leered in an expression of happy lust down at her and attempted to squeeze a cucumber-sized finger between the gap in the buttons.

“That’s not the point,” she replied, slapping away his gargantuan hand. “We were caught unprepared and our quarry has gone to ground. Himself will not be happy,” she predicted.

Bone’s expression fell limp as an overcooked noodle at her words. He shrugged and stared at her with a face like a bucket of still water, and with as much comprehension. After a moment, he began looking around the table to relocate his spider. There would be no help from that quarter. No, Bone’s main contribution to any conversation lay in being an immovable wall to echo ideas off of, and not as a fount of sober advice.

Sometimes when Madame Rag was in one of her less charitable moods, as she was now, she imagined that Mister Bone’s brain was like one of those fattened veal calves kept in it’s little plastic igloo, all tender and wobbly from lack of use. It was well that Mister Bone’s brain was not the feature that most attracted her to him.

Madame Rag’s pocket chimed in the digital imitation of an old telephone bell. She didn’t need to see the caller ID. She’d only given the number to one person, and after last October’s shenanigans, the surviving telemarketers had spread the word around that she wasn’t to be disturbed.   

Rag closed her eyes and assumed a smile that revealed so many teeth that if anyone had seen her, they might have been forgiven for thinking that she was the product of an experiment meant to fuse Julia Roberts with a Great White shark.

The smile was the brainchild of an article she’d read in a Scientific American she’d inherrited from the house’s previous owner. The article claimed that the act of smiling itself could improve one’s mood. With all that had gone pear-shaped that afternoon, she felt that she could do with any quantum of positivity she could bring to the impending conversation. She smiled, and her skin stretched tight as a piano wire across a bike path.

She prepared herself, and picked up on the third ring. “Hello, Doctor Knox, and how are we on this fine winter evening?” she asked, face contorted into a rictus of manic joy, her voice the smooth obsequiousness of rancid fat. “Yes, yes, we did in fact catch up with him…” she stood and began to pace in a circle. “Sadly, no. I have to report that I was quite unable to detain him, another party interfered. They proved to be quite the handful of rusty razorblades…” At this last she glared at Mister Bone who was too focused on his spider to notice a thing. “The Webmage, Dimitri Singh… Yes, the very one.” She took her seat again and sat completely rigidly while she listened.

“I’m afraid I have another small morsel of bad news,” she said, her eyes a-twinkle with mandatory cheer. “Our quarry was able to escape with the notebooks that we’d procured earlier…” The phone’s metal casing began to indent and Rag tried to smile even harder. It wasn’t easy, the muscles in her cheeks began to ache and her molars were becoming visible. Her smile was not having the desired effect on the conversation she had hoped it might. There could be a time in the not-too-distant future when the staff of Scientific American received an unexpectedly lively visit to discuss the veracity of what they chose to publish.

Bone finally looked up at her with the slack expression that passed for curiosity before going back to his spider. It appeared to have fewer legs than it had only moments before.

Rag stood so abruptly her chair zoomed and skittered across the tiles behind her before crashing into a wall with an echoing boom and the sound of shattering ceramic. She began to stalk around the stagnant pool. “Might I humbly suggest that taking the mark out for drinks and the cinema may not be playing to our strengths? We do ever so well with a spot of slaughter and mayhem… No, I would, of course, never presume to tell you your business, I simply refer to our past successes…”

The smile on Rag’s face slowly asphyxiated, and slumped over into a snarl. “In three centuries of being in the business, we have never failed to complete a commission. We will complete this one, one has a certain professional reputation to maintain, you see… Yes I know of it… Very well, I’ll ensure they are made aware… I must say that when that news gets out the cat will be among the canaries… Is there anything else?…” Rag’s face suddenly became blank and inexpressive. “All of them? You would like me to wake all of them?… No I was simply making sure I received your instructions correctly… Very well.”

For the first time in the conversation, Rag’s expression began to slowly melt into genuine pleasure. Mister Bone knew that expression, it was the expression that let him know that soon, hopefully very soon, he’d be able to get his hands wet, red, and sticky.

Rag completed her phone conversation and joined him next to the pool. She looked down to the table where the spider’s dismembered body now sat neatly next to a row of twitching legs arranged from largest to smallest. The spider’s abdomen still moved in tiny shifting twitches, as though it could somehow wiggle away.

“Shall we go, my dear Bone? We have a good deal of work to be about.”

“Good work?” Bone asked.

“The very best,” Rag confirmed. “Murder and skulduggery, Mister Bone! Murder and skulduggery.”
Bone nodded solemnly in reply.

Rag paused a moment and carefully picked up the legless spider between a thumb and forefinger to examine it. After a moment of thought, she popped the dainty into her mouth, puckered her lips, and began to gently suck on it. They left the room without a backward glance. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Why the Internet and Media has Made us a Bunch of Mouth-Breathing Dumbasses: A Short Essay.

I'd argue that the Internet is one of the most important human accomplishments ever. It allows us to share ideas, images, music, and art across the globe in an instant. It is a truly amazing construct that has changed the world in an unbelievably short time. Hurray Internet! There, now that's out of the way we can squat down and poke at the dank and cheesy under-crevices of the great electronic leviathan we call the Internet.

First, I need to introduce a universal rule. It goes like this: “People will fuck things up." This is as universal a rule as gravity and entropy.  Here are just a few examples:

A guy named Joseph Wilbrand whips up a batch of yellow dye in his lab in 1863. He just wanted to make sunflowers more sunny. The stuff he made was called Trinitrotoluene, and twenty years after its discovery, people decided they liked to blow stuff up with it better than they liked colouring buttercups. It's better known as TNT, and it's still blowing up people over one hundred and fifty years later.

A young German lad with a passion for astronomy builds amateur rockets so that one day humankind will fly to the stars. Guess what he was tagged in to do? Yup, his name was Wernher von Braun, and he designed the V-1 and v-2 rockets for the Nazis, not to mention the first intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sure, he also built the Saturn rockets, but that was only after the ICBMs payed the bills.

Orville and Wilbur Wright built the first-ever heavier than air flying machines. Wilbur lived long enough to see his invention drop a bomb from 30 000 feet that vaporized two cities. Are we seeing a pattern here? Human invention, no matter how well-intentioned, will be put to uses that would surely cause the original inventor(s) to rage vomit. The inventor of the stick was probably disheartened when 20 minutes later someone decided to jam it between two rocks and make a dick. The point is, no matter how high-minded we are in our creations, once they are out of our hands it's people, good and bad, who will use them for their own agendas. Such is also true of the Internet.

While the Internet has opened up vast new lines of communication, mainly in the porn and cat picture industries, it has also contributed to the dumbing down of a lot of people. Just like TNT, nukes, and bomber planes, it's not the Internet's fault, it's just human nature. We like familiar, we like other people to do our thinking for us, and we surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do. When all of our friends are saying the same thing, it's easier to accept it as truth, even when it bears not the slightest resemblance to reality. We like to believe the things that we want to believe, because if we didn't, we might have to adjust the way we think, and that shit's just scary.

Through social media, the Internet has made it simple for people to group themselves into tribes, and what might have once been the radical fringe have found they can group and recruit much more easily. These are the same kids that crapped in the public swimming pool just to see everyone jump out. The kids who would rather get in a fight than examine their opinions. They are the Gamergaters, the Rabid Puppies, the radical feminists, the screaming MRAs, the toxic SJWs, the people who have become so indoctrinated that they are unable to see any reality but their own.

The amorally savvy among us have realized that people will be much more likely to snuggle up with a comfortable lie rather than an uncomfortable truth, and have exploited the ever-living shit out of it. Faith has become an appropriate surrogate for reason. Just look at the support the anti-vax, the chemtrail, or the creationist crowd have gathered. Not a stitch of real science behind any of these movements, but people eat it up because it feels like something they should believe in. They want to believe that their opinion is just as valid as someone who has spent years of their life studying virology, immunology, or evolution. They want to believe the government is out to get them and has created a chemical that will make everyone homosexual.

To make matters worse we've all been spoon-fed on a diet of news reports that have pit people with good speaking skills against experts who, in a lot of cases, suck at getting their point across in a straightforward way. The one that presents well and sounds good, will win an argument nine times out of ten, not because they know more, but because they sound like a winner. Plus, we all know intellectuals aren't to be trusted.

Just a few weeks ago there was a case in the news where an 18 month-old boy died of meningitis because his parents believed that instead of conventional medicine, he'd be better served by eating a diet of hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish. This doesn't make his parents bad people, it makes them willfully ignorant and fucking criminally negligent people. It makes them people who valued their untested beliefs more highly than the life of their son. It makes them people who were dumb enough to accept the crap they wanted to believe at face value and call it faith.

I'm not saying that all scientists are unbiased paragons looking to better humanity, they aren't. I'm not saying that faith is a bad thing, it isn't. What I am saying, is have a curious mind. Examine your own beliefs and see if there might be other reasonable arguments. Don't be led by the nose by people whose arguments you want to believe, go out and see if the message is actually based on real world facts. It's not easy, and sometimes just finding a source of unbiased facts is impossible, but even if you fail, you'll know more, and be better able to make your own decisions.