Madness of Crowds (A Poem for the Pandemic).

Mortality
on the empty shelves
Of ransacked
Convenience stores.
Vitality in the blood
Of our denied veins.

Fear
in the products we buy
Thinking life can be purchased;
Suffocated in the same
Plastic wrap we use
to cauterize our minds.

Greed
Throbs in cellulite hands
Sagging into the coveted.
Monsters who believe
They are victims.
Taking more than their due.

Ignorance
Is the real pandemic.
Humankind has been
Sick with it
From the dawn of time.
And getting sicker still.

Infinity
Is the folly of the species
That worships whatever
They are told.
Precaution is wise, yes,
But mindlessness leaves us cold.

Compassion
is for the brothers and sisters
You have never known,
Yet observe scurrying to and fro,
From aisle to aisle, warding off
The inevitable.

Solitude
Is the beacon of hope.
That the quarantined fearful may
Pick up a book and gain insight, or
Turn off Netflix to be with themselves
For one, single, solitary moment.

AMERICAN MONSTERS, 2020 (How Frankenstein, Wolf-Man, Dracula, & Gill-Man Make An Assassination Attempt on President TRUMP!): A Short Story by Tylor James.

Greetings, fellow readers! The following tale was initially going to be published in my debut short story collection in 2020. However, I realized there were two characters in this story still owned by Universal Studios (Gill-Man & Larry Talbot), and therefore I risked the possibility of a lawsuit for publishing it. AMERICAN MONSTERS 2020 is a fun story, one which made me laugh quite a lot while writing it. It’s also a contemporary political piece, and of course, free for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

 

AMERICAN MONSTERS, 2020

by Tylor James

 

Frankenstein’s Monster walked into Chaney’s Grocery Store at the corner of Whale Street. Fifteen minutes later, he walked out with a paper bag under his arm. His large boots thudded on the pavement.

He leaned against a parking meter and drew out a fresh pack of Camels from the bag. He lit a cigarette, drawing smoke deep into his lungs. The cigarette was good.

People came and went beneath the street lamps. The sky was black, no stars. He began his walk home. People on the street gawked up at him. Some of them screamed. Others ran away.

People were always this way; full of fear and idiocy. So it was since the day Dr. Victor Frankenstein galvanized him into the world. It was tough at the beginning. Real tough. In those days, he didn’t even have a name. “The Monster!” the village idiots called him. But now his name was Frank. He’d immigrated to the USA, obtained a social security card, and had gotten used to the world. Mostly.

He had his cigarettes, beer, and a house where he paid rent. He had a woman, short and stout, who was unafraid of him and provided pleasure once a week (usually Sunday afternoons). He had a day job too, working at a factory downtown, assembling electric motors at break-neck speed. He liked all of it, except for the job. The manager was a grouchy old hag.

“Better speed it up, Frank!” she’d screech. “You’re down a dozen from yesterday.”

“Meehhhhhhrrrggggg!!” he’d say.

“Don’t give me that or you can forget about a pay increase!”

“Mrrrg . . .” he’d say.

What he wouldn’t give to strangle her! His thoughts turned to more pleasant things — to Veronica, his weekly visitor. Frank felt it stiffen in his pants; what Veronica referred to as his frankenfurter.

He stubbed out the cigarette on his front stoop and went inside to make a ham sandwich. Then he plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV, groaning at the sight of President Donald Trump giving a speech.

He hated Trump for his stupidity, arrogance and bad policy decisions. He hadn’t voted for him in the 2016 election, nor would he in 2020. Impeachment was a possibility, though unlikely. Frank turned the station, stuffing the sandwich into his mouth.

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein played on the oldies channel. One of his favorites. He leaned back, chasing the sandwich with a bottle of Budweiser. He belched. Scratched his balls. Picked at his ear canals. Then his nose.

After three beers, he passed out on the couch, dead to the world. As he should be.

Frank awoke to a great crash of thunder and lightning. Rain and hail pattered upon the roof of his house. The sensitive bolts on either side of his neck ached like an old man’s bones. He looked out the window at the rain, the street lamps and the empty streets and thought about the old days. It made him wistful.

He grabbed another beer from the fridge and sat, elbows on the window sill. He stayed that way until morning. The rain and thunder faded. The sun arose, lighting up the horizon with pinks and golds and reds.

***

Frank looked at his face in the bathroom mirror cabinet. He turned his head left to right, noting his pale green complexion, the dark bags under his eyes, the silver staples in his forehead rusted with time, and, of course, the bolts on his neck.

I’m one sharp lookin’ dude, he thought. He ambled into the kitchen wearing his Universal Monsters bathrobe and had a cup of coffee. Then he got dressed in his usual black attire and thudded out of the house.

Klinker’s Korner was a dirty little pub on Main Street. He met Lawrence Talbot there, old friend and district attorney for Wisconsin. Talbot smiled as Frank walked in the door, stooping his head so he wouldn’t smack it on the frame (a practice which took many years to master).

They shook hands. Lawrence had a kind face with deep, sad eyes.

“How’s it hangin’, Frank?” Lawrence smiled.

“Not bad, Wolfie. How’s things?”

“Better than ever,” he replied, sipping a Bloody Mary.

“You don’t say?”

“I met a woman,” he nodded. “A really fine, beautiful person.”

“You dog!” Frank grinned. “Good for you, Lawrence. Really.”

“Thanks, Frank.”

“What’s her name?”

“Karen.”

“Nice. So, have you told her yet?” asked Frank.

Lawrence gave him a blank stare.

“Told?” he asked. “About what?”

“Oh, come on. You know! That every night of the full moon you transform into a hairy beast?”

“Oh! That!” Lawrence laughed. “Yeah, I told her. She’s okay with it. More than okay, in fact.”

Really?” Frank asked.

“She says it turns her on. She’s got the full moon circled on her calendar, even. She can’t wait for me to turn.”

“What a girl!” Frank exclaimed, shaking his head.

The hunchback bartender came around. His name was Igor.

“What’ll it be Frank?” asked Igor.

“Pint of the Spotted Cow, please.”

“You got it, Master.”

Igor brought him the tall glass of beer. Frank sipped at the foam, grateful.

“How’s your Dad these days, Frank?” asked Igor, wiping down the bar with a towel.

“Been dead a few years now,” he said. “I killed him.”

The hunchback stopped wiping down the bar. He stood there, staring at his reflection upon the shiny countertop. Then he shrugged.

“Can’t say I blame you,” Igor replied. “Your father was a real asshole to work for, you know.”

“I know,” nodded Frank. “He was an asshole to work for and to have a father for.”

“I can believe that,” Igor said. “Holler if you need anything.”

“Will do.” Frank took another sip of beer. Igor went to the opposite end of the bar, flirting with the ladies down there. The ladies weren’t interested. Their pretty faces shriveled with disgust.

Lawrence and Frank stared up at the big flat screen mounted upon the wall above the bar. Trump was making another speech, this one about immigration. Trump wanted Mexico to pay for a wall.

Lawrence and Frank shook their heads.

“What an idiot,” said Lawrence.

“I know,” groaned Frank. “Don’t you just wish someone would just off that guy?”

“Oh, sometimes I do,” he replied. “Though I dunno if it’d make much difference. ‘New boss same as the old boss’. You know. That old hat.”

“Sure,” said Frank. “The majority of our reps are screwy, the VP not excluded. Get rid of one self-serving screwball and he’s replaced by another. But still . . . this guy . . . Trump. He’s the screwiest commander-in-chief this country has ever seen! And man, we’ve had some screwballs in our time, haven’t we?”

“Sure have,” Lawrence chuckled. “Remember Nixon?”

Frank gagged.

“How about Reagan?” he continued. “Clinton? Bush?”

Frank shook his head sadly. “As bad as all those guys are,” said Frank, “their idiocy pales in comparison to this guy. I mean, look at him.”

Lawrence looked. They both did. The President’s yellow hair bounced in the wind. His mouth was wide, opening and closing like a stupid fish.

Frank spit his beer out on the bar.

“The hell did you do that for?” asked Lawrence.

“I’ve just got an idea!” Frank replied, wiping his lips.

Igor came over with a towel, frowning, wiping up the mess.

“Hear me out, Wolfie. What if we got the gang back together?”

Lawrence raised an eyebrow. “You mean, get Drac?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “You, me, Drac, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, everyone.”

“What about the Invisible Man?”

“No.” Frank shook his head. “We’d never find him.”

“Good point,” said Lawrence. “All right. So we get the gang back together. To do what? Reminisce? Play cards? Get smashing drunk? All the above?”

“That sounds good, but no. We get the gang back together and we take a trip to Washington D.C. We get ourselves into the White House. Then we find that bigoted, liver-spotted, yellow-haired, science-denying, corporate-shill-fat-boy-plutocrat TRUMP and then . . . ”

Lawrence was at the edge of his seat now, his eyes wide.

“And then? What, Frank? What do we do?”

“We kill him!”

“Yes! You’re a genius!” said Lawrence. “Why have I never thought of this?”

“Because I’ve got the brain,” said Frank, tapping the side of his head. His head sounded as if he were knocking on a tortoise shell.

“OK,” said Lawrence. “I’ll go home tonight and make some calls. See if I can get everybody in.”

“Great. Give me a call. Let me know what you come up with.” Frank guzzled the rest of his beer and slammed a three bucks down on the counter. Igor nodded his head thanks. Lawrence stared down at the bar, frowning.

“What’s the matter, Wolfie?” Frank asked.

“Well,” he said. “If we’re going to assassinate Trump, we’ll have to do it on the night of the full moon. When I’ve changed. I can’t do much as I am now . . . I have small hands. I’m weak. But the wolf inside . . . that part of me is strong.”

“Of course,” Frank replied. “We’ll do it on the full moon. When is that? A week? No big deal.”

“But that means Karen and I won’t . . . uhm, you know. She’s really looking forward to that night, as I’ve told you.”

“Just tell her what we plan to do,” Frank replied. “If she’s reasonable, she’ll understand your absence. Trump has got go, man. America has made a terrible mistake. And this country just might just be stupid enough to elect this buffoon for a second term! We can’t let that happen. America voted for him, sure, but that doesn’t mean it deserves him.”

Lawrence’s eyes welled with tears. “You’re right, Frank. He’s got to go. Next week. On the full moon. I’ll call up the others.”

Frank nodded. “Talk to you later, Wolfie. Take care.”

“Yeah, you too, old pal.”

***

One Week Later – On the Night of the Full Moon

The gang took a bus to D.C. They rode in at dark. There was hardly any other choice. Dracula had a curfew. He had to be back home inside his coffin of earth in Transylvania before daybreak. People on the bus stared at the four of them sitting quietly in their seats.

In one seat sat Frank (he chose the window seat) and Dracula (his long black cape strayed into the bus isle, tripping people up). In the seat behind them, sat Lawrence (with only a few hours before the full moon) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (he’d been out of the lagoon for too long already. His gills were tired and sore.)

The Mummy stayed back home in Egypt; he was apolitical. Nobody bothered trying to locate the Invisible Man.

The four of them had been partying it up and were pretty drunk. Frank kept a silver flask of whiskey under his jacket. He handed it to Creature for a swig and when he’d gotten it back it was nearly empty. The Creature, as it turned out, drank like a fish.

“Damn, Creech,” said Frank. “Save some for me next time, will ya?”

He hung his head in shame, opened his mouth, gurgled.

“Apology accepted,” Frank replied.

Lawrence began to sweat. Thick, coarse hair on his palms and cheeks began to sprout.

“We better get to the White House soon,” said Lawrence, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. “I don’t have much time.”

“We’ll be there,” said Frank. “I’ve got it all planned.”

“My dear Monster,” said Dracula, his accent thick. “Are you positive this despot is resting where you say is? Or has he gone to another country perhaps, out of some vain posture of diplomacy? Have you considered, perhaps, he may be staying at his friend Kim Jong Ill’s house tonight?”

“Relax, Drac,” Frank replied. “I checked his Twitter feed. He’s staying in tonight. Trust me.”

“I trust you, Frank,” he smiled, canines peeking from under his upper lip. “I’ll be flying away long before the sun comes up, of course.”

“Of course.”

It was an agreement. They had one night. One night to assassinate the President of the United States. Then Wolf-Man would transform into Lawrence Talbot again, Dracula would fly home, Creature would swim home, and Frank? Well. As long as he wasn’t caught and locked away for trying to assassinate the P.O.T.U.S . . . . He’d be returning to his modest house in Wisconsin, drinking beer and eating ham sandwiches.

The Creature sat nearest the isle. He enjoyed pinching the bottoms of damsels walking by. Oddly enough, all of the women he pinched featured striking similarities to Julie Adams.

They reached their destination. Frank, Dracula, Lawrence, and Creech got off the bus. The night air felt cool on their skin. The streets were busy. Dogs howled in the distance. Lawrence’s ears twitched.

Dracula was jubilant. “Ahh, Children of the Night!” he exclaimed. “What music they make!

Lawrence scoffed.

“This a ‘way!” said Frank, holding out his cell. The GPS guided them through the busy streets. People turned their heads, laughing at them. They thought the four of them were just people, dressed up in Halloween costumes.

The pale moon rose steadily into the sky. Bones cracked and shifted beneath Lawrence’s sport jacket. He moaned.

“There, there, Lawrence,” said Dracula. “It’ll all be over soon.”

Lawrence nodded, frowning.

Then, there it was: The Commander-in-Chief’s historic, white mansion. It sported tall windows and white pillars, a lush, green lawn, well-trimmed hedges, a water fountain and a long black fence out front. The US flag flapped in the wind upon a pole.

“What a splendid, accommodating abode,” Dracula said. His dark eyes wandered along the street, then settled on Frank.

“So,” he said. “What is the plan, Frank?”

“Well,” Frank replied, scuffing his black boots on the sidewalk. He’d been the one to insist everyone gather together. Now, here they were. What next?

***

A bat fluttered against the president’s window, its wings tapping against the glass. Donald stirred in his bed. Tap, tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap. Donald groaned, tossed back the covers, rubbed his eyes and squinted at the window shrouded in moonlight. An eerie howl sounded from a great distance. He shivered. There was nothing at the window. He pulled the covers over his bulk and went back to sleep.

The bat’s wings resumed tapping against the glass. An aggravated Donald threw his feet upon the floor and thudded over to the window. He looked out onto the lawn and the trees and the garden lights below and saw nothing, heard nothing. He gritted his teeth, now eyeing the walls around him. “God damn rats in this place! That’s what’s making this racket! How dare there be god damn rats in here! I’m the President of the United States, for Chrissakes!”

Another howl outside; a long, dreadful sound. Donald looked left, then right through the window, then opened it wide and leaned out.

WHACK! The bat’s fangs launched into Donald’s cheek. He screamed and cried and hammered at the bat, inadvertently battering his own face. He reeled backward, collapsing upon the hardwood floor. The bat bit mercilessly at his forehead, cheeks, chin, nose, even his tongue.

SECURITY!!!!

The doors of the presidential suite burst open. Two secret service men rushed in. The bat flew out the room, down the hall. Donald whimpered and stuttered in the arms of the secret service, his face a bloody prune.

“My God, Mr. President! What’s happened?”

“B-b-b-bat!” Donald replied, his shoulders hitching with sobs. “A drone bat! It was CHINA! I know it! CHINA sent in a drone to ASSASSINATE ME!”

One of the agents used his walkie-talkie to alert the night guards and other members of staff, putting the White House on lock down. “This is Code Red,” he said. “I repeat: Code Red!”

***

The great, black bat attacked the men guarding the White House entrance door, swooping and diving and biting them into hysterics. With this distraction at hand, Frank and the Creature climbed over the black fence, ran across the lawn, up the red carpeted steps and into the White House.

The guards tumbled down the porch steps onto the lawn, their faces bitten into unrecognizable, blood pieces. The bat suddenly burst into a cloud of fog. Dracula appeared and entered the mansion, locking the front door behind him. He joined Frank and the Creature at the staircase.

Staff and secret service men reeled in terror as the three of them walked up the stairs. Some collapsed in shock. Dracula, Frank, and Creature walked up to the second floor. The agonized howls outside grew louder.

Dracula stopped in front of the president’s wife’s room.

“No, Drac,” said Frank. “The presidential suite is this a ‘way.”

“I’m aware of that, my dear Monster,” Dracula replied. “But it is many miles from D.C. to my homeland Transylvania. I’d like to take a bride for the long flight home.”

“I like your thinking, Drac. Creature and I will be in the president’s suite . . . ahem . . . impeaching the president.”

Creature nodded, the gills on either side of his face opening and closing enthusiastically. Dracula knocked on the door of Melania Trump’s bedroom.

“Come in!” said the voice on the other side. Dracula entered, holding his black cape over the lower half of his face. His dark eyes beamed with mystery, romance and evil.

Frank and the Creature entered the presidential suite, just down the hall. Donald sat at the end of his bed, the breeze from the open window chilling the room. His head rested on the shoulder of one of the secret service agents. He was sobbing. Snot dangled out of his nostrils in long strands.

“There, there,” said one of the agents. “We’ll help you get China for this, Mr. President. And we’ll even get Mexico to pay for it. We promise.”

Donald nodded pathetically, sniffling. He held a tiny mirror up to his face and asked, “How’s my hair look, boys? The news will want to cover this within the hour.”

“Your hair looks great, Mr. President,” said one.

“Yet, it looks very full,” replied the other.

“Ahem,” Frank interjected, switching on the light.

The secret service agents stood up, drawing their guns. “Move one step and we’ll shoot!”

Frank laughed. The Creature gurgled. The President screamed like a girl. The Wolf-Man leaped through the open window, launching at the agents.

Wolfy tore and bit at the men’s necks. They screamed until their tracheas were ripped out. Donald cried, bumbling toward the door. Frank grabbed hold of the President’s pudgy neck, lifting him up off the ground. Creature’s webbed feet jumped up and down with joy.

Wolfy occupied himself by running out into the hall, shredding remaining staff members to a bloody pulp. People outside the room screamed. Pistol shots rang out. None did Wolfie any damage. The bullets weren’t silver.

Trump’s eyes rolled back into his head. His face turned beat red, then corpse blue, then moon white. His tongue lolled out one side of his mouth. His throat made low, croaking noises. His legs ceased their kicking and his arms hung limp. Frank released Trump from his iron grasp. The body thudded violently onto the floor.

“We’ve done well, Creech!” said Frank. “Now, let’s go find Drac and see how he’s progressing with his new bride.”

They exited the presidential suite, its floors drenched in blood and tracheas. They opened the door to Melania’s room. Drac’s butt bobbed up and down between a pair of long, quivering legs. Melania groaned. The Creature cocked his head, gills expanding.

“Hey, put that thing away, Creech!” said Frank. “We’ve got business to tend to. We’ll let Drac and Melania to tend to theirs.”

The Creature bowed his head. He wanted to stay and watch. They closed Melania’s door and ambled down the stairs. Upon each step; a severed arm here, a severed leg there, some intestines, a decapitated head, a spleen, and a plethora of other dispatched anatomies.

The Wolf-Man stood by the front door, licking his bloodied paws. “You did a fine job, Wolfy!” said Frank. Creature clapped his webbed hands, gurgling praises.

Wolfy raised his head and howled. It was a howl of triumph and glory. The Revolution had begun.

***

TWO WEEKS LATER

Frank sat with his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office. On the phone was Lawrence Talbot, his new VP.

“So you think free health care is really the way to go Lawrence? Uh-huh. Great. We’ll hold the meeting in my office tomorrow morning. We’ll draw up a plan, then send it to Congress. Okay. Thanks, Lawrence. See you tomorrow.”

He hung up. Good old Wolfy. His ideas and advice were inestimable to Frank as the new president of the United States.

Sure, he hadn’t been officially elected. He’d just sort of taken over. Nonetheless, Frank had become popular in a short amount of time. The media loved him. So did the majority of the country, according to opinion polls. Even a few conservative congressmen approved; a fact which surprised Frank the most.

It had all worked out okay, really. The Creature had been gifted a villa on his Black Lagoon, accompanied by a babe who looked identical to Julie Andrews. She catered to his every whim (and was paid for it of course, on Frank’s dime). Dracula had returned to Transylvania with his vampire bride, Melania. Everyone was happy. What else could he ask for?

A knock at the door.

“Come in!”

A secret service agent entered. His cheeks were hairy. Canines protruded from beneath his lips. “Mr. President,” he said. “I’d like to take the night off to be with the wife. It’s a full moon tonight, Sir.”

Frank nodded. “Say no more, Paul. I’ll be fine. Go make your woman happy.”

“Thank you, Mr. President! Thank you!”

He left in a hurry, howling down the hallway. Frank smiled, knowing he would always treat his staff with the utmost courtesy and respect.

He leaned back in the luxurious, leather chair and dreamed of the future. It was destined to be a future where political monsters were extinguished and, at last, the poor and working class had a real voice. It was a chance to create the America they deserved; an America of great education, universal health care, a conversion from coal, gas, and oil to sustainable energy sources, taxation of the rich, and an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

President Frankenstein was going to work his hardest to make America truly great again.

 

THE END

 

 

 

© All Rights Reserved. Tylor James. 2020

Another Night with the Muse (poem)

The muse sits in the corner

of my room; eyes like

vacant saucers.

I sit at my writing desk,

grasping for an image, a concept,

a sentence. Anything.

Nothing comes.

My mind is like this room,

empty, with an occasional draft.

 

“It’s up to you,” says the Muse,

heckling me from the corner.

“Oh, really?” I ask. “Because,

I’m sitting here at my writing desk

and you’re sitting there

and I’m looking at a blank page

and you’re gazing into the creative abyss

and nothing is happening.

So, who’s fault is this, dear muse?”

 

She smiles.

Like how one does at a foolish child.

She smiles.

 

Back to the blank page.

Oh, Christ.

Back to the blank page.

 

The muse taps my shoudler

I look up at her.

She says, still smiling,

“I can’t guarantee you

magic everyday. Don’t you

think it’s a bit presumptuous

to think I can, or

will?”

 

Then she all but vaporizes into

thin air,

except for that knowing smile.

It lingers in the middle of the room,

suspended. Teeth and lips sway

like a cobweb in the breeze.

Soon it is gone, too.

 

I get back to work.

With the muse out of my hair,

I can finally write this poem.

Dear Muse, I thought We Had A Date Tonight (Poem)

Dear muse,

I thought we had a date tonight?

I’ve been waiting a long time.

I ordered dinner and drink and

had too much of both.

Now I am overfed and undernourished.

Without you.

 

Dear muse,

I thought we had a date tonight?

I’ve been sitting at my desk

with my pen and notebook and

you’ve not dropped me a single

line, nor image, nor concept.

What gives?

 

Dear muse,

I thought we had a date tonight?

I am drowsy, weak without your light.

Life is a black ball clogging my soul.

My sighs are rancid dissappointments.

Dear muse, I have done my job.

Why have you not done yours?

 

Dear muse,

I thought we had a date tonight?

Now I’ve got a bad, bad headache,

I’m itchy & my clothes don’t fit right.

The earth turns senseless. After all,

what purpose in life if not to create?

Dear muse, I thought we had a date tonight.

“Familiarity Breeds Indifference” – Reflections on The Values of Wonder, Awe, Mystery & Curiosity.

“Familiarity breeds indifference.”

Our rigid perception of the world becomes so familar that we sadly become indifferent to the world. Hence why the wonder, awe, and curiosity a child regularly experiences is inevitably lost, rubbed away by time. The young mind, as if given to atomic decay, erodes to a half-life of indifference.

This “half-life of indifference” is what one calls “adulthood”. Not only is the loss of these vital senses (awe, wonder, curiosity) quite sad, it’s also unnecessary, as well as potentially negative for one’s health. How do we regain these positive senses to form an open-minded perspective in regards to our lives?

I argue we can do this by way of recognizing and contemplating what remains unfamiliar, or unknown. We must train our brains to “spot the strange” and bathe in its mystery.

One example of the unfamiliar is the mystery of consciousness. As you read this sentence, an organ consisting of over a billion neuron cells is currently encased by the 23-inch circumference of your cranium. It’s this very organ which allows you to read, to write, to think, to do anything or even be anything at all.

Scientists have yet to understand the vast inner-workings and complexity of neural bio-chemistry. In fact, one can safely say that the human brain is the most complex organ so far discovered in the universe. And how, exactly, does it produce this phenomena called “consciousness”?

There are many theories about consciousness. Some are scientific. Some not so much. Yet the subject remains intrinsically fascinating, and if one ruminates on consciousness long enough, one will inevitably re-discover their capacity for awe and wonder.

There is also the fact that cosmologists have calculated we can account for only 4% of the universe. The rest is . . . Mystery. The unknown. We human beings are incredibly fortunate to find ourselves equpped with the particular level of consciousness copasetic to the contemplation of these mysteries.

As a species who has been intelligent enough to invent language, mathematics, scientific methodology, religion and philosophy, we can contemplate stars, black holes, multiple-dimensions in space-time, gravity, quantum physics, quasars, dark matter, dark energy, and the plethora of other cosmological qualities which make up the fabric of our reality.

However, the contemplation of such gargantuan things isn’t necessary to invoke feelings of awe and wonder.

For example, one may contemplate the simple act of digesting food and realize that the bio-chemical phenemena occuring winin one’s stomach is incredibly fascinating and complex. Imagine this: You’re chowing down on a pepperoni pizza and at the same time, completely in awe about the microbes , molecules, stomach acids and various cells inter-interacting within the universe inside your belly.

Mystery is a gift to all who remain open-minded and receptive. Mystery is a gift to those who have not let familiarity breed indifference. Mystery, and the corresponding value of curiosity, I believe, must not be underestimated in its potential for providing a fullfilling life.

Indeed, curiosity has encouraged the lives and careers of countless human beings over many thousands of years. A curious mindset is what fuels scientists, artists and mystics alike. Yes, indeed. Mystery is a gift.

I’d also like to bring to your attention the phenomena commonly referred to as “altered states of consciousness”. An altered state of consciousness (one which is unfamiliar to our default mode of perception) can be brought about by use of drugs, the practice of meditation, and a long parade of countless other techniques of varying qualities.

What’s significant about altered states is the fact that the familiar can completely dissolve into the unfamiliar. Under the influence of LSD, DMT, or psilocybin mushrooms, feelings of euphoric joy, reverence for life, wonder, awe, and curiosity are not uncommon to users.

These novel feelings come about simply due to the incredible unfamilarity of the hallucinogenic experience. Synesthesia, for example, is commonly experienced under the influence of these drugs. Walls writhe and undulate, colors and textures of objects are increased with added vibrancy and significance, and one’s own internal senses seem magnified. All of this is a result of consuming a relatively simple looking molecule, or even a plant.

While such an experience may sound strange, it is only because we are unfamiliar to it. Had we been born with a psychedelic perception of the world, and grown up with it, perhaps we would not find it so wonderous and mystifying. Why?

Because familiarity breeds indifference.

That is why we must embrace mystery, revel within the unknown, and retain an open-mind and heart, despite the inevitable tide of familiarity and mediocrity pushing against us.

We must remember that we are finite beings within an infinite universe, and that one path to a sense of happiness and fullfillment within life, is the contemplation and pursuit of vast, mysterious, strange, and unfamiliar things.

All of this, so that we do not become indifferent. So that we don’t do ourselves the tragic injustice of cutting ourselves off from the truly wondrous life we are living.

 

Fear & Illusion (An Analogy For Understanding Common Fears)

Upon awakening from a nightmare one morning, I hazily realized I’d discovered a possible analogy for thinking about the nature of fear within the human mind.

There exists a nearly endless amount of phobias which people experience on a daily basis. Among some of the most prevalent fears are: the fear of death, flying, heights, snakes, insects and spiders, drowning, needles, enclosed spaces and strangers (xenophobia).

And let us not forget social fears, too. For many, social fears can conglomerate into neurotic social anxieties. People (including myself, sometimes) often worry about what other people are thinking of them. Such unnecessary anxiety, especially prolonged, can result in a shortened life-span.

I believe it’s beneficial to remember that nearly all fears are unnecessary, if not outright harmful to our long-term health.

Fear is built into our genes. It is an emotional trait which evolved perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, functioning as an essential tool for survival. To this day, whenever a possible threat to our safety arises, we experience fear, and thus are motivated to enact a fight-or-flight response in regards to the threat.

But much of our fears today are worse than worthless — they shorten our life span with needless stress, and arguably puts the survival of our entire species into question. After all, wars of mass destruction are waged due to underlying emotions of fear. Entire populations have been destroyed due to fear; lives taken, land stolen, kingdoms and countries usurped. The history of fear is older than the history of man, stretching all the way back to our proto-human ancestors.

Based upon the nightmare I had, here is an analogy for understanding the nature of fear inside the human mind:

Imagine a haunted house attraction. You go inside the house and discover an assortment of threatening figures. There are ghosts, demons, witches, axe murderers, and men with chainsaws around every dark corner.

It is easy to see why a haunted house attraction can be a frightening experience. Yet, if we understand that the supernatual and/or murderous subjects of the house are merely paid actors, elaborately crafted plastic dummies, or holographic illusions, then we will understand that the fear we are experiencing is superficial. Thus, we become less afraid with the knowedge there is no real threat or danger at all.

The fears we commonly endure throughout our everyday lives are of the same illusory quality as the false demons in the haunted house attraction. Therefore, if we realize our fears are only frightening if believe in them, then we can choose not to believe in them. This way, we take away their power and their hold on us.

Things are scary only if one believes them to be scary.

Let’s say you have social anxiety. You’re afraid of what your neighbor is thinking about you. You’ve noticed that he has been giving you “dirty looks” on a regular basis.

The underlying fear in this scenario is of not being accepted for who you are. Not being accepted, or loved, can be frightening. It’s often a fear rooted deep within one’s early childhood.

Yet if we examine your fear of what another human being is thinking about you, you’ll recognize there is no need for it, and the fear is baseless. What your neighbor thinks about you is none of your business. What you think about you is your business.

Now, it’s true that fears of all sorts requre far more than a mere intellectual rationalization in order to be overcome. It also requires emotional acceptance and recognition, and a willingness to be open to new perspectives and change.

Fears are rooted within intense emotion, thus must be understood at that emotional level, as well as on the intellectual plain of understanding.

I certainly don’t underestimate the value of sitting with one’s fears and accepting them for what they are, as opposed to resisting them. By accepting one’s fears, we are acknowledging the problem, which is always the first step to changing anything.

We must acknowledge our fears and not deride or beat ourselves up for having them. We must understand that we share the same or similar fears with many other people on this planet, and that fear is a natural aspect of being human.

Fear is just as natural, just as normal, as the sun dawning in the east.

When grappling with fears, we can begin by accepting them. We can also intellectually recognize they are merely illusory demons of the haunted house attraction inside our minds.

The clinking of chains and the groaning of the undead is ourselveswe clink the chains, and we groan like undead.

Yet what we are, objectively, are merely human beings — an ever fallible prey to our ancient emotions, with deeply rooted needs to feel safe and loved.

***

In addition, I would very much like to hear from fellow readers, writers, and bloggers as to their opinions on the vast subject of fear. This short essay is only one man’s opinion. Perhaps I am wrong, and have mistaken the nature of fear? Or underestimated it in some way?

Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

 

READING in 2020 (Books I Read in 2019 — Books I want to Read in the New Year).

Greetings to my fellow writers and readers.

I was impeccably fortunate to have read so many fascinating and entertaining books this year! I read an eclectic selection of hard-boiled pulp, horror fiction, the cross sections of science and spirituality, existential philosophy, and fantasy.

Some of the authors of these books have even responded to my fan mails (I have no shame in geeking about this fact)!

Having a bunch of extra time on my hands this year has especially enabled me to diversify my reading.

I’m wondering what books my friends have read this year? What books do you desire to read in 2020?

In my humble opinion, books are the among one of the best reasons to live. I also find that I value my public library card far more than even my driver’s license.

reading

Here, in chronological order, is the listing of every book I read to completion in 2019, two of which I was lucky enough to get published in!

1) Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski

2) Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

3) The Outside by Colin Wilson

4) Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Stephen Mitchell translation)

5) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

6) Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King

7) Strange Weaterh by Joe Hill

8) Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit by Krista Tippett

9) God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

10) Freedom From the Known by Krishnamurti

11) No Death, No Fear by Thch Nhat Hanh

12) Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe IDispenze

13) Mother Teresa In Theory & Practice: The Missionary Position by Christopher Hitchens

14) Secret Windows: Essays & Fiction On the Craft of Writing by Stephen King

15) Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

16) The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

17) I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

18) Houses of the Unholy by JG Faherty

19) On Writing Horror: A Handbook by The Horror Writers Association

20) How to Write Pulp Fiction by James Scott Bell

21) Emerging American Horror Writers: Midwest Region (in which my story “Welcome Home” was published)

22) Hell House by Richard Matheson

23) The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

24) The Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

25) Offspring by Jack Ketchum

26) Red by Jack Ketchum

27) The Courage to Create by Rollo May

28) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

29) Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

30) A Thousand Names for Joy by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell

31) The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

32) The Essential Harlan Ellison: A Retrospective

33) Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

34) High Cotton: Stories by Joe R. Lansdale

35) Pulp by Charles Bukowski

36) Living Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

37) Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King

38) Existentialism Is A Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

39) Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fictions & Illusions by Neil Gaiman

40) Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

41) Stardust by Neil Gaiman

42) Ghost Story by Peter Straub

43) The Lottery & Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

44) Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton

45) Ghosts: A Haunted History by Lisa Morton

46) Turn of the Screw by Henry James

47) Catch & Release by Lawrence Block

48) Shearing Time by Sara De Luca

49) Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters & Hot Rod Horror

50) Five Novellas by Jeff Strand

51) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Other Stories by Washington Irving

52) The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

53) The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield

54) The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

55) The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Moral values by Sam Harris

56) Bag of Bones by Stephen King

57) Thinner by Richard Bachman

58) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

59) On Writing by Charles Bukowski

60) Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

61) Locke & Key Vol. I by Joe Hill

62) The Death That Walk (edited by Stephen Jones)

63) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

64) Accursed: A Horror Anthology (in which my story, “The Typewriter” was published)

65) Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development.

 

Now, as for books I’d like to read in 2020 . . . Well, the list is possibly infinite!

But, I suppose I’d like to read some more classics. Perhaps Dickens, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky.

As for particular titles, I’d like to read The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud, Moby Dick by Herman Mellville, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Questions & 20 Attempts to Answer by Sarah Bakewell.

And oh yes, my friend Jack Ontario will be releasing his debut book of poetry this upcoming January! A fine volume of poetry entitled, “Sunburst Woman”.

How about you, fellow friends and bloggers? What might you be reading? And what books have you read in 2019?

 

The Writing Life: Publications, Rejections, Submissions, & Unsolicited Writing Advice!

Welcome to The Writing Life! This column is dedicated to the art and craft of writing.

My name is Tylor James. I’m a writer of dark fiction. My intention with The Writing Life is to inform and entertain — all the while allowing readers and aspiring writers a peak into my creative life.

First, the good news. ACCURSED: A Horror Anthology features my first paid publication, The Typewriter. This excellent volume of short stories about cursed items (everything from typewriters, to Christmas ornaments, to tattoo ink!) was published in paperback and ebook earlier this December.

I’ve been published in previous anthology books before, yet never paid for my work — until now. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited when the book arrived in the mail. Take a look at the wonderful cover artwork done by Eloise J. Knapp:

Accursed

Working with editor Jonathan Lambert was a great experience. He was very courteous to me and helped fashion The Typewriter into the very best story it could be. For that, I’m thankful. I recommend fellow writers of horror to submit their work to Jolly Horror Press for their future anthology releases, so long as they think they’ve whipped up a good tale.

Honestly, ACCURSED is a great collection of stories, all of them written by a talented writers. Therefore, I highly recommend fans of the genre to check it out!

One other positive news item: My fifty word story BLUE CHRISTMAS, was accepted and published by Fifty Word Stories, an ezine. Although Fifty Word Stories does not pay for stories, they do have a drawing for “best story” at the end of every month, which can win a writer $10. For those interested in reading my flash-fiction piece: Click Here.

I GOT THEM REJECTION BLUES

And now, it is time to mention some of my most recent rejections!

For writers, rejection is a constant game of, “Oh? Rejected again? Well, TAKE THIS!” and the writer submits his work to yet another publisher for consideration. It’s like Newton’s third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Wolfpak Publishing and 18thWall Productions reject my creature-feature horror novel, They Dwell Beneath. This novel is currently be considered by eight other presses, and I’m hoping to hear a ‘yes’ back from any one of them.

Aggregate and Tell-Tale Press rejects by short story, The Ultimate Torture of Charles Nevermore. This is a futurist tale about a literary outlaw and a subversive, underground movement of readers and writers.

TDotSpec rejects my shot story, The Eyes of the Lake — and yet provided very helpful advice in regards to re-crafting the story.

The Dark rejects my short zombie story, No Way Out.

Monster Porn Podcast rejects by short story, Bad Brains — and yet editors Bret and Matt were impeccably kind, lending advice regarding the betterment of the story.

Have you had work rejected lately? If so, just remember it’s only part of the business. Keep submitting, and keep writing. 

In Other News

This is the last column of The Writing Life for 2019. Looking back on some of the things I wrote in January and February of this year, I notice how far I’ve come in my ability to craft effective prose.

A lot of things I’ve written this year, in fact most of what I’ve written, has not been good enough to publish. But, I’ve also written plenty of damn good stories too.

So, for the record, here’s the tally for 2019:

I’ve written approximately 265,000 words.

I’ve never written so much in my life as I have this year.

And yet, when comparing it to some of the early 30’s and 40’s pulp fiction writers, it isn’t all that impressive. Those guys (Erle Stanley Gardner, for example) had an output of nearly a million words per year!

It’s hard to believe those writers were even human. In fact, I have my suspicions . . .

Yet, I am proud of the work I’ve done this year. I’ve come a long way as a writer, and have a long way to go still. I suspect there will never come a time in my life when I have finished learning how to write serviceable prose.

Writing is an art with a depth that is truly infinite.

Of the 265, 000 words I’ve written, I’ve created one short novel (They Dwell Beneath) and forty-five short stories. Plus several blog posts, The Writing Life Column, dozens of poems, songs, and essays. Not a bad year at all!

And thank you, fellow readers and writers, for putting up with my bragging.

UNSOLICITED WRITING ADVICE

This is advice about the craft of writing. Advice you never asked for, and which perhaps could hinder or outright destroy your aspirations as a writer. Without further ado, and as non-glamorous as this week’s advice is, behold:

Keep writing! 

When a story is looking ugly, don’t stop writing. Either finish it, or start a new story, poem, essay, whatever it is. But do not get up and walk away from your art. Sit down and write. Even if it is just one page.

You had an intention to write. Now it is not going as well as planned. That’s okay. All the same, you must continue to write. That is how we improve our work.

Practice.

Thank you to fellow readers and writers for their interest in The Writing Life. I hope you’ve found this column to be serviceable and entertaining. A very happy new year to you! May it be filled with love and art.

your friend,

Tylor James.