Tag Archives: Photoshop

The Monster Mashup: Classic Monsters Gone Wrong

Just in time for Halloween, comes four flash fiction stories about classic monsters in compromising positions. Each one is dark, fiendish, and a bit more risqué than my usual fare, but those aren’t the only things they have in common…

Drewcula has been caught red handed
Drewcula has been caught red handed

Dracula Gets a Checkup

Dracula worked the thermometer between his canines. When he took it out it read seventy-degrees. The mirror over the sink hung open, reflecting an indentation where the vampire was sitting. He slammed it shut.

Maybe one of those bright young things from last night was into holistic skincare. He or she could’ve covered a zit in garlic. It could’ve run down his or her neck. Maybe he or she played a little too rough, threw out a tendon and rubbed garlic on to keep the inflammation down. Maybe it was still on his or her breath when he or she swapped tongues. That’s the trouble with masked affairs, you never know what you’re going to get.

Lying on the exam table, Dracula replayed the masquerade in his head. He did an inventory of everyone he’d touched and everyone who’d touched him. He counted bodies on his fingers. The longer he waited the heavier his eyes got. When he woke up the walls were covered in plastic.

A doctor stood over him in a hazmat suit. “Mr. Alucard?”

Dracula sat up.

The doctor flipped through a chart. “It’s not food poisoning.”

Dracula sighed. His bright red eyes traced the borders of the hermetic bubble. “What’s all this then?”

The doctor ran his glove down a long list. “When the blood work came back, you tested positive for a couple of things.”

Dracula examined his hand. “It’s not silver poisoning is it?”

All those buckles and gags from last night, he’d just assumed they were stainless steel.

The doctor consulted his chart. “Argyria? No, but you did test positive for diphtheria, malaria, measles, polio, and typhoid fever, but it was the smallpox that got you on the CDC’s radar.”

Dracula stroked his chin.

“Mr. Alucard, have you visited any virology labs recently?”

Dracula shrugged. “Not that I can recall.”

The doctor’s mask did little to conceal his skeptical squint. “Think on it. There’s two places you could’ve contracted it. Maybe you can remember if the guards spoke English or Russian?”

Dracula twiddled his talons. “I haven’t been to the motherland in a long time.”

The doctor nodded. “Okay, that narrows it down. Do you recall wandering into any subterranean layers sometime this week?”

Dracula clicked his nails together. “The bondage dungeon might have been underground.”

“Might have?”

“I was blindfolded, escorted by a choke chain through a field of glass, nails, and razor wire.” Dracula shook his head. “All and all, it was a pretty tepid affair.”

The doctor nodded matter-of-factly. “Do you think you might have come into contact with any bodily fluids at this gathering?”

Dracula chuckled. “Might have? I was swimming in them.”

The doctor tapped his fingers to the muzzle of his mask. “Now this is important, do you think any blood might have gotten into your mouth?”

Dracula looked to his feet. They dangled over the exam table. “Well, I do partake from time to time.”

The doctor dropped his chart. “How long have you been drinking blood?”

Dracula tilted his head back and forth. “Since, maybe say, the rise of the Ottomans.”

The doctor threw his hands up, walked to the border of the bubble, and turned on his heel. “Mr. Alucard, you might not want to give me a straight answer, but the CDC will want to know all about your bondage and bloodletting gathering. If you can’t tell me where it was, can you at least tell me the name of the group who was running it?”

Dracula was already shaking his head when the answer came to him. He snapped his fingers. “The Aristocrats.”

Franken Drew doesn't like what his bolts are picking up
Franken Drew doesn’t like what his bolts are picking up

Frankenstein’s Monster inquires about his Donors 

Victor watched the monster gaze beyond the balcony. The creature seemed less interested in the village below than the stars above. “Father, where did I come from?”

Victor joined his creation. He swirled a large glass of wine. “I thought that was self-explanatory. You were stitched together from dead bodies.”

The monster squeezed his forearm, feeling for the place where the threading linked it to his bicep. “Yes, but where did these pieces come from?”

Victor gurgled the wine in his mouth, before gulping it down. “Well son, there once was a family of traveling performers…”

***

The parents were escape artists and magicians, while the children specialized in gymnastics and juggling.

They wandered from town to town, chasing traveling circuses. Every time they caught up with one they performed for the management and every time they were left in the dust behind the caravan. Until one day the father came up with an act so stupendous he knew the next traveling show would have to hire them.

Back then, I was not the surgeon I am today. I’d spent my residency giving first aid to carnies: treating animal bites, scorched throats, and unspeakable sexual maladies. I happened to be in the management’s office when the traveling family came.

The father was a born hustler, promising fear, intrigue, and titillation while his wife, son and daughter stood with frozen smiles behind him. Management tapped his pocket watch. That’s when the father reached into his sack and pulled out a pair of axes. We examined the blades while his family brought out axes of their own.

At first they simply passed their axes back and forth, like hot potatoes, but then they started heaving them, working themselves up to a fluid motion. Soon the entire family was juggling.

When the first blade slipped it claimed the young man’s arm. Fluid shot out of the wound in angry bursts. The boy bit his lip without making a sound. His father instructed him to use the pain. The lad powered through until he collapsed. We figured it was part of the act, because the others kept their axes in play without so much as batting an eye at their fallen family member.

It wasn’t long before an ax chopped off the daughter’s leg. Now she must have been a tightrope walker in an earlier incarnation of their show, because she hobbled along on one foot without missing a beat. Her fresh stump sprayed blood into management’s spectacles. He worked the droplets in his fingers, tasting them.

I’d suspected blood tubes and prosthetic limbs, but when the stench of rotten meat hit, I doubted my hypothesis.

When the young woman collapsed her parents kept her remaining blade in play. They now had six between them. The few seconds where they kept those axes flying were truly amazing, but it wasn’t long before the father had lopped off his wife’s head and her ax flew straight into his sternum.

Management sat petrified, realizing he’d witnessed something authentic and not some macabre magician’s trick.

My horror was overtaken by my desire. Here I’d been paying grave robbers for fresh corpses when four of them were delivered to my doorstep. The family might not have been the best performers, but they were generous donors.

I was already wrapping up the bodies when the father reached out and grabbed my ankle. Blood gushed over his lips as he drew his last breath.

I don’t know why, but I had to ask him, “What were you planning on calling this grizzly act?”

He smiled faintly and opened his arms wide. “The Aristocrats.” Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

***

The monster peeled back his sleeve to examine his skin He spotted the scars where the axes left their impressions. “Father, I don’t like this story very much.”

Victor nodded into his wine. “You know son, I don’t like you very much.”

The Wolf Drew smells something funky
The Wolf Drew smells something funky

The Hunting of the Wolfman

The Wolfman ran through the forest. His pursuers were hot on his heels, breaking twigs, hooting, and hollering. What they lacked in strategy they made up for in numbers. He’d never backed away from a fight before, but there were so many of them in the clearing.

Spotting silhouettes in the moonlight the Wolfman had taken them for a heard of deer. Charging headlong he watched as they stood on their hindquarters. Spinning around he realized he was surrounded by bipedal beasts much like himself.

Their human frames had paws, claws, and big furry ears, but they weren’t werewolves. They were werelions, weretigers and werebears.

A pair of ears rose from the underbrush, followed by whiskers, and big buck teeth. It looked like a giant rabbit feeding on a fox. It was clear, the food chain didn’t apply here.

The Wolfman felt a breeze on his neck. He turned to find a weregiraffe looming over him. He fled before the creature’s hooves could come crashing down.

The Wolfman sprinted downhill. When he heard the sound of rushing water, he thought he was in the clear. There was secret path across the river. Soon the rapids would be between him and his pursuers.

The Wolfman searched the riverbank for a bridge of rocks beneath the water. That’s when a werezebra tackled him. The zebra held him down as a werepig undid his belt.

All of his pursuers rushed out of the woodwork, but rather than snap at his jugular, they feasted on the sight of him. The werezebra bent the Wolfman over as the werepig pulled down his pants. The crowd gasped.

The Wolfman felt his tail wagging in the breeze, a nervous reaction to the situation.

The creatures bickered.

“How is he doing that?”

“Maybe it’s animatronic.”

“Do you recognize that costume?”

“Are you sure this guy’s a furry?”

“If he is, he’s not a member.”

“He’s got to be, we rented every camp ground from the highway to the river.”

The Wolfman snarled. Slobber oozed from his fangs. The werezebra let go.

The Wolfman spun around and bit the pig’s snout clean off. He thought he’d taste blood marinating the raw pork he’d bitten into, instead he tasted cotton. He spat it out when he spotted a wire frame sticking out.

Scanning the other monsters the Wolfman spotted zippers, sneakers, and open butt flaps. The man in the pig costume shuffled back to the group.

The Wolfman tucked his tail between his legs and cleared his throat. “You think I’m a member? Member of what? What do you sick people call yourselves?”

They all spoke in unison. “The Aristocrats.”

C-Drew-Lu rises
C-Drew-Lu rises

Cthulhu Crashes the Monster Mash

The nightwatchman shivered beneath the blanket. One side of his hair was black, the other had gone white. From where I stood his head looked like a Yin-Yang.

He sang, “I was doing my rounds, late last night. When something moved into my flashlight. A creature from the lagoon began to rise. And suddenly to my surprise…”

Then he stopped.

Detective Greywood shined his light in the watchman’s eyes. The poor bastard didn’t blink.

Detective Greywood snapped his fingers. “This is how he’s been answering all our questions. We ask, he takes a few minutes to compose a verse, then he sings. It doesn’t matter if anyone’s around to hear it.”

The watchman perked up. “He did the mash, he did the monster mash. He did the mash, it was a graveyard smash–”

Detective Greywood tugged me out of earshot. “You don’t want that knocking around in your head all day.”

“Was there a verse about a lagoon in the original song?”

“No, I think he’s trying to tell us the assailant emerged from the pond.”

“And the victims?”

Detective Greywood pointed to three sets of tire tracks. “I’m betting these lead to a hole in the fence.”

We followed the tracks to three mountain bikes. One was handlebars deep in the muck, one was wrapped around a headstone, and one was dangling from a willow tree.

“I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” Detective Greywood pointed to a statue in the distance.

Its robes were brown with blood. There were cracks in its sides. Someone had driven severed arms into the granite. The statue’s wings lay in the grass next to its head. Its face had been replaced, presumably, by the heads of all three of our victims. I say, “presumably,” because they were wearing masks.

Detective Greywood tilted his gaze back. “It’s not every day you see a totem pole made from Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman.”

I didn’t realize my teeth were chattering until I tried to speak. “It’s got eight arms, like Ganesha.”

Greywood chuckled, “Or an octopus.” He slapped on a pair of latex gloves and pulled something out of one of their hands. “Yoink.”

It was encrusted with blood. I didn’t realize it was a video camera until he opened the viewfinder.

While Greywood watched the video, I investigated the scene behind the statue. There was a makeshift alter made from pizza trays and beach towels, fragments of candles sticking out of wax puddles, and an ancient book. Its leather binding was warped. It almost looked like a face.

“Detective Greywood, I found something.”

Greywood stepped around with his head in the camera. He shut it the moment he spotted the book. “Well well well, old leather face, we meet again.” He pressed his radio. “Call the bomb squad, tell them we need the remote disposal unit.”

“What is that?”

“The remote disposal unit is a robot with tiny metal arms.”

I shook my head. “No, that.”

“That’s the Necronomicon: an account of the old ones and the means to summon them. Open that up and we’ll have tentacles up are asses within the hour.”

“What are you talking about?”

Detective Greywood sighed. “The elder gods created humanity as a punchline to an elaborate joke. Every so often, they like to get into people’s faces and do a little insult comedy.”

I shook my head. “I’m still not following.”

“That book is full of heckles by Abdul Alhazred. Read them and you’ll find yourself in the old one’s spotlight. If the watchman’s song is true those kids summoned one of the ancient water beings.”

Greywood slid the camera into an evidence bag. “These boys were filming themselves reading from it, probably as a framing device for a video full of graveyard BMX tricks.”

A strong gust upended the book. It skipped across the graves and fell open at my feet. The arcane script was so large I could see it from where I was standing.

I still don’t know why I thought I’d understand those words if I read them aloud, but I did. “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

Detective Greywood drew his weapon. “You stupid son of a bitch!”

The cemetery shook. Headstones shot out of the ground like corks. Steam rose from the pond as it boiled over. Tentacles shot out from the water. They wrapped around tree trunks, pulling something up from the depths. Water splashed across the crime scene. A giant figure blotted out the sun.

“Down here, you squid faced bastard!” Detective Greywood kept shooting until he’d emptied his clip.

The book washed up onto my shoes. I felt the pages flipping at my ankles, compelling me to read further. So I did.

“The outer ones, the old ones, and the sunken ones will come together, a cosmic collective of indescribable power, and you shall know terror by its true moniker: the Aristocrats.”

“It was a graveyard smash”

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After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a  store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.

The Truth About Where Writers Get Their Ideas

I'm plagued with ideas
I’m plagued with ideas

Writers are always asked where our ideas come from. Our answer is usually a deflection in case potential rivals are listening in. If we told the truth, everyone would be making a play at our game.

Of course we know where our ideas come from, we just want to keep our inspiration in house. We have a monopoly on our muses, exclusivity deals with our delusions, and first rights with our figments of the imagination. Our creativity is under contract. We lie to keep poachers off our lots, to keep talent thieves from ensnaring our rising stars, to leave headhunters scratching their own.

Writers are the rulers of our own entertainment empires. We keep our spark moving through our internal studio system. Non-disclosure agreements forbid us from discussing our process, but today I’m feeling generous.

The majority of my ideas come from Daydream Agents tirelessly pitching their clients. My job is to choose which one I want to spend the next several months with. Writers are really producers deciding which bright ideas to green light.

Hearing Pitches from Daydream Agents

As a producer, I don’t live behind my desk, nor do I need a room full of Evian swirling executives to tell me when a story has potential. I hear elevator pitches everywhere I go.

When I page through the terms of service on my brand new tablet, a Daydream Agent appears in the reflective surface.

Leaning over my shoulder to scroll through the fine print, he smirks. “What if there was a clause that claimed your soul just by tapping the ‘agree’ button, maybe just a fragment of your spirit so you wouldn’t notice it was missing? You go about your routine until you realize something about you was gone. Not a memory, but a sense of understanding.”

I arch an eyebrow, “I’m listening.”

Having whet my appetite, the agent earns my business card. We set up a meeting for whenever I’m having trouble sleeping.

I'm haunted by ideas
I’m haunted by ideas

Later that day, I’m at the bookstore looking to expand my library, when I overhear a pair of women talking about how a certain memoir ought to be labeled as fiction.

Flipping through the pages, a woman shakes her head at the book in her hands, “Go Ask Alice was written by a psychologist trying to make a cautionary tale for teenage girls. She dressed it up as this anonymous diary to make it more authentic than an after school special. I’m telling you, she wrote a whole series of these. Her next one, Jay’s Journal, was about this dude who got seduced into a Satanic cult. It read like a bad found footage movie.”

Watching the women through the bookshelf, I’m startled to find I’m joined by someone else: a Daydream Agent with a stack of memoirs in her hands.

Snapping her fingers, she turns to me. “What if someone hired a ghostwriter to forge a memoir, but instead of scaring teens straight it kills them with a curse? It’s Go Ask Alice meets The Necronomicon.”

Grabbing the Agent’s shoulder, I shush her. “You had me at a curse that kills teenagers.”

Ensuring this idea has an opportunity to build a rapport with me, we schedule a meeting for the next time I’m stuck in a long line.

I'm surrounded by ideas
I’m surrounded by ideas

That night I’m out at the bar, listening to a group of hipsters talk about the dark side of viral video: gross-out porn, gore memes, and the disturbing snuff footage posted by trolls in random comment sections.

A Daydream Agent slides into the stool beside me. He speaks without making eye contact, like a confidential informant. “What if someone shot a snuff film and a tech savvy viewer set out to exact revenge on behalf of the victim?”

I roll my eyes, “Like in that Nic Cage movie?”

The Agent raises his finger, “This is different, because it turns out the hero’s online allies, the ones helping him track down the killer, are the producers of the original feature. Our hero unwittingly helps them make a second, delivering them another victim.”

I sip my beer like it’s a fine wine. “Sounds complicated.”

The Agent rubs his hands together, “That’s because there’s a twist. Our hero realizes this group has been in the snuff business for some time and according to their pattern he’s   slated to be the star of their next production.”

“That’s pretty downbeat.” I cock my head, he has my ear but it’s on the move.

The Agent slaps the bar in a desperate attempt to keep the energy up. “Okay, knowing that he’s marked for death, the hero stages evidence that points the next vigilante patsy to the creep that showed him the footage in the first place. The producers accepts this dummy offering and our hero goes into hiding.”

“Sounds like a novel.” I rub my chin. “Right now, I’m more into producing smaller features.”

The Agent snaps his fingers, “How about a novella? No subplots. No more than nine chapters. We could give it a micro-budget and streamline the whole thing.”

I shrug. “Now that’s something I could see happening.”

Daydreaming 24/7

A person like me doesn’t get the luxury of going for a run with headphones on. I have to be available to hear pitches everywhere I go.

What if a boogieman stalked a little girl only to find he was being hunted by her imaginary friend?”

Boom, I wrote it.

If only time travel was possible, a publisher could go back and hire a whole hosts of writers before they died in obscurity.”

Alright, here’s the treatment.

If this NSA surveillance continues a rogue agent is going to develop feelings for someone he’s watching. What happens if he tries to make contact with her?”

Let’s find out.

They pitch me in the shower, they pitch me on the John, they captivate their captive audience before I even put my clothes on. They pitch me in my sleep, but dream logic always needs a few dozen rewrites before it ever makes sense. It’s hard to suss out substance from the surreal. I buy the rights to a few visual elements and leave the story to float back into the ether.

My favorite Daydream Agents are the ones that comeback without a callback. I want a fantasy with the confidence to knock on my door after my assistant has told it I’m out. The kind of idea that doesn’t care if I’m working, driving, or in the middle of a conversation.

The best daydreams are the ones I remember without having to write down, the ones with staying power. They’re memorable but timely enough that there’s an urgent need to rush them into production. After all, every author running a private entertainment empire has a slew of summer release dates to lock down.

Idea man blows his top
Idea man blows his top

Ideas are the Easy Part

When readers ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” they don’t realize they’re asking the wrong question. The right one is: “Where do you get the tenacity to flesh your ideas out?”

I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t share my ideas with strangers. I say, why not? There are no million dollar ideas, they’re a dime a dozen. A good idea doesn’t write itself on its own. You still have to write scenes that flow into acts that fit together into something greater.

Hearing story pitches is the easiest part of a writer’s job. It’s putting them into production, keeping them on schedule, and getting a final edit that’s the real challenge. Anyone can say they want to tell a story, it takes skill and dedication to finish it. A good idea doesn’t guarantee memorable characters, witty banter, interesting settings, or good pacing. That’s the real work writers do.

Drew Tube

1. Drew Tube

I’m thinking of entering into the world of video blogging, but I don’t want to be another run of the mill media critic. I need a gimmick, a hook that let’s the viewer know that I have no shame and I’m not afraid to prove it.

The following is a collection of v-blog pitches, some are sheer brainstorm brilliance while others are train of thought train wrecks. At the end, you can vote on which ones are which.

Genre Fiction Mad Libs

Author, Christopher Booker believes writers keep recycling seven basic plots. Let’s prove him right. Collecting over-used film tropes I’ll outline the templates for making a romantic comedy, a home invasion horror movie, and a dystopian teen empowerment fantasy. I’ll compose five minute mad lib plot lines and invite the audience to help fill the character details in. A week later we’ll see the results unfold.

Pitch Perfected

Viewers suggest the worst movies they can think of and I’ll pitch them like they’re awesome, polishing these steaming turds into Oscar statues.

Listen to me pitch The Phantom Menace as a political intrigue thriller. Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan without a country, assumes the role of bumbling imbecile to trick members of a religious order into saving his world from a genocidal conspiracy.

Listen me intellectualize The Room as one woman’s descent into terminal narcissism, an unflinching examination of how personality disorders play into infidelity, a film that holds a mirror to society, forcing us to take a critical look at ourselves.

Listen to me call Gigli a shocking exposé of the mental healthcare industry, a rallying cry for the handicapped, and a mature look at sexual identity.

Listen to me nominate Troll 2 for inclusion in the Criterion Collection, calling it a film with a strong message about the environment.

Nostalgia Nostradamus

Nostalgia Nostradamus predicts which beloved children’s cartoon will be turned into Michael Bay’s latest series of sunsets and tracking shots. Thunder Cats? Voltron? Gargoyles?

The trick in Nostalgia Nostradamus’s tricorn hat is his ability to predict how producers of these reboots will get everything wrong:

– He-Man cries, “I have the power” as he raises the barrel of his new lightening gun.
– She-Ra’s wind resistant skirt is replaced with pants.
– Filmation’s Ghostbusters get’s rebooted. Not the team with Egon, Ray, Peter and Winston, but the one that drives around with a gorilla in a talking ghost car.

Nintendo controller by Bitter String Art. Check them out at https://www.etsy.com/shop/BitterStringArt
Nintendo controller by Bitter String Art.

Feminize a Video Game Franchise

I come up with plots for female leads in male dominated video game series. For example:

An Assassin’s Creed game starring Vultur, a Romani woman struggling to save her family from the Spanish Inquisition. Vultur uses theatrical weapons to strike fear into the hearts of Templar witch finders.

A Zelda game where Zelda takes the starring role. The sorcerer, Ganon abducts Hyrule’s princesses to use their blood to open a doorway to the dark world. Breaking out of her cell, princess Zelda works her way through Ganon’s dungeons, collecting weapons, freeing her fellow captives, and ascending the dark lord’s tower for a final confrontation.

A God of War game that takes place in the aftermath of Kratos’s resignation. Goddess of War follows a Spartan woman who stumbles upon the Blades of Olympus while the minions of a new crop of Gods burn her village down.

Stock Photo Theater

Original programing made with unoriginal pictures. Stock photo sites are all too happy to provide the cast, their blank business figures are begging to be turned into actors. All I have to do is supply the dialogue.

Shutterstock already has so many images of people laughing, isn’t it time they put out a sitcom? How about a whodunnit? Turns out the boardroom meeting, in this picture, is a gathering of all the suspects. How about a science fiction series where angry desk jockeys fight their technology? With all the shots of people shouting at their screens, we already have everything we need.

3. Point the finger at

Batman or Ingmar Bergman

A game where viewers guess whether a line of dialogue came from a Batman movie or a film from existentialist director Ingmar Bergman.

1. “… the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.”
2. “One day you stand at the edge of life and face darkness.”

3. “I wake up from a nightmare and find that real life is worse than the dream.”

4. “There is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge… Me.”

Answers:
1. Batman
2. Bergman
3. Bergman
4. Batman

Franchise Fixes

Franchise Fixes

I pitch reboots for your favorite ailing film franchises, raising Hellraiser, reviving Highlander’s immortality and calling Howard the Duck back to earth. Find me a series that’s at death’s door and I’ll bust out the defibrillator. Just call me Dr. Drew.

Writing Confessions

I list all the dirty tricks I use to ensure my output, like describing a setting before I know the characters or conflict that will fill it, writing dialogue with the intention of discovering the action, or planting the setups for my plot twists in later edits.

I’ll confess everything from how I spare my darlings to how I repurpose fan fiction.

Wednesday Watches

I recommend low budget, soon to be cult classics, for you to uncover on Netflix. They’re not always great movies but they’re entertaining enough for a Wednesday evening.

Clickbait Writer’s Room

A sketch comedy series, where a team of freelancers set out to ruin journalism, in order to rase their demon master Mammon. Writing titles with cliff hangers, the clickbaiters target would-be Nobel Prize winners, distracting them from their discoveries. Upsetting viewers with the first half of their captions, the clickbaiters promise to restore the world’s faith in humanity with the other, but they never do.

This coven of content creators will churn out listicles, slideshows and viral videos. Casting darkness over everyone’s newsfeed. Once they’ve sacrificed enough of our time, Mammon will rise up and claim his digital dominion.

4. Error Drew

This is my first round of ideas. Please vote on the ones you like and leave suggestions in the comments.

Sadder Batman (Design Gallery Updates)

Gothatrex for managing the symptoms of Sad Batman Syndrome
Gothatrex for managing the symptoms of Sad Batman Syndrome

See Sadder Batman and the rest of the insanity in my design gallery.

Check out Sad Superman and find out if you or someone you love are living with Batman Syndrome.

Soul Donor

Busted
Busted

Something haunts the attic of my imagination, locked in an old trunk, it watches my movements through the keyhole. While I stack character traits, it lies in wait. While I lay scenes on the card table, it bides its time. While I wave my marker, connecting plot points across the wall, it stares at my rolling chair with bright green eyes, a prince watching a throne, waiting for his time to come.

Entering the attic of my imagination, I find streaks through the floor boards. The trunk sits beneath the window, the keyhole positioned to see out into the real world. Trying to drag it back to its place, I give up part way. Distracted, I read the notecards scattered across the table, I toss half of them to the floor. There’s just no room for them anymore. I need this section of my imagination to process something I’ve been thinking.

Jotting a word down, I set it on the open space. The card says: INDECISION. The floorboards creak. Thunder claps off in the distance. I set the word OBLIVIOUS in an empty spot. There’s a thump. The lights flicker. I set the word UNREQUITED down. There’s a crash behind me, a click, followed by the groaning of a rusty hinge. Turning around, I find the trunk has moved. Its lid has opened on its own.

Peaking inside, a swarm of locusts engulf my eyes.

The trunk was filled with all of my romantic compulsions. Every time I develop feelings for someone, the infernal crate starts filling. The self doubt, the jealousy, the fear of rejection, all these things start rumbling. I can stack books atop it, hammer nails in, put it in a dark corner of the room, but sooner or later the trunk bursts open.

Once that happens, darkness takes over my imagination. My characters break down, my plot points get painted over, and my scenes get scattered. The story I’m developing disappears as the specter of a doomed romance leaves its mark on everything.

2. Trunk

I wrote the following in my early twenties, back when my best ideas were abandon in favor of an overwhelming urge to vent. Its wordy, silly, embarrassing, and completely honest. Recently, I dug it up and gave it the musical treatment. I hope you like it.

(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

Soul Donor

The third law of thermodynamics
The one we all love to hate
I poured my heart into something
That didn’t reciprocate
I syphoned out all my good parts
To feed your perceptually aching machine
I slowed myself to crawl
Just to keep it going

Like a vampire blood donor
Like an eleventh hour Valentine
I put so much of myself in you
But you’d never be mine
You’re feeding off my entropy
I’m running out parts to give
I’ve been dying long enough to know
That dying is no way to live

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

The only law that Murphy had
The one that we all try to break
I left so much room for error
Our foundations were bound to shake
I always came when you were jonesing
For the high only I’d provide
Who knew you could quit cold turkey
And let this whole thing slide

Who knew you’d leave me in this bath tub
In this motel up the street
Dry ice freezing my skin off
You only take the parts you need
When I signed on to be your lover
Did I sign on as a soul donor too?
How could I hate myself enough
To give my love to the likes of you?

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

3. Ghost Hand

An Object Gathering Dust

Toy soldier gathering dust
Toy soldier gathering dust

If relationships in my early twenties taught me anything, it’s that I left women with a sense of buyer’s remorse. I didn’t turn out to be the man they saw in the shop window. My first impression ran out of steam. My bravado deflated into cowardice. The image they tried to project on me, no longer fit.

There’s how a man ought to be, then there’s me.

In 2006, I wrote a poem about a toy soldier losing the admiration of his owner. What started as a piece about a waning romance, became a critique of the ideal man. The poem broke down the expectations set by the greatest generation, chipping away at Americana idealism.

This has always been one of my favorite pieces, but every time I set out to share it, I held back, thinking it was too personal. It took the support of my readers to shed those reservations. I hope you like it.

An Object Gathering Dust

Window shopping on main street
A gust of wind
Snatched the scarf from your neck
Blowing it across the boulevard
Leaving it on the window sill
Of a vintage toy store

Where you saw a clean cut,
Broad shouldered, toy soldier
Decked out in World War 2 apparel
Iconic in its shrink wrapped chivalry
A throw back to an era
Of courteous square jawed gentlemen
Who lived to open doors and hold hands
A Norman Rockwell day dream
A sparkle toothed smile
Complete with the sound of a glass tap

This toy soldier
This prince charming
All your girlhood fantasies
Wrapped up in cellophane

You altered your work route
To walk by my window
Your left hand shaking
Your right hand deep in your purse
Clinging to your wallet
Fighting the urge

One night a dream
Carrying a vision of your man
Walking down the white staircase
Of an aircraft carrier
Burned itself into your mind’s eye
You had to throw fifty dollars on the counter
To appease the Sandman

My attempt to make myself look like a plastic toy soldier
My attempt to make myself look like a plastic toy soldier

You took me home
Unwrapped me
And sat me down
As the guest of honor
At the head of your tea party table

You stared into my half moon eyes
With all the love the world had
For Jimmy Stewart
For Humphrey Bogart
For Frank Sinatra

In Michigan I was a lump of plastic
Lying on a conveyor belt
But in your arms
I became the spirit of a decade
A symbol of an America
Revered by the rest of the world

When I slept beside you
You dreamt of an approaching cavalry
Parading through small town streets
Of boy scout meetings
Of slippers
Newspapers
And corn cob pipes

You were Audrey Hepburn
With her man on her arm
The belle of the ball descending the staircase
In her long velvet gown
An airbrushed pin up
On the nose of a jet
That all the fly boys
Just had to tip their hats to

A sudden flicker of random eye movement
And we were French kissing on Ellis Island
With fire works off in the distance
Our hands cupping one another’s elbows
The moon framing our silhouettes
We became the skyline

But one day you woke up
To find that the green of my uniform had washed out
That my jaw had chipped at the edges
That the half moons of my eyes had faded
And my frozen salute had lost its meaning

You still took me out to the bar
But my smile couldn’t compete
With touch screen Gin Rummy
You buried me in your purse
When my shadow
Eclipsed today’s cross word puzzle
The spirit of the 1950s was gone
America was a different place
With a different skyline

I went from a Christmas miracle
To an impulse item
Yesterday’s playmate
To today’s inanimate object
And all the love you had to give
Went back to being a lump of plastic

You took me off your pedestal
And put me on your shelf
Never to be played with again
A relic of your sense of romance
Looking down at you through incense clouds
An object gathering dust

Here’s looking at you, kid

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

The following is a work of satire. I’m leading with this disclaimer, because many of these examples of Facebook’s attempts at mind control sound a little too believable.

Facebook's emotional experiments give user mixed messages
Facebook’s emotional experiments give user mixed messages

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

This week, Phase 1 of Facebook’s emotional manipulation experiments came to light. Having altered their Data user policy to include “research,” Facebook performed a study to test its influence on users’ psychology.

Positioning positive posts in the first test group’s feeds, the social network manipulated users to make merry messages of their own. Satiating some in sullen cynicism, they found these users were prone to mope and moan. Inspirational influencers led to delighted updaters, while pensive peers led to cocky contributors.

In his article Digital Market Manipulation, Ryan Calo believes companies “will increasingly be able to trigger irrationality or vulnerability in consumers.”

Like the copywriter in the Film Roger Dodger says, “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad… you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.”

There’s speculation Facebook implemented these studies to appease its shareholders. These suspicions would make sense, had evidence of Facebook’s second study not surfaced. It turns out these early experiments were the tip of the iceberg.

Phase 2 Experiments:

The Relationship Status Randomizer

Toying with eagle eyed ex lovers and potential stalkers, Facebook implemented the relationship status randomizer, listing married users as single, turning their private phone numbers to public, then posting “Feeling lonely” as their status on the hour every hour.

The Bogus Baby Broadcaster

Since baby announcements get the most engagement, Facebook posted pregnancy news on behalf of couples who weren’t expecting, pulling random ultrasounds from Google image search. The Bogus Baby Broadcaster asked family friends to vote on children’s names. The most popular choices were: Link McFly Skywalker, for boys, and Buffy Ripley Croft, for girls.

Open House Mode

Taking advantage of their Oculus Rift acquisition, Facebook started mapping real spaces for Virtual Reality. Rift owners have reported early access to a feature called Open House Mode. Stitching architecture together from users’ pictures, Open House Mode allowed beta testers to go on virtual tours of their friends’ homes. Rendering intimate living spaces, complete with exteriors from Google Street View, Open House Mode points out structural vulnerabilities like flimsy locks and windows that can be pushed open. When pressed for comment, Facebook’s lawyers said this feature was for users who wanted to throw surprise parties for one another.

Facebook's new mind control features are its best ever
Facebook’s new mind control features are its best ever

The Celebrity Death Generator

Attempting to stir up grief, Facebook filled users feeds with links that falsely reported celebrity deaths. A candlelit vigil, for actor Steve Buscemi, caused a twenty block traffic jam in downtown Atlantic City. The show runners for Boardwalk Empire had already hired Digital Domain to create a CGI stand-in, by the time the real Buscemi appeared on set, hungover, but still breathing.

Bladder Triggers

Promoting posts containing the words “hand soap, linen towels,” and “quilted tissue,” Facebook found an uptick in geotags to ‘home thrones.’ Once users were in their bathrooms, Facebook blasted them with footage of kayakers going over waterfalls, three story fountains, and animated gifs of lemonade flowing from bottles. This drew criticism from the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, fearing the effects a mass flushing incident will have on the nation’s sewer systems.

Samurai Shaming

Manufacturing outrage, Facebook posted updates as ESPN, tricking users into believing the Washington Redskins were changing their names to the Washington Yellowskins, replacing their native American logo with that of a crude cartoonish Samurai. Soon after, the hashtag #YesAllShoguns started trending.

Penicillin Petition

A petition to ban penicillin emerged, after Facebook made an article linking the antibiotic to childhood obesity trend. Medical authorities flooded the net to refute the claim, taking over the conversation in a matter of hours, but not soon enough to prevent media personality Jenny Mccarthy from endorsing the original findings. In the aftermath of the incident, Orange County has reported an outbreak of typhoid fever.

The Title Lengthening System

Some users awoke to find the phrase, “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” tacked onto every link in their newsfeed, others saw, “… is the worst kind of discrimination.” Some reported seeing each link wrapped in the phrase “What… did is genius.” Everyone exposed to this title lengthening system reported feeling disturbed by the trend, as if they were the only ones noticing it happening.

Phantom Zuckerbergs

Businesses, sports teams, and families reported finding phantom images of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, in their photos. In each image, Zuckerberg appears to be interacting with people, bringing his hands in for a team building seminar, hitting a beer bong at a keger, even wrapping his arms around someone else’s grandmother. Those who noticed the phantom CEO, said he appeared immediately after they uploaded their pictures, as if he’d been there all along. One group experimented with the feature, pointing to a camp fire in mock horror, posting the photo, they found Zuckerberg emerging from the fire.

Facebook’s Milgram Experiment

Members of the psychoanalytic community were horrified when the social network conducted it’s own interpretation of the infamous Milgram Experiment.

Testing blind obedience, the Milgram Experiment urged subjects’ to commit actions at the expense of their conscience. Subjects took on the role of a teacher administrating electric shocks to a learner, an actor who was in no real danger. Every time the learner failed to answer a question, a man in a lab coat would instruct the teacher to hit them with shock treatment. Ignoring the actor’s cries, this authority figure would tell the teacher to up the voltage. The goal was to see how many of the subjects would protest, halting the experiment before the lethal jolt was given.

Facebook introduced a virtual version of this experiment. Believing they were administering electric shocks to prison inmates, users became executioners by way of an application. The app gave users a video stream of both a researcher, commanding them to move forward, and a prisoner writhing in agony.

Stanley Milgram found that 65 percent of his participants administered the lethal dose. Facebook, on the other hand, had a 100 percent success rate. In fact, the only user to report distress, was a man in Texas, claiming to be “bummed out” when the app disappeared from the service.

Conclusion

As social networks become more prevalent in our virtual lives their effects will be felt in the real world. If the cost of connecting means surrendering control of our bowels, most of us will pay it. If the price of admission is submitting to a full body scan, most of us will jump right in. We’ll accept, that if Facebook wants us to be happy, we’ll be happy, and if we’re sad, it’s because Facebook willed us to be. The social network works in mysterious ways.

We’re just guinea pigs, hitting ‘Like’ to get more food pellets, wandering through this maze of messages, looking for meaning. The all seeing eye of Zuckerberg watches us share pictures of our plates on first dates, engage in political debates, and when we think our cameras are off, he watches us masturbate.

Ours is not to question his reasoning, but to trust in his plan. We must open our minds and accept his influence.

Is Facebook toying with your emotions
Is Facebook toying with your emotions?

Check out my April Fool’s post Facebook Buys DrewChial.com and my article on how The Facebook Bait and Switch is already effecting authors.

Sad Superman (Updated)

I have a cutout Batman, then I have a cutout Superman. What's the first thing I do? Put them in this situation. I guess I'm a romantic.
I have a cutout Batman, then I have a cutout Superman. What’s the first thing I do? Put them in this situation. I guess I’m a romantic.

When director Zack Snyder released a photo of Ben Affleck, looking somber in the new Bat suit, Photoshop savvy netizens inserted him into sorrowful scenarios, and the Sad Batman meme was born.

When the studio released a photo of Superman from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice they put rain droplets in the foreground, preventing enterprising satirists from developing yet another meme. They underestimated the power of Photoshop. May I present Sad Superman: cut out, with the droplets removed, and polished to perfection. I even threw in a colored version Sad Batman, with feet and a cape I’d added on.

Copy the PNG files and send these characters out on your own adventures.

To see more of the crazy things I’ve done with Sad Batman, take a look at my article on the perils of Living with Batman Syndrome, and don’t forget to check out my Design Gallery to see other comic book and movie parodies.

It's hard for Kanye to be sad when Superman's giving him a lift to the studio.
It’s hard for Kanye to be sad when Superman’s giving him a lift to the studio.
Now Batman has nothing to be sad about.
Now Batman has nothing to be sad about.
If a ride on Superman’s back doesn’t cheer Keanu Reeves up, nothing will.
If a ride on Superman’s back doesn’t cheer Keanu Reeves up, nothing will.

These are the original photos:

Ben-Affleck-as-Batman1 qsJ0Vie

And these are my cut outs:

Since the original photo cuts Batman off at the knees, I grafted on a pair of legs from an action figure. Same with the cape.
Since the original photo cuts Batman off at the knees, I grafted on a pair of legs from an action figure. Same with the cape.
In addition to clearing out the droplets, I used an image from Man of Steel to complete the cape. I also made him brighter and enhanced the color so he could fit into more daytime scenarios.
In addition to clearing out the droplets, I used an image from Man of Steel to complete the cape. I also made him brighter and enhanced the color so he could fit into more daytime scenarios.

Have fun.

Constantine Pilot Review (Updated)

An Obsessive Hellblazer Fan Reviews the New Adaptation

How does NBC's Constantine stack up to the original Hellblazer Series?
How does NBC’s Constantine stack up against the original Hellblazer comics?

I’ve seen the Constantine pilot months before its October 24 premiere on NBC. As someone who owns every issue of John Constantine: Hellblazer, someone who’s been following the series for twenty years, someone who took his long locks to the barbershop, pointed to the cover of a comic book and said, “This,” I think I’m the right guy to review it.

Spoilers ahead.

Pilot Summary

Laying low in Ravenscar Asylum, recovering demonologist John Constantine is trying to put the past behind him. Strapping himself in for electroshock, he’s desperate to wipe away the memory of an exorcism gone wrong. When a spirit possesses a patient, to make a mixed media mural with paint and cockroaches, John stops kidding himself. The writing’s on the wall and it’s spelt out a name.

Liv Aberdine is having car trouble. The anti-crash system is convinced there’s someone behind her vehicle. Crossing the lot, she’s nearly swallowed in a sinkhole explosion. That’s when Constantine, sidestepping the 14 hour trip from Ravenscar to Atlanta, hops out of a cab. He’s under orders by the ghost of Liv’s father to protect her, which he does by giving her his card and leaving her to walk alone.

Sliding into the sinkhole, John meets Manny, the angel of vague leading statements. Swooping down to prophesize how eventful the legions of hell will make the series, Manny tells John that he’s going to need his help in a fight, before fleeing at the sound of sirens.

Liv meets with John after a friend in her complex is murdered. Their conversation is cut short when the same friend’s reanimated corpse crashes into her office.

John teaches Liv the art of seeing dead people, with the help of her father’s magic amulet. The pair venture to her father’s hideaway (the set piece we’ll probably be seeing over the life of the series) where they find a library of enchanted objects.

Consulting an ancient text for information on electric apparitions (Benjamin Franklin harnessed lightning in 1752 so the age of the text is debatable), John realizes they’re dealing with a demon named Furcifer. Fur, as in wool, Cifer, as in Louis C-fifer (names are always tough for writers).

Manny returns to play the metatron of forced exposition, telling John he might be able to win his way out of hell with good behavior, something John was doing despite Manny’s divine intervention.

John consults Ritchie Simpson, a techie who uses buzzwords like “data-mining,” to help him hack a power grid.

Using Liv as bait, Constantine tricks Furcifer into breaching a weak protection circle, only to become vulnerable when Ritchie cuts the power. Conjuring up a manifestation of Astrid, Furcifer let’s the audience know that this is the carrot the series intends to dangle over our heads. When Astrid is revealed to be a psychic forgery, John dispatches the demon with a series of vague spiritual incantations.

Using her father’s amulet to “scry,” Liv bleeds onto a map of the United States, finding people in peril, setting up future episodes.

Channeling John Constantine through Tim Bradsteet's original cover art.
Channeling John Constantine through Tim Bradsteet’s original cover art.

WHAT WORKS:

John is Great

Fans of Hellblazer will be happy to know the show runners are drawing their inspiration from the original series, ignoring the 2005 movie, and the New 52’s take on the character. This version of John uses spells and incantations, rather than a crucifix-shaped shotgun. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him getting kicked out of the Batmobile for smoking, or dressing up as Shazam.

In this universe, John is a Brit, Chas is an adult, John’s original sin is not a botched suicide attempt, but Astrid’s exorcism. The pilot even teases series mainstays Newcastle and the First of the Fallen.

The Constantine in the pilot I saw smoked, he never put a cigarette to his lips, but he put one out in an ash tray. This doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to see John blow smoke rings in every episode, but I’m glad they left the lung cancer plot line on the table.

I’m not one of those fan boys that demands dogmatic adherence to the source material. I don’t care if John is a bleached blond, wearing a thin tie, and tan trench coat, what I do care about is the spirit of the character, that’s what they get right here.

Matt Ryan, the man who helped redeem the Assassin’s Creed franchise (voicing Edward Kenway in Black Flag), nails the character. Smirking in the face of evil, he’s charismatic, cocksure, with a hint of cowardice. He’s an underdog with swagger, with the iconic look of Tim Bradstreet’s Hellblazer covers. Matt Ryan is everything the 2005 movie was missing.

It will be hard to imagine Guillermo Del Toro doing the rumored Justice League Dark movie with another actor.

Does NBC's new Constantine series have the bite of the original Hellblazer comics?
Does NBC’s new Constantine series have the bite of the original Hellblazer comics?

WHAT NEEDS WORK:

In addition to being an über Hellblazer fan, I also have a professional background in script analysis. I liked the pilot, but I want this series to last. These things will need work if it’s going to do that.

The Supporting Characters

The show runners got John’s character down, but everyone else feels flat. There are too many tropes filling in for the supporting cast, IOUs where characterization and compelling goals should be.

As a True Blood fan, I know Lucy Griffiths can be great on screen. Here she feels like she’s reprising Rachel Weisz’s character from the 2005 feature. Liv is a Jill-everywoman, destined to be out shined by her leading man. My fear is that the series bible just has the words “Noble, stoic,” and “headstrong” next to her character.

I want to see her take on an argumentative role, be the Agent Scully to Constantine’s Mulder.

As a Lost fan, I know Harold Perrineau has a broader range than he’s allowed to show here. Here’s to hoping the angel Manny has more dimensions than a tool for exposition. I’d love to see him visit other conjurers, hedging his bets.

Does NBC's Constantine dogmatically follow it's source material?
Does NBC’s Constantine dogmatically follow its source material?

Pacing is a Problem

Breakneck speed isn’t good when you have to rubberneck to follow the plot. Here’s to hoping the scene count goes down in future episodes. Horror needs a slower burn to reach a boiling point. The jump scares go by so fast that we shrug them off.

The pilot rushes through a series of events, but it fails to connect them. Liv is attacked by an electricity demon AND THEN she meets John Constantine who tells her she’s in danger AND THEN John investigates a sinkhole AND THEN an angel appears to tell him of the rising demon legion. Are you sensing a pattern? There are far too many AND THEN’s in place of BUTs and THEREFOREs. Future episodes need a better balance between cause and effect.

The Dialogue

Apart from Constantine’s lines, which have just the right mix of British slang and quick wit, the banter left a lot to be desired. It reminded me of watching ABC’s Elementary, Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Homes is great, but the show defaults to a cheap cop drama whenever he’s not on screen.

The Blood Map

The blood map is too convenient. These dots across the US are a weaker plot device than the visions from the Powers that Be on Angel, John Winchester’s paper trail on Supernatural, and the machine on Person of Interest. The days of syndicated reruns are long gone, this is a series that needs to follow the model of serialization. The blood map sets up a standalone structure.

Does NBC's Constantine have a prayer of saving supernatural horror?
Does NBC’s Constantine have a prayer of saving supernatural horror?

The Demons

As moviegoers we’ve seen our share of white-eyed stretch-marked possession victims. Show us something this summer’s Deliver Us from Evil isn’t bringing.

The demons lacked imagination. Rather than look to the horned goat-legged etchings that every show like Sleepy Hollow draws from, I implore the show runners to check out Joel-Peter Witkin, the photographer who inspired the creatures in Jacob’s Ladder, Dave Mckean, the Sandman cover artist, or even the creature design in the Silent Hill video games. Horns and hooves are so last century, now it’s all about disfiguring abnormalities.

We measure our hero’s worth by their opposition, based on these monsters, John isn’t long for our TV screens. He needs worthy opponents, foes that play him against other demons. In the books, the denizens of hell are territorial, feuding mob families using John as an unwilling go between. Hellblazer has more in common with The Big Sleep than The Exorcist, the show runners should play with that.

John tricks demons into fleeing, playing one faction against the other. There are hints of this in the pilot, but nothing like a proper grift.

The Magic

In the comics, Constantine’s spells have a dark poetry to them, combining charms, vices, and every day house hold items.

In the pilot he shouts esoteric gibberish. Why does Constantine need to recite a greatest hits of the world’s religions? At one point he says, “By the star of David I command you?”

If the show runners are afraid to go full-Latin-exorcism, then they need to modernize John’s methods. Have him bluff his way through a spell, making up a curse using things tacked to the wall, like a warped homage to The Usual Suspects. Have him use the MacGyver method, building an emergency talisman with objects he has on hand.

Can NBC's Constantine live up to the original Hellblazer series?
Can NBC’s Constantine live up to the original Hellblazer series?

It’s Too Soft

The pilot is a PG outing. There’s no way you’ll mistake it for premium cable offerings like Penny Dreadful, True Blood, or Salem. Even by network standards, this is tepid horror. The X-Files conjured up more frightening demons. We’re told Astrid was ripped apart by Nergal, but we see him use a telekinetic tractor beam to gently tug her into a light.

Relying on the same makeup and effects we always see, the spirits are more cartoony than scary. Constantine needs to distinguish itself from shows like Grimm. The show runners should take a page from their network sibling Hannibal and go harder.

Conclusions

The pilot is worth watching, but our screens are over saturated with supernatural horror. The series needs to establish a unique identity. The mysteries should ride out longer, here John just opens a book and knows he’s dealing with Furcifer. They need to take time to develop the characters.

I’d like to write a spec script for Constantine. Drafting my own episode, I’d lower the seen count, the locations, and the effects budget. Hell, in some of the best Constantine stories, he’s just tied to a chair. I’d start there.

(Update)

I went ahead and wrote an original Constantine story called Gambling with Souls. My take on the character emphasizes his skill for con artistry in the face of evil. It’s hardcore horror with a dark sense of humor. Check it out.

Will NBC's Constantine give weaker supernatural TV shows the two finger salute?
Will NBC’s Constantine give weaker supernatural TV shows the two finger salute?

Dream House

Struggling with a hostile work environment, Mark imagines the perfect hideaway, only to find it expanding into his real life.

1. Overgrowth

Dream House

Mark’s footfalls echoed into the distance. The hall had the dressings of a ballroom, and the length of a tunnel. No matter how far he went, the point at the end never changed shape. The banner beneath the ceiling must have stretched for miles.

Rays of light cut through the curtains, setting the tiles aglow. Walking with his eyes shut, he felt the sunshine on his nose. He could go on this way, counting windows without ever running into anything, or anyone.

The help was on holiday. There was no dust to polish, the sheets tucked themselves in, and the meals came out of their trays prepared. This gave Mark the freedom to ride the banisters down the stairs, to line couch cushions like dominos, to juggle Faberge eggs, ming vases, and leather bound first editions.

Wearing two story drapes like capes, Mark was a bachelor in a castle, an emperor of emptiness, the king of a kingdom known to no one.

The grounds were too vast to cross in a day. Mark had to set up camp in an uncharted guest room before finding the strength to press on. He had to traverse the deserts of the zen garden, the hilly expanse of the miniature golf course, and the pine highways of the bowling alley.

With each trek through the building, Mark discovered something. Feeling droplets on his forehead, he looked up to see water sculptures shooting streams through the chandeliers. He climbed staircases so wide, he mistook the steps for rows in a theater.

Crossing the library, Mark happened upon a fleet of fire engines labeled with the dewey decimal system. He didn’t understand their function, until he needed a ladder to get something.

2. Grey Stone Church

To save time, Mark rode a dirt bike across the courtyard, weaving around gazebos, hedge sculptures of video game characters, and a pride of bronze lions covered in bird droppings. He could’ve used the field for crops, for football games, or as a landing strip for commercial planes; instead he filled it with street signs to give himself an idea of where he was going. There was always a new path to explore.

The estate was ever expanding, but there were no contractors, no designs to sign off on. Mark didn’t have to suffer the sight of plumbers’ cracks, the sound of catcalls, or radios blaring. This was his project. He was the surveyor, the engineer, and the foreman.

He didn’t break his back carrying the stones up the mountain. He didn’t run a wheel barrel full of mortar across the foot bridge, or dig the trenches to fill the reflecting pools.

Mark’s castle wasn’t built from the ground up, it was composited. The parts weren’t airlifted in, they materialized from it.

3. Tropical

In the city, Mark’s studio apartment shared its walls with shouting brawls. Arguments echoed from floor to ceiling. He fell asleep to surround sound domestic disputes, quadrophonic make up sex, and the off tempo rhythm of creaking mattresses. Counting backwards on his pillow, Mark wasn’t sure if he ever lost consciousness.

In the morning meeting, Mark made the coffee hoping no one would call on him. His eyes stung every moment they were exposed to oxygen. They felt heavy enough to sink into his skull. Collecting cups, he was a satellite orbiting his coworkers.

Lee, his boss, followed close behind, tapping each employee on the shoulder, in a variation of Duck Duck Goose.

“So what’s your goal for the day?” Lee breathed down the staff’s necks until he got an answer.

Crouching, Mark cradled the cups in his arms.

Lee moved onto his next victim, “What do you aspire to learn today?”

Reaching for a napkin, Mark’s stack toppled over. His security blanket rolled across the floor. Panicking, he clutched for the cups.

There was a tap on his shoulder.

4. Dream Coat

Lee smiled, he’d found his goose. “So Mark, what could you do differently to achieve success today?”

Mark looked to the ellipsis in his thought cloud. “Not drop the cups?”

Lee tossed him a line, Mark left him to tow it back in. Unlike the sales team, Mark had no figures to beat, no positive encounters to share, no acknowledgments to give.

Passing by a senior staff meeting, Mark heard Lee refer to him as an “Automated automaton. Good with numbers, but unable to compute casual conversation.”

Filling his thermos at home, Mark avoided the water cooler. He couldn’t understand emotional reactions to the weather, pride in parking spaces, or interest in other people’s children. He managed big accounts, but small talk went over his head.

When Lee mandated psychological assessments, Mark feared it was to uncover his glitch.

5. Towering Green

Sitting outside the therapist’s office, Mark paged through an issue of Home magazine, a catalogue of living room layouts, throw pillows, and patio furniture. Reading an article on Feng Shui, Mark scanned the waiting room.

Opening the door to her office, Dr. Jennings found Mark dragging a fern to the other side of the chairs.

Wiping the dirt from his palms, Mark only spread it around. When Dr. Jennings offered her hand, he went in for a hug, careful not to pat her on the back. When she directed him to a love seat, he lay across the armrests.

Dr. Jennings squint to hide her amusement. “Don’t worry. This is an informal chat, a way to gage the team’s overall satisfaction. Management thought this would be a little more personal than a survey.”

Nodding, Mark changed his position.

6. Wood Chipper

Settling in, Dr. Jennings read her chart. “How do you see yourself fitting in among your peers?

Mark shrugged. “The tall person in the back of the group photo.”

Dr. Jennings shook her head. “I’m not looking for a literal answer. Think of this office as a family. Which member are you? Do you see yourself in the driver’s seat, on the sidelines of a soccer game, or are you sneaking in a cartoon when you should be doing homework?”

Mark rolled his eyes, “I’m haunting the attic. I’m not sure if anyone even knows I’m there.”

7. Rubble Man

Mark never had the courage to see a therapist. Now one had been delivered to him. He made the most of this captive audience. Thinking it essential to give Dr. Jennings the whole picture, he got abstract. Over-sharing, he linked childhood humiliation to emotional scars left by ex-girlfriends. Looking at Dr. Jennings notepad, Mark watched her fine script devolve into automatic writing.

Running out of pages, Dr. Jennings decided to switch mediums, inviting Mark to try guided meditation. She came up with the scenario, leaving just enough space for him to fill the holes.

Dr. Jennings chose her words carefully, “I want to give your thoughts a beginning, middle, and end.” placing an emphasis on the word “end.”

Hesitant to sacrifice his hour, Mark was a reluctant participant. Entering the wilderness of his imagination, he was told to picture an animal jumping into his path. He described a badger sniffing the air, climbing up his leg, and settling on his shoulder.

The badger said, “How do you feel about your output today? Is this your finest work, or could you aspire to do better?”

Dr. Jennings suggested Mark keep his answers to himself until the end of the session.

8. Being Green

Leading her patient to a clearing, Dr. Jennings instructed him to fill it with something. “A treehouse, a log cabin, a beached submarine, it doesn’t matter, just the first thing that comes to mind.”

Watching a breeze draw circles in the grass, Mark felt it against his cheeks. Smelling the dewdrops, he took in the steady drone of the grass hoppers, rustling trees, and chirping birds.

Clouds rolled across the landscape. Their shadows morphed into geometric shapes, getting darker as they got smaller. Realizing why, Mark acted in the knick of time. He leapt from his position just as a support beam crashed down where he was standing.

A row of metal rained across the field. The dirt shift, propping the beams up, aligning each one into place. The ground embraced whatever the sky had to throw at it.

Staring into the sun, Mark watched its rays transform into amber arches, saffron spires, and scarlet shingles. Sprouting in spring-like formations, vines caught pillars on their way down. Bricks fell into perfect stacks. Leaves popped out from between them. Overgrowth ran up the building, before the roof had even come in.

In another world, Dr. Jennings continued giving her directions. She told Mark to go inside, she said something about a cup, its size and shape having some importance, but Mark didn’t hear her. He was busy moving in.

9. Afterglow

Crossing the estate, Mark bent time and space, moving from the top of the world to sea level without going down a single hill. One door spat him out in a tropical climate, while another spat him out in a snow covered forrest.

The porch overlooked a mountain range, while the parlor overlooked a beach front.

10. Toys in the Attic

Each session took him someplace new.

Mark lay in a hammock as long as a fishing net, high up in the meditation chamber, a glass dome, with a view unpolluted by city lights.

Star gazing, he found the Andromeda galaxy, then the long streak of the Milky Way. Dimming the lamps, he waited for the Northern Lights to make an appearance.

Mark found his way to the dream house on his own. Pacing the apartment, he crossed over with his eyes open. Flicking the kitchen light, he watched torches spark to life. The banquet hall stretched out before him. Running the tap, he watched streams rise from the great fountain, feeling bubbles and coins beneath his feet. Taking a shower, the steam cleared to reveal the heap of coals in the palace sauna.

11. Moss Giant

The real world was full of secret passageways to the other one. Smelling oak barrels the moment he stepped into the cubicle, Mark discovered a wine cellar beneath his desk.

Waiting in line at the bank, Mark listened to the Christmas music playing over the speakers. Closing his eyes, he overlooked his estate from the bell tower. It had grown from a mansion into a metropolis. He’d yet to eat a meal from every kitchen, sleep beneath every canopy, or relieve himself in every washroom.

Mark’s stays in the dream house grew longer.

Charging through an obstacle course, he stepped through tires lined across a balance beam, two stories above a ball pit. A few cartwheels later, he was safe on a platform. Running up a springboard, he leapt for a ring. When he grabbed it, it made a sound like a keyboard tapping. Moving hand over hand, he heard the clicking of a mouse button. Dismounting, he listened to the slow hiss of a seat release.

Although the gymnasium lights were the same color as his desk monitor, Mark’s work was far away from here.

12. Rock Garden

Fearing his workout had pulled something, Mark felt a pinch on his shoulder. Turning, he found Lee’s talons squeezing into his tendon. Lee pulled Mark out of his trance and into his office.

Lee couldn’t wait for Mark to take his seat, before launching into his prepared speech.

“Mark, I know you’re not one for small talk, that’s why I’m going to give this to you straight.” Tenting his fingers, Lee tapped his lips. “Your numbers are down, my bosses want to put them out of their misery.”

Mark reached for the pen set on Lee’s desk. Tilting one toward him, the room shook, rumbling with a sound like cranks from a drawbridge. Lee spun around, opening the blinds to search for the source of the noise. Mark tilt the other pen in the same direction. The rumbling returned. Dust spilled from the ceiling. The tiles moved toward the window, fleeing the scene.

Shielding his face, Lee ducked behind the desk.

Moving onto the next accessory, Mark pinched a ball from the Newton’s Cradle. Lifting it up, he primed the pendulum. Thunder struck as it came down.

Cracks zigzagged across the support beams. The air was thick with sawdust. Lumber crashed down on the desk. Looking up, Mark found darkness where a corner office should be. A flash of lightning revealed the distant bricks of a vaulted ceiling.

The desk still had a few more toys for Mark to play with. Flipping a sand timer, he felt the chair sink out from under him. The carpet broke into tiny grains, sinking through the floorboards.

Lee shrieked, jumping out from his hiding place. Sand trickled through his fingers. He looked to Mark for an explanation.

Mark shrugged.

13. Pinkie

Vaulting over the desk, Lee charged through the door with no mind for glass.

The staff shot up from their cubicles.

Ignoring his wounds, Lee spun around to find the ceiling tiles back in place, the desk free of debris, and the carpet in its proper shape. The chair was still spinning, but Mark was gone.

In the room with the vaulted ceiling, Mark listened to the rain tap on the glass. Cranking the window open, he peered over the edge, trying to figure out his location. In the dark, he couldn’t tell if the gargoyle on the roof was a chimera or a griffin.

Lightning flashed, revealing a part of the dream house he’d never been to before: a spiral steeple wrapped in a water slide. Stepping out on the gutter, Mark knew this would be a good night to explore.

14. Redstone Complex