Thursday, June 28, 2012

That Did Not Mean What I Thought It Meant

It's time for stories that dissolve into the heat haze; for movies that flicker, burn, and fade; and for storms of prattle that wash even the memories of the plots away. Summer is the time for enjoying things that I don't take all that seriously. There have been two movies in particular that I was looking forward to: Snow White and the Huntsman and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The first looked like it would be a good fantasy film and the second just a wild movie (plus Rufus Sewell!). They looked like movies that my comic fan spouse would both be willing to see and would enjoy. So far, it's shocked me that The Avengers turned out to be the clever, fun movie of the summer and both Snow White and AL:VH turned out to be disappointments. Snow White struggled to find a way to balance a story of supernatural good and evil on the shoulders of an increasingly human queen--she was wicked, but the writers kept insisting that she be a figure of empathy whereas Snow White was just a blank vessel of "healing." Snow White turned out to be the inhuman force in the movie and Good became an unknowable cipher. Wickedness, on the other hand, was as human a force as they come--the fear of the mother for her child, the lust for power, the acceptance of cruelty in the name of safety. It was an interesting film, but it made me long for an adult novelization of the screenplay by an author who could address those themes and the distinct and bitter flavor of magic based on nothing more than pretty little good girls. AL:VH was disappointing because it just made me feel guilty for watching it. It never convinced me that vampires overwhelmed the magnitude of the historical events, never reached what I hoped would be a steampunky visual feast, and made me laugh in the middle of an action scene. Slo-mo or bullet-time or whatever just starts to seem ludicrous after a certain amount of time. The outrageous and beguiling trailer was the only part of the film that I was apparently able to take seriously. Movies have an easier time snaring me than books do--the trailers for both movies sold me on seeing each film. In both cases, I was taken in to a certain extent by cuts that implied a story and a mood that weren't provided in the final product. This has me thinking about e-books. E-books, at least in my experience, are bare of the kind of art direction that a novel from a major publisher has--font choice, cover art, paper, margins, and size either go away or fade in importance for e-books. This is reading that can only seduce through the written word and can only survive on the edifice built in plain text. I miss all the other aspects of books and I like (within reason) shifts in font type, paper weight & color, cover art, etc. I am easily seduced by visual imagery and just as easily irritated by product that doesn't live up to its implied promises.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Moot Story

Kara had come back to Moot to help her parents pack up the house ahead of a coming storm. This was the kind of storm that pulled the soul from the skin—a gathering of darkness that smelled like licorice and turned into snakes, the thrill that blows you down. If she believed the stories, the flags that were snapping out around the lighthouse were being caught by an unnatural wind. Her parents had sold the house on the strength of these warnings. While she no longer lived in Moot, Kara was close enough to come back often and her brother had been calling her for weeks trying to figure out what had spooked their parents. So far, the best explanation she had was a sermon she’d skipped and the flags on the headland by the lake. This late summer weekend was the last Kara would spend in Moot as a nominal resident. She was packing up her childhood room and trying to decide how to say goodbye to the roads and memories in Moot. At the moment, she was standing in a room full of her old things next to a pile of flattened boxes. Clothes, photos, and ephemera were stacked in piles around the room. Furniture was empty and ready to be loaded in the van the next morning. A set of beach towels perched up by the pillow on her already stripped bed in place of the sheets her mother had packed last week. Kara closed her eyes and imagined the city spinning out on the edge of the planet, the ground anchored in bedrock and rising all the way up through the tips of her fingers and on up to the very point of the lighthouse. She stretched as far as she could and began to feel the motion deep in her gut and her inner ear. A wave of dizziness caused her to gasp. She hadn’t ever thought of leaving Moot, of having to pack up this place and move. Her knees buckled with the dizziness and the old game caused her to stumble backward, bouncing along the edge of the bed, trying to feel for a place that wasn’t covered by stuff. Her knee cracked against the nightstand and she grabbed one of the poles on the headboard, swinging herself down to the floor. Kara’s back ached and she wanted to lay back and stare at the ceiling, waiting for the lighthouse to flash an escape beam across the white. It wouldn’t—the lighthouse was on the edge of a deep but landlocked lake and was rumored to only flash every 80 years or so. Once in a lifetime. Or, perhaps, once in each lifetime. It had been a big deal back when Kara was a senior. The light was supposed to flash for all kinds of reasons, good and bad. Her favorite story had been about a cave at the very bottom of Moot Lake in which the Lady of the Lake, the same one from Arthurian Legend, played endless hands of bridge with an old fairy woman, betting on souls and love stories. It was either the No Trumps or hearts, damnation or true love. Once a hand was decided, they would release lightning bugs to light the beacon to gather their winnings in a beam of light. Although she had looked, Kara was sure there were no lightning bugs in Moot. Kara’s parents were bridge players and, when Kara was a young child, she’d had no problem imagining the perfumed and imposingly silent adults playing at magic in hand. “Kara! Two hours until the truck arrives!” her mother yelled from the front of the house. Kara had only made it down the night before and she had only today to pack up her room and decide what to stuff in her car and what to ship to her parents’ new house half a state away from Moot. “Why are you moving again? Why couldn’t you have given me at least a few more weeks’ warning?!” Kara answered. Her mother stopped in her doorway. “Kara! You’ve been in here in all morning. Your boxes aren’t even set up. Do you know how many will fit in your car?” Kara shook her head. Her mother sighed. “Did you hear…no, you weren’t here last night. Hurry up and get those boxes set up and I’ll see if I can help you.” Kara rolled her eyes and reached down to unplug the old phone from the wall. She added it to a pile up near the head of the bed. As she straightened up, she glanced at her window. Jerking upright, she thought she’d seen two huge lightning bugs. A few yards over, a massive dog paused by a chain-link fence. The fireflies had been the dog’s eyes catching the sun. Kara’s stomach iced over. She watched as the dog seemed to meet her eyes and then loped over the edge and leapt the fence. The dogs are running. Years ago, in high school, she’d known one of the sons of the family who kept those kind of dogs—a breed unique, as far as Kara knew, to Moot. Unlike the fairy at the bottom of the lake, the Moot hounds were real. And eerie. And known to be good and perceptive hunters. Kara hurried after her mother. She found her standing in the room at the very back of the house, a project room that was now a blizzard of paper, electronic cords, and boxes. “You heard the hounds, didn’t you?” Her mother looked up. “They’ve been howling for the past week. We’ve been talking about leaving for a while. Your dad didn’t want to tell you. You like coming home.” “Are you really worried about that sermon? Demons and black tithes or whatever?” Kara rubbed her elbows. “When we found you by the lake that day, it was the oddest thing I’d ever seen. You were leaning out over the water…you know that people drown every day just on accident.” “You know that I wouldn’t have gone in the water. I was trying to see the tip of the lighthouse, trying to see the water door where they put the fireflies in. I’m sorry.” Was that the five hundredth time she’d said that? Kara felt like it was just another bead on an endless chain of apologies. “You decided to move back here when I was little. This is my home. And I don’t think it’s cursed.” “We didn’t know anything. Not what kind of place this was. Your grandmother promised us that we weren’t related to any of that…to any of the stories. Besides, I think they expected us to move. ” Kara frowned. “You mean, our story is flee-in-terror. We get spooked by dogs and scurry to some other place for a generation or so? Until it passes over?” By now, Kara’s skin was starting to pinch with a cold rash of goose pimples. Something was stirring, underfoot and overhead. “We leave. If that’s the worst or the best that we get, that’s fine.” Her mother grabbed a stack of paper and slammed it into a box, shoving against the solid paper. “Terry—you remember him? From church?—his aunt disappeared. There are plaques in the upper balcony, right along the far wall, for every person lost to this place. You heard the sermons.” “I remember the plaques.” Kara had loved to run a finger along them. They were something you only found after a certain amount of time spent in church, a marker of familiarity. “Those sermons were all about being careful of human dangers. Dating sermons.” “No. Your grandmother was the same age as Terry’s aunt. She didn’t think she was in love with that man. That’s just what the family said when she disappeared. We’ve heard the dogs, we’ve got a place to go, out by your brother and his family.” Kara nodded. She lived an hour away from Moot, in the closest city. Too close. Besides, her apartment, like her job, was temporary, until she settled into something…else. She worked five days a week in an oil and gas firm, a family business in a skyscraper that dominated a block. She’d walked by the model displayed in the lobby the evening before she came down here just as the sun was hitting the little plastic windows on the upper story, causing them to gleam like a beacon. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. You couldn’t get yourself to the lighthouse while you were in high school and you never found the lightning bugs, either. “Did the lightning bugs ever take?” Her mother shook her head. “Stop wasting time. Finish packing.” Kara returned to her room and spent an hour assembling boxes, taping boxes, and shoving stuff into boxes. She estimated that she could get half of these into her car. If she just let the movers take everything, she could quit her job, find a new one with her family, and move down to spend weekends and evenings with her nieces and nephews. Or…she could just stay up here, find a way to move back to Moot. Except that it would no longer be home. She grabbed a magic marker and scrawled a quick “Old Clothes” across the top of her latest box. Her elementary school soccer uniform, her Brownie uniform, her Girl Scout sash, and a couple of high school t-shirts—senior bonfire, graduation, and one from a church festival. That one, an autumn harvest lit by fireflies trailing away to a far spire, no longer looked to Kara like a traditional church setting. She’d known the artist, Fred Davenport. He’d drafted it in school, while Kara had watched, bored during History. His careful pencil lines had bled together in the thick plastic ink on the shirt. The fireflies could have been bees…the spire, on paper, had been the lighthouse. She remembered it as she smoothed the crackled ink down against the soft cotton. He’d changed it before submitting it. Kara had been daydreaming about it, about that light coming out and catching the two of them. She’d casually appropriated his real talent, conflated it with her own sketchier talent—imagination?—and dreamed that the beam had caught them both together, bringing them down to the grotto to weave images and words into golden nets for the burning fireflies. Had she daydreamed him transformed? It had been the 80’s; for sure she’d imagined herself in a bubbleskirted outfit of black tights and fuschia green Goth glory. Kara smiled. Poor Fred. Good thing he never had to suffer through those tight black pants and that poets’ shirt. She started laughing and stuffed the shirt back into the box. She had been packing for less than two hours, but she’s been sorting all day. The truck should be here by now. As she stood to go check, she heard her mother calling that her father was here with pizza and the truck. One more night and Moot would be behind them. Her brother Robert’s children might come back, if the town was still standing after the oddness passed. After pizza, the evening was still light. “I’m going to go for one last bike ride around the town, okay?” Kara said. Her parents waved her off as they began a discussion on what to start loading before the movers arrived in the morning. As she left, Kara glanced into the den and took in the emptiness. Boxes of stuff vanished against walls marked with webs up high and, lower down, dings and smears along the row where the pictures had been. The a/c stirred the air into unfamiliar breezes like those before a thunderstorm. Kara needed to move that emptiness through her body as soon as possible. Her bike was in the garage for when she came home on the weekends and cycled through old neighborhoods, old habits, and old memories. She could hit a few blocks before it got too dark. A Moot waking up probably wasn’t safe after dark. For someone who regularly came home, Kara wasn’t as up-to-date on who was in the neighborhood as she could have been. There was an ice-cream shop near the three-screen theater and Kara skipped calling out the familiar houses for a straight shot for ice cream. As soon as she kicked her stand down against the sidewalk, Kara found another memory trying to flare, but she extinguished it. She just wanted the ice cream and the sunset from the plate glass window. She was watching for it in line, which meant she didn’t see Fred until he leaned in front of her, waving a hand. “What’s out there, Careless?” She jumped. Packing up old things and then hearing her old nickname unsettled her. She wobbled on a fine point and felt the edge. “Sorry, just watching the sunset. Hey, Fred. Is it my turn to order?” “Not yet.” He pointed at two guys in front of him. “Back for the craziness?” Kara looked around and realized that several people in the shop were familiar. “Just here for the ice cream. Red velvet, if there’s any left. You didn’t come back for this insanity?” “So far it’s been pretty cool. Typical re-Mootyun.” “The what?!” Kara said. Fred grinned. “Just kidding. Not an official one, anyway. Everyone knew it was time to come home. There is a logo, of course.” He walked back to his table and she followed, standing at the edge and half-smiling at the rest of them. He pushed a page to the center of the table and glanced up at her. The lights caught a golden ring around his pupils and she remembered that halo. His artist eyes had always caught a little more light, a little different length of brightness. He’d drawn a circle and turned it into a road with several bicyclists following it and the lake soaking up into the emblem of the school. “I think I need another look at the lighthouse. Anyone up for biking to the lake?” *** Kara walked to the edge of the water. Her legs ached from the ride from town and she’d skipped following Fred up into the lighthouse. She'd been the only one who decided to come, despite the warm night and the early evening light. Here, as the moon threw a reflection of the pale lighthouse into the water, she could see dim flashes as something rose from beneath the surface. A school of glowing fish broke the waves just in the outline of the light. As the school surfaced, A heavy gold light fell around Kara. Her head pounded and as she blinked, a voice spoke from a few feet away. “You can’t hear the No Trumps, girl,” said a woman standing just in the shallows. Kara jumped. It wasn’t fall and her family would be safely out of town tomorrow. Tonight, however, a woman was standing in the shallows with what looked like a rope hanging from her hand. She suspected the story would say she’d gone off with Fred, who was filling his eyes with the light up at the top of the lighthouse. “An entire silent choir could be shouting your name along with those horns and you’d never know it.” A grim smile flickered across her face. Within the beam from the lighthouse, Kara’s vision dwindled to a point and then into darkness. She pressed her lids tight and opened her eyes to see stars over the water. While the woman’s voice lapped at the edge of her hearing, a frog trilled, then another. “Come on, girl. I’ve got a few more to bind over before the night passes.” Kara tried to breathe and found herself woozy again. She turned her face away from the woman, straining to smell the water, to hear the wind. At first, all she heard was the storm of fear pulsing throughout her body, then the beam shifted like headlights around the point and the stars came back into focus. Above her, she saw the ancient gasses burning but not her fate. Her heart battered her but that storm was contained. Small. I see the darkness dusty with stars, my ears are deaf to the Trumps but aware of the cicadas and frogs and the sound of voices. This perception isn’t magic. It’s mine. “If I can’t hear them, why should I care? I’ve heard scarier things piped into the grocery store,” Kara said. “You leave every time it gets close because you think we can’t touch you, girl?” A shadow slipped across Kara’s calf and the hairs along her leg stiffened in the cool. Kara shook her head. There was a darkness filling the woman’s shadow and outlining her. If Kara looked at the woman with her own heart beating a chill throughout her body, she could see the fell highlights. Then again, if she took a slow breath and looked at the water and the tree roots curling into the sand, she saw a faded memory fuzzed on the edge of her eye. A nonentity. Imagination itself trying to lure her further. “Kara!” Fred called to her; he had come down from the lighthouse. “Don’t take her hand!” “We leave because it’s either the darkness or the universe?” Kara nodded. She brushed her hands against her jeans and turned her back on the woman. The silence flared around her and was then broken by the night noises. A thump sounded and a large dog flushed a clutch of small peccaries from beneath the tree. Kara stepped back, remembering the very real threat of even small pig tusks. The peccary herd scattered away from the dog, which chased them into another patch of shadows. Fred caught up the Kara. “I saw, I mean, it was like an animation cell, a witch on the bank and you…” “I wasn’t paying attention to the dangers of the lake. Or the reality of the lake.” Kara shivered and started back up toward her bike. The truck would be there early the next morning. Fred caught up with her and slipped his arm around her hers. “Lead me back up? My eyes are still a bit dazzled.” Kara grinned and continued up toward the bikes.