The Blank Page.
by Joe Foster.
*NOTE: Italics indicate stage directions. I am not Henrik Ibsen obsessed with them, but due to the nature of the story, I feel the detail is necessary to better understand what is in fact going on.
INT: Inside a dingy apartment a man sits in front of a computer, opened to a word processor document that reads: "Untitled: A Novel By Henry Lewis. Chapter One;" then is completely blank.
Henry stares at the blank page.
Henry begins writing.
NARRATOR: Once upon a time...
HENRY: (sighs) What is this a freaking fairy tale?
Henry deletes what he has written.
NARRATOR: It was a bleak - gloomy evening, rain tepidly poured down from the heavens. An elderly man stood, forlornly absorbing the downpour...
HENRY: No - wait
NARRATOR: A young boy frolicked in the rain, his golden locks gleaming like (pause)
Henry deletes what he has written.
NARRATOR: Two men stood in a dark hallway, awkwardly surveying one another. There they stood... awkwardly... it was all very awkward.
MAN1: Boy, this sure is awkward.
MAN2: Yes, very awkward indeed. Say, have you ever noticed how awkward the word awkward is?
NARRATOR: the second man inquired. Then suddenly, the entire universe collapsed in on itself. The end.
Henry again deletes what he has written.
NARRATOR: Charlie was a lonely chap. It had been eight long years, since he had last known the pleasures of a woman.
CHARLIE: EIGHT YEARS!? Come on man, cut me a break!
NARRATOR: It had been far too long, since Charlie had last known the pleasures of a woman - not since the accident, in which he lost the use of both arms.
CHARLIE: No, not my arms!
HENRY: Quiet you. It will be your legs next, if you don't stop interrupting me. Damn fictional characters.
NARRATOR: The armless Charlie, had not felt companionship in far too long, he wreaked of desperation and booze.
CHARLIE: I'm lonely, I'm pathetic, I think they get it - do you really have to belabor this point?
NARRATOR: Unfortunately for Charlie, he had recently and inexplicably been struck mute.
Charlie attempts to protest, but cannot speak.
HENRY: That's better.
NARRATOR: Tonight, all of Charlie's problems were to dissipate. Susie, a local farmer's daughter had agreed to come home with him. As she stood in the moonlight, her large muscles shown; they were well toned from... bench-pressing cattle and performing other farmly... err farmish... err hard-man related activities. Susie approached Charlie's bed cautiously.
SUSIE: Want to feel my biceps?
NARRATOR: She asked, flirtatiously.
Charlie shakes his head, furiously attempting to squirm away.
NARRATOR: Oh yes baby, he would have said, had he still the power of speech. Susie reached to remove her square plaid dress...
The phone rings interrupting the segment
HENRY: Hello? Oh, hi. Yes, it's coming along just fine. No - no problems at all, the words are just flowing right out of me. What's that? No sir. Absolutely no sexual content involving manly-farm girls, I know how much you didn't like that... the last couple times. Yes, thank you sir, bye.
Henry sighs and erases what he has written.
NARRATOR: So a guy walks into a bar - Ouch! Ha-ha.
Henry swings around in his chair, before starting over.
HENRY: I'VE GOT IT!
NARRATOR: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail...
ISHMAEL: Pssst.... Hey buddy, this is uh... Moby Dick.
HENRY: No it isn't.
Ishmael nods that it is; Henry runs to his bookshelf and flips quickly through 'Moby Dick', comes back grumbling again forced to face the blank page.
HENRY: Hmmm, I know what the kids will like!
NARRATOR: Larry Porter, a wizard, who enjoyed UFC fighting, drinking straight whiskey, and listening to Lady Gaga was trolling internet forums on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Little did Harry Potter, I mean - Larry Porter, know he was about to be ambushed by... (pauses to think)
NARRATOR: ambushed by a blue, avatar-like, sparkling vampire - who was secretly a gay cowboy. And also a ninja; everybody loves ninjas.
BLUE-COWBOY-NINJA-VAMPIRE: My name is Kanye East and I am the greatest warrior of all time. OF ALL TIME. We must kung fu fight.
LARRY PORTER: Yes, let us, kung fu fight.
(FIGHT ENSUES OR WHATEVER, DOESN'T REALLY MATTER)
Henry shakes his head and deletes the story.
NARRATOR: Henry sipped his coffee nervously, he was on the verge of tears, despite what tacit promises his shampoo and conditioner had made. Henry was in a battle for his life, or at least his sanity. His adversary was none other than the blank page itself - his witty musings and tight prose, the only weapons that could save him now. The prospect of failure haunted him even more than the impending release of yet another Twilight movie. This was Henry's last stand, his Troy. His entire life hinged on this paragraph, this very word standing for so much. The only barrier keeping Henry from a complete breakdown, that would likely end with him under a bridge somewhere, riddled with amphetamines and shame. It was a strange choice writing about his inability to write. They would probably say it was crazy, he was crazy. Hell, maybe it is crazy, but my god - it will be poetic.
Henry briefly contemplates erasing what he has written, then stops.
NARRATOR: Chapter Two.
This started as a free style rap actually, then turned into... whatever the fuck it is now. A monument to my disillusionment with higher education.
I'm getting sick of society,
Dictating to me
Who I am supposed to be.
If we follow a blueprint
How can we ever be free?
Like going to school,
Majoring in English,
It's becoming hard to distinguish
Between truth and lies;
Reality from the fiction.
'Professor, excuse my choice of diction
But you can suck a-motherfucking-dick'
How is that for syntax?
I'm wishing that I slipped through the cracks
And never made it this far.
Now I'm overeducated and emasculated,
I never anticipated
Life turning out like this
Sharing my first kiss,
Her smile all that mattered in the world.
For that moment, she was my girl.
Now I long for that feeling,
The kind of girl who can leave my heart reeling.
But I never found it in any long duration;
Now I'm a member of the Apathetic Generation.
Tick. Tock. The ancient hands of the clock-tower marked the passage of time meticulously, but with utter indifference. No minute, nor second went unrecognized by its grandiose faces. Of all the relics that remained standing from the 'old world', Dante favoured the clock-tower above all others. Standing there, basking in the mighty shadow it sent cascading over the earth, Dante couldn't help but feel a sense of transcendence. By mere association to this opulent structure, he reached beyond the limits of time and space - linking himself to a greater story, one that included everyone who had lain eyes on this tower and everything that was still to transpire before it. All of this documented well, by another tick of the clock.
There was a brisk chill in the air, the early morning dew was preparing for its great reveal, with the first appearance of morning light. What tragedy it was that no one would ever bear witness to the wet dew in daylight's magnificent glory. Often Dante fantasized of one day being able to watch the sun rise, to actually see the sun, the orb coveted above all else in the sky. It was not to be this time however, for it was imperative he set off; once again to descend beneath the Earth. Dante pulled the lever, sending the mechanism into action. Gears began grinding and with a loud churning squeal, the chain sprung into motion and Dante was propelled downward.
"The descent to hell, could hardly be this grim." Dante muttered to himself.
The world that once existed on the surface, the 'old world' as it was called now, faded from Dante's perceptions as he was dragged further below the Earth's crust into the artificial world of man; a mimetic representation of what life was supposed to be, what life used to be. When a culture is devoid of art, justice, and the pursuit of happiness, all that can remain is bloodshed. Peace can never seem to outlast its utility. In order to rebuild a society from broken ruins and the brink of destruction, peace is necessitous for survival. But once feelings of comfort and familiarity of daily life begin once again to sink into societies collective conscious - war may come again. It has been asserted that humans are adaptive creatures and given ample time, can adapt to even the bleakest of situations and circumstance. This is detrimental to the upholding of peace. The families of the innocent, who have fallen in this latest conflict, can certainly attest to this.
The lift at last reached a full stop. The chain clanked and chimed as it worked its way to a natural resting place and the broad platform locked into position, the plank falling to rest on the ground. Dante nonchalantly stepped off the lift onto the boardwalk. Modern technology, such as it is, has its ways of counteracting reminiscence of history with great ease. Dante was again alert of his present. After only traveling along the boardwalk for a mere handful of strides, his motion was halted, current events had once again thrust themselves into the forefront of existence.
Another one. "A-fucking-'nother one."
Dante gazed in disappointment at the red cross, sloshed heedlessly across the wall binding the old half of the city to the new. Graffiti with a powerful message. This simple symbol: physically nothing more than two intersecting lines, was symbolically so much more. This was the people giving their support to the liberation movement and more importantly support for Dae, their champion. He is their Spartacus, or more accurately their Robespierre. One man with the power to move thousands. This cross, was his authority. The cross' meaning was easy to decipher. The blood of another citizen would be spilled on this night and Dae would be his undertaker. Nearly every night for the last two weeks there had arisen a cross and subsequently every morning there would be a fresh corpse found. No, not found - displayed. A public murder, dirty laundry aired for all to see. The degree of the bodies dismemberment varied, but it was always grotesque. The face was however, always untouched. Left as a tableau, displaying the horror and terror felt in the poor bastard's last moments, struggling desperately for life. To compound the horror, there would always be a corresponding red cross, draped across the forehead. A calling card of sorts, leaving absolutely no doubt as to why this persons connection with life had been severed. A red cross, one not haphazardly sloshed across a poor stonemason's wall with whatever paint may have been at hand, but one methodically depicted, carefully illustrated with the victims own blood. Such was the illustrious mark of Dae.
Dante shook his head in disgust, as a proud lion would shake away a buzzing fly; momentarily irritated, but ultimately rising above the situation, with eyes and mind set upon something greater. Dante was opposed to the killings on a humanistic level, but the politics behind them greatly intrigued him. He sympathized with the plight of those who longed for a better time. An alternate life where high culture, fine art, and mesmerizing architecture were not things that existed only in the past tense, only on the forgotten surface world, but were staples of everyday endeavors.
Lost in thought, Dante found himself aimlessly wandering, at last arriving in the lower-class section of town. Once Dante had called this neighborhood home, but no longer. The concept of home was now alien to him. He was a wanderer. A free spirit, a spirit that now took him sailing along at a quickened pace. Recklessly he took no heed of his surroundings and crashed devoid of any grace, into a peculiar out-jetting porch. With a surprisingly loud clatter, Dante landed face first on the ground, kissing the dirt. The din caused by the tumble echoed throughout the street, but in this neighborhood people were trained to mind their own business. Only a single woman came out to examine the source of the commotion. She was frail and sickly in appearance; face swollen and ravaged by hardship, her hair brittle and straggly as hay. In another life, she may have been beautiful. She feigned a smile in Dante's direction as he collected himself.
"Do come in stranger," the woman beckoned for Dante to follow into her very modest living quarters. "That was quite a fall. You must need to catch your breath."
This was a woman not without her wits. She had lived her entire life in the lower-working class ghetto, struggling to survive in a world not kind to the gentle of heart. A world populated by thieves, scoundrels, and murderers. Not the least of which was standing before her now. Even if she had suspicion, the woman made no moral objections in regards to Dante's character. It was not her place to do so, she had learned from the cruel teacher, experience, that it is often wiser to stay silent. She was not concerned with who she had invited into her home, but was rather preoccupied with a greater trouble. After surveying Dante for just a moment, she spoke abruptly.
"It's my son. He's missing," the woman entreated Dante; "I know a man of your... faculties... can help me. I'm sure of it."
Dante stayed silent for a moment as he starred into the womans eyes. He was peering into the most sincere eyes he had even seen. A great longing to help this woman swept over him. Sentimentality outmaneuvered reason and Dante nodded his assent.
"Oh thank you. My poor Raymond. He's not like us. He's not hardened by the world. He is so sweet... so gentle... He was supposed to be home hours ago." Tears formed beneath the eyelids of the distraught mother. She continued to babble, driving herself further into a desperate frenzy.
"He studies history you see. He can't get enough of the old world. Any artifacts he can get his hands on, he covets like the holy grail. You don't think..." the woman abruptly trailed off.
She didn't have to finish the thought, Dante was ahead of her. If this boy, Raymond, had ventured to the surface, as his mother suspected her tears were certainly not unfounded. Their conversation was not permitted to continue however, as it was adamantly interrupted, by a high pitched shriek that descended sharply upon their ears.
"NO! ---- RAYMOND!" The woman cried out fearfully.
She scurried past Dante, out the door and flooded onto the street. Dante followed promptly in hot pursuit. The source of the scream became immediately evident, in the distance Dante could vividly make out the rough outline of a body, hanging from a makeshift scaffold in the town square. The woman was past consolation now, as she weeped openly. It was hard to imagine how she managed to propel herself forward so quickly in a state of such intense grief. They reached the crowd that had gathered around the lifeless carcass. One leg had been completely severed from the torso. The other leg mangled, scarcely covered by shredded flesh. Blood dripped down constantly, accumulating in a shallow pool, before running through the cracks of the stone-block, paved street. The arms were tied together in front of the body, with what appeared to be a barbed-wire of sorts. The torso showed signs of partial dismemberment, but the sight-line was too obstructed by blood and gore to tell for certain. The woman gasped and put her hand over her mouth as she looked into the face and identified the unnamed corpse as Roscoe, the towns local priest. The old man's eyes were closed, lips pursed. At least he had not resisted and had likely given himself over to faith and surrendered his mortal life without incident. The image was gruesome and haunting, no matter how many times you lay eyes upon a dead body, it is never a welcomed sight. Dante needed to make sure that poor Raymond would not be handed a similar fate.
After spending a few hours examining Raymond's room, desperate for any clue leading towards his whereabouts. Among the knick-knacks and clutter Raymond had scattered about, Dante found a miniature likeness of his favourite clock tower. It was just a hunch, but f he would find him anywhere, that is where it would be. Dante set out once again for the surface, this time with a particular ambition in mind.
After hurrying his way along the boardwalk and swiftly utilizing the elaborate system of gears and pulleys which formed a mechanized lift: the only method of traveling from the world beneath to the world above; Dante again stood on the surface of the planet that was his home, covered ubiquitously by the cloak of night. Cautiously he surveyed his surroundings, doing his best to penetrate the darkness with his sight. He knew the route to the clock tower intrinsically, as it was one he took quite often. After making his way in great haste, Dante finally reached the base of the tower and then stopped immediately. Ten feet above him a rope was suspended in mid-air, hanging looped over a peculiar out-jetting ledge. Dante's skin crawled. Was he too late? Dante again strained his senses, asking more out of his body than he ever had before. Before too long a crackle could be heard faintly coming from inside the tower. Dante forced his way through a gap between two elderly, rotting boards and then quickly raced up a stairwell, before reaching a landing, his path now illuminated by torchlight. Before him lay a youth, no older than 15 or 16 years. Above him sat a man, draped from head to toe in red robes, with religious symbols littered all over his person. There was no doubt in Dante's mind that he had finally found Dae, caught up to the legend, in the flesh.
The robed one, did not panic or make a rash move. He calmly sat still, composed, but intense. So very intense. From his side he drew two long blades, sharp as razors, with extravagant handles of finely crafted silver and gold. Hilt studded with innumerable jewels of varying sizes, shapes, and colours. Dae stood up, brandishing his weapons before him, an attempt at intimidation. Dante approved of the classic armaments. This was surely a man of quite exquisite tastes and certainly a scholar of the 'old world' - not unlike himself, or the young one that lay between them, separating them with a barrier of innocence; two tainted counterparts on either side.
Dante was unarmed, save a broken piece of wood off the tower's base. A struggle ensued between the two immense men. Dante fended off Dae's violent advances with a ferocious battle-hungry fervor. The plank splintering with every vehement strike it absorbed. Soon it would no longer hold as a viable defense. Strike after strike, Dae pummeled Dante, tactically breaking his pathetic plank of wood to pieces. The vibrating shock of each blow, sent Dante whirling further back, as his hands began to burn and sting with the sheer force of Dae's arm. Desperation overcame Dante, he charged barbarously forward, unrelenting in his fury. Dae plunged his aciculate prosthetic deep into the cavern of Dante's bowel. Dante - unphased, staggered forward, clutching his adversaries sleeves, tighter than a hyena grips the neck of his lifeless prey between his jaws, preparing to feed. Through the stained glass window that sat just to the right of the stairwell, a work of art that was surely the product of many hours of loving labour, Dante propelled their two immense bulks. They struggled for position in mid air. The wind serenaded them as they fluttered downward, shards of glass raining down like multi-coloured precipitation. Still the combatants battled, until they both plummeted into the hard, pitiless ground. Through shear luck alone, Dante narrowly managed to avoid being gored in the struggle. Dae was not as fortunate and lay lifeless, impaled by his own munition. Though Dante was able to stand, on the strength of resolve and unbreakable will alone, the wound he had procured, would surely prove fatal.
Dante groaned, he was not long left for this world. The bells of the clock-tower chimed, sending an echo radiating off into the distance. Five distinct rings. It was five in the morning, still too early for sunrise. Dante gasped for air. Tick. Tock. Dante clutched at his chest, blood draining through his fingertips. He gasped his last breath at the base of his beloved clock-tower. It was all over for Dante, he could feel life, reality, slipping away from him. The ancient hands of the clock-tower marked the time of Dante's death with graceful indifference. This was but one chapter in a greater tale. Tick...Tock.
Allegory of the Monster
There is perhaps nothing more tantalizing to the human mind than darkness. When left alone with it, the feeling can be comparable to isolation with a tangible adversary of flesh and bone. After prolonged exposure it becomes increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that a real force is present; someone or something, whose terrible power is limited only by the extents of one's own imagination.
After a certain period of time, I am quite unsure of the specifics required for this type of epiphany, the absence of light becomes somewhat refreshing. You no longer reminisce of your days as a diurnal creature and any former desires for the friendly embrace of blistering sunlight fades into oblivion. The pale, calm darkness continuously enshrouding you becomes the only comfort you could ever desire. There is no fear whilst in the clutches of your omnipresent master, darkness.
Come to think of it, even my chains have of late become somewhat symbolic of comfort and safety. These fatal bonds that were once the bane of my existence now serve to define it. How many hours had I spent fighting them? Grinding, scraping and bashing, until my wrists were bloody and raw. What could possibly have been gained from such a futile struggle? Only by embracing my shackles could I find freedom. What a strange and glorious freedom it was! Complete freedom of mind, amidst absolute containment of body.
Suddenly my eyes began to burn as if they had been seared directly by the intense fires of hell. Light! It was but a mere flicker, but surely there could be no mistake. What could have been the source of this, albeit temporary illumination? Had someone broken the seal? Was the tomb - MY tomb, opened? There was no doubt somebody was here, my many years of isolation had at last come to end. My mind began to race, contemplating all the possible scenarios that would lead someone here of all places. My concentration was quickly broken however. What was this; a noise perchance? It started as merely a faint echo, but unmistakably it was the sound of footsteps. There was definitely someone present, but who? Who would dare enter my home, my prison? I felt inexplicably outraged. I had come to terms that I was going to die here, alone with some semblance of dignity, in the face of everything that has transpired. Yet here was some trespassing interloper, trouncing all over my sacred ground, the only thing in the entire realm of existence that I could truly consider to be my own. What insolence! This unsought traveler will not escape unscathed.
Carefully I slunk downwards, pressing my torso to the ground, gaining the perfect vantage point to watch from. I am always watching, even when there is nothing to be seen. One must always stay vigilant. The footsteps grew louder; not even the tepid screeching of the rats could drown this noise from my ears. I felt the uncomfortable prickle of goose bumps spread across my now clammy, once glamorous body. My heart was pumping at a rate that I thought had been lost in the shrouds of time. I hadn't been this excited for ages. A grin grew swept unapologetically across my visage, in the same manor a vine slowly creeps further and further into unfamiliar territory. After all this time passed, one still never forgets the thrill of the hunt.
Upon entering the tomb, the smell was almost unbearable. A great deal of foul, wretched must permeated through the air. Air, that was so thick you could have sliced it with a cleaver. This was definitely a breed of stench that collects only when a place becomes completely desolate and forgotten; isolated in a corner of the world, the knowledge of its whereabouts stricken from everyone's' collective memory. Everyone's but mine. This cavern is seared into my mind hotter than if it were branded there by the finest of iron. Suddenly, I felt afraid. I knew not why I was afraid; what did I have left to fear? It was simply a feeling, fleeting and ethereal. The type of irrational feeling that is difficult to describe, yet quite assuredly equally impossible to ignore. As I reached in my breast pocket to draw out a 'cig', I realized my hand was shaking. My whole body seemed to have an involuntary tremble about it. After several attempts I managed to steady my hand long enough to successfully light and inhale. It was rather ironic that a habit intended to provide relaxation and calm my nerves, had just functioned to completely undermine any confidence I had left.
I must be fucking crazy! Every fiber of my being was screaming for me to turn around and forget about this whole thing. I could reseal this horrific place and never speak of it again. All others who were once burdened with the knowledge of its whereabouts had long since drawn there last breath. Perhaps it was time for me to do the same, I don't know. I was sure however, that there was no going back. My foolish curiosity propelled me onwards, I had no choice.
I reached the end of the corridor, this was it. I paused for a moment and looked back; I could see the faint outline of my home far off in the distance. Would this be the last time I lay eyes on it? One last, long, hard drag; I allowed the smoke to gently penetrate my teeth's barrier. Tobacco is a beautiful thing sometimes. I was ready to face whatever lay before me.
The second I turned the corner I was hit by a blanketing wave of darkness. Nothing but the dim glow radiating from the tip of my smoke cast any illumination before me. I shuddered, a long deep sigh that felt as though it spanned the entire duration of a thousand winter nights; crisp and cool as can be. Was this the dread felt by a lonely soldier's wife, pondering her husband's potential fates? I had to calm to down. It's not healthy for a man my age to get this excited. After all, what choice was there but to come to terms with the circumstances of my existence? If you are going to face evil, you may as well do it with your dignity intact. If this was to be the site of my demise, then I would face it bravely like I had done everything in my long-spanning life. I stuck my chest outwards, making sure to stand as erect as possible and gingerly limped forward. If only my ma' could see me now; I had oft been chastised in youth for poor posture.
I had never been a man of God, but still under my breath I found myself muttering, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
There is a more profound statement made by this psalm then I gathered on first hearing it. To know you are going to die, but not fear it, truly is a remarkable concept. The folly of dreading what absolutely cannot be changed had never been clearer to me. Unfortunately the wisdom ended there and I found its meaning ruined by the preceding words: "for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
What the fuck does that mean? Sounds like nothing but religious mumbo-jumbo to me. Why would I want to be comforted by God's rod? Where I come from any man who was comforted by another man's rod was certainly not offered any high praise.
I laughed, wholeheartedly. What silly things a man thinks of in the face of grave danger. I have no qualms about admitting I am in danger. If you believe the legends, then the creature whose presence I am currently in is nothing less than the immortal incarnation of evil. I know better than to believe the tales, I know that he is just a man, or at least once used to be. In fact, I know all too well.
I stood and peered into the darkness. He, or rather it; It was here, nearby. I struck a match, sending an echo reprocessing throughout the dank chamber. A hiss followed, accompanied by the clanking of rusted metal. There was the beast, the creature that was the cause of so many children's tears, father's screams and mother's berates. It crouched before me, chained to the far wall looking docile as can be, with a forlorn look of bewilderment etched on its face. It spoke not a word and made not a sound. It simply sat there watching me, always watching me. Its features were barely recognizable; it was hard to imagine that the figure standing before me was once human at all - was once my son.
This was the source of all the fear. Even to this day there are many villagers who dare not enter the forest directly to the East, scared to death that the legends were true and that he would return to mercilessly butcher them. This piteous, frail creature, rotting away before my eyes, ravaged by time to the extent that it could no longer lift itself completely off the ground without support from the confining shackles. This is what they feared. He was locked away for being a freak of nature; a dangerous hybrid creature, half-man and half beast, unable to control the animalistic urge to feed. So we deemed him a monster, a menace to society, and banished this once majestic creature here for eternal confinement. It was the easy way out, locking away and confining that which we don't understand, that which we don't wish to understand.
I had come here with the intention to do harm. Violently silence this creature... this man, to make amends for the many years of passive indifference I took to his being. Now I see that I should have come to passively make amends for the many years of brutal confinement. In the end, he was not the monster, I am the monster.
I Aint shook;
'Cause when the right hook
Like you get knocked out.
Don't be looking me in the eyes boy.
I ain't got no candy for you.
The Right Hook.