Everybody Has A Chapter They Don’t Read Out Loud

He was dreading going home. Few things were motivating Soren to get out of bed in the morning. But his job was important, so he felt the urge to get up earlier than he could have, just so he could spend an hour and a half in front of the mirror making sure he looked good. Not only good but flawless. He held a job far above what he would normally be able to get as a foreigner, especially an uneducated foreigner. Therefore, he had to dress as if he belonged. Unlike in Russia, this was a place where money talked. Anyone could get rich in Persia, regardless of where they started. Anyone could become a citizen, regardless of where they were from, and once citizenship and wealth were acquired, it didn’t matter so much if he wasn’t a native. Most people accepted a man who held prestige and wealth, save for the upper echelon, members of the royal family, and hardline traditionalists.  

More likely than not, Soren was going to end up right where he started; in a tiny house on a large mountain. But he could dream he was going to end up in one of those enormous elaborate mansions of the higher-ranked courtiers much easier in Persia than he could in Russia. The system pumped out enough rags to riches success stories every ten years or so to make the dream reality. 

The house was a mess; if one could call it a house. Sunny and Soren lived in a small two-bedroom house along the sixteenth lot of the Russian Settlement near Pasargadae. Sunny, Sunniva, and he met not long after he arrived. They married a few months later, then came Aesir the next year. Now four, Aesir was tall for her age. She inherited her mother’s sparkling eyes, but her hair was a much darker blonde than Sunny’s platinum. Aesir inherited that from him, as well as his slight ability to tan if the sun shone just long enough during the day. His mother moved in with them after his youngest sister left home when she could finally leave their father. The help was much appreciated, especially with his long stints away from home and Sunny’s slow descent into addiction. 

Essentially, each lot was built on the side of one tier on the side of the mountain. This Lot in particular possessed a total of twenty-five, but in some places, there were as many as sixty. Usually, it took him an hour to take the lift down the mountain since the glass boxcar stopped at all thirty tiers on the way down. Then it took him another hour to drive to work at the Palace. The commute was far too long for him to live outside the city, so he moved into an apartment inside the second city. 

The apartments were even smaller, with only one bedroom, a small bathroom and a half, and a room that only separated the kitchen from the living area with a wall that jutted out between the two. There was no way he could live there with his mother, wife, and small child. So he stayed at the apartment during the week, only coming home on the weekends.

Tonight was one of those nights. It was around eleven in the evening before he was able to make it to his humble stone house nestled deep among the hundreds of others. Standing at the wooden door, he readjusted his ponytail and stepped inside after taking a deep breath of confidence, exhaling any remaining tension in his broad shoulders he could. He was greeted by an uplifting but concerning sight. Aesir was lying on the floor on her stomach in front of the television. She paid no attention to the snowy screen displaying whatever Late Night show was usually on, as she was preoccupied with the open coloring book she was scribbling into. 

As soon as he closed the door behind him, stepping into the dark room whose only illumination came from the television, the unnatural light casting a shadow on her. Aesir jumped to her feet, the crayon she held falling out of her hand. She ran to him, embracing him by the leg and looking up at him with excitement in her eyes, “Daddy! You’re home!”

“Ace, sweetheart, what are you doing up? It’s almost midnight, you should be in bed.” 

Ren bent down to pick her up, noticing his mother was asleep on the couch. Sunny was nowhere to be seen. 

“Nana and I were waiting up for you.” she explained with energy, “But she fell asleep.”

“I can see that.” he chuckled, as she rested her head on his shoulder, her tiny arms around his neck. “Where’s your mother?”

Either out of pure coincidence or because she heard her name, Sunny slammed open the door to the bedroom, a few feet to his right. She came stumbling out. Her hair was a bedraggled mess, held up by half a ponytail, and a contortion of tangles. The jeans she wore were old, torn to shreds, held up by a belt since they would no longer fit tightly. Equally as ragged, was her sweatshirt she wore despite the fact it was summer. By now his mother was awake; she rushed over to him and he took the signal to hand off Aesir. 

“You’re finally home.” Sunny mumbled with a hint of sarcasm behind her voice. 

He waited until he heard his mother close the front door behind him to respond. They were safely outside now, and hopefully, Aesir would hear very little of what was about to happen. Almost tripping over the recliner, Sunny made her way past him. “Well? What do you want?”

She plopped down on the couch, not really looking at him but staring straight ahead of her. He sighed, moving to block her view of the television. But it wasn’t the T.V. at which she was staring because she was still looking in that direction, except now straight through him. 

“Sunny, I know you’re high.”

“I’m not high.”

“What day is it?” 

“I don’t know, fucking Wednesday?”

He ran his hand through his hair, rubbing the back of his neck, his voice only able to sound exasperated instead of angry. “It’s a weekend, you know I don’t come home until Friday…”

“Yeah, you don’t.” she sneered

“We’re not starting this again. Okay?” he offered and started to walk past her,  “I’m exhausted and I just want to go to bed.”

“You’re always exhausted.”

Soren stopped, he’d only made it halfway to the bedroom door. He turned to face her again, his frustration now fueling him, overriding his exhaustion. 

“No shit, I’m always working! Someone has to keep the lights on in this place!.”

“I’m taking care of our daughter!” 

“Bullshit, all you do is shoot up and lay in front of the TV.” he raised his arm to gesture towards the door where his mother was on the other side waiting to bring Aesir back in. 

“My mother is the one who has to get Aesir up in the morning, my mother takes her to school, she watches her, and she’s the one who tucks her in at night when I’m not here!”

“If I’m so terrible, then why don’t you go ahead and leave!?”

“Because it’s my house!”

He spoke louder than he meant to, now more ashamed than angry. Both of them stared at the other, in a stalemate. She stood with her arms crossed, expectantly as if he hadn’t made his last point. Soren shook his head, “Fine. Even though this is my house, I’ll leave.”

He stormed over to the main bedroom, slamming the door behind him causing a few framed photos hanging on the wall to shake. By now he guessed the entire neighborhood was awake listening in. But he was past the point where he cared about that sort of thing. He went to the closet, sliding it open, but not before jiggling it loose from the track it always got stuck on. Sunny once again was out to obsessively outdo him in dramatics, flinging open the door and stomping in. Reaching for a duffel bag on the top shelf, he ignored her as if she wasn’t there. 

“Great. Perfect. Leave, like your father. I just hope to Odin you didn’t touch Aesir.”

He paused, he could almost see the knot form in the pit of his stomach, tied tight like a thread in the eye of a needle. It was one thing to compare him to his father by accusing him of abandoning them, it was quite another thing to lay such a disgusting accusation against him. She knew it was one of his biggest fears, she found the chink in his armor and stuck the knife straight in. He swallowed his pride and his pain and continued to grab what he could, squeezing past the tight fit between the drawer and the bed, taking items from his drawer, the closet, and the floor – shirts, underwear, socks – to stuff into his bag. When he was done, he zipped the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Making his way out, he stopped by Sunny who was standing by the doorway. Looking her straight in the eyes, he snorted, “I hope you die on the toilet with a needle in your arm.”

With that, he stormed out of the house.

Soren sat on the ledge of what was the edge of his so-called front yard. The purple-gray of dawn was slowly approaching, dragging the sun eastward with it. From this vantage point, Soren could see the entire city. Much like his own little corner of the world, the city was a sprawling heavily populated rock carved into an inhabitable series of tiers encircling the mountain, except set on several platforms. It was also more cultivated with plant life, newer buildings, and better transportation. At the top sat the inner part of Persepolis, the so-called ‘Royal DIstrict’ where the royal family lived in their mansions and palaces, surrounded by five-star restaurants, hotels, and shops, glass and gold, riches that would make Midas jealous. Such a place was where he lived during the week, only like a kid near a stove patiently watching as his mother made cookies for the bake sale, he wasn’t allowed to touch any of it.

This week, King Sephr traveled to Rome, so Ren was assigned to the entourage charged with escorting the Queen Mother Roshanak about Susa. Most of the time she spent attending fancy dinners and complaining about Princess Zilia. He was certain his mother would’ve traded her drug-addled daughter-in-law for the Queen’s slightly antagonistic one. 

He wondered if King Sephr, or anyone in the royal family, ever thought about how their people lived. Technically, he was not one of their subjects but all the same he still inhabited the lands within the Persians borders. He sought refuge in the Empire, didn’t the leaders have a responsibility, if not to him, but the most vulnerable like his mother, or Aesir? He may have been doing the best to abilities to provide for them, but he was only one man in the undulating sea of millions doing the same for their family, fighting over a supposedly limited supply of resources.

The ground he sat on was littered with broken glass and Pall Malls. The smell of Pall Malls made Ren Sick, which was the odor lingering in the air; the ground littered with empty beer bottles and cigarette butts. Those were the type of cigarettes his dad smoked, and because he was a trucker with a 3 pack a day habit, the smell of it inescapable. If Soren never smelled another cigarette in his life, he would consider it a gift. Hearing certain deep throaty laughs, hearing the engine of a car backfire, The rotary phone was an old fixture of the house. He would stare at the phone, like the clicking of each move of the pendulum he decided to figure out how to rat his father out for his despicable deeds. 

He wasn’t sure how long he was sitting there before his mother came to join him. But when she did, she snapped him out of his daze. She was a thin woman, her waist-long white hair blew ever so lightly with the breeze. At one time she had been beautiful. And she still was, her blue-grey eyes still sparkled, and her pale skin relatively clear of wrinkles. But most people only looked at her and saw an old woman, as society is wont to do to all women past a certain age.

Soren grabbed a handful of rocks, letting them slip through his fingers one by one. For a few minutes they sat in silence before he turned to her, “Mom, I screwed up.”

“You fell in love with the wrong woman, it happens.” she shrugged with the comforting wisdom only a mother could offer. It was the motherly reassurance he made no mistake, he just made a slight error in judgment which could be rectified.

“She accused me of…” he started, but couldn’t find the strength to finish his sentence. But he didn’t care to, she was well aware of what he insinuated.  

“Mom, you know I would never hurt my little girl.”

“I know.”

Soren looked down at the dirt, and grabbed another handful of rocks, “What should I do? Should I try to take Aesir with me? Or is she better off here?”

“I can’t tell you that. This is a decision you need to make on your own.”

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Whatever You Do, You’re Still My Sister

Almost one and a half pounds of double-edged Damascus Steel, 92 centimeters long, with gold wire instruments at its hilt; Marzanna’s sword was a work of art, or so she considered the Spatha to be. Every sword was a work of art to her. Even the Xiphos her Greek opponent was wielding. Sixty centimeters, at about two pounds, it was a shorter instrument resembling a dagger more than a sword. It was a secondary weapon, used in conjunction with the spear the Greek dropped a few moments previously. 

When he’d lost control of the spear, the cacophony of cheers from the crowd quieted with a collective groan. Inside the domed arena, the padded ground below them, made to appear as real dirt, surrounded by thousands of Roman citizens, Marzanna was not welcome. She attended their University, fought for that same school, won glory for the team countless times, but she was not one of them. Her opponent was another student visiting from the University of Athens. A short, stocky blond man a few inches taller than her five-foot-four stature, he was muscular, broad, and most likely outweighed her by fifty pounds. Zan, as she preferred, was almost certain the Romans were betting against her in the point spread. She was a barbarian. A Russian from the West, specifically the Russian State of Poland. Although the dark hair and brown eyes her Slavic heritage provided her allowed Zan to blend in well enough, the snow-white complexion inherited from her Norwegian mother gave her away. She was a rarity as one of ten women on the University’s Gladiatorial team, an even rarer specimen as the only one who would challenge a man. Coupled with her Russian status, she might as well have been fighting for the other side. 

Shouting, gesturing, and pointing, the Romans were urging the Greek to collect his spear. Hovering over the field, bright green letters informed the spectators the home team was winning four to two. However, the Romans in their expensive polos, designer dresses, and mountains of smart jewelry piled onto their person, respected the Greek. They did not respect Marzanna. Losing might even be an honor for them. 

The Greek pulled his sword from his scabbard, the Xiphos, and began to charge.

Clashing steel, the renewed cheers of the arena, grunts emanating from both fighters; all non-existent in her ears. Zan could not afford to look at the unflattering angles the jumbotron captured from her figure, nor could she let the mounting pressure of exhaustion in her chest, which was capturing her breath with every inhalation, affect her. Sweat drenched the inside of her Kevlar vest, her hairline shining and oily with perspiration. 

With every swipe of his sword, she ducked and then rose quickly to catch it with her blade. She would fling as hard as she could in an attempt to get him to drop the sword. Her strategy wasn’t to stab but to exhaust, taking the opportunity to pounce onto her enemy in those moments of weakness. No matter how many times he lurched forward to corner her closer to the wall, she would pivot, leaving them ceaselessly circling one another. Her Spatha would slam against his shorter sword, sending reverberations up her forearm, and she would push steel against steel to shove the sword out of his hand. She hadn’t gotten one jab in, but neither had he. The two of them were locked in a stalemate of swordplay.  His outgrowth of curls repeatedly shaded his vision, as he was forced to brush them out of his eyes with every retreat. One advantage she possessed was her foresight in tying her shoulder-length hair behind her. 

Catching the discarded spear out of the corner of her eye within reach, Zan hid beneath her shield to allow the bronze to bear the brunt of the attacks. She’d gradually been edging her way towards the spear, praying to Odin and Thor the Greek wouldn’t notice his weapon sitting out in the open, ready for the taking. After a series of blows, the man paused for a short breath. It was all Zan needed. She tossed her shield and leaped for the spear. The Greek was now coming at her with the full weight of his being, his heavy sword poised to hack off an appendage. Zan flung her sword to block his onslaught, catching the weapon in midair and twisting his arm around. He grunted, Zan stabbing the spear in her left hand directly into his thigh. Letting out an agitated cry, the man still gripping his sword sank to his knees. 

Zan was prepared to make the final blow when an electric shock traveled through her veins, causing her to drop her sword as well as her gait. She fell to her hands and knees, lurching forward to keep steady. The thin strip of metal cuffed to her wrists shocked her into submission.

The referee’s announcement was barely audible in Zan’s ringing ears, the various cries from the crowd mere fuzzy echoes. Nonetheless, she heard him call out, “Winner, Viking girl!”

A team of paramedics came running in from the tunnel on the other side of the arena. From a few feet away, the Greek was now regaining his strength as he began to pull at the strap of his belt. He offered his widest grin, “Good game.”

“Likewise.”

“Hey. Would you like to hang out sometime?”

Wrapping the belt around his leg, the man looked up at Zan. She wasn’t so sure she heard him correctly. Blinking the stars out of her eyes, Zan panted, “Are you seriously asking me on a date after I just kicked your ass?”

“Why not?” he shrugged in response, yanking on his makeshift tourniquet and buckling it. Zan would have laughed, maybe even taken him up on his offer as a lark, if she didn’t have to be ready to clock in at her shift up in the skybox.

“Sorry. I don’t play that side of the fence… not anymore.”

“Pandora! You’re up!” 

In the middle of unloading a tray of cocktails, Zan’s manager called for her. Most restaurants, bars, and hotels no longer used humans for cleaning, service, and maintenance tasks, however, some places would employ attractive young men or women to make themselves stand out in an otherwise crowded marketplace. Human eye candy beat out rapid-speed robotic service any day. The four men seated at the couch glancing up at her as she gingerly set each glass down. 

She heaved a sigh, glaring over her shoulder at her manager, who was standing by the large viewing window near the doorway with a smug smirk on his thin lips right under his rat-like mustache.  

“Dude, seriously?”

“Upstairs, now.”

The girls used pseudonyms, Zan picked Pandora because, for most of her life, she’d been seen as the inconvenient sister. A twin, she was the younger of the two who received the genetic leftovers. Her sister Zilia was tiny, with big sparkly green eyes, and exotic dark hair. Zan was taller, more awkward, with plain brown hair and freckles. It only made sense when Zilia left for vacation, Zan would temporarily replace her at the job her sister abandoned for two months. This was an insult to Zan not only as a woman but as an athlete. Less than two hours ago she’d defeated the second-best warrior in the Athens college circuit, and now she was being reduced to a piece of ass. She detested the tight red crop top which practically suffocated her by pushing her chest down, the tiny white shorts she was forced to adjust every five minutes, and the heavy makeup that exacerbated the acne she was forced to cover with additional makeup. 

Muttering to herself, Zan flung off her apron. She shuffled past the windows allowing those in the skybox to see the events below. Several middle-aged men in outdated designer suits stood around holding their glasses of scotch, or bourbon, chatting with one another, as they attempted to sound intelligent. A few of them called after her, but she ignored them in her ire. Only three girls remained in the box, the others were already upstairs in the VIP room. 

Stomping across the room Zan flung the door open. She stomped up the staircase leading to the dressing room without any acknowledgment of the balding, short form of a man who controlled her paycheck. Her only respite was the white sneakers they wore when traipsing back and forth from the bar to the lounge, now even that small victory was gone. Zan kicked off the sneakers, reaching down to pull off her socks as she hopped her way towards the clothing rack hovering in the air. She scanned the remaining items of clothing, cursing the girls before her who’d grabbed the newer outfits if one could call them outfits. Pushing aside the coat hangers, Zan skimmed through flimsy bottoms, cleavage-enhancing bustiers, and tiny triangle bikini tops. Eventually, she decided upon a red bustier and black panties, slipping into her black two-inch heels. She hated high heels. She hated tight tops which made her chest appear even bigger than it already was. Most of all, Zan absolutely loathed her job. 

Strapped to her garter belt was her Tipper. Cash tips were a thing of the past, Zan and the other girls received their additional money electronically, through the small Tipping device no bigger than the palm of their hand, on which an identification number was stamped. Good service – in whatever capacity – was rewarded by a transfer from the patron’s bank account via an outrageously expensive smartwatch, bracelet, or cell. 

Zan snatched the bottle of whiskey sitting on the makeup counter and took a long swig. Swallowing the liquid fire, Zan tried not to choke. She twisted her expression before she took another long sip, this time it went down easier. Hitting herself on the chest, she finally released the cough stuck in her esophagus.  Not only did the booze help chase away the shame, it also soothed her aching body that had yet to recover from the fight.

Eventually, she gathered enough liquid courage to enter the dark, secluded room opposite the stage, Zan snuck in through the side by the bar. Hopefully whoever requested her presence was either passed out drunk or decided to move onto another girl. The murmurs and soft exotic music filled Zan’s increasingly inebriated brain. She struggled for balance, leaning against the wall with her arms behind her to steady her gait. 

“No, I told you, Persephone is on vacation. This is my new girlfriend, Pandora.”

Shit. She could hear Salacia’s voice approaching. Zan’s girlfriend and partner in crime, Salacia was leading a tall, fairly handsome man with dark brown hair in her direction.

“She looks a lot like Persephone.” the man eyed Zan, his gaze wandering over her chest. 

Resisting the urge to punch him both for mentioning her sister – who chose the innocent name Persephone – and for leering at Zan unapologetically, Zan stood up straighter.

Salacia, or Cia as most called her outside of the Skybox, chose the name, Demeter. She stood five inches taller than Zan, which meant she towered over Zilia. Cia was, of course, Zilia’s ex, in continuing the tradition of picking up her sister’s leftovers. The two had broken up a month prior. So there was no harm, right? The girl was a fairly popular request, due to her lustrous ocean gaze, long blonde hair, and even longer legs. When she was dating Zilia they made enough money to pay off their tuition and then some. Zan’s muscular frame and permanent scowl did not attract as much clientele. 

“Are you still interested then?”

“Pandora, I like the sound of that.” the man nodded, his deep chestnut eyes still failing to find Zan’s face. At last, he met her glare with a grin, “Are you as… hesitant as your sister?”

“You mean, am I willing to fuck you?” Zan arched her brow.

She was well aware of the fact, unlike Zilia, she lacked the ability to feign a doe-like naiveté. But the reason Zilia was able to fake it so well was that she was still sort of innocent. As far as Zan knew, the prettier, more enchanting twin, never let any of the men actually touch her. Because she didn’t have to. Another point of comparison tempting Zan to consider punching his stupidly handsome face with greater fervor than before. 

“Five hundred drachmas.”

“A thousand,” Zan folded her arms across her chest, purposely amplifying her breasts to her advantage. If he was going to stare, he’d have to pay for it later. The room was beginning to spin, Zan’s legs were quickly becoming wobblier with each second. 

Even if his chiseled face made Zan want to cross the fence once again and play straight, even if his orange-scented cologne mixed with a slight hint of coffee was intoxicating… Zan was coming to despise him. He had a dubious, used-car salesman aura to him she did not take kindly to. 

“Fine, twelve hundred. That’s more than you would make in a week.”

“Two days.”

She felt the need to correct him having been thoroughly insulted. He studied her for a moment, then addressing Cia by her pseudonym, he turned to her, “Demi? Do we have a deal?”

“If she gets twelve, so do I.”

“You girls better not tell your friend about this. I can’t afford to break the bank.”

A sly smirk formed at the edge of Cia’s lips, “Yes, you can, and you will.”

At the strike of midnight…

…there was no fairy godmother to take her home. Instead, the prince took her by the hand and asked if she would join him.

The clock was ticking for her in Rome. Only one more term was left, and then she would have to wait a whole six months to find out whether or not she would be accepted into the graduate program at the University of Rome. Two months of summer, six months of school, and six months of torturous waiting; over a year before she would know for sure if she could stay. Or if she would be forced to return to Russia. Russia was awful dark, damp, cold place without beauty, art, and high culture. It was a place without hope for the things which made her happy. 

Instead of cavorting around the city with her girlfriends on sapphic adventures as she did every summer before, Zilia ran away. Temporarily. She ran not to the end of the Roman Empire, but to the end of the Persian Empire. The summer of 6351 she ran to the far reaches of the desert on the Persian/Indian border. To escape her problems for the time being, Zilia decided to sign up for a summer program for college students to teach at an academy for boys aged 6-16. 

So Zilia found herself standing in a small dimly lit auditorium of ten rows. Six of those rows were filled with teenage boys. She was made to deliver a symposium as a preview for the course she would be teaching, but she had a good idea most of the boys were not interested in learning about the similarities between the foundational myths and legends consisting of the religions of the Northern Russians – formerly known as Scandinavia – and Zoroastrian and Hindu beliefs. 

Of course a group of teenagers found her attractive; she was small, petite, her face tricking the viewer into thinking she was younger than her 20 years. Most of most of the male teachers agreed, almost half of the staff was lined up against the wall to her right in addition to a few women. She’d heard it many times throughout her life when she wasn’t suffering with one of the various illnesses plaguing her since childhood. Up until the past year, Zilia’s lack of self-confidence prevented her from understanding the true extent of her sexuality, after all; how could she know she was bisexual if she didn’t ever talk to men? Even on her best days, while she accepted the premise others found her to be an object of desire, she wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t detected anything in her appearance to put her on par with the curvy, blonde, blue eyed models so popular in Rome, or the tall, buxom girls with high cheekbones desired in Russia. However, she knew better than to question an advantage.

“ … I would like to thank the staff and students for making me feel so welcome during my first week here. It seems we are out of time, so if you have any questions, I will take them personally in the fifteen minutes you have before your next speaker. I humbly thank you.”

As a polite smattering of applause echoed, Zilia pushed a strand of her long dark brown hair behind her ear. Most occasions she wore it tied behind her, but she wanted to make a lasting impression today. Over the next half-hour several teachers and students approached her with questions concerning the class. The stuffy auditorium cleared until only she remained. She and a fairly tall man leaning against the back wall by the exit wearing large wire rim glasses and a sport jacket. From her vantage point, he was relatively attractive with shoulder length black hair gelled in place, a broad frame, and a well bronzed tan. Even from such a distance, she sensed a magnetic pull drawing her to him. She was intrigued, a sort of calming electricity flooded her. But it enthralled her with the kind of energy she’d only read about in meditation manuals and religious texts. It was indescribable. 

Stashing her notes into her bag, she slung it over her shoulder before she began to make her way up the aisle towards the back exit. The bag held most of her life. Aside from the two most relevant books to the courses she was teaching at the academy — the Avesta, and the Poetic Edda — was the paper thin electronic workbook the school gave her. Every gigabyte of free space not dedicated to emails, essays, tests, spreadsheets, and other class related items of business she downloaded as many books onto it as the memory would allow. She would save them to a USB stick to download onto her clunky obsolete laptop. Next to her laptop was an equally obsolete cell which only took voice calls. Also inside the bag was a pair of shorts and tank top to change into since Romans, and Persians to a lesser extent, were still uncomfortable with the idea of women wearing pants of any sort. In the way of medication and supplements, she kept a bottle R.S. – a handy pill able to heal non-fatal scars, cuts, and broken bones – as well as energy supplements, and a 90-day supply of Xanax. All her medications were stuffed into a purple fluorescent makeup bag along with the beauty supplies necessary to keep her looking flawless. Finally, a tiny lavender scented perfume spritzer, an eight ounce bottle of calorie free watermelon water, and a wallet. The wallet held her University ID card, Teaching ID, smart bracelet connecting to her assigned room, and an emergency bank card. She wasn’t fond of wearing the bracelet if she didn’t have to, since it irritated her skin.

The man who’d inflamed her affections so fervently, jogged across the room to the door, opening it as she approached. She paused for a split second but gave him a polite nod and thanked him as she crossed the threshold into the brightly lit hallway. The slight pause almost stopped her dead in her tracks; up close she was able to see his handsome angular features, his kind smile, and eyes so dark they were all but black. He was thin but obviously well defined from what she could tell. Continuing down the long hallway lit by lanterns interspersed between heavy cedar office doors reading the name of one of the teachers. Under her flat blue slippers, the soft red and gold Oriental rug padded her footsteps. Behind her another set of footsteps could be discerned in the desolate corridor. 

The next thing she knew, the man was walking beside her, but he kept his distance. Now he was close enough for her to notice the height disparity; she only came to his chest. She was a short woman, so this was the norm, but now she was extremely aware of it.

With every soft thump of their footsteps, Zilia’s pounding heart rate echoed in her ears. She fought to control her breath before she daydreamed either a kidnapping, or an unexpected kiss of passion. Maybe she wanted him to kidnap her. Maybe she desired from him a little boundary pushing. He cleared his throat, catching her attention, pulling her away from thoughts she knew very well were dangerous and misleading. 

“Hey, great speech up there. I was late so I only caught the ending.”

When she looked up at him, she was forced to crane her head. Despite the fact she was barely able to find his gaze, she still managed to catch the energy radiating from him, an energy which fed off setting sun glaring through the large windows at the center of the main lobby they were swiftly approaching. Smirking, she gathered the strength to retort, “Then how do you know it was great?”

“From what I heard, it sounded incredibly interesting.” he shrugged, stuffing his hands into his pockets “I’m Navid, by the way.”

Pausing, she came to a stop, she could feel a blush heating her face, her limbs quivering. When she first arrived a few of the teachers warned her to stay away from Navid Astarabadi, Mr. A as the Roman kids called him. She was told he was a member of the Persian royal family; arduously reclusive outside of the classroom. Essentially, she was told to leave him alone. Although she was used to meeting important people traveling with her family on her father’s diplomatic missions, she was always prepared. This time she was caught completely off guard – acting as she would with any other staff member – and was left to wonder if she’d offended him in any way. Especially since he was quite handsome. 

“Oh, I’m sorry. Should I- “ she considered bowing, but instead took the hem of her dress in a half curtsey, half bow, meeting the two gestures in the middle to be safe.

“You’re fine, no need for formalities, I actually came here because I wanted to avoid all of that.” he assured her. Slowly she straightened her posture, readjusting the bag on her shoulder which fell in the course of her curtsey/bow. Navid flashed a smile as if she’d amused him,“I’m assuming you’ve already heard about me?”

“The other teachers told me to avoid bothering you. I’m Zilia.”

“Nice to meet you, Zilia. You should ignore the others. They like to scare the new recruits.”

“Every place has its initiations, doesn’t it?” she choked out something resembling a laugh, clutching the strap of her bag closely as they were almost at the archway to the main lobby, “So which part did you find interesting?”

Navid did not respond, his expression now blank. She’d caught him off guard, to which she raised an eyebrow, “You said you found what you managed to catch at the end interesting. I’m curious what it was.”

“Yes. The part about the… Vikings?”

“I see, you came just to check out the new girl?”

“Honestly? I noticed none of the boys were outside like they usually are after classes and one of them told me they were all here. I had to see why they’d sacrifice their free time to come to a seminar.”he chuckled, then added with a smirk. “Although I can’t say as I blame them.”

“Let me guess, you’re going to say it’s because I’m so unbelievably attractive?” she rolled her eyes derisively. Men were terribly predictable. She found their attempts at gaining her affection either annoying, or adorable. In this case it was the latter. Hearing his deep voice tripping over his words, watching his much larger frame follow her around like a puppy was endearing. Crossing into the main lobby, they passed a series of chairs and hovering in mid-air. Here the boys would study or hang out between classes. To their left, and to their right, an open archway led outside, both sides possessing a series of steps leading to a fountain encircled by a roundabout which guided passersby to the main path. They stood there in the archway before the porch, the twelve inches of space between where they stood, and the twelve inches of vertical space between them both might as well have been hundreds. Zilia was left with the disadvantage of the inability to see his expression face-to-face. 

“Actually yes. You are one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.” he smiled at her. A rush of excitement surged through her veins, her teeth clenching. If Navid noticed, he didn’t comment. Instead, he studied the courtyard, assessing the sun’s position in the sky. “But I was also going to ask if you would be willing to go out with me for a cup of coffee. You can fill me in on what I missed from your lecture.”

Glistening in the afternoon sun, the water running from the fountain was the only sound, save for the chattering of a few students sitting in the lobby behind them. Time came to a standstill in that moment, Zilia could’ve sworn for one second, the fountain stopped gushing its recycled water, and the boys were frozen in their tracks. But it perhaps it was only an illusion. She raised her brow, adjusting her bag onto her shoulder for what was probably the fifth time. “You really care about the similarities in myths across the Eurasian continent and their influences on Northern Russian religion?”

“Now that you mention it, I am.”

“Okay… When?”

“Are you free now?”

Zilia bit her lip, pretending to juggle the idea in her mind along with many other plans. With a shrug, she batted her eyes, “I think I have time for a little side detour in my day.”

The End is Always Near; L’appel du Vide (Call of the Void)

(Trigger warning for those with suicidal ideations or fears about death/the apocalypse. No judgment, I’m right there with you. This is just my version of therapy).

Sunday night I finished reading The End is Always Near by Hardcore History podcaster, and radio personality, Dan Carlin. I devoured it in about 4 days, which is monumental for me since I have ADHD. It was one of those books I’d always intended to read, but just never got around to it. The past month, however, it kept showing up on my Twitter feed. Naturally, I had to read it.

My thoughts on the book overall? If you don’t like random thought experiments, political and psychological theory that seem to go nowhere, and unconnected ideas, then this is not the book for you. If, however, you love history, you love thinking and new ideas, and you listen to Hardcore History (if you don’t but do meet the criteria above, then what are you even doing? start listening, like yesterday), this is the book for you.

Carlin begins by posing some very existential and societal questions about the way we’re raised, the way our grandparents were raised, and how past generations may or may not have traumatized every child until the 1960’s. Next, we foray into the ancient Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires; the Greeks, Romans… and then the plagues. Black Death and Spanish flu, finishing off finally with nuclear war and “Fancy Boy” President John F. Kennedy.

For my own personal tastes, this book kept me entertained for the most part (not Carlin’s fault, I just don’t particularly care for 9th century France), leaving me wanting more. Don’t worry, if you want to read more, there is a “Further Reading” section I know I will be taking advantage of. But this book took me back to my favorite episodes of the show, and introduced me to some new ideas and events I want to explore next. So I give this fast-moving, philosophical, historical leap frogging book, a 4.8/5. Probably the highest score yet.

That leads me to wonder, why do I like this book so much? Not just for the time periods, or the dizzying array of intellectual rabbit holes… but because the subject matter is just so relevant, I just can’t help putting myself in these situations. Why was I drawn to read this book for the past year? Why was it all over my Twitter feed (probably because I follow a lot of nerds).

Why are people so instinctually drawn to movies, books, and music about the end of the world (or at least, the end of humanity)? It doesn’t seem to matter if the material is using humor to confront this terrifying idea like Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, and James Franco’s This is the End, or maybe a more satirical turn like Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It also doesn’t matter if it’s serious, gritty, and so in your face you can’t ignore the fear of death and destruction… like The Terminator series, Night of the Living Dead, or Soylent Green.

Humanity likes watching the end of humanity. Weird. Not only that, but there’s been an uptick of films, books, and TV shows featuring these themes; The Walking Dead, The Maze Runner, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Resident Evil, Donnie Darko, World War Z, Good Omens, Station Eleven… the list goes on. Some people seem to think the reason for this is due to our own anxieties about the increasingly unstable world we live in (global warming, threat of nuclear war, political upheaval, pandemics, Mark Zuckerberg creeping in on your weird sexting kinks involving a broom, lube, and diapers on Facebook Messenger).

But it might also be that our brains are just weird. Of course, our brains aren’t even supposed to be aware of themselves, but here we are some 10,000 years of ‘progress’ later. And for some reason, the urge to self-sabotage is a problem many of us deal with. There’s the sabotage we’re aware of… say for instance, breaking up with someone because you’re afraid of commitment, or not wanting to have to deal with seeing the same dick everyday (literally). And then there’s the kind we’re unaware of. Those instances where you’re standing on the edge of a building and wondering, ‘Huh, what if I just jumped?’

Quite often, many of us who have had this experience have never once had depression or suicidal tendencies (I have, but I’ve heard of others who don’t). It’s not related to wanting to kill yourself, it’s just… because. Perhaps it is akin to being a kid and wondering, ‘What would happen if I touched this hot stove?’ even though you’ve just seen your older sister burn her fingerprints off (a good opportunity to start a career in crime). You know what will happen. You burn. You fall. You die.

Still, for a split second, that thought makes all the sense in the world. I’m sure a good amount of you have heard of “l’appel du vide” or, “Call of the Void.” The first time I remember hearing of it (I’m sure my brain heard it before last year, but was paying attention to a corgi in a sailor suit instead), was listening to Stuff to Blow Your Mind episode, Jump Into the Void.

I know I’ve suggested this show before, but I’m going to recommend it again. The episode kind of plays around with the idea of our own self-sabotaging nature.  One theory they mention being floated around is that our brains are trying to short circuit a problem. For instance, you are afraid of heights (I am not, I am more afraid of dying from the fall… because I am way more logical about that than I am about being buried alive. Apparently my mind thinks that’s what it needs to worry about). Your brain wants to solve this problem, and overcome said fear. The only way to overcome fear, is to face it. Just fall, and you’ve solved the problem because you just did it. Only now you have a bigger problem; you’re dead.

So perhaps the only way we can face the fear of dying or losing everything and everyone we hold dear, without actually having to face it, is to simulate this experience through various forms of media. Or maybe this kind of simulation is a warning of how bad things could be, and it can help us mentally plan and prepare. As an INTP, I thrive off of the pre-planning process, the execution… not so much. But in the end (pun not intended) most of us don’t actually want any of this to happen. If you do, maybe it’s time to seek help.

On that note, read the book (or maybe something else), watch the new season of Altered Carbon (future review…?), and bake a cake because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing.

https://www.iheart.com/podcast/stuff-to-blow-your-mind-21123915/episode/from-the-vault-jump-into-the-29791091/

Ever Stood On A Ledge And Thought, ‘I Could Jump’? There’s A Phrase For That

Reading From the Middle

(SPOILER ALERT FOR BOOKS) So I have a bad habit. I find a book, or perhaps a movie. I read the synopsis and happen to like it – something that is far from easy since I am rather particular with the books I read and the movies I watch… Only to find out, when I finish the book (or movie) that there is another that follows the story. Great! But only – wait, its a trilogy, and I’ve just read the second book. Well, slam me sideways on Sunday!

This is a common pattern that I have repeated time and again. Shouldn’t authors be forced to put warnings on their books like McDonald’s does on their apple pies? Because, unlike Marvel movies (Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man all had weak 2nd entries, okay, I will fight you in the dark on that one… unless you compare Iron Man 2 to Iron Man 3, and then that’s a different story of slowly deteriorating quality), sequel books are actually really damn good.

Everville by Clive Barker, The Devil Rejects, directed by Rob Zombie (starring Sid Haig, Sherri Moon Zombie, and Bill Moseley). And The Devil’s Bible (written by Dana Chamblee Carpenter). Notice how all three of these things are hell-adjacent (even Everville, if you know your Clive Barker is), this is probably a pattern…?

But anyhow, all three of these have one thing in common, they are sequels in a trilogy. The Devil’s Rejects, arguably, perhaps is maybe not. Now, I know many people have strong opinions on Mr. Zombie and his films. Some people think they’re absolute trash, some think they’re perfect homages to horror movies of the past, and a lot of other people don’t give a dead COVID-19 bat about them. Having seen at least 5 Zombie films, I can say truthfully that there is valid points in most anyone’s opinion. But The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, and (don’t film-shame me on this one) Halloween, aren’t bad. Let me rephrase that. Halloween is not TERRIBLE. Halloween 2 should’ve never happened. House of 1000 Corpses is good fun, and The Devil’s Rejects is even better. It’s arguably a film that can stand on its own, which is why when fishing around for “Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made,” this often shows up on the top cult films list. It’s completely different from Corpses from the attitude, the styling, and who the plot centers around. So I ended up watching it before ‘1000 Corpses’. And maybe you should too.

Second, Everville, the sequel to The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. Barker, I believe has many similarities to Rob Zombie in the way that most of his career focuses on  making art about an enigmatic group of people you want to know more about but don’t exactly want to meet. The difference of course is that at the end of the day, you still hate the Cenobites and Pinhead. The Devil’s Rejects almost makes you root for the protagonists (Tutti f’in fruity anyone?). Having read a few books in the Hellraiser series, I can say I probably will never want Pinhead to get his ice cream…

But Everville I read in high school, so bear with me, it’s been a while. Many critics have shared the same opinion as I have about Everville, that there are way too many fluffing people in this. There’s a gay teenager who hooks up with a hundreds of years old frontiersman, a frontier girl framed for just about everything that goes wrong, a winged creature name Coker, a receptionist having an affair, said receptionists manslaughtering beau, a girl possessed by someone named “Raul,” a squid-like creature possessing a hive-mind, and of course, Harry D’Amour. Confused? Well, so was I and that was probably because I never read The Great and Secret Show… however, Clive Barker does not make it very obvious that this is anything more than crazy Lovecraft inspired stories by a BDSM connoisseur…

Finally, The Devil’s Bible. I was immediately drawn in to read it by the cover and the title, as I have been reading many stories about the evil and/or supernatural (see above). Unfortunately, it turned out to be a romance novel. Not that there’s anything wrong with romance novels… but usually that isn’t my sort of thing. The story switches back and forth between 13th century Bohemia, which makes it the 1200s because time is a social construct, and the modern day. Our heroine, Mouse, is literally the Devil’s daughter. If you haven’t read the first one, oops. SPOILER. But you saw the already and chose not to listen. Didn’t you? You know what you did.

When I finished this book, I realized that this was a part of a trilogy, and great! But oh no, it was the second book. However, after having read the twists and turns of this one, having the flashbacks, as well as various historical ad-ins, I think I like this one better. It is what makes the romance part of it bearable. Even if you’re not into romance, you’ll still like it. I did start reading Part Three, Book of the Just, in addition to listening to the first one on audiobook since I already know what happens. The first book is about Mouse finding out who she is, falling in love with a king, and probably doing shy romance novel heroine stuff like fainting and feeling the “deep throb of his manhood” next to her leg. But Mouse, I can’t hate. There are some unmistakable similarities between her and myself that I might dedicate another post to. But for now, Mouse is a likable character not because she represents the quiet “mouse” in the corner, but because she subverts those expectations and finds the strength within herself to survive, with or without a man (including her father). Skip the first one, maybe. But don’t discount the next two just because you read some annoying sap.

So that’s my predicament. I consistently fall into the trap of reading a book series from the middle. To a lesser extent, movies because movies are usually advertised as such… And it doesn’t necessarily ruin the fun of the first one. I probably never would’ve read the Bohemian Gospel because it’s advertised as a romance novel while the second one is more of a historical fiction. I also never would’ve watched The Devil’s Rejects (okay, I probably would’ve, but not with as much fervor). And I have never read The Great and Secret Show, the prequel to Everville, but I have decided to pick it up now since its been almost ten years since I read Everville (when I was like, 10 *wink wink*). Happy reading!

Ethnic Miscasting in Hollywood

Hello all! I’ve recently just finished up two books that I am in the process of reviewing. I was going to write about that when I was on Facebook looking through a group that shares Historical memes, and I ran into a discussion about historical accuracy in movies.

Oh boy, did that open up a can of beans and now I feel the need to discuss to someone, anyone, about historical inaccuracy. So my official stance on historical fiction is that well, it’s fiction. Books usually have a lot more leeway with this because they are often labeled as to whether they are non-fiction or historical fiction. Books and movies based on actual events and lives are a bit trickier. But what do we actually know about the past? Recently, I read a book by Mary Beard called Confronting the Classics. Beard makes a great point that, save for historical documents, books, diaries, records, and archeological evidence… we have literally no idea how people lived thousands of years ago.

Before the invention of photography, film, and the Internet, we were just stabbing at turkeys in the dark, hoping to get a nice Thanksgiving meal. Hell, we don’t even know how many “old maids” in Victorian times were really just eccentric, scarf knitting lesbians. We don’t know if Cleopatra, and her nude “virginal” self, popped out of a basket  like a stripper at a bachelor party to seduce Julius Caesar. And we don’t know why people liked to place stones in weird places or build palaces made of mammoth bones (it’s a thing, check it out)…

My point is, that there is very little evidence to tell us who the people of the past really were, and how the average person lived. The online discussion mentioned three movies in particular: Troy, 300, and Alexander… and I have strong opinions on these movies. Troy, I have seen. 300, I have mostly seen, and Alexander I refuse to watch.

I won’t speculate on how good or bad Oliver Stone’s version of Alexander the Great is (probably not so great). But I can say that neither Collin Farrell nor Angelina Jolie have any place in this movie. Alexander the Great did NOT look like a dreamy Irish bad boy, and I’m sure his sister was not as pale as Jolie usually is. It’s a shame that the movie was so horribly miscast because I’m very interested in that part of Greek history and would love to see another, more realistic, rendering of the era on the big screen. Alexander the Great is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Western world, and yet, we don’t actually know a whole lot about him. Because of that fact, we can take a few liberties. However, putting his story into a a 3 and a half hour terribly acted farce (come on, it’s Collin Farrell!), kind of ruined any potential movies to be set in that time for the next 20 yers or so. Aside from not casting any Greeks/Macedonians or anyone remotely close to looking like they are in fact, from that part of the world, the movie does a disservice to the amazing, terrifying, and unprecedented events the man accomplished. Whether you believe he’s a destroyer of cultures, or a hero of Hellenism, he’s still talked about and studied 1,700 years later. In my opinion, that’s a legacy that deserves superb acting and better storytelling.

Next, 300. What gets me is that it was based off of a real historical account, and yet still got it kind of wrong. Although, being based on a comic book does allow it some creative license. Again, my main problem is that Gerard Butler is British. It is incredibly distracting to watch a man who’s supposedly a 4th century B.C. Spartan yelling ,”Tonight We Dine in Hell…” (tomorrow, I’m thinking Arby’s) in the most unGreek accent I have ever heard. Don’t even get me started on Fassy (Michael Fassbender) in the sequel. Yes, it was darn fine acting, but it’s also hard to picture this mofo as Greek since his EYES ARE BLUE. Did they not have enough money to spring for brown colored contacts?

And then there’s the ethnically ambiguous Rodrigo Santoro. He’s Brazilian, but apparently, because he’s not white, it means he can play anyone from a Palestinian carpenter who happens to be the Son of God, to a bald effeminate Persian King. But, at least we can say he looked the part.

Then we have Troy. Which I thoroughly enjoyed. And this is a movie that many other people enjoyed as well, since it did well at the box office. The Iliad is fiction so as long as we stick to the book, we’re good. Right? Well… not when you miscast Paris and Helen, the two most important people of the story (other than Achilles). Why is Helen blonde? Why is Orlando Bloom in this? This is Anatolia, where are the Turks!? Well, proto-Turks; but I guess that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

However, Brad Pitt, is actually not a bad choice for Achilles because if anyone is going to be the Greek ideal of perfection, it would be this dude, in that movie (Dat ass). Achilles was not completely human, and probably would’ve been pictured by audience of the past as a muscular blond man all the Athenian dudes were dying to get into a… one-on-one match with *ahem* (subtext).

So do we know what any of these people looked like? No. Not really. Just like the dinosaurs could’ve been pink and purple for all we know. But its a safer bet to assume dinosaurs were shades of brown, dark green, and other boring reptile-y colors. I believe the same principles apply to movies and television shows trying to depict historical events. Historical accuracy isn’t always necessary because these are stories. Movies are made to suspend the viewer’s belief and transport them into another world. Unfortunately, it’s hard to immerse yourself in the world of long ago make believe when a story or person is no longer believable.

What is my point? My point is, that there are plenty of talented actors from all over the world who could look the part of Paris, or Leonidas, or Spartacus (looking at you Showtime), and bring a layer of accuracy into the story. Because… these people probably didn’t look like pasty vampires with blue or green eyes.

Accuracy by way of representation is important. Not only does it help the story, but it allows more people watching the movie set in their home country, or even just about their people, to see themselves on screen. So today, my request is simple to Hollywood casting directors – cast the people who will blend into the story the best, no matter what Ridley Scott says (remember his defense of an all white cast in Noah?). And by the way, I highly recommend Beard’s Confronting the Classics if you’re into Roman history, and having your entire worldview of the past shook loose.

And in that Moment… We Were Toilet Paper

This past week, hell, the last month, has been particularly rough for us all. Me personally, for the last few days I have been coerced into waking up at 6am to wake up my partner so they can be on time for work. Of course, since we’re all locked up in our houses like 500-lb shut-ins on TLC, this means being awake and coherent for a 9:30am telecommute.

And unsurprisingly, I have yet to accomplish anything of note. I have attempted to do many things of note, and subsequently failed those things. Started watching every single movie on the “List of Most Disturbing Horror Movies,” tried to read Bill Gates’ book list, tried to write a novel, tried to summon the spirit of Elizabeth Bathory for skin care tips….

What has this gotten me? A very confused brain and three empty pints of Ben & Jerry’s. The only thing I have to offer anyone this week is a few recommendations to help pass the time. So here are a few of the Socially Distant media I have been consuming.

Books/audiobooks: American Gods; so far so good. You would expect it to be hard to keep up with the dizzying pantheon of “gods,” but it’s mostly just a lot of fun and some kinky swallowing vagina sex (you’ll see if you read). The Devil’s Bible; a simple read for people who love history and all things historical fiction but really do not want to touch the tome that is, Pillars of the Earth. And finally, The Definitive Oral History of Metal (aka Louder than Hell). I would skip the Metalcore and Death Metal sections unless you’re a fan of gossiping middle aged men pretending to be Guns N Roses.

Movies: The Place Beyond the Pines; cannot say much, but this movie is hella underrated and the first 30 minutes of it will raise your estrogen levels to pregnant. Flu; what could be better than watching a film about a horrifyingly realistic pandemic in which the government kills its own people? But still, watch, because it’s a jewel as most South Korean horror is.

Podcasts: Behind the Bastards; underrated, slightly political enough to make you feel “woke” but not enough to make you want to bash your head against a cockroach infested wall like Pod Save America does. The Last Podcast on the Left; borderline bro, but the wacky stories are worth it. And Stuff to Blow Your Mind, because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, and who doesn’t want to be able to regale your friends with facts about coral reef sex and bicameral mind theory at your next virtual happy hour?

Finally, I would recommend, if you have not seen Tiger King (and you probably have because you don’t live in some Russian prison being fucked by the ghost of Trotsky) then WATCH IT so you can get on the train with the rest of us make fun of people who may slightly resemble members of my own family. And yes, people like that do exist because I am related to a few Florida Men.

Magic Inc. (Part 2): Is My Favorite Sci-fi Author Racist?

It is official, I have not been out of the house for an entire month! And no, I am not in “quarantine” because quarantine implies that you either have, or have been exposed to, a virus. I suppose quarantine is a catchier phrase than “social distancing,” but it is still misleading. I am social distancing my ass off… and I should add, that I am not going crazy as I had assumed I would. However, I did discover that it takes about 12 days of being within 100 feet of my partner at all times to become annoyed by them…

But you’re not here for that. You’re here because last week I wrote about Robert Heinlein’s Waldo, which has accompanied Magic Inc. in many adaptations and reprints. There are a few overarching themes in both that justify this pairing such as; both deal with an otherworldly sort of mysticism (magic isn’t quite the right word), both rely heavily on the theme of individualism, and both are kind of problematic.

Magic Inc. is different from Waldo in the sense that its magic is part of everyday life, and is even a bit mundane. It is a world full of magicians, witches, demons, and various other  fairy tale creatures. The story hovers on the border of fantasy and has a political angle. The main character, Archie, is a small business owner who only dabbles in magic. He is the quintessential “everyman” in a world of flight and fancy.

When he accompanies his friend Jed to Congress to lobby against a corporation threatening his (and all of his fellow compatriots’) business, he is just as exasperated and confused with the power games and bureaucracy inherent in the government as we are today. Although written 80 years ago, it is surprisingly modern. The only reason it has not aged well is its descriptions of African culture and an exoticized “other.”

He meets a PhD and “witch smeller” named Dr. Royce and is immediately taken aback. Dr. Royce had been recommended to Archie to help him clear out the “bad magic” hanging around in his shop. First of all, he seems genuinely surprised that Dr. Royce is a large black man, the phrase “Of course, why shouldn’t he be black?” is reminiscent of the “I’m not racist, I am just surprised that you are a person of color,” argument.

This, in addition to Archie referring to his hired contractors as “negroes,” smacks of 1940’s white exceptionalism, with African culture depicted as an exotic “other.” When explaining Dr. Royce’s magic techniques, Heinlein balances the slippery act of being legitimately interested and defending African folklore and traditions, and stereotyping them. The odd stereotypes withstanding, Heinlein does call out the destruction European nations have wreaked upon various non-European cultures via colonialism.

The verdict? Dated language, modern concepts. I give this story a 3.9/5 because I’m ambivalent about how much this book is “of its time,” and because there are some unnecessary parts that just drag out too damn long. Waldo Inc. gets a 4.5/5.

WALDO (Magic) INC: Is My Favorite Sci-fi Author Ableist?

This past week I finished two classic Robert Heinlein tales put together as a book. The first one, Waldo (1940) is about a disabled genius stereotyped as an intelligent but socially inept hermit. The second, Magic Inc., is a story of an average man running an average business, but it just so happens that magic is a part of his world.

This review will focus on Waldo, because it is the story that stuck out the most to me of the two. The eponymous main character is not discovered until a few chapters in, okay, fine. I like pleasant surprises. But Waldo was born with a horrible disease that rendered him all but paralyzed due to the fact that every step he took caused him pain. Waldo has his own isolated abode in space, the zero gravity apparently allows him to float and move about freely with little to no pain. Makes sense.

Waldo refuses to let anyone in his home, he takes most of his meetings through a space dummy that he uses to talk to his business partners and guests. He is rude, cannot stand the company of anyone or anything but his large dog (and uncle), and is almost annoyingly brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, many of these qualities could also describe me, but I possess those qualities not because I am disabled (which, I am), but because I’m an introvert.

Heinlein does at times acknowledge the situational and societal pressures that has made Waldo the way he is. But these explanations are borderline excuses. When Waldo comes to earth to seek help from an old man, Doc Schneider, who seems to know how to fix irreparably damaged technology, he is in immense pain. Instead of accommodating Waldo, Doc Schneider tells Waldo he needs to use the “magic” of the other world to grow strong.

Eventually, Waldo does. And he finds himself able to walk, pick up objects, and even dance (foreshadowing). The philosophy and physics of infinite universes plays heavily into the “magic” Waldo and the old man reach for. The concepts are a bit heady, and I found myself reading and rereading them a few times. However, they were accessible enough to the average layperson (not man, or woman… but person).

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say, I am ambivalent about it. To me, it is  almost implied that Waldo is expected to find it within himself to “just get over it” and “try harder” to overcome his illness. And the fact that he does, kind of makes this another gross misuse of the “inspiring handicapped.”

If you’re going to drink to this, I recommend doing it on audio because you might get lost if you’re not into philosophy, or crazy latter half of Tesla’s life physics. But the rules are as followed; drink if; 1. someone uses the phrase “Waldo” or “DeKalb” when referring to the giant hand machines, 2. someone has either gone crazy, or is assumed to have, 3. anyone becomes annoyed with Waldo’s “eccentricities.” Finish your drink whenever a dizzying, alternate universe theory is discussed, and not resolved.

My rating is a 4.5/5; good story, kind of ableist, and a disappointing ending.

Are the Classics Doomed?

You know those books you’ve either read, or at least know the plot of because 15 people in your 9th grade English class did presented it for their book reports? *cough* Old Man and the Sea *cough* Animal Farm.

The film industry has its own overrated, yet underrated, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, or even North by Northwest. These books and movies have entered the lexicon having been parodied, praised, and played/read ad nauseam. Most people know the major plots of these movies and books without ever having touched them because at some point in their lives, Americans (this experience is probably different in other countries), have seen the ending of these movies and have heard people analyze the entirety of the aforementioned books.

So does that mean it’s not worth reading? Not quite. First of all, reading is essential and one of the most important forms of self maintenance – aside from exercise and a healthy diet. And second, just because you think you know how a book ends doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable read. Ever hear the saying ‘it’s the journey not the destination,’ well that certainly applies to reading, and to movies. I used to work at a dine-in movie theater, which meant I was constantly slipping in and out of theaters at random moments during any given movie. Deadpool 2 had just come out and I knew the first 30 minutes of the film by heart. About 3 weeks after its release,  I finally took advantage of my free tickets and watched it. And you know what? I still loved it.

So even if you have seen Homer Simpson screaming obscenities at Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven, read it because the joke becomes that much funnier. Even if you have seen the kids of South Park drive their parents away by accusing them of sexual abuse and then proceed into a Lord of the Flies-type society in which they try to sacrifice an innocent couple to “The Provider,” read it. There are so many intricacies and details that will be lost on your experience of the story if you don’t read it firsthand. However, maybe it’s time for adult animation to find their own storylines instead of highjacking from better, more talented writers. Because not only does over-satirization and imitation drive people away from reading, but it also detracts from the story as a work of art.

And finally, what are my favorite “classics?” My favorites have always been ones that were less conventional like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Siddhartha, and Brave New World, The Time Machine, The Plague, and On the Road. There might have been a slight rebellious spirit behind my particular choices. Everyone was reading the tried and true so I just had to be different. My top three being Siddhartha, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is a little more conventional as a favorite, I realize, but I am a sucker for aesthetic.

Now I bet you’re asking yourself, can a book have an “aesthetic?” Yes, at least in my mind. I might go into detail on this later, but if you’ve ever felt your mood, attitude, and/or way of thinking change upon reading a book, this is the effect of an aesthetic. F. Scott Fitzgerald literally “colored my world” (cue Disney music here).

A rating system is not necessary here because since these are my favorites, all three get five stars. And if you haven’t read them, or its been a hot minute since you have, READ THEM. In the spirit of the roaring 20’s, I created a drinking game for The Great Gatsby. The rules are as followed: drink whenever… the eye is mentioned, there is an elaborate and nonsense plot point (like having a get together with your secret girlfriend’s husband and his secret girlfriend), and for run-on sentences (which happen A LOT). Finish that puppy when someone is murdered. 5/5 for my man FSG.