Sunday, September 4, 2011

Issue Three, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor 
     Welcome to the first ever weekly issue of Larks Fiction! In this issue we are featuring two works of realistic fiction.
     Remember if you twitter to follow us for writing prompts, literature news, interesting cultural links, and for updates.
     Enjoy Issue Three!

Daniel J. Pool

One Last Pratfall and Soft Shoe
By Kevin Ridgeway


    “Son of a bitch.“  Maynard “Sunshine Skippy” Krebs stared helplessly at the vast Pacific Ocean with sand caked along the tops of his bare feet, dunking a smoldering filter of a cigarette into a can of lukewarm Olympia beer.  He was the invisible man on a crowded movie location for a low-budget cheapie of little to no plot, five musical numbers, and a cavalcade of long-faded Hollywood stars, most of them geriatric comedians, all of them playing foiled, wrinkled, arthritic clowns to fresh faced muscle bound lotharios and bikini clad teen queens ripped from the pages of sexless photo spreads.  It was 1962, he was sixty-nine years old, and he was in debt up to his felt top hat, an iconic piece of his wardrobe as Sunshine Skippy, the fifth-most popular silent film comedian of the 1920s.  The film retrospectives of his celebrated work in the 1950s did little for him--he was still desperately paying off his back taxes by working as a supporting goon in splashy, trashy features from the assembly line.  “This is shit, its for the birds,” he said while simultaneously burping toxic fumes from his ravaged body. 
    He ambled over to a trailer he was sharing with “Scooter” Lieber, a second-rate comic and contemporary of his, to apply one final slap of greasepaint to the shriveled dehydrated prune that was his sagging head, which resembled a deflated Halloween mask.
    “Scoot, why the hell are you doing this anyhow?”
    “Whaccha mean, Skip?”
    “Well, you know, you’ve got that show with Morty Swain still running strong, you     don’t need the money for stupid shit like this.”
    “I like making people laugh, Skippy.  Whether it’s the young kids or the old     fogies, I’m a junky for laughter.”
    “I was once considered an artist…and here I am.”
    “Don’t start with the self-pity, Skip--it doesn’t suit you.  I got to get on-set.”

    Maynard was left alone, applying a comically large powder puff to his forehead and his profound frown.  He moved over to a dusty phonograph player and picked out a newer record by a young kid he admired. 

    “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…”

    Maynard paused and listened.  He didn’t quite understand all of this new socially conscious music, but it made him wistful.  “Christ almighty, I should have been a poet, not a goddamn clown.”


    The young kids squealed and played grab-ass as the cast all waited for the second unit director to set up the next take.  Maynard sat like a discarded marionette, dressed exactly like Sunshine Skippy in the golden years.  Maynard took several slugs from a flask filled with bourbon, singing and butchering the lyrics to the new song by the exciting new singer in intervals with the old Cole Porter tune “Anything Goes”.  Two songs of importance in his life, one from the peak of his personal and professional life, the other from the mire that was his current one in the seventh circle of cinematic hell, the soulful words making him feel he tragically missed the mark even when he was a “success”. 
    It was time to rehearse.  Maynard looked on as his adolescent co-stars butchered hack jokes by hack writers in the lead-up to a big musical number in which Maynard, playing a lifeguard‘s assistant, was supposed to come in from the waves of the ocean on jet skies and take a tumble, prompting one of the exuberant kids to respond with the line “Watch out on those skates Skippy, they’re not designed for the senile!” After a run-through, Maynard flopped onto the sandy surface of the beach and stared deep into the blue sky.  Scooter stood over him. 

    “You alright, Skip?”
    “Have you ever read much poetry, Scoot?”
    “You’re talking to a guy with a sixth grade education.”
    “In the past, say in Shakespeare’s time, the clowns did what we do
     But at the same time they recited great poetry, there were more
     layers to their comedy than this shit we’ve always been doing.”
    “You're drunk, Skip.  You need to lay off the sauce ‘til shooting’s
    wrapped for the day.”

    “Scooter, I’ve always wanted to say something to you.

    “What’s that, Skippy?”

    “Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.”

    Maynard stood on his water skies, waiting for the first take in which he would be pulled out of control and crash into the sands of the beach at the feet of his younger co-stars.   He finished off the last of his flask and prepared himself, muttering more lyrics from the dueling songs he had playing in his head. 

    “Ready, set—ACTION!”

    Maynard flew from the water on his skies and rolled across the sand as planned.  Before any of his co-stars could respond with a catty one-liner, Maynard stood up.  He took a bow before the camera, and retrieved a pistol from underneath his top hat.  Before anyone could do anything, he cocked the pistol against his head and fired. Blood and brain matter flew everywhere; the majority of Maynard’s brains covered the adjacent Rudy Randall, a popular teen idol and star of the feature. “Sunshine Skippy” was dead. In Maynard’s mind, at the very least that bad one-liner in that dreadful scene would never see light of day. Rudy Randall, shaken, was professional enough to shoot the Big Kahuna surf number later that afternoon.  Maynard’s scenes were edited out of the final cut, and Hollywood carried on with its business as usual. 


    The Manhattan bound train was grinding to a halt to pick up commuters in a gray New Jersey town, the smoke plumes floating high in the sky forming ghostly black and white patterns beyond the mirage of the green landscape that greeted the passengers from their windows. It was a bleak March, winter slowly melting away into a rickety northeastern formation of spring. The canteen car was flooded with business men ordering breakfast, chain smoking and chattering about politics, the stock market and last night’s Jack Paar, last night’s drunk, or both.
    An elderly fellow sat in the background, ignoring the idle chatter and the scourge of commuter hustle and bustle. He picked through the New York Times; his fingers were so wrinkled they appeared to be doubly wrinkled from a long jaunt in a swimming pool, and they were stained yellow by excessive exposure to smoldering nicotine. He was dressed in a long over coat and newsboy’s cap, making it difficult to determine whether he was retired or an escapee from a mental institution, or, even worse, in show business. He cleared the toast crumbs from his mustache as he perused the morning arts and entertainment section of the Paper of Record.
    On the third page was an article about a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art for the work of a long-forgotten and recently deceased silent film comic by the name of Maynard “Sunshine Skippy“ Krebs.  The article had this old gentlemen’s undivided attention as he puffed on a Pall Mall cigarette, making his own cartoon formations in the air of the car, much to the delight of two milk mustachioed children sitting nearby.
    “Can we get you anything sir?” a porter asked.
    “No, just some more coffee when I run low.”
    The old man folded the paper and used it to brush off the ashes on the counter. He filed it into his satchel. The train was about to arrive at Penn Station. He stood up for the nearest exit and regarded the skyline of the Great Eastern City he hadn’t been to in over thirty years when he visited his older brother, who was among the recently deceased of the world. People thought his brother was funny, but the old man was considered by most to be even funnier. And a career as a life insurance salesman does not lend itself to high humor. He was immediately accosted by a young, well-dressed man.

    “Mr. Krebs? Are you Mr. Roland Krebs?”

    “Yes, son. Got only one piece of luggage and this satchel. What time is the     luncheon?”
    “In two hours.”
    “Good. Let’s head over to Time’s Square.”
    In the cab, the kid gushed at meeting the brother of one of his screen idols. 

    “So what’s it like being the brother of one of the greatest screen comics of all     time?”

    “Kid, it was not sunshine and lollipops.”

    “Were you ever in comedy?”

    “Hell no, kid.  I won a talent contest when we were young for my celebrated soft     shoe.  I went to college, studied literature.  Now I sell fucking life insurance.”

    “I read one of your poems in the Saturday Evening Post.  That was you, wasn’t     it?”

    “Yep, kid, I’m a failed poet.  That was my passion.  Along with the soft shoe.          Never made a living with poetry.  Slap shoes and cream pies, that’s where the     money is.  And selling life insurance.”   
    “Life insurance, huh?  Sounds boring.”

    “It’s a great deal of fun.  We’re all dying as you and I speak.  We might as well
    profit from death, just the same way we profit from dropping our pants, or falling     down or getting kicked in the pants.  As for poetry, well, no one wants to pay for     that.”

    “Mr. Krebs, don’t you--”

    “Shut up, kid.  We need to focus on the task at hand.”

    Roland and his assistant reached a tall theatre that overlooked Times Square.  They ascended a fire escape to the roof and took a long glance at the crowds resembling ants in the streets below.

    “This will have to do,” Roland muttered gruffly.
    Out of his satchel came an urn filled with his brother’s ashes. He handed the kid a battered top hat. “Here, kid, throw this down into the crowd when I say go.” He gave the kid the go-ahead and Roland followed the descending hat by emptying the urn over the multitudes waiting to see great works of drama, comedy and music. Roland produced a poem he had written, entitled “Slap Shoe Shadows”. 

    “Comedy is relevant/but not in the mediums you expect,” he began, reciting from a     yellow piece of legal paper.  “It is in failure, defeat and death/With the final pie in     the eye/profits are earned from the slapstick of hard reality/So dance a dance     over graves of clowns/Paint your face with greasepaint/And live a straight life     laughing to yourself while the art of this world burns…”

    Roland tried to stifle a laugh. 

    “As you can see, kid, I’m not much of a poet.  Maynard was a great comic.  I’m a good comic, too, but a dark one who pushes papers.”

    Roland flicked a match and burned the poem, letting its remains drift off in the open air.  He then proceeded to do an old soft shoe, tears streaming down the crevices of his old poetic clown face. It was one last snow before season’s end. Hoards of children down in Times Square below captured the flakes of ash with their tongues, the comic genius melting in their mouths like candy.

About the Author:
Kevin Ridgeway is a fledgling writer based in Los Angeles, CA.  He has been writing since he learned how to hold a crayon in my hand--but thankfully upgraded to pens.  He has studied creative writing and English Literature at Goddard College, The New School and Mt. San Antonio College, at the latter of which I recently won First Prize in the Writer's Day Award competition for prose and also received honors in poetry.  He was most recently published in the literary journal The Left Coast Review, and before that I was a contributor to the now-defunct literary newsletter "Absurdity on the Rocks".  He is currently employed as a Copy-Editor and Research Assistant with Artin Arts.

Nothing to Fear
By Daniel J. Pool

Eyes as wide as saucers, fingers grip bed sheets, breathing quickens, and the urge to scream builds up inside; filling every pore, flowing like hot lead from the stomach to the mouth.
The closet door just sits there open. It is staring, and you are staring back. You want to run, you want to hide, but to where, how?
 Leaving the bed means the entity below the bed will grab you, and if you pass it then
the other one in the closet will get you.
Why, why are they waiting for you? What are they waiting for anyway? THEY are huge, the size of a refrigerator, and THEY have claws the size of sneakers. THEY will kill you if you leave the safety of the sheets. The warmth of the liens tells you to stay, that it is not worth leaving. But the pressure is building. Slowly it creeps into you. You could have waited till dawn, but now you cannot wait. The pressure keeps building and building. Wetting the bed is worth the awkward talk about it being just fine for “little people” your age.
 No! You have to go. You have to do it. You have to risk certain death. You have to run. It is the only way!
You were breathing hard, but now the idea of leaving the safety of the sheets sends shivers up and down your spine. Goose bumps erupt from long forgotten abysses so deep you forget were there. You pull back the sheets, and lay there. You feel the cold air blow over you, and you shallow hard.
In a single lunge you fly to the floor and run straight for the door, and fling yourself toward the bathroom. Once to the hall you know you are safe form the bed and closet. But now the in the hall, the darkness surrounds you.
 The twinkle of your night light no longer protects you. You freeze, the darkness completely envelopes you. Nothing is in this hall.
The things were better than this.
Completely alone, and isolated from everything you just stand there clenching your fists to remember your alive.
Space has galaxies, stars have planets, and living creatures have the planet, but here you have nothing, nothing but the pain in your hands and the pain in your bladder. As you eyes adjust enough to find the bathroom door you throw your body though the portal and reach frantically for the light switch.
As safety surrounds you in long rays, you notice you were sweating. You notice you are free. Free from Nothing’s power. For now.
The End.

Originally published at the Scarlet Sound

About the Author:
Daniel J. Pool is a writer, editor, and blogger from the southern mid-west. His work has been published by Weird Year Magazine, the Fringe Magazine, and Indigo Rising Magazine. He also writes about pop culture for the Examiner Oklahoma City. In his spare time he reads science fiction and drives a delivery truck.

     Thank you for reading this week and come back next weekend for another installment of Larks Fiction!

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