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Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 26 — Caitlyn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Maybe Today”

Caitlyn

         Cait hadn’t left her apartment in four days and three voice mail messages waited on her phone. That blinking yellow light still blinked away even after she buried her phone in a pile of dirty laundry. Her knuckles were white from gripping the brush for however long, the paint completely dried. A glass of milky water sat beside her on the floor and she plopped the brush in the rinse, hoping she hadn’t ruined the bristles.

Twelve paintings in four days. It was something she hadn’t done since university. Pushing the current canvas away, she thanked the ghetto-bennies—Benzedrex—for the 1,000th time. Something else she hadn’t done in a long time. Her mind twitched back to the unfinished work and she ran a hand through her hair, scratching her scalp—her skin tingled. She kept scratching then rubbed the throw rug and her hands warmed immediately.

Soft music registered in her ears again as the song began again, continuing its loop

“Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that.

Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that.”

That phone was still blinking even if she couldn’t see it.

Cait forced herself to her knees—legs aching—and she dove into the clothes, hands searching until she felt the cheap plastic. On her back, she squinted up at the phone.

7:17 AM

3 Voice Mail Messages

A handful of texts.

Someone stirred on the bed and Cait tried not to make any noise. She put a hand on her chest, feeling her heart race, beating faster than it should. It slowed a little as the music did.

“Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that.

Now you’re all gone, got your make up on and you’re not coming back.”

Cait listened to the messages long enough that by the time she put her phone down, sun had filled the room.

Message 1 – Glenn

“Caitlyn, hey—the 2nd floor looks great. Thanks for donating the two paintings. Our mini-shelter is going live any week now, just waiting for some forms to go through . . . Can you tell Molly that I still have a job for her if she wants it? I mean, if, if you see her. She’d be great with the female guests. Are you going to Scar’s birthday thing at The Crane Wife? It sounds fun and, yeah, maybe we’ll all go. Sidney said he had dinner with you last week and things were good . . . ? Well, cool—I’ll talk to you soon.”

Message Deleted

Message 2 – Unknown Caller

“How have you been, Caitlyn? I got your number from Eri. It’s Val. Guess what? I’m moving back to New PT in a month. I quit my job in Chicag—okay, I got fired. Turns out if you’re having sex in the stairwell you need a higher salary than mine to get away with it. At least I paid off my loans! Man, Caitlyn, how long has it been? . . . I heard Eri was with Sidney for a bit? I always wondered which of the four of us would see him naked first, haha. Um, really though, I was thinking . . . we could all, like, get together again. You, me, Eri, and Sara—like we used to do when we published the book. I heard you’re painting again? I know it’s crazy but . . . we did it once, right? I’ve stayed in contact with the publisher and, well, call me back, okay? I’ll be staying with my mom for a little bit until I find my own place. It’d be great to hear back from you. Bye!”

Contact Added – Vallerie Hart

Message Deleted

Message 3 – Sid

“Cait, hey, no one’s heard from you in a while. I’m not sure the last time I left a voice mail on your phone . . . I had a good time when I saw you last week—you looked, um, happy. Uh . . . were you going to Scarlett’s birthday thing? It would be fun if everyone showed up. I’m not sure if we’ve all been in the same room together for weeks—I know Geno’s always so busy and Glenn is, well, Glenn. He’s searching for some kid named Harry—I’m not really sure what he’s going on about . . . Look, I don’t know how to say this, but—well, I’m doing all right with my new job, but, I’m gonna need to rent your old room out. I probably should’ve done it a month ago but I thought, you know, maybe . . . I put a Craigslist post up and . . . I just didn’t want you to be surprised, that’s all. Let me know if your situation changes. It’s so quiet now, right? Haha, I guess I never thought of you as loud—maybe when we got drunk . . . Um, has Eri said anything to you? We sorta had a mutual falling out a while back—well, is it ever really ‘mutual’? I mean, she doesn’t hate me I think. You know—I never know what I’m doing. Okay, my lunch is almost over. Gimme a call back, will you? There’s a few things at my place that you left here . . . anyway, later.”

Message Saved

7:54 AM

Cait heard a yawn and glanced up from the pile of clothes. She had forgotten that she wasn’t alone. Molly was sitting in the corner that the mattress was shoved against. With a thin sheet for cover, she had drawn her knees to her chest and was watching Cait.

“Why are you up this early?” Molly asked.

“I didn’t sleep again.”

“Jesus.” Molly gestured at the paintings around the room, one still drying near the window. “Did you do these during the night?”

Cait nodded, and blinked. She had been scrolling through the contacts on her phone too fast to read any of the names. Up, down, and back through the list.

“Do you want me to go?” Molly said. “If you didn’t want me to stay the night—”

“No—I don’t care,” Cait said, standing up suddenly. Her joints ached and she still wore jeans and a t-shirt from yesterday or the day before. She scratched her scalp and it still felt good—she wouldn’t be able to sleep for a few more hours yet.

Cait thought about the words she had just said. “I’m sorry—I need to go outside. I think I need some fresh air.” She grabbed a sweatshirt off the floor.

“Where are you going?” Molly asked, squinting at Cait. “God, your pupils are huge! Why don’t you just lay here for a bit?”    She yawned and dropped to her pillow, the sheet falling down her back. Cait ignored the pale, milky skin that had been so calming over the past two days.

Cait found her sunglasses on a chair. “If you leave, lock the door.”

Outside, she didn’t know where she was going. The Inner Harbor was flat and easy and it felt good just to walk. She put Molly and Sid and her old friends and every living person out of her mind.

She walked and thought about whether she was any different than a year ago. Cait wondered—she had gotten control over her addiction, ditched an abusive boyfriend, so why did it feel like she still wasn’t doing anything right? She was painting again—why wasn’t she happy? Who the hell was happy, anyway?

A pair of legs stuck out onto the sidewalk and Cait nearly tripped—a boy was asleep in the entry of a FedEx that hadn’t opened yet. Cait stopped, glancing at the store’s hours. The boy would be kicked out of his spot soon. He couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen, wearing jeans and a warm-looking sweater and using several sheets of cardboard for bedding.

Cait checked her pockets, knowing her wallet was empty. Not even a nickel was floating around. She flipped through membership and discount cards—one fake ID Drew had made for her a lifetime ago—Cait stopped when she saw what she didn’t know she wanted. It was one of Glenn’s business cards with the address of the soup kitchen and his phone number on it.

With a loose piece of concrete, she weighed the card down next to the boy and walked away.

There weren’t too many kids on the streets of New Portsmouth. Not many who legitimately had no where safe to go. They fell through the cracks, Glenn had once said, but it was hard to believe that cracks big enough to swallow a whole life couldn’t be fixed.

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Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 25 — Glenn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Maybe Today”

Glenn

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The city inspector flicked the broken light switch up and down. His back was to Glenn.

Of course the inspector had to pick that specific switch in the whole building, Glenn thought. He watched the inspector jot down conspiratorial somethings in his notebook and Glenn moved a trashcan with his foot to block some exposed wiring.

“That can be fixed easily,” the inspector said. He moved slowly down the hallway, probably headed toward the ground floor bathroom. Trailing his fingers along the wall, he stopped occasionally to examine something that would only be a violation in some dystopian novel.

Glenn had only known the man for less than an hour and had thought up nine was to kill him, but just two to hide the body.

The inspector tsk’d at something, scrawling more notes.

“You a Destroyers fan?” Glenn asked. “You’re wearing blue under your shirt.”

“No,” the inspector said, forgetting about his notes for a second, “my family’s from New York—I’m a Yankees fan.”

“Is that so?” Glenn said. It would be a crime of passion, he thought—a New PT jury would understand.

The inspector hesitated in front of the men’s bathroom and opened the door with his pen. Glenn waited outside—he had been told that most public buildings were passed or failed by their bathrooms.

The inspector cleared his throat. “Will you come in here? What is this?”

Thinking one of Glenn’s laborers had taken a shit in the sink or left a bottle in the trashcan, he went in and looked up where the inspector was pointing.

“What’s that?” the inspector repeated.

“Oh.” Glenn smiled. It was his favorite part of the bathrooms. “It’s a speaker wired to the receptionist’s desk.   Everyone likes to listen to some music or baseball while they do their business.”

The inspector laughed, something Glenn thought impossible a minute ago, and made a cursory glance around the bathroom, flushing the toilet but not checking to see if the water even went down. He ushered Glenn out.

In the hallway, the inspector ran down an unseen checklist before looking up. “Listen, Mr. Pierce, you’re building failed but it’s not that bad. Most of it can be fixed real quick.”

Glenn had always wanted to try this—he took out his wallet. “Is there anything that I can, like, do to take care of this today?”

The inspector closed his notebook, glancing at some of the bills sticking out of Glenn’s wallet. “Put that away—that’s like fifteen dollars. Listen, I shouldn’t do this, but my dad was homeless for a few months. He used to talk about it some nights. It isn’t easy.” The inspector fidgeted with his pen before putting it away. “I’m going to go have lunch and grab a long, slow coffee. And then maybe I’ll check out a bookstore—and then I’m coming back. If everything’s fixed then, you’ll get all the stamps and signatures you need.”

“Really? What about—”

The inspector waved Glenn off. “It’ll be fine.”

Glenn forgot about all the ways there are to kill a man as the two of them walked outside. He aimed the inspector toward a great Russian deli a few blocks down and was headed back inside when a quiet voice called his name.

“Glenn—you’re Glenn right? Guy named Chuck said I could find you here.”

“Chuck? He’s all right?”  Glenn sized up the short Hispanic man talking to him. The short, Hispanic, homeless man, though he might’ve been new to the streets.

“Yeah, Chuck’s fine, man. He told me about your soup kitchen—I wanna come by. He told me about this place, too.” The man shifted a sturdy-looking sack from shoulder to shoulder, eyes flicking over Glenn’s building every few words. A pair of thick boots and cleanish corduroy pants without holes meant the man might just be poor, but Glenn could usually tell the difference.

“Is what they say true?” the man asked.

“What?”

“That you’re turning this place into a home,” the man said. “Like, a shelter.”

“People are talking about it?” Glenn smiled, following the man’s eyes and taking in the clean windows, washed away graffiti, and fancy locks with a buzzer that his tenants had asked for a year ago. Glenn had ordered a sign to hang above the entry but it hadn’t arrived.

“What’s your name?” Glenn asked.

“If Chuck likes you, you can all me whatever, man. Name’s Alejandro. Alex is fine.”

“Chuck’s a good guy,” Glenn said. “He looks out for people.”

“Chuck’s the shit,” Alex said. “Guy got me these boots. Didn’t even let me pay. I didn’t know anyone here until him.”

“Where are you coming from?” Glenn asked.

“North Dakota,” Alex said.

“I’ve never met . . . ,” Glenn trailed off.

“A Mexican from North Dakota? I move around a lot,” Alex said with a grin. “And I’m Salvadoran.”

Glenn checked his phone, wondering if he was racist for assuming the homeless man was Mexican. Glenn figured he had three or four hours before the inspector would come back. “Hey, Alex, you wanna make a couple bucks and have a hot meal? I could use a quick hand with some stuff inside.”

“Sounds good, boss,” Alex said, rolling his shoulders under the sack’s weight.

There wasn’t too much to do: a second floor toilet had overflowed and the whole bathroom had to be bleach-cleaned, one showerhead rattled ominously when the hot water came on, and some excess building materials were blocking one emergency exit. Small things that the two of them could handle without hurrying.

Last was the light switch.

Alex was telling a story of one of his first nights in the city. Where most homeless in new PT were shy, Alex liked to talk.

“Shouldn’t you wear gloves, or something?” Alex had taken a seat at the receptionist’s desk to watch.

“It’s just a light switch,” Glenn said. The plastic case had come off easily with two screws—two more were holding the switch housing to the wall with a mess of wires running behind it. “So, what happened that night?” Glenn asked, choosing a screw driver that might fit best.

“I was just trying to find a place to sleep. Most the good benches were taken and I was wandering around—a pretty warm night. I heard this shouting, like some old man anger. When I get there I see this street kid trying to sleep on this nice bench—Chuck said it gets shade in the morning and is close to the bathrooms. This old guy, right, he was yelling at him, really screaming.”

Glenn unscrewed the switch house and tried to wiggle it free—a tingle shot up his arm and he let go, shaking his hand. A few seconds later it faded.

“You all right?” Alex stood up. “Shouldn’t you turn the power off first?”

“Forget it,” Glenn said, rubbing his hand. “So, what, you got physical with this old guy?”

“Nah, man, I just told him to shut the fuck up,” Alex said, laughing. “That’s how I met Chuck—he thought it was funny.”

Glenn thought through the troubleshooting steps—he didn’t have time to call an electrician. He walked over to the desk and grabbed a package of light bulbs from one drawer and dragged a lobby chair beneath the light. A few quick turns had the fixture off and when the new bulb was halfway in it came on, blinding him for a moment.

“Don’t say anything,” Glenn said, kicking the chair back in place.

Alex rolled his shoulders in a slow shrug—it seemed a practiced motion. “Chuck and I stuck around for a bit, drinking, and the kid got the nice bench for the night. He better watch out, though, you know.”

Glenn starting screwing the cover back in place, and then stopped. “Wait, so this was a kid on the street? Did anyone know him?”

“Yeah, man, a kid,” Alex said, “Chuck had never seen him—no.”

“Was his name Harry?” Glenn asked. “Did anyone call him Harry?”

“Might’ve been—I was kinda fuzzy, sorry,” Alex said. “I just met Chuck and he shared a bottle, and I don’t really drink.”

How long would it take a kid to get here from Cleveland, Glenn wondered. There were some kids on the street, he knew, and this could be any one of them.

“If you ever see this kid,” Glenn said, reaching into his pocket. He wrapped a twenty dollar bill around his business card. “Call this number.”

Alex slipped the bundle into his pocket. “I don’t have a phone, man, I can’t—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Glenn said. “Find a phone—any phone. And call me when you see him. Tell Chuck the same—okay?”

“Yeah, sure boss.”

Glenn checked the time. “So, there’s a decent taqueria a few blocks down. You hungry?”

Alex laughed. “Sure, I haven’t had good Mexican since I left New York.”

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Sci-Fi Undercover — Esther Friesner / Unknown Artist

Title:  New York by Knight

Listed Author: Esther Friesner (wikipedia link)

Publishing Info:  Signet, 1986, first printing

Pages:  252

Cover Artist:  Unlisted / Unknown

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          I’ve wanted to return to Sci-Fi Undercover for far too long and this novel gave me no choice.  Probably the most outlandish cover art I’ve encountered since I started looking, I bought New York by Knight on sight.  And it follows the rules, thankfully–published before 1990 and by an author I haven’t yet read or heard of.

And I already used up my one ‘do over’.

          That’s right–the last time I explored this feature I was utterly defeated by this thing.  While having the appearance of a science fiction novel, Pandora’s Box was actually an enchanted item that sucked all fun out of my life and sapped my will to read page by page.  In a world where each character was tragically born without a personality and the entire plot is detailed on the back of the book–reading wasn’t just a chore, it was replacing your shower curtain and rings with that dollar store brand that makes your fingers bleed.

          But, right–this new book by Esther Friesner has to be a step in the right direction.

I mean, LOOK AT THAT COVER

I don't remember this episode of Seinfeld.

I don’t remember this episode of Seinfeld.

          What else do you want?

•  Dragon

•  New York City

•  Medieval knight on a horse

•  A ‘Final Battle’

•  Probably time travel

It’s like individual plot lines from several bad movies came together for a drunken night that everyone regrets and, despite what everyone claims on Facebook the next day, it really did happen.

Except how could this not be good–the first three lines from the back cover:

“Now the showdown has begun.  On a planet called Earth and the city known as New York, knight and dragon confront each other in one final battle.  As the deathly dance begins, the city of asphalt and steel slowly wakes to the magic in its midst.”

          I bought my copy for $1.50 in Berkley and have a feeling it’s worth at least $1.75.  Check back later for my full exploration of the novel, author, cover art, and perhaps I’ll even track down the mysterious unlisted cover artist!

Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 24 — Geno

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1:  “Icing Over a Secret Pain”

Geno

Note: Because of reasons, this chapter clocks in at 1,970 words, the second to exceed the limit this episode.

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          The day was supposed to be perfect.  Hours and hours of alcohol and Mario Kart and no people who tell embarrassing stories.  Maybe Sidney and Caitlyn would even fix whatever weird shit was between them.

By 4:00, Wednesday was ruined.

Geno paced in his apartment.  “Dad, you can’t be here.  Why are you here?  Was it Mom?”

Mr. Roark leaned his suitcase against the coach.  “I just wanted to see you.  Maybe I could meet your—”

“Did Mom send you?”

“No, actually.”  Mr. Roark bit his lip, maybe thinking up a lie.  He was a very good lawyer.  “Her sister is over and, well, you know your aunt.”

“I know that you can’t stand her,” Geno said.

“Can anybody?”   Mr. Roark looked at the assorted alcohol on the kitchen counter.  “Are you busy tonight or something?”

“We’re hosting a tournament upstairs.  It was supposed to be on Saturday but we couldn’t find all of the controllers,” Geno said.  “If I leave you some beer, will you promise not to leave the apartment?”

“How much beer?”  Mr. Roark asked.

“Enough,” Geno said, his phone vibrating with a text.

GLENN:  Do you have any papers?  Molly brought some.  And hurry up with the booze.

Geno walked over to the counter and pushed one six pack of his favorite IPA to the side.  “Look,” he said, “this will get you started.”  He pulled a bottle of vodka out of the freezer and picked up the case of cheap beer.

“And that?”  Mr. Roark pointed.

“Is for other people,” Geno said.  “Shower if you need to.  Make a sandwich.  Just—stay here, please.”

By the time Geno got upstairs, not many people had arrived.

The one bedroom flat was perfect.  The old tenant had even left behind a coach.  They had three total which was all of the furniture other than a few mattresses in case anyone needed to crash, and a table for alcohol and snacks beside the fridge.  Molly, Scarlett, and a few people that Geno sort of knew were chatting on one of the mattresses.

Geno had spent the past ten days getting everything ready.  Three TVs were set up with three Nintendo 64s—good controllers were harder to find and came from all over the place.  Glenn was setting up the last system and he looked up when Geno cracked a beer and sat down on the coach.

“What took you?” Glenn asked, turning back to his A/V wires.

“Guess who’s staying at our place tonight?” Geno said.

“Matt’s here?  Oh man, invite him up,” Glenn said.  “I haven’t seen your dad in a while.  Hit the power, will you?”

Geno didn’t move.  “He’s not coming up.”

Glenn crawled back to the console and flipped the power on.  He adjusted one of the cables in time to hear: “Welcome to Mario Kart!”

He picked up two controllers.  “Couple of practice rounds?”

By 6:30, most of the contestants had arrived.  Sidney came with David and someone else that Geno didn’t know, and a little later Caitlyn walked in, looking upset already.  Twelve of them would be entering the tournament and maybe six others hung around—boyfriends, girlfriends, and one person who Geno wasn’t sure if anyone knew.

The preliminary round was in four player format across the three TVs.  The person in last place in each group after four races would be dropped—this round was then repeated with three players per TV, until only six players remained.

The first two rounds went quickly and they took a break after the second, most people gathering near the fridge.  Two of the losers, disgusted with their performance, had already left and one dragged a bored girlfriend behind him.  The only surprise so far had been Caitlyn—reluctant to even play, she had finished second to Sidney in the first round, before narrowly being eliminated in the second.

Geno played safe and advanced while almost managing to get Glenn eliminated with a good banana in the last race.

“I never realized how big your units are if you take out most of the furniture,” Scarlett said, pouring a drink beside Geno.  She was wearing her short kilt today without any leggings—out of nowhere, the last few days had been sunny.

“Yeah,” Geno said, “and this is just a one bedroom.”

“I’ve been thinking about looking for a new place.”  Scarlett added more vodka.  “My lease is up in a few months, you know.”

“Where are you looking?”

“Everywhere,” Scarlett said.  “How many openings does this place have now?”

Geno spilled coke on his hand.  “This building?”

“What else would I mean?”

“I’d have to ask Glenn,” Geno said.

Scarlett eyed him over her drink.  “What if we took a unit? Together?”

“What?” Geno put his drink down and looked elsewhere—at the TV where Sidney and David were goofing off in Battle Mode.  “Do you mean live together?  Like, in the same apartment?”

A window opened.  Molly and a few others were going out on the fire escape.

Geno saw his chance.

“Hold on,” he said.  “I gotta—just, hold on.”

He left the kitchen and ducked through the window.

There was a couple outside with Molly—Geno thought they might’ve been friends from the soup kitchen, but he didn’t know their names.  They were sharing Molly’s skinny joint but had their own, semi-private conversation going.

“That was quick of you,” Molly said, passing it to him.  “Escaping something?”

Geno coughed into his sleeve, his thoughts still racing.  “Molly, how long before a couple should think about moving in together?”

“Do you mean, like, with lesbians?  Or everyone?”

“Everyone.  Anyone,” Geno said.

“I don’t know—I guess it depends,” Molly said.  “I think any time after a year is not too scandalous.  Wait, are you—?”

“No,” Geno said.  “But I think Scarlett wants to.  That is crazy, right?”

Molly shrugged.  “You know her better.  Christ, I bet she’s a handful in bed.”  Her face froze.  “Forget I said that.  Please.”

There was silence for a minute and Geno tried to not listen to the couple’s conversation.

“Actually,” Molly said, “I have something I do want to ask.  Um, has Caitlyn been, like, seeing anyone?”

“Caitlyn?”  Geno thought.  “No, I mean, I haven’t heard anything.”

“Do you think,” Molly started, biting her lip.  She flicked the near-finished joint down to the street.  “Do you think Caitlyn could be—could Caitlyn—could she be persuaded to . . . try new things?”

It took a moment for Geno to process what she meant.  “You don’t think you could—you don’t think she really would, do you?  Well, Sidney could tell you better,” he said, laughing, “but, he sometimes would have to leave the building.  We’re talking like full-on porno sounds here—not every time, but—I think it’s safe to say she likes the penis.”

Molly smiled.  “So did I.  For about a month.  I don’t know.  She’s so tragic.  There’s something so tragic about her.  She makes me want to hug her, and never let go.  I can’t believe Sidney and her never . . .  Have you ever read Tristessa?”

“Kerouac?”

“Yeah,” Molly said.

“No,” Geno answered.  “Maybe years ago.”

The window opened behind them and the couple climbed back inside, and no one spoke for some time.  Geno let his eyes lose focus and the city lights became a fuzzy blur.

Something poked him in the side.

“Hey,” Molly said, “they’re calling for you.  Think it’s your turn.”

There were only four players left when Geno got inside.  The format for the semifinals was time trials, taking the total elapsed time after three races.  Out of two, paired people, whoever had the fastest time advanced to the Battle Mode finals—a three player free-for-all, first to three wins set using the Block Fort map.

Glenn had lost to Sidney in the time trials due to a couple of mistimed mushrooms, Glenn had said, and Geno looked at the man on the couch, waiting to play.

“Coin flip!” David yelled when Geno sat down.  “Call it!”

“Tails,” Geno said.

It landed heads, and a few seconds later David realized what that meant.  He might not have been the drunkest person there, but he was in contention.

“Has Snowland been played yet?” David asked.  “Let’s do that.”

“I’m going with Yoshi,” Geno said, picking up his controller and inspecting it.

“Toad,” David chose.  They would alternate choices like this until they were finished, and no character could be picked twice.

When the first race ended, their times were less than three seconds apart—in David’s favor.

“Geno, what’re you doing?” Glenn said.  “What’s with your power slides today?”

“Shut up—I know,” Geno.  “This guy’s shit, too.”

“Fuck you too.”  David tried to hit Geno but he scooted further away.

Geno chose his best course, Toad’s Turnpike, for the second race, and managed to pull into the overall lead.  He was nearly four seconds ahead after they both completed the long course.

It came down to Kalimari Desert—a strong track for Geno, but David probably didn’t pick it randomly.

David put up a good, but beatable time, and Geno was on the third lap when it happened.  Later, he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to blame Scarlett or Molly.

“You’re not gonna make it,” Glenn said as Geno’s kart sped toward the train crossing.

Geno had it timed perfectly—he hit ‘Z’, and nothing happened.  A second later he crashed into the train, popping him in the air.  He stared at the TV and his unmoving kart.

“I had a mushroom.  I thought I had one more damn mushroom,” he said, putting the controller down.  There wasn’t any point in continuing.

“Man,” Glenn said as Geno shook David’s hand, “I was sure you had him.”

Geno glanced toward the booze and saw that Sidney had been watching from the table, probably sizing up the competition.  Geno forgot about Mario Kart and joined Sidney, not noticing Scarlett following until he started pouring a drink.

“You’ve been avoiding me for an hour,” Scarlett said.

Sidney glanced at Geno, and backed slowly away.

“No I wasn’t,” Geno said, “I had to find, uh—”

“Geno, it was a joke earlier.  Relax,” Scarlett said, “I was fucking kidding.”

“No you weren’t.  I don’t believe you.  Look, can we stop talking about it?”  Geno glanced at the door when he heard knocking.

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Scarlett said.  “It’s too soon, anyway.”

“Too soon?  What if I just don’t want—” Geno stopped talking when he saw his Dad standing in the doorway, still wearing his suit and loose tie.

“I ran out of beer,” Mr. Roark said to the room, sizing up the kitchen bar.  He spotted Geno and quickly walked over.  “Mind if I . . .?”  He saw the amused girl standing beside his son.  “Hey, and who is this?”

Geno sighed.  “Dad, this is Scarlett.”

Mr. Roark shook her hand.  “A new friend of yours?”

Scarlett crossed her arms and looked up at Geno, and he wondered if the two of them were conspiring somehow.

“No, Dad, she’s my girlfriend.”

“Oh, wow, I wish your mother was here.”  Mr. Roark smiled at Scarlett.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’m surprised he didn’t tell me all about you.”

“It’s not a big—she’s just my girlfriend, Dad.”

Scarlett stepped lightly on Geno’s foot.  Then harder.  “So, Mr. Roark, Geno hasn’t told me much about you, either.  What do you do for a living?”

Laughter came from outside the window and Geno looked.  Caitlyn and Molly were alone on the fire escape, leaning against each other.

Geno ran a hand through his hair.  “How long are you going to be in town, Dad?”

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Distilled Sprits: [Season 2] Ch. 23 — Sidney

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1: “Icing Over a Secret Pain”

Sidney

Note: Sidney’s updated Season 2 image is delayed until I get home and can take the picture

 

10:45 AM.

Too early for lunch.

Too late for a third coffee break.

Sid kept scrolling down his Facebook newsfeed, not reading the words.  A half-second glance at the pictures—he stopped at one fun memory.

“Wow, look at her,” David said, standing over Sid’s shoulder.  “Can you introduce me?” His voice gave no clue as to whether he was serious.  Sid didn’t know if that was a New York thing or a Jewish thing.  Or maybe just a David thing.  “Are you two friends?”

It was a picture of Cait in a bathing suit on the beach, taken maybe when they were both sophomores.  Sara Powers had uploaded the image and Sid couldn’t remember who else was there that day.  Even then, Cait was starting to lose weight, a year or so into her addiction.

Sid CTRL-W’d, closing Facebook.  “Not your type,” he said.  “She’d tell you to fuck off, then tell your wife that you tried.”

“Speaking from experience?” David said and laughed.  He stretched his back and walked in circles, avoiding his desk.

It didn’t really matter—they had already finished their ‘co-op mission’ and the Project Manager didn’t need them for a few hours.  They would be alone in the small, two-person office until after lunch.  All over the no-where-near-waterfront, downtown building, the same scene was playing out, scattered across thirty-five floors.  Wherever Shinrad Company could lease space.  It sounded like some new age way of running a business—teams spread around, sharing work through their cloud—but Sid was pretty sure it was just the cheapest way to do things.

“Does anybody think that pun is funny?” Sid asked, opening up the plot-tree for their current project, an Action RPG.  “I mean, Shinrad?”

David sat back down, spinning in his chair.  “Jason was six when FF7 came out.  He’s the same boss who thinks calling our partnered jobs ‘co-op missions’ is hilarious.”

Sid glossed through the Act and Scene list, selecting something they had already edited.  “Are we really sure about Act 1, Scene 4?”  He looked at David who started up a Goldeneye ROM.

“We already did that one,” David said, choosing ‘The Facility’ level for another speedrun.  “Christ, the grammar they gave us.  I wanna anonymously e-mail them a treatise on semicolons.”

“No,” Sid said, watching David start the level, “I mean, are we sure about the Marcus character.  Why kill him before the player really knows him?”

David paused the game.  “We already talked—”

“Why are we killing him off before the player really cares?”

“Because the Senior Writer is a childhood friend of Jason’s?”  David continued his game.  “You know, I still have no idea where Jason’s family got all their money, and I’ve been here for three years.”

Sid didn’t say anything.  He listened to David blow through Russian soldiers while staring at the script.

*          *          *

David was on his fourth or fifth attempt at the level when Sid’s phone vibrated.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring at the same few lines of dialogue.

“That the boss?” David asked, pausing and taking a sip from an old Subway soda cup.

“No,” Sid said.

“We’re in the lobby.”  It was Geno.  “You gotta get us past security.  You’re able to get us lunch, right?”

“Down in a sec,” Sid said.  He had forgotten that he promised to give Geno a tour of the building today.

“You’ll be back for the 1:30 conference call?”  David scrolled through his emulator’s ROMs.

“Yeah,” Sid said, opening their office door.  “If you can’t find a good game, why don’t you double check our work?”

The 17th floor was a maze of hallways and closed doors.  Unoffensive paintings hung on walls and potted plants were spaced out like they were part of the architectural plans.  Ringing most floors of the building though, was a wide walkway with great views of the city.

Sid stepped off the elevator.  Geno and Scarlett were waiting beside the security desk—Jon was working today and had already turned back to his thick Tom Clancy novel.

“They’re with me,” Sid said.

Jon waved them toward the elevator.

Sid asked Scarlett, “No class today?”

“Taking the day off.”  Her eyes took in the high-ceilinged lobby, the passing suits, and the more casual executives like she was at a zoo.  “Geno said you’d get us free lunch?”

“Yeah,” Sid said as they got into an empty elevator, hitting ‘30’.  “It’s Mexican today.  Free for anyone in the building and guests.  I checked you guys in yesterday, but no one really cares.”

“There’s a pretty good bar around the corner,” Geno mentioned as they shot upward.  “You ever go?”

“McNulty’s?”

“Yeah.”

“Sometimes after work,” Sid said, “with David.  He’s, uh—you guys’d probably like him.”

“Your partner?” Geno asked.

Sid nodded.

Scarlett hummed to stock elevator music.  “Geno said you work with the same person every day?”

“They make everyone do it,” Sid said.  “Except senior staff.  It’s like—like the buddy system for adults.  He’s all right though.”

“They hiring any part-timers?” Geno asked.

“What would you even do here?”

“Well, I, uh, maybe I don’t write as good as you, but . . .,” Geno trailed off as the doors opened on the 30th floor.  “Yeah, I don’t know.”

There wasn’t much of a line in the cafeteria.  They had timed their lunch in between the power-eaters who rushed back to their desks, and those who genuinely forgot that their bodies needed food.  After grabbing some tacos, they found an empty table with a view east—the buildings got shorter and shorter until a massive highway seemed to mark the edge of New Portsmouth, though it technically continued further.

Only a few bites in, Sid knew Geno had something to say.

“So, when’s the last time you saw Caitlyn?” he asked.

Sid chewed slowly.  “Glenn’s tenant party a week ago.  The one he threw for those who actually agreed to stay—even with the homeless.”

Geno nodded.  “You know it’s not your fault she moved out.”

“Who said I thought that?”

“Glenn.  There’s nothing you coulda done,” Geno said.  “Shit, Caitlyn always does her own thing.”

“I’m not angry at her.”

“Then why aren’t you with here?”  Geno said, stabbing what fell out of his taco with a fork.

“What do you mean, ‘with her’?” Sid said.
Geno opened his mouth and then winced, rubbing his side.  Scarlett took a long drink, staring out over the city.

“I mean,” Geno said, scooting a few inches away from Scarlett, “why aren’t you hanging out with her anymore?”

Sid took the last bite of one taco.   “You said it—Cait does her own thing.  If she wants to, she will.”

Scarlett muttered something under her breath.

“Well,” Geno said, “are you coming over for Mario Kart this weekend?”

Sid shrugged.  “I hear there’ll be a crowd?”

“Glenn turned one of the empty flats into the tournament room,” Geno said.

“And Cait?”

“She lives in the building,” Scarlett said, piling her trash on Geno’s plate.  “Where else would she be?”

After they ate, Sid killed as much time as possible.  There were some weird art installations a few floors up that Scarlett rolled her eyes at, and Geno pretended not to enjoy.  They ended the tour just above the lobby—the building’s bar was staffed from 11 AM to 10 PM, and every week something was added.  A pool table, recently.

Before he saw Geno and Scarlett out, Sid promised to show up for the weekend tournament.

When he got back to the office, David was playing a lazy game of Tetris.

“Did you show them the communal ball pit on 13?” David asked, not looking up.  “That’s a hit with visitors, but I swear someone peed in there last week.  Fucking kids.”

A couple of empty soda cans were next to David, but otherwise nothing had changed.

“You using Dr. Peppers as a mixer, or chaser?” Sid asked, locking the door.

David coughed, and didn’t rotate his line piece in time for the slot.   “Wha, what?”

Sid rolled his eyes.  “Dude, your burps smell like Altoids and whiskey.”

“Huh?”

“I know you’re a drunk, David.”  Sid reached behind the fire extinguisher in one corner and pulled out a bottle of Stinger Whiskey, a local liquor.

David nodded slowly a few times.  “Great,” he said, fishing out a second cup from the bottom drawer.  He held out his hand for the bottle and poured a small drink, pushing it toward Sid.  “Now I don’t have to hide it.  How’d you figure it out?”

“You were in the bathroom and texted me for emergency toilet paper,” Sid said, downing his cup and pushing it back.  “I forgot where we put it and checked everywhere.”

David smiled, and something flashed on his computer.  He scanned his newest e-mail.  “Shit.  Shit.  They want us upstairs.  Like, a physical meeting.  No conference call.  Thirty minutes.”

Sid eyed the half-full bottle.  “You got more Altoids?”

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Spicy San Franciso — Kadhai Chicken Burrito (Mission / Valencia)

Restaurant Name:  Curry Up Now

Location:  659 Valencia,San Francisco, CA, 94110

Website: www.curryupnow.com

“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”

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Kadhai ‘Wok Tossed’ Chicken Burrito

(wheat tortilla, brown rice, garbanzo beans, kadhai ‘wok tossed’ chicken, curry, possibly diced jalapeno / onions)

          Mexican and Indian food mixed together on Valencia?  Yes, please! Imagine this: a real, tin-foiled SF burrito filled with your favorite Indian dish.  This isn’t a Kati Roll that I wrote about earlier or anything that even pretends to be an authentic Indian meal, but a full size burrito that has the structural stability to stand up as if you were at your favorite taqueria.  What a great way to return to Spicy San Francisco. 

Proof of tinfoil! I should’ve included something for scale.

Situated on the very trendy Valencia St, it wasn’t surprising to find this purposefully hip fusion restaurant–our cashier even called the place “hipster Indian”.  But whether this was derisive or ironic, we’ll never know.  Curry Up Now boasts a gigantic menu that is almost a foreign language to the uninitiated.  Sexy Fries?  Unburger?  Quesadillix?  Deconstructed samosa?  No, wait–that last one sounds pretty good.

I made things simple.  Spiciest dish?  Kadhai ‘wok tossed’ chicken.  Yeah, put that in a burrito.  It was only until afterward that I realized how dangerous this choice, by itself, was.  No sour cream or guacamole that you find in a ‘regular’ super burrito to counterbalance the potential heat.  No naan bread ordered to take a break from the dish, and no mango lassi for emergency purposes.  It was like a thick, tortilla wrapped needle injecting the spiciest Indian food into me as quickly as possible without any added fluff.

Too late to turn back now, extra spicy, please!

I haven't even take a bite, and you can see the lethal curry leaking!

I haven’t even take a bite, and you can see the lethal curry leaking!

Small note:  without anything for scale, it’s hard to see how large this burrito was.  I’ve seen smaller burritos at ‘real’ taquerias.   To quantify it, I’d say this was more massive and dense than 75% of burritos that I’ve eaten in my life.

Kadhai ‘Wok Tossed’ Chicken Burrito Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale (Z-Scale]

_________________________________________________________________

(-10) •   (-5)     (0)  X   (5)     (10)

Z-Scale Score of +2

Explanation of the Z-Scale

______________________________________________________________________________

          Let’s talk about the heat–first, some baseline modifiers:

•  I ordered it ‘extra spicy’

•  I added nothing to the dish

•  I drank 3 glasses of water

•  After finishing, I spooned yogurt sauce out of someone else’s dish to mitigate the heat

          This burrito was like eating a slow-motion car crash.  I knew where it was going after the first bite, one of many, and there was nothing to do except ride it out and see how bad the damage was afterward.  The initial burn after 2-3 bites put the Z- Scale Score around a comfortable -2.  But it wouldn’t stay there.  The heat (and delicious, authentic Indian flavor) was so consistent throughout the burrito that there was never any relief.  In fact, it only escalated from there.  Because I was standing the burrito up as I ate, the curry and flavor concentrated at the bottom and created what can only be called a Zone of Pain.

Long before the Zone of Pain was reached, I developed a light sweat.  The burrito was so filled with ingredients that often a bite would have very little tortilla in it–denied even the slightest break from the heat.  About halfway through, my nose started running and that’s when I realized how exponential the heat increase was.  It only got stronger and stronger the closer I got to the Zone of Pain.

          I need to address how messy this burrito was.  By the end of the meal, I had to use a spoon to actually finish it.  It was impossible to pick up the last third of the burrito out of fear that everything would fall out.  Almost soup with a tortilla wrapped around it, the dish was a bit impractical.  I have to wonder what the tortilla really adds to the equation, because there’s absolutely no way someone could eat this while walking down the street.

That said, the burrito was delicious.  I cannot stress enough how good the Indian portion of the meal was.  I thought for a while that this would be the first Perfect 0 Z-Scale Score, but the Zone of Pain was just too much.  I really didn’t even want to eat the last 1-2 bites, but I powered through.  And it only got worse when I stopped eating.  There was a persistent, lasting burn afterward while my eyes teared up–I had an entire glass of water for dessert.

         I want to return and try out the rest of the menu.  There are tons of curious items that should interest anyone who enjoys Mexican or Indian food, whether you like it spicy or not!

Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 22 — Caitlyn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1:  “Icing Over a Secret Pain”

Note: This is the extended chapter for this episode, at 1,850 words.

Caitlyn

          Cait couldn’t remember the last time she had a girl’s night out.  No boyfriends, no lovers, no friends, no brothers—it must’ve been back in college.  And probably at the same place they were hanging at now.

The Crane Wife had changed its name a hundred times.  When Cait was still studying and living a few blocks away, the close-to-campus bar was called Art Fuel and brought in a different crowd, but it was the same place soaked foundation-deep with decades of memories and spilled drinks.  Dimly lit with darker patches, The Crane Wife began as a coat-and-tie bar for professors and businessmen and pretenders with enough money.

Traces of the upper-crust remained, the kind of stuff that Fitzgerald wrote and revisited—worn but washed hardwood floors, dormant chandeliers, a thick, dark brown serving bar lined with a brass rail, and a grand piano in one corner held together with band stickers and gum that a small girl sat behind, playing softly.  The place had weight to it.  And history in its hanging, unsold paintings by students long since graduated and moved away.

A few were Cait’s.

Students took over the bar maybe twenty years ago and turned it into a dive, and only recently had it taken on a specific appeal—those who wanted to get drunk and listen to unobtrusive poetry and music, and girls who wanted to meet girls.

“She’s not bad, huh?” Molly said, gesturing with her beer.  “At playing, I mean.”

They had taken a table close to the piano and the bar was quiet enough that they didn’t have to shout.

Scarlett was barely visible over the top of the piano, trim hair bobbing and body swaying with the boy beside her—a black student with a harmonica.  Together they embellished jazzy tunes that didn’t need names.  They had been playing for thirty minutes with breaks to drink and talk with the small crowd of twenty or so.  Almost all were students except for some veterans that could find their way to the bathroom with the lights off.   These older few stuck out while fitting in—hunched on their barstools, looking at the rows and rows of bottles that no one ever bought.

“I see why the music program grabbed her,” Molly said, elbowing Cait.  “Where’d she find time to learn?  Doesn’t she work?”

“A couple of part-time jobs,” Cait said.

“I told you this would be fun,” Molly went on.  “If I could just avoid any ex-girlfriends a bit longer.”

If Scarlett was anything like Geno, she found her niches and excelled at them.  While Geno exploited them until he had enough money to pay the rent, Scarlett was different—she enjoyed her work.  Cait was a good judge of tiny smiles, and the one on Scar’s face was a sincere, pressed line that curved more when she was happy with her previous notes.  As she neared a quiet crescendo, she gave the spotlight to the harmonica player who really worked it, letting his foot keep the rhythm on the floor.

The two of them let their notes drift and the audience knew to applaud.

“She’s way too good for Geno,” Cait said.

Molly laughed and watched Scarlett bend over to pick up her coat—she was wearing a short kilt over black leggings.  “Mmhmm.  Cute, too.”

“Don’t start anything,” Cait joked.

Scarlett plopped down in the booth next to Molly, straightening herself beside the taller girl.  Scar’s neck and face shone with sweat and she flicked her long-sleeved shirt to cool her body.

“Those lights,” Scarlett said, sipping her water.  “It’s a sauna.”  She took a long drink of her dark beer, probably as warm as her now.

“That was awesome,” Cait said.  “I almost forgot about this place.  Good thing you didn’t bring Geno—he’d probably get in a fight with any girl who checked you out.”

Cait felt someone kick her under the table but Molly was looking toward the entrance of the bar.

“Oh, Geno wouldn’t come out for these—I don’t ask,” Scarlett said, not sounding upset.  “I think he’s jealous, really.”

“He plays like four instruments,” Cait said.

Scarlett shrugged.  “He’s weird about some things—but I’m happy you guys came out.  This is much better than practicing at school.  It’s all so sterile there.”

The boy with the harmonica came by wearing a collared shirt, no tie, and he had a smile for each of them.  He put a thick wad of bills on the table in front of Scarlett.  “Same time next week?  I got a guy—he can sing all right.  Like a black Bob Dylan.”

“Pass,” Scarlett said. “We got a good thing here.”

The boy just nodded and walked to the bar, signaling with his hand for a drink.

Scarlett smiled at Cait.  “Say, he’s a bit cute.  When’s the last time you—”

“Enough talk about dudes,” Molly said, playing with her empty glass.

Cait stood up.  “Anyone?”

“Whatever you’re having,” Molly said, and Scarlett waved her on, counting the money.

The large woman behind the bar started pouring before Cait could even cross the room.  Sam had been working at The Crane Wife for a decade as other servers came and went.  Nearing her 40s, she was a patient pour and could guess what someone wanted, but that wasn’t what she was best at—Sam often played matchmaker whether a customer wanted to hear it, or not.  If she thought someone was single, she’d scan the bar and find someone that fit them.

Cait made to pay for her local IPA and asked for another of the same, but Sam waved the money away.

“It’s on the house,” she said.

“Huh?”

“I almost forgot,” Sam said, hitting a few keys and popping open the register.  She laid a $50 bill on top of Cait’s beer.  “This is for you.  We sold one of your paintings a few weeks back.  You should come around more often.”

“Which one?”  Cait glanced at the walls of the bar while pocketing the money.

Sam started wiping down a mug, thinking.  “It was a pair of tits—I remember,” she said.  “Like you pressed painted red breasts to a canvas.  Some guy bought it.”  She sounded disappointed.  “It was a nice, modest pair, too.”

Cait felt herself blushing and grabbed the two drinks, but she could use all the money she could get right now.  She put the drinks down and quickly scribbled her phone number on a napkin.

“In case you sell any more—you can reach me there, Sam.”  Cait pushed the napkin across the bar.  “Only if you sell something.”

Sam laughed and put the napkin away, moving down the bar to serve someone else.

*          *        *

An hour later the three girls were outside the bar, saying goodbye and waiting for a taxi to come get Scarlett.

“Molls, haven’t see you here in a while.”  A deep, girl’s voice called from behind them.  The 44L pulled away from the curb after letting its passengers off.  “You get someone new?”

“Shit,” Molly muttered under her breath, turning to the voice.

The girl was small and plump and had a permanent frown to go with her pierced nose and lip.  Metal chains connected different parts of her outfit but Cait didn’t see any point to it.

“Yeah,” Molly said, “I found someone.”

The girl jerked a thumb at Scarlett and gave a low whistle.  “Not bad.”

Scarlett tried to hide a laugh, coughing..

Molly grabbed Cait’s hand and squeezed it tight.  “No,” she said with a big smile, “I’ve been seeing her.”

The girl looked Cait up and down in a way that removed her clothes and skin and bones.  Her eyes paused on every place that Cait didn’t want them to.

“Heroin chic, huh?” the girl sneered.  “You’ve done better.  At least I eat food.  What, are you fresh out of rehab?”

“Still a bitch, huh?” Molly said.  “There’s a reason no one can stand you for more than two weeks.”

The girl stopped examining Cait.   “Let me know when you get tired of her,” she said to Molly, walking inside the bar.

Cait dropped Molly’s hand.

“Thanks for playing along,” Molly said, putting a hand on Cait’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  Ignore—”

“No,” Cait said, shaking Molly off.  She wiped her face and wished it was raining.  “It’s fine.  It’s late.  I—I gotta get going.  I’m gonna walk to the 19.”

The bus stop was six long blocks away but the ride over the bridge to the Inner Harbor went by in a flash.  The lobby of Glenn’s building was looking nicer—the receptionist’s desk had arrived in a giant box from IKEA.

Glenn had gotten economical with his units.  Calling Cait’s place a studio was generous—more like five closets taped together.  She didn’t blame Glenn—it was a place for herself.  She hadn’t lived alone since sophomore year.  Still, it was obvious.  Glenn didn’t really want her here.  Sure, Cait knew, Glenn would never say anything and never kick her out, but he wanted her to move back in with Sid.  Sometimes Cait wondered if she was the only one who didn’t want that.

Cait thought about putting on music but instead opened a window and let the car and truck noises wash over her with the breeze.  It was chilly but she liked the view of the street—better than the brick wall at her old place.  She opened the drawer on her bed side table and saw the seven little plastic boxes linked together.  Drew had given it to her when she left the hospital—the last time they had seen each other and probably the last time, for good.  Cait didn’t think either of them were sad about it.

In each little box was a tab of morphine, broken in half.

The previous days up to Friday were empty.

It had been enough to keep Cait regular.  To feel in control.

One half to fall asleep—one half to tolerate daylight.  Never more than that.

She picked up a half and saw the piece of paper under the tiny boxes.  Cait took out the note that she had written to herself on the night she spent with Sid.  She had memorized a lot of it.  She could tear it up right now and it wouldn’t make a difference.

Cait always felt something when she held the note—that yesterday was fine, tomorrow would be good, and that she just had to get through today.

She kicked off her jeans and checked her phone: two voice messages blinked and she knew who they were from.  After putting the note back, she put her phone on ‘silent’ and swallowed the half tab, flicking the lights off.

Cait closed the drawer firmly.

Distance was always good.

Cait wrapped the comforter around her body.

The beer helped—everything grew quieter and quieter, the outside sounds just white noise, and soon her thoughts were the same.

Distance was safe.

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Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 21 — Glenn

   If you haven’t seen this web serial before, check out the brief introduction to Distilled Spirits

You can also read the very first chapter here.

Looking to refresh yourself with the the previous chapter, the end of Season 1?  Here you go.

Note: I think I finally came up with an image to represent Glenn, but a friend borrowed my camera.

______________________________________________________________________

Episode 1: “Icing Over a Secret Pain”

Glenn

         Glenn surveyed the lobby of his apartment building and imagined how it would look in a few months.  With some investment from his parents, he’d bought the former factory six years ago, managing to carve out twenty livable units in its six floors.

Most of those units would be vacant soon—Glenn wasn’t sure how many people would stay when he converted the bottom of his building into an emergency shelter for the homeless.

The rent would probably have to be cut in half to keep any of them.

By the elevator bank, Glenn would put the receptionist’s desk—security footage could be piped into a few TVs.  He needed to hire some people—one to check-in the overnight guests, another to ensure that no one got stabbed.  He imagined someone like Ving Rhames as his shelter’s enforcer.

Women on the second floor—men on the first.

Glenn didn’t know what he’d do for cleaning but he had a regular maintenance guy and plumber that he trusted.

“Are you gonna help at all?” Caitlyn called, and Glenn’s vision snapped back to the present.  To his newest tenant holding a paint roller in one hand and bottle of beer in the other.

When Caitlyn had asked if she could move in, Glenn knew that he couldn’t say ‘no’.  Convincing Caitlyn to change her mind was a waste of time so Glenn hadn’t even tried.  Giving her an empty unit in exchange for remodeling help seemed like a fair bargain.

Caitlyn hadn’t bothered with a smock and her jeans were already splattered with off-white paint.  Maybe they had always been that way.  Her baggy NPTU sweatshirt hid her body, but Glenn thought Caitlyn was looking better since she left the hospital.

Since the doctors allowed her to leave.

“Do I still get to do some real painting on the second floor?” Caitlyn asked.  “I have a few things in mind.”

“Sure,” Glenn said, grabbing the last beer of the six pack.  He popped it with his lighter and picked up a second roller.  He started on the opposite side of one window.  “Just nothing depressing, okay?  Some of your stuff is pretty creepy.”

Caitlyn glanced out the window—the surprisingly sunny afternoon had drawn two mothers out, both pushing their own stroller.   “How was Sid’s ‘New Job Party’, anyway?”

Glenn smiled, thinking about two nights ago.  “Sidney got absolutely wrecked but I guess you don’t get fired for being hungover there.  He actually beat Geno in Mario Kart a few times.  You shoulda come—he asked about you.  Hey, did Sid and Eri split up or something?  She wasn’t there.”

“How the fuck would I know?”  Caitlyn kicked the pan of paint out of her way.  “I don’t think Sid knew what he was doing with her.  Or maybe it was Eri.”

Glenn’s roller paused.  “When’s the last time you talked to him?”

“We talk,” Caitlyn said.

“Do you?  Seriously, what did you even tell him?  You just left.”

“Not this again,” Caitlyn said.  “Come on, not today.”

“Did you even think about what this would do to Sidney?” Glenn said, ignoring the dripping paint. “He thinks it’s his fault you moved out.  He thinks a lot of things are his—.”

“Nothing is his fault,” Caitlyn said.  “Tell him that.”

You tell him that,” Glenn said.  “I mean, why did you even move out?”

“Fuck off, Glenn.  I couldn’t live there.  I didn’t want to ruin—it was weird, okay?  Leave it.”

Glenn dropped his roller in the pan.  “Jesus Christ, Caitlyn, why didn’t you just fucking tell him?  Show him the note?  You still have it, don’t you?”

“I threw it away.”

Glenn shook his head, sure that Caitlyn was lying.  “Just tell Sidney that you lo—”

“I don’t love him,” Caitlyn said.  “Stop doing whatever you’re trying to do.”

Someone coughed loudly behind them.  Glenn hadn’t heard the door open.

Molly came in holding a pink pastry box and looked around the lobby with a critical eye.  She frowned at Glenn’s empty hands.  “I brought donuts for the two laziest workers in New PT.”

“Going to the bathroom,” Caitlyn said, wiping her hands on her sweatshirt and walking down the hallway.

Molly put the box on a stool and crossed her arms.

“It’s nothing,” Glenn said.  He stopped himself from pulling at his hair and opened the box of donuts.  Molly knew what he liked—chocolate old fashioned.  With possibly toxic paint chips.

“You have such a way with women,” Molly said.

“Yeah,” Glenn said with his mouth full, “sure.”

“Want some advice from someone who has probably been with more girls than you?”

Glenn waved her along with an empty hand.

“Sometimes we do want to be told what to do,” Molly said, choosing a glazed donut, “but if you pick the wrong moment, you’ll wish you hadn’t said anything at all.”

Glenn ate the rest of his donut in silence and washed it down with his beer. It didn’t taste as bad as he thought it would.  “Looking forward to working nights here?”

“Stop trying to hire me,” Molly said.

“It’s just three hours until check-in closes,” Glenn tried.  “I need the help.  The women will trust you more than some dude.”

Molly poured more paint from the bucket into the pan.  “I’m helping now aren’t I?”

When Caitlyn came back she went straight for the donuts, watching Molly coat her roller while she ate.

“You know,” Caitlyn said, “black might be the worst thing you could wear for this.”

“Oh yeah?”  Molly dipped one finger in the rolling pan and swirled it around.  Touching one breast and then the other, Molly drew nipples on her black shirt and then wiped it on Caitlyn’s leg, laughing.

Glenn’s phone vibrated—it was a number he didn’t recognize—and he stopped looking at Molly’s chest.  He stepped away from the girls to answer.

“Is this Glenn F. Pierce?”  It was a woman’s voice on the other end, sounding like she was in a busy office.

“Umm, maybe?  Who is this?”  Glenn checked the number again but didn’t recognize the area code.

“I’m calling from Children’s Protective Services in Michigan. Am I speaking to Mr. Pierce?

“I don’t have any kids,” Glenn said quickly.

“Sir, can you please tell me if I have the right number?  Do you live at 888 Van Buren Ave., New Portsmouth?”

“That’s the soup kitchen.  I work there.”  Glenn realized he had been pacing in short circles and stopped.  He glanced at the girls—they were laughing about something and still not painting.  “But, uh, yeah, I’m Glenn.”

“Mr. Pierce, are you familiar with a boy named Harry?”

“Harry who?  From Michigan?  No,” Glenn said.

“How about a Mrs. Ada Cheski?”

Something about that name bothered Glenn.

The woman continued: “She was married to a Mr. Joe Cheski who passed recently.”

“Crazy Man Joe!” Glenn said.

I’m sorry?”

“Her husband,” Glenn said, “Joe is—was a homeless man here.  He would come to my kitchen and we, well, yeah.  He told me that he had a family.  Is Harry his son?”

“Sir, have you been in correspondence with Harry?  Have you heard from him?”

“No,” Glenn said.  “What’s going on?”

The woman paused before speaking again.  “Were you aware that you are listed among Harry’s emergency contacts?”

“What?  No.”

“Do you know why you would be listed?”

“No,” Glenn said.  “I’ve only ever spoken to Joe.”

He heard loud, speedy typing from the other end of the phone.

“Sir, we have reason to believe Harry may be trying to contact you.  If you hear from him, please let us know at this number.”

“Is he okay?” Glenn asked.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said, “we can’t release any more information.  Have a good day, Mr. Pierce.”

The phone call ended.

Caitlyn and Molly were both staring at him, waiting to hear the story.

Glenn hadn’t thought about Crazy Man Joe for a few days.  He hadn’t done enough to save the dead homeless man—it had taken Glenn too long to realize that he didn’t do enough for his own community—but maybe there was something he could do for the man’s son.

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Distilled Notes: Music of the serial, Season 2 to begin Monday

Would it surprise you that this web serial (Distilled Spirits) was inspired by a song by Green Day?  Mostly through the character of Caitlyn, I made reference to six songs over the course of Season One–usually through lyrics by unidentified bands.

I’ve wanted to put this post together for a while.  Here, I will post YouTube videos for each song along with some context from when the song made its appearance.  At the bottom of this post, there are a few notes regarding the web serial and Season Two.

 

There are Season One spoilers littered throughout this post, but one could also just listen to the music if they just want to hear some good stuff!

First is the Green Day song that started it all — “Hitchin’ a Ride” off of Nimrod.  One day this song came up, and I became obsessed with the line:

Do you brake for distilled spirits?  / I need a break as well

Since on one layer the song is referencing hitch hiking, I couldn’t get one thought out of my head–that the ‘distilled spirits’ could be thought of as people (hitch hikers).  The idea of distilling a human being, or breaking one down into smaller, identifiable parts to understand the essence of the originally whole person is a really neat idea.

Every Season One episode title are lyrics directly taken from that Green Day song.

Second, in Chapter 7, Caitlyn comes home after selling morphine to help pay the rent.  She’s at an ambiguous place with her boyfriend Drew and is withdrawing into herself.  The song “Coast to Coast” by Elliott Smith is from his last album before he committed suicide.

Third, in Chapter 11, Caitlyn comes home from helping Glenn paint the walls of the soup kitchen.  She gets a song stuck in her head as she crosses the bridge on a bus and she meets Drew outside of her apartment.  He’s in the mood; she isn’t.  Cait gets high and lets her mind drift to “Jumpers” by Sleater-Kinney.  The official music video is awesome if you haven’t seen it–it takes place in San Francisco, a city with similarities to New Portsmouth.

Fourth,in Chapter 15, Caitlyn and Sidney are hosting the Halloween party.  The party peaks with a drunken confrontation between Sidney, Geno, and Drew while “Not Even Jail” by Interpol plays.  “I’m subtle like a lion’s cage / such a cautious display” remains some of my favorite lyrics of all time.  Lots of people like to claim Interpol’s lyrics are generally nonsense, but I think meaning can often be found.

Fifth, in Chapter 20, there is a reference without using any italicized lyrics.  In this season finale, Cait is reading aloud the note that she had written to herself the night that she and Sidney took morphine together.  She wrote that their eyes were like “corresponding puzzle pieces”, an intended reference to “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service.

Finally, there is  another Elliott Smith song that shows up.  If you happen to be a fan of his, you may notice it in the final lines of Chapter 19.  I’ll leave that one a mystery!

A Few Notes for Season 2:

  • The new season will begin Monday, January 27th
  • The chapter order is currently envisioned as: Glenn, Caitlyn, Sidney, Geno
  • The season is again planned to be five episodes long, but this time one chapter per episode is permitted to break the 1,500 word limit
  • The episode titles are taken from a Third Eye Blind song.  I’m not even in love with the song, but I realized in the shower that the words fit perfectly with some ideas I have
  • By Monday, 20 days will have gone by since the last time we checked in on our four friends

A Season Distilled: The Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics of a Web Serial

With one season of Distilled Spirits finished, I wanted to recap some of the process and point out some of the ways that I failed horribly.  There’s also some fun graphs and numbers for the data fetishists out there.

First, I’d like to announce that the web serial will be on a planned two week hiatus, returning no earlier than January 20th.  The lives of our four friends, and those in New Portsmouth, of course don’t halt.  We’ve left Caitlyn recovering after an overdose and a realization, Geno beginning an ‘official’, committed relationship for the first time since high school, Sidney having just completed a job interview with a videogame developer—outcome unknown, but promising—and Glenn, having decided to forgo his trip to Suriname in favor of helping those within reach.

Other ‘breaks’ in the past have been unintentional.  Introduced as a weekly serial, it only took 2-3 months for me to appreciate the commitment and dedication that regular content providers put into their work–and to break my original weekly promise.

Well, how did I do?   How ’bout some stats:

Average days between chapters: 6.3 days, (median = 6)

Most days between two chapters:  18 days

Least:  1 day

‘Late’ chapters (>7 days): 4 out of 20

Total Words (All Characters):  28,628

Average Chapter Length (All Characters):  1,431

Longest Chapter:  2,285 [Caitlyn – Ch. 15, Halloween Special]

Shortest Chapter:  1,132 [Sidney – Ch. 1]

Below is a visualization of each character’s word count and how they proportionally relate:

No effort was made to keep each character's word count similar beyond the flexible 1,500 word cap.

No effort was made to keep each character’s word count similar beyond the flexible 1,500 word cap.

With this shoddy, high school quality graph, we can see that Caitlyn’s sections ended up with the most dedicated words.  At 8,389 words (29.3% of total), she benefited from being the focus of the only two chapters that exceeded the 1,500 word limit.  Otherwise, Sidney, Geno, and Glenn were all within ~400 words of each other.

Also worth noting: Sidney, envisioned by me as the ‘lead’ protagonist of the four, ended with the shortest dedicated narrative.  I’d like to believe this suggests that the serial has a more organic development than intended.

One more graph.  While playing with all of the data, I found this correlation to be the most interesting.  Here we have the relationship between how early the chapter occurred (y-axis) versus how long it was (x-axis).

The outlier, Caitlyn's Halloween Special, has been excluded from this graph.

The statistical outlier, Caitlyn’s Halloween Special (Ch. 21), has been excluded from this graph.

Even without the line of best fit, I immediately recognized what was happening.  From Chapter 1 to 20, the length of each section trended upwards.  Did I have more to say?  More issues to explore?  More confidence in my storytelling?  I don’t know.  Maybe I was just lazy at first.  If I had to guess: I originally underestimated how much narrative would be needed to hit all of the story points and I began slowly.

When I began the web serial, I simply wanted to maintain a writing routine.  Unless you’re Douglas Adams, it’s much harder to conjure up excuses when a deadline looms.  I also had a story that I wanted to tell, most of which occurred in Season 1.  And, without the leash of a schedule, I doubt I would have finished a single episode.

As this site beats on through January, here are a number of resolutions I probably should’ve made for New Years:

  • Return to providing regular content for Spicy San Francisco and Sci-Fi Undercover, and expand the site as time allows
  • Get my landlord to fix the heater
  • Continue with Distilled Spirits continuity and style editing of completed episodes
  • Figure out a goddamned header image that corresponds to Glenn.  This brain-jam has lasted long enough
  • Further illustrate what New Portsmouth looks like
  • Stop buying every new hot sauce I encounter