Category Archives: Fiction

Mystery!

 

1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for "The Man with the Twisted Lip"

1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

I don’t watch a lot of television—the news and weather, NCIS, and Elementary. At least two are mysteries. The weather is usally a mystery, and the news—well, to be a real mystery, you need clues, and most newscasters are clueless.

Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and House, MD are all essentially the same genre with the same skeletal structure. The hero is a brilliant man, addicted to opioids, who is able to quickly solve mysteries, but only takes on cases that interest him. His roommate is a doctor who served in Afghanistan, but was wounded. Dr. Watson is an intelligent and educated man, but is amazed at Holmes’s powers of deduction.

Holmes originally appeared in installments as a column, to use the modern vernacular, in The Strand, a monthly magazine. Having written monthly articles, I can understand Conan-Doyle’s fascination, and the dread of dealing with recurring deadlines. He eventually tried killing Holmes off—plunging to his death over a waterfall along with his arch-rival Moriarty—but the public wouldn’t stand for it. With a lame excuse of Jiu-Jitsu, Homes reappeared, to Conan-Doyle’s displeasure, but the approval of the readers who didn’t care HOW Holmes escaped–just that he did.

As a writer, I’m intrigued by such circumstance: a great lead character, a narrator who’s also part of the story, and an ensemble from poor Inspector Lestrade to Holmes’s smarter brother, Mycroft. And, yes, “The Woman,” Irene Adler.

I was going to write more, but instead I’m going to go and re-read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes yet again.

 

Not Quite Dead

You may know my name—J. Parrington Morrison, but I tended to mingle only with business associates who could in some way support my goals and objectives. I was always quite focused, which is how I flipped businesses the way others flip houses. I’d convince a venture capital group to buy into a business, kill off any long term efforts like research and development, training, and a lot of marketing. I’d pump what was left into current sales so that the quarterly financial statements looked good, then use a little creative accounting on the balance sheets. It’s the business equivalent of painting and putting in new carpeting—it looks better, but it’s still the same old house underneath.

I’d take my profit and move on while the new CEO, left with hollow company, would take the blame for the company’s demise two or three years later. I figured one good short term deal after another was every bit as good as a long term focus. I lived well, especially since I could write so much off my taxes, but there was one long term project. I invested some money in long term, extremely safe government bonds and treasury notes; I even spread it around different countries since you never know which country will prosper and which one won’t even be in the history books. Given time, it will put a king’s ransom to shame.

Then I bought time. Within seconds of my “death” at a ripe old age, a special team whisked my body away and carefully prepared me for cryogenic storage. Somewhere in a stainless steel tube, my body is now bathed in liquid helium or nitrogen or something, waiting for the day when medical science can bring me back and fix me. I have no idea how long it’s been, but I certainly didn’t expect to be aware while my body is waiting to be repaired.

The best way I can describe myself is “transparent.” It’s like I’m not all here physically, but I’m also very different mentally–transparent. It’s not like being a ghost—I don’t see places or anything living—but I sort of get glimpses of the dead. They also seem faint or transparent, but I only get a glimpse from time to time, almost like seeing something reflected in rippling water at twilight.

I never believed in an afterlife or heaven or anything, but the dead seem to be enjoying whatever they’re experiencing, and they certainly seem to enjoy one another since I never see any of them alone. They’re always together with someone or part of a crowd, and I can tell they are smiling, laughing, and sharing. Sharing is big with them; they share food and drink and who knows what all.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think—years? Decades? Centuries? Who knows? I’ve decided that I would be better off dead. Don’t forget—I should be. I should be long dead and forgotten by the world. My plan to be restored seems so pathetic now; why would I want to live in a world that will no doubt be totally different from anything I ever knew? Do I really want to grow old and “die” a second time, or a third? It was a great short term plan, but sucks as a long term plan—as in eternity.

I think what I get glimpses of is heaven, and if there is a heaven, then there must be a God. I never thought I’d ever say that; there must be a God. If God is everything I’ve heard, but always denied, He must know. He must know where I am, what has happened, and what I need. If I pray, maybe He’ll hear me.

God, uh I’m not too sure as to how to pray, but I guess You know that. What I’m praying for is to be set free from my attempt to bind myself to life. Let my frozen body release its hold on me.

He prayed for what seemed an eternity, his prayers eventually showing a bit of wisdom. He began to figure out what should have been important while he had been fully alive. He decided to accept whatever fate God had planned for him.

In a long abandoned laboratory, somewhere in what had once been called “Wyoming,” one of the stainless steel cylinders sprung a pinhole leak and vented the last of its liquid nitrogen. The cylinder began to warm, its contents, the body of someone once named J. Parrington Morrison began to thaw and go the way of all flesh.

Foreverness*

I know where I am, or perhaps it’s better to say I know where I’m not. I know I’m not dead.

Being not-dead is not all it’s cracked up to be. It was my choice, but I can’t say that it was a wise one.

When I was alive, I paid a lot of money to have my body cryogenically preserved so that when science figured out how to cure whatever it was that killed me, I could be brought back to life. I even careful financial investments to ensure that upon my return I would live in a grand style–an obscenely grand style.

I can’t see back to where the living are, so I have no idea how science is advancing, or how well my investments are compounding. Even though I can’t see the living I can see the dead.    They look translucent–not faded–kind of like they’re here and somewhere else  at the same time. Occasionally I feel that one of them senses me, or even almost sees me, but is not able to figure out just what that something–me is. Now I know how ghosts in all those horror stories supposedly feel.

The dead are happy—very happy. It’s like they’ve finally gotten to where they want to be. They smile. The laugh. They’re always in groups sharing something or another. I can even see the dead celebrating the various religious holidays.

I envy them.

I remember being taught to live like a spiritual being passing through a material world. I remember in Sunday School being told that Jesus said that there were many mansions in his Father’s house. As near as I can tell, what’s supposed to happen is that each of us lives our life on earth and then moves on. All of the dead that I see appear to have done just that.

I, on the other hand, by choosing to be cryogenically preserved, never completely died, and am held to my past life by the thinnest of threads. Maybe someday science will bring me back; but it’ll be to a world in which I have no friends or family—to world into which I will not fit. A world to which I do not belong. It’s like a fourth dimensional and near-eternal Man Without a Country.

The best I can hope for is a cataclysmic disaster or an unscrupulous worker to disconnect my cryogenic pod so my body can thaw and finally die. Until then, I just wait.

*Since I’m on vacation, I pulled up the unpublished drafts I had written (turns out there were 30 of them) and decided to make life easy and use one of them.

My New Patient, the Terrorist

As a psychiatrist, I see all kinds of people; couples trying to communicate, Woody-Allenish-neurotics, and the occasional psychotic with delusions of grandeur. Some of my patients are folks for whom La-La Land is Home Sweet Home.

One of my newest patients has occasionally been in the news. Operating under the code name of “The Fruit Fly,” Whoopee bin Yowhzah was apprehended for an attempted act of terrorism on a flight. Although he did not, in fact, have a bomb, he nevertheless set his (rather soiled) underwear on fire. When the smell of his own scorched skivvies did not achieve the desired effect, he then attempted to set fire to the underwear of the other passengers.

When the plane landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he was arrested. He proudly announced to anyone who would listen that he was sure he would sent to Guantanamo, but was instead held in the Laramie County Jail. He demanded to be water boarded, which was ignored by the staff, so he stuck his head in the cell toilet and repeatedly flushed it until deputies restrained him.

It was decided that instead of communing a military tribunal, he would be tried before a judge and jury in New York. He was, quite understandably, found “Not guilty by reason of insanity” and committed to a psychiatric hospital.

I first met him as he sat on the edge of his bed. We started out with some small talk, and I asked him to tell me about himself.

“Me? I am a terrorist!” he replied enthusiastically.

“I see,” I replied, “and why did you become a terrorist?” He looked at me as though I was clueless.

“Being a terrorist is a religious calling!” he explained. “God, Himself, called me to be a holy warrior!”

The patient in the next bed sat bolt upright and glared at both of us. “I most certainly did not!” he replied.

 

It’s War! War I Tell You!

war

 

That’s right, it’s war – war against all the negativity that permeates the world.

All the media shows us are evil people, diseases and nut cases.

There have always been evil hordes – if it’s not the Islamists, it’s the Nazis, or the Mongols or the Peloponnesians.

At least we never have to yell, “Help! Help! It’s the Peloponnesians!”

There have always been diseases – especially back when everybody threw their trash and fecal matter into the street.

And there have always been nut cases who have this tendency to go into politics. Dueling tended to thin the herd, but unfortunately that’s no longer encouraged.

It’s up to us.

Now it’s true that we’ve already suffered some heavy casualties. John Belushi and Gilda Radner – gone. Same with Richie Pryor, George Carlin and now Robin Williams. We owe it to them as well as to Charlie Chaplin and Peter Bergman to close ranks and carry on the fight.

I’ll do more humor columns.

As for you? Find your weapon of choice, whether it be a whoopee cushion or the old arrow-through-the-head gag. If you have to resort to limericks or Weird Al Yankovic, you’re helping the cause.

Do whatever it takes to make someone laugh.

When we laugh they (and you know who THEY are) think we’re up to something.

Dear Answer Man

Washington Post

Washington Post

Dear Answer Man, I’m pretty much an all-round loser. I did the bare minimum in school, leading to a dead-end job, which doesn’t matter, because I’m not into hard work, anyway. Is there anything I can do that requires little or no effort to become rich or famous? Couch Potato

Dear Potato: Getting rich is out of your reach; even being a thief often requires some degree of effort. On the other hand, becoming famous is easy these days. First, write a few sentences – one per page is okay – as to who you hate and why. Leave these lying around the place where you live (probably in your mother’s basement.) Next choose the weapon of your choice – rifle, knives, toe nail clippers, pointy stick – whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Pick a target that will get a lot of attention; schools are popular, but attacks at schools are so passé. Pick something else – preferably a place where there are no guards or police officers such as a pedicure salon. If it’s not too much effort, just before you get there, call a local television station to tell them where you’re headed and why. Run into the building and poke everyone you can with your pointed stick and scream. If you don’t have a favorite saying, you can use one or more of these:

“Dennis Rodman is the prophet!”

“Major league sports are all fake!”

“They lied to us about Betty Crocker!”

Soon, you’ll be surrounded by the media, so explain yourself to them.

Oh, don’t be surprised if police respond as well, but ignore them. It’s the media that you need.

Good luck!

Science FICTION vs. SCIENCE Fiction

The_Martian_2014

My older son dislikes the reboot of Star Trek because of some of the liberties they take with the laws of physics. I on the other hand am happy to allow artistic license in order to have a good story.

Of course, I grew up on the notoriously under-budgeted original Star Trek, while he grew up on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The original couldn’t afford the sets and models for a different planet each week, so they created the now ubiquitous transporter. Considering that this was in the days before the first real world moon landing, that was a leap of faith (or a tweak of physics) in its own right.

On the other hand, there are some great stories that take great care in ensuring that the science is reasonably well adhered to. I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir.

There have been marooned stories from before Robinson Crusoe to the recent movie Gravity. The trick is to tell it in a way that’s reasonably plausible. Mark Watney is part of a team of astronauts on Mars that is devastated by a dust storm. His team mates see him impaled on a metal rod and blown away, but can’t recover his body because their launch vehicle is rapidly succumbing to the same storm. Recover one dead astronaut and they’ll add the whole team to the killed in action list.

Of course, Mark didn’t die, but to survive he has to figure out certain things.

How do I get water on Mars?

How do I find some way to grow some kind of food in something?

Like a detective novel, it’s the “how does he figure this one out” factor that makes this book fun, and there are many things to be figured out.