THE FLYING NUN, THE FROZEN DEAD: 1966-1968 by Gregg Williard

Recently deceased science fiction writer Harlan Ellison wrote a 1968 episode of the TV series, “The Flying Nun” in order, he said, “to fuck Sally Fields.” If he just had a chance to get close to her, he believed, he could persuade her to have sex with him. The episode was titled, “You Can’t Get There from Here.” Sister Bertrille (Field) crashes on a remote island after the wind dies down. Her glider-like head piece, or cornette, falls in the water and is torn, leaving her stranded. She discovers other castaways, a pair of feuding lovers, who eventually reunite and repair Sister Bertrille’s cornette with coconut milk. She flies to safety, and rescues the others. Sally Field despised the show. Many despised Harlan Ellison, notorious for his bullying, rage, misogyny and physical violence, though his many science fiction stories and screenplays, and boundless capacity for generosity and warmth, were equally loved. 

The Frozen Dead (1966) was a British horror-science fiction film directed by Herbert Leder, who also wrote the screenplay for Fiend Without a Face (1958) (one of his best) about flying brain-sucking brains, and directed It (1967), a modern retelling of the Golem legend with Roddy McDowell (one of his worst). Leder was also a professor of film theory at Jersey City State College. One would have loved to have attended his classes. He was an ok teacher according to some of his students. The critics hated most of his movies, but loved certain moments in them: the stop-motion animated flying brain finale of Fiend Without a Face, (which, as they say, must be seen to be believed), and the living head on a table pleading to be buried at the finale of The Frozen Dead. 

The Frozen Dead starred Dana Andrews as a former Nazi scientist working to revive frozen Nazi soldiers and generals for world conquest. He is successful bringing them back to life, but their brains are in a zombie state. To advance his research he keeps a murdered girl’s head in his lab. Her face is bathed in blue light (I didn’t know it was blue until years later, since the American release used black and white prints to save money), and her exposed brain is under a clear plastic dome. The head kept alive was played by a beautiful and talented English actor named Kathleen Breck, also known for her appearance in an episode of the British TV series "The Prisoner" with Patrick McGoohan. (One of the legions of critics panning The Frozen Dead singled out "Breck's soulful head" for praise). In the film she exerts telepathic control over a row of arms sticking out of the lab wall, and commands them to strangle Dana Andrews. Andrews was a serious and very successful film actor through the 1940’s, and a long-time alcoholic. The standard narrative tells of a trajectory of decline through the ‘50’s and ‘60’s as his drinking took its toll, perhaps more in terms of his career choices than performances, though aging and a changing industry may have been more to blame, (if blame is the correct understanding). He achieved a hard-won sobriety by 1969, but his sober film work seemed no different, and even of less interest, than while he drank. Indeed, near the end of his drinking career (at its height, or its diminution?) his roles and films became ever stranger, and more compelling. The Frozen Dead is part of that pantheon. His “masculine mask” with a suggestion of inner torment won him awards and accolades in earlier films like Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Laura (1944) and A Walk in the Sun (1945). He was loved for his kindness and professionalism, but his self-hate made it more and more difficult to go on without a drink. His transition to Strange Andrews, (his masculine mask frozen into lurid rictus) was inaugurated with Night of the Demon (1957) and reached its strident apex, along with The Frozen Dead, in Hot Rods to Hell (1967). From one point of view (a precipice of feverish cinephilia well into the amour-fou) Hot Rods to Hell is his greatest film. It must be seen to be believed.   


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HOPE AND HEART by Gregg Williard

It was when she started to walk that I lost my sense of smell. Then when she began to run I lost my sense of taste. When she took her first swimming lesson I became mute. Then she learned to rollerblade and I couldn’t walk. Ice skating paralyzed my right hand. When she showed talent in ballet I became deaf. When she went on to the Olympics and won a gold medal in gymnastics I stopped breathing on my own. She visits me every day, washes me and brushes my teeth. I can taste the toothpaste. They say it is a hopeful sign. I don’t have the heart to tell her I hate this brand.

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BEE GIRLS by Gregg Williard

One chilly autumn evening a flying saucer hovered over orchards of the estate of Septimus Giles, who had just stumbled into a mound of composting dung, his ramble through a dusk redolent of pear, flower and Queen’s Stew apples, and astir with the hum of bees (and now anti-gravity oscillations) rudely deterred by a slipper suddenly bilged to cold offal. Chilled too by his unsuitable velvet smoking jacket, lingerie lace cravat and linen pantaloons (with no stockings or hat!), donned for an after-dinner brandy by the fire rather than an October stroll about the grounds. It was a serious breach of form. Why had he ventured forth so unsuitably attired? Vexed with his dilemma he did not see the hatch open above him, and three bee girls emerge to caper among the trees.

Floating out of the trees on thrumming green wings they descended to consider a startled Septimus with wide apart, somewhat equine eyes. The bee girls wore identical yellow and black-striped camisoles and had the same blond hair, styled in onion dome bouffant. Their high, porcelain brows sprouted trembling antennae, tuned, his gathering wits surmised, to etheric excitements of the beyond. Neither sprites nor fairies they were human size, and charming in their heft.Septimus swooned. Bees were all the rage among his set that season. Only a week before he had draped a night gazebo with poor cotton, candle-lit from within and filled with his new bee colony denizens. Queued ladies with honey dipped handkerchiefs entered and in moments gave issue to the most extraordinary cries. A honey dab to their exposed vaginal lips had drawn bee stings to their most tender nether regions. Septimus counted Scientific Investigations among his enthusiasms; his latest intention was to test a daring conjecture that bee venom and female musk would result in exquisite aphrodisia. Thus far his subjects had proven unsuitable, but he was not deterred. Now this bee trio could prove to be the answer. And shorn of antennae and wings, coached in modest comportment and armed with proper introductions the creatures might even be welcomed into society, his sponsorship drawing fair repute his way. He stepped forward, bowed and extended his hand. They shrank from his overture.Of course it had to be his unsuitable attire. Sartorial recklessness had somehow curtained off all futurity. His assurance of place seemed somehow at risk.“But...I am a gentleman!” he cried, incredulous, setting the bee girls to bob the air like agitated paper angels hung for the new year. He slipped and fell face first into fertilized earth, and came away seasoned with more offal and dung.He sobbed, bereft, his spirit’s nectar now humbled sweet. The bee girls dipped their thirsty antennae in his aura, sorrowed deep azure, and drank deep. Once sated they quickly departed.Septimus staggered through the orchard’s dark aisles back to his manor. He would bathe and don fine dress again but discover society no longer hospitable. The precise nature of his wrongs eluded definition; always indefinable missteps and indiscretions of comportment, dress, speech or scent made his presence strangely intolerable to all others of his rank. Its agency remained mysterious, but the outcome beyond dispute: expulsion—now and forever from the hive.

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THE WILHELM SCREAM by Gregg Williard

Before her senior year of high school she spent every day of the sweltering summer on the side porch of her parents’ house writing an essay on existentialism while her little brother, back to her and arms outstretched for balance, inched past the windows outside, wobbling on a ledge no deeper than his heels until he lost his balance and plunged, screaming, into a sea of lava five feet below, then climbed up the drain pipe and did it again, all morning, every morning: inch along the ledge to Kierkegaard, lose balance to Heidegger, wave arms to Hegel, scream piercing terror to Dostoevsky, plunge to lava sea with Sartre, climb up the drain pipe with Nietzsche, then inch along the ledge with Kierkegaard, again.    

Years later in bed she reenacted the scene (and the sound that had haunted her for years) for her first husband Thomas (the man who showed her she was a writer, and later, that she was nothing at all). Thomas the Cinephile swore her brother’s movie scream actually had a name: “The Wilhelm Scream," a stock sound-effect used in more than 200 films, originating in an early ‘50’s western titled Distant Drums, wherein a Private Wilhelm, that first screamer, dives to his death clutching an arrow in his chest with that distinctive yelping shriek she thought belonged to her brother alone.  

Thomas played the wiki sound file for her. He was right (always, in those days).

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It had been arranged that she would take a stroll through the engine room before supper. Captain Venkman had assured her that they would hold a place at the captain’s table for her if she were detained. Not for his command were the martinet’s peevish demands. He prided himself on, not only an “untight” ship, but a downright anarchic one. “I have found over the years of our voyage, Randi,” the captain had confided on their first interview, “that a rudderless, aimless, and frankly lost ship is no place for unnecessary rules.”

“Some might differ,” Randi protested gently. She sensed a game of some kind that she wished to negotiate in a properly playful spirit. “In the absence of external order, internal discipline is said to be the only refuge of the survivor, don’t you think?”

Captain Venkman laughed long and heartily at Randi’s words. “That might apply to the usual kind of lost, where there is still hope of finding one’s way, but you see, the Sundstrum is not merely lost to land or destination. Within we are truly lost to the world.”

"I don’t understand,” Randi said. “There are plentiful provisions, and the crew and passengers all seem filled with hope and expectation.” She found her breath caught in her throat. “I myself have someone waiting. To be told there is no hope…” She regained her composure and rebuffed his warm eyes with a sharper tone. “You said that anarchy reigns here, Captain. I see no evidence of this. Everyone seems perfectly well behaved, and the ship and crew are smartly appointed. There is lights out at nine bells, and stewards fluff our pillows with alacrity and cheer.” Her voice faltered and tears clouded her eyes. She was furious and distraught.

Captain Venkman gave Randi a monogrammed handkerchief stitched with HMSS in the queen’s blue and gold. “I’m sorry, Randi. Of course there is order and regulation. Up here there is hope and steady compass, sextant and GPS and the stars. There will always be steady progress marked, and made. I only meant to suggest that if you are a little late for dinner we will understand, and accommodate.”

“But Captain, why invoke this vision of chaos?”

“Randi,” and here Captain Venkman’s eyes darkened and his voice grew low and rough, “it’s the engine room. Down there, we are lost. There is no governor. There is no way.”

“Do you forbid me to go, then? Why not declare it off limits?”

Captain Venkman stood then, the cabin suddenly shrinking with his girth. “No, Randi. I don’t forbid your stroll through the engine room.” He pushed open the cabin door roughly and stabbed a shaking finger into the passageway. “I command it. Go.”

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You live two blocks from a city park that hosts the Fourth of July parade, carnival and fireworks. Once a year your sleepy neighborhood will be taken over. Hoards emboldened strange by the holiday license to drink in public and be stupid with explosives will arrive bearing lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, flags, transistor radios and cherry bombs. They blithely make your yards their parking lots, trespass and trample and choke sidewalks and streets in lit processions of flash lights and aluminum sparklers. Their orange cigarette tips will bob ahead like lures.

Soon their blankets will cover the fields all the way to the woods. Progress in the dark is a mine field of hands and feet, plates of potato salad, dry humping teenagers, dead soldiers of Blatz, Schlitz, Strohs, Rolling Rock, Fanta or Seven-Up bottles, a land where any unthinking remark or misplaced look or bump or nudge or gesture can set off the explosive potential waiting whenever so many people come together in the dark. Do not be afraid. It is your first taste of civic anarchy, to be forever flavored with the tang and bitters of gunpowder sulfur and beer. Everywhere the adults are eating, drinking, smoking, tonguing, grasping, gasping, laughing, cursing.

They who run the world will all be here: in straight sharp lines of brow and jaw like tail-fins; in car interior colors of cream with red, blue or black; in men’s crew cut, ivy league, d.a. or rockabilly pompadours; in women’s bouffant, beehive, pixie or artichoke cuts; in pants of cuff-rolled denim or white Capri; in shirts Hawaiian or Cabana or T’s, (the latter tight and bicep-rolled to hold non-filter cigarette packs). Many of the men will brandish “back from ‘Nam” (or Baghdad or Afghanistan) stares, cadences, shrugs, slang, stiletto-macho X-15-age werewolf sideburns and teeth and eyes that will have you, the different kids, in a seizure of terror, and release. Now will be the time to act.

You will talk and scheme and worry out minute plans without regard for what the Big Night will actually be. Someone will say it is like “striking a giant match across the skull of the world” and you settled for that. You are “the brains,” “the mad scientists,” the 11-year old nobody “nerds” (at a time when the term has the obscene punch of “kike”, “cunt” or “nigger.”)  You say, Come Kill Your Darling Country.

On the early morning of the third your plan is to break into the fireworks truck parked in the corner of the field and tamper with the charges. You have talked about living lives risked in extreme experiment, and here is the big one: mixing combustibles for a new world of shapes and colors, out-doing their show with fun that will hurt and laughs that give all of them the same stranger’s face; incantations in sparkler across hot night air, striking a giant match across the skull of the world. Come, kill your darling country.

The first skyrockets will tear into the sky and the ahhhs and ohhhs rise from the quaking blankets all dark around you in a sea. You run and dive as into an oncoming wave at the beach. You will be heedless, fearless, senseless. You will kick at faces and ran faster, climbing people like stair steps, flying over grasping hands, battling through screams of pain and rage lost in booms, and groans of awe for the hot chemical show overhead. You keep on, straight into the woods. Angry voices are close behind. You will enter the woods in an exalted state of fearlessness and inexhaustible energy, skipping down a narrow switch-back path we know by heart, to the right of the shale cliff you call “H,” (without knowing why).

A sharp zigzag down the back-way crashes into a narrow, noisy stream. You take positions off the path and a little downstream, at the edge of a gully behind big mossy rocks. Above you a willow tree catches a new, cool breeze, fluttering leafy vines over the ebony water. Your panting breaths finally slow and you listen but hear no sounds of pursuers. Above you silver mag stars, fat on titanium and bromides, flash revelations of smoke, solid and sheer as cliffs. They are quickly riven apart by detonations of other hot metals, fuel and casing types: copper halide blues, strontium reds, cesium indigos, potassium violets, barium greens, calcium oranges, lamp-black golds playing The Palm, The Ring, The Diadem, The Crosette, The Spider.

The show reaches its finale: multi-break Whistlers and Hummers that “strobe” multiple explosions falling closer and closer to the crowd. You count the explosions. After many bursts you count one, two, three too many, too loud. The rockets will reach the ground while still burning, hissing and twitching, like cicadas locked to mate and die, igniting grass and blankets and flesh. Shrieks will cut through the booms, echoing into strange cacophonies between pain and pleasure, the human and the animal. There are alarms and sirens and cries to God. Then echoes, the crowd dispersing, cars starting up and driving off. Stars poke through the colored smoke. It thins, they brighten, and the air goes cold.

You will wait. Then one of you, then another and another will whisper of your getaway, your next move. The way ahead, someone says, is lit by a giant match raked across the skull of the world! Your voices join and rise into chant, hot and luminous, words lit from inside your throats as if you’ve swallowed sparklers whole, and do not and will not feel one damn thing in the great parade ahead. Come, let’s kill their darling country.

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EYE UPON THE DONUT by Gregg Williard

"She could be one of them.”  Matt nodded toward the end of the counter.  A Japanese woman of indeterminate age with fuchsia hair and an aqua hoody sat alone with a donut and coffee. Jake had never seen anyone eat a donut the way she did, from the outside surface moving in, turning it with each nibble until there was nothing but a perfect ring around the center. She placed it on the counter to study between sips of coffee.

Matt whispered, “She’s here every Saturday morning.  Orders coffee and a cake donut, always real careful not to bite the hole.”

Jake said, “Yeah?”

Matt leaned closer, talking low and fast.  “So, let’s say that everybody and everything is a projection of extra-dimensional forces that ‘interpret’ us in three dimensions, OK? And if we’re all electromagnetic metaphors downloaded from quantum data streams compressed to infinity inside the sentient black holes that are ‘dreaming’ us, then some people, just a few people , like that woman there, could be a black hole’s version of a ‘lucid dream’.”


“…which posits the donut batter as ‘objective correlative’ for plasma crushed in a torus of solenoid magnets, pressurized and accelerated until the nuclei fuse, which of course makes her eating the donut a representation of a representation, an avatar of a circular particle accelerator that is, in turn, a lower order, non-sentient expression of their dreaming us into being, you know?”

“Yeah.  But…”

“But what?”

“But don’t black holes eat matter and galaxies and stuff?  Are they dreaming us up just to eat us? Like, you know, a chef imagining a new recipe for poached quail eggs?”

Matt blinked.  “That’s a complete distortion, Jake.”

“I just don’t get what they want.”

“What they want?   Jake!  The question has no meaning. Even if it did we’d be incapable of ever knowing the answer. The consciousness we’re considering is infinitely more complex than ours. I mean, do you even ever know what your own consciousness ‘wants’ , let alone anyone else’s?”  At that moment Jake’s eyes met the woman’s. Neither looked away. Her pensive expression softened. She smiled, and he blushed. And smiled back.

“You know what I mean? Jake?



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LUCK OF THE PLUG by Gregg Williard

The power strip could take nine plugs. Only four were being used. The floor lamp, table lamp, TV/DVD player and CD player were all off.  She pressed the off switch on the strip. The little light went out. She pulled out the plugs.  She went to the kitchen and got a roll of tinfoil. She tore off small pieces and tucked them into the outlets, deep enough to be hidden. She wiggled the plugs back into the outlets.  She used a butter knife to wedge tinfoil behind the power switch. Maybe when he turned the strip back on it would just trip the breakers and blow out the power. Piss him off real bad and give her a little head start.  If it killed him she’d be in the clear for good, but he’d never know she did it.  She pulled out the driveway and headed for the interstate, weighing either outcome with a smile.

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