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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CRY BUG by Gregg Williard













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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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GNOSTIC BAPTISTE by Gregg Williard

“I found him.”

 “Him who?”

“Gnostic Baptiste!”

“The spam tag?”

“It’s not just a tag!  I wasn’t even running a simple traceroute function before I get a local postal address. So I go there…”

“Wait a second.  I need a beer for this.” Alex and I had worked together for 3 years out of the Attorney General’s Office, doing tech consulting for an anti-spam task force.  Alex was one of the best systems designers I knew, parlaying hacker-honed skills into the legit and the lucrative. But the thankless and poorly- paid search for spammers had become his holy grail. I thought I’d seen him at his most weirdly obsessive, but this was different. I popped two beers and handed him one, but he just put it on the table and kept pacing.

“You’re saying there’s a person named Gnostic Baptiste?”

He stopped and his eyes got too bright. “A…’person’?”

He finally fell onto the couch and rubbed his hands through his hair. 

“…I find the place. An abandoned warehouse by the yards. Not a computer in sight. No phones. No jacks. No Wi-Fi. Nothing. Zip. Except this fat kid in a swivel chair. When I get close he stands up and says, ‘I am Gnostic Baptiste. Spread the word.”

 I reached out to pat him on the arm. He shrank back. “Don’t touch me!  I’m infected!”


He sprang off the couch and bent over, clutching his crotch. “Here. Look.” He booted his computer and tapped the keys. “You see?” The screen showed a word document. Alex was typing out a solid block of spam:









“I don’t get it.”

“Shit, Rob! Look at the keys I’m hitting!” He slowed down so I could see:

t-h-e  q-u-i-c-k  b-r-o-w-n f-o-x  j-u-m-p-e-d o-v-e-r  t-h-e

“Wow. Something with the keyboard?”

“It’s not the keys!”  He went to my desktop. The same thing happened. We tried the four other computers in my apartment.

They only showed spam.

“Effing weird. We’ll run diagnostics. Entangled zombie shit. “

He grabbed between his legs and crawled into a corner, rocking and whispering to himself.  I went to him but he waved me away and staggered back to his feet, bent over and clutching his crotch again. “Gotta’ show you.” He undid his belt and pulled down his jeans and tattered underwear. A hot, yeasty smell filled the room. His penis heaved out of his pants, drooping low from his pubic hair to coil around his leg all the way to his ankle. Even limp it was thick and solid enough to hold a dozen or more silver wristwatches along its impossible length.   We both stared, breathless, as it unwound and thudded to the floor. Despite the weight of the watches, it reared up five feet into the air and stayed there, swaying. The glans was round and fat as a grapefruit, like an orchid starved for heat. Alex finally looked at me and I could see the same thought behind his eyes: and he’s not even hard. He went rigid reciting a spam rant in whispers.

“’…massive cock growth for ultra-hard and thick penile enlargement with 75% off all Rolex, Gucci, Vacheron Viagra watches from Mr. Gnostic Baptiste…”


“You understand now, Rob? I’m the tangled zombie. I’m fucking spam.” He hefted his cock in both hands and swung it against his leg. After cursing through several floppy misses the weighted organ wrapped itself tightly back around his thigh and down to his shoe. He tugged his jeans up over the pulsing coil and limped to the door.     

“Where are you going?”

“I gotta’ find him.”


“Don’t touch me, Rob!  You’ll spend every cent you’ve got on shit watches or Viagra or West African gold ingots or horny Russian mail-order brides or pictures of teen girls having sex with horses or…”

I blocked the door. “You bought the Ultra Viagra, or some shit, and took it?”

As if in answer his penis pressed, then strained against the side of his jeans. “So, what if I did? It was that or be sucked in. I told you—I’m fucking spam! You have no conception of what it feels like! To actually fuck spam! “

His erection was so stiff now that Alex could no longer bend his leg. The denim swelled. The seams popped in low, hectoring snicks. The glans wiggled and squeezed out the bottom of his jeans, white and loamy as dough. The material gave way with a shrieking rent, and his penis sprang across the room. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. When I came to the door was on one hinge and Alex was gone.

Who, or what, was Gnostic Baptiste? I never saw any trace of him, or of Alex, either. But I know that the moment I get back online again they’ll both be there, selling watches, Nigerian gold ingots, low cost Viagra or Russian teen brides. And waiting for me. And whatever it was that Alex was powerless to resist – the promise of sex beyond any sex he’d ever known, the fucking of spam incarnate with a penis of freaks – will be popping up or dancing across or seeping into every move I make online. The only sanctuary is in silence, and cunning; an electronic chastity that will leave me alone under GPS dumb stars. Now when I walk through L.A.N. parties and Wi-Fi fields I can almost feel a tingling along the back of my hands and up and down my spine. And sometimes it even makes me hard.     




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NOW HE SEES SHADOWS by Gregg Williard

“Painting has been real eye opening for me. I mean, now I see shadows.”

-George W. Bush

I wanted to serve as an advisor to President Bush and his cabinet. I was 60 and had no qualifications. It would have taken years to move through academia and politics before I had even a remote chance of gaining access, so I decided to go the military route. I’d become a soldier. A soldier of art. When I reached the president and the cabinet all I wanted was to show them a bunch of my favorite books, movies, music and art and hang out with all of them, watch and read stuff and talk, because I believe in the transformative power of art. If Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney and Powell could learn to appreciate painting and fiction and films, especially low budget 1950’s and ‘60’s horror and science fiction and metaphysical noir thrillers (things like Figures in a Landscape or Vanishing Point or even Who’ll Stop the Rain or El Topo or Kiss Me Deadly or Not of This Earth) it would be impossible for them to carry out misguided or malevolent policies and pointless wars.

I was the manager of a movie rental store and too old to enlist.  My previous employment was in Mental Health (Art Therapy) and teaching (English as a Second Language). I was and am reasonably fit from walking and climbing, but hate competitive athletics and sports/military culture. I was a Conscientious Objector during Viet Nam and oppose our foreign policy in the Middle East.  I read constantly but I am not an academic. I have poor study skills and barely earned a B.A. I’m obsessed with art: painting, books, movies and music. Some of my favorite writers are Fernando Pessoa, Jorge Luis Borges and Raymond Roussel, Flannery O’Conner, Robert Stone, Elizabeth Hardwick, Ben Lerner, Leslie Scalapino;  Some of the musicians are Robert Johnson, Tom Waits, Bernard Herrmann, Brian Eno and Arcade Fire; or painters like H.C. Westerman, Pieter Brueghel, Henry Darger, Philip Guston, Charles Burns, Art Spiegelman, Charles Birchfield, Ed Valentine and Fred Valentine, Manuel Ocampo, Shusaku Arakawa; or filmmakers : David Lynch, Guy Madden, Maya Duran, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Steve DeJarnett (Miracle Mile), and Fred Wilcox (Forbidden Planet). Besides watching movies or reading or seeing and talking about art and drawing and writing my idea of fun is being left alone with a sketchbook, a notebook, some papermate black medium point pens and a thermos of dark coffee.     

But I wanted to be a soldier.  It had a lot to do with reading Robert Heinlein as a kid. I grew up devouring his stories of skinny, unpromising kids who find they have a special talent for combat, boxing, martial arts, flying planes, leadership, tolerance for pain or grace under fire. I believed I was meant to be one of these boys or men, and decided it must be true because this belief persisted in the complete absence of any supporting facts or experiences.  For example, I discovered on the playground that I was not a natural leader, and never would be. I was not tough. I did not win the respect of my teammates and teachers through sheer spunk, grit and will. I was not the favorite of toughened war vet teachers or stern martial arts instructors because of my great determination and spirit. I was never in a fist fight, or later, a fire fight. I did not have a natural talent for shooting guns, or breaking them down and reassembling them in the dark. In the rain. I joined the Boy Scouts, but never advanced beyond Tenderfoot and quit after 4 months. (I never learned the correct way to tie my scout kerchief). I took up Karate, Judo, Tai Chi, Tai Kwon Do and Aikido but quickly dropped them because of my lack of coordination, panicked resistance to building physical memory and jumpy aversion to discomfort, let alone pain.    

So I worked out really hard (High Intensity Interval Turbulence Training), dyed my white hair brown, and paid the kid across the street to make me a fake ID. I managed to squeeze into the National Guard, and then the Regulars. (The recruiting offices had quotas to fill so they were far less discriminating than usual). A female soldier I was close to that likes guns and fighting practiced with me, which helped a little. Real Basic Training was very difficult, not only because of my age but also my lack of coordination, panicked resistance to building physical memory and jumpy aversion to discomfort, let alone pain. Even harder was the lack of privacy. The only time I was left alone for three or four hours with a notebook, sketchbook, black papermate medium point pens and a canteen of coffee was after lights out, and by then I was too tired to draw or write anything.  And like in Elementary, Jr. High and High School I was not tough, or a natural leader or a favorite of my platoon. They had only disdain for my jumpy aversion to discomfort let alone pain and my lack of coordination. The guy on the bunk above me said his favorite movie was Starship Troopers, directed by Paul Verhoeven, based on the Heinlein novel. I was immediately relieved, but as we talked, I realized he didn’t think it was an ironic critique of fascist science fiction action films disguised as a fascist science fiction action film at all, but was actually just a science fiction action film, critiquing lazy civilians and intelligent bugs.

“But the officers’ uniforms look just like the Nazis,” I said. His reply: “Have you looked at our helmets lately, dude?”     

Because of my writing and art background my female soldier friend thought I’d be a natural for Officer’s Training, or a Psy Ops specialization that would take me off the field, where I seemed to be mostly useless. From a distance I sort of resembled a soldier. But like the Boy Scouts, I couldn’t wait to go inside and be left alone for three or four hours with a notebook, a sketch book, some black medium point papermate pens and dark coffee.      

The Specialist tests were difficult. My panicked resistance to building physical memory made me slow at the keyboard. My poor study skills had me scoring too low to even join the C.O.’s secretarial pool.     

But the female soldier, now Sgt. Marie Falcone (my girlfriend in art school until she dropped out to join the military) was eager to help. Like I have all my life, I’d rather hang out with girls and women than boys and men. Sex seemed to be the one physical, collaborative activity that I am “good at,” that I can find myself in doing. In basic we did extra field practice off hours with a variety of knives, semi-automatic weapons and grenades.  She was an excellent hand-to hand combat teacher, due to her infinite patience and slow, reassuring hand movements. Even when she was simulating breaking my back or crushing my thorax in slow motion (maybe especially then!) I felt a safety and acceptance that eluded me in the barracks with the guys. And one of her favorite movies was Dark City! She’d read the P.O.W. literature, (especially James Stockdale, Epictetus and the stoics) and had wilderness survival and training in S.E.R.E. (Survival, Evasion Resistance and Escape). She could munch on maggots like they were M&M’s.  What a great girlfriend!     

Later, (and with some doctoring of records by Sgt. Falcone) I managed to pass my exams and combat training requirements.  Because of my background as an Art Therapist I was reclassified with a GS-15 in Psychological Evaluations of returning troops. This involved asking soldiers to draw a house, tree and person. Many of the soldiers were on stop loss before rotation back to active duty, and I was to be alert to trees without leaves, and houses on treads. One of the soldiers I interviewed drew a tree on treads, and a house on fire. He wanted a Hor de Combat (or deKON ba – “out of the fight “) ruling. I told him to take the treads off the tree and the fire off the house. He got the ruling. I realized that in my position I could help other soldiers in the same way, especially older ones who had already done multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Over the next few months I approved psychiatric exemptions for dozens of stop loss candidates. I found paranoid-schizophrenic diagnostic cues in their projective drawings and tests, and in our private sessions we hung out and talked about, read and watched many movies and books.  Another of the soldiers I helped had a father with Washington connections and friends in the Department of Defense. I was offered a posting at the Pentagon as an Intelligence Analyst. I brought along now Captain Falcone as my aide.

Losing my way in the Pentagon came easy because of my panicked resistance to building memory, but Captain Falcone had an excellent sense of direction. We made a good team, and I was recommended for another promotion (with her as my aide). My/Our record reflected a unique melding of combat skills, historical and psychological perspectives and aesthetic sensibility. I was a soldier with fresh ideas. “Not since T.E. Lawrence” sneered a jealous colleague at the Pentagon water cooler as I moved my things out of the small office in the 8th corridor of D Ring to the bigger office in the 7th corridor of C Ring.     

From the bigger office we made appointments and prepared reports. I wrote about what I know, and love best: science fiction surreal thriller visionary movies, books and paintings. “It’s like this,” one report began.  “It is no accident that Paul Verhoeven is the director of Total Recall and Starship Troopers, the former based on a Philip K. Dick story, and the latter on a novel by Robert Heinlein. The continuum from Heinlein to Dick so perfectly realized in these two films by Verhoeven is the quivering tightrope our foreign policy walks every day.”

I wasn’t able to meet with Cheney but managed to secure time with Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and the President.  

Initially they were puzzled by my recommendations: to view a compilation of selected films, read and discuss a stack of paperback books, and listen to music from CDs. They all complained that they were too busy, but I turned to Donald Rumsfeld and said, “Mr. Secretary, when was the last time that you went to a movie, read a book, heard music or saw art that made you say, ‘that is so cool!’” the Def Sec did a squint and scowl into an acrid middle distance that way that he did; the Secretary of State stood at his side but was set aside, that way that he sat; the National Security Advisor (Condoleezza Rice) crossed her arms and glared, that way that she crossed and glared. I got a tart reminder from Dr. Rice that she is a classically trained pianist, and enjoys Dostoyevsky in the original Russian, facts that I knew already and appreciated. She said that Dostoyevsky’s politics were distinctly conservative, and that if he were alive today, he would surely be a supporter of the president. As she spoke her irises hung very high in her eye sockets, exposing the sclera below, possibly displaying the sanpacu condition of acute spiritual distress. Condoleezza probably had a much finer

artistic sensibility than I do, so my single “arty” claim to distinction among the members of the cabinet seemed kind of worthless. She appeared to sense this and interrogated my dyed brown hair with pitiless sanpacu.  I soldiered on.

I struggled to frame the fundamental questions in the right way. The questions that, if at least considered, could promote saner foreign and domestic policies. In so many words: how can you love, really Mozart, and still support this president? Why won’t you all at least try reading Philip K. Dick or Franz Kafka or Bruno Schultz or William Gibson, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Rebecca Solnit, H.P.

Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti?  Mr. Secretary of Defense, for the love of (your) God, sit down with some good buttered popcorn and Diet Rite and watch Eraserhead!  Or here, how about David Cronenberg’s They Came from Within or Scanners or Videodrome or Existenz ? Surely all of you must notice the vast world of living art, film, literature, music, performance all around you! Do you think all of this stuff is just, like, marginal weirdness that doesn’t have anything to do with the “real” world, or what?

The Secretary of Defense watched me. There was a snap to his voice like those little semaphore flags in the wind. In a tight, tart voice he reminded me that throughout history culture has been one thing, and politics another; that the Nazis loved Wagner, that the Greeks butchered the Melians. He sure knew his history. And of course, he was a real soldier and I was a fraud. But the question remained: if they were so smart, what were they doing doing what they were doing?

On a personal level the President seemed like an OK guy. I felt dizzy with the disconnect.  Clearly his niceguyness did not translate into nice, even sane, leadership. I discussed with him as best I could the worlds of culture that surrounded the White House like a great strange sea. “It’s a science fiction/thriller/surreal world, Mr. President,” I said. I talked for a long time about how it feels to really love certain books, poems, paintings. He listened politely and then he said preferred TV, and his favorite book was the Bible. “I appreciate your point of view,” he told me. “But many Americans do not enjoy  modern art or space stories. That’s what makes our democracy great.  And why the enemies of freedom hate us.”

He didn’t understand, and I don’t understand. Sure, there are creepy people who love Forbidden Planet and Jim Thompson, Ed Wood and William Burroughs, Luis Bunuel and John Ashbery, Edgar Allen Poe and George Pal, Emily Dickinson and Roger Corman, Battlestar Galactica and Things to Come, Denys Wortman, The Day the Earth Stood Still and the music of Harry Partch and Arvo Pärt, and The Clash. But they don’t become the “evil doers,” the right-wing zealots, do they?

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WITH NO. 27 by Gregg Williard

Specialist Hatfield had just finished No. 26.  Her boots thudded over the pine and plywood walkway, springy as a playground. Near the inside gate she hopped off onto sand and crushed coral, took a few steps and stopped  to jot something down on her clipboard and to check the bruises and blood on her knuckles. The two nearest perimeter guards saw a conscientious professional taking care of details. She kept her boonie hat down.  She worked hard and was up for promotion. She felt lucky to be at the camp, far away from combat duty. She followed the Army imperative: stay in your lane. Her lane was Mental Health Technician from the Wisconsin Reserves, assigned to an interrogation team. A wobbly Star Spangled Banner played over the P.A. and she stood at attention and saluted, the clipboard tucked in her armpit and getting damp.

The anthem finished and she again returned to her notes. Her hand moved the way a hand does when writing a brief afterthought of a note, but she had no afterthought and it was not a note, or even writing but a drawing of writing, not just scribbles but a cursive  pattern throwing shadows and a chiaroscuro forms across the page, straight up and down, rich with loops, dots, and scalloped peaks like a child’s depiction of ocean waves, the pen on paper sound of a distant sea, or trickle of sand.

The writing resembled Arabic. She’s learned to read a few words for road and warning signs. Maybe not so much Arabic as a code.

Her own writing was like this. When they did her personality profile they said straight up and down meant she was independent, not unfriendly but not exactly a people person either. Doesn’t socialize much. Prefers to keep to herself. They got it about right. Everybody was surprised she joined up. For crissake there’s easier ways to pay for school and, you’ll never have any time alone. Later on, of course, there were better reasons to call it a mistake.

Ahead was a long row of white plastic and metal boxes resembling porta potties. Their doors were numbered 1 through 30. The camp personnel had some fun imagining bungalows, playhouses, dog houses. They called this section of the camp The Bates Motel, The Roach Hotel, The Hood, The Kennels or, Dogtown. When she reached No. 27, she banged on the door twice with the flat of her hand. She opened the slot and said, “Sit down, turn around, don’t show face.” She slipped the clipboard under her arm, opened her velcroed left hip pocket and removed a gray cloth hood with a square breathing vent. She opened the opposite pocket and took out a black ski mask and pulled it over her head. She checked through the slot that 27 was sitting and turned with his back to her. She opened the door and in an affect-less monotone she recited, “We’re coming in if you turn around we kick your ass do you understand” and without waiting for 27’s mumbled “understand” she entered the cell and slipped the gray hood over his head. She cinched and locked the plastic cuff around the throat.

She sat and removed her mask. She said, “Turn. Tell me about Mustafa.” He turned and she watched his hood cave in and out with his breath.

“I don’t know any Mustafa.”

“Kabul. Mustafa. You met him at the bus stop. You went into the mountains with him. He took you to the camp. You learned about guns, explosives, tactics.”

“I don’t know this Mustafa. I never went to the mountains with Mustafa.”

“Tell me about Mustafa.”

“I tell you again, I don’t know any Mustafa.”

“Tell me about Mustafa.” She flipped pages in her notebook.

“I don’t know this Mustafa.”

Pages of doodles.  Flipping them helped create the appropriate interrogation atmosphere. Her mission was atmosphere.

“Tell me about Mustafa.”

“I don’t know this Mustafa.”

“Tell me about that Mustafa.”

“I don’t know this, that or any Mustafa!”

She flipped more pages. It was silent enough to hear the surf.

She said, “After my first tour I went home. One of my favorite things had always been trash picking. See, where I come from, there’s a university. A big one.  Back home every August 16th the students move out of their apartments. They throw out all their stuff.  On the sidewalk.”

“What stuff?”

“All kinds. Lamps, mirrors, tea pots. I even found a forty-gallon tropical fish tank, full of Convict Julies and Puffers.”

“Convict Julies.”

“My idea of heaven.”

“Convict Julies in Heaven.” He leaned forward. “Please. Take off the hood.”

“Anyway, that was the worst thing, because once you get in a combat zone the first thing you learn is…”

“Please, take off the hood.”

“That’s not possible.”

He slumped back against the wall and sighed.  After a few seconds the hood did an infinitesimal nod.

She said, “Once you get in a combat zone the first thing you learn is street trash might be wired with explosive devices.””

The hood nodded.

“The things Mustafa taught you how to make.”


“I was there in the beginning. The looting. Ancient Persian urns and Babylonian sculptures mixed in with beer cans and old tires. That’s how my patrol got messed up. We stopped to trash pick. Next thing I’m upside down in my vehicle. I remember sand pouring down on my arm. I was sent home.  Come August 16th, there it is: amazing retro kitchen table with sparkly red chairs, laminated table top with red boomerang pattern in perfect condition, and it’s right there, on the sidewalk, in the trash, right there. Home. ”

“Right there.”

“And all I needed to do is stop my truck, open the back and put it in. Just take it.”

Their tandem breathing slowed, matched.

She said, “I couldn’t do it.”

A spot of sweat or saliva grew from behind his hood. He said, “No more treasures. All right. I confess. It was Mustafa and me. We planted all the roadside bombs. We did 9-11. Now we are ready to detonate thousands of dirty bombs in all your infidel cities, starting with your home. Mustafa and I also claim responsibility for the secret assassination of President Bush, and his replacement with an Al-Quida impostor. Mustafa and I are ready to launch drones armed with magnetic pulse weapons over your key cities, destroying all internet and computer systems. Mustafa and I are also responsible for your hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Irene, which we artificially enhanced with our Secret Islamic Weather Weapons. Mustafa and I will also introduce anthrax into your school lunch programs, and a plague of nanorobots into your water supply, which will bond with the stomach linings of all overfed Americans and explode when combined with your fast food, creating a nation of surprise suicide bombers, martyrs to the Happy Meal. Are you getting all this?”

She took in the sound of her pen point scurrying, tapping, swooping across the page. She was getting all the facts, catching the full confession, the whole enchilada in graphic cavalcade: a report in dancing loops like old style school girl cursive, or the John Hancocks of narcissist Generals or Presidents or CEO’s, deadbeat dads on a bi-polar check-forging spree, or Arabic, beautiful Arabic, or the slosh of forty gallon tanks holding Convict Julies, their scurries in the algae mapped across her reporting form.

She released the cuff and took off the hood. She opened the door and he ran past her toward the fence. Beyond it was the shore and the waves. He staggered in the sand. His legs must have been weak from his long captivity. The perimeter guards barked commands to halt. They closed on him from three directions. She noted the time, their location, their rank, the tide. It was high. Coming in.

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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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THE FLASH FLOOD by Gregg Williard

The flash flood made it impossible to drive home. She had to leave her car in a Walgreens parking lot and walk the rest of the way. Later she heard that someone was washed away when he left his car. She’d been guiding her boyfriend home, trying to avoid the worst streets, though she didn’t know what was and wasn’t impassible and could only describe the google street map of the area. He made another turn but couldn’t see the street sign. Then his phone died. Before it gave out he thought he saw something big and white bobbing in the water rushing down another street. What is it, a body, she asked, laughing nervously. He didn’t answer and she said, what are you going to do? I’m calling the police, he said. She said, I’ll call, where are you? But he wasn’t sure. There were flares at the top of the street that made the water red. No, yellow. But he couldn’t read the sign. She gave him more directions and the white thing moved out of view. Never mind, he said, and then his phone died. In his mind, he thought about the best way to get back, and the best way to tell this story to her and other people. The water glowed red. Green. Green red. The white thing was this big. This big. When he came to the next intersection, it was completely submerged.  He saw the white thing floating in the water again. It seemed to be snagged on something and was bouncing against the current, very much like a little flailing man. There were no other cars and it was very dark and had started to pour again. He would have to turn around again. What a story. The thunk of the wipers and the rattle of the rain on the top of the car. He wasn’t afraid. He felt a mounting fear. Mounting dread. If the water kept rising at this rate, it would wash over the street. Rise over the hill. Mount the hill. He started to turn around, then peered out at the white thing again. He got out of his car to try and see it better, but it was raining too hard. He got back in and wiped away the rain from his face and inched the car forward, trying to bring his headlight beams closer to the white thing. The street seemed to be on high ground, but there were only a couple of houses and they were dark.  At the rate the water was rising, it could come over the hill behind the houses. He had to turn around. But the white thing kept bobbing in front of him, clearer now in the beams. Judging from the submerged stop sign the water directly ahead looked like it might be about six feet, not so bad, but it was moving fast. He imagined wading into it, then diving into the water. He was a good swimmer. What if the white thing were his girlfriend, or his mother or father. A person, any person would look like this in a flood. Drowned, or almost drowned, and white, even a black person would be white under these conditions, an Asian person or Latino/Latina, or maybe that would sound weird. Anyway, anyone would be just such a bundle, turning, worthy of rescue. Would it make a better story to speculate about, not who it could be but what it could be, and then lead up to who it could be, and then, boom who it really was, and boom, it tolls for thee kind of thing, that he actually goes out there and tries to get it and boom, the person who was washed away was him and you’re hearing the story from a ghost kind of thing? He could go step-by-step:  the white thing could be a white garbage bag. Then a white garbage bag of ransom money for the kidnapped kid in the trunk of the car over there abandoned in the water, (go to the car or go to the bag for confirmation that the kid’s in the car?) or a white duffel bag off a Brink’s truck, loaded with payroll, the robbers ironically drowned. Then the bitter irony of wading in and being washed away trying to retrieve the white thing that turned out to be a white laundry bag, from the hospital nearby, maybe the one where his recovered white body lay on a gurney being worked over by desperate paramedics, but the bitter, more bitter, irony part because the laundry bag was stuffed with sheets (like one of his students who had worked in a hospital laundry had once described to him) filthy with shit, blood, vomit and apocryphal secret abortions or organ thefts gone wrong.

The flash flooding started up again, and water from the next street banked over the little hill behind the dark houses and came crashing down, washing over his car as high as the windows, moving so fast his story couldn’t keep up with the waves.

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