Bed-Man, What I Know So Far

I’ve been holding on to it all for what feels like a generation, but I believe that today may be the right time to finally talk about Bed-Man.

As a child I was no stranger to medication, prescribed of course, I had a tendency to act up during classes which left the school board little other choice than to turn to the disciplinary power of narcotics. It started up rather slow, a pill with breakfast, a blur of color and time for the next two meals. Still though, I remained defiant in my need to lampoon the lectures of my teachers as if on a holy quest to prove I was a child. To therapy I returned, neither kicking nor screaming though, the whole thing was a little interesting to me. The attention, the questions, the notion that something may be brewing somewhere deep inside me that even I was not aware of. So I gladly interpreted their blotted inks and fed them colorful word associations whenever they deemed fit to request such things of me, all the while basking in the imagination they alternatively berated me for and urged me to let myself sink back into.

I never noticed, but my parents did, the way I sat and stared at the floorboards for hours on end. My prepubescent mind cranking out thought after sprawling thought, propelled on a wave of medical-grade amphetamine that lifted me into a meditative higher-plane of whim while simultaneously severing any conscious connection to the motor skills I wouldn’t need when navigating dreams. Simply put, I never moved, just thought, and my nose had started to twitch in the same exact way every forty-five seconds or so. It was all aliens and superbeings inside my head, but a statuesque stillness on the physical level that seemed to suck any air out of the room that wasn’t helping to flame the “Our son might be psychotic” fires in my parent’s heads. Whether I felt it on the inside or not, the imbalance was clear, and my parents had no desire to live any longer under such an ominously black cloud. So back again to the psychiatrist, more pills, more ink, more cold yet expectant stares.

The first night taking my new prescription, my brain seemed to drop significant velocity, the world stopped spinning, and the silence hung heavy as slate in the midnight air. That was the first time I met him, in the reflection of a pocket knife my grandfather had bought me not three weeks before for my birthday. I loved that knife, it was the tool of a man, a testament to the unyielding nature of he who will not be swallowed by the world, but it had been my face I saw reflected in its blade before, not this new one, all empty and smiling that joined mine that night. He spoke through it, commiserated with me in loneliness, told me it wasn’t my fault. To break the chains, to find my place and make a purpose for myself in this wild mess of a civilization, I would first have to learn to break its hold on me. He told me it was pain that kept a person down, the hurt a stone wall against which dreams are dashed and before which the shuddering masses fall to their knees in forgiveness. Pain is in the head though, all thought, and I had become quite the master of that. I could cut myself strong, he said, bleed the fear from my veins that none among the sharp edges of society might ever be able to bleed from me again; this was his promise, and for the rest of the night, he guided my hand.

Long sleeves for school the next day, no need to flaunt my vivisectional strengthening of spirit, they’d not understand and I didn’t need anymore therapists gorging themselves on the time I had reserved for him. The less they saw, the more I could work, and I was far from finished. As the bell rang that day, and the first smearing of chalk began to flow across the blackboard, I scanned across the faces of those so unfortunate to have never met Bed-Man. I laughed inside and they whispered among each other, I had changed and they took notice. I strained myself to catch a loose noun or verb straying from their conversations, but all I heard was bleach, and then again, and again. It seemed all they wished to talk about, and before long I don’t remember them saying anything else. Full monologues composed of just one word, and with each passing sentence it was growing so very much louder. BLEACH they cried in unison, and by now the teacher had joined in too, her wizened face twisting into that toothy smile he showed me the night before. He was her, and everyone else too, and his chorus still hadn’t gained another word, just BLEACH BLEACH BLEACH BLEACH. All so sharp, so piercing were their words, all at once I leapt from my seat and his gaze and kicked the door clean from two of its three hinges as I stumbled from his classroom out into the main hall. What he meant, I couldn’t be sure, but I had been drawing much larger breathes since the cutting, and if bleach was today’s theme, I’d need to buy my chemical ticket to his ride. The janitor’s closet, the nurse’s office, two more pills then back on home.

Inside my suburban walls, I am greeted with what could easily have been confused with silence, had I not taken the time to notice the strange breathing underneath it. I fall into the couch, tossing the economy-sized bottle of high-strength cleaner onto the cushion next to me, and waited for his face to manifest in one of the shadows hanging around the corners of my bedroom. This time he came in a formless way, no voice to carry his words, only heat, a slow building kind that started in the back of my head and worked its way through to every crevice of my being. A hunger it was, a pit growing inside me, and only one thing came to mind when searching for ways to stem the mental erosion: bleach. He wanted me to know what it tasted like. Bitter? Just as like to be a symphony of flavors for all I knew, like a fine wine reserved for those ready to look beyond the caution labels written out by so many generations of people all too unwilling to think for themselves. I knew it was poison, but did I really? How did I know? How do you? Because they’ve told us, but they don’t know either, and I was tired of living how those before me determined I should. The burning was stronger now, all consuming, it pained me not to sample the solvent, in a way that told me I would only hurt more if I didn’t. Popped the top, peeled back the thin plastic over the opening. I felt his grimace stretching inside me as I poured the cup, just a taste, but as I would soon learn: you give Bed-Man an inch, he’ll take the whole damn world.

When I entered the classroom the next morning, my bizarre actions the previous day had left the other students with a rather sour taste in their collective mouths. Maybe fear, maybe jealousy, whatever it was they had noticed my changing and had enough of the circus I was becoming. Having spent so much time with Bed-Man the previous day, both in my own head and out, I hadn’t managed the time to take a shower and was still wearing the black t-shirt spotted with the brownish-gold patches left behind from assorted splatterings of the bleach. My appearance provided the more extroverted of my peers ammunition to criticize my personality, a not-at-all uncommon tactic employed by malicious elementary school students as a method of climbing the social ladder. Some words at first, hateful ones which meant little to me, but seemed to catch Bed-Man’s attention. I felt his presence in the increasing constriction of my throat muscles, accelerated by the shoving and threats my classmates had moved on to. He smiled again, so much bigger this time, spying the window of opportunity, he urged me to seize the chance to show them all the pain he had taught me.

A cracking, that’s all it was, then a warmness cascading down both cheeks. I saw their eyes grow wide one at a time, all around me, and felt the drop in atmospheric pressure as they all at once filled their lungs and stopped exhaling entirely. No words now, how could you hurt someone who would break their own nose? Bed-Man laughed and urged me to do it again. I balled my fist and let loose, not but floppy cartilage left at this point, but oh so much more blood. He cheered me on from behind my eyes, drooling over the hapless expressions of those who for the first time were watching a child smear his own blood across his face while laughing in theirs. Three of them fainted while the others ran for help, but Bed-Man was not finished with me yet. He took hold of my tendons, yanking them about like the strings of a sentient marionette, and forced my hands to hot-wire the gym teacher’s Nissan Maxima and toss the three unconscious students in the trunk. For the rest of the day the police searched for a kidnapper, the sort of monster that would abduct four innocent kids, all the while me and Bed-Man prepared for that night. There was to be an induction, three new members for our fantastic club. We made them each a special room, one for each of the primary colors, matching suits and lighting too, thick walls to hold in the screaming. They would be the realization of his world beyond these walls, the extra limbs wielding his influence in every conceivable direction. Tonight their pain was paramount, but the bleach would flow like water.

[With Bed-Man there is no End]

As always, I thank you all for taking the time to read my story, and I truly hope you enjoyed it. Remember to follow for a new short-story every Thursday, as well as a new edition of my ongoing art experimentation series Epically Art every Tuesday, and a new episode of my new webcomic So Fantastic every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris for daily flash-fiction and the occasional poetry. Thanks again for reading, see you next time.

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Epically Art – Comic Strips

Hello again and welcome to the fifth edition of Epically Art, an ongoing series focused on the research, practice, and lasting influence of every single form of creative expression our wonderful world has to offer.  From the literary to the musical, from paint to performance, my partner Rinni Kipp and I remain dedicated to our quest of artistic discovery.  This week we chose a topic that means a great deal to me, Comic Strips, which have the designation of being perhaps the first type of art to have truly captivated me as a child.  In our post-newspaper world exploding at the seams with comic books, their respective film & television adaptations, and massive conventions across the globe, these quaint three-or-so panel adventures are slowly disappearing despite many of their most famous characters having already earned a spot in the pop-culture zeitgeist.  The massive impact of these tiny stories and the lasting legacy of the characters contained within their panels is plainly evident in the fandom that surrounds many of them several generations after their introduction, and while the printed strip may not be long for this world, a new age of web cartoonists have entered into the scene to keep this fantastic art form alive and kicking.

The comic strip is made up of a series of sequential images complete with speech bubbles or captions which when combined present a short story.  They differ from the more commonly known comic books (think Batman or The Fantastic Four) largely by length; comic strips commonly running only a few frames as opposed to the near thirty pages of most traditional comic books.  They are also more commonly known for their comedic properties, though a good number of adventure, detective, horror and sci-fi strips have come and gone over the years, including “Popeye”, “Buck Rogers” and “The Adventures of Tintin”.  Comic strips are frequently written and illustrated by a single artist – in this case called a “cartoonist” – though a number of strips have deviated from the norm and gone on to employ as many as three or four different writers and artists, as is the case with the popular webcomic “Cyanide & Happiness”.

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The comic strip section of a newspaper, commonly called the “funnies”

Comic strips, as they are known today, were created in North America sometime towards the end of the 1800s with the printing of the first newspaper strips.  The Yellow Kid – a satire of turn-of-the-century American city life – written and illustrated by Richard F. Outcault is often cited as being one of the very first comic strips to be published, its first “episode” being released on February 17th 1895 in Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper New York World. The increasing popularity and continued proliferation of comic strips throughout the late 19th century can be directly attributed to the tumultuous “Newspaper War” which began in 1887 between publishing rivals Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) and saw the pair constantly trying to outdo the other’s publication with sensationalized news and – as luck would have it – large, full-color comic strip pages or “Comic Supplements”.  As a result of the two’s adoption of full-page comic supplements, similar supplements began to appear in every other major newspaper of the time, dramatically increasing the popularity of the form.  It was during this period that some of the longest running comic strips in history were introduced, including Frank King’s Gasoline Alley which first saw publication in 1918 and continues to run to this day, and Rudolph Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kids which ran from 1897 until 2006 and sparked the first major comic strip copyright lawsuit between its creator (Dirks) and publisher William Randolph Hearst.

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Frank King’s Gasoline Alley
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Rudolph Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kids

Over the century since Pulitzer and Hearst’s publication feud elevated comic strips into popular culture, the form has been responsible for introducing some of the most enduring characters in the history of visual storytelling including: Charlie Brown, Garfield, Dilbert, and numerous others.  These are the strips I grew up with, patiently awaiting each Sunday for a chance to sneak the comic sections out of the family newspaper and spend the afternoon basking in their explosive colors and giddy wordplay.  Long before I would have considered what I was doing to be “art”, I had taken up trying to create strips of my own for distribution throughout my elementary school.  Though I managed to develop a rather avid readership of some five of my fellow students, my works would not be very long running, as a particularly bloody, alien-based piece of mine eventually wound up in the principal’s hands, then my mother’s, and I was forced to relegate my creativity to my own bedroom.  Never one to back down, I continued creating a variety of characters over the years, sharing them with myself, and what began as an offhanded attempt to emulate my favorite Sunday morning strips, quickly became the guiding force of the rest of my creative life, inspiring me to explore other forms of expression. I would eventually return to the world of comics – ever so briefly – during the summer of 2017 when I released a few single page comedy pieces.  Here’s a look at one of my 2017 strips:

#1- August 12, 2017
Written and Illustrated by Mr. George Christopher – August 2017

 

Ever since my brief return to the form last summer I have carried a burning desire to finally get a weekly strip off the ground, and being that I was already immersed in this quest of artistic exploration, I thought that Epically Art might be the perfect launchpad for such a project.  Rinni and I thought long and hard about the best way to approach the art of comic strips for this week’s experiment, in a way that might do the sprawling medium real justice.  We eventually determined that the threat of the “looming deadline” was just as crucial to the art as either the writing or illustration, and with that we resolved to develop the weekly strip I so desired and complete the first of what will be a very good many episodes.

Interested in doing something different with our strip as opposed to the traditional comedy angle, we decided to focus our efforts on converting some of my more sci-fi/horror/surrealist short-stories into three-panel strips.  Just over a month ago, I began writing daily flash-fiction pieces using writing prompts provided by the twitter group #VSS365.  These stories all fall under 280 characters and many are conveniently split into three sentences, one for each of our strip’s panels, so we chose from among the more popular of those and began work on the first episode of our new weekly webcomic So Fantastic! I took my place at the keyboard, Rinni at the drawing table, and we went to work.

 

Screenshot-2018-6-19 Mr George Christopher on Twitter She kept a blade strapped to her thigh with a rosary, prowling the st[...]
The #vss365 piece we chose for the first strip
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Rinni busy inking the strip

Like me, Rinni was introduced to the comic strip at an early age through the colorful Sunday comic supplements, and being no stranger to illustration, she leapt right in to this week’s project.  Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

My Grandparents lived right next to our house, which resulted in many trips to grandma and grandpa’s. My grandparents would always have the newspaper, and when they were done reading it they would give it to us. I always remember flipping straight to the funnies, and reading every single strip. Sundays paper was always the best, the comics strips all in color, so vivid compared to the rest of the paper. I also had many Garfield books which I would flip through countless times. For this week’s comic strip I wanted to include some nice angles in the composition of each frame. Making sure the visuals align with the story. I drew up some frames and penciled out my ideas, once I felt I was ready, I got out my microns and began inking. Looking back, I wish I had put in more shadows to give the strip a little more dimension and contrast, but overall I am pretty happy with how it turned out. I look forward to doing this again and I hope you enjoy.

Without further ado, I am proud to present to you, our faithful readers, the first episode of our new weekly webcomic So Fantastic:

So Fantastic #1 strip

In the end, creating this comic was a dream come true for me.  As I mentioned above, I have always wanted to work in the field, and have from time to time, but it was my partnering with Rinni this time around that resulted in a piece that I believe serves as an excellent foundation for a long-running series.  As is the case with a number of other art forms, comic strips are an elaborate mash-up of a variety of different creative skill sets including writing and illustration, and it is often the case in these mediums that a group of artists working together can mutually benefit from eachother’s varied skills and construct something bigger than the creative potential of just one artist alone.  Like the great many three-panel masterworks that came before it, So Fantastic will begin to grow and evolve over the coming months, and we will be forced to grow and adapt with it if we want it to survive.  The challenge of staying relevant in an ever-changing world is what I believe has come to define the comic strip and the lives of those that earn a living creating them.  Rest assured comic strips will always be here, and so will So Fantastic, one way or another.

 

Thanks you all for taking the time to join me and Rinni on another eye-opening edition of Epically Art.  We truly hope you enjoyed it, and we look forward to bringing you a hundred more. New episodes of So Fantastic will be released every Sunday right here starting next week, and we look forward to seeing what you all think of the new project. Make sure to follow so you don’t miss the coming episodes, my weekly short fiction, or next week’s edition of Epically Art.  Also take the time to follow us on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris and @RinniKipp for information on coming releases and daily flash fiction.  Thanks again for reading, see you next time.

When Wax Means War

Ever since losing my childhood home in a forclosure, I’ve found myself bouncing from house-to-house, town-to-town, dead-end-job-to-dead-end-job, every six months or so. For a time, I lived on the first floor of a split-level home powered – via exterior extension cord running through open windows – by the floor above it. Our electricity had been cut off some months prior, our bill in excess of $700, a balance insurmountable when employeed as a third shift telemarketer. In the end though, we could count ourselves lucky to be neighbors to a pair of purebred low-crime reactionists hungry for a chance to – kind of – stick it to the man.

The cord held up a good year or so, but the inevitable rains made bacon of its exposed wiring, and soon enough we found ourselves in the dark. Showering in the shadows proved easy enough for me, as I had been born with astigmatism in both eyes, never being able to see my own body in the light anyway. Eventually we would need to bring out the candles, but we wanted to bide our time. The memory of the madness the wax had brought with it the last time still lingered fresh in our mind. The candle was an archaic thing; sure it survived, but adapt to our modern ways it would not.

Sure enough, the first night we brought out those waxy self-victimizers, they launched directly into a lengthy choral diatribe about the “old way” and “simpler times”. They mourned the minimalistic ways of old, never seeming to understand that for the humans involved, those ways were not exactly purposeful or desirable. They spent hours arguing the financial benefits of raising bees and using their wax to make candles, as opposed to the monthly burden of paying some industrial polluter to provide electrical illumination, but effected an enviable extent of selective-hearing when I asked them how wax could power a washing machine. I wouldn’t have thought to be concerned with more than whining and finger-pointing from them, had I not overheard their community meeting in the living room after their wicks had been extinguished for the night and I had retired to my bedroom.

They spoke in whispers of an assault on the light bulbs.

“Dash them to the stones before the bills can be paid and that electrical usurper allowed to return!” cried one of the wax elders.

“The humans would only buy more”, answered a votive from the crowd, “I came from one of these stores. From perched atop my miscellaneous rack, I watched them everyday, hordes of them rushing to the housewares section, grabbing up fistfuls of the bulbs as if their very lives depended on it”.

“I have seen it too, these crowds the young one speaks of. They buy them in bulk, and what’s worse, everyday it seems there comes a new variety of the bulbs. LED, LCD, 5600K, warm, cool. They have even, in their infinte malice, taken to selling ‘electric candles’, plastic flames lit by a bulb. The bastards mean to snuff us out, quite literally this time I fear”.

“Then it appears we have little choice in the matter”, the elder responded, a coldness creeping over him and extending out into the crowd. “If our kind is to live through another century, there is not but a wave of the blood of our oppressor on which to ride out these most apocalyptic of times. Every able bodied candle among us, regardless of age or gender is to spend the remainder of the night arming themselves and saying their goodbyes. On the morrow, we ride to war.” A hush fell heavy on the crowded candles, all shapes, all sizes, the last of their kind, headed to what may be the last day of their lives.

Fearing their impending attack might wreak permanent damages on my electrical system, I called in a few favors and amassed the $736 needed to pay off my balance and restore power to my house. If the candles were going to war with the bulbs, I wasn’t about to let the cowards cut their throats while they slept. When I returned home, they were waiting for me. “Birthday Bruiser”, they called him, a thirty year old candle wrought in the shape of the number ’50’, met me at the front door. With a string of broken christmas lights slung around his zero like a grotesque souvenir of his murders, he told me he had already watched the human he’d been purchased for wither away and die, he had been carrying tremendous pain, and he thought nothing of unloading it on a man not even half old enough to stick him atop his own birthday cake. He spit and tossed the shattered bulb from my refrigerator at my feet. It was just the beginning he told me, he’d be taking higher wattages next time.

Inside the house had come alive with violent strife. Wax packed tight into electrical sockets, the overhead lights flicked themselves on and off rapidly in an attempt to disorient their attackers. Tealights set themselves up under desk lamps, using their tiny flames to cook the lower-hanging lights like a junkie’s spoon, popping them like so many fiery balloons and sending the shattered bits in a spray across the hardwood floors. I felt something crawling up my back and turned to find Birthday Bruiser leaping from my shoulder with a shard of bulb in his teeth onto a strobing ceiling fan. I watched in horror as he gutted the electrical workings and dropped its mangled body to the floor.

“Enough!” I screamed, but my words were swallowed in the fantastically well-lit carnage. The remaining bulbs cried out for help, apart from flickering in their fixed positions they had no way of defending themselves, and they were dying, all of them. The candles may have seen this as a justified reaction to their technological obsolescence, but this was nothing if not genocide.

At that point I knew the waxy offense would never relent. Even if the lights could fight, this would be a war of attrition. Only on top or in a box, would either side end up by the closing of this conflict. I decided there and then to put an end to things. If I could reach the fuse box, I could cut the electricity. The bulbs would have to choose between being dead or playing it, there was no winning here.

As I turned the corner to the basement, I was greeted by a thick plume of smoke gushing out of the places the door didn’t sit flush with the frame. I swung it open and near killed myself tripping down the rickety wooden steps, blind in the blackness. I spied the flaming fuse box through smoke and made for the small extinguisher nearby. Just as I pulled the pin, Birthday Bruiser lept out of the haze and sliced me across my right eye with the shattered remains of his halogen victim. I reeled from the pain and swung the extinguisher about frantically, catching him between the digits on a backswing. He fell to the floor split straight down the middle, his zero laying lifeless severed from his waxy central nervous system. I raised my weapon to deal the final blow, but stopped short my strike at the sound of his pacified pleas.

“Please. I am no longer the raging beast you once knew”, he started in, strong yet yielding, “If you are to slay me here and now, so be it, mine are crimes worth paying for, but first you will hear me out”. Beams began succumbing to the flames around us, the kitchen starting to slip through the floorboards. “Finally untethered from that horrid zero, that awful number that relegated my use to only the most disinterested of birthday cake recipients, I am born anew. No longer a 50, I am a 5, and if I should live, I might have the chance to bring happiness to the children of the world from on cake-top. Save my life, so that I might have a chance to live it like a birthday candle should, soaked in the spitty driblets of a hundred wishes”.

I saw in him the truth at that moment, the reason this all happened. What a crisis of the soul it must be to know your purpose, to take pride in your preconstructed fate, only to be locked away in a dusty cabinet forever unable to be what you are while being forced to serve as a backup to the one that stole your destiny. The heat evaporated my tears the instant they surfaced on the skin of my eye, and I knew we had but seconds left to escape the surging inferno that was my week-to-week leased apartment. I swept Brusier into my arms and sprinted for the stairs, turning at the top to watch his zero melt away to nothing on boiling cement floor.

Crashing through the smoldering ember that had consumed my front door, Bruiser and I stumbled on the porch and fell hard and breathless into the front yard. Outside I found the remaining candles, they’d overheard Bruiser’s heartfelt speech and been so moved by it, they had unscrewed and ushered the surviving bulbs out of the blazing house, and were tending to the many wounded among them. White flags waving, treaties signed, the war was over and we’d lived to see another day.

“We know now that we were wrong in our ways”, proclaimed the elder candle as he stepped out from the waxy mass, “We have seen the light, the mother heat, there she burns on the battlefield”, he continued, turning our attention to the burning split-level. My upstairs neighbors cursed and screamed as the bottom floor bottomed out and their apartment was swallowed in the blaze, “They thought to play god with the light, to turn it on and off at will, to redirect it, control it, but no man, candle or bulb holds dominion over illumination, and now they pay for their indiscretions with their lives. We too would have met the same fiery death had we continued on our quest to defy fate”.

“Mother Heat!” wax, bulb and man cried in unison as we joined wick to hand to contact wire and swayed in newfound peace around the massive fire pit, singing hymns to the sun.

As always, I thank you for taking the time to read my story, and I really hope you enjoyed it. Remember to hit the follow button so you won’t miss out on new updates three times each week. Follow me on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris for daily flash fiction and poetry. Thanks again, have a great weekend!

Epically Art – Block Printing

Hello again, and welcome to the fourth edition of Epically Art our ongoing series dedicated to the research, practice, and lasting influence of every form of creative expression our vast planet has to offer.  From the literary to the musical, from paint to performance, my partner Rinni Kipp and I remain dedicated to our quest of artistic discovery.  This week we elected a topic that neither myself or Rinni has had very much experience with: Block Printing.  This oddly obscure creative process served as the beginnings of printed text, a precursor to the invention of the letterpress, and has remained an integral part of the design world since ancient civilization.

Block Printing, also known as “Woodcut” is a process by which an image is carved into a flat surface – traditionally wood, though a number of alternatives such as linoleum have come into popularity of the centuries – creating what is known as a “relief pattern”.  In such a pattern, the areas to be left blank are cut away with a variety of tools leaving the raised areas to be covered in ink and pressed or “printed” onto another surface such as paper or cloth.

Block printing originated in China during the Han Dynasty, sometime around the year 220 AD, where it was used primarily as a means of printing flowered designs on silk.  It continued primarily as a means of printing on textiles until about 627-630 AD when it was adopted for the use of printing Buddhist scriptures. The oldest surviving example of printed text, Diamond Sutra – which also featured a number of elaborate illustrations likewise achieved through block printing – dates back to 868 AD during the Tang Dynasty, and remains today one of the most influential Buddhist philosophical works.  Eventually during the 10th century, the entire Buddhist canon Tripitaka was printed using wood blocks, taking 22 years and totaling over 130,000 pages.

 

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Frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest known printed book, executed through block printing

From there, block printing began to spread across the globe.  It was adopted by Japanese artists sometime around the 17th century and developed into a cornerstone of their local art style known as “Ukiyo-e”: detailed and elaborately colored woodcut prints depicting the ordinary people of early Japan, their history, and their culture.  Meanwhile, block printing had made it’s way to Europe where it had found employment in the printing of illustrated books – called “Block-Books” which featured both text and illustration carved into a single block – and playing cards.  Eventually the process would begin to fall out of popularity with the invention of the printing press which provided a quicker and cleaner method for printing books, needed to keep up with an increased demand ignited by the growing literacy of the lower class during that period.  Block Printing would however remain the primary printing process for books in China until the 19th century, favored due to the sheer number of characters in the Chinese language (Over 40,000) which proved too costly and time consuming to be constructed as a full letterpress typeset.  Despite it’s relegation to a niche art form over the years, Rinni and I were not about to forgo experimenting with such a fundamental piece of creative human history.  We purchased a set of woodcutting tools, two 11×14 linoleum blocks, and dove headfirst into this most ancient of arts, eager to explore its enduring qualities first-hand.

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Torii Kiyonobu’s The Actors Yamanaka Heikuro and Ichikawa Danjuro II – 1714
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15th Century European Block-Book Biblia Pauperum by anonymous

I hadn’t ever tried block printing, or any sort of carving or whittling to speak of, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when jumping into my first woodcut.  I chose a basic cartoon inspired design in the hopes that it would make my first outing easier, but quickly came to find that the more uniform line lengths and smooth curves of my character were rather difficult to deal with.  After a few minutes though I began to get a feel for the tools I was using, deciding at that point to stick with one particular sized knife from the set which I had found useful despite it’s size in even the smaller details of my drawing.  In essence, it was a chisel with a spoon shaped curve at the tip which I found effective when both used flat to scoop large chunks of linoleum away, and turned on an angle at which point one of it’s edges could be used to cut and scrape away at the smaller parts of the design.  What I found particularly surprising about my experience was that I had more difficulty actually printing with the block once my design was fully carved into it, than I did physically carving it in the first place.  A considerable amount of ink had to spread on the block, and how even said ink had to be spread and how much pressure had to actually be applied to the block during the printing formed an equation for which I never seemed to find the perfect solution.  Here’s a look at my block printing process:

Rinni, like me, was not an expert on the block printing technique going into this week’s adventure, so she too had to learn as she went along.  Here’s what Rinni had to say about the experience:

In high school one of our art projects was a small linoleum self portrait. It was a very quick project so I did not remember much of it. For this week I had planned out what I wanted my block print to be, from there I had to figure out how I could translate it to a block print. Only the raised parts of the block will be inked, so whatever space you want to remain white has to be cut out of the block. I got out our carving tools and started cutting, I started with the parts I knew I didn’t want to have any ink, from there I  carefully managed to cut around the small details. Switching tools along the way to get more or less detail. It was not particularly hard, the most difficult part is figuring out which parts to leave raised and which parts to cut out. Once you finish cutting out your design you can now make prints! Yay! Just roll the ink or your block and get printing, the first couple prints we made did not have enough ink, so they did not turn out too well. But that’s ok because you can keep trying and make as many prints as you want with your new block. Overall it was pretty fun, I liked the whole process of block printing and I am very pleased with the results

Here’s a look at Rinni’s process:

In the end, I found block printing to be very interesting an engaging.  Though I chose a simpler design – and in hindsight wish I hadn’t – I can see the possibilities in the medium for a broad range of intricate details and complex compositional work.  Though it may have fallen out of favor for it’s original utilitarian purpose, block printing has endured throughout the centuries because of its insurmountable level of creative possibility, and will continue to do so as long as the more experimental among us artists is willing to leap backwards in time to mine some of it’s possibilities for the future.

As always, Rinni and I really hope you enjoyed this edition of Epically Art.  We love nothing more than to bask in the wonderful world of art and share our adventures with the world, you reading makes that possible, and for that we thank you.  Be sure to follow for a new edition of Epically Art every week, along with the usual That Night Blog short fiction.  Please take the time to follow us on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris and @RinniKipp for daily writings and such.

Father, Master Firestorm

There are a great many things I could tell you about my life, but I think few would be as utterly engaging as the story of the day I watched the world eat my father alive. He was a bigger man, by which I mean he seldom argued. He was the man that did the things that sparked the debates, and sent the people of our city into a frenzy of poignant dialouge. I remember the look on his face the day the police came to our door with the grisly photographs of white-collar Wall Street mafioso painted up red with the violent rage of the poor. He had empowered the proletariat and steered the great coup against the Capitol from our living room. No blood on his hands, but his fist was printed all over their shirts and those streets. Success looked just as good on him as the cuffs ever had, and the press had shown up in droves to ensure his immortilization in that glorious moment of revolutionary splendor.

Just three years later I meet him at the gates of Sing Sing, fresh off a cool down in maximum security. We hop in the car as he flips open a small manila envelope, pulls out, and lights up the second half of the cigarette he had been smoking at the moment of his arrest. He tells me he used the time inside to finally earn the GED Hodgkins had prevented the first time around, and study a bit about France and 3D printers. All in all it was an unusual combination of research topics which, when pursued simultaneously, blended together into such sheer nonsense that he retained little if anything from any of it. He had however made time to plan his next move and had already begun to assemble what would be needed next. Careful to keep the intricacies of his scheme a secret, he offered only that Anarchism was too on the nose to spur real change in a world already so chaotic, and opined a circus would be apt for accelerating the much needed cultural evolution.

He’d kept busy on the prison lines phoning up a variety of black market animal dealers he’d met in a Black Bloc on route to a rural fracking operation just outside the single populated county of western Nebraska. They reminisced over the protestive glasses of gasoline water they’d shared that week and he casually segued each conversation into his acquisition of some manner of large predatory cat from their sprawling inventories for a discounted fee. Financially reluctant but ever supportive of his war against the man, each eventually accepted his terms and sent a sufficient beast for his needs. As for the necessary human performers, my father had slowly built-up his own prison gang during his short incarceration. Winning over the most powerful and aggressive members of rival gangs and uniting them under his authority by teaching them how to play Sudoku and revealing the hygenic benefits of sitting down to pee. He then used what he at the time still remembered of the French language to navigate a Parisian dvd catalog and purchase several recorded live performances of Cirque Du Solei with which to train the brutes in the arts of clowning and the trapeze. A couple months of tunneling through the communal toilets later, and the gang was safely broken out of prison and warehoused in our basement, perpetually in practice of their colorful routines while awaiting his return. This much I was already aware of, as I had come across three members of the Tenth Street Vivisectors sharing a single bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch in my kitchen early one Saturday morning, and had thought it important to quiz them – through bullet-sweats and tears of terror – on how and why they had found themselves inside my house.

Now on the outside, his first task was to track down the elephant, which proved easier than either of us had expected. Just twenty minutes into our search we found the tracks, laid heavy in the mud with immediacy and purpose, leading straight into Battery Park where we found the elephant joined up with a donkey, viciously beating the same dead horse they’d both been abusing for generations. All the pieces finally in place, we made for the sporting goods store and bought a few hundred pinstriped tents to sew together for a traditional, eye-catching, big-top venue in which to house the lot of it. Two years, two forclosures, and two bankruptcies later, we finished assembling our three-ring hysteria machine and launched a lavish celebrity-laden ad campaign, targeted at the superwealthy, in support of our inagural performance.

Enforcing a seven credit card minimum at the door, we skewed the audience even further in the desired direction. All Rolls Royce’s and mink stoles, were the bleachers on opening night. Fat cats, Loan sharks, and Casino whales the lot, just the way we needed it. The lights went down and the voices followed, with that my father took to the spotlight in the center ring. A couple overly animated twirls of the top hat, a bow, and his expertly Machiavellian monologue began.

“Welcome one and all, old and young, rich and prosperous, to Viva la Circus, the greatest show on Earth!” he started in, his subtle jab at their financial status far too esoteric to be noticed. Spiraling in from the wings, came his convict clowns, wearing cream crafted grimaces like the bandit’s bandana to mask their sinister intentions as well as the padlocks every other one carried tucked away in faux-leather gloved palm. Tent flaps secured, the show was moving right on schedule.

“What you will see here tonight can not simply be summed up as a spectacle. It will advance the amazing, further the fantastic, reinvent the revolutionary! Tonight you will see it all cracked open wide, rebuilt and reassembled into the new age of live entertainment!” The roars of the aristocratic audience provided a convenient cover for those of the lions and tigers lying in wait beneath their temporary titanium stadium seating fixtures. Not long now.

“Enough with the talking though.” he said suddenly, and the lights came up bright. “Like Caesar’s himself, your class’ hunger is an insatiable thing, and I wouldn’t dare keep you hanging so long the pangs start to set it.” His shift to a more poetic style of speaking was our signal, serving the duel purpose of leaving our unknowing victims in a cloud of interpretive confusion.

It took a couple seconds longer for them to actually realize I had done it than it took for me to mount that elephant and drive it through the crowded bleachers, spilling trustfunders and bank managers across the hay floor as I went. I wheeled the great beast around and made a second pass, then a third before the animal could no longer shuffle its massive feet through the mess of capitalists and scrap metal, and I was forced to drop down into the chaos of their level. As I climbed atop an enormous writhing pile of the greviously wounded, I spied my father through madness. Now atop a pair of stilts, juggling a dozen flaming bowling pins, he continued his triumphant speech.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” he cried out, dropping and kicking a few of the flaming pins into the crowd. “As you have made our economy a circus, so too will you drown in one! Let this be the moment it all evens out! Let this be the turning of the tides! As you crumble here to ashes, your stocks and bonds will be set to the wind. Your benefactors will die with you, and your wealth will be redistributed through economic relief!” The tigers had started in now, having first killed the lions in an unexpected turn of events before turning on the rich and poor indiscriminately. Amid the carnage, we never saw them cutting through the side of the tent, those suited figures carrying fountain pens with the ears of mice worn as little hats atop their balding heads.

It came down to a release form, likeness rights for a movie. They had passed it around the audience members just before the show, revealing everything about our plan and the video Disney was preparing to shoot of the event. As it turned out, in all our precision deviousness we had never thought to check the land records, in which we would have discovered that during my father’s incarceration and our further two years of planning, the Disney corporation had bought up not only every major film studio and broadcasting company in the northern hemisphere, but all of the private and public property as well. This placed our circus squarely on their land, which waived any claim of ownership we had of it, and freed them to evoke any and every legal precident on the books to hack our phones and email accounts and uncover the truth of our anti-establishment plans.

Before we knew what hit us – or that all the bloody success we’d thought we were seeing was actually being played out by high-dollar holograms of Tupac and Michael Jackson occasionally dressed in drag for added effect – Disney had packaged and sold the whole event as a new reality show in which major corporations play practical jokes on aging political activists, which had already aired, earning record-breaking ratings for four consecutive weeks. Disney had pulled in $17,000,000 from the whole fiasco before the real upperclass finished depowering their holographic stand-ins. The soundtrack to Steamboat Willie filled the tent as the one-percent finally tore the ninety-nine to pieces, starting with my father.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my story, I really hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and follow for new short-stories every week. Follow me on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris for daily flash fiction of all kinds. Thanks again!

Epically Art – Photography

Hello again, and welcome to the third edition of Epically Art, an ongoing series dedicated to the research, practice, and lasting influence of every possible form of creative expression our world has to offer. From the literary to the musical, from paint to performance, my partner Rinni Kipp and I remain dedicated to our quest of artistic discovery. This week we chose a topic that I believe each and every one of us is at least somewhat familiar with: Photography. What began as a highly technical and considerably scientific form of documentation has evolved so drastically over the last centuries that it has become an integral part of our lives.

The history of photography is rather long and complex, it’s very existence described as a perfect storm of unrelated scientific advancements throughout the 1700s-1800s, though its beginnings as a concept can be traced all the way back to ancient Han Chinese philosopher Mo Di (470 BC – 391 BC) and his discovery and subsequent development of the scientific principles of optics (a branch of physics involving the behavior and properties of light), and the “camera obscura” (the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image at one side of a screen is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image on a surface opposite said opening). A number of Renaissance era painters such as Leonardo da Vinci were known to employ the camera obscura in their work, often painting directly on top of the resulting projected images.

UPSEE_ray_optics
A prism used to demonstrate optical properties
camera-obscura
Illustration of the principles of “camera obscura”

It wasn’t until sometime around 1800 that someone would attempt to capture the image in a camera obscura. This fell on British inventor Thomas Wedgwood who used a light-sensitive substance – in this case paper or white leather treated with silver nitrate. He was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempts though, and it wouldn’t be until 1822 when French inventor Nicephore Niepce made another attempt at Wedgwood’s process that the first successful photograph would be captured. Despite his success in capturing the image, it took Niepce another five years before he was able to successfully make a print from his image. A simple nature scene, Niepce’s View from the Window at Le Gras printed sometime between 1826 and 1827 remains the oldest surviving camera photograph in the world.

View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce
Nicephore Niepce’s View from the Window at Le Gras – 1826-1827

Since Niepce’s first successful printing, photography has been extensively advanced to a point where nearly all of us are able to carry a capable High-Definition camera around with us in our pockets at all times (your phone). It was during the 20th century though, with the rise of modern art and the historical devastation of both World Wars that the form was fully embraced and elevated to high-art status. Photojournalists such as Dorothea Lange employed the increasingly popular medium to capture some of the most powerful images in history, her work focused on the dramatic effects of the Great Depression. In a similar vein, photojournalist Arthur Fellig – better known by his pseudonym “Weegee” – was busy creating the world of street photography. Working out of his own custom built photolab in the trunk of his car, Weegee was among the very first to turn his lens on the underworld, following the New York City’s emergency services on their rounds to capture some of the most powerful images of inner-city life, crime, and often death. Meanwhile, surrealists like Man Ray were working to push the medium to its absolute extremes using little more than a model and a few lights to create some of the most unbelievable images ever committed to film.

220px-Lange-MigrantMother02
Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother – 1936
WEEGEE_1938_Children_on_Fire_Escape-620x501
Weegee’s Children on Fire Escape – 1938
violondingres
Man Ray’s Le Violon d’ingres – 1926

For me, photography has been a part of my life since the first flash bulbs erupted in my face on the day of my birth. I grew up dragging a disposable camera or two along with me on various school trips, tossing off unfocused and red-eyed pieces for the simple sake of snapping the shutter. It wouldn’t be until my time enrolled in art school that I would learn about the artistic applications of photography, largely through my many afternoons spent in the incredibly vast collection of artist books kept at the school’s library. Despite this realization of photography’s true artistic possibilities, the form has long remained on the back-burner of my creative mind. I feel that its the utilitarian usage of photography that I’ve come to associate with the form as opposed to the creative, more a document than an artwork, so I set out with my partner Rinni Kipp to break that cycle of unwitting creative ignorance and embrace the art of photography first-hand. I gathered up my mass of photography equipment, originally procured in the hopes of one day using it to complete a movie, and we traveled to Fort Mott State Park along the Delaware River, an interesting locale in terms of aesthetics, featuring vibrant walking trails, beaches, city skylines and an excellent rundown civil war era fort. At frst I was unsure where to even start, but before long I found myself snapping like crazy, and after experimenting with some different filters I wound up with some decent photos. Here’s some of the better one’s I took:

 

 

Like me, Rinni has had plenty of experience with the world of cameras. She took charge on this week’s adventure, launching right into the picture taking without a second thought, as if it all in any direction was a beautiful work of art. Her drive compelled me to dive right in to the world of photography and propelled our adventure along. Here’s what she had to say about this week’s experiment with the photographic:

Growing up I would be delighted when my parents would give me a disposable camera, I couldn’t wait to fill the reel and then get them developed so I could see my work. My parents also let me play around with our Polaroid camera which I still have, and they bought me some digital cameras as the years went on and cameras kept improving. I have also acquired my father’s, and my grandfathers old film cameras. In high school I got the chance to take a photography class, where we learned all the technical aspects of photography, and how to develop our own photos in the dark room, since we were using film cameras. I have always loved taking pictures, and I find it very charming that we can capture a moment and keep it forever.

Here’s a few of Rinni’s photos from our day at Fort Mott:

 

 

After our nature journey down by the waterfront, we returned to the Wonder Void Studio to try out some portrait photography, figuring we’d get ourselves a couple of updated head-shots in the process. Back drops up, flash blasting on high, we shot a couple pretty solid pictures. Presenting the official head-shots of Mr. George Christopher, Rinni Kipp, and our cat Tweak:

Rinni Kipp headshot
Rinni Kipp
More G Christopher
Mr. George Christopher
Tweaken!
The Tweak, of myth and legend

At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a one among us who could claim photography doesn’t play a part in their lives. It’s the ever constant artistic presence of our world, and we all take at least some small part in it whether it’s a long string of nature photographs, or just a few candids of you and your friends to be uploaded to the web. It has given rise to the mighty Instagram, the first successful social media app dedicated to a form of art other than the literary, allowing all of us to stay photographically connected to each other, even thousands of miles away. Were it not for photography, many of the most important, revolutionary and world-changing moments throughout human history would be lost without record. Through photographs we can achieve a level of immortality. Our adventures, loves, and most cherished memories captured in the moment and preserved through eternity.

As always, we really hope you enjoyed this edition of Epically Art, and we look forward to bringing you a hundred more. Thanks for coming and learning with us. Don’t forget to like and follow for a new updates each week. Make sure to follow me on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris for daily short stories, poetry, and updates concerning new blog posts. Follow Rinni Kipp too @RinniKipp to check out some of her awesome illustrations. Once again, thank you for reading. Now go out and take some pictures!

Collected Flash Fiction – May 2018

Very recently, I was introduced to the literary genre known as “Flash Fiction” (Extremely short stories, in this case 280 characters and under) through Twitter, and have become completely infatuated with the style.  Writing at least one new piece daily as part of the #vss365 group, my tiny narratives have started to pile up and were in desperate need of a place to call home, which I have decided to provide for them within the pages of this blog.  Each month I will gather my multitudinous flash writings and organize them into collections right here for your enjoyment.  With that I present my collected flash fiction from the month of May 2018:

 

I

They came in with the waves, the remains of those unfortunate enough to live near the impact zone.  Blackened nails, bloodshot eyes, the familiar Euclidean diagrams etched across their chests.  Forsaken by the sky, they found omniscience in the water.

II

It started with a Saturnian invocation, edited to avoid channeling something unwieldy.  Upon manifestation, I surrendered my pen and drank of her flowing afflatus.  She plays the part of muse to keep me from the truth, that behind the inspiration lay the one true death.

 

III

Their anthem is an endless loop of ‘Tippi’ Hedren screaming, to the sound of which they study scorched earth policy and an avian form of Jeet Kune Do in preparation for the assault.  Hitchcockian standard unfurled, the fall of man is triggered by a single fiery tweet.

 

IV

There it sits encased in glass, a rusted island adrift the polypropylene ocean.  The last of the buildings, and of the babes, the end of civilization.  Along the borders of the dome, they gather in pursuit of a girl from who’s fingers drip the only fresh water for miles.

 

V

Shots ring ’round the slate and bronze, ripples in the warm summer air.  Trading tricorne for trifold, the cavalry forms up at the edge of the mist to be ushered off into legacy.

 

VI

I wash you down with whiskey, and lie myself to sleep.  My nights are mixing waters, and weighted fist fights on the surface of the moon.  Come morning light, I don my thorned crown in endless search for crucifix.

 

VII

He waits on rooftop, leathers soaked through both sides from the rain above and sweat beneath.  Scope, bolt, then the motorcade’s arrival.  He draws a breath, zooms in tight on the windshield.  The ambassador throws him the Bras d’honneur, and he catches a brick from behind.

 

VIII

Suppressed enough by the yoke of his porcelaneous prison, the yolk would prefer you refer to it as “Nucleic Chicken”.

 

IX

Precipitated by the fastening of the great fiscal yoke, his quickly became a life of limited expectation.  With strength enough to trudge just once through the thigh-high muds of existence, he sacrificed ambition to light a candle at the altar of John Maynard Keynes.

 

X

A rendezvous under the neon “X”, flick knives and bike chains at the ready.  The Atheistic oligarchy, lost in a fit of cyclical self-worship, never heard our approach.  We took the hall to the screams of a dozen rusty hinges, and assumed the all-consuming power.

 

XI

I see the “X” ahead.  I know there’s something buried there: eyes mostly, and the ridicule.  I plunge the spade in deep and hit something hard.  Dirt displaced, it all comes flooding back to me.  A purge of pain initiates the mental coup, and I breathe the winds of revolution.

 

XII

He was edging toward obsession, in a completist kind of way.  He saw no point to thinking at all, if he couldn’t really think it all at once.  On the verge of collapse, tongue fast eroding, he let loose a torrid river of every word he’d yet to use in his lifetime.

 

XIII

On the verge of senility, the pits form up in his withering scalp.  The whos and whats set flowing out and away from his mind on variegated streams of sense and sensation.  His third eye sheds a single tear before snapping shut a final time.

 

XIV

It’s not very often that I sleep, so there’s a part of me that enjoys hallucinations.  Tonight though, they ignite in a darker sort of way.  A face, a bigger one behind mine.  I still haven’t finished counting its teeth, that raging umbra underneath.

 

XV

Behold the mother void, she that mighty umbra of totality.  Awe inspired, the smoke erupts from a part of me I didn’t know existed.  Her’s is a persistent deepness, a siren’s song on the sea of absolution.

 

XVI

It’s here every night, that trembling softness in the dark.  It watches from the doorway, still but for once each hour when it adds a fresh tally mark to my brother’s face.  From time to time, I swear I see myself behind the swirling blackness of his eyes.

 

XVII

Stranded on an isle of dust and cardboard, I found him defiantly pulling his own strings.  This was no mere marionette, this was a mountain, and so long as I kept the attic lights dimmed it would continue to speak to me of wax and war in rapid bursts of extinct language.

 

XVIII

I spent the afternoon picking at the frayed strands that hang about the seams of my consciousness.  It seemed a more productive use of time than all I had wasted pulling on the thick green braid of oxidized copper that had started to grow out from the center of my chest.

 

XIX

It wasn’t the rabbits, but all those Communists I was surprised to find living in holes at the park.  I spent the rest of the day feeding them pages torn from Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own and weeping as they tried to discuss mutual aid over the sound of three running lawnmowers.

 

XX

It was not meant to be the last public execution in our remote fishing village, but after the condemned was drawn-up and quartered, a small child was revealed hidden within his aging shell.  It asked for a stick to play with and shivered violently when we gave it a dollar.

 

XXI

We found it in the captain’s quarters, a small lever that when pulled lifted the small cabin out of the ship and into the clouds.  There we saw the concept of a storm reinvented.  In place of rain spilled angels, those who sought a war with god and needed lessons in corruption.

 

XXII

Her page went unanswered, the doctor was far too drunk to perform a rhinoplasty at that hour.  She could attempt it, but this was a different sort of nose.  Each time she raised the scalpel to it, another voice joined the chorus in her head urging her to turn it on herself.

 

XXIII

Your eyes remind me of a poison I once saw make a great many rats quake in the sewers.  Despite a thick wall of chemical delusion, they managed to work out a good living writing college essays on the ethics of capital punishment before succumbing to the effects of radiation sickness.

 

XXIV

It’s not that I didn’t believe them, I just didn’t want to accept that much of my own mortality.  If the sky was really cracking, what then of me?  If it all split wide and the molten innards of Earth spilled out into space, would it matter if I saw?  I am the ash in waiting.

 

XXV

There is a glowing in the woods and i’m sure it knows my name.  I watch as it creeps about my neighbor’s yard at night, bathing his bloodhounds in a wash of alien hues.  If it catches me looking, i’ll be drug off screaming into the trees.  It has started a collection.

 

XXVI

Before us stretched the great river of fire.  It spoke with the rhythm of a stand-up comic, but splashed about in such a way I was concerned it may be an interpretive dancer.  It calls nightly through the trees for us to help divert it into town, but we prefer television.

 

***

 

Once again, I hope you all enjoyed the stories, and I look forward to bringing you a hundred more.  Follow us for a new post every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  Short-stories, flash fiction, and our ongoing series “Epically Art”.  Remember to follow me on Twitter: @ItsMrGChris for a new flash-fiction piece every single day.  Thanks for reading.