The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: January 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE! I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

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A vampire? You decide kids…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Concerning Facebook, I seem to have quite a few Pacino moments – “every time I get out, they pull me back in!” The latest came in the form of a writer posting about wanting to write a vampire story and being stuck because of how large Twilight looms in our recent consciousness. My advice, I gave two variations of the same suggestion; develop a story independently of the vampire and then add it back in later.

My assertion backing up this advice: a vampire story is first and foremost a story that can be read and understood even without the bloodsucking. Yes, changes will occur the minute Elisabeth Bathory bathes in young virgin blood, but they will be minor compared to the core story. And, yes, I just validated all the writing manuals rooted in the Hero’s Journey, even the ones I barely tolerate. Part of the reason you can do things this way, a vampire used to be human, speaks dramatic dialogue and wants something he/she isn’t getting…a character, the same rules apply.

Let’s leave aside that the poster rolled over and splattered chum for a certain type of commenter waiting to pounce with variations of “read other vampire stories like Dracula,” or “simply do the opposite of Twilight.” Okay, read or at least see the movie is sort of helpful in the case of the Bram Stoker. Do the opposite of Twilight is less so, but I digress.

Okay, so the dark and lush tale of Vlad the Impaler all vamped out in his spooky castle high in the Wallachian mountains gets to be my first example. What is the story told without a single fang, bloody neck or bat framed by the full moon? It’s a creepy, obsessive love triangle turned ugly and stalker-iffic.

Mina Harker nee Murray travels with her husband Johnathan Harker in the Romanian backcountry that used to be called Wallachia. The dark roads and local superstitions serve to portend a dark but ultimately transformative narrative. Mister Harker intends to help a mysterious and reclusive count with estate matters. Despite the misgivings of the neighbors in the village at the bottom of the hill the couple contrives to spend the night at Castle Dracula.

The count becomes enamored of the young Mina recognizing qualities of his long dead wife. The initial stay becomes a highly charged knife dance for Mina’s hand. The count’s female hangers on or ex-wives move in on Mr. Harker as distraction. The count has limited success that goes as forward progress. The visit ends.

The count packs up his roadshow with his faithful servant and follows Mina to London to continue the pursuit. Mina’s best friend, Lucy dies at the hand of the count. Mina and Jonathan with the help of a knowledgeable expert turn the tables and track her stalker back to his home in Romania for a fateful conclusion where Mina chooses the man she wants.

Could you tell this story without anything vampiric? Yes. Abraham van Helsing becomes more of an alienist advising Mina on the ins and outs of obsession and the dark sexual urges popularized in the recent work of Sigmund Freud. Maybe you drop the character altogether. But, people actually using their library cards and streaming accounts would immediately go – “this sort seems like that Dracula movie.”

Are there other stories possible in the vampire genre that don’t get underfoot with Twilight? Yes. One of my personal favorites that I 80-percent guarantee you haven’t seen Razor Blade Smile has another take. The story of a female vampire assassin on a multi-decade mission to hunt down the members of a small offshoot of the Illuminati bent on word domination.

Okay, the actress is pretty, gets naked and spews all the pseudo-Cockney attitude of a character likely to show up in a Guy Ritchie film, but pay attention to the twist. The leader of the Illuminati group turns out to be the vampiress’ equally vampiric lover. All the humans killed in the middle were just callous sacrifices to the fact that living for centuries has a way of ruining the fun of sex. Violent role playing prior to renewing vows with monster sex.

If you aren’t thinking – “wow, are there ways to tell that story about a human billionaire and his bored wife setting in motion a violent set of events designed to renew their spark?” – you aren’t paying attention. Maybe the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey Part Five: Fifteen Years Later? Please, anyone? I can dream.

What was my actual advice? I used up a lot of paragraphs saying this writer should put aside the vampire for the moment and come up with a character that wants things from other characters likely to be resisted by the other characters…drama. The writer stays away from the vampire just long enough to figure out the story between all these characters writing either a non-bloodsucker trash draft or a serious outline. And then adds the vampire back in later.

Like the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich thought experiment to teach people to give precise directions, I said something that wasn’t fully explained in the previous sentence. I said they should read the trash draft or outline and decide who in that proto-story acted most like the vampires they wanted to present; that character is the vampire and everyone else are the humans.

What I didn’t say is that I felt sure that this writer waking up one day saying, “I’m going to write a vampire novel” would have their subconscious mind do the heavy lifting guiding one or more characters towards behaviors easily switched out for a vampire later in the process. My bad, even when we give incomplete directions the world still lands on edible PBJ sandwiches…most of the time.

Even reading this suggestion back I’m a little bored so let’s go nuts with my second suggestion to do the same thing, develop a story that can then be adjusted to vampires later. My second simpler suggestion, pick a story that doesn’t have vampires and rewrite it so that it does. Pay attention, this is where writers of posts like me expose our favorite books; I used Three Musketeers as one example.

Which of the many rich characters in Alexandre Dumas’ classic would most likely be revealed as a bloodsucker? And depending on the choices how does it change the story? Do we go with Milady De Winter, famously played by Faye Dunaway the only time I could stand watching the movie? Do we go with Cardinal Richelieu? Athos? Porthos? Aramis? Le Comte de Rochefort? Or even D’Artagnan?

Considering that Dumas sneaked two books into one serialized narrative we have choices. The first part, The Queen’s Diamonds, shows young D’Artagnan arriving in Paris with his father’s sword to make his way as a musketeer. The Gascon quickly makes friends with the three friends, falls in love with the Queen’s trusted handmaiden, Constance, and saves the Queen from the political and personal consequences of a rashly thought out affair.

The second section, Milady’s Revenge, starts two or three days later and Milady De Winter simply wants to wipe out D’Artagnan by all means expedient. Cardinal Richelieu lets out a big sigh and writes her a warrant making the impending violence legal, largely because the lady is good for all kinds of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. People die.

The cardinal revealed as the vampire in the new version turns the story into a metaphor about great players divorced from the rest of humanity by their position and perspective, or more than is already on the page. As always, I have few opinions about pitches until I see something on the page, but the great Christopher Lee (Rochefort in the Salkind production) did once quit playing Dracula in the Hammer movies when he saw a script where the vampire pretty much had become Dr. No. But, hey, good writing saves many silly pitches, we’ll see.

For those of us that paid attention reading the book, Milady De Winter is so obvious a choice to be nominated the vampire. Especially in the later revenge chapters she tries everything, poison, seduction, threats to Constance and hired assassins just to wipe out the uppity Gascon and his annoying musketeer friends. She will not lose.

The later chapters are already an awesome cat fight between women tied up too tight in whalebone corsets with D’Artagnan caught in the middle. Milady also needing to drink Constance’s blood? Wow! I’ll skip the other possibilities for space and repetitiveness and trust the reader will spark their own story engines.

Cool! I busted out 1,500 words suggesting a good way to get past this scene where a writer grips their head, “Twilight is such a huge thing that I don’t know what to do!” Develop a story that works without vampires and see where that takes you. It may help and sure is more constructive than the many repetitions of, “do the exact opposite of Twilight,” or “vampires don’t sparkle ever” in the feed. Though the people saying to read a wider set of vampire stories for ideas, I think are trying to get to the same place as me in fewer sentences.

With that this post is over, go home! Carry garlic with you…

By G.N. Jacobs

The boat horns of Lake Michigan gave way to the similar horns just offshore of Brighton Beach mixed with the last gasp of Coney Island trolling the tourists before going into half schedule for the winter. The clackity-clack of the Cyclone had always created a Pavlovian response for Peter even before he’d cornered MJ in the line for the kiss and clarity that defined their current relationship five years later. It was inevitable that their pooled wrestling and modeling money would go towards moving southward into the good neighborhoods near Long Island Sound.

Peter and MJ flopped on the green couch cuddled up in last year’s Ugly Christmas Sweaters that had almost the contest. Too many seconds had passed for the lovers to get immediately frisky as sometimes happened upon arriving home. Instead she slipped off her pumps that never went well with flying, but the traces of her ego forbade she should switch out for flats. Her feet landed in Peter’s lap.

He rubbed them down with the care and attention of a lecherous podiatrist listening to the noises coming from his de facto wife. She squeaked approvingly and then moaned but not in a way that would combat the exhaustion of the trip to Chicago. No sex tonight.

Peter didn’t care, using his silence while rubbing to review the memories of the Chicago trip. The pay-per-view, the third since joining up with Global Wrestling Entertainment, had gone well. The fans divided online between many camps – “Wow! I didn’t think GWE would have the Green Spider do the job like that!” – with sub-threads for – “Peter Parker certainly played up getting his ass kicked by Tarantula Hawk, why isn’t Hollywood offering action parts?” – but with a small few people commenting – “Really? The girl gets her arms yanked like a sexist wishbone and we’re supposed to give a crap?”

Peter closed the computer before having to read the replies to the feminist thread likely to include accusations that the feminists weren’t fans. And counter accusations of “misogynist trolls who wouldn’t know a real woman if we sat on your face.” MJ saw the weirdness in Peter’s face and waved for her to see the computer.

“Tiger, we chose to be this public,” MJ said. “We need to see what our fans are saying.”

“I’d rather just rub your feet and listen to the ambient noise over the water, Tootsie Pop,” Peter admitted. “I have to remind myself to mentally suggest to these fu…folks to frak themselves and the self-righteous horse they rode in on. It’s easier that way.”

MJ took the computer and read the threads. “Do both, Tiger.”

Peter resumed the foot rub. MJ giggled at both her boyfriend’s perfect touch and some of the goofiness transpiring online. Peter listened to the noises coming from her mouth. She was mostly amused.

“Well?” Peter asked when the foot rub naturally ended.

“I think I need chocolate, Tiger,” MJ declared. “It’s that kind of night for why we’re not…”

“I hear and obey, Tootsie Pop,” Peter said.

He found a box of assorted holiday gift chocolate, the kind where memorizing which pieces go in which traditional slot in the box determines whether nougat versus the dread cherry coconut. She nibbled and felt better immediately.

“I did sort of mean a little more by my ‘well’ than offering to get you chocolate on demand, MJ,” Peter said.

“I know,” MJ said. “It’s a normal day on social media. No one is creepier than they need to be. Nothing to report to Bruno and I’ve got real money on the whole feminist thread being a troll operation. The OP said ‘girl’ when a woke sister would always say ‘woman.’ Little things like that.”

“And?”

“In the real world, Tiger, even the woke have slips of the tongue,” MJ said giving a laugh that tilted her head in such a way that a photograph just escaped her lover. “I see why you get so annoyed by all this, but it is the job to let them have their fantasies…until they get too dark.”

Peter nodded and brought her closer to him on the couch putting her head in its comfortable spot over his sternum. They pantomimed a few what next scenarios, including him teasing her with the TV remote as if phase two of getting her past not feeling exactly right included letting her pick the Rom-Com. She waved him off preferring to listen to his 80bpm resting heart rate through the ugly sweater.

“The social media stuff and foot rub interrupted what you’re really thinking,” MJ said. “What was your trip to Chicago like?”

“You were there for most of it,” Peter said rolling his eyes where she couldn’t see.

“You watched me dance with some guy that wasn’t acting his attraction to me,” MJ said.

Peter remembered…

Take Forty. The ballplayer character had his forbidden love in a tango while the cameras rolled. Peter tried to busy himself with emails and texts concerning the simmering labor dispute between management and writers at Global Wrestling Entertainment. Silencing every button click on the phone and sitting at least twenty feet away at the craft service table had been the minimum acceptable solution vis a vie the determined young lady with the radio, a Second Assistant Director her orange vest said.

By Take Fifty, Peter took in MJ’s hip sway while held firmly at the waist during the dance that didn’t end. He wondered about how the tango sequence, a planned forty seconds out of six minutes of music video had seemingly expanded. Or at least exposed the possibly fake perfectionism of Calvin.

“Let’s go again,” Calvin said.

Take Sixty. MJ found her own ways to subtly tweak the dance to her own ends, like finding a camera setup where blowing a kiss to her onscreen forbidden love really meant blowing a kiss to Peter exiled to the table with the donuts, chips and carrot sticks drowned in hummus. She noted that her Tiger used the phone to display far more willpower sitting next to the snacks than most people would.

“Let’s go again,” MJ said.

Take Seventy. The underlying contest of will between an actress that already had her domestic brass ring and a smooth operator fishing new waters came to head. Calvin’s leg muscles broke before hers and…

“Cut! Print! That’s our martini and a wrap!”

“You were jealous, weren’t you, Tigger?” MJ asked.

“No, why?” Peter asked not covering the lie. “Isn’t he, like, gay or something?”

MJ playfully swatted Peter’s chest. “I spoke with the girl from his previous video. She thinks he’s Bi. And I think you guessed that.”

Peter stroked her arm and back. “Maybe. I don’t know. I did spend more time trying to imagine me holding you like that.”

“You already do, Tigger,” MJ said. “But, it’s a nice thing to say.”

“He also hit me up for inside tidbits about wrestling,” Peter said. “Probably wants to do wrestling themed video sometime down the road. Have me back as consultant and you as the love interest again, see if we’ve blown up our thing…”

“I knew you noticed!” MJ said amused. “Thank you for telling me a little bit about how you saw our trip to Chicago. Though you’ve adroitly dodged the other part of the question…”

Peter sighed reaching for his cell phone to tap a button on the smart home management app.

Across the street towards the City, two steel beetles alighted on fenceposts at opposite ends of the neighbor’s property. Mechanical irises opened adjusting to the light balance of the street lit by orange streetlights. Lasers aimed at the front windows of the Parker-Watson house caught every gooey, mushy word of a couple debriefing after a trip to the Windy City. Until the white noise generator kicked in creating static in place of the mildly entertaining soap opera.

By G.N. Jacobs

With the tenth cell phone flash blasting in her eyes, Selina learned why certain Hollywood celebrities had become famous for wearing sunglasses indoors. Alfred noticed her discomfort and found a nice set with indoor/outdoor polarization that mostly matched the dress and borrowed handbag. She kissed the fatherly man on the cheek for being the sort of man to think ten chess moves ahead. She would ask if someone had built inter-dimensional pockets into the gray three-piece suit.

FLASH! BWEE! Things got even more blindingly serious now that the photographers that could afford digital SLRs and high power light bars shouldered their way to the edge of the red carpet. Angling the flash to prevent red eye only slightly helped Selina’s flash blindness. And the recharging tone…FLASH! BWEEE!

“Ms. Kyle!”

Selina blew past this reporter expressing a grim set to her jaw. FLASH! BWEE! FLASH! FLASH!

“Mrs. Wayne!”

This one got a turned head.

“What did you wear to your…”

“White,” Selina said with a smile that covered the curtness.

“Where is…”

“Home with a busted leg from the ski trip,” Selina answered. “Playing first person shooters, like every other teenager home sick.”

The next reporter, a young stringer wearing a HALO 4 T-shirt under her big girl black coat, pinched somebody’s arm to ask – “which ones?” Selina chuckled a bit and pointed respectfully to the young lady and launched into five minutes on the many varieties of first person shooter. The reporter seemed about to ask if Selina played herself as her spiel suggested, but the needs to know more about her purple dress pushed the reporter aside.

The flashes receded as soon as the guest sat for the expensive but ultimately indifferently cooked Chicken Marsala. Selina sipped the disappointing chardonnay and tried to pretend the people at her table weren’t boring. And then she stood up to speak in place of Bruce retelling his jokes about music lessons adroitly sidestepping the social climbing elephant in the room.

Upon hearing that the professional auctioneer had wrapped his Uber around a telephone pole just a few blocks away, Selina kept the microphone and played up her inner auctioneer. Surprisingly, the swag offered by the rest of Gotham’s one-percenters and a few of the ten-percenters there as plus ones proved interesting. She watched faces and guessed that even among people who would never starve before the complete destruction of the American economy that covetousness ruled the day. Yes, they could buy another item like it, but they wanted the one on the block.

Through it all, Selina couldn’t hide the shivers at the podium. The reporters noticed and commented in their copy attributing it to her first time speaking and trying to save the dinner and auction. She wouldn’t tell anyone about her hidden past conflicting with the stormy present, where she typically attended such things in her alter ego as Catwoman…and usually robbed the place blind. Still, it made for jumpy nerves barely contained by the wine expecting someone else to visit.

The ride back to the manor made use of a sweet spot in the traffic out to the Gotham Heights exurbs where the one percent had built stately manors with impressive views of the city and sea…and soaked up all the winter sun possible in these climes. Alfred shifted the mirror to look at his de facto daughter in law still radiant in her purple. Selina smiled but still searched the sparse vehicle lights on the highway looking for some kind of meaning that wouldn’t translate into conversation.

“Holy Hell, Alfred!” Selina said breathing out explosively. “I thought I knew what…”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Alfred said.

“Ma’am? I’m too young.”

“But very married, Ma’am.”

“Funny,” Selina replied. “I thought I knew about all this watching Bruce work. And he delegated where he could, I see that now.”

“Proof that wearing the shoes is still different from standing next to the person that does, Ma’am,” Alfred said. “It will be a small part of your overall adjustment from Ms. Kyle to Mrs. Wayne or variation of the above.”

“I thought I knew that too, Alfred,” Selina said.

“Yes and no, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said evenly as he made a lane change. “Your marriage has been twenty years coming. You’ve kissed and flirted but you never got to do normal relationship things like go to prom or chat at the keg at university. The two of you know more about your costumed personas than you do the people inside. That too will take time.”

“I suppose,” Selina said.

“Which brings us diagonally to the nerves you displayed handling the auction,” Alfred probed. “It seemed more than doing something unplanned to save the evening.”

“I kept expecting certain people to show up,” Selina admitted. “Like the old days.”

Alfred whistled his appreciation. “Ms. Selina that is a rare problem. Though for most of your…old friends I think the preponderance of zircons and the handling of the proceeds by check, credit card and cell phone data kept most of them away.”

“It’s the guys that would show up for the chaos of it all while bringing card rippers sewn into wait staff coats that worry me,” Selina said curling up lips. “The jerkoffs that would always go too far and then I typically burned them.”

“I noticed that over the years, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said. “You’re a lady and my daughter for all intents and purposes so I won’t ask.”

“Lady?”

“Yes, in all the ways that matter.”

“How sweet,” Selina said. “Please tell me there’s at least the glimmer of a middle-aged possible Mrs. Pennyworth. You’re wasted on just being Bruce’s batman.”

“Now, who’s being kind?”

“Anyway, you didn’t want to ask and I thank you,” Selina said. “The answer is that I teased my old friends with not being a lady on just enough occasions to get them to chill out. That and throwing certain other loot their way to say sorry goes a long way.”

“And now that you’ve overtly changed sides…ish to stand up for the downtrodden?”

“I think they’d show up to any event I’m in a nice dress playing society wife, just to see me cry,” Selina said shivering at the thought. “Bringing us full circle to the deal at the podium.”

“You have more resources now, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said. “It is good to be Queen of Gotham.”

“So it seems.”

“And as a personal aside, your work on the fourth rubber chicken event you helped liven up always struck me as your most artistic work,” Alfred added.

“Nice thing to say,” Selina said. “Now get us home, please. I have lots of zombies to slay with Bruce.”

The limo proved easy to follow on the nearly empty highway out to the Heights. The black stretch moved rapidly at the sweet spot between the speed to get home and the probable tolerance of the Gotham City Police Department. A small drone kept the car squarely in view, just in case.

Burt West tried to remember things as he drove. Was he really Burt West? Who was Edison? Both people seemed to like movies to the exclusion of everything else and following the fashionable lady with a husband home with a broken leg scratched an itch called Rear Window. The problem was that nothing about the Wayne Manor lent itself to voyeurism upon the neighbors. Tomorrow’s problem, he thought making a lane change to be less obvious about the tail.

By G.N. Jacobs

The shoot ended early given that the director hired by the singer’s people actually had enough creativity sometimes called having the Eye, a blended skill set where a great photographer could catch the light to make America lust the mythical woman and a dramatist would create the illusion of love. In practice, a Steadi-Cam shot had caught all the emotional beats playing on MJ’s face without need for very many cut-ins and shaved the last three hours off the schedule for the expensive rental of Wrigley Field.

Peter learned these things because the 800-pound gorilla had made a point of touching him on the arm while holding the iPad with the proof copies. “Hey, Mister Parker, take a look.”

Peter caught his breath. He’d photographed MJ more than he could count on his fingers finding all the good moments. Still, these images found even more surprising depths to make the boyfriend jealous until MJ swore with the absolute sincerity of a child that hadn’t discovered lying she thought of her Tigger every moment. He needed to rent a vintage Cubs uniform, despite his hometown loyalties.

“Beautiful, Calvin,” Peter said after a long breath.

“Yeah, why I wanted her for this when her agent said she had this window for doing a gig in Chicago,” Calvin Short said. “But, I do my homework, you shoot a lot of stills of her and…”

“I should set stiffer filters on my Facebook,” Peter said realizing the awkward two seconds after saying the words.

For his part, Calvin enjoyed seeing Peter’s face play out the I Didn’t Mean to Say That tango. The man touched Peter’s arm all being right with the universe.

“Yeah, you and me both Mis…Pete,” Calvin said. “Anyway, you shoot MJ and while it’s visually different from how my guy sees her, there’s a lot of wow to how…”

“Thank you,” Peter said.

“You’re welcome,” Calvin said. “But, I’m not stupid, all resources that make my deal go better I tap. Especially, since we’re moving to the interiors tomorrow.”

“I’ll talk with your guy,” Peter agreed.

They shook hands sealing the deal. MJ sipped the last free macchiato of the day enjoying the view of her man expanding his professional horizons while the costume lady watched her like a hawk. It was, in strict point of fact, the kind of dress that most actress/models might steal off the set. She put up her hands and moved directly to the dressing room.

Peter and MJ enjoyed what passed for walking weather in Chicago dressed in jeans, but with just enough sweater to split the difference. They’d found a pizza man on a Southside street with thin slices that exceeded the Bronx and almost matched Queens. The man smiled behind his mustache providing cheesy triangles.

The museums provided a few hours of entertainment in the form of sketching MJ into all the classic pictures with women in them. MJ did the same but with far less output because she only wanted to see how Peter looked as the musketeer painted by contemporary of Rembrandt. His stance leaning on the sword made the sketch.

Wherever they went, recognition followed. Half wanted to gush over meeting a modestly famous model for many reasons. And fanboys and a few fangirls just wanted Peter to talk about last night’s bout with Tarantula Hawk, surprised that the couple hooked elbows in real life.

“Really, Mister Parker,” said a five-year-old boy with big eyes. “Why would you let the westlin’ witers do that to your girl?”

MJ stifled her laugh with a finger. “Young Man, it gets worse. Our writers don’t like what our bosses are doing and Pete and Henry made the whole thing up on the fly and…”

The boy didn’t like this answer having a brief moment where maybe the tyke would kick Peter in the shins for endangering his sweetie like that. It passed when MJ read the moment and patted his head.

“It was all pretend,” MJ said. “Henry and Peter are sort of good friends out of the ring.”

“No, Miss Watson,” the boy said doubling down. “You really like him and pretend is all untrue.”

Peter shrugged letting MJ lean in on this particular shovel.

“I do really like Peter,” MJ said. “That’s why it played so well last night. People who are really great at pretend mix the untrue with the true so it feels real…”

“But isn’t that lying?”

MJ raised an eyebrow at Peter at the curious balanced reality working behind this fan’s eyes. How to explain storytelling to a tyke that understood the choreography in wrestling but not the underlying narrative theory? Peter shrugged, just because he could fire off good notes and ideas to the writers didn’t mean he could fully explain things.

“A storyteller does that because if he pretends all the time, the person hearing or reading decides that it isn’t a fun story,” MJ said. “If he tells the real all the time, it still isn’t a fun story. The storyteller balances the two. What makes it not a lie is that the storyteller doesn’t use his words to hurt people and a liar does.”

The boy cocked his head only partially assimilating this new information from the advanced class. Peter promised the boy that he would always stick up for MJ in the story and that was enough for the boy. A pinky-swear upon the most holy of things, a list including a puppy, a Crackerjack decoder ring and his copy of the White Album. And then Peter had a wrong idea.

“Son, you seem remarkably well informed about wrestling…”

MJ caught the undercurrent and glared at Peter to no avail.

“…I wonder how you knew we have writers?” Peter asked.

“My budder told me.”

“I see, as long as you don’t listen to him about Santa Claus,” Peter said.

MJ pinched her boyfriend. The boy stuck his fingers in his ears and hummed loudly. Obviously, St. Nick was a true line in the sand.

The boys’ parents and the offending older brother appeared out of the crowd revealed in the distorted mirrored blobby thing installed as public art. The mother was worried about the boy slipping away from the family to explore shiny new things, until she saw a happy couple occupying her son’s time. Quizzical stares went around.

“Folks, Google the Green Spider,” Peter suggested.

Many selfies and autographs passed between them. The mother waited until they went a few steps before laying into the boy about wandering off. Peter created eye contact with the older brother and made the I’m Watching You gesture.

“Our future, MJ?” Peter asked.

“I hope so, Tigger,” MJ said as she leaned into his body using the kind of voice that expressed boundless hope. “But, haven’t you learned yet, Blockhead, that you absolutely don’t tell little kids about Santa?”

“I didn’t,” Peter said with mock defensiveness. “I told him not to listen when his douchebag older brother does.”

“Which is backhandedly the same thing, Dummy,” MJ asserted. “If you tell the boy not to listen, then subconsciously you also just told him that his brother might have something and…”

Peter kissed MJ’s forehead getting the first stages of melting the metaphorical butter. She kissed back to the cheers of the crowd.

“Okay, maybe, I’m using too much relationship jujitsu here…”

“Jujitsu being something I’m good at…”

“Maybe, Tigger,” MJ said. “I want a good hot dog instead of the nice place you have lined up tonight.”

“Inscribed on the corner of my eye with a needle as a lesson to the circumspect and faithful,” Peter said hand to his heart.

Arm in arm the happy couple strolled occasionally stopping people dressed for work for the 411 on a good hot dog cart. Peter’s spider senses kicked in as an unspecified reason for his arm hairs to stand on end despite his coat. MJ felt it too holding onto her man.

A beetle made of iridescent blue steel flew behind the happy couple. An aperture widened on the robo-bug’s right eye. It took a proper following distance about twenty feet.

By G.N. Jacobs

The cast itched in ways for which Bruce Wayne completely lost the words. And then there was the extra itchiness and his ass falling asleep in the chair. Misery on the half-shell, he thought as Selina rolled him down Wayne Manor’s South Hall, designed to catch the sunlight during winter.

Bruce sighed passing the armor room wondering if the claymores needed dusting and knowing that if it did, Alfred would deal with it before most people could think. He shifted in his seat possibly trolling for more attention. It worked; Selina leaned in to hug her man with maximum dispatch and then she picked up the scratching tool that reached under the cast.

Alfred brought up the rear stepping silently on the parquet floor taking pleasure at the intimacies shared in the the patch of sunlight through the window with the best view of the Gotham skyline.

“With your permission, Madame Wayne, I thought I would start dinner,” Alfred said softly.

Selina shivered slightly hearing her new title. She stood up hiding behind a finger trying to figure out the best way to make nice with Bruce’s father figure while acknowledging that her circumstances had changed. A moment of I can cook warred with if I wanted to keep cooking I shouldn’t marry the 50th richest man in America.

“I suppose the operation will go faster with someone cutting the salad,” Alfred offered. “This way.”

With that the trio took a left turn through another door to the small kitchen in a different wing of the Manor.

The plot wouldn’t score high on the list of all-time criminal plots. Two men sketched out possibilities with the precision of Patton closing his half of the Falaise Gap. The mark walked by the target at exactly 2.75 miles per hour. One man needed to get ahead in the alley between the ancient brick-clad tenements with back plastered against the grimy wall. The second man would run up from behind with a sock filled with D-cell batteries.

The goons wearing khakis and warm wool coats went back and forth trying to figure out which man should take which task. It fell to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissor. The taller man lost going Rock v. Paper and took the sock swinging it over each shoulder just to test the feel.

Dick Grayson crouched below the rail briefly wondering about his life trajectory that made hiding on rooftops seem like a good idea. The neighborhood loved its ancient and chipped brick, what with the unknown blended smell over which copious amounts of urine had splashed on top. Orange streetlights created the kinds of shadows that only the skilled in spandex could hide.

He watched the developing tactical problem of two muggers and one muggee meeting violently somewhere deep in the Gotham Narrows. The tall man waited behind a dumpster tapping a heavy sock. The shorter man hid up ahead of his confederate flicking a well-oiled butterfly knife.

Dick checked the mirror that kept the tall goon squarely in view. Sprinting over to check the other mirror, the short man replaced his knife in favor of a ten-inch length of bare rebar. He tapped the metal into his hand beating out a rhythm much like a double-time waltz.

Into this tableau walked a man clacking his expensive metal tipped cane on the crumbling sidewalks that hadn’t seen a road crew in five decades. Dick memorized the distances behind closed eyes ready to pounce.

CLACK! The well to do potential victim walked slowly ever closer. The tall man stifled a sneeze. The short man dropped his rebar…only to catch it before clattering on the pavement. Dick adjusted his dark domino mask that really shouldn’t be so effective at hiding his face from public view in both Gotham and Blüdhaven.

CLACK! Another three feet closer. The well-to-do man searched his environment checking the rooftops and the darkened recesses that just barely qualified as alleys. He nervously ran his finger along the blue felt brim of his fedora like a spitball pitcher losing the extra petroleum jelly before the umpire’s inspection.

CLACK! Closer. The man gripped the chromed ball at the tip of his cane. Dick’s sharp eyes saw the silent draw on the hilt revealing a two inches of a custom made cane blade that caught the orange sodium lights all manner of wrong. Dick searched his memory for people of this mystery man’s general build likely to use a sword cane coming up blank.

CLACK! The tall mugger shifted his weight. Dick scratched and adjusted his purple-black spandex designed to catch the dark just so. He breathed finding the silent Om getting ready for battle. Nightwing, Dick thought to himself using his spandex codename to psych up. You got this these goons are easy meat. Quick fisticuffs and then get a muffin around the corner.

CLACK! The victim stepped into the trap. The tall goon stepped out early silently stalking the easy mark with hat and briefcase. The shorter goon planted against the near wall around the corner from the mugging site. Dick checked the mirror covering the tall mugger…

A man shape resolved out of the many shadows on the street. Clearly, someone or something stood up deeper in the alley with a carbon filament light behind them. The shape wore a cloak and a bat ears on its head. Dick didn’t see because he was busy gripping the edge of the roof ready to leap.

The tall man saw the shadow on the building across the street while Dick fell to the sidewalk using a mini-descender rig to cheat gravity. SCHRING! The well-to-do man with the hat completely drew his sword.

“Aiiieeeeeeee!” shrieked the tall man as he ran anywhere but here.

“Fuck, I’m gone!” shouted the short goon joining his friend in fleeing.

Dick stood up from landing on all fours to be the last person to see the bat shadow. He shook his head before turning to the well dressed man holding a rapier in Fourth Position. Eye contact between man in a mask and a man in a hat with wicked sharp blade.

“Oh, so this is one of those cities,” the man with sword said with a piqued tone of voice.

Dick stepped across the pavement to shake the newcomer’s hand. The swordsman saluted as if standing on the saber runway and turned to run into another part of the dark. The bat shadow remained on the building across the street leaving the Hero Known as Nightwing to shake his head.

“Hey! I thought you were going to let me do this!” Dick said loudly to the source of the shadow.

The shadow shrugged.

Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce laid back on the one couch on the upper floor allowed to be grooved with frequent use. Plates of food lay half eaten on the coffee table. Selina had found the best way to share the couch with her husband without hurting his broken leg. She kissed Bruce’s forehead and pulled the VR goggles from his eyes.

“Bruce, cool robot,” Selina said. “But, don’t you think maybe you should’ve told Dick about tonight? He’s got Blüdhaven on his plate, too.”

“Ooops,” Bruce said.

By G.N. Jacobs

Peter hated rooftops in the best of days also known as the average night in New York. Tonight, he checked the flexi-tablet kept in a special pocket wrapped around his left flank twice. The wind off Lake Michigan swirled though the steel and stone canyons in generally unpredictable ways. And then there was the basic need to learn the lay of the new playground.

The scanner spat out a stone soup of garbled cop voices highlighting the cries for help from the city in the middle of the country. The police handled the calls and things would improve in the windswept morning. The Thermos with coffee handed over by MJ steamed bringing cinnamon and cocoa to his nose.

The freeze possibly kept the city calm as the cold snap to end all cold snaps moved in behind the ordinary cold wind. Tough guy and girl residents got the hell off the pavement refusing to trust the common three layers, even most of the bad guys. Electric heating coils built into the red suit took care of those chills for Peter.

He waited several hours watching the Lakefront District with visible breath clouds appearing at the mouths of the few residents out on the street. The coffee tasted better than it smelled. And maybe trying this superhero thing in a city well away from home.

The radio squawked with the first job of the night, a robbery. Six men smashed and grabbed. Peter heard the alarms over the scanner. He pushed off the gravel.

POW! Punch. Kick. Side kick. Punch. Kick. SMASH! CRUNCH! Peter shuffle stepped as if making the opening move in the Texas Two Step. WHAM! He stepped though the first goon’s chest, a schoolyard shove that only needed a partner to kneel behind the man’s knees.

The goon fell backwards in slow motion arms flopping to the sides. The window behind him vibrated with a deep booming taiko drumbeat. A microsecond later, the glass shattered destroying the painted on window sign advertising a good price on Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches, $900 or $1,200 for smart phone integration. Peter – BOOSH! – pulled the man out of the glass snowstorm with a quick hit of his web.

The incident had lasted thirty seconds, an easy affair where the spider in Peter could truss up four goons in silk before anyone would even blink. Until his metabolism crapped out for making enough silk for all six goons. Happened occasionally to be fixed with the more tasty of Aunt May’s sausage linguini that had never seen Little Italy let alone, say, Calabria, a taco plate or the Prime Rib he could afford with impunity these days as the Green Spider.

Luckily, the wrestling and MMA character had made the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man a more well rounded hero. Since the crowd liked to see Greenie use the webbing early in the bout and then finish off with standard wrestling/MMA moves, Peter had an incentive to learn a few things in various dojos and wrestling studios. Pile-drivers. Hip throws. Shoulder throws. Arm and wrist locks. And a stiff and daily improving jab. All good for robbers in front of jewelry stores…when you removed the choreography.

Still, Peter grimaced considering that perhaps this fight with the guy pushed into the window had gone too far. Relative concepts considering the madmen that sometimes showed up ready to blow up any pavement on which the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man stood. The papers everywhere divided on Spider-Man Good or Spider-Man Bad depending on how far the rubble flew. Luckily, leaving ordinary bad guys on the pavement trussed in silk with only minor lacerations, plate glass windows notwithstanding, tended to shift a few more editorials towards Spider-Man Good.

Peter patted the man that had back flopped into the jewelry store window. He groaned and spat out his third bloody tooth to the concrete. The red and blue clad costume guy standing over him seemed to love the limelight so the papers said. The spider found an extra store of food to convert into silk and trussed up the remaining thugs, going tight enough with the last one to stop any bleeding from the shards.

“Frak, the Mets,” the goon said gasping for air in his silk truss.

“At least we ain’t the Cubs,” Peter said adding far more stereotypical Queens than usual.

“Da Sox, Douchebag.”

Peter shrugged before finishing the moment with a Post-It note stuck to the man’s forehead. The absolute last touch was to shoot silk attaching a flash drive to the silk truss. He saluted and found a good place to launch the next web swing and was gone.

Peter crept into the hotel room stepping carefully in bare feet with his Spider-Man booties in hand. Even with the mild harbor noise from the lake coming through the upper floor window, every little bit of noise might…

“Tiger,” MJ called out softly.

Apparently, bare feet on wooden floors do the exact opposite of stealth. He shed the overcoat that had gotten him past the staff in the lobby and moved over to the closer bed appreciating the form of the woman lying on her side. He held up his hands as if a film director composing his shot.

“Yeah, it’s me, MJ,” Peter answered. “Stay right there.”

“Okay.”

Peter found his cell phone and tapped the camera controls that would compensate for the low light in the room and make a museum quality art photo. When he had the image built around her red hair falling loose about the shoulder raised to the ceiling he – CLICK! – took the picture.

“When you going to put these in a gallery, Tiger?” MJ asked in her soft voice that might fall asleep again. “What the point of being your muse if…”

With that MJ fell asleep. Peter finished stripping down out of Spider-Man and hanging the suit in the special clothes bag that cleaned the clothes hung inside. He gently lifted the cover on the bedspread to spoon in behind her joining her sleeping amid the boat horns and the clattering of the El likely to run even on a cold night.

“Tell me about the bad guy,” MJ whispered coming back up out of her light sleep for just a moment. “In the morning…”

Morning brought more warmth as the remnants of a hurricane moving north fought off the cold northerlies from the lake and Canada beyond. The harbor sounds mixed with the rain to make yet another moment that…began with MJ holding out her hands wrists together and palms up. Two hours later, she picked off the dried and cracking silk that Peter naturally extruded from his wrists and thoroughly enjoyed her mini-Walk of Shame to the bathroom.

Peter allowed himself to get caught looking, a gaze she met looking over her shoulder. A piece of webbing still clasped the corner of her left eye. He pointed to his own eye creating a few seconds of entertainment playing the Mirror Confusion game with his girlfriend. MJ got the offending clump grimacing as if she’d maybe pulled off a facial mask too quickly, but she got it.

With that she gave a crooked grin as if maybe she would take her own pictures of Peter wrapped up in the thick bedspread. The moment passed and she entered the bathroom running the shower on full. A full head of steam swirled out from under the door and MJ stuck her damp head out.

“Join me, Tigger,” MJ said in her throatiest voice.

Peter crossed the floor and took MJ to him amid the steam.

Morning took them to Wrigley Field almost intimidated by the bricks and ivy. Peter sat in chinos and collared shirt trying not to look like the diva’s wrestler boyfriend. He sipped a soda from the craft service bucket and appreciated MJ’s period dress. He shook his head.

A hip-hop artist with a fondness for the Cubs and beautiful women had decided to do a themed music video for his cover of The Way We Were where he played a ball player in a somewhat forbidden relationship with MJ’s character. Peter had stepped away from the shoot finding a floor level seat above the Cubs’ dugout, just far enough away from the cameras and crew to give the illusion that Peter Parker wouldn’t be a douchebag about escorting her to the shoot.

Peter occupied himself watching the crew do their jobs. Most had cell phones tuned to the local news sites. The older people read newspapers. Didn’t matter, the headlines were the same – NEW YAAAHK’S SPIDER VIGILANTE VISITS, BREAKS HEADS AND SMASHES TEETH!