Sunday, August 30, 2009

Quick explanation of projects

You might notice some of the labels used for posts and wonder, what’s that mean? Those that don’t make obvious sense are probably those describing various story collections I have completed or am currently working on. Here’s a quick breakdown:

212: 212-word stories, each with a food/beverage related title serving mostly as a launching point for the story (sometimes the title is central to the story, other times not). This collection is complete with 78 stories.

Sashimi: Stories varying in length, with all but one story 1,000 words or less. The original concept was for 750-word stories, so 26 of the 40 stories are that length. Each story also has a sea creature in it, either involved as the central premise or just mentioned in passing. This collection is complete with 40 stories.

Tinfoil: Stories varying in length from 100 to 1,000 words. The story titles are all places and cities both real and imaginary. The original, albeit loose concept was to have spherical objects appearing in each story. This manifested itself as baseballs, marbles, a soccer ball, a cricket ball, an involuntary tattoo, an orb from Atlantis. Some story protagonists included Bobby Fischer, Fred Flintstone and the Great Gazoo, David Koresh, and JFK. This collection currently has 16 stories and is ongoing though I stalled on it a few years ago.

I have some other ideas that aren't yet beyond a small number of works.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Love and Impossibility

Here’s another story originally published elsewhere. This originally appeared, about five years ago, in issue 11 of Prose Ax, a now defunct small-run print publication based in Hawaii. This story was my first accepted short story, after at least 36 rejections (probably more like 50--I didn’t always keep a record). It’s funny how your perception of a work changes over the years. I still like this story, but I would probably write it in a much different way now.

A woman stuffed her lover in a suitcase. Based on his size, it looked to be a mathematical impossibility. Yet it worked. She did this out of love and to rescue him from poverty. She was making her way through customs after departing a ferry. It looked as if she were going to get through. Then she averted her gaze from the customs officer and looked down at her suitcase. That’s when he looked down, his eyes cold blue, and saw she was not lifting the suitcase but dragging it. He heard a grunt as she stopped. He grabbed her wrist. She turned cold. He asked her for identification. She showed it. Then he asked her to open the suitcase. She said, no, she couldn’t. He reiterated his request, open it, madam, else I cannot let you proceed. She begged, please don't, crying.

As they traveled by ferry, the waves tossing them about as they proceeded to the better life she talked about, he had complained through the suitcase fabric that his legs were numb, his bladder full, his body twisted into a nightmarish configuration, that he wasn't Houdini and was afraid of dying. She feared the suitcase would pop open. He would be exposed, unable to stand, perhaps urinate in his pants. They would drag him away, perhaps throw him into the water or bludgeon him to death or whatever was done with illegal immigrants.

She and her lover could not have been more different. He was Tunisian and Muslim. She was Belgian and Catholic. They discussed having interracial kids, what customs to follow, what holidays to celebrate.

The hope that all people could find love, cross divides, find happiness despite differences--it would all be negated, once the suitcase was opened. The customs officer couldn’t have been older than twenty-five--probably still lived with his parents-- he was the one to end it. A stranger, a nobody in their lives and others as most people were with each other--he would decide their fate. How can it be like this. How can the random person decide the fate of others. She wept.

He ordered her to open it a third time, but she refused. He moved her aside with a stiff arm and forced the suitcase open. Her lover, his skin pale like death, his eyes sunken with dark circles, fell out. He flopped over like a dying, out of water, fish. He wetted his pants as the officer pressed his shoe into his abdomen.

The officer began waving his arms and shouting in a foreign language. Three officers similar in appearance swiftly appeared at his side and grabbed her lover. They dragged him by his arms. She screamed. He was silent, staring at her with paralyzed eyes, unable to speak or resist. The officer grabbed her arms, strengthening his grip until she finally stopped screaming.

"You will go to the authority headquarters," he said, in French, which she understood. "There you will learn his fate."

"Will he be deported?" she asked.

He looked at her for a second, then turned away to other passengers without speaking.

At headquarters, she gave a person behind a desk her lover's name. She waited in a spacious waiting area with other people. There were crying children, mothers tending to them unsuccessfully, fathers sitting in dazed, wide-eyed silence. Many languages were spoken. Various names were called. People stood, collected their belongings, disappeared. Some returned. Others cried. New people filled empty spaces in the room. Hours passed. She thought about him, how they were only a footstep away from freedom. What would it matter, she thought, if one more person, one who was good and loved by someone, came in amidst the hordes. Day turned into night. She inquired about her lover. There was a backlog, they were trying their best. She waited again. More people came and went. She asked again, a different person at the desk this time. I'm sorry, he said, there's no record. She spelled his name for him, described his appearance. The man shook his head, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do.

Her lover was lost to her. There were probably thousands of bodies, thousands of names, not all of them matching up, some missing, some dead, many lost forever in the chaos of the system. They were no longer people but numbers, statistics, annoyances. She pondered this for awhile then stood and left, walking out into the street amidst a vortex of people, never looking back.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The last twenty years he’d been chasing his double. This imposter always just out of reach. Checking out of a hotel as he was checking in. His name, already signed on guest registries, perfect doppelganger penmanship. The bizarre looks from people at cigar, liquor, and clothing shops: weren’t you just here? Occasionally he’d see him--turning corners, walking out a door. He’d pursue him but end up losing him on crowded streets. He pondered if his dilemma was science fiction: characters unstuck in time, fourth dimension corkscrews.

One day drinking vodka at a bar, a man sat next to him, said, nutmeg cures this situation. The imposter, at long last. A small jar of powder next to his drink.

The imposter said, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m tired of you, you duplicate, chasing me all these years. I’ve already had my dose, it’s time for yours. He slid the jar to the man. Not too much, otherwise you’ll go mad.

He ingested a spoonful, looked at the imposter. So if this does it then, why’re you still here?

The imposter laughed. We’ll be free once we part ways.

The man pondered his drink’s clearness. Just a bit longer, he thought, sitting still, not ready to let go of this madness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Metropolitan Aquarium Writes Mrs. Gallagher A Letter

Dear Mrs. Gallagher,

We, the staff of the Metropolitan Aquarium (the third largest aquarium in the Mid-Atlantic region), offer our sincerest apologies, our most heartfelt condolences, etc., to you for your recent loss. We are so sorry that your son, Joel Gallagher, was killed walking alone in our newly remodeled maritime museum, funded generously by grants from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Tribe of Two Sheiks Hummus, and ordinary citizens such as yourself.

As you’ve probably discerned from the police, medical, and media reports, Joel was near the entrance to our award-winning, family friendly, Ferocious Monsters of the Deep exhibit (on display through October 30), where two giant squid and one killer whale are on display along with a full-size, interactive replica of a prehistoric Carcharodon megalodon. Two workers were transporting Minnie—a stuffed swordfish long held in storage in our extensive archives and that was, at the time of her capture, the sixth largest swordfish to be caught—to our new Zagat-rated seafood restaurant and sushi bar, The Reckless Navigator, recently featured on The Early Show on CBS, so it could become part of our elaborate wall ornamentation, a feature that noted critic Jay Vanderbrush has described as, “stunningly mosaic…like a visual dive of the waters of Curacao by way of the Guggenheim.” As is detailed in the reports, the workers slipped on some water and fell. Minnie went flying, and, sadly, impaled your son through the chest, killing him instantly. It appears that your son died a quick, painless death, and there was no suffering.

Please accept the enclosed check, decorated with our newly refurbished four-color logo, as a small token from us. While we realize that no monetary value can be assigned to your son’s life, we feel that this generous sum may provide some solace during your time of grief. Also, we extend to you a lifetime pass for you and a guest to visit the Metropolitan Aquarium free of charge (summer time Saturday afternoons and one-time premium events excluded), as well as a 20% discount at the restaurant for you and your party when you attend (alcoholic drinks and crab and lobster meals excluded).

We hope that, even though you lost a loved one in our establishment, you will consider the Metropolitan Aquarium as, what the Times recently declared, “a source of wonderment for all ages,” as well as a premier fine dining destination for any occasion.

Regretfully yours,

The Metropolitan Aquarium staff

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moo Shu Jujitsu

No, this isn’t about the martial arts but rather improvising in the kitchen (though feel free to do a butterfly kick if the need arises). If you’re like me, you often find yourself looking to make something tasty in the kitchen but find that you’re missing at least one ingredient for every recipe you own. Instead of being frustrated by such a thing, I often improvise.

Recently, I made a variation on a Weight Watchers moo shu chicken recipe. I didn’t have cabbage or any sort of wrapper like a tortilla, but I did have some other key recipe ingredients such as chicken, carrots, fresh ginger, garlic, onions, hoisin sauce, and mushrooms, and some tasty non-recipe ingredients such as red bell pepper and zucchini. So, I turned this recipe into a stir fry. Along with the pepper and zucchini, I added other non-recipe ingredients such as soy sauce, to give it more of a stir fry feel, and water chestnuts, to provide some crunch. Rice on the side is always a great accompaniment to stir fry.

The end result was great tasting, and it was made without a lot of fuss beyond slicing. I’ll contend that just about anything tasty can be made when you have fresh ginger and red bell peppers, particularly anything you might want to label as stir fry. Hoisin sauce provides spice at a modest level that, if you’re a spice wimp like me, is just the right level of enjoyment.

I know some people find improvising easy and others are stymied unless they have an exact recipe and all of the required ingredients. But I say give it a shot. You might hear a lot about “knowing” your ingredients—what they add to a dish, what other ingredients they go well with. It’s a good thing, though not essential. The best place to start improvising, I think, is with a stir fry. It’s the kind of dish that lends itself to adding different things, substituting for others, and not compromising taste.

And if you decide to do that butterfly kick in the kitchen, make sure the stove is off.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New work @ Six Sentences

New work published at Six Sentences, here.

The premise of the Six Sentences site is what you might think--writing a story in six sentences. They have a neat site with many components. It's been added to the "Fiction/Writing Related Sites" list on the right side of this page.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Not the hip Northwest but instead the world ending, us locked inside. Words like the long-dead Seattle icons. The unshaven, raspy voiced. Their ends more personal, mainlining verse-chorus-verse. Now here’s the world’s feedback, knocking you on your rear, sound equipment igniting in fireballs. We sit inside: shadows, shades drawn, half-awake string of Christmas lights. Desperate to hold on. The world’s end comes but we don’t know how. You pass me a list of all the things you never got to do. Poetic, I say, if there were a tomorrow. You take it back, clutch it to your chest. I remember item 47—surf the eye of a hurricane. I don’t cry. Those tears dried long ago.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conspiracy of Me

This story was originally published in the October 2004 edition of Skive Magazine. It's no longer stored online with that publication, so here it is again, with some slight alterations.

There’s only one thing to say when 217 clones of yourself are walking the earth, wreaking havoc, conspiring to install a global oligarchy despite how many lives are ruined and innocents killed: I’m sorry.

I'd be the first to admit, somehow things went wrong. These things start when you have a semi-expensive university education, nothing but a crusty jar of mayonnaise in your refrigerator, and are willing to sell blood, marrow, organs to supplement your income. Soon, you're in a place like Madagascar, and, next thing you know, you’re signing papers before a so-called doctor with insect-like facial hair, amidst a symphony of tribal drums, screeching birds, and gunfire, and getting a huge check--the true value of your parts. Then, you’re in an exotic locale such as Kuala Lumpur, you see someone familiar amidst old-world shanty vagrants and new-world skyscraper businessmen, chase him until you reach the city's outskirts, and amidst a symphony of, well, tribal drums, screeching birds, and gunfire, you're face-to-face with yourself. What do you do? Stop, scream, run like hell, of course.

After my first encounter, I figured, it was just a nightmare. Then, after the second, I figured, drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation--I wasn't engaged in these, but they'd make good explanations. Then, they're everywhere--in passing cars, the bank, bowling alley. Complete infestation.

The doctor I had visited called. Dr. Multiplication was his name—yeah, really. He said to resist them. They're trying to contact me. They want to control the world, achieve global oligarchy, eliminate the English royal family, the World Bank, the Illuminati. They've already started. He said, I must not talk to them. They will hunt you down, you must flee.

So this doctor had granted me fugitive status. I was free to abandon my life--and my recently stocked refrigerator--and run from pursuers he created. Free to run from multiple versions of myself, no less. Great. How would you explain this to your therapist without her putting you on the thorazine submarine? You don't.

I traveled across the country, frequenting motels that rely on neon signage for communication and empty soda machines to make your experience truly miserable. All the while, I was dodging my clones. They're pumping gas, eating pancakes and sausage at diners, hitchhiking along dust-baked roadsides. Several times, I ran as a pack chases me. Saying my name, in stereo, in my now-hated voice.

I caught news snippets from CNN and discarded newspapers in diners. A Kremlin break-in. An assassination attempt on the Turkish prime minister. Some world-renown financial policymakers have disappeared. I think, this has to be their work.

Eventually, I tried calling Dr. Multiplication. His phone had been disconnected. I called his university department and, idiotically, asked for him. The receptionist said they'd never had a Dr. Multiplication, perhaps I should check mathematics, or elementary education.

Great. They got him too. More likely, he gave a bogus name. Of course. I'm such an idiot.

Later, I was at the beach. It had been two days since I'd seen a clone--perhaps they'd quit. Cotton candy and kite-flying would've been fun, but instead I contemplate the ocean and think--the ocean's filled with millions of identical fish, crabs, octopi, sharks. The water itself is infinite identical molecules. So's the sand I'm standing on.

I pondered this, then noticed others on the beach. The clones, slowly forming a tighter circle around me. There wasn't an opening. I moved from side to side, looking at this much-despised, much-replicated face.

They got close, and, as I felt I was about to be crushed, they stopped. I closed my eyes, heard my voice coming from distinct points around me. They're speaking. Theodore, Bartholomew, Regis. Their names. Gilbert, Ezekiel, Thomas. I opened my eyes. They're staring at me, like patient children, waiting for me to speak.

"Um, hello," I said, demonstrating a true gift with words.

The one named Bartholomew stepped forward. He said Dr. Multiplication was a madman, that they weren't trying to conquer the world. They're just lost, without identities, want to learn about life from their original self.

In the distance, I heard screams, hurried footsteps, speeding cars. We'd been spotted, and had scared the crap out of some folks.

It's an army of me. God help them, they're looking to me for guidance.

First thing, I said, was kites and cotton candy. Then, home to a stocked refrigerator. After that, who knows?

We're going to scare the hell out of people.

For this, I'm truly sorry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


He was standing by the window, interior light reflecting his image, scotch tilted in hand, when the assassin’s bullet shattered the glass, pierced his right shoulder. He collapsed, the radio playing light piano, drink coating the burgundy rug, a gift from an old flame. Friends had said, the climate is lethal, be careful what you say. For writers, it’s always dangerous, he responded. Blood drained from his shoulder, spreading to the armpit, soaking his plaid blazer, the staple of his public appearance wardrobe.

His speech and works full of existential themes, fodder for his nationalistic adversaries. He said once, as a writer, I’m consciously working up to death, others are passively waiting for it. Poorly worded threats in his mailbox, the long shadows trailing him in the night alleys—now real, paranoia penetrating flesh, a work he’d never write.

In the moment after the bullet, after realizing the pain, he felt guilt about the moment before the bullet—when he thought nothing, empty space, just enjoying the scotch, its dry smoky flavor. Then the bullet—fired when he was born, a parabolic line tracing time until his death. Dogs barking, furious knocking at the door. All reactions—too late. The vertex reached, his last point. The mirror view revealing symmetry in death.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wigleaf postcard

When the online publication Wigleaf accepts your story for publication (see “Artichoke” link at right for mine), they offer you the opportunity to send a postcard to go along with it. After my story was accepted, I was working on one but for whatever reason I never got around to sending it in before publication. Here is what would’ve been my postcard:

Dear Wigleaf,

I’m writing from my kitchen, drinking water, a silent radio before me. There’s a stranger who arrived here not long ago. He’s sitting across from me at the table, watching my every move. He’s wearing a sharp black suit and crisp shiny shoes. Before he arrived, I was drinking beer and listening to hard rock, my usual day off routine. But he came in and poured the beer down the sink and replaced it with bottled water, turned the music off and insisted we talk. He told me that it’s clean living from here on out, that he was here to enforce it. I said nothing in response, so I decided to write you. In a little while, he said, we’ll go over your shortcomings—jobs, charity, relationships. It sounds like rousing times ahead!

You might ask, why not just bounce him out, call the police? Well, not so simple. It’s like he’s cast some sort of spell. I couldn’t resist letting him in, and now I sit here and am physically unable to force him out, lift the phone. He’s staring at me as I write, which doesn’t help the process, and I fear he’s cooking up something to stop this as well.

I dislike writing you with pleas, but I ask that you help me. I live at XXXXXX and my phone number is XXXXXXX.

Under better circumstances, perhaps I’ll write to discuss food recipes and Hitchcock.


Christian Bell

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reflection on Star Wars: The Death of Yoda

In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker returns to Dagobah to resume his Jedi training. It’s been awhile since he last saw Yoda, and now his master, already old as dirt their first meeting, is not so much the witty little sprite he was back in The Empire Strikes Back but is now obviously decrepit and dying. As Luke and Yoda are talking, Yoda confirms with Luke that yes, Darth Vader is his father, and that he must face Vader and the Emperor again before he can truly be a Jedi. During the conversation, he throws out hint after hint that he’s about to give up the ghost. He dies and his body does the become-one-with-the-Force routine just as he’s telling Luke, in a sentence that drags out forever, that there is another Skywalker.

Talk about bad timing. Good thing Luke didn’t get caught in some sort of hyperspace delay or that brouhaha with Jabba the Hutt didn’t take a touch longer than anticipated, or he’d have missed the who’s your father talk and arrived to an empty blanket. Yoda lives for 900-odd years, apparently hangs on to his diminishing life force long enough for dropout student Luke to have an ill-advised rescue attempt of his friends and a mismatched fight with the galaxy’s most powerful and evil villain who’s secretly his father and then spend what seems to be years working on a rescue attempt for his quick-frozen, debt owing friend Han Solo, only to die just as he’s about to reveal to Luke the other long-buried Skywalker family secret. Seriously, after close to a millennium of life, he couldn’t hold on for another 30 seconds?

It’s a good thing that ghostly Obi-Wan, who now apparently holds squatter’s rights in the dark swamp of Dagobah, was still around. Of course, before he could reveal the information about Leia being Luke’s twin sister, he had to listen to a well-deserved grilling from Luke about holding on to that Vader-is-your-dad tidbit and give his “from a certain point of view” cop out. It does make sense though that Obi-Wan, as Luke’s stand-in father, should be the one that at least facilitates Luke tapping into his feelings and learning about his sister if not his real father. (Apparently, later in the film, Leia herself knew anyway (“Somehow I knew. Somehow I always knew.”), which makes you wonder if she was aware of this on any of the various occasions she kissed her brother in a not so brother-sister way.)

But it sucks that Yoda lived for 900 years and still did not have enough time to say everything he needed to. That’s depressing for us humans who will live on average only about 9% of that time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Letter from Emilio Estevez

Dear Mr. Bell:

I’ve been alerted to your new blog, “I’m Not Emilio Estevez,” by an acquaintance of mine and must express my outrage. While I will agree with you that, yes, you’re not Emilio Estevez, since that’s me, I’m disappointed in the implied tone of your title, as if, yeah, you’re so glad to not be me.

I know full well that, in recent years, I’ve not acted in many feature films, and there have been some obvious missteps in my acting career, such as Maximum Overdive, Another Stakeout, and agreeing to a third Mighty Ducks film. Look, I’ll say it—they suck. But you got to give props for films like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Breakfast Club, and Young Guns. I know you wore out those videocassettes a long time ago even if you won’t cop to it. And you’d have to have your head buried in the sand to not acknowledge the cult status of Repo Man.

But all that Brat Pack stuff is ancient history. I’ve moved on, compadre. Do you know that I’m writing, directing, and producing films and tv shows now? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I’ll state in words you might understand: you see me as you want to see me . . . in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.

You might not be Emilio Estevez, but neither is anybody else but me, and none of those people are out there making a point about who they’re not. I should probably read some of your blog postings to see what else you’re saying about me, but I got things to do. I shouldn’t even be writing this letter.

Man, I know you’re messing with my brother Charlie too, which I’m not even going to respond to because he can take care of himself fine, no matter what you may have read in the tabloids.


Emilio Estevez

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Upon reading your manuscript, we’ve decided to eviscerate you, couple our criticism with a searing personal attack. Your writing offended us greatly—I speak for our editors current and retired—and we would select certain word choices we disliked, but we truly hated every word, including mere articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Thanks to your writing, we can no longer enjoy eating jambalaya, dancing the jitterbug, speaking Hungarian.

Your work, if work is what we should call it, was senseless (but not artistically senseless, like absurdist or nihilist), plotless if you even attempted plot, and pointless. It pains us to waste energy discussing it, though we feel the words drivel, garbage, and nonsense are appropriate.

We ask that you never submit another word to us, and, for the world’s betterment, to any other existing or future medium. Do not self-publish—there are legal maneuvers we would pursue for humanity’s good. We would suggest you burn your existing manuscripts but don’t want to waste precious oxygen. Recycle but we fear someone handling your material before it’s reduced to pulp will read one letter.

Our recommendation: place all of your work in a metal box. Drop it into the Mariana Trench. Let it sink to the world’s deepest point. Pray no one ever recovers it.