Friday, May 28, 2010

week seven: the shadow


Agent, double-agent. Intelligence, counter-intelligence. Eyes-only, ears-only. Strike, counterstrike. Blind, double-blind. Just a couple of things in the business they throw out to make us learn. All it really does is confuse us; I never paid much attention to the jargon. But at the same time, it's important. The more we study it, learn it, and love it, then more the enemy has to learn about us to fully understand us. The problem with that is that it makes understanding ourselves even more of a challenge than understanding them. Keeping track of both is tiring work, especially considering just how many enemies we've been stacking up over the years.

When the Soviet Union fell, there was a lot of money in being in the intelligence business. Unfortunately, all of this work was dirty money, very dirty money. The agency wound up giving me the job of playing clean-up man. I was to get in, play dirty, and take out our own agents who were playing the field. It isn't an easy job playing the field you're trying to burn.

Most of the best money was in tracking the movement of the massive weapons stockpiles that went missing when the Soviet Union fell. A lot of it went to arms dealers, but the best open stockpiles were kept in secret locations. The people who knew where to find these stockpiles, were the now unemployed KGB agents. A few of our own agents figured out the potential for profit here and decided to make a move.

The first bust was simple enough, it was just a regular stash of AK's, Makarov pistols, and a few RPG-7's. A KGB informant hired one of our agents to act as a letterbox between himself and an Irish arms dealer. My job wasn't to care about the weapons and where they went, it was just to kill our guy. If I took him out before the deal could be made, great, but that was secondary. The funny thing about dirty agents is if they're dirty in one way, they're dirty in another. I managed to lure him out in the open using a honey pot, or basically I paid a woman to get close to him. It was as simple as that: sex.

Sex sells, sex kills.

I never got to find out if the sale wound up going through or not. Doesn't matter though, I got the job done. Detaching yourself is critical if you wanna do my job. You start getting attached, then you start losing your ability to pull the trigger. You can't pull the trigger, then the other guy does it first and you're dead.

I got a lot of jobs after that. I had to do a lot of things to get my targets. The easiest way was to play dirty. I made myself look like I was just as bad as they were and then I could be trusted. The were a lot of lies and it was confusing work, but it paid off. I was good at what I did.

My newest target is a guy who goes by Shadow. Not a very creative name by any stretch of the imagination, but it fits the bill. Actually, if Croatia's OBS is to believed, Shadow is just their code word for the guy. All I really have is their word, which is the source for our intel, the Russian's intel, and so forth. He got himself quite the reputation as the dirtiest man in the books. I used everything I had to try to flush this guy out. Decoys, honey pots... everything. None of it worked. That was when I decided I would hit the source of the intelligence: Croatia.

Instead of playing this one in the dark, I decided to play this one naked, or without any cover. The Croatians knew who I was the whole time. I didn't like having my cards down like that, but there was no other way. They tell me they've captured one of Shadow's associates and arrange for me to interrogate the guy. It's a pretty lucky break for me that the Croatians have it out for this guy too. Apparently the Shadow's been taking stuff from them just like everyone else. A lot of people want this guy dead.

The first guy I'm supposed to meet is a man whose name is Boris, nothing else. It's obviously a cover, but that doesn't really matter. Pretty quirky guy, but he seems to know what he's doing. I meet him outside an abandoned trainyard and I remember exactly how he greeted, “You're the guy, yes?”

He was supposed to ask me for a password, but I figured he was dispensing with all that, “Yeah, I'm 'the guy'.”

“Don't bullshit me, American, you need the password.”

“You didn't ask for it.”

“Password or I walk.”

“The red mirror reflects blue.”

Boris laughs at that, “I wonder how they think of these passwords...”

“You got me,” I answer with a sigh.

“Silence. You speak when I ask you to speak.”

“But-” I cut myself off realizing that this might be some protocol I'm not familiar with. The Croatians are ex-Soviet, so I figure their way of doing things must be different.

“Come, prisoner is inside,” Boris says as he walks to the nearest building. It was old and rusted, exactly like you might see in a movie. The air was pretty musty and I can't imagine what kind of molds and diseases grew around me. Inside was just one guard with an SKS and a guy with the crap beaten out of him tied to a chair. Part of me felt for him, but the part I act on didn't care. Boris yelled at the prisoner, “Hey! Wake up, we've got a guest. You're going to tell the American all you know about Shadow.”

The man doesn't even look up, “I told you,” he spat blood, “all I know.”

“Look at the American when you speak!” Boris ordered.

The man looked up at me and then squinted, “Oh, God.”

“What?” I ask.

He starts to laugh, “Oh, my God, this is too funny. Sucks for you though.”

I shot my eyebrow up as high as it went.

The prisoner just keeps laughing as he explains, “I get it now! There is no 'Shadow'! That's why nobody can find him!”

Boris punched the guy, “Talk!”

“If you'd stop hitting me, I was getting there, Boris,” the prisoner said in the most condescending way I could imagine. He cleared his throat, “You are the Shadow.”

“What?” I didn't understand. That's not possible, my job is to find and kill the Shadow.

“In all the confusion of war intelligence, your dozens of covers started to cross over and eventually they formed just one master identity: The Shadow. So, little did you know,” he laughed again, “you set out to kill yourself!”

Boris opened up a file, where he must have had a picture of the one suspected to be the Shadow, and then looked at me. His eyes went wide.

“Spy games sure suck, don't they?”

I see Boris reaching inside his jacket for his pistol. I could reach for mine, but what would the point of that be? I could beg for my life, but that wouldn't do anything, would it? I was free for the killing. I'm a deniable asset; the Croatians can kill me without any diplomatic ramifications. This is the end.

Boris' pistol is out and he takes aim. Before he fires, he asks, “How does it feel? To atone for all of your murders and lies?”

“It's a relief, to be honest,” are my last words. In a split second, there's a boom followed by a sharp pain in my forehead. There's nothing after that. I'm dead and that's that. Spy games sure suck, don't they?

Friday, May 21, 2010

week six: the graveyard shift

When they talk about working the graveyard shift, they don't mean working in a real graveyard. They never do. Well, that's what I got: a real, live graveyard. It's probably about eleven or ten in the morning and the sky's overcast as it rains ever so gently. The crime scene's been tapered off, but there's not much use for it. My partner and I stand over the body, which is no more than a day old. He's been stabbed several times and lies over freshly broken soil. All around are headstones and statues. There's a very noir feeling in the air, like everything's supposed to be in black and white. Only the flowers and the grass have any color, but the gray sky, cemented death markers, and our suits keep the tone bland.

A statue of an angel hangs over us and the rain makes it cry. It's sitting over us like a guardian angel who failed. I've seen too many bodies in my life to shed any tears for this guy, but the angel definitely doesn't help make this any easier. It's kinda distracting just sitting over us, watching our every move. I wish it'd go away, but hell, it's just a statue. Something about this whole thing's got me jumpy.

Questions start piling up in our minds as we look things over, the first of which is simple: who is this guy? Or I should say “was”. Either way, whoever did this took his wallet and anything else that could help us figure out who he was. Somebody must have really had it out for him too. From what I can tell, any one of the stabs would have been enough to kill him. All of them are pretty deep wounds. The blood's almost all gone though, it got washed away in the rain and it's in the mud now. That's another problem. The rain's washed way any hope of finding decent prints.

That leads us to another question, who killed this guy? There's no knife in sight, but we've got men searching the area. For all we know, it could have been anybody. Maybe it was his grandma, maybe it was his wife, or maybe it was his damned dog. Does he even have a wife? There's no ring to tell, it's gone just like the rest of his valuables. This couldn't be a common robbery though. No way would a common thief come out in the middle of a graveyard just to rob a guy.

“Smoke?” my partner asks offering me a cigarette. I take it because somehow puffing on something helps the mood. He gives me a light and I go on with my examination.

The hardest question to answer though, is why. Why was this guy killed? There a lot of reasons you'd want to kill someone and there really aren't any good ones. At least not that I can think of. Then again, why does anyone do anything? You're just gonna die anyway. This guy just got the express ticket out of here. I have to admit, I kinda envy him. I mean, I don't wanna be lying dead at a cemetery with holes in my gut, but I would very much like for all this to be over and done with.

I look around me and I see the symbolism of a dead guy in a graveyard with a crying angel standing over him. This is the kind of stuff you'd put in a movie. That's the movies though, that's where they tell you that stuff actually matters. Movies aren't about what happens, but what you'd like to happen. We'd all like life to mean something, but all I see right now is a dead guy and I've seen so many that it's hard to care. Is there really meaning to it all?

Let's go with this movie thing. If this were a movie, we'd probably find some clue that points us in the right direction, where we'd probably spend the movie chasing down the murderer and looking for clues. It'd be exciting and I'd probably get the girl by the end of it all. I'd hope it'd be Audrey Hepburn, she's a real babe. The audience would get all caught up in the drama, but the last thing they'd think about was just how it wasn't real and that there was no murder and there was no villain. There's no hero either.

Now, let's go back to real life. You get two detectives standing over a wet, mangled corpse who have no idea who the guy is. There is no clue that points in the right direction, Audrey Hepburn is still in Hollywood bangin' her away to fame, and we'll probably never know what happened. There are no heroes and there are no villains, there's just people trying to live out their lives. Yeah, some of us screw up and and do bad stuff, and the rest of us stop 'em. That doesn't make us heroes though, it just makes us people doing their thing. The guy who killed the dead guy here, he was just trying to live his life like the rest of us and then he screwed it up.

My cigarette's done, so I put it down in the mud and stamp it down with my foot. Sure, I just littered and contaminated the crime scene, but I'll forget about in about thirty seconds. It's like this guy. Give it time and no one cares about him all of a sudden. Maybe nobody does already. I don't know. I don't know who he is, I don't know what he did, and I don't really care all that much. There's no reason to because there's no reason to do anything. There is no purpose behind this life that just ends anyway.

My partner tells me it's sad that I think this way, that I'm being fatalistic. Maybe I am. I think I'm just being realistic though. There was a time when I felt sorry for people who think like I do, now I just don't care. I am glad though for the people who think they have a reason and a purpose. Good for them because they're somehow happy in all this.

“I think we've got all we can from here,” my partner says to me as he finished his own cigarette.

“Yeah,” I agree as I sigh. Something in me wants me to find out who did this and bring him to justice. That's why I signed up for all this, but it didn't take me long to figure how the real world works. Some people are just blind to it all, I guess. Good for them though. It's better to be Ray Charles, who can't see a damn thing, but you never see him not smiling, than to be Nietzsche, who saw everything but was miserable.

“Wanna grab lunch?” Asks my partner.

I take one last look at the corpse and then answer, “I could go for a sandwich.”

And that's that. We're off. We don't find a single useable bit of evidence besides the corpse. Maybe the forensics team will find something or another, but I really doubt it. I doubt a lot of things. As we go to the car, I look back again and I see the angel. It doesn't look like she's crying anymore from this distance. It looks like she's perched over the dead guy, giving him some kinda comfort. I hope the last thing I see before I die is an angel too.

I get in the car and then my thoughts turn away from murder and onto the sandwich and the mound of paperwork I've got coming. It's just another day and this is just another death. It happens all the time and I can't figure out why it matters anymore. You can call me bleak, but I'll call you blind.

(A few comments from the writer can be found here)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

understanding the graveyard shift

I hesitate to make comments on my stories, but I feel like this one deserves it. I'll start with a disclaimer. I am in no way promoting nihilism or any other worldview in any of my stories. That's not that the point. That in mind, I feel I should make the point abundantly clear.

In every one of my stories, I've tried to experiment with different elements. By elements, I refer to terms such as plot, metaphor, character, setting, imagery... etc.

For instance, 'Monarch' was about the fusion of metaphor and character development. I used the metaphor of the monarch butterfly to enable an exploration of the protagonist's dark mind and the evolution henceforth. The metaphor evolves as the character does, thus making the metaphor itself a character.

'The Bureaucrat' has a lot of different elements going for it. It would take me a whole article to go through it all, but the main focus was on using imagery and a flat character to develop a very round character. By using vivid imagery, we not only get a picture of Blythe's life, but we also get to feel what he feels. The Bureaucrat himself is less about the actual man and more about what he reads to Blythe, which develops Blythe without him actually performing any real-time actions. Notice that nothing is really in Blythe's control, yet all development occurs internally. I could probably go on forever with this one, but I think you get the idea of what I was trying to accomplish.

'Heresy' is about using pacing and wordiness to develop an unseen and unknown character. It's mostly about the pacing itself to build the emotion of the character's situation, but I tried my best to use the pacing to make you care about a character you really know nothing about besides that he's writing about a false religion and is about to be burned at the stake.

I wrote 'Time and Regret' a long time ago and I don't remember specifically playing with elements like I do now. The story came to me naturally, but I see that I worked hard on narrative, diction, and syntax, which are fine, but they aren't really the same sort of elements I work with now. Not to say it isn't a good story, it's actually my favorite of the ones I've written thus far.

Finally, 'The Graveyard Shift' is an experiment with setting, imagery, and character. Note that the protagonist (if he can be called that) does not change or develop at all, there is no solid conclusion, and nothing is really accomplished, yet we get clear insight into just who this detective is and how he thinks. The setting sets the stage for it all being morbid and the images present help give more pictures of the setting and how the character relates to it. This is actually something I do a lot in my novels, I use the background as a trigger for character exploration.

Now, in my novels and 'The Graveyard Shift', it's not about learning what the character thinks, but it's about how the character thinks. There's nothing complex about simply knowing, for instance, that John likes Jane. We don't know why and we get little insight into how this might progress. If details are added, such as Jane having nice eyes, yet John is timid and could never bring himself to telling her, then conflict is added and we get a bit of a reason why John likes Jane.

I've always feared that someone would try to object to what I am writing or assume I'm trying to project some kind of worldview. I am not. My point is that I'm making interesting narrative revolving around interesting characters. I am only the middle-man between myself and my uncontrollable imagination. Either way, what you take out of my stories is your own business.

Thanks for reading!
--WA Ross

Friday, May 14, 2010

week five: documentary of the drawing man

After some opening credits, it cuts to some establishing shots of a regular city park. Everyone is busy going to work, coming home, or whatever it is they do. It's not important. Everything's in a pretty faded color, likely symbolizing the dried-out nature of everyday life. City sounds are audible, but it's just background noise.

Then a black teenager shows up on the screen and he's talking like he's being interviewed, “Look, man, I don't even know how to describe him. It's just this dude who sits right over there,” it cuts to a bench and then back to the black man, “and just draws. He's there every day just drawing his little pictures.”

A middle-aged woman is next, “He's kind of thin, but not very tall. He's got this really scraggly beard and, what is that hair he's got? Like Tarzan or a Jamaican or-” She's cut off in mid-sentence.

The next person is a younger businessman who seems to be in a hurry, “Dreadlocks. He's got blond dreadlocks. I don't know what to say about him, to be honest,” he finishes with an embarrassed smile and then a glance at his watch.

The woman comes back, “And he's always got hippie clothes on. You know, like tie-dye and cargo shorts. But I've only ever seen him from a distance. One day I had hoped to see what he draws but-”

“Oh, I clean the sidewalks,” an elderly Asian gentleman answers. “I don't really notice him. I prefer to watch the birds or the squirrels,” he laughs as the sidewalks and some leaves are shown, “Or the leaves I'm supposed to be cleaning!”

“You know, I don't really know what that dude draws,” the teenager said, “but he's always acting real careful like. It's like this is the most important thing in the world for him. I think he's high.”
The cleaner came back, “I try to peak at what he draws one time, but I could not really see.”

“Yeah, I see the drawing guy on my way to work every day. I walk through here,” the business man tells us as he points. The angle changes to show where he comes from. “He's there on my lunch break too, but when I walk to the subway to get home, he's gone.”

“I wonder where he goes...” the woman thought aloud. “Does he have a home?” She asks the camera as if the man behind it knows.

“Man, I bet he be drawing whatever pops in his head, like he's on acid or something, you know?”
the teenager laughed. “Hallucinations and...” his last word is censored.

The camera goes back to the bench.

The middle-aged woman talks, “I don't think anyone ever sits on the bench except for him. It's like it's his bench.”

The Asian man sits down on the bench and smiles as he tells the world, “I make sure to keep this bench extra-clean! I don't want the drawing-man to sit in bird poop or something.”

A young, very attractive lady is next, “He's kind of cute, I guess, and I'm definitely into the whole artistic thing, but I kind of get the feeling he doesn't shower. Ew.”

“Come to think of it,” the teenager bears a quizzical expression, “I don't know where he goes when he's done. I mean, I just sort of hang around here and he's just always there and then he'll just be gone,” the camera shows a few streets and alleys before cutting back, “I don't know. I guess he's just part of the scenery.”

“It's a bit like he got himself... engraved in the culture around here,” the businessman said as he seemed to start getting into it. He bit his lower lip as he continued, “Everyone just seems so used to seeing him around.”

The woman spoke a bit more, “I've always thought about talking to him, but I just never did. I
guess I just assumed he'd always be around.”

In a somewhat blurry and even more colorless shot, the empty bench is showed.
“Yeah, I don't know what happened to him,” the business man said. “One day I just noticed he wasn't there.”

“He ain't come back for a while,” the black teenager said. “I guess I kind of miss him, you know?”

“What? He's gone?” the attractive lady looked around with a puzzled expression.

The businessman scratched his head as he continued, “You know, it's kind of sad. I don't really know how long he's been coming here and I don't know how long he's been gone. I don't even know what he used to draw.”

“I keep the bench clean because one day, I hope he is going to come back,” the Asian said hopefully. “I want this place to be ready for him because he is special. He never hurt nobody and
he always here.”

“My God, that makes sense,” the woman remarked as she looked at a piece of paper.

“What? That's me!” the teenager exclaimed as he looked at a different sheet.

“I understand it all now!” the woman exclaimed.

“That's... incredible!” the businessman looked at the paper with a barely contained jaw, he then changed his expression to one of questioning, “But wait, how did you get this?”

The camera changes angles to a shots of the papers. They are drawings of the people who have been interviewed. The businessman is eating his lunch, the teenager is talking with his friends, the janitor is sweeping the sidewalk, the attractive woman is flirting, and the middle-aged woman is looking down the road.

“He draw a picture of me? Why he do that?” The Asian man wore a baffled look.

“So, he drew a picture of all us and here we are figuratively drawing picture of him...” the
business man pondered aloud.

It cut back to the Asian and he asks, “He never showed nobody his pictures, how you get them?”

The camera shows the puzzled businessman and suddenly it moves. As it swivels, we get dizzy but then we see a neatly-dressed and trimmed blond man. He smiles into the camera and says, “I drew it.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

week four: heresy

Bowing to their gods of endless debilitation, they see with their eyes, but they are blinded in their minds. Awestruck they are by what they believe is true, but dumbfounded is their reality. Guidance comes from liars, profiteers, and fools more blinded than they possibly could be. They are lost and they are all damned to an unknown hell for disbelief in reality's fact. Slowly they suffer under their sacrifices to the sacred nothing. Gifts are given as sacrifices for fear of wrath from powerless entities. They are told to commit logical and ethical transgression for the sake of their fallacious devotion. Why can they not see that their empty worship is as hollow as their gods?

For those that see the truth, they offer only punishment. There is no repentance for meaningless heresies. Freedom and liberty are shallow ground to their delirious hallowed sacraments. Profession of deviation is impossible without condemnation. Any who see know that their gods are not to be feared, only their prophets. They are mad and they are fanatical to their lies. They lie of both ignorance and knowledge.

These prophets flaunt their riches and ceremonial lavishes as gifts from the gods, but their wealth is from the sacrifice of the poor, starving, and desperate. They seek answers but find only robbery and treachery. Prophets claim to be shepherds leading a flock to harmony, but are actually wolves leading sheep to the slaughter. Not a slaughter of flesh, but a genocide of reason in conversion to madness.

Ancient teachings of greater understanding, wisdom, and knowledge are burned in favor of their fallacious teachings. Rejoicing, the common are convinced of liberation from blasphemous calligraphies which hinder their growth. Their ignorance is astounding, but it is not a crime to be deceived. They are all deceived by those who would use the powerless to gain power, wealth, and influence.

It is urged now to see through their slanderous lies and blatant hypocrisy. The eyes of reason must yet again be opened and the liars overthrown. There are few times when a servant of reason would argue for revolt, but the time is upon us all to act. This cannot possibly be allowed to continue for it is the death of all that is right, morally and logically.

I can write no longer. I can hear the footsteps of the guards coming to my cell and I can smell the kerosene. There is chanting outside as the deceived call for me. They call not for my release or for fairness in trial, but rather they call for my death. They are going to set me upon wood and then burn me at their stake as an example of the fate of heretics like myself. I urge whoever finds this to listen to reason and spread it. I will die, but reason will not die with me.

I am afraid. Death is upon me. They are coming. I am so afraid. Have I done the right thing? What if I am wrong? Fear, fear pumps through my veins and doubt encircles my mind. But there is no salvation from this. I will burn and I will burn proudly, for I have died for what is good and what is right. I am a martyr.

WRITER'S NOTE: Check this link out for a few comments on this story:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

comments on heresy

'Heresy' is a bit different from the rest. There is no real twist or plot, I noticed. I'm still proud of the work I've put into it though and I do believe that it is still quite good. I want my readers to know what I'm going for here though.

I wanted to experiment with pacing. Notice how I switch from an elegant and very wordy style to something more simplistic by the last two paragraphs without breaking the overall flow. At least that's what I hope I've done.

I don't want to force interpretation on people here, but I won't back down from saying that there is possibility of allegory here. Feel free to discuss it as you like!