Story Beginnings: The Ferryman

In a nearly impeccable display of punctuality, I arrived in front of Mr. Tabor’s office door in exactly one piece. I shook my dusty trench coat, dislodging the larger chunks of rubble and sending them flying to the carpeted floor. Such a pity that trans-dimensional travel had to be underground. I was always in a filthy state these days, rising from the deep with the unholy vengeance I was renowned for. Only it was a literal deep. Such a pity…

Rummaging inside numerous layers of fabric and cloth, I revealed a sickle, glinting malevolently in the artificial light. Budget cuts had forced me to downgrade from the usual scythe, the weapon of choice I was accustomed to. I utterly bemoan the Authority’s attempts to save every nickel and dime. This turbulent economy cannot last forever. Regardless of my discontent, I was prepared to finish the job.

Raising a boy hand to the door, I caught an unprecedented glimpse of my reflection in Mr. Tabor’s brass nameplate. What an ungodly pallor. A frightening and eerily permanent grin stretched out before my hollow eyes. Too many days in the whitewash, I thought regrettably. I could remember the glory says when my position was first created. The Authority had needed a man to do the dirty work, so to speak, and I was the obvious candidate. Although back then, my bones had been a much more prominent tinge of yellow. Everyone now was into flawless cosmetics. I was simply part of the herd…

Resigned to finish the job and grab a coffee before the suspected mass shooting a few blocks over, after which I would surely be needed, I knocked politely on the door. A faint voice bade me to enter, amid a fit of coughing and wheezing. Oh yes, his time was nearly up. And when that time came, it was my job to be the ferryman. Opening the door, I stepped across the threshold, knowing that what lied ahead involved another much unwanted trans-dimensional trek beneath the realm of the living. Damn this job…

Note: Another week and another lost writing to share with my nearly nonexistent audience. This piece is special, as dark humor has always been an attractive vehicle for making a statement in my life. The story fragment is partially inspired by the late Terry Pratchett, who my respect for is undying. I’m happy to have rediscovered this little gem.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Analysis and Critique

Note: I am finally biting the bullet and starting a new category of posts called “Lost Writings.” Digging through all of my old files has been a reacquaintance with intriguing content from my past. Whether from a formal prompt in English or a free-write session in Writer’s Workshop, they will be shared here. This next piece was an assignment to analyze and critique a movie that happens to be one of my favorites: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not many of my initial thoughts have changed, so I am posting the original unedited.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has been seen by many as an allegory for the Cold War and the conflicting political ideologies within the United States during that time. Two prominent theories abound as to exactly what message this movie is attempting to espouse. On one hand, some argue that it is merely a warning of the Communist threat to the American way of life. Others take the plot and characters in an entirely different context and argue that the message is a critique and exposé of American conformity. Both perspectives are valid, yet the latter theory is a more accurate portrayal of the essence of the film.

The premise of the movie is unabashedly science fiction—Giant pods created through atomic mutation take over the small town of Santa Mira, California by turning themselves into mirror images of people. On the surface, these ersatz citizens resemble the originals in every way except for their soulless demeanor and total lack of emotion. The plot situates around the character Miles Bonner, a general practitioner who has returned home for a conference. Upon arriving in Santa Mira he begins to have suspicions that something strange is going on. A warning bell goes off in his head and he thinks to himself: “Sick people who couldn’t wait to see me, suddenly were perfectly alright.”

The film deeply explores the concept of how abnormality or deviance is perceived in society. As Miles questions Wilma, who starts to fear that something is amiss, he initially recommends professional psychiatry as a way to rationalize her fears. This is an example of the usual response to deviance by the general, conformist populace. It shows that people are more willing to believe the problem is a figment in one’s head, rather than taking the issue seriously. However, Miles eventually does come around when his friend Jack shows him the “body” or still-forming pod-person. The moment that ultimately wakes Miles to the reality of the situation is when Jack asks: “Would you be able to forget that you’re a doctor for awhile?” This marks the point in which Miles stops looking through his narrow professional lens and begins to use common sense and critical thinking. When he begins to unravel the secret of what is truly happening, he discovers that authorities are highly reluctant to take his own claims seriously.

This represents the discrepancy between common sense and the conformist complacency that often arises from narrow viewpoints. The film adequately expresses how dangerous political apathy can be to the wellbeing of a nation through the metaphor of the pod people. Another prominent metaphor is sleep, which is used to portray the process through which regular individuals are taken over by the invading pods. This is metaphor for the arising of general conformity when individuals are least alert and self-aware. This notion alludes to the importance of independent judgement and intuition.

The most frightening concept is the new world order that will be created after the pod- people have succeeded in their mission. Resembling the old society in every way, it will be a world devoid of any emotion, including love or sadness. It is akin to dehumanization or soullessness. “Life will be much simpler and better,” says one of the transformed townspeople. The ultimate threat to humanity depicted in the film can be seen as two-sided in nature. On one hand there is the external invasion of the pods, but on the other there is the narrow-minded rationality of professionals who fail to use common sense and understand the reality of the issue. In order to reconcile the internal and external threat, one must look at possible allegories that explain the reasons for both.

All in all, Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be interpreted as two distinct allegories: a warning of the threat of communism to the American way of life, or the threat of conformity and political apathy within the United States itself. However, by analyzing all the metaphors stretched throughout the duration of the film, from the professionalism of the characters to soullessness of the pod-people, one can see that the true allegory represented is one of complacency, conformity, and over-rationalization of deviance. The makers of the film were attempting to espouse the dangers of mass society and the degradation of individual critical thinking skills. The Cold War is a shallow metaphor often attached to the film, but by delving deeper, one can understand the true perils being represented.

Coffee & Contemplation: The Importance of Friendship

Note: Publishing work from my past is quickly becoming a series of sorts. There are so many pieces I’ve written that haven’t seen the light of day since Writer’s Workshop back in high school. Sharing them here seems like a cheat way to keep up with regular posts, but it’s also a little cathartic. I get to look back on how I’ve changed over the years, for better or worse. I get to reacquaint myself with an optimism and hopefulness I might have lost. This next piece highlights an appreciation for camaraderie I wish I could still embody. I also express my hedonistic and everlasting love for coffee, which thankfully has not changed. Let’s do this!

I have always been fond the coffeeshop atmosphere. A proud addict of the caffeinated drink myself, I am often found lingering in these havens of ripe conversation and artsy individuals. Today I am a part of this greater experience once again, with a double-shot espresso in hand and an ear toward the people around me. Listening in on various conversations but never truly committing is my speciality, for I am an observer. Today I bear witness to the remarkable manifestation of friendship among a group of fellow students who I am lucky enough to call my friends. These individuals have inspired me with their kindness and unwavering sincerity.

I believe that one never truly appreciates something they hold dear until it is gone. This is the most troubling form of ignorance, and we all suffer from it. In turn, one of the great aspirations of life must be to learn to incorporate gratitude in our perspective and appreciate the blessings we take for granted. Such blessings include our friends, or the people in our lives we trust with our uninhibited selves.

I’ve begun to realize the inherent nature of friendship. Making friends is not merely a search for another individual you can relate to, but the spontaneous “coming together” of two souls, each walking the path of existence. I don’t think we can control who befriends us. It merely happens. Increasingly I find myself drawn to the metaphor of leaves dancing in the wind to describe life. A leaf has no navigational capabilities, and so it is propelled into the great oblivion, careening throughout space and time and bumping into its brethren along the way. Many friends are made, and some are even lost.

The ultimate lessons come from our friends, for they are the very pinnacle of teachers. They gift us with love and kindness. They nurture our hearts and cultivate our spirits. They shed light when darkness falls and the path before us becomes murky. These are our true friends, the ones we never lose. A true friend is one who imprints a piece of their heart in another’s soul. Life throws us all into a mess of blessings and curses. It is our job to disentangle and learn from each. Our friends are here to teach us the way.

And so my day at the coffeeshop comes to a close. I glance at the kind folk around me and think about how truly lucky I am to enjoy such decent company. I stand up and push my chair in, taking care not to trod on anyone’s book bag. I throw my empty paper cup into the garbage and exit the shop, surrounded by a troop of comrades who have unknowingly imprinted my life with the simple yet profound lesson of appreciation.

The Significance of Names

Note: Here is another interesting piece written back in high school. I stumbled upon it amidst my insightful yet often cringeworthy delve into lost writings. There is a chance it was never finished, so I simply confined it to my forgetful, mental to-do list. Nevertheless, it marked my discovery of “Om,” the sacred mantra of Brahman in the Hindu religion. It would be a disservice to my younger self not to share. Shall we begin?

A mere name is sometimes capable of expressing deeper meaning, implying something of greater importance, and instilling a value previously overlooked. They are symbols in their own right, tools used by the workers of language to shed light on otherwise unspoken subjects. In ancient times, names were thought to hold extraordinary power and even to act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person. The power of names was also applied to deities and has endured in religious tradition for centuries.

I have always found a mantra-like power resonating from particularly powerful names. Sound currents and profound words can be used to strongly influence the mind and spirit. They have the potential of bringing a certain harmony to life and even inviting a tide of sometimes much needed optimism. Thoroughly understanding the power of names can both enrich and enlighten one’s consciousness.

A name that has particularly impacted me is Om (or Aum), a sacred utterance often found in Sanskrit mantras. With a meaning suggestive of a deity, it actually implies a primordial vibration from which the universe was originally created. Om is the eternal beauty and sustenance found in all aspects of reality. It is the order of the cosmos, and going one step further, is reality itself.

Om is comprised of three sounds, of which a distinct meaning can be super imposed upon each. The first sound “A” stands for the entire physical world we can experience. The reality we perceive through our senses is most attributed to this sound. The second sound “U” stands for the world of thought, as opposed to physical reality. This includes the imagination, dreams, and abstract thinking. The third and final sound is “M,” the unmanifest condition. According to the Vedas, what could be found before and after creation is the meaning of the sound of “M.” It is the unified state of the cosmos, the great fabric of which everything else is a part of.

In essence, Om is the composition of all there is. It is what existed before, it is what exists now, and it is what will exist later. Words may only be a conglomeration of letters, strung together in a particular order to imply a sense of meaning. But like Om, those words may harbor a message from a deeper, more inexplicable state of being.

The Mystery at Delecour Manor

I have documented below the strange events that transpired at the home of Lady Bertha Delecour, a well-to-do and aristocratic widow residing in an unspecified part of the English countryside during an equally unspecified time in history. This piece was dredged up from the annals of my early high school years, and it is likely the last remnant of a younger, funnier version of myself. Somewhere out in the universe is a video recording of this screenplay come to life, with yours truly acting out the titular role of Lady Delecour. Oh, if only you could have seen my wig. Anyway, let’s begin.

Scene One

Narrator: Night one of The Mystery at Delecour Manor. Lady Bertha Delecour prepares to retire for the evening.

Scene One opens in the bedchamber of Lady Bertha Delecour at Delecour Manor. Ostentatious displays of wealth adorn the walls and furniture. Garbed in nightgown and gilded slippers, the aged Lady prepares for sleep. She proceeds in removing multiple items of jewelry from her person, placing them on a bedside table. A quiet knock can be heard at the door to the chamber. 

Lady Delecour: Come in, come in! A slight lilt accents the Lady’s voice, but it carries well nevertheless.

The door opens and in steps Mrs. Pennykettle, the portly, middle-aged housekeeper of Delecour Manor. She carries a silver tray laden with tea, crumpets, and a folded newspaper. 

Mrs. Pennykettle: Your evening tea, mistress. I also brought this morning’s post. You forgot to read it during brunch. She carefully lays the tray on the bedside table and hands the newspaper into the expectant hands of Lady Delecour. 

Lady Delecour: You have my thanks, Mrs. Pennykettle. You may leave now.

The terse attitude of her mistress fails to deject Mrs. Pennykettle. The matron quietly leaves the room, closing the door behind her. Lady Delecour opens the newspaper, periodically sipping her tea. After a few moments of silence, her eyes widen comically, almost in imitation of a toad. Chest heaving, she spews her tea over the side of the bed. 

Lady Delecour: What tosh is this? UFO sightings in Surrey? The nerve! Blasted press spewing whatever nonsense around they please. I’ll no longer subscribe to this rot.

Lady Delecour tosses the paper on the floor with bluster, giving it one last indignant glance. Dousing the light with a scrabbling hand, she prepares to sleep. With a final mumble about “nonsense aliens,” her eyes begin to close. Almost immediately, from outside the window, lights begin flickering noticeably. They shine into the bedchamber, hopping from walls to furniture. Lady Delecour stirs with a start, notices the lights, and sits up in bed. 

Lady Delecour: Mrs. Pennykettle! Come hither! My sleep has been disturbed.

The light suddenly fades out as someone can be heard politely knocking at the door. Hair in disarray, Lady Delecour leaps from the tangled covers and scrambles to the door. Heaving it open with long, unconventional fingernails, she grasps her housekeeper by the blouse and drags her inside. The door slams shut with a bang. 

Mrs. Pennykettle: You called, Madame? She calmly disentangles herself from the wild woman in front of her and smoothes down her wrinkled apron. 

Lady Delecour: There is a crook loitering outside my window, shining lights in my face, and disturbing the peace! There needs to be some kind of law enforcement here at once!

Mrs. Pennykettle: Walking to the window and peering into the dark, she replies, Are you sure My Lady? I cannot see the faintest light. In all respects, perhaps you are confusing dream with reality. Knowing a reprimand was due, the matron lowers her head and averts her eyes. 

Lady Delecour: Spittle flying from her wrinkled lips, Lady Delecour offers her rebuke. You are in no position to question my sense, Mrs. Pennykettle. Move away from the window, woman, and allow me to look for myself. Absolutely preposterous!

Swiftly moving aside, Mrs. Pennykettle offers no rebuttal to her mistress’s remarks. She is the perfect example of a proper housekeeper. Meanwhile, Lady Delecour peers out into the night, clenching the silk curtains with an iron grasp. With a jerk, she steps back. 

Lady Delecour: Aha! Some ungainly figure wanders about my garden. Call the officers! Bring in that crook! I will not have thieves and trespassers on my estate. She looks again, this time trying to determine any distinguishing features of the figure. In puzzlement, Lady Delecour realizes it is her gardener, Mr. Potts. The hour is late, but nevertheless he carries a rake in his arms, seemingly still at work. Why, it’s Mr. Potts! Whatever could that idiot be up to at this late hour? Loitering outside my bedchamber window and shining lights in my face! He is a spy, I tell you Mrs. Pennykettle! He must be arrested! Call up the station and have him taken in!

Mrs. Pennykettle: Right away, My Lady. She swiftly exits the room, making a phone call to Officer Daniels, the chief of the local law enforcement. 

Mr. Potts is summoned to the parlor without explanation, and he obliges. Meanwhile, Lady Delecour rises from bed and prepares herself for company. She exits her bedchamber and makes for the study where Mr. Potts unknowingly awaits his imminent arrest. Mrs. Pennykettle returns with more tea and crumpets, and the trio settles down in tense anticipation. After a few moments, a knock can be heard at the door. Mrs. Pennykettle steps forward to answer it, revealing a tall, well-built man with chiseled features. 

Officer Daniels: Good evening miss. I received your call and left the station immediately after filing a report. Is the proprietress present?

Lady Delecour: Good evening to you, Officer Daniels. You have my thanks for arriving so hastily. She glances surreptitiously at Mr. Potts, a grimace intensifying her already severe features. I don’t believe the matter could have rested until morning, sir. You see, this man, my gardener, has proven himself to be a crook and a spy! He sneaks around at night, shining lights in my window, looking for God knows what. My privacy has been compromised this night, sir, when I awoke to find this man outside my window in plain sight. He must be arrested!

Officer Daniels: One moment my good Lady, you say this man was shining lights in your window?

Mr. Potts: I en’t done no such thing! I be finishing up the weeding in the petunia bed, like I been planning these last two days. I carried no light, neither! Dressed in filthy, mud-smeared trousers, a stained shirt, and grungy hat, Mr. Potts carries a garden rake in his hands, only enunciating his statement. Nevertheless, in his back pocket rests an electric torch, which he has apparently forgotten about. Lady Delecour notices this and points out the lie with vehemence.

Lady Delecour: And what is that, you buffoon? In your back pocket! Let me guess, you forgot all about that blasted light you were shining so obtrusively in my window! You are out to steal my antique false teeth collection. I know it! Her glare is cold enough to wither flowers.

Officer Daniels, in a hasty assumption, now believes Mr. Potts is the prime suspect. He grabs the disgusting man by the arm and hauls him forward. Mr. Potts squeals but remains submissive. 

Officer Daniels: Please remain silent, you crook! Now, answer my questions very carefully. Do you or do you not confess to spying on the Lady Delecour? Were you loitering outside her window? Think very carefully before you answer, you degenerate hog! If you confess, I will personally ensure your punishment isn’t too severe.

Mr. Potts: I confess to nothin! I have only ever served old Bertha with honesty. Surely she en’t thinking I been spying on her?

Lady Delecour: It’s Delecour, you swine! Lady Delecour! Arrest this man, Officer. I want him banished from my property now! Her face is a curious shade of red and purple as she waves her arms madly in the air. Officer Daniels grabs Mr. Potts by the arm and drags him out the door of the manor, effectively sealing the poor, sniveling idiot’s fate.

Mrs. Pennykettle: I believe the excitement is over My Lady. You may retire for the night, if you wish. She calmly picks up the condemned gardener’s rake on the floor and tosses it out the door . 

Lady Delecour: Mrs. Pennykettle, I believe that is exactly what I shall do. You may dismiss yourself for the evening after cleaning this mess up. Goodnight to you. And with those final words, Lady Delecour departs the stage, eager to finally receive her night of sleep. End of Scene One.

Scene Two

Narrator: Scene Two of The Mystery at Delecour Manor. Twenty-four hours since the rash and hasty arrest of the gardner, Mr. Potts, has passed. The Lady Bertha Delecour prepares to retire for the evening once again.

Scene Two opens again in the bedchamber of Lady Delecour. The fusty, old aristocrat is clambering into bed, still smiling from her triumph the night before. She imagines to herself the torture poor Mr. Potts will be enduring. Her antique false teeth collection is finally safe from spying crooks. 

Lady Delecour: My household has been purged of thieves and buffoons. I may finally rest assured that tonight no fowl villain will disturb my sleep again. She settles down and douses the light. Her eyes began to close as she dozes off. 

After a few moments a steady light begins to shine through the window of the bedchamber. More lights join in, and a blinking, intermittent array is formed. 

Lady Delecour: They have returned, Mrs. Pennykettle! Quick, dial Officer Daniels! Mr. Potts had an accomplice. Practically leaping from bed, Lady Delecour stumbles to the window, peering into the night with growing insanity. The lights immediately cease. Although she can locate no figure wandering the grounds this time, her hope is not lost. I cannot see a bloody thing out there. Where is Mrs. Pennykettel! Mrs Pennykettle!

By this time Lady Delecour has become increasingly suspicious about her housekeeper. Her twisted mind is playing games, and for some unknown cause, she links those flashing lights to Mrs. Pennykettle. Silently she makes a vow to do everything in her power to have her housekeeper arrested.

Lady Delecour: Oh what a fool I am! It was that Pennykettle wretch spying on me. She is very clever, yes, always so calm and reserved. And Mr. Potts was her assistant! I see! I must phone Officer Daniels at once. Lady Delecour exits the room and heads for the parlor, where she phones the station, demanding Officer Daniels to arrive shortly. She hangs up the receiver just as the front door opens and Mrs. Pennykettle steps in.

Mrs. Pennykettle: Oh, Madame! I’m terribly sorry for leaving you. I was outside seeing about the hounds. They were starting up the foulest racket you ever heard and—

Lady Delecour: Keep silent, you dog! I know Mr. Potts wasn’t the ONLY spy on this estate. You are in the same boat, Pennykettle. I have phoned the law enforcement, and they will be arriving hastily. At that moment a loud knock can be heard at the door. Lady Delecour rushes to answer it. Mrs. Pennykettlle panics and rushes at the door in a fright, but at that moment Officer Daniels steps in and grabs her by the arms.

Officer Daniels: Is this the second spy, Lady Delecour?

Mrs. Pennykettle: Oh Madame! How could you believe I would spy on you? I’ve been faithful for well over twenty years! This is ridiculous! Please, Madame!

Lady Delecour: Be quiet woman! You and Mr. Potts have been out to steal my fortune for quite some time, I know it! I called upon you earlier, Pennykettle, and you never showed! And then you walk in through the front door so nonchalantly! What do you have to say for yourself?

Mrs. Pennykettle: Please, I—

Officer Daniels: As the gracious Lady already requested, keep quiet woman! If you confess to your crimes now, you may be spared a few years from prison. What say you? Do you confess? Yes or no?

Mrs. Pennykettle: I have never harmed or held intentions to bring harm upon my mistress! Surely, she must see reason! With a last, pleading glance toward Lady Delecour, Mrs. Pennykettle falls to the ground in a sobbing mess. 

Officer Daniels, shaking his head sadly, leads the poor woman out the door by the arm, officially arresting her. Lady Delecour smiles earnestly, for sure that her troubles have ended. She progresses to her bedchamber once again, completely at peace with her insanity. After dousing the lights, she falls into a deep reverie. End of Scene Two. 

Scene Three

Narrator: Scene Three of The Mystery at Delecour Manor. Lady Delecour is deeply asleep, and her snores pervade the entire bedchamber. Oblivious to her surroundings, the Lady fails to react when the lights begin once again.

Suddenly, in addition to the flickering lights, a loud cacophony of what can only be described as gibberish radiates directly from outside the window. The obtrusive noise awakes the Lady with a start.

Lady Delecour: Eyes opening with a snap, the Lady sits up in bed once again. Her gaze is riveted to the window where the light show continues with increasing intensity. She fights the urge to cover her ears as the uncanny sounds persist. No! Not again! What is this madness! I demand you to leave this estate at once, or the the law enforcement will be summoned! Depart! Be banished! Cease that unearthly racket!

The deranged woman rises from bed, loosing the clip in her hair and hurling it at the window with the might of a lioness long past her prime. Lady Delecour slides from the bed and stumbles to the door, just as the lights and strange gibberish cease. She stares around in bewilderment until a bump is heard in the hall outside. She steps back and her lined face twists into a grimace. 

Lady Delecour: Intruder! Leave my estate! I have phoned the station, and you will be arrested shortly. Vacate the premises at once!

Immediately the door to the bedchamber swings open, knocking the elderly woman aside and onto the floor. A wooden box labeled ‘antique false teeth’ slowly slides across the floor and onto the scene. Lady Delecour rises, staring at the box in shock. 

Lady Delecour: What is this? My false teeth collection! She leaps forward with vigor, bending down to unwisely grab the wooden box. As she nears, it jumps back toward the door by several feet, frightening the old woman. Oh! It moves! And she follows the box as it leads her out of the room and down the hall toward the parlor. 

The front door swings open as the Lady enters the parlor, and the box of antique false teeth exit the manor. Lady Delecour screeches in desperation, and leaps for the door. At that moment a great, thundering boom shakes the entire room. The Lady is flung to the floor with a vengeance as a first, and then a second, flying machine enter Delecour Manor. They skid to a stop in front of the dazed woman with lights flashing and blinking familiarly. 

Lady Delecour: Bloody— She is interrupted as the awful cacophony starts up again. Her hands go to her ears as the wailing intensifies. 

All at once, the two spacecraft settle and the lights cease to flash. Behind the tinted windows, Lady Delecour can easily discern a pair of humanoid figures. The incessant wailing seems to be emanating from these creatures and could very well be a form of communication. Huddling on the floor, the Lady forbids herself to bite her own tongue. Lashing out with harsh words, she is prepared to defend herself and her home at all costs.

Lady Delecour: Get away, you vile extraterrestrials! You may be real after all, but I will rue the day I allow any being to manhandle me. Step back at once and prepare to vacate the premises! Her voice quivers on the last note, and the aliens notice this with glee. The old crone is more frightened than she lets on. The gibberish continues as the pair discuss what to do with their pray.  

Lady Delecour is attached to the spacecraft via a good old fashioned rope and hook. As the aliens finally egress Delecour Manor, the wild wailing of Lady Delecour can be heard across the entire countryside, inspiring many fables and ghost tales. End of Scene Three. 

Narrator: And so the time of the aristocrat, Lady Delecour has come to pass. Nobody ever knew what happened to the poor wretch. Some say she was kidnapped and killed by the families of those she unjustly condemned. Some believe she was abducted by aliens. But aliens aren’t real….. Right?