Friday, March 27, 2009

Having Fun in the Action Zone

One fun thing about the collaborative writing site Panhistoria are the different contests held throughout the site and on the different zones. There are zones for different genres; Action, Contemporary, Fantasy, History, Horror, Other, Science Fiction, Western and Romance. So there's a place for anyone to fit in.

Often the zone sponsored contests are writing contests specific to the genre. This month in Action Zone the contest revolved around a James Bond theme. I took my characters Andre & Meredith and had a little fun with them. Here's my short story for the Action Zone.
- - -

It's All In The Name

The handsome couple who exited the plane last took a moment to soak in the warm tropical sun while the other dozen passengers made their way to a covered area to be greeted with fruity drinks and local tour guides. The younger of the two men looked about at the tiny little excuse for an airport, at the wrecked plane at the end of the runway they’d flown in over with ‘oops’ spray-painted across the wreckage, up at the cloudless sky, and finally at his blonde companion who cleaned his sunglasses on the tail of his shirt. He spoke in French. “This is it?

“This is it, André,” the man replied in his fluid British accent. “Sorry if you wanted casinos and night clubs. We could always take a boat over to one of the bigger islands, but I think this is perfect. We needed a holiday away from the city. There’s nothing to do here, except entertain ourselves.”

“All right, Meredith, but this better not be one of your secret missions I’m not supposed to know about. There’s nothing here. Makes me think of some evil villain’s secret hideout.” He walked along behind Meredith who wanted a drink and a ride to their small resort. "
It’s okay for you if your arch nemesis or some mad scientist is here. You get to have fun. I’ve seen the secret agent movies. I know what happens to the attractive sidekick. I’ll be taken hostage. Tortured. Made to listen to ABBA, while watching Celebrity Big Brother, and eating microwaved burritos. I will be very upset with you if I’m taken prisoner.”

Grateful he didn’t add ‘again’ to his lament, Meredith handed him a red and yellow drink. “It’s merely a holiday, mon lapin. It’s no one’s secret hideout. You’re perfectly safe.”

Isn’t that what you said about Hong Kong? Prague? North Dakota?

“To be honest North Dakota took me completely by surprise as well.”

André pat Meredith’s shoulder.
“Yes, I understand. Who expects such a large concentration of ninjas in North Dakota? Who expects ninjas anywhere? Who expects ninjas at all? Sneaky little bastards.”

“I’m sorry. But it’s not my fault entirely. You have this way of attracting trouble like flies to honey.” He held open the backdoor of a Jeep for André and followed him inside. “I don’t know why I’m apologizing for that. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. They mistook you for that insane venture capitalist Shorty McStump.” He gave the driver their destination.

“I resent that still. And that name, Shorty McStump. That is someone evil. Villains always have ridiculous names. They can’t have normal names like other people.”

“Says the guy whose last name means ‘knife’.”

“Yes, it means knife, Mr. Pike.”

“Quit worrying and let’s just enjoy our holiday. Nothing will happen.”

André’s dark eyes bore into Meredith’s bright blue eyes. “Oh thank you so much, Old Man.
Why not draw a target on me, put me in a blow-up raft slowly losing air, and pour some blood in the water to attract the mutant flying man-eating electric sharks? Never ever say nothing will happen. Might as well call the ninjas.”

“Is your friend all right?” the driver asked.

“No. He’s neurotic. But I love him anyway.”

* * *

All was going well. After a day where the most exciting thing that happened occurred in a hammock, André began to feel more at ease and secure.

Together he and Meredith entered the cozy building referred to as the lodge where meals were served family style. A new guest had arrived and stood behind the bar mixing drinks with a silly Japanese man who wore an obnoxious Hawaiian shirt. “André-chou, get us drinks. I’ll get us places at a table.”

“Not with the old peoples from Florida. I not want to hear from that man about how the States keep saving my froggie behind from the Gestapo.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Get me a gin and tonic. Lime not lemon.”

“Ouias.” He went to the bar and smiled at the woman who didn’t smile so much as simmer.

She radiated smoldering passion and sexuality. Her luxurious scarlet hair was streaked with golden blonde. Half of it was twisted up in an elaborate coiffe, the rest hung down in thick shimmering coils pulled forward over her shoulder. Her hair was so abundant it nearly obscured her bandeaux top which tried with all its might to contain her ample perfect breasts. A sarong in shades of brilliant greens and blues clung to her hips yet allowed almost the entirety of one long leg to be revealed.

André noticed her eyes. They were not the same color. “You are making the drinks for all, please?”

“Yes, darling. I’m playing bartender. I do so love it when alcohol is inclusive in the cost of a package, don’t you?” Her voice was a smoky purr.

“Yes, whatever you say. So, you will make for me a gin and tonic with lime and give to me a Stella?”

“No, problem, sweetheart.”

He tilted his head at her wondering why she kept calling him pet names. Maybe she was a waitress in a diner and couldn’t help herself.

“Here you go, cutie.” She set a glass and bottle of beer in front of him. “What’s your name?”

“André Couteau. You?” He picked up the glass and beer and took a sip of the gin and tonic because she had filled it to the rim.

“Fraise DesBois.”

The glass shattered on the floor. The bottle bounced off a barstool spewing its contents. Another barstool fell over as André staggered back, his hands held up defensively before him.
“No. No. You stay away from me! Evil woman! Stay away!”

Meredith ran to André and grabbed him by the shoulders. “What is it? André, tell me. What is it?”

“Her name. Fraise DesBois! It means wild strawberry.” André tore away from Meredith and ran from the lodge ranting about arch villains and ninjas.

Meredith could only shake his head in disbelief. “I think the stress of the restaurant has finally gotten to him.”

Fraise DesBois watched with a smile as the tall blonde man left the lodge. She pat the head of the wiry man next to her. “You did well to alert me, Bak Phat. Not only have you happened upon Mr. Pike, France’s greatest secret agent who is British, but with him is his Achilles Heel.”

“I thought he said his name was André.”

* * *
Meredith had calmed André with a shot of reason and a dose of tranquilizers. He left André tucked snugly into bed, returned to the lodge for dinner, and offered his apologies to Ms. DesBois, beginning his apology with “You may have noticed my friend is French…” That was really all the explanation needed, that and he added André was a chef and overworked.

He returned to the cabin with a tray for André, they had to get the recipe for the lobster bisque, and set it on the little table just inside the door. The shower was running. “André, You’ll be happy to know Ms. DesBois has a good sense of humour and understands how stressed out you are and has no hard feelings. I brought you,” he opened the door to the bathroom and fell silent. Steam billowed out. He stepped inside, reached into the empty shower and turned off the hot water. “André, did you start a shower and go back to bed?”

Stepping into the bedroom his eyes narrowed at the bed which was not only empty, but in disarray. The mattress tilted half off the bed, the bedside table overturned, the lamp only shards of pottery scattered across the floor. “This better be a really bad practical joke, André.”

He returned to the bathroom and saw the steam revealed a message written on the bathroom mirror. “Bring the flash drive to Cpt Morgan’s Cave at sunrise or you will never see your Chef again.” The last portion was hard to read because of the limited space on the mirror and the length of the message. At first he thought it said something about never seeing Cher again which was fine with him.

* * *
“Stupid ninja,” André scowled at Bak Phat.

“I told you, I’m not a ninja. I wasn’t even born in Japan. I was born in Cleveland.”

“Did you or did you not sneak in my room dress like a ninja?”

“I wore a black ski mask and a Hawaiian shirt. This shirt!” He tugged on the rainbow hued shirt he wore.

“Cause you a stupid ninja from Cleveland.” André sneered.

“I’m not a ninja!”

“Bak Phat, stop talking to him,” Fraise DesBois snapped for what seemed like the hundredth time.

“I try, but he keeps calling me a stupid ninja.”

“I calls them like I sees them, stupid ninja.” André muttered under his breath. He was really getting tired of this. This boring cave was no place to spend the night. “Hey, is this not a pirate cave? Are not pirates and ninjas mortal enemies? I hope a pirate come and cut you to pieces.”

“You’re insane, do you know that? Stark raving mad!” Bak Phat waved his hands in the air. “You’re a freaking prisoner. Can’t you cower in fear or go whimper in the corner?”

“I might could if you were scary ninja ‘stead of stupid ninja.”

Outside Meredith who saw no reason to wait around until sunrise to launch a rescue for André dropped down behind one of DesBois’ armed thugs, this one wearing a golf shirt covered in palm trees and a ski mask, tapped him on the shoulder, and head butted him when he turned to see who it was. “I guess the current economic crisis must be effecting her ability to afford experienced minions,” he said as he inspected the machine gun the man dropped. He removed the clip and tossed it into the ocean. “Overkill, really. I’m just one man.”

Carefully stepping over the man he proceeded toward the next minion who patrolled the opening to the cave.

Inside the cave DesBois was getting tired of the bickering between Bak Phat and André. “Can the two of you please just shut up! This has been going on for hours. Shut up!”

“Yeah, shut your mouth. Ninjas is to being silent.”

“Your English really sucks.”

“You suck.”

“No, you suck, you fa- ooph!” He fell over clutching his family jewels.

Outside Meredith heard someone cry out. The minion heard it too and began hurrying towards the cave entrance. Acting fast he sprinted, tackled the man, and held his face in the sand until he stopped kicking.

André shook his head and examined his shoe for scuffs. “Evil Lady, your ninja got lousy reflex. I hope they not all this bad or Meredith gonna be disappointed at no challenge.”

“I’m the one who’s disappointed, sugar. I really expected more of a challenge than this myself.” She began pacing the length of the cave. “I guess it really would have been a challenge had he come alone. I just planned to do what I did with Jim.”


“Jim Bond.” She continued. “With him it was simple. He fancies himself a ladies man, so I only had to seduce him.”

“Yeah. That get you nowhere with my Meredith.”

“I can’t believe his name is actually Meredith. What kind of name is that for a secret agent? Did his parents want a daughter? How scared am I supposed to be of a man named Meredith?”

“Very scared. He behind you.” André smirked.

“Like I’m falling for that.” Just in case she looked over her shoulder. “Meredith!”

“That’s Mary F@cking Death to you.” He delivered a swift fist to her eye.

After reeling back from the sucker punch she lashed out at him. He caught her hand and snapped a long lacquered nail followed by another and another.

“My nail tips!” she screeched in horror.

“Your fingers will be next if you don’t give up hope of obtaining the secret information, gather your pretty useless minions, and leave the island.”

“Damn you, Pike. I’ll leave, but this won’t be the last you hear from me.” She stumbled into the wall when he released her.

“Try to call before noon. We get quite busy at the restaurant after that.” He unknotted the ropes around André’s wrists. “Are you all right?”

“So-So. Stupid Ninja scuff my shoe.” He kicked Bak Phat one more time for good measure. “I can’t believe you hit a woman. That was not very nice.

“She made fun of my name.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Character Quirks

Wyatt has a good post about giving life to your characters with quirks, and to be on the alert for them in real life.

If your friends are as varied as mine you have a plethora of quirks to draw from. I have several characters based on real life friends and not so friendly acquaintances. One person actually spawned two characters.

Since I mostly do the listening when people get together I have a lot of opportunity to notice idiosyncrasies, habits, and even little things that other people miss because they're more involved in the conversation and often are thinking about what they're going to say next and not what is going on around them.

Quirks and behaviors are the best way to show not tell. I have a friend who is playful and very very conceited. She thinks she's out of most guys league. I could tell you that, or she could tell you that, [She will tell you that.] but it's more fun to watch her convey this. She has this smug little smile and will sort of wiggle her shoulders while she extends her neck and lifts her chin. She'll cock that chin towards a guy, her eyes twinkling as she looks over her apple cheeks at the poor sap, then she'll roll her eyes while raising her eyebrows. This is followed by a loud exhale through her nose as she turns her attention away from them. Usually she resumes talking about herself.

Another friend rarely speaks. Even more rarely does he show any emotion on his face. So we have a silent poker-faced person, but people are drawn to him. Maybe because they can't figure him out. He can't be easily read. He doesn't display his emotions except when his wife is around and then it's shown just in the way his eyes follow her.

I have so many quirks and oddities that on my birthday friends dress up like me and act like me. It's Scarecrow Day. They mimic me from the way I cover my mouth when I smile, the way I hold my cigarette, and even the way I constantly pull my sleeves down over my wrists. [If I'm wearing short sleeves and am around new people, I will try to pull my sleeves and wind up standing there with one hand wrapped around the other wrist. I have badly scarred arms and get self-conscious about people staring at them sometimes.]

I am obsessed with having a clean kitchen and every night before going to bed I clean it from top to bottom. So every night I'm cleaning the cabinet doors, scrubbing the sink, and mopping the floor. When we got our newest roommate I had to tell her to please not to leave a dish in the sink if she uses one after I clean and go to sleep. Stick it in the fridge, the dishwasher, put it anywhere, but there's something about coming in and finding a dish in the sink and knowing it's been there for hours that drives me nuts. I also wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher so I don't have to see dirty dishes every time I open the washer to put more in. It's dumb and redundant, but still I do it. I also clean all the bathrooms, but now that we're in a bigger apartment and PB and I have one to ourselves, that's the only one that gets the nightly scrub down. [I should do a series of posts about my quirks.]

Take note of what people collect, what they talk about, how they behave when in conversation especially when they are waiting to talk. I have neighbors who only listen to one band, an old guy who will loudly fart then say "Sorry, that was me." As if there were any doubt who the culprit was. But it always helps to know why a person does the weird things they do. Most people with unusual habits know how they developed or at least a story about it. Like my friend who eats each item on her plate in full before going to the next one. Or another friend who can't stand her lips to be wet so whenever she takes a sip of a drink or even licks her lips must immediately dry them. She told me how it came about, but said even knowing that doesn't prevent her from doing it. Knowing the reason why can give the character more life.

Rednecks, Frenchmen, & Skanks

My Saturday night was...OK, I don't know how to describe it. It was definitely different.

Saturday I went to a wedding with PB. She was friends of the bride. I was friends of the groom. My restaurant was also hired to do the cakes and sweet part of the catering. Normally I would handle that during the wedding, but as I was going to the wedding I had to get to reception venue really early and assemble the cake. The only incident there was with the caterer handling the rest of the food trying to give me tips. Guy's rolls were commercially produced. If prepackaged rolls are better than yours, don't tell the pastry chef how to do anything. Besides, you might need him later when the mother of the bride bitches about your presentation.

That was not the unusual part of the evening. The interesting part began after we got back to town and PB decided we'd go by her workplace where she's the bartender, and see what was up. That and I think a lot of her friends couldn't imagine me in a suit other than the David Byrne suit I wore on Halloween, complete with knock-off white Keds.

Our friend Captain was just getting off work and had met two French guys who were working at some local industry. We'll call them L & S. Cap couldn't get hold of her friend Madame to act as interpreter or chaperone so she asked us to hang around while she got to know the Frenchies. Somehow something happened where we wound up going to a local bar/club and somehow PB begged out of it so I got to play chaperone. You can bet I was texting Madame every five minutes asking her to relieve me from chaperone duties.

I can't quietly slip into an establishment unnoticed. I'm over six and a half feet tall, rail thin, and was wearing a suit, although I left the coat in the car. So there I am surrounded by rednecks who still blame me for the High School basketball team not progressing in National Finals one year. It wasn't that I didn't block a shot I should have or missed a three-pointer. No. I just couldn't go because it was out of state. It was almost ten years ago, people, get over it.

One thing I never told L & S was that I can understand some French and they were easy to understand. I wasn't about to try to speak it to them since I have a hard enough time getting the right words to come out of my mouth in English. I think Cap was having a fun time talking to L anyway. A word about Cap; she speaks really really fast and doesn't enunciate. When she talks slowly she has this really strong accent. I was mostly interpreting what she said into understandable English for L & S. At some point L started telling her things to say in French to S. I told Cap she could say it if she wanted to, but ask me tomorrow and I'd tell her what she'd been saying.

The horror of the night was that the only place to sit was right by the dance floor. The chairs are impossibly low and I couldn't scoot mine far enough back to not be playing footsie with L, so I wound up standing against a column except when they were dancing.

Good god the dancing. It was all rednecks, skanks, and gangster wannabes booty dancing. S was completely shocked. He said they don't dance like that in France or even Ibiza. If men went up to a woman and started dancing like that they'd get slapped down and probably arrested. If girls danced like that, well, they'd be naked and getting money stuffed into their, okay, I won't say where.

There was this couple, I have no idea how old they were, but the woman was Queen Skank Ho of the bar. She was darkly tanned and pretty evenly tanned too without tan lines. If you have your clothes on and people can tell you don't have tan lines, you are not wearing enough clothes. We couldn't decide if she was in her 40s or just so weathered she looked like it. Her dancing was way beyond what anyone else was doing. She gave dirty dancing a whole new meaning. I first noticed her when she was right by our table and I was sitting down. She was hip thrusting at her dance partner. Her skirt was short enough, barely covered her ass, that S and I thought maybe they were actually having sex. Nope, just some skanky dancing. Later I was leaning against the column again and saw that S's eyes were about to pop out of his head. so I look around and see Queen Skank Ho is on her knees, her face in the guy's crotch bobbing back and forth, and he had his hands on back of her head and his own head tilted back. She was doing something with her mouth that was entirely unnecessary since we could all tell what she was simulating.

Why? Why was this happening? I felt dirty just being in the same building with them and there I was only three feet away. Too bad I wasn't drinking. Maybe I could have erased the memory.

Finally Madame arrived. Picture an auburn haired Lauren Bacall in her prime walking into a redneck bar and you might have some idea of what it was like when she came in. She refused to pay the cover charge and the doormen didn't argue. You do not argue with her. You will lose. She walked through this crowded bar with people just parting to get out of her way. One guy didn't see her coming, she tapped him on the shoulder, and I swear he practically bowed to her as he got out of her way, even though from where I was standing he looked pissed off when he got tapped on the shoulder. One of those "I move for no one" sort of guys. Madame does not like to be touched. I think she radiates a force field.

S looked her over and said something to L in French about Madame being pretty attractive, but why couldn't Cap have called a younger friend, bad enough he had to hang out with the tall freak while L put the moves on the blonde slut. Madame was so sweet. She gave S this chilly smile and said to Cap that S was not entirely unattractive in a pudgy sort of way, but she hoped to god she wasn't expected to acknowledge his presence in any way other than what basic politeness called for and to direct the waitress to him any time drinks needed to be paid for. Madame is fluent in French, Spanish, and Snobbish as she calls it.

Things got really amusing after that. She told Queen Skank Ho to take it to the backseat of a car, that she had firmly established the fact that she and bald guy were going to have sex, and it was enough to give all the children nightmares. She took S over to the bunch of girls who were dancing the sluttiest and said "He's from France, enjoy" to prove her theory that he only had to speak with that accent and the girls would put out. That honestly, if you're French and can't get laid just on that basis in a rinky dink town, you are truly pathetic. Then she told Cap and L to exchange numbers, that it was time to say goodnight because she was leaving and so was Captain.

If only I had known it was that easy to get out of there. But I don't think I hold that kind of sway over Captain. I did tell her once that maybe we should leave soon because any time I ventured away from them there was somebody wanting to talk basketball and how we would have won if I had gone. Sorry. They should have petitioned my probation officer to allow me to travel out of state with the team. I blame them. hah!

And that was my night full of rednecks, Frenchmen, and skanks. I was so happy to go home.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Today we have snow.

Seriously, it's snowing today. Friday there were tornadoes. Sunday there is snow.
Say hi to my little friend.