September 2013

The Cramper (1960)
Director: Jonathan Fort
Producer: Jonathan Fort
Writer: Jonathan Fort
Jonathan Fort
Samantha Fort
Wilmer McField
Stacey Pinchot
Music: Jonathan Fort & Marcus Geraldstein
Editing: Jonathan Fort
Distributor: Liberty Pictures

One of the most dire of the gimmicky no-budget monster movies to wash up in the early 1960s. The Cramper, like many, sought to turn its liabilities of a low budget, no bankable stars, and a Poverty Row studio into strengths. It posited that the numbness of cramps is actually the first stage of possession and eventual consumption by an insidious “cramper” parasite. The apparent hope was that crowded grindhouses with uncomfortable seats would provide the needed cramping among audience members, but as a gimmick it is surely one of the most lame ever attempted.

There are unconfirmed reports that the director Jonathan Fort, wearing more caps than a hat rack for the production, hoped to slip a cheap cramping agent like cytorinabarmuphate into concession stands at theaters showing the movie, but being made the bottom half of a double feature with Goat Women of Venus put an end to that ambition. Fort, a longtime production assistant, quickly returned to that role after the movie underperformed (box office estimates for the opening week hover near $100 to $150 dollars).

The only noteworthy trivia about the film (other than its legendary camp value and the fact that 6 out of the 10 names on the marquee are the same, rising to 7 if you include Mrs. Jonathan Fort, the female lead) is the participation of Golden Age Hollywood composer Marcus Geraldstein. Having been blacklisted not long after his Hollywood debut, Geraldstein was a few years away from his first Oscar nomination and no doubt needed Fort’s meager paycheck to keep the lights on at home.

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Cascadia Post-Gazette, June 17, 20X0:
Newcomer Wins Local Radio Talent Search
…but the tape by local Osborn University student Shairi Washington, with its near professional poise, cutting edge production, and dazzling R&B sound, was the overall winner. Ms. Washington could not attend the ceremony, but accepted the $1000 cash award and airplay by mail…

Hopewell Democrat-Tribune, May 18, 20X1:
Shairi Washington, Winner of WHPW Contest, Releases First Album
…no one could have predicted that the contest-winning track would be such a hit, but stations have reported near-constant demand for airplay. Shairi Washington, speaking by telephone, said the response was “overwhelming.” “I come from a poor background, and I’m the first one in my family to go to college. So to suddenly have this kind of recognition…I don’t know what to say!” Ms. Washington has retained a local agent, Sheila Newman, to help her deal with the sudden demands of…

Detroit Picayune, October 1, 20X1:
Shairi Washington Signs Contract With SpinCycle Records
…SpinCycle, one of Detroit’s oldest and most powerful R&B production houses. “We are proud to have Shairi represented by a Detroit label,” said her agent Sheila Newman at a press conference. “Shairi has deep roots in Detroit, was born in Detroit. Her name means ‘poetry’ in Swahili, and her songs are indeed poetry for her city and all the places similarly affected by poverty and want…”

Detroit Picayune
, March 18, 20X2:
New Shairi Album Goes Multiplatinum
…hot new act out of Michigan, Shairi, has seen her first studio album, Urban Prairie Girl, climb the Billboard charts at an unprecedented rate. Sales estimates are in the hundreds of thousands for physical and digital releases alike. “It’s humbling,” Shairi said in a statement read by her agent Sheila Newman, “for an inner-city girl to climb here from where I started…I’m on top of the world.” Shairi, notoriously private, has never granted an in-person interview but agreed to speak with the Picayune by phone…

Vanity Magazine, January 5, 20X3:
Shairi Announces Nationwide Tour
“…the demand has been there from day one,” said Shairi’s agent, “but Shairi is very shy and retiring, and it took a long time to convince her. But once the decision was made, we began training, rehearsing, almost ten hours a day.” Reports indicate that the tour will feature substantial special effects, both practical and digital, and one effect in particular has cost millions of dollars with the subcontractor bound to secrecy by a non-disclosure agreement…”

Vanity Magazine, June 1, 20X3:
Shairi Tour Breaks Records
…response to pent-up demand, tickets sold out online in minutes. Even with the addition of second shows and new stops on the tour, scalpers are selling “Shairi Ascendant” tickets for ten times their asking price. But to the fans thronging outside the venue for Shairi’s first performance tomorrow, it is money well spent…

New York Herald, June 15, 20X3:
Questions Remain About Shairi “Glitch”
…agent Sheila Newman continued to deflect questions about the seeming lack of synchronization between Shairi’s lips and the music, and what appeared to be pixelation of one of the singer’s arms. Captured on numerous cell phones in the venue, the “glitches” have raised questions among many pundits. “Could Sheila be the Milli Vanilli of our time?” asked one particularly cutting op/ed the day after…

New York Herald, July 8, 20X3:
Will the Real Shairi Washington Please Stand Up?
…Osborn University, in turn, denied that anyone by the name of Shairi Washington had ever attended school there. City of Detroit records show no birth certificate under that name. Shairi’s agent Sheila Newman continues to maintain that the “software Shairi” projected as a hologram during the singer’s live shows was an “avant-garde experiment” and that the vocals and movements were those of her client. To the other allegations, Ms. Newman had no response…

Detroit Picayune
, August 27, 20X3:
SpinCycle Records to Close Doors
“…we wanted to believe,” he said, adding “she fooled us all.” SpinCycle, founded in 1970, crumbled under a wave of litigation related to the now-infamous Shairi Washington scandal. The revelation that the singer’s physical appearance and songs were all generated on a computer, allegedly by her agent, left the label with “no choice” but to shutter operations. “It’s small consolation that we weren’t the only ones fooled; this thing has hit us and Detroit at the worst possible time…”

Hopewell Democrat-Tribune
, September 27, 20X4:
“I Made Up Someone To Be Who I Couldn’t Be” Says Newman In Court
…statement read, in part, “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I have a problem; I am an addict, I need help. I can only beg for your forgiveness.” The prosecutor was unmoved by Ms. Newman’s plea, contending that her fraudulent creation and marketing of the Shairi Washington persona and music was not only “nakedly, blatently fraudulent, a confidence game,” but that the stunt represented “the culmination of a patter of increasingly sophisticated, grandiose, and narcissistic schemes…”

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You know that rock that was right here? Little old hunk of granite, looks like it was smoothed in a river?

One day a few years back, I was in a bad place. Lost my job because my company had invested in someone who’d invested in the real estate bubble. Family left me for someone who was employed, and the bank who’d started it all was kind enough to foreclose on my house before it failed.

So I found myself alone, without prospects, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a few things in storage, faced with the prospect of walking or hitching across the county to my sister’s to beg for a couch to sleep on. Well, you might say that I was a little angry about that, so when I found that stone in the lot of a Huddle House I couldn’t afford to eat in, I gave it a mighty kick.

It felt so good that I resolved to try and kick it along with me as I started my walk, if for no other reason than to give me something to do. As I went along, I noticed that that little stone traveled an arrow-straight line when I kicked at it, unlike most. And I got to thinking about the journey it must have taken to be in that parking lot. I’d been a bit of a rock hound in my youth, so I imagined the whole thing, from cooled magma to grinding under a glacier to polishing in a river.

In fact, that little old rock was a lot like me. It had been beaten up in every which way you’d care to imagine, but it had taken everything the universe could throw at it.

When I got to my sister’s, I just kept on going, kicking the rock as I went. You might say it was zen, or a ritual, or even one of those obsessive compulsions. But for me it was like having a brother along for the journey, one that could understand my pain and, unlike my real brother, let you get a word in edgewise. Before long people heard about what I was doing, and they started to offer me food and shelter along the way.

I walked 1000 miles, kicking that little stone every step of the way, until I reached the sea here not three days ago. They say it’s a record, and for all I know they may be right. It didn’t much matter to me; what mattered was that I had a purpose. I had carved out a little niche for myself, and that rock had formed a new me much as nature had given it new form over however many thousands of years.

So naturally you can imagine, given all that, how perturbed I am that you just tossed my 1000-mile stone into the Atlantic Ocean.

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In the town of Down there was a longstanding tradition
The catching of a goose was a young man’s mission

With goose in hand
And holdings in land

A young man became a man
And marriage could be his plan

They gathered in Down on the first day of fall
Fat boys, skinny boys, greedy boys, all

When the starting gun fired
They chased what they desired

But in the goose-flock down by the gap
The wily birds avoided their traps

Except for one bright young lad
Who got what geese were to be had

Returning to town
All laden with down

The others asked how he had done it
“My bicycle, lads, was all of my kit

I haven’t oiled it in weeks
And surely you know

If you’ve gone with the flow
That the squeaky wheel gets the geese

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Walt moved to close his sock drawer, bringing it flush with the others and restoring his meticlously organized room to harmony.

“No,” he whispered, gripping the knob. “No, dammit, no. I’m tired of this–tired of the cleaning, the handwashing, the rituals. If I can leave this drawer open all day, it’s the first step toward getting my OCD under control.”

Wrenching his trembling fingers off of the knob, Walk staggered downstairs and, by sheer force of will, finished getting ready. He had to stare at the front door for nearly ten minutes before getting it open, and the drive to the office would have been impossible if he didn’t have the route deeply engrained in his muscle memory.

Walt’s day was agony. The open sock drawer mocked him, taunted him, gnawing at the edge of his consciousness until everything else was hammered away. Beginning as a pebble in his shoe, the feeling soon metamorphosed into an unscratchable insect bite; by clocking out time, Walt was seeing unopened drawers everywhere. It was a seed of chaos, disrupting his whole life.

“It’s time to end this,” he sighed.

Getting into his 2007 drawer, Walt drove down the drawerway, stopped at the drawer light, and waited impatiently for the drawer gates to open at his apartment complex. Taking the drawers two at a time as he ran up to the second floor, Walt practically kicked down the drawer.

His room was just as he had left it, complete with the abomination hanging, unclosed. Making a mockery of him, and everything he stood for.

“I should have done this ages ago.” Walt reached up, took the handles…

…and yanked the drawer out of his dresser. With a grunt, he brained it against the wall, smashing it in an explosion of socks and pressboard.

“That’s what you get,” he panted heavily. “Stupid drawer, ruining my whole day.”

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There once was a young man called Maycos. Maycos’ father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had all borne that name, and in it he found great comfort. For to be named Maycos was to be connected with all the members of his family that had passed on, and those that had yet to be born.

Maycos worked as a humble bricklayer in a great city. He mixed the mortar and carefully set each stone in place, always taking pride in his work even though it brought him little happiness. The other bricklayers were often envious, since Maycos’ bricks were always laid straight and level, layer after layer. But since they worked faster than he did, the other bricklayers often found more work, and work was hard to come by. For the city was in the grip of hard times—there was little money, and many went hungry.

To pass the time, Maycos collected chips of broken bricks from the kiln where he sometimes worked. The money was very poor—even worse than bricklaying—but the broken bricks were much more important to Maycos than the whole ones. He would take them home to the tiny apartment that he shared with his mother and grandfather, and lay them in a pile on the roof. Once enough pieces of bricks were there, Maycos would mix up some mortar and carefully put the chips together to form pictures.

His grandfather, who had been a bricklayer himself until he was too old, once suggested that Maycos sell the small brick and mortar pictures that he made. But Maycos thought that no one would want to buy pictures made of broken bricks—they would prefer paintings or statues of fine marble. He also knew that times were bad for everyone in the city, and even the richest man in town, who lived on top of the tallest building, had to carefully save his money.

Maycos carefully saved what little money he made from bricklaying and making bricks and gave it to his mother and grandfather, for since his father’s death he was the little family’s sole support. He always carefully took the smallest portions of food at dinnertime, and only took time for himself when there was no work to be done. In addition to his brick pictures, Maycos read many books from the library, though he was always careful to return them early, because he could not afford to pay the fines.

Through reading, Maycos came to know many things—the history of his city, the names of birds and beasts, great men and women of the past, even how to make things and sail ships on the ocean, which he had never seen. Sometimes, Maycos thought that he would like to be a sailor, or to study animals. But, his father and his grandfather had been bricklayers, and that was all the family knew. Maycos was willing to be a bricklayer since it was all he had ever known and he needed to provide for his mother and grandfather. But sometimes, late at night when the others were asleep, he would look out the window at the lights of the sleeping city and wish that his was a different life.

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“And this,” said the CEO, “is Cuthbert, our secret weapon here at Harrison Omni Products.”

“What’s that?” said Cuthbert, putting a hand to his ear. “Fur-covered heating ducts?”

“Write that one down,” the CEO snapped to his toady. “Animal-patterned covers for heating and cooling ducts. It’s genius, we’ll sell a million of ’em.”

“…really?” said Helmquist. “Really? Your secret is a deaf guy?”

“Not deaf,” snapped the CEO. “Just hard of hearing. Depending on the acoustics and how you talk he can hear fine. But it’s when what you say is just out of his hearing range that he mishears things in spectacularly creative–and profitable–ways.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“Huh? A pot of kitty litter?” said Cuthbert. “Talk a little louder, I can’t quite hear you.”

“Write that down,” the CEO said again.

“What possible profit could be had from a pot of kitty litter?” cried Helmquist.

“Don’t knock any of Cuthbert’s ideas,” said the CEO brightly. “Not a single one, no matter how farfetched. When we were going out for movie night, he misheard ‘Clint Eastwood’ as ‘penis whistle.’ That little gem of an idea has cornered the market on gag gifts for bachelorette parties.”

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“Only minds and the contents of minds truly exist–or rather, they are the only things we, as minds ourselves, can assume to exist,” said Beulah.

“Yes, yes, I know all about Berkeleian idealism,” Mayra said. “I’ve read Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, even if I’m not sure how to pronounce it.”

“Use a longer ‘O’ sound for the ‘ö,'” said Beulah, still leading Mayra through the elaborate IDC security checks. “But you’ve got the right idea: anything that enough people think of becomes real.”

“Regardless, you still haven’t told me what the Idealism Control Bureau does.” The IDC agents handed Mayra her bag, thoroughly inspected, and she followed Beulah beneath a sign that said RECEIVING.

“The IDC is in charge of cleaning up the mess that happens when too many people have an idiotic idea. And, despite what you would imagine, it happens just as often to smart people as idiots.” Beulah gave Mayra an airy look. “Sometimes more often in point of fact.”

“And what exactly, does that entail?” asked Mayra, a bit sick of Beulah’s constant, if low-key, insults.

“Perhaps it’s easier to just show you.” Beulah opened a door and led Mayra into what looked like a pen for small animals with a fenced-in observation area. “These were brought in this morning, from a Metromart in Virginia.”

“What the-” Mayra began, before taking a closer look. “Ugh! How hideous!”

Several large brown cubes, brown and furred, lay across the floor on a bedding of loose straw. About a foot square, they appeared to be some kind of avant-garde taxidermy until one rolled over to reveal four stubby paws and a mewling feline face. One side of each cube was hollow, with a circular opening leading into an internal cavity with a leathery texture.

“What the hell are those?”

“They are the result of pedants obsessed with punctuation and style coming across a poorly-kerned product label in the Metromart pet section,” chuckled Beulah. “For an ‘imitation leather cat ottoman.'”

“So…those are leather cat ottomans?” said Mayra.

“Hardly. They’re imitations, as I said.”

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“What? Why would you bring us back here?” Jon cried. “After everything I did to get you out of there…we have to go, now!”

He tried to lean over to grapple for control of the car, but was interrupted by a sudden sheet of flame which erupted from the back seat, filling the car with acrid smoke and causing the exposed metal to glow cherry red almost immediately. Jon and Laure spilled out the doors, the latter coughing violently.

“The house doesn’t want me, Jon,” Laura said, walking slowly through the smoke and sparks of the car’s spontaneous combustion. “It never wanted me.”

Jon waved her back in fear, still doubled over from smoke inhalation. “That can’t be…you were there…I saved you…”

Laura gestured to the house, looming silent and dark in the dusk a few paces away. “I don’t know if it was denial, or naivete, or projection, or what. But you were so dead-set on ‘protecting’ me that you didn’t see. You couldn’t see.”

In trying to respond, Jon was racked with another fit of coughs.

“It’s been you all along, Jon. It’s you the house wants.” Laura seized the nape of Jon’s collar and dragged him toward the door of the house they had recently given everything–even lives–to escape.

In his weakened state, Jon could only offer feeble resistance. He tried to dig in his heels, to fight off Laura’s iron grip, but in moments he found himself bodily up against the front door, with its ominous brass accoutrements leering at him from all angles.

Laura’s hand was on the doorknob. “It’s the only way to get our lives back, to stop the madness.”

“No! Don’t!”

“I’m sorry.”

The door swung open, but instead of the entrance hall with its tattered drapes and forlorn chandelier, there was–impossibly–a yawning abyss speckled with starlike points of light. Jon tottered on the threshold for a moment, clawing at the doorjamb, before toppling forward. Spinning end over end, he was quickly lost in the darkness, a point of light among the others claimed by the darkness.

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Since the first of us stood up in the Great Rift Valley, humans were obsessed with how their world will end. Eschatology, the study of the end times, has been at the root of major religions, scientific initiatives, and lunatics shouting on street corners. Ragnarok and Rapture, Big Crunch and heat death, there was no shortage of ideas on every step of the continuum betwixt science and faith.

Would anyone have guessed that the end would come through the gradual unraveling of reality?

It started in the densest and most populated places. People started noticing areas in which time slowed, gravity behaved erratically, and light did not refract properly. They were regarded as mere curiosities until they began to grow. What had been a simple fuzzing of light at the center of the anomalies soon became utter blackness, only fading into focus and light at the edge of each anomaly.

In time, they grew to consume most of the urban areas, leaving only treacherous ruins and parts of skyscrapers hanging impossibly amid the abyss. Anyone entering–or falling into–one of the anomalies was never seen again; experiments with ropes and pulleys came to naught. New ones formed as well, with the only one piece of apparent rhyme or reason to their emergence: they seemed to appear where humans congregated most thickly. City life quickly became intensely dangerous: trading the safety of pastoralism for comfort could mean vanishing into a hole in the fabric of reality.

Perhaps the effect was inevitable, a natural function of the universe never before observed. In that case, assigning fault would be like blaming a man for a thunderstorm. But there was no shortage of theories as to why the perceivable universe seemed to be rotting from the inside out.

Animals were occasionally seen to emerge from the anomalies after entering, for one, suggesting that all or part of the phenomenon was limited to humans and their constructs. Some argue that the very act of human perception and cognition, especially when concentrated, has overwhelmed some sort of natural balance. Those of a philosophical/religious bent have seen in the decay the fulfillment of any number of prophecies.

All that’s certain is that the decay continues at an accelerated rate.

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