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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

I have been the only real friend you ever had, because to the rest of the world, you are a mean spirited, self-absorbed asshole.

Serialization Sunday: The Flick – Chapter 3

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remainscan be found in full here

Our second novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on a 12-year-old girl who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her guidance counselor, can be found in full here.

Our current novel, The Flick, is the correspondence between a legendary porn star of the 90′s and the girl who got away – and kept going.  Read previous chapters here.

Letter III:

July 10, 1990

Dear Phoenix:

I jotted down the beginning of our movie.  In straight narrative, something we’re used to dealing with together.  Don’t sweat the technicalities of screenplay form.  I’ll deal with that later.  When we’ve done the full length.  When we get to the end.

Back up.

To the beginning:

June 12, 1984

A Ferris wheel tumbled through the night and rocked wildly.  Threatened to break free of its moorings.  Like all the screws in the wheel were loose, or like all the couples aboard were screwing in their gondolas.  With supports painted black, the wheel turned a slick illusion of anti-gravity.  Spiky neon flickered around its circumference.  Sort of a flashy, cartooned fire.  Heat in the air.

I found Jay Fortunata at a carnival.  He leaned against a carnival tent.  Ropes with flags stretched all around him.  He struck an arrogant pose.  Weight on one hip.  Waist thrust forward.  He wore clothes without designer labels.  But his clothes fit too perfectly and never seemed to wrinkle.  He projected wealth in ways that were not too obvious, except for a solid gold chain braided like a noose around his neck, a gift from an uncle linked to the mob.

When Jay saw me coming, he muttered, “Shit.”

Jay suddenly pushed into the crowd.  A tide of flesh.  A sea of meat.  Desperate to get away.

The smell of roasting sausage strong in my nose.   Nitrate tang in my mouth, preserving its own bitterness.   I followed Jay.  Relentlessly.  It had taken me two weeks of searching to find him.  People bumped into me.  Hard elbows, soft breasts, a shower of fingertips.  The patter of human contact.

Jay groped for openings and gutters in the tide.  The ripples and rippling of bodies.  He kept glancing over his shoulder, like a mark checking for a tail.  He tried to lose himself among the beautiful people, who for some reason were very beautiful.  Like they had been cast to be very beautiful.  Women’s eyes followed Jay, keeping beat with the whirls and dips of the mechanical rides.  Neon lit syncopated thrusts.

Jay was drop dead gorgeous as we used to say in the eighties with irony we didn’t intend.  Dark hair bubbled over his head like carbonated crude.  He had the kind of pretty boy good looks and erotic charge that made other men uneasy.  The male half of the crowd hugged their dates as Jay pushed on past, like he had forced them to make a statement about ownership and sexual preference.

Jay’s bored and indifferent eyes met the stares he drew.  Into the throng, he flicked a half smoked cigarette.  Its coal still hot.

I had dropped out of sight.

Jay took refuge in the shadows.  He froze there, almost cringing in front of a darkened funhouse.  The attraction had been shut down.   The word “haunted” hung on a sign, spelled out in dead light bulbs.

I surged up in front of him.  Jay stumbled backward.

Jay threw up his arms to ward off an impending blow, but the blow did not fall.  “Shit!” he yelled.  “How the hell did you find me?”

I said, “I’ve hunted you down just to let you know one thing…”  For a moment, I loomed over him, letting him take in all the advantages I would have if it came to a fight.  My pumped up frame outlined in neon.  The extra height.  The muscle.  When Jay’s fear peaked, I said,  “I’m not going to hurt you.  You are forgiven.”

For a moment, his features froze.  A cornered look.  Then he brushed himself off, and puffed up his chest.  “What?  You forgive me?  Bah-boom!  Just like that?”

“You don’t believe me?”

“It’s a trick.  To get me close.  To trust you.  And then, when I’m off guard… that’s when you’ll give it your best shot.  That’s when you’ll get me good.  You fixate on a vendetta worse than a Mafia Don.”

I kicked down the door of the darkened funhouse, then grabbed Jay by the collar.

I said, “We need to talk.”

Jay didn’t want to talk.  He wriggled in my grip, trying to escape, as I dragged him farther into the darkness.  Dragged him where the crowd couldn’t see what was happening.  Where no one would hear him yell.

We stumbled into the funhouse.  Found ourselves in the middle of some kind diorama recreation of a slave market.  It was weird and terrifying.  Lifelike wax figures.  Captive statues.  They stood naked except for their chains, glistening.  The costumes of the auctioneers and buyers had a kind of old South flavor.  But the slaves on sale were all women, and many of them were white.  The buyers in the crowd didn’t seem to be buying anything.  The way they were posed, they just gawked.  And the sellers didn’t seem to be selling.  Just shouting and inflicting pain.  Stiffened bullwhips hung in the air, caught in the act of cracking.  I dragged Jay through the slave market and set him down beside an array of iron pokers painted to look red hot.  I said, “You hurt me, you know.  I was in love with her…”

Jay pulled at his gold chain like it was a collar with too much starch.  “In love?  With Karen?  Would you believe there is a guy who disguises himself as me and takes my place from time to time?  Would you believe he’s the guy you saw with Karen?”

I pulled a joint out of my top pocket and held it upright.  Like an offering.  As if I was the one in the wrong.  “You don’t need to make up dumb excuses.  I wouldn’t sell out our friendship over a woman.”

“I would.  Maybe I did all ready.”  But he took the joint anyway.  Sniffed it.  Finding it within his standards, he stuck it in his mouth and lit up.

“It would be a sorry swap,” I said.

“Swapping you for Love?”

“Call it what you want.  Love.  Or lust.  Or a fling.  Or that great eternal romance, the stuff of myth and fable.  No matter what you think you have going with a chick, you can never be sure of what you have in fact gotten yourself into.  Other than depths where there is no light.”

Jay leaned back against a splay legged wax woman.  She was chained to the auction block.  Flirting with the crowd.  Like the fire was something she craved.  Jay accidently knocked her head off.  It came to a rest at my feet.

I lifted the mannequin head by long dusty hair that might have been pretty in its prime, when it graced the head of real woman.  I stared into marble eyes, which seemed huge and alive.  Staring at me.  The head and the gawking crowd made me feel like I was being watched.  Like I had to perform.

I said, “Women’s brains drive differently from ours.”

“Yeah, their brains drive on automatic.  Ours with a stick.”

“Men may think women understand what we say to them.  Just like women think they understand what they say to us.  But it is like the time JFK said that he was a Berliner.  He thought he was saying; I share your feelings, your sorrows, your hopes.  I am what you are.  The crowd was cheering.  It’s like that when you’re talking to a woman. You think you are saying I am like you; I am what you are, but like JFK you are saying, I am a doughnut.

“The friendship, the deep rapport.  One day, poof, it is gone!  No reason”  I pitched the severed head over my shoulder. “It just ends.”

Jay took a hard suck on the joint.  Too hard.  The coal winked  out.

“Think you understand me, Die?  Think we’re alike?  Think I count you among my friends?”

“I have been the only real friend you ever had, because to the rest of the world, you are a mean spirited, self-absorbed asshole.”

“It hasn’t been a friendship.  I would characterize it more as a competition, a drunken drag race in the dark on the edge of a precipice.  We did it all.  But now we’ve gone over the side of the cliff.  We’ve fallen out.  We can’t away with anything more.  I didn’t ask for forgiveness.  I’d rather get your revenge.”

“I all ready got my revenge.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“I killed you.”


Stuart Hopen’s writing has been published by various comic book companies, including D.C., Marvel, Eclipse, Amazing, and Fantagraphics. His science fiction novel, Warp Angel, originally published by Tor Books, will soon be reissued by the Misenchanted Press in a newly revised edition.  Cannibals, a series of six interrelated novellas, will be available online in 2014.   


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