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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

Everyone needs a niche. I am a bottom feeder.

Serialization Sunday: The Flick – Chapter VII

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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 VII

August 7, 1990

Dear Phoenix:

Reluctantly, I’ll take your terms, Phoenix.  I would much prefer working face to face, or front to front, or front to back and back again.  Like in the old days.  Or at least do it over the phone.

I will take you any way I can get you.

We left off where Jay thought he had escaped.  June 12, 1984.  From there, I left the abandoned funhouse.  Alone.  I hit the crowd.

Then I saw you.  I knew it was You right away.  I saw your hair and the smoke from your cigarette.  I wonder where I will ever find a woman beautiful enough to play you.  Someone with screaming red hair like blood on fire.  Someone who won’t look like a fool sporting silver nail polish.

You started walking toward me.  You were wearing a translucent Grateful Dead t-shirt with nothing on underneath, and a faded pair of ripped blue jeans held together only by long cottony threads.  You had combed your hair piratically over one eye.  You greeted everyone with a lunatic stare.  You should have looked hideous.  One eye staring naked and crazy.  The other eye veiled.  Your features were too fragile, your skin, too white.  But for some reason, you were beautiful.  Your nose sloped perfectly.  Your lips were thin and symmetrical, and sweetly soft looking.  Your legs had been honed in your youth by years of horse back riding, ballet, figure skating, karate and all the other private lessons that money could buy.  Which is why your ass still looked great despite too much time sitting on it.

You looked me up and down, then gave me a smile, like you were composing my obituary in your head as a private amusement.  Back in those days, you were too skinny, but in an interesting way.  Like your intellect had burned all the extra fat off your body.  You had that emaciated look that was so fashionable for models of the time.  Anyone could tell, back in those days, that you were screaming for attention.  By the way you dressed, what with the outrageous hair style and the silver nails.  And the gold tipped cigarettes.  Even though it was obvious that you wanted people to look at you, it was equally obvious that you wouldn’t compromise one bit of your distinctive personality for anyone.  You were dangerous, and crazy.  Beautiful too.  Venus, and Venus fly trap.

I think that the actress I’ll use in the Flick will have the kind of body you have now, as shown in those hot photos you sent.  You’ll be a smoker and an alcoholic, but you’ll have an athlete’s firmness.  The magic of cinema.

The old emaciated style appealed to me back in the early 80’s, but these days it looks too much like AIDS wasting syndrome.

You said to me, “You’re Dieter.  I’d know you anywhere.  Jay talks about you all the time.  It makes me jealous, the way he really, really loves you.”

“And you’re Phoenix.  You look like someone who could have a religious experience reading a horror novel.”

“Haven’t you ever been consumed by a story?”

“I’ve been burned by a number of tales.”

“People lose themselves in stories all the time.  Look how many have been lost to the Bible or other soap operas and sitcoms.  A tale can unglue the atoms of your brain.  Haven’t you ever been plunged into depths of absurdity and terror so profoundly disorienting that you laugh and tremble at the same time, that you believe whatever the teller wants you to believe no matter how ridiculous, that you think you have gone mad.  I have.”

“That never happened to me.”

“It will.”

There had been many women I wanted in the past, and most of them I wanted in the past just as soon as the present was over.  No one before– or since– affected me the way you did at that moment.  Maybe it was Jay’s hype.  Maybe it was forbidden fruit syndrome.  Or maybe there is something to this love at first sight stuff I always thought was chick pornography.

You asked, “Did you ever read ‘The Castle of Otranto?’”

“Never heard of it.”

“The first Gothic novel.  You would like it.  It would make you laugh.”

“Is it funny?”

“A scream, really.”

“So what kind of joke was it?  God?  Or something weirder?”

“I’ll try to explain.  Horace Walpole wrote the book.  While I was reading the book, I got a fortune cookie with the message: ‘Life is comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.’  Curiously, that was a quote from Horace Walpole. He was as famous for his collection of letters as he was for writing the first gothic novel, though I did not learn that until later.  The word serendipity itself was coined by Walpole.  He had read what he described as a fairy tale about a journey to the land of Serendip, the former name of Tibet, in which the characters advance through a series of remarkable coincidences.

“The horror novel begins with a wedding ceremony.  Before we reach the wedding march, before the organ plays, a horrifying catastrophe interrupts.  A helmet of gargantuan proportions falls from the sky, very suddenly, and lands upon groom.  The wedding is off, for the groom has been reduced to pulp.”

“And the book isn’t?”

“I like trash.  How about you?  Do you get off on trash?”


“The hero appears.  Alphonso, I think.  I am terrible with names when I’m drunk.  He immediately begins to court the bride… who is no longer a bride…  Who is she?  I forgot her name… she’s now the unengaged heroine…   Alphonso must compete with a ghost…  the ghost’s name escapes me for the moment… not a name, but a title… the wielder of the weighty symbol… something… something huge…  I will confess that I always remembered him as The Ghost with the Big Dick.”  At this point, you started laughing.  “His buried saber contains the promise of Heaven.”  You banged the heel of your hand against your forehead, then snapped your fingers.  “The Knight of the Enormous Saber.”

“Big Dick?”

“You don’t know whether to be terrified or laughing.  But then the author invokes fantastic images, like the gigantic helmet, with its towering feathers waving back and forth under the full moon.  You realize you’re supposed to be terrified and laughing at the same time.”

You looked me in the eye.

“The unengaged heroine ends up marrying someone else in the end.”  You laughed again, starting to lose control and balance.  You caught my arm and steadied yourself.  Holding onto me, you said, “She marries the dead groom’s best friend.”

My guy code thing was being sorely tested.

You said, “There is a line I have memorized like a prayer.  The last line, the line that gave me a religious experience.”  You recited,  “‘Her grief was too fresh to admit the thought of another love and it was not until she engaged in frequent discourse about her lost fiancé with the man who had been his closest friend that she was persuaded to marry him…”

“I don’t get your meaning,” I said, though it was obvious, and then I added, “I mean, what does it have to do with religion?”

You looked at me, just looked, and I nearly had a religious experience, but mine was of the ancient kind.  Not an organized religion experience, though it involved an organ.

You said, “I would have thought it was right up your alley.  Think about what I said, it’s all about swapping… life after death… a sexual fantasy… imposing a live lover on a lost one.  A preservation of memory through a substitution… a transformation of flesh into artifice…”

“I got some other kind of message from what you were saying.  I guess I’m not the religious type.”

“I don’t expect you to understand… I had a very personal kind of reaction to this sentence…  Maybe it contains meaning for me alone.”

“Maybe it has to do with the future…”

“Why do you say that?”

“Just a thought I had… I don’t know why…”

“I hope not… you see, I wasn’t finished.  The sentence continues… ‘she was persuaded to marry him, for she could know no happiness but in the society of one with whom she could forever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of her soul.'”

“I think I liked better the part about frequent discourse.”

“When I hit that line, so funny, yet so profoundly sad, it destroyed me.  It ripped away the veil away from my senses and illuminated the unseen world.”

Jay appeared out of the crowd, suddenly, unreal and out of place, like a helmet falling out of the sky, or like a ghost at a wedding feast.

You and I were fixated.

Jay asked, “What’s going on?”

You said, “We sort of found each other.”

Jay grabbed you by the arm and pulled you away from me.  He said, “We have to get going.”

You stood your ground, pulling your arm loose from Jay’s grasp.

Looking at me, you asked, ”Isn’t your birthday coming up?  I know a good present.”


Everyone needs a niche.  I am a bottom feeder.  But because of art films, I am not the failure everyone expected me to be.  My bank account bulges.

You say you’ve lost interest in fucking.  I believe you.  I’m not “seeing” anyone either–except professionally.  Fucking has become a fucking empty chore.  A job.

Here is the way I see what happened to us.  We had something on the order of an erotic demolition derby, with enough atmospherics to qualify for romance.  If not true love, then its nymphomaniac twin sister.

But then, something happened which I still can’t figure out.

Just when things were perfect.

We could use it for the climax of our movie.

We had been living together about two years.  Mostly roughing it in Lovehollow.  Sometimes traveling around the country and mooching off friends who hadn’t allied with Jay.  One night, after about a month of living in Hightstown, it hit me.  I had just come back to our apartment from a hard day, and the first thing I thought about, before walking through the door, was the garbage.  You had me domesticated enough to be worried about whether the garbage made it down to the curb.  You had me hauling trash twice a week.  Like a rhino being led around by his horn.

There I was, carrying a great, overstuffed plastic bag.  It was the cheap kind you always used to buy.  The plastic started to herniate.  I could see your garbage gathering in little pouches that grew more transparent as more stuff spilled in.  Little things overwhelmed me.  Gold butts kissed by blue lipstick.  A Fauvist reprint clipped from a magazine and hung on the refrigerator until stains wiped out the colors.  Notes to me, ripped up, and left littered around the house for me to find like William Burroughs love letters.  It just hit me at that moment.   All of it, taken together.  It hit me in a funny way.  And I thought, there are many different women who could make me happy for the rest of my life, but they would have to make me happy by being different and being many.  But there was only one who could do it by being the only one.  The thought distracted me.  The garbage, your stuff, started to leak out.

I had to wrestle the bag up into my arms.

There I was, hugging the bag of garbage, rehearsing what I wanted to say to you.

“Phoenix, you’ve done it to me.  You’ve made me love you so much, I even want to marry you.”

As if to answer me, the garbage bag ruptured in my arms.  Our trash barfed its way out of the bag with a big slushy whisper.  It reeked of ash trays and moldy yogurt.  A soft, wet mystery item plopped on my feet.  It looked like some kind of grizzly trophy, something a serial killer might keep, something that could have been shredded cardiac muscle crawling with maggots.

But still, I had this feeling like a fish with a hook in its mouth.  Only instead of worrying about the hook, I was like a hooked fish who thinks he’s a lucky stiff because he has chanced upon what has to be the only earthworm hanging out in the middle of the ocean.

I ran inside and found you in bed.  What better place than bed to pop the question?

I had to repeat myself a few times because you weren’t answering me.  Had I put you in shock?  Or were you passed out drunk again?

The bed had been made with red silk sheets.  Surely not for snoozing.  I took it as an invite.

The sheets weren’t silk.  They glistened because they were wet.  And they weren’t normally red either.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used the poker to cauterize your wrist.  The scar would have been less ugly.  But the red hot swollen rod was there in the fireplace, and the open wound…

The film could be about the cheating that wrecked our love.

I think there’s a lesson in that for all lovers.

It will make a great “art” film.




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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