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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

For days after watching those videotapes, I had felt afflicted by pollution of the soul, craving cigarettes, alcohol, drugs--things I haven't wanted in years.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 18

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

October 23, 1990


Dear Die,


When my efforts at library research failed, I took to the streets to find the secret of Jayne Payne, that mysterious figure whose celebrity seems based upon her nonexistence.  I searched through dusty used bookstores and black market merchants.  Who is Jayne Payne?

Driven by the full intention of making good on the videotapes with which I had absconded, I returned the emporium.  To my surprise, a portion of the front wall had been torn away.  Shattered bricks hemorrhaged their red dust all over the street.  Spread-eagled magazines with broken spines lay in the gutters like road kill.

The place did not appear to be open for business, but neither did it appear closed.  With nothing to block my entrance, I simply walked in.

A group of earnest plumbers, naked to the waist, attacked an interior wall with sledgehammers.

There were other men at work, these dressed in pinstripe suits.  They carted away the inventory, moving with the lithe speed and synchronization of an army of repo men.

“Whom do I pay?”  I asked one of the Pinstripe Suited men.

Holmes came up behind me.  “No one cares.  You can keep the tapes.  The business is finished.”

“Busted for pornography?”

“Not actually.  As I understand it, they’ve succumbed to a badgering campaign launched by the city and county.  More like they’ve been whittled down by zoning and building code violations.”

I set the videotapes on the counter.

Holmes grinned.  “So… was it good for you, too?”

I looked down at piles of erotic cassettes waiting to be reshelved.  Their covers shined with vasolined intrusions of undesirable men into beautiful women; the capitulations of women transformed into Barbi dolls through the use of peroxide and silicone.  The men in pinstripe suits catalogued their illusions with military efficiency.

One of the pinstripe-suited men grabbed the cassettes I had set on the counter.  Then he wheeled out through the jagged opening where the doorframe had been ripped loose.

“Did you watch Phucktom of the Opera?  What did you think of it?”

“Why do you keep pimping this XXX character to me?”

“You like him.  Don’t deny it.”

I fear I actually blushed.  I don’t know how he managed to penetrate my indifferent veneer.

“I can be him, if you want.  Anyone can.”  Holmes looked around the piles of sex toys, posters, and accumulated paraphernalia.  “Somewhere in this mess, there is a Mr. XXX disguise kit.  It comes with masks that will appeal to your literary proclivities, if the dildos don’t put you off.  These masks draw from obscure Dionysian origins, predating even the watered down versions which later cropped up in Greek drama.”

He began to put on the masks, one by one.  “There is one with features frozen into terror by its confrontation with its own destiny.  Another mask displays an utter lack of inhibition, a relaxed expression, laced with absurdity.  There is a malicious clown, a trickster ghost…”

“You really do study this …material.”

“I dropped out of a Ph.D. program in English to come to LawSchool.”

By this time, the plumbers had broken through the wall.  They exposed a network of pipes that had been painted pink.

He put on a mask which made him look, for all the world, like Jay Fortunata.

“So, since you study this stuff, what kind of ideas do they contain?”

“What kinds of ideas turn you on?”

From his mask kit, he produced a new face.  I stared at a plasticine image of you, Die.  The mask leered at me.  He was taunting me, presenting you, Die, as the guardian of a Porno hell; you, Die, sent to gloat over the fulfillment of Jay Fortunata’s prediction, made long ago.  I had descended into the artistic underworld.

“I was asking about the ideas… since you study this stuff… because I… I had this thought…  Under the first amendment, the law can’t be used to suppress ideas.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So the U.S. Supreme court takes the position that pornography plays no part in the interchange of ideas…”

“I know.  I know.  I’m in your Con Law Class,” said Holmes.

“I always thought of Pornography as a kind of Art that puts forth a proposition.  That is the way James Joyce saw it, too.  Don’t you think it is funny, then?  Don’t you find it ironic?”

At this juncture, the plumbers had identified the source of a clog.  They pulled shit smeared strands of videotape out of the mouth of a disconnected pipe.

“It’s the ideas lurking in your films that make them loathsome.”

The men in pinstriped suits looked up from the goods which they were cataloguing.

I was saying, “They tell a kind of lie that allows them to proscribe pornography.  The law has to pretend that the loathsome ideas are non-ideas.”

“You have any idea what she is talking about?” asked one of the catalogers in pinstripe.

“I have no idea,” replied his fellow.

I fear I was beginning to rant.

And then I caught myself and stopped.

The staring pinstripe-suited onlookers seemed relieved at my confused silence.

For a moment I recovered myself.  “I wasn’t talking to you.  I was working on an essay.  Writing it out loud.”

“For Professor Weiss?”

“Actually not an essay.  Actually a letter.  I was writing a letter to a friend out loud.”

When I realized how lamely my excuse had come across, how profoundly I projected a loss of control, I resorted to tears.  “I don’t know what I am doing.”

Holmes said, “You know what I think about you?  I think, here is a woman caught up in rhetoric.  I suspect you’re heartless, absolutely cold.  You serve up extravagant emotional outbursts, but only when you think it makes you more persuasive.  You’re not experiencing your own life; you’re trying to explain your life in a way that fools everyone around you.”

I had been carrying on in a gross and bombastic manner, saying things I didn’t really believe because the films had so deeply affected me.  I was trying to explain away my reactions.  And I realized I was responding with exposition and not emotion.  It was a reflex in which I had long engaged, particularly in moments of confusion and stark terror, a struggle up from the reptilian brain to the comfort of the cerebral cortex, a response I had come to law school to cultivate.  I was behaving exactly in accord with Holmes’s accusation, although, so was he.  What was it that terrified him?

Holmes inclined his head toward the door as I struggled to pull myself together.

“I’ll get you a drink.  I think you need one.”

“I’m an alcoholic.”

“Coffee, then.”

He vanished into a back room.

Does it seem odd that I should suddenly encounter another literary type?  Does the timing suggest too remarkable a coincidence, the product of an unseen, heavy handed manipulator.  Perhaps you question my veracity, again.  But really, it is not all that unlikely an encounter.  Where else, other than law school, can one turn an English degree to profitable advantage?

John returned with two steaming cups of coffee.  We sat and sipped.  We talked for a while.

At some point Holmes said, “When I made the switch between graduate programs, I didn’t realize how close the study of lit was to law.  I mean, what is the law, anyway, but a bunch of stories.  Stories that have the life bled out of them.  Stories reduced to their facts and their meaning.  No wonder the Supreme Court can’t see how ideas are hidden in a work of art.  Case law exposes ideas.  Explicitly.”

The plumbers scaled the pink pipes with their hammers out.  A momentary vibration stalled them, followed by a more urgent quake.  Briefly, they hung, as if crucified, upon the trembling network of pink pipes.

Other plumbers attacked the far wall, pummeling the enormous poster which advertised Back Stabbing Fox Hunter.  The arches of oversized spread legs widened until a seam opened at the point of penetration.  Blinding light shined through the developing crack.

In an instant, the far wall collapsed, ripping apart the poster.  The ripping of torsos and the rending of loins revealed a small movie theater hidden within the bowels of the shop.  Rows of tufted seats rocked back and forth in the aftershocks.  Several projectors were in use simultaneously, though the rocking seats were empty.  Poles of light traversed the air, like a phantom duel.  The poles of light thrust, parried, and lunged.  Each vector impacted the wall, each splattered an image of a nude, until transparent nakedness blazed across the walls.  Organs imposed and superimposed on one another.  The area became a ghostly inferno of overlaid giant intertwining limbs, giant stroking fingers, giant vaginas filled with giant tongues, a giant mouth that could not speak.

A giant phallus of light emerged from the coalescing beams.

“Judges are used to getting stories with ideas sticking up like…”

“Cowlicks,” I suggested.

At that moment he took my hand into his, making his intentions perfectly clear.  He had been pacing me, echoing me, mirroring me, a common trick of hypnotists and seducers.

I found that I had an extraordinary amount in common with him.  Did we really think so much alike, or was he only saying what he thought I wanted to hear?  How did he know me so well?  I felt as if I were carrying on a conversation with myself.

Does it read that way?  Are you suspicious?  Why did this soul mate appear just as you are trying to reenter my life?  It would not be the first time I invented a man to make you jealous.

But John Holmes does exist.  Perhaps he exists as a product of your creation, Die.  He speaks as if he’d been coached on how to appeal to me, coached by one with intimate knowledge.

Our elbows rested on the table.  Onlookers might have thought we were arm wrestling.  “Should opposing ideas should do battle in like form?  Words against words, images against images?”

“Do you really want to talk about Law?” he asked.

I studied Holmes’s hand, fingers intertwined with mine.  His fingers felt cold to the touch, bringing to mind Jay’s fingers, his tobacco depressed circulation.  I freed myself from his chill grip.  For days after watching those videotapes, I had felt afflicted by pollution of the soul, craving cigarettes, alcohol, drugs–things I haven’t wanted in years.  But not sex in any of its various forms, not even with myself.

I asked him, “Do you think anyone could ever do a porno film about love, fidelity, and the sanctity of marriage?”  I adopted a rational tone, tried to mask myself as a crusader, but my delivery reeked of venality and guilt.

“Sounds like an oxymoron, but I don’t know why.”

I picked up the Die Smiling Mask.  Staring into the eye holes, into the emptiness which gaped for me, I said, “This discussion is not really about Obscenity law.”

“What is it about?”

“Whether or not I am going to Die.”




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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