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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

The degree of love one experiences is usually inversely proportional to the loneliness that preceded it.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 20

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

November 4, 1990

Dear Die:

The other day in a Laundromat– a Laundromat of all places– I found a battered magazine called Femillenium; a hip, slickly done monthly devoted to current social issues affecting women.  The wrinkled cover featured an unflattering fig leafed caricature of you, promoting the lead article: “Die Smiling– my vote for Millennium Male Bimbo.”

The words of your last scene are vaguely familiar, but too much of my life has vanished into drunken black outs.  I do remember trying to trap you in my tale, like a spider spinning her web.  The notion still makes profound sense to me.  And I remember saying something else to you that day, something you conveniently omitted.  I said, “This is my story and not one of your plots.  I will decide my own end, and I will not be traded or swapped or tricked.  I will not be had, unless I choose to be had.”

After reading your recent script, I went back to my battered copy of Herodotus.  Both versions in the script contain inaccuracies attributed to me.  Perhaps I told the story incorrectly on purpose.  I don’t remember.

I fear the breadth of the story web you and I are weaving.  Expanding upon Candaules sin, we recruit our audience of lost souls to take the part of Gyges, we invite them to slay you and take your place in my bed.

It seems the past is returning to me.  I’ve found bottles of Dulcet Lyre lying around the apartment, green lips kissed by blue lips.  The air is coarse with stale cigarette smoke.  Where does it come from?

A collaborator came to me as well, though I am hard pressed to describe the circumstances, for a haziness possesses me when I think back on the encounter.  Had I been drinking, or dreaming?  At first I was frightened when I confronted Jay’s ghost.  But then my uneasiness passed, and we talked of old times like old friends.  Despite everything, I have missed Jay.  The love I felt for him was no less real for being of the unhappy variety, anymore than was the love I felt for you, Die, which was no happier.  Sometimes I have missed Jay very much.  Perhaps the souls of men are not eradicated by death; perhaps they merely hide, like data exiled into long term memory, inaccessible until summoned by the proper set of circumstances.  Even now I am not sure if this exchange took place with a phantasm, or whether Jay spoke to me through John Holmes, acting as medium.

I asked the ghost if he was trying to tell us something.

He replied, “I have no message.  I am just an effect.”

I replied, “You can’t create an effect without a message.”

He smiled, that old Jay smile when he was in control.  “I have a message but it has no meaning.  Or if it has a meaning, you can’t understand it.  Or if you understand it, you destroy it.”

I don’t like the sequences where dead Jay possesses his old self.  I took a pen to our manuscript, intending to cross them out.

“You can’t write me out of the past anymore than you can write me out of the present,” said Jay.  “Without me, you and Die don’t have a story.  You have nothing.  Just fucking.”

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t talking to a ghost anymore.  I was talking to John Holmes.  I stammered out a lame excuse for my bewilderment.

“Do I remind you of someone else?  That’s not unusual.  If I remind you of someone from your past, perhaps it is because I have been forced into his role in real life.”

“You are scaring the shit out of me.”

“What happened to me is an old story.  Old stories keep getting retold.  You see it in law.  There are forces that shape stories, and these are the same forces that drive the legal system.  Start with a controversy.  Turn it into a story.  Compare it to older stories, you know, cite the precedents.  Then the present controversy will have the same ending as the older story.”

“The current of the story overwhelms the participants… I have always believed that.  How did you know?”

“There’s nothing surprising here… we’re talking about a well known, well discussed phenomena.  A universal constant in human experience.  One that accounts for… I don’t know… strange things… mystic things. That is the way stories work their magic.”

“So what happened to you?”

“I was in love with a woman like you, once.  She was an alpha female, like you, a paragon of beauty and wit.  I lost her, as you can guess, to my dearest friend.  Does it sounds like a familiar story?  It has happened many times.”

A chill crept up my spine.

I felt as if I were being led, as in a dance, toward a certain destination.  Perhaps the dance was of the ballroom variety.  Suddenly, a spider fell upon John’s cheek.  You know what the appearance of a spider signaled in my past.  This spider must have been hiding in the canopy over the bed… who knows how long.  All these years.

John stood in the light, the spider creeping up his cheek.  He didn’t flinch.  I took it as a warning.  The past was presenting itself to me again.

What happened after the spider appeared?

Did we continue anyway?

Did I finally find someone willing to indulge the melancholy that had forever taken possession of my soul?

I will let you stew over that question.

What have we said?  In all the explicit scenes, you cynically view the way the sex partners relate to one another, and their conjunctions have a kind of anti-erotic quality.  That’s okay, if you intend to establish a contrast between these episodes and the romance which is to follow.

In a sense, I liked the beginning sequences because they establish the preconditions for passion.  The degree of love one experiences is usually inversely proportional to the loneliness that preceded it.  Your first act shows a void in your life which I filled.

I am not so brazen as you.  I am a little shy about baring the void you filled, but here it is:


June 15, 1985.

A slender fingernail, polished silver, traces a path along a hand drawn map.  The image of the silver fingernail casts a reflective glare, then transforms to the image of a polished 1984 silver Firebird.

The Firebird rumbles down a dirt road, its path on the actual landscape corresponding to the track of the fingernail on the hand drawn map.  It passes tin roofed shanties.

Down the road, stallions sniff the air and circumnavigate their barbed wire confinement.

From a collapsing front porch, a fat woman stares with beady, inbred eyes, then she spits brown tobacco juice at the Firebird.  A hunter carries a double barreled shot gun through clouds of dust on the road ahead.

A burning cross flings light from the heart of the forest; its image, shining through a mesh of naked branches, cracked into patterns like those of a stained glass window.  Jay grips the steering wheel.  Phoenix stirs restlessly.

Phoenix is nineteen years old again, riding in the passenger seat.  A cigarette hangs from her mouth as she studies the hand drawn map which Die sent to Jay.  Between her thighs, she warms an open bottle of Dulcet Lyre.

Intrigued by Die’s Map and its decadent doodling along the margins, she feels connected to him, his words in her mouth like a tongue, as she reads his directions aloud:  “Drive past the Fish Camp until you come to a wide dirt road.  This is Main Street, though there are no signs.  Keep going past the tobacco fields.  Then take a right at the Witch Tree.  You’ll figure out how the Witch Tree got its name.  Hopefully not because you’re wondering which tree it is.  If you get lost, do not ask the locals for directions.  I do not exactly have the owner’s permission to live where I am living.  This mansion Grace and I have dubbed Lovehollow.  If you get lost, then you’re in deep shit.  Find Lovehollow.”

Over the past year, she had been unhappy with Jay.  There had been dalliances and infidelities on both their parts.  They started with preemptive infidelities, which led to retaliatory infidelities, which led to retaliatory abstinence.  It was during this period of abstinence that her thoughts returned to Dieter, fantasies which provided a private escape.  Despite her festering fury over his conduct the year before, she still longed for Die.  In a way, she hated him for what he had done, but paradoxically, she found that her anger fueled her appetite.  The blazing intensity of her hatred served as a kind of twisted proof that she was in love, really in love.

Despite her troubles with Jay, she lingered with him, and she loved him too, in a way that was distinct and different from the way she loved Dieter.  As much as she despised Grace, Phoenix had to admit that Grace had been correct about one thing.  There were two distinct categories of Love.

Jay says, “I am really pissed at Die.  He sends this fucked up map and warns us not to get lost.  Why the hell are we doing this?  Why…?  After what happened last year…  I still have a scar on my…”

“You know why.”

“After last year… I don’t know why…”

“I have it all figured out.  Relax.”

“I can’t relax.”

“Have a drink.”  Phoenix opens her thighs.

“Tell the truth, Jay.  Aren’t you cooking up some kind of swapping scheme?  Isn’t that the whole point of this trip?”

His silence hardens the acoustics in the space between them, until she can hear the grinding of Jay’s teeth.

She says, “I know you’d never tell me if you were planning a swap.  That would ruin the game for you.”

“You put me up to it.  You forced it.”

“You have no idea what kind of swapping game would catch my fancy.  My kind of swapping game is nothing like what you boys have planned.”

“So what do you want?”

“I might be interested if we did it on my terms.  Something totally different, more like something extraordinarily disorienting, something thrilling and frightening…”

“Like one of your horror stories.  No thanks…”

“How about if we gave Die the scare of his life, to pay him back for what he did to us last summer.  We’ll make Die think that he killed you.  I’ll show up alone and tell him you died of complications from the man-of-wars stings.  Then you masquerade as a ghost.”

“This is bullshit.”

“No, it’ll work if you let me do it my way.  Let me script out the whole thing.  Do what I dictate, and mouth my lines.  Then, when Die is terrified out of his wits, when he’s thoroughly shattered, when he’s destroyed… that’s when we’ll do it.  Will you let me?  I really want to do it… but my way…”

Her face seeks the shadows of his neck.  With the tip of her tongue, she traces the sheath of his jugular.

“Stop it.”

“Why are you so uptight?”

“I was thinking about you and Die.  But now I am thinking about getting killed.  Die dragged us all the way out into the emptiest slice of nowhere this side west of Bumfuck, Egypt.  This is the kind of place where we will get shot just for being rich and young and together.”

She unbuttons his shirt, and continues her moist exploration.

“There’s a gun in the glove compartment.  I suggest you pull it out.”

Phoenix unzips his fly.


Suspicion nags at me.  Something beyond co-authorship motivates your involvement in this enterprise.  I haven’t gotten to the bottom of this yet.  Too many inexplicable coincidences simultaneously assault me.  My paranoia implicates Holmes into your scheme as well.  It is not beyond the powers of my imagination to cast my only companion as your coconspirator.  What is up with you, Die, other than the usual?

What bribes must I offer to learn the secret of Jayne Payne?




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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