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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

After I read your immodest proposal, I concluded that you are in love with the woman I used to be, not the woman I am now.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 33

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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


March 1, 1991

Dear Die:

I know that I have missed, long missed, the deadline given in your ultimatum.  I fear that you will not believe the excuses I offer, or the most extraordinary set of events I am about to relate.  You will think I finally lost the remnants of what passes for my sanity, or I am trying to get attention.  My explanation may sound reminiscent of the improbable tales that I used to concoct out of idleness, or to lend drama to an otherwise uneventful day.  You remember, I am sure, all my fabrications and the way they stoked your suspicions of infidelity.  My explanation may smack of my old drunken delusions.  You will think I am presenting so wild a story as a desperate act, because I have missed your deadline.

I have story to tell.  All of it is true, all of it written according to Dieter Smith’s own code of honesty.

If you wish to prove, incontrovertibly, this love you have professed for me, then accept my story simply because of its source.  Trust in my lips.  Force yourself to believe the unbelievable, for the sake of love.  It will alter forever the portals of your perception.

My landlady ignores a growing termite problem.  Sometimes I find the edges of my law books nibbled to delicate lace.  Tiny holographic wings and chewed husks of miniature princes decorate my desk.  When I got back to Los Angeles from Christmas break, I found your marriage proposal waiting for me.  The termites tasted your words before I did.  Little pin pricks interspersed a stellar punctuation across your message, a planetarium I could hold in my hands; a miniature horoscope to decide my fate.  Parts of the message were missing, forcing me to guess at the meaning.

After I read your immodest proposal, I concluded that you are in love with the woman I used to be, not the woman I am now.

I pondered your ultimatum.   This conflict always underscored our love.  If we commit to one another, in whose world will we live?

I found one of the bottles of Dulcet Lyre that have mysteriously appeared of late in my apartment and poured myself a drink without hesitation.  Certain circumstances require intoxication, even on the part of the reformed.

I was shocked by your offer, shocked by demands you would make of me.  Perhaps what shocked me the most was my own indecision.  Can the old Phoenix be resurrected?

So have I waited too long?  Have I lost you?

Didn’t you stop to think about the timing of your indecent proposal, your ultimatum to me, Die Smiling?  Didn’t it occur to you that I might not be in Los Angeles?  The week between Christmas and New Years universally coincides with Winter break.

There were two occasions in the past when I was confronted with an important decision about how to deal with you, Die.  On both those occasions, I feared that whatever destiny I would meet would be the product of appetite, rather than reason.  On both those occasions, I reached out to Jay to alleviate whatever base needs drove me to act impulsively.  The first of those two occasions was on the road to Lovehollow, that day in June now preserved in our art.  The second occasion took place in Hightstown.  Both occasions had terrible, far reaching consequences.

Despite the lessons of those two episodes, I reached out to John Holmes in the same way I had reached out to Jay, and for the same reasons, and with the same disastrous results.

I did not seriously think you would act on your ultimatum.  I was counting on the timing of your one week deadline, on your playing against the odds that I would not receive your letter in time to respond.  But the truth of the matter is, and I must now recant the one small fib I told earlier in this letter, the truth is, I had not gone back to Boston during Winter Break.  I was here, in Los Angeles.

In my heart, I believed I could set things right between us by confessing the circumstances of my betrayal, even though the confession was long overdue.  In my heart, I thought this confession would undo years of harm, and that you would be willing to make any sacrifices I required of you.

During passing fits of rationality, I tried to console myself, insisting that the ghost I kept seeing was a mere metaphor, a message from the deepest fathoms of my subconscious, that the aspect of Jay’s ghost which actually haunted our love was in fact your jealousy, your inability to forgive me for that one indiscretion, and my inability to forgive you for not forgiving me.  I told myself our screenplay served as a kind of séance to rouse and exorcize this ghost.

That is what I wished to believe, that my nightmares were symbols and not literal truths.  But now I don’t know… I just don’t know…

So why didn’t I write to you sooner?

There is a reason.  There is a very good reason, though it is somewhat difficult to believe.  If you are willing to suspend your disbelief, if you are willing to have faith in me and in my story set down as truly as I can tell it, if you are willing to accept me at my word, even though rationality and prior experience would persuade you otherwise, then you might understand my delay and you might forgive me.

The night that your indecent proposal arrived, I called John Holmes in panic.  We talked for several hours.  I flirted shamelessly.  I wanted him, and I let him know how much I wanted him, in subtle and unsubtle ways.

We made a date for the following night.

It has been years since I made love to anyone.

I looked forward to this date with John.  I woke up that morning full of hope, thinking of nothing but the date.  It had been too long in coming.

He shared with me an essay he had submitted to Professor Weiss.  He wrote it as a gift for me.  His essay, a critique of Jenkins v. Georgia, was the oddest kind of love letter I had ever received.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a theater owner on the grounds that the film in question– Carnal Knowledge — had “serious artistic merit.”  The Court took it upon itself to indulge the old question of good art and bad art, retreating a little from the rigidity of the Miller Test.  Although the jury still has the first chance to determine if the work is obscene, the elusive quality of “artistic merit” remains a question of law, as well as a question of fact.  To put it simply, “artistic merit” can be argued on appeal as a question of law, and left for the elite minds of the appellate courts to decide.  So Holmes concluded, almost as a kind of joke, that Jenkins v. Georgia has the effect of returning erotic art to its prior status– as an upper class prerogative.

“Professor Weiss is not going to like this.”

“Professor Weiss has a side she doesn’t show in class.  You know, her Jayne Payne imitation was flawless; I mean absolutely perfect.  She must have watched a lot of Jayne Payne movies.”

“Galen Weiss?  I don’t think so.  I am more willing to believe that she became mediumistic.”

“So you believe in ghosts?”

“I feel haunted.”

“There is a place I want to take you,” he said.  “An abandoned mansion out in the wilderness.  It reminds me of Lovehollow.”

I went with him, out of curiosity, out of guilt, as an excuse to procrastinate further my decision about your proposal.  I packed quickly, taking only essentials.

John insisted on taking the Firebird.  Despite my misgivings, I acceded to his wishes.

When he opened the car door and climbed in, he was wearing one of the masks from his Porno disguise kit.  Feeling nervous and uncertain, I asked him to take it off, which he did, speedily.  He wore another mask on underneath.

I laughed, but also I began to panic.  And I began to wonder who he really was.

He said, “I think Galen Weiss learned how to do impressions the same way I did.   I learned how to shift the vocal range, mimic an obvious accent.  These things help.  But I also learned how to get away with just a superficial imitation of tone.  This will work, but only when I internalize the deeper essence of a person.  Copy the program.  People run on programs, just like computers.  Like how they orient to time.  Like whether they fixate on past or present.  Or future.  Copy the program.  Anyone can be a different person.”

I was almost ready to believe him.  He seemed like someone else.  And so did I.  I didn’t care if he was a ghost or not.  I was having fun.  I wanted to be with him, whoever he was.

We drove for countless hours, flat roads giving way to roller coaster paths cut into the mountains.  I had no idea where we were going.

When we arrived at the mansion, we found its great gates unguarded.  It looked as if it had been maintained perfectly by some unseen host.

Mock Grecian statues, medusas and Cyclops, promenaded along the path to the hidden mansion.  Unlike the statutes at Lovehollow, these were not broken, but rather they were whole and robust, lifelike and wanton in their poses.

Portions of the mansion’s textile block and masonry fabric had been cut away to admit trees, to fuse the facade with uncontrolled growth.  Rural currents flowed from the environs through the edifice.

At the top of the mansion a soaring spire thrust into the heavens, ornamenting the place like a pagan steeple.

Holmes fastened his lips onto mine, kissing right through the mask’s mouth hole.  What I had thought was rubber felt warm and active, surprisingly sensual to the touch.  But the more he aroused me, the more nervous, and the more tense I became, my lips stiffening, corpselike.  The more he inflamed my passions, the more frigid I seemed, and the deeper I became entangled in a reverse feedback loop.

Holmes seemed to sense my confusion.  He said, “I’ve been aching to catch a glimpse of the woman who once loved Die Smiling. I still haven’t met her.  Why don’t you let go of yourself and be yourself.  Become who you were once.  You need to loosen up.  You’ve gone too far the other way.”

The masked man asked me to reveal myself.

“I thought you were trying to help me.”

“I am.”

Holmes and I entered the mansion without setting off any alarms.

The place had been decorated in a mélange of styles.  Antique furniture glistened around us, looking perfectly new.  So much of it was very familiar.  I felt as if I had stepped into the past. I thought I recognized pieces came out of Lovehollow, and from our old apartment.

There was a bottle of Dulcet Lyre.  “Where did it come from?” I asked John.

“Not from me.”

“They don’t even make the stuff anymore.”  I took a swig and it felt substantial enough.  I felt less so.

On the wall hung tapestries done in a pseudo oriental style.  The scenes were lewd, but ambitious in design, magnificent failures.  Blue windows of tinted glass suffused the interior with an embryonic glow.  On a shelf, among Tiffany lamps and fluted ceramic ornaments glazed with acidic green, stood a duplicate set of the ivory gods and goddesses.  New pieces had been added, including medusas and Cyclops, couples enacting Bacchanalian rituals, holy orgies.  Rendered with consummate artistry, lifelike, the gods and goddesses, the medusas and Cyclops, seemed less statuary and more the embodiment of rapture fused with eternity, a statement of absolute joy in silence and captive motion.

Holmes said, “At first it seemed a crazy coincidence.  But coincidence has stopped surprising me.  I find the world full of repeating patterns.  You’ve activated preternatural forces, Phoenix.”

As we moved toward the bedroom, he began to slough off his pants.  I froze.

John said, “I once loved a woman, so much like you, a paragon of…”

“I know.  She fell in love with your best friend.  You told me.  It is a story I have heard before.”

“I love you as much as I loved her.  In a way, you are the same woman.”

His mask had changed again, without my realizing it.  Now a Cyclops face stared at me, a single eye and a single sharp fang in a hollow mouth.  The cheekbones jutted weirdly, knobby and misshapen.  I stared back into the single eye, alive and glistening.  His true face had been revealed, whether it was a mask or not, the face of unfettered male urgency, the bestial reign of instinct.

“Who do you want me to be?  How about Mr. XXX?”

He laughed and took off his shirt, displaying the tightly packed muscles of my most recent fantasy infatuation.

I pushed Holmes away.  The situation soured, like a dream turning to nightmare.

“Who are you?”  He wasn’t Holmes.  He was, but he wasn’t.

“I am a man who fell in love.  I lost my love to my best friend.  A familiar character in a familiar story…  I used to be an individual until I was opened up to possibilities, unseen forces.  I could be anyone.  An army of wronged lovers came marching up from deep structures within my brain.  I became a universal.  An archetype.  A constant.  A cipher…”

A ghost.

He pushed open the door.  “You want to see how it is done?  Do you want to watch me do it?”

Inside, the bedroom, there was an antique bed, with firebirds carved into the headboards.

“The male phoenix is an icon of bliss, the female majesty.  Their union evokes the aspirations and fulfillment of marriage.”

I trembled.

I had too blithely accepted the fantastic, too casually embraced unreality.  The ghost I had expected was not the ghost I got.  Through the face of the Cyclops, he began to talk like Jay.  “By giving in to me, you restore a balance.  It is justice, in a way.

“I am the one who is supposed to end up with you.  I am the one.  It was supposed to have been a swap, you see.  A swap from the very beginning.  Die and I had agreed upon it.  I came through for him, but he welshed on the deal.  So I should get you back.”

I felt as if I were reliving our first night in the original Lovehollow, an enactment of the lie that killed Jay, a finish to the task he’d left undone in Hightstown.  It wasn’t a metaphor.  It wasn’t a dream symbol of your failure to forgive me.  It was a ghost.  It was Jay himself, back from the dead, to come between us.  He used a trademark comment, an expression which had passed between him and me alone.  Even after all I had sacrificed for him in the past, Jay had not forgiven me.  His malice lingered.  It seemed a retraction of grace, a punishment for all my recent lapses.  Jay will never forgive us, Die.  In his life, he viewed friendship as an entitlement.  He viewed us as his possessions.

Who was he possessing now?

He asked, “What happens at this point?  Sex or violence?  It is your choice.  It is, after all, still your story.  If you were telling a lie to someone, if you were trying to convince him that what happens at this point is the absolute truth, what would you tell him about what happens now between us?  Sex or violence?”

I backed away.

He continued, “What do you prefer in a story?  Why is it always one or the other?”

“How about comic relief?”

He laughed in a way that was neither comic nor relieving.  “No.  It has to be sex or violence.  I can be your fantasy… your dream lover.  Anyone.  If you could have anyone at all, who would it be?  Who would you love?”

I knew at once who I wanted that night, the same person I have wanted every night, and would always want.


His single eye gaped, his long tongue flicked the tip of his sharp tooth.  I had given him his answer, his justification to do what ever he felt like doing.  He was right.  It had to be Sex or violence.  One or the other.  Or both.  His single eye, his hollow mouth with its single tooth reminded me of the self satisfied smile that Jay had smiled, back on that night in Hightstown when he thought he had won.

Holmes, or whoever he was, stepped toward me.

I stopped thinking of him as a real person.  Instead, I viewed him as something that should have been dead.  Perhaps he was something dredged up from my subconscious, a metaphor that had taken flesh, a malevolent force that still stood between you and I, Die.  This time, I would not surrender myself to it.

Sex or violence.

I turned and ran out of the door, through the lawn, past the guardian statues.  John raced after me.  I run so much faster than I did in the old days, but the burden of recent abuses began to weigh on my lungs.  I felt as if I were trying to breathe through wet paper.  A stitch pierced my side.

I made it to the Firebird, fumbled the door open, got into the glove compartment just as he fell upon me.

Sex or violence.

I aimed into his single, wet eye and squeezed the trigger.  The gun jumped in my hand.  The force and noise of the gunshot drove me backward, but I could see, through the smoke, the bullet had smacked into his chest.  Then Holmes flew backward as if caught in a hurricane wind.

I fled the place.  I waited until I was a safe distance away before I started to call the police, but by then I was lost.  I had no idea where to find this abandoned mansion, this new Lovehollow.  So I didn’t make the phone call.  I would have sounded too weird.  Although I had acted in self defense, no one would believe me.  They would think that I was insane, for certain.  I would end up under treatment again, and under the numbing influence of psychotropic drugs.

You think that I am lying.  You always had a problem with lending credibility to my reports, for I am too much of a storyteller with a penchant for embellishment.

Or perhaps you might find another explanation more credible.  I am losing my mind.

Are you willing to forgive me, even though in my heart it is years too late and I can never forgive you for all the harm you’ve done to both of us?  Will you forgive me without my making the first move to forgive you?

Will you still love me even if I am completely out of my mind, and will you let me destroy you with my mad love?

If you will see me one more time, we’ll bring about an end to our love.  An end or a rebirth.  I will be at Lovehollow, escaping into my past, back to the best days of my life.  Like my namesake, my future lies in my past, my past lies in my future.  There is nowhere else for me to hide.




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.   His critical writing for Rain Taxi Review of Books can be found at:


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