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Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

i'm in with 'Fixed burning players being unable to see themselves on fire'. thanks for the crit.


Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

Play Him Off - 1049 words

"Fixed burning players being unable to see themselves on fire"

Joplin was being good today. She didn’t fidget when I dressed her in the sequined half-tux she performed in, and let me sit her in front of the tiny keyboard with barely a meow. Her paws danced over the keys so naturally I barely had to tug at the fishing line tied around them. I guided them gently with flicks of my wrists, like a conductor.

I heard the door creak open, pursed my lips and stared at my wife through the crack, shaking my head. She gave me the same stare she always did, eyes rolled so hard her eyebrows shot up to meet them. She closed the door, but the damage had been done. Joplin wiggled free of the fishing line with a few shakes of her paws and clawed at the door, meowing. The red “recording” light flashed rhythmically on the camera in front of me. I turned it off with a sigh and left the room.

“Why is there a sign if we’re not going to pay attention to it?” I shouted across the hall. I had made the sign myself, early on. It hung in a plastic sleeve outside my studio door and helped to avoid mishaps like this. “Happy cat means come in, angry cat means stay out!”

“Sam, you haven’t changed that sign in months. It’s always angry cat.”

She didn’t turn around when she said it, the measured strokes of her knife on the cutting board adding tempo to the silence that followed. The pot was smoking and a wonderful smell filled the house. Joplin sat purring near my wife’s feet in a version of polite begging that got her the best results.

“It’s different now, Elle. We’re blowing up on YouTube. I need to up the ante if that’s going to keep happening. No more looping the footage, no more 10-second clips. That’s amateur stuff.”

She skipped a few chops, then continued. Though I could only see her back, I knew she’d be gritting her teeth and probably wishing she had me on that chopping block. No one likes being told they’re wrong.

“Look, no harm done,” I said, giving her a smack on the butt and bending down to take the outfit off Joplin, who was happy to help in the endeavor. “Just respect the sign, next time.”

I tripped over a piece of luggage while heading into our walk-in closet. One of Ellen’s, a tacky thing painted with roses and rainbows and other happy poo poo. It had started off as a perfectly respectable plain black Samsonite bag but something like that wouldn’t last long around Ellen. I picked it up and heaved it onto a low shelf in the closet. The thing was heavy, probably filled with Ellen’s summer clothes, maybe a coat or two from the look of the mostly-bare hangers on her side of the closet.

“Are you doing laundry?” I shouted in the direction of the kitchen. “Can I throw Jop’s suit in with it?” I was going to hang the little outfit up with the others, but I wanted it looking fresh for the next video.

No answer. She was probably still sore about ruining my shoot.

I walked past her to the piano in living room. We bought it shortly after the wedding. It had cost us a fortune, and actually getting the thing into our modest apartment had been nearly impossible. We got our money’s worth, spent the whole night playing for Elle while she laid down on a comforter on our bare floor, the closest thing we had to furniture. She had wanted to kneel on top of the piano like the girl on the cover of the Eddie Mack album, but I wasn’t about to take any risks with our new investment.

I kissed the framed picture of my Pop I kept above the piano and warmed up with some scales. He’s the one that had taught me to play-- taught me why playing was important. Pop liked to make people happy through his music, said everything I played should bring a smile to people’s faces, be something they could tap their feet to. He was a Ragtime man, and so was I. Quite a good one, if you can believe it. Was set up to play for people you’d have to look up, then pick your jaw up off the floor to ask me if I was serious. Ellen’s work had been here, though, and she was the breadwinner.

No big loss. I had Joplin, now.

The sound of porcelain against the piano’s polished surface snapped me out of it. I picked up the bowl, being careful not to slosh around the hot stew. I was going to tell Ellen off but my eyes were a little misty-- they usually were when I thought about the job, about Pop. Didn’t like her to see me like that. “Play it off,” Pop always said.

I walked past her and went back into the editing room. That’s where the real magic happened, editing. I’d splice together the footage of Jop and add a Ragtime backing track, Maple Leaf Rag in this case. I’d have to work around Ellen’s interruption somehow, that would take time. I set the bowl aside near two other untouched plates. Didn’t remember when Ellen brought those, but the food made good treats for Joplin.

The room’s doors had a large slit underneath, about an inch off the ground. They were awful for audio recording, and Jop liked to stick her paws through them sometimes when Elle was outside. Elle’s shadow poked through them and into the room. She stood there a long time. I was happy to see her obeying my boundaries, and went back to editing. Hours passed, you’d be surprised how involved the process is. It was dark out. Joplin was at our front door, scratching away.

I called for Ellen, looked for her from room to room.

I found the note in the plastic sleeve I kept my sign in. It was flipped over now. Happy Cat.

The tiny keyboard that Joplin played in the videos was fully functional, if a bit out of tune. I sat in front of it after reading the note and played the first sad piece I ever played.

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

im in

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

i was bad last week. i will be good this week. in

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

Overhand - 1200 words

“You can’t do it that way,” the old man said, mimicking my punch. “You punch straight like this, they’ll see it coming every time and block, get out of the way, counter.”

He shook his head and began throwing slow, winging haymakers that started from the waist.

“These’ll topple a bitch, ‘Los. See that?”

He sped up the motions, throwing hook after hook, his elbows were locked at 90-degree angles.

“Throw from outside their periphery and they’ll never see what hit ‘em.”

He breathed hard and collapsed back on the park bench, crossing his arms up above his head.

“Now you.”

He was wrong, of course. I had read the books and seen the big names fight and none of them punched like that. It was cartoonish, like a child’s idea of what a strong punch would look like. Even knowing this I stood up from my crouch and punched like the old man wanted me to punch.

I don’t know why.

Maybe I’m humoring him, get this over with so I can get a few more precious days of real training before the tryouts. Part of me thinks the old man actually knows something, picked up some dirty techniques in one of his prison stints. He told me when you have a problem with your bunk mate you wait ‘till it’s dark out and beat on each other ‘till one of you gives up or dies.

“I never gave up,” the old man said.

He also never died, though his body was making a drat good effort to. He coughed, body racking, head between his legs. I matched the rhythm of my punches to them.

“You’re still bringing your fists back to your chin,” he said, adding another red glob of phlegm to the puddle near his feet.

“You don’t need that, it’s a crutch. Men in our family, we got iron chins.” He gave his scraggly beard a couple little play punches to make sure I got the point.

“Women, too.” I said, glaring at the old man.

He looked so small then. Pale, hunched over, specks of spittle on his beard. If he hadn’t told me who he was I might have shown him the way to the homeless shelter. Might be where he was staying anyway.

“That’s just the language your mother and I spoke, ‘Los.”

I balled my fists and looked him right in the eye.

“Mention her again and see how fluent I’ve become.”

I felt a rush inside me when I saw him flinch, and I grabbed the bench and flipped it over, the old man along with it. I think I would have jumped on him like an animal and bashed him six feet deep if he had been more of a father, but a handful of bad memories don’t make one of those. All I saw was a sad old man writhing and coughing in the dirt.

I took my gloves off and put school bag. My hands were wrapped and shaking and I had a lot of trouble working the zipper.

“Carlos, wait, let’s take a step back,” the old man said between fits of violent coughing.

“Keep swingin’ like I taught you.”

“This is the only thing you taught me, old man.”

I picked up my bag and walked away.

I liked to train in a secluded area of the park, at the end of a biking trail they made not knowing that the ghetto wasn’t exactly the biking trail sort of crowd. I started running as soon as I turned a bend, and threw up as I got home.


It felt good to hear my name called out loud for a crowd. It wasn’t over speakers like the big boys, but the ref’s voice carried through the hall and I even got a few cheers as I stepped into the ring.

The fight team tryouts were the real deal. I had my hands wrapped by a guy who said he wrapped Ali’s hands, way back when. The gloves they had for me were a little worn but made from real leather. I banged them together as I paced throughout the ring with a satisfying smack.

I threw out a few one-two’s to get my blood up.

My opponent walked out, his coach holding a boombox up high in both hands playing some truly awful death metal. A whole section of the bleachers cheered, mostly older, flabbier versions of the kid that walked up to me now. I stretched and smacked my gloves together and wondered how they’d sound after I was through with their boy.

There was a space in the bleachers cleared around a lone figure, and I froze as I realized it was the old man. All the poo poo in my life he could have been around to embarrass me at, and he chose this.

I shook my head and beat my chest and tried to focus on corn-fed white boy stepping into the ring with me.

He was a monster. It looked like he had at least 25 pounds on me, and must have cut off then reattached a limb in order to make weight. He had reach on me, as well, arms swinging almost down to his knees like a goddamn cave man.

The ref said the words, we went to our corners, and the bell rang.

We met in the middle of the ring and I threw out a jab to test my range, which he brushed aside like an afterthought. We didn’t get twelve rounds to feel each other out like the pros, so I followed up with a cross that would break his guard.

He stiff-jabbed me and I saw stars, my cross a foot away from reaching him. I followed up with more, all met by the same jab.

I smell acetone. Everything happens fast and slow at the same time.

I can’t reach him. I feel like a kid, swinging at air while he holds my head back and yawns. We dance around each other with our hands up. I see all three of his heads smiling and know I can’t win.

The bell rings.

He’s at his corner, doesn’t even sit down. His coach pats him on the back and gives him water. The guy at my corner tells me something I don’t hear. I don’t know him, he works for the association. A charity coach.

I look for the old man in the stands and instead see him making his way to the ring. He’s being restrained by two men wearing shirts that say “security”. He’s yelling something through a coughing fit. One of the men gets him in a headlock and pulls him to the ground. I blink away tears.


I look at the old man and raise a glove, then sprint out of my corner like a racehorse.

I start throwing out the old man’s ridiculous action movie haymakers. They don’t connect and never will, swinging like that goes against the first rules of boxing.

It doesn’t matter. I swing until I feel a tap on my iron chin.

I wake up to my father’s face.

“Almost got him, kid.”

“Almost got him, dad.”

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

i'm in


Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

in. i will try to write the words

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