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HOW did you just get back to Tallahassee? You left yesterday morning, didn’t you??? And sorry you don’t live up to expectations, what on earth are you talking about?! I have never had had any expectations of you, and if I did, you would exceed all of them. You have never ceased to…
Author’s Note: I never watched Breaking Bad. I wrote this essay for Brooke Kerger’s extra-credit assignment.
Breaking Breaking Bad
The show Breaking Bad follows the story of Walter White, focusing on his morally arduous descent into the drug trade to ensure his family’s financial security. However, as the series progresses, the character evolves with more heinous intentions and begins to carry a villainous role. Uniquely, Walter White as a character diverges from his former personality and thus goes against his initial hopes when he succumbed to making drugs. Walter White is his own antagonist, and evolves to become a potent antihero.
We are introduced to White as a humble, family-focused teacher in a mediocre life celebrating his fiftieth birthday. This is the hero’s status quo, before presented with the ominous information about his health, inoperable lung cancer. His call to action is obvious, and his options all troubling. White at this moment follows the standard heroic story arc. However, after the first few episodes, White becomes engulfed in the previously reluctant production of meth. Every antihero’s origins traces the “destroyed” character to a once heroic past. Fictional characters, such as Wolverine or Paradise Lost’s Satan, were once great and valiant soldiers before being caught in tragedy or hubris, respectively. Historical figures also exhibit this “fall,” such as Caesar making the decision to cross the Rubicon instigating civil war and ascendancy to godlike status; the infamous Stalin caused his own destruction when he burns Lenin’s letter to the Bolshevik Central Committee warning them of Stalin’s evil.
Walter White’s destruction is almost literal, in the very first episode of the series. At the end of the episode, White attempts to kill himself with his Smith and Wesson Model 4506 pistol (an M1911-derivative) only to realize the safety is on. White experiences a realization akin to reincarnation, further accentuated by the last line of the episode from his wife: “Walter, is that you?”
However, this is just an initial test of the character’s integrity. As the season continues, he commits his first murder and becomes marginally disillusioned as a result. In the fifth episode of season one, “Gray Matter,” White refuses to go through chemotherapy. “All I have left is how I choose to approach this,” White argues, parallel with his growing choices and power in the drug trade. White feels chemotherapy would cause him to be a sickly devastation, choosing instead to keep his aforementioned integrity and to live his last days with his own strength. The character has now made it clear the self is incredibly incremental into defining his life; this is not an attribute of a classic hero who is selfless and humble in their personalities. Walter struggles with his cancer and his drugs, grappling between a heroic life and the creation of an antihero. At the end of the episode, he accepts the idea of getting treatment but insists on paying for it himself. At the end of the episode, the antihero is concretely created when he asks Jesse, “Want to cook?”
That single line heavily implies how he’ll pay for his treatment. He does not want help from his family, nor want to solidify his friendly bonds. He wants to survive, no longer for the sake of the family, but for his own success. But the transition is not complete until the next episode, when he completely shaves his head to confront Tuco. This is the last iota of his heroic, warming arc, and he embraces the antihero and the lifestyle around it. As a new character, he gives himself a new name, “Heisenberg,” after the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. Like White, Heisenberg was a school teacher who was diagnosed with cancer. White embodies Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, as his burgeoning drug trade expands into an empire throughout each season. The principle states the more accurately the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be measured and vice versa, White’s “Heisenberg” persona is formed by this trait into an enigmatic, notorious individual.
The changing of their name is the most prominent act of an antihero. It is the critical product of hubris that separates an antihero from a tragic hero. It allows a personality other than their previous one to grow in its complexity, to ferment in its own sphere of influence on the world. In Paradise Lost Satan goes by Lucifer, the “morning star” (one of the first notable literary works to use Lucifer as a name for the devil); in The Master and Margarita, the devil goes by the name Woland, a variation Goethe’s Faust. Gaius Julius adopted the name Caesar in reference to his military campaigns, and Ioseb Besarionis changed his name to Joseph Stalin during the revolution which literally means “Man of Steel.”
There is only one constant antagonist in Breaking Bad, Walter White himself or when he is transformed in Heisenberg. This nefarious alter ego is similar to Hyde, who, as the novel progresses, becomes more powerful and cruel in his actions. Heisenberg becomes destructive to White as Hyde becomes destructive to Dr. Jekyll. His family is alienated, his children devolve deeper into petty crimes such as theft or alcohol, and his wife is ostracized from her own husband emotionally. We see a constant battle between the two personalities to utilize the force of White’s image, and White’s internal turmoil exudes itself through bouts of stress and uneasy tempers with friends and colleagues.
Walter White by season four is the aftermath of Heisenberg’s consumption of all he once was. It is now his former self that struggles to find any hold in White’s new dogma. In episode six, season four, White gives a small speech to his wife and firmly states “I am the danger […] I am the one who knocks.” This self-forging statement is almost identical to Stalin’s rise to power in 1923. The once noble, young revolutionary hero slowly went against not only his allies, but Lenin himself, the father of the revolution. Stalin prevented Lenin’s last testament from ever reaching the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923, assuring his ability to gain power after Lenin’s death would be easy and absolute. White’s illness becomes a secondary concern as his cancerous villainous ideals consume his life and cause him to be more ambitious in his power in the drug trade.
In the teaser for the first episode of season five, a full year after the events of season four, we see White arranging his strips of bacon to make the number “52,” referencing Skyler arranging veggie bacon strips into the number “50” in the series’ pilot episode. The actual bacon is fattier, more damaging to White’s health, and is made solemnly instead of during the festivity of his fiftieth birthday. White has grown out his beard, sports horn-rimmed glasses, and regrew his hair. He offers almost no physical resemblances to the original Walter White, even lacking his wedding band. Even the first weapon introduced in the fifth season is a testament to this apotheosis of his infamy, an M60 light machine gun. In the very first episode of the series, Walter uses Jesse’s Model 4506 pistol during the action sequence and to attempt suicide. Now, he is the direct owner of the light machine gun, known colloquially as “the pig,” a 7.62x51mm-chambered weapon capable of laying waste to dozens of lives with a single belt, never mind a single magazine. White is no longer a normal chemistry teacher indiscernible in crowd of pedestrians, and neither is the weapon he uses to dictate his authority in his line of business.
Walter White has become Heisenberg, a fallen man self-consumed by the demons he had to humor to secure his family. His self-sacrifice became an utter destruction of every heroic quality, one by one, once held comfortably by him. Joined by his family for his birthday when he turning fifty, he celebrated festively. Two years later his only companion was himself and his only present was a cold, heavy, and monstrous machine. Walter White is now the king without any inspiring rise to power. Like Stalin and Caesar before him, his pride fueled his conquest. Walter White is not only the antagonist, he is the villain.
Gino Severini and Polykleitos, however different in style and historical context, are the same artistic philosophy embodied in a thread between two radically different humanities. Both men believed art was an amalgamation of self and the world, rather than a personal extension of the artist, regardless of medium. Polykleitos of Argos believed an ideal form beyond life form or preference hid behind a thick infinity of equations; Gino Severini’s style was almost independent of the movements that carry it or the catharsis that fueled it. In both artists, their creation was something beyond themselves or their surroundings. Their mentalities should remain as exemplars of the zenith of what it means to be both a human, an artist.
In the second half of the fifth century BCE, Polykleitos dramatically evolved the theory of art from his peers. His creations were less concerned with their subjects or the artist himself, but rather, small mementos along his striving journey to materialize a mathematical perfection. As such, Polykleitos familiarized himself more deeply with triangular equations and platonic conceptions of divine archetypes rather than the creations of artists among him and before him. According to Pliny the Elder, Polykleitos was the student of Ageladas of Argos, along with Phidias and Myron, however many Greek denizens consider Polykleitos and equal of Ageladas rather than a student. Polykleitos was ambitious in his sculpting, and it would be easier to consider him a mathematician or philosopher as much an artist.
In a parallel, Gino Severini was an Italian painter in the early twentieth century doomed to a life of avant-garde. Severini’s artistic works lacked order and concrete style, much to the annoyance of his masters and peers alike. His schooling was cut short when he was banned from the entire Italian school system, and his artistic ventures barely fed his bones until his death in 1966 (his last painting was in 1964). In larger terms, he was insignificant among more famous futurists such as David Burliuk and Giacomo Balla. Yet as opposed to other futurists, Severini’s style and his art movement were incongruous, shifting from neo-classicism, mosaics, and semi-abstract influences throughout his life carrying his haphazard strokes and bold geometrics with him, reminiscent of Art Deco.
Both Polykleitos and Severini were disconnected from the craft that so shaped them. Severini’s impatience with art movements and mercurial progress of his bellicose technique earned him an inability to hold a steady income or to hold any historical traction. Polykleitos’ perfectionism transcended the marble and bronze, and his workshop in Argos is a testament to even his slightest failures. As art progressed, we saw a looser and looser tie with the physical as art as a culture traveled into concerns of religious or personal spirituality. The first cave paintings were literal, devoid of any mental or metaphysical observations, mere stenography of the world around these men. As civilization and technology rose, and our time to reflect and build philosophies extended, so did the abstraction of our art. When the physical world of being able to find shelter, food, safety, water, and partnership deteriorated in concern over our centuries of tireless building it was our minds that became a new treacherous frontier. The arts, be it music, painting, sculpting, writing, dancing, or singing, are the tools to which humanity conquers those frontiers and stand at the foremost end of our known worlds.
In those terms, the physical world can be identified as a philosophical thesis, an intellectual proposition in terms of absolute evidence. Human culture, the arts specifically, can be seen as the antithesis, a “negation” of the thesis or a reaction to the proposition. The antithesis grows stronger and more prevalent, which causes the thesis to grow weaker in its vividness in our everyday life.
According to German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, synthesis is the resolution of conflict between the thesis and the antithesis, and blending their common truths. Polykleitos and Severini were only in stark difference in that their philosophies were reverse. Polykeitos sought physical perfection from concrete principles, and Severini sought spiritual perfection from vanguard principles. Polykleitos creates the world from philosophy, and Severini creates philosophy from the world. Both their specific styles intend to finally synthesize the thesis and antithesis of culture and the world this culture is birthed from, bound mostly by these men’s spirits. While most artists are obsessed with a single subject, a single view of the world, a single scope, or a single intending effect, Polykleitos and Severini were both wild in their struggle to find their ideals. It was Marcus Aurelius who proclaimed in Meditations, “Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.” Aurelius was a stoic philosopher, and this quote indicates the soul should be as comfortable as the body in everyday life, unabated by the common fallacies that torment the mind. The quote was taken from Book VI, which goes on to promote synthesis of the body and mind, the physical and the soulful.
Polykleitos and Severini, by pushing the upmost of the color and of jubilance or of mathematics through their works, hoping to find some philosophical conception of their souls found catharsis far beyond themselves. They found a new form of humanism without ever being truly humanist. They were artists as much as they were objects of humanity. They more boldly exemplified the creations of man as our own than any other artistic pair.
This story is one of my struggling works in progress. The story is a lipogram which excludes the letter “i” from being used beyond this point. Enjoy.
Fall of Man
The characters and the story that unfolds from these persons’ madness have excluded a haughty letter, a letter you speak when you speak of yourself. Throughout the story the known letter won’t be spoken, the letter has been cast away as the arrogance the letter allows. The story and all the story holds had been devoted to my wonderful muse, Brooke.
We walk amongst ourselves. We carry thoughts that we reflect upon under secrecy, the buds of humble complacency. The gods have speared us before, and they warn us they shall crush us once more dare we share our knowledge, our fears, and our abysses. For they fear our potency, dare we accumulate our chasms we hold, we may fall. We fall from the grasp of stagnant gears, the hands of callowness. We fall from fools; we plummet down the abyss together. The abyss stares back and we do not fear. The story of Adam and Eve was not a threat, the story was exhortatory. We must drown under the burden of our world to break through the wall, the wall between glory and those opposed to human glory, gods.
Act One: Jaws of Tartarus
The argument was a blur of deep blue and tremors, the contrast of any sounds severed by the sweep of the translucent sheets around Vergel. All was aglow, and the surface of the bed and the voluptuous covers emanated strange colors. All he could capture upon the eyes beyond the covers was a sea of murky blue. The eyes watched Vergel’s breath gamboled freely amongst the abeyance that consumed Vergel, as he could see from the edges of the bed a medley of beasts that flanked the comfort. To the left, a dozen panthers slept at the base of a wagon. To the opposed end, groups of pythons rested as aureoles atop the abyss, they appeared to be stagnant from movement, to float as curls of the ends of the galaxy that bore venom. He saw from the ethereal bed three gods as they conferred above Vergel. He glanced to the left to look away, only to feel sharp pressure beat the lungs, so he stared back up to watch the gods argue. The scene was surreal.
The three gods were known to Vergel, at least the names and appearances. Proteus was wry, and danced around the other two, Glaucus and Phorcys. When Vergel looked to Proteus’ eyes, the old man took another form. He became a shard of glass, a hull of a boat, a hook, a stone, and so on. Glaucus’ body was weak, mere folds of self atop a rusted soul. The beard he held up upon a worn jaw was unkempt. The surface of Glaucus’ body was as the sheets of Vergel’s grand bed. Vergel begged the eyes to keep awake, as pressure of the very appearance of the gods beat the chest, the muscles, and the throat. Under Vergel’s shell were streams of blood and they pulsed, and they roared unbearably. The glory of the gods stood upon the verge, they brought endless agony.
Phorcys bore the end of shark, not a man, and the end was of steel. From the folds of jagged steel he would pulse black fuel. He outstretched arms not of men, but of the Kraken, and eyes glared to Glaucus as red as the steel that burned upon Phorcys. The steel shafted as gears and cogs, but the roar they produced was suppressed as all other sound. Phorcys floated as the other two, and the lanky body seemed unhealthy, or soon dead.
The three gods would each, at moments, stare to Vergel; the faces they gave to Vergel held sympathy, hope, and worry. Of all three, Glaucus seemed most bothered, after the muffled speeches of Phorcys. He seemed defeated, a fate as the body he bore. Glaucus saw goodness that he took from Vergel, Proteus saw humor, and Phorcys saw contempt. All Vergel felt was wonder and unabated pressure that beat the stomach.
Proteus cackled as the two argued. He laughed as a rat, as a raven, as a Greek, and as a Trojan. Proteus’ words were the only that could be understood by Vergel, they crept as roaches and slaves through the sheets. The words found refuge at the ears; they found death and produced a sound as they crumbled to ash.
“Arms, and the man he sung, who, forced by fate, and haughty Juno’s relentless hate, expelled, left the Greek shore. He came upon our land, grand and among the fallen stars he rose. Now at the death of gods, he expects ascendancy, one eye to the shattered heavens. As Aeneas many epochs ago, he wants to speak laurels to the death. He wants to conjure up Mars from the catacomb. Another Rome he speaks! Another Rome he seeks!”
By the words or by unnatural force, Vergel felt cold seep to the body. The cold came to love the pressure and the torment that already consumed Vergel. The three sung to Vergel as seraphs. They sang songs that deafened Vergel. The blur of sound, the blanket of movement, broken by the banshee screams. Vergel yelped, but the gods would not turn. Proteus’ laugh grew merry as Vergel desperately opened the jaws that tremble. The pressure assaulted the open mouth; the throes only expanded the ache. Vergel could not speak the sorrows. He closed the mouth, but could not help but swallow the sounds that screamed. The ears began to bleed, the sheets began to evaporate.
Proteus laughed ruthlessly, he shaped to a star and then a casket. He could not control the amusement; he morphed to become one as the blue abyss around Vergel and the gods. Louder the seraphs screamed. The sheets began to evaporate under Vergel’s clutch. Glaucus sank through the abyss, and Phorcys returned a saddened, exasperated shrug alone. Phorcys then consumed the steel that he was composed of among a plume of fuel that the body fumed.
The dream was over. Had Vergel slept among the dreams, he was to drown. The blue abyss suddenly took real form. Vergel’s eyes broke free from the fury of a drowned soul. He found the blue to be the bay he drowned under. Glass and shredded metal sunk around the body, he begged to move the arms but they rebelled. The gouged corpse of a boat surrounded Vergel, and a crew rested eternally among the cargo. Bottles swerved around Vergel as the legs struck the water around them. He gawked at the dead men, dressed casually. But the men were murdered, some by stones that held the body apart. Some adorned as mélange, shards and shrapnel pressed to the organs they once pumped. Muscles torn from each body and the appendages of men loose. Blood gushed from Vergel’s ears and nose, the brooks of blood dragged the dust of Proteus’ words, and they floated among the haze that was a spasm of Vergel.
Vergel’s armed rebels and the revolts were quelled, they now obeyed the commands of Vergel’s mental throne. They swung wantonly, full of flame. Vergel pulled the body wrapped among a torn jacket and loose apparel from a job that seemed to have been lost. He extracted the body from a wound cleaved upon the face of the Pequod; he pulled the body he owned through the scar across the boat. He floated among an unknown abyss, bereft of breath. The seraphs followed Vergel’s escape; they roared to Vergel’s ears and sung Proteus’ words. Vergel gasped, but only allowed a flood of brown water to wash through the mute yell. Vergel watched as rocks, as mementos, sunk through the murky, loud water. The taste of metal upon the tongue urged Vergel to gag, but he held the pungent taste. He watched as the rubble and refuse settled upon a bed of gnarled boats, mangled men, and graves of sand and mud. Black columns rose among the chewed motors of the vessels, the buttresses that held up the temple of the sea.
Vergel tossed the appendages about, a desperate attempt to recall lessons as a young whelp. He remembered tears and shame as Vergel’s father pulled the boy from the water; every attempt was as sudden as the gasps that followed every nonsuccess. But the memory served no help, he was to drown unless he rose. He must learn to float now. The heart rattled, a fluctuant serenade drowned the man. Black encroached upon Vergel’s eyes as the red deltas that fueled the earthy orbs throbbed and expanded and stung. He saw a boulder that crushed half of the vessel he escaped, a behemoth of asphalt and concrete. He felt the water quake, and the black columns trembled.
Vergel swung the arms; the throne urged the serfs, the poor, and the throttled country to return to glory. The populace rose. The populace shafted up, they pushed sprockets and levers. Thousands of workers, together, sweated and groaned as they pushed and pulled. The body began to ascend. Endless furnaces, rows of hundreds and numbered through hundreds of thousands. They coughed flames and fury, as workers tossed coal to the brazen beasts. They wheezed, they bellowed. They stood as mega structures, and they taunted Babel to shame. They growled as monsters, grand automatons that pushed the surface of Vergel’s chest up, to force Vergel to breathe. The workers that fed them would collapse. Thousands of thousands of men and women desperately pushed to death, they fed the monstrous flames. The gargantuan monsters pushed to Vergel, the monsters battled the three seraphs that burned Vergel’s soul. The crown and the emperor underneath watched from a palace, he wept as Vergel’s body pushed, but he kept the hand clenched, to grasp onto the hope that seeped from the cracks, that fell as broken glass across the marble floor.
Vergel could see the shadows of vessels above emerge to eye. The lustrous sun fractured empyrean glows that lead the way. The people tossed coal, they fed the starved creatures.
“To glory,” They cheered. “To glory, for country and all!”
The masses fed the beasts and the beasts stomped the darkness down; the emperor’s jaw loosened as the clenched hand, the hope was of no value now.
“To glory!” They cheered once more. Some would collapse, they would only utter a gust of breath burned among the swelter of heat, of flame, from the furnaces and feet of metal behemoths.
Vergel struck the surface.
The surface was mud and black, there was no blue amongst the surface of the bay. Half-sunken boats and sudden crags gashed the enraged waves. The earth was scorched and raped. Vergel had descended to a maelstrom, a poem spoken by a mad and ruthless poet unknown to the sane and mundane. The crests beat as drums, the metronome of troughs as holes through the sea tossed Vergel about. The docks of Tuzla had become the gates of Hades. Embers fluttered as murders of crows through the fog that loomed above the water. A shower and thunder played by Haydn’s baryton and cello struck by Zeus’ bow played as an ode to the savage sea. The embers danced to the song, dresses of ashes and gowns of flame and partners of droplets of water that plummeted to the orchestra. Some boats burned, or crags and karsts of fallen cranes, and destroyed storage tanks that leaked gases, unknown substances, and strange odors. Vergel looked to the Bosphorus and the land that spanned both Europe and the East. The grandeur of the landscape of humans was desolate and wasted. The skyscrapers were toppled, those that stood murmured smoke from broken skulls. A forest of toppled beams that once held the heaven that now falls. Through the fog and the storm, the helm of the Ottoman was no longer more than a skeleton. Tsargrad was gutted and the scars bled waste, homes, structures all left as the corpses of man’s Eden.
The waves thrashed Vergel as he struggled to grasp any fragments of fractured monsters we conquered the sea by. Monsters welded of feculence and fervor, monsters that hewed by the hull the ocean, robust swords that cut the sea. Now these same greats sunk the faces of the monsters frozen aghast. The wrath of the sea cast vengeance upon the beasts clad by bronze, by basalt. Just as the beasts by the sheets, they slept and lumbered. He managed to reach a partly submerged trawler that once caught prawn, the letters left of the trawler’s name were “Ogyg” and an “A” at the end, the space between was bare. He fell dull over the overturned deck, hanged on the capstan.
He heaved and felt the pale face by a bloody left hand, the other arm wrapped around the axle of the capstan. Vergel’s beard was soggy, as though the grey would wash away from the warm hazel. Vergel’s golden veneer began to return, but the barky bones abhorred any moves yet. The waves and curls above Vergel’s eyes, usually as opulent as mud, plastered to the forehead, a forehead that beat a rhythm of derangement. The svelte man watched the flames track the unknown gases as they burned atop the bay’s water, the storm could not suppress the flames as they traveled every boat left as an atoll, just burned cadavers through a glass of fog and smoke.
He watched as the flames and water met, masterfully they loved, and they destroyed one another through that unmarred lust. The very atoms that composed the two forces evaporated, they degenerated to plumes of vapor. From the unwanted harmony, a revolt of the worlds they were once bound to, they met amongst Pandora’s abundant release. The lack of extreme would produce a world of stone, not brume, Vergel thought. But the endlessness of heat and water proved the extreme needed to be broken away, not amassed.
The boats cast the shadows ordered by flashes of resplendence from the sky. The carcass of the human Eden was outstretched and jagged; thousands of lanky structures and towers and hotels, gashed as arms rose to the gone stars and begged for atonement. Vergel could not move. The muscles had collapsed under the panorama of the fallen Eden. He could not hear the echo of the tower crane that stood weak at the dock that warned Vergel by moans of metal the fate of the weak structure. The tower crane’s hook swayed among the stormy gusts and water, and the cab bore broken glass. The tower crane began to lean over the edge of the crumbled dock, yet Vergel was unbothered – he watched the flame and water dance. The tower crane moaned as the monumental apparatus collapsed to the water around the dock. The crane, a dozen hundred feet of orange steel bolted together, plummeted to Vergel.
He heard the sound of the fallen monument; he scrambled by enervated legs to evade, but fell to the flames and water. The heart once more urged the workers to fuel behemoths, but the workers had all grouped to catacombs and graveyards, worn skeletons colored black by coal. The push was gone as Vergel struggled as the mort of a dead country; he contorted and held from shut eyes the edge of the sunken trawler. He heard as the crane fell, unable to move as the son of Daedalus.
The crane fell through the water as the last stand of Troy. The force was greater than gods and the crash louder than the ensemble of Olympus, and the sounds as the hounds that dug the claws through the face of our planet and rends our moon. The throw was abrupt and vehement, the force pushed Vergel from the trawler and deeper down the Tartarus. The crane bemoaned and the sea mourned as the metal crushed the trawler. Vergel opened the sore eyes and watched the arm of Atlas cry as the arm sunk, as the crane faded to the murk. He was but a cell by the colossal appendages of the body of omega. He caught the edge of another boulder of the ruptured dock by a weak hand, he paused to watch crane adjust to the other graves among the boats. Vergel scaled the rock and the remnants of the trawler. He returned to the storm and hell, the mouth of the maelstrom that mused Vergel. He observed the Tuzla dock, erupted and punctured. Lampposts blazed neon yellow and colorless glows, they spewed flares, roused and they jumped and sparkled among a maze of tanks and storage beaten and sacked among the wreckage of cranes and unassembled boats. The dock was dead and bled apocalypse to the shore of foamy anger, the throttle of morose blooms of flame, and the storm that kept all of the madness a pleasant blur under sheets for Vergel. He was a mote of flesh, of essence, among the deluge of effervescent chaos.
Vergel balanced the bare, cut feet upon the broken bends of the trawler yet to be submerged. Blood from the chest, from the palms, and from the feet sheeted to the restless water below. Wounds left agape bled profusely, but were numbed through the cold and monsoon. Carefully Vergel pulled the body and the bosomed dynasty concealed underneath. He leaned to the fallen crane; the metal column used the trawler as a fulcrum to stay somewhat above the tormented sea. Vergel pressed up to the cold metal and pecked the crane by two borders that trembled. He thanked the fallen crane, and then pressed to the orange steel once more to smell the copper and the lead, the scent of metallurgy overcame the stench of salt and flame and sulfur. He desperately attempted to mount the crane, but to no success. He lathered the crane, the blood marked several acts of hasty escape.
Riley Harthwood is a recurring character in many of my stories, but many do not know his story and how it all began.
“Listen to me, boy. Remember, use that southpaw. Make me proud. I promise, ya’ going to earns some ladies’ hearts tonight.” Robert spoke hastily to Riley’s hands as he wrapped bandages around Riley’s scrawny knuckles. His body cast a shadow over the sweaty Riley, whose ribcage pressed against his thin skin with his chest expounding with locomotion. An ancient innate vigor combusted through the canals of this young man’s fiery veins. Down, up, down, up, oh and how the heart throbbed this way. It followed the metronome of a million years, the story told alike by the Quirinal Boxer and Spartacus’ running crimson blood into the Sele.
“Quit that shaking! I swear to god, what would your dad think if he saw you like this?” Robert sneered.
“He wouldn’t want me to fight.” Riley muttered. Like ravening banshees, the assembled crowd superimposed any mental images of his father in a hail of cheers and roars. They composed of vagrants and the workers of ashy complexions, who looked on like defecated statues that laughed and conversed. These statues enlivened by the shadow of the night spilled alcohol and bets vicariously as corrupt ichor. Makeshift platforms behind the poorer audience raised well-carved tables, where aristocratic sadists behind colorful masks watched the arena. These bourgeois spectators did not muddy their oxfords. Frock coats and blazers wearing the corpses of demonic men were surrounded by opulent dresses, gleeful young Mademoiselles licking their rosy lips, feeling so wild to watch such a visceral act of human liveliness. A Shakespearean concoction of the cruelly rich and violently poor crowded about an octagonal, wooden fence within the confines of an abandoned steel mill. Iron chains, hooks, and pig iron in barrels and containers littered in rust and morning fog among the industrial walls. Stained, shattered glass blurred the bronze and brick pillars of London outside. Bessemer furnaces blackened by soot and stacks of steel beams several dozen feet high loomed as the silhouette-turrets around this castle of sin.
“Don’t tell me what my brother would want or not want, you shut your fucking mouth and win this fight. You want to fucking eat do you?” Robert growled his breath thick with wine and Lea Valley whiskey. Riley Harthwood bit his bottom lip and glanced around the miasma of his uncle’s inebriation, he looked over to the burgeoning crowd panting with pure excitement. His adolescent frame had yet to be filled, but his muscles were sufficiently defined in the sheen of sweat, an outline of luster that made this young boy glow.
“Yes.” He whispered underneath his swollen blisters.
“What was that?” Robert hissed as he pulled the end of the bandage around Riley’s feeble pinky.
“Yes, I want to eat today.”
Robert pulled Riley’s hand down to the ashy floor, flinging the boy’s head forward. The kin and their eyes met for a moment, with nothing but the uncle’s plume of toxic breath filling the rift.
“Then you fucking win.” Robert mumbled as he let go of Riley’s hand.
Thick swaths of dust floated over the small arena of ash, mud, and spilling whiskey. The few incandescent bulbs that hung from thin string from the ceiling were beclouded by this hazy soot. Shingles from the ceiling had fallen over the course of this mill’s life, and now beams of dawn’s sun watched with disapproval at this display of violent hedonism, this sudden shaking of natural instinct to rattle it as angry oxen, brandishing the horns of mindlessness.
“Alright, boy, you’re ready. Don’t… mess… this… up. Do you understand?”
Robert’s threat fell limp onto Riley’s fatigued and vacant complexion. Robert drew closer; stains ravaged his face, along with burns. He exhaled as a plume of black smog from the exhaust of factories, and it reeked of sulfur. His emerald eyes seemed faded, and his long knotted black hair became one with the morning void above him, at least from Riley’s perspective. They shared some similarities, especially the jaw, but there was a curse upon Robert and his presence, a man that conveyed all those shadows Caravaggio framed his figures by. Robert was a man who extended his arm and called others from the shredding canines of Gehenna, but not to beg for a savior and certainly not to be saved.
“Boy,” He pulled Riley’s jowl away from the crowd and to his fuming growl. “Riley, focus you damned bastard.” His grip pressed tightly around Riley’s mouth, continuing its force until Robert pulled himself away from that fury. He stood back and dug a trembling hand through his black hair that fell as nebulous waves, thick with grease and wilderness.
Robert spun on the axis of his brogue and faced the crowd with an infectiously wide grin, sporting yellow-tinted teeth, stretching his arms as to embrace the very sight of the spectators. His brown Norfolk jacket was buttoned up, and belted tightly at his waist by a leather band. His plus-four gave way to Argyle socks, crimson and green diamond-patterned cotton, washed a week ago.
“Is everyone ready!?” Robert bellowed with mirth. The crowd returned a roar.
Riley lifted his head to the lights that hung on his great conception, a creation morphed by others. He was chiseled against his own design, but this pain will bear progress and he must grit bones and bleed pride. He must let these atrocities pass, to burn his skin tougher, to make that internal fire simmer. He must kill this darkness with forceful brilliance. His hazel hair fell in tight curls flattened by his sweat against a pulsing mind, and above eyes as rivers of blood in a land of white, all falling into his stygian pupils encroached by green ring forests. Alive was what they called him.
Robert swung the gate of the fenced arena open, and its hinges shook. The spectators grew silent. The wealthier onlookers leaned forward from their velvet chairs, their intricately styled cups holding French wine. The silence was deafening, all Riley could hear was the foamy waves striking the docks across the road, and birds singing clarion calls among the labyrinth of cobblestone and cement. The stars fell short of constellated judges, and they turned away in a blurred array of light. The purple of dawn was creeping as a marching army over the horizon, spears and knights invading the oblivion. Every inch of black was beginning to be massacred. The night was to be glassed, and its starry inhabitants to be scorched. Riley watched this great genocide in this maddening quietness, as he watched even the stars die again, once more, each dawn.
The crowd parted as the walls to this sinful congregation, the few men standing by the gate to the arena shuffled apart. There stood a behemoth. A stout giant with an iron belly that protruded from a thick frame, his burly arms hung like war hammers. The light fell upon his bare scalp, tattooed with the face of Satan, his face was hidden in his forehead’s shadow. His chest rose as titans and fell as calderas. The portly fighter stood no less than six-and-a-half feet tall, and all his flesh seemed to barely fit in the metallic armor of his skin. Hair was prolific about his body, his arms, chest, legs, back, fingers, and knuckles. It was as if his very mass had crushed the revelry of the audience, as if his very breath eviscerated the movement of the world. This lumbering monster was as thick as two men, but seemed to lack the humanly properties of just one. Even Robert was unnerved by this looming obelisk of a creature before speaking:
“Behold, the Thunder of Philadelphia, the Yelling Yankee, ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready to watch his fall!?” Robert haughtily roared to the crowd. They returned in an uproar of disbelief, tossing fistfuls to the cold morning air.
“Did you wage on that one, father?” One of the wealthy women spoke to her father beside her. She held her hand to her chest and looked to Riley, the boy still resting on a thin metal bucket, and sent him silent sympathy.
“Of course not, my dear. Your father is a logical man; only a fool would dare go against that beast.”
Riley had yet to glance up from his entombed knuckles, chalked and trembling. He had no interest in his opponent. His pale lips pursed as he told his mind now was the hour. The engines of his innards sprung to life. The sprockets turned violently, the gears smashed sparks against one another, and the cogs rotated with crushing quickness. The pistons stabbed the sides and the frosty cooling vats pushed against his skin. The furnaces roared and bellowed, they cried and screamed embers and sulfur spilled from their guttural moans. This was the relentless rise of a boy.
The discourse once again ceased when the giant stomped his foot. Everyone, even the apathetic Riley, turned to him. After five seconds, he stomped again. The third stomp followed after three seconds. Then, a rhythm was born, as he began to stomp every second. He began to raise his gargantuan hands with each stomp, waving them as banners. The crowd began to clap and stomp as well. In awe, their jaws hanged as they clapped. Now the pace had changed, as the stomping became louder, faster, more trashing.
Riley and the opulent daughter were the only two that did not follow the giant’s stomping. Finally, he ceased his beating of the earth and marched forward into the ring with a quaking gait, the clapping following his steps. The light illuminated the monster’s face now, and he became but a man. The display of infamy was shattered as Riley could see the canvas of this creature’s soul. His left eye was completely gone, and an infected scar gashed as a gorge across his visage replaced it. He sported friendly mutton chops connected by a thick handlebar mustache, but they did not eclipse his melted cheeks, his horrific deformities. As if this Icarus had grown too near the sun, as if the gods damned him to a grotesque hell for his birthright of size and intimidation, a giant tossed to the Tartarus.
Riley stood up from the empty bucket like the conscious boy he was. He could not feel his feet or his hands, but they swung as he marched toward the ring. The daughter’s eyes followed him with their condescending pity as he too stepped into the moonlight. There they were, bathed in cosmic serenity, seconds from vilifying everything those columns of lunar light stood for. Riley lifted his quivering chin to his opponent. The clapped grew louder and with it followed Riley’s heart.
Look to Tempests and Never Shake is my attempt at utilizing the “language of flowers” popularized in Victorian England. These eight paragraphs took me approximately two days to complete in full editing. This was for Brooke Kerger.
Underneath endlessness, the navy sky seemed empty, and the room of the world far too open. The arms of the trees shook; the branches quaked, shuttered among the expanse of the black that consumed. My regal feet dug through the earth by brazenness. My gun slung over my shoulder, and by hanged metal, the strap accentuated my body’s contours. A feral holler stabbed the abyss and the abyss only feared the sound. The holler came somewhere from my throat, but my soul does not know from where. Then, after moments of arrogances among me, a luster tore the sky to reply, and the transcendence roared a regal outcry to the forest. The shadow of the peaks and knolls crackled across my eyes, and the brush obeyed. My body alone watched absorbed through horror. The plants swept around my ankles shackled to the earth, and the blue glaze of the galaxy coated the encompassed trunks underneath the creeper, coated the blossomed meadows of blue hydrangeas tucked away as treasures, coated the cerulean fungus that reveled atop dead lumber, and coated the moss that hung from the trees’ leafy arms.
Overtaking me was my pride before, under the conjoined shadows of Odysseus and Aeneas. I was but a contrast of my own ambition. It was this severed story that spoke in two voices, one that argued duty and one that argued retribution. Never had I imagined the dark sky as tar dared to coat me in its cosmic visage. The gray nothingness stretched on forever as I escaped into the forest and canopies. The beds of grass creased as my feet dewed with sweat, and I raced over them in my gasping. The wind pursued me, and surrounded the mountain peaks above me. Because of its grip and its paw, its ancient infinity knew no master. The radiance of the stars above raked the shadows away from the coppice. It knew where I was, and it forever may. A murderous brook of air conducted atramentous anemones in a chamber song, taunting me as I passed them. The dark skin of my firearm drummed among its components as I sprinted, but it served no purpose in this endeavor. Just as the white radiance began to touch my swift steps, I saw the darkest rose break its stem in the approaching heavy forestry. This strange power of the sky did not know error. I conceded and dropped weak against the trunk of a Frangipani tree. Defeat stung and shame overcame me. I did not know what this fiery brute in the heavens was, but it struck the earth with a stroke of fire. With it came the sound of the very earth shattering, shaking the cypresses.
Yet my heart lacked fear lying against the tree’s trunk. I wept as the enigmatic beast incinerated the stars. It unleashed their mangled, celestial spirits, and with each star’s death the heavens crackled and it flashed in the star’s last burgundy light. I realized I was bleeding, such a minute pain as I lamented. Red dripped by insignificant cuts athwart my bare hands and arms. The surface was much crueler than I had perceived. I was a vanguard, a self-created adventurer. I spent my entire life in disbelief; I refused accepting the surface was at all as the legends inscribed in literature, in diaries, and by the elders’ lips. Presently, I wished the surface were truly as idyllic as they said, fable after fable, repeated in the city underneath all, Myrtle: the last ruby humans have left. In warm lamplight, flickering embers and amber flickers celebrating in their mercurial lives, I braced my ear against the walls behind buildings; I listened by the barrier, between the surface and the city, engulfed in my naïve interest. I accused myself thus and I have scanted all. I sat within blushing hibiscus, awaiting death at this beast’s will. I deserve just this small hell I ruled with a brief time, better rule my death than live my failure in ascendancy.
Each moment of my life was dedicated to this day. I resided in a flat in Thorwald Emerald of downtown Myrtle, I plastered artistic imaginings of what I thought the world would be like beyond the city walls; along with those musings were portraits of the pedestrians I watched from my window sill. Things that could breathe, that could feel, that could understand: they fascinated me. I studied life forms relentlessly in the Scholarly Halls; I was the zenith of my hall and the extolled of my professor. The most mysterious of the creatures we studied was the “plant.” Their consumption was unknown, and their supposed abundance was highly doubted by experts. They had no studied prey and they seemed, by description, far too static to spread so wildly. The city had no such plants bound within its walls, only six deceased specimens encased in glass. Six English oaks stood in solace in the central dome of the Scholarly Halls: Indolence, Melancholy, Nightingale, Krater, Psyche, and Autumn. Their sage, exuberant leafs frozen in glass, eternally hanging from steel cables. Our inability to understand entranced me: I perused each glossary of plants, and I pored through each description and encyclopedic stanza. Dandelions transitioned to birds of paradise, and coriander transitioned to primrose, as I read unabated. The law of the jungle was absolute multiplicity, and in this green kindling and in this rude yard, there was the rioting tenacity of life.
Vapid nights allowing no hush to calm my charging mind. Around my study, two groups of six balky months would pass by without tranquility, corroding my spirit. Torturous months: a callous jury always accusing my hands of hours’ loss. Only May was truly good to my soul, I saw my most growth in that particular month and a birth of my wondrous calling; it was in that plum month that I was to initially know my first plant: moth orchids. An orchid, by far a blossom’s climax, is a subtly thoughtful plant of humility. It is a scholarly and alluring joy. Until that May long ago, I was lost, and so I claim May my savior. May, as an altruistic son of David, would sway all months –month by month – into my favor. It was also in May to which I was studying my first spring in our Scholarly Halls. I was unknown, a shadow to groups’ laughs and discussion. I would draw away ridiculous visions running around my thoughts in books and journals. Hills Gadsby was first to allow my worlds to slip from my lips. Hills was a rosy woman, a phantasmagoric godly woman born a twin to Branton Gadsby, whom I abhor. Hills and I would knot our spirits in a world; both of us saw glory within this world, in all shadows and lights. Hills would go on to birth an insight in my mind, as to how plants could find growth in stasis, as all I would do is study plants and glorify Hills. I would draw Hills among shadows of my plants in books, and Hills’ words across a boundary or two of my journals. Without warning, my skin shook to an unfamiliar touch from an indigo sky.
On the ear wetness came. Again, the feeling came. A drop of water ran down the left cheek, and it was far cooler than sweat. I had given the beast above sufficient time to end me. I roared back to it, and brandished the rifle in a reinvigorated defiance. Another drop of water, and to birthing horror, it came from the heavens. Would it not murder me with strikes of fire it boasted earlier or a grandiose explosion of drums, would it end me with some subtle poison? Did it not think I deserved enough grandeur? I lifted the rifle to the monster shrouded in black. I discharged, releasing several rounds of ammunition and with each the retort to its hellish inferno earlier. Saffron streaks of flame sprouted from the steel muzzle of the slender weapon. Each shot came with violent recoil, and I let the rifle pull itself up. Golden casings flung from the ejection port to the right, ricocheting off the bark of olive trees downhill, leaving splintered marks on their surfaces. Some flew further, hiding within blooming true laurels beside a bombastic brook. At the end of a fourth second, the magazine was clear, and the poison seemed even denser and far more intense in its downpour. However, I was not dead, and in fact, I seemed more alive. It was cool and it was lush. I know nothing of firearms; the funders of this expedition gave me this rifle for protection. The liquid weighted the rifle, as though the beast was asking me to lower the weapon. With a sudden miracle, the creature revealed itself when two shrouds separated far off in the distance. A blinding brilliance, gold blazes of light fell down from the breach in the shrouds, and I beheld the angelic creature of splendors above the hills as a halo. The roar I exuded became a jovial shout, and I laughed in the plentiful liquid. The colors of the forest and the flowers and the plants mixed into a magnificent plethora, wet and glistening. There was a star in each visage of bark, and each tree whose worth was unknown now doused in perfection.
Life thrashed and I watched. Animals that had hidden away in the night emerged by bushes, by streams, by the sky. The venerated earth brandished its created marvels, and they dripped their stripes and hue in each land’s parcel my eyes reached. Nevertheless, engulfing all was white: shining in the waves at the river, within sheen against leafs, and extending in thin blades by the circular epicenter in the sky. The liquid still fell unabated, each spec flickering in the white. The black veils grayed themselves, respecting white’s new palate, meeting it halfway. The sticky catchfly waved at the hill’s edge, facing the fair river in its bright, clear passage. A ravens’ murder flew in the stream’s path, as an emblem’s message. The pale reflecting water splashed beads in their feathers as the river averted pebbles. Amazing! Unbelievable! It was August 6, 3323, and as a paramedical blade struck within me, I felt the earth’s stabbing beauty this day as the first human experiencing the surface again.
I watched comet orchid and arum tie themselves in the wind. I steadily walked down the hill, through a flow of mallows, to my left were pansies and to my right phlox, all three species flowing together in the breeze. The wetness of it all flushed the colors, and they grew darker yet vivid. The poison from the sky seemed to be remedial, as all the animals and plants rejoiced in this creature’s ichor. If the Scholarly Halls really want to hear of my expedition, the first thing they will probably want to know is where I was born again. I let my rifle hang off its strap as I walked beside the stream’s brook. Oh where are you going with your love-waters flowing, dearest brook? I followed with the sky above, but I did not know if the beast was there, for I did not look. This downhill path is easy, but there’s no turning back. As I descended back to Myrtle, through the gates of Calypso, the white flowed to black. It was not the monstrous black like before, it was thick and viscid and calming and infinite.
A heavy-armored apocalyptic raider or CIA assassin, bodyguard or survivor, keeper of society or introverted wanderer? Divulge yourself in what kind of gear, clothing, amenities, and weapons will you choose to carry as a survivor? While there is no actual “gameplay”, there is something addicting at letting your imagination run wild with the characters you create.