Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Three Face Flip - Part Two


Three Face Flip is a story told in quarters, posted serially by me, your irreducible host, Cheeseburger Brown. Chapters: 1|2|3|4

"Unwilling to abandon the algorithm, Drago chose to put his head between his knees."

And now, we continue our tale:



2/4

Drago feverishly optimized an algorithm with a stub of splintered pencil and a profound erection. It was noon.

He was hunched over his desk, standing in his underwear, a perfectly functional ballpoint pen tucked behind his ear and therefore lost. His scrawny body still carried the imprint of the bedsheet's pressed folds, two dimensions of its dream-tossed topography tattooed in pink across his pale back.

The pencil broke. Drago swore.

He patted where his pockets would be if he were wearing clothes, then swore again. He spun to face his roommate. "You have the penicil?"

Guillaume looked up from his desk wearily, his handsome features broadcasting from their every inch a profoundly Gallic depth of contempt for the half-naked Serb. "You need antibiotics?"

"No, penicil! Penicil for to write!"

Guillaume shook his head with cruel languor, gesturing at the annotated books open around him. "Mine's more or less in use, I'm afraid." He paused, scratching the side of his jaw with the mechanical pencil, watching Drago's eyes track its motion desperately. "Say," he continued, "would you consider putting on pants? I mean, honestly. It's pointing right at me."

"This is more important than pant! Please, let me to borrow it one minute only, the penicil?"

Guillaume snorted. "I'm studying."

"I give it back quick like nothing. Okay? You need break, probably. Please, Gome."

"My name is not Gome."

"Please I'm sorry. The penicil?"

"Why don't you cover up your own penicil? Have you no shame, man?"

Drago threw up his arms with an exasperated grunt, then hugged his own narrow shoulders and paced in circles. Too much time was passing -- he was on the verge of losing everything he'd gained in his dreams...

When Drago had been small he lived in a displaced persons camp with his mother and his sister. His sister was deaf. She had been standing too close to a mine when someone stepped on it. She was very beautiful apart from the scars. Drago and his sister played chess, using pieces found, stolen or improvised. In time, their games became complex. In time, Dragana learned to speak to Drago through her moves. They had whole conversations that way.

Drago had loved her inappropriately: when she died he came to know that too keenly. He missed her like a lover. His heart baked and peeled. Forever after in his dreams Dragana spoke to him through chess. He always awoke enlightened and hard as a stud horse.

"Penicil!" he cried, balling his fists.

Guillaume looked on with indifference, but his expression changed as Drago vaulted over his rumpled bed and started thrashing around in his infamous tool box. "Oh no," started Guillaume, standing up from his seat, "no, Drago, not again -- we'll lose the Shah his deposit!"

"If there is no to be writing I can to do it with carving," said Drago, eyes roving the room for wood as he held aloft his chisel. Under his breath he muttered something about a bishop.

Guillaume had already suffered to have his antique bed posts and the legs of his desk hacked into rude sculptures of chess figures in the name of Drago's unorthodox mnemonics. More often than not the sculptures were bafflingly eroticized, sporting engorged labia, upthrust breasts, towering cocks. Their surfaces were unerringly inscribed over every nook and cranny with bizarre and nonsensical chess notations -- angled, angry and tightly packed.

Similar etchings could be found gouged into the baseboards, the door frames, the kitchen counter, the toilet seat.

Guillaume cursed the Shah of Anwar. He cursed the man whose special scholarship to the Sorbonne he had accepted along with well-appointed but shared room and board -- he cursed the man who had never fully explained to him why Drago was called "the Mad Serb."

The Mad Serb had now seized upon Guillaume's antique humidor.

Guillaume threw aside his books, surged across the room, and smacked the chisel out of Drago's hand as he bellowed, "Enough!"

Drago watched sadly as his chisel sailed out through the open window. It tonked solidly on the sidewalk below, the impact echoing off the faces of the buildings. Somebody outside yelled, "Hey!" indignantly.

Guillaume and Drago both rushed to the sill. Nobody was hurt. The chisel lay in the gutter, its handle turning as a stream of wash water coursed over it toward the drain. Drago grabbed Guillaume's shoulders. "Please Gome, the penicil!"

Guillaume batted Drago's hands away and retreated into the room. "Here's a proposal," he said as he reached into his pocket and extracted a Euro. "Heads, I'll loan you my pencil; tails, you go chase your chisel. That's sporting, isn't it?"

"Why do not you just to lend me this penicil? I need forty seconds only."

The coin sang as it spun, bimetallic face flashing in the sun. Guillaume smacked it down against the top of his opposite hand. "Aw," he said, clucking theatrically. "It's come up tails, I'm afraid."

"Tails you give to me penicil?" asked Drago hopefully.

"No, tails you do me the enormous courtesy of fucking off for a spell."

Drago's face fell, then hardened.

He tugged and fought his way into a pair of grey track-pants and then put a burgundy Sorbonne T-shirt on backwards, the university's crest crumpled between his sharp shoulder blades. He tucked a pair of socks into his pocket, whispering about rooks.

"I be right beck," he said, whirling around in place as if in search of some final ingredient.

"Take your time," suggested Guillaume darkly.

After the door slammed Guillaume looked down at the Euro still resting on the back of his hand. It had come up heads, of course.

He got up and locked the door.

Drago shuffled down the steep, narrow stairway in his bare feet as he tried to commit bits of the refined mathematical description to memory, frowning and fretting as he felt more slip away. He'd been watching the Olympics in the cafe last night over dinner: he had dreamed about the shot put.

He emerged onto Rue de Trevise. He stopped short, running a hand through his bramble of black hair as he struggled to remember why he was outside. The ballpoint pen dropped out from behind his ear, but he didn't notice. It cracked when somebody stepped on it. The stream of pedestrian traffic bubbled with profanity as it diverted around him. "Idiot!"

The road was a border between informal districts. Drago's side of the street was upscale and quaint but the buildings it faced were dingy, cluttered and ramshackle. Drago only crossed to buy tools at Cecil's or fruit at M. Tang's. He didn't feel hungry so that left...

"My chisel!"

He plunged into a knot of pedestrians and they scattered. He came to his knees at the gutter just in time to watch his chisel clang against the tarnished sides of an ancient drain, spin under a gush of swill, then vanish.

His cry was forlorn. The pedestrians gave him a wide berth.

The sun slipped behind the first of a fleet of wooly little balls of cloud. Drago shivered. He spotted a small, jagged stone broken free from the cobbles and picked it up. Experimentally, he scratched it against the sidewalk. It left a clear white line. Drago grinned. "Penicil!"

He started scratching furiously, leaving a trail of chess notation weaving in rough parallel to the curb. He read a few symbols back from those he was engaged in writing: it concerned the spin style of putting the shot by a left handed athlete, and the synthesis of his initial description of the event with the one Dragana's ghost provided while he slept.

Glass broke. Drago looked up. The street was busy.

He sat back on his haunches, rubbing his hand. He'd scored his knuckles against the pavement. They were pink and threatened to bleed. "White knight to early pawn, knight squared..." he mumbled absently, eyes back on the sidewalk. "Hyper-bishop. Mirror-queen."

Horns honked. Someone shouted. Drago looked up again. A brown man in colour-splattered coveralls was pursuing a taxi as it tried to nose into impatient traffic. The man took a flying kick at the bumper, then brought his fists down against the trunk and yelled again. They were getting closer.

Crazy people made Drago uncomfortable. He shifted protectively over his notes, clutching the stone. He was trying to decide what to do. His mother had instilled in him two basic responses to trouble -- it was either, "Run, Drago!" or "Put your head between your knees, Drago!"

Unwilling to abandon the algorithm, Drago chose to put his head between his knees.

He smelled smoke.

So did the passersby. They stopped to point to the column of hot soot erupting from a window in a decrepit apartment house down the block. They gasped when they saw flashes of flame. They wrinkled their noses when they detected the funk of burning linseed oil in the air. They hemmed backward nervously when they saw how quickly the inferno seemed to be spreading, window after window joining the roaring chorus.

The angry brown man in the painted coveralls had stopped in the middle of the road. He twisted to look behind him, then grabbed his own head and shook it with despair. He screamed an unprintable word.

Drago had seen people respond to fires that way before. It usually meant they had lost something important. It made him sad. His heart went out to the crazy taxi-chaser.

Several windows in the burning apartment house simultaneously popped, raining broken glass down upon Rue de Trevise. A dozen cars slammed on their brakes, unwilling to risk their paint jobs. People scrambled under shop awnings. A greasy cloud blossomed between the buildings.

Drago looked down in time to recognize that he was about to be run over by a red and white Taxi Parisien. Connection was inevitable. It was burning rubber as its brake-locked tires ground across the stones directly toward him. The man behind the wheel had a look on his face as if he were passing a baby. The grille flashed as it loomed.

Drago squinched his eyes shut and cried, "Heads! Heads! Heads!"


17 comments:

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Okay, NOW I'm hooked.

One thing that fascinates me about your work is the nonchalant way in which you reveal the connections between the worlds.

The coin flip, the chisel, the chess pieces... where is it all going?

And the Shah -- it took me until now to realize where I'd heard of him before. His son hired Lallo, no?

This will get even crazier, I can tell.

Also, thanks for posting a day early!

Simon said...

This morning I read your second-from-the-top Husi posting where you briefly mentioned fatigue, caused in no small part by your 12,000 words per week output. Hell, you're putting out like a ten-dollar whore, only you're not even getting paid for it. To answer the question you posed in that post, yes you are improving. I'd like to think that's not some sort of fanboy reaction. This story is screaming excellence and grabs you from the very beginning.

I have to thank Sheik for the Shah connection; I don't think I would have picked up on that. But the erotic chess pieces totally tie back to a couple stories ago.

Awesomeness.

Teddy said...

Algorithms describing actions...Secret Math?

Shit, what was Dr. Zoran...I searched through Simon of Space, full name Dr. Drago Tesla Zoran. This is the Math! It's the eroticized Chess Pieces! The secret math is based on chess maneuvers! His sister...and...the war...caused by Mike?...Mike in the war...Mike influenced by Cherry Nyuk Nyuk, influenced by the rift-thing...

IT ALL MAKES SENSE! The chess pieces, once eroticized, tie everything together. I wonder if Laslo ever learned to play? Or what it has to do with the alien thing being broken? Math based on lust? It always has to do with highly erotic imagery, an erect penis, pendulous breasts...in fact, all the important players tend to be fairly lusty it seems. Highly eroticized...Chess pieces...all we are is pawns in the greater scheme of things?

Bit of spiritual commentary there? Did I read too much into it?

TRH

Mark said...

Nice tie-in with the chess pieces. Are we going to go back to thumb girl?

I wondered one thing -- if the Mad Serb is so good at carving, then can't he just whittle down what's left of his broken "penicil" to make it work again?

Orick of Toronto said...

teddy: you just gave me a headache. I don't mean that in a bad way. :) Thanks for connecting all the dots.

mark: he is called "the mad serb" for a reason, I imagine. :)

Mark said...

teddy - Wow. Your find gave me chills. Drago is Zoran. Brrr... awesome.

Simon said...

Teddy, that's some seriously impressive deductive reasoning there. Perhaps a little of it can be accused of being specious, but to quote my favourite bad guy: "Impressive; most impressive."

Given the story graphic that heads this one, I assume we're going to meet an older asian man in the third chapter (with perhaps fleeting glimpses of the the first two protagonists), and then chapter four will bring them all together in some entertaining but ultimately tragic confluence. It will be sad, yet portentous. Most of us will gasp at some point.

Wheeeeee!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

Let me share with you a defining moment in the evolution of my storytelling:

It was the eighth grade, spring. I had changed schools at the last moment for reasons that comprise another story. I had been invited to a movie by a giggly blonde with emission-inspiring melons, and in the theatre we held hands.

The movie was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Beneath the streets of Venice Dr. Jones and a very serious blonde with efficient German melons were working their way through a damp catacomb when she spots a faded mural on the wall. She says, "What's this?"

Indy glances back, replies, "The Ark of the Covenant."

"Are you sure?"

He smirks. "Pretty sure."

The moment of toss-away connection is punctuated as John Williams gently wanders the score into a few measures of the haunting Ark Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The scene quickly moves on.

I thought that was the coolest allusion I'd ever seen. It was pure candy for fans of the series -- a light touch, a tease. It was instantly my favourite part of the movie.

My blonde companion didn't quite understand my enthusiasm for the moment, but years later I can barely remember her name but I remember that moment in the movie like it was yesterday.

Colour me an unrefined pop culture fool, but I still think of that moment when I'm trying to make a subtle connection in my stories.

Thanks, Spielberg.

(If I went back and watched that part of the movie today I'd likely be unimpressed...it was seeing it when it had never occurred to me to tie things together so gently that made all the difference.)

Also: you're right about the Shah.

Dear Simon,

I'm liking this story in a way that I also liked Stubborn Town. The previous story just had the misfortunate of occurring while my mental resources were terribly sapped by work-related stress.

I hope I'm getting better. It feels that way.

Dear Teddy,

You win the prize! And, truthfully, if I had to guess who it would be who would make the connection, I would've put my money on you, sir.

Young Drago will indeed grow up to be famous, assuming that taxi doesn't run him down. Cross your fingers for him and for us all.

The spiritual commentary is too much for me this morning...I haven't even made my coffee yet.

However, I would be lying if I said certain themes weren't developing.

Dear Mark,

We will definitely get back to Miriam in Chapter 4, when it all comes together.

I don't think Drago could have carved his stub into anything more useful, especially after it splintered. Perhaps, if he were of a Goth bend, he would simply use the broken pieces to carve the equations into his own flesh.

Luckily, he's not a Goth.

Dear Orick,

Indeed, it's Cheeseburger Brown's most famous yet seldom seen human being, in the typographic flesh so to speak. And he'll be back for more this year, too.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

That is indeed our structure here -- we're all cruising toward a shared destiny in Chapter 4.

I'd consider it a personal favour if everyone could restrain themselves from saying, "Save the cheerleader, save the world."

Nobody is going to blow up, after all.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

sheik yerbouti said...

I get it.

I knew when I read the story yesterday that Drago's final cry was a wish... a wish for the single defining event that sent him to the street to turn out differently.

Of course, now that we know who he REALLY is (good one, teddy), I wonder if he's just described the event so perfectly on the sidewalk that he now has the ability to reverse it. Of course if he does, then he will not have come up with the algorithm, which could lead to the rift...?

The whole story reminds me of that final ST:TNG episode where they all shoot their tachyon beams at this singularity thingo to make it go away, only to find out that... well, I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it.

It also has the flavor of Mimsy Were the Borogoves (thanks to the Math), though that link is a bit more tenuous. Great, great stuff.

Cheese B, thanks for sharing such a pivotal moment. And thank you for allowing us glimpses of genius as you hone your craft.

MadMac66 said...

eeerm...feeling like a dufus, with a lit of back catalogue reading to do. Evenso, the story stands on its own legs and I'm hooked. A great lunchtime read. Anxiously checking NetNewsWire for a new instalment

mm66

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear MadMac,

Welcome aboard.

Hopefully the individual stories can stand alone.

I like to think of the connections between them as extra candy for regular readers, rather than essential plot points.

Let me know when this isn't the case. Your feedback is why comments are enabled, after all.

Thanks for commenting.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Addendum to MadMac:

Hey wait, I know you -- you're DJ Electric Daddy.

...I just didn't you know you were polymorphable.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

sheik yerbouti said...

madmac, welcome to the club!

While you're waiting for the next installment, you can always catch up with Simon of Space! If you want something less daunting, there's always Stubborn Town or The Long Man, both of which have some crossover ties to this story (really, they all do, but those come to mind as having the strongest connections).

Back to speculation:

The third guy could be Ting... or he could be S.M. himself. This would tie in with my theory about his legacy (which may be total crap, but what's life without a little conclusion-jumping?). Of course Mr. Miss would never be taken in by such an obvious lie about a coin flip, which seems to be the common thread here.

...and the Shah said they were already on Mars. He sponsored Drago. Wow.

Really, I'll shut up now. This is all just so exciting, waiting to see how it all plays out...

Teddy said...

it seems to me that Drago is wishing (perhaps mathematically, subconsciously) that the coin toss had come up heads...but it HAD!

I honestly have no clue what's coming next.

CBB, I had the same moment in that same movie, that sort of "wait, of COURSE he would know! cool!", and I had it here too when I saw Drago furiously writing algorithms. It was cool.

TRH

Simon said...

I'll betcha it's the sort of information like, "Dr. Zoran was inspired to develop the Secret Math only when physically aroused by thoughts of his dead, deaf sister," that gets left out of the history books.

Like Teddy in that last comment, I have no idea what's coming next, but am really looking forward to it! Will definitely be keeping my eyes open for hinted-at identities...

MadMac66 said...

To Our Veritible Host

Yes I am he, DJED, I'm found out. When old Blogger became new Blogger I had to put 2 blogs under the one account and a new name. Thus MM66. In any case, I'm impressed you made the connection and feel welcomed aboard.

To Sheik

Thanks for the tip and the welcome. I started Simon of Space and am digging all by itself. Its good to be reading "fiction" or "literature" again, as opposed to trade mags and software manuals.

cheers y'all
mm66