Print Story Premature Autopsy
By Christopher Robin was Murdered (Mon May 15, 2006 at 07:30:39 AM EST) (all tags)
Story autopsy. Blixco suggested he might discuss his WFC story in his diary and Kellnerin seconded the motion, saying she was thinking of doing the same, but didn't want to be the only one who did so.

And she won't be.

I think Blixco's idea is a good one, so here's the annotated "Has Anyone Seen Kelly?"

Has Anyone Seen Kelly?

The title was the first fuck up. It was supposed to be lifted from this turn of the century Irish-American tune that was popular in the Tin Pan Alley days of American popular culture. Unfortunately, I fucked it up. It should read "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" I don't know how this blunder slipped by me when I was writing and editing.

    I was standing still, I think, but I was so drunk that stumbled a bit. Since I wasn't moving, it must have looked like shudder.
    "I know," said Ed. "But that's it."
    He gestured to a small man. The man was about three feet tall. He was naked. A black metal collar was clamped around his neck. It was fastened with a dull bike lock the color of tarnished brass. From the collar, a heavy black chain ran to a thick eyelet built into the basement wall. The eyelet was between the white plastic utility sink and the drier.

I thought it added to the dead-pan surreality of the situation to barely describe the captive but to get into detail about things like the bike lock and the unfinished carpet. I also had this idea that anything magical in the story would be hard to pin down, purposefully not follow rules of logic, it would be impossible to capture in normal language (a sort of meta-pun). I wanted it not to work on rules, but on a strictly metaphorical basis. I don't think any of that translated well. Instead people just thought it was sketchy and lacked detail. I don't know how I'd redo it, but it would need to be redone if I tackled this story again.

    The small man didn't look at us. He was staring at some spot that, if you traced his line of sight, would have put you somewhere near the pinball machine in the far northwest corner of the basement; though a glassy sheen in the man's eyes told me that he wasn't looking at anything.
    Ed's basement was what a realtor might call semi-finished. It had irregular scraps of carpet laid here and there. There was a pinball machine, a nice stereo, a pool table, a poster with a tropical bird informing all interested that a certain stout beer was a strength tonic, and several wooden skeletal frames of walls that needed dry wall but, years after Ed had settled, were never going to be completed.

Ed's basement sucks because, despite his vast wealth, he can't get workers down into the basement and has to do everything himself. I thought it was part of the theme of the story that Ed is clearly building some clichéd, suburban dude's idea of a rec-room in the basement – as if there isn't this naked magical creature chained up in the middle of his room. It was supposed to reinforce just how stupid the idea of trying to keep the creature captive is.

    "Don't get too close. He can't cross that," Ed pointed to a circle of some white powder with small flecks of black in it. Until Ed pointed it out, I hadn't noticed it. Ed looked at me and then did a little stumble of his own. He was drunk too.
    "Salt," he said, slurring the word.

The salt is, in the big scheme of things, irrelevant. On a practical level, where would Ed get anything like reasonable direction on the holding and care of leprechauns? The idea that he'd know what to do with him when he caught him seemed silly to me. On a more general level, it doesn't matter what Ed does. The way magic "works" in the story is conceptual raher than logical. Ed caught him, so Ed can keep him. Whatever Ed did would be effective, because he caught him. The moment Ed hands care over to the narrator, nothing becomes effective. The narrator didn't catch him, so nothing is effective. The salt ring idea is ripped off from a Grant Morrison comic book. I have no idea if there is folklore precedent or not. As I said, many people suggested the magic elements should be rationalized. This seems less magical to me, but I would probably try to rework the whole thing should I ever revisit the story.

    Ed Hulver used to work with me. We'd been thick as thieves back then. One day he announced he'd given two weeks notice. I asked him where he's jumping ship to. He answered: "Nowhere." He'd laughed and said, "I'm going to do absolutely fucking nothing."

An allusion to the movie Office Space

    We'd meant to keep in touch and we even had drinks twice at this dive around the corner from the office. He'd shown up in a Beemer the first time. A limited edition Jag the second. When I asked him what he was doing he'd answer, "Absolutely fucking nothing."
    More than three years after he quit, more than a year since the ever shrinking flow of personal information had dried up and evaporated completely, I got an email from Ed. He wanted to go for drinks. We could knock back a pint at the old standby. I said sure.
    I half expected him to roll up in a solid gold Bentley. It was a red Hummer. He bought round after round, exchanged old jokes, and tipped the bartender generously.
    I looked down at my watch and got ready to make my excuses. I was so wrecked, I had to squint to focus on my watch's face.
    "Don't go yet," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "I've got a favor to ask."
    "S'ok. But you do me a favor first."
    "What are you doing these days? Why are you so fucking rich?"
    He smiled. The hand on made shoulder made two quick patting gestures. "Our favors are connected. That's how good friends we are. See?"
    That's when Ed asked me to watch his leprechaun.

    "It'll only be for a couple of months. You can stay in house. Drink my liquor. And we'll pay."
    "I don't know," I said. "Ed, this is crazy. You've got some fucking midget chained up in your basement!"
    The small man scratched his hairy chest absently. He was bald with thick rug of red hair on the rest of his body.
    "He's not human. He's one of the wee folk."

I was hoping that this scene would show what a smiling, frat boyish monster Ed had become. I wanted him to happily chatter away as if there wasn't this thing at his feet, enslaved. The use of "wee folk" is Ed's way of diminishing what he's doing to the leprechaun, and I want to contrast the cutesy term with the conditions of his imprisonment.

    "He's fucking I don't know how many years in jail and now you've made me an accessory or accomplice or something. Let's let him go and I'll . . ."
    "Listen," said Ed. "This is what I've been doing. This is how I'm rich. He's it. He's the money tap."

At this point, the narrator's objection pretty much fade.

    "Don't say this. Seriously, don't," I said. "You've got a pot of gold upstairs in the guest bedroom."
    "Not quite. He doesn't have a pot of gold so much as he leads me to gold. When I ask him, he has to say where some is hid. Though it is always a riddle and once or twice he's tried to lead me into a trap. He's quiet now, but he's a mean fucker." Ed turned to the silent, naked man. "Isn't that right you bitter little shit? Fine. Don't answer. It was rhetorical anyway." Ed turned back to me. "He's been angry since I caught him."

I thought one of the advantages of using a leprechaun instead of trying to come up with some alternate "little people" would be that it would allow cheats like this. I spent a lot of time trying to come up with just how the well-known leprechaun/gold thing would work in "real life." But, I decided that everybody knew catching a leprechaun meant money and the details could just be alluded to. It stuck me as an efficient way to cut out backstory.

    "Where did you kidnap this man from?"
    "Caught. The verb is caught. He was digging up a patch of the Wilbershire 7th."
    "You caught him on a country club golf course?"
    "Sure. This guy's local. Speaks English. I think these guys show up wherever there's micks around. They're a manifestation of the luck of Irish."
    "You're not Irish."
    "But my wife is. I married into it." Ed said. Suddenly he broke eye contact and looked back at his prisoner. I caught the little man's head snap back to its original position. He'd been watching us. "What the fuck are you looking at?" Ed shouted.

    He told me that the leprechaun ate mostly meat. They gave him uncooked hotdogs, mainly, but he didn't seem particular so long as it was meat.
    He ate once a day.

The meat thing was meant to be another sign of the danger of the situation. People are meat. I also thought it would be a clever mirror to Ed's money-driven mentality: a consumer that produces nothing. Furthermore, I'm not vegan or anything, but let's be frank, to produce meat requires cruelty. You, either yourself or by proxy, have to kill to get it. Ed's wealth is based on cruelty which he's learned to blithely ignore by using the argument that being humane should be reserved for humans.

    He didn't need to be taken out. They'd originally left a kitty liter box down there for him, but as far as they could tell, he never pissed or shat.
    The iron chain kept him docile. They weren't sure whether contact with iron actually hurt him or simply bound him. It wasn't clear. But whatever, he couldn't fuck with it so I shouldn't fuck with it.
    And keep an eye on the salt ring.
    He didn't seem talkative of late, but that was a good thing. "When he talks, it's always in half truths. He's always trying to gain some edge on you, freak you out. Best to just not talk to him," Ed said.

I was hoping this quick list would remind people of the shorthand instructions people leave friends about the care of their animals while their away. I was to stress how comfortable Ed was with the situation, despite it clear danger.

    The first night I spent in the house, I found a yellow Post-it note on the fridge:
    "Si –
          Don't talk to him!

I think this note is the only reference to the narrator's name. His name is Simon. Originally, there was a second note from Ed's wife. It was something purposefully inane, something a spare CostCo card for his grocery needs. It was to confirm the Ed's wife knew what was going on and reinforce the idea that if was just going on despite the enslaved creature in the basement. But I didn't want to add in a token character that wasn't going really be used. In an expanded version, perhaps Ed's wife would get worked in.

    The first week went by fine. Once I walked down there to find him standing up instead of sitting in his normal position. The shock nearly made me drop the open can of Vienna sausages I was going to toss him. Other than that one surprise, it was actually a bit dull. I'd taken to talking to him absently, like one would a pet. He never talked back and I was certain the proscription referred to conversation, not me talking to myself in his presence, which is what it really was.
    He never ate in front of me. He never spoke. Though I could sometimes hear his chain drag around at night – a disconcerting sound – I never saw him move. I just threw him his food, checked the salt circle, reapplying liberally as needed, and left him in the basement.

In a way, this was a bad story to try to do in such a constrained context. The whole thing requires the narrator and, by extension, the reader, gets lulled into a false sense of control. I don't think these two paragraphs really do it, but a word limit is a word limit.

    The trouble started on Tuesday of week two. Around one in the morning, he started to sing.

    "She walked the town from Herald Square to 42nd Street,
    The traffic stalled as she cried to the copper on the beat.
    Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y.
    Have you seen him smile?"

The lyrics of the previously mentioned song, with the same fuck up.

    It was a horrible voice. Like a thousand year old drunkard, a voice filled with the shit luck of a million busted promises, decades of starvation, lifetimes of hate and resignation.

I wanted this to add irony to the idea that the leprechaun was a manifestation of the luck of the Irish. This was meant to suggest that they might be the manifestation of the bad luck of the Irish.

    I ran to the basement. As a flung open the door, he stopped. I stamped down the stairs. He was seated, quietly, that nowhere stare.
    "Don't do that, okay? Your singing voice is shit."

    I waked back up stairs. A half hour later, I'd calmed again to the point that I was drifting back to sleep. Then, him again:

    "Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y.
    Have you seen him smile?
    Sure his hair is red. His eyes are blue.
    And he's Irish through and through."

Again, same fuck up.

    I shot out of bed. Again, he fell silent as I reached the basement door. I came down the steps, grabbed a pool cue, and made as if to strike the tiny man. He didn't look at me. I held the cue above my head.
    "Shut the fuck up!"
    "What are going to do," he said.
    I felt the strength drain from my arms.
    "You can kill the money tap?" He still didn't look at me.
    "Just shut up, okay? I need to sleep."

For the second time, money is the big persuasive argument.

    He didn't answer. I put the cue back down on the table. As I walked up the stairs, I could feel his gaze bore into the back of my head.
    That horrible voice, all guilt and hate and heartbreak and greed: "I don't sleep much myself. You could say I don't sleep at all."

    Every night, starting at one:

    "She climbed upon the bandstand
    In hopes she might be seen.
    Five hundred Kellys left the ranks
    To answer to her pleain'.
    Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y."

Yet again.

    Every damn night. Sometimes I shouted back. Sometimes I ran down stairs. Once I tried to gag him, but he rushed me the second I crossed the salt circle. The little bastard tried to bite my fingers off.

    Come Friday, I'd had enough. With the little shit wailing downstairs, I got dressed and left the house. I started my car and started off to the city. I didn't care where.
    I reached the city in about forty-five minutes. I had no destination, so I cruised the Bottom and LoDo. I blasted the radio, as if the volume of the cycle of 70s stadium rock could wash out the scratching, gnawing voice of the little man from my head.

I didn't have a city in mind – so a Frankensteined one out of other cities. Shockoe Bottom is an area in Richmond. LoDo is from Denver. The Westside refers to Manhattan's Westside Highway.

    Circling the still-busy streets, looking for a friendly looking bar, it occurred to me: That clever bastard was trying to run me out of the house.

Somebody suggested that they didn't get the point of the singing. Perhaps I could have made it clearer at this moment in the story, but the point was to chase the narrator out of the house. Not that the narrator needed to leave for the leprechaun to escape. Instead, I thought of it more as, even seemingly contained, the leprechaun can screw with the narrator.

    I made an illegal U-ie on the Westside, nearly running down a group of staggering college kids, and sped back to Ed's house.

    I opened the door to Ed's house and stood in the darkened entryway. I didn't hear him singing. The place was dead quiet. The lights were out. I walked slowly downstairs. I turned on the lights.
    He was there, sitting quietly, in his circle of salt. The chain was still around his neck. He said nothing. He didn't turn to look at me.

    Relieved, I walked upstairs. I went to kitchen to get some ice for a drink. In the middle of the kitchen floor was an empty sardine tin.

I thought this understated, non-violent confrontation would work better than some face off. Many people, however, thought the story fizzled out. It is something I might rework if I ever visit the story again.

    "Look at me," I said. "We're talking. Now."
    I saw a fresh cut on his right hand. The blood was the color and thickness of tree sap.
    I held one of Ed's golf clubs in my right hand. A 9 iron. In my left hand, a mesh shopping bag. Ed's and his wife didn't like to waste trees. Very conscientious.

I liked the paradox of Ed the slaver being Ed the man who uses eco-friendly shopping bags.

    "You can get out."
    He said nothing.
    "What do I have to do so you'll wait until I leave? 'Cause you're going to kill whoever's here, aren't you?"
    "I could kill you first."
    I put down the shopping bag. I took out some salt. I carefully poured the container out in a circle. I made several orbits, just pouring out salt. After I was done, I poured picked up the shopping bag and overturned its contents, several tins of tuna fish, deviled ham, spam, into his circular prison.
    "I'm done," I said. "What happens between you and Ed is between you and Ed. But I'll be keeping this club with me, until I leave."

Part of the original idea was that this scheme of Ed's was sort of inherently corrupting. You involved yourself in it and you ended up doing things like sacrificing your best friend to it. The whole idea that the leprechaun was going to kill the narrator was mentioned simply because the narrator is afraid, though it wasn't meant to be a sort of "given." If I had a chance to redo this, I would have made the narrator less certain (and certain in error) and more confused. He would ask the leprechaun what he intended to do, offered several alternatives, and received no answer.

    I drove away. I never heard from Ed again. We were thick as thieves once. But that was years ago.

I'm glad readers noticed the echo. I enjoy using them to bring the story sort of full circle, especially when we have two out of three characters built as hanging characters. I thought, because the plot was bsacially open-ended, a sort of rhetorical, artifical sense of closure was necessary. This seemed like a quick and somewhat elegant little trick for getting it ended.

< I FAIL IT | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Premature Autopsy | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Cool. by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #1 Mon May 15, 2006 at 08:14:06 AM EST
Perhaps if I'd actually thought about what my story was about or what was going on, it would have been better. Hm. I don't know if mine is worth a postmortem, but I like seeing behind your proverbial curtain here.
I've got more than one membership to more than one club, and I owe my life to the people that I love. - Ani DiFranco
I'd Read Your WFC-Autopsy by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon May 15, 2006 at 08:30:17 AM EST
And I'm pretty sure others are interested as well.

We want the directors commentary!

Why not 4:35 or 6:11? We demand to know!

Seriously though, you don't give youself enough credit. I thought your story was great. Judging by the comments, many folks did.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon May 15, 2006 at 08:37:22 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

I liked Kelly, I think I even voted for it by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon May 15, 2006 at 08:42:24 AM EST
and thanks for the autopsy, I don't know if I will bother, I don't think it really warrants one.

I Think It Warrents It. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon May 15, 2006 at 09:24:07 AM EST
I thought your story was excellent. I'm always curious about what was going through the mind of people when they were creating something.

Besides, I think this is the first and only fictional work of yours that I've read. That alone makes it noteworthy to me.

You wouldn't have to do this whole song and dance I did. Blixco did a great autopsy that was closer to the standard diary format.

It's your call, of course. But I'd dig it if you did it.

[ Parent ]
Damn fine. by blixco (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon May 15, 2006 at 09:50:51 AM EST
I picked up most of that.  A longer version would be neat, though.
Taken out of context I must seem so strange - Ani DiFranco
Maybe Someday by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon May 15, 2006 at 10:36:52 AM EST
I'd have to rethink the ending, which really didn't go over well.

The handling of the magically elements fell a bit flat as well, according to the feedback I was getting.

I don't think these are insurmountable problems, but they'd have to be reworked before I could think about expanding it.

[ Parent ]
In my simplistic little world... by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon May 15, 2006 at 12:24:14 PM EST

... I just liked the story. But it's nice to know all the things I failed utterly to pick up on. I liked the story, thanks for writing it!

I liked Kelly the most by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon May 15, 2006 at 02:14:18 PM EST
... because it was a fairy tale set in the modern day. I thought the elements you hang on here - the vague magic, the moral consequences etc, were all elements of the genre.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

I Actually Liked the Vague Magic. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon May 15, 2006 at 05:52:32 PM EST
When I wrote the story, I thought that it had turned out rather well. It was an intentional throw back to fairy tale logic.

Seems most folks, however, disagreed. I think most folks prefer the sort of magic-as-protoscience tradition found in things like The Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter. The sort that follows rules, must be studied, etc.

Now that I see somebody besides me dug it, perhaps I would rethink revising that aspect. 

[ Parent ]
My wife asked by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon May 15, 2006 at 09:02:01 PM EST
"If the leprechaun can get out, why does it stay?"

I think I subconsciously patched in some sort of "Ed doesn't know / didn't tell the full complicated extent of his mysterious evil pact" thing.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
good work by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon May 15, 2006 at 04:11:19 PM EST
I enjoyed the story greatly; I also passed it to D along with a few others (including mine, but without identifying any of them, though I was pretty sure this was yours and of course I knew which was mine), and he picked this out as one of his faves.

D actually liked the fact that the leprechaun got out despite the various contraptions and totally screwed with the narrator. I liked the description of all the mundane details of the rec room with this guy just part of the scenery. It also allowed you to get more kick out of the line, "That's when Ed asked me to watch his leprechaun." (though personally, I really like the line right before that one, it just oozes sleaze).

I think you tracked the narrator's moods from curiosity to incredulity to outrage to acceptance to boredom to the tension at the end well for a story of this size. It's just that an open-ended story like this is hard to pull off after all this buildup without feeling like a bit of a letdown, which is why when in doubt, I pulled a huge cop-out in my own. I like the way the sardine can is the first hint of trouble, but maybe a more direct threat or confirmation of the narrator's fears to propel him out the door would address the accusations of "fizzle," though I think it's fine as it stands.

Looking forward to what you do for the next WFC.

"later" meant either "when you walk around the corner" or "oatmeal."

Premature Autopsy | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback