Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Ninja as Child – #8 – Jon Bon Jovi

The story/memory below is a repost from my daddy-blog, Sleep Deprivation Ninja, pulled from the Ninja as Child stories. A recent event has sparked the need to revisit this memory. This is the only thing I can leave for my daughter on this topic–my own personal experience. I was hoping she would be older before having to learn about this side of humanity–and I think even now, at nearly 5, no child is really able to fully grok the concept. It just flat out doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason they should understand it–but here it is.

The below is a true account of my childhood as I remember it, as are all of the Ninja as Child stories on that other blog–these are some of my most vivid memories because of their intensity. I spent many nights staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, reliving them, thinking how life might have been different, if there was anything I could have changed…

“You don’t know who Jon Bon Jovi is!?” This came from Izaak, the 7-year-old kid standing in front of me, wearing a leather jacket with a big “Jon Bon Jovi” spread across the back.

I had, of course, in my ignorance, dared to ask him, “Who is Jon Bon Jovi?”

Queue music:

We are all standing in line, awaiting our release from our second grade classroom, into the open embrace of recess. I look at Izaak who has only half way turned around to give me the same face the Fonz would use to tell someone, “hey, it’s cool, I’m cool enough for the two of us.”

Izaak is cool enough for the two of us. He is a certifiable badass. This kid knows everything that is cool. He’s slick with the ladies. He can always win those toys from the stupid claw machines at the video arcade. Every. Freaking. Time. Sometimes we go to the video arcade at the mall just so he can prove it.

So, I’m standing there, turning red with embarrassment that I don’t have a clue who this Bon Jovi guy is and Izaak saves me. He leans in and whispers, “he’s a singer, man.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah, I knew that.” I’m such a smart-ass. Izaak shakes his head, totally not falling for my ruse. “You going to Mike’s birthday party tonight?”

“Yes I am.” He says and then he throws his hands into the air in a badass biker style “ROCK” just as the bell rings. For a split second it looks like he made the bells ring just by throwing his arms up and giving the signal. I marvel until the vanishing line catches up with my position.

Children pour out into the play yard like a bag full of marbles spilling out onto the floor. Direction is meaningless. Vectors change based only on the terrain. Individuals coalesce into groups, arbitrarily merged based on location, rather than social status. The hordes of children indulge only in fun.

Mike’s birthday party that night begins at Angelo’s Pizza. There are about eight of us running amuck, pizza in one hand and a fistful of quarters for the video games in the other. Several very large pizza’s are quickly devoured. My stack of quarters lasts me about fifteen minutes. Some other kids have more and I watch as they play. Izaak has been playing for over thirty minutes on the quarter he borrowed from Mike. Badass. Within the hour, all the quarters are gone and Izaak has killed the game. This place is spent. But the night is still young. The party continues at Mike’s house, where we will all slumber over, living the fort-building, pillow-fighting, video-game addicted paradise.

When we get to Mike’s house, I look around at all my cohorts and something isn’t right. “Where’s Izaak?”

Mike shrugs, “I don’t know… I think he had to take off or something.”

“Man that sucks.” I’m a little hurt. How could he ditch out on the best part. A sleepover! That’s just crazy. I’m sad for a brief moment but little boys with their toys and games are easily distracted and fooled. We all forget about Izaak.

The next morning, my mother picks me up and she asks me how it went. “Oh, we made this awesome fort and played video games and ate lots of junk food and it was fun. I wish Izaak was there. Do you know why he didn’t come?”

My mother stares out the window of the car as we drive away. She looks unusually distant. “I drove Izaak home last night from the pizza place.” Then she looks at me with a pained expression like she is about to cry.

“Why, what happened?” I’m scared for Izaak. Did he get injured or something? Did he have some kind of emergency?

“Mike’s mother told me she didn’t want him there because Izaak is black.” She looks at me. I’m at a total loss for words. “She said, I don’t want that negro boy staying at my house with my son. That’s what she told me. So I took Izaak and I drove him home and I explained it to his parents…. I’m so sorry.” She turns back to the road.

“Mom! Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me go there? I wouldn’t have gone if I knew that.” I start to get angry, brooding with my arms folded tight.

“I’m sorry, I should have told you. I regret not telling you.”

I can’t stay mad at my mother. I stare out the window and I imagine that I am Izaak, sitting here in the passenger seat, being driven home from the party. Did he cry? I wonder, did this happen to him a lot? I had no idea someone would ever do something like that to him. Why? WTF? Why?

Fuck. Now I’m fighting the tears just remembering this shit. And yes, ninjas do cry, but it only happens when a ninja relives some of the tragic memories that eventually combined to create the need to become Ninja. I can still choke a Jabberwock with my pinky.

Izaak just keeps cool. On Monday, in class, he just shruggs like the Fonz when Mike and the others ask him what happened to him. “Hey, I just had to go, you know.” Izaak didn’t miss a beat. Mike doesn’t even know his own mother is a racist bitch.

I look around the classroom. Tiffany has red hair. Brian’s hair is black. I have extreme blue eyes, about which the teacher makes frequent creepy comments. I’m the only one in the class with eyes this blue. Tiffany is the only one with red hair. Izaak has really dark skin. It’s darker than peter’s and in a different way. Everyone’s hair is different. Everyone’s eyes are different. Our noses are different, our chins, our height, the size of our hands. Everyone has a different skin tone. The only thing we see in each other is difference. And difference is cool.

This classroom is full of hippie children. Most of our parents were hippies. Some still are. We live in a little town full of natural food stores and local bars where everybody knows your name. In this town of monotonous living, conformity is tantamount to wearing a shirt that says ‘Dull’. So we all look at each other for the differences that make us cool, all trying not to blend in with anyone else. Until we get around to learning about discrimination in school, none of us has any idea the world is full of such things. Sure, we notice we are all different but by what scale could we even dare to label any of these traits better than others? The only thing that matters is that you know who the fuck Jon Bon Jovi is. That’s definitive.

Many years later, I’m about 15 years old now, and I’m at the grocery store getting a bunch of stuff for my mom. When it’s my turn in line, I unload a full cart of food onto the conveyor belt and when I look up, I recognize the woman at the register. It’s Mike’s mom. She’s older but she still looks the same. I remember Izaak and as I think about him, recognition dawns in her face too. She knows who I am. She knows I was friends with both her son and with Izaak. I think about screaming at her or just casually asking her what it’s like to hate people like Izaak for such stupid reasons. I look behind me and see that the line is long. Everyone is waiting for my heap of goods to be purchased so they can take my place and interact with this woman.

No, not this woman. I look at the ground and lick my lips, clenching my fists, ready to bash her face in while she’s calmly beep-beeping my groceries. I look up at her and slowly shake my head. I can’t do this. I can’t make this transaction.

I leave. I just walk out. The pile of groceries sits on the conveyor belt and yields to no one. She doesn’t say anything. I know as I leave the store that she is just staring at my back and she knows exactly why. It’s not much resolution but at 15, I am not yet a ninja. I’m still just a little boy who doesn’t understand the world. Not even a little.

Damn. That was the saddest stroll down memory lane I’ve taken in a while. I’m getting all of these memories written so I can remember them when I’m old and so my daughter can have an idea what the world was like when I was a kid. I had forgotten when I started this project that so many of the memories that stuck are pretty shitty. I’ve got a million more. But that’s why I eventually cracked and became Ninja. Time for something to laugh at. This seems relevant:

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Bureau of Drawers Free Digital Anthology C

Hey everyone, my weekly comics drawing group just released our 3rd quarterly free digital anthology. More on the Bureau of Drawers website.

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End of the Earth: View from the Moon

He’s crazy. This PhD student we’ve got in our place. Granted, we are living underground, in an abandoned missile silo, so we all have our eccentricities. But this guy has really lost it. We think he’s acquired a real missile–a fucking nuclear powered atomic bomb thingy. He keeps playing with the control room, like he’s setting up for something.

Days later:
He’s done it. This place is on lockdown. There’s apparently no way to stop the bomb. The whole system is rigged on a death-lock. If anyone tries to tamper with it, the missile goes off immediately. We’re certain he’s got it aimed at Moscow. He’s going to trigger the doomsday scenario. He’s on some kind of ‘world must reset itself’ binge. Bunch of fucking philosophy major bullshit. The whole world knows. It’s on the news. NATO was alerted that a formerly deactivated launch center has triggered an offensive attack and it’s gong down in the next two hours. Seems like a long time. Maybe the government will be able to break into the silo and stop this thing. Maybe they have a backdoor into the system and they can stop it for real. I’m kidding myself, of course.

I’m not certain but I suspect he thinks the russian defense system won’t work, like it’ll be delayed a few hours in responding. Just enough time for the US of fucking A to take full offensive and finish the job in fear of the final retaliation. He thinks some people will survive this thing. We don’t even try to argue the ecological impact that will undoubtably carry radiation and death to every door of the world. Even if half the world is destroyed. We are all members of a fragile web. He’s fucking with the web.

The radios are all scatter-cast. They hiss and jibe in a frenzy with broken reports and speculation. The World is onto this place. Everyone is kissing their loved ones. Ready for the end of the world.

He likes me. Some kind of comrade in arms thing. We’re bunkmates, telling stories of our childhood and fucked up upbringing. We know each other’s secrets. I should have known he’d go ballistic on the entire world. But he has some kind of escape mechanism.

We are going to the moon. He’s got this advanced military device that can teleport (or some crazy science) us to the moon in no time. I don’t know what to say but he’s invited me to watch the end of the world on some odd little secret military base with him. Before I know it, we are beach-towel-laying on the moon, just outside of the base station, staring at Earth and the whole thing just looks so sad and fragile. I ask him about space suits and he says he didn’t have time to pack them but the air filtration and ventilation system inside the base will allow us to breath outside within 20 feet of the entrance. It’s just blasting us with oxygen, faster than the void of space can rip it away from us. My hair is in a permanent wind gust pattern the likes of which Morrissey has never known.

I’ve got to get back home. This moon-base is freaking me out. It’s a dome that looks like something out of a James Bond casino scene. There’s a Jukebox and a sassy waitress, booze and billiards. I feel like throwing up. I jump for the transporter while his back is turned.
One of my housemates reminds me that I have an experiment brewing. It’s a form of nano-machine powered ectoplasmic fluid that will melt through just about anything, even heated enriched uranium, releasing safe, eco-friendly waste into the air. The missile is right in front of me and I drizzle the beakers all over it. The cap melts, revealing a super-hot plasma sphere. Canisters of all kinds of deadly crap are sitting inside the missile, melting together into the ultimate weapon. I don’t know what to do but I keep splattering the fluid all over the device. The timer is ticking. It’s getting hotter in here. I can see that if I continue to eat through the material, this whole place will fill with such heat and fire that all the oxygen will burst into flames. We will all die. I prod the goo, trying to get it to work but something in it has just given up. It’s just laying there in spatters like inert spit–a worthless affront to the inevitable. Like the whole of physics has just flipped a middle finger to this crazy species.

I envision the end of the world. The ecto-acid goo isn’t preventing the apocalypse. I can’t stop the timer. My flatmates are hiding themselves in self-flagellation, coming the form of last minute video game victories and alcoholic drinks–they’ve given up. I can hear the military, with their best men, banging on the top door. They want in–knowing full-well the best they can do is put a bullet in my flatmates and me. I can’t open the door from the inside. It’d be worth a try to give them a chance at stopping it. This is happening. We’re all going to die.

The timer counts down and I can hear, through the distant crackles of the kitchen radio, the cries of mothers holding their young. The missile fires. We watch it go up into the air and all we can do is hold our breath.

Russia has a hand on the trigger. The US has the same. Everyone ready to kill and die but not willing to fire until it’s set in stone. Thank fucking reason for that. Nobody in the face of the earth breathes for a long time.

The missile keeps going. It goes up–and when it should be turning toward Russia, it doesn’t. It just keeps going up, through the atmosphere and into space, off to detonate somewhere else.

I gasp for air as all the oxygen in the planet moves in and out at once.

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#Raptors: With #Science (and #Chainsaws)

Every blue moon there’s a comic that really speaks to modern culture. Atomic Robo (written by Brian Clevinger and art by Scott Wegener) fills that gap for me at the moment. I mean, Nikola Tesla invents an immortal AI robot who grows up to kick ass with Carl Sagan (on one particular adventure). But the real kicker for me is in Vol 4, Revenge of the Vampire Dimension, with the introduction of Dr. Dinosaur (AKA Lord Raptor) who explains how he will dismantle Atomic Robo:

Raptor with Science (and Chainsaw)

Atomic Robo - Vol 4 - The Revenge of the Vampire Dimension 3x4 - With Science!

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A Three-Act Ouline

This is the three-act character arc & story structure that I’ve been using, boiled down from many online sources. It is now packaged in my template for creating new scripts, stored under the handy research folder in Scrivener–but I figured I’d share it here for posterity. Please comment with any notes, or suggestions for alterations.

This is a pretty standard formula. If you run through any major Hollywood movie, you can map it pretty much directly to this set:

  • ACT 1 – Introduction, contentment
    • Introduce protagonist who will resist change (inner conflict), being perfectly content—or at least having no reason or will to change
  • Plot Point 1 – Event that throws the character’s life off balance.
    • Surprise shifts the story in a new direction
    • Reveals the protagonist’s life will never again be the same
    • Introduces an obstacle, which forces the protagonist to deal with something he/she would normally avoid
  • ACT 2 – Emotional Journey
    • Challenges — the protagonist struggles toward the goal/McGuffin
    • Conflict! – Each conflict appears and resolves to move the story forward
    • Inner and Outer conflicts, working together, alternating between hope and despair/disappointment
    • External conflicts seem solvable then insurmountable, then solvable.
    • Get into trouble. Raise the stakes. The character will make bad decisions.
    • Ends with the hero’s dark moment—utterly beaten, abandoned, all hope of achieving the goal is lost
  • Plot Point 2 – Throw the story in an unexpected direction, allowing the goal to be reachable
    • Rally the troops, head for the goal
  • Act 3 – Resolution
    • Draw upon new strengths, realized by lessons learned in overcoming Act 2 conflicts
    • Obtain the McGuffin / Achieve the goal.
  • Denouement
    • Wrap it up
    • Show the character’s change
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Writing for Comics Update + Asher Evans

I’ve now been trying to get inZomnia finished for a while (as a 12 issue volume) and I’ve been rolling this other idea around in the back of my head for almost as long. I’m not really putting off inZomnia but I have to admit it is an ambitious first entry into the comics space. This other idea is much simpler and allows me to create a single issue to introduce the world without worrying that later issues might need to revise the first.

Something about the comics industry that I find so strange is that writers don’t usually have the full story mapped out. They might have the current arc fully bulleted (hopefully) but they typically write an issue, it goes to the artist, they write another issue, and so on. Usually this only happens with ongoing series like The Walking Dead, DMZ, The Boys etc, which are three series that have been really disappointing to me lately–I find that any series pushing past 60 issues is just going on too long. But imagine writing a novel where you write the first chapter, polished and complete, ship it off to press and then start writing the second chapter, knowing that you have no ability to revise character interactions, manners of speech, plot devices, etc in previous chapters–those are set in stone. The really minor things are what get me. Since I’ve been writing inZomnia, I’ve revised the first issue script 3 times–and they are very different versions. Perhaps it’s just an issue with having all the characters and story fully mapped–something I’m still working on–but I keep thinking of subtle things that I issue #10 or #11 will have that need a little foreshadowing earlier on. It would be a pity to press those and not have the ability to include that. So, since I’m new to this, I’m not just outlining–I’m going to at least write a prose page for each issue, fully flushing out the details before I go back to revise the actual scripts again.

In the meantime, as advised by my virtual mentor Antony Johnston in his fantastic articles on writing comics, it’s good to step back and work on something else to give your brain time to come back with a fresh perspective.

If you are unfamiliar with Antony’s work, he is currently writing Wasteland and the following articles on his site are required reading for anyone wanting to write comics (or even if you are just into writing anything at all, the first article is for you):

So, as I was saying, I took a little break today and created a 3 act outline for a 1-shot comic called “Asher Evans isn’t Real.” Of course, it’s a 1-shot that sets the stage to grow into an ongoing series or, as I prefer all media to be, a more flushed out and conclusive graphic novel. Asher Evans has a twitter account if you are interested in following the progress of a fictional character living a fictional life within his own fictional world: http://twitter.com/AsherEvans

Next steps with this one-shot are:

  1. Writing a prose summary for the issue
  2. Converting the prose summary into 3×5 cards (using scrivener to create 22 cards that also double as script pages)
  3. Expand those cards into scripted format
  4. Find an artist to do some character sketches
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Writing for Comics: Multi-Plot Levitz Paradigm

Well, I’m still here, more or less.

It’s been a tough year so far in terms of finding writing time–I know everyone makes excuses so I won’t bother to drop them here. On the other hand, I’ve found a good amount of time to think about writing–and specifically think and dream about character and plot development, back-stories, panel layouts and specific sequences within my story, etc… and I’m pretty happy with what’s coming out.

Currently, I’m putting off the actual script writing to spend time developing my Pitch, which includes way more details than would go into a real pitch–it’s mostly a guide for me to organize the characters, tone, audience, plot arcs, issue spines and the like. Eventually, this is what I’ll be showing to an artist who might want to join up with me to produce inZomnia. Yeah, you read it right, I won’t be drawing this graphic novel (most likely). My drawing hand is not at the place I want it to be for the look and feel of this story and I’d really like to work with an artist who has comics experience. Besides, writing comes first and it’s going to take me long enough to get that where I want it.

I do terribly miss having time to myself and anyone out there who has broken into the comics scene with full-time job and a family (and specifically a 2.5 year-old), I welcome your enlightened suggestions.

So, on to a brief diversion wherein I actually talk about the topic of this post:

In The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, Dennis O’Neil talks about the Levitz Paradigm, which strikes me as a simple way to organize and track multiple plots and their development within a series. Basically, as I understand it, you create a table with plots on the left (rows) and issues on the top (columns). Then you simple write out the plot spines as they develop within the issues, staggering in new plot arcs (be they subplots, major plots or diversions) as others fade away, keeping about 3-4 live plots running at any given time. By the way, I’m quite shocked that Wikipedia doesn’t have an article on the Levitz Paradigm but I’m not going to write a page for it–I’ve got enough procrastination projects.

Since I sadly, did not pursue and English, Literature, Creative Writing or any related degree in college, I hadn’t given much analytical thought to the development of serial TV, comics or other forms of fiction. O’Neil’s book talks a bit about soap operas and how they keep viewers interested and I noticed that many of the TV shows on at any given moment use the same techniques–generally something that looks like the Levitz Paradigm. The core of the idea is that you can end a plot, satisfying the audience with its completion but by having other plot lines flowing unfinished, you keep them interested in whatever comes out next.

Now, I’m really not into long, unending serials. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed with The Walking Dead, which I thought hit its peak of interest a dozen or so issues ago. When I started reading it, I didn’t expect it to go to 80 issues and beyond–and I don’t see any reason they would ever stop (it could go to hundreds of issues). I like stories that end. Endings are dear to me. But I like the idea of using the Levitz Paradigm to help me get through 12 issues (I think) of inZomnia, allowing the plots to trickle into closure toward the end.

It occurred to me today that I could start writing a blog called ‘Code to Comics’ but then I realized that if I spent the time needed to truly blogument the process I’m going through, I wouldn’t have any time to write, which is already a problem. So, I’ll leave that blog title for someone else. Really, take it. I’m going to keep this name just in case I need to experiment with sleep again (fairly likely).

So, I’ll leave you with a simple list of the bedside reading I’ve been enjoying for the past several weeks–and then I’ll get my ass over to writing.

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Comic Book Status + New Desktop

Just wanted to drop a line to say I’m not dead–and though I haven’t been drawing every day, I’ve been doing a little bit. I’m focusing all my spare time now writing the scripts for inZomnia, the Graphic Novel–and I even just created a Facebook page for it:

In the meantime, I was going to write during my lunch break today but I got distracted by David Lanham’s awesome new Steampunk Icon Pack–so I was forced to revamp my GeekTool widgets to work with the feel of the metal desktop wallpaper:

My Latest OSX Desktop

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Flying Cthulhu Robot Monster

So I’m taking a walk through the desert last night. It’s warm. Most nights are a bit on the warm side in Albuquerque during the summer. I like this. It brings out the insects. Wherever you go, the air is thick with the chirps of cicadas and the ground is swarming with beetles, ants and all kinds of other things I can’t identify.

The sun sinks away, leaving behind a sunset that lasts for hours. I swear, it’s almost midnight and the sky is still a little blue.

Now, I’m looking at the moon, which is unusually bright tonight, when this thing comes swirling out of a gap of light that just sort of appears in the middle of the sky. I’m not sure if it’s a robot or a suit of armor for some kind of intergalactic octopus but it comes up toward me, followed by a little hovering ball that keeps bleeping and flashing little fuzzy plasma lit signals.

data

This is when the big one speaks in a deep gargled metallic tone, telling me that Cthulu’s army is being manufactured in a nearby layer of this space-fabric-thingy and that I should prepare for the oncoming horde that will enslave all of my kind. I don’t reply right away–more like I just stare at it–which seems to cause confusion amongst my visitors. While the robot monster is looking back and forth between me and it’s little floaty ball friend, I make the loudest cicada call I can muster.

The desert rises up like a tidal wave and descends.

You can hear them, but until you see the swarms of desert insects combine into Optimus Megabug, you have no freaking clue how many are really out there. The exposed tentacles dangling below the hovering robot armor go first, chewed away and replaced by countless flapping wings. Flames spew out of the exhaust-pipe-looking-things on the robot’s shoulders. I don’t think they are supposed to do that. The little flying ball is totally losing it’s shit. It’s zipping around, apparently weaponless. Must just be a scout or something. It zooms back toward the horizon and vanishes into a wisp of light that peels back the sky. I don’t know if it’s going to warn the others not to come or fetch reinforcements but it’s gone now.

With the octopus beast eaten, all that remains is the robot shell. It’s a pretty cool piece of machinery so I cover it up in the sand, marking the position for later retrieval. Bring it on Cthulhu. Send your beasts. We’ve got insects.

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Write for 10: It’s a Part of You

This is a write for ten minutes practice session: http://writeforten.com/posts/533

It’s a part of you, this thing they’ve implanted. What is it made of, some polymer clay, iron, ore, something wicked or new, who knows. They put these things inside, hoping to gain insight. imagine what they could glean from a clean specimen. Men with no connection, nothing to lose, nothing to gain.

Back in the dark, again, they’ve got this thing wired to your head. If you think straight, the lights go out. What can that be for? If there’s a reason, they wouldn’t tell you. That’s part of the experiment, the data collection, the reason.

But you do this to pay for school. It’s all you can do, that or sell parts. It’s better to gain a little implant than lose a little kidney or push your plasma on the street. At least these guys are professional. Or so they seem. How could you tell if this was legit or something sinister? It’s so easy to make things. The suits, the badges, the equipment. It looks like it would have been expensive before you could just make things. But now, these guys could be broke, selling off your data to the personality cloners, pushing our your identity to the over-net, leaking out your dreams to the pay-per-view audiences in distant places.

You wonder for a minute if this is your fifteen minutes of fame. Could it be? Could this be all there is to show? You’ve got this tube of gelatinous metal in your ribcage. Are you the first to try it? Probably. You try bending and find it’s sore. You jump, push, pull, drop and roll. There in a half turnpipe spin, you find bliss. This new ribcage of yours just splits open to reveal a tentacle mesh of neotechnic hands, reaching out for perch against the walls, rocketing you back and forth. You close your eyes. They carry you, these arms, walking for you, bounding through the hallway of the artificial medical unit. There at the end, you see a woman in white standing next to a hover-tray. It’s giving her in injection. She faints. Move along. Nothing to see here. Nothing but images as you float by, out into the streets.

There’s a place in the park where all the old men go to die. They play games with their past selves, screaming banter at bankers, bidding on winners and pranksters. Eventually, it all caves in. The pieces fall. The trees sag and drop their leaves.

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