Archive for the 'Story' Category

Danny and the Death Ray

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Once upon a time, there was a small town that was attacked by space aliens.

Why this one town should be attacked by space aliens was unclear. But what was very clear was that these were space aliens, and they were attacking.

The townspeople fought off the space aliens as best they could, but… come on, space aliens. They knew that more drastic measures would be necessary.

They gathered together, pooled their resources, and built a giant Death Ray right in the middle of the town square. It was three stories high if it was an inch, and thicker than any tree trunk in the southern woods. And, believe it or not, the Death Ray did the trick. The space aliens were sent scurrying back to their own galaxy, or wherever it was they had come from in the first place.

The people rejoiced. Their ordeal was over, and it was all thanks to the Death Ray! They left the weapon in the town square as a monument. The townspeople decorated the Death Ray all the colors of the rainbow. Parents would bring their children to come see the Death Ray, and tell stories about how it repelled the space aliens. The children liked to imagine themselves at the controls of the Death Ray, firing on the aliens and saving the town again and again.

Mind you, the Death Ray wasn’t perfect. It was a quite an advanced piece of technology to begin with, and it was a pretty impressive thing to be built in a small town. But every now and then, the Death Ray would discharge a stray beam, sending an unexpected burst of destructive force into some random part of town. Usually, it didn’t do much harm, but occasionally it would hit one of the townspeople. Good old Bob who worked at the town market was the first to go. Some time later, little Sally Jenkins was also hit. Ironically, the third victim of the random shots was a drifter named Ray.

Still, three random accidents, tragic as they were, seemed a small price to pay for having such an awesome piece of weaponry like the Death Ray in the town square. Sure, everyone missed old Bob, and it was hard not to feel for the Jenkins family, but it wasn’t every town that could boast such a marvelous display of power. The Death Ray was what made the town special. Some people were even talking about naming the town after the Death Ray, though not everyone could agree on how the new name would be spelled or pronounced. Others didn’t like the idea of changing the name of the town at all.

In fact, there was a small group of people who wanted to dismantle the Death Ray altogether. Nobody paid them any mind, of course, but they were usually pretty vocal at the Town Council meetings. Usually, folks just rolled their eyes and waited for the speeches to be over. And the group was always the most vocal just after the town had suffered one of its losses to the Death Ray. The townspeople didn’t appreciate that; if ever there was a time not to talk about the Death Ray, surely it was just after it had killed someone. How could you have a rational conversation about the Death Ray when emotions were so high? And even at other times, dismantling the Death Ray was just not a topic for polite conversation, not if you loved the town.

Until one day, when the Death Ray happened to fire a shot into the local hospital, which created a disaster unlike any the town had ever seen. Now, the idea of dismantling the Death Ray seemed worth discussing. Before this, most people had not considered the idea that having a malfunctioning Death Ray in the town square could be so dangerous, but recent events had made the fact undeniable.

The townspeople gathered in the Town Hall. For the first time in years, every seat was filled! The people were angry and wanted to vote the Death Ray right out of the town. Speaker after speaker warned of the dangers posed by the Death Ray. The town seemed to come together like never before.

The last speaker was a young boy named Danny. Danny had been listening to all of the speeches, and couldn’t believe his ears. His whole life, he had been taught to love and honor the Death Ray. He explained, in passionate tones, how the Death Ray was the town, and any attempt to dismantle it would undermine everything the town stood for. He understood that people were emotional about the hospital, but this was not the time to be carried away by our emotions. The space aliens could come back at any moment, and when they did, the town needed to have that Death Ray. Besides, he noted, Death Rays don’t kill people; people are killed by Death Rays. The townspeople could not argue with this logic.

Danny insisted that dismantling the Death Ray was not the solution. Instead, he proposed building a Safety Shield, so that the next time the Death Ray had a random discharge, the beam would hit the Safety Shield instead of the hospital. Everyone loved the idea, and voted overwhelmingly to keep their beloved Death Ray. Some people suggested simply turning the Death Ray off, and then turning it on again if the space aliens returned, but of course nobody paid them any mind. Folks just rolled their eyes and waited for the speeches to be over. Eventually, anger over the destruction of the hospital faded, just as Danny had said it would, and life returned to normal.

The citizens of Dethravia never actually got around to building that Safety Shield, but this didn’t really seem to matter very much at all. Danny had saved the Death Ray. Danny had saved the town!

Another Story

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

The Klaxon invaders lit up the starship corridor with weapons fire, as Alliance scientists and technicians dove for cover on the other end. Klaxons had a reputation for ruthless violence, but nothing could prepare you for your first encounter with them. It was likely to be your last.

This starship seemed an unlikely target. The captain recalled how a mundane scientific mission had turned noteworthy by the addition of the President of the Intergalactic Council, who decided to join the expedition as an observer. The scientists had been excited by the leader’s visit, and were eager to show him the important work they had been doing. But now, a Klaxon boarding party was attacking, and his life, all of their lives, were very much in danger.

A Klaxon pulse blast damaged a power generator, creating massive interference waves in the electromagnetic field within the ship, which rendered pulse weapons on both sides absolutely useless. What now? Hand-to-hand fighting? Klaxons weren’t known to be skillful in direct combat, but they could likely hold their own against a team of scientists with no battle experience.

Suddenly, the side hatch flew open, and there stood Will Daring, one of the two humans who had recently been taken from Earth, the planet they were currently orbiting. Telescopes had not yet been invented on their world, so it seemed safe to do the experiments close by. The captain had no idea how the male human had broken loose from his containment section, but he had bigger problems.

Will Daring walked halfway down the corridor. Was he fearless, or did he just not understand the threat the Klaxons posed? He bent to the floor to pick up one of the sharp wooden pikes that had been dislodged from its decorative place on the wall by the Klaxon weapons, and waved it menacingly in front of the invaders. The Klaxons took one look at the handsome eighteen-year-old human gesturing wildly with his makeshift lance, and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. They made a hasty retreat to their battleship, frightened off by no more than a boy holding a stick.

When he returned back to his hosts, the captain greeted him warmly. “You have saved the lives of this entire team, not to mention the President of the Intergalactic Council. We are all in your debt, Will Shake-Spear.” It was customary for Alliance captains to grant titles based on achievements in battle, and Will liked the way the moniker rang in his ear. “I have something for you,” the captain added slyly, beckoning Will to follow him into a side chamber.

Once the two men were alone, the captain handed Will a thick packet of paper, bound in a leather portfolio. Will looked through the pages and was surprised to find a collection of 55 plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, Love’s Labours Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won, the titles went on and on. “This is our gift to you, Will Shake-Spear,” the captain beamed, “a collection of plays for you to stage with your theatre company. We have analyzed your simple language, and have created combinations of words to appeal to the primate brains of your species. The stories have been taken from among the most popular in your culture, but the language patterns we’ve created are more complex than anything your world has ever seen.”

“What am I supposed to tell people,” Will responded, “that space aliens gave me these plays?”

“No, you must say that you yourself wrote them.”

“What sane person could possibly believe that?”

“Nevertheless, you must claim these plays as your own, or risk being condemned as a lunatic.”

Just then, the ship was rocked by an explosion. The Klaxons had fired on the science vessel and the ship’s systems were failing fast. The captain rushed to the bridge, while Will Daring ran back to the containment section where he and his companion had been kept. There he found the raven-haired beauty Anne Hathaway. Her bodice had been ripped, exposing the tops of her voluptuous breasts. For a moment, Will found himself captivated by her stunning allure before snapping back to the matter at hand. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

The two humans ran to the emergency hatch, but there were no escape chambers. By now, the damaged ship had broken orbit and had descended into the atmosphere of the planet below. Will Daring recalled a drawing he had seen by Leonardo Da Vinci, created over a century earlier. “I have an idea!” he bellowed over the sound of explosions erupting across the ship. Grabbing some nearby cloth, he created a makeshift parachute, grabbed Anne Hathaway, and jumped out of the hatch.

As the two floated gently to their home planet below, Anne Hathaway looked at Will Daring like he was the only man in the world. He had always felt she was unapproachable to him, nine years older and so impossibly lovely. But now they were closer than they had ever been. The landing was rough, but the two were unhurt. Nothing could hurt them now.

The explosion of the starship turned the sky a bright orange, creating a majestic backdrop for the most passionate kiss either of them had ever known. “Oh darling!” moaned Anne Hathaway breathlessly. “It’s pronounced Daring,” Will responded calmly, looking down at the bulky leather portfolio still in his hands, “but from now on, baby, you can call me Shakespeare!”

Under the Influence

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

I’ve been asked by the good folks at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to participate in a project with other bloggers in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday. The idea is to describe in a blog post how Shakespeare has influenced my life. My first impulse was to decline. First of all, it would require providing a name and bio, and I blog anonymously. Though I’ve linked to it several times, I’ve never posted my full name on the blog. More importantly, Shakespeare’s influence is an aspect of my life I don’t usually like to talk about. But perhaps this is an opportunity. By speaking out now, I can help others avoid the nightmare I have lived through. Because you see, my friends, Shakespeare has completely destroyed my life.

As a high school student, I showed a modicum of potential to become a productive member of society. I went into college as an undeclared major, with an array of exciting career options ahead of me. I took classes in a variety of disciplines, with the naive hope of discovering my passions. I took an acting class on a whim, and the professor suggested that I audition for her play. I was ready to do it, until I found that the play was by Shakespeare. Now, I was always taught to stay away from Shakespeare, but the professor was persuasive and I figured there wouldn’t be any harm in trying it just that once.

I was cast as Sebastian in Twelfth Night. I memorized my difficult lines by rote and went through the rehearsal process. One night, while I was waiting backstage and listening to the play, a single line caught in my ear and made me smile. “Hey, that’s pretty clever,” I admitted. A bit later, another line stuck in my head. “I see what he’s doing there.” Like popcorn popping, the revelations began to gradually speed up. Each weave of imagery, each implied metaphor, each beat of the iamb was like a jolt of adrenaline to my young brain. I was converted into a card-carrying Shakespeare fan.

I continued with acting as well, and in my junior year I had the opportunity to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was the experience that first sent me down the rabbit hole. No longer just a casual Shakespeare fan, I had become a full-blown addict. And of course the comedies proved to be merely a gateway drug to the harder stuff. My senior year, I discovered Hamlet, and what should have been a year of personal exploration and maturation was completely lost to that play. I would read it over and over, fascinated by the experience of making new discoveries every time, no matter how many times I had read it. Any thoughts I may have ever had of doing anything else were drowned in that play.

I needed more… Masters degree… Ph.D… My dissertation was on teaching Shakespeare to elementary school students. No longer content to be merely a user, I had become a dealer. A pusher. Could I decrease my own misery by dragging down others with me? I was determined to find out. I started teaching graduate-level Shakespeare courses at NYU – first a beginner, than an advanced class. I was completely out of control. I founded a Shakespeare reading group. I started a Shakespeare-themed blog. I taught for the Folger’s summer Teaching Shakespeare Institute for teachers. Conferences. Lectures. Seminars. Nothing was ever enough. When life threw me a curve ball, I went looking for answers at the bottom of a Riverside Complete Works anthology. I re-read Midsummer, and hit Bottom.

And what has it all gotten me? I am forty years old, and I have never held a full-time job. I support myself by working part-time, training teachers, administrators, school-based data teams, graduate students… anyone, as long as it will pay for that next Caedmon audio production of As You Like It. Had I never discovered Shakespeare, never developed that unquenchable thirst, who knows where I’d be today? But I know where I’ll be tonight. There’s an off-off-Broadway production of Measure for Measure in the West Village. Picture it. I walk the mean streets of Manhattan, desperate for a fix. I turn down a dark alley where I see a non-descript door propped open with a piece of plywood. I slip twenty dollars to a kid with purple hair who hands me a program and waves me in. And I know that, tonight, I will get what I need. And for a junkie, tonight is all that matters.

My name is Bill Heller. And I am a Shakespeare addict.

Back to the Future: The Remake!

Monday, July 5th, 2010

According to my sister, there’s a scene in Back to the Future where Doc Brown sets the clock in the DeLorean to a day 25 years in the future. Today. And today, probably not coincidentally, also marks the 25th anniversary of the US premiere of the film.

Of course, the real target year for the franchise will be 2015, when we can see how the future as depicted in Back to the Future II compares to the real thing. Until then, I invite you to enjoy this very funny song from Tom Wilson, who played Biff in the trilogy:

Back to the Future IV, not happening? I guess that makes sense. You can’t really do another BTTF movie without Michael J. Fox, and he is more or less retired from acting due to his illness. But do we really need a Back to the Future IV? Or is what we really need a remake of the original movie? Follow along with me, as I imagine what that might look like. And as this is a rough sketch, I invite readers to contribute to the vision, or even modify it as needed.

The film would star today’s version of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly. I don’t know who that would be, but that’s kind of the point. The movie isn’t for me, it’s for today’s teenagers.

The year is 2015, and Marty McFly is a teenager who is an aspiring video game designer. He gets a call from his friend, Doc Brown, and goes to meet him. Marty learns that Doc Brown has created a time machine out of a Prius, and has bought some enriched yellowcake uranium in order to generate the 1.21 gigawatts needed to fuel it. Doc Brown pronounces “gigawatts” correctly this time. Homeland Security shows up and arrests the Doc, while Marty escapes in the Prius to the year 1985.

At first, he’s not sure what’s going on. He can’t get a signal on his iPhone, so he goes into a restaurant and asks where he can get online. The manager tells him he’s the only customer waiting, so there’s no need to get on line. Marty shows him his phone and asks where he can get reception. The manager tells him there’s a reception in the back. Marty asks how many bars he can get, and the manager asks him for ID.

Leaving the restaurant, Marty sees his young father, George, and follows him. Marty sees that George is about to be hit by a car, and pushes him out of the way. Marty is hit by the car instead. He wakes up to find a teenage version of his mother, Lorraine, who keeps calling him Isaac Mizrahi. He joins the rest of the family for dinner, which they eat while watching Family Ties. After dinner, they play Super Mario Brothers on the family’s new Nintendo Entertainment System. Marty quickly gets bored and wanders off.

Marty looks up Doc Brown, who points out that to send Marty back, they need to generate the 1.21 gigawatts (pronouncing it wrong this time) to power the time machine. Marty looks on his iPhone to find the next thunderstorm. He can’t connect, of course, but Doc Brown notices that Marty’s iPhone wallpaper is a digital picture of himself with his brother and sister, and his brother’s image is starting to pixelate. They realize that Marty prevented his parents from meeting, and he has to get them back together, so they can have their first kiss at the Pac Man Fever dance hosted by the school.

Marty tries to befriend George, but ends up crossing Biff, the local bully. To escape Biff, Marty borrows a skateboard from a local kid, and sticks a broom handle on the end to fashion a makeshift scooter, which he’s more experienced riding. Think about that for a second.

At first, George doesn’t want to go along with the plan. But Marty, knowing George is into science fiction, shows him a video clip of Avatar on the iPhone and George is so freaked out that he’s willing to trust Marty. He’s supposed to punch out Marty to protect Lorraine, but he ends up punching out Biff instead and the rest is history.

At the Pac Man Fever dance, Marty rolls his eyes at the primitive video game technology, and describes in great detail for those in attendance about his favorite video game, Grand Theft Auto. At the end of his description, he finds everyone staring at him slack-jawed. He realizes they may not be ready for a video game where you drive around stealing cars and beating up prostitutes, “but your kids are gonna love it.”

Your move, Robert Zemekis.