Welcome to the Screamsheet!

Posted in Site Stuff on January 8, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

Ryoko - Screamsheet icon, space pirate, secret lover...Welcome to the Screamsheet! This place can best be described as a reflection of my weird and fragmented personality. Here you’ll find rants both childish and mature, fiction both published and unpublished, music, videos, and anything else that might wander across my brain.

21 Faces, Chapter Three: Dream a Little Dream of Me

Posted in 21 Faces, Fiction, Novels with tags , , on October 31, 2014 by Charlie Brooks
Record Player

Picture by Petr Kratochvil

Previous Chapter

“Do you believe in God, Eddie?” Robin opened the office door and walked down the front stairs, leading me by the hand to the dungeonesque basement I had avoided before.

“How should I know? I don’t remember anything.”

“I didn’t ask you what you remember. I asked you what you believe.”

“What’s the difference?”

We reached the bottom of the stairs, which led to a short corridor and then a locked door. Robin let go of my hand and started fishing through her pockets, eventually pulling out a piece of black iron – a skeleton key that might have been a century old.

“Belief and knowledge are separate,” she explained, twisting the key in the lock. “You don’t have to know anything to believe in something. It’s something that’s either there or it’s not. So I’ll ask you again: do you believe in God?”

The door opened. I took a step backwards and put my hand over my nose as a rush of stale air washed over us. It smelled like I had just woken up in the morgue again, but with the added presence of rotten meat and mold-covered concrete.

“No,” I said. “No, I definitely do not believe in God right now.”

“Not even given your current condition?”

“Given what I’ve seen since I woke up, I’d be willing to believe in the Devil, but not God.”

She stepped into the large room beyond the door, leaving me the choice of either following her or abandoning her. My eyes watering slightly from the smell, I followed her into the room. The door drifted shut behind me, and doubt immediately filled my mind.

A mad scientist’s lab – that’s all I could think of to compare the room to. Bookshelves lined the far wall, none of them with any actual books on them. Most were crammed full of old vinyl records. The others had a collection of anatomical doodads that belonged in a horror film rather than a woman’s basement. Plaster molds of human skulls. Jars filled with brownish-colored water and false teeth. Next to the shelves lay a long table decorated with tin trays, scalpels of varying size, and an old record player dotted with red splotches. Another table lay in the center of the room under a set of large fluorescent lights. Again decorated with haphazard red spatters, this one looked like a primitive operating table. Of course, operating tables don’t usually have built-in restraints for the arms and legs. This one did.

“What the hell is this?”

“It’s another question of belief,” replied Robin. “We’ve established that you don’t believe in God. Do you believe in me?”

“Believe in you for what?”

She gestured toward the table of crude operating instruments. “We’ve been here many times. The blood in the room is yours – most of it, at least. I know enough about you that I can fix you up and get that heart of yours beating again. When you get some semblance of real life again, you’ll start thinking more clearly. You’ll slowly remember who you are. But I’m not going to force you to go through with it. So…do you believe in me or not?”

I shifted from foot to foot. The plastic bags inside me crinkled again. The gauze used to pack them together felt like it might suffocate me. Finally, I stepped forward and sat on the primitive operating table.

“Will it hurt?”

“If there’s one thing you still have, it’s a high tolerance for pain,” she replied. “You’ll barely feel a thing.”

I laid myself down on the table. “Okay, then. Get to it.”

“I’ll need you to strip down.”

“Could you turn around, then?”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, you know.” She sighed. “Okay. I have to put some music on, anyway.”

I pulled my t-shirt over my head. “You operate with music on?”

“It’s essential. Even with your pain threshold, I need some sort of anesthetic.” Her voice lowered as she crouched in front of the record shelf and began talking to herself. “Now…who should it be? Ella? Duke? Nah, let’s try Louis.”

She pulled a record out of its sleeve and put it on the player, but didn’t start it spinning right away. Instead, she turned around to find me naked and lying on the operating table.

I closed my eyes as she approached. I seemed more self-conscious about my nudity than the bagged up organs inside me. I opened my eyes when I felt her take my hand and tighten one of the straps around my wrist.

“What are you doing?!”

“This is for my protection, Eddie. You’re not always yourself when you come out of these procedures. Sometimes it takes you a bit to calm down.”

“You want me to trust you, but you’re not making it easy.”

She shrugged and walked to the other side of the table, where she grabbed my other hand and started to strap it down. I could have pulled away. For some reason, though, my muscles didn’t even want to tense up.

“It’s a moot point now, isn’t it?” With my hands secured, she moved toward my legs. “You already gave me your trust when you got on the table. From here, you’re going to have to live with that decision. Don’t worry; I promise you won’t regret it.”

Giving up, I closed my eyes and waited for the incision. Instead of getting to work, though, Robin crossed the room again and started fiddling with the record player.

“I asked you before if you believe in God,” she said. “You might not, but I do. Now, I don’t think He’s some white-bearded old man sitting on a cloud somewhere. I don’t even think He’s a ‘He.’ But I think there’s evidence of God in certain people – certain things in life that are just perfect. Like Louis Armstrong.”

“Louis Armstrong is perfect?”

“He was at what he chose to do.” She turned on the record player. I heard the hiss of the old recording, then some trumpet playing. “I think that when you listen to a Louis Armstrong record, you’re listening to perfection. It’s got to be a record, mind you – anything else tries to clean the track up too much. You listen to a digital track, they think they’re doing the listener a favor by clearing out that white noise hiss in the background. But you need that. It’s part of the era, part of the charm. You hear that, and it takes you back to Louis’ time. Then you hear his trumpet, and you realize he was a master of his craft. When he sings, he sounds like an extension of that brass instrument. Louis Armstrong was made to do what he did. When you listen to him, Eddie, you’re listening to perfection. You’re listening to God. Try it.”

The trumpet playing gave way to singing. Almost immediately, I realized that Robin was right. Louis Armstrong had a voice like no one I had ever heard – like no one else who had ever lived. He sounded like a singing trumpet, his words becoming an extension of his playing.

“Now, Eddie, I want you to relax completely. Don’t listen to anything else in the room except for the music. You don’t even have to listen to the music – you can focus on the quiet hiss of the record. You have to concentrate, though, and focus hard. If you don’t you won’t hear it.”

At Robin’s suggestion, I focused my attention past the singing, past the music, and on the hiss of the record itself. The more I focused, the more important that sound seemed.

“Keep focusing, Eddie. You know the music well. It takes you away from here, away from pain. The more attention you pay to the music, the more it becomes the only thing in your mind. Pretty soon, you won’t even be able to hear the sound of my voice…”

I closed my eyes and everything else in the room faded away. Louis Armstrong took hold of my mind. I listened as the music shifted seamlessly between his trumpet and his singing. I heard the slight tremble at the end of each line as he held the note, his voice projecting the same brassy vibrato as his instrument. And soon the subtleties of his music were all I knew.

I took a deep breath in and then opened my eyes as I breathed out.

Then I’m not on the operating table anymore. I’m standing on stage in front of a microphone. People are applauding me – no, not me, the person I was just introducing. I turn to the right, feeling my well-shined shoes tap against the floor as I move. A man is stepping on the stage. A black man, with a smile that shows off an enormous row of bright white teeth. He has a trumpet in his hand. A band follows him, setting up for the show. I walk over and shake the man’s hand. Old Satchmo, in the flesh. Then I step off the stage as Louis and his band start to play.

Where am I? When am I? I hear snatches of conversation in the crowd as I rub elbows with people in mink stoles and fancy suits. Someone mentions the upcoming presidential election, immediately sparking an argument about the merits of Dwight Eisenhower versus Adlai Stevenson. I brush through them, using their tired political rhetoric as a way to get my bearings. My feet move by themselves, independent of my thoughts. I’m not really here. My body is on cruise control, and I get to watch where it takes me.

Stars fading, but I’ll linger on dear
Still craving your kiss…

Back on the stage, Louis is in perfect form as always. He carries the sibilant “s” of the word “kiss” longer than he needs to. The air escapes between that enormous row of teeth of his, perfectly imitating the white noise sound of dead space on a record player. The band itself pauses just slightly before he carries onto the next line. For a moment, all anyone hears in the room is the living vinyl record that is Louis Armstrong.

My legs carry me past the dance floor, toward the corner of the ballroom. A woman sits in a wooden chair, watching me with large eyes. She has dark skin – somewhere between a light tan and a solid brown. Strange words float through my mind, words whose meaning I can’t seem to remember. “Mulatto.” “Improper.” The words disappear as I come within arm’s reach of her.

“Are you sure?” she asks.

“Of course,” I say. Then I kiss her. I feel eyes shift toward me as I do so. The band is on stage, separate from the rest. But her – she’s among us, and it sickens many of the people in the room. We’re immune to their judgment, though. We ignore the gasps and whispers and head toward the dance floor. She carries herself proudly, unafraid of the disapproving glares on her flesh.

We remain there on the dance floor, oblivious to everyone else in the world. Our bodies touch, and I feel heat surge through my skin. For one long moment, it’s just us and the music.

But in your dreams, whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me.

I opened my eyes for real this time and found myself still on the operating table. I felt the slight prick of a needle on my skin, which I instinctively tuned out. The record had ended, leaving only the static hiss of the needle of vinyl. Robin pulled the needle through my skin just below the collar bone. Then she cut the thread and put her tools away.

“Did you enjoy your nap?”

“What did you do to me?”

“I just helped your mind focus elsewhere for a little while. Operating on you is a lot easier if you’re not squirming around every time I stick you with a needle.”

I tilted my head forward until my chin touched the top of my chest. Robin had redone the stitching along my torso, but she hadn’t repeated the simple patch job the mortician had performed. While I saw the black line of artificiality that held my skin together, she had reinforced the stitches several times over, allowing me to function normally without literally busting a gut.

“Now take a deep breath,” she said.

I did as she said and got an immediate shock as I felt the lungs in my body expand. Something trembled deep in my chest. Then my heart started beating, pumping actual blood into my veins.

“Feeling better?” asked Robin.

“I…I feel human.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but you’re looking a lot less corpsified than when you wandered in her a few hours ago.”

“A few hours? Has it been that long?”

“Why? How long do you think it’s been?”

“I only felt like I was out for a few minutes. And…I had a memory…” I remembered the woman on the dance floor and compared her to the pale-skinned woman I had seen before in the mirror. Different people, but there was something similar about them…

Robin held her breath. “A memory? About what?”

“A woman. I was dancing with a woman, and Louis Armstrong was singing.”

Still breathing shallowly, body tensed, Robin took a step backward. “Do you know anything about this woman?”

I shook my head. “No. She kissed me and we danced. Then I woke up.”

“And that’s the only thing you remembered while you were out?”

“That’s all. Was I supposed to have more?”

She relaxed her body and smiled, returning to the casual demeanor she had shown before. “I was…hoping for more. You’re more lost than usual. That makes me wonder what you ran into. Do you remember how you got into the morgue in the first place?”

“I heard the mortician’s dictation. He said I fell. He couldn’t tell anything from my corpse, though.”

“Of course not. Well, then, there’s only one thing to do.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re the investigator. It’s time for you to check out the crime scene.”

“But I don’t even know where I was.”

“I know where you were. We were looking for a missing person and had tracked her to the Ligea Hotel at 42 Addison Avenue. So that’s where you should start.”

“Are you coming with me?”

She laughed at the question. If a noise could cut skin, her bitter chuckle would have left someone bleeding. “Do you know how much of a mess you caused, Eddie? I’m going to be spending the rest of the day getting my hands on any evidence you were ever in that morgue so I can destroy it. Then I have to go about bribing investigators and convincing a frightened mortician that he’s having hallucinations. Keeping you on the down low is a full time job.”

I rubbed my wrists as I sat up. “If it’s so hard, why do you do it? What are you, anyway?”

She winked at me and started walking toward the door. “That’s a question I wouldn’t even answer for you if you were of sound body and mind, bub. All you have to know is I’m on your side, and I’ve always got my eye on you.”

She closed the door and headed up the stairs. I looked at my left hand. The eye tattoo blinked. I sighed and started to get dressed.

Shaking up Assumptions: Creating a Setting by Tweaking Race and Class Lists

Posted in Pathfinder, Role-Playing Games with tags , , , on October 29, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

Dwarf Earth PriestIn the five years since its release, Pathfinder has grown into quite a big game. It has seven hardcover rulebooks covering player options, four bestiaries, and ten full adventure paths. That’s a lot of options – so why should every campaign setting contain forest-loving elves, mountain-dwelling dwarves, and knights who wear full plate mail?  By embracing some of the new options and barring some others, you can plant the seeds of an interesting new setting in a few minutes. Continue reading

5 Major Plot Holes That Aren’t

Posted in Film, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

Hans GruberI love the Internet like a sibling – a sibling with very little social grace or common sense who is constantly embarrassing me at parties. I love the fact that it provides me with an outlet to gab on endlessly about things I like and vent about things I dislike. But with that territory comes a degree of frustration. In some cases, this is just minor irritation. In others, usually a result of a poorly-worded image search, it results in screaming horror that makes me want to stick my thumbs into my eyes. I’m going to focus on the former right now and save the eye-gouging for later.

Movies are one of those areas that I tend to read up about a lot and one of those areas where people tend to get me grinding my teeth. Almost all movies tend to have plot holes, but there are certain holes that people just won’t let go. They reach a viral level and become repeated by everybody who wants to take a shot at popular cinema. The most popular of these tend to irritate the Hell out of me because they aren’t actually plot holes. Continue reading

21 Faces, Chapter Two: Sympathy for the Devil

Posted in 21 Faces, Fiction, Novels with tags , on October 24, 2014 by Charlie Brooks
Mirror Poetry by tomabw

Mirror Poetry by tomabw

Previous Chapter

The autumn wind whipped through the streets with murder on its mind. It seemed to take the fact that I wore a t-shirt and jeans in near-freezing weather personally. As with the pain of the mortician’s needle, though, I found it easy to tune the cold out, turning freezing agony into minor irritation. Paying the angry weather no mind, I trudged down the sidewalk, watching the green rectangular street signs as I passed them in an idle search for Bauer Street. Continue reading

Superhero Makeovers: Superman (revised for 2014)

Posted in Comic Books, Rants, Superhero Makeovers with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

It doesn't get much more iconic than Superman flying to the rescue.A physical marvel, a mental wonder, SUPERMAN is destined to reshape the destiny of a world!

It is very unlikely that even Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster expected those words from Action Comics #1 to come true. While not the first comic book hero with super powers, Superman is the character who defined what a superhero was. He had incredible powers, a flashy costume, a secret identity, and adventures that got weirder and weirder as time went on.

I originally looked at the major changes in Superman’s fictional life in 2010, but continuity marches on. This post includes my original observations with a new addition courtesy of the New 52 reboot in 2011.
Continue reading

The Hierarchy of Fandom and Why it’s Bullshit

Posted in Comic Books, Life in General, Pathfinder, Rants, RPG Rants with tags , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

The Batman logoWhile reading through an article on Cracked.com (which, though it shames me to admit it, is a thing I do once in a while), I came across this tidbit that implored people to shut up about Batman:

You are not a fan of Batman. Very few people truly are. Understand, that’s not a knock against Batman. It’s a knock against you for being angry at me for having the audacity to question your love of Batman when you’ve “seen, like, all of the movies.” OK, well, so have I, but that’s just because I’m a fan of movies. That doesn’t make me some kind of Batman historian by any stretch of the imagination, though. Until you can list the names of comic book writers and illustrators I won’t recognize and don’t give a shit about anyway, I have every reason to doubt the authenticity of your claims to Batman super-fandom.

This is, quite honestly, bullshit. I’m not going to blame the writer for it, though. The guy’s writing for Cracked.com, and it’s foolish to take anything presented there as anything more than an amusing diversion.

My problem is not with this particular article. My problem is that many nerds tend to present that same point of view, and not as a joke for a list-based comedy website. There’s a large portion of nerd culture that seems to think you need to pass some sort of test in order to be considered a fan of something, and that attitude is asinine. Continue reading

21 Faces, Chapter One: Wake Up Dead

Posted in 21 Faces, Fiction, Novels with tags , on October 17, 2014 by Charlie Brooks

Toe TagThe hollow feeling inside me came from the fact that I didn’t have a liver. In fact, somebody had removed most of my vital organs. Continue reading

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