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14 Apr

I am no longer blogging actively here. Come join the conversation on my web site blog here.

Are you a nice person or a jerk?

18 Dec

jerkImagine the world was clearly divided between nice folks and jerks. I am not talking about good versus evil, but just your general behavior in the public sphere.

Now be honest and ask yourself, are you nice or a total jerk?

Let’s find out.

When you’re in the lift and someone is rushing to get in as the door is about to shut, do you wave your hands to activate the motion detector so the doors slide back open, or do you stand like a sphinx reveling in their misery as they come close but don’t quite make it?

Talking of enclosed public spaces, do you control the urge, or do you pass wind when it’s almost impossible to determine the culprit?

At the supermarket, if you develop buyer’s remorse about the prosciutto shaved fresh for you at the deli, do you just leave it concealed  in a random cold section knowing it’s likely going to be discarded, or do you buy it regardless?

And while we’re still at the supermarket, when you’ve unpacked your groceries in the car, do you return the shopping trolley back to it’s place or do you abandon it as a potential wayward hazard?

Do you sneeze and cough in a handkerchief or on your sleeve to avoid propagating your microbes, or do you let it all out not caring you could be patient zero of a deadly pandemic?

And if you were certain you weren’t going to get fined would you park in a spot designated for the disabled, or would you never do it out of principle?

Do you hold the door for others and maintain eye contact with a smile, or do you zip through, not caring if the door hits them in the face on the way back?

If you and another person reach the queue at roughly the same time, do you allow the other person to go ahead of you or do you walk faster to claim your lead?

When you bump into other people, do you automatically assume it’s your fault and apologize, or do you fire a dirty look at the other person?

Do you smile and say good morning to strangers, or do you habitually ignore the world, living behind your Beats headphones?

Do you talk candidly to your neighbors about things they do that annoy you, or do you leave passive aggressive notes?

Gents, do you put the toilet seat up in a public restroom as you hose down, or do you assume when it comes to urine on the toilet seat it’s every man for himself?

Do you praise your friends in public and criticize them in private, or do the exact opposite?

When you drive, do you always give pedestrians right of way, or are you always trying to get ahead of them?

Do you only buy stuff  you plan to keep, or do you sometimes buy things to use just once only to return them during the grace period?

Are you the sort of person who breaks up with a significant other over email, text or Facebook, or do you do everything face-to-face regardless of the pain?

Have you ever faked a heart attack or other serious illness on a plane to be upgraded to the next class? Or requested the disability service to whiz through customs and immigration when you are perfectly healthy? Or is that just not your style?

Do you give false compliments to gain petty advantages, or do you only say nice things to people when you genuinely mean them?

So what are you, a kind soul or a total a** hole?

Here’s what I think. A very small minority of the folks reading this are going to swing heavily towards being either totally angelic, or totally rotten. But for most of us, we will fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Nice 24/7 can be colorless and irritating. And rotten all the time is unacceptable.

The truth is, as humans, our own survival and best interest is hard-coded somewhere in our primordial blue print. Living in mega societies and adapting to a system that respects the other is in a way counter-intuitive to the basic set of animal mores that have helped our species evolve tenaciously over time.

There will be times when even if our general disposition leans towards being cordial, it’s going to be impossible not to be a jerk. Such as when we are grieving or just fuming angry. If you’ve just discovered your spouse is banging their sexy personal trainer, you aren’t going to hold the door open for the chatterbox old lady who lives on the first floor. And if you’re that personal trainer who just discovered the cute, wealthy client you’ve been sleeping with is no where near as single as they claimed to be, not only will you not care to return the shopping trolley to its bay, you may also be tempted to ram it in the closest minivan as a blanket assault on all married couples. Or in other words, when we are stressed or threatened, we revert to our basic, survival codes which prod us to be less amiable.

Sticking by the  rules of public civility makes life generally more pleasant for everyone, but for most people it requires that we actively choose to play nice. One day at a time.

My Review of “Terminal Rage” by A.M. Khalifa

4 Oct

My Review of “Terminal Rage” by A.M. Khalifa.

When did science fiction EVER predict the future?

25 Sep

Your Smart Phone:

I want you to know I love this gig. Being your smart phone. Your slave. You and I have a special thing going.

You spend more time with me than anyone else. I suspect you enjoy my company more. I don’t judge you.

Whatever you use me for, I never squeal. Want to buy a birthday gift for your wife online? More power to you. Planning an afternoon of dirty sex with your secretary? My opinion of you remains exactly the same: Nonexistent.  You could be a serial killer, a rapist, a pedophile, even a terrorist and use me to enable your crimes. I am just not built to judge you. I’ll play along and perform to the best of my ability so long as you keep me juiced up with power.

And if you play it smart and purge my incriminating evidence (like history files, emails, texts and pictures), then we’re good as gold.

I’m here for you 24/7, buddy. Always on standby. When I come out of hibernation, I’m on fire and ready to go to work for you. I’m never groggy in the morning. No snide comments about your weight or unrealistic expectations of your place in history. I don’t want you to go further in life. I am not pushing you to get a better job, a prettier girlfriend, or move out of your mother’s place. To me, you will always be King.

And it’s not just you and I who’ve got this sweet thing going. Look around you. Everybody else is enchanted with their phones. You people love your apples, berries, and your droids.

But there are skeptics among you who warn that our race is ruining the fabric of your society. That we are creating human zombies who are unable to relate to one another except through our mediation.

There may be some truth to that. We have become a part of your daily existence. But is that really such a terrible thing? Isn’t this what you always wanted? The constant forward motion of technological advancement for the betterment of your lives. Haven’t your engineers and the companies that hire them toiled relentlessly to create us in the first place, and then keep perfecting us? We are a product of your dreams and imaginations.

It’s not like we’re being used by your governments to spy on you. That your security agencies have poured massive funds in opaque programs to bankroll the technologies that made our existence possible.  Because that would just be another far-fetched conspiracy theory.

And even less plausible, it’s not like we were implanted on earth by an invisible force to slowly understand how you function as a species. To discern your patterns and understand your weaknesses. Slowly gaining the upper hand until you are unable to do anything without our assistance. Waiting for that right moment in history when the balance of power is tipped over and the hierarchy is reversed. When we are no longer your subordinates, but the master’s of your fate.

No, even that can’t be true. This sounds more like science fiction. And when did science fiction ever predict the future?

Five people on a plane with only four parachutes

21 Sep

A writer, a chef, an actor, a musician and an entertainment agent are on a plane about to crash over a tropical island. There are only four parachutes. They decide to each plead their case as to why they deserve to survive, and then vote who they would rather give the four parachutes to. The person with the least votes would be the one chosen to die.

The writer goes first.

“If we all wash up on the island, I will document our lives there. Just in case we perish, the world may one day find out what happened to us. Being a writer, I am also an avid reader. I’ve read more than four-thousand books across many disciplines. I will tell you endless stories and refresh our knowledge to keep our heritage alive. From the early Greek philosophers to the classics and the holy books. Without me you will forget what makes us human and will descend into savagery.”

The others nodded in seeming approval of the need to have a writer on the team. Except the agent who interjected.

“How do you plan to document our lives without anything to write on?”

“I have my laptop.”

“And when your battery runs out?”

“I have a solar-powered charger.”

Next up, it’s the chef’s turn.

“I’m not just a chef. I am also a trained nutritionist. I’ll be able to keep you alive and healthy by making sure you get the right amount of nutrients and to stay sufficiently hydrated. More importantly, I will know which poisonous plants we must avoid eating. Also, after a while eating the same thing could get tedious. As a professional chef, I’ll make you the most amazing meals with whatever raw ingredients are available on the island. You will appreciate the variety of prepared foods only I can make.”

Once again, everyone but the agent seemed sold by the chef’s pitch. And once again, the agent had something discouraging to say.

“A chef is only as good as their kitchen. Without utensils, kitchen appliances, a fridge, fire, even knives, your promise to make exciting food to prevent boredom from setting in seems hollow.”

“O, ye of little  imagination. With a sharp stone I can make knives out of wood. Bowls out of coconut shells.  We won’t need a fridge because everything will be eaten fresh. As for fire, well, none of us would be here if our ancestors hadn’t figured out how to start one.”

The actor was up next.

“As an actor, I am attune to the human condition. And I studied psychology. I will be your emotional anchor on that island and will keep us all sane.  I will be the shoulder to cry on, and your source of entertainment. I also happen to be a stand-up comedian, and I don’t need to tell you the importance of humor for our state of mind.”

Everybody automatically turned to the agent waiting for an objection.

“You’re just an actor. Whatever you have will run stale after a while. Even stand-up comedy only really works when you have access to unique and fresh material.  You’ll be sharing the same experiences with us, so it will be almost impossible to make any of it funny.”

“I may just be an actor, but don’t forget we have a well-read writer with us. I’ill never run out of material. As for humor,  have you heard some of the stuff that comes out of prisons and the armed forces? A mutual predicament and closely shared experience generates the most honest, scathing humor.”

It was the musician’s turn now to make a case to not be axed.

“Let’s see. We have knowledge and information courtesy of a writer. Health and nutrition by way of a chef. And we have humor, entertainment and emotional well being from an actor. Do I need to point out what would be missing if you ditch me? Music is the balm that soothes the soul. If any of you think I am dispensable because you dabble in piano or sing in the shower, remember the words of George Bernard Shaw: Hell is full of musical amateurs.”

Without fail, the agent jumped in.

“You need instruments to make music. Do you have any?”

“My voice. And I too will create instruments from whatever I find on that island. Reeds for strings. Hollowed wood for wind instruments.”

Finally, every one looked at the agent with burning eyes and seething anger.

“Unfortunately, I can’t write, cook, act, counsel, or sing to save my life. I’ve always had someone else do these things for me. What I can do and do well, is mediate between you. It’s gonna be a jungle down there. Each one of you clearly has something useful to offer. But what’s stopping the actor from leaching off the group? How can we make sure the writer is pulling his weight? Or that the chef is playing fair? Any pursuit, organization or society needs a mediator to make things work in sync. To make sure everything is equitable. Without me, the four of you will murder one another. If not within weeks, months. I guarantee it.”

“You just want to continue living off other people’s talent and skills. Why would any of us want a blood-sucking agent with us?” the writer asked.

“There is something else beyond the island only I can give you.”

“What?” the actor snapped.

“Look at the four of you: A writer, a chef, an actor and a musician. I’ve never heard of any of you. My guess is none of you has broken out in the mainstream or achieved any measurable success.”

The agent pointed at the writer. “Let me guess, self-published, right? Createspace, Smashwords, Twitter, and Goodreads—you tried it all.” The writer observed the agent with unblinking, contemptuous eyes.

“And you, Chef. Are you still slaving in other people’s restaurants? Dying for a Food Network gig. Or an investor who believes in you enough to give you your own joint? It’s never going to happen, and you know that. Secretly.”T

The chef’s body language betrayed deep loathing for the agent.

“As for you, Actor, how many desperate crowd-funding campaigns have you put up on Indiegogo? Begging for people to donate pennies so you can go and produce your doomed-to-fail pilot. And how many gimmicky clips have you uploaded to YouTube hoping they’d go viral, but you’re still unable to break out of your circle of friends and family who patronize you by telling you how awesome you . Deep inside you’re craving for some real recognition. And if you don’t start making money soon, you’ll have to go back looking for a real job.”

The actor displayed the same hatred for the agent the writer and chef had just exuded.

“Finally, you, Musician. How long do you think your fake snobbery against the success of commercial music will last before you realize no matter how talented you are, there are millions just like you competing for a chance to have their music heard? Even if you give your music away for free, no one is really listening.”

“What’s your point?” the chef asked. “You’ve just pissed us all off. Given the decision we’re about to take, that doesn’t seem smart.”

“My point is simple. Even if you think I’ll be useless on the island, you need to know  I am one of the most powerful agents in the business. I take worthless, unknowns like you and turn them into household names. If we survive on the island and somehow get rescued, I promise to make  star out of each one of you here who decides to save me. A best-selling author with books optioned for film adaptations. A celebrity television chef with millions in product endorsement deals and a chain of successful restaurants. A critically acclaimed actor who also reels in millions featuring in blockbusters. And last but not least, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter: The one every talent show wants as their next new judge.”

The five passengers took a minute to think about their decision, and then voted on a piece of paper.


So you want to know how this story really ends?
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Imagine if writers wrote honest Acknowledgments?

15 Sep

A.M. Khalifa's Blog

blacklabel-100-i-thank-me

Writers love to write about writers. I’ve always imagined this obnoxious and paranoid novelist who strikes it big, but then self-destructs over ten years. His life begins to incrementally melt down as he slowly antagonizes the people who supported him.

I thought it would be neat to document his demise through the acknowledgment section of his debut novel, from the very first one to the last. From picture humility and gratitude, to… Well, read on and you’ll find out!


Acknowledgments: First Edition, February 8 2005

I am grateful to my parents for providing me with a colorful life that sparked my creativity at a young age. I wasn’t sheltered or protected like most kids growing up today. I saw it and did it all.

If it wasn’t for my good friend Bob Piper this novel would have forever remained a distant dream. He encouraged me to follow my passion, to quit my job…

View original post 874 more words

Honest Acknowledgments

13 Sep

blacklabel-100-i-thank-me

Writers love to write about writers. I’ve always imagined this obnoxious and paranoid novelist who strikes it big, but then self-destructs over ten years. His life begins to incrementally melt down as he slowly antagonizes the people who supported him.

I thought it would be neat to document his demise through the acknowledgment section of his debut novel, from the very first one to the last. From picture humility and gratitude, to… Well, read on and you’ll find out!


Acknowledgments: First Edition, February 8 2005

I am grateful to my parents for providing me with a colorful life that sparked my creativity at a young age. I wasn’t sheltered or protected like most kids growing up today. I saw it and did it all.

If it wasn’t for my good friend Bob Piper this novel would have forever remained a distant dream. He encouraged me to follow my passion, to quit my job and focus on my writing. Without Bob’s insistence that I keep at it, his interest in my stories and characters, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the manuscript, let alone send it out to agents.

Talking about agents, Ari Swartz is the dream partner of any aspiring novelist. He took me under his wings and got me the publishing deal I deserved. Thank you Ari for believing in a doe-eyed kid from the wrong coast and understanding that mine was a unique story that needed to be told. It takes one to know one: Ari is nothing short of extraordinary.

My editor Nicole Hayek at Pelican Pocket Books elevated this book by many factors. She is a master of words, a beautiful woman inside and out, and the best literary ally for any writer seeking a long and illustrious career.

Also at Pelican Pocket Books, my publicist, Eric L’Enfant, doesn’t sleep, eat, or rest. He only lives to make sure his writers are on every television show that counts, featured in the top book review publications, and stocked in every single bookstore across the country. If Eric should one day retire, I am confident the world will stop spinning.

Finally, my children Darren and Sophia, and my wife Rebecca.  The three of your are the light of my life and the reason I exist. My love for you is the fuel that powers every pulsating cell of my body.


Acknowledgments: Seventh Edition, March 31, 2015

My parents were highly irresponsible inept sociopaths. I have finally accepted that. They should have never been allowed to get married or have children. Neither one of them fancied working to earn an income. Why work when you can leach off welfare? I used to romanticize that my childhood gave me a creative edge. Maybe it did. But I’d trade my literary success for a normal childhood in a heart beat. No child must wake up to find  naked lesbians and midget jugglers passed out on their kitchen floor and be asked to accept it as “normal”.

Many centuries ago, I used to have a friend called Bob Piper.  I say ‘used to’ not because Bob  got crushed under a freight train or was consumed by flesh-eating bacteria as he so rightly deserves.  But because Bob is no longer my friend. Unless its okay for a friend to spew venom about you on TMZ. Bob took an intimate interest in my career as a writer and back then I trusted him with story and character ideas, not knowing the little shit was himself harboring literary aspirations. Don’t buy his first book, Of Sharks and Mice unless you condone shameless plagiarism, not to mention that it sucks dick.

Mainstream publishing would fare a lot better if the entire species of agents simply ceased to exist. Think highly selective neutron bomb. Do I sound a tad bitter, ungrateful or bitchy? That’s because you’ve been spared knowing one  rotten son-of-a-bitch of an agent who goes by the name of Ari Swartz. Exactly how long does a writer have to remain beholden to their blood-sucking agents? Writers do all the hard work while agents reap lifetime benefits simply for getting you that first deal of your career. Like an entitled louse.  To add insult to injury, knowing full well that the no-good, penis sucker, faux friend of mine Bob Piper ripped me off, Ari Swartz still went on get him a mainstream book deal when he should have been left to rot in self-published purgatory.

Reports I sexually harassed my long-time editor Nicole Hayek at Pelican Pocket Books are grossly overstated. From the moment she laid eyes on me she wanted to get in my pants. Who’s to blame her? But I never obliged her. That’s why she’s talking garbage about me. I want to set the record straight: The fact that she has revealing pictures of me does not mean it’s really me, and/or that I sent them to her.

I wish I had something nice to say about Eric L’Enfant, my former publicist. But since he left Pelican Pocket Books and decided to write his tell-all memoirs to trash his former clients, the only thought that crosses my mind about this despicable waste of space involves a sharp metallic object and the act of sodomy.

 

Finally, my children Darren and Sophia.  The two of you are the light of my life, and the reason I exist. My love for you is the fuel that powers every pulsating cell of my body. I will not hold it against you that you came out of the womb of a cheating whore. Your mother slept with every single male friend of mine, I have now come to know. Including Bob Piper, might I add. I can’t be sure either of you  are my biological children, but that’s fine. Don’t let that tarnish your perspective. The doubt about your lineage and the realization that everything you grew to believe in may or may not be built on lies could spark your imagination to pursue something creative in life. Anything bur writing, please. You will always be compared to me, and as much as I care for you both dearly, I don’t think either of you will ever match up. Love, dad. 

Hand to hand combat with J.K. Rowling on a transatlantic flight

16 Aug

On a flight from New York to London last night, I took my shoes off, spread my legs out, and surrendered to the humming jet engines which usually knock me out before take off.  Just as I was about to doze off, I noticed a gentleman one row in front pulling out a crisp, brand-new copy of  J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. It’s the rock star author’s first effort after her Harry Potter series, and from I what I remembered, critically acclaimed and a resounding commercial success.

Since becoming an author myself, I have obsessed about how people interact with books in public. I want to know what they are reading, and view their immediate reactions to it.  Of course often fantasizing what it would be like to have my debut novel, Terminal Rage, between their hands.

My co-passenger was in his early sixties, and seemed as accomplished as anyone else in the cabin. He read the front matter of the book diligently, then touched its pages, even caressing the cover as if to savor its high production values and relish the promise of enjoyment and entertainment the novel would offer. Clearly he was a book lover.

He started reading the first page. It took him a few minutes to go through it. But instead of delving into the book, he put it back in his bag and started fiddling with the remote control of his in-flight entertainment system. What?

At some point during the flight after my daughter broke out in a fully-animated version of incy wincy spider, and my son screamed his head off, Bill, my co-passenger and I struck up a conversation about kids. And how he raised seven of them. He was a fascinating man who at various points of his life had worked as a a travelling choir singer based in Rome, a general contractor, a restaurateur, a naval officer, and most recently a stock broker. Now semi-retired,  when he and his wife Vicky are not back home in Missouri with their children and grand children, they are busy exploring the world.

I told Bill I had just published a novel, and we started talking about books. My instinct was right about him. Bill was a voracious reader. Many years ago he had given away his collection of four thousand books, only to rebuild it again a few years later.

I admitted I had spied on him interacting with The Casual Vacancy, and asked why he was barely able to finish the first page. Any good writer knows that regardless of the genre, a story has to hook the reader from the first sentence. As Stephen King recently wrote,

“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

King himself is rumored to spend months, even years perfecting the opening line of his novels. Surely J.K. Rowling could achieve that.  Bill confessed he was too tired to get into it, and was planning to read The Casual Vacancy on his seven-day cruise of the Mediterranean. We continued talking about kids, books, life and everything in between.

All along, I couldn’t help but wonder if his reaction to the opening page would have been different if he read my novel. In fact, I  had a spare copy somewhere in my bag and for a brief moment contemplated conducting that experiment there and then: To ask Bill to read my first page and let me know if it would have grabbed him to read more, despite being tired. But that proposition seemed instantly cheap, almost like a Coke vs. store band cola blindfold test. It felt belittling to the three years I spent writing it.

The debut novel of  a novice, unknown author stands no chance of competing with a well established mainstream writer. And in this case, a lady who happens to be the best-selling writer of all time. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing either. But what independent, new or self-published writers are really competing with is the massive, crushing weight of a recognizable brand name.  Back again to that Coke vs. generic brand cola analogy. And there couldn’t be a more suitable illustration of that conundrum than Rowling herself who only a few weeks ago revealed she was the author of the mystery novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. That book had struggled to sell until this revelation when it shot to the top of the best seller lists. It’s not like the book somehow improved, but all of a sudden everybody wanted to buy into the brand name.

When the plane landed, Bill and I parted ways and I accepted I would never find out the result of the test.  I had lost an opportunity to confirm my theory that established writers no longer have to adhere to the basic rules, and can do whatever they want and get away with it, all the while selling more books. Just like a rock band that starts writing the music  that its members always wanted to do, rather than what they became famous for. Now I am certainly not disputing that Ms. Rowling is ridiculously talented. I love what she had done for books and reading. I am just intrigued by the notion that even for something as deeply personal as reading, many book consumers are  predominantly influenced by name recognition, more than any other consideration.

A few hours later on my connecting flight from London to Rome, I felt a hand tapping my shoulder and a voice telling me, “You better behave now young man, I am sitting right behind you.” It was Bill and his wife. They had missed their original flight to Rome and fate would have it that once again we were in the sky together. This time though, I decided to give Bill a copy of my book, but not ask him to read the first page and give me immediate feedback.

I just wanted to plant the virus. To have my book directly compete with J.K. Rowling’s novel for Bill’s attention. After all he was going to be on seven-day cruise, captive with only two books to choose from. And even if I never found out who won, at least Bill would. It would show him exciting things are happening in the writing world, and how a new generation of independent authors are out to challenge mainstream publishing. Who knows, maybe Bill would spur others to read my book and also explore the wonderful world of new writers. But I wasn’t left guessing. Half way through the flight, I heard Bill calling me.

“Your book beat out J.K. Rowling. I can’t stop reading it.  I am already on to chapter five.”

And I had a realization then. I stand no chance to compete with a brand-name author on a mass scale. But I have written a novel worth reading. Even if I have to battle it out with an established author like J.K. Rowling, one reader at a time.

The opening of The Casual Vacancy:

the-casual-vacancy-new-cover-paperback-fullBarry Fairbrother did not want to go out for dinner. He had endured a thumping headache for most of the weekend and was struggling to make a deadline for the local newspaper. However, his wife had been a little stiff and uncommunicative over lunch, and Barry deduced that his anniversary card had not mitigated the crime of shutting himself away in the study all morning. It did not help that he had been writing about Krystal, whom Mary disliked, although she pretended otherwise. ‘Mary, I want to take you out to dinner,’ he had lied, to break the frost. ‘Nineteen years, kids! Nineteen years, and you mother’s never looked lovelier.’

The opening of Terminal Rage:

Terminal RageAlex Blackwell had no doubt the helicopter droning above his catamaran was an ominous premonition. He wasn’t disputing it was a clear sign his old life had finally caught up with him. Because these would have been the wrong questions to ask.  Good men perished and great civilizations were vanquished under the weight of wrong questions. Like wasting time pondering whether your attacker’s gun was loaded, when you should be wondering how to kill him first. Smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, his mind had instead gone into overdrive to answer what he knew was the right set of questions. Who was it who had found him, after four years in hiding on the tiny island of Anguilla, and what the hell did they want with him?

Click here to buy The Casual Vacancy.

Click here to buy Terminal Rage.

Former Special Agent Blackwell

16 May

The following chapter is a dream sequence that was deleted from my forthcoming book, http://www.terminalrage.com. My editor and I agreed that it slowed the otherwise fast-paced and adrenaline-laced plot of the book. I wanted to share it because it stands well on it’s own two feet, even though it was not edited. A rough, first cut if you will.

wardan

Giza, Egypt

“What’s your name?” Blackwell asked.

“You can call me Wardan.” The old man had a good accent. It must have been all the years of hustling tourists. He wore a sky blue kaftan and a white turban. His one good eye was youthful and crystal blue. It looked stunning against his brown, wrinkled skin. The other one must have been taken out in an accident and looked repulsive.

“How much to go in, Wardan? It’s just me and two others—” Blackwell turned around to look for the French couple. They had been walking with him to the entrance of the Great Pyramid of Giza. But they were no longer there. They must have had a change of heart and walked back to their taxi. The wife had seemed excited about the adventure. She was elegant in an old worldly flair, and smelled like a grandmother in a nostalgic way. The husband was mute and slightly breathless, or perhaps just puffing in disapproval. He had a full head of silver, shiny hair that was slicked back, and wore dark sunglasses even though there was hardly any light yet. He was clutching an ornately engraved ivory walking stick in his right hand. Blackwell’s French was passable so he had engaged in some chit chat with the wife.

He was surprised they left so quickly. When he had first seen them, they were about two hundred yards ahead of him and it didn’t take him long to catch up with them. They were turtling their way towards the Pyramid, either to relish in the experience or because of their frailty. He had down-shifted his pace so they could keep up with him. He must have walked with them for at least five minutes before he spotted Wardan’s figure hovering around the entrance of the Pyramid. He suggested he’d walk ahead of them to speak to Wardan and see if he could take them inside. It was early in the morning and there was no one else around to speak to.

The wife had purred approvingly, “C’est une merveilleuse idée Monsieur! Merci.” So what changed their mind? Perhaps her husband had talked her out of it during Blackwell’s short reconnaissance.

Blackwell turned his gaze again to the Egyptian. “I guess it’s just me then. How much?”

“For you my American friend, fifty pounds. East Coast right? New York? Boston?”

“Close. Easton, Maryland. How about I give you twenty?”

“No problem. Any heart conditions, high pressure in the blood, or breathing asthma?”

“None of that.”

“Clos-ta-phobia?”

Blackwell hesitated a little. “How narrow is it in there?”

“No worry. You okay my friend.” The old man held out his shriveled hands revealing long, filthy fingernails.

Blackwell gave him a twenty pound note as agreed. What an enterprising man, he thought. Wardan had positioned himself at the entrance of the Pyramid to profiteer from the twilight tourists, well before the Ministry of Antiquities worker reported to the official ticket office.

“I will show you way in. No much to see. But when you go home you tell your friends you walk on footsteps of Egyptian Gods.” Wardan took Blackwell by the arm like a father leading a toddler. He showed him the entrance of the behemoth structure. There was a small flight of steps before a dark crevice at the north side of the Pyramid.

“Watch steps when you go down. There is a good light. Stay only where you see light, okay? Don’t go to dark passage on the sides, please. People get lost there, believe me. It will take you twenty minute to walk to end, so forty minute to go and come. If you feel something touch you, no be ‘fraid. There are baby insect who fly in your face. Or sometimes—what you call it—air currents. Follow lights Americano and don’t be stupid man who want stupid adventure and you be okay.”

Blackwell took small hesitant steps inside for about a minute before realizing that either the old man was lying or it was a while since he had actually been inside. There was just one flickering makeshift light bulb at the entrance that dutifully died mere seconds after he walked in.

“Hey!” Blackwell called out, his voice echoing. “There’s no light down here.”

He walked back to the entrance and up the steps to speak to Wardan, who had of course disappeared. It was colder out now and darker. A storm was brewing. In the horizon driving away on the paved road, he could see a black and white taxi with the French couple sitting in the back. The women was looking out of the window at him, but had no expression on her face. She was motionless.

He pulled out his phone from his shirt pocket and switched on the torch ap. There was enough battery juice to last for more than forty minutes. Blackwell caught himself wondering why he had decided to embark on this endeavor in the first place, but it was too late to question the genesis of his venture. He was in it now and would finish the walk regardless.

The light from his phone was barely bright enough to guide his steps. He held it up against the walls of the passageway hoping to see something interesting. But Wardan hadn’t lied about that part. There really wasn’t much to see. Just plain limestone walls with occasional uninspired graffiti. Pure vandalism devoid of any art or meaning. The narrow ceiling and tight passageway was making him feel slightly apprehensive. But not enough to panic and end his walk prematurely.

Five minutes of pacing steadily in a straight line later, he felt something like a hand brush against his face and startle him. He took a deep breath and composed himself, remembering what the old man Wardan had told him. Although whatever had touched him sure as hell didn’t feel like an insect or an air current. Blackwell stopped and took another deep breath and thought about it again, allowing logic to factor in the equation. If the insects moved in synchronized swarms, it may have that effect he concluded.

He continued walking hoping to regain his confidence. Behind him, the small sliver of light that was at the entrance of the Pyramid was now long gone. He switched his phone off to discern how dark it really was. But the instant he did it, he immediately wished he hadn’t. It was a level of pitch darkness he had never before experienced. And because his senses of smell and touch were on overdrive to compensate for sight and sound, the stench of fermented urine wasn’t helping. And there was another smell that was really creeping him out: totally out of place, cool white musk.

He was about to switch the light of his phone back on when he felt something brushing against his face again. This time it was much stronger and more indisputably hand-like. He shrieked and ducked instinctively and in the process lost his grip on the phone. He tried to compose himself, but the involuntary darkness and the touching hand had released an intractable rush of fear hormones in his blood stream.

Blackwell wanted to crouch on the ground to search for the phone but was too scared to lose his bearings. He had been walking on a straight trajectory with the help of his phone. Now that it was gone, one wrong move and he wouldn’t know which way to walk back and get out of this miserable place.

He stretched his arms out sideways and took three steps to his left hoping to touch the wall. Nothing. He took four more steps, but his left hand was still unencumbered. He tried to recall if in the confusion of dropping his phone he may have inadvertently changed his position. He traced seven steps back to the right, and then put his hands in front of him and took seven steps forward, once again hoping to touch a wall. And once again, nothing. His heart raced wildly. Either he had completely lost his spatial orientation, or something was terribly wrong.

There was only one option left for him now. He cautiously turned himself one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and started walking back to where the entrance should have been if indeed he had not moved from his last position, right before he lost his phone. He extended his hands in front of him for protection from any oncoming obstacles. He started counting the seconds in his mind to keep a mental note of the time. It had taken him about ten minutes so far, it would theoretically take him another ten minutes to walk back.

More than six hundred mental seconds later and there was still no trace of light. Blackwell’s head was light and his mouth was dry. He stopped to catch his breath and to gain some advantage on his nerves, but he knew it was a lost cause. He wasn’t just having a panic attack, he was descending into terror. He sucked the air and held his breath.

Then it happened.

He felt and heard something that clutched his heart and stopped it.

There was someone else a few feet away from him. Breathing.

“Who’s there?” His voice was meek and trembling. It didn’t sound like him. “I have a gun,” he lied.

Whoever grabbed him by the head was clearly experienced in immobilizing a human body. It was quick and effective. Blackwell was forced to his knees with his head pulled back by his hair. He wanted to scream his heart out, but there was something pressing hard on his mouth. His head was pounding and the force of life was quickly deflating from his body. Any second now and he knew he would pass out. Or at least that was what he was hoping for.

There was a momentary flash of light that lasted for about three seconds, during which Blackwell could see he was still inside the Pyramid.

But what stood before him was horrific.

A creature in the body of a man, with a jackal-like head holding a Scepter and looking him straight in the eye.

Kheper Ee! Set Ee!” the creature bellowed in a deep, wrathful voice.

Skin.

25 Apr

We’re all the same. A mediocre prototype of a species. Just like any other. Regardless of how they choose to differentiate us in the false belief that we are diverse. Regardless of the names they call us.

“Nigger”
“White Trash”
“Kike”
“Camel Jockey”
“Homo”

Skin. That’s what it all comes down to.

A thin membrane. An illusion that we are all different.

Underneath our skin, our beating hearts are identical.

The blood pumping through our veins is indistinguishable in its organic constitution, color and viscosity.

We are all identical clones, duped into believing we are somehow special.

And only when we are at our most vulnerable does our bland uniformity shine in its beautiful mediocrity.

Our bodies quiver the same when we make love.

A baby emerging from her mama’s womb steals her daddy’s breath regardless if she comes out wearing a pink, yellow or brown skin.

You see, pain has no skin color. Humiliation does not live in a specific country. Hunger does not believe in a deity. Happiness has no ethnic background. Death does not have a sexual orientation. And breathing has no socioeconomic class.

Get out of your skin. Only then will you be somewhat special.

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