January 18, 2013
LIVING IN THE MOB

Everyone is equally shaped by their community as they are equally defined as an individual. The world’s mob thinking either will repel you into leadership or draw you in to conformity. You will either give in to expectation and stroke the egos of those around you. Or you will break expectation with the possibility of incurring resentment. The balance must be weighed out discernibly. Leadership with no qualms for social custom or ear to trending concerns is bullheaded stubbornness masked as courage. Conformity with no questions is foolishness at its best and social suicide at its worst. The most positively dangerous individuals in society are not those who seek to jump over one side of the border, but those who walk the line with the sword of discernment deftly in hand.

There is a reason why Steven Spielberg might speak to the mainstream sensibilities of the masses while still being able to be uniquely identified amongst an infinitely growing industry of artists. There is a science beyond the idea that Moses stood out amongst millions of enslaved Hebrews and grew from the bumbling stutter, wanting no part of a marred and chaotic past, to being immortalized as a deliverer of a culture. There is a meditation to be had on how Martin Luther King and Malcolm X stood out amongst the American people with voices loud and threats high. To not care about what anyone thinks, is at best, a disservice to humanity. To care is to link oneself in empathy to another.

Yet, to bow down to another’s sensibility is a crippling idolatry guaranteed to hinder your development. But at a certain point, the levee must break. The story must be written, the commercial contract signed, the evil spoken out against, the children fed, the cause picketed. Actually… let’s simplify that a bit more. For others, the class must be added, the degree must be earned, the job must applied for… sometimes the everyday choices we make seem pale in comparison to the causes of the greater world. But our individual lives are the microcosms of the greater universe around us.

Something must be done, something must be stood for. When an action is completed, some will celebrate, while others jeer. Individuals must make their choices and hope that by living out their liberated convictions, they aid in the liberation of the community around them. The world may call you unqualified, cowardly, uneducated, or even a sellout. Or maybe they’ll call you a hero and patronize you to your death. It is up to you to be at peace with whatever outcome your life brings. The rest is out of your control.

January 14, 2013
FOSTER & THE PEOPLE: THAT’S JUST NOT HER!

pic from eonline.com

(pic from eonline.com)  

“Trust me, 47 years in the film business, is a looong time.” Says Jodie Foster, who is the latest recipient of the Cecille B. Demille award and the giver of the most graceful and humble of speeches last night at the Golden Globes. The most pivotal of moments came during her “not coming out speech.” It has been well known over the years that the public has curiously wondered and inquired about Ms. Foster’s sexual orientation. She teased and humored the crowds by announcing to the world, with the greatest of suspense and anticipation that she is indeed…“single!” Followed by wolf whistles from Mel Gibson.

She went on to say,“I hope that you’re not disappointed that there won’t be a big ‘coming out’ speech tonight, because, uh, I already did my coming out a thousand years ago, back in the stone age. In those very quaint days, when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends, family, co-workers and then gradually, proudly, to everyone who knew her. To everyone she actually met.”

This is when the strength of Ms. Foster began to burst from the floodgates. And boy, was it a force to be reckoned with.   

“But now, apparently I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of her private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. And you guys might be surprised… but I am NOT Honey Boo Boo child. No, I’m sorry that’s just not me. It never was, and it never will be.”

Thank God….
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Her conviction and advocacy of the importance of privacy proved to be beyond sobering. It almost had “smack you in the face” aggression to it, as to cause one to judge his or herself for any breaches in their own public etiquette. In an ever evolving society where never-ending tools, posts and “check-ins”  that dissect our private lives are used for our own disposal and our own self deprecation, authenticity is hard to come by. In a world where everyone seeks to be known by everyone, many will find themselves to be forgotten and alone, or remembered for the very things that do not define who they are. And yet there stood Jodie, a voice of reason in the midst of the shuffle.

“If you had been a public figure, form the time that you were toddler. If you had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds. Then maybe then you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy! Someday, in the future, people will look back and remember, how beautiful it once was.”

Those are the words of gratitude. Those are the words of someone who values that which cannot be worked for or bought and seeks to protect it. One who does not take life for granted does not seek to serve it to the altar of public discourse. At this point the subject of her orientation is not of any importance. What this moment is about is a woman who has given over 95% of her life to an industry; in a world that is all too often known for it’s bullying and exploitation. But on that stage last night, stood a woman who knew what she valued, and vowed to protect it. To assume that she is unscathed by life, would be foolish. But the glaring point is that she is still standing, with strength, honor and integrity. Whether she is done with the film industry for good is up for debate, but her words seal the deal as to what matters.

“I will continue to tell stories… it’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens. Maybe it will be so quiet, and delicate, that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall.”

That is the heart of a true storyteller. A true storyteller cares not about the validation of a number of people. A true storyteller can find satisfaction in the quieter times, as much as the roaring applause. The power of story moves a generation, shapes a culture and gives witness to the power of it’s teller. The tears of everyone in that room and those at home also gave witness to her power. To Jodie Foster, may every story of your life be worth protecting.

Watch the speech in it’s entirety, here below…

January 12, 2013
GANGSTER SQUAD… AND WHY CRITCS AREN’T FUN AT PARTIES

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“Watching too many movies… bulletproof this… if this is your first time hearing this, you’re about to experience someone so cold!” The words of Jay Z’s “Oh My God” featured extensively in the marketing campaign of Warner Bros. new film, Gangster Squad almost seem to be forewarning the onslaught of cynical critics unfairly kicking this delightful movie in the gut. With a 33% fresh rate on Rotten Tomatoes, the average moviegoer might assume that the film must be god-awful.That is until, you see that 73% of the audience ratings favor the film. What could cause such a huge discrepancy?

The answer is simple and the predecessor to almost all forms of resentment… misplaced expectations.

 “The movie claims to be ‘based on a true story’ but turns out to be as authentic as The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas.” -Matt Brunson 

Because “Inspired By True Events” is the same as a direct adaptation?

“It’s all surface level a backdrop for a big, dumb action movie that has more in common with “The Expendables” than “L.A. Confidential.” -Greg Maki

And this is where my frustration as a moviegoer begins. I too, adore L.A. Confidential. Along with Chinatown, it is the holy grail of L.A. based crime dramas. It’s gritty, nuanced and authentic portrayal of Los Angeles, coupled with it’s tinges of pulp sentimentality make many feel warm inside. There is no movie in recent memory since Curtis Hanson’s classic that has ever even threatened to kick it off of it’s throne. But for some strange reason, the critics seem to feel justified in kicking the crap out of Ruben Fleischer’s popcorn caper because it has no Oscar dreams. Or maybe they hate it because it doesn’t force us to think of the political and sociological landscape of 1940’s L.A (for goodness sake… it’s called GANGSTER SQUAD. The tone is already set up in the title.)

That’s like keying a Corvette because it’s not a Lamborghini. That’s like burning down an In-N-Out because it’s not a five star restaurant. What in the world did you expect, people?   

I’ve embedded the trailer here…

Watch it. Maybe three times. Maybe four times. Heck… maybe just spend the whole day with some graph paper and pie charts and analyze the life out of it, and then please come back and explain to me, how, on God’s green earth, anybody thought that this was going to be like L.A. Confidential? Here’s the trailer for that film.

How did anyone assume that Gangster Squad even had the aspirations of being a serious drama, or even the intentions of portraying itself as a thinking man’s movie? Did the critics just say “I really wish they were making L.A. Confidential” or “I really wish Brian De Palma made this movie” and then proceed to eviscerate the film because of flawed wishful thinking? Let’s also look at director Ruben Fleischer’s filmography. Zombieland (great movie), 30 Minutes Or Less, and this film. Please, intelligently express to me what you were expecting. And that is NOT a knock on Mr. Fleischer, as I do enjoy his film-making style.

"Anyone with knowledge of L.A. history will find the story so wildly inaccurate as to be almost entertaining”- Colin Covert


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 You guys must be fun at parties… (pic via Buzzfeed)

Funny… I thought being entertaining was the whole point. “Inspired by a true story…” not “based on a true story.” That sort of gives you freedom to do whatever the heck you want.


When I saw the Gangster Squad trailer… I don’t know, maybe my brain is getting dull, but it felt like a modern day story in the vein of something like this…

Or maybe this

Gangster Squad” is a highly stylized, pulp-fiction period piece based on true events… It’s an admittedly violent but nearly comic-book style telling of some real-life heroes, that stood up to a man that was pure evil.” Those are the words of Richard Roeper who gave the film a B+ review. At least some of these critics get it.

Gangster Squad is unashamed and confident in its homage to run of the mill, pulpy, bullet riddled, posturing gangland entertainment. It markets itself as a connect the dots narrative that is more interested in the flashiness of it all. And by that token, it shines. Every character is colorful enough to pop. They may not have the greatest of depth, but they keep my eyes on the screen and they kept everyone’s butts in the seats. Sean Penn’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen is vicious enough for you to lust after the end of his reign. The motivations of the Characters are pure enough for you to keep rooting for their success, and the charisma factor is just too high not to smile. In the words of Javert, err… Maximus from Gladiator… “Are you not entertained?!”

Is it violent? Yes. Excessively so? Yes. It’s a tall tale set in the Wild West, nothing more and nothing less. It favors simple myth over history with brash confidence and no apologies. The production design is gorgeous, It’s kinetic and rhythmic pace is addicting, and its sense of fun is infectious.   

Remember, it was marketed with muzzle flashes, tough guy poses, seductive smiles and slow motion gunfights with Jay Z’s music giving boisterously empathetic narration in the trailer. What else could be expected other than glossy, forceful and imaginative escapism? Immensely entertaining escapism at that. Stop taking things so seriously, and have a little bit of fun. Life is too short.   

And finally, to all those people saying it should have been more like The Untouchables… I enjoyed it far more than The Untouchables, so sue me. Go ahead and stone me while you’re at it, but before you cast the first stone, please explain to me how Mamet or De Palma thought this scene worked?

WANNA FIGHT?!

I personally would like to applaud Warner Bros, Lin Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures for producing a greatly entertaining movie that I will gladly revisit over and over again.

If you want the more detailed and serious exploration of similar material, read Paul Lieberman’s source material on the REAL gangster squad.

Buy his book, which the film is based on, here.

January 11, 2013
"BLOOD & WATER" BY RAY HARTLEY

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     Baptized by blood and water. It’s what the priest said I was, but I was only old enough to open the slits of my eyelids just enough for the world to look like some sickening light show. I still cross myself and hope the best of it still carries on in my soul. Cynicism and Arthritis gives me reason to doubt things I used to be sure about. When I see saint Peter at the pearly gates, the first thing I’m gonna do is thank the man for waiting. The Holy is behind those gates. There’s no use in waiting for weathered hunk of sinew and scars like me. People are like half gallons of milk; we’ve all got an expiration date, but some of us spoil before our time. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the spoiled ones. The cool air smells so good this morning as the rain water evaporates off of the asphalt in the alley next to my house. I can hear the mariachi music already playing too early this Saturday morning. Strolling has become more of a limp and a skip before everything else warms up.
    A group of kids brush past me as a bus advertising some new HBO show that I know I’ll be addicted to next week rushes by. Damn… it’s just too cold. I notice a young kid who walks by me with a t-shirt that says “You Only Live Once.” No shit. Let’s state the most obvious on our chests and still not understand what we mean by it. Chances are that kid won’t see past 21 and will have wasted his one life on reefer, never seeing a world past Cesar Chavez Ave. I cross Cesar Chavez, eying the bullet holes in the side of the liquor store building. I make out the pattern and try to imagine what gun produced the spatter. I bring up two of my hands up in a rifle position and eye the ruin with the red graffiti giving homage to the dead homie. Flashbacks of a Vietnamese woman in front of my sights force me to end my forensics.
    I’ve been a witness of Guerrilla warfare for most of my life, from the rice patties of Vietnam, to the parks and boulevards of East L.A. A few more blocks passed through and I make my way into the rinky dink gym that smells like sweat and molding leather. The sound of gloves snapping on and off the heavy bags with the steady drumming of a speed bag being battered is like the sweetest of all rhythms. I look around at all the young kids having fantasies of being Rocky Balboa. It takes guts to dream like that in a gym like this, with walls the color of diluted piss, looking for stardom in a dying sport. That MMA trash gets more lip service these days.
    “Eastwood!” Said a smart alec.
    Miguel Reynosa… 5’8”, 150 pounds, with enough anger in his heart to bottle it by the ounce and use half of it to bomb Iran straight to hell. He’s never seen a scruffy old white man before me… I’m pretty sure… because there is no way in hell I look like Clint Eastwood. That old bastard better hope to God he looks half as good as I do.
    “Why ain’t your gloves on?” I barked.
    “I just got here.” He thought that excuse would suffice.
    “Get in that ring in ten minutes, or I’ll pay Ernie 50 bucks to punch you in the balls.”
    He nodded his head and walked off. He was a bad kid getting better. When most kids were playing video games shooting pixels, he was toying with real guns, shooting over the heads of innocent people. Kid couldn’t aim worth a damn. One day, about six months ago, the kid tried to rob me at knife-point, in front of my own house. The knuckles of my right hand drilling into his solar plexus just below his sternum, let him know otherwise.
    “Hey Ernie! Get over here.”
    Ernie was one of the most wiry and tricky sparring partners I ever had Miguel work with.
    “Turn it up a little hotter on his ass today. Alright?”
    Ernie nodded like a trained soldier, no protest. He got ready to lace up. I knew Miguel’s mother; helped her out one time when she was crossing the street with a few too many groceries hanging from her like ornaments on a Christmas Tree.
    “He can be a good boy. Just got a little too much of the devil on his back, you know?” She would tell me.
    Oh I knew. I’d take a monkey over Lucifer any day. But he’s got a way of licking lies down our ears. So I made the kid my project.
    They lace up and wait for my count to start the round.
    “Time!” I yell.
    Ernie comes rolling in, ducking the first attempt from Miguel to snap his neck back with a jab. Miguel only snaps air as Ernie weaves under, coming over with an overhand right, smacking into Miguel’s forehead. The sound of Ernie’s exhale as he releases punches is so sweet… such discipline. Miguel puts up a fight, blocking, moving, using his legs as best as he can. The effect of the Bacardi from last night is starting to show. It’s kinda hard to knock a vato out on a hangover. Ernie snaps a jab of his own, the force is like a piston, landing clean on Miguel’s nose. I see those tears flow from Miguel’s eyes as a dribble of blood begins to leak from his nostril.
    Right now, I’m John The Baptist and this gym is my Jordan river. The sweat and the sangre flows in and out of the fighters as cowardice is gutted and courage emerges. Blood and water… baptized through blood and water. You know, people think that Baptism is about life. It’s always been about death. Every day that kid walks into this gym, he dies a little bit more. Until he finally let’s me hold him under and he surrenders the right to take a breath when wants to, he hasn’t fully died yet. And there’s no resurrection without death.
    Those kids lie through their teeth when they say “You Only Live Once.” Sure, you can, if you decide to. But as Miguel’s face gets busted up and his skin gets more broken, I can’t help but see the inklings of a second life for him, away from .223’s, American Snow, false machismo and prison showers. And maybe, through his swelling eyes, I see the chance of a second life for an old bastard like me.

January 10, 2013
"I think the destiny of all men is not to sit in the rubble of their own making but to reach out for an ultimate perfection which is to be had. At the moment, it is a dream. But as of the moment we clasp hands with our neighbor, we build the first span to bridge the gap between the young and the old. At this hour, it’s a wish. But we have it within our power to make it a reality. If you want to prove that God is not dead, first prove that man is alive."

— Rod Serling

January 9, 2013
"PASSED DOWN" BY RAY HARTLEY

image    Azrael looked at his watch as it struck 9:09 am. The most frequent assignment was soon to be carried out. He was an usher into the afterlife. The street he walked down was littered with autumn leaves that blew about in the wisp of the breeze. He listened to the sound of his shoes as every step clacked and an occasional leaf crunched. Rosebud BLVD was lined with the most typical of American dreaming. The last time Azrael strolled through this street, residents were buying war bonds. As he looked around and sniffed in the crisp air, he remembered when rolling fields replaced the modernity of suburbia. He arranged the jacket of his suit as it got a tad bit ruffled in the harsh wind. He took in the sound of every leaf crunch under his shoes until
    CRACK!

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January 7, 2013
"GOD WILL STRENGTHEN" BY DONALD MARTIN, JR.

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      “Maybe Daniel shoulda shot the nigger instead,” was usually the word around those parts. Eyes wide open, as tobacco dripped out of their dropped mouths; they never saw it coming. The howling screams pierced their eardrums. The clear creek began to slowly run crimson. The neighing and snorting of the ink-black horse did not detract the eyes of those standing at the horrific sight. A thick muscular arm, detached from its body, was dragged every so slowly through the mud by it’s leader, a black and beautiful horse that turned to see the wake of tragedy behind it. Tethered to a rope, loose ligaments collected little granules of dirt and miniscule clods of mud. The man’s ear-searing screaming continued. A woman’s cries shrieked out into the atmosphere. All she could see was the arm, knowing very well as to who it belonged. Her master took a step outwards and ceased obstructing her view. She could now see her fellow man writhing with a bloody stump of shoulder where his arm used to be. The surrounding men kept their shotguns raised to the blue expanse of sky above them, ready to dispose of the slave when ordered. The rivulets of blood embedded in the puffed gashes of whip wounds on the black man’s back paled in comparison to the absence of his limb. The female slave continued to weep in futility.
    “I ain’t ne’er seen a nigger so tough in my whole damned life. Most o’ em’ woulda passed out from the devilish agony alone,” hissed one of the men.
The slave master marched back with two red hot branding irons. One of the men standing over walked up to the slave master, holding a hand up to halt him.
    “We ain’t gotta kill him so slow, Daniel.”
    “Johnny; if you ever wanna see yerself workin’ on this farm, ever again, get the hell out of my way,” said Daniel.
    Barely conscious, the slave attempted to pull his body up by his remaining arm, sloshing in the mud at the edge of the pond, sliding his feet through the loose, slimy clay trying to gain some footing, but it was all for not. The horse that the young slave was still attached to, turned around and began to bite and pull at the rope, appearing almost as if to aid him. A sharp whistle caused the horse to stop as Daniel trudged through the mud and bent over the slave; branding irons in hand. Daniel gave the horse a horrified stare. His most loyal animal, never once even flashed him a defiant look. Always the superstitious type, Daniel was always first to put some kind of sorcery, devilry or blessing on things that never quite went his way.
    “Young nigger, I ain’t nevar seen one like ya. My horse hates niggers. Once stomped a young nigger child to death. But this one seems to take a likin’ to yer’ armless exterior here. I’d say that the good Lord works in mysterious ways, don’t ya think?”
    The raggedy, stone cold taskmaster lowered the fiery brands onto the soft, blood-soaked open shoulder. The blood hissed and spattered as his wound was brutally cauterized. The ungodly noises that came from the young slave sent shivers down the spines of his fellow slaves who watched with the whites of their eyes focused on the scene like lanterns. Even Daniel’s company put their handkerchiefs over their mouths and groaned like the children around the farm who just witnessed a chicken beheaded for the first time.
    “I’d like to think o’ mahself as a merciful man young Ezekiel. When a nigger don’t die under my watch, I take it the good Lord don’t want him dead. You know what you’re name means, boy?”
    Ezekiel was barely conscious. He replied with the most pitiful shaking of his head, which appeared more like a wobble than anything.
    “Ezekiel means ‘God will strengthen.’ I took your arm, but you’re better for it. A nigger with one arm’s got a story to tell. Don’t you think? Think of it as my gift to you. If you live through this, I won’t kill you, so long as you don’t ever be given me that attitude again, ya hear? Need a little more humility around this here plantation. Might be a good way to put the… Fear o’ God in these niggers.”
    Daniel looked around at his companions and over at his wife who was also in the audience. He gave her a wink that even frightened her, despite her familiarity with his evil tirades.
Daniel walked away from that scene, with victory flowing through his arteries, and death snapping at his tail. If he wanted to live free of any sort of accountability or retribution, he should have killed the horse. Probably should have taken Ezekiel’s other arm too.



    That remaining limb, would tremble in shock for hours as Ezekiel tried his hardest to sleep some nights. The pathetic pawing at the air as he tried to quell phantom pains would haunt the poor slave. Some of the younger slaves would be ordered to help Ezekiel; sometimes, just to watch him. Daniel would see it as a “reckoning for the young.” It was like the disciple Thomas seeing the wounds of Christ, although Ezekiel would stomp the chest of any man who put his hands where that arm used to be.  Daniel was convinced that the fear of God was brought into those young slaves; and maybe that was the opposite of what the plantation needed. Ten young slaves, feared God and no one else. Watch a man without an arm have more bravery and fortitude than a man with two, and foolish fantasies of freedom were only inevitable.
    Sometimes Daniel would catch his wife, Emily, staring out through the windows as Ezekiel walked around doing whatever tasks one could do as an amputee. Sometimes she would say a prayer under her breath as she watched him out there. Daniel saw a tinge of guilt in his wife’s heart. He eyed the eerie wooden crucifix that hung on the wall by the window. It was given to them by his grandfather, and he was disgusted by the idea that she could possibly be questioning Sovereignty. But Emily, was a bit of a religious paranoid, with lot’s of questions that Daniel dared not pay mind to. She looked up from the window and made eye contact with Daniel, who walked out of the room.
    Daniel had his eye on a young female slave for the past six months. One evening he sauntered his way through the plantation, with one objective in mind, romantic intimacy having nothing to do with it. He tipped his hat to a newly hired farmhand as he made his way across the plantation.
     Emily, however, had a good bead on her husbands wandering eyes. His malicious nature turned her stomach into knots. She didn’t know what was beginning to possess her, but suddenly life as she had known it wasn’t agreeing with her so. A week prior, she wouldn’t have cared for the slaves, of whom she felt her husband was domesticating. She was taught that shackles and whips were exorcising the pagan demons of their ancestors. She believed that Daniel was man of honor, a harsh man, but a man who deserved every ounce of respect, even when he was harming her. She got the worst of it from Daniel on nights when she didn’t feel quite so sensual and he felt a little too liquored up. She kept peaceful for the sake of their two children, Caroline and Jacob, fraternal twins with beautiful blue shining eyes.
     The farmhand never saw it coming that fateful night as Ezekiel found him alone in the barn, driving his tree trunk of an arm into the farmhand’s neck, and tearing out his jugular. It felt like crushing a soft peach between those strong fingers of his. The farmhand’s face was frozen in horrifying agony as no scream could be produced from his throat-less body. Quickly paling over, he fell limp.  Ezekiel began to examine the various contents of the body stealing his rifle, and finding any thing else other than a few rounds of ammunition completely useless.  One of the slaves walked over to Daniel’s ink-black horse. The horse began to neigh, making compromising noises of distress. The young slave began to panic, certain they were about to be found out until Ezekiel slowly approached the horse, blood dripping from his hand. Raising the scarlet hand, he signaled for the animal to calm its nerves. The horse never took its eyes off of Ezekiel’s. Step by step he inched closer to the animal, with the horse slowly backing up with each advance. When in range, Ezekiel finally grabbed the reigns with his arm. The animal froze, with shallow breaths making the only sound in the deafening silence. The young slave helped Ezekiel with mounting the horse. The other nine slaves scrambled, adrenaline and fear coursing through their veins as they stole whatever weapons they could, slitting as many white throats as possible and trying their best to make their way out of perdition. Daniel heaved and and sweated and degraded the poor woman in a rickety shed where the moonlight shown through. Lord knows the various justifications he would bring to his wife when she would witness female slaves walking around pregnant and giving birth to children that had less melanin than their mothers.     
    He heard the heavy plodding of a horse. Ignoring the side of caution, he continued to violate her, refusing to listen to what was going on, as if invincibility was his God-given gift. Ezekiel, mounted on horse back, waited outside the shed. He was aware that Daniel made one of those beautiful women pregnant once, or twice. He remembered the child, the poor child; son of one who hated the black blood that flowed in his veins, the young “nigger child” Daniel spoke of, trampled on by the very horse Ezekiel rode. Pulling the rifle up as it hung around his neck, Ezekiel yelled out.
    “God will strengthen! Damned right, Daniel! God will strengthen me! You damned right!”
    The moans, whimpers and sounds of fornication sharply ceased as Daniel busted out of the shed, pants halfway up, revolver in one hand. There was no chance to even ask what, why, or how. Everything erupted in a rifle shot, an explosion of blood, a dying masa’ and a one armed nigger on a horse.  Ezekiel grasped onto the reign of that horse and was ready to ride into the night, maybe he would survive, maybe he wouldn’t, but for the first time in his days as a slave, he couldn’t have cared less what a man could do to him. Daniel laid there bleeding a river, sticking two fingers into the bullet wound trying to stop the flow, the keyhole to perdition. He heard the sound of another horse coming closer. It was the sound of his trusted farm hands. A shot rang out, and the sound of the one armed slave’s body hitting the ground was a resounding thud. The horse was also shot, and went down with a sickening neigh. Daniel let out one last laugh between clenched teeth before it all went dark.
    Emily watched from her usual window, as the muzzle flashes of firearms went out, like lighting strikes in the night, ending the lives of the resisting slaves. A flash of illumination coupled with the eruption of gunpowder, and the grunts of souls being snuffed out. Once again, she muttered a prayer under her breath, and turned towards the crucifix on the wall. She reached up and unhooked it from the nail on the wall, not realizing how heavy it was. She marveled at the sculpted body of Christ, made from a softer wood. It was sculpted in such a way the the body could be unhooked from the cross, exposing the vulnerability of his body. She stared at it and caressed it from head to chest. Tears began to fill her eyes as she slammed it on a table underneath the place where it hung, and viciously snapped off the right arm of Christ. A tear feel from Emily’s eye as she hooked the body back on the cross, walked over to the nail in the wall and nodded in somber satisfaction.

January 4, 2013
"GIVEN OVER" BY RAY HARTLEY

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    The night was freezing, but I didn’t feel it. The orange glow from the bedroom window gleaned on the side of my face as I stood outside of the house. The neighborhood was quaint, and quiet for the most part other than the woman in the window’s sounds of ecstasy as she gave in to the throes of passion with Mr. Grey.
    If only her husband could hear her all the way from Normandy. I blocked out the pitiful noise of desperation. Mr. Grey would suit up for Sunday and display himself as a Deacon worthy of the call, just like he had been assumed for the past five years of service. I never quite understood the desire for flesh, or why the experience with one’s own spouse wasn’t enough. I realized it had gone quiet, as they must have finished. So I walked over to the front door, and watched as the door knob turned.
    Mr. Grey stepped out and faced me. He looked around to see if anyone was aware of his presence. Just me; as I stared into his soul. He proceeded to walk by me and I obliged by stepping out of his way. Angels aren’t usually noticed anyway. I was here on a mission; and the town needed cleaning. I never understood why anyone would lay their life down for beings with an inherent need to reach into the bottom of their dark souls for nothing. I watched him walk in to his sleek Lincoln while he adjusted his tie, sweat still on his forehead.
    I looked back and watched the mistress. Mrs. Mary Stephenson looked with longing as her half hour with the deacon wasn’t enough. Did these people not understand the concept of satisfaction in anything? They reached what they grasped for, and while holding it, reached for more. I needed to make another visit that night, to acquaint myself with the job. I walked into Mrs. Stephenson’s house, and crept down her hallway. I wanted a hint of my presence to be known, so I made the sound a slight creak in the floor. She quickly turned around from the living room window and almost tripped over the coffee table, causing a glass of tea to tip and spill. She was distracted with the clean-up and I made my way past the master bedroom, a right at the bathroom, and into her daughter’s room. She lied sweetly in her bed, not asleep, with a disturbed disposition. I then made eye contact with the other in the room. She was not alone. There he stood in a pinstripe fedora and trench-coat over a rather expensive looking suit and an impressive red silk tie.
    “Beelzebub, it’s been a while.” I said.
    “Azrael… always making your crusade.” Said Beelzebub. “You look good these days. And that suit fits exquisitely on your frame. You probably should look into getting a gold watch as well. I think it would be poetic, don’t you?”
    “Listen Bub, why aren’t you over at the Reverend’s?”
    “I just wanted to see how his latest turn has played out for him in the grand scheme of the game.” Bub said with a smile. “Why don’t you go back to your boss, and tell him that there’s a German across the pond killing his favorites. You might be of better use there.”
    “Funny, I thought you’d be there too.” I said
    “Oh, I was. Two words… ‘Given over.’ Ephesians 4:19, I believe.” He said. “Don’t you love how sensitive these creatures are?”
    Bub walked over to the young girl. Emily was her name. He sat on the side of the bed and hovered his hand over her face.
    “The Reverend promised her guidance. And she believed him. And when she came in too close, the teeth were bared. And she’s going to blame it on ‘you-know-who.’ For the rest of her life.”
    “Possibly,” I said. I hated to agree, but people will always judge the Divine based on flawed human experience.
    “But you won’t have the luxury of staying in this room.” I added. “Go back to the Reverend. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
    “You couldn’t make me leave if you tried, Azrael. That’s a bit above your pay-grade.” He said with a cocky smile.
    I walked over to Emily, who had now been crying, holding herself tightly in her bed, blankets up to her neck. I put my hand on her head, leaned in and kissed her forehead and began to quote.
    “For I am convinced…” I began
    “Shit…” Bub quipped
    “…That neither death, nor life…”
    “Son of a bitch… can’t fight me yourself?” He whined.
    “… Nor angels, nor principalities…”
    “Everyone is going to discover that the Reverend is a deviant and then people in this town are gonna realize that I RUN THINGS HERE!” Bub said.
    “Nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth…”
    Her crying had subsided, her eyes began to droop as her soul relaxed.
    “Nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I finished.
    Bub had left. The Reverend had touched the apple of God’s eye, had bitten the hand that fed him, and time was soon to be up. I think Bub was right. A gold watch would have been poetic.
    That Sunday, the service was full. The autumn light beamed in though stained glass windows. I always hated church services down here as far as aesthetics went. Where were the gold streets? The doors made of pearl? I missed the thousand foot high ceilings with balconies that reached to the top, leading to the acoustic ecstasy of thousands upon thousands of voices singing in unison in perfect key. I know that all that mattered was the heart. But only a few hearts were in tune this evening, as Beelzebub sat front row next to Reverend White.
    The offering baskets were passed, and I started calculating in my mind how much of what was given was to be stolen for Reverend White’s frivolous living. From the honest pockets of the working class, the rich minister bathed in gluttony. And just like that, in a small town, a great evil had been done, right underneath their noses. I saw Mrs. Stephenson to the far right in the middle rows. Little Emily looked beautiful in the dress made by her mother, with her blue eyes glinting so amazingly in the light. I remember when my boss told me about how the human’s eyes were designed by Him to give way to truth much better than any other part of the body. It became a cliche, but in Emily’s eyes, I saw God, in Reverend White’s I saw Bub.     Reverend White spoke a well articulated sermon about the consequences of sin and the call for righteous repentance. I began to smile at the irony. A liar hides behind truth. The repentant uses it to expose himself. It was time to for Mr. White to stop hiding. Pulling out the porcelain colored pistol from my suit jacket, I aimed at the Reverend, and quickly holstered it. No detachment this time, I needed to feel something; needed to remind myself of the gravity. I waited patiently for the right moment. When that moment came I stood up and began to walk down the aisle, turning my gaze to the right and catching eyes with Emily. I made sure only she could see me. I blew her a kiss as I made my way to the pulpit. Then, I caught eyes with Beelzebub, whose mouth dropped as I gave him a wink.
    Once again, I made myself invisible to Emily, who didn’t need to see me draw my blade and swiftly lunge it into Reverend White’s heart. He was somewhere in between quoting a misconstrued interpretation of a Levitical scripture when he suddenly gasped, but no air would come in. The perplexed faces of the congregation began to look at each other. Reverend White, held his chest and fell forward, landing face first on the floor in front of the pulpit and the entire congregation. They would see no knife, and the coroner would confirm it as a heart attack despite the man’s impeccable history of health.
     Bub looked disappointed that his circus act was over, yet he quickly gave way to amusement over the carnage. Tears began to fill my eyes as I walked away and the congregation mobbed the pulpit. Contrary to popular belief, my boss never takes pleasure in dealing death. Reverend White, a cold soul, was a soul nonetheless, who once had potential, once had hope, and once had love. But enough was enough. Every once in a while, a soul is “Given Over.”

January 3, 2013
"afraid" By Donald Martin, Jr.

I’m afraid…of being afraid.

Looking back with the desire to look forward;

Looking forward needing to look to my side;

Ignoring when needing to pay attention;

Giving attention to my pride.

I do the very thing I hate;

the thing I love, I rarely do;

When writing, the desire is to be ideal;

A white washed tomb, it’s shamefully true;

Lying to the mirror, with a soul more ill than the vilest flu;

With every moment seeking a mask from which to hide from all of you;

In every way seeking to please, yet to please a soul makes me happy;

Bringing ease for today, and for tomorrow; indulgence in the sentiment and the sappy;

Yet happiness is just a feeling, that might just fly away tomorrow;

Honesty is forever, and a true friend in times of sorrow.

January 3, 2013
"If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

— Stephen King