Monday, November 21, 2005
DE RIGUEUR PARTNERSHIP
Zap! Zap! He leapt to the nearest tree for cover while the shooting continued in a methodical fashion. The patterned bursts showed no respect for any unmoving targets. He shook his head while fingering the tip of his wooden lance as if telling his weapon that it was no match for the blue lights emanating from the shiny cannons. After weighing his options, he took one step from the tree and with the finesse of a Bengal tiger, he hurled the wooden lance straight to the mouth of the cave. The glaring light in the cave flickered, giving him an opportunity to make a go for it.
The terrain was covered with boulders of different sizes and littered with broken tree trunks. Bushes were on fire and wild animals rampaged in confusion. The place was a veritable mess but like a lithe cheetah, he crisscrossed his path to avoid any obstacles and eventually made it safely to the edge of the cliff.
The shiny cannons in the cave continued with the chore of continual strafing of the terrain. The high-pitched sounds came nearer and nearer the cliff until a stone resting in front of his bare feet was hit. The electrical assault of the blue light had penetrated the perimeter of his final sanctuary and it seemed that only a miracle could save him. But no miracle was in sight. With his dignity intact, he stood up and gallantly jumped into the ravine.
“Ha?” The writer holds on to the arm rest of the executive chair to calm himself then fixes his spectacles in a manner of verifying what he sees - a primitive warrior is looking at him straight in the eye. The warrior shoves him away from the table and stares at the computer monitor. The writer raises a hand in protest but the warrior ignores him. The warrior presses the pageup and pagedown keys of the keyboard while holding the writer at bay with his other hand.
The warrior sneers while scanning the moving lines of text on the monitor, with one hand on the keyboard and the other hand almost touching the monitor screen to guide his reading. He presses the ctrl-key simultaneous with the home key. The monitor displays the manuscript from the starting line. The warrior gives out another sneer at the still stunned writer. He presses the ctrl-key together with the end key and the display moves to the last line.
“Just two pages of the story and you already had me killed.” The warrior’s eyes remain glued to the monitor, not noticing the writer’s shaking hand that is reaching for the computer mouse. The mouse pointer moves over the save icon on the word processor panel. The warrior faces the writer to show the budding contempt in his eyes. The writer slyly pushes the left clicker of the mouse.
He woke up to the glare of the rising sun and discovered the blisters and minor injuries all over his perfectly-muscled body. It was difficult to stand but he had to move on. He eyed the cliff above and caressed his arm upon seeing the short distance of punishing fall his body went through. He realized that the small glade in the steep ravine broke his fall that brought him to the safety of a big gmelina tree.
He looked up the cliff again then to the southern horizon. With caution, he traversed the downtrail by holding on to ankle-high grasses and dry bushes. The steeper-than-45-degree ravine would break an ordinary man but he was no ordinary in the layman’s standards. The trek was long but he was walking on lower ground in no time at all.
He came to a slow-moving deep river and knelt at the edge of the bank. The cold water was a delight to his face that seemed to have given him back his lost energy. He scooped some more water and splashed it on his neck and chest. In a flash, several one-foot long fish attacked his hand. He was able to take his hand off the water but one flesh-eating fish remained stuck on his forearm. It took him three blows before the fish let go of his bloodied limb.
Like pestering fruit flies, the hyperactive flesh-eating fish swarmed near the river bank. But despite the threat of the flesh-eaters, he knew that it was safer to follow the trail of the river than to enter the forest and face the dreaded blue lights. He held his injured hand to his tummy and started walking southward, unmindful of the flesh-eaters that moved in the same direction.
Zap! Zap! A shiny cannon came out of the woods, bathing the river bank with blue lights. He ducked, moved sideways then ducked again to evade the barrage of the blue lights. The pattern of bursts was like eating him up little by little. There was nowhere to go for refuge, giving him the notion that he was positioned between the devil and the deep greenish river. He retreated bit by bit until his foot stepped on the edge of the river bank. Some dead flesh-eaters were floating on the water with open mouths, showing their sharp teeth. The zapping continued and before the blue light could hit him, he jumped to the water.
The writer pulls a stick of cigarette from the pack and places it in his mouth. With his eyes stuck to the monitor his hand gropes for the lighter beside the ashtray. A strong slap nails his hand on the table. The impact causes ripples that travel from his hand up to his head. The cigarette falls from the writer’s mouth and shock takes control of his senses at the sight of the warrior’s soiled and sweaty face. Angst is discernible in the warrior’s sharp stare.
“You really wanted me dead, ha?” The warrior’s hand moves to the keyboard, freeing the writer’s hand in the process. He scrolls the screen to see the last line of the unfinished manuscript. “Three pages, just three pages and I was already about to die without even giving me a name.”
The warrior notices the writer’s hand about to touch the computer mouse. He snatches both arms of the writer and heaves him like a small kid from the chair onto the marble flooring of the small room. The writer lays prostrate and panting. His eyeglasses, though not broken, was a foot away from him. Seemingly not content, the warrior slightly kicks the writer’s mouth and lets his bare foot rest on the writer’s chest.
“No tricks this time. Now, explain or else!”
The writer tries to open his mouth but only a soft moan comes out. The warrior slowly lifts his foot away from the writer’s chest while his eyes are on focus at the magazine clipping pasted on the wall. The writer tries to comfort himself by groping for his eyeglasses while the warrior takes a step nearer the clipping on the wall.
“Rule number one, set a bait for the reader thru an impactful opening.” The warrior gives a hostile glance at the writer on the floor who seems to have recovered some of his composure. “So, that’s the rationale for the series of my misfortunes. Rule number two, develop your character at the soonest possible time. Aha! How could you develop a dead character?”
The bare foot goes back to its former position on the chest of the writer with immense pressure this time. The writer bites his lips in anticipation of more pain. The warrior pulls the writer from the floor and puts him back on the chair with nary an effort. And like an adlib to the script, the warrior picks up the cigarette and puts it in the mouth of the writer. The warrior then grabs the lighter on the table and lights the cigarette of the writer before sitting on the table to face the writer.
“Okay, now talk!”
“The story is my entry for a fiction writing contest.”
“A contest!” the warrior says with full of sarcasm as his bare foot rests on the edge of the executive chair to provide intimidation. His gaze moves back to the clipping on the wall. “And a contest entry should be full of action in the beginning to make an impact… regardless of whether the hero dies or not. You nincompoop, you killed me right in the third page!”
The swift but heavy hands of the warrior find the mark on the writer’s neck and the only struggle that the writer can put up is to hold the wrists of the warrior in futility. With the creaking sound of the executive chair’s spring as the soundtrack, the smell of death fills the room to the delight of the warrior. The writer’s face is changing in color due to lack of oxygen and his eyeglasses is clinging at the tip of his nose. The executive chair tilts to the increasing weight causing the writer’s foot to hang in mid-air. The foot goes limp and falls down on the table, hitting the mouse.
He felt the cold metal on his back and saw several flesh-eaters clinging on his feet and body. The blue lights were still on the attack but the small metallic crane appeared to be invulnerable. The thing moved southward and he felt the slight sting every time the blue light would hit any part of whatever was carrying him. He shook away the flesh-eaters which appeared to have died from the continual stings.
He took a glance at the “face” of the metallic crane which seemed to be smiling at him. It was nice to be comforted, for a change, but it didn’t suit his taste buds. He looked around and saw the ground just a mere two feet away. The metallic crane was still walking by the riverside and the river was still full of hungry flesh-eaters. He heaved his body and let himself drop to the ground. The metallic crane ceased moving as if waiting for his next move. And a blue light ended his dilemma.
The writer hits the enter key and ponders. The warrior appears without warning and immediately pulls the mouse plug from the CPU socket. The writer, out of panic, takes off his eyeglasses and makes a gesture of surrender. The warrior gives the writer a short ride by pushing the executive chair a bit farther from the table.
“What’s that thing that saved me?”
“Help, you needed help, didn’t you?”
“You nincompoop!” the warrior exclaims with a fist banging on the table. ”That’s deus ex machina.”
“Deus ex machina? What’s that?”
“And you said you are a writer? After putting me in a sure-death situation a savior from out of the blue came in. That’s deus ex machina - the machine of God - a miracle that only a nincompoop of a writer like you could think of. Even if it’s not in the rules, you know that a story is like life and like life, a story should have logic. Miracles defy logic. Get it?”
The clipping on the wall once again catches the warrior’s fancy. He pushes the executive chair to the wall, right under the clipping, and notices the evident fear painted on the face of the writer. He eyes the table then pulls a stick of cigarette from the pack and hands it to the writer. After signaling a sarcastic “wait,” he flicks his fingers and picks up the lighter beside the ashtray.
“Relax, I won’t be harsh this time unless you give me the tricks again.” The warrior positions himself between the table and the executive chair, his gaze shooting just above the head of the writer.
“Rule number three, establish a good setting. No comment. Rule number four, make your story unique. Ay-yeee! And in order to be unique, you made me an ancient warrior in a g-string who speaks straight English.” The warrior lets out a long loud laughter coupled with body english.
“I’m entering the story in the English division.” The writer cautiously lights the cigarette and puffs a smoke ring to the amusement of the warrior.
“I see. But you don’t have to be absurd just to be unique. Now I think you’ve been watching too many Rambo movies or Terminator maybe? By the way, what happens now to the deus ex machina?”
“I will remove it.”
“Remove it?” the warrior’s voice changes in pitch to the discomfort of the writer. “That means I really have to die, eh?”
“No, no, of course not. I will rewrite the last paragraph to…”
“I guess you just have to rewrite everything.” The warrior points to the monitor and notices the detached mouse cord. He glances at the monitor and shakes his head. “I don’t know, you are the writer, I really don’t know.”
“Don’t worry, I will rewrite it in a way that I’m sure you will like.”
“Oh, really?” the warrior’s voice changes to a friendly tone. He picks up the end of the mouse cord and attaches it to the CPU socket. Slowly, he pulls the executive chair to the front of the monitor then picks up the eyeglasses on the table and fixes it on the face of the writer. “And I reckon you’re going to give me a name too?”
The writer nods while testing the mouse movement. He highlights all the text of the manuscript and brings down a finger on the delete key. Putting a hand under his chin, the writer’s eyes twinkle. The sound of the keyboard interrupts the silence and the monitor starts to be filled with words: Dax pulled the hunting knife from the side of his leather boots.
It was awful but Dax had to defend himself from the attacks of the savage tribe. He severed the thin elastic rope and a big branch fell that eventually hit a bigger branch resting on the ground with a boulder at the end. The boulder moved down towards the gorge, hitting a long log with lined up boulders. The boulders rolled down the steep slope producing cries of anguish, cries of the savage headhunting tribe.
On the other side of the rough terrain, Dax saw the oncoming warriors atop wild horses. He pulled out his zippo lighter and flipped a cigar to his mouth. With a grin, he puffed a ring of smoke, seemingly oblivious of the impending battle. He bit the cigar and opened the lighter once again. His other hand was holding a flare.
The horses went berserk at the sound and light that the flare emitted. Dax, with the cigar in his mouth, approached the confused warriors. He positioned himself near a boulder and carefully touched a hidden lever with his boot. The warriors grouped themselves, not for a fight but out of fear and confusion. Dax puffed a series of smoke rings before pushing the lever with the tip of his boot. Several explosions were heard and all the warriors were on the ground, lifeless. Dax produced a grenade, pulled the pin and sat on the ground. Another loud explosion was heard.
“What did you do?” the writer is trying to convey a little muscle with his tone. It is apparent that he is getting used to the sudden appearances of his story’s capricious character.
“Nice name.” Dax gets hold of the lighter and lights the half-consumed Cubana cigar in his mouth. He makes several puffs until the small room is filled with aromatic smoke. He brushes off his khaki clothes and tips off his safari hat to the writer. “Nice attire too. Thanks.”
“I said what did you do? Why did you kill yourself?”
“Am I dead?” the familiar guffaw pervades the air.
“You are meddling with my writing!”
“Sorry about that but I just cannot fathom the idea of…” another loud and long guffaw. He then picks up the lighter and gropes for the pack of cigarette.
“Okay, what seems to be the problem this time?” The writer obliges by lighting his own cigarette.
“Not so good a setting and not so good a choice of words. Haven’t you noticed the boulders? I’m getting the notion that those boulders would be the heroes in the end. And then Dax, thanks for that name again, Dax appeared to be an Edison among the classroom dunces.”
“That’s from rule number four,” the writer turns around to the clipping. “No, rule number five that says show a marked contrast.”
“Trash that rule, trash that garbage of a rule, okay? Heroes need not be so great a man as to have Einstein’s brains and Schwarzenegger’s muscles, not to mention the saintly virtues. And also, the anti-hero need not be too evil nor too scheming. Man, you have to work on situations and forget the contrasts lest you come up with formula stories that I’m sure contest judges would not appreciate.”
The writer stands away and makes a “welcome” gesture for Dax to sit in the executive chair. Dax grins in jest but doesn’t move. The writer repeats the sarcastic gesture and Dax returns the gesture for the writer to sit back. The writer trashes his cigarette on the ashtray and points to the soon-to-fall ashes of Dax’s cigar.
“Now, do you want me to continue or…”
“No. Rewrite, better yet, write a new story again.”
“In that case, you won’t be seeing the pouting lips and the round eyes of Lara Croft.” The writer gets hold of the mouse and highlights the entire manuscript.
“Wait, wait a minute. That’s sounds interesting. Dax meets Lara Croft.”
“Correction, Dax meets Mischa, the twentieth century Russian spy.”
The seemingly endless plains showed a solitary hut surrounded by trees. In a moment, Dax, with his usual bravado, pushed away the dilapidated wooden gate for his grand entrance. And before he could knock, the door opened to present Mischa’s lovely face.
“Howdy, ma’am? I dropped by for a… do you suppose you have water in there? I mean, I’m thirsty. Is it possible to have a drink?”
“Come in.” Mischa exuded a captivating smile as she pulled the door wide open and pointed to the bench for Dax to sit on. She proceeded to the kitchen area and got water from a clay jar.
Dax bowed his head before taking the glass of water. After drinking, he gave back the glass and bowed again. Mischa smiled at Dax and Dax smiled back at Mischa. Slowly, Dax stood up and got hold of Mischa’s shoulders. Mischa willingly waited for Dax’s next move which was a kiss that turned into a very passionate one. Dax’s hands moved inside Mischa’s dress and explored Mischa’s contours like a surveyor of a virgin forest.
Still locked in a passionate kiss, Dax pulled a grenade dangling from his belt. He disengaged from Mischa’s kiss to bite the detonating pin of the grenade.
“You nincompoop, I was giving you the nicest time of your life and you…” irritation is obvious in the tone of the writer’s voice. He takes off his glasses and stands to confront Dax at eye level.
“Sit down, man, relax. All right, that love scene was pleasant, but, man, you’ve got to show some finesse. Don’t get carried away by the sex movies, use your experience with women, man, be realistic.”
Very slowly, the writer sits back on the executive chair with shoulders drooping and bowed head. Dax pats the writer’s shoulder as an act of sympathy. He looks at the screen and reads the last line of the manuscript that says about the exploding grenade.
“I’m sorry, man.”
“That’s okay. It’s just that I’m…”
“No need to say anything, I get your point with women. Now, let’s get back to work. Perhaps… just remove that love scene and let’s opt for more action. Okay?”
Dax quietly followed Mischa to the kitchen. Mischa was somewhat surprised but Dax immediately gestured “silence” by putting his finger to his mouth and used his lips to indicate the front door. Footsteps could be heard outside the hut’s door. Dax closed the kitchen door and peered in the hole of the wooden panel.
The front door opened and three savages with red headbands and glistening bolos in their hands went in. Dax looked around the kitchen and got hold of the wooden laundry whacker. The small hole in the panel showed the natives investigating the entirety of the small living room. Dax hinted to Mischa that he would be opening the kitchen door.
A loud war cry was heard when the three natives attacked Dax who was coming out of the kitchen door. Dax parried the first hack by sidestepping and kicking the shin of the leader. The next blow almost hit the mark but Dax was swift in blocking the bolo with the wooden laundry whacker. Another kick, to the groin this time, felled the second attacker. The third attacker turned around for momentum that created a slashing sound in the air but Dax ducked down and recoiled to bash the head of the last native standing.
Mischa gave Dax a hug to show her appreciation. Dax planted a kiss on Mischa’s cheek and the laundry whacker fell to the floor. The kissing turned passionate and Dax seemed to enjoy, unaware of the rising warrior. The warrior raised his shining bolo that went down precisely on the target.
“You nincompoop!” the writer shrieks in disgust. “What’s your point in getting carried away by the lousy romance? Ha?”
“That was deliberate so I could get away from that lousy romance.”
“This is too much,” the writer bangs the table and out of frustration, he grabs the mouse and highlights the entire manuscript. With precision, his forefinger positions over the delete key.
“Go ahead, make my day!”
The writer stops dead on his tracks and stares at Dax who remains grinning. He pulls away his hand from the keyboard and gazes around the small room. Dax imitates the writer’s gaze and sees the cellphone on the other side of the table. He reaches out a hand but the writer blocks his intention by a tight handhold. Dax withdraws his hand and jokingly dials as if his palm was a cellphone. He puts his palm to his ear and turns around to the clipping on the wall.
“Okay, you nincompoop, once and for all, tell me what you want so I can finish the story.”
“Hello? Rule number six, be accurate with your facts. Rule number seven, check your grammar. And the last rule, make way for a climactic ending.” Dax puts down his cellphone palm and sits himself on the table. “Almost every rule was applied correctly except the facts.”
“Why, what’s the matter with the facts?”
“Suppose you just remove Lara Croft, er, Mischa? I don’t feel comfortable with a leading lady anyway.”
“I already told you that I have no experience with women.”
“That’s precisely the reason why I am invoking my right on Rule number six. You can only be accurate with things like romance or wars when you have the experience. That done?”
“Another thing that bothers me…”
“The wooden laundry whacker?
“Exactly. Why give a swashbuckling hero that thing for an improvised weapon? You could have given me maybe a rolling pin instead.”
“If my mother were a baker, perhaps, but she happened to be a lavandera when I was young. And, mind you, that job of hers sent me to school. It’s as simple as that.”
“Exactly again! It’s as simple as that. If only you are going to use your experience and knowledge in the right direction and putting things in the right places then… And how would you apply the last rule if your plot stinks? Contest winners have bigger plots and more characters with substantial involvement. By golly, use your head, man, use your head.”
“You know, Dax? I don’t think you can fit in that door.”
“Ha? Why’d you say that?”
“Because you’ve got a swollen head bigger than the biggest watermelon.”
Laughter fills the room, this time coming from both of them, with Dax patting the writer’s shoulder in between laughs. The writer pulls out a hanky to wipe the joyful tears in his eyes.
“I like your humor. Nice humor indeed.” Dax keeps on patting the writer’s shoulder like a gesture of encouragement.
The writer smiles and nods at Dax before hitting the delete key. After three short breaths, he writes THE DE RIGUEUR PARTNERSHIP by opening the first paragraph with “The cops accosted the professor who was coming out of a classy condo. There was nary a resistance from Professor Ramos when the cops attached the handcuffs to his hands.”
It was a long wait until a funny-looking character, purportedly a lawyer, arrived at the police precinct. “You honors,” Jack began, “Prof. Ramos is my client and according to the Philippine constitution, my client has the right to privacy.” The two cops broke into loud laughter and unintelligibly mentioned a name sounding like “Ibby” or “Iggy.”
Jack pulled Prof away from the precinct which was starting to be filled with smoke coming from the smoke bomb that Jack had planted. Prof hesitated to escape because he wasn’t guilty of the rape accusation but Jack had his way. He and Prof would catch the real culprits with the help of his knowledge in disguises. And Prof relished the idea of playing detective for a while.
The writer taps the table while trying to control the grin springing in the side of his mouth. He stretches a hand on his nape, momentarily fixes his eyeglasses then stares at the ceiling. After flicking his fingers, he goes back to continue torturing the keyboard with a big smile on his face.
Bimbo opened the door and saw Jack’s smiling face. He was disguised as a singing telegram but Bimbo, the smart kid he was, wouldn’t let him in. Bimbo called his Ate Pinky to the door. With his hand, Jack made a circular motion behind his back that magically produced a bouquet of expensive roses. Pinky was flattered and Bimbo was amused.
Inside the elegant condo, Jack repeated the circular motion behind his back and a ukelele appeared in his hand. He sang his own version of a birthday song using the tune of a Christmas song. After having the receipt signed by Pinky, Jack went for the door but Bimbo requested another magic act that Jack denied. But Bimbo was insistent. Jack, his foot at the door, faced Bimbo and made the familiar circular hand motion behind his back. Jack’s closed fist produced something that he forcefully offered to Bimbo’s face. As Jack was past the door, Bimbo smelled the unpleasant fart odor.
The writer lets out the laughter simultaneous with his constant nodding to the monitor. He clicks the mouse then pulls his hanky to clean his glasses. The speakers come to life with the melody of the traditional happy birthday song. After a repeat, he clicks out the media player and plants his hands on the keyboard.
Jack and Prof, both dressed as high-ranking military men, entered the old house where a jueteng raffle was ongoing. Jack introduced himself as an army major and Prof Ramos a colonel. All the jueteng collectors hastily moved to the safety of the doorway while the jueteng lord was explaining about the protection of a certain police captain. Jack’s eyes focused on an old man who was holding a small blackboard. He accosted the man and emphatically asked to confirm what was written on the small blackboard, “Dos-trese?” The man nodded. Jack jumped with joy and exclaimed “I won, I won!”
The keyboard continues to suffer from the writer’s machine-gun fingers. Once in a while he scrolls up, ponders then goes back again to the last line to type some more text. A semblance of satisfaction creeps on his face upon seeing the monitor displaying page 10 at the bottom. He lights a cigarette and blows smoke rings on top of the monitor.
The hospital looked dreary with the dim lights and the deathly silence. Jack’s father went to the door by dragging his feet, obviously the result of a stroke. Prof. Ramos entered the room and went straight to the hospital bed. He tapped Jack’s shoulder but there was no response from the patient who was covered with bandages all over his body. Prof noticed Jack’s father on the divan. He narrated the successful arrest and confession of the real rapists who were responsible for the molotov cocktail that burned Jack’s face and body.
The writer extinguishes the cigarette on the ashtray. He stands to stretch his arms before opening his table drawer. Back on his seat and with eyes fixed on the monitor, his hand gropes inside as if looking for a familiar something. The writer’s fingers push some keys again.
“So the case is closed, I’m a free man now,” Prof. whispered to Jack’s ears. “And I guess we will not be seeing each other again. But on second thought, I don’t think… Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I don’t think I could live without you. But I’m not.. I’m not gay, ha? I’m straight.”
Jack moves a hand to touch Prof’s arm. “Same here, the feeling is mutual and don’t be mistaken either, I’m not gay either, I’m straight too.”
The writer’s hand again goes inside the drawer and out it comes with a small packet which he places on the table without getting his eyes off the monitor. He fingers the packet while his sight scans the computer monitor.
“It was an accident, we did the sex change because the surgery team thought he was a female. Take note, he or I should say she was burned beyond recognition, I mean her sex organ. And good thing that he happened to be a real female who previously underwent a sex change surgery in Bangkok in order to be a he. In other words, he was a female before she turned to be a male and now she’s back to being a female. Oh, I’m really confused with the pronouns, it’s giving me a headache to explain this over and over, your honor.”
The writer lazily sits back on his chair. He glances at the monitor then smiles with a matching sigh. He mouths the tablet and drinks the liquid in the cup. Again, he glances at the monitor, nods and smiles. The empty packet lays on the table with the still very visible label – PROZAC.