Today’s episode of the Comrade Radio Podcast is a collection of interviews with some our hosts. I asked each of them to talk about one creative project they spent a good amount of time and effort on, only to end up “putting it on a shelf”. As creative people we set many ideas aside, in various states of completion, and it’s a rare opportunity to revisit the work (especially in a public forum).
The conversations were great; I recommend listening to the episode first. When you do, you’ll notice that I dropped a surprise question on each of my guests: “Are you willing to share a piece of the unfinished project?”
The reactions varied but they all agreed (despite my best attempts to let them off the hook). Enjoy!
Malcolm Nygard – excerpt from “Watchworld”
A small boy had begun running before the shout. He was dressed very poorly, with a ratty coat and pants with holes in the knees, and in his hand was a drawstring purse. The source of the noise was a well-dressed man in a top hat, who was now pointing at the boy as he ran.
“That boy stole my purse!”
The man was too overweight to begin pursuit, which was why he had been chosen, but several policemen had taken notice, and were now running after the boy as he fled. He looked over his shoulder and spotted them, giving a little sigh as he picked up his pace. The boy was usually quick and quiet in his theft attempts, and would have been considered one of the best pickpockets in the city, if such a list were drawn up. But once in a while, everyone’s luck just runs out, and the boy had to rely on his second talent- running.
The streets were very crowded, as usual, but the boy was small enough to duck under elbows and squeeze in between couples, all the while keeping a fairly fast running pace. After a few seconds, though, the inevitable police whistle began to shriek, and the crowds began to part slightly, evening the local law’s chance of arrest. The street the boy was on emptied into a large traffic circle up ahead. There was a tall stone obelisk in the center, surrounded by a small garden, with horse carriages and time-powered trolleys circling it. Surrounding the circular street were end-to-end buildings, now acting like an impossibly high wall for the young escapee. There were a few streets and some smaller alleys that were outlets from the circle, but the boy had to still reach them. Putting the purse in the pocket of his coat, he ran towards a nearby slow-moving trolley. A few people were standing on the platform on the back of it, but the boy moved so quickly they couldn’t react until he was gone. In a few quick motions, he leapt up to the platform, then pushed off with his foot, stopping briefly on the railing on the back. Another quick push and he was running across the roof of the trolley. The boy reached the end and leapt off, bouncing once of the top of a covered horse carriage and landing in the round garden in the center. He nimbly ran through the flowers and past the tall stone pillar, miraculously not breaking a single stem. Ahead was another moving trolley, this time with an empty platform on the back. The boy leapt clear through the gap, touching his toes in midair, and soon he was running across the street again.
Behind the boy, the original policemen had timed their pursuit horribly, having almost run into a horse, which was now upset and moving around agitatedly. They edged left and right, trying to find a way through the circle. The runner chuckled to himself, but his smile faded as more officials were now gaining on him on this side of the traffic. On the main street ahead, two policemen in blue were headed right for him, so he braked slightly and headed left. Up ahead was a seldom-used alley that ran between two tall shops, and the boy was glad to see it was empty. He ran into the alley, and looked over his shoulder. He could see three men in blue still running, but he could easily lose them now. The boy began to laugh, but was cut short as he collided hard into a person. He looked up quickly, and was startled to see the largest policeman he had ever seen. The man was over six feet tall, probably weighing three times what the boy did. The brawny official grabbed the boy by the arm with an iron grip, causing him to yelp. The other three officers were getting much closer, and would be there in a few seconds.
The strong man yanked at the boy’s arm to bring him along, but to his shock, the boy seemed rooted to the ground, as if he suddenly weighed as much as a trolley car. The man, expecting the tiny boy to be pulled easily, slipped and fell on the ground. The three officers ran up to the boy, showing confusion at their comrade’s tumble, but quickly surrounded the boy. One policeman grabbed the boy on each arm, and began to try and haul him, but he stood rooted to the spot. The two grown men began to pull with all their weight, planting their heels in the cobblestones, and the third standing man, feeling obligated, started to push awkwardly on the boy’s chest. He wouldn’t be moved an inch, though. The men began to get red in the face, straining harder, and the largest one, now on his feet watched in dumb amazement. The small boy looked him right in the eye and smirked. It was suddenly as if the boy weighed nothing, and the two men pulling lost their grip and went flying backwards, while the one pushing fell flat on his face. The boy laughed with delight, running across the fallen officer’s back and towards the far end of the alley. The hulking man made a final lunge at the boy, who leaned back as he kept his momentum, sliding a few feet on his heels. He straightened up and broke into a full run, this time sure to look in front of him as he ran. The four men, fully embarrassed, began to stand and try to compose themselves. The three of them began to inspect the area the boy had just been, looking fervently for some hole or device he could have used to anchor himself. The largest simply stared down the empty alley, looking a little disturbed. He wrinkled his forehead, clearly in thought. Witchblood.
The little boy knew the city very well, especially the alleys and back streets, and after running just a little longer was able to slow down to a casual stroll. He turned two more corners, and suddenly he was home. Darrow’s Alley was, contrary to the name, an entire network of alleys and streets, far removed from the busy city center. It functioned as its own neighborhood, and the inhabitants all knew one another, doing trade only among themselves, and deciding their own rules. The police never came back here, for there would be no point. Any potential witness to a crime would go completely mute at the sight of an official, while the perpetrator they sought escaped deeper into the ghetto through his neighbors’ windows and back yards. More skilled Alley-dwellers would venture into the city center in order to steal food, or wallets if they were good enough, but otherwise it was a self-sufficient community. The young boy now walked through Darrow’s Alley, and was greeted occasionally and smiled at by most of the residents.
“Morning, Fred,” called a smiling older woman from a second story window as she shook out a rug.
“Hi, Daria,” he called up, waving.
As he walked, Fred pulled the coin purse from his coat pocket, tossing it up and catching it several times, testing the weight. He opened the bag eventually, taking a handful of coins out and shifting them around in his hand. A man with a tattered top hat in need of a shave called to him from his seat on some steps.
“Didja get anything good this time, Fred?”
Fred smiled, turning to walk backwards away from the man.
“I’ve had better,” he said. “I guess he knew I was coming and left some at home.”
“You still ‘ave the best pulls around here, mate,” the man laughed. “No one’ll forget the bank lockbox you walked off with, in broad daylight, too. You’ve got the lightest touch I’ve ever seen.”
Fred grinned and turned again, walking forward now, and waved his hand as he left. The man was more correct than he thought. The boy had the lightest touch in the world. He was an orphan, as far as he knew, and had lived all eleven years of his life in Darrow’s Alley. Inhabitants here looked out for each other, but the boy preferred to live alone. He didn’t dislike company, but Fred had an important secret, a little too important to share with housemates.
As long as he could remember, Fred possessed a special gift. He couldn’t explain it, or how it worked, but the effects were undeniable. Since youth, the boy had been able to alter his own weight at will, at a very rapid rate. The boy had never measured it, but he had at times been able to render himself completely unmovable, as he had done just minutes ago. As he became heavier, he became much harder, too, making his skin and bones nearly unbreakable. With a little concentration, he could quickly shed the weight, becoming much lighter than even a small boy his size would usually be. This allowed him to run much faster than most people, and jump higher, too. His talent had made him an excellent thief, reaching into pockets and handbags with the lightest hand imaginable. A combination of lightness and steady practice allowed the boy to escape multiple pursuers, as he had earlier, by using every element of the local architecture as something to grab or to run on. The boy was fairly well-known among the local police, but had the distinction of never being caught. This had made him something of a folk hero around the Alley.
As Fred entered the market section of Darrow’s Alley, it got immediately busier. Women moved among the stalls with baskets, vendors shouted, and children ran in between the shoppers. The quality of goods here wasn’t always like that in the richer parts of the city, but everyone knew everyone else, and they were pleased to keep the business local. The boy walked until he reached a red brick store with fading paint on the window. If the lighting was right, it read “Alltelli’s – Fishmonger”. He jogged up the steps and pushed open the door, which rang a bell.
“Freidmont!” called the hairy man behind the counter, and the boy winced at his birth name.
“Freidmont, when are you gonna pay the rent? You owe me the rent for two weeks! Are you gonna help chop up fish to pay the rent?”
“I’ve got it, Aldo,” Fred muttered, tossing his confiscated purse over the counter.
He continued through the shop towards a door in the back.
“Freidmont! You gave me too much money!” the man called after a moment.
“Just put it towards next week,” the boy said dismissively, opening the door.
As he always did, the boy made himself lighter, running nimbly up the stairwell. Were he currently the weight of a grown man, the steps would be creaking unbearably, but for now, they made no noise. He passed a door on each floor, the first silent as usual, the second betraying the sounds of a couple having a fight, as usual, until he reached the door at the top. He pulled a key out of his pocket, turned it in the lock, and entered his room. The room was very simple, shabby like the boy, but was a place that he could stay undisturbed, and that was worth it. It was just a single room with an old mattress on the floor, peeling paint, and ancient floorboards. It had a dusty window that let the boy look out over the Alley, and that was all he needed. In the corner of the room there was clearly a boy-sized hole that had been boarded up. Fred smirked as he remembered the day a pigeon had accidentally flown into his window. The boy had been startled, increasing his weight to almost five hundred pounds as a reflex, and soon found himself in the middle of an argument a story below. But the wood in this building was old, and it could have happened to anybody, so Mr. Alltelli fixed it with no questions.
Fred fell lightly onto his mattress and sighed. After his chase in the city today, it felt great to just lie there. He gradually replayed the incident in his head. He was disappointed in himself for getting caught this time, but of course that was just bad luck, and was bound to happen. His real downfall had been getting cocky, mocking the police as he ran right into one of their biggest men. To be realistic, the men couldn’t have arrested him if they tried, no matter how many people they brought. He could always add more weight. But he couldn’t make himself any stronger, and if the police were to post a guard around the two-ton boy, sooner or later he’d fall asleep, and after that they’d be able to lift him with one hand. He couldn’t imagine a Witchblood thief would get just a few nights in prison, either. No, he’d have to be much more careful. As soon as one assumed life was easy in Darrow’s Alley, then life there was over.
Sly Krappa – high school sketches for “The Manhattan Men”
Helen LaStar – Proof of the songbook and keyboard, an awesome article on Tom Lehrer
Darryl Steffen – Excerpt from “Reflection Left”
Isaac inhaled the fresh air through his nose, taking in the mingled smell of concrete and autumn leaves. Josh told him to meet him up at Benny’s Bar at 7:00 PM, and he didn’t know whether to go home and relax until then, or find something to do in Brooklyn. He checked his watch—4:22—and looked up towards the sky and sighed. It irritated him to squander his time, although his more cynical side told him that anything he was doing was just “wasting time” anyway. He looked around as if he’d recognize someone walking by and find something to do, but shook his head and moved over to his Hemi.
Isaac drove over to a nearby mom and pop bookstore and decided that if he couldn’t find something outside to do, he’d resign himself to being a shut-in forever. Half a dozen hours ago he would’ve just gone straight home and not even seen Josh at all, but the conversation they had with May at lunch had colored his outlook differently. As terrible as it was to say, he felt nothing but envy as she explained the day out she had with her cousin, her smile lit from ear to ear as her hooped earrings jangled happily. He didn’t resent her in any way but felt unnerved seeing her smile so carelessly… so honestly. There was a warmth in the way that she spoke that scared him a little, realizing that he hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
Looking for that revitalization, he tried doing something out of the ordinary, like purchasing a book. But as he browsed through the shelves nothing seemed to stand out to him—he had no idea which books were good or bad, honest or deceitful. He thought about picking up a cooking book but realized that he rarely cooked, and considered snagging a fantasy novel though he was subconsciously convinced that the genre bored him to tears. Isaac slowly wandered over to the Self-Help section and found more books that stood out to him. He flipped through a couple books about depression and lethargy, but felt oddly judged for taking an interest in them. There was elderly woman flipping through a romance novel across from him but he could swear that she was staring at him… scrutinizing him in some way.
Putting the book away, Isaac shuffled over to the World Religions section and tried to shake off his anxiety. He was uncertain if he felt worse for getting caught perusing that section or by the fact that the whole thing bothered him as much. The self-doubt clouded his judgement and he wound up grabbing a political assassination thriller off the “best sellers” stand and purchased it with nary a thought. Isaac wasn’t entirely sure why he grabbed it—he chalked it up to feeling guilty leaving without buying anything. Knowing his luck, had he vacated he story empty-handed the cashier would’ve shot him a guilty look too, and he could only take so many looks of disproval for one day.
Cursing how much of a pushover he was in the car, he drove around Brooklyn for a place to eat. He thought about heading into a local Italian restaurant to pick up his favorite dish—shrimp scampi—but decided to grab a small meal from McDonalds, as to not worry about leaving leftovers sitting in his car. While inside he began he decided to begin his book (as he had an hour to kill) and found himself mildly amused. He was a little self-conscious about being a grown man sitting in the corner reading in a fast food chain, but that had somehow made him feel less uncomfortable than when the old woman glanced at him.
Some time later, Isaac pulled into the parking lot next to the bar to find it nearly packed. Stepping out he checked his phone to see if Josh had messaged him, when a holler came his way. “Yo Risso!” Looking up, Josh was sauntering over to him with a devilish grin on his face, dressed up in a lavender button-up with his business pants on. “I talked to Naomi and she said she’s gonna be a bit. She brought a friend for you though! I think her name was Turquoise or Teal or something. She said she’s cute, so…” Josh ended his dialogue on a shrug, content that Isaac wouldn’t at least be a third wheel. “That’s fine” Isaac politely replied, scratching his beard.
Owen Choules – excerpt from “More the Eyes Endure”
The constant winds had subsided for a moment, something they had never done before, and he was sure that he heard something. Sometimes a catching sound on the air, a faint word maybe, here, there, perhaps he had imagined it; all this time alone. It was enough to send anyone a little crazy. He made his way up the bank, lifting his legs high, clear of the deep snow. As he reached the summit of the mound, the winds began to die down even more, the sounds becoming more defined, clearer, louder, they seemed to come from nowhere, and everywhere; more like an impression of a sound than a sound. At times they came from just behind him, causing him to wheel around frantically only to find nothing; at others, they were barely audible echoes in the distance. Then, almost in his ear, he heard it.
A voice! A woman’s voice, he was certain of it this time, and there was something else. He eyed the purple peaks of the distant mountains, the mountains he had never reached; lowered his head and screwed up his eyes in concentration, listening hard.
He became aware of an electronic hum. At first, he couldn’t be sure if it was just the strange high-pitched whine we all experience in our ears from time to time, but then, the frequency of the sounds increased and was followed by a short beep, and then,
Opening his eyes, he began to turn his head, desperately trying to recapture a sound, as if he were an aerial, needing to be carefully positioned in order to receive a clear signal through the interference; the thick, falling snow curtain. When he heard nothing more, he took a step forward.
Suddenly, there was a fierce jolt inside his head, as if his brain had flung itself against the inner wall of his cranium. Immediately his fell to his knees, pushing at his temples with the palms of his hands, as if trying to keep his brain from bursting through his skull. His eyes became rooted upwards in their sockets, and he began to shake involuntarily, but now he was able to hear an unconditional stream of sound, and he allowed himself to drift away on the tide of his only available sense. He heard laughter, and then the voice spoke again:
“Yes! Yes! Please Mr Jaeger, lie back.”
Jaeger? He had not heard the name for so long now. Mr Jaeger tried to open his eyes to see the owner of the hand which carefully, but firmly pushed his shoulder down, but his eyes continued to twitch wildly and uncontrollably. The voice continued,
“…I want three mil trialimine. Quickly, please.”
“Here Doctor, three mils trialimine.” A different voice this time, a masculine one.
Then, adopting a different tone, the first spoke more closely to him;
“Mr Jaeger? I’m just going to give you a little injection, please don’t worry.”
Mr Jaeger didn’t feel any injection, but soon his body movements were controllable again and his eyes fell from their previously skyward position. Then, slowly, his other senses started to return, and he remembered the fire in his side, which had now subsided to a dull ache. He blinked hard as his sight was returned to him. It was severely painful to see, the brilliant light was only amplified by the surrounding whiteness. Then, dark shapes appeared in front of him, there were two, no three, three shapes. The shapes took on colour, and watched, bemused as they became faces, his eyes slowly adjusting to the light. Two men and a woman, all dressed only in white surrounded him smiling. The woman spoke:
“Congratulations, Mr Jaeger, welcome back. You’re alive!”
I must be dead, he thought.
Ryan Lynch – Lyrics and a rough track of “Infinitely Burning Wax Candle”
Infinitely Burning Wax Candle
I know you feel my heartbeat, Pounding your steps into place,
Just as I can hear your soft feet, Kicking your breath on my face
Tell me your favorite song, Teach me to sing along
Convince me of who loves the most, Infinitely
Walk with me out in the rain, Push me and pull me again
Hold me and never let go, Infinitely
Your laughter will never get old, And I’ll listen as long as you teach
You know you can tell me the world, Spinning just out of reach
- – II. Infinitely Burning:
Ever since that first night we spent, Together, I can’t quite sleep alone, Anymore
I want to want to feel your breath, On my face, But I need to feel your teeth, On my neck
I want you to take me, Down, down, down, Below everything there ever was
Your deep, blue eyes, Burn, burn, burn, Through everything there will be
This carnal need, Run, run, runs, Our entire existence
Just fucking take me, Down, down, down, Till there’s nowhere left to go
- – III. Burning Wax:
Have you ever woken up on the floor? Still needing more?
Have you ever overslept half a day? Six hours early?
Did we sweat out everything between us? Can we go back?
Can we go back to the way things were? Before Last Night
There’s got to be more than this, I can still feel it There is more than this
Your eyes still say it
What if we follow through? What if we take it all? Till there’s nothing left to take
But a burning flame And Hot Dripping Wax
I remember your smile Before the marks on your lip I remember your laugh
Before your tightened grip
I want One. I want Two. I want Both. I Want It All
III. – IV. Wax Candle:
I think I understand As you look into my eyes You taste my sincerity
As I fall in love with you
Do you understand? As I place my hands in yours? I taste your sincerity As you fall in love with me
We finally understand As we press our lips together We taste our sincerity
As we fall in love with us
You’re my masterpiece If a work of art could break Its limitations and just
Grow, grow, grow Infinitely
The wax is cooling But the wick relit A continuous flame just Burns, burns, burns
So here I stand In impossibly vulnerable light Lay here with me And dry the tears from our eyes
Embark tonight With you here in my arms The sun sets Our lullaby drifts into obscurity
Fade Out, My Love As we slide away into sleep We have it all Finally
Ryan Healey – Some “110%” comic pages and an “animated” video