People who don't Think probably don't have Brains;
rather, they have grey fluff that's blown into their heads by mistake.
---Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

The phone rang in Harold Stoan's cramped office like a dozen angry magpies. Like he was jump started, albeit arrhythmically, Harold was transported rudely out of his semi-contemplative reverie. He was working! Doing research on one of the many short fiction and non-fiction pieces he wrote for various magazines. He wished he had accepted that teaching position at Finehurst University, instead of being the un-freelancer. The phone did its whirring chirp again, and he picked it up.

"Harold?" The raspy voice of the editor-at-large for the Conglomerate Publishing Company queried redundantly.

"Yes, what can I do for you Mister Haskins? Harold meekly responded.

"Well, for one, send me that piece on Snake River Canyon due next week." He growled. "And then, I've got a rush job that's due for the October HorrorFest Special."

Harold became consternated, a condition his flaxseed fortified cereal could not prevent. He always sought the gentle fluff of light literary endeavors. He was the Prince of Puff Pieces. Now, he was being asked to participate in something his constitution did not allow, and he was not intending to write a bill of rights to add to it. "Mister Haskins, with all due respect, can't you get someone else....

"I could get someone else for all my accounts, if you'd prefer!" Haskins interrupted.

"Okay, okay." A chastened Stoan replied. "I'll put something together."

"It'd better scare the everything washed up from the River Styx out of me from my esophagus to my colon or, you'll know fear!" He shrilled while hanging up.

The only guts that quivered were those behind Harold's plaid flannel shirt, and corduroy pants. He began thinking of what the real terror was going to be: things that could happen when he laid down to sleep. It wasn't the unconscious mode in his bed that was the problem, only when the dreams began. Ever since he was a grade-schooler and he began writing stories, they would come alive at day's end when the brain waves go through their five cycles. Some of the mystery of his syndrome the family doctor explained recently, reading from the web, "Sleep, Dreams and REM Sleep Behavior Disorder" by Mahalia Cohen:

The discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep suggested that sleep was not, as it was thought to be, a dormant state but rather a mentally dynamic one. Your brain is, in fact, very active in this state, almost to the level at which it is when a person is awake. Yet during this active stage in which most dreams occur, the movements of the rest of the body are completely stilled. To imagine this paralysis during dreams not occurring is a frightful image, since in many cases dreams are violent and active. When the neurotransmitters that control the movement of the body do not work properly the person develops REM sleep behavioral disorder (RBD).

Delta waves are extremely slow brain waves. Though there is no consistent eye movement or muscle activity during these two periods, they are the phases of sleep when some children experience bedwetting, night terrors, or sleepwalking

REM is the most active part of sleep, in which the brain waves, when viewed using EEG have a pattern the most similar to those of person who is awake.

The majority of the Dreaming that occurs during a sleep cycle occurs during the REM or paradoxical sleep state. ... RBD, rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, is characterized by the afflicted person acting out their dreams, which are usually violent in nature. The violent nature of these dream enactments is very distinct from the person's normal waking personality. This suggests that RBD is not only a motor control disorder, but a dream disorder as well. When the person awakens they can remember their dream vividly but cannot recall their physical actions during the dreams. Most of the incidents that occur within the dream are similar in affect to those that the individual was enacting, in one instance an adult male nearly strangled his wife while dreaming that he was saving her from drowning.

About 25% of diagnosed (RBD) patients tested reported limb twitching, talking, yelling, jerking and a progressive decline in motor control during sleep. These symptoms starkly contrast to the typical atonia, lack of normal muscle tension, which is associated with the REM phase of sleep. In very few isolated cases have any family history of RBD been found.

RBD and other similar dissociative disorders bring up interesting questions about the self. The dreams that they experience, as seen in cases studies, are rarely attributed to what occur in their daily life, and thus are the vivid images are not provided for by their memory bank. Furthermore they have little control over their physical presence, which is controlled by the dream sequence and have no recollections of the actions that took place after they are awakened.

Almost chuckling to himself, he knew the medical authorites thought they had figured out the problem, but that did not explain the toy train that wound up circling the overhead lamp in his room when he was just 6. He had barely began to scribble alongside of his little drawing of the "Little Red Train That Could," and later, tucked in with his Poohbah Bear jammies, he had those dreams where he remembers (he was good at lucid dreaming) saying "I think I can, I think I can!"

As a youngster, he began to be careful what he put down on paper, realizing the consequences were dramatic. However, he had a tremendous talent for writing that provided him not only academic accolades growing up, but a career as well. He would have been more famous and rich if he did not have to be so careful. For example there was the time he wrote that story in High School about the "Bull in the China Shop." He thought it would be a harmless essay on clumsiness until his parents totally freaked. Not only was their kitchen discombobulated, with cabinets akimbo, broken dishes and glasses, but there were some whose shards were pulverized under what definitely looked like hoof prints. Understandably, the bizarre incidents were kept under wraps as much as possible, though professional help was discreetly consulted.

He found that writing about fixed natural wonders seemed to cause no repercussions, and also writing happy tales of families with bunnies and that ilk were actually helping. Now, with Mr. Haskins' literally dreadful demand, he had a dilemma. He had a brainstorm! (he quickly forgave himself of the potential hazardous pun), and realized he would write one about pumpkins multiplying themselves, kind of scary, but not too dangerous. He would make sure that he wrote footnotes that told him when to start and stop. But, first, the background work finished, he typed furiously about the marvelous geography of Idaho, while he deliberately left out Evel Knievel.

He emailed his American Geographic article to Jonathan, er, Mr. Haskins. He made it crystal clear that between them, all was business. (Just thinking of that induced a vision of that Pre-Columbian crystal skull to inadvertantly pop into his mind ). He turned all his attention to making up a yarn involving some kind of newfangled fertilizer, "SuperNaturalGrow" that mixed with the wrong kind of flouridated water to make October's pumpkin patch grow to nerve-racking proportions. It was about 11 PM before he finished, and he thought maybe he could make Mr. Haskins happy with how quickly he was done with that project, so he sent this one too.

"You've got mail!" His PC peeped about an half hour later.

"Ah, he's read it. Glad I got that over with," he muttered to himself as he leaned to check the incoming email. It said:

Harold Stoan, Quagmire

Oooooooh, I'm so scared! NOT!!!! I'm going to give you one more chance to re-write that pitiful thing that even "Jack and Jill" would reject. At least have them as stupid Jack o' Lanterns carved with sardonic faces! Got to go. Just get it right!

Jonathon Haskins, Chief Editor

If they made a font that could bitch-slap someone, Haskins would have used it, but in spite of that inconvenience, it resulted in making Harold quake at least 7.2 Richter-wise. (Maybe the Mercalli scale is more appropriate.)

Now, merely concentrating on monetary survival (those shrink bills were through the roof!), he set out to have in his narrative some yard gnomes come-to-life involved carving hideous countenances. Interesting, 2000 years ago the Celtics made turnip lanterns, but their Irish descendants, who remembered 'Stingy Jack' the first one to use that vegetable lamp to escape the devil, found the plentiful pumpkins easier to carve. He went to work on it, but after about 15 minutes his eyes hurt so much he decided to get some rest on his small couch nearby and finish it later. As fast as his head hit one end of the pleather cushion, and his Shoe Universe-clad feet hit the opposite armrest, his eyes closed and fluttered.

The Sun was setting very fast. Its mellow orange light spewed on the field intensified the geoluhread (Deep in Harold's memories he knew that was Old English for yellow-red) color of the large, growing, duplicating fruit throbbing upon it. Though the sky in the next second was now pitch-black, the pumpkins still glowed with an ugly ochre.

The jaundiced orbs now all looked exactly like Jonathon Haskins. Balding, with rheumy eyes and green hairy ears, the Nocturnal Knights, known in the real and waking world as goblins had their labor cut out for them, verily, verily! They unsheathed their long ragged-edged, but extremely sharp blades for ridding the netherworld of these peering eyes.
"Oh, by all that is Holy, what are you doing? No, No, Noooo!" A million pepons (Harold knew, too, this was derived from Cucurbita pepo) screamed --with a reknown distinctive harsh screech at the top of their subterranean lungs.

Demure somewhat in size only, the hooded creatures scrambled all over the patch, their knives slashing out triangles, circles and myriads of geometric shapes. The traditional beet offering was served up with the dark crimson spraying and pouring out over anything in its path. The yells were no less loud, although a gurgle made it impossible to make out any words. It takes a certain amount of fluid-letting to cause the globes to collapse.

All became quiet. The wind whispered over the Dali-esque landscape. The brambles on the outskirts received their weary denizens....the sound of a loud crow announced the dawn......

Brrrrrring. Brrrrring. Brrrrrring!

"Huh?" Harold stammered as he reached over for the phone."Hello?"

"Harold! Didn't you see the news?" The voice of Kyla, Haskin's secretary asked. "Turn on the TV, quick!" She implored as she clicked the receiver off.

Right after Harold clicked the little 13" set on, its picture warmed up to the sight of the coroners carrying out his infamous editor's bloody body out of his doorway. As if on purpose, the sheet slipped off the face, which stared at him through dark red square eye-holes, and his grimaced mouth screamed at him frozen in eternity.


For the I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Text: The 2005 Halloween Horrorquest

The Writer's Block
Jason Rekulak
Running Press, 2001

Interviews and cover letters are my least favorite part of unemployment. How many different ways can I say that I’m detail-oriented or that I think I’d do a job well? How can I vary my own stock descriptions of my skills and experience so I don’t go stark raving mad?

Now I have a tool to answer that question: The Writer’s Block.

Jason Rekulak’s bestseller boasts “786 Ideas To Jump-Start Your Imagination.” As I flip through it, it suggests, “Discipline. Imagine what life would be like if you had the occupation you’d wanted as a child. Write about the most important event or meeting you’ve ever been late to. How to Take Criticism....” This ought to be enough to get me thinking about myself and work from a new perspective.

The sturdy little book is really designed to inspire writers, of course, and it offers an array of interesting tools. “Spark words” and pictures are scattered among longer challenges like “Write about a beauty pageant - without using stereotypes.” There are chatty instructional passages about using people you know in a story, and whether to self-publish. The Writer’s Block is one of those miniature books designed to appeal to the flighty consumer - like myself - who is quickly attracted to shiny objects. On top of being packed with little pictures and quotes, the book itself looks like a small nifty prize. It measures three square inches head-on, and it is 672 pages long. It’s the first book I’ve ever seen that is actually thicker than it is tall.

The one drawback I experienced was a tendency to grasp the book, resolve to write about whatever prompt faced me on the open page, and find myself faced with an instructional mini-essay on the life of John Irving or Scott Turow. Oddly, this exposed the book’s one inconsistency: there are many such essays on different authors which include writing prompts. A few entries, however, just profile the author’s birthplace and published works.

All in all, The Writer’s Block is a pleasure to use for inspiration, entertainment, or to learn a little about the art of modern-day writing. And, maybe, to break down the writer’s block that comes along with the fortieth or fiftieth stab at gainful employment.

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