Monday, April 29, 2013

Pixy and Prim (Excerpt)

            Home was a fifth level condo on the rich block of a poor neighborhood.  It stood out like a sore thumb, pompously existing where it had no business being in the first place.   Without apology it segregated itself.  A magic line had been drawn about the lot until there was a visible difference between it and every other property. Here the grass was a rich, handsome green; there the grass was yellowed from dog piss and sunbaked until it crunched.  Here the sidewalks were perfectly smooth, no little puppy and kitty paw prints, no curious kid fingers playing hangman in the dying cement; there the sidewalks were split from belly button to sternum with tree roots and noxious weeds that, even when they went to seed, never seemed to spread to the rich block.
It was disturbingly perfect and Pixy didn’t much care for it.  Every time she drove her beat up old van down the street and pulled into the adjunct parking garage she counted herself a traitor.  She belonged down the way in some broken down studio apartment where she could take a shower and cook breakfast at the same time, not in a place with bulletproof windows stretching from the floor to the ceiling tinted for privacy and UV protection.  It was all too grand for a guttersnipe who’d crawled out from the slums of East Tenny where she’d had to wear a gas mask to bed each and every night because it was too expensive to run a ventilation system at the boarding house.  Bad air and bad people.  That’s all Pixy had ever known and that’s all she reckoned she deserved.  But not Prim.  Prim deserved the best.
            The van sputtered wetly as it came to a stop reminding her that it was running on borrowed time.  Grabbing hold of her large duffle bag filled with stripper clips, boxes of ammo, an electronic dossier with a full terabyte of information on wanted men and women between the 90th and 80th parallels, and one of Prim’s old beat up nightshirts, Pixy stepped out of the large cumbersome vehicle.  It had gang tags all over it, some of which she’d painted herself.  It was grunge art on four wheels and she was acutely aware of how much it pissed off her well-to-do neighbors that her piece of crap reconstructed Transit took up space in their otherwise illustrious showroom of a garage, but the worse her ride looked, the better it was for bounty hunting.   Shiny didn’t last long in the places she went, but no one bothered much over a vandalized hunk of rusted metal.  That and she needed the room for transport; once in a great while her employer sent her on jobs that only paid out if the mark was brought in alive.  She hated those jobs.  It was so much easier when ‘dead or’ was part of the deal.
            Pixy rounded the van and tugged the charger cable from its hiding spot beneath the grille.  She plugged it in and waited long enough to make sure the connection was secure then she headed into the building proper.
            The entire complex was ventilated; once inside the air was breathable, but in all the years she’d lived here with Prim, she’d never removed her mask before reaching her apartment.  Today was no exception.  The front deskman nodded at her, just as he always did, as she ran her key card under the scanner. 
            “Nice weather we’re having,” he said and smiled. 
            “The best,” she curtsied and moved past him toward the lift.  The deskman, despite evidence that he was a living, breathing human, seemed very much like a robot.  She’d never seen his lower half as he was always seated at his post no matter the day or hour, and for all she knew he was nothing more than an upper torso, arms, and head constructed for the sole purpose of greeting passing residents with one of four lines of dialogue, two of which were passé commentaries on the weather.  One of these days she’d pinch him and see if he had a preset response for that, too.
            The lift was a cylinder composed primarily of glass and it traveled along a vertical tube servicing all ten stories of condominiums.  Pixy pressed the Roman numeral for five and then leaned against the smooth handrail that ran the circumference of the see through car.  Across from her was a ghostly reflection, distorted by the curvature of the glass.  Her hair, which, that morning, had started out in a bun, was now a fallen, knotted mess and there was dirt all around her eyes and on her forehead. 
            “I’m gonna look like a raccoon when I finally take this damn mask off,” she said and chuckled.  Then she frowned.  She turned her head a little and her reflection went wide until it distorted into nothing. Prim often told her that she was beautiful, but if there was a pretty girl under all that grime, under the expanse of gas mask, Pixy had never seen her.
            The upward motion of the lift slowed to a stop.  A soft ping sounded.  The doors opened up to the fifth level and she stepped gingerly out into the corridor.  Her door was the first one on the right.
            If she hadn’t been wearing her stiletto boots, she might have skipped her way home, but she knew Prim wouldn’t approve of a rolled ankle, so she just walked as quickly as she could, eagerness speeding her step and making the last few moments of her journey seem to take forever.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pixy Slayton (Excerpt)

She was practical in every way but one and that was her boots.  Her current pair had stiletto heels of about six inches, which, despite their neck-breaking awesomeness, didn’t really do much for her since she barely hit the five foot mark as it was.  But it wasn’t just the heel that made these things impractical as hell; these boots were so covered over in metal spikes that it might have been more accurate to call them hedgehogs, except hedgehogs didn’t exist and these boots, no matter how hideous and extravagant, somehow did.  With huge silver zippers running up the backs and a pink corset lacing decorating the font, these boots were everything she thought she had ever wanted in fine footwear.  They were perfect in their ugliness and made it difficult to walk and impossible to run.  But she wasn’t concerned with running, which was an oddity about her.  In a world as crazy as the one Pixy Slayton had been born into, it was a safe bet that any girl with working parts and a half decent face would find herself running for her life at some point or another.
“That’s the place.  See it across the street?” The cab driver spoke through a little intercom while he remained safe within his bulletproof glass bubble that separated the front from the back.  “Credit slot is located on the door.  Pay up and run on over there.”
“Nifty.  But I don’t run,” she said.  The half-face gas mask, worn and weathered as the rest of her, distorted her voice, made it sound even manlier than usual.  After running her credit card through the little magnetic reader - which was the only way to activate the lock release on the door - she stepped out into the blistering sunlight and illustrated her point by strutting ever so slowly from the taxi to the Winthrop Machinist Shoppe where she planned to make her arrest. 
She wore a frilled and unbuttoned coat dress over a netted camisole which was transparent enough to damn near show her organs, let alone her breasts.   For bottoms she had on a pair of spandex shorts and a series of dark brown petticoats.  It was a lot of fluff, but she needed it.  Hidden beneath it all was a world of hurt.  On one hip was a rapid recharge stunner gun; on the other was a six shot revolver. 
“Amazing ain’t it?  We come up with all these creative and horrible ways to kill ourselves and in the end we always resort back to good old guns,” Pixy said to no one as she examined her beefed up 686.  After the big war, most companies went out of business, had to be reformed and renamed, christened into a new age, but not guns.   She didn’t know just how long ago Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson had died, but she did know that their guns were still high in demand an d being popped out of factories all over the world.  This one of her wasn’t one of the newer models, this one she’d found in an old Pawn Shoppe, same place she found her boots.  Some rich yuppie twat had keeled over from some designer drug or other that all rich yuppie twats were taking these days and all her belongings had been sold off to pay for her incineration.  Pixy couldn’t have been happier at this turn of events.  She was one sexy pair of boots up, and the world was one bimbo down. 
Practical, as mentioned before, was Pixy’s way. 
When the owner of the Winthrop Machinist Shoppe saw her, he looked at her boots first and then at her chest, going from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds.  Her tits were not huge, but they didn’t have to be huge to get attention if they weren’t hiding beneath more than a skimpy layer of ‘I’m easy, come an’ touch me.’  It was all part of the look she was going for.  It was more practical for her to entice her prey than chase it.  When cornered on this subject in the past she was quick to say that it wasn’t because of the boots, that it was because she didn’t like picking fights she couldn’t win and if her bounty took off, then it meant she’d already lost.   But it damn sure had nothing to do with the boots. 
Making her way to the front desk she gave a little curtsy.  Smiles weren’t part of human communication these days.  They had the pollutants in the air to thank for that and if they wanted to get really technical, they had the good old U.S of A. to thank.  But no one ever got technical, because there was no U.S. of A. anymore, just a big planet of places, the anti-Pangaea.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bad Day

Let's start at the beginning.  I woke up at 7 whimpering in pain.  The rib issue I've been suffering from came to a raging head and I contorted this way and that until I finally found a marginally acceptable way to lay so that I could breathe easily.  So I fell back to sleep and woke up well after the desperate ringing of my alarm clock and, yes, I was immediately enveloped in pain just as before.  It hurt to breathe too deep, hurt to laugh, hurt to complain about how much it was hurting, hurt to walk, to sit, to lay, to do anything.  Not in a stabbing way, but in a very heavy way.  Like a wire wrapped about my rib slowly and persistently snapping it back from the cage.  Needless to say it sucked.  Still sucks.  Because I still feel the pain.

I called work and whimpered and whined and let them know that I wouldn't make it in today and that I would be going to the doctors.  Before I left the house for my appointment, we had a bit of news.  My Aunt Nancy lives in an assisted living community and after much persuasion they permitted her little dog, Taffy, to live there with her.  Taffy is an older gal and she's kind of particular about who she likes and while she loves most everyone, there are a few she doesn't.  Well, she one such person tried to pick her up and got bit, now the home had given Nancy an ultimatum and little Taffy has to be removed.  She will either be going to live with my Cousin in the Silver Valley or with someone up here.  Long story short, Nancy's upset and now threatening to move out of the home.  Next bit of news has to deal with another aunt, Aunt Sandy.  Her husband was flown in to Kootenai today and probably won't last the night.  My mom has gone to be with her during this rough time, meanwhile another Aunt is doing what she can to soothe Nancy.

Back to me now: my regular doctor was not in today so I saw someone else.  She was nice enough, sure, but she didn't laugh at my silly little jokes (which I still managed to make through the pain) and when all was said and done she was fairly useless.  She said for me to keep taking Ibuprofen and to put an ice pack or a heating pad on the rib that is strained.   That's fine, but it fucking hurts!  Where's a little muscle relaxer so I can get through work tomorrow?  Where's a prescription for Ibuprofen 800s?  These are the things that my regular doctor would have done to help me be able to return to work tomorrow and not just curl up in a ball and sob.  But that's fine.  I'm happy to know that it's not an organ issue and just a skeletal one.  I can handle that, that's fine.  So I return home.  And start my period.  Now, I don't have those nice happy, light flow, mild cramping things.  No.  I have contractions that are damn near as bad as those of childbirth.  I hurt and I bleed and I cry and I dope myself up with anything I can find and then pass out until the first wave of attack is over.  Yes.  I now have a throbbing rib cage and a convulsing uterus.

I picked up Ellie when I got home and hugged her. She purred nice and loud and that helped.  Hannah and I are curled up in the bedroom semi watching a horror flick while I sit here with an ice pack up under my left breast and a heat pad on my tummy.  I think the stress of the past few days, plus the suddenly aching rib sort of brought on the old Red Dragon a pinch earlier than usual.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cousin, Homework, Rib

This month has proven to be just as hectic and bizarre as last month.  There has been a great deal of stress for myself, my hannah, and several others of my little social circle.  My cousin who is currently in Greeley, Colorado has recently had a very tough time of it.  In fact, a near fatal time of it.  I won't go into too many details but I will say that a crisis center was involved.  Now, for a long while, said Cousin has been very unhappy and dealing with not just one, but two very emotionally abusive individuals.  He doesn't really see it that way, but I've had too many calls from my Cousin with him sobbing on the other end for me to view the situation as anything but ultra destructive.   Needless to say, this last event was the straw that broke the camels back and my friends in Moscow have purchased him an airline ticket and come this Wednesday he will be moving back up here to be among people who love him.  He's coming home and I'm very glad for this.  He visited this past Christmas and having him here was like seeing a whole different person than the one we hear on the phone and see on Facebook.  He was so alive and so energetic and so happy and I just want that for him again.  Sadly he is having to leave his rats behind in Colorado.  He is leaving them with someone who will take care of them, but it's still a sad loss for him.  They were his babies.  Still, I think it's better for him to get away as quickly and as safely as possible, than to risk his life and sanity for his little ones.  They'll be alright and now he will too.

As far as homework has gone... I am thinking of asking my mentor for a week extension on the deadline.  Next month Hannah will be in Wichita, Kansas with her parents for an extended visit.  During that time I'm going  to bury myself in the books and glue myself to the computer for marathon nights of novel and short story composition.  So I know I can get lots done quickly in May, but this month has escaped and all I've managed to do is start reading a few novels and force out a few sentences toward short stories.  I am inspired at the moment by Enchanted Night by Steve Millhauser.  I really love the structure (structure seems to be my thing lately) and I want to try writing The Tribe of Null in a similar way.  Or at least start working on it in this way.  I need to get back into Death Man and really hash it out and I also need to begin plans to rework my vampire story too.  And dammit I just need to write, write, write!  It truly is a labor of love and I find myself constantly worrying over every little work and really, once I sit and start going at it, I have no trouble putting words where they need to go and making things sound the way I want them to.  It's just sitting down and doing it that is hard.

Lastly, yesterday and today I've had an unexplained and rather excruciating pain in my lower left rib area.  My dad thinks it sounds like I might have cracked it from the way that I've described the pain, but I am of the opinion that it is just a strained muscle or something of the like.  Either way it's sort of limited my activities today which sucks because today was my day off.  I'll be back to work tomorrow and then next two days after that.  I realize that the rest of the world works a good old fashioned 9-5, Monday through Friday, but I'm a fragile little wimp and I liked my two-three day a week schedule and will look forward to getting that back once the store manager returns from her Georgia romp.  She went down there for two weeks to help manage a Hanes superstore and we are all really excited for her but we miss her too and some of us (me) won't be working as many hours once she gets back.  Again, I'm not really complaining because the money will be nice, and I like the gals I work with and I like the job just fine, but I really do need some time to work on homework and to de-stress from all the worrying and waiting to figure out when and how we were getting my Cousin back up here.  Things are gradually beginning to get figured out.  My computer and I are doing much better - still a damn touchy mouse pad and keyboard but we're surviving and I am enjoying the benefits of having such a teeny little thing when dragging it around with me here and there.  It'll be nice in Boston this June and that's the main reason I got it so it ought to serve it's purpose well.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oh, Vizio...

So as it turns out, sleep, medication, and reality were effective in convincing me to keep my sexy little Vizio instead of turning her back into Walmart with a 'thanks for all the fish' sort of repartee.  Firstly, I am typing on it right now and while I am still having to go back and fix things here and there it's not nearly as bad as it was two days ago or even yesterday.  I even managed to sit and type on it while Hannah and I bombarded Barnes & Nobles today.  By the time I've made about half a page, I was a little tired of putting so much concentration into the act but I wasn't crying and I was actually kind of proud.

Secondly, the idea of taking the computer back began to give me mild palpitations - not so much because I thought that Walmart wouldn't take it, but more so because she is such an astronomically good deal that there would be no way I'd get another computer this cool/groovy for anywhere near the price.  Right now, this Vizio (same specs) sells for anywhere between $650 and $850 new, and around $450 to $550 used.  This one is new.  And it's Windows 7.  And it was $500.  I got a heck of a deal and apparently others are finding that they really love these little beasts because they are getting fairly high marks and also stores are running the fuck out of them.  They got bought up at Walmart so fast it's almost like it didn't carry them at all.  It was kind of a fluke that I ended up with it.

Thirdly, I ain't got no other option!  The Samsung that I lusted after yesterday in my blog post is no longer available.  Hardly any of the computers that were Windows 7 are available.  I even broadened my criteria to include mammoth screens and yet there was nary a Windows 7 in sight.  I took all of these things to mean that I just needed to be patient and breathe and give Vignette a little more time.  That's what I named the little beast: Vignette.  Because she's like a little slice.  They really mean it when they call the Vizio CT14 Ultrabook a 'thin and light' laptop.  When she's closed down flat she almost disappears.  Kind of like Tim Roth in 'Rob Roy' during the final duel between him ad Liam Neeson.  I swear that there are moments when he turns just right and his skinny little British body seems to slurp into another dimension and disappear right there on screen.

Something interesting that I hadn't known prior to nabbing this little beauty from the shelves a few days back was that Vizio only entered the PC scene around June of last year.  This was one of their first babies on the market from what I can tell and again, I am lucky to have snagged it for this price.  Now that the word is out, they are selling like hot cakes.  I think in a weeks time, when I am used to the super responsive mouse pad and the extremely thin keys, I will have nothing but good things to say about her.  For now, this blog was further practice before I begin really hunkering down on novel stuff for my homework tomorrow.  I have lots to write and not much time to do it in.  I cannot believe that the second residency is just around the corner.  This time when I go to Boston, I will more than likely have a little Vizio by my side.

If he can type on a flat keyboard then surely I can figure it out.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Does Not Compute

I 'picked' the wrong one!
So I have a new laptop now.  I've had about a day to access the pros and the cons.  The lappy that I ended up with has it all going on inside - it is as Hannah's dad says 'faster than snot.'  It is a Vizio ultrabook that is slick and sleek.  It does not have an optical drive or an ethernet port.  Did I mention it's slick?  But the external stuff is where I'm not super thrilled.  Inside - this baby is awesome and the graphics are wonderful - but on the outside we have a keyboard that drives me up the wall.  To give you an example of my frustrations this blog was actually started yesterday and I got to just before this sentence when I gave up in a fit of sobbing because every time I pushed a button it either didn't hit or it hit twice giving my text an overall drunken appearance, not to mention that the placement of the mouse pad made it impossible to type without clicking down somewhere else and having to stop, readjust, and start over.  This being said, I am currently using my large and luscious 17.3" screen Acer Aspire.  I bought this about three years ago after a good tax return and I love this computer for its mammoth gorgeousity (that is, too, a word!  Just ask Anthony Burgess!) but I am a bit of butterfingers when it comes to hauling this beauty around and have dropped it several times.  Now, aside from a red line that runs vertically along the screen, and a subtle rattling from within it's perfectly fine, but I figured it might be time to retire it to Netflix console and use a different computer for my heavy duty word processing and also to travel with me to the residencies in Boston.  Also new toys are fun, nuff said!
The Pretty Loser
The Usurper PC
But the cute little Vizio (which, by the way, was only $500 straight up at Walmart) is not turning out to be such a fun new toy.  I'm going to sleep tonight and take a deep breath in the morning and then try and type something, anything.  It's so slim and the keys are just a millimeter above being completely flat that I just can't work it.  This computer has got the brains and I would say it's got the body too, but if we're going to keep with that metaphor, this bitch ain't got no hands.  So to speak.  It's pretty to look at and it'll wow with you graphics and speed, but for a person who's main reason for having a new laptop in the first place is quick typing, it's just not the perfect match.  Again, I am going to give it a little more time (a minute or so, I suppose) and then I'm going to take it back to Walmart and tell them that for my needs this little beauty just isn't cutting it.  If they take it back and give me a full refund, which they damn well better, then I'll return home and put in an order for a Samsung.  The mouse pad is where I need it to be and the keyboard is reminiscent of my Acer.  I think this might be a better match.  I have to check out a few more things but the only other option out there is an Asus that is a pinch cheaper but also bigger.  I really would love to keep the screen size down to 14" if possible just to make travel and mobile use a little easier.

Hannah scored well with her computer purchase.  The only drawback to her sexy new Toshiba is the dreaded Windows 8.  After hearing her fuss and fume at the awful Operating System I am very convinced that I lack the shitolerance (and yes, that's a word as well, as coined properly by Venise Berry) to deal with the multitude of asinine steps to not only get into your computer but to also put it to sleep and shut it down.  Also there's no little start menu button and that pretty much obliterates my little world.  There will be no Windows 8 for me, thank you very much!  My girlfriend's father shared a video on his blog a while back when he first encountered the atrocity of Windows 8 and I highly recommend it for a good laugh, but bear in mind that the reason it's so funny is because it's true.

Or this one looks wonderful too!  Love the graphics.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Mysterious Mat

Ellie and I have a morning ritual.  It involves a tail thwacking my lips, sharp claws clutching into my skin as I roll over in bed trying to avoid said tail, and then the inevitable cuteness of motorboat purrs vibrating my back as she lays there triumphant on her human cushion.  Sometimes I grab her and wrangle her down to lay beside me and not on me, but most of the time she perches between my shoulder blades if I am on my tummy, or she snuggles up persistently beneath my chin if I am on my back.  On one particular morning last week, she came in for our ritual and just as she was curling up on my hip, I grabbed her and snuggled her.  As I pet along her tummy I felt a large, oddly shaped mat.  It was somewhat wet - which I attributed to her atrocious drinking manners - and it was harder than a traditional mat.  I honestly imagined the worst and figured she'd somehow managed to get a large poop stuck to her puff-ball body.  With a grimace I gently pushed her away from me and to the edge of the bed.  She let out a squawk as I nudged her over.  The squawk wasn't the only think I heard; from elsewhere in the apartment I heard my father saying something like 'ah, look at this mess.'  The discovery of a mess didn't really strike me as odd - we often have messes and they are often caused by Ellie.  It wasn't until later that I wondered if the mess had anything to do with the lumpy wetness in the cat's fur.

Time seemed to slip away and I found myself rushing in a mad dash getting ready for work.  I was already out the door before I could really discuss this mysterious mat with Hannah or with my parents and so I headed out figuring that someone would find it in their heart to rid the little Black Persian of whatever in the hell she'd managed to get stuck to her.  When I returned home that night, the mystery had been solved.  The mess my father had come across was an overturned vase of roses.  There was water all over the wet bar between the kitchen and dining room as well as all over the floor.  Roses, petals, and large leaves decorated the place in a ravaged state.  Hannah's words to me that night were of this variety: "So, one of the cats decided we didn't need roses anymore.  And I know which one it was because the little shit had evidence stuck in her fur.  She had a huge rose leaf on her!"  That explained the oddly shaped mat as well as the wetness.  My first reaction was relief - so I hadn't been inadvertently stroking poo that morning, this was a good thing! - my next reaction was to giggle.  It was just like Ellie to toddle off from the scene of the crime dressed in pieces of the mischief.  The cat has no poker face, and arguably, no face at all.

This is not Ellie (she is the least photogenic cat in the world)
but this is close enough!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Further Computer Lusting

I think that on-line ordering is the only way we will get Windows 7.  So here are the contenders at the final stretch.  I have a feeling I'm going to try my hand at refurbished because that Asus is one hell of a deal and since I'm using mine mainly for word processing I don't need it to be spectacular, but then again, since it's for homework there's the draw to get a brand spanking new baby.  Hannah's options are mainly the bottom two.  We are still going to zip around and see what shop has what when we are ready to make the final purchase, but I really think these are our options.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Craft Analysis for Packet Three

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a craft analysis or it its just glorified literary vomit, but I was rather proud of how this came together (not so proud of the ending) and thought I would share it here for those that are curious as to what I'm talking about when I go on about craft analyses for my MFA. This is a longer one than I usually submit.  We have the option of doing two smaller ones (each one analyzing a craft element of one specific book, story, or poem) or one larger one that typically entails two or more sources. Please excuse the completely uninspired title.

Narrative Structure Sets the Mood

            There is a lot to be said for setting the right mood.  A theatre does it via a lowering of the house lights and the sensuous drawing back of the proscenium curtain.  A young suitor might set the mood with music and flowers and carefully chosen words that even Cyrano himself would be proud to take credit for.  In a business meeting the mood depends upon the line graphs – that the line for profit be at an incline and the line for losses be at a decline – and the colors and geometric shapes that make up the slides of the accompanying power point presentation.  When it comes to novels, setting the mood is just like getting ready for a play, gearing up for a date, or laying out the plans for the quarterly report.  The curtains are drawn, the table is set, and the slides begin showing scene after scene.
            In Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the mood, that of melancholy and irrepressible anxiety, is established not only by the visual and emotional cues of the setting within the text, but also through the narrative structure of the book itself.  Just as the venue for an off-Broadway show can alter the mood for that night’s performance, so, too, might the chapter format and intermittent white space affect the mood of a novel.  Through examining the similarities of mood and the differences of structure in I am Legend and The Road it becomes clear that there is more than one way to engage the audience in the suspense of a dystopian landscape. 
            Though there are many differences in Matheson’s and McCarthy’s stories, the internal motif of despair and salvage remain the same.  Both stories are notably dystopian and share themes of isolation and perseverance.  I am Legend constantly reminds us of Robert Neville’s solitude as he barricade’s himself within his house every single night.  The loneliness continues throughout the day as well as evident from such details as, “On both sides of him the houses stood silent, and against the curbs the cars were parked, empty and dead,” and "He couldn't walk to Santa Monica, so he had to try using one of the many cars parked around the neighborhood.  But most of them were inoperative for one reason or another: a dead battery, a clogged fuel pump, no gasoline, flat tires” (Matheson 24, 49).  In The Road, the man and the boy encounter the same sort of desolation: “On the outskirts of the city they came to a supermarket.  A few old cars in the trashstrewn parking lot.  They left the cart in the lot and walked the littered aisles.  In the produce section in the bottom of the bins they found a few ancient runner beans and what looked to have once been apricots, long since dried to wrinkled effigies of themselves [...] By the door were two softdrink machines that had been tilted over into the floor and opened with a prybar.  Coins everywhere in the ash.  He sat and ran his hand around in the works of the gutted machines and in the second one it closed over a cold metal cylinder.  He withdrew his hand slowly and sat looking at a Coca Cola” (McCarthy 23).  By demonstrating seclusion using elements that the audience is familiar with – empty streets, broken down cars, a supermarket, fruit, and cola – the authors set up an inescapable mood of loss.  Though similar settings and imagery help to invoke visceral responses, it is the differences in structure laid out by Matheson and McCormack that take the mood of their respective works to a whole new level.
            Matheson’s piece, I am Legend, is highly organized in its structure.  The novel, which is less than 200 pages in length, consists of twenty-one chapters and is divided into four parts.  The chapters are numbered and many include partitions of whitespace which indicate skips in location, time, or situation.  I am Legend is extremely segmented and orderly when compared to the fluidity of McCormack's The Road which has no chapter breaks or headings of any kind.  The first page of Matheson’s highly structured novel is set up as follows:

PART ONE: January 1976
Chapter One
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back (Matheson 13).

The novel continues along this format informing the audience of the entire scope of the timeline: PART TWO: March 1976, Chapter Six; PART THREE: June 1978, Chapter Fifteen; and PART FOUR: January 1979, Chapter Twenty (Matheson 49, 119, 157).  This layout is not that unusual, but when compared to McCarthy’s piece, it becomes a generous point of reference providing two numerical place marks (part and chapter) as well as a sense of temporal location.  The opening for The Road gives us none of these things.  We turn the title page and find a modicum of white space followed by “When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.  Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world" (McCarthy 3). 
            While I am Legend flushes out each part with approximate dates, The Road infuses the text with random clues as to how long the world has been covered in ash and how long the man and the boy have been traveling through it together.   Matheson’s novel draws clear lines, segregating flashbacks into chapters all their own, using transitional phrases to encompass reverie, and also employing cliffhanger-like resolutions to each segment as a way to propel the story onward while augmenting suspense.  I am Legend is told in a way that cues the audience into what is happening but keeps them guessing at what is going to happen next.  

            "The dog looked up at him with its dulled, sick eyes and then its tongue faltered out and licked roughly and moistly across the palm of Neville's hand.
            Something broke in Neville's throat.  He sat there silent while tears ran slowly down his cheeks.
            In a week the dog was dead” (Matheson 110)

            "He stood breathing heavily, looking at her [Ruth’s] frightened face.  His throat moved slowly as he remembered the shock of waking up and thinking she was Virge.
            Abruptly he dropped her arm and turned away.  And he'd though the past was dead.  How long did it take for the past to die?"  (Matheson 149).

In McCarthy’s novel, however, the use of white space between each and every paragraph gives the story a dreamlike delivery which adds to the sense of helplessness and loss of control.  The audience has to question what is real, what is flashback, what is happening chronologically, and what is a dream.

“They entered the drawingroom.  The shape of a carpet beneath the silty ash.  Furniture shrouded in sheeting.  Pale squares on the walls where paintings once had hung.  In the room on the other side of the foyer stood a grand piano.  Their own shapes sectioned in the thin and water glass of the window there.  They entered and stood listening.  They wandered through the rooms like skeptical housebuyers.  They stood looking out through the tall windows at the darkening land” (McCarthy 206).

“He woke in the night and lay listening.  He couldnt remember where he was.  The thought made him smile.  Where are we? he said. 
            What is it, Papa?
            Nothing.  We’re okay.  Go to sleep.
            We’re going to be okay, arent we Papa?
            Yes.  We are.
            And nothing bad is going to happen to us.
            That’s right.
            Because we’re carrying the fire.
            Yes.  Because we’re carrying the fire.

In the morning a cold rain was falling.  It gusted over the car even under the overpass and it danced in the road beyond.” (McCarthy 83)

Note the white space after the last line of dialogue and note the dialogue itself.  There are no quotation marks around the spoken words and even certain contractions (arent and couldnt) lack the apostrophes that make them contractions in the first place.  The disintegration of structure adds to anxiety.  Glaring errors in spelling, interesting combinations of words such as ‘drawingroom,’ ‘sodamachines,’ and ‘housebuyers’ disrupt the audience’s absorption.  These things plus a lack of traditional grammar (quotation marks) add to the overall sensation of weaving between dreams and reality, the past and the present.
            Another contrast between these two novels is the application of speaker tags.  Interestingly enough, The Road which has a minimum of two characters at all times, rarely uses speaker tags, while I am Legend, with its almost exclusive one-man cast, uses speaker tags freely.  This is a small thing and yet it is another way in which structure can affect the mood.  In the former novel, the lack of tags makes the words ephemeral and fleeting and adds to the sense of loss; in the latter one, the inclusion of speaker tags makes it all the more obvious just how lonely Robert Neville truly is.
            Thumbing through these books, one can see how the physical layout mirrors the internal struggles of these novels, inviting the audience to feel the desperation and the hopelessness that Matheson and McCarthy create in their respective worlds.  Matheson’s novel centers on one man’s perseverance through continual maintenance of his home.  Hammer, nails, generator, water tank, industrial freezer and a locking garage are essential for Neville’s survival, and this obsession with organization – though not necessarily cleanliness – is depicted by the careful composition of the chapters and parts.  The fact that the chapters are fairly brief helps to break up the monotony of the dreary cycle of ‘repair house, kill vampires, barricade self indoors, and repeat’ that Neville lives every day.  In The Road, the main characters follow an old beat up map trying desperately to make it to the coast even though they have no idea what will happen when they get there.  The structure, just like their path, is twisting, unrelenting (no chapter breaks), and filled with rest stops (white space).  The frequent use of white space breaks up the action and chops up the scenes until we are left with a bread crumb trail through a thick forest where it’s only too easy to go in circles.  This is perfect for the McCarthy novel. 
            In these novels, the narrative structure not only builds and enhances the mood throughout the story, but it also compliments the endings.  The structure of the Matheson novel is one that clings to order, which frustrates and exhausts the audience because how can a dystopian vampire novel ever end with any sense of order?  Yet, with Neville’s death at the end of the story, it becomes clear that order will indeed be maintained and while there is a sense that it isn’t fair for him to have to die, there is also relief in that things can only get better.  The novel concludes with:

            “A coughing chuckle filled his throat.  He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills.  Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs.  Full circle.  A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
            I am legend" (Matheson 170).

By the end the audience has run the gamete of emotions right alongside Neville and the mood of anxiety and frustration disperses into the inevitability of two simple words: full circle.  The Road offers a very similar ending yet a very different conclusion for the mood.  While in I am  Legend, the anxiety ends with Neville’s death, in McCarthy’s tale, the man’s death serves only to prolong that anxiety as now his son, the boy, must carry on without him.  There is no peace for the audience and the mood of unease augments as the boy joins up with a new group of people.  It is generally assumed that this new group, this family, is composed of honorable human beings, but the world they live in is still submerged in utter chaos where horror, rape, death, and cannibalism potentially wait around every corner"Of a thing which could not be put back.  Not be made right again.  In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery," marks the esoteric and foreboding conclusion to the story, but not the conclusion of the fearful mood (McCarthy 287). 
            It was with great insight that these authors used the structure to manipulate the audience’s feelings.  What better way to illustrate the extremes of careful organization and preventative maintenance or the complete lack thereof?  Both Matheson and McCarthy were able to set very dark and upsetting moods for their novels and a huge part of their success stems from how they presented their tales.  If they had structured their novels differently, would they still have been as triumphant?  There is no certain answer for that question but consider this: the perfect venue does not make for the perfect play and the perfect date can take place while trapped inside a light-flickering, broken elevator car.  It isn’t the structure alone that makes or breaks the mood of a piece; it is how the author uses the structure to accent, reaffirm, and illustrate the text that makes narrative structure a useful tool in the arsenal of craft.    

 Works Cited:

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.