Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why jumping on the bandwagon for books, movies, and television is a mixed bag

I’m usually in front of most bandwagons. When I fall behind, though, it generally takes me forever to catch up.

I guess that’s why I didn’t read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl until this past weekend. And, before you ask, it’s not so I can go and see the movie. I will eventually see the movie – but probably not until it’s out on Blu-Ray or On Demand.

Anyway, back to the book. I kept hearing how well it was written and how amazing the “twist” was, and I figured it sounded interesting. So, I finally sat down and read it.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that it was overwritten. I mean way overwritten. I don’t think everything has to be written in simplistic sentences – and I love the Terry Brooks and Stephen King prose forms – but the inner-monologues (especially when it comes to Nick) just go on and on – repeating things until I thought: I just can’t hear this one more time.

And I get why we’re not supposed to warm up to Nick at first. He’s a suspect in his wife’s disappearance. There’s supposed to be something “odd” about him. When I finally did get to the twist, it wasn’t a big surprise. I was expecting more actually – which is why word-of-mouth phenomenon can backfire on readers and viewers.

And, while I don’t want to get into a debate about the ending because I don’t want to ruin it for people, since I found the vast majority of people in this book to be unlikeable, I will say I was fine with the ending.

While I didn’t dislike Gone Girl, I certainly didn’t think it was amazing either. It did get me thinking about the nature of a bandwagon, however.

Sometimes, when you come to the party late, you find you love what you’ve been missing. That happened to me with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. I didn’t start watching Buffy until late in the second season (and then never missed an episode). I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until the fourth book hit shelves. And all three of The Hunger Games books were out – and on top of best sellers lists for years – before I finally took the plunge.

Oh, and I came to the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sensation late – and I absolutely loved all three of those books.

On the flip side, when I caved to the Twilight pressure I wanted to smack someone I hated the books (and especially Bella) so much. When I sampled Divergent, I wanted to smack someone again (talk about a terrible ending – The Village meets The Truman Show anyone?) and this time I wanted to smack them with the Sears Tower in Chicago. And, when I finally check out the television show Grimm I wanted to laugh (and not in a good way) because I found it to be so poorly done.

Everyone has different tastes. I know that. Sometimes the buildup helps a show or book, and
sometimes it hurts.

I have a feeling it hurt where Gone Girl is concerned. It is an interesting twist. I think the writing was decent – although obviously padded – and I have real trouble believing anyone writes in their journal with the amount of detail Amy used in the book (even a rampant narcissist and sociopath).

I just don’t think it was the be all and end all of modern fiction like some people are suggesting. It was merely “interesting” to me. It was a decent character study.

I will, however, check out the movie down the line.

What do you think? What bandwagon have you jumped on that you wish you could jump off?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why American Horror Story: Freak Show is already wearing on me

I go back and forth on American Horror Story.

I was really excited for the first season, and I thought the quality associated with the show for the first handful of episodes in that season was stellar.

Unfortunately, just like everything else he’s ever produced, Ryan Murphy took it a step too far. He always takes it a step too far – which is the problem I consistently have with each American Horror Story season.

AHS: Asylum started out phenomenally – creating a gritty world that you wanted to know more about. The Nazi doctor angle was inspired, and the social commentary affixed to being able to lock a woman up for being a lesbian in those days was poignant.

That was all painted on a backdrop of dueling serial killers working in the past and present day.

Then Murphy insisted on including an Anne Frank angle – and then reinforcing a strong season with
alien abductions and magical hybrid baby births. Ugh.

I was a big fan of the Coven arc – mostly because I loved the New Orleans setting and I thought Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett were fantastic additions to the AHS universe. As a whole, I do think the Coven arc held together the best – but it still wasn’t perfect.

Which brings us to AHS: Freak Show, which debuted Wednesday night.

The whole point of AHS was to create a horror anthology. Sure, because Murphy is in charge, those horror anthologies often go off course. I’d rather see genuine fear than forced sexual innuendo that is meant to titillate instead of terrify the viewer.

For example? Evan Peters went a little too far for me in his rubber rapist outfit in the first season. Now, in the first episode of Freak Show, we see he has “magic hands.” That whole scene was just about pushing the envelope – not about character development – which is why it failed.

Then you have a sociopath who wants to buy conjoined twins for god knows what reason – although
I’m betting it’s sexual and nefarious – and a killer clown. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think the people the clown killed deserved to die. I mean, who takes a look at a creepy clown like that and doesn’t think something odd is up? And why did that girl in the field trip? That was just so ... lame.

And then there's the whole time traveling music thing. Jessica Lange is singing a David Bowie song (loved the blue eye shadow, though) in the 1950s? How does that work?

I get the alienation associated with these freak shows -- and I think the arc could be fantastic -- but immediately going for multiple murders with a freaky clown, conjoined twins, and a lobster-clawed man seems like a contrived and insulting way to go.

Right from the get go this season, it seems as if AHS has gone too far for me – and that’s usually something that only happens on the back half of a season. I’ll still check it out – but I’m not exactly thrilled with how this arc is going already.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Freak Show?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The top five things I want to see on this season of The Walking Dead

One of the only television shows I’m truly passionate about these days – The Walking Dead – returns Sunday, and I honestly can’t wait.

I’ve given up a lot of shows over the past year – some were long overdue, some just lost my interest, and others (cough*Once Upon a Time*cough) are barely hanging on. The Walking Dead is one of the only shows that I’m actually excited about.

When we last saw our heroes, the bulk of them had been reunited in Terminus. It wasn’t exactly a happy reunion, since they were locked in a box car together and, when Rick and his group were herded through the sanctuary, it certainly looked like the Terminus folks were cannibals.

I’m not particularly worried about Rick and the rest of our survivors being eaten (although, it would be a gutsy move and I nominate Sasha or Bob for the task if it happens), but I am worried about everyone being reunited.
Everything I’ve read about this season says the folks at Terminus are not going to be the big bad – and it does sound like people are splitting up again. Eugene needs to get to Washington D.C. to save the world – and some of our heroes are probably going to go with him.

I can’t see Rick being one of them, and there are still a few other things to deal with this season.

So, what are the top five most important things I want to see happen this season:

5. Rick needs to pick a persona – and stick with it: We’ve seen Rick run the gamut of human emotion, from confusion, to happiness, to sadness, to rage, to downright fury. I didn’t quite understand his turn as farmer early in season four. Yes, I know the writers wanted us to see that going back to a normal life was out of the question for these people, but after running the Governor out of town it didn’t make a lot of sense to me for Rick to just give in the way he did. His return to warrior was welcome – and Carl finally showing him that he was a man, too, was needed. In the end, it was Rick who rallied his troops. I want to see that continue this season.

4. Daryl needs some action: I was all for Carol and Daryl to get it on a few years ago – and I’m still
not opposed to it. I’m not sure if it’s in the cards, though. I think we’re going to get Carol and Tyrese instead – which makes me worried they’re going to try and force the Daryl and Beth issue. When we were introduced to Beth, she was still a minor living in her father’s home. Now, she may have turned eighteen, but Norman Reedus is 45, and Daryl is just too old for Beth. It’s creepy. And dirty. And I don’t want to see them go there. I do think poor Daryl needs some loving, though – I’m just not quite sure who is going to give it to him.

3. Trimming the cast: This is inevitable on a show like this. People are going to die. And, while the bulk of the Woodbury folks introduced at the end of season three died by the middle of season four – either by flu or the Governor’s attack – we still had a fairly big cast at the end of the year. I think that Sasha, Bob, Tara, and Rosita are the obvious choices for first victim – and I’m fine with any of them going. At least one big character we’ve grown to love bites it each season, though, and this season I’m worried about Glen. There was a lot of foreshadowing to Hershel’s death before it happened, and I feel Glen was getting that treatment at the end of season four. I love the character, and I’ll be sad to see him go, but when you look at the other options, I’m not sure there’s another choice. Maggie and Glen are the romantic core of this show – which could change things drastically. I’m hoping Glen survives – but I’m not sure, especially given how small the core group is now, who else they could kill off. While I do think Rick will eventually die – I think he’s safe until the final season. And, if Daryl dies, people will riot. Who else does that leave?

2. Beth needs to be rescued: This may come as a surprise to folks, but I want Beth rescued and not
killed. Yeah, I said it. The singing blonde has been at the top of my hit list for two seasons, but I actually started to like her in season four. Sure, it took Daryl to humanize her – but it took her to give Daryl more layers, too. And, while I could still take or leave Beth as a solitary character, I think her return to the fold is what Maggie and Daryl need. I still don’t want her and Daryl paired together. He’s too old for her and it’s creepy – but I do want her to come home to them. After Hershel’s death, I want Maggie and Beth to get their reunion.

1. Carol’s return to the fold: Carol got the strongest arc last season (well, her and Daryl). She went from a battered woman in season one, to a grieving mother in season two, to a woman who started thinking for herself but still needed to be saved in season three, to a total badass who killed two sick people in cold blood to protect the rest of the group in season four. Not only did she admit her culpability in his girlfriend’s death to Tyrese (fully expecting to be killed), but she also put down a “messed up” Lizzy by shooting her in the back. Each season of this show seems to have two episodes that simply take your breath away. Carol was the star of the second this past season. I’m hoping the reunion between Rick, Carol, and Judith (and Tyrese and Sasha as a secondary) happens early. Both Rick and Carol deserve a little forgiveness – and for something good to happen.

What do you think? What are you most excited about this season?

GENERAL HOSPITAL: The five reasons I'm no longer a daily General Hospital watcher

You might have noticed I haven’t written about General Hospital lately (or, maybe you haven’t).
The truth is, I’ve almost completely lost interest.

Yes, I’ve been busy with other stuff – but I have taken to deleting my DVR’d episodes of the show
without watching them.

That’s a comment on the writing, folks, because nothing has tuned me out like this before (and I’ve been watching religiously since I was a small child).

While I applaud Ron Carlivait for bringing some of our beloved vets back to town – I cannot give him a pass on the (numerous) other bad choices he’s made. When I do watch the show now, it’s an experiment in frustration and sadness.

So, what are my big gripes?

1. There are too many characters: The canvas is too big. Period. You need to get dump at least five contract players, and another handful of recurring ones to make room. You can’t build momentum in a story when you have this many characters. There are a lot of little islands in that cast who lift right out. Start with Sabrina (she can’t be redeemed now anyway), Felix, Olivia, Franco (I love Roger Howarth – but the character is a dud), Jordan, Shawn, Rosalie, and Nina (I can’t name one person who likes the character). Then, bump off Ava in a murder mystery (Maura West is a dream, but Ava can’t be redeemed), and bring on Scotty and Lucy’s kid to date Morgan. This gives you history and pares down the cast.

2. Romance: Soaps are called “love in the afternoon” for a reason. How about some actual love?
Watching Liz flip flop on Nikolas (and him do the same with Liz and Britt) isn’t entertaining. And now that Liz is going to be panting after the Mobsicle again? Try to build a love story for Nik and Britt. Watching Carly and Sonny pant after each other is old (and one of the reasons GH’s ratings tanked in the first place). Sorry, Maurice Benard and Laura Wright are fun to watch separately – and as friends – but they have absolutely no sexual chemistry. Patrick and Sam would’ve worked after Jason and Robin both “died” but now there are issues. Sam knows Patrick’s heart will always belong to Robin – who is alive. Patrick knows the Mobiscle was alive a lot longer than Sam thought he was – and now he’s betraying her. Sam was just professing her love to Silas a month ago. It’s kind of too late now. When Sam knows the Mobsicle is back, it’s going to be “Patrick Who?” When Patrick realizes what was going on with Robin – and how all the signs were there – he’s going to look stupid. Again. Quite frankly, the only couple with rooting value right now is Maxie and Nathan and now we’re getting a contrived hurdle being thrown in their path. How about giving us some actual love before you tear them apart?

3. Characters acting out of character: Would Patrick really lie to Sam about the Mobsicle given what happened with Robin? Would Robin really voluntarily leave Emma after what happened with Robert and Anna?  Would Anna really believe Robin’s excuse knowing the Cassidines? Wouldn’t Lulu notice that her father can’t remember her husband’s name? Wouldn’t someone in town realize that Luke would have gone after Lulu when she was taken? Would Sabrina try to kill a baby after losing hers (kidnap, yes, but kill?)? Would Mac ever not go after Maxie? Why didn’t Robin go to Sonny to have him follow her to Jason in the first place? I mean, the list of contrivances and out-of-control actions is a slap in the face to fans. It’s a soap. That doesn’t mean the characters have to betray themselves.

4. Plot driven: I understand you need plot, but I also understand you need more than plot. We want to see these characters bond. Some of my favorite all-time scenes involve characters chatting and having fun – not jumping from plot point to plot point. Examples: Brenda finding out Robin is HIV positive, Jason carrying Robin off the stage at the Nurse’s Ball, Sonny and Luke taking Lucky camping as a kid, Alan and Monica freaking out (and Luke and Laura being proud) when Emily and Lucky ran away together), Lucky’s reaction to finding Liz in the bushes, Luke helping a shot Nikolas, etc. It was the human emotion attached to these stories – not the plot of these stories – that drove the narrative. How about a little of that back? How about a realistic conversation between Liz and Lulu about Nikolas, Lucky, AJ and Ric? How about Anna and Alexis getting drunk and talking about the Cassidines? How about Liz and Carly getting drunk and admitting all of the awful mistakes they’ve made? Just … something that’s not a plot point being driven home in our heads.

5. Baby stories: I know baby stories have been a staple of soaps for years, but RC seems to have a certain … proclivity when it comes to them. This is the man who gave us the Jessica and Natalie baby debacle on OLTL – a story that made me want to kill both of them at one point or another over the years. Since coming to GH:

Maxie became a surrogate, lost the baby, got pregnant with her own baby, pretended it was someone else’s baby, gave birth, lost the baby to the “adoptive parents,” reclaimed the baby, and then lost the baby again. Now she’s in court to fight for the baby, but there’s clearly something up with that judge.

Lulu is frozen and has no viable eggs. She enlists Maxie as a surrogate. She loses the baby. She finds out her other embryos are missing. She finds out someone else gave birth to her baby. She reclaims the baby. She immediately wants another baby (like in days – so stupid). She finds out she might be able to carry her own baby. She reclaims an embryo from Obrecht. She then finds out the Cassidines have made embryos from her eggs and Stravros’ sperm (Ugh!). Now she wants another baby.

Sabrina got dumped on her wedding day. She ended up pregnant. She got in an accident, gave birth to a towel, then watched the baby die. Now she’s trying to kill Ava’s baby.

Ava had creepy crypt sex with Sonny and now she’s pregnant. Sabrina wants to kill her baby. Nina wants to steal her baby. Sonny can’t kill her until she has the baby. And Morgan? He’s just an idiot.

Starr had a teenage baby (thank you RC) that was switched with a dead baby. Then, the minute she came to GH, that baby was run off a cliff and killed.

Nina, who is a little long in the tooth to be trying to get pregnant, has been out of a coma for a few weeks and now she’s going to steal a baby – and she’s making hit lists.

Sam got pregnant -- maybe with her possible rapist’s baby – gave birth in a storm, had Heather Webber steal the baby and switch it out with Tea’s dead baby. Then Sam got her baby back, found out it was Jason’s baby, and then the kid needed a bone marrow transplant.

Am I missing anyone? Because all of that in a couple-year period is too much.

I probably won’t ever completely give up on GH – and I am still hopeful the soap will return to greatness. I can honestly say, though, I am no longer a daily watcher.

Anyone else having this conundrum?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

TELEVISION: Has Once Upon a Time lost the magic?

ABC’s Once Upon a Time is one of those shows I can’t make my mind up about.

The first season was great. The introduction to the characters was spot-on – and the show runners managed to seamlessly weave flashbacks from the Enchanted Forest in with the present day world.

The season one finale was breathtaking – with the greatest twist on true love’s kiss ever.

And then?


The second season started off seconds after the first concluded, and viewers now found themselves in a world that would never be the same again.

Emma realized that she was, indeed, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming – and they’d hidden her in a magic tree to protect her from a curse. Unfortunately for Emma, her life wasn’t exactly Cabbage Patch Kids and cartoons. No, she grew up in the foster care system, where she was neglected her entire life.

While Snow tried to forge a bond with her daughter right away, things spun out of control when
Emma and her newly discovered mother were shuttled through a portal to the Enchanted Kingdom – where they remained for the first third of the second season – away from everyone.

This was our first clue that the writers were penning “ministories” instead of complete arcs.

The first season was one complete arc – and it was beautifully done. The second and third seasons were broken into parts.

Part One: Emma and Snow in the Enchanted Forest.

Part Two: Cora’s assault on Storybrooke.

Part Three: The “Agency” comes to town.

Part Four: Neverland.

Part Five: Pan in Storybrooke.

Part Six: Return from the Enchanted Forest.

The problem is, by creating these “acts” – the writers actually built stumbling blocks into the narrative. And, when they did that, a show that was built on the fantasy of fairy tales lost all the fun associated with them.

Where is the fun associated with Emma being the same age as her parents? Where was the stern talk with Neal (or even Hook) about their intentions with his daughter?

I understand Ginnifer Goodwin’s real life pregnancy was a curveball (and she got so big it was virtually impossible to hide her pregnancy) but there were ways around it. A new baby seems like a contrivance.

I rewatched the third season last week, trying to find something positive to say about it. This is what I
came up with: I still like the actors. I like the chemistry. I like Storybrooke itself. I do not like the contrivances or whiplash associated with these stories, though. It’s like there’s no forethought.

What am I talking about?

Example One: Regina’s romance with Robin Hood is so rushed, we never get a chance to get used to them as a couple. Whether it be during their year in the Enchanted Forest – or their weeks together in Storybrooke – we never got to see the emotional attachment of the couple. That’s why Emma and Hook saving Marian and bringing her back to Storybrooke in the finale meant absolutely nothing. We can’t grieve with Regina because we never saw her fall in love. Marian’s return is just a way to make Regina evil again.

Example Two: Hook and Emma’s sudden “love.” I have never been a fan of over-propped characters – and Hook is a prime example of an over-propped character. I think the actor is charming and the character has promise. I still don’t buy this undying love. Hook spent a few days with Emma and Snow in the Enchanted Forest before they escaped. He then spent about a half hour with her in Storybrooke when he returned. He then offered his boat to find Henry – but that trip was filled with Neal’s return (although Hook was already acting like Emma was his soulmate) and saving Henry. When they got back to town, the curse hit, and all the fairy tale characters were sent to the Enchanted forest while Emma and Henry had their memories wiped and lived in New York for a year. Then Hook shows up, still besotted with her, and she finally remembers and they spend another week together while all the wicked witch stuff is going down (and that week included Neal dying and the birth of a baby). That means these two have spent three weeks together. How are they in love? It’s ludicrous.

Example Three: Neal’s death. I don’t care whether Neal and Emma ended up together or not. She’s
had way too many love interests in my book. If I had to pick one for her – one she had actual chemistry and spent time with – it would be Graham. Yeah, I said it. I feel nothing when Emma and Hook are on the screen together.  I’m talking about Neal, though. Neal’s death seemed like nothing more than an easy way to clear the path for Hook (and the two of them could've had a totally awesome bromance). How can Rumplestiltskin’s son – Henry’s father – Emma’s ex be out of story that quickly? It seriously ticks me off. Neal did not have to be a part of Emma’s happily ever after. He certainly should’ve been a part of Henry’s, though.

My worry with Once Upon a Time is that it’s the new Heroes. What am I talking about? NBC’s Heroes had a tremendous first season, a grand story arc that left viewers on pins and needles all season to see what would happen. I’ll tell you what happened, the story flopped. The show never recovered from that stellar first season and was cancelled prematurely.

I don’t want that to happen to Once Upon a Time.

The writers need to step up their game, though.

I have been close to quitting this show twice. The first was at the mid-season finale last year, when the new “curse” came down and cast everything into doubt again. I was sucked back in.

Then I was completely bored for the entire spring run. I was considering giving up again, and then the writers delivered a great season finale that allowed Emma to see her parents fall in love and finally “get” what being a fairy tale character is all about.

I’m still on board this season. The problem is, the upcoming Frozen arc already looks to be another gimmick. I haven’t seen one shot of footage and yet I’m already cringing.

I want this show to be good. It’s one of the few shows I still watch on network television.

It needs to make some adjustments, though.

What do you think? Has Once Upon a Time lost the magic?

GENERAL HOSPITAL: Billy Miller is officially the new Jason Morgan

When word broke this week that Young and the Restless alum Billy Miller was going to be the new Jason Morgan on General Hospital, my first reaction was: Meh.

That’s not a reaction to Miller, mind you. I think he’s a fine actor. I really enjoyed his guest stint on Justified – as well as his work in Genoa City.

No, this is a reaction to the return of Jason Morgan.

It’s no secret that GH’s ratings fell starting in the late 1990s because three characters – Sonny, Carly and Jason – took over the show. Fans tuned out in droves as those three took over.

The ratings have never recovered.

Ron Carlivati has done a lot wrong as head writer of GH (we’ll get to that in a second), but one of the things he did right was “killing” off Jason. The show has felt “lighter” since the morose mobster tumbled into the harbor.

Now, I’m hopeful that the Jason we get back isn’t Jason Morgan but, rather, Jason Quartermaine. For those that don’t remember Port Charles history (and I doubt you would be reading this if you didn’t) Jason Quartermaine, he of the reindeer Christmas sweaters, was involved in a drunk driving accident with his brother and was rendered brain damaged.

He had no memory of his previous life.

That’s how Jason Morgan – mobster, murderer and thug – was born. Jason Quartermaine wanted to be a doctor. He was a good person. Jason Morgan killed people for money and was made out to be a hero.

Yeah, it was annoying.

I have no idea which Jason is coming back. I doubt it will be the same Jason we remember, though.

So why don’t I want Jason back?

It’s all about the economics really.

Billy Miller is a high-profile actor, which means he’s getting high-profile money. The cast is already so bloated we see our beloved vets once – or maybe twice – a month. Miller coming in means he’s going to be getting a lot of money – and a lot of episodes.

This is on top of Maura West’s Ava – the biggest air hog of the year (and a high-priced actress) and the newly introduced Nina, played by Michelle Stafford. Nina is on four days a week – and there’s no way she’s getting newbie money.

Anthony Geary will be back in the next few weeks (he’s been recovering from surgery) and then the Fluke story will be front and center.

And yet, my question is: Where is Anna? Shouldn’t she have been involved when Lulu and Maxie were kidnapped? What is she doing?

Where is Duke? We haven’t seen him in months.

Where are Felicia and Mac? I mean, would Mac really allow psycho Levi to steal Maxie and then remain behind? Um, no.

GH’s cast is too big. Hard cuts have to be made. And, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather see a fulltime return for a character we know and love – like Ned – than the mobster with exactly one facial expression.

If RC wants to add new characters – or bring back old characters with new faces – fine. He needs to cut the dead weight, though. Enough is enough.

Watching GH has become a chore. And why? Because there’s no pace. You can’t get into the swing of a story because you’ll get it for three days and then not see it for two weeks because there’s so many other stories going on.

RC needs to be willing to cut his losses. He’s introduced a few characters that work, namely Julian, Britt, and Nathan.

He’s also introduced a lot of duds. He needs to let Sabrina, Carlos, Nina and Franco go. They’re not working. They’re never going to work. It doesn’t matter how much screen time he gives them. They’re already dead.

There are other characters – older characters introduced by other regimes – that are also flat-lining. I’m talking about Olivia and Liz here (and it pains me to turn on Liz). They’re just superfluous to the action. I’m not saying to kill them off. Just send them out of town until they fit onto the canvas again.

I know a lot of people have been clamoring for a Jason return. For me, though, it’s just another worry. Who’s air time will Billy Miller be eating?

What do you think? Are you excited for Jason Morgan to return?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

New book release update for Grim Tidings

I'm about to launch the first book in my new series -- and I want fans to make sure it's something they're genuinely interested in before they buy it. With that in mind, I decided to post the first chapter here.

It's still snarky. It's still irreverent. It's also a little darker. I hope you enjoy it.


“Bow down before the harvester of your doom!”
I rolled my eyes, glancing over at my brother, Aidan, as he stood before the cowering spirit in the corner with a devilish grin on his face. “Really? That’s how you do it?”
Aidan’s dimples deepened as he sent me a wink, while ignoring the middle-aged man and his pitiful whining as he kept trying to convince himself that he was dreaming.
“It’s just a nightmare,” the man tried to soothe himself.
“Do you have another idea?” Aidan asked.
“Have you tried talking to him?”
“That never works,” Aidan replied. “They never want to believe they’re dead. And, if they do, it’s usually
because they’re depressed and they offed themselves because they were looking forward to the hereafter.”
I ignored Aidan’s blasé attitude and glanced down at the list in my hand. “Stan Parker, 54, accountant for Thompson and Hopkins.”
“See, he’s evil,” Aidan said. “He’s an accountant for a big law firm. You can’t get slimier than that.”
“It’s an environmental law firm,” I replied.
Aidan merely shrugged in response. He was clearly enjoying himself, if his flushed skin and gleaming eyes were any indication. I had a feeling it was because he had been put in charge of my “training,” something I wasn’t convinced I needed.
“It says here he’s a Catholic,” I said, reading further into Stan Parker’s file. “I think I know how to handle this.” I took a step toward Stan, squatting down so I was at eye level with him. “Mr. Parker, my name is Aisling Grimlock, and I’m here because there’s been an … incident.”
“Incident?” Aidan arched a dark eyebrow.
I ignored him. “Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done and you’ve … um … passed on.”
Stan Parker glanced up at me, finally focusing on something other than his own feet – and the uneven tile pattern in his bedroom – and fixed me with a bleak stare. “Are you an angel?”
“You’ve obviously never seen her in the morning before she’s had three cups of coffee,” Aidan scoffed.
I waved him off. “I’m not an angel,” I said. “I’m a reaper.”
Stan Parker looked confused. “Like a grim reaper?”
“Exactly,” I replied, sending him my most encouraging smile as I brushed my long black hair – shot through with enough white streaks to give my father a coronary when he saw them – out of my face. “I’m here to help you get to your final destination.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Parker replied, his voice dull and his eyes lifeless -- OK, no pun intended. “You make it sound like you’re a travel agent.”
Aidan snorted. “Yes, we’re here to take you on a fabulous vacation to Greece.”
“I am kind of like a travel agent,” I said, shooting Aidan a withering glare. “I’ve got all your arrangements right here.” I tapped the file in my hand for emphasis.
“That’s a file on me?”
“It is,” I replied. “It’s all about your life.”
“It’s kind of thin.”
“It sure is,” Aidan agreed.
I kept my violet eyes trained on Stan’s face. “It’s not your whole life,” I said, “just the highlights.”

“And lowlights,” Aidan added.
He was starting to grate, which I suppose is a brother’s job. Since Aidan and I were closer than normal siblings – that whole twin thing had bonded us a little too closely – our new working relationship was starting to strain the easygoing thing we’d had going for the twenty-five years since our birth.
“What lowlights?” Stan asked, his lower lip trembling.
“I don’t think they’re important,” I lied.
“I really like the one about you sleeping with your best friend’s wife,” Aidan said. “Then, when he confided his problems with the marriage, you pretended that he was imagining things until he started seeing a shrink.” He’d moved away from Stan and was busy studying his bedroom, opening drawers and poking through the contents, something that was making Stan decidedly nervous.
“What are you doing? What is he doing?”
“Ignore him,” I said. “We should really get going, though. Aidan, bring the scepter over here.”
“The scepter?” Stan’s eyes widened. “Is that like a magic stick to beat me with?”
“Why would you ask that?” Aidan seemed genuinely curious, until his bright purple eyes narrowed under the weight of sudden knowledge. “Is that what you’re into?”
“No! Who told you that? That’s not on the list, is it?” Stan tried to peer over my hand to see what had been written into his file.
“No,” I replied, although now I was curious about what was buried in his file. I had read only the highlights. “Mr. Parker.”
“Call me Stan. We should be on a first-name basis, after all.”
“Stan,” I said, forcing myself to keep my voice pleasant. “We really need to get going. We’re kind of on a tight schedule today.”
“Doing what?”
“Collecting souls,” I explained, standing back up to my full five feet, six inches. My knees were beginning to ache from crouching.
“And this is your job?”
“It is now,” I said. “Unfortunately.”
Aidan grinned at me. “It’s not as easy as you thought, is it? It’s a lot harder than you gave us credit for.”
“I never said it was an easy job,” I argued. “I just didn’t think it was as action-packed as you made it out to be.” I glanced back down at Stan. “And I was clearly right.”
“They’re usually not this … whiny.”
“I am not whiny,” Stan said. “I’m going through a shock. I just found out I’m dead, and it wasn’t even a good death.”
“What’s a good death?” I asked.
“You know, running into a burning building and saving children from a fiery death,” Stan said. “Or pushing an old lady out of the path of a speeding bus. Or riding a supermodel until your heart just gives out.”
I glanced at Stan’s paunchy stomach and thinning hair and couldn’t help but think that all three of those scenarios were very likely outside of his wheelhouse. “You can’t control your death – unless you want to kill yourself,” I explained. “And, if you do that, you don’t go to one of the better final resting places.”
Stan looked momentarily hopeful. “Am I going to Heaven?”
“Yes,” I said, glancing at his file again for confirmation. I frowned, though, when I saw where he was really going.
“That doesn’t look like I’m going to Heaven,” Stan said, his voice rising an octave. “That looks like I’m going to the other place.”
Aidan leaned back on Stan’s bed -- blocking my view of Stan’s body, which was thankfully buried beneath his plaid bedspread covers -- and waited for me to handle the situation.
“Define the other place,” I said, taking a step so that I could again make eye contact with Stan.
“Define the other place? Define the other place? I don’t want to go to Hell!”
“Well, good news,” I replied, using my best faux tour director voice. “You’re not going to Hell.”
“I’m not?” Relief washed over Stan’s shaking body.
“Nope,” I shook my head emphatically. “You’re going to Purgatory. It’s an entirely different place.”
Stan looked shocked. “Purgatory? Isn’t that like limbo? Is that better than Hell? It certainly doesn’t sound as good as Heaven.”
He wasn’t wrong. “The good news is, your file says you’ll only be there for fifty years.”
“Fifty years!”
“Your file says you have a few things to work out,” I offered, hoping that my explanation didn’t sound as lame to Stan as it did to me.
“What does that mean exactly?” Stan pushed himself to his ethereal feet and placed his hands on his hips. I think I was getting a glimpse of his courtroom persona, which was one of the reasons he was going to Purgatory.
“Well … ,” I hedged.
“I want to know exactly what that file says about me,” Stan ordered.
“I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you that.”
Aidan groaned from his spot on the bed. “Oh, just tell him. Otherwise we’re going to be here forever, and I’m ready for lunch.”
I didn’t know how he could think about lunch with a dead body – and the traumatized spirit that belonged to that body – in the room. “Well, under your transgressions list you have quite a few entries.”
“Such as?”
“Well, it says here you put fifteen witnesses on the stand even though you knew they were going to perjure themselves,” I replied.
Stan looked incensed. “I did no such thing!”
“Then there’s that whole sleeping with your best friend’s wife.”
“I went to confession for that!”
“Each time?” Aidan asked. “You have to go each time.”
Stan worried his lower lip with his teeth. “That wasn’t made clear to me. That’s not fair. I thought going once was a blanket confession that would absolve me of all of my sins.”
“Did you do the required penance?” Aidan pressed.
“Of course I did.” Stan was scandalized.
“That’s not what the file says. The file says you were supposed to say fifty Hail Marys, but that you didn’t say any of them.”
“The priest still absolved me of my sins,” Stan argued. “You can’t possibly be telling me that fifty Hail Marys are standing between me and Heaven. I’ll do them right now, if that’s the case.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” I said.
“It also doesn’t count if you don’t do the penance,” Aidan shot back. “While you’re still alive, that is. Aisling, seriously, enough with this crap. Let’s just absorb him and go.”
“I want to speak to your superior,” Stan said. “You can’t be the last word on where my fate lies.”
“We’re not even the first word,” I answered. “We’re just grunts. The list comes from higher up and we just follow it. We’re really just the last word.”
“Higher up where?” Stan didn’t look convinced.
That was too long of a conversation for this particular moment. “Just higher up.”
“Well, I still want to speak to your superior.” Stan was adamant.
“We can arrange that,” Aidan said, getting to his feet. “You have to come with us, though, and then we’ll have to make an appointment for you.”
“And how soon can I get this appointment?” Stan asked, new hope flitting across his face.
“I think the current wait time is seventy-five years,” Aidan said. I had no idea whether he was telling the truth.
“Well, that’s not fair,” Stan complained. “I demand an immediate appeal.”
I glanced at Aidan, waiting for his response. His world-class charm obviously wasn’t working today.
“We can arrange that.”
“And how soon will my argument be heard?”
“I think the current time frame is eighty-five years,” Aidan replied. He was clearly bored with the direction of the conversation, his mind already focused on the hamburger in his future.
Stan’s mouth dropped open in horror. “So, you’re saying my only options are to go with you, climbing into some weird scepter of death and spending fifty years in Purgatory making up for my crimes or wait seventy-five years to plead my case?”
“Pretty much,” Aidan said, nonplussed, “although, you don’t climb into the scepter.”
“That’s something, I guess,” Stan said, shuffling uncomfortably.
“The scepter just absorbs your soul,” Aidan added.
Terror flitted across Stan’s bland features. “Absorbs?”
“It’s not as gross as it sounds,” I offered.
“Oh, okay,” Stan said. “Um, just give me a second to get ready. It’s going to be fine. I’ll wake up in a few minutes and everything will be fine.”
“Of course.” Clearly my approach was getting us nowhere.
Stan started pacing his apartment, stopping at each photo frame to give it a long gaze. I thought it was kind of sweet. He wanted to get a last look at his loved ones. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all?
Stan was completing his circuit, moving back toward the open bedroom door when he suddenly disappeared into the living room. I glanced at Aidan worriedly. “What do you think he’s doing?”
“He’s probably running,” Aidan replied, his disinterest evident.
“Shouldn’t we stop him?”
“He’s your charge,” Aidan reminded me. “I’m just here to supervise.”
“This sucks,” I grumbled, moving into the living room to make sure Stan didn’t try to run. I shouldn’t have worried. He was standing at the door of his apartment, trying to turn the door handle so he could escape into the hallway. He clearly didn’t realize that he could simply walk through the door because he was stymied by the fact that his hand just kept moving through the handle harmlessly. That was a small favor.
I opened my mouth in an attempt to talk him down once more, but Aidan shook his head to dissuade me. He was right – and I knew it. I sighed, pulling the sterling silver scepter – shaped like a snake with ruby red eyes (don’t ask) – out of my jacket pocket and pointed it at Stan.
The scepter lit up, emitting a bright flash of light, and I could see Stan’s spirit start to break up as it filtered into the scepter. The last look he managed to muster was one of abject terror before he completely disappeared.
“Well, that went well,” I said finally.
“That’s not what Dad is going to say,” Aidan replied.
He was right. I scowled as I imagined the diatribe I was sure to be on the receiving end of later tonight. It sucks when your Dad is also your boss.
“You want lunch?” Aidan asked. He didn’t look too worried about the ass-chewing we were sure to get in a few hours.
“Make sure it’s some place we can get drinks, too.”
“We’re Irish,” Aidan laughed. “That’s a given.”
I followed him out of Stan Parker’s apartment without a backward glance. This was turning into a terrible first day of work.

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