How to Write an Ending No One Can Guess

writingThere are two ways to do it best. One is to start with an ending and work backward. I did this in Postmarked for Death, which began as a nightmare I had, involving an abandoned missile silo taken over by a madman. Not the usual scenario, either: there was no Hollywood missile, as in the movie “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.” It was just two guys in the dark, each with a gun, listening intently for movement in the utter silence. The advantages to this method is that once you know where you’re going, it’s a journey of discovery to get there. Why are these two guys there? How did they get there—what led to it? Once you know who they are, and have established them vividly, the novel will write itself. Better if each is not a walking cliché (walking dead man) but a fallible, real person with both good and bad in them. They have made wrong decisions in the past, but redemption comes in making the right decision in the end. The second method is not knowing the ending. Again, you have the main character fleshed out. And a firm idea of what his or her dilemma is. In the case of The Methuselah Gene, I knew it was going to be a thriller about Big Pharma: how pharmaceutical drugs are tested and produced, combined with how the science of longevity may produce a drug in the near future to extend life by a decade or more. (Science validated recently in the Ron Howard series Breakthroughs.) With the main character (a bachelor researcher tortured by anxiety) fleshed out, it became a matter of doing research, and interviewing a few scientists in the field of genetic engineering so that the plot idea would be plausible. After that? A blank sheet of paper. No idea what would happen to this character, who he would meet, and how the plot idea would evolve. I simply put him into a situation, and listened to what he might say. As one of my fav actors, James Garner, once put it in his biography: “I don’t act, I react. Give me a reactor over an actor every time. As soon as you look like you’re acting, you’re dead. You’re just chewing the scenery.”  That’s the way I did it. I put him in motion, and told it from his point of view. He surprised me. That way, there is no way the reader won’t be surprised too. Just let go.

kim jong un

The Deplorables

trump-worldOnce upon a time a family of wandering gypsies arrived in America by way of steamer from Istanbul, and later, by banana boat from Costa Rica. The clan was headed by Haggar Deplorable of the Hungarian Deplorables, a stout, red faced man with big hands and a devious heart. His wife Rubellah loved those big hands, and placed her trust in them because they never failed her.  Haggar’s hands were big enough to hide wallet leather, strong enough to force any hinge, and yet delicate enough to carry crystal or fine gold necklaces back across any threshold. Although the knuckles of the right hand were callused from striking the bony jaws of many an interloper, no one could help but admire the stealth and consummate skill with which those hands moved. Legends are born of less.
—Rubellah was just as impressive herself, but with her it was her eyes. Dark, penetrating, almost hypnotic in their effect, Rubellah’s eyes could hold the gaze of any others just long enough. Then, with a swish of long black braids, bound by golden bands, she would be on her way again, a little richer for the encounter. Besides man and matriarch, there were sons and daughters numbering four each. Stone Deplorable was the bald one since birth, but he made up for his unusual genetic condition by growing hair almost everywhere else. His thick, coarse chest hair had, on first sight, an animal attraction to women, and his marital engagements and subsequent disappearances averaged ten a year. Stone was bold, unlike his brother Jacob. Jacob was the one trained to fit through tight openings, late at night. He had to be coaxed early, and later used a penlight. Jacob would not participate in any daylight escapades, such as those perpetrated by Igor and his brother Ahab, who were the identical twins and bungling comics of the clan, and who would often approach a seated mark from either side as Stone moved in from behind with the ether-drenched handkerchief.
—Of the daughters, Ruth was the only homely one. She kept the books, invested the family earnings, and dabbled in the market. Her sister Salome, however, looked like she’d stepped out of a Botticelli painting.  Voluptuous, volcanic, verbose, she exuded despicable passions from every pore, and went through men like a diva goes through chocolates.  Meanwhile, Beulah was merely flirtatious, beguiling by comparison; she posed and accessed while Salome pounced. Finally, Caprice also liked to flirt, but she did not possess Beulah’s detachment, and so often needed to be extricated from amorous situations by Stone’s intervention and wrestling technique.  All four sisters were blessed with their mother’s long dark hair and hypnotic eyes.
—Several years before its demolition the family moved into the projects in Brooklyn just long enough to establish residency, U.S. citizenship, and to play the welfare roles.  Jacob obtained SSI disability payments for his timidity and frail looks, and all the “children” got allowances for food stamps which were later sold on the street at the usual discounts.  As it turned out, they did not need to lie very much, and Haggar even went for worker’s compensation by claiming a fictitious slump in “intrapersonal lifestyle analysis.”  Soon after, they set up a mail drop, scored one final fake drug bust on the building’s pushers, and moved uptown into Trump Tower, which had excellent Hispanic room service.
—“This was a real adjustment for us,” Igor later confided to a cab driver. “Since poppa was getting older, and found it harder to work with his hands, we hired tutors to teach us proper grammar and etiquette.  Hotel employees who’d complained when they heard Hungarian folk music and Liszt Rhapsodies echoing through the cooling ducts decided they could tolerate us when we stopped singing and dancing, and started tipping. Guests were not so sure. Once I was on the elevator during a psychologists convention and got asked if I thought what we were doing was wrong.  After pressing the hold button I explained to a curious shrink what poppa had always taught us, which is that God created us the way we are, so He must rejoice when we do what we do.  Then I asked what he knew, and demanded payment for my session, refusing to release the hold button until I was given a Ulysses S. Grant, although I settled for a Jackson and a Lincoln, which was all the bum had.  After that I started dressing differently too, and began to resemble a politician or a game show host. It never occurred to me to question our family philosophy or moral judgment, whatever that means. Like Popeye or The Donald, I yam what I yam.”
—The Deplorables all began to wear different hats from that point. Beulah and Jacob ascended into high society, attending arts openings and benefits in order to case the patrons’ jewelry. Salome, finally achieving a modicum of self restraint, was able to play the witty rich divorcee just long enough to lure her gentlemen victims to secluded bedrooms where they were seduced and left exhausted and semi-conscious without their dignity, their Rolexes, or their credit cards. Confiding in Stone, Salome scoffed at marriage.  “American millionaires,” she laughed. “No wonder women divorce them.  Besides, the only reason to get married in America is to have kids, and I’m sorry, but I haven’t got eighteen years to spare. What if I have quintuplets, or Siamese twins when all I really wanted was a Siamese cat?  And what will my baby’s first words be?  ‘Wii Wii?’  Get real.  Babies don’t come from heaven anymore, anyway.  Heaven has been out of babies for quite some time.  Then when the kid starts asking Why, what would I tell it?  I don’t know Why.  To top it off, what if my baby is switched at birth, and I don’t find out until nine years later when someone named Galifianakis shows up, and with a basket?”
—Stone responded in kind.  “With me, I find I’m often forced to leave Xerox copies of one dollar bills as tips on dinner dates.  Afterward I send the women flowers with dead insects in them.  If they don’t get the message, I describe my idea of an exciting evening as curling up on the sofa with a book by Kafka while listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and eating Fruit Loops straight from the box.  If they manage to find me, I disguise our empty refrigerator with plastic roasts purchased from appliance salesmen down on their commissions, and I allow them to discover this while I’m watching Dancing with the Stars and sipping Ovaltine from an elephant-shaped mug.”
—Speaking of politics, Igor and Ahab had some misadventures of their own.  Identical twins on each side of the game, they raised funds which they also skimmed from both Democrats and Republicans.  Their education on the matter was obtained by attending phony real estate seminars run by former televangelists, and taking copious notes on technique.
—Ahab:  “I told them what they wanted to hear.  I defined class envy as something which occurs in people who don’t have any class, liberals as near-sighted people prescribing rose-colored glasses, and high school grads as young punks who can whistle all the top forty tunes but still can’t read their own diplomas.  Was I tough on crime?  Well, for rape I suggested the perp do a stint as playmate for amorous eight hundred pound gorilla. For DUI the stint would be as a bumper in a bumper car concession run by crazed 8 year olds.  For slapping, yelling at, or otherwise preventing a child from learning to speak English and to vote Republican the perp got incarceration for twenty four hours with an abusive life insurance agent suspected of murdering his mother. And just for allowing your kid to watch TMZ on TV as much as he wanted required you to be bound, gagged, and forced to watch House of Cards reruns for two days straight, your eyes stuck open with Crazy Glue.”
—Igor:  “With the Democrats, I tried to cover myself by taking the rich versus poor debate one giant step forward.  I proposed an actual class war by claiming to have inside information that the other side was already mobilizing.  For K rations my lower class battalion would have grits, toast, and powdered milk for breakfast, Spam, Coke, and a slice of government cheese for lunch, and tuna casserole, tea, and a dollop of rocky road ice milk for dinner.  Of course for the rich it was, I admitted, German Sausage Coquettes, fresh squeezed orange juice, and Belgian waffles for breakfast, Tuscan Veal with pine nuts, Amaretto Custard Cake, and cappuccino with chocolate garnish for lunch, and for dinner it was Roast Rack of Lamb Tiffany, Medallions de Trois Viandes aux Trois Poivron, Fresh Mango Sherbet with coulis of raspberries, and Mouton Rothschild 1938.  Unfortunately, I was heckled as any bad stand up comic might be.  This wasn’t the kind of reaction I wanted, so I slipped out the back way with as much slush fund money as I could carry.”
—There were other failures for the twins. For instance, they later infiltrated the gangs, and attempted to convince various gang leaders of certain credentials, much like a national fraternity official might when visiting a local chapter.  They even set up a school, or rather skool, to teach homies the history of gangs which they’d failed to learn.  To qualify for GEDs {Gang Education Diplomas} kids were told that it wasn’t enough just to know how to blow smoke rings, or how to walk around with their belts unbuckled and shirt tails out without dropping their baggy pants, or even the proper way to flash “get stuffed” to other gangs in order to provoke a shooting spree.  They needed to learn how to fail at everything else in life in order to get into ANGER U, of which the twins were admissions coordinators.
—“Unfortunately, we had a high dropout rate,” Igor soon complained. “Many were fascinated at first when we told them CRIPS stood for Class Rebels Immortalizing Paint Spray, but when we said that BLOODS stood for Bitter Lads Objectifying Oppressive Dysfunctional Society no one knew what ‘objectifying’ and ‘dysfunctional’ meant, and then it was too late to change it to Boys Learning Of Oppression, Drugs, and Suicide. So I blurted out something about two splinter groups of the Bloods that went to war–the B Positives and the B Negatives, and who did they think won?  Then Ahab, thinking it a good joke, tried to up me by invoking the LORDS, and asking which faction did they think came out on top, the Legion Of Raging Demented Sociopaths or the Lovers Of Really Delicious Shortcake?  Alas, our humorless would-be subjects suspected we were dissing them then, and we barely made it out of klass by remembering that we needed to attend the funeral of Bloods impressionist graffiti artist Chico Rameriz, who was killed for having a ‘blue’ period.”
—Although the twins did manage to start a gang of their own in Chinatown, that didn’t pan out either.  The short lived Kung Yu Gang followed no particular martial arts code, although they had plenty of black belts, purple belts, and quite a few gold chains.  To the twins fiscal disappointment, the gang’s rumbles became mainly intermural food fights, pitting the Japanese VS. the Vietnamese, or the Chinese Szechuans VS. the Taiwan Mutant Ninja Tenderloins. For fun the upstart youngsters even vandalized price and options tags at American car dealerships.
—Meanwhile Ruth continued to buy Krugerrands, gold stocks, and commodities futures in preparation for the coming economic collapse, which “any fool could see” was inevitable once one of the two candidates set up in the Oval Office.  Such became her acumen in international currency exchange that she had three additional phone lines installed into the Trump casino suite where Rubellah had once sung songs of the old country and cooked goulash for Haggar.
—“They tried to audit me once,” Ruth confessed to a hotel maid, “but I put the kibosh on that and diverted the audit by slipping an herb concoction into the auditor’s tea which had an aphrodisiac effect.  Then I seducing him with what really turned him on–-new ideas for torturing an auditee (or candidate unwilling to release their tax returns for public dissection.)  One suggestion I made was that he strap the evasive taxpayer to a Delco battery and jolt the truth out of him for two hours while his property was sold at auction to a bunch of yard sale junkies.  The auditor was so excited by my concepts that he had to go back to his office to relieve himself with some day trading.”
—For Rubellah’s part, she worked part time as a self employed psychic hotline operator, so she could be near her children.  When the kids were out she told fortunes with her crystal ball in the Marriott ballroom.  Rubellah relished her job, and often repeated a favorite fortune for people she disliked, which was that their ambulance driver would favor the scenic route. But secretly she also longed for the old days, when her family danced and sang with Bollywood stars.
—As for Haggar, he found employment by becoming a reincarnation of The Prophet.  Simply by growing a long gray beard and calling himself Ahred Dustafo he was able to make a video tape dispensing Gibranesque wisdom, and was soon asked to speak at prestigious area colleges.  This, after trying other unsuccessful boasts, like claiming his grandfather was King of Liechtenstein.
—Haggar:  “Before I found this particular niche, I was bragging to everybody I met that granny played gin rummy with Queen Victoria, that our family psychiatrist was Freud himself, and that before I was ten I’d been on eighteen boxes of cereal, including Muselix.  But then I met a shoe salesman who told me his family was so rich once that even their butler drove a 1936 Auburn Speedster and had a winery in the Napa Valley he’d never seen.  I grew tired of my con job after that. And then one day when a hot dog vendor asked me the meaning of life, for some reason I told him I couldn’t tell him or he’d go mad, shave his head, and attack the Pope. Other people asked me even sillier questions, like why I wore a long white robe-–which was better to hide things under–-or why the city of Toledo is considered holy. This was the last straw.  It was time to get back to the old ways, to get on the move again, and to find happiness. So Rubellah bought me some Ben Gay for my hands, some iron-free cereal, and we gathered our children together and hit the road. I can’t tell you how good it felt to laugh and sing again as we danced our way across America, doing what we do best in the land of freebies and the home of the Atlanta Braves.”
—So confessed Haggar Deplorable in a letter to the Trump Tower doorman, explaining why they’d left, and how much they enjoyed trashing the room and insulting everyone.  And to this day it seems that everyone is looking for the clan, because we all need someone to blame. This may also be why politicians on both sides of the debate are suspicious of each other, and why they continue to talk about those despicable Deplorables.

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©2016 JLowe

Bank Gothic

Cuba

Before any new history of imagined time can be written, there must be revelations or epiphanies which are unique yet so enveloping that the dreamer must in some sense become the dream. Like the apostle John, whose visions in a cave on the Greek isle of Patmos foresaw a possible end to the world, at once cryptic and symbolic, I too found my own cave at such a fulcrum between worlds. This nook or dungeon of unexpected terrors is familiar yet universally feared. Associated with loss and pain, with prayers and imprecations hurled at whatever gods might be attending, it is a place from which most life now emerges, and to which all mortals inevitably return, in the end, to an understanding of their illusions.
—I do not profess any merit for my election, or even that such favor was granted. Certainly I feel no such worthiness or distinction. And it is quite natural that those reading these words may wish to dismiss what follows as the ramblings of a traumatized accident victim, given their own predilection to maintain the canon of beliefs in which they are vested. There is comfort in faith, however misplaced. What I will admit is that I do believe, if there is any basis for ultimate hope, that the human mind may never grasp it on this side of the veil.
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BANK GOTHIC

The first of my series of visions occurred in semiconscious awareness of my physical limitations. While nurses monitored my status and doctors consulted charts regarding my head injuries, their faces seemed to ebb in peripheral focus around me, their words mere snippets of sound, estranged and disconnected from meaning, like glass-trapped vapors uncorked in the tide. Unable to decipher phrases or facial expressions, I closed my eyes, and quite abruptly drifted down into the vision of another reality which seemed oddly more realized or intricately perceived than the one I could no longer clearly remember. Could this be a possible future, somehow constructed as though by Japanese design? What appeared to be coffin-like chambers were seen in the windows of banks: chambers promising pure oxygen and a drug which causes the subject to become autistic, so that his subconscious inner life may exclude the pressures and tensions outside it. Somehow I knew that, should I desire it, my emotional needs would subside within into some relaxing void of non-awareness. So, too, I felt this need, and also suspected no other such refuge existed outside of these banks of coffins in which one might deposit themselves. My vision was that in our desperation to escape what was coming we would, like those who now seek succor in cyberspace, move deeper into our solitude than we already have. . . and trust these new bankers with our most valuable possession of all.
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CHALKBOARD

Einstein, right in many ways, wrong in others, seemed to believe in God, albeit not the God which creationists cherish, whose Earth is young, and whose God plays an inexplicable game of apparent age. Einstein the man, and Time magazine’s Man of the Century, was a fallible soul, a grain on the beach of spacetime, quickly and easily erased from this world, (itself a speck in a whirlwind which is a dot in the vast, expanding bubble of a fabric no one has yet explained). Still, if anyone had the right to indulge ego, it was Einstein. But he did not, for the most part. And he does now no more at all. What, then, to make of any ego, except that it is a phantom conscious state within a quickly recycled body?
—To say I saw Einstein in a grocery store, on the cereal aisle, and that such a revelation transpired in a sharply summoned epiphany is only partially true. There was nothing sharp about the vision, moving in and out of consciousness as I was, medical staff like ghosts stalking the hall to my left. Einstein indeed seemed real, it is true. Perhaps, in this alternate reality, he was and is as alive as anyone can be. What I mean is that I did not feel it bizarre to see him. Even when he spoke to me, saying, “hello” in perfect English, his slicked back white hair held tight in a pony tail as he turned his grizzled face toward me, I was not startled. His eyes twinkled a bit at my lack of surprise, and then he winked and turned away. In his cart were several boxes of oatmeal, some eggs, some milk. A solitary apple, large and green, lay beside these. And so I thought of Sir Isaac Newton. Was he in the fruit section? I went to see.
—He was. Both men were declared wrong, however, by a younger man sucking on a lime. This younger man told me that a fact linked to limes will be invaluable in curing cancer, and that a unified field theory will arise from a thought experiment involving sunspots. The young man was a high school dropout. Schools themselves, he claimed, were obsolete.
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PLAYBILL

The proof that evolution operates in “leaps,” explaining why we haven’t found many transitional species, will be augmented by the discovery that such a leap is already in progress, involving the lowering of the human attention span and the loss of our former level of comprehension related to written language. Eclipsing even this, scientists will then discover a way to input the memories of one man into the brain of another, thereby making it possible to induce instant friendship with a stranger. Nefarious corporations will exploit this technology in targeting people against their will to be socially attuned to buy products and ideas, unaware of their influence. Business partners and sexual conquests may both be achieved by the invasive manipulation of memory. Love, for sale through a realignment of neurons, will precede an evolutionary adaptation against it, resulting in an interim dark age of image-driven, non-verbal thought processes, and the reduced ability for the working class to think critically. Gradually, they will lose the ability to read altogether, and their slavery will be complete.
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HELVETICA NEUE

When a popular travel blogger is discovered to be a paralyzed spinster who never went anywhere, her story will inspire development of a social network of linked computers in which participants all over the world share experiences in interfaced iPod chambers, only to live out real time relationships on a non-verbal, experiential level. Sports fans in Cleveland will be able to experience soccer matches in Rio, their consciousness and individuality subsumed into a crowd identity in which they feel some sense of belonging, however transitory and illusionary. The reason for the popularity of such chambers will eventually be felt outside, in the real world, as monster hurricanes and rising waters inundate much of Florida and other coastal states. Yet in the midst of worldwide famine and economic collapse, a pill will be patented which can extend human life by thirty years. (The breakthrough will come when scientists extract a bristlecone pine tree gene and deliver it to the human brain utilizing a modified AIDS virus. Alas, only the very wealthy will be able to afford the resulting pill formulations, although an adulterated powder version will sell at street level at roughly twenty-five times the cost of cocaine, and include the rush of that archaic drug.)
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MARKER FELT

Suicide clubs will come into vogue, but these will be eclipsed by sporting events in which teams play to the death on gridirons that become more electrified the closer one gets to the goal. This, in certain third world countries vying for media attention, will imbue a new meaning to the phrase “end zone.”
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PAPYRUS

It will be discovered that the Mayans were exterminated by a comet similar to one which fell in Siberia in the early 20th Century, and that the ancient Egyptians began building their pyramids when lifespans dropped from over a hundred years to a mere 45 years due to the evolutionary effects of increased solar and cosmic radiation. A newly discovered and translated Egyptian text will then reveal a prediction that the world will end in 2086. But this prediction will prove to be off by almost fifty years.
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COMIC SANS

In 2017 the world may indeed end for many celebrities and politicians in America, but not for reasons previously postulated. Toward the end of that year a drug cartel’s don will be captured by a rancher whose property straddles the Mexican border, and this don will be offered to the United States in exchange–not for money–but for carte blanche in freedom of movement within America for one year. The rancher, a recipient of access immunity by a direct act of Congress and executive order, will be legally unrestricted in his movements. The cartel will indeed be crushed, but this will go largely unnoticed, especially by the wealthy cocaine users whose residences may now be entered at any time for any reason at the whim of one man. Entrance cannot be denied to this man, who may, at his leisure, request police or military backup to achieve it. No residence in Hollywood or on Miami’s Star Island, no condo in Manhattan or Washington will be off limits. Should he desire it, he may enter the White House at midnight and search the Lincoln bedroom. By Presidential fiat, backed by a majority vote from beleaguered and otherwise ineffectual lawmakers, this one man, among hundreds of millions, will (at long last) be exempt from having to obey the words “Keep Out.” And for him, the most famous and feared man in history, this, (and for every despairing American citizen), will make all the difference.
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J Lowe)