015) CD Review #6: “Snapshot, 1988”

Hello again Bone Pile enthusiasts. You’ll have to forgive my lack of production on The Pile lately. My other work here on Fiction Vortex (aka: My ASH FALLS story, “The Perpetuals” [blatent plug: it goes live with Episode 1 on March 14th]) has taken priority of late. It’s been awesome fun to write, but wickedly time-consuming as well.

But I’m back & this month I’ve got something special.

Really special.

As in… Cemetery Dance has been publishing stories for 28 years & have eclipsed 560 original stories in that time, but of ALL of them, the one (yes, just one) that I’ve reviewed below is by far the longest of them all.

Well, sort of.

CD has published a pair of novella-length stories before, but in both cases they spread it out over three separate issues.

-“Mr. Hands”, by Gary A Braunbeck, was published in CD Issues #31, 32, & 33.

-“The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities”, by Douglas Clegg, was published in CD Issues #61, 62 & 64.

They also published perhaps two dozen novel excerpts in their time, as well. But never, ever, have they published a single, complete, original piece of fiction of such length in a single volume.

Title work provided by Cemetery Dance.

Title work provided by Cemetery Dance.

Joe Hill’s “Snapshot, 1988” comes in at a whopping 33,000 words. That’s nearly double the accepted minimum for a novella (17,500 words), and just shy of the 40,000 words needed to squeak in at the minimum for a ‘full novel’. By comparison, the average Cemetery Dance story is somewhere between 5,000 & 10,000 words. Many of them are even less thank 5k while precious few have been over the 10k mark.

Translation: This CD exclusive story is BIG.

And thus my review of it is going to be big too. Perhaps you want to break it into multiple readers. But I can promise you reading through it will be worth your time. That’s because Hill’s story is truly fantastic (spoiler alert… I gave it an A+ grade). This is one of those that lingers in your mind days and weeks after you’re done reading it, and it’s one that I’m immediately proud to own in its original, first-edition printing.

To help organize this massive piece, I’m sectioning the plotline into the same 18 segments the author presented it to his readers.

Enjoy!


Cemetery Dance # 74/75

Cemetery Dance # 74/75

TITLE: “Snapshot, 1988”

AUTHOR: Joe Hill

APPEARANCE: CD Issue #74/75 (October 2016), story 2 of 11

PLOT (with spoilers!):

1

The year is 1988 and Shelly Beukes is an elderly neighbor lady of thirteen-year-old Michael Figleone, our protagonist. The story is being told by the adult Michael many years after the fact.

Shelly Beukes looking very lost and frail.

Shelly Beukes looking very lost and frail.

Shelly appears one day at the end of Mike’s driveway & is clearly confused about where she is & how she got there. She thinks she is still employed as the Figleone’s cleaning lady, though she retired from that job more than five years ago. Her speech is strange, too. She curses several times, something she has never before done in front of Mike. When she turns to go home, she turns the wrong way, prompting Mike to take her elbow and guide her home.

Along the way, Shelly warns Mike of a man driving a white Cadillac. She calls him The Polaroid Man and insists that whenever he takes your picture, he “takes things away.”

At Shelly’s house, Mike sees that the lawn is noticeably unkempt, an oddity for her fitness buff of a husband. When Mr. Beukes– Larry– pulls his car screeching into the driveway, he is immediately relieved to see Shelly safe. As he ushers his wife back inside, he turns and tells Mike not to move, that he has something for him, then disappears inside the house.

2

Adult Mike interjects a self-deprecating interpretation of his 13-year-old self… Mike is fat. So fat he stands out in every group photo and has several accompanying nick-names. As such, we are not surprised to realize he has no girls to chase or friends to hang out with.

When Larry returns, he is quelling tears and offers Mike money. Mike at first refuses the tip until Larry explains it’s payment-in-advance for future assistance. Because of Larry’s busy position as owner of several local gyms, his occasional absence (and the need to watch over Shelly) is something they both know is inevitable. The scene ends with Larry maligning his & Shelly’s circumstance and asking Mike to one day invent a way not to get old. They also talk, briefly, of Shelly’s Polaroid Man.

3

Call him 'The Polaroid Man' or 'The Phoenician'. Either way, he's not from around here.

Call him ‘The Polaroid Man’ or ‘The Phoenician’. Either way, he’s not from around here.

Mike decides to get rid of the ten dollar bill burning a hole in his pocket & heads to the nearby Mobil station with its convenience store Slushies. As he crosses the parking lot, a distinctly ugly man in all black by the pumps calls to him. Calls him “Pillsbury” and later “Land o’ Lakes,” actually. The man asks Mike to tell the clerk inside to turn on his pump, but Mike is too preoccupied to hear either the insults or instructions because sitting on the trunk of his white Cadillac is a Polaroid Instant Camera. When the man sees Mike eyeing the camera, he covers it protectively with one hand before giving Mike a twenty-dollar bill and repeats his instructions, adding that Mike could keep any change after his tank is full.

As he takes the money, Mike notices a tattoo on the man’s forearm but doesn’t recognize the language. “It’s Phoenician,” the man explains. “It says don’t fuck with me. More or less.” As he backs away, Mike sees a collection of photo albums in the back seat of the car. The man claims he has the photos because he is a film scout. His job is to look for interesting people or places and photograph them for later inspiration. One of the photos Mike sees is a hugely-muscled young man who looks vaguely familiar.

Inside the store, Mike give the money to the clerk and fills himself an Arctic Blu Slushie. Just a minute later, though, the Phoenician (as Mike is now thinking of the man) bursts into the store in a rage, camera in hand. The pump was shut off after only ten dollars, and Mike realizes instantly he had given the clerk the wrong bill from his pocket. In his clumsy attempt to quickly apologize and explain, he drops his cold drink to the floor. Blue slush sprays all over the store and the Phoenician’s dapper pants. In his desperate attempt to clean the mess, Mike picks up the camera to clean the counter where the Phoenician set it down. In doing so he accidentally squeezes the camera’s big red button. It’s facing the clerk, 17-year-old fellow circuit-head and nice-guy-who-sometimes-loans-Mike-one-of-his-magazines, Matthew, when it goes off.

The Phoenician speaks in a calm but terrifying voice when he asks for the camera. Mike complies without dropping it, and the Phoenician asks for the picture which had vaulted out of the slot. But Matthew is oddly dazed and not following the conversation, and his mother (the station owner) who was standing right next to him cannot find the picture anywhere on her side of the counter. By now, however, other customers have entered and formed a line, and the Phoenician leaves, happy to be rid of the station and the entire town. In an angry huff, he shouts a warning to Mike: “I won’t forget you, kid. Look both ways before you cross the street, know what I mean?”

Mike reads 'Popular Mechanics', just like Matthew always thinks of him.

Mike reads ‘Popular Mechanics’, just like Matthew always thinks of him.

Mike finishes cleaning the mess through a constant runnel of tears, but when he goes to throw away his mass of blue-tinted paper towels, he sees the lost Polaroid photo behind the trash can. Matthew’s mother sees it too. She retrieves it, looks at it with great confusion, and shows it to Mike. Instead of a close up of Matthew’s startled face, the photo is of Mike… but not even of Mike awkwardly pressing the camera’s button. It’s of Mike from several weeks prior, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room reading an issue of Popular Mechanics. Even more confusing, when Mike offers to pay for the mess with his ill-gotten twenty, Matthew looks at him oddly and says, “You talk like we know each other. Have we met before?”

4

On the way home, Mike envisions the Phoenician killing him in various horrific ways. But he arrives home safe and sound and we meet his father, a man who can’t cook but has an excellent relationship with his son thanks in part to inventive meal names such as tonight’s offerings: “Battle of Stalingrad” and “Panama Thrill”.

We also learn that Mike’s mother isn’t there. Mrs. Figleone is a scientist who lives her life abroad and rarely comes home. When she does, her conversations with her only son are on topics Mike finds extremely awkward: feminism, socialism, Mike’s sexual identity, & genital mutilation are a few examples. Mike believes that his mother is brilliant- he knows because he’s read all her books- and suggests to the reader that she’s not a bad person, though she is inadvertently a bad wife and mother.

He sits in the living room and looks at the Polaroid photograph, remembering Shelly Beukes’ warning. He realizes, though, that the Phoenician hadn’t taken his picture at all. In fact, Mike had been the one to take the picture.

Mike grabs a random photo album from a shelf & finds himself looking at old family photos. He’s seen these pictures a hundred times, but now he suddenly realizes that even as far back as the black-and-white pictures from his infancy, his most frequent companion most certainly isn’t his mother, but it isn’t his father either. It’s Shelly Beukes. Mike feels shock, guilt, and an easing towards maturity as he comes to realize he had felt nothing upon her retirement five years earlier. With all the time she’d spent with him during his first eight years of life, he should have felt something more, right?

Moreover, the pictures Mike sees clearly indicate Mrs. Beukes was far more than just a stand-in mother figure. She held him on her shoulders, she posed for comical photo-ops with him, she was there for every blow onto every birthday cake, and in photo after photo she is grabbing his arm or tossing his hair or feeding him another of her famous date-filled cookies.

He is immediately wracked with a powerful sense of loss and unfairness. [more on this scene later]

But as he thumbs through the album he comes across a hugely-muscled young man lifting both he & Shelly while sitting in a pair of chairs… and he has a flash of a memory. It’s the same man– a man he doesn’t know– whose photo was in the album in the back of the Phoenician’s car. Mike’s father wander in, sees the picture, and explains the young man was Shelly’s son.

The scene ends with Mike telling his father he ran into Shelly that morning and that she wasn’t doing well.  He refrains from saying anything about the Phoenician or what happened at the Mobil station, though. His father tells him, quite kind-heartedly, not to take offense if she doesn’t know him or says things that don’t make sense. He explains people with dementia are like a house after someone moves out and that all that’s left is the empty shell… “That and what’s in old photographs,” he says.

5

Mike’s dad, who had recently been moved to the night shift, gets ready to leave for work. Looking forward to the prospect of the remainder of the evening alone, Mike is reminded how he’s been having nightmares lately. He is not looking forward to that night’s edition. His father sees his concern and asks about his “Party Gun”- Mike’s latest gadget meant to shoot confetti while blasting an air horn and flashbulb lights- and comments he should hurry up and finish it, make a million bucks, and allow his old man to retire.

Most of the rest of this short section comes to us in Mike’s older voice looking back.

First, we are told his father never did retire. He’d died on the job, electrocuted in fact, only six years later. But this was four years longer than Mike’s mother had lasted. Her death had been big news. She and her lover (a Frenchman whom neither Mike nor his father had known about) had been machine-gunned on a mountain road in the Congo by the Lord’s Resistance Army. That was just two years after the strange events of 1988. Mike’s father- still four years away from his own unexpected dead- had taken the news in quiet solitude and had read all of his dead wife’s books despite not understanding much of what she’d written.

Mike thereafter spent the years after his father’s death resenting the other young 20-somethings who were still complaining (or, worse, bragging) about their own parents. Though fully an adult by then, his sudden orphan status affected him both emotionally and physically. He entered college at 300 pounds but ten years later was half that weight.

Back to 1988, Mike stands in the driveway watching his father leave while rainless thunder and distant lightning fill the sky overhead.

6

Mike takes the Polaroid photo of himself into the garage where he does his tinkering and pins it to a spotlighted cork board. He tries to work on his Party Gun but is distracted by the impossible photo on the wall. He consciously realizes that though he took a photograph OF Matthew, the picture that came out was of something in Matthew’s mind: an identifying image of Mike himself, in fact.

As he finishes working on the Party Gun and the thunder outside continues building toward a whopper of a storm, someone leans on the doorbell. Now the fear comes. Mike is suddenly convinced it’s the Phoenician, but it’s only Mr. Beukes asking for Mike’s help. His wife is asleep but a fire has damaged one of his gyms which he must go inspect. Mike is happy to help and offhandedly asks what kind of fire it was. Mr. Beukes says he doesn’t know yet but thinks it must be from the lightning. Secretly, Mike thinks it must have been the Phoenician.

Mike has a flash of fear and an imagined conversation where he tries to convince Mr. Beukes not to go to his gym. He imagines telling the police about the Phoenician and the camera and the impossible Polaroid photograph.

Then, just as quickly, he snaps out of it and Mr. Beukes is offering to drive him over to his house.

7

Mike explains he can easily walk to the Beukes’ house and Mr. Beukes leaves. Mike pauses only to call his father, figuring he was likely to spend the night at the Beukes’ house, but discovers that all the power has gone out in the house. Looking outside, he realizes it’s out in the whole neighborhood. He thinks this, too, is because of the Phoenician.

Mike considers telling another neighbor of his concern but knows how it’ll look… a fat kid with a head full of horror movies getting hysterical because of a little thunder. He considers not going to the Beukes house at all. He reasons that because of Shelly’s condition, Larry Beukes would never know for sure if he had ever gone there or not. That way, Mike reasons, if the Phoenician shows up to murder Shelly, Mike would not end up collateral damage.

Mike weighs the choices seriously but ultimately finds his guilt is far stronger than his fear. He finally decides he can sit in the kitchen with a knife in one hand and his Party Gun in the other, ready to run like hell out the back door if anyone shows up.

Before he goes, though, he leaves a note for his father because he is suddenly worried he’ll never see him again and wants to tell him all the things he might never have the chance to say again. But he’s also worried he’ll leave an embarrassing gush of words if all he ends up doing is doing crossword puzzles all night. His note ends up reading, “I’M OKAY. MR. BEUKES ASKED ME TO SIT WITH SHELLY. THEY HAD A FIRE AT HIS GYM. WOW, HAS HIS DAY BIT THE BAG. LOVE YOU. THE PANAMA THRILL WAS GREAT.”

8

The storm is nearly upon them all as Mike walks to Shelly’s house. The wind is so strong it blows a realtor sign out of its posts and makes Mike feel like he’s being blown toward his destination more than he’s talking there of his own accord. Moments later the rain itself arrives in a sudden, torrential wall. One second there are a few fat drops on the asphalt in front of him; the next Mike is covered in buckets of cold summer rain.

He stumbles across yards and finally into the Beukes kitchen. The wind yanks the screen door behind him wide open and Mike immediately begins to dirty the floor with water and mud. His violent entrance was the precise opposite of the stealth had planned on using, and immediately he is afraid the Phoenician is already there, waiting for him. What gets Mike moving is simple manners. He is appalled at the mess he is creating and gets to work with a nearby dishtowel.

Cleaned but still wet, Mike slowly investigates every room of the house. He looks into every closet and behind every curtain with the kind of horror that only a teenage mind can produce: he sees the Phoenician at every location.

In the final room– the master bedroom– Mike finds Shelly Beukes sound asleep, her snores barely audible over the rumbled downpour from outside. He checks that closet and behind those curtains as well, then feels finally better as he moves into the adjoining bathroom to remove his soaked clothes, towel himself dry, and don the fluffy white robe he finds hanging on a hook. As he does this, three times the bathroom is blinked with white light. It’s only at the third instance that Mike realizes each had come with all of the light of lightning but none of the sound of thunder.

The white glare flashes again, and this time he realizes its coming not from outside, but from the bedroom. He peers around the corner, Party Gun in hand, and sees the Phoenician standing at the side of Shelly’s bed. He is bent over with his camera in hand. Shelly’s sheets are pulled down. She is laying there, either still asleep or too confused to appear fully awake, with one hand over her face. The Phoenician casually moves it aside and takes another picture.

A photo pops out of the camera and joins the small pile of pictures already on the floor. Shelly raises her hand to her face again, and again the Phoenician grabs it and tosses it aside. He takes another picture and though Mike had been thinking of nothing but running, the indecent actions toward Shelly offend him so much it is words that tumble from Mike’s mouth rather than his feet tumbling him towards the door. “Stop it,” he says.

The Phoenician looks and laughs. “It’s the little fat boy. I thought the old bastard might send someone by to sit with her. Of all the people in the world… I would’ve picked you.” He threatens Mike not with death but with the erasure of his mind.

The Phoenician turns his camera toward Mike and Mike raises his Party Gun. The gun goes off first. The air horn shrieks. Confetti explodes. The flashbulbs ka-pow. The Phoenician goes backward like he’s been physically hit. He bounces off the nightstand and moved immediately forward. Shelly’s hand reaches out and grabs his pants leg and yanks, and the Phoenician stumbles forward, off balance, which makes it easy for Mike to knee him weakly in the groin. The added offense, though clearly not painful, conjoined with the blinding effect of the flashbulbs allows Mike to take the camera from the stumbling man.

The Phoenician finally comes to a stop by the bathroom door. Mike is already behind him. “You can’t imagine what I’m going to do to you,” the Phoenician says. “I’m not even going to hurt you. I’m going to fucking erase you.” Then his eyes shift and he sees the camera in Mike’s hand. “Put that down you fat piece of shit. Do you have any idea what that does?”

“Yes,” Mike tells him, and lifted the viewfinder to his eye. “Yes, I do. Say cheese.”

9

Mike takes photo after photo of the Phoenician. The magical camera never ran out of film. Each picture dazed him into stunned stillness. Soon he was curled on the floor in the fetal position, a sly smile on his face.  

After perhaps fifty pictures, the Phoenician begins to hyperventilate. Mike thinks he’s on the verge of a seizure and stops, allowing the man to get his breath back. As he waits– and knowing fully well it’s probably a mistake to do so– he stoops and picks up a handful of the new photos on the floor. He sees:

A little girl with her lolipop and her Paddington Bear.

A little girl with her lollipop and her Paddington Bear.

1- A man in his 50s, crying, naked and with slashed cuts all over his face.

2- Another naked man. Could or could not be the same one. He is face down in the road. A garden trowel is sticking out of his back. He is dead.

3- A girl of about six clutching a huge lollipop and a Paddington Bear.

4- The same girl, now in a coffin. Paddington Bear is clutched in the same hand. A hand is reaching into the frame to push a curl of hair away from her face.

5- A dark basement. Three overlapping rings of ash are drawn on the floor. In the left ring is a smashed mirror. In the right ring is a Paddington Bear. In the center ring is a Polaroid camera.

6- Handfuls of pictures of varous old people. A scrawny old man with an oxygen tube in his nose… a baggy short fellow with a peeling, sunburnt nose… a dazed fat woman with a twisted, permanent, stroke-induced snarl.

7- Mike himself, standing beside Shelly’s bed, holding the magic camera up, the burst of light from the bulb caught mid-flash. This is the last thing the Phoenician saw before Mike started shooting.

Sparrows. Dead ones. Hundreds and hundreds of dead sparrows.

Hundreds upon hundreds of dead birds.

Mike collects all the photos into the pocket of the robe. He realizes the rain has been stopped for some time. Mike talks to the strange, evil man curled on the floor, but the Phoenician doesn’t know Mike. Mike coaxes him to his feet and slowly towards the front door. When they get outside, though, Mike is shocked to see thousands of dead birds and circular pebbles of hail covering the lawns and roads. The birds themselves are frozen solid.

Mike leaves the Phoenician in the yard with Shelly to look for his Cadillac. He also tells the reader he isn’t worried because he knew by then that the camera left permanent damage which only multiplied with each photo. He confides that this is sad news because Shelly never recovered despite what we might have been hoping. “Not one of those birds got up and flew away,” he tells us, “and not a bit of what [Shelly] lost was ever returned to her.”

Mike cries as he walks. At first he tries to avoid stepping on the dead birds, but soon he admits defeat. Their sheer numbers are too difficult to overcome. “They made muffled snapping sounds underfoot.”

He finds the car right around the corner and returns to bring the Phoenician to it. The man is sitting on the curb holding a dead bird by the leg. Shelly is sweeping avian carcasses from the stoop. The Phoenician puts his selected corpse in his shirt pocket and obediently follows Mike back to his car.

As the Phoenician sits in the driver’s seat, unable to remember how to drive, Mike smells the gasoline in the back seat which he realizes was used to set fire to Larry Beukes’ gymnasium. He briefly considers using the car lighter to end the Phoenician’s life, but the adult Mike telling the story reminds us he was just a thirteen-year-old kid who still got teary-eyed watching E.T. He was no killer, and instead found the car key and started it.

Mike tells him to drive away, anywhere is fine as long as it isn’t here. The Phoenician says he has a feeling he won’t remember any of this in the morning. Then Shelly, who has been following them both all along, offers to take his picture. He says that’s a good idea and smiles wide for her. But Shelly proffers the handle of her broom rather than the camera. She uses it to pop him hard in the mouth. He comes up spitting blood and threatening her. “You better watch out. I know some real bad men.”

Mike tells him, “Not anymore,” then slams the car door shut and walks Shelly back toward her home. He doesn’t even turn to check that the Phoenician drives away. But he does. Minutes later the big white Caddy rolls slowly past the Beukes’ home. Inside, the Phoenician is looking intently left and right, his eyes “shiny with anxiety.” He is scanning for something familiar, just like Shelly had that morning. At the next intersection he turns right, towards the highway, and drives out of Mike’s life, forever.  

10

Mike tucks Shelly into bed.

Shelly comments that she has tucked him into bed many times.

This ultra-short scene ends with adult Mike telling us this was the last time she ever spoke his name, that her memory of him came and went in her remaining days, but that he was “certain she knew me at the end. Not a doubt in my mind.”

11

Mike takes the intervening hours before Mr. Beukes comes home to clean up, even going so far as to rake the dead birds from the yard. But Larry doesn’t come home until two A.M. and Mike soon finds himself turning through the pages of the photo album he had stolen from the Phoenician. It has “S. BEUKES” sharpied onto the inside cover.

He sees photos from Shelly’s childhood- a wooden hobby horse, her mother cooking dinner, a chubby child’s hand reaching up to a distinctive cat-shaped cloud. The progression of age moves forward. Shelly is in her twenties now. MIke knows this because of the photo of Shelly admiring herself in a mirror, and why shouldn’t she have that appreciative look on her face? She’s a knockout, and she’s wearing only white underwear. Behind her in the mirror’s reflection is a young stud, sitting fully naked on the bed, admiring her as well. It takes Mike a moment to realize this is Larry Beukes and the memory is from that fleeing time period during their courting.

But then Mike stumbles upon a mini-collection of four photos that genuinely shock him. They are of the girl with the Paddington Bear. The first three photos are perfectly normal but for the subject. Shelly’s hands reach into the photos frame to apply a Band-Aid. Shelly’s fingers are stitching Paddington Bear’s hat. The girl sleeps peacefully in a little rich girl’s bed surrounded by stuffed bears, though Paddington is the one she clutches. The last photo is of the little girl, dead at the bottom of a steep, stone staircase. Blood is still pooling from her cracked head. Paddington Bear is halfway up the steps.

Adult Mike theorizes that the unknown connection between the little dead girl and Shelly Beukes may be only because they had both known the Phoenician and he had spent years trying to remove his existence from the memories of everyone he’d ever met. In this instance, Mike implies (and we conclude), Shelly had been the nanny of a little girl the Phoenician had known and murdered through some form of dark magic.

The section ends with Mike turning through the rest of the album, heartbroken again and again as he sees images of himself, each a cherished memory Shelly had once held of him… “And she adored me with all the enthusiasm of a woman who has won the new car on The Price is Right. Like she was the lucky one, to have me, to have the good fortune to bake me cookies, and fold my underwear, and endure my grade school tantrums, and kiss my booboos. When really I was the lucky one and never knew it.”

12

Mike helps Larry take care of Shelly for the next 18 months. Most of those days were bad. Some of them were even worse. She didn’t know Mike at any point during that time. Usually she thought he was a TV repairman, which excited her because she wanted to watch The Mickey Mouse Show.

Sometimes Mike showed her the photos from the Phoenician’s album, hoping to give her back her lost memories. But only once had she responded. It was the image of the little dead girl at the bottom of the stone stairs. “Pushed,” Shelly said. And when Mike pressed her, asking who had pushed, she’d said only “Disappeared” and made an exaggerated poof gesture before asking if he’d come to fix the TV.

Those 18 months end shortly after one night in Mike’s sophomore year when Shelly wanders out of the house while Larry indulges in a mid-afternoon nap. The police find her four hours later several miles away clawing through a dumpster for food. Her wedding and engagement rings are gone. She doesn’t remember her own husband when he comes to pick her up.

The next day Hector Beukes, Larry and Shelly’s muscle-bound son, convinces Larry to put her into a full-care facility called Belliver House. Larry spends the day crying.

Hector tells Mike he had used to be jealous of him because Shelly was always bragging about his accomplishments. They ate date-filled cookies just like Shelly used to make. Hector explains he had found the recipe in his mother’s notebook under the nam “Mike’s Favorite”.

13

Mike visits her at Belliver House over the next few years. At first she is excited to see him, though she still thinks of him as the TV repairman. Later, she doesn’t acknowledge him or anyone else at all. The only thing that seems to hold her attention is the TV. But watching the TV itself isn’t what gets her excited, though doing so is what she does most of her hours of the day. What does excite her is whenever someone changes the channels. Every flickering exchange of the screen causes her to hop up and down in her seat. Her most common mumbled phrasings are “Next channel, next, next, next.”

A month before Mike leaves for college (M. I. T., surprise, surprise), he stops in and is angered to find Shelly neither in her room nor sitting in front of the TV. He eventually finds her sitting in a wheelchair in a forgotten hallway, staring at a vending machine.

When she sees him, though, Shelly remembers Mike. She uses her nickname for him: ‘Bucko’, and mumbles that she hates this and wishes she could forget how to breathe. She even asks him whatever happened to that camera and wouldn’t he like to take her picture to remember her by?

Excited she is ‘awake’ but angered she had been so easily forgotten, Mike wheels her back to the head nurse’s counter and yells repeatedly, asking why his mother was left unattended and how often this happened and how long she would have been sitting there if he hadn’t randomly stopped by.

The whole time he is yelling, his frustrations at his *actual* mother’s recent death are finding a much-needed outlet, but Shelly’s head is lolling back. She is as forgotten right under his own nose as she had been while sitting in front of the vending machine.

14

That night, a hot wind blew with no accompanying rain, and Mike finds a single dead bird on his car’s hood in the morning where it had been clubbed to death against the glass.

15

Mike’s father asks if Mike intends to visit Shelly again before he leaves for college. Mike says he thinks he will.

16

Mike has momentary doubts that he’ll find the camera where he hid it in the back of his closet where he hid it years before. His doubts spread to include the existence of the camera or even the Phoenician himself. But the magical camera and all of the ill-gotten photos from both Shelly’s and the Phoenician’s mind are still there.

He brings te camera to Belliver House, timing his visit to a few minutes after Larry and Hector would be done their weekly Saturday visit “… so they would have had a last chance to be with her.”

He finds her sitting in her bedroom with headphones over her ears and a walkman on her lap. Hector liked to leave her like this, deliberately playing the Buddy Holly-esque music which she and Larry had danced to back in their courting years. The music is stopped now, though, and Mike turns her to face him.

She sees him and asks whose birthday it is. “Yours,” Mike tells her. “It’s your birthday, Shelly. Can I take your picture? Can I take some pictures of the birthday girl? And then– then we’ll blow out the candles. We’ll make a wish and blow them all out.”

Shelly agrees, and wonderfully she calls Mike ‘Bucko’ one last time, adding support to his earlier claim that she did remember him at the very end.

Mike takes picture after picture. They fall to the floor and develop into the last of Shelly’s struggling memories: Her grandmother, bent and pulling cookies from an oven… The Mickey Mouse Club on TV with all the children in the audience wearing mouse ears… The name ‘Beukes’ scrawled on her palm with a phone number beneath… A fat baby Hector with raised fists and jam smeared on his chin.

The last of these photos don’t develop into anything but remain gray clouds of nothingness, which is how Mike says he knows he was finally done. When he looks at her one last time, he is crying silently and furiously. Shelly is a drooling, slumped figure with labored breathing.

Mike thinks that “If I was wretched in that moment, it was not because I had pointed the camera at her… but because I had waited so long to do it.”

He kisses her, collects the photos, and leaves without looking back. The next morning Hector Beukes calls to tell Mike Shelly has passed away during the night. Mike doesn’t care about the cause of death because he knows it already, but Hector claims “Her lungs just quit. Like her whole body suddenly forgot how to breathe.”

17

Mike hangs up the phone, retrieves the camera, and takes it outside. He places it behind the wheel of his Honda Civic and backed over it, a satisfyingly loud plasticky crunch emanating from it.

Yep. That's a creepy yellow eye looking out of that black ooze. Yikes!

Yep. That’s a creepy yellow eye looking out of that black ooze. Yikes!

When Mike goes to look, though, he sees the innards of the camera has no machinery at all. No gears, ribbons, or electronics of any kind. Instead, a black, tar-like soup is pouring out and across the driveway. Inside that horrid goop is a single, yellow eye that watches Mike as the black soup slowly hardens at the edges.

The hardness spreads inwards, eventually freezing the whole black splash- eye included- into a solid disc the size of a manhole cover. Mike picks it up and instantly hears the promised ramblings of pure evil: “Melt me down and build me into a computer, Michael. I will teach your everything you want to know. I will solve every riddle I will make you rich I will make women want to fuck you I will–”  

Mike throws it away. Later, he picks it up with tongs and places it into a garbage page. Later still, he throws the garbage bag into the ocean.

18

The story ends with a final scene told to us in the present day. It’s been more than a quarter century since Shelly Beukes has died, and Mike tells us none of his father or either of his mothers lived long enough to see him marry or sire two sons of his own.

Every year, Mike says, he gives away more money than his father made in his entire lifetime. He made his fortune developing computer memory systems. “If you have three thousand songs and a thousand photo on your phone, you’re probably carrying some of my work in your pocket. I’m the reason your computer remembers everything you don’t.”

The story’s final scene is in itself a miniature flashback from perhaps a year or three prior to Mike’s current day, but a day well after the events of Shelly Beukes, the Phoenician, and his horrible, magic camera. In it, the land where Belliver House once stood is being re-dedicated as a soccer field alongside a professionally landscaped park, pond, and playground. Mike, of course, paid for most of it.

He tells of the fine spirit that day. It was August, the weather was great, and the town had put on a good show with food, music, cheerleaders, and balloon-animal-makers.

His two sons’ favorite attraction, though, was the magician who made everything disappear. Burning torches he juggled? Vanishes as they came down. Egg in his hand? Gone, shells and all. Straight-backed chair he is about to sit in? Poofs out of existence under his rump just as he moves to sit in it. The little show’s finale comes when the magician himself stepped behind a tree and never returned.

Mike’s boys run to him and prattled on about the show, but Mike hadn’t seen any of it. He had been busy watching the sparrows. There was a flock of them, live and picking contentedly at the grass. His wife was nearby taking photos– on her phone, not a Polaroid.

Mike jokes that he can make ice cream disappear just as easily as the magician, and the family takes hands and moves toward the soft serve truck.

His son asks if they can always remember that day. He says he doesn’t want to forget the magic. The story ends with Mike’s split dialogue & narrative: “ “‘Me neither,” I said– and I haven’t yet.”  

MY GRADE: A+

Author Blurb on Joe Hill provided by Cemetery Dance

Author Blurb on Joe Hill provided by Cemetery Dance

MY REVIEW:

I started this long post by telling you this story was special. Really special, and not just because of it’s length. The A+ grade I gave it came as an easy decision. The challenge is that I’ve pressured myself to prove it to you.

I’ll start with the big picture, which is simply that every scene drips with reality and clarity. The theme of ‘Memories Are Treasures’ is strong throughout. The symbolism of Polaroids being an instant record of a cherished event, but one that removes the human connectivity is clear. The message of under-appreciating the important people in our lives is potent and heartbreaking. Best of all, the writing itself is great. What I mean by “the writing” is that Hill’s sentences, descriptions, & word choice are top-notch. He doesn’t over-simplify the important stuff, and he doesn’t belabor us with long-winded useless drivel for the stuff that isn’t. He even gives us many memorable, even profound one-liners.

Here’s an early example of what I’m talking about from when we first meet Larry Beukes:

“He had his flaws– he voted for Reagan, he believed Carl Weathers was a great thespian, and he grew emotional listening to Abba– he he revered and adored his wife, and balanced against that, his personal blemishes were no matter at all.”

Folks, that right there is great writing. In a matter of just 42 words, we know exactly what kind of a guy Larry Beukes is (a bit of a social dolt, but honestly in love with and dedicated to his wife), and everything he does from there out will fit that first impression perfectly. Moreover, we don’t just learn about Larry Beukes, lines such as the quip against Reagan teach us about both Larry and the adult Mike. The oddity of this gym-owner/ bodybuilder being moved to near tears by the likes of a Swedish band shows us he isn’t the stereotypical, hard-hearted muscle-jock we could think him to be, though his high appreciation for the acting prowess of Carl Weathers’ (aka: Rocky’s Apollo Creed) solidifies to us that he is certainly somewhat lacking in the cognitive department. All of this is what great writers do. They give the perfect collection of little details that showcase who the characters (or objects, or places, or events) are at their core, which cements them into our brains for all future scenes.

As mentioned above, Hill’s story is also rife with great one-liners, each of which are fantastic descriptors or as much literature as they are entertaining, or both. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. “For children, anger usually requires proximity. That changes.”
  2. “Arctic Blu was [a fountain drink] the color of windshield wiper fluid and tasted a little of cherry and a little of watermelon. I was mad for the stuff, but if I came across it nowadays, I think I’d hesitate to try it. I think to my forty-year-old palate, it might taste of adolescent sadness.”
  3. “The parking lot had recently been paved with fresh tar, black and thick as cake.”
  4. “I returned home in a state of persistent, low-grade panic. It took me ten minutes to cross the distance between the Mobil and my house on Plum Street. I died seven times on the way.”
  5. “I opened the fridge looking for Kool-Aid and found [my father’s] Panama Thrill, a mountainous sculpture of Jell-O, cherries suspended within its quaking mass.”
  6. “Maturity is not something that happens all at once. It is not a border between two countries, and once you cross the invisible line, you are on the new soil of adulthood… It is more like a distant broadcast and you are driving toward it and sometimes you can barely make it out through the hiss of static, and other times the reception momentarily clears and you can pick up the signal with perfect clarity.”
  7. “Resentment is a form of starvation. Resentment is the hunger strike of the soul.”
  8. [CONTEXT: Mike is in his garage. He has pinned that first Polaroid photo of himself– the one stolen from Matthew’s memory– to a cork board and spotlighted it. He is about to take on the difficult task of inspecting the impossible, frightening thing.]  “To add to my feeling of confidence and control, I unbuttoned my pants and let them fall around my ankles and stepped out of them. I had discovered some time ago that nothing frees the mind like dropping the pants.”
  9. “All the funny things he talks about building. Beware [Larry]. I will ask him to build me a new husband, one who doesn’t shave in the shower so it looks like a ferret exploded in there.”
  10. [CONTEXT: A massive thunderstorm is upon Mike.]   “I began to hurry, but what was coming couldn’t be outrun, and in three more steps it caught me. It came down so hard, the rain bounced when it hit the road, creating a shivering knee-high billow of spray.”
  11. “The sky to the west was a bright burning gold, darkening to a deep red along the horizon… a hideous shade, the color of the human heart.”
  12. “Lives have bookends, but you have to keep your eyes peeled if you wanna see ‘em.”
  13. “I shot a little over thirty pictures, but the last three didn’t develop, which is how I knew I was done. They were gray, toxic blanks, the color of thunderheads.”

Some of these are funny. Some of them are so picturesque as to pop into your mind like a completed painting. Some are simply Wow-worthy because in just a few words they teach us or clarify for us something about life itself. Lines just like these are sprinkled throughout the story, adding slowly to a comprehensive collection of beauty and intelligence and anticipation for what we’ll find on the upcoming page. Again, that’s great writing right there.

There’s something else Mr. Hill does exceedingly well, and I have no doubt he either learned it directly from listening to his parents’ advice or perhaps had it born into his genes (Hill’s mother, Tabitha King, is a great writer as well, if you didn’t already know)… his characters are spot-on perfect. Every one of them are believable and lovable and approachable. Well, except for the bad guy. He’s the kind of character you steer away from as you read, hoping secretly there’s never going to be someone like him in your own life.

My favorite example of this is the short scene when we meet Mike’s father for the first time. Mike has just come home from collecting the photograph of Matthew the clerk & is quite ruffled about it. His father is making dinner. Joe Hill sets the stage by telling us his father isn’t a great cook but is wonderful at naming the dishes, then provides a handful of excellently curious examples: ‘Battle of Stalingrad’ (mashed potatoes with shaved steak & a gravy-and-mushroom sauce), ‘Chainsaw Massacre’ (a weird mess of white beans & meat in a bloody red sauce), ‘Fidel’s Cigar’ (a brown tortilla with shredded pork & pieces of pineapple in it), & ‘Farmer Pizza’ (an open-face omelet with cheese & random chopped leftovers on top). This is great stuff & likens us to his dad instantly. The guy is creative in a way that entirely makes up for his lack of culinary skills. But the scene doesn’t end there, and it’s the next few paragraphs that really drive home Hill’s characterization skills…

As Mike leaves the kitchen, still reeling from his recent adventure & feeling sick to his stomach at the dogfood-like smell of the upcoming ‘Battle of Stalingrad’ for dinner with ‘Panama Thrill’ for dessert, he tells his father an obviously-fake story that he is going to sit in the dark to cool off because “I haven’t been this hot since I was fighting off the Cong outside of Khe Sanh.” His father replies with a made-up quip of his own: “Let’s not talk about that. If I start thinking about the boys we left behind I’ll start crying in the whipped cream.” This, apparently, is a standard style of conversation between them. They’ve been doing it for years despite neither of them having ever stepped foot outside California.

This little exchange… is fantastic. Not only does it show a wonderful ongoing game between father and son, but it also connects directly to Mike’s conspicuously missing mother. But as was mentioned in the plot description above, Mike can’t talk to his mother the way he does to his father. She’s brilliant, but she’s never home and she can’t relate to her son. She’s not dismissive or mean in any way, but she’s also not a loving mother. So on top of the great characterization of Mike’s father, this implied detail of the mother is stereotyping-role-reversal done right. Hill doesn’t smack us in the face with it, but we get it. The typical lonely-child story is a father who abandoned the family. In this case it’s the mother, but instead of simply making her the drunk or the criminal, Hill gives us a genius humanitarian who simply doesn’t understand children, not the least of whom is her own son.

You want more? I’ve got more.

Try the following passage on for size. It occurs in the scene in section 4 when Mike realizes both that Shelly Beukes was his true mother and that she’s been slowly losing her mind…

“The idea that these days had been taken from her struck me as vile. It was a swallow of curdled milk. It was indecent.

There was no justification for the loss of her memories and understanding, no defense the universe could offer for the corruption of her mind. She had loved me, even if I had been too witless to know it or value it. Anyone who looked at the pictures could see she loved me, that I delighted her somehow, in spite of my fat cheeks, vacant stare, and tendency to eat in a way that smeared food all down my bad tee-shirts. In spite of the way I thoughtlessly accepted her attention and affection as my due. And now it was all melting away, every birthday party, every BBQ, every plucked ripe peach. She was being erased a little at a time by a cancer that fed not on her flesh but on her inner life, on her private store of happiness. The thought made me want to fling the photo album. It made me feel a little like crying.”

I cannot express how powerful this scene is in the full context of the story. I felt a little like crying myself. The sadness of it, the honesty of it, and the helplessness of it seeps into us sentence by sentence like a spreading pool of lost blood. It’s a description of death, only one of the mind rather than the body. It’s simultaneously beautiful and horrible.

Folks, not enough writers write like that. Not enough writers put that kind of time and energy into what other might consider a throw-away paragraph. But Joe Hill does it here and he does it a few dozen other times, too. Individually, each expanse of his emotional descriptives gives us the chills. Collectively, they give us fulfillment. This is because each passage such as this one is poignant and memorable and creepy. They stand alone and they stand out. But they also work together to shape the reality of a character (in this case two characters… Mike’s sense of nostalgia-wrapped maturation that summer, and Shelly’s selfless life of servitude). This is the kind of thing that makes a good writer great, that makes a good story fantastic. It’s the “+” at the end of the A-grade which I can so rarely justify but which Joe Hill makes easy to find.

More? You want even more?

Ok, here’s even more.

There was a funny line or two, sure, but what you don’t get in my overall plot summary is that there were a couple whole scenes that were funny too. Not too many, but enough to make us lift the corner of our mouths and eagerly read on. The best moment, though, is nearly laugh-out-loud funny, and it comes during the most unlikely of moments… right in the midst of the climactic confrontation of Mike and Phoenician in Shelly’s bedroom. Here’s the line that honestly made me laugh out loud:

“He made a sound between a snarl and a roar. Glitter spackled his cheeks, flecked his eyelashes. He even had some in his mouth, bright gold flakes on his tongue.”

Yep. I literally lol’d. The image of all that glitter- and on the bad guy’s frickin’ tongue– was just too much for me. But what I’d really like to point out isn’t so much about how funny that line is or even why. It’s about when it shows up in the story. That image… gold glitter stuck to the tongue of Mike’s would-be assailant, is so jarring in its offbeatedness, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Any fear we might have on behalf of Mike is gone in an instant, and we are immediately and permanently at ease through the rest of the scene, through the rest of the story, even. So, too, is Mike. The rest of that section of text plays out with Mike fully in control of the situation. Which is, I propose, exactly why Joe Hill added a line of humor in the middle of his Big Action Scene. It diffuses the tension for the reader, putting us in exactly the same emotional state as Mike is in that moment. We are no longer worried and almost casually enjoying the events as they unfold. We are unworried that anything genuinely bad will happen after that. How could we? The bad guy has fucking *glitter* on his tongue!

Just one ore? Really? Ok. Cause there’s just one more. It was easy to find, actually, and one of my favorites.

Do you like a good reference? I do. Most readers do too. Some authors reference their earlier works. Some reference other great works of literature through the ages. Some reference musicians or artists or historical events that help shape the fabric of our era. We like them because we have an instant understanding of that thing without any further description being necessary. And writers like them because their own works gain from that instant recognition. Moreover, there is an emotional addition to the reading process. It’s a cute little trick lots of writers employ (I’m guilty of it myself), but Joe Hill has a unique advantage the rest of us simply cannot employ. He references not one but two great works connected to his own father, the great Stephen King.

To my mind, Hill isn’t just dropping a reference, either. He’s nodding a literary Thank You to the man who raised him. That’s what he can do that the rest of us can’t.

The first one is subtle. It’s nothing that hangs like a neon sign from his dad’s coattails but nevertheless says “Thanks, dad” with all the might of shouting through a bullhorn. Also, it’s totally bad-ass to true fans of The King. You’d have to be somewhat obsessed to even pick it up. Either that, or you’d have to be the man himself. Here’s the text Hill writes. See if you can pinpoint it yourself:

“I steered him down the hall and to the front door. I thought I had absorbed all the shocks the night had to offer, but there was one more waiting. We got as far as the front step and then I caught in place. The yard and the street were littered with dead birds. Sparrows I think. There had to be almost a thousand of them, stiff little black rags of feathers and claws and BB-pellet eyes. And the grass was full of find glassy pebbles. They crunches underfoot as I walked down the steps. Hail. I sand to one knee– my legs were weak– and looked at one of the dead birds. I poked it with a nervous finger and discovered it was flash frozen, as stiff and cold and hard as if it had just been pulled out of an ice-box. I rose again and looked down the street. The feathered dead went on and on, for as far as the eye could see.”

The reference is Hill’s decision to make the birds sparrows. He could have chosen any breed of bird, but he specifically chose sparrows. Sparrows figure prominently in King’s best-selling novel, The Dark Half.  

Why is this so bad-ass? Because beyond simply giving a little nod toward one of his dad’s more memorable books, TDH actually has a special connection to “Snapshot, 1988”…

First, TDH was published in 1989, which means King was most certainly writing it in 1988.

Second, TDH is a story about an author who is plagued by his own pseudonym which has come alive & is trying to take over his life. Thus both stories are about monsters stealing someone’s identity.

Third, TDH is also the last book King wrote before finally being subjected to an intervention by his wife & family and sobering from several years of drug and alcohol abuse. Though this detail doesn’t have a direct connection to Hill’s story, there’s no doubt that TDH marked the end of a bad era for King, and the beginning of a new, much better one which almost assuredly meant a better relationship with his family, including young Joe.

Lastly (and most interesting, in this writer’s humble opinion), is the symbolism created of sparrows in TDH and how they, too, relate to Hill’s story. Sorry to sorta-kinda “spoil” this one if you haven’t already read it, but the bad guy in TDH– that evil personification of the protagonist’s pseudonym– is some kind of demon. This is something that’s pretty evident before you reach halfway through the book. Indeed you’d probably guess it just reading the dust jacket. And (actual spoiler now… skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know!) at the end of the book, just as the pseudonym-demon-thing rises again to kill the hero’s family, a giant flock of sparrows bursts through the windows and tears him/it limb from limb. The book’s final scene shows the hero, his family, & the local police chief watching the black horde of birds disappear into the night.

In King’s book, sparrows aren’t simply symbols of death, they are the literal saviors. Symbolically, they are nevertheless agents of either God or Satan, come to collect evil souls that were not supposed to inhabit the world of the living. In Hill’s novella, the Phoenician fits that description rather than the sparrows, but the similarity is nonetheless obvious.

The second reference Hill gives us to King is a bit more in-your-face, but no less entertaining because of it. In the final scene where Mike takes those final, fatal photos of Shelly, Hill makes a more blatant reference. I told you earlier that Mike found Shelly sitting in her room with earphones over her head and a walkman in her lap. I also mentioned that her son, Hector, had set it up to play the music of Buddy Holly and others from that era. What I didn’t tell you was specifically what Hector had played on that walkman. It was the soundtrack to one of the great fan-favorite films based on a Stephen King story. The film, Stand By Me, is the 1986 Rob Reiner adaptation of King’s 1982 novella, “The Body”, a coming-of-age tale that takes place in the 1950s.

Hill could have chosen virtually any soundtrack that referenced that time period to fill in the details of this scene. The kind of music Shelly is listening to, after all, is hardly the focus of the story at that point. All we needed to know what that Shelly and Larry Beukes used to dance to great music from the ‘50s. But Hill gives that distinct nod of approval to his dad’s and director Rob Reiner’s taste in music. It’s a nice little moment where readers get to go “Ha! A Stand By Me reference. Nice.” and then move on. Though far more blatant than the sparrows/ Dark Half reference, it’s quick and pleasing to any fan of King.

And yet, there’s something more if we take just a moment to look a little deeper. In case you’ve been living under a rock & don’t know it already, Stand By Me features no less than FOUR fantastic childhood actors: Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Cory Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. Also prominent are a pre-24, 19-year-old Kiefer Sutherland, and, finally, the voiceover talents of Mr. Richard Dreyfus.

It’s the Dreyfus detail that catches my attention the most. His role in the film is to frame the story as a long flashback of his own childhood. You see, Dreyfus plays the adult version of Will Wheaton’s character, and he is narrating his memories of one important summer of his life many years after the fact. Sound familiar? Yeah. This is precisely what Joe Hill has done with Mike’s character in his own story.

You know what else? Many people forget or overlook this, but the Wheaton/ Dreyfus character is a natural storyteller who grows up to be a full-time writer. In fact the final scene of the film depicts Dreyfus writing the last page of his autobiographical manuscript and staring at the screen, taking it in, tryuing to find the perfet way to end it. Then his son walks in, asking if they can go now (he & a friend are decked out in pool attire). Dreyfus asks if they’re ready to go. The kids explain they’ve been ready for an hour. Dreyfus finally looks over, laughs at himself, and says he’ll be right there. The friend says “He said that a half-hour ago,” and Dreyfus’ son says “Yeah, my dad’s weird. He gets that way when he’s writing.” Dreyfus laughs again, thinks for a moment as he watches his son walk away, and decides upon the right ending to his tale: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?“ Dreyfus stands, admires his work, then turns off the computer and goes to spend time with his son.

This perfect, famous line relates to Stand By Me’s overall theme of friendship and does not therefore relate to “Snapshot, 1988”, but the structure of the scene itself– distracted author interrupted by his patient yet frustrated kid– never failed to make me think of King in his home as he writes. How many times did young Joe wander into his dad’s study and get that exact, distracted, blank attention? How many times has the adult Joe done it himself to his own kids. I don’t have kids myself, but I’ve done this to my wife countless times, and while I’m no Joe Hill or Stephen King (not yet at least), I can attest to what I think is going on in that moment.

You’re proud and your’re content because you’ve done something good and you know it. And you don’t feel guilty either. Not quite. Because despite the hours you’ve spent alone and despite the sacrifices your family has had to make while you talk to yourself for hours and days on end, this is the way things are sometimes meant to be. To have created something good while having the support of a loving family… it’s the kind of life moment any writer cherishes.

Jesus, doesn’t everyone?

Thus, Hill’s choice to reference his father’s coming-of-age tale is reflective of both the structure of his own and, quite possibly, the understanding about what it means to be a writer.

At least, that’s this writer’s humble opinion.


FINAL THOUGHT

Throughout the reading of this story & the writing of it’s review, I happened to come across 3 other stories with oddly specific connections to “Snapshot, 1988”. I offer to you their basic connections not to add to the literary analysis of Hill’s tale, but to share with you how creepy life’s little coincidences can sometimes be.

  1. “Memento”.  Probably my favorite film of all time (certainly it’s in my top 5), I was telling a co-worker about it the other day, loaned her my Special Edition DVD, and ended up re-watching it again just for fun. “Memento” features the use of a Polaroid instant camera prominently in the film. It was a day later I started reading “Snapshot, 1988”. I had no idea Polaroids would feature so prominently in the story.
  2. Thanks to my day job as a teacher + my own passion for writing, I rarely find the time to read paper or even ebooks these days. As such, I read a LOT of audiobooks as compensation. Halfway though “Snapshot” I attended a writing group which hosted Fordham University professor & Sci-Fi author Paul Levinson. Naturally, I found myself grabbing whatever Levinson audiobooks were available. Sadly, there were only 3. I read them all. The last one, The Consciousness Plague has a great deal to say about what consciousness has to do with a person’s identity, how memory has played a key role in developing that unique consciousness, and how damaging it can be for a person to lose their memories. Again, I had no idea what Levinson’s book was about before reading it.
  3. Scrolling through Netflix the other night, I came across a recommendation for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. I’d never watched it, though it has been on my To Watch list for years. I smiled, indulged, and was suitably blown away. (Spoiler alert!) Immediately thereafter I found myself scouring the internet for interpretations about the fantastic, controversial ending and came across one which suggested the character of Judy had committed suicide rather than having falling accidentally to her death. I thought about it, re-watched the last few minutes with a meticulous eye a full dozen times, and came to realized the nun who suddenly appears and acts as the catalyst for Judy’s final plunge is shrouded in shadows and is clearly meant to be seen as an agent of God. The following morning I read the scene in “Snapshot, 1988” in which the thousands of dead sparrows appear.

So, two stories using black figures as symbols of agents of God… two stories discussing the importance and devastation of memory loss… and two stories using a physical Polaroid instant camera as an object of useful importance. And in all three instances, “Snapshot, 1988” was one of the two stories in question.

I don’t know that that means, but it’s been creeping me out, so I’m writing it down so that I’m not the only one who has to worry about it anymore. 😀


That’s all, folks.

Thanks so very much for reading it all the way through. (I feel like I just finished a college-level class! Geeze. I hope I get a good grade).

I know it was asking a lot of you to read through it all, and as such please know I’ll appreciate any thoughts or comments even moreso than I normally would.

Thanks in advance should you decide to write even a single sentence about what’s in your thoughts on this one.

Until next time…

-K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

Official Horror Blogger of the Fiction Vortex

Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.

Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his "spare time". The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.

Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, NJ.

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1 reply
  1. Donald J. Gavron
    Donald J. Gavron says:

    After the first 500 words of the review I was hooked and didn’t want to run into any spoilers. I’ve put this on my “Must Read List.” Kudos!

    Reply

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1 reply
  1. Donald J. Gavron
    Donald J. Gavron says:

    After the first 500 words of the review I was hooked and didn’t want to run into any spoilers. I’ve put this on my “Must Read List.” Kudos!

    Reply

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