Listen, I faffed up a bit -- a horror/comedy story of mine was featured on the Pseudopod Horror podcast, and I remembered to promote it on social media but forgot to put it on my own website. Oops. Pseudopod is one of the 'Escape Artists' suite of short story podcasts, including Escape Pod (SF), Podcastle (Fantasy) and Cast of Wonders (YA). I've been a fan for ages, and it's a real thrill to hear one of my stories read out loud.I hope you enjoy it too!
Most of the trilobites had deserted room 431. That room had been occupied by species of trilobite that lived on carrion. They hadn’t killed any of the people who had been in the room when the alarms went off, but once they escaped their tank they began nibbling on a tourist who had fallen and died in the panic. Once most of that body was eaten, the trilos scuttled out. Only two remained – Daphne, who was daintily gnawing on the few scraps of flesh on the tourist's skeleton; and Reginald, who eyed her whistfully from afar through his segmented eyes.
"And that is why I am an unmitigated badass," Taipan said. "Questions?"
Jacobs sighed. He had been sighing a great deal lately. On the other hand, it was good to be alive to sigh and be annoyed by this colossal idiot.
He sat in an unusually large ventilation tube, high in a wall over a room filled six inches deep with dark water and murderous trilobites. This position was embarrassing enough with the fact that the tube was occupied by the one-eyes, bemulleted idiot who called himself Taipan.
Maria and Lenore were trying to find their way back to the pumping room, when they came across the robot, R17, flailing wildly and trying to detatch trilobites from various parts of its chassis. "Beep! Get them off! Get them off! Beep!"
The plumbers exchanged a glance, produced mallets from their toolbelts and lay into the trilos. They were tougher than they seemed, but the Maria Sisters were masters of whaling on weird looking things with mallets though the battle was long, hard and full of noisy sound effects they emerged victorious.
This one is… Ah. This one is frustrating. Brilliant, but frustrating. With a lot of episodes of this show, I really don't know how Nimoy feels about the rubbish they have him spouting. With this one, it's very clear that he's quite passionate about the subject -- Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Nimoy, as he explains early in the episode, once played Vincent's brother, Theo. Through that experience, he became deeply fascinated with Vincent's life. Later (after filming this episode?) he wrote and starred in a one-man pay about Vincent. A filmed version of this play apparently exists, but I gather it's extremely difficult to find. Nimoy went on to write the play into a book, which was published in the 80s.
My point is, this is clearly a subject dear to Nimoy's heart, and he really pours himself into the episode. His usually brilliant narration goes well above and beyond it's normal quality. During the linking scenes where he's meant to be in France, he's actually in France, not in some part of Southern California which looks a bit like Paris. He's far more deeply embedded in the show than usual, walking through the places Vincent worked and lived. When he describes Vincent's suicide, it's almost like he's fighting back tears -- and it's hard not to choke up watching it.
Unfortunately, in spite of its many, many strengths, the episode has a glaring problem. Namely, the structure of the episode is based on Nimoy looking for proof that van Gogh was not a 'madman' after all. And this is… yeah. This is weird.
It's a good documentary. I really want to stress this. I'm no expert on van Gogh, but I've seen serious documentaries made by the BBC that aren't as informative, entertaining or sensitive. But central to it all is Nimoy's quest to prove that van Gogh wasn't a 'madman' -- rather than just, you know, rethinking his prejudices about mental illness. I know there's no definitive, agreed diagnosis on van Gogh's condition but -- bottom line -- the man was mentally ill. No he wasn't a stage 'madman', a movie 'madman'; but most mentally ill people aren't that either. Nimoy argues that van Gogh's work is too brilliant for the artist to be 'mad' and… well, just no. There are, were, and will be lots of people with mental illnesses who are talented creatives.
Nimoy's conclusion is that van Gogh was not a 'madman' but an epileptic. I honestly don't know enough about epilepsy to know is this is likely. But basically arguing that van Gogh's erratic behaviour was neurological rather than psychological in nature means… what, exactly?
To be fair, in Nimoy's summing up, he wonders himself about the utility of asking the question 'what was wrong with van Gogh.' He concludes that asking the question is more valuable than the answers he found. And also to be fair, Nimoy clearly wasn't done with van Gogh. The episode looks like it's about moving van Gogh from one box to another box, but I suspect that Nimoy realised the inadequacy of that as a means of understanding one of history's truly great artists.
"But I found something that was, in a sense, beyond the search." Nimoy.
Personal quest: 10/10, Decent documentary: 9/10, Location filming: 10/10, Interesting subject: 10/10, Understanding issues of mental illness: 0/10. 39/50. Distinction.
When the alarms went off and the lockdown locked down, Valerie had been in Thag's office, trying to find a suitable instructional video about ancient curses on YouTube.
"I think we were right about this place being cursed," she said, shouting over the klaxon.
"Yeah, I gathered," said the perpetually exasperated Thag, turning on his phone-light. "And now the internet has gone down. Great."
"What do we do now?"
"Me?" Thag said. "I'm HR Manager, so I'd better get to work saving peoples' lives and trying to stop the curse. You? You've been very helpful, but this isn't really your responsibility. You can just hide out here in my office, if you like."
After some serious deliberation the students and plumbers decided that, for safety's sake, the Prime Minister needed to be hidden. After a lot of arguing, no one was willing to accept responsibility for babysitting the nation's leader. In the end, they drew straws and June ended up responsible for finding a hidey hole for the doughy idiot.
Sighing deeper than she'd ever sighed before, she led Prime Minister Brett Blandson through the darkened corridors of Trilobite Park. "If we can make it to the security office, that barbarian woman can look after you," she said.
"I've got nothing against the Barbarian people," the PM said, "they've made a wonderful addition to this great country, but did she arrive legally? Or at least illegally, but by plane?"
Jacobs stood with Hey Ew in the twilit corridor outside Room 807b. The floor was wet with brine that trickled out from under the door. The emergency lighting buzzed and flickered. A vending machine lay broken on the floor.
"The lights are off for, like, twenty minutes and already people are breaking into vending machines," Jacobs scowled.