Monday, February 27, 2012

Feasting upon “Feast of the Incarnations”

By Gayle C. Straun

An erotic story about intellectual piracy.

At least, that was my goal. Circlet Press, for which I had previously written some microfiction and full-length stories, had advertised a call for submissions for pirate-themed erotic tales, and the gears in the brain started spinning immediately. My partner loves anything which deals with pirates: Talk Like a Pirate Day, Errol Flynn, Cutthroat Island, the Polly and the Pirates comic books, the Dread Pirate board game, and so on. Anything to do with pirates—no exceptions.

Most writers are probably trying to impress someone close to them, rather than the vague and nebulous “audience” many professors implore us to remember—at least, I am, especially when writing erotica. And maybe most writers think to themselves, as did I, “How can I do something different?” After all, this was supposed to be a collection of pirate stories, and no doubt the editor would be swamped with the usual celebrations of a pirate’s life, albeit with a bit more sex and sci-fi than is the norm. But I wanted to play with the definition of piracy a little bit, craft a story that would stand out among all the iterations of yo-ho-ho and the endless buckling of swashes. Therefore, I thought to tackle intellectual piracy. (In my defense, the original call for submissions was pretty open as to what constituted a pirate story.)

I had just finished reading Stanley Payne’s The Franco Regime, 1936–1975, and there quickly formed in my mind a skeleton of narrative about a dictator who tries to keep his regime together by having himself and his councilors download their consciousness, each evening, so that their minds could be implanted into robot forms in case of any assassination—ensure continuity, forever and always, world without end. In fact, I fashioned much of the world in “Feast of the Incarnations” after Franco’s Spain, including the marriage of Church and State he perfected, represented by the literal marriage of the General, the main character, and the High Priestess, who fulfills a pontiff-life role here. (I must also credit philosopher Steven Lecce, whose Against Perfectionism: Defending Liberal Neutrality proved an immense thematic inspiration.) So, very clearly, the act of piracy would entail the act of illegally downloading these consciousness files and putting them to some nefarious, anti-regime purpose, and since this was supposed to be an erotic anthology, you can well imagine to what purposes they were put. (Oh, sorry, was I supposed to write “Spoiler Alert” somewhere before this?) Certainly, one of the challenges of writing erotica is attempting to integrate the sex into the plot, making it a cornerstone without which the story would not make sense, rather than simply inserting some vivid insertion into a story that could actually stand without it. The advent of various pornographic versions of YouTube, combined with the endless parade of politicians and preachers succumbing to sex scandals, gave me the very inspiration for pulling that off.

The problem was that, when I finished my story, I didn’t really have a pirate story anymore, even accounting for loose definitions of the word. Sure, acts of piracy took place, and I even dubbed the anti-regime forces “Pirates,” but anyone who might be called such a pirate did not appear at all in the story, and any acts of piracy took place outside the narrative, which followed the General rather than those opposed to his rule. The arc of the story was much more tragic, more King Lear than Captain Blood, and there was simply no escaping that fact. (For full disclosure, my partner said, “That’s one of the best stories you’ve written. But it’s not a pirate story.”) So I cast about for places where it might fit until I came upon the Coming Together: In Flux call for stories centering the transformation of body or mind. (While bodies certainly do transform in this story, I was prepared to defend it on the basis of the somewhat more metaphorical transformation of the body politic, if it came to that.) Having this story of creative challenges to oppression accepted into an anthology that would benefit the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance—which fights for the right to “privacy and consensual sexual expression without societal or governmental interference, coercion or stigmatization”—was too perfect by half.

Not that many years ago, science fiction and fantasy were not considered respectable pursuits for “serious” authors, but that has since changed. Philip K. Dick’s works are being reprinted by the Library of America, Dorris Lessing won a Nobel Prize for Literature, and Salman Rushdie is reportedly working on a screenplay for a sci-fi television series. The same might be said for fantasy, especially in the wake of motion picture and television adaptations of the works of J. R. R. Tolkein and George R. R. Martin, respectively. Genres once derided as the stuff of children and nerds now are recognized for their ability to analyze the human condition as thoroughly as acknowledged works of literature. A similar transformation awaits the genre erotica. The more we learn about the sexual side of human nature, the more we understand our life as sexual beings twenty-four hours a day, from birth to death, then the more we will turn to erotica for enlightenment and enjoyment, for the means of understanding ourselves and the world around us. That is why I write erotica, and that is why I am proud that this anthology benefits the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.

One day, none of this will be cutting edge. Let’s make that day come sooner.

For your enjoyment now, I offer the first few pages of “Feast of the Incarnations.”

****

The camera clicks to life pointed at a pair of feet, and it takes just a moment for the operator to bring those feet into focus so that all can see the little toes curled up, as if snuggling together for warmth. But then it slowly starts to creep upward, up smooth calves that glisten with a slight rub of oil, up thighs that might belong to an experienced horseman, and then here it lingers where those two magnificent legs come together, a point crowned with the kind of penis Renaissance sculptors never graced their subjects with: not the discrete nubbin of endless Davids but something rather more befitting that ancient king’s most notorious foe. The camera pulls back just briefly from that erect and fleshy spear, and a hand reaches out, from the viewer’s direction, to run delicate fingertips down its length, down to the very bottom where that hand cups those two balls before so softly sliding upward again, circling the pink tip before retracting again into the void behind the viewscreen. And now the camera is impatient. It skirts up his chest quickly to rest upon the face of a man who—whatever his irregularities below—is pure David here, the kind of man gods, women, and men could so easily fall in love with at first sight. The curl of his hair. The gleam in his eyes. The curve of a smile that could melt lead. And now the camera takes itself from the bed upon which this man is resting and, with some fidgeting and tinkering, comes to rest at a point in the room from which it can see the full length of the man, toes up to head. He looks this way expectantly, his expectations finally manifesting themselves in the body of another who moves into the line of sight. From this angle, the head of the second man cannot be seen, so he is just another body, another average nakedness, his skin pale, his features not quite as chiseled. But the first man does not mind. As the second man stops near the head of the bed, the first man looks up into a face that cannot be seen, as if seeking permission, and then leans over, taking the other’s cock in hand and then mouth. He opens wide and buries himself full upon the member, moaning satisfaction, moaning as if he had been waiting his entire life to enjoy this very moment.

**

“They call themselves rebels,” the General thundered to his audience of thousands below, “and yet we know that they are nothing of the kind! We know this from their insignia, that most ancient of symbols—the skull and crossbones, the flag of the Pirates who roamed the high seas of legend in their endless quest for plunder and adventure. Or so the stories tell us. But the stories lie!” And here, the General hammered down upon the podium, and in the two, bigger-than-life screens on either side of the stage, his immense image, twice replicated, made the same movement with the same clenched fists. “Yes, I tell you, they lie. The Pirates of old were not the agents of independence. They were not the sentinels of freedom and liberty. Rather, they were hirelings, the base mercenaries of competing empires, thieving their way across the wide oceans. And so we know today that the people who operate under the flag of piracy cannot be called rebels. They cannot be called freedom fighters. We know them for what they are—the hired thugs of other nations, nations envious of our shining successes. And because they are mere goons, bought and paid for, we owe them no quarter, no mercy whatsoever!”

The audience cheered faithfully, enthusiastically, as the General stepped back and raised his arm in a stiff salute, as if it were a blade. The swell of voices, all one voice now, rang upon the air so loud that it seemed the stars were about to shake down from their posts high above. He savored the great swell of zeal but did not let it drag out for too long, finally stepping back to the podium and signaling the audience to let him speak yet again. And now, he took a more solemn tone as he said, “My people, you know that, this very morning, these… Pirates”—and he spat out the word—“tried to assassinate Chancellor Briggs.” Here, the crowd tried to boo and hiss, but the General cut them short. “As you might guess, they failed in this, as they shall fail in all their attempts to tear down our glorious nation. Chancellor Briggs is being treated at Ford Hospital for only the most minor of wounds and shall likely be released today, if we can pull him away from the nurses.” He lets the audience chuckle just a bit. “The lesson from this is that money can never overwhelm the power of love—the love all your leaders feel toward our people, and the love we all have for our country. Love is the weapon with which we shall destroy all our oppressors!”

The General could still hear the roar of the crowd even as the engines of his personal ornithopter roared to life and lifted him and his entourage from the stadium, high into the air above, and they cheered all the more as the whoosh of his take-off blew across them like the visitation of some ancient storm god. Soon, the aircraft was deep into the late afternoon sky, and everything below was just geography again. The General always liked this view of the world: high up enough, and it all magically became clean and ordered, a veritable map across which one could move troops and armor, if need be, or place new housing settlements, a dam, a power plant. Whatever the people required. But too close, and it all descended into chaos because the people didn’t understand their own needs well enough, could not see their lives from his vantage point, how it all worked together like the gears of a machine. Up here, removed from all the flesh and dirt, the machine worked.

*****

Gayle C. Straun has published microfiction and book reviews for the website of Circlet Press and has stories forthcoming in two anthologies by that publisher. In addition to her story in Coming Together: In Flux, she has also published the stand-alone story “Gravity” as part of the “Occupy Coming Together” series, which benefits the Occupy Wall Street movement across the nation.

6 comments:

Alessia Brio said...

Thanks, Gayle!

Michelle said...

Thanks for the excerpt...

Michelle B. aka koshkalady

Suzanne Graham said...

Your story sounds very intriguing. Most add to my TBR pile! Thanks for giving us an excerpt today.

Suzanne

joder said...

Intriguing story evolution and I'm glad that your story found a home. I'm a big fan of sci-fi and enjoyed the excerpt you posted.

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

Lisabet Sarai said...

Gayle,

Thank you for joining in the fun. Your story sounds really intriguing. I've got to get myself a copy of In Flux!

Annabeth Leong said...

Thanks for the post! And I'm glad the story found a good home. I've had way too many experiences where my effort to be original with a prompt or theme left with me with something that was just... weird. I'd say coming up with a story you're proud of is a pretty good result, even if it didn't have enough pirates in it.

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