Fleming Unit #59: Retro Rampage (First Draft)
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Posted by Brannick on: 01:20 AM, 11/13/17
I arrived about an hour past the opening of the storage units on October 11 with some boxes and garbage bags for a more convenient packing up. I opened my unit’s door, unit 59, to be greeted by a musty old smell- the smell of garages, old paperbacks, and antique stores; a smell I love. On the left wall spilling a bit into the back edge of the storage unit, my collection stood. A reunion I was very much looking forward to.
My house was broken into a few months ago while I was out of state visiting my family. Whoever had broken in had taken a lot of my shit: tv’s, cash, everything in the medicine cabinet. The usual suspects. In addition to these I have- had- a massive VHS collection. I had tapes ranging from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Song of the South to b movie schlock like The Skateboard Kid and Carnosaur 2 (somehow, I only owned the sequel). Of course, these didn’t go untouched. Saying they didn’t go untouched is an understatement. They ravaged it. They took the tapes that are easy to replace but still very loved, entire box sets of tv shows gone and leaving gargantuan gaps in the shelf, rare expensive tapes evaporated to once again burn a hole in my wallet, and even home videos and some VHS-C tapes. They even snatched my Panasonic VHS-C camera. Either the thieves are broke independent film makers (a bit redundant) or just straight up assholes. What once remained of my library of black tapes was now reduced to a single bookshelf of scattered documentation of a time gone by.
So, I decided to put what remained of my collection into my storage unit where it likely wouldn’t be touched and rebuild it to its former glory. I would use this as a sort of library system, occasionally bringing home a tape or two and returning them once I was done. There’s a store near where my storage unit was- Stars and Bards I think- that sells a lot of nerdy stuff and has the occasional VHS tape; it even had some obscure ones. So, whenever I would go down to borrow something from my collection I would pop in and see if there was anything to add. My plan when I went to clean out my storage unit was to reclaim my collection (and all the other junk I had in there) and then head over to Stars and Bards to see if there was anything I could add.
I very much wanted to open my boxes, put all my tapes in and head on home and marathon a good portion of them but I had much more to pack up. To resist the urge, I decided to pack up everything else first and put in my earbuds and played the 1969 album In the Court of the Crimson King from the English prog rock group King Crimson. Court of the Crimson King is one of the greatest albums ever created. Composed by Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, and Ian McDonald with lyrics written by Peter Sinfield this album creates a surreal unique sound that has shaped music throughout the years. The first track of the album and probably the most well-known track “21st Century Schizoid Man” paints a bleak and chaotic picture of the future being one of war and organic life replaced by machines. Sinfield’s most brilliant lyric of the song “nothing he’s got he really needs” suggests that media as a source of escapism from this reality will be consumed by greedy people in excess. The instrumentals are a chaotic yet synergistic masterpiece that demonstrate the messages of the song extremely well- Fripp, Giles, Lake, and McDonald even include a lot of improvisation in the track. This song is sampled in Kanye West’s song “Power” which is probably how most people currently know it- but none of this is relevant. It just gets kind of boring writing about packing up a storage unit.
I extended my arm to pick up my abandoned belongings, fingers spreading open slightly and curling them into a firm closed grip around my possession and then retracting my arm into a slight bend and then gently opening my hand placing the object into a bag or a box. I continued this motion; extend arm, spread fingers open then curl into closed grip, retract arm into slight bend and gently open palm. Extend arm, spread fingers open then curl into closed grip, retract arm into slight bend and gently open palm. Extend arm, spread fingers open then curl into closed grip, retract arm into slight bend and gently open palm. Extend arm, spread fingers open then curl into closed gr- that’s when the album ended and I found myself holding a tube of unopened tennis balls. Why the hell was there an unopened tube of tennis balls in here? It might’ve been from the brief period where I tried to pick up tennis but I’m honestly not too sure.
I decided I would replay the album up until it got to “Moonchild” (the album put me in a very productive groove) and once it reached that point I would go on break and open the tennis balls. I went back into the motions, extend arm, grip, retract and gently open palm, until I reached the song. At that point, a good amount of filled bags and boxes had accumulated and I only had my tapes, some heavy things, and some small things left to pack up. Before my break I figured it would be for the best to carry the full bags and boxes back to my car so I could clear some walking space. I carried out the few first bags to the lyrics “talking to the trees of the cobweb strange/ sleeping on the steps of a fountain/ waving silver wands to the night-bird’s song/ waiting for the sun on the mountain”. “Moonchild” is such an amazing song, might be my favorite on the album. Sinfield’s poetic description of night time, the stillness and melancholic beauty of it all paired with the instrumentals playing a serene melody leading into broken yet logical and beautiful improvisation paints a very melancholy and lonely scene. A moonchild waiting for sunrise so that she may retire.
By the end of the song I had cleared all the filled bags and boxes so I could finally take my break. While I hadn’t worked all too long my body still felt a bit sore, probably from work the day before but cleaning things out and lifting those bags didn’t really help. I opened the tube of tennis balls to have my nose filled with the AstroTurf smell and emptied one of the balls out. I laid down on the ground and began to bounce the tennis ball. The way my arm extended and wrist snapped downward making the ball bounce up almost all the way to the ceiling only to fall to be met by the same arm that made it go so high, this time in an anticipating, snatching motion, felt very profound to me and my mind told me it needed to be filmed.
I had a camera in there near my tapes, another Panasonic camera with a playback option, they’re relatively cheap and I love having the playback option so I couldn’t resist. I found a VHS-C tape near the camera and put it in. I was looking for a good angle to shoot and I realized that I should probably check to make sure I wasn’t recording over anything important, and sure enough there was some footage on there. Not only was it footage but it was an entire short film. It’s not often you find anything edited like that on a VHS-C so this struck me as pretty odd, especially since this was one of my tapes. At the time, I put it down to it being a tape I purchased at a garage sale although now I’m not too sure. I don’t know. I figured I’d watch the tape and as soon as I finished it I would finish packing everything up.
The tape opened up on a blue screen with white text spelling out “Retro Rampage.” It cut to the back of a young man facing a wall, saying something though what he was saying I'm not too sure, it sounded a bit muffled, but I was more so paying attention to the song playing, “Fan Club” by The Damned. Great song, great band. If I paid a little closer attention I could’ve probably made out what he said. At the very least the man's speech patterns sounded very natural, like he was talking to someone. Given that it was a tight shot that was entirely possible. The man began to cough and the camera quickly panned away and focused on an empty stool. Coughing could still be heard in the background although it eventually stopped and the man began to speak again. This led into a hard cut to a close shot of a hand wearing a latex glove holding a flip book. In the background, I could hear the faint typing of a keyboard. The hand ran its thumb up the pages, bringing the drawings to life. The art looked like it was drawn by Don Hertzfeldt, although a little cruder. The flip book featured a man sitting in a chair watching a TV. The man laughed and the words "ha ha" appeared around his head. He made a motion like wiping a tear from his eye and calmed down. The man continued to watch the TV and he gradually aged and aged and aged until he started to decompose until he was just a skeleton. The skeleton turned its head away from the TV and faced the viewer. It opened its mouth and a fly came out and flew away. The fly was halfway off the page when the flip book ended. I'll give whoever made the flip book this: they have some talent in animation.
The film cut to the back of the same man from the first shot only this time he was in a video store. The man turned his head around a bit and said, "so do we-" and then this cut to another shot of him walking through a street at night. It was very quiet, only the camera background noise could be heard. In the distance, a streetlight flickered. This cut to a very shaky shot of the camera man opening a door.
The next shot had two men wearing rubber Austin Powers masks standing among many VHS tapes, some on shelves some stacked on the ground. This was lit by a dim purple light, and the song "Neat Neat Neat", another fantastic track from The Damned, played. The lyric "be a man be a mystery man" played as a close up of the man on the left lifted up a tape. He then quickly tilted it, holding it in both hands, and before I could register what was happening he snapped the tape in half, its film entrails falling out. In another wide shot both men knocked over the towering stacks on the ground, tapes scattering across the floor. The camera panned across the floor as the men began stepping on and smashing them. Some they jumped up and down on smashing them into bits spilling film across the floor and getting tangled, twirling up their legs. The rest of this sequence became a chaotic mess of them eviscerating the tapes in various ways. The Sandlot was pitched and hit across the room by a baseball bat, chunks falling to the floor. Henry Portraits had its casing decapitated film reels ripped out, being cast around like party streamers. Rocky Horror picked apart by a pickaxe, pieces sliding further and further across the floor. The butchers were very belligerent with every single tape.
At the end of the song the men were knee deep in the tapes' innards. The men were breathing from the -murder- destruction they caused. The entire sequence left me light headed and filled with anxieties. The two men walked towards the camera and it cut to a black screen and what sounded like the Commodore 64 text to speech saying, "Help us help you. Help us help you. Help us help you," over and over again for a bit longer than it needed to.
This left me confused and, honestly, terrified for my fucking life. I can’t prove that those were my tapes, that that was my door they opened, but it’s hard to shake the thought. I still can’t determine if this was a random tape I picked up at a garage sale or if this was the thieves doing. If it was them, it wasn’t like the tape provided any major evidence for their identity, so I couldn’t even show this to the police. And considering it was months ago there’s a chance that if it was them they already skipped town. Regardless, I think I understood the message. I packed up everything left in the storage unit and moved it to my car. I closed the storage unit door around 3. I headed over to Stars and Bards and donated the camera and the 73 tapes I had accumulated in the past few months, including the VHS-C of Retro Rampage. I’m done with collecting VHS tapes for now.

Posted by mikemacdee on: 02:08 AM, 11/14/17
A wall of text is not a welcome sight to any reader. That can be fixed once you rewrite the narrative to be more engaging: I quickly found myself skipping ahead to find something more interesting than the narrator's hobby, dull descriptions of mundane tasks, and how much he loves certain songs by certain bands. The story just doesn't grab me with the first paragraph like it ought to, and it's mostly dull prattling to the very end, with really nothing happening at all.

I would honestly start again with the same concept and take it from a different angle. The idea of finding vhs tapes of terrible things in a storage unit has potential for horror, but it's nowhere near that level yet, and I think a new approach will help.