On Conviction

It’s a busy busy March. In addition to getting together something special for the epic, penultimate installment of the Merkabah Rider series, tentatively called Once Upon A Time In The Weird West, I’ve got a few projects coming your way.

Out now from Damnation Books, publishers of Merkabah Rider and Dubaku, and editor/author/live action GI Joe Lincoln Crisler, is Corrupts Absolutely? an anthology of dark metahuman fiction exploring the notion of ‘what would happen if the average person had superpowers?’ It’s a great looking anthology with offerings by Cat Rambo, Weston Ochse, Joe McKinney, Tim Marquitz, and bizarrely, a pair of my old high school buddies, the talented Malon Edwards and Wayne Helge among others.

My own story, Conviction, takes place in the old (and mostly demolished now) Cabrini Green Housing Projects of my old abode, Chicago.

It’s origins go all the way back to my roleplaying game days, when a guy named Aaron gave me the title and premise and told me ‘I don’t ever intend to write anything, so take this concept and run with it.’ The premise was, a kid can make anything happen, can alter reality around him, simply with the power of conviction, by convincing himself beyond any doubt that he can affect change. The idea stayed with me for a good twenty or so years, till Lincoln’s anthology came along and gave it a home. So thanks, Aaron, wherever you are.

The second ingredient was Katsuhiro Otomo’s excellent manga Domu, about a senile resident of a Japanese housing project with Akira level mental powers, who uses it to basically steal and collect (and in the process murder the original owners of) various trinkets belonging to unsuspecting members of the community. As a policeman investigates the bizarre associated deaths, a little girl moves in with her family, a girl with the same psionic abilities. Someday, if given the chance, I would love to adapt and film this story with a minority cast set in Cabrini.

The showdown in Katsuhiro Otomo's 'Domu'

Cabrini-Green has been the setting for entertainment before, from Good Times to the horror film Candyman.

Good Times: Where I first thought Janet Jackson was dyn-o-mite.

Cabrini Green, for those that don’t know anything about it, was a massive complex of high rise low income housing situated in South Chicago. You can read about it here –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabrini_Green

'The Reds' at Cabrini-Green

My own extremely brief experience with Cabrini dates back to around 1995 or ’96. I drove a date up to Chicago, I don’t remember where we were heading, possibly one of the museums, and I made a wrong turn and ended up driving through. I recall my date (she was African American), becoming extremely agitated and hunkering down deep in the passenger seat.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

“”We’re in Cabrini!” she laughed nervously, wiggling further down in her seat.

What I knew about Cabrini Green at that time you could fit on the end of Tinkerbell’s pinky and still have room to paint her nails. I knew only it was ‘a bad place’ full of ‘thugs.’

What it really was was a ghetto. An intitutionalized concentration of low income predominantly African American households whose basic design seemed to be crafted to break up black families. I have no idea as to what it’s origins were, but in researching it for Conviction, I gotta call a pig a pig.  Unable to make ends meet, mothers applied for assistance. The city would pull surprise inspections on assisted families, and if they found the father in residence, they would immediately cut off benefits. This caused fathers to necessarily live in separate apartments from their wives and children, effectively increasing the temptation of drugs, infidelity, and violence, all of which were rampant thanks to the deep infiltration of local street gangs. In its heyday, police treated Cabrini almost like a sovereign nation, refusing to pursue criminals inside or respond to calls for distress from its terrorized residents without significant paramilitary force. They sealed it off at New Years because the gangsters basically ran the show, waltzing down the street firing Tec-9’s and MAC-10’s into the air.

The situation of the buildings created a killzone in the center courtyard. Gangsters fired from hundreds of possible elevated positions. They burrowed holes in the adjoining apartments on various floors so that if police attempted raids, perpetrators could easily escape to stairwells or elevators.

If I remember right, Virginia Madsen made her way through one of the so-called (by police) 'ratholes' inbetween apartments in Cabrini.

In the name of preventing suicides and violence (protecting the residents supposedly), iron cages were erected over the open walkways, reinforcing its penetentiary look.

Nah the bars are for your protection, not ours.

So, in picking a setting for Conviction, I picked Cabrini, because if ever there was a place that inspired hopelessness in a youth, it was that place.

The main character of Conviction is Abassi, a picked upon kid raised by an unsympathetic grandmother, who witnessed the debasement and murder of his own drug addicted older sister at the hands of a cadre of local Gangster Disciples, and was beaten near to death for it.

Miss Orozco, a social worker at his school, tells him something he’s never heard before; that he matters, that he if he can but visualize something better, he can make it happen. She brings hope to a kid without hope, and that little push puts him on a road to improvement.  She teaches him a word he’s never heard before – conviction.

Then, in the weird and wonderful way superhero fiction creates metahumans out of improbable events (Peter Parker and his irradiated spider, The Flash and his lightning bolt and shelf of chemicals), an event occurs which once married to this new conviction, grants Abassi incredible powers.

But without any guidance or positive reinforcement to temper them, what does a child without hope do with them?

That’s Conviction…

And here’s an excerpt –

I wait in the Killing Field between the reds and the whites, where the crackheads go and the po-pos won’t ‘cause they get shot at from the windows. Them windows is like hundreds of eyes, and the red and white buildings be like giants looking down on you. I wait by the wet mattresses and the busted stones and the bottles and the pipes and the crinklin’ chip bags and the yellow grass that ain’t never been green.

I stare at the ground while I wait. It’s wet from the rain. Rain s’posed to make things grow. They ain’t no reason it shouldn’t be green. They ain’t no reason they can’t be flowers.

Yes they is. The poison. The poison in the dirt from the blood and the rock and the puke and the dog shit and the people shit and the glass, which is the only green they is.

I think about the grass bein’ green. I breathe.

From where I sit, it turns green, like it always should’ve been. The green spreads out across the whole lot. The grass drinks up the rain and spits out the poison into the street where it belong. It grows up my ankles, so thick you can’t see the glass and the garbage no more. There are pink and yellow flowers like the ones in my picture.

I get up. I know what I can do now.

Pick up a copy of Corrupts Absolutely? from the publisher http://damnationbooks.com

or right here in print and Kindle from Amazon –  http://www.amazon.com/Corrupts-Absolutely-Metahuman-Fiction-ebook/dp/B007GE8RLC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331238309&sr=8-1