Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Brand New Monster

It has been an inordinately long time since I have posted anything, and for this, I am ashamed. Leave it to Mr. Wendig however, to light my fire like the booze soaked corpse of Jim Morrison holding a road flare while siphoning the gas out of a Ford Pinto. The result is my submission into the latest Flash Fiction Challenge: "Brand New Monster". I hope you enjoy it.



The Closet

Moonlight shines through the window of the nursery, illuminating the collection of stuffed animals along the window sill and providing enough light to make out walls adorned with pink wallpaper, cartoony little elephants dancing across its surface. The house is sleeping. A baby in her crib, her parents in their bedroom down the hall. 
 
On the wall opposite the crib is a door. The brass knob reflects an image of the room, bending the world around its edge, distorting reality. Slowly, the knob begins to turn. The door opens a crack, then stops. A few seconds later it swings fully open, the well oiled hinges silent. 
 
The creature unfolds itself from the closet like a contortionist emerging from a box. So tall its head almost brushes the ceiling, it stands there on stilt-like legs, its arms hanging low to the floor. Its long fingered hands taper to wicked black claws that reflect the moonlight streaming through the window, and its nostrils flare as it tests the night air. It crosses the room in two long strides, the wake of its passage stirring the yellow paper stars hanging from the ceiling. 
 
It stands over the crib, breathing in the scent of the child, listening to the beating of her heart, feeling the warmth of her body. It shudders in anticipation, its grotesque face splitting into a grin that reveals a mouth too full of needle-like teeth. 
 
It begins to reach into the crib when a voice says, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." 
 
The creature whips its head to the right, toward the source of the voice that interrupted its meal. A boy, maybe ten years old, is leaning against the wall next to the window. He has dark hair, with dark eyes to match, and is casually examining a stuffed penguin that looks much older than the rest of the animals in the window. 

The creature turns to face the boy. "I suppose you will try to stop me," its voice is a dry rasp, its words distorted by its mouthful of teeth. "But make no mistake boy, I will feed." 
 
"That's as may be, Sid," the boy says, placing the stuffed toy back among the others, his expression hard. "But not her. Not tonight." 
 
In an instant the boy flashes across the room, his body outlined in a silver shimmer. His open hand slams into the creature, driving it back from the infants crib. It howls in surprise and pain, its long fingered hands curling around its gut where the boy struck it, the skin blackened and blistered. 
 
"Last chance," says the dark haired boy, motioning toward the open closet. 
 
The creature glares at the boy separating it from the baby in the crib. Then it begins to laugh. A sound like snakes slithering over dry bones. 
 
"You will not stop me Guardian," the creature growls, contempt dripping from every syllable. "I've bested far stronger than you." 
 
The boy sets his feet, waiting for it to make a move, when a look of dismay crosses his young features. The moon outside is full, and by its light he can see the wound he dealt the creature only seconds before is already healing; the blisters receding and the skin mending itself as he watches. 
 
"Yes," it sneers, reading his expression, and lunges at the boy. 

It swings one schythe-like hand as it charges, but the boy is fast and ducks easily under the attack. He circles to its left, his hands and feet silver blurs as he delivers a flurry of strikes to the creature's legs and body, its wounds healing as fast as he can dish them out. 
 
He sees the thing's grin as it turns its head to follow him and realizes his mistake too late; by avoiding the initial attack, he is no longer between the baby and the monster. The creature's leg streaks out, almost too fast to see, and catches him high in the chest, lifting him off his feet and slamming him into the far wall of the nursery. 
 
Dazed, the boy watches as the laughing thing reaches into the crib and presses the point of one clawed finger against the baby's chest. At its touch the baby's body stiffens and her breathing stops. 
 
"No!" the boy screams. 

He scrambles to his feet and leaps onto the creature's back, wrapping his arms around the thing's throat. Its skin sears where he touches it, and he leans back hard, steering it toward the closet door. As the creature's hand comes away from the baby she wakes up, takes two hitching breaths, and begins to wail. 
 
The creature reaches over its head and sinks it's claws deep into the boy's shoulders and back. He screams as he is hauled into the air and slammed to the ground. 

His voice is silenced on impact; his silver light, extinguished. 
 
The creature stands over the unconscious boy for a moment, then turns greedily to the baby. It reaches into the crib and the child's cries are cut off. The monster leers down as the baby struggles to breathe, her face and hands turning blue, when a white radiance fills the room. 
 
The parents are in the doorway, the father's hand on the switch by the door, the mother pushing past, both called by the cries of their daughter. 

The creature stumbles backward, screeching in pain, its clawed hands shielding its eyes from the terrible light. The parents rush to the baby's crib, oblivious to the boy struggling to get up and the howling Thing reeling across the room. The boy, now on his feet, throws himself at the creature, wrapping his arms around its waist and driving it back through the black rectangle of the closet.

 The boy falls through darkness, a silver coin thrown down a well, the mother's screams chasing him.

 ***

The hospital's fluorescent lights shine down, scrubbing the hallway clean of shadows; sterilizing it. A man wearing a white coat leaves the room marked ICU #4 and closes the door after him. He leans heavily against the wall beside the door, removes his glasses, and rubs his eyes. 

"Are you all right doctor?" He looks up to find a nurse standing in front of him holding a chart. 
 
"Yes, I'm fine," he says, settling his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. "You know how it is. Sometimes these cases get to you." He tries to smile but cant, so he just looks down at his shoes instead. 
 
"I thought the little girl was going to be ok," says the nurse, genuine concern in her voice. 
 
"Oh, she is," he says quickly. "It was a close thing, but she's stable and her parents are with her now." He looks back at the door. "It's just that, I've seen those people before." 
 
He turns back to the nurse, at first unsure, but after a moment he begins, "It was about ten years ago. I had just started my residency here. They came in with the ambulance that brought their infant son. He had stopped breathing in the night. By the time the parents found him he had been without oxygen for too long, I did everything I could, but I wasn't able to save him. He was the first patient I ever lost." 
 
She hesitates, then reaches out and touches his arm. "But you saved this one," she says. She holds his gaze for a moment before walking away to deliver the chart she is carrying. 
 
The doctor turns back to the room and looks in the small window set into the door. The parents are holding their daughter between them, their heads pressed together. He watches as the husband brushes his wife's raven hair away from her forehead and kisses her there. 

Beside them, a little dark haired boy smiles.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Numbers Game


It's that time again!

Time to huff ether and drive a city bus?

No.

Time to flip my underwear inside out to get the extra day?

No.

Time to shake a baby till it stops crying?

No, it's Friday! Which means time for another terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge. This week the Beardilicious One has asked that we write a 100 word story using only three words chosen from a list of five. The words, chosen by a fusion powered robot of such cognitive power that if you looked directly at its CPU for even a second you would walk away knowing how to speak Japanese, are as follows: Enzyme, Ivy, Bishop, Blister, and Lollipop. I have cleverly embedded three of those words into the following story, I hope you enjoy it.



The End

I was unprepared when the end came. I don't beat myself up about it though. I mean, who prepares for the apocalypse besides tinfoil-hat crazies and the echelon they expect to bring it about? Not that it mattered; it got them anyway.

One hundred thousand people died the first week.

Locked in my lab, I work on a cure. I've isolated the correct enzyme, but my hands won't stop shaking. The veins are black and creeping up my arms like ivy, and I can feel the blisters forming on my eyes. Not much time now. Not for any of us.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Game Think: Dead Island


The same rules apply to my game "reviews" as do my book and movie "reviews". These are merely an articulation of the thoughts and feelings elicited by the game and still require an economy sized salt shaker handy when reading. 


The first time I heard about Dead Island was because a trailer for the game had been released which caused half the people who watched it to shit themselves over how awesome it was. It featured a Tarantino-esque use of disjointed storytelling, detailing the tragic end to one family’s vacation by starting at the beginning and the end, then meeting in the middle. You can watch it here.

Personally, I thought it was great. I mean, if they could tell such an effective story in a three minute trailer, think of what they could do with a full length game. But, for every Yin there must be a Yang, and this particular Yang consisted of another group of people shitting themselves, but it wasn’t joy that voided their bowels, it was outrage. You see, the trailer recounts how a young girl is bitten, infected, zombified, and subsequently hurled out of a fifth floor hotel window by her own father. Which is pretty brutal stuff. Awesome, but brutal.

This opened a can of worms, who then all shouted in unison, “How can you kill a child in a game? That’s disgusting!” To which I replied, “With a mouse click of cour—holy shit talking worms!” I’m going to be honest here; if it’s a zombie I’m killing it. No questions asked. At that point physical maturity ceases to matter. Confronted with the moral conundrum of a zombie fetus, I reach for the coat hanger. Every. Time.

So, now that we’ve established that I am a horrible human being (who is going to hell), let’s talk about the gameplay shall we?

Let’s get a couple things out of the way right up front:
1) If you were expecting a L4D clone, you will be disappointed.
2) If you were expecting a traditional FPS, you will be disappointed.

Dead Island is neither of these things. It’s more of an amalgamation of an FPS, RPG, and Adventure game. Kinda like if Diablo roofied L4D’s drink and then invited Dead Rising, GTA, and Just Cause 2 over for some sweet DVDA action.

You have four character classes to choose from: a throwing weapons expert, an edged weapons expert, a firearms expert, and a blunt weapons expert. Each gives you an advantage with the weapons they are experienced with—obviously—and their skill tree provides ways to further increase those advantages as your character levels. I have only played with Xian, the knife expert, and she has a skill tree specific to edged weapons. I assume that each character’s skill tree is set up to increase their skill level with their inherent weapon expertise.

After an initial cut scene and a prologue adventure that serves as a tutorial, you finally get into the real meat of the game. It quickly becomes apparent that in Dead Island “FPS” stands for “First Person Swinger” as the game is heavily dependent on melee attacks. I am currently on the fourth mission and I still haven’t seen a gun.

Weapons are found and, at least in the beginning, wear out rather quickly. You might be lucky to get through ten or so zombies before your boat oar or metal pipe runs out of “durability” and becomes useless. This is something you need to keep an eye on as once the durability meter reaches zero you will still be able to hit enemies with the weapon, but it won’t do any damage. I learned this the hard way after beating on a zombie with a pipe for half an hour before I realized the reason it wasn’t dying was because my weapon was used up. 

The RPG elements consist mainly of XP generated from kills and completed quests, which level you up, and in turn earn you skill points to spend upgrading your character. The skill tree has three branches: one focuses on a berserker style attack which you can unleash once your “rage” meter is full, another focuses on increasing your skills with the type of character you have chosen (edged, throwing, blunt, etc…), and the last focuses on defensive skills such as increasing the effectiveness of med packs and the like.

I managed to get a few hours of play in last night before my nightly-vodka-induced-coma (otherwise known as “sleep”) set in, and I admit to having quite a bit of fun. The graphics are good, not breathtaking, but not Shelley Duvall ugly either. The quest system works, as far as I can tell, and I am looking forward to putting my first frankenweapon together. All I need is the circular saw blade to finish my “Ripper”, which was a bonus for pre-order.
 
I did, however, run into two glitches—I think—in my first two hours of playing. At one point my flashlight stopped working. I then clipped through the floor of the map and fell deep into the netherworld where, presumably, Satan’s horned cock was waiting for me (I quickly ctrl+alt+del’ed, as I have no desire to preview the violation waiting for me upon my inevitable post-mortem descent into Hell).

The other—which I’m not sure was a glitch, but seriously pissed me off—happened when I tried to play a random coop. Every so often—if you set your game to “internet”—you will receive a message saying “HornyPedo is near your part in the story. Press ‘J’ to join their game.” After about the fifth time, I figured, what the hell, and tried to join a random person that popped up. The result was, the connection never got made, and when I got back to my game everything in my inventory was gone, including all of my money! The game had saved my position, but not my stuff, which kinda made me say a whole lot of bad words all at once in a high octave. I quickly recovered though, and continued on my merry zombie-bashing way (but haven’t clicked the dreaded “J” button since).

All in all, I enjoyed my first foray into the tropical nightmare of Dead Island, and am champing—look it up—at the bit to get back to questing all over the resort’s shady beaches; where the ocean froths red from all the spilled tourist blood. I have yet to kill any zombie-children, but more disturbing than that, I have learned that when attacked by a zombie in a bikini, I will totally check out its tits before I cave its skull in with a tire iron.

Hell, and the mighty horned cock of Satan, wait for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Sub-Genre Tango

It's a new week, which means a new Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge. This week we were to choose from a list of genres provided by The Bearded One and mash em up into a story, 1000 words or less . There were some pretty out-there genres on the list (I'm looking at you Femslash), so I picked the two that I didn't need to google and just went for it. Here is my entry @ 998 words, a Sword & Sorcery Black Comedy (I hope).


To Slay A Dragon 

“We are forever in your debt.” The fat little village elder pumped Shadaar's hand vigorously.

“Nonsense,” Shadaar produced his warmest smile. “It is our solemn duty to rid good folk such as yourselves of a scourge like that dragon.” Shadaar extricated his hand from the elder's grip. “And as much as my companion and I have enjoyed our stay in your wonderful village, I am afraid it is time for us to move on.”

“'Tis unfortunate,” the elder leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper. “Gretchen has taken quite a shine to ye.”

Shadaar looked past the little man to where his wart-faced troll of a daughter stood watching them talk. She twisted her face into what Shadaar could only assume was meant to be a seductive smile and twiddled her fingers at him.

“A rare beauty she is,” he said repressing a shudder. “Alas, the life of a dragon slayer does not allow for romance.” Gretchen's tongue slid out of her mouth like a slug and ran along her hairy upper lip. Shadaar felt his gorge rise and said, “Although at times like these one does feel some regret.”

“I suppose yer right,” the elder said, reaching beneath his cloak. “Still, here is something I can give ye.” He produced a leather purse and handed it to Shadaar.

“Thank you,” Shadaar said, taking the purse and making it disappear within the folds of his robes. “Your generous donation will allow us to make it to the next village that needs our help. Farewell.” Making a slight bow to the elder, Shadaar turned on his heel and strode to the edge of the village where Gareth stood, leaning on his battleaxe.

“Got it,” Shadaar said as he passed.

Gareth smiled behind his great red beard, shouldered his axe, and fell into step beside his partner.

 #


“Fifty lousy sovereigns!” Shadaar smacked the wooden tabletop, the sound of his palm striking the wood was flat in the noisy inn. “We slay a dragon for them and the best they can do is fifty sovereigns?”

“It's not like that's all they offered,” Gareth grinned over his tankard of ale.

Shadaar glared at him.

“She would have made a fine wife,” he said, his grin splitting his bushy beard in two. “Just think, you could have settled down and started a farm. At night she could warm your bed, and in the morning you could hitch her up to the plow.” Gareth laughed heartily at his own jest, and then raised the tankard to his lips for a drink. Shadaar twitched his index finger and the tankard twisted in Gareth's grasp spilling ale into his beard and down the front of his leather breastplate.

“Hey!” Gareth said, setting the tankard down and grabbing a handful of beard to wring it out. “So what if we only got fifty sovereigns? It's not like the dragon was real, we were in no danger.”

“Do know you what it costs to conjure a golem that size?” Shadaar gestured with his right hand and all of the spilled ale drew itself from Gareth's beard, gathered into a foaming sphere above the table, and fell back into the tankard with a splash. “Just the herbs alone are worth more than that. Not to mention the time and effort we put into making the villagers believe the dragon was real in the first place.”

Gareth picked up the tankard, glanced inside, shrugged, and took a drink.

“Besides,” Shadaar continued. “We get caught doing this and sooner or later a lord is going to have our heads. I don't know about you, but I value my neck at a lot more than fifty sovereigns.”

“Bah, I fear no lord.” Gareth said, setting his tankard down and shifting in his seat. “Besides, no one will ever figure it out. This scheme is foolproof.”

“Excuse me.”

Shadaar and Gareth both looked up to see a young man with a bowl cut, wearing yellow and black livery, standing at their table.

“My lord seeks an audience with the men responsible for slaying the dragon at Ashkleford.”

Shadaar turned a sober look on Gareth, “Must you always tempt fate so?”

Returning his gaze to the liveried young man Shadaar said, “Please tell your lord that we are very weary from battle—“

Gareth let out an exaggerated yawn. “Very weary,” he said, earning him a pointed look from his partner.

“And must humbly decline his invitation.” Shadaar finished.

The young man's smile was accompanied by the sound of scraping steel as swords were bared behind them. “Oh,” he said. “This isn't a request.”

They looked around to see a dozen soldiers, all in yellow and black cloaks, pointing a dozen swords at them. Shadaar turned back to the young man and clapped his hands together. “I'm suddenly feeling invigorated. What say you? Shall we meet with your lord now?”

They followed the liveried young man outside the inn, the soldiers filing out behind them, to find a coach waiting. It was a magnificent white egg the size of a small boulder. Its surface was covered in intricate carvings depicting scenes of battle, landscapes, and castles. The egg rested on a base of highly polished wood supported by wheels made of what looked to be ivory. Hitched to the front were four enormous stallions. The inside was just as ornate as the outside; a nest of velvet cushions the color of blood. Shadaar and Gareth climbed inside the padded luxury of the coach and the young man closed the door.

Shadaar leaned out the window before the young man could walk away and asked, “Boy, what does your lord want with us anyway?”

The young man turned back and said, “Why, to slay a dragon of course.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

200 Word Writing Challenge: The Muse

I am part of a writers group that hosts a monthly writing challenge. This month the challenge is to write about your muse. More specifically: "Write - in 200 words or less - a description of your literary muse, real or imagined. What is your relationship? What does your muse look like?" Here was my entry:

 “The page is still blank.”

“Thank you for that observation, I was wondering why there weren't words there.”

“Someone is in a mood today.”

“You're late.”

“I am not bound by your mortal schedule. I arrive when I arrive.”

“Tell me about it. I've been staring at this blank page for over an hour waiting for you to show up.”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I can't arrive until you are ready to receive me?”

“Oh, so it's my fault now? You know, I never have this kind of trouble with Inspiration.”

Inspiration, pfah. He is fickle. All style and no substance. Don't be so easily seduced by his charms, he never finishes what he starts.”

“Do you think it would be possible for us to get started? Unlike you, I've been here for a while.”

“You test my patience child. Still, despite your attitude, I am inclined to indulge you. What are we writing about?”

“Our relationship, coincidentally.”

“Really? Well then, I have just the thing. Take this down, 'The page is still blank'.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flash Fiction: Must Love Guns

As I have mentioned before, Chuck Wendig has a must-read blog over at www.terribleminds.com and hosts a flash fiction challenge every Friday (Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friiiday). This week, the subject is guns. I decided to throw my revolver into the ring, and knocked a story out today. It's a bit over the 1000 word limit, but I just couldn't shave any more off and still be satisfied with the story. So, while I'm out of the running for the prize, I am still going to submit it since I would like to get some feedback from the regulars who read Chuck's blog. Now, without further ado, here is my submission:


Grace Under Fire

Devereaux's men came at night. Grace was in the kitchen chopping vegetables when her husband, Phillip, went to answer the knock at the door. She had just finished the onions and was halfway through a bunch of carrots when she felt a presence behind her; an almost imperceptible displacement of air picked up by the hairs on the back of her neck that immediately sent her flesh crawling across her shoulders and down her arms.
Grace turned to find a man, wearing an ill fitting suit and a shark’s grin, eyeing her up and down the way one might admire a fine sports car they couldn’t afford. Covetous, the thought flashed across her mind, unbidden. That’s the perfect word to describe the look on his face, covetous. But as she turned, his expression changed into something more sinister and dangerous, deadly even.
“Now, now,” he said, opening the jacket of his suit to show the gun beneath. “I don’t think you’re gonna need that.”
Grace looked down and saw that she was still clutching the butcher knife, holding it out in an unconscious warding off gesture. She didn’t put it down.
“Put the knife down,” he said, drawing the gun and leveling it at her. “Or I’ll have to put a bullet in that sweet ass of yours.”
Grace met the killer’s gaze, and after a moment turned and set the knife on the counter next to the beginnings of the meal she now knew would never be eaten.  He used his gun to motion toward the door and followed her into the living room.
Two other suited goons—one with dark hair and a goatee, the other his exact opposite; blond and baby-faced—were holding Phillip at gunpoint. He was sitting on the couch, his hands duct taped in front of him, eyes wide with terror.
“Grace,” he started to get up, but Baby-face backhanded him with his gun sending Phillip sprawling back onto the couch clutching his bleeding cheek.
Goatee pressed the muzzle of his gun to Phillip's head. “I told you not to fucking move. Next time, I empty this thing into your skull, understand?”  
Phillip nodded his assent.
“Good,” Goatee said. “Now, let’s talk about where the money is.”
“I don’t know anything about any money,” Phillip said, still clutching his bleeding face. “I don’t even know who you people are!” He was practically sobbing.
Goatee slapped Phillip on the uninjured side of his face, hard. “Don’t fuck with me asshole! Four of Mr. Devereaux’s couriers have been hit in the past month, all dead, all missing their bags. After the second hit we started marking the bills, I’ll give you one guess where that lead us. Now tell me, where’s the fucking money!”
Phillip recoiled from that last outburst as if he had been slapped again. “I told you, I don’t know anything about any money,” he squealed, tears welling up and rolling down his cheeks. The sight of those tears seemed to increase goatee’s rage by an order of magnitude.
He leaned in, pressed the muzzle of his gun to Phillip’s head again, and said, “Listen to me you little shit, I don’t know how a sniveling worm like you offed one, much less four, of Mr. Deveraux’s couriers, but I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me where the money is, or I’m going to make that hot little piece of ass over there a widow right before me and the boys run a train on her. I swear to fucking God. One!”
“I don’t know anything about your money!”
“Two.”
“Please, I’m not lying. I don’t even know who this Devereaux is!”
“Three.”
“No don’t! I’m telling you, you’ve got the wro—“
Goatee’s gun coughed once and the contents of Phillip’s head sprayed out, splatter-painting the couch and walls with brains and bits of skull.
Grace stood and watched this scene unfold, Shark-grin’s gun pressed into the small of her back, without moving or saying a word. Goatee turned to Baby-face, “Toss the house. Find out where he stashed the money.”
Baby-face nodded and walked out. A second later, Grace heard the crash of their—My, she thought, My is the right word now that Phillip is dead—possessions  being tossed about as Baby-face began searching for his boss’ stolen money.
Goatee turned to Shark-grin, “Warm her up for us, I’m gonna go call Mr. Devereaux.” He produced a cell phone from one of his pockets and left the room.
Shark-grin shoved Grace face-first into the wall of the living room and pressed his gun to her temple. She could feel his erection as he rubbed against her. He reached around and squeezed her breast. “You’re a real sweet piece of meat,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m gonna make you bleed.” He started to take his pants off, and Grace sensed his attention waver while he fumbled with his belt.
She moved, fast.
Grace rammed her hips back at the same time she reached up and grabbed the gun against her head, twisting it out of his grasp. She spun around with the ease of a dancer, or expert martial-artist, used one hand to grab Shark-grin’s wrist, twisted it up behind his back, and slammed him up against the wall. Their positions reversed, she pressed the gun under the shelf of his jaw and said, “I think you’ll be the one bleeding today asshole,” and pulled the trigger. His brains erupted from the top of his head and fell in a warm rain.
Baby-face came running from the other room, gun in hand, and Grace put two into his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground. Grace crossed the room and pressed herself against the wall next to the living room doorway.
“What the fuck is going on in there!” Goatee ran into the room and stopped when he saw the bodies of his partners. Grace put a bullet into the back of his head.
Grace stood over Phillip’s body. She had given him the money, of course. A stupid mistake, it never occurred to her that the bills had been marked. He had wanted a new set of golf clubs, and she could never deny him anything. He was dead because of her.
She went to the kitchen and pulled up the floorboards in the pantry, removing the bags of money she had stashed there. Then she lit a candle, set it on the kitchen table, and turned all the knobs for the stove on high without lighting them.
She was half a mile away when the fireball lit up the night sky. She watched it in her rear-view mirror and said a soft prayer for Phillip. She drove into the night, her thoughts dominated by a single word.
 Devereaux.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bitchfest: How three sentences ruined my day

I've been back and forth about this about a thousand times, but after half a bottle of port my inhibitions have been lowered sufficiently for me to do something I will most definitely regret later.

I'm going to whine like a bitch.

Here's the deal. Chuck Wendig has a wonderfully profane blog—www.terribleminds.com—and I lurk over there regularly. He occasionally hosts a writing contest, giving out copies of his ebooks as prizes, but I've always been too much of a pussy to enter. Today I figured I would give it a try.

The rules were simple: Write a story with a beginning, middle, and end in only three sentences. The only catch, it must be a story. No vignettes.

Determined to take a shot at this contest, I rolled up my sleeves and busted out what I thought was a decent entry. It wasn't terribly original, but it adhered to the rules, and I was happy with it. I posted it into the comments section and waited patiently for Mr. Wendig to make a decision.

Here is what I submitted:
Jake drove like a maniac, taking corners too fast and weaving in and out of traffic, desperate to get to the wedding before it was too late. He burst through the doors of the chapel to find it empty; rose petals and rice covering the floor, the echoes of his entrance fading as he stared at the deserted pews. Jake turned and trudged back to his car as hot tears fell, destined to forever hold his peace.

Not too shabby. Like I said, not terribly original, but it had a nice arc, and it incorporated a nifty play on the last part of a traditional marriage ceremony. I didn't expect it to win—I had already read a bunch of the entries and I knew mine wasn't going to be in the running for the prize. As a matter of fact, the two that were my favorites ended up being the winner and one of the top four.

So whats the problem,” you ask? Sit down, dear friend, and let me crybaby all over that question.

Prior to announcing the winner, Mr. Wendig berated everyone for making his job so difficult and posted a list of entries that he “really loved”. Nestled in the middle of the list was this entry:
The bad men came and took Pa away. They said they’d bring him right back. They didn’t, so now I’m man of the house.

Really? Really?!

Look, I know this is entirely subjective, and Mr. Wendig is entitled to love any damn thing his bearded heart desires, but I just can't wrap my head around this one. No disrespect to the author, but that shit ain't a story. It's something the retarded son of a ranch hand might say when the Sheriff came 'round to find out what happened to Curly Slim, but a story? I don't think so.

At first I thought what bothered me was that Chuck singled out an entry as exceptional, while to me it didn't even meet the criteria. But after awhile I realized what my problem really was: What if I don't know good writing when I see it?! I mean, I think I know good writing, but I fully admit to being a foal—still slick from birth and barely able to stand on my own wobbly legs—while Mr. Wendig is a goddamn racing stallion. Who the fuck am I to question one who has achieved so much with their writing when I haven't finished more than a short story?

So, I read it again.

And again.

And again.

I turned my monitor upside down, squinted one eye, and slaughtered a lamb in a desperate attempt to see what I was missing. No dice. I still don't get it.

I have come to the conclusion that maybe I just don't know enough to be able to appreciate it. Like a beer drinker swishing around a mouthful of late bottled vintage and declaring, “Tastes like wine,” perhaps I just haven't developed the palate necessary to discern why this entry rated so high on Mr. Wendig's literary scale.

Or maybe I just need to douche the sand out of my vag.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Movie Think: Cowboys and Aliens

The same rules apply to my movie "reviews" as do my book "reviews". These are merely an articulation of the thoughts and feelings elicited by the movie and still require an economy sized salt shaker handy when reading.

Hollywood, an ever-expanding vortex of suck, has not backed down in their assault on originality and continues to remake, reboot, and rehash the same six movies in an endless loop of insults to our intelligence. It has gotten to the point where I predict—with the confidence of one blessed with the gift of cynical clairvoyance—that I will be sitting in a darkened theater in the very near future, watching a trailer for the gritty reboot of the movie I just paid to see.

This frightening vision woke me from my vodka induced coma—which we will heretofore refer to as “sleep”—curled in my sweat-soaked sheets, with only the words of my mother to give me comfort. “The future is not written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” And as I lay there, terror-sweat drying on my brow, I thought to myself, “Sarah Connor is my mom?!”

Which should explain why, ever since I heard about the movie Cowboys and Aliens I’ve wanted to see it. I was excited because we were going to get something new, something that had potential and wasn’t a re-remake or a sequel-equel. It had Daniel Craig, who kicked ass as James Bond, it had Harrison Ford, who kicked ass as Han Solo and the motherfucking president, it was backed by Stephen Spielberg, who is directly responsible for some of the best movies of all time, and it had cowboys fighting fucking aliens.

My excitement was tempered however, because Mr. Ford and Mr. Spielberg are also partially responsible for the recent late term abortion known as “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. They get a pass though, because I lay most of the blame for that steaming shitpile on George Lucas since, at that time, he was the only one who had shown a propensity for ruining every awesome story he came in contact with. He's like King Midas if everything King Midas touched turned into an inept screenplay carved into a dog turd.

So, blinders firmly in place, I marched off to see Cowboys and Aliens at my local Muvico—which is a pretty badass theater, and if there isn't one in your town you have my pity—with a grim determination to like this movie resting on my shoulders like a sacred mantle of nerd denial. It wasn't enough.

Overall the movie suffers because the writer or director wanted us to care about the characters. I know that might sound odd, but without proper development you can want me to care about the characters until they make an Arrested Development movie and I still won't give a fuck about them. You need to give me a reason to give a shit beyond “she made googly eyes at the protagonist” if you want me to care when something bad happens.

This is the main problem I have with movies like this. There is no buildup of tension. I have noticed that, for some reason (most likely the steady declination of the average moviegoer's IQ), a lot of modern movies have achieved such a level of ADD that they can't foreshadow anything beyond a microsecond. So you end up with scenes like this 90 minutes into the movie:

Heroine: “Where did you get that scar?”

Protagonist: “I got it defeating a band of rabid flamingos. It wasn't pretty, and I don't like to talk abou—“

*Someone bursts into the room*

Someone: “A band of rabid flamingos is attacking the town!”

Also, it's time to do away with the obvious jump-scare. This shit is rampant. It's equivalent to those emails you couldn't escape a few years ago that had you concentrate on some bullshit maze only to have a picture of Regan in full-on pea soup mode pop up when you “least expect it”. By the fiftieth time I was pretty hip to what was coming, and it's the same with these jump-scares.

The protagonist hides from the monster while it searches around, the violins building to a crescendo. But the monster, unable to find the protagonist, leaves the room. There is a moment of stillness. The violins stop. The protagonist lets out the breath they've been holding, and THE MONSTER JAMS ITS SCREAMING FACE INTO THE CAMERA! Preferably with spittle flying from its teeth (betcha didn't see that one coming did ya?).

In Cowboys and Aliens it happens twice to the same character!

In an attempt to inject something positive into this “review”, I will say that I was pleased with Harrison Ford's performance. His character had a miniscule but discernible arc, and I think he did the absolute best he could with the material he was given. He is still a great actor and I hope to see him working with a better script in the near future.

I give Cowboys and Aliens, starring Han Solo, James Bond, Captain Hadley, Guy Fleegman, and Eli Sunday, two Deus Ex Machinas and half an inexplicable romance.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Think: Ghost Story

I have decided to try doing some book “reviews” here. I use the term “review” loosely as these posts will mainly deal with my thoughts and feelings about the book/author, and are more of an articulation of my state of mind rather than a breakdown of plot, style, or technique. Therefore, these "reviews" should be taken with a boulder-sized grain of sodium (try your local Costco!).

Ghost Story
By Jim Butcher
           
Allow me to shower Jim Butcher with some totally-not-gay-yet-potentially-inappropriate author love. Jim has written two really great series of books. The Codex Alera, which has concluded, and The Dresden Files, which he continues to write—as well as infuse with some kind of addictive substance before sending them to my local book store. This substance is so powerful, it will compel me to stand in front of a Barnes & Noble, chewing my nails and shifting from foot to foot, waiting for it to open so I can get the book, run home, and mainline that shit straight into my eye-holes.

So, if you're wondering why the pleasure centers of my brain are lit up like the glowing embers of a post-coital cigarette, it's because I have just finished one of the few things I look forward to every year with the giddy elation of an eight year old school girl. A new Dresden novel.

Ghost Story is the thirteenth book in a series that has consistently ratcheted up the tension with every volume up to Changes (book twelve). I say this, not to imply that Ghost Story isn't up to the standard of the previous books, but to illustrate how very different a book it is from Changes (or any other book in the series with the exception of Storm Front).

You see, Ghost Story is a beginning.

The storyline for The Dresden Files is deceptively complex. Jim has a knack for taking bit players or previously defeated foes, and weaving them into future stories. The result is a lot of foreshadowing, loose ends, and converging story lines between novels. Changes acted as a climax, wrapping up some pretty major plot points and advancing the ones it didn't.

I equate Changes to a bit of writing advice Jim has postulated called The Big Middle. His technique is to plan up to a major event that ends the middle of the book. A pre-climax, if you will, that punts the story down the home stretch to the true, toe-curling, eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head-like-a-stroke-victim climax that ends the book. I believe Changes acted as The Big Middle for the overall series.

Which brings us to Ghost Story.

Ghost Story is less exciting than Changes, and that’s OK, because it gives Harry a chance to ruminate about all of the events in the previous book and deal with the consequences of his actions. It also continues building on all of the plot points that weren’t wrapped up in Changes, setting up a lot of dominoes that I fully expect Jim to knock down with all the enthusiasm of a drunken Godzilla looking for a good time in downtown Tokyo.

I really enjoyed Ghost Story, and it was great fun hanging out with all of the wonderful characters that populate Harry’s world. There were lots of hilarious moments, witty dialogue, and plenty Star Wars and Star Trek references (my favorite being the image of Molly’s psyche as the bridge of the original Enterprise, the different aspects of her personality manifesting as characters from the show).

I give Ghost Story by Jim Butcher three Blasting Rods and a bullet riddled Black Duster.



Thursday, July 28, 2011

You will take what I give you and like it!

So, Ive pickled my liver tonight with a bottle of Skyy and a jug-o-juice, and now its time for me to repeatedly bash my face against the keyboard in an attempt to meet my goal of posting every day.

Well, guess what? Im too full of fermented potatoey goodness to finish a serious article. And honestly, why would I try to write in this state anyway?

Oh well, shit sucks and then you live with it...or something like that.

I fully intend to go have another tasty beverage even though I must go to work tomorrow and it's past my bedtime. I dont care; I live my life against the grain.

I will do my best not to be an irresponsible asshole and post something worthwhile tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Randomizer

The Randomizer is another tasty morsel I've decided to roll around on my tongue to see if it turns out to have a bitter center, or a core of nougaty goodness. A bunch of quick-hit thoughts that occur to me and get jotted down with some smartass--and hopefully amusing--commentary.

Kit Fisto:  Adult Jedi Film Star?
Kit Fisto may be a Jedi, but with a name like that he needs to start doing porn. Seriously, wouldn’t you pay to see Kit flip those Cthulhu-beard dreadlocks back over his shoulder, fix the camera with his empty gaze, and then force-punch some tattooed crackwhore right in her quivering labia *whump-splurch*? I know I would.

Either that, or he should be a proctologist. Though, I imagine he would walk into a lot of recently vacated examination rooms.

Nurse: “OK Sir, please remove your pants and Dr. Fisto will be in to see­­—Sir? Sir?! Where are you going?!”

Left 4 Dead 2: Digital Crack Rocks.
I play a lot of L4D2 versus on the PC, and honestly, I can’t get enough of this game. It’s like the developers figured out a way to distill the most addictive parts of crack and heroin into a digital format and then have it pumped through my monitor directly into my eyeholes. I’ve got over 450 hours logged on this game, and it never gets boring. I seriously think the FDA needs to investigate.

Whole Grains: I Don’t Give A Shit.
When did everyone in the country get a hard-on for whole grains?

(If they were talking about Hole Grains, which is a term describing the striations along the inside walls of a vagina, I could understand. I mean, that always gives me a hard-on.)

I can watch a commercial, and if the product they're advertising is even remotely wheat related, guess what? They’re pimping the shit out of their whole grains. Cereal? Whole grains. Bread? Whole grains. Dog food? Whole mothafuckin grains. It’s to the point where I fully expect Everclear to start up its Whole Grain Alcohol ad campaign any day now.

Mike: “What are you drinking Bob?”

Bob: “Everclear.”

Mike: “Woah, isn’t that a bit unhealthy? It is 9 am after all.”

Bob: “No way. Everclear is made from 100% whole grain alcohol. Studies show that people who consume whole grains dramatically reduce their risk of heart disease. Just one eight ounce glass of Everclear gives me a full day’s supply of the whole grains my body needs to stay healthy.”

Mike: “Thanks for the tip, Bob. Well, looks like we better get back to work. That brain isn’t going to operate on itself!”

You know what, I’m a rebel. I don’t need that whole grain shit. You know why? Because I won’t conform to your imperialist nutritional agenda; I live my life against the grain.

Jim Butcher: New Dresden Book Out Today!
Aww yeah, $240 worth a puddin’. I plan on getting my geek on later this evening with my favorite wizard-detective. I foresee a new Book Think in the near future…

The Debt Ceiling: Seriously, WTF?
We are about a week away from default. The S&P has already stated that it will drop the US credit rating from AAA, where it has been since 1917, to...whatever is less than that (AA? AAA-?) on the Scale-O-Arbitrary Lettering that makes up the S&P's rating system if this happens.

Congress has been unable to resolve the issue.

This is mainly our fault for letting them get together in the first place. Bringing that many dense individuals into such close proximity has created a singularity, sucking them into a dimension where compromise involves putting your pants on your head and yelling, "do it our way or we'll fuck everybody!"

I happen to agree with the President on this one. Take a balanced approach. End the Bush tax cuts, cut some entitlements, the pendulum will swing in the other direction. Unfortunately, we cannot escape physics, and every time congress gets together it will all collapse into another sucking vortex of a black hole and nothing will get done.

I'm starting to think that Dan Simmons owns a time machine.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Think: Flashback

I have decided to try doing some book “reviews” here. I use the term “review” loosely as these posts will mainly deal with my thoughts and feelings about the book/author, and are more of an articulation of my state of mind rather than a breakdown of plot, style, or technique. Therefore, these "reviews" should be taken with a boulder-sized grain of sodium (try your local Costco!).

Flashback
By Dan Simmons

Oh, how I love me some Dan Simmons. The man is a badass author and a wonderful source of information on the craft of writing. If you haven’t been to his website and checked out the “Writing Well” essays there, I suggest you strap on your rocket-shoes, light the fuse, and go peruse the news straight from the muse. What have you got to lose? (Ok, I’m done now. But seriously, go check it out: http://www.dansimmons.com/writing_welll/archive/writing_index.htm, lots of scholarly goodness there.)

First things first, I really liked the novel. I wanted to love it, but there was one major element that prevented me from being able to give my heart, freshly excised and still beating, to the story.

The setting.

Well, not so much the setting as the explanation for the setting. Stay with me here…

Flashback is a dystopian novel set in an America ripped straight from one of Glenn Beck’s masturbatory fantasies. And therein, for me, lies the problem. You see, America isn’t all double-rainbows and LOLCats anymore. It’s a fucked up place where Islam is the dominant religion (the Qur’an is taught in public schools), Japan has “advisors” governing different areas of the country, Israel has been reduced to a radioactive slurry (mainly because the USA failed, or was unable, to act), the US army has been pimped out to fight for the highest bidder (this is the only steady source of income for the country and service is mandatory upon reaching the age of 17), and most major American cities resemble downtown Baghdad circa 2003.

The reason for the sorry state of the States? America has defaulted on its debt—which is kind of eerie considering the subject matter of the national dialogue right now—because, A) China, who owns most of our debt, collapsed into civil war and called in all of the outstanding loans, and B) Liberals!

Point B is what kept tripping me up throughout the book, and honestly, it probably had more to do with me than the story. It was like getting a piece of gristle stuck in my molars on the first bite of an otherwise delicious steak. It's only a small part, and if it had gone down with the rest of the medium-rare goodness I wouldn’t be complaining, but it didn’t. It got stuck there. And the fact that I was being distracted the entire time by that one annoying bit detracted from the whole experience.

There are two sections in the novel that go into detail explaining the reasons for the financial collapse. Both of them stress the American people’s dependence on entitlement programs (welfare, social security, unemployment, universal health care…) as the reason for the USA’s monetary bed-shitting. That coupled with a few other premises (border security, Islamaphobia, nuclear arms reduction, renewable energy…) made me feel like the book was saying to me, “See, see! Look what your bleeding-heart-liberal-agenda did to our great and powerful nation!”

All of the terrible shit that happened to America seems to be filtered through this lens of right wing, worse-case-scenario talking points, which is why I say it’s set in some sort of Glenn Beckian post-apocalyptic masturbatory fantasy. Not because I believe that Glen spanks it to visions of a country in ruins due to every paranoid racist thought that enters his brain, but because he would probably blow ten loads into the front of his Ronald Reagan Underoos at the thought of cavorting around such a landscape gleefully shouting “I told you so!”

I guess what I’m saying is, it bothered me that the circumstances surrounding America’s demise seemed like an affirmation of all the fire and brimstone, scare-the-shit-out-of-you, doomsday scenarios coming from ├╝ber-conservatives these days. Because, you know, fuck them*.

This is also why I say the problem isn’t with the book, it’s with me. It’s not the author’s fault that I can’t get off my ideological hobby horse long enough to let that shit go and love the story for the story. Noo. I have to get all butt-hurt because in this fictional world the people I disagree with were right all along. Ye gods, I am pathetic.

My own personal bullshit aside, Flashback is a really good read. Nestled within this wonderfully realized, third-world America is a well crafted mystery/thriller, with lots of intrigue, car chases, gunfights, double-crosses, and a pretty sweet ending-within-an-ending (of which I choose to believe the more tragic because, to me, it just felt more right).

I give Flashback by Dan Simmons three George Taylors and half a Statue of Liberty.


*Seriously, fuck em. Right in the ear.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What's in a name?

I laid in bed last night, thinking about this blog. It was out there. Where anyone could see it. Just lying there, sprawled in the effluvia of it's graceless exit from the interwomb, and I began to wonder what exactly I was trying to accomplish by creating it.

Was it some kind of monumental ego trip? Now, I'm no slouch when it comes to self-appreciation—I self-appreciate daily—but I certainly don't believe what I have to say is so entertaining that the world needs a special place they can check in and get the steady updates of smart/witty/funny wordmurder straight from my diseased, scrotum-shaped brain. Except, maybe I do.

I do know that I want to use this space as a big ass sandbox where I can build word-castles and frolic through the dunes, hunting sandsharks with my rabid pet panda, Pho Ming. I want to write ridiculous shit that makes me laugh, but I also want to say something more important than, “Fart, fart, ass, fart, pthbbbbbt!”

Aren't those worthwhile reasons to write a blog? It's not a totally ego driven endeavor, right?  Wrong. It's still just me self-appreciating all over the web; thinking my shit belongs out there, baking in the sun, for everyone to get a good whiff of so they can savor the complexity. “I do believe I'm picking up a hint of bourbon mixed with the delicate spice notes of a Taco Bell seven layer burrito.”

So, lying in bed, having determined that this is all one big masturbatory euphemism, I thought about article ideas. I realized I have no good ones. I shat myself.

I had no idea what I was going to write about, but as I stripped the sheets off the bed it came to me in a rush of inspiration(panic!). The beginning. I should start at the beginning! And what could be more beginning than the title? Besides, what the flying football does Latent Ambiguity mean anyway? I know what I wanted it to mean, but I admit to having thought of those two words while staring at a blank box demanding that I name my blog. I didn't know. What did I want to call it? The Limburger Chronicles? Nah, too cheesy. Ethereal Musings? Nuh-uh, not enough substance. The Gyno-Chair? Ehhhh, seems kinda cold and uninviting. Shitty Puns? Hey! That just might wor—no, no, its all shit. IT'S ALL SHIT!!

Then, in a moment of inspiration(panic!) a random word combination entered my mind and I jabbed at the keyboard with my thumbless mitts until I had titled my blog.

Latent Ambiguity. Sure, why not? It makes me think of chaos coated in a thin veneer of order. Like a patch of thin ice. Everything looks nice and solid, so you take a step, and now you're in over your head, thrashing around in the frozen dark. And there are things down there. And they have teeth.

Or, maybe its like some kind of social disorder. Thousands of people every year, stricken with Latent Ambiguity; never knowing when it will rear its sort-of-not-so-great-looking head. I think Schrodinger had it.

Schrodinger: “And so you see, we place the cat in the box and close the lid. We then pump a deadly neurotoxin into the box.” *presses button*

Observer: “So, you just killed a cat?”

Schrodinger: “Not exactly.”

Observer: “So it's still alive?”

Schrodinger: “Sort of.”

Observer: "Riiight."

Still, I had no idea. For all I knew I could have just named my blog after some kind of shitty homosexual vampire fan-fic. So, I Googled it. Turns out, my subconscious is a seriously boring motherfucker.

Here's the definition:
A latent ambiguity at first appears to be an unambiguous statement, but the ambiguity becomes apparent in the light of knowledge gained other than from the document.

Apparently, Latent Ambiguity is a legal term. More specifically, it's a legal term pertaining to contract law. Contract. Law. The most boring, sterile, and convoluted style of writing in existence. The one thing no one on the planet will voluntarily read, unless you pay them a metric fuck-ton of money, and I name my happy-go-lucky literary sandbox after it. Sheesh.

I would like to take this time to welcome all of the paralegals and contract lawyers who have found this blog. Tell your friends!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Naked, Blind, and Screaming, I Stand Before You

I have done it. I've joined the multitudes squawking into the Void. I have birthed myself, fetid and squirming, out of the mother-hole of the internet directly onto the blogosphere's crusty bosom. And like most horribly disfigured and genetically malformed newborns, this blog will probably end up in a dumpster with a plastic bag over its head.

Until then, I plan to scream into these cavernous depths; my throat raw and bleeding, the cords on my neck standing out, taut like high-tension cables, and my fists raised to a cold, uncaring, Godless sky.

So, lets get started, shall we?

I decided to write this blog out of some perverse need to continue to heap unwanted responsibility on myself. Also, I want to hone my writing skills. I've been told that as an amateur writer, its a good idea to have a blog because it provides you with a place to create your “platform”. I plan to construct mine from cynicism and disappointment since I have so much of it lying around.

Waste not, want not.

A second, more tangible, benefit to creating a blog is that people will have an opportunity to hear my voice—yes, I realize my voice is competing with every other nitwit adding to the cacophony of random shit on the net, but it's really the opportunity I'm stressing here—and that is the main reason I'm giving it a shot.

So here's the deal, I couldn't give two left handed reach-arounds about building a platform right now. What I am going to do, is throw out some different writing projects: short stories, game reviews, grocery lists, unintelligible gibberish masquerading as prose, and see what works, what I should improve on, and whether or not I can yell loud and long enough into the vast and terrifying bunghole of the internet for anyone to hear me.