Friday, January 25, 2013

The Princess of Blood Casts Out Demons: A True Story

December 31st, New Year’s Eve, around 11:15 PM or so.  I’d just finished my tour at the Remote Encoding Center, where I did data correction for the post office, and was anxious to get to a party a co-worker was throwing.  Stepping outside, however, was like walking into a snow globe.  Flurries blew continuously on a wind that chilled me to the very marrow of my bones and salt trucks rumbled along the streets of Charleston as driver’s cautiously followed behind; the gold dome of the capital building was dusted white and pockets of snow clung to street signs as if afraid of hitting the ground.  Turning my back to the breeze and cupping my hands, I lit the last of my cigarettes before trudging through the ice and accumulation to the gravel parking lot across the street.  For the most part, the streets were barren and stoplights cycled through colors at empty intersections while an ambulance wailed in the distance.

I knew I’d need a fresh pack of smokes before hitting the party, so I crept along a treacherous interstate with my heater and wipers on high as I hunched forward, peering through the tunnel of snow which rushed at the car.  Eventually, I found the exit I wanted and pulled into a little oasis of light where a Go-Mart sign shined through the storm.

Parking as close to the door as I could, I grabbed my wallet and had just taken the keys from the ignition when I saw her.  She was shorter than me and her hair was a disheveled shock of bleached blonde with dark roots just beginning to show through.   She was engulfed by a ratty, green sweater whose hems were frayed and a backpack whose straps were held together with duct tape sat by her feet.  She stood outside the plate glass windows, under the awning surrounding the convenience store but still exposed to the elements, and I remember thinking that something about her reminded me of a small animal that had been pushed from the car and left behind as a vacationing family sped away.

She was definitely a person of interest.  I wasn't attracted to her physically, but her general appearance and demeanor had snagged my writer’s curiosity.   However, when I went into the store, she barely glanced in my direction, continuing to pace along the sidewalk with her eyes intently staring at the scuffed tips of her tennis shoes.  I poured strong, black coffee into a Styrofoam cup, grabbed a couple candy bars to replenish the stash I always kept in my glove box, got my cigarettes and headed back out into the cold.

She was waiting just outside the doors and I strained to hear her mumbled words above the rumbling of engines from the gas pumps.  A truck stop.  She needed to get to a truck stop and did I know where one was.  Could I take her?  To the truck stop, before midnight.  Could I take her?
Desperation glinted in her eyes and she continually glanced over her shoulders every few words, as if fearing that someone was sneaking up behind her.  There were still approximately twenty minutes before the new year was rang in and I knew if I took this waifish girl to her destination I’d never make it to the party in time.  But something compelled me to agree, exactly what I can’t say.

In the car she told me her name was Princess, though she looked like anything but.  Her face was lean and gaunt with bloodshot eyes sunken so deeply into her skull that they seemed to be perpetually ringed in shadow.  Her thin lips were so dry that flakes of skin hung over painful looking cracks and a cold sore festered at the corner of her mouth.  She’d pulled her feet onto the seat as we drove and wrapped her arms around her legs as she slowly rocked back and forth.

They were after her, she said.  They would be looking for her and she needed to get far, far away from this town as quickly as possible, for she knew they would find her.  They always found her, no matter how fast and how far she ran, but she never gave up hope, never stopped trying….

She was a witch, she continued, from a lineage that could be traced back centuries.  Her family was plagued generation after generation by the very demons her ancestors had struck a pact with.  They whispered in her mind, lurked in the shadows of strange cities, and masqueraded as normal people.  They cackled and laughed when no one was listening and pulled her hair when she tried to sleep.  Once, she said, one had slithered down her throat while she was eating but she had chased it away with gasoline.

It was a stop and go monologue with short periods of silence punctuating sentence fragments which seemed to burst and tumble from her mouth.  She’d begun rooting around in her bag as she mumbled and prattled, eventually removing a prescription bottle and shaking a handful of white pills into her palm.  Without asking, she snatched my coffee and washed them down before leaning back against the headrest and closing her eyes.

When demons touch you, Princess explained, they always leave something behind.  Something they can use to track you down, to find you no matter where you go in the world.  But she’d discovered a secret, a way to give them the slip.

At some point she’d retrieved what appeared to be a small, beat-up vanity, though I missed where she actually got it from.  It clicked open and she then pushed up the left sleeve of her sweater, revealing a pale forearm ridged with scars.  With the windshield wipers slapping a breakneck rhythm in their war against slush and the radio no more than a lull, she removed something from that little vanity.  In the glow of the dashboard, I stole glances at her watching as she pinched half a razor blade between her thumb and first two fingers.  Without a word, she pulled the blade across an unblemished patch of skin and threw her head back, eyes half-closed, as her back arched; blood welled from the wound and trickled down her arm while a soft sigh escaped her parted lips.  For a moment, she seemed frozen in time, but then she smiled and put the razor blade back into its case.

She would be safe for a while, she whispered.  She’d purged their taint from her system and they couldn't find her, buying her time.

“Do you know about ritual magic?” she asked as she leaned closer to me, blood oozing across her skin and staining the fine hairs lining her arm.  In fact, I did… however, my instincts told me it was probably best not to divulge that bit of information, so we rode the rest of the way in silence.

I dropped Princess at a truck stop off the interstate on the other side of the city; through my rearview mirror, I watched her disappear into the swirling snow as I pulled away and whispered a blessing for her safety and well-being   I never saw her again, but have wondered over the years how her story played out.  I hope she was finally able to find peace but, of course, will never know.

True story.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Game: Soul

Developer: Kydos

Platform: Xbox 360, iPhone, iPod Touch

Genre: Puzzle

ESRB Rating: Unrated

Recently, I had a very bad case of the flu. Not just the common cold, mind you, but a flu blown flu that left me somewhat surprised I didn't come out on the other side as a flesh-eating zombie. When I got out of bed, I was usually greeted by a wave of vertigo and cold chills that tingled even my scalp. My joints felt like broken glass was embedded in the cartilage and I just couldn't seem to get the apartment warm enough. Because of this, I only got out of bed when absolutely necessary; I stayed beneath my comforter, alternately sleeping, watching movies, and playing video games. Which, of course, also meant I wanted a new game.  I wanted something new, but inexpensive; something I could easily put down when I started feeling super nasty and pick back up again later. But most of all, I wanted a challenge. Soul, from indie game developer Kydos, fit the bill nicely.

At the beginning of the game, a glowing ball of energy departs a corpse in a decrepit hospital. Your goal is to maneuver this soul through various corridors and scenarios as you try to guide it to Heaven. But there’s always a catch, isn't there? The passages you have to navigate may also, at times, be inhabited by what I think of as soul eaters. These black globs pop up from floors, ceilings, and walls, gnashing their teeth amid primordial roars. Get too close to one of these otherworldly creatures and your unfortunate soul is dragged to the depths of Hell, forcing you to restart the level.

Soul eaters aren't the only obstacles you have to contend with, however. Much like the classic board game, Operation, touching the borders is a definite no-no. Sometimes this forces you to use the utmost stealth on what appears, at first glance, to be a relatively easy level. There’s very little space between the ceiling and the soul eaters at times and progress is made through minute taps on the thumbstick.  Needless to say, you build up a sort of muscle memory with this type of stop-and-go level and caution quickly becomes second nature; the developers take full advantage of this, however, by immediately plunging you into the following stage, which is a race against rising water through a network of pipes.

At its core, Soul is a maze game. You start at Point A and have to somehow find your way to Point B in order to progress. The labyrinths are both challenging and unique; whether you’re making your way through a subterranean cavern with only your radiant glow to reveal surroundings or maneuvering through the grotesquely undulating intestines of a soul eater, the challenges so far have felt consistently fresh.

What gives Soul it’s true charm, however, is its dark atmosphere.The colors are very muted in this game, consisting primarily of washed-out looking earth tones. Walls are dirty and cracked, with hints of brick peeking through, and warrens of shadow cluster in corners. This lends a sort of comic-book noire feel to the environments, which jumps into the realm of horror with occasional pop-up scares.

The only thing working against this game is the fact that there’s no way to save your progress. If you exit Soul entirely, you’re forced to start over from the very beginning, replaying the same levels which you previously fought so hard to master. I’m not sure why the developers overlooked what should have been an obvious feature; if forced to hazard a guess, I suspect that maybe this may be a relatively short game and they felt no need to add extra code for something they expected people to finish in a single sitting. Even if that is the case, a save feature would've been nice. In fact, the lack of it is why I cannot, in good conscience, award Soul six out of six demons.

Everything else, however, is spot on... which is why it still comes out on top with an impressive 5 and a half out of 6 demons.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Author Interview: Vincenzo Bilof

From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof is the recipient of SNM Horror Magazine's Literary Achievement award in 2011. Vincenzo is the author of the zombie novels "Nightmare of the Dead" and "Necropolis Now," the first book in the Zombie Ascension series. Both are available from Severed Press. Vincenzo's new serial, "Japanese Werewolf Apocalypse" will be available in February 2013. Please join me in welcoming this respected colleague to the blog.

As with my previous interviews, I’ll begin with the standard Six Demon Bag opening question, which you can interpret and answer however you please:  if you were in possession of a six demon bag, what would yours contain?

I would think the demons within the bag would be symbolic; each would represent a repressed or realized fear. If demons have the power to inflict suffering and pain, I imagine that I would have to experience six horrific scenarios, and in each I would be given a chance to "resolve" or prevent whatever disaster is supposed to occur, only to fail miserably.

With that out of the way, what can you tell my readers about your latest offering, Necropolis Now?

In Necropolis Now, the slow, Romero-esque zombies aren't the sole reason why Detroit is falling apart, but rather, mass hysteria perpetuates Detroit's destruction.  The central plot revolves around a former Delta Force commando who became a deranged serial killer in his quest for hellish power, which involves the resurrection of the dead; a group of mercenaries are dropped into the dying city to find him.

How long would it really take for people to say the word "zombie" if one of them appeared? Why do we have to use different words, like walker, when our first thought would be zombie? It wouldn't take long before people figured it out, if it happened, and the military wouldn't be overwhelmed. Rather, the people themselves would instigate society's destruction.  

Instead of using a cast of characters who are "good" people just trying to survive, I opted for characters that're already past the point of no return, characters that would wallow in the destruction rather than hide from it. In that way, my characters are very much like every day people…

People who watch The Walking Dead are witnessing the protagonist, Rick, slowly lose his "humanity" and become a more violent person. Most of the characters in Necropolis are where he doesn't want to be, and they're trying to reverse the process, or come to terms with WHAT they are. The book is truly about violence and redemption.

Necropolis Now is a fusion of styles. I grew up in the eighties, so I mixed over-the-top action with zombie gore and characters. It's Michael Bay meets George Romero.

A lot of your work deals with zombies… how do you think you’d fare if the undead apocalypse began tomorrow?

I think of it as a crises situation; there are a lot of similarities between an impending apocalyptic scenario and a natural disaster —the world as you know has been threatened and it may end. I say that because I don't want it to sound silly that I've actually thought about this. What would I do? I'm certainly not prepared. No ammo cache or grenades, and I don't exactly have Boy Scout skills. I like to think that in a crowd, I could make tough decisions for the good of the group, but with a child, I think the emphasis shifts, and the decisions are a lot more challenging. I would leave the katana swords at home, because the whole idea that it could slice through vertebrate like a hot knife through butter is about as ridiculous as a shotgun that never has to be reloaded… I would do anything to protect my family, so I would try to impose my will upon the group for my own personal gain, which would likely be bad. I think we would have to do things on our own, because I'd likely get kicked out…    

As human beings, our perceptions and experiences tend to shape our views of the world around us; as authors, we’re charged with creating our own worlds and populating them with people who never existed. Do you feel your own life experiences have influenced your imaginary worlds and, if so, how?

I think this is true of every writer, whether it's subconscious or realized. Our environment helps shape us, so our understanding of the world is often represented by our imaginary creations. I typically don't think of an archetype or someone I know when I create a character. I essentially meet my characters the first time I write them onto a page, and I learn more about them as I go, which often forces me to go back and edit things. I don't stop and wonder where certain concepts come from, but if I did, I could likely find a subconscious rationale behind everything.

In your opinion, what are the most important elements of good writing?

First, you must have an authentic voice. If I can pick up your book and it reads just like any other cookie-cutter Wal-Mart mass market book, or like a bestselling horror novel where the main character is always a fictional version of the author… it's kind of like forging a signature…

Second, take a grammar class. No, seriously—that make's me smile (joke). Many grammatical elements are thrown out the window when it comes to realistic character dialogue and stream-of-consciousness; good readers SHOULD be able to make that distinction, but if you break grammar rules — and this really applies to fragmented sentences and character language — you need to make sure you're consistently breaking them.

Third, take a psychology class. I'm actually going to write a blog post on this soon, but basically, you have to provide the reader with insight into WHO your characters are. Consider ensemble pieces like the TV shows American Horror Story or Game of Thrones. Intrinsic motivations and flaws inform character actions, and these are extremely important to the story.

Time for another standard Six Demon question:  There’s a train rocketing through the night with nearly a hundred people looking out the windows. The only person actually sitting in their seat is a small child who gazes unwaveringly at the floor. What is going on with these people?

The kid's parent tells them not to look, otherwise they would. Outside, Godzilla is stomping around and breaking stuff, and in its (hers?) hands there are a gaggle of late-night talk show hosts and politicians who suddenly have nothing clever to say because their writers aren't there to help them…

In one of your blog entries, you said, “I truly think that an exploration of horror can unlock the secrets of the human soul.”  Can you expand on exactly what you meant by this?

I'm going to begin to answer this question by quoting a mantra from Frank Herbert's Dune: "Fear is the mind killer…"
Fear cripples us. We’re all afraid of something, and it holds us back from discovering something important about ourselves, or the world. Change is the worst. The horror genre ultimately represents that. We hate it when our normal, boring lives are interrupted by a terrible inconvenience, like the car breaking down… or a traumatic event. It sets us back emotionally. It changes us.

There are so many horror stories that focus on children as the protagonists or the catalysts for horrific events. Why? They're supposed to be pure and innocent, untainted by the responsibilities and tragedies of the adult world. Orwell once wrote that "Ignorance is Strength." In a way, it is.

I think the horror genre is making a comeback, much to the chagrin of big publishers. We can open up Pandora's Box to discover what scares us. The things we're most afraid of represent inherent flaws in our society. Understanding what we fear helps us understand who we are; it allows us to deconstruct our personalities, to know the impetus behind out motivations and desires.

This is a discussion about what "horror" is, and there is a fine line between "horror entertainment" and "horror fiction." I guess I could write a book about this subject.

Speaking of writing books, if there were to be a novelization of your life what would the title be and who would you want to write it if you could pluck any author from the streams of time?

"I Told You I Don't Like Cake, So Please Stop Offering it to Me, Thus Forcing Me to Politely Decline Once Again." I think the title concisely summarizes my life. It would have to be written by Roberto Bolano, who actually wrote horror stories using poetry, so his stuff was sold as "literary" fiction. Most of his work involves madness and serial killers. He actually wrote a short story that was a summary of Return of the Living Dead 3, in which he tells you the plot of the whole movie; it's scarier than the film, and he didn't fluff it up.

We’re nearing the end now, so here’s the last of the standard Six Demon questions:  are there any questions you’d wished I’d asked but didn't?

You didn't ask me what I was having for dinner. I thought the whole world wanted to know… that's why I always post pictures of meals on Facebook.

You handled that last question with such grace and aplomb, that I’m going to leave the blog in your capable hands while I fight through the stray cats at the kitchen door in an attempt to take out the garbage.  Feel free to seize control.  Anything at all that you want to talk about or promote is fair game;  the forum is yours.  Ready…. GO!

If you enjoy zombies, EXPLOSIONS, gore, action, and complex characters, check out Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension. It's the first book of a new series! Here's the synopsis:

Detroit has become a war zone. Slow, shambling corpses feast upon the living while fire consumes the city. Amparo Vega, a haunted mercenary, fights through streets that are choked with the dead. Her mission: extract the legendary soldier, Jim Traverse, who holds the terrifying secret behind the zombie epidemic. While the bullets fly, Traverse befriends a group of survivors whose fates are forever linked to his: an infamous arms dealer, a young lawyer, and a former detective struggle against the zombies together. Can Vega's elite cadre of mercenaries find Traverse before the epidemic becomes global? 

Thanks for your support! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Killer Within

The world of The Seven Habits can best be summed up in a line from the song Electric City by Firewater: “You don’t have to be a soldier to fight, but you better have a killer in ya.”   This is best exemplified by Ocean’s post-apocalyptic world.  No one who survives in these wastelands is weak; they can’t afford to be.  Life has been reduced to a bleak struggle for survival where you look out for yourself first, the people you care for second, and everyone else only as the situation dictates.  This hierarchy comes into play when Ocean kills her mother in a struggle over a dead rat.  In that situation, if Ocean had thought of her mother first, the young girl would have died then and there.  Her mother would have carried on with her life as if nothing happened.  Is it any wonder that Ocean’s father is dead?  He loved her very dearly and put her best interests before his own.  That’s not how you survive in that world.  But Ocean had what her father lacked, that killer within.  It possessed her just when she needed it most, enabling her to rip out her mother’s throat with her teeth and ensure her own continued survival.  Since she’s struggling to transition between childhood and what her world thinks of as  adulthood, she’s still conflicted at times.  This is why I’ve said Ocean will have to get progressively more calloused as the series progresses.  At heart, I think, she’ll remain a good person.  But there are a lot of hard choices in store for that young girl.

Much as Ocean is going through a rite of passage, so is Bosley.  His world is also in transition, but it’s at a stage where very few people have realized that there’s something intrinsically wrong happening.  Bosley knows, of course, because he’s been up and down this timeline so many times he’s got a birds-eye view.  He knows what’s going down.  But there are a handful of people out there who’ve noticed how a lot of their friends are changing, how it almost seems as if they’re slowly losing their minds, until one day they just erupt in a geyser of violence.  The virus is just now beginning to break the news and there are ripples of unrest among those connecting the dots.  The living dead, however, are not yet among those dots.  They're right around the corner, but at this point none one could have guessed what was to come.  Which is why the vast majority of them will not survive.  They’ll flinch when they should have struck without hesitation.  They’ll break down into extended states of shock, their brains overloaded by atrocities continually witnessed and too many surges of raw emotion.  They’ll allow old prejudices and preconceptions to dictate their paths toward death. Or any one of a thousand other reasons. This is the moment of change;  when each and every person has to reach deep down inside and find the killer lurking there or be devoured by the new reality. 

As a slight teaser, I’m attaching a link to the first chapter of book 2, The Dead Trap.  I think this may very well be one of the darkest scenes I’ve ever written, but keep in mind that this is extremely rough draft material.  It hasn’t been edited or polished in any way and needs refinement.  But it really sets the tone for book two and overall I’m happy with it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Progress Game Review: White Noise

Game: White Noise

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Milkstone Studios

ESRB Rating: unrated

So I finished the last game I’d been playing and was messing around on X-Box Live, browsing the indie games that are out there.  I admired some for what I thought were awesome titles along (‘Avatars Don’t Bleed’) and others for doing something a little different with a basic game concept we’re all familiar with. But then, one of these games really caught my eye.  White Noise.  I can’t even really say why it intrigued me.  The description was so mediocre that I can’t remember what it said and the screenshots they’d posted were only so-so.  Furthermore, there was no way to rally tell what type of game this was because the developers had elected the genre of Other.  Which, to be perfectly honest, might be what intrigued me right there.  But I digress.

White Noise was only 80 Microsoft points… pocket change left in the account from my last purchase, so I didn’t really feel like I’d be out anything if it truly sucked.  At less than 50mbs, it downloaded quickly and I was ready to play.

The first thing the game tells you is that to really enjoy the game to play it with the volume up and the lights out.  “Okay,” I said aloud, “I’ll trust you on this.”  Once I’d fulfilled those obligations, I sat down and really started to play.

The setup is straightforward:  you and your friend work for a paranormal magazine and have gone to a site in the woods for an investigation. You stay behind to set up cameras, while said friends goes outside to place the recording equipment.  He’s been gone for two hours, you’re worried, and decide the best course of action is to go out and look for him.  The premise also sounds fairly simple:  find eight tape recorders hidden in the woods.  Here’s where things get interesting.

From a first person perspective, you are surrounding by darkness and shadows.  The only things you can really see well are what’s illuminated in the glare of your flashlight.  A wind is howling through the trees and night insects chirp as your feet crunch with each step.  Sometimes ambient music drifts in and if you listen closely you can hear what almost sounds like a man screaming in the distance.  You pass some eerie landmarks along the way:  what appears to be some sort of Greco-Roman ruins, gigantic half buried statues, and a downright sinister looking bathroom area.

What impresses me here is that this game truly gives you the feeling of wandering through an unfamiliar forest in the middle of the night.  It pulls you in rather quickly, in fact, just by how genuine everything feels.  One button switches your flashlight on and off. You can press right trigger to sprint, but to do this your character has to drop the flashlight to his side;  meaning that you only get brief flashes of light from the bobbing camera as you run.   The only clues you have as to where the tape recorders are hidden are auditory.  Each one hisses with white noise and the closer to one you are, the louder it gets. If a loud hiss starts growing fainter, you know you’re heading away from your goal and have to readjust. 

As I was stumbling through the forest I saw what looked to be a human shaped shadow in the distance.  When I’d move, it would move.  When I stopped, it stopped. But it was always facing me.  And always just a little bit closer.  I approached it cautiously, circling and always making sure to keep it within the corona of my flashlight.  Bit by bit more details began to emerge and the effect of this part was downright creepy.
However, I can see how this game might get a little repetitive as you only have one life to try to find all eight recorders and there’s no such thing in White Noise as “taking damage”.  One shot is all you’ve got and if you fail, you’re right back at stage one.

So I’m going to hold an overall score for the time being and give just the atmosphere an impressive 6 out of 6 demons.  Stay tuned for updates.  My son has informed me that this game if a clone of another, called Slender, so I expect that might hurt the final rating in terms of originality, but as an introduction to this style of game it’s quite effective.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thoughts on Ocean

My original thought for Ocean was a girl who was more animal than human.  I’d envisioned her scurrying through the wreckage of the city: grunting , growling, and occasionally scrambling along on all fours.  Her hair was to be a wild, unkempt mane and her fingernails long and sharp, like talons.  Everything about her behavior and appearance was to be animalistic.  While she ended up being somewhat different, some of those initial characteristics carried over into the finished product.  They can be seen when she sniffs the air in an attempt to detect the stench of nearby rotters and again when she eats a dead rat simply by biting into its corpse with no preparation, cooking, etc. 

The problem was, I just couldn’t connect with that incarnation of Ocean.  I think maybe there just wasn’t enough humanity left there.  However, she made her true self known to me when I pictured her as a younger girl, forming pictures from the bloodstains on the sidewalk as if they were clouds.  To me, this is the essence of Ocean.  She’s surrounded by a world of sorrow, suffering, and destruction.  She’s so malnourished that she’s nearly a walking skeleton and most of her hair has fallen out.  But she makes the best of it. (Incidentally, I pictured her as the bizarre lovechild of Dakota Fanning and Golem from Lord of the Rings.)

As the series progresses, we’ll see the toll her world takes upon its inhabitants, the sacrifices demanded by survival, and the moral ambiguity of a world that is pure survival of the fittest.  A person can’t go through experiences like that without being changed.  And not always for the best.   For her to live, she’ll have to become somewhat calloused.   Desensitization would dictate this.  What would be unspeakable horrors in our reality are Ocean’s norm.

So anyway, there’s my thoughts on Ocean… 

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Game: Deadlight

Developer:  Tequila Works

Platform: Xbox 360

ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)

Genres: Sidescrolling, Platform, Puzzle, Action

There are a bevy of zombie-themed games out there to choose from: first person shooters like Left 4 Dead , third-person survival horror ala Resident Evil, or  ­top-down shooters in the vein of Nations Red.  There are so many, in fact, that originality quickly becomes an issue.  Don’t get me wrong… I loved Dead Island;  but, when you really think about it, that game borrowed elements from Left 4 Dead and blended them with some of the features from the Dead Rising series.  So stumbling across Deadlight has been a real treat.

The game takes place in post-apocalyptic Seattle, circa 1986.  Assuming the role of Randall Wayne, the player must navigate the dilapidated city, overcoming obstacles and dealing with zombies (known in the game as “Shadows”) along the way.  As a sidescrolling platformer, a lot of games would have taken the run-and-gun route; Deadlight, however, wisely elected a more tactful approach.  While various weapons can be found along the way, it is best not to directly confront the undead if possible, since the sound of combat will attract more enemies.  On top of this, the player must keep a close eye on their stamina level.  Stamina is reduced by climbing, sprinting, and fighting, forcing players to rest if it becomes depleted.  When surrounded by the relentless Shadows, the last thing the player wants is to be forced to stop and take a breather while stamina recharges.  That, friends, is a sure-fire recipe for a quick death.  The environmental puzzles in Deadlight are the key here, not mindlessly blowing away wave after wave of rotting flesh.

The graphics in this game are, in a word, awesome.  Though the player and enemies are always cloaked in shadow, the environments surrounding them convey the gritty reality of a fallen world.  From downed power lines sparking with electricity to a tattered billboard fluttering in the breeze, this world is lush with detail.  Couple this with a soundtrack which can be as haunting as it is desolate and the atmosphere is complete.

So far, the only real problem I have with this game occurred once the .38 special was acquired.  The right thumbstick is used to aim the weapon and at times the controls can be a bit clunky. When forced to actually confront the undead, the time it takes to correct a misplaced shot can be the time it takes to join their ranks. (UPDATE: later in the game this proved to be extremely frustrating as I was killed by a soldier time and time again. It seemed no matter how quickly I vaulted over the wall, I just couldn't draw my weapon before getting shot down.  I eventually got it, but it wasn't easy.)

Overall, I’m really enjoying Deadlight and find it a refreshing change of pace from the post-apocalyptic zombie games I usually indulge in.  The wastelands of Seattle have been an entertaining, if not somewhat challenging, place to spend a Saturday afternoon and I suspect my exploration of this universe will continue on into the evening.  Unless things really fall apart in the worst possible way, Deadlight currently ranks a respectable 5 out of 6 demons.

UPDATE: I finished the game and have no regrets in buying it.  There were only two points in the game where I really found clunky controls to be a problem:  the aforementioned scene where I couldn't draw my weapon before getting shot and again during a helicopter chase when I couldn't get the character to climb over a fence before being riddled with machine gun fire.  I still stand by 5 out of 6 demons, however)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Gown's Tale

This is a piece of non-genre flash fiction I penned four or five years ago and it's been nearly impossible to find a home for it.  When I submitted it to Flash Quake Magazine, it was rejected by one of the editors as being "irreconcilably weird" (which I took as a compliment).  I still like the story a lot though, so I thought maybe I should put it in my Six Demon Bag for safe keeping.

The Gown's Tale

            I wasn't expensive. I was found in a thrift shop, nestled between the other wedding gowns, smelling vaguely of moth balls, and waiting for that certain someone: someone who needed a dress slightly on the larger size, who wouldn't mind the pinhole burns hidden within the folds of my fabric. Someone whose budget matched my price tag and knew they would look radiant with me draped over their body; even if it was only for that one, special day.

            As it must, I suppose, time passed. Now, he is taking me out of the closet like he's done every night for the last six months. He holds the hanger with one hand and runs the other slowly along my bodice, so cool and smooth against his rough palm. His hand lingers at the waistline, slightly off to the side, as if I were a person whom he would soon be pulling closer to him, perhaps for a dance or a slow, sweet kiss. For a moment, it almost seems as if he will kiss me; but, instead, he closes his eyes and inhales through his nose, breathing in the lightly spiced aroma of the perfume he sprays me with every Sunday afternoon. His hands  tremble as he squeezes his eyes shut more tightly and savors the ghost of a scent five days old.

            When he opens them again, he takes me across the room and gingerly lays me out across the bed. He brushes away a bit of lint with his fingertips and smooths some minor wrinkles before turning his attention to his belt. He is unhurried and silent as he removes his clothes, allowing pants and underwear to slip to the floor where they curl around his feet and wait, like a faithful dog by its master's side. His shirt joins the pile and, completely naked now, his skin starts to dimple as the cool air chills his body. And yet he remains so methodical, so meticulous in his routine, that I don't think it ever occurs to him to adjust the thermostat.

            Instead, he walks to the nightstand at the foot of the bed and turns on the television. The cassette is already loaded in the VCR and he only has to push the play button before turning and walking back to where I lay. It is the same tape as always, played so often that no amount of tracking can clear up the fuzzy lines jumping and jittering across the screen....

            He takes me off my hanger and slips me over his head, allowing my material to cascade over his body like silken moonlight. I rustle softly as he shuffles over and sits on the edge of the bed, one hand absently petting the fabric bunched up around his knees as he turns his attention to the images playing across the television screen.

            There is a close-up of a woman on the tape and she laughs as she pushes a lock of dark hair away from eyes that twinkle like two pools of clear water on a sunny day. The woman leans toward the camera, and the change in focus causes her features to blur. Even through the cheap speakers, her voice sounds light and giddy when she speaks.

            "I know it's a cliché, but this really is the happiest day of my life…"

            His body trembles at the sound of her voice and he wraps his arms so tightly around himself that my boning presses into his ribs.

            The camera pulls back and there I am, on the screen, looking much more delicate and elegant on the woman than I ever have on him. In the background, he passes by: so dapper and suave in his rented tux, his cummerbund as close of a match to my pinkish sheen as they could find.
"Hey, I'm gonna throw the bouquet now, okay? Everyone gather ‘round…"

 And now, as every night, he buries his face into his hands as the tears overtake him. He rocks back and forth, his body hitching and shuddering with sobs, knowing that wearing me is as close to her as he can ever be again.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Editorial Defense: Why I trashed Grammatical Rules

Bad reviews and negative feedback on my work don’t bother me in the least bit.  I’m not so egotistical to think that I’m going to write a book that will be universally loved by each and every person who reads it.  People have varying tastes and that is exactly how it should be; the world would be an extremely dull and lackluster place if we all had the same opinions.  The being said, I want to clarify something about The Seven Habits.  In doing so, I’m not defending myself or my writing but my editor.

Some people have commented that the editing is inconsistent due to frequent changes in verb tense during Bosley’s narrative, sometimes even switching tenses multiple times in a single sentence.  However, this does not in any way reflect on the skills of my editor.  I had written Bosley’s chapters that way intentionally and advised Permuted Press and the editor of this upfront… and I would have fought tooth and nail to keep those inconsistencies in place if I had to.

What you have to keep in mind is that Bosley is dimensionally unstable.  At any point, he can be spontaneously pulled through the Eye of Aeons with no control over where he ends up.  It might be hundreds of years into the past or future, it may be a matter of just a few days, hours, or minutes.  For him, time is no longer linear.  It does not go from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on, but is more like a young child’s crayon scribblings on a wall.  He’s pulled through time so often, in fact, that it’s taken a toll on his memory (which depends upon time being measured in a linear fashion).

For a person like Bosley Coughlin, he can never be entirely certain whether something he is talking about has already happened, is happening, or is yet to come.  As the author, I made a stylistic decision to throw the rules of grammar out the window in his chapters.  The way a person talks is a subtle reflection of the way that person thinks and I wanted his narration to embody the confusing mess his mind had become.  Personally, I don’t see this as being much different than the way he uses archaic words and phrases as naturally as he does modern slang.

I tried to keep the tense changes as subtle as possible, but if this decision completely grates on your nerves, blame me… not the editor.  She did a wonderful job on this book and I would love to have the opportunity of working with her again.

That is all.