The Never-Ending Halloween

I went to work yesterday, and they were playing Christmas songs. Christmas decorations were everywhere, and I had to assemble a cardboard replica of Santa’s mailbox to hang gift cards on. And yet just a few days ago, I posted this on Instagram. Halloween hasn’t been over for a full week, and already Christmas is dancing on it’s dessicated corpse.

Of the two holidays, I have to say that I’m more of a fan of Halloween these days. Oh sure, I don’t go trick-or-treating, and I spend more time with friends and family on Christmas than I do on Halloween. But I feel closer to the spirit of Halloween than Christmas. Maybe it’s because Christmas has been commercialized out the wazzu (not that there isn’t a huge commercial element to Halloween as well), or maybe it’s because I’m sick of hearing about the War on Christmas from the more conservative side of the family. But honestly, I think it has more to do with Halloween being steeped in fantasy and horror, my two favorite genres both to write and to read.

Anyone who reads my blog should know I’m a fan of the macabre. I think I’ve posted more horror stories on this blog than any other genre. The same goes for the stories I post on my Patreon. I could make up some pretentious artistic explanation for why that is, such as horror being able to expose our underlying primal anxieties or whatever, but the truth is that I just find it fun to read scary stories and to write my own. I have ever since I was a kid. Seriously, you have no idea how many Goosebumps books I checked out of the school library.

A lot of my current projects revolve around horror, as well. Wednesday marked the premiere of the podcast TerrorTop, a Dungeons and Dragons Actual Play with Gothic and Lovecraftian elements. I’ve been working real hard on DMing the game and working together with my players to create a believable and terrifying world. We plan on releasing a new episode every other week, alternating with out sister podcast Quips and Crits.

TerrorTop
The thumbnail art for TerrorTop, as drawn by Evan La Medica

In addition, I have been working on an urban fantasy/ horror themed indie tabletop RPG, which I hope to eventually be able to publish. Working on developing the rules has been really fun, especially since I decided to work on my own system instead of piggy back off of someone else’s work. Unfortunately, that means I could very well screw up and create something unbalanced and not at all fun to play. But that’s the basic risk that comes with making any game.

Finally, I’m continuing to write horror stories. I’ll be posting a short flash fic later today, and I’m spending time that I’m not working on the RPG writing a longer story that I eventually hope to have published. if I can’t publish it, I’ll throw it on the Patreon and work on the next one. Eventually, I’ll get good enough to be a published horror author. Halloween may be over, but I will never stop celebrating the spirit of the macabre.

WolfNut of Red Larch

The following is a parody Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon. The lyrics are inspired by Acquisitions Incorporated: The C-Team. For best results, sing loudly while accompanied by a classic piano with an occasional guitar solo.

I saw WolfNut with a Draconic menu in her hand
walking through the streets of Red Larch in the rain.
She was looking for a place called the Yum Yum Hut.
Gonna get big plate of beef and romaine.

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

See her howling round your dungeon door,
better not let her in!
Tiny little goblin got mutilated late last night.
WolfNut of Red Larch again!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

She’s that hairy handed creature
who ran amok in Nemezir.
Lately she’s been overheard in Neverwinter.
Better stay away from her:
she’ll rip your lungs out, sir!
Heh, I’d like to meet her armorer.

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

I saw Jim Darkmagic Walking with Omin Dran
dancing the WolfNut of Red Larch.
I saw Jim Darkmagic’s clone walking with Omin Dran
dancing the WolfNut of Red Larch.
I saw WolfNut drinking an ale at the Dran and Courtier.
Her hair was perfect.

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

Heh, draw blood!

Hawooo! WolfNut of Red Larch
Hawoo!

The Coffee Shop

In a small coffee shop in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from Playhouse Square, two men were discussing the state of the war. One of them, a redhead with glasses and a flat cap, seemed particularly agitated. “The president said he wasn’t ruling it out,” he said. His friend, a tall bald man with a long beard, just shook his head. “They already used them in the Middle East,” continued the red-headed man.

“There is a significant difference,” said the bearded man, “between using nuclear weapons on foreign soil and using them against American citizens. Even if they are rebels.”

Jared listened to the two men as he swept the floor behind the counter. He knew eavesdropping on them was rude, but he couldn’t help it. It was that time of evening when hardly anyone showed up. Not many people needed coffee after six o’clock. He and Kelly barely needed to do anything. Jared looked around the shop at the customers. Apart from the two politically-minded individuals, there was a middle-aged couple a few tables away. The husband had on a Cavs jacket and an Indians baseball cap. Every so often he would turn away from his wife and look over at the two men discussing politics. His wife, meanwhile, was trying to keep him engaged in their own conversation, which had to do with school choices for their children and how they were going to pay for college. The only other person in the coffee shop was a young woman, around college age, who was pretending to study a calculus textbook but kept checking her phone every few minutes.

Looking around, Jared realized that, once again, everyone in the coffee shop was white. This wasn’t surprising: people of color hadn’t been coming to the coffee shop for a long time. Jared recalled one particular Middle Eastern couple, neighbors of his named Aleah And Brahim, who used to be regulars. Aleah would get a medium latte and Brahim enjoyed a large black coffee. One day, while Jared was driving to work, he noticed a couple of black vans parked in front of their house. They stopped showing up to the coffee shop after that, and the next time Jared drove by their house there was a for sale sign in front of it.

Even the staff of the coffee shop was now completely white. Jared’s friend Jamal had left the coffee shop a little over a month ago. Rumor was that he’d run away to New York City, deep in rebel territory, with one of the regulars, Marcus, who he had been dating. Jared liked Marcus. Marcus would come in and order a latte with a shot of pumpkin spice every fall, and Jamal would laugh. “You’re such a little white girl, Marcus,” he’d say. But if Jamal and Marcus had been planning on fleeing to New York, they had never told Jared. Sometimes Jared wondered what had really happened to the two of them. Were they really going to New York? If so, did they make it there? Did Jamal join up with the rebel army, or were they living peaceful, civilian lives?

“Would you really put it past the president to go that far?” the redheaded man asked his friend. “He’s always said that we need to get tough on them.”

“But what happens when the war ends, and there’s a big radioactive crater where New York used to be?” replied the bearded man. “Think of all the money that would need to go into the rebuilding effort. Do you really think that the president wants to spend that much, especially with the national debt as high as it is?”

“I suppose not,” conceded his friend. “God, can you just imagine, though? All that destruction, thousands of people dead. And not just troops, but civilians, too.” The bearded man nodded, a grim look on his face.

The man in the Indians cap leaned towards the two gentlemen. “Hey,” he said. The men ignored him.

His wife put a hand on his shoulder. “Jack, don’t,” she admonished. Jack ignored her.

Hey,” he said again, louder. Again, the two men ignored him. Jack got up from his seat.

Hey, you ginger fuck,” he said, “you some kind of rebel sympathizer?”
That got everyone’s attention. Even the woman in the booth stopped pretending to study and was now looking up at the scene unfolding a couple of tables away from her. The red-headed man turned to face his accuser. “I’m sorry?” he asked, a bewildered look on his face.
“I asked,” said Jack, “if you and your friend were a couple of rebel-loving traitors.”

“Of course not,” said the redheaded man. “I wasn’t—”

“Because it seems to me,” said Jack, interrupting him, “that any real American wouldn’t have the slightest bit of sympathy for these traitors. If they wind up dead in a crater, then I say they got what’s coming to them.”

“But what about the civilians?” asked the redheaded man.
“Anyone who’s over there with the rebels is just as guilty as any rebel,” said Jack. “They’re just as guilty of abandoning American values as the rest of them, and they deserve to die just the same.”
“Even the women and children?” asked the bearded man.
“Everyone,” said Jack. “Which brings us back to you two rebel-lovers.”

Jack’s wife stood up and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jack, stop,” she said. “They’re not worth it.”

“Shut it, Martha,” barked Jack, pushing her hand off him. He stepped towards his two targets. “I think we should have a look inside your houses,” he said. “I’d bet we’d find some interesting stuff.” He inched closer. “Stuff like letters to rebel soldiers. Maybe even a prayer rug or two.”

Jared could see where this was going, and he knew he needed to put a stop to it. “Hey,” he said.

Jack turned to look at him. “What?” he asked, annoyed.

Jared swallowed a lump in his throat. Jack was at least six feet tall, and he had a chest like a barrel of whiskey. Standing across from him, Jared felt like a housecat that had just picked a fight with a mountain lion. He shook himself out of it. It was too late to back down now. “If you’re going to continue to harass our customers,” said Jared, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Jack turned towards Jared, directing his fury at the barista. “Oh yeah?” he said. “You a rebel-lover, too?”

Jared pointed at the flag by the door. “You see that?” he said. “I put that there myself.” He hadn’t, but Jack didn’t need to know that. “Now, do you see the sign next to it? The one that says ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody?’”

Jack didn’t say anything. He just stood there, his eyes going over every inch of Jared’s face as if he were memorizing it. Jared felt a sinking feeling grow in the pit of his stomach. He knew what happened to the people who spoke up. Everyone did. One day a friend or acquaintance of yours would be running their mouth off. A few days later, they were gone without a trace. No one ever wondered where they had gone off to. Not aloud, anyway.

Finally, Jack broke his gaze from Jared’s face and sat back down at the table with Martha. A haze of tension seemed to drain away, and the coffee shop returned to a level of normalcy. The woman in the booth went back to her textbook. Jack and Martha tittered away about the educational prospects of their children. Jared continued sweeping the floor. And the redheaded man and his bearded friend began conversing again, albeit in more hushed tones. The malaise of a lazy Ohio evening began to take hold once again.

A few minutes later, the woman in the booth got up and asked for a refill on her mocha. Kelly rung her up at the register while Jared began making the drink. As she waited, the woman once again whipped out her phone and began scrolling through what must have been status updates. At last Jared finished her drink and brought it over to her.

Here’s your drink, miss,” he said, holding the cup out for her to take. The woman didn’t respond. Jared struggled not to roll his eyes. “Miss, your drink,” he said again. The woman still didn’t respond. She was staring at her phone, her face completely pale, as if all the blood had rushed out of her at once.
“Oh my God,” she said, her eyes glued to the screen.

Jared was becoming a bit impatient. “Miss,” he said again, more forcefully, “your drink.”

They did it,” said the woman, her voice shaking. “They actually did it.”

Something in her tone unnerved Jared. He began to feel that something was wrong. “What did they do?” he asked.

New York just got hit with a nuclear missile strike.”

Every eye in the shop shifted towards the woman. For what felt like hours, no one said a word. Slowly, Jared put down the mocha in his hands. Then he began taking off his apron. For a moment, he just stood there with his apron off, not doing anything, not saying a word.

Kelly,” he said finally, “I’m not feeling very well. I’m going to go home.” Kelly didn’t say anything. Jared went to get his coat from the back of the shop.

Am I just going to be here by myself, then?” Kelly asked suddenly, as if she had just awoken from a trance.

Jared almost told Kelly to call Jamal, but he stopped himself before uttering it. “Call Brent,” he said instead. “He owes me a favor, anyway.” He heard Kelly sigh.

OK,” she said.

Jared grabbed his coat and walked outside. The sun had just finished setting, and a cool night breeze wafted through the air. There was a National Guardsman patrolling the street, his eyes scanning up and down the sidewalk on both sides. Eventually those eyes came to rest on Jared. Jared kept his head down and didn’t say anything.

I wrote this story about a year ago. I tried to get it published in a punk zine, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t try to get it published elsewhere. I was afraid it would be seen as “too political.”

After what happened today in the Senate today, I simply don’t care anymore.

A Dance at the End of the World

Take up your lyre and strike up the band.
Dance all you want, for the end’s close at hand.

The world that we know will soon be no more.
Its refuse and debris shall wash up on the shore

of a darkly lit island at the end of all things,
where the Lord of the Void and the Judge of True Kings

will tally our faults, our sins and our crimes,
and weigh them against our more innocent times.

They will judge if we’re fit to dwell in the sky
or to be ground into dust and finally die.

So although we can’t know our ultimate fate,
let’s take pleasure from life before it’s too late!

 

A quick poem for national poetry day. If you liked it, you can support me on Patreon and get access to exclusive stories and previews of RPG content.

A Matter of Seasons

Twigs crunched under Nikos’s feet as he made his way to the border. All around him were the signs of summer: chirping birds, bright sun coming through the trees, and of course, the late summer heat. Nikos’s own appearance, however, did not reflect the season of his surroundings. Nikos was dressed from head to toe in the regalis of autumn. His cloak was made of autumn leaves, and his armor was the deep red gold of maple leaves in that most transitional of seasons. His hair, too, was of the same color, as were his eyes. Nikos had always gravitated towards the season of autumn, even as a child. It was a season of generosity and friendliness, when the beginnings of cold were seeping in. It matched his own personality, as he had always tried to be friends with as many people as possible. Though he had to admit, that tendency of his had caused him more harm than good as of late.

Nikos looked to the sky and saw the colors of autumn reflected in the setting sun. It would be twilight soon; the crossing would be open and he would soon be out of the Feywild forever. Nikos shook the thought from his head. It had been all he could do not to fall into the patterns of winter and despair all through the trial. Even when he was sentenced he tried to maintain a friendly and polite demeanor. But when he had seen the scorn in the eyes of his father, he felt icicles begin to form in his hair as a chill spread through his body. He had been stuck in the season of winter for the entire week leading up to his banishment. He had only been able to break the spell on the day the was told to begin walking towards the border.

Finally, Nikos reached the clearing that marked the end of the forest and the beginning of the border. Though the border itself was invisible, Nikos felt the hair on his neck stand on end. Clearly, there was magic about.

Suddenly, he heard a twig snap behind him. Turning around he saw a creature that was rare, even for a place like the Feywild: a unicorn. She was tall and regal looking, her fur the color of a snowfall. Yet it seemed as though she could disappear into the forest as easy as any creature with better camouflage. She looked at Nikos, and her blue eyes seemed to be staring into his very soul.

“Child,” she said, “why are you so far from the domain of your parents? Why have you come to this liminal place between worlds?”

“I am no longer welcome in my home,” said Nikos.

“Why not?” asked the unicorn.

And though Nikos was quite sure that he had never seen this creature in his entire life, he told her everything. He told her of his father’s rival, of the dare his older brother gave him, of the chase through the manor and up to the ramparts. He told her how he had dropped the bust he had tried to steal and how it had shattered beyond repair on the ground below. He told her of the trial, of his father, Nikos the Elder, and his scornful stare, full on in the implacable season of summer. And he told her of his shame and his banishment, though it made the chill of winter creep back up his spine.

The unicorn was silent during Nikos’s story, and only spoke once he had finished. “The selfishness of some eladrin never fails to amaze me,” she said. “That you committed a crime is evident. That you are guilty, there can be no doubt. But to banish you for such an affront? It seems too extreme.”

“I thank you for your sympathy,” said Nikos, “but unfortunately, my fate is sealed. I have brought dishonor on my family, and my father will not have me. I must try to find a home elsewhere.” With that, he turned to leave. He could already see the crossing shimmering into existence. Soon it would materialize fully, and he would leave his home forever.

“Wait.” Nikos turned around to face the unicorn. “Your fate may not be sealed just yet,” said the celestial. “I may be able to help you regain your father’s favor. If you were to slay a great monster, one that threatens both the material plane and the Feywild, your banishment may be lifted.”

“And how would I do that?” asked Nikos. He was no warrior, nor was he a mage.

“With my blessing,” said the unicorn. “There is a monster that hunts my kind. It travels throughout the material plane, killing unicorns. Whether it hunts us for sport or sustenance, i have no idea. I do not even have a description of the beast, save only for the dying words of one of its victims: ‘the Red Bull.’”

The unicorn stepped towards Nikos. “I will give you a portion of my power. It will grow in you like a seed, and you will become strong enough to face any foe. In return, you will find whatever this ‘Red Bull’ is, and you will kill it. If you do this, I will tell the Fey Court of the service you have rendered my kind, and your banishment may be lifted.”

Nikos looked at the creature before him. It was true that unicorns had great magical power, and could bless mortals with it. But if this beast had slain unicorns before, how could one mortal stand up to it? And yet, for the first time since his trial, he felt a glimmer of hope. Suddenly, there had come to him a way out of the darkness. This was his only chance to get back what he had lost.

“I accept,” said Nikos. The unicorn stepped closer to him. She bent over and touched her horn to Nikos’s forehead. As soon as the horn touched him, Nikos felt a brightness enter into his very being. He felt power within himself: power that was just beginning to take shape. He wasn’t sure if he could stand up to such a beast as this Red Bull just yet, but he knew that if he got stronger, he may be able to face it.

“Go,” said the unicorn, “and end this beast.” And with that, the unicorn stepped back into the forest’s edge and disappeared.          

Nikos turned around to face the crossing. It had fully materialized now: a door of light in a wall that wasn’t there. Before, it had been a symbol of Nikos’s shame. Now, it was just the first step of a long journey home. Nikos the Younger walked towards the door and vanished into the light.

I’m starting a thing where I stream myself writing on my Twitch channel. This was one of things I wrote today. It’s a backstory for a D&D character, Nikos the Younger, whom I will be playing tomorrow night at 8:30 PM EST on Quips N Crits, a live podcast on twitch. Come check out both streams sometime!

Buy Me a Coffee, Get a Microfic!

Friends, followers, randos who stumbled on to my blog looking for something completely different, I come to you now with hat in hand. I’ll be honest, my financial situation hasn’t at all improved since the last time I posted about it. I’ve finally been confirmed as a seasonal employee at the bookstore, just in time for the hours to drop off and for me to no longer be necessary until next semester. I have no hours scheduled for this week, nor any for next week. I’m still looking for other jobs, but so far nothing has panned out.

To try and offset this, I have gone ahead an gotten myself a Ko-Fi page. Ko-Fi is a service that lets you leave tips to the artists and creators you love. It’s a way for you to show your appreciation without having to subscribe to a Patreon. You can make a one-time donation instead of committing to a monthly one, and the money goes directly to my PayPal account.

It’s incredibly easy to do. Just scroll over to that little button beneath my face on the sidebar and click it. That will take you to my Ko-Fi page, which will give you instructions on how to leave a tip. Don’t feel like going to the sidebar? Well, I can also put a button in my posts, like this!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As a further incentive, every fifty dollars will magically turn into a piece of microfiction that I write and post exclusively to the Ko-Fi page. I thoroughly enjoy writing microfics, and I figure that this is a fun way to give back to the people who are giving to me. I’ve already posted a fic on the page to show you what they’d be like. Or you can check out this old blog post from back when I started posting microfiction to Twitter.

I hope you will consider supporting my writing. I genuinely love what I do, and I do genuinely need the money.

The World is Basically Neuromancer Now

I’m probably the last blogger in the world to write about this. The United Federation of Charles already posted a list of signs that we’re living in a cyberpunk future. During the election, people were noting the similarity between the political turmoil in the US of 2016 and the political turmoil of the US in Transmetropolitan. Penny Arcade has even been making jokes about how our video games have caught up to what Gibson envisioned.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Several of the biggest news stories right now are all about how we’ve created a digital dystopia for ourselves.

I don’t think I need to brief anybody on the whole Cambridge Analytica situation. That story is as ubiquitous as it is terrifying. The prospect of all your social media posts being used to profile you and even influence you in a certain way is ridiculously scary. That is an incredible amount of power for a corporation to have. But almost as horrifying is the ransomware attack in Atlanta, in which a small group of hackers is keeping an entire local government’s data hostage, forcing city officials to do all their work without the benefit on online records. This, of course, mirrors the ransomware attack in the UK last year which rendered many hospitals unable to treat their patients.

ransomware

All of this is having a conflicting effect on my writing: it’s making me want to write a cyberpunk style story while at the same time making me wary about doing so. I know that’s an incredibly self-centered take on the whole thing, but I can’t help but think about it. I am often inspired by what’s going on in the world around me when I write, and the world around me is currently dominated by the misuse of technology for personal gain. At the same time, I wonder if writing a cyberpunk style story about the future of a world that is basically cyberpunk already makes any sense. Conceivably, I could do a story about a hacker exposing corporate greed and corruption in the present without stretching willing suspension of disbelief at all. But the specific story I have in mind requires some technology that doesn’t exist yet.

But maybe this isn’t such a dilemma after all? Hell, William Gibson himself always said that his writing was more about the present than the future. And A Scanner Darkly was most definitely a reflection of the drug culture and police attitudes of the time when it was written. In any case, I’m sure there is still room for near-future science fiction in such a technologically saturated world. Perhaps what I really need to do is just have more faith that my ideas are good and worth reading. Feels like I’ve touched on that on this blog before, though…ah well, it’s not easy to be confident when you have a mood disorder.

P.S. – Stack Skills emailed me about a deal on a White Hat Hacking bundle. I am in no way affiliated with them, but I thought I’d pass the link along in case anybody felt like doing something more constructive about our cyberpunk nightmare world.