Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Hollow Wing: Any Other Home But This

Greetings one and all. I'm glad you could make it for another long delayed instalment of my series of short horror stories, The Hollow Wing. I've got a few more planned, along with some other projects of vary degrees of importance coming at least semi-regularly.

Please enjoy a little tale I like to call: "Any Other Home But This"

Between Administration Office 3, and J. Addison Wing (nicknamed J Wing), lies a homely little brick building. It's architecture is less stylised that the buildings that surround it. It exhibits neither romantic splendour of it's gothic neighbour, J Wing, or the daunting, pillared magnificence of Admin Office 3. Squat, ugly, with bloody red bricks, it was built in the 1920's to cope with the massive influx of former soldiers exhibiting signs of "shell-shock". On the brightest of days, a squeamishly sleazy gloom envelops it like a pupae or the membrane. In the night, from a distance, you can hear an avalanche of whispered disclosures and blood-curdling confessions. The Doctors, caretakers, nurses and guards who work at Ravenscar Secure Facility, have a name for it. The Hollow Wing.
 Few Inmates in the facility are considered safe enough to be allowed a cell with a window. Graham comma Quentin, or "Quivering Quentin" as some of the less sensitive members have dubbed him, is trying to keep as far away from his own window as possible. Huddled up with a blanket smothering his vision, sandwiched under his cot on the cold tile floor, shivering in fear.
 Through the frosted glass, if your vision has adjusted to the gloom of the room, you might see a distant pinprick of light  on the hill just beyond the walls that linger on the edges of the facility.
 Look a little harder, and you'll see that it's a house. All of it's lights shining brightly. Ask around, and people won't remember it being built. They say it's new.

 "It doesn't look new. If I were to judge, I'd have to say... Late Victorian, perhaps Edwardian."
 "Ah yes, Mr. Graham, you have a good eye. We believe that it's an authentic replica. It has all the modern electrical features, even a state of the art security system, but there's no sign of any renovations or installations. Whoever made it certainly new their stuff." The real estate agent took out his handkerchief and coughed up a rancid glob of spittle, quickly inserting it back into his pocket.
 Quentin pretended not to notice, "But the floorboards squeak, there's peeling paint and worn lacquer on the staircase. The ceiling plaster in the living-room is cracking with age. I know you're used to selling to rubes who don't know the first thing about British architecture, but I'm not one of them. Tell me how old the house is." The tone was insistent without being demanding, the kind any salesman would sell his own mother for.
 The Agent took out his handkerchief again, this time to stifle a catastrophic sneeze. Phlegm shot into the soft square of fabric with a wet squelch. Quentin waited for him to put the handkerchief back into his breast pocket before grilling him with an imposing stare.
"Well... it's embarrassing to admit, but... We're flummoxed. Last we know, this property was vacant land, bought by the old next-door neighbour, bless his heart. He died around a year and a half ago, and I guess he must have sold it privately before he kicked the bucket. We got a letter by a man claiming to be the owner of the house, and copies of the deed seem to confirm it, saying he had to leave the country urgently, and we'd receive a hefty commission for the house if we sold the house as quickly and unobtrusively to him as we could."
"And that doesn't sound fishy to you at all?" Quentin posed him, "Some anonymous Joe decides to up and leave before even meeting with you face to face? This place was probably a meth lab before now. That or the building's made from inferior materials. Or maybe the walls are littered with mutilated limbs. You have no idea what this guy was up to here."
The handkerchief came out again, this time to sweep the thin sheen of sweat from his brow. "Look, we've sent in a dozen inspectors, contractors and investigators. We even allowed the police to come in with their dogs. It's clean. The house is in fantastic working order, aside from the few minor cosmetic features that you've noticed, probably taken from second-hand, salvageable sources. You know as much as we do, now, and that's all I can say."
Ah, thought Quentin in the depths of his greedy, lizard brain. Now I've got them."That's not all you can say." he began, launching into a diatribe ego-first. "You can say, I've got a house that may have been illegally erected, with un-contracted labour, and probably even without council permission, all under a highly suspect writ of sale. I wonder how far this might get if the proper authorities found out... Front page of The Sun, your assets seized or frozen, you and your boss banged up in the chitty... I could go on."
The agent was sweating warm, salty buckets by no, and it wasn't just from the flu. "And why don't you?" he said, dabbing at his face with the fluid-sodden cloth of his handkerchief.
Quentin smiled like an alligator, teeth out to bare. "Because I know I'm dealing with a very clever firm who understands how lucky they are that I found this place. A guy who knows his way around building codes of conduct, how to renovate a house that might, hypothetically, have broken these codes of conduct. And most of all, a guy who knows how to keep his mouth shut, for the right incentive, of course."
The realtor's emotional agony was as palpable as the mucus running from his nostrils. "I can maybe come to some compromise... Within reason." He left the last two words pregnant with a venomous intent that was half threat and half bitter contempt. Quentin sensed that the contempt was the larger half and decided to go in for the kill.
"Forty percent off the asking price." It wasn't a question, opinion or anything less intangible than pure fact.
The realtor's eyes bulged in their watery sockets. "Are you insane? We may as well donate the bloody tinderbox to a pack of junkies while we're at it. Twenty percent, and you're lucky to get that."
Quentin wasn't worried, he knew that compromise was the first milestone to defeat. "Forty. Or the minute one of us walks out of here, I'll be on the phone to the nearest news-station."
There was a look in the eye of Quentin's opponent, a sharp one of desperation, one final attempt at dominance, and of analysis. Would Quentin make good on his threat, or was it well played bluff. Quentin stared right back with a simple stare that told the truth: He had broken better men and women over less, and he wouldn't hesitate to do it again if someone got in the way of what he wanted.
"I'll sort out the paperwork as soon as I can. You can move in with your first deposit, with a subsequent monthly payment." the agent said, turning away in shame. Quentin savoured another victory over the rest of the world. If life was a game, Quentin wanted to win it all, or at least own all the Railway stations. Quentin cleared his throat loudly, turning the realtor back towards him.
Quentin spit dead centre in his palm, and held it out towards the real estate agent, who had the hypocrisy to contort his face in disgust for the filthy act. Quentin let it hang there, and stared at the man with his eyes. Not a man's eyes, but ones that could make a man's fear seem to manifest in his mind while he stared into them. The realtor idly thought that a distant, primitive ancestor might have gazed into eyes like that as he lingered alone in the dark for too long. Not a man's. A wolf's.
Their hands met with a quick, solid squelch. The deal was done.

A week later, and the boxes had all been placed indoors, furniture close enough to it's rooms not to be an issue, and basic appliances had even been installed and turned on. Quentin had successfully moved home.
Well, not for long, though. As soon as he could, he'd lease the house to someone else, a young, middle income worker who wouldn't believe his luck finding a grand old place like this, and so wouldn't question the a steadily climbing rent, and once that tenant had been milked dry, he could always find another and another, until a definite negative reputation emerged, then he'd sell the crap shack and move on to the next house that he could extort for a minuscule price from another real estate firm. And the next. And the next. And the next.
He hadn't taken in the house's aesthetics the first time, just it's flaws that could be used to get it cheaper. It was certainly breathtaking. Three bedrooms, one a master that was unashamedly opulent, with oyster motifs moulded in bright plaster lining the walls and ceiling. A light aqua carpet gave the room a soothing, tranquil atmosphere that reminded Quentin of some kind of Spanish villa, located high on a coastal cliff-face, that he had been to a few years previously, and he though it odd that the decorum and designs of the room were so... Mediterranean, As the house was as far inland as you could go. The fading, sandy white walls and driftwood-hewn door-frame were touches that he had admired in tours of coastal regions around Europe, and it seemed a waste of money to build a room that would never be admired by the middle-class doldrums with no sense of taste who would usually buy a house like this.
  As Quentin took in more and more miraculous detail in room after room, he had to admire the departed builder of the house. The basement contained genuine, Victorian-era plumbing, fantastically moulded brass that must have been made by a master. one of the rooms, meant to be a child's by the look and size of it, had a a resplendent, awe inspiring cameo painter on the ceiling. It was reminiscent of Michelangelo's  work on the Sistine Chapel, but wonderfully parodied, having replaced Adam, god and the angelic host, with the cast of Peter Pan.
  Lacquered wood made of ancient oak. Support struts altered to take on the look of Greco-Roman columns. Even antique, iron nails in every wall and wooden surface were etched with cheeky faces, jeering or laughing in jubilance. The detail was exquisite, when you took the time to look for it. The patchy, puzzle-piece style attempts at decorating ranged on the emotional scale from a deep spiritual resonance to Dadaesque bemusement.
  Still, there were downsides. Doors had a tendency to stick, there were small drafts that ran throughout the place, whistling eerily or bringing brief chills. Ancient (or substandard more likely, thought Quentin) wood creaked and warped with the wind, rattling windowpanes and disturbing the dimensions of the house. Though the house was huge, when the it groaned and grumbled from the elements, the space seemed to convulse and collapse.
Quentin thought he'd likely spend a couple of months in the place, repairing the more dissonant and disturbing subjects of interest. The ceiling in the child's room would have to be painted over for the sake of uniformity of course, Weather-proofing the windows, and finding the source of the house's groaning and creaking. If it was structural, he'd have to salvage what he could before demolishing it. He might just have been able to make his money back by selling the land it was on. But the thought was still unappealing.
The lights flickered angrily. Oh, and fix the lighting as well. he mentally added to the list. The damn things had the tendency to brighten and dim at random. And Quentin was sure it had something to do with the houses hook-up with the grids. He'd phone them up some time in the week.
Quentin went to the refrigerator, which he had had delivered from his last place just yesterday, and restocked that morning. Vienna loaf, eggs, milk, parmesan, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes and a celebratory bottle of champagne. The essentials.
But the fridge door was stuck fast, and wouldn't budge a bit. Bloody removalists. He'd have their heads.
Quentin decided to have an early night, without a sandwich or nightcap. The door creaked close with a single push, and he flopped onto his mattress that rested on the floor (the intricacies of his bed-frame's erection being a problem for the next day*), not bothering to turn off the light. He slipped off his clothes, then flung them off to his left in a bundle. He was ushered to sleep by the soothing sounds of sea-breeze skirting the ceiling and ocean waves lapping at the walls, his thoughts drifting off on an unconscious tide...

  He woke up. And it was wrong.
  Not in any perceptible sense at first. He awoke as he usually did, wearily reflecting on the tasks of the day. His instincts wouldn't really awaken for another twenty minutes after he did.
  He splashed his face in the bathroom sink, blearily stared into the mirror and contemplated whether it it was time to shave or not, then trudge down the stairs to the kitchen for a spot of breakfast. Fried eggs and a bit of toast, would be nice, and he was pretty sure he had some peanut butter in the cupboard as well...
  The refrigerator's door was still stuck. "Bloody fucking thing...!" he shouted at it. And turned to walk up back to his bedroom to get some clothes out of one of the boxes stacked high on each other, so he could grab a bite of something.
  At the top of the stairs, he had to brace himself and catch his breath. He'd run up the stairs, but he was unsure why it had seemed to have take so long, or why he needed to take a moment to compose himself. He was getting a little older, he supposed, and left that train of thought at that particular station.
  The pile of identical boxes towered as tall as he was. After some heavy lifting and opening, he thought he'd found the boxes he was looking for at third and second from the bottom of the stack. But it turned out to be saucepans, cooking pots and a rather large wok in the first, and work tools in the second.
  What on bloody earth? He mentally projected at the boxes' contents. He'd swore that he took each of these one's to their appropriate rooms. He'd have to look through the basement and the kitchen for the right boxes. The only clothes were his previous days ones, still flung to a heap beside the mattress. He consciously reminded himself to get some deodorant while he was out for breakfast.
  As his hand clung to the door handle, he remembered to get his keys. Which had somehow slipped from his pocket during the process of taking off his trousers. He turned and scanned the floor.
  The animal instinct roused, suddenly disturbed by some aberrant piece of information. The hair on the back of Quentin's neck began to prick, though he didn't know why. As he say his keys shine bright, capturing a bit of the morning light, he finally found the source of his disturbance, something that was, while subtly boded ill in the back of his mind, was little cause for alarm.
 It was hard to be definite in the current brilliance spilling through the window, but to Quentin's eyes, the colours of the room seemed off from when he remembered. The carpet was a more deepened shade of blue-green than before, more like the dead centre of a windless ocean, than the serene bay of a sub-tropical shoreline. The walls were just a little more sickly yellow than the pale white/gold colour of the day before.
  His eyes were still tired. Or he hadn't had enough sleep. It was one of those two. Or just a different light from the afternoon. Yes.
  He proceeded to the front door, which was cloistered behind a slim waiting room, covered in coat hooks and a rich red and white checkered wallpaper. Yellow light cascaded down from a portcullis that was levelled at head-height, onto a bristly, grey shag carpet that Quentin was adamant about getting rid of. There was a series of brazen locks, chains and a small bar, to keep intruders from getting in. A silly notion, with how far away they were from anyone in the country.
  Quentin looked down at the keyring, flicking random room's keys away until he found the front door's one. It slipped in with a fluid motion. But as he turned it to the left, it stuck. Quentin's fingers didn't feel an inch of the lock giving way, so he tried turning it the other way, but found that the key wouldn't shift that way either. The door was a worthy foe, not giving an inch, and after five minutes, of futile struggle,  Quentin turned in disgust and defeat.
He went to the lounge's window,  which he was sure he'd seen a latch for the day before. Nothing. The glass sealed against the varnished cherry lattices tighter than shrunken shirt.
A new plan dawned. The kitchen window. It was left constantly ajar and let in a bitter cold the night before. He'd even seen it when he'd come down for food before. He walked to the kitchen, looked past his locked fridge to a latch-less, seamless, handless window. Closed for him like everything else.
  In a desperation, Quentin couldn't see any other way out, he would have to break the window, and bugger the cost of repairs. He found the heaviest object he he could from the counter. A tarnished kettle, and flung it full force at the clear glass-
  -And watched it sail clear on through.
  Quentin's eyes formed desperate holes into his suddenly fearful head. His body shaking and his stomach on the verge of heaving, he took a tremulous step towards the pane of glass, and raised a hand.
  It was solid. And cold. And getting colder.

He had been alone for a week in the hell-house. He smelled badly. The lid of the toilet refused to open, no matter the amount of force he used to lift it. He had tried shitting and pissing in the shower, but whenever he approached, the shower-head would spray scalding hot steam at him. He had burns all over his arms and legs, before he eventually learnt to squat in a discreate corner of the house and do his business there. Quentin's clothes were streaked with stains, his hair was frumpy from sleeping on the floor. At night or day, while the eyes of the house watched him drag his sorry mess through exhaustion, he would find a quiet patch of carpet not yet spoilt by his filthy necessities and fall asleep there. When he would wake, he would find his neck contorted on bent upon hard-wood stairs. Sometimes the gap between this realisation and painful awakening would be hours, at other times, mere minutes.
  He had tried to put his abuse out on the house physically. He had a zippo lighter in his jacket pocket that he had tried to burn the house down with. Whenever the flint flicked, and a small flame would burst, it would immediately be extinguished by a draught of air. This would happen no matter where he was, in the basement, the attic, underneath the kitchen sink. That stillborn sabotage finally died when the lighter's fumes did.
  Quentin had tried hitting, but nothing but him break. Petty vandalism of "FUCK YOU HOUSE" and "BURN, BABY, BURN" written in anything he could think of, simply vanished or contorted itself into outwardly sickly sweet colloquialisms "THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME" and "LIVE NO EVIL UNDER THIS ROOF" felt like ominous and terrifying epithets to Quentin.
  Today he stooped at the foot of his refrigerator. Hoping it would open. He had fasted on crackers, dry seeds and pickles, and that was after he had gorged himself on the jar of peanut butter he had thought of earlier that day. He felt sick to his stomach when he realised that every other non perishable food had infested by weevils, a brown, writhing mass of corruption that was nesting in his meagre pantry.
  He knew that the refrigerator did, in fact, open. Though on it's own. And seemingly when he at his most desperate. It had opened two days beforehand when he tried to open the gas-powered oven, to cook a small rat he had somehow cornered. Maybe it wouldn't open because of the danger the gas could pose to the building, or maybe it just wanted to humiliate him, but as he began to rip off great bristles of fur from the rat's back in preparation for a savage bite, there was a small sound, like the world exhaling in relief. Quentin raised his head from his captured prey, to see a sliver of light from the corner of the fridge's door.
 He almost lost any sort of composure. His starvation had robbed him of his reason for the last couple of days. But he found his old pragmatic intelligence still worked.  His fridge wasn't packed with food, just a couple of basic perishables. If he gorged himself now, and stripped the fridge of everything it had, he would merely waylay the intolerable and starve to death earlier. No, he would eat the few things that were likely to rot, if they were left any longer, and leave some of the more persistent ones could last another week. He decided to take the carton of milk, lettuce, tomato and eggs. He was tempted to grab the champagne. But knew if things became more dire, he would probably need it to buck up his courage. For good measure, he put the rat in into the chiller, realising he might need the little vermin's bony body right then and there, but perhaps another time soon.
It was two days later, and though he had tried to ration the foodstuffs appropriately, he'd been forced to drink the souring milk, wilting lettuce and shrivelling tomatoes quite quickly before they spoiled. There were still two eggs left. But eating them raw made him feel queasy, so he had hidden them in one of his boxes. Now that he hadn't eaten for a majority of the day, he felt a pressing weakness, like gravity pulling his guts down deeper into himself. He waited in front of the almost reverent kitchen appliance.
  The sitting and the watching were excruciating. The metal door reflecting his anguished image. He had gone to the gym three times a week, driven by a vanity to appear healthy, but not obsessed with his physique. Now he could begin to see hollowness eating away at his body and face. Pits in the eyes, sink-holes in the cheeks. While his bones stuck out like sticks in a pit of quicksand. That reminder of mortality that blunted the edge of his confidence was something he was beginning to see all the time now. In the windows, in the bowl of the toilet as he he sipped at tainted water.
An hour passed before the door opened. At first Quentin thought it was his mind sowing tricksy seeds of doubt, the way the door swung open so silently. But as he approached, and felt the cool air cascade out the gap in the door, he knew it was real. He licked his lips in expectation.
  The door swung aside, and he was taken aback by the site in front of him. Black pellets strewn throughout the shelves, the loaf of bread was a feeble mess of crumbs , while there was only a thin morsel of cheese left, nibbled to a scrap. The champagne hadn't even been allowed to remain unmolested. The foil had been nibbled back with tiny icepicks, while the cork had been chiselled away until it had exploded, dripping it's contents in a sticky pool that was located everywhere.
  Quentin knew what had caused it. He threw open the salad drawer to find the greedy little rat, impossibly revived. I supposed I must have only stunned it, thought Quentin, reminiscing on the blow that had felled the creature. And the cold of the chiller probably revived it. His brain glanced over the likely alternative. The house's malignancy could force it's way into it's inhabitants.
  He had the little furry bastard cornered, it cowered in a corner, unable to escape from the four walls that enclosed it. Quentin's fury burned in vengeance. He might not be able to take out his broiling animal rage, on the house, but he could kill this diminished little creature. Taste it's blood, make it feel fear and suffer the way he was, before it gave him his much needed sustenance.
  As he drew closer, eager for the kill, it leaped with a strength that was unprecedented, forcing it's mass from the bottom draw, up into the air, and through a gap in Quentin's violent approaces. Within half a heartbeat, it had fallen to the floor and scurried off out of sight through the kitchen's door.
  Quentin raced after it, wanting gore, violence, and carnage, no matter where it would take him. He found himself at the foot of the basement stairs, which had seemed to spring ajar to assist in the escape of his tiny enemy. He flung the door aside and rushed down the creaking, crumbling stairs.
  The light had been on when he went down, and he saw the escaping figure of the rat scurrying into a hole in the wall. Maybe to a series of subterranean tunnels that went up into the outside world. Quentin's hand grabbed into the darkness of the burrow with an inhuman force. Finding moss, and midden soil, long contaminated by a leaking septic tank that oozed ancient filth into the house's foundations.
  It was all too much for Quentin. No vengeance, no food. His suffering had been a wasted effort for himself and a vile amusement for his captor. The sole, central lightbulb that hung from a frayed wire began to suddenly flicker. Quentin made eyes for the door, but rightly presumed that by the time he'd reach the top of the stairs, it would be sealed shut.
  The lightbulb died. And Quentin fell to his knees.
  It was all too, too much.
  "Damn you! You can't do this to me! I own you! I own you! OWN YOU!" Quentin frothed and foamed at the mouth, beating his body and howling in rage and pain until he felt like he'd be sick. The feeling was the the only thing that seemed real, in this darkness.
  Until it wasn't.
  Sound returned to him. It was very subtle at first. Like the sound of static from a television with no reception. He couldn't quite get a fix on where it was coming from. It seemed to pulsate and convulse all around him.
  Then came the shrieking, Then came the squeaking. It was the sound of an amorphous, alien ocean that owned a lurking, submerged violence and fury that was about to be unleashed.
  The hole in the wall threw the sound at Quentin with a blast like a bomb. His fear rose to somewhere in his soul that was close to all-consuming, and in the darkness, he slipped and fumbled for a purchase on the stair's railing, knowing the high-ground was the only sanctuary for him from death.
Although he physically see what came out of the hole first, he knew it was the little plucked rat, it's bleary little red eyes filled with the promise of blood, and his overwhelming, hungry family gushed out of the hole following him, flooding the basement, hunting Quentin.
  He found the foot of the steps, and stumbled on them, bashing his face against a suddenly solid step.
  They could smell it in the dark, and in a wave, they found him.
  Quentin screamed.

  It had been a month-and-a-half with just him and the House. And now he obeyed.
  His juvenile rebelliousness had been to nought he had realised, right after the delivery man had come.
  Quentin had fallen asleep inside the master bedroom, made approachable once again for his dying body. The rats hadn't done a lot of damage, just bitten at his fingers and toes a little, with an odd bite or two on his face. The blood that he'd lost had made him weak though, and he was almost too exhausted to run out of the basement. Drawing on reserves he didn't know he had, he'd trudged up the stairs and found his bed, and wrapped his body's wounds in the sheets to stem the bleeding.
  He didn't know if it was hours or days later, but he woke up to ringing. The ring of the doorbell, to be specific.
  His wounds had ceased weeping, but he knew he was on his last legs without medical attention. The bites would fester, while he would swim in fever, and then he would die. Half of him knew it would be a relief, but the other half somehow had the strength to drag him onto all fours and pull him through the door, sheets still clinging on his shoulders like cape from some bloody messiah.
  It kept on ringing. Once when he squirmed toward the stairs, another when he fell down them. Once again when he had worked his way toward the coatroom door, and a final time just before he managed to get it open. As his body pushed it open, he heard the click of the front door closing shut, and saw the head, distorted from the bulging yellow glass, leaving down the garden house, away from the damned house.
  Quentin wanted to cry, but didn't have the energy to do it. All he did was let his gaze fall down to the ground. And he saw the package.
  A big, brown box with his address. The door had been ajar for the postman to leave it there, that was obvious, but Quentin still could work out why it had happened.
  He opened the post, which had been weakly sealed with tape, and found a trove of necessities.
  Little packing paper peanuts, which Quentin remembered were edible, filled the thing to the brim, and slight excavation revealed a first aid kit, a bottle of vodka, a carton of long-life milk, two tin's of oat-biscuits and three large boxes of muesli bars.
  Quentin didn't bother to stop and think, just unstopper the vodka, rip out two bars and fit them into his mouth as quickly as he could. The alcohol hit him quick, and he made sure to roughly bandage his bites before he passed out.
  When he came to, he had more time to think. How had the delivery man know what to send? A more chilling question then arose: How did he know when to send it?
  The links of causality were almost impossible to predict. A post would take at least a day two to send, and the times that he slept or moved, or attempted to escape were erratic. The improbability of him surviving the rat attack, or awakening from his sleep with enough strength and in time to immediately treat the wounds was astronomical. You couldn't calculate it with a quantum computer.
  But the House had. There wasn't any other way to explain it.
  Quentin's psyche fractured, and realigned to try and process the information accurately.
  The house knew everything that happened in it, or at least it could control everything that happened in it. Including him and his actions.
  And although it had made him suffer, it still wanted him to live.
  They were thoughts that caused something dramatic to change in him. While he still held a deep, painful fear of the house, his hate had started to degrade.
  After a month, with the packages arriving enough to sustain him, and curb his aggression with the simple sole ambition of survival, he managed to find his box of clothes, and dress into a clean change of clothing, again.
  The shower no longer spat boiling steam at him, allowing to wash himself again. And the taps and the toilet seemed to work of their own accord again.
  His fridge and kitchen cupboards became restocked. He no longer had to starve or ration.
  Lights flickered when he had taken these luxuries for granted, and he'd leave the room quickly, not wanting to feel the house's displeasure. There were still things the house didn't like him doing, either. Listening to the radio or watching television. And he was never allowed to see the delivery men whenever they brought packages to his front door. Perhaps it didn't want these basic interactions with other people to corrupt him, to make him revert.
  It doesn't want to hurt me. Quentin thought in these moments, It just wants to make sure I don't go astray again.
 It was two, or maybe three, months of this routine, before a familiar face decided to show itself to Quentin again.
  The doorbell rang, and Quentin knew the drill by now. Wait at the top of the stairs, until the delivery man's footsteps would fade, and the click of the front door shutting, before he'd race down to see what the house had saw fit to get him this time. The last delivery had had razors, soap and a variety of canned food. Quentin hoped that tis one package had a can-opener in it.
 He heard a knocking after the bell had wrung for it's fifth time. It was odd. Maybe it was a new postman, who wasn't familiar with the routine. Quentin felt afraid when he realised the man might take the package back with him. He felt himself begin to creep down the stairs before the flickering of the lightbulb made him jolt backwards up to the top of the landing, bumping against the floor in fright.
  "Hello?" He heard a voice come echoing up the stairs. "Is anyone in there?" It was the first words he had heard from another soul in months. That voice. Who did that voice belong to again? Quentin wistfully thought. He was tempted to call out. But the lightbulb on the landing winked furiously in  warning.
  He heard footsteps pace past the threshold of the front door, and creep into the coat-room, before he heard some more words that he had trouble deciphering. "Is Graham Quentin here?" it inquired. It took a moment, but then Quentin realised that that was his name.
  The lightbulb above him spat fire from it's filament, flaring in fury. Quentin knew that it wasn't just a warning to stay away from this intruder, but convince him to leave from here, or else Quentin would punished.
He had trouble wrapping his mouth around the right words. "...G-go... A-a-away!" he stuttered with all the strength he could muster. "You-you're n-not welcome h-here." They felt so strange coming out, like they didn't really belong to him anymore.
"I-it-t's m-my h-house." he said, realising that the words were quite true, but not being able to explain it any other way.
"Is that you Mr. Quentin?" said the voice coming from the coat-room. The door swung open, and the intruder stepped through. The face was familiar. It was one of the last Quentin had seen. The realtor. All prim and proper in a green-grey suit, and by the tone of his voice, well over the flu he had been stricken by from their last meeting. "By god's man. What happened to your face?!"
  Quentin didn't like to think of what the rat bites had done to his nose, the little chunks they'd taken out of his lips. The House had made the windows fog so he wouldn't have to see how ugly he'd become. He tried to shout more aggressively to the realtor. "M-my House...! L-l-leave!"
  "I'm afraid not, Mr. Quentin. You've neglected to pay your scheduled deposits on your house. There are police and repossession agents awaiting my call outside, and I'm afraid if you don't leave immediately, you'll be ejected from the premises.
  "L...L-leave?" It was as much a final plea for the man to go, as it was a hidden seed of hope flowering in Quentin's mind. Could he really escape? Would he be allowed to leave?
  The lightbulbs of the house exploded like solar flares. The anger had peaked, and Quentin knew what was going to happen.
  "Bloody electrics... Haven't done anything to fix them, have you?" the realtor looked at him piteously, watching Quentin curl up in horror from the burning lights. He began to walk up the stairs, perhaps to slap Quentin, or maybe lead him out of the House compassionately.
  "G-get Away!" said Quentin, flailing at the air in front of the realtor. the floorboards underneath the stair creaked, as the man strode up them. The creaking spread up has he approached, starting to come from the railings, the walls, the ceiling. Thought the realtor didn't seem to notice.
  "Look, this whole thing has been quite the embarrassment. But if you come out now, I can help you find somewhere else to live." The realtor kept his arms out wide in a gesture of peace. He took another step forward towards Quentin, only to find something pulling him back. Quentin went white with horror and howled a pitiful cry.
  The realtor turned to see what was impeding him, a long, skeletal arm, wrought from ancient timber, stretching out from a loose board in the wall that warped and breathed a menacing hatred. Each finger was pointed with splinters and pitted with rot, yet it still had an ancient, vicious strength. With a single yank, the man was flung back to the wall, and theHouse's arm released it's grip on his collar only to grab him by his throat and begin to squeeze the life from him.
  Quentin stared in shock as the man's eyes bulged, and his face blued. Another arm began to creep out of the wall, joints and appendages unfurling like an insect, as it flexed and stretched it's fingers into working order. In a fluid motion, the second hand joined it's twin around the realtor's neck.
  Quentin's mind placed several facts out in quick procession, as the realtors eye's turned from white to blood-red: The house was currently exerting itself on the realtor, and right then might be his only chance to escape. Quentin scurried over to the stairs and ran down them as the hands dropped the lifeless corpse of the realtor (black tongue lolling in it's mouth), and made a series of desperate swipes at him.
  He dipped, and when he reached the foot of the stairs, dived towards the coat-room and threw himself out of the front door, crying screaming and rolling on the dirt outside on the garden path, feeling the sun settle on his bleached skin.

  Poor little Quivering Quentin. No one will ever hear his story, even if he had the courage to tell it. He was painted a psychotic agoraphobiac, instead of a man who truly knows the evils of possession. It's sad when a big bad wolf like himself is tamed into a cowering pup. But don't worry. The staff at J Wing are always there to help him. To get food for him. To let him outside for fresh air. To lift the toilet seat for him. They'll always make sure he has a home in The Hollow Wing.

By Dylan Goodluck

*This line is hilarious, and it will be removed over my cold, dead body.

Monday, 4 March 2013

R.I.P. Hellblazer the Trailblazer

It's been a while, hasn't it?
The importance of this blog hasn't really been overt to me in quite a few months, it's sad that I haven't given as much attention to writing things down for the public arena, but also kind of great that life has marched on, helped me grow, given me a chance to reflect on my priorities, and allowed me to understand the importance of why I write, who I write for and what I want out of writing a piece of fiction.
The catalyst for returning really has to be The "death" of John Constantine, or at least the wrapping up of the series. He we have a momentous pop icon of a character, with a unique, almost uncannily real set of emotions, traits and experiences (up to a point anyway, but I'll get to that later). The book went on for 25 years, with the character ageing for every one of them. Sure the stories might have lagged at the end, with continuity taking centre stage over topical, scathing, paradigm shifting stories that cut to the heart of society. I just don't give a fuck about Constantine's bastard son or the latest monster of the week, you know?
I guess it was a little naive of me to assume that all of those bloody damn well written stories would be around forever, or at least long enough for me to get a shot at writing the old bastard before he passed on. Such is life though, you don't appreciate the good stuff 'til it's dead.
This all mean's that the Hellblazer continuity is all spelled out. Done-skies. Any story I do with him now won't be dated by any more canon from the published series. And that makes me a little depressed. There's something so rewarding, and challenging and dynamic about working within a world that could discount your every word immediately after you write it. I won't have that with a character I respect so much ever again, I expect.
The "death" of the anarchic, foul mouthed bastardry of Constantine, also speaks to me personally. My Dad's from the same generation (at the back end though), of the cynical, contemptuous of authority, smart mouthed, guts or glory, blue-collar punks. And this phasing out of Constantine's character strikes a chord with how I see that generation. They started of proud, did as much good as they could, and now after being unceremoniously forgotten, they're being phased out for a bland photocopy that doesn't have jack shit on them.
So, I'm not necessarily going to write nothing but Hellblazer stories, but I want to continue to uphold and fight for the spirit that the character represented: The secret to writing a good story, is any cunt can do it.
P.s. I also want to say that the recent death of Damian Wayne AKA Robin is another character that's affected me recently, however, I see the necessity and gravity of his death is appropriate to the story, a damn good one that i hope will illustrate some hard truths about Batman and his mythos. Plus, at least THIS character is sure to come back at some point.

Monday, 27 August 2012

How to Make "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" Good.

It's a bold statement for a title. Everyone has a soft spot for the film in their hearts'. It's got interesting special effects and visuals, some of the sequences are downright classic, the mine-cart chase influenced a whole generation of neck-cruntching theme-park rides, and the freeing of the slaves just makes you want to scream "FUCK YEAH" at the top of your lungs because it's such a Big Damn Heroes moment. On the other hand it's regarded as the worst of the "classic" Jones' films since, frankly, the script is a goddamn mess. Things just seem to... happen, regardless of narrative flow or basic logic, usually just to artificially escalate conflict that isn't present. Characters seem to just be supplementary and superfluous. I'm not even sure Indy has anything to learn, or has any character developments that don't seem tacked on. Also, there's some, just awful racism in there. Like, Seriously.
So, here's a few idea's of mine that I thought that add to the overall tone of the picture. You can still have all the loveable sequences (plus a few extra), you can make the secondary characters interesting, by adding some extra traits here and there, and you can still have the Thuggee exist in the quasi-realistic nature of the Indy Canon without fucking everything up completely (which they totally did). The beauty is, the whole story remains intact and we get a movie that remains on par with "Raiders" and "The Last Crusade".
Okay, so first off, don't start with the fade in on the Paramount mountain to a mountain on a gong, because, really, who puts a mountain on a giant gong unless you're making a movie for Paramount. Secondly, don't jump into the whole "Anything Goes" number. at least, not right away. Like in the other films, Indiana is front and centre to the action. I suggest starting out on the street outside the club, fading in from a picture of a mountain on a poster or a newspaper or whatever, maybe with a a picture of "The Beautiful Willie Scott performs at Club Obi-Wan!" it's a much more organic fade in and sets us up with a feeling of anticipation for Willie's introduction.
Fan-Made of fucking course.

 Secondly, until Indy jumps out the window in a few minutes, we have no idea where this is set. In a club somewhere (perhaps just generally in Asia) leaves things too vague. So, we begin through the streets to the club, Indy hops out of a taxi, dressed to the nines in his tux, maybe he straightens his bow-tie instead of straightening his fedora. We see a few swanky types enter the building in the fancy phantom convertible we see a little later (I'd like to see Short-Round, dressed a little more pauper-ish, and not like a suspiciously Americanised child, maybe hang close to the valet, we don't know what he's up to... just yet)  He get's out a ticket to the club, but the doorman can see through the scratches and the tan that he's not the regular sort of patron. There's a suspicious question regarding how much money Indiana has and he quips something like, "Not a lot, but ask me again when I get out." This not only tells us what brings him to here in the first place, but also it gives us his motivations for the entire movie. Capital Gain, baby.
So anyway, he enters the club, is ushered to his seat and then we get into "Anything Goes". This way you get to have your cake and eat it too. We don't follow Willie to the table, we just get back to Indy, enjoying the show a little, nodding to his friend/plant/waiter as he passes by. and finally Lao arrives at the table, fashionably late, with his hired muscle at his side. Everything is more or less identical, except without Willie, who's only there to (ineffectually) to diffuse the tension with comedic relief. Instead we can have the odd quip that alludes to more of Indy's motivation ("You could get enough money from that diamond to buy anything." "Or just another wing for the museum.") and Lao's, which I imagine would be quite complicated for a Mob-Boss who's city is about to be invaded by the Japanese (Indy even mentions it in regard to Short Round's origin, so it's a real and present danger). Maybe the remains of Nurhachi are rumoured to have special powers that grant you protection or something.
Anyway, trade, poison, stand-off, but this time, Indy doesn't throw a flaming sword through someone. The whole point is, Lao doesn't want a kerfuffle with Indy in a public place, which explains why he poisoned him instead of shooting him, and waiting until the champagne corks were flying before shooting It's obviously hiss private club and he wouldn't like it's reputation to be tarnished.. But Indy is dying and has a gun from his martyr/assistant, so why not threaten Lao with it? He get's his antidote and causes and dashes behind stage (where he's followed by the mooks, since he can now be taken care of out of the public eye).
Here we finally meet Willie. And she isn't the prissy, terrified, pliable girl we were introduced to in the original. Here she's relaxing in between sets, wrapped in a fur coat, acting pompous, and arrogant to everyone beneath her, which is pretty much everyone. I want this Willie to hate doing the things she does in the movie not because she's grossed out or scared, but because it's so beneath her own status to do such a thing. Marion Ravenwood was gruff, flaky, and obtuse, but in a sense, that's why she was such a good character. She was interesting. And Willie needs to be interesting too.
Indy has the mandatory entertaining fight scene backstage using props, costumes, scaffolding, whatever's lying around. Willie save Indy by hitting one of the mooks or something, and Indiana sweeps her off her feet to save her in turn for saving him. They jump out the window behind the stage, and this time the jump makes sense. because  Indiana moved towards the back of the stage intentionally and that meant he probably scoped the place out beforehand for an appropriate exit. But still, they're about to be surrounded before Short round pulls up near them. He's either pick-pocketed the car keys from the valet, or he's hot-wired the car, either way, that makes him Awesome,  because literally anyone can sit in a car, waiting for someone to show up, rather than quickly steal it. Anyway, car chase through Shanghai, with the Wilhelm scream put in if you want. Don't have Willie drop the gun because it's hot and she "cracked a nail" she already fell through about ten different awnings for christ-sake. have her misfire because she's inexperienced or refuses to kill someone. I realise that right after this scene, they hop into a plane, and they don't need the car anymore. So it makes sense for them to do something awesome with it since it no longer serves a purpose to the plot. Ram it into the other car or something. Give them time to escape to the airport on foot.
It makes sense for Indiana to have bought a plane beforehand for a quick escape, and you know, not get one owned by the guy he was trying to escape from. Also, we've just been introduced to a man who is anchored to Shanghai, and it makes very little sense that he has international ties. This explains why Indiana believes escaping Shanghai would make him safe (and not leaving him open to reprisal for escaping like he would normally in the original film). Have Indiana know they're heading to India immediately. So, there's a hasty escape, an the plane is shot by a few stray bullets from the gangsters as it leaves the runway.
While you have a (seemingly) quiet moment, use it to build character dynamics. Willie sees Short Round as a peasant, and is infuriated by saving Indiana and leaving Shanghai prematurely. I can see her practically roll her eyes when she learns he's an Archeologist ("*Sigh*, An academic. Just what I need." "Not exactly, m'am."). Short Round is more of an accomplice than a surrogate child, and he's maybe a bit pissed that they didn't get the diamond. Indy mediates between them, suggesting he'll drop off Willie at Delhi where she can contact her manager and He and Short Round can pull a few short cons while they're there to be able to afford a few more plane tickets back to America. So we're beginning to see more of a symbiosis between the two, a partnership instead of Indy pulling around a kid for no reason. Also, now short Round has a realistic motivation, live safely in America instead of a crime-ridden cess-hole (His words, not mine).
The Plane begins to show problems after they pass over the Himalaya's, the pilots are frantically trying to do everything they can, but realise the whole plane's going down, they take the cowards way out and take the only two parachutes. Indy wakes up just before they're about to jump out, and they have a comedic punch-up with Indy trying to drag them back in while they're trying to get out.  He manages to knock one of them out but not before one escapes. Unfortunately, the engine catches on fire as he jumps, and he's subsequently enveloped in flames. Add another Wilhelm scream. So, at this point, when Indy goes to the cock-pit, it's not to try and fly the plane, since he doesn't know how and despite it being an okay joke, is kind of stupid. Have Short Round once again prove his usefulness by killing the engines and stopping the geyser of flame melt them when they try and hop out. Now, you can either    
have them parachute out using the sole parachute into some trees, or you can still use the raft bit, but use the raft and parachute in conjunction with each other so you don't press the suspension of belief so much. So now they're in India, but not where they're supposed to be, but it's at least kind of possible that they meet a strange old man who leads him to his village.
I'm in the camp that's credulous that Indiana can somehow understand enough Hindi to have entire conversations with natives, but not speak a word of German. So don't have him fluent. he seems to rely on other people speaking english in other scenes, so have someone who credibly speaks english when he arrives at the village as well. My money is on the soldiers encamped around Pankot hearing about bandit rounding kidnapping children and maybe sending a small detachment investigating it. You have everything else the same, because it's a pretty good info-dump scene. All the way up to the child with the scrap of scroll. He should ask for it to be translated, and have it say there's definitely another Sankara Stone over in Pankot. And maybe another weird, cryptic phrase like "all those who betray Shiva, beware". Have Indy reveal the diamond core in the Sankara Stones centre early on, to entice Short Round and him to go to Pankot. The attache from the army go to report to their immediate superiors about the rumours of Slavery at Pankot, but leave a note with Indy to deliver to Captain Blumburt who is stationed closer to there.
We get the Elephant Ride and camping scenes, but with less slapstick. Willie doesn't scream at everything that moves in the camp-site, at best she's nauseated and stand-offish. Indiana and Short Round hang out with their guides, because they're good sports about being taken to Pankot. And maybe they play a minor hustle with them regarding their card game that was in the original. There are no "Giant Vampire Bats" because vampire bats only live in South America, and the idea that a genus somehow thrived in India is unbeleivable. Do your research.
I pretty much like the movie at this point. There's that appropriate sense of dread when they find the shrine to Kali, and the way they enter the palace seems natural enough. But frankly, there should be more fan-fare with Willie's arrival, she is an international celebrity after all.
The dinner scene is great for exposition as well, touching on Indiana's notoriety but also the deal behind the Thuggee in the area. Have the Prime Minster be more sociable, not shooting down everything Indiana says. Comedically it falls a little flat. You could remedy this with the status obsessed Willie attempting to eat the rancid feast to fit in, while it then doing a reversal, with the entire feast being ceremonial or a prank for the new guests before the real food comes in. What would you rather have, indian savages cheerfully eating chilled monkey-brains while the girl with the weak stomach faints, or the determined woman who take "local customs" seriously being fooled by a table full of incurable pranksters. Less mean spirited, see?

"Hey George, I just wondered, should we degrade the Indian people even more with this scene? I mean, we've already shown that they're bloodthirsty, primitive zealots, isn't this going a bit far?"
"You mean they don't eat chilled monkey brains?!"

When you need to press sexual chemistry with hokey dialogue, your relationship doubtlessly feels forced. They don't need to have an overt romance at the moment. Maybe it's one sided. Indiana is feeling sleuthy and paranoid, and watching the shadows for clues or whatnot. And Willie still thinks he's a prideful jerk ass, but is maybe slowly warming to him. Use this scene with them together to maybe gloss over Willie's globe-trotting and the fact that she's actually pretty worldly. Maybe as much as Indy is.
So anyway, assassination scene, yadda yadda. Except this time, Indy tells someone about it. Since he, you know, has no reason to distrust anyone at the palace yet. The Prime Minister acts empathetic, and stations more guards around them. Indy secretly talks to the Captain, flashes his note from the soldiers and tells him about the kidnappings, the rumours of the Thuggee amongst the villages and the fact that Indiana's assassination attempt was probably orchestrated by someone at the dinner table who didn't want the army interfering. The Captain wakes the fuck up at this point and justifies his appearance as something other than a deux ex machina and decides to "rouse the troops", giving him a reason to be separated from the action for so long. Indy feeds his guards something about "feeling safer sleeping in one room tonight" and goes into Willies room, discovering the secret passage which is not hidden behind a statue with enormous breasts.
Willie stays behind because, come on, really? You're actually going to investigate a creepy tunnel with no firepower and a ten year old for back-up? The Tablet that shows the epic history of the Sankara Stones really could have been elaborated on further. At this point we should hear that they do some crazy magic or something, which to a layman, would justify hoarding a bunch of diamond filled rocks rather than, you know, selling them. If you have Short Round compare the insects on the ground to fortune cookies, I will cut you. The crushing chamber trap happens with a few adjustments: Short Round and Indy are more proactive at blocking up the gears and crap, and when they call out to Willie for help, she shouldn't be petrified by the insects. Disgusted, sure. I think the lever system that helps them reset/deactivate the trap should be complicated, or maybe even have a secondary trap attached, which would show Willie being smart and justify more of the tension since it's a life or death trap for all of them.
So, yeah, The Thuggee ritual is so classic, I wouldn't want to change it. It's spellbinding, horrifying and damn if it isn't gorgeous to watch. But as soon as it's over, have Willie call bullshit on the whole thing. She's seen magic acts all around the world and they're all impressive until you get up close. Short Round's half traumatised, and Indy's transfixed on the Sankara Stones which are just sort of lying there in the giant Kali Statue. He goes to get them, but, of course, it's a trap! Because you would otherwise never leave your priceless, ceremonial artefacts just lying around, no matter how loyal your henchmen might be. Before he get's caught though, he lifts one of the glowing stones off the pedestal, and it turns out it's being illuminated via a panel in the bottom. The stones aren't magical after all, just deceptively opaque. The Prime Minister is a actually working for the Thuggee, but his deception is at least slightly surprising, since he didn't seem like an overly antagonist dick the whole time.
They get rounded up and are forced to look through the mines, where the children are mining for special, precious Thuggee artefacts that were lost more than a century before, also, precious jewels, metals and raw ore, since their business model isn't just wasting thousands of man hours for a fucking rock with grooves in it. Indy see's the dark side to his quest for monetary gain, looking at the cost for the children. Willie also has a notable change of heart when she sees countless malnourished, enslaved children sprawled on the ground being whipped. I actually love the whole, counter-colinization the Thuggee have going on, it's not a bad plan in theory and they'll use the Sankara Stones and their freaky rituals as a propaganda tool to insight rebellion in more Hindu's against the British, while using the artefacts and jewels as a means of funding. We also find out that hell-pit that was used in the ceremony is just a gigantic forge being used to create artillery, because if you're going to wage a war against the christian world, you're going to need more than bows and arrows. So now, instead of being a bunch of primitive, underwhelming cultists, we have an organised army that's now a credible threat.
So, yeah. While Mola Ram is gloating over Willie and Indy, Willie totally calls him out on defrauding his believers, and he freely admits to not having any magical whammy. But he's still vengeful on them trying to foil him, so he decides to sacrifice Willie and turn Indy using "The Blood of Kali Ma" which isn't actually magical and is just a drug, and if Indiana is highly suggestible in this state, it stands to reason he's just a walking drone. Also, there isn't a fetish that the Sultan kid uses to make him open his mouth in pain. A better way would be Mola threatening to kill Short Round, which shows that Indy actually does care about him in an almost familial way (we earn this relationship by seeing them bond as buddies and partners).
So yeah, Short Round escapes, avoiding the (Pat Roach's character) who instead of having an ineffective flail, has a whip similar the Indy's. So now, at the ceremony, we finally see things from the other perspective, there are secret vents that channel smoke to make the statue look dark and mysterious, the hidden panels that light up the stones, and Mola Ram uses a prop heart instead of ripping it out of Willie (why doesn't he take Willies heart out in the original? Sloppy writing probably). You don't have Indiana narrating the chants in english, since he's poor at understanding Hindi, drugged off his tits and The Prime Minister could do it anyway. Short Round gets in and rouses Indy by sobering him up with a little fire. Ritual is disturbed like in the original.
We have the Slave freeing scene because it's awesome, but I'd also add in a quick bit with Short Round and Willie throwing some of the Jewels or the precious metal back to the children who mined them up. You still have the wicked (Pat Roach) conveyer belt fight scene, except have Indiana's lack of gun, and the Head Mook's enormous size keep the fight going on, and not the freaking voodoo doll. If you want the young Sultan to do anything, have him send more goons to fight Indy (You can have Willie find a way to help, rather than just mime punching in the background) while it's happening and also have him in control of the conveyer belt's controls, speeding it up when it looks like Indy has the upper hand. Have Short Round punch this evil little jerk's lights out, because even if he is a kid, The Sultan is still an evil little jerk. And he wouldn't be drugged, because that's ridiculous.
The Mine-cart chase still happens, except, Mola Ram doesn't try and flood the shafts, something that would ruin years of labour and lose him the stones for countless years.
We get to the climax at the bridge and all the Thuggee have gun's, instead of bows and arrows, and Mola Ram doesn't say something stupid like, "They (the stones) will be found. You won't!" when Indy threatens to drop them. because they're about to be dropped in a large, fast-flowing, caiman/crocodile infested river. But he's willing to pretend to barter their lives for the stones. Suddenly, when Mola walks onto the bridge to get the stones, the British army arrives in the nick of time. (instead of after when they're needed), Indy does the old "tie yourselves to the bridge" trick. cuts the bridge. ect. Indy and Mola Ram struggle for the stones while holding on for dear life, while an epic battle between the Thuggee and the British army, which could go either way, is occurring. Let's say Mola Ram has a knife though, and stabs Indy in the arm (instead of trying to pluck out his heart, which he can't do, since he isn't magical) and is about to claim the stones for himself, when Indy uses the old, "You betrayed Shiva!" thing which makes the stones ignite. Mola Ram grasps on to one of them for a second, but his head suddenly catches fire (not in a way dissimilar to what happens in Raiders), and then falls. Being eaten by the crocodiles, or whatever they are. Indy catches the rock, and struggles up the bridge, finding out the British Army won.
It's more or less the same ending as the original, but with the Children giving away some of the Jewels to Indiana as thanks, with his spiel about "it just being another rock collecting dust (in a museum)" and actually meant it, instead of it being a forced lesson being tacked on. Indy says he's unhappy that he and Willie will have to part ways at Delhi, but Willie coyly suggests she might come with them back to America. They don't kiss, but they ride off with the promise of more adventure.
There. I think it fixes up a lot of the mistakes of the original. The Indiana Jones series is at it's best when the magic/wrath of god/ miracle is earned. Faith is a great key. But Occam's Razor also comes into affect as well, since Indiana is a Scientist and Historian, and can only go as far as the information available suggests (until the third one anyway). The secondary characters exist as more than annoying stereotypes. The Villains use intelligent, original methodologies to achieve their aims, and the story is generally the same.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shoestring Spellcraft: Tarot without a deck

So, here's a semi-regular series of posts that mixes two of my great loves, magick and being a cheap wanker, and gives it to the verminous, venemous and I'm also betting, venereal vox populi. The real secret to magic/k, spells, and fuck it I'll just come out with it, getting a cheat-sheet for you everyday life, is this: Any old cunt can do it.

So, let's start it off with something really simple. Tarot.
Sure it's surrounded in a lot of old rigmarole, and it's the mainstay for any fortune teller who's looking for a quick buck. Just a tip, unless someone's offering you a free reading, and you trust them with judging yourself and your life, then it's probably a scam. Frankly, the best reading come from yourself. YOU should be the one who knows yourself the best, and if you aren't, playing with the tarot will probably help.
The Tarot is essentially two decks joined together. 56 minor arcana cards which divide themselves into 4 suits, cups, swords, pentacles, wands. And the Major Arcana, which has 22 (21 numbered, along with number none, The Fool) cards in it. In here you have your Tower, Sun, Moon and Death cards in it.
Usually the Minor Arcana is more day to day in its scope, while the Major Arcana traditionally shows stages of deep personal or spiritual growth.
Regardless of what you might have glimpsed from the media and fucking idiots, the Major Arcana are generally pretty rare to pick up in a spread, and generally a good practitioner of Tarot would re-contextualise an entire spread for every time one turns up in a reading.
The point of Tarot isn't to tell your future. Anyone who says so or uses it specifically for that purpose is going to be disappointed, and laughed at all the best parties. The point of the Tarot is WAY more archetypal. It shows the broad-strokes of persons, trials and relationships that appear in peoples lives, and it's, to a fault, VERY GENERAL. The greatest specifics you're going to find is the crap that you equate the imagery and metaphorical intensity attached to a card. Technically, you could use it to get a broad outline of your future, but if you somehow get it into your head that an actual, physical manifestation of the future is going to happen after you've looked into the cards, I'm either going to call you a liar and to please your clothes back on, or ask you for some of that primo-voodoo-space shit that you've been smoking.
But, at the same time, the generality of the cards also comes to your advantage. YOU DON'T NEED A FANCY DECK MOTHAFUCKA*. You see them in stores, and the traditional Rider-Waite deck that you know just cost 20 cents to make is almost 40 bucks. Well fuck 'em all. Here's a way I read that works just as well. And al you need is a normal deck of playing cards and the internet.

"All this nature, and dogs, and flowers and shit... Just makes me want to look up into the sky wistfully."

Kay, so, you can buy any standard pack, I got mine for $2.50 at a $2 store. It has a truly ugly photoshop-ed image of Sydney on it (why it was for sale in a Melbourne store is one of those mysteries of the universe). Open the pack. Take out the Jokers (which don't correspond to any Tarot card) and shuffle and cut like a demon.
Now, all you have to do is attribute swords to spades, wands to clubs, diamonds to pentacles and hearts to cups and you've got yourself a Minor Arcana deck.
An easy reading I've devised with this requires maybe a little drawing ability or a good printer.
First, get in the mood, use whatever aesthetics you need to get you into the "magick"/wicca zone, fancy robes maybe, incense, whatever. Then, use a Major Arcana card (or, an image of/from a card) that typifies a problem or a challenge you're feeling at the moment. Maybe you're feeling socially alienated, so you pick The Hermit which stands for introspection and solitude (in most readings). Or, you're a tad between projects and feeling torn between them, so you Choose the Hanged Man, which stands for-okay, I'll just quit telling you the meanings for the cards here, because it's all contended between a million different interpretations and you may as well just find a site or an app that you like the feel of. Yeah, so anyway, the card you picked is a signifier.
Any who, then pick a card that describes what you want to be, or what you want the outcome to specify. Maybe if you grabbed the Hermit before, you'll pick the Lovers, or the World (okay, I'll shut up now.) Place that a bit underneath the first image/card.
So finally, you use your Minor Arcana deck. Cut three times. While you're doing that, focus on your desire, and put them all back together. Draw your first card and put it on your left between the two signifiers face up. This represents a past context that's shaped your need for the thing. You know, the thing. That you want. Second card in the middle, right between the two signifiers. This is the present context, what you're experiencing now, and if you're savvy enough, you could probably scout out any problem you have with just these two. But then... The Third card represents future events that transpire from the second minor arcana card to the second signifier.
It requires a load of interpretation, and you can't get distracted in any way while you're doing it. Not for snacks, not for sex and definitely not for other social interaction. Cloister yourself somewhere where you won't be disturbed for this. Then again, I'm suggesting you use the internet, so good luck with that.
Anyway, if you want to zazz up your cards, or alter the reading in any way that makes you feel more comfortable, whatever, I'm not your mother. Do what thalt will shall be the whole of the lore (he said, badly paraphrasing).
So that's me for now, until the next time when I have something interesting to write. Bloody Babbler out.

(*Sorry I said that. It was to get your attention. And not because I'm a racist. Assuming that makes you a racistist.)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Hellblazer: Fish in a Barrel (Prologue)

The rasping, grinding sound of the rusty hacksaw as it made it's way through the last of the padlock set Gavin's teeth on edge. With a hard nudge from his shoulder, he barged the door open with a jarring thud. The hinges, corroded with age, still held firm.
Gavin McCloud wasn't very big, had a very general kind of face, and wasn't particularly notable in any sort of sense save one: He was a real Bastard. As if the crowbar on his back and the thirty eight crammed in his Levi's couldn't tell you that already. He also had the virtue of being one of the best burglars left in the country. He'd never been snuck up on his whole life.
Gavin had heard the rumours like anyone else in the East End had. Donny Wilkins, newest hot young thing to try for the position of Crime-lord, had a dirty little secret. He'd made his way in the Lansbury estates the traditional way, scrapping with the other hoods for the biggest take, with a healthy amount of death and violence to consolidate his hold, but his recent moves over a dozen different territories had been meteoritic to say the least. Small-time gangs were being swept into line by him left right and centre, and some of the older families had put aside old grievances to end his reign. He had twice the cannon fodder on them though, but the bosses had heard rumours about his bizarre extra-cirrucular activities...
Which is what brought Gavin here. He had a camera in a bumbag, and he'd been told to snap up anything "interesting" that could maybe be put in the morning papers. They'd heard rumours of snuff films, kiddie porn, and there was a highly unbelievable rumour involving chickens and a wax figure, but Gavin was prepared for anything, including any kind of resistance that came his way.
As soon as he'd entered the threshold, he took out his gun. Felt the smooth action as he pointed it at the shadows, blasting away invisible phantoms, relishing the fear he imagined came from them as he mimed pulling his trigger. A grimy smile stretched across his face. He hoped, in the back of his mind, that he might meet some resistance so he could feel the recoil, smell the gunpowder and hear the bang of the thing in his hand.
He'd gone through an old staff entrance round the side, and honestly hadn't actually expected anyone to be around anyway. He could see the grot and the mildew from years of abandonment, and he knew he'd be safe here, off in the dead, decrepit portion of the warehouse. It was hard to concentrate though, he could hear the scrabble of rats and the pitter-patter of the evening rain falling, and kept twitching back to where he'd been. The silence of his approach being engulfed once again in a bevy of background noises.
His night-vision was excellent, and in between the feral blades of glass that raged trough the cracks in the floor, and the soft glint of distant street-lights that glowed through cavernous holes in the ceiling, he could make out an edge to the hulking filth of the building. Someone had taken the slightest of efforts to wipe it down, and make the space (at the very least) functional. The dust didn't seem so gagging here, and there was a faint but distinct trace of disinfectant in the air.
Through the half-lit corridors finally came a sliver of light just visible through the periphery corners that Gavin was creeping through. There was no movement, or sound, that indicated a living soul, but there was a definite warmth that seemed to stretch underneath the crack in the distant door, that implied, if not habitation, than at least some kind of application.
Gavin breathed tensely as he crept towards the flimsy, wooden door. It would be easy to break into, as far as he could tell, it didn't even have a handle. But Gavin steeled himself for bloody confrontation for what laid inside. At the foot of the door, he closed his eyes, inhaled, and exhaled sharply as he rushed through-
-To find the room empty. An ancient bulb hung from a fraying wire, the light that shone from it was dim and turgid. There were a couple of fold-out chairs that had been tipped on their sides, but the room was otherwise empty. Gavin was disappointed. A dead lead and a waste of time. He thought to himself sullenly. But at the same time, as sense of unease told him that something wasn't right.
He took a deep breath again, this time though, he tasted something different in the air. At first he thought it was nothing. The air was as foul as it was outside. But a second thought brought him back to a minute beforehand, where the hallways had been wiped down with detergent beforehand. This room was as clean as they were, but they still smelt like piss and rat-shit.
The Gavin took a closer look at the ground.
To say it was scorched was an understatement. What Gavin had mistaken for dirt and grime, was actually a deep soot, and burn-marks gouged through peeling Lino at odd intervals. Not all the burn seemed black either, some of them were mottled green, and other seemed a rusty brown.
Gavin stroked a finger across the floor, pulling away a thin streak of the brown stain onto his finger, it felt slightly greasy to the touch.
When he realised what he was looking at, Gavin took out his camera immediately.
The light was poor though. Gavin let out a muttered "fuck" as he strained to get a decent image. The best he could do was a faint, indeterminable series of scrawlings. He barely registered the soft clunk s a doorstopper slid on the other side of the door, and it took the soft smell of sulphur and burning hair to realise he wasn't alone.
Gavin turned to the door to find it blocked by a behemoth of a man. Seven feet tall, and bulging at every muscle. But that wasn't anywhere near as intimidating as his face, dark hair cropped to a widow's peak, pointed, sloping brows and a pair of eyes that seemed to contain nothing, just a blackness. He had a saucy grin though, which made a particularly disturbing contrast. A little like a shark. Gavin thought.
Gavin drew his gun again. "Oi, mate. I don't know what you're playing at, but if you don't shift your arse in two seconds, I'm gonna put another hole in it."
The big man kept on giving him a smile, "Ha, a second one. That' real clever that is." he said, walking towards Gavin slowly.
Gavin wouldn't give him a chance to get any closer, he raised his gum, aiming fro the head and squeezed.
The big man kept on coming.
"What the fuck-" Gavin looked down to his hands, and saw the camera in his hands, he took a moment to register it as impossible, before he was scooped up by the collar, and raised hight up from the ground.
As his face started turn a subtle shade of blue, he met the big man's lifeless gaze. "..H-how...?" he asked to himself as much as much to the man as to himself, how could he have gotten the drop on me?
as if to answer, the Big Man answered, "How? Well... Because I'm fucking magic, that's how."
As Gavin began to feel the life fade from himself, he could also see the light in the centre of the room fade, at first he thought it was because he was blacking out, but then as the darkness fell, an he saw what was in the shadows, he still felt enough breath left in him to scream...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: Retro Rehash of The Sensational Youth Icon

Okay, so as many of you are probably aware, from billboards, TV Spots, Viral Internet campaigns, ect. that a "new" Spider-Man movie is coming out on the 4th of July. In America, it's expected to take over $150 million in the box-office on it's opening weekend alone.
 Except, as you can probably ascertain from my use of inverted comma's, It's hardly new. It's a prequel that reinvigorates the entire series, and sets everything back to year zero, where Peter Parker as recently gained control of his abilities, and is freshly exploring them. It was done in Sam Raimi's series, but they seem to have reinvented certain themes that were in the comics, the inclusion of Gwen Stacey as a (valid) love interest, the use of Peter's web-shooters, and the introduction of Curt Connors as The Lizard, who, as you can probably guess, is a giant lizard-man.
 And while certain of these themes are important to the Spider-Man Mythos, Peter inventing and using the Web Shooters shows his intelligence and altruism (he could have just patented the ultra-strong webbing material and retired), and Gwen Stacey opens up a love tetrahedron concerning Peter and his friends,it still feels a little... Pointless? I guess?
 Spider-Man has had a rich, 50 year history, and he's had plenty of notable stories that have affected fans, but at the present point, we've struck some kind of universal rut concerning how we tell Spider-Man stories. In the past 10-15 years, we've had a massive series of re-hashes and retcons (retro-continuity) in the Spider-Man stories spread across the media. The Sam Raimi films, the current film series, Spectacular Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man (both the comic book series AND the cartoon series),  Spider-Man Noir, Mary-Jane loves Spider-Man and the controversial comic book story line in "regular" continuity, Brand New Day, seem to have sent Spider-Man backwards instead of forwards.
 Either thematically, they've reintroduced a young, hip, in some way "new" version of the character, or reintroduced certain themes used by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in the 60's, the use of social-life intruding on his heroic alter ego, and visa-versa, the fusion of a Teen Drama/Soap-Opera/Super-Hero saga that it once was. In Spider-Man's early years, this was considered, edgy, original and was great for hooking young legions of fan's.
And so the tradition of telling Harry to shut up, a tradition carried out until this very day, began. 

 But in perhaps the last 20 years, the character hit a snag, he was growing up. He was no longer in college, he was a slave to the dollar like anyone else, he was married, he had, in essence, GROWN UP problems. Now, whether it was the difficulty for new writers to put him through the wringer in relatable, yet mature ways, or legions of ageing fan's putting down the comics or even Marvel's realisation of Spider-Man's merchandising potential, Marvel, and Spider-Man's fan's began to realise something.
 Spider-Man is not a grown-up character.
 Peter Parker is the constantly anguished, tortured soul who is often unable to ascertain the correct moral path, or recognise the consequences of his own actions, in other words, the perpetual teenager. Adults are usually more morally upstanding, someone to be replicated. It's probably the reason why a character like, say, Batman is considered mature. He's so righteous and morally justified in his actions, it's easy for more grown up fans to follow and place on a pedestal. Spider-Man's (ironic) irresponsibility, and striving for a consistent ethical path, the juggling of social life and other obligations is something younger fans find more relatable.
 Of course, I doubt even though we all do adult things, pay rent, work a job we don't like, and generally put on a brave face against the rest of the world, that we feel in control of our lives, or that we feel as grown up as we think we are, which I think still explains Spider-Man's appeal to older fans. Perhaps as a way to retain a piece of one's youth in the face of an overwhelming adulthood as much as anything.
 Spider-Man (despite the name) is an overgrown kid. A motormouth that's always poking fun and cracking jokes at his enemies expense, with near limitless energy and (dare I say it) archetypal "adult" enemies. The Vulture maintains a literally generational conflict, not to mention Norman Osborn's sinister connotations as a sadistic father-figure. Even Kraven the Hunter is testosterone dripping example of primal manhood.
"Hey, Kid, do you want to take a look at my sub-text, if  you know what I mean..."

 So the real problem is how to keep a character that's marketable as a youth icon, and be able to let him mature and grow at the same time. It's a tricky conundrum made worse by a sense of nostalgia, and the thoughts of writers and fan's that the Spider-Man stories of the 60's were part of a "Golden Age", a time of now unattainable originality and greatness that contained the absolute and concrete version of the character. that's why we've seen a resurgence in retcon's and redo's, where Spider-Man fights classic characters that are virtually the same fights as they were 40 years ago. Social relationships that have already reached their logical conclusion begin all over again to pander to a new generation. and all the while, the stories that allow a new kind of Spider-Man story to come into genesis are still-born or aborted to take a "fresh" take on an old formula.
 "Back in Black" a story arc where Peter Parker revealed his Identity to the world, and where his Aunt May was shot, his wife Mary-Jane was forced to flee underground, and his pantheon of villains baying for his blood allowed this new kind of story to appear. Peter's Past mistakes had caught up with him, and he had to face the music, either become mature enough to handle the loss of his sole parental figure and protect what was left of his family. This was a MAN'S story. Of course,  a retcon in the form of "One More Day", came calling, where Peter literally sold his marriage to the Devil so he could wipe out everyones memory of his identity, and the life of his Aunt back, occured. Conveniently allowing him to be free from the responsibility of marriage, AND guilt from the loss of his aunt, and continue his life as a Man-Child.
 Ultimate Spider-Man is even worse, this version of Peter Parker died at 16, only having started his career at 14, just as his character exhibited character growth and maturity, and then was replace by a new Spider-Man, Mike Morales, another 14 year old that has to get to grips with a complicated social life, alter ego and new powers. He still faces all the old enemies.
I think we've reached a stagnancy when it comes to Spider-Man stories. I'm sure it's not a problem for most people, but I've spent all of my teenage years reading and watching essentially the same story over and over again, and no matter how skilfully or innovative it is, it still isn't original, and that's something I need.
 Other comic book writers, like Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison are endeavouring to try and inject something that hasn't been done before into Batman stories (introducing cosmic and psychological motifs), a character that's been around 30 years more than Spider-Man, and they're actually doing a pretty good job, which makes me wonder what's wrong with the writers at Marvel.
 Regardless, I'm probably not going to go and see "The Amazing Spider-Man" in the cinemas. It's a little too depressing.
I'm raising my hands in the air, because at this point, I just don't care.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Danse Macabre

Best taken with an auditory aid, chiefly, this one:
Now let the Dance of Death... Begin!

Danse Macabre - poem by Paul Verlain

(translated from French)

    Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
    Striking a tomb with his heel,
    Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
    Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
    The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
    Moans are heard in the linden trees.
    White skeletons pass through the gloom,
    Running and leaping in their shrouds.
    Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
    You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
    A lustful couple sits on the moss
    So as to taste long lost delights.
    Zig zig, zig, Death continues
    The unending scraping on his instrument.
    A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
    Her partner grasps her amorously.
    The lady, it's said, is a marchioness or baroness
    And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
    Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
    Like the rustic was a baron.
    Zig, zig, zig. What a saraband!
    They all hold hands and dance in circles.
    Zig, zig, zag. You can see in the crowd
    The king dancing among the peasants.
    But hist! All of a sudden, they leave the dance,
    They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.
    Oh what a beautiful night for the poor world!
    Long live death and equality!