Saturday, 20 October 2012

Schlocktober Reviews: Insidious


Insidious came out about a year ago, and I'd heard good things about it. It didn't sound like something I'd see in theatres (most horror movies are total renters for me) but the buzz around it had me want to check it out. Until, that is, I found out that it was by Leigh Wennell and James Wan, the same guys who did the Saw series. Then my interest fell into the realm somewhere between "meh" and "fuck this movie in its virgin ass with a 17'' dildo".

As you can probably tell, I'm not a fan of the Saw movies Or the Hostel movies either. Not because I object to TorturePorn . (Let's face it, my favorite horror movies are the 70s Dario Argento films, probably the closest thing to a definitive example of the subgenre you could ever find.) It's just that I consider them really poorly done.  All quick cuts, and twisting angles straight out of a music video. In fact, quick tangent to already occuring tangent, Nine Inch Nails did a series of banned-from-TV videos featuring mechanized traps tearing into people back in the 90s. So the novelty isn't really there for me, leaving just a bunch of increasingly over the top and ridiculous plot twists that strain credulity to far beyond the breaking point. But I digress.

But over the last week I've heard some good things about Sinister, the new film by them, and a lot of the stuff involved favorable comparisons to Insidious. So, being the diligent and dilletante horror fan that I am, I put aside my compunctions and decide to finally watch the damn thing. And the damnedest part of the damned thing is, it's not bad.

Actually, its really rather good.

The film pics up with very familar horror trope as the Lambert family moves into a new house. On the onset they're fairly normal; the dad Josh (played by Patrick Wilson) is a teacher while the Renai (played by Rose "I'm Talkin' bout my Asshole" Byrne), is a stay at home mom who's also on her piano compositions.  The kids, middle child Foster, baby , and oldest Dalton don't come off as schmaltzy, or smartasses or fake. They, like the rest of the family, come off as normal, dare I say even likeable. You find yourself actually caring about these people, which makes it all the more traumatic when shit goes down later.

We're introduced to the Lamberts in a hectic morning scene that everybody can relate to. The baby's crying, the kids are fighting, Josh's rushing off to work and Renai's trying to keep seem manner of order and unpack at the same time. Amidst all this is the slow build up signs that something is not right with the house. Objects go missing or mysteriously fall over. Strange soft whispers are heard vaguely from far away. The thing is though, that the characters are all obviously busy that their dismissal or ignorance of these things doesn't come off as stupid, but understandable, even rational.

All this changes one night when Dalton, exploring the attic, screams and falls off a ladder, bumping his head. Renai consoles him and scolds him for being where she shouldn't belong, then puts him to bed. That night he falls into a coma. The doctor's can't explain what's happening or what caused this. It's a mystery that looms over the family as they now take care of their torpored son. It's a tribute to both the actors and the material that these scenes resonate on an emotional level, and you actually care about these people in their moments of grief and anguish and resilience. You sympathize as they go through this tragedy. (Remember the last time you did that with a horror movie made in the last ten years? No? Yeah I didn't think so.)
Throughout this first section of the family the horror is all low-key, events happening at the peripheral of the narrative that slowly build up the eerieness bit by bit. Soon creepy, incoherent whispers can be heard over the baby monitor. While Renai's speaking with Foster he off-handedly asks if they can keep the door closed; when she asks him why he says that he doesn't like when Dalton walks around at night. There's even a very effective jump scare (a la Ghostwatch) where a stranger's face as a creepy face is seen in the nursery room window. The house security alarm goes off in the dead of night, Josh investigates, finding the front door wide open. He checks the house. No one else is there. Renai is attacked by a pale dark clad man in her bedroom and when he disappears she rushes to Dalton's bed, finding a bloody imprint of a hand upon the sheets.

Desperate, she resorts to something drastic, something that barely any other horror movie protagonist has ever tried before: she pleads with her husband to move to a different house. And equally as strange and bizarre, he listens.

It's a bit of common sense that seems self-evident in any other genre but it really shows how smart the filmmakers are here. (Yes, hell has surely frozen over cause I'm praising the makers of Saw. Bite me.) These guys have obviously seen a lot of horror movies, the know the genres, and there's ample evidence here that they've seen the classics and know the pifalls and cliches. More importantly though, they actually try to subvert the common tropes and not in a "if we reference them as they're happening it makes them not as cliche" type of way as with the Scream franchise. (Surprisingly not a fan of those movies either but let's save that for another time shall we?) No, these are smart guys trying to do something comfortably similar but noticeably different in the long stagnant horror genre. They approach the events in a way that makes sense, and for the most part it shows.

However the character's genre saviness here is misplaced Moving, as you've no doubt guessed, doesn't work. It'd be a short, anticlimatic film if that was all it took. No the move to a different house happens around the half-way mark, for we're not dealing with a simple case of a haunted house. The other half of the movie contains what can only be described as all manner of fucked up shit, of which I can provide but a sampling. Child ghosts. Poltergeists. Psychics. Seances. Astral projections. Demons. Secret long buried back stories. And to top it off a spiritual trip to a werid Otherworld called the Further that's part Silent Hill and part John Carpenter's The Fog. Oh yeah and it also contains the creepiest picture drawing scene this side of Dorian Gray. (Literary references in a horror movie review for the win! Yes kiddies there's more to Schlocktober reviews than profanity, YouTube clips and parentheses.)

The second half of the movie is most definitely the payoff to the slowly building eerie from before. It goes into a controlled overdrive of psychotic monstrosity and dread with all the stopping power of a mack truck. There's more than enough well executed ideas here to last ten horror movies, and even when they're not 100% original they're still very well executed...for the most part. The sheer volume of events in the last half bit seems almost as if the filmmakers are throwing tons of shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. Some of it falters, either through complete ridiculousness or just not being given proper time to fully develop. For instance, there's a quick, very subtle scene that shows not only how a few of the ghosts perished but also hints that this was what created the strange dark gateway in the old house that began the whole mess. But this is only hinted, never revealed outright and it's a shame that more time wasn't spent on this idea. However there's more that works here than doesn't and the final climatic battle for young Dalton's soul is both suitably epic and fittingly terrifying. 

This is a great film for any fan of the horror genre, especially those who are sick of the endless remakes and crappy torture porn iterations. It's original, it's fun and at times it's genuinely scary to boot. I only wish Wennel and Wan would work this into a movie series instead of the Saw films. But if wishes were fishes, I'd a fisherman or some shit? Wait that metaphor doesn't work at all. Ah fuck it. I need a drink. See ya next time.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Liver of Darkness

It all begins with a call that comes in at six. It's Wall's on the other end, shitfaced. He tells me I've got my wish granted, we're going out drinking tonight. Under my breath I curse whatever malevolent genie that pulled this one off. Wall goes on, saying how he was supposed to hang out with his girlfriend tonight but got hammered with some good ol'boys from his classes instead. He'd called his girlfriend two hours late and told her the good news. She told him to go fuck himself and hung up. Smart girl, can't blame her really.

    He tells me he's headed to Blacklight, and that I should be there too. I've seen and done this all before, I know exactly how this'll end and here's the hint: not well. I must have early onset dementia cause I actually agree to meet him there at eleven. That gives me a few hours to get ready and back out if I want to. I won't though.

    An hour or two later I call Jay and ask him if he wants to join in on the “adventure”. He's hanging out with his girlfriend and tells me he's gonna sit this one out. Probably the smartest move that's gonna be made tonight. He wishes me luck though which is good cause luck is the only thing on my side right now. Looks like I'm flying solo for this one.

    I leave around ten to hoof it downtown. By the time I get there it's ten-thirty, half an hour too early. This is a deadly sin among the night fiends, and the penance is desertion in downtown desolation. I head into Coopers, the first and last resort of drinking sanity. The usual suspects of the six to eleven run are here; middle-aged hipster wannabes drinking what passes for Cosmos, clingy cougars getting their drink on before the arrival of their prey, and of course those sad unfortunates who can actually stomach the in-house food and come back every week asking and paying for more. Out of all of them I recognize no one so I head up to the bar and order beer, hoping it'll dull the headache I can already tell is coming. I cozy up to a side table facing both the entrance and the TV. I pretend I'm on the wait for someone or that I give a shit about the Raptors game that's playing.
    The former is technically true and after three beer the latter's coming as close to being true as it's ever going to get. Finally tired of being the single guy creeper in the bar (no one ever wants to be stuck being that asshole) I say fuck it and head out into the cold.
I walk the night, spin rota fortuna and hope it lands on a decent bar. A few blocks away I end up at The Lounge, not a bad spot really if you're not crippeled by clausterphobia. In some of the more cramped parts of this place even liliputians and Gary Coleman would be hard pressed to maintain elbow room. I forget what I order or if I even order something at all, but the bartender reaches down and hands me a beer. Beer in hand, I make my way over to where the band is playing. I didn't catch their name, hardly ever do, but their music's good, even tempoed with undercurrents of jazz and funk. The small crowd gathered in front sways back and forth to the music like millenial flower children, all calm smiles and gentle rocking.
I don't know anyone here but it's my kinda scene all the same. No overblown egos in this place, that's for sure. In fact it's a damn fine place to lose your ego, just flow free with the music and forget your worries.

    I look over to the base player, see his eyes wired open and staring at the crowd like he doesn't reallly see us. He's on something, has to be, but that doesn't affect his playing bass. He wails on it like it's an actual part of him, just a third arm or leg, it's hard wired into his soul even. During the last winding end of a song his get even bigger, take on a reverent gleam. Whatever Crystal Dragon Jesus this guy is praying to it can only be worshipped through song. Beside him to the left the keyboardist effortlessly switches instruements, changes it up to a baritone sax. Her deft fingers wring from it a sweet sounding cacaphony making all of us, even me, groove and sway, willing victims to the muses' paramours.

    All of a sudden the siren songs ends, and the lead singer pimps his new CD, saying it'll be out in April, not February since February's already past. The band start to pack up and the drone of conversation moves it's way from the back and filters all over the bar. I'm once more a sailor with wax in his ears, and I finish my beer and decide to leave. I ask the guy at the door if I need a stamp to get back in. He tells me not to worry, he'll remember my face. I'm not sure if that's a comfort as I descend the stairs and head out into the cold once again.

    By now Coopers has picked up and there's a band playing too. The “band” turns out to be one guy playing techno on a keyboad. He plays the stuff Moby would still be playing if he were still playing. It's fast paced beats that hint at Soul. The crowd seems to like it, nodding their heads as if giving their consent.

    I pour a few more beers into me (tha's what now, six, seven?) before I notice her. A short but classy skirt shows off her flannel leotard clad legs. Cute tiny nose on a pretty face that's framed by curly brown hair that has just a tint of orange. She's talking with her friends for a bit before they go over to the bar for drinks leaving her alone to dance to the music. She dances real classy too, grooving her hips from side to side in tune with the music. Some part of me thinks she's probably a pretty cool chick, says to go over and say hi. I know I should, I really should but my body won't respond. Can't respond it seems.

    The next song, I figure. I'll go over and introduce myself after the next song. The next song comes and goes, making me a liar. Self-deception is warmly reassuring sometimes as I promise myself I just need another drink in hand before I try anything. Yeah, right.
In between the guy playing techno tells us that Apple is coming out with an update to OS X. He says that in keeping with the cat motif they're naming it Pussy. He puts on a cat mask, meows into the mike and then gets back to business. He laces the next song with purrs and mews, I half expect him to turn to the side and cough up a hairball. The curly hair girl goes over to the bar for a drink and I decide to do something incredibly stupid. Instead of going right, over to the bar, I go across the street instead and pay five bucks to get into Blacklight.
Inside is just what I expected. There's no style here, no flair, just some jacked up blacklight and the lowest common denominator put up for display everywhere you look. It's one big dance floor, a gradiated altar to the false pop idols that are the newest flavor for the next fifteen minutes of infamy. I scan the crowd for Wall, see nothing more than a chorus of flesh scantily covered in black tank tops and low riding jeans. I wander around, trying not to upset the committed bacchannal. I bump into Wall's friend Paul, who stares at me through one half-open eye like a deer in perpetual headlights. He seems to recognize me, but doesn't know from where until I ask where Wall is.

    He waves vaguely over to the flesh pit near the bathrooms. “Over there,” he slurs.

    “Are you sure?” I ask, carefully, not wanting to piss him off since he sometimes has a mean fucking temper. I've heard the stories. “I didn't see him when I passed by.”

    “No, naw,” he replies, waving again like he thinks I didn't get it the first time. “Wall's over there.”

    I shrug and head where he's pointing. I run into a guy I haven't seen for over two years and barely even remember. We talk about women for a bit when his face goes blank and motions to look behind me. A girl's on the table in the back, dancing for everyone to see. She gyrates slowly, suggesting everything as she lifts her arms above her. She reminds me of a serpent, of a vampire, of a stripper, of all three. She gathers a crowd (including a few bouncers) around the table to watch her, not surprisingly it's mostly men. It's a separate kingdom from the rest of the bar, with herself as the obvious Queen. She is Circe, and those gathered round are her swine.

    I turn around and throw myself back into the crowd. I look around the pit and try to take it all in. I'm not going to remember it all of this, there's too much beer misting it all up. Out of the corner of my eye I think I see someone swallowed and devoured whole into the crowd. To my left is a guy and a girl grinding on the dance floor, the guy has one hand down the front of her pants while the other reahces up to grope her tits. Freaked out I get the fuck out, emerging out of the pit somewhere near the bar and run into Chris and Ashley. I catch my breath while we exchange drunken pleasantries, then I tell them they're too good for this place. It's true, they're good people and shouldn't have to slum it at the Blacklight. I take my own advice and leave. I remember that the second band should be starting up at Cooper's and I still have my stamp. I get in the doors and head to the Men's Room. Who I meet in there takes me completely by surprise.
I honestly didn't expect to meet him tonight, not since the Blacklight, perhaps even sometime before then. But here he is, the man himself, in the flesh. I almost call him Kurtz when I greet him.

    “Wassup dawg?” he greets me back. He goes for the high five but his alcohol intake won't let him connect it. He leans on the corner then laughs maniacally, like that's the funnies shit in the world. He asks me how my night is but doesn't let me finish (or even start) before he launching into his own alcoholic exploits. By the time he's gotten to ten o'clock in his sage I'm almost impressed that his liver hasn't shut down already. He doesn't finish, stops right in mid sentence when he sees Greg and runs over to him. He sneaks up behind him like you can only do in a noisy bar then latches onto his leg and starts mock humping it. Greg looks confused and pissed til he turns around and sees who it is.

    “You crazy motherfucker,”Greg smiles. “How you been?”
Greg treats it like it's the most natural greeting in the world. That's the charm of Wall, I guess. It's a natural charisma that let's damn near everything he does slide. He'd be a great politician, one of the radical kind I'm sure.

    We all watch the new band play for a bit, they're not half bad but not exactly good either. We talk a bit catching up, and then Wall tells me he's going over to the Blacklight while Greg is nowhere in sight. I stay, my decision already made for me when the girl with the Curly hair comes downstairs and starts dancing again. I want to go over, all I need to do is take five steps to the left, but my muscles are atrophied and my bones are turned to Jell-O.

    Time speeds up, goes lightspeed: last call flies past, the band stops playing and the lights turn on with full intensity, all in the space of an eyeblink it feels like. There's no time anymore, no time left. We're all herded outside, and I catch Wall outside the Blacklight.

    “I knew you'd come back here,” he says. We start walking through the mixed crowd that's spilled outside onto the streets, pass by faces in the crowd that are only half-remembered. We're both too poor to spring for a cab ride, so we hoof it. Wall stumbles on the way home, once then twice then too many to count. Each time I help him back to his feet. We get to his place and he invites me inside for greasy after bar snacks. It takes him five minutes to get the key in the door, and his after party plans crumble when he does, straight onto the floor. I try to help him to his feet for the last time tonight but he waves me off mumbling something I don't quite catch. I'd like to believe it was “...the horror” but I severely doubt it.
    I call a cab and leave and in the back of the cab I lean back, try to reflect on tonight's events.

    I can't though; everytime I try my mind goes back to think of a short classy skirt and curly brown hair with just a tint of orange.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Beyond the Dragon Doors

It started off as a medieval fantasy version of Waiting for Godot set in the realm of the 8th Age. I'm not really sure if the finished product bears that description anymore. As always you can find the other great entries to this week's Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig's terribleminds.
Feel free to leave a comment and please to enjoy!

In the year of the Prophet Giames, 1282

    In the fortress-city of Rhea, a bastion of Prizraki strength in the increasingly hostile and rebellious north of Secunda, lies the Palace of the Conclave. Deep within this palace, past many guards and barricades, is a room where the highest Prizraki Lords dwelling on the Second Continent meet twice a year to direct the course of their great Crusade against the false prophet and his legion of followers. These wise lords of a foreign empire sit at the ancient Stone Kings Table in a room locked and protected by the Dragon Gates, large metal and stone doors that bore the relief of a great dragon upon them. There, in their consummate and communal wisdom, advise Grand Prince Pietrov IV, the Voivode of Voivodes, of how best to wage his war for control of Secunda. That is how the heralds and the priests of the Prizraki Empire tell it. Of course there are rumors to the contrary. 
    "He's taking his sweet damned time," Prince Rivka said aloud, to everyone and no one in particular. The other gathered lords did their best to ignore his complaining. They were well used to the Prince's temerment, though they mostly tolerated it because he was the third son of the emperor and cousin to the Grand Prince. "He's been keeping us waiting for hours now, with no word or messenger to tell us how long he will continue to be."
    "I'm starting to believe our great Voivode General forgets we are his peers,"Rivka continued, "and not some motley band of common foot soldiers under his command."

    "He'd be lucky if we were under his command," Grand Baron Zoktair snorted. Out of all of them, the Baron had spent the least amount of time in Secunda and had the greatest amount of contempt for the people, culture and traditions there. He hadn't even bothered to learn the local languages, not even the common dialects. "I wouldn't be surprised if half the Northern Legion were infected by the heresy already. Most of them aren't even Prizraki, but baseborn local shits.Can't know where their loyalty lies."

    "A rusty saw is of no use to the woodsmen," High Exarch Tzesarvic piped in. No one was certain if he was quoting scripture or not.
    "We will not hold Secunda if we continue like this," Baroness Elena said. She was Pietrov's second wife and half his age, but that did not mean she was meek. She was as fierce as her husband when it came to matters of the realm. "The breakdown of the rebels alliance was pure luck, one we might not get again. We need to consolidate our gains and try to win back the support of the people."

    "Agreed," Baron Gubanov said. Although born across the sea in Prima, Gubanov had grown up among the people of Secunda. He felt he knew them better than anyone at the Conclave, even the It's time we stop bullying the local people here and stop those decrees that are clearly not working."

    "What are you suggesting then?" Zoktair spat, pointing his finger at Gubanov like it was a flaming sword. "That we end the pogrom? Let the heretics continue to mock the Almighty with their debaucherous ways? Perhaps we should all put down our swords and embrace them and the rest of the rebels like long lost brothers and sons?"

    "Blasphemy," the High Exarch shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. "Pure and utter blasphemy. I will not hear it."

    "The plan has some merit," Elena said calmly. "Back in the homeland we let the pagans on the fringes of the Empire live their lives in peace so long as they bend the knee and give oaths of loyalty to the Emperor. Why couldn't the same be done here?"
    "Good lady, I apologize but I fear your sex must be getting the better of your intellect," Tzesarvic said, shaking his head. "To be shown the truth of creation and to firmly deny it as the heretics have done is the greatest sin possible. The fact that they've turned their backs on the Esher and follow the flashy words and empty promises of a false prophet is akin to spitting in the face of God Himself. No tolerance or mercy can be given here."

    "I'm not certain of God, but I know you're doing a wonderful job of spitting in our faces," Rivka said. He made a show of wiping his face with his sleeve.

    "You insolent little --- if you weren't the son of..."

    "But I am old priest and you had damn well remember it. My father is not a young man and when he dies..."
    "When he dies one of your many brothers will be emperor," Zoktair interrupted. "Not you."
    "You'd better pray that's true Baron for if I do become emperor my first act will be cutting off your fat pompous head and mounting it on a pike in my dining room."

    "Do you really think I'm afraid of you, boy?" Zoktair said, getting to his feet. "You, who can't even hunt down a pack of fucking rebels in the woods and you think you can take me on? I'll strangle the life out of you first you piss-ant little..."

    "Gentle lords enough," Gubanov said, his voice loud enough to echo in the chambers. "This bickering is pointless. Every time this council convenes we do nothing but argue over petty strifes. I shouldn't have to remind you that we may still lose this war, yet we continue to squabble like children. If it weren't for the Voivode..."

    "Who is still not here," Rivka said.

    "Thank you, o great oracle" Zoktair said. "Please, regale us with more of your wisdom. Does the sun really rise in the east and set in the west? Does bathwater really clean one's stink? Pah! If you were as good at catching rebels as you were bandying about and wasting our time this war would've been won long ago."

    Rivka's rebuttal was cut off by the booming sound of the dragon doors opening. The lords turned to look, expecting to see the large, glaring form of the Voivode framed against the doorway. Instead they were met with the near cowering form of an army messenger, tired and out of breath.

    "My lords..." he wheezed.

    "Yes, what is it boy?" Rivka growled. "Spit out your damned message already. No doubt news that my dear cousin shall not grace us with his presence for yet another day.

    "Stop bullying him Rivka," Elena scolded. "Give the boy a chance to catch his breath and speak."

    "It's the Voivode, my lords," the messenger said. "He...he's..."

    "Yes?" Gubanov said. He could feel his heart racing and the small dark chill up his spine that heralds dark news.

    "He's dead my lords. Felled in a rebel ambush on the road to Rhea."

    The messenger continued on, filling in the details of the Voivode's death to the demanding lords.. But Gubanov didn't listen. He couldn't. He could only look about the room, wondering what the future held in store now. Pietrov's son was still a babe. One of them would have to become Regent until he came of age and he knew the Conclave would not survive the decision. He wondered if Prizrak itself could. Before he knew it he was walking past the lords, past the messenger and past the dragon doors, into the long winding hallway of the palace. He was halfway down the first corridor when he heard the real shouting and yelling begin.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Cape Noire

As per usual, another week another flashfiction. This one's based on pulp stories, and from what I've read over at terribleminds so far it might be a little held-back. Welcome to 1940s detective stories mixed with superheros. Please to enjoy!

    "Dame's in your office," my partner and sometimes secretary Matt tells me the second I walk into the door. "Quite the looker too, if your into her kind."
    He gives me a wink and stretches out his bum leg onto his desk. I know by his manner that I'll need to brace myself for this one. When I open the door though I still get the shock of my life.
    "Good morning, Mr. Kurtz" she says. Her voice is like honeyed poison. Sweet and deadly at the same time. "I've a problem on my hands and I believe you're the right man to solve it for me."
    She was black-haired, blue eyed and trouble all over with a capital T. In fact the T was blazoned in red across her black spandex suit. Madamme Tarantula, supervilliness extraordinaire. Instinctively I reach for my piece. I'm not a fan of capes, in fact you could say I hate their guts on general principle, but I like their enemies even worse. Especially the dame ones.
    She smiles, puts up her hands. "You won't need that, Mr. Kurtz, I assure you. I'm merely here to solicit your services in a matter that's of the utmost importance to me."
    "Maybe I ain't interested, lady," I tell her. "Maybe I don't wanna get in between a cape fight. Maybe I don't need that kinda trouble."
    "I can make it worth your while," she purrs. She reaches into her utility belt, brings out a wad of cash that's bigger than I've seen in longer than I care to admit. Matt whistles from outside. I shut the door and take a seat across from her. I wave my hand, to let her know I'm interested and listening. I don't need to though. She already knows she's got my attention.
    "I need you to find out who killed a man."
    'Ever tried the police?" I ask sarcastically. She must not be a fan of my humor by the mean look she shoots me, her eyes shining out with fury underneath that domino mask of hers. I would say if looks could kill but for all I know she might be able to do that kinda thing.
    "Or that cpae you arch," I offer up quick. "Dark Sentinel. Supposed to be the world's greatest detective. I'm sure he..."
    "Whose murder do you think I'm trying to solve," she says. It ain't a question.
    I lean forward in my chair. Now she's reallly got my attention.
    "I didn't read... it wasn't in the newspapers..."
    "Of course they couldn't print it yet. The cops haven't even found the body."
    "So how do you know he's dead?"
    "I know."
    "Woman's intuition?" I ask.
    "Something like that." She shrugs, then smiles. "A little birdie told me."
    I'm sure my mouth's gaping open like some dumb rube while I clue in. "The sidekick? What's his name ...Sparrow?"
    She slips a piece of paper across my desk. "Here's where he's holed up. I wouldn't tell him who sent you, if I were you."
    She leaves the wad of cash on my desk as she gets up to leave. "For expenses," she explains.
    "Wait," I say, maybe a bit too loud. She cranes her neck to the side, gives me a backwards glance.
    "Why? I mean, why are you doing this? You and the Dark Sentinel, you two were enemies though right? Arches? Ain't it better for you now that he's dead? Why pay me to find out who killed him?"
    She turns around, tips her head and looks me straight in the eye. I've seen my share of crazy scary things from my time as a marine in the war and my brief time on the force. So when I say that the look on Madame Tarantula face is the scariest, most terrifying thing I've seen in my life you can be damn sure I mean it."
    "You get to know a person when you arch them, Mr. Kurtz. What they'll do, what they won't do. How far theyll go to stop you when they think you need stopping. How they think and how they feel. You do it long enough it gets to a place that's beyond love, beyond hate. It's someting more."
    She's moved closer to me, right in my face. I've backed up while she's talking, til my back's pressed up against the wall. It's an apt metaphor part of me thinks.
     "I'm a very selfish woman, as you can imagine.I get very upset when someone takes things away from me even trivial, little things. Can you imagine how I feel when somebody takes something that important away from me?"
    I swallow."Uh, pretty upset?"
    She pats my cheek and nods. She saunters out of the office, and it's only when I hear the door slam shut that I realize I've got the shakes and I'm sweating like a junkie too long without his hop.
    Instinctively I pour myself a drink and when that one's gone I pour myself two more. It's gonna be one of those weeks, I can tell.  

Friday, 4 May 2012

Operation World Destroying Delirium

After you read this one you should definitely check out the other entries for random title generation. Of course it's at the blog of Mr. Chuck Wendig. As always please to enjoy and don't be shy to leave some comments. 

   In the deep desert the sky at night the sky is like an ocean of black and becomes a twin to the dark sand below. On a bleak cold night in May the desolation was broken by a group of tents. A man walks out of tent and stretches. He looks all the world like somebody shaved a chimp and stuck it in marine fatigues.
    He scratches his armpit and asks, "Hw the hell do I get out of this chicken shit outfit?"
    Another soldier, looking slightly less simian, pokes his head out of another tent. "When you learn to shut the fuck up Pendleton."
    "I'm serious Sarge what'n the hell are we doing out here?"
    Voices from the other tents chime in. "Yeah Sarge, c'mon. We got a right to know."
    Sarge rubs his bald jar head as he thinks long and hard about the appropriate responses from shouting shut the fuck again to firing off a few M16 rounds in their general direction. He realizes that nothing less than the gospel truth would only encourage em and make 'em all even more annoying. He sighes at this small epiphany. This is what his life has become.
    "The boys upstairs are wantin' to do a field test of some new chemical. Some sorta black ops, top secret shit. We're here to guard the west flank, make sure nobody disturbs em during the test."
    The rest of the squad piles out of their tents. They look at each other for a second before Pvt. Ramirez his arm in the air.
    "What kinda chemicals we talkin' bout here Sarge?" he asks.
    Sarge sighs. He knows his boys well enough to know what's coming.
    "It's a weaponized hallucinogen," he says. It only takes a second for the hoots, hollers and clapping to start.
    "Man in civie life you gotta pay fifteen bucks a hit for that," Pendleton laughs. "Army life sometimes man."
    "This ain't no flower power hippie trip, Pendleton. This is the deep shit. It's completely colorless and odorless.  Full on auditory-visual-tactile hallucinations, vomiting, seizures, muscles spasms, and temporary tourettes. If you're actually stupid enough to pay for this shit, then you're a bigger potato bug than I thought."
    Everyone looks at him. He's usually better at berating them. Sarge doesn't really notice though. He's too busy staring at his hands, how they've balloned out to twice their size.
    "Sarge?" he hears Pendleton asks. He looks up sees his squad as long wavy things that remind him of drunken poplars. He laughs. He can't stop himself.
    Suddenly it sounds like he's in a fucking zoo. The boys around him who only looked like chimps before are all shapechanging into simians, their bodies twisting about as they scream and shout. Seven ape faces look to stare at him, their alpha male, their leader. He must reassert his authority, become the dominant monkey. He picks up a wrench, and smacks the closest chimp. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows it's Pendleton he's just struck. All around him are the sounds of chaos.
    "Oh my fuck it's the demons! The demons are attacking us!"
    "The enemy! It's al-Queda, they're raining down hell!"
    "Oh space Jesus, save me from the Saurians! Save us from the Greys!"
    Sarge doesn't understand what's happening, he can't really. But he knows that no one else is challenging his authority. His position as Alpha is secure. A feeling of contentedness washes through him before he notices he's shaking all over. He only has a few seconds before his body betrays him and he tumbles to the ground, shaking and screaming. He only barely notices the rest of them follow suite.
    Some time later the whoop-whoop-whoop of helicopter blades swirls in from above. Four men drop out of the chopper. Wearing black body armor and gas masks they look all the world like malicious spectres. They pivot about, guns drawn and quickly assess that the area's secure. A squad of spasming marines near comatose on the ground is absolutely no threat.
    "Echo team to base, all tangos are down. Repeat, all tangos are down. Beta test is a success."

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Cloak and Dagger in the Royal City

After a longer hiatus than I would've liked, I'm back to semi-regular updates on the site. The story below is my entry for this week's Chuck Wendig flashfiction challenge, which challenged writers to pen stories completely in the present tense. This entry is set in the world of the Eighth Age, a low fantasy setting where spies and assassin's play just as large a role as mages and kings in the power struggles of the land. You can also check out The Last of the Silver Brotherhood, another story set in the Eighth Age.
As always please to enjoy and make sure to read the other entries for this week's challenge.

      It's nighttime in the city of Sceptre. Thick black clouds conceal the moon and stars. The crackle cry of thunder rings out in the night and barely a second later the rain flooded down like a vast sea is spilling out of the heavens above. The sounds of the storm, echoing through the cramped city streets, can't quite mask the fall of footsteps upon cobblestone. To those who pay keen attention, two sets of footsteps are to be heard. Someone is being followed.

    Omen Altier, knight of the Royal Order of Ashenia, hears the footsteps behind him and goes over his options. He could turn around, force a confrontation. But just killing the pursuer would leave him to dispose of the body. He knows of several places in the city he could hide it but none where it would stay hidden for long.

    He slows down, just to be absolutely certain, and hears the pursuer's pace decrease to match his own.

    Who could it be? the young knight wonders. The Order has many enemies in the royal city. For some their hatred runs hot and deep, so much so that the man following him now could be not only a spy but an assassin.

    Omen turns left into the winding labyrinthe of the city narrows. He passes from strong mortar houses to flimsy wood and brick insulae packed four or five stories tall, into a slum so tightly packed that the streets are barely wide enough for one person to walk through. He heads south, to Daler's Forum, as the pursuer follows.

    He's good, whoever he is, Omen thinks. Perhaps it's someone else from the Order, sent to spy on him, to track his movements, maybe even to...
He pushes those thoughts from his mind. He can't afford idle speculation. Not now at least.
It takes him a few minutes to realize it's stopped raining just as quickly as it had started.
    He emerges from the narrows and into the market forum. It's deserted with empty stalls that hint at their daytime wares and goods. He spares a glance over his shoulder, sees that the pursuer is just making his way into the market. The pursuer's face is hiddent by a grey traveler's cloak and hood. Omen assumes he's a local by the way he kept up in the narrows. The clouds part for just a moment and let the moonlight illuminate where they stand. The pursuer slows and stops as he sees that Omen's noticed him now. He draws a dagger from his belt.
    So an assassin then. Omen knows what he has to do. He turns and runs. The assassin follows. Both know the game now, thought only one of them is playing by the rules. Omen turns a corner and almost runs into a group of drunkards stumbling out from a pub. His body, almost possessed of its own will through years of training, pivots to the right and manages to completely side step them without losing speed. From the bustle and cursing he hears a second later the assassin isn't so lucky. It's not much, but it does buy Omen the few extra moments he needs. He passes two more streets then ducks into an alleyway. He runs his hands along the walls, quickly but without hurry, until his fingers find the ridges. Though it's hard to tell to those who don't know, a crude ladder's been carved into the stone wall here. The assassin might be local, but the Order has its own presence in the royal city and they've made certain to mold this place for their needs.

    Omen climbs the ladder in the wall and reaches the rooftops just as the assassin bursts into the alley. He looks around, confused, a moment ago so certain that he'd cornered his target. Omen watches as the assassin doubles back and circles the area trying to re-capture the chase. Finally he turns back, no doubt returning to report his failure to whomever sent him out this night. Omen follows him now, shadowing from above. The young knight's going to find out who hired this assassin and why.

    The hunter's become the hunted, the pursuer the pursued and dawn is still far off in the city of Sceptre.