Enjoy My Short Story “Stations”

I couldn’t find a home for this story, but enjoyed working on it. Enjoy!

~

It was raining outside, the new kind of rain happening ever since they came and broke the sky, the kind we were warned against being out in. My tea was steaming and I clicked the recorder on, sitting at the kitchenette table in my apartment in the dark.

The maps are useless by now. 

A lot of people do still ride subways regularly, myself included, but it’s not the same. You can still try it, but not only did a lot of the tunnels flood and collapse, but the fare’s…it’s not like money, get it? 

You know, something happens to you. Or someone you know. Or to something you do. Me? I can’t, well, I can’t play anymore. I used to like, play music right? This sorta post-minimalist folk, just a little guitar, some synth stuff I could do on the computer, throw it up online. I had maybe a hundred downloads? Nothing crazy, but these days, sorta how I’d take the edge off, throw it up online and get a tiny following, nothing crazy. Anyway. 

Right, post-scarcity and all, we have the time for stuff like that. Mostly I nanny for families with money, the ones who rode most of it out on Long Island and owned half of Brooklyn. Whatever, I like it and it pays and I get to each their food. Anyway, I had to start trying to make it out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan regularly, and the bodega guy told me the subway still works, right? 

It doesn’t matter why I had to, I just DID, right?

The ways that hands can show you something about a subject are subtle but they were consistent in their movement, and the non-blinking was starting to show about a half-hour into our first meeting, there in the coffee shop-slash-breakfast spot now built into the remnants of a clothing store. The mannequins were still up and half-dressed, some half-destroyed and on the floor from what was probably a wave of looting back when…they…first showed up in the sky and battled and fell to earth. All that’s left on the mannequins the place has incorporated into the décor, which are now bolted to the tiled floor, are weird hats and too-thin blouses that make no sense, nevermind being a few decades behind fashion-wise.

I’d found this contact after a few weeks of digging around, asking questions, begging for favors and oddly, trading a toolbox to a fixer who claimed he was leaving land to join some new colony that was being assembled around an old offshore oil rig in the Pacific. It was small, but with the way that the skies felt and looked ever since they came and broke everything, more and more people were unsure of the land, of the ground beneath their feet. There’d already been rumors of herds of strange things that roamed the plains and forests in the Midwest, in the wilds that were growing up around the highways and freeways between cities.

Me? I was happy here, secure and comfortable for the most part, where we were less hiding in fear from the changes they brought and more learning to live with them. New Yorkers always were resilient like that.

The tape continued playing and I started taking notes. Anyway I can’t anymore, the energy for it, the spark for it, it’s like gone right? And not in a way where like I literally can’t look at a guitar or whatever, but like, it’s just not right. It’s not RIGHT she repeats and hands still enough to bang the tabletop.

It’s like, not on-Euclidean but more like, nonlinear and non-temporal? It’d been like this since they showed up and changed the sky, feel to the ground and changed it underneath us, right? The subway has become like, you know? It’s the blood vessels to the city? There’s a few fixed points, spots you always know you can get a train or at least find a platform where someone’s willing to help ya, but until you do it that first time, you just, you gotta take that risk and the plunge so you can Know, you know?

Some people thought that the big hologram ads on top of buildings kept them away, some thought they drew them in, so of course they were constant targets and scenes of micro-pitched battles between religious groups, roof-hugging hobo cults, and corporate security armed with rubber bullets and portable sonics.

I don’t play anymore. I can’t, the like, the mechanic isn’t there? No, more like the endorphin or Dopamine release when I hold the guitar isn’t even there, more like. That’s what it costs me to ride the subway, to Know. 

To Know. The emphasis she’d put on that last word, I could almost tell that she meant for me to capitalize it. To Know, as opposed to know. What did I need to Know about the world, about the subway tunnels ever since they came and changed the very essence of the world, the fabric of the flesh that was the monster of the earth beneath us?

I knew what had happened when the survey men first tried to go into the subways after their remains had seeped into the oceans and earth from the first falls, titan bones, broken teeth, tentacles and limbs like mountain ridges changing the way we looked from space. We all “knew” in as much as humans could know when information was sparse, fourth-hand, and always ending badly. Tunnels full of brown water and black light and the dust that fell from giants, dust that was like a fog to insignificant insects like us. Underground wasn’t the first part of the planet to change when the new gods had come, but it was, some were arguing, the most changed.

While our planet’s surface, the cities and roads and forests and deserts, were broken and shifted by falling titanic corpses and footfalls, the underneath was changed differently. I remembered a coworker, a younger kid, telling us of how before he and his dad had made it to the city, coming across fissures that leaked light, light solidifying into fully-formed trees with vivid red and yellow leaves. We’d found out people called them smoke forests and that they were some kind of semi-sentient, ethereal Venus Fly Trap, snapping shut into a fog that sucked anything solid within its radius back into the fissure in a scream of sucked-in air and light. Someone posted a video of smoke forests catching a stray dog online and it was horrific to watch. I couldn’t watch, I hate watching things like that about animals.

In urban areas, the big still-standing cities, it was different but the same, in a way. The light columns were the first to come and the easiest to avoid, the green light columns that appear out of nowhere, and if you try to walk through it, sucking you up into the sky like some sort of magnet, up screaming in an instant. They come and go, most people avoid them. Still, you get drunks once in a while not noticing them at night, caught up in what we thought was maybe how they feed themselves? Like, a trap for food, an elevator right up into that broken sky for them. Stuff like that.

Something still runs the subways in New York City, but no one knows how. Empty trains move along stops that shouldn’t be there and through tunnels that can’t exist. I’ve heard of a whole open market that exists on a lower set of platforms at times square. The elevated platforms and train tracks in queens are constantly shrouded in fog.

If you need to go and know where you want to go and know where a station might be, you can pay the toll at the gate, an altar of sorts of metro cards and cell phone boxes and stones, you can risk it.

Or you can pay a toll ta really Know, to be able to really ride.

Those who do though, those who Pay For It to Know, heart they pay is permanent and deep. And it keeps drawing you down underground more and more, over and over. I clicked the recorder off. Two days later the source is gone, not answering her phone and someone tells me they saw her go down a subway station entrance.

Until you only ride. Until you never come back above ground, like you’re a new part of the new veins of our new changes word, the new market and economy of semi-permanent subway riders and hustlers and homeless men paid to act as mobile hotspot and wifi broadcasters in the shadows of above ground. When I first started looking into this, a source told me they’d met someone who ended up not seeing the sun for almost three years. Not that there’s too much to see since they broke the sky, but still, the human instinct for the openness above us is hard to shake off. How much of an allure could this new weird underground have, really? I mean, we were so far from understanding anything about what had happened to the world when the sky broke and they came, and barely learning to get by and adapt to it all. To give it all up and let that weird new order swallow you up? It was one of the things my paper was trying to do, what most publications these days were trying, filing report after report of what we could learn about this new world. We got most of what we needed to work and to keep the wifi going from the big supermarket chain that had stayed going, and we’d put the physical copies in their stores, slowly building up a little territory we tried to keep in the loop when it came to serving, moving around, getting by. We weren’t like the big websites, the big circulars that kept up some semblance of dumb news and entertainment writing lists and fake-news puff pieces, but we got by.

The subway piece was big, me and three other people had been working on it after hearing the rumors of the trains somehow working and about the underground markets. After years of no subways, after the horrific things we’d heard about the first responders and the military and cops dying down there at the hands and mouths of things no one could describe? We jumped at the chance.

Screw it.

I left instructions and whatever I could put together into some kind of map and itinerary with my boss and partner, all the “active” station entrances that were somehow fixed I’d gotten from that poor girl. I threw some stuff into a backpack, I swept my hair back into a ponytail, found the most humdrum comfortable outfit I could, and took a deep breath. The cat in the hallway, one I shared with my across-the-hall neighbor, looked at me from his makeshift bed, and I knelt down to scratch him softly behind the ears. Cats probably were having the easiest time since the skies changed, more and more people kept them as pets because they seemed to be able to sense when things were OK.

The station was pretty close to my apartment, one of those fixed places, a fixed point. Funny thing was, I thought as I walked around the block in the early morning light, the remnants of Chelsea around me slowly coming to life, I’d never seen it before. How could I have not noticed it? I’d lived in this neighborhood forever.

I took a deep breath, stepping off the curb to cross the street towards it, expecting something to happen, a shimmer in the air or a breath of the space around me, like somehow it wasn’t totally real, a trick of light that the new light in the new air played, thanks to the broken sky above me. But no, it was there still, and the inches closing between me and it made more and more sense, clicking things in my mind that I’d buried.

Or you can pay a toll ta really Know, to be able to really ride.

Her words filled my head as I stood at the top of those stairs down. I could hear some noise down there, people talking, a low hum like a large group, maybe one of those underground platform town square markets, living forever under unnatural neon lights that never really went out. I took a step down onto one step, feeling, suddenly, the full weight of it all on me, a sudden rush to keep going. To keep going down those stairs, one step at a time and feel myself become warm and comfortable, enveloped in some kind of blanket of shift in culture, in world, fitting in where I didn’t know I needed to go, belonging somewhere I didn’t know I belonged.

Don’t.

I stopped, on that first step down, one foot raised to come down to the second.

Don’t.

A step back, unsure now. I needed to know, we’d been trying so hard to find out for sure how it all worked, I…I needed to know, needed to see it through to find a way.

No.

It was louder now, the voice was more like a stereo right by my ear that had suddenly jumped up in volume, like when a song on your MP3 player is at a higher volume naturally than the track before, old 90’s jams followed by slickly-produced modern tracks right off the digital mixing board. I stepped back again, back onto the sidewalk, staggering backwards, I tripped over something, falling back onto my ass and pack, it wasn’t right. This didn’t seem right, all of a sudden it didn’t seem right, the flight-or-fight mode fully going off in my brain, that oldest of the old instincts, one of the ones that recognized the dangerous things that were now all around us. I got up and brushed myself off, and I spit on the sidewalk, looking back at the stairs down to the subway, the sudden shock of having gotten away from something, like a weird Venus flytrap swaying in my vision making me gag and feel sick, and I realized I hadn’t eaten all day so far.

What was I doing? Why would I come here alone? I turned around and ran, ran back towards my place and threw the door closed, the sigil-scratched charms nailed on the inside rattling on their wires as I threw the windows closed and lay on the floor, starting to shake and cry, shake and cry and heave, slowly feeling my brain and body come back to me.

Weird Comfort

DOOM4-7

I have a stack of video games waiting to be played right now.

There’s the metaphorical stack, the ones waiting in the digital library of our PlayStation account, weird cool-looking indie games, some horror stuff, some puzzle-oriented stuff. Then there’s the physical stuff, in particular the copy of Horizon: Zero Dawn I dreamed about for ages ever since I saw the trailer for that game (never mind how terrible I know I’ll be at it). Oh, and don’t forget the replay of Firewatch that I keep wanting to do. Oh, and the semi-retro point-and-click The Last Door needs to get finished too.

Since I got back into playing video games I’ve been immersing myself into the wonders of all these different ways to tell stories, to It’s a good thing that my teaching schedule through the summer has given me a lot more free time, even with all the paper grading, errands, and writing I want to get done.

Yeah, about all that…

I was thinking recently, about why every time it seems like I want to unwind and play video games I go back to just replaying DOOM?

The reason I got back into playing video games is my fiancee. Chontel is far better at them, and has been playing them far longer than I have. I flirted with PC gaming in middle and high school, as well as briefly thought about Magic cards, tabletop RPGs, and figurine stuff, reading endlessly through ratty third-hand issues of PC GAMER and PC MASTER. I endlessly played on my Gameboy on family trips, annoying my mother to no end.

But what really captivated me, a young punk rock guy full of frustration and fascination with weird and dangerous stuff, stuff I saw on TV as being a Certified Real Threat? The PC games DOOM and DOOM 2, which I don’t remember how I got or how I convinced my parents to let me play our our home computer. After all, we had Star Wars games and SIM CITY, why would I need stuff like this? But somehow I did, somehow I got it, and somehow I got completely immersed. I replayed those games multiple times, I got the magic codes for immortality, for all the ammo, for all the ammo and magic keys, I was one hundred-percent immersed in that game. It was a comforting routine to get to play it during my allotted computer time, shooting and smashing demons and monsters on that Martian base. I went back a bit and played some Wolfenstein 3D, and I briefly played some Quake as well (both from id Software, the home of DOOM), but they weren’t the same. I also very briefly considered a foray into other PC gaming like Myst (don’t ask), but similarly, not what I liked or could handle. Then, when I discovered punk rock, video games to me just weren’t as cool for some reason, and then I moved to live with my grandparents, and they were entirely forgotten.

So, video games fell off the radar, apart from occasional forays into SIM CITY, my old Game Boy, and Internet-based flash games (you know, the kind hosted on websites where you click around a map/online world to earn points to buy stuff or just amuse yourself). I briefly tried to get into the first HALO game at a cousin’s house, but I told myself they weren’t for me really, I didn’t have the coordination to play, it was all Monster energy drinks and dudebros. I concerned myself with beer and girls and punk rock, with college and writing and horror movies and comic books instead (I know, I know).

When Chontel and I got together and she re-introduced me to the joy of playing games and to the plethora of SO MUCH DIFFERENT STUFF that’s out there, I was immediately sucked in. I’ve written about games a bunch of times since then, and my decision to try to get into shooting/FPS (First-Person Shooter) games that involved some level of coordination of course would draw me to a brand-new version of that old childhood favorite, DOOM.

We’ve played a bunch of games together, bought some together too, some of which I suggested because they seemed interesting to me (Virginia comes to mind). Any time I get a minute to myself though where I feel like playing some games, I throw DOOM on. I’ve even restarted all my saved campaigns from scratch in there a few times just to go back to the beginning and start over.

I relish the game, and in particular, I’ve come to realize I relish the way that the 2016 version of the game includes some throwbacks to the earlier version I immersed myself into as a kid. It’s not so much about the mechanics or the visuals really, but more the attitude and atmosphere that DOOM creates and embraces, a stripped-down and almost minimalist experience where you can work entirely at your own pace. Sure, that’s a thing that can be applied to a lot of other video games, but arguably DOOM did it first, using the stripped-of-identity-and-thus-agency nameless 1st-person view as a modern means of self-insertion.

On a more practical level though? I’m a big fan of repeat comfort entertainment, so of course finding a way to once again get that repeat comfort entertainment now in my new stage of video game life, with a direct thread back to one of my early favorites. I can’t really speak to the motives of anyone else who plays the game or who plays games in general, and overall the broad range of motives on why we play video games is a kind of fascinating topic (this on the motives behind soldiers and former soldiers that I read recently is interesting), but I know that I always think of my own motives as being less about winning, more about just detaching my brain for a while. I’m not thinking about work, I’m not obsessively worrying over things I have no control over, and I’m not letting things like current events make me uncontrollably mad and frustrated and sad. It’s a purposely-isolating thing where my complete concentration is required, enough to take me out of whatever I don’t want to be thinking about and into something else where I have (arguably) way more control. The nameless “Doomguy” space marine is less a hero than an outfit I can put on an play around for a while at a pace I control, which in the end is what comfort things are all about.

I make no bones about the fact that I’m very easily-distracted and entertained through stuff I already have and have already experienced, because to me there’s nothing wrong in re-indulging in repeat watchings when I can’t think of anything new to do. I’m a curmudgeonly old man and sometimes I’d really rather just rewatch something because I know that, deep inside my skull and odd semi-rotten soul, it helps my brain slow down. DOOM, basically, does the same thing.

Payments Due

3121

I think a lot about dumb decisions.

There’s the decisions to do things, the ones to not do anything. The ones that I still make as a grown adult, and the ones I made as a younger person. Who doesn’t look back and think about everything, especially when they hit their mid-thirties and wonder how they got here when they assumed life would have been so weirdly but undeterminably different somehow by now?

Not that life has been bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But between childhood and now I made some stupid decisions that forever altered the course of my life in negative ways, ways that can’t really be “fixed” per se in how I and other people were permanently affected by them. I impulsively broke off years-long friendships to get engaged and move to the Midwest with no work waiting for me and nowhere near the emotional maturity to help maintain a (in hindsight, obviously) straining-to-break relationship. I lost a lot during those years in the Rust belt and in the dumb scramble to get back to New York two years later, and the decisions that I made in that story affected not just me but also a bunch of other people. I can’t really say how they’ve been affected, because some won’t really expand on it, while others just won’t talk to me anymore.

I wonder sometimes what happened to them, and how they were affected by the things we said and did.

So…

There’s this adage about how fiction is really only two stories, both of which are arguably two sides of the same coin; A stranger comes to town, or a hero goes on a journey. Each of those two involve a choice, a conscious decision to go somewhere new, or do something when confronted with someone new, right? So, once that decision is made, the story moves forward, with characters acting, things happening as a result of those decisions and actions, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s a spiral, a domino effect leading into other domino effects. Basic storytelling mechanics, really.

What can make excellent fiction stand out is when the flow of action-to-consequence-to-action factors in the fact that in real life, that the consequences don’t ever really make sense. It’s what makes the decisions that start these narratives dumb. We never think about what’s going on beyond one or two steps, the steps that only directly impact or affect us. Crime fiction is an excellent example of this, because so many of those stories are all about the unintended consequences of dumb decisions around either A) strangers or B) going somewhere strange.

I recently finished Silverfish, a graphic novel by crime/noir cartoonist David Lapham. Lapham is probably (at least in my circles) best known as the creator of STRAY BULLETS, a crime comic that captures tragic noir stories through the late 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Silverfish arguably is a spiritual cousin to STRAY BULLETS, disconnected through only the thinnest of storytelling twists really. Silverfish is a crime story where bored teenagers do what they do best..make a bad decision without thinking about the consequences outside of themselves. It boils over into a desperate night of standoffs, blood, and a crazy unfulfilled but scary glimpse into the lives of people intersecting the wrong way.

A group of teenagers decide to jokingly push the limits of “investigating” someone’s stepmom’s past by rooting through her things and trying to reach out to names in her address book. It’s petty, it’s completely not-thought through, and in doing so it unleashes mania and a lunatic with blood on his hands and (he thinks) a head full of brain-eating tiny fish). Lapham overall captures dumb decisions best, the unforeseen consequences of bad decisions being made by dumb people against bad people who react to them in ways that honestly, some of us just don’t expect. We don’t expect because we assume that since our dumb decisions are logical to us (they sure are at the time), the responses will be logical as well. We don’t expect someone to respond to a prank call with sociopathic murder, we don’t expect the step-parent we don’t like to secretly be hiding a fortune in stolen money and a decade-old murder weapon, & we don’t expect to end up running for our lives.

Claustrophobia and feeling trapped, be it in literal small space or just by circumstances (ones brought on by your or others’ shitty decisions) are a bit part of this comic, despite taking place in a couple of houses, a couple of other buildings, and even the boardwalk. It feels heavy at times, the weight of guilt from having done something wrong but not knowing just how wrong, which adds to the tension and ratchets it up intensely. That suffocating feeling we’re used to immediately popping up, a solid fuel for anxiety, is pervasive through Lapham’s work.

That lack of understanding of the wide range of possible responses we can get to a shitty dumb decision is how we get the conclusion without the resolution, the nourish atmosphere of a story’s end where no one comes out a winner. No one even really comes out of it having fully learned anything sometimes, because learning a lesson implies you were able to emerge from a situation unscathed and objective enough to understand not just what you did, but how it extended outward as a series of ripples that no one can possibly control. Silverfish ends “well” relatively speaking for a crime/noir story, but it’s still an ending mired in violence and hurt and death, and like most of Lapham’s work, we’ll never really get to see the long-term effects of it on relationships or individuals. STRAY BULLETS is rife with this as well. We just know that it’s never going to be good, because the awful things that happen because of those actions, because of those decisions, leave lasting scars, the remnants of someone paying for their actions in a way they never thought they’d have to.

I got bitter after I left the Midwest, and I didn’t stop making terrible decisions that affected others in my own story when I got back to New York. I don’t now, as much, and I’m more in control of my own narrative for the better (he writes in his apartment after work one day listening to heavy metal, with a loving partner on the couch across the room playing video games, a soft fat cat floating around somewhere), but still, fuck…the decisions in this story that led me here led to a lot of hanging ends I lost track of.

But I don’t think that matters to me, or ultimately to any good story. A brief view, a look through a window at someone scrambling desperately to deal with consequences? That’s a good story, it just depends on the moment that you chose to look through the window.

Read My Short Story “Porter’s Window”

I wrote this short story for a Lovecraft-themed/influenced literary journal. It was supposed to be about drawing influence and style from Lovecraft’s short story “Pickman’s Model,” about the truth regarding a peculiar artist’s influence. It’s a nasty and interesting little bit with a twist that I like, albeit being a little predictable to modern sensibilities. 

Anyway, it was rejected, and since I did it specifically for that submission there’s really no other place I’d want to show it to anyone, might as well share it here. I like it, I specifically tried to mimic the style of older epistolary 19th-century fiction as best I could in framing it as a letter.

So here it is, “Porter’s Window.”

My Dear Friend Legrasse,

My Old Friend, I bid you well. It has been a long time since we spoke, since I came to New Orleans and we spoke, colleague to colleague, policeman to policeman. I write this to you with a heavy heart, already laden down with the death of my beloved Alfred, my poor boy and knowing of your own recent troubles.

But larger things than our own griefs are at play here Raymond, and I feel I must begin at the start.

Some six months ago, I was called to the scene of a particularly ordinary murder, a boarding-house in one of Boston’s mostly-Italian immigrant communities. It was, to be honest, notable as a place where men and women lived as dogs, children ran wild, and lives ended violently. Just the week before we had been called to that very area to the sight of a horrific killing, a young woman murdered in the alley behind that boarding-house. It was a truly horrific sight, my friend, and I cannot bring myself to give you any details other than the poor woman’s soul rests better, considering what unspeakable things her mortal flesh must have been dealt that dark night.

Myself and several constables ascended to the second-floor room where two men had, we determined, murdered each other over a few scraps of gold, no doubt stolen from some uptown house at the other side of the city. As per the routines our department were beginning to establish, we started rousting and questioning the rest of the inhabitants of the building, seeking answers. I myself knocked on one door, the only room occupied on the third floor above us, finding the door unlocked, though the room clearly inhabited.

What compelled me I cannot say, but something drew me into the room. I feel now that it was perhaps a connection to evil, a sense that something must be found in there, but I cannot say for sure. Regardless, Legrasse, I entered the room, revolver at the ready, but found nothing. It was a filthy squalor, one of those places where even the brightest of sunlit days can only barely bring warmth and light. Clearly, it was an artist’s abode, with stacks of wrapped canvases against one wall, a dirty unmade bed in the center of the room, and small books, sketchbooks, were stacked everywhere. There was an easel against the wall by that dirty window, and I looked out, looking down at the street through the grimy glass. It was, I realized with a shock, the rear of the boarding-house, looking down at the alley where that poor woman had died the week before!

I wondered, as I heard an officer approach me through the door, if the inhabitant of this room had witnessed that murder. As I picked up one of the sketchbooks, dirty pages splattered with black ink in shapes I could barely comprehend, I ordered the constable to question the landlord as to who rented this room. The entirety of the place reeked of desperation, but also, I thought to myself, of hermitage, of solitude. There were empty plates clearly once-used for food, empty bottles of wine, and many candles about for light. On the bed, I found shears and a suit, an outfit that a man of some means would wear about-town. Whoever this room belonged to, they clearly had some means. Who had lived here? I turned back to the sketchbook I held as the men reappeared, telling me that a “Porter” had rented this room. I ordered the sketchbooks collected as evidence to be taken with us, and for this Porter to be found and brought in as soon as he returned to the room. The canvasses against the wall, I realized, were blanks, and the sketchbook I held still, as I started at the pages, I realized were the same thing over and over.

Whoever Porter was, the man had been at the window, drawing over and over, the alleyway below, as if figuring out the look of it. But why, I asked myself.

Lord forgive me for asking, my friend, for the answer was too much for me to bear!

One of the men, while leaving the room, asked me what I wanted done with the package under the bed. I came to my senses, telling the man I would look at it myself before joining the rest of them downstairs. Leaning down to slide the paper-wrapped rectangle, possibly a wrapped canvas painting, out from out under the bed into my hands, I stood up. I snatched up the rusty shears, cut the wrapping, and shuddered as the paper and twine came away.

It was a painting, the view from the window down at the alleyway below, set at night, dark blues with black shot through it to give the impression of nighttime, a dark and moonless night. Ever brush stroke must have been carefully applied for it appeared more of a photographic image than a painting to my eye, so detailed and perfect. I must confess I am a simple man, and known nothing of what the modern “upper crust” consider art, but this, this was almost painfully unique, too horrific to be amazing but “amazing” being the closest I can come to describing it.

A…good god, a woman, a woman in a in a blue dress is in the painting, passing by a shadow in the alley, a shadow emerging from two other buildings, and an arm is reaching from the shadow, long and furred with thick fingers, grasping her in the hand and a waterfall of red emerging from between those monstrous digits. Lord forgive me, but it was Hell on canvas, a sight of horror and murder, exquisitely portrayed as if it had truly happened, as opposed to being a creation of the artist’s mind’s eye. The limb and the gaping maw from the darkness were so detailed, musculature and even what appeared to be rank froth from a foaming beast’s lips were visible

It was the woman murdered here the week before, it had to be!

I put the painting down and, though I dreaded it, my friend, I left the building, telling the officer downstairs to not allow anyone besides police officials, not even any of the building’s inhabitants. I crossed the street, towards the alley, looking up at the window to make sure I was at the right window. Upon securing my position, I looked towards the smaller side-alley, and in my mind’s-eye, I could picture the painting, the arm, the mouth and eyes, the screaming woman. I stepped forth towards the little odd bend in the walls, a sort of alley-within-the-alley, as it were, and I froze. The walls here were new, as if just shorn back up, the back of some large building, no doubt one of the newfangled cold warehouses built up over the old homes and other buildings that, like our murder scene, once made up this part of Boston.

I reached out and touched the wall, leaning close towards it, my ear tilted and listening for anything. May the Lord above protect me Legrasse, but…I cannot!

No, no I must. My good friend, you must know, for I know that you must add it to the black book you keep, the account of those horrific things that fascinate you so.

Legrasse, I could hear a titanic beast breathing, gnashing, living behind those walls! There was still a spot where the newly-repaired wall was wet, and in a sudden frenzy of fear and rage, I pulled and tore at it with my hands, yanking one, two wet and cement-covered bricks away, and…the stench, the wet thick rot of animal and blood, I nearly very retched, right at that moment! As if…as if something, something foul and unwashed, from the bowels below civilization, from the center of precious mother-Earth under Heaven, was there. It was…it was the beast, my friend, the one from the painting! Within the walls!

I do not remember much from then, and the other officers from the scene told me that I stumbled back to them and fainted, and I was taken to rest at the local hospital. I lay, in a fever of nightmares and prayers, for a full month, before I could recover. My dreams, from what I’ve been able to remember, have bene plagued with horrific visions of giant limbs and tooth-filled mouths, gaping maws of unholy hell that consume both red human flesh and precious human souls.

I knew for sure that I must return to the site, I remembered that much for certain, that we must make a search for this “Porter” man and do a thorough search of the boarding-house, to say nothing of arming some men with stout rifles and looking at the off-alley where I swore I knew the beast dwelt and slept. Alas, it was all too late. By the time my mind and body both returned to me and I could return to that little dirty room overlooking that blood-soaked and secret-filled alleyway, it was gone!

The buildings and alleys, upon my inquiry (and a good deal of using my official police identification to bully answers, which I feel a twinge of shame over) were revealed to have been purchased and torn down, both the boarding-house as well as the warehouse! The sketchbooks my men collected from the boarding-house room remain, but the paintings are all gone, rubble turned into the detritus of the local city dump, if not turned into firewood for the hearth by someone. There is no trace left of this Porter. I implore you, if you find him, if you find this man, this “P” or whatever he calls himself, for obviously Porter was a false name. You must seize him, and find out what he knows. What are these beings that he painted, how did he know it was there?

Find him, Legrasse. Find this devil-sighter, this prophetic artist, if that is what he calls himself, of monsters!

Find “P”!

Yours In Friendship –

Cxxxxx

Heavy Homes

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(Lotta spoilers, so proceed with caution)

Death is dumb.

All death is dumb, it feels pointless and heartless, like somehow in some fashion life has gone out of its way to fuck you in the ass. Even when we expect it, when we know it’s coming, or what we logically and rationally know that it can’t be helped, that it might even be a good thing in the long run, it just feels like shit. My grandfather died a few years ago about this time of year and even though he lived a year over the time the doctors gave him, the last few months were torturous for him and I knew that when he finally did die, it was in a way an alleviation of the pain that I knew was racking his body along with the cancer and the constant discomfort of pissing himself and always having to lay in a hospice bed we had in the house.

It was still dumb and it still makes me sad and mad to think about it.

How people deal with death is another matter, in that coping varies so much we never really know how well people are feeling or if they can even figure out how to move on from something so shitty. The idea of coping, and the myriad of ways in which it can both help and harm someone, is the root of the video game What Remains of Edith Finch.

What Remains of Edith Finch (from developers Giant Sparrow) has been a game we’ve been anticipating for a while in this little household, so when it was available to preorder we jumped on it. A walking/exploring game (which is pretty popular these days for better or worse) where the titular character explores her weird old family house discovering the secrets of various family members, we see that the Finch house is rooted in sadness and denial and tragedy that has led varying members of the family to think they’re “cursed.” You’d think it’s true based on just how messed up the family appears, and by how many of them ended up meeting tragic ends. One poisons herself by accident as a child, while another witnesses his sister’s savage assault and murder, retreating to live in a bunker underneath the house unknown to other family members for years…for starters.

The title’s ultimately the biggest giveaway, because of the dual definitions of “remains”, in being a verb as well as a noun. As a noun, remains are a term for what’s left behind from a death. As a verb, it means to leave behind. Edith’s both left her remains somewhere (because she’s dead, as revealed at the end of the game) but also is looking at literally what she left behind in that house throughout the game via the extended flashback that is the gameplay.

Reliving the very history of your own lineage and seeing not horror, but depressing tragedy, in those stories as Edith does throughout the game gives you a real sense of why the family might think they’re cursed, and how it could feel tragic enough to actually influence people into putting a supernatural spin on it. The way that Edith actually experiences these moments throughout the book intersperses supernatural elements with reality, creating a difficult thing to interpret, with the implication of heavy subjective experiences. What really did happen? What really did cause it, and what does it mean that we don’t fully understand and get more clues and implications?

There’s a lot here in the game’s story that is left undiscovered and unsaid, employing a lot of what we’ve seen in other exploratory walking/narrative games to fill in background and story that we’re not allowed to fully know. What are the entirety of the secrets of the Finch house? What was the great-grandmother trying to tell young Edith the night they left? What’s the full story of the family’s need to identify themselves as “cursed,” which is a self-fulfilling prophecy but also a convenient excuse when it comes to not wanting to discuss uncomfortable family things like mental illness, unspoken feuds, and bottled-up feelings/aggression. While this can definitely be frustrating, at the same time it’s arguably more realistic in trying to mimic the fallibility of memory, of family memory, and of the limitations of someone’s personal patience, personal feelings, and (importantly, though another big dangling thread in this story) the limitations of being able to help someone who is suffering from mental health issues and you don’t understand why.

As I’ve mentioned before when talking about games like this, leaving some of that unspoken creates a definitely stronger line between short stories/novellas and these kinds of games and further emphasizing a game like Edith Finch’s primary role as an interactive story as opposed to a competition.

Sometimes, we don’t get over it. We just can’t. We’re scarred by death, scarred by our pasts, scarred by the burdens placed on us by other people that we’re unable to shake. We don’t always really acknowledge it, but sometimes, death wins in ways beyond just simply taking someone away. Sometimes it breaks, cracks, leaving nothing but remains. You can’t always put something back together from remains, no matter how hard you try. Edith Finch tried, and it didn’t work for her, thought it does make an interesting experience to play.

Sometimes unanswered questions are OK.

Wet Rags

So I’ve been doing little tiny notebook sketches, working to get into the habit of fully filling pages and not waste space, as well as being able to be more precise at smaller spaces. It’s been a good way to do little warmups, drawing exercised, what have you.

…then I forgot the notebook in my pants pocket and threw those pants in the washer. So much for that.

Mouth Full Of Feelings

I drew a new WORKING TITLE page, a strange one where a horror idea I’ve been rolling around in my head (and is in a short story that I wrote as well) just sort of played out.

This page probably more than any other illustrates the “role” of WORKING TITLE, which isn’t to really tell a story but to just do something strange and try new things. I’ve always felt like I’m a less-than-competent cartoonist whose panels and final pages overall never look as good as notes and thumbnails, and I’ve been realizing that I need to go hard on really filling in the page.

I’ve always fallen back on minimalism to cover up what I think is a shitty art style and uneven lines (my love of minimal newspaper comic strips, which are VERY minimal, is part of it) but I’m trying to get more and more confident about filling space and adding stuff, so yeah…that’s where WORKING TITLE comes in.

Anyway, enjoy the comic.

Check Out “Hit The Till” At MONDAYS ARE MURDER

I’m really excited that my short story “Hit The Till” is being featured as a part of Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder story series, available at their website.

You can read it here!

Akashic Books are a great publisher with a variety of awesome titles, including their NOIR short story  collection series like Haiti NoirTwin Cities Noir, Brooklyn Noir, and they’re the home of author Joe Meno, who wrote some of my favorite books, The Boy Detective Fails and Hairstyles Of The Damned.

Seriously, what else have you got going on on a Monday? Check out “Hit The Till” and other Mondays Are Murder stories, spread the word!

A Strange Wolf Nipping At My Heels

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So to celebrate getting a little time off, I wrote and drew a new page in what I consider my “weird workbook comic,” WORKING TITLE. Nothing really happens, it’s mostly for stretching weird strange joke and story ideas out, trying drawing/cartooning things I haven’t really done before. I’m gearing myself up to write and draw some more comics, which I haven’t done in a while, so I figured this was a good way to get back into the swing of it.

It’s weird, I always tell myself I’m not going to work on comics but I can’t help but get sucked back into it, even though I never really think they’re that good. Always learning, always trying new things, I guess, hard to shake off a way of telling stories when you actually do like doing it.

Anyway, besides this there’s some more work coming out in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned.

Black Ink Is Back…Kinda

Hey, remember BLACK INK, the serialized mystery novella I used to do, featuring my character Ben Miles? If not, don’t worry, because now you can get the whole thing online for free.

I recently sat down and finished the whole thing, cranking out a semblance of an ending. I hate to leave a good idea hanging, and hey, if it’s free, you can’t be mad at me if it sucks.  I like writing Ben Miles stories, he’s a hard dude to shake, even if he’s not very good at his job sometimes.

Anyway, it’s free via my Smashwords author page to grab and read digitally, on your phone, tablet, computer, or whatever it is you use to read stuff digitally (like a Kindle? Do people still use Kindles? I feel like they do, along with bootleg tablets compared to fancy brand-name iPads, but what do I know) so let me know what you think of it, spread it around. Give yourself something quick to read for a commute or while you’re on the can, which is where I do all my serious reading these days.

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Manta Books brings in PI/part-time bondsman Ben Miles to track down a missing piece of comic book art. Simple, right? But nothing is what it seems when it comes to a Ben Miles case, and more than likely he’s gonna end up getting his ass kicked over a comic book.