Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.

My Curve

My tagline should become “it’s been a while.”

I find so many ways of saying the same thing. It’s been a hard couple of months. Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a thousand years, though I have also read some writers stating that this period in our history is an eternal present: an in-held breath that keeps going until, inevitably, there will be a release of some kind.

In my personal life, I’ve been having something of the same process. March 13 was the last time I’d been downtown. I knew about the pandemic and the quarantine on March 11, but a few days later I went back to my parents’ place, and knew I would be going into hermit-mode again.

I had few illusions about that. I knew it would be more than two or three weeks of quarantine. It was hard in the beginning as I had been going out more. For the first week, I didn’t go outside at all: not even for a walk. I had this plan that I would not go outside at all until all of this was over, or even past it. I’ve gone long stretches of time without going out of my house or wherever I was living, and I thought to go back to it. I lasted over a week like that, before it got too much.

After that, was a string of misfortunes. The end of a relationship, and the death of a pet. Even then, I felt like I was accepting that something was changing, that I was at a shift — or we were at a shift — that once it was done we would never be the same again. And just when I felt like I was beginning to be free, to shed that past dead weight, everything else went side-ways, as a friend of mine used to say.

When Kaarina passed away, I was in this twilight place. I’d known beforehand, as I already wrote about I’m sure, but I was going to bed at seven or eight in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I was talking on the phone, or online in an almost drunken manner. Sometimes I could focus, and other times I was out in my own world. It was just these glittering pieces in the dark, metaphorically speaking. I felt both detached, and angry, drifting, and sad. I kept a list in my head of things I wanted to do, or say to people, before the pandemic and I fulfilled them slowly over that time as I began to become more stable again.

I talked with my therapist on the phone, something I should continue to do. My friends have been going through their own losses as well. It’s like the darkest, suckiest stuff that was waiting to happen before the pandemic decided since things were already bad they’d might as well all come out to play.

During this time, I wrote some stuff about Kaarina, did some roleplays with my friends that still can online, and not much else. I marathoned Freeform’s Sirens for a while, and then continued watching Motherland: Fort Salem. I know that for a while, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, especially in the beginning month of all this — suffocation and being terrified of getting sick. Sometimes, I still cycle through that, and there might be some medical issues I will have to deal with that aren’t related to the plague.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Once the suffocation, the anxiety, the despair, the empty feeling, the frenzied feeling, all wore off it began to level out. To meet a curve if you want to borrow a popular phase now.

One day, I found out Joe Bob Briggs’ and Shudder’s The Last Drive-In was coming back. I’d missed the last season, as that had been another year of turmoil. I did catch one part where one of the Halloween films was being played, and I had created a theory on Twitter that Dr. Loomis had experimented on Michael Myers already altered physiology and psychology, and that was the reason he wanted to kill him so badly. It never get quoted on the show, but I had fun that night. I’d heard of Joe Bob from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre channel ages before, and I had to check it out. Also, Diana Prince — who plays Darcy the Mailgirl — was someone I’d started interacting with on Twitter and Instagram along with other fans from time to time.

My usual D&D game days are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I am obviously not breaking quarantine. I decided to experiment and watch an entire run of The Last Drive-In. I liked the format of the first episode in Season One, with the film Tourist Trap with a telekinetic who likes to create wax beings, and I wanted to see what a live marathon would be like while live-Tweeting.

It was hard. I didn’t pace myself, and there were no commercial breaks. I admit that while I had fun that first episode, the five hours locked my body down, and I didn’t feel well. I considered just seeing one part of the episode next time, and looking at the rest when recorded on Shudder. But then, the next week came and after having most of my food, and some commercial breaks, as well as knowing when take some of my own, I did much better. I absolutely loved Maniac with those creepy mannequins, and it was the first time I’d seen Heathers: and I adored it.

This past week, there was Brain Damage and Deep Red as well, the former I surprisingly enjoyed and make a few good one-liners on Twitter. Deep Red was harder to follow, and I tried to make sense of it, and … maybe one day I might. I really liked interacting with the other fans on Twitter, and just the feeling of watching something, some ridiculous, sometimes awesome films with people while listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes and facts. I don’t agree with everything Joe Bob says, and certainly I know that I loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night more than he seemed to in the earlier seasons — though I do have a weakness to towards “art-films” — but I can appreciate what he brings to the show.

I just, for a few moments, not only did I recapture what it was like to watch strange films, horror movies, with friends, but to have it at a fixed point, to come to that time and actually accomplish it. I know the show is on from 9 pm to 2 am on Friday evenings, and I attend them and get through it, and even interact. It’s a combination of observation, entertainment, writing, and socializing with a good meal. And it helps. It helps to feel that sense of accomplishment in doing that, and that sense of positive reinforcement.

And, whenever I watch The Last Drive-In, or any horror films, I feel like I am watching them with Kaarina: for the two of us. We used to go to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival together, and then watch Twilight Zone before bed. And I curated a whole Shudder account for her when she was in a medically-induced coma in hopes of presenting it to her when she woke up from that surgery. I think it even still exists somewhere on Shudder. I also felt like, for a moment, that I was watching horror movies with my friends again after almost two decades.

It must sound strange, to want to watch things for someone who can’t anymore, but I take comfort wherever I can, and I won’t knock this.

It’s been around this point that I began writing again. I was already feeling the need to return back to the work I began about a year ago, before real life came in. I was so busy going out and socializing that a lot of it fell to the way side to gather dust. And then, the pandemic and all these personal losses accrued. I think it also helps that I don’t feel the pressure of not having a job or still living at home, as I know many people are facing similar situations due to the current crisis. Surprisingly, I’m less hard on myself: even though I still need to sleep properly.

I feel like I could spend more time writing and reading and watching films than interacting with people as much now, but I know there are people in my life that check in on me. I’m definitely not the same as I was before March, and I know I won’t be after all of this is over or at least stabilized. I learned a lot about other people during this time. And about myself.

Right now, I am writing fanfiction but I am thinking about going back to a possible collaboration idea, and that Lovecraft work of mine. I know this seemingly limitless time is an illusion. It will end, one way or another. Life likes to change. I am going to just do the best I can, and I feel like I want to do it again.

It’s late now, for a change. I want to write down one or two more things before this night is out. I don’t know how I will deal with things when they open up again outside, but I can’t really think about that right now. All I can do is enjoy what I have now. That is all I can do.

I’m glad that you can all join me on this venture. I might add another entry after this one. It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that. Until then, my friends.

Another Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. That’s a sentence I’ve said a lot when posting on this Blog these days.

But I thought I would come here this morning, and write something as it is an appropriate day. It’s my birthday today. By the time you read this post, I will now be thirty-eight years old. And since I am now one year older, I thought I’d look at where I am now and update you on what is going on, and what I am doing.

My social life has, well, opened up a great deal. Before the crisis with the coronavirus, I was going outside a lot more, socializing, spending time at Storm Crow Manor, and exploring a whole new part of Toronto: a section of it that was new to me, and one I had began to travel on my own. I’ve enjoyed the Manor, as well as Craig’s Cookies, and I have been considering doing more things.

It’s been a far cry from the time when I would lie in my bed and essentially spend most of my days and nights on my laptop, just existing, hoping nothing would tip the delicate balance, in that state of tension and anxiety. I still have to deal with the latter, of course, but I find when I am doing stuff and actually going out and focusing on other matters, it helps. It helps to facilitate that place where I am not as much in my mind.

I have also slowly been cultivating various friends, and contacts. I know it’s not something that can happen all at once, and I’ve realized that having an extrovert or two as a friend is a boon, even as I can help other introverts who aren’t as comfortable with “party manners” to socialize as well, and traverse the city with me. There was a two week or so period where I was outside a great deal — even making cookies for the first time in over a decade for an event — and I also got a considerable amount of work done.

As usual, I have not finished or even in some cases continued the creative projects that I had sought to undertake, though some still remain in the queue. I have been meaning to get back to writing a piece of fanfiction for a friend’s comic, exploring that world with similar themes, but from different perspectives. I have an Alternative Facts story or two that I want to get out there, which I suspect I’ve mentioned here before. There is also the Lovecraft Mythos story I want to compile out of my notes on paper and from my phone, and send it somewhere: possibly for some grants and scholarships, and a writer’s retreat program.

But I have mostly been writing in roleplays. I am doing a group game where I am a bard, which I am sure I have mentioned before, a Vampire: The Masquerade solo game with one of my partners, and now another D&D game that is set in the plane of Gehena. That last game is something special to me. I mean, all three of them are in different ways. I am mostly the Game Master of the Vampire game, and I create epic level songs and manipulations as my bard in the other.

But in the Gehena game, it hearkens back to when my friend and I — who is GMing this campaign — to the days in our early twenties, even earlier into our teens, when we would play in the sandboxes he created after school and all night. Because of life circumstances, we play these games all on Roll 20, with some help from DnD Beyond, and Discord. But my friend is combining elements of the group game, and my solo game with him together as they belong in a shared universe of our creation: just in different realms. I can’t wait to see the plot points converge, or run parallel.

I don’t know, I just feel like when I roleplay I’m … doing something. I’m helping to shape a world with my actions and consequences. My decisions matter. And it is close to what I always wanted to do with my friends: to create a world and game together. Once, I wanted us to work together: to create games that we would sell. It was a dream of mine, of ours, and I guess if you hold some stock with horoscopes as a Pisces it makes sense that I would be enamoured with playing in, and creating, a world of dreams. Or nightmares.

Really, aside from my socializing and the potential and energy I get from those interactions — as well as meeting new and awesome people — these role-plays are some of the things that excite me the most. They always have.

It’s not been easy for me. For almost a decade, I felt like I was asleep for the most part. I’d been depressed and anxious and holding onto attachments that were long past their time. I’m not magically cured, of course, and I know how any of these elements can quickly change especially in these uncertain times.

It’s been a bit sad knowing I would go back to being inside more often again, though hopefully it won’t be forever, and the current health situation — this pandemic — can be dealt with. I’ll also admit that I have stretched myself out a great deal, perhaps even over-extended my attention. I need to work on sleeping, which I am failing at right now even as I write to you. I should also rest more and take the time to spend it with those that have gone out of their way to do so with me, even if it can only be audio or video at the moment.

In the end, it’s funny. I went to a person once, who told me that I will lose people, but I should not take for granted the people who are still here, and love me. It’s hard, but I should listen to them. I did lose some connections, over the years, some more recently than others. But in a way, they have made me reevaluate and look at the interactions I do still have, and want to take the time to make sure I know where I stand with them and vice-versa.

I am getting better at standing up for myself. For respecting for myself. For watching for those who do not respect me. I have changed since 2012, when I first started this Blog. Where I go is beyond me. I have been thinking about doing some volunteer work, to get out of the house when that is sensible to do so, of course. And I know I am building something, in this life, I just … don’t know what it is yet. But I do think that the social aspect is important.

Perhaps, now, at this time is the moment to really focus on what it is I’m looking for, to enjoy what I have, to take care of myself, and to see where I go from there.

I’m not where I thought I would be at thirty-eight. Some of that is disappointing, but other parts of it have exceeded expectations. I’ve realized it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. It’s what I need to do with that energy that is the question.

Some of you have been reading my work, followed me, and have even been my friends — and more — for a long time. Some of you have changed along with me. Some of you aren’t here anymore. But I want to thank you, for taking the time you had, and have, and spending it with me: even by reading this long, rambling journal post.

Like I said, I don’t know where I am going to be. Or what will happen. But I hope I can make the momentum, and use it, to do something really constructive, and satisfying to me and the people that I care about.

In the meantime, I think I will use some of that time to go get some rest. So much for my birthday present being an early bedtime. This was longer than I thought it would be. Always famous last words, for one thing or another. ;p

Until another time, my friends. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

It Came From the Heavens

An old attempt at mythological revisionism, and an alternate history: depending on how you want to view this. It was a gift to my father, and myself. Somehow, I think it appropriate: at least, to my own experience. 

“And every spring,” the old kohen told them, “we celebrate the days of Passover.”

“Isn’t Passover based off of the ancient pagan fertility rituals of spring?”

The old man beamed at the young woman. “I’m glad you asked that. The answer is yes. Spring itself is a renewal of the world’s life cycle. The Elohim created us all: making the times of our lives mirror the seasons of the Earth. We are born in spring, young in summer, in our middle years in autumn, and we pass away in our winter. Many of the ancient pagans saw this truth as well, but they viewed each season and element within it as a god in itself. However, we see it as part of the cycle of all things that the Elohim set in motion.”

“So, kohen, spring isn’t just a time of birth, but rebirth as well?”

“Yes.” The old priest said, reclining back into his pillows. “All life is created and destroyed conversely to allow for life to flourish again.”

“But kohen, we are born, we grow old, and we die … yet we do not come back.”

“That is correct. We live a linear existence. Like you say, we are born, we live, and we die. Yet our world and the generations of us live in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We live on through our descendants, our plenitude, and through the dust in which we return we even live through the ecosystems of our world. We now know that in this way we are all eternal.

“When Pharaoh held us — our ancestors — as slaves in Egypt we were stuck in winter: in an endless cycle of toil and suffering that only ended in Death.”

“But kohen, Passover took place in the Desert.”

The priest laughed. “Yes, my child. But the deepest Desert can be as stark as the coldest winter night of all: a place of extremity where life barely survives and that which does is all the sturdier — all the hardier — for it. Yet no thing could live there without the blessing of the Elohim. And we would never have lived at all as we are now without Moses: the King of the Hebrews.

“He was the descendant of Joseph — beloved advisor to Old Pharaoh — descendant of Jacob who took his brother’s birthright, descendant of Isaac who was spared by the Elohim, and descendant of Abram who turned away from the gods of Ur to begin the Elohim’s legacy.

“Though the Patriarchs were great, they had only succeeded in taking Canaan: the Land of Milk and Honey. They made no cities nor did they cultivate the land that was given to us. Eventually, it became fallow and Joseph–who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers — allowed us to live among those that ruled the Egyptians as friends and advisors. Yet the former rulers of the Nile — the Hyksos — were driven away after Joseph’s lifetime and we were made into slaves by the new Egyptian dynasty.

“Moses’ story, you already know. The Pharaoh harboured great fear that a male child of the Hebrew people would overthrow him. Yet while the other baby boys were slaughtered his mother sent him in a basket down the Nile. To this day, the Egyptians believe the Nile to be sacred and that it–and their gods–blessed Moses while others considered him a new incarnation of their hero or their own god. We believe, however, that the Elohim blessed him to begin his work: our work.

“He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter: raised and schooled amongst the elite of Egypt while we toiled. Yet blood told and he knew us as his own. After he killed a cruel overseer, Moses fled: fled into the Desert of Egypt’s Lower Kingdom. It was there that the Desert became the crucible that changed him and the Elohim spoke to him through the vessel of the burning bush. From that point on, Moses was transformed. He was not a god, of course, but neither was he completely mortal. Instead, he became a white-haired messenger of the Elohim.

“And so he came back to Egypt and fought its sorcerers with his superior magic. He brought plagues upon the Egyptians when they refused to let his people go. The heir of the Pharaoh–the Prince–attempted to kill Moses and only the tribesmen of his first wife’s people saved him: may their descendants be honoured forever.

“Yet when the final plague killed all the first-born of Egypt — young and old and including the wicked Prince — the Pharaoh realized his mistake. He and his own priests believed that Moses was not only the incarnation of their Horus, or a demigod (of which we do not believe), he also proved himself by the divinity surrounding him and his cause to be the rightful heir of Egypt.

“Thus Pharaoh released the Hebrews from bondage and gave Moses the Blue Crown. They executed the most wicked of the slavers, overseers, and those who defied Moses as Pharaoh. Yet the Egyptians were allowed to keep their ways — their own understanding of the Elohim — while they were also allowed to adopt ours as well. Men and women were honoured — as they are today — as vital aspects of the Elohim. Yet this in itself was not good enough for Moses: our King.

“And hence the true story of the Exodus. Moses remembered his promise to the Elohim and his people. He decided to reclaim the land of Canaan — the Land of Milk and Honey — that we abandoned centuries ago. He took an entire Egyptian host and all those among us that he raised and trained. It was during this long time that he created the Sacred Code of Conduct that we live by — the Twenty Commandments — to make us stronger and more disciplined.

“Yet even the might of all Egypt and Hebrew combined could not withstand the intense heat of the Desert for long. Even when Moses parted the Dead Sea with his power, there was still much distance to travel even by Chariot. Our crude travel flatbread ran out almost as soon as our drinking water. Many soldiers and people died. Weapons cannot be held under the intense heat of the sun. Shields cannot protect burning skin. Riches cannot in themselves slate parched throats.

“It was only when Moses, his brother Aaron and his disciples — when we all of us prayed for deliverance — that the Elohim answered our prayer. Remember, children, he or she that does not recite the Story of Manna has not fulfilled the essential requirement of the Passover ceremony.

“One night, it fell from the heavens. Some say it rained down. Others say that small red birds from paradise itself brought them to us. But whatever the case, our ancestors woke up to find great white flakes coating the ground. Moses ordered us to gather and make from them cakes and breads. And he said that each night as we approached the Land of Milk and Honey, it would rain food, mennu …or as we know it manna. Manna,” the old kohen paused, “was like celestial hoarfrost, snow, or,” his eyes twinkled at the youngest smiling children, “frosting. It is said that it tasted like cookies or wafers of honey; that could be melted and condensed into the sweetest of juices; and that no matter of the form it could also fill a human being’s appetite. Some in the world call manna ambrosia: the nectar of the gods. But we see it as the salvation of our ancestors by the Elohim.

Photo Credit:  The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

“Afterwards, there were enough stores of manna to revitalize us, the Egyptians, and their vassals. And we took Canaan and we created a new nation and way of life for the entire world. Yet the story of Passover — the true story — is not how the Shadow of Death passed over the sons of Israel by tyrants or the slaying of the Egyptian first-born and Death sparing our own.

“Rather, the story of Passover is the Story of Manna. And to complete our ritual tonight, look at the feast of Manna bread in front of you and all the food and wine that our ancestors began to run out of in the Desert. Look upon the food of our Judean Empire, eat, drink, be merry, and celebrate life.”

And so the kohen and his disciples looked down at their frosted breads and cakes — at their feast — and they began to eat.

11:11

Gabe Wilson sits wearily in the ambulance with his daughter. He’s worn and tired. Zora huddles with him. He’s exhausted, and hurt but he holds the bat against him like a talisman against the absolute fuckery of this entire situation. He slumps his shoulders, letting Zora lean into him. He looks at her, and realizes just how strong she’s been: strong a way that she should never have been strong …

He sees her driving the Tylers’ car into the girl that looks exactly like her, the mirror version of his baby girl’s eyes vague and almost uneven, and filled with a vacant hatred. 

He looks down at his hands. He should have been strong for her. For his family.

Gabe feels the man wearing his face, a snarling brute son of a bitch, easily dragging him away through the shards of glass, putting him onto that damned boat he’d been so proud of, pushing him in, the other trying to drown him, that piece of shit motor finally dragging the other off him instead to drown like a mad dog …

It’s all catching up with him, now that the adrenaline is wearing off. In some ways, it’s worse than actually being hunted by these … things. Because now, he has to remember it. He has to recall just how useless he was, how all his swagger, and ignorance of his wife Adelaide’s fears, his cockiness in thinking he could get crazy with those … bugmotherfuckers at his wife’s parents’ cottage, and how it was Adelaide that always picked up the pace, who did the work, who put him in his place when he couldn’t even protect her, or their children, couldn’t even get to …

He sees Jason’s double, the growling child with the mask, his face all burned underneath, as Jason walks backwards and his twin walks into the fire, burning … watching the other wearing his son’s body die while he did nothing …

“Jason …” He groans. “Adelaide …”

She’d run off, after him. The other … the other woman wearing his wife’s face must have snatched him. It was Adelaide’s worst fear. Her youngest, young like she had been, like she had tried to tell him back at the cottage, was gone. But he hadn’t wandered off like he had at the beach. He was taken. He …

“Dad …”

He feels his daughter clutch his hand. He exchanges a look with her, seeing her eyes wide. He looks up, from the ambulance. As he does so, Gabe remembers something else. Maybe it’s the blood on the stretcher. It might be the beautiful Santa Cruz summer sunlight that heralded the start of their vacation away from the cottage, shining on them, still warm even now. They’d come in and saw a man, an older man with long, messy, greying hair on a stretcher. They tried to make sure that Jason and Zora didn’t see, he and Adelaide, but they saw it. The man with the tattoo on his forehead.

And now, standing in front of them is the silhouette of another man, dressed in red, in another damned red jumpsuit, with long grey hair going down his back. His hands, Gabe can see them, are caked with drying blood. He recalls the picture Jason drew from the beach, the one Adelaide told him about, and he laughed off.

“Zora …” Gabe says, getting in front of her, as he would be damned if one of these fuckers came for his child, he would not face Adelaide with another failure when she came back with Jason. “Get behind me …”

And then, as the man began to turn around, the twin of the man whose dead body may have been in this very ambulance, other figures began to come towards them from either side.

Gabe watches them come. He isn’t feeling anything anymore. He’s numb. Zora doesn’t hide behind him. She comes to his side. He is about to tell her, again, to get back, but he sees a look in her eyes. The same as Adelaide’s. He sees them come towards them.

Gabe Wilson hefts the bat in front of him as best he can. There is only one real thing he can say now, at this point.

“Shit.”

*

With a wordless cry, a husky, rasping Adelaide Wilson wraps the chains of the handcuffs around Red’s throat. She sees the tear continue to trail down the other woman’s face. A part of her, some distant, lost, rational part of her knows that the woman is probably already dead. As resilient as the Tyler girl had been, she knows intellectually, that getting impaled with that one, instinctual, back-stab is a mortal wound.

Red’s eyes, almost dumb, so bovine, and deceptively docile now the hate animating them is draining away — seem to plead with some old sadness, some lost realization, but Adelaide is having none of it. She feels her mouth turn into a rictus of animal rage at this … thing that cut her, taking pieces off of her with each song movement, each dance. This shadow that hurt her family. That haunted her entire life. This is going to end. Adelaide can’t feel sympathy for her shadow.

She won’t.

There is a terrible, lingering, hiss and it takes Adelaide a moment to realize that it is coming from her vocal cords, and not her enemy. Red’s eyes stare into a distance only she can see now, her whispering voice terminated into a fading death rattle. Adelaide did it. At last, she killed her nightmare: her shadow.

At last, she’s free.

But then Adelaide recalls the beach, and the Tyler twins, and Zora, and Jason not being anywhere nearby. He’d wandered off. He did what she didn’t want him to do. Near the beach. Near the boardwalk. 1986. 2019. Her baby is gone. Jason. Jason … 

“Jason!” She calls out, finding her voice again, stumbling around her chain and tattered clothing. “Jason!”

And then she remembers. The cottage. Her parents’ cottage. Jason and his pranks. The tiny car wedged into the crack between the wall and the small storage door. Jason going off with … Pluto to “play” by Red’s order. She scrambles through the bunk area, sliding on the old sterile floor tiles in pain and exhaustion. Adelaide looks around, frantically, until … she finds it. She stumbles forward to the metal cabinet.

Somehow, she knows. She knew. Her heart is pounding. Somehow, there is still more terror left in her. She retraced her steps down the funhouse, to the Hall of Mirrors, to the mirror where … she had been. The escalator … a large escalator moving down into the earth with bright lights like Mall Christmas decorations … and an underground bunker, no a facility … with rabbits like the one from Alice and Wonderland …

How did she know? Was Red right? Did they … really have a connection, that day, when they faced each other in the Hall of Mirrors … knowing, somehow, mimicking her actions, coming to that confluence … that revelation …

No. It’s a mother’s intuition. She never wanted her child to travel through here. To be down here, in a place like this. A mother knows … she knows …

There is a smell. It had been faint in the old antiseptic and the scent of sweat and blood. She swings open the door.

“Jason!” Adelaide reaches forward, seeing him curled up, into himself, his mask … that silly mask over his face. She reaches out …

She crouches there … as Jason slumps out of the cabinet.

Everything seems to slow down. To be frozen in time. As still as this mausoleum to stale suffering, and stunted lives.

“No …” She reaches forward, her vision blurring, watery, taking him up … taking off his mask … “No …”

It’s like burned meat. Adelaide gags. She chokes. She hears someone screaming. The mask drops out of her hand. The rabbits, she thinks to herself, backing away from … it, from her … to the exit of the room …

The doubles, her father punching the wall. Her mother wandering away from her. All those people … those doubles … them …

A keening wail rips through Adelaide’s ears. Her chained hands roam, desperately, through her hair, clutching at her ears.

She walked backward, backward … up the glittering stairs … she never thought to use the stairs …

Red’s memories. Adelaide falls to her knees. She crawls towards, and away, from the shape she left. That she abandoned. Soulless. She said they were soulless. She was her shadow. They shared the same body … the same soul …

She comes to the mirrors. She is looking at a little girl. Just like her. Later, she asks her why she left her … why she didn’t take her with her …

Adelaide feels hot bile, or a sob rising in her throat, lowering her head onto the cold floor.

She sees the fear in the little girl’s eyes. Her. Her whole life. This girl had tormented her. Tormented her by her very existence. She … she got to see things while … she was down here, with these hollow, stupid, empty shells … No one would miss her … no one …

It takes some time, but Adelaide realizes she’s the one who’s screaming. She stares up … not at the bundle near the cabinet … the locker … but Red. Red near her bunk.

She handcuffs her to the bunk as she wakes up, taking her Thriller T-Shirt. She is still smiling at her. No one will miss her. No one … 

Adelaide’s trembling as she sees Red, lying there: her neck covered in the indentations of the chains of her own handcuffs. She looks down at the cuffs around her wrists. She takes the other end, the one not on her wrist, and chain: turning it around her neck, looking at Red, kneeling across from her …

She had felt her at her back through the mirror. She now knows who she is. She now knows what she’s going to do. Awareness rises blooms her brain as she turns around, a wide smile on her face, thinking of other thoughts, of the Red Queen. Off with her head … off with her … 

Adelaide draws the chain around her neck, twisting it. She begins to squeeze. Her mouth twitches. Her lips quiver again. Blood is pounding. Pounding. A distorted echo of the footsteps as she walked away, leaving … leaving the girl at the bunk … after she had wrapped her hands around her neck and squeezed … squeezed … carrying her down … leaving her here … Going up into the warm night air for the first time, not seeing it or feeling it through another’s eyes, and two people … not hitting a wall, not ignoring her … Taking her away, away to draw … like Jason from the beach … Jason … Jason … and to dance … to dance away from all of it … 

She squeezes tighter. She can’t breathe. She feels her eyes bulging … bugging out like hers did …

Pluto burned alive as she cried out for him to stop. Abraham dragged and lost in the water. Umbrae’s broken body in the trees, soothing her as she flailed, suffering, silent, as her baby girl died … 

Her arms suddenly lose their power. She drops to the floor on all fours. She looks up. She looks at her, her eyes gleaming with knowing in death that they did not know in life .. She left her here, she knows that now. She is breathing hard, tasting blood in her mouth. She can’t speak. She crawls forward. She is looking around, looking … And then, she finds them. They are right by her, where she left them.

Shaking, she looks at her double … a thought coming from the darkness of her mind.

“S-sister …” She croaks, finally. “Sisster … ssssissster … ssisstssers … scizz … zzz …” Her hand closes over the pair of handles on the floor. She picks them up. And then, she brings them up, towards herself.

And she uses them.

*

There was a White Rabbit.

An ambulance burns, in the distance. A man’s shoe is seen, tattered and torn, soaked in blood. There is a phone, lying on the ground. Its screen grows feebly in the waning sunlight, jagged broken in half by a crack on its surface.

Red walks past the ruins. She doesn’t see them. She doesn’t feel it. She doesn’t really feel anything. Still, from the corner of her eye, she sees the time flickering on the device. She inclines her head, freshly shorn. Her red suit is worse for wear. There’s a hole in it, but she has everything else. The glove. The suit. The golden scissors in her hands. She walks, the chain from her handcuff swings listlessly from her wrist against her thigh. Her face twitches from time to time, reacting to something unseen by anything around her, or herself.

Then, she stops. She inclines her head, blinking a few times. She sees the burning ambulance on the other side of the road now. She sees two sprawled forms.

“Abraham …” She hisses, the tone distant. “… Umbrae …”

Something trickles down her left eye. Then, she sees the battered phone near her feet. She thinks it belonged to someone she can almost vaguely recall. There is something painted on it, sprayed on, in large lurid red. They are numbers.

11:11.

Two sets of numbers, separated by a crack in the screen, severed uncleanly …

Red recalls the White Rabbit. He had a time piece, a stop watch, that never worked. He was always late, never on time.

He was always too late.

She turns away from the fallen object, and a world of originals destroyed by the Tethered. She has to go now. A part of her mind realizes that. She can see them, in the distance, a crimson line throughout the land, also dividing space and time. She has to join them. Red has to join her siblings, until the end of time. It is where she belongs, she thinks to herself as an open, empty smile flickers on her lips, her eyes wide and unseeing …

Red goes back to where she’s always belonged.

Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

matrix b1-66er

The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Roleplaying The Enemy in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Arda

I’m not sure how this happened, really. I’d been following Yoystan’s Men of the West YouTube Channel for a while, but I think I really started going back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Arda and Middle-Earth because of the season, and also due to roleplaying in a homebrew world with my friends. Last week, I talked about Role-Playing Magic and The World of Arda: basically taking the subtle natural magic of Arda and its world elements and making either a table-top or a massive-multiplayer online role-playing game with those particular aspects in mind. There are a lot of issues with adapting Tolkien’s sagas in that way, of course, and while I touched upon the fact that the players would always be subservient to the overall plotline and need to really have some personal stories as well as referencing to some extent that old paternalism in the Arda narrative with regards to women, and other human ethnicities, there is also the matter of the Orcs.

Yes. You read that right. Orcs. What if someone wants to play an Orc character in Arda? For Everquest and World of Warcraft, even some Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, this would not necessarily be an issue. But Tolkien makes it very clear that orcs are distortions, tortured mutations and descendants of the Elves that didn’t travel to Aman or the Undying Lands, or were captured by the Vala Melkor become the Dark Lord Morgoth before that point. They are warped and twisted, hating themselves, and everyone else around them. There is no noble Horde here against the Alliance of Azeroth. You have these angry, bitter, hateful beings that want to ruin the lives of other races that are more “whole” than they are. This is the same with Trolls, that are mockeries of the tree-like Ents, and even the Easterlings and Southron Men as well as the Black Numenoreans, and more besides of which I do not even have the knowledge. Tolkien makes it clear that these are bad creatures, and people. They have served Morgoth, and Sauron. They despise everything that is beautiful, and good, and true in Middle-Earth. They are the minions of the forces of darkness, and they will go out of their way to destroy even a sliver of hope: the heart of the Tolkien narrative itself.

However, does it really have to be that way? Could the Enemy be just as viable a player faction as the Free-Peoples of Middle-Earth? And can you role-play them in a way that stays true to Tolkien, or perhaps subverts the narrative in a way where it doesn’t take away from the original story, but adds to it? There can’t be light without shadow, after all, despite other philosophies that believe darkness to be a deformation of true radiance. And can you have fun playing the Enemy?

I believe it can be done. If I were to do it, just like the game with the general Free-Peoples that I mentioned in my last article, I would set in as a side campaign during some of the events of the Ages, or in-between lulls between major events in general: the ones that aren’t necessarily world-shattering upon first glance, or at least not obviously so.

So, Orcs are fascinating beings. What is known is that when they aren’t working for Morgoth, or Sauron they often congregate in different tribes where they engage in warlike and violent behaviour to achieve dominance among their people, and power. They are also related to Goblins as well, maybe as an offshoot. You have your warriors, and archers, as well as your Warg Riders: essentially Orcs that ride giant wolves. Goblins can have something akin to group or a nice adaptation of D&D pack tactics when fighting. Another thing to consider is that Orcs aren’t stupid. Of course, there are different breeds or races of Orc as well, but they are all cunning and can create weapons, and devices of war and torment. In fact, I would encourage there to be smart Orcs: beings with basic intelligence, craftiness, cleverness, and of course a thirst for battle.

I would have it so that if you play an Orc, or a Troll you can work your way through the ranks based on your battle prowess, your manipulation, and your cunning. Perhaps you believe that the Valar cursed your ancestors, and left you to suffer. The Lords that you follow, if you do, are the sworn enemies of the dark gods that abandoned you, leaving you to die helpless in a world you didn’t understand until Melkor came, and gave you a new sense of purpose. He changed you, twisted, and moulded you to be fruitful and multiply. This is your land. You love your god, and you hate him in equal measure. But this pain of being you reminds you that you are alive, and it also reminds you of all the other races that take their wholeness for granted. Likewise, perhaps you might not believe the Dark Lord made you, but you follow power for that is how you eat the flesh of others, which is your diet — as you have grown tired of eating your own — and you know that the more powerful and skilled you become, or the more resources you have, the more opportunities you will have for food and plunder.

Likewise, you might not want to follow any Dark Lord and simply plunder for the sake of it. You know, those Dwarves are always trying to kill you and you want a nice safe place in a mountain. Perhaps you’ve heard of Moria, and once the Dwarves dug too greedily and too deep, you sensed the presence of a power that is familiar and grand: something that doesn’t seem to care about you, and would tolerate your presence in a grander place while destroying all others that dare to defy it. Maybe you want treasures and golden baubles from those damned Men that are always roaming around, while having a cave to keep it all in so you can have meat, and loot a plenty as a Troll. Perhaps you want control over a part of the Misty Mountains that another Tribe of Goblin or Orc possesses. So you forge alliances and friendships. You have a broodmate or two. You fight alongside each other, propping each other up until the time when you don’t need the other anymore, or when you get hungry. And, if you do serve a Dark Lord, if you prove yourself you might be worthy of his blessings: of greater weapons, of artifacts forged from Utumno and Angband, or even from the very fires of Mount Doom itself.

I myself don’t know the particulars of Black Speech, that spoken in Mordor, or by the Enemy in general but if there is an enterprising Tolkien scholar of the language out there, I would find the Black Speech equivalents to Fëa and Hröa: perhaps ghâsh as “fire” could represent a dark being’s soul, while snaga, aside from meaning “slave” can also mean “the body.” Things have been made on the backs of slaves, unfortunately, after all, and they have been seen as objects. Perhaps in this culture the Orcs and Trolls — or as they would call themselves and perhaps be called in-game the Uruk and Olog — the former term of which actually being taken from mythology by Tolkien — see their bodies as slaves to their fire or hunger, and act accordingly on that as a virtue. That is merely my idea, and I think interesting enough to consider.

Of course, you also have the Men or humans that serve the Enemy, or have their own designs. Perhaps those from the East and South have their own cultures. The Haradrim have their Mûmakil riders: their oliphant mounts. The Corsairs of Umbar have their excellent seafaring vessels, ships, and skills. The Easterlings have a vast land and many different kingdoms and cultures that can be expanded upon: with their superb constructions of wagons and chariots to supplement their fighting skills. And there are so many others. They could serve the Cult of Melkor, like the fallen Numenoreans did, because they are jealous as all hell over the Elves living forever, and they want immortality, or they despise the former Numenoreans turned into the people of Gondor and Arnor due to their imperialism, or because they were favoured over them by cruel gods. They might just want better lands, or more resources. Some might want revenge for the deaths of kin in so many wars between the West and themselves. Perhaps they even have genuine grievances, or many a few more just want to get away from Sauron. Perhaps the Cult that was introduced in the unfinished New Shadow novel of Tolkien’s has its presence in Mordor or the East and South in different iterations.

And then, you can have some interesting classes too. While there are warriors, Wainriders, archers, your oliphant riders, sailor-lords, and the like, you can have Sorcerers and Witches. These beings can be from the East and South, but even the West. They have learned lore — sorcery — or gained artifacts from dark Maia such as Sauron. Their ghâsh can be improved upon through study of entropy and decay, as well as taking the lives of others through battle and blood sacrifices. Orcs and Trolls can have these powers, this equivalent to magic: though they manifest as poisonous herb-lore, fiendish constructions, spiritual pollution, and berserker rages. If you want to take liberties, you can even say that as a reward for serving your Lord as an Orc or Troll, you could be chosen to help breed the next of your kin: choosing survival of the strongest and the clever to create a chosen bloodline that could lead to Saruman’s Uruk-hai or even Sauron’s Olog-hai: sun-resistant Trolls.

Normal Trolls have their ghâsh drained massively if they are exposed to light, or sunlight, and will turn into stone. Most Orcs can be affected in a similar way, but while they won’t die, you will feel tremendous fear and hatred of the unforgiving light. And if you are a Sorcerer or Witch of Men, you can vastly increase your ghâsh or have it increased if you prove your worth to your Masters, but it will degrade your snaga: and you will become a Wraith over time as your dark spirit from the Other World consumes your body in the mortal one. Trolls and Orcs improve their snaga through learning combat and survival tactics while their ghâsh can collectively increase if they are in larger numbers against an enemy: representing the darkness that they embody.

So, here are some interesting scenarios. You can be powerful Orcs and Men of Saruman that undertake missions for the renegade White Wizard to prove your worthiness and get your time in the breeding pits: to know you will create a new future where your kin will rule the world under the Hand of Isengard: your Clan’s immortality assured as the dominant power under any Dark Lord really. Perhaps you are an agent of Saruman hired to collect some ring-lore that he can’t quite find elsewhere: and while you might not glean the significance of it, he could teach you a few bits of other lore or give you treasures or powers of other kind in exchange. You can be the Corsairs that destroy the fleets of Gondor, and prove your superiority, or one of the Easterlings or Haradrim that either fight each other, or create mutual trading pacts, or successfully back-stab your way into power. Or here is an interesting one: Sauron hears that some strange Blue Wizards have come into the East. He orders you, his best Uruks, and his best disciples of the Cult of Melkor to either apprehend the two Blue Wizards and bring them to him, or kill them. Or perhaps the two are already renegades and will teach you some lore in exchanging for serving them … or, likewise, pretend to be renegades, and teach you that lore to make sure that your lands never fully unify — at least not right away — and delay, if not destroy a fully unified East under Sauron’s banner.

And, who knows? You Easterlings and Southrons can eventually sue for peace with the West, and mutual respect. Maybe Sauron is gone, or you just want a way to get away from him so that you can save your family and your loved ones. Maybe it’s too late for those inducted fully into the Cult of Melkor, but if you have Numenorean blood perhaps you can be an Elf-Friend again and remember the mysteries of Eru Illuvatar. Perhaps you Uruks have had enough. You don’t want to serve these Dark Lords anymore. Perhaps your hatred of the Elves and Men empowers you, but you can see which way the wind is changing. Your new quest is to gain power, but also survive. You go off to find a new home, or a cavern, or a series of tunnels with which to hide from the genocide of your kind, and one day regain your numbers. Perhaps you will even become more clever. And, who knows? Maybe you had Elven and Human ancestry. Maybe you see just a bit of that light in the brokenness you always were … Perhaps it drives you to glorious battle and seek a great end for yourself that will eclipse anything else in your horrible life. Or perhaps … one day … you might become something more.

This … isn’t perfect. Like Black Speech itself, the Enemy was built by Tolkien to be fragmented and broken and brutal. I think you can still preserve that, but show that they have aspirations and personalities of their own. Some might change their ways. Some might die by them. You can tell some good stories, and even make them. I actually view these beings differently now, especially the Orcs and Trolls. While Order of the Stick made me look at Goblin Genocides for what they are in D&D, my own meditations on what happened in H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth with the US Government and the town’s people as genocide — along with reading Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy series — and my friend and sometime-publisher Gil Williamson’s Prancing Pony: in which the British come to Middle-Earth in the 1800s and see what is left of the people there, including the last of the Uruk-hai.

I don’t mind having the existence of evil or even other darker forces in a game or a world, but I do think having them fleshed out and even thinking out their world view and allowing for change in some places and meaningful stories can amount to a lot. I’ve written a lot more about this than I thought. But I hope this was interesting, if nothing else. It’s good to write such rambles on here again. That’s what Mythic Bios was designed to do after all. Until another time, my friends.

And remember: I see you.

Roleplaying Magic and the World of Tolkien’s Arda

Whenever I attempt to relax, one of the things that I do is watch a YouTube channel called Men of the West, created by a user with the handle of Yoystan. In it, he generally talks about aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s World of Arda, but specifically events, characters, artifacts, races, locations, and media pertaining to Middle-Earth. Fans like Yoystan are far more well-versed in Arda, and Tolkien’s works and backgrounds than myself, but they have inspired me to do some of my own crude and shallow research through the Legendarium of Tolkien. But there is one topic that has always intrigued me about Middle-Earth, especially with interest in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, and my own Dungeons and Dragons role-playing.

Magic.

Of course, magic in this case is a misnomer. Perhaps the better word for what I am particularly interested in with regards to Tolkien’s Arda is its metaphysics, or how the rules of that world allow for certain events, and actions that we might deem as paranormal or supernatural to take place. Metaphysics in the world of Arda are predicated on its creation.

Arda was created by the Song of Eru Illuvatar and his Valar and Maiar spirits. It allows for song and oaths to shape the fate of those that utilize them. Prophecy and prophetic dreams also exist in this world. However, there are some crafts that exist in Arda thanks to the Valar, and their Maiar servants that were taught to the early ancestors of the peoples of Arda: Elves, Dwarves, and Men: specifically herb-lore, Dwarven Moon-letters, artificing such as ring-crafting, and even something akin to telepathy “thought-opening” and “Unwill”: though the latter is a rare skill. Arda also exists in two worlds, the mortal plane, and the “Unseen World” where Elves — or at least High Elves — exist simultaneously: perhaps allowing them, and other dark beings, to utilize spells of illusion or shape-changing. Certainly, there seems to be a category of metaphysics called sorcery: which is dark power that can be taught to Men — humans — by Maia such as the Dark Lord Sauron. Curses also exist that can keep human spirits from passing on, and certain areas of land can have traumatic events such as wars and battle imprinted upon them, or be sensitive to certain kinds of powers, or be protected by them.

The only ones that can really wield anything close to obvious magical  power are the Istari — or the Five Wizards — who are, in turn, Maia spirits given human form by their Valar patrons from Aman or Valinor to advise and guide the peoples of Middle-Earth against Sauron’s tyranny and manipulations. And the Wizards are extremely limited in what they can actually do, to make sure their powers do not dominate the peoples of Middle-Earth or actually cause irreparable damage to Arda itself.

Essentially, what I call the metaphysical situation of Arda is a subtle magic of sorts: forces of that universe — which is, arguably, supposed to be a mythological past of our own world, before the metaphysical rules of our reality changed many times — and something that can only be utilized in particular situations, contexts, or at certain times. George R.R. Martin does something similar with magic in Westeros and Essos, though there is a lot more emphasis on blood magic, and aspects of deities that may or may not exist in the forms that their worshipers believe them to be. It would make sense that Tolkien’s understated, limited use of magic — or metaphysics — influenced Martin and so many others, including the creators of Dungeons and Dragons that made spells far more overt.

So, one thing that the Men of the West YouTube channel also focused on at one point were attempts at an Expanded Arda Universe: through gameplay. And one thing that it has always found lacking is the “magic-system” in Lord of the Rings Online — a game that Yoystan otherwise praises in every other way — or even its selection of player races, and antagonists.

And, after reading up on this, I started to think to myself: what would a role-playing game — online or table-top — look like if it were based on what we knew about Tolkien’s Arda down as much to the rune as possible? This led me to writing out some thoughts on my social media on the matter, hoping to get input from other Game Masters and other players I know, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this deserves a post. And while I am not a Tolkien scholar, I do have some ideas as to what this world would look like, how it would be possible to construct a campaign, and what such a game could be about.

It’d be a question of looking at the heart of Middle-Earth and Arda, and focusing on the idea that “there is hope in the greatest darkness.” That is the spirit of Tolkien’s world. With this central theme in mind, should at least a table-top Game Master and player fellowship choose to use it, it would be a case of the metaphysics of the world shaping what happens in it.

Setting a game in Arda during the First and Second Ages, for instance, would be a very different endeavour and situation than making it situated in the Third Age with which many fans are so familiar. I would argue that it would be easier to have High Elf players in the First and Second Ages, for instance, along with a Higher Mythic Age element of Maiar abound and more supernatural beings like werewolves, Balrogs, and even Dragons. Roleplaying in Beleriand, the lost continent of Middle-Earth and central to many Elven Kingdoms and even old Dwarven ones could be fascinating. Of course, you could have intrigue and some battles from Numenor, the greatest civilization of Men as it is referred to, if you want to spend time in the Second Age. The Silmarillion and other Books of Lost Tales on those times could be useful but they are very mythological, though there could be some fun in that.

But in the Third Age, around the time of The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit is what I was — and many others would be — thinking about setting a game in with regards to Arda. If it is a tabletop role-playing situation, the Game Master can set limits on who is what in this world, and it would be easier to do so. For instance, High Elves have tremendous skill in their Arts and knowledge — and can see into the Unseen World and sense Wraiths and the like — which might give a fellowship an unfair advantage. Also, there aren’t that many High Elves beyond the titular characters in the novels at this stage in the game. Likewise, in a video game or a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, you can just limit what classes and races players can be: with non-player characters being exceptions, of course. And, it goes without saying, that there are no other Wizards aside from the Five.

What I would do is something like this. I would take all the different races and genealogies that commonly exist in Middle-Earth around the time of the tail end of the Third Age: the Forest Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits of course, and Men — Humans — and even include some Rangers with their Numenorean blood to make things interesting. So far so good. I would have Warriors in their permutations as Horse Riders, Archers, and even Rangers. Have some Hobbit burglars even just to be a troll (and in this case, not a literal one, as they will be enemies, trolls). The Forest Elves are a combination of different Elven families or ethnicities and perhaps I would grant them some higher statistics, and knowledge.

Healing in the game would happen naturally. If you are injured, you need to rest, or have medicine applied to you. It’d be like the role-playing system in the tabletop version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If you get injured, you have to take time to heal. Of course, if your Human or Elf knows some herb-lore, you could expedite the process, but it is not an instant heal situation. In fact, I’d be really tempted to list one’s characteristics as Fëa and Hröa. These are two very fascinating concepts, created in Tolkien’s Elvish which are apparently translated as “spirit” or “soul” and “body.” I would have Hröa as one’s health meter, and Fëa as being necessary to perform certain Arts, herb-lore, crafts, and the like. The more powerful your Fëathe more sensitive you are to the Unseen World, and the more complex Arts you can understand and perform. Perhaps this would be a dynamic more suited to Elf characters, for obvious reasons, and perhaps some Numenorean descendants.

I would allow for some characters to be able to increase these basic traits. Elves, for instance, can increase Fëa and Hröa if they learn certain lore, and can start to perceive the World around them such as it is, perhaps even more than their heightened senses already do. However, I would make them more susceptible to any mood-affecting Arts or sorcery, and if their Fëa isn’t sufficiently recovered through meditation or what not, it can affect them physically. It would be interesting, however, for a non-High Elf to develop to a point where they can almost match their kin. I am even tempted to play with the concept of Elf characters being reincarnated from the Halls of Mandos if they are killed in battle, or they die, while Human characters — if they die — have to move on as their souls go to a place beyond Arda, and the player can have the option of playing as a descendant or a kinsman of theirs. It’d be closer in keeping to the metaphysical structure of Tolkien’s world.

It would really be cool if characters can learn how to train their traits through finding lore, or artifacts, or even wise people who might have, at one time, been taught a few tricks by other Elves, Dwarf smiths, or even Istari. It would be limited, of course, as secrets can be distorted or lost over time, and the power of Arda is not the same as it once was. But just think about an Elf learning how to sense the two Worlds, or a Dwarf figuring out how to make Moon-letters or doors — with time and effort — that can keep others away, or Humans learning powerful Oaths, songs or poems of power to bolster the morale of your group or army, some minor Spells, or wisdom. And everyone can learn some secrets of different locations that they find, perhaps even talk with a Maia or two and gain knowledge of subtle but useful skills. Perhaps there is a campaign where they go among the Easterlings and discover a cult dedicated to the Blue Wizards, and discover some lore from them: maybe in an attempt to figure what happened to the two who were lost so long ago, while never actually being anything but ambiguous about it like in Tolkien’s lore unless you want an interpretation.

Of course, you can train your Hröa through learning how to fight, how to survive in the wilderness and scout, to feed yourself, and through exercise and experience in battle. And there could be situations where you need something miraculous to happen, but you can’t just simply call on this power whenever you want: even as an Elf. You have to be in the right place, at the correct time, or like in some D20 systems you have a Fate Dice and you can only call on it once per session or — in this case — once per major event such as being in a battle with a Sorcerer who has a few Wraiths or Barrow-Wights on his or her side, and you have an Elven artifact that you need to repel them with azure light, or the sudden flood of a river in front of you to keep them all back.

It would be easy to find treasures of mithril and Elven blades that react to Orc presence. Orcs, Goblins, Wargs, Trolls — which would be stronger opponents — Mirkwood Spiders, Human Outlaws, Barrow-Wights, and Wraiths would be good antagonist non-player characters that you can fight, and outsmart. Perhaps you find some remnants of older more terrifying powers in remote places in Middle-Earth such as Balrogs, Dragons, or even some Maia that have gone renegade: shapeshifting wolves and vampires. I can see a quest to seek some Teleri elves (seafarers I believe) to find treasures in the waters where Beleriand used to be, or going to the East to see if you can find evidence of the Blue Wizards — as having done their part to divide the Easterlings against Sauron, failing to do so and being killed, or having made cults around themselves — or even trying to find those gosh darned reclusive Ent-Wives if you are particularly fascinated with herb and wood-lore.

You can participate in minor battles that are involved in major events. You could find all kinds of fascinating artifacts such as, again, some Elven blades you can find, some Dwarf-wrought weapons, documents and lore of lost knowledge, perhaps a lost remnant of a Wizard’s staff that wouldn’t even give you a tenth of an Istari’s power but could make for a useful talisman. Hell, you could even find the Lesser Rings of Power: which are practice rings made by Elven craftspeople that could give you … a few minor advantages in certain statistics. Saruman did, after all, examine what he could of ring-lore and maybe there are some samples of it still out there, though whether or not they are influenced by Sauron can be up to interpretation.

It seems like scraps, compared to what the protagonists in the novels encounter or use, and compared to Dungeons and Dragons, but I see all these opportunities as — well — Lost Tales in and of themselves, stories that happen in between the gaps of greater epics that are no less meaningful. They would be character driven games and campaigns, and you can focus on “fellowship” or “the day a group’s courage fails.” You could have an Elf wanting to prove themselves to their people, or a Dwarf wanting to recover their lost smithing, or a human woman masquerading as a man — or not — wanting to fight, a rare halfling that wanders from home and can’t keep their hands to themselves, or an Easterling who simply just wants to gain profit and survive and doesn’t like the influence being exerted on their lands. I’m not sure I would have Beornings — essentially were-bears — exist as player characters, but I would not rule it out in a tabletop situation provided it is roleplayed well. Perhaps Beornings are descendants of Men and Maia with an interesting Fëa as a result.

And just think about these characters meeting canon characters, and having a whole other kind of interaction with them. Elrond could probably, if he so chose, direct you with different kinds of knowledge, or perhaps you can meet a different Gondorian Stewards if you aren’t … quite playing at the end of the Third Age. Perhaps Galadriel has entertained other guests before, or you really got lost in Lothlorien. You might be told by a small village of Hobbits that you are not welcome there, or a passing … grey-robed and bearded man gives you some good pipe-weed, and some sound advice. Maybe even a firework or two, if you are good. Or you meet other original characters who could plausibly exist. Imagine learning how to ride by riders of Rohan, or dying in Dunharrow because you were foolish enough to go into the Mountain … or you find some cursed item just outside of it. And going into a barrow is always fun, or dealing with some Huorns and Ents in Fangorn Forest. There are a lot of possibilities.

This … could work as an online game, but that depends on the interests of the players and how much of an audience such a game world as an MMORPG could gain. Many people are used to flinging fireballs, or instantly healing from a cleric’s spell. Likewise, however, there is a paternalism in Tolkien’s world: with certain peoples of humanity, or races being inherently bad or limited to roles that could also be an issue, not to mention gender-roles.

But this system, as I have thought of it, could also be adopted into its own world. A low or subtle magic world that focuses on exploration and understanding of the environment around you, and the friendships you can forge, the poems and artifacts you can find, the songs you can sing together, and even the food you can make and eat and trade while having your battles with evil.

I guess what I’m saying is that it can be done, and it would be fairly beautiful.  I would attempt a table-top game of either a Lord of the Rings RPG like this, or a world with similar metaphysics. I know The One Ring RPG and Lord of the Rings Online do not quite have this, so I thought I’d just write about it here. Or perhaps only hardcore Tolkienites and scholars could attempt such a thing. I think this is the closest I might ever come to writing in Middle-Earth, though I make no promises. I don’t have any greetings or farewells to make in Elvish, but I hope you enjoyed reading this long digression into possibilities, this place of lore, which I feel belongs on Mythic Bios as it has been a long time since I have made such a ramble. And I wish you well.

Alternative Facts: An Alternate Perspective On You and I

This is one of my first Mythic Bios revisits today. I said before that I didn’t conduct my examination of Alternative Facts in order. And now, to complicate things even further, I realized I actually forgot some things and instead of adding them to my previous entry, I thought about it, and came to the decision that these elements deserve their own.

In my last article, I mentioned how the first draft of “Lost Words” didn’t really work. The spirit of it was there, but it wasn’t really direct. I wrote about a few reasons why it had issues, and while most of them were structural and still trying to figure out what they were beyond a gimmick or two, there is one major change between the first and the succeeding drafts.

The first draft of “Lost Words” was actually in first-person. The narrator, who was a student academe, was talking to their teacher. They are separate from the reader, they and their teacher at the Freed Dome. The entire situation is outlined for the reader through the dialogue and some small description on the part of the narrator. In a way, they are basically telling you what is going on more than anything and as I said in my “Alternative Facts” analysis, it is a more “Gee Willikers this is the World, Batman” dynamic and feeling more than anything else. In other words, it felt cheap. It felt like, as I said before, a gimmick to sell one idea. And some of that is fair as I never thought there would be an interconnected story after this until a friend of mine said all but said they wanted to see a story about the Repos that survived their official disbandment and their exile from the main State of Amarak.

The first draft wasn’t even a Word Document. It was an inline text email that I’d sent to my girlfriend at the time, and then my friend a few months later after we reconnected. To be honest, I even forgot about what literary perspective I used. For a while, I even thought I wrote it in third person limited perspective because there were two characters having dialogue with one another. Talk about degrees of separation and cognitive dissonance: thoughts that are appropriate given the title of the series, and the times that has inspired it.

I don’t remember why I chose to rewrite it, and then rewrite and write the succeeding stories in second person perspective. Second person perspective is not a common literary narrative point of view. It is the kind of thing you would expect in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or a video game, or the post-card fiction I was told about by my World Literature teacher back in Grade 13 or OAC. I thought it interesting, and I played with it when I designed Twine narratives and even some of my own Choose Your Own Adventure and Roleplaying Game experiments back in the day.

But as I planned to hone the story down … you see, it’s clever. Not me, but … one of those age-old exercises you always get in literary classes is to determine what narrative perspective you are using. And even as I reviewed my stories for this article, I see how tricky it is. Technically, “Lost Words” is first-person perspective. However … the narrator is talking to an audience. They are talking to you.

It isn’t as clear, perhaps, in the first story but from “Freedom” and onward, while there is an “I,” there is also a “You.” Certainly, Alternative Facts stories like “View From the Badlands” and “Beyond the Wall” actually have specific narrator characters, and the others have a clearly delineated group talking to the reader-audience, to you, but that is just it, isn’t it? It feels as though they are talking to someone. There is always a you in this narrative.

Even in “Lost Words,” there is a general “you” when the narrator talks about their research into the past. This tenuous link between the first and second perspectives in the narrative, arguably and from my obviously “unbiased” opinion, makes it so that you aren’t only watching an interaction, or passively having the information revealed to you. The idea is that you are involved in the process. You are supposed to be immersed in this world, through this pronoun become a verb. You aren’t separate from it. This isn’t another place or another time. And even if it is, you are there with them: actively discovering this.

Of course, you have to suspend your disbelief or pique your interest to do this little bit of roleplaying. You can remind yourself that you aren’t in this. That you are beyond it. But as I think more about it, in this convoluted way, given the subject matter about politics and horror, and the movement of a world, what is the difference between “I” and “you.” I refers to one’s self, but when “you” is used it refers to another. It can be exclusionary, but it can also be inclusive, an invitation, a realization that one is — that you — aren’t separate, but rather in the same place. Maybe not in the same situation, but you have that invitation to being invited to being a part of the story, to even the illusion of actively exploring it.

I’m looking at what I’ve written already, and I wonder if there was any point to it: if I have actually communicated anything worthwhile at all. I suppose, if I really look at it, the way that Alternative Facts takes “I” and “you” sometimes makes them distinct, but also makes the boundaries between them finer … almost erasing them entirely. It takes some doing to see where one ends and the other begins, to see which one is true, and which one is not. It gets muddy, and a bit unsettling even to talk about: and not just because of the strange hodge-podge language.

And maybe that is the point. Or something.