Monthly Archives: June 2014

Homebrew

I remember the golden years of homebrew games. My dad was one of those code monkeys who would spend hours in the computer/sewing room, typing up text adventures and Lode Runner clones. Some of my earliest memories consist of my dad telling my mom to keep me the hell out of the computer room while he was on the Amiga. He would disappear in there for days, occasionally popping out to meet his fellow junkies at a coffee shop to exchange manila envelopes like they were in some bad spy movie. Sometimes he would be nice and sit me on his knee and show me a game. These were the times I waited for, the times I remembered best.

A few years after he died, mom wanted to clean out the spare room and asked me if I wanted any of his old computer stuff. Did I! I packed all the beat-up, waterstained boxes into my car and took them back to my place. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened when I realized that not only did I not have a system capable of playing any of it, I knew nothing of coding whatsoever. I decided to try a list of my dad’s old programming buddies that I found in one of the boxes. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them had moved. My mom couldn’t help me out there, as dad had been pretty adamant about keeping his game life separate from his family life, but she told me one of the guys from my dad’s old job could help me.

Wonder of wonders, I actually found a guy. Name was Glen. I won’t give out his last name, he’s been through enough. He barely remembered my dad, but when I mentioned the games I could hear him nerd up over the phone. He had kept a few PCs in as good a working order as he could, and had actually written the virtual console I sometimes played when nostalgia hit me. We hit it off over the phone, and then a week later when we met in a coffee shop. Glen joked about it being like the good old days, and I joked about slipping him the goods in a plain brown envelope. He kind of laughed at that one, but I think it confused him. My dad and he probably ran in different circles.

The first three days were mostly nothing, just Glen trying to get the games running on at least one of the PCs and me trying not to drag my feet. When I didn’t hear from him for a week, I worried that my dad had done something valuable and Glen had stolen it and was probably auctioning it off to some collector. He never picked up the phone when I called. I had actually written it off as a loss when I got the games back in the mail. They came with a note:

everything’s on the CD
please don’t contact me again

taped to a CD case. I got so excited I forgot about how weird Glen was acting and called my friends over for a geek-out. I had guessed that the CD was made to play with the VC already on my computer, and I was right. We all crowded around the screen and started up the first one: Cherry Drop. I was expecting some kind of puzzle game. What came onscreen made us all retch a little.

My friend Bill summed it up nicely: “dude, she’s, like, ten!”

There were others. Some were older. Most younger. A few were boys. All the good feeling drained out of the room, but I couldn’t stop clicking. I think Charlie started crying first. By the end we were all pretty messed up.

The guys left without saying goodbye. I drank a toast to the death of my childhood. I couldn’t stop going back over all the times my dad yelled at me to get out, don’t bother him while he’s busy on the computer. I stared at the brown envelopes the games had been in, the same brown envelopes he’d taken to coffee shops, the envelopes with our old house as the return address.

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A Warning

This a warning to one and all.

We have fled this place, our ancestral seat since the separation of the five families, and gone north.

If you have any sense in you, you will flee as well.

If you are reading this, son of my father’s brother, I implore you to abandon this place. There will be no harvest. We are no longer here to greet you and will never be again. The land here is still good, the woods and fields bountiful. But this land has fallen and it is no place for man anymore.

Above all I must implore you not to enter the camp near our settlement. Like the fever that comes once a generation and destroys every third child, they came in on a warm, wet wind. They greeted us in the fields, observing no niceties and approaching us directly. We barely managed to cloak our revulsion and address them.

How to describe them…

These men, if they are men, dressed in skins that had been improperly tanned and stank with the heat. They did not lower their voices in respect but shouted and gestured in a manner most threatening. Their speech was like the barking of dogs. We could tell they wanted something from us, from the state of them we guessed it was food. I had the others fetch a small parcel from our store. They seemed grateful and gestured for us to follow, but we waved them away.

They left, but they came back with things. They meant them as gifts, I assumed, as payment for the food. If you had seen them you would have thought them magic. They caught the light like water, yet held their shape. But when one broke it cut sharper than a knife edge. You may still see them if you rummage through the trash heap.

They returned the next day, gesturing for more food. We gave them slightly less, hoping to discourage them from staying. This time they were more insistent that we follow, going so far as to grab the arms of a few men. We assumed they had been without the company of civilized men for some time and overlooked the infraction.

Their camp was as backwards as they. They slept in cloth tents that would give no protection from beasts or rain, and they did not bury their food for safekeeping. Their wives, their poor hideous wives, were bound by so many layers of cloth we saw no way they could be effective helpmeets. The whole camp stank with their bodies.

They entreated us to dine with them and and we agreed. Their food was horrendous, they scorched it on the open flames instead of the coals. When they saw the difficulty we had in eating, some of them laughed. Others were offended. They encouraged us to drink their beverage of choice, a vile brew that tasted of poison. I am sure it was a poison; most of us spat it out immediately to the amusement of our hosts. Those that didn’t were violently ill the next day.

We refused their hospitality from then on.

The intruders no longer hung on our mercies but made themselves known. Our men often ran into their snares, cruel things that gaped like the jaws of an animal, losing toes. The intruders trampled through our fields and over our seedlings. They washed in our spring instead of the lake so the water was not good to drink anymore. And they killed. And ate. They ate indiscriminately of the beasts, even those with foul meat. They did not save but wasted flesh,throwing it just outside their camps as if to invite wolves.

Our breaking point came after weeks of painfully slow gains in communication. They had been hinting at something they wished to share with us. They kept using the words for “sun” and “Birth.”

At last their true nature came out when they invited me into the tent of their own leader. He wore odd, thick clothing that only served to trap the heat and called himself father, though I doubt they were only one family. The leader of the camp described to me a ceremony that froze my blood as I stood.

I will repeat his words for your here, so that you will know why we fled, and that you may flee in turn.

He spoke of a ritual they undertook every seven days, wherein they took in a young man deemed blessed by the leader. They ate of his flesh and drank of his blood and spoke of it not with shame and fear, as those stranded by cold will when they must eat their bretheren, they spoke as if sharing a gift with us. They pointed repeatedly to their alter, which my horrified eyes realized looked more like a skinning rack than anything sacred.

I managed to still my heart enough that they could not see my fear. I gathered my family that night and we packed up to flee.

All this was terrible yet, but if you could have seen them! White! White as any demon, and their flesh burned red in the sun as if they were not meant to walk in daylight.

We will go north and pray that nothing follows us.

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30 2-sentence Stories

Safe

All three children got out. Where did you come from?

Lost in Translation

He whispered “i love you.” She signed, leave.

Best

Legends say human head survives eight minutes after decapitation. Personal record is 3 years.

High Ground

It won’t stop raining. There’s only the attic left now.

Call Waiting

I hung up the phone. The ringing persisted.

Party at a Friend of a Friend’s

I’m not sure this is my scene. That isn’t coke they’re snorting.

Transcendence

I shed my ego like a second skin. Morality came after.

Endurance

The sedatives kicked in. He was still running

Foster

His middle name was Thaddeus. He didn’t have a first.

Kick a Picnic

We weren’t ready for the picnic in the jungle. They were ready for us

Artistic License

The sculpture was titled “Urban Utopia.” It only moved when you weren’t looking.

Phosphorous Rebellion

Most of the civilians were whitesauced. You don’t want to see the survivors.

Late

I took a three-hour nap. It lasted nine days.

Quite a Catch

Taxidermy is his chief skill. His second is surgery.

Headline

Dog bites man. No mouth.

Gesundheit

I blew on the mirror. My reflection sneezed.

Fifth Anniversary

Carol missed. Melissa’s jaw shivered into a thousand slices.

Mama

I’m going to find Sam. Don’t look for me.

Masochism

“Why do you make me hit you? Please give me my arms back.”

Ice Cream Truck Don’t Stop in Poor Neighborhoods

When he braked most of us plowed into the back of the van, bloodying noses. He pissed pink lemonade from that day forward.

Adorbs

The blood was cherry-red, the flies like black rhinestones. She took two for earrings.

And you’re ugly too

The doctor looked at me. “I’m out of vaccines, but I do have silver bullets.”

Lights Out

The day I hit my head I thought I went blind. But it went dark for everybody else, too.

Thela Hun Ginjeet

The kids took to the streets with bottles and chains. They met the gangs of Elderly, already there.

Fido

He said the pawprints were from his terrier. Never seen a terrier that size.

Got to Give it Up

She danced like she wasn’t even touching the floor. After a while, she wasn’t.

Jim Morrison’s Ghost

We camped out in the graveyard and partied. When Mix OD’d, the froth from his mouth looked like a face.

Love is the Drug

Being with her was like being on amphetamines. Being with him was like snorting Agent Orange.

First Hunting Trip

“Bag a big guy and daddy will buy you that bike, sweetie.” It didn’t even fit on the truck.

Star-crossed

He had a phobia of insects, she had a high intolerance of people squishing her fucking pets. It just wasn’t meant to be.

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The Hole

It was the four-hundredth week, or perhaps the four-hundred-first. Sten was still in the hole.

Through a rough iron grating, he could hear the sounds of daylight. Birds. Occasional footsteps. Often it was only quiet. Sten counted the footsteps with infinite patience, waiting for his moment. Waiting for the pause.

There, now. One-two-three-four…

No stopping. Light, skipping steps. A child on an errand. Perhaps they had been warned away from him, but such things, he knew, rarely even slowed their curiosity. He knew it hadn’t his.

Another. Plodding. One-two. One-two. A laborer, perhaps carrying a load. Would be considerably less sympathetic to his predicament than if he were sans load. Sten let it pass.

And now laughter. Sten’s body ached with it. He had trained himself, in all his time in the hole, not to miss certain things. This was to protect his sanity as much as it was to lessen the impact of their punishment. Let them lock Sten away from the outside, he would be girded against it. After the first week he no longer sprawled in the stripes of daylight that lingered in the floor of his prison for half of the year. After twenty, he forgot the taste of anything but the clear, cold well water they brought him. After that, it was exponential.

He no longer dreamed of women. This freed up a considerable amount of time, which he repurposed for philosophical matters. But some instincts were hard-wired into the brain, he knew, and not so easily severed.

They paused. They halted. There were whispers.

Sten did not hope. This was a pastime among the young women of the nearby village. They would whisper and giggle and dare each other—but they would never get farther than a few steps, he knew, before they would shriek and titter and fly back to their village bower.

He spent an hour contemplating his wall.

A lesser man might have marked the surface, a great mural to mirror his mind’s process, or give himself over to an exhaustive essay whose writing grew cramped and miniscule the closer it got to the floor. But Sten left it an empty canvas, projecting his mind on it, leaving it fresh and blank each new day.

There were more footsteps. One-two-three… the pause.

Sten shook himself to stand. He called. “Hullo!”

Silence. A soft, tentative, “h-hello?”

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes?” firmer this time. It was a child, perhaps nine, perhaps ten. Concerned, but reserving further judgment. An age when reality lay somewhat nebulously between waking and sleep. Willing to accept a man in the ground with little suspicion.

“I’m trapped here. I have been for a very long time. Would you be so kind as to let me out?”

He was not sure of the exact mechanism that held him here, but the child could examine it, shout description back to him, and maybe, together—

“Why?”

Ah. They were not always so quick to that line of thought.  He should not have assumed.

“Long ago, they called me a criminal. They locked me up here to never see the daylight again. Please, let me free.”

“What did you do?” the child’s tone wavered between skepticism and horrified fascination.

“Because I loved my country, more than any other. Is it truly a crime, child, to hold such pride? For that they locked me here.”

“That’s terrible,” said the child, “love should never be a crime.”

Sten sighed, relief beginning to find him.

But then—“you must have done something else.”

Sten clenched his fist. “I assure you, I did nothing but love my country to the detriment of others. They did not approve of the shape it took.”

There was a long moment of silence. Sten debated further coercing the child, pleading reconciliation. But children were all too familiar with the plea of “I’ll never do it again, honest.”

Then the child spoke. “I had an uncle. Great-uncle. He came to live with us. My sister was only a few years older than me. We made him leave in the middle of the night. Your love was like his…wasn’t it?”

Sten stayed silent.

“If you’re sorry, then you’re sorry. But I can’t let you out. You might do it again.”

Sten managed to restrain himself from shouting and throwing his mug at the grate.

A long day passed. Night descended and he was afforded the luxury of sleep to pass the time. But then in the middle of the night, he woke suddenly and completely. He cast about for what had woken him, for he had always been a sound sleeper.

There, again. A rattle. Someone was at the vent at the entrance to his hole. He waited in silence, waited for more.

Then the rattle turned into a knocking. He decided to risk a greeting tap. Someone returned it.

“You know I’m here?” this was a silly question, but safe. The villagers knew he was here, he could tell by how studiously they avoided his place.

“Yes.”

“Do you want something?”

There was a pregnant pause. Sten readied himself for a tirade.

“Do you want out?”

Sten’s mouth fell open. This had to be a trick. He proceeded with caution.

“I would like to be out, yes.”

“You want me to do it?”

Sten could not tell from their short, terse replies if the speaker was angry or not.

“If you would, yes.”

“And you are sorry?”

“What?”

“You are sorry?”

“…for what?”

“I think you know what.”

Ah. This was an apologist. They did not want to let his punishment lie. There were those who had insisted he be put to death, rather than to the hole. If he ever got out, they said, if he ever got out…

“I am truly sorry. For every one.”

“And my sister?”

“Your sister?”

“My sister. She was among the many you killed when you ascended to power.”

Sten rolled the words around on his tongue, calculating. If the speaker was smart, he would simply shoot Sten in the head while he climbed from the hole. If he was vindictive, he would wait until Sten was free of the hole and attempt to kill him face-to-face. Then Sten would have a chance. He would proceed with caution.

“If your sister was among the many, I assure you, then, there was nothing personal about her death. I did not hate her. I bore her no ill will.”

“She was just in the way?”

“Ah.” He cast his eyes to the corner. “That cannot be helped. I have no power over what people ultimately decide to do with their lives. If she was in the way, then yes, I may have caused her death. But killed? Not directly.”

“I see.”

There was a long span of silence. Sten began to imagine trees, trying to picture the white village at the foot of the mountains where he lay. How it may have changed in the intervening years, if anyone there would remember his face.

“Are you sorry?”

“For her death? Of course. I am sorry for all deaths, sorrier still for those I’ve caused.”

“You did not kill my sister. She was just one of the many in the way. You gave her no special treatment, am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then,” the speaker continued, “I cannot show you any favor. I will not let you out, because a common criminal deserves no special mention.”

Sten felt heat gather behind his eyes and now he shouted, now he threw his tin drinking cup so that it hit with a terrible clang and he buried his face in his hands and wept and wept.

The sun rose on his four-hundred-first, or was it four-hundred-second week? Sten was still in the hole.

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