Archive for Writing

The Magic Spreadsheet and Other Plans

I noticed the other day that in 2015 I had only written one blog entry. Normally I would have an excuse that I had been writing elsewhere, but I haven’t. Most of my writing projects have puttered out.

First and foremost, I stopped doing reviews for Shakefire. The main reason I stopped was because of the garbage I was being given to review. I don’t blame the guy running the site, he has things that need to be reviewed, and since I have a regular day job I can’t go see movie screenings in the middle of the day, so instead I get mailed a pile of DVDs and CDs. While the music was of varying quality, and I even discovered a new band or two, the movies were almost all terrible. The lowest budget of horror films. It is depressing to always review garbage. So I quit.

Next, for “reasons”, the Man vs Wife series of game reviews I was doing petered out.

I also tried writing some fitness blog type stuff. But I’m not very fit (yet) and what I wrote was trash.

There are various projects I have by noodling with, but I’ve been down on fiction writing ever since I pushed myself to “win” NaNoWriMo a couple years ago. Winning involved me just puking out the most insipid drivel I’ve ever written and soured me on the novel and on writing.

All that leads me to my new effort to get back into writing. This new writing will include blogs and other things, but all of it will result in a daily word total that I will put up on The Magic Spreadsheet.

What is The Magic Spreadsheet? Well, it’s this. That’s a link to a Facebook group where you can find the link to the latest spreadsheet. Basically, it is a tool to try to encourage writing every day. To join, you just open the spreadsheet (it is a Google Doc) and find a free line on the appropriate page (the first sheet includes instructions on how to find the right page) and put your name on it. Then you write, and you come back and put your totals in. You earn points, both for how much you writer and for how long your unbroken chain of daily writing is. When you have enough points you can level up, which allows you to get more points for writing more. At the lowest level you need only to write 250 words a day. That’s just a couple paragraphs. I mean, this blog post is over 700 words. As of this writing, I am on my 3rd day. Hopefully I can stick with this.

In addition to the Magic Spreadsheet, I’m also trying to put together a schedule for some other projects I have, things I need to do on a regular or semi-regular basis, most of which involve writing, but some of which involve drawing, and some involve speaking, and some involve music, and some involve exercise.

Oh, exercise. I’m back on the 5BX bandwagon. If you are reading this and it intrigues you and you are a woman, there is XBX for you. I have finished the first chart and moved to the second. The full push-ups of the second chart are proving to be more difficult, so my progress has slowed.

With exercise goes “diet”, and by that I don’t mean “doing some fad binge thing to try to lose weight fast and then gain it all back when I quit”. What I mean is making small changes to my diet to include better foods. More vegetables, less junk. More water, less soda.

And both the exercise and diet are being spurred on by the fact that I’m going on a cruise the first week of July, and I would like to be in much better shape by then.

All of this comes on the heels of recently reading Surprisingly…Unstuck. I’ve read a few self help / motivation books before, but this one has to be one of the cleanest presentations of simple information that is bound to work for everyone. Most of it is exceedingly simple, but also the sort of things you might not think about on your own until someone points them out. In fact, it’s so simple that the book gets a bit repetitive at the end. Still very worth reading.

So, that’s it for now. I’m going to try to be back here more often, if for no other reason that to keep a log of things I’m doing for myself and to point the five people who might be reading my blog to other projects of mine as I work on them.

City of Fallen Heroes

In yesterday’s post I said that City of Heroes was “inspiring”. But what did I mean by that?

Obviously, as linked in that post, it drove me to create a character who wasn’t a hero, just a reporter who wrote about heroes: Calvin Meeks and the Front Page. But it also heralded my first serious foray into fan fiction.

Sure, I’d written things about my characters in EverQuest, but those were just short stories, a few pages. City of Heroes inspired me to actually write an entire outline of a book, a series of intertwining stories that culminated in a cohesive plot. Sadly, when I allowed myself to get dragged off into other games, I also allowed myself to abandon that work, entitled City of Fallen Heroes.

I dug through my office the other day and found most of the outline and a bunch of jotted mini plots for the chapters. I’m going to take a stab at finishing that, if I don’t get too depressed about the closing of the game.

In the meantime, you can read the first three chapters, which I did complete and placed online way back when.

To me, it was an interesting concept. Write a story set in the Rikti invasion, the event that happens just before the launch of the game, and write about all the heroes who don’t survive. I know from the start that none of my characters will make it. Some will die “on-screen” while others may survive to take the plunge with Hero 1 into the Rikti homeworld. Or maybe they won’t, because I have to say that I developed an unreasonable attachment to the main character of Chapter 2 and actually made changes to my outline at the time to account for it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I hope I can churn out more worth reading.

How I Review

Since I’ve been writing over at Shakefire, I’ve gone through several phases of reviewing style. Back when I was being given lots of music, I tried to make sure I listened to the album, in full, while driving, while doing other things around the house and while actively listening to the music. That sort of regimen takes time which is part of the reason I don’t review music for them anymore – that and 90% of what they want me to review is music I don’t like, for some reason it was heavy on the hip-hop, jazz and screamo metal, though perhaps it’s just that their other music reviewers didn’t want to do those either.

These days, I’m mostly reviewing movies and some TV for them and my approach has solidified, and as such I figured I would take a post to talk about it.

First, I watch the film. I try not to subject myself to any trailers or ads about it, and half the time I don’t even read the back of the DVD/Blu-ray case. I’d rather go in blind. I’ll look at the cover art, maybe the tag line and determine if it’s horror or not and then watch the movie. At the end, I jot down my opinion at a letter grade, which is one form the ratings for the site go into the system as. So, for instance, I might finish a movie and throw down that it was “D” effort.

Next, after having seen the movie, I’ll start in on any extras. Outtakes, deleted scenes, other featurettes. Sometimes I’ll watch these immediately after, and sometimes it’ll be on a later day – I usually have most movies in my hands 2 or 3 weeks prior to needing to turn in my review. If there is a commentary track, I’ll watch the movie again with it on, usually 2 or 3 days later, though it may be sooner if a Blu-ray has multiple commentary tracks to give myself the ability to skip a day between viewings – the only time I’ve ever not watched a commentary track was a movie (I forget which) that included 3 full length commentaries, I watched two and just couldn’t do the third because they’d all been terrible.

If the disc includes multiple cuts of the film, I’ll try to watch them all, but before doing so I’ll go online to see if I can find out how different the cuts are. I just watched a film that had the theatrical and director’s cuts on the disc, the director’s was 5 minutes shorter and supposedly bloodier, but damned if I could tell – they looked identical to me.

Lastly, I write the review. When I go to the site, there is a form I have to fill out, with names and dates and upload a cover images and Amazon product IDs and such. After I’m done with the busy work, I drop into the main text box and just start blabbering about the film. What I remember, what I liked, what I didn’t like, were the extras good, etc. Then I’ll go back through it once or twice, move some sentences around, change some wording. When I’m mostly happy with it, I’ll re-read the whole thing and try to gauge how I think “the author” feels about the movie and compare it to my initial gut reaction score. Upon reflection, most scores change. A movie I thought was a “D” effort might get upgraded to a “C” once I realize how much of the film stuck with me and there were things I enjoyed despite a movie’s flaws. And something I originally called an “A+” might get downgraded to an “A-” or into the “B” area if it turns out the flaws stuck with me far better than the good parts. Once I re-score, I’ll go back and make another pass through the review to ensure my words reflect my score. If I’ve upgraded a movie from “D” to “C” it doesn’t track that I called it “shitty” because “C” is average, so I might replace it with “middling”.

Not every movie gets a grade change though… things with an “A” or “A-” are likely to stay there since I probably recognized my reservations from the start and didn’t give it an “A+”, and something I wrote down “F” for after my initial watch is probably going to stay an “F”. In any event, now that I’m happy with the review and the grade, I have to score the grade. Yes, it sounds stupid, but the site tracks letter grades as well as a numeric. The number is a 0 to 4 (but not really, more on that in a minute) and an “F” covers from 0 to 0.79, so a movie that is terrible through and through will get an “F” and a “0”, a movie that has a terrible plot and poor production values, but has one actor who managed to be memorable in a good way will get an “F” and maybe a “0.70”. On the top end, the highest number is 4.5 (yep, that 0 to 4 scale goes to 4.5, so a movie can actually get a 4.5 out 4, which is like giving 110% … ) and through most of the ratings I used the corresponding numeric range similarly, the number gives the letter a weight – I go to the low-end of the range for something I feel just barely earned that grade, and I go to the high-end of the range for something that I felt earn the grade and were knocking on the door of an upgrade.

Once I’ve settled the numeric score, I tidy up a few last details and post the review.

On a side note, the grade I give a review also influences the amount of spoiling I’m willing to let myself do. The higher the grade, the less plot details I want to give out. Sometimes I have to force myself to write more on great movies because I’m temped to just say, “This was great. Go see it.” On low rated items, I consider it a service to spoil the film. Perhaps if you hear in exact detail how stupid the movie was, you won’t waste two hours watching it like I did.

Anyway, I enjoy reviewing, at least, I do now that I get stuff I like watching most of the time. The only thing that could make it better would be if my reviews (and Shakefire) were included in aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes or metacritic – not that I like aggregate site, I abhor what they’ve done to the gaming industry, but since they are likely here to stay it would be neat to be a part of it rather than just a victim reader.

Transformation

Over at the Broken Forum there is a thread for writing in which one of the community is running a series of writing exercises, the first of which is due today. The subject: a transformation. This is short-ish, and I want to revise it again. A couple of trips through editing and I think it could be pretty good.

Anyway, enjoy….


I scratched at an itch beneath my watch band, then turned my wrist to see that she was a half hour late. The dinner rush was still a little while off but the restaurant was busy with the employees setting up all the tables, switching out the afternoon settings for the evening finery.

The waiter brought me another basket of rolls, my third, refilled my water yet again and asked me once more if I wanted to go ahead and order or if I wanted to wait. I told him I would wait. He rolled his eyes at me and walked away.

Another thirty minutes, a basket of bread, and three glasses of water later, Clara finally stepped through the door.

She was looking as good as ever. Her red hair was pulled into a loose pony tail, and it swayed across her back as she looked around the room. I shrank in my seat a little. I wanted to see her, but something made me want to hide, to run.

My waiter tapped her on the shoulder and pointed in my direction. As she walked toward my table I became mesmerized by the measure of her steps. She was tall, nearly six feet, and the grey dress she wore was short enough to reveal her legs with every step. Each foot touched the ground in time with the steady slow beat of my heart.

I exhaled as she reached the table.

“Hi Clara.”

“Jeremy,” she said. It was stiff, not the friendly hello I’d been hoping for. We hadn’t spoken directly to each other in nearly ten days. Trading voicemails, emails and texts.

I stood and pulled out her chair. She sat. There was a little smile as she did. I wiped a droplet of sweat from my brow and then took my own seat.

My forehead bumped the table as I leaned forward to scratch an itch above my ankle.

“Did you say something,” she asked. She’d been looking around the bar. It was getting more crowded.

“Me? No. Nothing. It’s good to see you.”

She didn’t smile. “You too.” It was matter of fact, not pleasant. “Should we order?”

I laughed nervously. “If we don’t, the waiter might explode.”

“How’s that?”

“Nevermind. I’ve just been here a while, drinking water and eating bread.” I indicated the empty basket, the half empty one, and the array of water glasses.

“Sorry, I lost track of time.”

She buried her nose in the menu. I glanced down at mine as well. I didn’t need to look as I was familiar with it, I’d even memorized the prices and which items were recommended as lighter fair for those watching their waistlines.

The waiter approached and asked if we wanted to hear the specials. I shook my head and Clara launched directly into her order.

“I’ll have the chicken fettucine, with the house salad.”

The waiter didn’t write it down. “And you, sir?”

“I’ll have the same.” He nodded and started to turn. “I’ll also take a steak, medium rare. No, make it rare. Can I have two of those?” He nodded again and wandered off.

Clara was staring at me. She blinked slowly and collected herself. “Should we start talking now, or should we wait for the food?”

“Now is good.” I pulled at my collar. My hand went to loosen my tie and then I remember I wasn’t wearing one. I pulled at my collar again and drank another half glass of water. “Where have you been?”

“I’d ask you the same.” Clara unfolded her napkin and laid it out on her lap. “But I already know. You’ve been at home, on the computer perhaps, or maybe you’ve been down to the bar.”

“I went to see a movie.”

“Of course you did.”

“I’ve just been trying to get back to normal.” My left shoulder itched, so I rubbed it through my shirt with the opposite hand.

“And I’ve been trying to avoid normal, Jeremy. I don’t think I can go back.” She sipped a little water from her own glass. “I’ve changed.”

“Is everything so different since we went camping?” I tried to keep the pleading out of my voice but I didn’t succeed.

“It’s all very different, Jeremy! We almost died!” People were looking at us as her voice raised, but then she breathed deeply and regained her composure.

I was scratching at my thigh without thinking of it. My nerves were frazzled now and I was sure I was breaking out in hives. “It wasn’t that bad. We ran them off.” My voice trailed out at the end. She’d actually run them off, while I was busy holding the bandage. It had been sort of amazing, like she was some Amazon warrior princess or something.

“Since we’ve been back, though, all you want to do is stay home, which isn’t much more than we did before. But I want to get out.”

“And do what?” I slugged down another glass of water and the waiter brought me three more along with our salads.

She busied herself with her salad. I could see she was trying to pick out all the right word, she was preparing a speech, or perhaps just recalling from memory she’s already written and practices.

I mopped at my brow with my napkin and pushed my own salad aside. My stomach grumbled. I could smell the kitchen, the steaks being lightly cooked, just enough to warm them without browning. I swallowed the saliva that was pooling in my mouth.

“I started biking to work.” She said it between bites.

I kicked off my shoes under the table and curled my toes. “For exercise?”

“Not really. Just to see more of the world. You know?”

“I guess.”

“I took a pottery class.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Down at the continuing education building. I’ve also signed up for some self-defence, and I joined a book club.”

I ran my hands through my hair and kept tossing glances at the kitchen. I was starving but I also felt like I wanted to bolt.

“What’s wrong?”

“With me? Nothing. Why do you ask?”

“You’re just very fidgety.”

She was right. My hands almost didn’t stop moving. I scratched at the itches on my wrist, my thigh, my shoulder. I was using my feet to scratch at my shins. I rubbed one hand behind my ear and mopped my brow with my napkin again. I took in a deep slow breath and tried to calm myself.

Clara and I locked eyes for a moment, and then she looked away. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

She took another sip of water and pushed the remains of her salad to the side. “I met someone.”

“What?” It came out higher pitched than I wanted.

“It’s just, I’ve changed, and you haven’t, and I need someone who fits the new me.”

“It’s only been four weeks,” I snarled.

She sat back in her chair, pulling away. “A lot has changed in four weeks.”

“We almost died and you run off and find someone new,” I growled. I growled.

Her eyes opened as wide as they would go, and then as I stood they opened wider. I could feel the low rumble in my throat as I rose. My fingernails dragged along the tablecloth.

“Who is he?”

Clara’s mouth moved but no sound came out.

I asked her again, slower this time, stopping after every word, the rumble in throat coating each one with anger. “Who is he?”

She managed to squeak out, “I met him in my pottery class.”

“Pottery,” I grumbled through a mouth now full of extra teeth. I looked down at my hands and saw the elongated nails. Past them I saw my feet. My toes had ripped out of the end of my socks. I glanced toward the bar and caught my own reflection. My ears were pointed just slightly at the tips, my eyebrows were thicker and my hair was growing as I watched it. Hair was appearing at my wrists and my collar.

I thought back, four weeks, to the camping trip, to the attack, to the bite on my arm.

The waiter arrived with our dinner.

I stared at him and the low rumble emanated from my throat again. He didn’t flinch. He looked bored.

“I’m going to take these to go,” I said as I grabbed the two rare steaks from their plates with my increasingly furry hands. “She’ll get the check.”

I ran out of the restaurant, howling into the night.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 4

Rebuild LogoJason’s eyes snapped open. It was dark. Not just because it was night, but he had closed himself up in one of the offices of the police station. It probably had belonged to someone nobody liked since it had no windows, but it was where he spent his nights inside the wall.

He put his hand to his chest. His heart was pounding. He could feel his whole body jitter like he was rushing on adrenaline. Jason waited in the dark and listened.

Nothing.

Jason took a couple of deep breaths and was just beginning to relax when he heard something. It was a thump, like something had fallen over. It was followed by a scream and by gunshots.

He pulled open to door to let some light in and then quickly found his gun on the floor. Jason pulled his baseball cap onto his head and stepped out into the police station.

“They’re inside,” he heard someone yelling. It was Candy, up on the roof.

“From where?” Superman was up there with her. So was Walker.

Tom and Eric were pressed up against the glass of a window on the West side of the building, looking out.

“The wall is down,” Eric said.

“Fuck this!” Tom turned from the window. He locked eyes with Jason for a moment. “Come on, E. Let’s get.”

Jason held up a hand. “Where are you going?”

“The fuck away from here.”

“We can fight them back.”

Tom walked out of the room toward where he and Eric kept their stuff. “The wall is down,” Eric repeated.

“So we put it back up.”

Eric turned to face Jason. His eyes were hollow. “No. You don’t get it.” He said everything very slowly. “The wall is down. Not just part of it, but lots of parts of it.”

“Where is everyone?”

“Some of them are fighting.” Gunshots sounded to back up the words. “Some of them have run.”

“And you?”

Eric bit his lip. Tom ran out of the other room with two backpacks and threw one at Eric. It landed at his feet. “We are leaving, Eric.”

Eric glanced back and forth between Tom and Jason a couple of times.

“Fine. Stay.” Tom left the police station through the front door.

Jason watched Eric as he watched Tom leave, then slowly rotated his head back to Jason. “Get on the roof. It’s safer up there.”

The two of them quickly made their way to the ladder that lead up to the roof access. As he climbed Jason thought to himself, “This is good. Ladder, not stairs, those things can’t get up a ladder.” They scrambled out onto the roof where Candy, Walker and Superman all had rifles and were taking shots at the zombies milling about on the grounds below.

They all watched as Tom, backpack on his back, threaded between the shamblers, reached a section of wall that was fairly clear, then climbed over it.

Jason waited a minute, but no one made any attempt to fill him in. Finally he asked, “What the hell is going on?”

Superman spoke up first. “Gray dropped the south wall.”

“What?!”

“He signaled over something about checking the wall for weakness, and about an hour later, the whole damn thing fell over.”

“Crazy sonofabitch did it on purpose,” Walker barked.

“We don’t know that.”

“Supes, you are an optimist to the end, huh?”

Jason waved them both off. “Where is everyone else?”

Candy put down her rifle. She hadn’t been firing it, so Jason assumed it was empty anyway. “Bruce, Johnny and the new girl, they got an early start and went over the wall.”

“Which way?”

She pointed South, toward the down wall and horde beginning to pour through the opening.

“Shit. Kane?”

“He was with Gray.”

Jason paced along the perimeter of the roof.

Eric said, “What do we do now?”

“I’m partial to getting back on the road.” Walker was nodding agreement with Superman.

Jason took off his cap and ran his fingers over his scalp. “I guess we don’t have much choice. The five of us aren’t going to clear this and fix the wall.” Candy picked her rifle back up and put on a brave face. Eric burst into tears. “We go downstairs, gather what food we can, and then we leave.”

Superman looked out over the field of fire in front of him. “I suggest we follow Tom’s trail. Looks the most clear.”

The five of them filed down the ladder and quickly gathered a few supplies. Jason went back to his room for his jacket and a few other personal items, a folding knife, an ax handle, and a picture of his wife. He lingered on the photo for a moment, running his fingers over the creases, before slipping it into the front pocket of his jeans.

He headed back out to the front doors of the police station where everyone else was waiting. There was a backpack on the floor at Candy’s feet. Jason picked it up and slung it across his back. “What am I carrying?”

“Some canned goods, a little jerky, some other odds and ends.”

Jason nodded and then looked around at the others. “We ready to go?”

Everyone looked at him but no one gave any answer, but only because they didn’t want to say it. They had only secured this place for four days, but it had been a wonderful change from the constant moving. No one wanted to lose this, but Jason looked out the front doors and could see human shapes swaying with slow steps and knew it was already gone.

“Let’s go.”

Superman and Walker pushed the doors open with their rifles up. “Don’t fire unless you have to,” Walker cautioned. “We need to conserve bullets, plus avoid the sound.”

Jason stepped out between them and headed toward the section of wall that Tom had scaled. Superman followed a step behind, then Eric, then Candy, with Walker bringing up the rear. The line of them walked quickly but kept from breaking into a jog, keeping their distance from the zombies, winding around them and toward the wall.

One by one they went over the wall. Everyone waited in silence on the other side. Jason looked around for signs of Tom but didn’t see any. He saw a scattering of zombies, most of them now shambling toward them. As quick as he could, Jason evaluated the streets. “We’ll go North, around the apartment building I checked out and then head West out of the city.”

Candy looked off to the West. “Back the way we came in?”

“I figured we know those streets a little better.” He didn’t wait for people to agree and started for the apartment building. Before, he had approached the building in the day and been inside it through the night. At night, it loomed ominously. It was probably still largely empty, but the shadow it cast in the moonlight was unsettling.

Jason rounded the corner of the building and bumped into a zombie. It fell to the ground and immediately started trying to get up. Another hand grasped for him and he stepped out of its reach. A chorus of groans rose up. His vision was filled with a crowd of undead that spanned the four lane street.

It happened faster than he expected. The crowd began to surge toward him, toward the corner of the building. He kept taking steps back, though back was now North, and before he could do anything about it, the horde of zombies was between him and the rest of the group.

Walker rushed forward, he and Superman began firing off shots. Candy had her own rifle in hand using it like a club. Eric turned and ran back for the wall.

Jason started swinging his ax handle, but he kept having to give up more ground. The others were backing up too. The gap between them was getting wider.

“Run,” he shouted. “Head West! Get out of the town! I’ll try to circle around and meet you!”

“Meet at the station,” Candy yelled.

“The station,” Jason confirmed. At the edge of town, before it gave way to farmland, there was a radio station the group had spent a night in on their way in. He watched as the other three turned and broke into a run, around the other side of the apartment building to head West.

Another zombie shuffled close to Jason and he cracked it between the eyes with his ax handle. It staggered backwards but didn’t fall. He turned and ran North.

At every intersection and alley, he tried to make his way West but the path was always blocked by more of the undead. Eventually he gave up trying, settled into a comfortable jogging pace, and just headed North out of town. He spent a night in a farmhouse, and as he made a longer loop around the outskirts of the town another night in the back room of a gas station. It took three days for him to get to the radio station on foot. He stood a hundred yards away and watched as zombies shambled in and out of its wide open doors.

Kingston Falls had failed. The number of undead there seemed to be multiplying and Jason had lost the entire group. He hung his head and started walking the road away from the town. Jason’s hand went to his front pocket and felt that the photo was still there.

“I know. I promised. I’m not going to give up. I’ll find them. I’ll find more. I’ll find somewhere else and start again. I’ll survive. I promise.”

Rebuild - Day 4


So, why the abrupt end? Well, it turns out that even though Rebuild says it’s connecting to a server and saving your game, it’s apparently saving the game in your browser cache. Sometimes, websites, like gmail, do updates and because of stuff in your cache the sites crash, so you have to clear out your cache. Had I known my game was saved there, I’d have tried to figure out a way to clear the rest of the cache and preserve it, but I didn’t know, so I wiped the cache clean and with it Kingston Falls.

I hoped that perhaps the generation of your town at the start was based on the name of your town and the name of your leader, and that I could recreate the game by using the same in both, but it doesn’t work like that. Every attempt to recreate the game resulted in a new town and new people. Of course, I could have created a new town and just lied, kept playing and you, the readers, would have never known. But I would have known. I was left with only one option: wipe the slate clean. But, I didn’t want it to be a bloodbath. In the world of random name generation, it’s possible when I start my next town – and I will be starting another town once my anger has subsided – that the same names might just pop up. This might not be the last we see of everyone.

Anyway, I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off from this and then come back to it. I really want to finish a Nightmare play-through of Rebuild, because I’m itching to play Rebuild 2.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 3

Rebuild LogoTom and Eric were repacking the bags again. After the sun had come up, the two of them had gone down to the basement again and found another cache of canned goods. The haul back to camp would be heavy and slow, but the food was worth it. John Walker could hear them discussing the placement of items on the bags and how best to pack them as he passed by the open front door on his path around the house.

John looked behind him just in time to see the dog they’d found disappear around the corner of the house in the opposite direction. He was tired. Sleeping outside the wall had put him back into the alert mode he’d hoped he was done with when they settled down. Four hours sleep just wasn’t enough, but it was all he could manage. He stopped his patrol and leaned up against the porch of the house.

His canteen was nearly empty, and he finished it off in just a couple swallows. Just as he was beginning to relax he heard barking coming from the back of the house. John dropped the empty canteen and pulled his weapon to the ready. He started careful steps around the building.

The barking continued, mixed in with a few snarls and just as he stepped into view of the back yard it was replaced with yelping. Training and instinct took over as he saw the dog being pulled apart by two zombies, John fired a single shot into the dog, ending its suffering. He put another two rounds into the zombies, one in the chest and one in the arm.

“Get your shit together now,” he yelled. “We are leaving!” John fired another two rounds and the zombies dropped to the ground from the impact, but now he could see several others shambling in from the neighboring street and the two he’d shot were moving again.

He glanced at the motionless form of the dog and then turned back to the front of the house. Tom and Eric were coming out the front door with their backpacks on. John slung his M-16 over his shoulder and held out his hands. Eric tossed a duffel bag to him.

“What’s up? Where’s the dog?”

“Dead.” Tom and Eric exchanged glances. “Move. Now.” John was already heading back toward the wall and the other two men had to jog to catch up. Their pace would easily keep them ahead of the zeds.

The three of them got back to the wall and scrambled over it. Tom started removing his pack. “Keep it on,” John told him. “We should get this stuff over to the station right away.”

John could see everyone else was already back from their duties from the crowd gathered around the rear of the police station. He did a quick head count, adding in Gray who they’d seen where they’d come over the wall and would stay there until he was relieved, and came up with one extra. Jason must have found a new addition.

Eric walked right into the center of the group and dumped his pack. People began to grab things from it. “Don’t take more than you need,” he cautioned them. “This stuff has to last.”

Jason was already handing out new orders. Most of them had been following him so long that they didn’t question he was in change anymore.

“Everyone, this is Chastity. She’ll be with us from here on out.” There was a mumbling of introductions, some waving and a couple of handshakes. “Bruce, I’d like her to work with you and Johnny Ng. We need to know more about what’s around here, and I’m going to leave it to you to run the scouting team.”

“Aye aye.” Bruce nodded to Johnny and motioned to Chastity and the three of them moved out of the circle and off to the side to discuss amongst themselves.

“Walker,” Jason continued. John snapped to attention. “I know you just got back, but we need you and Tom and Eric to head to the building we found Chastity in. She didn’t have much of her own, but she admitted to hunkering down and now searching the building.”

John nodded. Eric and Tom walked back over to join him.

“I’d also like you to check the church next door to the building. We can see if well from the wall, and it’s empty and safe, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

John nodded again.

“Everyone else is on the walls,” Jason finished. The group broke up and people began to wander off toward rest and eating. Jason headed straight to John and called out for Mr. Kane to join them.

Kane wasn’t a soldier anymore. He’d been Army once, but retired. Now he wore a cowboy hat and a six-gun on his hip.

“John, how was the situation at the,” Jason seemed lost for a word, and finally stammered out, “farm?”

“It’s clear of food, but it has a zombie problem.”

“That’s what Gray said too. Well, that’s what he signaled to Candy anyway.” He turned to Mr. Kane. “I think if we could secure that, we could use it, but we need to clear it first. You up for a hunt?”

Kane tipped his hat back and spit tobacco out the side of his mouth, really playing up the cowboy. “I reckon I could do that.” He smiled.

“Well, alright,” Jason said. “Thanks, John.” Then he and Kane walked off toward the south end of camp.

Everyone was gone except for John and Tom and Eric. Tom knelt down to the duffel at John’s feet and began going through it. Eric and John headed for a nearby picnic table.

“I guess,” Eric started, “I can take the church. You and Tom can take the apartment building?” John nodded. They sat together silently for a moment, Eric staring at the table while John watched the clouds float by in the air.

Tom joined them and placed a six-pack of beer on the table. “Drink up, gents. Tomorrow we go back outside the wall.”

The three of them cracked open a beer each and shared uneasy smiles. “I hope Kane kills all those motherfuckers,” John said between sips. “Motherfuckers killed my dog.”

“Without whom,” Eric added, “those zombies might have gotten us surrounded.”

“To the dog,” Tom toasted. “Whose name we didn’t know, but is in a better place than this.”

The three of them finished the toast. Then they finished the beers.

Rebuild - Day 3

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 2

Rebuild LogoBruce found a hole in the fence that surrounded the warehouse and carefully slipped through it. The building loomed dark and ominous, so he started his search by walking the perimeter. Deliberate steps avoiding kicking anything or stepping on anything, his head constantly turning left and right scanning from the warehouse to the street outside the fence. It was clear. Every step and the longer it stayed clear just amped up his internal tension. By the time he got back to the hole in the fence he was practically jumping out of his skin.

Turning toward the building, his palms started to sweat. Bruce had not brought with him any sort of weapon. It was a little stupid, but then without a weapon he wouldn’t be tempted to try to stand and fight. Flight back to the safety of the compound was the real goal.

All the doors to the warehouse were open. There was no light inside save for where the sun shone through. He took the three steps up to the nearest open door slowly and peered inside.

It was an empty shell. Probably abandoned long before the zombies came. There were shadows in places, but none so dark he couldn’t see into them. Once inside and his eyes adjusted slightly, the building wasn’t nearly as foreboding as it had appeared from outside. There were no zombies here. No other survivors either. And no supplies of any sort. Not an entirely wasted trip, however, since he now knew there was nothing here.

Bruce stopped being careful and jogged back to the fence, slipped through the hole and ran back to the wall. He scrambled over the top of the wall and dropped to the ground, safe. All the tension flowed out of his body and he collapsed back against the wall.

“Find anything,” a voice called from above. Bruce looked up and shielded his eyes from the sun to see the shape of Candy standing on the edge of the police station roof.

“Nope. Just an empty warehouse.” He got up and dusted himself off.

“The way you shot over the top of the wall, I thought maybe you were being chased.” He could hear the smile in her voice.

“Just excited to get back inside. Johnny back yet?”

“Superman said that Gray flashed some Morse code using a hand mirror. The kid was back inside, found some people who might join us if our illustrious leader goes over to pay them a visit.”

“Is the hospital safe?”

“No idea. You’ll have to ask the kid yourself.”

“The others?”

“Jason said he might have to stay the night to win over any new recruits. And the scavengers want to be thorough, so they’ll be outside tonight too.”

Bruce nodded. “Thanks, Candy. Good lookin’ out.”

“It’s my job now.” With that she vanished back away from the edge.

Bruce headed into the station and found a spot to sit down. He broke out the granola bar he hadn’t eaten for lunch and nibbled at it. After a short while, Johnny walked in and pulled up a chair.

“So, now what?”

“I suppose,” Bruce said between nibbles, “we get a good night’s sleep, then head out to scout more tomorrow. How was the hospital?”

“Clear, mostly.” Johnny picked up a small bag of chips, tore it open and started eating. “There are some zombies locked in rooms, maybe some wandering the upper floors, but it’s safe enough. There are a few people living in there. Didn’t try to convince them to come back with me though.”

“No?”

“Yeah. I don’t like talking to gun barrels.”

“Right.”

“So, tomorrow?”

“I want to go take a look at the neighborhood to the north-east. You mind checking out the trailer park to the south-west?”

“I guess not. I supposed this is my job now.”

Bruce smiled and sighed, “At least until we come up with something better.”

They both laughed, just a little, and then wandered off to find places to sleep.

In the morning, everyone met up for breakfast, ate in silence, and then went back to their duties. Johnny strolled off toward the trailers, and Bruce ambled off toward the houses.

Rebuild - Day 2

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 1

Rebuild LogoRebuild is a game by Sarah Northway. It’s best described as a survival sim and it’s done in the after action report style. Meaning you assign people to tasks that have chances of success or failure, then when you are done the game calculates the results and gives them back to you. In Rebuild, each turn is a day. But enough about that… this game is about zombies, and the story goes like this:

It all started in Holland…

The media called it the Dutch Flu, and connected it to some kind of weird tulip eating cult. The Netherlands used to export a quarter of the world’s tomatoes and cucumbers, but that wasn’t all. They were exporting the undead. Armageddon.

During that first year, survivors banded together to fend off the zombies, always staying on the movie and never looking back. But we’re not going to run any more. We’re putting out feet down here and we’re going to reclaim this place in the name of Humanity. Today… we begin to rebuild.

But I’m not just here to tell you about a nifty game. I’m a writer… I’m here to tell you a story. So what follows in this post, and for the rest of this series, is a narrative of the plight of Kingston Falls, a 10×10 city in Rebuild on the Nightmare difficulty level.


Jason watched as Bruce Collins secured the last piece of the fence. Jason had convinced them to stop running, to try to make a safe place to fight back against the shambling husks. And it began in a police station and then spread to two small neighborhoods and a field they were already working to grow food in.

“You know,” Bruce said, “running was a lot safer than this.”

“Sure. But it also kept us on edge all the time. Perhaps behind a secure fence we can relax a little.”

“Relaxing gets you dead.”

“I did say ‘a little’.” Jason turned and headed back toward the police station. Bruce trailed behind him. Along the way they ran into others, everyone heading toward the meeting Jason had called. Inside, they all took seats and sat silently for a while.

“Who’s on the wall?”

Jason didn’t see who asked it, but he ticked off the names aloud anyway. “Gray, Candy and Superman.” The soldier already had that nickname when Jason had met him, but he’d seen enough action out of the man to know the guy deserved it. Lately he’d taken to watch duty. They called it ‘sitting the wall’ but in reality they were on roof tops. Superman was up on the police station now, along with Candy. Gray was out on one of the houses, which was just as well since the scientist’s talking to himself made everyone a little uneasy. They were all a little stressed and tired, run down, but Gray might just be full-blown crazy.

The room fell to silence again. Ever since the decision had been made to stand some ground, the whole group had been looking to Jason for orders. “Eric,” he said at last, “you and Tom, grab some sacks and see if you can scrounge up some more food from that other field just south of the wall. Take Private Walker with you.” The three of them nodded. “Bruce, if you’re up to it, I want you to go outside the fence, north-west, and check out the warehouse we can see from the roof.”

“Aye aye.” Bruce tapped his fingers to his brow in salute.

“Cut that out.” Bruce smirked back at Jason. “Johnny, you know this town, right?”

Johnny was a skinny kid. He’d probably be in high school if not for the end of the world. “Yeah.”

“You know the hospital to the south-east at all?”

“I’ve been there once. A long time ago.”

“Well, I’d like you to go check the place out and see what you can find. Eventually I want to move the fence to include it. A lot of that equipment could be useful.” Johnny gave a half nod and hung his head. It was clear to everyone that he didn’t want to go outside. “That just leaves me and Private Kane. We’ll be looking in on the apartment building to the north. I think I saw some people in there.”

“Might be zeds,” Kane blurted out.

“That’s why you are going with me. You and that M-16.” Kane smiled from ear to ear. “Anyone got anything else to add? No? Well then, everyone has a job to do, so let’s do it.”

Rebuild - Day 1

Rabbit

The dead began to rise, and the rest descended into chaos. In the after, humanity returned to an oral history. Stories told by campfire and candlelight, to ward off the dark.

Rabbit

Molly, her mother and a group of others had stumbled upon the warehouse. It was like a dream. Shelf after shelf, aisle after aisle of food and supplies tucked away in this nondescript little building. It did not appear guarded, but surely something like this was planned and whoever planned it would return. So rather than stay in the little warehouse, they cleared out an apartment building a few blocks away that gave them a clear view of the stock of goods.

The group worked together, slowly clearing other nearby buildings, creating an intricate maze of pathways, bridges and ladders, from building to building leading from their chosen home to the warehouse. Each bridge, each ladder or swing, could be pulled up or disabled from either side and hidden, lest they giveaway their safe living to anyone passing through with ill intentions. But also they made sure not to do anything that drew attention to the warehouse itself. They always entered from the roof, and while they barred the ground level doors from the inside, they made no attempt to obscure any of them from the outside or to chain them or lock them with visible locks. The warehouse was made to simply look uninteresting, just as it was back when they almost passed it by.

They limited their trips to the store of supplies, carrying as much as they could back to their apartment homes, but never so much as to make them slow when the world had become a place where quickness was most precious. A few days worth was all they could bring safely, and so they had to return every few days to get more.

[ read the whole story ]

 

Star Wars Day

Caution: Children at PlayMay the 4th be with you.

Yeah, it’s corny – but sometimes being corny is the heart and soul of being a geek. I’m not often big on celebrating Star Wars Day, mostly because if you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose I’d have to pick Star Trek in the Star Series debate. The science just worked for me a little better than the mysticism.

Amazon is celebrating by having Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) on Blu-ray for 44% off. $79 for 9 discs – 6 movies and a whole mess of extras. Sure, you get the Very Special Re-re-edited Editions for the originals, but still – very cool.

As for me, I’m going to use this day to drag out something I wrote 13 years ago. I was sitting in the theater, not yet full disappointed in the new Star Wars prequel I was watching at the midnight showing, and there was a scene that sparked something in my brain. I went home that night and sketched out a quick idea. It took a few weeks to flesh it out, mostly because I needed the Internet to get the images from the movie I needed. I’m certain some were promotional while others were grabbed from pirated copies of the film. But I finally slapped it together and Card Wars: The Phantom Balance was born. Take a look. I’ll wait.

It’s funnier if you remember the Visa Card commercials that I’m parodying. Do versions of those even air anymore? I don’t watch enough commercials to know.

I remember at the time really being excited about that, because the movie had been a let down. It isn’t a bad movie, but the prequels represented a large series of broken promises to fans of the original. So many bits and pieces, and large plot elements, contradict things we were told in the 1977, 1980 and 1983 films. I’m not going to spend time pointing them out, just go Google “star wars inconsistencies” and you’ll get lots of results. Some are silly nitpicks, and still others can be explained away, but there are plenty that are slaps in the face. So, I was excited because I felt like, at least for myself, I had salvaged something. The movie was broken, but at least I was inspired to do something creative.

Over time, I’ve come to accept the movies in their imperfect forms. I can enjoy them, even if I still feel a twinge of sadness at how awesome it could have been if Lucas had simply accepted his own work as cannon and written within those constraints. We’ll never know…

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it yet, there is an awesome fan made version of the original Star Wars film. Random groups of people signed up to make their own versions of 15 second segments of the movie which was then edited together. The result is worth watching.

Anyway… Enjoy your Star Wars Day.