Friday 27 December 2013

Dark Fiction - Butterfly Digitalis

Butterfly Digitalis

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

He sat hunched over on the worm eaten log, the warmth of the winter sun doing nothing to heat the deceased tree trunk. He scuffed his feet through the crinkly carpet of brown leaves, some emaciated to a skeletal degree. 

The low sun forced its lack lustre light through the sentinel-like trees, their scuffed and pitted trunks casting zebra patterns across the ground, across one tip of one of his shoes. He adjusted his foot a little, trying to sense any heat in his toes.

He looked at the ground with unblinking eyes, the chill breeze unnoticed where it buffeted him, but pin pricks of his attention were aware of the leaves arcing and bending as they scrabbled over each other in a queer race to nowhere.

His mind turned inward, searching for some spark or presence that he could call “him”. All he found was a void, the echoes of his thoughts snuffed out by its all encompassing presence. He spurred his mind onwards, the strange duality unheeded as if in a dream, watching himself watching himself and yet was in control of both parts. 

The sun shifted slightly and began to shine onto his left cheek, the light indeed having some small measure of warmth, on naked skin at the least. A further portion of his mind split off and danced around the fringe of this spotlight, welcoming it and probing it for usefulness. This part revelled as the furnace glow expanded and blew through mental chambers and cloisters unused for many years, their darkest corners sizzling and stirring in renewed industry.

A small beep jerked him to motion, his eyes blinking rapidly as the various parts of him vied for attention. The correct parts thus corralled, he reached into his pocket and retrieved his smart-phone.
“Rubylips Wants To Meet You!” a small banner with a heart icon flashing next to it proclaimed. He snorted and cleared the notification from one of the handful of dating apps installed on his phone. He shoved it back into his pocket, the familiar tides of loneliness and unworthiness percolating to the forefront of his consciousness. He didn’t buy it any more. The only women who wanted to meet him were the ones who just looked at his photo. They never read his profile. They would never click to meet if they had.

The sunlight shone on his lap, his hands acquiring a surreal looking halo. Holding them up, he turned them around and around, marvelling at how something so glowing could feel so cold. He lined them up side by side, pushing the edges of each thumb together and splaying out his fingers in a butterfly fashion. He pivoted his wrists to make the wings flap of his butterfly, his butterfly digitalis, the light playing strangely across his finger nails. He was pretty sure that the Latin meant something else but was pleased with the aesthetic of the word.

He wondered what kind of butterfly could be born from an abyss, a place of dead feeling and unearthly air currents. It would have to be a hardy one indeed. He reflected on the idea that in fact, it had actually been born, the seed of his thought setting other mechanisms in motion to bring him to that moment, his hands fluttering in the darkening woodland, his mind lifted once more to brighter things, even if for only a short moment.

Pain lanced across his lower back breaking the spell. He struggled to stand, his joints and nerves complaining of sitting too long in such inclement weather. Stretching to work out the kinks, he slowly headed off, his feet shuffling through the loam and leaves, his thoughts on a new track. Maybe if an abyss could give birth to a butterfly, what does it matter of what is inside, if it brings interesting and amazing things into the world. Things that could inspire and build, or destroy and deceive. It was less an abyss and more the ultimate creative well, sometimes reflecting what is thrown in, other times birthing wholly new creations of awe and might. A cold shiver traced along his spine.

His phone beeped. He left it in his pocket. He walked slowly, his eyes drawn from one trunk to the next, a casual pace, light to dark...light to dark, and gradually lost himself amongst the trees.


Sunday 22 December 2013

Dark Review - My Top 10 Dark Picks from the 2013 Steam Winter Sale

Yes it's that time of the year. The time for good will to all men (and women), peace on earth (yeah right) and the Steam Winter sale, where games that cost mucho deniro mere months ago can now be had for less than the cost of a glossy magazine. The main Steam Page showcases games with even more of a discount, and also the short flash sales too, so it's well worth checking at intervals during the day to see what is newly reduced. In the UK, the main large ticket items on sale change each night at 6PM. If you are anywhere with a different timezone, adjust accordingly.

So here it is, my own Top Ten of the best horror and dark games currently on sale:

Deadlight - Zombie platformer shooter with a lovely art style and interesting story.

Papers, Please - A Dystopian document thriller which is more bleak than anything. My review on Geek Syndicate can be found here.

Call of Cthulhu - An oldie but a goody. A genuinely dank and fishy smelling game and well worth playing for the door-bolting chase scene alone.

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition - Hard, but fair. A game world that doesn't give two shits about you but that touches something inside you that makes you feel a cold love towards it.

The Walking Dead Season One - A great point-and-click adventure game with interesting relationship building and nice levels of zombie gore. If you enjoy stomping zombies, you will like this game. Season Two has also popped up on sale but currently is only one episode.

Outlast - A journalist investigating an old asylum with only his camera for company. What could possibly go wrong in this creepy first person explore-and-run-athon.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent - You awaken in a creepy old house and carefully pick through the clues to see what is going on. What is that noise behind you though? Another great first person creep-a-thon.

Thief: Deadly Shadows - Another oldie but such a well designed game. Take control of Garrett and play warring factions off against each other while lining your pockets with their possession and solving the bigger threat. This also features an asylum level, which is critically praised as one of the best levels in many a game.

Metro 2033 - Nuclear war, mutants, dark claustrophobic tunnels and a creeping menace from the Botanical Gardens. An immense first person survival shooter with a well written story. The sequel, Metro: Last Light is also well worth a purchase. It continues the story but has a lovely spruce up graphically.

Limbo - A striking black and white world and a young boy caught between this life and the next. A great platform-puzzler from a few years ago.

There we have it, a nice little list on which any bleak geek is sure to find something they fancy. The sale as a whole so far has been largely underwhelming for me, but I think that is partly due to not actually being on the lookout for anything in particular that I don't already own. I'm hoping something will come up dirt cheap though, anything is worth it if the price is right. Happy hunting!

Happy Xmas to everyone!

Friday 20 December 2013

Dark Article - The Risky Business of Gaming

My "The Risky Business of Gaming" is todays Friday Feature on Geek Syndicate here

A look at the way some gamers might be short-changing their enjoyment by abusing save files to always get the outcome that they desire.

Dark Fiction - Ogham's Windy Ring

Ogham's Windy Ring

By Casey Douglass

as part of #FridayFlash

Ogham's Windy Ring Artwork - Casey Douglass

‘You look terrible! How long’s it been?’
Ogham shuddered as he forced the skeleton of a smile onto his face. ‘Three weeks!’
Dimitri made a noise like a bashful firework soaring into the sky. ‘So what’s the plan?’
The two boys hunkered lower into the flower bed as a gaggle of giggling girls clipped past, their squeaky shoes and, as was the current fashion, over-length scarves sweeping their way across the quadrangle.
‘Billy Craver’s got it in his room!’ Ogham whispered, his hands gripping his sides.
‘How do you know?’
‘Orac...ulus,’ Ogham hissed out as his abdomen rumbled.
‘Why didn’t we ask him before!’ Dimitri slapped his already balding head.
‘Okay okay you’re fading Og. Lets get it back right now!’
‘That’s the...plan!’
They shimmied along on their stomachs, the feral undergrowth taking nips and bites out of their clothes and skin, the mulch that it grew from not even worth contemplating unless you found a small bone here and there.
They neared the window to Billy Craver’s dormitory, eyeing the plaque nearby that designated it as the “Lesser Gods Domicile”.
Dimitri hissed. ‘Don’t know why they let them in!’
‘I don’t care! I’ll think about it...later!’ Ogham wheezed as he wiped sweat from his brow.
‘We wouldn’t have had all this happen then!’ Dimitri said, his fist punching into his other palm to emphasize every word. ‘I’m surprised your Dad hasn’t got involved!’
‘He won’t...he’s always doing his...hammering. Get moving!’
Dimitri looked at Ogham, the faintest impression of a scowl crossing his features before vanishing just as swiftly. ‘Come on then,’ he smiled.
Ogham neared the open window and looked inside. Long rows of beds criss-crossed the room in the most haphazard manner. Ogham’s brain was unable to make out any pattern or reason to the jumbled mess. He gasped as he felt a shove lift him up from the ground and shoot him into the room. He fell heavily onto a nearby bed and bounced to the floor as Dimitri climbed through window frame, a big smirk on his face.
‘Just trying to move things along!’ he laughed.
‘ very much...I almost lost...control you tit!’
Dimitri just laughed as he began lifting beds one-handed, flicking them up into the air one after the other, inspecting the detritus under each before letting them clatter down to the floor again.
‘Shhh!’ Ogham hissed.
‘Too late for Shhh!’ Billy’s voice oozed into their ears.
They both turned and glared at the little waify fellow standing in the half open doorway. His rattish features contorted into a happy grin as his mind obviously revelled in the amount of trouble they were about to get into.
Ogham groaned and fell face forward onto the floor, the most disturbing rumbling coming from down below.
Dimitri yelled and through himself at Billy, one large fist already splitting the air between them. He would have killed him too, if he had actually connected. It was just at this moment that Ogham blew. It started with the smallest hiss of air, but in moments had transformed into the most undulating vibrating mass of fast moving particles that had been seen in the universe since that other big noisy thing happened. A ripple bellowed out from Ogham’s twitching body, the shock-wave diverting Dimitri through a wall, and then another and another, until he ended up in a large closet seven rooms down. Billy’s sneer was likewise blown away, his eyes widening as his own foot managed to kick him in the face as he lifted and twisted through the air. Earthquakes might dream of the rumbling havoc that pushed beds through walls, stripped the patina from the door handles and hit the windows with such force that the glass reverted back to sand. And then it all stopped.
The sound of this and that falling to the floor was the only thing to spoil the silence for a good few moments, but not long after, a loud contented sigh cut through the barren sound-scape. Ogham sat up and rubbed his palms over his ears making them bend in ways they didn’t like. He didn’t know what else to do to stop the ringing.
Dimitri stumbled in, his head and shoulders covered in cobwebs and their now mobile-home living spiders. ‘I’m guessing the problem is solved?’
Ogham grinned as his cheeks reddened. ‘Yes it seems so.’
Dimitri walked over and patted him on the back. ‘Glad to hear it! I thought you were done for!’
‘Apparently not. I don’t know why not, but here I am!’
‘So what was the ring for?’
‘Prevention I guess. Dad gave it to me before I came here, said his Dad gave it to him.’
‘So we still have to find it?’
Ogham was staring at the ceiling, his eyes crossing slightly.
‘Og?’ Dimitri flicked Ogham’s nose.
Ogham snorted and looked at Dimitri. ‘What? Oh sorry. It’s just...nice. I haven’t been sleeping and it’s just all...the world’s such a nice...’
‘Dimitri Jarilo and Ogham Magni!’ A loud voice yelled in the hallway.
‘Oh no, it’s Old Snaver!’ Dimitri blanched. ‘We’re for it now!’
Ogham nodded as the blissed out look was replaced with glumness.
‘Tell him about the ring Og! It’s the only way we might get out of this.’
‘Okay Dimitri, I will,’ Ogham sighed.
They both struggled to their feet and began to walk towards the door, the now glowering face of Snaver shooting lances of ice through their veins.
Dimitri whispered: ‘Og?’
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’
‘Pardon me! I know you’re a Wind God but that was something else!’
Both felt giggles begin to climb their throats but in what could only be described as the most startling feat of repression ever seen, they managed to stifle and smother them so that all that survived was the merest rush of air over their lips. Many young giggles are killed this way at birth, never having the chance to mature into a chuckle or even, gods permitting, a full belly laugh.
Snaver glared at the two boys and beckoned for them to follow as he disappeared from view. Now for the real storm.


Friday 13 December 2013

Dark Fiction - The Goat of Hades

The Goat of Hades

By Casey Douglass

as part of #FridayFlash

Phil trudged along the narrow dusty tractor track, the incessant buzzing of flies darting around him starting to get on his nerves. It was getting late but the hot summer evening was as stifling as ever, the setting sun smirking as it bathed the fields in a fiery golden glow.
He looked up from his phone and could see the back of his house looming in the copse in the distance. He loved living here, nice and quiet with great views, but it was a pain in the backside to get back to civilization. He swished a finger across the icons and began searching for take-aways.
To his right, a wire fence conspired to keep a few motley looking sheep from wandering away. The smell of animal crap and sweaty fur made Phil’s nose itch.
He batted a fly away.
‘Indian...could fancy an Indian.’
Phil looked up and glanced behind him. Shaking his head he went back to his phone screen.’
Phil jerked upright and stared all around.
‘Down here!’
The voice came from Phil’s right, but he couldn’t see anyone.’
He swivelled his eyes down lower. A mangy black goat stood at the very edge of the wire fence, its glistening nose pointing straight at Phil.
‘Bingo!’ it said.
Phil felt his back and shoulders relax, the tension stuttering through his body and flowing away with each deep breath he forced into his lungs. ‘Oh this again!’ he said.
‘I don’t know what you mean, but I need your help!’
‘Oh do you! Might I say that’s not very clever, a goat in a field of sheep!’
‘Drop that tone mortal. I am the Great Goat of Hades! Show me some respect!’
Phil's vision began to shimmer and go dark around the edges as he stared at the goat, its black fur darkening, its eyes beginning to glow a little bit red around the edges. ‘Very impressive, but I’ve had worse.’
‘I will kill you!’
‘Then who is going to help you? I don’t see many candidates!’
‘I don’t have time for debate. This vessel was moved here by the farmer and had a shock collar put around its neck.’ The goat craned its neck, the heavy buckle of the collar glistening in the fading light. ‘Take it off me!’
Phil stared around him and shook his head. Everything else looked so normal, the settling dusk, the birds roosting, even the jogger in the very distance with a pink t-shirt on. His mind went to his stomach which was gurgling and felt like it was holding his other organs hostage. He sighed and stepped over the fence. Better to get it over with.
The black goat turned and raised its chin, its small wispy beard matted and tangled into a briary point. ‘Good!’
Phil got behind it and stood over its back, one leg either side. He reached down and pulled the collar around so that he could get at the buckle more easily. He unfastened the flappy bit and paused. What had he done before when stuff like this happened. Oh yes.
‘Wha-,’ was the only sound the goat emitted as Phil yanked hard on the tongue of the collar as he stood up to his full height, his knees pinning the back of the now kicking animal. A horrible gurgling sound filtered out of the creatures mouth accompanied by a thick black jet of faeces at the other end. Phil gave a mighty heave and was rewarded with a sharp cracking noise. He let go, the lifeless goat falling to his feet.
He stood still and panted, his hands shaking and greasy with sweat. A cool evening breeze blew across his brow, the moisture on his face lulling his mind. He heard muted scuffling from a way behind him. Turning, he looked at the huddled sheep that had now taken up residence in the furthest corner of the field. He looked down and nudged the black shape with his foot. He smiled.
‘I could fancy a kebab!’
Stooping, he lifted the thing over his shoulder and ponderously straddled the fence to get to the path. The flies buzzed around him with renewed ferocity, diverting his attention just enough that he didn’t feel the ground shudder ever so slightly. He grinned as he walked, his mind clear once more. It had been years since he’d heard voices, but he knew how to shut them up. That rabbit at Easter when he was ten, the dazzling little white dove that glowed and that grinning smirking reindeer with the red nose. Oh yes, he knew what to do!

--THE END-- 

Thursday 5 December 2013

Dark Article - Achievement Unlocked

Geek Syndicate Issue 8 is online now here. Featuring :
  • Interviews with Butterfly Gate Writer, Benjamin Reed and Elysia creator Serena Obhrai.
  • Bluffers guide to Board Games.
  • Luke Halsall takes us on a personal journey to explain what Superman means to him.
  • We look at the cult of Achievements in video games.
  • Cat Collins puts Marvel Phase One to the Bechdel Test.
  • Fashion geek Jess shows us how to achieve some great cosplay on a budget.
  • Reviews include Day of the Doctor, THOR: The Dark World, X-MEN: Battle of the Atom and more.
  • The members of GS reveal some of their loves outside of geekdom.
 The article on Achievements in games is my own.

Monday 2 December 2013

Dark Review - Papers, Please

My review of the PC/Mac game Papers, Please is now live on Geek Syndicate here. A game that manages to take tenets of admin and turn them into a game that is pretty damn good.