18
Jul
18

Fiction Snippet: Lune de Amant – Running

She ran. It was times like this where she was most at peace with what she was. With the restraints of her position removed, with no one constantly looming behind her with her hand held in a vice or a possessive palm against her waist, having no need to primp and preen and endure hours of near torture to put on the airs of a respectable lady, she felt free. More than that, she felt alive.

Alive. Something she wasn’t even sure she understood the meaning of anymore. Not since Martin had found her, at least. She might have been in pain, ill, possibly dying. But she had at least felt something. Now, as she drifted along at his side, everything felt as though it was being pushed through a bit of gauze drenched in filthy water. No smell was particularly noticeable, no color vibrant. Even her own thoughts felt dull and muted.

But out here, when she ran free wearing thick, warming fur instead of choking silk, acting with instinct rather than carefully measured thought and planning, going where her pulse and nose took her instead of where Martin led her, she was someone else. She was herself, much as she might resist the admission.

Tonight was different, though. She had run, not because the animal in her had begged her too, not because the moon had called her to it, and not because Martin had told her to. She had run because some part of life’s former brilliance had bled once more into her human guise and she had not known how to process it. It had been a year since she had felt that way, had interacted with the world as someone who walked in it rather than through it, and she had been afraid.

To run as a wolf was simpler. Easier. Less to think about, nothing to worry about. It gave her an opportunity to exhaust herself and let her hot blood cool. To settle herself back to that comfortable grayness when she walked on two legs again.

Nicholas. It was his fault. If she hadn’t met him…

She paused, shaking her shaggy head and chuffing in an attempt to banish it. Even in a world composed mostly of smells and vague shapes, she could see his face clearly in her mind. He’d done nothing, really. Merely extended a hand and asked for hers, leading her to a dance that was so much more lively than those that Martin had taught her. Laughing, spinning, tasting things that had almost led to her cry at their sweetness, all at Nicholas’ arm. Never with him commanding it, always him asking, always her accepting.

No. It was not fair to blame him for it. She had made her choices. She could have – should have – declined his invitation to dance. Could have excused herself and clung to Martin for the evening before returning to their suite, none the wiser.

Unable to banish his face from her mind, she ran on. Stopping only gave those thoughts a grip. She ran faster, her pumping legs serving as pistons to shove his image aside.

After several minutes, when she thought she had left such thoughts behind her, she realized she had done no such thing. Apparently thoughts of Nicholas still held her in sway, even as she fled under the gaze of mother moon. She dug her claws into the soggy earth, stopping as she realized where her feet had taken her.

Nicholas’ estate lay below. She could still see the brilliant glow of the windows, and dim forms milling about in the courtyard, their shadows grown grotesque by the flickering lanterns set high on either side of the walkway. Her twitching ears could make out the sound of the band playing on, even though the revelry had ostensibly ended hours ago. She suspected they’d carry on this way until dawn at this point.

There. Her nostrils flared, and it was almost a physical pull on her snout that drug her gaze towards one of the second story window. Her eyesight in this form was not as good as it was when she walked among the sheep, but some scents were so strong to her that they became visible; the person standing in that window was covered in two such smells.

One looked to her a muted green, lingering mostly about the figure’s neck and arm. It was one she knew well; the same color trailed behind her in paw print shapes. Her own scent.

The other glowed to her, an orange that shone brighter than the lanterns scattered about the estate and was nearly as intoxicating as the rum-laced drinks she had sampled earlier in the evening. The only scent that had drug her out of the gauzy filter and drawn her interest. Nicholas.

She couldn’t tell what he was doing, beyond standing at the window. The sounds of the remaining partygoers drowned out anything that might be coming from his direction. She saw him stiffen, as though started, and glance over his shoulder; the colors of his scent sparked in a brief flash of red, before returning to orange once more. He seemed to shudder, though she thought he might actually have been laughing. A moment after, he turned back to the window and pulled it shut before snuffing the light within and cutting himself off from her senses entirely.

She wanted him. Without the clutter of her human thoughts, she could admit that at least. But he represented a life she no longer lived, an unsettling sense of normalcy that would forever be beyond her. And regardless of what she told Martin, a part of her didn’t want to return to normality, treasured the time she spent running on all fours, free beneath the cold light of the moon.

Part of her wanted to run to him, and use the gifts given to her to shred and claw and destroy the thing that had disturbed her so. Another portion wanted to go to him and make him like her, so she would not feel so alone. A third felt she should divorce herself of the night world, subdue all such wild urges, and seek him as a human woman might. She knew she could make him hers with unnatural talents – Martin had showed her how – but she wanted him to be hers in a more natural way… as she would be his.

She whined, tail tucking down behind her. It was too much. Too many possibilities, too many consequences, and all of them were too hard to think about in this shape. It felt constricting and cloying instead of free now, trapping her with circular thoughts and vague fears.

She bounded away, pausing to give one glance back to Nicholas’ window and giving a low howl that – thankfully – was not answered. She would run. She would hunt. And she would steer clear of him until this internal storm calmed.

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17
Jul
18

Gaming Roundup of June

Haven’t done one of these in a bit, so figured I’d gather up the titles I’ve been playing and provide my thoughts on them.

In an earlier post, I mentioned I’ve been on a bit of a visual novel kick of late and my thoughts in general on the subject, so not much to add on those. Went through Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, Code: Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth, Nonary Games:999, Bad Apple Wars, 7s’Carlet and Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk. Things common to all of them: deep plots, existential crises, tons of reading, and minimal interaction. Of the specific highlights of each, 7s’Carlet and Bad Apple Wars don’t really have anything different to add, though I’ll say that I really enjoyed 7’sCarlet‘s plot and presentation, while I found Bad Apple Wars to be rather boring and didn’t care much about any of the characters.

For the differences, Black Butterfly and Nonary Games have actual gameplay elements; Black Butterfly has a target-shooting minigame which isn’t particularly deep, but at least broke up the static reading, and 999 has what it calls “Escape Sequences” where you’ll be playing something more akin to a standard point and click adventure, looking for clues and solving inventory-based puzzles to move to the next story segment. Code: Realize doesn’t change up the basic choose your own adventure style, but the presentation and characterization, with a steampunk backdrop and bumping elbows with famous literary and mythological characters added a lot to the charm. Ashen Hawk stands out by giving a bit more freedom in the paths you choose, with an actual map that you’ll have to explore and scenes to pursue in an order other than “which male waifu do you want to bother today.” It also is a lot darker and even its happy moments are bittersweet at best. There’s about 12 endings, and only three or four are “happy,” but only on the surface; looking into the context or how the heroine is essentially rejecting reality and delusional makes them almost as depressing as the “real” endings. I liked that.

In more standard fare, I’ve been picking at Yakuza 6, which is certainly fun. If you haven’t played one before, the basic gist is that you play a former Yakuza member, Kazuma Kiryu, who is always getting involved in the actions of his former clan. It’s very much “everytime I think I’m out, they pull me back in.” This time his daughter has been involved in a near-fatal car crash that may be more than it appears, and he’s tasked with solving that mystery, preventing clan wars, and figuring out who the father of his grandson is and how it ties to the rest of the mess. Along the way you’ll find time to dress as a mascot, play a bunch of Sega arcade games – though the UFO catcher sadly seems to be missing – and hit the batting cages and hostess clubs.

I’m mixed on this one. I enjoy it. Just like I have with the seven other games in this series. Maybe I’m getting burned out, or my brain just isn’t in the right mode for this – which is sad, because Yakuza Kiwami 2, Shenmue 1 & 2 HD (which is in many ways Yakuza‘s parent series) and Yakuza 7 are all on the way – but I’m not as invested in Kiryu’s weird world as I have been in the past. I’m really hoping its just a phase, and I’ll get back into the right mindset soon – if only so I can check it off the list before Kiwami 2 hits – but I just don’t know.

I’m also picking at Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, which is another visual novel, but has a lot more gameplay than most; point and click adventure phases where you look for clues to murders, Phoenix Wright style interrogations, and an action shooter cross-examination and evidence presentation game? It’s a blast. I’m not very far, yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far. I just want to cross 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward off the list before I really dig into it.

Lastly, I finally picked up Neir: Automata. Damn, son. Every utterly batshit Platinum Games hack-and-slash mechanic wrapped up in a bizarre mindfuck plot and deep RPG and customization mechanics? Yes, please. More, please. Like Danganronpa, I haven’t gotten a lot of time to spend with 2B and her crew, but everything I’ve seen, I love. Again, just need to clear some room in my backlog so I can tear it apart in the quest for the Platinum.

What about you folks out there? What have you been playing? What do I need to add to my pile? Let us know down below!

15
Jul
18

Brain Surgery

I’m crazy. Absolutely batshit. That’s been known for some time, and I’m not one to pretend otherwise, or shy away from admitting it, or worry about what anyone else says about my particular brand of madness. It’s just a fact, as much a part of my makeup as black hair, bad teeth and my asthma.

Being broken that way doesn’t mean useless, though. It’s treatable. Not “fixable” by some standards, but certainly livable. Hell, I muddled through 37 years before having a stable and functional chemical cocktail to keep me running.

But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you. Yes. You. Someone out there reading this is suffering from mental illness and not doing what they can to treat it. Because nobody bothered to tell me this stuff, I feel the need to say it, on the off chance it helps someone else. So here’s a quick list of things to remember.

1. It’s not your fault. Sometimes the chemicals just don’t work right and that’s not something you can will to be otherwise. Stop blaming yourself.

2. Don’t let other people tell you how to feel or how to deal with it. “Cheer up!” or other platitudes – offered in various levels of exasperation – doesn’t do anything except make you feel worse if you fixate on it. Other people don’t get it unless they’ve been there, and that’s not their fault. Hating on them or hating yourself because you can’t do as they say isn’t going to get you anywhere.

3. Get a psychiatrist. Not a therapist, not a psychologist, not a GP. A head-shrinker who does that and nothing but. Try to find one who specializes in whatever you think you have; if you’re right, they’ll know how to treat it. If you’re wrong, they’ll be the first to notice and offer a referral to someone else.

4. Get two. No, really. A second opinion is always a good idea. Shrinks are just as fallible as anyone else, seeing the world through the lens of their experiences, biases and education. Finding two who agree – at least generally – is a good sign you’re on the right track.

5. Talk to your shrink. Tell them everything. Hiding things, misrepresenting things, or outright lying isn’t helping anyone. Their job is to help you, and they can’t do that if they don’t have all the facts.

6. Take your meds. If they were prescribed to you, you should take them. That means take them as prescribed, when prescribed. Most psychoactive drugs take time to kick in, and need to maintain a presence in the bloodstream to work. Skipping doses or deciding you “feel good” one day and just not taking them is a quick right straight back to where you started.

7. Talk to your shrink. Toying with brain chemicals is more art than science, because everyone’s illness and internal chemistry is different. The first thing they give you may not work. The dosage may be too high or too low. They may need to add something else to it. Stay in touch with the doctor, tell him how each tweak is working (or not working) and adjust accordingly.

I’m sure there’s something else I’m forgetting, but I think that covers most of the bases. If any of you out there have stories you’d like to share, words of encouragement, or other things you think should be on the list, drop them in the box below.

Until next time.

09
Jul
18

Loving Horror

I’ve been on a new kick with my gaming habits of late. During my convalescence, I picked up a game for my sadly often-neglected Vita, thinking it was a survival horror game of some sort.

I was very wrong. But I found myself loving it anyway.

The game was Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly. It’s a format called a visual novel, or an otome game; to most that means “dating simulator,” with the “otome” portion indicating the main character is female and will be selecting from a series of anime-stereotype dudes who she must romance. Psychedelica ended up teaching me that there can be a lot more to the style than I first thought.

The premise – several teens find themselves waking up in a haunted mansion, lacking memories and gifted with strange guns, hunted by monsters that, when defeated, exude tendrils of darkness into their slayer and drop fragments of a device called the kaleidoscope that promises a means of escape – was much more enthralling than any of the romantic overtures Beniyrui and her male harem engage in. Honestly, the romantic aspects serve as a side plot to the mystery of the mansion, and feels less like the point of the game and more like something that occurred naturally given the revelations that were presented.

It’s probably a good thing this was my first in-depth exposure to this type of game; had it been a more straightforward “who do you think is the cutest,” I would have chucked it aside before it had time to get rolling.

Now, I’d had some experience with the genre before; I’d played both Hatoful Boyfriend and Doki Doki Literature Club, the former because the idea of a pigeon dating simulator was hilarious – and then made more worthwhile by the surprisingly deep and disturbing backstory that comes into play once the fowl shenanigans are dealt with – the latter because of MatPat’s explanations about what was really going on there. But before Psychedelica, I didn’t know that weird hooks and deep mysteries were as common as they are in the genre.

Since then, I’ve moved on to Bad Apple Wars (okay, but not as good as Psychedelica and more in line with “cute boy simulator,” though it does have a better story than expected once you get past the opening acts), Code: Realize: Guardian of Rebirth (an amazing steampunk adventure story with fictional and semi-fictional personages enacting a tale that includes immortality, vampires, airship battles, racism and a bionic dog), 7’sCarlet (A murder mystery set in a town that is much more than it appears, with a suitably twisted “true” ending path that gives some interesting concepts about destiny and has a touch of weird incest), Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk (In which a cross-dressing cursed witch tries to protect what’s most important to her), the Zero Escape series (Think Saw with a lot more reading and elements of old school point-and-click adventures) and the Danganronpa series (if Phoenix Wright had a lovechild with Riverdale and then drenched itself in hot-pink blood.)

Wow. There’s a lot more going on with this type of game than I thought. My hunger is not yet satisfied, but thankfully there seem to be a few hundred of these things on Vita and most of them are rotting on the shelf at my local GameStop, so I can work my way through them all. If anyone still has a Vita lying around and happens to be a PlayStation Plus member, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is free for the month of July, so might serve as a decent introduction if you haven’t tried one of these before.

But that’s not really the core of this post; it’s about loving horror, both in terms of enjoying it, and in terms of horror with a touch of other emotions. These games have it. They may not be the most involved in terms of gameplay (of the ones mentioned, only Zero Escape and Black Butterfly have any “real” gameplay that isn’t based solely on conversational choices or variants thereof, at least that I’ve found so far) but they’re surprisingly well done in provoking the feels, much more so than most video games seem to be. There was a lesson to be learned here; even if something seems outside of your wheelhouse, be it in consumption of entertainment or production of it, sometimes it’s worth giving it a try. You might find something new and interesting in it.

08
Jul
18

Leave of Absence

I’ve been gone for awhile. It wasn’t intentional. Been an interesting time.

Quick version: They determined there was severe infection in my jaw. That required dental surgery, the removal of all my teeth and a denture. Okay, not so bad. I couldn’t talk for a while, but still survivable.

Of course, then the antibiotics they game me caused an allergic reaction. So we had to start on a different set. Those knocked me out. And neither did the job; the infection decided it would spread. Cue the next three months where they couldn’t decide what was wrong with me, but had reached the point where they were talking spinal taps to figure it out; all this while I’m unable to eat, unable to sleep properly, barely able to talk, and running to the toilet every few minutes to vomit.

That may have been slightly over-descriptive, but c’est la vie. My lack of activity was not voluntary. They finally killed it by shooting me up with some kind of super antibiotic mixed with steroids, but that has its own problems; the city of Salem has been suffering from an overabundance of algae in the water supply, toxic on its own right and only made worse by the chemicals they started dumping in to kill the algae. Normal people are recommended to stay away from the water, and for those with compromised immune systems – such as, say, someone who is on three different steroids normally and is extremely prone to bronchial infections, has just completed three different courses of antibiotics, and has two extra steroids mixed in there, too – it’s damn near deadly. Found that out when I drank a pot of coffee the day after they lifted the water advisory only to discover they slapped it back down that afternoon.

So, yeah. Been having a lot of fun trying to just keep breathing and functioning. Haven’t gotten much writing done as a result. I was doing well to be fully conscious for five hours a day or so, most of that hiding in the bathroom with my Vita or an old paperback.

Things should be going back to normal, now. Fingers crossed.

07
May
18

Goodreads Review: Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what went wrong, here. I suspect the youngest King sibling just isn’t up to the snuff of his father and older brother.

While reading this, I frequently felt as though the two authors were fighting for control. One would go off on a tangent of limited importance, often garbled by what felt like overblown political correctness, and in the next handful of pages you could almost physically feel someone grabbing hold of the helm and dragging it back to course… painfully, and not always successfully.

The premise – every woman in the world falls asleep and goes into a cocoon, what happens now? – is interesting enough, but I felt the execution was frequently lacking. Most sequences felt as though I’d seen them, in better shape, elsewhere; by the halfway point I was wondering if Owen dug through dad’s junk drawer, pulled out a pile of random first draft pages of other books – especially Under the Dome, The Stand and Cell – then asked dad to help him glue them together somehow. It sounds kind of harsh to put it that way, but…

I found the whole thing difficult to care about. There were dozens of characters, but unlike other King works where a large cast – like The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, or the Dark Tower saga – features, I had difficulty telling them apart. Most of them were faceless and interchangeable, and descriptives for the majority of them only came when a hammer was about to be brought out for a bit of virtue signaling. Clint and Lila are well done and interesting, but their marital conflict feels forced and stupid, and blows over way too easily, leaving you asking yourself what the point of it was.

The last gripe about the characters comes in the form of who one might arguably call the “main” character of the book; Evie Black. Without spoiling much, she’s the key to everything, and has the standard set of mystic mumbo-jumbo for the magic MacGuffin. She has the potential to be interesting, but despite having several chapters from her POV and multiple other characters commenting on her emotional state, we never really get to understand what she’s doing. She seems to be playing both sides against the middle for no reason, despite obvious distaste for it and sympathy on both sides. If there was some more insight into her motives, her nature, or what the hell she was actually hoping to accomplish, it might have been better off.

And then there’s the ending. We’re treated to roughly twenty pages of staccato notes on what everybody did after things were resolved, feeling like one of those 80’s movies that puts text over still images of the main characters, only even less satisfying. It’s not their fates that are the problem; it’s the presentation.

All in all, I feel this wasn’t really worth my time. It was… okay, at best. Maybe worth grabbing if it’s on the cheap or you absolutely MUST have everything King has written, but probably skippable otherwise.

View all my reviews

06
May
18

Reblog: Cemeteries & Churches

It’s no secret that despite my own mishmash of beliefs, I adore religious architecture and symbols… here’s quite a few great photos of them from a very talented lady. (May I also suggest her shades of grey and water world galleries? I shall.) Comments are disabled here, so please stop by and give a like or comment on her page.




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