Flower Fountain, Uncategorized

Back-pedalling

When I was little, I didn’t break my leg. It didn’t snap and I flew across the rails of my bike instead. Landing in between the fat leaves beneath bare faced pine trees. Manicured to perfection. Listening to my heartbeat and the white van screaming towards me. Into the woods. I ran with all my thoughts tangled up and spilling from my eyes. I hadn’t done anything, but knew I had to pay. I often worried about being a terrible monster, coming back to spoil everybody’s day. I didn’t know what being different meant, I thought everyone else thought like me. That they would have a good reason for wanting to hurt me. But I was young then.

I huffed against the back of another hiding tree, holding my arm. Secretly filling my lungs, listening to them scurry. Beefy scuttles and scattered swearwords I was not supposed to know. But I had heard my parents talk to each other over coffee and breakfast spills. I had grown up inside and clever enough not to fall.

I felt my legs push and stumble, I heard their heads turn and their bodies charge, but I was already ahead. Tearing my face through the foliage, balancing my fumbling feet back to the road. I dove into their transit van, the stench of beer, lavender, and old cologne ripping at my face. The blonde woman made it back first ,but I had her keys clutched between my bleeding fingers. I swore and shouted like a real Kevin Mccallister clutching a shotgun to end her, but I had none. No time. Her fat friends fumbled behind her and I began to run.

I was crying but smiling to myself. Knowing the flesh puppets would fall behind and I might get her on her own. Twist the knife I had in my pocket. It was small but it would have to be enough. I kept running. I was going home but had to get rid of the keys. I couldn’t take them with me, I didn’t want them in my room. I didn’t want any part of them near me.

Their keys danced down a storm drain two streets down. I listened for the splunk. “Good luck,” I hissed, breathing hot air through my nose. Backtracking to my road. My trousers felt wet at the knees, red and warm but I wasn’t shaking yet. My house was close by, not far enough from them, but if I hurried they’d pass me by.

The gate opened with a grind over the uneven bricks. They were grey and I was home. I never belonged here either, but I was safe. The front door felt cold and failed to twist in my wet hands. I wiped the blood from the door and tried again. Slipping inside, avoiding the creaking wooden pieces, keeping my feet to the corners and edges. My eyes adjusting, my ears listening out.

I made it to my room and cried alone. I wanted to climb into the cupboard just in case they came charging through, but they didn’t. I sat next to the door, wondering whether the dividing shelf could carry my weight. I was thin as a rake, small, but it still felt as if I would fall straight through.

My heart stopped when the doorbell rang, but it wasn’t them. They weren’t here anymore, I told myself. They were gone, or they would be once I killed them. I don’t remember deciding it, but I can still feel something sharp press into my forearm as I cleared my desk. Swiping everything onto the floor. My parents weren’t home and the doorbell called again. I changed my clothes, wearing something old, strange, and baggy. An Italian flag banded on the front and covered with bobbles. Anything that would make me bigger and hide the way I looked. The blood and my shaking wrists.

I would need a better weapon. I took my plastic katana from the red basket wishing it was real, but if it was I would have already lost my arm. Playing rough with my friends, holding our signature defences from old American Ninja films we found. Adventuring beyond the backyard, crawling through fences, falling badly, and dancing away from dogs. I found my red foam bat as the front door repeated.

It was soft but packed enough punch, hard enough to hurt when I hit my hand, but it wasn’t enough. I dropped it and rummaged my toy chest, a large drawer hidden beneath my bed, but no weapons rested there. I was a normal kid. Just action figures and Matchbox cars. Matchbox sized.

I stormed the kitchen, feeling braver. Dragging a heavy wooden chair behind me. One of the rare unbroken ones across the pale blue linoleum, as I didn’t feel like snapping my neck against the sink. Reaching up into the pine slatted cupboard, taking down the bucket of matches. Heading back to the bathroom for the freshener I hated. Lavender too. Pausing in the hall to catch my breath before dragging my feet towards my fears.

Pull yourself together, I bit at the inside of my mouth. A safety match pressed firmly against the red phosphorous band beneath my left thumb, while I wondered about getting the timing right. My right index finger trained on the nozzle. “Open and spray, open and spray,” I whispered as I reached the door and turned the handle.

FlowerFountain001Back-pedalling
Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash
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Red Fur, Uncategorized

Notoriously Nostalgic

“You look beautiful.” “Beautiful, is that what you wanted to say?” “Yes,” Sam looked certain, but the lighter brown bird was in a darker mood. “Is there a difference?” Sam dropped their daily paper based grind onto his desk. “Of course there is a difference,” Heinrich stormed across their small office, towards him. “The one you say out of affection, adoration, the other -” Heinrich let his voice trail off.

“The other what?” Sam insisted. “You say because you have to, because you’re with me, not because you want to,” but Sam had already grabbed the tan bird around the waist, and was pulling him closer. “I say what I mean, you’re beautiful,” the dark golden eagle pulled Heinrich closer still, “you’re beautiful, and you know it, you only want me to tell you so more than once.”

“Of course I want you, I want you to so badly it hurts, but then what can I say?” it was hard to imitate a pout with a beak, but Heinrich had long since been an expert. “You can ask me how you look,” Sam moved his strong beak closer to Heinrich’s unusual expression. “But then what will you tell me?” “I’ll tell you what I always tell you, that you’re beautiful, because you are,” their beaks pressed together firmly, drawn to kissing each other much harder on these occasions. When the day had been long, and they couldn’t help but want to. When they were reminded of how well they knew each other, and how lucky they were.

“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Sam gazed down at Heinrich, who was staring coyly away. “I know, Sam.” “It was not easy for either of us to get here.” “I know, Sam,”
Heinrich ran the edge of his sandy coloured wing feathers across his friend’s face. His features were much finer than Sam’s, not that Sam was brutish, just more muscular and jagged, in that pleasing sort of way, but he could not call him beautiful.

Perhaps it was the dark feathers, the chiselled beak, and the rest of his rough edges. No, to Heinrich, Sam was something else. Someone strong and something powerful, and complete, but Heinrich’s adoring bliss was interrupted by a sharp peck on the other side of their door.

“Come in,” the two officers pulled apart, straightening their feathers just as the door opened, and a much younger eagle ushered himself in. “Sirs, your presence is requested.” he was breathing rather heavily, having all but flown up the stairs. “In the main room,” he huffed, while trying not to let his shoulders sag from their most upright position, “they are about to begin.”

Sam and Heinrich nodded curtly, letting the boy retreat to the hallway, where he could gasp for breath at ease. They didn’t need to be there, it was merely required due to their rank. Which was why they had hoped they wouldn’t be missed.

Another knock pecked at the door, making the eastern imperial narrow his eyes. Sometimes Heinrich felt trapped, though not by Sam. He smiled at the golden eagle, though he didn’t notice. Sam was already back at his desk, busy with fresh forms. Sam hated paperwork, but did it diligently. They would both rather be out there, in the sky, on some perilous mission. Heinrich could never feel trapped with Sam, only free and alive.

The knock irritated again. “Come in,” Heinrich snapped. “Sir,” a different eagle soldier saluted with a wing held high, “I was asked to deliver these.” “Thank you,” Heinrich nodded, taking the small pile of papers from the more composed soldier. “Sir,” the soldier flung up his feathers again and left. Passing the previous charge still wheezing against the wall.

Heinrich opened the red wax seal, stamped with an eagle and three representative stars, above its spread wings. Their heads of state, or the old fools who run the show, as Heinrich liked to call them. A trio often decried amongst most enlisted, as per wartime tradition. “Show time,” the tan feather teased, folding the white envelope neatly in his feathers, “our new orders.”

“Anything interesting?” Sam nearly perked up. “Another raid,” the tan bird rolled his eyes. “And which possible pigeon perch-hold are we assaulting today?” Sam smiled kindly. “Oh four hundred, that’s more like later today,” Heinrich tutted. They could always pretend their new, still huffing, initiate failed to deliver the message, but they weren’t monsters. Which made these raids much harder.

The pointlessness of their patrols increased with every assault, as the danger presented by the pigeon protesters petered off. They looked less prepared and more desperate with each attack. Perhaps the military was quietly choking him as well, Heinrich felt the darker chocolate coloured feathers that ran down his neck.

When they joined up it was mainly reconnaissance work, a peaceful life with plenty of flight time, free time, and fun times. Then their leaders changed seats, and the war began, ringing out the charges from their big bell tower, but Heinrich tried to remember it differently. To him it would always be a wonderful day, one with the bluest sky and the brightest sunshine, the day he met Sam.

Of course, some pigeons were surprisingly skilled, and put up quite a fight. They were fighting for their lives, so it was to be expected. A familiar, yet nauseating, feeling crept through Heinrich’s stomach, one he still wouldn’t let himself believe. The pigeon cells felt much more pedestrian, and on one occasion he was sure they had raided a home, not a hideout.

“Oh they make it look like that, son,” an aged martial eagle had reassured him, when Heinrich had felt particularly angry, post possible home wrecking. “They’re a crafty lot, these pigeons,” the more weathered wings were always there to reassure. To inspect the line. “Always remember that and you’ll go far,” the old bird bristled before staggering off, but Heinrich’s career was concerning him less and less.

He wanted to be able to sleep at night, not relive his squad tearing a wing-full of pigeons apart. They didn’t have the right reactions, they didn’t take cover. They simply froze in place. An oddly natural reaction to a sudden shock, as their head tried to catch up with the current events. More than enough time to be dispatched, and something that would have been drilled out of them if they had any training.

Heinrich dropped their neatly folded orders on his desk. He could still feel Sam’s beak preening the feathers on his neck. A feeling he wanted to hold onto for a while longer, but sadly the world was creeping in.

Sam and Heinrich’s adventures continue in Red Fur by ARH Forester

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Red Fur, Uncategorized

Life Can Be Sheep

The sheep didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to chew, not enough time to play, not even enough time to work. Not that he had worked for quite a while. If he could only make his head quieter. Was there such a thing? It felt so busy, so noisy, not to mention all the arguments. Imagined, fierce debates, with real sheep, that weren’t really present. Which, he astutely determined, constituted most of the noise. It was frustrating, and also totally ridiculous. Not his preparatory, or auxiliary, arguments, but that these absent sheep actually believed such nonsense. The internal ovine orator heaved himself up with a heavy breath, remaining puffed for as long as it felt right, then slowly deflated. Imagining everything bad leaving his woolly body.

“There were always going to be stupid sheep,” Johnny started up again. He didn’t know if this was comforting or not, but there was no point in getting worked up every time he met one. Unfortunately, it seemed as if he was almost exclusively surrounded by especially uninterested sheep, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that he didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to worry about unfriendly simpletons or determinedly static, and un-wondering, fellow world-ers. Not even a spare moment to wonder how they managed not to ponder anything he was currently mulling. Johnny was always thinking, all the time, but it wasn’t enough.

He wasn’t complaining, like so many circular conversations by decidedly negative bleaters, who shall remain absent, along with their constant support panel. The sheep felt puffed up again, but he had started planning. He had to do something, this he had decided, yet again. Oh yes, no longer would the obstacles of possible decision making stand in his way. Broken down they lay as another mental check point was passed. The woolly worrier had accidentally kicked out at the flimsy blue barn divider. “If only such valuable progress was more visible to others,” the sheep lamented, drifting back outside.

What was even more important was which wall to break through next, and would the farm management notice the loss of insulation? His burgeoning metamorphosis was a simple matter, and wouldn’t need to involve the Darlings at all, as they mainly focused on fences. All Johnny needed to do was decide what he wanted to be, or was. He could be anything, anyone. Although he did resemble a rather large rabbit in an especially woollen jacket.

As a sheep, he was laboured for time, which was a common enough problem amongst sheep. At least for those with any interest beyond the consumption of grass and gossip. It was entirely possible that any other animal, in any walk, crawl, swim, or flight, of life, had much more time on their paws, claws, hooves, fins, wings, or talons, than he did. The sheep shook his head free from appendage based distractions. It was free time that was at the very essence of his dilemma, or more importantly, it was his time to be free.

As a squirrel, he could hide out in his own tree, spend his time reading, thinking, eating nuts, and doing anything and everything that squirrels found fascinating. If he was a badger, he could dig an entire labyrinth of secret passages, and finally be safe from the prying eyes of his immediate ovine community. They would never bother him as a badger, in fear of leaving the well-lit safety of the farm so far behind. He could then spend his evenings reading by firelight, though that might be a bit lonely.

“You’re a sheep, Johnny,” a heavyset fellow wool producer stated flatly in front of his face, “in case you forget.” Johnny just stared at his gravelly toothed and grass stained grimace. The older sheep wasn’t blinking, while Johnny’s eyes flickered, and after a determined moment, which the large sheep clearly won, the elder walked away. Taking the possibility of violence along with him. This was exactly why Johnny had so many preparatory, yet ultimately unused, statements swirling around his head. Complacent ignorance was what Johnny wanted to escape from the most, with the possibility of imminent violence as a close second. He had never been that fond of physical expression, but the mundanity of his fellow sheep never failed to surprise and disappoint him, and by disappoint, he really meant bore. Naturally, there was still an element of enragement in these close encounters, but he was working on that too.

“I am reinventing myself,” Johnny tossed his head back in confident defiance, as he shouted after the retreating bulk of square trimmed wool. Action packed with repressed vengeance. The young sheep had always wanted to grow his wool longer, and the wavy woollen look of a rebel might well suit him. A leather clad hero from days gone by, with incredibly shiny wool. Styled in unreasonable curves, and pointing most pertinently at the top and tail, but the stale grassy breath of the old sheep was already back. Having brought his bulk and unspoken, yet evidently valuable, violence along with him.

“I read an article about these birds that travel the world,” Johnny kept his voice light-hearted, but rushed his words like any nervous sheep would. The all too close un-conversationalist couldn’t look any less interested. “And they get paid to do it,” the young Leicester battled on, offering their actual compensation as an incentive for interest. “War correspondents, I think they’re called,” Johnny looked unduly proud for mentioning anything so topical. “So you want to be a bird now, Johnny?” the grey sheep’s eyes lit like unhappy slits, yet somehow his sizeable ears barely heard anything. The larger-eared sheep was used to his well-intentioned words eliciting varied, and often hostile, responses. “It’s possible,” he held his head high, and further away, “but I haven’t yet decided.” “Reinvent all you want, Johnny, you’re a sheep, like the rest of us,” the smug bulk let his mouth pucker before he spat.

At least Johnny’s un-fellow ovine looked smug enough with his apparent revelation to lower the odds of actual brutality. Complacent in his desperate belief in the immutable, in an all too mutable world. A world Johnny found far more interesting. “This is not real, Johnny,” the grass stained ovine sounded almost kind, staring down at Johnny’s hoof-made wing and wool diagrams. “What is real?” the young sheep countered, as the fury of incredulity lit like prison spotlights on an already unfriendly face. “What is real, Johnny, what is real?” the old wool bag staggered in bewilderment, while Johnny hurriedly wondered whether confusion was yet another antidote to physical confrontation.

“You haven’t been running again, have you?” “No,” the large ear looked away, planning his escape route. “Training for your trip?” the grey sheep shook his head. “No,” the young sheep felt his skin flush with what had to be anger. “Well you take my advice, Johnny, and you be careful with flight,” the old sheep laughed. “Judging from last time, you can’t even swim.” Johnny had meant to say something clever, as the other guffawed, but the smug sump was already too far away. So in lieu of clever retort, the young fleece attempted another head flick, but his impressively curly wool merely bounced back.

The huffing Leicester inflated himself again, before breathing out the fresh batch of stale bad, setting his sheepish shoulders, and drawing a neat frame around his important scribbles. It was only a thought, but he should probably start using paper for privacy’s sake. He didn’t need to waste his energy on unfriendly locals as he would be off soon. Which reminded the self-assured sheep, his face brightening, he hadn’t yet had lunch.

It was one of the few things he liked about the farm. There were doubtless others, but at the moment he was far too distracted by their overstocked menu of green. The short and shabby grasses all around them, or the taller and juicer variants near the fences. Where the horses kept a close watch over the foreboding bounty waiting in the further fields. Enough to tempt any nonconformist wool peddler towards temporary bravery, and beyond the fence.

For those who favoured the more exotic flavours, they could try the henpecked and well-feathered bristles near the impressively noisy chicken coop cafeteria, or the stronger flavours amongst the cows. Johnny mulled around them all, in the midst of making up his mind. He didn’t know when he last snacked. It had to have been late last night, or else he would have passed out sooner. There was a vague memory of chewing noises, while pondering the act of decision making, in relation to actual doing, and he was lying on his stomach. So it was most likely coming from him.

Johnny chewed on some local short and scruffy, and started pondering, in earnest, the tantalising possibility of becoming a bird. It was undoubtedly a tall order, but what a life he would have. All the adventure and freedom he could hope for, and what was stopping him? Physical forms be damned, appearance was nothing, the sheep ripped another tuft of green into his mouth. Though he did rather resemble a Border Leicester, quite firmly. He had hooves, not claws, or talons, and four legs, not two and a pair of wings. Not to mention the tremendous drag coefficient of his ears. He was also covered in fluffy wool, with a distinct lack of feathers. Wool that simply would not whip away from his brow in any cool fashion, no matter how close he came to a neck injury. Not that this was part of his preflight check, more of a pet peeve.

His usual look was to keep his wool trimmed well back, depending on the season, but if he wanted to pursue the life of an avian rebel that might have to change. The short length was sure to be beneficial to the bird idea, it had to be more aerodynamic, and if he failed at flying, he could always become a well-groomed avian activist.

Just like that, with an accompanying hoof stamp, another decision was made. No longer would his haircut be mere personal preference, or looming demand in a jaded marketplace, but instead, personal growth. Take that any sheep who previously thought him mentally ill, Johnny happily, and silently, hoof boxed the sky. Though these impressive acts of determined individualism rarely went unnoticed by the other ovine.

Another big bite found its way into his eagerly chewing mouth, pausing for a drink from the water trough. He could see the smile creasing his remarkable sheeplike lips, which made him frown, as he realised birds didn’t have those either. Johnny puffed himself up again, looking away and breathing out happier. There would, no doubt, be many barriers to flight and bird conversion, real and imagined, but it all starts with a single flutter. Johnny grinned and shook his head in what felt like preparation. All that flying and freedom, birds didn’t know how lucky they were.

Johnny’s adventures with flight continue in Red Fur by ARH Forester

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Switch the Flip, Uncategorized

Story Time in Rimworld with an AI That Doesn’t Want to Kill You

Rimworld is a sci-fi colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller. A multiple-genre simulation with consistently overwhelming reviews, and one key difference.

Traditionally, gaming AI provides an opponent to the player. An AI who cheats in order to provide a challenge. They are in direct competition with the player, unlike story drive AI.

With so many systems vying for the CPU’s attention, the AI is often less intelligent due to limited processing power. Particularly in complex simulations where resources are scarce. Shortcuts are necessary, but Rimworld is clever.

Cassandra Classic is the default AI for Rimworld, but instead of emulating a player, she is designed to prod, not strangle. To watch and wait. To tell a slow-burning tale, like many great adventures, using a series of generated events. Eventually setting the world ablaze, while the player waits for the rain.

Rimworld is developed by Tynan Sylvester and Ludeon Studios. Inspired by the space cowboy aesthetic of Firefly, the complex simulation of Dwarf Fortress, and the grand scale of Dune and Warhammer 40,000.

Rimworld starts with a procedurally generated a map. This time, a well-balanced pangaea world with a large central belt of temperate forests. Tundra to the north and arid shrubland to the south.

I met Rodney, Emerson, and Jill for the first time, randomly generated colonists, and they brought Maggie along. A small cat who was fond of Rodney, which I hoped was not foreshadowing of a tragic pet demise or aliens.

‘We crashed in the northern tundra, pretending to be unafraid of the cold.’ Jodie Emerson.

Rodney and Emerson scrambled for the only two firearms. Rodney’s childhood as a street urchin taught her how to shoot and Emerson had a passion for guns. Jill, being the worst shot, settled for a Plasteel knife. It suited her as she was the only capable surgeon.

‘It was 17°C outside, comfortable, but winter was coming, and we’d need shelter to survive.’ Rodney Malo.

The nearby caves were our best chance. All we had to do was block off the entrance and plug the holes. Rodney volunteered, being a space merchant and our best builder. Jill and Emerson started hauling everything they could find. From edibles to construction material.

‘Emerson hunted a Snowhare for supper, we spent the night stargazing and sleeping on the floor.’ Jill Reyes.

The next morning a trader arrived. We had nothing to sell, but it was good to see a friendly face. Jill greeted him politely as Rodney christened our cave ‘Pinewood’ by building some proper beds. There was a small ceremony while everyone smiled and tried not to laugh.

‘It’s a good start, but there are savage locals. I’ll be back in a few days, if you survive.’ a smug trader.

Jill and Rodney planted potatoes on the dark and fertile soil nearby. With any luck the harvest will beat the cold. Food was already running low, but the berries were holding out. Luckily a local Snowhare lost his mind and Emerson bagged another one. Jill said it was for revenge, but the extra food made all the difference.

‘You have to help me, I’m a chef.’ Cassidy the Confused.

We met Cassidy on the border. A badly dressed man who claimed to be a Midworld chef. Jill said he was a psychopath. Unstable and another mouth to feed. A drifter named Joyce was following him. We tried to talk, but she attacked Emerson with a club. Emerson called her a Snowhare and now Cassidy has a new cloth shirt.

‘We buried her where she fell.’ Rodney Malo.

Cassidy pigged out on all the food, mumbling something about better days. We should have restrained him, but he had his steel club. Worse still, Maggie was bitten by a Snowhare. Jill patched her up as best she could, before Rodney left on an extended hunting trip.

‘We all celebrated when Maggie was healthy again, serving up freshly prepared Mad Snowhare Snacks.’ Jill Reyes.

The party was Jill’s idea and everyone liked her until her husband showed up. Lorenzo was a crazy man, begging for his life, and pursued by a band of angry pirates. We knew he’d be trouble, but what choice did we have?

Pinewood offered him sanctuary and the pirates arrived shortly after. Jill was hurt and Rodney got shot twice, but we had them surrounded. It was all but over.

‘Lorenzo had a shotgun wound to the torso, but nobody cared about him yet.’ Jill Reyes.

Cassidy patched Jill and our good doctor helped the rest. Then our burly chef cleared away the bodies and we got some well-deserved rest. Jill tended to the potatoes until we recovered. Cassidy returned with a new set of clothes and two salvaged firearms. Our arsenal was growing along with our injuries.

‘Why me?’ Lorenzo the Annoying.

Lorenzo lost his mind by midday, complaining about tattered clothes and setting fire to the nearby shrubbery. Jill told everyone he used to be a psychiatric patient and suspected pyromaniac. We spent the day fighting real and metaphorical fires.

The farms flourished despite the flames, and the solar panel worked well. The battery was charged and our newly excavated fridge should preserve our potato stockpile through the winter. Our medical supplies were dangerously low, but there was hope, despite our new unstable friends.

‘Wake up, wake up, wake up!’ Jill Reyes.

The next morning our potato plants started dying. The temperature had fallen too far, and we hurriedly harvested the last of our food supplies. A solar flare knocked out the power, which meant our fridge would be heating up.

Pinewood received another distress call, with raiders already at our gates. Our only turret was offline, we were badly outnumbered, and all we had to defend ourselves were a few poorly maintained firearms. It looked bleak, but we had options.

‘You survived, well isn’t that something.’ the same smug trader.

A combat supplier caravan accompanied by four Boomalopes rested near our settlement. We had helped them before, and thought it only fair they should return the favour.

‘Cassidy led the raiders straight towards them, get ready, we make our stand, side by side.’ Jodie Emerson at the battle of Pinewood Blaze.

It was going well until the first Boomalope exploded. Cassidy was badly burnt but we kept firing. Lorenzo had lost a leg, but we managed to get him out. The caravan repositioning, but the Boomalope were outraged. Another gentle beast blossoming into a plume of fire as it bit the dust. Setting most the raiders on fire.

‘Retreat, retreat, run away, I’m on fire!’ raider scum.

They ran soon after, but Pinewood and the supply caravan was saved. Everything was set ablaze, but we waited for the rain.

Rimworld is all about options. Events carefully nudging needs and wants, and it’s when these events collide that the real fun begins.

Fortunately, the AI doesn’t want to kill you, not directly. All she wants is to tell a gameplay-interesting story before your accidental demise. Whether from lack of food, violent factions, inopportune infighting, explosive Boomalopes, or insane Snowhares, Rimworld will make your stay more than memorable.

~A dramatization of event-based storytelling in Rimworld~

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Photo by Emmad Mazhari on Unsplash
Red Fur, Uncategorized

Pressure

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, not that this part was much of a forest, a squirrel was having a breakdown. He was the author of amongst others, ‘Obsessive Gnawing, a book for beavers’, ‘The Upstanding Citizen, a self-help guide for weasels’, and ‘Dealing with Profiling, and Stereotypes’, another guide for weasels.

More recently, he worked on ‘Red Panda Design, tonal obsessions, or why so much red?’ He was red himself, but never found it led to any specific colour based obsessive behaviour. Although he was informed, by an especially disgruntled red bear-cat researcher, with the help of a bewildering array of charts and swatches, that he was actually more of an auburn brown. The experience was understandably intense, but then he did have a habit of delving far too deeply into his subject matter.

Huckleberry was a squirrel well regarded, recognised, or merely mentioned on many occasions, avenues, street corners, alleyways, and the occasional unique circle of interest. An authority on disparate pursuits, especially with regard to anything potentially mechanical, spiritual, thought-provoking, puzzling, personal, or more specifically, curious. Though recently he was, as aforementioned, having a breakdown.

It was that time of the year, the squirrel tried to reassure himself. Schedules were filling and willingly conflicting, jobs were being booked and their details overlooked. The last minute-ers reared their over stressed and ugly heads, complete with gleaming eyes, in want of impossible solutions to their ultimately trivial tragedies. In essence, excessively easy to solve, but unfortunately required their participation. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help them. Well that wasn’t always true, and they weren’t always aesthetically malformed, but he had often considered running away as a perfectly sound solution. That was until recently.

Driven by either a change of heart, or a new book idea, it started its life as nothing more than a compiled leaflet. With sincere suggestions promising to mend the ways of the would-be minute-ers, and their hapless browbeaten attendants. While warranting the rest to wash their constantly stained worries away, delineating the dysfunction in the duality of procrastination and production, and most artistically illustrate the illusions inherent in information and infomercial. With adequate pages devoted to the merits of both work and wasting time. Determined directly by intent, the very existence of a linear now, and the squirrel’s levels of exhaustion. It would naturally be pie driven, with subjective species specific splendour. In an array of confectionery based diagrams, splashed in a pleasing palette of colours.

These loosely arranged pages strode heftily towards becoming an actual book. A rather large book, but that was to be expected from a volume which promised ways of avoiding the ever pending, hair desaturating, vein vibrating, and often eye dilating, ruin, that was the unfinished task, or dream. It could change the industry, and perhaps the world, but that was not the problem. The decidedly auburn squirrel sighed wearily.

What was bringing the red furred writer ever closer to the precipice of self-combustion, was the title of such an audacious attempt. Something far more than just fitting, or adequate, was required. It would have to be leaning, just before falling, heavily, towards the amazing. The succinctly apt, but abstract gesture, that lured the potential reader hypnotically towards the cover, and naturally, eventual enlightenment. The squirrel had briefly considered, ‘Procrastination, not now or later, but then?’, and ‘Carpe Diem or Carpe Morte?’ arrived swiftly after. Whose mundanity led this particular member of the Sciuridae family towards, what could best be described as, a mock seizure.

By mid-morning his eyes were bulging, as he had been trying to force the words from his head via pressure. Not the metaphorical push, but actual pressure, achieved by swallowing large gulps of air, and holding his breath. Then, with both hands resting on his ballooned cheeks, he would push upwards, hard, towards his brain. Unfortunately, the only thing this accomplished was light-headedness, and the fear that he might have permanently enlarged his pupils. “At least they hadn’t popped out,” but this merely made Huckleberry clutch his desk, and turn an un-metaphorical greenish white. Luckily, the familiar sound of his phone’s lunch alarm, and the promise of snacks, shook him free. “It will come to me,” the squirrel rubbed his eyes reassuringly, as he padded across the oak floors. The title, not the snacks, as he’d have to fetch those.

“Calm and relaxed, that was the way,” the weary fur breathed deeply, nodding to himself while snacking on his acorn shaped, cocoa and cinnamon dusted, cluster. Mixed well with suitable distractions, seemingly absent-minded mulling, and more delicious treats, he was sure to find his way. His mildly frazzled arm reached across his large wooden desk, taking a pen.

The squirrel stood for a moment, his body wavering as he dragged a fresh pack of blank pages closer. He needed to be ready, but it wasn’t long before he was blinking slowly into his hands. Sinking onto his oversized tufted desk chair. It’s well-worn and unbiased cherry pigmented leather had always been of great comfort.

At least his moderately engorged eyes felt like they fit again, but Huckleberry leapt to his feet before they could close. “What was I thinking?” he exclaimed wide-eyed to the empty room. He would much rather distract himself with something interesting. Something strange. Perhaps bits of writing fit for rereading, or those scribbles of uncertain origin. Much like his many found metal mechanisms, brimming with the plausible wonder that undoubtedly lay within. All of which were far better than bothering with sleep and bound to contain ample references to title tracking.

With boxes flung open, and cupboards ravaged to within an inch of their overstocked lives, the squirrel explored his long forgotten storage compartments. An eager smile curled onto Huckleberry’s face, as he buried himself beneath his notes. They were all arranged according to his current understanding, and their assured interrelatedness. Some would naturally be set aside in uncertainty, while matching pairs and factions inevitably formed. The squirrel scanned each page intimately, with a finely focused furry finger and a wide grin resting comfortably behind his whiskers. This was so much better than air pressure.

Huckleberry’s adventures continue in Red Fur by ARH Forester

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Switch the Flip, Uncategorized

Unrequited Love, Roguelikes, and Losing My Religion by R.E.M.

Playing increasingly indifferent roguelikes to the magnificent soundtrack of R.E.M. was never my intention. It’s just one of those things that happen when you desperately try, against all procedurally generated odds.

This is one of those possibilities, but before I illustrate the connections with copious amounts of red twine, webbed between increasingly obscure photographs and newspaper articles, whilst appearing quite mad, allow me to explain.

Rogue, the namesake of the genre, was born from the gloriously uncaring ooze of the 1980s. Carried aloft by the beautiful Berkeley Software Distribution, 4.2BSD to be exact. Wrought from the minds of Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, later helped by Ken Arnold and Jon Lane.

This unforgiving world spread like wildfire, dominating the screens of computer labs across the campus, the country, and some say, the world. In a time where health did not regenerate, games were unapologetically hard, and save systems were often a form of permadeath.

For those unfamiliar with this punishing genre, roguelikes are traditionally turn-based dungeon crawlers where anything can happen. Their worlds made visible by the miracle of ASCII. Complex role-playing games where encounters are not scaled, environments are procedurally generated, and the loot is never the same. Also, permadeath.

Although there is considerable skill involved, survival is often based on pure chance. While many master loops collide, determination and desperation are commonplace, in most playthroughs, with love as its familiar by-product.

Losing My Religion by R.E.M. was never about religion. It is an old American southern expression, meaning something has challenged you to the point of losing your faith, losing your temper, rage-quitting.

Akin to the anger Michael Stipe experienced while recording the song. Brought on by the random event of his sound engineer having too much barbecue and not paying attention when Michael felt most vulnerable. When he was low on health. Not being heard is a terrible thing, even for a kind man.

According to Michael Stipe, he wrote about unrequited love. Often felt, but rarely understood. The idea of holding back and reaching forward, never knowing whether what you’re reaching for knows you exist. Like an AI unaware of the player’s peril. Often the cause.

Granted, these are disparate worlds and specific events brought together by frantically unrolled red twine, but they echo the lengths that players and lovers would go to. The event generation of these everyday worlds. The jarring nervousness shared, the unknown, the want that pulls us towards a deeper understanding. A victory threatening to unravel. All neatly conforming to the roguelike genre. With only twine holding this delicate analogy together.

‘Perhaps I’ve said too much, perhaps not enough? It’s okay, I can hear them laughing. With any luck, it was all a dream.’ Transcribed from the ramblings of a faithful roguelike follower.

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Photo by Emmad Mazhari on Unsplash
The Red Fox Rides Again, Uncategorized

The Red Fox Rides Again

My best friend at the time was a boy of sproutly disposition, called Broccoli. We met during plasticine class, sculpting colourful animals and monsters. Safeguarding them from merging with the dreaded grey goop of discarded clay. These were our front lines, where strong bonds were formed.

‘All warfare is based on deception.’ Sun Tzu

It was a Wednesday, and we were really confused. Margaret’s strategy was working, and the rebels were mentally outgunned. Broccoli had an early panic attack when I uttered revolution in hushed tones, disguised by a coughing fit. He only settled down after kneading a patch of pink and yellow clay into a vibrant ocelot.

He called me Rabbit, due to my ungainly surname, and art class, with its square of yellow tables, were our last line of defence. After all, we were the only two boys among a fierce tribe of female warriors. Unintentional outsiders. All except for Broccoli’s sister, Heather, who was wonderful and refreshingly non-violent. She was our only hope, and helped us escape when the hunters came. Their keen eyes darting around corners, determined to bruise their prey, but she knew their passcodes and patrols. Preschool was much scarier than I ever expected.

‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.’ George S. Patton

Margaret was always surprised by my ingenuity, whenever she told me to run. When the sirens for playtime sang, and the militia rose in ranks. They chased us through the assembly room, and we crashed through the chairs, dodging their impressively sharp fists. We tried to stick together, but their brave leader was well versed in Master Sun’s Art of War. It was a slaughter, but more on that another time.

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Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

We survived on grubs and roots, or the equivalent when foraging for pre-packaged food. After finishing whatever supplies we brought from home. Biscuits, milk, and the occasional packet of chips. We kept to the shadows until we could escape, every day at twelve. Homeward bound.

‘Rebels were rarely snared when teachers were around, or when the hunters had better things to do, like going home.’ Broccoli

Margaret Kandinsky was a fan of warfare, and their most excellent leader. While we were creating soft creatures, she was recreating famous battlefields. Gettysburg, Market Garden, and the Siege of Lunch Room Number Two. A young general in the making, obsessed with Sun Tzu, but more often spouting Patton. James Mattis also made the cut.

‘Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.’ James N. Mattis

I’ll never forget the day she quoted him. She was wearing a dark jacket with riding boots, sapphire toggles, and a soft purple scarf peeking out. Folded not scrunched. Margaret always wore nice clothes, spoke softly, carried concealed stationary, and was terribly neat. It was not a safe environment.

Understandably, Broccoli and I wanted to hug each other often, but our newly introduced code of bravery kept things in check. We scuttled off to the music room for an hour of singing, pan flutes and recorders. Broccoli’s instrument pitching fiercely whenever the regime glanced back. I chose a pan flute, to stare at, not to play. We sat in the back, waiting for choir practice to bleed into music. After which, we’d make our escape.

I remember it all so vividly. The smell of dusty chalk, the rounded concrete balustrades we’d cling to mid-pursuit. The way Silvia sharpened her ruler only to stab it into her desk. She was the sandy-haired runner Margaret recruited for reconnaissance. Who stayed nearby, knew the terrain, and updated daily. We watched Silvia scout past the perimeter during playtime, having slipped through, while we remained penned behind the high fence. Another safeguard for inner-city education.

The preschool was part of a technical college. Tremendously grown up, and something of an afterthought, but I loved it. Seeing the tall students troop by, jeering and jostling each other into obstacles. Laughing, getting along. Watching them gave us hope for our survival.

We had it all planned out. The neighbourhood wasn’t that bad, heavy vehicle maintenance mostly. Scattered alcohol stores haunted by their regulars to the right, and a far scarier market further south. A hive of stalls and uncertainty. Unlit and circus tented. A place to get lost in, especially for a pair of small boys.

We saved up our rations, and ate only what would turn, or was too delicious to avoid. Chocolate honey bears was a weakness of the time, and although it would have been perfect for our long journey, they were impossible to resist. Besides, with a stash of those, we might well turn on each other, and we couldn’t take the chance. Our very survival was at stake. All we had were each other.

Broccoli suggested my house, as his was too far and he couldn’t remember the way. I agreed, as mine was closer and I stared out the window all the time. Mapping my surroundings, drifting off, imagining great adventures. Even more so on the eve of our escape.

Left out the gate, left down the road, across the rounded bridge that leads over the vast aqueduct, heading straight through to the city. I was convinced we could figure out the rest, but still sat facing backwards in the back seat for a week. Every morning, watching the city in reverse, memorising the signage and the shapes. Convinced that we would not get lost, while my mother looked on perplexed.

The main entrance to the school had stairs on either side, with the music room way off to the right, on the ground floor. The taller students were on the second floor, and on Wednesdays their classes coincided with our break. Crowding the corridors more than ever, and frustrating the small souls desperate to reach the green grass outside, but we had found a way through. Tucked against the wall, running beneath the trophy cases, perfect for those who still had to grow. All we had to do was lose the hunters, loop around, and race out the front door.

The last note died out in the wooden music room, and the teacher smiled. The break bell rang, and we ran. It was pivotal to outwit our strategically superior masters, but they had grown overconfident in their rule. We sped up the stairs and they pursued.

Having studied the tall students trudging and shifting steps, we danced through them like candyfloss in a sea of spinners. Bunched up tightly until we came close to the cabinets. Their intrepid tracker had fallen behind, bouncing against the sheer bulk billowing through the halls. Cursing our good fortune. We heard a door slam, Broccoli nearly fell down the stairs, and I bounced too close to a behemoth with skulls on his t-shirt, but he just patted my head and helped us up.

We leapt the last few steps, thanked the kindly giant, and landed wide-eyed and side-by-side at the front door. Almost free! Our spirits soared, running for the gate, and straight into Heather. Blocking the way with her powder blue dress. Our short legs buckling under the pressure of pursuit, but her face was defiant.

She explained that she didn’t want us to go. That we were her only real friends, that she didn’t like the other girls, and that she had trapped them in a bathroom using a fire hose. She didn’t want to be part of a warrior caste, and thought Margaret was mental. She burst out crying and we hugged her. We each gave her our chocolate bears, which made her smile.

We laughed at the gate and sneaked back inside. The music room was deserted and the teacher told us we could use it anytime. We talked for ages, and invited her to our next escape. She agreed to act as bear treasurer and gave us the inside scoop of her planned military coup. Opting for an increased demilitarisation, My Little Pony festivals, and more equality among the citizens of Market Garden Pre-Primary.

We may not have escaped, but we made friends, and that Wednesday would always be known as the day Heather saved our lives.

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Photo by Doug Zuba on Unsplash