Thursday, 31 October 2013

All Hallowed Out . . .

I am fascinated by the things that we forget. The date of your anniversary; How many of your close friends have died & the reasons why we started arguing in the first place. They are important, yet we forget them. For instance, in my case, I forgot that there were actually fourteen days in my Halloween Countdown! Because while I count down the days leading up to it . . . I forgot to plan a post for today, on Halloween Itself!

I'm so sorry, but I will try to bring you a good post. See, in the realm of forgetting things, I've noticed that all of you have been forgetting things about Halloween as well. Or, if you've remembered, nobody talks about it. Because while we celebrate Halloween, it's merely one of, up to, 10 other holidays that were once celebrated, but no longer. The thing about Halloween is that, in Christian History, it's not just one day. It's actually one of three days known as the Triduum of All Hallows leading into All Saints Day and concluding with All Souls Day. Much like Christmas, with its Christmas Eve & Boxing Day. Or Easter with Good Friday, Holy Saturday & Easter Sunday.
It's why I've always found it weird when those televangelists talk down Halloween & say it's devil worship; they're essentially spitting on the graves of their Saints and martyrs on this holy feast day.

But Christianity has all manner of these feast days & triduums that we don't pay attention to [I bet you don't know when Michaelmas or Candlemas is either], so let's discuss the pagan side of Halloween, since there's more to say. See, I got the idea for this when the Inimitable Miss Sridhar suggested I do a post on Samhain, a contemporary pagan festival that falls on Halloween. However, what she didn't realize is that, while it's Samhain for her, down here in Australia it's actually the pagan festival of Beltane. The Word of the Day is: 'BELTANE'.

Beltane /bel'tayn/ n. An ancient Celtic festival observed on May Day in Scotland and Ireland to mark the beginning of summer.

See, these pagan festivals (or sabbats) are known as quarter days & cross quarter days, because there are four major festivals that fall on all four of the solstices & equinox marking another quarter of the year & four more that cross half-way between those quarter day festivals. These make up the Wheel of the Year.
Halloween falls on Samhain in America, but because these festivals are reliant upon the seasons - and the seasons are diametrically opposed in each hemisphere -  it means that these seasonal celebrations occur 6 months out of time in the Southern Hemisphere.
So, since Miss Sridhar lives in America & I live in Australia, we figured she could talk about Samhain, while I talk about what's happening in this part of the world, with Beltane. That way, you can learn everything about the Pagan celebration of Halloween, all over the world.

Beltaine celebates the midpoint between the Spring equinox and Summer solstice. While Samhain is a festival of Darkness, Beltane balances that with a festival of Light; particularly that of fire, optimism & fertility. It occurs at the beginning of summer, so it's about preparing for the oncoming harvest & marks the time to move cattle to their summer pastures.
To celebrate it, practitioners would create sacred bonfires, whose flames, warmth, light & smoke were believed to have protective powers. These bonfires were often lit on mountains or hills and could only be lit by friction, not sparks, as it was considered more sacred and natural.

People would walk around the fire, walked between two bonfires, or leapt through the fire , believing this would grant them protection. They would also do the same with their cattle in the name of protecting the cattle and people from illness or curses that may come in the summer months. Sometimes food was cooked in the fire, although there were rituals around this and before eating it some of the food was often spilled on the ground as an offering.
It is also said that, at one time, people were burned in the fire as sacrifice (although I can't conform this) however there is a ritual whereby a person was selected at random and then practitioners pretended to throw them in the fire. The selected person would jump over the bonfire three times, then for the next few days others would refer to that person as though they were dead, perhaps to trick the spirits. One of the ways they picked the person to be faux-sacrificed, was by selecting slices of cake out of a hat while blindfolded (I swear I'm not making this up) one slice of which was marked with some charcoal from the fire.
Once the bonfire had burnt down and the ashes had cooled, the ashes were then scattered amongst the sprouting crops to encourage growth.

In addition to this, all household fires and hearths were extinguished, to then be re-lit using a flame from the sacred bon-fire at the end of the ceremony, to bring its protection into their homes.
Some would visit holy wells, walking around it "sunwise" (following the sun) praying for health and offering coins, much like a wishing well. It is said that the first amount of water drawn from the well will be the more potent, much like the Beltane Dew.
At dawn on Beltane, young maidens would wash their faces with the morning dew, or roll in it. One method was to collect this Beltane Dew in a jar, leave it in sunlight and then filter out any contaminants. This dew was said to make one more sexually attractive & maintain youth, as well as abate the effects of skin ailments.
If any of my lady readers are vain or superstitious enough to try this, be careful; I have found in the past that rolling on the lawn or drawing a blade of grass through one's fingertips (to collect dew) is a great way to get a paper-cut.
It was also common to decorate one's home with yellow Mayflowers, although I doubt that would be done in the Southern Hemisphere, as not only are they associated with May Day, which is celebrated in May, but Mayflowers aren't native to the Southern Hemisphere, as far as I can tell.

As at Samhain, Beltane is a time of , also known as fae (similar to fairies and elves, but not to be confused). But at this time of year, these spirits were warded off so their mischief would not interfere with the harvest. Common wards include carrying iron or salt on your person; wearing your clothing inside-out or leaving small offerings on your doorstep and where fairies would frequent.
In Ireland particularly, cattle were brought to a rath, where some of the cattle's blood was taken, tasted & spilled on the ground with prayers to protect the herd. Sometimes they would let the blood dry, then burn it, to keep the fae away.
Some Pagans would even lead a procession around the boundaries of their farm, carrying grains, holy well water, herbs (such as vervain or rowan) & tools of their trade. Then, at the furthermost North-, South-, East- & Westerly points of their farm's boundary, they would perform a ritual, to keep fairies away from their cows, milk & dairy products (which were considered incredibly vulnerable to fairies).

That's all I could find out about this festival at such short notice, but overall this seems like a lot of hard work. Samhain is a festival after the harvest, but this one is celebrated before it. Except for the Beltane Dew, most of these rituals are about preparing for the year ahead and trying to keep yourself and your farm safe during the coming heat.
But what I find fascinating is how creepy some of this is: Sacrificing people to the flames; baptism by fire & drinking cow's blood to offer to the spirits.
I'm glad that the history of Halloween, even down here in the Southern Hemisphere, lives up to the gross, supernatural, nasty & disturbing stuff that I've come to associate it with.

But the really weird thing is . . . in Australia, we don't do trick-or-treating. We don't go out on the streets dressed up like monsters. What we prefer to do is have Halloween Parties. We stay inside and have fun. I thought this was just due to Australian Apathy (and that does havea lot to do with it), but it actually suits the Beltane rituals, in a way. After all, we're not walking amongst the spirits as with Samhain, we're inside away from them, hiding from them as the old Celtics or Pagans once did.
So maybe, just maybe, either by luck, habit or coincidence we haven't entirely forgotten Halloween and it's History, as its been passed down by our Scottish and Irish ancestors. No matter which part of the world you hail from, I wish you a Safe and Happy Halloween.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm off to perform my own sacred rituals on honour of this Beltane Night . . . mostly involving Horror Movies & candy.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hollywood Hates Horror

Good evening. And what a fine evening it is! We've come so far, had so much fun and been through many adventures on this Rollercoaster of a Halloween Countdown. But, as this train is pulling into the station and Halloween looms just one more sleep away, we're going to be talking about something a little more placid and perhaps even a little more fun.
Now, I admit, with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I wish I was talking a bit more about writing so I could help those of you that are struggling to turn that story into 50,000 words. I might talk about that next month, but if you can't wait that long I suggest you look no further than the Incomparable Miss Sridhar, whose latest post The Writing Zone, talks a bit about her experiences expanding a short story into a novella.

But I'm not going to talk about writing or books today. Instead, I'm going to talk about movies. Because there are a lot of scary movies out there, these days, but for some reason or another most of them aren't all that "scary" to me. The Word of the Day is: 'FLINCH'

Flinch /flinch/ v.i. 1. To draw back from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant. 2. To pull away under pain; wince.

Well, I've learned two things today. Firstly, the Word of the Day was going to be "jump-scare", but Dictionary gave me a dirty look when I wanted the definition, because it isn't a word, it's two words that mean one thing.
Secondly, I thought a wince was that high-pitched sound you made when someone hurt you, not the flinching motion (I also thought it was spelled "whince"). I'm learning a lot today . . .
But the reason the Word of the Day is Flinch is because that's what jump scares make you do, and I believe that "jump scares' are ruining modern "Horror Movies". So many of the biggest Horror movies out today think they're the latest example of horror, but they're not at all. They don't scare me, they make me flinch. In his review of Dead Space, Yahtzee Croshaw once said:
  "I've heard people praise how scary it is, but really all it does is startle, and that's not difficult. I was startled when an opossum jumped into my window - that doesn't make it the marsupial answer to Stanley Kubrick."
This is not a trend that occurs merely in horror games. One of the most popular horror series of this decade is Paranormal Activity. I enjoyed the movie for its style, but not its scares, because it wasn't scary to me at all. If you watch this "Official Trailer" for the film, you'll see what I'm talking about. it shows footage of the audience in the theatre, jumping at the scares. You could get the same footage if, instead of the movie, the audience sat there while an usher wandered about the dark, tapping people on the shoulder.

I'm not saying I've got an iron stomach or that I'm "too brave to be scared". I flinch at the jump scares as much as anyone else, often the atmosphere is creepy and I like Paranormal Activity (the first one, anyway) and a lot of horror movies for their stories, even if they don't terrify me. Also, as my mate Sean says: "If you want to be scared by a Horror Movie, let yourself be scared. Feel what the character is feeling, you'll be scared every time."
So it's not that Horror Movies aren't scary. But for this Halloween, I've been looking for some genuinely horrifying movies that you should watch with your friends. After much searching, I believe I've found five movies that do more than just startle their audience, so I've put them together in a list, that I call:


If you're getting together with friends this Halloween to give yourselves a fright - or if you just want to spend a night with your girlfriend cuddling up close to you so she can feel safe - these are the movies for you. Before we get into it, two things. I have not seen every Horror Movie, I just watched those that others called "The Scariest", from them I created this list. If a movie you find the scariest isn't on here, it either didn't suit my criteria, or I haven't seen it.
For our "second" thing, some movies you might want to check out, but didn't make the cut have earned some Honourable Mentions:

X. The Saw franchise
I considered putting these one on the list, because I like the complicated storyline, but the problem is that almost all of the horror is Body Horror.
It's gross-out stuff that makes you feel frightened and unwell because of how wrong it is for someone to inflict such torture to a human body. Now, I personally like Body Horror, because it's horrifying and I get this sinking feeling in my stomach that adds to the tension. It's a good scare . . . but, like the jump-scare, it's kind of cheating and some people just feel sick from watching it. I'm here to make you afraid, not throw up.

X. Dead End
In my search for scary movies, I came across a list of "cheap, unknown" horror films that are said to be terrifying. None of them actually were, except for this gem from 2003. the creepy part about this isn't the family falling apart during christmas vacation. It isn't the endless road that feels like purgatory. It isn't the ghostly woman in white or the reaper's black car. These are all spooky, to be sure. But what terrifies me, is the mother Laura Harrington (Lin Shaye). I'm not going to spoil what happens, but when her fear gets the better of her, she turns from a quirky little passive character to the scariest part of the movie. I just wish the rest of the movie had that same punch-to-the-gut fear.

X. The Cabin in the Woods
I love this movie. The concept is amazing, I love the way it plays with horror movie cliches and I absolutely love the writing and style. This movie is a deconstruction of horror movies and if you're a fan of Horror movies, you NEED to check this out. If you love analyzing or critiquing film, you NEED to check this out. If you love making movies or writing stories, you NEED to check this out (especially the Extras on the DVD, which you need to buy).
However . . . this movie isn't scary. It is quintessentially horror and it's a great movie, but as much as I feel the need to rave about it, it's more fun than fear, so it cannot earn a spot on my "Genuinely Scary Movies" list.

Now, on to the Main Event! Trade that Halloween Candy in for some Popcorn & see if you can stomach these horrors . . .

5. The Descent
Synopsis: After a tragic accident that killed her husband and daughter, Sarah Carter (Shauna MacDonald) decides to join a group of her friends in some recreational caving, hoping to stop mourning and start living again. But when the five girls get stuck in a cave that's never been explored before, they're only option is to head deeper and deeper, looking for another way out and facing the creatures that live in its uncharted darkness.
Scare Factors: Stuck in the dark, with little food and even less light, this movie is tense and claustrophobic. The brilliant characterization of these girls draws you into their struggles. In a cave so unpredictable and immense, it's survival of the fittest, and you can feel that every time one of the girls gets even slightly hurt. Once the girls face the cave monsters and have to literally fight to survive, it becomes a question of how far we have to go to survive & of course what will be left of us after spending so long in the dark . . .
Summary: This film needs to be watched. The reason it's so far down on the list is because I have a problem with seeing women get hurt. It's just a quirk of mine, but I find it distasteful. Also, while this is an impressive story and has its fair share of creepy moments, the movie seems to think that the cave monsters are a lot scarier than they actually are. They're pretty weak, to be honest, but the highlight of the film isn't the monsters, it's the main characters and what they have to go through to survive. This film, especially the ending, gave me chills.

4. The Grey
Synopsis: Ottway (Liam Neeson) has lived a life of hardship and loss, that's lead him to work as a hunstman for an oil company in Alaska, paid to shoot and kill any wolves that get too close to the site. After a long haul on-site, all the workers are heading home, until bad weather crashes their plane, leaving only seven alive, including Ottway. They want to wait for rescue, but they're in the middle of nowhere and after an attack in the middle of the night, they realize they're being hunted by a pack of grey wolves. The only way to survive is to brave the wilderness and find help before they're all eaten by the wolves.
Scare Factors: This film has quite a few jump scares, but even on a second viewing and knowing they're coming, this film still managed to keep me on the edge of my seat. This is about what separates man from beast and it's a story of desperate men in a desolate landscape. But more than anything, the thing that creeps me out is the tragedy. This isn't just death, this is being torn to pieces by animals, freezing to death in the middle of nowhere, dying slowly, one-by-one with no chance of respite or rescue.
Summary: This film isn't just scary, it's also a fantastic movie. Whereas The Descent features an all-female cast, struggling to take care of one another and get along; this is an all-male cast, forced to get along under the circumstances and clashing against one another as tensions rise. I'd love to go into detail about how Grey and Descent reflect man and woman. But for now all I'll say is, to me, this film is questioning what it actually means to be a Man.

3. The Shining
Synopsis: Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) a writer, gets a job as a caretaker for the isolated Outlook Hotel during it's winter off season, in the hopes he'll get his novel written. He brings along his family, Wendy (Shelley Duvalle) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), both of whom have suffered at his alcoholism and hope that the vacation will be good for the family. But after a long stay, Jack starts to go crazy from the isolation and the influence of the hotels many ghosts before he finally snaps and picks up an axe . . .
Also, Danny is psychic for some reason.
Scare Factors: Jack "Nicholson" Torrance is always a wonder to behold. Nicholson can be intimidating while ordering breakfast, so he steals the show with his spiralling psychosis and homicidal rage. The atmosphere is creepy, with the long, tracking shots; endless, creeping hallways; remote locations; disorienting scenery & surreal haunting imagery. But more than anything, the biggest frightener has to be the tension that builds and builds throughout the movie between Jack and his family.
Summary: Full Disclosure - I personally don't find this movie all that scary. Watching Jack Nicholson go from an abusive arse to a murderous one is not all that fun for me. But the other day, the lovely Miss Sridhar educated me to the fact that while the story focuses on Jack, the heart of this movie is Wendy Torrance. She's been through so much & just wants to bring her family closer together. Yet, they're torn apart by Jack's insanity, and all she can do is struggle to keep herself and her son alive as their attacked by the madman that used to be her husband. Watching this film while empathizing with this poor, struggling mother is an experience that can give you nightmares.

2. One Hour Photo
Synopsis: Seymour Parrish (Robin Williams) plays a photo technician at a one-hour photo developing laboratory. He lives a lonely life with nothing to look forward to except for a set of repeat customers, the Yorkin family. He idolizes their beautiful house, their adorable son & outwardly flawless marriage, thinking himself as their "Uncle Sy", hoping to one day be a part of their family. Due to his obsession, he develops doubles of the family's photographs, which he keeps on his apartment wall. But Seymour's world comes crashing down when his obsession is revealed & his ideal family starts slipping away from him.
Scare Factors: Robin Williams is funny and energetic, so seeing him play a quiet, reserved character like Seymour is off-putting in its own right. But this is a tale of twisted, unrequited obsession. The lengths one man will go to just to be noticed, it's both tragic and disturbing. There's one or two jump scares, but most of the tension comes from empathizing with Seymour when his secret is at risk of being exposed or fear for the family when Seymour loses control.
Summary: It should be expected of a film about photography, but this film has stunning cinematography by Jeff Cronenwerth. If you are a film student, you need to watch this film. More than that, if you've felt obsession in any form, be it fanaticism, love or disgust, this film shows the unnerving truth behind what can become of obsession when it goes too far. It's well deserving of the Number 2 spot on this list.

1. Session 9
Synopsis: In the hopes of revitalizing the local area, Bill Brigs (Paul Guilfoyle) hires a renovation crew headed by Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) and Phil (David Caruso) to remove the asbestos from the old abandoned insane asylum. There's drama between the crew, Phil butting heads with Hank (Josh Lucas) over stealing his girlfriend. But things turn nasty when wannabe lawyer Mike (Stephen Gevedon) discovers a series of recorded psychiatric sessions from a patient with multiple personalities that is believed to have been host to a demon.
Scare Factors: This movie is all about the tension. The guys are already doing a dangerous job, they could easily die or hurt themselves in this broken down building using harsh chemicals to wash the place down and clean up the asbestos. They seem so real, they're just doing their job but they're all a little creeped out by the look and history of this place. But it's what these guys do, because of this situation that freaks me out. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that, every time I watch this movie, I can't sleep.
Summary: I wrote this list because of this movie. After seeing Saw, Paranormal Activity & Day of the Dead, I was starting to think that jump scares and gross-out movies were the only things Horror Movies had to offer. This movie introduced me to spine-tingling, bone-chilling terror, and ever since I watched it, I haven't been able to find a film that's scarier. I recommend against watching this on your own.

Well, that's are my list of genuinely scary movies. If you know one you think is scarier (that doesn't resort to jump scares or cheap tricks) then please let me know in the comments! This is not a complete list of the only scary movies, these are the ones that I think will give you the best scares.
If I can find more scary movies to terrify us, then I might just put them in a list for next year's Halloween Countdown.

But until then, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, saying "Flick or Freak!". Everyone, stay safe and have a fun; try not to scream your brains out and I hope you have a Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Night that Joe Came Out to Play

There's a fine line between fantasy and what is real. So, I like to blur that line on occasion, in stories, to make them seem more real. For instance, in the Blackwater Casefile 'Three' trilogy that I was writing for the past three days, the town of Tumbulgum, New South Wales is a real place. I don't know if there are any legends of trolls, but the street names are real, as is the Tweed River and Riverside Drive does indeed lead from the bridge to a large field of sugarcane.
I do this kind of thing because I like to encourage suspension of disbelief, I like to throw in some reality so that it doesn't spoil the fantasy. However, the following story I'm about to tell you is true. This isn't a joke or a piece of fiction or a game, this is a true story. It happened to me, and it's about a time when fiction blurred the lines of reality. The Word of the Day is: 'MESSY'

Messy /'mesee/ adj. 1. Characterized by a dirty, untidy, or disordered condition: A messy room. 2. Causing a mess: A messy recipe; messy work. 3. Embarrassing, difficult, or unpleasant: A messy political situation. 4. Characterized by moral or psychological confusion.

The Word of the Day is Messy for two reasons. Firstly, because the following story was quite a crazy thing. Secondly, I need to introduce you to someone . . .
One of the stories I'm working on, hoping to turn into a novel, is something called Dead Graham. I talked about it before in the "7-Line Challenge/Next Big Thing" blog-hop I did a while ago, so read that if you want to know more. Within that story, there is a character known as "Messy Joe". Full name, Joseph Edward Craveson, his character is a lot of fun, he's an ex-magician, maniac, cannibal, zombie thing (in a nutshell). He's one of the more developed characters from the story, because he's literally insane, so I needed time to figure out how to write that. Because of this and my own twisted sense of literary development, I've also based the character on myself quite a lot.
Don't worry, it's all an exaggeration. I bite my lips, he's bitten off his lips. I have slight mental issues like OCD and anxiety, he's schizotypal. I can't raise my eyebrow, he's missing an eyelid. I talk to myself and write stories, he talks to the voices in his head and imagines things that aren't real.
So, I've always felt close to Joe and felt sorry for him for being so crazy. This is another example of those blurring lines of fiction. He's a fictional character, but in many ways we are similar.

Anyway, that's who Messy Joe is. He's important to this story, but he's not the beginning. This all begins when at a party at my old sharehouse . . .

It was your usual night. I was drinking cans of Bundaberg Rum (& Coke) with my friends, we were having a ball. In particular, I was drinking with my best mate Sean - with whom I've been on many adventures, including walking to a haunted graveyard - because on this particular evening, a lot of the others weren't getting into the drinking so much. Sure, they were drinking, but were were on about our fifth can by the time they were starting their second.
Since people were going easy (except for Sean and me) they figured they might instead begin the evening with something a little more potent than alcohol. Something more, shall we say, herbal.
So, a bunch of us wandered downstairs to partake in some heavy breathing exercises. Sean and I decided to join them since, that's the way the party was headed. At the time, I did not realize the implications of mixing your "toxins", so I didn't realize what Sean and I were getting ourselves into.
According to Sean, the last thing he remembers is walking downstairs. The last thing I remember is going into basement and seeing a friend of ours, Yang, breathing in second-hand smoke in that enclosed space. I then have flickering images of sitting cross-legged in a circle before everything disappeared. As though my "black box, party-night recorder" was skipping a few scenes before it all went black. Poof . . . memory gone.

I woke up several hours later, in tears. I was freaking out, because I was blind. I couldn't see. I was sitting in the living room, but everything was blurry. I saw someone walking back and forth, looking for things. I recognized from their gait that it was Sean. I asked for help, but we were both still a little loopy, he was going home. He said he was tired and needed to sleep, while I was pleading for him to help me find my glasses.
Then he left, and I started panicking. So I called him on my phone. He answered and said he was in bed. I freaked out saying I was all alone and I needed him back here! For some reason, he actually came all the way back then, and helped me find my glasses. They were on the floor beside me.

I had no idea what happened, so I asked Sean (either then, or later). He said that he just remembered us sitting on the deck, laughing and some other bits and pieces. I also asked my friends, and they told me about a fascinating encounter.
Apparently, after getting some less-than-fresh air, we had indeed sat out on the deck, but I wasn't exactly myself. Apparently for most of the evening, I was weirding people out, laughing like a maniac, some even said that I'd threatened people and giggled like a madman.
It didn't make much sense to me. I'm not like that at all. I consider myself more of a verbal fighter than a physical one, I prefer to hurt people emotionally or intellectually. So, I said to my friends "that doesn't sound like me at all", but that's when they said, "You told us your name was Joe . . ."

I don't know all the details, my friends didn't talk about it much, since it's not that big of a deal. Especially to Sean and I. See, I have a dark sense of humour. My theory is that, while under the influence, I started trolling my friends. Messing with them and freaking them out by acting like one of my characters. That's why I was laughing so much, it was all a joke to me.
But that's the thing. Even though it was all a joke and I know that Joe could never actually break free from my mind, it makes me wonder. I'm serious when I say that I consider myself and Joe to be quite close. He's based on me, after all, and he exists in my mind. When I write down Joe on paper, that's him. When I write out the words: "I always try to be nice."
Those are Joe's words. He exists within them. When I write the character, I'm writing in my own words after all. Our words are the same thing.
Then, there's the fact that I couldn't remember the evening, but somehow managed to enact a character, even if it was just a partial re-enactment. I literally feel like Dr. Henry Jekyll, with the simplest application of chemicals, I managed to let a character from one of my stories out of its cage. I was still there, but it was a different me entirely. A side of me known as Messy Joe . . .

Please, I implore you, don't doubt me for a second. This is a true story. If I could make up something like this, I would put it into a piece of fiction, not pretend it was real. Never before have I experienced anything like this and I never will again. I am fairly certain that this was all just a hoax, A joke that I was playing on my friends . . . but it was a very effective one. Because sometimes, I feel like it's Joe that was playing the joke on me.
I don't know what came over me, but I try to avoid mixing chemicals these days, just to be safe. And so should you, especially if you're a writer. We're too prone to depression and alcoholism as it is without spilling our characters out onto the real world. It doesn't matter if it was real or not, because the fear in my friend's eyes wasn't.

You want to know the worst part about all this? I find it funny. It's a fascinating occurrence in my life, a story to tell. I won't do it again, but the fact that I managed to scare my friends so effectively, is funny to me. That's what's so crazy about this whole experience. It truly did blur the lines between Joe and me. We both exist in the same brain after all; speak the same words; feel the same feelings & have the same sense of humour. Perhaps, the reason why Joe could "come out" so easily, is because he's already here . . .
I guess this whole occurrence has made that line between fantasy and reality a little bit, shall we say . . . messy.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and until next time I'm going to make sure I remain the Absurd Word Nerd and nobody else . . .

Monday, 28 October 2013

Blackwater Casefile 'Three' - No. 3: The Mark of the Mysterious Mist

It was late afternoon and the sky was getting dark as Mr Blackwater crossed Riverside Drive, just beside the bridge.
  "Just here," says Cassandra, frowning deeply as she stood on the corner of the road, pointing down with a long, sharp fingernail. Blackwater walked over to her, and looked down at the patch of grass near the curb. The grass itself was a beautiful, lush green, but on closer inspection, the grass was stained brown. It looked like mud, but Blackwater knew it was blood. It had started to wash away with time and weather, but as Blackwater knelt down and followed the trail, it headed into the tall grass at the riverside, leading down into the water, past the riparian trees and into the river.
  "We've definitely found our crime scene," mutters Blackwater solemnly.
  "This is terrible," says Cassandra, kneeling down to feel the grass with a wrinkled hand, "it was a painful, slow death."
  "Don't!" snaps Blackwater. Cassandra recoiled her hand.
  "What is it?" she asks.
  "It could be connected to the ley-line," says Blackwater. "Magic follows lines. sigil-lines, water-lines, blood-lines; if this connects to the river, it would be alive with potent, natural magic. In fact, I'm certain that it is . . ."
Blackwater kneels down on the other side of the blood trail and leans his face close to it. Puckering his lips, he blows across the grass stained with blood. As he sits up, the grass barely moves until finally, as though time itself had slowed down, the dirty blades of grass slowly lilt and sway in the breeze, curling like slow dancers as they billow with Blackwater's breath.
  "My god . . ." mutters Cassandra.
  "The other victims disappeared without a trace," says Blackwater. "If the demon left this blood-stain, it did it on purpose."
  "But why?" asks Cassandra.
  "I don't know," says Blackwater, staring at the road, "the trail stops at the road . . ."
Blackwater stands up and follows the blood trail down towards the river.
  "Be careful, Donnie," says the witch, as he wanders into the tall grass. Using his umbrella to steady himself, he wades down towards the river. The slope grew steeper as he lowered himself down, the trail led through the grass, right to the water's edge. Blackwater stares into the river, and suddenly gasps. A face was staring straight back at him. He holds his umbrella in front of himself defensively, as the great gnarly face watches him, with its bright, yellow eyes. It slowly opens and closes its mouth, revealing twisted teeth.
  "Wait a moment," Blackwater mutters to himself. The face looked rather familiar. It wasn't a demon's face, it was a troll's. Holding his umbrella by the tip, Blackwater dips the handle of his umbrella into the water and hooks it around the some of the twisted branches, that surrounded the head like a jagged mane. It was a metre tall, water-logged and very heavy, but he manages to lift the troll's head out of the water. and grab onto one of the stronger branches with his hand. Blackwater turns back and makes his way back up to the grass.
  "Donnie?" calls out Cassandra.
  "It's alright," he calls back, holding up his discovery, "I found the troll's head."
  "In the river?" she asks, "Why would they throw it in the river?"
  "The demon must not need it any more," says Blackwater. "It's a bad sign, whatever it's doing, it's nearly done. But I have good news . . ."
He holds up the face for Cassandra to see.
  "I don't . . ." Cassandra starts to speak, then suddenly flinches, gasping and clutching her chest. The troll's mouth moves up and down again, it's yellow eyes darting around wildly. "It's alive?!"
  "The magic of the ley-line must have kept it alive. It's natural magic after all, the same as the troll's. If the demon was using this the whole time, the head must have witnessed something. It could tell me what we're looking for."
  "It can't speak . . ." says Cassandra, pointing at the mouth as it yammers up and down.
  "Of course not, it doesn't have a throat," says Blackwater, heading for the bridge, "but if I give it back to the troll, hopefully I can get some answers . . . and my car."
Blackwater holds the head in one hand and his umbrella in the other, walking it like a cane as he made his way onto the bridge.
  "It's too soon to summon a troll," she says, calling after him, "people might see in the daylight!"
  "That's why I'm going to him," says Blackwater, glancing back. "I'm sorry, but you can't join me."
  "I know, I'm not an idiot," she growls, "I won't cross running water like this, but I'll be waiting here for you to get back."
Blackwater nods and continues across the bridge, limping from the weight of the troll's head as he heads out of the town of Tumbulgum.

In the five minutes it took to cross the bridge, the afternoon sky was turning darker and darker, as a foreboding omen looming overheard. Across the bridge, Blackwater climbs up on the the small rise beside the road, leading into thick trees. He looked around, but he couldn't tell the troll from the trees in the fading darkness.
  "Troll?" he called out, although his voice caught in his throat somewhat. "Troll! I have your answer!"
There was silence a moment, before there was a distinctive crack! and crunch! Blackwater watched as the trees in the distance started moving, and the shape of the troll became more clear as it thundered through.
  "Blackwater . . ." groaned the beast, with a deep rumble in its throat, "you've returned so soon."
  "Yes. Your head was taken by a demon with scything claws, but it was discarded in the river."
With a thump and a thundering footstep, the troll steps up to Blackwater and reached out a twisted hand to grab the head.
  "I thought it was too late to be returned . . ." says the troll, taking the head and bringing it towards its neck, "but the power of the Tweed is ancient and strong . . ."
Turning the head around, the creatures tilts its connected head to the left, and closes its eyes. As it does, from the neck stump, small green saplings begin to sprout, and curling vines reach out eagerly towards the head. As the stump flourishes with green, the other head's eyes opened and the space between the severed head and the neck closed, sealing with bright, lush leaves and shrubbery.
With a gasp, the right head's yellow eyes open wide, and they look down at Mr Blackwater. Now connected, the troll looked lopsided, as the other head was smaller and covered in greenery, but the troll smiled none the less.
  "Thank you . . ." says the head, in a hoarse, scratchy voice, "I thought I would be drowning for an eternity . . ."
  "We're safe now," booms the left head.
  "Yes . . . but Donnie, your witch is not."
  "Excuse me?"
  "The reaper demon . . ." says the right head, lifting the right arm to point at the sun, "it burns in sunlight, but it serves a more powerful master . . ."
Blackwater sees where it is pointing, to see the sun, which was slowly disappearing behind a great shadow. In mere seconds, it would be enveloped.
  "A solar eclipse? It can't be . . ."
  "The demon lord's power is great. It can swallow the sun . . ."
  "Demon Lord? That's not good. But Cassandra, why is she in danger?"
  "The riverbank. The demon sleeps by the river," says the troll, pointing across the river, "in the shadow of the bridge . . ."
Horrified, Blackwater tries to look back across the water, but he can't see anything. He turns back to the troll.
  "I've paid the toll, I need my car, now!"
  "As you wish . . ." says the left head, turning back. Reaching into the thick leaves of a nearby tree, the troll retrieves the rusty, old Cadillac Seville from the branches.
Stepping over the little man, the troll places the car on the road and steps back. The back window was cracked & it was covered in leaves, but Blackwater didn't care, he just needed it to drive.
  "I need to cross the bridge!" he yells, getting in the front seat. As he throws his umbrella in the backseat, turns the key in the ignition and switches on the headlights, the troll places both hands on the road to send its power through the bridge. As soon as its done, the troll steps out of the way and Blackwater roars the engine and going flying down the road. In less than ten seconds, he'd crossed the bridge and come to a skidding halt. He leans on the horn then, engine still running, he grabs his umbrella and jumps out of the car.
  "Cassandra!" he calls out, racing to the rusty bloodstain on the corner, but he couldn't see her anywhere. He called out again and again, but she'd vanished. She'd been abducted like the others . . .

The reaper demon had to be taking her to the sugarcane field. It was the only possibility that made sense. Blackwater started to march back towards his car when, suddenly, his backseat exploded.
Ducking and grabbing his bowler hat, he saw the briefcase in his backseat explode, sending glass shards all throughout the inside of the car.  "What . . .? That's impossible . . ."
The instruments in his briefcase had reacted to a powerful magic, like they'd crossed a strong ley-line. But it made no sense, the car was sitting in the middle of Riverside Drive. Unless . . .
Looking down at the road, Blackwater holds up his umbrella, horizontally, and lets go. It falls towards the ground then stops still, hovering two inches above the blacktop. After a second, it shoots back up into his hands. The road was emanating magic like a ley-line.
  "Magic follows lines. Why didn't I see it before?!" yells Blackwater as he jumps in the front street and turns down Riverside Drive. He puts pedal to the floor and roars down the street. Riverside Drive lead directly to the sugarcane field.
Blackwater shifts up through the gears as fast as the old car can manage and speeds down the road. As the car approaches the corner of Gray Street, lightning strikes the road in front of the car. Blackwater jumps. swerving to stay on the road as more lightning sparks along the road, striking the double-lines down the middle of the road and cracking the air with a sound like exploding dynamite. Taking a deep breath, Mr Blackwater keeps calm and swerves around the road. Passing Fawcett Street, he started to grip the wheel tighter; he was almost there. Suddenly, the car starts to lift off the road.Cars parked at the shops along the road, started to float up into the air and the power lines along the right side flipped up and began hanging upside-down. As his car flew down the road, all Blackwater could do was pray.
A large tree by the side of the road was looming before him as his car sailed forwards. Then, his stomach leaps into his throat as gravity returned and the car dropped. With a drop that strained the suspension, the car hit the road, and Mr Blackwater swerved back into the left-hand lane.  As he drove past Government Road, he could see the sugarcane field off to the left. To avoid any more ley-line anomalies, Blackwater turns off the Riverside Drive and drives straight across an empty park, heading directly for the field.
The car rattles through the uneven parkland and rolls over Tweed Valley Way, before Blackwater stops the car and jumps out, umbrella held out before him.
Above the field, a storm was brewing. Deep, dark, purple clouds, vicious and flickering with power. As he runs into the field, Blackwater sees orange sparks. Where the field met Riverside Drive, electricity was spiking through the metal barrier, from the sheer magnitude of the magic flowing through it. But in the field itself, sugarcane was burning, filling the air with the sickly sweet incense of burning sugar and sending up thick smoke to join the stormclouds.
Blackwater runs straight into the storm. As he approaches the burning cane, he sees that the fire is localized in one large circle which crossed the other five crop circles. Peering through the smoke, he saw Cassandra, lying on a scolded patch of dirt in the middle. He dove through the blaze after her.
Within the enormous summoning circle it was very bright, but the sky above was a dark haze and the atmosphere sweet but choking, like a caramel caught in your throat. Blackwater heads straight for Cassandra, who was lying in the middle of the circle, almost ten metres away. He glances around the darkness, but there were no signs of the reaper demon. When he reaches Cassandra's side, he saw that she was covered in blood, with a cut bleeding from her head and slices up her arms. Blackwater checks her pulse and it feels strong.
  "Come on, Cassandra!" says Blackwater, trying to lift her up, but she wasn't moving. Gritting his teeth, he lifted her and put her arm around his shoulder, then grabbed her by the waist with his left arm. So close to another person, he felt uncomfortable, but he didn't want his friend to die. He tried to move and she tripped and stumbled, but he caught her and held her. "I need you to walk, I can't drag you."
  "Donnie?" Cassandra mutters, finding her feet.
  "Yes, it's me. Now walk with me," says Blackwater. She complies and the two head for the edge of the circle. It was slow at first, stumbling along, but as she regained her senses, the pair started to walk, then run. "Almost there, come on!"
Suddenly, something dropped from the sky. Just in front of them, less than three metres from the edge of the circle, the reaper demon hit the ground and spread its leathery wings, wide. It looked like a severe burn victim, covered with burnt black skin and shiny, red scars, and it looked human except for the enormous wings and the sharp, curved talons that grew from its wrists instead of hands which curled downward, looking like a praying mantis. The two try to step back from the creature, but it was difficult to walk back side-by-side. Blackwater held up his umbrella like a fencing sword and Cassandra held out her free hand, palm facing towards the creature.
Glancing at the two, the creature raised both its talons high in the air. Then, in one swift motion, jammed the two of them into its own belly. Then, flicking its arms apart, it disembowelled itself in front of them, blood flicking outwards, spattering onto both of them. Then, the creature collapsed, bleeding into the dirt.
  "Dead?" mutters Cassandra, "it committed suicide?"
  "Not suicide," says Blackwater, pointing at the ground with an umbrella, as he lead Cassandra around the body, "sacrifice."
As they headed for the edge of the circle, Cassandra looked at the blood and saw droplets speed along the ground, leaving a trail behind them as they spread out further into the circle, forming some kind of shape.
Reaching the line of fire, Blackwater helped his friend to step over the fire without getting burned and was about to step through himself when suddenly the fire extinguished. Blackwater tried to take a step, but as his foot reached the threshold, it hit an invisible barrier that made him trip. He fell forward and his left hand hit the air, and he stood for a moment, leaning against it.
  "Cassandra?" he says. She covered her mouth.
  "The symbol's complete," she says. Blackwater looks back. Sure enough, the demon's blood had converged into a large symbol that looked like a mixture of geometric shapes and Arabic scripture. But nothing seemed to be happening. Blackwater turns back to the witch.
  "Can you break the barrier?"
  "Of a circle this large?" says Cassandra, shaking her head, "I'll try, but . . ."
As she reaches down and places her bloodied fingers to the ground, Blackwater looks back into the circle. He couldn't see the demon lord anywhere . . . but when he looked at the viscera of the sacrificed demon, he saw that the smoke in the air was moving towards it. moving slowly, it looked like a small tornado, funneling into the monster. as it did, the body started to disintegrate, literally evaporating.
  "It's creating a body for itself . . ." says Blackwater, pressing against the barrier. "Cassandra, you have to break this seal before it forms. We can still stop it."
  "It's too strong!" she cries, as the barrier in front of her flickers slightly, "I can't break this, it's bound by blood and sacrifice!"
Blackwater shakes his head. glancing at the burnt circle in the dirt. It was sitting atop soft, fertile soil. The barrier held them back, but all he had to do was break the line. Taking a step back, Blackwater held his umbrella in two hands like a spear and drove it into the soil. It didn't go in very deep once it struck the barrier, but the soil shifted, creating a lump in that part of the line. Blackwater did it again, jamming the metal tip into the dirt. again, the soil shifted. As he lifted it, the soil caved into the tiny hole, crumbling some of the char and ash, making the air of the barrier ripple, but not break.
  "Yes!" cries Cassandra, she places her hands on that part of the barrier, sending jagged, purple electricity across its surface, "keep going, I'll try to pry it open!"
Blackwater started stabbing continuously at the ground, digging into the dirt so vigorously his hat fell from his head and sweat dripped down his face. The line wasn't very thick, but it could have been a mile wide for how slow they were progressing. Blackwater looks at the demon's corpse. It was nothing but slowly disintegrating bones, but the smoke was no longer black, it was turning a sickly green. It also seemed to be moving towards him. He gritted his teeth and went back to digging. fraction by fraction, the barrier was starting to shudder and flicker like shifting glass.
  "Donnie!" cries out Cassandra. As she does, the green mist wraps itself around Mr Blackwater's shoulder. He suddenly screams out in pain. With one thrust, he drove his umbrella into the ground then, grabbing the handle with both hands, levered it upwards. As he did, the barrier seemed to vibrate, making the view of the outside world wobble, until with a deep CRACK! like uprooting an ancient tree, the barrier split and vanished.
The mist started to dissipate, but the storm above cracked with thunder. Lightning struck the symbol and the enormous cloud started to funnel into the centre of the circle. It was starting to dissipate as the wind picked up, so faster and faster, the smoke rushed through the barrier between this world and the next. The rushing sound started as a whistle but developed into a great roar as though the dark spirit within it were wailing in pain.
Then, as the last wisp of smoke slipped into the ground, the sound stopped and the two were left in silence. Light returned to the sky, in the form of the setting sun.
  "We did it?" says Cassandra, bewildered.
  "Yes," says Blackwater. "We'll need to destroy this symbol just to be safe, but I believe we've stopped it."
Before he could stop her, Cassandra grabbed him in a hug.
  "I thought I was dead, Donnie. You've saved my life. Again."
  "Just doing my job," he says stiffly. He awkwardly reaches around her with an arm and lightly taps her on the shoulder.

The next day, Blackwater stood outside his friend's house, packing his things in the boot.
  "Are you sure I can take your crystal ball? And these divining rods must cost a fair penny," says Mr Blackwater
  "It's the least I could do," replies Cassandra, rubbing the bandages on her arms. "You lost your equipment crossing the bridge to save me, after all. Besides, I don't use that stuff any more. You're very old-fashioned, Donnie."
  "Well, thank you." he says, closing the boot. "I hope you're not in trouble again, but if you are, don't hesitate to call."
  "You could come around when the world's not in danger."
  "Yes," says Blackwater, frowning. "Well, I'm quite busy. I'll see if I can make the time."
  "I hope you do. It's lonely down here in Tumbulgum."
  "I'll try," he replies. Then, with a nod, he gets into his car and starts the engine. Cassandra gives him a wave and he pulls out of the driveway. To avoid another toll, he drove south-west, hoping to bypass the river altogether.

. . .

As soon as he was away from any town population, and sure no one was around to see, Mr Blackwater pulled over his car to the side of the road and got out. He looked absolutely terrified. No matter how many sacrifices you make, you need to call a demon by name to summon them. The only possible explanation was that the demon lord the reaper devil was trying to summon had no name. Blackwater only knew of one demon lord like that . . .
Opening the boot he opened his broken briefcase and took out a small hip-flask, uncapping the lid. Then, he pulled back the arm of his jacket, rolled up his sleeve and poured the contents on his arm, which looked like some kind of oil with herbs in it. As the oil touched his upper arm, it started to bubble and smoke, making him cry out in pain, but it soon subsided. It was his arm where the creature had touched him. He'd told Cassandra that they stopped it breaking through. They didn't. It had fled once the barrier had broken, but only after it had broken through.
Blackwater took a handkerchief from his bag and wiped the oil from his arm. As he did, a mark was revealed on his skin. A pink, shiny burn where the mist had reached out and grabbed him. Wrapped around his upper bicep was a burn in the shape of a human hand. As he rolled down his sleeve and replaced his jacket, Blackwater closed his eyes and exhaled. The demon lord without a name had seen him. It had touched his skin and left his mark. If it ever broke through into this world again, it would come looking for him.
Closing the boot of his car, Mr Blackwater climbed into the front seat and drove as far away from that town as he could. Hoping against hope that he would never face such horror again . . .

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Blackwater Casefile 'Three' - No. 2: Circles in the Sugar Cane Field

It was bright, early morning on the corner of Tweed Valley Drive and Riverside Drive. Even the roiling grey clouds overhead couldn't hinder the bright, luxurious green of the grass and paddocks everywhere. Along the patch beside Riverside Drive, a man and a woman came walking. Mr Blackwater, wearing the same clothes as the night before, was walking with an umbrella despite the weather. Beside him, Cassandra O'Leary wore a long, black dress, moth-eaten around the hem and a grey, lace cardigan. On her feet, she wore rubber thongs, exposing the long toenails on her feet. The two were in the middle of a heated discussion.
  " . . . I can't believe that," says Mr Blackwater.
  "Why ever not? I'm a witch, you're a paranormal investigator. We've seen monsters beyond belief. What's to say that aliens don't exist?"
  "Horror Investigator. And it's preposterous, if they interfered this drastically, then there would be more evidence of them."
  "There is evidence! Sightings of flying saucers. Even aliens across the world-"
  "Alien sightings are nothing more than changeling sightings. You should know that."
  "What about the Old Ones? They're alien entities."
  "Alien to this plane of existence . . ." mutters Mr Blackwater, looking uncomfortable, "they're not extraterrestrial."
The two stop to look both ways before crossing the road, towards an open field of green sugarcane which had barely grown higher than a metre.
  "Well, this is it," says Cassandra, "I'll let you see and judge for yourself, then. There's a great deal here that would prove me right."
There was no fence, just a slight ditch alongside the road. The two of them cross it and start to wade through the greenery, but it didn't take long for Mr Blackwater to see the first circle.
Less than ten metres from the road, within the field, there was a circle where the sugarcane was not standing upright. Instead, it was all laying down flat on the ground, leaning down in a clockwise spiral, creating a perfectly symmetrical circle that was about six metres across.
  "This is it?" says Mr Blackwater. "First glance, this looks like a hoax to me. Some kids just bent it down."
  "Take a second glance," snaps Cassandra, pointing another accusing fingernail towards him. "This is sugarcane, it doesn't bend down."
Blackwater kneels down to inspect. Sure enough, under the leaves, each plant was woody and thicker than his thumb. Yet, it wasn't snapped. At the base, it grew sideways as though all of the plants had decided to lie down. At the edge of the circle, he also noticed rusty-coloured stains in the dirt.
  "This is blood, isn't it?"
  "Yes," replies Cassandra, "police couldn't identify it. It's human, but they don't know whose. That's all I know about it."
  "It's a small town," mutters, Mr Blackwater, "it's unlikely all the townsfolk would be in the system . . . this is just stupid."
  "What are you thinking, Donnie?"
  "I think this doesn't make any sense . . ." says Mr Blackwater, "It's like a summoning circle, a sigil to call forth a demon. But it's too simple, too small."
  "If it's a demon circle, the blood must be a sacrifice, that would give it more power," suggests the witch.
  "No matter how many sacrifices you make, you need to call a demon by name and you'd need something powerful to puncture the barrier between worlds. Most summoning circles have - at the very least - their demon's signature around the outside, and some kind of sigil in the middle . . . didn't you say there were more circles like this?"
   "Yes, there's one over there," she says, turning and pointing, "And There. And two more I can't quite see, off in the distance, there."
  "They're all in this field?" asks Blackwater, standing up.
  "Yep, five in total." says Cassandra.
  "Do any of them have more markings? This could have just been a practice circle, getting ready for the real thing."
  "They're all identical to this one," says Cassandra, shaking her head. "ring of blood, twisted anti-clockwise . . . I don't know how they did it."
  "Isn't it magic?" says Blackwater.
  "No kind of magic I've ever seen," says Cassandra. "To do this, you'd have to manipulate the way the plants grew. It's dabbling in the very essence of life and nature, changing it at its core, it's way beyond the ability of any magic user I've ever seen."
  "So, not some young satanist practicing his sigils, then?"
  "Definitely not."
Blackwater looks at the circle again, stroking his beard with a hand. As he does, he starts to frown deeply.
  "Oh no . . ."
  "What is it, Donnie?" asks Cassandra, walking over and placing a hand on his shoulder. As she touches him, Blackwater flinches, but she still manages to wrap her fingers around his shoulder, careful so as not to scratch him with her nails.
  "There's only one thing that I can think of that could do something like this." says Blackwater, looking back at the circle, "to affect nature, you surely must be a part of nature. Trolls have the ability to stem the flow of magic through a ley-line. Since ley-lines are natural phenomena - magic flowing through the natural veins of the earth - controlling plants would be simple for them."
  "You think the troll did it?"
  "No, but I think his head did. Whoever stole the troll head used it to cross the bridge, they must have used it to do this as well."
  "Then they'd have to be a very talented magic-user . . . but that doesn't explain why they'd make a useless circle in a field, let alone five of them . . ."
Blackwater walks into the centre of the circle and kneels down, searching for blood or a symbol of some kind.
  "Wait a minute . . . you said there were five circles?"
  "Yes," she replies, "They're all around this field."
  "But six people went missing. One that showed up in the river?"
  "Yes. They found him not too far from here, actually," she says.
  "There might be some other circle somewhere, or a clue to explain them. Where's the body now?"
  "He's in the morgue, of course," says Cassandra, "Why?"
  "Because we need to see it," says Blackwater, determined. At those words, the witch shakes her head.
  "Uh-uh. Oh no we don't!" she says, shaking a finger. "I've been through enough strife with you and dead bodies!"
  "Come now, Cassandra, that was hardly my fault."
  "No way," she says, heading towards the road. "I'm too old for this."
  "Cassandra, there's some kind of powerful sorcerer out there, with control of a troll's head and that body could be the only way to find them."
Cassandra stops walking and stands there for a moment before turning back to look at her old friend, but she looked very scared.
  "I will make sure you're perfectly safe. Now, please, can you break an old friend into a morgue, one more time?"

The Murwillumbah District Hospital was a 20 minute drive away, but it was almost midday before Cassandra and Mr Blackwater managed to get into the morgue.
  "What will we do if we're found in here?" asks Cassandra.
  "I assumed you could just hypnotize them . . ."
  "Donnie," scolds Cassandra, "I can't do that."
  "Which of these is the body we're looking for?" asks Blackwater, ignoring her trepidation. He stood before a silver wall, patterned with little rectangular doors, each containing a drawer for storing cadavers.
  "That one," she says, pointing lazily at one of the lower doors. Without hesitation, Blackwater opens the door and slides the tray out. Covered by only a thin cloth, there lay a man in his late thirties. He looked rather thin and ordinary with a flat chest, but his arms and legs were toned with muscle from years of manual labour. His skin was sun-damaged and weathered and his shoulders were covered in curly, little hairs some of which were going grey. He looked almost peaceful, except for the cut across his neck,
  "Must be a farmer," mutters Blackwater.
  "His name's Harold," says Cassandra, still standing by the door, not daring to come closer. "I've met him at the markets once or twice."
Blackwater peels back the cloth over the man's chest and sighs heavily. The man's chest had four other cuts in it. They were spread wide from the waterlogged the skin, and they were cut unevenly crisscrossing his chest in foot-long gouges. grabbing with the cloth, so as not to touch the dead man's skin, Mr Blackwater peels apart one of the gouges and leans down to peer inside.
  "My goodness . . . this was a curved blade."
Raising his other hand, he mimes holding a knife and slowly moves his hand back and forth over each wound, twisting his wrist around trying to imitate the cut. He gives up with a sigh,
  "No human could do this with a blade. I'm afraid we're dealing with a demon, or some kind of construct with talons, curved and sharp. Almost like a small scythe, or a sickle."
  "Any scars?" asks Cassandra, turning to peak out the door, "any blood?"
  "I'm afraid not," says Blackwater, glancing over the body, "the river must have washed away that evidence . . ."
Cassandra looks back at him, she looked terrified.
  "I can't do it."
  "Cassandra, please," says Mr Blackwater, "we may even get a glimpse of the killer."
  "There's no we," she snaps, angrily. "You won't have to look through a dead man's eyes, and watch the demon that butchered him!"
  "Cassie, I'm sorry," says Blackwater, genuinely, "the troll has possession of my psychometry kit. If I could do this without you, I would. I swear to you."
Cassandra closes her eyes, takes a breath and steps forward. Eyes closed, she walks over to her friend and kneels down on the other side of the body. She sits there for a moment, building courage, before she slowly raises her right hand and holds it a few inches from the dead man's face. She grabs the man's face, her hand covering his eyes with her nails digging into his skin. Suddenly, she gasps and opens her eyes.
She stared into space, blindly.
  "The sky!" she gasps, "my throat! I can't breathe! Bleeding!"
  "Before that, Cassandra. Stay with me!" Mr Blackwater looked concerned, he reached out a hand to comfort her, but he didn't touch her, he wasn't brave enough.
Cassandra blinks slowly, and struggles to swallow a lump in her throat.
  "The river . . . it's dragging me! Blood on the grass!"
  "Can you see it?"
  "Monster! Cut my throat, I see the sky . . . dragging me into the river!"
  "Can you see the monster?"
Tears start to well in Cassandra's eyes, she shakes her head and lets go of the dead man's face. As she does, she gasps for breath, as though she'd been drowning. Blackwater stands up and walks around to her. He kneels down beside her, but he still doesn't touch her. He couldn't bring himself to.
  "I couldn't see his face," says Cassandra, "The creature cut his neck, his head rolled back . . ."
  "I'm sorry, Cassandra," says Blackwater.
  "Don't be," she says, catching her breath. "I saw the bridge. The monster killed him at the bridge . . ."

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Blackwater Casefile 'Three' - No. 1: The Toll of the Tumbulgum Troll

It was a dark and lonely night, along Terranora Road. On one side, the road was surrounded by trees and greenery. On the other, the road leapt over the river Tweed in a magnificent, arching bridge, entering the town of Tumbulgum. With the moon hidden behind a mass of grey clouds, the scene was quiet and serene.
Until, around a curve in the road, a pair of headlights peaked through the darkness and slowly approached the bridge. The headlights belonged to a rusty old, black 1982 Cadillac Seville, meandering its way down Terranora Road, peeling through paddocks and pastures. As it came within 20 metres of the bridge, it started to slow down, until just 10 metres away, it came to a stop in the middle of the road and with a clunk of its parking brake, it switched off.
After a moment, the driver's door opened and an old man, who looked to be in his mid-to-late fifties, stepped out of the car. He wore a black, felt sports jacket over a business shirt, despite the fact that it was summertime, as well as a pair of unironed, black business trousers and unpolished leather shoes. His face was dominated by a pair of glasses with small, but thick, circular lenses on a thin wire frame. He also had a salt-and-pepper beard, hiding his lined and weathered face. and on top of his head, his messy, graying hair was kept neat under a small, black bowler hat.
The man glanced at the bridge for a moment before reaching back into his car and retrieving from the passenger's seat, a neatly-folded, black and white umbrella with a hooked, wooden handle. Closing the car door behind him, he approached the bridge, walking the umbrella like a cane.
The man walked onto the first section of the bridge, before it came to the water, and stopped at a seam in the bitumen, where the bridge connected to the road. He placed the metal tip of his umbrella at a gap in the seam and swiftly whipped it across it. As it raced along the seam in the road, the umbrella gave an unnatural flare of bright, orange sparks.
  "I thought so . . ." muttered the man, turning around. He returned to his car, but stood just a metre in front of it before he stopped and turned to look at the bridge again. He then held the handle of the umbrella with two hands, pointing down, and struck the ground with it three times.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Upon the third tap, there was the groan of swaying trees off to the side of the road. The man turned towards the source of the sound.
  "Yes, you there," says the man, his voice quavering slightly as he called out, "I'm calling on you. Show yourself!"
With a deep growl, More trees swayed and swished then thud! the ground shook with the force of a mighty footstep. Thud! thump! Crack! Something was moving through the forest. As a large silhouette, four storeys tall and vaguely humanoid, came into view, the man managed to stand up tall despite the shaking ground and his panicked heartbeat. A great hand pulled aside a tree, and the creature stepped onto a road with a crunch! The leg looked like a massive tree-trunk, covered in moss and vines, except that it was attached to an even larger tree in the shape of a man with twisted tree knobs and stray twigs, and a hunchback covered in branches and leaves. With another crash! it dropped its other leg onto the road and turned to face the little man. The face of the creature was crooked and gnarly, like a twisted, overgrown log, except for the enormous, prominent wooden nose; bright, yellow eyes and rows of snaggled and jagged teeth that he saw as the creature opened its mouth to speak.
  "Who dare disturb my slumber?" demanded the troll, speaking with a rumbling, booming bass, that sounded more like thunder than a voice.
  "I am Donald Malcolm Blackwater, Horror Investigator," says the man, sounding confident, despite his shaking knees. "I was hoping to cross your bridge . . ."
 The troll raises a small clump of moss over its eye, that was clearly indicative of an eyebrow, and leans down towards Mr Blackwater. It inhaled deep through its nose, rustling the man's hair as it sniffed the air about him.
  "You are no magician . . ." growls the monster, "Why did you awaken me?"
  "It is true, I don't use magic, myself . . ." says Mr Blackwater, "however, many of the tools of my trade do, and they are very sensitive. I'm afraid that, were I to cross a ley-line such as this major river, it would damage or dispell them."
The troll considers this for a moment, looking down at the little man with curiosity.
  "If you wish to cross my bridge, you must pay the toll."
Mr Blackwater sighs heavily.
  "I've little to offer you . . . what is the toll?"
  "To cross the bridge, you pay the fee; of this I give you options, three." says the troll, raising three twisted fingers in a routine that it had obviously practised.
"Whether coin or brick or Gold; with money, passage may be sold.
If gold is deemed too high a price; I accept one Soul as Sacrifice.
If wisdom high, yet payment little; then answer me a vexing Riddle.
If of these options, none are paid; then leave now or you will be Slayed."

  "Alright then." says Blackwater, clearing his throat, "I'm afraid I don't have any money, and I couldn't live with myself if I offered a sacrifice."
  "I accept animal sacrifice," offers the troll.
  "Yet still, I have none to offer," says Blackwater, "However . . . I am a Horror Investigator. I consider it my duty to find the truth. Ask me any question and, if it has an answer, I will find it."
  "Any question?" asks the troll, again raising a mossy eyebrow.
  "If it has an answer, yes."
The troll seems to consider this for a moment, looking up at the sky before bending back down to look Mr Blackwater in the eye.
  "Donald Malcolm Blackwater," says the troll, pointing an accusing branch, "if you wish to cross my bridge, then you must answer me this one question: Who Took My Head?"
For a moment, Mr Blackwater looks quite taken aback. He clears his throat.
  "Excuse me . . . this is not an answer and I apologize if this seems like a foolish question, but isn't that your head?" asks Mr Blackwater, pointing towards the troll's nose with his umbrella. In response, the troll leans down towards him. Blackwater throws up his arms, for fear the creature was about to crush him, but as the troll stopped moving and its leaves stopped rustling, Blackwater again opens his eyes to see what stood before him. Leaning down at this angle, Blackwater could clearly see the creature's right shoulder, from which protruded what looked like a smooth tree-stump with a hollow down the middle, but was actually a neck-stump, perfectly cut and still weeping sap.
  "A two-headed troll . . ." mutters Blackwater.
  "Yes," barks the troll, the volume of its voice making his insides flutter in such close proximity to its mouth. The troll then stood up straight. "Who is responsible for this?"
Readjusting his jacket, Blackwater stands up tall and taps his umbrella on the ground nervously.
  "It's a difficult question . . ." mutters Blackwater, looking around. There was nothing but trees and road around him, with farmland behind. "Well, it's obvious to me that there's no one around on this side of the river to have committed such a crime. They must have fled to the town across the river. Of course, with such an important part of your person which would therefore be inter-twined with your magic, the head itself could be used to force passage across your bridge."
  "Who took it?" demands the troll, cutting right to the chase.
  "I'm afraid I can't answer your question just yet," says Blackwater.
  "Whoever took your head will have crossed the river. The only way I'll be able to find them, and provide you with their identity, is if I were to enter the town," says Mr Blackwater, pointing across the bridge.
The troll shakes his head.
  "No . . . you're trying to trick me. You want me to let you through before you pay the toll!"
  "Not at all," says Blackwater, "as I said, I am not a magician. I don't need you to stem the flow of the ley-line before I cross. I will cross the bridge alone and return with your answer."
The troll considers this a moment, scratching the bark off its chin with a giant hand.
  "How do I know you'll come back?"
  "I'll leave my car here," says Mr Blackwater. "In fact, you hold onto it as collateral. If I don't come back, you can keep it, and all of the artefacts and tools within."
The troll nods its head.
  "I accept this proposal . . ."
With one mighty hand, the troll leans forward, reaches over Mr Blackwater's head and grasps its fingers around the car. The troll tightens its grip and Blackwater flinches as he hears the back window crack, then the troll lifts the car off the ground and starts to walk towards the forest. Thud! Crunch! The troll pushes its way back through the trees and disappears into the darkness.
  "All things considered, that went rather well . . ." Blackwater mutters to himself. Then, using his umbrella like a walking stick, he begins to cross the bridge into the Town of Tumbulgum.

Half an hour later, Mr Blackwater was tapping on the front door with the handle of his umbrella, when it suddenly opened. In the doorway stood an old lady, perhaps in her seventies, with long white hair that flowed down to the small of her back, where it was dark brown at the tips. She was wearing a pale-green dressing gown over a pink nightdress. Her feet were bare, showing off her long toenails.
  "Took you bloody long enough," says the woman, pointing an accusing finger with a long, cruel fingernail.
  "I'm sorry, Cassandra," says Mr Blackwater, stepping inside, "I was held up by a troll."
  "At the bridge?" she asks, leading the way into the kitchen. "Why would he bother you? Cup of tea?"
  "Some of my equipment uses magic, I bartered for passage. No, thank you. "
  "Well, I just stay this side of the Tweed River," she says, pouring herself a cup from the already boiling kettle, "I don't want to risk facing a troll."
  "Right," says Mr Blackwater, leaning his umbrella against the wall as he sits at the kitchen table. "Well, I'm in his debt now. Somebody stole his head, and I have to find out who it is."
Cassandra sits across the table from him and looks him in the eye.
  "Why are you looking at me? I didn't take it."
  "Could you help me find it?"
  "With what? Troll head means Troll magic. I can't pretend to understand how trolleri works, Donnie. Let alone sense it. And I don't know anyone around here that would have stolen it, either. There are no other witches around here, or monsters. If there were, I wouldn't have needed you to come all the way down here, to help me with this problem."
  "Ah yes, the problem," says Donald, leaning forward, "your message was somewhat vague. Something about people going missing?"
  "Yes," says Cassandra, sipping her tea, "I've never heard of anything like it. Six people have gone missing, although one showed up dead in the river, waterlogged and cut up bad. The only thing left behind are these circles with their blood."
  "Circles of blood?"
  "Yes, in the fields. I don't know how else to say this, Donnie: I think there are aliens in this town and they've been abducting people . . ."

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Hunter's Guide to Monsters - Chapter Three

We fear evil, we fear monsters & we fear death. For all three of these, you need look no further than those who have died and been resurrected as undead. Today, we'll be taking a closer look at our monster of the evening, the 'ZOMBIE':

Zombie /'zombee/ n. 1. Occult A dead body brought to life by a supernatural force. 2. A person thought to be like the walking dead, in having no independent judgement, intelligence, etcetera. Also, zombi.

3. Zombies
  by Hunter Jeremiah

The most disrespectful beast I have ever faced would have to be the zombie. In the business of hunting monsters, I have lost many of my friends. Friends, family & fellow hunters have and will continue to die in this business. So for anyone to disgrace the remains of these fallen soldiers by bringing unnatural life back into their corpse is nothing short of sinful.
It is nearly impossible to disguise a zombie. Their bodies will be rotting, their faces blank, their hair falling out, their movements stressed or mechanical and they are often covered in blood, detritus, ritual scarification, grime or bugs. Then, of course, the smell of decaying flesh is inescapable. Depending on the age of the zombie, their smell can be noticeable as far as 50 feet away.
These creatures are abhorrent in every way, and as such they are to be killed on sight. In fact, even non-Hunters are recommended to dispose of these creatures if they are willing and able.
Just remember, that if you see the face and the soul decayed of beloved friends to rest been laid, with last respects already paid - you can't doubt yourself for a second; there is no life, love or soul in these creatures, only death.

The most important thing you need to know about zombies is that they are not all the same. The methods of propagating zombies vary widely and they are often difficult rituals to perform; as such, it is very easy to get the processes wrong and create something even worse than a reanimated corpse. Also, due to their decomposition, many zombies will develop differently with different disabilities over time. You cannot react to all zombies the same and expect the same result.
Contrary to popular belief, not all zombies can change their victims into a zombie. This kind of zombie is the result of a poorly performed reanimation. However, because the accident that creates infectious zombies is a common one, it is safe to assume that all zombies have the potential to create more zombies. The same can be said of the ravenous brain-eating zombie and the stumbling, shuffling zombies; they are either mutations of the zombie curse, or zombies that have decomposed beyond control.
Truth be told, when the rituals and hocus pocus are performed correctly, a zombie is not a mindless monster. Zombies are nothing more than tools created to serve as a proxy, servant or soldier for their creator (or even, in rare instances, a pet). The creator of a zombie can be almost anything - a sorcerer, a sage or even the simplest student of the occult - but for the sake of simplicity, Hunters always refer to them as Necromancers. When a necromancer creates a zombie, they usually have some form of control over it. This may be in the form of a mental or spiritual link; an artefact such as a poppet (also known as a voodoo doll) or charm; a grimoire, a book of magic or even some kind of spoken cue like a trigger word.
In this way the actions of the zombie will be controlled by a necromancer, and they will do anything commanded of them, within the capabilities of that particular zombie. In general, a zombie can walk, stand up straight, grab things & use simple tools as directed. In exceptionally crafted zombies, they can achieve running, talking, writing & even remote casting.

The best way to think of zombies is like dogs. Zombies do as their necromancer commands them, but like a loyal dog as much as they do as they're told, they do have a simple mind of their own. Those that have attempted to study Zombie Psychology have all been killed, but we do know this of their mentality:
- Zombies Like Moving. They prefer to walk around, even if it means walking in circles. They especially like to wander around, and if they can't do this (and have working vocal chords) they will groan. The only time they stand still is if something else is keeping them occupied.
- Zombies Like Zombies. When a zombie comes across another zombie, they will either start walking with each other or walk circles around one another. Sometimes they will groan together. However, if one zombie bites another or in some way hurts them or makes them fall over, they will attack one another.
Zombies Like Biting. They will bite anything they can put in their mouth, including their own fingers. For this reason, many necromancers sew their zombie's lips shut as a precaution; especially if a zombie is of the infectious kind.
- Zombies Hate People. When a zombie comes across a human, it will react aggressively, either shoving them or hitting them. In extreme cases they may lunge at them, bite them or bludgeon them. Some theorize this is because they are in pain and are defensive, some believe they are territorial & some believe that they remember being alive and are "jealous" of the living. But as a Hunter, all that matters is that they attack us, so we must remain vigilant.

If a necromancer ever loses control of their zombie, then it will act on these instincts naturally. In smaller numbers, they are relatively harmless; however, the risk of infection - or discovery by those kept ignorant by the Silence - is too great a threat to be left unchecked.
Of course, once a zombie has been dealt with, there is still the problem of the necromancer themselves. In most instances, this is out of our hands. It is to be dealt with by local wards or casting authorities. Unless the necromancer is identified as a Demon, TrollWitch, or some other powerful, supernatural monster referred to in this guide; in which case, you should deal with them via the methods outlined within the relevant chapter.

To stay safe in the presence of a zombie, there are a selection of guidelines that one should keep in their mind at all times:
  • Stay in Control - Zombies under a necromancer's direct control are incredibly dangerous. If a zombie is moving deliberately & cleverly; evacuate, do not engage.
  • Know your Foe - All zombies are uniquely decayed & created, so observe yours closely and take note of its abilities, behaviour and vulnerabilities.
  • Destroy the Head - Destroying the brain almost always works. Yet even if this fails, a headless zombie is quite impotent; but as a precaution - Keep your Distance.
  • No Rest in Pieces - A dismembered zombie is not always a safe zombie. A decapitated head may still bite & body parts may yet be mobile. 
  • Double-Tap - Make sure zombies stay down when you put them down. If a zombie (or the recently deceased) is at the risk of infection, destroy the brain.
  • Zombies are Stupid - They don't understand danger, fire, traps, pain, doors, cages or weapons. Use your intelligence to fight them, because they can't.
  • Know Your Way Out - Zombies don't die in daylight or run away & they can take years to rot. If things turn sour don't wait it out, you'll need an escape route.
  • Move Quickly - Running is good. Even zombies capable of running are prone to trip if they chase you. Just ensure you're running away from danger, not into it.
  • Keep them Busy - Zombies only think of one thing at a time, if you distract them with something loud or bright or tasty, you can use the opportunity to run.
Zombies are relatively simple to Hunt and for the most part needs little advice as zombies alone are not that dangerous. What is dangerous is either when zombies spread (via plague) or if they are under the direct control of a necromancer. Direct control of a zombie is when they have utter control of the zombie's body, allowing them to act precisely (as opposed to Passive control, whereby a zombie does as instructed, via its own means).
Uncontrolled and even some passive zombies are easy. Follow the Smell, Destroy the Brain, Don't Walk into an Ambush, etcetera; generally Hunters can follow the simplest of the "Protection" guidelines [listed above] and deal with their zombie Prey. However, when under control of a necromancer, it becomes an entirely different beast.
The resilience of a zombie paired with the wisdom of a human being is a dangerous combination. So, the following advice applies to cases of Hunting a zombie under the control of a necromancer.

Zombies are used for all manner of things, theft, murder & assault. Yet, due to their restricted movement, most murder attempts never succeed beyond that, often leaving you with a living victim. In this instance, keep any victims close to you, or your necromancer may strike again. According to Hunting by-laws, such victims are effectively unSilenced, so inform them as best you can about what they need to know, particularly the Protection guidelines.
Get their eyewitness account and interview them about any strange occurrences in town, anyone that wants to hurt them, the usual detective rigmarole. In the rare cases of a murdered victim, you should interrogate their close friends and family in this manner and try to identify the murder weapon as evidence.
Generally, zombies are easy to find, due to their visage, vocalizations and abhorrent smell and most necromancers cannot disguise that. Some can mask the smell somewhat, but none can truly stop zombies from decaying, so keep an eye out for rotten detritus at the location of the crime. Remember, zombies are messy, they don't clean up after a crime, they leave evidence everywhere. Sometimes passively-controlled zombies leave a trail of careless mess in their wake, from bumping into walls and dragging their feet. Even in the instance of a zombie with an accurate stride, they may leave a trail of blood, footprints or other evidence behind. Also, if you're quick to report to the crime scene, breathe in deep. The smell of rot tends to linger.
Also keep in mind, zombies are dead bodies. They are not easy to acquire. Check local reports of murder, kidnapping or grave-robbing, and investigate any cemeteries, morgues or even hospices for missing people or bodies. It may also be prudent to check eyewitness accounts to identify the previous owner of the zombie's animated body, it could well be the recently deceased body of your necromancer's family or friends.
When it comes to suspects, The most important thing to know about Hunting controlled Zombies is that the necromancer and the zombie are effectively the same thing. The zombie will act on the whims of their necromancer, directed by their motives, their desires & their knowledge. If a zombie tries to kill someone, it's because the necromancer wanted them dead. If a zombie tries to steal something, it is because the necromancer wanted it. Investigate the motives of locals, any suspicious persons related to the crime at hand and anyone with a prior criminal record. Reports of other supernatural phenomena are also useful, as necromancers are often the type to flaunt their arcane abilities, you need to know how to make a zombie before you can use one, after all. Also, remember that the necromancer has to hide their zombie, take care of it & command it, so if you can find the zombie, you're not far from finding the necromancer, and vice versa.

In every case, your goal is to kill a zombie, not capture. However, if you must capture them for the purposes of finding the necromancer or some other reason I cannot fathom, the method is relatively simple, You will Need:
"Trip it" - Literally, take a zombie off its feet. Some Hunters use the concussive force of explosives to knock them over, but I prefer to trip them with a blunt weapon or even an ankle-high rope. Place a foot on their chest or back to keep them down.
"Trap it" - Handcuffs, chains, rope. Bind your zombies hands behind their back, preferable with rope, as chains have a tendency to tear the skin, and zombies can then rip their limbs out. Also, if your particular zombie has the ability to use arcane magic, you might want to remove their hands, as you might with a Witch, to sever the aetheric flow through their limbs - so be sure to tie their arms tight, to ensure they cannot use their blunt wrists as bludgeons. Only bind their feet if necessary.
"Tame it" - It may look odd, but a putting something over your zombie's head covers their teeth to stop biting and for passively-controlled zombies, their impaired vision calms them down, as they can't see you. This is a good idea for Directly-controlled zombies, as it also impairs the vision of the necromancer, if they are seeing through their zombie's eyes. A bucket or a cloth bag works well, just make sure it's opaque & resilient. You can use almost anything so long as it is secure on their head. I've even seen modified motorcycle helmets, thick balaclavas & rubber swimming caps effectively get the job done. Remember they're already dead, they don't have to breathe.

You may also require, some form of distraction, fire, colourful lights, perhaps a music player - if you can distract your zombie with bright lights or loud sound, it makes it a lot easier to run up and trip them; your weapon of choice, should be close at hand if your Prey also has a weapon & although it may seem minor, some form of deodorant, for the smell is a good idea, be it air freshener, perfume or what have you. This may seem like a trivial matter, but I've seen people vomit & even pass out from the smell of a dead body, so it would be wise to have a deodorizing option available.

Destroy the Brain then bury the body on unhallowed ground. If the body remains animated after cranial destruction, dismember the body (for safety), then destroy it. For incineration, a crematorium is preferable, but a well-tended bonfire will get the job done. In either case, collect what remains you can and store them. Alternatively, some Hunters have methods of acidic disintegration.
If you have a personal disposal site, it would be appropriate, otherwise seek the assistance of your local Hunting authority.

Final Notes
No matter what happens, it is important to remember that the body of a zombie is entirely dead and cannot come back to life. That is why it is referred to as undeath, it is not life. There is evidence that some zombies can retain the memories of their host bodies and some even react differently to people they remember. However, zombies are nothing more than a parlour trick, an imitation of life. No matter how much you may wish it, your loved ones cannot come back from the dead.