Friday, December 7, 2007

Scratches: First Cut

I arrived at Blackwood manor one cold Saturday morning amidst a thick veil of fog. The weather didn’t look good and an unnatural calm surrounded the area. As the car came to a stop in front of the driveway’s rusted iron gate, I stepped out into the heavy English countryside air. The cloudy sky above me looked unsettling and I felt the urge to run for shelter. I approached the blockade and found that it swung open easily. I peered through the haze at the house that stood before me. The surrounding trees seemed to grip the house from all sides, or perhaps the house gripped them. As I stared at the old structure before me, it seemed to almost stare back. I approached.

Michael Arthate sure was a writer. I heard this is a true story, or at least based on one. Even if it doesn’t, it looks like an intriguing tale. It‘s strange that no one has ever heard of this game. Should go to the library tomorrow and see if Arthate actually existed. I must confess, I only bought this adventure game because I just moved and wanted a creepy story about a new house. Don’t tell my Lit teacher though. He’ll want me to read into the game to find deeper themes and stuff. Finally, after all those papers I signed, it’s all mine! If I have to sign “S. Michael Kobily” one more time, I’ll drop dead.

I inspected the garage next to the driveway but the door is padlocked. I’ll have to ask Jerry if he has a key to it, as I’d really like to put away the car before the weather turns. Anyhow, I couldn’t be bothered with it now. I just wanted to get inside and unpack. I don’t remember being so exhausted when I was a younger bloke.

The front door looks absolutely ornate! What a beautiful house to start writing my new book in. I’m sure I’ll find a lot of inspiration here! The heavy, gold key Jerry gave me fit perfectly into the lock. With a loud click, I heard the tumbler slide into the door. The door opened with a moan.

There’s nothing like the first moments in a new house. You get a sense of childish wonder, imagining all the possible things you can do to the place. I can relate to what Michael is feeling here.

The wooden floor creaked beneath my feet as I stepped through the threshold. A magestic grandfather clock stood directly in front of me, calmly counting off the seconds. The tick-tock was almost sleep-inducing. The layer of dust that coated the place was much to my displeasure, but also expected. The house hadn’t been a home for at least 10 years. I took a deep breath, and the hairs on my arms stood up as a creepy chill crossed my skin. A ringing telephone pierced the silence with the violence of a knife through flesh. Timidly, I lifted the ancient receiver from its golden cradle and placed it to my ear.

Any and every sound is scary in a new house. Every now and then, I hear a faint ring…like a doorbell or phone. I still have not placed the source of it, and I’m not even sure I’m hearing what I think I am. Michael’s telephone rand, and I jumped. I felt a little silly afterwards, reacting to a computer game, but my heart still beat hard against my chest for ten minutes.

Jerry’s voice was on the other end. He asked how I liked the place. I told him I was in awe and that I’d turn this place into an absolute factory of horror stories! He told me to go explore the place, and I intended to do just that. I replaced the receiver in its holder and stepped into the living room.

The grand piano sounded out of tune. Perhaps I could have someone come tune it for me. In any case, the sheet music was opened to a tune that gave the heart a sinking feeling. On the coffee table was a small brown journal that caught my eye. I couldn’t contain my interest, so I leafed through the book. The writer was certainly despaired! He wrote of living with a big secret, saying he felt bad for “James”. As the pages turn, the man gets more and more anguished. James apparently is losing touch with reality. The writer wants to tell the world but fears he would “rot in jail” if it got out. And he’s “a shadow of the man he once was”. Nov 17th, he starts hearing whispers from “the room next door” and is forced to “lock everything up”. He claims madness is setting in as the noises spread through the house, but they’re strongest “down there”. That last pages contained illegible scribblings. This greatly disturbed me, but I was also curious…

Wow. I wonder who the writer was. He must have felt awful for a long time. What could have happened to him? I should investigate this further, I think. I know it sounds silly but I peeked over my shoulder before I put the book down, as if, when I stopped looking at the pages, some serial killer would be there, staring me in the face. I know, silly, right?

The living room had a heavy oak door in the eastern wall, so naturally I went through it. What a magnificent sight awaited me on the other side!

I had walked into the study! I would have gladly spent days looking through all these books, as there were some wonderful works of horror there. “In the Mountains of Madness” by the godly H.P. Lovecraft caught my eye. I noted the heaviest volume, “The Necronomicon” by Abdul Alhazred, was hard to find these days! It was situated next to some stupid, boring looking book called “Myst”. I didn’t even bother to leaf through that one. Perhaps the most notable feature was the Construction Engineering degree awarded to James T. Blackwood, displayed centrally. After spinning the large globe a few times, I went to the desk. One drawer was locked, but I found a few interesting items in the other drawers.

So James T. Blackwood was the “James” in the diary in the living room. I guess I know he didn’t write it. I checked my watch…it was already 9 at night. I swear it was only 6 a minute ago…It feels like I just got out of work. I must have been playing this game more than I thought- I’d skipped dinner!

Under some worn African currency, I had found a heavy black book. Opening it up, I was able to identify it as the journal of none other than James Blackwood himself! I have summarized as follows.

Feb 6- construction of railway bridge underway. South Africa. Many trinkets brought back. Catherine and he agree to move into new house. Natives causing “trouble”. Vague reference to a John Patterson.

Feb 12- Natives hanging around, startling everyone. Stare at workers.

Feb 15- Tribe uncivilized. Very brutish.

Feb 16- Miscalculation of bridge specs…James should pay more attention.

Feb 20- Natives lurking just inside forest. Strange noises from forest “haunt our meals”. Area has become more sinister.

Feb 24- Locals know of the tribe, through stories. Were assumed extinct. Called D’lhaum, like the sound of a scream or moan. Could see a bright light at the top of a distant hill, and hear the screams.

Feb 27- Obsessed w/ the tribe.

March 4- Managed to see them. Disturbing. Moving around the village slowly, no speaking. Filthy looking, coarse, and disgusting. No weapons. Suddenly, they began shaking and screaming, moaning. Two brought out a wooden mask from a hut. It was unsettling and mesmerizing, hypnotic. Greatly revered. Tribe moved in circles around it, chanting and fluttering. One native walks to middle, else fall silent. Few jump on him, beating him to death. Small crowd tore him apart. Twisted his limbs, disfigured with bare hands and teeth. “Red sack of bones” Not even the compassion to snap his neck. No one cringed or made a sound. James could hear the flesh ripping. Dangerous, but “important ethnical find”, will investigate…

Journal closes with the line “and that mask…that mask…”


Mike K said...

Damn it! I just spent the last half hour trying to figure out how to post this thing, with its crazy formatting and its pictures...the preview showed it relatively unscathed, but on the blog it looks like crap! Frustrated...

If you copy what I've written and paste it into a blank word document, you can see the original formatting (which is important!) but the pictures will be screwy. Ah well, take your pick.

Anyhow, the theme here is that Michael Arthate is the main character of the game. He's a writer that's looking to finish his book but needs a suitably scary ending. My character has just bought the game and is beginning to fall into it. By the end, he'll be so inside the game, he'll feel what Arthate feels and won't even acknowledge the outside world. The point being "Look what the game does to pull you into it. That's what it brings to the table as a form of narrative."

Anonymous said...

I don't like or dislike the story one way or another, but Mike, to help you with your write, I recommend this: try to eliminate as many adverbs as you can from your story. Nouns and verbs are, what a lot of my professors have called the "meat and potatoes" of writing. Adverbs, instead of adding to a verb or adjective, depletes the picture you are creating opposed to helping it. Really isn't much difference between a "big scar" and a "really big scar" we get the point, it's a massive, ugly, thing.

If you want to induce a stronger atmosphere, use stronger adjectives, verbs, and nouns. It wasn't dark, it was lurid, nebulous, gloomy, or, if you want to get creative, something like "The darkness was a burnt out bulb-- lifeless and opaque."

Use this for everything you write, your imagery will be sharper and fluid.

Adam Johns said...

Lance isn't wrong about adverbs. I feel less strongly about it than some do, but I wouldn't even attempt to defend them.

I would have thought of Lovecraft even if you hadn't explicitly brought him up here. Lovecraft's stories, of course, all revolve around the discovery of an ancient horror, with that ancient horror, probably more often than, being revealed by way of a book or set of engravings (At the Mountains of Madness, etc.), although there are counterexamples ("The Dunwich Horror").

Why am I going on and on about Lovecraft? Because your narrative functions more or less like a Lovecraft story. Some dude discovers a creepy manuscript in a creepy house, we get some excerpts from creepy manuscript, then (presumably) all Hell eventually breaks loose.

So here's my question. How is it useful, or relevant, that this has roots in a _game_? How is the gameplay relevant here? How is this, in other words, different from a variation on a Lovecraft story? What does the medium _add_, or do _differently_, than a simple story could do?

Mike K said...

Lance- I'm not sure what you're talking about. I count, like, 9 adverbs in the whole 4-page draft. Naturally, the better described something is, the better the imagery. However that often leads to focussing the reader on the wrong thing, since you can't do that for every noun in the paper-it'd be a book! Quote something specific and change it so I can see what you're referring to.

Adam- The point is, by the end of it, "Mike" will be totally consumed by the game. The medium is difficult to explain, since I'm converting it into the medium it's supposed to be compared to. I thought of adding a third voice that would comment on "Mike", who is my thesis, one could say. What would you (or anyone) suggest?

Adam Johns said...

I think you should give the third voice a try. If you don't like it, you can ditch it.

I follow what you're saying about being consumed by the game, but what I'm saying is that I don't see that (yet) working differently than books (say, Lovecraft) which are about being consumed by an evil book (as satirized in Evil Dead II, especially). I'm not saying you won't make it work, just letting you know that I didn't see it _yet_.

Anonymous said...

Then I guess you should delete those 9 adverbs, huh Mike? and, just so you know, a word doesn't need an -ly at the end of it to be an adverb.

Incidentally, I'm giving you constructive criticism on how to write better-- which would mean having to extensively go over, in depth, everything you wrote and analyzing it and suggesting how to write it better. I gave you a starting point, I'm not going to grade what you've written. Be grateful that I took the time to point out your rampant adverb usage. Please note that many authors pride themselves on the fact that they've used less than 10 adverbs in all the books that they've written.

And this: Naturally, the better described something is, the better the imagery. However that often leads to focussing the reader on the wrong thing, since you can't do that for every noun in the paper-it'd be a book!

Does not make sense. If your plot is so lame that the reader becomes lost in the scenery, oviously something needs to change. I would also point out that it's the choice of how strong a word that you use that decides how much focus an object gets. I said that in my previous comment. Read what I wrote carefully before you argue with me about what it means to write well as you need more help on it than I do.

Mike K said...

Lance, I'm so glad you've decided to descend from on high to comment on the writings of us mere mortals. You're right, I should be grateful that you took the time to make even one vague, unhelpful comment. I should be ecstatic that you have the benevolence to respond that you were NOT going to elaborate on your baseless advice.

Secondly, you are entirely wrong about adverbs. They're not the "meat and potatoes" but they're not rat poison either. There's a major difference between "he replied" and "he replied calmly" or "walked" and "walked with rage" (or are adverbial clauses exempt from your silly rule?)

You throw out a lot of bullshit in class and on this blog. Your claims that adverbs are bad, nameless writers pride themselves on their adverb brevity, that you have a bigger vocabulary than the rest of the class, and that you're a better writer than me are all bullshit. I'm calling you on it. Have the balls to back it up instead of dodging it like you did with your last comment.

In the spirit of our Wikipedia generation, I throw out this one-word summary of this comment: "Cite?"

Adam Johns said...

Don't you two have projects to be writing?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.