“Haunted House Call”: A #NightmareForce Case File

It's just a scary story... what's the worst that could happen?

It’s just a scary story… what’s the worst that could happen?

Happy Halloween! It’s been a busier one than most for me–in-between prepping for tests, essays, and moot court competitions, I’ve scare-cly found time to even carve a Jack-o-Lantern since… ever? Now there’s a frightening thought!

Yet I still managed to utilize Spirit Halloween‘s generous two-day shipping discounts to assemble a costume. My choice: The Babadook, titular bogeyman of the 2014 Australian sleeper-hit horror flick (now streaming on Netflix!). The most critical element–stage makeup–couldn’t be ferried by plane for some probably-TSA-related reason (are the terrorists just raring to smuggle powdered explosives in canisters of Chaplin-esque grease paint?), but fortunately the local Spirit branch at Ithaca Mall pulled through. Add some black construction paper, and there you have it! Picture pending, as a terrifying laptop error recently prevented me from readily using the internet to its full potential from home, so I’m writing this from a campus computer (thank God for the Cloud!).

But onto the main attraction: As customary, I aim to provide a scary story every year for Halloween, even if it’s a matter of hours before November. Since the last story I even wrote was 2014’s Halloween tale (Pruritus,” which I’d link to here had I not removed it to curry favor with Sanitarium Magazine, which has still not responded to my September submission), I felt especially compelled to produce one for 2015–come hell, high water, or lesser academic obligations.

As such, I present another Nightmare Force “Case File.” When we last checked in with the Nightmare Force, they were (spoiler alert!) busting a child-snatching interdimensional parasite that took up residence in one of Cardinal University’s computer labs. In this installment, we learn a bit more about how they live and interact when they’re on–and off–the job. Where do “DEMONS” come from, and how can any human weapons stop them? What shocking secrets and talents does the rest of Aron’s team have? And just who really leads the Nightmare Force, and keeps their missions under wraps?

It all starts to reveal itself on Halloween night, when a sinister spirit comes calling on one average college kid who read the wrong email…

Guns. Ghosts. Gore. Graphics cards. Time to delete some evil.

Haunted House Call

– – –

[Source for the original creepypasta of La Muerta Blanca by someone else. In the world of Nightmare Force, the idea is that this story already exists online, though I tried to put a new twist on it for this adaptation. Also, I am the polar opposite of Angela and Rip when it comes to crunching numbers–you’ll know when I probably screwed up, but hopefully the scene’s purpose in the plot will still make sense.]

#BackToTheFuture, Blast from the Past: “UNTIL” (Time Travel Story)

Party like it's 1985.

Party like it’s 1985.

Happy Back to the Future Day! The Pepsi Perfect’s out of stock and I can’t afford a hoverboard, but I can always turn my pockets inside-out and enjoy an instant pizza (not crossing my fingers for the Cubs, though). Three cheers for a great sequel from a legendary franchise–I was born well after the BTTF trilogy concluded, but Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis’s ode to 80s cool and time-traveling whimsy remains an inspiration whenever I sit down to write a scifi story of my own.

So ever the opportunist, I figured this’d be a fitting occasion to journey back to 2013 and return with my lone time travel story (so far!): “UNTIL.” As a bonus for old and new fans alike (and since I’ve yet to figure out adding a search function for this blog), this version’s remastered to fix some typos and awkward diction. The surreal plot and more melancholy tone is still there, though, so be sure to undo those self-lacing Nikes and sit down for this one.

My inspiration for this story was simple: I’d seen plenty of tales of people getting into trouble meeting themselves in another timeline, but never lots of people traveling somewhen totally new. How many of us would have to make that journey before the trip itself changed the world? And if, as the saying goes, we’re all just moving into the future one second per second, what are our own lives but helping the next generation travel through time?

To find out, you’ll just have to wait…


Arcosanti - Artist Vision

[Image Source]

Open Heart and Mic — “What the Future” [Poem]

Happy Easter! Or at least it’s around the bend… with the start of Spring has come a few more sunny days, but that Ithaca snow’s still not leaving without a fight. Regardless of the temperature, though, a moderate amount has occurred in my life lately: work for The Gibson Law Firm and Cornell Law Review has progressed slowly but surely–in the former, there’s already been success with some mass dismissals of charges against the defendants! Also, it’s my Spring Break now, and while I gotta TCB on the aforementioned academic and professional obligations while others party hard closer to the equator, I’m also in NYC this week looking into some promising legal internship opportunities in Manhattan.

On a more personal note, the last week or two saw a myriad of minor realizations and revelations–difficult to articulate but safely distilled to “growing up”–complete their boot-up process after spinning a loading icon around my mind for months. So while I still have my neurotic and introverted tendencies, I’ve been feeling bolder lately: Since my last post, I’ve also become the 3L Representative for the Briggs Society of International Law, Sustainability Co-Chair for the Environmental Law Society, and gotten serious about helping organize a week of events to raise awareness of the importance of public defenders as the Cornell Advocates for Human Rights‘ incumbent VP. On a lesser note, I’ve jostled my admittedly knee-jerk contrarian attitude toward some modern pastimes: I established a Reddit profile, started doing Instagram, and even bit the bullet with Tinder (swipe right for White!). Call it petty, but don’t call it quarter-life crisis–nothing ventured, nothing gained!

But finally, on March 19th, I performed at a law school open mic hosted by The Nines in Cornell Collegetown. Fortuitously, schedule-jumbling by the powers-that-were made me the headlining act! (although lack of prep time and the general late-night hyped-up vibe meant bailing on a tentative cover of “Such Great Heights” alongside the school’s resident guitar prodigy) Here’s a confirmed sighting of me delivering some verses atop a makeshift pooltable-adjacent stand:

All the bar's a stage...

       All the bar’s a stage…

A far cry from my quick ‘n ballistic “rap” circa 2014, this poem was one I’d foregone at the most recent Public Interest Law Union Cabaret, as I’d worried it’d kill the mood–and while such doubts still plagued me leading up to the open mic, I eventually decided (1) There was no sense in passing up a chance to share my work with a captive audience and (2) my classmates were obviously going to be chill about it. Indeed, while some syllables were lost between my irrepressibly speedy cadence and the gabby crowd, I got a solid round of applause and a few personal compliments thereafter! I’d shared the work in close circles before, but it felt good to express it to a comparatively unfamiliar crowd.

So in the seasonal spirit of rebirth, rejuvenation, and the starting of cycles anew, I present the poem in question. I actually wrote this last December, and aside from a few changes after the fact for flow, the deadline was fast and deliberate–as some people write detailed diary entries, paint furious blasts of abstract art, or are Chris Martin, I had a very specific set of feelings and images to get out of my system in one coherent, crystallized form when I wrote this, and the New Year was as good a cut-off as any. Think of it as an emotional time capsule, unearthed in pursuit of perspective.

People who know me will know what this is about, and people who it’s about no longer know me, so let’s just say it’s the story of a question in three words:

What the Future

#TBT: THROWBACK THESIS (“The Digital Campfire: Interactive Horror Storytelling and Web 2.0”)

I don't know, I got bored once.

“Ben Drowned” fan “art.” I got bored once.

Happy March! So things have been picking up in the last few weeks, relatively speaking: I’m a Managing Editor on the Cornell Law Review now, I got a part-time Spring internship offer from a local firm helping represent protesters in the fight to keep petrol storage out of Seneca Lake, and I’m in talks with a Ph.D from the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute to possibly do some research and legal writing on proposed international legal regulations for handling emergent AI in an increasingly internet-dependent world. That, and the snow’s starting to melt around here in Ithaca!

All told, though, that means I’m definitely pretty busy, so I’ll cut to the chase: in the spirit of not having inordinately large update gaps on this purportedly professional portfolio-ish blog anymore–as well as throwing a quick bone to the “on Wednesdays we wear pink”-esque trend that is #ThrowbackThursday–I present to you my thesis paper from my senior year in the University of Washington‘s Honors English program, circa 2013.

Consummate geek that I was/am, while others were analyzing T.S. Eliot or non-heteronormative narratives in Latin American fiction, I wrote about… creepypasta. Well, not just creepypasta–I dove into how the modern internet has allowed the time-honored ritual of collaborative fiction to partner with interactive fiction as well, particularly in the case of the bite-sized “this really happened!” horror stories we all know and love to read in minimal lighting. I explain how The SCP FoundationSlender Man, and “Ben Drowned” each utilize(d) wikis and/or social media in similar but unique ways to present engaging, believable horror stories, then briefly discuss where and why Hollywood has succeeded or failed to capture this magic for “mainstream” appeal with films like Cloverfield and The Devil Inside.

So draw the shades, open a couple more browser windows, microwave a s’more if you want, and follow along as I analyze the thrills and chills of sitting down in front of…

The Digital Campfire
Interactive Horror Storytelling and Web 2.0

[A brief “P.S”: I initially considered shopping this around to relevant academic journals after I wrote it, but the plan got away from me and before I knew it I was writing legal notes instead! Part of me thinks this piece is best at home free on the internet anyway, like its subject matter; I have no idea whether putting it on my dinky WordPress blog puts me out of the running for a print journal picking up a variation on it some day, but at this point I just want to share the work and see what you folks think. With that “time capsule” quality in mind (and like I said, #TBT), I’ve done very minimal editing–mainly just new spaces between sections for clarity and a few egregious typos fixed, including the time I spelled “Doctor Who” as “Dr. Who.” As such, some details will be a tad outdated–most prominently, Marble Hornets finally wrapped up (with a polarizing ending), and I’m psyched for the SCP Foundation movie!]

BACK IN BLACK AND/OR PINK – Valentine’s Up-Date

Happy Valentine’s Day! In my regrettable absence (full disclosure: no real reason, I just got busy and then Christmas Break happened/was pretty great), the rest of 2014 and the start of 2015 came and went without much in the way of remarkable developments–I made it through another semester at Cornell Law School with a modest cumulative 3.4 GPA and am preparing to advance to a higher editor position on the Cornell Law Review, but progress on my novel, “There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat” (link goes to pretty darn outdated character profiles) has been drip feed-esque at best, and the hunt for some manner of fulfilling legal work over the summer continues. Also, I’m trying to build a PC–parts so far include the processor, monitor, about twenty new Steam games, and this reasonably baller case:

It's on like TRON.

It’s on like TRON.

So since the only thing piling up more than sparkly, Solo cup-studded snow over here in Ithaca, NY is academic obligations, I’ll be brief in circling back around to that first joyful lead-in: It’s February 14th! Short story shorter, I’m still single, but if I wanted to straight bemoan the fact I’d send you a link to my Tumblr. Instead, in a bit of a “less is more” combo, I’ve got a pair of poems produced under varying circumstances. The first is another semiautobiographical magnetic poetry quickie I assembled while in the good ol’ “waiting room” at the UW’s English Department in the recesses of Padelford Hall while back home for the holidays. I don’t really name these ones, but I guess “What Boy” is as good a title as any:

What Boy

The second poem is one I actually wrote about a year ago, not coincidentally close to this time of the month. I didn’t share it initially because, to be honest, it’s pretty dang rough, schmaltzy, and was initially typed as “prose” on a lark describing the subject to a friend in a late-night Facebook message. I gave it and the reasons behind it some time to cool off, though, and figured today that it couldn’t hurt to toss it up again in light of the season, if only as something of an emotional time capsule–in any case, it’s vague enough that I’d like to think folks with a quirky, geeky sense of romance can relate to it (and I doubt those are in short supply on the internet!) , whether in a relationship or not. So again, just think of it as bittersweet “pop poetry,” and enjoy reading about a feeling that’s…

Hard to Describe

Nightmare Force: DEMON Classes

As promised the other day, here’s a brief list of the “classes” of DEMONs that Aron and company may confront in the Nightmare Force series:



1: Photographers

Denotes a DEMON which takes the form of or “inhabits” a computerized image file. Visual exposure to a Photographer has been known to cause paranoia, sleep disorders (i.e. night terrors), and insanity, sometimes culminating in death by remote means or a manifestation. The image may be of the DEMON’s eventual manifestation, but it may just as easily be of some other disturbing or innocuous subject. In the case of preexisting images uploaded to an electronic network, those of a psychologically disturbing nature are prime targets, as DEMONs across classes primarily feed on the electrochemical energy generated by the human emotions of fear and anxiety.



2: Animators

Animators take the form of nonexistent episodes of animated television programs or films. Variations of preexisting animated footage are possible as well — and all the more dangerous, as the DEMON’s influence may not be readily apparent. The episodes will invariably be a disturbing or surreal deviation from the source material, portraying graphic and tonally perverse events, often via imagery that could not exist within the confines of the source program’s real-world creation. Although Animators are not as dangerous upon visual contact as Photographers, they have been known to change based on who views them — even among multiple simultaneous individuals — and produce unique effects capable of inducing despondency, violent behavior, or catatonia.


The Grifter

3: Directors

Essentially identical in characteristics and effects to Animators, with the exception that their footage consists of live-action people and places. However, the “works” of Directors can still take the form of either polished film or crude “found footage.” As with Photographers, some are legitimate recordings of a DEMON which facilitates its propagation by digital means, while others are created wholly by the Director. Differentiation between the two varieties — as well as what is merely legitimately disturbing footage unrelated to DEMONS — is an inherent challenge.


Pokemon Black

4: Programmers

Programmers target videogames, computer games, and other programs in general. Like Animators and Photographers, they may infect a preexisting game or create their own (albeit in purely digital form) through which to spread detrimental effects. However, this change can range from a slight modification of key features to — in the case of narrative-driven games — a total overhaul of the plot and characters. The challenge in tracking Programmers is that lesser interferences are often dismissed as “glitches” or “hacks,” while Programmers have been known to transcend their confines and infect other technology.



5: Authors

Though relatively uncommon, Authors are perhaps the most dangerous of DEMONs. They manifest in the form of text, which can quite literally go viral when distributed over the internet or — if the Author threatens or somehow possesses its victim — surreptitiously left in public on a digital device or storage medium. The “writing” can range from a complex story to a short warning to a jumble of nonsensical characters. In any case, by tracking the ocular movements and brain waves of its victim, an Author is almost guaranteed to manifest or in some way further spread after its victim has completed reading. Authors may manifest immediately or after a set period of times, though performance of a particular ritual may delay the event or transfer it to another victim.



6: Singers

The rarest of DEMONs, Singers choose to spread via digital audio files. These “Songs” are generally unnerving atonal pieces or cacophonous snippets of noise, though preexisting recordings of a disturbing nature are naturally a prime target for DEMONs if transferred to a computerized format. Listening to some or all of a Singer has been known to result in flu-like symptoms at the least, and psychotic breakdowns or manifestation (immediate or delayed) at the worst.


[Click through for edit source]

7: Viruses

“Virus” refers to any DEMON which does not fit into the above categories. Because of their unpredictability, Viruses are assumed to be especially dangerous. Viruses may be reclassified at any time, and so the term can actually denote any unidentified DEMON.

[In “A Routine Tune-Up,” though Aron doesn’t explicitly mention it, Graytongue would be considered a Programmer, although its particular use of creepspace and “nesting” in  a separate real-world location was unique enough to consider it a “partial Virus”]

New Story: “A Routine Tune-Up” (+Introducing NIGHTMARE FORCE)

nightmare force banner

Happy almost-summer! Since last posting, I’ve finished my first year of law school at Cornell, and I’m currently gearing up for studying international law at the Sorbonne in Paris starting next week. In the meantime, though, I’ve been tending to a smaller project I started when progress on my novel (There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat) got to feeling too daunting in the short term. That project: a short prequel/interquel to a very different novel: Nightmare Force.

Some background, because this is a vignette/”spec script” of sorts: Nightmare Force is intended to be a horror/sci-fi thriller loosely based on “Binary DNA” (by “K.I. Simpson,” I think) and a handful of other creepypasta. The main characters are a team of six Engineering grad students at the fictional Cardinal University in New England; by day, they are the school’s “NetFixerz” tech support group, but by dark they are the “Nightmare Force,” hunting monsters, ghosts, interdimensional beings, and other entities that interfere with our world via electronic technology. Picture a hi-tech combination of The Brothers Grimm and Inception — with imagery drawn equally from cyberpunk and surrealist artists like Zdzisław Beksiński — and you’re not far off.

The circumstances of where the Nightmare Force obtained their skills — as well as how they first met — are mysteries to be slowly revealed over the course of the series. However, while I always told myself I’d never pull a Richard Kelly and assume everybody understood the elaborate universe I created after only sharing a quarter of it, this story features terms and tools that–for the sake of pacing and chronology with the rest of the planned series–I didn’t feel comfortable providing an exposition dump for. As such, I’ve added brief character bios and a glossary below, as well as links to a few relevant songs I listened to while writing. Feel free to read them first to understand what’s going on (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS), or just jump right in and check it later as the mood suits you!

Either way, put on your gloves, secure all the exits, and make sure your screwdriver is good and sharp, because it’s time for…

A Routine Tune-Up


– – –

Character Bios

  • Aron Lovelace: The primary leader. Aron is first in line to issue orders, interact with entities, and communicate with outside sources. He is professional and focused almost to a fault, but still knows how to lift his teammates’ spirits at one second and get down to business the next. Aron is asexual as well as dysamoric.
  • Ripley “Rip” Zeese: The “lifeline” and secondary leader. Although the team’s rotation schedule occasionally puts her “in the field,” Ripley generally operates from the secret Nightmare Force “HQ” with a triple-monitor computer array, lightning fast internet connection, and remote aid. When not in the field, she maintains constant contact with Aron via an earpiece, a responsibility which sometimes conflicts with her unrequited affection for him. For better or worse, her efficiency is owed to being a literal workaholic, as well as a variation of insomnia which allows her to only need three hours of sleep a night.
  • Calvin “Cal” Gutenberg: The data-collection expert. Cal studies for physical traces of an entity’s past or current presence, collecting samples when need be. He is chiefly tasked with using the “neo-vial,” a test tube-like device which produces information concerning the chemical composition of any substance put inside it. Cal is bulimic, but has yet to seek help.
  • Angela Redwall: The survey expert. Angela assess and secures the surroundings — digital and tangible — of the environment before the team “goes to work,” as well as the likely type of entity they face [“Classes” will be explained in a later post]. She has high-functioning autism.
  • Richard “Rich” Logenbach: Hardware expert: Richard is in charge of handling and managing the team’s arsenal and tools. Although Aron is the leader, Richard’s people skills are stronger and so he often helps ease potential clients and provide any relevant alibis. He is also a minimalist, and has a unique neurosis that can best be described as “compulsive charitableness.”
  • Fuller Narson: Co-hardware expert: Fuller works in tandem with Richard, although his knowledge of their hardware is not as extensive. Fuller suffers from an inferiority complex and severe codependency, and it is with awareness of this that Aron makes sure to emphasize the value of his contributions to the team.
  • Rod: Rod is Aron’s tulpa, a “thoughtform” which — as the only child of a broken home — he created to keep himself company. However, Rod slowly morphed from a joyful clone of Aron to a repository for his most perverse dormant emotions, and grew beyond Aron’s control to erase from existence. The two enjoy an uneasy relationship, as while Rod generally appears to humiliate or threaten Aron, it also has a unique insight into interdimensional beings and creepspace which it may impart to Aron — with or without him realizing it.

 – – –


  • DEMON: In the world of Nightmare Force, all the ghosts, monsters, curses, and “haunted videos” you’ve heard about are real–though not as you’d expect. Rather, these phenomena are the result of quasi-parasitic beings from other dimensions which, for scientific reasons even the Nightmare Force has yet to fully understand, find the most efficient way to enter our world is through the electrical activity in computers, televisions, videogames, and other forms of modern technology. The origin of these beings can still vary, though, and hence the catch-all term “DEMONs”: Digitally-Embodied Malevolence and Organized Neuroses.
  • Gloves: The Nightmare Force wears gloves for the same reason construction workers or exterminators do: to prevent injury or “infection.” A specialized electric current running through the gloves prevents any DEMONs from harming, possessing, or otherwise interfering with the team while they manipulate technology with their hands.
  • //skeletonkey:  A codeword developed by the Nightmare Force to bypass extensive coding and alter a computer’s settings more efficiently. Although all of the team’s members have extensive coding experience, time is often of the essence, and a failed skeletonkey bypass is a quick sign that something is seriously wrong. The codeword’s usefulness is limited in that it will only work with computers that have been programmed to accept it (such as Cardinal’s school network).
  • Scrubbing: Although DEMONs can generally only move via a wire or direct signal, wireless cross-platform transmission (such as from a phone to a computer) is not impossible. As such, when security is a risk, Rip may remotely “scrub” sensitive connections to the team, shutting out DEMONs before they can enter. The process consumes enormous amounts of computing power and electricity, so it can only be performed for short bursts of time.
  • Code Omega: In the Nightmare Force’s line of work, frauds and mistakes are not uncommon, and even a legitimate threat may bide its time before displaying explicitly supernatural properties. “Code Omega” signifies that the team is unmistakably dealing with a DEMON, and must take appropriate actions.
  • Manny: Short for “manifestation” — refers to the form which a DEMON takes if it enters the “real world.”
  • Biotrackers: Minuscule tracking chips implanted in each member of the Nightmare Force, impenetrable and undetectable by any known devices except their own.
  • Creepspace: The nickname for a “transpsychological paradimension,” in which a DEMON may — through some form of sensory contact, such as touch or sight — abduct a person into a pocket dimension bound to its mind, like a spider dragging prey to its nest. Conventional laws of time and space will not necessarily apply in creepspace, and those trapped within may die or go insane before they can manage to escape. Voluntary entry into and exit from creepspace is possible but extremely risky, and no two pocket dimensions are alike.
  • Gun: The Nightmare Force’s guns fire tinted bullets which also carry a compressed electrical charge. For security’s sake, they will only function if handled while wearing charged gloves as well.

– – –

And finally, here’s some songs I like that capture the mood and themes of Nightmare Force:


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