New Short Story: “Day Job”

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Waiting for the moment.

 

Happy Summer, all!

To beat the heat, I decided to knuckle down with the AC on and finish a story I’ve been kicking around for a few months. It’s a brief bit of a contradiction: realistic, yet outlandish; a joke, yet serious; autobiographical, yet anything but.

In any event, I had fun teasing it out, and I hope you do as well! So grab a coffee, get a seat with a good view of your surroundings, and swipe right to hear about a city kid’s trouble with balancing his passion for writing and his, well…

Day Job

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My First Published Story!

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Well, outside of college-based publications, that is. But yes: My short horror story “Pruritus” is now available alongside eight other cool authors in Issue 44 of the mad, macabre magazine “Sanitarium“! And for a low, low price to boot!

Check out the purchase links below if you’re itching for a good read on…

Amazon Kindle

Google Play

Apple Newsstand

Pocketmags

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

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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

#NightmareForce

– – –

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.

 – – –

Glossary

  • 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:

“Breakdowns and Boxes” (+BIG TIME GRAD STUFF!)

Boy, our problems look so small from up here...

Boy, our problems look so small from up here…

Hey, happy summer! So since my last post, there’s been some considerable developments “behind the scenes” here, which is part of why it’s been so long since there’s been a last post. But in any case, before we move on to the story at hand, the biggest announcement must be made: I have officially graduated from the University of Washington, and I’m also-officially headed to Cornell Law this August!

(Candid shot from my uncle)

(Candid shot from my uncle)

Needless to say, the last rush of assignments before the camera flashes and mortarboards started popping was both nerve-wracking and exciting. However, it turned out I managed to stave off senioritis, and cleared my final quarter with two 4.0’s and a 3.9! That latter grade was for English 484, which you’ll remember as having previously produced “Bread and Buttons” and “Day of a New Dawn“, and I can thank the success of my last two assignments for it. The last, last assignment was to reimagine a story from earlier in the quarter in a totally new form (or give it a major text-only revision–but where’s the fun in that?); some conveyed their tales through photography, a short film, or even a cooked dish, but what I decided to do was turn Bread and Buttons into a videogame… minus the actual game. Confused? Well, take a look at these pics I snapped before turning it in:

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The basic idea here was, seeing as videogames have been such a big part of Dan Brooke’s life, could he be the kind of guy to see his that life in game-like terms? So though the disc itself contains only a slightly-edited text file of the story, I designed a full PlayStation 2-style cover and brief instruction booklet (it’s shrunken because Photoshop and Windows Photo Gallery can never seem to agree on real-world dimensions) for Dan’s “game of life.”

I can upload some high-quality JPEGs of that later, but I don’t want to hold up the main focus here any longer: my second-to-last 484 work, a “revision” of “Bread and Buttons” based on N+7, a writer’s game of sorts that involves taking every noun (alternatively, verb) in a piece of text and replacing it with the word seven entries ahead in the dictionary. Obviously, “the dictionary” is a broad concept–and the afore-linked program’s identification of nouns was shaky in places–but the assignment’s guidelines permitted keeping only a quarter of the new nouns. So after copy-pasting “Bread and Buttons” page by page, I was left with an utterly chaotic pile of text; in a way, my work was cut out for me by the images formed from the most striking words repeated throughout (“aphrodesiac”, “rosary”, several varieties of flowers), but I still had to make sense of the whole thing. The resultant narrative retained only the loose structure of its predecessor–a lone guy pacing his home and ruminating–but took a totally different turn into…

Breakdowns and Boxes

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I think this story turned out considerably grittier than anything I’ve ever written, but that’s partially because it almost exclusively focuses on characters and situations that I’ve never written about before (an elderly man, for one, but to say more would incur spoilers). As such, I’ll admit/agree with my professor’s comments that it has moments where believability is stretched, and others that come across as a narrative cop-out. However, I wholly invite your criticism! As always, I hope you enjoy it–and everything else I continue to write, as the summer is set to give me some quality time to continue my novel and submit shorter works to academic and creative journals–but I can only get better if someone outside my own head tells me how.

“Day of a New Dawn”

...But can you really have them all at once?

…But can you really have them all at once?

More from English 484, coming right up! In keeping with the course’s focus on the revision and reimagining of a piece, this story is a quasisequel to Bread and Buttons from two weeks ago. This time, the prompt offered several routes, from adding new scenes to approaching the same theme from a radically-revised angle. I chose the option which essentially worked out as a composite of both those examples: changing the POV (point of view) character. This time, it’s from the perspective of Dawn “Won” Brooke: Dan’s older sister, bittersweet inspirational figure, and Arch-Manager of RobotNews!

Despite being a companion to Dan’s narrative (taking place the same day as he’s moving out with his wife), it can (hopefully) be read on its own without confusion; I tried to keep the same style and themes, but explore them from the perspective of a slightly older woman. Needless to say, Dawn is not quite the carefree model of success Dan regards her as–but as her younger brother moves on, maybe she too will experience the…

Day of a New Dawn