Flash Fiction: Storm Shadows (304 words, present POV, suspense/horror/thriller I think)

April 23, 2018

My house is dark when I wake up at two in the morning, woken by the approaching storm. I sigh and get out of bed, grabbing my torch before heading to my basement to check the power box. Storms and power failures go hand in hand in my suburb, and I can’t afford a good generator either.

As I step into the hallway, I think I hear something shuffling in the dark. Probably my old dog, Maxi. I flinch at the flash of lightning and the explosive thunder that comes close enough to shake the windows.

I hate storms, but unfortunately I live in a stormy area, and it’s the height of summer. Storm season. Just a few more weeks before winter chases the storms away…

Shaking my head, I walk down the hallway, beam travelling over the various pieces of art that I’ve collected over the years. My favourite piece is a painting of and old robed man sleeping under the Boer War Monument.

At least, I hope he’s asleep. There are a lot of weird rumours surrounding that piece, but I like it.

Lightning lights up the sky again as I find the door to the basement and open it. Something in the dark makes me shiver, but I push it aside. This is reality, not one of the horrors I like to write in my spare time.

The stairs creek as I walk down into the darkness.

Something knocks an empty paint can over, and I turn to the sound. Sickly yellow eyes stare at me from the darkness, and something leaps at me, ghastly arms extended to grab a hold of me. I stumble backwards, falling over a chair and landing hard on my back as I let out a shrill, terrified scream.

The lights come back on.

I’m alone.

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Flash Fiction: Dry Bones

April 20, 2018

Dry Bones

Genre: Mystery/Horror

Words (not including the title, genre, and word count): 248

The two teenage boys weren’t supposed to be there, of course. Not that it stopped them from sneaking into the oldest building in their neighbourhood. Life without risks was boring, right?

“Hey, Jason!” Kyle “Brick” Thompson said as he spotted an opening in the floor. “Come check this out! Think this place has a hidden basement?”

Jason fiddled with his silver jaguar necklace. “Maybe. Let’s check it out, bro.”

Brick moved the debris that was covering the opening aside. He was a strong boy, on the school wrestling team. It was easy for him. Jason was the exact opposite. Built for speed and agility rather than brute strength, he was the fastest runner on the track team.

“Got a flashlight?” Brick said.

“My phone has one.” Jason took out his smartphone and activated the flashlight before heading down. It wasn’t anything impressive, in his opinion. Just walls and concrete.

“Kinda boring,” Brick said. “Oh, hey, look there!”

Jason moved the flashlight over to a wall, stopping cold when he saw the old skeleton hanging out of the hole. “What the hell…”

“Man,” Brick said, “this is sick. Think we can take pictures and show it off at school tomorrow?”

Jason wasn’t listening. He was gripping his necklace. “Hey, Brick? How old do you think that skeleton is?”

“What? No clue, man. Probably as old as the building, so…a hundred years or so? Why?”

“…it’s…wearing my necklace…”


Writer Talk: Anti-Heroes (or: those jerks that save the day but don’t give a crap about your feelings)

April 13, 2018

Anti-heroes, the ones that happily tap-dance along that line between hero and villain. I recently did a piece on villains, and what makes a good one, but now I’m doing one on anti-heroes. Why not heroes? Because that’s just too easy.

Besides, I like anti-heroes. They interest me a great deal. They don’t have to follow the same set of rules that heroes do. Hell, they don’t even have to follow the same ‘rules’ that a villain does. They can do their own thing, their own way, and damn whatever the heroes and villains might think about it.

Lots more fun to write, in my humble opinion. Now, I’ll give you a list of what I consider to be good anti-heroes, and what makes them anti-heroes.

Batman

I recently did a post on the Batman Animated Series from 1992, and the dark undertones it has. I’m not going to go back to that, instead focusing on other mediums that the Dark Knight has appeared in, though it should be noted that I don’t personally consider Batman a true anti-hero, despite his penchant for being ruthless against criminals and using fear as a weapon (not as literally as the Scarecrow, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).

Yes, Batman is seen by many as ruthless, cold, utterly without humanity when it comes to criminals.

This is entirely wrong. Batman may place himself above the law in that he actively hunts down criminals, be they common thugs or psychopaths like the Joker, but he cares a great deal about people, even some of his enemies.

Take this scene from the aforementioned 90s cartoon (okay so I am going back to it a couple of times, so sue me) where he talks to a captured Harley Quinn:

“I had a bad day too, once.”

Batman isn’t a monster, he’s not some lunatic in a bat costume. He’s hard on criminals, he’s an anti-hero at the most basic level, but he never lets himself go too far. There are times, however, when he’s tempted to cross that line, to badly hurt, maim, or kill his enemies. Another scene from the 90s cartoon below shows this…

Batman saves even his enemies, but this man, this… Sewer King (or whatever his name was, I don’t think they said it) crossed a line. He hurt and basically enslaved children. Batman would never harm a child, even under orders from the government. The final part of this section will be closed off with this simple video, and a statement:

I will close off this section of this post with three words, and I apologise for the profanity but I truly hate this character.

Fuck. Amanda. Waller. She is willing to murder a child for the crime of having power she cannot properly control. Batman refused to go that route. He chose to sit with this child, changed forever by the very government that tried to murder her, until her young life came to an end.

This is why I don’t think Batman is a true anti-hero, but a hero. He’s ruthless, yes. He can lack mercy for certain people, but those people deserve no mercy aside from being allowed to live, for Batman made an oath to never take a life.

But…Batman is human, driven by loss and a single promise: “No child will ever have to suffer through what I suffered again.” That is the promise that drives Batman to fight, that is what makes him a hero. That is what puts him on the level of the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman.

That is why I love Batman as a character.

Vegeta

Oh hai Dragon Ball Z and Super, been a while since I’ve thought about you. Vegeta is the Prince of the Saiyans. Driven by pride that often veers into arrogance, he starts out a villain and swings into anti-heroism and fatherhood. Of course, he starts out being more than willing to murder fallen foes to avoid complications later, much to Goku’s horror…

Exhibit A, Vegeta being an ass to Bulma and friends: “I don’t care about the people of Earth, but I will defeat Cell!”

Vegeta wanted to kill Cell to prove his strength. Saving Earth wasn’t even a distant second thought. The thing is, he and Bulma end up in a heated relationship and she gives him a son. He tries not to give a damn, to only care about his training and strength, but fast forward to the later part of Dragon Ball Z, and we get this scene:

Vegeta displays a true anti-hero streak. He fights only for his own reasons, pretends not to care about his family, but in the end? His family becomes his driving force. He took Trunks to the park even though his son failed to land a hit on him. He’s a damn good father, but an utter crap person otherwise.

So, yes, Vegeta grows heavily into his anti-heroism. He only cares about Earth because his family is there. If they weren’t, it could burn for all he cares.  Also? This is what happens when you hurt Bulma in front of him:

Vegeta is a better father and husband than Goku. That’s all I’ll say on this matter.

Yuri Lowell

Yuri freaking Lowell, the protagonist so obviously dark that my younger brother took one look at him and assumed he was the bad guy. To be fair…he was close. Yuri isn’t a bad person, but he also isn’t willing to let the rich get away with literal murder just because they can buy their freedom. This man outright murders three people on screen in cutscenes, just because they would have used their money and influence to get away with their malicious, evil actions. Exhibit A – politicians aren’t above his justice:

Nobody was sorry to see Ragou die, trust me. The man fed people to monsters for fun. Exhibit B – knight captains aren’t above his justice either:

Cumore was scum. He used his noble status to gain command over knights that looked down on common folk, and sent said common folk into the desert to risk death to search for a monster that wasn’t actually a monster. It’s complicated. Point is, Cumore and Ragou thought themselves above the law. Yuri disagreed and bloodied his own hands to rectify it.

Yuri knows he’s a dark person, a murderer. No matter his justifications, he knows that he should face justice himself. This will not stop him from doing what he thinks is right, and damn the laws that say he can’t because somebody is born a ‘higher class’ than him, or they have money and influence enough to get out of any consequences they should face.

Deadpool

The Merc with the Mouth, from Marvel comics, is, at his best, an anti-hero. At his worst, he’s a psychopath that locks blind old ladies in trap-filled boxes for the crime of making friends without permission.

90s Deadpool was not nice, okay?

Anyway, Deadpool. A lot of people know of him, either from his comics or the frankly amazing Deadpool movie that Ryan Reynolds starred in. He’s a mercenary with cancer-fueled regeneration, a smart mouth, lots of weapons, and the ability to see past the fourth wall. He will kill almost anybody for the right amount of money, but also wants to be all heroic.

He’s a hot mess in his head, too. Hello little yellow boxes of the comics that should somehow make it into the movies. However, despite his insanity, his love of fighting and blood…Deadpool loves children. Just like Batman, it’s a bad idea to hurt children and let Deadpool hear about it.

The difference? Deadpool will murder you over it. Gladly. I don’t have any videos or even pictures that prove it, but trust me, they’re out there. Hell, one time he got himself an appointment with a psychologist and started babbling, like usual…and ended up confessing that he knew what the man did to his sixteen year old female patient.

That doctor ended up very dead and the world was better off for it. Don’t hurt kids near Deadpool, he’ll slaughter you for it.

Okay, having no images to show off how Deadpool is an anti-hero that loves kids to the point of literally killing people that hurt them is getting me nowhere. Next!

The Punisher

Of course he’s here. It’s the freakin’ Punisher. Frank Castle, the man that lost his family to mob violence and swears to spend the rest of his life in a war against any and all criminals. He kills them. No argument, no debate, no negotiations. He just kills them. Even in prison.

And no, he does not have any super powers. He is a man with military training. That is it. The Punisher is a great example of an anti-hero that truly doesn’t care about man’s laws if they protect criminals. He will hunt down and kill any and all criminals he can, until he dies.

He’s been caught and imprisoned before, and he always escapes to continue his war. His long, bloody, bloody war against the criminals that took his family away from him.

Really, anti-heroes are some of my favourites to write about, and to read about. When the world screws you, but you don’t want to become evil over it? Screw the world back and get your revenge.

Without killing innocent people, of course. Because that would turn you into a villain.

Justin J.

 

 


General Talk: 1992 Batman Cartoon (or, why the hell is this show for kids you sick, twisted, mother—)

April 13, 2018

He is vengeance. He is the night. HE IS BATMAN!

He’s also the star of one of the darkest kids shows to come out of the 90s. I loved this show as a kid, but I was too young to realise the dark undertones that were littered throughout the show.

Right up until I started watching it again yesterday. Now I’m in my 30s, a grown man, with writing experience and the ability to read undertones, and oh my God does this show have dark undertones.

In the first episode alone, there’s a comment by Alfred that he was going to have to, “Cancel the appointment with miss Bambi.” Bambi. I don’t think that was just a reference to the Disney movie, and Bruce is known as a playboy.

Another dark undertone is in the episode involving those orphans living in the sewers, with a demented man calling himself a king. A man that has them all terrified of him and his trained alligators. I wondered, briefly, what he fed the things.

Then it hit me.

He has these kids utterly terrified of him, to the point where they don’t dare utter a word. In case you missed the implication… he feeds naughty children to his pets.

Then there’s the Joker. Just…the Joker and his laughing gas. In the comics, it kills by forcing your face into a Joker-style grin while forcing you to literally laugh yourself to death. Because the cartoon is “for kids,” (pardon me while I laugh at this idea), they changed it from death to permanent insanity if you are exposed to it for too long.

That is hardly any better. Imagine living your life, helplessly laughing, while all the while you’re trapped in your own mind, screaming for help, trying to get out,  pounding on the walls of your own broken psyche to no avail. The worst part? Joker did this all as an April Fool’s Day prank.

I am still going to watch this show, but I wonder…how many more horrifying implications am I going to uncover?


Writing Talk: On Villains

April 4, 2018

“Bwahahaha! You’ve failed to stop me, hero! Now…the world will! Be! Mine!

Villains. Every story needs them. They create conflict, they inflict pain, and they drive the hero down their path with the sole goal of stopping them.

Or, if they’re poorly written, they annoy the reader to the point where they hope the villain dies by tripping over their own two feet and falling down a flight of stairs or something.

Actually, being a gamer as well as a writer, I might as well call on my experiences with video game villains too. Both the good and the bad. A good villain is memorable, and even if you love to hate them, and want to see them fail…you damn well respect their efforts with their plots and sometimes, just sometimes, hope they manage to off the hero.

What? Is that just me? Really?

Anyway…

A bad villain, by contrast, is easily forgetting, highly annoying, and….well, see the earlier paragraph about what I think of them.

First, a few good villains. From my absolute favourite urban fantasy series, the Dresden Files by the awesome Jim Butcher, we have Nicodemus (spoilers ahead for the books, by the way), a freaking Fallen Angel, one of the original Demons cast from Heaven, and a creature that can’t be killed because he wears the noose that Judas hanged himself with.

He’s also one of the few villains in the series that Harry ‘I’m gonna blow a magic-resistant werewolf through two buildings with my raw magical force’ Dresden, who tangles with all sorts of supernatural horrors on a regular basis, who started a war with vampires to save innocent people, and ended said war via genocide, is scared shitless of the guy.

That said, Nicodemus is also scared of Dresden because the wizard nearly killed him. Yes, he nearly killed the supposedly immortal Fallen Angel. But this isn’t about the hero, it’s about the villain. Nicodemus is an awesome villain for one very good reason:

He is not stupid. In the Dresden Files, a wizard’s magic can be disrupted by flowing water. Dunk them in a rapidly flowing river, and their magic is useless. Upon capturing Dresden, Nicodemus didn’t waste any time being a hammy fool. He had Dresden chained up, under a constant flow of glacial water to disrupt his magic, and the moment Dresden refused to work with him, prepared to simply end him right then and there.

Dresden was saved, of course, but he had a healthy fear of the guy from that point on.

A smart villain is a good villain. You learn to fear them, to respect them, because you know that there’s a good chance that they’ll outsmart the hero…and depending on the story, there’s a very real chance of that happening. Sometimes, the villain wins.

Now for an example of a bad villain. God, I don’t want to go back into that mess, but he’s one of the best examples.

Sousuke “I’m basically god” Aizen, from Bleach. He’s outdone by the final villain of the series, but I’m not touching that guy for this. Aizen was around longer, anyway. Aizen is overpowered, somehow knew everything as it happened, and could plan around it no matter what, and fancied himself the new god.

Oh, and he had an incredibly broken power that was basically his ‘I win, fuck you’ button (the final villain had one too, but again, not touching him): Complete. Hypnosis. All he has to do is show you his Shikai (I’m not going into details, if you want to know more about Bleach, Google it) and you were caught.

Forever, and he could make you believe anything he wanted. Because the writer was forced into extending the story and didn’t know what else to do, so he turned the dead guy into the big bad and destroyed his creation with one bad villain after another and another and…

I’m rambling.  Point is, Aizen is a bad villain. He’s badly written, he’s too powerful, too smart, and he could only be stopped by a Deus Ex Machina and a pointless sacrifice from the main character.

Hm, note to self,   do a post about Heroes too. Ichigo would be right up there with ‘generic heroes with bland stories’.

Where was I? Oh right. Villains. If you’re going to write a villain, for the love of the muses, God, or whatever deity you choose to follow…make them good. Please?

Justin J.


Genre Talk: Magical Girls (Spoilers ahead for a few things)

March 27, 2018

Magical Girls, those often barely-dressed teenage heroines from Japan. I’m here today to talk about them as a genre. They’ve been around for a while, with the most commonly known Magical Girl team being the Sailor Senshi (or Scouts, in the 90s anime), and their leader (the single most overpowered healer in anime),  Usagi Tsukino, AKA Sailor Moon/Super Sailor Moon/Neo Queen Serenity/Sailor Cosmos.

Let me get one thing straight right now – I am a fan of this genre. I have been for years, because I love a good strong female lead in a story. Usagi, while she starts out as a crybaby, grows into her role as Sailor “I’m just gonna blow up this evil planet now with the help of my future child” Moon. Hell, Sailor Moon is one of my all-time favourite series. Yes, even the 90s show…even though that was poorly done. Thank God for Crystal, then.

Back to the Genre Talk. Magical Girl stories are, for the most part (and this is my own opinion, mind you), tales of female empowerment, which is always cool. The 90s Sailor Moon anime, however, started an unfortunate trend of having the protagonist being a bit…ditzy (though in the manga, and in the Crystal anime, Usagi isn’t as ditzy as she was in the 90s anime, though she had her moments) and a bit too innocent for their own good, and with a penchant for ridiculous speeches in the middle of a fight.

Seriously, girls, if you want to be taken seriously, don’t stop and pose in the middle of the fight. Not every enemy is going to be so dumbfounded by this action that they forget to tear you in half while you leave yourself open.

ANYWAY, on to the Senshi themselves. Sailor Moon, as I stated previously, is the most overpowered healer in anime. Don’t believe me? In the original Stars arc in the manga, after Galaxia eradicated all life in the galaxy and erased Mamoru from existence (via feeding his soul to freaking Chaos, which effectively erased his soul), Usagi not only beat her with her insanely overpowered white magic (purifying her body in the process and allowing her to be reborn later), but she actually resurrected the entire galaxy and revived Mamoru…who had just had his soul erased from existence. That’s not just power, that’s godlike power.

The scary part? Each of the Senshi are a walking army in their own rights. Guns can’t stop them. In the manga, Sailor Uranus was shot with a machine gun. An entire clip emptied into her. All it did was bruise her and piss her off. It takes very, very, very powerful magic to hurt them.

Think about that for a second. Every foe they face has the capacity to hurt or kill the Senshi, and they face these things all the damn time. It’s very possible that if the Senshi go down, the Earth goes with them, because no army on the planet has a chance against the monsters the Senshi fight. Part of this is probably due to one very  simple fact: each Senshi is empowered by a celestial body. They aren’t just Magical Girls, they’re Planetary Avatars.

Sailor Moon is powered by the Moon, and gifted with her purifying and healing powers.

Sailor Mercury is powered by Mercury, is probably the smartest girl on the planet, and uses water and mist to confuse and misdirect.

Sailor Mars is powered by Mars, the War Planet. How fitting, then, that she wields the power of flames to burn away evil.

Sailor Jupiter  is powered by Jupiter, and wields the power of lightning and nature. Physically the strongest of the Inner Senshi, not many  monsters can handle her lightning or her fists.

Sailor Venus is powered by Venus, the Planet of Love, and as the former (in her old life) captain of the Royal Guard, she has the most experience in battle, having run around as Sailor V for years before returning to Japan and joining her fellow Senshi. Her powers seem to be purely energy based, though she can wield the Holy Blade from the Moon Kingdom if she has to.

Sailor Neptune is powered by Neptune, another water planet. As one of the more powerful Outer Senshi, tasked with keeping invaders out of the system entirely, her water powers are far, far more offensive than Mercury’s. She’s also a lesbian, deal with it.

Sailor Uranus (stop giggling!) is powered by Uranus (stop. Giggling!), and uses the raw power of Earth. Where her girlfriend, Sailor Neptune, is all grace, Uranus is the type to get in your face and break you.

Sailor Pluto is powered by Pluto (which isn’t even a planet anymore, but don’t tell her that), the Planet of Death and the Afterlife. As guardian of the Gates of Time and child of Kronos, God of Time, she’s one of the most dangerous Senshi. If you hear her deathly whisper of, “Dead Scream,” don’t run….you’re already dead. She can also stop time, but this literally kills her.

Sailor Saturn is powered by the planet Saturn. Physically the youngest of the original Outer Senshi, she is effectively the galaxy’s reset button. If she has to, she can eradicate most life in the galaxy and force everything to start over. This kills her too, of course.

Chibi Sailor Moon is Usagi’s Successor as Sailor Moon, and shares her source and powers. She’s also deadly despite her size and apparent age (she’s not six, she’s nine-hundred) and can break monsters just as easily as the others can.

Yeah, so you can see that the Senshi are very, very powerful. Magical Girls in this genre generally are. Like I said, female empowerment. Now onto the flip side – what about the male characters?

Well, they’re generally there as the emotional support. Very rarely do they have the capacity to fight, and even if they do, they’re useless when they’re the good guys. If they turn bad (I’m looking at you Dark Prince Endymion!), they suddenly become a force to be reckoned with.

Then again, I hate Endymion as a character anyway so I’m biased in my opinion of the useless sack of potatoes.

We’re done with the Senshi, but not with the Genre. The next show I want to discuss is one of my favourites… Magical Lyrical Nanoha, which has one of the scariest freaking protagonists ever…

Nanoha Takamichi. In her first anime series, she was 9 years old, very cheerful and upbeat, and in a refreshing change of pace, not at all ditzy. In fact, an early scene displays her intelligence when she answers a difficult mathematical question after not paying attention to the teacher. She answered correctly too. The thing about Nanoha is that her scepter, Raising Heart, is a focus. All the power she displays in the show when she fights is all her. There’s a reason the fandom calls her the ‘White Devil’. She’s a terrifying force on the battlefield, and when she’s 19 she can do crap like this:

Do. Not. Fuck. With. Nanoha. Takamichi. She will break you, and then she will arrest you. Because she’s technically a cop. Her poor victim (there is no other way to describe her here) had no idea what this lady was capable of. The kicker? That’s not even her biggest attack.

This is:

The mother-trucking Starlight Breaker. She created that when she was a child and she’s only gotten stronger since then. There’s a reason everybody that knows her urges others not to piss her off. When angered, her happy go lucky, childish personality goes bye-bye and in its place is the White Devil.

….goodness, I’ve gone on for a while, haven’t I? I think I’ll end this here.  Was this even about the genre, or just me fanboying? Oh well.

Justin J.


Plotting

May 29, 2012

I’ve never been very good at plotting. I mean, I just come up with an idea, and run with it. Everything sort of flows. Or it doesn’t. But I can’t sit down and think: “This is what will happen in this chapter, and it will lead into this in two chapters.” Is that really weird? I think it might be. Can I just wing an entire novel?