Meeting Ms. Leading

This short is based on the first half of the song “The Bitter Suite I: Meeting Ms. Leading and Through the Dime

“What’s your name?”

The patter of rain on cobbles almost drowned out his words. Rain ran in rivulets between stones along gutters, drowning the world with wind-swept sheets. Overhead, the smog of industry mingled with the grey of storm clouds.

His clothes clung to his body, every fibre soaked. The heavens had opened the moment he had stepped from the train. It smelled different – this rain wasn’t the same as had fallen on his home by the river. It was somehow acrid, dirty, corrupted.

She had emerged from the downpour as if the rain parted before her. A small umbrella, clutched in glove hands, protected golden hair. Twisting this way and that, dancing between the crowd, she had appeared before him. The bitter smell of polluted rain was replaced with the scent of spring – fruits, flowers, lavender.

She wore a blue linen dress, bound by a black sash at the waist. A light scarf, speckled by drops of moisture, rested lightly on her shoulders and neck. She had a silhouette to serenade the soul and one which lifted all his worries in an instance. A welcome loneliness fell upon him – her gaze was like a spotlight, clearing the stage to bathe him in attention. These two actors were, in his world, the only ones in existence.

Her words washed over him, running over his nerves. A summer’s smile and winter’s skin. She had taken his hand – a gesture implying an answer he did not have.

“Ms. Leading.”

She had spoken softly, sadly. The man, more a boy, was untainted by the sobering reality of the City. He was strong, in both body and soul, she could see it. A small flame in world both numb and cold. Breathe in, breathe out, she had thought. Let them all fold.

She could feel the crushing weight of this façade on her shoulders, the filth and the ire and the lechery of her profession and its sinful home. His eyes had darted to its lights, its garish paintings, its shining silver sign. Hearts finish in this place, she thought. Here is where love decays.

She held his hand tighter as they descended into the belly of the beast, through its doors and its perfumed curtains. She danced, twirling in his grip. Breathe in. Breathe out. She could feel his trembles. She carried him, endearing, past tableaus and last days and scenes of mercantile lust. All the while she prayed that the masked proprietor, the twin of sin, would not see her.

Finally, through a final set of doors, she laid him down. She asked if he needed a rest, somewhere to stay the night. The boy, drenched and wide-eyed, could simply nod. Naïve, blissfully trusting, innocent. How had such a man ended up in such a place?

She tossed the damp umbrella to the floor. With practised ease the binding at her waist came loose.

Lace by lace she revealed herself to him until at last, in the dimming light of a waning candle, they fell together.

The Poison Woman

This short is based on the song “The Poison Woman” by The Dear Hunter

Whenever she had been sick, her father had always told her “trust the medicine more than the man”. Medicine, he had reasoned, is documented, regulated. Smooth oils will soothe a sore throat, alkaline will calm a turbulent stomach. Medicine is impartial, clinical. It gets the job done. Man can’t be trusted to solve his problems, her father had said. He’s an emotional creature, impulsive and brash. Put your faith in medicine, he had told her, and you will never be disappointed.

The boy coughed, breaking her free from her thoughts. She was bent double over the table, pestle in hand. Somewhere miles away, through the tangled roots and trees of the forest, the silent heartbeat of artillery thumped rhythmically. Many had stumbled from those rancid battlefields, bloody and wild-eyed, more animal than man, into her homestead. Few had returned. You can trust the medicine more than the man, her father had said. You can trust it to kill, as well as save. She turned to look upon the boy, laid across her quilted bed as if in state. His hands clasped at something across his neck, gripping tight in the throes of some shock-bred dream.

She had seen many soldiers breathe their last in such dreams. At first she had tried to help them, hands bloody and soul filled with grief and empathy. Others came, though, demanding treatment, shelter and more unsavoury favours. Those she had dealt with in her own way. Years in the forest had taught her well – taught her how to use certain roots, certain flowers, to deadly effect. Poison, she had discovered, was just as trustworthy as medicine. Her father would be proud.

The grinding of her mortar and pestle accompanied the rumble of war. A crushed bulb here, some leaf oil there. Her hands worked without instruction, so many times had the concoction been made. One drop was almost always more than enough, but she liked to be sure. She laughed silently. A million men had reached their end in the war that surrounded her little sanctuary. Trust the medicine, not the man. Trust the poison.

She would bury him with the rest, with reverence but without emotion. None of it was her fault, she reasoned: incompetence was his killer. Dwelling on things like empathy and sympathy were not her way. Vials, concoctions, boiling pots and sweet, sickly smells were her everyday, not mud and blood and war. War was a man’s folly, and you never trust the man.

She had heard the rumours, the names and the myths that had cropped up around her and the her woodland home. “Don’t stray too deep among the oak and ash,” men would say, “for there a foul creature resides. She’ll offer you something savoury, a smooth intoxication, then watch you breathe your last. La femme posion.”

At last the boy stirred. He was a handsome young man, though his face, like all those shipped to the fields of modern war, had aged beyond his years. He had not been wounded badly, his dark green uniform was spattered with blood but it was not his own. No matter, though, he would meet the same fate. She crossed to him, gently, as was her way. The vial felt warm pressed between her fingers. The boy sat up, confused, wincing at the pain in his chest and legs. He hands loosened their grip on the thing clutched to his chest: an armband, sewn with a tree.

She started. She had seen one of its like before, on another soldier. One of the few to cross her home’s threshold and live. On impulse she stepped forward, grabbing the young man’s face. In the dim light she finally saw – he was the image of that same soldier. She let go, allowing the boy to fall back onto the bed. In frustration she squeezed the vial in her palm, feeling its edges dig painfully into her skin. Trust the medicine not the man. The young soldier coughed once more, his hands were shaking, his body still the throes of shock. He reached out, grabbed the hem of her dress. He smiled.

Her father had been a wise man, but he had also been a man. He, like so many others, had left, uniform bright and hope undimmed. She had trusted him, and he had left her alone in a world of roots, potions and herbs. As she watched the soldier disappear through scrub, trunks and brambles, she smiled for the first time in a long while. Sometimes it felt as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders, passing on one sin made no difference.

She would need a new vial, though.

Grand Ages: Medieval Review

If you were flying blind going into your time with Grand Ages: Medieval, you might be forgiven for thinking that this game would turn out to be a Total War-a-like. Indeed, the preview pictures feature a number of sumptuous shots of medieval towns and armies marching to battle. That’s not the case, though. Yes there are battles, armies and shiny-looking villages but this title is all about the power of trade and commerce in medieval Europe.

Developed by Gaming Minds, the game is an economy simulator at its heart. You take control of a merchant operating in a European town and set about building your empire through the means of supply and demand. The game does dabble in combat, strategy and exploration, too, but only momentarily, before dragging you back into the world of trade routes and currency exchange.

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Grand Ages: Medieval, to give it its due, does a good job of introducing you to the basic mechanics. The single player campaign revolves around a noble family from the ailing Byzantine Empire in 1050 and serves as your main tutorial and proof of concept. There is some narrative there as well and it offers a decent amount of twists, but never more than enough to keep the player coming back to the campaign once they’ve got the grasp of the mechanics.

Starting a sandbox game presents you with the wide open space of Europe in which to start your adventure. At the beginning you have one merchant, one town and one scout. Players will need to explore to discover neutral towns and the major trading players in the continent. Trade carts can be managed, as well as their cargo, but the game provides some good tools for creating routes that can pass through most of your target cities on the way.

Read the rest of this review on GameGrin.com

The curious case of my continuing writer’s block

I began writing my own stories at age eight, when tasked to create some creative writing at school. I wrote an exceedingly gory story about someone murdering all the people in my school, a la Scream. Looking back at it now, it probably seemed a lot darker than I intended it to, and I can only imagine what my teacher must have thought about it. After that I spent a lot of my free time at home writing my own stories for my favourite movies.

I wrote a horribly plaigerised version of Behind Enemy Lines and read it to my class when I was 10. I decided to tackle J. R. Tolkien at age 11 and created a post-Lord of the Rings saga in which Aragorn’s son and Legolas go into the woods to kill leftover orcs.

It wasn’t until I hit my teens (and got into Warhammer) that I discovered that what I had been doing actually had a category, and joined a fan-fiction forum for the Black Library, Games Workshop‘s fiction wing. Sadly, that original forum no longer exists, and with it went so very many of my stories. I had spent maybe two to three years writing continuously on that forum.

(I found all my old stories on a cursory Google search, they are here, though bear in mind I wrote this a long time ago!)

From short stories to epic 40-50,000 word novellas, I churned out a surprising amount of work. Following the closure of the site, I tried to move on to other forums but university got in the way and I stopped.

It boggles my mind that some of the people I used to write with and chat with all the time are still posting on replacement forums to this day. I would try to contact them, but it’s been far too long I’d say.

At any rate, since then I have attempted to start many stories of my own design. To this day I would say I have written over 40-50 intros, first chapters and prologues, and never wanted to continue any of them.

Crafting a world for myself seems to be the main issue. I have grand ideas for characters, settings, plotlines, but when it comes to putting them down I simply cannot. I’ve tried to go back to short stories of maybe 1-2,000 words but can’t get those right either.

Thus I think I have a horrendous continuing case of writer’s block. The one story I began, and got more than 10,000 words into, was lost when an old laptop was formatted.

I’ll keep trying, and I keep running story ideas by everyone: my girlfriend, my parents, my cat… Hopefully one day I will start something and just be unable to stop writing it.

Until then it will have to be video game reviews, football analysis and opinion pieces, I think!

 

How criticism made me a better journalist

“If your work doesn’t improve dramatically I think you should seriously reconsider your career as a journalist”

That was the advice I received around one week into my first writing job, as a freelancer. I was new to the news writing game and had barely written my 10th article. After four years at university, writing well over 80,000 words of essays and reports, I figured that I was a good writer. In truth, I didn’t have a clue how to write proper news stories.

I was angry, I was hurt and upset. I took the advice and seriously considered my future as a journalist… For about five seconds.

I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and right there and then took the criticism on the chin and decided to improve. It still took me another few months to reach a level that required little to no sub-editing and I’m still learning to this day, 8 months on from that piece of advice.

I happen to have quite the stubborn personality, which apparently helps in this field. If someone tells me “you can’t” or “you’re terrible at this” I’ll just think “watch me” and throw myself into becoming better. Criticism is very hard to take, and being a perfectionist/competitive person I always take it harder than I perhaps should. As soon as I hear the editor’s keyboard clacking after I submit a story I immediately castigate myself for messing up.

Yet it’s this attitude that has enabled me to get to where I am. I have no journalism qualifications (yet) and have gone up against candidates for jobs who have got the degrees and the qualifications over and over again and been pipped to the post. If you’re not willing to improve continually then you’ll end up in a dead end.

That piece of criticism I received barely days into my journey as a writer has stuck with me throughout what happened afterwards, and I often look back at the articles I wrote to remind myself how far I’ve come in such a short time.

Good god, some of them are awful.

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