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Category Archives: Fantasy

My last horror collection I wrote is entitled The Other Side of Despair. It was inspired by my studies in Psychology as well as the classic weird stories of Robert W. Chambers that was The King in Yellow.

I was posting a link to the book in a thread and happened to see a review. It was refreshing to see someone get the book as I intended it!

Here is the review by Arnstein H. Pettersen with many thanks from me, sir! I’m glad yo enjoyed it:

Using the science and art of psychology to descend from the ledge chiseled by Lovecraft, further into that dyscognitive abyss.
(Also containing the short story collection that amass to the tale of ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’, which firmly resides within the Cthulhu mythos.)

The horror genre often bring psychology into the mix as it plies its trade; dread does after all reside within the limits of our minds. Yet only rarely does one find an exemplar of the genre as The Other Side of Despair, where the matters of the psyche is at least nine-tenths of the tale. Its eclectic assortment of short stories persists in pitching the perceptions of the fantastical against the fabrications of the mind, leaving the reader lost for answers in a dilemma akin to that of figuring out which one initiated the (seemingly) etrnal cycle of causality between the chicken and the egg. And to present this dilemma as vividly as possible we have to gain a most intimate insight into the cogitations of the perceiver – or if you prefer the imagery: to observe the prancings of the Devil through the eyes that behold him. It is clearly no coincident that the stories consist mostly of monologues, excerpts of diaries, and personalized letters; ways of narration that are tightly bound to the core of the narrator’s world and interpretation thereof. Yet, despite their differences, they belong to a common literary universe, amassing the information of the individual story into something larger, perhaps even into something resembling answers.

The first monologue is titled ‘Shockley House’, and it is these 18 pages who serve as our introduction to the overall theme of the book. It details an attempt to research hauntings as a psychological phenomena – “Ultimately, it falls into the psychological realm because a statement of belief about witnessing something supernatural, […] is a statement about the psychological state of the person’s belief in what their senses have conveyed to them.” – where the researchers utilize a house rumored to be spectrally inhabited in order to coax their patients into believing the haunting to be real. It is a tale that goes to great lengths in attempting to give a scientific rationale for the phenomena, postulating that it is indeed made from mental fabrications; and much of it is, unexpectedly, quite persuasive. Yet, after wholeheartedly attempting to win the reader over to its logic – going so far as to make nearly testable hypotheses – the tale changes. The aforementioned dilemma begins to form as the rationale begins to shows its cracks, through which the fantastical seems to seep out into reality. The resulting horror results as much from the questioning of the world fabric as from the happenings themselves, making it a truly Lovecraftian experience despite lacking a common mythology.

The following short stories do an even greater job of muddling the dilemma, bringing such vagaries as shadows and dreams into the deliberation. Especially difficult is the tale called ‘Children of the Wasteland’, which bases its premise on Zhuangzi’s butterfly conundrum: “Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly […] unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened […] Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” (In fact, the tale is so convoluted that a tip is in order to facilitate the reading. It is not a spoiler and the reader will still have to do much puzzling to make sense out of that one. The hint is: Put to mind Brother Humphrey’s prayer.) Also, the tales are in a sense interwoven through a common world although the clues we are given to this lie discretely placed. The most obvious one is that several of the tales take place in Rathbone Asylum, but closer inspection will reveal others too. This is without a doubt one of the most intriguing works of horror which I have ever come across.

The bonus tale, ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’ – which is quite some bonus since it covers nearly a hundred of the two-hundred and twenty-four pages of the book – has no connection to the tales of The Other Side of Despair. It is constructed from several short stories, each of which present its own part of the narrative; it builds upon H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, not to mention the works of several other authors who have continued his legacy, but most importantly it builds upon ‘The Colours from Outer Space’ to such a degree that the reader should be adviced to read that short story before embarking upon it. Indeed, this tale could be considered a continuation of the excellent tradition of fanfics (a tradition ancient compared to the term ‘fanfic’ and its modern stigmas, even predating our Current Era/Anno Domine), or, if one prefers to describe it as thus, it is a honorific towards one of the inspirations and thus co-creators of any current work of penmanship. Yet, it goes beyond this and brings to light obscure bits of history and actual conundrums, with notes carefully added with the information on what is accurate and what is embellishment, so as to avoid corruption of the facts. I was particularily fascinated by how little embellishment was needed for the author to connect the fictitious cult of ghouls to real historical events. In my opinion, this is a very welcome addition to the Cthulhu mythos. Also, since it consists solely of letters, clippings, recording transciptions, and similar, it would be an excellent piece of source material for game masters planning role-playing forays into the mythos universe.

Before ending the review, I’d like to note that David Maurice Garrett is not just a writer but also a musician (not to be confused with the violinist David Garrett) with currently six releases behind him, all of whom relate to the horror genre and Lovecraft’s works in particular. There is even a soundtrack for ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’ among them. Whoever intends to delve into this book would clearly do well to check out these releases as well (the soundtrack in particular, of course).”

 

The story entitled “The Children of the Wasteland” that Arnstein mentions was featured on the Podcast Random Transmissions.

David

This character creation turned into a little project of its own and needs a little explanation. I began with creating the four Elves in D&D 5e as it’s more robust. Even though D&D breaks down levels into four broad categories, it actually makes more sense to group them by the Proficiency Bonus increase and that creates 5 tiers of levels. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create off-shoots from the core classes, so I chose a party consisting of Bard, Druid, Paladin, and Ranger and chose paths for them that emphasized nature. I also wanted them to begin with a certain level of skill, so I chose to create 7th level characters and then try to emulate the same build in Savage Worlds with Veteran characters.

The biggest hurdle turned out to be how to handle the magic. Druids and Paladins have Prepared spell lists from all available spells, and Bards and Rangers have Spontaneous spells that are a smaller set of spells they learn. D&D and Savage Worlds have Arcane systems that are markedly different from each other – D&D being “Vancian”, cast and forget type spells using Spell Slots from a large spell repertoire and Savage Worlds using Power Points that fuel a small amount of spells. This was a challenge.

I had seen Richard Woolcock’s document on his Zadmar site entitled Savage Vancian Magic, but had never taken the time to read it. This seemed like a good time to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did. It maps the D&D spell system to Savage Worlds effortlessly. Not only that, it also includes new Edges that have the D&D feel to the classes. You could still use the Power Points method if you were adamant about keeping your Savage Worlds play grounded in the familiar Arcane system of SW, but I believe that SVM is worthy of a test run.

When I got to the point of creating the same characters in Savage Worlds, I had to make a decision, did I want to convert them exactly or create the character from scratch leaving most of the background the same, but potentially wind up with a character of the same name but different skills. I wanted to try and emulate the character’s skills from D&D, but parse it down to a faster playing style that is the SW feel. Honestly, using SVM was very helpful in this. I chose a mix of Edges from the core book and SVM that I feel emulates each character very well at a comparable rank in SW.

I also wanted to use fillable character sheets so people can use these characters and advance them in rank in both systems. The SWFC fillable sheet turned out to be too limited, but I persevered and used it anyway. I like my sheets to have as much information for the player as possible to limit having to look things up in books or on computers, so I went ahead and created an additional SW sheet for each character.

The real prep work for both systems will be the spells. On the D&D sheets I listed spells that I thought would be a good list of starter spells for an adventure, but feel free to change them as you see fit. For my own printed versions, I went into SVM and printed off the spell lists for Shaman (Druid), Spellsinger (Bard), Warden (Ranger), and Champion (Paladin) and attached them to the SW sheets.

To use these characters, you’ll need:

D&D: Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and the Monster Manual

SW: Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition, Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion, and Savage Vancian Magic

I will be releasing a series of adventures for a High Fantasy setting using both D&D 5e and SW. These characters are presented as pregenerated characters that may be used in the forthcoming adventures, or you’re certainly free to create your own should you want to use those adventures.

BACKGROUND

The Material Plane is bounded by two worlds and the three worlds overlap each other. These worlds are the Feywild where everything is in either perpetual dawn or perpetual dusk and the other is the Shadowfell where everything is dark, saturnine, and eerie. The Feywild is home to many fairytale creatures and is a world with much beauty. Two fey courts rule in the Feywild. Both courts are ruled by Queens. The Seelie Fey is called the Summer Court and is ruled by Queen Titania. The Queen of Air and Darkness rules the Unseelie Fey in what is called the Gloaming Court. [see the DMG for more details.]

Our adventure party are four Elven members of the Gloaming Court who have been chosen to create an elite team with specialized skills for their upcoming missions. They were inserted as diplomats from the Gloaming Court into the organization called the Emerald Enclave on the Material Plane. Within the Emerald Enclave, they have a Renown level of Winterstalkers.

The first member is the Bard. Paelias Moonwhisper. Paelias loves lore from any culture he encounters and is a master lute player. He is also a good swordsman.

Bard 7

Bard Vet

Paelias SW

Our next member is the Druid Quarion Amastacia. Quarion is the eldest of the group and acts as the leader of the team. His early life was spent in seclusion, but he has since become an adventurer of renown.

Druid 7

Druid Vet

Quarion SW

Next, we have the Paladin of the group. His name is Ivellios Naïlo. He is a close relative of the Queen and has a noble background. He is young by Elf standards and is passionate about proving himself to his family.

Paladin 7

Paladin Vet

Ivellios SW

Finally, we come to the Ranger and lone female of the group. Her name is Anastrianna Sionnodel. Anastrianna served in the Ghoul Wars where she learned her Ranger craft. She is now ready to put her skills to the test outside of the Feywild.

Ranger 7

Ranger Vet

Anastrianna SW

My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.

July 2

I now spend the majority of my day caressing the walls – they are so clean that the shadows roam freely over them. I just sit and hum, and sing, and listen to the things they say.

The wisdom in their whispers is earth shattering. I see so many things that I never saw before. I’m beginning to realize that this illness wasn’t something that originated in me, but was planted in me by the ones out there.

July 8

I can only paraphrase their messages to me. I now see that one must sometimes pass through the fire to emerge on the other side as a new creature. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after being burned alive. Like a butterfly awakening from a cocoon after a long period of transformation.

I see now that my life encased in this place, encased in my neurosis, my disease, my isolation, was all meant to be a cathartic process. Now, thanks to the shadows engulfing me, I have been purged. Leached of my sickness and given a clear path out of here.

They showed me worlds that shimmer and places of abundant peace where my new form will roam free. Free to wander those other lands only hinted at in their dim, ghostly visions. I know now that my flight above the guitarist was but a prelude to a journey I’m now ready to take.

Across the vast gulf of space and time there are worlds waiting to be seen. But before I can mount up with wings, I must set right the wrongs leveled on me by Dr. Kaplan, Angela, and Jeff. My preparation for tonight’s dinner has been meticulous but I must not falter. I must face this last obstacle with resolution and a steel will. My new friends have counseled me and taught me and opened my eyes to so much new knowledge that I sometimes feel an amazing sense of awe at the things the shadows say.

June 24

Awoke again last night hearing that tune in my head. While I hate the song, I find myself humming it as I clean. I tried to go back to sleep but it was useless so I just watched the wall. As I watched I noticed that the shadow seemed to move. It wasn’t anything startling or even very specific. It was more like breathing. A pulsing to the rhythm of the tune playing in my head and my own breathing.

Now that I’m fully awake I know that it was the tune playing in my head that caused my own breathing to match it and that the shadow only appeared to be pulsing to the rhythm of my own breathing – just an optical illusion, right? But at the time I was certain that it was the shadow leading the whole thing.

I’ve become obsessed with the shadow on the wall and I actually caught myself just staring at it as I was sitting on my bed putting my shoes on.

June 27

I spent the last several days researching memory lapses and became quite overwhelmed with all of the information. I’m sure that the incident with the homeless guitarist wasn’t real. I believe I had an episode of dissociative amnesia brought on by the stress of my doctor’s visit.

I also believe that the hallucination with the man in the alley was of a dreamlike nature – a waking hallucination dredged up from my subconscious. The part that really has me perplexed is the tune he was playing. Did my mind concoct that too? Is the repeated playing of it in my head because I created it, or did I hear it somewhere else?

There’s now another shadowy spot that commands my attention. I can’t say if it’s a completely different spot or if it’s connected to the other spot on the opposite corner of the wall. I spend what seems like hours in my room cleaning the walls or just sitting on my bed humming that melancholy melody.

June 28

Angela called last night to see how I was doing. I told her about Jeff’s visit and how irritated it made me. She claimed to have no idea but I’m not so sure.

She seemed to be pleasant but now I distrust her and Jeff. I tried to be nice back to her but wound up making an excuse to get off the phone. I’m just so confused these days. I miss the times when we were close and could talk.

I had all of these conflicting emotions about the whole thing so I went to clean the wall and became so engrossed in the scrubbing and humming that I began to hear a chant. It had to be a figment of my imagination but it seemed so real.

The lyrics to the weird song were frightening to me too. But now I’m beginning to see Jeff and Angela for what they really are.

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June 21

I’ve made a concerted effort to quit washing my hands at least every hour but it’s so hard. The urge consumes me. It’s so bad that I feel I have to wash to release the pressure.

I found myself humming the melody to that damn tune while I was cleaning the kitchen and when I realized it, it scared me. I don’t know what happened or how to explain the incident in the alley, but I think it might have just been a dream. It’s so unlike me that it couldn’t have been real.

I started researching memory lapses and blackouts and I’m relatively sure that’s what happened to me. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

June 22

Last night I had a strange dream. At least I think it was a dream. I think it was like when you awaken in the night and you’re in that zone between sleeping and waking where you mix reality with your dream. I must have been dreaming about a mold or some other type of discolored spot on the wall that just wouldn’t come clean. This makes sense because I have such a fear of disease and filth that my nightmares tend to be about my inability to be clean enough or be healthy enough.

Nevertheless, when I awoke I instinctively looked to the wall where the spot was located in my dream and saw, to my horror, that there was in fact a spot on the wall. Groggily I arose and went to inspect the spot but it was only a shadow!

It was so weird because then I lay in bed and watched the spot wondering if I saw it in waking and unconsciously incorporated into my dream, or if I dreamed it first and then it just so happened that the shadow took on the shape of the spot in my dream?

June 23

Jeff came to visit today. At first I was so glad that he had made time to come by. Having my brother visit is such a rare thing that I was quite literally giddy. As it turned out, though, he’s about as much of an ass as Dr. Kaplan.

I knew the visit was bad the moment I let him in the apartment and he said, “Jen, you look terrible, are you getting any sleep? And this place smells like a swimming pool!”

I mean, what kind of greeting is that and how am I supposed to respond? Did he really expect me to be all cheerful and happy after he waltzes in here and starts in on me?

Things didn’t get any better from that point on, either. All he did was chide me for being such a recluse and obsessing over how clean everything is. He has no idea what I’m going through.

To be honest, I don’t even know why he came by. He claims that he was worried about me after he and Angela hadn’t heard from me in so long. He acts like it was my doing but it was he who put an end to Angela’s and my relationship. Does he really think I don’t remember that? And do you show your concern for someone by barging in their home and berating them about their lifestyle?

I was so furious by the time he left that all I wanted to do was work out. I figured a good sweat would burn off some of my anger. I went up to my room to change into my workout gear and noticed something strange. The place on the wall where the spot was in my dream was really discolored. At first, I thought it was a trick of the light, but as I got closer, I saw that it was true. There is something odd about that patch of wall.

I never did my workout. I wound up venting my anger into cleaning the wall.

June 16

My Health Anxiety began with my mother’s illness. I was only 8 years old when she found out she had Lupus. The disease affected her in numerous ways and she battled it for a long time. I was 17 when she died. When she passed away, I felt a ton of guilt. A part of me believed that it was partially my fault. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was how I felt, nonetheless.

I became so familiar with her disease that I began to believe I was suffering the same symptoms. A rash on my face, fatigue, painful joints, headaches, hair loss – the lists goes on and on. And each time one of those symptoms popped up, I immediately knew it was the worst case scenario. I had my mom’s genes that meant that I, too, was destined to die of Lupus.

As each test came back negative, I refused to accept it. I just deftly attributed it to either the doctor’s error in accurate diagnosis, or the fact that I really had another disease.

Even today, I still believe that I’m carrying some new strain of a debilitating disease that leaves doctors baffled with how to categorize it. Logically, I know this is crazy. In reality, my days are consumed with worry and despair over my health.

June 19

I’m finally getting around to writing about my doctor’s visit the day before yesterday. I meant to do it right afterwards, but it has left me so exhausted that I’m just now feeling like writing about it tonight.

I made it to Dr. Kaplan’s office without incident. Even with the heat of summer, I still put on a thin wind-breaker and hold it tight about my neck as I dart to the doctor’s office trying to avoid any contact with the throng of humanity on the sidewalks and streets. Still, I managed to navigate my way there without brushing into anyone.

It wasn’t until I saw Dr. Kaplan that things went south. He was the worst and I don’t care if he reads this next time, although I don’t think I’ll be going back to that horrible man! We began with small talk, which was alright, and then he asked about my journal. I handed it over and waited while he read the entries. Then, he removed his glasses and hit me with the most condescending look. From then on it was horrible. He’s so judgmental it just gets right under my skin!

He began by telling me how I pushed Angela away by making her mother’s condition about me. The nerve! I did no such thing! And then he had the audacity to critique my daily routine and tell me it was unhealthy and abnormal! He has no idea!

Oh, there was more. More than I care to vent and fume over. I shut down after we had strong words and let him go on lecturing me while I just sat there seething. In the end, I walked out of there with a script in my hand for some medication called Lexapro that he wants me to try out. I don’t think so. Just some more crap to pollute my body and alter my mind.

But all that wasn’t the real bad part; I mean it was bad, but not bad in the same way. The thing that has really left me shaken is the man from the alley I encountered on the way home.

As I rounded Pikes Peak Avenue headed towards the park I passed an alley and heard this homeless man playing his guitar. Even though I was walking at a brisk pace, I found myself slowing down. There was something about the tune he was playing that was so captivating. It’s hard to describe now, but I just remember that it was so melancholy yet somehow soothing.

What happened next is really beyond my faculties of reason. I literally fell into what I believe to be a state of hypnosis. Somewhere deep in my mind I still had some type of awareness, but I was lost as if in a dream landscape.

The melody continued to wash over me as I stopped and retreated to the alley’s opening. Soft, dark waves of gloomy notes flowing one into the next lulled me into a trance. God knows how long I stood there and my eyes closed as I descended into the music. It was so sad, yet so beautiful. How could such a creature as this make such music?

I had the impression of floating high into the air – maybe it was an out-of-body experience; a dream-state roving composed of bits and snatches of sensations. Whatever the case, I beheld the city from high above as a hive of activity moving at high speed in blurry pandemonium while directly below me in a tiny circle of calm slowness I saw me and the guitarist alone with the music.

I began to descend ever so slowly while I watched myself walking towards the man. He was so engrossed in playing that I don’t even think he saw me. The music still came in soft, undulating waves as the haunting melody pulled me along. Closer and closer I descended still mesmerized by the song and watching the entranced me walking in a languid gait towards the filthy guitarist.

And then I saw, to my horror, that the real, physical me below was intent on approaching and touching the vagrant! But the part of my consciousness that was displaced – the rational me – was not going to re-enter my body in time to stop my hands from touching the horrible creature spinning that wicked, diabolical tune!

I strained with all my willpower to reach my body before it happened, but it was no use. Just as I reached my body there was mad mix of sensations. A chaotic swirl of noises and images and feelings all churned up into a quick torrent that sent a shock through my soul. As I came to myself, the first thing that hit me was the sadness in my heart. The song still swirled in the air about me. Through the hazy blur of my tears I saw that I had reached my hand out and was caressing the man’s face!

The most horrible part of the whole thing slammed into me then. The man quit playing and turned his face up towards me with the most saturnine smile I have ever seen. It was then that I beheld his face. He had four long scabs running diagonal across his face and my hands were caressing those grotesque, encrusted sores!

I screamed. I ran. I made it home, locked the doors, and then I must have showered and scrubbed my hands for hours. Even after that, I returned to the bathroom at least every hour to scrub my hands again and again and again. Just writing this makes me want to wash again.

As if that all wasn’t bad enough, now I have that cursed melody sounding in my brain over and over.

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Hi! If you’ve read any of my blog and my weird writings, please take the time to post a comment about your thoughts and impressions. I’d love to hear what you think!

Also, here is an interview that I just did that delves a little deeper into my artistic vision.

Interview with David Garrett

Step by step, alone I crept

Step by step by lonely step

And then I felt a brushing touch

A gentle voice that whispered much

About which note and tone of choice

About the timbre and the voice

About the inflection of the string

And how to make the guitar sing

Step by step, together we crept

Step by step by maddening step

“The glass armonica’s ghostly notes will cause insanity in its musicians and listeners! At least this is what was thought to be true in the 18th century. People were frightened by the armonica’s sound due to it’s strange interactions with the human brain and ears. Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761 after being profoundly moved by the sounds of the glass harp.

The glass armonica’s sound is perceived by human ears differently than other instruments because its range is between 1,000 and 4,000 hertz, the human brain compares ‘phase differences’ between the left and right ears to triangulate the origin of the sound rather than comparing volumes. This causes hearing disorientation and a ‘not quite sure’ feeling about where the sound is coming from.”

“Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient’s knees, pressing the patient’s thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient’s eyes. Mesmer made ‘passes’, moving his hands from patients’ shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient’s hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass armonica.”

“Mr. Mesmer then seated him near the armonica; he had hardly begun to play when my friend was affected emotionally, trembled, lost his breath, changed color, and felt pulled toward the floor.”

“There were accounts of the instrument being banned by physicians who cited possible ill effects including prolonged shaking of the nerves, tremors in the muscles, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis of the limbs’ and seeing ghosts.”

Fifteen years in this asylum

I cry and cry

I laugh and laugh

Mostly at the exact same things

There’s no distinction between these scenes

Just my particular state of mind

“Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin ‘to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.’”

“A similar expansion took place in the British American colonies. The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 as a result of work begun in 1709 by the Religious Society of Friends. A portion of this hospital was set apart for the mentally ill, and the first patients were admitted in 1752. Virginia is recognized as the first state to establish an institution for the mentally ill.”

I want to be a little bird

And fly out of my mind

And sing a new song

To drive the world mad

Mostly, I want to be free

This is the completed novella of “The Language of the Mad”. It is very reminiscent of Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” in that the chapters are short stories tied loosely together in a unified arc.

In the case of “The Language of the Mad”, the stories are each about insanity and tied together in the evolving story of two asylums and the root of their madness. There are references to The King in Yellow as well.

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The Language of the Mad