The following Summer I woke in my bed in a cold sweat, heart pounding. Karen woke up alarmed and grabbed my shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Even in the moonlight I could see the look of concern on her face. She knew exactly what was wrong, but she didn’t want to admit it to herself. One of these nights she was hoping I would have a different nightmare, but it was not to be.
So the experiment went well! My players didn’t get as far as expected, but that was due to 2 main factors: me shaking off that game mastering dust since I haven’t run a game in probably a year now, and the fact that I got tired before any of them.
See, even though I have been spending my time mainly writing, I.e., working on my own schedule, I still wake up at 5am every morning on the dot. It doesn’t matter if I fall asleep at 9:30pm or midnight or 2am, it just happens. Weird eh? Last night I kicked them out at 9:15pm and was asleep at 9:30pm. Very early for me but for some reason I was just hit by a wall. Probably a combination of the mental strain of keeping all the pieces juggling in the game, and the Guinness I claimed as my right as game master.
Anyways, it actually really did help me work out a few kinks in my world and as a storyteller. I found something interesting in the meantime, I get much more self conscious trying to explain my story to others in person instead of just as a written story. My story is basically a fish-out-of-water fantasy with a few spins on the genre. It’s been fun to write, but just trying to explain it to someone, I get lost stumbling over myself. How much do I give away? How much do I hold back?
Writing for the game itself became interesting since I had to lay the general story out on the line and more. No longer were the characters just speaking through me, but also interacting and responding to the player characters.
I, and I assume many others, have come to what can be looked at as the adventurer assumption. For instance, the world is threatened, you have the means to stop it through a mysterious item or quest, do you embark on it as soon as possible, or do you research? Can caution be thrown to the wind, or should it be trusted and steps measured. At what point do you say to hell with it and jump through the doorway or read the forbidden book or speak to the creepy old man?
As a game master, I see this a lot. The sections where I assume the players will selflessly throw themselves into a dangerous situation, they debate and research. When I assume they’ll act with caution, they will ride in like heroes, guns ablaze. This is more of an indictment of my abilities as a storyteller, and I’m extremely happy that I tried it. It helped point out the jumps in logic I make because I know what comes next. Not what the characters will do necessarily, but major events that are in the works and when they happen. I’m still working on making the world proactive. I need to remember that even though my POV characters may not be involved in a certain plot point, it still develops and is both proactive in it’s progression, and reactive to protagonist actions.
One of the best things I’ve learned from writing actually came from an RPG book for game masters. Remember that while the players have their goals and are seeking them out, the villain isn’t just sitting on his throne, bored, occasionally ordering minions to go bug the player characters. They have wants and needs of their own, and while the players are doing things so are the villains progressing in their goals. Maybe their goal is to be lazy, but if they’re developing a super weapon or rigging an economic system or whatever the case, they should still be making progress in the vacuum of the player characters. I need to remember that for my stories.
All in all, experiment a success, and it sounds like we might get back together next Sunday so I’m glad everyone enjoyed getting together enough to be up for having another go where we left off.
Also, shout out to Carla Doria M. of “Diaries of the happy loner” for recommending Microsoft OneNote. All my writing I still do in Scrivener, but OneNote was perfect for maps and documents on the fly for my group. Who doesn’t like a MS Paint hand-drawn map of a fantasy world? I made the castle orange so they knew it was special.
In a few hours I’m going to try something interesting.
A bit of a writing experiment to test the usability and coherence of the world of my novel. I’m going to have my RPG group run through a section of it.
Now, I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a huge nerd and love Role Playing Games, while I don’t play Dungeons and Dragon’s or wander through the woods in a cloak, the image in your mind is probably true. A group of friends and I hang out, drink beer, and basically create collaborated, guided stories. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, we have a good time.
In this case, introducing my friends to the world of the novel as I close my world-building phase, I feel like it will be a stress test on how well the setting itself works before I commit myself to 80,000+ words. It feels like a focus group of people I trust, but in a good way.
Have any of you writer’s ever tried something similar before committing to a fiction setting? Or any other writer’s who play RPG’s and use that in their writing? Any system recommendations? I love Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, Delta Green, Shadowrun, and Traveller for instance. And for all my other readers: next update will be about the follow up to my bachelor party. The trip where we went back to the Wisconsin River… Stay Tuned.
At least Bailey seems to think so. This is going to sounds kind of cliche coming from a horror writer, but ever since I’ve written the article on Skinwalkers, weird things have been happening. Bailey is on edge and will bark and growl at empty rooms, she’ll insist on napping next to me or my wife while we work and not anywhere else, and every so often she’ll seem to hear something downstairs.
Now, she is skittish as all hell. When her ball rolls next to the garbage can, encouraging her to get it is like trying to convince someone who’s scared of heights to go skydiving. Regardless though, I’ve noticed stuff too. Weird little things. Strange noises and the sound of footsteps. Unease when I’m home by myself with the dog or even just outside in the yard at night. I do not live in a scary area, this is a new feeling.
Just now she perked her ears up and is rapidly scanning the room.
Anyways, what happened the other day really made my skin crawl.
I’m pretty OCD about making sure I lock the back door after taking Bailey out. It’s the first thing I do before I unleash her. So, put yourself in my shoes.
You’re upstairs on your computer, listening to music, playing games, whatever.
Then you hear something downstairs, just sounds like something being moved. You pause the music and listen. There it is again. The dog won’t leave your side. You go downstairs and first thing you notice is the backdoor is unlocked. Chiding yourself for being careless, you lock it and turn around and face the basement door.
And see the glow of the basement lights flooding out between the gaps in the door.
Lights that weren’t on that morning, and that you don’t remember turning on.
Bailey and I retreated upstairs, confirmed my wife was still at work, and then searched every inch of the house. I even had a horror movie moment where I had to dramatically pull back the shower curtain. By the end I was sure I was having a mini-panic attack. I didn’t find anything, but still we’ll hear things downstairs that we just ignore at this point.
Occasionally Karen will hear something at night, but it seems most of whatever it is happens during the day. Sorry for the quick update, I was writing about a local hospital, but this popped in to my mind and I had to write it down. Have you guys ever had anything weird like that happen? Probably just a fluke in memory but enough to throw off your day based on the creepiness factor? Let me know in the comments below. If no one has had anything that specific, I’ll need to figure out how all those vampire and werewolf hunters in the movies source all of those silver bullets.
Unsolved historical murders fascinate me. Usually a suspect that is considered the perfect suspect ends up exonerated years later. Or an obviously guilty subject can be let go due to police incompetence with the investigation. I’ve compiled a list of 5 unsolved murders that could be the plot of a horror movie. These have all scared me in the past and the last entry still reminds me to be extremely aware of my surroundings. If there are any you’ve felt I’ve missed that are just as scary, please feel free to comment below.
The Gatton Murders
Sometime between the night of December 26th and morning of December 27th 1898, Michael Murphy and his two sisters went missing after leaving to attend a dance in nearby Gatton in Queensland, Australia. After the dance was canceled, their mother dispatched her son-in-law to go find them. He was able to easily track their progress as Michael had borrowed his horse drawn cart for the trip, which had a damaged wheel.
He found them on the morning of December 27th, the two women bludgeoned to death. Michael and the horse had both been shot to death. Their bodies were arranged in a triangle with the cart and horse forming two sides, while the bodies were laid next to each other in an East-West orientation. Evidence at the crime scene was destroyed when patrons at a local hotel rushed to the scene of the crime. The murders have not been solved, although family members were placed under investigation.
The Lake Bodom Murders
As a frequent camper, this one hits close to home. On June 5th, 1954, four teenage friends camping on the shores of Lake Bodom in Finland were attacked between the hours of 4 and 6 am. The attacker used a knife and a bludgeon to kill 3 of the teens, and hit the fourth in the face leaving a concussion, swelling, and a broken jaw. Most likely thinking him dead, the killer left the scene.
The lone survivor lived a relatively normal life until the 1990’s when he was arrested on suspicion of committing the killings. The charges were later dropped. The other suspects included an alleged KGB spy, and a drunk farmer who confessed to the crimes and then stated he buried the weapons in his well. The well had indeed been recently filled in. However, he did have a shaky alibi from his wife who said he had never left the house that night, but then admitted he had threatened her on occasion.
Athalia Ponsell Lindsley
On the evening of January 23rd, 1974, former model, actor, and political activist Athalia Ponsell Lindsley was murdered on the front steps of her home in St. Augustine, Florida. She had been attacked with a machete and almost decapitated. The main suspect was her neighbor, Alan Stanford, who had threatened her in the past. One of the neighbors confirmed that Stanford was the one that killed her that night, however he was acquitted due to tainted evidence and police incompetence. The case gets even more interesting shortly afterwards.
Frances Bemis, Lindsley’s friend and neighbor, was a public relations representative and author. She began her own investigation into her friend and neighbor’s death when the police investigation fell through. She was known for her frequent evening walks. One day she mentioned that she had discovered information about the death of Lindsley. Shortly afterwards on November 3rd of 1974, she was found with her skull bashed in with a cement brick. The murder also remains unsolved.
I’m just going to say it. I am a huge tabletop role-playing game nerd. That’s probably what stoked a lot of my interest in writing. The GM’s would offer extra experience points for detailed character journals or backgrounds, so I would deliver 6 pages of tragedy, comedy, and a chance for redemption. Needless to say I was the most obsessive about it. So, while I recommend getting in to RPG’s of any stripes (New World of Darkness by White Wolf is a great place to start but I’ll save that for another post,) there’s another game I’ve played that I feel may be even better.
Billed as the game version of a Coen brother’s movie, I liken it almost to Reservoir Dogs crossed with Elmore Leonard’s novels. In Fiasco, you play as criminals, ne’er do wells, and poor innocent people caught up in a failed criminal plot.
Now why I recommend it for writers. The game itself is for 3-5 players, but I’ve found it works best with 4 or 5. In the beginning of the game you choose a scenario to play. I’ve played some set in 1930’s Los Angeles, a contemporary suburban neighborhood, and Antarctica. Each setting has a different set of features that shape the story and characters. Not all of them can be chosen in one play through, meaning that each time you play you get a different story. The goal? Basically, survive.
This is not a competitive game, but a cooperative fiction game. You set up relationships between characters and the setting with random die rolls, and refine them as you wish. Then, each player gets several scenes where they can either choose the set-up, or resolution, of the scene. Say if I choose that I want my character to end up in a really shitty place, the other players decide the set-up, and vice versa. The reason you would choose this, is based on how your scene goes with another player, you can be awarded good or bad dice. The bad dice can leave your character standing if you have enough of them, just like the good dice, so the interest becomes telling a good story rather than just focusing on good things happening to your character.
In the middle of the session, the ‘Tilt’ happens. Basically, something random is introduced to the plot that completely turns everything upside down. The rest of the game is trying to pick up the pieces in the middle of the chaos.
I would definitely recommend watching Wil Wheaton’s TableTop session of the game here.
So, the reason I like this is that it makes me think on my feet. Not only do I have to worry about my narrative arc, but also that of my friends. We collaboratively need to create a story that is both fun and realistic, without throwing someone to the wayside. Having a character die though, can be just as entertaining as having one live. In fact, I’d say that ending up worse than you started is the most entertaining scenario. I’ve had characters shot during a confused drug exchange, trapped in a Nazi submarine underneath a collapsed glacier, and have had the dimmest character in the session end up the last one standing: a criminal king pin.
Why should you play? It’s entertaining as hell, and I think it strengthens character building in ways that normal writing exercises do not. It is less acting, more free flow improvisation and character development. If you have a few friends that even have interest in something like this, give it a shot. I haven’t tried the companion book, but if you do please let me know. Bully Pulpit Games, the publisher, also has scenarios you can download for free from their site. Honestly, I love this game, and recommend you all try it if it sounds appealing. It’s worth the money and only takes a few hours to play. Each session is self-contained so if a character dies it’s not a big deal. I promise that I have not been paid off by Bully Pulpit in any way. If they want to send me the Companion though that’s cool. No rush.
From my explorations of Bachelor’s Grove, I’ve visited numerous other purportedly haunted places. I plan on dropping some knowledge bombs about them in this continuing series.
Next up on my Paranormal tour of the world, one of the other haunted locations I’ve visited has been the Hotel del Coronado. Situated on an island near San Diego, California, part of the island is where US Navy SEALs train, so that in itself is pretty cool. However, while the hotel is beautiful and on amazing an amazing beach, Hotel del Coronado has a tragic past. In 1892, a woman named Kate Morgan was found dead. Kate Morgan was a mysterious woman to say the least, if she was actually the one found. On November 24th, 1892, Kate checked into Hotel del Coronado under the pretense she was meeting her husband. Roughly around this time she had purchased a handgun while in San Diego. In November 29th, she was found dead outside the hotel of what was initially ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
However, rumors began to spread that the bullet that killed her did not match the caliber of the gun she had purchased. Other rumors say that it wasn’t Kate Morgan who died, as the person who checked in to the room was “Lottie Barnard.” However, this most likely was an alias. In the meantime, reports of ghostly sightings in her room and around the hotel began to surface. Common paranormal “events” like cold spots, inexplicable breezes, and moving objects have been observed for over 100 years on the property. The hotel even has a resident historian who has written a page about her.
Now, my journey to Hotel del Coronado was somewhat different. It was shortly after the new millennium when my family had our yearly vacation to San Diego to visit our relatives. We would go for a little over a week, see my grandparents, aunt and uncle, and end up at Disneyland. My dad, knowing on how much of a ghost kick I had been on, decided to take us to the hotel for a day. The hotel is absolutely stunning. Once opened, it was instantly an international hot spot, and Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like It Hot” was filmed in some places of the hotel.
We did what presumably every ghost-loving tourists did, and requested to see the haunted room of Kate Morgan. While we walked around for a bit, my dad dealt with hotel staff until we were cleared. We saw the spot she was found, and then brought up to the room.
It is there I had a horrifying, unconfirmed spiritual encounter that made me feel dumb. The room is a normal, very nice hotel room. But instantly I saw it. A pen, floating mid-air! I jumped a bit and pointed it out to my family instantly! Here we had proof of some kind of other force existing after death! Yep, that pen, floating underneath the fan in the middle of the room!
It was a goddamn decorative fan pull string. I still hear about it to this day.
That was my extent of the haunting of Kate Morgan, but I did enjoy a beautiful day at an amazing hotel I’d like to stay at one day. Preferably in the Kate Morgan room, God that’d be an amazing trip. If you’re ever in San Diego, be sure to stop in and check out the small displays they have about Kate and see if the room is occupied. If you can, go up there, and listen real close.
They say, sometimes you can hear echoes of a jackass freak out about a phantom pen.
(Seriously though, tell me if that overly decorative fan string thingy is still there.)
Next stop in my haunted hot spots sticks in San Diego, on board the USS Midway. ‘Till next time!
I hear the loud heartbeats and wonder how long I have been dead. I think that it is my heart, starting again. Shaking dust free of rusty pipes and ducts, but the men broke my heart when they left. Others have visited since then, but they never stay. They always leave.
I hear more heartbeats. The heartbeats were brought by two. They hide, but they also scare away the infection. Are they here to stay? To fix my broken heart and bring life into me once more?
I have seen much death. Ants wheeled in, ants wheeled out. All the while my heart would beat and the world would turn. The ants would cry and die but they would keep appearing until one day the ants broke my heart and took all the other ants away.
Now there are two ants. They chase the ones from the ground. They must be warrior ants because the fake ants do not frighten easily. They are sick and do not deserve their heartbeats. They tunnel in to me, around me. They eat the remains of the fallen ants. They look like ants, but they are not. It is a trick to fool me. It does not work.
The two true ants wield the symbols of the queen ants. They make fire and destroy the false prophets. They will stay to be my heartbeat, and I will not let the men take them. The warrior ants will stay until they are taken by time and I die again. I will not allow otherwise. I must be cleansed.
Circuit breakers around the asylum hum once more with the gentle flow of electricity. Gates begin lowering on their own, cutting off vital sections of the facility, including all exits. Still, the ghouls flow in and out of the facility by their tunnels. They honeycomb the land as they feed off the pockets of the dead.
The ghouls have never seen the facility this active. It frightens them, and they return to the safety of their dirt home. They will leave the two intruders in peace for it is not safe anymore.
Dead meat is good, but live meat is better. Live meat is not worth their lives though, so they slink into the Earth and wait for the current storm to pass.
I finally have a proper recording studio thanks to my partner in crime on the upcoming podcast, my buddy Graham! Thanks again man.
Anyways, for you guys this means audio versions of my stories as well as different media updates. I’m super excited, and once I get super rich I’ll buy those sound absorbing tiles. I thought they’d be fun to have but they’re like $1000’s for a single wall.
So sorry in advance for the distortion.
But look at that up there! Isn’t the set up a beauty, eh?
I’ve already recorded a track and sent it to Graham for editing, so I’ll keep you guys all updated.
After writing my list of favorite YouTube horror shorts, I remembered that I have several favorite short horror stories that have had an impact on my writing. A few of them really experiment with the new form of writing that online resources can offer. So, without further ado, my favorite internet short stories (and one cheat.) I did not include Slenderman on this list as I was reading the thread in which he was created while it was going on, and it has become so huge that there’s no shortage of stories about him.
The Rake was one of the first internet horror story meme’s and it’s clear why. It can be anything from a signal of impending death, to an omen of warning, to a being with completely alien intentions. People have tried to co-opt him into a kind of Slenderman mythos, however the Rake definitely works best as a mysterious standalone story.
The SCP series is interesting because it is written as case files from a mysterious organization tasked with the job of securing, capturing, and protecting dangerous objects and creatures. It is a wiki that anyone can edit, and therein lies the problem. For every excellent entry like SCP-087, you get 3 more that are either wacky self-insert in jokes, or something so over the top that it goes straight into a parody of horror. SCP-087 and the short games based on it however, still creep me out to this day. If I had a team of people kitted out with advanced weapons and the like I think I’d go down there, but we all know what happened to the Colonial Marines in Aliens, so that probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
Ted the Caver is one of the oldest true internet horror stories. Dating back to 2001 and built on an Angelfire page, it’s a window into what a simpler place the internet used to be. This set into my mind that alternative story telling could be an amazingly creepy thing. There was some controversy as to whether this actually was plagiarized from a different story, however research found that this was actually published first. There are several versions out there, but from what I recall this is the original.
Reminiscent of House of Leaves, Dionaea House takes the internet storytelling of Ted the Caver to the next level. Scattered across several linked blogs is the story of why a man’s childhood friend committed a random double homicide. I don’t want to say more, but give it a read and be sure to click all the links. This story reinforced my love of journal entry, first person stories.
This is the cheat I mentioned. The Little Fears is a YouTube video series of a woman reading creepy stories. Her tone and cadence is perfect to put you on edge and make you feel like she knows something that you don’t. All of the stories are very well done, and I can’t really recommend any in particular. Give it a listen late at night, wearing headphones. Unfortunately she very rarely updates (we’re talking years here) but luckily the channel hasn’t been taken down.
So! Now that I’ve told you mine, do you have any stories I should check out? I absolutely adore supernatural horror fiction, so please kick some my way in the comments below! Thanks for reading everyone!
Thoughts, horror, and short stories from Chris Burcham, published freelance author and all around scoundrel.