All posts by Chris Burcham

The Cabin

My truck rattled along the gravel road, taking me further and further from civilization. The old logging trail ran alongside a creek bed, long since dry thanks to the lack of rain this summer. Even with our drought the trees still held their vivid green canopies. The forest ceiling blocked out the sun with only the occasional beam of light piercing through the thick growth.

The cabin was the last place I wanted to go in this heat. No air conditioning would be killer this time of year. The humidity alone was nearly unbearable, but the gentle breeze blowing through my truck window kept me cool. It was almost pleasant, but I knew it wouldn’t last.

I approached the final stretch and began to ascend. The hill the cabin was situated on would have offered a great view had the forest not been so thick. The cabin was old. It had been in my family longer than I knew. It was like a relative that you were “encouraged” to visit every so often. My dad had requested I go out and check on the place since he hadn’t been able to get out here this year. Ever since the surgery, he hadn’t been moving as well. I know he loves the place, so I couldn’t say no. Hopefully he could make it out for deer season, but it wasn’t looking likely.

The road broke through the trees into the small clearing at the front of the cabin. The old structure looked more worn down than I remembered. The paint weathered, the wood beaten and rough. It was clinging to life, the only sign of humanity within miles of nature’s domain.

I stopped the truck and hopped out, instantly feeling the sweat beading down my face. I grabbed my bag from the bed of the truck and went to the small outhouse that was nestled beside the old building. Hidden inside was the key ring that opened the front door. It was tucked away exactly where it was supposed to be, a faint layer of dust covering the shiny keys.

Opening the door, I could feel the oppressive heat blast like a wave across the threshold of the cabin. The air was stale and choked with dust. I entered and dropped my bag on the old pull-out sofa that would be my bed for the night. Bugs pinged off the torn screens as I opened the windows.

What looked like movement caught my eye as I glanced out into the forest. I squinted, not making anything out in the brush. Probably a deer or a coyote. They practically infested these parts.

Grabbing the axe from the utility closet, I went out to chop some wood. It would take a fair amount to get me through the night if I wanted to be spared from total darkness. My hands began to callous over as I worked on a fallen tree, chopping up decent size logs before I could split them. It took me three trips, but I was able to get all of the wood back to the porch.

On my final trip, I returned to find the door swinging lazily in the breeze. I could have sworn that it was closed the last trip I made. I cautiously opened the door, hoping not to find a coyote or some other wild animal had somehow made its way inside.

No one was there.

I stepped inside and froze.

All of my belongings were neatly laid out on the sofa. It was like someone had gone through my bag, inventorying everything I was carrying.

My eyes took in all of my things. Everything was there, except my truck keys.

I grabbed the axe from the porch and hurriedly put the wood inside the building. Closing all the windows, I locked the front door and frantically pulled my cell phone from my pocket, dropping it to the wooden floor in the process.

I dialed my dad’s number and he answered on the third ring. I choked out what happened as I paced along the inside of the cabin.

Expecting him to try and calm me down, I was surprised by what he told me. After I finished telling him my story, he was quiet for a moment.

“Stay inside, lock the door, and don’t leave for anything. I’ll pick up the extra set of your keys from your house and meet you at the cabin in the morning. No matter what you hear or see, don’t leave that building until I get there in the morning.”

I thought he would tell me that it was probably just a hiker playing a trick or something like that, but upon hearing his warning I knew that he was deathly serious.

Nightfall approached slowly and I spent my time nervously looking from window to window. Even before the sun dipped below the horizon, I built a fire in the fireplace. The heat was overwhelming, but the thought of waiting until dark to build the fire was out of the question.

I huddled next to the sofa, axe in hand as I awaited the sun. I must have dozed off around 1am because when the banging on the door woke me up the fire was dying.

Grasping the axe tightly, I made my way to the door. With each step I took the banging became louder. It was still pitch black outside the windows as I tried in vain to see what might be waiting beyond the doorway.

“Who is it?” I asked timidly.

The banging stopped.

I choked up on the axe and steeled myself. “Who is it, damnit?”

The sound of fingernails tracing over the wood door was the only reply.

I backed away from the door, nearly tripping over the sofa in the process. Realizing how dark it was getting, I hurriedly threw wood on the fire, not taking my eyes off the front door and windows the entire time. The fire flared to life and I felt exposed. Anyone outside would be easily able to see me.

Huddling next to the sofa, I waited until the first rays of sun burst through the windows. I burned through all of my supply of wood, but I never let the fire die.

I was greeted by the sound of tires on gravel, and I looked out the window to see my dad pulling up to the front of the cabin, parking next to my truck. He slowly got out of the car while favoring his injured leg. He had a shotgun in hand as he waved at me.

Opening the door, I rushed out and nearly tackled him, I was so excited to see him.

“Come on boy, let’s get out of here,” he said anxiously, eyes scanning the tree line. I jogged back inside and grabbed my bag, carrying the axe with me the entire time. As I locked the cabin door, I saw something that made my skin crawl. All around the cabin, near the windows, the grass had been disturbed. I slowly walked around the cabin and confirmed it. Something had been watching me all night, slowly circling the cabin.

With my replacement keys in hand, I followed my dad’s SUV out of the small clearing and back towards the city. It wasn’t until we got back to his place that we were able to speak.

I told him what happened during the night, and he listened intently. After I finished, he said that we wouldn’t be going back there anymore.

“When I was a child, I went up to the cabin with your granddad. In the middle of the night, someone knocked on the door. When I went to open it, my father grabbed my arm and hushed me when I tried to speak. We waited until the knocking stopped, and he kept watch with his hunting rifle. The next day I asked him what was out there, and he wouldn’t say. His eyes got very distant and he said it was something that didn’t like us being on its land. He never talked about it again.”

Ever since that night, I’ve stayed out of the woods. I don’t think it has done any good. The other day I was tidying up my yard after a large storm came through when I found them.

Footprints in the mud, outside all of my windows.

Night light

Lying in bed is a strange thing when you think about it. We’re sleeping, at our most vulnerable, yet we present ourselves at waist height with out thin cotton sheets to protect us from the outside world. I don’t neccesarily trust the night, but some people enjoy it. Enveloped in darkness, barely able to tell if your eyes are open or closed, it gives me panic.

I used to keep a nightlight on, but not anymore. Yeah I know, I’m nearly 30 and still sleeping with a nightlight. But there’s a reason I don’t use one anymore. I want that cradle of darkness to keep out of sight all the things swimming around us, just outside of our vision. It’s easier to pretend that the things out there cannot see you if you cannot see them.

It was a hot summer night, and our A/C was on the fritz. We had a repair guy coming in the morning, but until then we made due with open windows and ceiling fans. The gentle buzz of faraway traffic and the calm whoosh of the ceiling fan made quite the suburban lullaby, and the light from the lamppost outside gently illuminated my room.

With the heat I was down to my boxers and a single bedsheet. Even though I would have been more comfortable without it, I never have been able to sleep well without at least a single sheet covering me. When I was a kid I believed that if you kept your feet outside the covers at night things could grab you. If they were inside the covers, the creatures lurking in the dark had to follow the rules. Covers were a safe zone, and you could rest comfortably knowing that you were hidden in the sheets.

I was tossing and turning as I usually do when sleeping without the modicum of creature comforts I’ve grown used to when I first heard it – the gentle creaking of my closet door. Cursing the worn latch that was the only thing keeping the door closed, I got up out of bed and made my way to the cracked doorway.

As I did I heard a low thump from the closet, almost like the sound of someone scrabbling backwards.

I froze, the beads of sweat cooling against my skin. I listened intently but heard only the gentle noise from the fan and the traffic from outside my window. It felt like minutes before I moved again, but I know now it was probably only a matter of seconds.

As though on autopilot, I moved to my dresser and opened the sock drawer. Finding the lockbox hidden under my unorganized piles of underwear and socks, I quickly twisted the combination into the lock and withdrew the snub nose .38 I had bought a few years before.

I hadn’t taken it out for years, but I knew by the weight that it still held 5 rounds of .38 hollowpoints. I grabbed the small flashlight I kept near my bed and made my way to the lightswitch near the closet.

I reached the switch near the door and raised the .38, finger sweating against the stainless steel trigger. My heart was pounding in my chest as I flipped on the light and opened the closet door. Bright light flooded into the dark space, illuminating everything I had stashed in there over the years.

Nothing was out of place. I scolded myself for being so paranoid and quickly locked up the revolver, annoyed at myself for being so frightened at such a mundane noise.

I switched off the light and went back to bed, heart rate slowly dropping to normal, when I heard the door creak open again. I almost started laughing until I hear the door fully open and hit the wall. A second later, a few plodding thuds came from the direction of the closet, and I pulled the covers down slightly to peek.

Emerging from the closet and tiptoeing as if trying not to wake me, was a being, at least nine feet tall and hunched below the ceiling. It’s long, spindly arms blindly groped at the wall as it looked in my direction, apparently unable to see the abject look of horror on my face. It continued its quiet progression and quickly slipped out my bedroom door.

I don’t use a night light anymore. If it’s still ever in my closet, I figure I’d rather us not be able to see each other.

Shadowmen

Lying in bed you’re likely to catch a glimpse of something in the shadows. Every culture has legends about shadowy figures, and ours is no exception. Shadow figures are humanoid shapes the brain sometimes sees when immersed in nearly total darkness. They generally take the appearance of an adult male, sometimes wearing a distinctive hat.

They usually appear when you are falling asleep and your brain is settling down.

Usually.

Continue reading Shadowmen

Titan

I gasp for air in the drain pipe as my shoulder pounds in pain. My  vision is swimming. Slowly my eyes adjust to the darkness and my torn up palms trace their way along the bottom of the tunnel. Scrabbling deeper into the dark, I curl into a ball every time I hear that damn sound.

I had been walking home from my office when I heard it the first time. My boss, Parker, made me stay late again and I was starting to curse myself for deciding to jog to work this morning instead of driving. Taylor was trying to get me into shape for our upcoming vacation and I was doing a shit poor job of actually listening to her. I know she doesn’t want to be the woman hanging out on the beach with the husband equivalent of a beached whale, but getting myself to be motivated was harder and harder to achieve.

Walking alone down the darkened backstreets didn’t bother me. I preferred it to the howling masses that seemed to live on Main Street at this time of night, swarming between the bars and restaurants that dotted the road in the middle of town.

Alone with my thoughts and the quiet music seeping through my headphones, I made my way down the darkened alleys. I figured I was alone until I turned the corner.

“I don’t want to hurt you, man, but I will. Give me your wallet and your phone and don’t try any shit.”

The man, really a boy now that I think of it, couldn’t have been older than 17 or 18. Time stopped and I noticed everything. His eyes were ringed and bagged, fingernails ragged and chewed. He looked paler than I was, and the unmistakable tremors and sweating indicated some kind of drug use.

It’s easy to feel detached now, but then all I found myself focusing on was the boxy shape of a Glock 9mm handgun pointed directly at my chest. Adrenaline kicked in and before I knew it I was holding my phone and wallet above my head, as though they were an offering to the gods.

The kid was shaking the gun at me and yelling, but by this point I had no idea what he was saying. The sounds of the world were being droned out by the noise of blood pumping in my ears. He waved the gun, and I realized he wanted me to drop the stuff on the floor.

Practically throwing my phone and wallet, I dumped them on the floor and took a few steps back. The thief scooped them up and with that he was gone. The sounds of the world slowly faded back into perception, and I was left standing in the dark alley with nothing left but the encroaching feeling of nausea.

Then I heard the scream. The scream was panicked and primal. At first I thought it was an animal like a rabbit or something, but my brain connected the dots when I heard the clattering from the Glock hitting the asphalt.

I worked up my courage and approached the brick corner at the end of the alley. Peering around the edge, I could see the legs of the thief dangling from the rooftop as he was slowly being pulled over the ledge.

The smell of copper and ozone filled my nostrils and the only thing I could hear was a sickly popping noise. Every morning when we wake up, Taylor likes to pop her back. I hate that noise. It bothers me to my core and even though I ask her to not do it, she can’t help herself. She just grins at me and struggles to crack her back multiple times in a row. This was like that, but left me feeling like I was going to throw up.

Looking above me is when I first saw it. It’s head was shaped like an over-sized pumpkin. It’s empty, raw eye sockets stared back at me. Below it sat a gaping hole where a mouth should be.

I turned and ran. My feet pounding against the pavement as whatever it was began trailing me across the rooftops. As I passed alleyways and empty streets I realize that whatever it was, it was clearing the 20 foot gaps between the buildings as easy as you or I stepping over a crack in the pavement.

Whatever the thing is, it’s big. I can hear its joints pop as it lopes across the buildings next to me. I can hear a low dry croaking sound each time it lands after a jump.

I turn towards the river and hope to lose it in the forest lying along the shore when I make my mistake. I trip, whether it’s over a rock or hole in the ground, it ends with only one thing. I tumble down the embankment and slam my shoulder into the concrete drainage pipe.

Now, climbing through the pipe I realize that I can hide out here until morning. Then my heart sinks. I come to a locked security grate. I’m barely twenty feet into the pipe when I hear the sickening, cracking of joints and see a filthy and white bony hand work its way towards me. As I press my back against the grate, the thing leans further into the tunnel, plunging me into complete darkness.

All Duggar’d Out

Photo from Wikipedia: Source

I’ve never been a fan of the Duggar Family. You probably know them from either 19 Kids and Counting, one of their other numerous TLC specials, the current sexual abuse claims against the eldest Duggar son, or any of their hideous beliefs.

In case you haven’t heard of them, the Duggar family is a ‘Quiverfull’ clan. That means they are a family who believes it’s their religious and moral responsibility to have as many children as possible in order to spread their faith. They have a show on TLC, and a few days ago, their eldest son was outed as a child molester.

Continue reading All Duggar’d Out

Star Wars Armada

So I have been nearly silent lately and I’m sorry for that. I burned myself out on creative writing, so I’ve been carefully putting the pieces back together on some of my RPG stories before concentrating on new projects. When I looked at my publishing schedule I realized, oh shit, it’s been over a month since I last wrote to you guys! So, I wanted to keep you in the loop on one of the things I’ve been up to.

So, in honor of Star Wars opening on this date back in 1977, I wanted to write a review of the Star Wars – Armada
miniature war game I’ve been playing.

‘Dear Words for the Internet,

I never thought it would happen to me…’

I never saw myself playing a tabletop war game. I’ve always been about tabletop RPGs and storytelling games, but painting miniatures and measuring out attack distances never seemed like fun to me.

For those not in the know, tabletop war games revolve around the use of miniatures, distance, and combat rules to simulate a battle. Each piece generally represents a unit, ship, or vehicle, and using the force you put together, you fight against a player using a different army.

War games never really appealed to me outside of the good standby’s in my life like Axis and Allies, or Memoir ’44. Stuff like Warhammer especially left me feeling out of the loop, since it was a property I didn’t really like too much, and the players I’ve met in the past have been a bit… over enthusiastic to put it kindly.

It’s not like there hasn’t been Star Wars tabletop games in the past either. Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), the company that makes Star Wars Armada, also makes Star Wars: X-Wing. The games are the same concept but on vastly different scales.

Armada focuses on large fleet battles, pitting huge capital ships against one another while backed up by waves of fighters. X-Wing focuses on small-scale dogfights between a few individual fighters. The large fleet combat was enough to pique my interest and finally convince me to make the plunge and buy the starter set.

The Rebel Assault Frigate MK II. The first Rebel medium ship expansion.
The Rebel Assault Frigate MK II. The first Rebel medium ship expansion.

‘Well that’s the real trick, isn’t it? And it’s gonna cost you extra. Ten thousand, all in advance.’

‘Ten thousand!? We could almost buy our own ship for that!’

One of the things that always put me off about war games are the investment to actually become competitive. Stories abound about players needing to spend hundreds of dollars to actually be able to participate in tournaments. That doesn’t include paint or other accessories to make your models customized and stand out either.

As my wife is unhappy to remind me, I already have several expensive hobbies. If I was going to get into this, I had to make sure that I’d play it.

I bought the core set for ~$66 on Amazon.com. The core set comes with everything you need to play a beginner match, and includes a Victory Star Destroyer for the Imperial ship along with six squadrons of TIE Fighters. The Rebels get a Nebulon B Frigate, Corellian Corvette, and 4 squadrons of X-Wings. It’s not enough ships to allow you to play tournaments, but it’s enough for small skirmishes.

Following this I’ve also picked up a Rebel Assault Frigate Mark II, and 2 sets of Rebel Fighter Squadrons(can’t have enough A-Wings, son.)

Luckily, everyone I’ve introduced the game to has loved it. I’ve already had two friends buy the core set to build their own fleets, and several others are planning on buying expansions to add when they play with my starting stuff.

All told, I’ve probably spent about $130, and feel that’s more than enough to be competitive. I also bought a little bit of paint to spruce up the fighters since they’re unpainted and I’m anal retentive.

You can never have enough A-Wings.
You can never have enough A-Wings.

‘We won’t get another chance at this, Admiral.’

‘We have no choice, General Calrissian! Our cruisers can’t repel firepower of that magnitude!’

Gameplay focuses around large scale combat between capital ships. I think that’s what sucked me in. I’m weak when it comes to Star Wars fleet stuff, so a game like this, I really had no chance.

The large ships are the center of the turn system, with each getting special abilities for defense, and commands used each turn to give them powerful bonuses. You can select something like concentrate fire, which gives bonus die for an attack, or repair, which allows you to heal damage or fix shields.

Each ship is divided into hull zones, and has shields for each zone. Port, starboard, bow, and stern all have their own shields and weapon values, so lining up your shots while not exposing your weak points become huge. Most of the large ships don’t turn on a dime either, so you need to set your approach up in advance.

Range is also a determining factor, with certain ships being great at close range, but having little long range power, and vice versa.

‘Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snub fighters going to be against that?’

Each ship gives you a certain point value, and up to 1/3rd of your fleet can be made up of fighter squadrons. This is a good thing, because it keeps fighters numerous enough to change the tide of a battle, but not overwhelming to the point where it slows down gameplay.

Each squadron is like its own little ship. They have health, deal damage, and need to attack targets in range. Unlike big ships however, they can dart in and out of combat with ease, turning on a dime and covering large distances. The only issue being that they have to engage enemy squadrons they’re within shooting distance of, allowing players to tie up enemy squadrons with interceptors and prevent bombers from swarming your fleet.

The core set comes with X-Wings and TIE Fighters. The X-Wings are excellent dogfighters and useful anti-ship bombers, but are expensive and rather slow. TIEs get the advantage of bonus attack die when several squadrons are grouped together on one target, and while they are cheap, they are also paper thin in hit points.

The starfighter expansions, both Rebel and Imperial, add more bombers, interceptors, and escort fighters to the mix. Like I said earlier, I liked having the extra choice of fighters so much that I bought two sets of the Rebel fighters.

Unlike the capital ships, fighters come unpainted, so of course I needed to buy paint. …What has happened to me.

‘The odds of successfully surviving an attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are approximately…’

‘Shut up!’

I can say that I would easily recommend this game to friends. Most of my friends have already started purchasing core sets or expansion sets (all of them Empire, bunch of wusses.) Since I’m the only primary Rebel player, I’m definitely not short of enemies.

If you have a friend that might be interested, maybe see about splitting the cost of a core set to give it a try.

If you’re like me and love tabletop games, Star Wars, and fleet combat, I’d say then just make the plunge.

Overall it’s a fun game, and one that gets more rewarding the more you play and add.

Now I just need to wait for the Mon Calamari cruisers to come out at the end of the year…

Matthew Weiner on Writing

Copyright David Shankbone
Copyright David Shankbone

Sorry I’ve been so quiet everybody, been currently working on private projects and side stuff that I’ve been away from my blog for too long! Today a friend of mine sent me a piece by Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, about his road into Hollywood.

It was a great piece for a writer like me, and I hope it brings some inspiration to you as well. It’s easy to think of writing and just assuming that the great writer’s pop up on publisher radar’s instantly, or that they don’t go through the same period of rejection’s that the rest of us do, however it really is a game of time and luck.

Matthew Weiner spent his time out of college, until he was 30, pursuing his first paying writing gig. He also had to chase his dream project for nearly 4 years before anyone saw any interest in it. For someone that’s a few months into his own big project, that’s both inspiring and also humbling.

It’s also humbling to remember that Stephen King, current reigning horror king, got his start with a novella about a murderous industrial washing machine while he was working with a giant, potentially murderous, industrial washing machine.

Success comes from the strangest places. It’s up to us to stay in the game into we stumble into it or it finds us.

Happy writing everyone!

How to be a Player

Oh God, no I mean like in role playing games. If you’re reading this you probably don’t have to worry about being a Player. Ooo burnnn, nerds. Anyways, being a RPG player is a sacred duty. Your job is to enjoy yourself and boost the self-esteem of your game master by pretending their plot twist is both original and not something stolen from The Avengers.

Contrary to popular belief, it can be hard to be a player. Not really the playing part, that’s easy. But being a GOOD player? That’s hard. Here’s some tips to help you stay in your GM’s good graces.

Continue reading How to be a Player