A Christmas Eve Horror Story

I came into this world a tiny thing. In my part of the world it’s still rather wild and many infants don’t make it to adulthood. I was one of the lucky ones, a golden child with the sun on my face; I grew up straight and tall.  Life could be taken so quickly out here. We were a rare breed bound together by family ties rooted deep in the land. Whether it was protection or love, I was always surrounded by family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles mingled with even older members of our clan.

My great-great-grandmother Virginia reigned over all of us with the strength of an oak. No crow could circle overhead or alight nearby without her knowing of it. A wandering animal may look to us for shelter and sustenance. When they crept into our presence, it was on her command that we held some lives in the balance. Oddly (or maybe not when you think on it) she held a soft spot for the predators over the prey. Many of them found sanctuary in our shelter on the dark rainy nights.

We were remote, so while the collective history of our people knew of other tribes at the top of the food chain, their presence had been limited, bordering on non-existent to us. Most of the sprouts of our family had never even seen one of the upright ones. Our sense of dominion over the land had grown to the point where we’d become complacent and rather smug. We were not overbearing, mind you, we took our custody of the land seriously, as we felt one with it. However we did not think to build defenses for what was to come.

I was a youth, still tender and easily swayed by the changing winds the first time they came. Their movements were so fast and erratic. They chattered like the squirrels in the trees, but strangely the rest of the land became silent at their arrival. Unlike the animals of the forest, they seemed clumsy and uncomfortable in their coverings. We felt little for them that first time except surprise, and a slightly condescending pity. We did not even pretend to try to have the lithe movement of the furried ones but instead looked to the distant future and listened to the minuscule movements of the Earth. These people seemed to want both our tribe’s scope and understanding of the land, marveling at the wonders and great beauty here, and the grace of our small woodland companions. Instead they overreached themselves and succeed at neither. They offered homage by giving some of us decorations of red (we assumed it had some religious significance to them) then they were gone. We thought this was the end of it.

Then Uncle Fraser disappeared.

They came and dragged him from his home of 75 years. We looked on in shock and dumbfounded horror. Fighting had never been our way. Gamma Ginny looked on with deep sadness and anger, but even she did not have the resources to move into action. Our wails of anguish fell on deaf ears. Even though the forest echoed with our screams that sent rabbits and fox alike running for safety, they seemed not to hear. While we all looked on they took him away, chattering to each other until all that remained were the furrows where he tried to cling to us. He was gone.

That night we met to discuss what could be done. Some of us wanted to fight, but others said it was not our way. In truth, the time for creating a usable defense was probably decades or even centuries too late. I didn’t know it at the time, but their technologies and cruel inventions made any meager efforts we tried a lesson in futility.

For the first time in our family, there was a rift. Gamma, always a pillar of strength, used all of her influence to try and unify us once more. Over time, it may have even worked. Her presence among us towered over all others and her influence reached back through the years and spread far through the land. Months passed and her calm, serene assurance took hold in all of us We dared to hope this terrible tragedy was an isolated incident.

Douglas was the next to go. He was such a handsome thing, healthy and strong. It was no wonder they took him, but the fear and pain he felt as they carted him off broke us. We raged with each other for weeks on end, swaying the most peaceful of our clan to take action. Finally, when I thought I could not stand the turmoil, we decided to move against these terrible new interlopers. Some of the older ones sacrificed the few years they had left to block the upright one’s pathways. We called to our companions to trim our outreaching arms over their soft bodies. We thought the tide was turning… and then they took Gamma. The roar of her leaving the land was deafening, even for them. The mountains echoed with her screams.

After that it was only a matter of time.

I awoke to the dreaded buzzing sound. It always preceded them taking another one of us. It came more and more frequently these days. In the beginning of the terror time we were lucky to go a whole season without hearing it, but as fewer of us stood, the parasitic bipeds appeared more and more often, as if the smell of our death drove them to hunger. By now we were all conditioned to hold ourselves still when we heard the ripping scream of their machines, hoping that our stillness would make us invisible. I have learned a little of their world in the short time I have been with them, and they have done this to each other as well. Horrible places called concentration camps housed those waiting for death. The upright ones in those places would sit, unable to leave, hoping that when their torturers came it would not be their turn, reliving fresh fear over and over. They even marked them, like the red ribbons they gave us.

I wonder if it should make me feel a kind of kinship with my murderers. Instead it makes me wish they had been more thorough in their slaughter of each other. I realize that my desire to see their blood run like sap makes me a hypocrite to my people and more like one of them. I am past caring.

The noise of the doom machine was closer than I had ever heard it. I quivered in sickening fear, trying to look insignificant. I was still quite young and hoped they would go for one of the Aunts, or someone sturdier. While I had heard the screams of the others, I had never been close enough at the moment they were taken to see what this machine actually did. I knew by now it was called a machine. Their chatter, ever present, had at least taught me that. While I was scared beyond belief, conditioning to this constant state had dulled my fear. Despite my dread of being taken, my youthful curiosity held out a sliver of interest to the proceedings. What could happen to us to make this such a terrible experience?

To go back to that place and relive what happened is so awful words cannot do it justice. The sudden pressure at my ankle, followed by a wall of pain blinding and all-encompassing as they cut me from my lower extremity. That terrible nausea-inducing pain causing me to scream out and slam into the forest floor. And then realizing the indignity and humiliation of it all… unable to stop them, unable to do anything but cry and scream in anguish, impotent and completely defeated. When I finally blacked out it was the most merciful thing that could happen to me. It will remain so until the death I now hope for.

 

When I awoke, the pain was still there sharp and unrelenting. I was lying on the bodies of my brethren. I heard moans and pleas for help. I knew it was useless and drifted back into unconsciousness.

The next time I rose from blackness I was being lifted from the pile. “Here’s a good one” said the creature, handing me off to another. This one leaned me upright on my stump propping me against a hard surface. The intense flare of pain robbed me of my sanity and I sank back into blissful nothing.

Slowly I came to again. It was bright out, brighter than I had ever felt. The sun beat down on me and at first I welcomed it, until I realized how desperately thirsty I was. I was unable to find water. I had always been able to before but now, I was lost, adrift. Panic rose in me and I started to scream anew.

“It won’t help, they can’t hear you.” said an exhausted voice next to me. Another youngling leaned next to me. He looked pale and drooped. “We’re all dead. They are killing us slowly. And they don’t even care. They can’t even hear us scream.” His voice trailed off.

I tried to speak to him again, but after that, he never acknowledged me. I heard  more singing sounds and laugher…or perhaps crying. I tried to ignore the talking, tried to ignore the thirst, tried to ignore the throbbing below and finally drifted back to sleep.

“This one Daddy! I want this one!” screamed a voice next to me.

One of their saplings stood next to me, their branches reaching for me. Its bright yellow petals flying wispily away from its head. “Pick up this one! Do it Daddy! Now!”

I felt myself being lifted and fastened to another hard surface. At first the wind rushing past me felt as though I was in a storm. I could almost pretend I was home. But the motion of their machine and the increasing pressure of the wind made me increasingly uncomfortable until it fought for position with my ankles as the lead sensation of agony. I once again looked for my familiar refuge of unconsciousness, but now the unrelenting wind would not let me. After what seemed like a lifetime, which is funny considering how long my tribe actually lives, we slowed and came to a halt.

Once again I was lifted up and carried, but this time into a cave like dwelling. It was much brighter than most caves, and all the light had started to hurt me. I ached all over and my thirst was even greater. The brightness and color looked tawdry compared to the subtle beauty of the forest. They stood me up and then dug bolts into my chopped stump layering fresh sharp pain to the dull throbbing pain below. Smiling and full of maniacal joy they adding more garish light to me as if the thought of nighttime was unimaginable.

“Please, I whispered, begging pathetically. “I’m so thirsty. I miss my home. What have we done to you? Why do you hate us?”

There was no response. They did not hear my plea, nor would they care. Like psychotic magpies they threw shiny trinkets all over me weighing down my tired limbs. They piled boxes under me, covered in the corpses of my people. By now their horrid cruelty ceased to shock me. They were as ignorant of my pain as they were apathetic. Even when they put water in the torture device that held me upright, it did little to quell my thirst, nor did it lessen my pain or increasing weariness.

I sit here now in the silent night. They say a great man will come tonight to visit; one who is friends with the deer, and has special powers. He travels far and wide they say and grants wishes to those who are good. They say he sees you at all times and knows if you’ve been bad. They say he is magical. And so I have hope.

I hope that he comes.

I hope that he hears my call.

I hope he sees how good I am.

And I hope he brings matches so I can take them all with me.

 

 

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The Adulting Habits of Two Con Hangover Victims

I wrote this a few years back right after GenCon…it still feels fitting.

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August 21, 2015

Today

16:45

Tiddledumkins:

So I totally have a list of work to do and laundry and picking up and all the things…. I don’t wanna. Why does the day after a gaming convention gotta be so hard?

16:46

Cardboard Copacetic:

Yeah, I know. I looked at work email, responded to some of it, and got depressed and stressed out again like I was before I got to the con.  At least I have laundry going.

16:46

Tiddledumkins:

Not me! I finally made real food though.

16:46

Cardboard Copacetic:

I always come home feeling like shit physically and emotionally. I haven’t worked up the strength to go to the grocery store.

16:47

Tiddledumkins:

Well this con especially! All the running and screaming was brutal. I had frozen stuff… really I just warmed/thawed.

16:47

Cardboard Copacetic:

That still counts.

16:47

Tiddledumkins:

It does? Woo!

16:47

Cardboard Copacetic:

Look at us adulting!

16:47

Tiddledumkins:

Doin’ it.

16:48

Cardboard Copacetic:

#winning

16:49

Tiddledumkins:

On the drive home we stopped in Lawrence for food. There were painted… bears? Cows? I have a picture of me looking like I’ve been on a crack binge with a large ceramic animal decorated in a pink tutu. That is just how the end of cons are.

16:49

Cardboard Copacetic:

Keep that handy for when people ask what you do at cons.

16:49

Tiddledumkins:

It’s going on my business card. Plus I certainly can’t show them the other pictures once they were confiscated.

16:50

Cardboard Copacetic:

Perfect, I’m sure it will look completely business- worthy. My pictures were taken too. Had to shut down my live feed of the playtesting. It totally ruins my blog for the month. Hey, I have an idea for the cowbear pic- use it as a background watermark on your next resume!

16:50

Tiddledumkins:

I am supposed to be sending one out today! Also I’m editing a short piece for a deadline at 9am tomorrow. I’m thinking of attaching it as the illustration…or my bio picture.

16:51

Cardboard Copacetic:

Do it. All the cool kids are putting terrible pictures of themselves on important things.

16:51

Tiddledumkins:

It makes me wonder… there were so many podcasters and bloggers there… is there a collage of all the carnage in some government building? That’s a morbid thought. Sigh. Tell me I have to go do laundry.

16:56

Cardboard Copacetic:

You have to not do laundry. Shit.  I fucked that up.

16:56

Tiddledumkins:

lol

I’m gonna be the smelly kid in class.

16:59

Cardboard Copacetic:

I’m doing important stuff. I’m organizing my boxes for a haul picture. Because nothing says “I don’t have a problem” quite like taking a picture of said problem and posting it on the internet. It will have to make up for this weekends deleted posts. It will be epic.

16:59

Tiddledumkins:

I was kinda getting rid of books for more game space… cheers to that. I have a kindle now, so it’s totally fine. No gaming habit problem here either. BTW…. whatcha get?

17:00

Cardboard Copacetic:

Everything

17:01

Tiddledumkins:

I’ll wait for the picture

 

17:11

Cardboard Copacetic:

17:12

Tiddledumkins:

Ah-MAZE-ing

 

17:12

Cardboard Copacetic:

My new LinkedIn profile picture.

17:12

Tiddledumkins:

That is classy. Now they know you mean business.

17:14

Cardboard Copacetic:

Totes profesh.

17:17

Tiddledumkins:

For reals.

17:20

Cardboard Copacetic:

I don’t want to adult anymore.

17:20

Tiddledumkins:

I know. It’s just yuck. The unpacking, sorting and cleaning is such a letdown. I was on high energy all weekend. I was so excited to get there, to set up of all our displays, and then being interviewed and signing books was such a rush. Even the adrenaline of running for my life with the- you know. I barely slept the whole time. Now I just feel exhausted all over, and all there is to look forward to is the stupid laundry. I hate laundry. Can you tell?

Would a pic of me with a bear in a tutu help? It’s really all I have to offer right now.

17:22

Cardboard Copacetic:

Yes. It would

17:22

Tiddledumkins:

17:22

Cardboard Copacetic:

Wow. You totally look coked out of your head.

17:22

Tiddledumkins:

Right?

17:23

Cardboard Copacetic:

Is that from happiness or exhaustion?

17:23

Tiddledumkins:

I am titling it….”Con Survivor.”

17:24

Cardboard Copacetic:

That works.

17:24

Tiddledumkins:

I was happy that I didn’t have to move while the picture was being taken? And there was something to lean on… plus the bear did not come to life and try to maul me. I might have been testing myself a little.

17:25

Cardboard Copacetic:

Makes perfect sense.

17:25

Tiddledumkins:

That’s good… I was fearful it may be ridiculous. OK I am going to try the laundry thing. I am. Right now.

17:26

Cardboard Copacetic:

OK. I’ll be here waiting for you to come right back.

17:37

Tiddledumkins:

First load is in the wash!

17:40

Cardboard Copacetic:

You go, girl!

17:41

Tiddledumkins:

Thanks, I needed that.

17:42

Cardboard Copacetic:

I don’t want to get groceries.

17:42

Tiddledumkins:

But…. food is delicious.

17:42

Cardboard Copacetic:

I know, but it involves adulting. And people. And going outside, where it might not be safe.

17:43

Tiddledumkins:

Don’t think about it that way! It’s like the tutu bearcow. You have to face those fears before they become ingrained. All our lives statues haven’t come to life and crushed people. And Cthulhu cosplayers were just people in costume. Dragons aren’t real. It was just this one weekend! You can’t let it affect the rest of everything. It’s all normal now.

I would bring you food if I lived closer, and there wasn’t outside.

17:43

Cardboard Copacetic:

Well, you’re a sweetheart for offering.

17:44

Tiddledumkins:

I’m half Italian. I have a genetic need to feed all the people. It’s a compulsion really.

17:44

Cardboard Copacetic:

Oh, so I’m not special then.  Got it.

17:44

Tiddledumkins:

You are special. That’s just silly.

17:44

Cardboard Copacetic:

Did you see Tiffany at all?

17:48

Tiddledumkins:

She swung by while I was doing an interview… and when I looked up, she was gone again. One minute she was standing there, arms crossed, giving me her patented smirk, the next she was in the mouth of that dragon. It was a dragon right?

17:49

Cardboard Copacetic:

It was definitely a dragon.

17:49

Tiddledumkins:

It was so big, and my brain wouldn’t really see it, you know? But the dragon was chewing on her. Then I was running with a mass of people and she was gone.  It was like a mirage. I almost messaged her an hour ago to say I hoped she had a good con. Also, my deadline for tomorrow, just got illustrated. I have art for an unfinished piece.

17:52

Cardboard Copacetic:

That’s good, right? #conbrain

17:53

Tiddledumkins:

It means I REALLY need to finish my edits and turn it into the editor, right now.

17:53

Cardboard Copacetic:

Oh. So that’s bad.

17:55

Tiddledumkins:

It’s a mixed thing. On the one hand, someone read my rough draft and made a pretty. On the other, I have to make it worth reading.

17:56

Cardboard Copacetic:

I’ll help! I can sometimes make words go ok!

17:57

Tiddledumkins:

Thanks, but I have to be adult for this one. They think I am one, like, all the time.

17:58

Cardboard Copacetic:

Nice job fooling them!

17:58

Tiddledumkins:

It was totally an accident, no idea how I pulled it off. Plus you have to get food; no doing my edits, and I can’t shop for you.

 

17:59

Cardboard Copacetic:

Bah, we can make this work.  we’re doing so good at adulting.

18:01

Tiddledumkins:

<stony stare>

18:05

Tiddledumkins:

<stony stare>

18:10

Tiddledumkins:

<points at door>

18:11

Cardboard Copacetic:

FINE!!

I’ll go get groceries!!

Gosh!

18:11

Tiddledumkins:

YAY! GO DO IT!

18:12

Cardboard Copacetic:

Hnngghhhh the outside is bad place!

18:16

Tiddledumkins:

It’s ok. There’s food out there.

18:17

Cardboard Copacetic:

Oookkkk

18:19

Tiddledumkins:

I’ll be right here waiting when you get back.

The House Was Gutted

I walk home from the bar. The owner, shaken and jittery, had finished talking to Channel 2 news. Pouring drinks, she was alternately embarrassed from being on television, and devastated that all her regulars, her community, her neighbors were coming in shell shocked asking for water, while they wait to see what their homes look like when they are allowed back in by the fire fighters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was working from home. It was a long day, starting at 6:30 am with deadlines and expectations to co-workers. I was finishing my last email when I smelled a campfire. There were no alarms in the back of my mind. Instead, I wondered why someone would have their fireplace going well into spring when the weather was finally starting to warm up. It wasn’t until I heard the fire truck sirens…one…two… five that I realized what was happening.

I ran outside in my jammies long enough to see the black cloud and the flames reaching above the buildings. I stayed long enough to see the fire blowing from the west, and not the north. Long enough to see the devastation strike three buildings, three residential places: not Dinkle’s bakery where I get morning pastries, not headed towards my apartment. Then the road was blocked off, and the news trucks arrived. Not wanting to be filmed in my jammies, I headed back inside, where my house smelled like a summer bonfire. I called my sister and talked to my niece and nephews, telling them how much I loved them. Then I sat in the front room and watched the spectacle from my living room window, feeling safe from the brunt of the damage.

When the power went out, I wandered back outside. I decided to wander until I found someplace open, a haven until they dealt with my problem. My neighbor, coming back from working out met me on the street.

“Power’s out” I said.

“Let’s go to the Green Lady,” he suggested.

And so we went to wait for the lights to come back on.

There we sat. The craft beer was delicious and it was a prime spot for firefighters, police officers, and the power company workers. But it was also where I met the people who lived down the street from me. The people who waited tensely for word that they could see what had happened to their high school basketball trophies and photos of kindergarten graduation.

Several hours later, I saw the lights come back on. I had never lost my phone connection and the only discomfort I had experienced was the residual smell that reminded me of summers at the lake.

At the corner I turned right instead of left to go look. The front house was gutted like an open wound. The brick house next door was black on the third floor where the apartment there was also gone. A man in a Steelers jersey stood watching.

“I remember when the neighbor downstairs left her heater on. Me and my brothers had to jump out of the second floor. I was seven, they were nine, six, and three,” he said. “I had to see it. My people are here now because of it. I don’t even know what I looked like when I was a baby- no photos. I don’t have that any more. Those people… they lost just stuff, but it’s more than that, you know?” he said.

I walked the half block home, and I was gutted too.

Heavy Steam Faction Write-up- Rough Draft

UK Alliance:

Great Britain is a noble nation that prides itself on its industry and ingenuity. In the race to be better, faster, newer and more modern, therefore, the UK Alliance opts for sound mechanics over style. They do hope to eventually have an end result that is more up to the spit-spot standards of the empire. An outsider might note that with all the engineering and chemical advancements of their Scottish citizens that are then…modified to fit with the mechanical work of the British factories, that some of their mechanical advancements do appear a bit…cobbled. No matter, they are solid dependable mechanized components of the highest caliber using only the best materials in the empire. If this was all they had they would be a force to be reckoned with, but this also doesn’t take into account the history of leadership in Great Britain.

After the Great Blight while all European countries were recovering from their losses, Great Britain, with the help of Parliament forced the government to take use new tactics in establishing and maintaining their other colonies. Rather than use military might to have a presence in lands as far as India and as close to home as Ireland, the Brits used a combination of trade agreements as well as a healthy military presence to negotiate “the Empire on which the sun never sets”. They are known far and wide as having a tough but fair attitude towards their colonies, and have given more authority and voice to those principalities, having learned from those poor dead tea-dumpers across the Atlantic. Some feel they still have too little say and Great Britain behaves as an older brother, watching over all in judgment, but most are thankful for the security and prosperity the great nation has afforded their lands.

 

The Central European Trust (C.E.T.)
FRANCE

In an age know for pragmatism and style, the French chose to err on the side of decadence. Their work was lovely to the point of ridicule for ages, despite some great scientific advancement in chemistry and aeronautics. Because the King insisted on enough gilding and embellishments to make his Zephyrs look like Faberge Eggs, they were unable to make it off the ground. This lead to the great rebellion which overthrew the monarchy and lead to the Republic. In the run for power, these deficits almost cost them Algeria and their holdings in Asia, were it not for their academies. Though the quest for enlightenment through beauty and art may have been a national obsession, French universities produced the finest chemists in the world. Their research into the compound zenjin made the most efficient fuel and later, the deadliest chemical weapons. It was for this skill alone that Germany approached the newly appointed French Prime Minister Jones, to form the Europe Alliance.

GERMANY

Germany, for its part, was newly formed as well. The Hapsburg Empire debacle against Prussia at the end of the 18th century had left the land, harsher and more chaotic than its neighbors to the south. It might have be years and years before the Germans united were it not for the Great Blight. However, the darkness that lasted two years over all the world, the darkness that plunged most other countries into chaos was the unifying factor that formed the German nation. Some historians say the independent states had already hit bottom and were forced to change. Others defend that the great leader Anderson magnetic personality and determination dragged the country out of the darkness and into a unified nation of purpose and industry. Whatever the catalyst, by the mid-century the Germans were already starting to implement mass production.

What they lacked was creativity…and resources, especially fuel. While their constructs were of a solidly durable build, it took a lot of material and zenjin to keep them powered. France, with colonies in Asia, and a flair for whimsy may not have looked like a natural ally, but you know what they say about opposites…

Heavy Steam Early Timeline – Rough Draft

Some time in the 9th century –present day Stories are passed down from father to son about the Zhēngqì Jīnshǔ (steam rock). They flew from the sky and men harvested the precious materials from their bodies. Rudimentary experiments led to the invention of fireworks. Over the centuries, through the trial and error of great masters, materials are added to create more prolonged explosions that despite their power, are not as volatile. This recipe, closely hoarded, make the fireworks more spectacular, and explosions are more easily manipulated.

1502 – ? Leonardo Da Vinci performs experiments on a strange metal commonly mined in “The Orient” while in the employ of Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI. Based on a mangled translation, he names it Zenjin Rock. He learns that it can be used as a fuel which creates a byproduct of steam rather than smoke. Da Vinci uses this to build the world’s first hot air balloons in miniature, and to create designs for powering water mills, the first theoretical elevator, and steam engine.He spends the remainder of his life experimenting and writing of his findings, but his manuscripts disappear after his death.

1712 Thomas Newcomen, a Baptist preacher, improves previous rudimentary designs of the  steam zenjin for pumping water. Skeptics wonder how he came up with the idea without any previous engineering experience. It is rumored he has some of Da Vinci’s writings.

1757 or 1758 Joseph Black befriends James Watt. They begin the first systematic study regiment on steam power at Glasgow University soon after. Black provides significant financing and other support for Watt’s early research on the steam zenjin. Their research into the use of zenjin is the first scientifically documented since the Renaissance. With this material in use they are able to manipulate machinery in ways never imagined.

1769 Sir Richard Arkwright patents the water-frame, a machine that produced a strong twist for warps, substituting zenjin parts which add to the efficiency of the design. His commercial buy-in to a previously academic pursuit begins a trend that spreads throughout England, and eventually all of Europe.

1769 Eleanor Coade uses extremely low heat to blend ground stone and clay with zenjin. Her technique of alternating heating and cooling over long periods of time creates Zoade Stone, a high quality, durable weather-resistant substance, that has the hardness of rock, but also the conductivity and malleability of metal. While Eleanor uses it for architectural purposes, its uses carry over to many other designs in construction and weaponry over time.

December 8, 1770 – May 4, 1785 The Austrian Empire, ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty, tries to encroach on the “German” state of Prussia. Prussia calls on fellow states for allies to stop what is called the Holy Roman Empire War. The failed attempt to appropriate Prussia ends the invasion, but weakens both sides. Other states try to seize dominance over Prussia resulting in constant battles which deplete the land of resources over the next 15 years and making The Prussians vulnerable to outside attacks…but masters of weaponry and military tactics.

1776 James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both Great Britain and all of Europe, installs the first complex machines, named steam zenjins, in a commercial enterprise. They are used to power pumps and produce a reciprocating motion to move the pump rods at the bottom of the shaft. The design is commercially successful, and for the next five years Watt is very busy installing more zenjins, mostly for pumping water out of mines. In his spare time, he begins writing alternate uses for these mechanics…motorized moving structures is one of his ideas.

July 4th 1776 During the American Revolution, the comet carrying the rare heavy metal now known as zenjin comes the closest it has ever been to Earth’s orbit. At the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, it is spotted in the night sky. The world remarks over the vibrancy and size of the comet, many feeling it is a good omen for the new American nation. However, as it begins to glow bright even during the day, many start to panic and begin preaching the end of days. And right they are, as four months later the comet touches down in what was known as the Louisiana territory. The airburst is felt around the world, and the North American continent is annihilate on a scale unknown to modern man. The debris hits, and in a matter of minutes devastates the entire continent. What was once wide expanse of grasslands is now an inland sea. The shockwave, fires, and earthquakes from the even send the colonies back to the Stone Ages.. This blast causes ash and soot to rise into the atmosphere, cloaking the planet in twilight for two years. It takes almost that long for the broken armadas of Europe, all of which suffer great losses in the Americas, to discover the depth of the destruction. It is termed the Great Blight.The effects of the blast are felt around the world for decades, but are nothing compared to the now empty land of the North West quadrant of Earth.

1778 Antoine Lavoisier, the “Father of Modern Chemistry,” discovers the role oxygen plays in combustion. He recognizes and names it oxygen. Soon after he names hydrogen(1783). In the course of his career he finds and names many of the elements, but the pinnacle of his career is finding the unique interaction these two elements have with each other in zenjin, when during combustion they combine into water in its gaseous form.

June 1783 Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier invent the Montgolfière-style hot air balloon, globe aérostatique. The brothers succeeded in launching the first manned ascent by creating small controlled “explosions” of zenjin. Their globe aérostatique inspires many other aeronautic balloons, affectionately dubbed “Zephyrs.” They are a favorite with the king as a primary mode of transportation.

1785 The Bavarian-born, but Prussian-raised Anderson rises to power. He unifies the German states into one power through treatise, blackmail and any means necessary. His leadership transforms Germany from a quarreling group of tribal states to a country focused on mastering mechanics…for war.

July 30, 1789- November 29, 1793 The ridiculous extravagance of the monarchy, especially in areas of industrial progress (like the gilded zephyrs), leads to The French Rebellion. As many of the leaders of the rebellion are the bourgeoisie class responsible for enlightened creation and want to focus on building a better future, the Reign of Terror never happens, and the general public is appeased with more efficient ways of growing crops, leading to better food supplies rather than watching Madame Guillotine. This establishes the Republic of France

1794 – 1797 Watt is chosen to manufacture an apparatus to produce, clean, and store gases for use at the new Pneumatic Institution in Bristol. Watt continues to experiment with various gases for several years, combining them with zenjin to see which produces the best results. Each variation is also tested for efficiency with his research team in Glasgow on each new edition of their many and varied motorized inventions.

1800 – David Mushet, Scottish metallurgist,  patents a process to make zenjin modified steel. He bases his technique building on Eleanor’s Zoade stone research. While the initial process is extremely time-consuming and costly, the combination of the two materials creates a metal that is stronger and more durable than any other found on the planet. Because of the unique properties of zenjin, it also shows no signs of decay or rust due to oxidation.

December 22, 1800 A wiser and more cautious England, in an stunningly unprecedented display of diplomacy, forms the UK Alliance to combine the countries of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. While the initial bonds are volatile because of centuries of war, the Alliance holds. In these early years, the British military is sent to “enforce” the diplomatic relations of these countries. One young soldier, Leftenant Smith, is sent to Scotland.

1801-1835 Samuel Slater, an early English industrialist known as both the “Father of the Asian Industrial Revolution” and “Slater the Traitor” because he brought British technology to China, begins his relationship with the Far East.  He is publicly shunned and remains abroad for the rest of his life.

April 30, 1804 France, still recovering from the effects of the Great Blight and the Rebellion, finally begins to take notice of England’s great strides in diplomacy and invention. During a meeting to discuss this concern, the fledgling government realizes that in event of an attack, France is woefully unprepared. For the first time all parties abandon posturing and manipulation of power. All agree that every resource available will be considered, nay- exploited to create the technology able to counter the UK threat.

1804-1823 Over the span of almost two decades, unsuspecting theorists and practical merchants alike are conscripted to the French cause. Spies are paid handsomely for all information on the progress across the Channel. While the monetary depletion of an already humble treasury almost leads to a second rebellion, the end result is that France is able to build the first lightweight mechs before the UK Alliance’s ever see completion. Their lighter design is more delicately built. This makes them easier to break… but faster to build and redesign. Each new evolution of the mech is more agile than the last, and design flaws are quickly scrapped and improved. For a proud people, the French have realized the dire need to focus on innovation over posture. Somehow they still manage to make their mechs look more…fashionable.

1822 Charles Babbage, mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, develops the concept of a programmable computer. What he calls “The Difference Engine,” is theoretically designed to compute values of polynomial functions and calculate a series of values automatically. James Watt, seeing Babbage’s foresight, influences the wealthy men of industry to further fund this research.

December 21, 1822 After months of tentative negotiations initiated by Germany, France agrees to an alliance that will mutually benefit both countries. Under the terms of the Central Europe Trust (C.E.T.)  both countries will maintain separate territories and governments entirely, but share a joint stockpile of all weaponry, materials, and blueprints to create a vast arsenal of military might.

March 4, 1823 Testing their combined forces, the C.E.T.uses early designs of light-weight mechs imagined by the French and built by the Germans. Despite protest from the German-born pilot, Bob,  that it is too soon for such a risky endeavour, they are flown over the Channel via zephyrs. These ships are the original French aircrafts of two decades past, retrofitted to handle the weight of their original baroque design. Now with the decoration gone, they are able to lift a new, more purposeful load.

Locals believe they are seeing a monster of legend and cower in terror. Nearby, the garrison officer, Captain Rupert Corbet, leads his men in perfect formation towards the fray. At first sight of the great mechanical giant, they turn tail and flee.

The C.E.T. mech’s movement is quick and devastating. Glasgow University, the foundation of many of UK Alliance inventors, is damaged. However, except for the main structure, no weapons or documents are taken before the mech retreats into the night. The location is remote enough that precious time is lost for retaliation.

By the time the UK Alliance military is able to muster forces, diplomatic emissaries from the mainland have managed to stall a counter-attack. The incident is excused as being a solitary act of zealots. However the British crown and her loyal subjects take on a feeling of mistrust and resentment that lingers over time.

C.E.T. see this as a clear indication that their alliance holds great promise. Each country eagerly moves forward with the long-term plans outlined in the original treatise.

1824-1836 Walter Hancock, using the foundations of the steam zenjin and lower combustion exchange, invents a number of steam-powered road vehicles. In 1827 Hancock also patents a steam boiler that splits under pressure rather than exploding so that the passengers being carried on his steam vehicles would be able to travel in (relative) safety.

February 9, 1832 UK supplies and military en route to India are hit by a sudden storm off the coast of Morocco. Amazingly they are able to land and save the mech being sent to help police some of the colonies. Unfortunately, reports of the titan are received by a C.E.T. fort on the west side of Algeria. A regional, non mechanized battalion is dispatched to detain the wayward UK group. In the time it takes the French to reach them, the mech is up and running.

At first the encounter appears as if it will be a draw, with both sides backing down. However, a young Général de brigade, Georges Danton, decides his ambition is worth the risk of both himself and his men. After a short and brutally ugly battle every soldier, save one retreating private, is slaughtered. The UK Alliance re-boards their ship and continues to India. Were it not for the lone survivor on the C.E.T. side this incident would remain a mystery to the mainland Europeans. Instead it is sensationalized in pamphlets all over France and Germany. TheUK Alliance is painted as dastardly villains. No word of the encounter reaches Britain until after the ship has reached India and sent back intel. The news of what has transpired comes from propaganda tactics almost simultaneously to the ship’s report. At this point diplomacy is too late, and many British sympathizers and loyalists in Europe retreat back to England in fear of lynchings.

September 8, 1838 The mutual mistrust and ill will have both the UK Alliance and the C.E.T. moving their machines to strategic locations. The behemoths, strapped to the decks of their navy’s most stalwart carrier vessels, look like sea monsters themselves. Each time a mech is shuttled (escorted by the navy’s best) causes fitful nights of sleep for everyone. The crew manning the boat look for leaks constantly. The sailors on the warships scan the horizon for the enemy fleet. Bean counters of the  treasury imagine the cost of even one of these doubly precious trips being taken to the bottom of the dark blue depths. When leaving the harbor many an old salty dog notes to his fellow bilge rats how low ‘er navy’s great lady is riding. Despite the potential for catastrophe, the cost of fuel, and likelihood of running across the unspoken enemy these ventures are deemed worth the risk.

That is until the day when two barge vessels both carrying a titanic load, surrounded by their armada’s most stalwart warships, cross paths. For the sake of honor the ships on either side fire warning shots, signaling for the other side to move out their path. For the sake of honor, neither will change their course. For the sake of honor, it takes little effort to scuttle the transport carriers and many of the other vessels as well. Good men and women are lost this day. As predicted by the bean counters, the cost of the undeclared sea-battleis a devastating  blow to the financial state of the military on either side.

September 16, 1838-  May 19, 1846 Two great alliances and several countries grieve for the brave pilots and mechs lost at sea. All the cities of Europe hold memorials honoring the great men and women who risked their lives daily to pilot the massive behemoths and the sailors who risked their lives on the treacherous ocean. More than a financial hit, the great loss on either side is in morale. After only a week’s time, the young Queen Victoria meets with Prime Minister Maximilien de Robespierre to form the Treatease of Europe. The Treatise outlines, in no uncertain terms, that any act of aggression will not be considered accidental in the future. Since neither side wants to harm their brother/sister country (or suffer the financial setback until victory is assured) both sides strive to impress upon their good and earnest soldiers how harmful an attack will be for their country in general and on their own person in particular. The great powers, thus satisfied, retreat to their corners to bide their time.

1842 James Hall Nasmyth Scottish engineer and inventor develops and mass produces  the steam hammer.

May 16, 1846 It’s late spring, a time when farmers have planted crops, and are tending the tender leaves on the vine. The rebirth of the land fills the air with the delicate perfumes of honeysuckle and lilac. In the early  hours of a dewey May morning,ships glide the Bay of Biscay landing just south of Nantes. With razor-sharp efficiency they unload troops and mechs: their giant hulking masses are an army in and of themselves. Within the hour every cargo hold is emptied and the British fleet returns across the channel for the next load. The mechs break off into pairs heading for every key city in France. The other half of the fleet is landing in Germany with the same purpose. The UK Alliance thinks (with any luck) Paris will burn in a few days’ time along with Munich and Berlin. Of course this is not to be. The titans of the mainland soon rise to meet their foes and before long the ground shakes with the force of their battles. The Zenjin War is a long harsh bloody affair that only ends when a new threat arises.

 

Writing for A Steampunk Universe

As the creative writer for Heavy Steam, I am the creator of an entire world. Does that sound amazingly awesome to you? It did to me, but then I had to put in the work. You know what Uncle Ben said about having great power? He wasn’t wrong. Read on to hear about it.

Brainstorm

I attended PAX East 2013, and was lucky enough to play a few of the unpublished games developers brought for us to look at. However, I did not get to play the mech game a designer named Scott had brought to show us. After PAX I heard Jeff and Zach talk about how much fun it was, what a great idea it would be to publish… all it needed was a theme. “I’m thinking steampunk,” Jeff said. “Julie?”

Immediately I had to play the game so that I would know what I was writing for. We had a game session, and I really loved the elegance of the mechanics, even in that early session. I’m a fan of Flash Point and Pandemic, so I really appreciate when a resource management game has a theme that reflects the mechanics.

As for making our mechs work in a steampunk universe, you have to first understand the underlying fact of steampunk. In the world of steampunk, there’s a pivotal moment when the reality as we know it shifts from our timeline to the alternate one that takes us to a universe that could have happened.

To brainstorm what that shift was I turned to Zach. He is my first resource for throwing out ideas and thinking about the ramifications of them in a quick-think-aloud-no-idea-is-sacred kind of way. It makes for some intense conversations. We have created and destroyed several cosmos in the blink of an eye at this point. I wanted an energy/matter source that would redefine the industrial revolution. Zach posed the idea that for it to have impact in a timely fashion; our pivotal moment should take place around the time of the American Revolution. Then he threw out this postulation, “I would love it if North America blew up from a comet and just destroyed it.”

There it was: my reason for having a new element introduced, and the cause for a monumental shift in history. With no United States to become a heavy hitter during the industrial revolution, what might have happened? Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Research

Then began the dark days…. When writing for Zpocalypse my research involved re-watching Night of the Living Dead, and re-reading The Walking Dead. Even the CDC videos about preparing for a “zombie attack” are geared towards making kids aware of how disease spreads. Watching them is helpful and fun at the same time. Nothing prepared me for the hours upon hours of researching the European Industrial Revolution.

I love history, I really do. Also, I am a firm believer in filling your brain with as much information as you can so that your tank is always full for writing. However, I can say that the weeks of time I spent, reading the biographies of minor players in history, who could have become major players in our alternate history were not the best weeks of my life.

Why? For one thing, there is no visible output for the rest of the company to see.  I knew they realized I was working, but it’s hard to quantify. I feel for wizards. All that studying over a tiny candle in the wee hours of the night for that one firebolt… is it really worth it?

For another, you get a lot of eye rolling when someone casually names something a “Gatling Gun” and you freak out because that American inventor was never born.

Nevertheless, research is a necessary evil. It’s vital to the process if you are going to make an alternate history. History is no joke, it’s a complex tapestry of the lives of humanity, and “winging it” makes for terrible writing. I know because I have written some, and read others. However, finally I had a rough draft of a timeline. The first part of which can be seen on our BGG forums here. Go look, and comment at will.

Whose eyes are on this?

Once I (finally) was able to start writing, I needed feedback. Writing in a bubble is lovely. You can create lots of fun words all thrown together without interruption. It does not help you grow as a writer. It’s a painful lesson I have to relearn all the time. However, I do like to have feedback one critique at a time. For each project I pick specific people. This time, my go-to person was ‎Neil Remiesiewicz, the primary writer for Hull Breach! If you don’t know Hull Breach, it’s a sci-fy card game where you play different factions vying for power using your military bases and ships manned with marines out in space. The man knows a little something about alternate storylines with a military focus. He’s also an awesome writer.

Every time he had a comment that started with “Military Rant:” I breathed a sigh of relief. As a military history buff, I knew he would see things I would not. It also meant when showing my writing to the team after, I felt FAR more confident yelling at them for the Gatling Gun.

Writing Flavor Text for Zpocalypse Cards

Hi there! This is Julie, the Creative Writer for Zpocalypse. Ironically, I hit a writer’s block when it came to writing about writing, so I asked the team what they thought I should speak to for this blog. The response (thanks Zach!) was to address the specifics of the text on the cards. Many of the decks including Scavenging, Something’s Happening!, Survivor and Armory cards were wordier than most board games you find. We wanted to have an RPG feel within a board game format. The idea was to create story lines that were broad enough to encourage the players to imagine the wasteland fully, but not so involved that it was required to use them if you just wanted to go with the mechanics of the game and just kill some zombies. If that doesn’t seem tricky enough for you, read on!

Writing flavor text

If you are looking to write flavor text for your board game my advice to you is to keep it short! No, not really, although I am sure I felt that way during some points in the process; it does take a lot of time. If you’re going to be wordy, there are two things I strongly recommend – have a “voice” and know your audience.

The “voice” of the narration on our cards is one that is rather silly and sarcastic. This was to offset the fact that the game itself is intense and the theme could be depressing. Rather than take the 28 Days Later/Walking Dead/why-not-just-end-it-all-right-now approach, we went with more of a Shaun of the Dead meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer tone. This meant having a style of writing that needed to be consistent throughout. It was harder to have multiple writers for the cards because the tone was so specific. Many times I was given a Kickstarter update and simply asked to “Zpoc this, will you?”

The latter advice of knowing your audiences was a little more difficult for me to learn. A turning point for me was when I had a card where two Survivors sat down for a “palaver.” Now if you know what that means, you rock and I love you. However many on my team told me the word “palaver” was not in most people’s lexicon. I argued that using it would force them to LEARN the word. However after receiving MANY specific feedback papers telling me I may have made a typo since no one had ever seen the word palaver before, I changed the text. Now I know that there are many people out there who know this word, there are also some who do not. It is not my job to shame them into learning bigger words, it’s my job to create a world they can envision. I am also a teacher, so it was harder for me to let go of that part of myself. When I looked at it objectively I realized, there was no point writing a storyline if no one would read it.

Challenges

When having a text heavy game we wanted to make sure that the game mechanics weren’t lost in the shuffle (pun intended.) Here are some of the techniques we used to make sure gamers will get the most out of our stories and still have smooth game play.

Make sure the location of text is consistent- our cards all have flavor text at the top and stats at the bottom. It seems simple, but when you have multiple people working on multiple cards styles something like that can get lost.

Keep the wording consistent. Again, you may think this sounds straightforward and simple. Unfortunately this is not as simple as it sounds. For example, in our game we settled on calling the people who lived through the initial wave of nuclear and zombie attack “Survivors.” Then I spent the next several months changing the rules, and other developer’s input of “people” “heroes” “team members” and so on.

Of course when it comes to editing we were a small few and even with the help of some tremendous grammar lawyers out there I still find mistakes. It hurts my eyeballs to read them. The more eyes you can have on your (mostly) final writing product, the less incorrect formatting, verb tense disagreement, spelling and generally silly mistakes you will have. We still have plenty, but certainly less than if it had been left solely to our overworked selves.

Finally there was the maddening and perpetual debate of using symbols versus using words. Our cards use symbols to represent the hit points, defense, smarts, movement firearms skill and melee skill stats for your Squad, as well as food, items, armory, survivors, zombies, zombie movement and die roll outcomes. Now imagine removing text every time you write the word “food” to replace it with the symbol on every card and in the rulebook. Imagine someone telling you they’ve changed their mind and please put them all back in. Imagine them changing their mind again. Whatever you decide, make it consistent commit to it early on. The pros of having the symbols is that it made the cross reference for all the cards consistent, as well as a visual for our gamers in other countries. The difficulty was staying consistent.

 

To add to the confusion

All of these things happened working within a collaboration. There were many eyes on all aspects of the game. This was wonderful because we revised and revisited things that did not work often. It was dreadful because we revised and revisited things that did not work often. Ricky spoke about that in his blog when he referenced “killing your babies.” If my many drafts came back to life from the graveyard of broken storylines, I would be a dead woman… or an undead woman. It was sometimes a painful upsetting process, but I do feel I am a better writer for it. I have character now. When you create something, even something that you think is terrific, it may not be right for the end product. You must let it go. You can go in a corner and sob quietly for a while, I will understand, but you must let it go.

Why do it?

So why did I subject myself to this grand experiment of making a storyline for a board game? Because a board game with great mechanics and no theme is just math. We wanted a terrific zombie game, not just terrific mechanics that took people around and around the board. I know Jeff worked hard on making the rules of the game work, but also he wanted them to fit into the theme of surviving a frighteningly intense landscape. I like to think I helped contribute to that aspect a great deal. It’s what takes a game from good to great. Those are the games I love to play and those are the games I want to be a part of.

The Red Button

Mike hated his job. The pay was great. Hell for being a glorified button pusher, the pay was outstanding. He had health benefits, dental included, a comfy chair and all the softdrinks the vendor in the hall could provide. It was the retirement plan that sucked. Lately, the hours were shit as well. He didn’t even want to think about his social life, or lack thereof. Yes, work was all-consuming. He groaned inwardly at his private joke.

The overlords stood in a huddle behind him. Most days they strutted around commandcentral like overstuffed roosters, crowing orders inflated with their self importance. They were not really overlords, and this was not really commandcentral, but Mike liked to think of it as such. So did the overlords. Until recently, they really were the leaders of the most powerful nation on Earth. But nature had trumped their sense of control. They had gotten less arrogant as the plague swept through the nation. The more information that came in about infections per capita, the more they closed ranks, exchanging fierce whispering sessions with each other, like jilted girlfriends not wanting to create a scene at the bar.

Mike, knowing he was an “acceptable loss” kept his mouth shut and kept pressing buttons. Even when he saw Kansas City consumed in a wash of red “infection rate” coloring, he had kept his cool. It was only later, in the privy that he slammed his fists into the stall and sobbed silently for his mom, left on her own. Lucy was a tough bird, but that solid red told him she didn’t stand a chance. Then he used the indulgent hot and cold running water to clean himself up and went back to his comfy chair to push more buttons. That was two weeks ago.

Today, he had rolled out of his bunk when the wake-up alarm sounded. Unlike your typical clock radio, this was a real alarm. Some new level of bad had happened, and that meant all hands on deck. Knowing he had 5 minutes to be on the floor ready to act as the good little soldier, he turned the faucet knob for a quick wash. Nothing came out. This was the first sign that the outside world, awash in red was infiltrating the compound. Somewhere in the last month he knew this day would happen, but the fear that came over him was unexpected. He twisted the knob of sharply and dressed in uniform. Deodorant, hair gel and cologne would have to do for the day. Or the week. Hell, why be that optimistic?

In the hallways people rushed past, most headed to the upper levels. Around him he saw hollow eyes and clenched jaws, while he pushed past to head to the 12th floor… down. He looked at the elevator. It had been up and running last night when he left for his mandatory 4 hours of shut eye at 0100 hours, but the sink experience meant he didn’t want to risk it. Guards were stationed at every level of the stairwell in preparation for this eventuality, so Mike took out his ID. When he got to the doors, no one was there.

He finally shook out of his reverie to look around him. In the base there were usually a few people in the halls, moving with purpose to their destinations. Now, there were sporadic pockets of soldiers, grunts mostly, rushing up to the top levels and then dead silence in between. Something was up. There were only a few options left of what that something could be, and Mike had never been an optimist.

He headed to the 12 floor.

When he entered the war room all eyes turned to stare at him. The tension hit him as hard as a punch in the gut. He paused with the weight of it, then moved to his comfy chair. Swiveling he turned to face the overlords and await their command.

“Do it.” one of them said calmly, a statement of fact.

“Sir- the living… I- it won’t… I can’t!” stuttered Stephen. Sweat had soaked through his clothes like he had just finished a marathon. He looked panicky and his eyes scanned the room for an ally. In a room full of officers, men and women sworn to stay steadfast, the best of the best, not one could meet his eye. The exception being the general who had issued the order, and Mike who still had no clue what was happening.

Almost casually the general removed his sidearm, released the safety and aimed the barrel at Stephen.

“Solder, I told you to execute sequence Kilo-Oscar-one-nine-four-five. Are you refusing an order?”

“Sir, please… I don’t-”

The shot sounded, and Stephen slumped over. Not another human had screamed or raised their voice in protest or remorse. The silence hung in the air, stretching time to a painful standstill. The faint sound of crashing from the floor above ended the pause.

The general… General Livolin maybe, turned to Mike. “Execute the sequence.”

Mike swiveled in his comfy chair to face his screen. His fingers flew over the keyboard to type in the series of code. Now all the eyes that had avoided his less than five minutes ago bore into the back of his head. He said over his shoulder, “Authorization?”

General… Lovlett? Livingston? walked over to the terminal, leaned in and typed his password. Then he stepped back leaving Mike to press the final “enter” button. Bastard.

Mike looked at him. Stared into his hollow face with hate and despair. “You are not saving us. You are ending the human race,” he hissed. Then he pressed the button. On the map, the target cities where all the nuclear missiles had been programmed to hit showed their detonation. The room had stopped looking at Mike, they barely noticed him get out of his comfy chair and head for the door. They watched each city light up on the map like a game of Risk. When Mike opened the door wide open to let the bitten in they were too engrossed in watching the remote destruction of the world to see it up close and personal until it was too late.

Art by Kieran Russell https://twitter.com/Art_Kieran

Art by Kieran Russell
https://twitter.com/Art_Kieran