The Launch

Craig and William glanced through the draft Steam Store page for what had to be the last time. There had been many last times, interrupted by a sudden realisation or a different delay, but now they were out of last times and out of money.

Only one press of the enter key stood between them and releasing their video game into the world.

Craig nervously flicked through the screenshots. He still wasn’t quite happy with his background art, he worried the animations were a little too choppy and there were elements of the art style he regretted integrating.

William looked at the project and loved the art. He was amazed by Craig’s artwork and the speed he’d managed to create it all. He saw an entirely different breed of problems. He’d never quite figured out that bug that made objects disappear, one in one million times. He hadn’t had time to re-write the audio code, which he knew would be a pain to maintain. There had never been quite enough play testing to convince him the design was actually solid.

“You did good work, Craig,” William said. “It’s a beautiful game.”

Craig scoffed. “The gameplay is the only thing that makes it worthwhile,” he said, and he meant it. In his eyes, William had pulled together a very tight control system, with a seamless design.

“After looking at it for so long, I’m not sure I can see anything good about it anymore,” William said.

“I know how you feel,” Craig said.

They stared in silence a moment longer at the decorated page, the enter key so close yet so inaccessible. It seemed like an optimistic approach was futile. Craig felt a wave of negativity that drew him closer to release; apathy, frustration and a sense of letting go.

“I’m going to hit it,” Craig said, reaching out for the keyboard. “Fuck it.”

“Wait,” William said, causing Craig to hesitate. “What if people don’t like it? What if they hate it, even?”

“That won’t happen,” Craig said. “I think it’s half decent. You think the other half is decent. It’ll be fine.”

William sat back, sighing. “I didn’t think it’d feel like this,” he said.

“Like what?” Craig replied.

William shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought it’d feel satisfying, not nerve wracking. I thought we’d be gaining something but I don’t feel any different. I thought the game would feel finished but it just feels like we’re giving up. Collapsing, instead of crossing the finish line.”

“We could work on this forever,” Craig said. “It’s about time we let go.”

William bobbed his head. “What do you think will happen?”

“There’s a handful of things that could happen,” Craig said. “First, like you say, people hate it, or no one finds it, and it tanks. We give this up and go back to normal jobs to pay back the debt we’ve racked up. We’ll still wind up doing the occasional game jam so essentially we’re back to where we started. That’s the bad option. Second thing that could happen. It does okay, gains some fans, and we get enough funding to make another game. That’s the good option. The third possibility is that it totally blows up, gains hundreds of thousands of followers and we become insanely happy for the rest of our lives, like Notch, Toby Fox or Davey Wreden.”

William snorted and hugged himself.

“What do you want to happen?” Craig asked.

William sighed. “I don’t know. I just hope people like it.”

Craig nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”

Craig hit enter.

The Tree

deadtreeMy father would, on occasion, offer up spontaneous advice. I remember once he said to me, and I remember being quite unprepared for the suddenness of it, ‘Don’t worry, your time will come’. I stared at him, puzzled by this unexpected and unwanted outburst. ‘I was older than you before I was married. There’s plenty of time’, he continued.

I still rack my brains now trying to figure out where that little gem came from and I just can’t explain it at all. But that was my father; getting me spectacularly wrong every time. I can only assume it was another projection of some strange path he thought I should be following, and I was obviously straying from it at that time, dangerously enough for him to have to offer wisdom and caring support.

He liked the outdoors so we did have that in common, I suppose, though we had different ideas on how to embrace it. He had his favourite spot and there are photographs from every camera he ever owned, testing their worthiness on that slope, looking down into the valley below. The earlier ones are now sepia, and the colour on the later ones have turned grotesque shades making the view look like an alien landscape. They are all, however, quite unmistakably of the same view.

When I was born he planted a tree in that spot and you can see it grow over the years in a strange picture-postcard storybook. A solitary sad little thing clinging to the edge of a slope, stunted by short summers and twisted by strong prevailing winds. It’s a wonder it ever grew at all.

He took me up there when I was quite young, at an age when I guess he felt it time to impart his philosophical views on me, to start moulding me into a man. ‘This is you’, he said. ‘Roots in the ground, the earth, Scotland. I planted this when you were born. When I come up here now, I’m connected to the land, and to my family’.

I can’t remember how long ago it was my father died. Funny that. It might have been 20 years ago, maybe 25, or even 30. You’d think I’d remember but it all just fades after a while. I do remember him dying though. Each single laboured breath separated by long, agonising pauses as his weak, brittle body tried to muster enough strength to pull more oxygen from the air into his starved lungs.

Eventually, a pause was simply left unfollowed by an intake of breath. I remember waiting for it, but it never came and his eyes focussed on something I couldn’t see. I didn’t know what to do, who to call, was this really it? But that was me all over, going through life never quite knowing what I’m supposed to do next. He’d have been infuriated.

Last year I came across his old maps and on one, clearly marked, was his spot with a little red circle. I decided on a whim, before my legs would reject such a trip, to take a walk up there. It was easy to find but the tree was long since dead. Perhaps it had died when he had, maybe even before, maybe since. Looking around it was clear he was no Elzéard Bouffier and the landscape remained unaffected by this singular, incongruous, non-native alien. Its roots were probably not deep enough to find the nourishment it needed to grow in this bleak environment, and leaves barely turned green long enough before turning brown and falling to be caught and trapped by the heather below. It didn’t really belong here at all. With an unexpected watering of my eyes I looked at the dry, brittle, withering collection of twigs and logs and thought, it seemed like my father never really understood trees either.

My Net

I stand in the stream of sand and hold out my net. The sand rushes past, eroding me.

A variety of objects passes by, some hidden under the surface, others partially visible. I see different metals, tyres, empty bottles, fluffy toys, computer gadgets, countless things flowing past me.

I see a scrunched-up painting approaching me. I hold out my net and the paper slips into it. Only once it’s in my net can I look at it properly. It awakens an interest in the arts within me and it remains in my net.

Next I see a precious rock. I can’t reach it from my position. I struggle against the current as I take steps towards it and reach out with my net. The sand is deeper here. I manage to catch the rock; the heaviness of it strains my arms. I can now see it’s gold.

I turn towards the far side of the stream, where I was. I see another person with their own net, looking towards me. I’m tempted to move towards them but I worry I won’t reach them and I’m tired from wading to where I am, so I remain in place.

From where I am I can reach many things. I catch some blank paper, small jars of paint, and some brushes. With my net in the sand I pick up unseen objects as well, an empty tube of lipstick, more scraps of paintings, shreds of writing. It all builds up in my net.

I take a break from catching things and see what I have gathered. Compelled by the original painting and the other objects I’ve picked up on the way, I spend some time using the paper, paint and brushes to create my own painting. Once it’s finished, I put it back in my net.

My legs are growing weary now, the constant stream of sand making them grow red and sore. I grow fearful. I look back to all the things I missed. An endless stream of possibilities behind me.

It does not matter now. As I lose the strength to stand my ground, my net breaks, and everything I gathered up is scattered into the sand for those downstream.

The Darkness Came Crawling

TDCCwThe darkness came crawling. Slowly it stole over rocks towards me, smothering the last of the light as it passed over retreating flowers. Silently it moved, my eyes fixed on the front between light and shade, the boundary between all I could see, and all I could imagine. I peered through the hole of my bivvy bag as I pulled the cords tighter and slowly watched the world disappear.

Silence. Far below I knew there was a river flowing but its gentle trickle was now silent to me, the sound of blood rushing instead, my heart forcing it faster around my body, the sounds of my life betraying its presence as though amplified a thousand times within this echo chamber, this terrible choice for a place to sleep, this dark and foreboding canopy of trees.

A noise. A scuttling scurrying right past my head I’m imaging it I must be. I’m sweating now but the bivvy bag tiny hole is pulled tighter. I can hardly breathe and the pinhole breathing gap only serves to make me gasp for every inch of life.

In the distance, moans, as though the ghouls have awoken, approach, dragging their feet as they come through the dead leaves and bark of the tangled forest floor, rising up from the dank, hidden swamps of the deep forest core. I have chosen the very spot where they dance at night and they walk now around my entombed body. Will they prod me to see if I am alive? Will they just grab me now and feast on my mortal soul? Or do they mistake me for some fallen log and I will go unnoticed as they perform their dark rituals around my motionless, petrified form?

Who is this heavier one now? Gasping it comes! Four legged if I’m not mistaken I can’t bear it as it slowly parades around my body. The scattering all around the chamber must be the start of the dance and he leads, but why the sudden, single, piercing, painful screech of a second? What was the screech? Am I hearing the undead signify the peak of the revelries or was some other poor soul the sacrifice and I’ve just listened to the agony of his final moment on God’s forsaken Earth?

Something passed by the pinhole. And again, a fluttering in silence but my vision was definitely disturbed. Do I turn, no I don’t move I daren’t move as the pinhole flickers its silent movie onto a screen I can’t see. There’s a coming and going, a to and fro, a push and pull, a sickening tear and rendering of flesh I can hear it so close I can smell the death.

Then of a sudden, as silent wings rise, the stillness descends. And now the darkness cowers in fear for the gates of nightmares are about to open, as I slowly, inevitably, succumb to sleep.