Songs Nobody Can Hear

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Describing a song nobody can hear is one of the oddest challenges a writer can face. Usually when a writer is tasked with describing something they can tackle our basic senses. They can describe how wet leaves smell, how a burger tasted, how a blast of snow felt on your face, or the bang of a gun. So where’s the difficulty when it comes to music? Isn’t it just a matter of appealing to a reader’s senses? Not exactly.

The previous examples reveal an interesting point about descriptions in general. They all deal with direct reference to our senses. With the wet leaves example, it triggers our memories of what wet leaves smell like. An author can basically instill the memory of wet leaves and so as you’re reading you get some indication of the smell. It really boils down to a matter of triggering a memory.

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Inhale Deeply

But what about if the reader hasn’t experienced the thing the author is talking about?

Take a sword fight for instance. Two characters are in a furious battle and at one point one of the character slashes the other across the chest. Chances are the reader has never been slashed by a sword themselves so the author can’t really rely on a reader’s memories of being slashed by a sword. Instead he relies on comparisons, associations that don’t necessarily rely on direct links, but rather what being cut by a sword is similar to. We’ve all been cut, and we’ve all felt the sting that accompanies it, writers can draw on that experience even if the reader has never been sliced by a sword specifically.

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Yes, like that

With these two things, memory triggers and association, writers have quite an arsenal at their disposal when it comes to describing things. We can describe incredibly complex and even intangible things in this manner and it’s really impressive at times. Through the power of words we can have a reader feel, smell, taste, and touch things that may not even exist at all.

Still though, this doesn’t seem to cover writing music scenes. There’s something missing there from our formula. So what’s the problem?

The trouble with writing about music is that it can’t rely on memory or association. Unless the writing mentions a specific song or an artist, chances are we can’t really rely on a reader’s memory to know what the music is supposed to sound like. After all if the song is from the author’s own imagination it’s hard to draw on the reader’s memory since, unless you’re a skilled telepath, you’re the only person who knows what the song is supposed to sound like.

What about association though? Surely we can say it sounds like something right? Can’t we just say that it sounds like a cross between the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”? Sure… If a comparison like that would make sense in your story. After all it’d be weird for a writer to describe the music at a king’s court to sound like a “ Bob Dylan tune with a touch of Judas Priest.” Because making analogies to things that don’t exist in the setting of the story is just… strange. Hilarious sure, but really awkward.

Okay, if not for direct comparison maybe we can rely on more basic sound description? We can describe what a heavy metal song sounds like; screeching and grinding guitars, growling vocals, beating thunderous drums etc. etc. But the trick here is that no matter how well I describe the song we’re all going to have drastically different interpretations of what that sounds like.

But isn’t that just a matter of human perspective in general? You know that whole, “there’s no way of communicating what red is and there’s no way of knowing if the red we see is the same as what others see” deal? Its interesting for sure but somehow civilization hasn’t collapsed into a frenzied madness whenever we say, “that’s a red balloon”

The End of Civilization

The End of Civilization

With colors especially even if our perceptions of the color differ slightly there’s enough overlap in our perspectives that we’ve come to an agreement that the balloon is red.  Basically, there’s enough agreement on what “red” is that we’re willing to accept that red is what red is. Music on the other hand is a bit more complex.

The thing with sound association is that there’s so much room to move around in. Sound descriptions when it comes to music can invoke radically different interpretations between readers much more than just than just a red balloon. Sure we all have some agreed upon notion of what “bang” “pop” “fizzle” “crack” and “splat” sound like, but music can’t be accurately described just by sprouting off onomatopoeia. With that in mind it’s easy to see that writing music scenes is more than just getting the description of the sound right.

Music scenes have to make the reader imagine a song they’ve never heard before. Go ahead and try to describe a song that doesn’t exist to a friend without making a comparison, singing, dancing, playing an instrument or doing anything else except talking about it. Chances are they’ll stare at you confused and bewildered as they slowly inch their way towards the door.

So what’s a writer to do? After all music is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be included in the first place. The important thing here is to realize that the point of music is to set a mood, to invoke a feeling. In the end it doesn’t really matter if six different readers imagine the song different ways. What matters is that they set a similar mood, aid in establishing a scene and invoke a similar feeling.

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…or maybe it’s more than that

At times its best to let your reader decide how to feel about a particular piece, since leaving it up to your reader can give your scene flexibility. Other times its best to directly state how it should make them feel by describing a character’s reaction to it. Maybe they dance wildly, maybe they gasp in awe, or maybe they hold their hands over their ears and pray for the end of their torture.

Turn off that non-existent sound right this minute!

Turn off that non-existent sound right this minute!

Sometimes music can be used as a cruel tool of misdirection. Maybe there’s a light, classical even whimsical melody being played at a dinner party while the murdered slips behind the duchess and slits her throat. In this case, the music can make the murder feel that much more uncomfortable. Because a vicious act is now associated with a rather light feeling. Uncomfortable yet?

Music is often seen as the tool of television, video and er… music. Rarely is it seen as a weapon for print mediums. No other medium can establish subtext, invoke a feeling or portray thought as effectively as the written word can. That doesn’t stop with writing a scene with music. Music isn’t a weakness for writers, its just another tool in their arsenal.

And then there's the rest of the arsenal

And then there’s the rest of the arsenal

So what do you think? What makes a scene with music effective? Who does it well? How can we do it better? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Comic Book Supervillains: Victims of Consequence

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Villains are notoriously hard to write, and perhaps none more so than comic book Supervillains. Suffering from the larger problem of consequence negation, villains have gone from threatening antagonist to monthly punching bags. Even world-shakers and cosmic level threats lose their luster after getting their butt’s kicked for almost 50 years. 

This is one of the biggest pitfalls comic book writers are forced to navigate around. How do you establish any real sense of danger or urgency without breaking the cardinal rule of the comic book industry: Don’t Kill the Money. After all, who’s going to make the villain that kills Spider-Man?

Nobody

Nobody

Nobody at Marvel is going to kill Spider-Man and yes I mean actually kill him. No going back in time, no alternate time lines, no dreams, no warped reality, no “this is just one possible future”, no clones, no “dude pretending to be spider-man”. I’m talking straight up, Peter Parker, Spider-Man Earth 616 completely and utterly and permanently dead. The villain who pulls that off is going to hold a  place in every comic fan’s heart as… The villain that ended their favorite series. That writer would need to be able to justify killing off Marvel’s poster-boy, and flagship character that has in turn generated billions of dollars for the company. It’s just a stupid move from a business stand-point.

Protected by consequence-immunity and legacy, it’s really not fair for super-villains. How are they supposed to stand a chance against an enemy who is completely immune to death? How do you create a sense of danger and panic in your foes when your latest world conquest is brushed aside so effortlessly? We have villains who have been around for over 40 years who have a track record of being defeated for just as long and we’re still looking to our writers to create danger for our protagonist.

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Do writers need to keep rehashing Dr. Doom’s master plans for readers who have the full knowledge and certainty that whatever Victor does it’s just going to fail anyways? Even if we’re going to introduce an entirely new villain (note that all of your favorite supervillains are at least 30 years old)  and invest in them as a recurrent characters, they’re eventually going to go through the same cycle and ultimately face the same fate. Even if their debut does something heart-stopping and incredibly wicked they all meet the same destiny of being used over and over again until their appearance generates little more than a sarcastic, “oh no, what are they going to do now…”

Don’t get me wrong. Certain writers have taken this restriction and have done incredibly innovative takes on the villain. They recognize that super-villains are much more than just “the bad guy” They have written them with a level of sympathy and have blurred the fine line of morality far more than anyone gives them credit for.

Furthermore, writers know that mortality is a jagged mountain face that no one can really climb but simply hope to hang there for a few moments. With that in mind, they’ve had to substitute “death” for other forms of danger; other ways to invoke urgency and fear in their readers. Some have done this by killing off family members, friends, and innocent bystanders. Others have done this by attacking the hero’s mental state or appealing to their vices. In many ways the restrictive nature of the medium has prompted writers to push the genre to incredible depths. There’s no denying that over the years comic writers have managed to maintain our fear, and our sense of danger in super-villains despite all this.

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No other form of writing calls on its creators to write compelling canonical storylines for anywhere near the amount of time, or consistency. While there have been series in other mediums that have run for decades, none of them are held to the same standards of established story arc, strict character guidelines, frequency and fan backlash like comics. We’re looking for that never-ending story.

I think that’s part of what makes comic books so compelling. They appeal to a childlike reassurance that “everything is going to be okay, your hero will be there for you.” Questions of quality and craft aside, could we really stomach removing the “immortal and invincible” complex that protects our heroes? That’s precisely what writers need to do if they want villains that don’t eventually become a diminishing and irrelevant threat.

Writers have the monumental and often times paradoxical job of making everything new but staying exactly the same. And that’s one of the issues with villains. Honestly, I want to keep seeing Magneto, the Joker, Lex Luthor etc. etc. for years and years to come but I’m also bored to death of them. I want to see new villains, but at the same time I’d much rather read a comic with Magneto doing his thing than “New Super Badguy” that I’ve never heard of or really care about. I want there to be lasting consequence… but I don’t want there to be lasting consequence. Good luck trying to make me happy comic writers.

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What do you think? How do you feel about comic book villains today? Do writers need to step up their game in writing compelling, interesting and threatening villains or do they have it right? What are some examples of villains that you believe have transcended this problem? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Table Kickers: Hard Wyred

On this week’s Table Kickers I’ll be taking a look at the upcoming humorous, action-packed cyberpunk comic written by Erik Bitmanis, Illustrated by Joshua Suarez and Gwenelle Daligault and lettered by Jaime Me:  Hard Wyred.

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We all know the unwritten cardinal rule of criticizing a piece of art before giving it a chance; don’t judge a book by its cover. However, I must confess that I totally judged this comic by its cover and I’m not sorry for it at all. We’ll get to the comic’s premise in just a moment but just take a moment to look at that cover.

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Look at it.

I love the rough, almost grunge-like feel the cover has. The distorted perspective of the top with a messy kitchen blending into what looks like upside down skyscrapers that appear to be crumbling is cool and works really well. Plus if you look closely of the character in the center you’ll see a reflection of a man in a trench coat and a gun. The artwork, just on the cover is creative, thought provoking and the more you look at it the more things you’ll notice, which in turn leads to more questions.

That being said, it gets even cooler knowing the premise of the story. While not a lot has been revealed Hard Wyred takes place in the near future where people are able to upload their subconscious to an online profile. What this basically means is that all of your dreams come true, but of course what happens is that everyone else’s dreams come true as well. What results is a virtual reality online world where people’s online persona comes true. And everyone thinks that’s totally great.

Except for our hero: Sam Wyerznowski. Sam isn’t too happy about this new technology and he’s basically being dragged into the future kicking and screaming. He wants nothing to do with this cyber world, but ironically his job had him going in and out of the program constantly. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), he was forced into an early retirement. Sounds like things had gone Sam’s way.

Unfortunately, Sam’s old employer, Ms. Teller, was attacked by an unknown enemy. Now Ms. Teller is forced to call on Sam’s help (though she’d definitely prefer not to.) Sam is plunged back into the world where people’s wildest fantasies and internet personas are a reality and what he finds is a conspiracy much larger than he could ever imagine.

As a new publication the Hard Wyred team has kept a secret on the details of the plot and not much is known beyond the brief synopses located on their Official Kickstarter Page and their website. Luckily for us we have access to a six-page preview: Which you can see right here. 

First off I love the tone of the comic so far. It manages to be witty and satirical without being a complete joke. It’s thought provoking but still pretty funny (I especially the dialogue between Sam and the uploading program); it’s a nice break from the usual brooding, ultra-violent, super serious grim fests that have become popular lately.

Plus Sam as a character interests me already. I’m already wondering why he’s so against this cyber world. What happened to him during his previous employment that forced his early retirement? What does he know about the place that we don’t? Beyond that though I think he’s an interesting character just in terms of his contrasting body image, it’s an interesting look at self-perception and body image fantasy.

It’s hard to judge which direction Hard Wyred is going in but I hope that the team continues to capture that weaving of hilarity and thought provoking undertones. They have something unique here in the way Sam is coming off as being something of an anti-hero but kind of not. Instead of the usual, dark brooding angry anti-hero Sam is a much more fun character but he’s certainly not happy about his new job. I’m hoping Hard Wyred remains light and whimsical throughout its run and that it doesn’t lose its philosophical flair either.

However, this project needs your help. There are so many great projects like Hard Wyred that never see the light of day because they don’t have the funds or the recognition they so rightly deserve in order to make them a reality. Let’s make Hard Wyred happen friends. If you would like to support Hard Wyred head on over to their Official Kick Starter Page and if you aren’t financially able to support this project I’m sure the team would greatly appreciate you telling your friends about this awesome project.

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               Every week Mystic Potluck will spotlight a KickStarter project that I feel deserves more recognition. There are a lot of great, interesting projects that never come to fruition simply because they don’t get the funding or the attention that they deserve. Table Kicker is my way of trying to help make more of these awesome projects a reality.

Let’s Learn About it: Medicine in the Middle Ages

Ahh, the wonderful times of yore; with kings, lords, ladies and knights in shining armor. When poor people had excellent singing skills and would break into song every morning while knights galloped through enchanted forests, their hair waving in slow motion. Those wonderful, wonderful times…

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Oh… Oh my…

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*gulp*

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Okay, those skeletons look like they’re having a great time but still you get the point. If you weren’t a dancing skeleton during the middle ages things definitely not great, or even really that good either. Okay, those times sucked.

If people weren’t being tortured and murdered in the most horrible ways you can imagine for being heretics (and everybody was a heretic); there was always the constant wars and the horrific diseases people had to look forward to. Actually the life expectancy during these times was the old old age of 35.

Let that sink in for a moment, thirty-five years old. If you lived passed that it was pretty much a miracle. Well maybe not a miracle but…

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Okay okay, it was definitely a miracle.

Still though for as bad as times were, there was still some attempt to keep people alive. Not to spoil the surprise for anyone but they were typically very bad at it. And that brings us to the most important (and only) rule of Medieval Medicine…

Everyone was bad at it (but Europe was especially bad)

Around this time doctors aka “guys dressed like giant crows with top hats”, had some knowledge of herbs in order to concoct remedies that acted as antiseptics, local anesthetics and even managed to cure infe—

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Evil Spirits.

And how exactly did they treat these, er “evil spirits”? Medical practice at the time was deeply rooted in the idea that the body was made up of four essential fluids or humors; yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm.

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“Ahh yes you have too much Jerry Seinfeld in your blood”

When a doctor determined that you had too much of one of these humors, every effort was made to drain your body of it. As you may have guessed, this meant making the patient vomit, sweat or bleed.

And when they weren’t making you spew bodily fluids all over the place doctors would use herbs, leeches, worms, urine, and animal excrement to cure illnesses and ailments. These were applied in a number of ways such as through pills, drinks, washes, baths, rubs, poultices, purges and ointment.

Some more specific examples of medieval remedies included using liquorice and comfrey for lung illness; using mint, wormwood and balm for stomach problems and using vinegar to clean out cuts. Meanwhile, oil extracted from Myrrh  was used as an antiseptic, and Yarrow extract was used to treat headaches.

While most remedies were simply oils and other ingredients extracted from different plants, others were a bit more bizarre and sometimes just downright lethal. For instance one potion’s ingredients included gall from a castrated boar, bryony, opium, henbane  and hemlock juice. Go ahead and take a moment to look at those links…

Or if you prefer a summary, those all either have psychoactive properties, are straight-up poisonous or are from a castrated boar. I hate to see the effects of all of those ingredients mixed together.

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Meanwhile, surgeons were expertly trained with twenty years of med school under their belt with years of shadowing top surgeons before they were allowed to give surgery.

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In reality, a surgeon wasn’t trained at all. That’s because a surgeon wasn’t even a profession; surgery was done by your local butcher or barber. You know those old timey red and white barber shop poles? Yeah those are symbolic of blood and bandages. Think about that the next time you ask them to take a little more off the top and then decide not to tip.

Surgeons were just basically anyone who was kind of good with a knife. Needless to say surgery didn’t go too well too often. When it came down to it the simple and most effective method to surviving surgery was to not get surgery. Still though, despite the high mortality rate there are reports of some fairly impressive surgeries, including ones for: breast cancer, fistulas, hemorrhoids, gangrene, and cataracts.

Come on now they don’t sound so bad?

In all fairness, doctors at the time were horrifically bad. Like, worse than “makes you sit in a cold office in your underwear while he brings in a group of med students” bad. For example the remedy for a toothache was to hold a candle up to the tooth, until the worms fell out into a cup held by the patient’s mouth. Yep, worms.

“Hi there, I’m in your teeth!”

How about for kidney stones? Ah yes, a very simple fix. Just use this hot plaster smeared with honey and pigeon shit. How they come up with this one I haven’t the slightest clue.

What about something as horrific as the bubonic plague? What did doctor’s come up with for this terrible disease that killed 60% of Europe’s population. Surely the greatest medical minds of the era came up with the best remedy they could; showing innovation, ingenuity and a determination that was downright legendary. These great minds came up with…

Lancing the buboes then applying onions butter and garlic.

So you were basically being stabbed in the crotch with a spear and then dudes dressed like crows would put onions, butter and garlic on it.

This was a common methodology when it came to trying to cure diseases and heal ailments. Essentially, many doctors equated sweet smelling or “smells like dinner” with being healthy. So often instead of actually trying to cure the disease itself they tried to make the patient smell better. For instance, head pains were often treated with roses, lavender, sage and bay. Meanwhile coriander was used to reduce fevers.

On the other side of the coin were those in the “let’s just rub gross shit on this person” camp of medical methodology. Animal urine and excrement were often used in a number of ways to treat diseases as well. I’m not quite certain but I believe the logic behind it was, “let’s gross this person out so much that they won’t dare get sick again.”

Okay, sounds pretty horrible. Why were things so awful?

More than likely, it was a combination of things. But one thing is for certain: It was pretty much always the patient’s fault for being a dirty, blasphemous sinner. Every illness was a punishment from God for sin. Everything that could go wrong with the human body was blamed on evil spirits.

Yeah, these guys

Yeah, these guys

And what better way than to relieve the patient of evil spirits than with perhaps the most famous and wonderful medical technique from the era: trepanning. Trepanning was where a surgeon (read: the local butcher) would cut a hole into your skull (or if you were especially lucky cut out part of your brain), then the evil spirits would drain out of you.

Let’s assume for a moment, just for the fun of it, that evil spirits weren’t all to blame. Suppose, now this may sound ridiculous but hear me out, perhaps it was the combination of people being packed close together in overcrowded cities, non-existent hygiene (what the hell are germs?) a sewage system that came down to “throw contents of crock pot out the window”, knowing virtually nothing about the human body and a downright bizarre way of treating ailments that made disease so rampant.

Take this Knowledge with you and Prosper

Perhaps you could use this knowledge for more accurate portrayals of healing remedies and life in the medieval city for your fantasy novel. Perhaps some of you could even use some of the knowledge contained above in your next D&D game. Or maybe you’re a game designer looking to make a game set in the middle ages and you needed something to add authenticity and a feeling of realism to your game.

In the comment section below please tell me if you plan on using medicine in the middle ages for your next writing project, D&D session, game design or for anything else you might like to tell me. Also, let me know what you would like to learn more about and maybe I’ll make it a feature in another edition of Let’s Learn About it

Thanks and I hope you learned something today.

Want to learn more? Check out these links:

  1. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/health_and_medicine_in_medieval_.htm
  2. http://www.learner.org/interactives/middleages/morhealt.html
  3. http://www.lordsandladies.org/medicine-in-the-middle-ages.htm
  4. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/medicine/medieval-islamic-medicine.php

Table Kickers: Salvation Road

This week’s Table Kicker will be all about the cooperative post-apocalyptic survivor travel game, Salvation Road by Van Ryder Games.

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Salvation Road is a game that requires strategic thinking, on your toes adaptation and team work to ensure victory. Tasked with making your way through the waste land to make it to salvation to save your group, players must collect vital resources to ensure their survival. The road to salvation isn’t free from its own agonies though. Players will have to go through great pains, survive marauders and find key resources in order to survive the road ahead. No one said getting to Salvation would be easy.  Oh by the way, your compound is on the clock to be blown up. Better get yourself in gear.

Of course if that weren’t enough, your group will also have to deal with perhaps your greatest enemy; yourselves. As a cooperative game, players will work with other players towards a common goal. Each player will have access to a “Hero” with some pretty great positive abilities to help you on your way. From there players can figure out the best strategic plan in order to ensure victory. However, players will also have to deal with the “Survivors”. Survivors are characters that each player controls who come with negative effects that make winning that much more difficult. In order to ensure victory and reach Salvation players must not only learn to work with their strengths but to contend with their weaknesses as well.

In order to make it to Salvation players must collect the appropriate resources from the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world from a variety of locations each with their own unique qualities giving the game variety and a high replay value. By collecting resources such as med kits and ammo, your group can make their way from their compound to reach your destination, Salvation.

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However, Salvation Road is much more than just a simple scavenger hunt. Players may carry a limited amount of resources and furthermore, the more resources a player has the less “Wounds” a player may take on. Wounds are essentially penalties a player takes not just for rummaging through an apocalyptic wasteland but more importantly for “scouting” and “exploring”. Scouting and exploring are two essential components to your group’s survival. Scouting will allow your group to know what resources are needed, while exploring will tell you exactly how many of those resources you actually need. After all, like most survival games information is the key.

In this, we are introduced to one of the main strategic elements of Salvation Road. Taking on wounds brings your character one step closer to demise but those little agonies can ensure your group’s survival on your way to Salvation. So it becomes a balancing act between collecting resources and taking on wounds in order to ensure safe passage. Too many wounds and your character dies and the group fails. No wounds however, and you’ve doomed your group regardless. Essentially, the more resources you take on the fewer wounds you can withstand but of course if you don’t take any resources then you’re certainly not going to survive.

A few things caught my eye when it came to Salvation Road. First and foremost, I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for cooperative games. I love the idea of people working together to meet a common goal and to weather the difficulties of the road ahead of them together. Secondly, from a strategic standpoint I love the idea of needing to work with the negative effects brought on by the “Survivors”. While for most games eliminating the negatives is plain and simple the best strategy, working with the negatives is just foolish and stubborn or that they are simply stagnant facts of the game state. With Salvation Road however, the negatives can be worked with and become a part of your group’s strategic thinking. Salvation Road more or less requires players to utilize both their strengths and their weaknesses in order to ensure victory. Furthermore I’m a big fan of the rustic, authentic art style of the game. In my opinion this gives the game a sense of urgency and it’s much easier for players to find themselves emerged into the game.

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I for one would love to see Salvation Road become a reality. From the looks of it Van Ryder Games has a unique game that not only puts an interesting twist on classic strategy but also combines it with a cooperative experience, something that is sadly becoming more rare in the gaming world. So many great projects like Salvation Road sadly do not see the light of day, force to live out its days simply as an idea in the minds of talented individuals rather than on kitchen tables during game night where it belongs.

If you would like to show your support for Salvation Road please consider donating to their Official Kickstarter Page. However, if you are financially able to support the project I’m sure the team at Van Ryder games would greatly appreciate you telling your friends and getting the word out. Furthermore, please let me know in the comments below if there are any projects that you feel deserve my attention.

Thanks! Hope to see you next week for the next installment of Table Kickers!

Tiny Tome #1

Robert Kolson looked into the demon’s eyes and felt nothing.  The Irises still glowed orange with the remnants of hellfire, and the musk of sulfur still hung in the air. The Demon snarled at the middle-aged man baring large yellow fangs, a decidedly frightening contrast to its charcoal black skin. Kolson dunked the last remains of his already soggy chocolate donut into his still steaming black coffee and took a bite.

The middle-aged Robert, still groggy from sleep, took a long sip of his coffee and let out a sigh. The creature made a lunge for him but was held in place by the thick chains wrapped around its limbs. They were connected to long Erthiduine tracks running along the floor keeping him from escaping. Taking his time to set his coffee down Robert grabbed his baton, and flipped the switch causing a surge of green electricity to surge through the weapon and ended in a small globe at its tip.

“You gonna calm down or am I gonna have to use this?”  Robert asked the creature, unimpressed. The demon bared his teeth once more, yanking the mystical chains keeping him in place. It barely had time to let out another scream before Robert stabbed at the beast’s ribs. A surge of emerald lightning webbed its way across the creature’s massive frame, searing its demonic flesh.  The icy black frame was now covered with an intricate thin pattern of cauterized swollen flesh oozing molten blood. From that point on, the demon was more cooperative.

Kolson looked out at the long line of creatures marching through processing. It seemed like every day there were more monsters, demons, mad gods and would-be galactic destroyers trudging their way between the Erthiduine tracks.

“Robbie, you lookin’ kinda sleepy there bud! You look like you almost didn’t enjoy that!”

Robert turned to see a man towering head and shoulders above him, a wild bushy auburn beard erupting from his face. If it wasn’t for the black uniform complete with the golden shield and spear badge of the Cataclysmic Prevention Agency he might’ve belonged on the tracks himself. Kolson tried to let out an amused grunt but it was lost in last night’s cold pizza and warm beer.

“So who was that?”

“Does it matter Bill? You saw him. Some demon or something.”

The bearded man laughed and shook his head, before bringing his own steaming cup of coffee to his lips. The two men stood in silence for a few moments, appreciating a relatively slow day at the Agency. Creatures of every different shade, and mold from every reaches of the cosmos trudged along the long narrows pathways of Erthiduine tracks, their footsteps jangling with every step.

A tall slender blue skinned creature marched towards them though he somehow managed to walk more upright than the others. The march stopped for a moment, giving Robert and Bill ample time to study the prisoner. While the creature was indeed a deep dark blue, its skin slick with a shiny mucous-like substance, the creature was also a solid white underneath his chin, and down his neck. The top part of his chest gradually faded to navy blue.

Compared to the other prisoners, the creature’s shape wasn’t particularly unusual. As a bipedal, four limbed, one-headed creature it didn’t exactly turn heads sandwiched between the sludge-like plasma creatures made of comets and the thousand limbed monstrosities of the Havalik sector.

The creature turned towards Robert and blinked, tilting its head in curiosity. Robert instinctively went for his baton, never taking his eyes off the creature’s giant, dinner plate sized obsidian eyes. As he looked into the creature’s shining onyx eyes he noticed a series of faint white glowing orbs illuminating the nightly landscape. The longer he looked, the more of the lights appeared in the creature’s eyes. They danced, swirled and enticed. The lights shifted colors from blue to red to green, fading from one shade to the next in a slow waltz.

“Why do they want to hurt me?”

Robert heard a voice, a child’s. The soft innocent tone penetrated through the deep black expanse illuminated only by the soft glow of multi-colored stars. Long brown grasses swaying with the soft eastern winds replaced the pounding, barbaric stomps of prisoners. The officer reached for his baton only to realize that it was missing. He felt naked without it.

“Why do you want to hurt me?”

The child’s voice echoed through his head once more. Robert whipped his head around searching for the source of the heartbreaking question.

“Why?”

With that question, Robert turned around and was face to face with the towering azure skinned creature. The creature’s face and neck seemed to flow together seamlessly, as if its head and body were one single mash of blue and white flesh.  Its large black eyes shimmered with liquid though whether they did that naturally or the creature was crying Robert couldn’t say for sure.

Dressed in long regal green and black robes, tied together with a red silk sash giving the indication that the creature was royalty, it looked down at Robert with hurt sunken eyes. A quivering lip was all it took to realize that the creature was a child; afraid and confused.

“You don’t need to be afraid. I’m going to protect you,” Robert responded feeling his back straighten. He didn’t believe it even as he said it but for the child’s sake he needed it to be true. He was the hero after all.

“What have we done?”

“I…” Robert’s words were lost.

“Why are you hurting us?”

The question seemed so innocent but it dripped with accusation.  The truth was, Robert never considered why. They were all monsters in the eyes of the world; it was beyond his pay grade to question it. They were the good guys after all.

“Are we the bad guys?” the child asked using a pair of long-fingered hands ending in suction cup tips to mash away at his own tears.

Robert struggled to find his voice. Of course they were the bad guys. How could he say that to a child though?

“I’m not a bad guy.”

The voice stated in a defiant way only a child could manage. The voice was stubborn. Silly foolish child, of course you were the bad guy.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about kid.”

“I’m not a bad guy! You can’t prove it!”

“Quiet!”

Robert’s fists were clenched in a vice, trying to force the tips of his fingers through the palms of his hands. He felt the color drain from his weathered face, seeping from his balding scalp of wispy black hairs to the worn out soles of his calloused feet.

“You don’t understand anything!” Robert spat with unchecked rage.

The screamed allegation was met only by a soft whispering wind. Robert ground his teeth trying to keep the rage from subsiding. He tried to see the monster beyond the child.

“You destroy worlds, enslave the masses and sink our reality into madness. You’re nothing but chaos!” Robert screamed into the empty night air.

He listened to the sound of his raging hollow breathing, his chest rising and falling in drastic waves. Silence gradually eased his breathing back to normalcy as he realized that he was screaming at a confused child. He sank to his knees and stared out at the waves of grasses.

He couldn’t remember ever questioning the creatures that marched along the erithudine tracks. It was such a simple matter after all. The heroes defeated the monsters and saved everyone. That was how it always was. They were the good guys and the beasts that were led shackled in mystic otherworldly chains were the bad guys. Innocence wasn’t even a question. He was doing his part to keep the universe safe. They were the good guys.

It took a moment for Robert to realize that the child was gone.

“Where are you?”  Robert found himself asking the night.

Silence.

Robert swallowed hard, forcing himself to keep from panicking.

“I’m… I’m sorry. Please come back”

He wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for but it seemed like the right thing to do.

“I shouldn’t have yelled… I… I don’t even know your name.”

The statement stung more than he would have hoped. How many creatures had he processed, no… tortured that he didn’t even bother to learn their name or their story. A monster was a monster after all, the names were unimportant. Then why did he feel so guilty?

“Who are you?”

Silence.

“Please? I… I’m sorry”

Robert felt his eyes began to water. He blinked several times trying to disperse the salty tears that had now dripped from his eyelids. Just as it seemed that he’d never stop crying, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

Suddenly he was back at the agency. The firm hand on his shoulder belonged to Bill who looked down at him with a pair of concerned green eyes looking over his wild, bushy flaming orange beard. Bill yanked him to his feet, he saw his mouth moving but sound didn’t dare penetrate the silence.

Robert looked down to see the creature slumped on the ground, the side of his head caved in, leaking out a neon green liquid. Its obsidian eyes were now dull and lifeless. No one came to move the body. No one shed a tear.  The monsters simply stepped over him or through him, dragging a trail of light green blood between Erthiduine tracks.

That night Robert Kolson stared at the .45 on his coffee table.

Tiny Tome is an original weekly short story written by me. Every week I’ll be releasing a brand new story. I hope that you’ll come back to see the next adventure. Thanks!

Let’s Learn About it: Shamanism

Shaman1

Shamans. They speak to the dead, see into the future, heal the sick, drive out evil spirits and lead the dead to the next world all because them and nature are like this. No no not like that, wrap your fingers tighter together. YES LIKE THAT  You may know them from a number of different fictional representations such as World of Warcraft where the shaman class can cast lightning, trigger earthquakes, erupt pools of lava or to call upon the healing properties of water. Or perhaps you know them as an alternative class from Dungeons and Dragons in which they were created as an answer to the euro-centric Priest class; they essentially had the same powers and played the same role but the Shaman class had a markedly different flavor to them. Still others may know Shaman’s from X-Men’s Nate Grey (X-Man) who spent some time as a Shaman to a Mutant Tribe… er maybe it was his clone or another dimensional self… Damn that family tree is confusing. Anyways back on topic… Still others may recognize shamanism from Atrocitus the Red Lantern who used his rage to fuel his shaman-like powers. Of course there are countless other shamans that have appeared over the years in various mediums and this is just scratching the surface.

ShamanFooter

Have you ever wondered though how accurate these portrayals are? Maybe you’ve wondered where the influence for the Shaman character design comes from? Perhaps you just think of the word “Shaman” and your mind just went “that sounds cool and I want to learn about it.” On this week’s Let’s Learn About It! I’ll be giving you the basic rundown of Shamanism.

Shaman2

At its very core Shamanism is a religion in which Shamans act as a link between the spirits and the physical world and in turn this strengthens their bond with nature. While Shamanism varies amongst different cultures, Shamanism as a term and practiced religion originated in Northern Asia, more specifically among the Siberian Natives. It was believed that Shamans would gain various abilities or powers by speaking with the spirits while in a trance-like state. While Shamanism from an etymological standpoint only exists within Northern Asia, generalizations of the term have been expanded to every part of the world. Including but not limited to: The Americas, Korea, Australia, The Philippines, the Arctic Circle, certain African tribes such as the San, and in ancient times Scandinavia also showed evidence of Shamanistic practices. As Shamanism spread to these different socio-cultural spheres they were often generalized by anthropologists for a number of years as being synonymous with medicine men and women, healers, religious leaders, and counselors of indigenous peoples from all over the globe.

So we have different Shamans sprouting up all over the world each a little bit different than their neighbors. Much like the anthropologists of yesteryear I’m going to group them all together. This is not to say that I don’t recognize or appreciate their culturally-driven differences but for the purposes of this article I wish to give you just a general overview of Shamanism.

Shaman3

One of the main, core components of Shamanism is a connection with the Transcended World also known as the Otherworld, the World Beyond, the Upper World or the next track on the cosmological album (okay I made up that last one). Basically Shamans talk to spirits and more or less ask them for–

WE INTERRUPT THIS ARTICLE TO BRING YOU THE SHAMAN POWER VALUE PACK!!!

MONSTER TRUCK EXPLOSION

MONSTER TRUCK EXPLOSION

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Wicked Guitar Solo

Wicked Guitar Solo

Now with this special bonus offer you can also Call Upon the Spirits of Nature to FIGHT YOUR ENEMIES!!  GROW YOUR CROPS!! MAKE YOUR LIVESTOCK MORE DELICIOUS!! PUT GAS IN YOUR CAR!! AND DO YOUR LAUNDRY !!!

roaringtigerFebruary 1st, 2011 @ 23:33:56541_8316c14c4d21d1563cf9788f52ac5343

Warning: TheShamanPowerValuePackMayorMayNotCauseAnyoftheaforementionedabiltiesorpowerspleaseconsultyourdoctorbeforeattemptingusageoftheshamanpowervaluepack

Talk to your nearest friendly spirit for a free trial today!

We now return to Let’s Learn About It

Shamans attempt to communicate with these spirits through rather theatrical ceremonies complete with singing, dancing, dramatics, hallucinogenic mushrooms, drum pounding and fire to produce a trance like state. With this they call upon the spirits and speak to them often singing about the journey to find the spirit in their ritualistic impromptu songs. It’s not clear that spirits like to visit these guys because they want to see what all the ruckus is about, they love to party or they’re just concerned.

Regardless, the spirits will show up and give the Shamans the “what do you want” look (most likely with their hands on their hips, foot tapping anxiously. They probably also look at their watches but they’re always… dead… haahaha… ohohoho heee… *sigh*) The Shamans, through their power to talk with their spirits, thanks to their inherently strong connection with nature, they can ask the spirit to heal the sick, speak with the dead, see into the future, help a recently deceased person into the afterlife (because honestly getting there can be kind of tough if you don’t have directions and the GPS always gets it wrong) or give someone marital or financial advice.

So becoming a Shaman seems like a pretty sweet deal right? I mean you get to dance about, sing, play the drum, act and enter psychosomatic altered states of mind to talk with spirits. There are basically two ways to become a Shaman. The first way is rather simple; all you have to do is have a Shaman father, or mother.

Push for Shaman Powers

Push for Shaman Powers

Go ahead and ask your parents if they’re Shamans, make sure you look at them in the best
“I’m disappointed that you aren’t Shamans” look that you can possibly come up with if they say no. It may help to practice in front of a mirror a few times.

If they said yes, Congratulations You’re a SHAMAN! Celebrate. Crack open a bottle of wine. Throw a Party. Invite your friends over but demand they wear Shaman appropriate regalia; antlers, feathers, bear paws, human bones or maybe just construction paper I’m sure it gives the same effect

Typical Shaman Party

Typical Shaman Party

As for the rest of you, unfortunately you’ll have to become a Shaman the hard way.  First you must be “chosen” by the spirits. Spirits often give the Shaman job to those with some type of physical irregularity so if you have an extra toe, walk with a limp or something like that you’re in luck. Wait… What was that? You don’t want to be a Shaman? You say that going into a psychotic state to talk with spirits is a bit frightening to you? Rest easy friend, the spirits will simply torture you into madness until you agree to become a Shaman.

Your Fate

Your Fate

Now that you agreed (or were forced) to become a Shaman you will lie dead in a trance-like state (kind of like a coma.) Then it’s just the simple matter of allowing spirits to cut you up into sections to see how many bones you have. Not enough bones? Better go back to the unemployment office because Shamanism is not for you.  I’m not quite certain why aspirations are concerned with the number of bones you have but I’m not about to question the spirits. Maybe you should’ve thought about getting some more bones before you let spirits cut you open. Honestly, making sure you had a few extra should have been the number one thing on your priority list

So you’ve been chosen, (or tortured into madness), have some kind of physical irregularity, and have a few extra bones. By now you should’ve been brought out of your trancelike death state. Time for refreshments and snacks, right? After all you’ve had a long day. Nope. Sorry. Time for you to perform a symbolic initiation ritual like climbing an incredibly large tree.

Or maybe, just maybe you’ve been a Shaman for awhile and you’re looking to up your Shamanism game for the big Shaman Championships. You’ve summoned a few spirits and maybe you cured a few people of a cold or something but you’re not satisfied. Despite working out at the Shaman gym every day and drinking  your special dietary Shaman Shakes you can’t seem to bring your game to the next level. Don’t worry I’m sure if you work hard and ea—

yggdrasil

Oh wait, never mind. Apparently it all depends on which part of the World Tree your soul was created in. Oh I didn’t mention the tree? The World Tree (though it goes by many different names) is a gigantic cosmic tree in which the souls of future Shamans are born and nurtured. The further up in the tree your soul was born the greater your Shamanistic Powers; with those at the top more or less having maxed out stats and those at the bottom of the tree might be able to hear a spirit scream cuss words at them or something like that. So I guess you can’t improve your Shaman status, sorry about that.

Besides its not enough to just talk with spirits, you gotta sell it or else people aren’t going to want to come see you anymore. And honestly performing to an empty crowd is just a real bummer. You’ve got to be able to sing songs made up on the spot, dance, play the drum, and give dramatic enactments all while in a trance like state thanks to spirit posession (or under the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms). They were the original one man band (and then some)

Nice Try Pal

Nice Try Pal

Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about Shamanism, feel free to spread the knowledge around. Also if you feel so inclined tell me about your favorite fictional Shaman in the comment section below. Furthermore, if you’d like to share ideas that could possibly improve the Shaman class for future games or writers wishing to capture the Shaman in a more accurate sense than just “can cast lightning bolt” feel free to say so in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading and I hope you learned something

You can learn more by visiting these sites:

 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/538200/shamanism 

http://www.shamanism.com/what-is-shamanism/

http://shamanportal.org/

http://www.crystalinks.com/shamanism.html