A Ghostly Fiction Friday

The last Fiction Friday before NaNoWriMo starts.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up during November, but I’m not promising anything.  Here’s a scary-ish  ghost story for the #goplay October Challenge hosted by Nerd in the Brain and Part Time Monster.

He sighed longingly as he stared at her through the glass.  Since their wedding day 10 years ago today, the sight of her still managed to take his breath away.  That is, if he had to breathe.  He reached out to touch the mirror, but it was no use.  She sat on the other side of the vanity mirror, engrossed in her morning routine.  He watched her every morning since the day he died.

The vanity table was covered with various pots of creams and lotions that she lavishly applied to her soft skin.  He noticed that as she aged, the longer her routine took and more expensive creams showed up on the vanity countertop.  He still thought she was radiant, even with her hair in rollers and her make-up smeared from the night before.

The vanity was in the large walk-in closet he had custom built for her when they married.  He always assured her that she would have everything she dreamed of.  She came from a childhood of poverty, spending most of her youth working alongside her mother cleaning houses to feed their large family.  His successful business ventures ensured that even in his death, she wouldn’t have to return to a life of indigence.

Day after day he watched her, wishing he could hold her again.  After she would dress, then leave, turning out the light and shutting the closet door, he would spend those hours recalling their first times together.  She was so bashful at first.   It wasn’t until after they were married that she appeared comfortable in her new life of luxury.

As time went on, he continued to watch her routines from behind the mirror.  He could also hear her in the bedroom moving around.  He noticed she would stay out later some nights and wake up later in the mornings, or some days, come home in the morning with a glowing grin.

He knew she would eventually find someone else.  In their youth, they talked about starting a family.  Due to his unexpected death, she never became the mother of his children.  He wanted her to be happy.  He realized she was still young enough to have everything they dreamed of together, just with someone else.  As time went on, and she spent fewer and fewer nights at home, he started to become senselessly jealous.

An entire weekend past, and she was gone.  He would beat on the mirror, screaming with rage.  The dark room he spied from beyond the glass was unmoved by his fury – only silence escaped to the living world from his lonely purgatory.

Months passed slowly as he anxiously waited for a glimpse of her.  She no longer spent the same hours in from of the vanity mirror.  He saw the maid tidying up the closet more than he saw his wife.

Then, one day, he heard the voice in the bedroom.  It was the voice of her new love.  They were laughing together.  He missed her carefree laugh.  He wanted her to laugh in front of the mirror.  If only she knew he was even there.

Suddenly, the door opened.  She came flying in with bags and boxes of new elegant clothing.  She tossed them in the floor.

“Let me just freshen up a bit,” she called out to the man in the bedroom.  Hurriedly, she applied a bit of make-up and perfume.

He reached out to touch her, stroking the cold hard glass instead.  He watched her hands move rapidly along her smooth, radiant face.  Gasping, he eyed the large diamond ring on her left hand.  He slammed his hands against the surface of the mirror, shouting in agony.  Oblivious to his pain, she straightened her dress, and turned out the light as she skipped out of the room.

After that, he refused to look through the mirror, turning his back to it.  He was still trapped in his empty otherworldly cell with no way to move on.  Rationally, he knew he wanted her to be happy, to move on.  It had been years since his death.  He realized she didn’t deserve to be alone anymore and that the money he left for her in death wouldn’t be able to support her forever.  He knew these things, but all he could think about was the life they should have had together and the things he was missing out on.

Some time had passed, and he slowly began to turn out to face the mirror.  He hadn’t gazed upon her in weeks, or perhaps months.  The day he saw her, she bounced into the room with a huge garment bag.  Giggling, she unzipped it.  It was her new wedding dress.   As she tried it on and stood in front of her mirror, he cried.  He knew this was for the best.  Perhaps this was what he needed to move on.  He would no longer have to look out for her.  Someone else was going to be able to take care of her.  He could tell she loved him.  It was evident in her sparkling eyes.  A peace came over him.  He felt his anger slipping away as he watched her dance around the closet, humming a love song that seemed familiar to him.  He soon recognized it as the song they danced to at their own wedding.

She slipped out of the dress and delicately put it back into the garment bag, still humming the same song.  The sound brought him into a blissful state.  He hummed along with her, even though she was unable to hear him.

The wedding and honeymoon passed while movers boxed up her belongings and left the closet empty of her clothing and trinkets.  Eventually two men carefully wrapped the heavy vanity and mirror, transporting him to another home.

When they removed the bubble wrap, he pressed his face to the surface examining a room larger than the one he had built for his new bride.  A larger closet contained even more handbags, evening gowns, shoes.

For days, she would only briefly appear in the closet, busily putting items away, or moving other things to other rooms.  She seemed much occupied with settling into her new home, her new life.  He was still happy for her, cherishing the moments he could still glimpse her.

He began wondering when he would move on.  He was happy enough watching over her for now, but he knew now that she had moved on, he should too.  As the days passed, he began to get restless.

One night as he tried to rest his wandering mind, he heard her crying from the bedroom.

“Hello? Yes, I need an ambulance as soon as possible!”

The closet door flung open and the light flooded the room.  She was on her cell phone, calling the police.  With one hand, she rummaged through the vanity drawers and found her eye drops.  Squeezing copious amounts into both eyes, she pleaded with urgency to the emergency responder on the phone.

“Yes, it’s my husband.  He’s not responsive.  I don’t know what to do!” She exclaimed as she smeared her mascara down across her cheek.

He became flooded with confusion.  This couldn’t be happening.  She deserved happiness, not to be widowed again.  As he pressed his face to the glass, sobbing, a voice spoke up behind him.

“So, what are you doing here?”  He spun around, finding her new husband behind him.  “Ah, you must be the first one.  She must have really like you, kept you around for at least a year or so, right?”

“What?”  He asked, confounded.

“Please tell me you’re not that naïve,” he answered, rolling his eyes.  “I knew as soon as I showed up here with you what had happened.  She was running out of the money you left her; she actually told me that she was having a hard time paying her bills.  You go in your sleep too?  Do you remember the prick of the needle she jammed in your neck?  It still hurts!  It would be my damn luck to meet the woman of my dreams and she turned out to be a black widow!”

It finally dawned on him.  He died in his sleep at the young age of 25.  It was unexplainable at the time.  It then occurred to him that he was stuck in this purgatory, not to watch over her, but to seek revenge on his murder.

“Now what do we do?”  He whimpered.

“I don’t know. Have you tried to get out? I imagine it’s going to get cramped in here before too long.”

I Am Legend – A Review (No, not that terrible movie)

I was never really a fan of the movie starring Will Smith to begin with.  When it was recommended by several people to read the book, I was hesitant at first.   While they seem to share a few similarities, such as Robert Neville living alone as the last man alive, that’s where it ends.  They shouldn’t be sharing the same title.  After reading I Am Legend, my dislike for the film grew. It’s absolute garbage.  The book, on the other hand is brilliant and beautiful written.  Although I didn’t anticipate writing a comparative post on the two, it is important to point out some differences that make the movie terrible and the book superior.

I’ll start with our protagonist, Robert.  In the movie, he is a man on a mission, perhaps going a bit crazy from being alone for so long.  He is against the world, fighting evil, finding a cure to save humanity.  And he does in the end. He’s a big hero.  In the book, it appears he is fighting evil, finding a cure to save humanity, but as it turns out, he’s just crazy.  He’s not our hero.  He’s trying to find a cure for the vampire-like creatures who have evolved beyond humanity.  He is fighting this evolution.  He is resisting change.  Instead, he murders them.  In the end, you discover he is no hero, but our antagonist.

The movie portrays the creatures more as nocturnal zombies.  In the movie, Robert simply seems them as the enemy.  At one point he retorts that the social de-evolution is complete in the creatures.  I felt as though the movie portrayed the creatures as social–protecting their own and seeking revenge on Robert when he kidnaps them for his experiments to find a cure.  They are highly intelligent as well, managing to trap Robert at one point.  I think the movie ignored that, a disservice in making the situation completely black and white/good versus evil.

In the book, Robert meets a woman who he believes is a survivor.  Due to his loneliness, he easily falls for her, needing companionship.  It is revealed that she is undead as well–a spy.  This is the point that led me to realize that Robert is truly the enemy, going crazy.  The vampires, as they are described in the book, taunt him, yell at him all night.  It appears they just want him to join.  They have an organized social network and a community.   They aren’t necessarily the evil he believes them to be.  They may not abide by his particular code of ethics, but to completely demonize them is unfair.  Considering we read the story through Robert’s unreliable point of view, it’s fair to consider that they aren’t nearly as evil as he believes them to be.

I really enjoyed this book overall.  The one I read included a collection of some of his other stories, which I also highly recommend.  Richard Matheson is a brilliant horror storyteller who also wrote some of the stories featured in The Twilight Zone. Many of his other books have more successfully been recreated on the silver screen.

Have you read I Am Legend?  What are your thoughts on my interpretation?

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange…..

Well, droogs, let me tell you that I wasn’t a big fan of this book (or the movie) much to Cam’s disappointment.  I’ll start with the distracting slang.  Reading the book on my tablet, I didn’t realize that there was a reference guide until the end of the book.  After a few pages, I was able to decipher a lot of the cryptic Nadsat language.

One thing I did find interesting was the change of the ending.  Apparently, American publishers originally didn’t like the fairly happy ending.  Like the film, it was left with narrator Alex in the hospital “cured”.  The version of the book I read was the full ending in which Alex sees the errors of his ways, grows up, and dreams of settling down.  He is redeemed.  Sorry, but it’s rather disappointing.  In part one, he commits terribly violent acts.  In part two, he has terribly violent things done to him by the state in order to reform or “cure” him.  In what near-future dystopia does any of this lead to redemption?

Overall, I’m glad I finally got around to reading the novel to see what all the fuss was about, but I was really disappointed. Perhaps it’s because I prefer my dystopian novels written by Margaret Atwood, as evident in my review of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

Fiction Friday – The Dress

I just bought a wedding dress online. Yay!  Ok, so it’s the second wedding dress I’ve bought.  I was a bit inspired by my online shopping endeavors and whipped up a sort of horror story for the #goplay October Challenge hosted by Nerd in the Brain and Part-time Monster.

When Maggie got home from work, she saw the brown box perched against the front door.  As soon as she noticed it, her eyes grew wide with excitement and her thin lips turned upward into a huge grin.  Her dress had finally arrived.  Hugging the box to her chest, she skipped with excitement to the kitchen and delicately set it on the table.

Continue reading Fiction Friday – The Dress

Tabletop for Two

While hosting a game night once or twice a week is ideally the best way to share your enthusiasm for tabletop games, sometimes we just end up having a little game night with just the two of us.  Sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes our friends’ equally busy schedules conflict, so occasionally a regular game night will get put on a hiatus.  After we started having more and more game nights alone, we decided to build up our collection of two-player games.  There are many games that we own that we have fun just playing as a two-player game, like Eldritch Horror or Pandemic, but we like having a collection of games that are perfectly balanced for two players.  Here are some of the two-player only games we recommend for those nights you’d rather not play an eight-player TI3.

Rivals for Catan

Yep, just like it sounds, this the Catan experience distilled for only two players. While it doesn’t completely capture the essence of hating your friends for not trading with you, mechanically it still comes very close. Two players attempt to build linear colonies of roads, settlements, and cities amounting to 10 points. It differs in that you can add improvements to your settlements and cities to increase the amount of resources you get from the die roll, or increase your military might or trading prowess for the bonus points they afford. When you don’t have the 4 (or 6) players required for a game of Catan, this is a wonderful substitute worthy of the Catan name.

Hive

Hive is another perfect example of a game that is relatively simple to learn, but increasingly complex tactically. Two players have duplicate, hexagonal tiles of differing colors, each with unique abilities based on the insect embossed upon it. The object of Hive is to encircle the opposing player’s Queen Bee piece, with the chief limitation being that the integrity of Hive is always maintained. And by that, I mean that each piece must be in contact with at least one other piece. Moreover, each player must play their Queen Bee to the board by at least their third action.Chess would be the most apt comparison, although there isn’t a board for Hive – the pieces make up an everchanging, fluid play area.

Twilight Struggle

We’ve mentioned Twilight Struggle in multiple posts at this point as a game we highly recommend you play, and we’re going to mention it again because, frankly, it’s just that good. Twilight Struggle is a card-driven, area control game replicating the heavy tension between the American and Soviet forces (and their allies) during the Cold War. Players vie over political influence for control of countries to increase their score – a score on a linear track that ebbs and flows from one player to the other and back again. All the while the DEFCON lowers to a game-ending 1 if players get too greedy militarily. You wouldn’t expect playing cards and moving pieces on a board could be so stressful.

Memoir ’44

Memoir ’44 is a card-driven, area control, combat game with some dice-infused luck. It utilizes scenario setups to replicate historical battles from the varying fronts WWII, from Pegasus Bridge to the Normandy landings. Gameplay progresses by playing a card and activating any units of yours on the field that meet that card’s criteria. Generally, cards will activate a set amount of units either of a particular type or a set number of units residing in a particular region (the board is divided into the left and right flanks and the center). Units can, unless otherwise specified, either move twice, move and fight, or just fight. Fighting involves rolling a number of dice based on how far away the opposing, targeted unit is. Overall, Memoir ’44 is simple and not terribly deep, but by no means not fun. If the game has a detractor, it would be the set up time required to create the scenarios you play.

Pixel Tactics

Pixel Tactics is an 8-bit themed, card-driven strategy combat game, that feels a little like the tower defense genre of computer games. Both players utilize duplicate decks of double-sided cards, one side featuring a unique Leader and the other featuring a supporter. The players each select a Leader to place in the center of their 3×3 grid of a playing area. After-which, players alternate playing supporting characters around their Leader to empower their field and/or attack the opposing field. Last Leader alive wins. Gameplay is straight-forward, and replayability is immense as every card is unique, you’ll likely never see the same Leader twice. Admittedly, I’ve only played Pixel Tactics once, but it seems perfectly acceptable and enjoyable for the $10 price tag.

Netrunner

While still eclipsed by Magic: the Gathering, this Richard Garfield gem is swiftly rising in popularity. Netrunner is very unique in the strategy card game realm for offering strong asymmetric play. Set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future, one player represents the self-serving Corporation and the other plays as the rebellious hacker called a Runner. The Corp player’s goals are to accrue 7 agenda points or to outlast the Runner’s card pool while the Runner needs to hack the Corp and steal those same agendas for points. The cards represent servers and and firewalls for the Corp player, and malicious programs for the Runner. After playing Magic, Netrunner has been a breath of fresh air thematically, mechanically, and for the wallet – Fantasy Flight Games’ LCG model is far more affordable than the collectible, randomized packs Wizards of the Coast offers with Magic.

So, we’ve touched on several games for two players that we own and/or have played a few times. As the gift-giving season swiftly approaches, it seems only fitting to mention a few games for two that we have our eyes on. Jaipur, an economic card game of trading and set collection with an Indian theme (and by that I mean the country India as opposed to the indigenous peoples of North America). It sits atop a few lists of good two player games we’ve come across, and so it sits atop our list of games to acquire at some soon but as of yet undetermined time.

Asante and Jambo both piqued my interest as a returned Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. These two games feature trading, set collection, and economics not unlike Jaipur. What sets them apart for me, if you haven’t put the pieces together yet, is the African marketplace theme they share. I squealed with delight after finding out they existed and stated rather matter-of-factually that we were going to get one or both of them. Our combined kitchen/living room already has several tokens of memorabilia from my second home in Africa, why not our game collection too?

Cam was a little surprised to hear that I recommend we give Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small a try after my vociferous reaction to regular Agricola. But considering A:ACBaS focuses mainly on the animal husbandry aspects of farming for points and removed the bits about sowing and harvesting grain and carrots which seemed to irritate me so, I suppose it’s no surprise.

I’m sure we’ll be receiving some of the two-player games we have on our wishlist during the upcoming holiday season.  I look forward to giving them a try and writing reviews of them.  If you’ve played them, let us know what you think.  Are there any other two-player only games that you’ve tried and highly recommend?

Review of The Invisible Man

At some point in everyone’s life, they’ve dreamed of what it would be like to be invisible.  It’s one of those things we include in questions like, “What superpower would you like to have?”

H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man explores the darker side of what it would feel like to be invisible.  He didn’t get too involved in explaining the scientific aspects of how Griffin became invisible.  It’s explained in a few lines, and not really central to the story.  Invisibility is instead brought to life by Wells’ visual details.  Visualizing smoke filling Griffin’s lungs makes the concept seem more realistic to me.

It is the story of a man who is obsessed with the fame he dreams he’ll receive from his scientific discoveries.  He experiments on himself, discovering that he can make himself invisible.  While I find the concept interesting, I thought that the point of view of the story was wrong.  Although I didn’t particularly like Griffin, the main character, I might have enjoyed reading the story from his perspective.  I also might have sympathized with him.

Overall, I really enjoy H. G. Wells’ storytelling, and I can’t wait to read some of his other books, but this may turn out to be my least favorite.  At least I have some of his other stories to look forward to.