Contentment: Flash Fiction

This is one of the first things I ever wrote, and I still think it’s awesome. It began as a “show vs. tell” exercise, so it’s filled with similes, metaphors, senses, all that descriptive-y junk. Sometimes that stuff can get convoluted, but I tried to evoke a different sense with each description so as not to overwhelm. Either way, it being pretty much the first thing I wrote is a little sentimental, so I could just be biased. One day I might attempt to rework it.

 

Contentment

The rush of air slapped him in the face as Stan exited the complex. Gravel crunched under his tattered brown boots as he stepped forward, his eyes wide, his arms encircling himself in comfort. Men in uniform marched in front and behind, chins pointed upward. Their expressions were hidden by wide-rimmed tinted sunglasses, and with the sun’s glare at full strength, Stan wouldn’t have been able to see their faces anyway. He slowly tilted his head at an attempt to peer around the front guard, and he managed to view the bus. So this was the vehicle that would transport him into his new life? Even after fifteen years he wasn’t sure he was ready. The vehicle itself didn’t seem up to the task of introducing him back to society. Its pale paint was having trouble remaining in place, giving way to spots of rust, and the widows had all but disappeared under a myriad of dirt and grime. Flies speckled the windshield like a child’s prize finger-painting. The shrill squeak from the door opening was audible even to him, sixty yards in the distance. Clearly, the bus had seen better days. It reminded him much of himself. We’re kindred spirits you and I, Stan thought, and a small smile tugged at his mouth.

The interior of the bus mirrored the outside, and the effect was enhanced with the perfume of mold protruding from the fraying seat cushions. When he slowly eased into one at the front, Stan’s nostrils flared as the scent floated upwards, encasing him in its putrid embrace. The portly driver didn’t seem to even notice the smell, probably because his own odor rivals this one, he thought dryly. With a now familiar whine, the driver pulled the lever that shut the door, and they lurched forward. Stan laid his head back against the seat, folded his hands graciously in his lap, closed his eyes, and became lost in an antiquated world.

 

“Stanley darling, would you make sure there’s enough Champagne out there? I would hate to read in the newspaper how our party could have been smashing if only there had been more Champagne! That’s just what happened to the Jones’, remember? Now no one calls on them! A fate worsethan death if you ask me!”

“Yes of course, I’ll uncork another bottle right now, dear.”

“Oh thank you. Now I really must get back. That silly Morgan von Hyde is out there parading her new ring around. I just can’t stand it! And it’s just terrible looking, but of course no one says anything about it but me! You think it’s just hideous too, don’t you darling?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well then, don’t forget the Champagne!” And with that Catherine rushed off in a swirl of gossamer fabric. Stan had trouble understanding why Miss von Hyde’s ring was of such great importance, but then again, he was used to not understanding his wife. Henry theorized he had trouble understanding all women, and maybe his best friend and business partner was right. Take this party for instance; Catherine had felt the need to throw a lavish party the second after hearing the gossip going around town about the speculative engagement. Women will do anything to upstage each other, Stan supposed as he struggled to uncork the coveted bottle of Champagne. With a pop, the cork was free and the sweet drink bubbled in thanks as Stan poured it into the stylish glass flutes Catherine had just had to have for the event. He always did have trouble saying no to her.

When the glasses were safely on a table in the main room, Stan had to admit, his wife had outdone herself this time. His usually modestly decorated living room had been transformed into a poet’s wet dream. Candles adorned nearly every surface, the orange glow of their flames basking the walls in pale luminescence. The scent of vanilla and lavender radiated out of the candles, giving the impression of being in a distant memory of a picturesque spring afternoon. Where there weren’t candles, there were vases of every design filled to the brim with flowers straight from a Monet painting. Soft jazz rose from his surround-sound speakers and showered Stan in kisses as he moseyed around the room.  As silly as he knew the party was, he couldn’t imagine a time in his life where he had been more content as he was at the second.

As if on cue, fate hurled a rock at the precious mirror that was Stan’s life. He didn’t even notice the absence of music until  hands were seizing his arms and roughly wrenching them behind his back. Cold, hard steel dug into his writs like a desperate lover. He heard words like “silent” and “court,” but it meant nothing to him. He was lost in a whirlwind of confusion. The last thing he saw until his head was pressed against a foreign car’s leather seat was Catherine’s unsurprised eyes as her lithe lips slowly formed a familiar smirk.

 

Stan was jerked awake by the screech of the bus door, and still a little groggy from his repressed memories, he gazed out the window. A dilapidated old building stood on the corner of an unkempt street, and he soon realized that this was his new home. This was where he would spend his time making new memories. He couldn’t say he was altogether thrilled with the idea, but anywhere was better than where he had been, right? He had better make the best of it, as he had done before, as he always did. He waved farewell to the indifferent driver, and moved into his future.

After a few weeks, Stan had neatly settled into his new life. He had made friends with his elderly neighbors, and had recently been given the honor of attending their weekly Bridge game. He had even procured a job at a local convenience store working the dreaded graveyard shift. He didn’t mind; he had trouble sleeping. When his shift was over, he usually would meander over to the small park across from his building. He would sit on his usual corroding bench, and if he was lucky, he would catch the first rays of the sun. He lived to see the violet and crimson hues that painted the sky, casting the ramshackle park in a new light. The brown dying grass became alive with freshness, the drab blossoms bloomed anew with promise, and the air imbued Stan with the memory of his perfect spring afternoon, with vanilla and lavender anything but an afterthought. The soft calling of birds awakening and the delicate laughter of children as they made their way to school would drown out all thoughts of doubt. He would smile then, his eyes closed in bliss. This is life, he would think.

He was at last content once more.

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Home: A Short Story

This was the last thing I wrote in college, and it was in response to a professor I didn’t like. All semester, he seemed to only respond well to super serious/sad pieces, and I had been writing light-hearted/comical stuff. So this was my attempt to be sad and serious, and I like how it turned out.

Home

This wasn’t her bed. The last one hadn’t been either. But it was the same moon. It was always the same bright white against the same dark sky, stars sprinkled across forming random patterns and shapes. The beds she slept in might always be different, but the sheets remained identical. Rough and coarse, like bales of straw, or an old burlap sack, like the one she used to wear for clothes, before this bed. Her skin grew red when she moved, searching for a position possible for sleep, possible to forget where she was, and to forget about the beds. The beds were always different, but her tears were always the same.

Today was Tuesday. But, of course, she didn’t know that. She didn’t keep track of the days. She only kept track of how hungry she was, how many holes were in her shoes, or how long her fingernails were, endlessly encased with dirt. To her, it was the day that grown-ups came. They looked at all of them, lined up like cattle in the front room. They walked slowly by, their expensive jackets and scarves fluttering with every motion. The women always had their arms through the men’s, and sometimes they would rest their heads against their strong shoulders, and they would sigh while looking into sad, empty eyes. It was never clear exactly what they were looking for, but most of the time they seemed to find it. They would talk to the Miss Hardey or Mrs. Tonle or Miss Smith, whoever it was this time, at the end of the row, and then exit into a small side room. The woman would walk back down the line, eventually reaching one of them, and she would grab the small, grimy hand, and they would leave, exiting into the side room, into a new life.

She had yet to be chosen. She always shook the dirt out of her moth-ridden clothes, and made sure to scrub her hands raw, but she was always left behind. And she would retreat to the bed she had been sleeping in, and stare at her hands, wondering what was so wrong with them. She would put up with this for a while, until she couldn’t take it anymore. There would come a point when she couldn’t take the shiny buttons and the red, glossy lips and warm smiles and the searching eyes and the slow, careful footsteps and the comforting arms anymore. She would become tired of being taunted with everything she wanted. And that’s when she would leave one bed to find another.

So when this Tuesday came around, she didn’t expect much. She didn’t dust off her clothes, and she didn’t wash. In fact she hadn’t for days. What did it matter? Her clothes didn’t complain of the filth, so she didn’t either. In fact, she rather liked the way the grime coated her skin. It felt comforting and warm, and was always with her. It was something she could rely on, and she liked having that something.

She was sitting on the bed that wasn’t hers but was. It was the last in the row, the one against the far wall, haphazardly wedged into the corner. She was tying her shoes as slowly as she could, dreading what was to come. The chaos in the room helped. Most of the children where red in the face, bouncing on their beds, throwing pillows into the air and at each other. Laughing and high squeaks filled the big room, making it feel cramped and closed-in. These were the new kids, the kids who didn’t know what it was like. They were hopeful. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know any better. All they knew was that after today, they might get to go somewhere where they would be fed and clothed and played with and hugged and smiled at and loved. But a few of them were like her. They sat on beds, most staring at their hands that rested in their laps. A few cried, a few scowled. But they were like her, and they did know better.

It wasn’t hard for her to tie her shoes slowly. The noises of the foolish children were distracting, but she also just wasn’t very good at it. She didn’t have shoe laces very often. Most of the time she would steal tape from the Misses office, or sometimes she would find gum on the street, and that worked even better. But sometimes, like this time, she was lucky enough to find 2 pairs of laces, or at least string, usually in a trash can or dumpster, and her shoes could become real shoes again.

First, the bunny crawls under the log. She bit her lip and squinted her eyes as she tried to remember what she had been taught. Next the bunny hops around a tree. She didn’t know when she had learned it, but she did remember who. Miss Clary. She was different from all the other Misses she had had. Where they were distant, Miss Clary was warm. Where they were disciplining, Miss Clary was understanding. Where they were harsh, Miss Clary was gentle. Now the bunny ties his ears tight so they won’t fall off. Miss Clary had treated her like a person, not like garbage, not like a mistake, but a real live person. A person who lived and breathed and needed food and love, and of course, who needed her shoes to stay on. At last, the bunny is home.

She wished the other kids would be quiet. It was hard to remember Miss Clary’s face with so much noise. She closed her eyes and tried to picture her. Her eyes had been green. They were the color of the park where she would sometimes sleep in. She had a certain bench she preferred, and she would wait and wait if it was occupied. She would look into Miss Clary’s eyes and remember this, and she would feel safe. Miss Clary’s hands had been soft, her fingers long and slender, and her nails clean. She remembered how they felt when she helped to tie her shoes. They seemed so delicate, as if the wind could break them into a million pieces and carry them away. But they were strong when bunny crept under the log and when bunny tied his ears tight. They were hands you could trust to know what they were doing.

She remembered Miss Clary’s voice the best. She had almost sounded like she was singing when she was only talking. She would sometimes get in trouble for not paying attention, but it wasn’t on purpose. She liked to close her eyes when Miss Clary talked, and let her body sway and let her mind empty, so that there was only the song of Miss Clary’s voice. But she tried to pay attention to her shoe directions and not hum along. That was the only way she could remember the words, because mostly she only remembered the feelings.

 

Sitting there on the bed, getting ready to be judged yet again, reminded her of a time long in the past when she was doing the same thing, only this time, Miss Clary had been there, and that had changed everything.

She stares out the window, watching the couples file in, two by two. It’s a cold day, windy and icy, so they all huddle together, covered in furs and scarves and each other. She can’t help but try to imagine what it might feel like to be wrapped up by arms covered in that soft fur. She thinks it might feel as nice as a hug by Miss Clary, but only a little.

The room is empty save her. The rest have gone to meet the fur-laden grown-ups, but she is uncertain. She is sitting on her bed next to the window, her shoes freshly tied, trying to find the energy, or the desire, to get up and join the others. For now, she is content to sit here and only imagine what it would be like to have a real home. This particular bed in this particular building is more home to her than anything else has ever been.

She hears footsteps behind her. She doesn’t need to turn to know who they belong to.

“Sophie, there you are! Everyone else is in the sitting room. I knew someone was missing. It was quieter than usual.”

Sophie turns around and Miss Clary is already sitting next to her, putting her hands on her shoulders.

“Now, come on. Aren’t you ready?”

“Miss Clary?”

“Yes, Sophie?” She smiles at her the way she always does, and Sophie can’t help but smile back, delighting in the music.

“Why can’t I just go home with you?”

“Oh, Sophie, you know that can’t happen. If I could, I would take you and all the others home with me every night.”

“But Miss Clary, that sounds perfect!” She bounces in her seat, biting her lip and pleading with her eyes. “Why can’t we?”

“Because of them, Sophie.” She points out the window. The last couple disappears from view. “It would be very selfish of me to take all of you home when those people want a child more than anything.”

“I guess you’re right.” Sophie looks in her lap and sniffles. Miss Clary puts her finger under her chin and raises her eyes to her own.

“Perk up, Soph! Just think about. One of those nice couples downstairs is waiting for you. They’ll take you home with them, and feed you more than you could eat in a week! None of that cold soup you eat here, right?” Miss Clary gets up, grabbing Sophie’s hand, which is freshly cleaned.

“You’re right, Miss Clary! I’m going to have a new mommy and daddy!” Sophie dives into Miss Clary, squeezing as hard as she dares. Miss Clary laughs, and squeezes right back.

 

She shook her head, ridding herself of the memory of that day. That was then and this is now. Miss Clary was gone, and she was alone, alone with her dirty hands, just the way she liked them.

The other children began to file out of the room, and she knew it was time. She walked in the back of the line, her laces flapping on the wood floor, having quickly untied themselves. Her fists clenched when she reached the top of the staircase, and she descended into darkness.

Miss Clary may have been everything to her, but she was a liar. She had been different then, and she had believed her without any doubt. She had trusted Miss Clary with everything she had. It was as if she had bottled up all her hope and gave it to Miss Clary for safe keeping, and then she threw the bottle on a dirty street, the hope gliding into the air and dissipating with the wind. Miss Clary had promised her a home, and that promise proved false.

 

Sophie grips Miss Clary’s hand as she is led to the sitting room. A few children are seated, staring into their laps, their cheeks covered in dirt, but the other children are milling about, endlessly chattering and twirling in circles, their eyes bright and their smiles spreading. Sophie moves to join them, and Miss Clary lets go of her hand. Sophie freezes and looks up.

“Don’t worry, Sophie. I have to go for now, but stay with everyone. It won’t be long now, sweet.” Miss Clary smiles showing teeth, and disappears out the door.

Sophie is left staring at the doorframe, momentarily transfixed. A tall child jostles her, waking her up form her imaginings. She bounds off to join the others.

“Children? Children! Please calm down!” Mrs. Harrow stands in sharp contrast to the group. Not only is she tall enough to touch the ceiling with the palm of her hands, but she has a stern countenance, quite out of place among the many romping children. Some of them run over and tug on her skirt, wrinkling the fabric. Mrs. Harrow shoos them away with a wave of her hand and a deep, throaty growl. The children scamper away laughing.

“Children, it’s time. Now everyone line up. I mean now. And be quiet!” Mrs. Harrow claps her hands. Children stop mid-giggle. “Line up and follow me.”

Sophie takes a place in the middle, in-between a red-haired girl with crooked teeth, and a blue-eyed boy whose sleeves and paint legs stop short of fitting him. They all march down the stairs and line up in the front room, waiting.

Soon enough, Miss Clary leads in four couples. Sophie thinks they all look wonderful, and she wonders which of them will be hers. The grown-ups take a minute to look over the children. A few of them have sadness in their eyes, but most are all smiles, and Sophie smiles back, trying to look as lovely as possible. She stands up straight, holds her hands in front her, and smiles as wide as her mouth will let.

All the couples slowly walk down the line and eventually come to Miss Clary, who then leads them into another room, away from the children. After some time passes, Mrs. Harrow exits the room and grabs a few of the children, bringing them back into the room. This seems to happen endlessly to Sophie, over and over again new sets of grown-ups are brought to the line, walk into the other room with Miss Clary, and over and over again children are led away by Mrs. Harrow. Sophie starts to get nervous when the red-haired girl and the blue-eyed boy are chosen before her. Surely her teeth are nicer than that girl, and her clothes fit her properly, unlike the boy. Did they not notice? Could they have missed how well-behaved she was? She doesn’t panic, as there is still time.

But time is running out. Less and less children are left, and Sophie still remains. While waiting for the last group to come in, she brushes off her clothes, her arms flying fast and faster, trying to rid herself of whatever it is that makes her unappealing. Then the door opens, and two couples emerge, and the cycle repeats itself. Sophie holds her breath when they walk by her.

When Mrs. Harrow comes out for the last time, Sophie readies herself to be led away. She makes sure her palm isn’t sweaty, and she tucks her hair behind her ears. She takes a deep breath. She can hear footsteps coming near her, and her heart races with every puncture of sound. It’s almost time. Sophie has trouble staying still, but she knows she must be proper and behave herself. Almost time. Almost time. Almost time. The footsteps are almost at her feet.

Sophie imagines the happy faces of her new parents. She’ll walk in the door and their eyes will light up and rush to her side. They’ll hug her and love her and never let go. They’ll take her home with them and be hers forever. She is so lost in her fantasy that she almost doesn’t notice that the footsteps have passed by her.

She looks down the line, and Mrs. Harrow has two children with her, one for each hand. They’re giggling and almost skip down the line to the room with the grown-ups.  The children on either side of Sophie are staring at their feet. Some of them hug themselves, and some of them let tears stain their faces. Sophie’s mouth is hanging open, and then her bottom lip starts to tremble. The door closes, the boom echoing in Sophie’s ears. Miss Clary comes out and leads the children back up the stairs, but Sophie stays where she is. She can’t leave, she hasn’t been chosen yet. She was supposed to have a home today. Her tears make puddles next to her feet.

She looks up the stairs, and Miss Clary is looking down at her from the top. The safe feeling Sophie feels when she looks into Miss Clary’s green eyes is gone, and instead she feels nothing. The music is absent from Miss Clary’s voice when she calls her name. She feels so alone. Sophie tears her gaze away, returning it to the floor beneath her. The puddles grow.

 

She stood in the line and tried not to think of the possibilities, the hope, anything. She didn’t try and look well-behaved; instead she did what she felt like. She picked her nose when it itched and slouched to be more comfortable. She didn’t even look up when the grown-ups walked by. She kept her eyes closed tight, picturing going home with Miss Clary and sitting by the fire with her and eating something warm and sleeping somewhere soft. Footsteps went past her repeatedly and the sound began to blur. They became the ticking clock in Miss Clary’s sitting room, where they had tea everyday at four, and the sun always shined through the window. They became the metronome perched atop Miss Clary’s old wooden piano, where they sat side by side, endlessly practicing scales.  They became the water dripping from the faucet in Miss Clary’s kitchen, the one that still hadn’t been repaired because she was too busy chasing her in circles around the table. They became anything but what they where, because nothing good would come out of them.

She felt something brush her hand. She shook it off, annoyed at being distracted from her life with Miss Clary. She felt the something again, this time harder and more firm. She tried to shake it off again, but it stuck to her like glue. She blinked a few times, clearing her head, and looked up. Mrs. Petry, or whatever her name was this time, was holding her hand and smiling down at her. She didn’t seem to mind the dirt that was slowing growing from the small hand to her own. Mrs. Petry tugged gently, and she stumbled forward.

She stood in the center of a small room. Mrs. Petry stood to the left of a man and woman, both trying to smile through nerves. She couldn’t grasp what was happening as she looked from Mrs. Petry to the couple, back and forth. This time? But her clothes were dirty, her hair was ragged, and her hands were the filthiest they’d ever been. She wasn’t anything that someone would want to take home with them and love. But she had been chosen?

“These are the Miller’s.” Mrs. Petry placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder, nodding to the couple. “And this is Sophie.”

“Sophie.” The woman smiled after saying her name, and she said it again, trying out how it felt. “I’m Donna, and this is Greg.” The man was tall, and his face had a warm glow. He had is arm around his wife, and she could see that his hand clutched her side, digging into her coat.

“We’d like to take you home with us, if that’s okay.” Mrs. Miller looked up at her husband, and they shared a secret glance.

She tried to speak, but nothing came out but air.  She coughed a little and tried again. “Okay.” She regretted it right after the word left her mouth. But wasn’t this what she had always wanted? Why didn’t she feel different?

“Great!” Mrs. Petry checked her watch. “We’ll set up a time for you to come by tomorrow. How does that sound?” The Miller’s agreed. As they all walked to the door, Mrs. Miller bent down on her knee and took Sophie’s face in her hands. She could see Mrs. Miller’s eyes were watery, and hers became watery, too.

“I’m so glad we found you, Sophie.” Mrs. Miller pulled her into a hug. She didn’t know where to put her arms. It had been a long time since someone had hugged her. She slowly put them around Mrs. Miller, and she closed her eyes and just focused on how it felt to be hugged by someone who wanted you.

After the Miller’s had left, Mrs. Petry ushered her back up the stairs.

“You’re very lucky you know. A lot of the others will never find such a nice couple as the Miller’s. You’re going to have a great, new life.” When they reached the bottom landing, Mrs. Petry narrowed her eyes, looking her up and down.

“And can you at least bathe before tomorrow? You don’t want to go to your new home looking like that do you? Now, scoot! To the bath!” Mrs. Petry pattered her on the back, and she slowly climbed the stairs, tracing the grain in the wood with her blank eyes.

Later, when it was dark and the moon was hidden behind gray clouds, she sat on the bed, the bed that was hers for one more night. She rubbed the sheet with her hand in circles. It felt rough like usual. She wondered what her new sheets would feel like. She wondered if there would be a window by her bed, just like this one. She wondered if she could love the Miller’s like she loved Miss Clary. No, she didn’t think that was possible. Miss Clary had been everything to her, but even then she had betrayed her. She had been ready for a family, ready for a home, but she had been left behind. Miss Clary hadn’t even wanted her, even after she was left standing in that line.

She hated this place. It reminded her of the good times with Miss Clary, but also the pain of her lies. She couldn’t take it anymore. She flung the scratchy fabric away from her and it hit the wall. The child sleeping in the next bed over grunted and rolled over, and then was still. She grabbed what was hers from under the bed, just a few extra laces and an old pillowcase she used as a scarf, and stuffed them in her coat pockets. She sat on the floor and began to tie her shoes. First, the bunny crawls under the log. Next the bunny hops around— She shook her head. She didn’t need that anymore. She could tie her shoes on her own, without Miss Clary. And she did.

It was cold outside, but she didn’t mind. It felt good against her cheeks, hot from running. She wondered where she would sleep tonight. She turned left down an alley. A park wasn’t too far away, and in the middle, amongst the green grass and the tall trees, there was a bench that was familiar, and that was safe.

How Video Games Taught Me Loyalty

I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, so it makes sense that I’ve learned a lot from them over the years. They are more than just a way to have fun, though I suppose that is the initial draw to them. They’ve expanded my vocabulary, taught me about ethics and morals, and exposed me to the depths of human nature. One thing that stands out to me in regards to all this is the aspect of loyalty. Through several different games, I have noticed a common theme: victory is impossible alone. It takes loyal companions fighting alongside you to ultimately reach the final goal: beating the game.

One of the first games I remember playing is Final Fantasy VII. Sure, in any Final Fantasy game, it’s impossible to not play in a party simply because you’d be decimated in seconds. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Who do you choose? I find myself even today picking the exact same people with every play-through. Somehow I feel loyal to them. Somehow I was taught to be loyal to these pixilated characters. End game, I remember always having Cid and Vincent with Cloud. I picked them because I liked them, not for any battle or strategy related reason. When I play it now, I have to have them in my party. If I try to throw Barrett or Red XIII in there and build them up, I lose interest and can’t play anymore. After playing with those characters over and over again, I can’t imagine playing with anyone else.

One of the reasons why I just can’t get rid of Cid…

Another game I’ve played extensively is Baldur’s Gate II, probably my favorite game of all time. This is a game that has way more character choice. Some of the characters that are available to you are completely optional; you never even have to meet them if you don’t want to, (this is especially true with the first one). So here’s a game that gives you complete control over who is in your party, and yet I still always pick the same people. I can’t play a game without Minsc in my party for the duration, and I can’t play a game without dumping Jaheria the first chance I get. But even with the same people over and over again, it’s never boring.

If I didn’t need your help getting out of this stupid dungeon, I would have such happy dreams about you rotting in that cage!!! …I really don’t like her…

I think part of it has to do with the Tree of Life segment, right before the final boss. Before you descend into the depths to what could be your death, you take the time to ask each party member if they’re really up to it, if they’re really loyal to you. And they all reaffirm that they are. There’s nothing quite like the feeling when someone infallibly tells you that they trust you and would never let you do this without them. Gaining that kind of loyalty is priceless, and it’s something that stays with you. Perhaps that’s why I always keep the same party. I want to experience that feeling again and again.

Brings a tear to my eye.

Developers have started to recognize this phenomenon as well. An early version of this, if rough around the edges, is seen in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. In this game, the influence system was implemented, (it was also in the first one, but this game gave it a name). The more influence you gained with a companion, the more their alignment shifted toward your own, and the more they revealed about themselves. Simply, the more influence you had with them, the more loyal they were to you. Influence was mostly gained by dialogue choices, (some of your actions did as well). Certain responses had the ability to either gain you influence, or it could drastically lower it. You really had to get to know each companion to figure out what response they would lean towards. What was so powerful about this system was the fact that your companions would literally change themselves because of you. They became so loyal that they would change their alignment and class to match yours. For example, (if you’re light-side), Atton would become a Jedi Sentinel if you gained enough influence with him. On the other hand, if you had no or negative influence, he would go the opposite route and become a Dark Jedi Sentinel. The fact that your character would have any effect at all on your companions is amazing, and truly expresses the power loyalty has.

Kreia was definitely the hardest to gain influence with…she sucks.

More recently, Mass Effect 2 implemented the now-famous loyalty system. In this game, loyalty was gained by undergoing a mission for each companion. Once that was completed, they were loyal for the rest of the game. The rewards were the unlocking of a fourth ability, as well as an alternative outfit for further customization. This is all well and good, but there are real consequences for not gaining loyalty. On the end suicide mission, any companion that is not loyal will die, and die for good. They’ll be gone if you choose to play after the end, and they’ll be gone if you load your save for ME3. ME2 really stressed how important loyalty is. No other game has had such dire consequences for not gaining the loyalty of those with you.

Don’t want coffins at the end? Then do the loyalty missions damnit!

After being reminded over and over how important loyalty is from all these different games, it isn’t hard to see why it’s something that I’ve carried with me in my own life. For this reason, I am so proud that I had video games during my childhood, and that I still do now. Ironically, playing a game by myself has made me a better friend to those around me than some others I know who are exclusively around people all the time. I have become an extremely loyal person to the people I care about, and I have video games to thank for that.

Things I Learned In College: Photography and Being A Smart Ass

My last semester of college, I took and upper level Shakespeare lit/film class. One of the projects was to take the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, and take photographs of another feud (and then write a paper about it, what else is new). Being the sugar addict that I am (with thanks to my boyfriend for reminding me of this daily), I choose Pepsi and Coke for my subjects. And I wanted to see if I could get away with doing a Shakespeare project about soda (totally got an A).

So the following is my photography project, followed by long-winded and pretentious photography explanations for each shot that were in my actual paper (which somehow passed for college-acceptable).

Adorable I know.

I just noticed the Pepsi is a little closer than the Coke. There goes that idea.

Since they are “both alike in dignity,” the two subjects are given the same amount of emphasis.  Neither is before the other, nor does either of them take up the majority of the frame.  Also, a low angle shot is used to signify they both are in a place of power, at least in their minds.  They are meant to look imposing to stress the power they hold over this long-time feud.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with anything. It was actually taken for a photo project in a different class, but my partner wouldn’t let us use it. And I honestly had nothing better. But damn is it pretty.

Line two describes the location, “fair Verona,” and this photo is meant to convey just that, a feeling of beauty.  The close-up of the flowers, an iconic image of beauty, emphasizes that idea, and is in complete contrast to the outcome the Prologue describes.

I felt like a bad ass film editor when I used the sepia filter, damn.

The important moment of line three of the Prologue is the word “ancient;” This feud has been going on for a number of years.  A sepia tone is used to date the photograph, giving it an ancient feel.  The subjects of the image describe the rest of the line, “break to new mutiny,” or outbursts of violence, which is exactly what has happened.

Never have Coke bottles seemed so scary.

Not only is this feud ancient, but it is still taking place today.  Also, a group of Coke bottles are used, rather than one as in the previous shot.  This is because the line speaks of multiple “hands” being unclean, or multiple people being guilty of this violence.  The low angle of the shot is used here so the Coke bottles tower over the mangled Pepsi, which is seen straight on.  It is the point-of-view of the victim, and his aggressors hold all the power.

This is the worst picture ever. Thank God there’s some silly made-up concept like “lead room” to save the day. And yeah, I referred to a cardboard Coke box as a mother. I’ve hit rock bottom with this one.

Photograph five conveys lines five and six of the Prologue, which describe the birth of the “pair of star-crossed lovers,” the two who will defy the feud.  Though capturing an image of a Coke bottle being born proved to be challenging, it was made possible with the help of lead room.  The smaller coke bottle, tucked inside its “mother,” is pointing to the right, with a considerable amount of space, or lead room, to the right of it.  This is to convey the idea that this “child” has somewhere to go; she has all the potential in the world at this point, and only time will tell how she will use it.

Clever, isn’t it? He was poisoned (like in the story), and she was stabbed (like in the story). Though I don’t suppose the knife was meant to be so large…

This shot explicitly shows the death of our star-crossed lovers, clearly expressing line eight’s “doth with their death.”  A close-up is used here to show the closeness of the two, and how the life has literally all but drained out of them.

Do you now how hard it is to create “diffused three-point lightning” with only desk lamps and Christmas lights? Be glad you don’t.

In this shot, it is the lighting that conveys the idea of their love.  Diffused three-point lighting was used to suggest the soft and gentle nature of the situation.  A close-up is used here as well, and like the previous image, it communicates the closeness of this private moment.

Seriously. All I did was fill them with water and food coloring, and then I tilted my wrist, and BAM! It’s art.

Photograph eight was driven by the last word in line 10, “rage.”  The two bottles have been filled with red to show that they are literally filled with rage.  Unlike photograph one, they are not equal in the frame, and are even a bit askew.  This is to express the effects of anger and how it can alter perception and reality.

Not only were the drained of their rage, but also of their deliciousness.

Photograph nine is the long shot of photograph six.  Lines eleven and twelve convey the idea that the death of their children is the only way for the parents’ rage to end.  Here, looking on at their dead offspring, they have been completely drained, not only of their rage, but of everything.

So. Much. SODA! I was awake for days.

Photograph ten in a sense breaks the fourth wall and shows the audience of this tragedy.  Line thirteen of the Prologue does this with the use of the word “you.”  This audience is made of up of both Coke and Pepsi to really drive home the idea of the futile nature of this feud.  A slight low angle is used to show who truly has the power.

So there it is. This work is part of what got me a degree, part of what my tuition money was spent on. But I’m not complaining.  It was fun, I learned a little something, and I was on a sugar high for literally days. All in all, not a bad class.

The Chase: A Short Story

See a name that looks familiar?!

To extend my lazy-ness, here’s another post with something I’ve already written (woohoo!). A story I wrote in college received first runner-up in the http://writerstype.com/ Short Story Category for February. It’s also entered to win their annual contest, and I get to revise the story for it (Thank God).

It didn’t even start out as a story per say. It was a character exercise for class, and I kept revising it and using it for other classes (I really DO do that a lot I’m now realizing), and it’s always been my favorite of my college work.

Since I cleaned it up for the contest, I haven’t been back to revise it. With procrastination on my side, I probably won’t until later this year. So any comments/critiques are welcome.

The Chase

(work in progress)

by Lindsay B. Logan

     I sit at my vanity table every morning without fail. It’s easy to be vain when you look like I do. I half expect to step on shards of shattered glass when I step out of bed, for how could a simple mirror survive after witnessing such perfection? Nevertheless, it is always in pristine condition, perhaps only to have the chance to gaze upon me once again. I am always happy to please.

What should I look like today, mirror? What hue should my divine locks possess this day? I’ve been a lustrous crimson for a week now; perhaps a sultry cerulean would suit me. This time I choose flaxen hair down to my hips. I like my hips, and they like attention, so this hair suits us both. Now to decide what face to wear. The haughty law student? The roguish actress? I tilt my head, blinking. I select the wanton call-girl this time. I haven’t been her in ages and she wants room to breath. I paint her favorite pouty red lips extending to my ears and dust on rosy blush down to my chin. She tells me she wants plum eye-shadow up to the hairline, and I oblige. I finish with midnight black eyeliner across the width of my face and I study the mirror. “I’ve done it again,” I say to my reflection, and the call-girl smiles.

Crossing my cluttered bedroom, I throw open the closet doors. I imagine a gust of wind escapes, and doves descend from above. I can almost hear angels singing as I rifle through the hangers. I put on a red rhinestone blouse paired with a neon bubble skirt that desperately tries to caress my knee, but has to be content with the middle of my thigh.  She tells me she wants boots, big sexy boots, and I frown a little when I have to tell her I’m not blessed with such an item. I know how annoyed I get with her constant nagging, so I assure her that today we’ll find exactly what she wants. She quiets down enough so I can pick out some purple pumps with straps that snake up my legs. They remind me of what a mummy’s legs might look like if it was possessed with a life such as mine. Call-girl angrily reminds me of my promise. My hair performs pirouettes as I try to shut her up, but she is persistent. I let out an exasperated sigh as I stroll out the door.

I like the way it feels when I saunter down the street and not one eye notices the flashy hot dog stand or the vulgar street performer. I can feel the gazes like warm water dripping down my skin. My eyes close in pleasure when I hear the soft mumbles from the onlookers. It’s at these moments I wish I had microphones at every corner. Then I could listen to the sweet declarations from my loyal fans anytime and every time I wanted.

But I must be content with just the casual overheard statement. I tell myself that it’s better than nothing, though I know I deserve more. Today I overhear things like, “My God, look at her!” and “Wow, I’ve never seen anyone like that.” It’s like water in a vast desert, and I soak it all up. I feel as if each word seeps into me, giving me more and more sustenance. Call-girl likes it too, and tells me to flash my admirers a smile, and when I do, they gasp. I find myself wishing I could be them at times; they’re so lucky to be able to look upon me without the help of a mirror.

Call-girl tells me to forget about the boots, she’s found something better. He’s walking toward us in slow motion. His black suit is pressed to his body, his hair attached to his eyes. He walks toward us with a newspaper in one hand and coffee perched in another. I think he’s nothing but ordinary, but she won’t let me tear my eyes away. He can feel our syrupy stare, and he raises his eyes to see us. His newspaper floats to the sidewalk and the coffee almost nuzzles his Armani tie, but he recovers in time to save it. He likes us, she thinks. Of course he does, I tell her. I decided the direct approach is beneath us, so I let him pass by. I wait as long as she’ll let me, and I spin around in a whirl of blonde tresses, whipping out like a cat o’ nine tails. I easily spot him, his polished jacket and meticulous hair making him an easy target. His strides are sure and steady, and she tells me I should shake my butt more while I walk. She’s getting excited; the thrill of the chase is her favorite aphrodisiac. I tell her to be patient, and he glimmers into a building made of glass.

We walk to the back of it, and close by is a small park; this is where I stop the chase. What are you doing? She’s almost yelling now. If I was a violent person, I’d hit her. I sit on the most ornate bench I can find, and stare into the glass building. We can see him perfectly from here. I think God must be rewarding me. He’s leaning back in a cushioned chair and chatting excitedly on a phone. Who is he talking to, we wonder. We decide to hate whoever is on the other line. With every moment that passes, call-girl is getting more anxious. I tell her it’s almost time, but she’s not convinced. He’s getting up, and what’s that in his hand? He moves his finger and I can just make out the pack of Marlboro’s he’s holding. We smile.

He’s outside now, and he can see us. As is the norm, his eyes are frozen on us. We smile seductively at him, and he seems taken aback. I stand up, extending my mummified leg, and move away from him, my eyes beckoning. He follows, dropping his cigarette. Call-girl is squealing now, and I tell her to be quiet; I don’t want her to ruin it. We lead him into a bundle of trees and as all the others, he pursues. I stop and turn around, and he’s in front of me, a big, sweltering thing. He can’t take his eyes off what I’m sure he finds to be flawless features. I just sigh with almost boredom and move closer, and his eyes widen.

Later, I’m back at my vanity table, brushing my yellow hair into perfect sleekness. Call-girl is content at last, as happy as a cat after catching a mouse. She curls up and bothers me no longer. I glance one last time at my reflection, still not convinced I’m real, and crawl into bed, a smooth Armani tie wrapped loosely around my fingers.

Mass Effect 3 Review

I was at a loss for where to start (maybe I’m over thinking this, but hey), so I thought i’d make it easy for myself and start with something i’d already written (a tactic I utilized in school, btw. You’d be surprised how many classes you can re-use a paper on Kangaroos for). Here is a post I made in the Bioware Social Forums about Mass Effect 3. It was in response to the imminent release of the Extended Cut DLC (which could be another post…)

Original: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/12696103

 

This might be a bit late, and I should have written this when the game was still fresh in my mind, but even after all this time, I feel like this still needs to be said.

Let me be clear. This is not about the ending. I didn’t even have a huge problem with the ending. Compared to other things, it’s not even on my radar. And that’s sad, because the ending was bad. The fact that something can make it seem okay is terrible in itself.

A man of his word.

I feel that the over-encompassing narrative and character development was shot to the wayside. I almost feel like ME1 and ME3 were the same story, and ME2 sadly was another, because ME2 and ME3 had very little connection.

The big selling point of ME2 was that you had to build up a team and gain their loyalty. This was a literal action you had to do, or that character would die in the end. I thought this was great. In terms of story, character is almost always more interesting than plot. If you don’t care about the characters, then the plot, what happens to them, doesn’t really matter.

So you spend all this time in ME2 building these relationships, and in ME3, it means very little. Other than really Garrus, every character gets about one mission, and that’s it. They get a cameo, and then it’s over. Instead, you get the 3 characters from ME1, and a slew of new people that were hollow compared to what you built in the previous game.

All those Loyalty missions for nothing, and to think I could have skipped helping Miranda…

None of this makes sense in terms of character, and perhaps the most important is you, Shepard. This is someone that you, the player, has fleshed out to make your own, made choices for them, pretty much become them while playing. ME3 is filled with actions from Shepard that just make no sense at all.

Perhaps we need to get into examples to really understand. Let’s start with the ME1 two character options, Kaidan and Ashley. It doesn’t matter which, they are essentially the same character, in terms of they fill the same role. I played as a female, so I’ll talk about Kaidan, but it would be the same for Ashley. So, in ME1, I romanced Kaidan, as he was the only heterosexual choice for me. Then in ME2, when you first see him on Horizon, things go downhill. While playing this conversation (and I tried several possibilities), none of Shepard’s responses really fit. You’ve been in a coma for two years, and while it may seem like only a few months for you, you’re painfully aware it’s been way longer for Kaidan. You wouldn’t say, “hey, how’ve you been?” But that is essentially what you say. That aside, no matter what you dialogue options you choose, Kaidan leaves you.

One of the first of many lines that make me want to slap him in the face.

Shepard is a strong woman (or man), no matter how you play her. She isn’t going to pine after a man who dumped and rejected her. She’s going to believe she’s better off. Of course she’ll be sad, she is a human being. But she isn’t going to wait around, especially when her next mission might be suicide.

That leads to Thane, who I chose to romance next. I tried Garrus as well, but as I’ve read in many forums and agree with myself, he is more of a friend, an amazing friend. So going into ME3, Kaidan had dumped me, and Thane and I were in love. I believe it’s a 6 month gap between the two, during which some plot points happen. There is DLC, like the Shadow Broker story, but they are not in the forefront of my memory. I remember talking to Liara about whoever you romanced. So that love is still alive while going into ME3.

Here is what I am most angry about: Shepard turns into an emotionless husk. She doesn’t ask a soul about the man she is supposed to be in love with. He contacts her  in a random email. So you go see him, have one interaction, and that’s it. Not only that, but you have the option to keep asking Thane to have sex. Really? He’s sick and in a hospital. And while all this is going on, you visit Kaidan about 3 times in the hospital, and you ask after him before that. When did Shepard start liking Kaidan again? It doesn’t track. Where is the evidence?

GDI Shepard, you horny bastard. Leave the dying man alone for a sec, geeze.

Now moving on to Thane dying. Shepard does not shed one tear, nor does she touch him at all. Why is this? Because it’s the same cut scene whether you romanced him or not, or whether you’re female or male. This is a travesty in my opinion. Now, I didn’t expect her to throw a crying fit and jump on his death bed. But something. The Shepard who just sat there is not  the Shepard I played for 3 games. Later, you have a conversation with Garrus by the memorial on your ship, where Thane’s name is now written. Thane is not even mentioned, instead he mentions Kaidan, who is on the ship now. If memory serves, Thane isn’t mentioned ever again.

There’s a point later where Kaidan and Shepard can get back together. I wanted to see what would happen if I went along with it, and what happened was horrific. Kaidan states, doesn’t accuse, but states that he’s okay with you cheating on him. And Shepard goes along with him, agreeing with his assessment. This is disgusting. Kaidan is the one who left Shepard, and left her when her whole world has been turned upside down after losing 2 years of her life. To trivialize what she had with Thane as “cheating” is simply disgusting. And the strong-willed Shepard would never have gone along with this.

When are you going to get it through your head that I’m not into you Carth, I mean Kaidan…

This is when I realized that this game is really geared toward men, and that is really terrible. It’s the year 2012. What really makes this weird is that here is such a heavy emphasis on gay/lesbian equality in the game. There’s an openly gay character, that as a man you can romance, Kaidan can be romanced as a man, and there are 3 lesbian options. This is one of the pros of the game. But what happened to us hetero girls? Your choices are the man who broke your heart and betrayed you, or your best friend who, let’s be honest, is too alien to be intimate with a human.

Thank God I can have shower sex with this girl I just met, and if she doesn’t work out, there’s always that girl in the cargo hold, or the girl you blew off before but would totally do you if you asked.

My main point in this article is that I want the narrative to make sense. I don’t care what happens, as long as it makes sense. Thane can die, you can get together with Kaidan, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s believable, and nothing in ME3 was. It almost feels like a rough draft of a story that needs to be thrown into a creative writing workshop.

Next week the EC comes out to “fix” the ending, (post note: it didn’t). I’m glad that Bioware is responding to fans, but unfortunately none of the things I was so disappointed in will be touched on. It’s just too bad that one of the most innovative game franchises of our time ended this way. I honestly have little hope for games in the future if this is the new definition of “innovation.”