Monday, February 6, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Afterlife

Last week, Vogons just couldn't be stopped. They vogon'd everywhere. It was glorious, like a big, Vogon-y dream.

This season (like many seasons), it seems all of the contestants are intent on killing as many characters in as many colorful ways as possible. This week, we took a break from murdering our characters to briefly contemplate what might happen to all of these unfortunate souls. The theme was 'Afterlife', and the only rule was that the duration of the story had to occur post-mortum.

Did Vogon keep vogoning? Let's find out. First, my take on the great beyond. (note, I'm putting the formatting marks back in, because it kind of looks like ass without them)

A man and woman were in the car, arguing. What they were arguing about was unclear.

He awoke in an unfamiliar room. The fact that he had a mild headache was quickly overshadowed by a curiosity about his surroundings.

The clothes he was wearing were his, and he got the feeling he had been in this room before, but nothing about the room itself seemed familiar. He slowly got to his feet tried to figure out how he had gotten there. The previous night was a blur. Bits of pieces of memory came to him, but nothing that would explain his current predicament.

As he looked around the room, he saw two doors. The first was locked tight, the second led to a street. The sun was shining down and a robin chirped away in a nearby bush. Something about the street seemed familiar, so he walked its length for a while, eventually coming to a tree. The tree itself looked like a normal cottonwood that lined the streets of his childhood neighborhood. Whereas the sun was illuminating the rest of the street, the tree itself remained dark and foreboding, and a chill ran up his spine when he was near it.

As he turned to head back to his room, he saw her. A woman, dressed in a beautiful dress, her face obscured. He didn’t know why, but he felt terror in her presence. He began to run in the opposite direction, but as he did, a car came down the street. Waving his arms frantically, he tried to flag down the driver, but the car didn’t even slow down, and hit him at full speed. His broken body lay on the pavement as the world began to go black.

The man and woman were in the car, arguing. The woman crying as the man shouted angrily at her. Too late, he noticed the dog in the middle of the road.

He awoke in an unfamiliar room.

The sun had fled, replaced by clouds, but the scene unfolded, same it had had before. How many times it had happened, he didn’t know, but every motion he made gave him a sense that he had already experienced it. The street, the tree, the woman – everything was familiar, yet trapped in a part of his memory that he couldn’t quite grasp. Like a fading dream, everything became more unclear the harder he tried to remember it. The car came down the road, same as before, and left him bleeding and fading on the asphalt, same as before.

In his attempt to avoid the animal, the man sent the car off the road. He tried to hit the brakes, but the rain made slowing down in time an impossibility.

He awoke in the same unfamiliar room.

Rain poured from the sky. The man was drawn to the tree, same as before. Why didn’t it occur to him to take a different road? To take a left turn instead of a right? The tree stood before him, scarred by some horrific calamity. He turned to face the woman. He knew who she was now. He had always known.

The car claim to claim him again. He didn’t even flinch – he felt a strange sense of justice about it. He deserved this.

The car collided with the tree at full speed. A couple of bystanders tried to pull the couple’s bodies from the wreckage, but it was in vain. There were no survivors.

He awoke. The woman was sitting at the foot of his bed.

“Why are you avoiding me? Why are you trying to torture yourself over and over again about it?” she asked.

He opened his mouth to speak a couple times. There was nothing he could say. Nothing he could do to make it right. All he could do was damn himself to recreating that night over and over until he could make it right.

“Why can’t you forgive yourself?” she insisted.

“That night – the car wreck – the things…..the last thing I said to you…” he was kneeling on the floor. Practically choking for breath.

She knelt down beside him and stood him to his feet. Embracing him, she said “You know that I already forgave you. It’s time to let it go.”

“What if I can’t?”

“Then you’re just going to have to trust me, and I’ll be waiting for a time when you can.” she said, motioning him over. “Come here, I want to show you something.”

She withdrew a key from her pocket and unlocked the door.

Taking his hand in hers, she opened the door, which led to a beautiful meadow.

“I love you” he whispered. She simply smiled and gave an ever so slight nod.

Together they walked through the open door.

The judges' critiques.

K: Is it hell, or a hell of the dead’s making? Interesting. Again, I feel like the emotions could be ratcheted up here; I want to feel his despair so much more strongly so I can truly feel the catharsis the story deserves when the woman forgives him. 2

DK: This one really got to me. The repetitive structure was used to great effect, in my view, and the idea of being trapped in one’s last, greatest mistake for eternity really resonated with me. The emotional impact throughout rang true. 5

Back a few years ago, Roger Ebert made a point about video games not being 'art'. I thought things over (I concluded that he was at least half right, but that's a story for another post) and tried to contemplate what a video game might be that could qualify as having the same story and dramatic heft of a quality film. The rough outline that I came up with was a man waking up in the afterlife (though neither he, nor the player would understand this immediately), having just died in an automobile accident. The gameplay would be sort of Myst-like as he found pieces of his old life, all the while being haunted by the spectre of his final moments on earth and his last argument with his love. I decided that for maximum effectiveness, the whole thing would take about two hours in a straight playthrough, and would have a variety of endings, varying from the man running from the past fully (and thus damning himself to repeat his own little private hell forever) to owning up to things and moving on in the only way that could possibly make him happy. The ending that I used was more of a neutral ending. Like most of my ideas, nothing was ever expanded upon.

I thought of this concept immediately upon seeing the challenge, the only question I had was how to pare down what was essentially a two hour story (and only a rough outline, at that) and format it into a sub-1000 word story. A friend of mine came over unannounced and ended up staying at my house all weekend, so the final draft never got rounded out quite like I was expecting, so I'm not sure I succeeded (some of the emotional heft was drained by the lack of minutae, as well as a couple of wordy segments), but I'm overall pretty happy with the concept. Maybe I'll revisit it someday, maybe not.


  1. I really thought the "friend dropping by" was a lie so that you didn't have to talk any more in Werewolf. Ha!

    I love this concept. It has some similarities to some interactive fiction pieces, which can definitely be considered art. Even without the formatting breaks I still felt them while reading, which I think points out how strong this was.

    1. I also thought that was a werewolf lie at first. When you weren't around right away in the post-game I figured it was probably true. But I'm glad I wasn't the only person thinking that.

      Also, you know, good writing, blah, blah blah, etc. :-)

    2. The "not being around" werewolf lie is amazing in its rampancy. It's like how if you're sick at work, everyone assumes you have to be faking, because nobody is ever sick!!!

      Sadly, I think I might be the problem, since I once (that is: ONE TIME) did this. After that, for several games, it was common for people to claim I'd done it over and over. I'm not even sure where that came from.