Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spookymilk Survivor X: Triumph or Tragedy

Homestretch time, everyone. Last week, the last remnants of 'I'm With Stupid' went the way of the passenger pigeon.This week, we inched a little closer to the finale.

This week's challenge was to take a historic tragedy and write about the perspective of a (hopefully fictional) person caught up in it. Would they triumph over circumstance? Would they succumb to bitter tragedy?

With this season's cast of writers, what do you think. Don't expect triumph.

It came to us a year after the last of the supply ships left.
We were already in the path of destruction, with food dwindling, and every new day seemed to find ways to torment us. One day, it was disease; the next, one of the hostile local tribes would attack one of our hunting parties. Each day brought us closer to our demise.

One month ago, Thomas Green found it on the shores of the bay. He had been digging for clams when he saw a glint coming from from the mud. He washed the muck away to find a finely carved wooden amulet, bearing a creature with a skull for a head, with a man in its claws. Though the object was entirely comprised of wood, it showed no signs of rot or decay from having been in the mud for an untold period of time.

We wondered if such a piece of jewelry might be of value to the nearby tribes, so we inquired to several of them. Each experience was the same. When any of them took a look at the amulet, their faces would turn ashen, and they would not speak another word to us. All contact, friendly or hostile, with the local tribes ceased immediately.

For a time, we praised the amulet as good luck charm, but within a couple of weeks, we noticed Thomas Green exhibiting strange behavior. One day, we found him sitting on the ground in the middle of the square, babbling to himself, his hands bloody beyond measure. He had fully dismantled his house in a single night. Though his hands were torn to shreds, he held the amulet with death’s grip, and when some of the men tried to help him to his feet, he turned on them with a demonlike rage, beating them all to within an inch of their lives within moments. We forcibly subdued Mr. Green and took the object from him.

The next day, we found poor Thomas, dead from a makeshift noose. The villagers were aghast, but even worse was the fact that three more individuals had succumbed to the madness. Within days, nearly everyone in the village had torn the buildings and fortifications to the ground. By day, they stalked the village like caged animals. By night, they fought over the talisman, often killing each other merely for a chance to touch it.

Those of us who had kept our distance through this mess had enough wits about us to come to a decision. The amulet had tainted us through some manner of foul magic, and it must be destroyed. We formed a small militia and fought our way to the object’s current owner. Upon procuring it, we built a large fire and attempted to burn it. Though its form was of wood, the amulet persisted. Hearing a crowd of the tainted coming our way, I hooked the talisman out of the fire and stole into the night.

The next morning, I sank all of the boats but one and ventured across the bay to a nearby island. I walked as far inland as I could, zig-zagging along to ensure that I did not recall the direction I took. I dug a whole as deep as my exhausted limbs would allow, and I buried the charm there. On my return to the colony, I began to pass the bodies of my neighbors, who had – finding the boats usless and submerged – attempted to follow me by any means they could manage.

I am the only resident of the colony left alive. I’ve spent the last three days trying to discern a way to warn others, but the icon’s grasp on my mind is strengthening, even though I’m nowhere near its proximity. Last night, I awoke to find myself in the boat headed to Croatoan to dig the cursed object back up. I think I should write a message, but what sort of message would inform the viewer of the evils of that damned island?

I carved the name of the island into one of the trees in the area a couple of hours ago, I don’t know what that will do – probably nothing. My thoughts turn to dust. It’s calling me again. This must cease.
I’ve been swimming for a half an hour. Soon, I won’t be able to see the shore. My thoughts will be own own again.

I tried to warn the supply ships. I fear I have failed. May God have mercy on their souls if they happen upon Croatoan island.

So... no triumph, I take it. How'd the judges like it?

K: This is hard. I fucking hate you guys. Maybe this person knows me enough to know I’m completely enthralled by the mystery of Roanoke, but it doesn’t really matter. What started as a story with me wondering “This person can’t be using Lord of the Rings for source material, right?” ended with me simply shaking my head at this clever explanation of a deeply disturbing mystery.

DK: This is a very creative idea for a tragic basis, and it’s very effective as a narrative building tension. I felt like I was a little held off from caring about the particular character at the center of it – that’s not really a flaw since this story isn’t really designed to make you care about more than the situation itself.

The protagonist is a bit weak, even if you're supposed to be caring more about the situation. I was actually quite concerned that the judges were going to look at it, realize that it was speaking in terms of the fantastical, and simply disregard it. I'm quite glad they gave it any props at all.

My first idea for a story was, in fact, that of the 30th man on the Edmund Fitzgerald. He'd tell his story years after the fact to an interested soul. There were multiple problems with this.

1) I don't know anything about ships. I've seen Lake Superior when it was mildly creepy looking, but only from the shore, it's hard for me to imagine the type of seas that would crack a ship that big. Any attempt to do so would have had the chance to look underwhelming.

2) The protagonist was going to be younger than I wanted, stories of this type work best with a 70-some year old guy looking back on things. A 50-year old look at it could conceivably offer fresh prospective, but that perspective wasn't readily coming when I was writing it out.

3) Spooky actually mentioned the Edmund Fitzgerald as an example, which scared me off. This needn't have been the case (Novak wrote a very good 9/11 story, and Spooky used that, too), but even the thought that the inspiration might have been subconsciously lifted sort of soured me on the whole thing.

I toyed around with the idea of placing the whole thing in the French Revolution, putting our dearly departed Andy on the chopping block and having us all end up killing him, but that was meta in a creepy way, and I couldn't find a way to keep the other contestants (who I have really enjoyed playing with) from looking sort of evil. Sorry, Andy... I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who even wrote a rough outline of your eviction as a historical event, though. So there's that.

In the end, I decided on Roanoke. It's fascinated me ever since I learned about it in third grade. Something about the lone word carved into the tree, and the mystery of the whole thing just unnerved me and ignited my imagination. I have to imagine that in those days, colonies disappeared or were evacuated without explanation fairly often, but this one stands supreme through the years. Why not offer up "evil demon talisman" as a valid reason for its disappearance?

There was a little bit of narrative oomph I think I could've squeezed from this one that I didn't quite get. As DK mentions above, the narrator is a faceless person afflicted by it. That was my intention, but I could have fleshed out things a bit more, given him a family that goes mad and possibly given him some motivation for doing some of the things that he does. As it stands, it's essentially a creepy campfire story, with some polish, it could have been a little more (if only a little).

It doesn't matter in the end, I wasn't going to beat Shawn's cannibalistic Depression-era folk. It just wasn't going to happen. Vogons might not have strictly vogoned, but there are still five of us left.

Of a slightly geekier note, I get to do Machine of Death for the challenge this week. I'm quite amped about this. If you've never heard of this fine book, check it out here. I'll have more next week.


  1. the wreck happened in 1958. So a guy telling the story would be about 75 right now, no?

  2. Nope, the wreck happened in '75. It launched in '58.