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Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 1: Stage VI

Flash Fiction Month is back! The rules are the same as last time each of this month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else. You can read last year’s installments here.


Six years ago, I found a discolored patch of skin on my leg and went to see the doctor. Turned out that I had a malignant melanoma that I’d luckily caught very early on. We excised it, I did my share of chemotherapy, I recovered, and then I went on with my life, seemingly unharmed but for the need to schedule extra maintenance checkups with my doctor to make sure it didn’t come back.

Six months ago, I got a strange envelope in the mail with no return address. It contained a musty, foul-smelling piece of paper stained with brown ink that vaguely resembled words, but was otherwise completely unintelligible. At the time, I thought it was a prank gone wrong, so I tossed the letter out in the garbage. It slipped my mind soon after – I had a lot of important projects going at work that I didn’t want to leave hanging.

Six weeks ago, however, I received a much more disturbing letter. A pair of lawyers (Richard and Simon Dowling, who had colonized late night TV with their advertisements and burnt their phone number into my mind) sent me a letter informing me that one of their clients had demanded restitution from me for “unlawful separation”, and since I had refused to provide it, I was now required to appear at my local courthouse.

“This has to be some sort of joke, right?” I asked them in a call I placed soon after. Read more…

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Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album (1996)

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You know, the last time we talked about Aphex Twin, I got awfully fixated on Slayer, and it kind of spiraled out of control. I’m all better now, though, I promise. From a musical perspective, the Richard D. James Album is all about strange juxtapositions. The big one is the contrast between the harsh rapidfire percussion and the soothing melodic lines underneath. To my understanding, this is a common technique today (at least by IDM standards), but in 1996? I wouldn’t really know. But this sound, portioned out into compact little tracks, makes for an interesting experience at the very least.

If I ignore the aforementioned beats, what strikes me about RDJ is how ‘organic’ many of the tracks sound. There are obvious synthesizer lines and pads, but also an orchestra’s worth of simulated symphonic instruments strewn throughout the album. Besides falling way outside my own expectations, this especially doesn’t stereotypically jive with the drills in the rhythm section. That’s enough to forcibly fixate me on the fractured aesthetic, and focusing on it makes for difficult writing, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s entirely necessary. If you cut out the entire rhythm section for whatever reason, you’d have an entirely different experience – not something that necessarily matches up well with the rest of RDJ’s pre-1996 (this) discography, but a very restrained recording. You’d also have fewer problems with ear pain if your sound system wasn’t properly set up with a consistent frequency response; this album is exceedingly trebly to the point I notice it even on my relatively tuned desktop, and that I even find it hard to handle on less precise EQs like that of my phone.

For the most part, the songwriting here is more conventional, although I have no idea what prompted Richard to write “Logan Rock Witch” (by far, the least appropriate track for a session of Hearts of Iron). It’s the usual IDM “new element/permutation every 4/8 bars” shtick; like other forms of pop songwriting, people use it because it’s easy and it works if you know what you’re doing. You could argue that the short songs work against this idea, but this is where the hyperactive rhythm section actually comes in handy, by blasting through as many patterns as possible and therefore creating useful, attention-grabbing variations in texture over time. A good deal of it seems to be in the interest of wacky sound effects, though. Ultimately, I think the songwriting here functions at least in a pop sense, but the aforementioned aesthetic juxtaposition does make it harder to accurately judge this.

Any flaws I perceive in RDJ don’t seem to stop me from listening to it, so that’s got to count for something. Maybe I should check back in a year or so and see how well this holds up?

Highlights: ” Peek 824545201″, “Carn Marth”, “Yellow Calx”

Flash Fiction Month #5: Lone Wolf On The Battlefield

Flash Fiction Month comes to an end with this installment, but the concept of flash fiction lives on! You might see more of it in the future. Read the previous installment here.


Excerpts from an anonymous letter:

Inevitably, historians will claim my downfall came at the moment I managed to weaponize student loans. I’m surprised nobody had the idea back in the days of metal currency, or even paper currency (which is obviously lighter, but it wads up well), but it turns out that even a simple credit card can wreak havoc, as long as it’s fired at relativistic velocities. The first shot wasn’t merely liberating. I imagine conventional gun owners enjoy the first shot beyond all the others for the power it unlocks within them, but when your first shot tears a hole in a mountain and keeps going, unscathed but for the trail of a superheated shockwave it tears across the sky, you would know you’ve come upon a weapon of immense power.

The targets, on the other hand? I initially wanted them to believe that I was simply trying to make them wealthier, but no matter how much I preloaded the charge cards with cash, none of them really had the manual dexterity or heat resistance to snatch my ammunition out of the air, at least not in a form that the average ATM would accept. My aim wasn’t very accurate, but it didn’t really matter since even a near miss was enough to turn anything nearby into a dark shadow on the ground. Incidentally, I feel like I’m running out of things to shoot at, but even now I occasionally see a tank or a helicopter on the horizon. I think they’re out to get me, and I keep trying to bribe them to go away, but I’m running really low on wealth and I’m afraid my bank won’t offer me a loan so I can keep going for a bit.

I actually managed to catch some emergency broadcasts early in my travels. They’d already labeled my efforts a “mad rampage” and were telling everyone to get as far away as physically possible in order to avoid being vaporized. I realize that my actions have cost some lives, but frankly, the media has some really messed up priorities. At no point did anyone discuss the economic aspect of what I was doing, and even I can think of a few consequences – mostly related to deflation and the other effects of a reduced money supply. Still, a few hundred thousand dollars of debt multiplied by a few hundred shots, while enough money that you shouldn’t scoff at it, is a drop in the bucket compared world currency reserves. Things probably won’t get that bad.

Anyways, I think I see another plane on the horizon. I hope it’s not a passenger jet; I’ve already set a dangerous precedent by firing at one and I would hate for Boeing or Airbus to lose even more of their assets.

Flash Fiction Month #4: Religious Epiphany

I know little about the readers of Invisible Blog, and their browsing behavior, but they can always read the 3rd installment here.


“What’s that on the road? It looks sticky,” my daughter Anna said to me one warm, sunny day when I was supervising my childrens’ play time. She was pointing at a dark red discoloration towards the center that was roughly aligned with our driveway, perfectly placed for cars to repeatedly run over it. I sighed – with her fifth birthday a few months behind her, she was beginning to notice things about the world that I could not leave unexplained lest she begin to develop some dangerous ideas.

“That, my daughter, is God. You must treat it with the utmost respect and reverence,” I explained. She raised an eyebrow; meanwhile, her twin brother George waddled over to listen; even though he’d asked the question a few months earlier, his presence, knowing grin, and overfed mass would help drive in my points.

“Mommy told me that there are many gods, like Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, and others. Is that Loki?” Anna asked me. This presented something of a problem I had to deal with before I could continue.

“Your mother, as a devout Odinist, will never agree with me on religious matters. We promised not to argue about it, but just between you and me… well… I don’t believe in those gods and never will,” I responded. As I spoke, I got out of the lawnchair I’d been reclining in, walked over to our cooler, and picked out a sealed vial of chilled blood. It was about a day old (I’d drawn it personally from a passing solicitor), but the cold had kept it reasonably fresh until then.

“By far, the most important part of worshiping God is feeding it, so that it may manifest more powerfully in our world. I will demonstrate.” I walked over to the stain, and after making sure there was no oncoming traffic, I unsealed the blood and slowly dribbled it onto the red stain in the road.

“How often do you do this?” Anna asked.

“No less than every three days, and preferably more. God is hungry and must feed until the great awakening… which could even be today, if we’re lucky.”

And then we were lucky, for the blood-stained asphalt began to glow bright yellow. Eerie multicolored runes and sigils appeared in midair, tracing an elliptical orbit twelve feet tall and perhaps half as wide. I gestured for Anna and George to stand back as the air between the corruptions faded to a dull brown, interspersed with a foul gray smoke that was beginning to expand out towards us. I remembered this from my training – any moment now, something would emerge from the coalescing portal to reward my efforts in tending to it!

“ARE YOU THE BEING WHO SUMMONED ME?” a voice called out, seemingly from everywhere and nowhere, although most likely still on the other side of the portal.

“Oh great master from beyond, it is I who has brought you forth into this world to do as you please! What is thy bidding?” I shouted back. Usually, I wouldn’t be so obsequious, but I had to set a good example for my daughter.

“DON’T OPEN THIS PORTAL AGAIN. I’M TRYING TO FARM PRESTIGE IN BLACK OPS III.”

With that, the portal popped out of existence with none of the drama that had heralded its initial appearance. The red stain on the ground disappeared. Anna raised an eyebrow.

“So… uh… is your mother taking converts?” I asked Anna, but she ignored me as she went back inside to play with George.

Flash Fiction Month #2: Alternative Fuel Sources

The second installment. Read the last one here. Comes in handy if you’re not viewing posts chronologically.


Railroads are like rattlesnakes. If you spot one off in the distance and hear a train whistling, you should get out of the area as quickly as possible; otherwise, the train might see you, mark you as prey, and jump the tracks in an attempt to kill you and then devour you. That would especially inconvenience the passengers.

Between highways, cargo planes, and enormous container ships, trains have had it rough in the last few years, as their sources of prey grow ever scarcer. In the 19th century, none of these were particularly concerning (much less existent) threats to railroad tycoons. Nowadays, they call those years a golden era – when with the help of a horde of underpaid drudges new tracks would veer dangerously close to your land, and all you could say for fear of reprisal was that you hoped it would grant you access to goods from New York or Philadelphia.

The funny things about trains are that they take bribes, and that they don’t have an especially advanced sense of self preservation. This confluence first entered public eye when on May 12th, 1851, the enterprising Alexander Rodkin snuck into a switching station under the cover of night. Using a rare blend of cunning, guile, and (mostly) gold bullion, he convinced a steam locomotive intended to carry grain from Chicago to an industrial bakery in Erie to attack a nearby passenger station on the way. Besides resulting in seven fatalities, it had the despicable side effect of delaying the grain shipment by over seven hours.  Jurisprudence back in the day didn’t account for murderous machinery, but Rodkin’s actions were condemned nationwide as irresponsible, and he spent the rest of his days imprisoned.

For whatever reason, the train got off without any consequences. It also managed to convey its newfound taste for human flesh to locomotives across the country. You should know the rest of the story from here – a wave of deadly train ‘accidents’ across the country, desperate attempts to design less barbaric railroads that were quickly squashed by the beginning of the American Civil War, and eventually an uneasy equilibrium as we slowly learned how efficient and cost-effective a carnivorous train can be. By keeping a harsh penal code and otherwise sacrificing a pound of flesh or so as needed, the United States ensured the dominance of its rail system for decades.

Some people say that between the declining use of commuter rail and the increasing popularity of diesel-electric motors, the age of killer railroads may be coming to an end. Personally, though, I’d keep my wits about in case an opportunity arises to serve the greater good.

 

Flash Fiction Month #1: Coping With Workplace Feedback

I’m trying something new and presumably interesting this July! Each of this month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else, and this one actually turned out a little lengthier than expected.


“Pac-Man with a goatee? That’s… frightening.”

Jim Simmons had been working as a concept artist for Bandai-Namco for an entire week, but he was sure he wouldn’t make it to the second. Nobody seemed to appreciate his design ideas, and his boss had already yelled at him on Wednesday, almost begging him to stick to illustration.

“If my count is correct, you’ve submitted at one hundred twenty nine separate proposals to change our character designs in the last two days,” she’d said. “This includes fifty one changes to the Tekken roster, fourteen variants of the King of All Cosmos, and no less than twenty five separate and sometimes conflicting redesigns of Pac-Man. Absolutely none of these are salvageable! What were you thinking?”

In the present, Jim’s boss sighed and slowly, almost delicately tore his latest image (entitled “Pac-Riker”) into uneven strips of paper. It wasn’t ideal, but his previous artistic efforts had jammed her office’s shredder. After depositing the scraps in her trash bin, she had to jam her foot down on the ensuing pile to keep it from overflowing and covering the floor with garbage.

It was 4:01 PM on a lazy Friday. Jim was trembling outside his cubicle, almost certain that within the hour, he’d be summoned back to his boss’s office for an immediate termination. One thing was certain – he absolutely had to find a way to prove his worth within the hour in order to have even the slightest chance of keeping his job. He looked at the stack of recent drawings on his desk, and finally decided that conventional means weren’t going to work – these were hasty and incomprehensible even by Jim’s standards. One of them caught his eye, though – a nondescript humanoid of ambiguous species and most everything else, except for a strangely flat and angular head – Jim suddenly had a flash of brilliant insight. He was working in the wrong medium! With that idea suddenly animating him, he stood up from his desk, collected his portfolio, and headed for a nearby copying machine.

With five minutes to go before the workday ended, Jim’s boss left her office, intending to cut Jim loose and therefore save her company. She’d barely opened the door when she heard a bloodcurdling scream to her left. The firing would have to wait; she sprinted towards the source of the awful noise, only to slip on something red, damp, hurtling towards her-

It was somebody’s blood. The boss scrambled to her feet, desperately trying to find out what was going on. She soon saw that Jim was repeatedly slamming the lid of the copier down onto the head of her secretary. To be honest Remy’s fastidiousness and demands for exacting precision occasionally got on even her nerves, but his administrative skills still had made him the star of the department up to that point; in an office full of creative types, that was quite an achievement. However, it looked like Remy wouldn’t be able to perform his duties any more – Jim’s constant bludgeoning had smashed his head open and flattened his skull into… was that a rectangle?

Jim finally noticed his boss had arrived on the scene, and gently lifted Remy’s mutilated  corpse off the copier, presumably to demonstrate his handiwork.

“What do you think of my Remy redesign? It’s a little drastic, but I’m hoping you’ll like it,” he said to her in the calmest voice he’d mustered ever since she’d first trashed his drawings.

“…I actually quite like it,” she responded. Then she fainted.

Needless to say, Jim’s handiwork didn’t go over too well with the police.

 

Bad Ideas #20 – Music Edition

This probably takes the record for “Bad Ideas installment that took the longest to cook”. The food themed edition, by comparison, didn’t take nearly as long!

191. Radical Islamic guitar solo
Where’s the mufti? I gotta tell him that “The Twelve Imams” would be a great name for a band.
192. 12 minute extended disco version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”
We should’ve stuck with “Disco Duck”. Oh well! Let’s have the local radio station play that 50 times in a row.
193. Fartwave in smellovision
The only reason people care about electronic body noise music is that they don’t have to stick their noses in it.
194. UAV drone doom
Predator missiles might sound cool when slowed down, but then they miss their targets and fall out of the sky.
195. Imperial March of the Lollipop Guild
Alternatively: “We Represent A Mafia Don”
196. Gangsta-ass square dancing
Stop! … promenade time!
197. JPEGwave
I t ok a pict r of tis songs wavef rm and it snds s0 amazin’ and i am go1n to upl ad it to 9GAG
198. Folk speedcore
Seriously, though, have you ever heard a “speedcore” song that actually had content between the samples?
199. Skaldic ska
I just cheated you out of an actual joke here by observing that I’m morbidly curious about what some of these bad ideas for music would sound like.
200. Protoss power metal
YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL GUITAR SOLOS, EXECUTOR.

If these ideas were food, you’d have died of starvation long ago, but these should keep you going at least for the next 40 seconds or so.