Nostalgia Time: Acorn Games

Don’t I treat you well, readers? Instead of another long ramble about how Judge Dredd is actually pretty good or how Batman Vs Superman will be terrible, I’m giving you some of my light and fluffy nostalgia two days in a row. In actually, I’m sick today, and this is much more soothing to write than some element of pop culture that’s making me cross. This is a special Nostalgia Time though, because I’m not talking about TV today. (Though, I can’t wait to start blubbing about how much I loved The Racoons.) No, instead I’m going to talk about Video Games. (Yes. Plural.)

I was pretty lucky growing up. Most people my age weren’t introduced to computers until the PC boom circa 1995. I was born into a computer loving family, particularly my Dad, who was an amateur computer programmer and vector artist. He didn’t do much with his skills, he was already retired when he got his first computer, but he spent most of his time at the keyboard from then on. There was only one catch. Dad wasn’t into Macintosh or PC, but spent most his time with the small british company, Acorn. Starting out as the BBC Micro, Acorn was Britain’s answer to Apple, with an operating system far in advance of Windows in the early 90s. Unfortunately, Acorn was a victim of Microsoft’s massive success with Windows 95, and went bust shortly after. 

However, there was an Acorn in my house my entire life, and in that time I played a lot of games. Some of them you might recognise from other platforms, others you’ve probably never heard of before. I’ve included vids where I can, and in some cases, links to flash remakes. Now, with the power of your mind, travel back to the distant past of the Nineteen-eigtiiiiiiieeeees:

Repton

Dating back to the BBC Micro days, Repton is an essential part of any Acorn gaming discussion. The game sounds a lot like Boulder Dash, this is because it’s author based the game on a review he’d read of the game. However, he hadn’t played it, and so in action it’s quite difference. Repton is best described as a maze and puzzle type game. The goal is to make your way through the level without blocking your way to the exit. You need to collect all the diamonds in an area before you can leave, however the level is also loaded with giant rocks. The trick is that the rocks don’t move until dislodged from their current place. Collect the wrong diamond or move the wrong object and you might find your exit blocked, or worse, a boulder might crush you. It’s a tight, taxing game that requires precision and some trial and error to work your way through. It’s easily one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, but it’s also a laid back experience that lets you take your time. (Until you dislodge a monster egg.)

The original publisher sells an inconceivably hideous remake on iOS and PC now, but I wouldn’t even bother with it. Instead, visit here where flash emulated versions of the original Repton games can be experienced completely. 

Chuckie Egg

Chuckie Egg will be familiar to more of you as it was on quite a few platforms. The Acorn version is easily the best, with smooth gameplay and clean, colourful graphics. It’s a pretty old title now, but has aged quite well. Clearly inspired by the old Mario Bros. Arcade game, this is a really fun platformer in which the player has to jump platforms, climb ladders and avoid giant birds. Collecting all the golden eggs moves the player on to the next stage. It looks primitive, it sounds even worse, but the gameplay here is still rock solid. It’s a really fun little game that I still play today. It can also be played here:

Starfighter 3000

Starfighter 3000 was an incredibly ambitious game on a platform that was far too simple for it. It was also available on PC, I believe, though it doesn’t seem to be too well known there either. A 3D space shooter on a system with almost no polygon graphics ability that was also free roaming, open world and with the ability to fly out into the atmosphere. This was accomplished by using incredibly simple models the became simpler the further away you were. Draw distance wasn’t bad, but anything far enough away would just be a box, becoming more defined as you approached. It was a lot of fun and in 1994, it blew me away. Honestly, I have no idea where you could get a copy of this.

Magic Pockets

I’ve had to include footage from the Amiga version of Magic Pockets here because, like I said, the Acorn was obscure and the only vid I could find was terrible quality. This looks about the same though. I don’t even know how to describe Magic Pockets. A platformer in which a very 90s kid attacks monsters by throwing grey raspberries at them, at on point he floats with a magic gum bubble, pedals a tiny bike and collects a very large quantity of coins. This game sticks in my memory because the art assets were just so beautiful. It was a fun game, it had a sense of humour in its style, and everything just looked so good. Another that was really challenging when I was a kid, I must have played that first level a million times, but I still remember finishing it in the end. That was a big day for me. 

High Risc Racing

This game is seared into my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because we got it as a free gift for subscribing to “Acorn User” magazine and we had to chase it up when it didn’t arrive after months of me chasing down the postman for it. Secondly, that theme music was AMAZING. I hadn’t heard it for years when I looked up the vid and I still had it memorised. The game itself wasn’t so great, a top down racer with really obnoxious driving physics. I sucked at it. I could just about place in the first race but never earn enough money to buy a better car. Loved that title screen though. 

Cataclysm

I’ve left Cataclysm until last, because it’s the game that I really think stands out from the list. A lot of the entries on here are dated, or flawed, or early cousins of more famous games, but there isn’t anything really like Cataclysm. The game is, in some respects, like Repton. The goal is to overcome obstacles in order to open the exit to the level, however, the mechanics of Cataclysm are all about directing the flow of simulated water. Each level contains tanks of water (or acid) which can be released manually, or may be triggered by something else. Switches, pressure pads, destructible blocks and other kinds of obstacle fill the level and you must direct the water to the right interactive elements in order to get enough into a tank at the end of the level. This was a really taxing, often unpredictable game that really sticks in my mind as something that capture my imagination and my attention as a child. 

Looking back on these games, one thing that strikes me is just how difficult they all are. I probably couldn’t finish any of these games today (or then, I bet) but I spent years of my life on some of these just trying to clear the first few levels. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but with games like Repton and Cataclysm, they were actually teaching me valuable skills about logic, deduction and solving problems. Games aren’t like that anymore, they’ve largely gone down the path of imitating cinema. That’s sad, but at least I can still go play Repton. 

Nostalgia Time: The Demon Headmaster

 

This entry in Nostalgia Time is a little bit different. The Demon Headmaster was a long running children’s show, based on a popular series of books by Gillian Cross. The series followed the exploits of Dinah Glass, a foster child who comes up against the sinister headmaster of her new school. She soon discovers that The Headmaster is a supernatural hypnotist, running the school perfectly and scoring the best test results by hypnotising the entire student body at once during assemblies. However, it’s not just Ofsted The Headmaster is trying to win over, as Dinah begins to suspect the school is just a testing ground for something far more ambitious. 

Terrence Hardiman terrified my generation with his terrifying portrayal of The Headmaster, and while the plots became goofier as the series wore on, the show was always well cast and performed. Child actors aren’t known for bringing out the best of the material, but the story worked and kids were believable enough in it. So effective was it that much of the show’s visuals are still burned into my brain. The hypnotised kids waiting patiently in lines to start the school day, and later the creepy testing facility hidden in the woods. The use of something familiar, a typical british school, to create fear and suspense would later be revisited in Series 2 of the rebooted Doctor Who with Toby Whithouse’s School Reunion. Both featuring brainwashed children and a dark patriarch at the top. 

The Demon Headmaster has been gone for a long time now. The last book was in 2002, the TV show finished in 1998, and Children’s TV has moved away from strong narrative drama anyway. Still, it’s nice to remember a time when Children’s TV was so imaginative and so motivated by encouraging independence, free thought and intelligence. 

Defending Judge Dredd (1995)

Judge Dredd Poster
I’m pretty sure they’re Macaulay Culkin under there.

In a post-Avengers world, it can sometimes be hard to remember the dark days of the mid-90s. A time when comic book story lines like The Death of Superman were hitting the mainstream media, most big-name properties were languishing in development hell, and the success of Batman Forever was about to give birth to the laughing stock that is Batman and Robin. It was a weird time for comic book fans; while Tim Burton’s Batman movies had proven that comic books and superheoes could make money, just getting a film off the ground seemed to be a struggle. Until X-Men in 2000, it was mostly independent and lesser known books that hit the big screens. Some did well (Men in Black, Blade, The Crow) while others were less successful, (Tank Girl, Barb Wire, The Shadow.) Judge Dredd was something of a mixed bag. Marketed more as a Stallone action vehicle with a Total Recall vibe, it was hated by fans of the comic and wrong for the action movie audience. The character wouldn’t be brought to the screen again until 2012’s Dredd. (Another film that deserved to do much better, but we’ll talk about that another day.)

So, what was it about Judge Dredd that upset people? For the audience unfamiliar with the comics, Judge Dredd was probably just too weird. Taking place in the distant future, the setting is Megacity One. This cramped metropolis houses half the people on the planet, surrounded by a desolate wasteland inhabited only by scavengers and mutants. So far, nothing too far out, but with a premise that comes off like The Road Warrior, Judge Dredd is more like Lethal Weapon meets Robocop. Dredd is a StreetJudge, the only real law enforcement in the future. The Judges are part cop, part courtroom, capable of investigating, enforcing and sentencing entirely on their own. Coming from the satirical British comic, 2000AD, Judge Dredd was originally intended as a sort of fascist parody of Dirty Harry. There’s humour in the concept, and both the comic and the movie explore this. Megacity One is home to cramped, bored, infighting thugs who are ruled by rampant commercialism and a lack of respect for their ridiculously harsh legal system. While the movie both revels in, and mocks Dirty Harry style justice, the goofy sci-fi elements were probably off putting too. 

Dark Knight Returns Horse
The Dark Knight Returns, when comics became more mature. Also, Batman rides a horse, and at one point he kicks Superman in the face.

For fans of the comic book, the answer is a little bit more complicated, but as a fan of the Dredd books, I really think it comes down to taking the source material too seriously. The observation has been made before, but it’s worth restating, a lot of comic books fans are insecure. It comes, I think, of being attached to a medium traditionally thought of as intended for children. This shouldn’t matter. The Dark Knight Returns was in the 80s, the comic book world has moved on, and anyone involved in the medium either as an artist or consumer knows that it has all the range and style of TV or Cinema. The problem with this insecurity is that it often creates hostility to any interpretation of comics that is seen as also being for children. Most recently, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, an animated series that is probably best described as a tribute to the DC Team Up comics of the 50s and 60s was so maligned by armchair critics that the writers had Batman break the fourth wall to justify his own existence. What is most unreasonable about this anger is that it is usually predicated on the false assertion that the serious, the dark, the deep interpretations are the “true” ones. Bob Kane’s first Batman stories might have been gritty detective tales, but in a few years the books weren’t that different to the 1960s TV series. This didn’t really change until the late seventies. In that sense, The Brave and the Bold accurately reflects a much longer period of Batman’s history than a show like Batman: The Animated Series or the Nolan trilogy. This is coupled with a belief that the artistic value of the source material is so great, that any changes over the course of the adaptation are necessarily negative. 

Stallone in Dredd
Judge Dredd didn’t do a striptease in the Comic either, you evil Hollywood bastards!

But what has this got to do with Judge Dredd? Well, 2000AD fans’ most common objections to the film were these. Firstly, that Dredd removes his helmet in the film. In the comics, Dredd is never seen without his helmet. This is because he is always depicted as a symbol of pure justice, and never as a man. Secondly, that everything was too funny. Rob Schneider is a comedy sidekick, the city has a lot of jokes and everything feels like it’s poking fun of the action. Y’know, like Robocop. Thirdly, that Dredd was not the lethal, ends of the earth, shoot first and ask questions later Lawman of the books. I would argue that in every one of these examples, the problem is a very selective reading of the source material and an overzealous need to adhere to the purity of the comic. 

The easiest to deal with is the helmet. This is probably the best criticism, partly because it does represent a notable change from the character in a comic, and partly because it makes a handy soundbite. It is a simple visual and philosophical change that is easy to point to. It practically became a meme in discussion of Judge Dredd, and when Dredd rolled around with Karl Urban, the helmet stayed on. And frankly, I couldn’t care less that Stallone removed his helmet. When people ask me what I think the worst comic book adaptation is, I don’t even need to think. It’s Sin City. A terrible adaptation of a great comic. Why is it terrible? Because it isn’t an adaptation, it’s a direct translation to screen, and what works as a comic isn’t going to work as a movie. It’s why Wolverine doesn’t wear that mask that seems to defy the laws of physics in film. You don’t sit and read a comic for two hours, but you do sit and watch a movie, and staring into the dead look of a tinted visor gets tiring. It might not be true to the comics, but losing the helmet was the right choice cinematically. 

Dredd Removes Helmet
As you can see, the issue of Dredd removing his helmet was treated completely seriously in the comics, with complete reverence to Dredd’s role as a symbol of the impartiality of the law.

Thematically, the film handles the helmet and Dredd’s role as a symbol of the law perfectly. He first appears wearing the helmet, his attitude is consistent with his adherence to the law made explicit through his actions, and his helmet is removed on two occasions for reasons consistent with the storytelling. (Though, admittedly, the second time the helmet stays off until the end of the film.) On the first occasion, Dredd is speaking to Max Von Sydow, who plays a father figure to Dredd. The conversation is played out after Dredd has come under fire for excessively executing gang members; Dredd shows no remorse while Sydow’s character attempts to humanise him. Sydow’s attempt fails. Later, Dredd’s helmet is removed when he is framed and incarcerated. In keeping with the comic’s theme, the helmet is taken from him as he is declared no longer a representative of the law. 

This looks like the BEST sequel to Top Gun.
This looks like the BEST sequel to Top Gun.

The second criticism, that the movie is too humorous to be Dredd, is just flat out bizarre. We’re definitely into the realm of selective reading of the source material here. The truth is 2000AD is a humour comic, and Dredd has always been satire. The level of humour has peaked and fallen, that’s true, and in recent years the book has taken a more tempered and subtle approach to humour. As the influence of the american Superhero comic has become a bigger presence in the UK, Judge Dredd has become more of a Punisher type character. But when you look at the era that established Dredd, if you take the first ten years of the comic that gave us stories like The Judge Child, when you look at the arc that first introduced Judge Death and the Psychic Anderson, you see a real hodgepodge of tone and style in stories.

Judge Dredd Boing Strip
I wasn’t joking about the spray-on bouncy balls.

People want to remember Dredd’s first encounter with the Angel Gang, redneck cannibals that live in the wasteland, but they forget the story in which Dredd forces a Sweetshop owner out of business because he makes sweets so delicious everyone’s eating too many. Or perhaps the story in which the citizens of Megacity get caught up in a craze for bouncing around the city in a spray on, full body, bouncy ball. Who could forget the story where being ugly becomes fashionable and plastic surgery clinics open up to deform people on request. How about the year long arc where Dredd became Chief of Police on the moon? The one where the Chief Judge goes insane and appoints a Goldfish to a prominent position of power? The silliest Judge Dredd comics are far more absurd than anything in the 1995 movie, in fact I’d say it strikes a really strong balance between the more serious plots and the often very comedic elements of the comic. It creates a far more consistent, grounded in reality version of Megacity One than the comics ever did, and then did it *without* losing the humour. I think that’s something to be proud of. 

Dredd Stallone
Also, I still really love this costume.

Lastly, we come to Dredd’s character. This, I think, is one of the most troubling criticisms for me, because really it’s about violence. Dredd is often a violent comic. Not always. In fact, in the early days it’s made clear that Dredd has the right to use legal force, but he often avoids doing so. In later years, the level of violence has stepped up, but the nature of the character has always been his willingness to take extreme measures to bring clients in, and to use the maximum sentence possible where he can. The golden age of Dredd is full of examples of the character imprisoning citizens for graffiti, or littering or walking on the grass. It has less examples of Dredd killing for minor violations of the law. Executions are usually reserved only for violent criminals. This is preserved in the Judge Dredd movie, it’s preserved perfectly. In the opening sequence of the film, Dredd goes up against an armed gang. He executes every member of that gang, mostly in self defence, with a sentenced execution for the last surviving gang member. Then, he sentences Rob Schneider to life imprisonment for inadvertently breaking the law while trying to avoid getting caught up in the gang war. Later in the film, Dredd continues to follow this pattern until he is framed, at which point he sets about trying to clear his name, while still sticking to his belief in the law. This is Judge Dredd, every inch the man of the comics. But the moviegoers, the comic fans, the people concerned about theme and message and maturity, for some reason they always want more violence. There should be more, and it should be more visceral, and more visual and it should always be present because violence isn’t for children, and neither are comics. Which is a shitty way of deciding how a character should behave. 

Judge Dredd isn’t a perfect film. Its dystopian future feels a little too manufactured, and the twists of its corrupt officials and human cloning plot aren’t always believable, but it’s a decent action romp. More than that, it’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the comics, that manages to capture the spirit of its characters, the darker elements to the plot and the humour of the source and boil them down to a coherent vision. I’d even go so far as to say it captures Megacity One better than 2012’s Dredd. For the missteps it makes, I’ve always liked the film, and I’ve always thought that had the film done well at the box office in 1995, a sequel that made better use of the world would have been an excellent film. Sure, it’s corny and silly at times, but so is the source material. 

August Book Giveaway

Time Trial CoverHey Folks, it has been a while since my last book giveaway so I’m doing a big one for the end of Summer. Today, Christmas Past, Time Trial and The Octopus of Suspense will all be free on kindle. Check out my Amazon store links below to grab them now. 

Amazon USAmazon UK

Man of Steel Still Sucks: Why DC’s Cinematic Universe Can’t Fly

Superman
On my planet, it means hope, because I’m going to need all I can get.

I don’t like Man of Steel. I may have mentioned this before. This wouldn’t matter too much, except a lot of other people don’t like Man of Steel either. A lot of people still paid to see it, that has been enough to get a sequel off the ground, but the vultures are circling DC’s hopeful new universe already. DC have canned sequels before, of course. Superman Returns did well with critics, and did enough at the box office to justify a follow up, but by the time it came to greenlight it public opinion had turned on the Richard Donner nostalgia piece. Man of Steel arrived in a different climate. The attitude of studios these days is to take a lesson from Disney, sell your movie like it’s Citizen Kane, even when everybody hates it.

Of course, Warner Bros. faces a bigger problem these days. The Avengers franchise has been a winner since Iron Man hit in 2008. Between then and 2012, Marvel delivered six high profile films based on their properties, culminating in one of the best (and most successful) superhero pictures ever released. DC was slow to respond, because they had another hit on their hands.

Bane in Darkness
Remember when I played a clone of Captain Picard?

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy looked set to define the comic book movie in 2009. Batman Begins was a reasonable success, and a hit with critics. The Dark Knight, landing at the same time as Iron Man, was an enormous success. Fuelled in part by Heath Ledger’s tragic death, it was a dark and brooding picture that propelled Batman to a level success he hadn’t enjoyed since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  In 2012, both publishers saw massive successes for their properties when The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers arrived. However while Marvel’s future looked brighter than ever, DC was left on shaky ground. While Marvel borrowed heavily from television writing to weave a continuing, collaborative story arc, Warner’s approach was a self contained, director driven franchise. When Nolan brought his trilogy to an end, he sent DC movie adaptations back to square one. This left Warner without a competitor to The Avengers until 2013, by which point Marvel had already released Iron Man 3. Now we come to Man of Steel.

I’m not going to talk a lot about why I don’t like Man of Steel. I’ve done that already. I’ve done that a lot. I know it’s divisive and that a lot of people out there do like it. If that’s the case, great. I’m genuinely happy for you. What I am going to talk about is the future, how Man of Steel fits into a shared universe, and why I don’t think Batman vs. Superman will be the start of something great for DC and Warner Bros.

Man of Steel sounds like a great idea. After the success of The Dark Knight, adapting a big budget Superman origin with Nolan’s input seems like a great idea. In execution, I think it turned out to be a big mistake. The problem was Warner’s inability to commit. They know that they need a property out there, Batman is the hot thing but they’ve just finished with an incarnation of Batman. Superman is well rested after his last disappointment and so he’s brought out of retirement. But something’s new this time, Marvel has this shared universe building and Warner would be crazy not to want in. What is needed is a clean cut, heartfelt Superman adaptation. A Superman: The Movie for the new millennium, that builds a foundation for DC’s own shared universe while establishing the tone. DC’s Iron Man.

Batman Superman VHS
I will wager real money that this turns out to be the better film.

The result is a much more timid venture. A movie that feels like it belongs to The Dark Knight universe without any connections established, another auteur driven piece that clings to strong themes and psychoanalytical interpretations of its characters. A film about destiny and drive and alienation. In much the same way that The Dark Knight was a Batman movie and a gritty movie about corruption and organise crime, Man of Steel is a Superman movie and a story of isolation and immortality. Like a boring version of Highlander. The Marvel Cinematic Universe works because each film explores the strengths of its characters, while keeping a consistent underlying tone the audience accepts as, for lack of a better word, “reality.” Man of Steel, as the bedrock for a new franchise, is too idiosyncratic in tone and in look to serve. It would be as inappropriate as building a shared universe on Batman Returns.

The cause of this is, as far as I can see, quite obvious. Man of Steel was not intended as the first step towards a shared universe, but a Batman Begins. It fails, of course, because it attempts to be both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight at the same time. An origin story that reintroduces a beloved character and a heavily thematic mood piece that brings out the deepest in the audience. There are no hints to the wider world in Man of Steel, it is entirely self contained and explores a world without superheroes. And a lot of people hated it. When Warner chooses to follow this with Batman vs. Superman, they know something is wrong with their latest attempt.

Movie studios aren’t stupid. I know it seems like they are. They don’t commission films that sound great, they commission films that sound terrible and they make some very odd choices when it comes to adaptations. But they do make a lot of money. A hell of a lot of money. More than they would ever really admit. And one of the things they know is that reboots sell really well. I have always maintained that this is because origin stories bring in the widest audience. You don’t need any prior knowledge, you’re usually dealing with a story people are familiar with and new actors, new visual styles, new takes capture people’s interest. The problem is that this spike comes with a drop off in both audience and critical reception. (See The Amazing Spider-Man, Casino Royale, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four etc. etc. etc.) Often, looking back, the rebooted film isn’t even as good as the franchise it replace. (God I hate you, Amazing Spider-Man.) People just like the fresh perspective.

Dean Cain Superman
Reference: The colour Superman’s costume should actually be.

So, what do you do when that formula stops working? Man of Steel sold a lot of tickets, but the critical reception that comes with a franchise reboot just wasn’t there this time. The audience seemed divided and even though it had its defenders, it stood to reason that the drop off for the sequel was going to be enormous. They doubled down. Well, actually the double-doubled down. Their strategy had been two-fold. Reboot Superman and get some of that awesome Reboot money; Replicate The Dark Knight trilogy and get some of that awesome Batman money. Batman vs. Superman is basically: Reboot Batman; Bring Back Batman. People like Batman. Of course, they can’t bring back the Batman everyone loves. Nolan’s done, Bale’s done (Adam West is too old) so rather than suggesting Man of Steel exists in Nolan’s Batman universe, we’re getting a new Batman, created in Man of Steel’s world. This leaves Batman vs. Superman with an awkward choice; forge its own style and sit awkwardly next to its predecessor, or try to be a true sequel to Man of Steel, and undoubtably suffer the same lousy critical reception. (Ticket sales aren’t an issue this time. C’mon, it’s Batman vs. Superman! I’m 99% certain it will be shit, and I’m still going to see it.)

This is a problem that will only multiply as this franchise continues. Where Marvel worked to establish a consistent tone, a blank canvas universe in which all our heroes exist and compete on their merits, DC is hoping to build form what it has already. This can not work. As we go forward, Man of Steel isn’t just going to be a crummy superhero movie, but an anchor weighing the hole franchise down. Already we are going to see Batman in Man of Steel’s grey, lifeless, walk into a hurricane to save a dog world. He might just work, but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern? Or will they all be relegated to second players in Superman’s dull destiny?

The way I see it, (and I know I’m biased) is to minimise Man of Steel’s contribution to this universe with each release. Tone it down, soften its edges until it feels a like a world in which DC’s other, more lively characters can inhabit. But if their only strategy is to double down, more Batman, More Destiny, More Grey, this franchise not only can’t fly. It doesn’t even have legs.

Nostalgia Time: So Haunt Me

Continuing on my bloodthirsty rampage through the wastelands of 90s British TV, I arrive at the pinnacle of Jewish Ghost Sitcoms, So Haunt Me: 

This one is obscure. Chances are it’s too obscure and will only be nostalgic to me and anyone who borrowed my VHS of Robocop 2 that features an episode of this taped over the last five minutes. It wasn’t even that big a show when it was new, memorable only for being the only other thing Raquel from Only Fools and Horses ever did. Still, my Dad and I used to watch this together and I remember us both laughing out loud at jokes only he understood. 

The setup is unusual enough. A family hit by the recession downsizes to a house that’s a bit of a dump, it’s small and cheap but all the previous owners have abandoned it. The reason, of course, is because it is haunted by the ghost of a middle aged, Jewish housewife, who doesn’t so much terrify her victims as mother them to death. The gags are a bit 90s, but it doesn’t go down the “My Hero” route of abandoning reality completely. The characters are generally likeable, if a bit cookie cutter, and the self absorbed Mrs. Feldman is the definite start of the show. As things go one, the show got a bit caught up with plot arcs, and there are only so many jokes you can make about being haunted by a Jewish ghost before the show stops exploring that avenue. 

It didn’t last long, and the BBC has yet to release this on DVD, but some Internet Robin Hood has uploaded a lot of very ugly VHS copies to Youtube if you really want to check it out. It’s worth a laugh, and at it’s best, it still confirms my theory that British TV peaked in the 90s. Hit me up in the comments if you remember this. 

Breaking the Creator’s Curse.

Creator's Curse

You might have heard of the Creator’s Curse, if you work in a creative medium then you’ve almost certainly felt it. It has been described a few ways, but the basic concept goes like this: During the creation of a work, the creator becomes more proficient, therefore the finished product is never the creator’s best work. This is usually put forward as the reason why artists are more critical of their own work. (Personally, I think this is only half the story. The rest of the disappointment is usually created by the finished work failing to live up to the artist’s impossibly perfect initial concept, but we’ll talk about unreasonable expectations another time.) The result is that a lot of artists, writers, inventors, candlestick makers, end up sitting on their latest work, hiding it away and telling themselves that they’ll go public when they finally get better. This is counter-productive for obvious reasons. 

I wasn’t always a writer; as a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist. You can still find my comics littering the internet, some of them are pretty good, but I never sat down and really worked at producing comics. I had the tools, I had the time, and I even had a few decent ideas under my belt, but every comic I sat and produced took too long, or turned out a bit scruffy, or the perspective was off. There was always a reason why I wasn’t good enough to do the work, and years later when I step back and look at the work I did in comics, I see the mark of the Creator’s Curse on every decision I made. I constantly took time off to practice, to learn drawing techniques and do tutorials, but if I’d started drawing a strip back then and stuck with it until today, I’d be a far better artist than I am now.

In Writing, I am no different. I am currently editing a story I started quite some time ago. It is a Timewasters story that was supposed to follow Time Trial, and it is a really awkward job. Looking at it now, I can see a lot of problems that are in my early stories. It is overly wordy, drowning in adverbs and over explaining at every opportunity. It is also far too long, nearly 10,000 words on a plot that is really not that complicated. It has too many characters, it has a setting I’m not happy with. Basically, it’s absolutely not what I would write now. However, when I compare it to other stories I wrote around this time, it is absolutely it line with my weaknesses as a writer back then. In fact, at the time I wrote it, it was easily the best thing I had written. And I sat on it for nearly two years. Now I’m going back and forth on whether to release this story. I’m delving into it headfirst, editing and rewriting wherever I can, but I know I can only do so much without scrapping it and starting again.  I don’t want to do that. I like that story, and I think it still works, but it feels like a relic. Had I just released it back when I first finished it, I wouldn’t feel the same way. Its flaws would be part of my past and I would be looking back on it fondly. I would be a better writer now.

 It is so easy to shelve a project, easier than sticking with it, easier than releasing it with flaws, because then you can tell yourself you’ve going to fix it. But the further away you get, the harder it is to return, and eventually you’re so far removed from your work that it feels like someone else wrote it and you can never get the spark back. 

 Breaking the Creator’s Curse is simple. Recognise it. Understand why it is there, and work past it. Learn to accept that you are always growing as an artist, that you will always move past your work, (sometimes quicker than you realise) and that the best way to improve is to work more. The Creator’s Curse is ultimately self defeating, its cause and its solution are the same. As creators, we get better whenever we create, and putting ourselves out their for the feedback of our peers and the perspective it provides is always going to be better than letting something sit on a shelf until it becomes perfect.

Nostalgia Special: Crime Traveller

My callback to Bugs last week has sent me on a real 90s TV nostalgia kick. It wasn’t long before I got to Crime Traveller. If you were outside the UK or had a phobia of awesome TV shows in the 90s, you may have missed this. I absolutely loved this show, and if you’re a fan of Sci-Fi Drama then you will probably love it too. The show explored the adventures of detective Slade and forensics expert Holly who solve crimes using the hodgepodge Time Machine hidden in a London flat. Written by the great Anthony Horowitz, Crime Traveller featured a strict version of time travel in which the travellers could never change history or control exactly how far back they would travel. The show explored paradoxes and cause and effect, while telling a pretty good crime yarn at the same time. The show was too good to be cancelled, but got lost in the mix during a staff reshuffle at the BBC, and never got recommissioned. The show will never see a second series, but the single season we do have is pure gold.

What Should A Blog Be?

blogPsst! Can you keep a secret? I’m going to share one of mine with you. A lot of the time, I really hate blogging. That might seem strange to you, after all you are reading this on my blog. I managed to stick at it long enough to type the sentence you just read, and this one you’re reading now, and the one you’ll read next. I know what you’re thinking; “Owen, the words just flow off the page, only a labour of love could produce work this good,” but the truth is I usually find blogging really hard.

This is partly because I find it a struggle to choose what to write. When I have a new story out or a new piece of cover art, it’s easy enough. NaNoWriMo usually keeps me overflowing with updates, but the rest of the time? People don’t want to visit the blog just so I can sell to them or swear about my word count, they want something from me. Entertainment perhaps? Or education? Or just a connection with a real person out there who is working through the same little problems, and sometimes I just don’t know how to offer that. My sparks of inspiration are usually little snippets of fiction, I’m a storyteller not a teacher.

So why do I do it? There are a few reasons. Firstly, if you work in a creative medium, if you’re self employed in this work, and you do business digitally, you need a website. More than that, you need a website that provides a continuing connection with your audience. A blog is the easiest way to do this, if you do it well. I’m not sure I do it well, but I’m hoping to get there. Secondly, all writing is practice, and all writing speaks for its author. Putting myself out there in a mostly written medium helps me present myself as a writer first and foremost. Again, this doesn’t always work out as I’d intended, but the theory is sound.

My problem is that I find it hard to walk that line between business and hobby. I want to write for pleasure, and for money, and sometimes that feels impossible. I wouldn’t claim my work was art, but I write the kind of stories I’d like to read. I’ve got writing for joy sorted, writing for money is proving to be a little more difficult. Not that I expected it to be easy, but I’m still not comfortable with selling myself, even on my own blog. When it comes to updating the page, I never know what tone to strike. What do I aim for? Most of the writer’s blogs I see are full of quasi educational posts about building your brand, selling your products, Get Rich Quick Writing A Thousand Words A Day! I’ve tried to follow to route, to share my experiences in writing so far, but I’m not that guy. Nor am I the deeply personal blogger, or the passionate political writer, the abrasive critic, or even the shameless shill.

When you ask someone what a blog should be, what it should look like and what it should achieve, you hear the same answers over and over. It should offer something to the reader, it should provide useful information, it should have a focus and target and audience. Build back links, long-tail keywords, do follow  tags and Google Analytics. I find it hard not to be cynical, I am reminded instantly of pyramid schemes and Multi-Level Marketing. I know this is how the internet works, but the art of putting yourself out there is lot like the get rich quick scheme. Fake it ’till you make it, and exploit every resource whether you deserve it or not. And I’m not that guy either.

And I wonder if I haven’t made my blog into a distraction, an excuse to blame when things seem to be going a little slowly, and a side project I can waste time with when I don’t have the patience to write. Writing is hard work. Harder than it was when I was young, harder than I thought it would be when I came back to it three years ago, and the results come slower than I had ever feared. I want to channel these frustrations somewhere, to put them out there and engage with others, as I’d hoped others would engage with me. To find the world where frustrated writers and their aimless, cynical blogs live and comfort one another with over inflated promises of ships coming in.

I don’t know what a blog should be. The answers I hear from others seem mercenary, and overly simplistic. Perhaps I’m wrong, and they have really found good fortune with their journalling. Or are they, as I, faking it until they make it.

Timewasters: Time-Eater

Hey Guys, for the last year I’ve been writing flash fiction stories and posting them to the blog before I bundle them up for publication. This has been a really fun exercise for me, and the results have been really positive. Often increasing sales of eBook and giving me a lot of valuable feedback before I publish. With that in mind, I’m extending the model to include longer Short Fiction works and projects. It gives me a chance to really share my work with people and see what people think. So, I’m posting my latest Timewasters story below, this is a follow up to Christmas Past and Time Trial that are both available on the kindle store. 

First, all three stories are standalone entries, but some background knowledge is useful. Timewasters follows three reluctant Time Travelers; Annie, Mark and Graham. Accidentally separated from their own time, they travel through time and space via a network of “Time Tunnels,” equipped only with The Detector, a portable computer that can predict where the next time tunnel will open. Enjoy the story!

* * * 

 

Timewasters: Time-Eater

 

Time Eater crouched on his perch like a gargoyle watching over the ruins. The gaps between meals were getting longer, they had to. Not much left now. He opened his eyes, even through the red tint of the goggles the light stung. Clouds covered the sky and the sun was dark, there should not have been light left, but his eyes weren’t what they were; even residual photons burned.  Around him there was nothing but wasteland, nothing to eat but Maybes and Perhaps. The bones of time. 

It had been lush when he arrived, a world with a long future, but he got greedy. He sniffed the air, checking if it was time to feed, and caught something in the wind. Just a tickle at the back of his nose. He placed his hands on his knees and inhaled deeply, a long breath to take it all in. It was far away, further than he had been in a long time, and it was wrong. The sweetest meat of all, something far from home. Something taken from its own time and cast adrift. And he knew where it was. He forced himself to stand and stretch his limbs. The skin on his arms was pale and sagging, how long had he crouched there? He was not sure. He walked back to his nest and pulled on his gear. A puddle was forming in the recess that was his bed. He caught a glimpse of his reflection before dashing the water with his foot. It was now or never. He had worn nothing for so long, the gear felt heavy on his back. He pushed his arms through the gloves, strapped on the belt and hit the power. Behind him was the beating of four metal wings. Ahead there was a ripping sound, like a knife through canvas, and a gap appeared in the air. The drain was too much for this world, he could see the surface turning to dust. The building beneath him was new, but it would not last much longer. He sprung forward and in a second, he had never been there. A moment later and the planet was gone too. 

***

“Look, how much for the food?” Graham pointed at the unlabelled tins. The stall owner grasped one between his fingers and held it to his ear. He spoke from behind a layer of bandages.

“Is Good!” He shook the can. “Fruit. Earth Fruit. Very rare, yes?”

“Yes,” Graham nodded. “Very good, how much.” He was growing impatient. He had money, spare change from everywhere they stopped. Odds are something was worth something, but nothing caught the little man’s interest. He had been there all morning, and nobody came through the city gate, outside the walls there was nothing but sand. That was the problem with the tunnels, no way of knowing when you’d landed. Or where. The tin cans ruled out the distant past, the pink hue in the sky ruled out Earth. Everything else was a guess.

“This is what I have.” He started emptying his pockets. The merchant turned his nose up at a few glittering coins, but his eyes glinted when he saw the keys to Graham’s old Volvo.

“Keys?” He held them up by the weathered AA keyring. “Opens what?” He said. Graham seized his chance.

“Who knows?” He leaned in close to the man and lowered his voice. “I got them from a trader on the coast.” He really hoped this planet had a coast. The merchant blinked somewhere deep inside the bandages. “He said they would lead me to good fortune.” The merchant stared back into his eyes and then knocked his head back with a wheezing laugh.

“I like you, crooked old man. I will give you special for…” He dropped the keys into the pocket of his dirty shirt. “…Magic keys.”

“No need,” said Graham, not wanting to push his look. “Just the food please.”

The merchant pushed the tins towards him, “You take.” Graham started loading his rucksack. He could finally stop hunting, they would eat well tonight. The merchant dipped under the table before coming back up with something.

“But take special too,” He smiled. “For making another crooked man laugh.”

The item was wrapped in thick fabric and roughly the size of a football. Graham pulled back the cloth and saw a glass sphere made of thick, uneven glass. It  was a dirty green like old bottles and lighter than he expected. He quite liked it, but as pleasing as it was, he could see no purpose to it. He guessed the little man was trying to shift some of his more useless stock. They really didn’t have room for extra weight.

“No thank you,” he pushed the ball back to the merchant. The bandaged man seemed a little hurt.

“No, no.” He lifted the ball. “Is good for traveller.” He shook it and the ball started to glow. Pale at first but it built until the merchant was holding a ball of brilliant green fire in his hands. He shook it again and the light went off. Now that might be useful.

“Is clever,” said the man. He placed it back on the stall and started wrapping the fabric up again. “But not much barter on world with no night.”

Graham took the ball and placed it in his bag. The rucksack was getting full now, but it still sat comfortably on his back. His knees, on the other hand, were struggling to carry him now. Time to head back. He was getting too old to be going on adventures.The others would probably have made a deal for shelter by then, and he could use the rest. He nodded a thank you to the stall owner who had already started fiddling with the old keys, and set off back to the rendezvous.

***

Time-Eater pushed his arms back. He felt the vibrations from his metal wings down at his fingertips. He gritted his teeth and forced himself through the gap between moments until he came out the other side. The brightness forced his eyes closed, he lost control of his wings and dropped to the ground. He thought he would fall forever until he fell until he felt hot sand on his feet. He had felt it before but he could not remember when. There were noises around him but he couldn’t decipher them, still the light burned him through his eyelids. He twisted the dial on his goggles, an ancient mechanical aperture tightened until only a sliver of light came through. He sniffed the air here, the scent of his prey was thick and heavy. It would not take long. 

***

The market was well populated, but small. The people filled every gap and he couldn’t even see the stall he’d just been stood at. The wind had picked up and those stood by the market walls were starting to close the gates and pull up windbreakers on the walls. Some were still shopping, but those that had finished were making their way to the building in the centre, so Graham walked there too. From the outside it looked like a small pillbox in the sand, barely enough room for few families, but he’d seen plenty of people carrying all their belongings inside. He guessed it went further down, under the surface. The people were hurried, but not panicked. That suited Graham, his new life was wearing on him, a little. He didn’t dare tell the others, but it was only a matter of time before he’d have to. And then? He chewed his lip. What choice did they have besides leaving him behind?

When he reached the pillbox, he got a better look at its construction. Made of old carved beams and finished in some sort of heavy varnish, it looked sturdy enough. Rivet heads the size of his fist were in place around the joints. It was obviously the oldest building there, and the only structure inside the walls with any permanence to it. The others should have been there already; he decided to walk the circumference and see if he could find them. He found Mark first, absorbed in conversation with an elderly local who seemed to be trying to sell him a watch. Mark was more interested in the history of the place. He watched them for a little. For every morsel of information the old man provided, Mark gave him another trinket from his pocket.

“Mercenary lot, aren’t they?” Said Graham.

Mark grinned. “Yes.” He nodded a thank you to the old man. “But it’s nice, in it’s own way. No games, no needling people for information. Everything for the right price.”

“Handy,” said Graham. “Until you run out of money.”

“Mm,” Mark wasn’t listening. “Did you get food?”

“A few tins,” He didn’t mention the lantern, he wanted to show them that in person.

“Of what,” asked Mark.

“You tell me,” Graham tossed him a tin. “No labels.”

Mark stared at the can as if he could see through the metal. He held it up to his ear as the trader had and tapped the top with his other hand.

“Stewed steak,” he said, tossing back the can.

“Oh you can’t be serious,” Graham snorted.

“Want to bet on it?”

“No,” said Graham. “Besides, I remember the flavour packets incident.”

“That doesn’t count.” Mark looked hurt. “Who ever heard of Raspberry Soup?”

“Where’s Annie,” Graham asked, changing the subject.

“Inside, sorting out a room.” Mark grabbed his bags and headed for the entrance. “Wait until you see this place.”

***

The first floor inside was empty. A bare, circular room with a railing that ran around the centre. It didn’t seem so special, thought Graham, but when he approached the railing, he saw a staircase inside the rails. He gripped the rails and leaned over. Beneath was a chasm that dropped so far, he couldn’t see the bottom. A cylinder carved straight down into the rock, with staircases, ladders, ropes and pulleys all netter across the side. Chambers were carved into the side, pinpricks of light at the bottom and constructions of steel and glass jutting from the rock. An entire city tunnelling into the ground.

“Most of the people live down there,” said Mark. “Quite advanced apparently, the market is just the porch. The traders travel out, collect debris from derelicts and space waste, and harvest the best stuff for barter.”

“How do they produce food?” Asked Graham, unable to look away.

“Don’t know,” said Mark. “Hadn’t got that far, maybe they harvest lichen or something from the cave walls, on Earth there are thousands of types of… oh hang on. I see her.”

Across the room Annie was negotiating with a local woman. He couldn’t be sure, but Graham guessed she was the leader, she was tall and dressed in clothes more colourful and lighter than the merchants outside.

The two headed over, as they arrived Annie was handing over a few of their collected trinkets. A long dead Robot Insect from a stop Graham hoped to forget, some pressed dandelion heads and a few of the less useful books they had raided from Bright’s library. Annie could be mercenary too, and was doing her best to get a good price.

“The last chapter has a good process for purifying water, not much use to us but you might make something of it.” Their host was gracious and, apparently, grateful. After the trade was complete, the two women bowed to each other and their host went to help put up the shelters outside.

“How did you do?” asked Mark.

Annie laughed, “I definitely won this time.”

“Don’t be so sure,” said Graham, going for his bag.

She held up her hand. “Wait your turn. No tunnels out of here for three days, right?”

Mark pulled back his sleeve and examined the computer on his wrist, the screen was a jumble of colours and numbers that made no sense to Graham. “Three days approximately, could be as high as four.”

“Well,” said Annie, beaming. “I got us a week, with food and supplies for when we leave.”

“Sorry Graham,” Mark pulled a face of false concern. “She’s wins.”

“You haven’t even seen mine yet,” Graham opened his bag and froze. Cut off by the sound of a screech outside.

***

When they returned to the square, the creature was in the centre with its back to them. It looked like a man but it stood a little under five feet with a hunch. Its arms and legs were bare, but its body was wrapped in what looked like armour and equipment. Wires from a backpack led down to boots and gloves that looked heavy and weathered and two pairs of metal wings sprouted from its back like a dragonfly. As it turned, Graham noticed he was holding its breath. It’s head was covered by by a face mask that showed nothing of beneath and in place of its eyes were a pair of thick goggles coated in a layer of dust. Even in the bright sunlight, Graham could see the trace of a red glow beneath the lenses.

The image was so stark against the sand, that it distracted from the crumpled mass it held in its hand. A small boy. Graham guessed he was the source of the shriek. At first he thought the boy was dead, but then he let out a strained whimper. Graham wasn’t sure if he was relieved. Nobody dare go near the thing, save one woman being held back by the crowd. The boy’s mother, Graham guessed. Whatever had happened to start this, whatever he missed, it had frightened the people so much that they would not intervene to save the child. He wanted to change that, to move in and try to rescue the boy, but his feet would not move. Something in the thing’s covered face, the dead tone of his skin, overpowered everything he knew was right. Further back, the workers who had been raising the shelters stopped. They had protection from the worst of the storm, but the wind was still bringing sand through the gap in the main gate.

The thing dropped the boy. He landed in the sand with a bump and then scrambled to his feet, dashing back into the crowd. The thing sniffed the air and then with a voice like breaking glass, it made its demands.

“Food.” It barked. A woman from one of the fruit stalls scurried out with a covered basket. The thing ignored her until the basket was immediately under its face. “No.” It knocked her back with a swipe of its hand. The people stayed stuck, even as precious food rolled in the dirt. The thing reach to its mouth and pulled apart a section of its mask. Beneath was a lipless gap in its jaw that moved as it spoke.

“Food here,” it spread its arms and inhaled a lengthy breath. “Far from home, out of time. Rich.” It bared a set of perfect teeth in its wasting face. “Sweet.”

Graham glanced to the others, they all thought the same. It was in one of their stolen books, move a pea two seconds into the past and you create enough energy to light every home in Europe. He was selfish at first, he hoped they hadn’t been noticed by the locals, but that wasn’t the case. He could see them staring less at the creature and more and the strangers that had brought it there. The three didn’t need to discuss it, they stepped out of the crowd and made their way towards the thing. Graham’s boots felt heavier with every step, and as he watched the creature, it didn’t move, didn’t react to them. He listened to his feet, their noise drowned out by the storm. And then the creature reached, it grasped for thin air where the child had been. It looked confused and Graham understood.

“It’s blind,” he whispered. The thing snapped its head in his direction, the wings on its back buzzed and thrust it forward until it was nose to nose with Graham.

“Can’t see,” it grinned. “But can hear.” It took another sniff. “Can smell.”

“Back Off,” Annie stepped between them. The creature flitted back and traced its hands across her face. “I’m the one you want, I’m the time traveller.”  Mark grabbed her shoulders to stop her, but she pulled out. The creature brought its face closer to her and then shook its head like a wet dog.

“No, no, no!” It pushed Annie back with its fingertips until she fell back into the sand. “Too young, too fresh, too close.” It went back to Graham, did it want him because he was old? Couldn’t fight back, or just smelled right, but the creature’s nose led it to the rucksack. With a single movement it ripped the straps from him and emptied the contents onto the ground.

The lantern lay in the sand, inert. The creature was drawn to it, but sniffed around it on the ground as if the lantern were hiding itself. The thing pulled apart the rucksack and ran its fingers through the sand, but never touch the orb. Graham was fascinated by the display, sure now that this was what the creature had sensed. The others had seen it too, Mark had started to shuffle around the side, to get between it and the orb shuffled. Without hesitation, the figure swung an emaciated around and grabbed Mark by the throat.

“Noisy feet,” it barked. “Will eat you last, noisy feet. Will eat this whole world. Eat every day there will ever be, and you will watch.” It threw him to the ground on carried on searching.

Graham got as close to Annie as he could. “Distract it.” She nodded and slipped her bag off her shoulder. Graham squeezed her hand, she looked back at him and he felt safer.

“Hey!” She shouted as loud as she could, her voice broke through the wind and the thing twisted unnaturally to face her. “I’ve got what you’re looking for,” she started running across the market. “If you can catch me!” The sand was getting deeper now, and the storm carried it in circles and whipped it into her body. She kept ahead by leaping across the empty stall. It could only keep up in flight, but the storm buffeted its fragile body about.

Graham didn’t have long. “Forgive me, knees” He grabbed the orb and began his own run.

He passed Mark, relieved to see he was still conscious, and he sprinted for the gate. He didn’t know how long he could last, his running days were long behind him, but he trusted his friend. If he needed the time, she would get it. The gate was getting nearer, still further than he needed it to be, but he couldn’t push his body much further. He stole a glance back, Annie had lead the thing to the other side of the shelter but it was closing in on her. His chest ached; he couldn’t keep going. This would have to be close enough. Graham held the lantern in both hands and hoped his theory panned out. He shook the lantern and brought the green light to life.

The creature screamed. It was a high pitched wrenching noise that settled unpleasantly on the eardrum. It could feel the green light, and it knew it has been tricked. It launched itself up into the air, Graham told himself to be patient. It started to drop, to flit and spiral through the currents of air, becoming faster until Graham doubted it could stop in time and when he could see the red tint in its eyes, Graham kicked the lantern as hard as he could. Pain shot through his knee. The glass cracked, but there was enough force to send the orb flying through the city gate. It spewed a bright green liquid as it went and the creature followed it in a frenzy. It navigated the winds like a trapped wasp until it crashed through the gap in the gate and disappeared into the storm. Graham told himself nothing could survive out in the storm, and he almost believed it.

The people in the market stood and listened to the storm, forever seemed to drift past until someone yelled to close the gates. A group of grease covered workers dashed past Graham and started closing the gates. He took a few steps and then stopped, and let himself fall back into the sand. Everything hurt, his heart pounded and he thought each beat would be his last. He closed his eyes and felt the heat of the sand on his face. His heart beat calmed, slowly, and he felt somebody taking his pulse.

“He’ll be fine,” somebody said. And he believed them.

***

“That was a quiet one,” said Mark, as they walked to the next tunnel. He checked the co-ordinates on the computer.

“What!?” Annie laughed. “Did you forget the flying goblin that wanted to eat us?”

“Except for that bit.”

Graham smiled to himself. He didn’t want to admit just how much he had to drag his leg, didn’t want to worry the others. Besides, he told himself, Mark was right. After the creature had gone, it had been a couple of days of good food and rest. Not many stops were like that.

“Any idea where the next tunnel takes us, Mark?” He shouted. Mark shrugged his shoulders.

“We haven’t hopped around here much,” he showed Graham the screen but it was still incomprehensible to him. “Not much frame of reference.”

“Anyway, we’re here,” said Annie. It was a small tunnel, just a swirling distortion in the air the size of a manhole, but they’d. Mark stepped through first, leaving just Annie and himself. She draped her hand over his shoulder.

“Are you sure you’re ok, old timer?” He laughed her off.

“I just need to catch my breath.” She looked concerned. “Hey, just go on through and I’ll be right behind you.” Annie stepped into the entrance, when he couldn’t see her at all, he sat back. Felt the sand as he had when he’d passed out. It was a cooler day, less inviting, but it was better than standing. He had a good ten minutes before the entrance closed, but he could feel something uncomfortable underneath him. He forced himself to his feet and felt around in the sand. It didn’t take him long to find, a shard of thick, ancient glass. Probably from some crash or derelict, but he couldn’t help thinking it was from the orb. He shouldn’t be surprised, he thought, something had to survive after all, but it was time to leave.