Friday, September 19, 2014

Witch's Brew

I had invented a game for the Atari 2600.  I was considering either "Cauldron" or "Parabola" for the title.  The game was a top down shooter.  The player would control a small fighter that hovered over the top of a bubbling cauldron which took up most of the bottom of the screen.  All kinds of strange herbs and talismans would rain down from the top of the screen, falling into the cauldron.  The player had to try and dodge these items as well as try to shoot them before they fell into the cauldron.   If enough of these items fell in, the cauldron would start bubbling over, turning from green to red and emitting more and more gaseous, pixilated stars that could come up and hit the player's ship from underneath where they were the most defenseless.  Thus, the player would be constantly be caught between the ingredients raining down from above and the noxious stars bubbling up from beneath.

The major innovation of the game was that, unlike most top down shooters where the player simply glides from side to side, here the player's ship would swing out in a wide parabolic arc above the cauldron.   This would create an interesting maneuvering dynamic since the player would often have to swing off to one side in order to get a good angle to shoot something across to the other.  This would keep the game play fast-paced, fluid, and of course, fun for the whole family.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Summer Vacation

It was late summer and my family all got together to take a trip, just like we used to do years ago.  We traveled to somewhere east of here, some old unremarkable town, and we stayed at a bed and breakfast just off the main street.  Our cars were all parked about a quarter of a mile away under a grove of trees out behind the football field of the local high school.  In the dim and drowsy evenings we would take long walks down to this school to get things that were still packed away in the back seats and the trunks, swatting at the mosquitoes in the thick air and straying to the sidewalks whenever an approaching vehicle caught us in the beam of their headlights.

There seemed to be some concern over whether our cars would start or how we were getting home or perhaps even where we were.  But the days just passed by in lethargic apathy, the smaller kids having settled in on loose mattresses in a spare room at the back of the house, the scattered socks and picture books and stale air, the adults all sitting around the living room, passing the afternoons amid newspapers and coffee cups as the sun tracked its course across the front windows and that endless paper strip of sky cranked from clouds to stars, another bright day giving way to another humid night, the proprietor's dog curled up under the shadow of an end table, the crickets out there in the dark, no one really feeling the need to talk. 

There was an older couple also staying there at the bed and breakfast, and on one occasion when we were all sitting around considering what to do about our cars, the wife told us, "The only real vacation is the kind where you're not sure how you're going to make it back. And you don't care."  And so it was with them.  The lady passed away the following night, right there in her bed.  They took her out the next morning with the sheet pulled over her head, the ambulance waiting out at the curb. But there were no tears or regrets.  It was just another thing that came and went. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Brand New Machine

I went back to visit the old plastic factory where I used to work.  The quality control woman was showing me around the place.  I could see that a good number of the old presses had been removed and quite a few others had been gutted for parts, to the point that I began to wonder how the place could still rightfully call itself a plastic factory.  There were just oily pits left on the floor where the presses had been.

But then she led me back to a spot in the back corner of the shop where a crowd of workers had gathered.  I pushed through to the front and saw what they were all gaping at.  It was a completely new kind of press.  Instead of using the crude method of melting the plastic and injecting it into a mold, this new press assembled the part molecule by molecule from a digital blueprint.  Through the glass I could see a set of metal styluses at work, weaving the part together out of arcs of blue electricity.  After this impressively rapid fabrication, the parts would drop onto a conveyor below the machine.

The woman running this machine sat before a silver bank of levers and dials.  She checked the readings on a display and marked endless figures down a clipboard.  I thought about how it would be to work a shift at this new machine.  I figured it would be easier, most certainly cleaner, but probably as mind-numbing as ever.  I pushed back out of the crowd, and left the shop out through the bay door, and walked out into the bright day with a sigh.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Color Blind Test

Early one Saturday morning when I was still little, my father took me down to the school to have me tested for color blindness.  It was one of those bustling Saturday morning events that schools often have where there are booths set up and people are passing out fliers and signs made from construction paper are displayed everywhere in the halls.  The classrooms sat dark and the parents sat  in loose groups in the cafeteria, where coffee and donuts were being served.

The color blindness test involved several different puzzles that were set up on a series of different tables.  There were a variety of intriguing puzzles.  There were some where you had to work your way through a maze by following different color paths.  There were others where cards of various colors were laid out in a grid on a table, and you had to add up all the cards of a certain color to arrive at the correct sum.

I moved from station to station, trying my best to solve each puzzle.  For some of them, I even had to get up onto the table and tap the correct answer with the tip of my shoe for some reason.  I was having a blast.  But I sensed that my father was getting irritated with me.  He didn’t see why I should be trying so hard to solve these puzzles when I already knew that I was color blind.  It just seemed like wasted effort to him.  I countered that the point of the tests was to see if I actually had color blindness.  If I already knew the outcome, what was the point of even being there in the first place?

I thought that was a pretty compelling piece of logic.  And so I moved on to the next station, where I had to get back up onto the table and match these pictures on different yellow squares by tapping them with my foot.  Soon I was having a good time again, tapping and shuffling at the cards.  But when I looked out over the crowd of laughing people gathered around the table, I saw that my father was gone.  He had taken off and left me there.           

Friday, April 25, 2014

Old Time's Sake

I ran into an old girlfriend of mine on the walk out in front of a store.  The walk was set up with stalls and wares like a flea market, and we bumped into one another as we were browsing through all the loose odds and ends, pocket size picture frames, novelty key chains, and decorative trinkets.  There was a sunniness about the scene that told me that this was early morning and also many, many years from now, the distant future being infused with a light every bit as golden as the distant past.

We decided to have lunch in a cafe inside the store.  As we took our seats, I reflected inwardly on the memories of our turbulent relationship, snapshots of tears by a grey pond, cars taking us every which way, the faces in the rear view with hands reaching out, bewilderment at the roadside, the crazy silent echo of those days.  But it was nice to see her now.  I realized that in this strange new age, we connected with those who disrupted our lives even more than with those who settled them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Collaborator

I accompanied the overseer as she made her rounds of the facility.  She was a rather severe woman, dressed in a military uniform of high rank, her blonde hair gathered into a tight knot at the nape of her neck.  I was dressed in a uniform as well, but one more sloppy and tattered, as befitting a lackey.  Some yellow dust clung to my baggy pant leg where I had brushed against a wall.  I tried to brush it off with my hand as I hurried to keep pace with the overseer.

We came upon a room which some workers were painting.  There was newspaper spread out on the floor beneath step ladders spattered with yellow and white paint.  Utilty lights set up on the floor cast long shadows up the walls.  These workers had been abducted and forced to work against their will.  They were terrified of the overseer.  Their hands shook visibly when she criticized their work.  Their faces paled with thoughts of whatever abominable punishments they might face for their failures.  Their voices faltered, their eyes flinching involuntarily, betraying an anticipation of blows.

I had been abducted along with the rest of them, and I considered myself to be just as much a victim as they were.  I lingered for a moment after the overseer had left the room.  I went over to a woman who was working with a brush in the corner.  I tried to tell her that I was sorry for all of this.  I tried to explain that I was caught up in it all just like they were, that I had no choice in the matter, that I was just trying to make the best I could of the situation.

The woman took a moment to weigh my words, nodding thoughtfully as she stared off.  Finally she turned to me, staring pointedly into my eyes as she said, "It don't matter.  I got to thinking about it and I figured it out.  When the police come, they'll know who to arrest."  And she turned back to her work and I knew that she was right.  I was dumbstruck with the realization of my own guilt, but I knew things were going to be different.  I made no effort to catch up with the overseer.  I let her go and I just stood there smiling, whatever the cost.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Graveyard of Past Regrets

As a relaxation technique,  I was asked to picture my sins and mistakes in some kind of physical form.  I thought of a little plot of land on the beach where everyone's transgressions were buried.  The places were marked with tall wooden stakes dabbed with a touch of red paint along the top.  Everyone wandered silently, mindless of one another, passing from row to row looking for the stakes which belonged to them.  The tide came in, and the water flowed in between the stakes, each wave broken into separate rivulets of foam and then receding back into the sea.  And all the while, a flock of grey birds gathered on a dune across the way to witness our strange human compulsions.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Running Late

I was running late for work, which rarely ever happens.  As I was rushing around trying to get ready, I could somehow hear the chatter between the other guards at work on the radio.  The guard I was to relieve at my post was moaning about the futility of his existence and going on about what a bastard I was for leaving him stuck there and so on.  Meanwhile, I was having my own problems.  I kept trying to put on my guard uniform, but every time I looked down I found that I had put on my normal jeans and t-shirt, and I had to start the process all over again.

Finally, I thought I had it right so I was off to work.  By that time it was getting light out, and I found myself reporting to a park in the early morning hours.  I headed for the guard shack on the premises, but a supervisor caught me on the dirt path.  He took me over to a shaded area where the management were all waiting around a cluster of picnic tables.  First they reprimanded me for being out of uniform, and it was then that I noticed that I was still just wearing jeans and a flannel shirt.  On top of that, they told me that the shirt was ugly, which seemed unnecessary.  Then they made me watch some kind of training film right there at the bench.  I tried to go, but I knocked over the projector as I was getting up.  They told me that the film stock was very old and fragile, and that in damaging it I had released dangerous chemicals into the air that would probably give us all cancer.  I wasn't exactly having the best morning.