Otherworld – Chapter One

“Christ! What’s that smell?”

“Dunno, it comes from that hole over there. I reckon the council workers killed someone and dumped the body.” Karen wrinkled her nose, “actually, I think the smell is worse since yesterday. Maybe there’s more than one body. They looked pretty shifty – I wouldn’t rule out they’re really a satanic cult of serial killers.”

For this I gave up a night of binge watching my favourite TV show? The only positive thing about the smell was that it was outside Karen’s door and not mine. And although I’d never smelled a decaying corpse I tended to agree with her council worker/serial killer theory.

“Only a dead body or a conservative politician would smell that bad,” I ventured.

“Still with the biting social commentary, I see. Watch out you don’t cut yourself on all that edge.”

“Really? That’s how it’s going to be tonight? Remind me again why I’ve come out rather than being home comfortable in my onesie?”

“I can’t believe that’s actually a question. In what world is you in a onesie a good thing?”

“Hey, don’t pick on my Totoro onesie. It’s great. I put it on and hang out at bus stops.”

Silence.

“You know, recreating the scene from the movie…” Each word of that sentence felt like less of a good idea than the previous one.

“Uhhhh, I don’t actually do that.”

Karen pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

“Anyway,” I said, changing the subject, “that hole smells disgusting. Let’s go inside.”

“Nice escape attempt. Before we do, go closer and check it out. It’s even worse up close.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching a movie, if the probably evil character tells another character to look at the suspicious object/alien egg/portal to a hell dimension more closely I’m the first to complain that only a moron would do that. So don’t make this into a movie or I’ll think I’m an idiot as a character.

I mean, nobody would really fall for such an obvious trick. Except me, apparently. Honestly, it seemed like a reasonable suggestion at the time. I don’t know why I didn’t read anything into her sly grin as she suggested it. I obediently went and looked in.

Although we weren’t yet into winter it was getting dark earlier these days and shadows swallowed up details quickly as twilight set in. Tonight it was even more so because of the heavy, low cloud cover. The clouds were reflecting the street lights and made it feel like we were in a cave rather than out in the street. The closest streetlight was about halfway down the block. Its orange glow wasn’t strong enough to illuminate anything around us. I crouched down and peered into the hole.

Nothing unusual at first. It was basically a hole (what was I expecting?) – roughly circular, about an arm’s length across with jagged edges cut by some heavy tool. But at close range it was oddly different. It was filled with an impenetrable darkness. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. An uneasy feeling of deja vu was coming over me. At this close range the stench was overpowering but the blackness drew me in. The darkness seemed to spill out, filling my vision.

Whoa, keep a grip on reality. You’re moving your head closer to the hole, that’s all. Closer to the blackness I’ve seen so many times. But this time it’s real. It’s beyond an absence of light. It’s something solid in itself. Lightning tears the sky. Lights up the whole street for one brilliant moment. Does nothing to the blackness in the hole.

Or… was that a movement. Something on the edge of perception…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

A sharp push from behind broke the spell. I barely saved myself from what I was sure at the time was a nasty fall. I jumped up and yelled some more, this time directly at Karen who seemed to find no end of mirth in the situation.

“Big bloody joke! I nearly fell in!”

“Oh come off it, that huge head of yours wouldn’t even fit, let alone the rest of your body.”

I was slightly surprised she only managed one put down between the gales of laughter, which was the only positive thing for me in the whole situation. Still, i could hardly blame her for laughing. The simplest of tricks had worked. Hole in the ground, Michael looks in, Karen goes “BOO!” Michael is scared half to death and almost falls in. But even the embarrassment of the situation could not completely kill the feeling that something was lurking there.

“That hole is really weird. It isn’t normal. They should fill it in.”

“Freaked you out, huh?”

I could have denied it. But there was hardly any point. It was obvious. I was freaked out.

“Remember that feeling. It might come in handy during the game.”

Another huge warning sign that got right by me. At the time I was glad for the change of subject and I leapt upon it eagerly.

“So who are we waiting on?”

“Nobody. Everyone else is busy. It’s you and me alone tonight.”

I swear I am not stupid. Looking back, this and all the other warning signs were right out in the open for me. But I didn’t see the setup coming. Like the sly grin earlier, this went right over my head. On the surface, this was nothing outlandish – I had played solo adventures before. So I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

We left the hole to its own (undoubtedly evil) devices and walked up the stairs, each one creaking its protest, to Karen’s flat. Like me, Karen was living away from home for the first time to go to university and we both reveled in having complete control over our environments for the first time. It’s funny when I look at my friends’ places – we all clearly decided there was no way we were going to decorate the same way our parents did. We were going to express our individuality. Which made it really disturbing to acknowledge how similar so many of our homes were.

The furniture was mostly second-hand, more about comfort than looks. Maybe we bought it from an op shop or an online trading post, maybe we scored it from our parents or maybe it was what I called “urban recycling” – someone better off than us dumped it on the footpath to be collected with the rubbish but some opportunistic students liberated it before it was carted away. Cheap is good – free is better. Like the vinyl lounge I had. Sure, it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen but I didn’t have to pay for it and it could fit four people. We covered the walls with posters of bands our parents had never heard of and played music they didn’t understand.

“Do you want a cuppa before we start?”

“Oh god, yes.”

A pre-game cup of Earl Grey tea was somewhat of a tradition in the circle of gamers that Karen and I played with. I think it started as a Star Trek TNG reference (“Earl Grey – hot” as ordered by Captain Picard) that was intended to be ironic but over time it simply became the thing we did. After the ordeal I had been put through it was a necessity.

We had the usual argument about me taking too much sugar (I know people who take way more than three) and how only philistines have it with milk. Then we were able to settle down. Between sips, I passed the time by reading the side of the box the tea had come from to discover the enthralling story of how many Earls Grey had had this tea blended especially for their family. I was struck by the use of surname only in the signature of the current (sixth, I believe) Earl Grey.

“What sort of wanker uses only one name?”

“You mean like ‘Droban’?”

Ouch. She got me there. Droban was the name of the character I had been playing for years and would be playing in tonight’s game. He was my favourite character. Karen made the comment seem lighthearted, barely a barb at all but there was no mistaking her meaning. I knew what her smile was this time as well. An extra smackdown putting me well and truly in my place. I started to realise now I was in trouble. She was attacking my character before we even started.

She was out to get me.

This particular character did use more than one name originally. I initially called him “Droban The Terminator” and you honestly don’t have to tell me how juvenile that is. In retrospect, being sixteen hardly seems a good enough excuse. It took me a couple of years of derision about “macho fantasies” to swallow my pride and cut the name back to Droban. And now that was working against me.

“OK then, assuming the personal insults are done with, why don’t we play?”

Karen walked past me into the lounge room. She seemed to enjoy my discomfort and was doubtless planning to increase it as the night wore on. For the moment though, she was content to set up the game.

All the components were in one box: dice, pencils, mapping paper and rule books. One box and our imagination were all we needed. It was enough to create whole worlds. I sat down opposite Karen, ready to begin. Every game was a fight for survival and I knew tonight would be even more so. Nobody liked to lose characters and the dungeon master (DM) would usually cut you some slack if you played creatively but the game wasn’t as much fun if your characters weren’t at some genuine risk. So occasionally much-loved characters that had been developed over years would be killed.

I would have to think quickly tonight if I wanted Droban to get through.

“So where does this epic begin?”

Karen smiled another enigmatic smile. Usually I would assume she was trying to put me at ease. This was definitely not usual. I was playing not so much against the Mona Lisa as against that shark in Finding Nemo that is welcoming its new “friend”.

“It starts easily enough. First up you’re recuperating from your previous adventure.”

“Fine, where am I?”

“In a village.”

“Have I been there before?”

I had. The dice rolled. The game had begun.

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Otherworld – An Introduction (NOT an apology)

I have a dream. I say “have” rather than “had” not because I think I’m Martin Luther King (although, yay equality) but because the dream is recurring. I don’t have it every night but I might have it tonight. It’s never exactly the same twice but the essential element is always there.

The blackness.

I’ve never tried to analyse the dream, never done any web searches for its significance. And if you’re reading this, please don’t look it up and tell what you now “know” about me. I’m not interested in any amateur psychologists thinking they know my inner secrets. Prior to now I’ve never even told anyone about it.

Originally I planned to write about the dream for a creative writing assignment. I’ve never written anything more than a few pages long and the major assignment this semester is supposed to be 20,000 words. Which has me freaking out. I think Professor Grivas (or GBH as we call him) saw the terror in my eyes because he pretty much taunted me about it being beyond my capabilities.

Then as per usual, he lumped the whole lecture into “your generation” and challenged us to do better than some trashy social media post and write not only at length but also without using internet slang, abbreviations or “memes”. Pretty sure he doesn’t get memes but nobody pulls him up on it any more because if we ever try to explain memes to him he goes on a huge rant about Marshall McLuhan and Richard Dawkins. Last time I’m pretty sure I saw spit foaming at the corner of his mouth.

When I told me dad about how GBH carries on, he said GBH sounded like a “typical Boomer prick.” So far as I know they’re only about 10-20 years apart in age but I never point this out.

So I’m writing longer than a tweet. No gifs, no listicles. And trying to not come across as if I’m on 4chan.

Back to the dream. I can’t remember the first time I had it. But I not only avoid looking up the meaning of it, I usually avoid facing why I don’t want to analyse it. But I know the reason. It’s the same reason I avoid tarot cards or having my palm read. I’m worried what I’m told will turn out to be true. And I’d rather not know.

It’s the blackness I don’t want to know about. Let’s get real, that’s bound to mean something. The blackness that hides something.

Another thing that’s always the same in the dream is I don’t see the blackness at first. It’s so black it’s like a void that my eyes (or my subconscious given this is a dream) skips over. It’s as though I’m simultaneously unaware of the void and aware that something is missing. The critical point is always when my brain goes “Hey, there should be something there…”

At that moment that something that most definitely is there reaches out and grabs me by the throat and I wake up in a cold sweat. So I suppose we’re talking nightmare rather than dream. It really scares me not because of the undoubtedly horrible monster that grabs me (and I have no memory of ever seeing what the monster looks like) but because it’s always so normal to start with. It’s never been in a haunted house or a scary cave – it happens in such everyday places.

The monster’s been under my bed (classic), in my wardrobe (ditto) and even in the back of my Volkswagen. That was the one that really got me, I mean, as if there aren’t already enough ways to die in a ’61 beetle with a hole in the exhaust pipe and bad brakes. I got such an old car because it was a “classic” and I thought it would make me look cool. It kind of does but it costs a lot to keep on the road and is a real bastard to drive. And I won’t even go into my friend Ben’s nickname for my German car which tries to gas me.

What I’m trying to say is that’s why I’m telling this story. When a dream like that slithers out of my unconscious and into the real world I get a bit jumpy. That’s how Karen was able to affect me so much in the dungeon. Oh wow, as soon as I wrote that I felt compelled to add a qualifier. We were playing Dungeons and Dragons – a “dungeon” is what we call an adventure even if it doesn’t involve a literal dungeon. Back to my point – seeing the blackness in the real world was the reason I was so jumpy the whole night, nothing else.

I’m sure of it.

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Pauline Hanson’s One Nation tearing itself apart

There’s an old political trope that says left wing parties can’t hold power for long before they start turning on each other and right wingers are much more disciplined and balanced. This is clearly bullshit as conservatives and especially extreme right wingers continue to eat themselves around the world.

The latest to provide me with some joy on this front is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party here in Australia. They appear to be proving yet again if you get a group of fringe extremists together they’ll find reasons to turn on each other as much as they turn on others.

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Centrelink’s “debt recovery” is a disaster and must be stopped

Here’s a story that’s an ugly combination of a conservative government waging war on the most vulnerable and the worst sort of bureaucratic fuck up. Centrelink, the government agency responsible for pensions and unemployment benefits embarked on a debt recovery plan which sounds fine in theory but their system is so deeply flawed that they have been demanding money from people who owe them nothing.

So far the government is acting as though they’re doing nothing wrong even though they’re driving people to the brink of suicide. This programme is fundamentally flawed – it can’t be fixed and it needs to be cancelled.

As an aside, here’s some advice if you happen to get one of these debt letters.

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My promise: I won’t pander to people for popularity

While I’m sure that people I disagree with would say I’m pandering to people with the same opinion, there’s a difference between pandering and sharing an opinion. I’m sure it works against me in terms of viewers and subscribers on YouTube but I’m not going to shy away from potentially offending people in a misguided attempt to increase my popularity.

If I offend you feel free to point it out but be warned, there’s about a 99% chance I offended you on purpose and don’t give a shit how you feel. If you can’t respect me having a different opinion I don’t really give a shit about you.

Plus, I’m not going to tone down my delivery – this is my therapy.

 

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Predictions for 2017

I spent some of today hanging out with some local YouTubers, socialising and talking about plans for the year. One of the things I’m really bad at is self promotion and marketing. What I have learned is that working with other people makes things easier.

It was also my first opportunity this year to make a video with my regular collaborator, AIDzee. We took the opportunity to use one of Melbourne’s colourful art alleys (in this case, Croft Alley) as a backdrop to talk about how we’re looking forward to seeing the extreme right eat each other.

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Fake News is Everywhere

This is what I am convinced is going to be one of the big issues of 2017 (and beyond). While I think the Trump administration will dominate my blog and videos this year and ongoing issue is “fake news”. It’s hard to even define what that is but I’m going to spend a lot of this year trying.

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