Poem: ‘Inertia’

Raindrops on a window pane at night

Photo by Alex_L on DepositPhotos.

Flowers wilt and

bloom again,

a child gestates

inside my friend.

But this sickness is the furniture.

 

From cosmic rivers

sunlight pours,

a lost cause.

This grief is

big for her age.

 

Ponder footprints

through a periscope,

a misplaced hope;

numbed

in the amber of now.

 

Every eye contact

an alternate reality,

a terrifying fantasy.

I dither about on a

comet hurtling towards devastation.

 

An infinite labyrinth

choked

with one-way exits.

Every choice

murders another.

 

Malaise, white hot,

in sets the rot;

these apathetic canyons

buffeted

by a raging nothing.

 

She is an anchor,

a lighthouse,

a tether to this world.

Yet at every crossroad

I take defeat lying down.

 

An ageing wastrel,

grown misshapen,

wading in the quagmire.

Thirty years peering

into the great maw.

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Games I Finished in 2018

Gaming is one of my big passions, alongside writing, music and fitness. To reflect that, I thought I’d share my impressions of the games I completed in 2018.

 Gears of War 2

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Scratch one grub!

I’m a long-term Halo fanatic but have never made time for Xbox’s other flagship shooter series, Gears of War. In fact, my introduction to the series (which began in 2006) wasn’t until 2015 when I played the first game’s excellent remaster, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Gears: Ultimate had some cool ideas and memorable moments, but I wasn’t blown away. I thought the remastered graphics were incredible and that the cover-based shooting mechanics were solid (if a little stiff), but I really didn’t care about its generic action movie narrative. The saving grace, however, was the surprisingly nuanced relationships between the characters. These four neckless dudebros spent most of the game assaulting you with one-liners, but they also genuinely care for each other. Their brotherhood and affinity for shit-talking was endearing. I didn’t expect to warm to them the way I did.

In many ways Gears 2 is a typical action sequel. It iterates on everything that made the first entry enjoyable and generally offers more – more action, weapons, variety, and more bombastic set pieces. Surprisingly, the story was more affecting story this time around. There are a few surprise deaths and a real exploration of how these characters feel, and what they – and humanity at large – are fighting for. The set pieces are thrilling and varied, and the entire campaign is paced perfectly. You’re constantly thrown into new and exciting locations and combat scenarios. Something new lies around every corner and there’s no time for any of it to grow stale.

I thought the first Gears of War was just okay. But after blasting through its exhilarating sequel I’m can now see what all the fuss is about. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

 

Oxenfree

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I really expected to like Oxenfree. It’s frequently compared to Dontnod’s 2015 title Life is Strange, a game that improved upon Telltale’s adventure game template by adding a memorable time travel mechanic. The similarities between Oxenfree and Life is Strange are obvious: they both star adolescent protagonists, feature time travel and offer branching dialogue options. But where Life is Strange felt sincere and intimate, Oxenfree feels strangely impersonal. Its dialogue was quippy and trite. Exploring was less enjoyable; I didn’t really care about the characters; and the mystery, which initially showed promise, devolved into an overwrought mess in the vein of Lost.

A bit of a disappointment. Maybe my preconceptions worked against me here.


Super Lucky’s Tale

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Want rad puns? This game’s got you, fam.

 

Super Lucky’s Tale is one of my personal gaming highlights of 2018. It’s a wholesome throwback to the colourful 3D platformers of the Nineties. It’s got it all: cute characters, fun dialogue and a banging OST. The controls are super responsive, the level design was solid and the DLC ramps up the difficulty to cap things off nicely.

This game exuded charm and was a much-needed palette cleanser after playing so many shooters. I even nabbed all the achievements for it, which took a bit of work.

 

Borderlands 2

borderlands2

Sigh.

Where to begin? I’m a huge fan of the original Borderlands (in my eyes it’s the definitive co-op experience, next to Left 4 Dead), so naturally expected a lot from its sequel. This game is regarded as one of the best games of last generation, but I found it a very mixed bag. Continue reading

Vignette: ‘Fist Bump for Germany’

A sentimental vignette that I wrote in 2014.


 

Fist Bump for Germany

 

‘I won’t tell you again,’ snaps Mr Kipfer. ‘Leave your dressing alone.

‘But girls like scars,’ says Wilhem, caressing his chin. ‘Hope I get some. Scars, I mean.’

They turn the corner in silence. The corridor outside the headmistress’s office is lined with plastic chairs. One of them is occupied.

The boys exchange a look. Max gapes at Wilhem’s butterfly-bandaged chin; Wilhem notes the nasty cut on Max’s lip.

‘Wait here,’ says Mr Kipfer. ‘Ms Nadia will call you in soon. Don’t kill each other.’ He raises a finger to punctuate his point then walks away.

When Kipfer is at a safe distance, Max finds his courage. ‘Don’t kill each other,’ he parrots.

A tiny laugh escapes Wilhem. He forces a frown.

Max grounds his chewing gum into a flat bar and tests its resistance against his tongue. ‘I told the nurse you started it.’

Wilhem turns his head. ‘What?’

‘She asked who started it. I think she just likes knowing everyone’s business.’

Wilhem smirks. ‘Probably they all say the other kid started it.’

Max laughs. ‘Yeah, probably.’

A comfortable silence follows. But Wilhem can’t enjoy it – it’s still bugging him.

‘Why’d you hit me?’

Max chews faster. His mouth makes wet, smacking sounds. ‘I don’t know. Cause you’re…’ He drops his gaze to the floor. ‘Cause you’re a Nazi, I guess.’

‘I’m not a Nazi,’ says Wilhem, his voice level.

‘Yeah, you are.’ Max’s words soar out with no regard for the reluctance of their speaker. ‘My pa says all Nazis are scum.’

Wilhem laughs. ‘Do you even know what a Nazi is?’

‘Yeah!’ Max declares. ‘Course I do!’ But his cheeks are hot and his voice has betrayed him. He mashes his wad of gum into the underside of the chair.

‘I’m from Germany,’ Wilhem explains, ‘but I’m not a Nazi. They’re different.’

Max shrugs, looks defiantly to the ceiling. After a moment of silence, he roots around in his pocket and pulls out a crushed carton of cigarettes. He presents it to Wilhem. ‘Want one? I swiped them from my mum.’

Wilhem looks at the door to Ms Nadia’s office. Then he looks down at Max’s hands, studying the distinct gold Benson & Hedges foil. He reaches for a cigarette.

They hear movement from behind the door.

Max thrusts the carton back into his pocket. The boys sit up straight and focus ahead.

Ms Nadia emerges from her office. She looks the two boys over. Her mouth sags with permanent disapproval.

‘Right,’ she says, gesturing to Max. ‘We’ll start with you.’

Max climbs to his feet and looks dejectedly ahead, as if bound for the gallows. On approach to the office, he discretely holds out a clenched fist and presents it to Wilhem.

Wilhem stares in confusion. Then the corners of his mouth curl into a smile. He raises his fist and returns the gesture.

Short Story: ‘Bloodsport’

One of my older pieces, ‘Bloodsport’, has found a home in ReadFinReadFin is the final journal to come out of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Writing and Publishing degree, from which I graduated in 2014.

I wrote this piece a few years ago but still vividly remember agonising over the sword fighting choreography. I sought out feedback about it and even watched a few shogun samurai movies on YouTube for reference. It was a fun exercise.

ReadFin received a limited print run, but a digital copy can be found here. Note that the editor has incorrectly credited me as ‘Tim O’Connell’, which is pretty disappointing. I’d hoped they would bring more care and attention to their final issue, but what can you do?

Issuu doesn’t like web browsers very much, so I’m also reproducing the story in text here. I hope you enjoy it.


 

Bloodsport

 

I’m at the meeting point: a narrow cliff-edge. Waves crash onto rocks that jut from the ocean like jagged teeth. Countless samurais have died here coveting clan honour. A wrong step preludes a 300-foot drop. I hear a squawk that seems to echo my name. A lone opportunistic gull rides an updraft, a late-afternoon snack its only concern.

Sensing a presence, I turn. Miguel appears across the way, bathed in the light of the setting sun.

‘Fifteen minutes I’ve waited.’

‘Impatience,’ Miguel says, ‘is the folly of youth.’

I smirk. ‘Is that what this is? A lesson in patience?’

Miguel advances until we stand a sword-length apart at the cliff’s edge. Death, like the gull, is opportunistic, and could wing its way from any direction.

Miguel warns that my insolence will cost me. Unperturbed, I grin, disarming him with false confidence. I’m less experienced, but Miguel’s victory is anything but assured.

White-knuckled, we draw our swords. Our robes ripple in the wind. Miguel adopts our clan’s traditional stance; I fall into my variation of it.

Right legs leading, we lock eyes, each daring the other to strike first.

Miguel takes a quarter-step back. His weight shifts to his back foot. I follow his cue, my heel digging into the soft earth. My flesh is goose-pimpled, my muscles taut. Miguel, expressionless, wholly inhabits this moment.

The distant seabird screeches, her cry puncturing the silence.

I lunge forward.

Miguel guards high; I feint and strike low. We clash violently until my blade slips down the length of his. He shunts me off balance and leads me in a quarter-circle, his position a counterweight to my heavy blow. I hang on, enduring the hideous scraping of steel.

We separate explosively. My arm is nicked. I hiss and force it from my mind. Miguel lunges, hoping to capitalise on his modest blow. He is uncannily quick, but I deflect, taking his wrist and forcing him to relent. He leaps back.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘There’s still plenty of fight in me.’

Miguel mocks me with laughter.

The reprieve is short-lived. Our swords collide a dozen more times. We circle continuously. Alternately, we dominate, losing then wresting back control, overpowering and pushing back in increments. But our reserves are low. Miguel knows this. It’s in his eyes. For all our discipline, we are but flesh constructs.

We separate, pirouetting in sync. I toss my robe, my legs shifting free. Then I thrust forward in pre-emptive strike. Miguel is waiting. He always is. He parries then ripostes my blow. Sparks fly. Our clashing blades are deafening.

‘Gyaaaaah!’ My voice scrapes in my throat.

Our swords clash repeatedly. Dusk looms. I grit my teeth, my eyes fixed on my opponent. I lust for an opening. My strength is flagging, my mind clouding. Tiny mistakes accumulate. Miguel’s focus sharpens; his cuts come too close.

I take one last stand. With a two-handed grip, I draw back, enveloped by primal fury. I drive my blade with such ferocity. Miguel defends – barely. His face whitens. I strike again, thrashing and thrashing. He can’t match my intensity. This is the virtue of youth.

Miguel panics. He evades my blows, but the near misses spur me on. Relentless parrying exhausts him. Enraged, I draw back and swing again, but miscalculate and deal a heavy blow to nothing. Miguel creates distance and I feel, overwhelmingly, that a vital opportunity is wasted.

We recover our breath over two long seconds. Then, as if of one mind, we surge forward with declarative war cries. Miguel catches my blade in his. We lock in, our poised body language belying our struggle. We each hope to unnerve the other. Muscles quake. Our composure slips. Sheens of sweat form above our brows.

Miguel swiftly sidesteps and I stagger off-kilter. My balance is again misplaced; I strike a knee into my opponent, but the move is crude and proves my undoing. It happens so fast: I lurch sideways, my feet flirting with the cliff-edge, and—

I feel it before seeing it. It’s a clean hit. Miguel has saved me from a 300-foot drop, only to finish me himself. His blade protrudes from between my shoulders. We remain like this, outside time: Miguel savouring victory, perhaps contemplating the complexities of our relationship, while I am caught in the throes of death.

Miguel is static a long while, his form effortlessly arranged for the execution of his final blow. The light is changing. Dusk is becoming night and I am where I deserve to be: skewered on my brother’s blade.

I’m fading fast, my vision waning. But all’s right: this is the natural order of things. I focus, as if to immortalise the moment, find beauty in death. But the gull’s incessant screeches return and now the sound is frenzied. With the last of my strength, I look to the source, expecting the sky to be blotted with seagulls.

Instead, I see a barmaid from a neighbouring establishment. Her stride is long, her expression unamused. She proceeds to her announcement, a cross-armed harbinger.

‘Daniel! Cody! I’ve been calling for ten minutes! Dinner’s on the table!’

I stand tall, exhaling frustration. The illusion’s ruined: she’s no barmaid. My brother Cody releases his hair from its authentic samurai bun and steps down from the wooden stage-cum-cliff edge.

‘Sorry, Mum.’

His face broadcasts disappointment. I pat between his shoulder blades, in the spot where his character slew mine, and assure him that our rehearsals have not been in vain, that our depiction of cartoon samurais Jack and Miguel are eerie in their accuracy, and that our scheduled display will be the highlight of FantasyCon.

Cody, looking serious, Miguel-esque, casts me a sidelong glance.

Flawless.

Sketches ’03–’05

So my mum surprised me with this weird time capsule parcel yesterday. It contained long-forgotten photos, love letters, birthday cards, scribbles and other detritus. It also contained a handful of drawings from my teenage years. Sur-fucking-real!

These are extremely crude (let’s just say I’ve improved since), but I still wanted to share them. Apologies for the image quality. Each page was marred by a big fat crease down the middle and it’s apparent I had a penchant for featherweight pencil strokes, which don’t show up well in photographs.


Ryu from Street Fighter.

Ryu from Street Fighter.

20150807_082005

My sweet little Jack Russell, Zac. RIP, buddy.

Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie.

Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab for Cutie.

Tidus from Final Fantasy X.

Tidus from Final Fantasy X.

A damn-near-invisible tree. I really like drawing trees. There's a very Australian vibe here.

A damn-near-invisible tree. I used to really like drawing these. Very Australian vibe here.

This is a drawing of Lara, a German exchange student and the object of my [intense] affection. Nowadays it's apparent to me that drawing your crush is the pastime of would-be serial killers, but back then I thought it was a completely reasonable thing to do. Fortunately she never saw it.

This is a drawing of Lara, a German exchange student and the object of my [intense] affection. Nowadays it’s apparent to me that drawing your crush is the pastime of would-be serial killers, but back then I thought it was a completely reasonable thing to do. Fortunately she never saw it.

20150807_081922

Close-up of mein liebling, Lara. Bleh. Has kind of an uncanny valley thing going on here. Dislike.

Counter-Terrorist from Counter Strike. This one's my favourite.

Counter-Terrorist from Counter Strike. This one’s my favourite.

Short Story: ‘Love under House Arrest’

B&BSome stupid fun. Enjoy!


At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.

‘Wh-who are you?’

‘I am the master of this castle.’

The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’

The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.

‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.

‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!

Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’

The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’

And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.

‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’

Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.

What do you want with me?’ she cried.

The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’

‘P-prisoner? Why?’

‘You were trespassing.’

‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’

The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.

‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’

Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’

The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’

Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …

‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’

Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.

The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’

Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’

‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’

‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’

The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’

Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’

Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.

Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’

‘That stays.’

‘What is it?’

Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.

Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.

‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’

With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.

The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’

‘A what!

The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’

Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’

The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’

Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’

‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’

Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.

Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.

The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’

Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?

‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’

Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.

Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!

The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’

Poem: ‘The Things that are Happening Now’

Day-drinking alone.

A solo rower

blitzes across the Yarra.

Birds organise by species.

The weather isn’t sure what it wants to do,

and neither am I.

 

Watching girls learn to row,

affronted by second-hand weed and its

tenuous link to my youth.

A kingfisher watches with one distrusting eye.

Wish I could console him.

 

Wet leaves pasted to the earth.

A former love approaches

on a plane delayed by karma.

The things that are happening now.