Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 2

Subway Train

#Novel365 2018 Week One

The negative backlash for B.U.L.L.’s pirate broadcast video in addition to the spam and flame wars for the initial subway video had filled YouTube to the point where a denial of service (DDoS) attack had been launched out of protest. The American video-sharing website suffered an outage in the United States and most of Europe and remained offline in excess of two hours. As a result, Google suspended the “Ya Can’t Unsee S#!t Like This” account but by then it was too late. The moment YouTubers received the error message: “500 Internal Server Error. Sorry, something went wrong. A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation” the subway video began appearing on Vimeo, DailyMotion, Metacafe, flickr, and Veoh.

Then it multiplied. At first, it started popping up on accounts attempting to confirm or disprove the video’s authenticity, then it was examined by film students, video editors and special effects artists and then by bandwagon jumpers who wanted a spike in their account’s view count. In less than a month, the subway video had been analyzed and broken down as much or more so than the Zapruder film.

The attention paid to the video would have subsided and been forgotten, replaced by some new fad or other, if not for the other videos. New cell phone footage from various sources sprang up from subway riders who encountered what had come to be known as the shroud, the tall, almost column-like, objectless shadow that appeared and disappeared when it moved as if short-distance-teleportation was its mode of transportation.

Some speculated the shroud wasn’t teleporting at all, that it was a two-dimensional entity, having length and breadth but no depth, that rotated as it moved which gave it the appearance of momentarily vanishing. This theory was quickly dispatched when an eagle-eyed viewer noticed the trash on the subway cars, food wrappers, empty paper coffee cups and plastic water bottles, being pushed away from the shroud when it appeared and being drawn into the void left by the shroud’s absence.

The next big question tackled: Was the shroud a life form, a cosmic event or some supernatural occurrence such as an apparition?

Someone online pointed out for something to be considered organic it required traits shared with all the living things that exist on Earth. Of the six traits, the shroud only checked one box: Movement, but even that was a source of controversy as people debated whether teleportation of a stationary object counted as true ambulation. But was the shroud truly stationary? In the brief video clips, it never appeared to bend, wiggle, expand or contract. Perhaps there were slight movements imperceptible to the human eye or it moved at such a snail’s pace that it gained the ability to leap short distances faster than the eye could follow. The five remaining traits:

  1. Living things being made up of cells
  2. Organisms using energy and receiving energy from a source
  3. Growth and development
  4. The ability to reproduce and respond and adapt to their environment

could not be verified without a sample or test subject.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, physicist Brian Cox, and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, as well as several other noted professionals, were invited to weigh in on the matter of whether the shroud was truly a cosmic event. Each, in their own way, expressed the notion to be unlikely as cosmic events better known as astronomical events typically occurred off-world and though the planet may experience the effects of certain events, none of the recent eclipses, comet encounters, close planetary pairings, or other celestial wonders could have been reasonably connected with the subway shadow. They would not comment on the notion of the shroud being some form of extraterrestrial communication without examining the evidence further but appeared to think it was highly unlikely.

Now, when it came to the paranormal aspects of the shroud, so-called experts were crawling out of the woodwork with explanations as to what it was and how it came into existence. No one exposition matched or supported another so they were easy to dismiss. A popular one that garnered more attention than it should have was that the constant rumbling of New York City subway trains over the years had worn down the barrier that separated us from the underworld and eventually created a vibrational rift that led straight to Hell.

On October 14th, 2017, an MTA worker on a refuse train running on the J local line that operated from Jamaica Center in Queens to Broad Street in Manhattan, claimed to encounter the shroud between the Alabama Avenue and Broadway Junction station stops. Refuse trains, as the name suggested, bagged garbage collected from each station’s trash receptacles and stored them on six flatbed-like cars between engineer car and the caboose. The worker, who wished to remain unidentified, thought at first one of the black garbage bags had burst open and was flapping in the wind and as he prepared to make his way to the bag to secure it, he saw that it was no bag. He described it as a mysterious object that was there one time and gone the next, just to appear somewhere else and it was moving in his direction. Bags of garbage exploded when it appeared and the trash was sucked into nothingness when the object disappeared. Trash bags erupted like geysers and the refuse inside vanishing a moment later as the object drew nearer and nearer. Then it was close enough for the worker to feel the blast of air when the object appeared, pelting him with garbage and having the breath temporarily sucked from his lungs as it disappeared. He scrabbled back and fell over trash bags as the object advanced so close he could almost touch it. He kicked out with his feet and threw his arms up to protect himself and then… nothing. The mysterious object was gone. The worker later tested positive for alcohol, even though he admitted to having one drink after the incident to help calm his nerves, and was placed on suspension.

The very same day at very nearly the same time, on the very same subway line but on the track going the opposite direction between the Gates Avenue and Halsey Street station stops, a commuter captured the shroud on a video which showed trash being spat into the air when it appeared. Trash that wasn’t there a moment before. Connecting the two sightings gave light to the possibility that the shroud wasn’t simply teleporting itself in short distances but teleporting back and forth between two (or perhaps even more) locations. This revelation opened several scientific threads online, which reexamined older shroud videos to see if there were simultaneous time coordinations linking any of them, and calculating the distance of the two most recent trains and the speed they were traveling in order to map out a teleportation range.

Apart from the theory and amateurishly fake sighting videos, some done for comedic effect, the shroud became the topic of fan fiction, appearing in Reddit threads and on Creepy Pasta. DeviantArt was also plagued by shroud drawings, from pencil sketches to manga pin-ups to full-blown CG portraits. It then became a meme with Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford from his 1993 film The Fugitive running from the approaching shroud. There was even a first-person video game in which the player entered an abandoned subway. Once inside, the entrance collapsed and the player had to investigate a derelict J train, car by car, to collect seven pieces of a device that when assembled created a teleportation device to transport the player to safety. All this while avoiding the deadly shroud which always appeared out of nowhere.

When the memes had run their course, interest in the shroud had waned and the subway shroud joined the ranks of Slenderman, NoEnd House, Polybius and The Smiling Man.

To be continued…

What the hell is this, you may be asking yourself. It’s none other than my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive. This story is an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite. I have absolutely no idea who any of the characters are, or how many there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end, and that terrifies and thrills me at the same time. And you get to watch me either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

So, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

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Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 1

cult

You may ask, “Why this project?” and my simple response is, “Why not?” A new year calls for a new writing challenge and the one I set for myself is to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive. I have many unfinished works in progress that I could chop up into tweet-sized bits to give myself a head start but where’s the fun in that?

So this story, that does not as yet have a title, is not only brand new, it is also an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets. I have absolutely no idea who any of the characters are, or how many there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end, and that terrifies and thrills me at the same time. And you get to watch me either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

So, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

And so it begins…

PART ONE

CHAPTER I

As the countdown heralded the arrival of 2018, my personal new year was marked by a mysterious phenomenon that would inevitably alter the course of my life and brought into question whether I would survive to see 2019. But before I delve further into my involvement with the phenomenon, perhaps I should explain the phenomenon itself or at least share the rumors I stumbled upon from online social media sites and less than reputable news outlets. To provide background, if nothing else.

It all began, as a great many viral things do, with a YouTube video. The initial cell phone-captured video, posted to the Ya Can’t Unsee S#!t Like This account, ran exactly one minute and fifty-four seconds, the average length of a movie trailer. Within twenty-four hours it reached nearly four billion views, making it the second most viewed item on YouTube, just under the Despacito music video. Needless to say, the post divided viewers instantly, with comments ranging from WTF did I just watch? to Is this real life??? to #FakeAF! Even celebrities and politicians were not immune and weighed in with their thoughts and opinions, igniting a slew of new flame wars and insane speculations. So what was in this web video that excited the global public mind and made anyone who watched it deeply interested in the matter, you ask?

The shaky vertical video begins with the cell phone’s owner capturing a female performer on a crowded New York City subway car singing a song I am not familiar with so I cannot say whether it was a rendition of another artist’s song or an original composition but she was definitely talented. She was not the reason for massive internet interest, though. Fifty-three seconds into the song, something appeared in the background. Something as tall as the car itself. Something shadowy and out of focus though the passengers behind the shadow were in crisply visible. The shadow appeared to blink in and out of existence in the middle of the car and when passengers noticed it, they shrieked and scrambled over one another to get out of its way, some even ignoring the “Riding or moving between cars is prohibited” notices on the sliding doors at either end as they risked safety by rushing into the adjacent subway cars. The shadow then began advancing toward the singer, increasing speed and then… the video ended.

A week following the video posting, when the video’s comment thread took a turn from negative to downright abusive to positively frightening, eighteen users of the online bulletin board, 1nt3rFich3, met in an IRC channel and formed the Bureau Uncovering Ludicrous Lies and hacked Ya Can’t Unsee S#!t Like This’ YouTube account and made the video private. The group then uploaded a new video featuring a puppet that bore a striking resemblance to Billy from the Saw franchise films. The puppet explained fake videos that incensed viewers and incited negative interactions, bullying and even death threats should never be created or posted online. The internet has to become a safe place for all to visit. By the end of the video, the puppet disclosed the account holder’s personal information so he could experience first hand the fear that many commenters felt when expressing an unpopular opinion on the video’s thread.

Needless to say, neither the puppet nor the video were well received.

To be continued…

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

Saturday Hashtag Story Tweets

#SlapDashSat:

Mandy smells of rain when she cries. Teardrops fall from sky blue eyes and I splash in their puddles as I rush to comfort her. I have ruined many a pair of shoes this way, but I don’t care. She is not mine, though I wish she were and I am not the cause of her sorrow.

#SlapDashSat:

A voice calls me by a name I have not heard in centuries. As I turn I am hit by a wave of pure magic that blows me off my feet and sends me hurling backward. Normally, I am immune to the effects of magic but my assailant somehow knows my birth name.

I am powerless.

#SlapDashSat:

When had love become an abstract concept for me? I mean, I knew it was an actual thing, not just some bizarre notion conjured from my irritatingly overactive imagination, but I could not for the life of me remember how it was achieved or how it even felt.

#SlapDashSat:

They visit in the afternoon between three and four o’clock, carefully avoiding adults by making themselves visible only to toddlers. They whisper secrets into tiny ears and press their lips to baby foreheads for it is a blessing to be kissed by a guardian angel.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Short and Short of Flash Fiction

flash-fiction
Flash fiction is defined as a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. And while there’s no widely accepted rule as to the proper length of a flash fiction piece, I’ve seen word counts cap between three hundred and a thousand words. Although usually containing standard story elements such as a protagonist, conflict, obstacles, complications, and resolution, the limited word length can result in some of these elements to be merely hinted at or implied in the storyline.

David Gaffney wrote an interesting article for The Guardian entitled, Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction, which included the following six steps:

1. Start in the middle. You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don’t use too many characters. You won’t have time to describe your characters when you’re writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end. In micro-fiction there’s a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you’re not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or “pull back to reveal” endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title. Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell. The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you’ve been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short. Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn’t sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

And if I might add a few tips to Mr. Gaffney’s list:

  • Do your homework and read a ton of flash fiction stories. Stop groaning, they’re ultra-short.
  • Pay close attention to story settings and character development
  • Tell a proper story. Having a character deliver a monolog or go off on a diatribe, or spending the word count describing a setting, doesn’t help you hone your brevity writing skills.
  • Do not toss away your story if it happens to be too big and you just can’t whittle it down to size. Instead, pat yourself on the back for creating a short story. Every cloud, right?
  • If you’re using a word processing program, make use of the built-in word count feature.

For the record, extremely short fiction isn’t a brand spanking new concept. In fact, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following six-word story:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

According to sources, the author considered it to be the finest prose he had ever written. Even more remarkable, it comes in under the stringent 140 character count of Twitter’s tweet fiction (see: To Make A Long Story Shortest). Way to go, Hemmy!

Sally forth and be flash writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

To Make a Long Story Shortest: #TwitterFiction

First there was the micro novel, or microblogging novel, a work of fiction intended as a full-length novel written and distributed in chunks, varying in size, depending on the social media site it was being published on. Then, flash fiction burst onto the scene (see: The Short and Short of Flash Fiction) and dared to tell big stories with extreme brevity. Not to be undone, a new arrival,Twitter fiction (aka tweet fiction), tossed its hat into the ring, boasting its ability to tell a story within 140 characters.

Thumb your literary nose up at it, if you will, but surely you can see the art in concise writing. Catching the key moment of a story and carefully selecting the proper words so that your audience infers your meaning and does all the heavy lifting of filling in the details themselves requires a level of skill and finesse. Not to mention the challenge of drawing laughter or tears from your reader, or filling them with horror or dread as you build suspense in such a confined space.

And this latest sub-genre hasn’t escaped the notice of well-known writers who have tried their hand at 140-character novels:

Geoff Dyer – I know I said that if I lived to 100 I’d not regret what happened last night. But I woke up this morning and a century had passed. Sorry.

James Meek – He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Ian Rankin – I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Andrew O’Hagan – Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins.

Jeffrey Archer – “It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

SJ Watson – She thanks me for the drink, but says we’re not suited. I’m a little “intense”. So what? I followed her home. She hasn’t seen anything yet.

Charlie Higson – Jack was sad in the orphanage til he befriended a talking rat who showed him a hoard of gold under the floor. Then the rat bit him & he died.

India Knight – Soften, my arse. I’m a geezer. I’m a rock-hard little bastard. Until I go mushy overnight for you, babe. #pears

Rachel Johnson – Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

Inspired and curious, I even took a stab at Twitter narrative one idle Sunday and among my favorites are:

A large stone, the opportunity, a swampside grave; all that was needed to end a lifelong sibling rivalry. Guess who’s Daddy’s favorite now?

Mother warned him not to look but curiosity was his master. Now he struggles to reverse the time of eye to unsee the horror.

Regardless of your personal views on Twitter and tweet fiction, I honestly think you should give it a go. If nothing else, you can consider it a warm-up exercise to get your mental juices flowing. Can you think of a better way to hone your craft than practicing clear, clean and concise writing? And what have you got to lose? Surely not time. In the moments wasted complaining about the artform, you could have written several magnum opuses.

Sally forth and be tweetful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

PS. If you’re looking for more famous author tweet novels, you can find them by searching #140novel on Twitter.

P.P.S. Not exactly #tweetfiction-related, but dealing with creating fiction, the NY Times ran an article on the importance of Twitter in today’s pop-culture era: How To Make a TV Drama in the Twitter Age.