Gone Duck Hunting

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Most of us know that Nintendo first started out making toys and card games before creating Mario and the team of mascots we all know and love. They produced simple plastic contraptions that engaged families with a sense of fun. This has never been lost through the companies storied history as we’ve seen with the Wii console and, more recently, Labo products. It’s this simplistic approach to enjoyment that has always spurred on the Japanese giant and it’s perhaps perfectly epitomised through the game Duck Hunt.

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Gunpei Yokoi

Before the creators went on to bring us icons like Samus and Kid Icarus, they cut their teeth on ducks and lightguns. Indeed, before Gunpei Yokoi went on to design and develop the Game Boy and Masayuki Uemura had a hand in the NES, they would first work on Duck Hunt on the mechanical toy – which projected ducks onto a wall – before eventually bringing it to televisions across the world. Duck Hunt is the company’s second best-selling game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and while some may balk at the figure of 28 million units sold because of their inclusion with the console, it does nothing to dampen that fact that at the time, it was a technical feat while also being incredibly entertaining and leaving a lasting memory for those who played it.

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Masayuki Uemura

Before the inevitable revisit to the software in 2012 for the Wii console, it had been many years since we’d grasped the grey Zapper (later changed to ‘blaze orange’ in order to not be confused with a real firearm) and watched with glee as ducks fell from the sky for our dog to fetch – don’t miss, or the smug git will laugh at you. Before that even, Nintendo had produced a toy that utilised a light box, projecting patterns of ducks onto a flat wall. It’s 1976, Nintendo was wrapping up production on their mechanical toys in order to look at other avenues of home entertainment. Duck Hunt, known in Japan as Kôsenjû Duck Hunt (light ray gun duck hunt) was the last of these innovative toys.

The First Hunt – 1976

The game was the brain child of Gunpei Yokoi and his development team. Launching in an unassuming beige box adorned with ducks in flight for ¥9,500, the game wasn’t a major hit on home shores. Perhaps due to the content of the game and Japanese tradition and culture not adopting the sport of hunting with a shotgun – because this initial version of the game armed the player with a shotgun, instead of the more popular Zapper handgun. In America and Europe however, the game saw success.

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The game ran on a small projector which displayed the ducks. Graphically, this first iteration of Duck Hunt resembled the LCD jumble of shapes found on the dual screen Game and Watch titles. The shotgun, which ran on batteries, would fire a beam of light after cocking the hammer back to load the gun. On top of the projector was a moving mirror which bounced the images onto a wall and made them move in random patterns, though keeping an up and down arc. The all familiar dog is absent, as is any scenery – Nintendo urged consumers to draw their own scene on whatever surface the game was projected onto. Looking at the range of products Nintendo now has, it’s interesting to see that their theme of innovation and consumer participation thrives after forty years.

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The magic happened within the projector box. Everything moved with great speed considering it was a mechanical toy. The engineers at Nintendo pushed for the miniature technology; all of it powered by ‘D’ and ‘C’ batteries, made it very portable for the late seventies. The actual invention of the light gun technology was credited to Takao Ohta in a US patent from 1980, Yokoi harnessed it into a forward-thinking idea for mass production.

In order to register a hit on one of the ducks, the shotgun fired a beam of light, which would reflect from the wall or surface and into a light sensor within the projector. A complex set of wheels and cogs kept the mirror moving, as well as changing a range of cards with duck silhouettes to display the bird in flight, the bird when shot and the bird when falling.

The Second Hunt – 1984

Of course, technology moves fast, and video games were becoming a revolution in how people interacted and were entertained. It wasn’t long before Nintendo took advantage of boosts in tech and the entertainment industry, transforming their toy for the home to an arcade cabinet. Vs. Duck Hunt hit arcades in 1984 and the public loved it. The Vs. cabinets weren’t all that different to the home console releases of Nintendo titles. They were primarily introduced in order for people to play against friends. This meant two guns and a gauntlet thrown down as to who could bag the most birds.

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The game featured a few different features to what we’d come to know on the NES – in fact, you could actually shoot the dog in the arcade version, though it would earn you an instant game over as he shouts “Ouch, shoot the birds, not me!”. The aim was always to shoot as many ducks as possible, racking up points for the other person to try their hand at beating your score. As with the NES version, on some cabinets the second player could control the birds on screen.

Differing to the home version, there was no ‘one duck’ mode here, always two ducks on screen at once and of course the clay pigeon option was included. Notably, the arcade versions of video games were always much harder than their console or computer counterparts, in order to make players part with more money and Duck Hunt was no different. It was known to be harder but also included a selectable higher difficulty, as well.

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With an upright cabinet, a bulky CRT screen and a gun that looked more like a revolver, Vs. Duck Hunt was a very different experience that needed streamlining for home release. The gun changed, features were stripped back and the game was squeezed onto a cartridge alongside Super Mario Bros to be packaged in with the NES.

The Third Hunt – 1984/85/87

Back in bedrooms and living rooms Nintendo were taking over. Duck Hunt released in waves across the world; 1984 in Japan, ’85 for America and ’87 for Europe. In 1988 Nintendo decided to bundle the game with their biggest seller, Super Mario Bros and introduce the best way to buy into their future – the NES console, Two controllers, the double pack game and a Zapper light gun. This decision meant that every NES sold gave the owner a chance to play Duck Hunt and it was easily the best version yet.

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Perhaps the version we all know of, the NES Duck Hunt gave us three modes; One Duck, Two Ducks and Clay Pigeon. Starting off slowly, the targets would fly across the TV screen and dispatching them would allow you to move onto the next round where the targets would speed up. Perfect games here would result in little more than a fanfare, which contrasts to the arcade version which actually features a Kill Screen.

The home release of Duck Hunt would still support two players, but due to the technology of the Zapper, the second player wouldn’t shoot at ducks. Instead, they would control them. Plugging a controller into port two meant that someone could control the flight of the ducks while you fired. Nicer friends could even pause the ducks on screen for you to score an easy kill. Reverse the ports, by putting the Zapper in port two and a controller in port one and you could manipulate the game in a different way; as soon as the ducks or clay targets entered the screen you could pause the game with the controller to then shoot static targets instead.

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The early grey Zapper and the replacement Blaze Orange Zapper

While the Zapper supported 17 other games, it will forever be synonymous with Duck Hunt – kids and adults sitting in front of TVs blasting at ducks flying through bright blue Nintendo skies, not even thinking about the technology in their hands. Whereas early versions of light guns fired a burst of light to be reflected, the Zapper actually captured the light on screen instead. You might have even noticed that when you pulled the trigger of the Zapper the TV screen would very briefly flash black and the ducks would transform to white squares. A photodiode inside the gun would detect, in that split second, whether it was aimed at the white square by using lenses to zoom into the screen.

A hit would result in the death animation playing out on screen, but as good as the technology was, it could be easily cheated. It wasn’t hugely accurate anyway, but gamers soon cottoned on that the gun could be aimed at a lightbulb, firing as the targets appeared on screen, tricking the diode into thinking they were aiming at the screen.

The Final Hunt?

ducksIn 2012, Wii Play was released and as one of the Wiimote’s primary features was the ability to aim at targets on screen, it was clear that we’d see a shooting range mini game. Among the targets in Shooting Range were some very familiar ducks. While we never saw a traditional follow-up to the best seller of the eighties, cameos have been plentiful. Not only were they seen within Wii Play, but the Duck and Dog showed up in 2014 as playable characters in Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS. The oddball team display attacks from throwing clay pigeons at opponents to summoning an unseen ally who would shoot wildly with an off-screen Zapper.

416JXcWjWyL._SY445_The inclusion was a nod to the great history of the game as voiced by the game’s director Masahiro Sakurai who said Duck Hunt was, “the most-sold shooting game in the world”. Other than small appearances here and there (the dog appeared in the Adam Sandler film, Pixels, and the stars received the Amiibo treatment), Duck Hunt is relegated to the annals of gaming history, which is fair considering where video games now stand in regard to technology and narrative output in titles.

The Shooters

Each member of the team who worked on Duck Hunt were integral parts of the Nintendo machine and all went on to develop both games and hardware for the company. While each of the team members was uncredited for Duck Hunt, the subsequent years revealed their work on the title.

Executive Producer, Hiroshi Yamauchi, a name often credited on games throughout the golden years of Nintendo was once the head of the company when they still made playing cards and toys. He stepped down from his role in 2002 after 52 years, to be replaced by Satoru Iwata. He retired in 2005, retaining a 10% share of Nintendo for the rest of his life. He had a major hand in the video game production of Nintendo.

Producer, Gunpei Yokoi was inspired by liquid crystal display calculators and used the inspiration to design games that could fit in the palm of your hand with Game and Watch. With the success of the idea he went on to develop the Game Boy which sold over 100 million units. Sadly, before Gunpei left Nintendo to develop the Wonderswan he failed to capture new audiences with the notorious Virtual Boy. He will always be remembered for amazing work at Nintendo however and posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 GDC conference.

Chief Director, Satoru Okada directed a whole host of games for Nintendo including Super Mario Land, Kid Icarus, Metroid and Fire Emblem Gaiden while he also helped produce the Game Boy and the add-on camera.

Designer, Hiroji Kiyotake went on to design Samus for the Metroid series, overseeing design on Metroid, Metroid 2 and Super Metroid. This was while working on many games featuring Mario, he is also credited as designing the well-loved Wario character.

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Duck Hunt went on to become the second biggest selling game after Super Mario Bros. It was bundled, traded and sold world-wide ensuring that practically every 80’s adult and child held the Zapper and marvelled at what was happening in their living room. Charting the design from mechanical toy to monumental seller, it’s easy to see the Nintendo mission statement and motto run throughout the years, ensuring that fun and technology went hand in hand to create something memorable and, more importantly, enjoyable.

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Burly Men and Rock Creatures

After several adventures with the Burly Men at Sea, I began to wonder what their world meant. Each day begins with the same village on the coast and ends in a conversation with a water creature that seems to be made from an essence, rather than a tangible slice of reality. This is before finding the party of sailors back in the village. The cyclical days spill like fish from a net and so the adventures begin again. I began to think that this crew of brothers had died at sea one day, perhaps in a storm or maybe gulped by a whale and this is their purgatory. Are they destined to live this existence over and over until the perfect formula is created or lived, akin to Groundhog Day?

Bill Murray found peace eventually and I desperately hoped that this wouldn’t be the case with Burly Men at Sea. I wanted to keep going in circles with them. Heaven or hell was not my ultimate goal, I’d become attached to Hasty Beard, Steady Beard and Strong Beard; I was the invisible fourth member of the crew. I’m not particularly burly and I often get seasick, but I have a beard and a passion for adventure. We were a family, now. The comfort of leaving the coastal village in our boat and heading into the waves was a balm. Anything could be happening in my life and I could find a home at sea talking to sirens, or racing the ferryman to escape being dragged into the afterlife.

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In one adventure we met a giant creature built from stone. He was a part of the scenery until my merry band walked past him, their footsteps waking him from a slumber. With an infectious enthusiasm he spoke in what I imagined to be a gravelly voice, telling the sailors he wanted to bring them a flower. Despite the fear in the voice of the crew, he bounded off screen briefly, returning with a dead tree he had uprooted. Not much more than a bundle of sticks, he placed it at the feet of the Burly Men like an eager puppy. The pride in his voice accented in bold CAPITAL LETTERS, I tapped the screen where the tree sat, with its roots in the air and it fell sadly to one side. My heart sank.

I’d passed only a few lines of dialogue back and forth with this creature. His boundless excitement to meet humans had infected me with a sense of joy that I’d not experienced in a video game for some time. If ever. He was only made from geometric shapes, coloured in shades found in natural rock formations. His animations didn’t stretch enough for expression, but his eyes reflected a soul – innocent and wide with awe. He was a childlike being that encapsulated the sense of wonder I used to find in video games. I could tell when he brought us his ‘flower’ that he was grinning, utterly pleased with himself.

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I saw my children in him. I saw how they experienced the world through this minimal interaction. I instantly relived memories of sitting cross legged on the carpet next to my daughters, building Lego towers or piecing together odd shapes of cardboard that would be recognised as a picture in the end. This rock monster wanted nothing more than to experience life and companionship. He represented an innocence. Maybe he was an incarnation of a longed for future from the mind of one of the sailors. Perhaps he was inspired by the children of one of the developers, or he might have been created to simply show that games can reach out and touch your emotions.

He looked down at the toppled tree and cried out plainly, “WILTED”. I felt a pause in my breathing and my throat ached a little. I remembered a time when my daughter had dressed up as a princess and wanted to show me. She was so excited that she tripped on the hem of the skirt as she ran to me. Her tears, after scraping her knee and bumping her head, had torn something inside of me. I watched as her emotions moved from excitement to sadness. I picked her up, wiped away her tears and put the fallen crown back on her head, telling her she looked beautiful. Her smile reappeared.

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Off dashed the stone man to find another ‘flower’ for us, his disappointment echoing in his footsteps. One of the sailors tried to halt the progress of the creature before realising the pointlessness in disturbing this Golden Retriever level of enthusiasm. Another of the bearded crew decided to instead shout out, “Get three flowers!” The creature was no longer on the screen, but I could tell his sadness had lifted and he would be searching for three perfect flowers for his new friends.

Within a handful of minutes this unassuming game, which isn’t really a game, had swept me through a cascade of emotions like waves in the sea. Using incredibly basic visuals and sounds and only a few lines of text, I was entirely connected to this world. I was given the choice of exploring the island by walking left or right. I chose left. With a loss of control over the sailors, they hopped into their boat and sailed away. They passed by the island, sailing in the direction I hadn’t chosen. In the background, the stone man sat looking out to sea rather forlorn as his new friends left him behind.

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I realised, as the Burly Men travelled to their next destination, that the creature had not only made me think of my children, but of my own childhood. The interaction had reminded me so much of Pyornkrachzark, the rock monster from The Neverending Story. I thought of the prideful moments I’d left behind me and I remembered how it felt to first hold an Atari 2600 joystick. I remembered how I fell in love with video games; with the way they could change the way you felt in just a handful of seconds. This creature had no name, he didn’t exude any particular expressions, but he’d had an impact on me. This small moment, which was filled with compassion, stayed with me for the rest of the day and into the next.

Worthless and the Lack of Worth

I’m not sure for how much longer I can carry on the way I am. The combination of mental illness is reducing me to a shadow of who I once was. The anxiety causes me to be scared of everything around me; the BPD swaps back and forth between ice and fire in my veins, alternating between highs and lows that exhaust me. These both then kickstart the depression, which, when shaded with the intensity of BPD, feels like rock bottom. The inside of my head is a constant cacophony of noise; one minute blaring alarms and voices, the next a white noise as if static on an old television. And all of these things are draining the life from me, pushing the suicidal ideation to a repetitive cycle that feels like a song stuck on repeat.

This morning, my alarm went off at the usual 7:30am. My phone then cycles through several more alarms until I drag myself from bed at 7:45am to make breakfast, which I did. I took it back to bed with me, finished browsing Twitter and Facebook and laid back down. It took me until 1pm to get up and out of bed because the thought of stepping from the safety of my bed was too much to bear. I knew there was no danger beyond the duvet, but I had a sense that if I moved then I would do something stupid – either self-harming or worse. As I lay there, my mind worked its way through different scenes – cutting my wrists, tying a noose, shovelling handfuls of pills into my choking throat. I suppose I can declare it a success that I left the flat, walked the usual route to the book shop where I write each day and opened my laptop.

The source of this depression is the BPD, the BPD is acting up for many reasons. One minute I’m riding the highs of life and the next I feel like this. It flits between being euphoric; the peak of a roller coaster which you’ve waited all year to ride and by the end of the day, exhaustion crests over me like a rogue wave, knocking me flat. The wave is anger or loneliness, a feeling that I am on my own, even if I’m surrounded by a wealth of people. And the thought pattern is driven by obsession; a constant need to check that my phone is turned on or has signal, because why is nobody messaging me. Or maybe, it’s the constant need to prod at an emotional gap, like a tongue on a rotten tooth. I have no control over it, this need to poke and harm is done through auto pilot, my brain playing the same loop of film until it distorts into something unsightly.

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Beneath it all is a message that I’ve told myself for my entire life and one that has magnified in context over the past decade or so. What lies beneath is a sentence “I am utterly worthless”. I felt it as a child when I had nothing to give others, either in school or social situations. I felt it as a teenager, when I found that I had little talent for anything and scraped through my exams. And I feel it as an adult, through a myriad of external and internal cues. Those four words are ingrained within me, etched on my personality like a high school crush on the bark of a tree. I’ve tried to heal it, I’ve tried talking over the underlying voice and I’ve tried blocking it out entirely. All to no avail. The cogs keep turning, the roller coaster continues running and I beg for some kind of release or escape.

I spend each and every day trying to quiet that voice through reaching out to people for some connection, through either work or relationship. To use the old reliable; it’s like a yawning void inside me that I yearn to fill, even if by filling it I get hurt in the process. And I will definitely get hurt, every time. Because I will inevitably look at my phone and see that it has stayed quiet, or I will reach out for work that gets rejected because it has no passion, just a limp attempt at gratification. This cycle just reinforces that sentence, regardless of any success. Because all I’m really looking for is validation.

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But it’s fleeting, because no matter how loud the external voice that tells me they love me or that I did a good job, the internal voice is forever the loudest. That constant nagging voice of self-doubt has stomped up and down the carcass of my confidence for too long and what makes it worse is that although I sit here behind the safety of my laptop, I feel it’s impossible to talk to anyone about how I feel. It’s easy to type out some thoughts, drop them onto a blog and leave them alone. But I don’t receive any advice or words of encouragement or even a reflective ear that asks questions and helps me to break down how I can change these patterns of self-neglect. Why? Because I don’t want to look weak to my friends and family.

It’s easy for them to read these words and know how I feel. I’m sure, when I post the link to my social media channels the usual people will read it and I will feel comfortable knowing that they have some idea how I feel. But heaven forbid I actually talk to them. Because I feel shame knowing that I’m opening myself up to somebody, it still feels like a weakness.

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Despite the things I say, it feels like a man shouldn’t feel this way, a parent shouldn’t feel these insecurities and that if I say these things to someone directly, they will judge me for being a lesser person. I’m sure that most people squirrel away their emotions and thoughts for the same reason, I don’t want you to feel that way about me, which would solidify the message I carry inside myself every day.

Here are some of the things that bother me, that I don’t ever say out loud:

I’m ugly and fat.

I’m not conventionally attractive, I’ve always known that. I was never much of a hit romantically as I grew up and I’ve always hidden myself away. My skin is bad, my teeth are awful and full of gaps, I lost my hair in my early twenties and I’m about six stone heavier than I should be. I hate the way I look, I don’t smile in pictures, I don’t look in mirrors or reflections and I berate the lumps and bumps. I still take selfies, because I feel I have to, but I’ll nearly always pull a face to hide any sense of who I am.

I’m scared of being alone.

And I don’t mean romantically. I’m terrified that I’ll never quite reach a point where I have a group of friends that will be with me forever. The friends I have now mean everything to me and I’m scared to death of losing them. Most of my friendship groups have broken and drifted apart over the years and I find myself orbiting within new groups every few years. Part of that comes down to me – I push people away when they get too close or I find a problem which will act as a wedge between us. I envy those groups I see at comic conventions or in bars where they all just feel comfortable together. Of course, this rotates back to the feeling that maybe I’m the problem, and as I said, it often is.

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I don’t feel like I’m good at anything.

I hate admitting this one because ultimately it feels as if I’m digging for compliments. If you read my work, as an editor or a reader on my blogs, you will notice that there are often a lot of mistakes. My spelling and grammar aren’t great and I often type faster than I can think which causes me to leave out words. You’ll notice that because I have to send it, or post it ASAP, before the doubt creeps in and I delete it. I give up on projects constantly because I don’t feel like I’m good enough to succeed, so it’s easier to just not do it. And even when I do publish my writing or draw a picture or write a poem, I will never find any sense of skill in there. This is, again, mainly because I have always told myself that I’m not good enough. It took me NINE YEARS to reach a point where I pitched to editors, spoke of my ideas to others in the hope of becoming a ‘real’ writer. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously or see any talent in me.

But, again, it’s easy to write these things here. It’s another thing to say them out loud and ask for some kind of help. I don’t feel like, as a man, I can admit to having issue with the way I look. Or that I cry myself to sleep often. Or that I feel alone nearly all the time. Or that I feel wrecked by guilt for my daughter dying. Or that I cut myself in order to feel something. Or, that each and every single day I consider suicide as a valid option to end all of the pain and turmoil that I feel. And because I don’t feel that I can be this way, I feel even more worthless.

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My Mental Health: Harming

It’s been a while since I wrote about my mental health and the struggles I feel. Last week was a time for mental health awareness on social media and I wrote a few bits here and there on Twitter. I wanted to come back to my blog and write a little more, because recently I’ve had some major struggles. On top of this, I’m aware that so many people have read my words and felt they can either relate or at least feel as if they aren’t alone. I suppose it’s worth giving the usual heads-up, I’m very blunt when it comes to talking about mental health. I’m very open and feel no shame in talking about my experiences, this sometimes means my writing gets detailed or approaches topics some feel need a trigger warning. So, here’s your warning. Now, let’s do this.

Twice in the past week I’ve self-harmed. It usually happens when I’m angry at myself or feeling as if I’m losing control. Falling back onto causing myself harm allows for a few things to happen; firstly, I see my own blood and it makes me feel alive – this brings back a spark of humanity which I felt I was losing for one reason or another. Usually this feeling crops up when my depression pulls me into a void where feeling becomes a distant memory, rather than a constant. Depression, for me, often numbs my senses. It feels like a blanket drawn over my head, dampening the environment and scaling back on the simple emotions of life, such as joy or excitement. Frustratingly, depression also magnifies more extreme emotions such as love or hate. There are no shades of grey here and my borderline personality disorder works in black or white, I either love you uncontrollably or I hate you with every fibre of my being. Self-harm, brings about a connection between the mental and physical.

Secondly, it gives me control over something. We can’t control how others see us, or how others react to what we say or do. We can’t coerce someone to think in the way we’d like them to, or perhaps act when we’d want. Self-harm gives that control aspect, even though it’s within a negative context. So, you might not be getting an email or a text, emotional or mental pain occurs without my input, but I can control pain.

Lastly, it’s a punishment for feeling the way I do. If my emotions reach a point where I can no longer control them and they affect me or others around me, self-harm becomes a tool of punishment. Sometimes it happens because my train of thought has no driver and the carriages careen along the tracks with no slowing. This makes me angry or ashamed and there is no dragging me through the streets naked whilst ringing a bell of shame, so cutting my skin is how I make do.

I’m not making light of the situation. It’s something I need to learn to control or even stop, but I suppose it’s my way of slamming the brakes on. Because if I didn’t, who knows what would happen next. Maybe the train would keep on going until it breaks down or maybe it runs itself from the tracks and explodes in a ball of fire. Either way, when translated to my life, these scenarios represent and often sidestep my suicidal ideation, which occurs daily.

I’ve often spoken about suicidal ideation; it works a little differently from wanting to end your own life. If I wanted to die, I could have done so by now. The ideation comes from wanting to stop, or pause life. Think of a horror film; the killer is slowly gaining on the innocent teenage victim. His or her knife is raised and the tension steadily climbs until we hear the grating noise of blade on bone. If the fear becomes too much, we can pause the film. We can take a moment to breathe or remind ourselves that what we’re seeing is not real. This ideation is similar. I don’t want to die, I just want some time to breathe or think or even react and respond.

You see, depression – and anxiety, OCD, all those other forms of mental health that so many know so little about – alters our perspective of the world. It creates a voice inside us that rarely shuts up. It might, one day, shout that we have no talent. The next, it may mutter that the person we love no longer loves us. And these things are the two aspects of my life that I’ve been struggling with the most. The former occurs when I feel I’m not quite achieving the goals I’d like and the second can crop up when I don’t get a message one day or maybe a conversation is cut short. It’s an aspect of life that many ignore… “so what if that person hasn’t called, they’re probably busy” or “it doesn’t matter that if inspiration doesn’t strike, it’ll come”. For some, these things can create all kinds of emotional turmoil, for others it can be one step too far. And, at times, it can push the sufferer to react badly, often ruining relationships.

The brain is a wonderfully intricate thing; it can create palaces, works of fiction, great pieces of art and yet it can also drive someone to despair when they can’t stop an intrusive thought about their partner or maybe their parents dying in a fire. While the brain, for some, can solve mathematical equations, in the same person it could cause them to fear germs to an obsessional level. A brain can conjure talent to paint sunflowers, but it can cripple a personality to the point of suicide.

This is the reason I’m often so open about my own mental health. I write things here that my friends and family won’t like to read, but I do it for myself and in the hope that others might read the words and find some comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone in how they feel. I’m sure my mum doesn’t want to read about the fact that I often think about hanging myself, but I know that my friend ‘B’ relates and feels better about themselves.

I’m well aware of the root of my mental health issues; the death of my daughter created a point of loss and a void that can never be filled and the abandonment from my father causes issues of fear that others will give up on me. They’re simple to realise, but incredibly tough to deal with. The former has made me reckless in aspects of life, the latter has made me bitter and angry and occasionally forces me to push others too hard to feel a connection I yearn for.

In a psychology session today, my specialist said, “most people would consider the death of their child to be the most painful thing that can occur”. He might be right, I don’t really know. All I know is how it affected me and how it plagues me every day – visions of my daughter smiling and laughing exist, but only underneath a layer of pain created by a jigsaw puzzle of images from watching her die. And he postulated that while I displayed signs of mental health issues as I was growing up, it was this situation which truly altered me. He believes that as I try to fill the void left behind, I strive to succeed in other ways or create new connections. He’s right, because I’ve spoken about it before. But it doesn’t make anything any easier.

Just because I know how my depression or personality disorder affects my thinking, doesn’t mean that my daily life becomes something I look forward to or enjoy living. I can distract myself by reading or playing video games, but this doesn’t quiet the voices that come in the moments between. It doesn’t stop the reactionary effects from conversation or situation.

As ever I began writing this blog post with a goal in mind and have managed to wander from the path I envisioned, if I even knew of a path to begin with. I’ve recently begun talking to others who have their own struggles, we’ve shared stories and how we feel and this has made me realise that so many consider mental health to be this large umbrella term that covers so many things. It’s easy to say “I have depression” or “My OCD is acting up”, yet it’s another thing to actually paint a picture for those around us. Saying ‘depression’ creates a different scene for whoever hears the term. They might see someone who just feels a little sad, or they may see how you truly feel.

So, I suppose this is me painting you a picture. You might see someone who walks around calling everybody ‘fam’ and cracking jokes, but underneath there’s somebody who is wondering when he’ll next hear from that person or has a voice inside screaming out how ugly, untalented and useless he is. And despite what others may say and how they reassure us, that internal voice is loud and obnoxious. And often, it can’t be ignored.

Your Moment – Poem

I got next, 
Gimmie a chance and break those decks, 
bitch, 
allow the wheel up and the, 
sitch- 
uation, stand up for the ovation. 
Then take cover from these storms I’m bringing, 
these words I’m flinging, 
your skin stinging 
from the heat, 
bones breaking for the beat 
and the boxing, 
so take the pot off the stove in the kitchen, 
cotch your spot and just listen. 
To the sentiments I’m spitting. 
Lyrically shifting gears through the transmission, 
It’s my mission, to bring bombs of truth, to the target, 
if I get… 
one chance to change society for the good 
I know I should, if I could, 
because the world needs to be better for my children, 
and their children, 
because at the moment hate is leading. 
And we’re needing   
to bring back happiness and peace, 
equality, 
release all those good thoughts and swarm the nazis, 
because they can’t be, 
the ones who lead us, we need us, 
a person or group, 
put our best foot forward and look 
to the ones holding signs… not torches, 
or pitchforks, 
or hate filled slogans. 
These are our moments, the next moments, 
so own them. 

She Keeps Me Inside – Poem

Mama, come rescue me,
I’m suicidal, thinking thoughts,
self constructed walls, fists in balls,
stuck inside of this prison built by beauty and by soul.
Bloody fingernails from being stuck within
and scratching at the door, hoping to be free.
There is a window, near the ceiling, it’s an opening;
hold me up, boost me, lift me,
I have a feeling,
she’s standing outside, holding the keys to my release.
All she need do is say the word, the walls and I would crumble,
around us, leaving the view and future clear.
Instead, we stumble
and tip-toe; dancing steps that nobody knows,
even us,
we retread words, disturb
thoughts, our hearts combust
and burn together until we find heaven,
within each other.
This is no longer lust, but was it ever?
I know her
and she knows me, we see
each other so clearly,
gazing through space,
she hangs on when I think I’m a waste,
of space.
Her outlook allows me to taste, to escape and to
embrace myself, even from within this shell,
this hell.
I close my eyes and see her face,
her smile. I hear her voice,
inside my head and know that this is NOT her choice.
Because I hear her inflection, when she shows affection,
her cadence and her sincerity,
there’s a temerity
within her words, a want, but also a struggle.
She’s conflicted and I’m confined,
we trace patterns, monitor lines
and pass hours,
time,
stretching outwards, onwards, but never wasted because she
is my moment, my reason.

Neon Nights – Poem

Traces of light pattern the night sky, neon kisses leaving a little of hope to die. 
Noise, droning like bees, swarms around from screens and feeds. 
The smoke and moisture builds, a storm above the bar and the stools, 
that line the edges, 
of our consciousness and our memory.
There’s still a rag, he still stands there, polishing, 
asking how days have been, shouldering problems. 
Behind him, shining like jewels are the erasers, 
copper, lurid, iridescent, vibrant 
and all come at a cost.
There is no longer music from the corner, 
just sounds created from tones and percussive strikes, 
designed to placate or sooth those 
who wait between shifts in the pits, 
muscles weary, stretched, like time in this new age.
Soulless, vacant, the void lingers beneath lashes. 
Purple splotches mingle with green, blue,   
abrasions across limbs, crosshatching lines, chicken scratch. 
Holding up a finger, followed by a second, 
asking for oblivion, in a glass. 

The Bridge

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

The ripples in water always made him feel sad. The energy they put into their movement, only to be abruptly halted by the edges of banks and coastlines. He wondered how long the ripples would last if he dropped from his place on the bridge. The concrete beneath him chilled his body. The wind ruffled his hair and tugged at his clothes. For once the air felt good around him; no longer oppressive or close. He’d spent the past week in his apartment, avoiding everyone. From the position he lay now, beyond his feet he could see the mountains, their tips frosted when not hidden by clouds. Birds he couldn’t name swept their wings wide and took in the world around him. His mind wandered, wondering how he appeared to the birds. Was he a presence that caused them to pause and wonder? Or was he insignificant? Maybe, because he’d laid there for so long, he was just a part of the scenery. His clothes were dark and a stark contrast to the grey around him, the bridge; the water. Both a shade that people overlooked.

He’d been driving along the highway, mindlessly singing to a song that only played in his head. The tears of the morning had made his eyes ache and his cheeks felt dry. He had decided to finally escape his self inflicted prison in a fit of rage that crept upon him so suddenly, causing him to throw a Chinese food container towards the television. As the noodles began to slide towards the floor, he was on his feet, jacket in hand and out of the door before they hit the parquet with a splat.

The wind whipping through the car window kept him awake, but the fatigue continued to press down upon him, his shoulders sagging. He’d hardly slept for days and his entire body ached with that weary fatigue that makes you feel like sleeping but never lets you fall into its grasp. A black flash in his peripheral vision caused him to pause. Craning his neck to look behind him in the wing mirror, he noted his reflection oddly warped and nodded.

That spot on the bridge just looked ideal. He pulled his car over, into a picnic spot a mile or so along the road and walked back to the bridge; leaving his keys in the ignition. He wanted to care so much about the little things that made up his life. He wanted to live a day where getting out of bed was easy and where taking a shower wasn’t as hard work as a day in the office. He wanted her to notice him again.

No cars had passed since he took up his place. He wondered about the history of the bridge; who had built it, what urged them to bridge the river at this spot. He wondered how high up he was. He fingered loose chunks of stone and idly dropped them, wondering how the impact felt as they hit the water. Below him, under the surface of the water was a vague shadow that held his attention. His eyes roamed the shape trying to discover what it could be. It looked a little like a Volkswagen Beetle; there was a curve to one side and protrusions that might have been doors, flung open at the last minute.

“Erm, what are you doing?” Blake jumped as the voice jolted his senses, his hands scrabbled beneath him desperately finding a grip. As he sat up, carefully, he found a young woman standing by his feet. She had one of those hiking backpacks slung over one shoulder, it was covered in straps and hooks. A half filled water bottle sloshed as she shifted from one foot to the other. She wasn’t very tall, had dirty blonde hair and wide blue eyes. “I was just laying down” replied Blake. She looked a little familiar, though her features were ordinary, she could be any girl from any midwestern town.“I thought you were waiting to jump”, there was a slight hesitation in her voice that could have been mistaken for either a laugh or a pause of contemplation.

Blake felt his cheeks flush. He had been waiting, not sure of the signal that would tell him it was time. He hadn’t consciously decided that today was the day where his brain had filled to bursting and that he would set out to take his own life. But things had a way of working and he was a great believer in fate and chance. He had debated suicide many times in the past, even writing out letters to his loved ones, but he always talked himself around. Suicidal ideation it was called. Pretty much constant thoughts about self inflicted death.

The girl noticed his extended silence and cleared her throat, trying to catch Blake’s attention,“You were going to jump, weren’t you”. It was a statement, not a question and Blake squeezed his eyes tight, exhaling loudly through his nose. He had been thinking about it ever since first sitting on the edge of the bridge. He guessed that he would probably die as he hit the water and if he didn’t he’d drown fast as he wasn’t a strong swimmer. “The thought had crossed my mind”. With this admission, he felt the tears return to his eyes. He angrily wiped them away, ashamed that he was crying at all, more so that it was in front of this strange girl. “What’s your name?” she asked, taking another small step towards him, as if he was a wild animal. “Blake” he replied, looking past her, over her shoulder, avoiding her eyes which lingered on his face.

“You can’t jump Blake, life is worth living. What about all of the people you’d leave behind?” Her plea was met with a scoff that came from somewhere between his nose and throat. “There is nobody. I have nobody.” Before the girl could start her reply, Blake carried on, “My girlfriend left me. A couple of weeks ago. I haven’t got a job, since I was laid off and my parents died when I was a kid.”

“You must have some friends?” She said after a minute of strained silence. This was met with a laugh. She couldn’t tell whether it was genuine or not. She held out her hand, “Well, I’m your friend now Blake. I’m Amy.”

“I can’t shake your hand Amy, I’ll fall.” They both laughed at the irony and with that Amy managed to sidle up next to him. He sighed a deep sigh that passed through his entire body. “You must think I’m pathetic” he said. “Not at all. We all have moments when time is tough. You have to be aware that life is worth living though. You never know what’s around the corner”. He finally met her eyes again, “how can you know that, though? How can you be sure? I mean, it feels like I have nothing. What’s the point in me carrying on?”

“Well, I can’t be sure. I can only guess or hope. I can sympathise with you.” She reached out again, not sure whether to grip his hand or lay hers on his shoulder. “Really?” he spat, “What have you lost?” Amy flushed slightly, causing Blake to redden also, his from shame, hers from the next thing she would say. “My mother disappeared. When I was four. She walked into the kitchen to get me a drink and never came back.”

“I’m sorry” said Blake, casting his eyes back to the mountains. She waved her hand as if to push away his apology. It wasn’t needed. “I spent a long time in and out of foster homes. I went off the rails in my early teens and dropped out of school. Fighting, drinking. The usual.”

“What changed?”

“I met a woman through my foster parents. She told me that my life had a purpose. She said a lot actually. I didn’t listen to much of it at first, but she persisted. She made me listen in the end.” Her eyes misted over slightly with the memory. Blake sat up, wobbled slightly, causing Amy to reach out and grab his hand. He eased off of the siding, leaned back and folded his arms, “you must think I’m an idiot.”

“Not at all, Blake. Life deals shitty hands and we have to play them as best we can.” His eyes filled again with tears, but this time he felt no shame. He let them sit there, smiled sadly and shuffled his feet, as if he was being cautioned in school by a teacher. “Sorry” he said, “what should I do?” At this, Amy smiled, the corners of her mouth creating dimples. She placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned towards him and said “Just live, Blake. Go and get back into your car, drive home. Just live and do what you can do feel better every day”.

Blake instinctively leaned towards her, opening his arms. She hesitated, but relented, easing into his hug. “What was her name? The woman you mentioned…” She tensed slightly under his touch, “Elena. Her name was… is, Elena”. He squeezed her tightly, rubbed her back between her shoulder blades and let out one last sigh. “Thank you” he said, “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” “No” she replied, “I think I’m going to stand here a while. Take in this view. You go on. Go live.”

They laughed together again. Blake turned on the spot and began walking back towards his car. He thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans, scanned the sky for the birds as if to bid them goodbye. As he reached the end of the bridge, where it entered the trees, he turned back to wave at Amy. As he did, he saw her standing on the spot where he’d been sitting. She swayed slightly from the wind and, as he shouted her name, his arm outstretched, she stepped from the bridge and plummeted towards the river below.

Blake ran back, leaned over the edge of the bridge, panting. There was no trace of Amy.

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Beth

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

Beth flicked the blade along the fold in the paper, cutting a smart line. It was only a short blade, with no guard to protect the users fingers and she had used it previously to gouge someone’s eye. It was one of those knives where you held a button and made a sliding motion with your thumb, for the blade to pop out of the end. She’d held it against the man’s closed eye and shunted the blade up in one smooth movement. If you ever get something stabbed into your eye, you should keep it in – it allows for all integral juices in the eye to stay in place, which can mean restored sight after time and healing. She instantly withdrew the blade on that day, relishing in the murky fluid that ran down his cheek from between bloody eyelids. For now, the knife was tracing edges of shapes in coloured cardboard, which she would use in her daughter’s creation.

Her daughter was playing at her feet currently; together they had stapled pages into a folded bundle to create their own little book. Amy was only four, but already looked so much like her mother, all arms and legs, messy hair and a crooked smile. Amy said she wanted to make books, not write them, but make them. Beth told her daughter that somebody had to write the words and she was delegated the position of creative. Beth couldn’t write, so she fell back on fairy tales she’d heard when she was a similar age to her daughter. She’d always had a taste for the darker stories where children were due to be eaten by a witch in a forest and she settled on Hansel and Gretel for their debut book. Amy spilled her box of crayons across the wooden flooring, a rainbow of colour rolling under the sofa and TV. “Mommy, I’m going to draw the pictures” she announced, with a voice much louder than was needed and began laying down lines that would form legs and hold up the big belly of the witch.

It was Beth’s father who taught her how to defend herself, though he had strictly forbidden weapons. He taught her to use her fists and to counterbalance the person she was defending against. That had been fine until a high school jock had kept his hands on her ass for a little too long. The struggle that ensued tipped in his favour purely from strength. Her instincts made her reach for the front door key in her pocket, edge her finger with the straight metal and drag the serrations across his face.

“Make sure you draw nicely, sweetheart. Nobody will want to read it otherwise.” Amy nodded at her mother, tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she focused on the task at hand. The lines began linking together, forming a pile of tangled limbs on the floor of a forest cottage. “Pass me the red, mommy, they’re blee-eeding” She elongated the word for effect and Beth smiled at the child, passing her the darkest red they had in front of them. Amy was growing up just as Beth did. In Kindergarten recently Amy had been picked on by a boy who was a year older than her. She came home crying that afternoon and demanded she never had to attend school again. From that moment, Beth became much more protective of her child. They discussed ways to talk to bullies and if that didn’t work, there were other methods to get rid of them.

Every violent act Beth committed was in self defence, though it was sometimes goaded into being by her actions. She had a penchant for carnage and chaos which stemmed from watching her dearly loved father repeatedly bashing her mother’s head against walls, doors and his limbs. She vowed to one day take revenge on the evil bastard, but before her chance came the fucker died of a heart attack while mowing the front lawn. Instead of her being able to assert any form of retaliation she had to stand at his funeral, smiling when needed and crying on cue.

“Mommy, can I have some juice?” Her daughter pleaded with her wide blue eyes, framed by her dirty blonde hair. “Aren’t you missing something?” She replied, knowing her daughter had withheld her courtesy, she waited for the usual reply. “Please pleases you and me” Amy beamed at their little saying which had been in use for as long as they could both remember. Beth got up from the floor, her legs aching, shaking the blood back into her feet, and walked into the kitchen.

Her ex-husband had been a drinker and while he kept much of his abuse verbal, she occasionally suffered a cut lip or a bruised eye. Seeing the repetition in her life of her mother’s past drove her to hit Jeff with the car while he stood in the driveway. He was gazing up at the sky, not paying attention to anything around him. She saw him perfectly fine and her foot became heavy on the gas pedal before her mind had even engaged what would happen next. She had broken several of his ribs and fractured his arm. As he lay in the hospital bed she lowered her voice to barely a whisper and told him that next time he hit her she’d keep her foot to the floor. Scooping up Amy, from his bedside she left. Not before writing in bold capital letters on his plaster cast ‘I want a divorce”.

Beth reached out for the handle of the large refrigerator and pulled. She must have used more force than was necessary because she flew backwards and onto the linoleum floor. “Fuck!”, her hand leapt to her mouth, aware of Amy in the next room, expecting the child to admonish her for using a bad word. There was no noise. Not just a lack of her daughter’s voice, but it was almost silent. None of the usual sounds her house usually made – the fridge motor whirring, the noise from the television or the odd scratches from the attic.

“Amy?” Beth called out, knowing something wasn’t quite right, but couldn’t quite put her finger on what. She hoped her daughter would come running around the corner and question why her mother was sitting on the floor. It was almost a yearning; a hope that normality still reigned.

“Amy? Darling?”, Beth slowly began to get to her feet, brushing dust from the seat of her trousers. Now she was worrying. The silence was intense and encroaching on her ears and brain, she strained to hear her daughter’s frantic scribbling of crayon on paper. She turned the corner into the living room, juice completely forgotten now and found a space on the rug where her daughter had previously sat. Her veins and muscles set alight with panic, Beth began to run through the rooms of the house, calling for Amy over and over. She threw cushions, opened closets and pulled back sheets from beds in the hope of finding a giggling Amy who she’d hug, kiss and scold in equal measure.

The house was empty, aside from her; panting in the doorway of her bedroom. Now panic had set in, Beth took off down the stairs and towards the back door of the house, which led out into a small yard. She pulled the door open and let it thud against the wall behind her, the blind clattered and pierced that bizarre silence. Amy wasn’t in the yard either, however a young woman sat in the hammock that straddled the young trees amid knee length grass – gardening was never Beth’s strong suit. “Who the hell…” Beth stuttered before the odd woman raised her hand, which held a small card, between delicate fingers. “Beth, my name is Leilah. I need you to listen.”

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Auditorium

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

The auditorium was absent of sound. There was a sense, or a feeling in the air, a silence, as if an orchestra or band had abruptly halted their playing, perhaps mid-note. Among the folded seats dust motes whirled from an unknown breeze, catching the light to sparkle as they drifted. Heavy curtains at the sides of the stage and those sheltering the boxes gave the room age, an antique look, a rich burgundy with gold embroidery. Beneath the scent of old fabric was a trace of smoke, the tang of alcohol lingered below that, yet a sweet smell of stale sugar was perhaps most notable.

On the stage, facing the empty space where scenery would reside – floorboards worn down over years of feet shuffling, old paint lines fading like pencil lines erased from a page – sat a small girl. She had her eyes closed, legs crossed beneath her with a sheet of music held loosely in her hand. She hummed quietly; the tone so low it barely altered her breath. Her hands weaved through the air with grace. An imagined audience sat behind her, eyes wide with awe. Each note she hummed accompanied a ripping noise which echoed through the hall. Between breaths echoing, a sound like water dripping.

In front of the girl, a man, wearing only torn blue jeans, hung from two wooden beams screwed into the floor. His arms were spread in a loving embrace, nails driven through his wrists to hold him up. His head lolled against his right shoulder. On his back, flesh was peeled back from his muscles and threads twined through the edges were tied and looped around his fingers, pinned also to the plinths that held him. The effect created a set of wings, thread like labyrinthine veins. The detached skin was mottled with spots of blood, worn thin in places, so the light shone through with a red bloom.

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