Halloween Roundup

I’ve finally reached Assignment 19 of Writing 101, about a month after the original assignment was published. Fantastic!

This assignment was about featuring a guest post as part of a collaboration we were asked to consider in a previous assignment. Needless to say, that plan didn’t pan out in any way. So instead, I’ll go with the alternate assignment, which is to feature a roundup of posts that we’ve enjoyed reading this week.

For me, that’s an easy one. A couple of months ago, I had participated in the first WEP (Write, Edit, Publish) Challenge of the year, a bi-monthly blogging event hosted by Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey. It was a lot of fun, and when they announced a Halloween challenge, I was on board right away. I mean, how could I not write a story based around my second favorite occasion of the year?

The challenge took place from October 21st to 23rd, and there were quite a few spooky entries to check out. They’re all included in the link below. Please do check them out, and drop a comment or three! My entry can be found on my fiction blog Tales of Unusual Strangeness, but the direct link to the story’s on the list (it’s number 16):

WEP Halloween Challenge

Happy reading! For best results, make sure you’re completely alone with not a single light on. Bwahahaha!

Where in the World…?

As the twilight of October approaches, I’m still limping along with the last remnants of Writing 101. I refuse to just give up on the assignments, and my OCD-prone mind won’t allow me to blog about anything else until all they’ve all been completed in order. I think it’s been well over a week since I last posted, because I’m having increasing difficulty in balancing two blogs, a full-time job, and other assorted hobbies. To honor my second favorite festival (that would be Halloween), I’ve started a series called 20 Tales of Terror on my fiction blog, where I’ve been posting a freshly-written short story (with an accompanying illustration, also done by me) every day. As such, the majority of my focus has been on that, and I’ve ended up neglecting this poor blog.

Anyways, we’re now on Assignment 18. Well, I am. Because see previous paragraph. For this one, we’re asked to draw inspiration from some town or city from around the world. It could be a place we’ve lived in, visited, want to visit or, simply one we picked blindly off a map.

Geography’s never been my strong suit, so it’s likely that if I go the map route, I’ll wind up landing on some city in eastern Angola or the south of Turkey, which will require a bit of research before I can even think of what to write about the place. So maybe I’ll ditch the map option. I’m also not extremely well-traveled. I’ve seen a lot of airports in my time, but not nearly enough of the cities outside of them. Instead, I’ll talk about a place that’s close to my heart, mainly because of the people I met there. That place is State College, Pennsylvania.

I have grown up in cities. The early years of my childhood were spent between Kuwait and Calcutta, and my formative years were in Dubai, which was a fairly bustling metropolis even back in the day. I was used to towering skyscrapers, cavernous shopping malls and only the barest hint of greenery, usually found in parks. However, I had grown up on a steady diet of TV shows where people lived in charming suburban houses with wide front lawns and picket fences. It was so different from anything I knew, and I fell in love with the idea of a quiet, sleepy community where everyone wasn’t in a hurry to go places.

Shortly after high school graduation, I went to visit my dad in Austin for a couple of weeks, where he was working at the time. It was my first trip to the US, and it was amazing. We went via Chicago, which didn’t look too different from what I knew (aside from a bit more greenery). But landing in Austin is when I really saw a different side of life. There no tall buildings near where my dad lived. He was in a small community, on the second floor of a townhouse. There was a balcony with an amazing view of nature spread out before me, with not a skyscraper or mall in sight.

About six months later, I was on my way to Penn State, an excited (and nervous) young freshman embarking on life away (far, far away) from home for the first time. I was completely torn up over leaving everyone I knew behind, and worried about how I would adjust to college life. That all changed once I landed up in State College. It felt like home. There was no greenery when I got there, as it was early January. But I did get to see snow for the first time in my life. The world that I had seen in so many Christmas movies and TV shows was now all around me. Like Austin, this was a place that was built horizontally, not vertically. There were fields and trees and wide open spaces to walk in. Even during the rush between classes, everything moved at a much slower pace than what I was used to. It was idyllic.

Granted, it was still a college town, so things could get a little rowdy on weekends, but drunken tomfoolery aside, it was a great place to be. Even better are the surrounding townships, all with a quaint charm of their own. Bellefonte, one of the neighboring towns, prides itself on its historic roots and is like a doorway to the past. On occasion, I took trips to neighboring cities and states, which involved traveling across long stretches of highway with rolling hills on one side and a river running through the other. State College itself, nicknamed Happy Valley, provided a majestic hilly view on the horizon no matter where you went.

Returning to Dubai from there was quite a shock. Chilly country breezes replaced by hot gusts of smog and sand, towers of steel and glass instead of farmland and greenery, and then there was the pace of life. I had forgotten just how fast people moved in Dubai. Everyone’s in a rush to go somewhere. There’s hardly ever time to stop and breathe. I remember having long, relaxed conversations about absolutely nothing with my friends in college as we sat on a porch overlooking a gorgeous hillside. All anyone can talk about here is work and money.

I’m hopeful that one day, I can find myself living in a smallish town again, living a simpler life. Until then, I’ll just have to try my best to walk in a world where everyone runs.

Artifacts

This assignment involved scanning through online history, such as old Facebook posts or blog drafts, to come up with a post. Basically, we had to use our past as a creative platform for something new, which is always fun. The thing is, I’m not the most ‘social’ guy online, and I’ve been on and off Facebook so many times that there are no old posts to look through (except in Facebook’s own database, I guess, where they’ll store that information for all eternity).

In today’s world, people are obsessed with documenting every mundane moment of their lives, creating a virtual shrine to themselves for others to gawk at. You might gaze reverently upon the pictures of someone’s lunch or be amazed as you see their smiling faces in front of some famous monument. It give you the opportunity to live vicariously through them, and creates a patchwork vision of their lives. When you’re stuck behind a desk all day, seeing an unending stream of vacation photos could make it seem like everyone else is having a party you’ll never be invited to.

Anyways, this post isn’t supposed to be a rant about social media (with which I’ve had a loooong love/hate relationship). Though it does make me think about legacies, and what we’re leaving behind. We’ve seen the election of the first African-American US president, advances in equal rights for homosexual couples, and serious discussions about gender inequality. Will all that be overshadowed by poorly worded cat pictures? Oh sure, the history books (or ebooks or holo-transmissions) will cover the major events, as they always do. But what image will we project as individuals? Will our grandchildren know us more for our contributions to society or for our super sweet achievements in online roleplaying games?

For me, it’ll definitely be the latter. My video games, action figures, comics and books will be the artifacts of my life. They’ll be like the treasures of the pharaohs. Maybe I’ll stash them away somewhere and design an elaborate treasure hunt for my descendants. They’ll probably think they’re going to uncover some sort of huge secret that might change the way they look at their family history, or even the world. They’ll think they’ve got some sort of Da Vinci Code on their hands. I wonder what it’ll feel like when they finally find it, and see that first Batman action figure scowling at them. It’s gotta sting when you find out that Grandpa’s just saying, “Gotcha, suckers!” from beyond the grave.

So…yeah. This post may have gotten away from me a bit. But I suppose it’s just another piece to add to the puzzle that is my online life. Maybe one day, someone will go through my archives to learn more about the stranger in this strange mind, and come across this post. I hope they read it, and I hope they react the same way I did when I re-read it myself:

“What?!”

Searching for the Unknown

The 16th assignment of Writing 101 tasked us with finding inspiration from our stats page, looking for any trends or anomalies to structure a post around.

My stats are fairly boring, mainly thanks to my sporadic posting schedule. The most recent posts have the most views and most of my readers are from the US, UK and Australia. Alright. Great. The most common referrers to my site are Google and the WordPress Dashboard. Nothing groundbreaking there. Nobody ever really clicks on any links. That’s not too surprising either. When I read an article or blog post, I usually don’t click on a link unless it leads me to something that’ll lend more context to the article in question. The most common search terms that lead people to my site are ‘unknown search terms’.

Hmmmm…

Unknown search terms. That’s intriguing. What are people searching for that’s bringing them here? Presumably, they’re searching for a fun, quirky and exceedingly well-written blog created by a charismatic, intelligent and devilishly handsome young man whose scattered gray hairs are a sign of refinement and not premature aging. But that seems a tad wordy for a search engine. So, after conducting some thorough search engine research (which primarily consisted of sitting slack-jawed in front of my computer and daydreaming), I have come up with the top 10 search terms, presented in no particular order, that may have brought people here.

  1. How to woo a vampire
  2. Do minotaurs lay eggs?
  3. Cheating death, chess, checkers, cards
  4. Making the perfect souffle
  5. 15 secrets to flawless skin
  6. Mastering golf, time & space
  7. Marilyn Monroe wendigo
  8. What is human existence really worth as we go through our brief lives on this tiny rock careening through a vast universe whose furthest corners are unknown to man?
  9. Batman
  10. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

Bear in mind, these are just my best guesses based on rigorous analysis. What are people really searching for as they stumble onto this humble little blog? I am afraid the real answer shall remain…unknown.

Dreaming with Open Eyes

During the second week of Writing 101, we were supposed to ask for reader feedback, in the form of a poll or some other suitable method, on what sort of content they would like to see on the blog. I forgot to do that on the day it was assigned, and completely forgot to come back to it. Oops. Though I intend to set up an independent reader poll later on this month.

The 15th assignment was about writing on a reader-suggested topic, based off the poll. Needless to say, I’ve come up empty on that front. Fortunately, the good folks at WordPress provided some alternate topics to post about. One of them particularly piqued my interest.

The topic was: Have you ever felt awake, but in a dream?

I find the phrasing of that question to be a bit ambiguous. It could mean, have you ever had a dream so vivid, it felt like you were awake? Or it could mean, have you ever felt like you’re living a waking life inside a dream? I think one of those interpretations is definitely more valid than the other, but ultimately, both work for me!

Many people can relate to the former, I’m sure. You’re having a dream, either about something wonderful or something extremely terrifying, and it feels like it’s actually happening. Then you wake up and realize it was all a dream, but the world feels strange. You can still recall the dream so vividly, remember every detail, every sensation…and yet, none of it was real. You shared a romantic moment with someone you couldn’t pursue in real life, reconciled with an estranged friend, discovered that a long-dead relative was somehow alive again. And just like that, it all vanished, but those moments lingered. Heartbreak and disappointment was all you woke up to find.

If your dream involved being chased by zombie dentists, though, perhaps it was best that it turned out to only be a dream. Not that it’ll stop you from shrieking any time you hear anything that remotely sounds like a drill for the rest of the day.

The other interpretation, about living a life that feels like a dream, is something I experienced a lot in high school. My family lived in Kuwait until I was 6, at which point the first Gulf War broke out and we had to leave. I remember being woken in the middle of the night by my mom. We had to pack up all our things right then and go over to a friend’s house (serving as a temporary safe house), and in a few days, we’d leave the country. I was drowsy and confused and don’t remember much else about that night. It almost feels like we wound up at the safe house instantaneously.

For many years after that, I often had the weird idea that maybe I was still asleep back in Kuwait and everything that had happened from the point my mom ‘woke’ me was just a dream. Moving to a different country, changing school, making new friends, going through adolescence. All of it was just a strange fiction dreamed up by a 6 year old boy. Kind of like the ending of St. Elsewhere.

It was a ridiculous notion of course, and one that I grew out of, but it’s creepy to think about, the idea that everything I know and love might disappear in the literal blink of an eye. I might just wake up one day as a little boy who had a really long, vivid and confusing dream, one that haunts him for a while but is forgotten as soon as he sits down to watch cartoons.

Keep sleeping, little buddy. Keep sleeping.

The Golden Hood

After an unplanned hiatus, I’ve decided to chug along with the last few posts of Writing 101, although the course is now in the archives of WordPress history. I’ve combined two consecutive prompts here. One asked us to tell a story through a series of vignettes, while the other tasked us with telling a story that took place over the course of a single day. Here’s my take on both.

 

It was a morning like any other in the city. Traffic was backed up, trains were running behind schedule and pedestrians littered the streets. People were staring at phones and newspapers, keeping up with events all around the world while paying little attention to the world that was all around them. The explosion took everyone by surprise. A derelict building had caught fire. Emergency workers pulled several bodies out of the building. Alongside, police recovered the charred remains of a white robe with a golden hood.


Karen had woken up before her alarm. She always did. She had a full morning to work through, preparing lunch for the kids and making sure breakfast was on the table before everyone headed out. Once the school bus left, she had a little time to herself. Still dressed in her fluffy night gown, Karen poured herself a cup of coffee and plopped down on the couch to watch some TV.

She flicked through channels idly, passed by the news, and went back again. There was a report about an explosion earlier in the morning in the hospital district. There were a few fatalities. Latest reports indicated that the victims were dead prior to the explosion. Evidence seemed to suggest this was another act perpetrated by the terrorist organization known as the Order of the Golden Hood.

Karen flicked over to a soap opera and went to pour herself some more coffee.


It was just another boring afternoon at the office for Mike Teller. The morning had been full of meetings that only succeeded in wasting everyone’s time, and he was trying to make his way through the post-lunch slump so he could go home and laze around on the couch. He wondered what Karen was making for dinner. His manager dropped by with some real work for him to do, completely ruining his plan to just zone out for the rest of the day.

Sighing, Mike flipped through the project notes that had been handed to him. It was going to be a long afternoon. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Alvin, one of the junior associates who had just joined the company a few weeks ago. Mike casually strolled over to Alvin’s desk and chatted him up. After sufficiently flattering the young man’s ego, Mike handed him the folder with the air of passing on a great responsibility. Go-getter that he was, Alvin got to work on the report right away, while Mike walked back to his desk, ready for two hours of no productivity whatsoever

As Alvin was looking over the folder, a small piece of paper fell out. He picked it up, thinking it was some extraneous note that somebody forgot to staple. Instead, he found a short message, written very neatly in gold ink:

In the name of the Golden Hood

The office was evacuated early that afternoon. The official story was that it was a safety precaution because of a gas leak. But whispers went around that the Order of the Golden Hood had struck yet again, with some sort of nerve gas. Mike decided to go to a nearby bar and get some afternoon drinking in. He hadn’t seen Alvin during the evacuation, and wouldn’t find out about his death until seeing it on the news later.


At about 5:30, Karen heard the front door open. Mike walked in, a little unsteady on his feet. She asked him how his day was, as she always did. He told her what happened. She expressed the appropriate amount of surprise and then went to put dinner on the table. Ever since the Golden Hood’s attacks had intensified, these sorts of conversation were quite routine around the city. The kids were in their rooms, doing their homework; most likely, they were doing anything but that.

Mike and Karen settled themselves on the couch, plates balanced on their laps. The news was on, talking about several more attacks perpetrated by the Order of the Golden Hood. The city was slowly going to pieces, and there was no way to stop it. There was no information on any of the Order’s members, or even how many there were. Even the Order’s objective remained a mystery. It seemed to exist only to spread chaos.

After dinner, Mike and Karen sat around for a bit making small talk, and then buried themselves in their computers.At 10:30 sharp, it was lights out.


Midnight. When the whole city should have been asleep, but many parts were still wide awake, and would be until the early hours.

Karen got out of bed quietly, making sure not to wake Mike. She stripped off her pajamas and opened the middle drawer of her dresser. It was where she kept old clothes that she didn’t wear as often anymore, but buried under the messy pile of disused clothing was something she wore quite often. It was a pristine white robe, neatly folded. Underneath it was a gold hood.

She put on the robe and pulled the hood over her head, almost reverently. It was a good night for chaos.