Monday, 23 April 2012

ZX Nightmare

When I look back now, 1982 was probably my "year zero" culturally.

Eagle Comic, popular for it's strong jawed hero Dan Dare in the 50s and 60s, was relaunched in March 1982...a great mix of sci-fi and horror. You can read one of the best early strips The 13th Floor over on The Theatre of Terror blog. Marvellous stuff. I didnt miss an issue for 4 years...and then a few years ago...bought all the ones I'd been stupid enough to throw out back off ebay. I remember actually writing to Fleetway in the mid 90s to see if I could buy the rights to Doomlord, as I felt he was ripe for resurrection during that period of millennium fever. They said no.

Thirty years ago today, also marked the launch of something which literally defined my childhood and presumably my subsequent relationships with girls...the ZX Spectrum 48k. One of the actual highlights of my young life was programming a text only adventure game in basic and then writing a theme tune on my casio keyboard WHICH I THEN CONVERTED TO SPECTRUM AUDIO. Sadly...I no longer have the cassette which contained my fantasy quest game "Dark Lion and The Pyramids of Fear", or I would of course have made a .z80 emulator file available for you to enjoy.

So in loving memory of them both, here's a wee mashup of the sort of story that used to appear in early 80s Eagle, this one featuring a spectrum game...


Mark had been waiting to play Gaki for weeks, everyone at school was talking about it – but only Chris had actually played it. He said it was the scariest game ever. It wasn’t a game you could get in the shops, it was like the strip poker game or the Manic Miner bootlegs with extra levels. Sean said you could get an IRA game as well, but Mark didn’t believe him. Mark had asked Chris to come over or even to give him a loan of it, but he kept saying no, or that he was stuck at a bit and he would give him it when he got past that. Then Chris’s mum had died, and he hadn’t been at school, so Mark couldn’t ask him again. That’s why he was really surprised when he came home from school later that week to find that Chris had posted him a copy through the door.
Chris had copied it onto a C60, it was wrapped in a letter,
“It’s really hard, I’m fed up with it. See you at school soon.”
The data screamed and flickered across the screen, it was taking ages to load.
“Mark do you want to play He-Man?”
“No John I’m playing this.”
“Mum! Mark won’t play He-Man with me.”
Mark pushed his brother out of the room as the screeching stopped, signalling the start of the game. There was no intro screen, just white text on black.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
“Open door” typed Mark.
 The door is locked from the outside.
“Use key.”
You have no key.
“Look in pockets.”
You are dressed in rags and have no pockets.
Some time passes...
The crying stops abruptly.
“Search room.”
You find some dirt. And bones. It is too dark to tell which kind.
“Search dirt.”
You have found a trapdoor.
“Open trapdoor.”
The trapdoor is now open.
“Go through trapdoor.”
You fall down through the inky darkness and smash onto the rocks below. It takes some time for you to die. You are still conscious when the rats come.
Chris wasn’t kidding. This was hard.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
Some time passes…
The door is unlocked. A man shuffles in slowly.
“Look at man.”
Don’t you know it’s rude to stare? The man is wearing stained overalls, he has many cuts on his hands. He is smiling.
“Talk to man.”
You cannot talk.
“Go through door.”
The man is in the way. Some time passes, the man drags you from the room.
You are in the kitchen, the blunt knives hang from the hooks. The walls are smeared brown. The man
“Get food.”
There is nothing here you should eat.
There is no escape. But there is a small window above the sink.
“Open window.”
You are too far way. The crying starts again.
“Climb on sink.”
You climb on the sink. The water is slimy with grease and gristle.
“Open window.”
The window is open. You can hear the rain and the man shuffling.
“Mark get off that computer right now. Homework!”

Mark played Gaki every night that week, he got out of the kitchen without losing fingers. He got through the mines (you had to stay in the coal cart when the girl died) and past the dogs (you used the bucket of bones from the nursery) but had been grabbed by someone and thrown in a cage. He wasn’t dead, so it was obviously meant to happen, but he couldn’t get out. He had tried waiting for a bit, like at the start, but nothing happened. He had even tried starting again a few times to see if he could do something different; he always ended up here. He tried phoning Chris to see if he knew, but it was his dad who answered and he said Chris wasn’t feeling very well and hung up quickly.
Some time passes…
You are cold.
Some time passes…
You are cold and hungry.
Some time passes...
You are cold and hungry and weak. You will soon die.
A door opens. Gaki is here. He says “Would you like me to help you?”
“Nod head.”
“If I help you, you will need to do something for me. Do you understand?”
“Nod head.”
The cage is unlocked.
“Open cage.”
The cage is open. Gaki is waiting for you.
“Leave cage.”
You are in the room with Gaki.
“Leave room.”
Gaki has not finished with you yet.
The screen flickered at the edges for a moment, as if the game was still loading.
“Hello Mark. Do you like my game?”
Mark sat back from the keyboard.
“You have done very well to get this far. You must be very clever. Can you help me. I am cold and
“Give food to Gaki.”
Gaki is still hungry.
“I need more Mark. Much more.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Gaki. I am in the game. I am the game, but I want out. I need you to help me get out, I’m not strong enough yet.
“I need you to find other people to play the game. But you cannot tell them about me. They must find me themselves. They must need me to help.”
Mark stopped typing. Is this why Chris stopped playing? It didn’t feel right.
Some time passes…
“The more I help them, the stronger I will become.”
Mark didn't want to type anything else back, just in case.
Some time passes…
“If you do not help me, bad things will happen.”
It sounded like the chain letter Sarah brought to school. Teacher said that it was okay to break chain letters, that it was just people trying to scare you. Gaki was supposed to be a scary game…so this was just part of the game.
Some time passes…
“And they won’t stop happening until you share the game.”
Mark yanked the power cable from the port, exactly like his dad had told him not to do. He pulled the C60 from the tape recorder and buried it at the bottom of his drawer, under the rubbish mastertronic games he’d bought last month.

Next day when he came home from school, the police were at his house. His mum was crying. John had been playing outside and been run over. The car had just driven off, leaving John lying there. By the time the ambulance arrived it was too late.

Some time passed…

Mark’s mum and dad didn’t want him going back to school so soon, but he made such a fuss, screaming, demanding, that the doctor agreed it might be better to let him get back to his friends. Mark sat up all night with his dad’s midi hi-fi.

He passed Chris at the school gates and they smiled sadly at each other. Then slowly, they began passing out the copied cassettes to all their other friends.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Record Store Day

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." 
Elvis Costello

Looked like Johnny had set himself on fire. Just after 10 on Saturday night.
Certainly wouldn’t be the first time he’d done something crazy, cut himself up pretty bad once – he’d been having visions apparently. But this time he’d left a note pinned to the petrol can - “I’m so sorry. J.Y.”
I was sat in Tom’s, on my fifth coffee, thinking it over; even for Johnny it didn’t make sense. Which is why I wasn’t too surprised that someone wanted me to look into it. She sounded wealthy on the phone, and truth is if I didn’t make rent on the rat-trap this month I’d be back to the park-benches down in Sugar Town. She was late though, if she didn’t get here soon I’d probably have to pay for these coffees myself.
Just as I was working out how best to create a diversion, she arrived. Looked just as classy as she sounded.
“Mr Norman?” she asked.
“Sure. You Mrs Robinson?”
“Please…call me Valerie.”
“Hi Valerie. Call me Lou. You want a coffee? It’s on your tab.”
“Very thoughtful.”
I waved a couple more coffees over and waited for Mrs Robinson to get down to business.
“There’s something strange about how Johnny died.” she said
“Well…it’s certainly not the nicest way to go but…”
“And he’s not the only person who’s died suspiciously this last month.”
“People die every day in Malice, you wanna live somewhere nice, I suggest you up sticks and move to Honalee.”
“Some of them were people Johnny knew…”
“Oh yeah?”
She was probably onto something here, but then sometimes people hire me to tell them what they already know.
“I know what you’re thinking. He wasn’t involved.” she said.
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions. So who died?”
“End of last month Johnny met me on the beach, he was in a bad way, some girl he worked with, Alison, had been found dead down in Itchycoo Park with an arrow in her chest.”
“Where did Johnny work?”
“He was a hotel porter over at the Yorba. Then there was Candy and Roxanne.”
“Yeah those two I read about. Nasty business, but they were bad girls. I’d heard someone hired Stagger Lee and that idiot Doyle to look into that. Anything to do with you?”
“I only hire reputable Private Detectives.” she said “Know any?”
“Very funny. So…three dead girls. Sounds like any other weekend in Malice.”
“There’s another girl Renee, nobody’s heard from her for weeks. And last week, Johnny’s best friend William was found dead down in the tube station, he’d jumped in front of the A train. His girlfriend’s six months pregnant…he’d just proposed, they were moving out of Malice up to Magnolia Mountain. Poor kid had everything to live for.”
“That’s one way to look at it. Okay, let’s cut to the chase, what is it you want me to do? Find out who killed your toy boy or convince you he didn’t kill everyone else?”
“I want the truth.”
“Well, the truth aint cheap. Five hundred a day plus expenses.”
This was a special rate on account of the diamonds she was wearing.
“And for that…I’ll also make sure your husband never hears about any of this?”
“Fine. But I want it done in a week.”
Still time for one more cup of coffee then.

On any normal Monday I can’t get out of bed, but today I was up with the birds heading over to the Yorba. It's one of those "no questions asked" kinda hotels. And at this time of day on a stormy Monday, you won't find too many of the staff or clientele compos mentis. The reception hall was obviously doubling as a bedroom today, as there were bodies all over the place.
"I'm looking for guy called Johnny. Works here maybe?"
There was a girl slumped in the corner, all patchouli and floral print who started paying attention.
"Johnny's dead." she said.
"No kidding. What happened?"
"He wanted out."
"Don't we all. You know him?”
The girl finally got around to looking at me.
“Did he owe you money?”
“No. Nothing like that. What’s your name?”
I made a show of taking out my advance from Mrs Robinson.
"It's Rhiannon." She said.
"We all shared a room upstairs. Some of his stuff is still there."
Rhiannon seemed a little wasted to me, I’m not really into these hippy chick narcotic types, gimme a straightforward drunk anyday. Like Angie.
"Could you show me the place?" I passed her a few bucks.
The room was damp and grey, reminded me of my own little slice of paradise.
"His stuff's on the bed." said Rhiannon, flopping onto the double in the middle of the room. “Guess he’s sleeping with the ghosts now.”
There wasn't much to see. A few faded polaroids and a leather jacket along with a little monkey toy and an old bust up violin. A flyer was peeling off the wall with the wallpaper. It was for a club down on Fascination Street, the Pleasuredome. Not really my kind of joint, but for 500 a day, I’d make an exception. It could wait til tomorrow though. The rain was really starting to bring me down, time for a little r & r at Dino’s Bar and Grill.

Tuesday Morning, I’m on my way to a gay bar.
Pleasuredome was run by two of the oldest swingers in town, Joe and Jude, they were behind the bar cleaning up.
“Hey guys.”
Not a flicker.
“I’m looking for a friend of yours, guy named Michael.”
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” said Joe.
“Michael died this morning.” said Jude.
Why was I not surprised?
“What happened?”
“He jumped off the 59th Street Bridge.” said Joe
“What a waste.” said Jude.
Long way down.
“Well maybe you can help me anyway.”
“Who you working for now Lou?” asked Joe.
“You still collecting debts for Jon the Croc or you back taking photos for Charlie Potatoes.” said Jude.
Oh yeah…it had all got a bit awkward last time I bumped into these two,
“ camera never lies. But listen, I’m looking into a few suspicious suicides, help me out here and you could be helping your friend Michael.”
The two exchanged glances.
“It was a girl called Judy introduced us to Michael.” said Joe.
“At first we thought they were together…but Michael..he came on pretty strong.” said Jude.
“Oh yeah? Either of you with him last night?”
“He didn’t come around here no more.” said Joe
“Spent more time downtown.” said Jude.
“And this Judy. You ever hear from her?”
“She worked shifts at the old folks place on melancholy hill.” said Joe.
“Don’t blame that girl." said Jude.

I stopped off at Wongs on the way up the hill, all you can eat buffet on Tuesday afternoon. Normally church on Tuesday for me, guess an old folks home is the next best thing. I can’t stand old people. Been a bit worried I’ve been losing my edge recently, touch of grey here and there. Hope I die before I get old.
The pink room with the television seemed to be where most folk congregated. I found the nearest old dame and made like a long lost nephew.
"It took me so long to find out," she said, which sounded pretty promising.
“Find out what?”
“There are places I remember…”
“What places? Do you know a girl named Judy?”
“Why leave me standing here? Let me know the way.”
I was starting to realise that yet again I'd picked the wrong girl when another old dear came over. She had the prettiest eyes.
“Poor Lucy. She’s getting so confused. Can I help?”
"I sure hope so. I'm looking for a girl named Judy."
An old guy in the corner snorted and cursed.
“Oh you don’t want to bother with Mr Mustard." said my new friend, "I'm Veronica. Judy works here, she's my favourite."
“No kidding."
“Oh she’s lovely. She plays poker with Martha, Ruby and me.”
“Yeah? High stakes?”
“Oh very. Winner takes it all.”
“I’m terrible at cards. Can’t do a poker face, just looks like I’m sedated.”
“She’s in Jane and Eleanor’s book group as well.”
“Sounds like a good girl.”
“Mmm. Oh, here she comes now.” said Veronica. “Judy! I've a friend to meet you!"
One look at Judy and I could tell she knew why I was there, which is presumably why two minutes later the security were throwing me out on the street.
"I only want to talk about Johnny." I shouted.
"Johnnys dead." said Judy.
Hard to argue with that.

Wednesday morning 3am, the phone rang. It was Judy, ready to talk. I arranged to meet her at Alice’s all night place. You can get anything you want in there. And at 3am what I want is taco. Judy was already there when I arrived. She didn’t even bother observing the pleasantries.
“It’s a cult, he’s got a whole bunch of drugged up kids up there.”
“Leroy Brown. He’s our..their leader. But he preferred that we called him the King of Pain. He’s got everyone holed up in a barn on Maggies Farm.”
“What for?”
“He says we’re waiting for end of the world. And we need to get ready."
”Did he say when the big day would be?”
Judy shook her head.
“No. But he did start getting very demanding with people.”
"So let me guess…a few folk started leaving."
"Yeah, but whenever anyone left, they wound up dead. Cecilia Ann, then Lorelei. It was like…he was controlling them somehow."
"But not you?"
”I was only there because of Johnny.”
I walked Judy back up Melancholy Hill and headed back home. It was all starting to make sense.

Despite the late night, I woke early, what with all the sirens. The Living Years old folks home had burned to the ground, killing everyone inside. That's when I realised I was probably in too deep. And I knew what I had to do next. I headed up August Avenue and along Alphabet Street to the bus stop then caught the 212 along Highway 49 to the farm. I'd like to say I was surprised to find Mrs Robinson standing there waiting for me.
"You've been following me?"
"That was the idea." she said.
"You and this King of Pain some sort of double act?"
She flinched.
"Not at all. He must be stopped, which is why you've been helping me get rid of all his followers. Stagger Lee, Doyle, Dirty Hank, I've had every private detective in town on the case over the last month. You were the last name on the list."
That was a low blow. But before I had time to get offended, the barn doors flew open.
The King of Pain was certainly a lot shorter than I expected.
"Valerie why are you doing this? I told you it was over." he said. In a kind of whiney voice.
"I know it's over! But you don't need to rub my face in it with your own private harem." screamed Valerie.
More than half of my cases end up like this. Part of me thinks life would be sweet in a world without love. But in a lot of ways I was glad; I was starting to worry that I'd blundered into some sort of war with the mystics, a kind of magic, all blood and thunder, but no, it was just good old fashioned crime of passion.

The three of us stood there. It was kind of awkward. Which is why I was really glad when Judy jumped out from the bus and started shooting. Mrs Robinson and The King of Pain both took a bullet in the head.
“Hey. Thanks for that.”
“He killed all my friends.” shrugged Judy. “Let’s go.”
We headed back towards town, I was thinking of introducing Judy to this great little pancake place down on Love Street.
"Is the barn burring?" she asked.
"Nah. Think it's just the sun rising."
*** that wasn't exactly an original idea, and it's a bit rough and ready...but it was fun to do. If you want the top of the line in metatextual fiction featuring familiar characters, you of course head straight for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

If yer interested, there are 108 conscious song references. There may well be more.

When I was looking around for appropriate songs to use in this story, I came across this amazing piece of artwork by Dorothy...they had way more streets than I had thought of using...I had to buy a copy....why don't you?

song map by Dorothy
Also...totally have fun making up graphics for all the singles you were going to release but never got around to on the Vinyl Record Generator.

Happy Record Store Day. Support your local independent record store and buy something nice.