Monday, September 7, 2020

And now for something different

This is a very straightforward story. It's about the wonder and strangeness of the world, and growing up. It's really almost everything I wanted it to be when I first thought of it as a videogame. Except for the art style, the sound, the controls, the emphasis on the player's decisions and all that.

My one worry is the exposition is perhaps overly obvious in places, but then there are a lot of things you have to know, Dear Reader, so I hope you'll forgive it.

CRASH & FALLINGBRIGHT
(Far out there)

She still hasn't opened her eyes. No name, no light of her own. How she longs. But she's nervous, her shell hard as rock, and she stands by the window with a stiff grip of her right claw around her left elbow and looks up on the muted dirty green of the city sky, while Fallingbright's warm yellow light dances over her back. It would be easy to take it for impoliteness, but Fallingbright waits patient, radiating unbroken stillness and welcome. So powerful. Her light shines through the shell of the nameless being from across the room, through the thick glassy armor, and makes her dark inner skin shine, almost like Fallingbright's light was her own. And it warms, and at last her shell softens somewhat and she turns around, with a small shiver of relief, and looks upon Fallingbright with her closed eyes.

And Fallingbright sits there on the bed, big as the whole world and even more beautiful. She glows so strongly her veins show under the skin, a web of golden fire running over her entire soft rounded body, from the tops of her thick curved horns almost scraping the ceiling to the points of her claws. Her little round eyes glow twice as bright and looks on the nameless and suddenly she can't think of anything but her own stick thin figure, her pointed shoulders, her tiny sharp horns, all of her just sharp angles, how repulsive she must be, how little of herself she has to offer, how could anyone love her out of anything but pity, and Fallingbright out of everyone.

But Fallingbright reaches out her claw and takes hers in a loose grip and she starts thinking about how their limbs are similar at least, long and narrow. Two arms with three sharp claws each, two legs with spurs on both knees and heels and two thick claws to walk on. Fallingbright reminds her they are deep down creatures built to hunt and kill, there's no way around that even though they may have built a society where violence is unnecessary, and the nameless can't help her body may be better suited for that purpose than Fallingbright's, and anyway isn't there a certain elan, a balance to her? In the light of Fallingbright's eyes she sees herself as if for the first time, the flawless form of the hunter, the predator, and at once an innocent, awkward being who's gone through a hundred seasons without opening her eyes, a contradictory, fascinating being. She didn't know she was shivering, but she stops when Fallingbright brushes two knuckles over her face. She leans forward and Fallingbright presses her to her chest. The gentle warm golden light runs over her and through her and it feels like she's a little bird who's swallowed the sun. So soft, as if she was melting, their shells almost mix. Fallingbright presses her claws deep inside her, into places she didn't even know was there, and time ends and there's only the golden light and then music, a bright melody, probing, searching, longing, and a deep, comforting, thoughtful, and they contrast, mix into something new and untried and endlessly brave.

The strange thing is she doesn't wake up until later, alone up on a rooftop. High, so high up she doesn't know if the warm moisture hanging over her and painting the air blue is a thin rain or a cloud. Alone, but her mind still reels from Fallingbright, and she touches herself, her shell remembering how Fallingbright touched her, curiously caressing over all her tiny horns and thorns. She embraces herself and leans into the memory and a spark kindles. A moment, a lightning strike, a fire igniting in her womb and running up her spine and disappearing and leaving her even more alone than before. She steps off the roof and starts to fall into the thick swirling pale blue abyss. She seems to fall very slowly, or it's the buildings that are very tall and very far apart. She wonders if she's going to die from a little, silly, unfathomable impulse, but for some reason she's not afraid. She reaches in, searching for that feeling, that spark, she feels it clearly and grasps for it, holds it in both claws and pushes and then her name appears. She opens her eyes for the first time and they shine a pale wavering red and she reaches for a tower some hundred meters in front of her, reaches out for something that could slow her fall, and she leaps halfway there in a violent motion that leaves a trail of red light and a reverberating, short sharp burst of air rushing into the hole behind her.

Crash.

Crash hangs in the air almost motionless and looks around at the devastation, the agitated water drops spraying around, the quickly fading light trail, and her burning eyes narrow into two arches slits in joy. She raises her claws to her face, just to see, all her body seems flooded with maniacal energy, she shakes, and she can clearly see the color of her light in crackling threads within her flesh, even if she's not shining bright enough to make her shell glow. She flies – crashes – back and forth through the air, ties a bow around the skyscraper from which she jumped, chasing her own light like a cat with a laser pointer, flailing in the air when it runs between her claws without substance. It's so easy. It's so right. Just as it should be. It's not even like she moves at the speed of thought but more like she just is where she wants. Wherever she wants. Everywhere. The world is hers. For a megalomaniac moment she feels like she's one with the entire world.

She crashes to another rooftop to catch her breath, and discovers she cuts through steel and concrete as easily as air. She leaves a meter wide furrow in the roof where she passes and doesn't notice at all until she turns around and sees it, and realizes little gray concrete pebbles rain down in a wide arc around her. Crash stands still for a long moment, scared to move. Imagine if she had encountered something more vulnerable than a house.

And then she hoverships come with cold blue lights, in rigid rows, surrounding Crash and taking the remaining joy from her. She puts her claws up to say she surrenders, but they open fire and she crashes away from the clear blue lines tearing up the roof far more than she did, and floats motionless a little bit out in the air and struggles to believe this is really happening while the flock of ships turn their guns her way. They can't catch up to her, they don't have a chance, and they better understand it, she thinks, and crashes in a jagged circle around them. And they keep shooting while they slowly turn and blow each other up, and more ships come from below, and she flees up, in panic. There larger ships wait, they fill the sky, they move slow like glaciers but their guns are everywhere and before Crash can think she crashes through one far corner of one of them and disintegrates a handful of cannon and who knows how many gunners and leaves a fireball behind her that grows and grows and she crashes further, desperately, in little bursts, without looking back, down through the narrow canyons of the city where she might get away even though she can only crash a couple of meters at a time to be sure no one's getting in her way, and the blues are everywhere, she can't understand how there's so many, how they hate her so much.

And down there, all the way down at the ground, she spots Fallingbright's yellow glow flickering far away in the mist. She runs, she can still use her long strong legs and she doesn't want to crash on the narrow street, and she's in time to see Fallingbright being pushed into the hatch on a small ship by two blue lights and disappearing. Crash grabs a length of cloth, a wet dirty long tangled piece on the ground shimmering in Fallingbright's color, and she holds it tight while the blue lights gather around her and starts hitting her with glowing canes. It doesn't hurt, but Crash collapses, doesn't seem able to move, and soon all lights go dark, and the music quiets.

But it hurts when she wakes up. On a thick soft carpet of rustling leaves, in a damp green twilight, alone, Crash discovers her entire body can hurt at the same time. A pale red shining fluid runs from her eyes when she touches to figure out if all her parts are still in place. She curls up around the yellow blanket and cries until she falls asleep again. But when she wakes again she's still alone in this strange place and her body is stiff and tender. But a mild light reminding her of Fallingbright shines through the treetops down in her face and she stands up to search.

An old forest, Crash understands that much though she hasn't seen a lot of trees up close. It smells of life, wild and untamed, decay, rebirth. A thick sour smell, not unpleasant, and a hundred more on top of it. Great thick trunks, maybe tens of thousands of seasons old. Moss she sinks into up to the heels. Song so low and quiet she barely perceives it, and birds and other lifeforms making noise around her. A shadow play with green and yellow light over tree trunks and vegetation so deeply green it more seems like black, a mild breeze whispering in the heavy canopy and nothing, absolutely no trace of her people, of the sisters, of civilization. The forest seems to keep its breath, wait for her, so still it seems like something holy, something being destroyed just by her footfalls. She climbs – crashing through the living trees would be unthinkable – up to the treetops and sees a field of green stretching unbelievably far in all directions, slowly rising toward the slopes of a pair of mountains surrounding her, so far away their tops vanish into the blue sky. So far from home. Crash lets go of the tree branches and falls to the ground again, unmoving, numb. She sinks deep into the moss and it doesn't hurt much. But she can't think of a reason to move from here. Here is enough air, and a few little streams of water run over her shells. She could stay here and live in this spot. The world is so big and Crash is so small, what would she even do, even if she found the right way to go somehow it could take years to get home. Eternities. Lifetimes.

But she thinks of Fallingbright and stands up once more and picks up the length of cloth and ties it around her neck. She thinks Fallingbright had it hanging on the wall, but she isn't sure. It hardly matters. It's warm, and it smells like her, and it flies stylishly after Crash when she leaps up the trees. The warm golden color mixes nicely with her pale red when she crashes past the treetops and up in the sky.

The trees, the innocent lives, have to sacrifice several limbs to let her through. Armfuls of leaves and ash fall behind her but up in the air there is nothing she can hurt. She just stretches out and she is there. Here there's no one who doesn't like her doing it and she can find joy in that, at least. To move like she's meant to move. To be free. Bright, fluting, fluid floating music fills the clear blue sky. The nearer mountain approaches at a strong pace and soon blocks out the sun. Crash estimates she gets four or five hundred meters in one crash, in no time at all. The only time is spent orienting herself after the crash and take aim and make sure nothing is in the path of her next one. A flock of birds pass below and she gets even higher, where she dares more and more. Though the peak of the mountain still looms far, far above when she gets dizzy and falls for a while, back to thicker air.

Falling for kilometers with a spinning her doesn't worry her at all. She doesn't even wonder how she can be so unafraid. Crash belongs up here.

The forest may be old, but the mountain on the other claw seems very young, notes Crash when she comes close. A steep, angry, jagged cliff face throws itself up in front of her, coated in skinny trees shimmering in green-yellow hues in the deep shadow. It stretches to the right and left further than she can see and she wonders which direction to go next. She goes to the left, just to keep moving, though what she really wants is crash into the mountain and continue on the other side. A part of her thinks only about how fragile the rock is and how she doesn't have to choose to let it stay in her way, but when she looks at it she thinks only about what might live in there and the impulse to crash a path through seems as unreasonable as stepping on an ant. But the cliff only continues, so monotonous Crash starts thinking she's crashing in a circle, and the sky darkens and she loses speed and height without thinking, down to the gentler incline of the foothills, down between the higher treetops. At last she sinks to the ground and staggers forward until she trips on a root and falls into a narrow little hole where she can't really move her arms, but she flails her legs and gets up and lies down on a soft little hill of moss and tries to catch her breath. Suddenly she's so exhausted she can't move. She can only suck up air, and moisture from the moss. Probably she's pretty dehydrated. And in shock from the chance in surroundings. She hopes it's not the crash taking something out of her she doesn't notice.

The music slows, drops a key. There is a stillness here Crash never knew in the city and it's worth appreciating. She needs to sleep, and the world sings her a lullaby. The calm green light of the trees caresses her blank shell and she hugs Fallingbright's blanket and sleep comes so easily.

Maybe she's dreaming. A piercing noise drives all thought from her head, and weak lights in many colors rain over the dark and blurs all shape. Crash is knocked down by a hot hard weight, and sharp hot pain cuts over her chest. In her panic her red light gains a fierce strength and illuminates the dark around her and she sees a thing with many flailing limbs sit on top of her and scratch her shell with teeth and claws. Somewhere in her species' memory is still the concept of predators and she crashes in pure reflex, pure flight impulse, a short distance straight ahead. She hits her face on a tree and sees some brighter stars. She stumbles and fumbles in the quiet and manages to lean against the tree to cover her back, and focus her light into a flaming red spear in her claws, and in its light she sees the ruin she has made of the poor beast. It doesn't seem very big, lying on the ground in twitching pieces in a puddle of dark blood. The jaws that could hardly make a crack in her shell are in three pieces and she thinks of a dog she saw once, licking a child's face, and how much fun they had. She hunkers down and picks at the pieces and tries to understand how they were able to fit together and her sight blurs from red tears.

The shame makes her light darken, and she's cold, and she runs until she can no longer smell the burnt meat and shit, and curls up under a cover of leaves and closes her eyes and trembles and waits for the sunlight.

And the dawn comes like dry thunder, rustling papery thin. Crash crawls on feeble legs to a tiny brook and splashes cool clean water over herself. She has dry blood all over her and washes with hard, grudging, disgusted motions and finds her whole body aches again. Her right nipple stings most of all, there the animal seems to have managed to do a little damage. Maybe then it should feel more justified to have killed it, she thinks, but no. It can't be easy to have a belly that has to be filled every day. The picture of the mighty hunter Fallingbright gave her seems very far away.

And pounding percussive music follows Crash when she stands up again and crashes over the woods. With the sun in her eyes it goes slow, and she spends a lot of time studying the canopy and the cliffs, in the quiet little weightless moments between crashes. Watching for predators.

And she spots a crevice in the mountain and dives in without a thought. It still feels like a good direction, and it reminds her a little of the city back home, with the tall cliffs on both sides.

It doesn't occur to Crash the narrow ravine gives things better openings to ambush her. Not until a huge furry spider runs up the rocks to the right and throws itself over her between two crashes. It's bigger than her, with at least twelve legs grabbing her from all directions and she falls frozen, immobile, and hits the cliff hard and scrapes and tumbles over the rock, down to the ground. The spider's mouth-claws hold her head in a hard grip and she can't breathe.

Careful, too careful, she begins to thrash to get away. It's enough to get on top of the spider and when it bounces against the steep cliff it loses its grip with the legs and crash gets space to push with her arms and legs to separate their heads. Somehow she wrenches away in a somersault when they land on flatter ground at last, and Crash rolls to her feet faster than the spider does and stands for a second balanced on the tips of her claws on her feet and left hand, ready to strike with a blade of red fire in her right. Ready to kill. But she blinks and throws herself up and back and twists in the air and crashes away instead. Quickly, almost blindly, through the winding, twisting ravine until it closes up in a cave and she realizes the only light comes from glowing mushrooms and ferns. Then she resumes walking, with a wide determined stride and her fire sword in her hand to maybe deter some lurking beasts. The music is still terribly aggressive and talks of nearby danger in a thumping electric tune. But the ground slants upward and it doesn't feel like the path is leading her wrong and she continues forward as quickly as she can manage.

What punishment, Crash thinks, having to walk on foot. The cave opens up from a slight tunnel to a wide dome, with ceiling and walls and moss-covered floor stretching into blurry dim further than she can see. She dares not crash in this murk, but at least it seems less immediately dangerous to walk here. She keeps the left wall in sight and continues forward, though gaining ground soon becomes slow. Bushes grow here, smooth and gently glowing but so tall she can't see over the biggest ones, and so thick she often climbs over them more than pushes through. A flock of tiny but shrill squeaking creatures are upset by her presence, and they fly away in a susurrous storm of wings. The footsteps of something huge sound deep in the thick and Crash runs as fast as she can, tangles her foot in a branch and rips it free and falls more or less forward some twenty steps until she can brace against the cave wall and keeps running with burning lungs.

And she falls again, helpless, with cramps in both her thighs, and struggles to turn her head and get her nose out of the dirt and suck in soothing air. She listens tensely (with earth in her left earhole) but it doesn't sound like anything is getting closer. Her hearts slow down and the music too.

Slow. Forceful. Shaking the ground, and a little melancholy. The music confuses Crash, and she wonders if she has fallen off the world's track, and crawls up with her back to the cliff and watches the dark. A bright light shines through the bushes just next to her and before Crash can move it steps in front of her, the last thing she expected. A sister, with wide shoulders and short legs and thick broad horns and yet her mirror image. Her light is even red like Crash's, though deeper, thicker. Crash scrambles to stand up and the stranger takes her claw and helps her.

Stark is her name. She leads Crash to a hut loosely put together of crooked timber in a slight depression in the cave wall, with a big crackling fire warming them up. The walls are adorned with wrought iron objects of various sizes, it seems like hundreds, Crash's eyes run over them and stops at every one and they never end. Stark makes them herself, her proud posture says. Mostly tools; hooks, saws, axes, crowbars, pikes, chains, pots and all manner of weapons mixed together, and decorative objects as well; shapeless sculptures, smooth orbs, a flawless mirror in dark steel, two meters tall. Crash brushes her knuckles over it, just to touch it. Stark touches her shoulder; she's happy and proud but wants to show something more important.

A rumble comes from outside and Stark grips a sword longer than she is, and winks for Crash to help herself to anything that fits. Crash likes to look at Stark's work, but she has her own weapon, which she shows. So Crash and Stark comes to stand side by side outside the shed and meet a horde of beasts with six thick legs and thick red fur and enormous mouths with meter long fangs chomping eagerly at the air as they trample the forest in front of them. So strange, thinks Crash, preparing yourself to kill. But Stark lives her, running away doesn't work. And under the fear and disgust under the righteousness she's almost not excited at all over the thought of fighting back to back with her new friend and spill blood and win.

And Crash stands around dreaming while Stark releases her sword in perfect time for it to fall and split the skull of the first beast, who cooperates by running straight at her. Stark looks at Crash with an impatient look and she shakes her head and crashes up, a short distance. Hanging in the air she lets the light grow in her hands into a broad, curved blade, and when she falls she chops off a beast's head without resistance.

So easy. But slow. Stark already has three bodies lying around her. She starts jabbing to the right and left at the beasts as they pass by instead. It makes them angry and frightened but she has no time to end any of their lives in between stepping out of the way of the next one truing to trample her. But they throw themselves to and fro, get in each other's way and takes their eyes off Stark who puts them down as fast as she can swing her sword. And at last, when many seasons seem to have passed by, the beasts turn back and run into the thick. They leave behind twenty two massive bodies, Crash counts them even though it's hard to look at them.

Stark leads Crash back to the shed with an arm around her back. So tender, so thoughtful. It seems to happen at a great distance. She seems numb. There's still music somewhere, but she can hardly hear it. She cries again, but her red tears are erased in the clear water when she washes in the little stream running through the shack. Even all the red blood Stark washes from herself and her sword goes away easily. Stark is grateful for the help, and she leaves Crash to est while she takes care of the trash outside.

So nice just to lie in a real bed again. Behind safe walls, next to a roaring hot fire. Crash doesn't know if she's ever been so tired. She listens to Stark building more fires out there, and she listens to music steady and tireless as a factory. Heavy, dull, monotonous but reliable.

More rhythmic and engaging music comes when she wakes up in a hot gloom lit only by deep red embers. Stark stands and pokes the fire with a stick and looks tired. She has surely worked hard. Crash stands up, on stiff legs, and puts her arms around her. No point playing at shyness. Stark's shoulders sink and she leans back, pushing against Crash. I want to get to know you better, her eyes say.

Slowly, both of them drained, but hungry for intimacy, they explore each other's bodies, try to relax, get comfortable with each other, and open up. Eventually their lights mix and envelop them, consume them. Crash experiences the slow, violent, lonely life in the wilderness, takes part of the strength in Stark's work with stone and wood and iron. Stark feels happiness at the short, innocent story Crash has to tell, admiration for her quest to find Fallingbright. But the details almost don't matter. Crash revels in the exchange, the closeness, in daring let another soul so close her light can take on the other's color; in the transient mix of pale warm and hard deep red created between them, in the fleeting mix of music where she can almost hear her own melody. So beautiful, so beautiful.

And the ember fades and the ecstasy gives way to stillness. Clarity. Crash takes farewell and goes outside, past a row of pelts hung up on stakes, and tightens the knot on her neck cloth, and walks on, with easy steps. The air clears and she can crash for dozens of kilometers over the wide plains of the cave, past a forest that's wrestling with an enormous butterfly stuck in its hungry branches, past a herd of peaceful grazing animals, and into a gorge leading sharply up, and back and forth in unlikely turns making her wonder what's up and down. Many narrow passages lead off in different directions, but she stays in a trench where she has space to crash and tries to not think about what happens if that strong feeling of going the right way is wrong.

A dainty, fragile tone in the music makes Crash linger at a plateau sporting a broad vein of pale glowing rock. So rich, a choir of innumerable parts, full of restrained power. A fine-limbed creature steps out of the green and waves to her and Crash sinks to the ground frozen in surprise. The nameless wilderness is apparently overrun by hermits. The apparently grow out of the ground. But now she can see, some kind of dwelling made of living plants, almost invisible in the green growth of the cliff, gently bent branches and twined vines like a big bird's nest.

Calling is her name, and her light is almost entirely white. Maybe a slight touch of green, or maybe Crash is seeing things. But it's her light, as thin and faded as it is. Her horns are also thin, straight and blunt, different lengths, broken or worn down with age. She moves slow like a tree; Crash can't guess how she got to the precipice, and Calling can't say. She has sat her so long she can't remember anything else. Meditated on a mountaintop. She is unaccustomed to other creatures, nervous, scared she may seem beyond reason.

When Crash touches her she begins to shake. Crash can't just climb on now. She holds Calling and thinks about how far away Fallingbright is, how she could even think she knew what direction to go. And Calling is so happy just because Crash wants to touch her.

Calling draws away soon, maybe overwhelmed, maybe scared of letting her too close. She shows Crash to the edge of the cliff and they sit there and watch the light. It must be the movement of the sun, somewhere up there, mirrored in who knows how many angled flat rocks on the way down, bathing them in slowly shifting light no rainbow could mimic. At some point only Calling can see she nods and goes into her house and starts a fire, which catches just as the dark falls and pale fluorescent moss kindles around them. She leans close to the little fire and breathes in the thick white smoke and bids Crash to do the same.

The smoke smells wet and fat and bitter and makes Crash's eyes tear and her head spin. Strange thoughts tumble over her, strange music. She steps out, carefully, on legs that seem new to her, and sees a kind of new colors in the twilight. The old world is still there, but she can see more inside it. More light inside the light. Calling's white light, when she comes out to Crash, seems bursting with many different shades, more colors than Crash can even understand, all the colors of the world. She pulls Crash into a firm embrace with fresh courage, Crash doesn't know if it's Calling's own light or the drug but she shines so bright now, her tender light seems to pour from within her bones, she wants to mix it with Crash's, but Crash is scared, not because Calling's white light is so strange, but it's so thin, she's afraid her own pale red will overrun it. And at once afraid her own light will be lost in Calling's. It's both too strong and too weak, or one or the other, Crash can't understand no matter how close and how long she looks at Calling, but in either case she doesn't dare.

They mix just a little bit, just to taste each other. Crash shares just a hint of Calling's immense age, immense solitude, enough to nearly break her hearts, while Calling from Crash takes in a sense of direction, of needing to move, of fighting the power. Then the drug really takes effect and Crash's body seems to dissolve, become one with the world. She has a vague impression of the land stretching high and wide around her, full of rushing, churning life, infinite melodies spread out over unfathomable space, and she hears them all at the same time. She's cold. She kneels and strokes her claws over a tiny tree clinging to the cliff and suspects a universe in each of its rainbow shimmering leaves. Just a suspicion. So much more than she understands, but the enormous meaning within the things seems to spill out. They almost vibrate, bursting with depth and significance. Calling's hand rests on hers and her strange white light splits into infinity, like a fractal, Crash falls into it and it never ends. If her light is an infinity, Crash thinks, loosely, then my light is also infinite, and they can be mixed.

Between all lights, all music in the world she hardly notices the difference when she merges into Calling. And the morning soon comes finding them entwined into a barbed ball in the grass, wet with dew and black semen. Calling is surely too old to make children, Crash hopes, nervous, uncomfortable. Calling gives her an assuring pat on the shoulder and sends her on her mission without lingering or drawing the pain out, and so she crashes up again.

A stream of water breaks out when Crash gets further up, a forceful torrent running over the cliffs and letting her slake her thirst and wash the dark stains from the neck cloth almost without slowing down. It turns out to be raining on the surface, heavy cold pouring rain seeming to fill the air. The ravine opens up into a wide field covered in flowers, soft red flowers in soft sand smelling strong, raw as if they all just bloomed. The music weighs down even more than the rain, pastoral organ sounds that never end, minor keys grinding along with the colorless shadow of the clouds, and Crash flees up, through the clouds. The storm clouds are unbelievably thick but she crashes upward without worry as far as she can over and over until she sees something move, a blurry shade above her. Then she crashes as carefully as she can, just a couple of meters at a time, angling up and to the side in a wide berth around the shape.

And the creature suddenly appears when the clouds are swept away in a strong wind. Up there floats a giant insect, a long wriggling segmented body striped in black and gleaming blue, with hundreds of wings, maybe thousands, a mouth ringed by triangular teeth and grasping tentacles, and no eyes Crash can see. Crash is pulled towards it and realizes the creature itself creates the hole around it, a dome as big as a city inside the cloud, and she decides to endure the rain down there and starts falling. But the creature starts glowing, crackling with electricity, and lightning rushes through the cloud cover below them. Crash is closed in, she realizes, when the creature lunges at her and looses a crown of glowing balls from its front end. She crashes to the side easily enough, but it follows her with insectile speed, surrounds her with loops of its body and fills the air with burning spores or whatever it is, it keeps hitting itself so it may not be deadly, but Crash has no desire to find out.

She flees in circles, looking for some break, some pattern in the wall of thunderclouds, but the flashes keep growing and the thunder makes her deaf. She tries to lead it downward to make it open the way down to the ground, but it seems to see what she's doing and pulls up instead and forces Crash to follow when the clouds close in behind it, and keeps going up until the air starts feeling thin. She tries to fly around in twists to lead it to knot itself up, but it's too fast. And all along it fills the air in front of it with the pale fireballs and Crash has to crash out of the way.

At last, brimming with sadness, she pushes the fire out of her hands. It's at least a little better than crashing the creature into little bits. A little cleaner. She crashes as high as she can and falls straight down to the magnificent creature's mouth and it rushes to meet her and she crashes a little bit to the side and back and buries the blade in something that reasonably should be its head. It twitches wildly and spurts dark blood over Crash and swipes her with the edge of a wing that feels like a truck. She keeps the grip on her burning sword as she flies horizontally through the air but she can't feel anything and she distantly analyzes her body and tries to figure out how to decide if her back is broken. Probably not. The arms move slowly and weakly, but they move, and she can hold the sword up in front of her and crash it into the creature, and away, and in again, and again and again until it stops moving.

Crash notices the music only when the creature falls and the clouds pull away, slow, sad, high and clear, just like the stars now breaking out up there. Has she spent all day just trying not to kill the beast? She remembers only with difficulty. Her thoughts stay only with Fallingbright as she falls with her eyes on the moons, too weak to turn around and see how the ground approaches. Maybe it's better like this, better than living in a world where she has to kill things. The neck cloth even seems to despise her, it comes loose and vanishes fluttering up into the dark, the last of Fallingbright's warm light.

But in the corner of her eye some yellowish light flickers in the dark just like Fallingbright and Crash lunges to it in a violent crash without a thought, just as the rumbling echoing noise of the giant hitting the ground reaches her ear holes. And she floats, suddenly free of her momentum, and sees several little lights below, straight ahead, before everything goes black.

The music is the first that comes back, calm, rhythmic, almost aggressively relaxing. The sun shines again. The flowers whisper in the wind, and their scent is much less overwhelming than before. A pair of claws rest on her shoulder and belly. Confused Crash opens her eyes and sees a face with soft edges, almost round, with a pair of friendly green eyes, crowned by curly horns.

Whole is her name, and Crash envies it when she sees Whole heal her broken body. Such an altogether good, altogether well meaning power. When she can walk again she follows Whole home, away from the carcass that's beginning to smell more and attract smaller insects, noticeable a kilometer away. She lives in a kind of city, which Crash notes must have been the cluster of lights she saw in the night. The city lies at the foot of a mountain, surrounding a waterfall, kind of a single tall structure of mortared stone blocks with hundreds of separate little houses built into the stone, with streets in between them and something that once must have been parks or gardens. Once upon a time. Trees have grown everywhere, around and through the buildings. And things wander the street looking like they died long ago. There are dogs and birds and something uncomfortably like sisters, twisted, decomposed, mummified, without light. Whole seems reluctant to talk about them, but she looks at them disappointed or sad as they lurch around, sometimes into one another, twitching, boneless, thoughtless.

Crash wants to know if anything alive lives her other than Whole, but Whole shows reluctance here too. She wants to know Crash better. She may be even more lonely than Calling was, in her way, and Crash can't hide her discomfort, even greater than her pity and her impatience. She is grateful for Whole's help, but she means to look through the whole city and she doesn't want to get distracted. Her gestures may be threatening, because Whole backs away and suggests Crash is free to do what she wants, but she is obviously hurt.

Crash regrets that, but not enough to change her mind, and she crashes up to the highest point of the city and starts looking down, looking for decisiveness and courage in the hesitant, probing music. The not-alive things often get in the way, and bits and kicks hard when she tries to push them away, and they don't seem to like the noise she makes as she passes, and they follow her in a growing flock, though she has no trouble outrunning them, while they have a lot of trouble getting up when she pushes them down.

Crash doesn't care anymore. She is sure she could crash right through them if they made things difficult for her. She thinks of them more as Whole's strange hobby than beings of their own, and she doesn't care about them. She searches through room after room and finds only dust, disintegrating furniture, overgrown homes and more dust.

And she crashes through a pair of metal gates and continues down through tunnels where the only light is her own, far, far down, to the center of the planet it feels like, crashes bigger openings through tunnels almost blocked by stalactites, crashes past burning rivers and puddles of slime reaching for her with hungry tentacles, slides down bit by bit into a bottomless chasm where she doesn't remember her name or what she does here but only grasps for her neck where something is missing and continues down, and down there, in a prison cell with an ordinary mortal metal door with a peephole in it, she finds her.

Fallingbright. She doesn't seem surprised to see Crash there, much more to see her with her eyes open. Crash touches Fallingbright, to believe she's really there, and Fallingbright touches her just out of joy and curiosity, and to comfort and support her, because all the madness since she last saw Fallingbright comes over her at once and she collapses into a quivering lump.

Once more Crash stands up, and crashes open a big thick door letting them into a clear blue portal standing there waiting to take them home, directly to Fallingbright's apartment, bathing in the old familiar green light of the night sky. And there Crash hesitates. They should mix their lights now, obviously. Share all their experiences in a slow, pleasant union. It's customary when she has had Fallingbright's help to kindle her light, and it's not like it's been far from her thoughts since that moment, and of course she wants to know Fallingbright's story, and surely it's the only way the long madness should come to an end. The music grows, urging, almost overwhelming, like its own presence in the room. Fallingbright waits at the bathroom door and can't hide her excitement.

But Crash doesn't know if she wants to share all she has seen.

Maybe she wants it just to herself.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

That's so Frog Fractions 3

 I'm not sure I remember everything. Frog Fractions 3 was a game about being an anime dude going through the motions of dating life until a sudden twist turned one of the women's life into inexplicable tragedy, in a parody of Doki Doki Literature Club that was so straightforward it only put Frog Fraction fans on edge. And then it installed itself in your local library - you know, with books - and turned it into a horror puzzle game where at one point you had to climb into a very tight tube that sucked you feet first into a secret basement, and if you didn't relax your body and keep your head straight so you couldn't see what was happening down there you'd break your neck. It was just a has-to-lose cat-and-mouse game against a horror movie killer where surviving for longer just made him kill you in more painful ways, and I managed to let him catch me in some machine that held my head stuck while cutting me to pieces with an apple corer. And then the game reinstalled itself in your past at the point Frog Fractions 2 was released to start a different timeline where you didn't die but one of the girls broke into the real world where your relationship took a huge hit because she resented you for being treated differently on account of being a cartoon, and you'd have to talk it through with her to decide if you were going to decartoonify her, return her to the cartoon world or turn the real world into a cartoon. But that's when I woke up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On getting old

 “When you get older, you notice your sheets are dirty. Sometimes, you do something about it. And sometimes, you read the front page of the newspaper and sometimes you floss and sometimes you stop biting your nails and sometimes you meet a friend for lunch. You still crave lemonade, but the taste doesn’t satisfy you as much as it used to. You still crave summer, but sometimes you mean summer, 5 years ago. You remember your umbrella, you check up on people to see if they got home, you leave places early to go home and make toast. You stand by the toaster in your underwear and a big t-shirt, wondering if you should just turn in or watch one more hour of television. You laugh at different things. You stop laughing at other things. You think about old loves almost like they are in a museum. The socks, you notice, aren’t organized into pairs and you mentally make a note of it. You cover your mouth when you sneeze, reaching for the box of tissues you bought, contains aloe. When you get older, you try toner, you experiment with trousers, you experiment with real sexy outfits, you experiment with pin curls and darker hair and orange-toned red lipstick and you date people that look good on paper. You kiss them in public and feel only a little self-conscious. You never like them, although sometimes you really do. you think about safe sex and sometimes, kids. You think about plants, maybe succulents, or maybe even a cat? When you get older, you try different shampoos. You find one you like. You try sleeping early and spin class and jogging again. You try a book you almost read but couldn’t finish. You wrap yourself in the blankets of: familiar t-shirts, caffe au lait, dim tv light, texts with old friends or new people you really want to like and love you. You lose contact with friends from college, and only sometimes you think about it. When you do, it feels bad and almost bitter. You lose people, and when other people bring them up, you almost pretend like you know what they are doing. You try to stop touching your face and become invested in things like expensive salads and trying parsnips and saving up for a vacation you really want. You keep a spare pen in a drawer. You look at old pictures of yourself and they feel foreign and misleading. You forget things like: purchasing stamps, buying more butter, putting lotion on your elbows, calling your mother back. You learn things like balance: checkbooks, social life, work life, time to work out and time to enjoy yourself. When you get older, you find things like rejection hurt less and things like nostalgia hurt more. You watch people do things you want to do, and then you do some of those things too. Things start to feel like pins on a map. You watch landmarks pass and almost note them. You eat a taco from a food truck and be careful to dab the corners of your mouth with a napkin. You smooth your shirt down. You think about details, the details of how clean the beer cup is, how you need to put the dishes away, how she smells like a perfume you wore and how his teeth are perfect and aligned. You feel a little less downtrodden by things like routine and security and a little more appreciative of things like doing nothing, finding a friend, stretching on a big couch. You hear old songs and only sometimes do they gut you. You think about your future almost always, in both a thrilling way and a very very panicked way. When you get older, you find yourself more in control. You find your convictions appealing, you find you like your body more, you learn to take things in stride. You begin to crave respect and comfort and adventure, all at the same time. You lay in your bed, fearing death, just like you did.You pull lint off your shirt. You smile less and feel content more. You think about changing and then often, you do. When you get older, you barely notice it at all. Then, you are sitting somewhere you’ve been before, staring at the nothingness of the sky, and you feel the wind moving away from you, fast and almost impossible to catch."

This was apparently written by someone called thefrenemy. I have bolded all the things that are applicable to me.

I'm turning 40 in november and the amount of universal human experiences I've had seems to actually decrease over time.