Who Lives Beneath: A VSS365 Story (Part II)

This is the continuation of my Twitter story written through the daily VSS365 word prompts. You can read Part I here. Follow me on Twitter @GaxTZ to catch up each day.

I climb up into the graveyard but have to prompt John to follow. From the way he is acting, I’m starting to think he’s regretting his decision to follow me.
We dart in and out of the memorials, trying to remain hidden against the vast waves of death.
The graves remind me that in year’s past, the dead had fallen like leaves in autumn. I know that I have to put a stop to it. No more shufflers will die at the hands of the overworlders. I set my sights on the goal before me and move forward.
As we push towards another wall, thought float around my head like seeds blown off a dandelion. At the bottom of the sheer stone, we look up towards the carpets.
“How are we getting up there?” John asks.
I answer with a sly smile.
I raise my cane and point it at the wall and concentrate on where I’m aiming. After muttering a few choice words, a green beam shoots from the tip of the cane. I stagger back with the force. After a flash of green light, thick vines grow up the wall and over the top.
After the noise of the growing plants, all falls silent. It’s only shattered by the caw of a blackbird flying high above.
It’s time to climb. I strap my cane to my back, grab a handful of the vine and pull myself up. John is only a little way behind me.
Halfway up the wall, I see a small gap from which a sliver of light is escaping. I pause to look through and can see multiple shadows moving inside. A voice shouts something. For fear that we are found out, I quickly continue up the vines.
At the top of the vines, we hoist ourselves over the crenelations and onto the walkway. Beneath us, the woods are alive with movement. Tiny lights zigzag through the trees. Searching. Crouching, we make our way along the battlements towards a tower.
We hear footsteps coming from the doorway. With no time to hide, we stand our ground. Out of the darkness comes a soldier with a nose like a heron’s beak. He looks at us in disbelief, but before he can make his move, a cold blast of air shoots from my cane.
The man stares in disbelief as a tangle of ice wraps around his legs and grows up his torso, eventually covering his face. He stands, frozen in time, as we dart past and inside the tower.
Inside the stone room, we stare in amazement at the countless jars hanging from the walls and ceiling, each one continuing several fireflies. Their light isn’t doing much to light the space, but there’s enough to cast creepy looking shadows.
Suddenly the wooden door across the room explodes into a million pieces. Shrapnels flies in all directions, striking both John and me despite our attempts to dodge. I feel a warm river of blood streaming down from my forehead where something had struck me.
The room is filled with the ebb and flow of myriad sounds. Shouting, screaming, explosions. The noise assaults our ears. I see John on the floor cowering where is was stood only a few seconds ago. The world around us seemingly dissolving.
In the chaos, feeling that this is the end, my mind goes back to the fun that John and I used to have as children. The times we spent beneath the ground, exploring the hundreds of tunnels. They were simpler times. Before the magic. Before the war.
I open my eyes and find myself beneath a shell of rubble like a scrap yard turtle. My ears ring, and the noises around me sound like I’m listening through water. My body aches, and I struggle to push some of the debris off me while attempting to get to my feet.
Through the ringing, I hear the voice of a stranger approaching. They seem to be telling others to search the ruins. I look around me, and my heart almost stops. I can’t see John.
“John?” I try. My voice is hoarse and dry.
I start to dig randomly, calling out his name.
Across the room, my eyes fall on a body being crushed by rubble. I don’t hesitate to dash over to it and start heaving the debris off this person. I think it’s John, but once I uncover the face, I see that it’s a woman and not someone I recognise. Where had she come from?
Lifting the debris off the woman, I help her to her feet. Once upright, she brushes the remaining dust from her robe.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I’ll tell you in time. For now, you just have to trust me.”
I think for a minute.
“I need to find my friend.”
She looks around the destroyed room. When her eyes fall on one of the piles of rubble, she walks over to it, turns to me and smiles. I’m not sure what this is supposed to signify, so I hop over the debris towards her. She waves a hand, and the stones begin to move.
The rubble raises from the ground, moves across the room and then drops with several soft thuds. Johns body is now visible, and I rush over to help him up. With my friend now getting to his feet, I look back at the woman.
“We need to go to the cafe,” she says gleefully.
“What?” John asks with innocence and heavy breaths.
“We can get out through the cafe,” the woman says.
Both John and I must look confused because she clarifies, “This place used to be a museum. The cafe has an exit.”
“Oh,” is all I can maage.bin response.
Now a trio, we leave the destroyed room and head down a narrow corridor. We occasionally stop when we hear footsteps somewhere in the darkness. I feel like this hall should be darker than it is, but the woman seems to radiate light. I can’t explain it.
As we proceed down the intimate space, we hear more and more voices coming from all around us punctuated by explosions. It sounds like hell is breaking loose outside as the war continues, detached from our little group. At the end of the corridor, I see a sign, “Cafe”.
After several more dark hallways, we walk into the old cafe. It’s a shadow of its former self, although some of the tables and chairs are still arranged in rows.
“I’m glad you found us,” I say to the woman when we stop.
“It wasn’t an accident. I was looking for you.”
“What do you mean? How did you know we were here?” I ask.
“Think. Who would betray you?” She says in a calm, measured tone?
Betrayal? It was unthinkable. A shuffler turning against their own.
It’s then I notice John slowly edging away from us.
“John?” I ask in disbelief, “How could you be so treacherous?”
“I-I had no choice,” He stammers.
“Did you help them attack us underground?” I still can’t quite believe what’s happening.
John remains silent, but I can tell by his face what he has to say.
I can’t help but feel hurt by John’s actions. After all, we’ve been through together, for him to do something like this was beyond deceit.
“We need to go,” the woman says, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“How do I know I can trust you?” I ask.
“You don’t.”
I don’t know what to do. If John has turned against me, then who else? Would it be easier to flee back to my hovel? No. I can’t. There have already been too many shuffler deaths. I don’t know who this woman is, but I don’t think I have a choice but to trust her.
Still a trio, we make our way to the back of the old cafe. I don’t spook easily, but something about this room sends shivers up my spine. Perhaps it’s thinking about its use in year’s past before the world fell dark. I shake off the feeling and stay close to the woman.
At the door, she stops and looks back at us. I nod to prompt her to open the large wooden door that’s seen better days. It opens with an almost cliche squeal. We pause, hoping that no one heard the noise.
“Where exactly are we going?” I ask.
“Up,” she says simply.
I’m usually pretty good at judging a person’s inscape, but I can’t get a handle on this woman. First, she seems one thing and then another.
We come to a winding staircase that does indeed lead up. To where I have no idea.
I suddenly remember a dream I had a few days ago, before the attack. It involved a winding staircase, a witch and a knife. Did it foreshadow what was about to happen, or am I reading too much into this situation? Either way, I’m about to find out.
I sleepwalk through the next couple of rooms, not wanting to come back to the room to see my fate, whatever it is.
We soon stop though at another huge door, and I realise that we’re outside in some sort of courtyard.
“The gift shop is through here,” the woman says.
“This is where the death happens.”
“Wow, you could sugarcoat it a little,” I say.
“Why? It does. Changing the way I say it won’t make it any less so.”
She didn’t really need to say it at all. You could smell the scent of death and decay all around.
In the centre of the room is a small pit containing still smoking coals. I ask if it was a campfire. She tells me it’s used in the torture of shuffler. I grimace at the thought of how many we have lost over the years. We pick our way through the room, avoiding bones.
Hanging on one wall are ornate wooden objects hanging by some sort of thread. Each one is as intricate as a snowflake. I ask what they are, and she tells me they are the totems of one of the sects of overworlders. Not people you want to mess with by all accounts.
None of them had their own fingerprint as they saw it as identifying them as individuals; they preferred to be seen as a whole. As legion.
Luckily none of them are nearby; otherwise we would know about it. We skirt through the next few empty rooms.
We’re soon out on a street. The smell of primrose drifts through the air from some nearby laboratory. The overworlders were unlike we shufflers; they preferred science over magic. That was more fool them. Magic, in the right hands, was far more powerful.
From here, the town looks like it’s in retrograde. The buildings look dilapidated and are crumbling from their foundations up. The overworlders, despite wanting to take over, don’t seem to want to look after what they have.
Stalking through the town, hiding in the shadows and avoiding guards, we could be forgiven for thinking that we were winning, that our saga was coming to an end, but this was only the beginning of our fight back.
Soon we come up to another wall, the one that circles the centre of the overworld city. We stop as we see the mechanical sentries that stand dormant in large alcoves cut into the stone. Any sudden movement on our part could awaken them.
Any plans I have for once we’re inside are purely hypothetical right now if we can’t get past these metal beasts. As we tiptoe past, I raise my cane, ready to strike at a moments notice should the worst happen. I look back at John, who has stopped in front of one.
He steps closer and raises a hand like he’s going to touch one of the tin soldiers. I look him in the eyes, and without words, I implore him not to do it. Slowly he lays an open palm on a metal leg. In the blink of an eye, steams erupts, and red eyes glow. The mechanical man starts to slowly unfold from itself as it comes to life. John steps back from it, looks back at us and then runs away. I steel my resolve, fix my feet sternly on the cobbled road and hold my cane at waist height in preparation for the onslaught.

Ghostly Occurrences in Apartment 42: Part II

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX

Part X

Part XI

Part XII


Last week I started to tell the story of the strange things that happened to me in an apartment that I lived in several years ago.

After seeing what I did at the French doors that night, I couldn’t get it off my mind. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was starting to think that I had imagined it or that maybe there was a breeze that went through the apartment and disturbed the blind in some way that made it look like someone was there. After all, I was tired that night, and it was dark. The light shining in a particular way could have made things appear to be there. And the weird feeling? I could have just spooked myself. I believed that someone/something was in the apartment, so I had brought the feeling on myself. With the subsequent events, I started to think I was losing the plot entirely.

Everything was quiet for a month or so. The events of that February night faded somewhat from memory, and I just got on with living my life.

One day I went out – I can’t remember where, I guess it doesn’t matter – and I closed all the doors. I don’t know why I did this. I think it was probably a habit from living at home that all the downstairs doors had to be closed at night or if we went out. Anyway, I would do this every time I’d leave, and whenever I came back, the doors would still be shut – why would they be open, right? Well, this time, when I came home, they were all wide open.

I remember walking into the flat and realising that the hallway that should have been in darkness was lit up. At first, I thought I had left a light on, but then it struck me that all the doors were open, even the bathroom door, which was generally closed all the time.

As I stepped further inside and closed the front door behind me, the strange feeling of being watched that I had had that night returned. I walked to each of the doors and looked in the rooms, and there was nothing there – why would there be? I closed the bathroom door and pulled the spare room and bedroom door to, and went and sat in the living room.

The strange feeling was starting to give me a headache, so I went to get a drink from the kitchen that was joined onto the living room. As I returned to my seat, I sat down in such a way that I saw that the hallway was now bathed in light once again. Putting my glass on the floor, I went to investigate and saw that all 3 of the doors that I had either closed or partially close were once again wide open. The thing that confused me the most was the bathroom door. I had fully closed it, and it had gone on the catch, so there was no way it would move on its own accord. The other two, I could at least tell myself moved on their hinges and had just swung open, but the bathroom…

I closed the bathroom once again but left the other two doors as they were and went back into the living room. What was happening? I was trying to explain it to myself, but I couldn’t come up with a sufficient explanation that made sense.

I tried to push it to the back of my mind and get on with my day. I turned the TV on and started to play something – not a horror game; I didn’t need any more reasons to be freaked out. Soon the weird feeling had dissipated, and nothing further happened with the doors.

It was probably a couple of weeks later when it started to happen again. After few more times of the doors opening seemingly by themselves, I decided to start leaving them open whenever I left – except the bathroom. This, for a time, stopped anything from happening or the weird feeling from making an appearance.

After another couple of weeks of this, I once again went out, but this time when I came back, all the doors were closed. And they weren’t just swung in and stuck; they had probably shut as if someone had closed them by pushing them onto the catch. This time though, the weird feeling wasn’t present. I walked through the hallway, opening the doors as I went. Everything felt normal until it came to opening the spare room door. When I stepped up to it, I could feel something emanating from within. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but it was as if someone was stood on the other side, and they were royally pissed off. When I put my hand on the door handle, a tingle ran through it and up my arm. It was enough to make me step back a little and fight the urge to walk away without opening the door. After a few seconds, I put my hand back on the door handle and push it down. The door swung open with no effort – for some reason, I was expecting some resistance – and revealed a room clear of anything save my belongings.

After weeks of this kind of activity I was starting to think that I was losing my mind. I decided that the best thing to do would be to set up a video camera to record when I’m out of the apartment. I picked a day to do it and left the camera running. I wasn’t prepared for what I would find.

Part III will be posted next Monday.

My Game of the Year (Hopefully No Spoilers)

This year has been a year of staying in – whether by choice or enforced – and playing games. Though there have been many new games this year, I’ve mainly been playing older ones, catching up on some that have been on my to-play list for a long time. Having said this though there are several new games that I have played, and it’s of those that I’ll be explaining what my favourite of the year was.

I’ll start with a recent release and a very divisive game; Cyberpunk 2077.

Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed numerous times, it was initially set for release in April 2020 but was delayed until September, which okay, it was at the start of the pandemic, things were well and truly kicking off worldwide, so it can be forgiven. This again wasn’t to be, and it was delayed until November; but again, it wasn’t to be. It was delayed once more until December, despite me thinking that it would only be delayed again – because at this point I was questioning whether the game actually existed or not – it was actually released this time. This came with a huge but though…

Having been delayed numeous times, you’d expect the reasoning behind it would be that the developer was still working on it, but on release day it was reported that most of the people that were playing it were having issues with it; including me.

From scenes failing to render, to character customisations disappearing and UI issues, it seems plagued by problems. For me, the issues I’ve experienced aren’t game-breaking and so far (I haven’t got all that far in) the issues are more of a mild annoyance than anything. However, I can understand why some people wanted their money back. The game doesn’t seem to be finished, or at the very least, polished to high standard. You’d think that these kinds of issues would have been picked up during beta testing (if that even happened) and is quite the disappointment for something that was hyped so much.

Having said this though, I’m enjoying the game so far. I’m about 3-4 hours into it and despite the issues, it’s still a fun game – the design-a-genital on the character customisation not withstanding. I’m yet to get up to the Keanu Reeves character so I’m looking forward to that, but whether the bugs allow me to get that far remain to be seen.

Having not finished it, and it having so many bugs, I can’t really give this a rating yet. But so far I’d probably give it maybe a 7/10. Hopefully CDProjekt will release some updates that address some of the issues seen. If they don’t I don’t think they’ll be getting many more people buying it, especially considering that it’s been pulled from the Playstation Store.

Next up I’ll be talking about the rage-inducing Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time;

One word – or sound – describes Crash 4, it is simply; “Aaaaaargh!”

Crash 4 has to be the game that produces more anger than any other – at least for me. It starts off fairly gently. With a level that is reminiscent of the three previous games. It kind of mashes them all together but also adds a little something new – namely the mask element. But soon after this slow start it starts to throw all kind of craziness at you.

First off, the levels are super long. It’s literally like they’ve taken the level length from the previous games and tripled it. This in and of itself isn’t an issue. The problems arise when they throw in some overly complicated level mechanics, and those damn masks.

Throughout the game – as with the other entries in the Crash series – you progress through different worlds, which each has a different style to it; from Island, to a Mad Max style apocalyptic, to future. At the end of each world, you fight a boss – the same bosses that you’ve defeated in the other games – and receive a new mask; switching, super spin, flip, and slow speed. The levels get harder and more complex the further you go until you get to the final level which uses all the masks, multiple times and is just batsh!t.

Crash games have always been hard, some of the levels on the remasters had me swearing and shouting at the screen. But these new levels are a whole new kind of hell. 3D platformers have never really been my thing – sidescrolling is the way to go – but I enjoyed the first Crash when it game out way back in 1996 when I was – oh God – 11. I didn’t play the other two games, other than playing a demo that game with a magazine – God I miss those days, so playing them on the remaster was fun and a new experience for me. They were hard. but having played the latest entry of the series, I would happily go back and play those – even those damn rope bridge levels. But honestly, now that I’ve finished Crash 4, I have absolutely no intention of replaying it ever and I’d be happy to never have to think about it again.

But, with all this, it does have some positives. As you progress the story, you not only play as Crash and Coco, but also as Tawna, Dingodile, and even Cortex. This is a fun addition as it allows you to have a break from the typical Crash levels and play through some using different character mechanics. As well as this, when you finished a level you get to play it again but this time in what’s called N.Verted mode. This mode mirrors the level, but also adds different things to the look of it, some look like photo negatives, others are black and white and performing actions paints them – I quite like this one – as well as other things. There’s also the addition of different play styles, you can either play the old way; which means you get lives and when you run out it’s game over, or – what we chose to play – were when you die you it shows you how many times you’ve died – in this mode we racked up and impressive 214 deaths on the final level I mentioned above. The gems that you win from each level also allow you ton unlock different skins for Crash and Coco. These don’t do anything special other than change the look but their a nice addition.

Overall, despite the rage that built up inside me during play, I would give this a 8/10. I may not want to see it ever again, and I may have experienced deeper anger than I’d ever felt, but it’s still a good game, and if you’re a fan of Crash games, you should give it a go.

Next is the first of games that I absolutely couldn’t wait for; Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1&2 Remastered.

I first played Tony Hawk when it was released on the first Playstation back in 1999. My brother and I spent hours playing it and trying to get all the challenges on all the levels completed. I had no skill back then and I spent most of the time just mashing buttons and hoping that I would land a trick; nothing has changed.

As soon as I saw that this game was being released, I couldn’t wait for. I’d only recently been talking about trying to find a copy of the original game when it popped up that it was being remastered.

First off, let me just say, this game is beautiful. The difference between the originals and this is incredible; it might as well be a totally new game in it’s own right.

The levels are the same, most of the characters are there – plus a few new ones and the ability to create you own is great – even if mine looks like something out of Sunset Overdrive. The challenges are also the same, you have to get high scores, collect different items including the S-K-A-T-E letters. The soundtrack, though slightly different from the originals, still blows most game soundtracks out of the water.

This game is pure nostalgia, it’s the same as the originals but prettier; and I have no problem with that at all. I’m still all about the button bashing – although now I do try to do actual moves. Some of the levels and challenges still make me shout at the screen, but it’s still less rage-inducing tha Crash 4. I love this game and it’s one that I will come back to time, and time again. I can dip in an out without ever losing my lack skill, and pick up where I left off. There’s nothing more to say other than it’s awesome and gets an amazing 9/10 from me.

Last but not least is my favourite game of the year and it’s yet another divisive one; The Last of Us: Part II.

Back in 2013, The Last of Us was the reason why I bought a PS3. As soon as I played it, I loved it, it was a game that was so right up my alley that it would have been a shock if I didn’t. The number emotions you go through as your follow Ellie and Joel across the country fighting infected, is second to none. You truly root for the characters and just want them to get to where they’re going in one piece. As soon as I finished it, I wanted a sequel. In the time it took for one to arrive, I must have finished part I at least 6 or 7 times; playing through on multiple difficulties and collecting all the extras.

The Last of Us: Part II being announced was amazing and I then truly got excited for a sequel to see where these characters were now. This game – much like Cyberpunk – was delayed multiple times, each time was like a punch in the gut and I again started to think it would never see the light of day. When it came to this year, a year plagued by, well, plague, it seemed only right that it would be released, but it was for that very reason it was delayed – at least the last couple of delays, that is.

When it finally game out, we got our copy and got straight into it. Luckily despite there being leaks of the story and many spoilers out there, I managed to avoid knowing anything about the game and it’s story. I think this was the right way to go because then, as the story unfolds, you’re truly going in without any idea of what’s going to happen.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’ll just say that the story is amazing and goes in a direction that I didn’t expect. My first reaction was to ask why, but as I played I understood why the choices had been made. Like the first game, this sequel plays with your emotions. From the true beginning of the story and the flashbacks your heartstrings are pulled in every direction. There are some characters that you hate at first, then kind of like, then hate again. Then you’re scared of characters you never thought you would be. It’s all done so well that – for me – it was worth the wait.

It took me around 3 or 4 days to finish the story and over those days I didn’t want to do anything else but find out what was going to happen next – it drew me in that much. Some elements that were in the first game, like the types of infected are back – somehow made even more unsettling; yeah clickers, I’m talking about you – , but there are also some new additions – freaking Rat King!

Now, I know that when it came out, a lot people cried out and said that it had gone in the wrong direction, or it was shame what happened to the characters or even the sexuality of characters, and some even went so far as to send death threats to members of Naughty Dog – which is just incredible and dare I say f!cking stupid. No game is worth that reaction, and the folks who worked on this game really don’t deserve it. Just because you don’t like a game is no excuse to be a d!ck over the internet.

The game is amazing. From the acting, to the graphics, to the writing, there isn’t an element that was well done. This is all leading me to say that this gets a huge 10/10 from me and is my game of the year.

What did you play this year? Are your thoughts on the games above different? What’s your game of the year? Let me know in the comments.