Gary J. Shipley’s first novel, Theoretical Animals, was released last year by BlazeVox Books. His second novel, Necrology (a collaboration with Kenji Siratori, appendix by Reza Negarestani), is forthcoming from Paraphilia Books in Feb 2011. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spork, Glossator, The Big Stupid Review, 3:AM, Word Riot, Antennae, Paraphilia, Antique Children, The Dream People, etc. He is on the editorial board of the arts journal SCRIPT.
*Image credit: ‘Head Wounds’ by Gary J. Shipley, shown in last year’s First Asemic Exhibit in Russia
DISPATCH FROM THE HOLLOW BELT
(Excerpt from the novel Dreams of Amputation)
By Gary J. Shipley
Long-haired sack of bone in blood-stained jeans and checkered shirt unbuttoned all the way to the waist.
He watches a blowfly burn out on the glass.
Sound of heads being decimated curling through the ventilation shafts, the squelch of liberated spines like wellington boots pulled up from the mud.
Yet another lonely man yanking solidarity through a quaking hole in his groin, he jokes about decline, some dry bitch with never-ending legs and video teeth, predators buried in alien gameplay, a lost project born in a concrete bath, whorehouse acrimony running through all them bitches’ dirty veins.
“Fire the bowl, bitch! Fire in the Bowl! Fire in the Bowl!” The household chant from five gamers pressed into sofas, heartbeats fresh from a hunting cheetah.
They each talk in turn.
“Some doom missions happen in the dark, some under the full blaze of halogen. There are gameworld payoffs: we can mould their facial features in whatever configurations we desire; we can tweak features, sex, and voices depending on genre, build and kill everything that moves. Protagonists of barbaric magnitude, my friend.”
“And what about precautions to ensure survival?” says the off-screen voice.
“I don’t bother with cover mechanics, if that’s what you mean: fucking shit’s for pussies.”
“Fuck off!” the others roar in unison.
“Exaggerated physics allow us to tear up normal human beings as if they’re made of paper. We can drain their life bars in concentrated bursts of slow-mo co-op torture. We’re always looking to redefine the tired blur of deathmatch modes.”
A wall of third-person perspectives closes in on her as she tosses her lank tresses with cinematic flair. Suffocating atmosphere as someone named Earl levels the game, dispatching some clean prey with a dose of “crude stealth mechanics”.
Someone mentions a nocturnal button-mashing incident involving a nailgun’s auto-aim feature, and light-hearted bickering ensues.
They all pause to recover health by firing up their bowls.
“We become virtually invisible if we stand in one another’s shadows. We have context-sensitive onscreen icons – see there? They point out when you can use an implement for orifice creation, skin a face without tempering sex drive, hoist a body up for display, et cetera. You can learn to identify the dark you can hide in at a glance…”
“Toilets and bathrooms are littered with single-use weapons like bottles and plastic bags.”
“At default speed none of us can relax or lie prone. Our settings won’t allow it.”
“Instant-kill moves are frowned upon round these parts. Right, boys?”
They all concur enthusiastically.
“I see everything in video filter mode; it’s all one great big lunatic exhibit.”
“Some of the challenge can start to feel rather artificial, grainy, everyone wearing a washed-out look of dead flesh, little more than window-dressing in a butcher’s shop.”
“Better not be directed at me, pal. You wanna catch your reflection sometime.”
“Our life is carefully contrived.”
Only one bone-quaked illuminato manages to spy The Hook Man pass by the door with his attaché case.
He’s immobilized in seconds.
“Inside you’ll see hanged bodies, which respond realistically if pushed. But the limited range of audio effects can start to seem a little phony; no less, the sound of your own heart beating. Also, there are slight frame-rate drops on occasion.”
Three green arrows circle her blistered mouth, her anus gulping air like a fish in a bucket.
“As the brain splatters actually dry on your clothes the fusion meter will hit its peak.”
“Inexperienced players sometimes behave very unrealistically, like some mysterious agency keeps switching back to default behind-the-back perspective.” He takes centre and gets busy, toiling at flesh in a blood-tinged haze.
Voice Over: “Since self-preservation doesn’t seem important to them, deaths can appear unworldly and inconsequential. The crowds outside are mostly for decoration. They work best from a distance. Try and interact and the sphex-glitches show themselves. They’re best left alone. They play nameless, voiceless, re-imagined versions of themselves, the storyline as ineffectual as their identities.”
Smell of stale sex rising from dead bodies in spaghetti waves.
“Would you agree that however much one augments the human experience, there are still times when existence appears to be nothing but a tired collection of cut scenes?” says the off-screen voice.
“That’s something you have to fight against.”
They are unanimous on this.
“You appear to tune in on any logic breaches and make them your own.”
“Always be assimilating.”
Monotonous screams, tinny and subdued, emit from the corner of the room.
Quicksave progress in dank corridor crawling with new combatants, their orange eyes glowing up, their leprose hands breaking up, movement prone to time-lag.
“The player sees through my eyes for the full duration of each chapter,” says one of the gamers looking up from the floor.
Two of them surrounded by a maze of headcrab zombies in trademark crowbar melee combat scene.
“Los Ganados! Los Ganados!”
Voice Over: “We found a body hanging in their closet: the result of yesterday’s session. She had been strangled, raped and sodomized with a crowbar, her face completely decimated with the same weapon.”
“We all saw the puncture marks of Crucifer in her neck. What, we’re supposed to just leave her be?”
Someone had taken a carving knife to her thighs, hacking out ten circles of flesh in the grey light.
“Where’s the guy with the long hair that was here last week?” says the off-screen voice.
“Yeah, he went a few days ago.”
“No he was here yesterday.”
“No he wasn’t.”
“I saw him today.”
“I heard The Plumber talking to him an hour ago.”
They find him in the next room, his own genitals tied around his neck, his cheekbones crushed, his femur fractured, his remains repeatedly brutalized, live bugs in the pantyhose used to asphyxiate him. Around his body are blunt instruments covered in his brain tissue; there are footprints up the walls, and semen seeping from his open wounds; his anus has been assaulted with a broken ketchup bottle, his skull caved in and a portion of his brain exposed. Most of his teeth are found in a jam jar placed on a stack of turn-of-the-century mug shots.
Voice Over: “Passengers in their own heads watching their watching in a multi-dimensional haze of constantly re-imagined instruments…”