Tsuboniwa

Shigeru Miyamoto has famously said that he envisions video games as small gardens. He uses the Japanese word tsuboniwa, which refers to the tiny courtyard gardens of traditional Kyoto machiya townhouses that are narrow but long enough to have a private garden in the middle. This is how video games have always felt to me. When I enter one of these virtual worlds, I can explore the green space at my leisure while taking a quiet moment to rest and reflect.

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I created this piece to include in the Philly Zine Fest 2021 Anthology. You can check out this year’s event on their Instagram account (here) and their website (here).

My Great Outdoors

When I moved to West Philadelphia at the beginning of the pandemic, the neighborhood was a mess. The city sanitation workers were on strike (good for them!!), and trash was everywhere. No one had trimmed the vegetation growing along the sidewalks, and there were all sorts of weeds and flowers pushing their way up from underneath the piles of loose rubbish. Most of the university students and faculty had evacuated the city, and no one was walking around outside to begin with, so the crows and opossums had gotten bold. It was quite nice, actually.

I don’t intend to suggest that there was anything “good” about the pandemic, which was and continues to be a nightmare, but I have to admit that it was still a welcome relief to be able to walk around outside while feeling like I was just another part of nature.

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This is a comic I created for the third issue of Nature Held Me Close, a zine about “gender dysphoria and the great outdoors.” Free digital copies of all three issues of the zine are available on its website (here).

Flowerblight Ganon

I posted a short story on AO3 (here) about a minor character in Breath of the Wild named Magda, who is affectionately known by the fandom as “Flowerblight Ganon.”

In Breath of the Wild, Malice is a tangible substance that infests objects and locations controlled by Ganon, including the four Divine Beasts, Hyrule Castle, and the Akkala Citadel Ruins. It also infects the dragon spirit Lanayru who guards the Spring of Wisdom.

While writing this story, I wondered if it were possible for Malice to infect regular people. If so, the woman who zealously guards the garden of flowers surrounding Hila Rao Shrine is as good of a candidate as anyone.

The story illustration is by Clara Kay, whose gorgeously monstrous horror art can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here). I really enjoyed working with Clara, and I also want to give a shout-out to her store (here), which has all sorts of cool Legend of Zelda merch!

I’d like to share a bit of the artist’s description of this piece, because it’s fascinating:

There’s a lot of symbolism packed into the flowers here. The petunias (pink) represent anger and resentment, the devil’s trumpet (the tall white one) represents power and caution, the spider lily (big spiny red one) represents death and reincarnation, and the carnation (white with red ring) is considered the ‘flower of the gods’ and represents admiration, passion, and love.

Carnations represent “passion and love” because they’re thought to be white flowers dyed red with blood, which is entirely appropriate for this story. “Flowerblight Ganon” is my first foray into botanical horror, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with Breath of the Wild to understand what’s going on. Magda is a regular woman enjoying gardening, quiet living, and occasional tea with friends in a dying postapocalyptic world, and if she lives her best life by indulging in murder every once in a while, then at least her flowers are well fertilized.

Felis Decapoda

I spent part of my childhood in rural Georgia in an old farmhouse that my mother went into bankruptcy to refurbish and remodel. Along with antique furniture, my mother collected stray cats, and at several points we had more than two dozen roaming around the house and yard.

I know that living in an historic farmhouse filled with expensive furniture and cats sounds like a dream come true for many people, and presumably this was the case for my mother. For me, however, it was extremely uncomfortable. I could never sleep properly, and I used to have nightmares about the cats eating each other and merging into giant mega-cats with far too many legs.

I don’t have anything against cats, and I’d like to adopt one of my own one day, but for the time being I’m happy being a dog person.

The Ghost Shop

I just posted a short story about the Poe Collector in Ocarina of Time on AO3. It’s a spooky fandom treat for Halloween, and you can read it (here).

This story is about what it might have been like to live in Hyrule after the castle fell to Ganondorf, and I really enjoyed exploring the postapocalyptic environment. The story is also about standing up to power and the abuse of authority, even when it won’t benefit you in any way. Grand acts of heroism are all well and good, but it’s also nice to be too weird to care about what people think of you.

The illustration is by Frankiesbugs, whose creepy-cute art you can find on Instagram (here) and on Tumblr (here). They actually created two color variations, the one with the Halloween-inspired palette that I posted above, and a more Film Noir style version that I posted along with the fic on AO3 – and that they posted on Tumblr (here). It was difficult to choose between such gorgeous and stylish pieces! If you’d like to get a better understanding of just how brilliant Frankiesbugs is, you can check out the concept sketch I sent them (here). This artist’s illustrations have been one of my primary inspirations in writing Legend of Zelda horror stories, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them. You can read some of the horror-themed comics we’ve created together (here) and (here).

Greenpath

Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania-style adventure game set in the forgotten underground kingdom of Hallownest. The kingdom fell to ruin after a viral blight infected its citizens, transforming them into mindless husks. As a knight in the form of a small beetle wielding a nail, you venture below the surface through a secret entrance in an old well to challenge the mysteries of Hallownest.

The old underground roads are long abandoned, and there are no helpful signs to guide the player through the maze of passages. The necessity of careful exploration as you find your own path forward is one of the primary appeals of Hollow Knight, but it’s easy to lose your way and fall victim to the undead husks or become trapped in the dilapidated infrastructure.

The tiny protagonist’s journey through Hallownest is lonely, but the ruins of the old kingdom are far from empty. Where there were once cities and markets and train stations, dense vegetation now breaks through the paving stones and covers crumbling structures in blankets of flowering plants. Nowhere is this postapocalyptic explosion of nature more apparent than an area called Greenpath, where small birdlike creatures flutter through the underbrush while giant dragonflies glide in lazy circles above bubbling pools of acid water.

Hollow Knight’s soundtrack, written and digitally performed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, captures both the loneliness and wonder of the kingdom of Hallownest. I find the background music for Greenpath especially atmospheric and evocative. It begins with bright and gentle strings that suggest the twinkling of fresh dew and the whisper of wind over moss. Soft and airy notes from a flute and xylophone join the song to create a melody reminiscent of the rustling of leaves as you scuttle through the bushes. 

The environmental music in Hollow Knight is adaptive, meaning that it changes according to gameplay. Some of the more challenging sections of Greenpath necessitate precisely timed jumps over deadly beds of tangled thorns, and the song crescendos into string chords as staccato as your character’s footsteps as you rush through the beautiful yet menacing jungle. You feel as though you’re truly exploring overgrown ruins, brushing aside vines as you navigate the twisting stone corridors.

The quietly elegiac environmental songs of the Hollow Knight soundtrack are oddly relaxing and make excellent ambient background music. If you’re in the mood for something more upbeat, the boss fight battle songs are fantastic as well. You can listen to the complete album on Spotify and YouTube, and (this link) will take you directly to the song “Greenpath” on Bandcamp. 

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This essay was published in the “Playlist” issue of the West Philly Dog Bowl Zine, which debuted at the Philly Comics Expo this past weekend. You can download a free digital version of the zine via their Linktree site (here).

How to Board the West Philly Ghost Bus

(1)  It needs to be after dark.
(2)  You should be standing at a bus stop.
(3)  You need to be horribly, desperately lonely.
(4)  You can’t have a specific destination in mind.
(5)  You’ll see a bus with no route number on the display.
(6)  It will slow down but not stop, so you need to chase it.
(7)  You probably won’t catch it, but if you do…
(8)  The driver will let you on without asking you to pay.
(9)  You’ve made it this far. You might as well sit down.

I’ve recently found myself asking people I meet in West Philadelphia if they know any urban legends. Most of what I’ve heard are rumors about real people who have become local characters or stories about bodies being buried under public places. (Because Philadelphia is a relatively old city, the stories about buried bodies are mostly true!) A few people also told me about a ghostly SEPTA bus, which is famous enough to be mentioned a few times online.

According to the stories I’ve heard from university students and friendly strangers I’ve spoken with at local bars, the ghost SEPTA bus picks up people late at night, but only if they have nowhere to go and no one to miss them once they disappear onto the bus. 

There are actually a number of non-supernatural SEPTA buses that drive back along their routes through West Philly when they aren’t in service, and I occasionally see them pick up city maintenance workers and hospital staff late at night. What’s different about the ghost bus is what happens once you get on.

Apparently, there are three possibilities. The first is that the bus vanishes, and you’re never heard from again. The second is that you’re now trapped on the SEPTA bus along with the other desperate and unlucky souls who boarded before you. The third is that the bus travels back in time, albeit within a span limited to the history of the bus, and that you can signal the driver to stop when you’ve reached your desired destination in the past. 

The third possibility seems the most likely, as no one who has vanished or become trapped on the bus would be able to tell other people how this process works. Then again, it may be that a person who boards the mysterious SEPTA bus seems to vanish or sit in stasis from the perspective of someone who’s still in our timeline. There’s only one way to find out for sure…

Sparkle

“They’re for my niece,” he explained to the clerk who rang up the pair of earrings. He was too young to have a niece, and he wouldn’t have given her cheap dollar store earrings anyway, but oh how they sparkled when he clipped them to his ears later that night.

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I wrote this 50-word story for the “Dollar Store” issue of a magazine called Blink Ink, which describes itself as “home to the finest in contemporary 50 word fiction.” Blink Ink is only available in print, and you can get a subscription on their website (here) if you’re interested.