Suggested Audio Candy:
 The Shamen “Pro-Gen ’91”
 Metallica “Master of Puppets”
Back in July 2013 I hatched a harebrained scheme. This may seem like no real surprise as I try to have at least twelve in any calendar month and love nothing more than to have my thoughts outside of the box. Occasionally I will have a lightbulb moment so divine that I perform a rousing performance of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill clad in a long, flowing gown and scoff elderberries from one half of a coconut shell. Other ideas crash and burn faster than Con Air. It’s a numbers game; throw enough ridiculousness out there into the world and invariably some of it will stick. However, of all my moments of madness, few have been as utterly preposterous and, in turn, posed such an irresistible challenge than my offer for the Grueheads to choose their own destiny.
To those new to the grue, allow me to elaborate further. One of the most cherished memories from my childhood was the perusal of a series of Adventure Game books scribed by prolific fantasy writers Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These delightful labyrinthine novels branched in numerous directions according solely to your own decision-making skills which led to you either suffering one of a number of grisly fates or, for the cocky schmucks amongst us, to that elusive pot of gold at the end of the multi-tiered rainbow or midway point as it often was. Confused yet? Then let me break it down a little.
You start at page one but how you progress through the pages is entirely up to you. At the close of each paragraph you are presented with an option; often consisting of whether to enter door A or door B, and are sent on an exclusive adventure dependent on your choices. Wrong decisions would invariably lead down blind alleys and your fate would be sealed in a most unceremonious manner, which usually consisted of being consumed by a fanged creature with around seventy eyes. However, should your choices be validated, a winding and most magical mystery tour awaited. It was a somewhat flawed concept as its success or failure ultimately depended on whether or not you could remain true to yourself and resist the urge to backtrack every time you hit a brick wall but the reasoning behind it was sound.
Adventure Game books are a thing of the past now and I don’t propose, for one picosecond, that we recreate such a delicate process. To suggest that would be ludicrous in the extreme and a logistical nightmare to boot. What interests me more is the concept of building something from the ground up and seeing where that leads us. Those who read #Stalker will know only too well that I refuse to remain pent-up as a scribe within any particular constraints; what fascinates me more is to test any boundaries and push the envelope as far as I feasibly can with the tool set at my disposal. That piece of fiction played out on a live Twitter feed and left many reeling as it appeared as though I was being persecuted in my own sandbox. My overall goal with said piece of work was to offer something totally interactive; engage all five senses and resonate on a more personal level through the use of the booming social network of Twitter which is far from ambiguous. I was overwhelmingly proud of our results.
It’s all encompassing being Keeper as an average day in the office consists of the following. Five hours, divided into bite-sized segments, pouring myself into my prose; three hours acquiring the finest visuals and audio accompaniment I can lay my grubby feelers on; two on general upkeep of the site; two and a half posting and interacting with you fine people as I frantically attempt to traverse my feed as though I’m a contestant on the Generation Game; two on the phone and ordinarily talking shop; one eating as it keeps one alive; and that leaves about thirty minutes for whipping the willow and other relaxing pursuits. That’s it in a nutshell and I juggle these plates with precision daily as I am doing what I was placed here for. I’m making the world a better place rather than taking it for granted habitually. Through sharing I’m caring; when I’m firing I’m inspiring; I’m comfortable with that as I remain grounded and consistently quench my roots. By leading you thoroughbreds to the delicious crimson waters within these Rivers of Grue, you may just see fit to take a sip.
So a few days back I’m approached by our beloved sister Jilly and asked to resurrect this sequence for a weekly Grueheads challenge. I will admit that when I first heard about the Challenge Yourself events I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it sounded like a marvelous way to empower others to pick up their quills. But, on the other, I was concerned it may end up a homework assignment and scare people into playing truant so as not to receive the cane around the back of their knees. I’m a positive soul so opted to watch on as the proverbial fly on the wall that I so often enjoy being. To my great relief, there appeared to be no adverse effects from such challenges being introduced and the Grueheads took to it with great vim and vigor. The reason for this is that nothing was expected; merely encouraged. This encapsulated everything that I believe in as a scribe.
You all know how much being a Gruehead means to Keeper as it saved me from myself when I flipped back the case on the dastardly big red button and prepared to self-destruct. I need to know that wings will not be clipped as all I really want to do is assist them in finding flight. However, this can of worms reminded me how much fun I used to have dissecting them as an infant and I grabbed my trowel enthusiastically. Suddenly, the faucet opened, and all these stunning souls began to share their findings willingly. Many of them hadn’t dipped their quill in a number of years but discovered, once they did, that it suited them down to the ground. Minds started to percolate, wings outstretch to span; all the while accompanied by delectable prose which emanated from deep within. Me being me, I just had to get me a slice of that homemade apple pie, so I grabbed my plate and jumped to the head of the queue as I’m impish. Actually it was requested that I address the Grueheads for this week’s challenge and I accepted gratefully as I see where this is leading and I like that shit.
Anyhoots, I have rattled on for long enough. This isn’t about me; this is your chance to build something from the ground up and I would be most honored to lay the foundations to facilitate such. I wish for you to choose your own destiny; I shall plant the seedling and where it leads from there depends entirely on you fine people. That could be poetry, fiction, introspective reflection, artwork, fuck it even a shanty. Or it could simply entail watching it unfurl from the sidelines. That, my dearest Grueheads, is wholly your call to make. Should this tickle your pickle then feel free to grab yourselves a fistful of baton and run in whichever direction you see fit. Should you wish to do so with flailing arms then I shall do so in unison as I haven’t the vaguest clue where this is headed either. Therein lays the true beauty of Challenge Yourself; there exist no boundaries whatsoever. Fly my pretties!
You have been admirably patient up until now so allow me to get to the meat and gravy. Do you remember the Bunker sequence? It honed in on two adolescent siblings and their grim expedition into a discarded war basement located in a local quagmire. I hinted then that it may well make a return and even tantalized one reader by suggesting it would later relocate to Romania, deep in the catacombs beneath an unlicensed rave no less. There it would likely be stumbled upon by a larger group this time; inquisitive backpackers with a sense of adventure but precious little in the way of survival instinct. Once trapped inside for the foreseeable, my plan was to reveal a little more of what made this dank pit tick but here is where you come in Grueheads. You see, I betroth Bunker to you ravenous rascals; how things pan out is down to you, what foul monstrosities await our travelers is in your court also.
The belly-crawling carnivorous cretins introduced were only ever intended for meet, greet and eat. What lays further beneath is, as yet, unclear and need not be pigeonholed to one threat. I hinted at gruesome experiments and a dilapidated underground bunker seems like the ideal hang-out for a posse of embittered Nazi zombies or winged hell-bats which spew toxic emissions capable of burning through alloy. Take it where the darkness in your minds leads you; I give my blessing for you to desecrate these walls in whichever way you please, unfazed about keeping up appearances of honoring my original narrative. Have fun; put up bloody drapes, and spill as much Apothic Red as it takes to birth this behemoth. I planted the seed, was present at its first scan, and even counted the distance of each contraction but I would love to see you deliver it to evil.
That’s all folks…from Keeper at least although the Bunker will reemerge as planned in the near future. For now, it is your playground. I have chosen to write this in first person as the heart needs to beat from the offset. How you choose to continue is at your disposal; remember I am not making this pilgrimage solo so find your pelt and zip yourselves in or, should you prefer, choose my destiny and lead me into the heart of darkness. There is no right way or wrong way; only your way (or the highway but I don’t recommend hitchhiking in Câmpina at the dead of night). One last thing, for what it’s worth and it needn’t mean nothing. My character has a name…his name… was Robert Poulson. Nah just kidding; Eugene Thompson. So without any ado to the further, shall we lift that hefty manhole cover once more?
I’m not assured that I should be here you know. Our travel guide is insistent that he knows the lay-out of the sprawling network he is about to make us privy to; however I don’t know him from Adam and remain quietly pessimistic. I would have been happy back on the dancefloor; Romanians are exquisite dancers and their choice of rip-roaring techno savvy anthems is admirable. But I have to admit that it has me intrigued. I conveniently overlooked the fact that I am afraid of being confined in small spaces as I’ll never overcome my fear unless I tackle it head-on. I won’t be alone; there are a number of titillated tourists looking to make the descent alongside me. However, that is scant consolation as the feeling in the pit of my stomach suggests that I may have had a bum steer here. Head or heart? Heart with a straight flush. I’m going in; when in Romania, do as the Romanians do right?
It has taken three of them to prise open the manhole cover and the trio’s next action has been to wretch as the aroma of certain death has wafted up to greet their flared nostrils. They’re all shining their flashlights down there as we speak and, from the guide’s broken English, it would appear he has discerned a makeshift ladder of sorts down to the first sub-level. Something is urging me not to press on; let the blind lead the blind and enjoy the fluorescent lasers some more. Frustratingly, that voice is overridden effortlessly by my persistence in engagement of something utterly hare-brained. I guess it can’t hurt to take a sneaky peek can it? I have a half-eaten packet of M&M’s and a pocketful of menial Romanian currency at my disposal so I shall simply leave a trail and be guaranteed a light snack and change for the cloak room as I make my well-informed exit. Regardless of any lingering plucky resolve; I cannot discount the sickness within me as I lower my sneaker onto the top rung.