Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Essay: Ideas out of Chaos.

The World Wide Web is a very strange place.

I'm not talking about the porno, by the way. Look, I don't know how long that stuff has been there, but a) it's not my fault, and b) if I ever vanish for, like, a year, and you can't find me it's probably because someone got me a subscription to Girlz Gone Goofy or some crap.

Actually, the most scariest thing is that I just pulled the name "Girlz Gone Goofy" out of my ass just then-- and now I'm afraid to Google it. Somewhere out there is a website with that name, and someone out there is paying $19.99 a month to download whatever is on it.

So, you want to be an author, but you can't think of anything to write about? Are you frickin' serious?

The history of mankind is replete with borked up situations and compelling drama, if you only know where to look.

I'm going to give you just four short examples. You get to take those examples and run with them. Make them into something great.

1) The Battle of Rorke's Drift. In January of 1879 the British Army got their ass handed to them by a group of extremely pissed off Zulu warriors. Suddenly, the Zulu, who had largely been obliterated by the firepower the Brits could bring to battle, recognized that their discipline and training under Shaka could actually bring them victory.

And the British? They realized that a poorly defended fort with 139 soldiers was about to get swarmed by a human wave attack on a scale they'd never before imagined. On 22 January the Zulu steamrolled the British at the Battle of Isandlwana and kept going, arrowing straight at the fort-- with 3,900 Zulu warriors, most of whom were in a Bad Mood.

I'll say that again. 139 defenders standing their ground against four thousand irate Zulu attackers.

History records what happened next. After ten hours and after expending all but 900 rounds of shot out of the 20,000 the garrison started with, the defenders were relieved by a column of troops led by Lord Chelmsford. Unfortunately, the reinforcing British saw the Zulu as little more than animals, and slaughtered the wounded and battle ready alike.

Just so you know, The Battle of Rorke's Drift has been used by at least four Military Science Fiction authors in one manner or another. The basics of the plot are fairly straightforward: a numerically superior force is attacking a few, well-armed defenders in a defensible position. Relief is either not expected, or at the very least, not expected for some time. In fact, the original Starcraft mission "Desperate Alliance" hearkens back to this very concept. You are required to hold an outpost for thirty minutes against increasingly powerful wave attacks from an enemy that outnumbers you considerably, but is poorly armed compared to the firepower you can bring to bear. Unless you know what you're doing, trying to sally forth and take the battle to the Bloody Hun is a great way to get the absolute crap kicked out of you. (Dammit! Now I want to play Starcraft again... Must finish blog...)

2) The Wagon Box Fight. A few years before Rorke's Drift, just after the American Civil War, in fact, there was a lesser known battle of similar nature. In August of 1867 a force of three thousand Lakota, Sioux, and Cheyenne attacked thirty-one troops of the US Army's 9th Infantry near Fort Phil Kearny. In a battle that lasted for five hours, the defenders repulsed wave after wave of assaults, and credited their survival to a new piece of military hardware: a .50 caliber breech loading rifle that cut reload and refire time by more than twenty seconds. The defenders lost five killed and two wounded. Estimated casualties among the attackers were between 30-60 killed and 120 wounded, but some accounts claim the casualties were in the 1100-1300 range. (I find that difficult to believe. An assault force is generally considered combat ineffective at 7% casualties, combat routed at 9%, and combat destroyed at 13%. 30% casualties would be an unheard of number just to erase one small force of defenders.)

You can see examples of the Wagon Box Fight (and the next day's battle, the Hayfield Fight) in games such as HALO and the accompanying novels, where one significant advantage in technology provides a vastly smaller force (The 9th infantry was outnumbered 96 to 1!) with the means to not only stay in the fight, but to prevail.

Not everything is about combat and battles, though. Howzaboot we delve into the realm of mystery?

3) The Lead Masks Case. In August 20, 1966 two Brazilian electronics technicians were found in a field outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by a small boy flying a kite. Both men were wearing suits, waterproof coats, and lead masks. Near the bodies was an empty bottle of water and two towels. Also next to them was a note, written in Portuguese, that read, "16:30, be at agreed place. 18:30, swallow capsules. After effect protect metals wait for sign mask."

The police put together a timeline of their last hours based on witnesses who saw them in town, where they purchased the bottle of water and the waterproof coats. One of the men looked nervous and kept looking at his watch.

All right, storyteller, why were they there? What were these two men hoping to achieve with this "meeting" in a field? What did they take? (An autopsy found no trace of poison in their systems due to improper storage of their organs before the toxicology report could be made.)

Conspiracy theorists go batshit (batshit-er?) with this one. Was it aliens, demons, demonic aliens, or a suicide pact designed to leave the rest of the world scratching their heads and saying, "WTF?"

We'll probably never know-- but since you're an author, I'll leave you to tell their story.

4) The Taman Shud Case. Lest you think that all weird shit happens in the Americas, I'd like to introduce you to the Taman Shud Case. In 1948 in Adelaide, Australia (Somerton Beach, to be precise, so you can also look this up by searching for the Somerton Man.) a middle-aged male was found dead at 6:30am on December 1st. The description in the Wikipedia article referenced above seems to indicate someone in fairly good shape for his age, who did little to no manual labor, judging by the state of his hands.

He was dressed well, although for some reason he was dressed for a colder climate, wearing a "fashionable" pullover and suit. Oddly, he did not have a hat, which was particularly unusual given that he was wearing a suit at a time in history when they went together like Forrest and Jenny.

He not only had no identification on him, his clothing labels had been painstakingly removed. Throughout the month of December there were eight positive identifications of the man, one of which was recanted when a witness got a second look at the body and noted the absence of a particular scar.

Things took an interesting twist when the police discovered that a suitcase with its label removed had been checked into the cloak room of the Adelaide Railway Station on the evening of the 30th of November. The clothes in the bag had also had their labels removed, but oddly there were two names, "Keane" on a tie and "Kean" on a singlet. Police theorized that these names had been left because they were not the victim's, and therefore intended to lead the police astray.

It gets weirder. Inside a secret pocket in the man's trousers police found a scrap of paper with the words "Taman Shud." These is actually the last words written in the collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Also adding to the general sense of creep, the scrap of paper was traced to a book left in a man's unlocked car also on the 30th of November, the same night the bag was checked into the cloak room. In the back of the book was the following "coded" message:

You can see an actual picture of this HERE.
There were also two additional connections to other unexplained deaths in the area. I'll let you look them up, but they are the Mangnoson case and the Marshall case.

I'll also tell you that in 2009 a college professor named Derek Abbott at the University of Adelaide started working on solving the case by cracking the code and exhuming the body. He's made some progress, including discovering that the autopsy report and original investigation notes from 1948 have gone missing. Hmmmm...

Personally, I think the man conspired with Elvis to shoot JFK while exterminating the dinosaurs. He may also have been Kaspar Hauser.

In 2005, Stephen King published a book called Colorado Kid that has similarities to this case, which was also referenced in the novel Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr. Since my name is not Stephen, I don't know if I am allowed to write about this or not, but doesn't this sound like a fascinating start to a storyline-- or even an end to one?

With a few minutes research on the web, it's possible to discover dozens of storylines like this. Best of all-- they are all true!

Leaving only one question out of many: How are you going to explain them?

Write On!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!




  1. Great examples. I think my love of history and my love of writing are intertwined at the root. History is like a never-ending library, chock full of the most exciting stories and compelling characters imaginable. My only problem is that I probably won't live long enough to explore all its marvelous facets.

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