C J Halbard

Tempest Bay - a town of lucid mystery

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I love imaginary spaces, and the Long Dark is one of the most compelling I've ever journeyed in. When Raph talked about using time & movement through space as the antagonists, that was really interesting to me as a writer. The Long Dark, Dishonoured 2, and Alan Wake have inspired me to create my own imaginary space, Tempest Bay, a stormy shoreline town on the far coast of New Zealand. It's a place where unusual people who need space go to be themselves (sound familiar?). But instead of time & movement, I think of psychogeography itself - history & madness woven into the landscape- as the main thing opposing the characters. 

All of which is to say, here's a short extract from the first Project Tempest novella. In terms of line-by-line style you may see a bit of Cormac McCarthy by way of Grey Mother woven in there. If you're interested in reading more the novella is free at project-tempest.net - I can attach a pdf here but I wanted to respect the community and know if that's a neighbourly thing or not. 

Thanks to everyone who keeps making The Long Dark such a cool experience & board. 

 

Hearts & Minds - extract from Project Tempest 1

Overnight the Cook Strait sloshes hot with unseasonal storms. Tidal swells drive hundreds of jellyfish onto the Tempest Bay shoreline, glowing sickly blue in the dark like primordial stars. Things like that happen here. Tempest Bay looks like cottages and holidays and Pacific ocean skies but the south coast of New Zealand is still the ends of the earth, make no doubt.

Eva sits on her bed alone in the cottage with her arms folded sweaty inside her favourite knit jumper, the one with the Ziggy Stardust pattern that they found at the Wellington markets last Easter. Listens to the wind. Tries not to think of what happened before, what happens next. Why everything keeps coming back round to this same place and this same bed and this same look-inside feeling where everything’s broke and itchy like a jellyfish sting-   

Jackie in Eva’s head: Hey, angel cat. Don’t live down to that part of you.

But it’s all that part of me. The mistake people make is thinking there’s separate pieces. Like I’m a bolt-on riding mower with attachments. 

***

The morning when it comes is a long stain of disgraceful sunlight. The taste of sand and birdshit in the air. 
An eleven year old girl whose name is Lucia stumbles along the water’s edge of Tempest Bay. All at angles to herself as she picks a desperate path through dying jellyfish. 
She’s trailed by the young wolves of the housing development. They’ve hounded her from the eastern stream past the BP surf hut and the driftwood strand and now Plumber Cottage- 
She trips- 
The children swarm. Tear her shoes from her feet. Muck them in the grey-black sand. Scoop up a jellyfish corpse and shriek gleefully. The youngest girl-wolf squats and pisses on the shoes with a spidery hissing sound while the others laugh and laugh and laugh. 
A lump of sand explodes. Eva rises like a sea monster from where she blacked out and fell at four o’clock this morning in the dark. 
HNNGNGNGNNNNH. The child-wolves scatter back east, whooping. 
Eleven year old Lucia folds sideways on the shore. Hot face. Something clutched tight in her hand, won’t let go.  

***

Eva looks after Lucia at the kitchen table of Plumber cottage. Warm wet cloth and a shrewsbury biscuit from the old soldier tin. Green citrus tea in a battered pot. 
What went on out there? Eva says. 
Not telling, Lucia says. 
The girl is so awkward. Ragged and misaligned, a visitor everywhere she goes. But something about her. A determination. 
Scudding grey clouds outside. Eva hungers for a shower. For chocolate. For company and delicious solitude, ideally at the same time. 
Lucia studies the sketches and printouts on the cottage walls. Maps. Mood boards. Characters. Scenery. Once-loved possibilities recently neglected.  
What do you do? Lucia says. 
I’m a game designer, Eva says. 
You make games? For real? 
Used to. Indie videogames. 
But not any more? 
Maybe. I don’t know. 
Lucia absorbs this. Hasn’t let go of the thing clutched in her hand, not for anything. 
Why were you out on the beach? Lucia says.  
Why were you? Eva says. 
Who’s that in that photo? 
That’s Jackie. My girlfriend. 
Where’s she?
Not here. 
Is that why you were out on the beach, all smelly and covered in sand?
Be grateful I was there at all, young lady. 
I’m not a lady, Lucia says. Though I guess I’m young. What’s it like being old?
I’m twenty eight, Eva says. 
Exactly.  
Eva doesn’t know whether to smile or snap so she gets up and sees to the girl’s shoes. They wash up all right, orange child-piss sluicing away in the sink. But they’re not normal kicks. Old and fancy with worn white straps. More like something from an antique op shop. 
Where’d you get these? Eva says. 
Not- 
I know. Not telling. 

***

The girl leaves Plumber Cottage with the shoes around her neck, thin black laces tied together. 
Don’t tell my Dad, Lucia says instead of thank you. 
Who’s your Dad? Eva says. 
Just don’t tell him, Lucia says. 
Lucia turns away. Her shoulders hunch and just for a moment Eva sees the weight on them. The girl steps down onto the sand and trots west in the morning light, towards the cliffs at the far end of the bay where the old Lighthouse stands. 
On her way to the bathroom Eva realises that one of the old spoons that goes with the teapot has vanished. 
In the shower, the night-beach muck streaming out of her hair and down her back and legs, she realises who the young girl’s father might be. Drops the shampoo bottle on her foot then tears the shower curtain trying to get her balance back. 
 

project-tempest.net

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