Electron Dance
8Oct/13Off

The Beast

I remember the first time I met the beast.

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It was early afternoon beneath a naked sun. Having strayed a little too far from the familiar geography of Outpost Draco, I had been relying on compass and guesswork to find my way back home. Not that the camp was home, especially as a dead body lay amidst the huts, but it was the only place I knew.

The noise of a heart beating made me pause my search and I stopped on the shore of a bay. I was no stranger to fever and exhaustion so first thought I was suffering from a new symptom of the plague that ailed me. I was in error, my health was fine. I looked out across the ocean but the beating continued.

Suddenly, I had a very, very bad feeling; a dark realisation blooming in my gut.

I spun around – the beast, the beast! A black, feline creature was creeping towards me over a small rise. Elegant, deliberate steps. Such majesty, such menace! Terrified. My back to the sea, what was I to do? Where was I to go? It was unbearably close, mere metres from where I stood. I couldn’t look away, fearing the beast might pounce.

I backed away slowly… wading into the sea, hoping the cat would refuse to follow. It continued to advance, forcing me further out into the bay where I had to swim to stay afloat. The beast arrested its advance, choosing to pace back and forth in the shallow water at the shore, patiently waiting for my eventual return.

In my beleaguered condition, I could not exert myself for too long and soon began to drown. I tried to reach another shore away from the beast, but it tracked my movements, trapping me in the deep water. I was checkmated.

Coughing, choking. And my vision went black.

Then Miasmata (IonFX, 2012) restarted again.      

*      *      *

I was racing through a forest, a high fever bleaching colour from my vision. It had been some time since I’d taken something for the fever and was, once again, lost in the wilderness. I had been trying to get back to Outpost Draco to cook up some medicine – but had somehow overshot and was north of the camp. There were no landmarks to guide me.

That’s when I met the beast for the second time.

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I heard the heartbeat and stopped dead. I turned around, wondering where the beast might be. The forest was covered in thick undergrowth and everything kept blurring due to fever. I could hear the beast pacing through leaves… but where? Where? Frightened that the beast would be approaching from behind, paranoia kept me turning around and around. I would keep turning until I could see it.

Finally: a dark shape bobbed in and out of the undergrowth from where I had come from.

I didn’t have time to play with this monstrous cat because the fever was far advanced, so I ran for my life, hoping I would emerge from the forest and find the camp again.

I slipped down a slope and tumbled, the world whirred and whined. I could hear the soft padding behind me speed up so I just started running again. But then the world fell sideways and my vision went black. The fever had won.

Then Miasmata restarted again.

*      *      *

I explained to Little HM that there was a creature on the island but I'd only seen it twice in the many hours I’d already spent inside the game, so I thought we’d be fine. We started out from Draco and followed the route to Outpost Vega that had been added to the map. I wanted to go somewhere new and not feel completely lost for a change.

It was morning when we started out on the journey and walked at a leisurely pace; I feared that running around like a mad dog might attract the attentions of a mad cat. We chatted about how the compass works and I explained I was looking for flowers and mushrooms to make medicine. I spotted a few new varieties of flora along the way and took some samples, hoping some of them would prove useful. I triangulated our position as best I could, but it was always difficult. Many of the landmarks were unknown at this point.

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We pottered about in a river and then saw the tops of some huts peeking out from the other side of a ridge that followed alongside the stream. Excited that we were on the verge of reaching Outpost Vega, I sprinted up the bank towards the camp.

And there I met the beast for the third time, advancing towards us across the top of the bank. Little HM locked down his eyes and ears and I moved backwards, keeping the beast in view, never looking away. The camp was on the other side of the beast and I needed to find some way around. My speed in reverse gear seemed hideously slow and I felt the creature was gaining on me.

I threw myself down the bank and fell into the river. The flowers we had collected scattered out across the surface of the water but I left them, swimming across the river, hoping the beast could not follow. I couldn’t tell whether the stream was deep enough to act as a barrier.

From the other side, I watched the beast come down to the water’s edge and was elated that it did not attempt to cross. It merely padded back and forth, as if thinking. I took nothing for granted here. I did not think the creature was stupid.

I moved further back and tried to hide behind a thin tree, which must have looked ridiculous, like Santa Claus trying to hide behind a broomstick. I kept moving back, trying to put more trees between the beast and myself. Little HM was glancing at the game at random moments, getting brief snapshots of my progress. I gave him a running commentary, just in case he wanted to rejoin the fray.

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The beast eventually wandered off towards the camp and I was relieved. If the beast had given up on its prey then this would be the first time I had survived an encounter with the creature. Soon, I couldn’t see the beast any more so carefully leaned out at to see where it had gone.

Jesus. Christ.

It had crossed over the river. The beast had wandered downstream to where the river was shallow and had crossed over! It was now weaving through the trees, advancing on my location. I had to choose and choose fast. I could try to retreat further back into the trees, where the cover didn’t seem to be any better and behind me was a steep hill – which sounded like last stand territory. Alternatively, I could just dash back across the river.

I was scared: the river was the obvious choice. After I got across, I decided to leg it to the outpost. Little HM was incredulous because he was sure the beast was going to pounce on me from behind. We knew it could cross the river now; I was not safe at all. But I had to break the impasse and couldn’t play cat and mouse like this all day.

Tingles rippled up my spine as I sprinted towards the hut, expecting the beast to maul me at any moment. I dared not look back. Reaching the base of the nearest hut, I had to dart around the side to get in and, as I started up the entrance steps my running speed dropped to a crawl. I felt the sudden deceleration in the pit of my stomach. Climbing the steps was like climbing through syrup.

I made it inside in one piece. I peered out from what I prayed was safe haven, a place of test tubes and microscopes, a bastion of science against feral, ferocious nature. The beast circled the hut a few times and then, without warning, sprinted off into the distance as if embarrassed by defeat.

I had no intention of going back outside for a while, so told Little HM we were going to sleep off the rest of the day. We took an afternoon nap. And then another nap through the night.

I had survived.

*      *      *

I was somewhere in the south-eastern quarter of the island, lost in some woods again. Clutching a mixture of unique mushrooms and flowers, I was working my way slowly towards the coast where I hoped I could figure out my location.

Before I got there, I heard that tell-tale heartbeat again. This was my fourth encounter with the beast.

There was a sense of déjà vu because I could hear it yet not see it. The soft rustle of foliage as something stalked me in the woods. It was out there watching, hunting, coming.

I lost my resolve and ran for the coastline, thinking that up to my neck in water was probably safer than being amongst a crowd of trees. Instead of the shore, though, I found myself hurtling towards the edge of a cliff. Behind me, I could hear the beast pursuing at speed, roaring. There was no time for debate.

I leapt into the air and the mushrooms and flowers fell like the rain--

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Comments (5) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Note that a second piece on Miasmata – more analytical – will be coming up later.

  2. Excellent stuff, punchy and atmospheric. I should really play this game, though probably I should wait until I’m a bit less stressed first. The island may be beautiful, but it doesn’t sound a very relaxing holiday spot.

  3. Ha! It’s actually sedate for the most part but there’s certainly a vein of tension running through the whole thing. You never know when you’re next going to bump into your nemesis.

  4. Excellent, excellent piece of work. Absolutely captures the feeling, the sensation of that creature’s approach. In my experience, you know it’s there – you sense it – often before any clue materializes. Before the heartbeat, before anything. You just get that “oh… oh no…” feeling. And then the heart begins to pound.

    I look forward to your analysis as well. The game’s central conceit – lost on a reasonably-big island, hunted by a single creature – is very clever. And it creates such a unique feeling, really capturing stuff that games usually don’t do. With this kind of promising first start, I hope to see more from IonFX in the future!

    HM, great job!

  5. Hey, it’s thanks to your original impressions piece that I checked this out at all.

    In the third encounter I missed the heart beat completely because I was running the sound through the speakers and it just wasn’t that audible for some reason. Hence, BIG surprise when I sprinted up that bank.

    The analysis will be a little down the road – I’m setting up stall for Gone Home right now.