... Hazardous (click here for full text).
The third of a series of monthly articles about sims in Second Life that could be inspiring for writers. My goal is to trigger ideas for new stories, new characters and new settings.
Note: One of the characteristics of Second Life is the fact that it's constantly and rapidly changing. Sims come and go; others look quite different, as time goes by. Do take that into consideration when using the links provided.
Hazardous is a familiar sim where I have spent countless hours, a few months ago, falling upon its richness. The end result was a short story called “The Piano Player”. I have decided to revisit this sim with you, dear reader, because I think you’d enjoy the untold stories it evokes.
Mandingo Quan, the owner of the sim, tells the visitor to “Dream infinitely… Remain fearless… Seek Hazardous adventures” and this is definitely advice worth bearing in mind as we explore the surroundings.
The landing point is a vivid reminder of how fragile life is, how bits and pieces of our selves fly away, reshaping our reality. A vintage radio on the floor, chairs tumbling over, a coat hanger, lit windows exuding beams of light upon our fragility, and a tub. I imagine choosing a radio station for a bit of music, a recurrent theme at Hazardous, while I get in the tub, immersing myself in a world both comfortingly familiar and hopefully new.
For some reason, the main character of my short-story would like to be our tour guide. He’s a famous performer who sought refuge in this remote village, away from the city lights and the media attention, after the death of his wife. Those of you who read my story know that he found a new life here. So, let’s see what he has to show us.
The grounds present a countryside landscape. The ambiance is tranquil and somewhat decaying. Surprisingly, this gives the sim a fascinating feel to it. Although not too palpable, music and sounds of all kinds surround us. A record player invites us to dance at the swift reverberation of fluttering rugs drying in the late afternoon sun.
The old wooden shack is where the piano player lives. “My home,” he whispers, a smile lingering on his eyes while an old newspaper lays forgotten on the floor.
I walk back outside, making an effort to see the place through his eyes. He stayed. He didn’t go back to the city, to the life of fame and glamour he once had. No, he stayed.
The wind wheezes in between the blades of the broken windmill, relentless, as we walk past it along the telephone lines. The cables have been cut or perhaps simply discarded. No one really worries about this. “They lead a content life,” the piano player explains.
Now, where to, asks the road sign. There? Somewhere? Anywhere? Are we lost? Being lost is delightfully tempting! We decide to walk farther, all the way up to some trees. A painting leans against one of them, providing the backdrop for a sit-down area lit by an oil lamp. Three seats announce the presence of three imaginary villagers. What do they see, apart from the fishing boat at the bottom of the cliff? What are they talking about?
The piano player shrugs and pushes me towards the lake. Its water rotates in a slow blurry dance entangled in the silhouette of two leafy trees. We sit at the edge of the wooden deck. I wonder what this water hides. What mysteries, what secrets, what magic beings live underneath this mirror.
The piano player has his own mirror. He will take me there. It’s a mirror of keys and sounds on which he once saw his own reflection.
And that’s when we come across a well, half covered by a few planks. “Dare to jump?” says the piano player amused, echoing the words of the sign standing guard close by. Of course, I do!
In the blink of an eye, we are transported to a gallery of recollections, a room full of stories untold. A windmill in the dark, a young woman by the pond, an abandoned rusted old car by the fallen phone lines, a swing, the old gas pump and the checkered floor crumbling apart, all framed, living underground, buried as if they were a well-kept secret.
One of the pictures shows a house, its doors wide open, inviting and bright, surrounded by a thick wall of rock. I wonder where it is and who lives there. Above the entrance, the word Hazardous awakens mixed feelings, though. I decide to go back to the surface, through the water pipe, and continue the tour.
A deteriorating truck is parked by the gas pump. At the back, there’s a crate that looks a lot more recent than the truck. In my wild imagination, that is a box full of smuggled guns. The piano player laughs. He cannot possibly think of anyone from around here being an arms’ dealer. I insist, but he dismisses my nonsense and drags me over to the tree with the tire swing.
“Look,” he says. The lighthouse rests at the bottom of the cliff. Weeds grow at its base and a half-sunk dinghy rocks next to it, desperately trying to stay afloat. The lighthouse is still working. I look up. Its fixed whiteness points to the moon where our checkered and hazardous hesitations made us realize our inescapable fragility.
While I lose myself in existential considerations, my piano player motions me to approach two chairs and a telescope. “This could be a story right here,” he says. “Two people, perhaps a man and his son, waiting for a ship to arrive and scanning the horizon carefully.” I am tempted to ask if that ship will bring in smuggled weapons, but I withhold from doing that. I wouldn’t want to cross a character of one of my own stories, would I?
And what is this behind us? The only intact wall of a ruined cottage holds the screen where photos are shown. These are photos of Hazardous, transporting us to a myriad of unforeseen wonders and perils, just like dreams seasoned with a pinch of nightmare.
We continue our walk along the coastline, yet when we’re about to reach a bridge, I spot a wooden dance floor built around a tree. An incomparable feeling of joy is conveyed by the delicate stream of white lights surrounding the area and growing around the tree as ivy. I can almost hear the merry laughter of the villagers, dancing till the early morning.
“We must go,” says the piano player. He is eager to show me something, perhaps the area at the bottom of the cliff where a flock of black birds circles the air. But no, it’s not that.
We cross the bridge and walk towards a hidden line of steps, hugging the side of a massive rock. He points down. I recognize the place. This is where he played himself back to life, sitting at the piano, a key at a time, the entire village bearing witness to the wonder, and the music score flying away, free. “Just breathe,” he said. I remember that. We sit at the piano for a while, in silence. There’s a lot to be said about apparently trivial moments.
A seagull caws in the wind while the water splashes under the plank walkway and we move onwards. I wonder why a few framed pictures float on the surface of the water. I look closer. They portray moments and locations in Hazardous, a vivid reminder of the cycles our lives often go through.
Reluctantly, I’m drawn to a shed where a crow voices pressing warnings of a sullen future. The piano player corrects me immediately. “Why must you always think the worst? They reflect the past, not the future!” I don’t agree with him, obviously. Unlike many other less fortunate characters in my stories, he is very much alive, because I didn’t think the worst. So, there. Moving on!
We walk around the rocks for a long time, going over story plots to be written, past a fishing boat and a chorus of enthusiastic seagulls, until we arrive at the hidden entrance of the area we spotted from above, the one with the black birds.
As we approach, we see an airboat. The engine is fuming profusely. Was it an accident or merely a mechanical failure? Where’s the driver? Is he hurt? I decide to venture into this secret universe, dragging my piano player with me. Surprisingly, our guide seems to be unwilling to accompany me now. I wonder why.
A statue of Buddha sits under a waterfall, right next to the swing. Oh! And that is the house! I hasten my pace. It’s so peaceful and inviting here. There’s plenty of room to sit down and even music, again music. A few pictures rest against the wall, behind a globe. I remember that one of the photos of the slide show portrayed someone sitting by the telescope, looking at a map, most likely sketching wondrous travels across never ending oceans. Interesting.
Coffee is served. I invite the piano player to join me. He is still standing outside. After a moment of silence, he shakes his head. I have the feeling he knows more about the place than I do. Perhaps there is a darker side to this idyllic canyon where the birds chirp and the waterfalls cradle our essence, drawing mesmerizing circles on the water surface.
So, we don’t linger on too long. Instead, we walk back up and through the fields.
I bid farewell to my piano player. It was nice sharing some writing time with him once more. He goes his way, waving goodbye and smiling again. I can’t help but think that he is actually relieved to get rid of me!
It’s time to depart. This sim is enticing and mysterious, beautifully simple and complexly inspiring. It evokes both beauty and the darkest meanders of our existence, and it quickly becomes a rich source of motivation for any storyteller.
Close to the end of this article, I repeat the quote we came across at the beginning of our visit. “Dream infinitely… Remain fearless… Seek Hazardous adventures.” An idiosyncratic chorus of crows and seagulls builds momentum until I see the road sign once more. Confused? Lost? Here? There? Where? Anywhere?
I say anywhere in this sim, because… there’s a story waiting to happen at Hazardous.
Disclaimer: Virtual Writers and I are in no way affiliated with any shop located in the sims featured in this column nor do we intend to promote them.