Suffering of the Unchosen Story Excerpt and Notes

“Suffering of the Unchosen” was a short story I wrote for Tales of the Dark Eras to highlight my take on the Salem Witch Trials for Hunter: The Vigil in Dark Eras. In Doubting Souls (1690-1695), I set the stage for a setting in which monster-hunting players have trouble figuring out who the real monster is. This story is representative of one take on Doubting Souls; that era has a considerable amount of setting information in and around Salem Town and Salem Village following months of research. Some of the resources I pulled from are also listed at the end of that chapter as well.

My story ties into that theme by presenting a main character, a grieving widower and father, who wants nothing more than to exact justice on the hunters who murdered his family. Whether or not his anger is justified is something you’ll have to find out should you read the entire tale.

For now, though, I hope you enjoy this excerpt from “Suffering of the Unchosen”.

Suffering of the Unchosen

I was but a simple farmer whose tender son once planted seeds in barren, rocky soil, whose sweet wife once gathered berries, herbs, and mushrooms in the forest, whose family once led a trouble-free life surrounded by our cousins and neighbors in Salem Village.

Now, that life — the life of William Mansforth — is over. Though it is by some miracle I still draw breath, the rest of my family was tragically murdered a few nights ago.

I found their smoldering remains after I had returned home, battered and bruised, for I had been robbed by petty thieves earlier that day. Upon witnessing the horrible sight of my wife and child blackened beyond all recognition, I sank to my knees in despair, for everything I owned and loved had been ripped from me in a mere day’s time. My purse had been stolen, my cabin and tiny plot of land had been sanctified by fire, and my wife and son had been tied to the stake and burnt alive.

In truth, I had not the eyes to see the pyre for what it was — a ruse — for I was preoccupied with guilt. What could I have done to save them? My beloved wife, Mary, and my adopted son of five years, William, were unjustly murdered and judged as witches for all to see. They were no devil-worshippers! Questions plagued me; each was a pox upon my mind. If I stayed the night, would their murderers return and end me, too? Would I know the faces of the townsfolk who took two innocent lives? Or, was this the Devil’s Hand at work?

With an aching heart, I slept at the foot of that grisly sight, whispering prayers for their wayward souls, so that the spirits of my wife and son would not lose themselves in sorrow. Our cabin’s logs heaped upon the pyre still burned slow and hot; their orange embers provided warmth and kept the cold dew from settling on my skin. There I slept on the hard ground, inhaling and holding the dwindling smoke of that wretched fire in my lungs, begging for death. Who could have done such a thing? Who dared to commit murder and walk free?

At my wit’s end, I could no longer feign sleep. Instead, I sat up, pulled out my hunting knife, and sliced my open palm. I was careful not to wince as I did so; the pain was sharp, but lingering. It reminded me that whilst my wife and son were dead I was, by God’s miraculous Hand, still alive. So in this fevered state, I forged a pact with Him in my own blood, to shine His light into the darkest recesses of men’s most murderous hearts, to ensure my family’s killers were justly judged — even if their capture would come at the cost of my own life.

“William…”

“Mary?” I knew not if her voice was inside my head, or if it was calling to me from between the trees. I yearned for her and hoped her ghost was a divine messenger. I shouted into the open air: “I am frightened, Mary. Is that you?”

“Here, William. Look to the great oak!”

I did as the voice bade, and saw a vision of Mary made whole, standing in front of the tree where we first met. Her naked body was shrouded in fine translucent robes, her long golden-brown hair flowed wild and free, and her kind brown eyes were just as merry as I remembered. She stood apart from me at a distance, but near enough so I could tell she was not a figment of my imagination.

“I am sorry, Mary. I was robbed, wife. Beaten and robbed!” I tried to beg her forgiveness, but my tongue was stuck. “Had I gotten home sooner…”

“William, you must listen carefully to me now. I have naught but a few moments, and I must tell you a secret…”

I fell into a fever-dream, half-drunk at the sight of her, wondering if I had finally gone mad. Was her spirit Heaven-sent or Devil-born? For precious few moments, I wondered if my wife truly was a witch. Then her words stuck to me like thistles, and they held fast.

“…three innocent babes, stuffed with herbs and dressed in linen, buried beneath the church by my late husband. I was the only one alive who witnessed were they were buried…and who killed them…”

“Who did this to you, Mary?” My voice was raspy, and I struggled to speak. I had to know. “Who slaughtered you and our dear boy for the sake of this knowledge? Who?”

“They call themselves hunters.”

Tales of the Dark Eras is now available now on DriveThruFiction.com. Each story in this collection tackles a different historical era, and offers a look into vampires, changelings, werewolves and more featured in the Chronicles of Darkness game line. Watch for upcoming news about additional platforms!

[New Release] Tales of the Dark Eras Anthology

Tales of the Dark Eras

Today, I am pleased to announce that Tales of the Dark Eras, a collection of alternate history stories inspired by Dark Eras, is now available. I wrote a Hunter: The Vigil story set in the early 1690s called “Suffering of the Unchosen”, about a distraught father who has accused the local hunters of killing his wife and child near Salem Village. Motivated by his grief and anger, the local farmer intersects with the Knights of Saint George to bring his family’s murderers to justice…or so it seems.

Walk through the ages…

As a companion to Chronicles of Darkness: Dark Eras this anthology reveals secrets of the mystics, whispers rumors of the dead, and shines a light into the darkest corners of the world.

Tales of the Dark Eras includes historical stories based within the shadowed past of Vampire: The Requiem, Mage: The Awakening, Werewolf: The Forsaken, Changeling: The Lost, and other Chronicles of Darkness settings.

In the Chronicles of Darkness…

Explore the shadows with tales by Howard Ingham, Malcolm Sheppard, Pete Woodworth, Renee Ritchie, Jess Hartley, Monica Valentinelli, Danielle Harper, Matthew McFarland, Mike Tomasek, Eric Zawadski, Meghan Fitzgerald, and Dennis Detwiller.

Tales of the Dark Eras is now available in print and digital!

On Alternate History and Investigative Research

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

One of the techniques I feel very strongly about when writing alternate history which, in many ways, is a component of many games, stories, and reference materials I write, is to take an investigative approach to research. There are many reasons why I feel this is necessary, and much of my thoughts on the subject come from the mistakes I’ve made or from the realizations I’ve come to over the years as I’ve delved into this approach on many occasions, for many projects.

Often, in games this approach is crucial because the point of a game is to be immersed in a world where you, as the player, make choices for your character either by yourself or in a group with the guidance of a games master. In both, however, the more specific the details, the better the readers/players are able to submerse themselves in a world similar, but different, from our own. The ability to be inspired by historical events is also impacted by popular media, what you’ve learned in school, what you’ve internalized, etc. Thus, sometimes a writer’s research might turn up facts that are often misrepresented, which can push narratives and settings into new directions for the reader–but have been there all along. “The Aliens Built the Pyramids” is a common example, and the idea that ancient peoples were less intelligent and less capable than people today, often reduces their accomplishments and their humanity.

As another example, I’ve written about the Salem Witch Trials. Did you know that Salem Town and Salem Village were two separate, but nearby, places? Or that this unusual event occurred at the tail end of the so-call witch hysteria in Europe? Or that prisoners had to pay for their own room and board which often bankrupted them? Or that the female Puritan believers were often taught to read the Bible, but not to write? Or that the supernatural was blamed for everything that went wrong, even crops failing? Of course, you might have known all of those things (and more) already, but my point here is that stories often condense facts in order to best fit the plot and characters or, for a game, its setting and the potential of telling stories. Instead of having Salem Town and Salem Village, sometimes we’ll see representations set in “Salem” to simplify the setting. I didn’t do that, myself, but it’s not uncommon to see a hyper focus on a specific aspect of the Salem Witch Trials as opposed to the broader overview due to budgetary, time, and narrative constraints. This can result in the same story being told over and over again, which can hurt writers, editors, and designers because it forces us to do something extraordinary in order to bring a fresh perspective.

I’m of the mind that conducting research benefits writers and designers in many ways. It allows you to avoid repeating the same, tired tropes and presents you with better choices to tell a more compelling story and create better games, because you’ll have more information to work from as opposed to starting with the expectations everyone already shares that stem from prior coverage. After all, there have been many changes in technology which have allowed the facilitation of faster and better research materials than were previously available five, ten, and even twenty years ago, which means the expectation to get the background details is a lot higher, even though there’s also been a substantive rise in the need to produce stories and games more quickly than ever before in order to remain financially soluble. And, of course, even beyond the creative there is the 24-hour news cycle and the constant stream of information begging to be read and no guarantees that what you’re reading is based in fact(1).

But often, investigative research tends to get a bad rap not because it requires time or critical thinking, but because it necessitates the understanding that bias exists. This, unfortunately, can be highly politicized even though the existence of bias really doesn’t have anything to do with politics. It is, simply, how our minds work. Avoiding the acknowledgement of our own personal biases is where research can fall down before it begins, because it essentially means that we have to be open to the possibility that what we know is wrong. This fear typically manifests in an assumption that fiction is all just made up stuff and, if that’s true, then what’s the point of reading and analyzing historical materials for our made up worlds? For others, this might challenge personal beliefs that are held dear, and force uncomfortable thoughts that could bring about a change to the way we think or what we believe. As time passes, however, materials within the historical record will include what we create–games, stories, etc.–and readers are often influenced by alternate history to the point where misinformation becomes true(2), for that is the power of a story. In other words: what we make becomes part of the historical record and public consciousness, especially if our reach is broad. And, that carries with it a certain amount of power that can create both positive and negative effects. Some of these effects can and are mitigated by research.

When the historically-inspired details resonate positively, they can be a force for good because it may encourage people to question what they know, to correct misinformation by thinking more critically about a topic they haven’t before, or to feel empathy for another human being(3). When details reinforce misinformation or stereotypes, however, it can do a great deal of damage, even resulting in the bullying of children(4). The discussions about race or gender or what-have-you, which is also connected to bias, has been attributed to politics and often raises eyebrows for the simple fact that when a claim is heard it isn’t believed. “It didn’t happen to me, ergo I don’t believe it’s true because it doesn’t fit my worldview.” But, I find it sometimes is affected by the idea that non-fiction is written rationally, and those materials are part and parcel to investigative research. That same idea can also be shaped by the trust we do (or don’t) place in our source material and that, too, can be affected by bias as well.

While the idea that non-fiction is written with a rational mind may have some merit to a certain degree, all information is often relayed for a specific purpose of some kind, and its meaning or reception is impacted both by context and how words change meaning over time. An example of this is the discussion related to the term “redskins” and the intersection of that slur and the Washington Redskins logo. The history of the term “redskin”, according to Goddard in that article, evolved over many years. This is just one story why I believe it’s crucial to think critically and research when attempting alternate history. Not only does the meaning of words change over time, but the words we use impact different groups of people differently as well. If we are making games and telling stories to be widely read, we don’t know who that ideal reader or player is anymore–especially in an era where we can digitally distribute works all across the world at a touch of a button. This doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t make mistakes, or that we’ll always make choices based on what happened in history. There is no such thing as a perfect story, game, comic, painting, sculpture, etc.–there will always be flaws, because we are not perfect. However, for myself I feel that the best thing I can do for my publisher and for you (reader, player, etc.), is to do the best job I possibly can–and that means I have to research and work with my editors and fellow contributors to make smart, informed decisions for the final result.

Before I go, I want to give you two tips if you’re interested in investigative research. If you’re researching an event or a subject, try to find sources from multiple perspectives–even advertising!–as opposed to relying on texts written through an anthropological or a victor’s lens. A 360 degree view is hugely helpful, and it might even give you insight and perspective that you never would’ve achieved otherwise. One word of caution, however, if you are researching groups of people you don’t identify or associate with. I’d avoid finding “a” representative and then treat their words as indicative of how that entire group feels or thinks. People will always have a varying degree of opinions, and what you want ideally is a bell curve of perspectives whenever possible to avoid the extreme ends of the spectrum. That can be a challenge, for sure, but I feel it’s also very exciting. After all, you are not only connecting with other people in a unique way through your research, I find that your work will be positively impacted because you’ll make better, more informed decisions that can reach more readers and players. Plus, the more you take this approach, the faster you’ll be able to apply those techniques for your next project.

My second tip is to build a research phase into your project–even if it’s for a couple of hours to find a broad range of sources or time to read them. This phase will also help you manage expectations if you’re working for a publisher, too, because it’ll help frame your internal process so you can still meet your deadlines and boost your confidence knowing that you’ve got a strong foundation to work from. You might decide to do this after you’re done with your first draft, or you might do this before you write your story or design your game to figure out what perspective you’d like to take. Regardless, I strongly suggest not relying solely on other media sources in the same subject matter for your research, because you don’t know if non-fiction sources were used to create them unless you can find the bibliography that was used. That said, I find it’s always helpful to read broadly.

(1) An open letter about Irish slaves is a good example of this, given the coverage was addressed in Scientific American, which is a source given a lot of credence.
(2) Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and its effect on religious beliefs comes to mind, here.
(3) For example, you might think about what happened when Alex Haley’s Roots first aired, or the movie Philadelphia, and the resulting conversations that occurred from them.
(4) There is a fair bit of work done, every year, around Halloween to explain why dressing up in feather headdresses and leather shifts hurts Native Americans regardless of tribe throughout the country. And yet, these costumes still exist despite the harm they cause. See also: there are dozens of links on the subject.

On History Redux for a Squee

Gromit Reading Avatar

Well, I’m happy that this 365 Days worth of Squee is off to a great start. I’m in the middle of unpacking my library, stumbling on the books I’ve been pulling together for my alternate history novel, when I realized something.

I am very lucky.

I say this again: I am very lucky. I have had some *great* educators over the years, from an American history professor I had to the T.A. who was studying Viking archaeology. In college, what did I know? Not much. I didn’t really fully understand cultural appropriation, Western imperialism, or how history books I’d read were so one-sided–I was too inexperienced to I think. Suspected? Yes. Years later, *now* I understand some things about these pretty heady topics, because I’ve intentionally put the time in to find various perspectives for a lot of reasons, both personally and professionally.

The truth is, I love history because there’s so many powerful and emotional stories there–some that make me cry, laugh, get angry, scratch my head, throw my fist in the air, and drop my jaw with amazement. I could be wrong, but I’m of the mind that empathy can be learned by understanding the atrocities of the past and listening to the voices who dared to speak of them so we don’t repeat these events in the future. I see that history is a lot more complex and real than what it often gets distilled into, and I reflexively want to find out more from both sides–even if it makes me uncomfortable–so I have more stories to read and, by way of research, more stories to tell.

This has been a transformative squee, brought to you by thinking about what inspires me.

12/365

    Mood: I’m… Getting… Better!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Working on my second cup.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: STILL yping like mad!
    In My Ears: Fish tank.
    Game Last Played: Age of Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur
    Book Last Read: The Crimson Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
    Movie Last Viewed: Good Morning, Vietnam
    Latest Artistic Project: My cat ate my Halloween decorations
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing. See also: need to write more flipping comics and exercise my art skillz again. Feh.
    Latest Game Release: Hunter the Vigil: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.





Monica Valentinelli >

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