Hey fucker, I challenge you Loser buys the winner a new avatar of their choosing!
DAVID AND GOLIATH: BENNY THE SNAKE VS SEBMOJO THE MOJITO
The loving stones on this guy! Bravo Benny, seriously! If sebmojo accepts, this is what the two of you will write for me:
The two of you should be familiar with how I write. It's like I inject speed into my eyeballs and snort a pound of coke off a hooker's rear end before I sit down and write. Well, I'm pretty certain I've never seen the two of you write some over the top popcorn story. That poo poo is about to change.
I want a Rocky Balboa vs that black dude with the American flag as shorts. I want a Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I want a Samson vs that bitch Delilah and her bastard home skillets. Gentlemen, I want an Underdog story and that motherfucker better be balls to the wall crazy or I will be cross.
You got 1,200 words and two weeks from today, midnight EST.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 03:23|
|# ? May 26, 2022 12:22|
In times like this I like to remember the original david and goliath story,
I will also precrit for you benny. step into my hyperbolic time chamber
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 03:32|
Do brawls have meaning again?!
It is Benny's mission to give brawls meaning and purpose again.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 03:47|
Sitting Here has the right idea.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 03:54|
Of course. May the best man win.
But to be clear I will not be giving you a pre-crit this time; up to you if you want to get one from anyone else.
Ooh ooh! Could we get the results and post-brawl judgements on Youtube, please?
Also, thanks to Sitting Here and Djin for your offers! I'll be sure to take you all up on them.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 03:58|
Ooh ooh! Could we get the results and post-brawl judgements on Youtube, please?
If you motherfuckers submit on time, I'll even play for you a little song. Now get to writing.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 04:09|
First time Thunderdome in
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 12:10|
Hey would it be possible to get a crit? Thanks.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 13:20|
The brawltlefield has always had meaning, for those brave enough to seek it. Only through glorious combat can soldiers find their destiny.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 13:29|
Hee, ha, hoo, and hue. Definitely in for this one. Now where's my copy of Peace? Gotta get myself good and creeped out to set the mood.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 17:25|
Hey would it be possible to get a crit? Thanks.
1257 words I went ahead and added the extra words. I was late, no excuse.
This story has some pacing and structural issues. It's usually bad form to change perspective mid-scene. This could be fixed easily by inserting page-breaks and doing some minor editing, or could be changed by putting the whole story from the assistant's point of view. Most of the action takes place from his point of view anyway, and that would nicely cut the ~300 words of exposition at the beginning.
Nothing happens in real-time until they get to the Himalayas. Consider starting your story either earlier – with the first time Scriabin saw the star? When he adopted the assistant? – or later – with the flight to the Himalayas? With the sherpa's fall?
The ending doesn't feel truly satisfying to me. Everything goes as planned, but it doesn't work anyway. The conflict of the story – the assistant's decent into madness – turns out not to matter. Humanity wasn't ever in real danger of ending, because the monster under the waves is still sleeping.
There's some good elements here – creepy things sleeping in the deep, and strange, disjointed music can be really scary. An orphan driven mad by a man who adopted him and mentored him, until he's willing to kill that man, could be really riveting. And there's some good lines. Just resist the temptation to spend so much time explaining your ideas, and show us what happens.
|# ? Aug 20, 2014 20:20|
With a draft and half done already, count me in.
|# ? Aug 21, 2014 02:09|
More crits for Week CV. This time, it's Meeple, Gau, Entenzahn, Anathema Device, Jagermonster, Obliterati, Meinberg, and WeLandedOnTheMoon!
|# ? Aug 22, 2014 01:09|
I'll give this one a try.
|# ? Aug 22, 2014 03:39|
Mission this week: losertar for a former winner. Please to write badly, everyone.
|# ? Aug 22, 2014 04:01|
Mission this week: losertar for a former winner. Please to write badly, everyone.
Way ahead of you.
|# ? Aug 22, 2014 04:03|
4 hours left to sign up, TDers.
|# ? Aug 22, 2014 23:56|
Critiques for Week XCVIII: Toaster Beef, Drunk Nerds, PoshAlligator, Entenzahn, Whalley, God Over Djinn, Nikaer Drekin, Nethilia, Broenheim, docbeard, Obliterati, Teddybear, and Fumblemouse
I've always wanted to set some sort of record in the Thunderdome. Latest Complete Set of Crits Ever Posted isn't one I had in mind, admittedly, and I apologize for the ridiculous wait. Hopefully there's something in here to make it worthwhile.
As I said in the results post, chills and racing hearts were scarce. Most of the stories were quite okay. Nearly all were some shade of dark, but some of the best entries didn't deliver on fright while others had the right tone but failed in some other respect. As Chairchucker said during judgment, it's hard to scare within so few words. The most successful stories made us feel dread for or of the protagonists, if nothing else.
Toaster Beef, "If It Hadn't Been"
Song: "Cotton Eye Joe"
Not a bad start to the week. I'm no fan of your opening and closing sentence fragments; they remind me altogether too much of last week's losing entry. A story written in splinters. Words. A dearth of verbs amidst self-conscious prose. That style was more distracting than helpful in establishing setting and tone. Adding some verbs and tweaking the phrasing improves it measurably, I'd say: 'Fields rustle, swaying in the heavy evening air. Crickets sing. The wooden porch creaks as Jacob shifts his weight from foot to foot. Just inside the cabin, a newborn screams.' The rhythm's still choppy, but that suits the tension of the moment.
Other than that, the problems I have with this piece are that the main character does so little in it and that the horror is muted by the baby's status as a prop. Jacob's daughter is only 'seen' as a cry inside the house. She's an object, not a living thing, and her death is too empty. You try to show Jacob's love for her through his desire to protect her and his grief and rage at being unable, but it doesn't quite hit--his frustration and hopelessness come through, his other emotions not so much. As for doing little, all Jacob actually does is stand on the porch and chat with his wife. His inability to act is part of the horror of the climax, but it leaves almost all of the story off-camera.
Your exposition re: Paul is a little heavy. The paragraph starting with 'But we ain’t in Bridgeton anymore' is a conversational infodump. The wife (why doesn't she have a name?) is too clearly saying these things for my benefit. Then you tell me the Bridgeton back story, and you need that back story, and on its own it's not bad. But too much of the story is characters thinking about or talking about the past, given that so little happens in the present. Did there need to be another dead child in the story at all? If the baby girl were their first, you could cut some exposition and maybe give Jacob less certainty about the cotton man, more hope, which would cut more sharply as it was destroyed.
Those are my gripes, but there are things I like too. That moment when Joe reaches the edge of the porch is great. Your description of him is wonderfully chilling. His nonchalance about all this child murdering is creepy in itself. 'Internally, he screamed and shook with a mix of rage and desperation. Externally, he did absolutely nothing' over-eggs your pudding, but the line about Jacob squeezing out tears, 'the only movement he'd been allowed,' does make me feel for the guy. You wove your song through the whole story, sometimes in obvious ways (the cotton-eyed man bringing disaster wherever he went, the backwoods setting), sometimes with more creativity (the curse, which draws on the lines 'The hearts of the girls was to Hell, broken, sent' and 'And left only men 'cause of Cotton Eye Joe'). That setting is well done. This would have been an easy song to mess up with rural horror cliches or redneck stereotypes, but you kept it low-key.
Overall I liked reading this, even though I found plenty to pick on, and it put me in an optimistic mood about the week to come. Let's see how long that lasts!
Drunk Nerds, "Let's Dance"
Song: "Let's Dance"
I should never say things like that. This piece isn't terrible--if it's the worst of the lot, this will be a good week. However, on my first read, I was mystified by how you'd managed to do a passing job of hitting your song while missing the basic prompt.
I'm still not positive you wrote a horror story. It all depends on what your last paragraph is intended to imply. Read one way, Clara takes revenge on her rear end in a top hat boss by stuffing him inside a humiliating costume and forcing him to dance along with her. It almost belongs in a sitcom, albeit a morbid one. Not horror. Read another way, however, Fritz dies inside that puppet, and when the audiences are enjoying the duel between Sergei and the Nutcracker, the nutcracker suit contains Fritz's corpse. Maybe his ghost animates the thing. It's a suitably ghastly idea to meet the prompt, although the ambiguity cost it all its chilling power for me.
So which reading is correct? I think now you probably intended the darker one. The opening visual of Clara's ballet shoes stained entirely red from blood is too grim to fit the interpretation in which Fritz lives. Although that, like the image of Clara chowing down on hay or cotton or whatever was inside the marionette, is over the top in a way that doesn't help you. If she has torn her feet up enough to stain the whole shoe, I'm not buying that she could dance on them; as for eating the stuffing... yeah, no, I didn't like that at all. You may have meant the "lunch" crack may to be bleak, but that method of de-stuffing the puppet is like something out of a cartoon. Its wacky flavor likely had a lot to do with my initial take on the ending.
Another issue is that I never got any sense that Clara was in danger. I wasn't afraid for her, and why should I have been? She was in the situation of her free will. She could have walked away from Fritz whenever she chose. There was nothing about her characterization to suggest a broken spirit. She hated his behavior enough to murder him, but not enough to quit? While on the subject of her job, where were the other members of her company? The story mentioned that they existed, so what were they doing while Clara and Sergei killed Fritz?
I like your reinterpretation of the 'Put on your red shoes' verse of your song, despite what I said above. I would rather Clara's shoes had been bloodstained rather than completely soaked through, but it still puts a nicely macabre slant on that line. The song's references to falling could have influenced the way Fritz met his end. I'm less enthusiastic about Fritz misquoting the song itself early on. Sergei's "Let's dance!" at the end fits seamlessly into the story; Fritz's "Let's dance!" doesn't.
Your mechanics are sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, maybe because you rushed. One example: 'This caught Sergei's attention, a rare smile broke out over his face, "when?"' The comma after 'attention' should be a period or semicolon, as the clause that follows it is its own sentence. The comma after 'face' should be a period, because 'A rare smile broke out over his face' is not a suitable dialogue tag. A dialogue tag needs a verb pertaining to speech. 'When' needs capitalization desperately. Similar errors arise in the very next sentence and throughout the piece. They're distracting. Have a link: this information may help you stay out of the DM pool next time.
PoshAlligator, "Puttin' on the Ritz"
Song: "Puttin' on the Ritz"
So far I've noticed two trends in the submissions: sentence fragments and uncreative titles. Drunk Nerds' suited his story well enough to pass, but I'm not sure about yours. There are many things I'm not sure about with yours. What happened, why, and how any of it was supposed to horrify are regrettably among these.
You've presented me with a sequence of... I can't call them events given how minor all of them are, except the last; a sequence of actions, then, performed by a protagonist with neither a name nor a discernible personality. This person wakes up on a sofa (do you know, it took multiple readings of your second paragraph for me to figure out you meant laid across a three-seat sofa--but who laid him there? If he laid himself, the phrase should have been 'He had lain') at dusk. He stands and then climbs several flights of stairs to reach a room containing a trunk. This trunk contains a snazzy outfit, which he dons. Then he shocks himself to death with a device wired to his bow tie.
How--why--did you stretch that out to 1,000 words without telling me anything at all about the main character other than that he got a splinter in his toe? Dammit, PoshAlligator! I liked your avatar!
There's just nothing here. The protagonist has no motive within the text for killing himself. His past is a complete blank, his present scarcely less of one. I don't have any reason to take interest in his fate, much less be horrified by it; I'm curious because it's so very bizarre, but the story ends when he dies, so I never will find out what it was all about. What's arguably worse is that you draw the vignette out with details like how well he slept, how hairy his thighs are, that he considers checking his phone but does not, and the entire paragraph about the second room on the right. 'It would all make so much sense to an outsider.' How wrong you are, enigmatic gentleman! None of these things appear to matter, and the early details work vigorously against you. They're dull. I can't tell you how much I don't care where his cell phone is if he's not going to use it.
In contrast, a few details shine, such as the white sheets covering the couch on which he slept. Like the dust on the floor, those tell me that he's in a long-abandoned house. It's familiar to him; it meant something to him once. I'd like to know the story there--but again, I never will, and that's one more frustration on top of the rest.
The sentence fragments throughout are unappealing. They chop up the flow of your text to no benefit. If I had to guess I'd say you were trying for a dramatic tone, making each little bit of description its own revelation ('No carpet. Wooden floorboards. With a layer of dust'), but oh, boy, did it not work. They made passages that were already drawn out feel even longer. They made me very conscious of the prose. I couldn't get into the story at all.
I see two possible influences taken from your song: the clothes in the chest are obviously patterned on the outfits described in "Puttin' on the Ritz," what with the Arrow collar, the cutaway coat, the striped trousers, etcetera. The other is more subtle and uncertain. "If you're blue and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits?" That's the first line of "Ritz," and it arguably sums up your story in that the protagonist is blue, I imagine, since he kills himself; he goes to that high room in which his old fashion sits, and he does what he describes as puttin' on the ritz before he electrocutes himself with finery. I enjoy this parallel, and I wish you'd done something more with it, or maybe just something else.
Entenzahn, "Keeping the Darkness Away"
Song: "Stand By Me"
Am I right to think that Jen's father sexually abused her during her childhood, leading her to create Maddie as an imaginary friend in order to cope? Molestation and rape get a lot of play as sources of trauma for female characters, but you handle Jen's past well enough that while her circumstances are regrettably familiar, they don't feel cheap. I like that you imply nearly everything about the situation rather than stating it outright. Connecting the dots gave me a moment of realization I otherwise would not have had, which increased my interest in the story.
Up sides to this entry: The aforementioned subtlety is my favorite aspect. You've also done a good job of twisting your song. The verses "I won't be afraid / Just as long as you stand, stand by me" take on a different poignancy through this lens. You wrote horror; thanks for that. It's a solid piece, meeting all aspects of the prompt with a main character I gave a drat about.
Down sides: That Jen couldn't leave Benjamin, but that she could kill him, is a tad incredible. There's something about that final section that rang the wrong notes, and I think it all boils down to that point. Why not kill herself alone if that was always her intention? This part also has the issue of wandering perspective, as 'Then he noticed that something was wrong with him, too' reads like we've moved into Benjamin's head, and phrases such as 'He cramped up' exacerbate this. You should have described what the cramps looked like and cut 'He didn't understand why' etc. altogether. It's all borderline; these could be Jen's assumptions about his thoughts and what the poison is doing to his body, but they gave me pause at a critical moment.
I didn't get the humor in Benjamin and Jen's first conversation. How is that line about Chianti funny? Jen and Benjamin's relationship was kind of hollow, since so few words were spent on their interactions and--for me, at least--the longest exchange they did have fell flat. You had more words that you could have spent on their dynamic.
This is a tiny point, but the line 'She felt her breasts rise and drop, but no air' stood out to me as evidence of a guy writing a female character. When you're breathing, do you think of it as your boobs moving? Neither do most women, as far as I know.
Your prose is competent, your interpretation strong. It may not be the winning piece, but it's definitely the best one so far.
Whalley, "The Song's Stuck In My Head (And I Kind Of Like It Now)"
Song: "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
Stuck for a title, were you?
You're another one who went with an unusual sentence structure for effect. I can tell--or would guess, at least--the run-on sentences and not-all-there punctuation were meant to give the prose a stream-of-consciousness feel and maybe to emphasize the narrator's erratic mind. It did more for you than the sentence fragments did for PoshAlligator, but maybe straightforward prose would have made this less of a confusing muddle. The business with the gas station doesn't hold water, the main character is far too emotionally detached, and none of it feels real.
The premise as best I can tell: your main character (nameless, but that sort of works in this one since she's so wrapped up in her own world) is married to a man who beats her, and she is stepmother to his daughter. She may already have been crazy when they wed, if that's what she meant by 'the fire inside.' Darryl could control it with his fists, once. Every day at five-thirty (because the road's always empty at five-thirty--what?), she pulls into the same gas station and murders the attendant in a reversal, I guess, of what Darryl does to her. This doesn't work for me: shooting the attendant spoiled the parallel, such as it was. Darryl is suspicious about how she spends her time. He sends her stepdaughter on the road with her, and Sue-Anne is witness to one of these murders. Maybe. Maybe something else happens in the real world, because when Sue-Anne tells Darryl about it, for all his screaming he's still remarkably panic-free regarding his psychopathic homicidal wife. He just ditches that popsicle stand and leaves her the house.
The guy at the gas station apparently can't die for long and never remembers. Has no one else ever noticed his body lying around? Why is there a gas station where only one person ever seems to stop? Is the gas station there at all? The whole piece is like a fever dream. It holds together only so long as you don't think about it. The illogic of it and the unusual prose do make for an interesting reading experience. I wasn't sure how I felt about it when I finished it, and I'm still not sure. There's something interesting here. And yet. And yet.
Your song has a loneliness and a melancholy to it, and your protagonist is indeed alone in the world inside her head. The song extols natural beauty, and you didn't play with that at all--you're quite spare with the setting details. Still, I could imagine that lonely road. "All my memories, they gather 'round her" may have informed the attendant's forgetfulness. "And drivin' down the road I get a feeling / That I should have been home yesterday" has some of the same feel for me as your story does, of time out of alignment. It's a creative and unexpected interpretation. Good show there, but the lack of emotion anywhere in it may have cost you the main prompt: this is horror only in the mildest sense.
God Over Djinn, "The Man From Korreskine"
Song: "Holding Out for a Hero"
You shared one of Whalley's problems in that the emotional detachment of your main character watered down the horror so much that despite horrifying acts and a horrifying situation, her story didn't chill me at all. She was so clinical about everything. Her distance made sense at first; she held herself apart from the world and its wars as much as she could, but after the soldier boarded her in, some passion was due. She told me she clawed at the walls, but I didn't feel the desperation. It was more like she was delivering an after-action report. Only her disgust at his proposition got through to me. One of my co-judges had a strong 'ugh, why' reaction to that moment, however, and I have to agree that the threat of unwanted sex didn't add much to this story.
Maybe this distance between your narrator and the events is part of why the entry feels so much more like a fairy tale than like horror, though I think the setting and opening scenario (a cottage in the distant woods, a soldier saved by an ostensibly compassionate stranger) are primarily responsible. Your finale doesn't help. She's not hopeless enough, thin though her hope may be.
That's the bad. That's what kept you off the honorable mention roll. You were still my favorite at this point, challenged only by Entenzahn. Your writing was a leap above that of most of the competitors this week. Your narrator's situation was certainly terrible. As for your song, you neatly subverted its idea. "Holding Out for a Hero" would turn to bitter sarcasm if sung by this woman about this man. The line "he's gotta be fresh from the fight" also makes an appearance in the person of the soldier.
A good piece, but it doesn't have power to match its elegance.
Nikaer Drekin, "I’ve Got To Have My Way Now, Baby"
Song: "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)"
Oh boy oh boy, it's one of my favorite songs! And your take on it doesn't suck! In fact, it's pretty okay! Not great, unfortunately. You made the jump into full-bore surreal horror too abruptly. Irving wasn't panicked enough by the claws sinking into him on the dance floor. Everything up to that point was creepy, but it could still have been in the realm of the mundane; the talons, not so much. 'Still, Irving endured' is waaaaay too mild a reaction to being flayed alive. So it goes back to the problem I had with other entries: I didn't feel the horror, even though Irving was a human protagonist and I cared what happened to him.
That's something you did well. You got Irving's inner conflict across. The way he twisted his wedding ring as he sat at the bar, the way his stomach fell while the rest of him was getting high on passion, and the comparison of his seductress's fingers to snakes as he was writhing along with her gave me that sinking feeling of watching someone with a conscience do something he felt was wrong. It was a humanizing and sympathetic situation--I wanted to see him get out of it, and I knew that unless you botched the genre royally, if he did, he wouldn't get out clean. So there were suspense and tension: how was he going to suffer?
Alas, Irving's torment and especially his capitulation lacked something. Your description of him aging and thirsting as he ran for what may have been years was strangely dry. His screaming was better--the lack of quotation marks aside; that decision didn't serve you either of the times you made it. Was the idea to add immediacy? It just made me want to punch you a bit. You ended on a flat note, the suggestion of water also missing a certain je ne sais quois when it came to fear.
The song: you were one of the few to put yours directly into the story. It worked. You made 80s synthpop unsettling through your setting, and that Irvine couldn't escape the voice howling I WANT YOUR LOOOOOVE! made his situation that much grimmer. It could have been cheesy, but you spun it just right for me. And of course Irving is literally spun right 'round, 'round, 'round. You get an A+ for this aspect. The music genre, the lyrics, the beat are all here and all twisted, which is exactly what we asked for.
But oh, how the flat finale hurt you! I liked the entry more than I should have, and I still couldn't get too enthusiastic about its chances. It's a decent piece all the same, or it would be if you took another stab at Irving's flight and the transition from mundane creepiness to supernatural terrors.
Nethilia, "A Mean Pinball"
Song: "Pinball Wizard"
Two issues spoiled your chances, namely that your main character didn't react believably to events, which torpedoed that entire 'horror' thing you were supposed to have going, and that you burned so many words early on describing pinball mechanics. It's difficult to describe a game in such a way that the readers understand the action even if they've never played it themselves, but you erred on the side of too much detail. It was boring, and that passage appeared before you'd hooked me, initiating a dullness the story never shook.
That your protagonist's emotional spectrum was limited to pride and irritation didn't help. A magic pinball machine making him go mute should have terrified Thomas! It was weird! It was a thing that should not have been! But no, he just decided the machine was mocking him and dropped in another quarter, and wow, did that do a number on the fear factor. Suddenly there was none. If Thomas was so blase about his increasing impairment, damned if I was going to care about it, particularly since he was lacking in the personality department. And what was his great personal nightmare? What was the beat that closed the story? He only had the second-highest pinball score, forever. Yeah, I didn't feel the chills.
The writing wasn't bad. I could nitpick your sentence mechanics a little, but they're so far from being your problem that it seems beside the point. You certainly used your song; if anything, you used it too much. This was a very direct interpretation. It would have done the job, though, if the horror had been there. I did like your base concept--the mysteriously malevolent pinball machine was cool enough to deserve a more exciting victim.
Broenheim, "In the Shadows"
Song: "Wind Beneath My Wings"
Your first section struck a viable horror tone with Chris's non-reaction to his wandering shadow or the death of the girl. The prose was lackluster, lots of simple sentences without much energy, but I liked the premise. In this entry the protagonist being an emotionless weirdo worked. His nonchalance was what made the scene so unsettling. I wasn't horrified for him, but at the first scene break, I was beginning to be horrified by him.
It didn't last. The second section showed me that the relationship between Chris and the shadow was a deal-with-the-devil cliche, and Chris's lack of personality there made me think his creepiness in those early paragraphs was only a lucky strike. Maybe you did mean him to be an unfeeling sociopath, I can't tell, but my money's on a failure of characterization. He's another guy taking all the weirdnesses that happen to him in stride, maybe shaking his head once in disbelief but then readily accepting that a shadow can restore his life. Why could a shadow heal him, by the way? And why couldn't it use such power to keep the body of its host alive? I know you didn't have the word count to get into the parabiology of shadow monsters, but that restorative ability was pretty random.
'He had a system in place that he believed would find him the right person'--what was this system? You can't throw a line like that out there without making me curious. Making a reader curious about something you have no intention of showing is a dubiously wise idea.
I don't get why Chris sacrificed himself for the shadow. This may go back to the way he didn't seem to feel anything at all. I saw no sign that he cared about his insubstantial companion--or anything else--until that point, so the moment flopped. If he wanted life so much that he made a vague agreement with a supernatural force that led to him killing multiple people, it's bizarre to me that he'd then give it up so easily. End result: a climax that didn't follow from the story, involving two characters without a shred of personality between them. Not horrifying stuff. Not interesting, either.
As for the song, it looks like you took the line "It must have been cold there in my shadow" and ran with it but left everything else on the table. Unless the shadow is supposed to be the wind beneath Chris's wings? I could sort of buy that you were aiming for that, and it would go with Chris's gratitude at the end. Maybe the shadow's final smile is even supposed to be 'a beautiful smile to hide the pain' of Chris's demise. I'm reaching with all my might to come to that conclusion, though, because of their bond being so undeveloped. I never sensed friendship or affection there. If you want to make this story work on some level--possibly more as dark fantasy than horror--you could try spending more time on the relationship between Chris and the shadow, showing that they were friends, always assuming that was your intention.
You escaped a dishonorable mention by a thin whisker, but I still think the story was more blah than actively terrible.
docbeard, "The Dancer"
Grafting "Rio" onto "Hansel and Gretel" was an approach I didn't see coming, but I can't say a lot else for the idea. This is a decidedly odd story. You'd have done better to give up on the in medias res start and tell it more chronologically: show me the children's imprisonment. Show me the fire. So much of the plot took place off camera, delivered in infodumps. I didn't much care--the similarity to "Hansel and Gretel" hurt you in that regard, because it made the story feel tired to me. It gave most of the prose a fairy-tale flavor, too, which clashed against the mention of police and the body-snatcher ending.
The dancer stuck out. She never fit. So she and Mama Thorn were both snatchers, fighting to get Cecily as a host for one of their kind? Wouldn't it have been easier for the dancer to pick up another little girl in town? The situation sort of implied some kind of rivalry between Thorn's species and the dancer's species, but you didn't go into that or explore why none of the body snatchers want a little boy, more's the pity. The dancer's real nature and motivations were never clear, and the story ended on an uncertain note. Probably she was going to suck out Cecily's soul since this was meant to be a horror story. It would have been more horrifying if I had known for sure.
The more I think about it the more sure I am that choosing the wrong points to stop and start was your biggest error; the piece is so very tell, tell, tell, and it didn't have to be. Cutting everything about Mama Thorn only feeding them sweets would have helped you bucketloads too. It's not a badly written story, but the only thing about it that's very creative is the combination of over-familiar elements into something that's unexpected, sure, but which doesn't work. Maybe more words and more depth would let the premise sing. If you decide to do a rewrite, I suggest a lot of expansion.
Your song use was weak. Other than the river, all I saw from "Rio" was a desert dancer--in a story set in a forest. Nope. Couldn't have been more shoehorned in if it had tried. You can do better than this, as your win since proves.
Obliterati, "You Take the High Road and I'll Take the Low"
Song: "Love Shack"
I liked the set-up stages of this one. It reminded me of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Witchlight, a book in which the rituals and dabblings performed by young friends in their naive, well-meaning past come back to haunt their present. I enjoy that theme, and early on you handled it well, building an atmosphere of long-ago and impending disaster that did just what we asked and cast a new shadow on the song you were given. I don't think you knew what to do with it, though. The ending flopped. Honestly, your entry wasn't that different from PoshAlligator's in terms of how little happened on camera.
My interpretation of the story: in the late 60s and early 70s, when the main character and his friends were teenagers or not far from it, he and they turned an abandoned croft in the Highlands into their clubhouse/retreat. They took drugs there. They practiced magic, too. Whatever rites they performed came to some bad end in 1976, and I would guess they called up something they couldn't handle. Many years later, one member of the group returns to their Love Shack because his dreams have convinced him that something dark has set up shop in the croft, and he sets out to confront and banish it out of a sense of responsibility and because the Shack is theirs. But whatever darkness haunts the place is equally possessive. It has claimed the Shack, and it claims the protagonist. At the end he's lost in the dark, searching for a way back to his world and his past.
Am I right? I think I am, but I'm the only judge who came to that interpretation on her own, so even if I'm not off base, you didn't convey your ideas too clearly. It may be I only saw all of that because I've read similar premises before. It's not likely a coincidence that the other judges weren't as fond.
The level of creepiness you had at the outset was good, but you never ramped it up. What horror there was stayed at the same level throughout rather than increasing in intensity as the conclusion approached. That may be partially to blame for the main character's death having the dramatic weight of a dishcloth. It was too fast, too abrupt for me to feel one way or the other about it, and you left a lot of questions unanswered. I get letting the reader draw his own conclusions about what exactly went on in 1976 and what exactly was inhabiting the Love Shack in the present day, but you went too far with the vagueness, and I'm wondering now whether you know those answers any more than I do.
I love the way you braided lines from your song into the story, however. 'I was fifteen miles from the Love Shack with a thousand behind me.' 'Stay away fools.' This stuff is great. Yours might actually be my favorite song usage of all.
Two more points: I suspect I'm supposed to see a connection between the crofters' Low Roads and where the protagonist ended up, but other than both being 'under' something, I don't, so the section about the displaced crofters looks superfluous. You've also left grammar errors lying in ambush for the reader, most horribly the sudden tense shift from past to present that begins with 'I take one more look at the place' etc. The final paragraph reads all right in the present tense, but you shouldn't have changed before the section break. You have a few commas where they shouldn't be, such as after 'bleating' in 'lost, bleating, GPS' (in a series of adjectives, no comma is necessary after the last item in the series), or after 'peaked' in 'The path finally peaked, and sloped down into a copse' (the copse clause has no subject of its own, so it's not an independent clause and shouldn't be separated from the other one by a comma). 'Franticly' is not a word, and I'm not convinced anything could be 'frantically gentle.' 'Flags' shouldn't be plural in 'a Tibetan prayer flags still clung to its branch.' Etc. Proofread carefully!
Teddybear, "It Will Soon Pass, Celebrate It"
Song: "Don't Worry Be Happy"
You already know the biggest problem with this as a Thunderdome entry, as you said yourself that it's not a horror story. Dark, yes. Grim. Not horror; switching to Rose's perspective in the end put the cap on that and solidified it as heist tragedy, which isn't its own proper subgenre but should be. You weren't going to win. But none of us wanted to DM you, since you submitted a reasonably solid piece of fiction with decent prose and characterization, at least for Kilo--a story I didn't mind reading, and one which drew more from its song than I first believed.
It shouldn't have taken me so long to realize at least a couple of song lines ('Ain't got no cash, ain't got no style / Ain't got no girl to make you smile') mirrored your protagonist's circumstance. You pointed right to it, after all. I like that more than I like the way you put "Don't Worry, Be Happy" directly into the narrative as an instrument of torture. Any number of other songs would have been equally effective, so that usage was pretty weak.
One easy thing you could do to improve the piece is to put a scene break before you switch to Kilo's point of view. Mileage may vary on this, but I prefer the PoV to stay constant within one scene for greater clarity. The slip into Kilo's head took the mood and tone entirely away from horror, so in that sense it failed you, but without her viewpoint and what it revealed the story would have been a brief look at a guy we didn't have reason to care about being tortured because of stuff we didn't see--not enthralling, in other words. If it were me I'd keep the dual PoVs; there's no reason not to now that the prompt is irrelevant.
Fumblemouse, "Marconi plays the mamba"
Song: "We Built This City"
What I get from this: a serving man in a large estate hears a voice calling to him from the radio, much to the displeasure of the butler. He nevertheless takes his hors d'oeuvre duties very seriously. The radio continues its attempts to hail him, and when he puts an empty tray between it and himself, the tray has lizard eyes all of a sudden. Naturally, he flees! Naturally(?), he decides to serve more hors d'oeuvres! Naturally, the butler killed everybody! Wait, what the hell? And the butler is a lizardman. James is also a lizardman. They built this city on hors d'oeuvres and they're going to take it back one crudité at a time.
You're a good writer, Fumblemouse, and your competence made this more pleasant to read than several other pieces were, but instead of horror my reaction to everything that happened was ugh, why?
The premise of ancient lizardmen conspiring to take over the world, while straight out of Neverwinter Nights, had pulp horror potential, as did a man discovering that he had never been human. Problem is, I don't think you had the word count to pull both of the ideas off. James wasn't enough of a character for his terrible epiphany to move me. Mr. Coates' mass murder came out of nowhere, and my palm smacked my forehead. Most damaging perhaps was all that fussing about with hors d'oeuvres and rich-people gossip. I can see you trying to foreshadow mysterious lizardman genocide, and the rumors would have been a little ominous, but... 'James heard it all and found it fascinating to learn what caught the attention of these finely dressed people but said nothing himself' is so tepid that it's like anti-horror. James really could not be more bland. It turns out that the details of serving hors d'oeuvres are even less compelling than pinball mechanics; who knew?
Have I made the point that this guy was bizarrely fixated on hors d'oeuvres yet? If my reaction to seeing eyes in a tray is ever to go get more caviar, I hope somebody institutionalizes me. Clearly I am not well. (Okay, I know, he would have been conditioned to prioritize his duties highly and that's part of how Coates got away with his plan. I'm exaggerating the ridiculousness for a joke--but it's still dull.)
I do see interesting ways that lines from your song may have influenced the story when I look closely. "We built this city" is obvious. "You don't know me or recognize my face" sums up James' relationship to Coates. "Don't you remember" is a theme, and "They call us irresponsible, write us off the page" could be relevant, at least the latter half. It's good stuff. You hit that part of the prompt square.
More words and fewer hors d'oeuvres are probably what this one needs most. The combination of a lizardman conspiracy and James being a lizardman work better together than they would apart, I think, or at least they will if you make James more than a walking cocktail-weenie dispenser.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 07:43 on Oct 4, 2014
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 03:28|
Critiques for Week XCVIII: WeLandedOnTheMoon!, curlingiron, dmboogie, Tyrannosaurus, Anomalous Blowout, Blade_of_tyshalle, Mercedes, crabrock, Malefic Marmite, kurona_bright, and PootieTang
WeLandedOnTheMoon!, "Living with the Curse of Married Life"
Song: "Walk Like an Egyptian"
Usually I don't pick much on titles, but it's something of a theme this week. Yours would be a lot stronger if you ditched the first two words.
Why is that old man such a dick? He has absolutely no motive for what he does that I can see. He needs one. The scenario in the second half is horrifying--as was your proofreading, and we'll get back to that!--but there's zero, zippo, zilch reasoning behind it, so I was too busy thinking bwuh? to be optimally spooked. It's a shame, too, since your last line is good and the fulfillment of Carl's desire to live as long as Josie did is elegantly grim. If Carl had done something to piss him off, if he'd been anything more than a random plot device, you'd have had something good here.
The scenario in the first half reminds me strongly of crabrock's story from Elements Week. Your version of a dying man doing before-I-go things with his beloved could have used more of crabrock's poignancy in order to really twist the knife at the end. You gave Carl some dimension through small details, and that's good. Aside from the comma after 'illness' that ought to be a colon, 'When he thought back [...] pressing his police uniform the night before work, grilling out on the patio, those were the images that remained' is one of my favorite sentences for the glimpse it permits into Carl's life--just large enough to get a mental image of him, not so large that it's an infodump. Great! There's not much to Josie, though. She has no personality. A couple of small details of her own would have done wonders. Carl murdering her is still terrible because of his love for her, but it could have been so much more so if she'd been a character in her own right.
For the most part "Walk Like an Egyptian" only shows up in your setting. A passable use, but not impressive. I like the little nods you give to the lyrics better, such as the hookah Carl and Josie smoke and the blond waitress.
I'd call this a decent piece despite my quibbles, except that I did promise to return to the question of your mechanics. What the hell, WLOTM. What the ever-loving hell. 'it’s crystalline eyes.' 'to rub it’s head.' 'From it’s back.' 'It’s body had a lightness and fragility.' You know better than this. By now, everyone who reads the thread should know better than this. I question whether you proofed the second section even slightly, and given that you spelled Josie's name 'Joise' at one point, I'm not too sure about the first one either. Why would you fill a stretch of story that should have been tense and gripping with punctuation errors and run-on sentences that threw me every time? Why? Whyyyyyyyyy?!?
Clean it up and it will be worth working on further. Until then, get it out of my sight before my soul weeps itself into dehydration.
curlingiron, "Heaven and Hell"
Song: "Heaven Is a Place on Earth"
A quiet, bleak, intimate story, hazy around its edges. Much is left just outside the reader's vision: how Bea came to be a prisoner in her home; where he goes during the day; his name; who he is, other than her tormentor; what he does to her to raise those sounds of fear. The way you've told Bea's story mirrors Bea's world. A lack of details and answers hurt some of your competitors, but your entry is strengthened by what you don't say because Bea is scarcely aware of anything outside her own mind--you show us her life as she sees it.
I generally liked this. There's a tension throughout that builds as the unnamed man approaches the house, and the sentence 'And yet she heard every step, every pebble underfoot, every dead leaf on the drive; each one a sound so deep it became a taste in her mouth' is great because it's evocative and effective at reminding me how fear feels. That tension doesn't reach a crescendo. As appropriate and awful as it is that Bea falls back into herself, it's anticlimactic too, somehow. I wonder if you needed a last sharp stab of terror before the haze washed out everything. Or maybe I'm picking nits, looking for reasons a solid entry didn't quite measure up to the top two.
One of my co-judges pointed out that despite your title, there's no heaven in your story, and he's got a point. "Haven and Hell" would have been more accurate. It's a significant stretch to consider Bea's inner retreat 'Heaven.' The relationship to your song is still clear, and I see several specific lines in play. Good job!
dmboogie, "An Urban Hunt"
This one's more a collage of scenes than a story, really. Any one of them could be straight out of a slasher flick--it's a bit of a problem, because the car that won't start, the flight into an alley (and the mistaken belief of escape), and the outmatched cop are timeworn cliches that you haven't revitalized. The plus is that the work has a horror flavor, pulpy though it be, and the use of the Wild Hunt to tie the three death scenes together is pretty cool and a fun take on your song. Did you know the doggies/dogies in "Rawhide" are cattle? I like your interpretation better for this purpose! And I dig the repetition of 'rolling, rolling, rolling' at the end of the second and third sections. It had an ominous sound, like thunder. Very nice.
Your characters are so stock. Sheila's the worst: she's not a person, she's a scenario. Kim has a personality, but it's a personality I've seen over and over. She's the cop who wants to make a difference and feels so protective of her people that she rushes into danger to save them. She's Elisa Maza in Gargoyles and Karrin Murphy in the Dresden Files. Goodness knows how many other fictional cops match the type, but my money would be on 'a lot.' Jake's the coward who ditches his companions when he has them and always dies as a result. There's nothing to make any of these people distinct from their archetypes.
Going with such typical situations and characters left you little to no room to surprise us. Despite that, it isn't bad. Your writing is competent aside from a few errors that usually had to do with capitalization around dialogue (for example, '“Halt! Police!” She shouted'--'she' should not be capitalized here), and while 'I didn't mind reading this' may be faint praise, such stories are treasures in the Thunderdome.
Song: "Amazing Grace"
Have you seen the NCIS episode "SWAK"? I remember it every time I read this one.
You've given us a scenario more than a story. It's well done; Elena's a blank canvas, but Benito comes across well through his letter and his damning sentimentality. The premise is especially horrifying when you think about it for two minutes and it occurs to you that if Benito's kiss on paper was contagious enough to kill Elena after the letter had passed through the mail system--he's some distance from her if he took a bus--then it was probably contagious enough to likewise kill the guard, the postman, everybody else who touched it, the people they touched in turn....
But I'm not sure that was your intention. The dramatic last line focuses only on Elena's fate, delivered specifically by the kiss, as though she's the only one he killed. I can't buy that. Nope, nope! And if you did mean me to infer that a gruesome number of people died of Benito's gesture, then did you ever miss the boat regarding the real horror. Benito killing his beloved is tragic. Benito killing uninvolved innocents, possibly hundreds or thousands if the disease spread, is some Edgar Allan Poe-level nightmare fuel.
You shoehorned "Amazing Grace" in through Benito's words about God's plan; I don't see much of it otherwise unless Elena is meant to be the grace of the song. It's her photograph that brings him surcease. I like that interpretation, but I'm skeptical it's the correct one. Still, you passed the requirement. I'd rank this in the upper middle of the entries overall.
Anomalous Blowout, "Lizard"
Song: "Here I Go Again"
You did the best job of anyone of making your monster sympathetic, yet inhuman, and that was a kind of double-edged sword. Your story of a young woman reaching for light and humanity but forced to take another path was the most wrenching entry by miles. And your last line was grim enough, haunted enough to satisfy the prompt--but I'd call this more of a dark tragedy, memorable and emotional and never all that frightening. It could have used more of crabrock's visceral bite, which is why he contended strongly for the win.
Ultimately the vote was unanimous. Deservedly so. The writing is lovely and easy, polished until it was nearly free of errors. (The protagonist does gesture at one point to 'the opposite site of her booth.') I regret the death of good boy Bradley McGinn not much less than the main character does. It felt so avoidable--surely he shouldn't die that way--and that's how you wanted it to be. You were in control of everything you said. I believe you meant to give away the game when you mentioned cigarettes, making me dread what the protagonist didn't yet know. It's all so smooth and elegant and full of story. Your assigned song could double as your main character's theme.
That's not to say it's flawless work, as I still don't like the fifth paragraph, where you set up the way the main character renames her victims according to the music in their truck cabs. The idea's cool; the execution confuses. You bobble the tenses a bit here, too, with 'Def Leppard had diabetes, and he’d taken her across Utah to Winnemucca'--past, past perfect. Pick one. Past would probably be better. I don't understand your general shift from past tense to present after the first section; it's the tiniest distraction, but there wasn't any need to change. Since you wrote the events in chronological order, you could have stayed in past throughout.
Those points are such nitpicks compared to my complaints about other entries that it's refreshing! Congratulations on writing a piece of which you should be proud.
Blade_of_tyshalle, "Slowly Learning"
Song: "Take On Me"
If you'd had any chance of convincing me this was horror, your last line would have shot it dead. But you were so close! You just made the sleeper too sympathetic and too borderline comical in his misunderstandings, however gory the results might have been. The section that begins with 'The sleeper swam in the shadows between the walls' is the premier culprit, the final sentence aside. The tension and fear of the first contact died when you switched to the sleeper's viewpoint, since it felt none. You never got them back. So you wiffed the genre while writing a story that was otherwise entertaining.
It would have been nice if the pronouns in the sleepers' sections were more clear. Kind of hard to do, but puzzling out who 'it' was (usually the sleeper, but not always) and which human was 'the hurtful one' and so on bogged the reading down some.
On the up side, the premise was fun--I ended up liking the sleeper more than the people; I was even slightly regretful that it had to go back to its empty home. This is a better story when I look at it as a horror spoof. Your technical errors are few and small enough to ignore, except for the occasion on which you had two people speaking in the same paragraph. Don't do that!
Mercedes, "Where are you coming from"
Song: "Dog Police"
Not good, but the bonus points you got for playing along with the judges' senses of humor kept you off the DM tier. I like it better now than I did at the time. Your rough prose is still rough; you still made a trench coat part of the weredog condition--did it sprout fully-formed from Simon's shoulders, by chance?--but if you hadn't drawn on the video's visuals much, much too literally, this would have been a half-decent zombie apocalypse story. Unfortunately, you did. That damned trench coat, man. It kills me.
The good: While the sequence in the car feels as familiar as dmboogie's various death scenes, you did a pretty good job of keeping things tense, and at that point the green teeth and growling were ominous. That moment when Simon considered pawning Zelda's rings gave him some character. He may have been a man trying to save the world, but he still looked at a dead friend's stuff and thought of money. I kinda liked that. He didn't take the antidote, but he thought about it, and I liked that too.
The bad: A Dog Police virus and weredogs in trench coats are wacky! Nothing else in this story is wacky! How I was supposed to take the transformations seriously when the end result was fursuits, I just don't know! As soon as you said 'Dog Police virus' nothing was even a little bit scary anymore. The green teeth, the blue hair, the growling, the weredogs, those were enough to tie the story to the song.
Zombie apocalypses aren't original at this point. The weredogs aren't technically zombies, but by making a virus the cause and focusing on the quest for an antidote, you mirrored the usual zombie schtick and gave the story the same feel. Even if you pulled the trench coat et al you'd have a reiteration of familiar themes on your hands. What happened to Winslow and Tommy, by the way? Why name them if they don't appear?
Some of your phrasings are awkward. Take the first line: 'In a futile effort Simon wiped the blood with shaking hands from his eyes, but the cut on his forehead was too fresh and new blood was quick to replace.' The first half would read better as 'Simon wiped the blood from his eyes with shaking hands,' I think. As is it looks bass-ackwards. The second half needs a comma after 'fresh,' and I don't like 'and new blood was quick to replace' one bit--but if you put 'it' after 'replace,' it would be fine. There are mechanical gaffes throughout, some big enough to trip over: in 'The skin around the two bite marks were swollen and red,' 'were' should be 'was,' as 'skin' is singular. 'He wasn’t bit or scratched in the escape' should be 'He hadn't been bitten or scratched.' Etc. You've come an appreciable way since you last slipped into second person in the middle of a third-person piece. Mechanics remain something for you to work on.
crabrock, "Things Heard in the Woods"
Song: "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
"NO ANYTHING BUT THAT," said Bad Seafood.
"YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND," said Chairchucker.
Could be they were right! My inability to appreciate the exquisite terrors of dick-chopping didn't affect your chances much, however. I didn't need that to be my deepest personal fear to get the creeps from Patti's calm reflection on rotting trees, from the certainty that she would maim those men. All for a sensation. Her lack of remorse made a monster of her, but her mind was easier to slide into than a frothing madman's would have been. Her quiet ease with what she did made her comparatively sympathetic. And that's a chilling thought.
The prose could have been better. The second paragraph is clumsy relative to other parts of the work. Two, two, two, two--that word shows up over and over; worse is 'two men' appearing twice in the first sentence. 'Wetstone' should be 'whetstone'; you wrote 'They did that' about the beetle-stricken trees, but who are 'they'? 'Might' is the past tense of 'may.' I'd change 'the roots in one of the trees' to 'the roots of one' to eliminate more repetition. A bit later, 'as she continued to listen to the buffoons delay their fate' is just... ugh. I don't know how to describe its badness other than to say it makes me picture Patti in Snidely Whiplash's top hat, because who other than a cartoon thinks of her victims as buffoons? The sentence starting with 'There's a crazy psycho bitch' has an "As you know, Bob" ring to it.
After that point the writing and mechanics improved. Patti 'runs her finger(s)' over a few too many things, perhaps, but I approve of the quick and no-nonsense way she wields her knife when the time comes. Also good are her thoughts regarding textures. The ongoing comparison of men to trees appealed to me, although I don't know what their disease is supposed to have been. The fall of 'corrupted' things is a theme Anomalous Blowout used with more success.
You wrote the sharper story, and yours was more visceral than not only the winning piece but much of the field, but that was somewhat counterbalanced by how little of significance happens to Patti and by her cliche victims. While I laughed when Blake(?) waved his dick around, those dudes were consummate horror-story redshirts. They showed as much sense and drew as much empathy as any morons who decide to split up and search a house for a serial killer.
Song use: There's actually not much drawn from the song that I can see other than the female vs. male dichotomy. Patti doesn't seem to be having fun in killing guys, even; my impression is that she enjoys it like I'd enjoy drinking a cold soda, and fun is too strong a word for that. You only passed on this front.
Still a good story, though, and I enjoyed the reactions of my co-judges, so thanks for that!
Malefic Marmite, "Salt on the Steps"
Song: "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"
I'd like to see a version of this one told from the freshman's point of view. It wouldn't require all that many changes. Despite the PoV currently belonging to Marion, the reader never gets deep into her head, and only a few surface details ('She can smell the Drakkar Noir rolling off him in cheap, synthetic waves') keep the perspective out of third-person objective territory. Because of this--I think--there's a coolness to the narrative, an emotional distance that sort of works and yet leaves the boy's death remote. Maybe you want it that way: the reader sees it through the lens of Marion's lack of emotion. I might have preferred to get his thoughts and feelings as he died on that rotting ground. Was he afraid? Did he need to be?
That said, the story's good as it is, my fourth favorite of the week. You scored points with me through your setting details, the scent of his cologne and the feel of the salt as well as the glow of the wheat. I could see it all. In just a few lines you drew the forest and the baobab. Could have done without the joint, though. The drug use didn't add anything or matter. You should have capitalized 'Bic,' one of your few mechanical errors.
Also erroneous: 'While horizontally small, no larger than four or five baseball diamonds, the rising, vertical nature of the woods, coupled with the treetops swaying in the absence of wind, lent it a unique visual trait: an opaque corona of darkness, as if it were some far-off oasis or monument or cityscape obscured by heat, the forest itself topped by blurred silhouettes, tendrilled refractions, rising up like smoke and continuing beyond the amorphous crown of treetops, the shadows eventually diffusing into a null sky.' Lent should be leads to stay in the present tense. As for the rest of that, I'm fairly sure you know how over-long that sentence is and left it that way by choice. Doesn't mean I like it. That's one ridiculous conga line of commas. Your later depiction of the baobab is comma-rich, but not to excess, and it's so much more effective. (Except for when it repeats 'the earth' twice in one sentence; I'd cut one of those.)
Your song is only immediately evident in the characters' long circuit through the woods, which probably isn't five hundred miles long but which gets the idea across nevertheless. I would grumble if that were all. It's not: "Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles / To fall down at your door" shows up in the boy's collapse and Marion's thought of a door that must be blocked. Nice. The freshman is next to Marion throughout, of course.
Although I wondered above whether the boy should have died in fear, this is one entry that wasn't hurt by the ambiguity regarding what was behind the door, probably because it barely mattered. Whether there's anything at all that needs appeasing or Marion and her family kill for nothing is of no import to the victims. You gave the reader some room to choose which to believe and to decide which would be more horrifying.
kurona_bright, "The Smell of the City Streets"
Song: "Dancing in the Street"
I'm coming back to this one after a long time away from these stories. I wonder, looking at it now, how it escaped a DM. It's not as bad as the losing piece, but your pacing is terrible! Look how the first section drags; look how full it is of fluff and repetitions of the word 'street.' STREET STREET STREET. No, constant references to the street are not enough to make this a "Dancing in the Street" story! (You rectify that later, a little.)
By fluff I mean words you don't need, details that don't come to anything. I'll use one sentence as an example of the former. 'Logically, she knew that the rain and the snow had washed it away, and that much worse substances had splattered the same streets, but she couldn't shake the absurd notion that the sidewalk carried that awful scent.' This is bloated. With a few snips it could be 'The rain had long ago washed it away, but the sidewalk still carried the memory of the scent.' (I went with 'memory' because of the 'almost' in your first line. I'm assuming she's aware the smell isn't really there.) A change like that would cut down on the amount of faffing about the sentence does and free up words for your use elsewhere--say, in the rushed climax. The end of the story is as abrupt as the beginning is long-winded. In part because you spent much more time on details like what she bought at the grocery and how long it was between her house and the store than on why she broke down in the first place, I never understood her problem or felt her fear, and that last line fell hard on its face. Her terrors weren't given any basis. Neither was that conclusion.
There was one hint: He told me that he'd never drink again after – If Jake's drinking led somehow to her breakdown, maybe it should have been his vomit she smelled. This really wasn't clear enough, though, and I'm not sure at all whether Jake was a jackhole whose behavior helped make Taylor a wreck in some way or a good, loving husband who'd been tried to the breaking point. The line 'Taylor, it doesn't matter what you wear. You're always beautiful to me, as long as you're with me' was more suggestive of the latter.
You brought the song in again with that line and with the earlier mention of the fun they'd had in the past twirling together through the street. I wish I knew what the hell happened to change things for Taylor. That's probably where the story is. If you rewrote this to show her breakdown instead of the aftermath, it'd likely be a lot more frightening and a lot less oblique. I'm too busy being perplexed by this version to be horrified even a little.
PootieTang, "Revenge of the Drum-stick Knight part 3: Money Never Sleeps Twice, OR, "How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Just Write It An Hour Before The Deadline"."
Song: "My Favorite Things"
That title certainly made me fear what was to come. Overdue by half an hour and over the word limit, too! Did you by chance hack the Something Awful servers to take them down for a week before the judges could catch sight of your submission? The actual story wasn't that bad, you know; with a bit of trimming and less procrastination and better grammar and a title that didn't make me want to physically hurl it from myself as far and fast as possible, you could have held your head up in the middle of the pack.
I can't swear the faults wouldn't have added up to a DM had the forums not saved you. However, you did a standout job with your song. It surprised me how many of the visuals from "My Favorite Things" you managed to include without turning your story into a laundry list of items. Nearly all of your references worked in their contexts. I didn't even spot what you were doing until I got to the brown paper packages tied up with strings--beautifully gruesome, by the way. The blue satin sashes were the one real stretch. You wrote horror in a week when many of the entries landed to the left of that target. Your first paragraph was bloated, the joke about the sign set the wrong tone, your story stopped more than it concluded, but darned if I wasn't interested in and dreading what Hesh would find at the end of his chase.
That's all the praise I can offer, though. Mechanically this was an absolute disaster. Maybe you know as much, as the godawful title rather implies you had no time to spare for proofreading. Next time, make time, because this kind of sloppiness causes acute secondhand embarrassment. A few specific examples:
'Crimson-tinted' needs a hyphen as a compound modifier.
'The sign said 'Wild Bill's ethical slaughterhouse' the words lighting up the darkness that would otherwise drown the street.' Most signs would capitalize 'Ethical' and 'Slaughterhouse,' and there should be a comma after the latter word.
'biting a bouquet of roses in it's mouth' -- sweet baby Jesus. The possessive 'its' does not and never will have an apostrophe.
'On the inside of the hovercraft, a small tone much like a doorbell dinged as he descended, outside the craft blared a deafening tone to warn anyone below, the tone changed with the season and in the winter they did their best to imitate sleigh-bells.' Holy run-on sentences, PootieTang. The comma after 'descended' should be a period or a semicolon, or else you should use a conjunction; I suggest 'while' in this case. If you're meaning to say that the hovercraft blared a deafening tone, I'd stick a comma after 'outside.' If you wanted to say that a deafening tone blared outside the craft, put 'blared' after 'tone.' The comma after 'below' should also be a period or semicolon. There should be a comma after 'season.' 'Sleigh bells' needs no hyphen. You can check out this quick guide to semicolons vs. commas if you aren't familiar with the usage rules.
'But no-once could mistake the flying metallic brick for Santa, not even in drowning in the snow of the silver white winter it flew through.' I have to believe you know 'no-once' isn't a word or else I'll give in to despair. Hyphenating 'no one' is uncommon in American English, but with my Chicago Manual of Style in a box somewhere I can't say for sure whether it's technically incorrect. There should be no 'in' before 'drowning.' 'Silver-white' needs a hyphen. The whole sentence is florid, gratingly so.
All of the above sentences were from the first paragraph, but the hits keep coming with 'No towers and lot's of thick concrete' (Heaven preserve me) and 'The weather was viscous' (seriously, are you trying to kill me or what). You don't seem to know how to punctuate dialogue. I don't think your grip on when to use the past perfect is solid. A general guide: if your story is set in past tense, you should use the past perfect tense when describing things that happened before the story began, so: 'At the beginning, he had considered it a dry hump of an investigation.' 'They had never found the bodies.' Etc. The sentence 'Still, it was over-time, and working with 'less fortunate communities' afforded several government granted perks, like the free crime-insurance his family enjoyed' has four hyphenation errors: 'overtime' is one word,' 'crime insurance' should be two, and 'less-fortunate' and 'government-granted' are compound modifiers.
A good story may still be a good story even if its mechanics are piss poor. With this many errors, though, the errors are what I notice, and it's a struggle to look past them to the tale you were trying to tell. Your story wasn't bad, but it wasn't worth viscous weather.
At the end of all that, you delivered a finale that didn't finish anything. This reads like the start of a longer story. With considerable editing I'd be interested in reading on and finding out what happens with the investigation after Hesh falls into that trap, whether he gets out, whether the girl survives, what the killer's motives were, etc. etc. Just killing Hesh and closing the curtain wasn't satisfying, but in your favor, leaving the reader wanting more is much better than boring her to death.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 21:09 on Nov 8, 2014
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 03:28|
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 03:39|
I'm expecting big things. Sign ups are closed.
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 04:03|
Oh yeah. Crits. Hope you don't expect anything like what Kaishai just dished up for mine.
Here they are. The time now is 1:39 pm and I intend to write them all straight into the browser. SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR A SUMMARY OR DO A CTRL+F FOR YOUR NAME I'M NOT PUTTING IN BOLD OR ITALIC TAGS.
<Chairchucker> Toaster Beef: pretty good, and I like the audacity of submitting within like four hours of getting the song.
Oh you may have noticed that this reads like an excerpt from chat. That's because I intend to post, verbatim, my IRC reactions to these stories and let them serve as the bulk of my crits. That's all I got for you Toaster Beef, suck a butt.
<Chairchucker> Drunk Nerds: you're
This is probably a reference to the fact that you stuffed up you're/your or something, which is not the best way to put me on side.
<Chairchucker> OK. So. Drunk Nerds:
<Chairchucker> Loser pile.
<Chairchucker> Not horror, bad errors.
<Chairchucker> Doesn't even glance at horror, I don't know what the hel.
<Chairchucker> Not even a little bit.
There was some discussion about maybe it's horror if they killed the guy.
<Chairchucker> Even if they kill him, he's not a main/relatable/sympathisable character, so we don't care.
<Chairchucker> Also, you're.
<Chairchucker> Also some of the dialogue attributiony things felt bad.
<Chairchucker> At the moment I've got it as my loser, and Toaster Beef, the only other story I've read, as my winner.
That's pretty much it for Drunk Nerds, your story sucked and I hated it.
<Chairchucker> Oh, the very next one...
The very next one, BTW, is Posh Alligator
<Chairchucker> He likes his adjectives, doesn't he?
I didn't mean this in a good way, FYI.
<Chairchucker> also, commas and periods next to each other.
<Chairchucker> "The trousers tightened."
<Chairchucker> Best line so far.
<Chairchucker> OK so that was "Nothing happens and then he dies for no reason" the exciting short story.
<Chairchucker> I'm not sure if I quite hate it more than the previous one TBH
This is legit the nicest thing I have to say about this story.
<Chairchucker> Even though nothing happens
<Chairchucker> And it's overwrought and pretentious
<Chairchucker> OK slight grumble but I feel like a dialogue question really needs to be followed by 'asked' rather than 'said', what are your thoughts?
Hmmm, I could've helped future me out if I'd bothered to say the name of the author. Scroll scroll scroll, oh it's Entenzahn with whatever he wrote.
<Chairchucker> Are you okay? Maddie said from the side of her bed.
<Chairchucker> I'm tihnking asked.
(Side note: the uploading thingie removed the quotation marks, but I'm not gonna fix them, just letting you know why it's happening.)
<Chairchucker> Also What is a good wine to enjoy by yourself? he d said.
Oh and then there was 'wine joke discussion'. I didn't get it either.
<Chairchucker> I dunno, maybe it was a Silence of the Lambs reference.
<Chairchucker> That's literally the only other time I've ever heard the word Chianti.
<Chairchucker> It's a good story but I have Toaster Beef over it so far.
<Chairchucker> For 'asked' reasons mostly.
Congrats I didn't hate your story. Also later we argued about her motivation for killing Benjamin, personally I thought it worked if she was legit crazy I dunno.
<Chairchucker> Whalley's is groundhog day
<Chairchucker> And I like it
<Chairchucker> Kind of.
<Chairchucker> I dunno
<Chairchucker> I don't really understand it completely
<Chairchucker> But I like it anyway
This, BTW, is entry number one in 'interesting premises that I wouldn't have minded knowing a little bit more about.' I still kind of liked it though.
<Chairchucker> OK Djinn's is kind of
<Chairchucker> I dunno
<Chairchucker> Yeah kinda.
(That was asking if I liked it.)
<Chairchucker> But there are issues with it, some of which you've covered.
Issues were that it felt kind of like a weird fairytale or something I dunno. I hated how... stupid the soldier was. He's legit dumb.
<Chairchucker> OK finished Nikaer Drekin
<Chairchucker> Spin Right Round
<Chairchucker> It's weird but pretty decent
<Chairchucker> In my increasing list of 'pretty OK really'.
Things I particularly liked in this one: that the element of horror was so different from what most of them were, and that we cared a bit about the protagonist and wanted him to get free. The weird time infinite thing whatever happened though, I dunno if that really worked for me.
<Chairchucker> "Before he had gotten comfortable the a stray flick sent the second ball down the left out lane to the drain."
Oh I've moved to the next story, A Mean Pinball by Nethilia
<Chairchucker> THE A
Yeah, you've made me angry early on.
<Chairchucker> That s why he d done so bad.
<Chairchucker> Carry on
<Chairchucker> Also as the as the
<Chairchucker> The problem I currently have with Pinball
<Chairchucker> Is that it is following the song's description of the pinball wizard too closely
You see, at this point the protag was either deaf, or deaf and dumb.
<Chairchucker> And I feel like it might make it predictable
<Chairchucker> A WIZARD DID IT
<Chairchucker> WIZARDS DO WHAT THEY WANT
<Chairchucker> DON'T MESS WITH A WIZARD, SON
I don't remember what this was in response to, maybe the weird magical pinball machine.
<Chairchucker> Still nowhere near the DM list though
<Chairchucker> I've only got one there ATM
So, I thought it was pretty bland but less bad than the two I hated.
<Chairchucker> Anyway.. NEXT
<Chairchucker> DM TBH
<Chairchucker> Lots of tense changes and other annoying errors.
<Chairchucker> Also stuffs around with chronology for no reason.
<Chairchucker> Worse than everything that I haven't already put in the low pile.
<Chairchucker> I'll see if there's worse to come!
Yeah it was kind of rubbish. Didn't care about any characters, nothing made sense.
<Chairchucker> This one: not starting off well
I am talking about Docbeard with the Dancer.
<Chairchucker> Yeah Dancer had potential but then he ran out of words I guess
<Chairchucker> And yeah I caught some Hansel and Gretel too.
<Chairchucker> I don't want to DM it though
Act two in the short play 'An interesting premise with which you don't do anything, and I hate you.'
<Chairchucker> But I'm more disappointed because some of the ideas, if anything had come of them, were interesting.
Oh, apparently I said that in chat, as well.
<Chairchucker> "I was fifteen miles from the Love Shack"
<Chairchucker> Some people are very literal
'Some people' is Obliterati. Stay away, fools.
<Chairchucker> It feels like he brought his thesaurus to this story.
Kai pointed out you could just be a lover of a particular kind of fantasy.
<Chairchucker> It's frantically, right?
(It totes is.)
<Chairchucker> Yeah middle of the pack
<Chairchucker> bottom of the middle
<Chairchucker> (Not great but not DM is what I'm saying)
<Chairchucker> What's a croft?
<Chairchucker> And yeah, onward.
To a story by Teddybear.
<Chairchucker> Heh. Frantically. This guy knows where it's at on that word.
You go, Teddybear.
<Chairchucker> Squatted, right?
<Chairchucker> Not squat?
You ruined it.
<Chairchucker> pat instead of patted
<Chairchucker> As well
<Chairchucker> I don't see it as horror, exactly.
<Chairchucker> I like it
<Chairchucker> I like it quite a lot
<Chairchucker> Errors aside.
<Chairchucker> I dunno
Kai said she could kind of see DM for prompt failure but she doesn't want to.
<Chairchucker> Also, look at the one that is a definite DM so far...
<Chairchucker> Marconi Plays the Mamba
<Chairchucker> What was even the point of the radio
<Chairchucker> No DM or anything but that was dumb
<Chairchucker> That was R.L. Stines tier ending.
<Chairchucker> (This is a bad thing)
Yeah basically nothing logically followed. Like, some lizard person is trying to contact him via the radio because, why? Why even? And the head waiter who turns out to be a lizard anyway... I don't even. This story's dumb.
<Chairchucker> OK, reading the next
The next is by WeLandedOnTheMoon!
<Chairchucker> Oh boy, the best kind of error, an inconsistent one
<Chairchucker> I don't like the next one either.
I'm still talking about this one though.
<Chairchucker> The errors really ramp up in the second half.
<Chairchucker> Yeah it started off pretty strong
<Chairchucker> I want to DM the second half.
<Chairchucker> Next one's better IMO
Next one's by curlingiron.
Sorry, this is all I said about it. It was pretty decent. Sorry, I just have more to say when a story is bad, so you should feel pretty good about this crit I guess.
<Chairchucker> Hmmm. An Urban Hunt: not promising so far.
<Chairchucker> to late
YOU DONE MESSED UP NOW, DMBOOGIE!
<Chairchucker> OK The Urban Hunt: tone is all wrong.
<Chairchucker> OK as a story but it doesn't work as horror.
<Chairchucker> Yeah, basically
<Chairchucker> The protagonist is basically the 'horror'.
Yeah, couldn't get attached to any of the characters either, and their stories weren't really different enough.
<Chairchucker> OK so Tyrannosaurus' is very short and uneventful
<Chairchucker> No DM but no anything really
I didn't like this and didn't think the format worked. I think my fellow judges disagreed.
<Chairchucker> My problem with Tyrannosaurus' is there isn't much more than a premise.
<Chairchucker> I absolutely can't see HMing Tyrannosaurus TBH
No way, Kai and BadSeafood. Not on my watch.
<Chairchucker> The one after it thhough, surre.
Oh right, time for Anomalous Blowout.
<Chairchucker> (I kinda liked Lizard.)
It was probably the best written story. Not sure if it was my favourite, but it was the best. There was some hesitance WRT making it the winner because it was maybe a little less 'horror' than one or two others.
I've moved onto Blade_of_tyshalle
<Chairchucker> Take on Me
<Chairchucker> I want to HM it
<Chairchucker> Because it is weird and cool
<Chairchucker> Even though it's kind of not horror
<Chairchucker> It feels like it's kind of playing with the horror genre
<Chairchucker> A bit
<Chairchucker> I dunno
<Chairchucker> I like it
Kai talked some smack about how 'unhorror' it was, and also about song usage.
<Chairchucker> I think it was a very literal 'take on me'.
<Chairchucker> As in the critter was taking on the guise of Jeff
<Chairchucker> I'm still fighting for Take on Me as 'comedy-horror'.
<Chairchucker> It's like
<Chairchucker> That movie that I never saw, with Alan Tudyk and some other guy getting mistaken for murderous hillbillies.
<Chairchucker> Saw ads for it though.
<Chairchucker> Tucker and Dale vs Evil
About here I get definitively overruled.
<Chairchucker> This is me stomping to my room.
I fought for you, Blade_of_tyshalle, I really did. I liked this story quite a bit.
<Chairchucker> (The next story. Mercedes'!)
<Chairchucker> The opening paragraph is bad IMO
<Chairchucker> Too many sentences in some paragraphs starting with 'he'.
<Chairchucker> He. He. His. He.
<Chairchucker> Yeah Mercedes' is not great. Onto the three in the Google doc.
Sorry Merc, your story was not very good.
<Chairchucker> Wetstone. It's whetstone, right?
HEY. HEY CRABROCK. I'M READING YOUR STORY AND I'M YELLING AT YOU FOR 'WETSTONE', CRABROCK.
Well maybe I wasn't so much angry, as
<Chairchucker> Oh Crabrock, you disappoint me.
Yeah that one
<Chairchucker> DEFINITELY horror
<Chairchucker> YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND
This one was pretty good, even though we don't really care about the poor saps that get assaulted, just because of how HORROR it was. (Very.) Could've contended but the characters weren't as good as the winner. Deserving HM though.
<Chairchucker> Salt on the Steps, I don't really see the song
This one's by Malefic Marmite. I don't seem to have made many comments so I guess I didn't find anything particularly objectionable, but wasn't in love with it either.
<Chairchucker> I am up to STORY THE LAST
<Chairchucker> IS IT JACK OR JAKE, PERSON WHO WROTE THIS LAST STORY?
<Chairchucker> Last story is a good idea executed not as well as it should've been AAAAAND TIME
And apparently not memorable enough for me to have any more responses to it. Oh wait here are some other things I said, some of my comments are now out of order.
<Chairchucker> It's not horror enough
There was discussion on the ending not being good.
<Chairchucker> I like what it wanted to do, it just didn't do it.
It's a bad ending.
<Chairchucker> Padded cell makes no drat sense
OK so here's my summary.
<Chairchucker> MY VOTES:
<Chairchucker> Posh Alligator LOSER
<Chairchucker> DMs to those other two guys
Other two guys, for those playing at home, were Drunk Nerds and Broenheim.
<Chairchucker> Lizard winner
<Chairchucker> HMs to EVERYONE
<Chairchucker> Crabrock, Toaster Beef, Curlingiron
<Chairchucker> IMO: Lizard better story, Crabrock more horror.
And it is now 2.49 pm and I have finished my 'crits'. So long, jerks.
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 04:52|
Hope y'all are ready for a proper duel this week.
(Click for one-a-them movin' talkin' pictures.)
Erogenous Beef fucked around with this message at 13:24 on Aug 23, 2014
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 13:21|
Is it too late to ask for a crit for this week? I'm not exactly sure what the guidelines are.
|# ? Aug 23, 2014 23:01|
Experimental Fiction (1588 words)
Hey. It's me again, Simon J.
Humbled and, in a matter of speaking, crushed by my last foray into fiction, I thought I'd try something different. See, even if I could grasp a pen, at the moment - the most quotidian tasks become impossible, cooped up in these casts - writing the perfect story would be beyond my ken. But a thought has wormed its way into my writerly brain: if I can't write the perfect story, then why not simply not write it? And that's what I, Simon J., am here today to do.
So, in this story - not this story, but the one I'm not writing - we have a kid. She's nine. She lives in the iconic American Southeast, somewhere with summers so humid that the gnats stick to your face. Somewhere with fireflies, and thunderstorms, and cattails, and sweet tea, and half-starved dogs chained up in the backyard, and meemaws who die in their recliners and don't get found for three days. The sort of place worn smooth and reified by someone who didn't quite live here long enough to get it.
And her problem is, she's clever.
Well, not exactly. Plopping a character down in the American South and making her smart - making her crippled by cleverness - reads superficial, to me. Unconsidered. But that's far from the biggest issue. Here's the one that I, Simon J., lose sleep over: writing a conflict as simple as that, smart girl versus stupid environs, makes me, Simon J., feel like an rear end in a top hat. Why write something that doesn't at least look like I sat up thinking about it? How else is anybody going to tell me apart from the next idiot who couldn't think of anything better?
Simplicity's fine, but it's gotta be some postmodern wabi-sabi poo poo before my ego shuts up about it.
So the kid can't just be clever in an unforgiving South. She's also sincerely jealous of anybody who can throw a baseball more than two dozen feet. But that jealousy is all mixed up with an equally sincere sense of guilty superiority, wherein she thinks that everyone she knows - particularly her father - is a tremendous fuckwit, but also knows that it's a venial sin to think such uncharitable things. She's aware of this superior feeling, but she doubts its basis in truth - although, on her worse days, she thinks that this very doubt is a sort of concession to her ego's desire for superiority, as in, if she weren't innately superior, she would feel too threatened by that prospect to allow herself doubt. So: the star student, who lets herself say "My paper is crap" when and only when she's spent a hundred hours working on it.1
How was I, Simon J., planning to convey2 this? Well, that's the wonderful thing about not writing it: what I don't know how to do, I can leave as an exercise for the reader.
So, anyways, in Act 1, the kid manages to win some minor triumph by dint of cleverness. I, Simon J., set her up for a revelation that leads to her downfall - the revelation that there are other people willing to validate her nebulous Southern-bred sense of superiority. I was thinking a spelling bee, say, one for which her Southern relatives decidedly do not show up3, but at which she has some small success4, perhaps at the expense of a particularly irritating baseball-chucking boychik. And she ain't happy about it - until some teacher takes her aside, and explains the potential value of her cleverness - basically, takes her down a notch in her recursive ruminations on guilt and intelligence - and she buys it. Hook, line, and sinker.
Now, here's problem number two. I, Simon J., don't think that any child ought to be punished for believing in a fiction so innocuous as 'you might be able to do some good, in spite of it all.' But for dramatic purposes, our kid must get her injust desserts. Now, frankly, gently caress dramatic purposes, them buggers having led me into more not writing than any other single cause. I do believe personally that the ineffable is better left uneffed, and I'd rather let readers labor under the realistic expectation that everything comes out more or less random at the end. But fiction, according to its readers, at least, has to embody a justification of its own relevance56, so on to the crux of it, then. Poor kid.
So she takes this notion, and decides to do good with it. After all, most of her prior hangups were based in a crippling sense of uselessness, a meta-awareness that all of this endless rumination on self-consciousness, guilt, self-conscious guilt, &c, was itself useless, and that her very awareness of this was a better argument in favor of her general uselessness than she herself could ever produce.
Anyways, it ends up with her weaseling her way into a trip to the feed store her father owns, which stands as a symbol for her father's general good graces: it's the one and only thing that he, as a gruff Southern chappie, unabashedly loves7. And she, standing paralyzed behind the counter - in paroxysms of what she is not sure whether is delight or concern8 - notices, being as she is, rather clever, something. Her father has miscounted; he has in fact undercharged someone, a sallow, boozy, leering, Southern someone who even now stands before the counter. I was thinking that it might even be the Daddy of the nasty baseball-chucking feller from Act 1, who may even himself have joined in on the general denigration of our luminary kiddo on the occasion of her spelling-bee win. And the kiddo, who does not hold a particularly convivial attitude towards her Pa, nonetheless sees - in light of her newfound charitable attitude - opportunity. She merely needs to overcome a lifetime of doubt over her own perceptions and abilities, open her mouth, and say: "Hey, Daddy, you didn't charge that guy enough."
Which, after an extended rumination9, she does.
So, here's the third problem. For all of the appropriate emotions to emote themselves into their slots, this period of anguished rumination has gotta be extensive and believable. I, Simon J., ain't quite up to the task. After all, the fall did scramble me a bit. But imagine that you've read the story to this point, and you're totally convinced by this poor kid's agonies. You're willing to accept that half of her brain is refusing to basically tell her Papa that he's a fuckwit, seeing as the question of whether or not it's sinful to think he's a fuckwit is so loaded for her that she can't even begin to speculate on it; the other half is delighting in the prospect, having just been awakened to the possibility that being overtly intelligent is something other than other-than-honorable. And you're willing to accept that the win effected by the latter half was not a cakewalk.
And our maiden pipes up, and says "Pa? It's actually twenty-four dollars sixty-three."
Her Papa ignores her. This galvanizes her reserve. "Pa," she says, tugging at his sleeve, "It's twenty-four sixty-three. Not sixteen twenty-nine."
Pa growls at her, and and continues his conversation with the (not much of a) gentleman in question. But the gentleman has noticed the kid, and he ceases conversing, peers at her, and creaks: "What did ya say, kiddo?"
"I said," she says, drawing herself to her full four feet two, "that the price comes out to twenty-four sixty-three." Then she retreats, noticing, as she does, that both men are glowering down at her.
The gentleman directs a look, full of unspoken history, at the Papa. "God dammit, William Locklear," he says, "I've told you a thousand times, I don't need your filthy charity."
Then the gentleman pulls out a pistol and shoots our narrator's protesting Pa, right through the brain-pan, leaving the narrator spattered in blood and little gobbets of self-doubt. And, you know, horrified at her sudden expulsion from a tidy little spiral of doubt and self-loathing into a far nastier one, like recovering from the phugoid mode only to find yourself in a spiral dive. Much as I, Simon J., found myself a mere few weeks ago. Seems sudden? Well, call me clinical, but a sudden impact with the ground has a way of making your spine eject through your rear end in a top hat.
Ahem. I apologize. After this many words, I find myself bushed. I must to bed, and thus I must be brief. What I'd like to say is this: I hope you didn't find the ending to this story - the one I didn't write - too unsatisfying. I can see why you would. Nobody likes an untidy ending.
Although, on reflection, I suppose that you can't blame me. For the ending, I mean.
After all, I didn't write it.
1 A very different impulse from the one that makes me say, 'this story is crap'.
3 Being, as they are, philistines - a concession to my completely insane desire to indulge every literary stereotype about the South.
4 She wins without studying, because she read the final word in one of her endless library books.
6 Rather to fiction's detriment, in my opinion.
7 With the notable inclusion of his daughter.
9 Mostly focused on whether her Pa was actually right when he said "Don't talk smart to me, young lady."
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 08:17|
Tennessee Blues (1383 words)
Laura woke to a trackless, featureless marsh and the sharp smell of cigarette smoke. The van was making its way down an uneven road, rattling the drum set in the back, and she immediately wished she’d stayed asleep. Ratboy had one hand on the steering wheel and the other hanging out the window, tribal tattoos exposed to a grey sky. He was chewing gum loudly. When he wasn’t smoking, he was usually chewing.
“What time is it?” Laura muttered.
“Hey?” he turned to her with a massive grin. Snippets of a Neil Young song came from the radio between stretches static.
“America at it’s best” he half-sang the state slogan, ignoring her question. “It’s not so bad, hey? Shame the pricks refuse to drive on the Queen’s side of the road.”
Laura was in no mood for his jokes. They’d only been on tour for a week but it already had the markings of a disaster: small apathetic crowds, merch sales from that show in Jackson didn’t even cover costs, and Ratboy would stagger onto the stage blind-drunk each night, but not before creeping on half the girls in the room in his broad Australian drawl. There was something especially pathetic about an Australian band called “The Memphis Wailers” on tour in southern America. Back in Sydney, naive and young, Ratboy convinced her the name would sound exotic. Now, it felt hokey and wrong. Sure, he was having a great time - high-school dropout from Australia’s arsehole, laughingstock of the girls back home, had been laid twice this week - but to Laura, the men were uninterested, the girls were hostile, and the land was both. Was it her ridiculous blue hair (never should have dyed it)? She’d gained weight, felt awful in these too-tight jeans, was that it? Ratboy had a winning smile, a tan, and plenty of hours to spend in the gym, and Laura felt like she had very little going for her at all. Her America was empty and barren, and she felt alone.
She felt anxious about their long drives. About being around Ratboy all the time. She felt especially anxious about the two kilograms of cocaine he had stashed in the lining of his spare guitar case. She’d think about it over and over, her thoughts descending into a maze of nightmare what-ifs. On the bad nights (and they were mostly bad) she would like awake for hours and shudder.
Last week, when they flew into LAX and Ratboy gleefully told her he’d found a way to make an extra buck and help out with the tour costs, she was suspicious. That night, when he disappeared for hours, she was furious. When he returned and showed Laura the contents of his backpack, she had slapped him across the face, and was a hair’s width away from walking out of the room and booking the first flight back across the Atlantic. How could he do this? He knew about her past! A favour for a friend, he said. We drop it off in New York and make a mint, he said.
She’d been clean for years and it’ll be fine, she told herself. It was almost six years ago, you’re thirty, a big girl now and you’re in a better place, Mum’s OK now, you have a job and a band, your poo poo is together and you’ll be OK. You’ve been through rehab once and that was enough. You can handle this. The tour needs the money. Don’t think about it.
Laura wiped the sleep from her eyes and opened the glovebox. “We’re out of smokes” she said, her tone curving upwards although it wasn’t a question, and turned to stare out the window. The marsh rushed by, still water, jagged reeds, no houses, no people. She felt like she was trapped in a bad dream - if she’d just shut her eyes and open again, she’d be back in bed in Darlinghurst. She did so, and she wasn’t.
They were an hour out of Knoxville when the sheriff pulled them over. He was just like Laura imagined American sheriffs to be - a scarecrow of a man, aloof in his aviator sunglasses, a slow drawl. He was looking at Ratboy’s license after being told Ratboy knew how fast he was going. It was very fast indeed.
“Name, son?” he asked.
“Ratboy” Ratboy replied.
“What did you call me, son?”
“He’s Shaun Williams Lonsdale”, Laura interjected, before Ratboy said something dumber. Jesus, it was there right on the licence. Ratboy’s usual grin was nowhere to be seen - he looked pale and small. Those bags of cocaine were in the guitar case and her heart was pounding.
“This your boyfriend, ma’am?”
“We’re cousins”, she replied. “We’re on tour. We play the blues”, Ratboy added, helpfully gesticulating towards the stack of drums and guitars behind him. There came more questions. Australian? Staying in Jackson? You folks have a rock and roll per-for-mance?
“You folks mind if I take a look round your van?”
“Uh, sure, mate!” Ratboy said a little too eagerly. Laura grabbed his hand and squeezed. Ratboy tore it out of her grip.
Five minutes, a cursory glance, and a speeding ticket later, they were back on the road. They didn’t speak for an hour.
That night, they played to a basement bar that reeked of beer and sweat. The crowd was a thin gaggle of hushed voices and unkempt beards, eyes watching their every move from under baseball caps. The show was passable. Ratboy disappeared as soon as they were off-stage and Laura was left to drag her drumset back to the van on her own.
She was smoking a cigarette by the van when she met the gaunt man. His young brown eyes bore into hers and he spoke in clipped sentences with a southern accent, disarming and light. He liked their first album. Two more cigarettes, and soon they were in the back of the van pressed up against the guitars, and her tongue was in his mouth.
“Listen, it’s still early. I know a great party not far from here, if you’re, uh…” he said as he pulled away. She nodded, eager, the usual anxiety turning into excitement. This might not be so bad.
He pulled out a small box from his jacket pocket and spilt the white contents on a guitar case. He fished out a credit card and began to roll up a dollar bill.
“No, no, no” Laura said. “Oh man, I don’t need this.” He looked up at her quizzically. “Dude…” she began to explain, but was cut off.
There was a bang as something slammed into the van’s side. Raised voices (was the high-pitched one Ratboy?) came from outside, sharp, aggressive. Laura pressed her finger to her lips and the man nodded, bent over dollar bill in hand, inhaled. Another bang, ten seconds, and then the wailing of a siren. Laura felt the blood drain out of her face. They lay motionless together, heart pounding, hands entwined. Another thud and Ratboy was pushed against the van again, someone in a sheriff’s hat behind him (the one from before? She couldn’t tell). She could see Ratboy’s face up in the window from where she lay, and his nose was bleeding. Traces of red and white, alternating, glowed in the distance.
She heard a voice bark, something about the van. poo poo oh poo poo.
She scrambled for the spare guitar case, grabbed her keys, was ripping the sharp one into the lining. The gaunt man watched, eyes wide terrified, as she pulled out bags of white powder, started stuffing them into her jacket. Only a few small bags in here. She could grab it all. Then again, she could not - leave one or two, forget about idiot cousin for a while. Teach him a lesson. OK. Leave a couple. Need the rest.
They crawled towards the front, opened the passenger side door a crack, and slithered out. She heard Ratboy’s voice pleading on the other side of the van, heard another thud and a scream, could feel the bags heavy in her jacket. She felt twenty-five again. Can’t let a night like this go to waste. She grabbed the gaunt man’s hand and they started running.
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 13:11|
It had been 6 hours since he had burned down the gas station and there was still a faint smell of the fire about him. As he hauled himself up and over the guard rail of the old covered bridge he thought he heard the sound of a police siren in the distance. After a slight moment of hesitation he relaxed his grip and dropped into the stream below. It was mid-July, and the air was dense and humid. The cool water that came up to his chest eased the ache in his bones and washed away the sweat and dirt that was caked on his skin. Downstream of the bridge the water was shallower, and for the next hour Joe Dalton scrambled down the creek bed until he was further from his home than he had ever been before.
The land Joe Dalton grew up on lay a quarter mile north of the town of Andersonville. His childhood home had once been part of a large plantation, but no one had worked the land he and his father had lived on for a generation or more. One of the last things Joe's father had done before his death was build a large carport with a corrugated steel roof so he'd have someplace to put his dying Ford pickups and a pair of dirtbikes. Joe's father died when the boy was nine, shot in the woods north of Andersonville for poaching on private land. No one ever told Joe what his father did for money, but before he died he had taught Joe how go fishing with an old car battery and a set of jumper cables.
There were more than a few folks who, as Joe grew up into a mountain of a man not unlike his father, couldn't help but notice that the boy had a proclivity for wrongdoing. As a freshman he was already the largest boy at the local high school, but instead of pursuing football or wrestling, Joe dropped out after a semester and could often be seen driving along the backroads in his father's truck, with the rack full of his father's rifles. He was a keen shot. However the few times he went out hunting with the sons of his father's few friends they complained that he drank too much and had no interest in shooting anything other than beer cans or birds. By the time Joe Dalton would have been a junior in highschool, his homestead on the old plantation had become a place few people in Andersonville ventured, not out of any outright fear, but rather of the deeply unsettling presence that had seemed to settle over the place. The trees around the property were covered in thick, dense spanish moss that blocked any view of the house from the main road. Occasionally a neighbor would drive by and hear the sound of a 12 gauge go off or the revving of a dirt bike engine, but over the years people saw less and less of Joe.
When the Sunoco on North road burned down, Joe was not the first suspect. Had the young sheriff not acted simply on a hunch, or a premonition, or whatever you would call it, Joe Dalton might have had a head start he could have made something out of. Instead, the young sheriff arrived at the Dalton place only a few hours after the crime to find the place empty. The Fords and the dirt bikes were in the carport, and none of the guns seemed to be missing, but what the sheriff did notice was the absence of even a single pair of shoes in the house. Furthermore, in the early morning air, when the damp humidity sets down on Andersonville like a thick quilt, smells have a habit of lingering in the air long after their source has absconded. And on this particular morning, Joe Dalton's house was still filled with a distinct smell of burning.
Joe Dalton moved out of the creek and onto dry land and listened. No sirens. That was good. He reckoned he was still close enough to a road that he would hear approaching squad cars, but that he was deep enough in the woods that the only choice the sheriffs would have would be to hunt him down on foot. And Joe was certain that there were very few men left in Andersonville who could stalk game the way his father had taught him, and of those few, none of them were sheriffs.
For an hour Joe walked along the shores of the creekbed. When he came to a split in the stream, he turned east and walked into the forest. He followed an old, overgrown path for a mile until he came to a clearing that was almost completely hidden by the thick moss that hung from the trees. In the clearing, the dirt path turned into a long sandstone pathway that led up to the porch of a large, white plantation house that was covered in thick tendrils of ivy. The windows along the first floor were boarded up with sturdy wooden planks. Joe pulled a heavy, iron key out of his pocket and unlocked the front door. Inside, the foyer led to a series of large, high ceilinged room that had long been emptied of furniture. The house had been used by Joe Dalton’s father as a secluded place to stay when he went out hunting in the woods around the county. Joe had hoped there would still be canned food and guns in the house, and he was lucky enough to find a Marlin rifle and some canned tuna in a box inside the old fireplace. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and picked up the crate of cans. He then went upstairs into the old master bedroom that looked out on to the front walk. Joe went back downstairs and pulled down one of the old canvas window curtains and went back upstairs and wrapped himself in the curtain and went to sleep.
Burning down the Sunoco had never been Joe’s plan. He had only broken into the station to empty the cash register. But at the moment he was short on patience and not thinking clearly. Of course, Andersonville had never brought out the best in Joe, and on that night he felt as if the dark presence of all his father’s animosity towards the town was hanging over him. After Joe Dalton emptied the cash register, which he had smashed open with a fire extinguisher, he grabbed a box of matches and some lighter fluid and burned the building down. As he was running down the road in the direction of the bridge he turned around only once to watch the flames licking at the overhang of the front awning.
The two sheriffs had crossed the bridge and circled back around Andersonville twice, but still they found no sign of Joe Dalton.
“He ain’t getting far on foot” the older of the two men said. He had a paper dixie cup in the cupholder for his tobacco spit.
“Any dip?” the younger officer asked. The older sheriff pulled a tin of Skoal out of his breast pocket and handed it to his partner.
The younger man had been in favor of going door to door around the town, seeing if anyone might be hiding Joe.. But the older man knew that there wasn’t a single person in Andersonville who would shelter a Dalton.
On their second trip around the town, the older man took a sharp right off of the main road and on to a dirt path that was choked with Spanish moss. After several minutes he switched off the car headlights and eased off the accelerator. He took one hand off the wheel and pulled down the shotgun from the ceiling rack and rested it across his lap.
“We ain’t bringing anybody back to the station” he said. The younger man looked off down the dark road ahead. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead and ran down the side of his head and dropped onto his lapel.
Joe Dalton knew that the sin of his father were also his to bear. After he had grown out of his childhood naivete, he soon came to realize that for many people in Andersonville were happy to have a new Dalton man to hate. Joe had done himself no favors in this regard, and his proclivity towards poaching and other crimes had left him with no friends in the town. Now, sitting huddled up in the bare bedroom of the crumbling old house, the rifle held to his chest, he thought about the town. He could not remember a time where he hadn’t walked the streets of Andersonville without the feeling of stormclouds hanging over him. The dark presence that filled the fields and streams and woods of the county had always been a comfort to him, and like his father he often sought refuge in the dense woods and the old, overgrown plantations. He felt a desire to go to sleep like he had never felt before, as if in doing so the soothing uniformity of the surrounding darkness would envelop and subsume him, making them one and the same. He allowed himself to close his eyes for what he thought was only a moment, but he snapped back awake when he heard a sound from the front of the house. It was a sound that he could only describe as boot heels scraping on sandstone.
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 14:45|
“You kids stay inside at night,” Grandfather told me and James when we moved into the manor house. “None of that gallivanting about like you’re used to. You two be good role models for the twins. And you!” he turned to me. “You stay away from that old witch. The court said she was to have nothing to do with you.”
Back then I still thought it was worth arguing. “The court didn’t say I couldn’t see Memere! ‘Visitation with permission,’ they said. Your permission.”
“Well I’m not giving it!”
For two years I’ve done as he said, but Anne and Kelly are old enough to remember now, and it’s time they meet Mom. Grandmother and Grandfather are shouting for us. We wait, still and quiet under the branches of the old willow, but Memere doesn’t come.
“Should be go back?” James asks. He’s uneasy about this, has been from the start. You'd think he -- two years older than me -- would be braver, but he's always followed my lead.
“No,” I say, stomach roiling, heart racing. “No, let’s do it now.”
We walk softly between the pale gravestones. Mom’s is white marble, shiny in the starlight. Wrong, all wrong, but it will do. We sprinkle salt around the grave, and James squeezes my hand for luck just before the circle closes.
I kneel in front of the headstone, whiskey bottle held out, and think of my fear, of Memere’s absence, of how very much I need my mother. My throat grows tight and painful. My eyes well up. I will not cry. Please, Mom, come to me. I brought you an offering. Please…
Carefully, I open the bottle and pour a shot onto the grave. “Please, Mom,” I whisper.
“You bring me poison?” the shade says. “How unlike you.”
I brought you what I knew you’d come for. I lean back, pulling the bottle away from her grasping hands. They pass through mine, cold and slimy under my skin. “It’s traditional.”
She lunges again, clawing at my throat. I can’t breathe past the slimy, rotten sensation of cold in my throat. Gagging, I force the words out. “Back! Heed me now, shade! Harm no one here, for I come with an offering, and you will not receive it unless you heed me!”
She stumbles back under the force of my will. “What do you want?”
My mother. “Answers.”
“To what questions?”
They bubble up and catch in my throat until I gag on the lingering taste of rot. I lean over and spew bile across the slippery, whiskey-scented grass. James steps forward. “Stay outside the circle,” I croak, waving him away. He hesitates. "Keep the girls safe." He withdraws, holding them back. Even heaving on the ground I have some protection, and I clutch the whiskey bottle to my chest.
But the shade comes forward and crouches beside me. I feel her cold touch on my back, rubbing awkward circles as I have done for her on a hundred hungover mornings.
“You came,” she whispers. “You finally came to see your old mom.” And it’s so Mom - the quick change of mood, the subtle rebuke. My body spasms with silent sobs. My tears sink into the dirt of her grave.
A fitting offering for my mother: bile and whiskey and tears.
“Mom.” Tears leak into the corners of my smile, fill my mouth with salt. “Mom, I brought the twins to see you. Look!”
She walks to salt-line and stops. “Don’t trust me?”
“Not all spirits are as friendly as you, Mom. We couldn’t know how you’d be.” You tried to choke me, remember?
“Let them come over the barrier, then. I want to see them properly.”
James turns to me, and Mom spits in my direction. “So they look to you for orders now? You always were a bossy little brat.”
Even before I shake my head, James is pulling Kelley and Anne back. “Mom,” he says. “This is the only thing they’ll have to remember you by. This and stories.”
And, wonder of wonders, she sits cross-legged on the grass and talks to them while James holds their hands. They are scared and quiet, and Mom quickly grows frustrated with their short answers. When she turns on me, all her patience is gone. Her eyes are fixed on the bottle.
“What answers did you come here for?”
“When you died. Why? Why go to that rear end in a top hat?” My cheeks are raw from crying, my eyes swollen and tight.
“Because I couldn’t afford to drive to a real doctor,” she says. You couldn’t afford to die, either, and leave us all alone.
“Why go at all? Was the thought of another child so horrible?” my voice is hoarse.
“The twins were still nursing when I got pregnant,” she says. “I never expected two, you know? And I didn’t have money for birth control, but you’re supposed to be safe while you’re breastfeeding. Ha.” She draws an illusory breath. “And I just couldn’t handle another, not with them so young. Not with your father off somewhere. And he was right down the road.” A long pause. “Memere, she told me not to go to him. Said she could help.”
But you went anyway, and then you died. The last question burns like the bile had, coming up. “Did you want to abort all of us?”
“Oh.” Her eyes finally turn from the bottle and meet mine. “Oh, oh honey. No, never you guys. I just couldn’t handle it right then. But never you.”
Summoned spirits can’t lie. I’m shaking all over, but her attention has turned away. “They’re coming,” she says. “Listen, James. You’re going to have to be everything to those girls. Make sure they’re loved.”
“What about me?” I whisper. Haven’t I loved them? She turns back with a malicious smile.
“Oh you, honey, you have another path.” She cackles, the orange moon rising behind her. It lights her all in shades of yellow, like the jaundice has finally caught up with her. “Now give me my whiskey, and run.”
I pour the whiskey into the sodden grass. Her shade dissolves into the air as I clamber to my feet. “You heard Mom,” I tell the others. “Run.”
We flee before the flashlights as they sweep the graveyard. “What the hell was that?” James asks, when we’ve won some distance. “You said the girls should meet her. You never said she was gonna be like that. Or that you’d talk about how she died.”
“She was always like that.” I look him square in the eye in the moonlight. “And haven’t you ever wondered…?”
“Of course, but in front of the girls? They don’t need to hear stuff like that.”
“They’ll thank me for it when they’re old enough to understand.”
Kelley begins to cry. James soothes her as he says, “For now, they’ll just have nightmares. Face it, that was about you and what you needed from her.” I sputter, overwhelmed and too angry to form words. “Look, I’m sorry,” he says. “But Mom told me to look after them.”
“What in the name of God are the four of you doing outside at this hour?” Grandmother demands, flashlight blinding us.
“Laura tried to raise Mom’s shade,” James said. “Sprinkled salt and poured whiskey into the dirt, said some funny stuff.”
The brilliant circle of grandfather’s flashlight focuses on me. Behind it, he’s a vague and shadowy. “You’d subject your siblings to that Godforsaken witchcraft? I know you hero-worshipped the old witch, but I thought we’d taught you to be a respectable young lady. I won’t have that around the little ones, I will not!”
James, you little sneak!
“You want me away from Kelley and Anne?” gently caress, I hate crying. “Fine. I’ll go.”
Grandfather raises a hand to grab my arm, but he’s old and slow, and I’m already running. “James,” he barks. “Get her!”
The last thing I hear from them is James saying, “No. Let her go.”
- - -
When I let myself into Memere’s house she’s watching the static on the old TV. She doesn't look around.
“You didn’t come.”
“James finally stood up for himself," she says, and I know she's been watching over us.
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 22:01|
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 22:09|
Eliza didn’t move. Overseer Bradys’ red, bushy beard was faintly visible in the glimmer of his lantern and if the rumors about Patty’s child were true, if he caught her out at night, there would be worse things in store for her than a whipping. So she kept still and hid behind the tree and she sighed a breath of relief when he finally turned and went the other way to disappear towards the cotton plantations.
There was no noise besides Brady’s receding footsteps, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she couldn’t see anyone around or inside the Tapper mansion either.
She left her hiding place.
Sneaking through the open is a delicate balance between moving fast enough to avoid patrols and slow enough not to trip, or be spotted. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you ain’t. Eliza reached the west wing of the mansion, slumped against the wall and listened for any signs of alert. When there was nothing, she went round back and crouched in front of the back door on the patio.
She got out her hairpiece and started to work the lock.
“You’re in a good mood today,” Eliza said. She detached a bunch of lints from their bolls and threw them into the sack on her back.
Moses stopped whistling to throw Eliza a grin. Her husband had always liked to sing and hum and make music while they picked cotton, but today he didn’t do it to distract himself.
“You know David, Master Tapper’s son?” he asked.
“I’ve seen him around. Pointing at stuff, being important.” She made the gestures as she talked. “I imagine he ain’t much better than his father.”
Moses threw a quick glance over his shoulder.
“Nobody hears us,” Eliza said.
“Just makin’ sure.”
Eliza realized that they’d stopped picking. She moved to the next plant.
“So anyway,” he said. “Word is there’s been a row between his and the Master’s. About us slaves. Rumor’s little Davey is one of them abolitionists.”
Eliza let out a laugh. “Sure.”
“Talks a lot about freeing them black folk. Us, you know? And his pa just gets mad and slaps him across the face.”
“And now you think he’ll get you outta here?”
“Maybe not now,” Moses said. “But he’ll take over some day, won’t he?”
“Better keep picking that cotton until then,” she said. What a silly thought. The son of Norman Tapper, a friend of the slaves.
But then Moses had disappeared. And all anybody had to say were rumors about him being last seen at the Tapper mansion. She couldn't ask the overseers. What if Moses had secretely been freed? But would he have left her behind?
He’d been gone for two days. Came morning of the third day, he sat on the floor next to her, like nothing happened.
“Moses? Where the heck you been, mister?”
“Gone,” he said. He wasn’t quite there. The look on his face was focused, but not on something in front of him. Eliza wasn’t even sure he was talking to her.
“You feelin’ alright?”
He didn’t reply, and that was all he ever had to say about what happened in those two days. When she brought the topic up again, he just ignored her. He did so most of the time anyway, now. And there was no more singing, or whistling.
There was no more love.
Every night, when she’d want to lie with him, he’d shrug her off. When she asked what was wrong, he’d grunt. The warmth from his eyes was gone. He never hurt her, or even seemed dangerous. But this wasn’t the Moses she’d fallen in love with. This wasn’t her man.
Her fingers hurt like hell from the day’s work, but she managed to get the door open. The mansion was quiet inside, the constant tick-tock of the clock sounding like artillery fire in the silence. Eliza snuck through the kitchen into the entrance room. She’d never been inside, and what little information she got from the tight-lipped servants didn’t help much. She knew there was a second floor, where the family slept, and a basement, where they kept their supplies, and which was always locked.
The door to the basement creaked just slightly. Eliza stopped. Did she just hear noise? There was only her pounding heart now. The stairs, barely lit from the moonlight outside, remained still.
The kitchen and the back door were just a few feet away. She could easily walk back outside. Dash across the front yard and sneak through the bushes until she arrived back in their shoddy cottage.
Back with her empty shell of a man.
She pushed the door to the basement open.
“They say wicked things go down in that mansion at night,” Patty said with those big eyes of hers almost popping out like they always did when she gossiped. “Voodoo.”
“Voodoo,” Eliza repeated. “The Tappers do Voodoo.”
Patty nodded enthusiastically. She dipped a dirty linen shirt into the water basket between them, wrung it and started to scrub it across the washboard.
“Sounds like a buncha hokey pokey to me,” Eliza said.
“Maybe it ain’t voodoo, but something’s wrong about that place. There’s rumors.”
“I’d be surprised if there weren’t.”
Patty stopped scrubbing. “So you don’t want to hear them?”
Eliza shook her head and scrubbed her own laundry while Patty continued: “Whatever happened to your man, it has something to do with that mansion. They say folk disappear there at night and come back all weird-like. You ever talked to one of the servants? Odd people the lot of them. Something wrong with their heads.”
Eliza snorted. The mansion was a tiny rectangle on the horizon, a few dots from lit windows here and there. It really did look a little frightening in the twilight. Maybe that was just Patty filling her head with nonsense.
“Can I do something to make him the way he used to be?”
Patty shrugged. “I think you best run while you can. I tried to, but...” She gave a pained smile and left the rest unsaid. Eliza didn’t notice. She stared out towards the mansion.
The basement was dark, and the silence was oppressive. Eliza could faintly make out shapes, but no more. She felt her way across the wall, looking for a source of light, and bumped into a table. Thin metal lay on a wooden plate.
“Father never comes here,” a male voice said.
A light went on. David Tapper had entered the room behind her.
“He thinks this is a storage, and storage isn’t his responsibility. He’s quite predictable like that.”
More people came down the stairs. Two black servants. Another one.
“Moses?” Eliza said.
The slaves had distant looks on their faces. Moses didn’t flinch at the mention of his name. He didn’t recognize Eliza, or he didn’t care. They moved towards her without a word, while David stood in the door and watched.
Eliza grabbed a tool from the table and took a swipe. The surgeon knife cut into Moses’s cheek, drawing a bloody line across his face. He didn’t scream, but he slapped the knife out of her hand, took her by the hip and slung her across his shoulder.
As she was lifted up, she saw what was on the tables around her. Knifes. Hooks. Hammers. Notes, full of scribbles and arcane symbols. Cups and vials. Some devices that Eliza didn’t recognize. There was a giant pentagram in the middle of the room, and a bloody chair on top of it.
She decided to scream, too late. Moses set her on the ground and put a strong hand over her mouth, while others held her firm. David stepped closer as she squirmed.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt you. Pain will be part of the process, but it will be brief, and then you will be free. Like the others.” He smiled. “They will all be free, but you will be one of the first.”
They strapped her to the chair. They gagged her. The slaves lined up to oversee the process. And as David Tapper moved in with his tools, Eliza looked at Moses, then closed her eyes and waited to finally be with her husband again.
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 22:55|
The Vigil (1,591)
He’d gone out to pump more gas for the generator, his lantern held out to banish the shadows of the gas station overhang, when he’d found himself at the cornfield on the edge of town. It wasn’t where he’d intended to be, but it was where he stood. Twenty acres of dead stalks, their husks bent double from the weight of their own desiccated leaves. The wind picked up, and the fields took notice and rattled like a curse.
He had grown up here, in this town, among the sweet corn and the marshlands and the small wet things that would leap from puddle to puddle underfoot, but now rain had gone, one more strangeness of many, and his flesh didn’t know how to cope. It cracked like a lake bed under his stubble, on his lips, in the webs of his fingers. Charlie’s bicycle lay some dozen paces to his left, and he paid it no heed; it had been tarnished and faded by the sun. The weeds had tried to claim it before they’d shriveled and died as well, leaving their remains between the spokes.
The sun, small and afraid, moved on its axis, and the shadows of the cornstalks bent toward him. He stepped back and returned to the car, placing the lit lantern on his seat before getting in.
He and Elle lived among the shotgun houses, where the streets were small and broken and the thin shadows would twist with the daylight, latticing the road. He kept his high beams on to burn the darkness away as he drove, occasionally passing the charred skeleton of a house that had kept a burner on or a hot plate running. Their house was sage-green and the windows looked out blindly. He carried the gascans out back, put them down beside the cellar door and the generator, and then went back around. The wood of his front porch was so dry and shrunken that the boards cried like animals.
Elle prided herself on a clean home. White moldings, cane furniture, a glass-eyed stag head on the wall. The rooms laid out like dominoes, with Charlie’s bedroom at the very back. He kept all the doors shut and had bolted and boarded the cellar door from the start. The shadows down there were so thick he thought they might leak.
Elle had made dinner, a stew from bottled water, canned beef, beans, mushrooms, noodles. They sat down and ate; they’d stopped saying grace. She was in a robe, her flesh hanging loose on her bones, scentless except for the faint tang of her tangerine hand cream.
“Edith visited today,” she said. “She drove here.”
His spoon stopped mid-clink. “That so.”
“Her car was all packed. She’s leaving town.”
“I’m surprised it took her so long.”
“She didn’t want to leave her house behind. It belonged to her grandmother’s mother. Maybe even further back than that.”
“It’s a pretty house.”
“Neil,” she said. “We might be the only ones left.”
He contemplated a spoonful of stew.
“I think Edith has the right idea.” Her voice was quiet but firm; she’d been rehearsing the words. “This might not be going on everyplace. The car’s doing fine, there’s plenty of gas, I could start packing now-”
“You’re right,” he said. “Of course you’re right. I just need a little more time.”
She’d been tensed up, leaning over her bowl. Now she sagged again. “I know. I understand.”
He pushed the bowl away, and remembered the crunch of sweet corn between his teeth.
He filled the generator. He changed the batteries on their lanterns. The night crept in, thick as silk, blotting out all the world outside. He took his place in the rocker by the front window, staring at his reflection in the glass, his face a sleepless ruin. Behind his reflection was the reflection of Elle, sitting in front of the useless TV.
It was because of the TV, and Charlie, that they’d made it through the first night. He and Elle had been watching Wheel of Fortune when they’d heard the floorboards creak, and there was Charlie peering around the doorframe, small and wide-eyed. They’d let him sit between them and fallen asleep to the gentle chatter of game shows, awash in lamplight. When they woke up most of the stations had already gone dead. The late-night news continued to play for a little while, the anchors so wide-eyed and waxy that they looked like mannequins, and that was how they’d learned about what had happened to the dark while they’d slept, that every shadow became an open mouth. Then the rain left, and the clouds, and the stars, and the moon turned bloated and yellow and strange.
The rocking chair creaked metronomic across the floor.
Elle had gotten up. She laid her sweet-smelling hands on his shoulders and asked, “Do you want to light the candles tonight?”
“You do it.”
“You have to go in there sometime, Neil.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Her fingers massaged him gently.
The massage stopped.
“Elle.” He stared at himself in the window. “You should leave tomorrow. Follow Edith. I’m just holding you back.”
For a long time there was silence, and the reflection of Elle’s hands dangling limp behind him. Then she started to weep. He turned in his chair and saw her shuddering there, choking back her own breath, her cheeks glistening and wet. He rose and wrapped his arms around her. Her tears soaked through his shirt.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and the delicate wings of her shoulder blades convulsed. “Just put up with me a little longer. I know we can’t stay here.”
She sniffled and nodded against his chest. They parted.
“I’ll light the candles,” she said, and walked off, wiping her face with her sleeve. She took her lantern, took a matchbook off the end table, and made her way across the house, the arid wood protesting every step. He sat back in his chair, heard Charlie’s bedroom door click open, heard it click shut, and waited.
His mind, grown choked and slow from heat and time, snapped into life all at once, and the force of it galvanized him. He spasmed out of his chair and snatched up his lantern just before his legs took off and carried him away, and when he stood before Charlie’s bedroom door he tried to grasp the handle but his hand sweated and shuddered and he failed to turn it once, twice, three times and then he bent and slammed his shoulder against the scarred wood until it finally cracked and flew open.
They’d left the room untouched. Charlie’s bed was made, the thin blue bedspread folded under the pillow. On the squat dresser were two candles flanking his last school photo, his smile forced, his hair slicked down with water. The room was dark. The candles were unlit. An unlit lantern lay on its side. Elle was not there.
He smelled tangerines.
He didn’t know how long he stood on that threshold, or when he had taken some twine and knotted it around his lantern and Elle’s so that they both hung from his neck, but he was aware of the suffocating dark as he stepped outside, his strange pendants bobbing around him like will-o’-the-wisps. He picked up the gascans, and believed he heard the cellar doors shudder. The isle of light in which he stood grew smaller, its edges writhing. He popped the cans open.
He was not here. He was walking through the corn, his shoes caked with loam, lifting up the rich green ears with a practiced hand, nodding politely at the migrant pickers who knew he trespassed and didn’t care. Then he saw him walking in front of himself, Charlie’s small hand encased in his own as he told his son about which ears were ripe, and how they tasted, and the small insects and fungi and other things that thrived there. Then the corn grew dry and he could no longer hear the croaking of frogs or the liquid cry of the loons and he saw himself collapsed on the dusty earth and howling Charlie’s name amidst the devouring shadows of the corn. He passed it by and wondered what was this shape, this myth.
He was in Charlie’s room. The gascans were gone. He held a matchbook in his hand. He pulled the blanket off Charlie’s bed and held it close. The floor was sodden with gas. He knelt in it, felt it soak through the knees of his pants; the fumes rose, his eyes watered. Charlie’s blanket curled against his chin, dry and scentless as dust. He wrapped his arms around his hands converged, a match in one, the matchbook in the other, and struck until he saw light.
The gas caught aflame with the sound of an exhaled breath and within seconds his outline grew indistinct. Fire rushed from Charlie’s room, streamed down the stairs like liquid, crawled over the television and up the walls. It encircled the house and the cellar doors collapsed almost at once under their heat. Other houses began to catch, and others still, and the dead grass between them, and the dried marshes, and the shivering corn. The dry earth fed itself to the flame and the sepulchral night was filled with a great crackle as the blaze spread further, further, leaping up to the gasoline-yellow moon as though it meant to ignite the sky and banish the darkness forever.
|# ? Aug 24, 2014 22:56|
Scattered, Smothered (1,596w)
Deputy Earl’s cruiser spun out and burrowed into a snowbank down the side of Route Six, and the perp’s taillights vanished into the blizzard. He swore and clambered up to the road. Knee-high snow buried both asphalt and shoulder.
Back down in his car, his radio burped up static and died. Earl swore and smacked it. The sheriff would be pissed, but Earl cared less about losing his job than admitting he’d lost his edge. Since his wife’s suicide, he’d caught little more than shoplifters.
A familiar V8 thundered up the road; only Earl’s brother-in-law owned a truck that loud. He leapt in front of it, waving. A row of lights brighter than heaven itself blazed through the blowing snow and the truck stopped short, its bumper inches from Earl’s chest. Jake stuck his Ford-capped head out the window. “I oughta run you down, you fuckin’ wife-murderer.”
Earl swung himself onto a running board and yanked on the door. “I’m commandeering your truck, so open this door.”
“Devil gotta commandeer my soul before I let you in, Earl.”
Earl unbuttoned his holster.
“You gonna shoot me, same way you shot Mary?”
“So help me God, Jake, I’ll have your truck impounded before the sun’s up.”
Jake’s mustache twitched and he unlocked the doors. “You ride, but nobody but me gets to drive her. Where to, Mister Deputy, sir?”
“Towards the old Waffle House.”
The truck blasted through the snow and Earl scanned the road, searching for tire tracks - struggling to divine where the perp had gone, but the blizzard erased the road’s secrets. Jake stared straight ahead, his jaw set hard. Neither man spoke.
The last time Earl’d been in this truck was two years ago. Despite the winter, the cabin wasn’t half as frigid back then. It’d been Earl’s bachelor party, Jake was his best man, and the two feet of seat-leather between them was occupied by more silicone than a Chinese phone factory. Today, bitter silence slouched in that same space, draping its arms around the two men like a drunk being carried home. On its lap reclined the ghost of a dead girl.
Eleven golden squares shone through the snowfall and the truck pulled up beside a squat Waffle House. Bright light bloomed through fogged windows, ice gleamed on clean bricks, and swamp bracken huddled close around the hut.
Earl’d passed this place daily for months and, every time, plywood had blockaded the storefront. Jake beat out Dixie on the wheel with flopsweat dripping down his nose.
Earl swung the door open. “You stay here.”
Jake shut off the truck. “I ain’t freezing my stones off waiting for you.”
Inside, hell-hot air blasted their faces. The place reeked of fry oil and burnt coffee, and a barstool-pocked counter ran the length of the room, unattended. The door slammed shut behind them and the restaurant was momentarily silent as death, then muzak blared and ice broadsided the windows.
A teenager with coiffed hair and a scrubbed-clean face emerged from the kitchen. He wore a pressed blue shirt with the Waffle House logo on the breast and, when he spoke, his stentorian voice rattled the room, more befitting a king than a kid. “What can I get for you?”
Jake hunched over the counter without glancing at the boy and mumbled, “Joe.”
The kid nodded. “Deputy?”
“Need to ask you a few questions, son.”
“Why don’t you come around back after I fix Mister Jake’s order?”
Earl stepped through the swinging doors to the still, silent kitchen; even the lunchroom muzak was muted. The pans were hung up, the fryers were cold. Out front, the kid set a steaming mug next to Jake, exchanged a few smiling words and shook Jake’s hand, then entered the kitchen. A whiff of bad egg rankled Earl’s nose and, as the doors swung shut, the teenager crossed his arms and glared. “What do you want, Earl?”
“Don’t talk to me like that, boy. That’s an order.”
“I don’t take orders from murderers, especially a coward who shoves a pistol in his wife’s hand and pulls the trigger himself.”
Earl took a step back, speechless.
The light in the kitchen faded, and, in the gloom, the teenager’s smiling eyes shone. “You know I’m right, Earl, down in your heart of hearts.”
Earl turned on his heels and pushed the kitchen door. It didn’t budge. He threw his shoulder against it and bounced off; the door was solid as a wall. He turned back to the kid. “Who the gently caress are you?”
“I’m your best friend.” The teenager slid an arm around Earl’s shoulder, eased him further into the kitchen. “Anything you want, old boy, name it. A drink?” The teenager drew a bottle out from behind his back. “Wild Turkey, your favorite.”
Earl backed away. “I don’t want a drop of that poo poo!”
The kid nodded to the lunchroom. “You want me to fix it so Jake’ll come ‘round for cards again?”
Earl grunted. It’d take an act of God to make Jake forgive him.
“Oh, we can leave him out of this.” The kid sighed. “Maybe you want Mary back?”
“No!” He never would’ve married that bitch if her pa hadn’t put a shotgun to his head.
“Of course not. Who likes lying down in their own bed and smelling moonshine from some halfwit she’d banged? Or the kaleidoscope of Axe and aftershave on her neck when she’d give you a welcome-home kiss. Miracle you didn’t shoot her sooner.”
“You shut the hell up!”
“It’s not your fault, Earl. That’s what you want to hear, right? Once you worked up the nerve to ask for a divorce, she threatened to tell everyone about her special friends. Single or no, how could you look anyone in the eye if they knew she’d sucked a hundred cocks behind your back?”
Earl closed his eyes and breathed deep. He saw it again: Hot words in the kitchen, she’d recited every pothole in the road of his life and then they’d smashed every framed picture in the house in a hurricane of threats and punches. He’d kicked down the bedroom door, and she’d waited with a lamp in her hands, swung at his head when he came in.
The kid tapped him on the shoulder and he opened his eyes. He was there, in the old house, in the wrecked bedroom. Mary stood frozen, lamp in hands, just as she had that day.
The kid stood beside them. “This is it, right? In thirty seconds, you’ll throw her on the bed, put the gun in her hand and force her to pull the trigger.”
Earl willed his arm to move, but something held him still.
“Oh, did you want a second chance, Earl? It’ll cost you.”
“Who the devil are you?” He was going mad, seeing things.
The Devil smiled. “You’re not crazy, Earl. You’re just a hard-working man trying to get your due in a cold world. What kinda life would you’ve had if it weren’t for that harpy?”
“A better one!” The words fell from his mouth before he could think. “I would’ve been someone.” Rich, maybe; important, certainly.
“Men would’ve taken their hat off to you as you walked down the street.” The Devil sighed. “But some things just wouldn’t get out of your way.”
“That’s why I shot her!” He swallowed. Not that it’d made things better. One year on, he was half out of a job, friendless, almost homeless. But he could fix it…
“One more chance, Earl. A new life awaits, I promise you.”
Time resumed. Earl stumbled forward. Mary swung the lamp and it shattered on the wall. He ducked and held up his hands. “Honey! Calm down now, let’s talk—“
She threw a fist and his jaw cracked. He grabbed her shoulders and threw her on the bed. “I said calm the gently caress down!” He shook her. “Listen to me!”
“Me, me, me. It’s always me, Earl.” Mary spat in his face. “I ain’t signing nothing, and you can’t make me.”
“You will give me the respect I deserve for once in your fuckin’ life.” He drew his pistol and pressed it against her cheek.
She eyed the gun. “You ain’t got the balls, boy. That’s why you’re stuck in a dead-end job in this no-horse town. You’ve never had the balls to stand up for nothing to no-one, lest you’re waving a piece around.” She yanked the star from his uniform. “That’s why you got this, ain’t it?”
Earl shot her square between the eyes and fell face-first into the floor of a brightly-lit Waffle House kitchen, gasping for breath.
The Devil stepped forward and clapped. “Satisfied, Jake?”
In the doorway, Jake paled and pointed at Earl. “You’ll fry for this.” He turned and ran for the truck.
Earl jumped up, whipped out his gun and shot his brother-in-law. Jake toppled and blood pooled around his head.
The Devil leaned over the body. “That’s a done deal, Jake; Earl’s gonna get his due.”
“One more time,” said Earl. “I can change it. I’ll give you anything.”
“That black soul of yours isn’t worth a fart in the wind.” The Devil cackled. “And I promised you a new life, didn’t I? I keep my promises. A cop in prison, Earl. Every filthy dog from Mobile to Memphis is gonna make love to your rear end.”
Earl stared down the devil and turned the pistol to his own head.
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 00:01|
“This is Liza Blake, reporting,” she said. Jake, her cameraman, and Richard, the one-man sound and light crew, made sure that they recorded everything to the specs that she demanded. “Behind me lies the recently discovered remains of a colonial plantation, abandoned for who knows how many years. Today, we’ll be going in, and showing you what remains.”
She nodded to Jake, who cut the recording, before moving to replace the tape. “I’ll do the voiceover when we get back home,” Liza said. “Let’s just get some panning shots, maybe a couple interiors, then we can get out of here.”
Richard grinned. “Thank God for that,” he said. “This place gives me the creeps.”
Jake lifted the camera up, settling its heavy weight onto his shoulder. “Oh, don’t be so superstitious. Just a bunch of empty buildings,” he said.
“Buildings with history, though,” Richard said. “And not pleasant history at that. If any place is going to have ghosts, it’d be someplace like here.”
“Enough chatter, you two,” Liza said. “Let’s get this shoot done.” Her voice brooked no dissent, and soon the three were walking into the plantation proper, past crumbling walls, consumed by vegetation and moss and mold. The once-stately grounds were now being consumed by the rising tides of the swamp.
“Your contact ever say why this place was abandoned?” said Richard.
Liza shook her head and studied the surroundings with another look. “Everything looks pretty intact, too.”
“You’d think,” Jake said, “that after this long, the structures would have collapsed. But everything is still standing, despite the…”
“Decay,” Liza finished.
“Like I said,” Richard said. “The creeps.”
Liza nodded towards one of the closer standing structures. “Let’s check out inside. We’ll head to the main house last. We’ll want to get a lot of footage of the interior there.”
The three made their way over to the structure, little more than a shack compared to the main house. Richard stepped in first, shining his lights over the interior, before Jake moved in to capture the sights. The darkness swallowed up everything beyond the light’s radius, and the day seeping in through the open doorway. The wood of the walls was seeped through with moss and mold and fungus, toadstools sprouting from every surface.
Richard shone the light onto a bundle of cloth on the floor. “What the hell is this?” He moved closer and the bundle shifted. “Oh gently caress,” he murmured.
Shuffling emerged from the darkness and more figures began to creep from the black. Liza turned to run, but a blocky figure, dressed in overalls, blocked the doorway. A massive hand slammed against the side of her head and she crumpled to the ground.
Liza awoke in a dark room, lying on a soft mattress that threatened to swallow her completely. The fading rays of twilight pierced in through the windows, casting everything in shadow. She slid off of the bed, unbalanced and uneasy on her feet. Her head throbbed.
She moved over towards the window, growing more steady with each step. She gazed down, realizing that she was in the second floor of the main house. Torches blazed below, adding their light to the surroundings, givinging everything that dull, orange cast.
Figures, dressed in the same outfit as the man who assaulted her, milled in the shadows, clinging to the darkness. Her eyes widened as she saw Richard and Jake in the distance, immobile on the edge of the swamp. “Your boys done wrong,” said a voice from behind her. “They’re outsiders, and we don’t care for outsiders around here.”
She spun to face the speaker, a man dressed in an antiquated suit, green, but stained brown around the edges. He favored his right leg and used an elegantly carved cane with a silver handle to support his weight. “We don’t care for reporters either, as a general rule,” he drawled. “But we can smell the dirt on you, darling. We can smell you pure.”
Liza stumbled back a few steps, her back to the wall. “What do you want from us?”
“Well, ya see,” the man said. “Our god ain’t an angry god. Our god is a hungry god.” The man stepped in closer and she saw that the suit was not green. It was covered in lichen, inching up over the collar and the cuff, bleeding into his skin. “You should watch, darling.”
She caught her breath, frozen in the decision, to run or to face what was happening. She let out her breath in a shuddering sob and turned to looked out the window, gazing at the procession of brutish figures loping towards where Frank and Richard were laying. In the fire light, she caught the shine of manacles around their wrists and ankles.
“A sodomite and a Jew,” the main said. “Good sacrifice, to show our devotion to our god, and the purity of our lines.”
Frank and Richard stirred and struggled, though Liza couldn’t make out the details. The loping figures drew in tight around her two friends and she lost sight of them in the press of flesh. “They must be made sacrament, of course. We wouldn’t want our god to consume such impurities unprepared, now would we,” the man said.
She pressed her palms against the glass, feeling her hope slip away as the figures pulled away. Frank and Richard lay motionless, still and frozen in the flickering light of the torches, their indistinct features lost in the hazy light.
“A good night, indeed,” the man said. He stepped in closer, his cane clacking on the floor. “Two sacrifices for our god and a fine young lady to see that our next generation is born.”
She turned to face him, searching his shadowed face for his eyes. “I’m not going to work with you, I’m going to call the police and I’m-”
He reached forward and touched Liza’s cheek. The touch was wet and warm and his hand was marked green, the skin host to who knew what kind of fungal colony. She recoiled away from that touch. She reached into her pocket and drew out her cell phone, but the man moved with a sudden speed, knocking the phone from her hand with his cane. The tip slammed down onto the cell phone with an audible crack and she pulled back further.
“Now, now darling, ain’t no one coming to rescue you. Don’t worry, though, you’ll be learning your place real soon. Everyone learns their place, because everyone has a place here,” the man said. He smiled. The smile ripped across his face, from ear to ear, and razor sharp teeth shined in the darkness.
She turned and ran. The man glided forward, his body rippling, form disgorging from itself as it seeped into the wood of the walls and floor and ceiling. Waves of motion spread outward as vine-like tendrils of the fungus reached forward to grasp at her. She pulled at the strands, and pushed herself forward.
She stumbled in the dark until she found stairs and sped down into the foyer of the house. She pushed open the doors as the spreading presence grew closer and closer, suffusing the air with the scent of its spores.
She emerged into the cold air of the night. The brutish figures ahead stared at the bodies of Frank and Richard. She couldn’t drag her gaze away. Closer now, she could see their skin taking on a green hue, like the mold was pushing out from their pores. A low, keening sound echoed from the swamp and the house behind her answered the call.
The brutes turned towards her, revealing eyeless fungal masses shaped vaguely like humans. They lumbered towards her, heavy steps thudding. Again, she ran, her boots squelching the mud as she dashed to the van.
The brutes swarmed around the van, but the engine revved to life and she peeled out in reverse, smashing them before the force of the van. She drove out, heart thumping in her chest. A cough seized in her throat and spores splattered onto the windshield. She drove on. The road ahead lay dark and uncertain, scarred and broken by the atrocities behind her.
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 00:23|
Come Little Children
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 08:36 on Dec 4, 2014
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 00:51|
A Castle if She's Willing
crabrock fucked around with this message at 06:28 on Oct 28, 2014
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 01:10|
What Comes Next
Twenty miles out from Edisto Island and Adrian Wilson, a northerner, was already fearing the worst. Listing the situational elements in his head: a flat tire, a decrepit auto garage, and a fading sun, Adrian saw the gruesome fates of him and his friends in the near future. He shook from the uppers he was still on from the cross country road trip, feeling responsible for falling for such a simple pitfall.
“I don’t think any of you understand what’s going on right now,” Adrian said. Behind him, his best friend Sam surveyed the map, while Allison and her boyfriend Daniel had a quiet but forceful argument about the fate of their missing spare donut.
He stood on a two lane road with no lines and crumbling from erosion, holding the insidious trap—a rusty nail. On one side of the road was the tall grass and reeds waving in the wind, weeping willows dotting the horizon above them. On the other, a darkened auto garage, with a red ‘open’ sign still visible through the dingy glass.
The situation wasn’t impossible, so long as he was one step ahead, Adrian thought. Distracted by the visions of horrors to come, and his heroic response, he barely heard a distant conversation over the cacophony of cicadas and crickets. Sam had finished looking at the map and had gone up to the dimly lit shopfront, and had engaged in conversation with a clerk.
Adrian hurried to the pair, “Jesus Christ Sam!”
Sam and the mechanic turned in alarm.
“As I was saying, we ain’t got any tires, but I can patch and pump the sucker, and I gotta make sure there ain’t any sidewall damage, but I can probably have you on the road by sundown,” the mechanic said through yellowed teeth. Adrian couldn’t believe his eyes as his premonitions coalesced into reality.
“Yeah I don’t loving think so, bub, I’ve got Triple A.”
The mechanic nodded sagely as Adrian pulled out his cell phone. Within minutes of being on hold, Adrian had thanked the service representative profusely and said he absolutely looked forward to being helped as soon as possible by the nearest tow operator.
Adrian slipped the phone into his pocket and smirked. A faint, familiar ring of a landline came from beyond the shop front door.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the mechanic said. He shot a quick wink Allison’s way and went to answer the phone. Adrian’s face sank and he watched the mechanic walk unhurried into the shop, tap on the window pane emblazoned so obviously with a Triple A vendor sticker, and casually jaw on the phone.
“You just bought me two billable hours, son,” the mechanic said. “You might wanna have a seat and sit a spell.”
Adrian’s sweat had his shirt sticking in all the wrong places, and he could hear his voice getting more shrill.
“That’s loving bullshit.” Before Adrian could continue shouting Daniel put himself in between the two and was pushing Adrian back.
“Dude what the hell are you doing, calm down,” Daniel said. Weaving his head, Adrian could see the mechanic walking away, and Sam expectedly following him. Distilled panic gripped Adrian’s core as he imagined the mechanic smothering Sam with a fuel soaked rag just out of sight.
“Are you listening to me?” Daniel said.
“Don’t go anywhere with that loving hillbilly,” Adrian shouted, pushing past Daniel. Sam turned again, giving Adrian an open mouthed look.
“What the gently caress is wrong with you,” Daniel said.
”Don’t split up, don’t go out of sight, how many times do I have to say this?” Adrian shouted to no one and everyone.
“Aww hell, I seen that look before, you better get your friend under control before I have to call the police,” the mechanic said. Adrian’s shouting caught in his throat as the situation started spiraling out of control.
“Oh please, we’re so sorry,” Allison said, finally coming up onto the gravel front of the auto garage. The shuffling of all five of them in the rocks overpowered the cicadas’ song.
“Sam do not let him get inside that door,” Adrian said. His eyes furiously scanned for the optimal route around his friends, internal calculations making his head hurt.
“You god drat meth heads get the hell off my property,” the mechanic said and turned for the door. Adrian lunged through the gravel, trying to find footing but his legs felt strangely numb and soaked with sweat. Allison grabbed the back of his shirt, holding him long enough for the mechanic to rush inside and lock the glass door behind him.
“Oh god, it’s all loving over now,” Adrian began chanting. He knew as soon as the police showed up, a relative of the mechanic no doubt, even probably an off-911 call, they were in for it. No one would see them again, he had to think, think, think. He ran to the car, swinging the driver door open, reaching to turn it on but the keys were missing. He sprinted again into the open garage, slamming through tools and wall racks.
“What the hell, what the hell,” Allison repeated.
By the time the police car had rolled up to the garage, Adrian had overturned several tool boxes, producing a jack and a tire iron, and had successfully wrenched off the flat tire. He was in the middle of trying to apply a tire patch with arms that shook like branches in a storm, that he didn’t notice the officer carefully step closer to him.
“Son, put the tire iron down and lie face down on the ground,” the officer said. It was too late, Adrian thought. Frozen in place, he eyed the deputy, who had one hand in front of him, and one hand reaching for his pistol. Between split vinyl blinds, the mechanic watched the scene from behind dirty glass windows.
He couldn’t let the deputy get his gun out, it would be all over. One by one the deputy would cuff them, and drive them on a dirt road, between the willows and grass, and to some decaying shack where no one would hear them above the cicadas. But so long as the deputy didn’t get his gun out, Adrian still had a chance.
With only one recourse, he threw the tire iron at the deputy, who instinctively braced and flinched. Throwing his hands to his gun, he unclipped deftly and began sliding it out of the holster when Adrian collided with him, sending them both to the ground. Adrian clawed at the deputy’s face with one hand, and the other went for the gun, knocking it into the chalky rocks.
They rolled together, trying to separate simultaneously that they still tangled on each other. With youthful flexibility, Adrian pulled his knee to his chest and pushed off against the deputy, sending the man backwards, and propelling himself along the ground. Adrian and the officer popped up in the same instant, with Adrian firmly grasping the pistol in two hands.
The mechanic ran out of the shopfront with a rifle leveled at the young man.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, put the gun down,” the deputy said. “Just put the gun down, slowly.”
Adrian swung back and forth between the deputy and the mechanic. The deputy held his hand out to the mechanic.
“Easy, easyyy, son.”
Coming up behind him, Allison placed her hands on Adrian’s shoulder, “Please put the gun down.”
Adrian seized up startled and jerked his face.
“Don’t loving touch me!”
When Adrian turned his head, the deputy lunged, his boots sinking into the gravel, the rocks scraping sharply. Adrian felt suffocated, the shock of it causing him to fire upon the charging officer. The deputy made a gurgling sound and crashed into the loose stones, landing on his side, heading pointing towards the group.
The mechanic squeezed the trigger, missing completely. Adrian whirled on the ashen man, exploding his chest with another revolver blast. The cicadas were silent in the moments after the exchange, but even before the dust could settle they had struck up their song again. The deputy’s boot sank to the side, limply producing the familiar sound of gravel shifting.
Adrian’s breathed in short, gasping spurts. After several eternal seconds, his arms began shaking so violently that he could no longer hold the pistol at chest level. Letting his hands fall, he paced between the two bodies. In his mind he had replayed the scenario over and over in his head, no two instances ever ended the same, and he realized that he never got past this climactic moment.
He would have to move fast, right, very fast, he thought. There might be relatives? Coworkers? An entire posse? He could drag the bodies into the garage pit, that would hide them from passerbys easily enough. Then he could put the police cruiser into neutral and push it into the tall grass and reeds off the side of the road. Scrambling to the mechanic, he tried to put his hands under the armpits. Pushing back into the ground, the mechanic’s body was much heavier than he anticipated and his feet slipped. That was okay, he thought, I’m not alone. I just need Daniel’s help. He looked up at them, standing close together by the sedan. Standing there, unmoving.
Adrian stood, gun still in hand, shaking violently. Rigid as statues, they gaped at him.
“Help me! Why won’t any of you loving help me?”
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 01:38|
Cobwebs (989 words)
Grizzled Patriarch fucked around with this message at 23:57 on Dec 9, 2014
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 01:50|
Jefferson parked at the end of the gravel drive where no other car could pass him, but no other car would be coming this way. His kin would be at the cafeteria for hours, remembering the dearly departed over potatoes and cornbread. He slid out of his truck and slammed the door. The bugs kept on singing as though it were normal for him to be there.
Four days ago, Mary Mae Hodges had died. Three days ago, Jefferson had learned from her son that the old lady had cut her land into parcels and given them all to her children, except for one, and she'd reserved that one for the grandnephew she'd blamed and despised.
"Why?" Jefferson had asked over the phone.
"Mama could be a bitch," his cousin Jace had said. "Bless her heart."
The dusty pebbles of the path crunched under his boots. He took a swig of his bottled lemonade. Sweat greased his face, and it didn't have a drat thing to do with the heat that wrapped him up in damp and suffocating arms. Past the farmhouse, past the vegetable garden withering from neglect, half a mile deep into the fields, he saw the crown of a tree sticking up five feet from the ground. It had grown. Imagine that: the place wasn't just the same as it had been thirty years before. He waded through the weeds strangling the trail to the piece of land he now owned.
The gravel pit.
It cut deep into the ground, and the tree growing from the edge of its swampy bottom stood three times his adult height; the dead leaves of years had made dark tea of the water. Rubble and grit covered the slope leading down. Noon sun blanched the jagged walls full of pockmarks and protrusions. Mica chips buried in the stone threw the light back with brilliant cruelty.
All of it--Jefferson remembered all of it, and he knew he'd been wrong, and nothing important had changed except that he'd come down alone. Nicole wasn't waiting for him under the tree. Nicole wasn't floating in the pool.
"Ought to be deep enough," she had said. "You ready?"
"You sure you're up to it, Nic?"
The water had crawled a long way from the old shoreline. Kneeling, Jefferson trawled the muck with his hand for tadpoles. Only slime came up, rotten grass that smelled like death. He listened for frogs, but the air had gone silent.
"I'm sure I'm less of a chickenshit than my little brother!"
"How 'bout you prove it? And I'll prove I'm a gentleman."
Up high on one wall, Nicole had once carved her name with stolen garden shears. The N had crumbled, but the rest had survived time and weather. Jefferson hunted for a piece of native chalk and climbed up to rewrite her mark. But once he'd done it, he swiped at the uneven white slashes with his hand. She should be gone and free.
The rocks under his feet shifted, and Jefferson skidded down on his belly, grit grinding into his black suit, and his right foot plonked into tea-water that was colder than it had any right to be. He scrambled up. A breeze rattled the leaves in a way that made him think of laughter.
The white N was still there.
Jefferson's foot stayed cold through the drive back to his motel.
His sister chased him in his dreams through rain that could have drowned the Ark, that broke the corn they ran through, that dragged shingles from the house, that filled the world. Over his shoulder he glimpsed black eyes, puffy braids, a grin. He pounded across the grass as it became mud. Then slime. Then the slippery bark of a sodden bough. The rain had swollen the pool below, but it still held the smell of decay.
"What you got in mind?" Nicole asked from behind him.
He said, "Ladies first."
He woke at a crack of thunder as heart-stopping as a breaking neck. But when he looked out the window, the night was clear. The moon lit his way back to the farm where his cousins were sleeping and back through the years, to the edge of the pit.
The pool whispered its lies to him. The branch hung inches above the water, closer now than it had been then. The water reflected midnight, dark and deep. It promised to wash away his sweat of fear. Mud and decomposing bark stained Jefferson's funeral clothes as he slithered his way down the tree from its crown.
Were the wild eyes on the surface of the water his, or hers?
You ready, gentleman?
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 02:03|
you have like 2 hrs to produce your terrible words
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 02:07|
|# ? May 26, 2022 12:22|
The Peponphage (1590 words)
The children came rushing back.
"Done with baseball so soon?" Jude asked.
Gabby piped up, "Hank hit it out of the field but it landed in the Pumpkin Palace so we sang to distract the demon and Aaron got it back."
"Hold your horses," Jude replied. "Demon? Pumpkin Palace?"
"That's where Lucky Pete lives, but a demon lives there too so you can't go nearby unless you sing a song to distract it," she explained.
"Pete Gosling? He's from this part of town?" Gabby nodded solemnly. Jude continued, "Which house is his?"
None of the kids responded, instead fidgeting nervously.
"Never mind, it's almost five. Time to head home."
After he dropped the last child off, Jude returned to Cucurbita Grove to look for Lucky Pete's house. Three months of babysitting, and he hadn't a clue that Pete hailed from hereabouts.
In retrospect, it was easy to see why they called it the Pumpkin Palace. The house was painted a dusty carrot, with irregularities where the walls caressed the interior. Vines meandered across the roof and intertwined about the stem of a chimney, completing the illusion.
Strange he'd never seen Pete here. In fact, he'd always assumed the old place was abandoned. But there were a lot of uninhabited buildings on this side of town, and Pete did have a reputation as a hermit.
Inesa was coming home late. The Gosling house came up on the left; she'd heard about the baseball incident from Gabby. Despite her fullest intentions, she couldn't help but sneak a glance at it.
The house stood out like a sore thumb against the sinister cinnabar sky. Its flaky exterior spoke of neglect and self-imposed solitude. She couldn't suppress a shudder. Why did her mother have to live in Cucurbita Grove?
Mademoiselle Guze, as she insisted Jude call her, rocked upon her chair, looking especially quaint in her white shawl and lofty hat.
"Yes, I know all about Lucky Pete," she replied. "Second son of Old Nick, that one."
Jude urged her to go on. Inesa glowered.
"Pete moved to this town a few years before you were born; married a local girl not long after. Thusia was her name. Lived together a few years, then one day she up and leaves town. Didn't even divorce him, just left. He holes up in his house a few months, then the fire hits."
"The lumber mill fire?" Jude offered.
"That's the one," Mademoiselle Guze confirmed. "Whole building was rocked by an explosion and engulfed in flames. Burnt mostly to the ground by the time the firemen arrived. A dozen dead, twenty injured, and Lucky Pete was just sittin' there, smack in the middle of it, fresh as a spring chicken."
She paused momentarily. "'bout a year later, he finds oil just east of the wreckage. Gets it registered with the county proper. 'round that time people started callin' him Lucky Pete. He must be rich now, though he still keeps his own company."
Jude thanked her, then followed Inesa into her house.
"You know that house bothers me," she whispered.
"I was just curious," he explained. She wasn't pacified. "Don't worry," he continued, "I'm satisfied now. Besides, we've got the harvest festival to start thinking about."
That got her to smile.
By this point, everyone was preparing for the festival. Dancing, drinking, music and merriment for a whole weekend. Inesa was to play fiddle with the opening band, but that wasn't for another four hours.
Jude ventured out to Cucurbita Grove and strode purposefully up to the Pumpkin Palace. He pretended to knock, then looked behind him. Nobody was watching. He hopped from the deck to the side yard. From there, he circled around to the back door.
Cautiously, he tried the knob. It turned, but the door didn't budge. His heart began to palpitate. You won't be caught this time, he thought as he groped for his pocket knife. You've been good with the community service. Judge Minos has taken a liking to you. He slipped the blade between the crack and slid it upward. Besides, you met Inesa babysitting. That's hardly punishment. Click!
He inched the door open, crept inside, closed it quietly behind him, and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust. The place really did look abandoned.
A dust-covered newspaper lay atop the kitchen table; the sink showed no signs of moisture. He scanned the den, looking for something he could not define. The familiar urge to explore coursed through his veins like a poison.
Nothing in the study, either. One more room, something whispered within him. He wandered up the stairs and looked across the hall. That one.
Jude opened the door and was overwhelmed by the smell of begonias. He blinked momentarily while he returned to his senses, and found himself kneeling in the dead center of the room, the hazy orange of sunset filtering through the curtains. All around him were cryptic scrawlings and fractal swirls. Go now! Turn left. Don't look back.
Had someone spoken? He looked around and saw an old-fashioned dress on the bed, draped across a sack of potatoes. A burlap mannequin? A scarecrow. Bundles of dried leather. A fine wig. Fingernails. Nightcrawlers? No, nothing animal.
"That's my wife," drawled a voice from behind him. Jude's head snapped around to face the interloper.
"Been married twenty years, though you couldn't tell by lookin'," Pete continued. "Of course, she don't get out much these days."
Jude started to explain himself, then saw the shotgun.
"Why don't you come downstairs and we'll have a little chat, nice and civil-like?" Pete suggested.
Jude had no choice but to follow. Pete leveled the barrel at Jude's chest and stepped backward, gesturing onward. Jude snuck one more glance at the bed.
Across it lay a girl about his age, with chestnut brown hair and radiant golden skin. Her arms and legs were manacled, pinioned to the bed by rusty links of steel. Her eyes met his in silent sorrow; what may have started as supplication withered into resignation. He walked downstairs in a trance.
"Now you know why they call me Lucky Pete," the man with the gun began. "See, they don't teach you this in school, but the vows of marriage are sacred. To love and to serve, 'til death do us part." He sneered. "The trick is to keep 'em alive. But that ain't so hard once you have a proskartereo pump."
Part of Jude's mind was frozen. Another part of it raced fervently.
"Seein' as you was kneelin', I don't think I need to worry about you blabbin'. Ain't a word of this gonna reach nobody, that right?"
"Right," Jude responded automatically.
"Good. Now scram. Me and the missus got some communin' to do." Pete laughed, a deep bellow that resonated in Jude's bones.
Jude stumbled out the door, staggered down the street, fumbled with another door. When did he get in bed?
Inesa stared at her fiddle. She hardly noticed the crowd. Did he forget? Is he hurt? Is he out sneaking again, oh god, he said he'd stop. Doesn't he care?
The evening passed in a blur. All she knew was that Jude had to explain himself. No weaseling out of it this time.
As was always the case with Jude, her resolve faltered.
"Son! Inesa is at the door!" Jude's mother shouted.
"Just a minute!" he replied, rubbing life into his face. His limbs were heavy. Maybe he was still tired from the festival.
The festival! Jude tossed aside his blanket and rushed downstairs to meet Inesa.
Her arms were crossed and her lip trembled. He sensed the phantom of determination in her. "Where were you last night?" she pleaded.
"Sick!" he blurted, not far from the truth. "I don't know what came over me, I just laid down to clear my head, and now it's daytime."
His mind was still racing.
"You could have at least told me; you know how important my music is to me." She still hadn't fully forgiven him, but he could see the thawing in her eyes.
"I know, and I apologize. I'm feeling worlds better, really I am. Let me make it up to you." Her stance shifted. "I promise that the next two days will be the best two days of your life."
She smiled tentatively.
"Just give me, uh, an hour to prepare, then I'll meet you at your house."
"Okay," she nodded, this time smiling from the heart.
After she left, Jude dashed into his room and begun tearing it apart. Two dollars under the bed, a twenty between the mattress. His father's old rifle was still in good condition, maybe that would fetch a few...
Jude hadn't lied. The next two days were the greatest, happiest, sweetest days of her life. He'd never been so openly affectionate with her, nor so considerate, holding her hand and opening doors. She didn't know what had come over him, but she liked it.
She didn't entirely believe his story about being sick, but she had forgiven him. Clearly something had changed. Maybe he finally realized how much she cared about him. Maybe he'd finally learned to express the same.
The sky was a brilliant persimmon as the sun slipped behind the hills that evening, and Inesa couldn't think of another place she'd rather be, nor a different person she'd rather be with.
Jude squeezed her hand. "Inesa?"
Her heart pounded. He reached into his pocket and dropped to one knee.
"Will you marry me?"
|# ? Aug 25, 2014 02:19|