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Mister Morn
Feb 9, 2012

I managed to write a short something in between dealing with my car dying and risking losing my job.

Empire State Heights, 718 words, flash rule high altitudes

My stomach seemed to fall out of my body and my ears began to pop like a cap gun. I lost my balance a bit and had to use the wall to steady myself. I was the only one doing this, and I would have felt silly were it not for the disorientation. But then, this was my first time, and I'm sure many of the others had done this before.

“Dude, this is just the elevator. Wait until we're up on top.” Brian said.

The Empire State Building is not the tallest building in the world or even the United States, but when Brian and I visited New York City, it was the tallest building there. For me, going up 102 stories and looking out over the city was a pretty daunting task. But I'd already agreed to do it, and I wasn't going to end the only trip out of the Midwest that I was likely to ever take by missing out on this.

The elevator soared upward, the floor display only kept up by going in tens, and the sickness only got worse. I was relieved when the elevator ground to a halt and the horde of tourists they stuffed into it got out, and Brian and I were able to go out onto the observatory. Well, we would have been, had it not been for the lines.

I should have expected this, of course; this was one of the world's biggest tourist spots and we were in the middle of summer, so naturally there would be a lot of people wanting to see the view. This was also a prime opportunity for sales people to sell kitschy little trinkets. Just like in any popular spot, there were those eager to make a quick buck, preying on the foolishly sentimental who were willing to waste their money on some cheap piece of memorabilia.

I paid a statuette and stuffed it into my shopping bag as we neared the end of our line and approached the observatory door. If there had even been the possibility of turning back before, it had definitely passed and we were pushed forward onto the observatory of one of the highest places on Earth. While it was definitely quite a sight to be able to look down on the tops of buildings, it was also disorienting in that it didn't feel very high. Since I was surrounded by other buildings that were already very high, and perspective made Central Park look like a tiny patch of green in the otherwise concrete sea that is New York City, I didn't try to cling to something solid or wonder when it would be over.

Brian had been here before, and was excited to point out all the things there were to see. Going to the top of the Empire State Building had been his idea, of course, and since this was his vacation as well as mine and he'd done a lot of stuff I wanted to do, I couldn't in good conscience refuse. Brian was always like that; he was the friend that always tried to push me into doing something I didn't want to, and this was one of the few times when he was right to do so. He led the way around the observatory, weaving in and out of the mass of people to show me places like the Chrysler Building and the Statue of Liberty. Though I followed and acknowledged each one in turn, I was going through the motions. In reality, I was too awestruck by how frightened I wasn't to give him or the places the attention they deserved.

I've always been afraid of heights. I'd refused to look down from the top of the Iowa Capitol Building, I wouldn't go up in the St. Louis Arch, and my usual reaction to a ladder was to go rung by rung, stopping each time to make sure that the ladder wasn't going to spontaneously collapse. But standing there, I was higher than I'd ever been, from both a physical and emotional perspective. I was among the birds, evidenced by the pigeon who was perched on the protective fence, and I was okay. It was the highlight of my trip, and it really made that weekend worthwhile.


Apr 12, 2006
Oh for gently caress's sake, newbloods, you're already writing about your lives! Don't introduce your entry with some bullshit. Its irritating.

In fact, don't introduce it all. We don't care.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

To Impress
(199 words)

Djeser fucked around with this message at 19:46 on Dec 31, 2014

Mar 14, 2012

The Move
word count: 967

When I was eleven years old, I lived in Hong Kong.

In general, this isn't necessarily an exciting thing. Something close to 7 million people live in Hong Kong right now. Fly to Macau and proudly announce that you live in Hong Kong and you'll get a funny look and a gentle reminder of where the aquarium is.

At any rate, moving to Hong Kong was exciting. Up to that point I was, without a doubt, a tiny little southern girl living in a series of tiny little southern towns. I didn't have a tiny little southern accent to go along with it, but the same couldn't be said of my worldview. I lived in America. To me, other countries were a bit like fairy tales—they existed, but possibly only in theory. To this day, I describe my move to Hong Kong as the best time of my life. Since then I've married and had a child, so it's not entirely true, I suppose. But it was definitely the best thing that could have possibly happened to me at the time.

I can't really describe the experience. One day I woke up and I was living on an island that you could drive across in one day. I saw buildings so high that it could rain and tops would stay dry. I saw open-air markets, shouting fishermen selling eels, silent temples, monsoons, and a shop that sold ivory figures of couples in poses from the Kama-Sutra that my mother definitely wouldn't let me inspect too closely.

My mother, far too bored of housework to stay home for long, worked at the school that I attended, being one of the few places that didn't require either of us to know Cantonese. This meant two things—one, that she rode with me on the school bus every morning, a trip that took more than an hour, and two, that I would accompany her on weekends and holidays any time she had to go to the school for work related things. I didn't mind. I loved that school. Hong Kong International School it was called, and to this day I still remember how to say it in Mandarin. Well, that and I can count to 100 and say thank you. I would make the most polite Chinese accountant that there ever was.

My best friend at the time was named Amy, and she was from Singapore. Her family had a sign up in their bathroom that was a list of all the things that could get you fined in Singapore. I asked her once if it was all really true. “Oh yes” she said, her eyes going wide “they're very strict there. You can't even buy gum!” I was shocked and horrified. I still wonder if that's true.

Sometimes, on the occasions when my mother would have to visit the school in order to work, Amy would come with me in a concerted attempt to keep both of us out of trouble. We'd occasionally disappear for a while and walk around, which wasn't considered 'getting in trouble'. We did that a lot, and nobody seemed to mind. It was a bit of a small town mentality, only in a city of 7 million people. Apparently crime like that just didn't happen.

On one occasion, we decided to investigate the large hill that stretched out behind the elementary school across the road, since there was a path there and really, why not? The path itself was an informal affair, and possibly long-forgotten, mostly overgrown in places. There were signs that it was set up intentionally, at least to a preteen—a log, mostly stripped of branches, placed across a crevice to make a perfect bridge, some brush cut away here and there. We were explorers! We took many extremely thought-provoking pictures of ourselves posing majestically on the side of a hill, or draped across the aforementioned log.

At first, we were sure we'd find treasure. After a while we became absolutely positive that we'd find treasure, because we had read far too many Nancy Drew books and by golly you don't just have a weather-beaten old path with no treasure! After a longer while we became absolutely convinced that we would, at some point, at least find the top of the hill. It was a very large hill.

And then we did. We reached the crest just as the sun was beginning to set, and it cast a glow across the whole of the world. And there, at the top, right as the path ended completely, was a tiny stone temple, about waist high. And if you bent down, which I did, inside of it you could see a tiny stone Buddha. Someone had placed an incense burner in front of him, and the ashy remains of a stick of incense were still there. The trail wasn't completely abandoned after all.

“Come on,” said Amy “we have to get back.” She turned away from me with a bit of a sigh. There was no treasure, just a stupid stone Buddha.

I stayed bent down and stared at him for a moment, the setting sun casting Buddha in a deep shadow. He smiled serenely at me. It was beautiful. Amy shouted at me again, and we left.

I never went back.

I wonder if you really can't buy gum in Singapore. I wonder if it's still okay for two little girls to wander the streets of Hong Kong alone. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had never gone there. And I wonder if, sitting on top of a lonely hill behind an elementary school, there's still a tiny temple with a tiny Buddha statue, the wafting smoke of incense barely visible against the setting sun.

Jan 23, 2014

Mad Scientist
Title: Highschool Justice
Word Count: 1264

“You’re so stupid.” Ricky laughed as he tore apart the notebook. The pages fell in crumpled heaps to the floor each scrawled with detailed images. “How old are you anyways? Twelve?” I watched the smaller boy struggle to get it back. Ricky effortlessly held it out of his grasp, grinning.

I tried to turn away and told myself it was someone else’s problem. There were scores of kids surrounding the two, but no one made a move to stop it. Ricky King was an all-star athlete, a ‘perfect’ student, and beloved by all. I shook my head. Not even the teachers lifted a finger to stop the fight. My teeth strained and realized I was grinding them together. I told myself again that it was someone else’s problem.

Center stage of a growing crowd Ricky didn’t stop, he didn’t even try and slow down, and instead his taunting grew more and more vicious. I felt nauseous. As far as I could tell there was no reason for him to do this. Chris had never said a tense word to anyone. He was usually a jovial kid; entirely content to enjoy himself. The image before me was quite different. With tears on his cheeks, he struggled to stop his tormentor.

I sighed. It was just bunch of paper, but Chris still struggled for it. He refused to surrender to Ricky. I tried to remind myself that Ricky could’ve been picking on me; that today I wasn’t the target. The thought brought me no satisfaction. I could feel my heartbeat slam into my chest begging me to do something. It wasn’t my problem, I thought to myself. Vainly, I tried to quash my own empathy.

The mob began to laugh and chant Ricky’s words. Still, Chris refused to give up. He desperately attempted to leap for the notebook and missed. Ricky seemed emboldened by the sudden struggle, like a cat waiting for a mouse to move one more time before putting it out of its misery. Triumphantly, he pushed Chris down. Chris was at least a foot smaller than the statuesque Ricky, and try as he might to hold them back his sobs finally became audible.

Ricky just laughed, “Is the baby going to cry for his mommy now?”

Chris’ face flushed and he attempted to swing at Ricky, but the athlete effortlessly avoided the fist. It was obvious how hopeless his situation was, yet Chris did not seem to realize this. He still struggled. I willed him to give up. To just surrender and be done with it. No bully was entertained by someone who wouldn’t fight back.

Chris slipped and fell to his knees. The sound echoed in the room as bone contacted hard tile. I grimaced but I couldn’t turn away. Chris’ sobs were more vocal, but I almost smiled as Chris looked away from Ricky. He had surrendered, and I felt relieved. I expected this contest to be over.

“Don’t look away from me,” Ricky snarled and stepped on Chris’ thigh. Chris screamed in pain. The football star was easily double the weight of Chris. I glanced at the teachers, hoping that one might decide to intervene. They seemed oblivious. Somehow screams and scores of teenagers chanting ‘cry-baby’ didn’t draw their attention.

Ricky readied himself to deliver a final punch to his quarry, but then he was interrupted. I looked at my hand and realized that it was clenching his wrist. My eyes widened. Somehow my imagination had manifested itself. Time seemed to slow down as my heart pounded. Each beat releasing more and more adrenaline through my body. My expression of surprise deepened into one of fury. I could feel his bones straining against my grip, and still I gripped tighter.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” I heard myself say it, but I didn’t feel like I had spoken. Somehow I was just an observer watching the events unfold before me. I saw myself do it, but I still couldn’t accept it. I punched Ricky square in the jaw.

Instead of falling, like he had in my imagination, he simply turned to look at me. He grinned. I realized that I had become his new target. In a fluid motion he twisted and pulled me to the ground where Chris had been. A solid kick to my face sent the world spinning. I felt another strike impact my diaphragm driving the air from my lungs.

“What’s wrong hero?” He laughed.

I resigned myself to accept my fate. I had felt worse before. I could take it. I almost smiled at the thought of punching him in the face; that was satisfaction.

“Stop it!” My heart stopped.

Chris charged and tackled Ricky. Half his size or not, the momentum carried them both to the floor. Somehow the weakest kid there still had the courage to fight, while not a single spectator involved themselves. Ricky recovered fast and threw Chris from his body, but it was already too late. I watched myself stand. The pain didn’t faze my body, not anymore. I fell on Ricky before he could get up, kneeling with all of my weight on his shoulders.

“You think you’re better than everyone else?” I yelled inches from his face. “You’re nothing but a bully. You’re a sadistic piece of poo poo,” my punch connected with his cheek. “Come on big man, fight back!” I hit him again. “Where’s your friends? I thought you were popular?” I leaned into my last punch and felt it connect with his jaw. The impact carried through his head into the tile floor and his jaw snapped.

The sound shattered my bloodlust and I felt nauseous again. I stood up and looked at the crowd, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Then, I felt the firm grip of a teacher. It was only at that moment that they had decided to do something.


“We’re expelling him.” The conversation with my mother was tense. I could hear the argument even with the door closed. I didn’t care. My blood was still boiling. “We think its gang violence.” That concept would’ve been hilarious if I weren’t the subject. There were no gangs in our town.

“Did you even bother asking his side?” My mother’s voice was tired. They had been arguing for hours.

The principal snarled at her, “We don’t need his type of influence here.”

“Whatever, expel him then.” My mother slammed the door as she stepped out, “Come on.”


“So why did you do it?” She asked, breaking the silence of the drive home.

I sighed. The conversation tone was one I recognized, “He was hurting him, and he was twice his size. It just didn’t seem right.” I pictured her preparing to give me a lecture, and I cut her off before she could respond, “He’s a sadist mom, and no one did anything. It wasn’t right.”

She didn’t speak for the rest of the car ride. As we got out and walked towards the door I felt her grab me from behind. I tensed, expecting the sting of a slap to follow. All I felt were her sobs. The feeling disarmed me immediately. I reached for her and felt my eyes brimming with tears. I buried my face in her shoulder, and we cried together in each other’s arms for what seemed like hours.

After it all, she smiled, and wiped away my tears, “I want you to remember that whatever they say, you’re a good boy.”

I smiled awkwardly. An unfamiliar warmth spread through my body, “Thanks mom…”

Rat Patrol
Feb 15, 2008

kill kill kill kill
kill me now
It Could Have Been Worse
Word count 1138

In the fall of 2010, I clumsily took a fall, resulting in two crushed feet and a pelvis broken in half "like a pretzel," according to my doctor.  Nine days in the hospital, six surgeries, and some hardware installation later and I was fit to go home to recuperate.  It would be about three months before I could walk again, but at least I would walk again. Going back to my third-story apartment was out of the question for now, but my parents were ready and willing to bring me back to their home until I could. I was grateful, but it was frustrating to go back to my parents' house after having lived independently for over a year.

My parents brought me belongings from my apartment to make me comfortable: books, toiletries, my laptop. On one trip they brought my laundry. The night of my accident I had intended to go to the laundromat, so most of my clothes were dirty.  My mother added my things to theirs, and that night there was already a basket of clean clothes at the foot of my bed. 

I was up late that night after everyone was asleep, reading a book through a prescription haze.  I looked at the laundry basket and wondered why they'd bothered to bring so much.  It was a pain to change pants over broken feet, and it's not like I had anywhere to go anyway and- OH gently caress.

A panic gripped me worse than the night I fell and realized I couldn't move my legs.  Worse than hearing the doctor mutter "poo poo," as he measured the extent of my fractures.  Worse than finding out I'd be losing my job because I couldn't make it back within a week.  A real, freezing terror gripped my heart.

The shirt.

The "I [HEART] FEMALE ORGASM" shirt.  It was a souvenir from a college sexual education seminar focused on the female experience.  I supported the organization but didn't really care for the shirt.  I only wore it around the house occasionally as a not-so-subtle clue to my boyfriend.  And I had worn it not long before my accident.  And it would have been in with my laundry.

My parents raised me conservatively, with the idea that sex is for marriage.  With the idea that sex is private.  With the idea that sex should not be advertised on a t-shirt.  If they found that shirt, I would receive possibly the most awkward, angry talking-to of my life, made infinitely worse by the fact that I could not walk away from it.  I would be a captive audience to their disappointment. For months.  There was no where I could wheel to be out of their reach.

My heart raced as I fumbled through the basket.  My stomach churned; it wasn't there.  Had she already found and confiscated it?   Then I realized:  the basket was nothing but whites and jeans.  Of course! My mother actually gives a poo poo about separating laundry before washing it.  She hadn't finished the colors yet.  She hadn't seen. 

I had to get that loving shirt.  I knew then it must have been in the laundry room, but there was a problem.  That was in the basement. The wheelchair clearly wasn't going to carry me there, and my swollen, useless feet weren't volunteering; I would have to crawl.  Carefully I lowered myself to the floor, knees first, being sure to keep my feet elevated lest they bump painfully into something.  Stealthily, I crawled past my parents' room to the top of the stairs.  The stairway yawned beneath me.  My palms began to sweat. If I fell, I could undo all the wonders medical science had built from the wreckage of my bones.  If I didn't try, my parents would find out I knew what sex was.

I decided the best way down would be feet first, scooting on my butt, step by step.  Gingerly I lowered myself, careful to be quiet, down to the dark basement. 

When I reached the final step, I flung myself sideways to the floor, taking the impact in my hands.  Quickly I crawled to the laundry room and reared up onto my knees, peeking into the drier.  Colors!  With frantic joy I rifled through t-shirts and boxers, socks and pants, finding at long last the object of my quest.  I stuffed the shirt into my mouth and began the long crawl back to my bedroom like a harried mama cat dragging an errant kitten to safety.  

As I exited the laundry room, however, I was startled by the sound of a door opening.  From his bedroom emerged my youngest brother, Brent.  I hastily dropped the shirt and tried to act casual, staring up at him from the floor, my drool-soaked obscenity crumpled in one hand.

"Oh, hey.  You're...downstairs."  My brother, the genius.

"Yeah," I said, trying to play it cool, "I just wanted to give it a try."

"Oh, cool, you need help back upstairs?"

"Nah, I've got it.  Thanks though!  Goodnight!"

"Okay, goodnight."

As I resumed my journey, I prayed a silent thanks to the god who designed teenagers not to give a poo poo. But my relief faded as I once again reached the foot of the stairs.  I was already exhausted, but I'd come too far to quit.  Quietly and deliberately, I began my trek back on all fours, a step at a time.  Hand, hand, knee, knee.  One.  Hand, hand, knee, knee. Two.  Halfway up, I neglected to pick my leg up enough to completely clear the step and the edge of the wooden stair scraped along the stitches of my foot.  My teeth ground deep into the cursed shirt. Why didn't I just donate cash? I don't even care about the loving shirt.  I don't even like it.

Hand, hand, knee, knee. Five. I wished I was dead. Hand, hand, knee knee. Six. Who the gently caress even lives through a three story drop anyway?

Hand, hand, knee, knee. Fourteen. At long last, my efforts brought me back to the top of the stairs.  Gently placing the shirt beneath my legs, I scooted myself down the hall with my arms and into my bedroom.  I crawled back into bed, folding the shirt as small as I could and stuffing it into my pillowcase, resolving to have my boyfriend take it after his next visit.  I never wanted to see it again.  

In the months that followed, physical therapy, bills, painkiller withdrawal, none of it hurt as bad I feared it would. I had glimpsed the worst case scenario and knew nothing could be as bad. After all, at least my mother never saw that shirt.

Jan 14, 2008

This world looks very scary....

Slaying a Childhood Devil

Word Count: 985

My brother sucked at this and I exclaimed, "NO!!!!! Skeletor and Hordak do not work together. You're not playing right."

"Shut up. You brought in Leonardo to help He-Man and that's cheating."

"Zodiac opened a dimensional portal and summoned him and his katanas. I said that already."

"Fine!" My brother picks up Ecto 1 and hooks the dragging claw on the back around Leonardo and drives off as the claw retracts and pulls him into the trunk, "There, Egon opened a portal and thought he was a ghost."

That was it. I pick up my Lego spaceship and strafe the forces of darkness which have grown to include the unlikely combination of Skeletor, Hordak, Shredder, and Cobra Commander, "The lasers fry you all. I win." I duck to avoid Skeletor being chucked at my face.

My brother blows out a sigh and exits the room. Exulting in my victory over the forces of evil and looking over my conquered kingdom I realize that the hard-won peace was shaping up to be much more dull then the conflict. Figuring my brother is going for the Nintendo I hurry to follow. If he is playing Contra it will take forever to finish and I should get in for two players while the getting is still good.

When I arrive in the Living Room I see my brother plugging in a controller and I shudder when I see the game he has chosen: Ghosts'n'Goblins. The first Nintendo game we had ever played that Christmas several years ago when our uncle bought us the console. We had been playing for years and while we steadily got a little farther we were nowhere near finishing. Weighing my options I still ask him to plug in another controller and we both try to lead Arthur, the most incompetent knight in history to victory over the Devil. We do not even make it to the first Satan this time.

Over Twenty Years Later....

For the first time in many years the whole family was together for Christmas again. All seven of us and our parents. My sisters are downstairs making cookies and my younger brothers are outside showing their nieces the frogs that wandered into the pool. I am on the couch idly watching a stupid Christmas show. My brother comes in with the old NES half-assembled and bits from the old cleaning kit our mom bought us years ago.

"What are you doing?"

"Found this in the closet. Trying to clean it out and see if I can get it to work."

I smirk and comment, "Too good to just blow in it? Always used to work."

He rolls his eyes, "Your blowing into these things is why we went through three of them."

I climb off the couch and start digging through the cords to help get it plugged in. Luckily our parents are traditionalists when it comes to TVs and the thing was old enough not to need an adapter to plug the system in. While he finishes the cleaning I dig around in an old box hunting for games. I glide over three copies of Super Mario Brothers and that robot that never worked right and spot our old nemesis: Ghosts'n'Goblins. Holding it up I ask, "Remember this?"

He successfully powers the console up and turns to look, "That game is impossible. It is definitely anti-Christian. The moral of the game seems to be that the forces of darkness is large, well-organized, and invincible while the forces of good consist of one clueless jackass hopelessly trying to kill them all."

I smile and gesture the game towards the console, "That's the conventional wisdom but add up all the hours we have sunk into this game and we have had more practice then just about anyone alive."

He looks undecided and responds, "If you count dying horribly and chucking the controller at the screen repeatedly and then not playing a decade or two as practice......then sure; we are the champions. Did you know there is a second quest we never got to?"

He is resisting but we have known each other too long for me to miss that I had piqued his interest a bit, "Tonight, we conquer it. We trade off after each death. We don't quit until we have finished the game."

He glances at the clock, "Seven now? Think we can finish by midnight?"

"Sure, I'll go pop some popcorn and ask Katy to bring up some cookies when they're done."

His eyes meet mine, "Let's do it."

Arthur, wearing only his underwear, chucks shields at the devil's lower face while trying to dodge incoming fire. My brother complains, "He won't die!"

The sun has been up now for several hours and I am pounding on my Ipad, "Pretty sure the way we killed it last time was by hitting the second head on top. I'll look it up."

Arthur starts jumping like the spastic idiot he is and the hit sound starts up. My brother smiles, "Never mind, I got him." I look up to see the Devil die in a pathetic 8-bit explosion. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

"We won. Arthur the Incompetent saves the girl."

"And forgets to breathe on the way home to celebrate with his girl and dies."

"Or realizes she has a case of Stockholm Syndrome and fell for the Devil a few hours back."

I get up and nearly collapse when I realize I haven't moved much in the last 12 hours or so. In a few minutes the pins and needles should fade and I try to hold on to some dignity as I sit back down, "Welp, that was a good night's sleep wasted."

He gets up and grabs another cookie, "So you are not up for Battletoads tonight?"

"Maybe in another ten years."

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week LXXIX: Mercedes, elfdude, Mr_Wolf, Whalley, Baudolino, Nikaer Drekin, Chairchucker, El Diabolico, Entenzahn, Meinberg, DreamingofRoses, Quidnose, God Over Djinn, Jagermonster, Benny the Snake, Tyrannosaurus, and Fumblemouse

Sorry to be so late with these, but I ended up having a lot to say--not a huge surprise considering last week had the highest combined word count to date. The highs were very high, the lows were very low, and I learned many things about the periodic table in the course of judging. When I wasn't wishing for sweet, sweet death, I enjoyed my scientific adventure! Now it's time for the lab report. I have a feeling this will take more than one post. If you don't see your name in this batch, stay tuned.

Note that I'll be using 'grammar' throughout as a catch-all term for matters of punctuation, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, etc.

Mercedes, "The Need"

Poetry in a prose round. :doh: I'd blame myself for 'story' not being a clear enough instruction, but one, that would be stupid, and two, the last time I distinctly specified prose I got a poem anyway. I'd blame you for taking a great element like gold and burning it on an entry that can't win, but at least you wrote something.

Your use of gold is nothing special. This element is rich in symbolism and meaning; you went the simplest possible route. That counts, mind you, but you're not astounding me with your creativity. The story your verses tell is cliche as all sin, especially the "Escapee Mental Patient" thing that's straight out of a kid's campfire horror story. The presentation does elevate it a bit by making it more interesting to read.

How is it as poetry? Not good. You have a rhyme scheme but no consistent meter. Your rhymes work, more or less, but you've strained sense more than once to get a word you wanted. How do trembles dull a hand? Why the hell would it take a sleuth to identify a golden tooth? Why would any headline use 'Escapee' instead of 'Escaped' in that context? The lack of punctuation and proper capitals drives me bugscrew too, though that's legitimate in free verse.

I consulted SurreptitiousMuffin to make sure I wasn't completely off my head in my judgment. According to our local poetry guru: "AABB endrhymes and poorly pulled-off ones at that. One stanza in and it's clear the dude hasn't written much poetry in his life. It really needs a meter (DON'T WRITE FREE VERSE IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND METER). However, there's some nice use of enjambment, which is really underused by novice poets. It creates a feeling of hesitancy, which really helps in setting the scene for us. The story itself is dumb."

So there you go. What he means by 'enjambment' is the way you break some of your phrases before their end, such as 'with slight // trembles' or 'clap // with glee.' I agree the effect is nice even if I still don't like the trembles line.

The upshot is that I like that you attempted something so different from your other submissions. Stretching your wings is good. Your imagery in the final stanza--headline aside--wasn't bad, either. The whole still comes off as half-baked at best, yet I have a sneaking feeling something worse will come along.


elfdude, "Modern Magic"

Right on cue. Rough mechanics, redundant exposition, scrambled chronology, a difficult premise to follow, flat characters, tired plot twists, and an infodump that spoils what had been a clever treatment of your element: this story has a lot of problems. The gist I get is that Debiles was once imprisoned, possibly within earshot of a clock, until he went mad. His sister rescued him and then trained him to be a facade for her: he thought he was learning magic, but he was actually being taught to go through the right motions at the right time to cover for Fortis's actions. Through him, she disintegrates a minister and gains an empire, I guess. Then they go off to kill an archmage, their father. Debiles' sister betrays both men and then explains her plan for the benefit of the reader.

I can see the bones of an ambitious idea in there, but oy, it's a mess. The best way to address it may be point by point.

Rough mechanics: The errors start right in the first sentence, where you join two independent clauses with a comma and nothing else. A period, a semicolon, or certain prepositions (for, because) would be in order there. You don't want the comma in 'You, will never become the Archmage.' If you mean to say the Archmage spits the words at Debiles, the period after 'Archmage' should be a comma, and 'his' should not be capitalized afterward. (If the minister is literally spitting on Debiles, it's fine as it is.) The sentence 'His quarry spat at him, even as his body was slowly being pulled apart atom by atom' is too vague for my taste on who's who: whose body is pulled apart--cut 'being,' it's needlessly passive--atom by atom? The way you've written it, you could mean Debiles. Sure, logic tells me you don't, but I had to pause a millisecond to parse it, and that creates an awareness of the prose that drops me out of the story--exactly the sort of thing good grammar and mechanics are meant to prevent. This is just the first paragraph; the problems continue, but explaining them all would take hours.

Comma usage looks to be your biggest issue, so these pages may help. Your errors generally aren't so major that your sentences can't be parsed, but they add up fast. You should ask the Fiction Farm for a line by line.

Redundant exposition: Just look at this. 'The green glow of his watches’ backlight was the only light in the cavern but Debiles needed no light to see by. The magic that infused his body allowed him to see through the darkness. The radiation that permeated all things was more than enough for his eyes to see by but he still enjoyed his watch.' You've now told me three times that Debiles can see in the dark. Three times! When you were scraping the word limit so hard that you were worried about a missing 'of'! (Plus, how does this work when he doesn't actually have magic? Did his sister enchant him?) You could condense this. 'The green glow of his watch was the only light in the cavern, but the magic that infused his body allowed him to see the radiation that permeated all things.' That's not the only way you could do it, but it's one example. Not sure why that minister was hanging out in a cavern, though.

There are other places you could trim your word count. The entire first scene could probably go, but I'll get to that soon enough.

Scrambled chronology, difficult premise to follow: Putting Debiles' imprisonment in the middle of the story hasn't done you any favors. Time jumps make a plot harder to follow, and your idea is already complex. Things like 'he hadn’t scheduled an opportunity for her to speak' didn't make sense the first time I saw them--not inherently a problem; I think you're trying to intrigue me, but concepts the reader will have to figure out later + backward time jumps + plot twists galore adds up to a lot of work for the reader. What with the problems I've already noticed, you haven't given me much incentive to play along, and the conclusion doesn't reward the effort. The more I think about your story, the more it falls apart. Why would Fortis go to all this trouble instead of fighting in her own name?

That first scene is more confusion than it's worth. If you had begun with Debiles in his prison, you could have moved forward through time, ideally showing more of his sister--more on that shortly--and maybe ditching the reference to an empire that ultimately didn't go anywhere. You would have needed to work some of the exposition in elsewhere, but there were ways. What if you'd shown Fortis giving Debiles the watch?

Flat characters: Debiles isn't bad, actually. You don't tell or show me much about him other than his madness, but I find I'm all right with that. His insanity makes him interesting, and his exploitation makes him sympathetic. Fair enough! But Fortis has no characterization to speak of, other than 'the sort of person who would do to her brother and father.' I don't care about her. Or about the Archmage, who's a shallow stereotype of a mage and nothing else.

Tired plot twists: I groaned so hard in my head when the Archmage turned out to be their father. One sibling backstabbing another isn't novel, either. Fortis using Debiles for a long con is more fresh and much more interesting; if you'd focused more on her and the relationship between the two of them, that part could have worked.

An infodump that spoils what had been a clever treatment of your element: 'The clock in his watch was based on the electronic transitions of the hyperfine ground states of Cesium-133.' That reads like you copied it from Wikipedia. Given that Wiki's article on caesium includes the phrase 'Caesium-based atomic clocks observe electromagnetic transitions in the hyperfine structure of caesium-133 atoms,' you may have done just that. You didn't need to! Your story is centered on very precise timekeeping; caesium is used in atomic clocks; it's a clever way to incorporate your element, and the mention of radiation was a decent additional touch. Drawing such a heavy underline under what you were doing spoils the effect. More than that, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm willing to buy a mad, empire-conquering wizard with a glowing timepiece, but a mad, empire-conquering wizard telling me about the hyperfine ground states of caesium-133? No.

Your flash rule was that your protagonist should get in trouble by overlooking an important detail. I don't know whether overlooking is the word, since if Debiles is mad I'm not sure he had any chance to notice the truth about his sister--but he sure did miss important facts and it sure did get him in trouble, so I call that met.

You would have lost this round were it not for the delights your competition had in store. Do better next time. I've probably TL;DRed you to death, but I wouldn't have gone on so long with this crit if I didn't want to see you continue and improve.


Mr_Wolf, "Dust to Dust"

Maybe it's the contrast to that last entry, but I found your opening kind of charming. Dean's nervousness is a cool interpretation of your flash rule. Possibly not the one you intended, as it turns out, but perhaps you did mean to layer the fragilities of Dean's nerves, the cobalt bowl, and his connection with Hannah, the latter shattered quite thoroughly by the act of putting her mom in his pocket. That's good stuff, and while you're only a little more subtle than elfdude in pointing out how you used cobalt, you worked the cobalt/cobbles gaffe into Dean's characterization. Nice touch.

I didn't keep that initial goodwill through the whole thing. Dean came off as a dick once it was clear he only cared about sex. Hiding Hannah's mother's ashes would be funny-horrible and sympathetic if he did it because oh god he just broke a lady all over the floor, but oh god he might not get laid may be the least compassionate reason to pocket a dead woman I've ever seen. Not that there's much competition there, I'll grant you. Since I didn't like Dean much, the charm faded and the humor didn't fly. It's funny how that works; I know I'd grin at some of your lines if I were in Dean's corner. 'Oh my God. Act normal. I have a dead woman in my pockets but Christ I need to act normal.' That would be great if the guy weren't an rear end in a top hat!

Your technical errors are galling because some are so basic it looks like you didn't proofread at all. 'Back in hall i notice a small area behind the stairs.' Look at that, Mr_Wolf. Look at it. You don't always capitalize what you should; you leave periods off sentences; you omit spaces... good God, man! You also have funny ideas about when to use a hyphen, but that's more understandable. Neither 'bow tie' nor 'hair dryer' nor 'living room' needs one. Always spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Check out those comma-usage links I gave elfdude; they may be helpful to you, too.


Whalley, "Medicines and Poisons"

Your research got the better of you. I started out impressed: the connection to antimony was clear, blended into the story in a natural, graceful way. You set the piece in the world's largest antimony mine; Lao Qiu's vomit pointed to its toxicity. Nice! You got more blunt with it when Zhou told Lao Qiu what he should have already known (he even points out this was covered in training), but since you went somewhere with the different types of damage, that worked out. Lao Qiu's thoughts about arsenic symptoms, less so. When he named a medicine in both Chinese and English, I got a distinct feeling you wanted to show how much you'd read about the subject. Same deal with the mushrooms: some of the exposition helped, but some had nothing to do with the story. 'Lao Qiu found himself laughing; the lingzhi was normally a simple bracket fungus you could find in most forests.' This is relevant how? When I notice you're trying to teach me about Chinese homeopathic medicine, that means the information isn't integrated well enough into the narrative.

I'm nonplussed that there's no answer to what the mushrooms were doing down there. The best I can gather is that they're magical, spiritual mushrooms that just happened to be there and just happened not to be noticed by the miners. They seem to be real and not a hallucination. It's a whole lot of coincidence even before the conveniently timed cave-in. Even magic mushrooms ought to make some kind of sense!

Technicalities: your prose is competent. Thank you for that. You do sometimes use semicolons where you ought to use commas (for example, in 'Selling traditional medicines back in Changsha had been rewarding; had promised a long life of happiness') and sometimes use commas where there should be no punctuation at all (as in 'His find wouldn’t just heal his cures, but could kick-start an entirely new medicine store'--the second clause has no subject of its own and therefore isn't independent). These are relative nitpicks, though, and your writing is sound on the sentence level.

This is the best of the lot so far, but it leaves a lot of room for another story to take its place.


Baudolino, "Clouds of poison."

This is less a story than an infodump with a thin fictional gilding. It's the same problem Whalley had regarding exposition, taken to greater heights. The whole middle of your story is a recitation of facts about polonium. To your credit, you've made the exposition a credible part of the plot, and you haven't forgotten that your characters are people talking to one another--the egregious data point that polonium is named after Poland is the only one I'm having trouble buying as part of this scene. It still reads too much like a science and history lecture for too much of its length.

Also, it feels like you miss something in that lecture. Your story is set in 1969; Wiki tells me that in 1964, an article was published in Nature about the presence of polonium in cigarettes. So the premise that tobacco groups would kill to keep it secret five years later doesn't fly that well.

Your grammar's a wreck. Missing periods, missing commas, spaces between dialogue and its closing quotation marks, punctuation outside the quotation marks (oy to the vey), formatting that's hard to read, words capitalized that shouldn't be, 'ever' when you want 'every,' 'are' when you want 'is,' no italics for the title of a newspaper, no hyphen in 'Pulitzer-grade.' It's still not as bad as "Rural Rentboys," but you submitted a whole day early, and you're capable of better than this. So many slipshod errors give me the impression you just didn't give a drat. So why should I?

You were on an upward trend, but this is a step back. The little touches of history and character--Jack's thoughts about the bar, for instance, establish your time period--and the clear use of your element are glimmers of light in an otherwise dubious entry.


Nikaer Drekin, "Jude Sherman's Squeeze"

Hmm! Tungsten's application in lighting is one of the many things about it with story potential. Did you know the Axis and the Allies alike put pressure on Portugal in World War II because of that country's deposits of tungsten ore? Or that General Electric tried to patent tungsten? Cool stuff. It's also a source of filaments in incandescent bulbs, and that's how you've used it here, in a story that isn't about tungsten but is still influenced by the element. You don't infodump or provide more explanation of the light bulbs than the story needs. It's a good approach, very near ideal.

The story's good too. Oh, sure, Jude Sherman is a jerkweed and nothing else. His behavior's a little hard to believe. I do not credit that a film star would neg a starry-eyed fan to get her into his trailer; why would he need to? But you captured that horrible-funny feeling that Mr_Wolf didn't quite land, maybe because Sarah is a sympathetic figure despite her misplaced affection for a douche. When she started nodding despite herself, I cringed for her. That moment could have shot the humor dead, but she didn't follow through, and the balance between light and dark was retained.

'He patted her breast like it was a little yappy dog.' I laughed, then winced, then laughed again. The line encapsulates the mixed moods you have going.

You could have been more careful at the sentence level. Your writing is solid, but the goofs I notice shouldn't have gotten past you: one line broken too soon, a blank line missing between two paragraphs, the wrong count of dots in your ellipses (use three between words, as in 'M... Milkweed,' and four to end a sentence, as in 'lunch, Miss....'), and whatever you call 'from ‘I’ll tell you what, Maggie”.' Ugh. The final quotation mark should have been a single, and the period should have been inside it. These are tiny, avoidable errors! That's what makes them so vexing! They may not spoil the prose, but they're vexing all the same!

No doubt you're benefiting some from most of the stories before yours being lackluster, but I would like this regardless. Fun, well-written entries that do a good job on the prompt are always welcome, and if it's relatively light and familiar in its theme, there are far worse things to be.


Chairchucker, "Out of Love"

Oh, hey, an unusual format and narrative style that's still easy to parse and tells a story. Your interpretation of arsenic is both intuitive and subtle. At least as I read it: the protagonist is as toxic as your element. As your element can, she poisons over time and through prolonged exposure. Nice. It's the sort of take I was hoping to see, though more straightforward interpretations are equally legitimate.

You did a great job with the protagonist's voice and with illustrating her unwavering self-righteousness through her complaints, always in the same tone even when the angle changes, always finding fault and never extending grace. She has opportunities to help Carly if that's her real concern. She cheerfully, smugly bypasses every one. It's credible, which is what makes it as dark as it is; your callback to the title hits just the right note to make me cringe and bring it home.

Your humor work will always be my favorite stuff in your catalog, but this is a strong show of range and a good story in its own right. I don't have any complaints about it, and if the week weren't so strong, you'd be in contention for the win.


El Diabolico, "Drain pipe"

Okay, I'll just get this out of the way. There's nothing about this story that's decent or salvageable. Almost everything that could be wrong is wrong.

Here is what happens, as best I can tell. A plumber named Phoebe in the suspiciously SF-sounding city of Polaris goes to repair a sluice gate deep underground. She does so. She drops her wrench. You spent half your story getting to this point. She falls through a grate into a pool that transports her to a cave of MONSTERS!, only a lady with horns clubs it upside the head and tells Phoebe to follow her. They run away for a while; the demon woman namedrops the MONSTERS!; a rope appears, and the demon tells Phoebe they should climb. THE END.


You see the problem with that conclusion, right? Namely that it concludes nothing? You don't resolve your story, you don't end your story, you just stop it, so there's no story here at all. It's a sequence of events that swings from the intently boring to the random, then we're done.

I'm getting ahead of myself: if I'm going to unpack the problems with this entry, I have to start with the most basic and pervasive, and that's the grammar. Worst of the week. The difficulties start in the first sentence when you capitalize a word that isn't a pronoun ('Plumbers') and shift from past tense to present. Verb tense consistency is an ongoing problem; 'after living here so long the only thing she has seen was nothing but rats' is a terrible, terrible clause, going from present to past before the reader can blink. 'As she stood back up she hear a strange sound' may be a tense shift or may be a typo, but either is obnoxious for the reader.

You have major issues with punctuation. 'Having completed her job. Phoebe, began to attempt a final test of the sluice gate' is just one painful example. The period after 'job' should be a comma; there should be no comma after 'Phoebe.' You leave only too many commas out when you need them (such as in 'Phoebe pulled herself out of the water exhausted and still in a state of shock'; you need a comma after 'water'). This page about commas is getting a lot of mileage this week, but you should check it out. You put the punctuation of your dialogue outside the quotation marks when it belongs inside them, in one case putting a period outside and inside for reasons whereof Reason knows nothing.

Your capitalization is all over the place. 'Seeing as the Wrench didn’t fall far, Phoebe placed her lamp on the outcropping and she Inspected the grate.' No and no. Why would you do this? You don't capitalize 'wrench' elsewhere (as indeed you should not), nor random verbs. Meanwhile you neglect capitals altogether in 'the leaden pipes slithered from the ceiling to it. she climbed up the steps set aside the lamp and the tool box.' Why would you think a reader wouldn't notice or care?

I could go on. You need a line edit in the worst way, and I seriously suggest finding a proofreader. The mechanics of writing are sufficiently mangled here that the entry is unpleasant to look at before one even considers the content.

The next level is the prose, its delivery and flow. You describe actions step by tiny step, dragging out Phoebe's sewer grate repair with unnecessary and boring detail. I do not care exactly what Phoebe has to do to get the valve to turn! And this is your early material, the stuff that ought to catch the reader's interest so he or she will want to keep reading! By the time half your story is gone, all that's happened is that Phoebe has repaired a grate and dropped her wrench. Or 'wrence,' as the case may be. I guarantee you there was a way to show this in fewer than 534 words. Good God, that's one word short of the length of Chairchucker's whole entry.

You're trying to work some characterization for Phoebe and foreshadowing of the cave of MONSTERS! into this section, and that's not a bad idea. Here too, though, you go into needless detail. Her poverty doesn't matter in the story. Her father's maxim fits in, but then I think about it and wonder why a plumber would need an inner reminder to use a wrench. All I get out of this that's sort of interesting is that Phoebe works hard and her wrench has sentimental value. Okay, that works (even if the first part is ultimately irrelevant too)--but you didn't need the play-by-play with the wrench to tell me so, especially as you've emphasized it as an easy job.

The transition from the sewer to the MONSTERS! is abrupt and makes as much sense as a weak Twilight Zone premise. Whoosh, she's suddenly somewhere else. Why? I don't know. If you do, you don't bother giving me a hint. The scene with the MONSTER! doesn't last long before the demon woman steps in to save the day. I'm not afraid for Phoebe during this scene--the whole thing makes no drat sense, so at this point I'm just reading to see what the heck you're going to do next.

I just noticed that Phoebe has next to no agency, meaning she doesn't make things happen; things happen to her. This can be a problem if it equates to a bland, limp protagonist, and it certainly isn't helping in this case.

I touched on your ending before, but it's the crux of all your problems above the sentence level: your foreshadowing is pointless because whatever part of the story would make it relevant happens after the story stops. Everything that happens is pointless because whatever it's leading up to happens after the story stops. I don't know who the demon is; I'm not given a chance to care; her importance and nature and character presumably become clear after the story stops. If this had been perfectly written in every way, it would still be a very bad story for ending where it does. For all its faults, elfdude's story had a conclusion, and that made the choice for the loss only too easy.

I said this was unsalvageable, and that's true: everything I've told you will ideally serve you in writing better stories going forward. Throw this one on a bonfire and be reborn from its ashes.


Entenzahn, "A Matter of Energy"

Don't think I don't see you skirting the bounds of the 'no SF' rule. I'd be more impressed if you'd stayed away from robots altogether, especially as you spent your cool idea of a robot vs. golem dichotomy on jerks playing Battlebots. The stake in your story is one man's career in an entertainment industry, and that man isn't particularly likable, so your finale reads as overkill rather than as any kind of satisfying triumph.

Part of the issue here is that I can't tell whether Jyllo destroyed a few golems (and bombarded everyone on the scene with radiation, good going!), changing the face of his sport but little else, or permanently removed the wizards' powers. Do these wizards use their abilities for more than robot sports? Either way I have to figure that uncovering a way to disrupt magic is going to make a huge and horrible difference in this world, and he's smirking about it because he won an argument? Man, I hate this guy.

So I didn't dig the story much, but the writing's not bad. You have sentence-level errors, though nothing that major, and your first paragraph's a little clumsy--'Force feedback from the metal he had formed was minimal; it would have been worse if he had animated the thing' doesn't make any sense at this point in the story, and it's less intriguing than you might hope. But really, not bad: your prose is competent and doesn't need much in the way of tweaking.

Your use of uranium was creative and put an appreciated twist on an element that could have led to cliches very easily. I rather enjoyed the section in which Jyllo communed with the elements. The descriptions and the impression of the soul of uranium made for good reading even if it was hard to reconcile the latter with Jyllo's choice to unleash 'Radnite' in a petty game.


Meinberg, "Hazard Pay"

No science fiction means no science fiction. DISQUALIFIED.

Your entry is the most bemusing DQ of all. All three were unquestionably SF, but Quidnose and Seldom Posts did keep to the 'not in the future, no further away than the moon' part of the prompt. I can at least imagine how they thought they'd get away with it. But you! Datapads, interstellar rebellions, nebular cruises. You submitted exactly what I said I didn't want. Exactly. At the same time, you hit the elemental requirement and put too much effort into the story to be taking the piss, so what the hell?

Oh, well. I grudgingly appreciate that you made the effort to write a thing, so I'll tell you what I think. There's nothing particularly new or innovative here; it's a familiar tale of bureaucratic corruption in a stock sci-fi setting. I don't give a hoot about the characters, and what really happens? An agent takes a bribe to cover for theft. That isn't much of a story. It's no wonder you didn't hook my interest. The use of xenon, though, is a grace note, what with Cooper's inability to lie to himself under the uncompromising clarity of the xenon light. There's something cool too about all of this taking place under a false noon: lies and more lies, in layers.

Your prose isn't flawless ('The manifest of the crate’s software synched with it’s peer'--oh, Meinberg) or shining, but it wouldn't take a lot of work to bring it up to snuff. You'd have been in the middle of the pack if this were anything but science fiction, which is good news for your future prospects if you just learn to read.


DreamingofRoses, "Precious Gems"

Your use of carbon is absolutely top notch, going beyond diamonds--which would have been a fine interpretation on their own--to bring carbonized remains into play as well in the twisted actions of a twisted woman. I like this one! Your diary format is solid. You unfold the story behind this woman's diamonds piece by piece, leaving out as much exposition as you can. Good call, since that makes it more realistic as a journal. The simple, casual voice was the right choice.

You addressed your flash rule, but I thought this was a little shakier. For most of the story your main character is perfectly comfortable with who she is and what she's doing. Creepily comfortable, even. The one scene in which she's uneasy in her skin is a significant one, so you didn't shoehorn the rule in and run, but I would have liked to see it matter even more. Thinking about that, I realize the protagonist is in the same mental and emotional place when the story starts and when it ends. She just keeps happily murdering people and wearing them around her neck. It's all sufficiently fun to read that I don't need a lot more, but it's hard not to notice that there isn't much story here once you go looking for it; not much even happens to your lead besides the lull in her career.

About that lull. 'I haven’t gotten a contract in four years. Two years.' :doh: That's just terrible. Make up your mind!

Although this couldn't prevail against the stronger entries in this round, it's a good piece of which you can be proud.


Quidnose, "Rabbits"

DISQUALIFIED. Instantaneous mass-cloning machines are science fiction no matter when or where they take place.

Meinberg's was the most bemusing DQ; yours is the most disappointing. You wouldn't have won or likely have gotten an honorable mention regardless, but you've employed a great comic voice. Some of my favorite lines: 'If such a gene existed, it must have been recessive because these rabbits clearly did not know what the gently caress.' '“Where the hell did you get plutonium?” “Craigslist isn’t super regulated.”' It's that Thunderdome rarity, successful humor, and I enjoy it as a thing to read even as I hate it as an entry.

You still weren't robbed or anything, because when I look beyond the funny lines I see a whole lot of not much. Absolutely nothing changes or is accomplished or happens to these characters. The rabbit cloning is as random as it gets. Frank even admits there's no reason for it. Entertainment is enough reason for a story to exist, sure, but I like funny entries more in the context of TD when they are stories rather than protracted jokes.

Your use of yttrium is as fluffy and handwaved as your science. It works, but it's not great.

That all said, it's cute and fun, so it's okay if you like it despite its DM status. I kind of like it too.


God Over Djinn, "Fruits of Her Labors"

After the bottom two entries, this is the story I spent the most time thinking about this week. It's beautifully done. You've polished it, shaped it with an eye for the elegance of prose and pride in your work. No uneven mechanics for you. No mistakes that never should have made it past the post preview. You draw a lovely picture of this old woman floating slowly through the air, free at last of all care, light as the helium balloons she once created. The magical realism is adeptly handled--only now, on my who-knows-how-many-it's-been-nowth reading, does it occur to me that maybe Margaret is dead. I choose to believe not, that her floating is literal, physical. I can imagine this in a magazine right now, just as it is.

I wish I loved it more. For all its merit and gorgeousness, I never connected with Margaret. After chewing on the matter at length I have theories as to why. The core of it is that Margie is, was, and will to all appearances remain passive. She floats through her life accepting what comes: less than she wants and less than she deserves. For her then to float away is no transformation. I can feel sorry for her, but she's hollow and light for me, too much so to pull at my heart. And if that was intentional, it may be your only misstep in the treatment of your element. (Opinions would vary on whether it's a misstep at all.) Lightness invokes helium, but there's no satisfaction in it to keep her story with me after this week is done.

The other possible cause is the flashback device, which is so skillfully handled. I noticed what you did with that last flash to the past, telling me with Margie's name that you had stepped out of sequence. But skillful or not, was it a good idea? That last flashback in particular I think may be in the wrong place. I wish you'd shown Margie's love of creation sooner; the earlier flashback skims over the top of the idea but doesn't bring it home in the same way. If you had told the story in linear order I think some of the elegance of writing would be lost, but the story would be stronger.

You won because despite not hitting me in the heart, yours was a good story, a pleasure to read and worth the telling; adding those qualities to the way you told it, any other choice became too difficult to justify. Congratulations on a deserved crown.


Jagermonster, "Toil and Tenure"

The trick of taming the land through boiling eggs in volcanic springs is too much of a logic leap, and that's the biggest (but not the only) problem with your entry. It reads as you trying to do something creative with sulfur rather than as something that makes sense within the story. You needed to ground it better; maybe then I wouldn't have been shaking my head at the end, bemused that cooking a few eggs was the spiritual equivalent of seasons of agriculture.

In his dialogue Budi sounds like an academic on expedition, which doesn't do much to build tension or any sense of danger. 'There is unnatural heat and twisted bone-like formations, but there is also soil and water.' Seriously? Who is he, the Egon Spengler of his time? Almost half the story is clinical, sometimes clunky description of their situation and their setting, and a lot of that is delivered through dialogue. When Budi finally took off on his mission, I was only mildly curious about what he would do. Though that does mean my emotions were just as engaged as the characters' seemed to be.

I'm not entirely sure the mountain spirits were meant to be sulfur fumes given life, but I like the idea. It would have been a cool way to bring your element in. The more I look at it, the more I doubt, which leaves the volcanic setting and the hot springs to show the influence of sulfur. Okay. It's light; a couple of mentions of stench are the only clues I have that sulfur is present. You don't describe the smell or the acridity of the smoke, which feels like a missed opportunity with this element.

This is leagues above the truly bad stories this week, but it's far below the best. You can do better.


Benny the Snake, "The Oracle"

There's one thing about this entry I like. The use of silver is not bad. You've put it in more as a color than a metal, but that does the job, and this take on the element is valid without being obvious or expected.

Otherwise, it's a wreck. Very little happens in it. Ninety-five percent of the story is a guy wanting to see the oracle, going to see the oracle, and receiving a prophecy, and you drag 'wanting to see the oracle' in particular out as long as you can. 'I once had my future told by an oracle.' 'I decided to have my fate revealed to me by the oracle at the temple.' '“I wish to see the oracle,” I told him.' '“Oh great oracle, I have come to seek my destiny.”' Over and over and over again, you tell me the same thing: he wants to see the oracle. Condense it and move on! The repetitions aren't only annoying to read, they're wasted words and wasted time. I know nothing about your protagonist other than that he wants to have his fortune told. You could have spent some of your text giving him a personality.

The final five percent is the protagonist doing exactly what the oracle said he would. Why? No idea. There's no dramatic shock to this, you know. Without a sense of who the protagonist is or why he does what he does, all tragedy and frankly all interest is missing from your final revelation. Nor does the story say anything profound about fate, if that was your intention. You toss out some platitudes and then have the protagonist fulfill the prophecy as though that proves something. It doesn't.

Grammatically... actually, your grammar's not all that bad. Your basic mechanical errors are small and few: 'become' when the traditional phrase is 'come of age,' 'God' capitalized when the context says it should be in lowercase, two different people speaking in your second-to-last paragraph--okay, that's not a small error. That's abominable. But you mostly did fine on the technical front. Your prose, though, is bland to a fault. Simple prose isn't always bad, but you've partnered it here with a scenario familiar enough to be a fantasy/myth cliche, and the result is literary whey.

You should focus on plot and characterization as you keep writing and competing; you gave me neither here, and that just won't do.


Tyrannosaurus, "Because He Was"

Cute, sweet, and very predictable. Opie's osteoarthritis is a good application of calcium, and your writing is generally good, although 'Opie did understood pain' had me shaking my fist at you. Some stuff that isn't technically correct can be handwaved because of the viewpoint. It's easy to believe a dog would think in run-on sentences. There's nothing much wrong with this, other than that we've probably all read the gist of it before.

As such, I don't have much to say about it. It tugs the heartstrings in a gentle and familiar way, and the final line is a perfect cap. For what it is, it's quite good, but against the more original works it never stood a chance.


Fumblemouse, "Quiz Night"

Your entry this week read so much like a sebmojo story that it disconcerted me. I thought I was imagining things, but then Sitting Here saw it too. Weird.

Putting that aside, you took the difficult element you were handed and spun it around the dance floor in a waltz that put a lot of your competitors to shame. Your first two references to it weren't that hot: the guys using the half-life of seaborgium-271 as a time frame felt like a significant stretch to me, though one I could excuse since it was still plausible and 'plausible' is about all one could ask for with Sg. Then it paid off in your ultimate application, when Simon envisioned a bombardment of hate transforming his heart to metal. Seaborgium. That was grand. Because the characters had been discussing the element, Simon's thoughts made perfect sense within the context. ('Seaborgium 271 is a trans-uranic isotope that only exists in laboratories after bombarding Californium with Oxygen ions. It decays into Rutherfordium after only a couple of minutes' is still a total Wikidump, though.)

The ways you addressed your flash rules were more straightforward at first blush, and they worked a treat. I see a second answer to the rule regarding concern about reality in Simon's questions to himself. Was his love real? Was his indifference? I love layered interpretations, and this was quite well done.

I have two significant problems with the story. One feeds the other. First: Emily and Joan were nonentities, Emily especially. I couldn't even tell whether she was Simon's wife or his girlfriend. The only reason she had to exist in the story was to make it more credible that Simon would hang out with Tim and Joan. Joan wasn't much of a character either, more of a MacGuffin to drive the story along. Simon's affection for a cardboard cutout wasn't as engaging as it could have been had she been something more. Second: the women didn't react much at all to the revelation of Simon's feelings. They were more concerned about the quiz. That wasn't believable. It took the whole thing into some realm of the absurd, so it ended up feeling like a sitcom episode, and that cheapened Simon's otherwise great introspection. Instead of thoughtful bordering on dark, the piece turned into a bit of fluff; the atrocious last line only highlighted that.

Ultimately the entry landed to the left of the target, but I've got a heck of a lot of respect for what you did with what you were given.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:16 on Oct 18, 2014

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Critiques for Week LXXIX: Noah, Nettle Soup, Martello, Jeep, WeLandedOnTheMoon!, Schneider Heim, curlingiron, docbeard, No Longer Flaky, Paladinus, Lake Jucas, Little Mac, QuoProQuid, Lead out in cuffs, Seldom Posts, Jay O, Jonked, Black Griffon, crabrock, Djeser, and JuniperCake

Noah, "The Crawling Statue"

Bold move, bringing in your extra words in a week with an overall word count like this one. I admire the chutzpah enough to wish it had worked out better. Extra words are the last thing you needed, because the length above all else kills this. It's overlong, dragged out, bloated. Having to tighten it would have done you a world of good.

I love the route you went in turning the angles and structure of bismuth into Lovecraftian horror. I own a bismuth sample, and its geometry does look like something Lovecraft could rave about. You brought your research into play through your Bolivian setting and in the initial mistaking of bismuth for tin, a solid application that didn't hit me over the head with factoids. I wonder at Oliver's thought that bismuth is a better find than tin; that makes me question when this is set. I wouldn't have thought it took place in modern day, maybe because of the Lovecraftian tone, but bismuth's price wasn't all that high until recently. Kind of odd.

Your plot makes at least as much sense as this kind of horror ever does, and you do capture--to a degree--a sense of the ominous as Oliver is mesmerized by the living bismuth. The scene you paint is both beautiful and horrid simply because you know it's not going anywhere good; following alien things into caves never does. What happens to him is appropriately awful. It's a sound pastiche of Lovecraft, very much the sort of thing he might write.

But oh, the bloat. So much could be condensed. Just as one example: 'It was angular, and mostly square, lacking any sort of curvature or roundness.' For Heaven's sake, 'curvature' and 'roundness' are functionally the same thing, and 'angular and mostly square' already implies the thing isn't round. Lines you could cut altogether include 'Not impossible, but dangerous if he were to fall again from a poor foothold' and possibly 'This was not the first time, nor the last, speculating for minerals would lead him to the rear end end of nowhere'--that doesn't tell me anything about his past I need to know. The conclusion especially drags on and just feels long, so look for ways you can trim there while keeping the essentials.

The prose also has technical problems. Several misplaced modifiers: 'Turning to wave at the Bolivians, his next step found no solid ground' tells me his step waved at some Bolivians, and 'After refusing to divulge the mine’s location, or return to the company, Sanderson cut him off financially' says that Sanderson refused to divulge the mine's location when I'm sure that's not what you mean. You put commas before dependent clauses but fail to put them between independent clauses. Sometimes words are missing (as in 'Oliver unclipped his belt flashlight, but found almost no need'--no need for it, I imagine); you refer to a plural subject, segments, as 'it' instead of 'they'; you use 'anyway' where you want 'any way.' Lots of errors. They detract quite a bit.

More proofreading and fewer words would be godsends for this one, and the solid heart beneath its flaws makes the effort worth considering.


Nettle Soup, "As Good as Gold"

Ooooof. Commas. I see five to seven errors in comma usage in your first scene alone. (I say five to seven because punctuation within dialogue gets some leeway; the commas after 'new one' and 'appreciate me' should both technically be semicolons or periods, but you could use commas there if they fit the rhythms of the characters' speech.) The comma after 'hands' should be a semicolon or period too: the following clause is independent, meaning it has a subject and verb of its own. Here is another link to my favorite handy guide on the semicolon vs. comma issue. There should be no comma after 'in his' because the clause that follows is dependent: 'and smiles as she laughs and pulls away' has no subject. The commas after 'garden,' 'away,' and 'laughing' should all be periods. 'Erik takes her hands in his' (for one example) has no speaking verb such as 'says' or 'exclaims'; it isn't a proper dialogue tag. 'Laughing' could potentially work if you were trying to say she laughed the words, but since your phrase was 'still laughing,' not so much.

I know grammar isn't the critical element of this or any story, but it's not good at all to start out with so many mistakes. It makes a rotten first impression. I thought I'd be addressing the meat of your entry first, but as soon as I took another look at it the errors distracted me right off the rails. You don't want that to happen for a reader.

The gist here seems to be that after Sophie loses her copper ring, it grows into a metallic plant that feeds on blood. You describe the plant as pale yellow, which sounds more like gold than copper, and you don't specify which metal it is until after Sophie theorizes that it needs copper to grow. Sophie becomes addicted to the plant within several days of feeding it her blood. I don't know why. There's no obvious reason she should turn into a cutter for this tree. The premise needs more support to make sense. If copper trees are strange and rare, I wonder why no one notices the metal giant looming in Erik's garden.

The shift from present tense to past at the very end bemuses me. Present tense may not have been the best choice anyway. You handle it well enough, but it doesn't add anything. The story would be and would work exactly the same if written in past tense, and past is the default that readers will expect, so deviating from it draws attention to your prose that you'd probably prefer to have focused on the story. Either way, why on earth would you change it in the eleventh hour? Especially in that direction.

As I turn this over in my mind I start to wonder if it's all meant to be a metaphor. Whether the tree is a stand-in for something else--but what? Addiction? Cutting yourself to feed a tree is a ridiculous thing to get addicted to. Obsession? An abusive relationship? Sophie's actions are neither logical nor understandably illogical, so the piece doesn't work from that angle either.

For all my complaints, your entry wasn't unpleasant to read or anywhere near the bottom of the pile; the contemporary fairy-tale concept would be a good one if it hung together, and the application of copper is creative. Polish up the sentence-level writing and show more of what drives Sophie's behavior and this could be a decent story.


Martello, "LOGPAC"

"What's the loving point?" A valid question. Boiling all the acronyms and lingo and vehicle specs out of your story gets me this: an improvised explosive is discovered buried in the road. The protagonist is called in to look at it. He does. More specifically, he watches other people disarm it. Then his sergeant shoots the jug of nitrate to blow it up, and the protagonist reflects on how there's no sense to any of it.

Hurrah for emulating the action of The Leper Colon V, I guess?

You didn't, though, or at least not entirely. "What's the loving point?" applies to this story, especially since you, not being an idiot, had to know filling it with military jargon would limit its appeal to a niche that doesn't include much of the Thunderdome. You'd need a hell of a plot to get away with that, and you don't have one at all. Your main character does jack besides watching other people act. The whole is mechanically competent, but that's never enough on its own. What separates it from the likes of Leper's and magnificent7's famously pointless stories is that 'Why do people do the things they do in war?' is a worthwhile question. Familiar. But worthwhile.

There's not much else to say, beyond that if general appeal is a thing you're after then you ought to consider chopping at least half the terms most civilians won't know.


Jeep, "Little Things"

Overwritten. Technically skilled, but ornate to a fault. That's refreshing in its way amidst a tall stack of entries with mechanical issues, but the first paragraph--I blame 'all those would-be German Supermen customers found the idea quite Kryptonitic indeed' in particular--braced me for fanciful prose at the probable expense of story. You didn't go as far that way as I feared; your lonely protagonist and the fantasy he built out of voices and air were worth the time I spent reading about them, and you presented a character arc, though Esther's speech at the end fell flat and heavy. The choice of present tense added to the impression I had of fancy-for-fancy's-sake.

There's not a lot wrong with it, however. You could stand to tone it down and put it in past tense, but that may be and to some degree must be my personal preferences talking. Neon is integral to your piece, and neon lights burning through the night make for a desolate image. They suit the overall mood down to the ground.

If anything needs a major overhaul, it's that dialogue of Esther's. You might as well hang a sign on it that says THIS IS THE MORAL OF THE STORY. He's become so absorbed in the minutiae of his fantasy that his real life is suffering neglect. He should detach from Esther and his long nights of work and remember the things that matter. Yes. Good message. Now find a less blatant way to deliver it.


WeLandedOnTheMoon!, "Matchstick"

I ranked yours ninth of all the stories: not outstanding, definitely flawed, but good and probably not that hard to tune up if you're so minded. You told a touching love story. Your invocation of phosphorus is great. It's in the matches that light Babe's way; it starts the fire that destroys his haven with Claire. That's a nice look at both sides of fire, and it sets me off thinking about fire as passion, which is present as a bright thing (teenage love) and a dark (Joe's anger) also. The message of love overcoming racial prejudices is delivered well and stays on the right side of anvilicious. Babe tells me that her race didn't matter to him, and I see in his viewpoint that this is true.

But I don't know what the deal is with Joe. You never let the reader in on what happened between him and Babe to end their friendship. The only hint: "I should kill you for disrespecting my family like this." I have no idea what I'm supposed to take from that. Did they find out they're secretly half brothers? Was Babe dating Joe's sister at one time? What's up with Joe that he's tracking Babe, and why does he destroy Claire's property? 'He's a racist' doesn't answer all those questions. There's a story here under the surface that you haven't brought to light. The question of Joe is too important to the plot to leave unanswered.

The question of what happened to Mickey Mint is less important, but I admit that bugs me too. One of my co-judges pointed out to me that Babe's mother also drops entirely out of the picture. Very odd when the first paragraph is all about her. The reference to Kennedy is a good way to set the time, but his mother's pain should have gone somewhere.

Your writing is generally good, but 'She added, “and that’s not just because I’m black."' is a worse horror than the thing in Noah's story. Capitalize that 'and,' do. There are other little things: you should capitalize 'Mom' when you use it as a pronoun, the semicolon after 'his voice' should be a colon, you use 'peak' where you want 'peek,' you're missing a quotation mark before 'but I never expected,' etc., etc. I mention these to encourage you to proofread more thoroughly, but mechanics aren't a significant problem for you.


Schneider Heim, "The Lightest Metal"

I was prepared to grouse at you when I thought the initials of your main characters and the 'light' nature of pop metal were your only connections to lithium, but after looking again, I think I've got it. Are you playing with the weak binding energies of lithium nuclei? Neither Iris nor Lance were linked all that tightly with their prior partner/band, and the bond they form in the story never feels that strong either. I wouldn't be too surprised if you told me they went their separate ways after leaving the bar. It doesn't quite work, because the story is still about two people forming a partnership and that lack of chemistry (I don't mean romantic; they just don't give an impression of being likely to get along past the moment) gets in your way, whether or not it's intentional. The line about burning through the material could be a reference to lithium's reactivity with water, although I'm reaching there.

Your prose and mechanics are competent, but the story doesn't stand out in one way or the other. Lance's creepy staring and his line about bands and bitches make him hard to connect to; Iris wasn't the only one cringing. I don't play guitar, so take this with a grain of salt, but I have a seriously hard time believing he taught her to play multiple pop songs in the space of however long they had before the manager shoved them out on stage. Does she have some kind of unusually good recall? Once I hit that point, my interest checked out because I couldn't believe their set went well on the basis of a few minutes' practice. To your credit, you don't try to sell them as a smashing success: 'mild applause' works. They don't actually sound fun to listen to!

Their triumph is thin, such as it is, and their connection thinner. It's nice that Iris got past Jane's abandonment and still made music, but I wasn't very invested in her outcome.


curlingiron, "No Time Like the Present"

You know I originally named a different flash rule for you, which I changed because I thought it told you too directly how to deal with rubidium; what you can't know is that I'd thought of and dismissed two other rules before that. One was that your story had to include at least one ruby. The other was that precise timing had to play a role. It tickled me when you met them all, all unknowing, but that's not the reason I like this story as much as I do--and I like it a lot! You hit just the right notes. Your flash rule is front and center. Your element is too, without being physically present in the story; you explain its properties in a way that teaches without being awkward or pedantic, and your information, so far as I can tell, is accurate. The main character has a personality. She and her love for her parents both feel real. The whole thing is sweet. I love the happy ending.

Much as I like it, it's not a powerful story. It's light. It's charming. It's fun. The writing--while good--doesn't impress me nearly as much as God Over Djinn's. The emotion in it doesn't move me as much as crabrock's. Your use of rubidium was great, but other entrants were more clever or creative yet in their approaches, though most by far were less so. And the resolution does remind me of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." This kind of is "The Gift of the Magi" without the bittersweet twist, and the similarity takes some strength away from it.

I couldn't convince myself it was the best story in the round, but it was the one I enjoyed most. I'm glad I got to read it. Good work!


docbeard, "Miss Annabel Yoder Finishes Her Quilt"

This deal-at-the-crossroads theme is something you like to explore, I take it! I judged your blackjack-with-the-devil entry too, and that gave this piece a familiar feel that didn't work altogether in your favor. It also reminds me rather of Stephen King's Needful Things. There's a risk in treading such well-traveled ground, but you put enough of your own spin on it to keep it from being a complete clone. The devil (or whatever he is) sitting down to talk more-or-less openly with two clients is new. His used-car-salesman narrative voice is grating to read at times, but it establishes his character.

Miss Yoder's quilt is a new twist on the old story as well, but that one is less successful. I assume she made a deal with Mr. Crossroads for time to sew her masterpiece, but why was lutetium thread what she needed to finish? That came out of nowhere for me and made no particular logical sense. This is a less important point, but how did she work on that thing for more than fifty years--far more, if it was 'half done' fifty years ago--without it growing so large it covered the entire town?

You met your flash rule in a so-so way: the lute leads Pete to bring up the subject of music and, now that I look at it again, is another clue that Miss Yoder is indeed very old. So it's not shoehorned in, but it feels out of place nevertheless, especially since it falls out of the story relatively early. You could have Pete offer Miss Yoder the lute back closer to the end (after the not-devil asks about the point of creative endeavor, maybe), and I think that would help it feel more relevant. Miss Yoder saying she has no more use for it would be more poignant if she had seen the thread first.

Referring to Miss Yoder as 'the old lady who lives in that big house' is a bit of a cheat and stood out immediately on my second read. My suggestion would be 'the old lady of that big house'--it's less of an outright lie, considering Miss Yoder is dead when the story starts.


No Longer Flaky, "Alley Deals"

Why oh why did your nameless narrator tell Chad about the television at the end? You had me in your corner at least a little; your story rambled and was fraught with pointless details, but the narrator's decision to keep his/her mouth shut because of the good the placebo effect was doing his/her friend was touching, a decent display of true friendship that gave the story a point. Then you ruined the whole thing and ended on a weaksauce note besides. You don't have a real conclusion either, do you? The real story is in what happens to Chad from here, not in the narrator's Craigslist purchase history!

But oh, it gets worse than that. I've been doing some research on francium. According to, 'There is probably less than 30 grams of francium in the earth's crust at any one time.' And: 'Francium is never encountered normally, however, handling it would be very dangerous as it is a powerful source of alpha radiation.' It decays within twenty-two minutes to astatine, radium, or frigging radon, Wikipedia tells me. Nobody is ever making diet pills out of this stuff. So the pills aren't just useless, they aren't francium, and your element is therefore nothing more than a name, and you've failed the prompt. Oooh, are you lucky I didn't check up on you sooner! Now I have to settle for denouncing you here as a promptfudger. Thirty-seven people managed to fulfill the basic requirement to some degree, including the SF writers. You didn't. Way to go.

Your punctuation within and around dialogue is sloppy. Check out the links on that subject I've peppered through these crits if you haven't yet. You do better than some on the technical level, but your prose has no zing, and your story has no more point than it has francium.


Paladinus, "Of Little Faith."

Coming off two losses, you've done very well. You've answered your flash rule and applied your element in a simple, understated way that nevertheless worked and had meaning within the story; the Bible quotation was a perfect fit. The edges of your prose are only slightly ragged compared to some of what I've seen from your competitors. On the other hand, this isn't much of a story, being instead a vignette examining one woman's crisis of faith at length, and what message it has is muddled for me. Is doubt a loss of faith or the heart of faith? The protagonist's thoughts on the matter switch from one view to another, which is probably accurate enough in her situation but doesn't make for the clearest or most concise read. I believe she accepts both her doubt and her faith at the end, but I'm not sure. I'm left with no firm sense of resolution or change. It's an interesting exploration of a theme, but it's not satisfying.

Your mechanical mistakes are along the line of failing to capitalize proper nouns ('Father Joseph' would be correct), commas where you want periods sometimes (such as after 'the feast of everlasting joy'), and missing words that skew your tenses ('My meditations turned into sessions [...]' would be better as 'have turned' to stay in the present tense). Little things. Watch for them. I can't tell whether the main character is reciting those Bible verses aloud or thinking them to herself, since you surround them with the same single quotes you use for speech. Single quotes for dialogue would be wrong in American English, but they're correct in British English, and you've used Brit spellings. Fair enough! You should still find some way to differentiate the quotes from what she says aloud.


Lake Jucas, "American Werewolf in America"

So yeah, the skateboarding werewolf thing. I'm not seeing a lot of chlorine here! You did nothing at all with your element beyond what your flash rule threw at you, which was more a lack of chlorine than anything. Laaaaame. It's the least of your problems, but it's laaaaame all the same.

Nothing happens in this. Your protagonist is a skateboarding werewolf and nothing. Happens. He gets invited to skateboard in an empty pool. He skateboards in an empty pool. He flees the pool when the moon comes rises. A girl who's essentially a Twilight joke (in 2014!!) lets him out so he can skateboard some more. The end.

Okay, so you were pretty clearly trying for a humor angle where the compulsion to skateboard was so strong for this guy that his werewolf status was an afterthought. That concept had some potential, but in practice, Dan's obsession made him tedious. He had no thoughts besides 'SKATEBOARD' and 'ugh, Jess.' (How did Jess know he was a werewolf, anyway? Did Anthony let it slip?) There was potential too in the setup: oh, dear, the skateboarding werewolf has stayed out too long skateboarding; what will happen at the party now? Your answer--that he goes and skateboards yet more--is the dullest possible resolution to that crisis.

Your writing is just weird. Sometimes your prose is technically sound enough to pass, but then you'll throw out an instant cringe like 'who's desperate attempts' or 'It's bowl shape' or 'stared to file in' or 'I was ambivalent to them' (you wanted 'oblivious') or, God help us, 'He was write.' 'One think filled my frenzied brain.' 'Jess's cries where downed out.' I begin to understand how you transformed sebmojo into a creature of supernatural rage. Granted he didn't have far to go, but still.

It's ridiculous that Dan claims not to know why Jess is into him when she's wearing a Jacob shirt and he later refers to her werewolf fetish. Seriously, not even Little Mac's protagonist is that dumb.

You lucked out in that the foibles of the lowest two stories kept everything else out of contention for the loss. Read up on punctuating dialogue and try again another week, preferably with a plot in tow.


Little Mac, "Room to Breathe"

Proof positive that solid prose and good mechanics aren't everything, we have here a story that does very little wrong on the technical level but still manages to land in the lower tier. The problem? Your plot and main characters alike are too stupid to live. Chet is the only one whose horrible, agonizing death I regret. Alas, sweet prince, too good by half for this ship of fools!

I don't know what you were thinking; maybe you had a fun little story going about two people finding love on a submarine and then didn't know how to end it--I remember that being a problem of yours in the professional mystery week--so you just killed them all? No, that can't be right. You started building up to their death by idiocy before Emmett even sat down for lunch. They sincerely failed to notice the water creeping up to their waists. Esther smiled after Chet pointed out it was her fault. What the hell. She went from being a charming enough character to a lethally oblivious moron in two seconds flat. Emmett didn't panic either, and they died happily together. It's so dumb it's probably killed some of my brain cells through exposure.

I have to guess you were trying for humor, but boy howdy did you miss the mark. A touch of sensible behavior would have gone miles toward making the death of your cast either funny or poignant, but as-is it's just inane, and its position after a skateboarding werewolf can only improve it so much by comparison.


QuoProQuid, "Self-Fulfilling Prophecy"

A lot of factors worked against this one: the Hindenburg was the most obvious possible place to take your element, you used prophetic visions as a major plot device, your exposition was as subtle as a tiger in a tea room, your characters were props to serve a tired premise, and your comma usage was a mess. Knowing you had hydrogen, I could tell where you were going as soon as the first vision appeared. That knocked all the surprise and most of the interest out of the story's unfolding, and then the ending was as basic as it could be. Yep, Emilie's going to cause the Hindenburg Disaster.

Maybe Emilie's visions could have worked if you'd loaded them with more sensory detail; you put decent details into her epileptic fit, so you were capable. If you'd made me see the German conquest of London through her eyes, maybe I would have felt her horror and determination, but your exposition--yes, the Nazis were terrible; yes, their zeppelins were vulnerable to ignition, as the Hindenburg proved--didn't deliver any emotion. When I call the exposition unsubtle, though, I'm referring to the doctor asking Emilie the ship's name and the year. If I hadn't guessed what was going on by then, that would still have been a clumsy way to receive the news and an awkward point in the story at which to do it. Everything after that feels drawn out. We know all we need to know, and the last scene with her husband is just dithering.

I think you intended more. Emilie's relationship to her husband is genuinely interesting. The line 'Was it love or hate she felt?' was the strongest thing in the story for me. I don't trust her view of him; I suspect he does love her, and that adds a much-needed edge of personal tragedy to what she's planning to do. When she says his name and it's a German name, I wonder whether she resents him for being German, how they got together, what their history is. Emilie herself is a good unreliable narrator, and that's why I wish they weren't going through predictable motions. They deserved a better plot.

As for mechanics, sentences like 'She scrambled her legs, trying to get up but only jerked around useless' are harder to read than they should be. Try this: 'She scrambled her legs, trying to get up, but they only jerked around, useless.' Or 'but only jerked around uselessly'; I can't tell whether you mean Emilie's legs or Emilie herself are jerking and useless. 'Breathing stopped, the muscles in her face flexed.' What? Do the muscles in her face flex because her breathing stops? Or do you mean 'Her breathing stopped; the muscles in her face flexed,' which keeps those ideas separated? You don't use commas between independent clauses as much as you should, and you use them around dialogue when you shouldn't, such as in 'He squeezed her wrist and looked at the man next to him, “Paul, [...] fit.' That comma should be a period, because 'He squeezed her wrist' etc. is not a speech tag. Here's that comma link one more time. Your errors didn't render your piece unreadable by any means, but I had to untangle your sentences in my head too often.


Lead out by the cuffs, "Heavy Metal Roses"

Not bad; darkly amusing in its mockery of PUAs once you get past the awkward beginning. Niche-y, though. Stuff like 'a subtle neg' and 'GradPUAs,' not to mention sizable swaths of the whole chatroom conversation, depend on the reader knowing about pick-up-artist tactics to make any damned sense. That's not a sure bet even on SomethingAwful. It's clear enough that Ted is some sort of womanizing douche, but 'sarging' and 'kino' are not exactly clear in this context. That stuff is as bad as Martello's military lingo in terms of narrowing your audience.

Osmium is a clear and dangerous presence here. You've done your research, but since you made the infodump a natural part of the story (sort of--I don't find toxic chemicals a turn-on myself, but what do I know), the facts you share slot into place and don't distract. Everything Ted says is supported by Wikipedia, but his dialogue reads like dialogue and not a Wikidump. Good on you. The plot use to which you put the metal is great. It's a pity that copy-and-paste error spoiled your ending on my first read. How something so weird made it past post preview, I have no idea, but be careful in the future!

While we're on the subject of what to avoid, you should have taken out your spoilered text while you were cleaning up: commentary like that gives the impression the entry can't speak for itself.

Your writing's solid except for Ted's thoughts. I don't like the use of single quotes for those at all. Italics would have been less obtrusive if you wanted to separate them from the regular text. More than that, they're what mucked up the opening by being obnoxious in the second paragraph. 'Haha, I'll get some work out of her all right!' needlessly and annoyingly underlines his creepiness. Trust me, it's plenty obvious without the help. You've made some small punctuation errors, but they aren't particularly distracting, aside from '"This",' (ugh). For example: ''Julia.' He repeated to himself' should be ''Julia,' he repeated to himself.' This page is a detailed guide to punctuating dialogue and quotations, though you probably know most of what it says.

Overall, a good first entry, hindered mostly by your choice to aim for a very slim target.


Seldom Posts, "Ultima Thule"

Maybe there's a world in which Nazi cyborgs are not science fiction, but that is not the world in which I live. DISQUALIFIED.

Thulium lasers exist and are useful for surgery, so your use of your element is decent if you take away the whole thing where the surgery makes CYBORGS. I'm skeptical that the 'only naturally occurring deposit' of thulium would be in Greenland, considering that China has the largest supply of thulium ores. I suspect you stuck it up there for the sake of Uqalik and her final line. It's more of a stretch than I like. Speaking of stretches, you went over the word limit with what I must assume was malice aforethought.

It's not a terrible story, but Nazis are a tired villain with or without mechanical implants. You don't resolve your plot lines. Your surviving characters defeat and escape from the Nazis, but what happens to them afterward? What happens to the thulium? Despite the extra words you took, you didn't get any of that into the piece; it just stops at a half-decent break point. Not a winning strategy even if the cyborgs hadn't done you in.


Jay O, "Salvage"

You know those comments you put at the bottom of your entry? Don't do that. If you need to explain something for the story to make sense, you've screwed up, and if you apologize in advance, that's arguably worse. You had me expecting something tremendously goony when this is actually a touching story about a man reconnecting with his past and finding out the value of his memories.

Even though the rusty tin of Martin's old hideaway had "Love Shack" playing through my head as I read, I enjoyed the themes of this one very much. As Martin gathers up the relics of his youth to sell, he notices the little tin figures he once made. They have no monetary value, but he searches for them anyway, remembering as he does the people those figures represented and his own younger self who made them. He isn't willing to abandon the past in his hurry. More than that, he goes out of his way and to some difficulty to find the memento of who he once was. There's no going back to his high-school days, and I don't get the sense he would if he could, but he doesn't want to forget as he moves forward. When the mudslide comes, that desire to keep a tie to his past saves him. I don't know whether this would resonate with everyone, but it does with me--and that just made me frown the more at you dismissing Martin and his friends as 'chubby tabletop nerds.' It's like you missed your own point!

This came within shouting distance of an honorable mention, but the exposition about Martin's old group, especially Chris, is so very clunky. That one paragraph in which you talk about Chris as a 'bland-lookin' guy' and throw details about Martin's own role takes a lead pipe to the kneecap of your story. Splitting it into multiple paragraphs might have helped (the mesh of Chris's background and Martin's background is quite awkward); there's no grace in the prose, though, and I can't grimace at bland-lookin' enough. This stuff sits right in the middle of your otherwise decent writing like a rock in a bowl of Corn Flakes.

There's nothing wrong with writing about nerdy things when you can infuse them with charm and significance. Just smooth out your infodumps and stop trying to convince the judges your work's not good.


Jonked, "Theoretically Hopeful"

'I laid their silently.' Oh, Jonked.

It's rarely a good thing when a story is almost all background and exposition. What actually happens here is that a man watches a woman sleep, then goes to sleep, then wakes up, then has breakfast and asks her whether they'll do this again. Everything else is the protagonist telling the reader about his past at length. He goes on about his ex-girlfriends longer than he needs to in order to make the point, and my interest wanes anecdote by anecdote.

It perks back up for a moment when he and you finally get to the Island of Stability and unbihexium, but the explanation is so vague. How does 'there's a massive, stable element, and it's double magic' give the poor guy hope? (Stressing that the atom is massive is weird too given that a woman is supposed to represent it. I mean, what, is he going to find love with a giant?) It's a stretch, and he comes off like a bit of a doof for buying into it. As far as the prompt goes, though, this usage works.

The prose is ragged enough for it to be noticed. You have 'was laying' where you want 'was lying.' You use the phrase 'just barely' twice within two sentences. 'I swore to myself' ought to be 'I had sworn to myself.' You mix the past and past perfect tenses while your main character is recounting his relationships. 'So now we were at two years, before a terrible betrayal'--what? You slip into third person when you start describing the protagonist's relationship with Marie. It's all enough to unsettle my head as I go. The tense shifting particularly makes it unpleasant to read, though not to the degree of the bottom-tier entries.


Black Griffon, "Enforcer"

Since yours was one of the last entries and wasn't in the high pile or the low pile, it's only now that I'm checking up on your use of tellurium. The garlic odor you mention is accurate according to Wikipedia. Neither there nor anywhere else yet have I found anything about tellurium as a cure for plague or tellurium as a refining agent for opium. So is the information out there and I haven't found it, or did you make the connection up for the sake of your story? The first would be good research; the latter would be lame as hell.

The story itself isn't great shakes. You fulfilled your flash rule with Sloan's low abundance of wits and did a great job showing his less-than-sharp mind in his perspective: you didn't overdo it, kept it credible. But in all other respects, I found the story dull. Rape and murder? A killing spree? That's juicy stuff you're skimming right past to describe the physical tics of men who are otherwise only names. I reached the last paragraph without ever learning who Coran Grand is, why Nander would kill him, why Lozier was a suspect, etc., etc. You wrote a more complete story than El Diabolico or Djeser, but this was still the equivalent of an episode of Scooby-Doo that cut everything but the unmasking scene. I found out whodunnit, but I didn't much care.

On the plus side, I don't have many complaints about your prose beyond a couple of typos ('crudgel' instead of 'cudgel,' 'cold' instead of 'could')--Grand was a bad choice of last name, though, considering your reference to 'the Grand plague.' I couldn't help but imagine a plague of Grands, all poisoned by tellurium.


crabrock, "Growing Cold Together"

So much story exists between your lines, and I love it. You have the most subtle treatment of your element among those that are still effective. You don't say 'silicon' once, nor is your story about the sand, but it's omnipresent. You left the fact of Louis's death for me to infer and did not have him explain it to his wife, nor she to him. Not once does either Louis or Marie say 'I love you.' You show it. This is what 'show, don't tell' is all about. This is a man's heart shown through his quiet actions. Through the way he keeps them secret from his wife, that she won't have to know how much he is prepared for his death. Two paragraphs of your entry have more emotional punch than the rest of the round combined.

But emotional power isn't the be-all and end-all. The opening is fairly bad, and I don't just mean the tense problem with your first paragraph. Why did you start with a fit of pique that painted Louis as a petulant manchild? Throwing his chips and bun on the beach? Kicking sand and sulking? Your later material must have been strong if you recovered him from that. I'm not sure what the 'miniature tower of processed meat' is if Marie made him only two hot dogs; that's no one's idea of a tower. He complains about the sand too long. At this point I can only picture him as Hayden Christensen, and that's your own fault.

And, yeah, your writing is more mechanically clumsy than it should be. You know better than the tense slip that happens again in the final line (it should have said 'would have liked'). 'Each time the sea looked like it may calm down' makes me wince: 'might' is the past tense of 'may.' You also use a single quote instead of a double quote after 'trip.' Okay, that one's a tiny nit to pick, but the tense shifts aren't; stuff like that drives even some non-pedants mad.

Your conclusion, last line aside, is fine and kind of beautiful, but it feels lacking in a way I don't know that I can pinpoint. Maybe it's the grousing about sand beforehand--you had such a powerful effect going, but Sand Sucks Redux cost that some steam.

Your story has a strong heart surrounded by ragged edges that take away from its power rather than supporting or enhancing it. If you work on it further until the prose is more in line with what you're capable of, you'll have something wonderful.


Djeser, "The Sky"

You know what this reminds me of other than Top Gun? That scene in Pearl Harbor when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are risking their necks in stupid pilot tricks because they're hotshots who don't play by the rules. It's not exactly fresh material. Adding griffons--or gryphons, depending on how you're spelling it in a given sentence--is a cute idea, but you could have done more with that. The animals might as well be machines. The only practical difference is the description of how they fly. You show more cleverness in your use of iodine, which you explain just enough, and which puts a slight spin on the flyboy antics.

Then you ended it with a dick joke. Cue an eye roll. It reads like you threw that in at the last minute because you didn't know how to conclude the thing. And you didn't resolve diddly or have a plot to speak of, so you were only a step above El Diabolico in terms of writing an actual story. On the plus side, your prose and mechanics were among the better this week, and your entry didn't make me despair for the future of mankind. There's some cheesy fun to be had in reading it. When all else fails, that will usually get you through.


JuniperCake, "Empathy"

When I first read your entry, I thought the implication was that the listless dolphin had been subject to toxic levels of mercury. I've since gone looking for information about how mercury affects dolphins, and I've had trouble finding any list of dolphin symptoms. What I've discovered instead interests me: human fetuses are particularly susceptible to mercury poisoning, and the results can include brain damage. Does Kaito represent the effects of mercury too? Should I infer that from the mentions of a family history of fishing in that sea, which suggests that if the waters are tainted, his mother could well have eaten enough mercury in fish to hurt her child? It makes so much sense that it has to be intentional, surely--or some wonderful serendipity. Whichever, it works beautifully. The reference to cinnabar-tinted mist is heavy-handed by contrast.

Your prose isn't as elegant as your concept. In the first paragraph you're describing a specific instance of Kaito watching dolphins; this becomes clear as the story goes on, but the sentence that begins with 'I would watch him' takes the story out of the moment and describes an ongoing, general situation. Then you switch back to the specific. Change it to 'I watched him' and all is well. There should be a comma after 'waiting for his dolphins'; the phrase 'dead-bug stiff' should have a hyphen, technically speaking, but I'd prefer another metaphor entirely since that one clunks. Speaking of clunking, 'The last remains of a family so hosed over by the gods must be an interesting thing to look at, or so I had heard' is godawful awkward. Either 'The last remnants of a family hosed over by the gods must have been interesting to look at' or ''The last remnants [...] were interesting to look at, I'd heard' would be my suggestion; each removes some clutter. 'I sat down at my desk with one broken leg propped up by a pile of forgotten engineering textbooks' gave me a very different mental image than the one you intended. I assumed your protagonist had a broken leg on top of all his other troubles! 'Live in the moment I could still have that at least' flat-out doesn't make sense. I think you mean 'Live in the moment: I could still do that, at least.' The colon could be a semicolon if you preferred, but you certainly need punctuation of some kind.

Etc., etc.; I see more errors in comma usage than anything, so watch for that and maybe check out those links I gave elfdude and El Diabolico. There are enough awkward sentences and grammatical gaffes to do the piece some damage, which is a shame when its fulfillment of the prompt and emotional core are so nice.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:41 on Dec 29, 2014

Jan 3, 2006

Super Mario Bros 3

Last Date Word Count: 1266

By the end of the night, as we stood in the rain, I finally realized how I could put my feelings into words. We moved closer to one another and as my lips parted I realized I was etching poetry into stone.

A week before, I had been contacted by a girl on OKCupid. I had just had a date from the site not too long before that and it had been pretty terrible, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try again. Internet dating just didn’t seem to be for me. That said, she contacted me so I thought it polite to reply back. We chatted off and on for a while before I finally relented and asked if she wanted to meet up. She did.

Looking over an internet dating profile is a lot like comparison shopping for people: It’s pretty loving weird. Nevertheless, I’d taken the time to tirelessly scour her profile so I was sure that I knew what I was getting into. While we didn’t share a lot of common interests, I quickly scolded myself for daring to be so picky, despite the OKCupid test giving us a mere “C” rating. She asked what I wanted to do.

For some reason dinner and a movie is a dating cliché. I, being inexperienced as I was, thought that was just “Go-to date #1.” Of course, those of us with slightly more experience know you never go to a movie on the first date – you need communication to begin before you can be comfortable in each other’s silence. I stupidly gave her a list of movies that were out that I wanted to see and asked which she was interested in. She didn’t pick the romantic comedy. She didn’t pick the crappy action movie.

She picked Inglourious Basterds.

I was okay with this. I really wanted to see that movie. I resolved to pick her up at 6:30 for an 8:00 show and it was officially a date. It was a cool Sunday afternoon when I pulled up to her house. I decided that perhaps it was best if we got slightly more acquainted before going out, so we’ve got time to talk. She invited me in: she was blonde and a little plump, but still very cute. About a foot shorter than me. At least her pictures weren’t fakes. Her name was Kirstea, pronounced like “Kirstie” but spelled like her mom had never left Georgia before.

Her house was a nice, old brick manor. She revealed that she was actually house sitting for a friend, but he was at work. I mentioned that the house was within walking distance of a pretty nice area with lots to do, so she could be doing worse. She recoiled at that notion.

“I could never walk there,” she replied. “Definitely not at night.”

“Yeah?” I said. “Not a lot of streetlights, I guess.”

“Plus there’s a lot of black people in the neighborhood, so…”

I froze as she walked into the bathroom to fix her hair. The words echoed in my brain. Had she really just said that? Maybe I misheard her. No one would actually just come right out and say that, right? I took note of the situation. Sure, I’m white. She’s white. We’re in the South. The thoughts flowed out of my head as she returned and I lost myself in conversation again. As she came out, she was accompanied by a very large Great Dane who jumped onto me and began sniffing and licking me pretty fast.

Now the date was getting somewhere.

“He seems pretty friendly,” I said, playing with the pup.

“Yeah, he’s friendly to most people, but he barks at black people a lot.” She smiled, also playing with the dog. “I wish my dog back home only barked at black people.”

I hadn’t been hearing things. Oh God, I hadn’t. I wasn’t really sure what protocol was. Maybe she was making a joke, I tried to rationalize. Sure, a really bad one with company she couldn’t possibly know well enough to gauge whether or not they’d be offended by it, but a joke nonetheless. She was finally ready to go and by God so was I.

The drive to the theater was rather uneventful. I did my best to make entertaining conversation with someone I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around anymore. I kept making excuses, though. I wanted the date to be a success. Kirstea had other plans.

We settled into our seats, the theater itself mostly empty save for a few scattered groups. If you’ve never seen the film I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a Tarantino film so some heavy violence was to be expected. The acts on screen made Kirstea flinch and complain – as if she had no idea what movie she had chosen. However, when Shosanna appeared the mood changed quickly.

In the film, the character of Shosanna owns a movie house in Paris and is secretly plotting against the Nazis coming to visit her theater. The projectionist, Marcel, is her co-conspirator and also her secret lover.

Marcel is also black.

When Shosanna and Marcel kissed, it seemed something had ruptured within Kirstea. She began to look physically ill. She made sounds as if she were retching and heaving. The on-screen kiss of an interracial couple so disgusted her that she needed to make it clear to me and everyone else around us that she was, in fact, not happy with it. For some reason, she was okay with being very public with her disdain for such a relationship.

The rest of the movie was a blur. I don’t remember anything else from my experience in the theater (I would later watch the film at home – I loved it). When we exited, a downpour had begun outside. A thunderstorm that matched the anger I had at the person standing next to me. I couldn’t just leave, though – I was her ride.

I drove her home in silence, the thunder our only conversation piece. I played it off like I needed to concentrate on the road. We arrived outside her house and she got out of the car. I wasn’t sure what to do. I remember the exact thought in my head: “How do I end this without being openly hostile?” I exited my car and stood with her in the rain.

“We should do this again sometime,” she said, no hint of irony in her voice. “Maybe next time we could do a different type of movie.”

“Ha, sure,” I replied. I wanted to scream “you picked the movie!” I kept it inside.

She stepped closer to me. I was frozen, my thoughts running now. Why is she stepping closer to me? She can’t possibly want to kiss me. I don’t want her to kiss me. I moved closer, as if by instinct, and suddenly my arms shot out.

A hug. Three pats. Then the last thing I’d ever say to her, etched in both our memories forever.

“You’re a… good person,” I lied. “Goodnight!”

I drove away. When she texted me later about my half-hearted hug, I couldn’t bring myself to reply. I didn’t try online dating again. I realized it was just too dangerous. You might meet a rapist or a criminal or, like me, you just might meet a racist.

My best friend Joe, a black man, and his wife, a white woman, were sad. They were hoping I’d bring Kirstea by for lunch. I think they wanted to see her throw it up.

Dec 17, 2003

Stand down, men! It's only smooching!

Go Home, You're Drunk
1200 words

I had maybe half a pint of pear cider left. Or I had an empty glass and a pair of wet trousers. The equation was set, my glass was overturned, and it slowly dawned on me that I had curved towards the median line of totally schnockered. If my analysis was to be trusted (and it wasn’t), we were approaching the end of the night. It was nine thirty.

Chris was laughing. That had been the evening in a nutshell, between the specifics of its execution. Drinks, stories, laughter, drinks. Walking, a new bar, drinks, stories, laughter, drinks. I hadn’t sat down with Chris since we used to take long drives to coffee shops that weren’t open. Back then we were seventeen and thought we knew everything. Now we were twenty five and realized we knew nothing. It was a Monday night and the coffee shop was closed, but the bars were open. We had grown up, a little.

Chris handed me a cocktail napkin and flagged a waitress, telling her something in a language I was unfamiliar with, but which resembled English down to the prepositional phrases. I mopped at my crotch. “As a napkin, this is a piece of poo poo,” I offered.

Chris laughed, again, and again, and he passed me a water. “You’re drunk,” he said.

“Yes,” I queried, and it wasn’t a question. I took the water, but it was too cold for a night in February. It sat for a while next to my empty cider glass, sweating nervously. I wiped at my dry brow, feeling sympathetic vibrations. This is fun, I thought.

Chris leaned back from our too-tiny table and took Renee’s hand. I hadn’t notice when she had shown up. Chris and I had walked from my house on a “we don’t want to get a DUI” pilgrimage that had taken us a Manhattan and a mile and a half down the road. Our original intention had been to march in senior year solidarity, but I suppose that somewhere along the way common sense had won over and he had called his girlfriend to be the designated “not walking around town drunk in the middle of the night”-er. I certainly hadn’t made any phone calls. I was, however, texting. My trousers had gotten wet somehow. Solve for X.

We were in a karaoke bar. Really, it was a bar that had karaoke. The difference between the two was slight, but palpable, a variable that was easily mapped. I hadn’t brought my compass, but I had sung in my high school choir, and so I ended up on stage, or rather on front of bar, by my own volition, I think, or maybe it was the Irish car bombs. I had a list of standards, because I was a singer, I was a singer, and karaoke was my drug of choice, sometimes, between the Mai Tais. I took the stage before an audience of three, including me, which made no sense because I wasn’t at a table anymore. I had another drink in my hand and I honestly wasn’t sure what it was, because I thought I had spilled my pear cider and here it was creeping between my lips again. Or was it water? There wasn’t any time for any analysis, the song had started. I was singing. So, Sally could wait, but the meter escaped me and I couldn’t. I was done and I was done, there was no applause, I didn’t want to spill my cider again, so I sat down with a soul heavy thud. Chris was laughing. Renee had smiles in her eyes and keys in her hands, and the three of us were walking out the door together. It was ten fifteen.

We sped down the road and I sat in the back of the car, looking at neon lights that blurred from drinking and not driving. Our city was small and suburby and not very interesting. We weren’t quite as bad as the neighboring town, which lasted approximately two and a half minutes when passed by car (and had a post office but no general store, an affront to town-ship I reminded Chris and Renee of every time we whizzed through it on our way elsewhere, and we were always going elsewhere), but we were still boring. A few strips of stores and ready-to-close or “we promise this time it will work” malls running in opposing directions, the occasional Jack in the Box that would spring up and stay open until two a.m., diners in various zip codes that held more hipsters than truckers, even in the early 2000s; these were the establishments where we found ourselves sitting over coffee that cost too much and tasted worse than our own French presses. But tonight we weren’t there, we were always going and never arriving. There was a karaoke bar, and not a karaoke bar, and half a pear cider all over my pants. I felt infinite; I hadn’t read that book yet, but I would, two thirds of a decade down the road, long past the salad days of high school but only a few past the days where I would still reminisce and attempt to relive them. This is sad, I thought.

Chris was hugging Renee. I was handing over my drivers license to get a set of darts, because I could still get home if I left it at the bar, and I wanted to throw some darts at a place that had real dart boards, which is why we had come there, right? Somewhere that had been the reason I had given, but I had just wanted to find a place with no pear cider, a place where I could continue to lose myself, because at the time of my suggestion I was in the back of a car and not face first in a glass, as I had wanted to be. For the minutiae of games of physical skill, for darts and pool and shuffleboard and flirtation, there was a ratio of drunk to successful that I had always chased and seldom found. There would be nights where I was king of the jump, where I would hit the bull’s eye every time, and I would be there for ten minutes, four kisses, one and a half beers, then pass the precipice, or miss my mark, slightly, always a little too much or a little too short. I wasn’t there, the darts were in the wall, I had managed to salvage at least my driver’s license if not my dignity, and we were buying carbohydrates at Safeway. We were standing in Chris' driveway eating bagels from a bag and Chris was laughing. I was smiling. Renee was shaking her head sadly, because she was twenty and simultaneously above and beside us. It was one fifty three.

That night, nothing happened. That night, everything happened. There is a dichotomy of being that I cannot and could not begin to fathom. I found some truth at the bottom of a glass of pear cider, but I lost it across the lap of my pants. It was two twenty and I was asleep in my bed.

girl dick energy
Sep 30, 2009

You think you have the wherewithal to figure out my puzzle vagina?
Someone I Didn't Deserve
(333 words)
Our story wasn't really anything special, on the surface. A couple of lonely college-age kids who met on the internet, and found something in each other they couldn't find in themselves. Our relationship moved fast, and by the time we'd been dating six month, we were living together. He went to school, I worked a lovely fast food job, we bitched about our lazy housemate who never, ever did her own loving dishes. Nothing revolutionary, but we were comfortable and happy. For about a year.

I can make all the excuses I want about what happened next. My fear of commitment, frustration at my working circumstances, a manic episode. None of them change the fact of the matter; when a chance to run off with an old flame came up, I jumped at it. Fumbling in a mess of guilt for something I hadn't even done yet, I cobbled together a plan. It fell apart before its wheels even touched the ground, and I was left standing in the wreckage, but I wasn't the one who was hurt.

Everyone who knew what happened told him the same thing. Give me the 'freedom' that I'd wanted so badly, and the boot. Our housemates didn't know the full story, thankfully, or I would have gotten a lot more than just verbal lashings. They knew what was coming, though, and I prepared whatever reserves I could, to stay afloat once he kicked me out. But he didn't.

One of the things about him I'd always admired is the sheer size and resiliency of his heart, but I could never have imagined that, after what I'd do, he'd forgive me. It was a process, of course. A long, slow, delicate process that I nearly fumbled on more than one occasion. But he held on, held on to what we had before, and what he hoped we could have again.

His name is Benjamin Silver, and I didn't deserve him, but he stayed anyways.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet
458 Words

I learned to read in a basement (and in a tent, and sometimes on a boat.) I learned to read from my father and his deep, tired voice. We read Jack London and Laura Ingalls Wilder in a basement heated by a wood stove. We had electricity but no plumbing, and we hauled water home in big blue barrels and put them on the ground floor where gravity would siphon the water right down to the little bucket we used as a sink.

It took us a long time to read those books. We only had every other weekend together anyway, and there was only time for reading when all the work was done. We read “To Build a Fire” in a snowstorm. I lay on my dad's bed next to a pair of binoculars, a half-mended dog pack, a rifle, and a scattering of books. The snow fell on the clear plastic roof two floors up and I watched it through the plastic skylight, settling ever heavier. I jumped as it slid off the huge pine branches with a great thump, thump thump! and wondered if it would rip the plastic and fall into the basement.

When the man had frozen to death and the story ended my father's voice settled into silence. He never told me to be careful in the woods in the winter. He didn't have to.

Dad started the Little House series and I finished it. In the middle we traded off. He'd interrupt me when I ran through a paragraph full-speed. “Breathe, breathe at the periods and at the commas.” And so I learned to read out loud, first in a shaky monotone and later in clear strong cadences.

We read those books by flashlight when we camped, two weeks every fall on the coast. Sometimes it rained, and we read over the splatsplat on the tent. We read at the top of mountains, with our lunch and our binoculars and our mini-microscope around us. When we were outside, the dog lay at our feet.

We read by dim cabin lights in our small sailboat when it stormed, and out in the open air and the hot sunlight when it was clear. When the boat flooded one of the books flooded with it, and we learned that though you can dry the pages and the ink might not run, a soaked book will always be crinkly and thick.

I read at school, and with my mother, but the lessons that stuck with me were learned in a basement, and in a tent, and on a boat: always have a good book handy; breathe at the periods; and don't worry too much if the paper gets wet, because it's the words that matter.

Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why did you fail Thunderdome?

Erogenous Beef posted:

:siren: Mercenzahn Facepunchbrawl :siren:

The First Shot
1.235 words

It was December 10th, 1989, and I was the only sober man in Czechoslovakia. The government had just resigned and people were dancing outside, beer in one hand, jingling their keys in the other. It was a symbol of the revolution: Goodbye, Communism, time to go home. They celebrated the beginning of an era, though to me, it felt like the end.

It was in these raving streets that I met Karel again. We’d been on border patrol together. It was only nice to say hello.

“Mirsloooov,” he slurred. “Less havadrink eh?”

Of course he’d be out celebrating the collapse. Always on the bright side, that was Karel. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but it was a bad day, and all the boozehounds seemed to have fun. A farewell toast to socialism? Sure, I said. What harm could it do?

The last thing I recall from that night is the stench of cheap Vodka. You never forget your first shot.


I remember waking on the pavement the next day and not remembering anything. Better than being miserable, I thought. Even the headache was a welcome distraction.

Anna disagreed. She’d been up all night, worried for her husband who’d disappeared in the chaotic streets of Prague and I’d come home stinking of alcohol and smoke and a fun time. We had a fight then. Actually, it was a pretty one-sided affair. She called me a deadbeat, and other things, and she was right. But back then, I saw it differently. I already felt isolated and my own wife kicked me while I was down. That’s what I told myself when I left our apartment to look for a bar.


It was in the summer of 1990 that we had our final argument. I was slumped into the plastic chair in our barebones kitchen, either drunk or on a hangover, I don’t know anymore. Anna stood over me. Her husband was getting shitfaced when he should be looking for a job and she was visibly worried, talking with her hands, arguing, trying to get me to pay attention. I was busy pitying myself, so I told her to shut up. Things escalated quickly.

It still hurts to think of what happened next. The look on her face as she held her bloody nose, all frightened and sad and innocent. Turns my guts upside down. She cried, later, but not in front of me.

People had always joked that our marriage would hold as tight as the iron curtain.

Other women would have tried to smooth things out, but not Anna. She’d always been headstrong, that’s what I’d loved about her. She disappeared from my life, and the better for her. I only wish I could apologize. Maybe I deserve to live with that memory.


I made some half-hearted attempts to stop drinking then. Once in a while I’d go to bed sober, but then I’d be awake all night, my head filled with dead dreams and empty faces. I didn’t bother looking for a full-time work anymore. The government paid you for sitting on your rear end now.

It was barely enough for a roof over your head, so I still worked the odd job for booze and a shower: paint a fence, wash some dishes, entertain a gentleman in a dark alley. When that didn’t work, I sold my stuff. One day I got five bottles of Vodka and a shave for my old medal. Anna had shown it to all her friends the day I'd gotten it. I was glad to be rid of it.

The same night I awoke and the world was upside-down. My collar was caked with vomit and my trousers were stained with urine. The contents of a toppled trashcan were all around me. I had rollerblades on my feet that weren’t mine and I had no idea where they’d come from. One wheel still turned around the axis that had broken off the right shoe. I’d probably stolen them from some child who’d finally gotten something for New Year's that wasn’t a rubber duck or a wooden pop gun. It was a depressing thought.

“Here comes Miroslav,” I yelled, “destroyer of capitalist toys.”

I laughed, but it turned to a whimper. I’d done a lot of bad things in the last months, but right then, as I was hunched bottoms-up against a brick wall, piss trickling down my face, wearing kids’ toys that I didn’t know how I’d gotten into them, that’s when I realized I had a problem.


Like most people, I was pretty skeptical about the idea of AA meetings. Tossing a bunch of addicts into the same room, that didn’t sound like a smart idea. But the country was sobering up and care centers were overrun. If you were patient, you could wait for a spot. If you were desperate, you set up a circle of chairs and talked.

It was imitating. There were no secrets before the group and some of the stories there sounded just as bad as mine: people who had lost everything, their families, their jobs, their dignity. Still, when it was my turn to talk, I hesitated.

I’m Miroslav, and I’m sad that communism is gone.

I’m Miroslav, and I’ve beaten my wife.

I’m Miroslav, and I blew a man for a bottle of beer.

“I’m Miroslav, and I drink,” I said.

“Why?” they asked. And when I told them I wanted to forget, they asked me what that was.

And I shrugged.

They understood. First-timers are usually shy. But as the conversation moved past me, I couldn’t help but wonder: what did I want to forget that day? I thought of the old times, pre-revolution, the party meetings and the military service before that. My time on the border.

I saw a part of myself that I couldn’t unsee then, like looking at the sun for too long. You know it’s there, but when you stare into it the impression burns into your eyes.

I woke up with a horrible hangover the next day, but I still remembered.

And I knew what I had to do.


The face of Pavel Hunas smiled back, no matter how long I frowned at him. I felt like I should say something, but I didn’t know what. I just stood there, fists clenched, volatile Prague rain running down the granite stone behind his bleached photo. He’d looked like a nice boy. Fifteen, maybe. Groomed and dressed for the shot by loving parents. Eyes full of hope. Idealists were a dime a dozen back then. I’d been one too.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I repeated the words. Sorry, sorry. Sorry I believed in a system that failed you. Sorry I was on duty that day. Sorry Karel made jokes about how I was a man now and Anna bragged that I was some kind of war hero and I let them. Sorry you're dead. Sorry to bother you. Sorry for all of this poo poo. Sorry.

I realized that my legs had given in and I was on one knee, hands in the dirt, fighting back the tears in front of his grave. My apologies were barely audible. He smiled.

I didn’t drink that night. It wasn’t easy, but it felt right. The memories would always be there, but I’d have to live with them. It’s the least I could do.

You never forget your first shot.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Behold my brain the golden throne of my consciousness. In here I am seated. Shackled. From here I police the land.

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

I gotta drop because I'm a big baby wah wah wah

Muffin is presumably boarding a plane in one hour's time to leave the worst town in Indonesia, so I'm taking his signup place, suck it fools.


The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 02:22 on Jul 1, 2014

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi
Mar 26, 2005

Feeling A Clot Better
1270 words

“You ready?”

She inhaled and rolled up the bottom of her shirt to expose her stomach, splotched with black and blue as if someone had spilled ink on it. “Do it.”

I found a piece of unblemished flesh, pinched it, and stabbed it with the syringe. As I engaged the plunger, she scrunched her eyes and bit her lower lip; the pain was excruciating.

I hated that part.

It was mercifully short, and I disposed the syringe in the portable biohazard box the hospital had given us. “We’re almost through this, babe. Just a couple more days.”

She sighed. “Thank god for that.”


It had begun with dull soreness in my fiancé’s calf, but after a few days it extrapolated into throbbing chest pains. As we lay in bed, I could only watch helplessly as every breath she took invited more tears. “Do we need to go to the hospital?” I asked.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, let’s just get home.”

I could understand the sentiment; we were leaving to go visit her folks in Minnesota the next day—a trip we’d been anticipating for a month—and neither one of us wanted to spoil it. So, when she woke up in the morning feeling more or less fine, we packed the car and made the seven hour trek north. But not long after we arrived, the symptoms reared their ugly heads again and she was soon gasping in agony on the couch.

One of their neighbors was a doctor, and we called her up to explain the situation. “Basically, whenever I breathe, it feels like someone’s stabbing me in the chest.”

“Do you have pain in your calf?”

Our eyes went wide; we’d never even thought to connect the two. “Yes.”

“Are you on birth control?”


“I’m coming over.”

Thirty seconds later she was in the kitchen, stethoscope to her ears, examining my fiancé’s vitals. “Okay, I’m almost certain it’s a blood clot, so I would suggest going to the hospital now. Don’t go to Urgent Care—believe me, they can’t help you. Go straight to the emergency room.”

To say we did so in a hurry would be putting it mildly; rather we fled the house as if a bomb was about to explode under the floorboards.


The hospital in her hometown was brand new and state of the art; I doubt any of the equipment had been made before 2008. Every expectant mother within thirty miles insisted on having their babies there, and as such the maternity ward was the only floor that was ever full. This was a blessing for us, as we were in to see a doctor within two minutes of arriving. An hour later, we had the test results back.

“You have multiple pulmonary embolisms in your lungs,” the doctor said. “Basically the clot developed in your calf, then pieces of it broke off and traveled up the blood stream and into your bronchi. It’s a good thing you didn’t fly home.”

This gave us pause, since we had flown home the three previous occasions we’d come to visit. “Why?” I asked. “What would have happened?”

“It’s likely the change in air pressure and altitude would have cause further erosion of the clot, sending chunks of it into your brain and initiating a stroke.”

My fiancé and I glanced at each other, our jaws almost unhinged from how wide they’d fallen open. By random happenstance, we had decided this time, of all times, to drive home instead of fly. No rhyme or reason for it—it had just struck us as the appropriate option. Now, as it turned out, that decision was potentially the reason my fiancé ended up in the ER rather than the morgue.

“You know,” I said, unable to stop myself from chuckling at the ludicrous nature of it all, “I think we would have been better off not knowing that.”


Many friends and family came by during the 24 hours we were in the hospital, which raised both our spirits significantly. Some even drove the long distance from Minneapolis to surprise us with flowers and get-well wishes. One such friend, who was a nurse at one of Minneapolis’s hospitals, imparted his take on our situation. “Oh yeah, you’re lucky,” he said in his thick Minnesotan accent, sounding like Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo. “More times than not, the people who come into our ER with blood clots are catatonic and on life support. Some don’t even make it.”

Again, I think we’d have been happier not knowing these lovely details.

Still, we were thrilled to have this revolving door of love and support; when one person left, another filed in to take their place. By the time she was discharged we had a whole botanical garden of different flora and fauna to bring home with us. Even her boss had sent us a bouquet all the way from home, with a little card that read, “Hope you’re feeling a clot better!”

Yes, it’s okay to cringe—we did too.


So why the blood clot? Well, there turned out to be number of determining factors. One, of course, was the use of the birth control pill, which we already knew carried that inherent risk. But the more interesting piece of the puzzle was a gene apparently passed down via her father’s Eastern European heritage called Factor 5 Leiden—a genetic predisposition to blood clots. The doctors said the average female on birth control has a 1 in 2000 chance of getting a blood clot in their lifetime; for my fiancé, the Factor 5 made it a 1 in 400 chance.

They put her on a couple of anticoagulants—that is, drugs designed to thin your blood and prevent the formation or reformation of clots. The first of these was Lovenox, which was the stomach injection I described earlier. The doctor had us practice the technique using a towel as a substitute for flesh, and we quickly realized it would be far easier if I administered the injections rather than having her give them to herself. As I pinched the towel and stabbed, I couldn’t help but envision myself as John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, jabbing Uma Thurman in the heart to wake her out of a drug-induced coma. Sure, my story of heroism wasn’t quite as dramatic, but having never stabbed anyone with a syringe before, it was none-the-less harrowing. We only had to do this twice a day for the first week after she was released, which was good because we’d run out of un-bruised stomach by the time we were done.

The second drug was the more commonly-known Coumadin, which was a pill taken daily over a much longer span of time. The target date for getting off was six months, but it ended up taking almost nine. She couldn’t drink alcohol while taking it, which was ironic since she worked for a brewery and it meant she celebrated our wedding and honeymoon sober—a consequence she very much detested.

Still, sobriety did not ruin our celebration, as we came very close to never being married at all. I’m more conscious now of stories on the news in which perfectly healthy people collapse and die from blood clots, and have found it happens more often than I’d realized. Whenever I see the faces of those men and women, snatched too soon from the world, I squeeze my wife’s hand a little tighter and reflect on how close she came to being on the news with them, and am filled with joy that she didn’t.

e; formatting

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi fucked around with this message at 13:41 on Feb 16, 2014

Aug 2, 2002




My Life in Knots
881 words

crabrock fucked around with this message at 18:35 on Feb 19, 2014

Ugly In The Morning
Jul 1, 2010

by Azathoth
A Little Too Routine
1,219 Words

Another day at the office. The same, everyday, average frustrations. The dumb customers, the micromangement, the tedium. Another day to finish, file away, and forget. And it could have stayed that way, too. Life’s a lot like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where the author got lazy. Half the choices seem to just lead to the same page, one that says “You get home and go to bed. The End!”.

But when they don’t, boy howdy, look out.

I logged off my computer (It freezes and takes longer than normal- go to page 63, you get home and go to bed, the end!), and headed down, through the lobby, past the street meat carts (I decide to get a snack? Page 63 again!). I trudged down the same stairs I walked every day, I waited in my usual spot for my usual subway car. I could have walked ten feet to the right, stood on a different shaped puddle of subway goo, and had this day be just the same as any other. But I keep waiting right where I always wait, having the same day I always had.

The train arrived. I boarded it, and started reading what had to be the hundreth Harlan Ellison short story I had read that week. Great way to pass the time on a long, dull commute. Just couldn’t wait to get home, relax, and go to bed. It may not be exciting, but drat if I don’t love that page 63 ending sometimes.

Today, though, I’m snapped out of my book.
“Hey, an “excuse me” would be nice!”
“gently caress you, man, get out of the door!”

Oh, wonderful. One of the happy-hour crowd has decided he’s going to educate somebody in proper manners. Unfortunately, the University of Subway Manners, R Train campus seems to be having a student protest, and they seem to prefer yelling and screaming over a good old-fashioned sit-in.

A drunk businessman and an angry homeless man arguing? Well, I thought, it beats breakdancers. I watched, closely. I’ve never been a fan of having emotions run that high when I’m that close to the action, so I wanted to at least keep an eye on things. The homeless man was gesturing wildly with one hand and- hey, wait, where’s his other hand?

My eyes dart over him, and I realize his hand is tucked away in his back pocket. Well, gently caress. That’s really not good. There’s plenty of reasons to reach for your pockets, but when you’re that heated up in an argument, all signs point to you being about to make a really bad decision.

“C’mon, man, take a swing at me! Take a swing! You know you want to!”

Christ, he’s baiting him. He really wants to be able to say “The other guy hit me first!” when poo poo hits the fan. The Professor of Manners seemed to have realized his mistake, and began apologizing, saying it’s no big deal, don’t worry about it. I wanted it to work. I wanted to turn to page 63, to have another boring non-event of a commute, and destress from work.

The homeless man takes a step forward, swinging his arm from his back pocket towards the other man. He stopped it short, obviously having just been trying to draw him into striking first, but clenched in his hand is piece of metal, gleaming brightly against the grime of the dingy old subway car.
poo poo. poo poo poo poo poo poo.

What’s weirder is how nobody seems to really be noticing what’s going on. All headphones and tablets, their routines insulted by a wall of comforting noise. Lucky bastards.

“Woah! Hey, what the-! Put that away!”

Well, that did it. Some reactions from the peanut gallery, people scooting away, clearing out. I don’t exactly have the luxury, being cornered between the back of the train car and the rapidly escalating fight.

The brakes kicked on. A stop. Thank god. The doors swung open, and the man who started this whole mess had his first good idea of the trip and got out. A few of the other passengers joined him. The man with the knife, though? Stayed right where he was. It wasn’t about being disrespected anymore, and with the adrenaline in his system and his target beating a hasty retreat, he didn’t have any one clear outlet for his rage.

The doors shut. The train started to move. So did the man with a knife. He paced, he muttered, he shouted. He waved the knife. None of it was coherent. Page 63 seemed like a distant dream by now, all I could hope for is to not do anything that would give me the other Choose Your Own Adventure standby ending, a good old fashioned “Surprise! You’re dead!”

Don’t draw attention. Stay calm. I can do that. I took out my phone. I began to type, trying to look as if I didn’t notice anything was even happening, like I was just playing Angry Birds on my way home.

The text was to myself. “Red plaid shirt. Missing two teeth on the top right. Frizzy long brown hair. Has a black trash bag on a roller trolley . About 5’10” ”. Any details I could see, anything that might be useful if the worst did happen. I watched, I waited. He walked in front of me, shouted something I didn’t quite catch. I was more focused on the knife pointed at me. It was probably only a few inches long, but in that moment it was monolithic. My breath caught in my throat, this was bad. Did he see me texting? Did he think I was calling the cops? Visions of all the mudane things I could have done differently and not ended up here, in this situation flashed before my eyes. The moment hung, it stretched, it lengthened to infinity as it was pulled towards the event horizon of my panic.

It passed. He shouted again, walked further down the train car. He came back around. I watched, I waited for the right moment, and I switched sides of the train car. A stop was coming up, and now I was on the side with a door. Nothing would block me this time. I waited. He came around again. I tried to look casual. I have no doubt I failed. He kept walking, at least.

The screech of the brakes. Normally, I hate it. This time, it may as well have been a choir of angels. I stood up, quickly but deliberately, trying to avoid grabbing any more attention. I quickly turned round the barier, just two feet from the door, and stepped into the station. Home free.

I broke into a ran towards the end of the train a car away, waving my arms, flagging the conductor. “Yo! Hey! You have a situation! Man with a knife! One car down!”

No response. Not to me at least. The train pulled away as the conductor began to radio ahead. The police would be waiting at the next station.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I sank into the wooden bench. The next train, then. Hopefully I could just read my book in peace the rest of the way, as long as my hands stopped shaking so much.

Turn to page 63.

Nikaer Drekin
Oct 11, 2012

For Your Consideration
(546 Words)

The following is based on true events.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I opened Chrome and typed without looking, my fingers falling back on muscle memory, f-o-r. As it did every time, the address for the Something Awful forums popped up. I jabbed the enter key and pondered which of my bookmarked threads to read first. Did I feel like making myself angry with some terrible political cartoons? Maybe I should see what social media idiots goons had to deal with today. Before I could think any further, it caught my eye: that little black box crackling with white static.

Five new posts in the Thunderdome, so it wasn’t likely that somebody had already won and posted a new prompt. Still, though, this week’s judgment might well be there, sitting ripe and unclaimed until the winner stumbled across it. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I clicked.

The first couple posts were just white noise. Some newbies rambling about whatever namby-pamby excuses they’d cooked up to avoid submitting. Don’t they realize, I thought, that a weak story is better than none at all? What poor saps. I soldiered on, scrolling down but taking my time.

Finally, a block of bold text appeared at the bottom of my screen. My eyes locked on to it, and I grinned. Here we go, judgment post. I scrolled slow, trying to maintain the drama of the moment. The loser announcement came up first. It wasn’t me. Not unexpected, but still a slight moment of relief. Thirty-three entries and not one loss so far, and I intended to keep it that way.

Dishonorable mentions came next, a small list of usernames which I frantically scanned through. A sudden flash of relief hit me—Nikaer Drekin wasn’t among them! Okay, I thought, so at worst this’ll be one of those limbo-weeks. Not one of the worst pieces and not one of the best, so all I can do it wait for crits to enlighten me as to what was right and what I hosed up royally.

I scrolled down more, millimeter by millimeter, practically hearing the drum-roll in my head, and then the honorable mentions were there in front of me. My eyes locked onto “Nikaer Drekin”, that familiar jumble of letters, a moment of brief, pleasant surprise washing over me. Honestly, I thought my entry would have been one of the weaker ones, something rattled out on Sunday afternoon to avoid exposing myself too directly. That, I thought, is why I write fiction: if I have to show who I really am, I’d prefer to at least cloak those feelings in the guise of someone else.

Predicting the future gives one a certain amount of power. True, it’s unlikely that one’s thoughts really have psychic sway over other people, but presenting a possible future still gets certain influential people thinking. As these people know, writers have a lot of pressure thrust on them. They have to create fake people who still to live and breathe, they have to grab readers by the neck and shake them with compelling, unforgettable drama. It’s a tough job, with plenty of pressure associated.

Does someone facing such tenacious burdens really deserve to be made into a liar, on top of it all?

Oct 9, 2011

inspired by but legally distinct from CATS (2019)
When the Cold Wind Blows
(1261 words)

The pounding on the door roused me to a half-asleep state. Jamie said, “We have to get out of here, hotel security is on its way.” Adrenaline flooded my veins and I woke up fully, though the nagging pain of my hangover assaulted my temples.

Four of us, all told, were cramped into the hotel room, which had been booked for just two, and Jamie stood in the doorway, illuminated by the glow of the hall. “Max, Jerry, you two stay, the room’s booked under your names, they’ll be expecting you,” she said. I threw my jacket on over sweat pants and a t-shirt and slipped my shoes on.

“Make sure you take your bags!” Max said. No one ever disagreed with Max, even when he was off-base. He was too drat charming, and too expert at generating bullshit. And yet, I wanted to punch him as I saw the smug expression on his face as he curled up in the warmth of the blanket

A gust of frigid, pre-morning wind greeted the four of us as we exited from the hotel. “Let’s head on up to the Burger King,” Derrick said. He navigated us there, along the shortest route.

The cold bit through my jacket and the thin cotton I wore beneath, but my nerves were numbed by alcohol. I struggled to keep up with the others, my limbs made leaden by lack of exercise and exhaustion, the cold barely noticeable on top of my own internal frailty, but fell to the back of the group.

Jamie said. “I’m still processing it all. Suzy freaked out and started throwing water all over stuff, then started screaming at the top of her lungs that we were murdering her.”

“Holy gently caress,” Derrick said. “You have any idea why?”

“I don’t know really, she had been talking earlier about she didn’t like Marie bringing a boy over,” Jamie said.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it still hit me. Marie had turned me down as warmly as possible, and I was naive enough to think that I still had a chance. And there was no one else who I could share my thoughts with, no one else that I was remotely close with. She had to love me, despite it all.

By the time I recovered from my reverie, I noticed the other three waiting for me on the other side of the road. I waved for them to go on. The urge to keep walking fled my limbs, and I couldn’t keep pace with them anyway. It would be so much easier to just sit and let the cold wrap me up.

But they waited for me, despite my protests. I coaxed the last bit of energy out of my limbs to jog across the intersection, leaving me out of breath as the others entered the Burger King. “I think one of her friends died a couple days ago,” Derrick said.

“That would explain how she’s been acting this entire trip,” Jamie said.

The warmth of the fast food joint was a balm after the frigid air that had assaulted us. We all dumped our luggage next to a table and I slid my suitcase into the corner behind me and collapsed into a chair. The adrenaline left me and the toll of the limited sleep and the excess alcohol hammered me. Sleep seemed so much closer with the heat blasting out of the vents.

“Figured you could use some caffeine,” Derrick said. A large coke was resting in front of me, and I grunted something noncommittal but drank heavily regardless. The caffeine helped a little, just enough to keep me from passing out again..

“Long day ahead of us,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll be able making any lectures this morning.” Derrick and Jamie murmured agreement and began eating, while I focused on my caffeine.

My thoughts drifted in the silence, back to the night before, to the flowing booze, purchased from a dingy liquor store downtown. Being the oldest person in the group had its consequences, including my increasing inability to handle my liquor.

Max especially seemed to take joy in the crumbling of my carefully guarded self control. Even Marie had laughed when Max cracked his jokes at my expense. But she had made sure I made it back to the room. I had wanted to say something witty or smart or charming, but I just blacked out as my head hit the floor.

We ate sheltered away from the wind and the cold, curled up onto ourselves. It was small respite, and the chill leeched in from the windows. But it was better than the walk back. Jerry texted us, gave us the all clear, and we started back. The caffeine helped a little, but only a little, and the wind rose with the sun, blasting us across the side as he walked down the street.

Jerry met us in the hotel’s bar. There was plenty of empty space available, but we ended up in a booth together. The closeness of everyone else was a comfort after the cold.

“Hotel security came up,” Jerry said. “Didn’t do much, just looked around and gave us the all clear. Suzy should be on the train home already.”

“Well, I’m going to catch some sleep,” Jamie said.

“You still feel like checking out that lecture with David Ives?” Jerry said.

“Nah,” I said. “I’m still beat.”

“I’ll go with you,” Derrick said. I watched the pair of them head into the conference, amazed at their youthful vitality.

I could barely muster the energy to walk to the elevator, but I made it back to the hotel room, dragging my suitcase behind me. I leaned against the wall next to the door, my legs trembling beneath my bulk, threatening to give way to exhaustion. I knocked on the door, and waited. And waited. I checked my phone, then knocked again, louder. I called Max’s number. There was no response.

I slid down, my back against the wall, facing the door, and drifted away again. There was no point in even trying any more. The day had been too long, the weight of wakefulness was too much.

I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually I heard the door creak open and I pried one eye open, to stare blearily up to Marie’s face. “You two were sleeping, I guess?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “It was a long night.”

I used the wall to support myself as I clumsily rose to my feet. Her clothing was rumpled, like it was freshly recovered from the floor and her expression was too calm. “Had fun, I guess?” I said. I failed to hold the venom back from my tone.

“I don’t see why it is any business of yours,” she said.

I knew I should let it go, but I just couldn’t. My legs felt unstable and I stumbled back against the wall. “But with Max?” I said. “I thought you had some taste.”

Her palm cracked across my cheek. “gently caress off, Meinberg,” she said.

I kept my face a mask and pushed past her into the room. I berated myself for feeling betrayed, for allowing myself to think that I had a stake in her decisions. Still, I glared at Max’s sleeping form, still covered in the blankets, the smell of their loving thick in the air. I couldn’t think about it anymore.

I collapsed face first onto the other bed and slipped away into nothing.

Comrade Black
Dec 5, 2012

Maternity Fingers
871 words

When I was 12, I was sheltered. I found myself becoming obsessed with SpongeBob SquarePants and the occasional book while my friends were starting to figure out real world stuff. Things like “What is a French kiss?” “What does a penis look like?” “What is it like to be pregnant?” were common questions with my friends, who were doing a fine job of fitting in. Not me, however. I already knew what a penis looked like, had been told what a French kiss was a year ago, and I knew where babies came from. I felt set and ready to go with relationships, and just relished in SpongeBob’s weird adventures while waiting for that perfect someone to come along.

The perfect someone never came around, but I didn’t stop trying. At the time, I had a crush on Sal, the guy who knew how to fix the mechanical pencil sharpener. Sal was always one of the few people who was nice to me. You could color me happy when I found out he was in my home economics class in 6th grade. Home Ec was almost always fun because people couldn’t tease me as much and I could keep to myself. However, on the few occasions I wanted to cook something with my peers, everyone wrote me down on the chore sheet for cleaning everything while everyone else cooked. It really sucked.

One day, I was sick and tired of not helping my peers cook. Sal was in my cooking group on this day, so I felt inclined to try joining in to impress him. I watched as Sal and my peers made pizza dough in front of my eyes. Watching the stirring of ingredients and sifting of the dough made me even more excited to participate. One of my peers fetched some hot water from the sink and combined it with the dough. Apparently, you needed hot water in order to make the yeast rise. Or something. I can’t really remember why we needed hot water for pizza dough, but I didn’t care.

“Oh, whoops, we don’t have a spatula,” someone said. “We need to find one.”

I had a brilliant idea and interjected it while my classmate was trying to leave. “Why don’t I just stir the dough with my hands? Then we won’t need one!”

“Okay, whatever. Do what you want.”

My classmate left our kitchen to go to my teacher. While she was gone, and not realizing that she had put hot water in the bowl, I washed my hands, and went to put my hands in the water. It didn’t register just how hot the water was right away, but it was boiling hot after just five seconds of touching the dough. I yanked my hands back as soon as I felt the sting of the hot water against my nerves. I cried out in a lot of pain.

My teacher rushed over from my peer after hearing me scream. “Are you okay, Emily?”

“No!” I screamed. I held my fingers up to see what the damage was. My fingers were a swollen red and were wrinkly right where the prints on my fingers were. The palms of my hands stung and wouldn’t stop stinging. Being horrified at the state of my hands, I screamed even more.

“My fingers are pregnant!”

Everyone in my class started laughing hysterically, including Sal. I was surprised that Sal, of all people, was laughing at my strange utterance. I was immediately embarrassed by the whole ordeal and wished I kept my mouth shut. I asked to go to the nurse to escape my shame, but my teacher said no.

“You aren’t even burned, hun. You don’t need to go to the nurse.”

“Please? It really hurts...”

“No. Now go sit down.”

“Fine. Can I at least get some ice?”

My teacher sighed and went to the fridge. While she was grabbing the ice, I used my swollen fingers to tear off some paper towel from a nearby roll. I sat down with the ice wrapped in paper towel on my fingers for the rest of the class, letting my peers do the rest of the work on the pizza. Never had I been so glad to not participate in something before that moment.


A few weeks later, I found myself standing outside of a classroom, waiting to sit down. Sal and two girls I didn’t know were walking together and saw me. One of the girls whispered, giggled, and pointed towards my direction. Hearing the girls laughing, I looked over and saw the three of them. The girls then started walking towards me as Sal was watching.

“Hey, Emily, can we ask you something?”

Being surprised that people actually wanted to talk to me, I said sure.

“Are your fingers pregnant?” One of the girls said with a sneer. I turned bright red as they started laughing and walking back towards Sal.

Needless to say, my crush on Sal ended there.

I’m sure it’s also needless to say that I really was sheltered and not the know-it-all like I thought I was. I guess I’ll always be remembered as the girl with the “pregnant fingers,” but maybe not. Who knows?

Jul 23, 2007
Sometimes, there's a clog in the pipelines.
760 words

Three backpacks of textbooks, novels, and notebooks.
Two green Rubbermaid totes packed full of clothing and toiletries.
One purse containing a Greyhound ticket, a cell phone, a charger, a small amount of cash and a credit card.

I sit in my mother’s car. We don’t talk. I look over at her, and notice that the gray hairs that frame her face have increased in number since learning that I planned to move 600 additional miles away. I press my mouth into a thin smile—it’s the same one that the photographer for Senior Class photos had to coax me out of two years before. I can never smile naturally on cue. She wants me to stay; we both know that I can’t continue on at IU.

She knows that I spent the previous two semesters sleeping more than attending classes—culminating in skipping the department wide French final less than two weeks ago. She doesn’t know that I spent that morning at the student health center getting the morning-after pill. She knows that I’ve had sex once. She doesn’t know that after that boy and I broke up, I looked for him in the bodies of other men.

There’s a tear forming in the deepest crease at the corner of her left eye. She pulls me into a tight hug, and I can’t breathe. She lets me go, and I get out of the car and gather my things.

“Call me when you get to your first stop. I don’t care what time it is,” my mom calls from the car. I try to smile again and nod.

It’s approximately 6 hours total to St. Louis by bus. By hour two, I have successfully tuned out the conversation going on two seats behind me and figured out how to breathe without feeling nauseous. It is 1 in the morning when we pull into Effingham, Illinois. The tall white cross is illuminated by spotlights on the ground---no one passing it on I-70 could ever miss it.

I wait until the bus pulls up to the Love’s Fuel Center before I fish my phone out of my purse. I don’t call my mother until I’ve spent a few minutes staring at the scratcher machine. She doesn’t pick up; it is too late. I leave her a voicemail, telling her about the cross and the different types of Illinois scratchers. I say I love you at the end of the message reflexively.

When the bus pulls out of the station, most everyone tries and gets some sleep in the two hours before we get to St. Louis. As my seat partner’s head lolls around and hits my shoulder, I contemplate shrugging her off. I try to sleep as well, but my mother keeps to the forefront of my thoughts.

I watch the headlamps swish by. I do love her, or at least I did, before the depression hit and I became a miserable teenager. She did what she had to do, in calling the psychiatrist and the therapist and getting me on meds. We just never talked about it much.

We did, once. I walked out of the therapist’s office upset because nothing felt better. She looked at me, and I could see camaraderie in her glance. Her hug didn’t feel like it was intended to smother the sad out of me; rather, she was letting herself hug the child she did have, rather than the one she envisioned would emerge from the anger. The whispered ‘I love you’s that escaped from her mouth reverberated throughout my head.

It’s a family trait, it seems---wanting and waiting for the best version of others to come around, and seemingly ignoring the person standing before or sitting beside us. I have kept telling myself that my genuine mother was somewhere within the mother I had. That my genuine mother would eventually spring forth from the woman that didn’t quite understand how to deal with a young woman whose ambitions were different from her own. I’ve been waiting for a mother that may never arrive.

After a brief stop in St. Louis, I arrive at my destination. I unload all of my things, load them into a cab, and try to watch for landmarks as the cab takes me to my new apartment. Once I retrieve the key from under the doormat, I drag my totes into the apartment and into my bedroom. I take out a pillow and lie down on the carpet. I hope mom calls back soon.

I’m twenty and I’m homesick.

NewsGunkie fucked around with this message at 20:18 on Feb 16, 2014

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Names altered to protect the innocent guilty.

Sodom Has No Pause Button (1258w)

It’s dark, the sun burns my legs and my face is plastic-wrapped. I tear vinyl off my head. Beyond a balcony railing, a too-bright, low-rise city rolls to the horizon. Beside me, a phone buzzes on a metal table, nudging against a wallet. I’m holding a luchador’s mask with electrical tape over the eyes. My shirt is oil-soaked and I’m not wearing pants.

The phone is mine. The screen says ‘Sam’. I pick up.

“Beef, is Mike with you? The hotel kicked us out and he’s got our tickets to the Glass Cat party.”

Recall: I’m in Austin, at a game developer’s conference. I’m moonlighting as a journalist. It’s been a four-night kaleidoscope of interviews and glad-handing, bookended by blackout benders at company parties. It’s the final day, the day of the party everyone’s been whispering about all week. Every journo in town’s been buddying up to Exile Entertainment for a precious spot on The List.

I lean over the balcony. A red ‘H’ tops the building. “I’m at the Hilton.” Inside is a room with two beds. Bottles forest the tables, half-naked bodies lie on the floor, and I stink like an Italian restaurant. “Why am I covered in olive oil?”

“In what? Listen, I called everyone. You’re the first guy who picked up. If we don’t find Mike, we’re not getting in.”

“Mike’s probably off interviewing dudes. Check his schedule.” Something scratches inside my waistband. A business card: Exile Entertainment, and written on the back is an address and time. Fifteen minutes from now, three blocks away.

“Get your rear end to Sixth street, quick.” I recite the address. “And bring me some pants.”

In the bathroom, the walls are a Jackson Pollock of puke. I splash water on my face. My shirt is torn and oil-sodden. I strip it off, towel myself clean and leave.

On the street, I duck into a tourist shop and buy a shirt. ‘Keep Austin Weird’ it says. I amble up the road at high noon in that shirt, dress shoes and boxer shorts. No one stares.

The address leads to a dark saloon with the cheap-burger miasma of grease and onions. I sit down and order water. The bartender stands next to a sign: No shirt, no shoes, no service. He scowls.

I phone the rest of our group. No one answers. At least Sam’s on his way. Sam’s the responsible one. The sane one.

“Beef!” Sam stands in the doorway and tosses pants to me. His head is half-shaved, with cellophane taped over the bare part. A fresh tattoo: Mario.

I show him the card and order a beer. “Thirsty?”

He turns green. “How can you think of drinking?”

“Hair of the dog.”

A limousine stops outside and a pantsuited peroxide blonde waves at us. “You’re the blog boys, right?” She glances at the empty bar. “Where’s Mike? I hope he’s not going to be late.”

I down my beer. “He’s busy. Shall we?”

Sam raises his eyebrows. Are we doing this?

I grin. We’re totally doing this.

The limo’s upholstered in white pleather, and the blonde pours us each a tumblerful of tequila while vomiting a marketing spiel. It’s more buzzwords than English, but I murmur approval.

The car stops and the blonde hustles us into a tall adobe building. The lobby is checkerboard marble, inlaid with a golden square-and-compass the size of a Buick.

“It’s an old Masonic lodge,” she says.

We enter a thousand-man ballroom. Thick burgundy carpet covers the floor and a stage rises at the far end, its velvet curtains closed. Gods and Romans fresco the ceiling. Alone in the center is a table and four computers. A marketing dude stands beside them - company t-shirt, designer jeans, gelled hair. The blonde refills our glasses and the guy delivers a speech about revolutionizing e-sports; words flow like cheap beer down a urinal.

“That sounds rad!” I brofist him. “Hey, got any party tickets left over?”

“Let’s see what you think of the game, first.”

We play. The game’s all neon lights and explosions, an impenetrable mess with bad controls, but I need those drat tickets. I burble happy noises between mouthfuls of tequila, and high-five the marketing dude. We finish the round, thank him and fabricate compliments.

I wrap an arm around his shoulder. “So, about those tickets.”

He hustles us to the stage. “Ask my boss. You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

Behind the curtain, black cloth shrouds the walls and a cool blue spotlight illuminates a lone man sitting on a white throne. The arms, legs and back are moulded to look like women. A similar table is beside him, with a bottle of Jack and a jewelry box. Big beanbags litter the floor. He drinks from the bottle, waves at us.

The throne wriggles. I nudge Sam.

He stares straight ahead, sweating, and nods.

It’s not a throne. Girls in catsuits and masks huddle together: a living chair. I swallow hard, stare at the guy’s face and gush about the demo. Amazing graphics, genre-defining gameplay, an instant classic!

He leans back, opens the jewelry box and cuts coke on a mirror. “D’you party?” He holds out a line.

“That’s a bit heavy for me, but speaking of parties…”

He sighs, ignores me and talks bullshit until my time expires. Sam and I slouch out to the street. There’s no return car, and we’re miles from downtown.

“Back to square one.” I kick a tree.

“Check out what I scored off the blonde chick.” Sam holds up two black cards with glossy whips embossed around the edges: The Glass Cat, admit one. “This is getting out of hand, dude. Let’s just go find a Best Western and chill.”

“Naw, we fought too hard to skip it.” I flag down a cab.

The venue’s a black, logoless warehouse with an ox-sized doorman in a tuxedo and leather bow-tie. Bass beats rumble our bones. He takes our tickets, stamps our hands and shoves us inside.

Midgets with vodka-filled fire extinguishers weave between drunken men in video-game shirts. Cages hang from the ceiling and models writhe inside, nude aside from company-logo bodypaint. A woman in a nurse’s uniform squirts technicolor booze into open mouths from a giant syringe. In a corner, a fat man’s butt glows under blacklight while a tattooed dude airbrushes artwork onto pale rear end-canvas.

Mike’s in the back room, a studded-leather cave of couch-filled alcoves, seated between two chainmail-bikini’d models. He pours us each a drink from a magnum of vodka.

Sam pushes his glass away. “Let’s get outta here, Beef.”

“Don’t be such a wuss.” Mike claps his hands. “C’mon, it’s gonna be a great night!” Two ladies wearing nipple-pasties plop down, metal cans in their hands: olive oil.

I force a grin. Another morning waking up pantsless in a strange hotel? My stomach flops at the thought and I sip vodka to soothe it. The booze burns like Drano and I spit it back out.

A shriek splits the music. It’s one of our guys, Stan - a soft-spoken, ginger-haired man, married with two kids. He likes Mario games and Waffle House. Electrical tape crosses his nipples, he’s strapped to a dominatrix’s rack and a luchador’s mask covers his head. Leather cracks across his skin.

I look at my drink, the oil and Stan. “gently caress this. Let’s get a cab, man. I want a salad.”

Sep 19, 2003
Don't Panic
Flash rule: Ghengis Khan did amazing things. I'm sure you have, too. Compare yourself to the great Mongol leader.

809 words

I hated school.

I remember the first day of Kindergarten with alarming detail: my stomach felt hollow, like it was filled with cold air. I hated the feeling of being told what to do, to be beholden to the whims of the teacher, this woman I had only just met. I hated to be at the mercy of the other kids, strangers. During playtime, the other girls took over the area set up like a house, led by Leanne, the pretty blonde girl with the leopard sweater. “Can I come in?” I asked her.

“Sure,” she said. “You can be the dog.”

Time passed, but not much changed. In middle school, I lobbied my mother for homeschooling, though nothing came of it. In high school I went to class every morning with the very same hollow feeling in my stomach. Something wasn’t right. Being a student was not for me. I needed power. I needed to be in control.

By my sophomore year, I’d finally learned how to survive: by taking control where I could. I signed up for classes I knew I’d do well in. I demanded power by becoming the president of every club I could weasel my way into - drama, forensics, quiz bowl, jazz band, student council. By senior year, I’d taken over the pages of the yearbook, or at least those reserved for non-athletes. I even took over graduation, giving a sarcasm-laden valedictory speech, forcing those who had scorned me - even Leanne - to listen.

I was a monster. Like Genghis Khan, I’d seized control of Superiorland High School, and it was all mine. Nothing could stop my empire. Nothing but death could stop Genghis, and nothing but death would stop me.

Nothing but death, or graduation.

“We are not friends,” my speech began. “And finally, it’s all over.” I didn’t realize what I was giving up in that moment - I was giving up the clubs, the respect, the power I’d worked so hard to build up. It really was all over. Soon I found myself at college, powerless, once again being offered the role of “dog.”

It was so easy to lose it all. I spent the next four years treading water, biding my time till I could truly be done with school. Being a student was not for me. I figured that high school was my climax, my high point - it was all downhill from there. Graduation had been my true death.

But death didn’t really stop Genghis. They say he has descendants all over the world. Not just a few, but millions. Most of them don’t even know it, but somewhere deep down inside, Genghis is there. He’s in the little things - the glint in an eye, the uneven gait, the heartbeat. Genghis is the reason he reads books about conquest, and the reason she goes to university. He has the eyes of Genghis. She has his hair. They don’t know it, but he is there, and they have no choice in the matter.

Genghis will live forever.

I can remember each and every teacher I’ve ever had, from Kindergarten to Carnegie Mellon, from Mrs. Erickson to Professor Dilworth and everyone in between. I hated being a student, but I had no choice - they were there, I was there, and there were lessons to be learned.

“This is how you play nicely together.”

“This is how you tell a story.”

“This is how you multiply.”

“This is how you support your argument.”

And they are with me still. Ms. Rader is there when I’m writing a story, and Mr. Schultes is there when I do my taxes. Mr. Derwin is there when I am nervous, and Professor Vogel is there when I’m confused. Mrs. Johnson is there when I am trying to calm down, and Mrs. Fellows is there when I am enraged. Professor Bernstein is there when I’m exasperated. Professor Williams is there to help me identify pretentious bullshit.

I have no choice in the matter.

Miss Frantti is there when I’m standing in front of my classes, teaching. She is there. I am there. The students are there. There are lessons to be learned.

“Clear your desks, keep out something to write with. This is a quiz.” Some of the students huff, others look distressed. “You knew this was coming,” I say. “Let’s go.” I hand out the quizzes and watch as they fill them out. Abigail finishes with no trouble at all. Henry writes too much, but probably gets it mostly right. Sarah shrugs, leaving two questions blank. Lance starts to sweat, tugging at his shirt for airflow. He will fail. He hates being a student. He raises his hand.

“Ms. Farr, how much is this worth?”

“A lot,” I say.

I am a monster. I am Genghis.

And I will live forever.

Crab Destroyer
Sep 3, 2011
Princess - 926 Words

Snow faeries are a common winter nuisance in Northern Kentucky. They appear out of the trees and wrap themselves in fresh snow, creating large animal-shaped shells for their diminutive figures and attacking anything that enters “their” territory. Forcing them back into the trees is an easy task. A human must simply project their thoughts into the minds of the faeries; their brains will be so overloaded with alien thoughts and emotions that they will dissipate their snow shells and flee back to their dwellings. You can’t kill the faeries, doing so takes an incredible mental toll that results in permanent brain damage if not death. Even if you couldn’t kill yourself with the exertion it takes to psychically destroy the brain of a sentient creature, faeries were too ecologically important to kill.

I hoped that Dad would take care of the ones congregating in our front yard, but he had the day off and decided instead to stay indoors. I’m meeting some friends at Bardstown Road, the closest thing our town has to a pedestrian mall, so it’s up to me to deal with the snow faeries. As I finish driving them off our property I feel the familiar sensation of another human being projecting their thoughts onto the surface of my mind.

My place?

Aidan is trying to contact me. It takes minimal strain to send telepathic messages yet people have a tendency to send short, blunt ones. I haven’t known Aidan for long, but we had a lot of the same classes in school and similar interests, so it seems natural that we’d be friends. He also lives a short walk away, so it’s easy for us to hang out even though neither of us are old enough to have a learner’s permit. Closing my eyes I try to feel for his mental wavelength. Every person has a unique mental wavelength and generally the longer you’ve known a person the easier it is to separate their wavelength from everybody else’s.

On my way. Snow faeries.

His response was nearly instantaneous.

See you there. Be careful.


I wasn’t the only one who had come to Aidan’s house, Carlos and Joey were also there. Carlos lived in the same neighborhood as Aidan and spent a lot of time over here, same as me. He mentioned that his trek was surprisingly bereft of snow faeries. Joey’s parents had errands to run in the pedestrian mall, so he hitched a ride with them. After all, Aidan lived only two blocks away from Bardstown Road, which is why his house is a natural meeting point. The four of us are busy planning out the rest of the evening. As we are deciding what to do Aidan jolts out of his seat.

“Guys! Upstairs! Now!”

Aidan is already halfway up the basement stairs before we can question him. Something is wrong. I’m guessing that he just got an urgent telepathic message from somebody but I can’t be sure. The three of us follow him up the stairs and hastily grab our coats as he goes out the front door. Across the street we see Aidan’s younger sister, Carol, staring down a large dog.

I can’t move. My throat is drying up and I can feel my heart banging against my chest. Aidan’s pupils are dilating, his mouth agape. He looks like he wants to shout something, anything, but can’t. We can hear the dog growling, with an occasional bark. It’s tail is down and it carries itself in a menacing stance. Somebody has to do something. I gulp down a lungful of air and charge down the hill. Luckily the snow is stiff, allowing me to do something incredibly stupid without slipping and hurting myself.

Positioning myself between Carol and the dog I pull a water bottle out of one my coat pockets and wave it around, yelling loudly. Carol turns and runs for the door. The dog’s head darts back and forth between me and Carol before charging at me. This street had been plowed recently, so there wasn’t any snow to slow it down. I ready my leg, preparing to kick the dog when it gets too close. As the dog prepares to leap a small figure jumps at it. A snow faerie is tackling the dog!

The dog falls to its side and I hear a loud yell.

“How dare you!”

A short man was running out of the nearest house in a bathrobe, his wife standing in the doorway. He stooped down to the dog and helped it back to its feet. The man shouts back to his wife.

“It’s like I’m always telling you Marie. This is why you need to put a wall up on the border. Keep out these violent Mexican youths.”

I don’t know what I find more upsetting right now: this man’s complete misunderstanding of what just happened, his racism or being mistaken for Mexican again.

“Hey man can you just keep your loving dog under control.”

Carlos didn’t yell at the man, but he was direct. All the guys are here now, backing me up. The man scowled and led the dog back into his house.

“You’re lucky Princess isn’t injured or I’d be calling the cops.” He yelled, slamming the door.

I let out a long sigh.

“How about we go back inside? It’s loving cold out here.”

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. This wasn’t the first time some idiot lost track of their aggressive dog and I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last.

Dec 15, 2006

Come fight terrifying creatures in the THUNDERDOME!
The Sins of Our Fathers
592 words

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay if I’m not there?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine.”

I watched my mother’s face as she sat down at the dining room table to my left, plate in hand. In the past few years she had made an effort to hide her feelings from me, but it seemed like she was telling the truth.

I was relieved; going back to school was a convenient excuse, but the truth was I didn’t want to go to the memorial anyway. I wasn’t entirely sure that I would be able to keep a straight face while people got teary and talked about my grandfather as if he had been a great man.

It hadn’t been terribly long ago that I’d come home to find my mother sitting at this same table and sobbing hysterically because of him, finally nearing her breaking point. Her anxiety had gotten so bad that she had trouble swallowing liquids; for months at dinner she would drink her milk in the kitchen where no one could watch her struggle. Things had been building for months, and I had been afraid it was going to kill her.

My grandfather had an extremely codependent and enmeshed relationship with my grandmother, and when she died he seemed to decide that my mother – the often belittled ‘ugly ducking’ that he had relentlessly torn down throughout her childhood and adolescence – would be her replacement. He called constantly, insisted my mother drive him everywhere, invented ailments so she would pay attention to him, and sulked like a jealous boyfriend every time he was in the room with my father.

When he started going downhill, it got worse in some ways: he couldn’t do much on his own, but my mother had to arrange all his care, and he had named her as executor of his will so there was a lot to be done in terms of the estate. He haunted every aspect of our lives, a living ghost.

After all of that, his actual death was almost anticlimactic, the call coming in the middle of the night from the hospice workers who were watching him. He hadn’t been conscious for days before that, and even then he was foggy. The last time I saw him, he was practically a husk. It amazed me that such a tiny, miserable creature could cause so much suffering.

Now he was gone.

I was still worried about my mother. The self-worth that she had struggled to build up for so long against her father’s criticism and manipulation had been badly damaged in the last few years. After seeking it her entire life, she had finally received her father’s love, but like the cursed gift from a fairy tale, it was a twisted, poisonous thing, and cut her worse in some ways than years of his scorn had.

Looking at my mother at the table now, I saw that she had been hurt badly, but I also saw hope in her, finally. I think it was dawning on all of us that it was really over.

I felt an incredible sense of relief, and the suddenness of the emotion brought tears to my eyes – tears that had not come at all in the weeks since my grandfather’s death. I looked down and shook my head a little bit, trying to hide my eyes as I picked up my fork. My mother looked at me and took my hand from across the table, smiling a little sadly.

“It’s okay, honey. I miss him, too.”

Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why did you fail Thunderdome?
Sleight of Hand
838 words

The deal was going down at recess, next to the fluffy mattress that marked the cozy corner. Around us, people chased each other between their tables, squealing in delight. The nerds played on the Tic-Tac-Toe computer that the big ones had put up in the small chill-out space, behind the plants. The most industrious of us were working on additions to the gold star wall, while their opposites scrambled to finish their homework in tiny paper books wrapped in colorful plastic covers; red, the color of Math.

Flo and me, we did none of that. We had business to discuss.

“I agree to the deal,” he said, “if you promise not to give the card to her.” He spat the last word. Her, that was Mel, the timid blonde reading an illustrated book on her desk, serenity in a whirl of chaos. Her absent smile was sweet as a piece of Milka chocolate.

We’d all been playing the trading card game back then, not knowing it was rigged, or pretending not to. Naive boys and girls spending their pocket money chasing a cardboard dream, every piece a false promise of heaven. We got high on the new-card smell, the sound of cheap plastic wrapping, the idea of owning a full collection. But the flavor of the month changed weekly, and nobody achieved closure before his old addiction was replaced with a new one, one step further down the spiral.

Now, Mel, she’d gotten drat close. She needed only one last card for a complete set, a way out of this hellish cycle, and Flo had it. But he hated girls, and this one especially. It wasn’t just about the cooties. She was a good kid, and he was a street rat, a match made in hell. If I’d succeed he’d still beat the crap out of me eventually, just for helping his enemy. It was a price I was willing to pay.

I must have smiled at her, because Flo was glowering suspiciously when I’d turned back.

“I promise,” I lied. I took my stack of worn out football cards, about fifty, all unique, and put it before him. He’d get all of them, days’ worth of misappropriated lunch money. The distrust receded from his features and just like that he was all business. With a celebratory gesture, he pulled out his booklet, browsed through pages of glossy card wrap and finally pulled out a single piece. My heart jumped at the sight. There was my ticket to dateville.

As he slid closer on the wooden floor I had to remind myself to stay cool. You can do this, I thought. Get the card, put it in your pocket, walk away. He knows what’s up, but he can’t do a thing if you don’t make it obvious. Act casual. Don’t. loving. Panic.

He held the card out to me, regarding me with curious eyes. I breathed deep. My jittering hand edged closer.

I felt the rough texture of cardboard between my fingertips.

I wheeled around like a walrus making a backflip into water. I'd turned straight towards Mel's desk, but my flailing arms had barely touched the ground before I found myself stuck, Flo’s hands tugging at my trousers and pulling at my legs. I pushed, hurled myself forward, but even with all the momentum I could muster I remained in my perpetrator’s grip, my upper body landing on the floor with a painful smack.

I tried to wriggle free. Inching forward, I held the card as far away from Flo as possible, stretching my arm out towards Mel on the other end of the room. My wordless screams drowned in the sea of chaos around us. She didn’t notice. She’d never know.

I felt a weight on my legs and realized that Flo was climbing on top of me. There was no throwing him off, no matter how much I bucked and reared and kicked. He was the son of a colonel and his father must have shown him a few tricks or two. I felt a tug at my wrist and turned on my back, wrestling him for the card. It was an epic struggle, it was mankind tugging at the strings of fate, it was David vs Goliath, only that Goliath was me because I was the fat one and I was about to lose.

We both pulled at my wrist for an eternity of moments. But eventually, Flo was the stronger man. I could only give a voiceless cry as he pried my fingers open and snatched the treasure they contained. “The deal is off, traitor,” he said, looking at me with disgust. As he turned to climb off me he must have gotten an idea since he stopped, moved back a little and farted into my face. Twice. Kids can be cruel.

After that, I just lay there, defeated, stinking and ashamed. My quest for chivalry had failed that day, but at least I got my cards back. We weren’t animals, after all.

Apr 1, 2010

1299 words.
The Dildo.
It was a boring Wednesday afternoon. School was out and the bus home was still an hour away. Baudolino wished he had something to read so he went into the little book store across the road. What was he in a mood for today? Not crime fiction, he loathed that genre. Not fantasy, he had just finished reading the Silmarillon. Perhaps a story about “Hitler`s willing executioners”? The Holocaust had always made him morbidly curious. Nah, too serious.

He went to the upper floor to check if he could find something there. Let`s see. More fantasy, a Sci-Fi novel featuring a nude purple woman on the front. No thank you. Then he noticed something that was very out of place. A Quran had been left in the self-help section. Baudolino picked it up. Beneath it, he saw a book he had heard much about. It had a black cover with golden writing. The golden silhouettes of a short man dancing with two bikini-clad women. It was simply called “ the Game”. Baudolino put down the Quran and picked The Game. He skimmed through the blurb on the back. It promised him a way to get successful with women, how to be a player so to speak. What horny 16teen year old could possibly say not to that?
Naturally, Baudolino had to buy it.

He spent the rest of the evening reading through it. At every free minute he had, he read a little bit more. Man, this seems almost too good to be true? Suddenly he was aware that it was necessary to give the appearance of confidence. I guess women like that too, poo poo what a fool he had been.

Baudolino devoted himself to the understanding for The Game. He read all the forums, checked out the Author`s Wikipedia page. Somehow, everything it espoused made sense. The hypnosis, Kino, the loving magic tricks, negging, the whole lot of it. Baudolino greedily swallowed it down.

Secretly he concocted a plan. He had to find a way to implicitly communicate that he was both a daredevil and that women had desired him the past. I need a conversation piece. But what could it be? It had to something that would be both unusual, sexy and daring. He had just the right idea. He would buy a sex toy and somehow work that into a conversation with random women he met on the street. He would say that it was joke present to his ex-girlfriend (she did not exist). At that time it seemed to Baudolino that this would make him appear sexually liberated, a joker and someone women had desired in the past. Heck it was better than doing nothing. People like confidence right?

Two weeks later, it was time to put theory into practice. An October Saturday afternoon, Baudolino took the bus into town. He was finally going to play the game himself. Would his plan work? Badolino could only hope. Some 45 minutes later he found what he had been looking for; a sex toy shop.

Should he buy a vibrator? Nah too expensive. The same went for vibrating eggs. But the dildos were reasonably well priced. Baudolino picked a sleek black one. This would do perfectly as a conversation piece. The clerk looked at him funnily when he bought it. Thankfully, she said nothing. Instinct told him that this was not the kind of place where you should flirt with the staff so Baudolino did not say anything either.

He had his conversation piece in a discreet little handbag. Now he had just to find a single young woman. However, on the streets of XXXXX it was a cold and windy day. Few people were out. Suddenly the whole place looked half-deserted. Baudolino walked and walked and walked. He walked to the cinema. He walked through the park, past junkies peddling their wares. Past the Romanian beggars enduring the rain and the wind in silence. Up and down the docks he walked. Past the supply ships, past statutes of Great Men covered in bird poo poo. Yet he could not find a single young woman. He could see a few single men, a few old women and a few couple. However, he could not find what he was looking for. Perhaps he should try a café`? Baudolino tried doing that but somehow he would feel like was going to faint just as he was opening the door. He never entered any café`s that day.

He continued his lonesome patrol but still he could not find the right kind of person. After a while, Baudolino noticed it was getting dark and checked his watch. Four and a half hours had gone past. poo poo. It was time to go home. Baudolino walked for a few minutes and found his bus stop. A woman was standing there, she was alone. She was not looking down into a mobile phone; there were no plugs in her ears. She was perfect. Come on Baudolino, talk to her! He waived at her and said weakly “ Terrible weather…don`t you think?”. She was standing with her back turned and could not see him. Badolino would never know if she had heard him or not.

Before he could speak, again the bus arrived. It was completely empty. Baudolino found a seat two rows behind the mysterious woman. In Baudolino`s country sitting down next to a stranger unless you absolutely have to means breaching a grave taboo. Therefore he needed an excuse to get any closer without appearing like a dangerous lunatic. He was pushing it by sitting this close.

Perhaps he could pretend like he recognized her “ You look so much like my friend Jelena!”. Perhaps he could pretend as if he did not know where to go off and kick start a conversation that way. The bus was just 2 minutes away from Baudolino`s stop when he finally made his move. No more passengers had entered in that time. It was just the two of them. “So do live around here?” he said as he walked up to her row and sat down next to her.

The woman opened her mouth but did not speak; her eyes were suddenly wide open. He repeated his question. “ Ehm, what`s it to you? ” she replied sharply. Baudolino started sweating, his hands shook” I am just you know…curious”. The woman leaned back from him and pushed the stop button. Suddenly she was staring intently at him” Could you move away please, I have to get off here”. Baudolino complied, the woman got off and the bus continued to the last stop on the route.

It was short walk from the bus stop to where he lived. Baudolino felt a bit despondent with the results from his wanderings. However, most of all he was angry with himself for cooking up such a harebrained scheme. Had he really wasted his money and time for no gain?

Baudolino took out the dildo from his handbag and unpacked it. Baudolino had read about anal stimulation; why not try it on himself?

Quickly he found some porn on his computer. Nothing too gross, just standard lesbian stuff. Then he went to work on himself. It took a few tries but Baudolino eventually managed to find his prostate. Jerking off whilst loving himself with a dildo at the same time was not an easy task for a newbie like him, but he managed somehow. When Baudolino had wiped his laptop and t-shirt clean, he felt very satisfied. The dildo had been well worth the money. In the years to come it would serve him well. Just too bad it would stink like Satan’s taint when he forgot to clean it.

Baudolino never read The game again.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

MuffinBeef Brawl Judgment

Erogenous Beef posted:

Beefcake v. some baked "good" (and I use that term loosely) Brawl

Idle Hands (1000 words)

Not sold on the title unless it has a subtlety I'm not seeing - 'the devil makes work for idle hands' is the reference, and that seems a little too on the nose.

I walked down a dirt lane, surrounded by Nigeria’s fiercest headhunters. They lay in the dust beneath drooping thatch eaves, eyes half-open, smiling at nothing. Flies crawled on their lips. I peered into a hut. In the squalor dozed more savages: men, women, children.

Their good White I sort of approve of the fusty Victorian style you're running here, and you maintain it well, but shouldn't you be capitalising Savage if you're capitalising White? vicar, Sir Winter, you make him a Sir and I don't think you justify it apart from maybe suggesting the corruption goes ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP. However since that's the point of the story, you'd be better holding that in reserve and having him be a bit less obviously ennobled by not having him be a knight.led my tour of his mission. He hiked up silk trousers with gold-ringed fingers and stepped over a dung-puddle. This shift from general to specific is a little clunky, though I like the actual words.

“On my rounds, Sir Winter, I’ve not seen a missionary so completely tame the Igbo.”

He smiled. “The Lord’s Word works miracles for a faithful servant, inspector. They’re not listless - their industry is saved for Christ.” He pointed to a tall wood house. Above its door, two long sticks had been nailed cruciform.

We went in. It was a long shack, with plank benches set in rows. Two stacked crates bore another crucifix, and atop them lay a thick Bible. I opened the Book.

It had crisp letters printed on heavy paper and was bound in burgundy leather. “Fine printing, and so far from civilization.” I rubbed the pages between my fingers. They were creamy, rich, and familiar.

“The Word, both verbal you mean 'spoken' - a verbal word is a tautology and written, is our export. Of interest to heathens and holy men, but hardly to Her Majesty’s Excise.” You're doing a nice job of slipping in the exposition here.

The vicar’s flock gathered for afternoon prayers. He led them in hymn. I sat crammed between dark shoulders and flipped through the Bible. Truncated watermarks edged the pages. The parishioners glared. I closed the tome and daydreamed of promotion, of a safe desk job in London, away from the sweat and filth of Africa.

After the church emptied, Sir Winter approached. “So, when will you be off to Fort George?”

I thumbed the Book, rubbed the watermarks. “I’d like to see your print-works, Sir.”

Sir Winter frowned and took me to a barn. Within were a dozen cast-iron presses - rare now in London, but too fine for a Colonial capital, let alone a mud-pit. I raised my eyebrows.

“A donation.” Winter stood at attention, shoulders high and squared. “We’re fortunate to have wealthy benefactors.”

A crate of Bibles sat beside a machine. I took one, opened it. A splash of color where only monochrome type should be. I'm a little puzzled by what he's actually seen, here - you're possibly stripping it back too much?

Sir Winter snatched it from me. “Permit me to handle those. The bindings crack easily.” He gave me another. “Here, an irregular copy.”

It was identical to the church’s. “May I keep this, as a souvenir?”

The vicar relaxed. this is telling rather than showing, but is just about acceptable for economy. I think you'd have done better expressing this with a well-chosen detail though. “Christ is a traveler’s best companion. I’ll have your horse brought around.”

“It’s late, Sir. I’d prefer to be off in the morning.”

Sir Winter clenched a fist. OOOH THOSE RASCALLY SMURFS “Very well. This way.”

He led us out of the village, to a manicured track trimmed through bug-besotted jungle. We emerged onto a lawn and I tripped over my own feet. A polished-stone ziggurat with gilded balustrades rose above the trees. is he living in an Aztec sacrifice pyramid? I understand they were all the rage in the summer of 1892. Igbo servants swarmed it like ants on a scone. this simile is a little too precious.

“On loan from the governor, Sir Winter?”

“Close enough.” Winter rushed me into a large bright room on the third story, with a feather bed and pure white linens. A servant brought Devonshire tea with clotted cream, ham, and a handwritten note.

The paper wrapped a fistful of fresh twenty-pound notes and invited me to supper. I plunged the bribe into my tea. The servant collected the tray and left. The door locked behind him. Another note arrived: the evening meal was off; business called.

When a bell rang midnight, I climbed down a balustrade and snuck to the stables. My horse was inside. Between us, six liveried Igbo huddled around candles, smoking opium in long pipes.

Soon, the men lay down and snored. One remained awake. He reached for the box and tipped it over - empty. He stumbled upright and slouched past me, towards the jungle.

I bridled my horse. My saddlebags were still empty. With evidence, I’d have a desk at the home office by Christmas. I turned and shadowed the servant to the printing barn. the timing of this is a bit weird, wouldn't bridling a horse be a fairly involved action that would preclude following the opium guy?

He crowbarred open a crate and dug through reams of paper. He took a box and staggered back to the vicar’s mansion.

Within the crate, the unwrapped reams bore the Queen’s watermarked face, and buried beneath were boxes of sticky, black pearls.

Light shone over my shoulder.

“Stealing from the Lord is a cardinal sin.” it's actually not afaict Sir Winter stood behind me. Two muscled Igbo flanked him, knives in hand. “My flock is not fond of sinners.”

“In England, Sir, opium is Sloth given flesh.” though I guess it sets you up okay for this line - on balance I think you need some actual emotion from our protagonist here. Dude's being threatened with decapitation by drug addict headhunters. The single drop of sweat might be a good way to go, iyswim.

“I’ve blunted feral warriors into servants of the Word. Is that not God’s work?” The vicar pushed the armed Igbo these dudes are like toy soldiers with all new HeadChoptm action!towards me. “Without a smoke, the ancient instinct to part a white man’s head from his body is not long suppressed, and these men are quite sober.”

I dropped the box. “Bring my horse.”

“Gladly.” The vicar slapped a servant’s arm. “Go!”

A drowsy man delivered my mount and filled my canteens. While the priest pushed the sleepy servant away, I snuck Bibles into saddlebags. Sir Winter waved me off, smirking. I kicked my horse and sprinted into the night.

Hooves beat dirt in the darkness behind me. I galloped hard, plunged into a river, and tumbled from my sweat-slick horse. It whinnied and thrashed, a leg broken. I cut its throat, tore off the saddlebags, and hid beneath reeds. A mounted Igbo warband stomped past. I like the unsentimental precision of your action beats here.

Come dawn, I staggered to Fort George and spilled my tale to the Excise General.

He yawned and lit a cigar. “Opium smuggling. File it for Customs, inspector.”

“The opium is a distraction.” I yanked the Bibles I think this would be a cleaner action with a single bible from my pack, slammed them open, and fumbled past the word of God. Printed on the creamy pages were fresh counterfeit pounds. My promotion was secure.

The General took the Bibles and closed them gently. ADVERB APPROPRIATENESS CHECK INITIATE ....CHECKING.... ADVERB CHECK PASSED On his shelf was his own fine copy of the Book, bound in red leather. “Forging Her Majesty’s currency is high treason, inspector.” Smiling, he ordered me arrested. yeah, and nice punch on the end. MAKES YOU WONDER WHO IS REALLY THE TRUE SAVAGE, EH SUCK IT DOWN JOSEPH CONRAD.

Despite my various niggles I like this a lot. Your protagonist is maybe a bit too icewater and you could have made the story better if he had a little more personality, but it fits with the cultural picture you're painting, and the plot is both enjoyably intricate for a ~1k word piece and cleverly enmeshed with the (difficult) prompt. The idea of falsehood in words and things is layered in a recursive way which fits the spirit of the prompt, while still telling a tolerably straightforward and entertaining story.

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

I took a pretty broad interpretation of the prompt: looking at the quote's source, it's two men discussing semiotics and the nature of metaphor re Saussure's sign/signed dichotomy. In that vein, I tried to write a story about people who were able to flip that system on its head. Also magical realism, and the ability of metaphors to sometimes transcend words, both of which are recurring things in Calvino's work.

Holy poo poo do not do this. The only reason I didn't look at the basically level-pegging quality of these two pieces and make my life easier by failing you for this semiotics 101 piffle is that it would be weak and lame for me to do so. That is your warning for future judging.



What’s in a name

Thanks Bill. This is a real lazy title. If you're going to do this, at least pick an unexpected part of the hackneyed (though admittedly appropriate) quotation you're using.

Bertold dropped a stone and counted to seven before it hit the bottom. The ground on this side of the chasm was solid ice: too dense to carve names into. He could see fresh snow drifts on the far side. For a moment he considered calling up snow, but you never knew how much the world would send, and he didn’t have time to dig his way out if it went wrong. Calla was too far ahead. Okay so this is all tidy enough, but what is the point of the chasm? It's not thematically interesting, and the only reason he has to get across it is so you can show off your Clever Idea.

/brɪdʒ/ he said. The phonemes fell into the world; not just a road for ideas, but a thing of their own. He called up memories of every bridge he'd ever crossed. The word became more solid, fighting against the wind to become real. It was made of wood, with a simple railing along either side. Simpler was easier. He sucked in an icy breath, then stepped out. Which is to be fair pretty clever. You make something which could be terribly goofy (guy says 'bridge', bridge appears) convincing.

A gust of wind forced him to crouch. When he’d joined the guild, he'd begged for magic to rend his enemies, to animate the dead, and bend the forces of nature to his command. He'd wanted to know the secret names of things, which they shared with nobody. The man who’d opened the front door had been a mountain, complete with a snowy cap of hair. He’d introduced himself as Master Gregory, of the Order of Semiomancers. Har har.

The Master had taken him into a candlelit alcove, and with a face of utmost severity, said, “I will teach you the true names of things, but first you must feed the AssFace.” How does our protagonist know the Master is using a 90s style IntraCap?

“The - the what?” Bertold said.

“AssFace,” said Master Gregory, “is the secret name I have given to my cat, because he keeps putting his rear end in my face. Alas, having told you this, I have robbed the hidden word of all its power! What a tragedy, young man. See what your pursuit of forbidden knowledge hath wrought?”

“I am sorry master, I had no intent to- to –“ said Bertold. He paused, his face flushed with anger, “why are you laughing?This is sort of an ok throwaway joke, but this early in the piece it sort of messes with the tone, true love and all that jazz.

That was the first lesson. The second lesson was feeding the cat. While searching the cupboards for catfood, Bertold had met Calla. She had a turned-up nose like a pig and hair of a wildness matched only by her wit, and her deep understanding of the word-wizard's art. She had a way of insulting him that made the blood run to his cheeks.

The third lesson was how to share. Point of order: if a guard shouts “STOP”, a man will likely stop. It is the magic of the shared-word, that both the shouter and the shoutee know its meaning. Instead of speaking to men, the semiomancer speaks to the world, and the world listens. To do so, he must call on his full understanding of the word, and send it out wrapped in the form of the true name. Spoken is good, written is better, both is usually overkill. The bridge creaked, and Bertold said again the sounds which formed its name: /brɪdʒ/. Yeah, cool.

The fickle word gave strength to the real thing. AH BUT WHAT IS THE "'REAL' THING"? DID THE GULF WAR EVEN TAKE PLACE INTERROBANG His boots gripped well to its surface. This sentence nauseous makes my stomach It would not last: the only thing more fickle than a word is the thing it has conjured. If a bridge-of-stone becomes a bridge-between-hearts while you're crossing it, you're well and truly hosed. also cool You have to know what a bridge is, and hold in your mind a state of archetypal bridge-ness. If it wavers, then it's gone.

He tottered across to the other side, dropped to his knees, then drew his knife. He carved the word Calla in the snow. Nothing happened. What’s a name? It’s a shared word. If it changes, then the old name has no power. Of course Calla wouldn’t be using her old name, not with half the guild on her tail. The shared-name was no longer shared, so it had no power.

He had to get to her before the others did. She had been forced across the mountains with such haste that he'd never even said goodbye. A thought struck him slow, but implacable as a glacier.

He smoothed over the snow, then began to work anew with his knife. /Lʌv/ he said. Two more chops, and the word love was carved in the snow. A broad word to be sure, but it meant one very specific thing to him. He brought to mind her warmth, and her voice, and the roughness of her skin after a hard day chopping logs.

The whistling wind taunted him, singing a lilting requiem: he would die out here tonight, and Calla would die somewhere else. /Lʌv/ he said again. He had to call her. He remembered the smell of her sweat, and the little crooked tooth that she hid when she smiled. He remembered above all love: simple, without pretension. The snow steamed, and then she appeared, conjured mid-argument. There was a knife in her hand. She gawped at him, then looked around and shivered.

/koʊt/ she said. A thick fur coat appeared in her arms, and she put it on. She saw the word carved in the snow, and smiled.

“That coulda gone very differently,” she said. “That word means a lotta things.”

Bertold smiled back. “Not to me it doesn't,” he said.

“Smooth,” she said. She blushed a little, then straightened herself out and looked around. “Svarta Pass? There’s an inn about two hours west. Love is love, but fire’s fire and a bed’s a bed. Storm’s coming, and Gregory and his lads went east. I figure we’ll get in at least an evening’s catching up. Let’s go.”

That was as close as thanks as anybody would get from the woman. She had a way of making big things seem small, and small things cast shadows like mountains. A word represents a thing, but sometimes it is a thing. Love is just a word, but it can turn the world on its head. And the rest is sweet and tight, so I don't have any further specific comments.

“Aye,” said Bertold. “sounds good.”

Whatever it meant, it was close enough.

As a general note I'd say you have three not quite compatible things wrestling each other here: a nice earthy love story, a clever idea, and a fairly average joke. While I like the clever idea and think it basically works, if you'd ditched the joke and used it to give Calla some more character and stuff to do then the story would have sat better in its own skin: the Master really doesn't carry his weight in the story. But lots of stuff to like, as I would expect from you.


This was hard as gently caress to judge, not least because it was two good pieces wrestling with a tough prompt. However after pondering it deeply I have concluded that one contestant wrote a good story that embodied the prompt, another wrote an idea of the prompt with some story bits bolted on.

:siren:Erogenous Beef Wins:siren:

Dec 31, 2006

Fork 'em Devils!

God Over Djinn posted:

Thunderdome LXXX:

Fighting the Beast - 1294 Words

When the beast came for me, it was wearing the skin of my friends. I barely noticed it circling me, for its approach was but a stealthy creep, taking its time to sink in its addictive claws. As dangerous as its subtle and seductive weapons were, the best tool in its arsenal was my denial of its danger. I thought myself armored, impenetrable to this monster, but foolish decisions easily rusted this defense away. I was walking proof that smoking can hook a stupid twenty four year old as easily as it hooks a stupid teenager.

I was the shepherd of purses and half-empty drinks, sitting alone in the bar. I mindlessly peeled the label from my beer bottle as I minded my flock and waited for my friends to return. They would return from their pilgrimage, reeking of smoke but looking satisfied. They filled the spaces around me, laughing at some joke that was made outside. They asked me--and I asked myself--why shouldn’t I go out with them, just to hang out? I wouldn’t join them in their hourly ceremony of fire and ash, but I could venture out with them. Just to talk.

I don’t often get incredibly drunk, but one night, infused with alcohol’s wonderful capacity to make bad decisions seem good, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I was sure that trying one wouldn’t do anything. After all, I knew the dangers, bashed into my head over the years by the never-ending propaganda of parents, schools and tv commercials. But I wouldn’t get hooked off just one cigarette, right? When I took my first drag, I never expected the sensation that followed. It caused a nice, heady rush and a pleasant tingling spread through my body. Maybe I’d just borrow one more.

After that, I never let my friends go outside alone. We always trooped outside together, and inevitably someone would flip open the top of their pack and offer me one. Who was I to turn them down? After all, everyone else was smoking. I reassured myself that I was only smoking with friends, only when I drank too much. It wasn’t often, I totally wasn’t addicted, I could have stopped anytime. I mean, it’s not like I was buying my own packs.

But, drat, did I really want to be that guy who is always bumming one? I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends, sucking up their generosity. I bought one pack, so I didn’t have to keep borrowing. I told myself that I would keep it in my car and only grab it when I was headed out to drink with everyone.

That lasted until I had a particularly lovely day. My boss yelled at me about my sales figures, I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, and on top of everything, it was only Monday. I sat in my car at home, staring at the pack in the seat next to me. Would it be that bad, just to have one or two at home tonight, to relax from the craziness of the day? I opened the lid and stared at the orderly white rows for a while before I took two upstairs. Before the night was over, I came back down and got the rest of the pack.

I was well aware by then that I was addicted, and I was ashamed of my habit. I only bought packs late at night; I hated when someone else was in line with me. I could feel their judgment, labeling me as just another stupid smoker ruining my lungs. I hated that they were right. I would order my two packs of Camel Lights as quickly as I could, pay in cash and then flee to the safety of my car. I always lit up on my balcony and kept the cigarette out of sight below the railing. I hid in the corner of my balcony, hoping my neighbors could not see the light or smell the odor.

When I started smoking at work, I was going through three packs a week. I cared less about hiding my habit, though I still hated when people saw me. I thoroughly febreezed myself every time my parents visited. They never found out about it, though there was one heart-stopping moment when my dad found half a pack I had forgotten to hide. I blamed it on a friend and crushed it in my hand to prove I wasn’t smoking. After they were gone, I picked the pack out of the trash and smoked the rest of it that night. They never invited my friend up to their house again.

It was a child that sparked my desire to fight against my habit. It was five minutes before closing time and I thought no more customers were coming in, so I popped out to have a quick one. A man and his child pulled up after I lit up. The man pulled his son to his side as they tried to walk around my cloud of smoke. I saw his face looking at me in frustration as his son scrunched up his face and coughed. I felt like poo poo, but then they passed indoors and I finished my smoke before heading in.

My coworkers were all busy, so the man and his son had to wait for me, and the man grimaced when I walked up to them. I put on a smile, but I knew I was about to coat them in the noxious stale smell of cigarettes that every smoker carries as if it were a jacket. Every moment of the transaction I could smell my own stink like I had never before and I felt awful that I let this boy smell my shame.

When I got home, I threw out my remaining two packs, took a shower and scrubbed the smell out of me. Afterwards, I took a deep breath and rejoiced in the clean, fresh scent, something I hadn’t smelled in months. I dug the packs out of the trash that night, but it was an important first fight, the first time I fought against the control that the addiction had over me.

It was hard to fight the beast alone. It would only take one moment of weakness and I was back in its clutches as strongly as if I had never left. It was a welcoming embrace, like a lover whispering ‘Where you have been? Come back to bed.’ I tried to quit a couple times over the following months, but every small success was followed by a setback. I hated every time I regressed, because every night I could smell my failure on my clothes. I was the king of self-rationalization. I’ve had a tough week, I’ll stop next week. I’ll stop after finals, it’s too stressful to stop now.

In the end, it took a force of friends, the same friends who bought this monster into my life, to push it back. We all quit at the same time, sick of the cost, sick of the stench, sick of smoking away days of our life. Nobody was immune from stumbles, but we would pick up the wounded warrior and force them back into the fight. The beast retreated to a dark corner of our minds and we set a vigilant guard around it, knowing it was looking for any opportunity to pounce. It is impossible to truly defeat this beast, for it is wily and is happy to wait years in between attacks. But by now I know how to beat it, and even though the monster escapes from time to time, I am always able to throw it back into its cage. Eventually.

Mar 21, 2013

Grimey Drawer
Prompt: It's all about me


Simon took a last, lingering look at the outside world, imagined Chelsea’s face wishing him a swift return, and then passed into the murk of Dean’s bedroom in search of history notes. He edged beyond precariously towering piles of paperbacks, trying not step on the underpants of dubious provenance that lay like miniature mines between him and Dean’s desk. The toe of his regulation school shoes caught on the hidden cable of a single-bar heater and he almost went sprawling into a half-covered picture frame, but he managed to grab a mantelpiece on his way down and right himself. The kerfuffle caused a hitherto-unseen Siamese cat to explode from behind an electric guitar with two broken strings and speed towards the door.

“Jeez, Dean! Did you kill the cleaning lady?” said Simon, randomly wondering what Chelsea was up to right this minute. Probably hanging out with Simon’s sister again. Perhaps he should finish up the assignment with Dean and get home quickly, in case she was staying for tea.

“Yes,” came Dean’s voice from the bathroom next door. “In a related matter, don’t look under my bed.”

“Roger that,” said Simon, taking a couple of wobbly steps towards a semi-collapsed pile of wood, mattress and duvet and peering under it. The corpses of long dead dust bunnies stared back at him from beside a stack of White Dwarf magazines. Making a mental note to ask if he could borrow a couple in case Chelsea hadn’t seen the latest Thrud the Barbarian, Simon stood and turned to his right, where Dean’s desk sat, a microcosm of disorder and educational anarchy.

“Let me see,” said Simon to himself as he rummaged through the assorted books, ring-binders and refill pads that spread across its surface. “History folder, history folder, history...aha!” He grabbed a red, cardboard binder marked in a precocious, felt-tipped script “WW2: Or What I Did In My Holidays, By Adolf Hitler, Mrs.”

“Found it,” called Simon. There was the sound of distant flushing. Simon opened the folder to double check it wasn’t mislabelled and actually filled with pictures of stick figure versions of Roman deities. On the first page, in large, straight-ruled lines was a word, five letters long. Each letter was carefully shaded to give it three dimensions on the page, its edges and curves pulled into rigid order like a metal band logo. ‘CHiSH’.

Simon stopped cold. He recognised the word instantly - Dean/Simon code for CHelsea Sarah Henderson. He turned to the next page. There was the word again, written out ten times in different typefaces. A third page had the same, only this time it was surrounded by love hearts, some of them pierced by tiny biro arrows. Simon swallowed and tasted bile.

Dean appeared, hovering by the door, wringing his still-damp hands. “Did you find it?”

Simon tore the front page out of the binder, paper ripping loudly in the quiet room. He held it up so Dean could see the hand-drawn emblem. “Something you want to tell me, mate?”

The question hung above a vast abyss between the desk and the door.

“poo poo,” said Dean.

The pair sat in the tiny room that held the kitchen table, drinking incredibly strong plunger coffee. “I just don’t get it,” said Simon. “You’ve met CHiSH, like, three times.”

Dean shrugged with his face. “I’m in love with her, dude. She’s very lovable.”

“Oh, forget that,” said Simon. “You are not in love with her. You don’t even know the half of it. Have you worshipped her from afar since you were ten?”

Dean admitted that, in fact, he had not worshipped CHiSH from afar since the age of ten.

“Did you come this close to having to your first snog be with Emma Curtis just so you could ‘accidentally’ lose at Feather and the Blanket while you were sitting next to her? Did you write a goddamn embarrassing poem about it that Mr Sinclair printed in the goddamn yearbook and then have your own goddamn brother show it to her? That’s what love is, mate. It’s pain and shame and history. This,” Simon tapped on the lovingly detailed logo in front of him, “is just a schoolboy crush.”

Dean smiled sadly. “Yeah, mate. It is. I know it is. I’ll get over it.”

“I hope so. Jeez, I wish I’d never told you about her.” As soon as he said it, Simon felt like he’d kicked a puppy, but, dammit, it was hard enough getting girls to look at him. Dean could find his own drat women.

Dean sat silently, hands around his cup of coffee.

“Anyhow,” said Simon. “It’s almost six. I’d better get going, Dad’ll be ready soon.” He grabbed his school backpack from beside the table, and shoved a couple of textbooks into it. “Hey, can I borrow a couple of White Dwarfs?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Dean. “Hang on a sec.” They went out to the front door and Dean vanished up the hall, returning a minute later with two magazines. “The latest couple.”

“Cheers, dude.” Simon took the proffered periodicals and slide them carefully into his English folder. “We’re still good, though, right?”

“Huh?” said Dean. “Oh, yeah. We’re good. ‘Course. Chicks, though, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, pass the beer nuts.” He made a noise that almost sounded like laughter.

“Sweet.” said Simon. “I mean, it’s not like she’d actually be seen dead going out with either one of us. See ya tomorrow.”

Simon heard the door slam shut behind him as he walked down the path that led from Dean’s house to the outside world.

Feb 15, 2005
Memories, 857 words

Memories are a strange thing. We forget things that were important, and remember strange, unlikely details. It's hard not to wonder whether we really have a memory at all. Sometimes it feels like we're movie editors, splicing the shot right there in the projectionist's booth. Different details become emphasized and embellished, while other parts of our past are left on the cutting room floor, and all while it plays for the audience.

Take the memories of my parents' divorce. I have a lot of them, obviously. I remember some aspects of it so vividly that it feels like I could step back in time and relive them. Other moments - important moments, moments that must have happened - are barely vague recollections. What's remembered and forgotten seems random - the happy moments disappear just as quickly as the sad ones. The importance to my life doesn't seem to save those moments from the void either. Sometimes it's the inconsequential moments that I remember the most.

There is the day my parents' announced their divorce, for example. I had been away on a trip - I don't remember where, or why, or for how long. I just remember that I had been away, and I returned. I put down my suitcase, walked into the family room, and looked at the sad, sullen faces of my brother and sisters. And this is the moment where the memory because sharp, clear, and full of color. I decided to make a joke.

"Who died?" I asked my gloomy siblings

"Mom and dad's marriage," my sister replied with perfect comedic timing. Ba dum tish.

In hindsight, it seems hilarious, and perhaps a little bit scripted. At the time, I remember it feeling like a punch in the stomach. The moment begins to fade away after this. My mother walked in, and told me that she and Dad needed to talk to me. I think I remember her shooting a dirty look at my sister, but I can't be sure. As for what they told me, sitting in that other room, as they explained that Mom and Dad had because two separate entities - I have no recollection. Those words, those emotions, what you would think would be the most important thing that happened to me that day - they're gone. Completely forgotten.

All I really remember is setting up the joke like a pitch right over the plate, and my sister sending it out of the park.

But then there was the day I found out why my parents divorced - the real reason. My father and I were alone in the car. I don't remember where we were driving - out to dinner, or maybe to church. I just remember that we were in the car, and he matter of factually explained that he was gay. I don't remember how he said it, or the way he presented it. I just remember being trapped in that car, feeling intensely awkward while my father discussed his sexuality.

The actual memory is a vague impression, combined with the memory of watching The Squid and The Whale in an empty movie theater. Sometimes I remember it as if we were driving from that movie theater when he told me, even though it's impossible. That movie came out in 2005, and my father didn't come out until 2007. But that feeling of intense awkwardness, dealing with my father, our relationship, his sexuality, and the writing of Noah Baumbach - all those emotions make those disparate moments turn into a strange montage of discomfort. And yet, none of it really seems to exist as a true memory, something that I can look back and relive.

A few days after my father told me he was gay, I remember sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings and few friends. We were having a good time, just chatting. We started talking about our dad, and how surprised we all had been. A total shock, we all agreed. Something we couldn't really expect.

"But, well..." my brother said, "He did have that lifetime membership to Men's Health, and Dad's not really really a gym rat, is he?"

"No, you're right," I replied. "And he did have that book on his shelf, Curing Homosexuality Through Christ."

"And he started watching the Logo TV channel a whole lot after the divorce," my sister said. "I thought that was a little weird." It was about that moment that the conversation turned into us sheepishly admitting that maybe we shouldn't have been that surprised. Our friends started making fun of us after that.

Those memories remain so clear to this day, and yet they're really not important. Those moments I have forgotten should have been all important in my life. And yet, what I seem to remember in my life is whether something was comedic or not. Do you see what I mean about our memory being a movie editor? And the movie editor in my brain is trying to make a comedy-drama out of my gay dad's divorce.

And you know what? I think he's doing a pretty good job up there.

Feb 13, 2011

The cries of the dead are terrible indeed; you should try not to hear them.
Empty Cups - Word Count: 1004

“I don’t know if you heard already, but Henry’s dead.”


“You know - Henry P.”

The name drags me back to the land of the living and I turn to look at C. properly.


C. takes a long draw on the joint, then flicks the ash into the still evening air before acknowledging my question. If I didn’t know him any better, I’d have said he was milking a melodramatic pause, but C. takes his time with everything. He holds it in his lungs and exhales with almost exaggerated languor before leaning forward to pass it over and settle back into his chair.

“Yeah. Killed himself. Couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah? How?”

I sound insouciant, but I’m not, not really. I’ll tell anyone with a straight face that I hate gossip, hate prying into other people’s business, so I guess that makes me something of a liar. I know that I’m probably the last in a long line to hear about it too, seeing as these days I’m perpetually out of the loop as well as out of town, but human interest is human interest even if it’s past its sell-by date.

“I heard he sealed himself in the kitchen and Kchhhhhht~

He mimics the twisting of knobs with his hands, and hisses through clenched teeth.

I laugh. “I suppose that would be an appropriately hip way for him to do it.”

I don’t say it, but the story seems too perfect to be real, nod to Sylvia Plath aside. They don’t make them like they used to. The old monoxide coal gas ovens, I mean. To kill yourself with a gas oven these days, that’s not exactly easy. It isn’t necessarily that I don’t believe C., he wouldn’t lie about something like this, not on purpose. But it sounds too much like a prank, a joke, guilelessly reported second-hand. I wouldn’t have put it past Henry to pull a stunt like that.

At that moment I found myself stuck in the gap between fact and fiction. I didn’t know what to believe. While it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Henry had killed himself, strange and tormented individual that he was or had been, the story was just too ridiculous. Were the circumstances of his suicide just a malicious Chinese whisper, passed and altered along a chain of increasingly dismissive old acquaintances? Was he even dead? Or was it true in point of fact - had he meticulously wadded the doors and windows of his dingy student digs kitchen, turned all those cheap plastic knobs to full and slumped down against the shoddy Ikea MDF cupboards, consciousness departing for the last time to the unceremonious sulphuric stink of natural gas, leaving behind only some unwelcome therapy sessions for the ditsy art-student girl he undoubtedly lived with, who had probably already dreaded something like this in the darker corners of the day, and a lot of sad paperwork. I wondered why he hadn’t just got a hosepipe like everybody else, but then I realised I wasn’t sure if he had ever learnt to drive or got a car of his own. I imagined that pale, goofy teenager I had known at school. Pictured his lopsided smile - but twisted into a grim smile of intent - as he crushed some novelty giraffe draught-excluder under the door that a concerned relative got him for Christmas one year, seeing as students these days, they don’t even pay for the heating what with all the gas price hikes and-

C. cracks a broad grin at my laughter, as if he had been reserving his reaction to keep it in time with my own - as if I might be upset or circumspect about it - but he should know me better than that. For a while we run slip-shod over a cultural taboo, dredging the depths of poor taste in the search of hipster and gas related puns. Eventually C. excuses himself to desecrate the virgin porcelain in the downstairs bathroom, and I extract my phone to fire off a few subtle inquiries, though in retrospect, they were more likely along the lines of “hey man, is it true Henry killed himself??”

I finish off the dirty end, and send it cartwheeling into the long-suffering bush in the garden where all good roaches come to rest.

Somewhere on the main road, a siren wails. It sounds ridiculous but I get nostalgic for that noise, living most of the year up where the only thing the police deal with is drunk farmers in pubs and disputes over herbaceous borders. I close my eyes and bathe in the familiar and comforting doppler-effect as the car races past on the way to wherever it’s going. It occurs to me, dimly, that the habitual poisons of city living are going to my head rather quickly. It has been a while.

A few staggered buzzes emanate from my phone. People better at answering their phones than I am getting back to me. Unbeknownst to them, they are in consensus - Henry is indeed, dead.

I slip the phone back into my pocket and lie back. I stare up at the sodium light-polluted night sky, and as always my eyes are drawn to the only constellations I ever recognise - Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper - only barely visible through the umbrous evening cloud cover.

In that moment, I’m not really happy or sad. My mind is blank, a mirror to the darkness above. The moment feels like an empty cup, an absence waiting to be filled, filled by reflections on forgotten conversations poignantly recalled, on the fragile nature of lives and minds, on the transience of existence.

But the cup never fills.

C. returns, having taken his time, from the bathroom and gives me a look with those heavy-lidded eyes he always gets after a few.

“You OK?”

I nod vacantly.

“Want me to grab a couple more beers from the fridge?”

I do.

Jeza fucked around with this message at 00:32 on Feb 17, 2014

Jan 11, 2014

A Cautionary Tale.
(1030 words)

There are not that many things that I still can remember from my childhood. They are mostly just little scenes with no context at all, more like emotions than factual memories. Many of them are mundane and common, like eating skittles while watching Tom and Jerry or fighting with my older brother over a basketball in the kitchen. That type of thing. Some of them are slightly more important, and some have probably shaped who I am now: Dad telling Mum he’s leaving us while I assemble a Lego robot; walking on my brother watching porn... Among those memories there’s one story that I keep coming back to.

Back in elementary school we had economy running on stickers. Shiny ones were worth twice the price of regular ones, the ones based on Terminator 2 were even more expensive, etc., and people would rarely actually put stickers on anything, hoarding them instead to gain prestige and use them as means of exchange with other pupils.

I had two best mates at the time. Both of them were raised by single mothers, so we had that in common. One of them, Matt, had his father living in the US, so he’d always have the best toys and by my hometown’s standards his family was pretty much upper class. Vic, on the other hand, lived in a poor working class environment and with his father gone things didn’t get any better. I was somewhere in the middle, I guess. But despite our class differences, both real-life and as a consequence stickers-based, money, clothes or toys were never an issue between us. We’d always share and gladly help each other out with whatever we had. Until one day someone’s stolen all Matthew’s stickers, that is.

As a child who was allowed to watch Twin Peaks and Columbo late at night by my mother struggling with the divorce, I took it upon myself to catch the thief. The details of my investigation are a bit murky on me now, but after asking people around I deduced that the only person who could possibly know where Matthew kept his stickers was Victor. Obviously, I didn’t have any real evidence against him. No one saw him taking stickers from Matt’s locker or buying anything with those stickers, but he began slowly gaining more and more new stickers, which I assumed he’d obtained from someone from another school in exchange for stolen ones.

Instead of letting it go like Matt, I wanted to know the truth no matter what. My mum wasn’t religious and our RE wasn’t up to snuff, so my version of Christianity was primarily based on Super Book and how video games handled holy and magic objects in fantasy settings. For that reason I brought a Bible in school. When Victor and I were staying late at the homework club I asked the teacher, ‘Is that right that people swear on the Bible in court?’ and produced the Book from my rucksack.

The teacher knew about the stickers and probably saw where I was going with it. ‘Yes, that’s right,’ she answered.

‘And that’s because if someone lies after swearing on the Bible, they go to hell,’ I said to Vic and put the Bible in front of him. ‘Do you swear on the Holy Bible that you didn’t take Matt’s stickers?’

Victor was hesitant for a moment. Maybe he was shaken by my promises of hell to liars or just couldn’t believe that his best friend would suspect him in treachery, I don’t know. The teacher decided not to intervene for some reason, too.

‘I swear,’ he whispered.

‘Oh no, that won’t do. You have to put your left hand on the Book and say it out loud.’ At this point I was savouring my power, it was pure humiliation for Vic and I wouldn’t have stopped until everything went my way.

Victor put his hand on the Bible and firmly recited, ‘I swear on the Holy Bible that I didn’t take Matthew’s stickers’.

‘That’s alright then.’ I shoved the Bible back into my backpack and went home. Didn’t even tell him I was sorry or anything.

After that everything was back to normal. We were going through puberty together. Talking about girls, trying to prove ourselves to older lads with bad reputation, being disrespectful toward adults… You know, the usual puberty stuff.

Five years after the stickers incident Matthew’s mum sent him to a summer camp. While he was out of town, she hired me and Victor to walk the dog.
‘I’ll walk Felix by myself today, if you that’s okay with you. I need to visit my grandma, anyway, so I figured you’d want to miss on that one. Plus I’d really go for some extra cash right now.’ Victor called me early in the morning and since I had my Birthday coming up in a month or so, I didn’t mind him going alone that day.

In a week Matthew’s house was robbed. It didn’t take much time for the police to find out that Victor was involved, because the lock on the door has been opened with a key. Matthew was back home and convinced Vic to cooperate. Turned out, those older guys we always tried to impress have talked Victor into nicking the front door keys when he was picking up the dog.
Our friendship with Victor was over and even though Matthew and I stayed friends for some time after that, we had slowly drifted apart as we went to different schools.
For years I used this story to reinforce my then-current worldview. I went through periods of atheism and faith, conservatism and libertarianism, nihilism and naïve obedience to authority, and always thought of this story as a cautionary tale, blaming myself, class inequality, God for what’s happened and thanking all of the above afterwards, but at some point it had just stopped working. I no longer see it as a sign from heavens and I don’t see myself as a protagonist of this story, who’s got to set things right or learn the lesson. And I can only hope this has made me a better person somehow.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
(848 words)

I thought up the songbird trap myself and put it together out of seeds, a twist tie, and a cage that had once held canaries. Invention was easy on the farm in high summer. I had only too much time to think as I lay on the floor in front of a bellowing fan, listening to the growl of Grandpa's tractor in the fields. Of all the fancies that drifted through my head, the bird trap stuck, because it would be so simple to try.

Step one: fill the bottom of the old cage with birdseed. Step two: set it under the feeder, where the mourning doves waltzed and the sparrows fought each other in quest of spilled food. Then wait. I hovered behind the screen door, a sun-browned and bored young vulture. I missed the moment the first bird ducked inside; I noticed her as a flutter of color behind the white bars, at last!

I launched myself outside, yelling and waving my arms and making absolutely certain that the poor thing wouldn't fly my way--because that was the clever bit, having the door of the cage face the door of the house so that as long as a bird was trying to get away from me, it couldn't get out. I spun the twist tie about, and the cage door dropped. My grin split my face. It worked! It worked! Exactly as I'd imagined! I danced the cage into the house, my step a hop-skip of pride.

I'd caught a house finch. I set her on the ottoman in the living room so my grandmother, who had taught me to love birds from the vantage point of her porch, could get a good look at her. Small and dusty brown, the finch jittered inside the cage and made an impression of glossy black eyes and tiny stick legs. Grandma hadn't expected the trap to work, I could tell by her laughter. But oh, it had, and here was this wild thing inside the house where we could see her so clearly, and what else could have given us the chance?

With a dish rag--no mites for me, no skin oil for her--I gathered the finch and took her outside. I felt the beat of her heart against the cloth and my fingers. Rapid and alarmed, alive and strong. I could have hurt her, but I never wanted to. She took flight from my hand.

Birds do not, I fear, learn readily from experience or example, and I filled that cage with the bright wings of cardinals and the vivid shoulders of red-winged blackbirds. The same woodpecker--it had to be, the farm orchard only hosted one--fell for it again and again, giving me new opportunities to study the tongue he stuck out at me as though in rebuke. But none lost even a feather. When finches escaped my hold to dart through the house, catching them became the best kind of game. I thought to turn the birds upside down before I opened my hand to let them go, so they lay in my palm, still for a moment before they broke into a flurry and were gone. To feel them rest in my open hand--each was a breathless moment, an awe that wouldn't fade through repetition.

As I tried to coax a stubborn white-breasted nuthatch into my hold, my grandfather came out onto the porch. He'd been cutting wood: I could smell the sawdust on him and the tang of fresh-mowed grass along with sweat. His work in the factory had purchased the farm, his work on the house had built it from nothing, and even then, when most of the land was fallow, he worked every day while the sun was up. He'd been a serious provider once, but in his age he had the emotions of a boy.

I chattered away at him as I chased the nuthatch around the cage, and he took in my lesson about the bird, drinking from one of his long bottles of Pepsi.

He stood at my shoulder as I held my hand out from my body, uncurling my fingers to let the nuthatch go. Only it didn't seem to want to. It lay there very happily, its wiry feet relaxed, its gaze taking in the sights. Behind me, Grandpa chuckled. I bounced my hand a bit to encourage the nuthatch along.

It flew--toward the house, toward Grandpa to be precise, and it landed on his boot, sitting there bright-eyed for a second or two before it finally got the idea to make for the trees.

"I'll be damned!" Grandpa laughed out loud. His creased and tanned face lit up, the corners of his blue eyes crinkled, and he beamed with our mutual wonder; his joy was just like a child's, just like Grandma's would be when we told her. Pride, curiosity, power, and awe were nothing. I thought, This is why I catch birds.

We went inside to share our delight, leaving the cage open for its next visitor.

Apr 24, 2010

When I'm off, I just like to really let go and have fun, y'know?

Fun Shoe
My grandmother and I
(1105 words)

My eyes traced the lines along the stem of the chestnut tree until the lines were no longer visible through the branches. The crown of the tree was large and completely covered in green leaves. The fruits of the tree were hanging from its branches, packed in their spiked, green cocoon-like shells. I marvelled at the beauty of the crown, as I stepped back to take in the scene. It was raining, and my father and I were in an isolated corner of the cemetery. A small, quadratic area was marked up under the tree.

"It's a nice spot," I commented.

"Yeah, I think your grandmother would've liked it."
My father was standing just behind me.

"When's the funeral service?"

"This Thursday," he answered. "I'm sorry, but that's the only day we could make everything fit."

I had come 200 miles from Copenhagen to see her one last time, before she was cremated. I had to go back on the same day due to exams.

“I know; it's ok.”

"The date of the burial still hasn't been decided. We can do it after your exams, so you can be here.”

“I'd like that,” I said as I turned to face him. “Let me know when you've found a date and I'll be here.” I knew I wouldn't have to cancel anything.

“I'll do that.”

We headed to the mortuary. It was a small annex built from the same smooth, grey stone bricks as the church it was attached to. The undertaker greeted us at the entrance.

“Hi, you must be the grandson. My condolences,” she said, bowing slightly. “Your grandmother is through here.”

We entered a cold room, which was lit by just four small window slits. Coffins were stacked around the edges. At the centre of the room, a single open coffin was placed upon a wooden pedestal. I recognised my grandmother instantly. She was dressed in her favourite night gown and her mouth and eyes were open. As I moved closer I could see her eyes clearly. They were dried up and empty. I'd sensed worry in those eyes, but also kindness and love; all of it was gone. I walked up next to the coffin, and reached out to touch her shoulder. As my fingers graced her overarm I froze. She was completely cold to the touch, and I could feel her bones through the gown. My father approached the coffin from the other side and repeated my movements.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

I didn't respond.

When I finally managed to move again, I looked up at him. He was looking at me with a slight, sympathetic smile.

“How did she die?” I asked.

“In her apartment,” he replied. “Her favourite home care nurse was there, holding her hand.”

“Oh. That's good.”

He nodded.

Later that day, on the train home, the experience in the mortuary still hadn't left my mind. The image of her empty eyes was particularly tenacious. My father, brother and I had been visiting her maybe once or twice a year on my father's initiative. Every time, I could feel those kind eyes looking, and whenever I'd returned her gaze, she'd mustered a faint smile and looked away. She'd never talked much, and when she had it'd always been to my father.

“Why would I move to a nursing home?” she'd asked one time.

“You've told me you like it here in the hospital,” my father'd replied. “You said you like the food and the company at the ward.”

“But I'd just be a burden and a nuisance to everyone there. Who'd want to have to take care of me all hours of the day?”

“It's what nursing homes are there for,“ he'd said, frustration growing in his voice. “What makes you think you'd be a nuisance?”

“That's just what people think of me.”

A lot of their conversations had gone like that.

“I'd wish I wasn't always alone,” she'd said another time.

“You live in the same town as several of your sisters, why don't you call them?” he'd asked.

“They don't want to be around me.”

“Have they said that?”

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my phone. It was a text from one of my classmates. Hey, how was it today? it read. I'd been talking to him during a smoke break earlier in the week, and I'd mentioned having to go see my grandmother. I considered for a second how to reply. It was ok. I wrote, before stopping. I put down my phone.

“How did you and dad meet?” My father'd asked.

“Why do you always ask that? I don't want to tell that story, and I'm sure you don't want to hear it,” she'd replied.

“Of course I do. I'm your son.”

“It's a personal story. Nothing interesting about it.”

“I'd still really like to hear it.”

“No, you don't.”

“How can you know what I think of it, if you never share it with me?” he'd said.

I picked up my phone again and started typing. It's been a p tough day ...

A few weeks later I was back that the cemetery. I let the morning sun warm my body, while waiting for my family to arrive. It hadn't been long before a car arrived at the parking lot in front of me. As they walked towards me, my eyes met my father's and we smiled at each other. He was walking in between my stepmother and my brother. My sister, who was holding my stepmother's hand, got a great smile on her face when she noticed me. I smiled back. I greeted them all with hugs.

“How was your trip?” My stepmother asked.

“It was good.” I replied.

“I'm sorry you had to cancel with your friend,” my father said.

“No worries, I wanted to be here for this.”

The undertaker wouldn't arrive with the urn for another 10 minutes, so we decided to go to my grandmother's plot. The crown of the chestnut tree looked even more gorgeous in the bright sun. Its fruits had started dropping. The smooth, light brown chestnuts, having shed their shells, lay strewn around the grass under the crown. We walked up to the small, square hole, where my grandmother's urn would be buried.

“I'm going to miss her,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” my father said.

I noticed a single chestnut in my grandmother's grave. This one was still inside its shell. The funeral director came towards us along the narrow path, and my eyes wandered to the urn she was carrying. I closed my eyes, and wept.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




1300 words =\

"I've hosed you. I've shoved you. I've choked you. What else do you want me to do?" Miles's voice slithered through the bedroom door like a hunting snake, all smooth scales over the turbulence of Mira's sobs. I had my hand on the doorknob but could only gulp air. I waited for myself to do something.

Miles's voice came again, too low to make out words, but the menace was clear.

Adrenaline crashed into my hand, a silent white roar. The knob turned, the door opened. Miles filled the space between me and Mira.

"Hey," he said, giving me a haggard smile. Then he mouthed: She needs to be alone.

As if the door weren't made of two inches of feeble imitation wood.

Mira hiccupped in the corner, where she was sitting on the floor. Her entire body spelled recoiled. Her eyes mouthed stay.

I shoved past Miles into the room.


"Don't," I said.

"But he still has my record player. And a sweater." Mira ashed her cigarette into the bay.

"You're both looking for ways back into each other's lives. I'm telling you right now, if I see him, I will cut him."

We were at the southern piers, down past the tourist beat. An ornate wooden structure sheltered three wooden benches, all of which were occupied by sleeping bags. Someone had thought to paint the shelter black, and it swallowed the light from the setting sun.

A public notice marked the site for demolition.

"I'm not functional enough to be with anyone else. His insanity fits mine, like loving, you know?"

I clenched my fists on the concrete rail. "He's not the only one who gets your inscrutable complexities. You've got good people around you."

"And so but where are you guys when I'm melting down? You're looking awkwardly at your phones. You're going out for smoke breaks. Miles was the only one who would face down the loving monster that is me."

"I've hosed you. I've shoved you. I've choked you," I said, sneering.

Mira looked like I'd punched her.

"I don't know what makes you think deserve that," I told her, "but I'm not going to hear word one about that piece of poo poo. Not anymore. You want to fall apart, come fall apart on me. I can take it."

She shook her head and ashed her cigarette into the bay.


I woke up to my phone buzzing.

"I can't sleep," Mira said when I answered.

"Come over."

Twenty minutes later we were out behind my apartment building, leaning against the chain link fence that separated the parking lot from a long drop to the interstate below. By the lights left on in the skyscrapers, it seemed like the city was as sleepless as we were, but the streets were empty.

"He texted me," she said after a while, like I didn't already know why she was there. "I've dialed six digits of his number at least ten times, then stopped. I need you to not let me get to that last digit."

"We've got a long night ahead of us," I said lightly. We both laughed.

"I've got an idea, though. Car. Now," she said.

I waited in the passenger's seat while she made a phone call. At two AM, there were only a few people she knew would answer. "Jesse? Yeah. Me neither. We're going to the lake, do you want to come?" There was hardly a pause. "Awesome. I've got a half gal of gin, should be fine."

We collected Jesse from his basement apartment on the east side of downtown. Mira and I had met him at a small but energetic poetry reading, where I learned what a performance curator was. Jesse was one such, and it was his job to gather poets and musicians and artists from all around the region to showcase at a small wine bar called Saffron.

I'd seen the reflection of the stage lights in the curvature of Mira's eye the first time we went. She and Jesse became fast friends.

The way to the lake was via a long path that wound through the dark and forested Arboretum. We had nothing but the light of our cellphones, and even those were more hindrance than helpful. Fragments of trees and bushes swam in mosaic-like blobs. The trail was a curving strip of slightly deeper shadow than the rest of the forest.

I heard Mira breathing heavily behind me, knew it as the sound of an impending panic attack. I reached back into the darkness until I felt her arm, then slipped my hand into hers.

"We're almost to the lake," I whispered. "It'll be light there."

"You're doing this wrong," Jesse called from up ahead. "Don't be quiet, you've got to scream! Be loud! Let any skeezy lurking bastards know you're here and you mean business." He bellowed like an ogre, a wordless roar that didn't match the wiry little poet hidden in the darkness of the path ahead.

Mira and I bellowed back in unison. We bellowed the rest of the way to the lake, until we couldn't roar because we were laughing.

The lake was brilliant, in part because our eyes were accustomed to the pitch black, in part because of the half gallon of gin that was significantly emptier than when we started out. Lights from the university across the lake reflected on the water in long, dancing whips of orange and yellow.

We sat on a picnic bench, the three of us. I wanted to crystalize the moment and keep it; I'd been a career wallflower. I didn't go screaming through the woods with artists and madwomen.

Mira started to sing. Just a wordless intonation, but it was deep and primal. I felt my voice rising to weave itself in and around her foundation. She polished and practiced. I wasn't. But then Jesse took up a rhythm with a stick and the hollow gin jug, and a song was born.

As I sang, I looked out across the water, at the quivering light on its surface, and I thought: How nice would it be, to get carried away on a ripple of light to somewhere nights like this never end? And then the words were in my song, before I could think about them.

"Ripple on the water, sweet light, come on sail away." It was stupid. It was simple. It was the first time I'd improvised anything musical.

Jesse and Mira both took up my refrain after a few seconds, bending it into three part harmony. And then it was alive. So stupid, but so alive.

Ripple on the water, sweet light, come on sail away.

I looked over at Mira and saw her eyes shining. I was almost fool enough to think that one night, one song would cure her of whatever it was that drove her back to grappling with Miles.

By unspoken consensus we reached the end of the song, drawing the last note out until simultaneously we erupted into shrieks and howls and cheers. Jesse drank deeply of the gin, then passed it to Mira.

Was this really my life now?

"Mira," Jesse said. "If you guys can do something like that at the open mic a couple of times, maybe I could get you a feature spot. Bring your guitar next month."

Mira looked at me. Of the two of us, she was the musical one, but whatever had happened just then, the song, was pure chemistry. It was something alive between us.

"Would you...?" She let the question hang mostly unasked in the air. As if there were any doubt what I would say.

"Ah, hell," I said, and took the bottle of gin.

We watched the moon and its reflection race west, the sunrise hot on their heels.

May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch
To Make Friends, You have to Kill a Kid
Words: 1025

In my hands I held the key to my success and the manual to Ike Benson’s death. I had creatively titled it “101 Ways to Kill Ike Benson.” It spanned only 4 pages. In actuality, it was written mostly by a committee of misfits, but I was the one to claim authorship and editor. Many perverse and sadistic methods were outlined, and somehow I had the audacity to turn my nose up to juvenile entries like “Shove his head up his butt until he suffocates.”

But I knew that what I had would turn things around in my favor, to ensure separation from a kid who shared several classes with me, and who’s only crime was being the easiest to pick on. Ike and I had come from similar places, smart yet out of touch parents, private elementary schools, and a poor fashion sense. Our transition to public middle school had been marred with awkward attempts to socialize and being proud of being a know-it-all.

The only leg up I had on Ike was where my assigned seat was. That was all that separated Ike and I from being swapped, and having someone write a 101 brutal ways to murder me. My surrounding home room classmates helped coach me through kindness, or sympathy, how to adapt to the new environment. Ike’s did not.

But now all of that would change. I would be seen as clearly superior, and while it wouldn’t make me a cool kid, I wouldn’t be on the same level as Ike, and that was all that would matter. Middle school would be the ur-example of the pecking order, and I was the one who realized it first. I like to think that it was because I was the first to exploit the inherent weakness of the social system, and not because Ike was above it, but I would never really know.

The first few people who had seen my work were conspirators; classmates who offered up their own brutal solutions to Ike’s existence. When the manual was finished, select few tertiary confidants lavished the work with praise. But only one person could truly reap all the risk, and the reward. And I foolhardily stepped to that plate. Maybe a dozen copies began to circulate the halls and locker rooms. So few, in my opinion, that I hardly knew what to say when I was confronted by admirer; a friend of a friend of a friend.

I wasn’t prepared for the response. Everyone loved what I had made. Everyone loved that I had plotted the demise of a cohort, over and over again. And I was happy. I was happy, and then I became greedy. Delirious on the attention, my mind began to find ways to exploit the popularity. From my video games I knew that rarity was the ultimate motivator, so I decided to add a price tag to my document, benefiting me two fold.

And things couldn’t have been better. Friends would pay $1, and strangers would pay $3. I had created a business predicated on abuse. Derived solely from depravity. I would be middle-school-filthy-rich by forcing Ike’s head into the mud until he stopped struggling. I was high on it. Suddenly, I found myself at the top of the heap of scrabbling pre-teens and rabid under-achievers. My creativity, which had been met with hesitancy and mild annoyance, somehow now became my saving grace, and would now become my downfall.

When three kids were caught planning an elaborate execution of Ike, it didn’t take long for them to begin the chain of finger pointing that would inevitably end at me. The lynchpin of blame came from a student who had been offended I had dared to charge for 4 sheets of paper. I scoffed at him, I was the one who held all the power, and if he didn’t want what I had to sell then he could piss off. And somehow I felt as though I was sold out. How dare they break social constructs, the ones that I had fought so hard to inflict upon Ike.

The fact that Columbine would happen a few years later is why I received what would have been considered a criminal under-punishment. The level of disappointment and astonishment that went through my teachers and administrators was incomparable to anything that I had ever experienced before. And instead of turning inward for reflection, I resented the reaction I received. Even though I felt guilty and horrible, somehow it was everyone but my fault that I was in the position I was in.

In the aftermath and consequent suspension, my mother felt it appropriate to impress upon me Lord of the Flies. At the time, I remember feeling she was forcing the novel on me and I didn’t understand why. Even after reading it, I didn’t make the connection until later in life. The anti-lesson of the entire event was that it didn’t wash over me in a life changing revelation, but that it seeped into me like whiskey into a barrel. One day after thinking, or possibly doing, something lovely about someone, I thought of Ike. Since that time, I thought of Ike often, so much that he has become my muse of guilt. I have no idea if it is even fair of me to use the memory of him like that.

I cannot truly comprehend how horrible I was. Every reflection of my action is at the same time tempered by the audience, that there were so many kids who thought what I did was not just okay, but was to be celebrated and championed. I know I was horrible, but how can I truly believe I was adequately punished compared to how Ike must have felt. Yet I have made no attempts to make amends to Ike, and I do not understand why. I am horrified that it might be because I do not believe that I was to blame; that I know who was Piggy, but that I do not know who was Ralph, or who was Jack.

No Longer Flaky
Nov 16, 2013

by Lowtax
Losing to a Girl
436 Words

I was thirteen years old when I lost my first fight with a girl. She attended the Yakota Air Base.

I first saw her when on her walk from the bench to the center of the mat. She was at least two inches taller than me and the dusting of peach fuzz above her lip was ten times the facial hair I had. I thought she was the wrestling team’s manager, but here she was on the mat facing me.

Looking up into her eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder how I had gotten there. Why did I have to wrestle a girl? Couldn’t she find some other girls to wrestle? There was no honor in wrestling a girl. If you win then congrats you beat a girl, if you lost then you were a big sissy.

The referee signaled the beginning of the match, and we started our dance. I was new to wrestling, so my advancements were telegraphed and awkward. The only thing that truly worked in my favor was my agility, which I had built up over years of soccer.

The match was split up into two rounds. The first round passed with little action. I avoided her advancements and failed in my own, a process that would repeat itself over the years.

In the break between rounds, my coach coached my ears off. I ignored him. I focused on hydrating and catching my breath. I knew what I needed to do. She was only a girl.

I started the second round hard. I immediately tackled her to the ground. In the scramble on the ground my foot lost traction on the mat. She took advantage of my lost balance and flipped me on my back. My muscles, too soft from slacking at practice, failed to push her off me.

The referee counted out the seconds. I redfacedly pushed, gripped, and arched, but there was nothing to do. She was an impossible weight pushing me into the mat.

After three seconds the referee called the match.

Breathing hard, I shook her hand and retreated off the mat. My coach was waiting for me, the team behind him snickering.

“Didn’t you hear me yelling?” My coach said.

“No.” I said between long deep breaths. Inhale through the nose, exhale out the mouth.

“You were so close!” He said, “I was saying if you waited her out you had her. You had more points than she did.”

“She was huge,” I said.

“Yeah, but next time you got her. Remember, the clock is your friend.”

“She was fuckin’ huge,” I said.


Alliterate Addict
Jul 10, 2012

dreaming of that face again

it's bright and blue and shimmering

grinning wide and comforting me with it's three warm and wild eyes
Early on Tuesday
875 words

"After you graduate", everybody said, "you have to camp on The Hill."

Everyone in a ten mile radius knew what The Hill was, of course; even at the edge of the midwest, any mound of dirt more than a dozen meters tall was afforded proper noun status as a matter of course. A bald island in an otherwise-unblemished sea of trees, it was nestled in the middle of the town's only forest preserve, and stretched imposingly above the leafy boughs to offer an expansive view of the county from it's crest. City to the east had clashed with farmland to the west, and standing on top of The Hill made it easy to see that the city, 20 miles distant, was winning. Where forest preserve wasn't, asphalt roadways were bracketed by 2-story homes, sprinkled generously with white picket fences and scattered oak trees. The horizon was interrupted by watertowers and 12-story apartment buildings, themselves spaced out by hunched parking garages and sprawling strip malls. An occasional radio antenna, blinking malevolently, rounded out the picture; your own personal slice of suburbia.

Nobody knew how or why the tradition was started. Maybe it was a holdover from an earlier age, when you were pretty much guaranteed not to leave the town even if you even had a chance to go to high school in the first place-- a beautiful view of the place where you were going to spend the rest of your life. Or maybe it was just dares between high schoolers, where sneaking into a forest preserve after sunset was considered "living on the edge". Either way, it had taken on a pseudo-religious significance-- The Hill at sunrise, they said, had changed their lives; they claimed to come back at peace with themselves and at one with the universe, having experienced a spiritual awakening unlike anything before or since.

It was a load of bullshit, of course; but nobody seemed to want to admit that-- to camp on The Hill was a vision quest, and so built up that anything short of a casual run-in with God would be a let-down. The stories built on themselves until they were just short of myth, the truth of the matter intentionally forgotten even by the original storyteller-- but no matter the reality, I still found myself at the entrance to the forest preserve late one summer night, a month before graduation.

Truth be told, I had jumped the gun somewhat; while late night post-graduation ventures to The Hill were common knowledge, so was the fact that there was a surge in the number of patrolling police around the preserve during the mid-summer months. I was open to the idea that a night alone on The Hill would give me some much-needed perspective, but I was a somewhat more skeptical about gaining that perspective from the inside of a holding cell at the local precinct.

It was a pleasant walk, if brisk; it was late enough in the season that there was no risk of any true cold, but still early enough that the mosquitos and other summer annoyances hadn't yet begun to overwhelm the area. The light of the moon shone through the scattered canopy of leaves, making unnecessary any sort of flashlight. The actual climb was uneventful, and before long, I found myself on the fabled peak.

The night itself was majestic. The forest preserve was a great carpet of matte black, stretching out to the boundaries of it's enclosing freeways and roads, where the sodium glow of streetlights could reassert itself. The noises of the town were muffled to the point of nonexistence, and even the perpetual background mutter of traffic was gone. It was stillness, unlike any I had experienced before, and for a long while there was nothing to do, nothing to think. Just me and the night.

Then the moment passed. I unscrewed the thermos of coffee I had brought with me, sat down against a convenient mound of dirt, and settled in to wait for the finale.

Dawn was not something I had experienced in full view before; despite the comparative evenness of the terrain itself, trees and houses tended to block most of the effect until well after sunrise. That morning, however, was a different experience. From the first rays of sun flitting up over the horizon, barely dusting the furthest landscape with a marigold hue, until the point when it stood proudly above the edge of the world, pouring light across every surface, I watched. While the shadows of the apartment buildings turned from the faintest grey, almost indiscernable in the pre-dawn fog, to great blocks of darkness covering the nearby parking garages, I watched. While the light rolled down the radio antennas and water towers, as if someone was pouring great buckets of brilliant golden color across them, I watched. Finally, at the end, when all the land was covered in daylight and I could see the specks of people begin to move about, I came to a realization. I had respected the wisdom of my peers, embarked on my vision quest, and was rewarded with insight:

"This place is too loving flat."

A month later, I graduated, and moved out of state. I haven't been back since.

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