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Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)

CommissarMega's crit


Benny the Snake
Apr 10, 2012


Let's rock.

Martha Stewart Undying
Oct 22, 2012

Gimme a flash rule.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

nutranurse posted:

Gimme a flash rule.
One of your correspondents is trapped in a stable time loop in which every day is the same. The only variables are their own actions and thought process, and the letters they receive and respond to every day, which are always different.

angel opportunity
Sep 7, 2004

Total Eclipse of the Heart

You have to buy health insurance before you sign up

angel opportunity fucked around with this message at 19:26 on Mar 21, 2014

Echo Cian
Jun 16, 2011

Set it to anyone can view.

Nov 15, 2012

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

I can't miss a week.

I just can't.


The Sean
Apr 16, 2005

Am I handsome now?

Fumblemouse posted:

Ghost Story Crits Part 1
In general though, one thing I noticed a hell of a lot in these stories was a lack of agency in the protagonists. If your story is all about someone who meets a ghost, the story shouldn’t be that the character meets a ghost, who then does something that the person sees. The person has to play a part other than observer unless you’re really good and can somehow make a non-viewpoint character the actual protagonist (with all the imparted knowledge about their state and agency that implies).

I can see that I was easily guilty of this. My viewpoint character just showed what was going on and little more. He was just lead along the current of the story without doing anything; I think the story being about a guided tour is no excuse.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




I need an inspirational flashrule

(to be clear not a "lol we dicked u over so funny" flash rule you jerks)

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Sitting Here posted:

I need an inspirational flashrule

(to be clear not a "lol we dicked u over so funny" flash rule you jerks)
The distance between your correspondents is emotional rather than physical.

Feb 27, 2013

I'm in.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)

Echo Cian posted:

Set it to anyone can view.

Sorry, fixed it.

And I'm in.

Lily Catts fucked around with this message at 02:05 on Mar 22, 2014

Jul 18, 2011

Modern worldly poster

I'm in.

Nov 18, 2008

drat, reading all that, I still can't believe I didn't get the losertar.

Anyway, just so we're clear, there's no penalty for submitting your Thunderdome entry early, is there?

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.


Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

CommissarMega posted:

Anyway, just so we're clear, there's no penalty for submitting your Thunderdome entry early, is there?

Don't look for pre-approval. Act, and face the consequences.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Sign ups are closed. 48 hours remain.

Those of you who've been given a flash rule (or adopted one of Mercedes'), kindly quote or otherwise include your flash rule at the beginning of your submission for everyone's convenience.

Apr 29, 2007

Why would an ambulance be leaving the hospital?

Here's my entry. No flash rule.

Protect and Survive (1165 words)

Her brother Bill had told Annie that nine-tenths of soldiering was waiting around for something to happen, but she hadn't thought it'd be the same for her side of the war.

When the boys were returning from a raid, some in trouble, sometimes pursued by German planes, of course then it was exciting, even though Annie's friend Kate had been horrified to hear her use the word. Then you got to help, you could do something for the young men who needed you. You could guide them home. Once or twice Annie had been the last voice they heard. A lad with an accent that reminded her strongly of her Birmingham home had been cut off with horrible abruptness during a report once, and she'd had to go outside and have a cigarette before she could go on. Sergeant Cobham had spoken to her after that with the strangest combination of kindness and severity she'd ever heard. Cobham had a husband out there fighting, and Annie couldn't fathom how she could be so cool under pressure.

But between times, when the planes had gone and were due back soon and you had to just sit there waiting, it was downright dull. You weren't supposed to chatter too much, in case an emergency transmission came in, so mostly you just sat there and looked at your fingernails or contemplated dinner. Sometimes Annie found herself forgetting the reasons behind the war. She found herself sick with boredom and worry; she fretted over her brother, a soldier fighting in France, and she found herself doubting that the war would ever end.

It was late on a winter's night when a strange transmission cut into Annie's numb evening routine. A little girl's voice chanted in strange, stilted German. "Eins zwo drei vier funf." The unseen child had a peculiar, artificial quality, like a recording of a recording. "Eins zwo drei vier funf." Annie could get no response to her own hails and after a minute or two of trying, during which the numbers just kept on repeating, she called the Sergeant over.

"Weather data, isn't it?" the Sergeant said uneasily. She was a sturdy woman and, as she leaned over Annie's desk to listen to her headset, Annie could smell the onions she'd had with her dinner. "Some German weather transmission."

"Yes," said Annie, "but it's just counting again and again. And why a child?"

Sergeant Cobham started to answer, then blinked and pulled the headset off. "It's gone," she said. "Make a report, but probably just a weather transmission, or something. Write it up, there's a girl, but let's get back to it, all right? They'll be back soon."

Two nights later, at the same time, Annie's headset began to crackle and she expected to hear the odd counting broadcast again. When it was different, she called the Sergeant over. "American this time," Cobham said.

"No, listen," Annie said. "It's not anything of ours, just listen."

The voice was distant, echoey, and she'd heard it before, saying just these words. "Get this, Charlie, get this, Charlie, it's - fire! And it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames..."

Cobham snatched the headset off of her head and frowned at it. She'd paled a little and Annie bit her lip, realising too late that the subject might be painful. "It's that Hindenberg broadcast."

"Yes," Annie said. "Perhaps it's being played on some other station? Interference."

"Interference," Cobham muttered. "Don't we have enough crashes and flames without listening to some Nazi airship smashing itself up? Never mind that now." She returned, brooding, to her own chair, and when Annie returned to the headset, there was nothing but the faint hiss of empty air.

The next unusual broadcast came as Annie was talking to a Spitfire pilot on his way out across the channel. His announcement of his position was cut off by a sudden crackle and Annie bit back a curse to call him again. "Squadron Leader? Say again, please sir. Say again?"

"A shot has rung out! A shot rang out and Lee Oswald falls! Lee Oswald has fallen! A shot has rung out here--" The frantic American voice dissolved into a chaos of shouting, furious men's voices that cut off abruptly into hissing silence. Annie looked over her shoulder, tense and frightened, but the Sergeant was busy talking and didn't so much as glance her way. She flicked switches, changing away from the channel and back to it, and found the impatient Spitfire man waiting for her response.

After that she found herself receiving a strange signal of some kind every two or three days. Often they were in other languages, and those she would write up as best she could, in case they were important intelligence of some kind. Sometimes they were in English, snippets from the past that she told herself were just interference from other stations. But sometimes, like the American one about the shooting, they were about unknown and strange events. At least once, she heard something about men on the moon, and when she tried to tell Kate about that - she had long ago stopped telling the Sergeant, who was just becoming more and more quiet and withdrawn - she got herself laughed at. Kate was a very practical person.

When the time came to take Christmas leave, Annie found herself almost reluctant to go. Of course she wanted to see her mother, but the signals had come to dominate her idle moments. She wrote diary entries about them, sometimes, in the little lockable book she kept under her bed. She spent a fraught, uneasy Christmas in a house too marked by the absence of her brother to really feel like home.

There wasn't long to wait. Two days after her return, Annie was listening to empty air when the familiar crackle made her sit up straighter. The voice that came this time was English, a clipped radio voice, speaking quite carefully.

"--with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes."

Annie had to remind herself that these signals, the ones with the strange, echoey quality, had never related to anything solid except things that were long-past. They weren't real. Radio drama, she told herself. Silly nonsense.

"--a fallout warning has been given, stay in your fallout room until you are told it is safe to come out. When the immediate danger has passed the sirens will sound a steady note. The "all clear" message will also be given on this wavelength. If you leave the fallout room to go--"

She listened until the transmission faded out, and she listened all that night and for every shift afterward, but she never heard anything like an all-clear.

Aug 2, 2002

i forgot to sign up but i'm going to submit something anyway because i already wrote it and gently caress DA POLICE

Apr 12, 2006

1087 words

-see archives-

Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 02:52 on Dec 11, 2014

Some Guy TT
Aug 30, 2011

Almost Forgotten
538 words

Joshua and Abe had been taking shots for three rounds before the subject of Alexa Korsakoff had come up. Abe broached the subject with the usual lack of elegance he’d demonstrated in their twenty year professional relationship.

“To Alexa,” he said, holding his shot glass in a mock toast, “the unsung hero of our careers”.

Joshua tried for several seconds to remember who Alexa was, but finally gave up.


“You know, the woman we sent away in the light speed ship.”

Ah, thought Joshua, that Alexa! This aspect of the experiment was all too easy to forget. Joshua and Abe were now leading experts in the field of faster than light travel, and a lot of their research was built on the foundation of that experiment, which had required direct human input to succeed.

“I wonder how she’s doing right now,” Joshua said.

“What are you talking about?” said Abe. “She’s in the spaceship. Where else would she be?”

From Alexa’s point of view the experiment would only take a few years, but to everyone else on Earth she’d be gone for several thousand- the unavoidable effect of the theory of relativity. Data was still coming back, albeit at an increasingly spaced out rate, so it was certain she was still alive.

“Yeah, but how’s she doing?” said Joshua. “Maybe she’s lonely by now.”

“I doubt it,” said Abe. “We ran a lot of tests. Psychological, physical, whatever- she passed with flying colors. If ever there was a person who wanted to be stuck in a tiny space and outlive every human on Earth, it was Alexa Korsakoff.”

“People change,” said Joshua.

“Whatever,” said Abe rolling his eyes.

Joshua knew better than to get sentimental with Abe, so he changed the subject. But he couldn’t stop thinking about Alexa. It just seemed so unfair. She went through the trauma, they got all the credit. And Joshua could barely be troubled to remember the woman’s name, let alone the kind of person she was.

He became obsessed with trying to send her a personal message, to let her know that she wasn’t alone. That people on Earth were rooting for her. This wasn’t true of course- if one of the lead project scientists couldn’t remember Alexa, of course no one in the hoi polloi would either.

But she didn’t know that. Joshua remembered all the reassurance he received from people who told him little encouraging lies, how this had always helped him. These were the thoughts circling his mind when he snuck into the lab one night, and fired off a simple message-

“We’re all rooting for you Alexa! You can do it!”

Pleased with himself, Joshua banished Alexa from his mind. He died some time afterwards having never again thought of the woman.


Several hundred years later Alexa’s reply arrived. The experiment had long since lost funding, and the communication gaps had grown so large that no one had any idea who Alexa was. Her message from deep space prompted panic- some thought this was the herald of an alien invasion. But in the end, the authorities decided to accept Alexa's message in the same spirit it was offered.

“What difference does it make?”

Fanky Malloons
Aug 21, 2010

Is your social worker inside that horse?

CommissarMega posted:

Anyway, just so we're clear, there's no penalty for submitting your Thunderdome entry early, is there?

The penalty is usually that your story ends up being poo poo because you didn't give yourself time to reflect and make edits before posting.

Aug 2, 2002

Memoria Mea Faba
1191 words

crabrock fucked around with this message at 06:46 on Jul 1, 2014

Martha Stewart Undying
Oct 22, 2012

Sorry if this is a dumb question, but I figure I get at least one of those since this is my first thunderdome. Is the deadline to submit tomorrow or is that only the deadline to drop out?

Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

Ghost story crits Pt 2

This is the last of them. If I missed anyone that wasn't disqualified, let me know.

Was after midnight when I posted part 1, so here's a couple of examples from elfdude's comma situation which I skimped on.

elfdude - the call of the banshee

today’s grammar area of focus is the Humble Comma - bad usage includes
“Feeling both cold and warm as he walked, brought goose-bumps to his skin” - You only need a comma between phrases if both phrases have subjects and verbs. Dependent clauses (without both of those elements) probably don’t need the separation.

“Why does it look like I’m out here boy?”, Needs a comma after here

He was surprised when he found nothing, except for a stream - don’t need commas for lists of two

The sound was barely perceptible at first, slowly pleasant song eased its way into his consciousness - needs a conjunctive like ‘but’

Suddenly, a clap like two boards striking each other startled Henry - definitely don’t need one here - and the word ‘suddenly’ often slows down a sentence (contrary to its meaning)

He looked around, and realized that he had fallen asleep by the stream - no subject so second one is a dependant clause = no comma - be careful not to use commas where VERBAL pauses happen

God over Djinn - Ghost of the modern world

Not quite as clever as it wanted to be. A deft touch with language but it goes nowhere and never resolves - left hanging like the ghost leaves the protag. This could be intentional, but I was left unsatisfied and with the sense that, if there was a point, I would have to make it myself.

That said - the characterisation was fairly advanced - I could picture the charactures and hear them differently as I read them, which is always a good sign.

Another story with a lack of true agency for the characters - it’s largely dialog but nobody ever does anything. All dialog stories can be very problematic - it’s great practice for screenplays though.

Paladinus - A ghost of many

Waaay too much telling and not showing.


Just a week has passed since he had to cast a spell of destruction of immense strength – probably the most powerful in written history
Can you think of ways to show this - weariness, disfigurement, a magical focus that is barely glowing...

Yet despite all the telling, I have no clue what happened at the end. Where did this crystal turn up from? Why should we care that he is now being haunted? Why should his thoughts be problem? For all the world-building there’s a lack of focus on the repercussions of what happens or any other reasons why we should care.

That old gannon - Rose tea

Another one where I’m not entirely sure what happened at the end and I don’t really care. Between Kaishai and me I think we figured it out eventually, but it took a few read-throughs and so you failed on the all-important clarity stakes.

Part of this is the tea itself, we’re never clear what it’s purpose is, and it behaves differently. Why does it allow the dead witch to take over the other one (which we assumed happens because they say the same thing), but not Sonny who also drank it. Why would the possessing witch say ‘we’ll speak later’ when speaking now might be a good idea so s/he doesn’t continue to get throttled.

You’ve got some weird word choices in there: The magic dissipated against his palm in a very refreshing sensation - refreshing? really? Sounds lovely.

as each of his words fed the indignant, kindling rage eating at him from the inside. - kindling is pretty tautologous in this case and also makes no sense if its already at the eating stage

Doc beard - Spirits cannot harm the living

This wasn’t too bad and effort - ending clicked nicely, world seemed well-realised. I think it might be a bit of a stretch to say the ghost wasn’t known to the protag as per the prompt though. Tsk Tsk.

Your paragraphs seem to get shorter as the story progresses - This can work if your heading toward a big, fast moving climax, but often it means that your first paras are heavy in exposition and you might need to find some other way of showing us what you mean. I think this is the case here.

toanoradian - A thesis on ghost

This was pleasantly well thought out, and clear but it lacked a certain something. I just didn’t really feel anything when Dukos fate was revealed, it felt more like I had been shown the end results of an equation, albeit a clever one. Yes, Duko has been taken over, but what are the consequences for him or the world? Why should I care? Why should a ghost ‘like’ to possess someone?

The repetition of coming closer three times is something that works well with a spoken story, but perhaps less well on a page.

Couple of howlers: it ‘were’ the shadows. Remembering his last screams when he didn’t ever actually scream. Feeling? a face on the window.

Crabrock - things that die

The Chocky of ghost stories. A tale full of dialog where nothing much happens but a small amount is revealed.

So the ghost here is a smart gangster - philosopher. Why has the ghost started talking to an eight year old and pontificating to him? Will we ever know? Probably not.

We really needed some kind of consequence here, some reason to care why the ghost was worse or better than Bobby Henderson

WeLandedOnTheMoon - Silver Necklace

Disturbingly graphic, and not ineffective in a visceral way. Plus some ralatively complex action which I managed to staty on top of, despite having read a poo poo-ton of other stories by then.

Jumps to different Points of View a couple of times, which is a little annoying

Lacks characterisation, particularly of Sarah, who we need to empathise with in order to want her to survive. In order for us to care if something is destroyed, we have to understand its value.

QuoProQuo - Ghost stories for CHildren

A very traditional approach to the ghost story - good campfire stuff.

Don’ think the jumping around in time part really works for it - in this case, I think you needed to start at the beginning and work through to the end. The divisions really aren’t clear and ther giant flashback in the middle kills a lot of suspense. Perhaps if you start with the brother telling stories, and then the girl finding herself in the middle of one will feel more natural.

Barracuda Bang - the throng song

This is a bit of an idiot plot - the monsters have to be idiots (or in this case, cliche stereotypes) for it to actually work

They’ve got lips ten times the size of normal lips, but it’ the ‘technical perfection’ that makes the girl run?

The last line is almost completely unnecessary - you could include it as a detail, but ending the story on it is like saying ‘just in case you were too dumb to pick up what I was getting at’.

Perpetulence - drifting

Couldn’t quite figure out the meaning of this story. What is the point of the corpse? Why is the ghost there - to save him from purgatory? Then why isn’t the ghost in purgatory instead of being fished out of the ocean. Why did he lie about how it happened? poo poo makes no sense, dude.

His story about the rat makes no sense either. Just...why?

And then at the end a boat appears and he is saved. Hoorah! That came totally out of left field. As did the attempted suicide. I get being freaked out by a ghost, but so freaked out by a ghost leaving that you top yourself? Need some indication that he was that way inclined beforehand.

The sean - the tour

this wasn’t too bad an attempt - a creative situation that is, at least, well explained and the set-up makes sense. All the parts of the machine are there, but...

You’ve got four paragraphs of exposition before anything actually happens. Try to start more with an interesting event to capture the reader and let the exposition happen naturally. You’ve got a good opening line but no follow through.

Similarly - characterisation suffers quite a bit. You protags are completely reactive and never take action for themselves, so we never learn about them through their response to situations.

I’d like to see you take another pass at this once the other crits are in and see if you can take the solid premise and make an involving story out of it.

curlingiron - finding

The whole hallucination aspect being a red herring as well as the mother’s ghost having no actual role in the story means this becomes quite confusing, but it does remain internally consistent so good work there.

The reason that the girl sees through the monster’s monstrousness seems pat, and so loses a lot of effectiveness - she never really has to work at it.

Why does the girl write back to her Gram in all caps?

noah - fire in the night

I’m not really sure why the protag would think for a moment that Billy’s argument about the firefly was in any way a good reason not to rescue someone from quicksand. And the fact that this has happened before makes them seem like idiots for not having come up with some way to prevent it and not let Ricky lose them time in the chase.

I don’t get why he can’t give the jar to Billy either.

The ending seems non-committal. Did something happen to Billy? Is he pissed at being left alone? Did he find the wisp and now he’s annoyed that the jar wasn’t resent. really not sure what you were going for here.

sitting here - the lost hour

I was intrigued by this, but it suffered from a number of problems. The protag just wanders along, gets informed of some stuff by the magic people and then wanders back. Was the message particularly applicable to her? She responds by taking time to watch the sunrise - but the magic folk’s opening line is ‘You’re going to slow?’ Too slow for what? Presumably they called out Amaya’s name to get her to go in another direction so they could talk to Jodi, but why Jodi?

Duwamish made me think native american, but Bosom of Abraham made me think jewish. There’s probably some interesting backstory there, but I don’t know what it is, which is a shame, because the idea of the bosom of abraham as a plot device is really quite cool. Is this some crypto-history thing of which I am not aware? Is it the Mormons?

Other than that - I liked this one a lot. Some of the beginning stretch had me checking back, but that might just have been unfamilar names which I can have trouble tracking.

Lake Jucas - ghost stories of the old world

Another story that takes many paragraphs before something interesting happens. You need to grab the reader with something to make them want to follow on - it wasn’t until the corpses were discovered that I was intrigued by what was going on. Who cares that she went for a swim? You mention survivors, but this is ignored later on - which is odd because survivors could account for most of the weirdness - moving corpses and people having a good old vom in the bedroom.

someone else retching wring out from the bedroom - I assume you mean ring, and even then, ringing isn’t an adjective I’d use to describe retching

At the end, the pile of corpses is gone. The presumption is that, what - they’re zombies now? There’s not really much of a ghost thing going on here - unless it was ghosts that vomited earlier. How do ghosts move bodies? So many questions! Perhaps we need more information from the nightmares themselves, which you didn’t go into.

systran - empyrean son

I really enjoy this kind of story, and you did well with economy. It’s not really a ghosty story either, though it does have a dead person so half-marks there. I really enjoy the feeling when the elements of a story cohere (it’s a ‘locking in’ sensation for me) and you pretty much have it. Couple of questions though

Did he kill the adulterer or just knock out his teeth and blind him? It almost seems as if the dustmouth and darkness is directly related to the teeth and the eye, but it would make more sense if it was his tongue rather than his teeth. It does kind of fit when he chews on gritty sand, but it just doesn’t quite link up.

Using the word King three times in the last paragraph weakens the overall effect,

bad seafood - captured memories

Definitely one of the better stories here. I would have preferred it if their was somehow more intention in Sasha’s action, as she seems to luck into the photograph resolution, but the characterisation here and the fact it’s Sasha’s choice to work with the camera make up for it somewhat.

The dialogue here flows naturally, and I can hear each character, though you’ve not gone overboard with the accent idiosyncrasies. “She always liked to come her to watch as the sun burst through the waves." - burst here might be a funny word choice, but it’s forgivable.

On a similarly positive note - there’s a good match between dialog and description, with neither overpowering the story or being its sole driver - dialogue heavy people take note. She turned it on its side and the camera breathed dust - that’s a lovely line.

phobia - mud

Ok - so this is a one joke story. It’s a joke that overstays its welcome, though, and isn’t brilliant. Why is there all this mud? Was it raining? You never say - the mud just turns up on the carpets. The ending just kind of drags a bit too - once the joke is revealed you need to end it quick, to keep it snappy.

Why are Hansel’s pants around his ankles at the end? I have no idea, it’s just such an odd detail. How did he speed off into the distance in such deshabille?

I don’t think Nocturne is, in fact, another word for night

Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at 01:34 on Mar 23, 2014

Echo Cian
Jun 16, 2011

nutranurse posted:

Sorry if this is a dumb question, but I figure I get at least one of those since this is my first thunderdome. Is the deadline to submit tomorrow or is that only the deadline to drop out?

They're the same thing. Either you submit or you don't. It's tomorrow either way.

I would recommend submitting.

Jul 26, 2011

The Arecibo Message
1,131 words
“Well,” Professor William Ingram said, to no one in particular, “Here we are.” He stepped out of his car into the heat of the Puerto Rican summer and began walking toward the large, stark-white complex he knew as work. He turned his eyes skyward, briefly admiring the few clouds drifting lazily by, before catching himself dallying. Straightening his coat, he walked through the sliding glass doors into the crowded lobby of the Arecibo Observatory.

“Buenos días, Professor Ingram!” The always-chipper voice of the resident secretary, Mrs. Alvarez, stuck out through the room's din.

“Buenos días, Seńora Alvarez.” Ingram glanced at her desk, noting the papers strewn across the surface. It was messy – well, messier than usual. “Been busy?” he grinned.

“You have no idea, Professor. I've been getting called all morning from news sites, other foundations, blog-kids, the works! I tell ya, whatever you've been working on better be worth all this!” She swept her arms around, indicating the battlefield that is her desk. Right on cue, her phone started ringing.

“ˇMierda! Sorry, Professor, but I've got work to do.” Mrs. Alvarez swore, turning her attention back to the phone and the carpet of paperwork.

“Me too. Take care, Sra. Alvarez.” Ingram waved, and began worming his way through the groups, toward the security doors at the far end of the room.

“Pardon me, Sr. Ingram? Felipe Cruz, reporter for Verdad. Can I have a moment of your time?” A well-dressed Puerto Rican man, a good 30cm taller than he, blocked his way.

“I'm sorry, Sr. Cruz,” Ingram murmured, trying to scooch his way around the large man without drawing any more attention. “I have important business to-”

“Wait, did you say that Professor Ingram is in the building?” A shrill voice pierced the air, and in a moment's notice, Ingram felt the eyes of a nation on him. “I have to go!” he blurted, shoving Cruz out of the way and pressing onward toward the doors of salvation. A crowd of reporters followed close behind, throwing questions at him, hoping they would stick.

“Professor, is it true that the SETI program has finally produced positive results?”

“Sr., can you or can you not confirm the peaceful intentions of any extraterrestrials?”

“How have they contacted us? Answer us!”

Ingram soldiered on, trying to block out the inane jabbering coming from these reporters. Finally reaching the door, he turned around into a series of smartphone cameras going off and a wall of words hit him like a bag of bricks. Gathering all the energy he could, he shouted, “Would Sr. Cruz please come here?” Silence fell across the room. The large fellow methodically pushed his way through the crowds, the quiet slowly replaced with confused muttering.

“First come, first served.” Ingram gestured at Cruz to follow him through the security door. He stepped through and let out a sigh as the large doors locked behind them.

“I take it you are not a fan of crowds, żno?” Cruz wiped his forehead. “I am not.”

Ingram had not even stopped to catch his breath. “Can you walk and talk? I'm running late.” he called back as he paced down the hallway.

“Yes,” Cruz said, jogging up to him and clearing his throat with a cough. “I have a few questions for you, if you would answer them?”

Ingram rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, let's get on with it.”

“A few years ago, a researcher from within Arecibo Observatory reported that the SETI program had finally produced results. If that is true, what makes today so momentous?”

“I'm surprised you know about that,” Ingram said as he continued along at a good clip. “It took a back seat to larger issues, but the short story is we received radio waves from outer space. This isn't normally notable, but these waves, when decoded, formed a distinct audio pattern that was, undoubtedly, a communication of some sort, to someone. We reported our finds to resounding silence back then.” Ingram glanced back at Cruz. “Speaking of, you made off pretty good during the Unification, right? I've read your stuff.”

“I don't know what you mean, Sr. Ingram,” Cruz lied. “I worked for the good of Puerto Rico. I always have.”

“Well, that agenda you've been pushing? You may want to change it, after today,” Ingram stopped in front of another large, gray security door. “Because we got another message, and this time, we think it's addressed to us.” Ingram opened the doors and entered a large, multi-tiered room, not unlike a lecture hall. A few scientists sat at computers, typing away, while others consulted with colleagues. Compared to the chaos that was the lobby, this inner sanctum was calming, in a way.

“Professor.” A young scientist stepped up to greet Ingram. “The decoding team has nearly finished their work on the data. If you would follow me?”

“Thank you, Doctor Rivera.” Ingram followed the Doctor, with Cruz in close pursuit. In a side room, hardly more than a conference room, sat four scientists. Their faces were drawn taut; their eyes, glassy. Ingram frowned, then began whispering to Cruz.

“The new find was not radio waves. It was light, in the visible spectrum. Galaxies, out there, are dying. Not going supernova, but just...burning out, spontaneously. But that's not the concerning part.” Cruz raised an eyebrow. “The concerning part is that each subsequent galaxy that burns out is closer and closer to us. And,” Ingram swallowed. “They're speeding up. So we brought on these experts to help find a message in them. We have here, Mr. Osinov of the USSR, cryptography ; Ms. Nagamine of Japan, linguistics; Sr. Leon of Puerto Rico, algorithms; and Mr. Talutah of Dakota, communication.”

The largest man of the four stood up. His features were distinctly Sioux. Sr. Talutah, Cruz thought. He began speaking, with a booming voice that carried both great strength, and great sorrow, but for a moment, Cruz could have sworn that he stuttered. “We just finished looking at the data. It sounds difficult to believe, but the pattern the galaxies were burning out in were, undoubtedly...smoke signals.” Talutah choked. “Smoke signals, indicating with complete certainty, 'It it hopeless. Flee. Do not stay and fight.'”

Cruz felt the life drain from his face and his heart leapt into his throat. Ingram did nothing but nodded to himself, scratching his chin pensively.

“How can you be so calm, at a time like this?!” Cruz screamed, his imposing form towering over Ingram.

Ingram chuckled to himself. “I'm just happy. It sounds ridiculous, but I'm actually happy to hear that, since that means all our evidence is consistent.” Cruz stepped away from Ingram, recoiling in equal parts fear and disgust.

“After all, the audio we decoded those years ago? Screaming. Nothing but screaming.”
I feel like this is pretty rubbish, but I haven't really written fiction in a few years and, hey, it's better than not writing at all!

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week LXXXIV: RunningIntoWalls, Lead out in cuffs, Masonity, Some Guy TT, Chairchucker, Nethilia, SurreptitiousMuffin, CommissarMega, Echo Cian, Cache Cab, Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi, Djeser, Entenzahn, and The News at 5

'Ghost stories' should have been an easy prompt. No saidisms, no dialects, no demand that your work include the words 'frigorific' and 'mouth-friend'; you only needed to write a story in which ghosts played a critical role. Would you believe several people either made their ghosts incidental or may not even have had them at all? I would, alas, because I've read all the stories several times now and combed through the most dubious for any trace of ectoplasm. All had something that might be a ghost--except maybe for one--but you'll notice that the winner and honorable mentions had clear and undeniable spectral presences.

Other than that, the big trend was story elements that made no drat sense. If you want to live on the edge, pour some alcohol and take a shot every time I say 'I don't know' or 'I don't understand' or 'why God why' in these crits. I recommend substituting water or soda so you don't become a ghost yourself.

RunningIntoWalls, "Dancing and Drinking"

I had trouble making sense of your story, and I believe that's because there's very little sense to be found in it. Why does your main character believe so readily that he's hallucinating? Why is he so calm about going nuts? Why is his answer to auditory hallucinations to knock on the door? Why does he go into a strange, grimy building when he has a party and a date waiting for him? Why does one ghost drink turn him into a dancer? How can his hat have been Doc's hat when Doc's hat was in the safe? Why did Doc give him his hat at all? Why is it 'sparsely populated' even in the present? Whyyyyyyy?

The actions of your protagonist--who needs a name--have so little logic that the story is little but a random sequence of events with no plot thread to hold it together. There's no satisfaction, no real resolution. The man who leaves the ghost bar is the same man who entered, only he has a moldy hat now. Nothing he saw or experienced was interesting enough to carry the piece. It ends up feeling weightless, pointless, and very forgettable.

For the first several paragraphs you deliver exposition through dialogue without the grace needed to pull it off. '“You wanted to go to a costume party and agreed that we could go as a flapper and gangster.”' Why would he tell her this? How could she possibly need to be told? She knows. 'This dirty old fedora is the best you could do?' isn't quite as egregious, but I still notice you're using dialogue to tell me the hat is a fedora rather than describing it for me. This is a pretty common problem for inexperienced writers. Trying to work exposition into the story in a natural way is a good goal, but always keep in mind what people in a given situation would reasonably say to each other; you've goofed if the reader can tell the information is strictly for his benefit.

Your characters have no character to them at all. They don't even have names! The woman is just 'she,' and she doesn't seem to matter a whit to the protagonist. I couldn't tell you anything about him either beyond that he's a crappy date. The only decision he makes for himself without being told is to knock on the door of the warehouse.

Sometimes your action isn't clear. 'A sigh. A perfectly timed wind gust blew the cap out of my hand and around the corner.' Wasn't the woman holding the hat? Who sighed? Why are you making this vague? Don't make it difficult for your reader to follow what's going on unless you have a damned good reason.

The concept of stumbling across a bar full of ghosts was fun if not brilliantly original. I would have liked to see more time at the ghost bar, less time arguing about a hat. You could have and should have described the place in greater detail! Atmosphere is one of my favorite things about a good ghost tale, but you've left it out of this one altogether.

The story is quite bad, but for all my grousing I'll consider myself blessed if it's the worst of the lot. I get the impression you're a new-ish writer trying your wings. If so, you could have done worse. Stick around, punch out a few more stories, and we'll see whether my hunch that you have some potential is right.

Writing Mechanics: Poor, but in ways that suggest a shaky grasp on grammar on your part more than a lack of effort. You pass. You have a consistent problem with punctuating dialogue, specifically with failing to end your dialogue clauses with any punctuation at all. On one occasion you close with a period when you needed a comma: '“What a nightmare.” I droned, rubbing my temples.' 'I droned' et al is a dialogue tag and just looks goofy as a separate sentence.

While on the subject of 'teased,' 'remarked,' 'droned,' 'exclaimed,' 'responded,' and their regrettable adverbial accompaniment, the time for abusing saidisms like these was last week. Only 'exclaimed exhaustedly' is worth banging my head on my desk over on its own ('exhaustedly' is a horrible adverb and I can't think offhand of a righteous reason to use it, ever), but you have way too many of these things. 'Said' is invisible; 'asked' is more or less invisible; anything else is not, and a heavy hand with alternatives such as these draws a reader's attention from the story to the prose. That's not a good thing in most cases, including yours.

I saw one instance of a misplaced modifier: 'After going in separate directions, I chased the hat to a quiet stoop.' Did your protagonist split in two? Are his legs going one way, his torso another? Probably not, so you needed to phrase this a different way, because right now you're saying the protagonist went in separate directions. 'After we went our separate directions' would have conveyed what you intended.

Don't think I didn't notice the missing words in phrases like 'I could live being crazy for a night' and 'Should look brand new because nothing opened that box in over 70 years.' That is not a viable way to get around the word limit!

You used the past tense throughout this story, but when characters are thinking about things in their past, you should use the past perfect instead. Examples: 'I picked the shittest costume because I procrastinated' should be 'I had picked the shittiest costume because I had procrastinated.' (Note also the correct spelling of 'shittiest.') 'I returned to the bar to find a note and key where Doc was' should be 'I returned to the bar to find a note and key where Doc had been.'

This is not technically a writing issue, but formatting Doc's note as a quote was an odd choice that reminded me I was reading a forums post, in effect throwing me out of the story. Putting stuff like that in italics in the future would differentiate it enough from regular text.

Overall your mechanics are not too hot, but most of your sentence-level errors are easily fixed and could be avoided in the future without much trouble.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Lead out in cuffs, "Sacrifice"

Kaishai posted:

Tell us tales of the recently deceased or of persons long passed, but never gone--but with a caveat: your surviving characters cannot have known the ghost while it was alive.

This isn't a good week for reading comprehension. You missed this part of the prompt entirely and were disqualified for it.

Aside from that, this piece is decent. Not exciting. It feels familiar, like a story I've heard before, though Hans inadvertently haunting his mother to her death was a welcome touch. The mother sells him for gold too easily. It would take a special kind of monster to have her only child buried alive so she can have new thatch and a good door, for God's sake, but you don't show that she's a living horror in any other way--she's instead portrayed as a hardworking woman who lets her son run and play while she breaks her back to earn bread for him. That characterization doesn't support her action, so it feels contrived.

I don't get a sense of much time passing between Hans' imprisonment and his death. His starvation ought to have taken days, but it seems like hours. You miss out on a stab of horror here; this is a terrible way to die, but by having him sleep through most of it, you reduce the impact of just what an awful end it was for his mother to arrange for him.

It lacks in chill factor as a result. The tone is just too light for the scenario you're trying to portray. If you spent more time on the mother's motives and made Hans' death more grim (I'm not suggesting deep detail here; more emphasis on how long it took him to die might be sufficient), you'd have a better ghost story, IMO. I did like the way Hans waited so innocently by his mother's corpse. His naivete made that scene more horrific, because I knew she was dead and rotting while he waited, but he did not.

Writing Mechanics: You pass; your prose isn't technically flawless, but I'm confident you proofread. I don't agree with all your choices regarding commas, but since your usage is generally good I suspect the anomalies are deliberate. You forgot the past perfect in 'This was strange because, when he went to sleep, it had been spring.' Again, though, your tenses are mostly correct.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Masonity, "Bonfire Night"

Boiled down to its essentials, yours isn't a bad story. A man gets lost in the woods on a dark night and feels something bumping his legs, but he can't touch or find it. In a panic, he flees back to civilization, but when the memory of his experience won't leave him, he returns to the park and realizes that he met the ghost of a dog strangled by its own choke chain. Aww. The ending is kinda touching, the premise decent--and the execution horrible. You missed the spooky atmosphere you were going for by a mile and loaded your tale down with lard in the form of extraneous thoughts and inconsequential details.

Inconsequential details: in your opening paragraph, you tell a lot about the event the protagonist (who needs a name in yours, too--should I start keeping a tally on this?) is trying to leave. But what does that matter? Why is it relevant that there were fire jugglers and weed? None of that tells me where the story is set or what the occasion is, and all I need to know is that the main character was at a festival in a forested area and wandered off on his own. The fireworks are a decent detail because their light and noise contrasts with the dark and silence of the forest, but the rest, enh. Possibly worse is that I presume there's a bonfire, given your title, but you never mention that.

More irrelevance crops up when you start talking about stale food. This is bizarre. 'I needed to be out of this park, back in my city. I needed the false dawn of a thousand street lights. I needed the chaotic orchestra of traffic. I needed the smells of grilled onions, week old hot-dogs and month old, hardened buns.' I'm with you for those first three sentences. Then the protagonist is yearning for buns that are not fresh and I have no idea what the hell. I don't know which city this is, you know--am I supposed to be able to tell? Is there somewhere out there especially known for its week-old hot dogs?

Extraneous thoughts: oh, Lord, Masonity, the thoughts. Your first five paragraphs all have the protagonist thinking things to himself, and while the first two thought interjections work okay, they start getting obtrusive with the third. If you'd said 'The river ran along the south side of the park, so if I headed in that direction, I could figure out where I was,' without the italics, you'd have delivered the same information in a way that would have melded with the other text and left your protagonist looking like less of a Chatty Cathy within his own mind. The fourth could be blended in similarly. The fifth could be removed altogether. You drop the thoughts for the rest of the story, mostly, and it reads better for it; they turn up again with 'I'm safe. I'm off that terrible path! I thought,' and you could cut this too. We know he's off the terrible path. We just saw him flee the terrible path.

Another thing that doesn't work for you is the *pad* *pad* *pad*. If you're going to do sound effects, just put 'em in italics, with proper punctuation for good measure. Pad pad pad pad. If you think that looks silly, I can't blame you, but the asterisks are worse. Maybe you avoided the italics because you used them so often for thoughts? If you cut back on the thoughts, that wouldn't be an issue.

I can tell you were out to build an atmosphere, and I appreciate that. It's especially nice to see after two stories that didn't have any. But the sequence starting with 'Then the world turned dark' (terribly cliche phrase, that) isn't effective. The protagonist's mood switches from normal to primal terror waaaaay too quickly. He's not trapped, and he's in a park. Even if he were out in the wild woods, I would believe increasing unease that built into panic, but you've got him going from Where's the river, anyway? to IT IS DARK I AM GOING TO DIE in 0.1 seconds! Then, to compound the problem, he switches back just as quickly: 'With no other option available' is not the thought of a man fighting his hardest not to scream. I don't buy this at all.

I don't like the way he pushes fast in first one direction, then the other either. If he's a ten-minute straightforward run from the fairground, if he was never the least lost and could always go back the way he came, his panic attack before looks even more lame. Dude, just turn around.

Why did he take the dark, tree-lined path to start with? That doesn't make a lot of sense if he's ten minutes from his bus stop on the main road.

The finale with the dog is nice, by far the best part of the story. It's sweet and sad and mildly chilling to think of a dead dog wandering in the night in search of a human to walk beside. Your final beat is good. The protagonist's compassion overcomes his fear. Good for him.

You aren't going to lose, but this entry has a whole lot of problems. It might be worth it to try and fix them up since the story at the heart, though simple, is a nice little ghost tale.

Writing Mechanics: Weak--but better than last week! Your mistakes are, sadly, consistent, so I think you tried.

There is an error that will drive sensitive writers, readers, and editors absolutely mad; they will froth with rage, they will vomit a torrent of hate that would break the walls of the Hoover Dam and drown all the world. That error is the inclusion of an apostrophe in the possessive 'its.' You do this constantly. If you would rather not bring floods of bile down on your head in the future, check out this explanation of the proper uses of 'its' and 'it's,' and take its wisdom to heart.

You should hyphenate compound modifiers when they appear before a noun, such as 'over-applied perfume' or 'month-old, hardened buns.' The S in 'GPS' should be capitalized. The past participle of 'broke' is 'broken,' so where you wrote 'I should have broke' you should have written 'I should have broken.' Leaving 'I' in lowercase in 'I explained i was fine' is such a ridiculous error that I'm tempted to rethink whether you proofread at all; your track record saves you. Baby steps. We'll get you to flinch when you see a pronoun in lowercase yet.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Some Guy TT, "That Which Is Seen"

This one is all over the place. None of its elements cohere all that well. It isn't a successful tale of poetic justice, though I think you may have wanted it to be; it doesn't deliver a fitting comeuppance to the main character, who started out with the potential for nuance but quickly became a one-dimensional rear end in a top hat. It isn't frightening, though you deliver some solidly creepy imagery. I can't tell exactly what point you were aiming for, but I'm pretty sure you didn't hit it.

When the story began, I saw Stevens as a man who did the right thing--putting drug dealers away--for the wrong reason, namely his personal ambition. That quickly changed as he randomly talked down to and then tried to punch a beggar. The hell? Why not have him kick a puppy next? He turned into a caricature of an all-out, idiotic douchebag. I say 'idiotic' because I can't imagine an ordinary man dumb enough to hope to meet vengeful ghosts after death. This was a disappointing change, as it removed all my potential sympathy for Stevens.

As for the ghost: as I understand it, in life the beggar was a successful man who also went around punching homeless people, and the woman he punched was a ghost who presumably sucked all the moisture out of him and condemned him to become such a ghost when he died. It's like a curse that must be passed on, leading to an endless succession of undead assholes. There's definite potential in that idea, but I don't think it works well in this particular story because this fate completely ignores Stevens' ruthlessness and his ambition, which do not seem tied to his cartoonish beggar-punching ways. What's more, Stevens doesn't appear to suffer for it in life. He still becomes a judge. He lives a long life. He has children, ungrateful or not. That he's a hateful ghost after he dies isn't very satisfying--especially since he doesn't seem to mind!

And what's this revenge he's planning to get? The beggar is long gone. Whoever he meets and kisses or whatever will probably be a stranger to him, and you can't get revenge on someone who never did anything to you.

The way the beggar's mouth stretched into a knife of flesh was nicely creepy, but it was completely random. Ditto the infinite rows of teeth, grime, etc. I liked the imagery, but I have no idea why the beggar kissed Stevens to pass the curse on. I have no idea why the ghost had so many teeth if it fed by sucking moisture through Stevens' lips. These things do not go together. The :wtc: factor kept the encounter from being horrible in the way you likely intended.

I'd like to see you in future rounds since you have solid prose and creative ideas going for you, but this one's a flop.

Writing Mechanics: These are quite sound. You need spaces after your ellipses, but no other errors stood out to me.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Chairchucker, "Undying Love"

As light as a feather, as subtle as an anvil to the face. This is a weak showing from you. The characters have no depth, there's no plot, and there's next to no humor to cover up for what's missing. There's really nothing here but a moral delivered by drawing a direct parallel between dead people and other groups stigmatized by society. The message is a very obvious one I've seen a thousand times, which doesn't make it a bad message but does make for a tired story.

Worse, your parallel doesn't work. A ghost could end up walking the earth forever! That's a significant complication to issues like marriage or the vote, so I'm not thinking How horrible when you tell me dead and living people can't legally marry, I'm thinking No kidding, how would that work? The bigotry of the waiter doesn't make any sense either. What's his objection? I'm not aware of a cultural or religious bias against ghosts--this could be ignorance on my part, granted. Your setup is less effective the more I think about it, and isn't the point of a metaphor like this to think about it?

If you wanted to make this more moving or more effective, you'd need IMO to go into a lot more depths regarding ghosts and how they exist in the world. The bit where Sue has to go haunt is good (and the only funny line in the piece); you could build on that. For now it's a wisp of a thing without any punch. I didn't mind reading it at all. But you can do a lot better.

Writing Mechanics: You're fine, other than 'school leaving minimum wage earner' needing a hyphen at the very least.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Nethilia, "Katy's Doll"

A ghost child coming for the current possessor of its old toy isn't the newest idea under the sun, but there's logic to it, and you use the familiar scenario to tell a cute story about the relationship between two sisters. The ghost isn't the focus here; Ginger's exasperation with and love of Katy are where the tale's heart lies.

I do wonder why Katy couldn't get rid of the doll herself. What's to stop her from throwing it into the ocean, or at least putting it on a shelf instead of clutching it at night? That bothers me a bit, and so does Ginger's initial reaction to the doll, which is pretty darned extreme. You don't hint that she's sensing anything particularly sinister about it, so she does look awfully bratty for wanting to smash her little sister's new toy. Another point that didn't altogether work for me came at the end: did Katy never tell their parents over the two weeks that Ginger was grounded that she'd told Ginger to toss the doll? Your final line is a leeetle saccharine, but it does a good job of tying a bow on your theme.

On the whole, you did well at showing that Ginger may not always like Katy, but she always loves her, and I enjoyed your piece despite my quibbles above. Something else will take the win this week, but you made me smile.

Writing Mechanics: No significant problems here. I don't think 'clinging the doll to her' is proper English, though; 'clinging to the doll' is the phrase you probably should have used. You also need four dots in an ellipsis that ends a sentence, but these tiny issues don't detract from the story.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

SurreptitiousMuffin, "Freezing Floor Bolt Gun Blues"

You took on one of my favorite weird objects and crowned it with horrors. Thanks! This story of a slaughterhouse ghost, a horn-headed lord of the slain, was a fine interpretation of your flash rule. You went for visceral horror, and you achieved it. Other submissions creeped me out, but yours actually did that in the way you intended it to. Your imagery was top notch. I thought you chose well which details to give about your ghost: the colors, the limbs, the eyes, but you left room for imagination to work. Details such as the color of Andy's vomit were also effective. That he puked made sense in his circumstances, and that it was yellow meant something. Your gross stuff wasn't gratuitous.

But excellent imagery and great lines ('Not even if it cost $3.50 and came with sides'--I had KFC the day before reading this, and I wish it had only been $3.50) were most of what the entry had to offer; the story itself was more bones than meat. All I learned about Andy was that he was a poor junkie. That didn't suggest he was a good man, so his fate wasn't as compelling as bad things happening to good people. It didn't make him a man who deserved to be kicked to death by murdered animals, so it wasn't satisfying to see his agonies. Enjoyable, sure. There wasn't a plot to speak of, but that's not much of a flaw in flash horror--Andy's somewhat shallow character isn't exactly a flaw either, but I do think the story could have delivered a sharper punch if there were more to him.

The one thing I don't like at all is your last line. Ugh. Chop it. Andy kneeling is a great final image if you'd just leave it alone.

Writing Mechanics: Not a problem for you. Other than a stray line break, this looks great. Your Judder judder works so much better than *padpadpadpadpad* that Masonity should take notes.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

CommissarMega, "A Doctor For Mama"

As with RunningIntoWall's quoted note, the choice to put your story within quote tags reminded me constantly that I was reading a forums post. The idea was to enable your joke at the end, probably, which makes me facepalm more rather than less; I got my RDA of blown-off rules early this week.

You have my deepest thanks for working with your flash rule and turning it into a story that wasn't the least creepy. I'm not as familiar with the hantu tetek as Rhino, but I've found websites describing her as a hag who goes after children that stay out past sunset, and that all fits your story line. I haven't found any that suggest a personality or human emotions for her, but I'd say you're within the realm of poetic license--and if the alternative was a story of children being smothered by breasts, well, I'll go with a little folkloric inaccuracy. This entry was sweet, almost too sweet, more fairy tale than ghost story, but within the bounds of the prompt.

Where was your second flash rule, though? I don't see Eternity is in love with the secretions of time in this at all. The tetek's tears, or Nizam's, might be secretions. But neither of them represent time. The tetek's ghostly existence might be eternal, but she's not in love with anything. I'd have to say you flubbed this, which didn't count in your favor.

I didn't like it when the doctor told Nizam that big boys have big responsibilities, because he seemed to be contradicting himself: in bringing a doctor to his mother, Nizam did take on a large responsibility. So how does 'you're old enough for responsibilities' gel with 'don't shoulder adult burdens anymore'?

You were still in no danger of losing this week. Your cultural details were good and incorporated well, your main character had a personality, his actions made sense, and you brought everything to a neat resolution. I'm not saying it's impossible to lose in Thunderdome while all of those things are true, but these days it's rather unlikely.

Writing Mechanics: Pretty good, but you stumbled here and there. A single hyphen is a bad choice for an em-dash substitute. Two--like this--is more common; that does a better job of keeping dashes and hyphens visually distinct. Whenever you flash back to an earlier event in a past-tense story (as you did in 'One time,' etc.) you should use the past perfect (i.e., 'he had heard one of the neighbours'). 'Is that why the hantu tetek came for him?' should have been in past perfect also. In the phrase 'Her most obvious feature, however, were the pendulous breasts,' 'feature' is singular and doesn't match your plural verb; 'features' would be the way to go. You used a semicolon in the first sentence where you needed a colon. Etc. Your technical skill is nevertheless more solid than not.

Worse than those small errors were the three dialogue attributions in the paragraph starting with 'But when' she drew him close.' Auuugh, why? It's the same guy speaking all three times! You only needed one!

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Echo Cian, "Fallen Grace"

One thing I like very much is the way you draw the political background. You don't talk outright about the approaching rebellion until it happens, but the hints are there to be seen: a queen's execution, another queen's coronation. This subtlety isn't the most obvious aspect of your writing (well, natch), but its use gives the story a feeling of depth and precision. More is going on in your world than Eloisa's romance.

This building tension and its culmination in Eloisa's final choice are where the chills in your story come from. Your ghost isn't frightening at all. As a result, you manage to twine the haunting and the heartwarming together. The elegant balancing job you've done largely justifies the fact that neither the chills nor the heartstring-tugs are very strong.

What I mean by the latter is that while Eloisa's and Jaramis's story was sweet, I didn't feel all that engaged by it. I didn't see why they fell in love. Oh, I can guess at Eloisa's end: he's wondrous and strange and doesn't paw at her like that guardsman. He treats her like a lady. And I can guess that when she and he talked by the window, they came to know each other better than the reader ever gets to know them. But with none of those moments or details on camera, the love story feels a little hollow. I have to take it on faith. I certainly can, and it works, and yet....

Fumblemouse had an idea regarding why Jaramis falls for Eloisa: that the maids' story that the ballroom ghost waits for women who look like his lost love and kills them was not far off the mark. That perhaps Eloisa resembles his dead lady--and he may have intended her death all along. That's an intriguing notion, but I've decided I don't agree; Jaramis being anything but a good man would seem to go against the idea that he deserved to be a lord in death regardless of his station in life. I see another possibility in lines that initially confused me: 'She stared at him in wonder. How could she have forgotten, as well?' Is it possible Eloisa is the reincarnation of his lady? Oof. Reincarnation is a well-beaten path in fantasy romance. Not one I particularly like; it usually cheapens the characters' bond. If that wasn't your intention, you may want to change those lines, as they seem nonsensical otherwise.

Eloisa is a slightly generic character, a castle maid in need of an escape from the unpleasantness of her station who ultimately dies for freedom and love. I have no problem with any of that, but who is she? What makes her Eloisa? This, I think, is why I was drawn more to Seafood's despite the strengths of this piece. His characters had more individual character, and I was more engaged by the friendship between Erin and Sasha than the love between Eloisa and Jaramis.

Another strength of your piece: imagery. 'The drapes stirred, and he was gone in a wave of burgundy and mildew.' I can see this in my mind's eye. You didn't go overboard with description, and you still provided atmosphere.

All the 'problems' I had with this piece are things I only thought of when I held it and Seafood's up to the light and tried to figure out why I liked his slightly more. None of them keep it from being a really nice read, an excellent entry, and a credit to you.

Writing Mechanics: Excellent. Except for one thing: 'Tattered red velvet curtains swayed in the open windows; dust swirled in her wake.' This is lovely, and I had to read it more than once to figure out it was telling me Eloisa fled the ghost. Too unclear.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Cache Cab, "The Baptist"

This entry. Yeah. Discomfiting in ways I'm not sure you intended. The lesser of its problems--and this is saying something--is that you threw random junk-grabbing in for no good reason, as though you perhaps thought that when we said 'no erotica' we really meant Please tell us about your protagonist's genitals, Cache Cab. What the hell? It's like Arkane's naked wizard: it adds nothing but a weird pervy feeling. Next time you're tempted to have characters grope each other's testicles and then act like that never happened, reconsider.

The greater source of discomfort is how this story comes across. On the one hand, by establishing that your point-of-view character is a bigot, you also establish that his viewpoint is unreliable regarding the natures of ghosts and men. Aiden quickly becomes the more tolerant of the two, attempting to understand and communicate through the prejudices he's presumably been taught. Your final line emphasizes that Aiden is the better human being. On the other, you show the Jewish ghost and the Moslem ghost being drawn up to Heaven after their baptisms, which in the woman's case was forced--and the suggestion there seems to be that Aiden and his master are right. That these people are unenlightened and need a righteous white man to show them the way.

None of the judges knew how to feel about this. Nothing in the text suggests there's anything wrong with dragging that Moslem out of his Garden and pushing him toward Christian Heaven. Not to mention the Jewish woman is supposedly 'reeking of lox'; either the unreliable narrator is having an olfactory hallucination or you're saying that yes, seriously, Jewish ghosts smell like lox. How does that gel with the message in praise of tolerance and compassion that the change in Aiden seemed to be trying to send?

Answer: it doesn't, and that makes me think you fumbled the trick of the unreliable narrator and didn't quite pull off an ambition to write characters who were repellent and sympathetic at the same time. If that's the case, the goal was worthy, but the execution wasn't quite there.

Writing Mechanics: Largely solid. The errors I see could be typos, but watch for mistakes in your first line; Aiden's question should have ended in a question mark.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi, "Blessed By Yama"

There's a lot to like about this story, such as the way you folded the Hindu god of death into it, the image of a lake filled with the bones of the dead, the maimed ghosts in the mist, and the double-edged nature of Rajat's 'blessed' status. Unfortunately, I don't know why Lokesh stole that woman's leg or why he wouldn't give it back. It's not valuable to him. It's a creepy thing to keep around the house. I tried to find out whether human relics are much of a thing in Hinduism, and I found instead that Hinduism mandates cremation, which doesn't seem to fit the idea of the lake... in fact, given the Hindu belief in reincarnation, Hindu ghosts are an odd concept. Oh, dear. Either I'm missing something (which is quite possible) or your premise is flawed.

Edit: I was missing something! Namely that Roopkund Lake is a real place, really and truly full of human skeletons, and tourists do steal bones from it. That part of the premise isn't flawed in the least. I stand by Lokesh needing a reason to take the leg, though.

Well, anyway, Lokesh and the leg--why? And why was Rajat's first priority after accidentally killing his brother to find the leg? You haven't sold this as that crucial to him, especially given that he waited a few days before confronting Lokesh to begin with, and it took me aback when he didn't do anything for his brother's corpse or even try to hide what he'd done--never mind notifying any authorities. The story lost me here. I felt like I'd had the wrong impression of Rajat's character.

The theft of the baby felt very coincidental in terms of timing. I admit I wonder too how well baby bones would survive in a lake.

Your last line is very good, however. If I'm wrong about the holes in your premise, this story is worth expanding until the actions of Lokesh and Rajat make more sense.

Writing Mechanics: Excellent. I didn't notice any errors on a casual read.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Djeser, "Burden"

Not a fan of this one, indeed I am not. It would have worked better without the opening paragraph. You could have begun in the dragon's perspective and shown his story as it happened, which likely would have given it more vigor, and if you'd insisted on that wa-wa trumpet ending, at least it could have come as a surprise. You know the end is dumb, right? That it robs the dragon's story of all poignancy without being funny? I'm not into the genre, yet I suspect there's a little bit more to metal than having a dead dragon on the stage.

Looked at separately, the dragon's story isn't bad. I enjoy the way the warrior's last words to the dragon backfired on his house: the dragon remembers who sent it to Hell, all right. I started wondering after a while how many Duncans there were that it never ran out of prey--especially once it crossed the sea; how many kids did that one Duncan have?--and why it only attacked the men, but it was still a cool variation on a family curse. The dragon's loss of interest in it all seemed a bit abrupt. Why did it change its mind? What else did it find to think about or feel? Checking the story again, I still don't see. The dragon is full of hate, and then it's just not.

That the dragon should have to serve the family it had once hunted is an excellent setup for a story. It isn't a story in itself. And of course you ruined the whole thing with the last paragraph anyway.

Writing Mechanics: Good. Where you wrote 'I laid in the shade,' you should have written 'I lay,' since lay is the past tense of lie. You don't always put commas between two independent clauses. These are rather minor errors.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Entenzahn, "Why Rules Are Important"

Much though I appreciate your title, it would have helped your story if you'd ever bothered to set up 'must say goodbye to the ghost' as a rule. Something else that would have been a good idea: choosing a tone and sticking to it. Your humor and horror don't blend. 'Isaac McScratchy' makes me think you actually meant the story to be funny, but burning a kid alive? Not amusing! Spelling out his accent on the Ouija board? Not particularly amusing either. Your last line might have worked if you'd played the rest more or less straight.

This looks as though you threw it together for the hell of it, which is better than not submitting, but a little bit of thought could have gone a long way.

Writing Mechanics: Decent but sloppy. '“Well good going, you cow” Jenna scolded.' You know better than that; don't try to convince me otherwise.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

The News at 5, "Final"

Too vague. Too much back story and side story you leave unexplored. The problem isn't that I can't get the gist of your piece. Obviously it's a look at ethics; Brian has cajoled a ghost into helping him cheat his way through his journalism degree, but that ghost, once having been a journalist, rather belatedly considers the ethics of assisting Brian and abandons him at a critical moment. But any details that would make Brian more than a one-dimensional scumbag or Walter other than a complete idiot to have bought his promises of help for four years are missing. Walter wants to find a woman named Polly, and Brian has pledged to assist. Fine. Who was Polly? Who is Brian that he can talk to ghosts and help them cross over? Are such people so rare that Walter was willing to wait four years for any progress on his search?

You don't much explain Walter's change of heart, either. Why now? Why didn't he think about the ethicality of his actions before? The conversation he and Brian have on the day of the test should have happened years ago. That it finally occurs on Brian's last day is too much of a contrivance for me. I can see you, the writer, setting up this scene for maximum dramatic impact; it doesn't feel like a natural progression of events.

I'm skeptical too that Walter's defection would have that much impact on Brian in terms of getting his degree. If he's been fed the answers to every test up until this point--and what's with that 'haven’t taken a test in four years' line? Hasn't he been taking plenty of tests with Walter's help?--his grades ought to be very good. Good enough that one blown final shouldn't ruin him. Which means that there won't be any consequences to his cheating, he won't change or learn anything, and the point of the story is lost.

This was a frustrating story to read, though the core concept of it (a journalist student/medium attempts to cheat with the help of a journalist ghost who ultimately remembers his ethics) isn't a bad one.

Writing Mechanics: Fair, for the most part, and certainly good enough to pass the 'Did this person give a drat?' criteria. One thing that drove me nuts though was how hard it was to tell who was speaking at various points. Take this line: '“So is that it, then?” Brian turned back, the sunlight streaming in making it difficult to pick Walter out against the white wall.' There's no dialogue attribution, and Brian is the actor in that paragraph; I have to look twice to untangle the fact that Walter is the one talking there. The same problem crops up with '[...] Just make sure to get the answers by then.” Walter kicked the floor a little harder' and '“I always get them, you know that.” Brian stormed back and stuck his finger in Walter’s transparent face.' Also '“I don’t have them.” Brian took a swipe at Walter, but connected with nothing.' Cut that out! It's easy enough to avoid: either attribute your dialogue or break to a new paragraph before the other character acts.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 16:39 on Jun 19, 2014

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week LXXXIV: Nitrousoxide, Starter Wiggin, Tyrannosaurus, Whalley, elfdude, God Over Djinn, Paladinus, That Old Ganon, docbeard, toanoradian, crabrock, WeLandedOnTheMoon!, and QuoProQuid

Nitrousoxide, "Rematch"

This had my initial vote to lose. It's dreadful. It gives the impression of a bunch of ideas thrown at the screen because they sound cool with little thought given to whether they make any sense or have any natural connective tissue.

The sequence of events: within an unnecessary frame story, Frank goes to a rock concert at which, for some reason, there are robots. Guess we're in the future. The robot draws a pentagram and summons evil. (You lost me at this point, by the way--things were already too wacky and random.) The evil it summons is... a dead wrestler. Uh-huh. It commands the wrestler to enact genocide because. The wind conveniently flips the book to just the right page while the wrestler is leaving dead bodies around the pentagram, which evidently is right out in the open; you would have thought someone would have noticed the robot throwing human hands around in that case, but no. Frank can pronounce the words to summon Pachinko perfectly on the first try because. Pachinko beats Pain Train without much trouble. Frank disables the robot. The end.

It's all about as coherent as Axe Cop, without the charm. Why was the robot at a concert? Why was your setting a concert to begin with? The concert has nothing to do with anything; all of this could have happened at a wrestling match. Why was there a robot at all? The existence of robots is completely unnecessary for this story. A human sociopath could have done the job of summoning a dead wrestler just as well (if it's possible to do such a thing well). Why did the robot want to kill all humans? Why was a robot able to perform magic? Why would an undead wrestler feel compelled to listen to a soulless entity, and why am I thinking about this? Why can Frank summon Pain Train's nemesis like it ain't no thang? Why did any of this take place?

I don't know. I don't really care to, because I don't think there's an explanation that can make reasonable sense of all this. It's interesting that although it's very, very goofy, I get no feeling you were trying to be funny. You just sent your imagination off to town and forgot to tell it to stay sane and plausible. Plausibility seems to be a problem for you, going off this story and your last one. The scenarios you set up aren't believable and read as though you didn't put much thought into them. This one lacks a payoff to boot: random stuff just happens, nobody learns or grows or changes, no message is conveyed, and I am not entertained.

Though it's a minor concern in comparison, the introduction didn't work for you. Mileage may vary, but 'It all started when that robot tried to summon the forces of darkness' is not a good first line in my book. It basically tells me, "Buckle up, you're in for some wacky!" Only a very good comic story could redeem it. There's just no reason to have this intro at all, since it adds nothing and is never revisited.

Obviously I didn't like it, but I'm curious about what your future entries will be like if you figure out how to fuse your crazy imagination with some kind of logic.

Writing Mechanics: Mediocre. Always capitalize the first word of a sentence. Always! You make the same ghastly its/it's error as Masonity, so you get the same link. You wrote 'peaked' when the correct word was 'peeked,' 'heals' when the correct word was 'heels,' and 'decrepid' instead of 'decrepit.' I'm not sure how the latter made it past your spelling checker. Formatting-wise, surrounding your scene-break symbols with blank lines would have made for easier reading. But while most of these errors were easily avoidable, your technical skill is not that shabby.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Starter Wiggin, "Cattle Sam"

You mean to tell me the whole town knows Cattle Sam has been stealing their stuff and no one has lynched him? No one sounds afraid of him in that gossiping scene in your second section, so I find it hard to buy that no one's at least kicked his butt so hard he flew ten feet. It bugged me the first time I read the story; it's bugged me every time since, enough to make me like the story less than I would if Sam's life of crime weren't so easy.

Other than that, though, it's kind of fun. Your first scene worked all right for me, maybe because it was so short. The question of why Sam 'guessed' he was an outlaw hooked my interest. His first run-in with Heinrich was decently described. I felt a tad sorry for him as he turned into a stooge for the ghost. Not much for brains, that Cattle Sam. The poor, stupid side of him showed up again in his death. A bright man wouldn't look away from a woman holding a gun on him, but a bright man wouldn't be robbing banks because a dead man dared him to. The tone stayed pleasingly light for all the grim things that happened. Since Sam lived on as a ghost, his death didn't seem that tragic, and being stuck with Heinrich forever was a fitting and mildly amusing end for him.

This wasn't near the top of the pack, but I enjoyed it. You did a good job with your flash rule, that odd attitude of your frontiersmen toward theft aside.

Writing Mechanics: 'Alright' is not a word. 'Alright' is not a word. Aside from that abomination, you're solid.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Tyrannosaurus, "Night Lights in Louisiana"

Oh, if only you hadn't run out of words--which is the best theory I can come up with to explain why your story falls on its face in the end. You had a good thing going. The clues are all there that Emelie is a ghost, and I figured that out long before Jack did, but you never made it so obvious within the story that he became a blind fool for not catching on. Your clues just improve on the second read. The walk that was like floating; the cold hands. The old-fashioned ways. There's a sense of foreboding in your piece, emphasized by phrases such as 'pulled him out of the light.' This romance is not wholly innocent.

But it starts to fall apart as the end approaches. Emelie's skepticism that Jack loves her struck me as odd. He'd already said he would live in her field weeks ago. The entire 'would you stay' question appears twice, with the later conversation weakened by the earlier. It's repetitive, and that's painful given how you were hurting for words: you wasted them when you needed them badly. Because your finale is too short on detail--I didn't get to see Jack's reaction to Emelie's grave, I didn't find out whether he died in there or whether she had some other reason for dragging him into the mausoleum. I assume he did die, but I don't know whether she killed him, he committed suicide to be with her, or what. The resolution of your love story would be in what happens next. You stopped too soon.

You probably would have gotten an honorable mention if the story had stuck its landing. Expand on the conclusion if you come back to it. And you should: it has the delightful, spooky mood to it that so many entries missed.

Writing Mechanics: Your proofreading could be better, as the lack of a closing quotation mark after 'tall grass' proves and as 'Its pretty enough' sets in stone. Shudder. Your technical skill is generally strong, which only makes the little-yet-obvious goofs stand out all the more.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Whalley, "No Sleep 'Til Richmond"

Combining the ghost-story cliche of motorists encountering a ghost on the road at night with the other ghost-story cliche of he was dead all along! didn't work to your advantage. Your ending is a total gotcha! twist, compounding the problem. It's hokey, and it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There's no clear reason for Joey to have befriended Matt and hung out with him for who knows how long while keeping his dead nature a secret all the while, and it's pretty contrived that he would go along on this trip, knowing whom he would likely meet. Either that or he's a dick, setting up this reunion with his ex that gets Matt hurt.

I gather it's his father who gives Matt a lift, and that's more contrivance: out of all the people Joey could have flagged down, he got his dad? Really? And Matt looks like Joey why? I'd guess you created the resemblance so the father would spill the details that the ghost was Joey's mail-order bride and murdered him. But that whole paragraph reads like an afterthought, and although the info tells me how Joey died, I could wish that info were more relevant to the story itself. That Joey's ex is also his murderer doesn't matter in the piece, and I wish it did.

What's the point of all the references to weed? Why would Joey convince Matt to buy some for the sake of the trip? Joey doesn't need it. I swear it's like he's trying to get Matt killed. Now that could have been interesting, a ghost arranging for his living friend to get high and wreck so they can hang out as ghostbros forever. I'm pretty sure that's not what you were going for, so this part of the story is just weird.

This isn't a bad read, but doubling down on things that make readers groan--twist endings and cliches--was a very strange choice.

Writing Mechanics: Quite good; none of your problems are on the sentence level.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

elfdude, "The call of the Banshee"

You landed in the dishonorable pile for doing bizarre things with your flash rule. You were tasked with writing a story inspired by "The Bonnie Ship the Diamond," a traditional Scottish song about a whaling ship and its sailors. Instead you wrote a somewhat muddled story rooted in Irish folklore; Wikipedia suggests that the banshee appears in both Gaelic Scottish and Irish mythology, but the Morrigan is an Irish goddess. Scotland and Ireland are not interchangeable. Even if they were, this story has nothing at all to do with the song other than that it's set in the part of the world the from which the song originated, maybe.

I went back and forth on whether you had confused your folklore. The Morrigan and the banshee sometimes play the same role in myth, i.e. warning someone that they will soon die. But there's much more to the Morrigan than that, and as far as I can tell, her death warnings were for warriors. Henry isn't a warrior by any stretch. So is your Morrigan intended to be a regular banshee and not the goddess at all? In that case, why muddle the issue with that name? (And was there a second banshee on site doing the screaming? Why?) I also wonder whether you intended Morrigan to be perceived as a ghost herself rather than a goddess or fairy, since otherwise the ghost content of your story is thin; if so, that's another argument against that choice of name.

Shoving aside the issue of Thunderdome technicalities, this isn't too bad. I see evidence of research here, although that just makes the muddled parts all the more bemusing: Wikipedia associates banshees with the Mac name prefix, and what do you know, Henry's a MacRaney. Both traditional banshees and the Morrigan are said to have washed the bloodstained clothes of men about to die. The plot isn't very original; 'someone sees a banshee, then dies' sums up most of the banshee tales I've read. The stepfather is another moustache-twirling bad guy without depth. But there's a logical progression here and a resolution that makes sense, and your prose is decent. Phrases like 'like nails on a chalkboard' and 'waves of conflicting emotions washed over him' are cliche; 'The expression was confusing but intriguing to Henry' is pointless telling, but the story wasn't a chore to read, and believe me, others were.

A side note: I can't tell when this is supposed to be set. Henry's dialogue seems anachronistic unless it's a modern story, and it could be, but I'm not quite sure.

Your somewhat weak ghost content and the botched flash rule together added up to your DM. It's a poor contest entry. You can take encouragement from this, though, if you like: it's not a terrible story away from the contest constraints. It's an incredible improvement on what you wrote for Elements Week, so if nothing else, you're getting better. You might be about ready to put the chain of DMs behind you.

Writing Mechanics: Improving. Neither 'stepfather' nor 'old man' needs a hyphen, your apostrophe is probably in the wrong place in 'villager's stories,' you sometimes use semicolons where you want colons (such as in 'The forest was chilly; damp in the shade, but warm in the summer sun'), you have commas where you don't need them (such as in 'The contradiction between tone and meaning, made him shiver again'), and you overuse -ly adverbs. The adverbs had the most negative impact on my reading experience. 'Laughed nervously,' 'stated dismissively,' 'stated grimly'--in the latter two cases especially the adverb adds nothing that the dialogue didn't already imply.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

God Over Djinn, "Ghosts of the Modern World"

Talking heads in unnecessary present tense. Nothing happens in this. Two sisters exposit about their past; a cereal-box ghost shows up; finis. There's a clever trick here in that the physically present ghosts are more or less incidental--especially the cereal-box ghost, proof positive that some voluntary flash rules were made to be refused--and the real specters are memory and expectation, but that take on ghosts isn't enough to justify the amount of talking you ask me to sit through. The talking itself isn't interesting enough to justify the lack of plot.

I get what you were going for, or at least I think I do. Miriam and Olympia grew up in a domineering family, under pressure to conform to Thai ethnic culture. Olympia has fully rebelled--and pressures Miriam to rebel too, slightly ironically. Miriam resists. Miriam is haunted by her great-grandfather, representing familial expectation. Olympia is haunted by the mascot on a cereal box, representing... I'm not entirely sure, because I don't think you pulled that part off. It probably has something to do with her rebellious embrace of consumerism. Olympia has cast off any ties to tradition and has largely dismissed her family, but despite her cheerful attitude, she has her own ghosts.

Fine. But it isn't a story. Nothing changes for either sister. Neither sister acts. It's all exposition, all tell, although there's some grace in how the exposition is handled. I do largely believe the conversation; it's believable reminiscence and gets heavy-handed only a time or two. ('But no offense, you know, but you can’t just stay in their house and cook khaeng khiao wan for grandma until you’re a grandmother yourself' is one point at which it did.) It's still not fascinating stuff, and it needed to be to make the story worthwhile.

I sort of like the way you let the Boo Berry thing inspire you, assuming that it led to the consumerist angle for Olympia. And I like that she's haunted by it, assuming that's the conclusion you wanted me to draw. If it's the specter of her rebellion and the ways she knows it has made her petty, i.e. eating terrible cereal to spite a mother who isn't even aware of it, that instantly adds another layer to her character along with balancing Miriam's more traditional haunt. But. Maybe it would have worked better if you'd left him silent. His cheeky speech makes him too cheesy; ditto the watch-checking. 'People tend to see the ghosts they believe in' reads as though it's meant to Say Something Profound, but in this context, it doesn't. Olympia 'believes in' a cereal mascot? I'm not convinced she believes her choices could or should haunt her, if that's what you were going for. Not consciously. So it just comes off as you trying to be deep.

Your prose sometimes puffs out its chest and waves its arms about and shouts Look at me! The present tense? Completely pointless. All it does here is draw attention to itself. The parenthetical dialogue aside? Pointless. Breaking that paragraph into three wouldn't have hurt it at all. I want to be so interested in what you're telling me that the way in which you tell it sinks under the radar, to be appreciated subconsciously or in retrospect. The parentheses gimmick especially is too obtrusive for my taste.

Of course, you were nowhere near the bottom tier, as both sisters have personality, their dialogue moves quickly, and there's no way in which the whole was unpleasant to read.

Writing Mechanics: Excellent.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Paladinus, "A Ghost of Many"

You know, your interpretation of your flash rule is honestly pretty good. Replanting trees in war-wasted land is a cool translation of 'Drive your cart and plow,' which implies agriculture. Instead of literal bones, you put the bones of civilization into the glass ground: pots, knives. It's nicely done. Your basic story idea isn't bad either. The archmage who devastated the land encounters the spirits of those he condemned to death, nameless and faceless to him, and even though he destroyed the staff that had brought that destruction about--through horror at what he had done? Through fear?--he knows he will never be able to forget. It's not much of a plot; once again you've written a vignette rather than a story, but the concept is nice, and side details like the glassland and the tree-planting make it fresh.

The execution kills you, though. Yours is the first entry to have such poor mechanics that I couldn't factor them entirely out of my judgment. The nature of your errors made your piece a chore to parse. You have some of the clumsiest exposition of the week in Koltor's whole spiel about being the eleventh Archmage of the Empire, blah blah blah, and that kind of pronouncement is a hack-fantasy cliche besides. How can a man try to cover his face with his hands? Do or do not; there is no try with such a simple action, at least not while his hands are working and unbound.

At first the technical problems with your prose cast such a shadow on the story that I ranked it as low as Nitrous's, but I liked yours better after close scrutiny, which was not the case with his entry or Ganon's.

Writing Mechanics: You shift tenses with gleeful abandon, from past to present and back again, within the same sentence in some cases. You've got to get that under control. It's obnoxious to have to read, and it's like a neon sign announcing to the world that you don't know what you're doing. Maybe this site can help you.

Your other missteps are more in line with the kind of gaffes others made, such as commas used where you wanted periods sometimes, usually in/around dialogue. '[...] nature,’ the Archmage pronounced every word loud and clear' is one example: the comma after 'nature' should be a period, and 'the' should be capitalized as the beginning of a separate sentence. You refer to a ghost, singular, but the ghost speaks with a chorus of voices and refers to itself as 'we.' Are you sure you don't mean ghosts, plural? Your ellipses should have four dots when they end a sentence. This stuff doesn't ruin your work the way the tense shifts do, so worry more about those.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

That Old Ganon, "Rose Tea"

'What is going on and why do I care' are questions I asked myself many times as I read your unclear, contorted, unsatisfying entry over and over to figure out whether it deserved to lose. Your prose took so much extra effort to untangle for so little reward that I hated going back to it, and I'm still not sure I get the whole story, though I think I have the gist.

My take: Mia and Sonny are partners of some sort who have been coerced by a witch, Thad, into doing a series of dirty jobs for him. Probably thefts. Their last job--supposedly--is to be the theft of a certain phial from a house nearby. (Very nearby if 'the house up that hill' is an adequate description.) Sonny is ungodly thirsty for some reason. You really overplay that. If he's supernaturally thirsty because the dead witch cursed him, you should have provided some clue; otherwise it's a ridiculous and awkward manipulation of events. When the pair gets to the hut, they run into a woman, who holds the phial. While Mia goes into the shack because you needed her off-camera, the woman hands the phial to Sonny and he gulps down its contents like an unbelievable moron. I can't overstate how dumb the 'Sonny is thirsty' contrivance is. He's so busy swigging tea that he doesn't notice the woman teleporting to behind him somehow. He and Mia return to Thad, but Mia's off-camera again, so the climactic conflict is entirely between Sonny, Thad, and the ghost, who seems to be controlling Sonny's body. I presume it's the tea that allows her to do this. Using Sonny's hands, she pours the tea down Thad's throat and takes over his body instead, possibly killing him, but who can be sure? She-as-Thad burps, "We'll talk later." Why now is not a good time to talk is left as an exercise for the reader.


Mia is entirely superfluous. Why is she here? You shove her off the stage at every opportunity; it's very obvious and adds to the strong impression the story gives of being contrived as all hell. Sonny is clearly a complete idiot; he swills down liquid given to hm by a stranger in a witch's bottle. Who does that? Who is dumb enough to do that? He hasn't spent the last three days in the freaking Sahara or something, has he? Rrrrrgh.

I don't know who Mia and Sonny are, in terms of their personalities--all I get for Sonny is that he's thirsty and cowardly enough to cry at the thought of robbing a dead witch when apparently he's been robbing live ones for a while now. I'm with Mia: I can't believe it. I don't know what their day jobs are or how Thad hooked them into being his lackeys. I don't know why they go along with it. Thad isn't an effective villain; he never seems menacing. The piss-stained robe doesn't help. I have no clue why Thad wants the phial so much. I don't know what relationship Thad and Lane had while they were alive. And hey, what do you know, you technically screwed up the prompt since Thad and Lane did know each other while she was alive!

Is Thad dead at the end? Damned if I know. He's slack and cool, but people don't usually die from being force-fed tea. If he's not dead, I'm not sure how Lane took complete control of him. Always assuming that's what happened. I have to assume that because otherwise the final line is empty of all sense.

I have no idea why you described the feeling of magic dissipating against Sonny's palm as though it were a York Peppermint Patty, but 'refreshing sensation' is hilariously weak and inappropriate. He's in a fight for his life and he registers an attack as refreshing. Amazing.

Why did you wait until the eighth paragraph to name your protagonist? Why did you never set the scene? You wrote 'The witch tasking them' as though I'd have any idea who 'they' were. There was no reason to end the first paragraph where you did; it would have made rather more sense in combination with the next paragraph, and the start of your story is the worst place to be needlessly confusing.

I really do not like this at all. It does feel like there's a story somewhere in it. With a great deal of editing and some expansion, that story might even not be terrible. It would be easier to salvage than Nitrous's entry, but Nitrous's was a straightforward read in comparison.

Writing Mechanics: Actually, not bad at all. Your problems aren't technical.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

docbeard, "Spirits Cannot Harm the Living"

The sticking point for me in this one is that Ela loses her food and pack in death, but she keeps her knife and sparking stones, and the stones create real fire. As much as I love your last line and Ela's decision to take revenge on the Undying Man (cool interpretation of Lazarus, by the by), this gives me pause. It's not logical. It's too convenient. Why would ghost stones create real fire?

Also awfully convenient is the speed with which the Undying Man comes for Ela. With all the dead spaces to roam, he happens to be parked right outside the very moment she sets foot outside the camp boundaries. It's possible that the man who kills her isn't the Undying Man and that the wasted lands are full of killers, but that would make the Undying Man irrelevant to your plot, so I suspect that's not what I'm meant to conclude. Letting Ela roam for even a day or two--summed up; I know you were scraping the word count--would have made this part more plausible for me.

Something I like quite a lot is the way you scrupulously obeyed the prompt in full despite killing off your main character; the people Ela runs into after death are strangers to her, and the Undying Man is not in his cave when she discovers her body. Very neatly done! You fulfilled your official flash rule, which, admittedly, wasn't the hardest task since all you had to do was make her a rebel. She could have ended up a cliche as the teenager who just doesn't want to be told what to do, but her death prevented that, and when her rebellious side resurfaces in the end, it doesn't feel cliche at all.

My reaction was overall positive, putting you in the upper middle of the roster and well within competent-and-pleasant territory.

Writing Mechanics: Good. You use a lot of commas, but they suit your narrative tone. The mini-flashback that begins with 'When the old world passed away in fire' would have been better in past perfect, I think, but I didn't notice on my first read.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

toanoradian, "A Thesis on Ghost"

Rhino tells me your Muslim elements are better handled than CommissarMega's. I found your religious exposition clumsier, however. Most of the blame for this rests on the as-you-know-Bob infodump in the beginning when Suryati feeds Duko's own theory back to him in detail. This is purely for the reader's benefit, and it shows.

Your premise and plot are good up until the point when Suryati finds not-Duko in his apartment. That scene works fine on the first read but bemuses in retrospect. Not-Duko's enthusiasm for his experiment doesn't make that much sense since he's, you know, not Duko. I'm presuming the ghost knows something of the nature of ghosts and probably knew something of the Qur'an in life, and none of what it says with Duko's mouth seems as though it should be a revelation. The idea that it's trying to fool Suryati doesn't fly, because he tells her readily enough what he is a moment later. It feels like a cheat.

These issues together kicked the story in the teeth, but lightly; its strong bones are still visible. You could make this a good, creepy ghost story with some tweaking.

Writing Mechanics: Most of your errors are words or phrasings that are just a touch off. The title is an unfortunate example: 'Ghosts' should be plural. 'The dull thud rang much louder in the silent graveyard' is an odd sentence because you don't say what it's much louder than. 'The dull thud rang loud' would work. 'As few minutes pass' should probably be 'After a few minutes had passed' to stay in the past tense. 'Crickets still chirp' should be 'Crickets still chirped' for the same reason. 'She seemed to find the ghost' is not a good use of 'seemed': Suryati is the point-of-view character, and she cannot seem to be doing things in her own perspective. 'She saw the ghost between the streetlights' would probably do the job here; the previous line about her imagination would let me infer that what she sees is not necessarily there. The clause 'it were the shadows' puts a plural verb right after a singular pronoun, ouch. The semicolon after 'returned to her' should be a comma, and the 'his' that follows should not be capitalized. Etc.

One error--of sorts--was consistent: you put commas outside of single quotation marks in clauses like 'explained your ‘logic’,' and this is incorrect in American English, though it's correct in British. You seem to be writing in American otherwise, so this stood out to me.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

crabrock, "Things That Die"

I like the approach of showing your ghost only indirectly, since it was clear despite this that he did exist, but you've written another story with a ghost in it rather than a ghost story. What's more, what story exists here is mostly as off-screen as the ghost. I liked your talking heads more than God Over Djinn's, maybe because you managed to show personality and relationships through the doughnut choices rather than relying entirely on what the characters said to each other, but it was still something like 70% dialogue, and it ended without developing a plot of any kind.

You had something in mind, I think. The line 'We just point out the facts and let you choose what to believe' is almost certainly supposed to mean something. Adam's rejection of the doughnut is too. I feel like the father is being hypocritical somehow and that Adam, young as he is, recognizes it, but I get this impression from a certain familiarity the exchange has instead of from the actual words you wrote. Whatever you intended, it's not here, and the story slams into a brick wall: the ghost never amounts to anything, and neither does anything else.

I wish I'd seen the other tale. You know, the one of who this ghost was in life, why he lives in this house, and how he came to befriend a little boy. He's a killer and not all that repentant, but he's not too far gone if he'd advise a child to avoid his end. Showing much more of him would have destroyed the obliqueness trick, but it would have made this a ghost story, too.

P.S. Adam's mother cries at pictures of ducklings? Dear Lord.

Writing Mechanics: 'He said 'while [he] has found plugging somebody to be a useful tool for settling arguments--or just making a point--[he] would recommend against it, given [his] current circusstances.'' The hell? How exactly did Adam pronounce the brackets? Or a better question: how did you miss them before hitting the post button? A couple of your phrases are mangled, too: 'the only reason it ever stopped being Saturday' would make more sense as 'the only reason it should ever stop being Saturday.' Even an eight-year-old would know that doughnuts do not control time and space. There are words missing in 'trying to remove as much of his body from his parents’ view': you need 'as possible' or something much like it after 'his body' to complete the 'as much of' clause.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

WeLandedOnTheMoon!, "Silver Necklace"

I'm not sold on this as a ghost story at all. Instead, it appears to be a cursed-necklace story with a side helping of gratuitous gore. The more I look at it the more I wonder whether you should have been on the DM list or DQed for missing the core of a dirt-simple prompt. Your idea may have been that the necklace is host to a spirit who possesses the wearer, but you weren't at all clear about this.

Man, I hate looking back over this one to critique it. Your prose is fine, your plot not that hard to follow, but this rests waaaaay too heavily on its gross-out factor. What is it, really, but a showcase for eye-popping squick? You try to get as much mileage as possible out of that, too, what with Miriam sticking her thumbs in a corpse's eye sockets like its head is a bowling ball. None of this--the eyelid-slicing, the popping, the eating, the thumbing--is scary. It's just disgusting. It made me want your story over with. More's the pity, since other elements are effectively creepy, such as the hallucination of flies emerging from the dead girl's mouth and flying into Miriam's ear. That's a horrible image too, but there's a point to it, the visual metaphor for the way Miriam has been infested by the madness connected to that necklace.

Your ending is very strange. Miriam is still alive, and yet Sarah's putting her into a morgue drawer? A sealed freezer drawer? So Sarah's thinking her friend's not dead yet and there may be hope as she effectively kills her? Weird. Eerie. Probably not what you intended.

Writing Mechanics: Mostly good, but you have a misplaced modifier in 'Opening them with a force, darkness fell across the building.' You're saying darkness opened Miriam's eyes--which is amusingly apt, but it's not correct in context.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

QuoProQuid, "Ghost Stories for Children"

Less a ghost story than a story about ghost stories. Yours is the only entry that may not even have a supernatural element. At the end, I don't know whether Sara is being terrorized by the Hutchinsons or by her psychopathic brother--the moan and the footsteps could be sound recordings, likewise the glass and falling chairs. The front door closing on its own is the most powerful suggestion that something supernatural is going on, but doors shut seemingly by themselves in my house all the time for mundane reasons. Your finale heavily suggests that Tommy is at fault. That would be its own variety of creepy, but it would blow the prompt, and maybe that's why you left it ambiguous.

Here's a problem with that: a horror story needs to unveil the horror eventually, or else it's a cop-out. 'Something frightening' can only carry you so far. There's no resolution here, of course, and no terrifying final beat. Maybe it's just her brother in the closet, and he may not be ready to kill her and make a skin suit quite yet. The possibility that it's all a fake-out removes much of the thrill. It feels too much like I'm being set up for a twist that would make the story pointless.

On another note, Sara comes off as a jerk when she plots to hide until the ghosts go after someone else in her family! I would have understood if she'd hoped they swarmed Tommy specifically, but wishing that on her parents is a dick move. Good going, Sara, now I won't mind so much if you end up eaten and/or a skin suit.

You erred IMO in beginning the story with Sara's flight to her bedroom. That made the rest of the story chronologically confusing. It was harder to follow the sequence of events than it needed to be.

Writing Mechanics: Critically flawed. You don't use the past perfect consistently during the flashback sequence, and this contributes to the aforementioned difficulty in following the story. Most of the piece taking place in past perfect could have gotten tiresome, but that's another argument against starting somewhere other than the beginning. You start out the flashback describing a general landscape, Tommy's habitual behaviors, but you move directly from that to dialogue that presumably only happened once. Changing the first dialogue tag to 'he'd once said' would fix that incongruity.

There are a couple of lesser mistakes: 'Her brother obsessed with scaring her.' 'The only monster that could be in her house now were the Hutchinsons' -- 'monsters' should have been plural. These are probably oversights; your prose is generally competent. Those tense problems actively hurt you, though.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 18:05 on Jun 19, 2014

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week LXXXIV: Barracuda Bang!, perpetulance, The Sean, curlingiron, Noah, Benny the Snake, Sitting Here, Lake Jucas, systran, Bad Seafood, and Phobia

Barracuda Bang!, "The Throng Song"

The best thing about this entry is your interpretation of your flash rule; you made 'and smile no more' quite literal via Botox, but you didn't take it into absurdity. Unfortunately, the premise feels shaky to me. Botox rarely kills, and if these ladies died of other causes, the cosmetic surgery clinic is an odd place for them to haunt. Am I supposed to infer that this clinic shut down because it kept killing people? It's all somewhat tenuous. I'm also taking on faith that they are ghosts rather than zombies or very strange living women (okay, that one's a stretch). You outright called them ghouls, which didn't help.

Your excuse for getting Sophia into that clinic is weak, weak, weak. Why the clinic wasn't locked is rather a mystery, and the pocketknife is a poor choice of MacGuffin. Why would Allie have a family heirloom with her on a trip to the strip mall--'exploring' is not a credible reason--and why would she have it in her hand to be dropped? You could have made the object much less contrived. I'd have gone for a piece of jewelry that Allie's mother had handed down to her, myself--it would be easy for her to lose such a thing and easy for you to explain why she had it on her person. An ornamental object would also be a better thematic fit.

The pacing is off. The conversation between Allie and Sophia goes on too long. The mention of tickets is a needless non sequitur. You could cut everything in that paragraph after 'You shouldn't have even had that!' and lose a chunk of unnecessary exposition.

The last line is almost cheesy, but for me, it worked.

Writing Mechanics: Clumsy. I don't like starting with 'Allie rushed into their shared bedroom' when you haven't introduced Sophia yet. I don't love that Allie is the first character you name when she isn't the protagonist, either; in fact, the whole first scene seems to be in her viewpoint, which is bizarre when she proceeds to drop completely out of the story. This should be easy enough to fix: 'Sophia had just started a new chapter in her book when her sister Allie ran into their shared bedroom' is one way you could put Sophia in the central position from the start. You can--and should!--cut 'began to' in 'she began to hear faint laughter'; hearing is something you either do or don't.

'"You can't make me!", she said' is appalling. I do not know why I have seen that error twice this week, but it horrifies me more than any of the ghosts. Cut that comma with extreme prejudice. Also appalling: 'squealed a woman excitedly.' Is there ever a good reason to use 'excitedly'? Is there really?

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

perpetulance, "Drifting"

I was glad to see you return to the Dome, and I hope you stay for a while even if I have no enthusiasm for this particular entry. It's one more vague, unclear piece with a plotline that's needlessly difficult to follow. I gather that Bernard starts out in a lifeboat, alone except for a gutted corpse that he's keeping around for some reason. Maybe he's been eating the guy. He has oars, but he doesn't seem to be using them for anything until he comes across a drowning man and rescues him. The man's name is Henry, and he claims to have fallen off a ship. Bernard, meanwhile, gives his reason for being out in a lifeboat with a corpse as 'mutiny,' but declines to explain this at all. He also appears to change his name to Henry for a line or two! But it turns out that Henry is in fact a ghost, which is revealed when he... turns into a vomit fountain. Okay. That's random. Bernard, in horror, moves to slash his wrist, but the ghost tells him that he actually committed suicide and that Purgatory is no prize. A miracle bird then arrives to direct Bernard's attention to the ship within shouting distance that he'd somehow failed to notice.

None of this holds up to scrutiny. Bernard has oars, but he isn't rowing. He's been out on the ocean for an indeterminate length of time, probably longer than three days, but he's not dehydrated. The first episode with the albatross is probably a bad idea; it opens the door for me to wonder just how long Bernard's been stranded and doesn't accomplish anything else--it parallels the albatross at the end, but to what purpose? None that I can see. Bernard welcomes the man he's saved to paradise, which does not make sense and reads like you attempting to be dramatic rather than like something a person in this situation would say.

Bernard buys Henry's story of having fallen off a ship into the ocean. What ship? Shouldn't Bernard have seen any ship that passed nearby, and wouldn't it have had to pass very recently for Henry to still be living if he can't swim? It should still be visible! Meanwhile, Bernard never tells the story of his mutiny, only alludes to it in a way that tells me nothing. 'At least you have a boat.' What? What on earth is that supposed to mean? And who says it, Bernard or Henry? Oh, wait, I think I see now. The lines 'A thin smile marked Henry's face. “What the devil are you grinning at?”' read as though Henry is speaking, which makes a royal muddle of everything that follows; if Bernard is the one talking, then it's Henry who later points out that Bernard at least has a boat, which is considerably less out of nowhere. That's a mess. And it still doesn't tell me what happened on Bernard's ship. Nor does his anecdote about eating rats.

I think maybe you were after a parallel between Bernard and Scott, Bernard and Henry: Bernard thought Scott was a bellyaching rear end, and now here he is, bellyaching to someone else who's had it worse than him. Okay, but what's the point of this?

Henry's ghost vomit is terribly random. Bernard's attempted suicide, not much less so. I guess the reference before to him playing with the knife is meant to imply in retrospect that he was considering suicide before Henry appeared, and so perhaps Henry's entire purpose in meeting Bernard was to talk him out of killing himself--that could even be the point to the 'it could be worse' message above, though that's a misfire if so. 'It could be worse' is no consolation to a would-be suicide. Anyway, on the first read (and second, and third) the suicide attempt came out of nowhere--I'd thought the mention of the knife might be a clue that yes, he was eating the corpse in his boat.

Speaking of which, if he's not eating the corpse, I do not understand why he hasn't thrown it overboard. It must smell godawful. If he is, well, 'gutted' isn't a clear enough indicator. By now it'd be missing more than the guts, right?

The magical albatross at the end is one last point of absurdity. If the ship can hear Bernard screaming, he should have seen it. He doesn't seem to have earned this ending.

I remember your story for Eurovision Week; I know you can do better than this.

Writing Mechanics: Rough around the edges. That albatross flashback should have been in the past perfect. Putting in the present made it confusing on top of unnecessary since it wasn't immediately clear whether the whole story was going to take place 'three days before.' You left the final T off Scott's name at one point. 'mutiny?”, Henry asked' is atrocious to look upon. You don't ever follow a double quotation mark with a comma in American English! This example would be wrong in British English too! That bit where you make it hard to tell who's speaking to whom is lethal; the muddle made the story significantly more exasperating. 'Harried-looking' needed a hyphen.

I didn't care for the way you tried to illustrate that Henry's words were being cut off by the water. '“Hel-, -m drown'. -n't swi'"' just looks like punctuation salad or maybe some sort of code. That he's drowning is evident and that he can't swim just emphasizes the whole 'How long could his boat have been gone, then?' problem, so you could cut this wholesale if you decide to keep working with the story.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

The Sean, "The Tour"

Good premise; you were the only person to write about ghost science, and it was cool to see some of that in a Ghostbusters-inspired week. I enjoyed your story more the first time than I have on subsequent reads, though. Your idea was neat, but you went on too long with the museum tour. The first paragraph was full of details that didn't matter one iota. Your prose was shaky. And the exhibit controls blew out rather easily. If the exhibit in question had been Billy's and the shorted panel had only released him, I would have found it more plausible. For everything to go down because of one liquid spill was some crappy electrical planning!

That first paragraph is also a cheat. Maybe in death the narrator still hates road trips and his wife still loves them, although those are odd emotions to hang on to, but there's no tradition now that can dictate they do anything other than get stabbed for tourists. The best way to avoid this might have been to set everything but your final sentence in the past tense.

Some of your phrases were very strange. The words 'melancholy' and 'tantrum' are an odd fit, and a tantrum isn't usually a thing you make; tantrums are had or thrown. You used 'mulled' twice and wanted 'milled' both times. 'We were scurried along by the tour guide' is incredibly passive and easy to fix: 'The tour guide hurried us along.' You can't scurry someone anyway. Although 'the phantasmal knife that the ghost stalked around his cell with' can be parsed, it's awkward as hell. Something like 'the phantasmal knife in the ghost's hand' would be good and simple. If you want to keep the stalking detail, though I don't think you need it, 'the phantasmal knife he held as he stalked about his cell' would work.

I still like your basic idea, but now I think the story needs a lot of editing to reach its potential. You made a decent first showing, whatever else.

Writing Mechanics: Bad. Not 'You didn't give a drat' bad, not 'I question your grasp of the English language' bad, but more than bad enough. You fall out of past into present in the phrase 'I’ve actually got some enthusiasm for this one'--and if this is purposeful, it's a terrible idea. I can't buy he still has enthusiasm for the place he haunts in his present. 'The tour guide assured us that their technology prevents ghosts' doesn't read well either; either give the tour guide some dialogue or use 'prevented.' He was assuring them about the technology as it was then, remember.

'While the tour guide was exceptionally proud of this exhibit but the hooded youth was noticeably put off.' Ugh. Cut either 'While' or 'but,' and put a comma after 'exhibit' either way. You're often missing commas between independent clauses in your sentences. You also need a comma after 'Asia' in the clause 'a group from Asia each with an expensive camera hanging from their necks'; furthermore, you're using a plural pronoun, 'their,' for a singular subject, 'each [member of the group].' Restructuring the sentence would be the easiest way around this: 'a group of Asians, all with expensive cameras hanging from their necks.' You likewise mix the singular and plural in the clause 'each set of ghosts were grouped.' Each is singular, a set is singular, so each set was grouped.

If these points of grammar are unfamiliar to you, you should probably duck your head into the Fiction Farm and ask for a line-by-line.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

curlingiron, "Finding"

So Lyla, who is sufficiently cracked in the attic to be suffering audiovisual hallucinations, is wandering around the countryside on her own. Correct? She has no home. She's so out of it that she hasn't looked around herself for days. She has money for a phone with e-mail capabilities, though, somehow. Her therapist let her get away unmedicated and uninstitutionalized. And her grandmother only contacts her semi-weekly and hasn't, I don't know, sent any authorities out to find her dangerously mentally ill grandchild. I'm with Lyla: there's no sign her grandmother cares about her at all. Adelaide's suggestion of a reconciliation thus isn't touching but rather sad. You took the whole situation too far for my suspension of disbelief, certainly too far for the mood of the piece to be anything but bleak.

I'm not sure I get where you were going with Adelaide. That she understands what Lyla means by 'different' and says that she, too, wanted to be found suggests her monstrous appearance wasn't all a hallucination on Lyla's part. But why would she look like that? Not to keep people away: she approaches Lyla. Not to scare them off: she's kind from the start. Or... oh. Oh, hmm. Is she some sort of stand-in for Lyla's perception of her mother? In other words, she sees her mother as a terrible monster; really, though, her mother is a woman who wants to be understood as much as Lyla? Maaaybe, but unless Adelaide is Lyla's mother (and dead), this intervention seems random. You know, if Adelaide were the mother that would make me like the story a lot more. I can't determine that without more of an idea of Lyla's relationship with her mother--where is this woman in the picture of Lyla's life? Alive or dead? Present or absent? Bogeyman or abuser? What? Some options would allow her to be Adelaide, some wouldn't. Because you don't narrow it down, I have no idea whether I'm on the right track.

Writing Mechanics: Okay; you cut the submission time fine, and it shows. Mostly in 'No I don’t,,'--an abomination before God and Man if I've ever seen one. Adelaide's dialect was a touch heavy, but it sounded fairly authentic to my mental ear.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Noah, "The Fire in the Night"

You scraped by on the prompt. There's only a ghost in this story if Billy is right about the will-o'-the-wisp being the soul of his sister and if the will-o'-the-wisp exists. Your nameless main character describes its behavior as though it's real and visible and there, but then he thinks, 'I never saw what he saw.' Is the wisp a hallucination of Billy's, then? A genuine ghost that only he can see? The text doesn't tell me. Even if it is a ghost, this, like other entries, isn't so much a ghost story as a story that may have a ghost in it. It would be exactly the same tale if the ghost were imaginary.

The heart of this piece is the choice the protagonist--I wish he had a name--has to make between two ways of being loyal to his friends, two ways to do the right thing, two ways of being a good person that are mutually exclusive; in his own mind, to help Ricky, he has to betray Billy. And vice versa. It's legitimately difficult, and though I have a strong opinion on which choice is right I still feel the protagonist's dilemma. He's young. I get the feeling this decision will age him a little. Especially as the defection that was difficult for him ends up barely noticed by Billy, who isn't much of a friend in his grief. I'm reminded some of Stand By Me by the childhood friendship theme and also of another story that brought that movie to mind, your entry for Pictures and Books. The motif of boys' bonds facing tests is one you do well.

The end fell flat on my first couple of reads, but it's growing on me. There's no resolution to the 'ghost' element, and the reunion of the three is anticlimactic considering Billy left Ricky to die. But there's an implication in the final line that the main character still and maybe only wants someone to follow. He isn't ready to stand on his own just because he made an important call when it mattered. That may not be super-satisfying, but it's human, and so it suits the story better.

Shame I never found out much about the ghost, though. As was also the case with that Pictures and Books entry, I feel like there's another story going on just out of sight, although I'm less disappointed this time that I didn't get to see it.

Writing Mechanics: Generally good, but your tenses got bogged in muck once or twice. 'Every time before Billy would begrudgingly come back' would be fine if you cut 'before,' but the presence of that word means the rest ought to have been in past perfect: 'Every time before, Billy had begrudgingly come back' etc. 'I'd like to think Billy would be angry, but he was already gone' -- present, past. 'I wanted to think that Billy would be angry, but he was already gone' might do.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Benny the Snake, "Untitled"

Regarding the episode that landed you your flash rules, suffice to say I was not impressed. Your disqualification was for failing in another way. Not only did Jesus know Diego in life--if that is Diego, and more on that shortly--but I presume Jesus's mother and father knew him also, leaving no doubt that you blew that part of the prompt.

I looked up "El Cucuy" since its nature was not clear from your context. The Albuqurque Horror Examiner informs me that it is a monster much like the bogeyman, a shapeshifter that can become whatever it likes in order to terrorize disobedient children. The thing that kills Jesus sounds like El Cucuy to me, right down to the glowing eyes. In other words, it's a monster, not the ghost of Diego at all. As a side note, it's bizarre that you took pains to explain 'Chuy' but left what the heck El Cucuy is a mystery, the more so since an understanding of El Cucuy is necessary to see how you met part of your flash rule.

Let's tally the ways you've made a hash of things thus far:

1. You asked for help in spite of the rule.
2. Either your surviving characters knew the ghost in life, or
3. You didn't tell a ghost story.

If you're surprised at your DQ, I don't know what to tell you.

The Do Not Cross sign is a weak answer to Rhino's first flash rule for you, though it suffices. At first I thought you hadn't met the second rule at all, since while Jesus lies to his mother, I couldn't tell from your text that the lie had anything to do with him getting devoured. Now I know that El Cucuy's appetite increases the more a child misbehaves, and I'm thinking Jesus's lie is supposed to be a final step down that road--although you'd think that shooting his friend would be naughty enough to do him in on its own.

This story is not terrible, which saved you from the loss despite your astonishingly poor reading comprehension. If you cut a few of the random Spanish words, it wouldn't hurt; yes, they're Hispanic, we get it. It starts looking egregious around the time Jesus teases Diego about being a jota. A larger problem by far is that until Diego gets shot, he, not Jesus, seems to be the main character. I still have to remind myself which kid survived, and this is after reading it several times.

You would have been in the middle if you'd obeyed the prompt in any way. That's progress, I guess. Don't change your title after posting in the future.

Writing Mechanics: Not good. 'Eachother' is not a word. You misspell Diego's name at one point. You haven't mastered the mechanics of dialogue. All your mistakes are the sloppy kind that you should have caught by proofreading the thing, which makes them all the more irritating to see. Technically speaking, it's customary to put foreign-language words in italics, and you might give that a try if you're going to continue loading your stories with them.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Sitting Here, "The Lost Hour"

Scattershot and muddled. When the story starts, it gives the distinct impression that Mikki and Amaya will be important. You do an effective job of building the spookiness, with the chorus that echoes Amaya's name being a detail I particularly liked, and it seems as though something otherworldly has happened to Mikki and is happening to Amaya as we watch... and then those two all but disappear. Jodi encounters the ghost alone and there's nary a clue of was up with Mikki to begin with. These two shards of story don't meld for me at all.

Nor does the ghost first telling Jodi 'You're going too slow' mesh with the message he gives her in a rather blunt way: slow down. Probably a slip on your part, but a bad one. It's neat that your ghost appears in the hour erased from the clock by Daylight Savings Time to remind humanity to be less hasty--one, it's an indictment of DST, which I am completely on board with; two, the ghost has a point. Unfortunately I only know that's your concept because I overheard you talking about it. I can't see it in the text. You mention DST and one specific hour of the year, but the line is drawn much too faintly.

Why the ghost showed Jodi the past is a mystery to me. In one sense, she only has to look around to put the lie to 'what was has always been.' There aren't ancient pines in the park anymore. He probably means that in a more metaphysical sense, but his words wouldn't particularly discourage waste, I don't think, because how does waste have meaning when whatever you miss or toss aside will always be there? This is an attempt at depth rather than a success. The rest of his message for her has more sense and heart.

Amaya and Mikki reappear at the end, having served small purpose. Mikki is never more than a name.

You do atmosphere well. Your character interactions are great. Your prose is competent. Damning with faint praise, I know, but I enjoyed reading your entry even though I wanted more from it, and I think the idea of DST ghosts is one you should play with again.

Writing Mechanics: I would have been astounded if this hadn't been submitted at the wire. It's studded with mistakes a thorough proof should have caught. It's only too clear you didn't have time for one. Capitalization was your greatest bugbear, as you both capitalized things you shouldn't have ('She' in 'She said quietly to Jodi' and 'She asked the specter') and failed to capitalize at least one pronoun ('Seward park'). There's no such thing as a 'spec' of light. 'Abrahams Bosom' wants an apostrophe. Ellipses that end a sentence should have four dots, three for the ellipsis and one for the period--this is the one error you made consistently.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Lake Jucas, "Ghost Stories of the Old World"

You asked your nine-hundred-plus words to carry a metric ton of back story. The wonder is how close you came to pulling it off. There are unanswered questions that nag me throughout the piece, yet you tell me enough about the world and the resort to build the atmosphere of solitude and ruin. 'Alone in a resort of the dead' is nearly all I need to know. And what a great premise it is. I so wanted a haunted hotel story this week, and you provided the next best thing.

You notice how I said 'came close' and 'nearly,' though? It comes back to the nagging questions. I want to know how long it's been since this plague. Kate thinks of 'seven months and thousands of miles,' but you describe the resort as though it has gone years without care. I wonder how fast this plague spread, if people were hanging out in honeymoon bungalows when it came on. I wonder as well about Kate's husband and why she never thinks of him. She had one, right? That's what it means that the honeymoon bed had once been hers? You imply an important thing about her past with that, but it's an empty thing. You keep referring to 'the horrors of being a survivor' and 'true horror in the actions of desperate men,' but these horrors have no bearing on the story at hand. You're out to give a feeling of a wider world outside the resort, I believe, but you overplay it to the point where it feels like this is an excerpt from your novel or something rather than a standalone piece.

The vomiting ghosts are rather random. The implication's probably meant to be that the virus made everyone vomit themselves to death. But ye gads, if it was that constant, why weren't the corpses sprawled by the toilet?

I don't care for your direct quotation of your flash rule. It's not convincing and doesn't make sense within the world of the story; why would Kate think of tygers? Who ever thinks of tygers-with-a-Y unless they're quoting Blake? Which she wasn't, since the actual Blake line is different. (Also: as far as I can tell Blake wrote book-length poems, but never novels.) I have to admit we didn't say that you didn't have to put the line itself into your piece, and if you were working under that assumption, you took a credible stab at making it fit.

As with other entries, your final line feels more like where the real story begins than a conclusion.

Writing Mechanics: Decent. Your errors tend to be goofs: 'bedroom suit,' 'dead by damned,' no period after 'she said to herself.' A semicolon would be better than a comma after 'take it all in.' 'At least they went together she thought' needs a comma badly; punctuate thoughts of this type as you would dialogue.

You're the second person to use 'shined' as the past tense of 'shine,' rather than 'shone,' which is traditionally preferred. That's not wrong, just odd.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

systran, "Empyrean Son"

Considering you rushed this so much that you didn't have time to get a word count, it's quite good! I'm not crazy about the section with the woman. 'I paid for a drink and a woman' sounds he went to a tavern-slash-whorehouse, and you'd think word would get around if a whorehouse employed homicidal corpses. Her true nature is unclear. She could be a spirit of vengeance; she could be a god, or sent by a god; she could be the protagonist's conscience briefly embodied as a dead woman. I don't know, and the scene doesn't bear too much thought. If it were me I would keep it, but I might change the details until he met the woman somewhere less public, so that how she disguised what she was from other people (and how she happened to get a job in the whorehouse-slash-tavern in time for the protagonist to show up) wouldn't even be a question.

Your final paragraph doesn't have the same grace as the rest. The prose verges on clumsy. If you replaced 'an answer for my King' with 'it,' you'd lose a repetition of 'King' and a repetition of 'answer.' I'd consider changing 'see the King' in the last line to 'the palace' or some such as well. Especially since he won't be seeing the king, will he? The answer itself is dark and fitting: an eye for an eye is truly just.

If you'd spent more time on this, you would probably have snagged an honorable mention. Alas! But how is the protagonist the son of Heaven?

Writing Mechanics: I already addressed this, really--the repetitive bits of the final scene are the only missteps of note.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Bad Seafood, "Captured Memories"

I like your plot in which a ghost remembers who she was through the companionship of a living woman. I like that your ending is sentimental without being cloying; I like that you went against type and delivered a ghost story that was barely brushed by melancholy. What won me over, though, was the amount of character you gave your characters. Erin and Sasha feel like people, people with quirks and interests who are distinctly themselves. You manage this with a few scraps of dialogue and a handful of actions. The banter between them shows me how they could come to like each other and gives me an impression of their friendship: they tease, they joke, Erin nags, Sasha scolds, and they enjoy one another's company.

I see agency in Erin's decision to befriend the ghost in her home. This decision is more implicit than explicit, granted, but it's there. She offers to fix the camera, and she carries it with her to let Sasha see the world outside the apartment. Little choices, little actions. But they matter. Sasha (arguably your true protagonist, viewpoint character or not) lacks agency by default, but the decision to see her niece is still hers.

Sasha's relationship to her sister is drawn well in broad, light strokes. I didn't catch the significance of her talk of her sister ('A model child, she was') my first time through the story. You and Nethilia depicted the same sibling bond: Sasha and her sister didn't get on, but Sasha died to save her sister from drowning. You did it so succinctly--it's beautiful, really--that you had room for a much wider story.

There's little other than your typos that I don't like here. I do have minor quibbles with your Polaroid. You might do better to have Erin clean it than repair it, though that wouldn't likely take as long. She'd probably need replacement parts if it's broken, and I think these may be hard to get. No point making the reader wonder how plausible a home repair job is. She also snaps a whole lot of pictures, but even when it was common Polaroid film was fairly costly at at least a dollar a picture, maybe two, and nowadays it would be harder to find. I wonder--Erin shows the sunrise shots to Sasha, which means Sasha either wasn't there to see Erin take them or wasn't paying attention; she definitely doesn't need to be there. What if Erin picked up a cheaper camera with which to practice? Something like that or a nod to the cost would make this issue feel less handwaved.

I love taking pictures and I love Polaroids, which didn't hurt you a bit, but the magic and your win lay in how much story and personality you packed into a limited space. Tell more ghost stories, Seafood. You're good at them.

Writing Mechanics: Not so good at proofreading, though. Between 'the taste of her own breathe crisp on the morning calm' and 'The middle-aged woman signed' and 'bummer her for smokes' (in the latter case, 'bum smokes off of her' would be correct; Merriam-Webster tells me that bummer is not a verb), I would question your level of care if I didn't know you've done worse.

***** ***** ***** ** *** ****** ********

Phobia, "Mud"

You almost did it. You almost transformed a decent if cliche spook-story setup into a goofy comedy piece WITH EXTENSIVE USE OF CAPSLOCK and made it amusing. Then, for reasons known only to you, you decided to throw in the detail that Hansel's pants were around his ankles the next morning, and I don't even know what that's supposed to signify, but it's pointless and stupid and he's a kid and there's a no-sex rule and why did so many of you throw in completely needless crap like this! Arrrrrrrrrgh!

...Okay, deep breaths. The pants detail delivered the death blow to your piece. The paragraph beginning with 'Okay, wow?' had already done some damage, however. Your rural boy is suddenly from the Valley, telling a lady, like, she should, like, totally, like, stop being dead and, like, stuff? With inappropriate question marks giving his lines upward inflections? It's weird and dumb? And not funny since it doesn't relate to the situation you've set up in any way.

Also, Hansel sneered twice in consecutive paragraphs. The ghost lady should have punched him in the face.

You'd only have to alter a small amount of this story to make it entertaining, but man, do you ever need to fix it.

Writing Mechanics: Good enough for government work. You missed a word in 'there even rumors,' and 'Later that night, Hansel was locked in the mansion, and all of the doors leading out were locked' is terribly redundant. 'Five thousand' doesn't need a hyphen. A nocturne is a piece of music, so you wanted a different word there unless there's a pianist outside the mansion window.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 21:45 on Oct 28, 2014

Aug 2, 2002

thanks 4 da crit

Benny the Snake
Apr 10, 2012


Thank you for your criticism, Kaishai.

Benny the Snake fucked around with this message at 07:04 on Mar 23, 2014

Aug 2, 2002

Benny the Snake posted:

Thank you for your criticism, Kaishai. I should've italicized the Spanish words. What I was going for was a spanglish dialogue. But I guess I failed to do so. When I looked up El Cucuy, he was described as a "ghost monster", so I thought it would work. I'm not surprised at all that I was DQ'd. I deserved to be DQ'd and I make no excuses. Hopefully, my new TD story will be better well received.

yo, you see the post above yours? dat's how you respond to a crit.

I kno readin' 'n comprehendin' ain't yo thing, but may i recommend yous take a look ova this 1 mo time?

da OP posted:

This thread is for

*Postin’ stories
*Judgin’ stories
*Crittin’ stories

Sep 15, 2013

No static at all...

Mixed Messages
1,113 Words

Arat’s gambit worked flawlessly. He finished his turn by setting his last worker-peg and then sliding the topmost ziggurat piece over it to complete the fourth tier. “That’s it,” he said, turning over the tiles he held in his palm. He had won. Three times in as many games.

Visi sneered and hung his head. And to think he had taught Arat to play to pass the time between lessons. “Come on, we need to get down to the real ziggurat or the priestess will have us cleaning beer pots again tonight.”

The packed the game away and left Visi’s cell for the hot sun waiting outside. The floods would be coming any day now, and people would be expecting to see the new priests on the steps of the temple. They had long lives to serve out in the walls of the city, working their way up the steps, and there would be many more games to be played. He’d make up the losses, Visi told.


“And how is the thesis coming along, Malika?” Professor Elizabeth Witmore asked. Her office overlooked the London campus, the morning sun shone in through her window.

“Just fine,” Malika said, for the first time in ages, it was, “I sent you the pictures, did you see them?”

“I was just looking them over now, number A00-133, right?”

“That’s the one. It’s the most complete prayer board that I’ve been able to locate. I’ll be ready to present before the year’s out I think.”

“Has there been any progress on the outer pictograms? Your paper would be much stronger if you could produce context for them.”

“Right now, I’m still working off the theory that they’re dates of some kind. The presence of repeated counting digits and sequences seems to suggest a calendar, but not one we’ve documented before. Likely for certain religious ceremonies,” Malika said.

“Oh?” Elizabeth asked. The video call buffered for a moment. She couldn’t help but smile, “You may want to double check your inventory.”

Last year when she’d come out for field work, the girls had stayed behind in London. It was safer this year, and she knew more people, so they had agreed to come out for the break. The distance hadn’t been the worst part, in truth, the semester she spent in Jersey was worse since they were just out of reach. But the time difference made it almost impossible to get to see them regularly. Her webcam was fine for speaking with the other professors, but it never seemed to be good for her, or for the girls. She knew her work was drawing her away from them, but for the time being, she had to be serious about it. They weren’t her little girls anymore, and all through the last year she’d been trying, and failing, to find a connection with them.

Malika turned, then turned back, her sienna skin blushing, “I’ll call you back professor!” she said hurriedly. The girls had the artifact laid on the floor of the den and were playing with it. She heard her mentor say her goodbyes and close the call. Malika dropped to her knees beside the prayer board and the girls. “And just what are you two doing?”

“I’m winning!” Nasheed, the younger of her daughters said.

“You are not. All you’ve got are cows,” Shareen said.

They were growing up so quickly. Nasheed had been a toddler when her PHD program started and she had to explain that Mommy went to school too when Shareen cried at the start of every primary school semester. But her oldest was becoming a young woman now and her youngest suddenly looked not so far behind. Malika tried not to think about looking at universities for Shareen -- that was a few years off yet. But she hoped she’d be on a tenure track by then, though there was little hope of that if the prayer board was damaged by the two tonight.

“It’s not a game,” she said with an edge to her voice. The girls put down the gray clay tiles and tired not to meet their mothers’ eye. “Remember what I told you? How Aunt Elizabeth had lots of parts of them, but this is the first whole set we’ve found? We can’t lose any pieces, or I’ll be in trouble too! Now, see here, we can put the ziggurat’s together and fit the tiles down. This is a way they could have been asking the gods for help, right here, even before Babylon.”

She was rambling again, she told herself. The prayer board hadn’t gone far in several millennia now, it wasn’t going to crumble into dust over night. “Do you want to see if there’s a football game on?” she asked.

“I want to finish the game first,” Nasheed said, “Stampede!” She turned over one of the tiles on her side of the prayer board, a long one with seven counting dots and a pictogram of four bulls charging after stick figures.

Shareen looked to her, Malika nodded in ascent, watching the game play out according to the girl’s rules. She looked over the board as they had it set up, In the small drilled into the stone board, toothpicks had been placed, except where they were being used to peg the layers of the ziggurats. Shareen had three levels built, and Nasheed had one. When Nasheed turned over the tile, her sister laughed playfully and cleared off her pegs from the part of the board representing grain fields. Malika turned her head, “What just happened?”

“Stampede!” Nasheed said again.

“She had all the cows. So all my workers got chased away.” Shareen explained. She paid her grain tiles into the bank and took the toothpick-workers in exchange, then pointed to a pictogram equation on the edge of the board. “See, one grain gets one worker. And one worker in the field makes two grain.”

Malika laughed, and hugged them both. She shook her head, and watched as the game played out. She’d found nearly two dozen of these prayer boards, or similar ones, at dig sites and it had never occurred to her. They turned up in tombs, and in temple quarters, and in a palace foundation, they must have been important. But as she watched the girl’s finish the game, she learned why. Seeing the board this way, it was a relief, even when her mind turned back to work, this wasn’t a dour reminder of vengeful gods, it was a game for fun and a pastime. She thought to call Professor Witmore, but that could wait. She wanted to learn how to play.

Oct 8, 2013

Self-Service (1,109 words)

“Screw you, too“, Deborah muttered and closed the door of the walk-in freezer behind her. At least she'd be left alone in here. Couldn't Ryan find someone else to pick on?
In fact, he probably couldn't – they were the only teenagers working at the frozen yogurt shop. It hadn't made them friends, and she couldn't blame him. Nobody wanted to be seen with her any more than necessary nowadays, not after last summer. Maybe one day they would all forget about it. They'd stop whispering about her behind her back, and some of them might even let her sit with them at lunch. She had feelings, too (although that was usually hard to tell when she took her medication like a good girl), and right now, she felt frustrated and angry.
Her parents had said the job would do her good. “Just stand up for yourself if someone is mean to you”, her dad had said. Too bad it wasn't that easy. Deborah sat down on the sticky floor and raised her hands to rub her frustratingly dry eyes. She hadn’t cried since her first day at the clinic, almost a year ago.
Huh. She'd forgotten to throw out the half-empty yogurt cups on her way in. Now she would have to sneak back out and inconspicuously stuff them in the trash can, probably receiving at least a sneer, if not a snide remark from Ryan.
That thought finally made her cry. The cups tumbled to the ground, spilling melted yogurt, chocolate chips and peanut brittle everywhere. Now her boss would yell at her for making a mess, too. Sighing, she picked up a lime green spoon and wrote “My life sucks” in the gooey puddle. The letters disappeared as soon as she'd written them, and after a while, so did Deborah's tears. She grabbed her mop – and noticed a different set of words forming in the hardening milk product.
“Sorry about that.”
A sympathetic yogurt ghost. Yeah, right. Then again, she hadn't gotten genuine sympathy from anyone in a while, living or not, so she might as well give it a try.
Deborah knelt down and wrote, “Who are you?”
The words, “Who are you?” now appeared to be scratched in the yogurt again.
This time, Deborah had to use the spoon handle and a little more force to carve her name into the ice. “What do you want?”, she added.
“Maybe I can help you.”
Help me? What are you gonna do, fix my brain and erase the past year from everyone's memory?
“What is bothering you?”, Elizabeth asked.
Deborah wiped her hands on her apron, grabbed the spoon and started writing. She might just be hallucinating, but that didn't matter. Pouring her heart out to an imaginary dairy spirit was better than not doing it at all. Soon she was running out of space, but the words disappeared again and she could continue. She hardly noticed when her lips turned blue and she started shivering.
“And being really awkward and unattractive doesn't help, either”, she finally concluded.
Elizabeth didn't reply for a while, and Deborah was about to get the mop again when the words “I'm sorry” formed. Underneath, she read, “I am lonely, too.”
“Are you a ghost?”, Deborah asked. She had never heard of a haunted freezer before. Maybe she should go to the library tomorrow and look up if any murders had occurred in this building….
“No”, came the instantaneous reply. “I am alive and well and beautiful.”
Good for you, Deborah thought morosely.
“People used to talk about me behind my back, too.”
“I was beautiful once. But then my skin became wrinkled, and my hair turned gray.”
“What did you do?”
“I knew everyone was looking down on me and my fading beauty”, Elizabeth scribbled. “They had no right. So I had to punish them. And I took from them what was rightfully mine.”
“There were these young girls at court, servants, milkmaids, ladies-in-waiting…. So pretty and silly. Foolish.”
Deborah thought of her classmates. A few girls with the same characteristics instantly came to mind. What Elizabeth was describing seemed to be a time-transcending phenomenon.
“They giggled into their handkerchiefs when they saw how old I was becoming. They only got what they deserved. I drew out the fingernails of the prettiest one... and I took their blood, too. Their youth, their beauty – it was all in their blood. That's how I stole it from them.”
Suddenly, Deborah realized how cold she was. “Did you kill them?”, she wrote.
“Not at first. I drew a little of their blood – they had no choice but to obey their countess – but some...”
The words faded. Deborah thought she might throw up. But she couldn't bring herself to leave, either.
“Some died, yes. But my beauty didn't die, as I feared it would. Instead it grew with each drop of blood I put on my skin. I drank some, too, and rubbed their hair on my scalp. I shone like a jewel. Eventually, they had to lock me away to protect the men in the country. They would've just stared at me until they starved.”
Deborah's eyes grew wide. She didn't think she could ever kill anyone, even Kara, who had once been her best friend but had now become a master at hurting her where it stung the most. Although Kara probably deserved it. And she had the most amazing hair.
“But didn't you feel sorry for the girls?”
“Maybe a little, at first. It was their own fault, though. Always pointing fingers, laughing at me in secret...”
That feeling wasn't new to Deborah. Poor Elizabeth, she thought.
But no, Elizabeth had taken fate in her own hands. She had stood up for herself.
“What a mess!” It was good they used plastic cups and spoons at the shop, because Deborah was sure her boss's shrill voice could break glass. “You'd better clean that up, pronto!”
“Yes, Holly.” Deborah bowed her head. “Sorry.” The door was slammed shut once more.
“I have to go now”, she scratched into the yogurt.
“Come back sometime”, Elizabeth replied. “It's awfully lonely in here.”
Deborah calmly and diligently wiped down every surface in the freezer.

Three days later, she used her fingers to draw big letters in the yogurt she had spilled on the floor. “I'm back. And I brought you something.”
She was early for her shift, and hadn't even bothered to change into her uniform yet. A dark liquid slowly dribbled from the plastic bag in her hand, creating light pink swirls in the milky puddle.

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi
Mar 26, 2005

The Boy and the Mariner
808 words

When the boy was ten, he went down to the village to meet the Mariner. "I am told you can send messages across space and time to any person, living or dead."

"You are correct," said the Mariner, opening his door. "Do you wish to send a message?"

"I do," said the boy

"To whom shall I address it?"

The boy pondered this for a long time. "We learned in church of a man named Judas, who betrayed his friend Jesus. Can you ask him not to do so?"

"Of course," said the Mariner. "I shall dispense your message immediately."

When the boy awoke the next day, all the churches in the village were gone and the priests had become bakers and farmers, nonplussed by his questions of the Bible. "I don't understand," he said to the Mariner. "The churches have all disappeared."

"Is it not obvious? Judas heeded your message and chose not to betray Jesus, thus preventing the creation of his religion. Jesus lived a long, healthy life and died a beloved figure, but his message did not spread beyond the Sea of Galilee." And the boy was at once glad and saddened by this news, for while he was pleased to have saved Jesus, he missed his church.


When the boy was eighteen, he went again to the Mariner. "I wish to send a message," he said.

"To whom shall I address it?"

The boy pondered this for a time. "We learned in school of a man named Genghis Khan, who journeyed across the world enacting genocide on many nations. Can you ask him not to do so?"

"Of course. I shall dispense your message immediately."

When the boy awoke the next day, he found the borders on the world map had changed and the countries had taken on new names. His village was different, with buildings he didn't recognize and residents he didn't know, and even his own parents had taken on new appearances. "I don't understand," he said. "My village is not the same as it was before."

"Is it not obvious? Genghis Khan heeded your message and chose not to spend his days conquering and killing. Therefore the civilizations he would have destroyed were able to prosper and became great nations of their own, spreading their own influence over the world. Your village is one of many places to have taken on a new identity." And the boy was somewhat glad but all the more saddened by this news, for while he was pleased to have saved many nations, he missed his village.


When the boy was twenty-five, he went again to the Mariner. "I wish to send a message," he said.

"To whom shall I address it?"

The boy pondered this for a short time. "My wife has told me of a man name Harry Truman, who once ordered a terrible bombing on her grandfather's home country. Can you ask him not to do so?"

"Of course. I shall dispense your message immediately."

When the boy awoke the next day, he found his bed empty. Though he searched and searched, he could find no record of his wife having lived in the village, nor any documentation proving the exchange of their vows. "I don't understand," he said. "It is as though my wife was never born."

"Is it not obvious? Mr. Truman heeded your message and chose not to go through with the bombings. Therefore the great war waged longer than before and your wife's grandfather was killed before he had the chance to have children. Your wife cannot exist, for the link connecting her to him was severed." And the boy was not glad at all but tormented by his sadness, for though he had saved the cities from the bombings, he missed his wife.

"Why are these horrible things happening?" he asked.

"Of what horrible things do you speak? You have prevented murders and genocides--given new life to countless nations and reshaped the world with your wishes. Was this not what you wanted?"

The boy saw truth in the Mariner's words, for everything he wanted had come to pass at the expense of something he had grown to love. "I wish to send one last message," he said.

"To whom shall I address it?"

The boy did not need time to ponder. "There was a boy who visited you when he was ten years old, harboring naive ambitions of how he could change the world, and he sent messages through you. Can you ask him not to do so?"

"Of course. I shall dispense your message immediately."


When the boy was ten, he went down to the village to meet the Mariner. "I am told you can send messages across space and time to any person, living or dead."

"You are mistaken," said the Mariner, closing his door.

Jul 14, 2011

I'm just exploding with mackerel. This is the aji wo kutta of my discontent.


I cop to this being rushed, as I was irresponsible about choosing to sign up before children's cartoon convention weekend. I figure it doesn't get much more archetypal than the Greeks, though.

1194 words

The thief turned his eyestalks towards the star of Iapetus prime, though this far down inside the planet's bowels the sun couldn't be seen. Before he could gird himself, his pedipalps trembled. Ettai noticed, extending an amomum scent of concern. The thief released a sulphurous confidence he did not feel. The ten month symposium on the energy crisis had ended in a sharp divide--those who favored the plan the thief had proposed, and those who wisely feared delving into the realm of the gods.

Now, the thief realized that neither the acclaim nor the approbation would matter. The eagle had arrived at Iapetus. He thought he had more time. He needed more time, but the mortals around him couldn't provide it. They were only afforded one small mercy: there was no time for them to feel pain when the atmosphere ignited. The twinkling constellation of uncountable lives was swallowed as Iapetus went supernova.

He gathered the increasingly tattered fabric of his self and slipped into a gap in the warp and weft. He had liked that body. Even here he could see the glimmer of the bleeding tear the eagle had left in the fabric of the real. The fraying threads spelled out the terms of his punishment. He understood: the lives of mortals provided no protection to the betrayer, not when the god king had already destroyed five races of man--now six. The thief had fooled himself as he had always done. His time was up.

The eagle's scream reached him even in the void, a fitting stand-in for those it had just silenced.


They had no hope of slaying an immortal, but even he could be driven from the light, as they had so many of his brothers and sisters, and even as the Titans had done to those who came before. Prometheus loved the Iapetans. He would steal even the pomegranates of hell for them.

If all went well, the Iapetans would return. So would the Ypsilani before them, and the Atlantians, the Cnidii, and... How many suns would die before he had his revenge for age over age of suffering? His shriek sent the lurking non-ens to roiling. He could taste his siblings' rot even this far above cthonic Tartarus. It was a heady incense--the rage built from watching six races die before they could even leave their mark, the rage of watching his siblings be cast down into the primordial dark, the rage of seeing his tormentor so near and doing... Nothing. No, this would not stand. He hurtled towards the bleeding rift, fashioning himself into a fiery, hooked spear.

Now an ordinary bird would have been destroyed by even the spark of a Titan's wrath, but the eagle was born of the divine blacksmith's craft. It shrieked as the incandescent soul pierced it stem to stern. Prometheus anchored himself within the eagle as it tumbled, dropped, looped, soared--he would not be shaken loose so easily. His hook was buried in its meat. Resisting the need to burn her whole took all of his will.

"Fool!" it screeched, "Fool thief! You know you will not escape--you knew it when you damned them! Why carry on?"

"Don't try to play hag with me." He plucked a crescent of cooling star-stuff from the real as the eagle wrenched its head around, attempting to pluck him loose. "Give up--as you advise me to do. You know you cannot tear me free."

She screamed again, shivering the cinders of Iapetus system. A man would have heard nothing here--the jokes were true, no one could hear a scream in space. Well, Prometheus was no man, and he could hear it.

"I'll deal with you. The terms: fly us to one place of our choosing. Then I let you free to do as you wish. Fly straight back to daddy if you like.. Though I know no love's lost between you and your master."

"Why do you persist?" the eagle asked, but its flight straightened. "I can see your end--this time torn to shreds."

"Prophecy, or Zeus's drunken rambling? You have agreed, haven't you? We go to the omphalos." The eagle hissed. "While we fly, I'll tell you a story..."

He sang a dirge of the Iapetans. The eagle was insensate to scent, and they were in inhospitable space, but if he could not spin the tale, no one could. Hephaestus' eagle could not weep, but the telling reopened wounds. Prometheus had suffered age over age of torture, but she had suffered the torturing.

The omphalos to which they flew was not the center of the universe, only a center. The cauldron in which life's admixture boiled, this was where the thief had fired his creation: man. Clay from Sol, fire of creation, and a little heavenly breath to boot were all one needed to create life.

From deep within himself he pulled six other things, strange lumps of dark matter, to go along with the fragment of Iapetus. Here at one of the beginnings of life, he would resurrect what Zeus had destroyed.

Ypsilan: to tell him to surrender. The Ypsilani had been peaceful folk, their most passionate fights taking place in letters to the editor.

Atlantis: to tell him what Olympos thought of his sense of irony.

Cnidaria: to tell him he had gone too far. He had been so close to showing them how to become as gods themselves through the secret of ambrosia.

Cygnus destroyed to prove a point: detonating a sun was something they could do casually.

Lyra destroyed to punish his escape. They perished because he had stopped to mend his broken body on their muddy shores.

He cast these five lumps into the cauldron and felt the universe heave, shudder, writhe with the pain of birthing out of near-nothing that which the gods had sundered.

A peal of thunder rattled the omphalos. The eagle twisted free at last from Prometheus' spear and set a panicked course back to Olympos. Its blood scattered between the stars--divine blood, the good stuff, from Zeus himself. Prometheus did not wait quietly. He grabbed a droplet and wet the last piece of matter. Blood was not ambrosia, but that hardly mattered. The sympathy between a piece of Cronus and the Titan race would have to be enough. But it wasn't--it wasn't enough. The lump remained inert and dark. Prometheus, knowing his failure, closed his eyes. No rescue could come in time now.

Zeus himself had come, hauling his thunderbolts in tow.

"Shall I cut the heavens?" Prometheus said.

Anger-pale, Zeus opened him with one cut, letting immortal blood spill--over Cronus's stone, over the omphalos. Prometheus smiled, sparking a wordless howl of Zeus, and greater violence, until what was left of Prometheus was a million parts, now inextricably mixed with the essence of creation. Zeus's scream blew over the stone, fallen into that star fire.

Below, so far below, uncountable legions awoke and cast their eyes to heaven.

Mar 5, 2004

Time Dog
921 words

If this lady asks me "who's a good boy" one more time I'll bite her in the loving shin, I don't care about the rules. I know you're referring to me, lady. I'm a goddamn lady too. I'm going to count to three, then conspicuous or not, I'm getting my growl on.



"Bad Bitch, please respond." Saved by the time-bell, lady. I barked the code to say I'm not alone, then flashed my surgically-sharpened teeth at the lady. She snatched her hand away from my ear and backed off. Good. I sat and waited for instructions.

"Okay BB, we've got a positive read for you.” Talking to the future always involved some nasty feedback inside my skull. I scratched my ear. “The explosion originated in the back of the Petsmart at four pm. Stopping the bomb would be great, but if you can't find the device, you need to get the kid out. According to our intel, subject wore a horizontally striped shirt and carried a bag of gummy candy at time of death. He is your top priority."

I checked to make sure nobody was close enough to hear me talk. "What flavor gummy?"

"We have a black and white photograph, not a smell index."

"Figures." I sniffed the smellclock sewn into my leash. Three forty five. HQ doesn't normally cut the time this close. I bit the quick release on the loop of the leash and ran into the store.

The trick with running incognito operations is acting enough like all the other stupid mutts to be invisible. It's harder than you'd think. People pay attention to dogs who work with purpose, so the direct route is out. If I gallop and sniff assholes and chew things too much though, the dog-brain overrides the bionics. Kicks into some real impulsive, canine chaos. It takes months for HQ to send back a reboot. I made that mistake on the Hitler mission. I don't want to go down that path again.

Sugar and confusion wafted past my nose. I followed the smell to a bag of gummy bears in the hand of a child. The kid wore the right shirt; it had to be the target. I did my best impression of an idiot and trotted over. The kid went straight for the pat. I mixed a locator smell with my saliva and marked the child's hand. Good girl, I thought. Kid's safe. If I can't get the bomb, I can at least get him and get out fast.

But I'm a good girl. I'm an overachiever.

The back of the store was empty. Good. I sniffed the leash again, checking my time. Ten minutes to go. I found a gap to get behind some bulk dog food and smelled sulphur, diesel, sweat, and a million other chemicals dead ahead. That cocktail spells bomb. My nose led me to a brick wrapped in wires, a small blinking device sitting on top.

poo poo. I don't do wires.

"HQ, this is Bad Bitch. I need advice." The smell of the bags of dog food to my right made my tail wag against my will. "I need it fast."

"HQ, go ahead."

I stuffed my nose into the bomb, trying to drown the smell of the food. "Got a bomb here, covered in wires." HQ patched into my vision, blinding me. My head throbbed and a whimper sprang from my throat, unbidden. I felt my dog-brain begin to take over when my vision flooded back.

"You should be able to bite through the green wire pretty easily."

"Dog." The smell of the food was getting to me. "Colorblind."

"Oh. The second one to the left of the blinker."

I tried to nuzzle my way through the tangle to grip just one wire between my teeth, when I felt a growl come out of my throat. No time. I bit into all the wires to the left and shook my head to dismantle the device, hoping it would be enough. Bits of bomb fell to pieces. I stopped for a second to make sure I disabled the bomb, but the thrill of the kill from the latent canine impulse in the back of my head took over. I shook it harder and harder. The wires I bit through snapped and the bomb went sailing through the air. My legs pounded, chasing. A voice in the back of my head mumbled something in Humanese but I could only barely make it out as the dog-brain took hold. I dove out into an aisle and straight into a newspaper.

"Bad dog!"

My nose stung, sending the dog-brain scurrying, just in time. Bionics took over and I bit back a swear. A teenager in a Petsmart uniform, smelling of herbs and body spray, loomed at me. He reached for my leash but I dropped tail and ran for the door, doing the most convincing yelp I could. Maybe the kid would feel guilty for hitting me, I don't know. The tail-down yelp-and-run is an easy way to make an escape.

I got back to the alley and scratched the return code on the side of the box. This mission got me too close for comfort to that point of no return... but, saving the kid might mean his brother would get a transplant. Maybe even finish his research on sending back a human brain. I could do with a vacation. I hung my leash on its hook and waited to see where I would jump next.

Benny the Snake
Apr 10, 2012


Worlds Apart
1177 words

Dear Jason,

It's been a while since you've moved to Mars. How is it over there? I can only imagine how alien the world must look like compared to Earth. I have good news-I'm seeing someone! His name is Sean, and we've been seeing eachother for a few weeks now. Well, hoping you're doing well.



Dear Lydia,

That's great that you have a boyfriend! I haven't really met anybody up here on Mars. You're right, it is very alien. Everything here is red-from the dirt to the skies and whatever isn't red turns red once the windstorms kick up. The planet hasn't terraformed yet, so we've been living inside a giant transparent dome and we have to suit up every time we go out. So tell me what Sean's like. How are the two of you?



Dear Jason,

Wow, Mars does sound different! I'm almost jealous that I'm not there! Me and Sean are doing well, I guess. He's a little...aggressive. Like, we'll be out on the town and he likes to get into another guy's face. I'm not sure if it's more him or the Marine machismo. Oh, I forgot to say, he's a marine! It's why I fell for him-I guess I have a thing for big, strong, military types. It's like I said, I wish he was a little less combative but I guess that's what he was trained for. How are things over there?



Dear Lydia,

A marine, huh? You know, it's been my experience that most military types are raging douchebags. But then again, that's just me. Anyway, I have bad news. There's been some grumbling going on in my community over water rights. See, all the useable water here on Mars is located at the very north where the ice cap is. We depend on it for our water supply. But for the past few weeks, the local government has been rationing our water on the basis that the purification process uses too many resources. We're farmers, so we depend on that water for our livelihood. Some of us have taken to protesting the rationing. Others have been talking about secession. I don't like where this is going at all. I hope things are going better over there than they are over here.



Dear Jason,

Wow, it sounds like things are getting serious over there. Hopefully it won't get too serious. I'm starting to get tired of Sean's machismo. Just last week, we were at a bar and he suddenly started picking a fight with another guy he thought was leering at me. Why do guys think that being aggressive in front of girls makes them swoon? It doesn't-it just makes you look like an even bigger rear end in a top hat! God, what did I ever see in him in the first place? I seriously thought I could mellow him out. I hope things get better where you're at.



Dear Lydia,

Things aren't getting any better over here on Mars. A bunch of the homesteaders are calling a vote to secede. The government most likely won't recognize us, so they've started to talk about taking up arms and taking over the water plant by force. I'm starting to get worried. But I hope things between you and Sean get better.



Dear Jason,

Things between me and Sean haven't gotten better at all. In fact, we've split up. What happened was so stupid I can barely believe it happened. We were at home visiting the folks and he got drunk and started going through my little sister's underwear. I honestly thought Dad was going to get in a fight with him, but I was more scared that Sean was going to kick his rear end. Thankfully, we all forced him out. I've severed all ties with the bastard, and yet I still feel hurt. I feel even worse telling you about all this. I mean, I'm just talking about getting my heart broken and you're possibly facing a war. I wish there was something I could do for you, but we're worlds away.



Dear Lydia,

The homesteaders have successfully voted to secede. The government has stated that they won't recognize our secession, so they also voted to declare war on the government. I've been drafted into this war and I don't want to fight. I've never fought anybody in my life, Lydia. I've never fired a gun in my life. I've never so much as hurt anybody in my life. I don't believe in what we're fighting at all. How could I? We're fighting over water. Water! No human life is worth a gallon of water! I must be the only person who thinks that. Almost everybody else, including my family, is too caught up in the “us vs them”, “it's ours, not theirs” bullshit. I'm scared, Lydia. I'm really scared.



Dear Jason,

Couldn't you run away here to Earth? I'm not sure how you got to Mars, but couldn't you hop a shuttle to get here? You could live with me and I don't think whoever's in charge on Mars would come after you.



Dear Lydia,

There's no way I could go back to Earth. There's not a single shuttle coming to Earth and even then, it would take years to get there. I'm stuck here. I just got back from arms practice. The gun's really heavy in my hands, and I almost fell over when I shot it for the first time. The commander has told us that our first mission is to take the water plant. I don't know when it's going to happen, but if I'm going to be as bad as I was during target practice, I'm hosed. I hope you're doing better than I am over here.



Dear Jason,

I really don't know what to say. I mean, everything's peaceful here on Earth. There hasn't been a war in my lifetime and I can't really imagine what it's like to live in a situation like that. I really can't. I don't know what to say at all.



Dear Jason,

I haven't heard for you in months. Things turned to poo poo with Sean. First he started stalking me, then came the threats, and now I'm filing a restraining order against him. But every time I think about how bad things have gotten for me, I think of you, Jason. I think about how you got drafted against your will in a war you don't believe in. I think about those long summer days we spent together laying on the grass watching the clouds fly by. I think about how we'll never see each other again and it hurts so bad. I wish you never boarded that shuttle for Mars. I wish you would've stayed here on Earth where we could be together. I love you, Jason. I love you so much. I wish I could've told you that before you left. Please make it back. Please answer this. Please.


Jul 25, 2012


Flash Rule:

Mercedes posted:

Miss-use of sign-language can explode a man.[/b]

(1193 words)

“You think you can turn some lights on in here?” I yell to guard down the hall.

“The Archmage keeps it dark for your sake,” he responds. “It’ll help you focus.”

I sit on the concrete floor of the holding cell, signaling my name in American Sign Language over a scrying sigil etched below me. A single ASL dictionary sits in before me like a grimore, which would be pretty loving useful right now. A spark flies from my fingers when I get to the “K” in “My name is Mike.”

I recoil with a scream and an f-bomb, rushing to the sink with tears in my eyes. I got careless. Not good when you’re an amateur wizard, and hand signals are your main tools of trade. The guard snickers behind me before strolling back to his post. I do the only thing I can. I sit back down, and slowly signal “My name is Massey.”

Three hours ago I was in my apartment. According to the local news, 4th street fire was due to faulty wiring. Not a botched illumination spell in the Taco Bell men’s room. Wouldn’t have happened if they just fixed their lights, but the local Mage Guild didn’t see it that way. The next morning, I woke up surrounded by hooded figures. While begging for my life, I let it slip that I took a few ASL courses before I dropped out of college. I guess it worked. If nothing else, it made them laugh.

“Good news,” the apparent leader said to me. “You get to help us with our homework.”

So here I am. Working off my debt to a bunch of haunted house rejects. Hand-signing to ghosts. Hoping they’ll tell me what Hell looks like. Apparently when communing with the spirit world, visual methods are the most effective. That’s what they told me, anyway.

I wave my hand over the key sigil in the middle of the circle. A slow ripple emanates from the floor etchings. My hand aches, but it still works. Enough to form the somatic keys to open the channel, then to motion “My name is Massey” into it.

The ripples in front of me don’t do much else other than ripple. I feel my pulse rise in my frustration, catching before it can manifest in my spellcasting. I repeat the process, and gaze into the ripples in the air front of me. The air begins to glow brighter, highlighted by a swirling green tint slowly fading into view. At first only one trail appears, but a second appears to intersect it only to fade as quickly as it came. A distinct pattern emerges in its motions, as if in perfect American Sign Language, it’s saying “My name is Jim.”

I think I just made contact.

“Jim what?”

“My name is Jim.”

That didn’t help. I file through the rolodex in my brain, trying to come up with any helpful piece of arcane knowledge I picked over the years. Anything that could help converse with a ghost. I know it helps to keep it simple.

“Jim? Year? Massey. 2014.”

Jim tells me his goddamn name again. “What year is it? Do you know the year? What’s the last year you remember?”


Now we’re getting somewhere. I ask his birthday. There was only a brief pause between my question, and “1856.” His place of birth, “Boston.” Then I ask him if he has family. That’s where the responses end. I signal again. And again. Each time signally faster and sloppier. My thoughts become scattered, as the fear of losing my once stay of execution becomes very real. Sweat rolls down my face as my head pounds. My body temperature rises with my pulse, and the distinct smell of burning meat fills the air. I immediately stop signally.

My body cools rapidly. My head lightens at the same pace. I fall against the wall of my cell, losing consciousness.


“I understand you’ve made progress, Mr. Massey,” asks the hooded figure outside my cell.

I wobble my head up to what I assume to be eye contact. “You could say that. Any of you ever speak to a Jim before? A Jim who was born in Boston around 1856?”

The figure says nothing.

“Listen, I know you clearly know how to find poo poo out. Any chance you could pull up some old family records? I mean, I am doing your homework.”

That last sentence I immediately regret the second it leaves my mouth. A few hours ago, I was begging this giant Snuggie not to cut my head off.

“If it will help.”


“Boston Jim? 1856-1925? It’s Massey.”

A surprisingly comprehensive genealogical list found its way to into my cell. I set it next to my dictionary, and begin the incantation. The green swirl forms before me. My finger has started to blister, but I still throw out my bait.



“How are you?”


“Are you Jim Harrison?”

The glow hovers motionless for what feels like a decade. It quivers briefly before it begins to twist. “James L. Harrison.”





“They both had children. Would like to know about them?”


“Paul. Two sons. One daughter. Jill. Two daughters.”

Jim sits still. He flickers a bit but stays visible. He winces a couple times, as if his next sentence suffers a few false starts, before twisting into a simple “Thank you.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I sign to him, taking my time. “What’s it like where you are?”

“Not letting you go.”

Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. “What do you mean?”

“Mages. Think you’re stupid. Waiting. For you. To kill yourself.”

I glance behind me, looking for the guard. When I don’t find him, I respond “And you know this how?”

“Not the first. But. The first. Who asked about family. Thank you.”

I start signing “Can you help me?” when a spark flies from my hands onto the floor.

“You. Opened door. To speak to me. Use it.”

“How do I do that!?”

“I see door. I can lead you. I’ve learned. I’ve watched. I know. How to make signs. Without body. Body unnecessary. Mages. Won’t look. For dead man.”

It’s not a great option, but it’s the only one I’ve got. I wonder briefly how far I can push that old illumination spell. I begin the somatic ritual. I feel the heat of spell before the light, but the light does follow. That same white bubble that landed me here in the first place. I focus just enough to keep it steady, but let my thoughts wander as it grows. Since I’m purposely trying to gently caress up, I decide to have a little fun with the spell. “By the way,” I motion to Jim. “My first name’s Mike.”

A flash ignites my efforts. The force pushes me against the cell door, the intense heat shocking my nervous system as I feel my limbs separating. I am consumed in a terrible roar and flame before instant silence and black. Silence broken by a distant chuckle.

“Mike,” I hear in a rough Bostonian accent. “You’re a goddamned moron.”

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