I honestly have no idea where this story came from. It's not the sort of thing I've ever written before.
The Stag Lord's Wife (767 words)
It began in a small town library. There was a storyteller, with lined and tired face, in a rocking chair, and boys and girls of various ages sprawled around her on the colorful carpet.
She coughed, set the chair to rocking, and told them a story. The children listened, fascinated, and their parents browsed the stacks and flipped through magazines or had a smoke break.
There was a vast wood, silent, ancient, and a castle in a grove at the center of the woods. Its stones mingled with vines and moss, and on each tower there hung animal skulls, the black emptiness of their eye sockets watching the forest. Inside the castle lived a man who wore the skull of a stag, and his eyes, through the dark slits of the skull, shone emerald and dark as holly leaves.
A woman came through the forest, dressed in a gown of green, its hem wet with dirt.
The children went home. They built forests out of hedges and thickets, and castles out of cardboard boxes. For stag skulls the boys wore baseball caps festooned with pipe cleaners. The girls dressed in princess gowns they colored green with Crayola marker, or if they were lucky, they had a green dress they could wear.
They would play nothing else.
'Here,' said the woman who had come through the forest, and she offered the stag lord a piece of fruit. 'My gift, with which I hope to earn your love.' The fruit, dark red as a ripe berry, swollen, filled her cupped hands. The stag lord took the fruit from her, and beneath the skull his eyes glittered with triumph.
The girls gave the boys apples, strawberries, pomegranates.
The boys ate.
The story spread.
He lifted the fruit to his mouth beneath the skull, and the sound of his teeth cleaving the fruit's flesh tore into the air. His fingers split its skin, dug into its yielding contents, tore it wide. Its juice ran blood-crimson over his chin, dripped onto his bare chest.
The children told their parents the story. The parents told it to each other, surprised at its darkness, the strange hold it had on their children. Then, confused, wondering at themselves, laughing it off as trying to understand their children, they walled off their studies, their bedrooms. Placed print-outs of stag skulls on the doors.
Some men went to the local taxidermist and bought stag antlers. Ripped them from their mountings, and remounted them on metal bands shaped to fit their own heads.
Women went into their closets. Dug out old prom, bridesmaid, wedding dresses in shades of green, fought themselves back into the too-tight clothes of youth.
Told the story to their children at bedtime, ignoring the dog-eared 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'Love You Forever' resting, forgotten, on night tables.
Concerned parents posted the story to forums, asked others if they had heard of this story, of the stag lord and his wife.
The story thrived.
The woman watched him eat the fruit in silence. Her eyes were dark and knowing. 'Is it good, my lord?'
'The best I have ever tasted.'
Knives disappeared from kitchen drawers. Bolt cutters from garages and workshops.
Everywhere, the shadow of stag's antlers moved across walls, brick exteriors, the sidewalks.
'Would you know from what tree it came?'
The stag lord sucked the red from his clawed fingers. 'Yes.'
Castles of cardboard boxes smeared with blood.
Suburban houses with animal skulls mounted on every corner.
One story supplanting all else.
The woman smiled. The thorned twist of her smile pierced the stag lord's heart through. She curled her fingers in the emerald cloth of her gown and tore it in two, baring her chest, and the great bloody hole there, where her heart was missing. 'To earn your heart, I have given my own, all its dreams and desires,' she said, and went with open eyes into the blood-streaked hands that reached for her.
The first murders came a week after the storyteller spoke at the library. Rib cages forced open with bolt cutters, the skin peeled back with butcher's knives, the hearts gone, lifted high in trembling hands.
The second string of three hundred deaths lit up the entire eastern seaboard.
It consumed. Leaped the oceans.
In the forest, in a castle eaten through by vines, live the stag lord and his wife, one heart beating alone in the dark.
In every city, you will find them: women and girls with their chests cracked open to the sky, and men, crowned in stag's horns, eating their hearts.
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 04:36|
|# ? Dec 5, 2021 23:31|
I am in.
Let's do this.
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 04:57|
Oh good. Judges with actual credentials this week.
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 05:57|
Seb could you expound a little bit? I'm not asking for anything more than a sentence or two.
Murky Waters - 780 title isn't terrible, as it evokes the tangled familial environment etc; i'd probably have looked for something straight from the story to adapt (eg 'like muddy water') but thats just persoanl taste.
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 18:46 on Apr 25, 2014
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 18:42|
Looks like I've got the weekend off, which gives me no excuse. In.
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 18:45|
You have approximately 9 hours left to sign up!
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 18:49|
I am in, and submitting:
Dr. Scienticius's Method 920 Words.
Frame a Query:
From where originated the cariesari, the condition which now afflicts every fourth man and woman in the realm of Allanar, and which shows no signs of abation?
Perform investigations (en and ex pratus):
I recalled that most Allanarian magii had begun to chew aegus root, which aided in staving off the ill effects of casting sickness. Casting, as we know, creates a not insignificant quantity of macula (a form of magical waste product) in the body of a magus or maga, yet Al Rangasarian, High Magus of the eastern plains of Allanar, Warden of the Cold, discovered that chewing aegus root days or even hours before casting significantly reduced the build up and ill effects of macula.
Later, Ya Jendi Et Sera, Herbalist Chieftess of the Northern Steppes, found a way to extract a concentrated form of aegus root. Magii soon doubled their amount of casting and thus their productivity and utility. A magus or maga who chose to abstain from aegus root could not compete, thus all magii chewed the root.
And soon thereafter came the cariesari: Healing spells sprouted extra limbs, alchemical spells created unstable elements which rotted a man or woman from the inside, and even love spells caused erections or engorged labia which persisted for years.
Conject a Postulation:
Aegus root is the root cause of the cariesari.
Inquest the Postulation through Experiment:
I chew root, but not extract. I cast several nature spells, and I am able to attract a grey wolf, a pelican, and a black bear before I feel the first signs of macula accumulation.
I double the amount of root I chew, and cast more nature spells. This time I attract an alpha male wolf, two woodpeckers, a score of squirrels, and a Dryanan before the macula force me to cease.
I take two drops of extract, then cast. I am surrounded by dozens of forest creatures, and I thus feel a great thrill. I run these creatures through the small town of Aranchesque, and I continue to cast as I parade the animals through the streets. Despite my distance from the forest, animals continue to stream forth, and only after I have filled the marketplace proper with bears and gophers and wolves do I feel hints of macula. I cease casting.
I crave a stronger connection with the beasts, so I consume ravenously the remaining drops of extract. I go into the forest and attract first the alpha male wolf. No, I am mistaken, I am the alpha male of the pack; the former alpha male approaches me, his tail between his legs. They look to me as if to ask, “Where shall we hunt, Dr. Scienticius?” and I sprint across root and branch and leaves with my wolfpack in tow. Before I know it, the moon shines down upon me, and I howl up into the moon, black cloth of night behind me and my pack.
Corroborate Validity of Inquest:
I tear into a bear with my teeth. The meat is deliciously raw and the blood drips down, pooling beneath my gums. As the alpha male, the first choice of mate is mine, and I choose two: one female and one male. I have my way with both as I masticate, and the pack watches in awe and certainty--certainty that I am indeed the most alpha male among them. I, packleader Scienticius.
Assay Data and Synthesize Conclusion:
Grimmoon has challenged my stake as packleader. He is strong, but I am stronger, and my claws have hook-like protrusions of pink flesh with which I can grasp rockers. He bites at me, but grasps only fur. I spin around, rock in hand, and crush his skull in. Scienticius will rule not just this pack, but all wolves of Allanar.
My pack is a sea of grey that rolls across the steppes of Allanar. Any pack we come in contact with becomes subservient to me; we multiply without end, and even other humans join us. We sweep down into the plains, through the mountains, tearing through human flesh as we move. Nothing stands in my way. When we eat villagers, I have first choice; I prefer the little ones and the light-skinned ones. The old ones and the dark ones can go to Grimmoon, who runs at the very back of my pack, never feeling the wind in his fur.
I leave this account of Dr. Scienticius to you, future scholars of the land formerly known as Allanar. As you can see, Dr. Scienticius developed what we today refer to as the Methodus Scientificae. You may think that his journal is simply the account of a man becoming a wolf, or a human-like wolf, or perhaps something in between; but I have drawn a different conclusion. Aegus root did not unleash the contagion which shattered old Allanar; power itself was the contagion. The macula kept men and women's power over nature in check, and the aegus root acted only as a catalyst for that which truly corrupted us and severed us from magic forever: power itself.
-Cascius Caba, third epoch, twelve skalae after the breaking
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 19:18|
Sorry I'm late.
So I am confused on which prompt this is responding to. I'll disregard that and just interpret on its own. If you're going for a blaxplotiation meets science fiction this is a step in the right direction. The jokes fall kind of flat in some places. The baby growing dreadlocks and its penis being very large has been tread over a bunch already, and you didn't write it in a new way to make it funny. The part about the platinum and diamonds gave me a chuckle, reminded me of that movie that had people overdosing on bling. If you were to improve this story I would focus on honing each joke to be punchy. Blaxplotation space opera would be pretty cool though.
Edit: Seb thank you for the detailed crit.
leekster fucked around with this message at 19:57 on Apr 25, 2014
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 19:48|
Fresh blood here. Been meaning to find out how poo poo a writer I am for a while.
|# ? Apr 25, 2014 22:07|
TOXX STATUS: Averted
Djeser has successfully completed a first draft of his story.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 02:13|
Okay gently caress it I'm in.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 02:18|
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 02:36|
My first Thunderdome submission! I am trying to take my prose more seriously and am eager to forge some skills in the fiery smelt that is T-T-T-Thunderdome.
Why not start with a bang? European colonialism, institutionalized racism, capitalist labor societies, hardened intelligence agents and a noir-ish sci-fi future. I might have bit off more than I can chew, but I suppose that's better than a whimper.
Outbreak 841 words
Thomas walked the street slowly and approached the slum. The building itself appeared a rotting corpse in an already grimy part of town - skeletal and bloated in the smog that hung as fog. This part of the city was foreign to the western expats - it connected through none of the gentrified hubs and contained nothing of any value to them. An aging white man strolling through the Zimbabwe catacombs at this hour was so unusual nobody dared to acknowledge him - he couldn't be lost, not here.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 02:54|
My first Thunderdome submission! I am trying to take my prose more seriously and am eager to forge some skills in the fiery smelt that is T-T-T-Thunderdome.
Ugh I already have to read 841 words, you don't need to write a loving cover letter.
Title and wordcount will do.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 03:12|
I'm in, Crabrock flash rule me.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 03:35|
I'm in, Crabrock flash rule me.
Filet Mignon is loving delicious. But it's just the tip of the tenderloin. The tournedos are the thicker parts. They are also delicious, but nobody talks about them and their name isn't synonymous with "delicious high quality."
Your story is about something that is underappreciated, but still totally capable.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 03:38|
Signups are closed!
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 04:15|
PARTY WEEK CRITS FOR THE CRIT GODS
House Party 2
curlingiron - The Last Adventure
Party: D&D/mourning the dead
FWG: Speak to Plants, pool of water, fire above it.
A group of teenagers hold a D&D session together. However, one of the players died of cancer months ago. Through the DM (who was given this as a last wish), the lost player--both in game and out--leaves a final message to all of his friends. So less like a gaming session in the story, and more a gathering to mourn the dead.
As I said when critting Turtlicious's story, I’m not into D&D. I know the tropes loosely, but the only thing more boring to me than playing D&D is reading/watching people play D&D. So if you take the interpretation of "party" to mean "write about tabletop poo poo", you have to do some epically good rear end writing to make me give a gently caress. I know what I hate.
That's a lot of opening words, but it explains that you absolutely made me love this story. I was sort of plotting through the story until the mention of red rimmed eyes (I love telling a lot in a few details, I'm trying to do this myself), and the mention of a funeral, and then I sat up and wanted to know what was going on. This wasn't your standard gaming session in the least. As soon as Neil said "this isn't funny" I was hooked. And that hook carried me through the end, where I felt for every even those with only a line or two. This story was less about a gaming session and more about a group of getting an unexpected final message from a dear friend using a mode that mattered to all of them, including James. And the last voice waver from Theo? drat. Emotion in a line.
I sniffled reading this, which might sound weak to say, but that’s a good thing. Writing is supposed to make you feel something when you read it--and something other than disgust or irritation. Less than 1200 words and I gave a gently caress about everyone. Bra-loving-vo. That's how you get a win.
Entenzahn - Priorities
Party: B-day for kid under 5, as was requested in your flash rule.
FWG: Sitting on the lawn, fire catching onto stuff, uncle’s “water” as well as a bottle.
Little kid wants his birthday cake by himself instead of having to share with anyone because he's four at most, if that (old enough to process birthday, young enough to not process much else). In his efforts to get to the cake (and not processing his uncle is a drunk) he accidentally sets house on fire playing with the stove, his uncle’s booze doesn’t help, and he don’t get his cake.
I threw a flash rule at you, and you delivered in less words with no drug penalty. (Booze didn't actually count. My rule was more because I didn't want 30+ stories of grass to be interpreted as "LOL time to write about pot.") His not understanding his uncle's "water", interpreting the stove dials as ways to cake, and his absolute disgust with the firemen who "probably ate his cake" is perfect child self-centered. This story should warn all who plan to eventually have kids: watch them, lest they set their cake on fire. There were parts that didn't seem like kid internal dialogue, but it didn't jar me much.
8/10. This was also one of my personal high contenders.
Bushido Brown - Some Sunny Day
Party: Celebration of wiping out Earth, using "Earth" culture
FWG: “grass”, Kool-aid/ocean water, people on fire except not Earth!
Ugh you’re talking about aliens mining planets, uhhhhhhgh. You know that thing I said about D&D before? It applies here. I also do not like heavy sci-fi. Magical realism, yes. High Level Sci-fi/High Fantasy, almost never. If I have to start seeing names made of Xs and Zs and other Often Forgotten Letters, my eyes cross. The twist I saw coming as soon as I saw the guy getting upset about Earth blowing up, which doesn't make for much of a twist. I did like the bit that Emotional Alien turned things on them by using a “pong” ball to blow the ship up, clever trick, Emo-lien. But if Alien Strip Miners, Inc. has been doing this countless times, why does earth get to be the one he finally suicide bombs over? Did the other planets not have grass, water, and culture, or am I supposed to care that I nearly got annihilated? Finally, the bit about from the human view didn’t really end it well.
kurona_bright - What's the Point?
Party: birthday party for younger sister
FWG: Grass on shoulders, memories of birthday candles past/napkins, water putting out fires.
Boy attends kid sister’s party. He thinks about neighbor/best friend in a totally not gay way except maybe a little? Then he has conversation with father about how has hasn’t moved on towards the future and you have to do that.
This story didn't have anything really like a plot. It's another story where the MC had the story happen around him. Stuff happened, but it didn’t happen to the protagonist bar him scrubbing his shoulder into the grass after a bird poo poo on him. He’s just...there, while stuff happens to him. Oh and he thinks about stuff briefly, before his father comes out and talks to him about how We All Have To Move On So Go Out And Meet New People, the classic cliché about high school kids I've read a bajillion times while sappy music plays in the background. I could have replaced Robert with a sock puppet. What’s the point, indeed.
The News at 5 - Wedding Presents
FWG: Trees/grass, rain, tiki torches
Man goes to a wedding with a gun as his "wedding present" because the woman isn’t marrying him. He was going to shoot her or her husband or himself--it was all muddled up--but doesn’t kill anyone because it rains.
Did you just write friendzoned.txt? Jillian didn’t marry Paul so he wants to kill someone--her, her new husband, himself, maybe all three, maybe just him, it's not like it was clear--and spends most of the conversation fondling a revolver. I felt creeped out by this story, and not in a good way. If I was supposed to feel bad for a guy who didn't get his dream girl, I didn't. Ew.
WeLandedOnTheMoon! - Impact Point
Party: End of the world, I’m feeling fine.
FWG: bluegrass, the water of the world, the fiery destruction smash.
Two people caught in the end of the world come together at the end. Literally, in the formatting and the story because the planets crush together into a smash-smush.
There was the initial wince of formatting wonk, but at least you didn’t do weird poo poo that made me upchuck, and you left text to read below. Thank you.
Moving into the story, it wasn't very clear if Dylan and Marie knew each other beforehand, or if they were just connecting for the first time in some way, or if they were from separate worlds or parallel versions of the same world smashing into each other. They knew each other enough to know each other's names, so I assumed parallel versions of the same world since Marie knew what New York was and made refs to her own home town. That could have been a lot clearer. It’s a good story with and without the formatting. Plus the formatting makes sense--I could see it in print being the kind of story you have to turn the book upside down to read Marie's part--so it got the HM.
nickmeister - Masks
Party: regular community get together
FWG: Grass, ocean, tiki torches and grills.
Man at a party is an outsider to everyone. The young woman who organized this monthly shindig is nice to him, but everyone else isn't. He almost loses his refund check and it floats towards the sea, which triggers a flash back. He has said check saved by the kind woman, and then everyone makes masks and the quirky girl dances with him.
There was something resembling characterization, but it gets smushed under repetitive language and weak metaphors. I ain't asking for a mystery novel in 1200 words, either say poo poo about people or don't but don't pussyfoot around it. Al is a wooden hearted guy who is scared of the ocean and everyone in this New Town acts like he has the Face Plague or something and he's Not Here To Make Friends, and I don't know why so I don't care. You wrote nothing that made me care about him or Quirky Girl With Creative Name Spelling, and the little that happens isn't much of a story. Spend less words on clunky wordplay and more on characters and actions. You only have so many.
Maultaschen - 4+ BR, Gorgeous View
Party: Literal house party, as in selling a house.
FWG: Lawn, deep sea reference, drinking water, pools, volcano ref, reactor cores,
Woman is selling a house for her family in North America. There are many strange people/things because Future, including a person who is creepering around ready to wipe out humanity with coded language that she doesn't notice. Then the Government shows up because CRIMES OF EARTH and it’s not the guy, it’s the other guy and there’s fires and shooting and running she falls into the core and then she’s a lightning goddess or something and screw you time to zot the world--
See how I summarized it? That's because the ending was rushed and out of nowhere and made no sense. I was with you until the ending. I cared about Belinda and her husband and her sick child, and why she was pushing hard to sell the house. I could even shake off the creepy guy because I got the feeling she would do anything for her daughter's sake, she's doing this to get her life stable again, ignore the weird and close the deal.
And then you veered left into crazy and cheese it it's the cops and everyone's running and the creepy guy just teleports and she's suddenly going to zap everyone around her when they want to know she's okay. Don't do that. Wacky twist endings suck.
PootieTang - The Messenger
There’s some knights or some poo poo and a lot of flowery language and nothing happens.
When I was a child in Elementary School back in the late 80s, one of my most hated writing assignments was to write "descriptive stories" which were not stories at all; they expected us to describe a picture in inane purple-laden prose that expected me to write fifty words describing the exact shade of color and softness of the fabric hat sitting on some bear's head. I think that was phased out by the time I was in fifth grade, but it lasted long enough that I hated every second of it because my child self knew that a full page of description was not a story.
This is a lot of words to say that I suspect that you were subjected to the same "descriptive stories" I slogged through, but you liked it. Because that is what you gave as a "story". Nothing happens. You describe a bunch of people getting sloppy wasted at a party, knights or something, and they talk of the King and Women and Goblets, then they ride to glory or something. And gently caress to all happened.
You should watch the Sesame Street Video I linked before. Now you don't even have to scroll.
Starter Wiggin - Thirsty
Party: Eclipse party.
FWG: bonfire, grass on the ground, water hides the dead.
Vampire “you” and your indeterminate partner make smexy kisses under a blood moon before you bite the poo poo out of them until they die, and you throw the corpse in the river before luring more fresh food.
Stories told in second person bother me; they scream that I'm supposed to feel myself as a character in the story and I can't lose myself in the words. First or third, first or third. I suspect you left everything gender neutral to not pick one or the other, but if you'd picked one you could have been a lot less ambiguous and blurry. There was interesting description and contrast (liked the part about the moon verses the dead under the Protagonist) but I could not get over that "you" hurdle. The lines with random song lyrics could have been cut out entirely, and I'd have lost nothing in the read--the second to last line was a decent rear end closer, and then you did that. No. Bad writer.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 14:28|
For my brawl with Sitting Here.
Tortoiseshell Sonata (1198 words)
It’s your duty to play it, read the emails. You’re the only pianist who can do it justice. This latter, perhaps, was true. Susan practiced with a technical coldness, but at the piano she played with grace and fervor. Her secret - and, she privately thought, her only true talent - was a kind of emotional sympathy. When she played, and only then, she felt each piece as keenly as its composer had.
That, of course, was the problem.
If Tchaikovsky was sorrow and Prokofiev fury, the Tortoiseshell Sonata was something else entirely. To play it was to lie on her back in a rowboat, looking up at the stars. To stand on the edge of a cliff while thunder rolled. It had never been performed live. As Susan’s engagement at Carnegie Hall approached, the requests accumulated.
She played it on the dingy upright in her living room, shaking the walls until her heart ached. Those importunate emailers would never appreciate the piece, not how it deserved. Not how she could.
“Have people been asking you to do the Tortoiseshell?” she asked at rehearsal.
Jeff shrugged. He would share her billing at Carnegie Hall. They’d been thrown together, she and this overgrown teenager. He looked like he hadn’t combed his hair for a week. “Like I could. You ought to play it, though. They’ll go nuts over you.”
“That’s not important,” she said.
Leave it to Jeff, to think that entertainment mattered. As though they were playing a retirement party.
Yet she relented, putting the thing on the program. The night’s first piece. The concert hall rumbled. She set gentle hands to keys and tapped out the first few notes. Then she paused, stretched almost to snapping.
She considered Jeff, who in a moment would sit here, pandering, bowing and blowing kisses. She was not like him, with her secret gift of feeling tucked behind priestly solemnity.
drat the audience, she would keep the Tortoiseshell Sonata to herself.
She stretched her hands and launched into La Campanella instead, a showy, intricate crowd-pleaser. The audience murmured its confusion.
La Campanella was an emotive piece as well, in its own way, wandering from its theme and drawing ever back like a curious animal. Nonetheless, she was two minutes in before realizing that something was wrong. Her hands were playing competently. Yet as La Campanella descended into treble pounding, she found herself not delighted but perturbed. She tried to summon up some sentiment, but achieved only a dull irritation.
The theme was supposed to return triumphant, this time with a millisecond’s wait to each keypress. Only feeling can tell the pianist how long to hold those agonizing pauses. But today, Susan found herself forced to count beats, rushing and lagging. All emotional intuition had vanished.
It seemed disinclined to return. By the end of the recital, she had almost chewed through her lip.
She stumbled backstage, hearing words as if through layers of wool: lovely, nearly made me weep, brilliant, should’ve played the Tortoiseshell. “I need to go home,” she managed to mumble.
Jeff stared. She had hardly heard his half of the recital, for fretting.
Susan fled the building without even a final bow and drove to her flat. With her coat still on she flung herself at the piano and ran through the Tortoiseshell Sonata.
She felt nothing but horror.
Matters did not improve from there. The first doctor peered into her eyes and had her count backwards by sevens. The fifth prescribed her a bottle of Klonopin. For two weeks she kept playing, heartlessly keeping her fingers limber. Then she stopped. The emails didn’t: won’t you play the Tortoiseshell Sonata at your next recital? You owe it to us. Each was a splinter under her thumbnail. She might have relented, if only she could.
A month after the disastrous recital she stood in her filthy kitchen alone, phone receiver in one hand and the night’s fourth glass of wine in the other. “The MRI was completely normal,” said the radiologist. “You don’t need to come in again, Miss Gallard.”
Her talent had fled as strangely as it came, leaving only those robotic habits shaped by years of patient practice.
The Klonopin peered at her from the piano’s closed key slip. She uncapped the bottle and took one, draining her glass. Then, experimentally, she took two more.
When she had just found the nerve to swallow a fourth, the doorbell rang. It was Jeff, shaggy-headed and amiable, a takeout bag of Chinese tucked under his arm.
“What,” she snapped, “come to request the Tortoiseshell Sonata in person? Because I can’t.”
Jeff looked at her. “What? You missed, like, four rehearsals. I was worried about you.”
He must have pried her address out of their agent. He had been worried? Cloistered, she hadn’t considered that anyone might. She could have hugged him, messy hair and all.
“You’re freaking me out,” he said. “Talk to me.”
Her table was piled high with dishes so they ate, cross-legged, on the couch. When she had finished talking, Jeff rubbed at his chin. “Play something for me,” he said.
She wanted to snap, but something stilled her tongue. His request was sweeter than those bald demands. Jeff had done her a kindness, coming here. She could repay him. “Okay,” she said, trusting that he wouldn’t name that piece. “What?”
“Moonlight Sonata? Dredge it up from the memories of some grade 8 recital?”
She slid onto the piano bench. She could pretend, she supposed, setting hands to keys with a gentleness faked rather than felt.
At the dal segno she glanced over at Jeff, half anticipating a raised eyebrow, but seeing instead his eyes closed in reverent concentration. The sight startled away some of the numbness. Pins and needles rushed through her limbic system. How rarely had she seen her audience so close?
“Go on,” Jeff said.
“Is it okay?”
“It’s beautiful.” She believed him, and another layer of wool burned away.
She passed into the sunny allegretto. Jeff looked up, smiling. Susan found herself smiling to watch him, feeling playful. Then she carried on to the stormy presto agitato, where Jeff’s expression grew stormy as well. At this she added an impromptu crescendo that made the neighbor thump on the wall, and they both laughed. She felt lighter than she had for a month, delighted just to have delighted someone.
Then she quieted her hands. A match had lit itself inside of her. “Something else you might like,” she said.
She began the Tortoiseshell Sonata. Stars and thunder, love and fury.
“So,” she said when she was done. “The first live performance of the Tortoiseshell Sonata. Was it everything you hoped for?”
Jeff laughed. “First of all, yes. Second, are you running a fever? You have definitely never asked how I felt about your playing.”
“Really?” she said.
For a moment they looked at each other.
Susan was the first to break the silence. “I need to clean this house,” she said. “I can’t believe I let anyone in.”
“Goodnight, then,” said Jeff. “Thanks for playing for me.”
He shut the door softly as he went. And drat the neighbors, she played until sunrise.
|# ? Apr 26, 2014 18:59|
Jill sat down at her desk and logged in to her computer, the mouse's cord brushing against a framed photo of a smiling man with blue eyes. Her co-worker, Todd, entered and sat at his desk.
"Good morning, Typhus Mary,” he said.
Jill sighed. "Typhoid Mary. And good morning to you."
He rolled his eyes.
Erik from HR popped his head in the door. "Do either of you have a lint roller?"
Todd produced one from a drawer and handed it to him. "You too?"
"Not just me," said Erik, attacking his suit jacket. "Lacy, Lisa, Mike upstairs, and like four guys down in IT have them too."
Todd punched the arm of his chair. "What the gently caress is going on? Where the gently caress are all these kittens coming from?"
"I don't know," Erik said. The lint roller made a zipping noise as he brushed his pants. "Kittens don't just appear out of nowhere."
"That's what the animal shelter told me. Rude as hell about it too. They said they were full.”
"They probably thought you were just some rear end in a top hat who didn't fix his cat and can't afford kittens," said Jill. "I bet it happens a lot."
"You're the only rear end in a top hat in this situation,” Todd said. “This whole mess is your fault!"
Erik laughed and returned the lint roller to Todd. "Why is it her fault? She's not a cat.”
"Um, how about three days ago? When Jill came in all, 'Hey, guys, look at these kittens that randomly appeared in my house! Isn't that neat?' And then suddenly anybody who came near her desk finds kittens in their home. Now everybody's got these loving kittens showing up! What did you even do, Jill?" He pointed the lint roller at her angrily. Jill shrugged.
"We'll figure it out,” Erik said. “Regardless, don't give them away. Alice gave hers to her parents for their farm, and when she got home, there were new ones waiting. Just hang onto the ones you have and hopefully it'll clear up on its own. Anyway, I've got poo poo to do; I'll let you know if I find anything out." With that, Erik left.
"Clear up on its own?" Todd cried. "Those little bastards kept me up all night squeaking and scratching all over my poo poo. What am I supposed to do?" Jill shrugged again and turned back to her computer.
The rest of the day was a parade of people lamenting their new pet owner status and the cost of cat supplies. Jill's day, however, was very productive, despite the commotion and the number of people who interrupted her work to call her a fucker.
That evening, she returned home to find five tuxedo kittens waiting. Scooping one into her arms, she rubbed its soft fur against her cheek. It playfully grasped at her earrings. She laughed and scratched its ears. As the kittens played and pounced on each other, scrambling on uncertain legs, Jill was reminded of her grandparents' farm. Every spring she'd track down where the mother farm cats hid their litters and pick one kitten to tame so that she'd always have a friendly cat play with. Without her intervention, they would grow up too skittish and mean.
She remembered when she was upset how she would run out behind the barn to cry. At those times her kittens would find her, cuddling up on her lap as long as she let them. It always made her feel better.
The cat in her arms purred. "I don’t think you’re so bad to have around," Jill said.
The phone rang and the kittens scattered. The caller ID said it was Lacy from work. Jill braced herself for another soft-spoken conversation of how are you doing? and do you need to talk? and reminded herself that Lacy had the best intentions. But ultimately the words that were meant to provide comfort were just another reminder that Jill was still pitiable, that her apartment was still empty, that she should still be sad. She sighed and answered the phone. Lacy’s voice was frantic.
"Oh, Jill, I've got them too!"
"I heard," said Jill. "How many?"
"Three. I just don't know what I'm going to do. I've never had a pet in my life.”
"Just play with them. They'll wear out."
"I'm worn out. But what about you?” At these words, Jill tensed. “You have five, right? I can’t imagine."
“Oh, you know, I'm actually doing alright. It’s been good to have something to do in the evenings. The kittens are a great distraction."
"Well, that's one good thing I suppose."
"And since this started, nobody at work has been walking on eggshells around me. I can actually get work done now the kid gloves are gone. I feel awful that everyone else has been having such a hard time dealing with them, but...it hasn't been all bad for me. It’s been strangely nice.”
"Well, I'm glad to hear it. I wish I could be happy about this. I don't know the first thing about animals!"
For the next two hours, Jill walked Lacy through basic pet care. By the time their talk ended, they both felt better. That night the kittens slept in a heap at the foot of Jill’s bed, and awoke with her in the morning to beg for food that would have been provided anyway.
At work she was greeted by a cheerful Todd.
“My kittens are gone,” he said. “I’m free!”
Jill raised an eyebrow. "What did you do with them?"
"Nothing, I swear. I shut them in the bathroom last night and when I opened it this morning, no kittens." He collapsed into his chair. "I think it’s finally over."
Jill shook her head. "Mine were still there this morning."
"Maybe they'll be gone tonight."
"Maybe so." Jill's stomach churned.
As it turned out, Todd wasn't the only one whose kittens vanished. Everyone told the same story – the kittens had mysteriously disappeared. The building bustled with the news. Though the days before had been preoccupied with complaints and frustration, this day found everyone's mood much improved. No one worried about the state of their drapes or carpets or what new messes awaited them at home. People laughed, shared kitten pictures, and by the end of the day even Todd admitted the strange guests had been "pretty cute." Jill said nothing to anyone.
Her heart was heavy as she opened her front door that evening. "Heeere kitty-kitty-kitties," she called. She listened for the sound of skittering claws or excited mews. She was met with silence. She sighed and plodded back to her bedroom, dropping her bag and coat in the hall. She flipped on the lamp to reveal a single black-and-white fluffball asleep on her pillow. The kitten blinked his blue eyes in the light and gave a happy chirp, stretching his tiny legs before jumping down to meet her.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 01:25|
life kicked me in the dick, I'm out with a toxx clause on the next time I enter
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 03:12|
life kicked me in the dick, I'm out with a toxx clause on the next time I enter
You are a disease.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 03:41|
Word Count: 1099
A panel slid open in the cast iron door, revealing just a pair of eyes. They flickered red and blue underneath the flashing neon sign, "Password?"
I cleared my throat and expectorated a huge wad of saliva into the bouncers face. He stood there for a few minutes, letting it drip into his mouth, "alright, you're clean."
The door opened revealing a long, dark hallway. I stepped past the bouncer and walked to the end, passing several people lying on the floor. The hall took a sharp turn and widened into a large concrete room. Paper lamps hung from the ceiling, illuminating a large square bar in the center of the room, with stools pulled up to every side. Some people slumped in the stools, but the majority of Club Contagion's patients lay on the floor wheezing, creating a cacophony of coughs.
"What'll it be, bub?" muttered the man standing behind the bar, "tonight's special is euphoria."
"Oh it's all free," said the bartender, pulling out a spray bottle, "we just charge you for the antidote." The bartender sprayed a fine mist around my head, which I inhaled deeply.
Dizziness came first, I stumbled onto the nearest bar stool. Waving my hands in front of my face created vivid multicolored trails. Then a sense of extreme well-being crept over me. Soon it had engulfed my body like warm water. I felt so good I almost lost sight of my mission, soon pleasure waves were cascading through me with the intensity of a powerful orgasm, I grabbed onto the bar rail and let out a moan.
It was a few minutes before the feelings began to fade, I felt a tickle in my throat that evolved into a full-fledged coughing jag.
"Better take the antidote soon, it's all downhill from here," said the bartender, drawing a syringe full of syrupy, clear liquid from a large jar, "believe me, you do not want to experience that, it's like somebody worked over your nervous system with a baseball bat.
Grabbing my shoulder, he injected me with the cure. Immediately, my head began to clear and I was once again in control of my body. My hand seized his wrist, I pulled the syringe out of my arm and stuck it straight through his eye.
The bartender bellowed in pain. He pulled the syringe out of his eye socket, revealing a gooey, pulpy mess of blood and eyeball. As the bouncer stormed into the room, I hopped over the bar. Grabbing the jar of antidote, I pulled out a gun.
"Take another step and the antidote gets it!" I screamed, putting the barrel of the gun against the jar. The bartender's yellowed eyes grew wide, he raised his hands in the air and froze in place. "Where is she?" I spat.
The bouncer pointed at a swinging door set into the corner of the room. I crept over the bar and backed slowly through the door. A light bulb hanging from a string lit up some dingy concrete steps. Climbing up, I found myself in the bar's "kitchen." Trays of empty glasses littered a nearby counter. In the center of the room sat a folding hospital cot. On the cot, unconscious, lay my sister. Her face was sallow and purple, her frame emaciated. She had to have lost 25 pounds since I last saw her the day of her kidnapping. Several tubes ran from her body to various IV bags stationed around the bed.
"Emily can you hear me? We're getting out!" The jar of antidote fell from my fingers, smashing onto the floor as I ran to her bedside. Ripping the tubes from her spine and throat took only a moment, and left several oozing scars. I felt a twinge of pain at handling her so roughly, but I was almost out of time. As I heaved her body over my shoulder and ran to the nearby window, I heard the swinging door below bang against the wall. I pried open the window, a rush of footsteps ascending the staircase.
"Jump!" I barked, but Emily could only emit a sour moan. Leaning out of the window, I dangled her by her arms until she was only about 10 feet from the ground. I let go, and watched her fall to the ground. She landed in a crumpled heap, but as I swung my leg over the windowsill I saw her struggle to her feet and stagger into the taxi I left waiting. Hearing the cab pull away, I swung my other leg out the window and pushed off. Rough hands grabbed me in mid-air, hauling my body back towards the window. I was pulled inside, a large heavy object hit me in the head and I blacked out.
When I came to, I was in the hospital cot. Struggling revealed I was tightly bound to my location by at least a dozen leather straps. I heard the swinging door creak open, a single pair of steps came up the staircase.
"You cost us quite a bit of money, not to mention resources." the bartender's voice floated softly across the room, "that antidote alone took weeks to obtain, not to mention all of the expense of procuring a subject."
He stepped in front of me. Red, scabby scar tissue puffed out all around his eyepatch. "You see," he continued, "staying alive while the body is constantly being harvested is something that not everyone can handle. It takes a special kind of genetic disposition."
The bartender put on a surgeon's mask and strapped a white apron around his thin frame, "on that note, I think we can work out a payment plan that will do quite nicely." He pulled a syringe from a nearby drawer, filled it with a vial of brown liquid, and stuck me in the stomach.
As I felt the dizziness and euphoria overwhelm my senses, I barely took note of the doctor intubating my throat. He placed a rag, reeking of ether, over my nose and mouth. As I drifted off, a smile crossed my lips... not from the overwhelmingly pleasurable effects of the bug I was now hosting, but because I had succeeded.
She was finally free.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 12:29|
1131 words and no title screw you.
Luke was attempting to prepare breakfast when Xavier came downstairs and, assessing the situation, said something along the lines of “Whoa what the oh my arggggh!”
“Easy man, it’s me!”
“Dude.” Xavier looked him up and down. “You’re a bear.”
“Why… how are you a bear?”
“I don’t know man. But it’s making it really hard to prepare breakfast.”
“Yeah I can see that, you might have to let me take care of that.”
Xavier picked the packet of cereal up off the floor, along with the bowl. “Do bears eat cereal?”
“I don’t care what bears eat man, I like cereal.”
“Yeah all right.” Once breakfast had been prepared, and one snapped chair later, Luke resigned himself to eating off the floor. Xavier looked at Luke over his toast. “So… guess you might not be going to work today.”
“I’ve got no time off left after my holiday man, I have to.”
“Right, I hear that, but on the other hand you’re a bear.”
“I can still do my job man.”
“You couldn’t open a packet of cereal.”
“Your point is taken, but it’s all meetings today.”
Xavier shrugged. “All right, not gonna tell you how to do your job while you’re a bear. You gonna put some pants on, or what?” Luke looked at him. “I can’t tell what kind of look that’s meant to be, man. I can’t read a bear’s facial expressions.”
“It’s the kind of look that says I don’t think they sell pants that fit me. By the way, we’re gonna have to take my car. Bet I don’t look so stupid for buying the SUV now, huh.”
“Man, this music sucks.” Luke had only just fit. They’d had to fold down the back seats.
“Driver chooses, dude. I usually have to listen to your dad rock.”
“I think the rule should be the person who owns the car chooses.”
“I think the rule should be the person who has opposable thumbs and can work the stereo chooses.”
“Ouch, dude.” Xavier didn’t reply, as he liked to concentrate when he was parking. “Don’t forget to let me out, man.”
Xavier obliged. “You don’t really look like your ID, man.”
“Think I should’ve shaved?”
“I think maybe you should’ve tried not being a bear this morning.”
“I’ll try to remember that for tomorrow. Can you be a buddy and swipe me in?” Xavier did so, and they both entered the lobby and headed towards the elevator.
“You know what,” said Xavier as they entered the elevator, “I’m not sure the manufacturers took bears into consideration when they decided there was a maximum of ten in the elevator at once.”
“We’ll be fine. I can’t be heavier than about two or three office workers.”
He proved correct, and the elevator successfully took them to their floor. The doors opened, and their stood Lisa. “Hi Lisa,” said Xavier.
“Hey Xav,” said Lisa. “No one told me it was bring your pet day.”
“It’s Luke. He’s a bear today.”
“Oh, sorry Luke.”
Luke peeped out from behind Xavier. “Honest mistake, should’ve heard Xavier’s reaction this morning. He was hysterical. Screamed like a little girl.”
Lisa laughed and headed towards her office. “Not cool, dude,” said Xavier. Luke did some kind of weird head and shoulder movement. “Is that supposed to be a shrug?”
“Yeah. Still getting the hang of body movements. Oh no. I just had a thought.”
“I believe the answer is ‘in the woods’.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to restrain myself until lunch time. Anyway, I’m gonna head to the conference room now so I get a seat.” Xavier raised an eyebrow. “A section of carpet. You know what I meant.”
“Well, good luck.”
“Thanks, I always fall asleep in those things. Oh man, I forgot my coffee.”
“Dunno if bears really do the caffeine thing.” Luke shrugged. “There we go, that one was a bit better.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve mastered shrugging. OK, see you at lunch time.” Luke waddled towards conference room 2A, and Xavier headed to his desk.
“Hey Xav,” said Wendy. “Lisa told me about Luke. Is it true?”
Xavier nodded. “Told him to rethink his vacation.”
“Oh yeah,” said Wendy. “Did he say how it was?”
Xavier shook his head. “Didn’t see him until this morning, he must’ve gotten in late last night. Whoa, there’s the boss, look busy.”
They both looked busy, and Xavier made some progress on his stack of work. After a while, Wendy turned back around. “Listen, I’ve thought about your invite.”
“Oh that, listen no big deal if you can’t make it.”
“Well no, I’d love to, but I was just wondering if I can bring a friend? I mean, you could bring a friend too, we can double.”
“Uh, sure. I mean, ordinarily I’d bring Luke, but I don’t know if he’ll still be a bear.”
“No, that’s fine, he’d be perfect for the friend I’ve got in mind.”
“Because she’s a zoologist?” Wendy had already turned back around and put her headphones in, so Xavier shrugged and got back to his work.
Xavier hadn’t thought to pack lunch, what with the turmoil of Luke being a bear and all, so when Luke got out of his meeting, the two of them wandered over towards the café. “How was the meeting?” asked Xavier.
“Took way longer than it should have,” said Luke. “Some of them were a bit distracted. You’d think they’d never seen a bear before.”
“It’s not that common,” said Xavier. “Maybe some of them haven’t.”
Luke nodded. “Yeah I guess.” The café only had a single door. “Huh, never realised that before.” His shoulders stuck out either side. “Must be an older design.”
“Want me to check out what the specials are?”
“Yeah, no worries. I’ll just chill out here.”
“Hey,” said Xavier as they sat down to eat, “so I’ve got a date with Wendy on Friday.”
“Oh, nice! I’d high five you, but it’d probably break your arm.”
“The thought is appreciated. But anyway, she wanted to bring a friend, so she suggested maybe we double date.” He looked at Luke.
“Well that’s still cool I guess, but – wait, you mean me?” Xavier nodded. “Fine, I guess I’m not doing anything Friday.”
“Thanks man, I owe you one.”
“Wait, what if I’m still a bear?”
“Oh, that’s fine,” said Xavier, avoiding his gaze. “She said that would be perfect anyway.”
“That’d be…? Oh man, that’s just too weird. You are gonna owe me like five or six.”
Xavier shrugged. “I figure I’ll probably accumulate some credit for the duration of you being terrible at everything and needing my hands.”
Luke shook his head. “Doesn’t even compare.”
Xavier nodded. “Thanks buddy.”
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 14:49|
Essay Question (1128 words)
Describe in 300 words or less how you've overcome adversity.
Lisa hated this question. No matter how many complaints she sent to the admissions board, or how many different organizations she became a proctor for, there was always this question or something about as worthless. It was a plague that had infected all mandatory teenage writing.
This year my grandma passed away.
She groaned. Of course, a dead grandma. What other problems could an upper middle class kid have in this day and age? This was what Lisa hated so much about the prompt. It demanded that kids develop an inaccurate narrative of their life for the sake of being uplifting and inspiring- to trick themselves into thinking they were interesting.
I didn't know her very well. I'd only met her twice, when I was a toddler and a few years ago on a cross country trip with my parents.
Why did the admissions board even want this garbage? Were they trying to delude themselves into thinking they were giving opportunities to the poor, the people who suffered from actual adversity? Newsflash- they wouldn't write about this stuff. Not to a bunch of strange white people who have no idea what real adversity is.
The only reason it even mattered to me at all was because of something my aunt said about her last year.
The best reforms in regards to disadvantaged applicants were the subtle ones. Like formatting the application so that the names only came at the end. An obviously ethnic name like Shantae could sink an applicant even to an open-minded woman like Lisa. Racism was subtle. It wasn't going to disappear thanks to feel-good narratives.
My aunt said that my grandma was from a different time. Back when my grandma was a little girl, they didn't have applications like this.
So it's a sob story about the bad old days, before there were opportunities. How in a roundabout way, the grandmother suffered so that's practically the same thing as me suffering, right? Lisa was disgusted. These explorations of the prompt in particular were the absolute worst.
Back then, my aunt said, people went to college because they wanted to. Because they were smart. If they wanted to live life and work first, that's what they did.
Never mind, this one's going for irony. It was a decent enough attempt to be original, but then, that was only in comparison to all the other stupid cliched ways to look at the prompt. Lisa had long since learned that irony was passe- a sort of fake wit used as a crutch by people who were convinced they thought outside the box.
But today being yourself just isn't good enough. My aunt sorts through college applications every day, and she says no one actually wants to go to school.
Interesting, Lisa thought. A direct appeal to the proctor. Few applicants were this bold, but still, Lisa knew better than to be snookered in by this kind of direct personal appeal. Besides, aunt, grandma, whatever- what did this teenager actually believe personally?
And that was when I realized that she was right. I didn't want to go to school. But my entire life for the last three years has just been preparing for that.
Lisa rose an eyebrow, now fully intrigued. She couldn't think of any applicant who had tried to get into a high tier school by discussing how much they didn't actually want to go to school. Well, at least she hadn't read an essay like that this particular month.
Even though I didn't know my grandmother very well, at the funeral I realized she was probably one of the last people who actually had the chance to live her own life.
At this point Lisa's mind wandered back to the prompt. As stupid as the question was, it was pretty clearly defined. This was about how the student had overcome adversity. Where was this going? So far this was just a recitation of other people's lifes and beliefs.
During the ceremony, I couldn't help myself. I ran out and cried. I found a room all by myself and cried for an hour.
Yep. Predictable, as usual. Lisa sighed. She supposed this was a better written essay than average, and it at least managed to get her attention. That would be worth a decently high marking, but mainly because all the other submissions were even worse.
And today, I wrote this essay. I don't want to go to school. I think I'm making a mistake, but I'm going to stand up to all that fear and go forward.
Good, good, Lisa thought. The main thing the admissions board cares about is making sure there's no dropouts anyway. That was the dirty secret behind the whole process, after all- give out deep sounding essay questions to see which students coincidentally had traits that correlated with high retention.
My Aunt Lisa said I should write from the heart, and I promise that if you accept me, I'll push forward just like this and never give up.
This was a solid ending- nice closer, the right inspirational cliche. Lisa admired how she managed to get this process down to a science at this point. Sure it seemed cynical, but these were just teenagers anyway. It's not like they were capable of quality writing in the first place.
From the pen of Alyssa Johnson.
Lisa stared at the laptop, and slowly closed it. Her first thought was that it was rather gauche for the girl to write down her name at the bottom of the essay, and claim it was from her pen when the application was digital. Of course that would be the first thing Lisa thought of- not the fact that she'd been reading her own niece's application.
Lisa lay on her couch in a drunken stupor, the aftermath of an impulsive binge. Of course, she remembered every event in startling detail. No one in the family had any idea why Alyssa had suddenly become so inconsolable over an unknown grandmother. But then, Lisa wasn't sure she knew even now. She told Alyssa everything there was to know about the application process. About how to be cynical and genuine at the same time. If Alyssa had followed Lisa's instructions perfectly...this was exactly the kind of essay she should have written.
The funny part was, Lisa always complained about the cynicism in the process, and the bad questions practically designed to encourage it. But she had never realized how far the disease had gone. An entire generation of kids succeeding based on the power of their bullshitting- and what was worse, an entire generation of adults who didn't know how to read a heartfelt story any other way.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 17:08|
Counting Time (1188 words)
The wind was singing softly today.
Laurent watched it in the rhythmic swaying of the tree branches and in the leaves spiralling past him down the Boulevard Haussmann. He couldn't hear it, of course, not through the earmuffs and not over the drone from his earphones under them, but after this long he didn't need to. He could imagine the sound.
Dangerous thoughts. They said it only got in through the ears, but... He fixed his eyes on the tarmac.
He trudged along the Boulevard, a half-full petrol can in one hand. On either side, long-abandoned cars lined up in unbroken, unmoving queues. The facades of empty shops watched over them, their wares still arranged in the windows. Some of the street lamps were still glowing, fading gently in and out. He watched them, counting beats under his breath. On, two, three, four, off, two, three, four.
Such a tidy apocalypse. Always thought there would be more... mess.
The Violettes hadn't shown again. He'd been supposed to meet them, trade a few essentials to keep them all going a few more days. Bad sign. There were precious few left who hadn't become noise by now. He didn't care much for the Violettes - didn't even know their real names - but you held on to whatever relationships you could get these days.
Miromesnil Metro station - which he and his sister called home - was five minutes away. He trudged down the steps, through heavy door after heavy door, feeling the air still with each one he closed behind him. At the door to the station manager's office he pushed the call button beside it and waited.
Eventually Anna dragged it open, nearly spherical in her layered coats and hats. He pushed past her and together they forced the door shut and dropped the bolts.
They exchanged a glance and a nod, and then, satisfied, they removed earmuffs, scarves, jackets, gloves, until they could see and hear and move again. The light was dim but steady. The room was silent.
"Well?" Anna said.
Laurent waved the petrol can at her. "No sign. That's three days now."
She scowled. "I can't get them on the radio. It must be busted."
She ignored the cynicism. "Nothing but static all week. And that whine's getting worse. Gives me a loving headache."
"Look," Laurent said, shooting a glance at the antique radio and at the headset and microphone on the desk beside it, "I know you -"
"I'll open it up later. Get it sorted. Then we'll get in touch with them and you can go give them some more of our stuff for another of those trash novels of yours."
There was something in her eyes that told him not to argue.
"Sure," Laurent said. "Sure. We'll do that."
She already had her head in the radio's guts by the time he woke the next day. He dressed, waited patiently for her to notice him, and went out with a couple more cans of petrol.
He waited at the intersection with the Avenue Matignon for a couple of hours before the Carrefour woman showed up. Business was perfunctory, a volley of gestures and mouthed words, before they reached an agreement: a litre of diesel for a dozen tins of soggy vegetables.
The Violettes didn't show. He took the spare can and the food back to Miromesnil.
"Looks like I've made it worse," Anna said when he got in. She'd put most of the radio back together, minus a few probably unnecessary wires and boards. "Not even any static now. Just that screeching, on and on and on. I'll try again tomorrow."
"No sign of them," Laurent said.
"I guessed." She nodded at the leftover petrol can. "You should take that to their place. Their generator might've run out."
"They're sensible people. They know to keep their ears closed. They're probably just busy."
He heard the unspoken addendum, they're friends and I don't want to lose any more of those.
"I'll go see how they are," he heard himself saying.
"Sure, as long as -"
Julian Violette's had once been a bookstore. It still was, in a sense. The twins who had taken over it had stacked the things up in front of the windows, three or four layers deep, as a sort of makeshift soundproofing. Violette's hadn't sold anything in years, though.
Someone had thrown a brick through the window. The books behind had been scattered across the floor. The wind blew in and out through the hole and shifted the dust inside.
Laurent stood and stared at the storefront for a long minute.
There was no need to go in. In his mind he could already hear the wind inside the shop.
He'd said he would see how they were.
Laurent kicked the last shards of glass away and pushed his way inside.
Empty bookcases loomed over him from every wall. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling, flickering. Laurent watched it as it swung back and forth, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, counting perfect time. Every spark of light on the offbeat, one-and-two-and-three-and-four.
He found the door to the cellar half-hidden behind a bookcase. The Violettes' living space was downstairs. A mattress, clothes, books, a radio, and a single light, flashing on and off. The dust stirred at his feet.
There was no sign of the Violettes. Days gone, no doubt. Nothing but noise.
The radio was on. Laurent leaned closer. The microphone was on. Listening.
He stared at it.
He unplugged the microphone from the line-in, set it down at his feet, and crushed it under one boot.
Then he left.
It got into your head, that's how they'd always described it. You heard it once, and that was that. It became part of you. You became part of it. You spread it for as long as you could, until all that was left of you was the song.
He was out of breath by the time he returned to Miromesnil. He hammered the call button with a fist and paced back and forth and back and forth until the door finally cracked open. His heartbeat sounded loud in his ears.
Anna's eyes were apprehensive. As they pushed the door closed, together, his gaze found their radio. Wires and circuits covered the desk around it. Its lights were off. He felt the pressure behind his eyes recede, just a little. Never been a better time to be off the grid.
She flashed an impatient gesture at him. 'What?'
Laurent pulled the scarf away from his face. "Radio still broken?"
She couldn't hear him, but he spoke slowly and clearly, and she read the question on his lips and nodded, once.
His clothes seemed heavier, suddenly. He hauled his outdoor layers off, dropping them at his feet. "They're gone. Their set was broadcasting -"
He saw it in her eyes first, in the rhythm of her blinking: one, two, three, four. His earmuffs were on the floor. He went for them too late.
She spoke, and her voice was the most beautiful song in the world.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 18:12|
Pays de Résistance (1,194 words)
For bread and France, I pressed my Gestapo-issued Luger to my sweetheart’s head. On her knees in a haybarn, Giselle glared at me. I’d caught her forging papers for the Résistance - exit visas to neutral Switzerland. The départees were cowards, scum fleeing our homeland, but their résisteur accomplices were a disease devouring us from within.
“Jacques, you can’t shoot us all.”
“If it saves France, I will.”
“France, or your own hide?”
“What’s the difference?”
She snorted. “France probably doesn’t care where your sister’s hiding.”
“She’s not hiding; she’s in Paris.” She wasn’t. After I’d enlisted with the Gestapo, their Captain had met my sister in town and invited himself over “for tea”. He’d come by every Sunday thereafter, and like hell I’d let a German touch her. We’d concocted the Paris story, the visits had stopped, and my sister had hid in our little house ever since - secretly, or so I’d thought.
“Strange; my friends say she’s in town. The Captain might like to know.”
“I’d better squash that rumor.” I fired. “Always thus to traitors.”
She fell and I kicked hay over her body. I’d bury her properly later; résisteur or not, no one deserved a Wehrmacht mass grave.
The Germans had appropriated a house on our village’s square for their headquarters. When I returned, Captain Schwarzgeist was hunched over his desk, drinking real coffee. I gave him Giselle’s papers.
“Good day, Officer Virépelure. Is your sister well? Still in Paris?” He stood and paced with an envelope clasped behind his back. His mirror-polished boots clicked on the floor, regular as a metronome. “Will she return soon?”
“Not within the year.”
“Pity. And the girl I assigned you?”
“Again? We need them alive, for questioning. The Résistance is a plague and the symptoms aren’t worth energy.” He waved at the window, at the civilians scurrying across the square. “Executions only spread their disease to good, quiet people. We must excise the infection’s heart.”
Ours was a tiny village, far from anywhere. “There are no ringleaders in Donjeux.”
“Where better to hide?” The Captain shook his head and handed me the envelope. “A dispatch from Herr Himmler. If you’d shot fewer, perhaps we’d’ve uncovered this meeting ourselves.”
I read the note. A Résistance rendezvous, tonight, at a small farm outside Donjeux. Could I silence a whole cell myself? I glanced at the Captain. “I’ll need a rifle.”
“You need a squad, and you’ll have one. No more gallivanting around solo. I and the Wehrmacht will join you, and we’ll take them alive.”
Under Gestapo knives, a résisteur would say anything - Giselle’s “rumor” would be spilt before the first bruise appeared, the Captain would sniff us out, and I’d be unpopular with both Gestapo and Résistance. “They’ll fight us if we charge. Let me enter first and distract them. I can masquerade as a turncoat.”
He nodded. “Light a lantern by the road. I’ll give you five minutes.”
“That’s not enough!”
“It’s all you get.” He clicked heels and thrust arm in air. “Heil Hitler!”
“Heil Hitler,” I mumbled.
With my last ration coupon, I bought moldy bread and went home. My sister and I lived in a cottage on the edge of town, abutting a grazing-field. I entered the main room, a cramped dark space with only a wood stove, table and chairs. “Justine! I have supper.”
My sister came out from her prison, our bedroom. She sniffed me and stepped away. “You killed someone. Who?”
She sucked in breath. “Will there be a France after the war, or will you shoot everyone first?”
“If it keeps both of us alive. I work with them, we survive. If I stop now, I’ll be shot.”
We ate supper in silence and Justine brewed a pot of fake coffee - burnt chicory root, all we French were permitted, collaborateur and résisteur alike. “I want to go out tonight. It’s been a week and I’m going cabin-crazy.”
I filled a cup. “Not tonight.” I explained my mission and showed her the letter; there were no secrets between us. A Wehrmacht squad running around town - she’d understand the danger. “And worse, the Résistance knows you’re here. We need to get you out, to Switzerland.”
“I’m no départee.” She studied my orders. “If I take a walk, will you shoot me like the others?”
I finished my coffee silently.
Justine’s cheeks flushed. “Wash your own dish, Nazi.” She kicked open the bedroom door and flung herself into her duvet.
The village church chimed ten. I went into our bedroom and changed into old clothes. My sister had left the window open and cocooned herself in blankets. “I’ll return soon.”
I touched the duvet; the sheets were balled up to look full. That idiot had slipped out! But she knew the Germans were on patrol. I punched a wall. I didn’t have time for worrying or searching. With or without me, the Germans would go to the farmhouse. Unless I silenced the résisteurs, the Wehrmacht would scoop them up, hear Giselle’s poisonous rumor and the Captain would come knocking. I raced out the door.
The farmhouse was smaller than my home and stood alone on open ground. Its windows were dark and boarded over. I rapped on the door and spoke treason. “Liberté, egalité, fraternité.”
A big man opened the door, illuminated from behind by candlelight. In the room beyond, someone small and thin stood in a shadowed corner. The room was dirt-floored and empty.
Justine stepped into the light. “That’s him. Wait outside.”
The doorman shoved me in and slammed the door. I stood where he left me, gaping at my sister. When the Captain found out, I’d be shot, at best. “Justine, we’ve got to run, escape out the back. Let the Germans capture the door-guard; he’ll delay them.”
“Is he less French than us?”
“There are exit papers in headquarters, to Switzerland—“
“My brother the départee. What would Giselle say?” She smiled. “No, the fight is here, in France.”
“They’ll torture me — us!”
She pulled my gun from my jacket and aimed at me. “Would it be worse than watching you bleed us all for moldy bread?”
I raised my arms. “Don’t! I’m Gestapo. I can steal for you. Papers, weapons!”
“What do you think you’ve been doing all this time? But I do need one thing.”
“Tell me where the Wehrmacht are.”
I explained the Captain’s plan and she banged on the door and whispered to someone outside. I curled up in a corner and squeezed my eyes shut. In the night, men shouted and guns fired. I was safe, I just had to wait for them to finish.
Hands dragged me out into the night. The Wehrmacht knelt in the yard, the captain with them, all gagged with filthy rags. Résisteurs held rifles to their heads. My sister emerged and they nodded to her and said, “Madame.”
I twisted in their arms, kicked and spat. “Please! It was you or France; I chose you.”
“I chose France.”
They pinned me and Justine pressed my gun to my head. “Always thus to traitors.” She fired.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 21:27|
Ryan looked very handsome in his new tuxedo, but all Becky could see was the sign he held that said “Wounded In War. Please Help.”
“You promised you wouldn’t,” she said, tears forming.
“I promised I wouldn’t embarrass you,” he said. “And I won’t. But you know there’s nothing I can do about this.” He gestured to the sign. “This is a part of who I am now.”
“I know,” she said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, “You could just, I don’t know, not be this way. Especially today.” Ryan frowned and turned away from her.
“You think I want to live like this?” he said. “You know if there was a cure I’d be the first person taking it. But there isn’t, Becky. It’s never been a problem before today.”
“It wasn’t, no. But looking out there and seeing my whole family…I just don’t know if they’d understand,” she said.
“Of course they will. Your cousin Murray is sitting outside, right now, with a hat on the ground, begging for change.”
“Murray was always the black sheep. As far as my family is concerned, he’s just being himself,” Becky said.
“He is though. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. He’s sick.”
“They won’t see it that way.”
“Does it really matter what they think? As long as you’re happy,” Ryan said, grabbing her hands. She pulled away from him and turned her face to the wall.
“I’m sorry, Ryan. I can’t do this,” she said, before throwing the door open and running down the hall. She turned a corner and ran into another person, almost falling down in the process. She stood up and recognized Ryan’s uncle Howard.
“Oh, Uncle Howard, I could use your help,” she said. “I’m so confused and-“
“Got any spare change?” he said, holding out his hand. His face was covered in days-old stubble, and a big toe was sticking out of one shoe. Becky’s cried even harder and ran outside.
She stuffed herself into her car and drove. She turned down random streets with names she didn’t recognize until she found herself in a part of the city she had never been to before. She pulled into the first parking lot she could find, then put her head in her hands and cried.
She sat there for a while, trying her hardest to shut everything out. There was a tap on the window. She looked up to see a young man in a wool cap with a full beard and smudges of dirt on his cheeks. He waved at her and gave her a big smile. Becky lowered the window.
“Can I help you?” she said.
“Any spare change miss?” he asked. She stared at him, her cheeks growing red.
“Leave me alone!” she said. “Why won’t you people just leave me alone?” He backed away from the car, and Becky could see he was holding a sign that said “Need Money to Get to Oregon.”
“I’m sorry, miss,” he said. “I don’t really want your change. You see, I have a disease that causes me-“
“I know all about it,” she said. “The man I’m marrying has it. Well, maybe.”
‘You’re not sure he has the disease?” the man said.
“I meant I’m not sure I’m marrying him today,” she said.
“I’m sorry to hear that miss,” the man said. “My name is Chester. Would you like to talk about it?”
“No, please, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”
“It’s no trouble, miss. Please,” he said. She nodded and got out of the car, sitting on the hood and dabbing her tears.
“I’ve always loved Ryan, ever since I met him,” she said. “We dated for two years before he contracted PH, but at that point I was so in love with him I didn’t think there was anything that we couldn’t get through. When he would suddenly have to stand on a street corner in the middle of the night, I would bring him sandwiches, or an umbrella, and patiently wait for him to come back home. The time he came to my work party, and offered to shine my boss’s shoes for a fiver, I stood by him, proudly. But for whatever reason, the thought of going up in front of all my family today just made me think that I can’t do this, not for the rest of my life, no matter how much I love him.” Chester stayed quiet, nodding along at each point she made. When she was finished, he put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m married,” he said. “And I have to tell you, if I didn’t have my wife by my side, I don’t know how I would be able to get through all this.”
“You’re married?” she asked.
“I sure am,” he said. “For the last fifteen years. “And she has been my rock, after everything that’s happened. Worked as a mechanic before I got PH. I was a good one too. After I got it, my boss tells me he can’t have me around anymore, trading oil changes for quarters and tire rotations for sandwiches. After that, any place I applied turned me down as soon as they found I was sick.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Becky asked. “Discriminatory?”
“PH isn’t legally covered yet,” Chester said. “For now we can only rely on ourselves. And my wife, God bless her, she busts her hump making sure we have food on the table for us and our kids. And you know why she does it?” Becky shook her head.
“Because she loves me, and she knows that if I could, I’d be out there, fixing the hell out of every car that came my way. But she knows I can’t, and it doesn’t matter to her. That’s love.”
“Wow,” Becky said, “I was too busy thinking about how Ryan’s PH affected me. I guess I was being selfish.”
“Maybe a little,” Chester said. “Just remember that no matter how hard it gets, he can’t do it without you.”
“Thank you,” Becky said. “That’s just what I needed to hear.” She gasped.
“Do you know what time it is? I might still be able to make it on time.”
“Twelve-thirty,” he said.
“I’ve got just enough time. Do you know how to get from the Little Heaven of God Church from here?”
“I sure do,” he said. “It’s right there.” He pointed across the street. Becky had not fled as far as she thought. She ran across the street and through the doors of the church. She ran straight to Ryan and apologized. He welcomed her back with open arms, and she walked down the aisle happier than she’d ever been. There were some stares from her family, but she never noticed them. To her, there was no one else besides her and Ryan, and never would be, as long as they both lived. Even when the priest asked her, “Brother, could you spare a dime?” There was no question in her heart that her only answer was “I do.”
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 21:29|
Or Not to Be
Tap, tap, tap… the blood drops from the tip of my knife onto the linoleum of our kitchen floor. My husband is hunched against the wall, holding his arm. He ignores the weapon that is pointed at him. He takes deep breaths and looks at me with a calm expression. Those green eyes. I used to love them.
“Are you going to kill me now?” he asks in a tone as if he was inquiring if we were out of sugar.
“I don’t… I don’t want to. How do I know you’re not infected?”
“What makes you think I was?”
“You were acting off all day. Just now you were like, just, I don’t know. You were going to jump me. I think. You know how this works. It’s subtle.”
There is silence.
“How do I know you’re still… you?” I ask. He shrugs and that’s the problem. Even if he wasn’t, he might not notice before he decided to fly off the handle and strangle me.
“Sarah,” he says, and he’s obviously trying to stay calm, “how could I have gotten infected? We’ve been holed up in here for weeks. We haven’t been outside, or seen anybody, or eaten anything but canned food. How? How did I get infected?”
I admit I don’t know. But I’m sure he was about to kill me. I sensed the danger. Even now I look him in the eyes and I catch a brief glimpse of something strange.
If he hasn’t changed, he’s about to. It’s the way he talks, and acts. This is not my Zach. My Zach is dead. The person before me is someone else.
I need to put them out of their misery.
I get closer. My knife digs into the skin of his throat.
“Sarah, please, think about this.”
“You will kill me.”
“You’re the one with the knife here.”
“I have to defend myself.” I am sorry, but you must die.
You must die
What if he’s right? What if I am the infected?
For a few seconds, none of us moves. I take a deep breath and step back. He doesn't show any reaction. I let go of the knife and it lands on the floor with a clatter.
“It’s okay,” he says, and picks up the knife. “It’s okay.” We embrace.
I feel a sharp pain in my chest.
He pulls the knife back out as I sink to my knees, my hand sliding along his arm. Time slows to a crawl. I cough blood.
“Sorry, dear.” His voice is still calm. “I don’t know if you’re infected, or if I am. But let’s face it, one of us is going to kill the other. Might as well get it over with.” He gives me a warm smile. Completely crazy.
He holds my hand. I look into those green eyes and everything turns dark.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 21:40|
It’s About Them
Djeser fucked around with this message at 19:54 on Dec 31, 2014
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 21:46|
Authenticity: A Story for Children (1196 words)
“You are,” Jay shouted over pounding bass, “the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He had said this to a dozen women, but never honestly. Yet for the blonde there could be no other words. Her e-paper dress hung like cling-wrap. Her hips were the curves of a riverbank. She was perfect.
She even looked as sober as he was. He’d caught some nasty corporate virus over the weekend. It had not only made him crave Coca-Cola, but also made all out-of-brand beverages taste like earwax. Alcohol, he’d already discovered, was no exception.
“Aren’t you darling! Would you like to buy me another Pepsi?”
At the mention of a competing cola product his gut lurched. He shouldered his way through to the bar regardless. He’d just caught Zlika tongue-deep in her ex, and he was ready to make some decisions he’d have to pay for later. For the blonde, he would’ve paid in lakhs.
But when he wormed back into the party, overpriced soda in hand, she had vanished.
He made it back to Zlika unfucked and intact, and they made amends.
Problem was, he began to see the blonde everywhere.
The first time he saw her, she was driving an Amazon delivery levicar. Then from a taxi window he spotted her outside of Starbucks, gleaming in high-waisted shorts. He caught her posing in the display window at H&M. Never close enough to approach, always reaching new heights of gorgeousness. The world wouldn’t let him forget her.
He began to make frivolous Amazon orders, hoping for the blonde on his doorstep in uniform. He stalked the Starbucks, mooning for hours over a vitamin-infused mocha. When he spotted the blonde he’d be buoyant, spinning Zlika by the waist and pouring them Stoli at three in the afternoon. Then after a few hours he’d turn sullen, shying from Zlika’s touch. He had seen perfection, and all he wanted was to see more. Zlika, for her part, alternated between apologies and tantrums. Like this their fight rolled on like earthquake aftershocks.
Finally she sat him down. “I feel like we aren’t being honest with each other,” she said. “I know you’re still pissed that I made out with Hao, but why won’t you talk to me about it?”
Zlika couldn’t begin to understand. He’d sound insane. “Just give me some space, Zlika,” he said.
Petite, boyish Zlika twirled her hair around a finger. “Fine,” she said. “I just wish you still enjoyed my company. You’re a total prick these days, you know.”
The virologist had gone to college with Zlika. “Jay,” she said over the phone, “what you want me to do is illegal. And unethical. Not to mention hosed up.”
“You don’t understand, Betty. Unless you help me, Zlika’s going to be miserable.” Jay had always suspected that Betty carried a torch for his girlfriend.
He was right: her tone brightened. “What does Zlika have to do with it?”
“Well, I just need to talk to the blonde girl once and get some closure. If the infection makes her want to approach me, then I’ll talk to her, find out what her deal is, get over it, and stop fighting with Zlika. No harm done, everybody wins.”
A more honest man might’ve mentioned the recurring dreams, about what was under that cling-wrap dress.
“Fine,” Betty said. “You’ll have your custom virus. You’re in for a weird couple of days while it spreads, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah, strangers on the street hitting on me, and all that.”
“Not really. They’ll mostly just have sneezing fits. It’ll affect people you’ve talked to more strongly. They’ll suddenly remember you as witty and charming. They’ll enjoy your company, try to seek you out. Even if you’ve been a total prick.”
Jay slugged back his Americano and packed away the tiny viral auto-atomizer. It had puffed merrily away all day behind his e-newspaper, turning the Starbucks where he’d spotted the blonde into an unwitting ground zero. She didn’t even have to come in here. The thing was contagious: inevitably, in days or weeks, the tangled social networks of New New York would spread it to her. Anyone could catch it and pass it along.
He checked his phone. Almost an hour late for dinner with Zlika. She’d insisted, after weeks of fighting, that they sit down for once and eat like adults.
“Hey,” the barista called. “Can I offer you a free drink for the road? Because you’re a regular.” She batted her eyelashes, then sneezed into the crook of her elbow.
He sat across from the blonde in an insulated booth at IHOP, too stunned to even type his order into the console. “I’m so surprised that you remembered me,” he babbled. “What a shock.” Women probably hated being infected with bespoke diseases. He wouldn’t mention it.
“I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding,” she said. She peered at him through Prada sunglasses. “You’ve been the subject of an advertising protocol. A failed experiment.”
“You mean that Coke thing? I’m over it.” Jay gestured at his Pepsi. “Might have some other bug coming on, though. I’ve been all sniffly.”
“Not that,” she said. “Think. Since we met, your purchases at Starbucks have gone up 85%. Amazon, Pepsi, the whole stable of GoogleSoft subsidiaries. That was what was supposed to happen - man sees the perfect girl, wants to buy what she buys. Something went a little funny in your case, clearly.” She shuddered. “That virus. Ugh. I wanted to rip your clothes off for days.”
“This is,” said Jay, “complete bullshit.”
From her purse the blonde produced an inhaler. “This’ll fix you up, kiddo. Get yourself some pancakes, then go get laid. You clearly need it.”
As the neural antitoxin in the inhaler squirmed towards his limbic system, he suddenly saw everything clearly.
He had been a fool. He’d neglected Zlika, the wittiest, most charming woman he’d ever known, for some walking GoogleSoft billboard. He was going to buy Zlika some real, live flowers.
Zlika answered the door before he finished knocking. She leapt into his arms. “I’ve been an idiot,” he said.
“Took you long enough,” she said, rubbing her nose against his. She noticed the flowers. “Aw, I forgive you, you charming thing. Wanna be best friends again?”
Yet as she snored beside him three hours later, something still troubled him. That sudden desperate desire to see her had been just a bit too desperate and a bit too sudden. He sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Softly he padded to the living room, where he flicked on Zlika’s computer and swiped through her Facebook messages. And there it was, a week prior.
Zlika, it read, Your virus is ready. Put it in Jay’s food or something, it’ll work faster. Thinking of you. Betty.
He sat in the dark, shaking his head. He was, he realized, flattered. Flattered and grateful, and only a little angry. Zlika had loved him so much, she’d infected him to bring him back.
That love was the only authentic thing in this whole mess.
Somehow, with what a total prick he’d been, she still found him charming.
From the bedroom, Zlika sneezed.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 22:16|
"Evening, Mitch." Craig settled into his desk, sipping some bland coffee. "You on the night shift?"
Mitchell looked up from his desk and sighed. He rubbed the bags under his eyes wearily. "Nah, nah, split shift. I'm on til 3."
"Ouch. Jen mad?"
"Nah, she gets it." He clicked through the posts idly, staring through the monitor. "What I can tell her, anyway. I think. You get an update yet?"
"That's why I'm here," Craig said. "Last I heard we were just getting up in Chongqing."
"poo poo, you're well out of date. It’s got bigger." He closed out of the live feed and brought up a map.
"So about three nights ago," Mitchell said, pointing around the center of China, "our work took in Chongqing and the surrounding metro. We started getting feedback from locals outside our network. Nothing too heavy, nothing exact, but..." He shrugged. "They would mention a couple elements, a couple aspects of it, add a '这是奇怪,' but nothing full on. Still more than we expected."
"That’s good, right? You don't sound happy."
"Well..." He paused. "Yeah. It started to get weird. Once we got the word, we pulled our accounts back to standard high-output, low-info poo poo. We expected the cycle to drop back, but..."
Mitchell trailed off and stared blankly ahead. The hum of the fluorescent lights filled the silence. Craig slid his chair closer. "It didn't?"
Mitchell rested his head in his hands and moaned. "It kept going, Craig. This stupid loving thing kept going."
"That's a good thing, right? If we got local memetic pickup in just a week, we can step up, right? Go national? Get the main messages going?"
"No, you don't... It's getting precise. They're coalescing around one dream. In the park, chased by dogs, dive into a pool, come up on a beach, and then they wake up. That wasn’t so bad. That was my template. At least that would have made sense." He clicked over to a log of entries. "Okay, this was last night."
Craig scanned over the weibo lists and felt a vague sense of dread. "被狗追... yeah..." he muttered, before pausing over a name. “习近平... Jesus Christ. How’d the president get in there?"
“I don’t loving know. Around 0400 local we started getting word from early risers. A few at first, but by 0600 it was all of them. They all end with staring down Xi Jinping. We didn’t do that. Any political poo poo we were going to do is, like, six months out, if that.”
“Did an agent skip ahead or something?”
"That would be better than what happened. It gets worse." Mitchell clicked over to another list. "Here's Baidu."
"We didn't do Baidu."
"I guess we loving did, because they're on there. Outside Chongqing, into Beijing and Tianjin. And here's what's the best," he said bitterly, calling up two posts on Twitter. The men stared at the text in silence.
"How's your Japanese, Craig?"
"Mine too. Which is why I was worried when Sue flagged this. She was working on monitoring the Diet elections, and saw these.”
“How did it get outside China?”
“It's Shinzo Abe instead, but... poo poo, that's worse than if it were Xi Jinping. It's adapting, goddammit."
“How did it get outside China,” he repeated. Craig ran a hand through his hair. "It can't do that."
"You wanna--" He dropped his vote to a near-whisper. "You wanna bet? We turned off the tap, we stopped planting the seeds, and it's still going. It's spreading. It’s... I don’t know. If it gets Statesside do you realize the level of poo poo we're in? Good intentions ain't poo poo when we're doing work on Americans."
Mitchell leaned back and put a hand on his head. "gently caress is right."
Another post was flagged up by the algorithms. Shanghai. The analysts let it wash over them. Craig broke the silence. "We can't do the next stage, can we?"
"poo poo no. China is one thing, but... We're dicking with people's minds here. I don't know where this president poo poo came from. If this keeps changing and keeps going...” Mitch sank his head. “I don’t know what I did. This is my gently caress-up.”
“Look,” Craig reassured, “when you’re dealing with what we do, you think everything is your fault— ”
“It is my fault.”
“I had the dream.”
“You—” Craig blinked. “All of it?”
“Two weeks ago. That’s what I planned it off of.”
“When I put in the proposal, it was just ‘til the beach. I knew it’d be a real enough dream, and it would be distinct enough for us to flag, but...” Mitchell broke down. “It changed last week. President showed up.”
“After we finalized the plan?” Ping. Macau.
“Couple nights after, the president gets shot.”
“Couple nights later, I’m the one shooting him.” Mitchell stared blankly through the monitor, on the verge of tears. “And then we started getting these hits, and... I don’t want to know what happens next. I haven’t slept.”
Craig tentatively put a hand on Mitchell’s back. “Have... have you told upstairs?”
Mitchell turned. “Would you? You gently caress up this bad, you see what’s happening, you see it’s out of your control... It’s about deniability at this point, right? You see what’s coming. What the gently caress can I do?” He sobbed. “What the gently caress have I done?” Ping. Macau again. Different person, same story.
The two watched the posts come in.
Ping. Hong Kong.
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 22:25|
5 hours remain to submit!
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 23:04|
The Invisible War
‘Sir, Doctor Nimbwe has arrived. Should I let him in?’
General Adams nodded. His assistant left the room and invited a grey-haired man in a white lab coat with a black metal case in his hand.
The General got up from his massive leather chair to give Doctor Nimbwe a firm handshake.
‘Hello, Doctor Nimbwe. I’m General Adams. I’ve been following your research and it’s a great honour to finally meet you in person.’ Nimbwe’s hand was sweaty and cold. ‘Do you want anything to drink?’
‘No, that’s fine, thank you. If you don’t mind, I’d rather get down to business right away.’ Doctor Nimbwe cleared his throat and continued, ‘I don’t want to bore you with details, besides you probably have the report on your desk already, so I’ll just give you a quick outline of what I’ve been working on, if you don’t mind.’ The scientist talked very fast, but enunciated each word.
‘What a character,’ thought the General, ‘He looks a bit too anxious for a military scientist with twenty years in the field behind his back.’
‘Of course, you are the star here, Professor. Whatever suits you, no need to worry about formalities,’ said Adams and pointed to the empty chair.
Nimbwe sat down and put the case on his lap. The chair was much shorter than the General’s, so now Nimbwe had to look up to Adams. The scientist took a deep breath and spoke.
‘As you may know, we’ve been researching brains of conspiracy theorists of all kinds, and people with severe delusions and paranoid tendencies. We’ve managed to isolate a very specific area of the brain responsible for this type of erratic behaviour. It’s situated right below…’ Nimbwe wanted to show the area on his head, but after looking into the General’s disinterested eyes he decided against it. ‘Never mind. Anyway, for the past five years we’ve been working on a neurotoxin that would affect that part of the brain and could safely be used during military operations.’ the scientist’s lips formed a nervous smile as he gently tapped on the case with his finger. ‘And the result is here, General.’
Adams, buried in thought, was staring at Nimbwe’s face. ‘Why the hell does he look so suspicious to me? I’ve seen his type before and that’s not unusual for a lab coat to be intimidated by higher ranks, but there’s something fishy about him...’
The General opened a drawer of his desk without any sign of agitation. In one quick move he produced a revolver and pointed it right at Nimbwe.
‘Now, please, listen to me, doc. I’m a reasonable person and I’m terribly sorry for what I’m about to say. Although I’ve got nothing on you, my gut tells me you may be working for the enemy and I can’t make this thought disappear. The only explanation that I see is that you’ve already used the neurotoxin on me.’
The scientist went pale. With tears in his eyes he looked first at the gun, then at the General and tried to say something, but Adams stopped him.
‘No-no, everything is fine. Just open the case, please, no need for words.’
With shaking hands Nimbwe turned the dial on the combination lock several times and opened the case showing its contents to the General. There was a small plastic container with a biohazard warning on it and a heap of classified documents. The General looked at it puzzled.
‘Alright, think. If he’s infected me, there’s got to be some transmitter, so that his new masters could monitor status of the mission. Maybe even a small explosive device in case something goes wrong. With our level of security, the only way he could have brought it here must be…’ The General’s face brightened.
‘Now give me the container, doctor,’ said Adams and cocked the revolver.
Nimbwe handed the container mumbling something incoherent, to which Adams paid no attention.
‘Thank you. Now let’s see what’s inside.’ Adams put the container on his desk and hit it with the revolver’s butt. The container cracked, but nothing happened. No sound, no smell, nothing was inside. Nimbwe still sat in the chair, as if paralised, not being able to say a word.
‘I knew it,’ yelled the General, ‘I knew it from the start, you Illuminati bastard! Tell your demon overlords that Earthlings are prepared for the invasion.’
Adams was ready to shoot the scientist, but someone had sounded the alarm.
‘This is not a drill. We’ve been infiltrated by giant ants who look like humans. I repeat, this is not a drill,’ said a voice on the speakerphone.
‘You’re not taking my brain alive!’ yelled the General and put a bullet in his head.
Doctor Nimbwe was still sitting in his chair. Drops of blood and pieces of flesh on his face made him look like a warrior in war paint. His belly grumbled.
‘I should have called in sick. Chinese really did a number on my stomach. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure they knew how it all would go all along.’
|# ? Apr 27, 2014 23:11|
Braid New World
I remember when I saw my first infected: golden curls bouncing down to his shoulders. Within a couple of weeks you couldn’t walk down the block without encountering several of the infected, their heads glistening with grease. It took months for the news to realize that it was contagious—everyone just assumed it was another fad. They called it “Mullet Madness” or “hockey hair heads” it spread like wildfire. We were told not to be alarmed, but I knew that someone had to cry out against these crimes against coiffures. Someone had to fight to protect the beauty of carefully cut hair.
After the story broke, I knew that I had to track the illness’ spread. I watched as it swallowed entire blocks and saw far too many beautiful heads of hair walk into an establishment well trimmed and exit as tangled, slimy Kentucky Waterfalls. With a few weeks work, I managed to locate a source, a hotbed of hapless haircuts, centered in a dive bar downtown. The hockey heads weren’t aggressive about transmitting their illness—it seems like the soon to be infected came to them. If I wanted to protect my beloved undercut, I knew what I needed to do. If I wanted to understand the plague, I needed to know what kind of person let himself get infected.
I smoked about half a pack in my car during my stakeout watching the establishment. “Happy’s” seems like an inappropriate name given the horrors that must transpire here. So far, several groups of patrons have entered the bar with various trendy haircuts. Each exited with the same short in the front long in the back abomination. After hours of waiting, I finally saw an appropriate subject, a young man, about He was alone and was small enough that I should be able to restrain him if he puts up a fight. After he walked past I exited my car and put on my widest grin.
“Hey there, would you be able to help me out?” I asked the man.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I’ve lost my way. Could you help me out? I have a map here.”
“Oh, sure. Let’s take a look. Where are you headed?”
“Let me show you my map.”
It was over before he had a chance to react. The ether soaked rag that I had hidden behind the map worked wonderfully. He collapsed into my arms like a bundle of wet noodles. Before anyone could notice, I tossed him in the back seat and headed home.
“Just tell me why you would want your lustrous hair to turn into one of those monstrosities.”
“Why the gently caress do you have me tied up, man? Just let me go! This is so hosed up!”
“Tell me what you know and I’ll let you go. I need answers,” I said, delivering each word in a rapid staccato.
“You gotta untie me before I’m saying nothing. This is so hosed!”
My interrogation wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. My captive, “Rich,” refused to give me meaningful answers. He admitted that he hoped to catch the bug by going to the bar but refused to explain why. He just kept saying something about wanting to “join in.” He also refused to tell me the bar’s password.
“Listen,” I pleaded in my most soothing voice “I’m just curious.” I loosened his straps. “I don’t understand why someone would take something as beautiful as this,” I said as I brushed his hair “and become part of the greasy mob.”
He looked me in the eye. “Don’t you want to belong? There’s no judgement in the mullet. They’re all part of the same party posse. Listen, I can look at you and see that you don’t get it. The hipster haircut. The glasses. You want to be unique.”
“You don’t know me or why I care about this,” I snapped back.
“I can tell you’re curious. Let me go and I’ll tell you how you can get into the bar.”
Given the way that everyone stared at me, you’d think I was the one who was infected. Rich was able to convince me that I didn’t need a hazmat suit, but I still had my gloves, goggles and mask to stay safe. Everyone at Happy’s seemed, well, happy. I had never seen so many mullets at one place: curly mullets, golden mullets, permed mullets all together. Even those who hadn’t undergone the transformation seemed at ease.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” the bartender inquired.
“I’d rather not drink anything here. I’ll gladly pay for a drink, though.”
“How about a bring you a beer anyway, in case you change your mind.”
Soon, a strange song started playing. “Do something about your long filthy hair—it looks like a rats nest,” the singer intoned. The crowd whipped into a frenzy. In that bar, I could finally understand why people sought out the mullet bug. I looked around and I saw humanity, a dancing singing throng. They didn’t care if they didn’t look cool. They all belonged.
“CUT THE MULLET! CUT THE MULLET!” the crowd sang with Wesley Willis.
I couldn’t stifle my laughter. Before I knew it, I was dancing with them. The dancing left me sweaty, so I removed my goggles and gloves. After the song ended I returned to my spot at the bar. The bartender smiled and said “your drink is getting warm.”
“You’re right,” I returned. I took off my mask and drank deeply.
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 00:37|
I've got something half done but I'm at work and won't be able to finish on time. I'll try to get it in late anyway, but I'm DQing myself.
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 00:52|
Two hours remaining!
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 02:05|
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:36 on Dec 25, 2014
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 02:13|
The Firemen 1199 words Flashrule: Your story must include a burning house
Alan’s body flooded with adrenaline as the smoke alarm blared. He sat upright in bed and, in a moment of crystalline clarity, checked the clock: 3:46 AM. Caroline stirred beside him. He grabbed her shoulders, yelling, “Babe, wake up. The house is on fire.” He went to the door and flipped the lights. Thick, black smoke spread across the ceiling. In seconds, he had his robe on and threw his wife’s at the bed.
The doorknob was cool to the touch. Alan yanked the door open and covered his face with a sleeve. Smoke billowed into their bedroom. “Caroline,” he barked over the alarm, “call the fire department, then go out the window. I’m going to get the kids. Do you understand?”
Caroline, dazed, pulled her long, black hair out of her face and dressed. “Be careful, Alan.”
Alan dashed down the hall in a crouch towards his daughter’s bedroom. Cool doorknob, safe to open. “Matty?” He turned on the lights.
“Daddy?” Pink walls, My Little Pony dolls everywhere. She was safe.
“We need to go, princess. Take my hand.” Caroline was waiting on the lawn. “Wait for us at David’s window!” Flames licked at his roof. He went back in; the heat was intense and he had to crawl to get beneath the smoke. The doorknob to David’s room scalded his hand. Sirens cried distantly; his son would be dead before the firemen could save him.
Wrapping his palm in terrycloth, he rose to his knees and opened the door. An inferno followed, setting him ablaze. He rolled on the ground and smothered the worst of the flames. The room’s ceiling was on fire and David lay under the bed, motionless. Alan crawled to his son and dragged him out. “Dad?” he croaked. Alan opened the window, the influx of fresh air causing his robes to burst into flames.
“Go, son. Go!” David heaved himself out the window, his lanky teenage frame falling to the ground in a heap, and was dragged away by Caroline.
Alan fell out right behind him, a human torch. In seconds, his entire body was aflame. He screamed at first, but the pain lessened soon as his body went through the Change.
The firemen pulled up in two engines and started spraying down the remains of his home. A third truck arrived, a concrete box on eight wheels, and two men in fire-retardant hazmat suits stepped out holding watersprayers. They pointed the nozzles at him. “Sir, you need to come with us to quarantine. Stay back, folks. One touch is enough.” Their voices were tinny, modulated by microphones in their suits.
Caroline grabbed the kids and pulled them away. Matty started crying and asked, “Mommy, why is Daddy on fire?”
David wrenched at his mother’s grip, shouting, “No, no,” but the smoke inhalation had left him weak and he couldn’t break free.
The two men in suits circled Alan, corralling him towards the concrete box. He was in shock, unable to make choices. “Sir, if you don’t comply with our request, we will destroy you as allowed by law.”
His wife’s voice got him moving: “Go, Alan. Leave before you Light us, too.” She sobbed, body collapsing under the weight of her grief, but she still sent him away. He walked to the truck and the firecatchers locked him inside. The container was unlit, but the fire that surrounded his body illuminated the space. There was no seat.
Punching the concrete walls was strangely satisfying and painless. Nothing hurt but the constant, feverish burning. Never thought he’d end up just one more drat dirty firebug. His family, forever out of reach. Who would they find to coach David’s football team this year? He would miss Matty’s recital. All of the recitals. Too much time to think. Four gas stops, one long bridge, and the doors finally opened.
“Get out.” The two firecatchers were pointing their watersprayers at him again. He stepped out onto a rocky beach at dusk. Alan scanned his surroundings: concrete buildings and rocks, an island. A bridge leading back to mainland USA with two large water cannons at the end. Firebugs. No plants, trees, animals, people. Just the endless ocean.
“You can’t do this, I’m a US Citizen. Take me back. I’ll pay you. The insurance money, I had a nice house. My family will be missing me.” He could hear his voice growing higher. Whining. The firecatchers fingered their weapons and glanced at each other.
A hand wreathed in flames landed on his shoulder. “Boy, you’d best come with me. Sorry ‘bout the new guy, gentlemen.” The voice rumbled, like stones grating together. Alan turned and looked up. The firecatchers seized their chance to leave.
“Magnus Olivier. I’m the Big Man around these parts, keep things runnin’. Welcome to Florida.”
“Alan Lewis. Thanks, I was kind of losing my head back there.” Magnus was naked, hairless, and on fire. He didn’t blink or breathe, but he could remember from biology class that they had to eat fuel to keep the fire going. He would have to find something to burn. It was so much more real than the horror films.
“Happens to everyone their first day. Look at it this way, it’s like you’re retired. Oh no, you wait right here. Jasmine, don’t!” Magnus ran down the rocky beach toward a woman, who was headed to the waterline.
“Don’t try to stop me this time, Magnus. It’s been sixty years; I’m finished. They’ll never find a cure and I won’t follow you.” Jasmine walked into the water. Her flames guttered out in seconds and she melted to dirty ash, illuminated by the setting sun.
Magnus settled Alan in a building by the shore, refusing to say more. The concrete was comfortable. Not cold, and the hardness was fine. That night, a voice woke him. “Dad?”
“David? What are you doing here?”
The words came in a rush. “I followed you in Mom’s car. I couldn’t just let them take you. I hired a man in a boat to bring me here, but he wouldn’t wait, so we’ll have to find our own way out. You may be a firebug now, but you’re still my Dad. Why is everyone out on the beach?”
“I don’t know, but you’re going back home to your mother. Let’s go talk to Magnus. Don’t touch anyone.” He guided them in the darkness.
On the beach, Magnus stood on a boulder, surrounded by hundreds of flaming forms. “Brothers and sisters, tonight we claim our birthright! Liberty. Equality. Freedom to live a real life, not this worthless existence on lifeless rock! When the boat reaches the mainland, you must Light as many people as possible.” Alan sent his son for the bridge guards at a run. “They will no longer be able to oppress us. Do not balk at your duty, for…”
Magnus flew off the boulder as Alan tackled him around the waist. They wrestled to their feet. The Big Man was massively strong, but years coaching football gave Alan an edge. He battled Magnus to the edge of the ocean.
The saltwater was icy fire on his skin, then there was nothing.
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 02:16|
|# ? Dec 5, 2021 23:31|
Reconstruction - 1060 words
Joey woke up to the endless song of the Cicada. Despite his mother's promises that he would get used to the sound, Joey couldn't escape the noise no matter how far he pushed himself on his bikes. To the east Sunny Aces Trailer Park extended to the horizon, and to the west the swamp had him pinned against the rotting mobile homes. Joey heard his mother moving in the kitchen. Not that Joey was particularly good at hearing, it was just the walls were plywood with wall paper haphazardly plastered across. They hadn't even been saved the grace of a triple wide. Instead he found himself in a home that could fit into the back of his school bus and still have room for an expansion. With one leg in his pants he stumbled out the door. His mother crowded the kitchen, elbows knocking around everything on the cabinets. A bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice were on the table.
"Hey Mom," Joey slurred, still drowsy from his interrupted sleep.
"Did I wake you? i'm so sorry Joe. Still trying to find my way around the kitchen," his mom sheepishly grinned over her shoulder at him.
Right. Two cabinets and a stove are a lot to maneuver around. Joey thought to himself, biting back the need to say something.
Joey swirled his cereal around his bowl. The off brand kind, with the sad looking pirate on the front promising a bounty of marshmallows.
"What are your plans for today Joe? Going to go see if those guys the way over want to do something?" she hiked her head when she said this.
"I may bike over there. I was thinking of just staying in today," Joey swirled his cereal around, keeping an eye out for the bounty.
"Okay Joe. I need you to go put something in the post for me though okay?" His mother worded the last part tentatively.
"Could I see if they had some of the cereal I liked at the store?"
"Of course Joe," his mother dug around in her pockets for money. She produced four crumpled ones and kissed Joey on the head. "Thanks Joe. I'm just going to be busy with interviews all day or I'd do it myself."
"It's no big problem mom," and he pushed away grabbing his back pack. "I'll see ya later."
"Be safe and don't forget the letter on the coffee table!"
With a nod of acknowledgment he grabbed the letter and left.
Joey wrestled his bike upright and with a hard kick he was off. The post office was at the far end of the trailer park, nestled among other original buildings that the locals called "Oldtown". "Oldtown" homes were usually a triple wide or two double wides fused together. Joe pedaled past the leased Mazdas and hand me down Lincolns. Joey never understood why everyone in Sunny Aces was so fixated on having a car they wouldn't be ashamed of. Even his mother borrowed heavily to keep her Jeep. Work was her excuse at the time, though she had been unemployed for three months already.
In front of the post office two black cars chased each other around and around. There were plenty of the older kids Joe saw slink into the foreclosed trailers hanging around, passing bottles of whatever half grain hooch they could lift off their parents. Joe tried to loop around the back of the store but a group of them gave cut him off.
The big one with a cleft lip picked Joe off the bike and set him against the wall of the post office. The other two boxed him in so he couldn't escape.
"Nice bike," said the weasel faced kid with a greased ponytail. "Reminds me of the one I used to ride around here."
"My mom got it for me, said it would make getting around here fun."
Two of them snickered, with the one with the cleft lip joining in a little later than them.
"Only way to get around here is with this," the teen pulled out a small baggie of white powder. "Trust me kid, this will take you farther than that poo poo pile ever will." He kicked the wheel with a heavy grunt.
Joe tried to run, but he was tripped. The letter flew out of pocket.
"Where you going little man? Got an important delivery? You the new mailman?" He picked up the letter and read the back. "Oh you're doing your momma's work? You don't have her doing her own thing?"
"She asked me to deliver it," Joe said as he worked his way up to his knees.
"Hmm. Maybe I oughta come over and give you a man of the house. Let your mom remember what it's like to have a man around."
They laughed again. Joe rose to his feet and kicked the kid square in the crotch. He felt a faint pop as it connected. Ponytail's knees buckled, his voice lost in deluge of pain. He curled up as tears ran down his face. Joe was feeling particularly happy and ran to get on his bike and flee but the big man grabbed him and put him on the ground.
Each punch came slow and heavy. A greasy fist would slam his head into the gravel, letting the tiny rocks cut into him. The cleft lip puckered with each hit. Joe was convinced the next would take his head off each time, but he kept on taking the punishment. Though the weight was lifted from him. The boy with the cleft lip was thrown across the lot. A tall, burly man with mustache that was too thin on one side and too thick on the other stood over him.
"Next time I catch the three of you round here I'll give you all matching lip piercings," and he pointed at the ugly one. They scattered into different directions. The leader walked slowly and both legs dragged behind him.
"That your letter son?"
Joe nodded and rose to his feet.
"Let's go get it mailed and you cleaned up," The man put a hand on Joe's shoulder and walked him to the office. "Your mother will be proud you know, stepping up to the scum of the park like that. Seems recently they've been growing out of control."
|# ? Apr 28, 2014 02:22|