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  • Locked thread
Mar 21, 2010
or, the last man alive

After seven more decades in cryostasis dreaming of an Earth-now-gone, there was something about the seatbelt that made Adam Warschev cry and cry -- as if the dam behind his nose had sprung a leak and with each passing second the flow of tears and snot got worse and worse, until all he could smell and taste was his own salt. The scratching of metal-on-plastic as he clipped it in and the scratchiness of the carbon-fibre belt itself were some of the last human things left in the universe. They'd been made by someone, and that someone had probably had a family, and a dog, and a house. All underwater now; all drowned.

“MEG,” he said, “status?”

The ship’s AI burbled to life. The engineers had set the personality matrix too high, and Adam never had any idea how to change it. He wasn’t in the mood for MEG's peppiness.

“Howdy!” said MEG, with a synthetic Texas twang. Her face appeared on a nearby monitor. Her poorly-rendered blonde curls bounced around her.

“I see you’re up bright and early, Captain!" she said. "Time and date is 2409AD July fifteenth 3:47pm! We are fourty-four minutes, three days, seven months and three-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty-six years into the mission. The number of suitable planets located is a big fat donut. Zip. Zilch-er-eeno.”

Texas was underwater or starved, along with the rest of it. Texas was dust or salt – just a memory. Adam was the only living things on the ship. Well, technically; the Romulus device in the ship’s hold had millions of impregnated female eggs ready to begin pod gestation, but once they came online, they couldn’t be shut offline. The ship barely coped with one human aboard; it certainly couldn’t handle a society’s worth.

Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose, and sighed.

“You wake me up for a chit-chat?” he said.

“Nosir, not at all. Potential planet located,” said MEG. She made a smiley face in code on a nearby monitor. Adam shook his head. The first few planets had filled him with hope, but at this point he felt nothing. The monitors told him he’d been out drat-near seventy-five years, which was the longest sleep yet. The pool of ‘prospects’ identified by NASA was shrinking, and they ship was forced to go further afield. Every planet they came to was dead, as if humanity had already come and gone.

After a moment of silence, MEG added “It’s a goodie.”

Adam pulled down the monitor and checked the readouts. 90% Earth gravity, nitrogen-rich atmosphere with a sufficient ratio of oxygen, large bodies of water. Lifesigns present, but no large-scale development or organization from them. It was indeed an uh, “goodie”. The smallest spark of hope came alive in his chest, and he smothered it. Hope, the dangerous bitch, had a habit of vanishing at the worst moments -- better to leave her behind than risk losing her when you needed her most. Adam was good at leaving things behind.

He choked back his tears. Not that there was anybody left to hear them. The dreams in stasis were bad, but reality was worse; he floated endlessly through the void, with mankind’s last hope behind him, packed into a space smaller than a refrigerator. Planet after planet wasn’t good enough. There was nowhere for mankind to go, and nobody else coming. Present and past came together in the darkness of space as his rough hands gripped the seatbelt, and he cried.

Dreams were dreams, and could be pushed aside and forgotten. Memories were memories, and they stuck in the craw until too many of them got piled up and something inside broke and there was nothing to fix it but tears, and even they were only a palliative: sticking plasters for the soul.

He punched a few buttons to release probes to the surface. Another two or three false alarms, and there'd be none left to launch. It needed human authorization, because an AI couldn’t be trusted with something so vital and delicate as the survival of humanity. God knows, humans had a great record for doing the right thing. In his chair, looking down at the blue marble below, he sighed. The probes would take a few weeks before it was clear whether the surface was safe. MEG beeped at him.

“Maybe it’s this one,” she said. “Daddy used to tell me that life’s only cruel until she’s kind. Well, one of my daddies.”

Adam smiled, despite himself.

“One day,” he said, “I’ll take a wrench and turn you into a middle-aged man with no sense of humour whatsoever.”

A document appeared on the monitor: MEGedit.wx. It vanished as quickly as it had come. “File Deleted! Something something Daisy Bell.” said MEG. “Anyways, can I call an engineering team my daddy? Aw hell, who’s to say I can’t -- What’s there to lose, huh?”

“What’s there to lose?” said Adam. He bit down hard on the end of his thumb. He didn’t cry; he was empty of tears. He had nothing left, which meant he had nothing to lose.

In that moment, a new warmth filled him, and this time he let his hope rise through his chest, to his cheeks. Even when the world was falling to pieces, somebody at NASA had seen fit to program a humour routine into the ship’s AI, and it was just what he needed to hear. The woman who supplied the voice and the men who wrote the code were long dead, but here they were, three thousand years and millions of miles from their old home. He laughed – not the mad, strangled laugh he was used to hearing from himself by now, but a real laugh; a human laugh. Not a pretty thing, but filled with joy.

“Probe THREE has made splashdown,” said MEG. “Salt water. Numerous lifesigns. Initiating recon mode. Now we gotta wait.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d said those words, but it felt different somehow. “I hope this is the one,” he said.

“Me too, sugar,” said MEG.

Her animated face stuck out its tongue. “You’re terrible company,” she said.

“Back atcha robot.”

A lance of light blinded him, and by inches-by-miles the alien sun came out from behind the planet. In the ship’s hold behind them, the hope of humanity lay sleeping. On the surface, dawn was breaking.

1050 words


my effigy burns
Aug 23, 2015


The long, ragged column of men shambled down a country road with no buildings in view for as far as one could see, which was not very far at all in the case of Arthur Bierman. One his eyes were nearly swollen shut and the chilly April wind made him keep his head down. The men to his left and right would occasionally jostle him, but it wasn't out of kindness or malice. He never said anything when they did, because there was nothing to talk about. Everyone was exhausted and dejected. They’d been captured over a month ago and had been force-marched on foot almost the entire time. No one had any food, no one had any cigarettes, and no one knew where they were going.

Sometimes the americans would drive through on jeeps and everyone would have to get out of the way in a hurry; one time someone a few paces ahead of him didn't hear a jeep coming and was nearly run over. The ground wasn't quite frozen, and maybe in the distance some oak trees still had their leaves, but Arthur was cold. Well, was he? It wasn't the cold of Russia, where eventually one could stop feeling it and appreciate the numbness for a few minutes before the panic of frostbite set in. It was just enough to keep everyone shivering and miserable. All things told, it was probably Arthur's worst birthday.

He couldn't decide if he had been fooled himself, was only fooling others, or if he had really been a nazi these last six years. It hardly mattered now, Germany had all but ceased to be. What mattered now was one's ability to fully embrace previously shameful traits. The most important of these were begging and shifting blame, and he felt a knot in his stomach thinking about what he would say in his own defense.

“I am a soldier of the Wehrmacht, and soldiers obey orders. We fought and we lost, but I am not sorry. There is nothing we did to you that you did not do to us. I behaved honorably as an officer, and without my restraining influence everything would've been even worse.”

It all sounded very good in his head, but did he believe any of it? Should he tell stories of the brutality of the eastern front and how the wolfish grins of SS men leaving a village in flames made him sick? Should he admit to his mistakes, affirm his support for democracy, and denounce the criminal nazi dictatorship? Should he explain that he had been a dissident waiting for his chance to carry out a spectacular act of sabotage?

No one would ever believe what had actually happened, not even Arthur, not really. Back in ‘39 before the war had even started, his platoon friends Hanz and Lucas often teased him because he had the same birthday as the Fuhrer. Hans and Lucas were former petty thieves, draftees from north Germany and were almost useless as soldiers, although everyone but the quartermaster enjoyed having them around. Usually after several drinks they would usually mock party fanaticism by sieg-heiling Arthur.

On the night of his (and the Fuhrer's) birthday, the three friends had gotten very smashed and submitted their applications to join the party together as a joke. The thought of a party bureaucrat reading their lengthy rap sheets with increasing indignation before reaching for a red stamp was simply too funny, at the time. Hanz and Lucas were rejected for their low moral character, but to Arthur’s great surprise, he was accepted. Perhaps the mystical feeling the party apparatus had towards numerology was responsible, or perhaps it was just a mistake. But from there, he couldn't very well resign and tell them it was a prank. The NSDAP didn’t have much of a sense of humor about itself, and all its other defects flowed from there, Arthur reflected.

That such a slovenly soldier could be accepted into the party made people suspect him of being not only a degenerate careerist, but an eerily well-connected one. Soon he found himself squad leader, then sergeant, then officer candidate, then lieutenant, and finally captain. This climb wasn't so impressive until one considered his complete lack of interest in the army. If hadn't been for the complete destruction of the german war effort, he probably would've continued his incidental climb through the ranks.

The real trouble is that it was all true, all of it. Perhaps he had been goaded into it, but maybe some part of him wanted to join without taking on the full responsibility. And once he was there, he played his part. Yes, he always felt like he was acting, but if he never took off his mask, did it make any difference? He imagined saying to an interrogator, "You know, I am a complex individual who does not always know his own mind."

The thought brought the beginnings of a smile to his face, and he looked up a half-second too late to avoid running into the man in front of him.They had stopped, but nothing was around. They were ordered off the road by a tired looking american who shouted in german that was understood only when accompanied by gesturing and yelling. They walked towards the woods for a few hundred meters and then were stopped again. Some men sat down immediately, others waited to see what would happen next. Arthur knew that if he sat down he would have trouble getting up, so he remained standing.

Now the american was pointing at different places that all looked the same to him. He couldn't quite make out what was happening, but then the man on his left grabbed him by the arm and they walked together over a line that had been made in the dirt.

The americans had given a few of the prisoners shovels, and they began digging while the americans unspooled barbed wire and laid out sticks. There was a great amount of murmuring, but Arthur already understood. The POW camp was to be here, in the middle of a barren field. Maybe they would only be here a few days, maybe they would all die in this field, but they had stopped. He sat down and gingerly touched underneath his eye. Swollen of course, but it was also lacerated, bleeding just enough to be wet.

Others sat down around him, and with that, the chattering began. He asked if anyone had a bandage, for the sheer sport of it. Others expressed sympathy but no one came forward, and gradually the conversations left him behind. He waited a few minutes and asked again, louder. This time the answers were shorter, less sympathetic, and he sensed that if he asked again he would be ignored. He waited a few minutes more and summoned all of his strength to stand then said "I don't suppose it would make any difference to you all if I told you's my birthday today." The conversations around him died down, and a few let out a short sound which was not a genuine laugh but acknowledging that a joke has been told.

"...and I think it's very rude that I've invited all of you to my party but none of you brought me a present." A few more men laughed, this time with some genuine feeling. Another man stood up far away from him and stood up and said "it's my birthday today too! Where’s the cognac?"

More of the men sitting down began clapping and whistling. A third man stood up and declared it was also his birthday, then another and another, until at least half of the prisoners were standing. The americans became visibly more nervous, clutching their guns closer and backing away, except for a short man wearing a floppy hat who was evidentially in charge. He strode up to Arthur, pulled out his pistol, and motioned him away from the others, who cheered as they walked off.

Back by the road, Arthur was handcuffed and later interrogated by the floppy hatted officer and a translator.

"What did you tell the others to get them so riled up?"
Arthur listened to the translator carefully, but said nothing.
"You're a real tough son of a bitch, huh? A real die-hard nazi?”
“Well,” Arthur began, fully prepared to articulate his thoughts on the fundamental ambiguity of character, but the words failed him. “it is my birthday.”
The officer started to look angry, then poked him in the chest and bellowed in his face:
“You a party member, you scumbag?”
“My birthday is today.”

They held Arthur apart from the others for a long time, although the only thing was ever able to tell them was his birthday. Eventually Arthur was released back into the camp population, but he was classified as a ‘major offender’ and the americans watched him very closely from then on.

1494 words, forgive me for going over

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
:siren: You have four hours, pilgrims. Make them count! :siren:

Mar 21, 2013

Grimey Drawer
wordcount: 1198

Forest Flower

When Satman and Tanara married they spoke vows of their own creation. They vowed, before the village elders and the Gods of the Mountains, to speak only truth to each other, believing their love was strong enough to withstand the thousand stings of an honest life shared.

Satman built a cabin away from the village, at the foot of the steepest peaks. For ten years the pair lived there, respecting the Mountain Gods and their vows. But no children were borne of their union, and village whispers suggested that perhaps a certain amount of dishonesty was needed in every marriage.

By day Satman hunted and gathered, bringing home the bounty of the forest. Every night he would return to Tanara with a flower he had picked.

“Tell me, husband,” said Tanara one evening, as they watched the sun set over the white capped ridges, “if we never have a child, will you still bring me flowers from the forest.”

For a long moment Satman looked away, up to the snowy peaks, searching for his truth. When he finally met her eyes she saw tears. “My wife,” he said. “If the Gods do not bless us with with children, it will hurt me terribly. But if I am to bear it - I will not have to bear it alone, and for that I am thankful to you.” He took her face in his strong hands and gently laid his lips upon hers. “For that I will always bring you flowers from the forest.”

To listen to the village women speak, that was the night Tanara fell pregnant. The village elders smiled as the two walked by, hand in hand, stealing kisses as if caught in the first flush of love and not many-years married.

Satman watched his wife’s belly grow fuller and rounder through the summer and autumn months. He would lay his head on her, listening to the sounds of life. “As long as the Gods of the Mountains smile upon us,” he said. “All three of us will be safe.”

“Foolish husband,” said Tanara. “What God smiles forever?”

As winter came, so did stories of fighting in the valleys and lowlands to the south. The villagers stocked up on food when they could, storing it in hideaways and holdfasts.

“Will there be war?” asked Tanara of her husband.

“I will not lie,” said Satman. “The elders say that the valley people do not believe in the Gods of the Mountains. They do not live by their ways or hold their values dear. Their crops have all failed. If they see an advantage in it they will come, and they will put us to the sword.”

Tanara gasped. She had never heard her husband speak so, as if the truth had worn away the sweet sound of his voice and left it scratched and raw.

Winter came, white and angry. Tanara woke for the third time in one night, the pressure on her bladder unbearable. She made her way gingerly out the cabin door. The sky seemed overly light and she caught the smell of smoke, noticed a red glow in the direction of the village. She hurried back, her bladder forgotten, and whispered as loudly as she dared to wake her husband.

Satman was by her side in an instant. He took a long, silent look and scurried into the undergrowth. Tanara was left alone for terrifying minutes, until a rustle in the darkness announced his return. “The men of the lowlands have come,” he whispered. “The village is in flames, our stores plundered, our people are dead, or dying. But you were wise and I have prepared packs and food enough to carry us over the mountains. With the blessing of the Mountain Gods, we can make our way over their domain and to the lands beyond. I do not know what lies ahead, but I do know that to stay is death.”

Tanara nodded, and Satman began to gather his supplies.

On the first day of climbing the Mountains of the Gods, the rocks around them turned treacherous with ice. On the third day, they lost the protective cover of the trees, two vulnerable figures against a background of pure, white snow. By the seventh day their supplies were low and the cold had become a terrible beast. It gnawed at Satman through the goatskins he piled upon himself and his wife, stealing their breath and their strength in tiny, icy bites. Their progress was agonisingly slow, and the both of them were fast becoming exhausted..

On the eighth day, Tanara collapsed. She lay in the snow as Satman rubbed her arm and tried desperately to coax her up. “Please, my love,” he said, “we must go on - we have escaped death by fire, don’t let the snow take us! Don’t let it take our child!”

Tanara rose, unsteadily, shivering. She leaned heavily upon her husband and the two of them trudged onward for three steps, before Tanara collapsed again. “My beloved,” she said, and Satman could hear the edge of madness in her voice. “Leave me. I’m so tired.”

Satman sat beside her and, in a voice barely audible in the icy wind, he broke his vow before the Mountain Gods. “My wife, my love, my life. I have never lied to you and I will not do so now. You see this ridge, ahead of us? Beyond that ridge lies a village, here in the mountains. In that village they have fires and hot baths and food and all the things we’ve dreamed of these last days. We just need to get beyond that ridge. Believe me, my darling, just a few steps more.”

Tanara groaned and lifted her head, then pushed herself up from where she had fallen. Snow fell from her. She brushed it from her swollen belly and locked an arm around her husband. Together they crested the ridge.

A light glowed in a hunting hut, as if from the hall of the Mountain Gods themselves.

The daughter of Satman and Tanara was born in a makeshift birthing bed, surrounded by anxious hunters. Tanara died, amid the blood and poo poo and afterbirth, the last of her body’s warmth spent to keep the ice from her daughter’s veins. Satman would have run outside to curse the Gods for his liar’s reward and lose himself in grief and snow, but the impromptu midwife stopped him, and handed him his daughter wrapped in furs. Within his heart, the wolf of love bested the wolf of death and howled in victory and loss.

Satman called the child Sarota, and they stayed amongst the hunters, in their cluster of huts beneath the snows on the other side of the mountains. In time, their ways became his ways and, in turn, his daughter’s ways. But every year, when the winter winds grew calm, Satman would take Sorota to visit the simple grave by the hunting hut where her mother was buried. There he would tell her of the Mountain Gods and his broken vow, and why Sorota’s name, in the language of his elders, meant flower of the forest.

Sixto Lezcano
Jul 11, 2007

Ontonagon Route 28
1185 words

Stuart slapped Matt's hand away from the radio controls.

“I’m not letting you spend winter break moping around the house, getting all angsty about some girl and holing up in your room. We’re gonna get --” he paused as the old Civic slipped on the ice. Matt winced and gripped his seat belt. “We’re gonna get out of here and have an adventure. A real one. Put hair on your loving chest.”

“In this stuff?” Matt asked. He shivered and waved a puffy mitten at the grey winter outside.

“Hell yeah ‘in this stuff’, man! This is the real stuff. Party story stuff.”. Stuart turned onto the freeway on-ramp and floored it. He’d spent too long trying - and failing - to be a good older brother. But as lanky and lame as Matt was, he was still Stuart’s responsibility, and he wasn’t going to let him go off to college without at least one story about That One loving Time.
The Civic lurched a bit, straining under the weight of tents and tarps and blankets and coolers. “Car’s loaded up, I left a note for Mom and Dad, and we’ve got a tank full of gas.” Stuart wiped his runny nose with the back of his hand. “Merry Christmas, dude. We’re gonna make you a man.”


As they passed the exit for North Makatan, Matt stirred awake in the passenger seat. The tiny clock in the dashboard read a lime-green '2:36 AM'.

“Really?” Matt asked, turning over. Stuart swigged the bitter last of a rest-stop coffee and dropped the little paper cup on the floor.

“Really. Gotta get way out there --", Stuart waved a hand at the darkness in front of them and then adjusted himself, "-- if you want to grow a pair.”

The snowflakes flashing in the headlights made the rest of the darkness seem bigger. Stuart liked that. It made the adventure more real.

After seven more hours, five rest stops, six cups of almost-coffee, and endless frozen dirt roads, Stuart pulled into the woods and parked. Matt pulled his knit hat down lower and fluffed the collar of his puffy coat. All he could smell or hear or feel was Cold. There was silence, for a moment.

“Alrighty. Start hauling, little brother!” said Stuart as he stepped out into the snow. “We gotta get this stuff set up in time for dinner!”

He started prying bags and bundles loose from the back seat of the car, and together the two hauled the gear back into the woods until they couldn’t see the road.

That night, Stuart cooked sausages over a struggling campfire. Matt swilled from a plastic handle of rum and ranted about how all the winter break parties were crappy anyway. From time to time, Stuart would chime in with a “Yeah!” and a “drat right!”. They ate dinner sitting around the fire and took turns yelling obscenities into the night.


The cold woke them up early the next day. Stuart heated up instant oatmeal around the fire while Matt dug himself deeper and deeper into his sleeping bag. They spent the day tromping around the woods that surrounded their campsite. Stuart tried to make a little igloo in the snow. Matt just tried not to freeze.
That afternoon, they dug the can opener and hatchet out of Stuart’s backpack. Stuart stuck the bulky axe into Matt’s hands and waved at the trees surrounding them.

“Go get us some firewood. Get some muscle on you.” he said.

Matt said nothing, only trudged off into the woods, dragging the hatchet through the snow at the end of one long arm. Stuart sat on a rock and fought to work the can opener with his enormous gloved hands.

Dinner was pork-n-beans right from the can. Stuart had done his best to heat them up over the campstove. Matt hadn’t found any good wood. They ate in silence for a little while.

“Thanks for this, Stuart. It was fun.”, said Matt. He took a bite of beans and spat the cold glob back into the can.

“Was, little brother?”, said Stuart, cocking his head. “We’re just getting started. You don’t have to be back in school for like, what, forever? And I’ve got enough food in that car for at least another week.”

“Yeah… But I mean, we’re out of alcohol. And these beans are cold.”
Matt poked his food with his spork.

“Look, we haven’t even gone hunting yet! I didn’t drive for 15 hours so you could bitch out and call it quits after two days.”

“And, I mean, I appreciate it, but --”

Stuart clanged his dinner can down on the rock, cutting Matt off.
“I’m trying to help you here, dude. Trying to grow you up a little bit.” He stood up, paced around the meager fire between them. “Look, give it like two more days at least. You’ll totally get into it.” He was standing over Matt now, his arms wide, begging the forest to back him up on this one.

Matt rose and let out a foggy sigh.
“Come on, Stu, let’s go home.”. He rubbed his hands together. “I’ll drive, even.”.

He started toward the car but Stuart was already in his way, arms wide

“I’m not letting you bail. C’mon, dude, seriously, just stick it out one more day!” He was whisper-shouting, now, like a desperate parent to a child. This had to work. Matt tried to duck around him but Stuart grabbed his lanky arm and held him. “You’re not bitching out on me, man!”.

It was a sloppy punch, muffled by mittens and coats and fatigue. But Matt had never thrown the first punch - had never really thrown one at all - and it caught Stuart off guard, the rough mitten fabric scraping across his raw, cold face. He let go of Matt and stumbled back, then spat into the snow. The darkness wheeled around him.

“Okay”, Stuart said. The urgency was gone from his voice now. “Okay, we’ll go. Tomorrow morning. We can’t pack the tents in the dark.”

Matt didn’t say anything. He just sat down hunched up by the fire and stared into it.

Matt woke up with the sunrise and made a pot of coffee with the last of their propane. He crunched up beer cans and stuffed them into garbage bags, then stuffed the garbage bags into the back of the car. Stuart wadded the sleeping bags up with the tent and the tarp and the blankets and jammed it all in on top. There wasn’t any room to shift the seat back, so Matt drove them home with his knees up against his chest. Stuart napped, mostly.


Matt set down the empty PBR can in his hand and reached past some huge dude for another. He was not nearly drunk enough for this kind of party.

“Eh, my brother’s alright. Kind of a shitter to me when we were young.”, he half-yelled over the music. “He tried really hard to toughen me up, make me some kinda rugged badass. Mostly just pissed me off. But there was this one loving time...”

Lazy Beggar
Dec 9, 2011

1200 words

I was used to being alone. It was my fault. I had ran away like I always did. I travelled from town to town, barely stopping. Staying would have tired me more than than the walking did. I was alienated in the towns because I never knew the local language. And often I fought because I was sensitive to the mocking faces which swarmed around me, and the indistinguishable noises which derided me. They were just jovial, but that was enough to annoy me. Every time I left a place, I'd think of the home I had left. I'd think of the question that had divided my marriage, “Why?” A question that still haunts me and my husband. “Why did he have to die?”

I sat on a rock brewing some coffee and eating solid bread beside a fire. I was in no hurry to reach the next town. The closest thing to peace I felt while travelling came when I sat alone, surrounded by nature. The feeling never lasted long; as soon as I became aware of it, it fled. I lingered at my camp site, sipping coffee, and waited for that hazy feeling to come.

“I'm happy to see you, stranger.”

Someone I understood! It had been so long. I threw question after question at him, and his face darkened. He answered my questions, but increasingly more tersely. He kept stating how he felt, and eventually he told me he was angry. I asked him why.

“How do you feel?” he snapped.

I told him I was okay; he shook his head and walked away. I put down my coffee and started packing. Even when I shared a language with someone, I couldn't communicate with them. But I realised that I had missed trying. For the first time since I had left, I hurried.

I arrived at the town earlier than I had expected. It was a vibrant place; it felt different from the other places I had been. As I walked down the street, all of the inhabitants declared their emotion as they bustled about the town. Those near to me said more words, usually negative, than those far from me. The people who didn't notice me looked happy for the most part, but those who did looked at me with a mixture of fear and anger I jumped into a building which offered food and drink. It wouldn't be long before I stumbled into a fight here. And I was hungry.

“I'm happy, but tired,” the bartender said, smiling. I empathised with him and asked if I could order food. His smile slipped away. He grumbled that I could, but he was less happy now. I would eat the food and then leave. This place was infuriating. Not even a longing to talk was enough to keep me there.

I had almost finished when a woman entered. The bartender said something, and she marched to bar. They argued. The bartender stormed off, and she walked towards me. I knew I was the cause of the argument.

“I am glad you are here, but a little cautious,” she said.

I told her she didn't have any reason to be cautious. I must have been scowling. She explained to me that they didn't have many visitors here. But she was excited to meet an outsider.

“I'm sorry my brother wasn't more helpful,” she said. “Like most of us, he isn't used to people being so covert.”

I raised my voice and told her that I was not covert. And that I was outraged. She became happier! I knew a fight had been a certainty here.

“Sorry! Let me explain,” she said.

The people of this town are emotionally overt, Amy told me, and so they state how they feel. Everyone did this. It wasn't as complicated as I might have thought. The more honest and open people were about their feelings, the simpler they were. They weren't allowed to melt and flow together. She was a teacher and so dealt with children who had to be taught not to become closed. Most people never had to deal with anyone who didn't state their feelings. Even one person could make everyone else feel more complex, compound emotions. That was why people were scared of me.

I pleased Amy by telling her I was baffled and sceptical. She had gone out of her way to help me. She smiled and clapped her hands. She was ecstatic, she told me, and full of hope.

I was intrigued, so I decided to stay a day or two. Amy warned me that the others would give me a chance so long as I tried, but if they though I was dishonest or holding things back, they would force me to leave.

At first I had difficulty stating my feelings. Often I'd say how I was, fine but tired for example, and people would scrunch their faces and say they were offended or disappointed. They claimed that I was dishonest. That my face belied my words. I tried to be honest. I opted for weary, tired, or some variation of that theme. Without some vacuous claim to a positive feeling, the people responded better to me. The moments I felt pleasure, I found it easier to be accurate with my words. My effort was clear, and so the people of the town were mostly kind to me. Before I knew it, a week had passed.

“It's best to be simple but honest,” Amy said to me. We sat together on a bench. We waited for the latest batch of children who were now deemed emotionally mature enough to leave the school compound. Tall walls and a dark gate obscured our vision of the school.

“Some people are saying you should be sent away,” she said. “I think you're making great progress, but a few aren't as convinced.”

I told her I that this made me sad, but I promised I'd try harder. The gate opened, and three children ran out towards us. They had graduated from her class. One more child left, shuffling. As he drew closer, and I could see him clearer. I stopped breathing; he looked so much like him.

“Are you okay?” Amy asked me. “You need to tell us how you feel, Karen.”

It couldn't be him. He was dead. Oh God, he was dead. Tears fell down my face.

“Tell us, please!” Amy said.

But no words felt right. The children beside us shied away from me, claiming fear. The boy who looked so much like the one I had lost stopped in front of us.

“I'm sad. And scared,” he said. “I don't want to leave.”

I trembled, and a wail escaped. Other adults came out to see what was happening. I hugged my knees, and cried. I didn't want to see him. The people grumbled, telling Amy I had to leave. She tried to coax the words out of me one last time. But I had nothing for her. She told me she was heartbroken. And at that word, rage filled me.

“There are many more worthy causes for a broken heart than a few unspoken words!”

Oct 30, 2003
Sea Serpents
1049 words

Octavia took Tom’s hand and let him pull her to the aft of the ship. They looked over the side, where black water churned and left eddies that sped away from them into the evening, back towards

There were sailors playing euchre around a trestle-table, using pebbles from the beach in Sydney to hold the cards down in the wind. She glanced back at them, and her eyes were met by one, who looked her over with a dark, hungry gaze. He curled his top lip and winked.

“Alright love?” he said, in a salt and tobacco croak. The others sniggered, but kept their gaze on the table.

Tom whipped around. He was a strapping boy, but at sixteen a boy nevertheless, smaller than any one of the burly sailors. He strode up and jabbed his finger into the man’s sternum. He held it there and twisted it slightly as he looked up into the man’s narrowed eyes and spoke.

“You don’t speak to her like that. You don’t speak to any lady like that. Are we clear?”

Octavia’s face grew hot, despite the whipping wind. She’d never been called a lady before.

“Any more cheek like that” Tom continued “and I’ll have you in irons. We’re nearly to Lyttelton. Do you think there aren’t other good men on the ship to sail us the rest of the way?”

Octavia knew they wouldn’t do anything. Tom wasn’t a subsidized immigrant, his parents paid for their berth. They dined with the Captain, and had their own room. She practically skipped to his side. She’d heard stories of bad men on the ship, mutinies. But next to him she felt safe.

* * *

When they reached Westport they sat on flax mats to meet to the local tribe of Maori. The men were huge and brown, with tattooed chins. They danced back and forward on the balls of their feet, opening their eyes wide and sticking out their tongues. Octavia fidgeted, unused to crossed legs. Watching the warriors whirl their carved spears, and their clubs of polished green stone, made her feel queasy. Tom reached for her hand but for once it felt cold and weak to her and she flinched.

In the back row of dancers Octavia saw a young man, maybe Tom’s age, maybe younger like her. He was smaller than the others, paler too, with bandy limbs and soft hair. He was smiling, and rolling his eyes when he forgot moves. She thought she could pick out his father, an older man sitting at the back. He was white like her and tom, but his face was tattooed in the same whorls as the others. As well as a feather cloak he wore the leather boots of a sailor.

* * *

The boy was called Tipene. His english was good, and he served as a translator for Octavia and Tom, the only european children in the settlement. Around his neck he wore a chunky, white pendant, comically large next to his small jutting collarbones. Octavia gestured at it.

“What is it?” she said.

“Bone,” he replied, “want to look?”

Octavia nodded, and brought her face down close to his chest to look. She ran her fingers over the carvings. They were a series interlocking spirals, like the whirlpools left by the ship, that twisted as shadow and light that played across the creamy bone ridges. She pulled on it to get a better look, and yanked Tipene so close she could feel his hot breath on her hair. Tom coughed. She let go and stood up.

“It’s beautiful. What does it mean?”

“They are koru. It’s a story of a long journey, a fight with a monster, and a new life.” He grinned “I wear it because it came from a great whale that my father took.”

Tom sneered. “I’ve heard all about your father. He’s a mutineer. He should count himself lucky he took up with you savages, otherwise he’d be hanged by now.”

Up came Tom’s finger again, moving towards the boy’s ribcage. Tipene wasn’t cowed, he just cocked his head and followed the finger with his gaze, still grinning. When the finger got close his eyes crossed, and before she could help herself Octavia giggled. Tom went red, and balled his hands into a fist.

“Shut your mouth,” he said through clenched teeth, “let’s go.”

Octavia looked at Tom. He looked strange, standing there in the shadow of the ponga fence, moisture wicking up the legs of his long trousers, rich red earth sullying the white linen of his shirt. She was suddenly conscious of her own skirt and bonnet, both in sore need of a hot scrub. Tom kept staring at her.


She didn’t say anything, but nor did she move. Tom harrumphed and headed home. Tipene beckoned for her to follow.

* * *

It was a short walk to the coast, where layers of rock were stacked like crockery into teetering towers. Tipene helped Octavia through a wall of palms and ferns to an outcrop, and gestured for her to wait while a violent wave hit nearby and disintegrated into a fine spray that salted the drizzle. He counted a beat or two, and a plume of water erupted from a crevice nearby. Octavia shrieked, then laughed, then shrieked again as Tipene hopped over the rocks to the source and looked in.

He called for her to come and she hurried to him, lifting up her petticoat as she stepped across the gaps in the rock. She knelt down to where Tipene was staring into the hole.

“Down there,” he said, in a sombre voice as deep as the ocean, “a taniwha, a serpent”

Octavia stared down and, just below the surface, saw what looked like a huge green eye in the blackness, glistening with and moving as water ran over it back out to sea. It was lit by a single shaft of light, and when obscured by spray it blinked. Tipene tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the sea- another wave was near. She stood up and grabbed him as the blowhole exploded inches from her face. As the spray landed and settled on her head her laughter rang louder than the ocean in her new home, the ocean that brought her to him.

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

On the Hearth a Little Flower Blooms
(978 words)

After they shot those boys at Malmedy, the order came down. No prisoners. Gunned them down like dogs as they scattered and ran. Nelson had lifted his rifle but he hadn’t fired. Hadn’t even touched the safety.

They marched all day with their chins tucked into their overcoats. The snow rose up to their knees in places, soaked through their gaiters and boots and both pairs of socks, until their toes couldn’t even register the cold anymore.

Nelson licked his chapped lips, ran his tongue over the cracks. He thought about Helen. He kept a picture of her tucked in the lining of his helmet: Myrtle Beach, Helen standing at the water’s edge in her paisley one-piece, testing the water with her big toe and shrieking at the cold. He would give anything to be back there, laying their towels out across the sand. Helen beside him, smelling like coconut oil, a textbook cracked open in her lap.

She was taking lessons in German at the community college. Nelson had resolved to pick some up himself, and had thrown in the towel in almost the same breath. But he made sure he learned “I love you.” Ich liebe dich. Practiced it over and over until he got it just right.

From somewhere in the distance came the muffled thump of a mortar. Captain Landi raised his fist to head level and they waited, ducked all at once when the shell came screaming down a hundred yards to their left, kept marching.

They reached the town just after noon. The snow was pristine—it looked like a postcard, like someone had smoothed it all over with a frosting spatula. So bright that it hurt just to look at it.

They went house to house, corralling civilians and ushering them out into the square. Grandfathers and grandmothers interrupted, regarding them with grim mouths and pinched, farsighted squints.

Nelson hooked arms with a woman who stood stubbornly in the doorway. She just blinked at him. “Come on, oma,” he said.

They swept through like a hurricane, pulled down cabinets, kicked apart bookshelves, flung open root cellars. Nelson picked his way over the wreckage, the floors snowed over with documents and broken glass. He knelt down and plucked a dogeared book out the mess. A book of Rilke’s poetry. He tucked it halfway into his field bag. For Helen.

He heard Captain Landi shouting something from the next house over. There were half a dozen Jerries hiding in the laundry room. Deserters. The captain marched them out at gunpoint, jabbing at their ribs with the muzzle of his rifle.

They sat the men down in a circle outside the house. They were young, thin as alleycats, their cheeks hollow and blue with stubble.

The closest one tugged at Nelson’s sleeve. He looked down at the man’s lapels, the naked threads where he’d torn away those twin lightning bolts. He gestured at the book, the corner of it sticking out of his bag. He said something that Nelson didn’t understand.

The prisoner gestured again, and Nelson handed him the book. The man flipped through it and made a soft clucking noise with his tongue. Then he pointed at the page. Aha, he said. He started reading out loud. His voice was soft, and listening to it dredged up a strange sensation, a tingling, almost ecstatic feeling that started at the nape of Nelson’s neck and radiated across his scalp. He shivered. When the man finished he closed the book and handed it back. He looked up at Nelson, cupping his hand over his eyes against the sun. An uncertain smile.

Some of the men were setting up a gun on the ridge.

One of the prisoners started to sing, quietly at first. Something slow and sad—without understanding the words, Nelson knew they were singing about home. Soon enough the others joined in with what words they knew, or else hummed along. Captain Landi stood there with his hands on his hips, his jaw moving as if he were chewing on something.

The deserters didn’t stop singing, even as they marched them up the ridge and stood them in a line. The last note hanging there, lighter than air, bracketed by a burst of machinegun fire. There were tiny flecks of blood on the snow, and looking at them made Nelson suddenly sick, as if there were a pocket of frozen wind churning around his heart, looking at the dark shape of their uniforms, the brass casings gleaming. All that white.

There were tiny flecks of blood on the snow.


Sometimes their faces come rising up like bile, clawing at the back of his throat. Nelson, hunched over in the belly of a C-46. The sour, anxious taste in his mouth. The engines sending a tuning-fork thrum up through his shinbones.

He wished the plane would keep flying. Seven thousand miles, all the way home. Helen would still be at the beach, as if he’d never left at all. The warmth of a summer afternoon rising from the sand like mist. He would wrap her up in his arms and they’d look out past the water at the razor-thin line between sea and sky. Waves collapsing against the shore, slapping at their ankles. He would press the book of poems into her hands.

The jumpmaster held up both hands and shouted Ten. Soon the paratroop doors would open, and he would see Germany glowing below like a sea of candles. The flickering slice of tracers. He would clip onto the static line and the light above the door would turn green and he would step out into all that dark.

Nelson reached under his helmet and felt for the picture there. He whispered to it, like a prayer, Ich liebe dich, Ich liebe dich.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Knee Deep in the Hoopla

1190 Words

Thranguy fucked around with this message at 23:00 on Dec 31, 2015

Feb 25, 2014
991 words

The Last Story We Have Together

flerp fucked around with this message at 03:46 on Dec 29, 2015

Social Studies 3rd Period
Oct 31, 2012


Dormant Faith
1123 words

Miriam ceased her pacing and stared into the dark abyss once more. For the fourth time, she clutched her holy symbol and whispered a prayer, followed by a count to ten as she lingered on the edge. Just like her previous prayers, the dormant volcano seemingly offered no reply.

From her perspective, the darkness rushed up to meet Miriam without warning. Less a leap of faith and more an accidental tumble, she screamed and snapped her eyes shut, calling out to any divinity or power that crossed her mind. Did she let herself drop? Was her whole life a waste? Questions raced through her mind as she fell.

A net of thick ropes answered her cries, bouncing her somewhat as it stopped her fall. Somewhere to her right, lanterns flickered to life, illuminating a roughly hewn path along the wall of the shallow magma chamber.

“GREETINGS, TRAVELLER!” A voice boomed, causing Miriam to bury her head in her hands with a sigh. She untangled herself from the net with a scowl as the voice continued, “WELCOME TO YE WHO HAS PASSED THE FIRST TRIAL. THE PATH AHEAD OF YOU IS LONG AND FILLED WITH GREAT TESTS! TESTS-”

“Cut the theatrics crap, Theo.” Miriam said, interjecting as the approaching old man finally took a breath.

“Yeah. Yeah. I was beginning to think you was gonna be a no show, oh late one,” Theo muttered, pulling back his hood while offering Miriam a hand, helping her back to solid ground. “Plus, would it kill you kids to indulge me every now and then? Don’t know the value of a good ole’ ritual, I swear.”

“Maybe if you didn’t waste all that time down in the valley last summer,” Miriam began, fists balling at her side, “I wouldn’t have dragged you into a volcano to try and speak with my god! Oh, look! I’m the guide of the gods! Everyone, listen to me talk for twenty hours! Hah!”

The two stared at one another, several long moments passing before the old man let out a self-deprecating chuckle and shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

“What can I say. Someone has to hold to the ancient customs if you won’t. Now. Are you going to stand there fuming like this ancient place once did, or are you going to come along?”


“Behold! The second of your trials, young one. You must - yadda, yadda. I’m sure you can figure out the drill. See you up ahead.” Throwing his hands up in the air at another glare from Miriam, the guide mumbled to himself and continued onward, up on the higher of two paths. With a resigned sigh, the pilgrim steeled herself for whatever trial awaited her on the lower path.

Her complaints grew silent at the sight of the task before her.

A single lantern dangled precariously above, illuminating the tiny rock shelf just barely jutting out over another drop. Pondering on the test, Miriam seized a stone from the ground and threw it over the edge - and waiting for several long moments before hearing it hit bottom.

“You know, if you really are up there - you’re kind of a dick!” Miriam shouted, and found herself hesitating once more. “And I don’t mean just for this!” Determined, she struggled to clear her mind of her negative, doubting thoughts - at the very least, someone she knew was real was waiting for her. After everything else they’d been through, Miriam was damned if she was going to Theo see her fall from her path at such a point.


“Well, since it’s just you and me,” she continued, even while slowly beginning to shimmy her way across the tiny ledge, “I think we’re going to have … a little chat. Sound good?” Under her breath, Miriam whispered whatever comforting passages from her holy books came to mind, and did her best not to look down.

“So. About that whole thing with there being evil in the world…”




“Why is the room filled with the mats from gym classes, except - orange?”

A disheveled mess from a number of physical challenges, including the outrunning of a boulder - which she thought might have been fake - Miriam had to bite back a laugh at the absurd sight. A tiny walkway connected the two halves of the room, complete with dizzying drop of barely two feet to the bright mats below it.

The old man rolled his eyes.

“Long ago, magma bubbled in this chamber, threatening seekers of the shrine with a fiery death if they fell. Look. We have to have some sort of allowances for modern times. So, you gonna cross the bridge or not?”

For once, Miriam’s answer to her challenge was instant - barely missing a beat as she strolled across the room, walking straight through the river of magma. Laughing, she took a moment of joy at the look in her guide’s face, before leading him onward to the final chamber, the destination at the end of her journey.

The final marker - and, hopefully, answers - awaited.


Miriam held the broken pieces of rock in her hands, stunned. What had once stood as a small monument was nothing more than rubble, shattered into countless pieces. Frantically, she tried to assemble the pieces back together, pulling out her holy symbol as a guide by which to line up the intricate carvings and inscriptions. Her guide’s hand came to rest lightly on her shoulder as she slumped in surrender.

“Hey. It was. Just a symbol, y’know? If your god can’t appreciate how much a scrap you got in to get here…” Theo said, shaking his head at the shattered shrine. “You take all the time you need. I’ll be down the hall, when you’re ready.”

Sniffling, Miriam bowed her head and let a quiet hymn come to her lips. She didn’t know all the words, but the unsteady song of hope echoed quietly in the dim cavern all the same. Afraid of the results, yet pressing on regardless, Miriam began to pray.


The path to the exit tunnel was a short walk for which Theo’s hips were grateful for. Taking a breath of less stale air for the first time in hours, he turned and gave thanks to the quiet volcano, as was custom. Miriam ignored the mountain, refusing to look back toward it while saying farewell to her guide.

Curious, both at the smile on her face and the time it took her to emerge, Theo ignored the pain in his hips, and ambled his way back toward the altar room.

Where the prayer marker once was, a cairn assembled of its pieces stood in its place. Perched delicately on the rubble, positioned so that it could stand up straight, sat Miriam’s holy symbol.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
:siren: One hour left! :siren:

Radical and BADical!
Jun 27, 2010

by Lowtax
Fun Shoe
The Bargain

Word Count: 965

The Unpainted Land stretched out both before and behind us, its drab uniformity unbroken except where our path meandered through the monotonous nothing beyond the Edge of the Real. The history of our journey wended its way back across the featureless waste behind us as a single, unbroken green thread, for life sprung up in our Pilgrim's very footsteps. I often watched, mesmerized, as tender shoots and vines curled around its toes even as it lifted its rag-swaddled foot for another shuffling step. Seeing us achieving our goal of bringing life to the Unpainted Lands happening like that right before my very eyes often helped me forget the clanking of my chains as I walked, or the cruel manacles we all wore around our necks.

I tried not to look in anyone's eyes as we made camp, instead preferring to watch the fireflies dancing in the lush, fragrant grass that sprung up in our wake. I knew I did not have time for this dalliance, but a part of me wondered what was even the use of trying to divine the mysteries of the Pilgrim's book. One of those delicate old pages contained our freedom, but I could not for the life of me puzzle it out no matter how long I looked. Still, I opened that hateful volume and pored over the forgotten sigils and illustrations inside, each one described by a language lost to time.

The moon hung heavy in the nights sky, and as the hours wore on my companions' faces fell. My task weighed upon me, but the burden fell to them as well, for they would be punished even though I gave the inevitable wrong answer. The Pilgrim simply reclined easily by the fire and smoked its pipe, its glittering eyes never leaving my face.

“Charles,” it finally said. I swallowed a hard lump in my throat and closed the book. “Tell me. Upon which page is written the salvation of your people?”

“Why--” my mouth went dry and my words died in my throat. The Pilgrim waited patiently as I fetched a cup of water. One of the others lunged at me as I dipped out some of the water, but the Pilgrim pulled hard on her chain and fell back. “Why are you making me do this?” I asked when I was able.

“You do want to save your people, correct?” I caught a waft of something rotten from under its deeply shadowed cowl, and I had the sense it smiled at me. “You summoned me. It was with you that I struck our bargain. Thus it falls to you to answer my question and lay me to rest.”

I opened the book once more to a random page and showed it to the Pilgrim without meeting its eyes. It was obvious what I'd done. “Fraud,” someone muttered at me under their breath. Something hot and sticky landed on my cheek, but I didn't see who had spit on me because I knew what happened next and I needed to keep my eyes shut. I'd seen the Pilgrim feed twice before and was not interested in seeing it for a third time. The snapping of bone, the rending of flesh and the warm red droplets that stippled my bare skin were more than enough for me.

Every day is the same. The rough manacle clasped around my neck pulls me forward and I stumble about on legs made of lead. The Pilgrim hums a weird tune or sometimes sings softly to itself as it drags us through the Unpainted Lands. Then, the sun sinks low behind the hills, the moon rises and the Pilgrim asks its question. Upon which page is written the salvation of my people? I couldn't answer the question the first time it asked, nor could I answer the hundred and first time it asked. Once, I marched shoulder to shoulder with my people. Our multitudes spread out behind the Pilgrim, a trailing cloak of humanity. But each night the Pilgrim asked its question, and each night it feasted. Now there are very few sets of eyes looking back at me over the fire, pleading with me to find the answer.

“Tell me.” The Pilgrims smooth bass rumble shook apart my reverie. I had almost fallen asleep staring at the book, and the eldritch symbol sketched out on the page writhed and twisted beneath my gaze. “Upon which page is written the salvation of your people?”

I looked into the faces of my companions, the last of us. I had killed my people, and I saw the blame I felt reflected back at me. I shut my eyes against the tears I felt welling up and rolling down my cheeks. It was time to end it. “None of these pages will save us.”

A deep chortle rolled out from under the Pilgrim's hood. “Go on.”

“You have eaten everyone. There is no one left to save. Therefore, none of those pages contain the salvation of my people. My people are gone.”

The Pilgrim stayed silent for some time. “I can find no fault with that answer,” it finally said. It took the book from me and stepped into the fire, making no sound as the flames whittled its body into ash. Trees, grass, plants, animals, all of life itself swelled into being around us as the Pilgrim burned. The smoke drifted into my face, and through it I saw my people, all those souls consumed by the Pilgrim, coming forth from the land of the dead to join me in our new home. The Pilgrim had made good on its bargain, though I would bear the shame of having ever known it until it comes back to take me into the Unpainted Lands once more.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




1130 Words

Anuun the fisherman sees the first detritus from the Norsemen’s shipwreck and smiles grimly. They come, they cut the trees, they over-hunt the forests, and leave in their big ships that steal the wind from the sky. They sometimes take Beothuk women, like his Oubee, the one he would’ve given children. But even they are powerless against Sedna’s storms.

“Is this what you called me out here to see, sea spirit?” he says to the waves that gently rock his canoe. He was summoned on this clear, cold day by the sea spirit Sedna, chieftess of the deep.

I will not be a child-killer, the spirit wails, and her voice is the cries of the mob of seagulls overhead.

“These were surely men come to fish on your waters and loot our shores,” Anuun said.

I will not be a child-killer!

“If there were any children on the ship, their fate is the fault of their fathers,” Anuun said. He shoves a long, waterlogged plank away with his ore.

If you find the boy and save him, I will give you a wife.


Sveinn floats in three kinds of blue: There is the sky above, which is pale but growing darker. There is the limpid aquamarine, where Sveinn’s little body floats as he kicks feebly to keep his head above the surface. There is the blackish blue below his feet, where his mother is. He’s cold, but she’s even colder. Her eyes will stay forever open, reflecting the deep.

Each hour in the water is a lifetime. Sveinn forgets he is not water. He forgets he is a little boy. He forgets that, for a while, he lived in a longhouse with a cookfire and warm smells. But he doesn’t forget his mother, who he can feel below him as though they’re connected by a string. She is the anchor that keeps him from dissipating and spreading across the ocean.

What does a child think about when they’re dying? Not death. Sveinn thinks of nothing at all. Time is a landscape and he is the clouds that drift lazily over it.

But then, big, rough hands lift Sveinn out of his triptych world of blues. Now his world is the bottom of the canoe. He’s wrapped in Anuun’s furs and Anuun is saying foreign words in a comforting voice. Sveinn doesn’t remember how to cry or do anything but be water.


Anuun takes the boy home, to the cluster of pointed birch-tents surrounding a cookfire. His sisters are there, as his grandmother and several other clan members. They stop their tanning and gutting to stare at the pathetic creature in Anuun’s arms. They’ve only seen hair the color of Sveinn’s--like spider web in the morning sun--from a wary distance. Like when Anuun watched from a distance as a wild-eyed man with a straw-colored beard dragged Oubee to his ship in ropes with a few other Beothuk woman.

Sveinn isnt really Sveinn’s name. It’s a Norse word meaning ‘boy’, one of the few Anuun knows. It is the only Norse word Anuun knows that doesn’t remind him of violence; the Norse words for ‘burn’, ‘take,’ and ‘dead,’ he’d learned quickly. So he calls the boy Sveinn and makes a sleeping pad for him beside the fire in his birch tent, and waits for the wife promised by Sedna.


Sveinn has been on land for weeks, but his body still feels like it is rising up and down in the waves. When he closes his eyes, he sees cloudy marine colors instead of black. When he wakes up in the morning in the furs beside his adopted father, his tongue is rough and tastes like brine. Sometimes he doesn’t wake up in their tent at all, but rather, on the shore with his toes in the foamy surf. When Anuun finds him, he shouts. Sveinn doesn’t understand the language, but the parental worry and anger in Anuun’s voice is universal.

Sveinn can still feel his mother at the other end of the long, invisible tether between them. It twitches and tugs sometimes, and Sveinn likes to imagine she is gathering it up as she walks closer and closer to shore along the bottom of the ocean.

“I must show you how to take apart our tent, now,” Anuun tells Sveinn one day. He gestures at the birch bark tent and makes a folding motion with his hands. They’ve smelled the fires for days; more Norsemen moving down the coast. The clans are being pushed out of verdant, ancestral hunting grounds into increasingly sparse, crowded forests. Ragged groups of refugees carrying nothing but their children and the clothes on their backs have already made camp in the forest where Anuun’s clan hunts. The season is late, and there are many mouths to feed.


Leif Haakonsson and his scouts find Anuun’s clan before they can flee. They materialize out of the dusky forest like wolves, and their pale blue eyes linger on the seal pelts and racks of drying fish that are the clan’s livelihood. They’ve learned that the Beothuk are not interested in trade. Anything they want, the Norsemen must take.

Anuun tries to stand in front of the boy, but Leif spots Sveinn and steps forward, drawing his sword.

“You, boy. Come to me,” Leif says. He doesn’t know how a Norse lad was taken by the Skraelings, but no fair-haired child should be made to live among beasts. “Boy, I said come,” he snarls. Sveinn hides behind Anuun's legs like they are tree trunks. He can see the dull, silver reflection of starlight on Leif's sword.

“Do not speak to my son thus,” a woman says in the Norse tongue, her voice low and cold and thick like the silt at the bottom of the ocean. Then, to Anuun: “Hello, husband.”

The daylight has fallen enough that neither Leif or Anuun can discern the woman’s features. But Sveinn makes a sound of pure, wordless joy, and runs to her, throwing his arms around her waist and breathing in the briny smell of her. She is cold and wet and naked, but she is still his mother. Up close, Sveinn can see that her skin is mottled with patches like the dappling of sunlight on the seafloor. She picks him up with an easy strength she lacked before the storm and her drowning.

“Have you gone feral, woman?” Leif demands.

Sveinn’s mother throws her head back and laughs. It’s a sound both knowing and hysterical, ancient and girlish. She tousles Sveinn’s hair reassuringly, then sets him down on his feet and murmurs that he should stand back. Out of the way. She flexes her fingers, clenching and releasing, and looks at Leif.

“Let me show you where I have gone,” Sveinn’s mother growls, and charges the knot of armed Norsemen.

Apr 22, 2008

New Year, new thread!

Killer-of-Lawyers fucked around with this message at 17:54 on Jan 4, 2016

Jul 28, 2006

Hit the Bricks
(732 Words:)

At every shrine the pilgrim grew more conscious of the brick's weight digging into his shoulder. It was no longer just a fragment of the cracked millstone in his satchel, he felt. To him it weighed as much as the mill.

Engraved with scrimshaw prayers the whetstone brick glittered in every temple fountain the pilgrim reverently bathed it in. He chanted his prayers dutifully in grand cathedrals and sprinkled the brick with ashes from their censers. He heaped blessings upon the brick at every city and town until the pilgrim's path led away from the last traces of society and into the wilds. Somewhere in them, he believed with star-eyed sincerity, was the great West-most temple, and at its center the place of offering. There he would find forgiveness for his sin.

The pilgrim's path grew rough and spotty, weaving through the wilds. In a steam lodge hewn from living rock the pilgrim put the brick to the coals and burned his palms on it to show his sincerity. Every temple's countryside became progressively more arid until not even wilderness followed the pilgrim anymore. The tug at his shoulder grew more insistent, and the stream of temples dwindled to simple figures on crumbling roadsides studded with cactus and brush. In the high afternoon the sun baked the bricks in the pilgrim's path to a sizzling heat, and the sky was relentlessly blue.

Each prescribed anointment to the brick brought the pilgrim to harsher climes, to sparser shrines, to longer walks with a ceremonial stone encrusted with more blessings than he could keep track of anymore. But still his path plowed westward, until the crumbling roadside predellas with their totems and baubles devolved into simple stacks of stones and scraps of flags; then even these were gone. The pilgrim grew depressed. The millstone brick tugged unbearably, as if to wrestle him to the bricks of the road underfoot, drag him under them. He had been walking so long, nursing the stone in his satchel with leaden duty and praying deliriously. The West-most temple had to be soon, or else it wouldn't be anywhere. There was nothing out here. He had been away from home so long.

Even the path itself finally dwindled away. There was nothing at the end of it but a jagged end. The pilgrim sat, vexed. He swore, and raged briefly. He wept and frowned, and kicked at the sand. The great West-most temple, where the heart of the old millstone needed to rest to restore him. How would he gain forgiveness now? Every day since the pilgrim had cracked the stone he thought about his hungry family and promises of forgiveness, if he followed the path. He had followed it, but it had not led anywhere.

The pilgrim's muscles twinged as he twisted under the weight of the brick. He fumed at it, ripped it from his bag, and dropped it at the end of the road. it made a satisfying clink against its neighbor, fitting neatly. Maybe all the others between here and home had been mistakes just as severe as his. It was hard to imagine people failing their village as he had so often. All together it was fitting they led nowhere, the pilgrim thought, and laughed to himself at the absurdity of it all.

The pilgrim's laugh rang in the still desert air. For a moment, fantastic silence engulfed him, and he turned his contemplation from the brick at his feat to the dome of the blue sky above him. He had never been somewhere so immaculately motionless, and was surprised at how utter silence compounded on him emotionally the longer he spent bathing in it. He found himself listening to nothing, and looking at nothing, and feeling awe at them.

The pilgrim checked his brick with a new-found care, seeing that it lined up well with its neighbors, and exhibited a sense of purpose. If it was a road of broken millstones as the elder had said, then his mistake was just one more, and it would not be the last. These concessions in the desert silence calmed the pilgrim, and he became thoughtful. More broken millstones would stretch the road further Westward, mistake by mistake. Maybe there really was a temple, further west than even this.

The pilgrim paused to imagine it, but turned east instead. Shoulders singing, he began his journey home.

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer
824 Words

‘I’m a Christian, not a Buddhist,’ I assured myself as I meditated in Bodh Gaya. I changed my posture every minute, an excuse to open my eyes and glance at my guide, as his wrinkled face seemed familiar despite the lack of Indian people back home. That faint familiarity spun in my head, a revolver without a trigger.

“You are restless,” he stated.

“I can’t clear my mind. I am supposed to clear my mind, yeah?”

“You can, but it is difficult. I suggest you focus on a positive emotion. When you desire to move your body, instead smile.”

I briefly wondered if curiosity was a positive emotion. At the very least, I was not a cat. Instead I tried to capture my happier days, but they were drained. It was as though they had the happiness strangled out them when they squeezed from my memories to my thoughts. I smiled and held it till my face hurt. “It’s not working,” I said, opening my eyes.

“That is fine,” he offered and stood. “We shall do walking meditation.”

“That’s a thing?” I also stood.

“Yes,” he did not explain further. His gait was spritely, more skip than shuffle, such that I wondered what he ate and where I could buy some. I followed behind him for some time, eventually concluding that he had forgotten I was there. As I considered reminding him, he finally spoke, “The key to walking meditation is to focus on the movement, making each step purposeful.”

“Do I need to close my eyes?” I asked.

“You need to keep them open.”

“Of course,” the stupidity of my question threatened my attempts to walk with purpose. Each step made me feel more out of place, what the heck was I doing in India? Prayer costs less than a plane ticket. That was when I knocked shoulders with another man passing me. He started yelling at me and, though I couldn’t understand his words, I could hear him cursing.

My guide planted himself between the man and I. The man yelled. My guide spoke. The man spoke. My guide and the man laughed. The man left. “Careful, let’s continue,” was all my guide said to me.

“What was funny?” I asked, suspicious that it was at my expense.

“You,” he said.

“What was funny about me?” I demanded, ashamed that it bothered me that much.

Instead of answering my question, my guide beckoned me to a food stall. I realized my stomach’s emptiness as barbeque-like scents swung a left hook into my nose. He negotiated with the vendor, eventually passing over some of the money I had given him. In return, he received two piles of goop in paper bowls and handed one to me. I prayed it tasted closer to its smell than look.

I copied my guide in shoveling the goop with flatbread. I had two problems with the dish. First, despite the smell, there was no meat. Second, its spiciness committed a double-homicide on my lips and tongue and was currently being charged with aggravated assault against my stomach. If this was what had given my guide energy, it wasn’t worth it.

“Would you like more?” My guide asked.

I wondered if he was a sadist, or more a masochist. “No, thank you.”


“Yeah, I think I need it. Cold, please.”

He nodded. As he made his way to another stall, I idly watched other people flow around him, around one another, as they traveled wherever they needed, or wanted. I even saw a few people like me, tourists, navigating with their own guides. One of them took a wrong step and shoulder checked a man. I watched a copy of my own experience play, right down to the shared laughter. I couldn’t read lips, but I’d have liked to know if the tourist questioned the meaning of the laugh.

“Tea.” My guide handed a bottle to me. I was somewhat disappointed it wasn’t in a fancy cup, but was mostly glad to be given a chance to revive my taste buds. It didn’t work.

“Thanks,” I said only after draining the bottle. “Can we go sit down? Not like meditation, but just relax a bit?”

“That is fine,” my guide approved. He pointed to a nearby rock, away from the stalls.

I walked to the rock, sat, and cried.

“What is wrong?” My guide asked. He held out napkins.

I took them, but my tears tore through them too quickly. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”

“Ah,” he uttered. No wise words, no kind words, no words that could bring me my happiness, just ‘Ah.’

I looked at him between my tears, still feeling as though he were faintly familiar. I wanted to hug him, I thought it would make the tears go away. No, that would be weird, so instead I smiled. I smiled and held it till my face hurt, but my tears didn’t stop.

Aug 2, 2002




crabrock fucked around with this message at 22:55 on Dec 31, 2015

Nov 16, 2000
I failed :(

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
:siren: Submissions for Week CLXXIII: Pilgrim's Progress are now CLOSED! :siren:

Congratulations! Most of you reached your destinations, whether that meant you ascended to a height or dove into a fecal pit. kurona_bright, Jitzu_the_Monk, MaggieTheCat, and XzeroR3 got lost somewhere along the way. Should they stagger over that final hill within twenty-four hours, I'll crit them with the rest. The other judges' mercies are theirs to show or withhold.

Expect results no later than Tuesday evening, after RedTonic, Echo Cian, and I have processed your travelogues.

Feb 25, 2014

Broenheim posted:

In the Unknown

Your going to write me stories where the setting is a place humanity hasn't explored. It can be the bottom of the Mariana Trench, or the center of the Earth, or anything really. This is fiction, so it doesn't even have to exist. However, it must be found somewhere on planet Earth. And by "hasn't explored" I mean by contemporary standards, so don't write about Darwin discovering the Galapagos or similar past discoveries.

Do NOT write wikipedia articles or stupid world building poo poo. Sure, you're setting is somewhere unknown, but it better have loving characters I like.

1750 words
Due November 30th, 11:58 PM PST

This is due in over a day, but I haven't seen some of you guys around in awhile so I just wanted to give a friendly reminder that you :toxx:ed and I'm not going to be lenient.

Mar 21, 2010
Interprompt: in a world where metaphor are all literal, one man struggles to complete simple tasks.

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Interprompt: in a world where metaphor are all literal, one man struggles to complete simple tasks.

He Was Suffering
0 Words

Feb 25, 2014
gently caress You Muffin

The man knelt down and grabbed his pencil.

Aug 2, 2002




SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Interprompt: in a world where metaphor are all literal, one man struggles to complete simple tasks.

Aug 8, 2013

A Man Who Struggles to Complete Simple Tasks
Words: 1


Radical and BADical!
Jun 27, 2010

by Lowtax
Fun Shoe

Broenheim posted:

drunken vitriol

ha ha ha thanks for the crit motherfucker.

Pham Nuwen
Oct 30, 2010

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Interprompt: in a world where metaphor are all literal, one man struggles to complete simple tasks.

"I don't know what's worse," he said, poking gingerly at his bandaged nose, "I mean, if I do my work quickly, this loving grindstone appears and rubs half my face off. On the other hand, sitting around with my thumb up my rear end is pretty drat unpleasant too."

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Interprompt: in a world where metaphor are all literal, one man struggles to complete simple tasks.

Not Much of a Struggle

It's hard to get anything done when you're simultaneously being incinerated by the heat and crushed by the pressure of a planet's molten core.

Dec 12, 2013

Man, I almost joined in on this one but the deadline was too short and my idea was probably going to be considered 'arriving at a new state of mind.' :gonk::fh:

Feb 25, 2014

RoanHorse posted:

Man, I almost joined in on this one but the deadline was too short and my idea was probably going to be considered 'arriving at a new state of mind.' :gonk::fh:

nobody cares

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

RoanHorse posted:

Man, I almost joined in on this one but the deadline was too short and my idea was probably going to be considered 'arriving at a new state of mind.' :gonk::fh:

Given that smiley, I think we can all be thankful.

The Thunderdome deadline is never longer than a week. Next week's stories will presumably be due at 11:59:59pm Sunday in some time zone. The new prompt will be up tonight or tomorrow, with luck, so watch for it and be ready.

Only maybe keep the fapping to yourself, yes? Autobiographical accounts of the activity have never gone over well.

Apr 21, 2010


Or at least use Retrograde Mini's to make cool mechs and fantasy stuff.

Slippery Tilde

RoanHorse posted:

Man, I almost joined in on this one but the deadline was too short and my idea was probably going to be considered 'arriving at a new state of mind.' :gonk::fh:

So are you going to keep playing with yourself or put your hands to use? :colbert:

Dec 12, 2013

I was on mobile and hit the wrong emoticon because my font sizes gently caress up the previews relative to the emote text and I don't have emotes set to be visible within actual posts because the only desktop browsing I do is at work.

I forgot what the second emote was supposed to actually be.

Oct 30, 2003

RoanHorse posted:

I was on mobile and hit the wrong emoticon because my font sizes gently caress up the previews relative to the emote text and I don't have emotes set to be visible within actual posts because the only desktop browsing I do is at work.

I forgot what the second emote was supposed to actually be.

Jesus Christ shut up! Your next post in here had better be "In" and the one after that your story.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Broenheim posted:

nobody cares

i care :shobon:

Feb 25, 2014

yep, still nobody cares :c00lbert:

a new study bible!
Feb 1, 2009

A Philadelphia Legend
Fly Eagles Fly

Broenheim posted:

This is due in over a day, but I haven't seen some of you guys around in awhile so I just wanted to give a friendly reminder that you :toxx:ed and I'm not going to be lenient.

Unfortunately, I never toxxed when I signed up, nor did you ask for a toxx in your original prompt. So no, you will not be toxxing me when I don't submit a story tonight. Technically, I win.

The best type of win.

Still, I consider you a bro, and I feel bad about loving up, so I will :toxx: right now that the next post that I make in this thread will be a redemption story for this prompt that I am skipping, and that it will be posted no later than December 7th, at 11:59 PST. If I gently caress this one up then you can bring the hammer down.

Nov 15, 2012

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

Broenheim posted:

In the Unknown

City of Gold
1747 words

Praise be unto God, we have found El Dorado!

I was first to push through the thick overgrowth that hid the city, deep inside the Aztec jungle. The gleam almost blinded me. The City of Gold is true to its name: the houses, the roofs and doors, the cobblestone streets, it is all gold. Even the people. There are statues, lively statues, scattered across the city as if the architect had wanted to make it seem inhabited.

This discovery will bring great glory to Spain. Clearly, God favors the faithful.

Our Aztec guide did not share our enthusiasm. The savage seemed uncomfortable, jittery even, although maybe he was just weak from the hard march. I believe he might have tried to flee at that very moment had he been strong enough, and he might have succeeded too, as most of my men were in deep prayer. But he was weak, and he merely muttered to himself. Comono, our interpreter, has relayed the words to me: insane blather of a curse, a great evil that supposedly belies this land. What foolery! Or is it cunning? Either way, the crown will not lose its treasures to a heretic’s baseless fearmongering.

We have pushed deeper into the city, but so far we have found no population to speak of, or any signs of life really. Even the birds seem to shun the place, but then, there is nothing for them here. Thus, the Golden City lies quiet, save for the distant voices of the jungle.

It is our duty to report back with the exact coordinates of this glorious find as soon as possible. However, I am not ready to leave just yet. We have to explore further. Just a little bit, to give us a better sense of the scope of this city. Also, we need proof. Any buffoon can lay claim to having found the Golden City, but if we throw a flotilla’s worth of gold at the King’s feet, there can be no doubt. We will all be famed men.

We have set up camp for today. The streets look very much alike, so it is hard to really say where we are, but there are enough empty houses to give my score of men roofs over their heads, and there is enough space on the road to house our supplies, and a sizeable campfire.

Tomorrow we will investigate the city further.


I did not imagine El Dorado to be this big. We have sent out scouts in all directions, and none of them have found the edge of this city, although each team brought great treasures with them, golden candleholders and bejeweled sun idols and all kinds of riches that a lesser man might be tempted to sin for.

One squadron of three men has not reported back. This alone speaks volumes for the size of this city. I hope they have not gotten lost. I certainly hope they haven’t made off with their treasure. They couldn’t be so foolish? We shall see.

Sadly, the condition of our Aztec guide has deteriorated. His weakness has grown into a slight fever, and his skin has started to assume a subtle orange tinge. We keep him away from the camp, as the men rightfully fear the illnesses of the savage. Any sane man would. Of course, Comono elected to stay with the Aztec. He seems to take pity on the creature. Poor fool! I was forced to command him to stay with the Aztec, away from the camp, for the time being. The men had already discussed the contagion risk he posed.

It is but a bump in the road. Soon, we will all be well, and these common worries will be behind us.


My three scouts seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Search parties have returned empty-handed. It worries me. We are deep in Aztec territory, and every able gun is precious. The silence here is growing more eerie by the second. The jungle noise seems to have all but disappeared. As if it was no longer there. Maybe I’m imagining things.

I do not want to leave my men behind, but the Aztec is in poor shape, coughing and complaining and barely moving anymore, and I would rather start the journey back while he is still able to somewhat point us the way. Also we are running out of firewood, and we cannot keep the campfire fueled on gold.

But most of all, I fear that this place does things with our heads. Some of the search party members have insisted that the streets had changed appearances on their way back. I believe the men got mixed up. Everything here looks so much alike, it is easy to get confused. But sometimes, I wonder. Do we really wake up in the same streets that we make camp in?

Nonsense! I cannot allow for my head to be filled with phantoms. I will wait for my missing men until the morning. Then we must make off without them.


The Aztec is dead. We woke up today to find his stiff, discolored body leaning against a house wall. He seemed to glitter like gold, but it was just the reflection of the house. Comono insisted on giving the heathen a proper burial, but I would not have it.

Some of the men have begun to complain of stiff joints, and a couple of them are moving sluggishly. Conomo seems sick as well, dragging his feet and opening and closing his hand as if to test whether his fingers were still able to move. Many of us suspect that he has caught something from the Aztec. But why would the others grow sick also, when Comono had been quarantined?

Maybe they are just restless. They are warriors after all. They need something to fight.


The entrance to the city has disappeared.

We have carefully cartographed our way into El Dorado, and yet, as we are making our way back, we are unable to find the drapery of vines that hid the entrance to the city. We can’t even get close. No matter where we go, eventually another row of golden houses blocks our path, and all we can do is go left or right, and the further we go, the more often we run into dead ends.

Our medicus has investigated the health complaints that some of my men have, but he cannot say much other than to confirm their symptoms and recommend rest. They all suffer from the same orange discoloration that the Aztec had. They seem weak, and tired, as if their very bones were resisting movement. Comono has it worst. I had to shoulder him part of the way, or else he might have collapsed. He felt cold, and he was much heavier than his tiny frame admitted.

As some of the soldiers regress into disease, others are still in good health, and now there is open talk among them of leaving the sick behind, for they hope to find the exit more quickly on their own. They are cowards! I will not abandon a fellow Christian if there is still hope for them.


We are doomed. The end began with Comono. Poor fool.

His leg had turned to gold by the morning, and I swear on my soldier’s honor that this is true, it was solid gold, toe to knee. He was feverish, barely comprehensible. The medicus had never seen anything like it, and neither have I. We conducted the kind of field amputation that relies on Tequila, a wooden block and good faith. The poor boy. So much blood. He had never been a fighter. I’m not sure he even noticed what was going on, other than the pain.

He survived. But his screams have panicked the other diseased, and even more so the healthy, for they’d still had a change to avoid that fate. I was overseeing the operation when I heard the first shot. By the time I had left the medic’s office, most of my men were already dead. The streets ran red with their blood, blood mixed with the golden cobblestone, running through the grooves in red rivulets.

I do not know if the survivors were diseased, or healthy, but then, none of them were in good shape anyway. The medicus is operating on them right now, but things are looking bleak, and worst of all, he seems to have trouble operating his tools, as if his fingers had stiffened.

And I admit, as I write these words, I notice how I am holding on to my pen. My fingers are cold. Heavy. I am scared to take off my glove. But I already know what I will see.


The sun has risen. Comono is still alive, but he is the only one. The doctor has taken his life, God have mercy on his soul. In his absence, the soldiers have succumbed to their wounds.

My fingertips are the color of oranges. Comono’s other foot has begun to shine golden. He is awake. I will say my goodbyes now.


I know what happened to the missing soldiers.

The three men were in just another street with just another row of golden houses. Their bodies, locked in convulsion, were made of pure gold. At first I mistook them for another set of statues, but then I noticed their uniforms, their helmets, their faces. Jacobo. Gilvarez. Sotto. Pain etched into their grimaces. Treasures were scattered around them. Their golden feet had fused with the cobblestone. Their surface was smooth. Cold.

The cold is inside me as well. It hugs my bones, presses against my flesh from the inside. I cannot move my arms and legs as I used to. I have long abandoned hope of finding the exit. Nothing grows here. My rations are running low. The nights are cold and dark. Lonely.

I do not know what will catch up with me first: the curse, or the hunger. I do not welcome either. I don’t know what sins I have committed to deserve this fate. Was I too greedy to claim these treasures for my King? Was I too prideful about my discovery? Whatever it was, I can only pray that God will forgive me.

I still have some bullets left in my pistol, but if this is the punishment He has deemed fit for me, I must bear it.

I only hope I have the strength.


Nov 15, 2012

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

WeLandedOnTheMoon! posted:

Unfortunately, I never toxxed when I signed up, nor did you ask for a toxx in your original prompt. So no, you will not be toxxing me when I don't submit a story tonight. Technically, I win.

The best type of win.

Still, I consider you a bro, and I feel bad about loving up, so I will :toxx: right now that the next post that I make in this thread will be a redemption story for this prompt that I am skipping, and that it will be posted no later than December 7th, at 11:59 PST. If I gently caress this one up then you can bring the hammer down.

you win the "didn't deliver but promised week-old leftovers to make up for it, at some point, maybe" award aka get out of my eyes bitch

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